3 down, 3 to go…

I must be making progress, since three of the six books I checked out of the library will be checked back in when I head into town this week.

The Chalmers Pancoast Story didn’t hold much promise when I initially looked through the front matter, although I was fascinated by the will of one of Pancoast’s long-gone ancestors, signed on November 30, 1694.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm, I forced myself to read on, and am glad I did. Pancoast’s memories of his time growing up in Ohio contain stories full of information about the activities of small-town boys. Although he was born twenty years before my father was, I don’t think things changed that much between the two generations regarding how kids amused themselves.

The second half of the book is devoted largely to his life after his newspaper reporter days. Most of it was fun to read, although of little relevance to my research. For example, he has a lot of stories about his hometown, both in his youth and as the place he returned to after his wife’s death—the place where he spent his final years.

The town, Newark, is the closest town to my current location and the place I do most of my shopping. Chal would be happy to know that, although it has changed and grown a great deal since his death, it remains a friendly small town.

I was less interested in other material, particularly his active participation in his favorite charitable group in New York when he lived there. But all in all, it was an enjoyable read and a fascinating look back on a life filled with accomplishments and certainly never dull.

The Country Undertaker’s Wife, by Cora Dodd. (Still Waters Press. Indiana. 1993), is providing information that will be useful and is fun to read. It’s mostly about how people living in the country, far from big cities that might have offered alternative practices, prepared, displayed, and buried their dead. The book is largely a series of tiny stories about some of Mrs. Dodd’s experiences. Some of them are rather surprising, and many are funny or ironic. There is nothing much about her day-to-day life other than her participation in her husband’s undertaking business. A few examples follow.

Another story is told of a wicked man who died and he, too, was taken to the church for the funeral. The minister was literally opening the Pearly Gates and pushing him through with his eulogy when the wife of the deceased turned to their only son and said, ‘Johnny, go up and look in the casket and see if that’s your Pa in there.’


A good lady in our rural community, commonly called by all her friends and neighbors “Aunt Mary,” passed away. The undertaker, who later became my husband, was called to her home to care for her. The house was full of friends and this young man knew them all, but did not see them often. He went around and shook hands with each one in the room, then turned and said, “Where is the corpse?”

One of the men said, “You just nodded to her.” She was the little old lady wrapped in a shawl and sitting in the homemade rocker. Peace at last had come to Aunt Mary.


In looking through some old papers, I found a card which belonged to my father-in-law. On it was this advertising: “Embalming a specialty. Can furnish a hearse if one is wanted.” Some families used their own wagons to take the coffin from the home to the graveyard, thus saving the expense of a hearse. Oftentimes, when some of the family of the deceased came to get a coffin, they brought along a cornstalk the same length of the dead family member, thus being able to get the right length of coffin.

And I finished Seams of Gold, The Life of Agnes Warkentin Rice, as Told to Vera Jones. (Lima, Ohio. Fairway Press. 2005). It really doesn’t aid my search for information for my book, but is still an interesting read. It’s about a family of German Mennonites living in Siberia who escaped when Stalin was working to purge all the Mennonites from the country.

They were unable to get permission to emigrate to the United States: so many had fled before them that no more would be allowed for a time. They worked around this obstacle by traveling covertly to China, where they were eventually granted Chinese citizenship—which allowed them to enter the U.S. They ended up in central Ohio, at least temporarily.

It’s interesting, especially the saga of their escape from Russian, which was fraught with danger and hardship. But their adventure started eight or ten years after my story will end. And although the book describes their brief time in central California, near where my west coast family has lived for years, none of it is new to me.

There are still three much longer books sitting on my bookcase, awaiting my attention. They appear to be more relevant to my research, but I’m beginning to believe that some of the places I’ll visit, the photos I’ll take, and the libraries or historical societies I plan to explore are my best bets for finding out what life was like for my family in the places they lived and when they lived there. Time, I suppose, will tell!


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