Sunday, June 27, 2010

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Why Do Genealogy?

After having my own Saturday night genealogy fun with the aforementioned spam, here is the real deal:  Randy Seaver's Genea-Musings Saturday Night Genealogy Fun meme.   Tonight's instructions:

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to:

1) Think about the question: "Why do I pursue genealogy and family history research?"

2) Tell us about it on your own blog post, in a comment to this blog post, or in a comment on Facebook

I do it for curiosity.  I do it because I like a puzzle.  I do it because I like detective work.  I do it because I am a born research nerd.  I do it because I'm a history buff.  I do it because I wanted to know more about the father I hardly knew because he died just after I turned 7 years old.  I do it because I wanted to know about the grandparents I never met.  I do it because it is fun investigating family stories and finding the facts behind them -- if there are any!

That's why I do it.  How about you?

Somebody does not read very well . . .

I got the following in my in-box this weekend:

"Subject:  hey there, nice blog =)  [sic]

"Hi there blogger!
"Just visited your "Karen About Genealogy" blog and I was super impressed by its design and content. We just opened up our community Lookville for beta testing. It's a place for people to have discussions, share tips, and ask questions about fashion. Currently, memberships are by invitation only and I would love to have you on it! Please accept this invitation if you're interested: [URL redacted]
And we would love to hear your feedback.
The e-mail was signed, but I am redacting that, too.
Other than laughing myself silly, I have only one comment:  No, dears, you would NOT love to hear MY feedback!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

More on the Case of the Doctor's Suicide

I am continuing to transcribe the investigatory documents concerning the case of the doctor who committed suicide in St. Augustine in 1810.  The file contains 82 pages, consisting in testimony of witnesses to the event, evidentiary submissions, and an inventory and sale of the decedent's personal effects, as well as papers concerning the disposition of the proceeds of the estate (the doctor seems to have died intestate; I'll determine that, of course, as I go through the documents).  It is going to take several days to transcribe this one.

Further developments, however, do paint a sad picture indeed.  The doctor's wife had died fourteen years previously, and apparently he was devoted to her, for he had told his friends that he was miserable without her.  Their two daughters were in Ireland, by that time probably grown young ladies, and according to the documents in the case, were well taken care of.  These are the heirs in Ireland mentioned in the first few pages of the file, which I referred to in yesterday's post.  They were residing in Dublin.

In one document, a witness to the event, another doctor, is asked by the investigator if there were not any signs that the doctor was suicidal, with an eye to the question of could it have been prevented?  I wish that investigator were around here in the early years of the 21st Century, for he would find that we do not have much more in the way of an answer to that question than he did in 1810.  Yes, there are signs, as there were in the case of this unfortunate doctor, and the witness says as much.  But as we see these days, those signs are not always given proper priority, not acted upon.  Is it that we are not any better at it than they were in 1810 or that it is just difficult to know?  And how much of a role did denial play then, as it plays now?  And the idea that one just "toughs it out" when life gets rough with us.  Certainly men in St. Augustine in 1810 were expected to soldier on in the face of all difficulties and despairs.  It is a legacy that bears on the earlier question of why we do not always pick up on the signs given by one who may be contemplating suicide.

The implications of suicide in our genealogy are stark indeed.  It is still a subject people do not like to discuss, though in today's atmosphere of letting it all hang out, and quite frequently on national television, there is more talk of it than previously.  It is painful for those who remain, bringing self-blame, despair, and fear.  One can only wonder how this doctor's daughters reacted and felt, and how the news was treated in their families, back in Dublin.  It is no less a difficulty and a tragedy today than it was then, when a very lonely man just wanted to be reunited with the dear wife who had left him too early.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Of overdoses, laudanum, and history

In my transcriptions of wills from St. Augustine, Florida, between 1783 and 1821, I have encountered one that is quite sad.  The individual in question was an Irishman living in Spanish St. Augustine (of which there were quite a few) in 1810, who had apparently been depressed or, as the investigatory documents state, "disaffected with life," having indicated as much to several of his friends the day before he took an overdose of two ounces of laudanum -- four times the amount needed for a fatal dose.

Was this suicide or an accidental overdose?  Indications are that it was suicide.  The above-mentioned disaffection with life is one factor.  Another factor is that the individual was a doctor, familiar with the properties of laudanum, a tincture of opium.  Certainly he would have known that two ounces was more than enough to kill him.  Four times over.

Apparently his relatives were not with him in St. Augustine, for the documents refer to heirs being "absent in their native country" of Ireland.  Was loneliness a factor?  Had he suffered reverses of some sort?  Was he terminally ill?  I have only transcribed part of the file, so I do not know yet if there is further information.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, laudanum was available over the counter, and was taken for a variety of ills.  Narcotics generally were freely available, even as an ingredient in soft drinks.  Coca-Cola is so named because it originally contained cocaine.  As the dangers of addiction, accidental and deliberate overdose, inability to function fully, and other dangers (including use as instruments of murder) became known, these substances were brought under control.

In our investigations of family history -- our own or someone else's -- we need to be aware of so many bits of history.  Medical history is only one of these.  Online sources for medical information include Wikipedia (for a general overview and possibly some sources to check), The Merck Manuals, and Antiquus Morbus.  The Merck Manuals provide modern information on such aspects as dosage and side effects of medications, and signs, symptoms, and treatment of diseases.  Antiquus Morbus is useful for finding what an archaic term for a particular disease refers to in modern terms.  

We genealogists are special historians.  Not only do we see the large trends of history which influenced the lives of our ancestors, we see the human factor as well, including one unfortunate doctor in St. Augustine in 1810, who so sadly felt that life was no longer worth living.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sometimes the Source Comes to You

I enjoy serendipity when it strikes, and it seems to strike more often for those who are primed for it.  Case in point:

Today I received in the mail my copy of El Escribano, the annual journal of the St. Augustine (Florida) Historical Society.  In it is an article taking a different look at the manumission of Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley, an African woman who married the white planter Zephaniah Kingsley.  Kingsley was one of the "nuevos pobladores" (new settlers) whose arrival was recorded in a pair of ledger books contained in legajo (bundle) 743 of the Papeles de Cuba at the General Archive of the Indies in Seville, Spain, which I transcribed during my research there in May, 2008. Kingsley is one of the more prominent figures in my study of the family structure of St. Augustine and the possible influence family relationships had on the history of St. Augustine (or that the history may have had on family relationships).  Anna has long been considered by historians to have been Kingsley's slave.

In this case. the author of the article makes the argument that Kingsley never considered Anna a slave, but that the manumission papers which exist were a sham forced upon the couple by the increasingly unpleasant tenor of race relations in Spanish East Florida as the acquisition of the province by the United States loomed.  The author maintains that Kingsley executed the paper in order to protect Anna and their three mulatto children.  It is an effective case.

What has this article given me?  Family information on Kingsley, his wife, and their children, for one thing, with enough data to allow me to search more specifically for records to back up the information in the article, at least to some extent.  References, for another, which I can examine for the information they contain, and to mine their bibliographies and source notes for other sources.

And it all just fell into my lap -- or was placed in my mailbox.  Be open to all things in your research, and grab the serendipitious bit when it comes your way.