Not my family

I am sorry to say that I am not descended from the legendary Thomas Nathaniel Edwards.

I do have an ancestor who was named Fanny Edwards (with various spellings of her name) until she married. She was born in 1790 in Germantown, New York. She later moved with her husband to Virginia, where she died in 1852. Fanny was part of a community established in the Hudson River Valley in the 1600s, originally settled by the Dutch but later claimed by the British. My ancestors from that community include Dutch, German, and Irish settlers. Their colonial history is fascinating, although I have only bits and pieces of it so far. The family even includes soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War, so my daughters are eligible (if they do the required research) to join the Daughters of the American Revolution.

But, alas, Fanny was not the great-granddaughter of Thomas Nathaniel Edwards, in spite of some information in the historical records that places her within that clan. Fanny’s father was Richard Edwards—which is why she and her husband named their son Richard—and not the Aaron Edwards of Essex, New Jersey, reported by some researchers.

Sir Thomas Nathaniel Edwards, it is said, was born in Edwards Hall, Cardiff, Wales, on October 14, 1690. His parents were Sir George Thomas Downing, a Baron, and Lady Catherine Cecil, Countess of Salisbury. Moreover, Sir Thomas’ grandparents on his father’s side were Sir James, Earl of Salisbury, Cecil, and Lady Margaret Manners, Countess of Salisbury, who was born in London in 1648 but died in Paris in 1682.

Sir Thomas Nathaniel Edwards might as well have been a Nigerian prince. He was invented in 1925 by an intrepid group of investors who sought to convince members of the Edwards family in the United States that they were owed a great deal of money due to Sir Thomas’ investments on the island of Manhattan. According to what I’ve read, these investors created the Association of Edwards Heirs, sending out a regular newsletters to members and promising to divide the family fortune among Association members once the money was legally claimed. Millions of dollars were paid into the Association. Sadly, Sir Thomas, his parents, his grandparents, and even Edwards Hall in Wales never existed.

The Internet did not exist in 1925. Scams were already old news at that time. I doubt the hunt for the Edwards family fortune is still active, or that anyone is profiting from it. Apparently, though, some people are too stubborn to admit to themselves or to the world that their parents or grandparents were taken in by such a scam. Therefore, Sir Thomas continues to appear on historical records in this Internet age, leading many researchers to believe, at least for a time, that they have discovered an interesting branch on their family tree. The branch does not exist; it is pure fantasy. J.

More about my family

When I composed yesterday’s post, I got so excited sharing the history of my family that I forgot part of what I wanted to say. Here it is:

This month I have been posting historic family pictures on FaceBook each day. Sometimes it’s a single picture, sometimes it’s two or three pictures. I’ve been getting good reactions from family—including cousins I almost never see anymore—as well as from other friends.

Why am I doing this? Well, as a historian and an archivist, I want to promote the business. Especially those weeks that I had to work from home, trying to do the same things I would be doing at work, I knew that I had to do the full job of an archivist—not merely to preserve and to organize, but also to share. Archivists don’t digitize the entire collection and put it online—we digitize a small amount of material that is interesting or informative. Real researchers don’t stop at surfing the internet; when they find something of interest, they identify where it is located and come to that place to look at the rest of the collection.

Beyond that, I have gotten major fatigue scrolling through FaceBook and other social media. It feels like a game of dodgeball back in junior high school, trying to avoid all the mentions of disease and politics and the intersection of the two. So I thought I’d change the subject—give myself and other people something different to talk about and think about. And that has worked.

It has worked so well that my sister and some of my cousins commented over the weekend that I ought to take all this family information I’ve been gathering and write a book. I’ve handled books written by genealogists. They tend to be dry as dust—recording vital information, but often omitting the interesting and unusual family stories about these various individuals.

So I’m considering a book on the Salvageable family. The first question is: how much of the family do I want to cover? Am I writing for my children and their descendants—do I want to include my wife’s side of the family? Do I want to focus on me and my ancestors? Or do I want to stick to my mother’s side of the family, which contains most of the interesting stories that have come to light thus far. (And includes those cousins who are suggesting that I write a book.)

Even though that matter is not settled, I have made two other decisions. If I write this book, I will start each family line with the immigrant who came to the United States. Where I know names and dates for ancestors who remained in Europe, I might include them in an appendix or sidebar, but I want this to be an account of the Salvageables in America. Also, rather than focusing on one line at a time, with chapters relating to different streams that entered the river, I want to make the book chronological. I would like to write a chapter for each decade, describing where the various ancestors were during that decade and what they were doing.

Moreover, I want to include some historic context in each chapter. Think how much fun the 1860s will be—men fighting each other in the Civil War (and I have ancestors who fought for the Union and ancestors who fought for the Confederacy). Wouldn’t it be cool to find two great-great grandfathers involved in the same battle, shooting each other? (And, if either of them had been a better soldier, I would never have been born.)

I can only guess how long it will take to complete the family research and begin writing. This project likely will be years in the making. And it will not be lucrative—we’re not talking Roots here. I don’t care to dabble in historical fiction, creating conversations that may have happened. I want to include verifiable facts, along with family stories and mysteries.

And this is much more fun than slogging through the current international crisis and thinking only about it night and day. J.

Photographs and genealogy

Years ago, when I first saw this picture in the family collection, it puzzled me. I knew that the little girl to the left was my grandmother, and I suspected the other two children on the floor were her brother and sister. I assumed that the man to the left was her father and that the woman in back was her grandmother? But who is the other boy in the room? My family and I dubbed him Heathcliff, remembering that he joined the Earnshaw family by adoption when he was a young boy (Wuthering Heights).

This spring I’ve had the opportunity to go through family photographs and also to research my family tree. I deduced that this picture was taken Christmas 1905. The extra boy is a cousin to my grandmother. These same people were still in the same household at the 1910 census. The grandmother, by the way, is the mother of my grandmother’s mother, mother-in-law to the man in the picture.

Here’s another picture of the same family taken a few months earlier. The younger woman is my great-grandmother; she died in June of 1905. The man with the cigar is probably Heathcliff’s father, and the two additional girls are Heathcliff’s sisters.

Why are those sisters missing from the Christmas picture? According to the 1910 census, they were boarding at the Chicago Industrial School for Girls. Later records show that both grew up, had jobs as clerks, and got married.

 

Here’s Heathcliff and his sisters—possibly taken at their school. On the desk is a cube with the date: Wednesday December 27. Historians, archivists, and genealogists love clues like that hiding in photographs. (December 27, 1905, was a Wednesday.)

And what became of Heathcliff? He also got married. He and his wife had a son who lived only three months and a daughter who eventually grew up and married. In 1917, when Heathcliff registered for the Great War, he was a clerk supporting wife and mother (possibly mother-in-law). In 1920, he was living with his wife, in-laws, and infant son. In 1930, though, he was divorced and living alone in Chicago. October 1930 saw him incarcerated at Leavenworth, Kansas—I have no idea why. By 1942, when he registered because of the second World War, he was back in Chicago, working for Keller & Sons. He died in 1959, at the age of 63.

“Heathcliff’s” real first name was the same as his father and his grandfather. By coincidence, my wife and I chose the same name for our son. After skipping several generations, it’s nice to have the name return to the family, even though the previous holder of that name was a crook. J.

 

Genealogy–the study of your family tree

I’m an archivist, but the research room where I spend some of my hours to help the public (when the public is allowed to enter) attracts more genealogists than historians. In the past, when someone came to the research room and said, “I’m interested in tracing my family tree—how do I get started?” I would introduce them to our resources, get them rolling, and remain available to answer further questions. Among our resources is ancestry.com – the library has bought a subscription to the service, and patrons can use it for free. But, from now on, when someone says, “how do I get started?” I’m going to steer them properly. For ancestry.com and other library resources belong to the third step of genealogy, not the first or second step.

The first step is to write what you know about yourself. Genealogy always begins with an individual. In your case, that individual is you. Write your full name. When and where were you born? Are you married? To whom, when, and where? Do you have children? Write their full names and when and where each of them was born.

Many genealogists use a notebook to record this information. Some use index cards. Some use a spread sheet such as Excel. Most serious genealogists use more than one method, so the information they have worked so hard to attain will be saved in one form if it is lost in another.

After you have written all your vital information, you then write everything you know about your father. Answer the same questions about your father as you answered about yourself. And if he has died (and I’m sorry if he has) also say when and where he died and where he is buried.

After writing everything you know about your father, do the same for your mother. Then do the same for your father’s father, your father’s mother, your mother’s father, and your mother’s mother. The order matters! You are person number one on the chart; your father is number two, your mother is number three, your father’s father is number four, and so on. After number one, all the even numbers are men and all the odd numbers are women. But—this is even more important—every father’s number is double that of his son or daughter. So your father will be two, your father’s father four, his father eight, and so on back to Adam.

When you have written everything you know—which might include great-grandparents, but probably not every detail about them—is it time to go to the library? No, you’ve only taken the first step. Your second step is to talk with your living relatives to fill the gaps on your chart. Your parents, your grandparents, your uncles and aunts, and your cousins probably can answer some of the questions you needed to leave blank. As you talk with them, let them tell you stories about the family. Encourage them to share the stories. The other data is just a roll call; the stories make family history truly meaningful.

Once you’ve visited with your living relatives, you are ready to go to the library. Libraries have a multitude of resources for genealogy. These resources can help you fill the gaps. Increasingly, online services like ancestry.com have gathered these resources from various libraries and locations. They include official government documents—not only the Census, but also land sale records, military records, and court documents (especially wills and probate proceedings). Plus there are family records, church records, community histories, and the research of other genealogists. All this information tells the researcher about many people, and a few of those many people are your relatives, even your ancestors.

Several problems can occur when tracing your family tree. If you are easily frustrated, you might want to try a different hobby. Frequently several people have the same name. You have so sort through everything you know about your ancestor to find the right one. That’s why birth dates, death dates and places are important in genealogy—they help to distinguish your John Smith from the other five John Smiths who lived in the same general area around the same time.

Second, people make mistakes. Your relatives’ memory might be faulty. Even your memory might be faulty. You thought your grandmother was born in 1930—she always told people that—but actually she was born in 1924. To make matters more complicated, census takers, church secretaries, and even the stone carvers who made the grave markers all make mistakes. One person’s bad handwriting might cause another person to get a name or a year wrong. The information you record must be verified carefully among several sources. Just because it shows up in one book or on ancestry.com doesn’t mean that it’s true.

Genealogists often hit a wall. Scraps of important information don’t seem to exist. Sometimes, people disappeared on purpose. They didn’t want to be found. Some records have been lost to natural disasters. (Even the U.S. Census of 1890 was lost in a fire.) But, given persistence and newly found sources—a distant cousin, perhaps, or a library in another city—the story gradually unfolds. And the journey through that story is educating, exciting, and entertaining.

Who are you? Your family tree cannot fully answer that question, but it offers some useful hints. J.

Keep your soul diligently

We’ve all seen those memes on Facebook and other places where the letters of each word are scrambled, but the first and last letters are kept unchanged. Sometimes these memes are accompanied by statements such as, “Only intelligent people are able to understand this message.” Actually, most adept readers are able to read them; as we learned to read, our brains developed shortcuts that recognize words even when the internal parts of the words have been changed.

But, by the same token, sometimes we mistake one word for another. The slip-up can be amusing, such as confusing “immorality” and “immortality.” Usually a second glance fixes the misreading. But this morning in my Bible reading, I faced a misreading that indicates just how overwhelming our current virus crisis has become.

I was reading Deuteronomy chapter four. I got to verse nine, which says, “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your hearts all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and to your children’s children.” This is a trustworthy saying. But when my eyes first scanned the verse, my brain changed the beginning to, “Only take care, and keep your social distancing.”

Of course a second glance fixed the misreading. I suppose the words “take care” only added to the tendency to expect s…l d……..y to be “social distancing.” But my mildly amusing experience only shows how overwhelming this virus crisis has become, that I even expect the holy Word of God to command social distancing.

My experiences with the virus crisis are like those of most people. As an introvert, I don’t mind keeping my distance from other people. Three times a week I take a two-mile walk through the neighborhood. I do what I was taught as a child: I walk on the left-hand side of the road, facing the traffic. But now, with social distancing, if someone is coming toward me on the same side of the road, I cross to the other side to avoid that person. I’ve always wanted to do that. Now, not is it not rude to cross the road to avoid people—it’s recommended.

I’m very much blessed to have three jobs that all paid me my regular salary while I worked from home. Every week I write a sermon, and every Saturday I email it to the members of the congregation. Our church musician presents a concert of church music on Facebook every Sunday. We mail in our offerings, and my check comes in the mail. My history class was changed from classroom to online. Some students dropped out, and a couple have fallen behind on the work, but several are faithfully taking their quizzes (open book, since we don’t have the classroom discussion before the quiz) and—I expect—writing their essays that are due next week. But my full time job at the library raised the biggest concerns. How can a library function when the doors are locked and the workers are told to stay home?

The first week the library was closed, we were told that it was like snow days—we would stay home and be paid. The second week, they began encouraging us to do tasks at home that were somehow job related. Since I am an archivist, I began sorting and arranging the family pictures I brought from my father’s house several years ago. After they were arranged, I even started putting them on Facebook and tagging family members. I also explored the family genealogy. More than half the people who visit our research room in the library are doing genealogy—some in great depth, others just getting started. I’ve always been able to guide people to resources, but now I have much more experience in genealogical research and will be more helpful.

By the third week, we had a process of reporting how we were spending our time “on the clock.” But after that, the library decided that 75% of our hours had to be of direct benefit to the library system; the other 25% could be for learning and wellness activities. Some library branches began experimenting with curb-side services. Four branches are providing free meals to neighborhood children who usually get fed at school. My department remains locked up; but we are taking turns being in the building to answer the phone and help patrons.

Last week, with the phone-answering system in place, I was invited to return to my desk and continue processing archival materials. I must wear a mask everywhere in the building except at my desk; I must wash my hands frequently and wipe down surfaces often. This procedure might last for the rest of the summer.

Since it is losing some money—parking and meeting room fees, and overdue fines—the library director decided that he would reduce or eliminate some positions temporarily to save the library money. All positions will be restored when the crisis is over. People in eliminated positions retain their health insurance and other benefits but must apply for unemployment. Those who are reduced will—if the state government allows—work only part-time and receive unemployment money for the hours lost. I have been placed in the second category.

I do not feel comfortable with the likelihood that I will be receiving unemployment compensation for ten weeks or so. It’s not that I don’t need the money. It’s that every person thrown into the unemployment system is added to the financial burden that taxpayers like me and my children will be reimbursing for years to come. I disagree with the library’s decision to lower its costs by putting its workers temporarily into unemployment. In fact, I cannot help but view this as a cynical political ploy to deepen the crisis (and the feeling of crisis) at the expense of the current administration.

We will all get through this together. Stress and anxiety are high right now. (I spend little time on social media precisely because I rapidly tire of all the talk of virus and quarantine. It makes me shaky and queasy.) Meanwhile it’s important for each of us to take care, and keep our social distancing… I mean, keep our souls diligently. J.

Explaining cousins

From time to time I’ve noticed fellow bloggers expressing confusion about distant cousins. They will write something like “my second cousin twice removed (whatever that means).” As a professional historian who also assists with genealogical research, I am here to end your confusion.

People who share the same mother and/or father are brothers and sisters. People who do not share a parent but share at least one grandparent are first cousins. (Often, when we say “cousins,” we are referring to first cousins.) People who do not share any grandparents but share at least one great-grandparent are second cousins. People who do not share any great-grandparents but share at least one great-great-grandparent are third cousins. Tracing the human line back to Adam and Eve (or at least as far back as Noah), all people on earth are cousins to some degree, whether they are first cousins or thousandth cousins.

As for the distinction of “once removed” and so on: my first cousins’ children are my first cousins once removed. My first cousins’ grandchildren are my first cousins twice removed. My second cousins’ children are my second cousins once removed. My second cousins’ grandchildren are my second cousins twice removed. And so on. In other words, the levels of removal are differences in generation, even if (as is the case with me) you are closer in age to your first cousins once removed than you are to their parents, your first cousins.

The generational removal can go the other direction as well, but only if the kinship is not closer. For example, the parents of my first cousins are my uncle and my aunt, not my first cousins once removed. But, since the grandchildren of my first cousins are my first cousins twice removed, I am also their first cousin twice removed.

I hope this information is helpful. J.

Research/Trouble

Marion looked across the table at his wife and smiled. “I’m picking up some interesting skills, working at the library,” he said.

Marion and Julie didn’t often get to eat lunch together. Their busy schedules did not mesh well for shared meals. Breakfasts were eaten on the go, along with other morning preparations, including packing their lunches. Dinners were often separate because one of them had an evening meeting or the other had to drive the children to a dance class or a soccer game. Only on Saturdays and Sundays did they get to eat together, and Sundays the children were usually there as well. That made Saturday lunches special.

“Special skills?” Julie asked him.

Marion nodded. “So many people come in trying to research their family trees, I feel that I’m becoming a professional genealogist. They always ask for help, although some of them know more about family research than I do. In fact, a few of them have taught me a trick or two. It’s gotten to the point that I’m tracking down people in my spare time—living or dead, it doesn’t matter: I can find them.

“Yesterday, for example, I remembered a woman I knew back when I was in graduate school. I got to wondering how she is today. So I did some research. I found out that she got married about five years after our wedding. On the application for the wedding license, her husband wrote that he was a professional musician.”

Julie grinned at the phrase but said nothing. Marion went on, “So, I looked him up, and you’ll never guess what he plays—kettledrums! He’s with a symphony orchestra.”

“Here I pictured him in blue jeans and playing guitar in some rock band.”

“No, he wears a suit and a bow tie. He also teaches music at a college.

“The two of them have a son who’s in high school. He even made the national news. It seems that one day he stood up in the cafeteria and sang the national anthem. The school administrators gave him a detention for it.”

“That doesn’t seem fair.”

“No—a lot of people don’t think so. That’s why it made the national news. He wasn’t being disrespectful to the anthem, he sang it properly, as a show of patriotism.”

“The schools are getting so liberal these days. People support a football player for kneeling during the anthem, and then they punish a kid for singing it the right way.”

“It turns out that the next day, dozens of students got up during lunch and sang the anthem. They wanted to support him. But the school didn’t care. They started putting extra teachers on lunchroom duty to make sure it didn’t happen again.”

Julie shook her head. But instead of saying more about the high school student, she asked a different question. “Now, should I be nervous that you’re looking up old flames when you’re at work?”

“Old flames?” he queried.

“Someone upon whom you once had a big crush.”

Marion looked across the table at his wife and smiled. He decided not to mention the high school yearbook photographs he had also discovered online.

(There really have been cases of high school students being punished for singing the national anthem in the high school cafeteria. But the rest of this story is fiction. J.)