Saturday, April 21, 2018

Drowned, Sept. 8, 1900

I have been accused of becoming obsessed with those who don't have descendants to carry their memories. Without a doubt, the Great Storm of 1900 in Galveston, Texas, truncated the stories of thousands of individuals. So many died in the hurricane on that September night that hundreds couldn't even be counted. Recent immigrants or whole families were swept away without a trace. Estimates of the dead range from 6,000 to 12,000, as much as 1/3 of the population of the booming city known at that time as the "Queen City of the Gulf."

This monument called out to me as I wandered around Lakeview Cemetery, which occupies the area between 57th and 59th Streets, just a block from the Gulf of Mexico. The stained marker reads:
In memory of 
Born 1874
BORN 1882
Drowned Sept. 8, 1900
I was able to locate them on the 1900 census taken in Galveston in June of that year, listed as James and "Ama." He was a painter, born in Illinois, aged 25. She was only 17, and born in Texas. They were newlyweds, married the previous November. They were living in a rented single-unit home at 4110 M Street. Marriage records indicate her name was Emie Bentinck, likely the daughter of Henry and Eliza Jane (McHugh) Bentinck. Her parents and siblings are also interred in Lakeview Cemetery. They would have erected this memorial in her name, and lived out their lives in Galveston, fearing each storm that came on the horizon.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Chain Migration?

What happened when our ancestors made that decision to leave the land where they were born and make a leap into the unknown? Patterns of migration can be traced to the historic events of those regions: famine, pogroms, wars, feelings of despair over the economic future. Even the earliest settlers of this land that would become the United States were escaping debt, imprisonment, or religious persecution.

My known ancestors came to the US from England, Ireland and Poland. They came with not much more than the clothes on their backs. What they left behind might be considered "shitholes."

Few immigrants traveled alone. Passenger manifests from the mid-1800s often show groups of young Irish men and women in their teens and twenties. They had few career aspirations, most calling themselves "laborers," or "domestics." Passage may have been paid by pooling the family's resources to send one to the "Land of Opportunity" where they might improve their lot.

Let's be clear: before immigration laws were enacted in the early 1900s people from foreign countries needed no visas, no papers, no legal permissions to enter the United States. The boat docked at a port and the immigrants freely disembarked. Where there were screenings, as long as the immigrants were not obviously spreading disease, as long as they professed not to be anarchists nor polygamists, they were allowed entry.

Often new immigrants lived here in squalid conditions until they could earn enough money to afford better housing. And as soon as they had established themselves they paid passage for another relative, brother, sister, wife, parent. The family continued to pool their resources to provide for each other. Ethnic groups in their new country huddled together and provided comfort and support, a sense of familiarity, and financial support through ethnic mutual aid societies.

Now, to our family. When Piotr Szymanowicz, my father's father, arrived in New York Harbor in 1910 his destination was Easthampton, Massachusetts. His country did not exist as a political entity; they were under the rule of the Russian czar. Piotr had served his time in the Russian Army and didn't see a bright future as a fisherman. His brother-in-law Witold Zawacki was already in Easthampton, working in the mills, and paving the way for him. He traveled on the steam ship Kroonland from Antwerp. His sister-in-law was his travelling companion. Five months later, he sent for his wife and young son. Two more of the Zawacki brothers also immigrated. Witold later returned to Poland with a son who was born here and, therefore, an American citizens.  Sound familiar? These days the term "chain migration" is used pejoratively to describe families who reunite in the United States. It can take years, and sometimes decades to receive permission to resettle family members. This is not a vague concept; this is a reality that people I know well are dealing with.

Our Irish ancestors also left the dirt-poor "shithole" of western Mayo. My maternal great-grandparents, Dominick Meeneghan and Ellen Broderick, married in Wheeling, West Virginia in 1887. The Irish census of 1911 describes a family whom I believe to be Dominick's parents still living with 4 adult children in a single room home. That is what they left behind. I have yet to definitively make the connection between  Ellen and a likely older sister, Margaret, in Ohio, and the link between Dominick and his cousin in Springfield, New York. Dominick and Ellen settled in Springfield soon after their marriage. Within 5 years they were able to buy a home on an acre and a half of land where they raised eight children. They had land and education for their children that they could never have aspired to in Ireland. Ellen's sister also came to Springfield and lived across the street from them. Dominick's sister, Sarah, also lived nearby.

Meeneghan Wedding at their Home in Springfield, 1919

We all came from somewhere, and likely some of our ancestors had reasons for not looking back. What they found in the US was hope, if they could overcome prejudices and language barriers. They had family support and they worked hard. Not much has changed.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Early Assessors' Records in Erving

Taxation records can reveal many details to aid our research.

Although the Town of Erving was not incorporated until 1838, records as early as 1822 are available to review in the Assessors’ office in Town Hall. The earliest records are ledger pages, now bound in protective sleeves. From 1863, they are filed in oversized books of printed forms.

The list of residents – heads of household – and their property introduces us to the townspeople. The number of polls is listed for each entry. These are men of voting age. The valuation of their real estate is listed, as well as the livestock. Taxation on those assets is divided into categories, including school and road taxes. Beyond the agricultural economy, items such as saw mills were valued and taxed. In some cases, cash on hand was also taxed.

From 1847, we can see James Moore's one poll checked in the first column, his house and barns valued, and two distinct parcels of land listed. He had 1 horse, 2 oxen, 2 cows, 2 three-year-olds (cattle?), 1 yearling and 2 swine.

Residents without property were also listed as polls. Notable in 1846 was a list of men with predominantly Irish surnames who may have been railroad workers. They were assessed 61 cents each.

George Beedy
David Dale
Michael Fitzpatrick
Michael Finn
Peter Mullen
William Finn
John Mahoney
James Russel
Thomas Shay
Angus Mcdonal
Michael Hafy
Michael Tracy
Michael Murphy
Cornelius Dunnevin
Michael Ryley

There was also a notation on a later page, indicating the distribution of funds among the 4 schools, “school money received of the Irish” at $3.45. This appears to be allocated to District 3, which was on the west side of town. If this was a group of railroad workers in that area,they could have been attached to the station at Grout’s Corner, across the river in the Town of Montague, or to the north at Northfield Farms.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

NERGC Opening Session Features Speaker Mary Tedesco

The New England Regional Genealogical Consortium's 2017 Conference kicks off its regular session on Thursday Morning, April 27th with our opening speaker, Mary Tedesco. You are sure to recognize her from the PBS series Genealogy Roadshow. The opening session has been generously sponsored by the New England Historic Genealogical Society. 

Mary attended her first NERGC conference in 2011. She says, "We’re very fortunate here in New England to have such a high caliber conference so close to home." She is a New Englander, with Colonial roots that led her to join the Daughters of the American Revolution, something we have in common. Mary is currently serving as the Second Vice Regent of the Paul Revere Chapter, NSDAR.

I asked Mary about her opening presentation, “What Our Ancestors Can Teach Us About Genealogy.” She told me that it will provide a lighthearted, fresh look at genealogical innovation, technology, and the “tools of today” through the years. Historical sources such as genealogical journals, magazines, newspapers, and other resources will bring this story to life. It is important to understand where we come from to get where we’re going with these tools, as it is in any aspect of genealogical research. You won’t want to miss it!

Mary's specialty is Italian research. Her father’s  family comes from Calabria, Trentino-Alto Adige, and Tuscany. She is fluent in Italian and travels to Italy to conduct client genealogical research and visit family. She is the co-author of “Tracing Your Italian Ancestors,” an 84-page Italian research guide published by Moorshead Magazines. 

If you have Italian ancestry, you may want to sign up for the 2-hour workshop with Mary on Friday morning. She told me, "We’ll have the opportunity to go in-depth into Italian records and resources in a way that is not possible in a one-hour presentation. Caution: You may feel inclined to book a flight to Italy after this workshop! Just like in the USA, the vast majority (over 90%) of Italian genealogical records are not available online or on microfilm. Thus, onsite research in Italy is necessary for those who seek to put the meat on the bones of their family history through researching church records, military records, notary records, and other sources are not available online for most places in Italy."

There is no news to spill about the next season of "Genealogy Roadshow," or at least none that Mary was able to share. She says they have not yet heard about a schedule, but PBS is soliciting questions and family stories on the web site here.  

If you haven't yet registered for NERGC 2017, do it here. From Wednesday's special topics, to the 94 open sessions, society fair, special interest groups, vendor space, luncheons and dinner banquets, you are guaranteed a rewarding experience.  Join us in Springfield!  

Sunday, March 26, 2017

NERGC Speaker Spotlight: Seema-Jayne Kenney

It is time for the New England Regional Genealogy Consortium's biennial genealogy conference. Four days of genealogical fun and learning will be found in Springfield's Mass Mutual Center April 26th to 29nd. This will be my fourth NERGC conference and I am looking forward to seeing lots of friends from near and far.

If you haven't seen the range of lectures, workshops, special interest groups, and exhibitors that are scheduled, get details and register at NERGC.

I was in touch with Seema-Jayne Kenney this week, who is both a presenter and one of the chairs who has led the planning for this event for the past two years. I asked Seema how long she has been involved in this conference. It turns out, we were both rookies in 2011 in Springfield.

She said, "My first NERGC conference as an attendee was in 2011, when it was in Springfield. After that conference, there was an email to the BU Alumni about helping with the 2013 conference.I replied, was interviewed, and was asked to organize Tech Day.For 2013 I was the Tech Day Chair.
For 2015 I was the chair for Tech Day and the onsite evaluations.When they said at a meeting, "Without a conference chair we will have to cancel the event," my hand went up to be a conference chair for 2017 - a bigger jump in responsibility than I intended, but how can you think about cancelling an event that draws almost 1,000 people?
Something I've done for each of these conferences is the post-conference data entry of the session evaluations.  Such an easy task and a very important way to help without missing any of the planned events."

Having taken on such an important responsibility, along with co-chair Dave Robison, I asked Seema why she also decided to present one of the talks during the regular sessions. She explained her thought process.

"Every Society that participates in NERGC is allowed to select a speaker to sponsor for the conference. I am a very active member of MSOG (Massachusetts Society of Genealogists). I submitted my proposal to their selection process and was selected. Each Society has it's own selection process and preferred topics. I thought the best topic for MSOG would be something specific to Massachusetts. Since MSOG created the Legacy Quick Guide for Massachusetts, I used the historical timeline in that publication to put together a talk on things that happened in Massachusetts that may not appear in those history books that tend to jump from Pilgrims to First Thanksgiving to Revolutionary War.  Many of the events had the potential to impact our ancestors' lives and hopefully those who attend will get an idea about reasons WHY an ancestor may have changed occupation or migrated or made other life changes."

I'm looking forward to attending her talk "Social History of Early Massachusetts" which Seema will present at 1:45 on Saturday afternoon, April 29.

Seema is a full-time genealogist, doing business as Seema-able. I asked her to tell me more about what she does away from organizing the conference. 

"My company is Ancestral Books, Legacy, & Education.  A long name, so it's abbreviated as ABLE. The A, B, and E represent the first initials of my known grandparents' surnames. Wouldn't it be hysterical if my missing grandfather's last name started with 'L'? Anyway, I started a genealogy business in 2010 as Mass Researchers. While researching for others is fun, it wasn't really my 'cup of tea'.  I found, in 2013, that I really like putting together the stories of one's ancestors, so I changed my focus to researchers who had done the work but didn't want to write up the family history book. I am a Certified Legacy Planner, which is geared toward helping the living keep their values alive within their family as well as their stories of relatives. And, of course, Education because after teaching software (again self-employed) for 20 years, switching over to teaching genealogical research was easy. My teaching is primarily done at Senior Centers, Libraries, and Adult Programs in my local area."

I'm glad to have gotten to know Seema a little better. My talk "Did Grandma Have a Fillin' Station?" is also on Saturday afternoon. I hope to see you in Springfield!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Rev. Simon Hobbs' time in Erving

Simon L. Hobbs was the only Clergyman listed in Erving's 1870 Federal census. He lived just north of the Main Street on "the road leading from nearly opposite the church to Northfield" in a home which was purchased in 1869 from Lewis Jennings for $1700. The deed includes a shop, that the seller wanted continued access to for a year. Simon lived with his wife, Mary C. Sears, and children John H (12) and Helen D. (8). He was 57, born in North Hampton, New Hampshire. The couple had married in Lenox, Berkshire County, on 25 November 1852. He was a teacher in Pittsfield that year. His bride was fifteen years his junior, 24 at their marriage. Previous to coming to Erving, the Hobbs family lived in Southborough, Worcester County, where they are found on the 1865 Massachusetts census. The notation on the 1870 census that his son was born in Indian Territory twelve years before is notable.

The published "Missionary Herald" for 1853 lists Simon and Mary, with another couple and a female teacher, going to Choctaw territory. Their mission lasted several years, and they were still there when John was born in 1858.

Simon's report was published in an 1858 journal, when they were working separately from the others who left with them. He says, "It would be some relief to us to see and talk with a white woman once in a while. It is now twenty-five weeks since Mrs. Hobbs has looked upon such a person; and for twenty-four weeks she has been incessantly toiling in the day school, the female prayer meetings, the Sabbath school, and in family duties; all the time living in this little log-hut, with its puncheon [split log] floor. But we have been borne along by something better than human power, safely, happily, swiftly, having had hardly time to look back, except for a moment's wonder and gratitude. Our religious prospects are still encouraging. Three hopeful converts have been added to our number from beyond the Dividing Ridge, towards Fort Smith, about twelve or fourteen miles distant. A Sabbath school was immediately formed, and twenty-three are now members of it. You can judge of the latest in our meetings from the fact that, at our weekly prayer meeting last Wednesday evening, fifty-two were present, and one of whom came less than a mile, and some came four miles. Request all Christians to pray for us and our people"

Fort Smith, in western Arkansas, was a supply depot for westward expansion, and a pre-Civil War military garrison. It is now the site of a National Park on the Arkansas River.

They had returned to Massachusetts by the time Helen was born in 1862.The start of the Civil War may have been their catalyst for moving back east. Their experiences among the Native Americans certainly shaped their vision.  John likely had many stories to tell his schoolmates when he arrived at the school in Erving Village.

They only served in Erving for a short time. In 1869, Simon performed two of twelve marriages in the registry. Both of the weddings that he performed in 1870 were in January. In 1871, Simon was officiant at four of five marriages registered in Erving, including a Chauncey Sears from Lenox. He performed three marriages in 1872 before they sold their house and moved on. In 1880 they were living together in Amherst, Hampshire, MA. Simon was listed as "retired" and the children were still in school.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Paulina Wunsch Supported Women's Health in Greenfield in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century

Paulina Wunsch reached out to me through the words of old newspaper articles and census records, and her story seems timely today. I hope to learn more about her through additional documents that may be available. There are no descendants to memorialize her, so here I go again.

As early as 1858, Paulina Pohl Wunsch advertised her services as a midwife in the Greenfield newspapers. She had arrived in New York from Poznan in the German partition of Poland in 1852 with her two-year-old daughter, Wanda. They followed her husband, William, who had come a year before to establish himself and pave the way for them. He was a "cutter" and found employment in the John Russell Cutlery Factory in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Both William and Paulina brought skills with them to their new home. She may have received her training from the predecessor of the Poznan University of Medical Sciences, which was certifying midwives in the nineteenth century.

She and Wanda became citizens of the United States by proxy when William was sworn in at the Franklin County Superior Court in March of 1860.

Paulina was listed in the Massachusetts Directory of Physicians in Greenfield in 1867, without further annotation.

They moved up from "Cheapside" to Greenfield's Main Street when they bought a home there in 1867. William opened a hat and specialty shop in the bustling Mansion House block across the street, assisted by his daughter. In the 1870 census all three are listed with occupations.

Life was not all bliss in the Wunsch household. A newspaper article in 1880 vaguely refers to "domestic troubles, which forced her husband to leave for parts unknown." In 1879 William transferred his business and real estate to his daughter, Wanda, who had married in 1873 He left town about that time, and was living in Pittsburgh, PA at his death in 1913.

Paulina was involved in a court case in 1880, charged with malpractice for performing an abortion. She was arrested on January 21,and released on $2000 bond. The October trial is cited in Volume 29 of the "Massachusetts Reports" of the Supreme Judicial Court. Testimony reveals that young Josie McGuire became "acquainted" with Thomas Burnham while she was working in Gill. He was charged with adultery when they became "criminally intimate."  A 40-year-old Thomas Burnham is found in the 1880 census of Montague.  His occupation is given as "huckster" -- the stereotypical traveling salesman.

According to her testimony, Josie came to the Wunsch home with a friend in October of 1878 and told Paulina that she was "in trouble," requesting help.  On the first visit she was given medicine.  Approximately a week later, she returned for an "operation" and described instruments used.  She paid $15 for the procedure, with $35 to be paid later.  Mrs. Wunsch later visited her in Gill and repeated the operation.  Josie was ill in the following days and another doctor was called.  It appears that her failure to pay the second doctor led him to expose her condition.  Ultimately, Paulina was charged a $250 fine.  Josie was jailed for perjury.

Paulina continued to live with her daughter and helped to raise her grandson, as Wanda ran a successful millinery business with her husband, Henry Miller, who was also a butcher.  She was consistently referred to as a "physician" in directories.  When she suffered a broken hip in December of 1897, the newspaper describes her as "the well known physician who has practiced in Greenfield for many years." She slipped while returning from a house call, walking "under the Clay Hill arch" now the Bank Row railroad underpass. She was 70 when she died of Bright's disease (kidney disease) on 23 November 1899. She was buried in Green River Cemetery in Greenfield. How many babies did she deliver in nearly 50 years in town?  How many women's troubles did she relieve?