Sep 14 2013

Missing Branches

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Once upon a time – I think it was 2006 – I was procrastinating taking a break from work and decided to Google my name, just to see which of my freelance articles would pop up. The usual suspects were revealed: articles from ASU Research Magazine, alumni publications, local Phoenix magazines. But one hit caught my attention: a Melissa Crytzer from Kittanning, PA – not from my native Greenville, PA – and the added bonus… an included email address regarding her upcoming class reunion.

OK- back in 2006, social media and blogs would not have been the first thing to pop up under my name. Honestly. It would have been my freelance work!

From my then-Phoenix office, and without thinking, I shot off a quick email: “I’m a Melissa Crytzer, too. We might be related.” I laughed at the absurdity of my correspondence and thought nothing of it, until I heard back from the woman who shared my name – though by now she was Melissa Schaeffer.

Fast-forward to 2010, my trek back to Pennsylvania for a Girls’ Week getaway – and a trip to visit “Cousin Melissa.”

Could this area of Troy Hill, near Kittanning, be the birthplace of my ancestors? Click to enlarge.

My immediate family had long heard rumors that the Crytzers originated in Kittanning, northeast of Pittsburgh, even though my great grandparents and grandparents hailed from nearby Ohio. Melissa wrote back, telling me that her Uncle Ron had mapped out the family tree back to the 1800s, but was missing one branch … from Ohio.

Yes, my father’s family was the missing branch Uncle Ron had been searching for (Uncle Ron’s grandfather and my great grandfather were brothers, if you can believe this crazy story of Internet fate). You can imagine how excited I was to share the news with my Dad that we were going to meet Melissa and Uncle Ron, who invited us to tour the Kittanning area.

This is one of the many homes on Troy Hill originally constructed by the Crytzer Clan. This home was built, owned and occupied by my great, great, great grandfather, Harrison Crytzer. Click to enlarge.

We learned so much fascinating family history from Uncle Ron. I was intrigued about the metamorphosis of the spelling of our last name (rarely consistent due to Census recording, phonetic spelling during the time period, and a general lack of interest in correct surname spelling). Our family tree includes Krytzer, Critsor, Critzor, and finally … Crytzer)

We visited the cemetery near Troy Hill and found Nancy Critsor 1800-1878, wife of David Critsor, who would be my great-great-great-great grandfather (I think!).

We also learned that John Critsor, son of Nancy and David, above, fought in the Civil War, but returned home, while a relative of the SAME name (John Kritzer) was a Civil War POW and died in captivity of a saber wound to the head.

Aside from meeting flesh-and-blood family members for the first time, I learned that ours is a family of war veterans – Revolutionary War, Civil War, Korean War, WWI, WWII, Vietnam – and a family of settlers, landowners, laborers, farmers, coal diggers, carpenters, factory workers, business operators and police chiefs. I now also have the family crest and learned that, at one point, a settlement was named Crytzerville near Kittanning in the 1800s.

I’m proud of my family heritage (and have fallen in love with my long-lost relatives. Thanks, Uncle Ron, for doing all the legwork on the family tree. Thanks, Melissa, for responding to my crazy email and entertaining my first visit).

I will continue to dig, because rumor has it that my great grandmother, who married Great Grandpa David Crytzer (maiden name Clever) – also from the Kittanning area – is of Native American descent. Thanks to my most recent trip back to Kittanning, I know right where to go: the Armstrong County Historical Museum and Genealogical Society, where I photographed uncanny – ghostly? – images that may or may not speak to other historical events, these dating back to the 1700s. (If you haven’t checked out that post, I’d love you to weigh in).

The moral(s) of the story: sometimes it’s just nice to know where you come from. And sometimes, a bit of Internet procrastination can lead you back home.

For Writers: What does family mean to you? Is it more than a shared surname? Do you have a reliable family tree? Have you ever tried to find out where you came from? What did you learn? What resources did you use?

For Readers: Do you gravitate toward books with historical settings or significance? How far back in time does a book need to be for you to consider it “historical”? Can you think of any novels you read where genealogy or family trees were important?


Aug 31 2013

Seeing the Unseen

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Have you ever not seen something because you just weren’t looking closely enough?

What about here? Do you see anything out-of-the-ordinary in the photo below, taken at a historical museum and genealogical society in Western Pennsylvania?

During a recent trip home to my native Pennsylvania, my uncle took me (and his wife, as well as my cousin) on a tour of the local historical museum at which he volunteers. Hint: check out the fourth full window partition from the left. Click to enlarge.

When I combed through the photos I’d downloaded, I buzzed right past this image. (In honesty, this room didn’t really move me as the others had. I haphazardly took the photo “just because”). But something caught my eye as I reviewed the freshly downloaded images. Something looked out of place in this oblong room. So I zoomed in:

Do you see what I see? Click to enlarge. I was actually the only one in the room, and I’d used no flash. I also find it peculiar how the outside is seemingly lit-up, yet it was 9 p.m. and pitch black.

I truly didn’t expect to see anything – or anyone – staring back at me when I zoomed in, but when I saw the eyes, the nose, the full lips … the hair stood up on both arms and my eyes began this bizarre, unstoppable watering. It wasn’t crying, really. It was … well, unexplainable. I felt I had locked eyes with a fierce, sad soul.

And despite forewarned tales of a “woman in a white dress” haunting the museum – a house built in 1842 – it wasn’t her figure that I saw. I clearly saw the face of an Indian warrior staring back.

What do you see in the photo? If you see nothing, then you’re like my husband – a big ol’ debunker, sure there is some logical explanation for the image – the biggest Doubting Thomas of them all when it comes to things supernatural.

But would your mind change if I told you that once I returned to Arizona, downloaded the photos and sent them to my uncle, he shared with me the fact that a ghost-hunting group had once visited and claimed that a Delaware Native American Indian, Tewea, was “discovered there?” (Relax your eyes, tilt your head slightly to the right, and start at the very top of the “mass” in the window. You’ll see two eyes in the first rung of the blinds, a nose in the next rung, and full lips and a chin in the next. Do you also see the metal staff to the left? The sash across the chest?)

Maybe none of this moves you, still. Maybe, again, you see nothing. But when my cousin shared a drawing of this famous Indian (a seven-foot-tall man), my goose pimples returned with a vengeance.

Is the sash in my photo really part of this Indian dress? Is Tewea’s height accurate for peering in this window? (The museum has an entire “Indian room” of artifacts and history, by the way. And Tewea’s death was – obviously – tragic.) Click to enlarge.

Is this a restless spirit? Simply a photographic anomaly? Or do I want to “believe” so badly that I’m seeing what I want to see?

I don’t know. You be the judge.

For Writers, Readers: Do you think writers are more open to the possibilities of the unknown, unexplained, the unseen, the supernatural? Is it because we’re creative? Is it because we want to believe? Why might we be more open than others? As readers, what is it about the unexplained that is so enticing? Even if you aren’t a fan of supernatural fiction, are you drawn to the possibility of things unimagined? What do you think about the above museum-house photos? Mere coincidence? Or something more?

Stay tuned for my next “What I Saw (in Pennsylvania)” installment regarding the fascinating way I discovered my long-lost uncle and cousin – and helped fill in a missing branch of the family tree.