The effect of political events and religious controversies on your ancestors

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Photo credit: Raphaël Thiémard from Belgique (Wikimedia Commons)

Today is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This event led to expanded freedoms for millions of people in Eastern European countries that had been under Soviet Communist rule. Yet, embracing these freedoms did not come easily to many who had lived most of their lives under Communist rule. My sister served a mission for our church in Latvia in 2003-2005. She said that many of the older generation had lost hope, even though they had obtained their freedom in the early 1990s. They had lost the ability to make choices–even when offered choices—because they had been told all their lives where to work, what to eat and where to worship. When she first told me this several years ago, I was struck by how a government should yield such power over people that they could not change once that government was removed. This is perhaps an extreme example, but we know that political events and religious strife inevitable affected our ancestors–just as they affect us and our families today.

Let’s think about some political events that may have affected our ancestors. Changes in government are powerful political events. Think of England–going back and forth between staunch Protestants, at least one Catholic, and Protestants in name who leaned towards Catholicism, and for a few years, a Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell. Your ancestor’s fortunes could easily go from bad to good or vice versa depending on their political and religious leanings.

During the 1620s through late 1630s, thousands of Puritans came to Massachusetts to escape what they called the Popish religion of King James and King Charles and to worship as they wished. When the Civil War started and things were looking good for the Puritans the mass migration stopped and people remained in England, and many from the colonies returned to England. Migrating to a new continent with unfamiliar plants and animals, and recreating the culture they had known in England was a major undertaking.

Boundary changes, new laws, social policies, rebellions such as the Revolutionary War in the US, internal conflict that led to the US Civil War, and world wars are other examples that definitely affected our ancestors in one way or another.

Religious conflict is another source of external conditions that can wreak havoc on a family. Think of the witch trials (not just the Salem witch trials), the banishment of women and men such as Anne Hutchinson and William Rogers, and the many persecutions and wars that have been fought and continue to be fought in the name of religion.

While here in the US we celebrate our veterans on Tuesday and remember our many blessings later this month, spend some time thinking about your ancestors and how political and/or religious events positively or negatively impacted them. Please share here some of the events that you come up with.

 

Writing family history narratives

I was recently asked to participate in a writers blog tour to showcase the blogs of writers from a variety of genres. I decided that the questions we were to answer as part of the tour were best featured on my personal blog, but it did inspire me to think about writing for this blog as well. We will be taking a short break from Levi Savage and Indian depredations claims to think about writing up our findings.

One relevant question from the blog tour is “Why do I write what I write?” From a genealogy/social history perspective, the answer to that question dictates how and what we will write. If it is to engage family members who may not be interested in genealogy, a narrative is a good choice. It is even better if pictures, memorabilia and relevant documents are included. And it is best if social history is included, including pictures of fashions of the time, pictures of the neighborhood, etc. if those can be found.

One of my friends epublished a book about her grandmother that was about 150 pages. She used digital scrapbooking software to create the book. Each page was split into two columns to help break up the text and to allow inclusion of pictures and documents. She included her grandmother’s personal history as well as family memories and stories as her text. She included census documents, pictures of her grandmother and her home and surroundings, and even a menu from the diner that her grandfather owned. It was chock full of information, but was fun to read and the pictures and documents were there for those who were interested.

What tools or techniques have you used when writing family history narratives?

Levi Savage and Indian Depredations

While I was preparing a talk on social history using Levi Savage as a case example, I came across this 1899 newspaper article about him receiving reimbursement from the US government for alleged Indian depredations that occurred in the 1860s. The article was pulled from the Library of Congress Historical Newspapers section (a wonderful resource) and was published on February 14, 1899 in the Salt Lake Herald (pg 6).

SL Feb 14 1899

Ever since finding this more than a year ago my interest has been piqued. The next few posts will follow my journey into learning more in general about Indian depredation reimbursements in general, and the specifics about Levi’s case. I will use newspaper articles, diaries and US congressional records, and hopefully other types of records as well. As much as possible, I will be filling in the social history of a time period in Levi’s life that must have been frightening as well as resulting in loss or damage of property using his records, government records and records of other people who also filed suit.

Creating your own social history

About a year ago my sister suggested I put together a little photo book about my daily life and send it out to my nieces and nephews for Christmas. I live in the Boston area and aspects of my life such as taking a commuter train and subway, walking through Boston and taking elevators at home and work is so different from the lives that my nieces and nephews experience. Recently my mom was visiting one of my sisters and the book came out. My niece especially loved looking at some of the pictures.

While Bridging The Past usually focuses on learning about social history in order to better understand our ancestors, it is important for us to share our social history with our descendants. Blog posts and photo books are one way to do this. Journals and scrapbooks are other ways.  What are some ways you have found to create your own social history for those that will come after you?

Here is the post I created on my personal blog for your enjoyment:
I take the commuter train into Boston. Here it comes!

Everyone getting on

I feel like I’m in a herd of animals as we all get off the train and cram onto the platform

If it’s nice I will sometimes walk over Beacon Hill

and through the Boston Common

I pass the Frog Pond. In the winter it is a skating rink (see the Zamboni) and in the summer it is a wading pool.

The frogs keeping watch

The Tadpole Playground just across from the Frog Pond. It’s fun to watch all the kids at play when it’s warm.

If it’s cold or rainy I’ll take the subway from where the commuter train lets me out to where I work

I spend much of my time in my office. I am a statistician and work in medical research. I work on a variety of projects with people across the hospital, the university and affiliated hospitals. I love the variety in my work (and having my own office!)

View of my office from the doorway

View of my office from behind the desk

View out of the window

One of the most important places in my office is the filing cabinet that displays the artwork of my nieces and nephews

I love coming home to my condo.

A view of my condo building from the pretty side, with a duck pond and Japanese gardens. Every condo has a balcony overlooking the pond and gardens.

The elevator in my condo building. I bet my nieces and nephews think it’s weird that I take an elevator to get home.

The sun coming through the colored windows in the hallway makes me happy

The living room is where I spend most of my time when I am home. One of the great parts of being a homeowner is that I can paint the walls and add color. I love my red accent wall. I painted the kitchen cabinets white a couple of years ago and it really brightened up the place. The other walls in the living room are beige.

At the same time I painted my bathroom walls. They are blue, not gray (a little lighter than the blue on the shower curtain). Love it!

This squirrel likes to come visit me sometimes on my balcony

I am working on the Master’s in History through the Harvard Extension School. I have finished all my classwork and am now doing pre-thesis research.

Gates to Harvard

This is the building where I had many of my classes.

This is the Widener library at Harvard, where I do some of my research.

I also have a genealogy speaking business. I recently started two blogs in addition to speaking (see bridgingthepast.com). Work, school, genealogy and church responsibilities keep me pretty busy. But when I have time to spare I love to create. I make jewelry, photo cards and paper cards. This is one of my favorite beading stores–in Harvard Square. They have a huge selection of fun beads and findings.

I also love to travel. I keep a shelf in my living room with souvenirs from each place that I visit. Can you guess where these are from?

Being a Mormon is an important part of who I am (and who most of my family is). They requested a picture of the temple that I attend. We meet in a regular church building for Sunday worship. The temple is a special place that we go to during the week to worship and make sacred promises with our Heavenly Father. The temple I attend is in Belmont.

Asking Questions

I give a talk on social history that uses Levi Savage as a case study. I want participants to think  about one of their ancestors and how to learn about the social history surrounding that person. One of the most important tips that I give is to ask lots of questions about the documents and events that the researcher is studying. I recently learned that I also needed to talk about my research with others and get ideas from them.

One of the documents I use in the case study is the 1862 proposed Constitution of Deseret (what the Mormons wanted to call their state). Levi Savage, Jr.  is a delegate from Millard County. Knowing just that, I ask what we might be able to infer from this document. Some of the standard responses include

  • he lived in Millard County in 1862
  • he was probably involved in politics
  • he was probably literate
  • his father was also named Levi
  • he was an important and/or respected person in the community

At the most recent conference some of the participants taught me there were some other possibilities that I hadn’t thought of

  • no one else would go
  • he was out of town when the delegate was chosen and therefore couldn’t decline
  • he might have been rich enough to go to a convention

Last night I was talking to a family member about another document I use in the case study that shows that Levi was awarded $1100 for Indian depredations. This is a newspaper article in the 1890s and I haven’t yet figured out where to go to find more details. His son’s diary talks about some difficulties with the Indians in Millard County in the 1860s and I wonder if this money was due to losses he suffered in Millard County. I suggested this monetary award may have been due to an act passed in Congress (since the money came from the government).

The family member pointed out that Levi may also have been savvy when it came to lawsuits due to his education. As an example, she pointed out that Levi sued the government for a mule that he owned that was taken by the Army when he was in the Mormon Battalion. He won that suit. She suggested that perhaps the $1100 was perhaps money he received as part of a lawsuit rather than an act of Congress or some other government body.

Both of these examples point out the importance of sharing your research and ideas with others. I learned of potential reasons that Levi was chosen to be a delegate that I had not thought about but are certainly possibilities. I also learned that in addition to newspaper and Congressional record searches, I should also look into the court records to find details of the Indian depredation monetary award.

What research will you share with your family members and friends to come up with new possibilities?

 

Learning social history from fiction

I was recently introduced to Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy mystery series. The series starts with the main character fleeing Ireland and coming through Ellis Island into NY around 1900. The accounts of the landlord system in Ireland, the cramped quarters of steerage, and the confusing passage through Ellis Island is in line with what I have read about those. The second book delves more into life in New York at the turn of the 20th century–again in line with what I have read, although I am not an expert in this time period.

I find reading these mysteries more fun than reading straight history books. I also find that due to the liberties of character development allowed in fiction that are not allowed in non-fiction, that I can get a better feel of the times and the characters come to life.

While I am certainly not recommending that historical fiction replace academic research and primary source research, I do think that well-written and well-research historical fiction can give us a window into the time period that may not be available from primary source or academic research.

What are your favorite historical fiction authors?

Research Plan for Understanding the Loyalists

As a follow-up to the previous post about avoiding pinball genealogy through the use of research plans, I have created a research plan to learn more about the Loyalists so I can better understand Thomas Sumner. This research plan is a social history research plan, and not the kind typically used in genealogy to find a new name, date, or place. However, the idea and strategies are similar.

OBJECTIVES
Objective #1: Learn what motivated the Loyalists and why many had to leave and where they went.

Objective #2: Learn what challenges they faced and what life was like for them in the colonies and their new location.

Objective #3: Learn some of the possible reasons why Thomas had to leave, while some of his family members with similar political views were allowed to stay.

SUMMARY OF WHAT IS KNOWN
I have read that about 1/3 of the colonists were Patriots, 1/3 were Loyalists and 1/3 were somewhat neutral. Depending on locale, Loyalists were persecuted and subject to confiscation of their property (voluntarily or otherwise) and physical violence, including tar and feathering. Thomas lived in Vermont and was well-connected as a judge. He was forced to leave because of his views and lost his property. He went to Nova Scotia (I think) and submitted several petitions to the English government for reparations for the property he lost. He presumably died in Toronto, although at least one of his children returned to Vermont and settled there.

SOURCES TO EXAMINE

  • Liberty’s Exiles by Maya Jasanoff
  • Tories: Fighting for the King in America’s First Civil War by Thomas B. Allen
  • Murdered By His Wife by Deborah Navas

RESEARCH STRATEGY

Read each of the books listed above and locate additional relevant resources in the footnotes and bibliographies for each book. The first 2 books provide background on Loyalists in general, the 3rd is the true story of murder by a Loyalist woman. These will provide answers to Objectives 1 and 2. Once this is done, I will draw up a research plan for Objective 3.

What events are you interested in learning about? What does your research plan look like?