All posts by aaronjhill

Born in Iowa, I now live in Seattle. My parents met in South Dakota. During the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl many families left. My great uncle made his way west in 1939 with some of his hometown friends. Their destination was Anacortes, Washington, where they'd landed jobs building a log mill. My great uncle continued to Seattle, for a time living in the Greenlake neighborhood with a family from that same hometown.

A Young Jewish Lawyer & Hitler Standoff in Court

On the cover of Hett's book is a photograph from January 1, 1931: Nazi party leader Adolf Hitler standing (right) in court where he is witness in a trial against four of his storm troopers. Dr. Julius Lippert, then mayor of Berlin, is standing to the left of Hitler while Dr. Hans Frank, future governor of Nazi-occupied Poland is sitting to the right with Rudolf Hess in the background.
On the cover of Hett's book is a photograph from January 1, 1931: Nazi party leader Adolf Hitler standing (right) in court where he is witness in a trial against four of his storm troopers. Dr. Julius Lippert, then mayor of Berlin, is standing to the left of Hitler while Dr. Hans Frank, future governor of Nazi-occupied Poland is sitting to the right with Rudolf Hess in the background.

Among the newer books at the Chemeketa Library is Crossing Hitler. It has an intriguing photograph on the front cover of our favorite little dictator in court, with some tired and possibly exasperated lawyers. These aren’t just normal attorneys; they are Nazi defense lawyers, trying to protect the party and its leaders from embarrassment and possibly even worse before their rise to power.

It’s 1931, and unbeknownst to me, a brave guy named Hans Litten has taken it upon himself to challenge the Nazis and Hitler himself by summoning them to court. Litten actually aggressively questions Hitler about the men on trial, and if he knew about what they were doing and if the Nazi as a political party approved. Naturally, both the party and Hitler sanctioned violence as a means of securing and holding power. In hindsight, this is clear, but at the time it wasn’t. Germany, politically-speaking, was rather chaotic.

Storm 33, a group of thugs within the SA — the Stormtroopers, has been going around beating people up and, in some cases, committing murder. Of course, this is nothing new to us now, but then it was an explosive charge. The Nazis were trying to court the voters and any scandal, such as official party endorsement of terror tactics, could not only have easily lost them an election, but doomed the party to forever minority status.

I began to read the book, skimmed over large portions of it, which were fascinating, but ultimately, I am too preoccupied with other matters, notably the various strands of family history I am compiling, that unless it relates directly to that effort, it will have to wait. I am glad that Mr. Hett decided to write the book and cast some more light on the heroes and villains of the 20th century. Litten died in 1938 while in Dachau. My sister and brother-in-law visited Dachau in 2001, and I hope to as well someday.


From the Ashes


Years back, while working to find the parents of my ancestor Morgan Reynolds, I came across the name John Walker. He was listed simply as a relative, nothing more. I found this reference at

Then I discovered his parents were Daniel Reynolds and Olive Walker. Eventually this led me to a long-established family in Rhode Island, the Walkers. In fact, one of the oldest buildings in that state is a house built by Olive’s ancestor Philip Walker, son of a woman only known as the Widow Walker.

The Walkers were from Weymouth, Dorset, in southwest England. Philip, about age 15, and his mother arrived in Plymouth Colony, perhaps in 1636 or 1640. They were part of a church group from Weymouth led by Rev. Samuel Newman.

The house, commonly known as the Philip Walker House, was burned to the ground during King Philip’s War in 1676, before rebuilding began shortly thereafter, recycling what could be salvaged, which included using the same foundation. The war was named after Metacomet, a chief of the Wampanoag people dubbed ‘King Philip’ by the Brits.

The original house was built in the early settlement of Rehoboth, the original name of East Providence, in 1643. Some of the charred timbers are still in the walls of the present kitchen. It is located at 432 Massasoit Avenue in East Providence.

Philip was a deacon in the Congregational Church and an amateur poet. He was one of the wealthiest men in Rehoboth. Walker’s house was unfinished at the time of his death in 1679, but completed by his heirs.

Descendants of the Walker family gave the house to the group Preserve Rhode Island. Most of the antiques were auctioned, but the East Providence Historical Society did acquire some, which are currently on display in the Philip Walker Room of the Hunt House Museum.

Students with the Historic Preservation Program at Roger Williams University, in cooperation with Preserve Rhode Island, have been working on aspects of the house, including restoration of the horsehair plaster. In 1991, students in a group project as a part of one of Philip Marshall’s classes compiled a documentation report of the house for the Heritage Trust of Rhode Island, predecessor of Preserve Rhode Island, and, in 2004, an expert in historic plaster led a Horsehair Plaster Conservation Workshop at the house.

An 1861 book on the Walker family, Memorial of the Walkers of the Old Plymouth Colony, is available at many sites online, including Ancestry and Google Books. It has been reprinted multiple times by various companies, and is available on microfiche. A short biography, with extensive research notes, on ‘Deacon’ Philip Walker is posted as part of the Plymouth Colony Archive Project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Olive Walker is the namesake of her granddaughter Olive Jane Reynolds, who married George Martin Hill.


Was Uncle Herman an Insane Commie?

While celebrating my mother’s and my own birthdays, which are a day apart (literally separated by 99 minutes) I mentioned that one of our relatives, Marjorie Bunde, had sent me a packet full of material some time back on the family, including a neat photograph of my great uncle Herman Fromke when he was a child, perhaps ten years old or so.

Oscar and Herman worked at the State Bank of Grover for many years. Grover, South Dakota is a tiny place to the southwest of Watertown. I think Oscar began working there as a cashier in 1916, while still a teenager.

In 1921, three men drove up in a Buick, stormed the little brick building, ordered the two employees there into the vault at gunpoint, and made off with about $900. A man with a car gave chase, following them to the town of Hayti, but then ran out of gas. Eventually a group of men in cars searched the area, but to no avail.

At least two newspapers reported on the robbery: the Watertown Public Opinion and the Lake Norden Enterprise. At the time I typed and posted these stories I thought Grover was in Grant County, but it is, in fact, in Codington County.

Later, perhaps in the 1950s, for some reason my grandfather, Oscar, committed his older brother Herman to a sanitarium, and, understandably, apparently never discussed it, at least with my mother.

However, my mom has discussed this with a relative named Hilda. Hilda mentioned that perhaps Oscar may have discovered that Herman was guilty of embezzlement from the bank. Then, the theory goes, Oscar arranged for him to be sent to a sanitarium to avoid prosecution, perhaps in some sort of deal with local authorities.

Yet, the theory does not fit the timeline. The bank closed in the late 1920s, probably in 1927. Herman went to the sanitarium, the Yankton State Hospital, years later, likely long after any charges could be filed because of the statute of limitations. For a time it was known as the Hospital for the Insane. Conditions were less than ideal, even horrific, by some accounts.

After a few years confined in Yankton, his sister Hattie Fromke and her husband Rudolph Noeldner somehow got him released. What effect this all had on the relationship between the two brothers, Herman and Oscar, is not known, nor how it may have affected his health. Herman died in 1961 at the age of 70.

Although the reasons remain unclear to me, after posting the news stories, which are clearly out of any copyright restrictions, Marjorie asked that I remove them, stating that it was still a controversial subject in the area. She still lives in South Dakota, in Florence. Controversial with whom I don’t know. This is from 1921. I just don’t quite get it.

What I found even more curious, especially with all of the embezzlement conjecture, was Herman’s support of the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union. His name is on a list of donors in an ACLU book, The Fight for Free Speech. It was published in 1921, the same year as the bank robbery, although this is probably just coinincidence. I discovered this doing a search on Google Books. Because he used his initials quite often — ‘H. A.’ or ‘HA’ — it can be difficult to track things down, as I sometimes forget to go beyond the standard ‘Herman Fromke’ in my searches.

So was Uncle Herman a communist? How did his leftist sympathies develop? From where did these ideas originate? And did he have a mental breakdown at some point? What caused it? Was he really insane? Was it temporary?

Also in 2005, I posted Herman’s obituary at Ancestry and on a few mailing lists at RootsWeb.


Fear and Loathing in South Dakota

John Lindsay talks with a woman at the 1972 Democratic Convention in Miami Beach.

Little did I know that when I picked up a copy of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ‘72 from the bargain table at the local Borders it would have a personal connection to me: my great aunt, sister to my grandmother, was a delegate from South Dakota to the Democratic Convention that year. I learned of this, sadly, from her obituary. I never heard her speak of it, but would have loved to some sort of record of her experiences during that time.

Azalea, as she was known to me and other family, passed away June 16, 2009. To her friends she went by the name Kay. I tracked down her obituary from the Bay Area newspaper the Contra Costa Times. About a week or so later, her son Paul sent out copies of her memorial service program to all the family.

She was a supporter of George McGovern, then representing South Dakota in the U.S. Senate, and Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota. She “volunteered long hours” for both presidential campaigns. McGovern went on to garner the Democratic nomination, but was soundly defeated by Richard Nixon, ushering in his second term as president.

When she arrived at the convention center in Miami Beach to pick up her credentials the official name card read ‘Angela’ Davis, the name of an infamous and controversial radical activist who was often in the news up to that point, rather than Azalea. Whether or not anyone expected the Angela Davis to attend, Azalea was amused and proud to be associated with her.

Azalea attended Grinnell College in Iowa and an art school in Colorado. For a few years she owned and operated a beauty shop in Lake Preston, South Dakota, where the Hay family had lived since moving from the Cedar Rapids area in 1903.

Landing a job with the cosmetics company Elizabeth Arden, she moved to San Francisco and then Honolulu, where she met her husband, Frank, a student at the University of Hawaii who had just been discharged from the U.S. Navy.

Later, Frank taught for many years at Rutgers University and, while living in New Jersey, helped found Enzon Corporation, a pharmaceutical company. Enzon was involved in cutting-edge medical advances, experimenting with ideas such as artificial plasma, which was ultimately unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, Azalea volunteered at Rutgers’ Foreign Students’ Office and was an avid supporter of community library services. She also led a 4-H group.

They traveled widely: hiking the Great Wall of China, touring Machu Picchu, and rafting the Savegre River in Costa Rica. And they loved Hawaii, returning often.

In 1969, while on a trip to Europe, Frank and Azalea visited the Château-Thierry area with their children Ann and Paul, searching for a relative’s grave. Her uncle, Leslie Darling, had been killed during the First World War.

I asked her about it via email years ago. Azalea recalled the scene with hundreds of white crosses stretching across the landscape.

“We didn’t find a cross with his name. We walked up one of the paths to a small chapel where those soldiers whose bodies could not be found had their names on a wall…. His name was there,” she said.

Although just after his death, Leslie’s grave was well-marked with a large wooden cross, his body was subsequently lost in the confusion of wartime and military bureaucracy. He was then added to the ‘Tablets of the Missing’ at the Aisne-Marne Cemetery. His father, J. H. Darling as he was known, worked for years trying to locate his remains, writing letters to the War Department and possibly others until at least 1931.

Azalea continued to describe her memories to me.

[T]here was no one else there except a man with a wheelbarrow cutting the dead roses off of the hundreds of beautiful bushes…. I…. asked [for] a spray from the ones he was discarding…. I brought [it] back to Mom [Geneva Hay]. She framed it and had it above her kitchen all those years when she lived in town [Lake Preston, South Dakota]. I think I gave it to Marilyn [Geisler] after Mom died.

Azalea was instrumental in helping many people, including relatives, especially the younger generations, attend college. She helped my brother Stephen while he was at the University of Oregon. And before her death, she made arrangements to help my four nephews as well.

She also donated to a book project, Michael Hay and His Descendants, compiled by a distant relative. A copy is available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, and many were distributed among the older generation of living Hay descendants.

My own recollections of her are limited, because of my age and the fact that we always saw one another at family functions. I do recall something, which has always given me a laugh or smile.

While at a family reunion in Estes Park, Colorado sometime in the 1980s, I remember a scene vividly. I was sitting in the crafts room in one of the buildings at the YMCA of the Rockies, where everyone was congregated. Azalea and my grandmother Marilyn walked in while I was busily designing a t-shirt with some cloth-friendly, relatively durable ‘paint’. Apparently they, or at least she, as in Azalea, hadn’t noticed my presence. She was upset about something and soon had let loose a swear word or two.

Quite funnily, she then realized an impressionable young man about age ten was there. Azalea looked at me, apologized, and may have said something about how neither she nor I should use such language. I had always found her a bit intimidating, but I just looked at her and, nodding slightly, tried to convey that, of course, it wasn’t a big deal. Just as described in the movie classic A Christmas Story, I’d heard that particular word and much worse, straight from the mouth of my own father, and it was often directed at me, very solely and personally.

The important thing to note about Azalea was that she was a unique individual, often times with strong opinions and feelings. But I have a feeling she was so passionate because she cared so much. I guess this is one major characteristic that we have in common. I regret not taking the time to know her better.


My Own Museum & Library

Part of what I am working on at the moment, and for the past several weeks, is how to start a non-profit. Because I am so passionate about — just plain obsessed — with history, primarily my own family history, that I have decided to try and make a career out of it.

I’ve been taking a class at the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which is a part of the local community college. The program is known as MERIT (MicroEnterprise Resources, Initiatives & Training). I am ‘blogging’ my notes and posting them, so I may easily reference anything that may be useful in the future.

There is a section of the website (‘Resources for Non-profits’) which will probably be helpful, and I just learned about a new 3-part series of classes, Nonprofits 101.

Because of my background, my interest has been focused on American (or ‘United States’) and European history. One could even argue, with some possible connections in Canada, of ‘North American’ history.

During my research online, I stumbled across the Legacy Project, which is an all-volunteer operation preserving wartime letters and even e-mails from American troops.

Obviously there’s more to post and discuss, but as I am out of time, it will have to wait until later.


Abraham Lincoln & Coles County, Illinois

Today I visited the law library at Willamette University to check on something I’ve been meaning to do for some time: research Abe Lincoln‘s work as a lawyer. Lincoln’s father, Thomas, lived for many years in Coles County, Illinois, where some of my maternal ancestors, particularly the Parkers, lived also.

I first wrote about this in May 2008, when I was writing a research paper on the Civil War for the last of my college requirements. At first I thought two branches of my ancestors — the Parkers and the Goodells — likely knew the Lincolns, but it was probably just the Parker clan. But who knows what some scattered scraps of paper will reveal?

Thomas moved to Coles County in 1831 and, although their relationship was often strained, Abe helped him move. The future president did visit on occasion, though infrequently. He did have a good relationship with his stepmother, Sarah.

In 1847, Lincoln was working on a rather notorious case involving the Fugitive Slave Act (likely the 1793 law) at the Coles County Courthouse. He was defending a slave owner and the act.

While at the library, I didn’t find any evidence for much if anything on Lincoln’s legal career to be found physically there. However, I did find some potentially great books on the subject. Unfortunately, Willamette does not appear to have many of these books or other resources. The general search for this subject is ‘su:Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865 Career in law.‘.

Among the materials what I find to be most promising are: Lincoln the Lawyer by Brian R. Dirck, The Papers of Abraham Lincoln: Legal Documents and Cases by Lincoln himself and edited by Daniel W. Stowell, An Honest Calling: The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln by Mark E. Steiner, Lincoln as a Lawyer: An Annotated Bibliography by Elizabeth W. Matthews, and ‘The Lincoln Legal Papers and The New Age of Documentary Editing’ in the journal Computers and the Humanities.

Some older books on the subject are: Lawyer Lincoln by Albert A. Woldman, Lincoln the Litigant by William H. Townsend, and Lincoln, the Lawyer by Frederick Trevor Hill. A documentary film called ‘A. Lincoln: Attorney at Law‘ is available on DVD.

Willamette’s law library does have the ‘complete documentary edition’ of The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln, although I am not sure about checkout policies. It is supposed to be comprehensive, covering the years 1836 to 1861.

The Parkers also have another distinct connection to American history: a rebel-rousing indentured servant who came on the Mayflower named Edward Doty. I’ll have to write about that more on another day.


History, Genealogy & Genetics Mailing Lists

Here are some of the mailing lists that I manage. Most are related to genealogy and some about genetics. My mother’s family was named Fromke and was from Pomerania, an area south of the Baltic Sea. They came from Kreis (the German equivalent of a county) Bütow, which is now in Poland.

Among the surnames related to the Fromkes which have a dedicated list are Radde and Milczewski. I also started a group for Kreis Bütow. Anyone who has an interest in these names or this part of Pomerania, I recommend browsing or searching the list archives, particularly Bütow and Fromke.

I just adopted the Hay list as well, as this is my paternal grandmother’s family name. A related family is Van Note, which is Dutch and was originally van Oort or van Noort. A few years back I came across an explorer with the name, Olivier van Noort. He was the first Dutchman to circumnavigate the world. In fact, there are a few famous van Oorts: Bart, Eduard Daniel, and Jan. As for van Noorts, besides our seafaring friend Olivier, there are Adam, Roald, and Joël. And then there is NFL player Jeff Van Note.

To supplement my interest in genetics, the DNA lists I’ve started are specific to three groups at the moment: haplogroups T, I, and R1a. To understand what a ‘haplogroup’ is just click here. The T grouping is from my mother. It’s called mitochondrial DNA or usually shortened to mtDNA. My Y chromosome (yDNA), inherited from my father, belongs to group I1. I started the R1a list because my uncle, Burton Fromke, submitted a sample to the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, commonly known by its initials SMGF. According to Whit Athey’s haplogroup prediction tool, his yDNA is R1a.


Genetics as a Way to Study the Past

So what are exons? And introns? Although I have been studying genetics for the past few years, I really had no idea before reading more about it. But these and other terms are part of the book A Primer for Genome Science. While the copy at the Chemeketa Library is certainly outdated, as it’s the second edition, there’s still tons of useful information, including a lot of curious links scattered throughout the text.

Genome science is being researched in all sorts of places and there are literally hundreds of great resources on the web. For example, ELSI provides background on the ethical, legal, and social implications of the Human Genome Project. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, commonly known as the Berkeley Lab, has some information, such as What is ELSI? and their main ELSI page.

A group of national databases is managed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Human Genome Research Institute. Two such resources are the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) and OMIM (Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man), a compendium of human genes and genetic phenotypes.

Stanford has been working in the field of human genetics, for many years led by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza. Stanford has a Human Population Genetics Laboratory and a Genome Technology Center, part of the School of Medicine.

Ensembl is the name of European project, a joint venture of the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI), part of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute (WTSI). Both are located on the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus.


Library ‘Rules’

I just learned that the central library has a limit on the number of minutes a person can access the Internet any given day. Currently it’s just more than an hour, at 65 minutes, which is just plain silly if you really want to get anything done. More than once, I was prompted that I could extend my session by five minutes, but the bottom line is that there really needs to be some change: more computers, preferably another lab, and more time per user per day.

For example, I can pretty much use the college library as much as want, so I will be there more often than the other branches. With spring break, a lot of my normal venues close at 5 PM. However, there are almost always options, and I just remembered another one that’s basically open twenty-four/seven.

Because I am currently cutoff from my fix, I decided to check out the ‘software only’ computers, used by an inordinate number of old folks for ‘word processing’ and other similar tasks. These computers appear to be connected to the network, but librarians seem to enjoy creating systems with rules upon rules.

I located three books on genetics which appear to have some promise. One, Genetics Demystified, did not impress. The others, Genetics for Dummies by Tara Rodden Robinson (who happens to teach at Oregon State) and Genetics by InstantNotes, give the impression of being among the better, if not the best, offerings the library has at the moment. I did happen across a DNA textbook, but left it behind for some reason. It appeared to be somewhat dated and stale, as in unreadable, dull and uninspiring.

As I have a bit of a headache and want to escape the germs and grime of this place, with its dirty, ill-fitting ‘keyboard condoms’ and greasy, fingerprint-laden temporary book covers, I will have to see about sending this via email so I can later post it. Or, if I am lucky, finding one my USB drives. At some point I’d like to test my iPod, to see if I can easily transfer files without messing up or completely obliterating my music.

This is the funny comment of the day by the techie nerd computer guy. Someone called on the phone and asked something along the lines of “Where are you?” He then answered, “Where am I at right now or where is the library located?”


The 168th Infantry of Iowa

Yesterday I came across what may potentially be a fantastic find for my World War I research. It focuses on the primary year of my interest, 1918, when my great-great uncle Leslie Warren Darling was among the thousands of Americans streaming into Western Europe. His unit actually arrived at the end of 1917, but didn’t see much action until much later.

The book is The Battle for Europe, 1918 by Hubert Essame, a British major general. It will join an already rather long list of materials I am using to write about my relative’s service and experiences. Google has digitized some of these. One of special note, The Price of Our Heritage, was written by the chaplain of the 168th Infantry. Darling was in Company E.

I’ve learned quite a bit about what happened to these fine, young men and to track them from the farm fields of Iowa to the battle trenches of France. They spent an incredible amount of time training (and waiting). Everything seemed to be slower than today, and, of course, it was. There were no computers, no networks of machines connected together to help with everyday tasks. The logistics were difficult, trying to mobilize and move so many men in a short amount of time.