23 March 2017

The Seen and the Unseen

 
Yesterday, I left the flat to pick up the little girl I nanny and take her to cello lessons. Jon was at home-- he'd gotten caught up watching a film instead of taking a run like he'd planned.

When I reached the station, my phone rang. “Jess! Don't get on the train. There was guy that was just shot and another stabbed and some people were just run down right next to parliament. You can't go down to Westminster today.”

Numb, I made a few calls and rushed home to watch the coverage. It was especially jarring because, had Jon gone on that run like he'd intended, he would have passed right over Westminster bridge at approximately the time of the attack.

As I sat down in front of the screen, I realised that watching the news now is a completely different experience after having gone through this theology degree. Because I've been studying belief through the lens of visual images, watching the media brings with it a minefield of associations and recognitions. I realised that, even when it is unarticulated, the news seeks to do something that has been the fundamental quest of all religion; it attempts uncover Truth and to take man as close to the unknowable as possible.

The first thing I saw when I sat down to watch was an aerial view of parliament and the surrounding buildings. A helicopter flew around the scene where police cars and police officers in high-vis green jackets dotted the bridge. The reporters chattered on and I became increasingly struck by the unknown. They were attempting to show what couldn't be seen, to describe what can't be spoken (because honestly no one knew what was going on). 

Film has done this since its inception, particularly when dealing with the great mysteries of the world. Cecil B DeMille's The Ten Commandments depicts God with a trembling Moses on Mt Sinai as an animated swirling fire. By conventional theology, God is unknowable, and yet DeMille sought to make him manifest. He resolved the paradox by depicting God as an ephemeral, authoritative flame, which despite being a bit cheesy, succeeds in simultaneously displaying and veiling the truth of God. 
 
God is shown as a pillar of fire in The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston


Similar things are done in Henry Koster's The Robe and Volker Schlöndorff's The Tin Drum where the filming in both works focuses on the reactions of the crowd instead of the significant historical persons. The faces of Jesus and Hitler are not shown, rather only part of their bodies-- carrying a cross (below) and, in the case of The Tin Drum, the outstretched arm (of Hitler). 
 


This veiled approach was certainly less intentional in yesterday's coverage of the attack, but was still present. Repeatedly, the reporters would ask “Where is the prime minister?” after which a montage of 10 Downing street would be shown and assurances would be given (either from themselves or the person they were interviewing) that she was safe and likely at her home “one of the safest places in Britain.”

Invoking the unseen nature of Theresa May, followed by a visualisation of her safe local (in which she is hidden) lent a sense of security to the whole broadcast. Our leader was safe. We would be safe.

This contrasted somewhat to imagery we soon saw of perpetrator. We were soon shown explicit images of the man lying on his back receiving medical attention. This image is powerful on many levels.

First is the framing of the image. It is cropped in tight. In religious films, this shot is important in establishing the “sacred.” This idea is probably best expressed by the root of the German wúh (meaning “sacred”) whose roots means to 'be separate or apart.' When something is important it is set apart and focus in on it closely. Interestingly, the news reports the criminal using this shot.



Significantly, the man is framed by paramedics. In contrast to his callous disdain for human life, they cherish it and are trying to preserve his life. 

Interestingly, this moment is marked strongly by what the reporters are NOT saying. Even without the man's name or background, the image of dark-complexioned man with beard (a trademark style of jihadi imagery in the West) with the words “Terror Attack” emblazoned on the consciousness of the viewer screams a message that is pretty difficult to ignore. To the reporters credit though (at least with the coverage I saw), there was no immediate prejudicial assumptions articulated. The possible connection to Islamic radicalism was left powerfully unsaid.

The question of whether something should be said or shown or left alone is critical to religious art, particularly in film. One of the most famous documentary films of all time, Alain Resnais's Nuit et Brouillard showed the explicit aftermath of the Holocaust. In one scene, the camera pans over the ceiling of the Auschwitz gas chamber as a voice over describes unseen nail marks in the plaster. Later, the most graphic scene of the film shows naked, emaciated bodies being unceremoniously bulldozed into graves. It is the most upsetting piece of film I've ever seen in my life.

Jewish filmmaker Claude Lanzmann was also famously affected by the imagery. He once said, “I have always said that archival images are images without imagination. They petrify thought and kill any power of evocation." He believed representation diminished reality, perhaps much the same way seeing the antagonist in a horror film usually ruins the fear and thrill. Showing makes the reality banal.

By contrast, French film director Jean-Luc Godard believed images would be redemptive. In yesterdays attack, there was one such redemptive moment. In the midst of revelations about victims of the attack including numerous foreign children in London on holiday, a hero rose up. Tobias Ellwood, a military trained MP, ran out of the building when he heard something was amiss. On the ground was an unconscious police officer. Ellwood gave him mouth to mouth and medical attention until the paramedics arrived. Again, the news gives us another close up. This time it is triumphant.
 

The argument for the redemptive quality of images is that it will keep us from making the same mistakes again. While there is always a fear of desensitisation to the horrors of a fallen world, images have a compensatory quality. The violence that was perpetrated wasn't for nothing because it was documented. Images hold the offending party accountable so that they can't be lost to memory and time.

It is odd to be so close to moments like the one that happened yesterday. There is still a great deal to be uncovered and it will likely never be fully understood. But I'm grateful to be safe and to be well and to live in this wonderful city.

03 March 2017

Grandpa Summers


My grandfather passed away a few weeks ago, so I put together this video for his funeral.



For the past several years I've been collecting photos and video of my grandpa. I spent one summer with him scanning all the images we could find. It was an important moment for me because I never really knew my biological grandmother, so to hear all of his stories about her made her feel more real.










I'll miss my grandpa, but I know he is in a better place, feeling stronger and happier. Til we meet again, grandpa.

09 February 2017

7 Must-Know Questions About Traveling to London

I get a lot of questions from people wanting to travel to London. I realised I am repeating myself quite a bit so it is about time I posted the answers:


Question 1: Where should I stay in London?

This is a really tough question as London is a big city. I dug in deep and did an in-depth article about it which you can read here. I don't have specific hotels to recommend, but I am a big fan of Airbnb, especially for families. If you use this link you'll get £30 free (and so will I!).

Question 2: I have 2-3 days in London, what should I see?

I definitely recommend seeing the main sites-- Big Ben, London Eye, etc. If you want to see churches, I highly recommend going to an Evensong service (basically just a choral church service with a sermon). St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey would be my two top choices. 

A nice walking tour would be to start at St. Paul's Cathedral, cross the Millennium Bridge and walk along to the river until you come to Tower bridge. You'll see lots of fun things along the way (including the Tate Modern museum, the Globe Theatre, and the HMS Belfast).

There are TONS of great museums, almost all of which are free. If you have only a couple of days, I'd recommend the following: the National Gallery (full of paintings), British Museum (full of ancient artifacts including the Elgin marbles and mummies), and the trio in South Kensington (Victoria & Albert, Natural History, Science-- all also by the church visitors center). I'd probably rank them in that order, though I think the British Museum may appeal more to most people. 

If you want a bit of an off-the-beaten-path experience, I'd recommend Camden Market. It is like Portbello Road (from Bedknobs and Broomsticks) meets Diagon Alley (from Harry Potter) mixed in with punk and hippies. Definitely will be more interesting for a teenage/young adult tourists. 


Question 3: What should I avoid?

My answers to this are a bit controversial, but I personally would never spend money on Madame Tussauds Wax museum, which is a big tourist attraction. I also would probably not spend money on the London Eye ride (it is pricey and very slow, though you would get a new vantage to the city). 

As I mentioned before I wouldn't pay to get inside a church. Unfortunately, when you go to a service, you can't really explore the church, but you have a solid hour or two to look around from where you are seated (and its free).

Question 4: What do I do for Transport?

This really depends on how much you want to spend. I always take the Heathrow Connect (not the Heathrow Express, which is faster but also more expensive) to Paddington Station after getting off the plane. From there you can get pretty much anywhere around the city via the tube.

If you want the tube to be your main transport (beware those of you that are claustrophobic), you'll need to buy a pass, which you can get at any of the machines inside the tube station. If you are only going to be in London a couple of days and you want to travel around a bit, I'd recommend a day pass. If you are going to be there for a week or so and are unsure how much you'll be traveling, I'd buy an oyster card (which you buy at the machines as well) and put money on it (also done at the machines).

You will need an oyster card/day pass to ride on the buses as well-- you can not get on the buses with cash. Many people think the double deckers are just tourist buses, but they are not. There are a few specific ones for tours, but the vast majority are just normal city buses. I probably wouldn't waste money on the tour, I'd just hop on a route that passes most of the good stuff (like route 11) and enjoy the view for less than £2.

Of course, if you can afford it, you can always take a taxi. Almost every cab takes Visa and American Express. Uber is also alive and well in the London.



Question 5: What foods do I have to try?

You should definitely try fish and chips. It always surprises tourists that it is very bland. It is meant to be eaten with salt and vinegar, not plain, so don't make that mistake. I always eat mine with ketchup.

I also highly recommend bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potatoes) or a meat pie (which are usually like a chicken pot pie with other meat-- rarely veg, but sometimes like a shepherd's pie, with a meat layer on the bottom and mashed potatoes on top).

Question 6: How is the weather?

British people like to complain about the weather a lot. Honestly, I don't think it is really much to worry yourself about. I'd definitely pack an umbrella, but I wouldn't worry about making room for wellies if you don't already have space. It usually doesn't rain for long when it does rain. But, unless you are coming in the summer time, you'll want to wear layers and bundle up well.

Question 7: What should I do about currency?

This depends. Almost everywhere takes card, so check with your bank to see if there are foreign transaction fees if you use it abroad (and also let them know you will be using it in the UK so they don't freeze your account while you are traveling).

You can exchange cash once you get in the country, but you'll probably get a better exchange rate if you do it before you leave.

--

Anyway, if you have any other questions you'd like me to answer in the future, let me know!
Have a wonder trip to London!


23 January 2017

Cowboy - Love Child - Gold Mine

My family history journey began with a suitcase. It was a suitcase my mother had inherited and inside were hundreds of sheets of paper with family trees and family group records, and a few precious photographs. 

Many of these photos were of my great great grandfather, John Edgar Overstreet. From what I remember, there were photos of John on his ranch, of him fishing, and ones of him smiling next his children. He always struck me as a quiet, happy man. 

When my house burned down around Christmas when I was seventeen, the suitcase and all of its treasures were gone. Ever since, the foggy memories of these photos have haunted me. 

I had tried to research this man John for several years, but it yielded nothing except for a census record or two. One day for kicks, I typed his name into the google image search and something magical happened. I found this:

John Edgar Overstreet in 1888 at age 22
Immediately, I recognized him, despite being much younger in this image than in any that I had ever seen. It was in a post written by a woman named Juni Fisher, who referred to John as her great grandfather (which makes her my second cousin, once removed).

I quickly reached out to her. She responded with two amazing nuggets I had never expected to hear. 

First, Juni is a musician and writes country-folk music. She had researched John extensively because she had written an entire album about his life. This album, ‘Gone for Colorado’ had actually won several awards (the 2009 Western Music Association Album of the Year and the 2008 Western Heritage Award / Wrangler Award, to be exact.) I immediately went to itunes, and downloaded said album. 

Secondly, John had a secret love child with a woman 12 years his senior. 

WHAT?!

This was the kind of juicy drama I’d been dying to find. Who was this kid? Why had I never heard of her, or her mother-- the "other woman"? I asked around, and apparently no one had. Not my mom, her sisters or my grandpa. This was good stuff and I was eager to get to the bottom of it. So, I plugged myself into Juni’s album and started a correspondence with her, her mother “Buzz” (real name Ophelia), and her sister Susan. John’s story goes a little something like this:

View of town of Sedalia, Colorado from the south looking northeast toward Cherokee Mountain. Taken between 1880-1920.


At 14, John leaves his home in Kirksville, Missouri to become a cowboy [1]. By 1889, John is 23 and has made his way to Sedalia, Colorado. There he meets Christina Carlson Jarre. Christina is a 35 year-old Swedish widow with a daughter Annie, age thirteen [2]. 

Christina’s husband, Alphonse, and son Maurice had died in the prior year [3], which had undoubtedly left a massive hole in her heart. The situation was made particularly difficult as she now had a 600 acre ranch to run all by herself. 

According to family stories, John and Christina met because she was a camp cook, likely picking up the extra money where she could. She presumably hires John to work as a ranch hand, and the two become unexpectedly close. (wink, wink)

Although the details of our research vary a bit, my favorite song on Juni’s album addresses this surprising romance in the most beautiful, sensitive way. It is sung from the perspective of Christina and makes me tear up every time I listen to it. 

“...One night as the Ides of March howled round the door, 
I asked him if he’d like to stay. 
Maybe he spoke an answer and maybe he didn’t, 
but he held me close that night. 
And the last of my loneliness drifted away, 
lost in his lilac blue eyes. 
He stayed past the spring, and then into summer,
and I knew he would leave by and by. 
And though I tried to hide it, one day he noticed, 
my long apron strings barely tied. 
So we got married at the Castle Rock Courthouse, 
he stood there proud by my side, 
and the daughter I bore him had his last name,
and his beautiful lilac blue eyes.”

Now, as much as I love this song, I'm not entirely sure their daughter, Emma, was actually a love child. There are several conflicting birth dates for little Emma, but the most credible is a birth announcement in the newspaper that lists her birthday as 15 June 1890. [4] Given that John and Christina were married on the 14 August 1889, [5] Emma seems to be more of a "honeymoon baby" which is notably less scandalous (unfortunately... but don't worry, there is a love child later in this story).

The original Castle Rock Courthouse, where John and Christina were married.  Afterwards, it housed the Castle Rock Journal.


Still, I'm sure there was plenty of gossip making the rounds. Here Christina’s late husband and son were barely warm in their graves when she suddenly takes up with young cowboy, very much her junior, who then gets her pregnant. It would have certainly have been unexpected.

Sadly, after just six years together, Christina contracts pneumonia and dies [7]. She likely held on in hopes of seeing her daughter Annie married in June, but passed away in February [8]. The ranch is then split. Half had been bequeathed to Annie when her father had died, and now that she was married, she took her share. The other half went to Emma [9].

Annie Jarre, John's step-daughter, and her husband Louis Cramer. Her mother died just a few months before they were wed.


However, little Emma was only 6 years old, so John managed her 300 acres. Living life in the wild west meant there wasn’t much time for mourning. From a purely practical standpoint, John needed to remarry if there was going to be someone around to take care of his daughter. After all, ranches don’t run themselves. 

Within a year of Christina’s death, John has made another surprising choice in partners. He marries his second wife, and my second great-grandma, Florence Ada Dow (She went by Ada) [10].

The Dow family was quite well-to-do, Here is young Ada with her siblings. 

(left to right) Back Row:Clement Haskell, Florence Ada, Front Row: LeRoy Alden, Gardner Warren, and Ethel

This is a photo of her Ada in front of her home when her family lived in Illinois. It’s a bit difficult to make out through the trees, but you can see it’s quite a substantial Victorian home. 



Ada came from a family that was wealthy enough to throw lavish parties for the whole town. The papers paint them with vivid detail, describing one such party as being "illuminated with Chinese lanterns and decorated with evergreens and vines." For this particular party, her parents hired a fortune teller and musicians and supplied tables full of cake and ice cream (which was a pretty bit deal in the days before electricity and refrigeration). [11] Ada's family was loaded.

But, being from such a place of prestige in the community, Ada's family would have been very well aware of the communal misgivings surrounding John and his late wife. Why Ada, who seems to be a singularly headstrong woman with deeply ingrained sense of propriety, would decide to marry John, always really puzzled me.

John and Ada on their wedding day.


Interestingly though, just three months before John and Ada get married, she and her parents stop by Sedalia. At the same time, the papers tout John as having "the best prospect at Mill Gulch" referring to his mining claims as "the Lost Mine." They describe some of the treasures he has uncovered including an ancient ax from eight feet underground. Ada's father was in town assessing the work for clients in Denver and apparently had invited John to dine as a guest  [12]. I suspect the combination of John's large property and everyone's palpable gold fever made John a substantially more attractive prospect for Mr. Dow's eldest daughter than he might have been normally.

When Jon and Ada are married, there is a massive party. Like many of the Dow family's larger festivities, the wedding was held at Ada's parents home. The bride wore "a pure white silk novelty, trimmed in white silk lace and ribbon" and her bridesmaids, two of which were her sisters, were dressed in pastels [13].

Like her parents, Ada continued on the tradition of hosting parties. After John had erected the iconic red and white dairy barn (which still sits on their property today) the Overstreets threw parties that were the talk of the season. These including mascarade balls and barn dances that would bring people in from miles away [14].

The red and white dairy barn built by John. It is now used for storage and hay jumps at the Tolland Falls Equestrian Center.


During this time, Ada and John had 5 children together: Frank Allen, Harry Irvin, Florence Marie, Charles Edgar, and Isabell Henrietta (my great-grandma) [15].

A photo of 4 matriarchal generations after Marie was born. (left to right) Susan Marcella Sprague, Florence Ada Dow, Florence Marie Dow, and Florence Lucinda Bailey.


Although Ada became Emma’s surrogate mother, her discomfort with her step-daughter seems to have increased over time. Maybe it was pressure from her family or perhaps having her own biological children made her role as stepmother feel strained. Either way, Ada seems very eager to be rid of reminders of her husband’s past life, and Emma was definitely that.

Tragically, Emma falls ill from pneumonia and dies at age twelve [16]. Ada seems quick to pretend she never existed, even see her denying the existence of her husband's previous marriage in the census [17].

I often wonder what John must have made of this. His children and grandchildren described him as being a “very gentle man, who would never ever raise his voice or say cross words.” [18] I suspect he was a peacekeeper, and once Emma was gone, he gave Ada the latitude to do what she needed to feel emotionally safe and comfortable, choosing to remember his daughter silently. This is probably why no one in my family had ever heard of her.

Regardless, John was also very well liked in the community. He was enthusiastic about education and built a school house [pictured below] on his property for local children, later rebuilding it, with his step-daughter Annie's husband, on the other half of the ranch [19]. Despite not having much of a formal education, every year John would purchase a Farmer's Almanac and read it cover to cover, learning all he could about everything he could [18].

Jarre Creek schoolhouse, which John built on his own property. Photo taken between 1880-1900
He also served on the executive committee [20] for the local county fair and was described as "looking happy and handing around the cigars" after the birth of his baby by the local papers [21]. In fact, he seems to have been quite chummy with the local newspaper as the Record Journal of Douglas mentions him any time he comes in for a "pleasant call" [22] and pronounces lofty blessings upon him like, "We feel sure success will crown your efforts, John, just as sound judgement and good business principles have won for you in the past." [23]

Photo taken circa 1910. (back) Frank Allen (front) Florence Marie, John Edgar, Charles Edgar, Florence Ada, Isabell Henerietta, and Harry Irvin.


Eventually, John decided it was time to move on. According to the papers, John had purchased land in Fort Sumner, New Mexico in 1910 "seeking a lower altitude and warmer climate for a well-earned and needed rest" [23]. He had tried to sell the property, but he appears to have eventually passed the title of the Elk Horn Ranch back to Annie [9].

Ada and the children went on to New Mexico in February, while John finished up business and came down afterwards. [23] Once in New Mexico they created the Elk Horn II [18]. Here are some photos of them working the land at Fort Sumner:

The Overstreets at Elk Horn II in Fort Sumner, NW. (above, left to right) Charles, Harry, John, Ada, Isabell and Florence. 






Fort Sumner also came with a bit of a surprise-- an “oops” baby named Evelyn Louise [24]. She went by “Evy” to most people, but her dad and uncle called her “Bill” [18].

John and Ada then sold that ranch and went on to Wagon Mound, NM. Apparently, Ada didn’t care much for New Mexico (I kind of gathered this was a pattern with her) because Marie [pictured below] came home speaking Spanish one day [18].



By the time Marie was about 16 or so, Ada had gone to California to live with Frank and his wife (they quickly built her a house of her own, as she seemed to have been a bit difficult) and John stayed on to take care of the ranch, and to sell it. [18]

The whole Dow family. My great-grandmother, Isabell, is on the far right. 


Finally, John sold the ranch, and hurried on to California to get settled there. The buyer of the ranch defaulted on the loan, and unfortunately John got no money from the sale. [18]

In the end, Ada died of a stroke at age 63 on the 26th of October 1936 in California [25]. Afterwards, John went to live with his daughter Evy and her husband until he too passed 18 years later in his sleep [18].

___

After looking doing all this research and seeing this extraordinary life, I realised I still had one more question:

How did this all happen? What caused little 14 year old John to run away and become a cowboy? 

Well, I wasn’t about to let it rest there. It was time to go back to the very beginning. 

So, some facts: little baby John was born on 2 June 1866 in Kirksville, Missouri to Francis Marion Overstreet and Eliza Frances Crigler [26]. 

As a child born in the aftermath of the Civil War, life had to be difficult. It is unclear how they fared, but his daddy seems to have fought for the union army, which is surprising as his father was born and raised in Kentucky [27]. 

Eventually, John’s mother died when he was just nine years old [28]. Three years later, his father Francis married a woman named Rebecca Holliday [29]. She brought with her a 12 year old son named Samuel from her previous marriage [30] and a very pregnant belly.

Just one month later, Francis and Rebecca are married in a quiet ceremony in her father's home [29], Rebecca gives birth to a son, Francis Jay [31].

So, whose baby is this? Does it belong to Francis, John's father? Or someone else altogether? Perhaps we've found a love child after all...

What we do know is that a six month old Francis Jay shows up living in his grandparents house (grandpa age 65 and grandma age 56) instead of being with his mother [32]. Why that is, I do not know. But whatever the reason it must have translated into stress at home.

This is a photo of John with his brothers. (left to right: Francis Jay, John Edgar, Gorge Beard (neighbor), Louis H., Charles Irwin, and Frederick Harry) This photo was probably taken just shortly before John married Christina.
This is John's sister Emma Della Overstreet.


This is all happening the year before John decides to run away from home to be a cowboy. Frankly, I don’t blame him. Horseback riding across the open plains and sleeping under stars sounds like bit like heaven given the drama going on at home. 

So there you have it, that's the life of my great great grandfather John Edgar Overstreet. For my family that may be reading, this is how we're related.

Sources/Notes:

[1] 1870 and 1880 US Census show John with his family in Missouri. By 1900, he's in Colorado.

[2] 1880 US Census - Douglas, Colorado. This record gives the birthdates of both of Christina’s children and lists her place of birth as Sweden. It also shows her husband, Alphonse Jarre, as still living and working as a farmer. The Colorado Statewide Marriage index further clarifies Annie’s birthday as being in 1776. 

[3] Grave Transcription - Alphonso Jarre b. 1832, d. 1888, Sedalia, Douglas County, Colorado, Marius A. Jarre b.1877, d. 1887. Newspapers describe Alphonse as having a swollen blood vessel near his heart that burst. Although Marius' death is not mentioned, it does describe a relentless bought of rheumatism that his mother was taking him to the doctor for in mid 1887.

[4] 1900 US Census - Sedalia, Douglas, Colorado. Emma’s birth date is given as part of the census, but the year differs from a birth announcement in the Castle Rock Journal, June 25, 1890.

[5] Colorado Statewide Marriage Index - John E. Overstreet and Christina Jarre

[6] Castle Rock Journal, February 27, 1884 

[7] Grave Transcription - Christina Overstreet b. 1854, d. 1895, Sedalia, Douglas County, Colorado

[8] Colorado Statewide Marriage Index - Annie Jarre and Louise Cramer

[9] Biographical Sketch of Louis Cramer http://www.memoriallibrary.com/CO/1898DenverPB/pages/pbrd1028.htm.  I'm unsure of the sources this person used as I have not been able to track down the will or land records of Alphonse or Christina.

[10] Colorado Statewide Marriage Index - John A. Overstreet and Ada Dow

[11] Castle Rock Journal, "Acequia Items" Aug 22, 1894

[12] Castle Rock Journal, January 22, 1896

[13] Castle Rock Journal, March 25, 1896

[14] Castle Rock Journal, March 14, 1902

[15] 1910 US Census - Fort Sumner, Guadalupe, New Mexico. John, Ada, and five oldest children are accounted for.

[16] Castle Rock Journal, March 13, 1903

[17] 1930 US Census - Los Molinos, California. Ada lists her husband's age at his first marriage incorrectly, suggesting that she was his first marriage. Interestingly, the funeral announcement in the paper announcing Emma's death lists her with the wrong name. It is unclear if this had anything to do with Ada's feelings toward Emma or if it was simply a mistake by the newspaper, but interesting to note.

[18] Juni and Susan Fisher shared these details with me via email correspondence.

[19] Record Journal of Douglas Newspaper - 20 June 1908 "Jarre Creek News"

[20] Record Journal of Douglas Newspaper - 20 Aug 1909 "Jarre Creek News"

[21] Record Journal of Douglas Newspaper - 7 Aug 1908 "Jarre Creek News"

[22] Record Journal of Douglas Newspaper -  July 10, 1908

[23] Record Journal of Douglas Newspaper - Feb 25, 1910

[24] 1920 US Census - Wagon Mound, Mora, New Mexico. Evelyn is shown in this census. 

[25] Record Journal of Douglas, November 13, 1936

[26] 1870 US Census - Buchanan, Sullivan, Missouri

[27] U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934
Francis M. Overstreet, 12th Regiment, Missouri Union Calvary, Company F - wife listed on the 1890 pension

[28] Familysearch user data from Barabara Owens

[29] Missouri, Marriage Records, 1805-2002 - Frances M. Overstreet and M. R. Hollida - Note that the index erroneously assigns ages to the individuals that are not on the original record. Original record shows that wedding took place at Rebecca's father's home.

[30] 1870 US Census - Corydon, Wayne, Iowa, Household of Samuel and Elizabeth Holliday

[31] California, Death Index, 1940-1997 - Frank J. Overstreet

[32] 1880 US Census - Buchanan, Sullivan, Missouri, Household of Samuel and Elizabeth Holliday, Francis Jay's maternal grandparents. 

Individuals Mentioned (or Alluded to) in this Post:

John Edgar Overstreet, Christina Karlson, Alphonse Jarre, Annie Cecelia Jarre, Maurice Jarre, Emma E. Overstreet, Ada Florence Dow, Frank Allen Overstreet, Harry Irvin Overstreet, Florence Marie Overstreet, Charles Edgar Overstreet, Isabell Henerietta Overstreet, Evelyn Louisa Overstreet, Marion Francis Overstreet, Eliza Frances Crigler, Mary Hattie Overstreet, Mattie M. Overstreet, Charles Irwin Overstreet, Louis H. Overstreet, Emma Della Overstreet, Frederick Harry Overstreet, Francis Jay Overstreet, Rebecca Holliday, Samuel Wilson Holliday, Elizabeth J. South, Gardner Warren Dow, Florence Lucinda Bailey, Susan Marcella Sprague, Ethel Dow, Clement Haskell Dow, Le Roy Alden Dow, Marcella Adelaide Dow, Mabel Eleanor Dow, Allen Sprague Dow, Thelma Marie Dow, Donald Eldon Summers, Meredith McPherson, Clifford Wayne Summers, Louis Cramer

If anyone out there has additional photos or relevant images, please send me a copy! I'll happily send you all the images above in exchange. :) Also, if you feel I've gotten something wrong, please don't hesitate to let me know. This post is for posterity! Just email me at youngrubbish@gmail.com. 

12 January 2017

Broken Faith



In the first week of last term, I was sitting in a lecture hall with all my fellow theology-studying peers. One girl sitting in front of me was reciting her course load to a friend, which included classes on Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism. Her friend seemed confused.

"Really? I thought you were a Christian. Why aren't you taking any classes on your own faith?"

"Oh," came the girl's emphatic reply, "I DO NOT mix my faith with my academics."

That moment stuck with me, not only because I live my life with pretty much the exact opposite attitude, but also because after last term, I get what she's saying. I really do. 

The 'Christianity and the Arts' program at King's is amazing. I couldn't have imagined a program more perfectly suited to my brain. It is everything I hoped it would be, but it has also pushed me and pulled me to the point of almost breaking. 

In November, I was furiously working on my research papers. I had intentionally chosen topics that were hard-- things no one has ever published on. Some were doctrinal, some were scriptural, but they all forced me to take a long hard look at my faith. 

This particular day, I was feeling unbalanced. The previous weeks had introduced me to so many new ideas. My brain was reeling, just trying to figure out where to file all these paradigm-shifting thoughts. On top of this, I was waist deep in academic papers about the history of Mormonism. There was so much information--so much information I had never heard before. I had heard the metaphorical cracks starting several days before, but on this particular night, it was like someone ripped out the foundation stones. Everything I thought I knew and understood about the world got sucked down this vortex of doubt and my testimony crumbled. 

I realised I had no idea how anyone knows anything. I had always prided myself on having searched deep into my faith's history and doctrine and faced the demons long ago. I had had so many encounters with other faiths and had studied them out, and I was certain Mormonism held the truth. And yet there I was, crumpled up on my bed not even sure if there was God. 

I cried to Jon that night (who was up in Sheffield). This is just one of many breakdowns I've had in the last year-- from infertility to being stuck in Australia, from personal issues with our extended family to twenty rejection letters from potential university funding sources, it had been a tough year. This time it felt more serious though. This was an existential crisis if ever there was one. 

Jon was perfectly calm and simply said, "Babe, it's ok. I went through this exact experience on my mission. You are going to have a couple of really really crappy weeks, but then you are going to be ok. You are going to get through this."

His confidence made me feel safe. I loved him for holding together my world even as doubt pulled me down into a really dark place. 

The next couple of days were rough. I couldn't think about anything without feeling like a tiny trembling puppy. However, I noticed that even though I wasn't sure if there was a God, I felt myself praying. I wasn't sure to what, but something inside me was calling out to something higher than myself. 

I realised that if there was no God, then belief, or disbelief, was pointless. If there was a God, belief was necessary. Either way, disbelieving offered me nothing. 

Heartened by this realisation, I sat down with Jon and we started philosophically rebuilding my understanding of the world. Completely independent from scripture or anyone else's beliefs, we constructed a theology. "If x is true, they naturally y must be as well." "What about z? Does that logically make sense with x and y." 

It started off so basic (what/who is this higher power?) and evolved into places that were so deep it is hard to put them into words.


In hindsight, this conversation might be the single most important discussion of my life. From it, I finally FULLY understood Christianity, not as Bible stories or separate doctrinal parts, but as a cohesive, interwoven, beautiful expression of human existence. I can tell you that right now, my testimony of Christianity is so certain. My belief in Christ and his atonement and all that comes with that is completely mine. It has nothing to do with the way I was raised or habit or loved ones. It is my own. 

I'll be honest and say my testimony of Mormonism isn't quite at that level. There are things with which I am still struggling. Yet, it must be said that even in my darkest days, the theological beauty of Mormonism left me awe-inspired. If Joseph Smith didn't get his ideas from above, the man is probably the single greatest theologian ever to walk to Earth. 

I say that fully admitting that it is stuff from Joseph Smith that has caused my problems. However, if you spend any time reading books on theology, you'll start to see how intimately interconnected doctrine becomes. When you shift one tiny idea, it comes with an avalanche of philosophical issues to resolve. Most theologians agonise over dogmatic minutia for hundreds of pages, only to realise several years later that they missed some crucial logical fallacy. 

But with Joseph Smith, it's like he just woke up one day and BAM! A perfectly stable theology, which in many ways departs drastically from mainstream Christianity, was born with what appears to be almost no conscious deliberation. It is impressive and, admittedly, quite heartening to someone who is doubting. 

So, going in to a new term, my journey of faith and learning will move forward.  I don't know what tomorrow will bring... but whatever it is, I'm hoping it is just a little bit brighter and little bit more full of truth.