You Have Been Compromised

I was shuffling through the pile of that day’s mail while carrying items into the house after a day trip. I noticed a letter from my credit union and realized it was not a pitch to get a loan or a toaster. (Do banks still give toasters?) So instead of making a second trip to the garage to bring in more items, I ripped open the envelope and was not disappointed. My debit card had been compromised. The fault lies with the merchant/payment processor, which I take to mean the company that data gets sent to when I swipe my card. The credit union said I would get a new card within 10 to 14 days and could continue to use the compromised one in the meantime. Or I could call an 800 number and cancel my current card and do without. I opted to do without. What annoys me in all of this is that Visa would not identify the merchant/payment processor. I’d like to know who screwed up, but in the end Visa is no doubt taking better care of the processor than it is taking care of me. Time to occupy Visa. I should be thankful, I suppose. At least my checking account wasn’t overdrawn.


Pennsylvania Barn Stories

(This is a proposal I submitted for a Guggenheim grant in the fall. I didn't get the grant, but I still intend to do the project.)

I spent a lot of time driving the Interstate 81 and 80 corridors in Pennsylvania this summer and began to pay attention to barns. I saw old barns and new barns, deteriorating barns and barns that had been converted to other uses. I began to wonder about their stories and thus was born this proposal.

I want to not only photograph barns that have unique stories behind them but also to include their stories in a coffee table book titled Pennsylvania Barn Stories. The Penn State Press is interested, according to Kathryn Yahner (kby3@psu.edu), assistant editor, whose areas are Pennsylvania history and regional studies. When I outlined this proposal to her, she replied: “I would be happy to look at a final manuscript—this sounds like an interesting project, and one with a good potential fit with our list. Do keep me apprised of your progress. At the point where you have some sample material to share, I'd be very interested in discussing the project in more detail.”

First, I have to find the barns, and I have mapped out a plan to do that. I have as one resource The Pennsylvania Barn: Its Origin, Evolution, and Distribution in North America (Creating the North American Landscape) by Robert (Bob) Ensminger, a professor emeritus of geography. This is the only book devoted to Pennsylvania barns and the barns are specific to a certain style whereas I will consider all barns. It is an academic study, not a popular book, but it does contain some information about barns that might have stories. I’ve also found books and Websites about barns in a certain county or in a certain area and I will use those as needed. (According to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania has 63,000 farms. Agriculture is the leading industry in Pennsylvania.)

The Historic Barn & Farm Foundation of Pennsylvania has volunteered to publish in its newsletter an item about the project. I will also send news releases to news media outlets throughout the state and ask their help in publicizing the project and even identifying barns with stories. In the meantime, I’ve opened a page on Facebook devoted to collecting Pennsylvania Barn Stories. (The first half-day generated one contact and others followed.)

I don’t want to prejudge what barn stories are worth telling, but the possibilities include architecturally and historically significant barns, barns that have been in families for generations, new barns built in a different style (I have identified one already), barns that have been converted into houses (I know of four conversions and one in progress) or other uses (I know of two). An Amish barn raising should also be on the list.

Once I have a list of willing participants, I will map out photographing the barns and collecting the stories. I expect each barn will require at least two days of on-site work in order that I may photograph in the morning and evening light as well as taking interior shots during the day. I plan on using the high dynamic range process, especially for the interior shots. High dynamic range is a process that results in sharply detailed photographs. (See interior photograph of St David’s Cathedral in Wales above.)

I also want to take photographs to cover the range of seasons so I anticipate that I would return to some barns to photograph them in different seasons. Between identifying barns, photographing the barns and collecting the stories, and returning for seasonal photographs, three years is a reasonable timeline.


The 1940 Census

As you probably know by now, the 1940 census is online, even downloadable although not searchable. You cannot search by names, which is the way most of us would want to search, but when you first look for a community, assuming it was of any size, you can limit your search to a street.

The first thing I did was try to find my maternal grandparents. That took longer than expected because I thought they lived in one township when it was really another (both starting with R, by the way, which should explain my confusion). When I did find them, two things surprised me. My uncle was living with them and my grandfather, a native of Wales, was listed as having been born in Pennsylvania.

What this particular page in the census didn’t tell me is who responded to the census-taker’s questions. They were supposed to be indicated with a circled x. So I’m speculating that my grandmother was the respondent and that she didn’t know how to spell the name of the Welsh town where my grandfather was born or she just decided the hell with it, what business is it of yours, and said Pennsylvania. Even though I want my ancestry lines kept clear, I can appreciate a small act of civil disobedience, especially coming from my petite grandmother.

By 1940 my uncle would have been in his 30s so living with his parents raised questions. My older sister suggested that it probably happened because his first wife had died, and my oldest cousin (who was around 12 in 1940) backed that up and said he was depressed for a long time. My older sister (then about 2) believes that my uncle’s wife died from spinal meningitis. She and my cousin said that my aunt’s casket was placed in the front window of their house for the viewing, that no one could come inside because she had died of a contagious disease. (If your uncle’s wife dies before you’re born, was she still your aunt?)

I found my paternal grandparents in a nearby town and learned that my grandfather’s sister was living with them. Next door were his daughter and her husband living with her in-laws. I saw a lot of couples living with parents/in-laws and even one couple living with an uncle and aunt. (They would become the parents of a girlfriend of mine so their name popped out.)

Also notable was finding the circled x behind the wife’s name rather than the “head’s” name. No doubt the “head” was at work when the census-taker stopped by.

And, I also found my parents, who were then living near Harrisburg with my two older sisters. Nothing dramatic there.

The 1940 census is flush with information, some of it inadvertent. You need only to start looking.