Thursday, March 29, 2012

Thomas McConahy, pt.2

              Thomas enlisted as a private of Co. F of the 100th Pennsylvania Regiment on August 31, 1861.  According to military records, he was just a few days past his 22nd birthday (31 August).  Unlike other Pennsylvania regiments, the 100th did not begin its career at Camp Curtain (named after Pennsylvania’s war governor Curtain) but were immediately sent south to Washington, DC where they completed their training, learning how to become soldiers.  From Washington, DC they were sent south to Fortress Monroe in Hamilton, VA, and then on to Port Royal, SC where they participated in one of the first amphibious operations in US history, capturing two forts in the process.
            During the winter of 1861-62 the 100th remained in South Carolina and there was a great deal of sickness in camp as men who had previously rarely ventured more than 30 miles from home found themselves in a foreign environment, eating unfamiliar food, and swapping germs and viruses.
            The war was heating up for the 100th by June of 1862, both literally and figuratively.  Although Big Tom and the others were, no doubt, accustomed to living and working in hot and humid western PA weather during the summer, they must have found that fighting in the US Army was a different story.  As a private person you could choose to wear as much or as little as was comfortable for your situation.  Stripping down to your braces (suspenders) was technically the same as stripping down to your underwear, but with no one to see you in the fields, it didn’t really matter.  And if the heat and humidity got too be too much for you, it was always possible to stop work, grab a bucket of water, and rest in the shade until the heat of the day passed.
            However, life in the Army was vastly different.  As a soldier you wore a cotton or linen shirt, long enough to come down to your mid-thigh.  This went on over your drawers, also made of cotton or linen, but possibly made of wool.  And your socks were wool, too.  The US government provided you with a nice wool, navy blue jacket with four buttons, and you wore that jacket (or “blouse”) with all four buttons buttoned at all times.  Your shirt was tucked into your pale blue wool trousers, and since ticks and chiggers were omnipresent pests, you probably tucked your trouser legs into your socks to keep the critters from invading.  Add leather shoes, called brogans, and a wool cap that sort of looks like a primitive baseball cap (kepi) and you are in uniform.  Soldiers also carried their weapon, a muzzle-loading rifled musket, cartridges with powder and Minnie balls, percussion caps, a bayonet, a canteen with water, and a haversack (think “man purse”).  Their gun alone weighed in at eight pounds.  And now you begin to feel the pain of living life as a soldier in the Civil War.
            Imagine that you joined Tom and his companions at the battle of Seccessionville, SC on June 16 of 1862.  It was hot and humid, as usual.  And you had to march several miles just to get to the battle.  Once there the 100th faced a murderous attack by three rebel cannon:  “We entered the range of a perfect storm of grape [nine iron balls fired at once], canister [27 smaller iron balls fired at one shot], nails, broken glass, and pieces of chains [just what it sounds like] fired from three very large pieces on the fort, which completely swept every foot of ground within the range, and either cut the men down or drove them to the shelter of the ravine on the left” reported Colonel Daniel Leasure of the 100th PA.  Although a regiment has, in theory, 1000 men, the 100th had sustained so many losses due to illness prior to the battle that Col. Leasure reported only approximately 400 men made up the fighting power of the 100th.  Of those 400 men and officers, 9 were killed and 33 more wounded, or a ten percent rate of casualties.[1]
            To give us some perspective on this, it is important to remember that during the Civil War, most men in a single regiment were family, friends, and neighbors.  Unlike today’s military that intentionally separates family members and members of the community; in the 1860s it was considered a good thing to keep men who knew each other together.  So as Tom and the others watched their comrades fall, they were watching the injuring and killing of young men that they knew, went to school with, worked beside, and perhaps even were their brothers, cousins, uncles, and fathers.
            After the disaster at Seccessionville the 100th was sent back to Virginia and became part of the Army of Virginia.  They marched here, there, and everywhere, and in August found themselves back at Manassas Junction, site of the First Battle of Bull Run.  It was called the “First” Battle of Bull Run because on August 28 – 30 of 1862, the 100th PA was involved in another battle on the same ground, the Second Battle of Bull Run.
            Again, the Union suffered a great defeat at this battle, with 1,747 killed, another 8,452 wounded, and 4,263 captured/missing soldiers.[2]  The 100th suffered the loss of two captains and a lieutenant, with a total of 15 men killed and another 117 injured during this battle.[3]
            Granted, 15 men dead is a terrible thing.  And 117 injured soldiers from one state are horrible.  But how does that compare to today?  To give these numbers some relevance to our time period we need to do a bit of math.  Fortunately for us, it’s easy math.  In 1860 the population of the US was approximately 31 million.  The population of the US today is just over 310 million.  So all we need to do is multiply by ten.  And now the numbers seem more terrible.
            Imagine getting the news that 150 men from your state were killed in Afghanistan in the past two days, and another 1170 were injured.  Just from your state alone.  Nationwide the report was 17,470 dead Americans, with 84,520 more soldiers wounded, and over 42,630 captured or missing.  Can you imagine the outrage in this country if our military suffered over 140,000 casualties in two days?  Can you hear the calls for our soldiers to be brought home RIGHT. THIS. MINUTE.
            But that is what was happening in all around Tom McConahy in 1862.  The scale of the death and destruction, those 15 dead and 117 injured, was to him as if we lost ten times that many in 2012.  And the killed and wounded weren’t merely numbers to Tom.  They were men he knew.  Perhaps men he cooked with or camped next to.  Family and friends.
            And the war isn’t even close to being over for Tom.  He has another year of active duty, and then one of recovery in a Union hospital before the war’s end.  I’ll talk more about those events and his life after the Civil War in a future blog posting.

[1] The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. ; Series 1 - Volume 14, p. 74.;cc=moawar;idno=waro0020;node=waro0020%3A6;view=image;seq=88;size=100;page=root
[3] The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. ; Series 1 - Volume 12 (Part II) p261, 819.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Family Friday - Thomas McConahy, in depth

            Thomas McConahy, or “Big Tom” as he was known, looms larger than life for many of us McConahy descendants.  Not only was Big Tom a giant of a man physically – his 6’1” sturdy frame towering nearly half a foot above the average men of his era who were a mere 5’8”[1] – but Big Tom’s unusual behaviors and accusations documented during the final twenty years of his life also have had an enormous impact on his family for generations.
            It was only relatively recently as I began to dig more into my history that I discovered the family’s not-so-secret sorrow and heard the story of how Big Tom deserted his family.  I was intrigued, and because his behaviors are so far removed from my life, it was an easy task to objectively do some research into the life of Thomas McConahy and see if I could uncover what happened and perhaps offer some explanations of why.
            A quick warning before we go any further.  As I tell my clients “Our purpose is to know, understand, and celebrate the events that relate to our families.  While delving into the past may produce some less-than-savory ancestors, or put an end to a family legend, a sense of humor and a desire for truth will enable us to celebrate our families as they really were and are.”  In other words, I will tell you what I know, tell you where my sources come from, and tell you what I think explains the events of Big Tom’s life.[2]
            My records for Thomas McConahy begin with the 1850 US Census.  Thirty-nine-year-old Laughy (Laughlin) and his slightly younger wife, Sarah, lived in South Slippery Rock Township in Lawrence Co., PA where Laughy worked as a farmer.  Although the native of Ireland could not read and write, he was comfortably well off, with the estimated value of his real estate at $1000 in 1850, or over $400,000 in today’s money.
            Laughlin and Sarah had a large family:  Maria (15), Thomas (10), Nathaniel (8), John (6), Nancy (4), and Elizabeth (1).  Thomas and Nathaniel attended the local school, while Maria apparently stayed at home to help out and the younger children were too young to go to school.
            Ten years later, the 1860 Census shows us that few changes had occurred in the McConahy family.  Everyone has aged, no one has married or passed away, Thomas is now listed as a “farm laborer” as are Nathaniel and John, but the two younger boys, and Nancy, also attended school.  No doubt the family was keenly aware of the political situation in America, with a potentially polarizing national election fast approaching.
            April of 1861 saw the United States plunged into a civil war.  Both sides wrongly thought that this would be a 90 days’ war at best, north and south each certain that they were physically and morally superior to the other faction.  As tensions heated up, newly –elected President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 militiamen from the various loyal states to help suppress the rebellion.  Pennsylvania, the second most populous state, was required to provide12,500 men to serve for 90 days.[3]  It is unknown if Thomas and Nathaniel were interested in joining that initial group of volunteers, but after the disastrous Frist Battle of Bull Run (VA) on July 21, 1861 and the call for more soldiers to serve for a longer duration went out.  This time Thomas and Nathaniel answered the call, joining the 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment, or the “Roundheads” as they became known.[4]

[2] My apologies to those of you who have spent more time researching this and, as a result, have more records and documents to aid you in your research.  As I said, I am newly come to this side of my family, and I only have some of the records thanks to the generosity of Pat Adams and Sheri Slater who graciously sent me copies of the various records they have in their possessions.  I am still awaiting the word from my local LDS center to let me know the microfilm has arrived.  I fully expect it to show up about two hours after I hit “send” on this email to Pat!  If you have additional documents that I don’t have, I would love to see them.  And if your information differs from what I have discussed here, please let me know.  You can’t hurt my feelings if you disagree with me, and the more we know the smarter we all become!
Washington, April
 15, 1861.
        SIR: Under the act of Congress "for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, repel invasions," &c., approved February 28, 1795, I have the honor to request Your Excellency to cause to be immediately detached from the militia of your State the quota designated in the table below, to serve as infantry or riflemen, for the period of three months, unless sooner discharged.
        Your Excellency will please communicate to me the time at or about which your quota will be expected at its rendezvous, as it will be met as soon as practicable by an officer or officers to muster it into the service and pay of the United States. At the same time the oath of fidelity to the United States will be administered to every officer and man. The mustering officer will be instructed to receive no man under the rank of commissioned officer who is in years apparently over forty-five or under eighteen, or who is not in physical strength and vigor.
[4] When Captain Leasure applied to the Secretary of War for authority to raise an independent regiment among the yeomanry of central Pennsylvania, Cameron said, "Yes, Captain, if they will be men that will hold slavery to be a sin against God and a crime against humanity and will carry their bibles into battle".
"I have no other kind to bring", responded the Captain.
"All right," exclaimed General Scott who chanced to be present.  "We will call them 'Roundheads".
This is a reference to the Puritans who fought under Oliver Cromwell against the royalist forces under King Charles I in the English Civil War.  I would like to recommend this website to those of you who are interested in Tom’s Civil War history.  David Welch, the man who has created and maintains this great resource, is a friend of mine, and the descendant of another Roundhead soldier.  If you have questions about the life and times of any member of the 100th PA, Dave can probably answer it for you!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Family History Tip Week 12

    This week's tip is an easy one:  research your parents' generation.  Try to find birth certificates, marriage records, and if your parents are that old, census records.  (The US Census through 1930 is currently available - 1940 comes online in two weeks.)
Where to find those records?
First, check with your parents.  They may have copies of birth certificates and marriage licenses.  And yes, they might be in the safe deposit box, which means grumbling about FINDING THE KEYS, and then DRIVING ALL THE WAY TO THE BANK, and on and on.  So be sweet.  Offer coffee or tea or dessert as a bribe (turn the tables on them!)  Or just offer your time and attention.
You might have to write to the state for the records, and there is usually a fee involved.  But go through the state directly, not through an agency.  You'll pay either way, and you pay less if you do it yourself.  You'll probably need full names and dates (or at least year or range of years) and they usually want some ID from you to show that you are, indeed, related.  A copy of your driver license usually works.
Even if mom and dad have copies of the documents you might want to get your own original.  Just in case.  And if theirs is different (i.e. pre-computerization) do make a copy of their documents for your own files.
Once you get the records compare notes and information.  Are the dates what you were told?  Are parents' names listed?  Addresses?  Were your parents born in the place you thought they were born?  According to the marriage license, were you an 8 pound 5 ounce two months premature baby?  (THAT is a totally different story and fraught with danger when bringing it up to your folks - trust me on that one!)
Now is also the time to decide just how much collateral information you are going to include in your family history.  Will you add in brothers and sisters?  If your folks have school records or newspaper clippings are you going to add those to your collection?  My answer is always "Knowledge is power.  So give me more."  I want to know the names of the siblings of my great-great-grandpa.  I care that my grandmother graduated from high school while her mother only passed the sixth grade.  All of that info adds to the story of the person, makes them real, and brings them to life.  And even if your parents are alive right now, they won't always be here, so gather the info you can, and then ask questions about it all.  
Take notes like you are cramming for a test.
And ask more questions.  Ask for names, addresses, dates.  Ask for colors and prices and numbers.  Ask them how things and people made them feel.  Ask, ask, ask.
     Their story is part of your story.  And the more you understand them and who they are and were, the more you understand yourself.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Sitha James Matson - a Bit of Deaf History in America

          I looked at the 1850 US Census and was, quite literally, dumbstruck.  America has not always been in the vanguard of political correctness, and that doesn’t really bother me.  And while I know, intellectually, that words we find ugly and hurtful didn’t carry the same depths of cruelty 150 years ago, it was still pretty nasty to see.  Especially since it was my family they were talking about.
          Do you see what I saw?
          It’s a big enough jolt to see Sitha, a six-year-female casually labeled “deaf and dumb” on a federal document.  But what shocked me was the label on Joel.  The thirty-six-year old is labeled an “idiot”.  The other options, besides deaf and dumb, were blind, insane, pauper, or convict.  Interesting that being poor was considered to be an affliction equal to blindness, or criminal behavior.
          The historian in me knows that the census regularly changes what sort of questions it asks.  For a while we worried about incompetents.  Then we worried about aliens versus naturalized citizens versus native-born citizens (but not Native Americans!)  Then we tracked who had a radio and then who had a television.  If you remember the hullaballoo from the 2010 census (and I do because I worked it) the burning question was “are you Hispanic?”  Each time the census shifts its focus we learn what America fears:  is our new nation being filled up with the dregs of Europe?  are we being over-run by immigrants?  are we keeping up with the Russians when it comes to wealth and technology?  are we being over-run by immigrants?  (hey!  didn’t we do that one already?!)
          But still, that’s my family you’re talking about there.
          Turns out that label on Sitha was one of the best things that happened to me in my researches of the James family tree[1].  (Sadly, there isn’t much to learn about Joel.  The 1850 Census is the first one to list every family member by name, so we don’t know anything about him prior to 1850 and he is dead by the 1860 Census.)
          As I read through the 1860, 1870, and 1880 Census reports I got more and more confused.  Which were the children of James and which were the children of Matson?  Did Matson have more than one wife?  And did Sitha really get married and become a widow between 1870 and 1880?
          Remember I said way back at the beginning that the Census tells us what we fear?  And for a while we were afraid we might be less-than-the-best?  Well, by 1880 we were starting to worry about being over-run with foreigners coming in with their outlandish ways, but we were still worried about incompetents living here. 
          We were so worried that we had begun to do a governmental study on deaf people in America and their procreation habits and abilities.  The result was a special Census (U.S. Special Census on Deaf Family Marriages and Hearing Relatives, 1888-1895).  And I, for one, am thrilled that this was done.  Mostly because it helped me out immensely.
          This is a four-page document with only a few written lines but each one is filled with information.
          Page one tells me that Sitha L. James married Stephen M. Spencer on 25 August 1872 in Millfield, Athens Co., Ohio and the marriage was conducted by the Rev. William Kidwell.  There were no children from this marriage.
          On page two I learned that Stephen’s father was Oscar Spenser and his mother was Amanda, who remarried Mr. Robert Register.  Stephen (middle name “Miles”) was born on 14 March 1844 and had a brother, Nelson and two half-sisters, Larua A. and Clara I. Register.  Stephen was the only deaf child in the family, and his deafness occurred at the age of five due to an “inflammation of brain”.  He attended the “O” (“Ohio”?) school or institution for the deaf between 1857 when he was 13, and 1962.
          We learn from page three that Sitha’s parents were Matson and Rebecca James.   Sitha was born 20 May 1845, and had the following siblings:  John Wesley, John, Nancy Jane, William Henry, and Lewis Lee who was born 6 November 1848 and was deaf at six months due to a brain inflammation.  He and Sitha were the only two deaf children.  Sitha’s deafness was due to some sickness which occurred in her infancy, and she, too, attended the “O” school from 1858 (at age 13) to 1865.[2]
          The final page of the report simply tells us that the report was written in 1889 by Mr. B. Talbot.
          You never know what kinds of documents are out there.  I knew there was a special Census taken of Civil War veterans at this same time, but I was surprised to see one pertaining to deaf people.  This has been a good lesson for me – it’s a reminder to keep looking for as much information as possible when doing research.  And it’s kind of fun to know that there may still be things out there that surprise me.
          And just to tidy up things with Sitha James Spencer, I was able to trace her, now living with Lewis, Mary, and Charles in 1920.  There is no record of her after that, so I assume that she died sometime between 1920 and 1930.

[1] Part of the reason that Sitha’s disability helps me with family research is that she had an Aunt Sitha, born in 1811 and a second cousin named Sitha, born in 1845.  Sitha, daughter of Matson, is easy to find based on the labels that are attached to her in various documents.
[2] Since the family originally lived in Bedford County, PA and only moved to Athens County, OH in 1850, I like to think that Matson picked up his entire family and moved to the closest place that had an institution for educating the deaf and dumb.  There was such a place in Philadelphia, but there was most likely more opportunity for Matson to purchase farmland in Ohio than in the Philadelphia area.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Elias James' Will Part 3 of 3 or "Dude, where did all the money go?!?"

8th Item. I give and bequeath onto my two youngest sons, James James and Elias James, all that I shall hereafter in anywisesoever possess, equal share and share alike, only James to have three pounds the most.  I also will that their legacies be placed out on interest for their benefit ‘til they come of age and then to be bound out to good trades [with] sufficient schooling ‘til the age of twenty. 

          This is the part of the will that pertains particularly to my ancestor, twelve-year-old James James (named after his grandfather, in a stunning show of a lack of imagination).  Here Elias gives his two youngest sons four very valuable items:  cash, the preservation of that cash, a career, and an education.
          All of the rest of Elias’ goods and money were to be divided between the two youngest boys, with the elder son receiving the 2012 equivalent of $5325 more than his brother.  Not an enormous amount more, but apparently an effort to equalize the values of their respective inheritances when each boy comes of age.  We don’t know how much additional cash and good Elias has, but based on the final paragraph of the document, in which the will is proved and other legal matters are handled, it would be fair to say that the two little ones received cash worth something similar to their two older brothers’ farms and outbuildings.
          Elias next works to ensure that no one messes about with the boys’ money, directing it be “put out at interest” until they come of age.  In other words, the money was safely in a bank or some other institution designed to invest money, and would remain there until each boy was old enough to handle the money.
          To ensure that they were able to properly deal with their money, Elias required them to both be educated in a trade.  James became a tanner, the smelly, but very profitable, task of turning animal hides into leather.  As a tanner James would find himself always needed for boots, shoes, horse gear, military gear, belts, books, and many household goods which were made of leather.  Leather, together with wool, wood, and iron, were the most necessary items in the early 19th century.

9th.  I also nominate constitute and appoint my son, Thomas James, and my trusty friends Abner Osburn and Owen Thomas to be my whole and sole executors of this my last will and testament and revoke, disannul, utterly make void all former wills by me in anywise made, ratifying and confirming this and no other to be my last will and testament.

In Witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this 29th date of May 1789.

Elias James

Signed, sealed, published, and declared by the said Elias James, the testator, as and for his last will and testament in the presence of us who have subscribed our names and at the request of the said testator:

James Currell
Thomas Humphrey, Junior
Thomas Humphrey

Elias appointed his eldest son and two old friends to be the executors of his estate, signaling his trust in his son and providing Thomas with two trusted advisors who would also be able to declare, should questions arise, that Elias had done all according to his father’s wishes and had not cheated or in any way illegally profited from his position as executor.

At a court held for Loudoun County, October the 12th 1789, this will was proved by the witnesses thereto and ordered to be recorded and on the motion of Thomas James one of the executors therein named who made oath according to law, the other executors having refused to qualify.  Certificate is granted him for obtaining a probate thereof in due form giving security, whereupon he with Abner Osborne and Owen Thomas, entered into acknowledged their bond in the penalty of five hundred pounds conditioned as the law directs of Ann James, widow and relict of this decedent. Personally appeared in court and relinquished any benefit she may have in the said will.

          Elias died five months after executing his will.  As per the law in Virginia at the time, Thomas appeared before the court to prove Elias’ will.  To prove the will Thomas had to provide evidence that his father was dead, produce the will, provide evidence that this father had signed it (thus the witnesses were needed to verify they was Elias sign the will and had, in turn signed it), and then verify that he was the executor and was willing to take on the responsibility of executing his father’s wishes.
          The statement that the “other executors refused to qualify” simply means that, as a courtesy to Thomas, they were deferring to him to carry out the wishes of Elias’ will.  In addition, Anne made her appearance and agreed to accept the will.  (when Anne was referred to as a “relict” that meant literally “a person who has survived from another time” but had come to mean simply “a widow or widower”) 
Then Thomas was required to post a bond of 500 pounds which were to be payable to Anne if required.  (Even today there are instances when an executor must post a bond, basically insurance, so that if the estate is devalued because of any action on the part of the executor, the legatees do not suffer.)  While today a bond may be purchased for $100 - $500, in 1789 the bond had to be sufficient to cover the value of the estate, or 500 pounds in the case of Elias James’ will. 
          And this is why I make the claim that Elias was a successful business man.  Five hundred pounds in 1879 Virginia currency is the equivalent of nearly $900,000 in 2012 currency, and if we are talking pounds sterling, it would have been over one million dollars.   Elias’ estate, consisting to the best of our knowledge of no real estate, and only two leases, various household goods, and cash, was worth close to one million dollars.
          Of course when you divide this between the five surviving children and his wife that means each person received something along the lines of $145,000 worth of cash, goods, and leases.  Not bad for a guy who makes barrels, is it?
          At a later date I will continue with the James family story and see what happened to James’ share of the inheritance and attempt to answer the burning question:  “If Elias was so loaded, then why the heck I am not rich?!?”

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Elias James' Will, Part 2 of 3

3 Item.  I give and bequeath onto my son Thomas James all my right and title of a lot of lease land that I now live on containing one hundred acres with the buildings and appurtenances thereunto belonging to him, his heirs, and assigns, he yielding and paying his mother yearly and every year during her natural life or the expiration of the above lease which ever first, the sum of two pounds Virginia currency.  I also give and bequeath my said son Thomas my little mare and colt, saddle and bridle, one gun, and tackle. 

4th Item. I give and bequeath onto my son, Isaac James all my right and title of my other lot of lease land containing one hundred and two acres with all the buildings and appurtenances thereunto belonging to him his heir and assigns, he yielding and paying his mother yearly and every year during her natural life or ‘til the expiration of the lease which ever first, the sum of two pounds Virginia currency. 

          In the 1700s it was not uncommon for leases to last for 50 years, for the life of the tenant, for 100 years, or practically in perpetuity.  Many landholders did not live in the colonies and either leased the land out to someone with the understanding that he would pass it on to his son, or landholders would simply hire and agent who did the same thing.  It’s much easier to simply sign a rental agreement and walk away than to mess around with paperwork every year.  And given the fact that land was plentiful, most landowners owned thousands, even tens of thousands of acres, and that all the improvements to the land (such as clearing forests for farmland, building houses, digging wells) all belonged to the landholder, there was no need to try to gather every penny possible from the current tenant.  Rather, land would be leased for extended periods of time, the monies collected quarterly or annually, and the lease passed on from generation to generation, all the while the landholder’s property was growing in value.  (Weren’t they shocked and unhappily surprised when the colonists won the Revolutionary War and all of their land became that of their former tenants?)
          Thus it was that Elias could pass on his leased lands to his sons.  Thomas was to receive the 100-acre parcel on which Elias lived, and presumably had his cooperage, since there is no mention of property, eased or owned, in any town.  Isaac received a 102 acre parcel of land, with buildings and other improvements.  The only stipulation was that each son was to provide his mother with a cash payment of two pounds Virginia currency each year until her death.
          So how much was the four pounds that Anne received each year?  This was a difficult question to answer.  First I had to determine what the value of a Virginia pound was in relation to a British pound sterling.  Of course it all depends on the year, and sometimes even the month, but ultimately I settled on oone pound Viringia equaled 85% of oone pound sterling.  Then determine the dolar value of a pound sterling.  Now calculate the value in today’s dollars.  Do the math, and voila!  Anne received the 2012 equivalent of $3550 from each son every year.
          But $7100 does not seem like much when it comes to an annual income.  True.  And Anne does not appear to have received any land or house on which to live.  But this was a time and place where any one of her children would have taken her in to live with them.  Thomas might do so since his new home was already her home.  If Isaac did not have a wife, he might ask his mother to stay with him.  And there would have been no expectation of Anne paying rent to her sons for her room and board.  It was merely their filial duty to provide her with a place to live.
          Or I should say Anne, and Hannah, and James, and Elias Jr.  Because Elias’ will tells us that there were still three children at home who needed to be cared for.

5th Item. I give and bequeath unto James Nichols married to my daughter Ann, she being since deceased, one dollar and one third.

          This is a nice little gesture.  James is Elias’ son-in-law and apparently there are no children from the marriage of James to young Ann.  Perhaps both Ann and the child died in childbirth.  It was not uncommon in those days.  And while Elias has no obligation to make a bequest to James, he does so, to the tune of $519 in 2012 money.

6th Item. I give and bequeath onto my daughter Hannah James one feather bed, bedstead and bedding, one cherry bed, bedstead and bedding, one wool wheel, one flax wheel, one check reel, one large trunk, one small walnut box, one iron pot, one flatiron, one pair wool cards, the new velvet side saddle, and a Bridle, also all the dresser furniture, tea and coffee-ware except above excepted for her mother, also the big looking glass with all the drinking bowls and glasses. 

          It looks, on first glance, as though Hannah Jane is getting the lions’ share of goodies.  Even more things than her mother – two different beds, various spinning wheels (and no, I have no idea what a “check reel” is unless Elias was throwing in a fishing reel with all of the household goods!), various other household goods, a new velvet side saddle, and drinking bowls and glasses. 
But in actuality, most of these were things Hannah Jane would need to set up housekeeping when she got married.  Granted, two beds is a bit of a luxury, but I assume that Anne got the best bedroom set of the lot and Hannah Jane got the left overs.  The items for spinning would be important  to a young housewife since all the clothes had to be handmade and fabric that was bought cost more than fabric that was woven from threads that were spun from fibers that were grown right at home.  And a young married couple would be more likely to use the big looking glass and the drinking bowls (think teacups with no handle) and glasses than would Anne.
          As for the saddle, who do you think Elias bought it for?  Remember, Hannah Jane could not own anything while she was under her father’s house.  So even though everyone “knew” the saddle and bridle were for her use, if Elias didn’t specify that it was hers, it would have fallen into the “all that I shall hereafter in anywisesoever possess” category mentioned below.
          You will notice that Hannah Jane received neither money nor lands from her father.  Just the sort of “hope chest” things that a young woman would need upon her marriage.

7th Item. I will that all my wearing apparel be equally divided between my two sons, Thomas and Isaac, and all my books of divinity be equally divided among all my children and the younger ones then to [be] carefully preserved ‘til they come of  age.

          While it may seem odd to us to think of inheriting our dead parents’ clothes, remember the time and effort that was put into making these things.  (And Elias could have been a bit of a dresser, with some fancy clothes to go along with his work clothes.)  So receiving an extra set of clothes or two would have been a very valuable bequest.
          But I most enjoy the knowledge that the James’ have always been a bookish lot.  Elias has enough books in his home that each child will receive at least one book, and since he did not specific which child received which book, it is probably a safe assumption that there was a large enough library of divinity books in the James household that each of the six children would be taking home two or more books.  Notice that even the younger children were to receive their share of the books, with theirs being safely put away until they were old enough to appreciate them.
          This little bequest tells us several things about the Elias James family.  One, that religion was important to Elias (he was a Quaker) and he at least assumed that it was also important to his children.  Two, all of the James children were able to read.  Why give books to illiterates?  But beyond being simply able to sound out words, they were educated well enough to understand and appreciate the subtleties and difficulties of religious books of the 18th century.  And finally, I wonder if Anne, out of the entire household, was unable to read?  If she could read, why were there no books given to her?  Since there is no specific mention of her requiring care after Elias’ death, she was probably not blind nor infirm in any other way.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Elias James' Will - Part 1

(Note:  This blog got a tad bit in 13 pages.  This is the first 4 pages and I will add installments over the weekend!)

Today I am going to examine a will of one of our relatives, Elias James.  Elias was born on February 11, 1745 in Upper Merion Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.  He married Anne Matson, born in 1750, also of Upper Merion, in 1767.  Interestingly, the marriage took place in Loudoun County, Virginia.  It appears that a number of Philadelphia families chose to move to Virginia at the same time.
     Elias and Anne appeared to be happy and successful, as will be seen when we discuss Elias’ will more closely.  They had six children: Thomas, Isaac, Ann, Hannah, James, and Elias.  James James, born in 1777, is my ancestor.
      I have attached copies of the pages of the will, which, although not great copies, are still better than my transcription.  I offer my hearty thanks to Ila Jean Garlitz Drugg (daughter of Grace Viola James Garlitz, the sister of my grandfather, Melvin Chester James, the greatx3 grandson of Elias) for finding this will and including it in her book The James Path.  I do not remember when this book was written, but it must have been at least 25 years ago.  Her diligence in finding, documenting, and recording her work has saved me countless hours.  Thank you Jeannie!
      In addition to the photocopies of the will I am going to include my transcription of the will, paragraph by paragraph, and then my comments on it.  I have modernized the spelling and punctuation, and created the paragraphs from the large monolithic whole that is Elias’ will, and have indicated with brackets [thus] any place where I inserted information for ease of reading.

I, Elias James of the County of Loudoun in the State of Virginia, cooper, being some afflicted in body but of perfect mind and memory, thanks be given unto God for the same and calling to mind the mortality of my body and that it is appointed for all men once to die, I therefore commend my soul to him who gave it and do ordain this my last will and testament in manner and form as followeth.

     Loudoun County, Virginia is in the northeast corner of the state, sharing a border with Maryland.  A cooper is a barrel maker, an important occupation in a world without cardboard boxes.  If something was going to be shipped, it went in either a wooden box or a barrel.  Most things were sent in barrels because they were so sturdy and so unbreakable.  (Check out this YouTube video from Mythbusters to see just how unbreakable a barrel filled with 500 pounds can be: - you can ignore the peeing on the rail part if you want, but it’s pretty funny)  Dishes, food items, and of course wine and other potables were shipped and stored in barrels.  Later in the will we will discover just how lucrative the cooperage business can be.    

First I imprimise [“in premise” or “in the first place”] I will that all my just debts and funeral charges be paid and discharged by my executors hereafter named, 

2nd Item.  I give and bequeath unto my beloved wife Anne:  one square walnut table, two chairs, one feather bed, bedstead and bedding, one chest of drawers, one iron pot, one Dutch oven, one frying pan, one bucket, one wash tub, one flatiron, one pewter basin, three pewter plates, one pewter dish, three spoons, one pewter tea pot and sugar bowl, three tea cups and saucers, one tea kettle, one tin pan, two tin cups, two earthen dishes, two milk pans, one earthen pot, two white plates, two knives and forks; these for her to enjoy while she remains my widow or during her life which ever first then she shall return to our children that may then survive, share and share alike.

Oh, to have Anne’s legacy today!  Each item would bring a fortune in an antique store or auction.  What I find most interesting about this list of items is that they are all intended to provide Anne with a comfortable life, with a certain degree of elegance and luxury.  She has a table and two chairs, a feather bed with all the necessary bedding and bedstead, and a chest of drawers for her bedroom. 
For entertaining guests she is given plenty of cooking tools:  an iron pot and (I assume since I have never heard of a tin Dutch oven) an iron Dutch oven provide her with the highest quality cookware.  There is no mention of the material making up the frying pan, but I also assume this is made of iron.  The Widow James will be able to cook like a queen.  For cleaning up and carrying water she has a bucket and a wash tub.  There is a flatiron for ironing, and two (presumably tin) milk pans.    
          For her fancier dining and entertaining she receives a pewter basin (think large flat bowl, along the lines of 14 to 16 inches in diameter), three pewter plates, a pewter dish (another bowl, only smaller), three pewter spoons, and a pewter teapot and sugar bowl plus three cups and saucers of unnamed material.  For everyday use she has a tea kettle, a tin pan, two tin cups, two earthen dishes (think ceramic), an earthen pot, two white plates (china or ceramic), and two knives and forks.
While it may sound unkind and domineering to our modern sensibilities when we read the provision that these are for Anne “to enjoy while she remains my widow” this was a not unusual addition to wills which I believe was designed to protect grieving women from being preyed upon by unscrupulous men.  By only providing these relatively valuable items to the Widow James and taking them from her if she remarries, Elias is ensuring that she only remarries someone that she truly loves, or someone who has more than she does.  Because, remember, once Anne remarried, all of her goods would belong to her new husband, who could then sell them, break, them, or kick her out of the house and deprive her of them.   However, if she remarried a man of greater wealth, then she (presumably) wouldn’t mind exchanging her good things for his better things.  And if she married a man and there was mutual and reciprocal love, then neither would mind that she lost her material goods, because to have love without property was preferable to property without love.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Days and Dates...More Family History Fun

          So why bother with taking the time to use the Day of the Week Calendar ( when doing your family history or researching a specific person in your past?
          Glad you asked!
          First, it can be useful and instructive to determine precisely when an event happened.  For instance, today we normally see weddings taking place on weekend days – Fridays and Saturdays.  But in earlier times weddings were family affairs, not elaborate social events, and as such were held at home on whatever days was convenient for all involved.  Thus I discovered great-grandparents’ wedding days on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  It gives us a different perspective, doesn’t it?
          Second, the day of the week can sometimes explain why an event happened on that particular day.  Discovering that the reason someone was so hell-bent on getting a deed recorded or other court document recognized by a certain date makes sense if you discover that date is a Friday and therefore the last “business” day of the month.
          Another reason that uncovering the day of the week rather than settling for the date is that it might lead to surprises, verify legends, or settle disputes.  My mother always said that each of the four of us girls was born on a Monday, and sure enough!  I did my research and we all were, indeed, Monday’s children.  Discovering that an ancestor’s adult baptism occurred on a Thursday and then noting that the Thursday in question was just before Easter suggests a desire to be “within the church” by this holy weekend.
          Finally, it is just plain fun to know more about the “when” of events.  Dad was born on a Friday, Mom on a Wednesday.  They married on a Sunday.  You can note dates on letters, postcards, and photos and include the day of the week that they were written or snapped or recorded. 
          I like having those little details available to add to my stories of my family members.  It makes things seem more “real” if you will. 
          Now if there was only an easy way to discover the weather on a specific day, too……

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Rose by Any Other Name: But We Have No Roses

          Names always fascinate me.  Perhaps it is because I never liked my name, and so changed it to “Kate”.  My middle name, Jane, seems rather pedestrian.  Or quaint and comfortingly old-fashioned.  Depending on the day and my mood.
          My sisters all have names that are much more fashionable or malleable or fun than mine.  Barbara was also Barbie and Barb.  Melissa can be Missy.  And Jeaneen has the glory of a totally unique name (or at least the spelling) and has been Jeannie in the past.
          The meaning of names is also of great interest to me.  My name is from a Greek word and means “pure”.  My sons name, Nathaniel (and happy birthday to him), means “gift of God”.
          I recently started to look at the various first names in my family and found an enormous range of names.  Some are trendy – for their time.  Lots of them are Biblical.  And there are some that make you wonder how in the world anyone came up with that.
          So today, for the fun of it, I compiled a list of first names of my direct ancestors, and determined which names were rare and which were most common.  The top name should sound very familiar to my sisters (although none of their names made the list.)

Names found only once in my line of direct ancestors:
Adam                    Agnes                    Allen                      Amanda
Anna                     Anne                     Asa                        Austin
Betty                     Campbell               Edith                      Elias
Enoch                    Ezekiel                   Frances                 Franklin
Griselda                 Hezekiah                Hugh                      Ida
Isaac                     Laughlin                 Levi                        Mahala
Maria                    Marian                   Martha                   Melvin
Minerva                 Nathaniel               Nicholas                Phillip
Sophia                   Susan                    Tabitha

          Quite a long list, isn’t it?  And some great names in there.  Just think, my son could have been Hezekiah Laughlin!

Names found twice:
Catherine               Elizabeth                Jane                      Joseph
Margaret               Rebecca                Samuel                  Thomas

          Now Catherine might belong in the first list since one lady spelled her name with a “C” and the other with a “K”, but spelling was so iffy in those days, that I imagine I can find documents for each lady with both spellings.  So I am counting that as two of the same name. 

Most frequently found first names:
James – three times (interesting, since this is also a surname in my family)
Thomas – four times
William – six times
Sarah – seven times
George and John – nine times each (John sounds reasonable, that was my dad’s name, and I know it was and still is a very common name, but who knew we had so many Georges in our family?)

And the name found most often in my line of direct ancestors?  Can you guess?  What name is missing from the list?
With 16 separate occurrences, all spelled the same way, the number one name is Mary.
Mary was the name of my paternal grandmother, so it is, indeed, familiar to my sisters and me.  Interestingly to my modern mind is the fact that both Polly and Molly are nicknames for Mary. 
So what names are most common in your family?  Check and see.  You might be surprised.