Monday, October 31, 2011

Hallowe'en in the 1950s

I was a child, and did my trick-or-treating, in an era when we did not lock our doors during the day nor our windows at night.  Life was fairly secure, at least in the suburbs where we lived in Jacksonville, Florida.  Crime was something that happened Somewhere Else.

Hallowe'en was a carefree time as well, when few parents felt the need to accompany their children over a certain age on their rounds.  Everyone knew everyone else in the neighborhood, so there was little to no danger of harm coming to us from adulterated goodies in our trick-or-treat bags.  The greatest danger was the stomach aches we got from eating too much of our booty at one sitting!

My brother and I would get ourselves up in home put-together costumes and we would each grab a pillowcase or a grocery bag and off we would go.  Not very many of our group wore store-bought costumes.  Some of us did our own -- a sheet for a ghost; a paper hat, ragged jeans, an ill-fitting shirt and a cardboard sword for a pirate.  Other kids had stay-at-home moms with the time to sit at the sewing machine and make wonderfully inventive and unique costumes.  Hardly anyone got themselves up as any celebrity.  There were more werewolves, ghosts, pirates, vampires, Frankenstein monsters, zombies, and incarnations of the Headless Horseman than there were movie or sports stars.

Someone might host a party, but it would not be a substitute for trick-or-treating.  I actually did not do badly at bobbing for apples.  And there were few organized activities to take the place of trick-or-treating, nor did anybody get their knickers in a knot about children going about impersonating the dead -- or the undead.  We knew what Hallowe'en was -- a modern expression of an age-old observance for the dead, a recognition of the factual existence of death as a part of life, not something to be avoided and denied.  And those of us of certain denominations -- I was Episcopalian -- knew that the next day was All Saints' Day. 

Not to say that bad things did not happen, but they were more on the order of the night when some big boy came running out of his hiding place in the bushes and stole my bag of candy.  I was mad!  My mother's counsel was to get another bag and continue where I left off, which I did.  The boy was lucky that my brother was a bit ahead of me and did not see which way he went, or that boy would have got a beating.  And the next year, I was eager to go trick-or-treating again.  I just took precautions to be sure my bag would not be stolen that year!

Now, the situation is unfortunately different, but kids and their parents are generally coping well.  Churches and towns have supervised activities for children for trick-or-treat.  They still get up in costumes and have a good time, but trick-or-treat itself is a dying tradition.  For the past couple years, nobody has come trick-or-treating down our street.

I'm glad we had the Hallowe'en we had.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A True Vocation

All my life, I have heard and read of people who had a true vocation, a calling to this or that field whether it be medicine or the priesthood or public service, among other fields.  I have rattled around in life looking for mine.  I was not ready when I went to Florida State University in 1965, after graduating from high school.  I have always been an academic overachiever, but I went to university without a clear plan or a clear calling.

I have been a librarian, a nurse, a member of the armed forces.  That latter was for a number of years the closest I have come to feeling that I had a calling  I enjoyed the Coast Guard, and felt like I was part of something that made a difference.  But after that was done, after arthritis took me out of active participation, I felt once again like I did not have a calling.

Another reason I was not ready out of high school to find my vocation was that I had been raised in a traditional family in the 1950s.  Girls were not "supposed" to aspire to more than either being at home or being a secretary, a teacher, or a nurse.  I broke one of those taboos many years into my adulthood by enlisting in the Coast Guard, and I also shattered my family's notion of the character of women in military service.  However, what I had really been discouraged from pursuing was my desire to be a journalist.  Girls just did not do that (never mind Nellie Bly or Margaret Bourke-White or Adela Rogers St. John).  It was a long, long time before I was able to revive that dream.

My first attempt at actually being a writer was in fiction, since I had lost the dream of being a journalist.  I was a member of a local writing group and an online writing group.  I tried various genres and methods, having some short stories published in little magazines, but just not finding a fiction voice.  Then I turned to non-fiction.  After my first book, a history and critical review of a television series, I floundered for subjects, and then I found genealogy.  After getting a genealogical education through the National Institute for Genealogical Studies in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, I then found a subject: a guide to sources for Florida's colonial, territorial, and state censuses.  That book was published last year. 

Work on that book led me to the University of North Florida, first to brush up on my high school Spanish from forty some-odd years before, and then one thing led to another, and I found myself on a path to a second bachelor's degree with a double major in history and Spanish.  Now I am about to finish that up.  I will graduate at the end of the 2012 spring term.  And as I have blogged previously, I will be starting work on a master's degree in history in the fall.

This path has been something strange and wonderful. Associations, opportunities, nearly all my class work has in one way or another led me to study the history and families of St. Augustine, Florida, during the second Spanish period (1784-1821), or has contributed in some way to my investigation.  I have become enchanted with the place and the people -- though some of them at times behaved in less-than-enchanting ways.  But even rascals should have their stories told.  All my education, including the genealogical education, seems to have led up to this area of study.  I feel like I have been taken up by an inexorable current, and cannot escape from it.  Nor do I want to.

I have found my vocation.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Blog Action Day: Food in St. Augustine, 1784-1821

This year's Blog Action Day has the theme of food. The focus is on any aspect of food, but the imptus behind it is the existence of hunger around the world.  People blog about areas where there is hunger today, or how food is part of their culture.  I am going to blog a little food history, and talk about the food situation in St. Augustine during the Second Spanish Period, my academic area of study.

One of the sources we have that describes the native foods available to residents of East Florida in the late 17th and early 18th centuries is William Bartram's Travels Through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida, generally referred to simply as Bartram's Travels.  He describes the crops the Indians -- mainly the Seminoles, by that time -- grew, such as corn and pumpkins and beans.  There were fruits such as melons and oranges (which the First Period Spanish had brought with them).  He also describes the fresh- and salt-water fishes and shellfish available for harvest in northeastern Florida waters.  And there is game in his food-roll: deer, squirrel, and other animals.

St. Augustine had all that, but it was not all abundance and feasting.  There were times when St. Augustine faced some very real shortages, though there was not the general, every hardscrabble day starvation some authors in the past have portrayed.  When St. Augustine was subject to siege during invasions such as the "Patriot War" of 1812, the citizens of the town and some from the outlying areas took refuge in the Castillo de San Marcos.   There might be upwards of 1500-2000 civilians packed into the fortress, with food rationing the order of the day.  There was a well in the fort, so the water supply was generally not affected by siege.  During the 1812 siege, the black militia would sortie to forage for supplies, and were generally successful.  Protecting one's family and town was a fine motivator, but for these individuals there was the added incentive of defending the fort to keep from being taken prisoner by the invaders from Georgia and South Carolina and taken back into U.S. territory and a life of slavery.

The critical shortages in St. Augustine at the time were cold hard cash, wheat, and salt meat.  St. Augustine was not an area of vibrant economic growth, though again,the picture was not as dismal as some have painted it.  But the town existed largely on credit, because cash was slow to come in.  There were some wealthy individuals in and around the town, but mostly the town, and especially the garrison at the Castillo, existed on the situado, basically a government subsidy.  There were times when the situado did not arrive.  Governors had to get creative in order to keep the town's soldiers and government workers if not happy, at least pacified.  Credit was one of the strategies the government and private citizens used a great deal. This is evident in the many I.O.U.s found in wills and administrations.

Spain had a mercantilist economic philosophy; that is, goods bought by the colonies had to be bought from Spain or Spanish ports and carried in Spanish ships.  When the situation became urgent in St. Augustine, governors found ways around this policy, which was eventually relaxed to be in tune with the realities of the world.  Part of this mercantilism, however, required that St. Augustine obtain its wheat from Mexico , via Cuba.  It soon became apparent that this wheat was of inferior quality, often spoiled, and when the governor compared prices in Philadelphia and later New York, he found wheat much cheaper, and of superior quality, than what they were getting from Havana.

Many people supplemented their diets with kitchen gardens.  Among the Menorcan population of the town, refugees from Andrew Turnbull's New Smyrna plantation, there were fishermen.  The largest occupation group enumerated in the 1784 census is farmers.  There were some large farming and ranching operations, as well, which grew produce and raised cattle.  In sum, just as with any other frontier colony in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, St. Augustine had much the same relationship with food as many areas of the world today -- enough to get by, most of the time, with periods of definite lack which required emergency action.

The inexcusable thing is that today, in the 21st century, there are areas of the world which are several times worse off, on a day-to-day basis, than St. Augustine ever was at any time in its history.

Further reading:

Bartram, William.  Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida. London: Reprinted for J. Johnson 1792.
Cusick, James G.  The Other War of 1812: The Patriot War and the American Invasion of Spanish East Florida.  Athens:  University of Georgia Press, 2003.
Griffin, Patricia C.  Mullet on the Beach: the Minorcans of Florida, 1768-1788. Jacksonville:  University of North Florida Press, 1991.
Landers, Jane.  Black Society in Spanish Florida.  Urbana:  University of Illinois Press, 1999.
Landers, Jane, ed.  Colonial Plantations and Economy in Florida.  Gainesville, University Press of Florida, 2000.
Tanner, Helen Hornbeck.  Zéspedes in East Florida, 1784-1790.  Jacksonville:  University of North Florida Press, 1989.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Baa-baa Meme Sheep, redux: the Ancestors' Geneameme

From Geniaus comes this Ancestors' Geneameme.

Here are the instructions:

Things I have already done or found: bold face type
Things I would like to do or find: italicize (colour optional)
Things I haven’t done or found and don’t care to: plain type

Can name my 16 great-great-grandparents
Can name over 50 direct ancestors
Have photographs or portraits of my 8 great-grandparents
Have an ancestor who was married more than three times
Have an ancestor who was a bigamist
Met all four of my grandparents (No, they all died before I was born)
Met one or more of my great-grandparents (Ditto)
Named a child after an ancestor
Bear an ancestor's given name/s (well, middle name)
Have an ancestor from Great Britain or Ireland (Most are from England)
Have an ancestor from Africa
Have an ancestor from Asia
Have an ancestor from Continental Europe (Switzerland)
Have an ancestor who was an agricultural labourer
Have an ancestor who had large land holdings
Have an ancestor who was a holy man - minister, priest, rabbi (circuit-riding Methodist preacher)
Have an ancestor who was a midwife
Have an ancestor who was an author
Have an ancestor with the surname Smith, Murphy or Jones
Have an ancestor with the surname Wong, Kim, Suzuki or Ng
Have an ancestor with a surname beginning with X
Have an ancestor with a forename beginnning with Z (Two: Zaccheus Packard, father and son)
Have an ancestor born on 25th December
Have an ancestor born on New Year's Day
Have blue blood in your family lines
Have a parent who was born in a country different from my country of birth
Have a grandparent who was born in a country different from my country of birth
Can trace a direct family line back to the eighteenth century
Can trace a direct family line back to the seventeenth century or earlier
Have seen copies of the signatures of some of my great-grandparents
Have ancestors who signed their marriage certificate with an X
Have a grandparent or earlier ancestor who went to university
Have an ancestor who was convicted of a criminal offence
Have an ancestor who was a victim of crime
Have shared an ancestor's story online or in a magazine
Have published a family history online or in print
Have visited an ancestor's home from the 19th or earlier centuries
Still have an ancestor's home from the 19th or earlier centuries in the family (only the land)
Have a family bible from the 19th Century
Have a pre-19th century family bible

As you can see, I haven't done much, but some of these things are not attainable, of course, just from the circumstances of my family's history.  My family were just plodders -- no authors,  but there was one preacher.  No big landowners, no royalty, and nothing left behind by way of writings or Bibles or any of it.  Pretty dull, actually.

Except for the bigamist; that did liven things up some!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Is cursive handwriting disappearing in the U.S.?

James Tanner, of Genealogy's Star, one of my favorite blogs to read, has commented more than once on the trend in American public schools to drop the teaching of cursive handwriting.  His latest posting, a humorous consideration of the subject, can be seen here . My reaction to his first posting on this subject was:  "I'm a paleographer.  I smell job security!"

Having been a registered nurse, I could also say that I wondered long ago if the teaching of it had already been dropped, for, judging from doctors' handwriting, it wasn't being taught well, if at all!  But on a more serious note, I echo James's concern that future family historians will have a great deal of trouble reading and analyzing the documents passed down in their family from earlier times.

Other commenters mentioned the delights of cursive handwriting -- love notes, letters, little post-its.  There is something so much more human about handwriting that electronic communication just cannot duplicate.   Pixels are cold, handwritten letters are warm.  And even though James's above-referenced current post on the subject is humorous, it points up the humanness of cursive -- the little uses to which we put it, which generate memories to be cherished -- and laughed over -- and passed along as part of an individual's and a family's history. 

I suppose in the Great Cosmic Scheme of Things, the demise of cursive handwriting does not stack up as being of primary importance.  But on a more individual, more intimate level, we will lose a bit of our human character if we let it go altogether, without some attempt to preserve it in some way.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Today is Change a Light Day

According to Thomas MacEntee's Geneabloggers calendar, today is Change a Light Day.  In honor of that day, and because I need to get back to studying for a midterm exam tomorrow in Latin American cultures, I am reprising my posting titled:



One to screw it in.

One to create the original document describing the event and all the participants in it, tracing the lineage of each one back seven generations.

One to write the source citation for the document, in accordance with Evidence Explained.

One to transcribe the document.

One to abstract the document.

One to index the document.

One to place the document in an archive.

One to write it up in a peer-reviewed journal.

One to write a subsequent article in the same journal, disputing the findings of the first author.

One to digitize the document and upload it to, Footnote [now Fold3], and

One to blog about the document, the event it describes, its creator, and the participants.

One to write a source guide to the document and all similar documents which describe this event or similar events, or which contain information about the participants in the event, and their families.

One to give a presentation about the event, the original source document, its creator, and the participants and their family lines at the Federation of Genealogy Societies conference.