John Rolfe – Just One of My Family’s Immigrants . . .


The Early Modern Period

John Rolfe Painting 1850Over the next twenty-eight days, we will be revisiting my 11th paternal great grandfather’s story once again.  It is a story that dates back to 1585–the 585th year of the 2nd millennium, the 85th year of the 16th century, and the 6th year of the 1580s decade.  Although much has been written about John Thomas Rolfe and especially his third wife, Powhatan Princess Pocahontas, there’s still new stories and insights unfolding in our 21st century–some 400+ years later.  And, yes, he was probably among a handful of my ancestors who were among America’s first immigrants!

To put his story into greater context, Great grandfather Rolfe, in the 16th century would probably have stood only about 5’ 7” and the women of his day, just 5 feet.  From a worldwide perspective, historians say “The Early Modern Period” (in which John Rolfe was born and lived for 37 years), can best be defined by its globalizing character; i.e., the new explorations and colonizations of the Americas and the rise of new and enduring commerce between previously isolated parts of the world.  To have become a prominent figure of the times, most likely required more drive and early maturity than our 21st century youth could possibly fathom.  After all, man’s average lifespan in the 16th century was a mere 47 years–compared to today’s 74-80 years.  Many people were stricken with smallpox, measles, malaria, scarlet fever, and chickenpox due to poor sanitation and died even younger than 47.  

Greater Understanding and Appreciation

Quite honestly, until my more recent research with a fellow history enthusiast (who just happens to live in John Rolfe’s family’s hometown of Heacham, England), I really didn’t truly understand or appreciate his life in the early modern period or the extensive role this small statured young man played in England’s colonizing America and saving the people of Jamestown with his entrepreneurship and his marriage to Native American Princess Pocahontas.

This is just day one of the next 27 where we will delve more deeply into the adventure and entrepreneurship of John Rolfe (1585-1622).

John Rolfe Letter to Governor Thomas Dale, 1614


marriage-of-john-rolfe-and-pocahontas

Wedding of John Rolfe and Princess Pocahontas,  April 5, 1614

Continuing to further document and understand the lives of our earliest ancestors – emigrants from England to Jamestown, Virginia, I have included below, the 1614 letter  (transcribed and updated to today’s word usage and spellings by me–I made no changes to word choices or punctuation and kept present day English spellings).  My  11th great-grandfather, John Rolfe, (English Explorer), penned this letter to Sir Thomas Dale, then Governor of the Jamestown Colony.  In this deeply moving and revealing letter, John Rolfe asks permission to marry Princess Pocahontas, daughter of Indian Chief Powhatan, who presided over the Powhatan Empire until his death in 1618. If you would like to see the online letter with 400 year-old English words and spellings, please visit  “Virtual Jamestown’s” site .

Honourable Sir, and most worthy Governor:

When your leisure shall best serve you to peruse these lines, I trust in God, the beginning will not strike you into a greater admiration, than the end will give you good content. It is a matter of no small moment, concerning my own particular, which here I impart unto you, and which toucheth me so dearly, as the tenderness of my salvation. Howbeit I freely subject myself to your grave and mature judgment, deliberation, approbation, and determination; assuring myself of your zealous admonitions, and godly comforts, either persuading me to desist, or encouraging me to persist therein, with a religious and godly care, for which (from the very instant, that this began to root itself within the secret bosom of my breast) my daily and earnest prayers have been, still are, and ever shall be produced forth with as sincere a godly zeal as I possibly may to be directed, aided and governed in all my thoughts, words, and deeds, to the glory of God, and for my eternal consolation. To persevere wherein I never had more need, nor (til now) could ever imagine to have been moved with the like occasion.

But (my case standing as it doth) what better worldly refuge can I here seek, then to shelter myself under the safety of your favourable protection? And did not my ease proceed from an unspotted conscience, I should not dare to offer to your view and approved judgement, these passions of my troubled soul, so full of fear and trembling in hypocrisy and dissimulation. But knowing my own innocence and godly fervor, in the whole prosecution hereof, I doubt not of your benign acceptance, and clement construction. As for malicious depravers, and turbulent spirits, to whom nothing is tasteful but what pleaseth their unsavory palate, I pass not for them being well assured in my persuasion (by the often trial and proving of myself, in my holiest meditations and prayers) that I am called hereunto by the spirit of God; and it shall be sufficient for me to be protected by yourself in all virtuous and pious endeavours. And for my more happy proceeding herein, my daily oblations shall ever be addressed to bring to pass so good effects, that yourself, and all the world may truly say: This is the work of God, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

But to avoid tedious preambles, and to come nearer the matter: first suffer me with your patience, to sweep and make clean the way wherein I walk, from all suspicions and doubts, which may be covered therein, and faithfully to reveal unto you, what should move me hereunto.

Let therefore this my well advised protestation, which here I make between God and my own conscience, be a sufficient witness, at the dreadful day of judgment (when the secret of all men’s hearts shall be opened) to condemn me herein, if my chief intent and purpose be not, to strive with all my power of body and mind, in the undertaking of so mighty a matter, no way led (so far forth as man’s weakness may permit) with the unbridled desire of carnal affection: but for the good of this plantation, for the honour of our country, for the glory of God, for my own salvation, and for the converting to the true knowledge of God and Jesus Christ, an unbelieving creature, namely Pocahontas. To whom my hearty and best thoughts are, and have a long time been so entangled, and enthralled in so intricate a labyrinth, that I was even wearied to unwind myself thereout. But almighty God, who never faileth his, that truly invocate his holy name hath opened the gate, and led me by the hand that I might plainly see and discern the safe paths wherein to trade.

To you therefore (most noble Sir) the patron and Father of us in this country do I utter the effects of this settled and long continued affection (which hath made a mighty war in my meditations) and here I do truly relate, to what issue this dangerous combat is come unto, wherein I have not only examined, but thoroughly tried and pared my thoughts even to the quick, before I could end and fit wholesome and apt applications to cure so dangerous an ulcer. I never failed to offer my daily and faithful prayers to God, for his sacred and holy assistance. I forgot not to set before mine eyes the frailty of mankind, his prones to evil, his indulgence of wicked thoughts, with many other imperfections wherein man is daily ensnared, and oftentimes overthrown, and them compared to my present estate. Nor was I ignorant of the heavy displeasure which almighty God conceived against the sons of Levi and Israel for marrying strange wives, nor of the inconveniences which may thereby arise, with other the like good motions which made me look about warily and with good circumspection, into the grounds and principal agitations, which thus should provoke me to be in love with one whose education hath been rude, her manners barbarous, her generation accursed, and so discrepant in all nature from myself, that oftentimes with fear and trembling, I have ended my private controversy with this: surely these are wicked instigations, hatched by him who seeketh and delighteth in man’s destruction; and so with fervent prayers to be ever preserved from such diabolical assaults (as I took those to be) I have taken some rest.

Thus, when I had thought I had obtained my peace and quietness, behold another, but more gracious temptation hath made breaches into my holiest and strongest meditations; with which I have been put to a new trial, in a straighter manner then the former: for besides the many passions and sufferings which I have daily, hourly, yea and in my sleep endured, even awaking me to astonishment, taxing me with remissness, and carelessness, refusing and neglecting to perform the duty of a good Christian, pulling me by the ear, and crying: why dost not thou endeavour to make her a Christian? And these have happened to my greater wonder, when she hath been furthest separated from me, which in common reason (were it not an undoubted work of God) might breed forgetfulness of a far more worthy creature. Besides, I say the holy spirit of God often demanded of me, why I was created?

If not for transitory pleasures and worldly vanities, but to labour in the Lord’s vineyard, there to sow and plant, to nourish and increase the fruits thereof, daily adding with the good husband in the Gospel, somewhat to the talent, that in the end the fruits may be reaped, to the comfort of the laborer in this life, and his salvation in the world to come? And if this be, as undoubtedly this is, the service Jesus Christ requireth of his best servant: who unto him that hath these instruments of piety put into his hands and wilfully despiseth to work with them. Likewise, adding hereunto her great appearance of love to me, her desire to be taught and instructed in the knowledge of God, her capableness of understanding, her aptness and willingness to receive any good impression, and also the spiritual, besides her own incitements stirring me up hereunto.

What should I do? Shall I be of so untoward a disposition, as to refuse to lead the blind into the right way? Shall I be so unnatural, as not to give bread to the hungry or uncharitable, as not to cover the naked? Shall I despise to actuate these pious duties of a Christian? Shall the base fear of displeasing the world, overpower and withhold me from revealing unto man these spiritual works of the Lord, which in my meditations and prayers, I have daily made known unto him? God forbid. I assuredly trust He hath thus dealt with me for my eternal felicity, and for his glory; and I hope so to be guided by his heavenly grace, that in the end by my faithful pains, and christian-like labour, I shall attain to that blessed promise pronounced by that holy Prophet Daniel unto the righteous that bring many unto the knowledge of God. Namely, that they shall shine like the stars forever and ever. A sweeter comfort cannot be to a true Christian, nor a greater encouragement for him to labour all the days of his life, in the performance thereof, nor a greater gain of consolation, to be desired at the hour of death, and in the day of judgment.

Again by my reading, and conference with honest and religious persons, have I received no small encouragement, besides serena meaconscientia, the clearness of my conscience, clean from the filth of impurity, quo est instar muri chennai, which is unto me, as a brasen wall. If I should set down at large, the prohibitions and godly motions, which have striven within me, I should but make a tedious and unnecessary volume. But I doubt not these shall be sufficient both to certify you of my true intents, in discharging of my duty to God, and to yourself, to whose gracious providence I humbly submit myself, for his glory, your honour, our Country’s good, the benefit of this Plantation, and for the converting of one unregenerate, to regeneration; which I beseech God to grant, for his dear Son Christ Jesus his sake.

Now if the vulgar sort, who square all men’s actions by the base rule of their own filthiness, shall tax or taunt me in this my godly labour: let them know, it is not any hungry appetite, to gorge myself with incontinency; sure (if I would, and were so sensually inclined) I might satisfy such desire, though not without a seared conscience, yet with Christians more pleasing to the eye, and less fearful in the offense unlawfully committed. Nor am I in so desperate a state, that I regard not what becometh of me; nor am I out of hope but one day to see my Country, nor so void of friends, nor mean in birth, but there to obtain a match to my great content: nor have I ignorantly passed over my hopes there, or regardlessly seek to loose the love of my friends, by taking this course: I know them all, and have not rashly overstepped any.

But shall it please God thus to dispose of me (which I earnestly desire to fulfill my ends before set down) I will heartedly accept of it as a godly tax appointed me, and I will never cease, (God assisting me) until I have accomplished, and brought to perfection so holy a work, in which I will daily pray God to bless me, to mine, and her eternal happiness. And thus desiring no longer to live, to enjoy the blessings of God, then this my resolution doth tend to such Godly ends, as are by me before declared: not doubting of your favourable acceptance, I take my leave, beseeching Almighty God to rain down upon you, such plenitude of his heavenly graces, as your heart can wish and desire, and so I rest,

At your command most willing to be disposed of,

John Rolfe


Source:

Jameson, J, Franldin. Narratives of Early Virginia. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1907. (237-244)

Thanks Charlie–One Man’s Genealogical Random Act of Kindness


This video shows the great work ethic and commitment this man has for honoring those who paved the way for the rest of us in this world.  As a genealogical enthusiast, I can relate to this man’s passion for identifying and uncovering the lost people and histories of our families. In fact, I volunteer for Findagrave.com.  When family members who do not live locally want pictures of their loved ones’ grave markers, I go to the cemeteries within my locale to find those gravesites and to create or add to a memorial page on findagrave.com for that person and his family.

Founder of Find A Grave Website

FindAGraveFounder-Jim TiptonIt was Jim Tipton, who created the Find A Grave website in 1995 because he could not find an existing site that catered to his hobby of visiting the graves of famous people. He found that there were many thousands of folks around the world who shared his interests. What began as an odd hobby became a livelihood and a passion. Building and seeing Find A Grave grow beyond his wildest expectations has been immensely satisfying for Jim. Every day, contributors from around the world enter new records, thousands use the site as an educational reference tool, to locate long-lost loved ones and millions of lives are fondly remembered.

We often are disappointed when we find a headstone that is illegible due to the weather and the passing of time.  Some of us try cleaning the headstones as best we can.  However, if  we use the wrong techniques and solutions, we risk permanently damaging or destroying the grave marker further over time.

So, I’m very glad “Charlie,” made it his mission to clean each gravestone at the West Dennis Cemetery, (AKA Crowell Family Cemetery) as a tribute to those whom have passed as well as their families.  The dates of death on these gravestones range from 1809 to 1849–about 150 to 200 years old. After three years, 3-to-5 days a week, and about 800 gravestones already cleaned, Charlie probably still has another year before finishing all the grave markers in this cemetery!  Let’s hope this story triggers more volunteers at more cemeteries.

Our Ancestors’ Died From What?


Death Certificates Validate Our Lives

The primary purpose of a death certificate is to explain how or why people died. The only thing we know for sure is that people died because they were born; because they were mortal.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that roughly fifty million people in the world this year will die.  This figure includes every fatality in every developed nation on earth. Yet, only about half of all deaths will be recorded with a death certificate. The other half of the world’s people will die in the poorest of places, which maintain no end-of-life documentation.

Before modern death certificates, England, in the early 16th century, had a form known as the Bill of Mortality. No earlier civilizations kept track of their people’s deaths. However, church records of baptisms and burials and recordings of these events by family members within their family bibles offer good proxies for formal records of births and deaths.

Other Vital Statistics Information

The registration of births, marriages, and deaths has a long history in the United States, beginning with a registration law enacted by Virginia in 1632 and a modification of this law enacted by Massachusetts in 1639. Later, when the U.S. Constitution was framed, provision was made for a decennial census but not a national vital registration system; this latter function remained with the states. To obtain national data, the decennial censuses in the latter half of the nineteenth century included questions about vital events, but the method was recognized as inefficient and the results as deficient.

Deaths Registered in Harwich, MA, for the Year 1870

The copy below of a page from the death registry of 1870 in Harwich, Barnstable County, MA, includes one of my ancestors, “Betsey Doane,” who died of “childbirth fever,” soon after giving birth.  “Childbirth fever,” is explained later in this post.

Death Records - MAAccordingly, in 1902, when the U.S. Bureau of the Census was made a permanent agency of the federal government, legislation authorized the Director of the Census Bureau to get, annually, copies of records filed in the vital statistics offices of those states and cities having adequate death registration systems and to publish data from these records. A few years earlier, the Census Bureau had issued a recommended death reporting form (the first “U.S. Standard Certificate of Death”) and requested that each independent registration area adopt it as of January 1, 1900. In 1915, the national birth-registration area was established, and by 1933 all states were registering live births and deaths with acceptable event coverage and providing the required facts to the Census Bureau for the production of national birth and death statistics.

In 1946, responsibility for collecting and publishing vital statistics at the federal level was transferred to the U.S. Public Health Service, first in the National Office of Vital Statistics and later (1960) in the NCHS. In 1987, the NCHS became part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which in turn is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Lives, Deaths, And Medicine Over The Past 300 Years

For over two centuries doctors have defined people’s medical conditions like burns, asthma, epilepsy, and angina–terms still familiar to us today. However, they also used terms for other commonplace causes of death that we may not recognize today. For instance: ague (malaria), dropsy (edema), or spontaneous combustion (especially of “brandy-drinking men and women”).  Sometimes you might see Causa Mortis Incognita, which means the cause of death was not known and the doctors  wrote it in Latin and not admit in English they didn’t have a clue! Happily, many early 19th and 20th century health conditions that led to death have all but disappeared not only from doctors terminology but the diseases and illnesses themselves, thanks to dramatic advances in hygiene and medicine.

Yellow fever was the noted cause of death on the majority of 5,000+ death certificates issued in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, between August 1 and November 9, 1793.  This virus, like malaria, and today’s Zika virus, was carried and transferred by mosquitoes.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, hundreds of thousands of women died needlessly following childbirth from puerperal fever.  Unwashed hands and medical instruments introduced bacteria into women’s uterine tracts triggering this killer infection.

Before the mid-20th century, my family and I were fortunate enough to be among the first people in the United States to receive vaccines to fight smallpox, polio and measles – diseases which once killed thousands of people each year.

Prior to Sir Alexander Fleming’s, accidental discovery of Penicillin in 1929, the use of maggots to clean away dead tissue from infected wounds was commonplace.  Leeches were popular with doctors for blood-letting to “balance” the four humors (blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile) and to bring an ill patient back into good health. Many quacks also peddled “snake oil elixirs,” as “cure-all medicines.

Below, I used my genealogy software to generate this sample report of 15 persons causes of death from various branches of my ancestral tree dating back to 1617-1944.  Aside from name, birth and death dates, it gives age at death and causes as written by physicians on their death certificates, with only one exception.  The last entry–Pocahontas’ cause of death description–comes from many historical writings about her life and death.

Causes of Death - My Family Tree Sample

 

 

You can follow and understand my ancestor’s causes of death rather easily with only a few exceptions of now archaic terms like “acute gastrointestinal auto intoxication,” “childbirth fever,” and “diphtheria,” similar to other now dated causes of death that I mentioned earlier. In today’s terminology infant “Bessie Charlotte Chambers,” died of blood poisoning; i.e., “toxemia,” a condition in which the blood has toxins produced by body cells at a local source of infection or derived from the growth of microorganisms, possibly from her milk.

Death Certificate-Bessie Charlotte ChambersDiphtheria once was a major cause of illness and death among children.  It is transmitted from person-to-person through coughing and sneezing. Symptoms include sore throat, loss of appetite, and fever. The most notable feature of diphtheria, is the a thick gray substance called a pseudomembrane that forms over nasal tissues, tonsils, larynx, and/or pharynx. The United States recorded 206,000 cases of diphtheria in 1921, resulting in 15,520 deaths. Diphtheria was the third leading cause of death in children in England and Wales in the 1930s.

Since the introduction of effective immunization, starting in the 1920s, diphtheria rates have dropped dramatically in the United States and other countries that vaccinate widely. Between 2004 and 2008, no cases of diphtheria were recorded in the United States. However, the disease continues to play a role globally. In 2007, 4,190 cases of diphtheria were reported, which is likely an underestimate of the actual number of cases.

Finally, below, I have included a table many more terms that genealogists and family historians may come across in their research of family members lives.

Obsolete Medical Terms and Definitions

TERM:

DEFINITION:

AGUE

Used to describe recurring fever and chills of malaria; can mean any fever with chills

BILIOUSNESS

Jaundice or other symptoms associated with liver disease

CHLOROSIS

Iron deficiency anemia

CHOLERA INFANTUM

Summer diarrhea of infants usually the first summer after weaning from breastfeeding

CORRUPTION

Infection

CORYZA

A cold

COSTIVENESS

Constipation

CRAMP COLIC

Appendicitis

CREEPING PARALYSIS

Tabes dorsalis (syphilis)

DENTITION

Infantile convulsions; febrile seizures; infected dental caries (cavities); mercury poisoning from teething powders

DEBILITY

“Failure to thrive” in infancy or old age or loss of appetite and weight from undiagnosed T.B. or cancer.

DROPSY

Edema (swelling), sometimes caused by kidney or heart disease.

DYSPEPSIA

Acid indigestion

ECLAMPSIA

Convulsions of any cause; later applied more specific

EXTRAVASATED BLOOD

Rupture of blood vessel

FALLING SICKNESS

Epilepsy

FLUS OF HUMOUR

Circulation

FRENCH POX

Venereal disease

GALLOPING CONSUMPTION

Rapidly progressing tuberculosis

GREEN SICKNESS

Anemia

HEMORRHAGE AND INFLAMMATION

Ruptured aneurysm or swollen lymph nodes or superficial cancer with ulceration and bleeding; swollen lymph nodes from chronic infection, such as T. B., brucella, anthracis, staphylococcus, etc.

HIP GOUT

Osteomyelitis

JAIL FEVER

Typhus

KING’S EVIL

Scrofula (T.B. of lymph glands, especially of neck)

LUES VENERA

Venereal disease

LUMBAGO

Back pain

LUNG FEVER

Pneumonia

LUNG SICKNESS

Tuberculosis

MALIGNANT FEVER

Fever with hemolysis; malaria with hemorrhagic skin rash; meningococcal infection; putrid malignant fever; typhoid.

MANIA

Insanity

MARASMUS & DROPSY OF THE BRAIN

Hydrocephalus and wasting of the body

MILK LEG

Thrombosis in femoral vein, often after childbirth; death from pulmonary embolism or pelvic infection (usual cause for milk leg)

MORTIFICATION

Gangrene usually of the leg; trauma; infection; diabetes; aneurysm of aorta

NOSTALGIA

Homesickness

A PERIPNEUMONIA

Pneumonia plus pleurisy (inflammation of the pleura usually with fever, painful & difficult respiration, cough and fluid into the pleural cavity)

PUTRID FEVER

Diphtheria

PUTRID SORE THROAT

Gangrenous pharyngitis; tonsillitis with peritonsillar or retropharyngeal abscess.

QUINSY

Tonsillitis

REMITTING FEVER

Malaria

ROSE COLD

Hay fever incorrectly thought to be caused by rose pollen.

SANGUINEOUS CRUST

Scab

SCREWS

Rheumatism

SCROFULA

See KING’S EVIL

SHIP’S FEVER

Typhus

SOFTENING OF THE BRAIN

Dementia (Syphilitic or nonsyphilitic); cerebral hemorrhage; stroke

STOMACH TROUBLE

Complication of gastric ulcer perforation plus pancreatitis, hemorrhage, cancer.

STRANGERY

Rupture

SUMMER COMPLAINT

Diarrhea and vomiting; gastroenteritis

THROAT DISTEMPER

Tonsillitis; diphtheria

VENESECTION

Bleeding

 

My Genealogy Story


My Desires to Know and to Learn

One day my dad and I were talking about his young life, the absence of his mother early on and her mysterious death at age 32 that had left him and his family with unanswered questions. We also visited my paternal great grandmother about once a month for many years. She lived in the Home for Incurables in Washington, D.C.,  for about 25 years after becoming crippled with arthritis and abandoned by her husband of 33 years, never to be heard from again.  And then there was my maternal great grandfather who I had heard was one of the last two remaining soldiers who fought in the American Indian Wars. And yet, he married a full-blooded Cherokee bride, and after many years of marriage retreated to the National Soldier’s Home and lived there for about 30 years. Family referred to him as a disgruntled old man or “habitually intemperate.”   There were so many sketchy and questionable stories that seemed to naturally arouse my curiosities and had left me feeling incomplete about who I was and what I could share with my children and the rest of my family about our heritage. Then in 1980, came our eldest son’s 8th grade family history school project, where he had to draw his family tree as far back as he could and he began asking questions–some we could answer, others we couldn’t, and the completed information in the tree went back only to grandparents.  He had some names of earlier generations, but not enough specifics to include them in his tree.   That was the final impetus that set me on my path to being our family’s historian.

My  First Resources

The facts I collected and recorded from the United States censuses became absolutely key resources for me when I began my serious research into our family’s histories.  Yes, it was January 1980, and coincidentally I had just joined the Census Bureau’s staff and had completed a brief new employee orientation that included a bit about the origin of the census and the agency.  I learned that the  first United States Census was conducted in 1790 and at 10-year intervals ever since then. Thus, Census 2010 was the 22nd census of population.

In the Spring  of 1980, 36 years ago, I first trekked to the National Archives in Washington, D.C.  There on weekends, I used their family coding system and microfilm machines to scroll through hundreds of reels of film that contained copies of the original census forms.  I remember being inside the Archives on a warm and sunny day, researching family and hearing bands and people cheering the Easter Paraders passing by outside on Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues.

Using microfilm was a long and tedious, mental and eye-straining process. I would copy by hand the facts I found and make notes on lined paper, then take this work home and transcribe it using a typewriter.  Each little factoid I found exhilarated me so much that I would persevere and I kept trudging along at a snail’s pace uncovering just the tiniest of bread crumbs along my journey.

To give you a better idea of what I was up against, in 1983, the most recent census data available to the public was from the 1910 Census.  This was due to the “72-Year Rule,” where the National Archives was not allowed to release census records to the general public until 72 years after Census Day (about a person’s lifetime when originally established)–this holds true til this day.   As a result, the 1940 census records were released April 2, 2012 and remain the most current census data available. So, this 70+ year gap in data didn’t make it easy to uncover facts about people who came 3 to 4 generations before me.  But, a known birth state here, a remembered relative’s name there, was enough to get me started.

Technology Advances My Research

Ancestry dot com birthIt was also in 1983 when Ancestry Publishing was founded–the precursor to today’s Ancestry.com.  But, it wasn’t until 1996 that Ancestry.com was launched.  Ancestry developed efficient and proprietary systems for digitizing handwritten historical documents, established relationships with national, state and local government archives, historical societies, religious institutions, and private collectors of historical content around the world.   These profound advances in technology and genealogical research occurred at a time when my family commitments had forced me to take a brief hiatus from my research. But my desire to continue my research never faltered and sometime shortly thereafter that I first subscribed to Ancestry.com and my family tree began to grow by leaps and bounds.

In 2001, Ancestry.com added its one-billionth record to its site and it resources.  Today, my public tree has over 12,000 records, about 600 family photos, many copies of newspaper clippings from yesteryear, copies of birth and death certificates, and various family documents and stories.

Surprises Along My Way

Uncle Same Have Your Answers Ready With all this being said, I’m not quite sure why people seem to remain “up in arms” about today’s “invasive” census questions.  Especially, when my research gave me the opportunities to compare questionnaires and schedules going back over 200 years with today’s slimmed and trimmed down questions and forms.

For example, the seventh U.S. Census of Population was conducted by U.S. Marshals and Assistant Marshals in 1850.  It was the first census where Marshals recorded names, relationship to head of household, age, sex, and color for all persons living in each household.  These census takers were also required to ask the head of each household about each individual’s full health. If the head of a household (usually the husband, father, or other male relative) claimed an individual was deaf and dumb, blind, insane, or idiotic the census taker also recorded this in a separate column designated(column 13, below).

1850 census form header

Additionally, there was a separate 1850 schedule relating to numbers of slave inhabitants. The forms collected the names of slave owners; number of slaves; the slaves color, sex, age, and whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane, or idiotic; and the numbers of fugitives from the state. The 1860 census is the last federal census where slaves were enumerated. Unfortunately, they were not enumerated by name but by quantity with their owner–only on a rare occasion did I find a name listed.

Slave Inhabitants Questionnaire

Wretched Terms Used to Describe Family Members Health

Then, in the 1880 Census, (and only the 1880 Census), there was a “Special Schedule of Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes (sometimes called the DDD or 3D Schedule). When an enumerator recorded a health issue on the census of population form, he would then have to fill in this 3D Schedule to further clarify an individual’s defect, dependency, or delinquency; successively, for all individuals with any of these conditions. In fact, there were seven categories used to classify “health” conditions:

Insane: The schedule lists the “form” of the person’s insanity (melancholia, mania, epilepsy, etc.), history of “attacks,” if they need to be under lock and key, type of restraints (if any), and history of institutionalization.

It’s important to remember that it was often a family member giving information about the “insane” person and understanding mental health could be quite subjective.  Even Epilepsy was considered a form of insanity, as was postpartum depression.  Even veterans of the Civil or Indian Wars could have been classified as “insane,” where in later years we might have described them as “shell-shocked (from WWI and WWII), or in later wars as suffering from PTSD.

Idiots: An idiot for this schedule was defined as “a person the development of whose mental faculties was arrested in infancy or childhood before coming to maturity.” Questions included if the person was self-supporting, age at which idiocy occurred, supposed cause of idiocy, size of head, training school history, and other disabilities the person had. Let’s see, this classification probably included children with Downs Syndrome, autism, ADD, and ADHD, or for that matter, just spoiled, ill-tempered brats.

Deaf-mutes: Enumerators were tasked with not listing those who were only deaf or hard-of-hearing or those who were only mute. “A deaf-mute is one who cannot speak, because he cannot hear sufficiently well to learn to speak.” Information includes whether he or she was self-supporting, age that deafness occurred, supposed cause of deafness, history of institutions, and other disabilities.  Helen Keller would have fit into this category.

Blind: The semi-blind could be included, but not those who could see well enough to read. The form asked if the person was self-supporting, form of blindness, supposed cause, the age that blindness occurred, institutional information, and other disabilities.

These next categories were used to enumerate people in institutions, poor houses, and boarding homes:

Homeless Children: Rather than homeless children, it was for children in institutions (children’s homes, poorhouses, etc.) Information included their residence when not in the home, if the father and/or mother were deceased, if the child was abandoned, if the parents had surrendered control to the institution, if they were born in the institution, year admitted, if the child was separated from his/her mother, the child’s criminal history, and disabilities.

Inhabitants in Prison: This section gave information about the prisoner’s residence, type of prisoner, why they are in prison (awaiting trial, serving a term, etc.), date of incarceration, alleged offense, sentence, and if the prisoner was at hard labor.

Paupers and Indigent: Similar to the Homeless Children section, this part of the schedule was for those who were “in institutions, poor-houses or asylums, or boarded at public expense in private houses.” Information included residence “when at home,” how he or she was supported; if the person was able-bodied, habitually intemperate, epileptic, or a convicted criminal; disabilities; year admitted; and other family members in the institution (spouse, parents, children, and siblings). There was also a section at the end about the institution itself.

So there you have it.  I have gathered so much information about our past and yet there is so much more to be learned from these antiquities about our families lives and times.  I will say, if I God called me home today that those in my family who have an interest in their family’s history would be given a great starting point from which to continue on–that is unless the suspicious and conspiracy theorists about our government’s intentions and uses of data collected squelch the availability of future genealogical resources such as these.

And, yes, I discovered where my father’s mother went to live, that she was a “Rosie the Riveter,” and her official cause of death was chronic alcoholism; I found my paternal great grandfather’s death information from the 1970’s in Las Vegas and have even gotten to know, to love, and maintain contact with my new family members from my great grandfather’s second family that he built while in Vegas; and was led to an unknown uncle from my maternal grandfather’s first family in Hawaii, which we knew nothing about.  I also found many colonial leaders–settlers from what is now Great Britain–statesmen, lawyers, musicians,  and many fascinating and larger than life characters.  And my stories will continue as long as I am still here to research and write them . . .

Words from: Robert M. Groves, Director of the United States Census Bureau at the time of the 2010 Census–our most recent:

“Just like we can’t survive without roads and bridges, the country doesn’t function well without an updated Census to distribute funds to areas that most need them and to support community decisions about their own future.”
And let’s not forget the growing love and interest in family histories and genealogy!

Addicted to Genealogy


For the Love of a Dear Sister

sistersAfter many years as an Ancestry.com (the world’s largest online history resource) subscriber and enthusiastic supporter, I went looking for a similar but free resource for a friend of 40 years (who’s like or better than a biological sister to me) who has never been consumed like me by researching family history

In fact, I immersed her as my genealogy cohort when she mentioned to me that she knew little about her family. Her father passed when she was 13 when he lost control of his propane tanker truck, and her mother, who she continues to mourn, passed away from brain cancer 12 years ago.  I asked her for a few simple facts, names, dates of birth, city, state, entered them into Ancestry as a new tree, and one entry led to another, and so on . . . most of you know this storyDanville Register - Sat Aug 14 1971 - William Irvin Owen

When I found the August 14, 1971, newspaper article about her father’s accident and listed his relatives in the obituary portion, that’s all it took.  I had hooked her and the addicted researcher behavior in me took over my life again.  Within a matter of few furious days I gifted her a tree of 368 relatives and 82 photos.  So obviously, she was on high with delight and wanted to continue this trip and get to know her family for herself.  Thus, my search for a free online family history database resource.

Finding the Mother Lode

I first looked at FamilySearch, the genealogical organization operated by the Genealogical Society of Utah (“GSU”), and the genealogical arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is the largest genealogy organization in the world.  It is this organization that we can thank for digitizing billions of family history records.

And yet, here is this completely FREE genealogy website with billions of indexed records, access to billions of pages of unindexed records (most of them original source material), with a significant educational component (the Wiki and Video Courses), a collaborative family tree (featuring sources, notes, record hints, photos, stories, etc.), and only five percent of a genealogy enthusiasts audience of 100 use it–and 95 out of 100 in this audience were aware of it and had visited it (according to Randy Seaver, author of Genea-Musings Blog).

At any rate, I took my friend’s small ancestry.com tree, used my Family Tree Maker (FTM) software and downloaded her tree’s .ftm file into a GEDCOM (.ged) file so I could upload her file into FamilySearch’s database.  My only other option would have been to re-enter all her family history data manually into FamilySearch (FS).  Next, FS uploaded the information into its database, but it didn’t add all her records automatically.  I was required to do a one-to-one comparison of her records to those possible duplicate records already in FS.  On a small file this isn’t so bad, but on a file as large as my ancestry.com tree (12,000+ records) this would be a tedious and exhaustive process–a real downer.  Perhaps this is why people choose not to transfer their files to FS?  Or, maybe because it’s a collaborative database and they are not willing to share or have their data edited by others who they do not know or feel they can trust their genealogical skill sets?  Bottom line, my dear sister friend was euphoric to have her own family tree and to be able to manipulate it on her own.  My sister and I are going on a short out of town trip very soon to hear her son’s band play and this will be an opportunity for us to revive our genealogical buzz.

Awaiting Another Intoxicating Adventure 

Meanwhile, in my endeavor to try out and test FS, I queried the database about my third maternal great grandfather Henry Ford–a brick wall in my tree.  I didn’t nail down Henry’s data, but I discovered there were two conflicting records for my second great grandfather–the father of my maternal great grandmother, Mary Susan Morris, who was the wife of John Carpenter Ford.  One record had his death in 1880, which agreed with my record, but a census record showed an inmate in 1900 at the North Carolina State Insane Asylum.  So, I contacted the FamilySearch research support team. Within a couple of days I received the most unexpected in-depth research about the conflicts and directions to further resources about these people. And, to boot, FS researchers complimented me on one of my blog posts that they had found and read as a result of their queries on my behalf.

So now, the genealogical addict in me is adding my ancestry.com public tree (slowly and surely) using the GEDCOM file upload and one-to-one record comparison method to see what my sharing and comparing of these data might bring to light.

Ancestry to Retire Family Tree Maker


I responded to Ancestry the very instant I finished reading their announcement to retire Family Tree Maker.  If, after reading this story, you feel compelled to do the same I encourage you to do so at: http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2015/12/08/ancestry-to-retire-family-tree-maker-software/.

Our Families and their Untold Stories

Posted by Susie Higginbotham on December 10, 2015 

The genealogy community is all a buzz due to the announcement two days ago by Ancestry.com that they would be retiring and no longer supporting their software program, Family Tree Maker.  As a FTM user, this news was very upsetting to me. I have spent many hours of my life building my family tree online with Ancestry.com, using FTM. You can view their announcement at their blog site, http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2015/12/08/ancestry-to-retire-family-tree-maker-software/.

Since the announcement, I have calmed down and the initial panic has worn off.  I have decided to sit this out for a while before I make any major changes to the way I do my genealogy work.  After all, we have until January of 2017.  I know other family tree software companies will use this time of panic to make sweet offers for the panicked masses of FTM users to switch to their products, which is tempting I admit. But for now, I will wait it out and see what else happens or comes about.

First though, I have to say to Ancestry.com that your timing on this deal is pretty crappy.  You won’t be offering FTM for sale after Dec 31, 2015 and you announced this on Dec 8, 2015.  Seventeen days before Christmas.  I’m sure most people, like myself, are already budgeted to the max.  I bought the program and downloaded it to my laptop, without ever getting the setup disk.  So of course I would like to now buy the disk so that if my laptop crashes, I can at least add the program back to a new computer.  That would be $79 I wasn’t expecting to spend with such short notice, right in the middle of the holiday season.  My children thank you.  They will now have to believe again in Santa Claus if they want their stocking filled up.

The reason I use the FTM program is because I need to print my work out, run reports, see cousin relations, etc. I also use the program, to catch errors, and make mass changes at once.  Here is an example of a report I always use when researching.  I keep this right in front of me when working on a line, this way I know all the players and dates for reference.

Me to John Floyd Ball

The main reason I will sit this out before switching to another software program is the tree sync feature that FTM offered with Ancestry.com.  I spend many hours working on my family tree.  Sometimes I work from Ancestry.com, and sometimes I work directly in the software, offline.  When I go back online, FTM automatically syncs my data from the software to my tree online.  That means, any changes I made on Ancestry.com is downloaded and updated to my software program, and any changes I made in the program is uploaded to Ancestry.com and my tree there is updated.  This means I do not have to do double the work, and my tree is exactly the same in both locations, online and offline.

At this point if I switch to another software program, any changes I make to my tree, will have to be manually made in two places.  In the program, and on my ancestry.com tree. In the past, before I used FTM tree sync, this meant I would get on a roll, working away on Ancestry.com and not even really remember what all I had changed, and then have to remember to make the same changes in the software program. Inevitably, this meant I would forget to make one or two of the changes and then my data is comprised and not correct, and doesn’t match in both places.

And yes, I know I can just do my work on Ancestry.com and then extract a gedcom, upload in my program and then they match.  I don’t want to go through that every time I make changes.  I want a program to sync withAncestry.com.  Hopefully, one of the other programs will step up and make the sync with Ancestry.com a possibility, and if they do, that is who I will switch to.

The other major problem with them discontinuing the program, is all the reporting that the software program has, that Ancestry.com does not have.  I use these reports daily, in one way or another, and ancestry.com only offers reports that you have to pay to get.  I’m definitely not paying them to print out a copy of the work I have done myself. Never will that happen.  In fact, if they would just add the reporting abilities to their website, then I would be more than happy to do most of my work online on their website and then back up my tree to my computer any time I make changes.

This announcement two days once again fostered my fear of what will happen to my family tree when I am gone?  How do I keep my work up to date, all together, less confusing and easily accessible to my descendants or any family members that are interested? What if the one way I have decided to keep my information becomes obsolete and all my work is lost before another family member becomes interested?

I know for a fact, all this paper work I have lying around, will probably just get trashed when I am gone.  My kids are not going to look at all the data I have collected in these binders and boxes.  My hope was to get all this information, photos, maps, letters, diaries and etc, integrated into my tree, easily accessible on the computer and then maybe someone would be interested if it was all easily searchable and organized all together.  I know, I know, you are laughing at me right now.  No family historian ever really accomplishes this.  But I had planned to die trying.  LOL!

So, my new goal for 2016 will be to come up with a plan for all my work, and figure out the best way to save all this for future generations so that it doesn’t end up in the dump when I die, or better yet, die out with an obsolete computer program.

In a way, I guess this is a big thank you to Ancestry.com for waking me up enough to realize that my work will not survive solely in a computer program, with reports lying around in binders.