Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Music is in Our Blood

Music has been a big part of our family activities through the generations.

My grandfather sang in the church choir before he came to Canada in 1907 and was an entertainer at many social events in the communities of Keoma and Irricana, Alberta. In 1925, he was the star vocalist and comedian in the comedy, Nothing But the Truth, an event held to raise funds to purchase a piano for the new community hall. He also sang at many social events at the local school. Neighbours remembered hearing him singing at full voice as he worked outside at his farm.

As a child I took music lessons for many years, learning to play the baritone (horn). From that I could play anything with valves. For many years I was one of the smallest kids with one of the biggest horn. I also tried (not very hard I’ll admit) to learn the violin in a short and painful series of lessons for me and everyone around me.
 
1956 – students of Joseph Hopkins in an early brass ensemble. Wayne is second from the right. Mr. Hopkins is standing in front of the picture hanging on the wall.
My music teacher, Mr. Joseph Hopkins (1904-1981) was a marvelous musician and teacher who could play and teach others to play almost every instrument. He assembled both a brass band and an orchestra featuring all of his students that played at local concerts and competitions. There are many photos and personal certificates related to his career in the Glenbow Archives in Calgary, with this short description of the man: Joseph W. Hopkins, 1904-1981, was born in Prague, Bohemia and graduated from the Prague Conservatory of Music. He immigrated to Calgary, Alberta in 1927 and became the founder and principal of the Hopkins School of Music. He organized classes in the towns of Innisfail, Olds, Bowden, Red Deer, Sylvan Lake, Lacombe and Calgary. Students from his schools formed a student symphony, brass band and Hawaiian orchestras. His students won many awards at the Kiwanis Music Festivals in Calgary, Edmonton and Lethbridge. He was a member of the Alberta Registered Music Teachers Association.

I was very lucky that my parents found Mr. Hopkins. He was an excellent teacher and a dedicated professional in giving all his students the opportunity to play with others in larger bands and orchestras.
 
1959 Hopkins School of Music brass band composed all of students of Joseph Hopkins
In high school I played in the band (baritone) and a small four-piece combo (valve trombone). While attending university I played in a pick-up Dixieland band organized by one of my geology professors.
 
1969 – some members of the Prospectors, a pick-up Dixieland jazz group. In all there were over a dozen musicians from all walks of life who dropped in to jam on a regular basis.
I bought my first grandson an electronic piano when he was a small boy. This six-foot high school student now plays an upright bass in the school band, orchestra and jazz ensemble as well as being a pretty good piano player. His brother is taking up the piano and guitar. My granddaughter is an accomplished ballerina at the tender age of 13. We hope she will be able to pursue dance in her adult life. Her little brother is learning the saxophone.
 
2017 – Shepheard grandchildren musicians and performers
Music is in our Shepheard blood although it was not a main pursuit of every generation. I like to think my ancestors also had musical talents – where else would I have gotten mine – but there is no way to know if that was true to any great extent.

In past centuries people certainly were entertained by and participated in musical activities. We can’t hear them sing or dance, so we have to guess at what entertainment they liked based on stories and songs that have been preserved in print. With luck we can hear present-day performers tackle the old versions to get an idea of how they sounded and were received by audiences hundreds of years ago. The church was generally the central gathering place in many communities, especially in the rural areas. Choirs would lead the congregation on Sundays but these same people might also be highlight singers as other social events and encourage many residents to join them.

I searched for information on music from the 17th to 19th centuries to try to find out what people listened to, primarily in Britain as most of my ancestors come from that region. I am sure that readers could find many examples from other countries.

A few websites worth visiting include:

Widipedia (of course):
This is a brief outline of the development of Western art music written during the Classical period between 1730 and 1820.
Commercial music enjoyed its origins in the music halls of the 16th and 17th centuries.

This is an article by Gavin Dixon published in Limelight Magazine 2013 in which he comments on music evolution from the Middle Ages onward. Gavin discusses music of all types from classical to jazz.

This blog piece was published in The Guardian by Suzy Klein in 201. Suzy points out that popular music, for the masses, as it originally conceived, began as the middle class grew in Britain through the 1700s. It is a very good introduction to the rise of performance art in many venues from pubs to music halls.

The originator, Lesley Nelson-Burns, has assembled songs from many regions and sources. Both lyrics and musical accompaniment can be experienced. Folk music was probably the hit parade of the day with songs sung and played in many venues from local pubs to community social gatherings.

I am sure there are lots more sites to investigate. And maybe one day I will find out more about whether my ancestors were musical.


Wayne Shepheard is a retired geologist and active genealogist. He volunteers with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. Wayne has also served as an editor of two such publications. He provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Natural Disasters and Family Misfortunes: Galveston 1900

There are many examples of natural disasters around the world and throughout history that have taken lives – sometimes whole families. Epidemics, in the days before vaccines and effective medical treatments could run rampant through communities. Floods have destroyed property and occasionally resulted in deaths of those caught up in rapidly rising waters and the swirling currents of raging rivers. Major storms, certainly the cause of some large-scale floods, have sometimes killed people.

I have done a number of studies of natural phenomena and their effects on communities and people in the past, and have a library of examples of rapidly-developing events and long-term environmental changes that had serious repercussions on people’s lives and livelihoods.

Events that stand out include hurricanes that arrive with tremendous destructive force, often catching people unprepared. One such storm that is remembered in reports at the time and many publications afterward was the tempest that struck Galveston, Texas, USA on 8 September 1900.

It was a Category 4 storm, with winds up to 145 miles per hour (233 km/h). Over 6,000 people were killed in collapsed buildings and a 15-foot storm surge that swept over the island. The severity of the elements was not predicted or expected and completely overwhelmed the entire island of Galveston and the city perched on its shore. It was the deadliest hurricane in US history.
 
Panarama of destruction from the 1900 Galveston hurricane (downloaded from https://www.1900storm.com/
As in all similar events, there are thousands of stories that go along with the casualties. Family historians who had relatives in these areas will have particular interests in detailing how the physical conditions affect members of their families and the communities in which they lived.
 
The orphanage of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word is shown in this circa 1896 photo where it sat in the sand dunes along the gulf coast in Galveston, Texas. Both buildings were destroyed and 90 children and 10 nuns were killed when a hurricane slammed into the island 8 September 1900 (downloaded from http://www.chron.com/neighborhood/bayarea/slideshow/The-1900-Storm-in-Galveston-69849/photo-5159418.php) 
One very sad tale arising from the event had to do with the complete destruction of the Sisters of Charity St. Mary’s Orphan Asylum. Among those lost were 10 sisters and 90 children.  Only three children survived the onslaught of wind and water: William Murney, Frank Madera and Albert Campbell. All three clung to the branches of a tree for over a day until they were able to climb down on to dry land and find their way to town. Only William Murney and Albert Campbell appear on the US 1900 census of 27 June for Galveston, so Frank must have come to the location only a short time before disaster struck.
 
Sisters and children at the St. Mary’s Orphan Asylum about 1900 (downloaded from https://www.1900storm.com/orphanage.html) 
William Murney lost a younger brother at the orphanage who he had tried in vain to save. Their parents had died within a few days of one another in July 1894. Two sisters, not in residence at the orphanage also survived. One sister, Josephine, had been adopted by a Galveston family prior to 1900. Information about William and his family can be found on Find A Grave.

Frank Madera has been born in Austria and came to America in 1898 with his mother and sister. Following the death of his mother two months after their arrival, the children were placed in the orphanage. The sister was living in Houston when the hurricane attacked. His story can be found on Find A Grave.

Albert Campbell and his sister, Magdalena, lived with an older sister, after their parents died. They were sent to the orphanage on a temporary basis when the sister and her husband moved to Kansas. The storm caught them before they could rejoin their family members. More information about Albert and his family can also be found on Find A Grave.

The three boys apparently sporadically kept in touch over the years but never met as a group again. All three eventually married and had children. Frank died in 1953; Albert died in 1955; and William died in 1971. Some descendants came to Galveston in 1994 when a memorial for the hurricane’s orphanage victims was dedicated. A very interesting summary of their lives during and after the event can be found on the pages of the Galveston Daily News for 16 October 1994.

There also will be dozens of stories about the families of those staff and children at the orphanage who did not survive. Families of individuals lost, at the orphanage and across Galveston Island during the hurricane must have felt enormous grief. Perhaps those accounts might be unearthed and summarized by genealogists one day. A full list of most of those killed can be found at the Galveston and Texas History Center Rosenberg Library.

Information about the storm and its aftermath can be read on Wikipedia 1900 Galveston hurricane. Many publications are also listed on the website. One need only search for Galveston Hurricane 1900 to find many other references.

Naturally-occurring events such as this are all part of the fabric of family history.

Another major natural disaster – the 111th anniversary of which is today (April 18th) – was the 1906 San Francisco earthquake which possibly killed 3,000 people and left another 300,000 homeless. I’ll look at how that one affected families in a future blog post.


Wayne Shepheard is a retired geologist and active genealogist. He volunteers with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. Wayne has also served as an editor of two such publications. He provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Medical Miracles

Family historians do not think too much about medical advances of the past. Certainly they notice how their ancestors may have died or what illnesses took them down. There are many stories of how communities were affected by epidemics that ravaged them and how local doctors and others reacted to treat the afflicted.

We know that great advances in medicine have been made in the last 200 years, for example with the introduction of vaccines which over time, at least in the western world, helped to eradicate many diseases which caused so much death in so many areas. Modern techniques in surgery have also allowed physicians to prevent or reduce the risks of death from many ailments. Late in the 20th century, non-invasive procedures meant that patients could go home the same day they underwent operations. We have now moved into a time when mechanical devices can reduce suffering and prolong life.

Less than 100 years ago some treatments and techniques would have been thought of as belonging to science fiction. Two or more centuries ago things such as artificial lungs, kidney dialysis machines or organ transplants were completely unthought-of.

The idea of medical miracles has become commonplace.

One device we learned about in my own family was the Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) or Heartmate II®. In early 2011, my oldest sister was suffering with a failing heart, and was near death. Other ailments, her deteriorating health and her age, made her a very high risk patient for a heart transplant. But there was an option available at the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, where she was admitted. They were a world leader in cardiac care and had been developing the skills and experience associated with the Heartmate II.

The LVAD is a pump that connects directly to the heart and is powered by batteries carried outside the body. An online description describes it as “a mechanical device that helps people when their heart is too weak to pump blood. An LVAD doesn’t replace the heart. It assists the heart in pumping oxygen-rich blood throughout the body so that the organs and muscles can function properly. The LVAD system has parts that work inside and outside the body. Inside, a heart pump is attached to the left side of the heart. Outside, a controller, batteries, and driveline help to power and control the heart pump.
 
Diagram of the Heartmate II system
Within days of the surgery, and after the shock and pain of the process had subsided, Lynn was alert and back to her smiling, happy self. There was, of course, the normal recovery period that patients who have had open-heart surgery face, but within a few months she was home and resuming most of her daily activities. My brother-in-law, Roy, was a real trooper in making sure her batteries were charged and the wound constantly cleaned, being available to drive her wherever she needed to be and doing whatever other tasks needed to be done around the house to alleviate any stress.

Lynn was 70 when the Heartmate II was implanted, at the time apparently the oldest female patient to have the procedure. In the words of her husband, “She was chosen for her youthful attitude and will for quality of life which she strived for.” Many others to receive the new pump eventually went on to have heart transplants. Because of her general physical condition, Lynn was not to be afforded that option.

The fact this procedure was available was particularly notable in our family as our little brother had died in 1950, at the age of two, of a congenital heart defect. I wrote about him on a post, My Brother Jimmy… Within a few years of his death, open heart surgery was available, something that might have saved his life.

Lynn became a poster-girl for the system, often presenting her experiences about the life-saving process to others. It had some unique properties, among them, a constant flow of blood such that patients did not exhibit a normal periodic pulse but rather a sound like flowing water. Her words were especially valued by concerned people with heart problems and who would be candidates for the new pump – even children.
 
Lynn with Muskaan Grewal – At the time the photo was taken in 2013 they were the oldest and youngest females in the program. At the age of six years, Muskaan was the youngest person in the world to receive a heart pump.
The new heart pump did not prevent Lynn from travelling but when she did local hospitals had to be alerted to her visit, so that if anything went wrong they would know how to treat her. You can imagine the questioning looks she got going through airport security with her implanted mechanical device and the battery pack strapped to her waist. She could even dial up the pump rate in case she wanted to do a little jogging (Not!).

Eventually she went back to performing with her seniors group in their musical stage productions. Most importantly she got her happy disposition rekindled.

Following are the results of a study done in 2015, Short and long term outcomes of 200 patients supported by continuous-flow left ventricular assist devicesThe mean age of our LVAD recipients was 59.3 years (range 17-81), 76% (152/200) were males, and 49% were implanted for the indication of bridge to transplant. The survival rate for our LVAD patients at 30 days, 6 months, 12 months, 2 years, 3 years, and 4 years was 94%, 86%, 78%, 71%, 62% and 45% respectively. The mean duration of LVAD support was 581 days (range 2-2595 days). Short and long term survival for patients on LVAD support are excellent, although outcomes still remain inferior compared to heart transplantation.

Lynn lived another five years with her Heartmate II, and enjoyed every minute of it. And the family were all blessed for having the extra time with her. In the end, it was not her heart or the pump that failed. The LVAD never faltered; it continued to function as it had been intended. Other complications ended her life. With other parts of her body failing, the pump had to be shut down and unplugged. We appreciate what a life-saving and life-extending device the Heartmate II was.

It is interesting to speculate what changes in our family trees might have occurred if many of the procedures and treatments had been available centuries ago – or even just decades ago – things we seem to take for granted today. There is no doubt that future families will have different outcomes as a result of the medical miracles we are now witnessing.


Wayne Shepheard is a retired geologist and active genealogist. He volunteers with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. Wayne has also served as an editor of two such publications. He provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.