Saturday Night Genealogy Fun
By Don Taylor
The Weekly Genealogist, produced by NEHGS, regularly has a survey question designed to make you think about your ancestors’ lives. They recently had a question asking if you or your ancestors traveled “across the country” not by airplane. In this case, “across the country” was a trip of more than 1500 miles.
Randy Seaver, in his blog, Genea-Musing, suggested taking that idea, cross country trips, and write about it.[i] I thought about the question and realized that with Detroit to Portland, Oregon, is over 2300 miles, my grandmother, mother, and I have all have had such travels, several times.
My Cross-Country Trips
I’ve made trips across the country several times.
When I was in the service, (Christmas 1969) three of us drove a Ford Falcon station wagon from San Francisco to Minneapolis. One person drove, one sat in the passenger seat, and one person slept in the back. Each person would rotate positions every three hours. We only stopped for gas and made the 2000 mile trip in less than 34 hours.
My second cross country trip was when I left Oregon to go to training in Vallejo, California, in 1972. After training, we knew I was heading to a ship at sea, so my wife and son moved from Oregon to Minneapolis. I drove Mary (my first wife), and our son Matt, the 1600 miles back to Minnesota, where they lived during my time at school. I flew from Minneapolis to San Francisco to training and again to the Philippines for my first cruise aboard the USS Kitty Hawk.
The next cross-country trip was when I moved Mary-Alice from her home in Maine to Minneapolis. Just a little over 1500 miles, it only barely qualified for this list. That trip was in her Dodge Caravan, loaded to the top with stuff. We arrived in Minneapolis just after the “Great Halloween Blizzard of 1991.” Before I had told Mary-Alice that Minnesota was colder than Maine, but we didn’t get as much snow. When we got to Minnesota, Interstate 94 was two ruts heading up out of the Saint Croix river valley because of the 28 inches of snow the Twin Cities had received. She gave me that look, that said, “We never had this much snow in Maine in October.”
In 1998, Mary-Alice and I moved to Long Beach, California (about 1900 miles). I drove the car and Mary-Alice drove her van. We kept in contact with little radios. When we got to the Mohave Desert, she kept asking where the desert was. We drove through it during a “once-in-a-century” flower bloom. It was gorgeous, entire hillsides yellow with flowers.
In 2000, Mary-Alice and I moved from Long Beach to Boston, Massachusetts. Our van was over-loaded with stuff and relatively old, so I was afraid to try the shorter 3000-mile northern route because of the mountains on the way. So, we took the 3200 mile-route through Phoenix, El Paso, and Dallas. That was a brutal trip. We stopped at a weird motel in Tennessee and had a difficult time finding our room. Little did we know that the 200 rooms were downstairs from the 100 rooms.
I made the trip between Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon, as an infant, twice with my mother. I don’t remember either trip and rely only upon my mother’s telling of the stories.
My Mother’s Cross-Country Trips.
Back in 1950, my mother got a job with an outfit that sold magazines door to door. They had a crew of kids, my mother was 18, and moved city to city. I know they started in Detroit and ended in Portland, Oregon, in just a few months, stopping at cities and towns all along the way. I still wasn’t born yet but was born a few weeks after her arrival in Portland.
In 1953, my mother was pregnant with my sister, Glennis. Mom like the hospital I was born in and decided she wanted her second child to be born in the same hospital. She hitch-hiked from Minneapolis to Portland, Oregon (1700 miles) with 3-year-old me. Wow—What a trip that must have been for her.
My mom and Budgar traveled between Minneapolis and Phoenix (over 1600 miles) many times.
On one occasion she traveled between Phoenix and Minneapolis by herself and then continued with me to Clarksburg, West Virginia (about 2600 miles in total).
My Grandmother, Donna
My Grandmother was a fantastic traveler. She was born in Albion, Michigan and lived there until about 1914 when she went to California to be one of Max Sennett’s Bathing Beauties and to be in the movie, “Birth of a Nation.”
She traveled from California to Massachusetts in 1915 and lived in the Boston area for a few years.
In 1919, Donna traveled from New York to Decatur, Illinois to join the cast of “Chin Chin.” She then toured with the show to Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Vermont, Connecticut, and Massachusetts before the show ended.
Known locations Donna was at during the “Chin Chin” Tour.
In 1922 & 1923, “Donna Darling and Company” went on the road. They started in New York and went to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.
In 1924, Donna went on another tour heading west from New York to include Montana, Oregon, and California with stops all over in between.
In 1926, Donna had another tour heading west from New York and including Texas, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Wisconsin, Michigan.
In 1927, Donna had another tour heading south from New York and across to New Orleans and back.
During her travels, virtually all of the trips were via train. A typical day, she’d board the first train out of a city, take the train with her crew, cast, and sets to another town, typically 2 to 4 hours away. The crew would unload and install the sets at the theater. She would then do a show or two that day. After the show, they’d head to a hotel for the night then head out again with the first train to another town. Sometimes, on longer travels, I’m sure they’d sleep on the train while heading to the next city. She had a train stuck in the snow in Nebraska for several days, a trestle washed out in Arizona (where they needed to carry their scenery past the wash-out on their backs), and had an earthquake break the tracks in California.
As I get more and more of her vaudeville career documented, I’ll create maps showing her travels and some of her many travel challenges.
I don’t know anything about my biological father’s life travels, nor do I know about his parents’ travels. I know that grandpa Dick was in the service and probably traveled cross country with that. He served in Panama, so I’m sure he at least traveled from Minnesota to the Gulf (or a coast) as a minimum. My great-grandmother Mary (Manning) Brown never traveled 1500 miles (to my knowledge), but she did travel the 1000 miles, from Kentucky to Minnesota, by oxen-driven wagon. That trip was with her grandparents, Enoch & Minerva (Toliver) Mannin. I think a 1000 miles trip by oxen-driven wagon is much tougher than twice that distance by train or automobile, so it should count.
[i] Internet: Genea-Musings by Randy Seaver – 27 July 2019 – “Saturday Night Genealogy Fun – Ancestors Trans-Continental Travel (not by Airplane)”