Saturday, January 6, 2018

Resolutions for a Happy New Year

Did you make any resolutions for the New Year that are meant to make you a better person? It's not too late to give some thought to resolving to be a better family historian. Below are some suggestions, in no particular order, to get you thinking about genealogy projects and goals for 2018.

  • Sign up for Thomas Macentee's Genealogy Do-Over for 2018 Researcher Thomas MacEntee assigns a genealogy task monthly to help you organize and share those photos, documents, and all that hard work you've done, and it's free. I did this "course" a couple of years ago and found it very useful. You can do as little or as much as suits you.

  • Take a DNA test. If you've already taken one, upload your results for free to GEDmatch. Using GEDmatch to Supplement Genetic Genealogy DNA Tests. DNA testing can be expensive, but you could resolve that at the end of the year to take advantage of the discounts offered by Ancestry, Family Tree and My Heritage. Check their websites in November.

  • Check Find-A-Grave to see if there are memorials for your known ancestors. If not, create them, and if you have photos of their gravestones, add them to your memorials. 

  • Take advantage of learning opportunities. Sign up for a workshop, attend a conference (the Ohio Genealogical Society's 2018 conference will be in Columbus in April), or learn from the comfort of your home Genealogy education: Online courses and webinars
  • If you do nothing else, resolving to set aside at least one hour a week to research your family is a worthwhile goal. 
May you enjoy many genealogical successes in 2018!

Monday, December 4, 2017

'Tis the Season...

I've gathered together some vintage photographs and postcards to say "May your days be merry and bright..."
Printed in Germany for U.S. market, 1911

Birds were popular Christmas card subjects, c.1907-1915

There are many versions of Santa.
For collectors, Santa in colors other
than red are highly sought after.
A & S Publishers, c. 1906
Real Photo postcard, c. 1910
An idyllic snowy landscape framed
 in holly was a common theme.
 This card was mailed in 1908
Cats were also popular Christmas card subjects, c. 1907-1915
Printed in Saxony for U.S. market, c. 1905-1915

Armstrong-Melick family, Roseville, Ohio, c. 1907

John Winsch design, copyright 1913
Jos. Hoover & Sons Publishers, 1916
Daisy Margurite Melick, Roseville, Ohio, 1904

Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Very Brief History of America's National Day of Thanks

Thanksgiving is our one true national holiday, celebrated by virtually every American. Although we point to the "First Thanksgiving", the meal shared by Pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621, as the start of it all, there was no National Day of Thanksgiving until the Civil War.  On October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that the last Thursday of November was to be "a day of Thanksgiving and Praise" for "the whole American every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands...."

In the 242 years between the "First Thanksgiving" and Lincoln's proclamation, there was no
consistency or continuity to the observance of a day of thanksgiving. Several states, especially those in New England, held a yearly celebration, but not necessarily on the same day; occasionally a President invited Americans to observe a day of thanks (George Washington issued the first request on October 3, 1789), but it was not an annual event, and no such presidential invitation was issued between 1815 and 1863.

Thanksgiving continued to be celebrated the fourth Thursday of November until 1939. That year, in an attempt to urge Americans to shop more and early for Christmas, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the third Thursday of November. In 1941, at Congress' urging, F.D.R. permanently returned Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday.

Americans aren't alone in enjoying a national day of thanksgiving. Many countries have a yearly thanksgiving celebration, which, like ours, is really a day to give thanks for the harvest. In 1621, what the English colonists celebrated was the fact they'd had their first harvest, thanks to instruction from the Native peoples, and weren't going to starve to death that winter. From Canada to Korea and many nations in between, people of the world annually give thanks for the earth's bounty.

From the late 1800's to early 1900's, many Americans exchanged Thanksgiving postcards of either
a serious or humorous nature with family and friends. The colorful and intricate illustrations were
 beautiful reminders that Americans had many reasons to be thankful. If you are lucky enough to
 have an old family postcard album, you will likely find some Thanksgiving cards in the collection.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Strangling Angel of Children

Quarantine poster from the 1880's
Disease and mishaps that cut lives short, often in terrible ways, dogged our ancestors' footsteps. Family historians are familiar with high rate of children's mortality before the 20th Century. Federal censuses of the 1800's "record" the sad loss. A child born in one decade but absent in the next almost always means death occurred between the ages of newborn infant and 10 years. A host of frightening diseases for which no treatment or cure had yet been found attacked people of any age, but were especially virulent in the very young and very old.

Charles Hergesheimer, my grandmother's older brother, contracted diphtheria in July, 1878 and died. He was just seven years old. I can imagine the shock and fear my great-grandparents must have felt when Charles' diagnosis was pronounced. They had two small daughters, aged 5 and 3, who certainly had been exposed to the disease, so my great-grandparents faced the terrifying possibility of losing all three of their young children.

Diphtheria, like so many of the diseases feared by our ancestors, is barely known about today. But from the 1600's, when its symptoms were first recorded, until the development of an effective vaccine in the 1920's, diphtheria was a deadly bacterial disease. Highly contagious, it was spread by coughed or sneezed droplets, close contact with an infected person, or touching objects contaminated by the infected person.

Diphtheria's onset was gradual, mimicking a cold. First there was a sore throat, and maybe a cough, but then hoarseness set it, and a fever began, accompanied by severe headache. Within a day or two, a leathery pseudo-membrane began to form at the back of the throat. Swallowing and breathing became difficult. The breath took on a putrid odor so peculiar as to be instantly recognizable as a diphtheria symptom. Attempts to remove the thick false membrane were unsuccessful; not only did the removal cause extreme rawness and bleeding, the membrane grew back at an alarming rate. The neck and face swelled, and the child eventually suffocated, hence the characterization of diphtheria as "the strangling angel of children."

Bottles of homeopathic remedies
The mortality rate for diphtheria was very high. Today, when it does occur, the mortality rate is 5-10%, but at the time my great-uncle contracted it, mortality among children is thought to have been 50-80%. Our Family Physician*, a popular book of treatments found in many late 19th and early 20th Century American homes, says of diphtheria: "In strong constitutions, the chances for recovery are favorable, if treatment is begun at an early period. If, however, the treatment has been delayed for a day or two after the symptoms show themselves, the chances are very much lessened....The longer the false membrane is in forming, the more unfavorable the results to be feared." Death occurred within 2-7 days.

My great-grandmother helplessly watched
the "strangling angel" take her eldest child
Immediate isolation in a well-ventilated room was the first measure taken for treating diphtheria. Our Family Physician offers four pages of suggested homeopathic, allopathic, and herbal treatments. Recommended remedies to relieve the patient's suffering could only have made matters worse: the poisons belladonna, aconite, mercury iodide, or creosote oil were mixed with benign substances and ingested; the throat was painted with dilutions of poisonous and tissue-burning muriatic (hydrochloric) acid or silver nitrate; a mixture including poisonous turpentine oil was used to gargle. Hot ashes and salt wrapped in a flannel were applied to the swollen neck. Fortunately for the suffering patient, the mixture of sodium sulfite and quassia oil, claimed to be "an excellent remedy to destroy the membrane", was relatively benign, but couldn't prevent the damage done by the other medicinal remedies.

If the child were strong enough to survive both the disease and the treatments, recovery took months, and was often never complete. Our Family Physician notes: "Several disorders are likely to follow diphtheria, the most alarming of which is Paralysis." Myocarditis, inflammation and damage of the heart muscle, was the most common complication of diphtheria, but other organs, especially the kidneys, could be left impaired. I don't know if my grandmother contracted the disease, but her sister probably did. When my great-aunt died at 72, the primary cause of death was "chronic myocarditis".

*A pdf of Our Family Physician by Henry Rice Stout, M. D. (Boston: George Smith & Co., 1885) can be downloaded for free at

Monday, September 11, 2017

Protecting Family History: A Timely Word From Dick Eastman

In light of the twin disasters in Texas and Florida, I was going to offer some ideas of how to keep your precious family data safe, but Dick Eastman's done it for me. The following article is from Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter and is copyright 2017 by Richard W. Eastman. It is re-published here with the permission of the author. Information about the newsletter is available at

Hurricanes and Your Genealogy Data

The recent Hurricane Harvey, the present Hurricane Irma, and Hurricane Jose presently in tropical waters that might head northward all bring to mind questions, such as "How do I protect my personal belongings and information?"
I cannot speak to protecting belongings. However, I have written many times about preserving personal genealogy information that perhaps you spent years accumulating. The same procedures will also protect your family documents, insurance policies, photographs, and much more of the paper we all accumulate.
Many of the people who live through hurricanes will lose all paper documentation of their existence. Some cannot even not prove they ever lived. This is where going paperless can help.
My suggestion is to make digital copies of ALL PAPER WORTH SAVING, not just genealogy information, but also deeds or mortgage papers, bank and money information, birth certificates, passports, discharge papers, graduation and school records, medical records (especially if there is a chronic health problem), family pictures, and more. The list goes on and on. Scan each document and save each digital image to multiple locations.
For instance, you might save the copy on a thumb drive and on an external hard drive. That protects data lost from your computer but does not provide safety when your entire house is damaged or destroyed. In the case of flood waters, a burst water pipe, fires, or even the destruction of an entire house, the only protection of data is: multiple copies stored in multiple distant locations.
You can save the data to a thumb drive stored in a desk drawer at work, saved to a hard drive or a thumb drive at a relative's distant house, or to a secure cloud-based file storage service. The choice is yours to make. However, I strongly suggest you keep multiple copies both at home and in other locations many miles away.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Looking for Your Quaker Ancestors

Title page of the section of Chester
Monthly Meeting "Burialls" records
"Begun the 23rd Day of the 10th
Month 1682 to be Registered".
Quaker were (and still are) meticulous record-keepers of the actions taken by their meetings, and of individuals within those meetings. In the early days, careful record-keeping was a matter of self-preservation, since Quakers were barred from access to the government institutions that kept vital records for others. Friends' births, deaths, and marriages were not recorded anywhere but in the minutes of each meeting. As a safe-guard, this vital information was re-recorded by the quarterly meeting (a collection of meetings within one area), and by the yearly meeting (a gathering of representatives from the quarterly meetings).

Quaker records weren't confined to vital statistics, however. Quaker minutes recorded a meeting's response to local and national issues in light of Quaker beliefs and practices, and reminded Friends of their duty and obligation to conduct their personal, family, and civic lives in accordance with Quaker principles.

Most importantly for researchers, Quaker minutes often afford insight into the conduct of our individual ancestors. A Friend who was particularly devout and whose words and actions were inspirations to other Friends might be appointed to a "ministry". (Such an appointment was not an elevation in a Friend's position, as that would result in inequality; it was a formal recognition of an individual's gift for helping others in their spiritual journeys.) Minutes record both the issuing and the receipt of certificates of transfer which enable a researcher to trace the movement of ancestors, and also confirm an ancestor lived her life in accordance with Quaker principles.

Whenever a major life decision was made, or whenever a friend was found to be "out of discipline", the meeting appointed a committee of two to three exemplary Friends to "treat" with the Friend. When a couple announced their intention to marry under the care of the meeting, a committee met with them to offer guidance, and to ensure both were members in good-standing. (The latter examination was especially important when a prospective spouse was from another meeting.)

When a Friend behaved in ways that were contrary to Friends' teachings, a committee counseled the Friend. All committees reported back to the meeting, and those reports were included in the minutes. The meeting as a whole then decided on a course of action, which was, of course, entered into the minutes. (By the way, Friends did not/do not vote on any matter. There is discussion--but not debate. Friends are then asked if they approve an action, and there must be complete agreement; a single dissent means the action cannot be undertaken.)

Minutes of Friends' meetings are a treasure trove for the researcher, and locating this information is not difficult. One of the most complete published sources, available in most libraries, is William Wade Hinshaw's 6-volume Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy. The fully-indexed volumes consist of abridged vital and membership records, arranged by area and meeting. In addition to Hinshaw, others have compiled the records relating to just one meeting, such as Hopewell [Frederick County, Virginia] Friends History, 1734-1934.

Three years ago, Ancestry made available images of original records in the collection "U. S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935". About 80 percent of American Quaker records---11 million names!-- can be found in this collection. The early (17th and 18th centuries) records are sometimes challenging to read, but definitely worth the effort required.

The minutes of Abington Friends Monthly Meeting in Jenkintown, Montgomery Co., PA record the births
of three children of my 7th great-grandfather, William Carver: Sarah, born to William and Jane in 1690, and 
William, Jr. (my 6th great-grandfather) and Joseph, born to William and his second wife, Mary, in 1694 and 1696.

If you can travel, the archivists at these college libraries can be very helpful, plus you can see the actual records: Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA; Hege Friends Historical Library, Guilford College, Greensboro, NC; Earlham College Friends Collection, Richmond, IN; Quaker Meeting Records, Haverford College, Haverford, PA. But if you can't travel, you can contact these repositories by email or letter for research assistance.

A note of caution. There are two aspects of Quaker minutes that confuse the non-Quaker researcher and lead to misinterpretation: the copious use of abbreviations, and the particular way of recording dates. At Cyndi's List  ( you can get a list of abbreviations used in Quaker minutes. An excellent explanation of how to interpret the date recorded in minutes can be found at the "Quaker Dates" section of the Guildford County, NC GenWeb site (

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Quaker practice

Arch Street Meetinghouse in Philadelphia.
Meetinghouses' only furnishings are benches.
As I said in last month's blog, even if you count members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) among your ancestors, you might not know much about what it meant to be a Friend. You might even, as I noted in the previous blog, confuse Quaker beliefs with those of other "peculiar" sects such as Mennonites, Amish, or Shakers. A "peculiar people", by the way, was a term Friends often applied to themselves, meaning they saw themselves and their lifestyle as notably different from the mainstream.

Quakers dressed differently, in plain colors only, with no frills, bright buttons, or other decorative touches. They spoke differently, using the familiar "thee" and "thou" with everyone,--family, friend, stranger, or those of higher rank alike. Most notably, they worshipped very differently.

"The Presence in the Midst" by J. Doyle Penrose, 1916
This has been a popular painting among Quakers,
representing the ideal of Quaker silent worship.
Friends today worship in the way Friends worshipped in the 17th Century.* Friends sat together in silence, listening for the "still small voice." Anyone could hear this voice, so anyone, man, woman, or child, was welcome to speak God's message. Since God could speak through anyone, there was no need for a minister, nor for liturgy, ritual, prayer or music of any kind. There was no church building. (George Fox dismissively called churches "steeple houses", places whose very design encouraged people to believe that God could only be encountered within such buildings and under the leadership of a paid minister.) There was no creed spelling out what or how to believe about God. Quakers were (and are, whether unprogrammed or programmed) united in the belief there is "that of God in everyone", and that all thoughts, words, and deeds should be guided by a commitment to four principles: Peace, Integrity, Simplicity, Equality.

Friends' commitment to living peacefully with all, opposing any kind of violence, is well known.
William Penn's colony was founded on the principles of peaceful co-existence and non-violence. All people who would commit to those principles were welcomed into the colony. "Now let us see what love can do," Penn wrote, and his words are invoked by modern-day Quakers working to end the causes of war as well as domestic violence, human trafficking, and capital punishment.

Penn's Treaty with the Indians at Shackamoxon
by Benjamin West, 1772
Friends were expected to speak only the truth and to behave honestly in every place and situation. "Let your "yea" be 'yea', and your 'nay' be 'nay'," George Fox told his followers. Integrity--scrupulous honesty--led people to patronize Quaker businesses; It was said a small child could be sent to a Quaker grocer with a fistful of money and return with the exact order, and every cent of correct change. The commitment to integrity was the basis for Friends' refusal to take oaths or to swear on a holy book. Such demands suggested one's word is not sufficient, or that there was a different standard of truth in a court of law.

Simplicity was outwardly manifested in Friends' dress and speech, as explained above. More importantly, Friends' commitment to simplicity was a commitment to not taking more than one needed so there would be plenty of everything to go around. Friends saw simplicity as the antidote for the greed and ostentatious displays of the upper classes that deprived so many others of decent lives.

Germantown (Philadelphia) Friends Meeting issued the
earliest protest against slavery in America, 1688

Equality stemmed directly from the belief that there is "that of God in everyone." If God is in every single person, then every single person deserved to be treated fairly and respectfully. From the beginning, women held positions of leadership in their meetings. Penn's colony had the most peaceful relationship with Native Americans of any of the American colonies because Quakers dealt honestly and respectfully with them. Quakers were early leaders in the movement to abolish slavery, and later in the movement for women's suffrage. Modern Quakers continue to be advocates for those who are marginalized and discriminated against because they are perceived as "different".

If you are a Muskingum County researcher with Quaker roots in Virginia and the Carolinas, you should know your ancestors probably emigrated to Ohio because of slavery. Surprising as it might be, some early American Quakers were slave owners. Eventually, they realized the evil of slavery and so began to free their slaves. In response, the state legislatures made manumission a felony, and large segments of those states' Quaker populations opted to take themselves, and any slaves they might own, to Ohio in the Northwest Territory where slavery was outlawed.

Next blog: Sources for Researching Your Quaker Ancestors

*In the United States, there are 3 distinct branches of Quakerism. "Unprogrammed Friends" worship in the manner of the first Friends, while the other two branches ("programmed Friends") have a designated minister to lead worship which includes music. They also call their places of worship "churches", a term never used by unprogrammed Friends, whose places of worship are always called meetinghouses.