Gaining Wisdom from Family Tragedies

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When researching your family tree be prepared to find sadness. Your ancestors will have suffered tragedies. However, bringing those to light can ensure their sufferings were not all for not. You will gain wisdom from learning their plights. And this wisdom can be used by you and future generations in positive ways.

Learning from Family Tragedy

My great-grandfather, Harry C.,  had thirteen sons and two daughters. One of the last born sons, Forrest, died at the age of 16 in 1940. Although I was unable to find any details in ancestry.com, I did find this entry at familysearch.org (this is a free on-line family history source sponsored by the Mormons), “Cause of death – Poisoning by accidental gasoline ingestion “.

That was what all I had. So, I went to the best source for any family history searching, family relatives that are alive. I have a cousin, once removed, Wes, that lives in South Dakota. His father was the youngest of the Harry C. children, Harry Homer.(In other words his father and my grandfather were brothers.)

Anyway…we had met online through our posts inquiring about mutual interests we had in family history. So, I e-mailed him asking if he had any information. He replied quickly and stated he would mail me paper copies of what he had along with other Harry C. children info.

That was 15 years ago. I still have the important manila envelope filled with documents he sent me. There is a stapled portion with copied funeral cards and associated newspaper articles. Within that information, I found the following newspaper article on Forrest:

Farmhand Dies of Lead Poisoning

Forrest Schofield, 16-year-old farm hand employed at the Ernest Nemec farm was found dead in bed Saturday morning.

On Friday morning while attending to his work about the farm he had syphoned some gasoline from a barrel for the tractor and in doing so swallowed some of the gasoline containing ethyl lead thinking nothing of it. The rest of the day he went about his duties as usual.

At supper time he mentioned not feeling well and complained of a headache and feeling quite tired. He retired early and next morning at 5 o’clock, Mr. Nemec went to his room to see how he was feeling. At that time he said he was feeling better but felt so tired he guessed he remain in bed for a while longer.

Mr Nemec did up the chores and at a little before 8 o’clock went up to his room to see him and found him (Forrest) dead and in about the same position as he had left him at 5 o’clock.

The coroner pronounced the death as due to lead poisoning.

This is quite sad. It makes you wonder if he had only gotten help the day or night before, could he have been saved. Also, to us now this sounds crazy. We would never syphon gas from anything with a tube and our mouths, right? Because many of us learned when we were young not to do it. But this was in 1940 and most likely the dangers of doing this were not as well-known and far spread. I would like to believe such tragedies as Forrest’s death helped to expand the knowledge of such dangers and stop the practice. So, at least his death was not in vain. As well as re-educate current and future generations on the dangers of even thinking about doing such a thing; no matter how much we need gas for our car!

 

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Consensus on Census

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If you are going to research your family history, the consensus among all those who search out genealogy is the U.S. Census is an indispensable resource.

Here’s one example of how the U.S. Census can help quickly and open doors to further family history:

My great-grandfather, Harry C. (Charles) Schofield left Chicago in 1897 on a cattle train to be a cowboy in South Dakota. All precipitated by the estrangement he had from his family in Illinois.

He met Florence (Flossie) Shaul and they had 15 children (including two sets of twins). The last child, Everett, dying a few days after his birth, followed by Flossie a week later. (All of this I obtained from birth and death certificates that I requested from the state of South Dakota.) The year was 1929 and left my g-grandfather as a single parent, But with how many children at home?

I had all the children’s names and birth dates. So, I did some math and based on the birth dates of the 14 remaining children, in 1929 five of the children were ages 18-24. So, probably at least nine of them were left to be taken care of. They were the ages of 2-15 years old. [NOTE: I recommend using MS Excel, as you can copy and paste the year and ages right out of ancestry.com on line and put in a spreadsheet for quick calculations. Also, you can save the file for future reference and updating.]

When you have this type of question, your best and quickest resource is the U.S. Census. The United States has been taking census counts for once / decade for over 130 years. Census info can be reviewed best from 1880, 1890, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930 and 1940. The 1950 and forward decades’ censuses are not open yet to the public. In general you will find many such documents are not opened to the public until an expected life expectancy is covered. (In other words, they do not want people using the info incorrectly / harmfully for current living people.)

So, I looked at the U.S. Census for 1930, a year after Flossie and Everett had died. [NOTE: I used ancestry.com. You can use ancestry.com for free at the Marshall Lyon County Library and the Southwest Minnesota History Center on SMSU campus, Rooms SS#137, 139 & 141.]

And I found the following in the 1930 census:

Harry C. Schofield – head of the household – 50 years old

Richard Schofield – 20 years old

Alfred 16

Albert 16

Edward 14

Joseph 12

Matthew 10

Martin 8

Forrest 6

Myrtle 4 and 3/12, meaning 4 years and 3 months old

Harry H 2 and 6/12 = 2 years and 6 months old.

It was as I expected there were 9 children under the age of 18 living at home. With one child older, Richard age 20. Most likely home to help. But perhaps there was another reason?

So, I continued to the 1940 census to see whom was home. I was expecting to see three children remaining at home that were under 18 years old and perhaps Richard, at age 30?

I found this:

Harry C. Schofield – head of the household – 50 years old

Myrtle 14

Harry 12

As expected there was never another adult female wife for my g-grandfather. He never did remarry, which is what my father had known.

And Richard was gone. So, most likely he had just been home in 1930 to help with the farm and family. (But I will ask my Dad at Easter about his Uncle Richard.After all the computer is great, but real live relatives information should never be overlooked. )

But what was not expected is that I was missing a child, Forrest. He should have been 16 years old and listed in the 1940 census. So, I searched Forrest Andrew Schofield in ancestry. com.

I did not find an on-line death certificate at ancestry.com, but I did find some info in a shared ancestry.com public family tree.

Forrest had died on June 1, 1940 at the age of 16. Prior to the taking of the census obviously. But no further ancestry. com details on his death.

So, the U.S. Census had provided me a new family history breadcrumb trail that I plan to follow. Because finding out family medical history is a priceless treasure of genealogy to be profited by current and future generations of descendents.

Name Binding

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A person’s name can be the key to generations of family history.

For me, it is my great grandfather, Harry C. Schofield. His name I discovered was bound to many layers of family history.

Name binding is a term I use to describe when I find an ancestor or descendent’s name is key to finding out more of the family history clues to confirm relationships.

The official definition of ‘name binding’ according to wordIQ.com is from computer sciences programming language and is the association of objects with identifiers. An identifier bound to an object is said to reference that object.

With my engineering background, I find myself retrofitting such technical terms to my own use. I have learned a lot about using known family names to confirm further family tree information. I want to pass this on to you so you can leverage it as well.

I will use the example of my g-grandfather Harry C. to help explain.

I knew my g-grandfather went by the name Harry Charles Schofield. But when I confirmed his birth date (2/22/1880) to a birth certificate in the Illinois county he was born,  I found his name was listed as Charles William Schofield with his father’s name listed as Clarence Hiram Schofield and an older sibling, Myrtle.

The name Charles William was somewhat the same as Harry Charles, but not similar enough to truly confirm they were the same person.

I had a known list of g-grandfather’s children and dates they were born. He had 15 children, so perhaps some of those names could give me some clues.

All were born in South Dakota and their names in order of birth were:

  •  Charles William (b:1905)
  •  Clarence Henry (b: 1907) – this is my grandfather
  •  Florence Mae (b:1907) – twin to my grandfather
  •  Richard McAllister (b:1909)
  •  Robert Allen (b:1911)
  •  Alfred Louis (b: 1914)
  •  Albert Eugene (b:1914) – twin to Alfred
  •  Edward Hiram (b: 1916)
  •  Joseph Harrison (b:1918)
  •  Matthew Victor (b: 1919)
  •  Martin Luther (b: 1921)
  •  Forrest Andrew (b:1923)
  •  Myrtle Grace (b:1925)
  •  Harry Homer (b: 1927)
  •  Everett Neil (b:1929)

Thank heavens for large families. I highlighted above all the clues I found. My g-grandparents had named their children by using five repeating names:

  1. The proof was right there in the name of his first child, Charles William he had named his first born son after his own birth name.
  2.  He had named my own grandfather, Clarence, his second born son; after his father.
  3.  He had given his first child born after 1914 the middle name of his father, Hiram. (His father passed away in 1914 in South Dakota after reconciling with his son. That is another genealogy fishing story for later.)
  4.  He had given his second daughter the first name of his sister, Myrtle.

There was no doubt now that Harry Charles Schofield and Charles William Schofield were the same person.

Name binding….watch for the clues in your own family history hunt.

Dispelling Family Folklore

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I had been working on my family genealogy for almost a year when my Dad asked me an odd question, “So, since your great-grandfather was adopted. Have you found out what his real last name was?”

I was shocked and could not hide it on my face. What was he talking about?! I had been researching and hoarding for a year all the Harry C. Schofield ancestors data I could find on-line.

After a pause, my Dad explained that something had happened in Illinois just outside of Chicago when my great-grandfather was young and his parents could not take care of he and his sister, so another family had adopted them.

It seems my great-grandfather, Harry C. Schofield, was not too happy with them, so when he turned 18 he jumped a cattle train in Chicago and rode to South Dakota to start a new life.

After a few months of wallowing in the fact that I may not have been a real Schofield ancestor, I hit the investigation of Harry C. Schofield to determine what was his real name?

Harry had lived the remainder of his life in South Dakota, died in 1969 and had left behind twelve grown children, many grandchildren and many more great-grandchildren. All of which seem to be destined to belong to another family line if my Dad’s belief was correct.

Since I knew my g-Grandfather had died in South Dakota and I knew the exact date and location from his obituary. I wrote the State of South Dakota for his death certificate along with a check to cover the copying and handling fees. (When you search on-line, the various states have websites that tell you the best way to submit requests for documents. Follow that to the key as they are very busy and get hundreds of requests. You do not want yours to be thrown aside.)

From the death certification, I then found out his birthdate and where he had been born. I wrote a second formal letter to the Illinois Records department to the specific county in which he was born and requested his birth certificate.

It took 6 weeks, but I did receive a thin letter in the mail. Although I was thinking it was going to be a form letter stating my request could not be found or they did not have the resources to find it…SURPRISE, it was a small copy of his birth certificate, only 6×6 inches in size.

I bet I read that small piece of paper over almost thirty times. It gave a lot of key, important information: the time of his birth, the birth site, his weight, his length, his eye color, his health and yes…..his birth parents. And listed right there in plain site were their names….

Kate Virginia Forrest and…

Clarence Hiram Schofield!

Clarence was my grandfathers name.so I was a Schofield?….we all were?

I took that info, scanned it and e-mailed right off to my cousin in South Dakota. He is about 10 years older than I and actually lives in my g-Grandfather’s original homestead.

He & I pieced together this information over e-mails with all the info he had found in the attic, letters and all the data I had found  and it all fit. My g-grandfather and his sister had been adopted from the Schofields to a family named Pierce. That was where the confusion had started. There was no way to deny it now….The Schofield adoption folklore had been dispelled. We could move on with our genealogy work. (Other big clues that helped were the names that had been given to my ancestors and their offspring; as well as other relatives death certificates. I will talk about those type of findings in my future blogs.)

I told my Dad after two months of that discovery, wanting to wait a bit to ensure the folklore stayed dispelled. As the smile crept up on the corner of his mouth, I could tell that after forty-six years of his life, he was relieved to know as well.

That was almost twenty-five years ago. My Dad will turn 70 years old this April and do you know what he asked me last Christmas? “Angie, are you still working on your genealogy because I would like to know more about the Schofields?” I did not have much new to tell him as it had been 15 years since I last picked it up.

But now thanks to this blog assignment, I have found a renewed passion for working further on my family history and have eked out the time to make it happen.

So, come April, I know I will have something new to tell my Dad about his Schofield ancestors. Happy Birthday, Dad!

Even the Mean Ancestors Count

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Unluckily I never had the traditional warm and fuzzy Grandmas.

My maternal grandmother, Barbra, spoke low German (she migrated from Russia when she was five years old). And my fraternal Grandmother, Lucile, was first generation American that was three-quarters English and one-quarter German by descent.

Grandma Barbra died when I was in 2nd grade. Although we went to her house often, I do not remember much of her other than her smile, her very tiny build and that she was always in the kitchen or garden. I do not think I ever even exchanged words with her. But in fairness my Mother was the youngest of thirteen children. So, I was probably about the 30th grandchild to come along.

Regardless, her passing when I was so young, did not leave any time for me to collect valuable family history from her directly. A loss which can never be recovered.

However, on the other side of the family tree my Grandma Lucile lived to be 92 years old. She died when I was 36 years old. Fortunately, just one month prior, on Easter, we had visited her in the nursing home and taken a ‘four generation’ picture.  (I had a six month old daughter by then.) That picture is invaluable now.

My grandmother would have been defined to many as mean. When I was younger I would have definitely agreed. She would make statements if you looked heavy, have strong words for her brother-in-laws (my Dad had two sisters), and let everyone know her opinion whether logical or not and if you didn’t agree then she felt you were stupid.

When I was in my twenties and out on my own, I started by interest in genealogy. I dove full in: read books, searched websites, joined ancestry.com and went to the Dallas, Texas library sixth floor to research their extensive  genealogy collection. (It has family history records, books, microfilm and maps from across the U.S.)

One of the books strongly recommended as the first step, ‘you should contact your oldest and closest related ancestor and interview them for all the gems of history they hold’.

And of course…for me on my dad’s side that was my Grandma Lucile. I can tell you I did not do it right away, it took me a little over a year and then I sat down and slowly wrote a letter. (remember at this point in time, around 1990, e-mail was not prevalent. Also, on my Grandmother’s ranch, she had no TV, a party-line telephone and only small amounts of running water.) To be honest I felt it was a 25% shot that I would ever hear anything back.

Do you know what happened? Within a week my Grandmother mailed me an over-packed business envelope full of information! It included a typed family tree, further stories from various parts of the ancestors and a hand written note of what history she knew from her family and my grandfather’s side.

IT WAS A GOLD MINE! And to this day I still refer back to it as I uncover more and more of my fraternal family’s genealogy. I was given numerous keys to unlocking further family history.

So, although my meanest Grandma lived the longest, she left me something kind and thoughtful that I could never repay personally.

And she would have loved showing me I was wrong…Proving that even the mean ancestors count.

P.S. As I have unlocked more of the family history, I am learning more and more about my Grandma Lucile’s past and why she was that way. My understandings have allowed myself to hold her more fondly now than I remembered her previously.

Fallen Trees

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I put a picture of fallen trees over water on my blog site. Pictures like this seem to have so much to tell.

For me this picture represents how I feel about family history (officially referred to as genealogy). A person’s family history is as varied and useful as these trees’ lives in the photo.

The trees started out young, struggling to survive to find necessities. If they made it they continued to grow and thrive to adulthood. Some even having the strength to produce offspring. Some make it to old age and can then rest and wait out their days in the elements with their memories. Some are struck down too early from unforeseeable events or illness. All however, leave behind something of value, their mark.

The trees in this photo seem to have fallen to some early end. However even in this state they carry on with worth to others. Giving a path that others can use and take to move forward in their lives.

All of this is how I feel about genealogy. We can use our past family history to learn from and embrace what we see today in ourselves and our family. And this all has immeasurable value in knowing the ‘things’ that make us: our traits, health conditions and future possibilities of what we can do and be…it goes on and on, decade after decade. That’s our roots.

What an amazing thing…learning from our past to drive us forward to a better us. And knowing that even when we do fall, future generations will look back and see and learn from us.

And I think we all agree we want to leave them something positive. The value of us. It’s incomparable.