Sunday, October 20, 2019

My uncle John E. Watts (1925 - 1927)

I remember going to Holy Cross Cemetery several times with my father trying to locate the grave of his brother, John, who had died in childhood.  Dad was convinced that the grave had been moved, or obscured when a cemetery road was moved or widened. Oddly, I do not believe that Dad ever checked with the cemetery office. Maybe he finally did.

John Edward Watts was the third child of Ralph Edward Watts and Alice Margaret Murphy Watts. Born 26 January, 1925, he was almost five years younger than Ralph “Junior” and just less than two years younger than my father, Gene.

His name has family history.  John E. may have been named after his paternal grandfather, John Watts—who had died when Ralph was only 16. The name was inherited from John E.’s great-grandfather, John B. Watts (born Jean Baptiste Vauthrin).

I believe I have one photo of young John, however, I am not positive.

I have not found records of John E.’s young passing. However, his sister Anna Mae kept good family history records, and she noted his cause of death as hemorrhage and myocarditis—an inflammation of the heart muscle.

John’s final resting place is, as my father remembered, by one of the roads in Holy Cross Cemetery, in Lackawanna.  South of Saint Joseph’s Shrine, in division 5, row H, grave 34. I am fairly sure Dad and I had looked around there.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Une Petite Réunion de Famille

My previous posts were all historical.  However,  today’s brief entry is a 21st century update—regarding a small reunion.

But, first, a little background…

As previously noted, my 2nd great-grandfather, John B. Watts (birth name Jean Baptiste Vauthrin) was the last of my direct ancestors born in France.   His younger brother, Joseph, was the first in the family born in the USA. 

After the loss of both parents and being temporarily separated by war, they permanently parted, when Joseph moved to California in the late 1860s.  I assume that they never saw each other again.
I have no idea what sort of relationship Joseph and John had.  I imagine, though, that they had a quiet shared respect.  But, I only speculate.   Based on the few artifacts I have found, they both lived upstanding, productive, lives.   Though separate.

Meanwhile, back in the 21st century…   

Yesterday, my brother and I had the honor and pleasure to finally meet one of Joseph’s descendants.   (My 2rd cousin, once removed;  I think.)  It was if we had known each other our whole lives.  I am happy to see that the long “lost” western branch of the family appears to be doing just fine. 

And, I trust that the brothers, John B and Joseph, are satisfied with us all. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The passing of a Civil War sailor

In genealogy research, it occasionally pays off to keep going back to the internet well. The Veterans’ Day holiday prompted me to do a quick search, again, for one of my 2nd great grand uncles, and Civil War navy officer, Joseph Watts. And, there he was. Or, rather, there was his gravesite.

Joseph fascinates me. As mentioned in previous blog entries, Joseph was a Second Assistant Engineer for the Union Navy. He served from 1863-1865. Joseph was part of the blockade, on board the USS Southfield, and then the West India Squadron. He returned home to Buffalo, and ultimately moved across the USA. I suspect that he had a fascinating story, and I would love to piece it together.

I had narrowed down the date of his death to the 1920’s, in northern California, but I had nothing more specific. Today, I was poking around in, and found great-great-grand Uncle in the National Cemetery Administration’s U.S. Veterans Gravesites database. Now I know that Joseph died on 13 Nov, 1923, and rests in San Francisco National Cemetery.

Today is the anniversary of his passing.

Thanks for your service, Uncle Joseph. Rest in peace.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ray O’Laughlin—Reforming My View of Our Family History

Today is the 115th anniversary of Raymond O’Laughlin’s birth. Ray was my great-uncle, and he was a nice guy.

By the time of my earliest recollection, Uncle Ray was in his seventies. He was my maternal grandmother’s brother. He lived with his two older sisters, “Mabe” and “Marge.” They shared one flat of their large house behind their South Buffalo corner store—at the intersection of South Park Avenue and Marilla Street. They were from a family of nine children; and, following the World War I death of his brother Frank, Ray was the only male.

What I remember most about Ray was that he liked horse racing. In that regard, he differed from his two roommate-sisters, who religiously played bingo (and his younger sisters who augmented their bingo with regularly scheduled poker games). In contrasting his hobby with that of his elder sisters, Ray was the source of my early economics and statistics education—communicating to me, in no uncertain terms, that playing the ponies was much more predictable and lucrative than bingo.

He was a nice old man, with good economic sense.

After his passing, at age 85, I started to understand that there was more to Uncle Ray.

At Ray’s funeral, the priest, referred to the departed as “James.” That seemed like an odd mistake, particularly from our pastor, who was not prone to such embarrassing slips. After the service, I mentioned the error to a family member, and it was explained to me that Father Stanton was probably technically correct because Ray may have changed is legal name from Raymond O’Laughlin to James Loughlin. This was because of some “trouble” he had gotten into as a youth, or was necessary when his brother-in-law helped him get a job on the railroad, or some combination of the two. An intriguing fact, but I did not expect to hear more details.

Two decades later, I started to research our family history. I stumbled across twenty-two year-old Ray’s WWI draft registration card. It was stamped EASTERN NEW YORK REFORMATORY. On the line for occupation, it listed “inmate Eastern New York Reformatory.” That was interesting. But, again, I did not expect to ever hear more details.

As additional context, I note that Ray’s mother, Mary Ann Calden, died when Ray was fourteen. A year later, the 1910 census identified Ray as a rivet heater in an oil refinery. By today’s middle class standards, extremely tough work for a fifteen year-old!

While searching old newspapers, I found an article mentioning Ray and my great-grandfather Patrick O’Laughlin. On 27 December 1911, the Buffalo Express ran the below notice titled “Court Lectures Youth.”

On request of the boy's father, Judge Maul in city court yesterday lectured forcefully to Raymond O’Laughlin, seventeen years old, of No. 98 Walter street….
Since October 29th, when he was arrested on his mother's complaint, he has been in the penitentiary. Yesterday his father, Patrick O'Laughlin, said he would sign a $1,000 bond if the judge would give the boy a severe lecture. Judge Maul agreed and Raymond was brought before him.

The complainant would have been Ray’s stepmother. It sounds like an unpleasant domestic scene, and apparently Ray spent his 17th birthday and Christmas behind bars. Ouch. (I wish I knew what my grandmother, who turned twelve during this interval, thought about this situation.)

The early life story emerging from these historical documents appears to contrast with the quiet, nice, great-uncle I knew. Is this dragging up irrelevant ancient history and harming the memory of Ray? No, I do not think so.

To me, this reinforces (on a magnified basis) that old cliché that no one is perfect, and, more importantly, that people change. It is good to forgive, but there is no lesson if we completely forget.

Ray turned out just fine. He lived a long, productive, life. His lifetime accomplishments certainly outweigh his youthful indiscretions. I am glad that I knew him. His life reminds me that we can all turn out fine, despite our hardships, failings, and poor choices. I will try to remember that lesson as my children grow and need forgiveness for their misdeeds. Or, when I need to forgive my own misdemeanors. I hope that I learn to be a nice old man.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

sixty-fifth anniversary of a life change

This past Saturday (12 Sept. 2009) was the sixty-fifth anniversary of a pivotal day in my father’s life—the day he was wounded.

Private Gene Watts' regiment of the 29th US Infantry Division was attempting to retake Brest, France from German control. I believe that Dad was laying telephone wire when shrapnel shattered his right thigh. If I understand correctly the other soldiers who had accompanied him died that night, and he lied alone in the field all night.

Doc was twenty years old.

Dad rarely spoke of what happened that day, and I never heard him complain about what happened or blame anyone.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Silver Star

The below recommendation was kept by my father, Gene Watts. Dad and three or four other GIs were with Lt. Morehouse, as part of his patrol on the night documented. For security, the typed recommendation was redacted, but Dad’s handwriting filled in some of the blanks. This post is dedicated to Lt Carlton E. Morehouse, my father, and their companions.

For gallantry in action against the enemy in *****, *****. On 13 July 1944, Second Lieutenant Morehouse’s platoon was given the assignment of capturing two known enemy positions located on the road leading to ***** {St. Lo}. Such positions were to be used as a line of departure for the **** {3rd} Battalion, ***** {115th} Infantry supported by tanks in a contemplated offensive, the plans for which were predicated on a prompt acquisition of this sector. Largely through the aggressiveness and general leadership qualities of Second Lieutenant Morehouse, these enemy positions were captured. However, as the infantry and tanks were moving forward, they were subject to intense enemy mortar and artillery fire delaying their advance and inflicting casualties. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Second Lieutenant Morehouse, although in the face of decimating enemy fire, moved forward to a vantage point and located the enemy guns. From there, Second Lieutenant Morehouse immediately relayed fire data to his own artillery which effectively forced the enemy artillery to withdraw. While in the performance of this heroic act, Second Lieutenant Morehouse was mortally wounded by enemy fire. The aggressiveness, courage, and unselfish devotion to duty displayed by Second Lieutenant Morehouse reflect great credit upon himself and Military Service.

My father sent the above home to his own mother, and asked that she remember Lt. Morehouse in her prayers.

For the record, at the time of his death, Carlton Morehouse was twenty-three years, and two years earlier, in civilian life, had a been a musician. He rests in Arlington National Cemetery, Section 11 Site 819.

Let's all pray for him.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Watchman: a small genealogy mystery

Today, I may have solved a small genealogy mystery.

As mentioned, in past blog entries, one of my great-great-grandfathers was John B. WATTS. He was a carpenter—variously documented in census records and Buffalo City Directories as ‘joiner,’ ‘carpenter,’ and ‘ship carpenter.’

By the way, as also mentioned in an earlier blog entry, great-great-granddad was also a volunteer fireman.

The mystery, though, was an 1851 Buffalo City Directory listing for “Watts John, watchman h. 144 ellicott.” That was the family address. However, in the 1850 Directory, g-g-granddad’s occupation was listed as carpenter, and census identified him as ship carpenter. The ’52 Directory also said ship carpenter. So, where did the watchman occupation come from? Did John B. take a year off from carpentry? That seems unlikely. Was there another John Watts in the family? Possible, but I see no other evidence to support the existence of a namesake at that time.

Well…today I was reading Family Life in Early Buffalo. {Seriously, I was.} There was a reference to the Watch House, and went on to explain that:

At night, the watchmen, who doubled, as firefighters, would patrol the city streets in pairs, wearing leather fire hats with “City Watchman” painted on the forepiece....

Volunteer fireman, watchman,…ah, maybe that makes sense!

Yes, I am easily amused.