Forgotten History and its Effect on Your Ancestors

 

Forgotten history seems to be the theme on Facebook and in the types of talks sponsored by local historical societies and living history sites. Below is a sampling of events and articles that are bringing to light forgotten or “misremembered” history.

Michelle Coughlin will be speaking on March 21 at the Congregational Library and Archives in Boston on “Plymouth Colony’s First Lady Penelope Winslow: Reconstructing a Life through Material Culture”
Penelope was the wife of Josiah Winslow, governor of Plymouth County, and was one of the most powerful women in the colony, yet few remember her today. Michelle brings her to life through material culture.

Kerima Lewis will talk on February 12 about the role of slavery in colonial New England, something that many don’t know about. Her talk is titled “Discover Historic New England: Captives from Africa via the Caribbean.” This article provides information about the slaves that Abigail Adams knew as a child that remained an important part of her life as an adult.

I first met Darren, chief of the Shoshones, last year at a history conference and was deeply impressed by his love for his people and his history. He has been working tirelessly towards a memorial for the massacre of the Shoshone in the 1800s that few know about today. You can read more here.

old south meeting house

I’m not sure how many of the events above I will make it to, but I did make it to one event at the Old South Meeting House in Boston, MA (see photo) that made me think more about how history can be forgotten, or wrongly remembered (think myths that arise from historical events). The event was a panel discussion focusing on the Great Molasses Flood of 1919 in Boston’s North End, Massachusett’s forgotten suffragists, and Leif Erikson.

The most interesting part of the panel was why parts of history and historical figures are forgotten:

  1. Lack of sources
  2. Someone else told their version of the story more effectively (why Lucy Stone, suffragist, was forgotten. Stanton and Cady, although perhaps less influential in terms of work accomplished, were far more effective in telling their side of the story.)
  3. Only “ordinary” people were affected (molasses flood hit the part of town populated by poor immigrants)
  4. Politics (although >20 people died and a couple hundred were injured, they weren’t important enough for politicians to do anything to fix the problem and to remember them)
  5. Targeted and deliberate exclusion (women of color in the suffrage movement by Stanton and Cady)
  6. People find evidence to fit what they believe

I am still thinking a lot about the 1918 flu epidemic and why it was forgotten. Some of the reasons above apply. Other reasons include

  1. The worst of the epidemic was ending just as the Armistice was signed. People were ready to move on to happier times.
  2. Unlike WWI, which was supported by government who then erected monuments, there was no establishment behind the 1918 flu, so monuments were not erected
  3. The horror was too much to talk about (or write about)

When doing your genealogical research, how have you dug out these forgotten histories? What sources do you use? How do you share the forgotten stories that you discover?

 

 

2019 Goals

Have you been thinking about what you would like to accomplish in 2019 that is related to family history? Perhaps breaking down a brick wall, or starting research on a new line? Or maybe you want to start writing your own life history? Organizing what you have and bulking up your genealogy skills is another good option. No matter what you choose, writing it down helps you remember and keep you focused.

For that reason I am sharing my 2019 family-history related genealogy goals.

1) Reading more carefully through this 100+ page biography of my gg grandmother Addie (Hannah Adeline Hatch Ison) to truly appreciate her story and find paths of future research I can do to learn more about her life. These include research into the health options available to her to treat a chronic condition and the impact this may have had on her family life, newspaper research, and learning about society and church groups she belonged to. I will finish the transcription of her 100 page handwritten diary I came across in 2017.

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2) Review and organize all the land records and other types of records I collected during my trip to Addison County, VT in September of this year and make plans for next steps

3) Continue working on proving (or disproving) my potential Mayflower line.

3) Start my personal history.

 

What are your goals? Are they written down somewhere?

Pretty Bird My Cup–What Color’s Yours?

This was a game we played frequently in our family when I was a kid. One person was “it” and would choose a color. This person would be armed with a cup of water and a spoon. Players took turns naming colors–you wanted your color choice to be unusual and therefore unlikely to be the one “it” had chosen. If you were the unfortunate person who named the color “it” had chosen, you received a spoonful of water thrown at you (if you were lucky–often it was much more than a spoonful) and you became “it”.

Five_Piece_Tea_Service_with_Chrysanthemum_Design_LACMA_M.2006.132.10a-i

I had no idea this game had been passed down for generations until I read my great-great-aunt’s account of playing “Pretty Bird in my Cup”, “Color, Color, What Color is it?” as a child, which at some point got shortened to “Pretty Bird My Cup–What Color’s Yours?”

Some of my sisters still play this with their kids (some with a spray bottle!!), making at least 5 generations of children in our family growing up playing this game. I don’t know where it originated, or how many generations played before my great-great-grandma, but it is a game that now holds much more meaning to me as I think of how it has passed through the generations.

Do you have a game in your family that has been passed down through the generations?

Virden, New Mexico

Virden, New Mexico is a magical place, with a raw beauty, precious family, and so many memories. My grandpa owned a farm there, so many of the memories revolve around the cotton and other crops he grew there, and that his son and grandsons continue to grow.

I wrote this poem when I was in the 8th grade for a poetry unit. My teacher submitted it to the district contest and I won for my grade level. But more important than that is what this town means to me, as both a kid (when I wrote this) and an adult.

As a kid, it was a fun place to visit and get together with my mom’s family. We had cookouts and tractor rides and scared ourselves by going into the old deserted elementary school. It was an adventure for a kid raised in the city.

As an adult, I came to realize that farm life is hard work and that the parties we had when my family came to visit were special occasions. I place a higher value now on the heritage that I mentioned in the poem, although I understood a lot about it when I was in 8th grade. The house has long since been sold out of the family. My grandfather will soon join my grandmother and their baby girl in the cemetery. The great grandsons of the original owner of the farm (my grandfather’s father) are now farming the land. Family ties remain strong to both the land and the heritage left by the founders of Virden.

Virden, New Mexico

A small town full of family,

Full of dust and rusty pick-ups.

Full of ancient houses built by a pioneer’s hand

And full of priceless memories.

 

Memories of my grandfather’s house

Where the boards in the dark hall go c-r-reak,

c-r-reak.

With the white picket fence around the play area

And the swings that have swung for many a year.

 

Memories of roaming the open desert hills

And finding “forts” owned only by us.

Going to the cemetery where lay Baby Elizabeth

and Grandma Jones.

Going to the old school to explore

And most of all talking forever to the

unquenchable

Mrs. Stamper.

 

Yes, Virden is a small town full of family,

Full of dust and rusty pickups,

Full of ugly old sheds.

It is my heritage.

copyright Lori Lyn Price

Photo of 4 of my 5 sisters in front of the old Virden school (closed when my mom was in elementary school, but a favorite place to visit because it is forbidden)

sisters and virden school

Farm photos courtesy of Rustin and Annie Jones

So your family was hit by the 1918 flu, too?

 

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I attended History Camp on Saturday and gave a condensed version of my talk that tells stories of families impacted by the 1918 flu. After the talk was over, people started telling me their stories. I said I would like to remember these people and tell their stories, and would do so via blog posts and in my talk. There was a rush for my cards after the talk. People really do want to hear stories and tell stories.

I’ll start by telling my stories. When I asked my parents a year or two ago if we had any 1918 flu stories in my family, they both answered no. But, when my mom came to visit, we went through a book about her tiny hometown in New Mexico and there was mention in the book of Grandma Keeler taking care of affected town members. This wasn’t proof that it directly affected my family, but chances were good that it did since the town was so small.

A few months later my mom was going through some papers at her dad’s house and found a life history written by her Aunt Cleo. She writes: ““During the winter of 1918 there was a terrible flu epidemic that swept the entire country and many people died from it. I was five months old when I got the flu and was very ill. Mama told me that for
three days I lay in a stupor but through faith and administration I was spared. My father had the flu that same winter and was very ill with it.”  I am glad that both she and her father survived. My grandfather was born a few years later.

While going through some family histories on my dad’s side I found the following about his grandmother written by her daughter: ““During the flu epidemic of World War I, Mother had the dreadful disease, which left her with a lost of most of her hearing. This was a real trial to her all her life. But she tried to be cheerful and not dwell on her infirmities.” My dad knew his grandmother well, but thought her hearing loss was due to old age.

We thought we didn’t have any 1918 flu stories but we did. It was so widespread that everyone was affected in some way, even if their story is that they were one of the lucky ones that didn’t get it.

 

FamilySearch treasures

Lately I have taken to perusing the FamilySearch.org’s Memories and Sources sections when I have a few extra minutes. The Memories section contains photos, documents, stories and audio files that descendants (and anyone else) upload to the person’s page on FamilySearch.org’s Family Tree. I have found some real treasures, especially photos that I have never seen before of my grandparents and more distant ancestors.

A couple of years ago I found a mostly documented biography of my Loyalist ancestor Thomas Sumner. Although it took some time to figure out the shorthand for the documentation, it has proved invaluable in helping me to research the life of Thomas. There are still holes that I am pursuing, but this document really got me started on the right path.

Today I had some time to kill while waiting for a ride so I perused Levi Savage’s Memories and Sources sections. I found that someone had linked (in the Sources section) to his application for a medal for his service in the Indian Wars in Utah Territory 1850-1872 (1).

I learned that he was a private and served under Commander Mahonri Steele. He enlisted January 1, 1866 and served intermittently for about 5 years, according to his application.

c1

He applied in 1905 and received the medal in 1906. He wrote a note allowing someone else to pick it up for him (as he was living in Arizona Territory).

c2

While this doesn’t add anything critically important to understanding Levi’s life, it is one more thread in the tapestry of his life. It shows that he valued recognition. I knew he and his father lost some land due to troubles with the Native Americans (see this post from a series of posts), but I didn’t know there were official companies formed. Definitely something I will look into further.

Footnote:

1: “Utah Applications Indian War Service Medals, 1905-1912,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/QKDV-MXQQ : 17 March 2018), Levi M Savage, 28 Oct 1905; citing Military Service, 5117, series 2220, State Archives, Utah; FHL microfilm 1,445,896.

 

1918 flu and the Boston Red Sox

Last night I invited some new friends to dinner. They had just moved to Boston. Wanting to introduce them to several of the cool things in Boston, I served Hood’s Red Sox Green Monster Mint ice cream for dessert. After explaining to them what the Green Monster is (a big wall in the outfield between 2nd and 3rd bases) and who Wally the Mascot is, I mentioned that prior to my moving to Boston, the last time the Red Sox won the World Series was in 1918.

Wait–1918? That was when there was the big flu pandemic. Was there really a World Series that year? Not that public officials were all that quick to react to shutting down public events during the outbreak. A quick Google search revealed that the baseball season was shortened that year due to World War I and the World Series was held September 5-11, at the beginning of the outbreak in Boston.

This Smithsonian article tells what else was going on during the World Series and what it may have looked like. Some things have changed a lot in the last 100 years.