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, August 29, 2010

15 May 2001 Fire Trucks & National Archives - Washington DC

At last, I'll be able to do some genealogy!..... but first....

Red lights and siren. Just another day in the life of Donna Wendt. I drove my van to the Wheaton Metro Station, and drove in to the Parking Garage entrance that said clearance 7’3”. The garage entrance has a large diameter PVC pipe on a chain which indicated if your car is too high for the parking garage. Although the pipe was touching the top of the van (and rolling harmlessly over it) I thought I could park at a space directly ahead and not go into the low ramps...   or at least turn around in there.  But as it happened, there were not parking spaces for oversized vehicles.  So I was going to turn around, but saw I couldn’t go forward because of the roof beams of the garage. And I couldn’t reverse because the pipe wouldn’t swing backwards - there was a beam blocking the swing of the pipe in the other direction. So I was stuck.   What to do?

With my trusty new cell phone (delighted to have a use for it) I called the non-emergency number that was handy by the entrance gate, to get a garage attendant.  But it went directly to the Police. Despite my protests, they transferred me to Fire and Rescue. And before I knew it a big red fire truck with all the lights and siren came to my aid. The heavily clothed firemen arrived and just looked at me, quizzically.

After much discussion, and my suggestion, one got on each side of the pipe and lifted it above the roof of my van, and I was able to back out. That's all I needed but, of course, not one person had walked by the entire time I was stuck.   The firemen were very nice and maybe relieved that it wasn’t something more difficult, but they probably also thought I was pretty dumb. Well, yes.
Fireman at Garage - looking
Fireman lifts pvc pipe up with a pole
 I remembered to grab my video camera as they were working to free me, and one asked if I was going to submit it to the  "Stupid Home Videos" show.  Well, anyway, now I know the van is more than 7’3” high. And there are probably no parking garages in Washington DC, or anywhere, that I can park in.
Who's confused?
The saga doesn’t end there. I drove to the nearby open air lot and found a very nice space. I put every quarter I had into the meter for 5 hours, then read the sign. I couldn’t believe it indicated there was No Parking between 3:30 and 7:30 pm - So what good was it? I walked into the Metro Ticket office and didn’t get much of an answer. I did, then, realize I had parked in a “Kiss and Ride” lot and it’s only for drop offs!  But, darn, it was a big lot. Anyway I went to get more quarters change for the next meters I might find. I was told that at "Forest Glenn" (two Metro stops towards town) there was a big open lot. So I drove there, but became frustrated when I couldn’t seem to park in the small spaces. Finally after 10 minutes of attempts, I made a last valiant effort (remember my neck hurts), and parked the van quite nicely. The lot was $2.25/day. I was glad to finally get going into Wash DC.
Van is happily parked
Finally, I went to the National Archives to do genealogical research. Aaaa, at last!!  Security to the building was first, and at that time I had to register my video camera with the guards.  Why?  They said so that if I lost it they would know who it belongs to!   It was fairly overwhelming to really understand all the rules and what to do next.  I found census records for William Wallace and Josiah Wallace          ( note: these were the days before all census were available on
National Archives Microfilm Room
I ended up ordering up Civil War Military Records for Edwin Ells and John Hague. They both were available, so I went down to the 2nd floor to look at them. Ordering records can be done by mail, but costs $37.50. Much cheaper in person.   Well, it seems that Company K of the Iowa Infantry thought that Edwin Ells had deserted. They later realized he was taken sick in Elizabethtown, KY, and eventually got a medical discharge. I made copies of all these original records, for John Hague also, even though I’m not sure if he’s a Hague that is my ancestor .
Civil War Record of Edwin Ells, Pvt, Co K, 10th Reg't Wisconsin Infantry 
He is "absent sick" in Elizabethtown, Kentucky
     This being the first real genealogical/historical library I'd used, it was a little frustrating getting used to using a little locker on the floor where you look at the documents.  They only allow a pencil and piece of paper (and camera, I think).  I wasn't used to the suspicion, and the obvious need to safeguard the documents.  The woman security guard was so patient with me, kudos to her.   I stayed till closing, then found my way back home.
Metro Station - Silver Springs, Maryland

13 May - 14 May 2001 Walter Reed Hospital

14 May 2001 Monday           Walter Reed, Washington DC
I called Tricare Insurance again this morning and again was bounced back and forth between the Ft Bragg people and the Region people. Finally I realized that they only wanted me to go to a civilian doctor, despite my request to go to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Finally I called Walter Reed Internal Medicine Clinic, directly, and got an appt at 10 am.  (cut that red tape!!)  So I had to hustle to get there in time. Another challenge – driving into the hospital. But I found that the biggest challenge was finding a place to park. I was too tall for their parking garage and had to drive all over the hospital area to find what I think was the last open spot.

I was seen by the Doctor by about 10:15am. He sent me for X-rays of the Cervical Spine in the ER . After an hour wait there I got in to be X-rayed and then found that it is difficult to get the “odontoid” portion on x-ray. So I got my fill of radiation to last quite a while. Then on to Physical Therapy where they were able to see me at 1pm. A Lieutenant worked up my history and checked range of motion. Then she got a doctor and he started bouncing my head around like a basketball. Finally he did something quick, and I let out a bloody scream as a giant “Click” (with some pain) happened in my neck. It was embarrassing to scream in he physical therapy room, with all the soldiers with real injuries enduring their torture.   The doctor said “That’s what I was looking for – your C6 facet was out of place.” So I asked him not to do that again, but was really glad he didn’t tell me what he was going to do ahead of time, or I would have walked out. He is a physiogenist – or something like that. It helped. Then, laying down, they hooked my head up in a Cervical Traction machine and I spent 20 minutes getting my neck stretched. Not too bad. After that I got the muscle relaxer pills at the pharmacy and was done.

I found my friend, Sue in her Anesthesia office and we talked for a long time. I took over her position as Chief of Perioperative Nursing at Ft Bragg. Now she is preparing to go to Landstuhl, Germany to be Asst Chief Nurse of the Hospital.  After a quick run up to Ward 75 to see the ward that Bev runs, I walked back to my van and made my way home. Bev and I went to dinner at the Outback Steak House as I hadn’t eaten all day. I put a hot pad to my neck, took a Flexoril tablet and was fast asleep by 9pm

Tomorrow I'm going to the NATIONAL ARCHIVES !!!!!

13 May 2001 Sunday   Day of Rest at Silver Springs, MD

.. Day of recuperation. We stayed at the house and Bev fixed up a wonderful Salmon BarBQ along with asparagus and Couscous. We sat on the back deck and enjoyed the beautiful Mother’s Day weather. I spent several hours trying to learn how to work on the GPS the hand held navigation aid for my car. That is after I spent an hour finding my batteries for it in the van! I still need to learn about putting in “waypoints”. But that will come...
     I decided to call Tricare Military Insurance and see if I could get an appointment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington DC to see about the neck pain I've had from the bump I got on my head a month and a half ago .  Back in NC I walked into the TV above the back and front seats in the van and jammed my neck.  I can't turn my head now, and so that makes it hard to back up the van!   I couldn’t get anywhere with Tricare.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

12 May 2001 Saturday Silver Springs, Maryland - Wash DC

--continuing on my ancestor tracking with a day for sight seeing in Washington DC--

I slept like a rock, and rose bright and early. Given directions to the Post Office I arrived there 20 minutes before opening, and the line was already long. While waiting, we heard brakes and a crash. A car had rear-ended a stopped bus at the bus stop. Soon Police, Fire Engine, and Paramedics arrived. The girl driver was apparently not hurt too badly, but the entire front end of the car was crunched underneath the City Bus. Seems to be a fairly exciting place around here.

I picked up a ticket that Hawaii Senator Inouye’s office mailed to me to tour the Capitol, White House and Kennedy Center next week. I’m looking forward to that.

Bev and I then headed out to the Wheaton Metro Station and took the Metro into Dupont Circle to participate in the $35 "Tour of Embassies." It was a fund-raiser but what an interesting walking tour it made. We visited six embassies, including the Madagascar, Croatian, Mauritanian, Danish, Indonesian, and Uzbekistan; also the nearby Textile Museum, and Islamic Mosque.
Uzbekistan Embassy
When we visited the mosque all the women had to wear big scarves they supplied. Those in shorts had to put on a long dress over the shorts to cover their legs. Bev looked like a babushka. A bazaar was happening at the Mosque, so we had an Islamic lunch.
Islamic Mosque
We ran into Cheryl Bester, the wife of the Army Nurse Corp's chief, General Bill Bester. She was helping out with the Embassy Tours fund raiser, stamping our "passports" of the event.

Bill Clinton's house
Former President Bill Clinton's house was across from the Danish and Italian Embassies. Lots of "No Trespassing" signs around there.   We got to the last embassy just as it was closing, so that was good timing. More good timing when we had just enough time to sip our “frapucchinos” from Starbuck’s at Dupont Circle before the short rain shower came overhead.

Home in no time on the Metro. And with a Taco Bell for dinner, this most interesting day was complete.
Metro Station at Silver Springs, Maryland

Saturday, August 14, 2010

11 May 2001 Shenandoah -Blue Ridge, VA Luray to Wash DC

- Continuing to find the roots of my ancestry -- and see the sights along the way -

     I’d expected a complimentary Continental Breakfast like the last (and other and cheaper Days Inn), but this one only offered coffee. So I loaded up the van and took a cup of coffee with me for the road. I got to Luray Caverns in a few minutes and decided to take the coffee with me while I waited for them to open at 9 am. Feeling I shouldn’t really take coffee into the lobby, I did anyway. They said a tour was leaving so I hurriedly searched for my credit card, upsetting the coffee and dumping it all over my clean white shoe and all over the shiny floor in front of the ticket booth. I volunteered to clean it up, and apologized profusely, but the tour was waiting, so I just set the cup upright on the floor in the puddle and ran off to the caverns. Very un-nurse-like!
Entrance to Luray Caverns & my van
     The Caverns were found in the late 1800’s and became a very popular tourist attraction for Luray. It was quite a trip into the attractive stalactites & mites. There was even an organ that used the sound of little hammers hitting the stalactites and something to do with solenoids. Lots of weddings are held down in the depths. The adjoining Car and Carriage Museum had an exhibit of 140 items including an 1892 Benz car.

Luray Cavern, Virginia
     After a hearty breakfast, or lunch by this time, at the cavern cafĂ© – one pancake and one scrambled egg, I was off to return to the last of the 70 miles of the Skyline Drive portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Shenandoah National Park.
Appalacian Trail  - Yes, I "hiked" it -- well a little.
 I couldn’t resist hiking a ways on the Appalachian Trail where it crossed Skyline Drive at the 10.4 mile marker of the Drive. Friend, Doug Jarboe, will be hiking up this way in a month and he keeps a “Trail Journal” on the web, just for people making the Georgia to Maine trek on the Appalachian Trail. I wanted to experience a little of the Trail hike, without the hardships!

The Drive was certainly a pleasure for me. Quite a few motorcyclists were also enjoying the traffic-free road and it would probably make it one of the most enjoyable rides in the US. There were also some bicyclists, but it looked like a very strenuous activity for them.

At the end of the Drive is the town of Front Royal and the Skyline Caverns. I figured I might as well “see all I can see” so I took in a tour of these caverns as well. This attraction is smaller, and more carved out of water. Very interesting and very different from the Luray Caverns. Their claim to fame are the 6-sided Anthrodite crystals growing on the ceiling and a “Valentine Beetle” 2mm in size found only in this cavern. They had stocked some trout in the underground river.
Shenandoah River and Valley
Finally I had to head towards a place I was not eager to drive in, Washington DC. I took Hwy 66 for 60 miles into the Beltway Hwy 495 and turned left (clockwise). I didn’t have to worry about fast freeways; the speed for an hour on Hwy 495 was 10 to 20mph. Finally I got the Connecticut Blvd and headed to Silver Springs, Maryland, where Bev, an Army Nurse friend graciously allowed me to stay, along with another friend, Army Nurse Anesthetist, Christina. Using Bev’s flawless directions I found her townhouse, even using my cell phone (for one of the first times) to warn her when I was about 3 miles away.  It was good seeing them again – both had been stationed at Ft Bragg. We spent a lot of time talking, but managed to squeeze a Greek meal in at the nearby Tennis Club.
Follow the yellow, then green line from Fayetteville to Washington DC
National Archives, here I come!!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

10 MAY 2001 Thur - Blue Ridge Parkway,Virg HARBISON / THORNBURG

-Continuing my "vagabond journey" to track down the roots of my ancestors -

     I sorted out my Virginia Travel brochures last night. There are so many places to visit in Virginia. I have one more night around the Blue Ridge Parkway as I travel north before I get to Bev's house near Wash DC.
     I started the day at the continental breakfast with a Krispy Kreme donut. I don’t usually eat donuts, but somehow this seemed the right thing to do. Something just made me eat that doughnut!! Mmmmm good. Got more gasoline – and headed through Bedford, VA, a town with some big houses with lawns so big you could graze your cows on it. There are no fences between houses. Lots of rolling hills. Virginia is a fantastic state.
     After 15 miles I came to the Blue Ridge Parkway and two Whirlybird helicopters. Today was the start of the campaign to eradicate the Gypsy Moth, which is destroying many of the trees along this part of the Parkway. The caterpillar of the moth eats all the leaves. The helicopters have spray nozzles to spray the trees like a crop duster.
Was this like my ancestor John Harbison's
or Amos Thornburg's cabin?

     I backtracked a little so I could get a good view of the Western side of the Parkway, towards the rest of the Appalachian Mts. Parts in this valley area were homesteaded by my Harbison ancestors. John Harbison was born about 1747 in Botetourt Co (or Craig Co) VA. Later his family moved to Kentucky and his brother James was killed by Indians. His daughter Rachel, married Amos Thornburg.  It’s beautiful land, but no doubt difficult to carve a farm out of the forest wilderness. I saw many cabins only 100 years old, which were falling apart and abandoned many years ago.
     At the Otter Peaks Visitor’s Center I took a hike along a stream. What a beautiful area. And as I drove along the quiet Blue Ridge Crest I heard Lee Greenwood on the radio and I can echo his words: “There ain’t no doubt I love this land, God bless the USA”
Shenandoah Valley and James River
     Blue Ridge Parkway ends after a hundred and some miles and the Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive continues up north. The speed limit goes down to 35mph and there is an entrance fee. So the Drive had very few cars.
     But I did see several deer in various places along the way, also lots of squirrels. There was some construction on the roadway but didn’t cause a delay. Skyline Drive is less pastoral than further south on the Parkway, but with tremendous panoramic views.
     I got off Skyline Drive to spend the night at Day’s Inn in Luray, VA. I wanted to find a place with TV to see the last episode of "Survivor After the Outback". After the final show of Boot Camp next Wednesday I’ll be able to give up on this TV thing. I skipped dinner, expected to open a can of mandarin oranges, but couldn’t fine my can opener.