(Not So) Wordless Wednesday – The Quilt

My great grandmother Caroline Porbusky Wolford loved to make quilts. She made this beauty as a gift to my grandparents Howard and Barb Witt. It was presented to them the night before my parents’ wedding. In this photo are, from left to right, my grandmother Barb Wolford Witt Viti, grandfather Howard Witt, uncle Tom Witt, great grandmother Wolford, my mom and (I think) two unknown relatives in the right foreground.

Peace Be With You!

When I graduated from Ursuline in 2000, my graduation party featured a life-size picture of me in my tux before senior prom, printed on white paper so family and friends could write a message of support/good luck/inspiration. It’s a fairly common thing, I suppose, for a new graduate to need all the help he can get leaving the nest for the first time. Afterward, not wanting to dispose of these sentiments, I folded this massive piece of paper and stored it in a Rubbermaid container where it sat for years. Sorting through some boxes this past summer, I realized it wasn’t practical to keep it when I needed to make room in those bins for my Lego’s, a Star Trek comic book collection and a stockpile of Air Force unit patches, enough to outfit an entire squadron, that still clogged my old bedroom at my parents’ house.

I took one final read of what was written on that large piece of paper. Some comments were witty, others sentimental, and some were just plain stupid (“Never change!” – like that’s even possible). Of everything written, there was one comment that stuck with me. In the top, right corner, my grandpa Howard Witt wrote something so very Howard – “Peace be with you!”. My Grandpa Witt had incredibly strong faith and shared that faith where he could, whether in writing, in his spoken words or in the stained glass crosses he crafted that still grace many homes in Youngstown (and don’t forget The Vatican!). I cut this corner off the rest of the paper and it’s in my scrapbook, a fantastic reminder of an honorable and loving grandfather.

Carry on!

Grandpa Witt and a very young me taking a stroll during a trip to Topeka, Kansas to visit relatives.

Tombstone Tuesday – Martin and Elizabeth Witt

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene…

In Mount Carmel Cemetery in Verona, Pennsylvania is the headstone of my third great grandparents, Martin and Elizabeth Kreher Witt. Martin was born in 1830 in Gernsheim, Gross-Gerau, Hessen, Germany and arrived in the United States when he was just two years old. His wife Elizabeth Kreher was born in Herman, Butler, Pennsylvania in 1840. Finding Herman took some doing as today it’s nothing more than the intersection of Herman Road and Bonniebrook Road. Aside from the volunteer fire department, a convenience store, cemetery and school, you wouldn’t think much of it. The Witt’s spent most of their lives in western Pennsylvania and their final years in Pittsburgh.

Mary Mathewson photo, from Find A Grave.com
I can’t in the least take credit for this image. As I’ve mentioned before, the genealogy community is awesome in that sometimes total strangers offer something great that you couldn’t retrieve yourself. In this case, I posted a request on FindAGrave.com (yes, that’s a real site – with 107 MILLION grave records) for someone to post a photo of the headstone for Martin and Elizabeth. A few months later, Mary Mathewson posted this photo. A quick email exchange and we discovered we are researching the same ancestors and shared information and family photos. It’s this kind of sharing and collaboration that make genealogy so much fun!

Find A Grave, Inc. Find A Grave.com, digital images (http://www.findagrave.com: accessed 15 October 2013), photograph, gravestone for Martin (1830 – 1921) and Elizabeth (1840 – 1930) Witt, Verona, Allegheny, Pennsylvania.

(Not So) Wordless Wednesday – Four Generations

Distributed online by ArcaMax.

Click to enlarge.

The ‘Four Generations’ photo is something special, perhaps because it is somewhat rare. A five generation photo is probably close to impossible, unless the oldest person is close to 100 years old and everyone had kids at a very young age. This photo is my grandfather Howard Witt, mother Becky Witt Lowry, great grandfather Francis Witt, and little me around April 1982. Great grandpa Witt lived another 10 years, so I have many memories of him.

Census Sunday – 1940 Census of Francis and Helen Witt

It’s hard not to think of our grandparents how we most often saw them – as grown adults, perhaps even elderly. I think of my great grandfather as a man in his 90’s, sitting in a chair in his house on Osborn Avenue and waving his cane at me. Documents such as census records make it easier to imagine them in a different time in their lives. In 1940, the Witt family lived at 24 Osborn Avenue, just north of Mahoning Avenue. When a census enumerator visited the house, my great grandfather Francis was 41 years old, and my grandfather Howard just a boy of 11.

Relationship to me:
Francis John Witt (1899 – 1992)
father of:
Howard David Witt (1929 – 2001)
father of:
Rebecca Ann Witt
mother of:
Joseph Patrick Lowry

State: Ohio
County: Mahoning
City: Youngstown

Ward: 4
Block: 506
Sheet: 12A
Enumeration District: 96-76
Enumerated by: Anne S Williams, Enumerator
Address: 24 N Osborn Ave (map)

Francis Witt, head, male, white, 41 years old, married, has not attended school since March 1, 1939, attended school through 8th grade, born in Ohio, on April 1, 1935 lived in same place, was at work for pay the week of March 24-30, 1940. Works 40 hours a week as a business agent in a repair shop, worked 26 weeks in 1939. Earned $800 wages in 1939, with no wages from another source.

Helen         ” , wife, female, white, age 41, married, has not attended school since March 1, 1939, attended school through 8th grade, born in Ohio, on April 1, 1935 lived in same place (not a farm), did not work or seek work.
M. Governor    ” , son, male, white, age 20, single, born in Ohio, on April 1, 1935 lived in same place, has attended school since March 1, 1939, attended school through C-2 (College, 2 years), in school for 52 weeks; wages of $450. No job listed.
Francis        ” , son, male, white, age 19,  single, has not attended school since March 1, 1939, attended school through 12th grade, born in Ohio, on April 1, 1935 lived in same place, was seeking work. Duration of unemployment up to March 30, 1940—in weeks: 20 weeks. Otherwise works as an order clerk at a steel mill. In 1939, worked 12 for $300 in wages.
William        ” , son, male, white, age 17,  single, has attended school since March 1, 1939, attended school through 11th grade, born in Ohio, on April 1, 1935 lived in same place, did not work or seek work.
Fred             ” , son, male, white, age 15, single, has attended school since March 1, 1939, attended school through 8th grade, born in Ohio, on April 1, 1935 lived in same place, did not work or seek work.
Howard        ” , son, male, white, age 11, single, has attended school since March 1, 1939, attended school through 4th grade, born in Ohio, on April 1, 1935 lived in same place, did not work or seek work.
Helen K.       ” , daughter, female, white, age 6, single, has not attended school since March 1, 1939, born in Ohio, on April 1, 1935 lived in same place, did not work or seek work.
1940 U.S. Federal Census, Mahoning County, Youngstown, population schedule, Enumeration District 96-76, Sheet 12A, Dwelling 229,. Francis Witt; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 July 2013), citing National Archives microfilm publication Roll T627_3270.

Petro, Diane. (Spring 2012). Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? The 1940 Census: Employment and Income. Prologue Magazine. Volume 44 (Issue 1). Retrieved from http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2012/spring/1940.html. Accessed 28 July 2013.

Memorial Day 2013 – A Visit to Calvary Cemetery

I took some time out this Memorial Day to visit Calvary Cemetery in Youngstown, Ohio. Calvary is the ‘home’ cemetery, and countless relatives are buried there. My Lowry great grandparents and grandparents’ graves are just inside the gate in Section 55, so they were first stop. Last year or so, my aunts planted several Hosta plants, which have grown nicely around the grave.

My aunt Chris and I were just talking yesterday that there was no flag on my grandfather’s grave, and I confirmed that today. A quick visit to the cemetery office, which was open on Memorial Day to handle the crowds, rectified that situation. Chuck served in D Company, 28th Infantry Regiment, 8th Infantry Division during World War II, and was awarded the Purple Heart for injuries sustained in the Battle for Brest, France. He took home part of a German grenade in his leg as a souvenir. You can read more about his military service on my other blog, The Wartime Letters of Private Charles Lowry, U.S. Army.
After leaving my grandparents, I wandered over to my grandpa Howard Witt’s grave. It was harder to find than I remembered, so I made a second visit to the cemetery office. He’s buried in Section 47, Lot 552, Grave 2, directly behind my aunt Renee Witt and her dad, John Santorilla. I was probably about 10 feet away the first time I went, but found it immediately after I stopped by the office. Howard’ grave also lacked a flag. Another trip to the cemetery office, a chat with the clerk about coming back to Youngstown, and back to the grave I went. At all the graves, I spent a few minutes of cleaning grass clippings, wandering around to read the other names before it was off to find my great grandpa and grandma Witt in Section 45.

My great grandparents Francis and Helen Witt are buried together with their daughter, my great aunt Helen Witt. I was fortunate to know two of my great grandparents, and Francis was one of them. He was always sitting in his recliner in his house on Osborne Ave when we walked in, would point his cane at me and say, ‘Hey, I know you!”. I’m sure he did, but with probably 40 great grandkids by the time he died, he just wasn’t quite sure of my name! When his daughter, my great aunt Helen, passed away in 2009, she was cremated and her remains are buried above her moms. She has a flower vase in her memory.

Next time I go, I’ll have to better prepare. Some basic gardening tools would have helped clear the grave markers a little better. There were a few older graves to the left of my Witt great grandparents that are almost completely lost to Mother Nature. A quick sprucing would save them from disappearing under the grass. I’ll add this to the list of things to do when I’m home this summer.

Military Monday – The Escape and Evasion Report of Francis Witt

On March 4, 1944, my great uncle Francis Witt, Jr. was a pilot with the 547th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 384th Bombardment Group. He flew 10 successful combat missions before his luck ran out. He was forced to bail out of his B-17 over France after dropping bombs on Berlin.

Thanks to the efforts of a group of historians to collect and archive information related to the 384th Bombardment Group, Francis Witt’s evasion and escape report is available for anyone willing to undertake a quick Google search. This report was written by Francis after being ‘recovered’ in May 1944. It’s an incredible 30+ page narrative with supporting documents that he wrote showing that although he crashed only 25 miles from the English Channel in NE France, he took a 1,500 mile journey to Gibraltar and then back to Bristol, England, evading capture. It details all the support he received from locals, things he carried with him and his escape route. You will see that Francis was lucky; of his 11 person crew, only three evaded capture. (And Francis only barely, as you will read). Eight more were guests of the Fuhrer in POW camps for the remainder of the war.

Using information provided in his report, I was able to map his journey. The map points A (Bruchamps, France) through J (Montauban, France) are correct, but his report doesn’t state how he traveled from Montauban to Gibraltar (point K), so I let Google Maps take care of that route for me. (map no longer available)

My uncle Tom actually transcribed this document, which makes it slightly easier to read. However, there is something to be said for reading it in Uncle Francis’s own hand. You can read the transcribed document by clicking HERE.