Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Indian Lake Monster

I found this article while looking for something else and thought I would share it just for fun.

Mr. and Mrs. Parker of East Walnut street planned to enjoy a lazy summer's day on Indian Lake just like any other. The couple rowed around searching for a likely spot to catch some fish for their supper. Finding a “deep swamp-encircled bay” they cast their lines and waited patiently. Nothing disturbed the early afternoon sounds of the birds twittering.

Looking up from her line, Mrs. Parker happened to notice something swimming toward their little rowboat. Despite her shock, she alerted her husband. The pair was so startled they sat stock still and watched in amazement as the mysterious thing glided nearer.

The Parkers described the curious fish-like creature as having an eel-like body about six inches in diameter. It had a “great head and bill about the shape and size of the head of a collie dog” which it carried about three feet above the surface of the water. The creature traveled smoothly through the water creating barely a ripple, though leaving “a wide wake behind him.” The couple didn't estimate the size of the lake monster, but did indicate that it must have been at least several feet long.

“What startled me was the queer look of those big eyes,” said Mrs. Parker. They were as large as dimes “and standing away out from its head.” The thing stared around “looking at us almost as if the old fellow could speak. It turned its neck half way around to watch us, and it came so near that my husband could have hit it with the oar.” Mrs. Parker begged her husband not to club the creature fearing that it could capsize their craft if it wished to.

The Parkers stated that it appeared the creature was inspecting them, but apparently finding them uninteresting “it simply ducked down and disappeared” after it passed them by.

Said Mrs. Parker “I have seen those big fish in the pool in the park at Detroit, but this was far bigger than any of them.”

Kalamazoo Gazette 8-10-1907.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Shrinking Family Size

As I was falling asleep the other night for some reason I wondered if I could detect a trend in smaller family size as the generations of my ancestors approached the present day. So, I undertook an analysis. I should note that these numbers are undoubtedly imprecise because there are certainly children of whom I have no record, for instance those who died in infancy and neither appeared in census records nor vital records.

Obviously, the statistics would be improved by increasing the sample size by including the other families in my tree and just noting how many generations removed from me they are. I don't pretend that this is in any way scientific.

Well, for what it's worth, here's what I found.

information on 2/2
children: 3, 3
avg. 3

information on 4/4
children: 3, 5, 5, 6
avg. 4.75

information on 8/8
children: 2, 4, 4, 6, 6, 7, 7, 9
avg. 5.63

information on 14/16
children: 2, 2, 4, 4, 4, 6, 7, 8, 8, 8, 8, 8, 10, 10
avg. 6.36

information on 11/32
children: 4, 5, 5, 6, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13
avg. 7.64

I found it interesting that each generation had approximately one more child than the previous one. I only wish I had more information on the missing gggg-grandparents. Maybe someday.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Fudged Passenger Lists!

We expect to find alternate spellings of our ancestors' names in census and other records. Lately however, I was startled to find another set of records that may have much more wrong than a simple, unintentional name misspelling. I recently read “Going to America” by Terry Coleman, which is available on www.Ancestry.com. This book describes emigration from Britain to North America largely from 1840-1860, a period that encompasses the Great Irish Potato famine. In large part due to the famine, the number of people fleeing Great Britain spiked in the early 1850s.

The problem, as outlined in the book, was that passenger lists were sometimes falsified. According to the laws at the time, the number of passengers allowed on a ship was determined by its size. Unfortunately for the emigrants, unscrupulous passenger brokers and ships' masters often colluded to skirt these regulations. Brokers customarily received a commission for berths sold, but sometimes a broker chartered an entire ship in which case he “packed into that space as many passengers as the law allowed, or really, as many as he could get away with.” [1]

Government officials were supposed to inspect ships prior to departure to ensure they carried no more than the allowable number of passengers and also to check that sufficient supplies of food and water were on board. However, too many ships, often all leaving on the same tide, and too few inspectors meant that regulations were often meaningless. In case an emigration official did attempt to inspect a ship there were two common ways in which brokers and ships' captains circumvented the Passenger Acts. One was to hide emigrants on board until the inspector left the ship. Another trick was to state that some passengers were children, even when they were not. This strategy was effective because during these years children were allotted one half to two-thirds of the space of an adult. If more passages were sold than space allowed, the ages were simply altered to meet regulations. Among evidence cited by Coleman are statements made by a steward in a complaint against the Harnden shipping company. “The steward saw a decrepit woman of about sixty who said her name was Eliza O'Neil. On the list she had been put down as under fourteen. He asked Harnden's man if he considered her a child, and the man said to say nothing about it and offered the steward a sovereign. Tansley [the steward] said this was one instance out of many. One family called Bateman was put down as numbering four adults, and as entitled to rations for only four adults, but in fact there were thirteen of them, the youngest about twelve years old, and all had paid full fare.” [1]

To make matters worse, there were too many ships leaving at once and too few officials to inspect them. In 1847 when twice as many emigrants left Great Britain (258,000) as in any single year since at least 1835 the chief emigration officer at Liverpool (the principal port of departure) had only one assistant to account for the majority of the emigrants. By 1850 he had two assistants, but still “had to cope with more than fifteen times as many emigrants as his colleagues at London.” [1] By 1852, the peak year for emigration from Britain (at least between 1835-1860), 369,000 emigrants left the nation, most of them through Liverpool. [1] Complicating attempts to account for passengers, emigration was not evenly distributed throughout the year. Traveling to North America during the winter was dangerous due to bad weather and icebergs in the shipping lanes. Those sailing to Canada were forced to wait for the St. Lawrence river to thaw, which often didn't occur until at least April. As a result, most trans-Atlantic travel occurred during the warmer months. So, not only were two or three emigration officers in Liverpool charged with enforcing regulations on ships carrying the majority of the emigrants who left Britain, the bulk of them left, conservatively, during a seven to eight month period.

Based on statements and reports of the chief emigration officers at Liverpool “in the years 1847 to 1851 the Passenger Acts had been enforced at Liverpool only upon vessels sailing to British North America [Canada], that is to say, on one vessel in thirteen. At by far the most important British emigration port, vessels bound for the United States had done as they pleased. The Passenger Acts had been enforced only if the ships' masters had chosen to enforce them themselves. Neither food nor water had been inspected, and the passengers had not been counted.” [1] Coleman goes on to write “it also follows that the British government figures for emigration from Liverpool for these years, apparently so precisely recorded, are plainly false. They are nothing more than the adding up of the masters' own statements. There is no saying how inaccurate they are. The Blanche was carrying eighty-six passengers in excess of her lawful complement of 386. [when investigated in New Orleans in 1851] . . . It does seem reasonable to suppose that in the years from 1846 to 1851 ships out of Liverpool bound for the United States may have carried 10 percent more passengers than they were allowed. After 1851 the new emigrant officers at Liverpool. . . tried to be more exact, but even then they cannot have succeeded to the letter. . . there were still only four officers, and if eight vessels often left on one tide, they could not possibly have done their duty.” [1]

One might imagine it should have been a simple process for the government emigration officials to count passengers as they boarded. This was all but impossible even had ships left at different times. Emigration from Liverpool during this period was, in a word, chaotic. The chief emigration officer at Liverpool from 1845-1851 testified before a 1851 parliamentary committee that “he could not count the passengers, because there was no possibility of getting them together.” [1] Ships' captains didn't want to be bothered with emigrants until all cargo was stowed and then they apparently wanted to depart immediately. Passengers had to literally scramble aboard while the ship was pulling away from the dock. A medical officer stationed at Liverpool described the scene before the 1851 committee. “[Question] And then he [the captain] proceeds to move his vessel out of the dock before the people have time to get onboard? – [Answer] Very often when she gets to the entrance to the dock where it is very narrow, she is detained there for a short time while other vessels are going out, and during that time the passengers are scrambling in; and I have seen 500 or 600 men, women, and children in a state of the greatest confusion, and their screams are fearful.” [1] “'In consequence of which we sometimes have dreadful scenes; sometimes the passengers have to watch their opportunity, and when the ship gets near the entrance to the dock you may see men, women, and children clambering up the sides of the ship.' Frequently people fell into the water and occasionally they drowned.” [1]

The bottom line is that between the monetary incentive to carry more passengers than allowed, too few inspectors, too many ships sailing at once and a record number of emigrants the accuracy of ships' passenger lists suffered. The manifests seem to be more about appearing to comply with regulations than about accurately tabulating the passengers. Unfortunately, the emigrants paid the price for this skulduggery in overcrowded conditions and inadequate supplies.

Clearly ship masters also didn't care about the plight of genealogists trying to catch their ancestors crossing the pond. I suspect, but don't quote me on this, that the closer we approach the present day, the more reliable passenger lists become. The accuracy of these lists probably also depends on the port of departure, the number of emigrants passing through and the number of inspectors. I would like to think that in Germany for example, passenger lists were more reliable. I can confirm the stereotypical German attention to rules. When I lived there, no one, and I do mean no one, even crossed the street if the light at the crosswalk was red.

So, if you have ancestors who you believe emigrated from Great Britain between 1840 and 1860 it is important to keep the above information in mind. You may or may not find your relatives in a passenger list. Even if they are there, you might not recognize them if their ages were altered. While women enjoy being thought of as younger than they really are, I'm sure the emigrants would have preferred having the allotted space and supplies instead.

1. Coleman, Terry. Going to America. 1972. Pantheon Books. New York.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Bringing the Dead to Life

No, I'm not talking about zombies here. I'm thinking about a question we all ask ourselves at some point in our lives. Will I be remembered when I'm gone?

In my opinion, when we genealogists learn about the lives of our ancestors we can, in a sense, bring our people back to life. I'm not simply talking about plugging a few vital records into a genealogy program. I mean really looking at the events in someone's life and thinking about how they were shaped by their circumstances. A good place to start is by creating a timeline for a person you wish to understand better. For more on this see:  Understanding Ancestors Using Timelines . This is a situation in which a lot of little things might not mean much individually, however, when added together a larger picture emerges.

Once you have a basic scaffold begin adding little tidbits from elsewhere. If any of your relatives have any memories or stories about the people you are attempting to flesh out this is the time to record everything you can find. Was great aunt Myrtle a drama queen or did uncle Joe love to tell corny jokes? All of these things can add up. Even newspaper snippets can tell you something. One of my ancestors put a notice in the paper about his lost dogs. “Kindly turn these dogs loose, as there is no reward on them,” he wrote. This was a man who lived in town so these dogs must have been pets and weren't merely farm dogs. Perhaps I'm misinterpreting him, but that strikes me as a bit cold.

A series of these tidbits it can make a difference as I discovered to my pleasure. I shared a genealogy report with a newly found “cousin” of mine in which I had typed in every newspaper reference to my family of Flynns. My “cousin” emailed back to say that after reading all of my notes she felt like she knew our shared relatives. For more on how little things can add up see: Little Clues, Big Insights.

As for us, we have the ability to increase our chances of being remembered by our descendents. If you would dearly love to have a diary from your great-grandmother, then be sure to start writing now so that your great-grandchildren can understand your life and motivations. The better you document your own life, the more likely it is that you will be remembered by those who follow you. In short, whatever you wish you had from your ancestors, be sure to leave the same for your descendants.

If that task seems too daunting, break it down into manageable bits. You might begin by listing all of the places you have lived, with dates, so that you can be readily found when future census records are released. Be sure to include this information in your genealogy software. Other items for your to-do list could include: scanning old photos of yourself, scanning your own vital records, diplomas, newspaper articles in which you appear, etc. You get the idea. Obviously, these things just scratch the surface, but even a few of these things can make a difference for a future genealogist to learn more about you. And don't forget to convert your digital documents to newer formats when they arise or else your efforts will be for naught. If your descendants are to bring you back to life you need to help them to do it.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Olympic Quoits?

There has been a lot of hype surrounding the 2012 London Olympics. Millions of people watched the opening and closing ceremonies and enjoyed seeing the athletes compete in numerous sports. This got me thinking about the first modern Olympic games in 1896. Did our ancestors care that this tradition was resurrected? Did they even notice?

I searched the Kalamazoo Telegraph in 1896 and found a single article written several months prior to the games. The author was James G. Clark, editor of the New York Recorder in which the article initially appeared. [1] While our long gone Kalamazoo kin may have been aware of the Olympics they were not much interested, if the lack of coverage in the Telegraph is any indication.

The games were to last for 10 days in Athens, only fitting as the Greek tradition was revived. Clark noted: “Masons and carpenters are now busily at work rebuilding the famous Stadium, in Athens, and restoring at great cost the main scenic surroundings of the ancient festival, but Jupiter no longer has any worshipers, and the mystic rites of his great temple in the Altis, with its huge statue of Zeus, cannot be recalled at next April's fete. Yet those solemn ceremonies were the heart and soul of the original Olympic games.” [1]

Clark reported there would be many sports that modern viewers would recognize, including foot races, jumping, gymnastics, fencing, wrestling, rowing, swimming and water polo. Other sports at the Olympic revival were weight throwing, yachting, bicycling, lawn tennis, cricket, golf, “assaults with the saber and broadsword after the modern fashion” and quoits pitching (a game in which a ring is tossed a specified distance to land over or near a spike). Prize fighting the old Greek way was not to make an appearance as these contests “were of a very deadly order. The Greek cestus was the most terrible boxing glove that ever was worn. It was composed of rawhide thongs padded with metal. Practically it was a boxing glove with brass knuckles in it. Holes were cut through for the fingers, and the thumb overlapped the side.” [1]

It wasn't until 1908 that the Olympics seemed to make much impression in Kalamazoo. Even the 1904 Olympics held in St. Louis in conjunction with the 1904 World's Fair resulted in not a single mention in the paper. In 1908, however a couple of articles appeared in the Telegraph. Part of that could have been due to the dispute filed after the marathon. It seems that scandal and the Olympics go hand-in-hand.

In the 1908 London Olympics an Italian, Dorando Pietri, was the first to cross the finish line at the end of the marathon. The only problem, the Americans protested, was that Pietri did not complete the race under his own power. The story goes that Pietri was the first to enter the stadium, but collapsed from exhaustion before crossing the finish line. When the next runner, an American, entered the stadium Pietri managed to pull himself to his feet and stagger closer to the line. Again he collapsed, but two officials came to his aid and at the least assisted or at most actually carried him to the finish, depending on which account you read. Naturally, the Americans lodged a protest since their athlete, Johnny Hayes, completed the marathon unaided with a time of 2 hrs, 55 min, 18 sec. Hayes was awarded the gold medal and Pietri disqualified. [2]

I have one last note about the Olympics to offer. Today we know that Olympic participants are dedicated athletes who devote long hours to training. The 1908 Telegraph article mentioned that the Americans “were out in the arena early. . . and they had no intention of overlooking anything which would help them to win events for which they had gone through hard weeks of training.” [2] Clearly, the stakes are much higher now as is the pressure on these young athletes to perform.

Things have changed in other ways as well. While many of the sports and the controversies over results remain the same the media coverage has certainly altered considerably. Reading an account of a competition, even a well written one, simply can't compare to watching a video. Perhaps this is why the early Olympics attracted little attention in Kalamazoo. Whatever the reason, it is exciting to watch the world's elite athletes compete. I just wonder how much will have changed in another century.

  1. Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 1-31-1896, P5, col5.
  2. Kalamazoo Evening Telegraph 7-20-1908 P1, col1

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Really? Weird Ways to Die.

In 1886 in Michigan there were 350 deaths listed as “casualty.” The listed causes were:

Accidental, unclassified, 125
Accidentally poisoned, 8
Accidental shooting, 20
Boiler explosion, 6
Chewing black jack gum, 1
Crushed under [train]cars, 1
Explosion of gas, 2
Explosion of powder, 1
Falling, unspecified, 28
Fall from toboggan slide, 1
Fall on icy door step, 1
Fall from scaffold, 9
Falling off hay stack, 1
Falling down stairs, 4
Falling off stone, 2
Found in a well, 2
Fracture of neck, 1
Gored by a bull, 3
Injury to spine, 1
Kicked by a horse, 21
Killed in car shop, 1
Killed by dynamite, 1
Killed on elevator, 1
Killed by explosion, 2
Killed by a gate, 1
Killed by machinery, 5
Killed in a mill, 5
Killed in a mine, 34
Killed by a mule, 1
Killed with pitchfork, 1
Killed in ship yard, 2
Killed on tug, 1
Killed in woods, 21
Runaway [horse] accident, 27
Strained by heavy lifting, 1
Struck on head with stump pry, 1
Swallowed something, 1
Thrown from binder, 1
Thrown from a horse, 4
Timber fell on him, 1

I don't really have any comments on this. I just thought it was interesting.  I hope you think so as well.

This information comes from the 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.