Grandmother Montana and Aunt Arizona

The other day I stumbled into a quest back in time and through my family history. This particular quest began with Ming the Merciless, always an indication of a truly bad-ass journey.

Specifically, I was watching some of the old Flash Gordon serials starring Buster Crabbe as Flash and Charles Middleton as Ming. As I was watching, I had this feeling I’d seen Charles Middleton in some other films and went to IMDB to check his list of credits. Sure enough, Charles Middleton appeared in a lot of films, I’d seen. Perhaps most notably was Jesse James. What makes Jesse James notable is that my grandfather was hired to cook for the cast and crew, which of course means my grandfather once cooked for Ming the Merciless. Cool!

Unfortunately, back in 1939, behind-the-scenes crew on movies didn’t get credit, but I was curious whether any documents on the web might discuss my grandfather’s involvement in the film. Alas, I didn’t find anything but I did find a photo of my grandfather’s tombstone on a rather ominous sounding, but very useful website called findagrave.com. I’d actually seen this site before, and I’ve found it helpful when tracking down some genealogical information.

What was new, since the last time I visited was that the site for my grandfather included a link to my mom. I clicked there, and sure enough, I found the tombstone she shares with my dad. This part of the quest was sad and I took a moment to pay my virtual respects. Before I moved on, I noticed that my dad’s parents weren’t linked, even though they’re buried in the same San Bernardino cemetery as my parents. Call this an action item when I have more time to research the site’s submission requirements.

This little side journey led me to wonder if any of my other Summers ancestors were listed at findagrave.com. I soon discovered listings for my great grandparents, James and Montana Summers. Much as it was interesting to find photos of their tombstones, the real treasure I discovered was that someone had posted their obituaries.

For me, the real magic of genealogy is not just learning who you’re descended from and where they came from, which is cool, but actually learning the stories behind the names and dates. These obituaries gave me one of the first real glimpses into the kinds of people my great grandparents were.

As it turns out, I have a transcript of a letter Montana’s father, Paul Teter, wrote to his hometown newspaper describing his time as a Confederate soldier in Missouri and his subsequent business career. James’s father, by the way, also fought in the Civil War, but as a Union soldier. I’ve always been a little curious to know why my great grandmother was named Montana, especially when her siblings had relatively ordinary names like Fred, Paul, and Sarah. It is true that my great grandmother was born just a few months after the founding of Montana Territory, but none of her other siblings were named after new territories—or so I thought.

It turns out, according to the website, my great grandmother had a half-sister named Arizona. No, the title of this post isn’t some clever metaphor, I actually have a great grandmother named Montana and discovered I have an aunt named Arizona. However, that’s not the end of the quest. Although Montana lived her entire life in Missouri, Arizona married a man who went to work for the Santa Fe Railroad, the same company my dad worked for. They eventually moved to California and lived in Orange County, not far from where I grew up.

While it seems likely the founding of Montana territory inspired Montana’s name, I’m at a bit of a loss to know why her sister, born in 1885, was named Arizona. The seminal Arizona event of 1885 seems to have been the founding of the territory’s two major universities: The University of Arizona and Arizona State University. Perhaps my great great grandfather just liked the name!

You might note that Montana and Arizona were the daughters of Paul Teter. That line of the family inspired the name “Mike Teter” for the protagonist of my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. I was pleased to make a stronger connection to that part of my family.

As quests go, it might not have been Earthshaking. I didn’t destroy the Death Star, keep Mongo from conquering the Earth, or destroy the one ring, but I did learn a little more about myself—perhaps the best outcome from any great quest.

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6 comments on “Grandmother Montana and Aunt Arizona

  1. Jack Tyler says:

    My daughter has been a paying subscriber to ancestry.com for about a year now. Through their archives, she has filled in huge chunks of our family tree back to when the year had three digits. We have all had our DNA tested, found relatives we never knew we had, learned that my wife is descended from generations of English royalty that was deposed centuries ago, and that my family has a long tradition of bamboozling census takers. If you are heavily interested in this line of inquiry, I can tell you that all those ads you see for Ancestry don’t begin to do it justice.

    Best of luck to you on solving the most important mystery of all!

    • Thanks, Jack. Good to have a trusted recommendation for Ancestry.com. I found some useful clues from them back in the days when many of their services were free, and a few helpful people that would suggest lines of inquiry, but not much else. Sounds like they’ve bolstered their services quite a bit in the years since then. I’ve been hearing good things and have considered a subscription to see what I’d learn. Sounds like it would be worthwhile.

      Good to hear from you and hope you’re well. Things have been busy in the weeks since the Scribbler’s Den had to go on the road and find new digs, so I haven’t kept up there as much as I’d like — I need to spend some time and get notifications set up and stop being such a stranger!

      • Jack Tyler says:

        Hi, buddy, long time, no see! When the Empire was yanked out from under me, I lost a lot of things, most important of which was access to a lot of great people I only knew from there. I determined not to put myself in that position again, and retreated to my first home, writing.com. You can check out my portfolio at http://Writing.Com/authors/blimprider if you’ve a mind. My blog now runs over there (you can find near the top of my home page), and I have started a library group for punks… You know, if you’re interested in any of this. When writing.com folds up, all I’ll have left is my old Blogger site, and I don’t know what I’ll do with that until the time comes. Meanwhile, I enjoy following some of the Old Guard’s blogs, and even occasionally move myself to comment. Don’t be a stranger, brother, you are missed!

        ~ “Blimprider”

      • Thanks, Blimprider! I’ve been missing you and the whole gang as well. I do check in at your posts on Writing.com from time to time. I had a writing.com account for a while, but canceled it because I really wasn’t doing anything there. I’ve thought about restarting it — especially since I’m cooking up plans for a true Indy project and that might be a good community to tap into. At the moment, I’m making a big push to finish my fourth Clockwork Legion novel and I have one other “secret” project that’s been consuming quite a bit of time, but that should be wrapping soon and hopefully soon afterwards, I can reveal it to the world. 🙂

        Diving back in, but should see you more on the interwebs soon!

    • Greg Long says:

      Ancestry.com is so cool. Not only have I found more about my background, it’s helped me meet relatives that I never knew I had 🙂

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