Awkward Certificate Request

Great great great great great Granddad David Wilkerson had a thorny problem he was hoping to resolve.  Here’s correspondence in his Revolutionary War Pension file, dated 31 May 1831:


I have not drawed my pension since Sep 1829, by reference to the list of Revolutionary pensions, you will perceive, that I am entitled to $8.00 per month, for services rendered and wounds & disabilities received, during the Revolutionary War.
My original certificate is in the hands of an individual who refuses to surrender it unless I will give security for a sum of money I owe him. This is inconvenient for me to do so, and I am informed that new certificates have issued and that new forms have been adopted for the use of the pensioners. You will therefore please forward to me, at this place, under cover to John M. Colman the necessary papers, to enable me to draw my money with the least possible delay.
Very respectfully,
David x Wilkerson his mark

“Inconvenient” indeed.  One wonders how this unnamed individual came into possession of the certificate.  Fascinating that David doesn’t say it was lost or stolen – his loss of the document was purposeful.  Sounds like David borrowed money from them and gave the document as security on the loan, but had not yet paid it back.  Now the holder wants some other security in place of the certificate.

This situation had gone on for quite some time.  David lost control of the certificate back in 1829, and it was running on two years that he hadn’t drawn his pension.  If he could get a new certificate then the old one would be worthless and he would have the upper hand in negotiations with his lender.


Found the marriage bond for my long-ago uncle James Neal, in Fayette County, Kentucky.  Marriage bonds were formal guarantees by interested parties that there were “no legal or moral impediments to an intended marriage“.  A lot of it was legal boilerplate, written up by a clerk or lawyer or someone, and signed by the guarantors (in this case James and his soon-to-be in-law John Raney).

Despite this formal document, the date of the union is a hard one to place, however.  Here’s why.  From the bond:


…made we bind ourselves our heirs etc. jointly and severally firmly by these presents sealed and dated this day of 181…

Written out ahead of time, the relevant fields would be filled in by the guarantors or notary at the time of the agreement.  In this case James and John neglected to have the date included, and now the document only says which decade they got married.

Well, technically the bond only gives the date of the bond itself, not the wedding agreement, but the two would typically be close.

This sort of situation happened on other occasions in Fayette County during that decade:


 …these presents sealed and dated this 19 day of Sep 181…


…and severally firmly by these presents sealed and dated this 2nd day of July 181…

These two have greater specificity, but also the absurdity of showing the date of the agreement and not the year.

I’m With You, Walter Ro-something

In places like Kentucky, ministers would perform marriages and them report them to the county.  They’d submit them singly or compile lists to turn in later, and the clerk would record them later.  Recently I was looking around for the marriage return mentioning the unions of some ancestors in Fayette County in the early 1800’s, and found this fitting editorialization:


I can’t comprehend the major part of this return.
Walter Ro___

That’s the common lament for anyone trying to suss out the meaning of old written records.  The ministers probably cared more about performing the marriages than careful record keeping, and some of the records were taken down carelessly and without enthusiasm.  Still, that return wasn’t that bad.  One wonders what our informant would have thought of this.  From the Archbishop’s Transcript of Cranbrook, Kent for the year 1560:


More unenthusiastic record keeping.  Actually written pretty well, just in the crabbed sort of script popular at the time.  Takes a while to get used to.

By the way, lead by example, Walter.  You didn’t write well enough to make out your last name for sure.



With monotonous persistence the English churchmen of the past few centuries have been careful to identify the illegitimate children that are baptized in their parish.

To me such details don’t seem so terribly relevant for a register of family blessedness, but it was a pretty consistent policy over the centuries.  Sometimes the priest felt the need to be more specific about the situation.  Here’s one for the son of my aunt Mary (Drawbridge) Wilmshurst (or possibly someone of the same name in the parish):


James son (illegitimate) of Mary Wilmshurst (a married woman) & Thos. Hickmott, born 15 Nov 1808.

This would have been a public scandal, since the fellow who done it was identified and everything.

Cause of Death

For many people the last day of their life is an eventful one, and it’s a pity that in so many cases nothing about the day was recorded.  For Andrew W. Mers, dying 24 Jun 1919 aged 88, we get a lot more.  This is from his death certificate, describing cause of death:


bullet wound, self inflicted, while temporarily insane

Andrew was my cousin, but the exact relationship is not known for certain.  He was married to Mary A. Newell, a probable second cousin of his and a known first cousin of mine, several times removed.  She was still alive at the time, 84 years of age, and probably would have witnessed his death or been the first to find his body.

“Temporarily insane” grabs the attention – how did the coroner know that?  And how was anyone sure the insanity would end up being temporary?  Perhaps Andrew was prone to fits or depression?  Short-term insanity is a shrewd legal defense intended to avoid both punishment for wrongdoing and treatment for mental illness.  It had been used as a defense since at least 1859, in the case of Daniel Sickles.

Great in a trial, but this is a death certificate, the result of a coroner’s inquest.  The “while temporarily insane” is an extraneous detail, nothing directly to do with the cause of death.  Coroners were to determine whether the death was accidental, suicidal or homicidal, and the coroner in this case decided that even though Andrew meant to kill himself, it wasn’t a suicide since normally Andrew didn’t want to kill himself.  An interesting conclusion, since most suicides don’t normally want to kill themselves until they want to kill themselves enough to do so, and then they do so.

Medieval Branding

After reading about the parents who in England in 1379 named their daughter “Diot Coke”, I recalled finding an odd name in the Cranbrook, Kent Parish Relief Records of 1724, that I dug up as I was researching my Drawbridge ancestors:


Paid old Spice carrying a bed from Enoch Sowkin’s to the Small Poorhouse, 1 shilling

Ms. Coke’s Christian name was a diminutive of Dionisia, and Coke was a common variation of the surname Cook.  No big mystery on Old Spice, either – he was an old guy and he was named Spice.  Maybe there was a younger Spice in the parish, too.

Full Boat

This is from the recollections of Lucinda A. (Stewart) Brown (1865-1941), about her great-granddad David Wilkerson (who is my ancestor also):

David Wilkerson, was an intimate friend of George Washington and was with him in the Revolutionary War. He crossed the Delaware that memorable Christmas in the same boat with General Washington.

What a story, and remarkable on many fronts.  Primarily, that David Wilkerson would be participating in the famous raid on Trenton as a lad aged eleven years.  Also, while plenty of illiterate farmboys like David served under General Washington, it’s amazing that the fancy pants fortysomething aristocrat would even get chummy with a little kid like David, much less become an “intimate friend”!

Perhaps you’ve anticipated my conclusion, that unfortunately the account does not closely match David’s actual Revolutionary War experience.  It was written by someone who was born three decades after David’s death, who had heard it from parents that had heard it from THEIR parents, and like the telephone game what comes out isn’t always going to match the source very well.

It appears that David did, however, serve in the war, and the story has some surprising intersections with “the truth”.

When war veterans applied for military pensions, they would make an account of their service and offer other evidence to demonstrate their worthiness for an annuity.  In 1820 David described his service thus:


…served in the Revolutionary War as follows.  He enlisted with Maj’r Daniel Call of Colonel Washington’s Regiment of Cavalry in Halifax County, Virginia, in the year 1777 or 8 to serve for during the war in the Virginia Line on Continental establishment and continued in service till the close of the war, when he was discharged by Cap’t Parsons, at The High Hills of Santee in South Carolina, was in the battles of the Eutaw Springs, Guilford Courthouse where he was wounded in the knee, at the Cowpens, and several other small engagements…

The first word that leaps out of the account is “Washington” – he did serve under Washington, after all!  Only it was William Washington, second cousin of the great George, a Colonel in the Virginia Line, and a war hero in his own right.

There’s the telephone game in action.  So many of the stories are passed down to young ears, ears like Lucinda’s, apparently, that latch onto names like “Washington” and form the most romantic conclusions possible.  And who could blame her?

David could not have been at Trenton on 25 Dec 1776 (though interestingly enough William was; perhaps Lucinda’s informant pointed this out and she once again made a romantic leap in logic).  He does describe himself joining the Virginia Line at a shockingly young age – he would have only been 12 or maybe 14 in 1777-1778.  In other documents he is described as joining in 1780 at the age of 15 – still awfully young, but somewhat more realistic.  I’m still chasing down the particular details; perhaps he did a short stint early on and then joined on in 1780 for the duration of the conflict.  The battles he said he took part in all happened in 1781.

Lucinda also neglects to mention his injury – there’s a romantic detail, for sure.  I don’t know how badly he was hurt – he brought it up on his pension application probably to emphasize his indigence at the time.  Guilford Courthouse was 15 Mar 1781, while David continued in service until 1783, apparently even fighting at Eutaw Springs on 8 Sep 1781.  His unit fought at Hobkirk’s Hill six weeks after Guilford Courthouse and David made no mention of that conflict in his recollections.  (Maybe he referred to it when he said, “several other small engagements”, though Hobkirk was no less obscure than Cowpens, which he does mention.)  Perhaps at the time he was convalescing at home.

Sadly, Lucinda’s account says more to us about the storytelling milieu of her upbringing than her great-granddad’s life.  The boat-across-the-Delware detail is a grandiose touch.  I wonder how many people through the past 200 years have fondly supposed their Revolutionary forefather was in that very boat with Washington?  Surely more than the eleven displayed in this famous painting.  You’d probably need a much larger vessel to hold them all.

Incredibly, William Washington was also slightly wounded in the knee in 1781.  It is fun to imagine that David was pals with the Washington he actually served under, who was after all more obscure, but still no less aristocratic than his cousin.  That is at least possible in theory, though only before Eutaw Springs, where William was captured by the British.  After that he cooled his heels under house arrest until the war was over.


Population Bomb In Reverse

Here is a graph of average children by generation, throughout my family tree:


Nowadays three kids actually seems kind of heroic, but look where we’re coming from.  In the sweep of things it’s not a big deal at all.

The data quality gets progressively better as we go back – I only have one set of parents after all, while the “Great great great great great” dataset has 64 families.  But the trend is still agreeably clear.

The slope of the line is probably unusually flat in comparison to my fellow Americans.  Three of my four grandparents were from LDS families, and for a variety of reasons us Mormons tend to have more children.  Here’s a side-by-side family size comparison between my LDS ancestors and those from other faiths:


You see a much more dramatic drop even before the Twentieth Century, and then an up-tick starting three generations back (when all families had strong LDS influences).  I have cut out the generation farthest back, since the LDS church didn’t even exist back then.  Also, on my “LDS” side, the remote generations are not uniformly LDS, as my ancestors joined the Church at different times throughout three generations.

(I have only included full siblings in my calculations, and not children from other marriages, of which there were an abundance since I come from polygamist stock.  I have also left out families where we do not have a good knowledge of parentage or number of children.  I am sure some mistakes were made further back, since we don’t always know much about those families.)


Here’s a poor-relief entry for 1721 in the parish of Cranbrook, Kent.  Great great great great great great great Grandma Elizabeth Drawbridge had buried her husband four years previously and had relied on parish charity to keep her young children warm and housed and fed.  Pretty regular stuff, until this:

Widow Drawbridge a trespasser to Mr. Samuel Plumer, [the parish] paid him 5 shillings.

Good heavens.  So Grandma Drawbridge was a lawbreaker somehow, caught and convicted, but rather than absorb the full cost of the penalty, parish relief paid it for her.

The nature of the crime is a little opaque – “trespassing” could mean a lot of things, but generally boils down to being where you’re not supposed to be, and doing or taking things you shouldn’t be.  Some trespassers were professional poachers, others burglars and breakers, but some were just peasants looking to supplement their diets.  Plummer was a relatively wealthy and waxing landowner in the same hamlet where the Drawbridges lived.  Looks like, in her indigence, she and maybe her kids went onto his land and took some of his apples or wheat or something and got caught.

Such situations were not unheard of – plenty of poor people throughout history broke the rules to improve their lot, and plenty of fines were vacated throughout English history, but they were usually (I think) for crimes against the local lord.  Paying the fine for her was a curious gesture – mixing mercy and justice in a very deliberate way. It simultaneously recognized:

1. Mr. Plummer had suffered some sort of legitimate loss.
2. Grandma Drawbridge could not cover the loss.
3. Grandma Drawbridge was somewhat justified herself in what she did.

#3 is the kicker.  It seems she did not have enough food for her children so she went and found some, and so she either raided his cellar or tried to glean his fields (though December seems rather late in the season for that second option).  Caught, parish officials tried to make it right.  Reimbursing Mr. Plummer was merely a way of making general a cost that her (apparent) pilfering had extracted just from him.  There doesn’t appear to have been any retribution for her deeds by the parish overseers, either.  Her rent and firewood disbursements continued on their regular schedules.

I don’t normally approve of trespassing but don’t really know the whole situation.  Regardless, I have respect for the good souls of the parish who didn’t punish a poor woman for creative efforts at feeding her children.

Daniel Raymond’s confidence issue

I don’t suppose it’s particularly special to send a letter to a current or former US President.  (I myself sent a letter to Ronald Reagan as a youth, and I am strictly of no account.)  But I was pretty excited to see this, transcript of a letter by my great great great great granddaddy Daniel Raymond to former president James Madison, in 1829.

Dear Sir,

You will receive with this letter a pamphlet entitled “the American System” of which I am the Author. I have lately read with great pleasure your letters on the Constitutional power of Congress to protect American manufactures. I think those letters are calculated to do much good in the present excited state of public opinion on that subject in parts of our Country. I have taken the liberty, perhaps rashly of treating of the same subject. Although I cannot hope to suggest to you any new ideas respecting the constitution of the U. States, yet it may perhaps amuse you for half an hour, to see what views, some, who were in their cradles when that instrument was made, have formed of that great work, in which you had a principal hand. With great veneration & respect Your ob. Svt.

D Raymond.

Very short, but Daniel shows a lot of personality.  Nothing dry and dusty here.  I suppose it would be with a degree of temerity that one should offer their opinions on the Constitution to the very author of the Bill of Rights.

The reason I like it so is because the letter matches personality that he showed off elsewhere, too.  It doesn’t appear that Grandpa took himself or the field of economics very seriously.  This is from the first two pages of his preface to “Thoughts on Political Economy“:

The following sheets were written to please myself–my principal object in writing them, was employment.  The public has not seen fit to give me constant employment in my profession, otherwise this book had never been written.  I had read musty law books until I was tired.  Idleness was irksome, and I sought relief in putting on paper some of my notions on political economy.  If the public shall think this is a sufficient justification for writing a book, it is well; if not, I cannot help it–I have no other to offer.
As to my inducements for publishing it, I know not what to say.  I fear I can plead nothing which the public will think satisfactory–I cannot avail myself of the stale excuse, “the solicitation of friends,” for no person, save the publisher, ever saw the book in manuscript, and of course they could not have advised me to publish it.  Whether it would have been possible to obtain their solicitation or not, is more than I can say, as I was afraid to make the attempt, lest I should get discouragement instead of solicitation.  The best excuse I can allege for publishing, is, that it pleased me to do so, and one feels a sort of satisfaction in doing as he  pleases, without consulting any one.  If I have done wrong, the public will of course punish me as I deserve.  If it shall please the public to read what I have written, well; if not, although not quite so well, it will, perhaps, be well enough, as the neglect of the public may teach me a good lesson, but will neither make me the worse or the better man; and philosophers tell us, it is the better part of wisdom to disregard public opinion; which is a very consoling doctrine to an author who has written a book that nobody will read.

Wow.  What an effective antidote to the soporific title, “Thoughts on Political Economy in Two Parts”.  It makes me want to keep reading.  Hard to imagine an economics book having a preface like that nowadays – confidence and seriousness are two things that economists put on prominent display as a matter of necessity.  Self-seriousness is the refuge of people who want to be taken seriously even though they are wrong about most everything most all the time.

Also he’s kind of timid, maybe?  I do detect a note of vulnerability; he’s throwing his ideas out to a strange and unfeeling public and legions of writers can tell you how crushing the public’s negligence can be.  Some people cope by stealing a march and pre-rejecting (prejecting?) the book on behalf of the public.  Humor is a refuge, too, for the uncertain.

In this case the book sold well enough to justify a revised second edition, with which the author was much happier.  The preface on this go-around was certainly more buoyant:

…the author feels himself constrained to express his gratitude for the kind reception, which the first hasty and imperfect edition met with, from a portion of his fellow citizens.  It was not to be expected, that a work, whatever might be its merits, upon so abstruse and forbidding a subject as political economy, would command the attention of the generality of readers in any country; and it would indeed be a wonder, if a book on any subject, written on the wrong side of the Atlantic, with the author’s name on it, should be favorably received by the public generally.

Still kind of needy though, don’t you think?  He is rather more high-sounding this go around, adopting the very proper “this author” rather than the more plebian and solipsistic “I”.

Even later, when publishing a book on Constitutional Law, he composes his opus in the same key:

He must be a bold, rash man, or a very heedless one, if the very idea of writing a commentary on the Constitution of the United States, does not appal him.   It is a field in which giants have labored; and if he succeeds in screwing his courage up to the point of undertaking the task, and has any regard for reputation, he will be heedful of every step he takes. Permit me then to say, that this is not an inconsiderate, hasty production; but it has been a subject of as intense thought as the author is capable of, not merely for days and weeks, but for months and years; and if it be not now, what it should be, it is not for the want of effort, but for the want of power.

And this after two decades of successful publishing.



This arresting scene from Braveheart has significance for my family tree.  In it, King Edward I of England, “Longshanks”, defenestrates puffed-up and effeminate Piers de Gavaston (loosely fictionalized as “Philip”, confidante and friend-with-benefits of Longshanks’ boy Edward).  I long thought this scene contained two of my ancestors in it, for my mother’s Hovey line traces back to Gavaston and Edward both.

However, recent examinations by my uncle Jeff Geertsen has fouled that connection.  A past mistake tied us to Longshanks through Piers’ wife’s line, but we are descended through a mistress.  So we still get Piers, but Edward I (and William the Conquerer, Charlemagne and the rest) have been cut out of the picture.

Genealogy evidence about royal ancestors sometimes has an unreal, fantastical quality to it.  Eagerness to be linked to famous ancestors leads to very optimistic conclusions, but it’s hard to blame them.  Interest in family history has to start with the belief that one’s family tree matters, and that it can tell you something about yourself.  No surprise, then, that people want a heritage that makes them feel special, and are willing to accept evidence that confirms that belief.

Funny, though, that everyone (all people of distant European ancestry, at least) are descended from Charlemagne.  It gets worse – in comparison to peasants, nobility were better-fed, longer-lived and had more mating options.  There’s nothing special about that at all, indeed most people’s ancestors tended towards wealthy – established in the community, more desirable as marriage partners, and arrogating a larger share of available resources to themselves and their families.  For these reasons, poorer people tended to evaporate out of the gene pool.

While I am more interested in learning about my peasant ancestors instead of aristocratic bullies and thieves who did not play fair to set themselves up as history’s winners, I admit I’m sad to lose such a character as Longshanks.  At least we still have the airborne Piers, and who knows if Edward I doesn’t show up somewhere else in the fancy-pants parts of the family tree.

Only, how would you ever know?  For now there’s still a strong element of guesswork.  Establishing paternity over 1400 years is a fantastical endeavor, and one can only ever be satisfied that the linkage is as right as the evidence allows.  If Charlemagne is 50 generations back from me, that’s 50 chances that something else happened, something that history did not record.  If you assume that even one out of every fifty or a hundred births was secretly illegitimate (not such a far-fetched assumption when it comes to some of these royals), you can do the math and come up with a rather discouraging estimate of your paternity’s probability.

And it gets worse than that.  The stories we tell about the past are always filtered through the lens of the present.  As much as I want to understand someone like Piers and his life, as well documented as it is, will still be futile.  I’d have to live in his world to understand his life.  Even the video I linked above is fictional – nobody threw Piers through a window.  It’s a spectacle designed to be striking – not tell a real story about a real person.

When a Woodman became a Udall

My Udall ancestors lived in and around Netherbury, Dorset, where John Udall lived before moving to Kent around 1770.  We’ve traced them there back before 1600.  They weren’t called Udalls back then, though, which meant many decades of devastating confusion for Udall genealogy research.

Well, here’s the answer, from the Netherbury parish baptism records in 1698:

Feb 18, Eliz daughter of Will Udal alias Woodman

For some reason, one branch the family known as Woodman came to be known as Udall. They weren’t called Udall at all before 1680, and I think they weren’t called Woodmans after maybe 1775.  Leastways my ancestor John “Udall” came to Kent around then and was never known by Woodman again.

We’re used to name changes being rather more immediate, but in this case it appears that there was a century-long intermediate period where people in the family were recognized by either name, to the point of the parish clerk putting both names on records to avoid confusion.

One wonders why the name change?  While not very common, people would sometimes change their last names, and for a variety of reasons.  In Netherbury at the same time there were other families with a similar surname duality, the parish clerk careful to record both names on their records.

I notice that there is a certain thematic similarity between the names Udall and Woodman –  Udall means “yew dale” – dale of the yew trees, while of course Woodman was a man who lived in the woods, or chopped trees for a living.  So they both have to do with forests.  The change occurred in a time of prosperity for the family.  Perhaps they decided that the name Woodman did not achieve an appropriate level of dignity, and they replaced it with a name that did.


Boys and Their Toys

Reminiscing during a trip to Hawaii, Grandpa Joe told my dad a story from his time there during the war.  On leave before heading out on the USS Monterey, Grandpa went to one of the Naval Air Stations and asked permission to fly one of the planes.

He got it – not a fancy war plane I’m sure, but probably some little training plane of some sort.  He told how his goal was to see how high he could get the little plane to go.  He recalled looping around, up, up and up, tracking his progress up the side of the great mountain on the island.

Which island it was, I am not certain.  According to the story, his little plane’s power petered out around 13,000 feet, so he would have surmounted any of them, even Mauna Kea.

What interests me is the easy access to expensive machines.  From the story, he just walked up and asked for it and got it.  As a flight surgeon, Grandpa was an accredited pilot and not just some yahoo, but still.  Modern, “total” war is mechanized and it puts all sorts of toys in the hands of eager young men, to the point that joyriding in a plane is easier than borrowing a jeep from the motor pool.

They Also Serve Who Only Stand and Wait

Both my Granddads were US Navy in World War II.  Interestingly, both were Naval Air Corps, in the South Pacific.  Grandpa Gordon Geertsen was an Aviation Machinist’s Mate, and Grandpa Joe Pace was Flight Surgeon on the USS Monterey.

To get to the South Pacific (and while on leave from active service), millions of servicemen went through Hawaii, and often had the opportunity of “overnight liberty” to Honolulu.  This meant going off the base to spend time in Honolulu, doing the sorts of things soldiers do on leave.  (For the desperate, it was the place to get “screwed, stewed and tattooed”, but more generally it was a break in routine, a chance to see new people and get away from the madnesses of war.)  From his short war diary, we know Gordon got to do so twice.

Grandpa Joe also was at liberty on Oahu.  Recently my father told me a story he heard from Joe about Honolulu.  He recalled walking around Hotel Street and being alarmed and saddened to see many sailors lining up outside brothels, waiting their turn.

Such a short story, but it says a lot.  Can it have really been like that?  Usually prim and proper society tolerates vice so long as it is disparaged and out of sight.  This is alarmingly public, not just for the prudes but for the lonely provincial conscripts eager for a few minutes of attention from a woman.  Well, from “The First Strange Place: Race and Sex in World War II Hawaii“:

From beauty parlor windows and souvenir shops, Chinese and other local women watched and giggled at the lines of white men.  Shoeshine boys, in their pidgin, kidded the soldiers and the sailors, many of them ill at ease.  After the long public wait–which might last a couple of hours–the men reached the brothel door.

It is also oddly mechanical – the satisfaction of desire turned into an assembly-line process.  Men waited in line for hours to spend three minutes with a girl they didn’t know and would never see again.  Grandpa Joe was a devout Mormon so I’m sure his sensibilities were outraged, however it’s possible that what distressed him was less this giant display of unsatisfied lust, but the sadness and loneliness of the scene.  Again from “The First Strange Place”:

Most men didn’t come to Hotel Street just for sex.  To many, it seemed the  only place to go to break the routine or to find some kind of human exchange.  Hotel Street Harry, the columnist for the Midpacifican–the Army newspaper that served the Central Pacific–wrote week after week about the district.  He called it the “Street of Lonely Hearts.”  “I don’t think there is a worse feeling in the world than to be lonesome in a crowd,” he wrote.  “The Street is filled with men whose hearts are aching.”

I was interested if there were photos of this odd and striking setting.  A little searching on the internet uncovered this:

It’s possible these guys were waiting for some other event or opportunity – throughout the war Hotel Street was a crowded, liney place.  First Strange Place, again:

Men stood in lines everywhere, for everything.  The district had been crowded before the war swelled Hawaii’s population but during the war Hotel Street pulsed with money, sex, and occasional violence.

Accounts also say that people would often get in the wrong line for the wrong reason, with embarrassing and hilarious result.

I think it is a brothel line.  You actually notice there are other lines in the photo, one in the front left and others along the marquee in back.  What interests me about the big line is how isolated the boys in it seem.  With only two or three exceptions they are there by themselves, and have no apparent interest in the people around them.  A surprising number are staring at their shoes.  Contrast that to the fellows in the distance – knotted and clustered in unpredictable groupings.  These are two very different lines, and the people in them have very different mindsets.


One Shot At It

In my family history research, I have never been able to tolerate failure to establish a link or find the parents of so-and-so, and don’t know when to quit.  This is untenable, for every line peters out somewhere.  When I am up against the limits of written history, fanatic and desperate effort have been the result, and the result of that has occasionally been a tremendous breakthrough, but usually a futile slog.

One family line that got a lot of attention is the Fishers, who came to Pennsylvania in the 1750’s, made their way to Kentucky in the 1790’s, and Ohio in the early 1800’s.  Pretty standard progress through the wilderness.

The family is pretty well documented in Ohio and even Kentucky, but Pennsylvania is the place where many lines trace back to die.  The first Fisher we know of, George, lived until 1833 and is well known to us.  More inscrutable to us is his first wife, who died before they came down to Kentucky, George remarrying.

I come down through his first wife.  She had not been named in any source that I could find.  Even though we have written reminiscence about George and his voluminous family that is over a hundred years old, nobody wrote down the first wife’s name.  I looked around a lot and for a long time found nothing.

However, county death records were kept in Kentucky at a relatively early date, and one of the first wife’s daughters died there in 1859.  On these records, the recorder is supposed to put down the names of the deceased’s parents.  Nobody had looked this record up before, so it was with no small excitement that I looked up her death record to finally find the name of her mother.  This might be my last, best chance to learn about her.  Here’s what I saw:

Sarah White, white, 83, died of old age, widowed, died 3 Dec 1859, parents “George & ____ Fisher” birth State of Maryland, residence Big Sandy, died at Big Sandy.

Yeah, that was a sad moment.  Poor Mrs. Unknown Fisher was forgotten even in 1859, less than 75 years after her death.  One of the troubles that history researchers run into is that recorders cannot write down information not personally available to them, and often records don’t contain data that they should.

In the case of a death record, you see the dilemma – the person whose life information is being recorded is not available for consultation.  Whoever was on hand when the coroner’s record was filled out did not know her mother’s name.  (Perhaps it was her son-in-law William Lockwood.)  If they had taken the trouble to find out, we’d know the lady’s name – I imagine someone in town knew.  Perhaps they thought why bother?  It’s not like anyone is going to look at this in a hundred and fifty years, desperate to know the mother of Sarah (Fisher) White.