Genealogy Blog

5 Nineteenth-Century Women Are Still Alive

04 Mar 2015

March 5, 1898, was a Saturday. The port of New York welcomed 495 aliens at Ellis Island. The men on board the S.Y. Beligica, an expedition from Belgium to Antarctica, were trapped in the ice. Victoria sat on the throne of Great Britain. The front page of the New York Times discussed a court of inquiry that left the previous evening for Havana to investigate the destruction of the battleship Maine in the harbor there two weeks previously. And in the city of Osaka, Japan, a Kimono maker’s wife gave birth to a little girl named Misao. Little did the girl’s parents know that she would make history — simply by living. Today, 5 nineteenth-century women are still alive and well.

 

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Misao Okawa is currently the oldest person in the world, with a documented birth date of March 5, 1898. She has been a widow for 84 years, after her 12-year marriage ended with the death of her husband. Two of her three children are still living in their 90s. But Misao is not the only person to have the distinction of living in three centuries.

There are currently five individuals alive who can document their birth prior to the year 1900, all of them women. Interestingly three of the five are from the United States, and all three were born in the South.

Gertrude Weaver was born just months after Misao, on the Fourth of July 1898, in Arkansas. She was married 100 years ago and had four children, only one of whom is still living. She still lives in Arkansas, in the small city of Camden in the southern part of the state.

Jeralean Talley was born in the tiny town of Montrose in central Georgia on May 23, 1899. In 1935 she moved to the Detroit suburb of Inkster where she married and had a single child. She and her husband were married for more than 50 years when he died in 1988. Her family now includes three grandchildren, ten great-grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren. She lives with her daughter, and continues to be active, still bowling when she was 104, mowing the law at 105, and still goes on an annual fishing trip with friends.

Susan Mushatt Jones was born in Alabama July 6, 1899. She graduated from a private boarding school there, and was accepted to the Turkeegee Institute, but her parents could not afford to pay the tuition. Instead, she moved to New York City in 1923, lured by the Harlem Renaissance. With no children of her own, she helped to put four of her nieces through college. Her personal splurge is high-end lace lingerie, which took her doctor by surprise.

Emma Morano is the oldest living person in Europe. She was born in Italy in the waning days of the nineteenth century, on November 29, 1899. She married in 1926. Her only child was born in 1937 and died six months later. The following year she and her husband separated, but they were never officially divorced.

While others around the world claim to be born in the nineteenth century, these are the only five who have documentation to prove it. These women are all quite used to being asked variations on the question “What’s the secret to living so long?” My favorite response is Gertrude’s, who told Time magazine: “Treat people right and be nice to other people the way you want them to be nice to you.” USA Today profiled each of these women Yes, 5 People Born in the 1800s are Still With Us.

Protecting Your Donated Collections

02 Mar 2015

Genealogists spend years and decades building our collections. We have records about our ancestors, mostly copies but many originals. We often acquire papers and objects from other family members, as they know that we are the family historian. Genealogists are often voracious readers as well, and we often amass great numbers of books. I know genealogists who have actually put an addition onto their home simply to have more space for the genealogical materials. The question is, how to ensure your materials are preserved, and protecting your donated collections.

Private residences are not the best places to ensure the long-term survival of your materials. One of the biggest dangers is fire, as few homes are equipped with fire suppression systems. Accidents happen, many beyond the control of the homeowner, and all of your precious items can be gone in only a few minutes. Private homes are also, for the most part, equipped with archival atmospheric conditions. Rare is the home that remains at a constant temperature throughout the year, and even those that do tend to be warmer than the optimal preservation conditions for documents.

The best way to ensure that your collections will be preserved and made available to future generations is to donate them to a repository. These are libraries, archives, museums, and other organizations that will take the proper steps to properly preserve your collections and make them available to future generations. When making a donation, families will often make a financial donation as well. This can help to cover the costs of processing the materials to make them available so that researchers can access them more quickly.

When you make a donation, you can do so with restrictions. For example, some people donate materials with the restriction that information about living people cannot be accessed for 50 years. Restrictions can also be placed on financial donations as well. You can donate funds and delineate exactly what they can (and cannot) be used for.

It is important to know, however, that institutions are more and more frequently disregarding these restrictions. They are choosing to intentionally disregard the restrictions in favor of their own plans. Sometimes they will even go to court to have restrictions removed. The Boston Globe recently ran a story on Gordon College, a Christian school here in Massachusetts, that is trying to see part of a collection that was intended to remain intact. They have had many difficulties in the last year, and this latest controversy is only adding to them.

 

Donation Changes

 

So be aware that in the end, your restrictions may not count for much. Of course, you could always try inserting language into your donation agreement that states that any attempt by the institution to make changes to your donations will result in the donation being revoked and the materials and finances removed to another institution of your choice. One of the best ways to ensure that your intentions are known is to incorporate them into your will. This ensures that a copy of your wishes goes on permanent file where it can always be accessed, and make it more difficult for institutions to ignore your wishes.

Blog Posts and News for Genealogists, February 27, 2015

27 Feb 2015

This week’s genealogy news combines news from genealogists as well as non-genealogists. Paula Stuart-Warren warns us about shortchanging ourselves in our research. Leland Meitzler tells us of the discovery of a 700-year-old document. We find out how an amateur researcher has identified the bodies of two War of 1812 casualties. We also learn how historical fiction, although it is fiction, can still help us in our research. And finally, we get some advice on moving past family secrets from the host of Finding Your Roots, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Paula Stuart-Warren has some great advice for genealogists this week. Have you checked to be certain you are adding the correct name to your tree? Have you transcribed yoru documents? Do you know the origins of the materials in your files? Do you say you have brick wall problem even though your only research has been online, ignoring the vast resources not available on the Internet that could answer your questions? Get more suggestions in Attention Genealogists? Are you Shortchanging Your Family History?

Leland Meitzler had a very interesting story recently that dates back 700 years! Back in the 19th century a Victorian official at the British Museum pasted a document a into a scrapbook. The catch? The document was an copy of the Magna Carta that was created less than a hundred years after the original. Read more and get a link to the original story in Original Copy of the Magna Carta Dating to 1300 Found in Scrapbook.

 

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William Krecji works at the Perry International Memorial, which highlights the battles led by Oliver Hazard Perry during the war of 1812, especially the Battle of Lake Erie. Not long after the battle, the bodies of two men washed up on the Ohio shore. They had no identification, so were buried without names. Two hundred years later, Krecji believes he has identified the two men. Discover more details in Mystery Solved of Two American Seamen’s Bodies Washed Ashore to Ohio from War of 1812: My Ohio.

Susan Doak of the Southwest Nebraska Genealogical Society wrote an interesting piece this week for the McCook Gazette. Like many genealogists she is a voracious reader, and she talks about using this to her advantage in her genealogical research. While many of us might be quick to dismiss historical fiction as not helpful because of its fictional nature, Susan shows us how some if can actually be quite valuable, if used properly. Find out how in Using Historical Novels in Genealogy Research.

Finally this week is a piece by Meaghan Siekman from the New England Historic Genealogical Society, working with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. They answer a letter written to Professor Gates by a college student at Clarion University She has a class assignment to create a family tree, but is having difficulty because of family secrets. Her grandfather never talked about his family, and ended up abandoning her brandmother and their children, although they never divorced. With a life that is a complete mystery, she wonders how to get further back. They give her some advice on how to search a little bit differently to find some answers. Get their advice in Help! I Can’t Fill Out My Family Tree Because of Family Secrets.

Blog Posts and News Stories for Genealogists, January 30, 2015

30 Jan 2015

This week’s roundup of genealogy news includes copyright, online family trees, British newspapers, a genealogy butler, and a century-old mystery.

Copyright is a serious issue for genealogists. Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, discusses it often. This week she announced a valuable new reference. The third edition of the Compendium of U. S. Copyright Practices has been released by the U.S. Copyright office. As Judy says, “anyone who uses writings or photographs or other copyrightable materials would be well-advised to grab a copy as well.” Find out why Judy says this in The Compendium.

Debbie Mieszala had a great discussion this week on the Advancing Genealogist. Debbie discusses some of the pitfalls and problems of online family trees. In particular, she focuses on “smash and grab genealogy.” These are genealogists who want to take information without either researching or evaluating what they have found. Find out more in Smash and Grab Genealogy, or Deciding Whether to Post an Online Tree.

Dick Eastman shared a very important announcement with us this week. The British Library has been working on a very special addition. This week the BL announced the opening of a very special new location in West Yorkshire. This state-of-the art building offers some very modern preservation features while providing access to 60 million newspapers. Check out the details in British Library Opens National Newspaper Building.

The Los Angeles Times ran a story recently about Helen Kelly. Kelly offers a special tour for those researching their roots in Ireland. Kelly bills herself as a genealogy butler, and works to help your trip to be as successful as possible. Read more in Ireland: Trace Your Roots with a Genealogy Butler.

Finally this week comes a story from Everett, Washington, about a family mystery. Elton Erford was born in Nebraska in 1897, and died in 1949. Throughout his life, which traversed two world wars and the great depression, he carried a $10 bill printed in 1880. In 1880, that would have been worth almost $1,000 in today’s money. The big mystery is why did he carry it? Read more in Family History, Mystery in 1880 $10 Bill.

Ten Dollar Mystery

 

Epigenetics at Work: the Blizzard of ’78 and the French Toast Alert System

27 Jan 2015

When I think of my ancestors living through winters in French-Canada, I realize how strong those men and women must have been. Challenging enough to live on the frontier, but to think of them doing it without modern tools, heat, food, etc., it is truly incredible. The northeast is currently getting by a blizzard of historic proportions. The last storm of this size recorded in Boston was in 2013, but the one that gets the most press, and lives strongest in our memory, is the great Blizzard of ’78. For those of us who lived through it, it was scary yet exciting; and very, very challenging. And a great example of epigenetics.

The severity of the storm was due to a confluence of circumstances that rarely occurs. The initial forecasts called for a typical nor’easter. For those who do not live in New England, a nor’easter is strong storm with very heavy precipitation and hurricane-force winds, and blizzard conditions (severe winds causing blowing snow that creates low-to-zero visibility lasting more than three hours). The names comes from the fact that the storm rides up the coast and the bands of wind and precipitation come circling around on land from the northeast. The storm was supposed to hit on Monday and last for a day.

The nor’easter reached hurricane-force winds of more than 85 miles per hour (with gusts going more than 110). It reached New England on February the evening of February 6. This was the night of a new moon, when tides are at their highest. The storm started inflicting devastating damage on coastal towns. A normal nor’easter lasts for six to twelve hours before dissipating. But this storm was anything but  normal. A high pressure system had worked its way down from Canada. It trapped the storm over New England for three days. An unprecedented thirty-three hours of precipitation hammered New England. In addition, a rare vertical formation of storm clouds resulted in thundersnow, with thunder and lightning across Long Island and Southern New England, where I lived.

It hit so fast and with so little warning that many people were trapped on highways trying to get home. Cars were abandoned everywhere as people sought shelter. At times during the storm, snow was falling at a rate of 4 inches per hour. By the time it was finished, more than 27 inches fell across New England.

The cleanup took days. Roadways blocked with snow and abandoned vehicles made the work slow and difficult. Some people did not get home for days. Although the storm ended on Wednesday, it took through the rest of the week to get things cleaned up in the aftermath. I remember walking through my neighborhood, a fairly typical suburban area. Snow was piled at the corners in drifts more than 10 feet high. There was simply no place to put it.

Fortunately, nowadays weather forecasting has gotten much better. We have warnings and are able to prepare. But the effects of the storm are still felt here in New England. It is certainly a great example of epigenetics at work. People tend to overreact to storms here now. Nobody really believes that the storms will be that short. They descend on supermarkets in hoards to stock up on food as if they will be locked up for weeks. And this happens even to people who were even born in 1978, as well as those who lived nowhere near New England during that year.

This has given rise to a standing joke that is now spreading to other areas of the country: the French Toast Alert System. The joke arose because for whatever reason, the three things that get cleaned out first at the supermarket are bread, eggs, and milk (a.k.a., the ingredients one needs to make French toast).  It even has its own Twitter account and Facebook page. FYI, the French Toast Alert System is supposed to remain at the Severe level through Wednesday morning. I hope you stocked up!

French Toast Alert System

Blog Posts for Genealogists, January 23, 3015

23 Jan 2015

This week’s interesting genealogy news come from some great genealogical and historical blog posts. Elizabeth Shown Mills warns us of census perils, Randy Seaver discusses his method for organizing digital files, Paula Stuart-Warren talks about the danger in sharing in genealogy, Polly Kimmett discusses the lost child from Mount Wachusett, and Peter Muise tells us about an eighteenth-century witchcraft trial.

We start with the inimitable Elizabeth Shown Mills. In the Evidence Explained blog this week she talks about math problems in the census. Specifically, the issue is around calculating dates of birth. When looking at ages in the census, researchers must take into account the census day when calculating a year of birth. Get her advice in Analyzing Census Records: Math Matters!

Genealogists’ paper files have been supplanted in many ways by digital files. This has just moved the organization problem from the physical world to the digital. Randy Seaver gives some great advice and explains the system he uses, which you may wish to adopt. Get the details in My Genealogy Digital File Folder Organization.

Paula Stuart-Warren has created a new, updated blog, Genealogy By Paula. And recently she wrote a very interesting piece about sharing. Genealogists love to share, but there is a drawback to it as well.  In her words, “Often the answer that helped you may mislead someone researching a different person, time frame, locality, or even nationality.” This is not a minor detail. It is very important. Read the full story in Helpful? Or Not? We Shouldn’t Share Genealogy Guesses.

 

Lucy Keyes

 

Polly Kimmett brings us the first of two folklore stories this week. In 1751, Robert and Martha (Bowker) Keyes moved their family from Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, to the nearby town of Princeton, which was at that time on the frontier. Their farm lay on the side of Mount Wachusett. In 1755, their four-year-old daughter followed her older sisters to a nearby pond, where they were fetching sand for the house. Unfortunately, she never returned. A neighbor confessed on his deathbed to murdering the child, but did he really? Find out more, and get a link to the answer, in Lucy Keyes, the Lost Child of Wachusett Mountain.

Finally this week comes a story from Peter Muise’s New England Folklore blog. He talks about the John Brown family of Lynn, Massachusetts. In late 1692, John’s wife made him an Indian pudding (a type of sausage). Although the ingredients were appropriately white upon entering the pot, when removed it was dark red, like a blood pudding. Brown accused his neighbor, Sarah Cole, of witchcraft. They were brought before the magistrates in Salem soon thereafter, at the height of the witchcraft hysteria. Find out Sarah’s fate in The Proof is in the Pudding – Proof of Satan!

The Great Family Share Challenge

10 Jan 2015

We talked the other day about some tasks that every genealogist can do in 2015. But now I would like to throw out a challenge to you. If there is one area where genealogists often fall flat it is with sharing the results of their research. We often spend years finding out all sorts of interesting things about our family, without ever compiling the information and sharing it with our living family members. We often hear the stories of genealogists who have left tremendous amounts of information behind, only to have it thrown out by family members who didn’t know (or didn’t care) about what was contained in the files.

So for this year, I am issuing the Great Family Share Challenge. Spend 2015 sharing your family story. I would like everyone to consider taking this on in a way that is meaningful to you. But not in a way that will overburden you, or make you feel pressured.

For the challenge, you should pick at least twelve ancestors or ancestral couples. The goal is to research and share at least one story a month. Bring your ancestors to life so that other family members can discover their roots.

Sharing can take many forms. Don’t limit yourself. And you don’t have to use the same format for all of the sharing. One of the traditional ways you can share is to write a journal article. Many people are terrified of this idea, but really, there is no need for it. The editors of journals appreciate hearing from potential authors. You don’t have to go straight to the larger journals (such as the New England Historical and Genealogical Register or the National Genealogical Society Quarterly). Start with one of the smaller state journals, then work your way up. The editors will work with you to help shape your article for publication.

You could decide to create a book for your family. Start by writing individuals monographs for the families you select. At the end of the year you can combine the monographs into a single volume. You could trace a single line back for twelve generations. But you could also write about your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, which would involve eleven families.

 

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Another option is to create slideshows or videos of your family. Use oral histories to narrate them, or write and record your own audio to use as the narration. Be certain to incorporate images of old documents as well as images of your ancestors.

You can also create a blog to make it easier to share all of these things. This may seem like a scary thing to some of you, especially those who are more technically challenged. But you would be surprised at how easy it can be. There are a wide variety of opportunities for you to create a blog. There you can share your written stories, videos, slideshows, pictures, and more. About.com can offer you some advice on how to start a blog.

Once you have taken up the challenge, come back to this post. Tell us in the comments field how you have shared. Keep returning through the year to tell us how your are progressing. If you have created a blog, or other online presence, be sure to share the url with us so that we can visit and give you some support. Imagine how much you will have shared by the end of the year! Your family will be eternally grateful.

Blog Posts and News Stories for Genealogists, January 9, 2015

09 Jan 2015

This week’s genealogy news roundup is a nice mix of blog posts and news stories. We start with a discussion of researching in newspapers, user comments about online family trees, the last of the nineteenth-century births, the fallacy of name changes at Ellis Island, and the opening of the oldest time capsule in America.

We start with a post from a relatively new blogger, Debbie Mieszela, the Advancing Genealogist. This week Debbie wrote about researching in newspapers. She especially emphasizes why you want to conduct a complete search, and why you should not limit yourself only to online databases. Get more information in Newspaper Research: The Importance of Being Thorough.

Randy Seaver at Geneamusings had a very interesting post this week. He wrote about the FamilySearch Family Tree and asked his readers why they weren’t using it more. The comments are very illuminating, and include a general discussion of online family trees. You can read these interesting comments in Why Aren’t Researchers Using the FamilySearch Family Tree?

My former colleague David Lambert at the New England Historic Genealogical Society wrote with sad news this week on the Vita Brevis blog. Bernice Marina (Emerson) Madigan was born in West Springfield, Massachusetts on 24 July 1899. After a life that was anything but brief, Bernice passed away last Saturday, 3 January 2015, at the age of 115. She was the fifth-oldest person in the world, and the last person left who was born in New England prior to 1900. Find out more, and who is left, in The End of an Era.

Those who know me know that one of my pet peeves concerns immigration. More specifically, the biggest myth in American history: that any name was ever changed at Ellis Island. Not a single immigrant ever had their name changed there. It never happened. Arika Okren wrote a good piece in Mental Floss discussing this myth. Read more in Why Your Family Name Did Not Come From a Mistake at Ellis Island.

 

Sam Adams Time Capsule

 

Finally this week we have a story out of my hometown of Boston. This week conservators at the Museum of Fine Arts opened a time capsule that was discovered on December 11. The capsule was discovered by workers doing renovations to the state house. It is believed to be the oldest time capsule in America. How old is it? It was originally put in place by Samuel Adams and Paul Revere when George Washington was president of the U.S. Placed into the cornerstone in 1795, it was temporarily removed during renovations in 1855, but put back into place with the original contents. Discover what was in the capsule in MFA Opens the Paul Revere, Sam Adams Time Capsule.

Modern Technology Identifies Irish Famine Shipwreck Victims

06 Jan 2015

The Gaspé Penninsula stands in the northern tip of Quebec, at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. It is a very remote area. In the first half of the 19th century, hundreds of ships sailed past her, carrying immigrants from the British Isles to Canada. In May 1847, at the height of the Irish Famine, it was also the site of a terrible tragedy.

The brig Carricks was transporting 167 passengers from Ireland to new homes in Canada. A difficult voyage under the best of conditions, the ship was wrecked in the Gaspé, about four miles from Cap des Rosiers. The crew suffered the lost of only one boy, but of the 167 passengers on board, only 48 survived. News of the accident was report in William Lloyd Garrison’s noted Boston-based anti-slavery newspaper, The Liberator, carried news of the wreck (Vol. XVII, No. 25 (Whole No. 859) p. 69, col. 4).

Many of the dead were found along the beach the day after the wreck. They were buried in a common grave nearby and fifty years later a monument was erected in their memory. More than a century later, the ship’s bell washed up shore and was enshrined next to the monument.

 

Light tower at Cap Des Rosier in Quebec.

Light tower at Cap Des Rosier in Quebec.

 

The site of the wreck and recovery now lays within Forillon National Park. A few years after the Carricks was lost a lighthouse was erected at Cap des Rosiers to help prevent further tragedies. In 2011 a passerby came across some bones on the shore near where the wreck occurred. The bones were sent to a coroner who sent the bones for analysis. Careful study has shown that the bones likely came from four or five individuals, both adults and children. Investigators believe that they may have come from the common grave. Unfortunately, while oral tradition puts the burial site under the monument, the precise location was never recorded.

Many of the survivors settled in the nearby village of Douglastown, and their descendants still live there today. These individuals are concerned that the actual resting place be discovered. If these bones did come from the common grave, they do not want any more of their ancestors’ remains to be disturbed. They would like further investigation, and relocation of the remains if they are now too close to the water.

The bones are still at a government forensics lab in Montreal. They will undergo further testing, including DNA tests. Interestingly, one of the consultants who works  in the lab is forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs. Reichs is also an author and the inspiration for Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan, portrayed by Emily Deschanel in the Fox television show Bones. You can read more about this story in the original 2011 Globe and Mail story Bones Found on Gaspé Coast Could be of 1847 Shipwreck Victims, and in the update from last week, Human Bones Discovered on Gaspé Peninsula ‘Witnesses to a Tragic Event.’

Blog Posts for Genealogists, December 19, 2014

19 Dec 2014

This week’s roundup includes posts from five excellent genealogy bloggers. Judy G. Russell explains the term “ordinance” for us. Randy Seaver tells us about a couple of relationship graphics you might enjoy. Paula Stuart Warren discusses genealogy for the First Americans. Cari Taplin talks about submitting her BCG portfolio. And Debbie Mieszala talks about a very special genealogy research tool.

Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, starts off our roundup this week with a question submitted by one of her readers. He asked: “The law creating the Northwest Territory is always called the Northwest Ordinance. Why that? Why not, say, Northwest Statute? Or Northwest Law?” Judy explains the reason in The Ordinance.

Randy Seaver had a great post this week about relationship charts. Newbie genealogists and non-genealogists can often find it difficult to understand the complex relationships we deal with in family history research. He offers up a couple of resources to help you with these issues in Crestleaf Publishes “How Are We Related?” Family Relationship Chart.

Paula Stuart-Warren recently updated her website, closed out her old blog, and started a new one. Hew new website, Genealogy by Paula, provides information about publications, services, and upcoming speaking engagements as well as her blog. This week she posted about an interesting topic: Tracking the First Americans: Native Americans and Asian Influence.

Cari Taplin’s business is called Genealogy Pants (as in “fancy pants” or “smarty pants”). Those who are interested in becoming certified or accredited will find her recent post interesting. Having submitted her final portfolio to the Board for Certification of Genealogists this week, she discusses the experience, and offers some valuable tips for others. Read more in BCG Portfolio Madness.

 

V Bar Lazy 5

 

Finally this week we have a recent post by Debbie Mieszala. A longtime professional genealogist, Debbie discussed a very special gift she had gotten twenty years ago. The gift was a symbol written on a recipe card by her great-aunt. The symbol was the brand mark used by Debbie’s great-great grandfather. She talks about the genealogy journey this led her on in V Bar Lazy 5.