Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My Wild Irish Robes

First, I should say that I don't know if these robes are Irish in origin or not.  I do know that three of the four women are my Flynn girls.  Those appearing in the photograph were identified as follows:  Mildred Lemon, Elsie (Flynn) Chamberlain, Hilda (Hartman) Weber, Lulu (Flynn) Elson and Eva Grace (Flynn) Hartman.  Based on the estimated age of Mildred this photograph it likely dates to circa 1910.  I have no idea what the significance of the robes might be.  It occurred to my mother and myself that perhaps these robes might be associated with a wedding.  If the approximate date of the photograph is correct then Hilda's wedding in April, 1911 is the closest one.  I may need to start describing these as my wild German robes if that is the case.  If anyone has seen robes like this before and can help to elucidate their significance or origins, I would be greatly appreciative.

I received the photo nearly two years ago from a cousin of mine (Thanks, you know who you are!).

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Is Cursive Obsolete?

I was startled to read that cursive handwriting is disappearing from school curricula. According to the July 2012 issue of National Geographic, as of early this year 45 states have adopted the Common Core Standards, that do not include instruction in cursive writing. In some cases teaching cursive is left up to individual school districts, but it is no longer required. The National Geographic article also reported from a 2010 survey that 85% of college students printed when they wrote. A teacher I know was recently shocked to discover that one of her students couldn't read the comments on her assignment because the student couldn't read cursive.

I understand that using word processing programs on computers makes writing, and particularly editing faster. I know that the need for writing things out by hand is less than in those pre-digital days. I'm sure many people probably don't blink an eye at hearing that cursive is going the way of the dodo. But, as a genealogist, the first thing that popped into my head was “who will be able to read all of the letters, journals and other documents I have collected and saved from my family?” If I want my daughter to be able to read them it looks like I may have to teach her myself. Although this is a few years away I can already hear her saying “but mom, why do I need to learn this if no one uses it anymore?” I doubt “so you can read my journal starting when I was a teenager” will carry much weight.

More important than this, though, is the message that not teaching cursive sends. If this skill is deemed no longer necessary does it mean that all of the historical documents, letters, journals and other papers in our past that were written in cursive are no longer worth reading? If we are not teaching the next generation the ability to understand these papers then it seems to me that we are writing them off as unimportant? Until a technology similar to optical character recognition (OCR) is developed for reading cursive I think someone still needs to be able to read it. Even if a computer program is developed to decipher cursive, I imagine it wouldn't be very good considering the diversity in cursive writing between one individual and another.

Just because writing (and reading) cursive may no longer be absolutely necessary, I believe it is still a useful skill. Here are some of the reasons proposed for continuing to teach cursive.
Signatures are still required on many documents.
Simpler handwriting is easier to forge.
Learning to write in cursive helps develop fine motor skills in the hands.
Learning cursive teaches mental discipline.

If my daughter can't read the documents I have saved then what is the point in keeping them? I'm not ready to throw them in the recycling bin just yet, but I do wonder what will become of these things I have moved from place to place and collected from family members. I don't have a good answer, other than somehow convincing my daughter that there is some merit in learning cursive other than reading all of the stuff in mom's boxes. I suppose the other option is to start transcribing everything myself, but I'm definitely not up to that task right now.

My mother suggested that I could try to “sell” cursive to my daughter by telling her she can use it as a secret code that few of her peers will be able to understand. The only problem could be finding a friend who knows cursive or is willing to devote the time to learn it. Maybe I can convince her that if she can read cursive she will increase her chance of getting a job (as an archivist or historian), but this probably won't be a good incentive for a third-grader. I guess I'll have to stick with the “secret code” argument.

I'm curious if anyone else has thoughts about this?

Rizzo, J. Disappearing Act. July 2012. National Geographic. Vol 222(1).

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Whooping Cough, Lesson Learned?

I will never forget sitting in class in graduate school and listening to a recording of a mouse with whooping cough. Imagine a rapid cough that continues until you can't believe there is any air left to exhale followed by a long, rasping inhalation. Repeat and repeat and repeat. That is what whooping cough sounds like. To listen to a clip of a child suffering from whooping cough visit click here. I heard the recording of the mouse nearly twenty years ago and I don't think I will forget it anytime soon. I can only imagine that listening to one's own child struggling to catch a breath while ill with whooping cough would be excruciating.

The disease usually begins innocently enough with cold-like symptoms. And then, the coughing begins. Severe coughing may last for several weeks with periodic coughing episodes continuing for several weeks more. Infants may not exhibit the characteristic whooping cough that older individuals do, but that doesn't exclude them from other symptoms of this disease. Though not coughing, infants may appear to be struggling for breath, turn red or purple, or even stop breathing altogether. This can result in brain damage from lack of oxygen. Vomiting sometimes follows a coughing spell. [1]

The reason for the strange coughing associated with whooping cough is a direct result of the infection process. Normal airways in the lungs are lined with cells, some of which possess cilia, finger-like projections whose function is to move mucus and debris up and out of the lungs thus keeping the airways clear. The pertussis organism specifically invades these ciliated cells ultimately causing them to extrude from the membrane. [2] Without these cells, mucus accumulates in the airways, potentially obstructing them. Coughing is thereby the only means of ridding the body of the mucus. The long recovery period likely represents the time required for the body to regenerate the ciliated cells.

Between 1887 and 1889 in Michigan there were 2,000-3,000 pertussis cases reported to the state each year. [3, 4] While not generally fatal, whooping cough is often deadly in infants. Between 1875-1886 there were on average 148 deaths per year. However, of the 185 deaths from whooping cough in 1886, 95% occurred in children under age five. [3] This same trend was also seen in 1903. [5] While these were the numbers reported, the Michigan Department of Health had reason to believe that the number of deaths could be twice what was actually reported. [6] They probably drew this conclusion because the number of deaths reported to the Secretary of State (as death returns) was greater than the number of fatalities reported to the State Board of Health. [5]

Although older children usually survived, the suffering of those afflicted should not be discounted, though it often was. As anyone who has had a bad cough for just one week knows, continual coughing is physically taxing. Individuals with pertussis were often completely exhausted after a coughing fit and the coughing lasted for weeks on end. Unfortunately, because the mortality was not as high as diseases such as diphtheria and scarlet fever it was often not taken as seriously. Physicians and even some health officers neglected to report cases, quarantine the sick or even placard the house. “Health officers [about 1500 throughout the state at this time] experience great difficulty in getting reports of whooping-cough. Some physicians are loth [sic] to report cases of this disease when they meet them in their practice. Some householders, in disregard of the safety of the children of their neighbors and friends, refuse to report and blame their physician for reporting this disease, because they dislike to undergo the inconvenience incurred by isolation and other preventive measures.” [6] Bemoaned the state board of health, “whooping cough continues to be of more importance than small-pox to the people of Michigan, causing more deaths, and very many times as many cases of sickness. Still the people generally do not make much effort to restrict it.” [5] As late as 1904 the Board of Health continued to rail against the nonchalance with which whooping cough was treated by the public and even by physicians who still did not report cases as they should have. [4]

Anyone watching the news lately has likely heard that whooping cough is making a resurgence in the U.S. According the to CDC, as of July 12, 2012 the number of cases surpassed 17,000, which is the highest level seen in the last fifty years. [7,8]  Sadly, modern medicine has not changed the fact that infants under three months of age who contract the disease will most likely die. [8] The best way to protect yourself and your family is through vaccination. Our ancestors could do virtually nothing to prevent this awful disease from entering their homes. I suspect they would have jumped at the chance to vaccinate their children. There were certainly enough ads in the Kalamazoo Telegraph hawking cure-alls for whooping cough that I'm sure they would have tried almost anything.  Unfortunately, the absence of the disease from the public awareness seems to have lead to forgetfulness and complacency.  Let's hope we can suppress pertussis again soon so that we don't have to listen to our loved ones suffer that awful cough. 

  1. Wilson, R., Read, R., Thomas, M., Rutman, A., Harrison, K., Lund, V., Cookson, B., Goldman, W., Lambert, H. and Cole, P. 1991. Effects of Bordetella pertussis Infection on Human Respiratory Epithelium In Vivo and In Vitro. Infect. Immun. 59(1):337-345.
  2. Twentieth Annual Report Relating to the Registry and Return of Births, Marriages and Deaths in Michigan for the Year 1886. 1888. Thorp & Godfrey, State Printers and Binders. Lansing.
  3. Eighteenth Annual Report of the Secretary of the State Board of Health of the State of Michigan for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1890. 1892. Robert Smith & Co. State Printers and Binders. Lansing.
  4. Thirty-First Annual Report of the Secretary of the State Board of Health of the State of Michigan for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1903. 1904. Robert Smith Printing Co. State Printers and Binders. Lansing.
  5. Sixteenth Annual Report of the Secretary of the State Board of Health of the State of Michigan for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1888. 1889. Darius D. Thorp. State Printer and Binder. Lansing.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Location, Location, Memory?

For those in the North, the Civil War ended about 147 years ago. Not so for those in the South. Though the official hostilities had ceased, the process of repairing homes and fields took time, making memories of the war longer lasting. To me, the Civil War was ancient history until I moved south of the Mason-Dixon line. Growing up in Kalamazoo it was easy to wander from day to day oblivious to this part of our nation's past. In the south, depending on where you live, you can drive past reminders of this difficult era daily, every time you pass a battlefield, a river after which a battle was named or even an antebellum plantation house. When you live in a place steeped in history it becomes more difficult to forget that history.

It seems to me that being in a particular location can stir up old memories in ways that few other things can. Have you ever gone back to your childhood home and been flooded with memories? While clearly these remembrances are still present, breathing the air where they were created somehow summons them more readily. You can use this to advantage when pursuing your family history. Try visiting a home or other place important to your family to best elicit memories from an older relative or to jog your own memory.

Sometimes a place can draw out memories that aren't even your own. If your parents have told you stories of their childhoods, visiting the places they inhabited can help you envision those stories for yourself. But even if the memories aren't personal I have found this phenomenon can still occur, which brings me back to the Civil War. After I read the book, “The Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara, I was able to visit Gettysburg. As it was my first visit, I simply had to tour the battlefield. Standing there, gazing over the fields where so many fought and died made the events come alive for me in a way they hadn't before. I remember reading about the fierce fighting in devil's den in the book, but I just didn't get it until I saw the huge stones there, as if a giant had knocked down his block tower at the end of play.

Devil's Den at the Gettysburg battle field.  Copyright by Sonja Hunter, 2001.  All rights reserved.

Some of my relatives marched and fought in the Civil War not far from where I currently live. My mother and I sometimes wonder if they actually walked over some of the same ground that I have myself. That might be fun for me to ponder, partly because my people didn't have to rebuild their lives in the same way as my husband's relatives did. It is much easier to pick up and move on when you can go home to fields untrodden and homes intact. Despite, the soldiers' reunions and GAR meetings held in the north it was likely easier to forget the war when your family didn't have to fix what was broken by soldiers and battles. When your family has to start over, and I'm not even talking about slave holders here, forgetting takes time. In the north, memory of the Civil War was extinguished long ago. But in the south the places touched by war still hold memories for those willing to listen. Remember this the next time you want to evoke memories of times past. Literally put yourself in the place where they came to be and see if that place whispers back to you.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Groundbreaking for WMU Archives

You can expect to see some heavy equipment rumbling along Oakland drive starting next week. The groundbreaking for the new Legacy Collections Center is set for Thursday, July 19 at 10:30 a.m. and site preparations will begin the week of July 23rd. The footings for the 16,000 sq. ft., $8.3 million building will be poured during August. If everything goes according to schedule, the building will be closed in by winter and opened to the public in the summer of 2013. [1]

The Legacy Collections Center will house material from the WMU Archives and Regional History Collections, currently located in East Hall, in addition to overflow items from the University Libraries. The WMU Archives' documents currently located off-site will also be transferred into the Legacy Collections Center. In total, the new building is expected to hold more than 28,000 cubic feet of materials. The two-story storage area will be equipped with 30-foot tall compact shelving. [1]

The reading room in the new facility will include tables and seating for 24 as well as 1250 linear feet of shelving. This space can also be converted into a 72-seat space suitable for lectures. [1]

The East Hall location is visited annually by more than 1800 people interested in conducting genealogical and historical research. With a new climate-controlled facility and “ample public parking just steps away” I can only imagine that traffic will increase. [1] In addition, having all of the materials located in a single location will make things easier for both staff and patrons who will no longer have to wait days for items to be retrieved from off-site.

Amid the excitement over the new building, the staff of the WMU Archives has been quite busy lately. Packing began within a short time of the announcement of the new facility, even as they anticipated the arrival of documents from the Kalamazoo Gazette archive. Six truckloads and three days were required to transport the boxes of photos, negatives, clippings, bound newspapers, etc. to their new, albeit temporary, home. The cataloging of this vast collection began almost as soon as it arrived. Curator, Lynn Houghton, believes that the newspaper clippings will become available to the public sometime in the fall term. This collection contains “articles about individuals, events and organizations,” spanning the 1930s to the 1990s. [2]
For more information on the acquisition of the Kalamazoo Gazette archives, see my post:  WMU Archives' Big News

  1. Roland, Cheryl. WMU to break ground for Legacy collections building. 7-12-2012. WMU news. 
  2. Davis, Paula M. WMU preparing Kalamazoo newspaper archive for public use. 7-12-2012. WMU news. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Woo Hoo! 1940 Michigan Census Index Released

I just discovered a little while ago that Ancestry.com has just released their index for the 1940 census for Michigan.  I immediately began searching for my people.  I found some of them, but a few still elude me, like my grandma's sister and her killer.  I admit that Salpatrick is not a common name and is therefore prone to transcription errors, but no matter how I search I can't find him yet.  While searching for Joseph Salpatrick I looked at another record on which the wife's name was transcribed as "Simmons" when it very clearly said "Suzanne."  I know I try to be careful in my indexing so I can only hope I will have better luck when the next Michigan index makes its debut.

FamilySearch's indexing of Michigan currently stands at 55% so it looks like I'll need to wait a little longer.  Just an interesting note about Michigan's 1940 population, it seems to me that a LOT of Michigan's population lived in the Detroit area.  Indexing has progressed alphabetically by county and I have been working on Washtenaw county lately.  It looks like I'll spend the rest of the indexing period deciphering names in Wayne county. 

To begin searching Ancestry's 1940 census records for free (through the end of 2013) click here.

As of September 2012, the 1940 census index for all states is also available at Family Search.  Randy Seaver of GeneaMusings did a few comparisons of the indexes at Ancestry.com vs. FamilySearch and found that in general, the FamilySearch index seemed to be better.  That is to say that his interpretation of the names he compared (and I concur) was in agreement with that transcribed by the FamilySearch indexers more often than the Ancestry indexers.  Whether the transcribed names are accurate, spelled the way those who were enumerated spell them, is anyone's guess, however.

The bottom line is that if you have been using the Ancestry index and have not found some of your people you should try the FamilySearch index and see if you have better luck there.  Maybe you'll get lucky!    

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Michigan State Census Records

I have good news and bad news. The good news is that Michigan conducted its own population census about every ten years during the latter half of the 19th century. The bad news is that most of these records were either destroyed or have vanished. However, depending on where your ancestors lived you may be able to find some of these records for your family.

The first time Michigan attempted to enumerate its inhabitants was in 1827, before statehood, but very few of the early records still exist. With a few exceptions, the ones you are most likely to find are for the years 1845 (head of household only, transcription available at www.Ancestry.com), 1884 and 1894 (transcription available at www.familysearch.org). And now, thanks to Seeking Michigan you can find images for existing state censuses from 1827 to 1894 on their website.  Their website lists which years are available by county.

The Library of Michigan holds many of these state census records. Coverage is spotty so you will definitely want to go to this website to see which records exist for which counties.

For Kalamazoo county the records available at the Library of Michigan are 1837 (abstract of records, with an index), 1874 (no index), 1884 (incomplete, no index), 1894 (no index). The Kalamazoo Valley Genealogical Society has 1884 census pages for Kalamazoo county available for Pavilion, Portage, Prairie Ronde, Ross, Schoolcraft, Texas and Wakeshma townships (I believe the records for the rest of the county are missing). These records can be found by searching the KVGS database.

The WMU Archives has state census records for Kalamazoo county (1837, 1884, 1894), Ottawa county (1884) and St. Joseph county (1845, 1884, 1894). The Van Buren District Library also has some state census records: Allegan (1894, incomplete), Kalamazoo (1884, Pavilion through Wakeshma), St. Joseph (1884 or 1894) and Van Buren (1845).

If you have military men in your tree who may have served in the Civil War (or possibly Mexican or Indian wars) you should also check the 1883 census of pensioners. Note that only men who were receiving a pension in 1883 are on the list. Some veterans may not have begun receiving benefits until later. If that is the case, you can look in the 1890 union veterans/widows schedule, which you can find at Ancestry.com.

It is unfortunate that many of the state census records no longer exist, but you may get lucky and find them in one that remains. Why bother looking if you already have your family pegged in the US Federal census? Don't underestimate the power of your ancestors to surprise you? Some of them moved around quite a bit and you may be able to track them to a new location with additional records you can pursue. Another good reason is because you may find a child who was born and died between federal censuses. You never know what you might find, but you'll certainly never find anything unless you turn over that stone and look.

Fortunately, the fine people at Seeking Michigan have scanned the existing census records and have made them available on their website. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Kalamazoo US GenWeb site

Where should you turn for a wide range of Kalamazoo-related information? To the Kalamazoo County US GenWeb site. For those who are unfamiliar with the USGenWeb, it is an all volunteer project. As a result, each state and county site is arranged differently. In addition, the type and number of records available vary by county. The Kalamazoo site has a little bit of everything so you are sure to find something helpful.

Some information is available here, while some is available via links to other sites. Among other things, you will find information on or links to:
Census records
Family webpages, just a few
Funeral homes with addresses and phone numbers
County history, numerous articles on various topics
Vital records (some) with links to more
Links to military information
Some obits
Photos in various categories

My favorite part of the website without a doubt is the history section. There are several topics listed, but in many cases clicking on a particular one leads to several more. Articles include ones on early life in Kalamazoo county, Indians in Kalamazoo, the county poor farm, the Dutch, railroads and much more. I can't tell you how many times I have Googled something and been directed to an article on the Kalamazoo GenWeb site.

As this is an all volunteer effort you'll find a patch-work quilt of information here. To make it easier to find a particular surname you can take advantage of the search feature. You can search just the Kalamazoo county page or all of the Michigan GenWeb.

After you are done perusing the Kalamazoo county page, you may want to look at the Michigan GenWeb site as well. If you are really lucky you may just find a rescued family treasure at Michigan's Orphan Artifacts.  You can also visit the Michigan Tombstone Photo/Transcription Project to see if your relatives are represented (select a county and then a cemetery to get started).

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Kazoo celebrates the Centennial, 1876

The day began with a bang, literally. “The booming of cannon, the firing of musketry, of musketry of small guns and fire-crackers, the ringing of bells, sounding of whistles” awakened anyone attempting to sleep in. The village swelled as teams and trains brought thousands from outside the village to attend the day's festivities.

The town was painted red, white and blue with streamers, bunting draped from windows and flags waving from both homes and businesses. “Some people decorated their families, after using up all other space, and centennial babies were not the least patriotic part of this city.” “Miss DeYoe and Miss Chase, dressed as goddesses of liberty,” were “especially charming, graceful and memorable” as “they waived [sic] their pretty flags while the procession passed by.”

The procession itself, was 1.25 miles long and was more than just a Kalamazoo affair as attested to by the number of groups from surrounding communities. It was led by Crossett's Cornet Band of Constantine, followed by the Kalamazoo Light Guard, the Centreville Cadets, the German Workingmen's Benevolent Association, the Holland Workingmen's Association and St. Augustine's Benevolent Association. The Peninsular Commandery, the Three Rivers Commandery and the Odd Fellows marched next. Then came many companies of Firemen: Eurekas, Vigilants, Victories, Snails (from Paw Paw), the Asylum Fire Guard and the Hook & Ladder truck. A carriage drew Dr. Hitchcock and Mrs. Cameron dressed as George and Martha Washington followed by a terraced “chariot, with Goddess of Liberty, and Ladies representing” all 37 states in the union. Guests and village officers came next. The Kalamazoo Cornet Band and the Kalamazoo County Cavalry preceded the old stage coach. Then the trade wagons passed, decked out to display their wares, including millinery, tea, knitted goods, agricultural implements, carriages, sewing machines, handles, ice wagons, musical instruments and even carriages of the Forepaugh Circus and Menagerie. “It was a noisy affair.” Organized Granges and citizens in carriages brought up the rear.

The oration was given by Gen. Isaac Sherwood. 100 years ago, America was “a country without credit, without allies and without a flag. . . The empire of today, stretching from ocean to ocean, was not even a prophesy to the most hopeful of the brave spirits who signed the Declaration. Yet stripped of its prophetic spirit, the spectacle is no less grand – a handful of scattered colonists, surrounded by hostile savages, harassed by tory taunts and sneers, rising up without arms, without money, and unschooled in war, to confront and defy the leading power of the earth.” It certainly was a bold move to thumb their noses at Britain.

After describing some of the fathers of the revolution, including Washington, of course, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and others, Sherwood continued. “Hallowed be the memory of men like these! Would that their names, every one, were cut in a mountain of granite, under whose sacred shadows as the centuries roll away, the children of the nations might gather, to write anew their noble epitaphs, and emblazon them with the unutterable glory of their achievements!” I think he would be happy to see that Washington and Jefferson were memorialized years hence on Mount Rushmore.

Sherwood made sure to mention that the Revolution was not a simple, glorious victory, something too quickly forgotten as the years passed. He said, “Let us never forget the Continental army. We must remember that science and organized human charities, had not yet appeared to ameliorate the horrors of war. No benign sanitary commission followed close upon Washington's bare-foot soldiers. Blessed anesthetics brought no relief to the terrors of amputation. No rail roads bore away the weary convalescents to quiet retreats. No daily mails carried words of sweet consolation from loved ones at home. No telegraphs bore swift messages – speaking by seconds, from heart to heart.”

“But we must hurry over the dire disasters that followed the American cause. Let us turn our eyes from Washington's depleted army, thinned out by desertion and the dread casualties of disease and battle. We can cast but a pitying glance at that ragged remnant of any army that sways and falls on the floating ice of the Delaware; that fixes its cold hungry trip on the desperate Hessians of the British Dragoons. We must pass over the perils and privations, the ghastly sufferings and sickening horrors of Valley Forge. Let us turn back from the bleak valleys, whose snow-clad roads are stained for eight long miles with the blood of Washington's perishing veterans. Let us pass by the wild-eyed starving regiments that have taken up their weary march to wrest redress from a bankrupt nation and a forgetful Congress. Let us leave the cruel price of our liberties and turn our glad eyes to the fruits the century has gathered.” This conflict lasted eight and a half years from when “the first American blood reddened the fields of Lexington and Concord” to “when Washington resigned his sword at Annapolis.” Sherwood then went on to describe how the nation had changed, in population, in territory, in equality for all men (at least on paper) and in technology.

Following this oration, the crowds dispersed until the afternoon's historical address by Foster Pratt. In addition to giving a history of the territory and state of Michigan he also gave a brief description of each settlement in the county as well as some of the early settlers. When he was through the assembly again broke up until the commencement of the fireworks.

The fireworks consisted of no fewer than thirty-three different displays. Some were stationary pieces, but I wonder if more oohs and aahs were elicited by the bombs bursting in mid-air. In addition, colored rockets, stars, serpents and gold rain delighted the spectators. Meteor rockets, silver shower batteries, parachute rockets and many other pyrotechnics wowed those in attendance before the satisfied crowds made their ways home.

After all of the hoopla surrounding the Centennial (and I'm not saying they shouldn't have been proud to reach that milestone), Americans were probably feeling pretty cocky. However, unbeknownst to those in the east, Custer's troops had been routed days before at the Little Bighorn. The victorious Indians may have wished rather than hoped that that battle could be the start of their own Independence Day. But that was not to be, though their struggle wouldn't be finally over until the massacre of Indians at Wounded Knee in the waning days of 1890. As for Kalamazooans, the report from the west didn't appear in the Telegraph until after the Centennial festivities were concluded, making the front page on July 6, 1876.

Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph. 7-5-1876