Book of Me – January Prompt – Genealogical Plantation

For 2015, Julie Goucher of Angler’s Rest, is reinventing her Book of Me as a series of monthly prompts.  For the first prompt of the year, she writes:

Prompt 1 – January 2015 – Genealogical Plantation

Imagine you are planting trees that represent your family history.

  • What trees would you plant?
  • What part of your family are represented by a specific tree.
  • Why is that the case? – location, image, name?

Share your vision with us, perhaps if you are artistic you could draw your plantation.

Explore the ancestors and family members you are presenting. Illustrate with pictures and bring your genealogical plantation to life.

To me, I’ve always pictured by family tree as a giant oak – the gnarled branches curving up and outwards, strong enough to hold up the many family members deep within the canopy of its leaves.  The branches spread far and wide, provide shade to those beneath them and are great for climbing!  I love the image of a giant oak canopy cradling all my ancestors in its nooks and crannies.

But in addition to the oak, there are other plants in the garden that remind me more of my family.  When I think of gardens, I really think about my mother’s side of the family.  My Pappaw grew up in rural Mississippi, just south of Memphis, during the depression.  During his childhood, they were largely sustenance farmers – whatever they could grow, they would eat.  During the Depression, this actually allowed them to fare better than my Mammaw’s family, who lived in the big city and struggled more to make ends meet.

When I was growing up, we didn’t spend much time with my mother’s family – distance and estrangement largely kept us apart.  However, the times I do remember, the things I remember about my grandfather almost all have to do with growing something.  One of my earliest memories was of a visit we made to Memphis when I was about 4 years old, and we shucked beans on the porch.  I also have a great fondness for tomato sandwiches, which my mother passed down from her father.  He would take fresh tomatoes from the garden, slice them up and sandwich them between two pieces of toast with a little mayonnaise, salt and pepper.  Yummy!

Recently my aunt Penny sent me a green garden wagon that my grandfather used to use. He would pull my mother and aunt around in that wagon while he worked in the garden.  I have been planning for some time to turn that wagon into a memorial planter for my mother, Pappaw and Mammaw, all three of whom I lost within a year of each other in 1999-2000.  I asked her what some of their favorite plants were, and I was pleasantly surprised to find my favorite flower, the peony, listed among those that Mammaw and Pappaw loved.  During my mother’s 5 year battle with breast cancer, she collected angel pins that she would pin to the caps that she covered her head with.  Anytime I came across a design of a pin that she didn’t already have, I would buy it for her.  So my vision for the memorial planter is beautiful pink peonies surrounded by impatiens and ivy, with an angel watching over it – flowers from my grandparents and an angel from my mom.  Below is a rough sketch of what I’m picturing:

Memorial Planter - Peonies, impatiens and ivy

Memorial Planter – Peonies, impatiens and ivy


In Honor of D-day: Pappaw’s March through Germany as part of the Big Red One

Mammaw and Pappaw

Mammaw and Pappaw

My grandfather, Joe Douglas, fought in World War II as a part of the 1st Infantry Division.  They landed at Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.  (My father tells Pappaw’s landing story on his blog.)  The year before he passed away, I was visiting him to attend my grandmother’s funeral.  The night she died, he and I were alone in his home, while my parents, aunt Penny and uncle Mike said good-bye to Mammaw.  We knew she was dying that night, and Pappaw had visited the hospital that day to see the love of his life one last time before she left him.  We sat quietly talking, waiting for the phone call to tell us it was all over.

During that conversation, Pappaw told me about some of his experiences marching through Europe as a part of the 1st Infantry Division.

Landing at D-Day

He said Saving Private Ryan was an incredibly accurate depiction of the beach landing at D-Day.  He said the bodies were  floating in the surf, and that they would pull them up on to the beach out of the water.  There were so many bodies that they could use them as bulwarks to protect themselves from enemy fire.

Marching into Germany

Crossing into Germany was very difficult. The battle of Aachen was the hardest part of their campaign in Europe.  He said they encountered resistance in Frankfurt, but once they got past there, they basically “paraded” the rest of the rest of the way to the Elbe River, where they waited for six weeks while the Russians took Berlin.  After that, he helped to set up the headquarters for the American occupying force in Berlin.  He said one of the biggest mistakes of the war was letting the Russians take Berlin.

A Walk Down the Road

One evening Pappaw was leading his unit down a moonlit road through what he thought was friendly territory.  Up ahead, he could see another unit of soldiers approaching them.  At first he assumed they were another American unit, but as the two units got closer together, Pappaw realized the unit commander of the other group was wearing a German helmet.  They continued approach each other cautiously, and when they were close enough, the German unit commander sharply saluted the “Heil Hitler”, and Pappaw returned with an American salute.  As the two units passed, Pappaw made his way to the back of his unit, turning around to watch the other unit as it moved away from them.  When he got to the back, he found the German commander had also made his way to the back of his unit to watch their backs.  They smartly saluted each other one more time and then the two units continued to make there way down the road in opposite directions, passing in the night.

German Girls

Once the 1st Infantry Division was in Germany, the soldiers were expressly forbidden from fraternizing with German girls, as they may be spies or otherwise cause harm to the American troops.  However, those orders did not stop most of the young men from sneaking into the woods with the German girls living in the area, including Pappaw.  One day, at roll call, Pappaw and his buddies were reprimanded by their commanding officer.  Wondering how he knew that they had met up with the girls, the next time, they went deeper into the woods.  When they came back, they were reprimanded a second time.  It turned out that a lieutenant  could see them through binoculars from the top of a building.  Once they figured this out, the solders moved their rendezvous further into the woods and out of sight of the officers, where they continued to see the German girls with no more reprimands.  Many of the GIs wanted to marry their German girlfriends.  At first, the U.S. government wouldn’t allow it, but eventually they decided to allow the marriages after the German girls were investigated for any Nazi activities.

Exchanging Rations

In addition to being forbidden from fraternizing with German women, U.S. soldiers had to be careful about their contact with German soldiers.  While going through the fields cleaning up the dead and wounded, Pappaw would often encounter German soldiers doing the same.  They were only allowed contact enough to help each other find the bodies of their comrades.  However, German soldiers were fond of American rations.  Frequently, they would end up exchanging rations in the fields after a battle while looking for the wounded and dead.

Getting Caught with His Pants Down – Or the Surrender

One day, toward the end of the war, Pappaw stepped away from his unit in order to go to the bathroom.  He set his gun down a couple of feet away, and began to relieve himself.  When he looked up, a German officer was standing there with two Lugers on his belt.  He had been caught, literally, with his pants down.  Pappaw knew he couldn’t get to his gun in time.  Speaking in perfect English, the German told Pappaw that he had a few other men over the hill and that they all wanted to surrender.  He gave Pappaw both of his Lugers and told him that they would make great souvenirs.  Pappaw pulled up his pants, grabbed his gun and took the officer back over to his unit.  He got another soldier and together they took the German back to where the “few other men” were waiting to surrender on the other side of a rise.  As they cleared the rise, Pappaw could clearly see that there were more than a few othe rmen.  There were over 160 German soldiers waiting to surrender to the two American soldiers.  Among the soldiers who surrendered where submarine sailors still in their naval uniforms.  As the war began to end, more solders were needed and the Germans were pulling sailors out to help fill out the ground troops.

Liberating a Concentration Camp

At the time Pappaw told me these stories, he remembered liberating Buchenwald concentration camp.  In researching 1st Division history, it appears that they actually liberated Flossenbürg concentration camp, which was located near the Czech border.  Buchenwald was liberated by the U.S. Third Army.  Regardless of which camp, Pappaw was horrified at the conditions they found when they arrived at the camp.  It brought him a great deal of sadness to see how the Germans had treated their prisoners in the camp, and he took a great deal of pride in having a part in their liberation.  Flossenbürg was a camp comprised of two smaller camps, and was mostly home to non-Jewish political prisoners and criminals during the war.  In late 1944 and early 1945, the Germans began to send Polish and Hungarian Jews to the camp.  Nearly 97,000 prisoners passed through the camp between 1938 and 1945.

The Ducks at the Peabody Hotel

One day, a German POW was trying to talk to Pappaw in broken English and with the use of a handbook.  When the German soldier realized Pappaw was from the South, he asked him exactly where he was from.  After Pappaw revealed he was from the Memphis area, the POW became excited and told Pappaw about how he had been a cook at the Peabody Hotel and asked him if the ducks still did the parade.  (Ducks march to and from the hotel lobby’s fountain at 11am and 5pm everyday.)

The London Bar

Before the landing, Pappaw was stationed in London.  He spent a number of months there, and would often visit a bar that many GIs frequented.  Pappaw would nurse a beer, play the piano and sing with the entertainment.  Forty years after the war, he went back to London with Mammaw and visited the bar.  It still showed many signs of the damage from the London bombings during the war.  At first the owner didn’t want to let him in, because it was Sunday and against the law to sell alcohol on Sundays.  Once Pappaw explained who he was, the owner let him in and they talked for awhile.

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The Reilly & Douglas Families by the Numbers

I got this idea from fellow genealogy blogger History Repeating.  I thought it was a really interesting idea, and using the Statistics report in the Legacy software that I use to track my research, I pulled together my own infographic about my family tree.  Here is the Reilly & Douglas Families by the Numbers:

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