Monday, August 1, 2016

The Great Grand Challenge: Crunching the Data

 A little while back, Randy Seaver of Genea Musings posted the great-grand challenge. You can find out more about it here.  He also posted some brief directions for the challenge:
1) We each have 16 great-great grandparents. How did their birth and death years vary? How long were their lifespans?
2) For this week, please list your 16 great-great grandparents, their birth year, their death year, and their lifespan in years. You can do it in plain text, in a table or spreadsheet, or in a graph of some sort.
3) Share your information about your 16 great-great grandparents with us in a blog post of your own.

I thought this sounded like a fine idea, but as you can see, I have a bit of a problem. The paternal ancestors are still a bit lacking. Food for future research. However, I decided that I would see what I could do with the maternal side for great-great grandparents and both sides for great-grandparents. So, here is what I found presented in a fan chart.

For the known ancestors (great-great-grands) on my maternal side the average birth year is 1828. The birth years run 47 years from 1806 (Benn) to 1853 (Johnson). The average life span was 63 years. (Men had an average of 60 years and women an average of 65) A little noodling on the internet told me that life expectancy for men born between 1800 and 1830 was 38 years at birth and by age 5 had increased to 55 years. This would be due to the large number of infant deaths, as I have discovered working on my own tree. Women could be expected to live 39 years at birth and it jumped to 59 if they survived to age 5. Overall, my maternal great-grands beat the average by almost 5 years.

When I looked at the great-grandparents on both sides things improved. Of course we can imagine that between 1850 and 1900 more women survived childbirth and more babies survived to age 5. The great-grandparents fell into the years where medical care was more available and all of the great-grands on my tree worked in occupations other than farming.  The Industrial Revolution made a real difference in their lives. That had to have improved their chances.

The average birth year for the great-grandparents was 1850. This spanned 52 years between 1820 (Fitzgerald) to 1872 (Smith). The average life span for my paternal great-grandparents was 73. (70 for the men and 76 for the women) On the maternal side the average life span was 79 (80 for the men and 78 for the women). Looking again at those general statistical averages, my great-grandparents did significantly better- about 20 years.

Finally, I looked at my grandparents. The average birth year here was 1887. There was a span of 20 years in births-much closer than the previous generations. Both sides show the differences in a modern life with modern health problems; both grandfathers only lived to their 50's. This was actually just about average for men in their birth years. My grandmothers lived to be 95 and 93. These women exceeded the statistical average by almost 30 years.

So what does all of this tell me? It's interesting data, but what does it mean? When I look at my family tree now, especially at this fan chart, I see something more than numbers. I think back to my study of history in school where I was struck by the lives of our ancestors: the war, the disease, the lack of medical care, the dangers of daily life. I was amazed at our survival. Now some might say this is Darwinism in play. I see the great-great grandfather who just happened to father a child just before marching off to the Civil War- only to die. I see the great-great grandfather who lost sisters older and younger to vicious Maine winters and croup. Why the four infant sisters, but not him? And of course I think of all the women who survived 6 and 8 and 10 childbirths under the most basic conditions when other women did not. I can't help but think there is something more at play here. It first occurred to me several years ago as I began this work on the tree, although I can remember thinking about this long before. I heard someone on Finding Your Roots express just the right sentiment in almost the exact words I have said to myself for years: for of all of the war, disease, accident and happenstance, we in the current generation are the result...the very lucky result. If you're thinking this implies the need for a measure of gratitude, a bit of awe and some responsibility, I would agree.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Setting the Scene- Ellen Freed Benn


    This is Ellen Freed Benn, the matriarch of our particularly large branch of the Tapply family tree. There is no date on the picture, but it's bound to be early. She had12 children in all, 11 living. Her ancestry is a knot still to be totally unraveled. I've been working on that for a while now.

     Sometimes it's worth sending off for vital records, even if they cost a bit. This was once of those times. The family Bible said that Ellen Benn was born in Sutton Valence, but her records didn't turn up there. Oh, I found a christening entry, but no birth record. When London turned up on the hints in Ancestry, I had to know more.
    From this record we have an exact birth date, a place, her father's occupation and some information about her mother. By March, when this certificate and the christening entry were filed, her mother  Mary Ann Frid (Freed) was recorded as "deceased".  Perhaps this was in childbirth, birth complications, or illness. Life was tough back then in the poor neighborhoods of London. A little research into Somers Town has told me that.
     Crawley Mews doesn't exist anymore. At some point when roads were straightened and reorganized, the road and the mews disappeared.
    This is the corner of Eversholt Road where Crawley used to be. The mews would have been behind the houses on the left. If you look at the cross street of Lidlington, behind these houses, you can see a wide garden space that must have been the mews at one time.
    This all looks very leafy now, but the descriptions online of Somers Town at the time are of real poverty. Charles Dickens' childhood home is only a block away.
This is from a book about the mews of London. Imagine now that John Benn kept his "rig" and his horse in the stable and mews below. He and his wife and child lived above. 
    The neighborhood of SomersTown is near Old St. Pancras Hospital, St. Pancras Station and King's Cross Station (of Harry Potter fame). Today it's a very mixed bag of working people and immigrants. Even then, the police blotter that  cousin Holly found describes some blocks as very affluent and some as quite poor. To give you some context, I found an antique map where you can just read "Crawley" inside the red circle. I suspect the three horizontal buildings there are the mews. The modern map below shows how changed it all is.
    For Americans unfamiliar with London, I'm including a wider map too.
     After her mother's death, Ellen went to live with her Freed relatives in Kent. First she lived with her aunt, then an uncle. I believe this aunt is the "mother" who presented her with the family Bible. My research leads me to think that her father may not have survived long after her mother.  I don't find anything that's certain, but he seems to disappear. The police notes Holly found come from the London School of Economics and they chronicle an officer walking his "beat" in 1898. He makes note of a "cab master who is a considerable proprietor" living on Crawley Mews. So Crawley Mews continued to be home to London cabbies for a time.
     The police blotter also records that "the gardens of Oakley Square remain private". I was trolling around the internet trying to find some very early pictures of Somers Town. I found a few pictures of Old St. Pancras church and the railway stations, but the picture that made me smile was this one.
This picture from that very time is of the hippo in Regents Park Zoo. Somers Town is right on the edge of Regents Park. With the local green space closed to them, I like to think that maybe John and Mary Ann Benn took a stroll through Regents Park and perhaps enjoyed a look at the animals in the zoo. It's a nice thought, since their happiness was so brief.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Taking Care of Business in Litchfield, Maine

courtesy of the Litchfield Historical Society, Litchfield, Maine
     This is the old "town house" for Litchfield where town meetings were held after 1840. Before that time, the meetings were held in the home of a Mr. Nickerson. I know this because I've been trolling the old minutes of town meetings again looking for ancestors. Of course, I found them.
     I expected to find my Smith relatives first as the place was once "Smith Plantation", but to my surprise I found a Richardson ancestor. Abijah Richardson started out as the town constable, but rose rapidly in the town to become the moderator of the town meetings and town treasurer. Here is a sample of the minutes from 1797. Of course Maine was still part of the state of Massachusetts at that point. You will see Abijah's name, but I think you'll also recognize the name of the candidate for governor.
     I kept trolling the records because the custom in those days was to incidentally record town minutes and birth, marriage and death records all together. Pretty soon all the Smith relatives showed up as well in a variety of town offices including a number of years as selectmen. It was the names of some of the town jobs that got me looking further.
Courtesy of Litchfield Historical Society
     Ok, so the surveyors of highways and collector of highway taxes is pretty straightforward. My ancestor Elkanah Baker was elected to that post among others. After that, I had to look around on the internet for some information.
Tything men collected alms for the church, but they also had a variety of other duties as described in the New Hampshire History Blog:
"It was the tithing man's duty to detain and arrest Sabbath travelers, unless they were going to or from church or to visit the sick or do charitable deeds. His job was also to keep the boys from playing in the meeting-house, and to wake up any who might fall asleep during meeting."
They carried something called a church stick with a large knob on one end and feathers on the other. Sleepers would either get a sharp rap with the knob or a tickle, depending on gender.
Surveyors of Lumber made sure that the townspeople were getting their money's worth at the sawmill. They had to be experts in the measurement of lumber and assure that it was good grade.
Fence Viewers inspected new fences and settled disputes over older ones. They also settled disputes where livestock had escaped their enclosure. Since so many of the boundary fences in New England are hand-made fieldstone walls, this was a very important job. Many of those walls stand to this day. Robert Frost was right.
Culler of Staves inspected lumber which was often used for payment of taxes in lieu of cash.
"Great quantities of staves were taken by the town in payment of taxes assessed upon the inhabitants; and these must all pass through the hands of the culler. Persons might, of course, at any time make staves from timber taken from their own land; but timber for this purpose might also be taken from the common, under certain regulations."
Hog Reeves In the very rural South, it was not uncommon to turn loose hogs to forage in the woods and be recollected in the fall. Not so in New England.
"Owners of hogs were responsible for yoking and placing rings in their noses, and if they got loose and became a nuisance in the community, one or more of the men assigned as hog reeve would be responsible for performing the necessary chore for the owner; who could be legally charged a small fee for the service. There were punishments and fines established for not having hogs yoked and failing to control animals."
Field Drivers This was another job involving roaming livestock. A quotation from Massachusetts law describes it best.
"Every field drive shall take up horse, mules, neat cattle, sheep, goats or swine going at large in the public ways, or on common or unimproved land within his town and not under the care of a keeper; and any other inhabitants of the town may take up such cattle or beasts going at large on Sunday, and for taking up such beasts on said day the field driver or such other inhabitants of the town may in tort recover for each beast the same fees which the field driver is entitled to receive for taking up like beasts."
On the page above I can see several of my Smith relatives filling these jobs.
There was also a full page of descriptions of ear notching to identify livestock. It got very creative, but I'll save that for another post.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that this blog passed the three year mark on June 2. Happy Blogiversary
to me!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Memorial Day and the Spanish American War


For my Memorial Day post this year, I'm looking at one of my relatives who fought in the Spanish-American war.  My great grandmother's younger brother William Frederick Smith served in old Sixth Massachusetts infantry, Company D.  This company's campaign was in Puerto Rico, as you can see from the map I found.
The red line shows the area marched as my great uncle mentions in a letter home. I went back to my old standby, The Fitchburg Sentinel, and sure enough they published a portion of his letter home to my great grandfather George. I feel so lucky to have this resource!
His complaints don't sound too different from many soldiers: poor food, hard marching, mud, bad weather and disease...oh, and equipment that doesn't work properly. Puerto Rico in August must have been a shock to a New England boy. I love the line "It rains about every five minutes."
     In one of the online archives, I found a whole book just on the Sixth Massachusetts. There in the roll for Company D was my great uncle. He served well, returned home safely and lived out his life in Fitchburg and Leominster working for a shipping company. So this Memorial Day I salute Frederick Smith, 1876-1931. Thank you for your service.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Momento Mori- Lee Ellen

Lee Ellen Fitzgerald...about 1985
 This post is in remembrance of Lee Ellen Fitzgerald who would have been 60 years old today.
You are not forgotten, my sister.  I hope somewhere you are smiling.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mother's Day

No download or reproduction without express permission
In honor of Mother's Day, I give you my mom. This is Primrose Rogers (Fitzgerald) in about
1928.  What a sweet picture!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Another Memory Monday

Courtesy Boston Public Library Photo Archives-Charlestown Boys Club- library
Today is a salute to the Boys Clubs of America. My dad spoke often and fondly of his experience at the Charlestown Boys Club. This photo is of  the "library" or reading room. My dad spent a lot of time at the pool. No doubt this place was an anchor in his life.