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    Posted on July 20th, 2014 admin 2 comments

    Had a great time calling at Trek 2014 out east of Cherry Grove, AB.

    The trek — a simulated re-enactment of the Mormon hand-cart migrations to Utah in the mid 1850s — saw an estimated 190 youth and 50 adults building hand-cart kits, loading up their sleeping bags and gear, and hauling them some 25 km over rough terrain.  (I have some photos but they won’t load right now)

    We pulled the rig in on Thursday afternoon, in time to go and watch the group playing various “pioneer” games such as tug-of-war, cow-patty toss, log-sawing, and the like.  Fun to watch, and despite having trekked some 15 km the day before, up and down hills and through swamps, the kids seemed to have a lot of energy.

    The hoe-down was Thursday night, about mid-way into their trek.  Not sure if all the participants danced, but they sure spread out in the field.  I had chosen dances and music of the period to add to the authenticity of the experience.  I called some old-time circle dances, a contra, and a reel, which saw enthusiastic and lively participation.

    I was just starting Cumberland Squares, with plans to move into some old-time square dances, when a group of masked horsemen (“mobbers”) broke up the dance and drove the campers off the land–something that also happened in the historical migration.  One dancer complained, “But we’re having a hoe-down!”  No matter — clear out!

    The group was packed up and moving fast within a surprisingly short time.   Although I had not been directed by the mobbers to clear out, with the dancers gone there was no point to my staying; I packed up and left too.

    In preparing for the dance, I learned a lot about the trek migrations, the early history of the Mormon church, and about songs and dances of the 1800s.  And calling for all those folks in an open field was a unique experience!

    A big thank you to all those who helped with setting up equipment and dance formations; thanks especially to the Bonnie Doon Stake for organizing the Trek and for hiring me to call the hoedown.

  • Montague Folding Bike – A Bit of Cycling History

    Posted on June 28th, 2014 admin No comments


    Last winter, at an estate sale in California, I found a bike with an interesting-looking frame labeled “BMW Wireline”.  It was a full-sized bike, but was obviously designed to fold.  It had no tires, the handgrips were melted, the wheels wouldn’t turn, the rear derailleur was bent, the headset was frozen, the brake pads were like rock, the chain was rusted in place.  Still, it had a CrMo folding frame in good condition, alloy wheels, decent quality caliper brakes.

    The owner had no idea of the provenance except that it had been in his sister’s garage for decades and he wanted to get rid of it.

    “Make me an offer,” he said.  I offered $1.  He accepted.   I threw some breadbags over the tar-like handgrips and stowed it under the RV.

    When we returned in the spring, I hauled the bike home and set to work.  The California heat had been hard on the bike.   I scraped the melted hand grips off (a sticky, icky job!) and removed the distorted pedals.  Every bit of grease was hardened to resin, so I had to soak, clean, and re-grease the bottom bracket, both wheel hubs, and the headset.  None of the cups showed wear, and I reused all the ball bearings.  I replaced the rear derailleur, grip shifters, hand grips, and chain; replaced a couple cables; put on new tubes, tires and brake pads; and tuned everything up. Oh, I also added new Globe round rubber pedals, because I thought they looked interesting and because they snag on things a lot less than the old square platforms.

    This amounts to a frame-up rebuild.   It was the most money and most work I’ve put into a rescue bike.  Still,  the outcome was an unusual bike that’s fun to use and ride.

    The frame had a sticker showing the manufacturer as Montague, which was easy to research.  Around 1988, the Montague Corporation, of Cambridge, Mass., began producing full-sized folding bicycles with 26” or 700 mm wheels. In the early1990s, Montague began working with the automobile industry,designing bicycle models for various companies including BMW, General Motors, Mitsubishi Motors, Subaru, Toyota, Honda and Peugeot. In 1996, Montague folding bikes gained international attention when the Montague BMW folder was chosen as the first ever official Olympic mountain bike for the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. “Two thousand of these bikes (painted red, white, and blue) were featured in the Games’ closing ceremonies. Olympic athletes and staff rode in formation on Montague bikes to make the image of the Olympic rings,” reports the Montague web site.

    My Montague would have come in the trunk of a new BMW, and is similar to the 1996 Olympic version.  Montague staff identified this individual bike as being “from 1994 to 1995″

    Now I have a neat folding bike that I can stow in the RV or even the back of my wife’s tiny Chev Aveo.

  • Paper VS Digital in Genealogy Research

    Posted on November 22nd, 2013 admin No comments

    Mocavo sent out a “Genealogy Survival Kit” as a holiday (they’re afraid to say Christmas) gift to its subscribers.   One part of the “Kit” was a list of tips, which included this:

    Even though many people use a computer for much of their work, paper charts and forms can be very useful when you are at a research repository. Blank family group sheets can easily be filled in with information, and can also show what information is missing. Pedigree charts quickly fill in with more generations.
    It can be much easier for you to carry pieces of paper into the stacks than trying to carry a notebook computer all over the building.

    I suppose this makes sense of a sort, but I don’t find it true of my own work.

    • My handwriting is not the best, and if I want to be able to read it three years from now, or if I want anybody else to read it anytime, I’d better type it.
    • I can’t keep track of a pen or pencil for more than a few hours.  Whenever I need one, it has crawled under a table somewhere.
    • I am a touch typist with recorded speeds of up to 120 wpm on a real keyboard.  I can’t write nearly that quickly with any accuracy.  Cursive is slo-o-o-o-w!
    • My laptop is not that cumbersome and I don’t mind carrying it.   “He ain’t heavy, he’s my laptop.”
    • I’m not about to hand write or even transcribe most documents.  I carry a digital camera, I photograph documents, I use OCR software to transcribe the image into a file.    And I’m not about to try to sketch images.   That’s what the camera does best.

    Paper and pencil are so yesterday.  At the very best, they’re a last-ditch backup.

    What do you use.   Paper?  Smart phone?  Tablet?  Laptop?

  • Gray Land Records in Noble County, Indiana

    Posted on November 17th, 2013 admin No comments

    One reason I enjoy doing genealogy is that I enjoy solving puzzles.

    In 1989, some of our family put together a collection of family writings and memoirs called Ancestor Pioneers.  In that booklet was a hand-drawn map of Noble County Indiana which showed land holdings of various ancestors in 1856.   The map showed section numbers but unfortunately did not include pertinent information such as the township name or the meridian.   Copies of the original land records had not been among the records I got from my parents.   I had never quite gotten around to tracking down whatever cousin had made the map to see if she had them,  nor had I yet begun searching online for these land records.

    A few days ago, I got a letter from another cousin (Thanks, Jenny!) who happened to include a sheet from showing a parcel of land purchased in 1837 by a many-greats grandfather. Since I happened to have my copy of  Ancestor Pioneers open on the desk, I checked — yes, it was one of the parcels on the hand-drawn map.

    The hand-drawn map of Gray Land Holdings in Noble County, IN

    Never mind what I wrote last week about focus!  Here is a wonderful distraction!  I needed a break from the JK Gray biography anyway (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it).

    With Jenny’s lead about where to look, I dug into’s databases and found not only the other parcels on the hand-drawn map, but others in a township to the north.  Cross-checking against census records to confirm that these were likely our people, I pushed further into the land records,  and have so far located a baker’s dozen of parcels in York and Noble Townships, Noble County, IN owned by our kinfolk.  I’ll continue looking this afternoon and expect to find even more.  With the legal land descriptions, I may be able to dig even deeper and find who got them after the family sold out (or who inherited them).

    So I have a satisfactory outcome, having solved a minor puzzle,  found a lot of new information, made a note of clues for future research, and taken a break from a long-term project.  A pleasant way to spend a couple of cold winter days

  • Genealogy scam, bam, thank you ma’am

    Posted on October 27th, 2013 admin No comments

    Clicked on an ad today for   Got to a page that offered me various vital statistics certificates “complete with government stamp”.   I thought it looked pretty scammy.  But of course, now that I want to include the URL, I can’t find it…

    Just for a trial, I clicked “Birth Certificate” and entered information about a specific relative.  I quit when I got to where it wanted my credit card because it wouldn’t tell me the cost before I entered the credit card info.  I’m going to give you my card number and I don’t even know what it costs?  Yeah, Right.

    Hm.  I can just see it coming.   A pretty certificate nicely done up in MS Word using exactly the information I’ve just put in, with a nice gold seal affixed, maybe embossed with the words “US Government”, for $39.95.  About as authentic as a $3 bill.   Total cost to make up?  Maybe a buck or so.  Total cost to mail?  Maybe a buck or so.   Total profit?  Marvelous!  It’s almost a license to print money.

    Okay, so maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe they’re totally legit.  They claim to have 2.6 billion records and to be the lowest-cost site for family research.   They’re owned by, which probably means that anything has you can also find at, but not vice versa.   Yes, is many times the cost  (if you don’t access it for free through your local library or LDS Family History Center), but maybe you get what you pay for?

    I did a quick Google search for “ scam” and the result is an eye opener.   Randy Seaver at Genea-musings didn’t seem to impressed.   Joan Miller at Luxgen gave it a fairly positive review then got slammed in the comments with people complaining about

    • bait-and-switch,
    • being charged even though they cancelled within the “free trial” period
    • results being found only in sites such as Find a Grave that are free anyway
    • not being able to find anything not readily available elsewhere

    Found numerous complaints at various scam sites such as, or  Scary.

    Many people mention that the bait (enter the name of a relative) always indicates that  information is available, but that after you pay, a search for the same relative produces no hits.  This is almost classic bait and switch.  One commenter said, “…Just try typing in fictional names, cartoon names etc. They will always show matches.”

    The company itself has a page arguing that they’re NOT a scam.  Methinks they doth protest too much.

    I didn’t even sign up for the seven day free trial.

  • Name That Baby!

    Posted on October 27th, 2013 admin No comments


    Baby Thomas

    Baby Thomas Albert, circa 1922

    It was apparently a tradition in the family of Leonard and Enola Gray to have each baby photographed.  These baby photos are probably scattered throughout the family.

    There are currently photos available of six of the WL offspring. Please help us to complete the set and  identify the infants in the photos so we can put them in the proper spot in the Gray Family Tree.  Go to the web site Grays Going Back, click the Photos tab at the top of the page, then in the Albums menu at left, click Gray Babies.

    They look like they’re wearing Christening gowns, but Thomas Albert Gray recalls that none of the kids were baptized.  “The old man (William Leonard Gray) didn’t believe in that, no way.”  It would seem that babies were simply dressed in gowns in those days, which was probably an advantage for changing diapers.  It was a time, I guess, when babies wore “baby clothes” rather than miniature versions of adult clothing.

    If you know one of the photos,  click on the baby’s face.  If you’re a member of the site, you can type in the name.

    Thanks in advance.

  • Family History, Forty Years Later

    Posted on October 21st, 2013 admin 1 comment

    When my mom and dad first started doing family history research in the late sixties, they kept everything in a cardboard box.  I typed up some notes (on a portable manual typewriter) and started a binder with some of the finished stuff, with photos in glossy plastic page protectors that cost $1.39 each at the time.    Mom’s declining health put an end to family research on their part, while my marriage and three kids turned my attention elsewhere.  When mom died, I inherited the box along with two trunks full of stuff.   Busy and frankly not too interested at the time, I stowed the lot under the basement stairs and forgot about them.

    When we sold acreage, and moved to Leduc, we moved the trunks…to be stowed under the stairs and forgotten in the new house.The Family

    Four years later, in 2009,  we moved to a smaller house, and put all the stuff into the larger and more sturdy of the two trunks.  While the trunk  is still under the stairs, some of the contents — including the box of family history materials — found their way upstairs.  Going through the box, I got interested again in the family tree.

    How things have changed!

    Today, I work on a laptop, attached to a printer/scanner/copier/fax.  I can now buy a box of 100 acid-free protectors for under $10!  Records that Mom and Dad drove to Kansas to find are now available online, either free or at a modest cost.  For a few dollars a month, I can access census records, vital statistics, cemetery indexes, newspaper archives, and more.  The Internet has become a treasure trove in which I dig daily to find new gems.

    Unfortunately, most of my best sources — my aunts and uncles and older cousins — are now gone, a richness of history forever lost to me.


  • RV Bits & Pieces

    Posted on October 11th, 2013 admin No comments

    RV Windows Series

    If you’ve got leaky windows in the body of the rig, my post on RV Replacement Windows or one of the articles below might help.  Doesn’t apply to windows in the driving cab — for that, get thee to an automotive window place.

    Handle Repairs on Hybrid Bunk Doors

    The handles were getting loose on the bunk doors of our old Cub F-16 hybrid because the thin plywood in which they were mounted was bending.   Here’s how I fixed them:


    Thoughts on RV Tires

    A while ago there was some flap about defective RV Tires from China.  That, and a lot of news stories about defective products from China over the past few years, make people especially suspicious of Chinese RVs.

    Bid you know that tires from even top brands like Michelin are made in China?    So when I put new tires on my truck, did I check to see where they came from?   Um, no.

  • What’s in a Name? Robert Monson Gray

    Posted on August 15th, 2013 admin 2 comments

    Robert M. Gray was the fourth child of John Kepford Gray, an early settler to Millet, Alberta.  One local history book, Lockard’s The History of the Early Settlement of Norton County, Kansas (1894), p. 197, lists among the children of John K. and Phoebe Ellen Gray, “Robert Morrison, March 9,1884″.  In a way, this makes sense; his aunt Alice Lucinda Gray married Riley Delbert Morrison in 1884, and it is possible that Robert was named Morrison after his uncle Del.

    Despite this, within the family, his name has always been taken as Robert Munson Gray, and it is possible that he is recorded under this name in one family Bible or another.  He is thought to have been named after his grandfather, Nathan Munson Gray.   I’ve never been able to find much about any Munson family from which this might have come.

    Perhaps because the name wasn’t Munson….

    In Robert’s homestead application, in the Millet area in 1908, his name is clearly written on the first line as “I, Robert Munson Gray”  However, on the same page, his  signature appears to read Monson.

    “Monson” would be pronounced “Munson”; the former appears to be a common Scottish  form, the latter more common in America.  An official, asking “What’s your full name?” would hear “Munson” and fill in the line accordingly.

    Typed name Robert Monson Gray

    Typed name on border document, 1942

    In a support document dated 3rd March 1913, “A statement of Robert Monson Gray” the reply to question 1 (“What is your name in full, age, occupation and post office address?”) is Robert Monson Gray, 28, Farmer, Lakes End.  He signs this form Robert Monson Gray.

    The final clue is a border crossing manifest from Eastport, Idaho dated Jun 10, 1942.  His name is clearly typed as GRAY, Robert Monson, and his signature again is Robert Monson Gray.

    The signature clearly reads "Monson"

    It will be hard to convince the family that the name was Monson, not Munson.   Not that anybody really cares.

    Except for the odd family historian.  Comments and further evidence, pro and con, are encouraged.

  • Skeletons in our family closet: The Suicide of Nathan Munson Gray

    Posted on July 31st, 2013 admin No comments

    What drives a man to seek his own end, to forsake home and family and life itself? What makes life so unbearable, so insufferable, that death seems the only solution?  With symptoms of fever and severe nasal hemorrhage, could illness be at root?

    Nathan Munson Gray was born around 1832 in Bloomfield Township, Knox County, Ohio, the fifth child of James Gray and Sarah Wallace. Somewhere around 1835, the family moved to Noble County, Indiana. When Nathan was about eight, his father died, and his mother married Jonathan Jewell. On 14 Apr 1864, twenty-five year old Nathan married Sarah Kathleen (Kepford) Gaff, a widow with a young son named James Aaron Gaff. Around 1858 the family, including Nathan and Sarah and their young son John Kepford, moved to Mason County, Illinois. Family life was interrupted in 1863 by Nathan’s service in the civil war (1 Jul 1863 to 7 Jun 1865). In 1873, the family moved again to Norton County, Kansas, where he became a prosperous dairy farmer and town milkman for the town of Norton.

    And it is there, in the autumn of 1888, that our story of the tragedy begins with a letter from Sarah Kathleen to John Kepford and Phoebe Ellen, reproduced with original spellings but with paragraphs for easier reading:.

    November 20, 1888

    Dearest childern

    I will now tell you what trubel we are in.

    Pap gott deranged when he parted with you. He has been trying to kill himself but we watch him awful close. I thot he was beter till this morning he took pills and drank a lot of linament that made him sick.  We had the gun hid under the bed but he found it and tried to shoot himself.

    I want to send him down there. I will take him out to the road Monday the 22*. I want you to bee thire to take care of him and if we cant get him to go you had beter come and get him.

    The feaver is broke but don’t think he feels too well. I am afraid haint going to last long. He haint bled at the nose since last friday morning hemerhed [hemorrhage]of the nose.

    Hain’t sold eny of your catel yet. Cary** goes to school every day. Etta** had a very bad coald. I am very near sick with bad coald and wore out.

    John, I think if pap could bee down thire he might get beter.

    No more for now. Hope this will find you all well. Come soon.


    Sarrah Kothn elen Gray

    We don’t know if John came to care for his father, but we do know the outcome.  Contemporary stories from three weekly newspapers in Norton, Kansas:

    1. From The Courier, dated Thursday, Feb. 21, 1889, p. 5, col. 2:


    As we go to press we learn that Nathan M. Gray, who lived about four miles southwest of the city, committed suicide on Wednesday afternoon by hanging . He was discovered by Rob. Richards, who brought the word to town, taking back with him the coroner. We have no particulars of the sad affair nor the cause, if any, which led to its perpetration. Mr. Gray was a substantial farmer, about 60 years old, and highly respected, but for some years past his mind has been considered unsound at times, and it is highly probably that his suicide is the result of mental aberration.

    2. From the Champion, Thursday, February 21, 1889, p. 3, col. 2:


    Nathan M. Gray committed suicide yesterday morning by hanging himself on a tree just a short distance from his home. No cause is known for taking his own life but supposed aberration of mind. He used to be city dairyman of Norton.

    3. From the New Era, a “reform” weekly, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 1889, p. 2 Col 4:


    An Aged Man Hangs Himself

    Word was broght [sic] to the city this afternoon that a man was found hanging by the neck—dead, at a place several miles west of the city.

    The body was that of Nathan Gray, an old man about 60 years of age. No reason for the self-murder, which this proves to be, is yet known, although the deceased has made two former attempts at suicide. The Coroner, Dr. Turner, went to the scene of the tragedy, and an inquest will be held.


    Nathan Munson Gray (c. 1832 – Feb 20, 1889)

    Taken c. 1870?


    * Although the letter is dated November 20,  a perpetual calendar reveals that the Nov. 22 was not a Monday.   Oct. 22, 1888 was a Monday.

    **Carrie and Etta were Jim Gaff’s children.

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