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Westmoreland County

This past weekend, my father and I took a trip to Western Pennsylvania. We planned to do this years ago, but for one reason or another the stars never aligned. This year we finally made it happen, and I’m glad we did. The Boddices emigrated from England at the end of 19th century and settled along the steep mountainsides that line the Monogahela River. While in the area, we stayed with my father’s cousin George Burgman and his wife Betty. George is the grandson of the immigrant, John Boddice, through the second marriage of his daughter, Jennie. On the first evening, while talking family history with him and his wife, George let slip that there was a Boddice family Bible. He explained that he’d looked through it years before and that there wasn’t much inside. After some digging through the attic, he brought down a thick volume with a badly degraded spine and plopped it on the table. I carefully opened the book and could feel the cover and spine slowly disintegrating in my hands. As George had mentioned, there was nothing in the front of the book, but that’s not where genealogy notes are kept in Family Bibles. At the book’s center were two complete pages detailing births and deaths of the immigrant family dating from 1872 to 1913. It was our first evening in Westmoreland county and the trip was already a success! I spent the evening scanning the Bible, photos, and funeral cards.

Detail from Family Bible

Detail from Family Bible

The next day we drove to Monessen and visited Grandview Cemetery. The cemetery sits atop a high ridge overlooking the river valley. It didn’t take long to locate John and Lillian’s graves based on a photo I’d found online. Curiously, there was a lot of empty ground around their headstone and we wanted to know who was buried near them, if anyone. The cemetery office was closed, so we left a message and decided to return later in the day. George led us back into the town and showed us the house where George and Lillian had lived, the locations of bars that they used to frequent, and the steep roads and staircases they used to climb the mountainside. After touring the town we returned to Grandview and found the caretaker’s son near the office. The young man took us inside and pulled a small pile of burial cards which I transcribed. The caretaker showed-up soon afterward and pointed us toward the necessary sections. At the day’s end, we returned to Dravosburg, for one last night.

On our final day, I explained that I wanted to visit the grave of another 2nd great grandfather, that was no relation to George. Luther Rambo Mack was buried in Monongahela Cemetery near Charleroi. I had no idea where that was in relation to Dravosburg, but we ended-up traveling back up-river (along the opposite bank) the same as the day before. The entrance to Monongahela Cemetery was beautiful. Tall old trees cast shadows across deep green slopes with a simple road winding up into the woods. We quickly found the cemetery office and then spent the next 10 minutes trying to orient ourselves among the labyrinthine paths and roads that criss-crossed the grounds. It was easily one of the best kept non-military cemeteries I have ever visited. At the top of the ridge, in a more sparsely treed area, we found the stone for Luther, Annie, and their immediate families. I took all the photos that I could, and some extras for Find-A-Grave, and called it a weekend.

Thanks again George and Betty!

Lost and Found

My Uncle Albert started doing genealogy on my maternal lines long before me. When asked, he would bring out a book of names, dates, and photographs and let me look (carefully!) through the pages. There was one picture that always stood out to me, that of a dapper looking young man in a long coat, hat,  gloves, and holding a clarinet. The story behind the photograph was that Clarence (my great granduncle) left Pennsylvania to seek out his fortunes in the West but was never heard from again. This would have been around 1910. Sometime later, I also learned that Clarence had borrowed money from family members before disappearing. Nobody could tell me what happened to him; most of my surviving family didn’t even remember him. Once I started doing my own research, I was determined to learn what happened. As of today, I have finally succeeded! Sadly, everyone that might have cared or been interested, has passed on. Since I can no longer tell my uncle, grandfather, grandaunt, or second cousin 2x removed… I’ll share the mystery of Clarence Channell with you.

Years later, I found Clarence in the 1930 Federal Census, sitting in the Colorado State Penitentiary. There was no data indicating why he was there; his name was accompanied only by the relation “Inmate”. After some searching, I discovered that the  Colorado State Archives has extensive prison records. Indexes of these records are available online. After some quick searches, I found a number of hits: Clarence Channell #9694 (1915), G. C. Channell #11163 (1921), G. C. Channell #15192 (1929), and G. C. Channell #17246 (1932).  I couldn’t be 100% sure that each of these belonged to my great granduncle, but my curiosity was piqued. This year, for Christmas, I decided to give myself a gift of uncovering Clarence’s story. According to the Social Security Death Index, he died in 1966, so it’s not like he would care. I submitted my request online and talked to one of the archivists on the phone about what I wanted. One credit card transaction and a week later, I now have a much better idea what happened to Clarence Channell. There may be court and police records that give more insight into his crimes, but the paperwork I have paint a fairly good picture, Great Granduncle Clarence was a grifter.

George Clarence Channell, 1915

On August 23, 1915, Clarence was convicted for “Forgery” in Boulder County, Colorado. He was sentenced to one to two years. He was paroled on July 24, 1916 and discharged May 14, 1917. On January 20, 1921, Clarence was convicted for “False pretense” in Larimer County, Colorado. He was sentenced to eight to ten years. He was paroled on January 10, 1925 and discharged January 14, 1925. Governor Sweet commuted his sentence from six years to ten years after a violation of parole in May 1926. On July 18, 1929, Clarence was convicted of “Con” in Grand County, Colorado. He was sentenced to three years and discharged on November 12, 1932. Finally, Clarence was convicted for “False Pretenses and Confidence Game” on October 18, 1932 in Denver County, Colorado (possibly while on parole). He was sentenced six to ten years. He was paroled on July 18, 1935, returned for parole violation on January 1, 1936, and finally discharged on May 5, 1937 after Governor Johnson revoked his parole. After 1937, Clarence’s name pops-up at the Denver Superior Court. In November 1960, a Writ of Error, i.e. appeal, was dismissed due to a failure to prosecute.

Somewhere beneath all these dates lay some very interesting stories. I guess the lesson here is not to trust men bearing clarinets.


Like most contemporary family tree historians, I use genealogical software to help me with my research. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to organize the tens of thousands of data-bits that constitute my family tree. My first solution was an MS-DOS program called Brothers Keeper. That was a good solution until my database reached several hundred people. From there I moved to The Master Genealogist (TMG), and my database grew to almost 20,000 people. My current dilemma is that TMG hasn’t kept pace with my research needs. For one, it only works on Windows (I prefer the Ubuntu Linux and Mac OSes). Secondly, it doesn’t support Unicode characters, because the designers seem locked into an outdated (and unsupported) MS-FoxPro architecture. The TMG designers frown on people even mentioning the Unicode problem on their forums. While migrating is a scary proposition (e.g., what will happen to my: thousands of sources, customized tags, flags, roles, and sentences), the alternative isn’t much better, i.e., cling to an outdated system and the Microsoft OS *shudder*. I’m currently looking at GRAMPS, a cross-platform open source family tree solution that looks like a good candidate. It has a good deal of online community support. I’ve played with it some, but there’s an entry level learning curve that I’m butting my head against. Maybe I should read the manual? If anyone has any other ideas for software, drop me a line! Thanks.