Thursday, October 29, 2009


I know I haven't blogged in several days -- I've been sick, for one thing, a cold complicated by stomach problems and fatigue. In between naps, I've been trying to get the index for my book finished. I have finally finished, and mailed the manuscript and page proofs back to the publisher, and will e-mail the index probably later today (it's just after midnight).

And I have fallen behind in reading for classes, I have a quiz tomorrow that I hope I will be able to show up for, and my grant application to finish and get in before the Nov. 4 deadline.

I'm looking forward to December!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Getting Genealogy Into the Academy

I have come to be of the opinion, in the last few years of my serious pursuit of genealogy as a profession, that genealogy is a social science and should be classified with the other social sciences on an equal footing. Genealogy has its own theoretical base, propounded by Donald Lines Jacobus and Val D. Greenwood. It has its own methodology, made more rigorous by the work of Elizabeth Shown Mills and others. And it produces -- and has for many years -- academic-level work product in professional journals.

And we're getting there. Boston University has recently begun offering coursework in genealogy, though not yet a degree (and, of course, Brigham Young University has been offering a degree in genealogy for decades in an ever-improving program). And there are individuals out there who are both qualified historians and certified genealogists, and who are breaking new ground in combining the sources and methodology of genealogy with the pursuit of historical inquiry of academic quality.

One of these is Carolyn Earle Billingsley, with whose work I became familiar today, when my copy of her book Communities of Kinship: Antebellum Families and the Settlement of the Cotton Frontier arrived. I found out about the book last week, through a curious set of circumstances which had put me on a similar path as Dr. Billingsley, though on a smaller scale, before I knew about her work.

As I am down to the wire with my present book, Non-Federal Censuses of Florida, 1784-1945: A Guide to Sources, I was casting about for an idea for a subsequent book. I really cannot describe the process by which I arrived at this idea. I'm not sure myself how it happened, as the events of the past couple weeks have been fast and furious. Anyway, about two weeks ago, while I was crossing the campus of the University of North Florida on my way to a quiet uninterrupted morning of study in the library, I saw a sign announcing an undergraduate research grant. I inquired into it and decided to apply, but needed a subject.

At times, we have various ideas amorphously formed in the back brain, where they stew and percolate, and come pouring out in what seems a concatenation of events pushing us in a particular direction. That is what is operating here. I am at UNF studying history and Spanish, and having taken two courses in learning how to read very old Spanish documents, because I have decided based purely on my location to study the old Spanish lineages of Florida. I wrote my book on the colonial, territorial, and state censuses of Florida as a means of familiarizing myself with the extant sources in my area. So to apply for the research grant, I thought I would take a genealogical approach to the history of St. Augustine during the second Spanish period (1783-1820). I want my approach to be one not often used -- to first establish the family relationships of the population of St. Augustine, and then examine the historical events during that thirty-seven year period through the lens of those family relationships.

In perusing the literature as part of preparing my grant application, and as part of a personal inquiry into further educational opportunities for myself, I came across mention of Dr. Billingsley's book. I ordered it from Turns out that my idea is quite similar to hers.

Dr. Billingsley studied the kinship of one family, and its allied lines, through a longer period of tiem over a larger geographic area, but the basic idea of studying history though the lens of genealogy is the same for her as it is for me. I read the introduction of her book today (I'm home in the process of becoming increasingly miserable through the process of having a cold), and with every paragraph, I liked the lady more and more. She and I are thinking along extremely similar lines! It's exciting.

The professor I have chosen to direct me in my study, as the grant will be used in a directed individual study next term, is the professor who taught the paleography courses. He seems to think I have a solid idea with considerable potential, and is on board with the genealogical angle of it. This is a logical approach for colonial St. Augustine, as kinship ties were very important to the Spanish in those days (not to say they are not important today).

Well, it's quite a feeling being a pioneer.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Where there's a will, there's often paleography

My cousin Ginger, who has been a museum director (and therefore appreciates good research and good citations), returned not long ago from a trip to England, the lucky dog! I wanted to stow away in her luggage, but that would have far exceeded the weight limit!

She went to Suffolk, ancestral home of our 8x-great-grandfather Samuel Packard. She brought back copies for both of us of a few wills from ancestors a little further back, including one from probably our 10x-great-grandfather Moses Packard, who died in 1604. The writing is florid, though it is a hand I am familiar with from paleographical studies in connection with the course of study I took from the National Institute of Genealogical Studies, Toronto, Ontario Canada (through the University of Toronto, which records the grades and issues the transcripts and the certificates of completion). I can read a little bit of it right off, but to read it completely will take study and time I do not have right now.

Many of the letter forms used in these documents are similar to those I find in the Spanish documents I sometimes work with. The scribes who wrote these documents were not isolated and insular fellows. Many of them traveled around Europe. Many of them were taught by instructors who had traveled around Europe, and who might be from a different country. So they used many of the same letter forms and often the same or similar abbreviations.

Abbreviations were used to save penstrokes, because after all, they were doing this all day -- writing documents laboriously by hand. With quill pens. It makes my arthritis-riddled hands ache to think of it!

The other fun of paleography is the lack of orthogaphy - that is, there was no regularized spelling, no "correct" way to spell a word - in those days. Thee other funne of palaeographie is ye lacke of orthographye - thatt is, there was noe regularized speling, no "corect" way to spelle a worde - in thos daies. That's how the sentence might have looked in the 16th or 17th century. Makes for interesting reading, for sure.

I'm looking forward to continuing to be a blatant history nerd (and genealogy nerd, of course) and studying the wills over the holiday break in December. Ginger and I are hoping they will open up new leads to the study of the family, especially of those who remained behind in England while Samuel - an outcast because he had abandoned the family's affiliation to the Church of England and become a Separatist - left England for Puritan Massachusetts.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Deconstructing conventional wisdom - checking history

Today I'm going to talk about those "facts" of history that we were taught as children and which we take for granted, even though it turns out we should not always do so.

When I was a child, here in Florida, we had some coursework usually in the fourth grade on the history of the state. I even remember the textbook, a green-covered slim volume called La Florida, which is how the Spanish referred and refer to the state. One of those tidbits of conventional wisdom we learned was that in 1513, Ponce de León discovered Florida while searching for the Fountain of Youth.

Um, no. It turns out that this is not really the case, though it sounds good.

Actually, it was 1513, though the date itself -- recorded in most histories as 2 April, might be a little off. Spain converted to the Gregorian calendar from the Julian in 1584, and in the month of October, people went to bed on the night of the 5th and woke up on the morning of the 15th, ten days having gone "poof" in an adjustment required by the calendar having gotten off by those ten days, skewing the schedule of Easter.

Juan Ponce de León (the name "Ponce de León" translates as "lion's paunch") did not discover Florida. It was here all along, though those who lived here did not call it Florida. They probably just called it "home." Those who were here were the Timucua (which wasn't a distinct tribe, but a group of loosely-federated bands speaking dialects of a common language), the Ais, the Calusa, the Apalache, and a few others. Ponce de León merely hit Florida while he was looking for Bimini. Navigation was not a precise science in those days. Ponce de León did name it -- "Pascua Florida" (festival of flowers) because it was around Easter, and from the ships, the men could see lots of flowers in bloom.

And he wasn't looking for the Fountain of Youth, he was looking for Bimini, because he had a contract with the Spanish Crown to settle it and become the adelantado, the King's on-scene man with broad powers to grant land and head up the colony. He had already been governor of Puerto Rico, eventually losing that post in a squabble with Diego Colón, son of Cristopher Columbus.

Ponce de León -- yup, that was his name.

So don't always just accept the history you learned as a child, when you're investigating family history. New developments in historical analysis are constantly being made as new information and new techniques come to light.

For further reading, see David J. Weber, The Spanish Frontier in North America, chapter 2: "First Encounters."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day -- Climate Change

"Change is the law of life," I remember John F. Kennedy saying. Certainly he was right. Some changes take eons; some only days. Right now, we're in a period of climate change which I particularly don't like. I am a fan of cool weather. I like wearing sweatshirts and sweaters and long pants. I don't like heat, which is an unfortunate thing, as I live in Florida.

I really do not have any concrete information about how climate over the centuries has affected my ancestors. My ancestors were not journal-keepers of any sort at all, apparently. At least, nothing has survived to come down to me. There is other evidence, though, which give some hints as to how climate may have affected my ancestors.

Samuel Packard, the colonial progenitor on my father's side of the family, came over from Suffolk, England to Hingham, Massachusetts in 1638. According to one book I have on life in colonial America, the climate on this side of the Atlantic was harsher both in summer and winter than in Europe at the time. Winters were colder and more severe; summers hotter and plagued with insects. It was a difficult time to begin a farm, much less doing it on a wild and unknown continent. At first, settlers had to depend on what they brought with them, and the list of recommended items was long, indeed, including cooking utensils, farm implements, tools and tack for handling livestock and domestic animals, clothing, medicines (until the natives taught the colonists herbal medicine), right down to fishhooks and sewing needles.

As time went by, they became more self-sufficient, producing textiles, furs for clothing, blankets, and other necessities. And in order to keep their homes warm -- and, indeed, to build the homes in the first place -- they pretty much deforested the area around them. That deforestation in itself would have affected the climate further. I know from experience that having an abundance of trees in an area has a definite effect on the local ambient temperature. Driving out of the city into the country around here, when you get away from the sprawl and into the country where there are many more trees, you can feel a perceptible drop in the temperature.

My great-great grandfather Nelson Reed McKee, of whom I've written as the black sheep of the family on my mother's side, began as a farmer. Evidently he did not succeed at it -- or possibly he just did not like it -- for he soon switched professions to jeweler and watchmaker. Did weather or climate have a hand in his decision? I have not yet had time to investigate that to any extent, but it is certainly possible.

Weather affected my husband's great-grandfather Daniel McLeod Marshall, who migrated from Alabama to Florida after the Civil War (with, according to family lore, five or so of his brothers). He first settled in Apopka, in Orange County, where he raised citrus fruit and cattle. There was a freeze in 1883, and his crop was ruined. He was not fond of Apopka, his opinion of it being that it would never amount to much, and he moved further south to Lakeland, in Polk County. There he again grew citrus, and also strawberries, and again he ran cattle. There was another freeze in about 1895, and the frozen oranges fell off the trees. He thought that would make fodder for the cattle, and he turned them loose in the grove. Apparently, too many frozen oranges are not good for cattle, for they all bloated up and died. oops . . .

My husband has an amusing climate-related story. Here in Florida, it is not only hot, it is very humid (which makes it feel even hotter). Humidity around here can run between 80% and 90% or more. A few years ago, my husband and some of his co-workers were sent to California to install a network or some such. The trip took place in June or July, when it is, of course, extremely hot and humid here. When the plane landed in California, they immediately felt the dryness in the air, it being noticeable. The individual who greeted them at the airport, however, was apologizing all over himself for the extreme humidity they were experiencing. The Floridians, feeling dry as bones, looked at each other and wondered what was wrong with this guy. When they got to the base (my husband and his co-workers were Navy civil service computer programmers), another official apologized profusely for the horrible humidity they were experiencing. My husband and the others shook their heads.

When they got into the conference room where everyone was meeting to go over what was to be done, another individual apologized. This time, the Floridians burst out laughing, unable to contain themselves any longer. The Californians were baffled, again emphasizing how awfully humid it was, and that they just knew everyone must be grossly uncomfortable. My husband asked what the humidity reading was that had them so apologetic. Oh, it was about 35%, according to one of the Californians. The Floridians laughed again. My husband explained the levels of humidity we routinely put up with, and also explained that when they got off the plane and realized that their shirts were not sticking to their backs, they were extremely glad, and thought it felt just fine.

Finally, in 1998, we had an unusual year in which the humidity plummeted to the levels that would make Californians uncomfortable -- around 35% to 40%. We had been experiencing drought for a few years already; our rainfall levels were drastically below normal. With the unusual and extreme dryness in 1998, we began to have fires. Eventually, half the state was on fire. Our younger daughter, on her way to visit a friend in Brevard County, on the east coast of Florida, a trip that usually takes less than 2 hours, took over 8 hours and had to detour over all the way to the west coast of the state to get there, being redirected here and there and yonder by fire officials because roads were impassable. We live on the edge of a state forest, and one day we had fires coming our way from two different directions -- one up the country road which is the only way in or out for us, and another from the other side of the forest. The fire breaks that the forest service plowed on the edge of the forest seemed irrelevant when we saw video on the television of fires jumping the interstate highways! Fortunately, those two fires were controlled before they got to us.

Along with the plummeting humidity levels, we had a dry west wind that would blow every day, very contrary to the usually moist south or east wind we normally get. The wind reminded me of the dry, hot westerly wind that blows in California, called the Santa Ana. I'm from southern California originally, and a neighbor who is also a transplanted Californian understood what I meant when I told him that if I wanted the Santa Ana, I'd go back to California.

This time, we are in more danger, I believe, than we have been before. Around the world, habitats are changing or disappearing, endangering not only animal species but also plants -- both of which we depend on for our sustenance. There are few who doubt that there is a change occurring which does present danger to us. There are things we can do, and should do. And if we do do these things we need to do, we'll all be healthier in the long run.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Festival of Postcards -- Quadrupeds!

Here are some more postcards from the Andrew Lewis Rhodes collection. What do quadrupeds have to do with genealogy?

Well, some of them may spark family stories . . .

Like this old (1930s or 1940s) photo of a deer at the "United States Government Game Preserve, Okefenokee Swamp, Southern Georgia." My husband's father was traveling for his job with Western Electric (a subsidiary of Southern Bell, in those days, the early 1950s), and on his return trip home, on a narrow road in rural Georgia, he hit a deer. It made quite an impression on the grille of the car, and unfortunately on the radiator. My father-in-law was stopped and alone. Eventually a good old boy came along and offered to help get my father-in-law to town for repairs -- as soon as he finished butchering the deer. He told my father-in-law they had to gather some "meeta fans." My father-in-law was totally baffled, until the old boy elaborated: "Pal-meeta fans," and then my father-in-law understood that he meant palmetto fans, the very large fanlike leaves of the palmetto plant, which grows all over the place in Georgia and Florida, and most of the rest of the lower south. The fellow butchered the deer, wrapped the meat in the "meeta fans," and gave some to my father-in-law. Then he hooked up the car to his pickup truck and towed it into town.

I don't like deer -- they come out of the state forest that forms our back yard, and eat all of my plants, ornamental and edible. I had a good garden the first few years we lived here, but the deer soon found it and ate everything down to the ground. So I don't like deer. However, our younger daughter announced this evening that a co-worker of hers whose husband hunts has a surplus of venison, and we might be getting some. I don't think it will come wrapped in "meeta fans." I might learn to like deer, after all!

Other quadrupeds, like these horses at Miami's Hialeah race track, could spark other family stories -- about black sheep, who may have gambled away the family's substance betting on the ponies! Or there could be a jockey in the family tree, with stories about races won and lost, horses loved and loathed. Or there may have been a family member who just loved watching the horses run, like a friend of mine does. Or maybe even someone in the Ocala, Florida, area who worked with the race horses raised there, or even owned them.

Other family stories may center around vacations, such as those my husband's family spent in North Carolina, where these bears formed a "happy native family in the Great Smoky Mountains." In the summer in North Carolina, you will see a lot of Florida license plates (and in the winter, you see North Carolina plates down here!). Of course, North Carolina is not the only place you see bears. There are some folks in suburbs in Florida who have stories of finding bears in the trees in their yards (and some with stories of alligators in their swimming pools!) Recently, there was a story about a woman who woke up to find a bear in her bedroom! That delighted us, as it gave new meaning to the title of one of my grandson's Leap Pad books -- One Bear in the Bedroom!

Finally, here is a delightful humorous postcard probably from the 1940s, which gets to the very root and wellspring of genealogy. After all, we descendants are what resulted when our ancestors monkeyed around!

The Festival of Postcards is hosted by Evelyn Yvonne Theriault at her blog, A Canadian Family. Drop by and see other entries in this fun festival.

She's even got me adding to my husband's grandfather's collection!

Price Check on Aisle 3: Social History from the Newspaper

I was reading my blog feed on Feed Demon, when I came across a post from Free Genealogy Tools, and they mentioned finding out what items cost in your ancestors' time. The article mentioned a website which has historic prices of goods in Morris County, New Jersey, from 1900 to 2009. That's pretty doggone specific, and my family is not from anywhere near Morris County, New Jersey, but it is obvious that we all can benefit from checking old newspapers, from the place where and the time when our ancestors thrived.

All sorts of newspapers are available online, at a variety of websites. For those of us who live pretty much in the area where at least some of our ancestors lived, the local public library is also a resource, with newspapers on microfilm. A local university library may also have relevant newspapers on microfilm, and most good-sized libraries will have such papers as the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, or the Los Angeles Times, for example.

Local papers will be good places to look for grocery prices -- the sort of thing that can vary from region to region. One may also find in the grocery ads specific items that may have been regional in character, as well. Might this spark a memory of your mother or aunt or grandmother fixing collard greens or a New England boiled dinner or fresh-caught salmon?

National papers can be places to find prices of nationally-distributed items, such as automobiles or clothing. Another source for this information would be the magazines of the time -- The Saturday Evening Post, Life, Look, or other magazines popular at the time your ancestors flourished. When I was a teenager, I used to babysit for a doctor who had a collection of old Vanity Fair magazine from the 1930s, and I used to enjoy looking at the ads as much as I enjoyed reading the articles and stories.

Another item which could be amusing to investigate is the advertisement of pharmaceuticals, supplements, and patent medicines. Did you ever see a bottle of Lydia Pinkham's in your grandmother's medicine cabinet? Did your grandfather use Hess Hair Milk to keep his hair from turning grey? My husband's grandfather did, but when he was hospitalized one time for a few days, without access to the preparation, his hair turned snow white! I guess the stuff really worked!

If you have any of your ancestors' high school yearbooks, from about the 1920s onward, you will find in them advertisements for items the students or their families might have bought, the "trendy" things of the day. And city directories will also have advertisements, and in addition, you can pinpoint the location of stores in the town with the address listings. Most city directories also have maps, so you can get a visual idea of where your ancestors might have shopped for the items or services in the advertisements.

If you are as keen as I am on fleshing out your ancestors' lives with social and economic history, get thee to the newspapers! You may also want to look at the Free Genealogy Tools website (check the link in the first paragraph of this entry). They have a lot of great suggestions, and links to all sorts of sites rich in social history resources.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun -- Satisfying Moments

Once again, it's time for Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, Randy Seaver's gift to bleary-eyed late-night (or early-morning) bloggers who haven't the foggiest idea what to say today. Here are the rules:

For today's SNGF, if you choose to participate (cue the Mission Impossible music!), please:

1) Tell us about one (or more) "Satisfying Genealogy Moments" from your family history and genealogy research. What was it, and how did it make you feel? You can make a Top Ten list if you want to!

2) Write your own blog post, or make a comment on this post, or make a comment on Facebook, and tell us about your "moment in time."

He's basing this, as he reveals in his blog (let the FTC take note . . .), on Leland Meitzler's Top 10 List. I have some really good ones, I think, so here's my top 10:

10. Learning more about my father through genealogical research.
9. Entering the genealogical blogosphere and finding such fine folks in it.
8. Going back to college to sharpen skills to use in genealogical work, and learning new ones.
7. Joining an active genealogy society.
6. Scrapbooking my family heritage.
5. Becoming a genealogical speaker.
4. Finding cousins on my father's side living in Quebec, Canada.
3. Finding a cousin on my mother's side sitting right in my Spanish class!
2. Getting close to having a book on Florida census research published.
1. Finding my maternal grandmother, or at least her final resting place.

How do I feel about these? They have left me by turns astonished, elated, satisfied, pleased, proud, happy, delighted, excited, and intrigued.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Can I Pick 'Em, or What?

A couple weeks ago, I participated in Randy Seaver's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, the object of which, that particular week, was to pick your three favorite genealogy blogs, explain what you liked about them, and vote for them in the Family Tree Magazine 40 Best Genealogy Blogs contest (it's basically a popularity contest, but we genealogists, of course, choose on quality). It was very difficult to choose only three, and there were others that were close contenders.

My three choices were The Professional Descendant, Genealogy's Star, and West in New England.

All three have made it into the semi-final round.

Can I pick a winner, or what?

Congratulations to these three and the other semi-finalists. I also want to mention Allium Spence's Spence-Lowry Family History blog as another excellent blog which has made it to the semi-finals! You go, girl!

Now, lemme see . . . I need to pick six numbers . . .