Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A ditch that binds a community

Winter here in northern Wyoming has been mild thus far and I have been taking advantage of the 40 degree days as much as possible in restocking our firewood stores. Yesterday was  degrees and I'm trying to figure which pair of shorts works for this time of year.

My mom has offered to help cut wood yesterday and we did so on the property of a cousin north of town. I was out last week and visited with the cousin and had visited with her for a few hours about various family stories. One thing that came up was an engineering project known as the Interstate Ditch. I had come across references to the ditch in a court case a few weeks ago and have heard it referenced by my mom over the years.

The ditch is an irrigation ditch built in about 1904 to convey water to a handful of farmers near Decker, Montana. The ditch provides water to several acres of land that would otherwise receive very little water for irrigation, besides the nominal spring and summer rains. While talking about the ditch, the cousin said that she had both the ledger and the minute book to the Interstate Ditch Company, of which she was the secretary. Without hesitation, she offered to loan me both, but I said that really the minute book was of more interest.

The book is an ordinary record book, with "Interstate Ditch Co." written in pencil on the cover. The first pages are a draft of proposed by-laws, followed by the by-laws that were approved. The minutes do not provide genealogy records per se, but add to the awareness of how the dynamics of a community organization changes over time.

The stockholders usually held a meeting once a year. Often the meeting was held before the spring irrigation started. What is curious is seeing the names in a somewhat fluid state. While reading the ledger, it was interesting to see the names change as one generation left and another took the spot, or a family name disappeared entirely, to be replaced by a new name.

The early names are ones that I am familiar with by proximity to family that I research, or in the case of E. A. Whitney, by reputation. Whitney was an early resident of Sheridan, Wyoming and continues to have an impact after his death through Whitney Benefits, a philanthropic organization. Whitney assisted the stockholders in the financial start-up of the company and the logistics of the stocks and in all things banking.

This is a unique record as it sheds light on the community workings, albeit an isolated section of a community based on the path of an irrigation ditch. The value is that it also shows what we as genealogists and historians already know--that often the work of people unfamiliar to us in the past has a lasting impact on those of us in the present.

The ditch provided water to the land that would eventually be owned by Preston Wagner, son of William Wagner, who was a neighbor of other kin. William Wagner was also an early president of the ditch company and a substantial shareholder. The land that Preston Wagner homesteaded on is now owned by the cousin who loaned me the minute book, and borders land that my great-grandparents, Ralph and Cora (Williams) DeLapp lived on.

The ditch itself is substantial--an average-sized man would be hard to spot walking in it and might be able to jump across it with a running start. It may be just a ditch to some, yet I find it surprising that something so ordinary has such a complex and rich history.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Creating a custom chart

For the past week or so, I have been working on a project that has encountered a few pitfalls along the way. I started charting a unique family group with the basis being homesteaders in northern Sheridan County, Wyoming, specifically near Acme and Monarch, Wyoming.

I started the process using information I have compiled over the past few years, as well as personal knowledge of many of the relationships. The chart is intended to show as a graphic the kinship ties of many neighbors in the Lower Tongue River community.

The following statistics can be found in this particular group:
  • There are 49 individuals, of which 23 (46.9%) were homesteaders
  • Of the 23 homesteaders, nine were female (39.1%); 14 were male (60.8%)
  • Of the 23 homesteaders, six that had a spouse that also homesteaded
  • The largest consanguinaity group consists of seven individuals, relating to the Van Gorder family
I descend from six of the 23 homesteaders: Gideon and Eliza Lupton, William F. and Axtah Van Gorder, and Robert T. and Elizabeth Williams.

A chart created by Open Office Draw

I had started this process by asking for suggestions in the Transitional Genealogists Forum message board. Several suggestions came in for using a mind map, which is often used for mapping workflow, ideas or concepts, but has some additional utility. I found it to be a great playground, but wasn't the fit for what I was attempting. I was also referred to genograms, of which I am familiar and have played with GenoPro a couple of times. I again didn't feel this was adequate for my purposes.

I remembered that Rootsmagic has a charting program bundled with it, which I thought should work given the user-friendliness of the larger program. I launched myself into Rootsmagic Chart with mouse clicks blazing a path for my creation. A few hours of adding lines, adjusting lines, planning and replanning how to incorporate additional names in to a tight spot, I finished. I was happy with the finished product....until I wanted to save it. It turns out the program will not save a file in anything besides a proprietary extension. On top of that, it won't allow users to print, returning the message, "Wallchart printing is disabled in the demo version."

Bummer. The program info under the Help tab indicates it is version 1.02 and is copyrighted by Rootsmagic, Inc. 2003-06. And the red flag in my head goes up and the mental party balloons quickly deflate. Back to brainstorming. I wonder about the program in question being packaged with the larger program when it has no real use to any user, aside from being a place to sketch ideas out.

It turns out the solution is a pretty handy one. OpenOffice Draw is a perfectly capable program for creating custom charts with much ease. I kept my earlier attempt open and created a newer and fresher chart, of which I can say was a bit easier and seems to be more appealling to the eyes than the end result in Rootsmagic Chart. Sometimes the simple solution is one that is overlooked by wanting something fancy and created by a genealogy-related company.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Homestead records of Sheridan County, Wyoming

I live in a small town and it always feels good when I enter the Wyoming Room at the Sheridan Fulmer Library. I feel like Norm from the 80's television show, Cheers. They know me by name there and by now they know some of the family I am researching.

While at the Wyoming Room a couple of weeks ago while conducting some routine data collection, the manager, Judy Slack, asked if I wanted to look at the homestead records they had acquired earlier in the year. I've been meaning to work on local homestead records for sometime and have to admit that I am not very knowledgeable about the homestead process. I do know that I have several homesteaders in my family and that the files the Wyoming Room obtained might be worth looking at.

About the records: The State of Wyoming initially had several boxes of records stored in a storage unit in Cheyenne, and apparently not in ideal circumstances at all. There was a gap by the door of about 4-5 inches which allowed a considerable amount of snow and particulate matter to invade the storage unit. The state decided it no longer wished to keep the records and offered them to the Sheridan Fulmer Library. Judy and her crew sorted through the boxes, many of which were moldy and unsalvageable.

Once the sorting and processing was completed, approximately 25 boxes of various records remained. Many of the records are regarding failed homesteads, one of which is a grand uncle of mine, Ned Lupton. Other records are regarding issues that regarding Desert Land entries and water, as was the case with Ernest Kester, another relative.

The diamonds in the rough were bits of information that I doubt I would ever have found elsewhere. In the file for my great-great grandfather, Gideon Lupton, was paperwork requesting a refund for his homestead money. He started to suffer from paralysis on January 6, 1913 and could no longer work the land and had no money to hire the work out. This is the newspaper 10 November 1919 article from The Sheridan Enterprise:

The funeral home record doesn't shed much additional light on the cause of death and states paralysis as the cause of death. While I claim to no medical training, I think this indicates the possibility of a stroke.

I am quite amazed that I located a specific reference to the date when he became ill, which I think is quite unique.

Another unexpected twist came when I found a rather large file for a woman named Amelia Wagner. I am not related to her but she and her husband were neighbors to other kin, the Schreibeises and Robert and Elizabeth Williams, my great-great grandparents. Amelia was a teacher to several members of my family. Her husband, William Wagner, was a well-known rancher known for his large stone house, which he built by hand.

The paperwork, it turns out, was a court case tried in district court over whether the Wagners filed a false land entry because of timber, stone and minerals that were available on the property. Allegations also surfaced that the land was worth more for the coal than anything else and should have been sold at a higher price. The testimony of Mr. Wagner is nearly 60 pages long and a bit tedious, but gives a good impression of the landscape in the area. There are also about 20 pictures in the back that were used as exhibits, as well as two maps, one of which was marked on in the courtroom by Mr. Wagner himself. The pictures show the coal mine that Wagner had constructed for personal consumption, as well as the lay of the land in question.

The added bonuses are two of the witnesses for the defense, Frank Lupton, my great-grandfather and Jacob Schreibeis, a member of other kin that ties in to more contemporaneous times. (Frank's daughter, Violet, married Jacob's son, George.) The testimonies are great to have found.

What shines through in all of this is a bit of humor. The Luptons that I descend from have a great sense of humor and I laughed at the very start of Frank Lupton's answers. When asked what his occupation was, Frank answered, "My occupation I guess would be farmer." Apparently he didn't feel that was substantial enough and continued with, "I don't know what else, digging in the dirt."