This blog is a reprint of my internet journal from 2001 to 2002 in which I documented my "vagabond" solo journey in a Chevy Conversion Van tracing my roots. I not only traced their paths and found their homes and final resting places, but I did extensive genealogical research in court houses, libraries, historical societies, genealogical societies, cemeteries, and talked to the local people. I traveled with a laptop to upload my notes and photos, and use e-mail. It was a fantastic journey which lasted two years. I had no other home except my van to sleep in...just a bed and video player. My household goods were put into storage for two years. My mail was delivered to me at general delivery when I phoned "MailBox, etc." and told them where to send it. At night I stayed in campgrounds, motels, friends' backyards, friends' homes, and those of the few living relations I've tracked down. As I traveled I collected so much genealogy information, that I had to get rid of items that I had originally thought essential to my travels (like a microwave oven). Between ancestral sites, I visited any tourist sites I could find and got to know alot about the USA. This was a trip of a lifetime and I'm still sorting through all the wonderful memories, photos and invaluable genealogical data I found. I will post to this blog as I can - one or a few days at a time of that journey from 2001 to 2002

Sunday, November 28, 2010

22 May 2001 – Tuesday- Harper’s Ferry, WV – Antietam Battle Site, MD – Harper’s Ferry

By 9am, while the forecast called for a morning respite from the rain, I was following Hwy 230 north to Sharpsburg, MD and Antietam Battlefield National Historic Site. Every ranger has commented on my National Park’s Pass and thanked me for supporting the Park system. I figure with all the sites I plan to visit in a year, it was well worth the $65 investment... as each park costs about $ 3-5 to enter otherwise.

Antietam. The solemn battlefield where there was the most dead or wounded in a single day (Sept 16, 1862) of any Civil War battle. Stonewall Jackson vs McClellan. Not even a close match. Jackson had a daring strategy fresh from the Confederate victory at Manassas, VA. And McClellan was much too cautious to take the advantage which could have ended the war right then. Greatly outnumbered, the Confederates finally withdrew. Although Robert E. Lee’s plan to cut the northern railroads and isolate Philadelphia and Washington DC was defeated, the refusal of McClellan to obey President Lincoln and pursue Jackson in retreat, caused Lincoln to relieve McClellan of command. However it gave Lincoln the “victory” needed to allow him to put forth the Emancipation Proclamation which gave freedom to the slaves in the rebellious states. It’s thought that these events stopped England and France for helping the South fight Lincoln.
The famous bridge - see close up of wall -->

See the looong black snake on the wall?

I bought an audiotape and toured the battlefield in the van after listening to the Ranger give an overview of the battle and watching a video. Cornfields, forests, Antietam Creek, Dunkard Church, the bloody “sunken road”, farm houses – all still as they were 139 years ago. At the stone bridge over Antietam Creek, that became known as Burnside’s Bridge – I took photos of the memorials to the 51st Pennsylvania Regiment that fought there. I may have a relative that was with the 51st. On the bridge I was surprised to see a long black snake just laying there on the wall. Hmmmm. I could imagine the Pennsylvania boys sludging through the dense foliage and encountering snakes as they fought to cross the bridge. As I returned to the van, the skies opened up in a downpour of rain which continued all evening.

Brutal Sunken Road in 1862

View of Sunken Road - my van below
I finished the tour at the Antietam Cemetery in Sharpsburg, then headed back to Shephardstown, WV for lunch in classic old-time “Betty’s Restaurant” - like a soda fountain. Lunch of lasagna and garlic bread was good, it was the special at $4.79. As I got to my van in the rain and was thinking how nice it was to have a side door so I could just step into the van from the sidewalk, I –again- hit my head. So my neck which was improving from prior head jamming on the interior of the van, was now getting hammered again. I just laid back and tried massage, range of motion and “pseudo cervical traction” to head off any more neck pain – along with a couple Tylenol. Someday –and soon, I hope—I’ll learn to duck.

Back at the KOA Campground I was still the only one in my area. I used the remaining sunlight to read about the Civil War and write on my laptop computer.. Tomorrow I’ll go to a motel with a telephone for internet access. It will take a little while before I find my ancestors’ homesteads.

Monday, November 22, 2010

21 May 2001 Monday - Harper’s Ferry, WV

Camp ground

Birds and squirrels are all over this campground at Harper's Ferry, very pleasant....with big trees and few people. I spent the morning doing more organizing of my stuff so I know where everything is. The sunscreens I bought for the windows worked very well last night to keep any prying eyes from peeking through the windshield or front windows. The other side and back windows have installed blinds.
I drove (way over) to the restroom (like 100 ft) in the van, in the morning and plugged in a little pot for hot water. It worked very well to make coffee back at the van.
I went into the WalMart at Charles Town looking for a cigarette lighter adapter to charge my GPS.  Not finding that, ate a quick hamburger there, then I bought 4 lithium batteries at a nearby Radio Shack store for the GPS. Still a lot to learn about the GPS. Finally I re-entered the Harper’s Ferry National Historic Site and did more walking around the streets. It was raining on and off. A train passed over the bridge on the Potomac River nearby. Canadian geese were shepherding their babies around on the grassy areas. Little flowers grew up the walls of the spring houses and root cellars and it was so pretty. Very few people were in the town and there was so much to see. Finally I caught the shuttle bus back to the Ranger’s Visitor Center and took my van back to the Campground.  

I listened to my radio and occasionally watched the van’s TV (on the van's battery). The reception for NBC comes in very well, but the other stations are poor. I was prepared this time, for a cold night, and slept very well in the van.
Railroad bridge over Harper's Ferry street

Saturday, October 23, 2010

20 May 2001 Sun - Silver Springs MD to Harper’s Ferry, WV

---continuing my travels and ancestor tracking...

Left Silver Springs, MD, and with the help of my GPS made my way through Rockville, MD to get on Hwy 270 to Harper’s Ferry.  Though only 60 miles away it seemed in another world.  I saw a dead deer on the side of the road at Rockville.  The country is very picturesque and rural.  I crossed over the Potomac river and was immediately at Harper’s Ferry National Historic Site and the KOA Kampground where I had a reservation. 
Potomac River bridge

Shenandoah River

My campsite home - 1st night in van
The campground office closed at 2pm (still winter to them) but I made it in time to check in and check out their elaborate facilities of a store, gym, pool, laundry and many camp spaces.  Not a lot of people competing for spaces.  There were many big Motor Homes, no little Conversion vans like mine.  I had a place by myself in the tent section since I didn’t want electrical (silly me!) or water hook-ups – I decided to go “Cold Turkey” and see how I did in my van. Cheaper that way too.  There was a blue tarp used as a shelter for the one Appalachian Trail hiker in the “Appalachian Trail hiker’s section.  Unfortunately it rained later as I headed to the nearby Visitor’s Center of Harper’s Ferry.  In fact rain is in the forecast for days

On the streets of Harper's Ferry, WV

John Brown's Fort - (fire house)

Church rennovation Harpers Ferry
Very few people visit Harper’s Ferry in the rain, I discovered. I was amazed to see just what Harper’s Ferry is. I thought it was something to do with John Brown’s body and the start of the civil war. I expected to see a working ferry boat. Well, I learned that John Brown led a revolt here to eventually free the southern slaves, and captured a US armory here in 1859. After 36 hours, and his supporters did not materialize to help, he was captured in a brick fire engine house and his much planned revolution ended with his hanging. This is credited with galvanizing northern sentiment to accepting a war between the states. Harper's Ferry was a thriving industrial town due to the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers providing abundant power for mills and machines. Today the town has been somewhat restored as a historic site, after eight times changing hands in the civil war and burning and after many devastating floods through the years. It is far more interesting that I had imagined and worthy of a day or two of visiting.
For dinner I went to the nearby Golden Corral in Charles Town, WV and enjoyed their feast. Because of the rain, I drove the van from my “camp site” to the restroom – no use getting wet. Then came the test – how would I sleep in the van? My first night!!!  Well, I slept very well, although it became somewhat cold during the night. Tomorrow night I’ll sleep IN the sleeping bag, instead of on top of it with just a poncho liner on top. Sure does get dark.  You notice the dark when you don't have electricity for a light.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

19 May 2001 - Saturday - Annapolis, Maryland

     Today I went to Annapolis, Maryland with Bev.  I haven't had a chance to practiced using my GPS, so I was trying to figure it out while Bev drove.  Annapolis was nice, but I expected that it would be easy to find the US Naval Academy.  I had fond memories of watching "Men of Annapolis" on television in the 1950's.  Well we were driving around and finally I was able to use the GPS to navigate to the Academy. Success!  It wasn't far, but we just didn't happen to get on the right streets. What  a very nice campus. We walked around town and did some people watching too.  The midshipmen were walking by as Bev and I sat at an outdoor cafe by the water. Their must have been a special function because the cadets were in full uniforms and had dates wearing formal dresses.  I didn't realize Annapolis was also a historic and quaint town - and the capitol of Maryland.   The State House is pictured on one of the new quarter coins.    It was an enjoyable day, and I was happy to have visited this famous town.  Back to Silver Springs for the night, then I leave to West Virginia tomorrow then on to check out where my ancestors traveled in the Shenandoah Valley.  Below are some photos from Annapolis.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

18 May 2001 - Friday - Wash DC

--Continuing my exploration of Washington DC back in 2001

     I've been waiting for this day - the day I had a ticket from Senator Inouye to tour the White House.   I got to the White House about 8am and there were many people in line already.   But I was lucky to have the ticket and not wait in the line at the visitor's center for a possible ticket.  While I was in line, President Bush left in a Marine helicopter to go to Pennsylvania to talk about the energy situation.  He didn't stop to say hi.-  ha ha.    The White House was fantastic.  I was happy to see the rooms I'd seen on television.  Now when I see interviews, or press conferences, etc at the White House, I'll maybe be able to think that I'd been in that very room.
Donna at the White House after a rain

View from the White House
There are tours of the FBI Building, so I took one.  I waited about an hour but it was worth it.  There was a fire arms demonstration, and then we passed through a museum type area, and then through the labs where they test DNA, hair, fiber, paint, etc etc samples.   There were hundreds of pistols and rifles categorized for use by the technicians to compare with weapons used in crimes.
FBI Building - Wash DC - line for a tour

Ford Theater - Pres. Lincoln's box seat
I was able to get into the Ford Theater where Abraham Lincoln was shot in 1865 just as the Civil War was ending.  It is a National Historic Site, and 700 people can fit into the theater and see the presidential box where Lincoln was sitting and the balcony from which John Wilkes Booth leaped to make his escape with a broken leg.  A ranger told the story of that evening and brought it to life.  There is a museum below the theater, and the Peterson House is open across the street where Lincoln was taken and kept in bed until he died at 7am the next morning.
                           Peterson House - Where Lincoln Died                          
Room where Lincoln died  - Peterson House
Zipping over to Arlington on the Metro, under the Potomac River, I visited the Women in Military Service at Arlington National Cemetery,  then took the Metro back to the Roslyn station where I got off and visited the Newseum -- or a museum for the News.  Quite interesting.  Needless to say I was exhausted from all this running around.   When I got back to Bev's we decided to go out and have Mexican food.  It was great!
Arlington National Cemetery - Women in Military
"Newseum" Museum of the News Media - Arlington VA

Sunday, September 12, 2010

17 May 2001 -- Thursday Washington DC

---Continuing on my vagabond genealogy trip of 2001:

Another day in Washington DC. I took the Metro into Union Station. When I emerged from the beautiful building I saw the US Postal Museum across the street. I couldn't resist so went on a tour of what was once the Main Post Office in Washington DC. Built about 1900.
US Postal Museum - Wash DC
Mail Bag hook
US Postage Stamps on display

Train's Mail Car at the US Postal Museum - Wash DC
I was especially interested in the exhibit of a train's mail car where they sorted mail and used a hook to get mail sacks at small town train stations. My (step)grandfather, Roy Senker, and I used to wait for the train at Los Molinos, California. The men on the train's postal car would thrown off a mail bag, and would snag the one from the station via a big hook snaring the mailbag that hung on a special post. We’d pick up the mailbag they threw off the train and take it into the post office in the pickup truck, and deliver bags to other nearby towns.  I learned to drive on that Chevy Pickup truck - including gearshift on the floor ---"Where's reverse?"

Supreme Court Building
Supreme Court Building stairway
The Supreme Court was on down the street so I connected with a tour that was beginning. It is another impressive building. The cost of a lunch there was impressive also.
Library of Congress Reading Room
Inside beautiful Library of Congress
Since I had to leave the Library of Congress yesterday before I'd seen the reading room, I went back there and joined a tour in progress. One runs out of words to describe the grandeur of these buildings. The Library of Thomas Jefferson is also on display.

And finally I went back to the National Archives to do more genealogical research. The most stringent security I've encountered is entering or exiting the Research Room in the Archives. I managed to get more copies of the military pension requests and service records of Joseph Hague and Amos Thornburgh in the Civil War.
Volunteer Enlistment and signature of Amos Thornburgh

Marriage Certificate of Joseph Hague and Mary Speer at the National Archives - Civil War Pension File of Joseph Hague
Time flies when you're having fun, so it was dark before I got to the Metro and to my car - still safely parked at a shopping center near the Glenmont station.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

16 May 2001---Wednesday Washington DC

Union Station - so big!
Union Train Station - Wash DC
Washington DC beckoned and I drove to Glenmont, unfortunately there is no Metro Parking there. I parked in a shopping center lot nearby as I had to get to my very important appointment! I hoped that the van looked like it belonged to a shopper, not a commuter.  I got off the Metro at Union Station - a very beautiful building, worthy of our capitol.
I went directly to the Hart Senate Office Building where I had a 10:30 am appointment to get a tour of the White House courtesy of the office of Senator Inouye of Hawaii (you get this type of tour by contacting your senator or congressman's office and requesting it).     I met Senator Daniel Inouye.  The Hawaii senator with one arm (WWII injury).  We talked a little bit and he was very cordial.   He's good friends with Laura and Pinky Thompson. By the way, their son, Nainoa, a Pacific non-instrument canoe navigator, was just given an award by the Dali Lama today in San Francisco.  
Senator Dan Inouye (Hawaii)  and Donna in Wash DC
I got a tour by Sen Inouye’s staff to the Capitol. I went from his office to the Capitol by a special little metro type underground train. Very nice.

Hart Senate Office Building
The little underground train to Capitol
At the Senate chamber I saw Sen Ted Kennedy speaking about an education bill in the Senate. Also Sen Jesse Helms came walking in to vote. Also saw the House of Representatives in session. Fantastic tour. To see the houses in session and it happening right before your very eyes is almost unreal. I was definitely in awe of the whole tour. You’re not allowed to take photos in the House or Senate chambers, but plenty of opportunity in other places.
Inside Capitol
Capitol interior
Father Damien one of two Hawaii statues at the Capitol
Feeling very happy, and patriotic, after that tour, I went next door to an historic house with history of Women's Voter rights, called the Sewall-Belmont House Nat'l Historic Site. Home of Alice Paul an avid Woman's suffrage and woman's rights leader.

Window over door at Sewall-Belmont House
Then through the Library of Congress for a tour through one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. I highly recommend a visit to see this building.
Library of Congress
Back on the Metro to the Foggy Bottom stop and a free shuttle bus to the Kennedy Center of Performing Arts where I had another tour arranged. Since I was early I took the opportunity to have cappuccino coffee at the Watergate! I sat with Monica Lewinski at an outside table (just kidding).

Coffee at the Watergate Hotel
Potomac River from Kennedy Ctr
The Kennedy Center is fantastic. Huge and awesome views from the terrace. It's right on the Potomac River. They have about 6 different stages. We saw most of them - the Concert Hall, the Opera, and the Millennium stage with a jazz concert was going on. Took photos of the presidential boxes at each hall. Very nice free tour that anyone can just take at 4:30 pm.

Kennedy Center

Kennedy Ctr Auditorium
I Took the metro back to where I had my van parked in a shopping center. Happy to see that it hadn’t been towed away! No more Parking Garage attempts.

I'll return to the National Archives to do more genealogy, tomorrow.