Stories- A Family Legacy, Part 2

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Edith Roberts- Declamatory Contest. Prairie City News, Prairie City, Jasper Co., Iowa, shortly after 2 Feb 1917. (from a clipping without date)
Edith Roberts- Declamatory Contest. Prairie City News, Prairie City, Jasper Co., Iowa, shortly after 2 Feb 1917. (From a clipping without date)

Telling the family stories is a wonderful legacy to pass on to your children.

But I can’t find ANYTHING about my ancestor ANYWHERE…

Don’t know much about the actual stories of the lives of your ancestors? There are many resources available, both online and at specific places that can help you piece together a life and/or a family. If you are not lucky enough to have many family stories, you can learn more about your ancestors to help put their lives in context.

Newspapers

Newspapers are a great resource for learning the stories of ancestors, or the places and times in which they lived. Newspapers of 50+ years ago included who was visiting where, long or one-line obituaries, detailed political and voter information, etc. The obituary of Jefferson Springsteen (1820-1909) tells of him running away to join the circus as a boy- how could he then be upset when his son Abram Springsteen ran away to join the Union Army as a drummer boy at age 12? There is a story there… A short note about Miss Edith Roberts (1899-1982) taking first place in the Declamatory Contest as well as “the Dramatic’ is on the same page as the notice of  the “Death of Grandma Roberts” (her paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Ann Murrell Roberts, 1835-1917). What mixed emotions Edith must have felt that day! Such information from newspapers allows us to realize and then understand the challenges and triumphs of those who have gone before, and help us tell the stories of our ancestor’s lives.

"Death of Grandma Roberts"- Elizabeth Ann Murrell Roberts. Prairie City News, Prairie City, Jasper Co., Iowa. Undated newspaper clipping but Elizabeth died 02 Feb 1917.
“Death of Grandma Roberts”- Elizabeth Ann Murrell Roberts. Prairie City News, Prairie City, Jasper Co., Iowa. Undated newspaper clipping but Elizabeth died 02 Feb 1917.

Genealogy Bank is my favorite newspaper website for ease of use and breadth of papers held, though it is a for-pay website. Ancestry.com also has newspapers, as do a few other for-pay websites. Some favorite free websites are chroniclingamerica.loc.gov, http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc for California newspapers, and http://fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html for New York state and other newspapers, postcards, etc.

If you can’t find articles about your own family, read through the headlines, ads, and social columns of the newspaper from where they lived and during that time period- it will help to put your ancestors into the context of their times.

Books

There are many books that can be found in the history section of the bookstore or library that can help you to piece together more information about your ancestor’s probable daily life. (Jane Austen’s England by Roy Adkins is on my list to read- it tells about everyday life in the late 18th and early 19th century England.) Used or out-of-print books may be found at abebooks.com, alibris.com, or a local used bookseller can do a search for you. Many other family or social history sources can be found on Google Books (books.google.com), such as county histories. Although your ancestor may not have had the money or inclination to buy a writeup in a county history (AKA “Mug Books” since they sometimes required a payment to be included), just reading about the area in the first part of the history can give an idea of the topography, religion, economics, goods and services provided, social groups, etc. Google Books may give you a snippet of information from a book so that you can determine if you would like to buy it, or it may provide an ebook for free to download. The Internet Archive (https://archive.org) has millions of pages of books, videos, etc. available for free. (Sadly, some of them are OCR’d images and may be hard to read, but may still be useful.) They also offer “The  Way Back Machine” to help you find old web pages from now-defunct websites. Another good free online book source is hathitrust.org.

WorldCat (http://www.worldcat.org) is a great place to find a book, and then your library may be able to get it on interlibrary loan for you if it can’t be found locally. College libraries that include manuscript or special collections and dissertations may provide wonderful information. Some may be dry and/or scholarly, but you may be able to find information that can help you enhance the date and place information you already know about your family.

Here are some social history questions to ask, and research, about your ancestor’s time, place, and life:

What events were going on locally, nationally?

What was the economy like? Boom time or bust, or just a long struggle like in the 1890s?

What were prevailing religious views?

What were political leanings and issues of those in the area where your ancestor lived?

What provided income to your ancestor, and how common was that occupation?

Some of the answers can help provide family stories. We inherited some strange tools- they were very old and it was hard to tell what they were used for. They belonged to descendants of George Lee (1821-aft 1880) who lived in Irthlingborough, Northamptonshire, England, which was a large shoe-making center. George and his sons all came to America, and at least one son, Josiah, was a shoemaker. With the knowledge that shoemaking was important in their hometown in England, and then the US Federal Census that listed shoemaking as an occupation for Josiah, some online research for shoemaking tools helped us identify the purpose of the artifacts. The tools we have were probably Josiah’s, and now we can add shoemakers to the family stories.

When telling your family stories, whether in print, electronic form, or oral stories, it is important to ALWAYS differentiate general facts from those known specifically about your family. Also, document sources with proper citations, so that you or others may revisit those sources to verify or  disprove ideas and ‘facts.’

 

Adding social history to your research can give a deeper understanding of the lives of our ancestors, and enrich the family stories we leave as a legacy to our descendants.

 

Notes, Sources, and References:

1) Newspaper clippings are from the Prairie City News, around 02 feb 1917.

2) I have no affiliation with any of the websites listed, and do not receive any benefits from them financially or in product. (FTC Disclosure.)

Please contact us if you would like higher resolution images.

Copyright 2013 by Heritage Ramblings Blog and pmm.

Stories- A Family Legacy, Part 1

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Edith Roberts McMurray with Son, about 1924.
Edith Roberts McMurray with Son, about 1924.

Family historians have a saying:

Genealogy without sources is just ‘mythology.’

We really should go a step further and say:

Genealogy without stories is just… well, BORING!

A recent New York Times article, “This Life. The Stories That Bind Us,” discusses developing a “strong family narrative.” The article (and book) is based on research by the Emory University psychologist Marshall Duke and his colleague Robyn Fivush. Their studies showed that children who had a strong sense of their family history had a higher sense of control of their life and greater self esteem. They also found these children were more resilient when faced with challenges.  This research hit home with me- at tough times in my life, my grandmother would tell me, “You come from strong pioneer stock- you can do anything you set your mind to.” Knowing those pioneer stories, and knowing the family support I had, helped me get through those tough times and use it as a lesson in my own life, and helped some of those times become a story for our own family.

When I started doing genealogy back in the 1960s (I really was a teen then, so not quite THAT old now), pedigree charts, family group sheets, and Ahnantafel and Register reports full of names and dates and places were what genealogy was all about. What really hooked me, though, was a trip to the county library where I found a book that actually told a story about my ancestors. I had family bible, obituary, and other information that my grandmother helped me find, but they were just cold, hard facts (mostly). When I saw the Benjamin name in a book I was browsing in the library stacks, however, my heart skipped a beat. I didn’t think it could possibly be my ancestors in a library book. Then I saw the name Brown, and because of the place and dates, knew it had to be my ancestors! The book was a reference book, so I could not check it out. I couldn’t stop reading, even though I knew my mother would be sitting out in the car waiting to pick me up. (See, I really wasn’t that old- couldn’t drive yet.) The story was about an Indian massacre of the Brown and Benjamin families in Loyalsock, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, in May of 1778. Many family members were killed, others taken captive and later released. (More in an upcoming post.) I copied the information by hand- copiers were still new-fangled  machines back then and not readily available- and rushed breathlessly to the car. My mother was not happy she was kept waiting, but thrilled when I told her what I had found about my father’s family. She was somewhat disappointed that it was not her family, and felt that since her ancestors were probably poor immigrants from Ireland and Germany, we would not find much about them. Little did she know what wonderful stories were to come about her family- one of her “poor immigrant” ancestors was actually a physician, John H. O’Brien (1808-1887). Dr. O’Brien came to America shortly after receiving his medical degree at the University of  Dublin, Ireland, around 1830, in the midst of a cholera epidemic in Pennsylvania. He survived and married Jane Neel (1823-1895) who came from a family of early pioneers in this country. (More about them in another post too.)

Social History

Telling the stories of the common people is a part of ‘social history.’ Scholarly historians have long looked down on genealogy as a mythology of name seekers who want to be related to someone famous, but are finally realizing that the everyday life of everyday people has as much importance as famous generals, battles, and political figures. (I think even more important.) This movement began with books such as Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s, A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, and continues with the hundreds of books more recently published by both scholarly and family historians. Some of the books are biographies, but others are scholarly studies on events or places. These books can help us place family in the context of the times. Tip: Check the index to see if your family is listed. Indexes do not always pick up every individual, however, so skim through the book and you may find a treasure. Even if your family member is not listed, other information in the book may apply to your family. I had ancestors in northern New England in the late 1600s-early 1700s, so another Ulrich book, Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750, had much information to help me gain a sense of what their daily lives would have been like.

 To be continued…

Notes, Sources, and References:

1) New York Times article “This Life. The Stories That Bind Us” published online 15 Mar 2013 at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/fashion/the-family-stories-that-bind-us-this-life.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2. “Bruce Feiler’s recently published book, “The Secrets of Happy Families: How to Improve Your Morning, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smart, Go Out and Play, and Much More.”

2) Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812  (Knopf, New York, 1990)

3) Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750  (Knopf, New York, 1980.)

 

 

 

Those Places Thursday: Samuel J. Lee and Son Pharmacy, St. Louis, Missouri

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Real photo postcard (RPPC) of Sarah & Chouteau Ave. in St. Louis, Missouri. The "X" marks where the pharmacy is.
Real photo postcard (RPPC) of Sarah & Chouteau Ave. in St. Louis, Missouri. The “X” marks where the pharmacy was.
Reverse of Lee drugstore location postcard. Inscription: "This is where I hangout about 14 hours a day." Written by Lloyd Eugene Lee, RPh.
Reverse of Lee drugstore location postcard. Ink inscription: “This is where I hangout about 14 hours a day.” Written by Lloyd Eugene Lee, RPh. (Printed info in pencil is from a family get together when we looked at all the old photos while most of the folks who knew what was in them were still with us.)

 

 

Time Travel Tuesday: When- and Where- Will Your Family History Research Take You?

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John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence, showing the five-man committee in charge of drafting the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776 as it presents its work to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence, showing the five-man committee in charge of drafting the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776 as it presents its work to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

One of my most favorite places visited was Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. At one of the taverns, there was a gentleman portraying an elderly resident of Williamsburg- he looked like Benjamin Franklin. He was probably in his seventies, and surprisingly got out of character a bit with the kids. He told them that when a young boy, his elderly neighbor had told him stories of the Civil War that he witnessed growing up. The neighbor’s parents had told their son stories of the American Revolution they lived through- and here this reenactor was, just 2 skips from the founding of our country, telling our children of those days in the voice of a Colonial Williamsburg resident. It made me realize that I was closer to my ancestors than it sometimes seemed.

I was not the only one realizing that those times were closer. About ten years ago, Maureen Taylor, who specializes in old photos and deciphering their clues, realized that there were photographs of persons who lived during the Revolutionary War! Photography was invented in 1839, so anyone over 80 years old by then would have been an adult during the Revolution; those who were children during the Revolution would have been at least 50 years old when he or she sat for a portrait after 1839. There were even surviving widows of Revolutionary soldiers in the 20th century: Esther Sumner was just 21 when she married 75 year old Noah Damon, and she died in 1906. So there are more close connections than seems possible, and Maureen has gathered some of this information and many photos into two books:

The Last Muster: Images of the Revolutionary War Generation, by Maureen Taylor
The Last Muster: Images of the Revolutionary War Generation, by Maureen Taylor
The Last Muster, Vol. 2: Faces of the American Revolution, by Maureen Taylor
The Last Muster, Vol. 2: Faces of the American Revolution, by Maureen Taylor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maureen is also working on a documentary called “Revolutionary Voices”: A Last Muster Film. See her website, http://www.maureentaylor.com, for details about this project, as well as her books that can help you learn more about your family through their photographs.

 

The idea for this post came about during my internet ramblings- a fascinating article called, “‘Rasputin Was My Neighbor’ and Other True Tales of Time Travel” by Robert Krulwich is on the NPR website. The website includes a video of an elderly man who was attending Ford’s Theatre the fateful day that President Abraham Lincoln was shot. Yes, a video- that is just amazing!

Thinking about our ancestors, and what they witnessed in their lives, is a way to time travel while still enjoying indoor plumbing and air conditioning ;). A diary or letter, even a photo, can help us go to times past. Adding a timeline to family history research will help us to understand the story of their struggles and their lives, and if older relatives are still around, may be a springboard for stories not yet heard.

 

During the 1970s, as a young college woman, I was working for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (E.R.A.). My grandmother kept up with current events and watched PBS regularly for the news shows. (She did love the gardening shows too.) One day I realized that she had been a young college woman during the time that the 19th Amendment, ‘giving’ women the right to vote, was passed and ratified. I was excited about our parallel lives and couldn’t wait to get the opportunity to ask her what she remembered- did they have a support group at college, did she write letters, debate, or even march? What did she think of the women who were beaten, jailed, starved, and force-fed because they were protesting that 51% of the American population-women- did not have civil rights?

Suffragette and banner used to picket the White House and Capitol, demanding the right to vote for women in 1917-1918. NARA photo via wikipedia.
Suffragette and banner used to picket the White House and Capitol, demanding the right to vote for women in 1917-1918. NARA photo via wikipedia.

I was dumbstruck when my incredibly hard-working, frugal, level-headed grandmother answered, “I don’t even remember that. I was so busy with my sorority and dances and clubs. And I was always having to ask my father for more money for clothes and other expenses.” Years later she showed us her college scrapbook, full of dance cards, programs, and other mementos of her busy college life that didn’t include momentous political changes.

I must say though that she DID study- and earned a degree in biology in 1922, highly unusual for a woman at that time. So she worked for equality in her own way.

 

So do your time travel through wonderful historical sites, like Colonial Williamsburg, but also try to place your own ancestors in the time and place they lived their ordinary lives. Try to decipher the small clues in photographs- maybe a house number on a door, or official documents such as a draft registration or passport application that gives details about color of eyes and hair, and build. Walking the farmland they ploughed, the streets they tarried on as they chatted with neighbors, and stepping foot into that one-room schoolhouse or the actual home they lived in will give you insight into what they experienced. It will bring you one step closer to their lives, and a big step closer to understanding who you are and how you became that person.

 

Notes, Sources, and References:

1) Maureen Taylor’s website: http://www.maureentaylor.com

The Last Muster: Images of the Revolutionary War Generation.  Kent State University Press; 1 edition (July 1, 2010) ISBN-13: 978-1606350553

The Last Muster, Volume 2: Faces of the American Revolution.  Kent State Univ (July 8, 2013) ISBN-13: 978-1606351826

 

2) “‘Rasputin Was My Neighbor’ and Other True Tales of Time Travel” by Robert Krulwich

http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2012/02/07/146534518/rasputin-was-my-neighbor-and-other-true-tales-of-time-travel

 

3) 19th Amendment:

http://www.archives.gov/historical-docs/document.html?doc=13&title.raw=19th%20Amendment%20to%20the%20U.S.%20Constitution:%20Women’s%20Right%20to%20Vote

http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/woman-suffrage/

 

4) Sadly, women in the United States do not yet have equal protection under the law, as they do in most democratic countries- even third world countries. The Equal Rights Amendment was written by Alice Paul, a suffragist leader, right after ratification of the 19th Amendment. The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, but the US Constitution still did/does not offer women equal protection under the law. (And no, “men” is NOT meant to include ‘women’- if it did, women would have had the right to vote Mar 4, 1789 when the Constitution went into effect.) The Equal Rights Amendment has been introduced into Congress every year since Alice Paul wrote it, with passage in 1972 but ratification fell short 3 states in 1982. In August, 2013, a slightly altered version of the law was introduced to Congress. An excellent website concerning this issue is http://www.equalrightsamendment.org. While on that website watch the video for the upcoming film “Equal Means Equal” – it is an insightful video for this generation to understand the void in our Constitution.

 

Copyright 2013 by Heritage Ramblings Blog and pmm, except for the images included in this post.

Mystery Monday- Unknown Girl Related to the Lee Family?

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This sweet young girl's portrait was in with photos from the Samuel Lee family in St. Louis, Missouri. It would have been taken after 1881.
This sweet young girl’s portrait was in with photos from the Samuel Lee family in St. Louis, Missouri. It would have been taken after 1881.
This sweet young girl's portrait was in with photos from the Samuel Lee family in St. Louis, Missouri. It would have been taken after 1881.
Reverse of sweet young girl’s portrait that was in with photos from the Samuel Lee family in St. Louis, Missouri.

 

Any ideas out there of who this may be?

 

Please contact us if you would like higher resolution images.

Copyright 2013 by Heritage Ramblings Blog and pmm.