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Monday, June 12, 2017

Sketch of the Life of Lillie Belle Munroe Read, part 2

This is the second part of a two-part story I wrote over ten years ago about the life of my grandmother, Lillie Read. For the first part of the story, click here.

Lillie was a careful mother, even at the young age of 19. Still, she had hard lessons to learn. Her second child, Earl Lester Read, named for Lillie’s father, was born on January 2, 1914, got sick almost immediately and died on the 20th of that month. Lillie was disconsolate and blamed herself for not knowing what to do to save her baby. She vowed that she would never lose another one, no matter what. They moved from Portland to Aumsville, where Herbert Raymond was born July 15, 1915, followed by Walter Carl on November 11, 1917 (Carl later changed the order of his name).

Meanwhile, Lillie’s brother and sisters married, lost spouses, and remarried, and all her siblings’ families were growing. John and Margaret had Barbara in 1921. Agnes and Bill had Mary Agnes in 1907. About 1914 Agnes married Ame Nelson and in the winter of 1915 they had Edgar, and Mildred was born to them in 1916. After Ame’s death, Agnes married Ed Clow and they had Naomi in 1924 and Eugene in 1926. May and Paul Rieboldt’s daughter, Pauline, was born in February 1909 and their son, Paul, in March 1912; then after Paul Sr. died in June 1912, May married Bud Hallett, and their son, Ashley, was born in April 1916. Two years later Bud died in Yokohama, Japan. In December 1920 May married Owen Cade and they had Minnie Lee Love in July 1924 and Owen Lester in March 1926. Jessie married Frank Page about 1912 and Cecil Lewis was born in June 1913; Francis in February 1915; Thelma in February 1917; Hazel in December 1918; Thomas in June 1920; and Beatrice in April 1922. Jessie later married a Mr. Putnam, whose daughter Edith married Dodie’s son Clyde. Jessie married George Downing last. Dodie married Ray Copeland about 1915 and had Alfred in August 1917; Clyde in September 1919; Iva in 1921; and Jack in 1923. The Munroes gathered for frequent family reunions on their father’s land in McMinnville, Oregon.
Far left: Agnes holding Mildred, her daughter Mary Agnes next to her and son Edgar holding her hand;
Back left: May holding Ashley with Pauline in front of her and Paul in front of Pauline;
Center: William Lester Munro holding his grandsons Cecil Page and Herbert Read;
Back right: Lillie with her daughter Viola Read in front of her; Jessie next to Lillie and
holding Thelma with Francis Page in front of her; Far right: Dodie holding Alfred

During these years Lloyd was getting whatever work he could find. Times were hard for the family throughout that decade and into the 1920s as they struggled to make ends meet. Lillie and Lloyd carefully kept all their expenses and income recorded in little notebooks, writing down every penny they spent and saving as hard as they could. Lloyd recalled that he pounded the pavements day after day looking for work—even a day’s worth of work would help keep his family from want. Sometimes he came home and couldn’t keep from crying in frustration and despair at their situation. Lillie listened and told him to keep up his spirits and not lose hope. Lloyd recalled working in Aumsville on a crew erecting the first electric poles. He worked in the flour mill in Aumsville and in a store in Turner. He once said he even installed outhouses in rural Marion county. In Portland he worked as a logger, a carpenter, a longshoreman down on the docks, a grocery delivery man with a horse and wagon, and as a laundry delivery man also with a horse and wagon. Lillie had a growing family to manage.

World War I was raging in Europe and they heard the news that American boys were starting to enlist. Although only 26 years old when America joined the war, Lloyd didn’t consider the military because of his age and family situation. But the growing military swallowing young men meant that more jobs for young men like Lloyd were available for a time. The family moved back to Portland after Carl’s birth and there Ruth Loretta was born on July 10, 1919.

Lloyd said that the reason they named all the children names that had L or R in them, or both, was that they liked the way the sounds rolled off the tongue. He didn’t like shortening any of the children’s names or giving them nicknames or calling them by their middle names, but he was overruled several times. Lillie knew the value of shorter names, and the additional value of a formally stern pronouncement of a child’s full name signaling to the child that he or she was in more than the usual trouble. But Lillie said her children were generally good, giving her little trouble—especially, she twinkled, when she got out the hazel switch!

Her sixth child and third daughter, Charlotte May, was born September 12, 1921, the day before Lillie’s 29th birthday. Charlotte became Retta’s special playmate. Between Charlotte’s birth and the next living child, Lillie said she had a miscarriage. Next Clarence Austin was born a healthy boy. Then came another miscarriage. Florence Alice was born on April 8, 1927. Lillie got mad at her children about baby Florence’s name; she had named this baby for one of her twin sisters who had died before Lillie’s birth. The children said they were going to call the baby “Flossie.” Lillie declared that sounded like the name of a cow and wouldn’t let them. Maddeningly, the children persisted. So Lillie overruled them and called the baby Alice instead. The name stuck and Lillie had solved that problem to her satisfaction.

During that year Lloyd joined the Railway Mail Service, having worked a few years earlier on the extra board, now getting a permanent appointment as a mail handler. Finances were a little easier on the family, although with that many mouths to feed, Lillie continued to exercise constant careful budgeting.

Lillie decided she was through having babies. However, she was surprised to be expecting one more about three years later. The pregnancy didn’t go as well as the others; Lillie was 37 years old and had borne eight children and lost two already. She had to go to the hospital for this birth, unlike any of the others. Marjorie Lorraine, born in the Good Samaritan Hospital (now the Adventist) in Portland, was the last child.

By this time, 18-year-old Viola was working steadily, and 15-year-old Herbert was working at whatever odd jobs he could get. Carl was crazy about baseball—he lived for the sport, playing anywhere and everywhere he could. Eleven-year-old Retta took over much of Margie’s care, calling her “Monkey” affectionately. Lillie, tired and not in the best of health, was relieved to turn over the care of the littlest ones to her older children. It worked at the time, but the youngest children grew up with problems in their relationships that affected their own children.

During the Great Depression, the economic woes that greatly afflicted many throughout the world did not affect the Read family very much. Lloyd’s job with the Railway Mail Service was a government position and very secure. They escaped the worst of that time, but Lillie was always very careful with money and did not allow her children to waste things, nor to have what she considered non-essentials. She believed in the adage, “Use it up, wear it out.” She charged her groceries, but she carefully paid the bills on the first of every month. She had a charge account at Meier and Frank’s from the time she had worked for them, and she would use that to take the children in to buy shoes. The store at that time had an x-ray machine that you would put your foot into with your new shoe on to see if the shoe fit properly. You could see your foot bones and nobody thought of cancer from the radiation.

Lillie in the 1930s
In the mid-1930s Lillie’s children began courting and marrying. Herb married first, on March 4, 1935 in Vancouver, Washington. His bride was Thelma Pearl Hobaugh, a lovely person. Herb and Thelma’s daughter Elizabeth Ann, Lillie’s first grandchild, was born almost a year later. On June 3, 1938, Viola married John Pringle Crawford at home in McMinnville. On March 31, 1939, nineteen-year-old Retta married George William Jones in Vancouver, not telling her folks until afterward. George’s folks were McMinnville neighbors. Then Charlotte married Ernie Redding on October 13, 1939 in Vancouver, and Carl married Dorothy Helen Greer on January 9, 1942 at Dorothy’s church in Sunnyside, Washington. Lillie and Lloyd attended all the weddings except Retta’s, and Lillie went alone to Sunnyside for Carl’s and Dorothy’s, as Lloyd had to work.

In 1936 they moved to a 36-acre farm near McMinnville. This farm had originally belonged to Lillie’s father, and when he left it to go live with his daughter May, George Jones’ parents had worked the farm for him until he sold it to Lloyd and Lillie. All the Munroe family reunions had been held on this farm, and Lillie continued the tradition. They built a new house on the place. She used the tiny old home as a chicken house so she could sell and trade eggs for other things.

She had one or two cows that her boys milked. Margie remembered Clarence milking the cows and squirting the milk into the barn cats’ mouths. Those cows would behave for Lillie, but not for Lloyd. When he tried to milk them, they’d kick over the pail, or they’d get their tails free and swish them in his face, or they’d kick him, and he’d get only a cupful or so; he’d be very angry and bruised and sure the worthless cows should be sold. But for Lillie they’d stand perfectly still, and she’d have a gallon of milk out of them in no time.

Most animals behaved for Lillie. Once Thelma was given a little pig as a pet by her sister Eleanor. When the pet pig got too big to be a pet, it came out to the ranch at Stafford to live. One day when Carl and Dorothy were there, Dorothy and Marj heard a great commotion from outside, and they went out to see Carl and Lloyd chasing that pig, trying to get it back into its pen. They were swearing and sweating, unable to get it to go in any direction they wanted. It really was an enormous pig by this time. Marj and Dorothy became hysterical with laughter, watching the futile endeavor. Lillie came out, took one look, uttered an exasperated “Oh for heaven’s sakes!” and strode over to the pig, who became instantly docile as she took it by the ear and led it right into its pen.

Lillie did most of the farm work herself, driving the old plow horse and later the tractor. Lloyd kept the woodpile stocked, but Lillie did most everything else. Perhaps she worked too hard on the farm; she had a nervous breakdown about 1936 and Herb and Thelma and their family came out to live with them and take care of things for a while.

Lillie prided herself on learning to bandage up and doctor all the problems of her growing family. She never allowed any of the children to go to the hospital, except to be treated for tonsillitis. All other illnesses she learned how to manage. She used “Unguentine” for just about every cut, scrape, burn, or other injury presented to her. She never wanted her children to have stitches. When a doctor recommended stitches for one of the children, she refused, applying her ubiquitous Unguentine and taping the cut closed. She claimed that the resulting scar was far smaller, almost unnoticeable, compared to what it would have been had the doctor been able to have his way and put in stitches. She was probably right. The only thing she was unable to manage was Lloyd’s stroke, which happened about 1932. He never recovered full feeling in his left leg, but after his initial recovery it wasn’t obvious to any but those who knew already. Lillie’s nursing skills continued to be called upon by various older members of the family, and she frequently spent nights away from home nursing an elderly relative of hers or Lloyd’s.

One in particular was Lillie’s Aunt Ada’s sister, Lovisa Merryfield Johnson. Ada had married Lillie’s uncle James Munroe in 1890. Aunt Ada was someone the girls remembered as being very stern, very strict. You minded Aunt Ada. Her sister was softer, sweeter. Lovisa was an invalid for many years, and Lillie took turns with Aunt Ada’s daughter Mabel taking care of Lovisa every other night from early 1947 until October 1948. In the 1940s Lillie often took care of sick grand-babies for her daughters. One of Charlotte’s twin daughters stayed with Lillie for her first two weeks; they gave her oil of peppermint to strengthen her stomach.
The last Munro Family picnic on July 4, 1939 at the McMinnville farm. Lillie's handwriting is on this photo.
Margie's handwriting, identifying the people in the picnic photo.

Early in 1940 Lloyd traded the farm in McMinnville for a house with a gas station and store in Canby. Behind the store were tourist cabins. He did not consult Lillie, who was furious at him for trading away her farm. He had thought he was doing her a favor by reducing her work load, but that is not the way things worked out. Lillie and Lloyd moved to Canby with Carl to help, leaving the younger children living with Retta and George until the school year ended. But with Lloyd working full time, it very soon became clear that the cabins and store were too much for Lillie to manage even with Carl’s help, so by June they began trying to trade it away, finally selling it over a year later and moving to a house in Portland.

Lillie and Lloyd, 1940s
They bought 70 acres of land in Stafford, but they lived in Portland until September 1942. Then at the time Alice and Margie were getting ready to start their first day of school for that year, Lillie lost an argument with Lloyd about where the girls should register in school, and they moved out to a one-room cabin on the Stafford land, with no plumbing, no running water, and no electricity. Lloyd’s rationale for this move was the threat of Japanese bombs during the War. Pearl Harbor had been attacked the previous December, and Lloyd was sure that Portland with all its important shipping would be a target too. He wanted his family out in the country where they would be safer. Out in the cabin at Stafford they used kerosene lamps, chopped wood for the stove, and went into town once a week for tub baths and to do the laundry. Lillie didn’t like it! Within a year, the house was expanded with separate rooms for the girls and parents, but still it had no indoor plumbing for a while.

One thing it had was a telephone, which was Alice’s and Margie’s lifeline to the modern world. Margie recalled their friends phoning and putting the phone next to a radio that was tuned in to their favorite shows or music. And of course all the people on the 9-party telephone line were welcome to listen in! That they did listen in on other people’s conversations for entertainment was well known, and Lillie would have a fit at her teenage daughters Alice and Margie for calling Clarence, who was living in town, and the three of them regaling each other with made-up tales of their wild dates, which would set the neighbors to talking plenty about the Reads!

World War II was well underway. Lillie was glad that none of her sons had to see action, and that her sons-in-law came home all right. Herb wasn’t eligible for military service. The Selective Service demanded a birth certificate for Carl, and since no certificate had been created for him at birth and the attending doctor was dead, Lillie found one of the nurses or midwives who had been there who provided an affidavit that they sent in. Then Carl began training in the U.S. Air Corps, but because of a sports injury that interfered with his ability to perform at full capacity, he was honorably discharged. Late in the war, Clarence trained as a bombardier in the U.S. Air Corps, but the war ended before he had to go overseas. Ernie had been in the Marines before he married Charlotte; however, he wasn’t drafted during the war because of health problems. George fought in Europe and then in the Philippines with MacArthur’s liberation army. He was wounded at one point and recovered in a hospital in Manila. He came home with a Japanese sword, but most of his other possessions had been stolen. John was in the army, supposed to go to officer training but sent by mistake to infantry training and from there to combat in Europe. He fought in North Africa and in the Battle of the Bulge. He was invalided back to the States. Lillie was always thankful that they came home whole. That John and George refused to tell their experiences was another thing altogether; nobody pressed them and nobody discussed it much in those days.

During the war there was an extensive system of rationing throughout the country. But Lillie and Lloyd weren’t much affected by it. They had ration coupons for the things they needed. Lloyd was still working for the Railway Mail Service, so they were able to have a car, and because they lived on the farm at Stafford, they were able to have gasoline and rubber rations to keep it going and on good tires. One concession they made to gasoline rationing was to withdraw from the Oregon City Christian Church and attend the nearby Stafford Baptist Church for the duration of the war.

About the time the war ended, Alice married Thelma’s brother Guy, but the marriage was quickly annulled, and Alice married Claude Dewey Funk, a veteran of the U.S. Navy who had fought in the Pacific. The next two weddings of Lillie’s children were both church weddings with lots of guests. Margie married Frederick B. Andrews Jr. in the little church at Stafford. Fred was a veteran of the U.S. Army radio engineers and during the war had helped set up the radio communications system for the Pacific Theater. Later that summer in St. John’s Christian Church in Portland, Clarence married Myra Annabelle Byerlee, born in the Belgian Congo to Christian missionaries. At the end of the 1940s Charlotte and Ernie were divorced, and in August 1950 Charlotte married William Arnold Hattan.

Lillie very much enjoyed her family. She was always full of jokes and playfulness, which her children and grandchildren inherited, some with more than their share! When Fred was courting Margie and began coming to Sunday dinners, he was at first astonished by how much everyone teased each other. Once he brought his rather proper Aunt Ruth with him, and Ruth Boedefeld didn’t know what to think when Lillie, who commonly got up and down at least a half dozen times to fetch and serve things throughout the meal, suddenly found herself unable to stand up because her apron strings had been surreptitiously tied to her chair. She apologized to Miss Boedefeld, but the same thing happened again and then again, until even Ruth couldn’t stop laughing. Lillie would sputter at them, “Oh, you kids!” And then she would laugh too.

It seemed that Lillie’s years of child rearing were over. But at the end of 1951 a new daughter came to Lillie. Lillie’s sister Jessie Munroe Downing was the guardian of a little girl named Barbara Adams, and Jessie told Lillie to take and raise Barbara if anything should ever happen to her, Jessie. Barbara had gone to her first week of school with the other little girl Jessie had taken in, and when they came home for lunch, the two little girls found their foster mother dead at the kitchen table of a heart attack. Jessie’s husband took little Mary to her biological mother and delivered Barbara to Lillie and Lloyd. Lillie liked stories and Barbara’s origin was related in at least two versions. One story told was that Barb’s father was Cecil, one of Jessie’s sons, and her mother a girl that Jessie took in. But this story was told for its entertainment value and was not at all true. Lillie never did tell Barbara the true story. It wasn’t done in those days for adopted children to know about their true parentage.

Lloyd and Lillie bought a builder’s supply store in the Coos Bay area, where Lillie had lived as a girl upon first moving to Oregon, and they built and restored a couple of older homes in the vicinity of Port Orford. Lillie liked working in the store and found that her ability to make friends easily won them many loyal customers as well as friends. While they were in this area, Lloyd’s mother, May Corlinda Robertson Read, came to live with them until her death in March 1954. Her early feelings toward Lillie had indeed changed completely; Lillie was the only one she wanted at the end of her life to take care of her. Lillie’s brother John also came to live with them in the late 1950s. Barb grew up mostly in Port Orford. Alice and Claude came with their family to live in this area too, and eventually they took over the builder’s supply.

The Reads stayed there for almost ten years before selling their interest to Alice and Claude and moving back to the Turner area. When they moved to Turner to a house on Mill Creek, Barb soon met and married Walt McGinnis. A huge storm that thrashed Oregon in October 1962 nearly destroyed Lillie and Lloyd’s house when trees came down on the garage, crushing the roof in. Mill Creek flooded too. And their property in Port Orford was damaged as well. They had to repair everything before all the sales could be finalized.

In October 1960 the children all gathered at Kern Park Christian Church in Portland to celebrate Lillie and Lloyd’s golden wedding anniversary. In succeeding years, their wedding anniversaries became the focal points of family reunions. Most of their grandchildren were also at their 60th anniversary in 1970 along with great-grandchildren, and the news media came to their 70th anniversary in 1980, duly noting their 35 grandchildren, 56 great-grandchildren, and a few great-great grandchildren starting to be born. The family began holding half-anniversary parties every April with full anniversary parties in October after this celebration. Their 75th anniversary party was the last of the really big parties. Clarence had called a television station (Channel 8) and the news media came and filmed the couple who had been married three quarters of a century. They interviewed Carl after interviewing Lloyd and Lillie. Over 200 people attended the celebration.

Lillie and Lloyd, Christmas 1981 (photo by Marci Andrews)
Lloyd and Lillie moved back to Turner in 1969, taking a home they eventually donated to the Turner Christian Home. In the 1980s Lillie began having a harder time taking care of herself, Lloyd, and her house by herself. First they tried living with Marj and Fred in Aumsville in 1983, but it didn’t work out. Then Lillie and Lloyd moved into another Turner house owned by the Turner Christian Home, with Retta and George living behind them through the block so that Retta could come over daily and help them out with what work needed to be done. That worked for a few more years.

In 1988, when Lloyd was no longer getting out of bed much and was no longer eating well, Lillie had to make the difficult decision for him to live in a nursing home in Sublimity. Lillie didn’t like him having to live apart from her, but she recognized the necessity of the situation, and over his protests did what she had to do. After Lloyd’s death on April 29, 1989, she moved with Herb and Thelma into a house in Salem. Lillie and Lloyd had been married for 78 years, 6 months, and 24 days, a lifetime and then some. Many people asked her the secret to such a long marriage. To one of her granddaughters, she said, “You have to be prepared to take much more than you ever thought you’d take!”

At Lillie's 99th birthday party (photo by Marci Andrews)
In September 1991 the family gathered for a 99th birthday party in Salem for Lillie. She had for years told everyone in her family that though they may be aging, she was certainly not. She was still 16, no matter what anyone said. But at her 99th birthday party she was proud of her advanced age. At her birthday party, her sister Dodie, last of her siblings still living, came from California, as well as most of Lillie’s children and a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren who brought great-great-grandchildren. They had dinner at a Chuck-a-Rama restaurant, one of her favorite places to eat, after a day of merriment in which Lillie declared that the present she most wanted was a riding lawnmower so that she could drive herself to the mall and shop without needing anybody else to drive her in a car.

She had given up driving a number of years before, after having an accident on Highway 101 north of Yachats, when she had been driving and suddenly found herself off the side in a ditch without knowing how she’d gotten there. The car was barely still under warranty and she put in a claim that the steering was faulty, but the shop where the car was taken kept it until the warranty ran out, which was soon. The car dealers said she damaged the steering in the accident and refused to pay. In any case, she didn’t trust herself driving after that. However, she had allowed Lloyd to continue driving them both until he was in his 90s and they were forced to realize that he had to quit driving when his vision became too dim and his reflexes too slow to enable him to drive safely anymore. She didn’t like losing her independence though, and she joked and schemed ways to get it back.

When Lillie cooked dinner, Lloyd wanted all of it to be eaten; he used to say if people didn’t eat everything, he’d get it fried for breakfast. Lillie was a plain cook, but she made excellent breads, pastries, pies, and cakes. She fried, boiled, or baked meat and potatoes for most main meals, and she didn’t generally go in for complicated recipes or fancy sauces. For spices she chopped onions and added ground black pepper to many dishes. Then Lloyd salted or sugared everything (he even sugared ice cream and puddings) on top of that. He was afflicted with sour stomach most of his life and took baking soda in water for it (he might have been lactose-intolerant, said Marj). Dinner was always at midday and supper was in the evening. Many times the same food was served at both meals. Lillie baked all her bread, and it was always wonderful bread. She made excellent pie crust, but she couldn’t pass along the skill to those who had trouble—she would tell them, “Add about so much of this and so much of that, and then mix it with your fingers until it feels right.” And that’s all the help you’d get. Hers would turn out perfectly while yours might be painted and used for a doorstop. At least you wouldn’t get it fried for breakfast.

Lillie always did a lot of handwork. She crocheted afghans, lace collars, edgings for pillow cases and towels, doilies, and cloths. She embroidered many, many pillowcases that she gave to children and grandchildren. She spent decades making quilts for her family. She learned how to paint on fabric, and she painted many quilt blocks with birds or flowers. She sewed them together with long strips of solid fabric between the rows, and then she used a bed sheet or another piece of fabric for the back. When she couldn’t see well enough to use the sewing machine anymore, she had others put the quilts together for her, and then she would tie them. She made big quilts and baby quilts, single quilts, double quilts, and queen-sized quilts. She laughingly prodded her younger granddaughters to get married when they were at the advanced “spinster” ages of 31 and 32, promising a hand-painted quilt to the one who got married first.

Lillie was no stranger to tragedy in her family, having experienced family deaths since early in her childhood. In June 1938 her father passed away at the age of 80 down in San Diego, California. He had been living there with his daughter May. Next Jessie died in 1951; brother John died in 1960; sister Agnes died in 1967; and sister May in 1975. Lillie lost two grandchildren and several great-grandchildren too. However familiar death was, it was never easy, and yet, Lillie never feared death for herself.

In March 1992 Lillie began having strokes. Herbie Jr. and his wife, Jerrie, a nurse, were there when the first major stroke happened and took care of her until more help arrived. It became necessary for Lillie to have round-the-clock care that first week of March, and her children and grandchildren traded off. Retta came and stayed every night in Lillie’s room. Thelma, Barb, Viola, and Marj traded off during the days, coordinating all the nursing efforts and managing the visitor load. Lillie didn’t have as many visitors as wanted to see her; she was much beloved of her descendants and friends, and everyone wanted to see her as much as possible when it looked as if she wouldn’t be with them much longer, but she was easily tired and increasingly confused. She had more little strokes, and she died March 16, aged 99 years and 6 months old. She was interred in Riverview Abbey Mausoleum in Portland next to Lloyd.

She always said that she wanted none but fresh flowers for her grave, what you could grow yourself or what grew wild in Oregon; if anybody thought they were going to bring what she called “bought” flowers, she was going to get right out of her grave and tell that misguided person a thing or two! So when you go visit her grave, be prepared.
Lillie, age 96

3 comments:

  1. Marci, once I started reading, I could not stop until I read both stories. So interesting and well written, you covered the 'sketch' of Grandma's life very well. There was a lot of information I had not heard and had no idea of. I feel now I know more of my grandmother than I ever had before. Thank you for releasing your stories for the rest of us to enjoy. Carolyn Hattan Reynolds

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    1. Thank you, Carolyn. And you're welcome!

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  2. Jean Ohai again. I read both parts of your biographical sketch. What a remarkable woman! And you had the skills to put it all together! I'm sure your extended family will appreciate what you have done in bringing her to life. I have been writing life stories myself and recommend doing so as the final step in exhaustive genealogy. I've even given presentations on how to go about writing a life sketch. One of the books I've recommended is Katherine Scott Sturdevant's "Bringing Your Family History to Life Through Social History." My most extensive effort was a sketch of my 4ggrandfather, William Bocock, a tollgate keeper on the British turnpike system

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