Sunday, May 31, 2009

Carnival of Genealogy 73: The Good Earth Belongs to Someone Else

I do not have any particular ties to any particular plot of land, unless you include cemetery lots where relatives are buried.

My parents did not have any ties to any land, either. My father's family moved a few times during the early 20th century in the Los Angeles area. My mother's family occupied a couple different houses in Pensacola, Florida. Together, my mother and father never owned a house. They always rented. Rats to that, because I can not use property records and tax records to locate them in any particular place. I've had to depend on city directories, for the most part. And even that is not terribly accurate, as they were known to move a couple times within a year. I know they were in Florida at the time of the 1945 state census, but I have not found them in that enumeration yet. I am waiting to see where I might find them in the 1940 census.

My husband and I now have an acre in the country that backs up to a state forest. It is nice for the most part -- until the deer meander out of the forest into the yard and eat every edible and ornamental plant I ever planted. So these days, I do not even have a garden.

I have not found that my ancestors were landed, either, to any great extent. There were some farmers, but it was a tradition that did not continue in the subsequent generations. My great-great grandfather Nelson Reed McKee, about whose disappearance I blogged the other week, is shown in the 1860 census as a farmer in Allen County, Indiana. He apparently did not make much of a go of it, because in the next census he is listed as a silversmith living in Portland, Jay County, Indiana.

Through a query in a Canadian newspaper, as I reported in my blog on cousins the other day, I contacted distant cousins in Quebec who still live on land settled by our mutual ancestor, my fourth great-grandfather Richards Packard, sometime around 1798. Reading his revolutionary war pension file reveals a constant northward trend from his native Massachusetts (he was born in Bridgewater, that portion of which is now Brockton), up to New Hampshire, where he met his wife Sally Coats, thence to Vermont, where my third great-grandfather John Allen Packard was born, and on into Quebec, where they were giving land away. He did not want to remain in New Hampshire, where he worked in a foundry. Apparently he was not satisfied with the lands he found in Vermont. He seems to have been more content with the plot he settled in Quebec, near present-day Georgeville.

My husband's father's family did not seem to be tied to the land very closely, either, though I do not have too many facts about his great-grandfather Samuel Rhoades. My husband's grandfather was a railroad conductor, as was my great-grandfather Francis Harvey ("Frank") Reed. My grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Reed, also called Frank, was a railroad switchman.

In my husband's mother's family there is a farm, no longer active as one, near Darien, GA, which is still in the family. My husband's maiden aunt Lil lives there now, and the property has been divided among some of her siblings. That is the closest thing I've seen, up close and personal, to a plot of land which has been handed down over a century and a half, the original family members having settled the land around the time of the Civil War.

There is not a real tradition of landholding in my family, certainly not as far back as nearly 200 years. I sprang from city and suburban folk, in neat little houses with neat little yards.

But even the humblest plot is home, and was to our ancestors who were not large or even modest landholders.

Black Sheep Sunday: Find Your Psychiatric Black Sheep in the Florida Archive

Last Sunday, I discussed finding records pertaining to incarcerated felons in the Florida State Archive. Here are some record groups to search when you are looking for those who spent time in Florida’s public mental hospitals.

Florida Hospital for the Insane administrative files, 1885-1914 can be found in Record Group 145, Series S. 40. These records consist in correspondence sent by and received by the Board of Commissioners of State Institutions on the subject of care of the indigent insane in the state’s mental institution. The state hospital has changed names over the decades: it has been known as the Florida Asylum for the Indigent Insane, the Asylum for Indigent Lunatics, the Florida Asylum for the Insane, and the Florida Hospital for the Insane. It was finally known as the Florida State Hospital.

There may be little about any particular individuals in this series, though part of the papers do concern the patients. Other subject covered in this series are administration, building construction and improvement, supplies and purchasing, and transportation. There could be some useful background information in these records. Of more interest in this series could be the Daybook which covers the years 1885 through 1888, and which lists receipts and disbursements for the hospital’s paying patients.

Record Group 841, Series S 1062 could be of more use. These are the commitment records from 1893 to 1973. These are arranged alphabetical by the patients’ last name, then chronologically by the date of commitment, for the earlier records. Later records are arranged numerically by their case numbers.

Coverage of these records, to quote from the State Archive catalog, is “commitment records which document the procedure by which persons were committed to the Florida State Hospital and its predecessor, the Florida Hospital for the Insane.” Passage of the “Baker Act” in 1973 eliminated the need for a separate commitment record. The “Baker Act” provides for the involuntary commitment of any individual deemed an immediate hazard to him or herself, or to others. During the time covered by these records, the commitment papers became part of the patient’s medical record (see Series S 1065, below).

One may find in the earlier records in this series a copy of the official court order of commitment, with information including the name of the patient, the cause of the illness, the patient’s condition as a result of the illness, and any correspondence generated by the commitment. Later records usually contain routine court records, but in some cases, additional correspondence may also be included.

In this same Record Group 841 is series S 1065, Medical records, 1914-1983. These are divided into two groups: records covering from 1914 to 1938, and those after 1938. The first group is further subdivided by sex and race. Access to these records requires the express written consent of the patient or of his or her guardian or advocate. Records of deceased patients require the written permission of the patient’s personal representative or immediate heir. The medical records contain charts, admission notes, furlough and discharge papers, progress notes, death certificates and other information on the patient’s hospitalization.

Record Group 841, series S 1066, Death books, 1953-1971 documents deaths at the state hospital for the years indicated. In these books can be found the name of the patient, the date and time of death, costs incurred, and final disposition of the body.

Record Group 841, Series S 1074, Indigent Patient Account Books, 1900-1921, contains account books for the indicated years for indigent patients. They are arranged by gender, then chronologically by admission date. Books containing entries for male patients date from 1900 to 1921; those for female patients date from 1915 to 1921. Besides the name of the patient, these books provide information on the date of admission, patient’s account balance on admission, and a list of personal effects, with a record of how the patient’s money was received and spent. This is information that could paint a very personal picture of an ancestor.

Record Group 841, Series S 1075, Pay Account Book, 1901-1917 is arranged chronologically by admission date, and contains the accounts of the paying patients at the institution for the indicated years. If a patient’s family could afford to pay for the care and maintenance of the patient, they sent quarterly payments to the State Treasurer’s Office. If payments lapsed, the patient could be discharged. Each entry lists the patient’s name and the date of each payment, as well as the amount and balance.

Record Group 841, Series S 1078, Furloughs, 1894-1922 lists those patients who were considered sufficiently recovered to go home on a trial basis. These were for one year, and could be renewed. The furlough paper was signed by a family member or custodian willing to take responsibility for the patient’s care. The person taking custody of the patient agreed to provide medical care, food, shelter, and clothing, and to pay transportation costs for the patient’s return to the hospital, if necessary. The years 1895, 1897, and 1900 are missing from this series.

Record Group 841, Series S 1079, Discharges, 1901-1922, shows the patient’s name, along with the reason for the discharge (which could be transfer to another institution, recovery, being sent home on furlough, or other reasons), the patient’s race, county of residence, dates of hospital stay, and condition upon discharge (not always notated).

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Where are YOUR cousins?

I'm not talking about your first cousins, whose whereabouts you probably know. I'm talking about those distant cousins, descendants of your great-great (or further back) grandparents in one line or another. They pop up when you least expect it.

Like this:

As an exercise for a class in Canadian genealogy I took as part of my studies with the National Institute of Genealogical Studies/University of Toronto, I placed a query in a Canadian newspaper which had a genealogical column. This one was in Quebec, in the English-speaking enclave known as the Eastern Townships, where I have ancestral ties. Lo and behold, I got an answer, which led me to cousins there. They are descendants of my 4x great-grandfather Richards Packard, and they live on the same land he settled around 1798!

Or this:

As indicated in my "About Me" blurb to the left, I am, at the tender age of 62, a student at the University of North Florida. One day in the fall of 2007, as I sat in Spanish grammar class, we were discussing a phrase that does not literally translate from Spanish to English. Unfortunately, I do not remember the phrase, and I apparently did not make note of it. I had just figured out the English equivalent, a phrase my Appalachian-bred friend taught me, when a deep male voice off to my left said it first: "The apple don't fall far from the tree."

After class, I talked to the fellow, a big burly bear of a young man, probably in his 30s. I said, "You're from the Appalachians." He replied, "Yes, ma'am, I shore am," with a wink. Where was he from? East Tennessee. I asked him if he had any Carter relations -- the line of my friend who taught me that phrase, and who also hails from East Tennessee. He didn't think so, but he'd find out. Learning that his surname is Bowers, I asked my friend if she had any Bowers kin. She didn't think so.

During that time, I had done a little research on my mother's line, the Naves. It did not dawn on me that there might be a connection, for the Naves were also from East Tennessee. About two weeks after that event in class, having found out that young Mr. Bowers had no Carter connections, and my friend had no Bowers kin, I received a copy of a book I had ordered from its author. The book is Teter Nave: East Tennessee Pioneer -- His Ancestors and Descendants, by Robert T. Nave and Margaret W. Houghland. When I traced my mother's line back in the lineages in the book, I was stunned.

I had to go back to class the next session and let the young man know that it was not my friend to whom he was related. It was me. My great-great grandfather's name was John Teter Bowers Nave! Oh, yes, young Bowers told me, they had Naves all over the place in their line, too.

Now, that is an example of small world! So -- where are YOUR cousins?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cookin' up your genealogy

Among my mother's papers I went through after she died was a fistful of 3x5 cards and clippings from newspapers and magazines. These are all recipes, some of them I believe must date back at least to World War II. My mother, Martha Shideler Reed (1916-1980) married my father Arden Packard (1911-1954) in 1937 in Pensacola, Florida. My father was taking flight training at Pensacola Naval Air Station.

One recipe, for "Savory Casserole," starts out rather unsavory to me -- "brown 1 c. dried luncheon meat in 2 tbsp. fat." Does this sound like a thrifty ration-driven World War II recipe or what? The recipe continues: "add 1/2 c. dried onion, 1 c. celery, 1/4 c. green pepper. Cook until partially tender." Wonder how long that took? By dried luncheon meat, I wonder if that meant dried chipped beef? We had another name for that in the service, but I will not mention it here!

"Blend in -- 1 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper, 2 tbsp. flour. Add -- 2 c. canned tomatoes, 1/2 c. drained whole kernel corn. Cook until thickened. Pour into deep casserole & top with biscuits. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes."

In this recipe is a little clue: my mother must have spent time working as a secretary those many years ago, and indeed she did, so she told me, before getting married. The clue: the word "to" and the word "minutes" in the last sentence in the recipe are in Gregg shorthand. It's a good thing I took shorthand as an elective in high school!

It is also a good thing I am a paleographer -- I can usually puzzle out words which Mom didn't write all that clearly, though her handwriting was usually quite legible.

Another recipe has an ingredient that has me wondering: Her recipe for "Salmon or Tuna Fish Loaf" calls for 2 tbsp. acid. Does that mean vinegar (also known as acetic acid)? Or maybe lemon juice (a form of citric acid)? Could either one be used according to personal taste?

Another bunch of papers contained some recipes of my grandmother, Mary LeSourd (1889-1978). One of them shows economic conditions at the time, which might have been anywhere from the 1920s to the 1940s, and how they differ from today: "Ice Box Pudding -- 1 cup nuts, 2 eggs, 1 stick butter, 1 cup powdered sugar, 1 ten cent bar German sweet chocolate, 3 five cent boxes vanilla wafers."

Five cents' worth of German's sweet chocolate today might fit on the head of a pin, and try to get three boxes of vanilla wafers for fifteen cents!

A handful of little cards, holding clues about my mother's work life and about the economic times my grandmother lived through. These recipes are for more than dishes for our table. These are recipes for family history.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Madness Monday: Samuel Rhodes/Rhoades

The individual seated in the photo to the left is Samuel Rhodes/Rhoades, my husband's great-grandfather. He is proving elusive, and driving me nuts with the fact that I haven't been able to pin him down. He and his unidentified companion are rather rough-looking characters, it seems to me, and I wonder just what the story is here, for a story there is.

Family legend is that Samuel's boys Andrew (my husband's grandfather, born in 1882) and Harley (born in 1885) were placed in an orphanage when they were young because their mother could not take proper care of them at the time. No information has been produced as to why she was in that predicament. Did Samuel run off? Did he die? Was he perhaps locked up? Is the light blotch on the hat of the standing man not a blotch at all, but a policeman's badge?

I have not been able to locate Samuel in the censuses, but I have found his wife Ida Mae Dewey, both before she married Samuel and after she had remarried on 9 February 1888. But I have not pinned him down yet, though I have found a few Samuel Rhodes/Rhoades entries in the area at the time. The spelling variation comes from another aspect of the same family legend, that is: the name Samuel was born with was Rhoades, or so Andrew had it in his Railroad Retirement papers. Andrew, when he was placed in the orphanage, so the family legend says, was a poor speller and left the "a" out of the name, coming up with Rhodes, the spelling our branch of the family uses to this day. Andrew's brother Harley spelled it Rhoades, the name under which he died in Lee County, Florida, in 1947, according to the Florida Death Index.

The way I understood the family legend, related by my father-in-law, was that when Ida Dewey Rhoades Shuster went back to the orphanage to reclaim her sons, Andrew had been adopted out and only Harley was there to be taken home. Ida had by that time married Andrew Shuster, and Harley appears with them in the 1900 census at the age of 15. Andrew was three years older.

I have not found Andrew in the 1900 census, but in 1910 he was in a Chicago boarding house, his profession listed as messenger. By 1920 he was in Tampa, Florida, married and with one son -- my husband's father.

One of the Samuel Rhoades entries in the 1900 census is Samuel J. Rhoades, age 38, an inmate at the Massilon State Hospital in Starke County, Ohio. Ida Dewey, by that time the wife of Andrew Schuster, was 35 in 1900. And Harley Rhoades's middle name was John; it's possible that the J. in this Samuel Rhoades's name stands for John. This is a possible avenue of further research, but it is by no means certain that this is the one I'm looking for.

Another possibility is Samuel H. Rhoades, found in the 1870 census in his father's household in Benton Township, Pike County, Ohio. This is a stronger possibility because the Rhoades clan at that time seems to have hung out in Pike County, where Andrew Rhodes was born. And it is in Benton Township, Pike County, Ohio, that Ida Dewey was enumerated in her parents' household in 1880.

So far I have been unable to locate either a marriage certificate for Samuel and Ida, or a death certificate for Samuel. I just have to keep looking.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Black Sheep Sunday: Find Your Felonious Black Sheep in the Florida State Archive

The Florida State Archive, located in the R. A. Gray Building in Tallahassee, holds a number of records containing information that could be valuable to black sheep researchers. Most of these records pertain to prison inmates or patients at the state mental hospital. A downside to Florida State Archive research is that none of their materials circulate. A researcher must either go to Tallahassee in person, or hire someone to do the research. A good way to find a reliable researcher is through either the Florida State Genealogical Society or the Florida Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists.

For felonious black sheep who may have been fortunate to have either been pardoned or had their sentences commuted, a good place to start is Record Group 690, Series S 158: Pardon, commutation, and remission decrees, 1869-1909. These records consist in official copies of decrees of pardon, commutation (of sentences), or remission (of fines). The information in these documents includes name of the individual, date and place of conviction, the crime, the sentence, the reason for granting the pardon or other action, and the final conditions. These records are chronologically arranged.

Another possible source is Record Group 690, Series S 443, the state Board of Pardons Application case files, 1887-1975. These consist in applications for pardon from prisoners. These files are restricted, and one must apply for permission to view them to the Custodian of Records in the Office of Clemency, in the Office of the Governor. The application for permission to view a file can be faxed to (850) 488-0695. The application must cite the Archives record series (690- S 443), the specific file being requested (probably by the name of the inmate who made application for pardon), and the restriction that applies to those files. Further information on the specifics of the restrictions can be found at this listing at the State Archive website.

To locate an inmate in a specific prison from 1875 through 1959, help can be found in Record Group 670, Series S 500, Prisoner Registers 1875-1959. The original handwritten registers, arranged chronologically, are accompanied by typed transcriptions which are arranged alphabetically. The typed transcriptions can serve as an index to the handwritten registers. In the registers a researcher will find the names of all the convicts received into the state prison system during the stated period, with each individual’s name, sex, race, age, birth state, crime, sentence, and the date he (or she) arrived at prison and the date of release. Those prisoners who escaped are also notated, along with the date of their recapture – if they were nabbed! Other notations include their prison ID number, and whether they completed their sentence, were released, or died in prison.

If your black sheep ancestor paid the final price for his crimes, that may be recorded in Record Group 156, Series S 12: Death Warrants, 1869-1972, 1992-2005. They are found in several boxes, some of which are arranged chronologically, and some alphabetically by surname. Papers consist of death warrants, correspondence relating to the warrants and the subsequent executions, transcripts of court testimony, and reports and correspondence of the clemency board. Three volumes marked 1896-1965 have copies of all the death warrants issued.

Next time I’ll list some of the records the State Archive has pertaining to mental patients.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Musings on Medical History

I hadn't planned on blogging today, but a rude awakening a few minutes ago got me to thinking.

We've had a huge amount of rain these past few days, as what we northeast Floridians call a "Nor'easter" has been sitting on us. It's either that, or the fact that the electric utility has been working a couple miles up the road. Whichever it is, it has caused several electrical outages of brief duration (and one long one the other day). My husband and I both have a medical problem called sleep apnea, which basically means that we stop breathing several times an hour while we're sleeping. As treatment for that, we both use medical machines called continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, which keep us breathing during sleep. It is a rude awakening indeed when the electricity is interrupted and the CPAP machine stops pushing air!

That got me to thinking about my other medical conditions -- I'm pretty much a wreck, at this point in my life -- and their genetic components, and the importance of seeking out medical information for a good medical history in one's family lines. As a former registered nurse, I know the importance of a thorough medical history.

Some of my medical conditions have or possibly have a genetic component:

Sleep apnea -- our older daughter appears to have inherited it from us
Type 2 diabetes -- my mother and brother also had it
Restless leg syndrome -- my mother and brother

Also to be considered, and part of the history I gave to my doctor, is that my paternal grandparents both died of heart attacks and my maternal grandmother also died of a heart attack, and my mother had a stroke. The cardiovascular system appears to be my weak point, as well, as I have twice been hospitalized as a result of transient ischemic attacks, a precursor to a stroke, a warning shot across the bow, if you will. Lucky me.

We need to try as best we can to determine our family's medical history, at least back a couple generations. Death certificates can give some clues, especially if one particular cause shows up multiple times, in both of your primary family lines. Check out family legends and lore of what a particular family member may have dealt with in life, or their cause of death. Often it is difficult; some potential sources may just not be available. For example, many hospitals destroy their records after five inactive years. If your father or grandfather (or mother or grandmother) was in the military, you might be able to obtain his service health record from the National Personnel Records Center.

Try to learn as much as you can about your health history, through your genealogical research. Your doctor will be glad to have the information. Your descendants will, too.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday: A Mighty Weight

This isn't easy to talk about, but it illustrates probably what many people have gone through over the years. For more than a decade, my grandmother and mother lay in unmarked graves. Funerals were expensive enough, especially in a family which never has been rich. Grave markers, at the time of my grandmother's funeral when my mother had to bear the cost, and at the time of my mother's funeral when my husband and I, already on shaky financial ground, had to bear the cost, were a luxury which neither of us, at that time, could afford.

For years I bore the weight on my shoulders of this knowledge, and of the knowledge that we couldn't do anything about it. Financial matters turned worse during the 1980s, when my husband and I suffered unemployment, I suffered medical problems and their attendant expenses, and we lost the house we had worked long for and loved because it was the culmination of our dreams. We were broke.

It took us 12 years to dig ourselves out of that hole. And after that time, I managed to put together enough money to lift off my shoulders once and for all the burden, the heavy weight, of the shame I felt because my mother and grandmother lay in unmarked graves.

They do no longer. The day I drove away from the cemetery after having made the arrangements and knowing that the markers were going to be on their way soon, I felt lighter than I had in a long, long time. And I was pleased to go back after they were delivered and see them.

Mary L. Reed
March 23, 1889 - May 28, 1978

Martha R. Packard
December 20, 1916 - October 23, 1980

This story, too, is part of our family history.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Social History of our Ancestors Through Postcards

We can use all sorts of sources, not just original documents such as letters, vital records, deeds and such, to fill out the details of our ancestors' lives. One of the tasks we want to accomplish as family historians is to put our ancestors in context. We want to know -- and show -- what was the social milieu in which our ancestors lived.

One way to do that is with postcards. My husband is fortunate in that his grandfather, Andrew Lewis Rhodes (1882-1966) collected postcards. His collection dates from the 1920s into the 1960s. The locations range from Florida, where he lived from young manhood until his death, to other southern states such as North Carolina, where the family vacationed.

Here is an example from his collection:

This is Jacksonville, Florida, circa 1925, showing the beach, Jacksonville Naval Air Station, a couple of city parks, and Oriental Gardens, a former tourist attraction which is now a subdivision. Andrew Lewis Rhodes lived in Jacksonville from the early 1920s until his death.

The postcard above shows the Hotel Regal in Tampa, where Andrew lived circa 1918-1920.

In the early 20th century, one could have a personal photograph made into a postcard. The example below is a photo of Andrew's wife Della Mae Marshall, facing the camera, circa 1918.

The back is the typical postcard back, with one half devoted to the message and one half to the address and the stamp.

Postcards serve not only as mementoes of travels, people, and places for the collector, but also serve the collector's ancestors as a means of placing the ancestor in his or her social context, a means of learning where the ancestor may have traveled, and even a way to see the important people in the ancestor's life.

Don't throw away those old postcards.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

BlackSheep Sunday: The Mystery of Nelson Reed McKee

In an essay she wrote in 1943, shortly before her death, my great-grandmother Florence Elizabeth (McKee) Reed stated that when she was seventeen, "stark tragedy overtook the family and my whole prospect of life was changed." She did not elaborate. Since my father died when I had just turned seven, I assumed the same had happened to hers, my great-great-grandfather Nelson Reed McKee. But I knew nothing, really, and the mystery remained. Seeking information about my McKee family, I put a notice on the McKee Family Genealogy Forum. It wasn’t until a year or two after that I got a solid nibble, but with a weird and astonishing twist: the woman who contacted me, who lives in Wisconsin, said she was a descendant of Nelson Reed McKee – and his second wife! The names certainly matched, and she had Nelson Reed McKee’s proper birth date and other information. She did some research, traveling to Indiana, and came up with an astonishing story. In the Monticello Herald (Monticello, White County, Indiana) for Thursday, 5 June 1879, the front page headline read:


His sudden and unaccountable disappearance last Saturday night

The article described how Great-great-grandpa McKee had come home on that Saturday evening from his watchmaker's shop, accompanied by his fourteen-year-old son Frank, who worked in the shop with him. Great-great-grandpa took off his coat and boots, preparing for bed, but apparently changed his mind, dressed, and went out. Before leaving the house, he gave his wife some money and told her to keep it safe. Later that night, Great-great-grandma woke up and found her husband gone. She searched the house and grounds, going out to a nearby bluff, calling his name. She awoke a neighbor, who woke the town.

The search continued that night, to no avail. The next day, there was information about a possibly forged deed and mortgage in Nelson McKee's name. There was an endorsement to the instrument bearing the name of a local Justice of the Peace, who denied ever having seen the document. The date on the endorsement was 26 May 1879 -- the day before the alleged deed and mortgage were shown to have been executed. Nelson McKee was confronted with the papers, and according to the newspaper account, "gave no satisfactory explanation, but seemed confused and annoyed. He is reported to have been low-spirited all day Saturday, and was very uncommunicative even to his family upon the subject of his trouble."

The newspaper account further states that up until that time, he "had maintained an unblemished character, and even now public sentiment is loth to charge him with any evil intentions." He suffered what the newspaper, with the delicacy of the day, referred to as "financial embarrassment." In these days of "let it all hang out," there is no real stigma attached to being up against it, but in those days a man not being able to support his family -- for whatever reason -- was subject to shame and ridicule. When he left, he took only what belonged to him. An audit of his shop conducted by his brother Charles, who was also a jeweler and who came from his home in Sidney, Ohio, to settle accounts, showed no discrepancy.

The newspaper advanced three theories as to the reason for Nelson McKee's disappearance: "1st. That he was deranged and wandered off without any definite aim. 2nd. That he absconded under fear of prosecution for forgery. 3rd. Suicide." I think the first unlikely. Nelson McKee left his store "in perfect order," with customers' goods securely locked in the safe. He had also given his wife Sarah a fair amount of money for those days, and had paid the rent on his store a few months in advance. The second is quite likely, judging from his reaction to having been questioned about the apparently forged deed. The third is not true.

In the Weekly Herald, Clinton, Wisconsin, October through December 1880, about a year and a half after Nelson Reed McKee’s disappearance from Monticello, Indiana, ran this ad: "All kinds of clocks, watches, jewelery and spectacles repaired and warranted, by N. McCuren, at Woodward's Drug Store." The woman from Wisconsin who contacted me states that when Nelson R. McKee first got to Wisconsin, he had changed his name (though probably not legally) to Nels McCuren. There he took up once again his trade as a jeweler and watch repairman. Later ads, around 1883 and after, indicate that he had gone back to his real name, N. R. McKee. The ads are practically word-for-word as the ads he ran in the paper back in Indiana.

Nelson married Ida Josephine Colby in Beloit, Wisconsin, 1 August 1880. The problem was that he was still married to his first wife, Sarah Ann Sunderland. My Wisconsin cousin sent me a copy of a handwritten legal notice, probably prepared for publication in the newspaper. It is a standard form, with blanks to be filled in, to institute divorce proceedings, causing publication of the notice in a newspaper of general circulation, a common legal requirement. The first publication was made 22 April 1882 and the last on 13 May 1882. This last one is the final notice, giving legal recognition of the fact that Nelson Reed McKee failed to respond to the previous notices. The date of Nelson Reed McKee’s second marriage and the dates mentioned in the legal notice form indicate that it wasn’t until nearly two years after Nelson married Ida Colby that Sarah Ann (Sunderland) McKee, his first wife, finally filed for a divorce.

The Monticello Herald, Monticello, Indiana, November 16, 1882, published on page 1 col. 2: "Mrs. Sarah A. McKee has been granted a divorce from her husband, N. R. McKee, on the ground of desertion, and she has been awarded the custody of the children." It appears that the publication of the notice of Sarah filing for divorce was in Indiana only, and only in White County. One would think that this announcement would not have gotten to Nelson’s notice in Wisconsin. However, factor in the fact that Sarah’s sister Mary was married to Nelson’s brother William. Did William know where Nelson had gone, what had happened to him? Did Mary know her sister had sought a divorce, and had she told her husband William? Had William been in contact with Nelson and told him of the divorce proceeding? Was Sarah’s filing for divorce not only an act to free her to marry again if she so chose, but also to release Nelson from a threat of prosecution for bigamy? Sarah did remarry, becoming the wife of Luke Rogers 29 October 1884, in Monticello, White County, Indiana.

Nelson Reed McKee may have been guilty of forgery and bigamy. I do not think this was through intent, but rather the act of a man caught up in circumstances he was ill equipped to handle, who felt shame and could not face his family with what he had done. I picture him arriving in Wisconsin nearly broke, friendless, alone, and feeling miserable. I picture Ida Colby as a good woman who loved him and brought him back to self-respect. It's a human drama, and part of my family history. And frankly, I'm grateful to him for having spiced up the genealogy a bit!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Maps to Follow Your Civil War Ancestors' Travels and Travails

I said in my introductory post last night that I plan to be "all over the map -- sometimes literally" in this blog. Today I am all over the map -- or the maps!

This afternoon my husband and I made the trip out to the Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island, east of the city of Jacksonville (though it's all Jacksonville, really) to hear Dr. Aaron Sheehan-Dean, associate professor of history at the University of North Florida, speak about his new book, Concise Historical Atlas of the U.S. Civil War.

First, a disclaimer. I am a History and Spanish major at the University of North Florida, and I have taken two courses from Dr. Sheehan-Dean. One was Craft of the Historian, an excellent course required of all history majors, in which we learn how history is done and why we do it that way, according to current standards of methodology. The other was Civil War and Reconstruction, in which Dr. Sheehan-Dean used many of the maps he developed for the book.

Enough prelim. What about the book, and what value does it have for family historians?

When we think about books of Civil War maps, we think of depictions of this or that campaign or battle, of where the troops were moving, of who was advancing and who retreating. Dr. Sheehan-Dean has a goodly assortment of those in this book, of course. However, he also has -- along with one-page explications which offer insight into what it is the map shows us -- maps of the territorial expansion of the U.S. from the original 13 colonies to 1853, agricultural production, distribution of industrial capability, movements of refugees, and patterns of dissent both north and south, and a great deal more.

The battle maps are clear and well-drawn. Dr. Sheehan-Dean did these maps himself, basing them on some of the original cartography done for the war and now available in the compilation of official records generally termed The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies put together by the U.S. War Department after the war and published in a huge multi-volume set. He used a geographical imaging software which allowed him to strip away "layers" of the maps (topography, roads and railroads, rivers, etc.) and thereby clarify what these often-cluttered old maps had to offer. He then used Adobe Illustrator to produce the final products. Many of the social-data maps, such as the agricultural production map or the map showing the distribution of industry, are so fine that individual counties within states can be easily discerned.

The descriptive material that accompanies each map is, in keeping with the book's title, concise, packing a lot of information into one page. But don't stop with what Dr. Sheehan-Dean says about the maps. He himself would ask that you think of ways to interpret their data and meaning which provide the best use to you. He calls these maps "open texts," that can be interpreted in a variety of ways for a variety of purposes.

We family historians can use the maps and interpret them in light of our own family experience. For instance, Dr. Sheehan-Dean's map number 30 shows dissent in both the north and the south. He discusses, among other factors, such events as northern draft riots and southern resistance to conscription, which many thought had a class bias as they saw wealthy planters either avoiding it altogether or being allowed to pay for substitutes.

To illustrate the value of this map to a family historian, application to my own family is relevant. Dr. Sheehan-Dean mentions strong Unionist feeling in eastern Tennessee in relation to this map. My mother's people, the Nave family, were mainly Union sympathizers in that part of Tennessee. Like most families in the area and many families across the land, they were divided on the subject. As I think of the family and look at this map, I wonder what lines of inquiry would bear fruit for me in finding out more about the Nave family and putting them in their proper context of time and space. Newspaper accounts, local histories, and other published accounts such as diaries might provide information. The Official Records Dr. Sheehan-Dean mentioned, and other government documents, might also have some background about Union sentiment in the area.

Did any of my Nave forbears serve in the Union forces? For them, I might want to research to see if there is a pension file or service record at the National Archives. Did any of them serve in the Confederate forces? For them, I might check with Tennessee's state archive, and possibly in other southern states nearby, as well.

All of this brainstorming represents what can be spurred by just looking at the map and reading the brief narrative, and thinking of other ways in which the map might be informative. Especially useful in limning our ancestors' lives is the fact that we can pinpoint in many of these maps the very county where the ancestor's family lived. That allows us to get an idea of the impact a particular factor may have had in our ancestor's life and that of his (or her) family.

Visualizing where our great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers may have been, and what social, economic, and political forces would have been acting on them, can be of great value to our family history. I recommend that family historians take a look at where Dr. Sheehan-Dean's maps might take them.

Sheehan-Dean, Aaron. Concise Historical Atlas of the U.S. Civil War. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009). $21.95


Oh, no!

Not another genealogy blog!

And who is this person, anyway?

My name is Karen LeSueur Packard Rhodes. That's the whole megilla. And I call this blog Karen About Genealogy because I love puns. Get used to it.

"Okay, so who the heck are you?" I hear you thinking that.

I'm one of these people who has had the ability, talent, necessity, whatever it is, to reinvent myself about every five to ten years, as circumstances have dictated. I have been a librarian (Master's degree from Florida State University, 1970), done secretarial work, been a registered nurse, served as enlisted and officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, and now I'm a genealogist. At one time, to help my husband support the family, I even said, "You want fries with that?" One does what one must do.

So, genealogically speaking, I'm pretty interesting! Let's hope my blog will be, too.

"Okay," you say -- "but what are your genealogical credentials?"

I completed the non-degree program of study devised by the National Institute for Genealogical Studies, which is in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The courses are administered by the Professional Learning Centre, Faculty for Information Studies, University of Toronto. I live in Florida, so that was one heckuva commute!

Sorry. I'm pulling your leg. The courses are all online. I completed this course of study "with distinction," meaning I maintained an A average.

I am a member of the Southern Genealogist's Exchange Society in Jacksonville, Florida, for which I serve as historian. One area in which I seem to be headed as a genealogist is as a speaker. I have spoken at SGES meetings, at a seminar sponsored by the Jacksonville Public Library, at a meeting of the Amelia Island Genealogical Society, and this July I will be speaking at the Genealogical Seminar at the national meeting of the Sons of the American Revolution.

I am also a writer. I've been working on a book concerning the colonial, territorial, and state censuses of Florida. The manuscript is in the hands of my editor at McFarland & Company of Jefferson, North Carolina, a publisher specializing in reference books.

In these blogs, I will be all over the map -- literally, sometimes -- about genealogy. Sometimes I'll be talking about genealogy in general, about recent developments. Sometimes I'll talk about my own family history, usually to illustrate a point. I'll be talking about black sheep and brick walls and quirks of the censuses and whatever comes to mind that I hope will interest readers.

And if I bore you, say so! I'll try to pick up the pace.

That's the introduction. I hope you'll stick around for the meat of the matter.