Category: Family News

Start: High School Sweethearts

Start: High School Sweethearts

Mom and Dad, 1962

So it’s January 2. As usual, I’ve made about 45962 resolutions, one of which is to resurrect this genealogy blog. I’m trying something new this year; I recently came across Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. Each week has its own prompt, intended to encourage selecting one ancestor or relative to share in some way.

This week’s post? “Start.” There are many ways to interpret that one (the system describes the prompts as “intentionally vague”), but for me, and for all of us, we get our start from our parents. So where did my parents’ shared story start?

For Theodore Richard (Ted) Montgomery and Linda Jo Hoffmann, that start was in the first grade. They were in the same class at Van Buren Elementary in Caldwell, Idaho, though both had been born elsewhere (Mom in Portland, Oregon; Dad in Scottsbluff, Nebraska). Both have very different memories of that first grade class, as well, and not much memory of each other at that time. Mom seems to have a fairly positive memory of the class; for Dad, everything was marred by the fact that during a fire drill on the very first day, he asked the teacher (who shall remain anonymous) if there was a real fire, and she slapped him. I don’t like that teacher much, but she is long since dead. I checked.

Mom and Dad continued through school together, but it wasn’t until they were in high school that they had much contact. If I have my story straight, they got to know each other as more than just vague acquaintances toward the end of their junior year. The following summer, while Mom visited relatives in Illinois, Dad wrote her letters. A lot of them. At some point in here, they had their first date, playing miniature golf. Mom won. It wasn’t until Homecoming of their senior year, however, that they became more serious – Mom was elected Caldwell High School’s Homecoming Queen for 1959, and Dad was her escort and crowned her during the game. At least I think it was during the game; a secondary goal for 2018 is to gather more oral history details from family….

Soon after Homecoming, Mom and Dad began going steady. They dated all through their senior year and graduated in May 1960. Both attended the College of Idaho for one semester that fall (both had scholarships to cover that much college), but they knew already that they wanted to get married and start their lives together and not just “soak up knowledge,” as Mom accused my brother and me of doing when we went on for impractical degrees in English/Classics (Matt), and Medieval Studies (me).

They were engaged in December 1960 (again, I’m waiting for Mom to correct me if I’ve got that wrong). Dad then went to work at The Crookham Company, and Mom took classes at a business school. They were married at Grace Lutheran Church in Caldwell on August 26, 1961, which was also Dad’s father’s 60th birthday. Dad was 19, and Mom was still 18; she would turn 19 in about 6 more weeks. They would wait more than a decade to start a family; my brother was born in December 1971, and I in April 1974. But I still consider that first grade classroom where their shared history first began.

One final postscript: Mom and Dad’s glamorous honeymoon was spent at the 7K Motel in Garden City, a suburb of Boise. Like their marriage, the 7K is still in existence, 56 years later.



What’s in a Name?

I’ve always found names fascinating.  The stories I would write when I was little always involved families with hordes of children because coming up with names for all of them was my favorite part of the writing process. I often hear people say they don’t want genealogy to be just “a list of names and dates.” While it’s true I love to have all the facts to flesh out the stories of who these relatives are, sometimes even just getting that “list of names” is rewarding.

For example, who wouldn’t be thrilled to find they shared a common ancestry with someone named Grimpie Brittimart Gobble? Or another favorite name, Grizzel Spratt? And sometimes I would come across my own real-life family with hordes of children, like the offspring of Samuel Willson (my 7th-great-grandfather):  John, Mary, Olive, Benjamin, Molley, Samuel, Ester, Eunice, Louis, Persis, Jenne, Nahum, and Elizabeth.

And then there are the “family names” that recur throughout our family history. My nephew, Benjamin Leander Montgomery, for example, has two family names.  His first and middle names were the middle names of his great-grandfathers.  “Benjamin” for Joseph Benjamin Hoffmann, and “Leander” for Herman Leander Likness.

Other names were common in the family generations ago, but not any longer. A prime example is “Tacy,” from the Latin for “silence.”  A quick search indicates there are 46 Tacies in our family tree, but none born since 1893.

Then, of course, there are the name mysteries. Grandpa Montgomery comes to mind first. At different times in his life he went by Lawrence Theodore or by Lawrence Conklin.  The story I remember hearing was that he was never sure which was his real middle name, so he used both interchangeably.  Theodore was the middle name of one of Grandpa’s uncles (Joseph Theodore Montgomery) and was passed on to my father when he was born, and Conklin was the maiden name of Grandpa’s maternal grandmother, Mary Ann.

So, what isn’t in a name?

Marriage License of Marcus Walker and Mary Conklin
Marriage License of Marcus Walker and Mary Conklin

Cousin Lizzie Took an Axe

In Fall River, Massachusetts, 115 years ago today, Andrew J. Borden and his second wife, Abby, were found murdered in their own home in broad daylight.  Andrew’s daughter, Lizzie, discovered the bodies.  Lizzie, of course, would eventually be tried and acquitted for the murders, though she was alone in the house for much of the two hours during which her stepmother’s dead body lay in the upstairs guest room.

Like most children, I felt I had known the “Lizzie Borden took an axe” rhyme forever, but I was further fascinated by a disturbing movie starring Elizabeth Montgomery as Lizzie Borden that played on TV in 1984.  I think it was the idea of nice Samantha from Bewitched traipsing around murdering people while undressed that terrified me the most.  In later years, Mom and I began reading books about the Lizzie Borden case, and even stayed all night at 92 Second Street in Fall River–now a bed and breakfast–which turned out to be much creepier than I expected, though Mom thought the decor was too pretty to be frightening!

I’m not sure, now, when I first discovered the genealogical connection between my Wilson/Davis ancestors and the Borden family.  Thankfully, enough time had passed since first seeing that creepy TV movie that I was more fascinated than frightened at learning I was actually a (distant) cousin of Lizzie’s.  It certainly provides an added element of intrigue when reading books about the case.  To be precise, Lizzie and I are sixth cousins five times removed.  Our shared ancestor was William Gifford, my tenth-great-grandfather, and Lizzie’s fifth-great-grandfather.  Let us hope that those common ancestors are all that Lizzie and I share!

At First Sight

Every once in a while I find myself playing the genealogical “What If?” game.  What precise combination of events had to take place throughout the years to allow me to be me?  Perhaps this sense of narrowly-avoided oblivion makes those stories of ancestors’ first meetings so intriguing.

Grandma Montgomery (Blanche Wilson Montgomery) told me the first time she ever met Grandpa (L. T. Montgomery), he was part of a threshing crew working her family’s fields.  She was thirteen, and so shy she hid behind the door when she first saw him.  Eight years passed, during which Grandpa married, had two daughters, and was widowed.  Then in 1930, Grandma’s mother ran into Grandpa again in town.  She remembered him from the threshing crew years earlier and, thinking he would make a good husband for her oldest daughter, invited him out to the farm.  Shortly after this second meeting, Grandma and Grandpa married.

My maternal grandparents’ story began at a family get-together.  Grandma (Velma Swing Hoffmann) was in her teens and was surprised to see a young man at the family gathering whom she’d never seen before.  Struck by his good looks, she asked her mother who he was, only to find out he was a cousin!  She knew most of the Hoffmann cousins, of course–their father, Paul Hoffmann, had been a half-brother to her grandmother, Catherine Hoffmann Swing.  But Joe had been away in Chicago, and Grandma hadn’t realized there was a Hoffmann son older than Lee, born in 1912 (Grandpa was born in 1907, ten years before Grandma).  Grandma and Grandpa Hoffmann’s courtship was longer than Grandma and Grandpa Montgomery’s–they would not marry until 1938, some 5 years or so after that first meeting.

These stories (and all the other “first meetings” of ancestors) lead to inevitable questions.  Who would I be if Sophie Wilson hadn’t chosen that day to go into town?  Or what if Grandpa Hoffmann had stayed in Chicago rather than returning to Fairbury and attending that family get-together?  Or what if Grandma Montgomery had hidden behind that door again in 1930?

Family History, and Grandma

Yet another genealogical project (of course).  I’m working on updating the homepage of my genealogical network (  I’ve added a “What’s New” page to make it easier to find exactly what has been updated and when.  I’m working on creating pages for at least the more recent family branches (the more distant branches will still be reached through the newer Online Family Database site)–my inspiration to get cracking on this was Cherie’s Family Book which we looked at during our visit to Fairbury this summer.  At the moment I’m working my way through the descendants of Paul and Emma Slagel Hoffmann–rather a daunting task!  Check out the “What’s New” section to see if your family page has been updated recently.

I also wanted to add some information to the website in memory of Grandma Hoffmann.  To this effect I’ve uploaded the chapters of a Tribute book I put together for her in December 2000.  This can be found here.  Maybe it will express a little of what we have lost.