Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: In Case You Missed It

If you ever found a child whose cause of death was listed as “teething” you may want to read my top post of 2013. I researched the topic because I was intrigued by the idea that people as recent as 100-150 years ago believed that teething could kill. I never guessed that my blog post would score nearly 3000 hits, ten times more than anything else I posted this year.

Without further ado, here are my top dozen posts for 2013. Happy New Year!

Kalamazoo Research Guide (as well as other Michigan counties)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Medical History Revelation

For a while I've understood the benefits of genealogical research in providing family medical information (is there a family history of cancer, for instance), but recently it cleared up a puzzle. One of my relations has always had bad leg veins and has had surgery several times in an attempt to improve the condition. The doctor said he found it difficult to understand how bad the vein problem was with a history on only one side of the family. The reason, naturally, was that there was a history on both sides. I found the missing link.

Diagram of varicose veins, from the Civil War pension application file of Edward Flynn, in the author's collection.

I don't know why I didn't put it together sooner. I suppose it is like those times when the right hand isn't paying attention to what the left is doing. Anyway, as I was searching through my gg-grandfather's Civil War Pension Application file while writing my blog post about Old Newspaper Spin, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Hey, this sounds just like my relative!

As I had already scanned many of the documents into the computer, I perused them and sent the ones I thought relevant, thinking it was simply an interesting tidbit. To my surprise and delight, both my relative and the doctor were very excited to see them. The records explained a lot and, in fact, the veins that my gg-grandfather's doctors described were the first ones to cause problems for my relative.

While my findings don't materially change anything for my relative I was gratified to learn that they were helpful. It just goes to show that you never know what might be useful even several generations removed.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Local History Makeover at KPL

If you haven't visited the Local History room at the Kalamazoo Public Library in a while you are in for a surprise. Starting at least as early as July things were being shifted around in preparation for removing the wall separating what used to be Local History from the microfilm reading area. In addition to simply opening up the space, items have been reorganized to facilitate research.

To see some “after” photos you can click here or better yet plan a visit over the holidays and tell me what you think since it will likely be a year before I have a chance to see it for myself.

The library will be closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. The KPL will close early (5 pm) on New Year's Eve.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

WMU Archives' Digitized Collections

New items have been added to the WMU Archives and Regional History Collections website. Of particular interest are WMU yearbooks through 1975.

The digitized collections accessible here are: 

The U.S. Civil War Collection of letters and diaries of nine men, some of whom served in the military and a few who did not. I blogged about this about a year ago. To see a list of the men's names and their units (where applicable) see Searchable Civil War Letters
The Caroline Bartlett Crane's Everyman's House Collection includes books, photos and more. Crane designed the home with efficiency for the common woman in mind.

The Ward Morgan Collection consists of photos from 1939-1980 showing a variety of aspects of life in Kalamazoo from industry to women working in the kitchen to a nursing home.

The African American History Book, Michigan Manual of Freedman's Progress, was published in 1915 and includes a variety of topics. The book was written to catalog areas of progress made by African Americans since the end of the Civil War and in conjunction with the Lincoln Jubilee to be held in Chicago in that year and includes a list of Michigan delegates and exhibitors at the Lincoln Jubilee. Of genealogical value are the brief biographies of professional men, a list of property owners throughout the state and a list of men who served during the Civil War. A description is also given of many different organizations or clubs of which African Americans were founders or members. The book also has a brief history of African Americans in Michigan and statistical information obtained from the census as well as information on occupations and mortality. If you have any African American kin in Michigan during the time described it is definitely worth perusing. You can view it online or download it as a PDF.

For anyone with ancestors who attended Western Michigan University, the WMU Yearbooks Collection has been digitized. Yearbooks from 1906-1975 are available to view online or download. I found a photo of my gg-grandfather's niece in the 1907 yearbook. Most of the yearbooks are large files (up to 50 MB) and they can take some time to load on your screen. I have found it easier to download a particular yearbook and scan it offline than to wait for a particular paid to load.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Old Newspaper Spin

Just as newspapers today tend to take sides in politics, they did in the past as well. This can sometimes make it difficult to know how much one can believe when our ancestors turn up in the local press. I was recently reminded of this. I'm currently reading an engaging book about James A. Garfield (Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard) and the events leading up to and following his assassination in 1881. The book recalled to mind an article that appeared in the Kalamazoo Telegraph describing how one of my ancestors decided to go against his prior political leanings to support Garfield. “As [Edward Flynn] expresses it, he has not left the democratic party, but the party itself has left the union sentiments to which he, as an old soldier, feels deeply devoted. He has felt very loth to leave old political ties and associations but he feels too deeply the convictions to which he devoted his life all through the [Civil] war.” [1] As a result of his public declaration, “Mr. Flynn meets with all kinds of petty meannesses [sic] from his late political friends on his change of affiliation.” [1]

Because the Telegraph lauded Flynn for his switch, the Kalamazoo Gazette simply couldn't resist responding. The Gazette cited two unnamed members of Flynn's company. “They both agreed that Flynn, while in the army was a republican, and the most complete shirk and slink in the company, and spent three quarters of his time on the sick list.” [2]

Not to be outdone, the Telegraph published a rebuttal. “Jealousy has excited the publishers of the Gazette to pitch into Edward Flynn for coming over to the Garfield side. We are reliably informed by a soldier who served with Flynn in the same company that he served his three years faithfully and then re-enlisted, participated with his company in all the battles under McClellan and was present at the battles of Blackburn's Ford, Yorktown, Fair Oaks, Malvern Hills, last battle of Bull Run, etc.” [3] Edward Flynn, the Telegraph said was “one of the 19 soldiers of Co. I of the old Second who served through the war and came out alive.” [1]

So, what should I believe? If I only had the articles from a single newspaper it would greatly color how I viewed my gg-grandfather. Fortunately, I have both. I also have Edward's Civil War pension application file. While I know that these files are, by definition, a vehicle for complaining about physical ailments, I must say that even after examining the files for about a dozen of my kin, Edward strikes me as a bit of a complainer. In his favor, I should state that near the end of his service (1 June 1865), Edward had been promoted to the rank of Corporal. [4] While I'm not a military expert, it seems to me that Edward wouldn't have been promoted if he had shirked his duty for much of the war as alleged by the Gazette sources. While that is circumstantial evidence, Oliver Caruthers, a Corporal in Edward's unit stated “Flynn was in my squad most of the time. I remember that sometimes it was pretty hard for him to march and he complained of being stiff and sore but he kept up with the company. He was a good soldier.” [5] In regard to Edward receiving assistance in getting around Caruthers recalled “I do know that [Flynn] never would accept or ask any favors so long as [he] could help [himself].” [5]

So, what do I believe? Despite the mud-slinging I think I can accept some of the basics, primarily because I have the pension file for backup. I don't think Edward was a slink or a shirk because his record simply doesn't support that conclusion. Among other things, he enlisted ten days after the attack on Fort Sumter, re-enlisted after his three year term expired and served until his discharge at the end of July 1865. [4] However, the claim of being frequently on the sick list has more merit. Edward was in the hospital at least once for rheumatism. [5] Some of his comrades may also have believed him to be a shirk and a slink because he was at least twice on detached service, once in the ambulance corps for about seven months and another time as a provost guard for just over nine months. [4] The bottom line is that you should always take stories (whether family lore or from newspapers) with a grain of salt, analyze what you find and try to corroborate what you can before you draw any conclusions. Newspapers can be a great resource in the absence of other information, but I'm sure we've all seen enough mistakes in obituaries to know that we shouldn't believe everything we read.

  1. “Out For Garfield,” Kalamazoo [Mich.] Daily Telegraph, 31 August 1880, page 1, column 2, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 12 January 2013), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  2. Kalamazoo [Mich.] Gazette, 4 September 1880, digital images, Genealogy Bank (http://www.genealogybank.com: accessed 26 March 2011), Kalamazoo Gazette Collection.
  3. Kalamazoo [Mich.] Daily Telegraph, 14 September 1880, page 1, column 6, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 12 January 2013), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  4. Compiled Service Record, Edward Flynn, Cpl, Co. I, 2nd Michigan Inf.; Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations, Civil War; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780-1917, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  5. Deposition of Oliver Caruthers (Deposition C), Edward A. Flynn (Cpl., Co. I, 2nd MI. Inf., Civil War), application no. 83,138, certificate no. 63,675, Case Files of Approved Pension Applications. . ., 1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.