Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Day in the Life of a WWII Night Fighter

In a letter dated Sept. 9, 1943, my great-uncle Ray Christensen gives a description of his work schedule in the 417th Night Fighter Squadron, at the time stationed in Algeria, north Africa.

Bristol Beaufighters in flight

"At present I'm on the alert.  We spend 24 hours all dressed and ready to go play with the boys if they get nosey.  [note: they had German planes attempting to fly over] Then we have 24 hours off and then 24 hours on call for big action.  It's lovely country to fly in, especially at night.  It gets so dark you can't even see the wing tips, even though the stars do shine.  Imagine little "Jerry" up there not being able to see and expecting to get a pantfull of hot lead any minute.  No wonder flyers haven't got any nerves left  after a war.  It's good fun though I wouldn't trade for any other branch of the service.  What's worse than Germans is trying to come back over the mountains and land with clouds and fog clear down to the ground.  That's when I've really got work to do.  [note: Ray was a radar operator in a two-man crew] Between the two of us we usually make it.  It's a nice feeling to feel those wheels bump on the ground and hang there."

     Yes, I'll bet it was!

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Dust Storm of November, 1933

As a child, I recall my grandparents talking about the dust storms of the "Dirty Thirties," the air being so dark with blowing dirt that Grandpa could not see the house from the barn.  My grandma would tell of stuffing  rags, or anything else she could find, around the bottoms of the doors to minimize the amount of silt blowing in.  One of these terrible dust storms blew into eastern South Dakota in November of 1933, dominating the news coverage in the area for days afterward.

The following photo was taken November 12 in Huron, at 11:50 a.m.  It looks more like midnight than noon...

Excerpts from the local newspaper tell of the difficulties this storm caused:

1933, Nov. 15
The Evening Huronite

Last Sunday's dust storm brought with it a real problem for wool growers.
The wool of sheep which were out in the storm is packed solid with dirt, according to A. D. Randall, president of the Beadle County Wool Growers association.
How to get the dirt out of the wool is a problem which has not yet been solved, Mr. Randall said.

The storm pushed eastward from Beadle County into Kingsbury County -

1933, Nov. 15
The Evening Huronite, Pg. 2

De Smet, Nov. 15 (Special)  De Smet was digging out of the dust today, with a roof torn from the Sanitary market building as its worst damage and a pyramid of thistles almost to the top of the display windows of the J. C. Penney company store the most freakish effects of the wind.
The roof that was lifted from the market building cleared the front wall and crashed in the street beyond the sidewalk, damaging neither the light post nor windows of buildings.  The thistles were piled as if by hand converging to the center of the fifty foot front of the building, blocking both doorways.
Over Kingsbury county the dust storm raged severely, with many bare fields to feed it.

And it continued into Brookings County -

1933, November 16
The Evening Huronite, Pg. 2

The wind Sunday attained a velocity of 56 miles an hour in Brookings and carried the enormous amount of 125,000 tons of dirt per cubic mile, according to J. G. Hutton, State college agronomist.
The outstanding feature of the storm was the amount of dust which accompanied it.  From the barren fields and plowed lands the wind picked up the soil and while there were no clouds in the sky, when the wind was at its height it was impossible to see a house across the street and the lights were needed within hours.  This was in town where the buildings partially obstructed the wind while in the open spaces the condition was even worse.
One assistant of the college agronomy department went to the top of the Coughlin campanile and collected samples there, which were fairly large, indicating that a great amount of land was moved, if fairly large particles attained the height of the campanile, 165 feet.

The cost of this particular storm, just in terms of cleanup of homes and businesses, would amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars if wages were paid, according to the previous article.  But, during the Great Depression, few could afford to hire help.  It was disheartening, my grandmother told me; she would just get the house clean and the wind would pick up again.  I can only imagine how relieved everyone was when the dust storms of the '30s became a thing of the past.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Lessons Learned From a Computer Failure

It's what we all dread - turning on the computer, and finding it refuses to boot.  One week ago tomorrow, it happened to me.  My computer has not been declared dead quite yet, but it's been in the shop for 6 days, and they are still trying to resuscitate it.  Thank goodness I have my laptop as a backup, as well as my smart phone, but in this last week I've been glad for some of the preemptive things I've done, and I've learned some lessons on other things I should have done better to prepare for this.

My words of wisdom -

First and foremost, back up your data!  I use Carbonite (no connection, no relationship to declare) but there are numerous services out there.  One thing to be cautious of - some unlimited automatic backup services allow you a certain amount of data, and after you have reached that limit, they throttle your backup speeds.  This has been an issue with my service in the past, and I understand that they no longer to this; but prior to the change, I would find files I had created weeks prior had still not been backed up.  Check your backup periodically to see just how fast your files are being uploaded.  Carbonite has a "control center" that tells you how many files are pending at any given time, and also identifies them by name.

In addition, check various file types to make sure they're being backed up.  By default, my service does not back up movie files (as well as others), so I had to be certain that all those file types were included in the uploads.

Second, do local backups.  Huge external drives are relatively cheap; so much so that I have two of them connected to my computer, one set to back up every Saturday night, and the other every Wednesday night (patting myself on the back for that).  Unfortunately, in the month or so prior to my computer failure, I had unplugged the drives for some reason that escapes me now, and I don't recall ever plugging them back in (kicking myself firmly in the backside for that).  The moral of the story is this: just because you haven't had a computer failure in the past doesn't mean it's not coming, so take it very seriously, as if it was just around the corner.  It might be!

Third, go ahead and have your browser save your passwords, if you wish.  It's convenient.  But remember that even though you might have access to another computer, that computer will not help you with all those passwords.  I have no experience with password managers, and in this day and age of abundant hacking, I am not sure I want all my passwords in one place.  Thank goodness, I keep a recipe card file with my passwords managed the old fashioned way - one card for each website/account, and filed in alphabetical order.  Though it's occasionally been a real pain to make a written note of my passwords, and to update the file every time I've changed a password, it's something I am really, really glad I did now.

Fourth, if you haven't already made that emergency boot disk, take a few minutes and do it now.   Also, if your antivirus program has instructions for making a boot disk, do that as well.  If you have a virus that makes your computer inoperable, having virus definitions easily at hand could be huge in recovering your data.  In my particular case, my boot disk did not help, but had the circumstances been different, I could have backed up those new photos of the grandkids that I'd just unloaded from the camera, instead of hoping Carbonite was fast enough to upload them.  And I could potentially have fixed the problem myself instead of having to pay someone else to do it.

Hopefully in the next day or two, I'll have my computer back, complete with a new and improved hard drive, and all my data intact.  Hopefully.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Reading Glued-in Postcards

It's always a thrill to discover a new photograph, such as the one of this lovely large home, printed as a postcard.   But how frustrating to turn it over and find writing - but due to paper glued on the back, it's impossible to read it. 

I could not even make out the postmark, which was especially frustrating.   My husband had a fantastic idea, which ended up solving the mystery.  All we needed was a bright, LED flashlight - 

The  card was postmarked Melrose, Minn., Oct. 1914, and was addressed to Casper J. Kluthe of Howell, South Dakota, and was from Henry Eikmeier, his brother-in-law.  It reads, "Melrose Oct 30 1914    Will be at Orient next Wednesday Nov 4th   Hope you will meet us
Henry Eikmeier"

Being able to put a date to this card also helped to date photographs from visits of the Eikmeier family to the Kluthe family; prior to being able to read this postcard, I was only able to guesstimate the dates within a few years.  In addition, I can add another date/place to the Eikmeier timeline.

I have a number of old photos and postcards that have been glued into albums, and the unfortunate part is that most of those albums had black paper rather than white, so this tip won't work for every situation.  But in this case, it saved the day.

More Fun -and Haunted - Finds in the Office

This is the second-oldest item I've discovered in the bowels of my office - the oldest being a commencement program from 1884 - but this item is interesting as well.  It's a 1919 calendar from Turlock Mercantile Co. in Turlock, California.  Besides its age, I thought the overall design of the calendar was interesting.  Although a little ripped up and some water damage, the calendar portion looks like it was never used.

The Turlock Mercantile Building as it looked in 2014, photo courtesy of Google Earth.

Many businesses have inhabited the building over the years, from the dry good business that started it all, to retails stores, offices, even a boarding house above.  It started out as a wood building, and was bricked later.

An article in the Turlock Journal notes that paranormal investigations were done at Turlock Mercantile building in 2008.  Numerous reports were made over the years of strange noises and ghost sightings, so some amateur investigators decided to look into it, and got strange results themselves - the article says it better than I could:  "[They] got more than they bargained for when rattling noises began and the front door alarm went off right in front them. Even more spooky were the sounds of footsteps and a six-digit phone number being dialed the recorder picked up and the unexplained ending of the tape, even though the reels were still turning."

At that point, they brought in the professionals who did their own investigation and concluded that the ghost of the building's founder, Horace Crane, was among many that still called the building "home."   If you want an interesting read, consult the original story at

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

More Office Finds

Today's find is a Cadillac advertisement from the January 6, 1923 issue of "The Country Gentleman."

Monday, April 13, 2015

Help your Lookup Volunteers Help You

Research or lookup volunteers are anxious to help others with their genealogy research, mostly because we've all been helped so much ourselves.  But burnout is a problem that can easily be avoided with a little consideration for those trying to help you.

1) If you find yourself beginning your email with "Looking for any information..." stop right there. Consider this from the perspective of the volunteer.  I have delved into whatever resources I had, and come up with a nice amount of information to send back to the requester, only to be informed that they already had that information.   When you ask for help, rarely are you looking for "any" information.  You've already got *some*... do your volunteer a favor and tell them what you have, and specifically what you'd like to find.  Please be respectful of our time and effort.

2) Clearly state what geographic area and what time frame is involved, don't just give us a name.  Many of us have our contact information on many state and county sites as volunteers;  we don't automatically know where your ancestors are from or when they lived.

3) Read carefully what your volunteer is volunteering to do - if I have a particular book I'm willing to do lookups from, please don't ask me to go to the courthouse and get a birth certificate.

4) Please don't request information that you could easily find yourself using Google.

5) Most of us do not have infinite knowledge of or resources for your family or area of interest. Sorry, I do not know who paid for your great-great grandfather's grave stone. Sorry, I can't send you a photo of your great-grandmother's class reunion.  Sorry, I don't know why your ancestors moved from Indiana to Illinois.  (These are all real questions I've been asked.)

6) If you have a white list set up for your email, add the volunteer's email address to it.  Don't ask us to fill out a questionnaire to be able to send you your results.

4) Most of all, please say Thank You!  Chances are, your volunteer took time away from their own research to help you out, so acknowledge our efforts, even if we didn't find what you were looking for.  A little appreciation is all the pay we get - please do give us that.