Friday, May 5, 2017

The Muskingum County Infirmary

For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good....
                                                                                                                 --King James Bible, Mark 14:7

The admonition to care for the poor and the outcast has been around for quite some time, although the type of care provided was not often kind. In England, "paupers" were consigned to workhouses; in America they went to the poorhouse, sometimes known as the almshouse, or in the case of Muskingum County, the infirmary. Whatever the place was called, these "charitable" institutions were often inhospitable and inhumane, run by governing boards whose primary concern was keeping operating costs to a minimum. Being sent to the poorhouse was everyone's worst nightmare.

The infirmary about 1910
Muskingum County first authorized the establishment of a county poorhouse in 1816. Twenty-two years later, the county purchased one hundred acres in Falls Township to be the site for the "County Poor Farm". (Most early county poorhouses were actually self-sustaining farms.) Construction of the first "poor house" began in 1839. That building, partially destroyed by fire in 1859, was rebuilt and enlarged in 1860. In 1863, the county purchased an additional 100 acres adjacent to the original purchase, and although no longer officially called a farm, all but 30 acres of woodland was under cultivation. The building that stood on Newark Avenue until its recent demolition was erected in 1880.

The "poor house" was renamed an "infirmary" on March 23, 1850, in what today would be called a  PR move to improve the institution's image. "Poor house" was a misnomer anyway; like other poorhouses, the Muskingum County Infirmary housed not only the poor, but also those with developmental or physical handicaps, the frail elderly, and those suffering from mental illness. A page from the 1860 U.S. census of the infirmary illustrates the variety of human "condition" the poorhouse system attempted, with limited resources and understanding, to accommodate. On this page (one of three) fourteen people are listed as "pauper", sixteen as "insane", one as "deaf mute", and six as "idiotic".  One can imagine the near impossibility of adequately and compassionately serving the needs of this diverse population.

Friday, April 14, 2017

In Memory of President Abraham Lincoln

Today marks 152 years since President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by the actor and southern sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth. Like today, that April 14 fell on Good Friday.

Lincoln was in a jovial mood when he and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, arrived at Ford's Theater---General Robert E. Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant just five days earlier. Lincoln had invited Grant and his wife to attend the theater with them, and Grant had accepted, but his wife, Julia, disliked Mrs. Lincoln, and convinced her husband to bow out of the invitation. After several others, including the Lincoln's son, Robert, turned down the invitation, young Clara Harris and her finance, Major Henry Rathbone, accepted.

Letter to the Editor describing funeral
observance for President Lincoln at
Zanesville's A.M.E  Church on South Street
The story is pretty well known from this point. Booth had laid his plans carefully, and no one questioned the famous actor's presence at the theater, or made any effort to impede his free movement. Booth timed his entry into the Presidential box, and the firing of the fatal shot to coincide with the delivery of a major laugh-line in the play Our American Cousin. Rathbone tried to stop Booth's escape, but was felled by a serious knife wound. Booth leaped to the stage, and was said to have shouted Sic semper tyrannis ("Thus ever to tyrants"). In his jump to the stage, Booth broke his ankle, but still made it to his waiting horse, and was able to get out of Washington before authorities could effectively mobilize to stop him. Twelve days later, Booth was tracked down and killed.

The dying, unconscious President was carried to a boarding house across the street from Ford's Theater, where he died without ever regaining consciousness early the following morning. Most Northerners were grief-stricken. African Americans in the North and the South mourned the loss of the person they considered their "Moses".

Lincoln's funeral was held in Washington, D.C. on April 19, and, as in other states, Ohio's Secretary of State asked Ohioans to hold observances to coincide with the one in Washington. One such observance in Zanesville was reported in the April 20, 1865 edition of the Daily Zanesville Courier.

Following the funeral, Lincoln's body, and that of the Lincoln's son, Willie, were put on a funeral train for a long, slow journey to Springfield, Illinois. It took two weeks for the train to travel from Washington to Springfield because of stops in major cities to allow citizens file past the casket and pay their respects. Although Lincoln's body was embalmed, undertakers had an increasingly difficult time keeping the darkening face and decaying body suitable for viewing. By the time the train arrived in Columbus on April 29, there were real concerns about the appropriateness of continuing the open casket viewings.* Nevertheless, Lincoln's body was conveyed to the State Capitol where it was on display for nearly twelve hours before the trip to Springfield was resumed. On May 4, Abraham Lincoln was finally laid to rest, along with his son Willie, in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield.

"A Body for the Body Politic: The strange, sad, and gross saga of Abraham Lincoln's two-week funeral procession"

Thursday, April 6, 2017

War and Peace

Today is the 100th anniversary of the United States' entry into World War I. The European powers--Great Britain, France, Russia, Germany, and Austria-Hungary--had been locked in futile combat since August of 1914, and had managed, through a complex series of alliances, to drag much of the world into a brutal war.

President Wilson, supported by the majority of Americans, had promised the United States would remain neutral, but the fact of the nation's close ties with Great Britain strained that promise, especially once Germany began to wage unrestricted submarine warfare on merchant ships and passenger liners. The sinking of the British liner, Lusitania in 1915, which claimed the lives of 1198 people, including 128 Americans, called into question American's and President Wilson's commitment to neutrality. That commitment was somewhat restored when Germany halted its attacks on unarmed vessels. In 1917, however, Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare in a desperate attempt to bring the bloody stalemated war to an end. The sinking of the liner Housatonic and four U. S. merchant ships put an end to the idea that America could remain neutral; in fact, it made the American President, Congress, and citizens willing, even eager, to enter the conflict, and on April 6, 1917, Congress declared war.

Manpower-wise, the United States was unprepared for war. There were only 110,000 men in uniform at the time war was declared, and only 32,000 volunteers had come forward by the end of April.  A military draft was the only way to significantly increase those numbers, and in May, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, requiring all men between 21-31 to register for service. In September, the draft eligibility age expanded, and men 18-45 were required to register.

Images of WWI draft registration cards can be found at
In the two drafts, Muskingum County draft boards registered more than 5,000 men, and 1655 entered into military service. Undoubtedly, most of those were among the 2,057,675 military men who arrived in France with the American Expeditionary Force, and joined British and French soldiers fighting the Germans along the Western Front. Seventy Muskingum County men did not return home. The county's veterans and casualties of WWI are memorialized in the E. M. Viquesney statue, "The Spirit of the American Doughboy", located on the Courthouse grounds in Zanesville. The Muskingum County statue was dedicated in 1934, and is one of 159 copies.

As we mark the anniversary of our nation's entry into a deadly conflict that did little more than set up the conditions for WWII, we should note there is another 100th anniversary this month. On April 30, 1917, a group of young Quaker men in Philadelphia organized the American Friends Service Committee to witness for peace in the midst of war. Although allowed by the Selective Service Act to register as Conscientious Objectors, American Quakers nevertheless went to the battlefields, to work with British Quakers as unarmed stretcher-bearers and ambulance drivers, caring for the wounded of any army. Many brave soldiers, wounded by war, owed their lives to brave non-combatants who rescued them from the battlefield in the name of peace.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Diseases That Plagued Our Ancestors

Title page of Robley Dunglison's
medical dictionary
In 1867, Ohio's county probate courts began to record every death in the county as a single line entry in a bound volume called a register. This was the method for keeping death records until December 19, 1908 when deaths were recorded by the Ohio Department of Health in certificate form.

You can look at images of the 1867-December 18, 1908 death records in the Probate Clerk's office at the courthouse in Zanesville. Because the death register is essentially a ledger, you see many entries on a single page--and are likely to see at least one unfamiliar cause of death on a page.

Our ancestors lived with and sometimes died of conditions and diseases that no longer plague us, thanks to medical advances. But they also suffered from health problems and diseases that are still around--we just might not recognize the disease names our ancestors used. For example, I had one ancestor who died of scirrhous pylorus (cancerous tumor of the stomach), another who suffered and then died from apoplexy (paralyzing stroke), and another whose sister died of "the wasting disease", also known as consumption (pulmonary tuberculosis).

1842 medical article about my g-g-g
grandfather, William Burdett
Thanks to the internet, we can "translate" the old medical terms into something recognizable. If you're interested in more in-depth information (and in a resource probably known to your ancestor's physician) you might want a copy of Dunglison's Dictionary of Medical Science, published in 1865. It's a collection of medical terms, anatomy, chemistry, Latin names for diseases, diagnoses, treatments, prognoses, and even suggestions for American and European health spas where your ancestor might go to "take the waters" and recuperate from whatever was ailing her.

Dunglison's has been scanned and can be purchased as a CD or download from Archive CD Books USA.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Potters Here, There, and Everywhere

Muskingum County is famous for its pottery, and the products of companies such as Weller, Hull, and McCoy are much sought after by collectors.

George Rambo, "Farmer & Potter",
operated a bluebird pottery.
Before the big manufacturers, though, Muskingum County, rich in clay soil, was rich in small, usually family-run, potteries. These potteries often employed only two or three people, and consequently, their production was low. James L. Murphy, who compiled a checklist of 19th-century Muskingum County potteries, believed the term "bluebird" referred to the time of year these potteries produced most of their wares---the warmer months when bluebirds returned to the county. Some, however, believe the term refers to the blue designs often used to decorate the pottery. Whatever the origin of the term, there were lots of bluebird potteries. Murphy found that 190 of these small potteries existed in Muskingum County between 1850-1880. If you've looked at U.S. censuses taken in the county during those years, and especially if you've researched Newton, Clay, and Hopewell townships, you would have seen person after person whose occupation was "potter", "journeyman potter", or "farmer & potter" like George Rambo, my 3-greats grandfather. George's daughter Mary Jane, married Andrew Jackson Wilson, another bluebird potter; Mary and Andrew were my great-great grandparents.

Shards of pottery from site of the A. J. Wilson Pottery. Note
the blue painted decoration on two of the pieces.
Bluebird potteries produced practical, utilitarian pottery items for every-day use. If the pottery were decorated, it was almost always a very simple design done in blue paint, or a design etched in the clay before it was fired. There might be a maker's mark somewhere on the object. Crocks and jars of all sizes seemed to be the type of object most produced, although any household object that could be fashioned from clay was possible. I once saw a sieve made from clay; it wasn't terribly attractive, but you could see it would be serviceable.

Andrew Jackson Wilson
My great-great grandfather's business, the A. J. Wilson Pottery, is shown on an 1866 map of Newton Township. Finding the site present-day, however, was a bit tricky, but superimposing the 1866 map onto a Google Earth view of the area made it possible to locate Andrew's pottery. Nothing is visible now; the area is overgrown with tall grass. But when you walk around the site, you find yourself walking on hundreds of pottery shards and lumps of fired clay. Even though there were only broken pieces, it was exciting to hold in my hands the bits of pottery crafted by Great-great Grandfather Andrew and his son-in-law, Great Grandfather, Warren McLean (see 3/3/17 post). Being a collector of family artifacts, I, of course, brought a few pieces home.
Lump of fired potter's clay. Could the
finger impressions be A. J. Wilson's?

For more information, see  James L. Murphy's Checklist of 19th Century Bluebird Potters and Potteries in Muskingum County, Ohio, edited by Jeff Carskadden and Richard Gartley. Published 2014 by Muskingum Valley Archaeological Survey, Zanesville, Ohio.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Using Facts to Imagine Our Ancestors

Doing genealogy is about satisfying curiosity. It often begins with the purpose of discovering who our direct-line ancestors are, as far back as possible. To the names we try to attach significant dates (birth, marriage, death) and the locations where those events took place. But doing genealogy can be, and should be, so much more than drawing a straight line from one generation to another. Our research should prompt us to ask, "What was this person like?"

Warren McLean
I think of genealogy as an egg hunt, careful detective work, and a game of tag all rolled into one. Genealogy begins with our tracking down as many facts about a life as can be found, not just those three "vital" records mentioned above. Using the facts, we connect the ancestor to other people--family, of course, and friends. We then use our knowledge of history to contextualize those facts and connections. Finally, we employ our knowledge and experience of human behavior to imagine the ancestor's response(s) to events and people. Although we can never know for certain whether or not we've imagined correctly, thoughtful, educated guessing can add dimension to an ancestor, and make her come alive for us.

At the age of 17, my great-grandfather, Warren McLean of White Cottage, enlisted in Co. B of the 78th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment. We know from Civil War memoirs and biographies that many boys Warren's age enlisted not just to serve the Union cause, but also to get away from the daily routine of farm life, and have a great adventure.

Warren's son,
Wade Hampton McLean
Military service documents show that Warren had an adventure all right. He was with his regiment at the ferocious Battle of Atlanta, and participated in Sherman's infamous March to the Sea, which then continued up through the Carolinas. His pension file details slogging bootless for days through South Carolina swamps. Warren did his duty, served honorably, and was mustered out with his company as a Corporal on July 11, 1865 at Louisville, Kentucky. He made his way back to White Cottage, married Arena Wilson, fathered 10 children, and supported his family as a potter.

Those are some of the facts of Warren's life. There are some post-war facts, however, that enable me to imagine how Warren felt about war, and because of them, I suspect Great-grandfather didn't like being a soldier, and didn't relish reminiscing with old comrades about the heat of battle or the tedium of camp life. The minutes of the meetings of a local G.A.R. post, for example, show Warren attended just one meeting, but never joined. When he died, his obituary, unlike the obituaries of many who served during the war, didn't mention any military service. Finally, a Muskingum County birth record leads me to believe Great-grandfather not only didn't enjoy soldiering, but disdained the entire war experience. Why else did he name his youngest son after a Confederate general? Unless, of course, he had a very wry sense of humor.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

MCCOGS' New Blog Presence

If your ancestors settled or just spent a little time in Muskingum County, Ohio, and you are a genealogist/family historian, count yourself lucky. Resources abound!

Muskingum County Courthouse
Zanesville, Ohio*
First, there's never been a major fire in the county courthouse, a tragedy experienced by many counties in many states. Consequently, nearly all the county records, dating back to statehood (1803), are in tact. In addition to the usual land and probate records at the courthouse, there are more obscure records, such as those of the Chancery Court, housed in the Records Center across the street from the courthouse. 

Second, the county clerks and their staff are welcoming and helpful, making courthouse research a pleasure. The County Recorders Office has a great website that allows you to search for historic land records online, and see a downloadable image of the recorded deed.

Third, Muskingum County has an active genealogy society. The Muskingum County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society maintains its own library (non-circulating) on the second floor of the John McIntire Library in downtown Zanesville. MCCOGS member volunteers are always on-hand to assist visitors, whether they are seasoned researchers or beginners. The MCCOGS library collection is extensive, and includes a large number of local families' histories, scrapbooks, and old photographs. Some regional and national literature round out the library's holdings. In addition to maintaining a library collection and offering research assistance, MCCOGS offers classes during the year to the public.
MCCOGS has a website where members can access birth, marriage, and death record information, as well as a limited number of other county records. It also has a Facebook page which includes links to interesting articles and other websites, and every Wednesday posts an old photo of an unidentified Muskingum County resident; "Who Is It Wednesday" seeks to put a name with a face.
And MCCOGS has a new blog presence. This blog will be an olio--a hodgepodge--of topics: Family stories, township and village history, photos and other illustrations, research tips and resources, and so on. Readers' suggestions for topics, as well as your contributions are welcome. 

*Photo by David Grant 2006. This photo is licensed for public, non-profit use by  Creative Commons