52 Documents in 52 Weeks #31 – Shirley Westra’s Wedding Announcement

Person of Interest: Shirley Ann Westra
Relationship: 1st cousin 1x removed (my mother’s first cousin)

Source Citation: “Miss Westra is Bride,” marriage announcement, the Courier-News (Bridgewater, New Jersey), 27 June 1961, p. 12, col. 5; image copy, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/image/218844987/ : accessed 07 April 2017), Historical Newspapers Collection.

Document Description: This is a digital image of a marriage announcement that ran in the Courier-News of Bridgewater, New Jersey. The entire newspaper page for this day has been digitized and these are the screen clippings.

Document Scans/Transcription:
Miss Westra Is Bride
Bedminster – Miss Shirley Ann Westra, daughter of Mrs. Herman Westra of Springdale, R.D. 1, Newton, and the late Herman Westra, became the bride recently of James Gregory Conroy, son of Mrs. James Conroy of Main St. and the late James Conroy.

The ceremony was performed by the Rev. George Everett in St. Elizabeth’s Church, Far Hills. A reception followed in the home of the bride.

Given in marriage by her brother John Westra of Newton, the bride wore an ice blue brocaded satin gown with a sequin crown and illusion veil. She carried a bouquet of carnations.

Mrs. John Westra of Newton was matron of honor. She wore a blue silk organza over taffeta gown and carried a bouquet of white carnations.

Mrs. Jerome Bird of Far Hills was bridesmaid. She was dressed identical to the matron of honor.

Best man was Harry Metzler of Bedminster. Gary Westra of Newton was an usher.

The bride is a graduate of West Morris Regional High School, Chester. The bridegroom attended Bernards High School in Bernardsville and is employed in Perrone’s Shell Station, Bedminster.

Following a wedding trip to Atlantic City, the couple will reside in Springdale, R.D. 1, Newton.

Analysis: This short article in the newspaper is a treasure trove of genealogical information. From it, we learn the following information:

  • Shirley Ann Westra’s father was Herman Westra
  • Herman Westra passed away before the wedding in 1961
  • Shirley Ann Westra’s mother was still alive as of the wedding in 1961
  • Shirley Ann Westra’s mother resided in Springdale, New Jersey, on R.D. 1
  • Shirley Ann Westra was married around June 1961
  • Shirley Ann Westra married James Gregory Conroy
  • Shirley and John Conroy were married in Far Hills, New Jersey, at St. Elizabeth’s church by the Reverend George Everett
  • James Gregory Conroy’s father was James Conroy
  • James Conroy passed away before the wedding in 1961
  • James Gregory Conroy’s mother was still alive as of the wedding in 1961
  • James Gregory Conroy’s mother resided in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Main St.
  • Shirley Ann Westra had a brother named John Westra
  • John Westra was married prior to the wedding in 1961
  • Shirley Ann Westra graduated from West Morris Regional High School in Chester, New Jersey
  • John Gregory Conroy graduated from Bernards High School in Bernardsville, New Jersey
  • John Gregory Conroy was employe at Perrone’s Shell Station in Bedminster, New Jersey
  • Shirley and John Conroy lived in Springdale, New Jersey in 1961

What we can’t get from the announcement is the exact date of the wedding. While the announcement ran on 27 June 1961, the article only says that the couple was married recently. It may have taken a while for the article to get into the paper. We also can’t discern the name of Shirley’s mother, James Gregory’s mother, or John Westra’s wife. Just based on this article, I suspect that Gary Westra was another brother but the article does not explicitly tell us this information.

We also get some small details about what the bride and some of the wedding party were wearing. I had to look to see what an illusion veil is and it seems to be a veil made of a very gossamer fabric. From the picture of Shirley that accompanied the article, we can see the type of bouquet she was carrying and the style of her dress.

This is an original document in that the wedding announcement appeared in the paper and we seem to have a digitized, true copy of it. This information found within the article is both secondary and undetermined since, most likely, the reporter/editor or typesetter did not witness the wedding firsthand.  They are relying on information that someone else provided to them. The evidence is a mixture of direct and indirect depending on the research question asked.


Newspaper wedding announcements are some handy documents to ferret out for genealogical information. Be aware, though, that wedding announcements can range from very lengthy to very short. It depends on how much information was provided to the newspapers and/or whether the marriage occurred in a church or the couple eloped. This was a nice article that allowed me to enter a husband for Shirley Ann Westra into my family tree. It filled out a few leaves on a branch of the Westra tree.

Sepia Saturday – March 2017 – Beauty is the Arms of the Holder

The prompt picture I’ve chosen from Sepia Saturday for March is one of a two people with a dog. It is their number 357 which is out of sync with my ending 2016 numbering. I could have picked that dangerous looking railing to focus on or the porch or the lady’s outfit or the child’s sailor suit but I went with two people and a dog as a theme.

My first family photo that goes with this theme is one of my mom Martha and her sister Lena when they were young girls. It’s a winter photo:

Lena, Beauty and Martha Westra

My mom was the one sitting on the sled holding their dog named Beauty. Beauty was a Fox Terrier that was white with some brown patches on her. I’m going to call Beauty a her even though, while I was interviewing her about the dog, Mom consistently called the dog “him.” She couldn’t remember if the dog was a boy or a girl. With a name like Beauty, I’m going with girl. The picture also has all sorts of other details: a large snowbank, the buttons running along the leg of Mom’s snow suit, the pointed, crocheted white hat Lena was wearing, the hand-made head covering Martha was wearing, the type of sled, the buildings in the background.

Lena holding Beauty

Beauty really belonged to Lena and Martha’s older brother Ewald but she became the family pet. One day Ewald went down to Memory Park to play baseball with friends and Beauty followed him there. Something happened, either the dog ran off chasing something or someone picked her up. She went missing for a few weeks. The Westra family was upset and wondered what happened to Beauty. But she eventually found her way home and the family was thrilled when she showed up on their porch one morning. Beauty was with the Westra for quite a while.

Martha holding Beauty by the side porch at 3 Townsend Street, Newton, NJ

I have a photo of John and Ewald Westra with a dog but I’m quite sure this is not Beauty because this dog has too much black around its ear and eye. This photo was used in another Sepia Saturday post for 2016.

John and Ewald Westra

Later in her life, when I’d ask Grandma Westra why she didn’t have any pets, I’d get a stern “Ach, I don’t like animals in the house.” Ach is an Old High German expression of grievance or displeasure which my grandmother used frequently. So I was surprised when Mom said they had other animals besides Beauty in the house at 3 Townsend Street when they were growing up. Lena had a ginger tabby cat named Pete. He was an indoor/outdoor kitty. The Westra family also had a Pomeranian-type dog that was very anxious, jittery and hairy. It would hide behind the couch all day and had to be coaxed out. Given Etta’s neat streak, I’m sure the hair alone was probably enough to drive Grandma nuts. That dog didn’t last long; it was soon given away.

Another short-timer was a dog that Mom says Russell Van Entning found and for some reason Grandma brought home with her. The story goes that Etta had the dog leashed to a door knob on the front porch when other neighborhood dogs came visiting. They were amorous visitors. Shortly after, the Westras found out their dog was pregnant. Etta didn’t want a litter of puppies and the dog was given away.

So, with this post, I found out that there were animals at 3 Townsend Street. But only when the kids were there. And I’m sure that a younger Etta was a little more tolerant of the things both animals and kids would drag into the house.

52 Documents in 52 Weeks #6 – Herman Westra’s 1940 Census

Person of Interest: Herman Westra
Relationship: Paternal grand uncle

Source Citation: 1940 U. S. census, Sussex County, New Jersey, population schedule, Andover, ED 19-2, page 14 (stamped), sheet 6B-7A, family 121, Herman Westra household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http:www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 November 2016); citing NARA microfilm publication T627, roll 2384.

Documents Description: These documents are part of the Sixteenth Census of the United States which was taken in 1940, shortly before World War II broke out. It is the sixteenth census taken since 1790. The U.S. census counts every resident in the United States. It is mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution and takes place every 10 years. The U.S. Census Bureau is responsible for taking the censuses. After 72 years (and not before owing to privacy reasons), the records are released to the public by the National Archives and Records Administration. In accordance with the 72-Year Rule, the National Archives released the 1930 records in April 2002 and most recently, the 1940 records were released April 2, 2012. 

Independently, both Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org raced to get this census indexed and searchable by name once the digital images had been released. FamilySearch.org completed their indexing of 132 million names in only 4 months which speaks to the efforts of all the volunteers involved in the project. Ancestry.com was just as ambitious and had 38 states and territories fully indexed and searchable by July 27, 2012.

Documents Scan/Transcription: Numbers relate to columns on the schedule
1940-us-census-herman-westra-6bPage 6B Header
State: New Jersey; County: Sussex; Township: Andover; S.D. No.: 1; E.D. No.: 19-2; Enumerated by me on: May 8, 1940; Enumerator: James J. Fogleson; Sheet No.: 6B; stamped page number does not exist

Page 6B Detail
line 80, Herman Westra

1. Street, avenue, road, etc.: Germany Flats Road
2. House number: [blank]

Household Data
3. Number of household in order of visitation: 121
4. Home owned (O) or rented (R): R
5. Value of home, if owned, or monthly rental, if rented: 25
6. Does this household live on a farm? : Yes
7. Name: Westra, Herman
8. Relationship of this person to the head of the household: Head
A. Code A: O

Personal Description
9. Sex: M
10. Color or race: W
11. Age at last birthday: 37
12. Marital status: M

13. Attended school or college any time since March 1, 1940: No
14. Highest grade of school completed: 8
B. Code B: 8

Place of Birth
15. If born in the United States, give State, Territory, or possession. If foreign born, give country in which birthplace was situated on January 1, 1937: Holland
C. Code C: 08
16. Citizenship of the foreign born: Na

Residence, April 1, 1935
17. City, town, or village having 2,500 or more inhabitants. Enter “R” for all other places: Clinton
18. County: Huntington
19. State: New Jersey
20. On a farm?: Yes
D. Code D: 5712

Employment Status, persons 14 years old and over
21. Was this person AT WORK for pay or profit in private or nonemergency Gov’t. work during week of March 24-30? (Yes or No): Yes
22. At Public work?: “-”
23. Seeking work?: “-”
24. Has a job?: “-”
25. Engaged in home house-work (H), in school (S), unable to work (U), or other (Ot): “-”
E. Code E: 1
26. Hours Worked: 100
27. Weeks out of work: [blank]

Occupation, Industry and Class of Worker
28. Occupation: Operator
29. Industry: Farm
30. Worker Class: OA
F. Code F: 000-VV-4
31: # of Weeks Worked: 52

Income in 1939
32. Wage/income received: 0  [1,200 was written in but then struck through]
33. Other sources of income: Yes
34: Farm schedule: [blank]

Supplemental questions for line 80 (Questions 35 to 50 below)
35. Name: Herman Westra

Place of Birth of Father and Mother
36: Father’s place of birth: Holland
37. Mother’s place of birth: Holland
G. Code G: 8
38. Language: Dutch
H. Code H: 08

39. Veteran?: No
40. If child, is veteran-father dead?: [blank]
41. War or military service: [blank]
I. Code I: [blank]

Social Security
42. Have a SSN?: No
43. Old-Age or RR deductions?: [blank]
44. Deductions all, 1/2 or part?: [blank]

Usual Occupation, Industry, and Class of Worker
45. Usual occupation: Farmer
46. Usual industry: Farm
47. Usual class of worker: OA
J. Code J: ___-VV-4

For all woman who are or have been married
48. Has woman been married more than once?: [blank]
49. Age at first marriage: [blank]
50. Number of children ever born (do not include stillbirths): [blank]

Office Use Only Codes
K. Ten (4): 1
L. V-R(5): 1
M. Fm. Res. and Sex (6 and 9): 3
N. Color and nat. (10, 15, 36 and 37): 4
O. Age(11): 37
P. Mar. St.(12): 2
Q. Gr.Com(B): 8
R. Cit.(16): 1
S. Wrk.St.(E): 1
T. Hrs.wkd or Dur.un (26 or 27): V
U. Occupution, Industry, Class of Worker(F): [blank]
V. Wks.wkd(31): 9
W. Wages(32): [illegible]
X. Ot.inc(33): [blank]
Y. [no heading]: 0
Z. [no heading]: [blank]

1940-us-census-herman-westra-7aPage 7A Header
State: New Jersey; County: Sussex; Township: Andover; S.D. No.: 1; E.D. No.: 19-2; Enumerated by me on: May 8, 1940; Enumerator: James J. Fogleson; Sheet No.: 6B; stamped page number with “14”

Page 7A Detail
lines 1-3, Tillie, John and Gary Westra [respectively with ; between]

1. Street, avenue, road, etc.: Germany Flats Road
2. House number: [blank]; [blank]; [blank]

Household Data
3. Number of household in order of visitation: [blank]; [blank]; [blank]
4. Home owned (O) or rented (R): [blank]; [blank]; [blank]
5. Value of home, if owned, or monthly rental, if rented: [blank]; [blank]; [blank]
6. Does this household live on a farm? : [blank]; [blank]; [blank]
7. Name: Westra, Tillie Ⓧ;  —–, John; —–, Garry
8. Relationship of this person to the head of the household: Wife; Son; Son
A. Code A: 1; 2; 2

Personal Description
9. Sex: F; M; M
10. Color or race: W; W; W
11. Age at last birthday: 33; 11; 8
12. Marital status: M; S; S

13. Attended school or college any time since March 1, 1940: No; yes; yes
14. Highest grade of school completed: H-1; 4; 2
B. Code B: 9; 4; 2

Place of Birth
15. If born in the United States, give State, Territory, or possession. If foreign born, give country in which birthplace was situated on January 1, 1937: Holland; New Jersey; New Jersey
C. Code C: 08; 57; 57
16. Citizenship of the foreign born: Al; [blank]; [blank]

Residence, April 1, 1935
17. City, town, or village having 2,500 or more inhabitants. Enter “R” for all other places: Clinton; Clinton; Clinton
18. County: Huntington; Huntington; Huntington
19. State: New Jersey; New Jersey; New Jersey
20. On a farm?: Yes; yes; yes
D. Code D: 5712; 5712; 5712

Employment Status, persons 14 years old and over
21. Was this person AT WORK for pay or profit in private or nonemergency Gov’t. work during week of March 24-30? (Yes or No): no; [blank]; [blank]
22. At Public work?: no; [blank]; [blank]
23. Seeking work?: no; [blank]; [blank]
24. Has a job?: no; [blank]; [blank]
25. Engaged in home house-work (H), in school (S), unable to work (U), or other (Ot): H; [blank]; [blank]
E. Code E: 5; [blank]; [blank]
26. Hours Worked: [blank]; [blank]; [blank]
27. Weeks out of work: [blank]; [blank]; [blank]

Occupation, Industry and Class of Worker
28. Occupation: [blank]; [blank]; [blank]
29. Industry: [blank]; [blank]; [blank]
30. Worker Class: [blank]; [blank]; [blank]
F. Code F: [blank]; [blank]; [blank]
31: # of Weeks Worked: o; [blank]; [blank]

Income in 1939
32. Wage/income received: o; [blank]; [blank]
33. Other sources of income: No; [blank]; [blank]
34: Farm schedule: [blank]; [blank]; [blank]

Analysis: The above listings/transcriptions are a bit hard to read, I admit it. So why go through the pain of typing it all out? It forced me to look at every single box and tick mark and code and notation. So, let’s put the above in a more user-friendly, narrative format:

On 01 April 1940, Herman Westra (37), head of household, was living in Andover Township, Sussex County, New Jersey, with his wife Tillie (33) and two young sons, John (11) and Garry (8). Tillie was the informant when enumerator, James J. Fogelson, visited the Westra household on 08 May 1940 to record the family’s information. Mr. Fogelson was working in his Supervisor’s District of 1 which oversaw Enumeration District 19-2. In order of visitation, the family was labeled as #121 and was living on a rented farm located on Germany Flats Road in Andover Township. Herman was paying $25 per month to rent the land he was operating as a farm. Tillie was working in home doing housework. The family had moved to Andover from Clinton, Huntington County, New Jersey, the place where the family had been living on 01 April 1935. 

Both Herman and Tillie were reported as being born in Holland while their two boys were born in New Jersey. Herman was naturalized as a U.S. citizen while Tillie was reported as being “alien” status. Herman was selected to be sampled for more information (questions 35-50)  and it was reported that his parents were born in Holland and that the language spoken in home in his earliest childhood was Dutch. Herman was reported as finishing 8th grade while his wife Tillie had completed one year of high school. Their boys were currently attending school with John having completed 4th grade and Garry the 2nd grade. 

Since Herman was over 14 years of age, there were a number of very specific items reported for him in relation to his employment status. Herman was reported as being someone who was at work for pay or profit in private or nonemergency Government work during week of March 24-30, 1940.  He was not at work on, or assigned to, public emergency work (WPA, NYA, CCC, etc.) during week of March 24-30, 1940. Herman was not seeking working and did have a job. It was reported that he had worked 100 hours during the week of March 24-30, 1940 and that he’d had no unemployed weeks of work up to March 30, 1940. His occupation was an operator of the farm industry and was working on his own account. He reported working 52 weeks in 1939. While there was an amount of $1,200 reported as wages, this was struck through and $0 reported instead. Herman was reported as receiving income of $50 or more from sources other than money wages or salary.

The remaining extra questions (35-50) show that Herman was not a veteran and that his normal occupation was farming in the farm industry working on his own account.

The basic questions asked in this census give us a pretty good snapshot in 1940 for who Herman was, what his family looked like, what he did, where he lived, and his nativity. But this particular family also provides us with the opportunity to study the census a bit deeper.

There are some significant differences in this 1940 census compared to the 1930 census.

  • The person providing the information to the enumerator was identified this time with an encircled x  “Ⓧ” next to their name. In all previous censuses, one could only guess if the informant was the wife, the husband, the head of household, or even a neighbor. On this document, Tillie was the person reporting. We can’t, however, say without a shadow of a doubt whether she was the mother of John and Garry. She most likely is, but the question asks what relationship the boys are to the head of household, not to the wife or the informant. She could be a second wife and further confirmation is needed to prove John and Garry are her sons with Herman.
  • This census also provided a “double” counting with the questions about where the persons were living in 1935. No other census had asked that before. It provides the viewers with information about whether the person was living in the same house, the same place, or somewhere completely different.
  • Another difference is the concentration of questions about employment. The United States was just pulling out of the Great Depression, the rest of the world was at war, Social Security had been enacted in 1935, the Civil Conservation Corps and Works Projects Administration were employing millions of unskilled men, and times were still pretty tough. Employment was on everyone’s mind, including the government!

There are a few mistakes made when looking at this family. Herman is improperly indexed as “Hernan” and Garry is improperly indexed as “George” on the Ancestry.com site. There is no Huntington County in New Jersey and never has been; there is, however, a Hunterdon County and that’s what should have been listed. Tillie’s actual given name is the Dutch “Tietje” but she most likely provided the enumerator with an Americanized version of her name. The lesson? Don’t take everything you read at face value and verify with other sources.

It also helps to know what specifically the enumerators were required to ask and the rules around how they were to record things. There are some hints at that with the bottom of the forms themselves. For example, race was defined for column 10 with a small table at the bottom listing the choices as W=White, Neg=Negro, In=Indian, Chi=Chinese, Jp=Japanese, Fil=Filipino, Hin=Hindu, Kor=Korean and all others were to be spelled out in full.screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-4-41-52-pm

But were there other instructions with regard to race? For example, what about mixed raced people? There indeed were further instructions:



Snippet of enumerator instructions regarding the heading of the form from IPUMS


Snippet of 1940 census form from IPUMS

What about all the other columns? There is a great website out there that helps with this and it’s called IPUMS. It provides you with clean copies of the census form, the enumeration instructions, and the census questions. And not just for the 1940 census!

Another great census website is Steve Morse‘s “One-Step Webpages.” He offers some great tools related to enumeration district maps and how the districts were defined. And it’s not just limited to census tools. He self-defines his site as “This site contains tools for finding immigration records, census records, vital records, and for dealing with calendars, maps, foreign alphabets, and numerous other applications. Some of these tools fetch data from other websites but do so in more versatile ways than the search tools provided on those websites.”

What about some of the notations within this document? Like the code we find for Herman in “F. Code F: 000-VV-4” squeezed between columns 30 and 31. There’s nothing on IPUMS that tells us what those mean. Steve Morse helps us out with that too! He has a handy tool that tells us exactly what Herman’s code means. screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-5-16-52-pmSince the codes were added after the census was taken, they’re not really not much aide except to help decipher some enumerator’s poor handwriting. If you can’t make out the scribbling in the industry column, the additional codes may help with that.

Once we’ve looked at all the boxes and teased out as much information for Herman as we possibly can from this, it’s time to let the census tell us what our next steps should be. It helps us form the bare bones of a further research plan.

  • Herman was naturalized meaning that there are probably immigration documents: passenger manifests, declarations of intention, petitions for citizenship, court orders, etc.
  • Herman was probably not the only one from his family in America. We need to explore the census lines and pages all around him. Who were his neighbors? Did the enumeration district get divided in a weird way so that a brother, father, etc. was recorded 6 pages away? Were his neighbors Dutch too?
  • Birth information is needed for John and Garry to show that Herman and Tillie are truly their parents.
  • Marriage information is needed for Herman and Tillie. Were they married here? Or before they immigrated?
  • Etc. The list could go on….


Herman Westra’s 1940 census enumeration provides some great information about him and the make up of his family. However, given what was happening in the United States and all over the globe at this time, it would be a mistake to only interpret the data found here by itself. Additionally, the census suggest other avenues of research for Herman, Tillie, John, and Garry Westra. The to-do list gets longer! IF this family is one that I want to concentrate my time and efforts on…

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks #50 – Ewald Westra

Relationship: Uncle
Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 3.12.04 PM

Ewald was the second son and second child born to Albert and Etta Westra. He was born on 05 Mar 1933 in Newton, Sussex County, New Jersey.[1]

He grew up on the farms that his father was working in Sussex County and attended Newton Public Schools.

Ewald met Betty Van Auken then married her on 27 September 1952.[2] They set up their household in Green Township, Sussex County, New Jersey, and had two boys (Albert and Jerry) and two girls (Patty and Kathy).[3]

Ewald worked as a contractor and mason for years which led to health problems for him later in life. He had to get a lung transplant due to all the dust that he had inhaled over the years of building walls and cutting block.

He was doing well with his transplants when a freak storm blew through Sussex County on 16 August 1997. My mom (his sister) called me to give me the news a day or so after he passed. Ewald was worried about the car windows being open as the storm passed overhead. He went outside to close them when a large branch from a tree next to the driveway broke off and struck and killed him. Everyone was so shocked that, after surviving all the health issues he’d faced over the years, a tree branch would be his cause of death.

He was buried in Tranquility Cemetery, Tranquility, Sussex County, New Jersey.[4]

WESTRA Ewald and Betty

[1] Newton, New Jersey, Sussex County Clerk’s Office Naturalization Record Book 1152-1204:1164, Ale Westra, 02 October 1940, declaration of intention; Hall of Records, Newton.
[2] Tranquility Cemetery (Maple Lane off Kennedy Road, Tranquility, Sussex County, New Jersey), Ewald and Betty Westra marker; photo taken by author, July 2006.
[3] Sussex County, New Jersey, probate case files, docket no. 40915, Ewald Westra (1997), last will and testament of Ewald Westra, 14 September 1979; Sussex County Surrogate’s Office, Newton.
[4] Tranquility Cemetery (Maple Lane off Kennedy Road, Tranquility, Sussex County, New Jersey), Ewald and Betty Westra marker; photo taken by author, July 2006.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks #47 – Craig Douglas Begraft

Relationship: 1st Cousin
Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 3.09.11 PM

I have lots of first cousins on my mom’s side. Based on age, we fell into two age groups. The older cousins were the children of John and Marge Westra (Gary, Sharon, Kevin and Susan)  and those of Ewald and Betty Westra (Albert, Jerry, Patty and Kathy). The younger cousins were the children of Bill and Martha Strait (Jodi, Jill and Jenni) and those of Doug and Lena Begraft (Craig, Cary, Christa and Catherine).

Craig was the first of all the Westra first cousins to leave this world behind. He passed away on 03 January 1994 in Vernon, Sussex County, New Jersey, at just 29 years of age. Craig is buried in the same cemetery where my dad and I will be after we pass, the North Hardyston, Cemetery on Rt. 94 in Hamburg, Sussex County, New Jersey.

BEGRAFT Craig D. footstone

Born in Newton, Sussex County, New Jersey, on 17 October 1964, Craig was first child and son of Douglas Begraft and Lena Hilde Westra. He grew up in and around Vernon and Hamburg.

Craig ski footstoneAunt Lena put some personal details on his foot stone so that people who had never known him would understand just a bit about him. In between his birth and death date, there are a pair of skis. Skiing is a popular winter activity in northern New Jersey and Craig liked to hit the slopes at the Vernon Valley ski area.

Craig drum footstoneIn the top left corner of the foot stone is a drum. Craig was an avid drummer and I’m sure there were plenty times when everyone except Craig in the Begraft household would just want peace and quiet.

Craig airplane footstoneIn the top right corner of the foot stone is an airplane with a cloud. Craig was learning to fly but in 1984 he was beginning to get into some trouble and airplanes figured into those problems. Our grandparents, Albert and Etta, wintered in the St. Petersburg, Florida, for long time, certainly during the time we were growing up. At 19 years of age, Craig made his way to St. Petersburg where he made the newspaper when he stole an airplane. He flew the airplane north from St. Petersburg towards a point on Florida’s western coastline called Cedar Key.

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 10.30.55 AM

Published in the Gainesville Sun on Tuesday, March 27, 1984 in the left column of page 14A

This incident happened when I was a senior in high school and I knew Craig was having some trouble but nothing like the newspaper article. I had overheard  Grandma Westra was talking to my mom about the money Craig had stolen from the house, but had no idea that he was being charged with grand theft and kidnapping.

Craig was married very briefly but things didn’t work out with her and he struggled with problems in his life. Even though it’s been years since his passing, the wounds are still there for the family members he abruptly left behind.

Jodi with cousin Craig

Craig and cousin Jodi in jail at the Westra’s house

I prefer to think of him when we were young and playing in Grandma Westra’s side yard. One summer evening, Craig, Jill, Cary, and I were all outside just when it was starting to get dark. The trees were casting shadows as the sun sank behind Grandpa’s wood shop. We were over by the lilac trees when Craig brought up the subject of bats. “You know, bats are blind. If the bats fly low enough, they’ll get stuck in your hair.” The Strait girls all had longish hair; it was the style at the time. Our eyes widen as Jill and I looked at each other wondering, “Is that really true?”

The boys looked up and then it seemed like we were all intensely concentrating on trying to pick out the bats against the darkening night sky. “There’s one!” An arm went up, a finger pointed towards some fleeting movement. Suddenly, there’s tickling on the top of our heads. Jill and I started to shriek at the top of our lungs figuring the bats have got us in the grips of their claws! Craig and Cary collapse onto the grass lawn in fits of pure laughter. We punch the boys in the arms and the laughter soon releases the tension. All of us are rolling around in the soft grass, laughing hysterically until we can’t breathe. It was a good summer night to be with cousins.

Aunt Lena told all of us to think of him every time we look up to see the bright sun in the sky. Out here in Arizona, that’s a lot of remembrance for Craig.

Craig Begraft

Craig Douglas Begraft

[1] North Hardyston Cemetery (Rt. 94, Hamburg, New Jersey), Craig D. Begraft marker; photo taken by author, July 2006.