Monday, September 24, 2007

Weekend: Archives and Holstein Family History

(It was an interesting Saturday. I'll tell about it in three posts. This is the first.)

I had another clear weekend, no storytelling on the schedule, and we were looking for fun. We have a long list of things we want to do and places we want to go, but first we looked to see if there were any festivals in West Virginia within a 3-hour drive. Only one--Sutton's Fall Festival.

We considered a trip to Parkersburg to visit Trans-Allegheny Books. It's supposed to be a great used book store, housed in an old Carnegie library building. I have yet to make a visit. We could go there and then travel up to St. Mary's to Chester Bill's antique/junk emporium. That place can suck you in for hours.

Or, we could go to Charleston to the state archives and start researching Larry's family, then mosey up to Sutton to the festival. That was the trip we decided to take--both of us are curious as to when his family arrived in America and how they got to West Virginia's coal mines. I've learned a lot about my family, but Larry knew little about his.

So, after breakfast at our favorite Saturday morning place, the Downtowner in Ripley, we headed south. I was struck by the statue of the miner near the entrance to the state's cultural center.

The lady at the archives was helpful. We knew his grandfather's name (John Amos Holstein) and his grandmother (Virgie Lawrence Holstein) so we figured we had it made.

Wrong. There was no listing anywhere for either of them. Well, then, we tried his father. How many men with the name "Ray Holstein" can there be, who were born on Kayford Mountain around 1919-1922? Turns out, none--at least, none that were listed in the state archive records we searched.

How can this be? we asked our guide. The answer is stunning and simple. They weren't born in hospitals, didn't own property. Kayford Mountain straddles three counties, so his father could have been born in any one of them. People didn't bother to register things at the courthouse when it was a long and difficult journey, might increase taxes or government snooping, and they might have to miss work in the bargain.

"Let's prove you exist," the lady said. Good idea. At this point Larry wasn't sure! We found his birth record easily enough because he was born in a hospital. His father's and mother's information was full of errors, including misspelled name, wrong age and wrong place of birth. Great. That sure will help our search in the future.

We left, discouraged, but realizing two things: we needed to get to the graveyards, write down dates of deaths and births, then go to the state vital statistics department to get records of at least these events. We also knew that we needed to record, right now, as much as Larry can recall about his grandparents, their siblings and children because there is apparently no record yet in existence that links this family together. Unless there is some erstwhile genealogist out there who has already done this, and the chances of that are slim.

Larry had some records, and we spent a lot of time Sunday trying to find them with no luck. They're put up, and you know what that means! All we have now are a few photos and his father's coal-mining certificate. When we find the rest--his parents' marriage license, an affidavit of his father's birth (needed to qualify for Social Security), and a few other things--we might have more pieces of the puzzle.

Yesterday we got on the computer and listed everyone he could remember, and tentative dates of birth and death. It's a start. I think the journey is going to be a long one.

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