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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Children of the Old Stars

Children of the Old Stars is the sequel to The Pirates of Sufiro. In The Pirates of Sufiro a mysterious and powerful alien called the Cluster began destroying space vessels for no apparent reason. In Children of the Old Stars, Captain John Mark Ellis embarks on a quest to determine just what the Cluster is. The woman on the cover is Ellis’s mother Suki Firebrandt Ellis, who plays an integral part in the quest.

As Children of the Old Stars opens, Captain John Mark Ellis and the crew of the destroyer Firebrandt attempt to rescue a civilian ship threatened by the Cluster. They fail and Ellis has to make the choice of taking a demotion or leaving the fleet. He decides that he can continue his quest better if he leaves the fleet. He joins a warrior/philosopher from the planet Rd’dyggia and a human who is convinced that the Cluster is God incarnate on the quest.

I grew up watching Star Trek and loved the exploits of Captain Kirk and the Starship Enterprise. As a teen, I discovered that Gene Roddenberry was influenced by the Horatio Hornblower novels of C.S. Forester. Around the same time, I also encountered the John Grimes novels of A. Bertram Chandler. Unlike Captain Kirk, who was always a staunch defender of the Federation, Grimes’s career made a detour when he resigned from the service. I loved the idea of a captain who wasn’t perfect, who might have a tarnished record, or might leave his position because of a principle. That’s where John Mark Ellis came from.

When I wrote the novel, the working title was Children of Chaos. It was an allusion to the Titans of Greek Mythology who sprang from chaos. Once the book was finished, though, I discovered I wasn’t the first person to have conceived that title. The final title is a more literal description of the alien machine called the Cluster.

To step back a little bit, astronomers divide stars into two “generations.” Newer stars like the sun are called Population I stars. Old stars like you might find in Globular Clusters or the hearts of galaxies are called Population II stars. The alien known as the Cluster is a product of those old stars. I’ll leave the details for people to discover, if they choose to read the novel!

One other piece of astronomy trivia from this novel, Ellis’s encounter with the Cluster at the beginning of the novel happens around a binary star called 1E1919+0427. It turns out that I’m one of the people who discovered that star is an eclipsing binary. I published the results in The Astronomical Journal in 1997.

Finally, I’ll note that one of the most frustrating novels I’ve ever read is From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne. The reason it’s frustrating is that he ends the novel on a cliffhanger. I did the same thing with Children of the Old Stars. If I had it to do all over again, I would have wrapped things up more neatly. But part of the issue is that I felt I needed a whole new book to deal with the issues that were raised when Ellis discovered the truth of the Cluster. That’s where the final novel of the Old Star/New Earth trilogy, Heirs of the New Earth comes in.

The Pirates of Sufiro is free to download in both Nook and Kindle formats:

Children of the Old Stars is available as follows: