Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Surviving a deadly forest fire in 1910 Minnesota

1910: Edith Hall before
she married John Stone.
© 2016 Christy K Robinson

While casually googling my maternal great-grandparents, I discovered a 1912 legal suit they brought against Canadian Northern Railway for a locomotive-caused forest fire that destroyed part of their northern Minnesota properties in 1910. They lived on homesteads near Williams, Minnesota, and they were clearing the land for cultivation, selling the timber to the sawmill at Rainy River, or to the related industries like box-makers, toothpick-makers, and paper mills.

1910: John Stone as a
single man.
September-October 1910, the time of the fire, was described by the rail company as very dry and windy, with numerous grass and forest fires that summer, so Canadian Northern didn't want the blame for a spontaneous combustion that flared up on the rail embankment, seven minutes after the coal-fired engine passed.   

The spring and summer of that year were extremely dry, and hotter than any year they could remember. There was a drought that made forests and prairies, after abundant winter snows, into fuel ready for any spark of locomotive cinders, lightning, or even glass or metal lying in the grass. The foresters stripped the branches off limbs and trunks and littered the ground with them, creating even more quick, hot fuel for a firestorm. (The heat and drought, combined with poor agricultural practices, also made a dust bowl of the prairies, that was a precursor of the more-famous dust bowl of the 1930s.) A great fire in Washington-Idaho-Montana had also raged that summer.
Canadian Northern locomotive and coal car from 1910.

In the Minnesota inferno, there may have been as many as four fires that merged into a single conflagration that burned for miles and destroyed 400,000 acres. Between 29 and 42 people were killed. 

 My great-grandparents and their neighbors won the suit, as the court ruled that the locomotive cinder or spark was the cause. Edith was able to prove that her lost timber, still standing as live forest until the fire, was more valuable than cut scrubby stuff that was laying around to be carted away or burned as fuel. She got more money. John Stone was awarded $265 and Edith Hall was awarded $525. The rail company appealed, but the judge upheld the original ruling. 

Take that, Canucks, eh? That's $790 (1912 value) you'll never see again! In 2016 dollars, the value would be $18,842.

In addition to the awards, my great-grands got court costs. They were still single at the time of the fire, but they married on November 10, 1910, in Winnepeg, Manitoba, and their firstborn, my grandmother, was born in 1914. From what I've seen in photos, they lived a frugal, homestead sort of life, with summer gardens, lake fish and forest meat, and I can't imagine what they did with the settlement money.

The Stones had four single births and one twin birth, and their children, 1925-ish, posed for a photo in a stairstep formation.  My second cousin, a granddaughter of Helen, says, "I recall a story about such fires that happened up there, though it had to be after John and Edith married. The story was of surviving such a fire by soaking mattresses in the creek and then getting in the creek and under the wet mattresses as the fire passed by. I don't have any facts, though, just the story." I heard the same story on my branch of the family. That may have been sometime between 1918 and 1928, as our grandmothers were old enough to remember the fire and how they survived the burnover.
1924-25: Lois (my grandmother), Helen, John, Ruby,
and the twins Russell and Ruth.

I read on Wikipedia that the Spooner-Baudette Fire of 1910, which burned Williams where the Halls and Stones lived, was the third-worst fire in Minnesota history, and "...For this reason, the 1910 Baudette Burn is considered one of the most significant wildfires in Minnesota history. As a direct result of this catastrophe, funds were approved by the legislature to establish the Minnesota Forestry Service (later the DNR) with its system of forest rangers and forestry districts." How fascinating that Edith's and John's grandson, my uncle Lloyd, was a DNR ranger for his entire career, in the Minnesota-Canada border region.
1930: My great-grandparents, Edith Mae Hall (b. 1891) and
John Stone (b. 1880). Notice the puff of smoke in the distance!
The great-grandparents eventually moved to International Falls, Minnesota, where there was a paper mill, and that's where they raised their children in the 1920s and saw the first of their grandchildren born in the 1930s. John died in 1938, and Edith was killed at age 55 by a train-versus-car accident in icy Michigan in 1946.

Monday, February 8, 2016

EFFIGY HUNTER readers are saying...

Available at
Amazon US http://bit.ly/EffigyHunter 

By on October 30, 2015
Millions died during the Black Death, and the plague was no respecter of class. So many lives were lost that Europe’s nobility had to seek spouses among the commoners. Royal blood seeped outward, and as a result, most Americans with English ancestry are descended from kings, including me. So is Christy Robinson, and this masterful storyteller has turned her quest for royal ancestors’ resting places into "Effigy Hunter."

Is this intriguing book a history, genealogy, or personal memoir? All that, and more. Ms. Robinson’s meticulous charts provide readers with locations and descriptions of tombs and effigies, interspersed with unique photographs and lively travel anecdotes. Whether you wish you could make the trip to England to visit your royal ancestors’ graves, or have lunch at the holy isle of Lindisfarne with an engaging guide, the informative and entertaining "Effigy Hunter" is for you.

By on September 28, 2015
Genealogy enthusiast and historical author Christy K Robinson’s family history searches have taken her into the great cathedrals and obscure country churches in which her own ancestors—and those of the millions of other people sharing their genes—and other notables were either interred or commemorated. Her latest book is a treasure trove of information about the burial styles of her numerous subjects, primarily royalty and aristocracy of Britain and Europe during the Dark Ages and Medieval times. Not only does she analyse specific monuments and their symbolic elements, she describes the effects of civil wars and religious disputes on the physical contents of churches and examines discrepancies between burial records and popular legend.

A valuable reference for historians and genealogists, Effigy Hunter is equally a travelogue and travel memoir. Through anecdote, illustrations, and photographs, Robinson shares her extensive travels through England and other countries. Region-by-region sections contain charts of essential information on the location and dates of effigies and memorials, making this a useful field guide for those wishing to visit sites in person. As entertaining as it is informative!
History / Genealogy / Travelogue indeed! A fascinating genre-bender!
S. Ling on September 26, 2015
This review is from: Effigy Hunter (Paperback)

I received this book from the author as an advanced reader not really knowing what to expect, but I was delightfully captivated!

I love history for many reasons. Connecting with a past that is far removed from our present is an adventure -- learning about the movers and shakers of the day, what motivated them, and how they shaped the world, all of which is a good study for modern people; but perhaps what is most interesting to me about history above all things is connecting with the day-to-day lives of ordinary people who lived and breathed, who had hopes and dreams for life, and who did the best they could with the life they were given. Christy Robinson, in her forward, states about her book that it is a "history of human beings whose lives are mostly forgotten." She uses the effigies of long-dead people to try to breathe some life into the people behind the stone, saying "it's not about the blank stare of the 700-year-old marble effigy -- it's the reminder of the person it represents." In her search for each effigy, she, like others who go in search of ancestors, appreciated the connection with these people whose effigies grace the many churches across Europe, taking in the notion that the people whose effigies now stand cold and dark in those places actually stood in those same places at some point in their lives. The effigies provide a way to wonder about the lives of the people, not just wonder at their tombs.

After a bit of introduction, the book follows a trail of effigies regionally throughout mostly Great Britain, but also onto Continental Europe. Information is given about the effigies themselves, the detailed information about their locations and condition, but vignettes of certain individuals make the reading very easy and enjoyable. It's part travelogue/part reference book in a way I have never encountered before. Robinson has a very easy and casual writing style, easily accessible by the casual reader and more serious history student alike.

I would recommend this book to people interested in history and genealogy as well as anyone planning trips involving these regions to do a similar search of their own. A lot of time and care was put into the writing of this book, and it is a worthwhile companion for any traveler.

By on September 26, 2015
Author Christy Robinson has a unique set of talents and interests. In this book, Effigy Hunter, her uniqueness has never been more evident. The narrative portions of the book are fascinating as travelogue. The charts that map the locations of important effigies are informative and meticulous works of original research.

I was fascinated with the book on two counts—as a historian and as a genealogist. This book is loaded with my ancestors (ancestors that are common—and, thus, of interest—to multitudes) and many other historically significant individuals. One need not have ancestors in the book to be captivated by its compelling narratives related to travel, biography and history.
This book defies genre. It is unique. It is interesting. It is academically valuable. You will profit from reading Effigy Hunter. I did.

By Mr. M. Williamson on September 27, 2015
Format: Paperback
As someone who loves history and heritage I was naturally intrigued by Christy K Robinson's latest work: 'Effigy Hunter'; I wasn't too sure what to expect, a very similar feeling to grasping that ancient iron church door handle and pushing open the heavy oak door to reveal hidden treasures in the hushed gloom...

What I did find in Effigy Hunter was an impeccably well-researched read, written in an easily-accessible manner; Christy's adventures in tracking down ancestral memorials in forgotten corners of churches, big and small, throughout the UK and further afield are a pleasure to read and knit together to form a fascinating picture of her past.

By on September 29, 2015
Not really sure how to describe this book! Are you fascinated with medieval history? Do you have an interest in genealogy? Do you look for a burial place in hopes of finding an ancestor or person from history? Are you curious about why people were buried they way they were, or where they are? Do you have an interest in the intricate symbolism in churches and tombs? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this book is for you! Christy K. Robinson tells us about all these things through personal experience and impeccable research. I found I couldn't put it down. Easy to read, with tables of names, dates, and specific places that are very easy to follow. My favorite part of the book would have to be chapter 3, which describes the parts of a medieval church. The stories of who founded these churches and who are buried there are quite interesting. The intricate details of tombs and how they change through the centuries are also included. We get glimpses into these people's lives which makes this book all the more interesting. I guess if I had to describe this book it would be "The book you didn't know you needed, but you do!" A must for medieval lovers.

By on October 1, 2015
This is an excellent guide for anyone searching for resting places of their ancestors among the churches of England. Set out county by county, it is a friendly book, easy to read and very informative. Far from just a list of places and people, Ms Robinson has little stories to tell about many of the people whose effigies she has successfully hunted. An invaluable resource for anyone undertaking family research, or just those intrigued by the names and stories behind the crumbling stone images, brass plaques and magnificent tombs.

By on October 7, 2015
A wonderful book for those interested in history and genealogy that takes you through graveyards, churches, abbeys, and anywhere else where many historical well-known people are buried. It's filled with information, photographs, and lovely descriptions that the reader can enjoy while traveling along with the author in her search for the burial spots of her ancestors and many others. I loved the description of the medieval church, and also of the crusaders. It is focused primarily on England, but also includes burial spots of many in Europe, including France, Hungary, and Italy.

For travelers, as well as those of the armchair variety, it is a fabulous book to enjoy. I loved it.

By on October 17, 2015
What an adventure! #EffigyHunter breaks the mold; it is travel writing, history, genealogy, yet it takes the reader to the United Kingdom, Paris, and other places in Europe giving new insights to those places while invoking the experienced traveler of good memories. Even the historian will learn nuggets of new historical information. The traveler will be along for the ride in this conversational romp through the United Kingdom and other points in Europe. The royalty depicted left millions of us as descendants. It's a miracle through centuries of sometimes-violent history that there are this many medieval effigies left. Try this book! You'll have fun and learn at the same time.

By on October 11, 2015
I wasn't exactly sure what to expect when I began reading Effigy Hunter, as it is a genre bender. However, I have found it to be strangely fascinating. I am impressed with the depth of research and detail that has been put into this book. It brings to life real people who are usually only remembered as epitaphs. I particularly appreciate the logic presented regarding burial places of individuals. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in medieval history/genealogy as I am.

By on December 13, 2015
Effigy Hunter is a fine book for anyone looking to go to England to see historic sites, specifically the monuments to many of our ancestors and many impressive grave sites. With 60 cool pictures in the book, I highly recommend it to those that like to have a reference library of our British noble or royal ancestors. I'm glad I bought it — The price is certainly nice.

By on November 7, 2015
I can't tell you enough how fascinating this book is! Its like Rick Steves meets Indiana Jones! It's engaging, historical and utterly relevant information is a traveler's absolute "must have" if you're an individual researching your family tree or even just hitting the road less traveled by tourists. Even if you're an armchair or virtual traveler, don't leave this book behind as you go traipsing back in time, exploring who you are and where you came from!