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.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

I finally found Alfred…

Readers may remember a few posts here in which I discussed the problems I have had in finding one of my great-granduncles, Alfred Shepheard.

The last breakthrough was in November of 2016. I had come across a newspaper report of an Alfred Shepheard being jailed for drunk and disorderly conduct in Plymouth, Devon. He spent his 31st birthday in the lockup. But there was no other information at least that was obvious.

I had had my eye on a few records before finally deciding to bite the bullet and purchase a death certificate. There was a man named Alfred Shepheard who had been in and out of the Islington, London, Workhouse on St. John’s Road, from late 1914 until early 1915. His name was spelled like mine; his birth year was indicated as 1860; and his occupation was horsekeeper. Those facts all fit with him being my relative, but without additional information I could not say for sure he was my great-granduncle.


He was not to be found on any census after 1881 and it was not until I found the court record that I knew he was still alive in 1891.

I knew that some of his siblings had moved to London: older brother William John Shepheard had moved there by 1881 and married there the same year and worked there until after 1891; sister Fanny Ann (Shepheard) Ellison married her husband in London in 1896 and lived there with her family for many decades; younger brother John had moved to London by 1899 when he married and lived there until his death in 1943. So there was a good chance that Alfred might have joined them in the city.

There were a couple of death records for a man of the same name from the late 1890s and later but inconsistencies in their full names, spelling and other particulars did not seem to fit. There was one, however, in 1915 that fit both the area in London and the information from the workhouse. I decided to take a chance and order it.

My luck – the informant turned out to be Fanny Ellison, who was a sister of Alfred, so I knew I finally had the right man. His death was caused by chronic interstitial nephritis – an inflammation in the kidneys – and cardiac failure.


On his death record, Alfred’s normal residence is shown as Redhill Farm, Kingsbury, Middlesex, northwest of the city. He is not listed as a resident of the farm on the 1911 census, though, so likely was not employed there very long. How and why he ended up at the workhouse in Islington, even just being eight miles away in unknown. Possibly that was the closest infirmary he could be admitted to.

Now that I have an end date and place for Alfred’s life, I will continue to see if I can fill in the years from 1891 when he was in Plymouth, Devon.

It was satisfying to finally fill in some blanks with respect to Alfred, but sad to know he died so young. It does appear, at least, that members of his family were there to support him at the end.


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, 28 March 2017

Who the heck is in that old photo?

Every once in a while we come across or are given an old photo of some distant relatives. And we ask, “Who the heck is in that old photo?”

I have such a picture from a cousin who brought it to a family reunion in 2005. There are seven people shown in the rather formal picture. Unfortunately there is no indication of who the photographer was or when and where it was taken.

Handwritten notes on the back of the photo list some names and relationships, or guesses, and an approximate year the picture was taken. But we don’t know who wrote the information, when it was added or whether it was entirely accurate. Some of the people were strangers to me so, being the curious genealogist that I am, I set about searching for information about them. With so much data available on various websites like Ancestry I thought it might be fairly straightforward to track down the individuals and their families.
 
Group photo in question in this blog post
Whoever had put the names to the people had also numbered them on the front for reference. The approximate date of the photo was given as 1895 and the notes read:
Back: Mary Theade (cousin of Frank Putnam), Uncle Charlie Thompson, Aunt Mary Thompson
Front: Uncle Charlie’s brother John, Aunt Alvira Thompson, Uncle Pete Thompson, girl unknown

The clothing generally fit the time period of the 1890s. I did have photos of Uncle Charlie and his wife, Aunt Mary, in the back row. They were Charles Henry and Mary Jane (Putnam) Thompson, Charles was a brother of my great-grandfather, Newton Isaac Thompson. Charles was born in 1849 and Mary Jane in 1853 which meant they were both in their 40s if the photo was taken around 1895. And Mary Jane had a brother named Frank, born in 1858.

I had been given copies of photos of Charles and Mary, one taken on their wedding day in 1877 and one taken in their senior years about 1920, so I could compare them with the people named in the old group photo.
 
Photos of Charles Henry and Mary Jane (Putnam) Thompson in 1877, 1895 (group photo) and about 1920
The images all seemed to me to be of the same people. That got me comfortable two of the people could be reasonably identified.

With respect to the name Putnam, I assumed Mary Jane and Mary Thede might be closely related. A peek at Mary Jane’s branch of the family tree provided another possibility – that Mary Jane and Alvira were sisters, daughters of Luman and Lavina (Vanderwark) Putnam. Luman died in 1863 and Lavina remarried a man by the name of Royal (or Robert) Randall. I found the family on various censuses. The five Putnam children from Lavina’s first marriage – including Mary (Jane), Frank and Alvira – were together on the 1870 Minnesota census. Alvira was born in 1860.
 
1870 Minnesota census showing Randall/Putnam Family living in Douglas County
Mary Jane, of course, married Charles Thompson in 1877. Coincidentally, Alvira married a man named Hans Peter Thompson later that same year. What I found out from the census records was that Charles and Peter were not related. Peter was actually born in Denmark in 1849; Charles had been born in Upper Canada the same year.

That seemed to confirm two more people in the group photo. Alvira would have been about 35 years of age and Peter 46. In the photo they look like that could be right. Peter and Alvira moved to North Dakota, where all of their children were born. Charles and Mary Jane and many of their relatives, including my great-grandfather, were already in the territory. According to the 1900 US census, Peter and Alvira had a daughter, Cecil May, in August of 1893. If the girl in the photo looks about two years old, then it could well be Cecil May Thompson.

So we come to "Mary Theade, a cousin of Frank Putnam” and, obviously of Mary Jane as well.

I did a search on Ancestry for Mary Theade (sic), born about 1850, plus or minus 10 years. I also thought that she might have been born in the Midwest, as were her cousins. A simple search brought up a Mary E. Thede, born about 1860 in Iowa, but living in California in 1920. Both Peter and Alvira had lived in California as well and, in fact were buried there, so I thought they might have travelled together. Hey, it was worth a shot even if there was no evidence of Mary being in the state. Further review found several other censuses from 1880, 1900 and 1910, with a Mary Thede, born in Iowa, and a husband named “Carson”. The 1880 summary showed them living in Minnesota, a closer link to Alvira, Mary Jane and Frank Putnam.

Both names popped up on a family tree on Ancestry that showed Mary Elizabeth’s death in 1925 and a link to a Find A Grave index. And that summary had her husband, Carsten’s death in 1913, information on five children and her maiden name – Vanderwark! Her father was shown as Porter Easterbrook Vanderwark and mother as Harriet Adelia McPherson.
 
Find A Grave entry for Mary Elizabeth (Vanderwark) Thede
This could not be a coincidence. The mother of Alvira, Mary Jane and Frank was, of course, Lavina Vanderwark. Porter could certainly have been Lavina’s brother, leaving Mary Elizabeth Thede, Alvira Thompson, Mary Jane Thompson and Frank Putnam as cousins, just as indicated on the photo. A search for Porter Vanderwark (There could not have been two of them!) found a family on the 1855 New York state census, living in Chautauqu County, the same place where Luman and Lavina (Vanderwark) Putnam were living, having just been married a few years previously. Again, this could not be a coincidence.

All evidence pointed to that fact that Mary Thede, Alvira Thompson and Mary Jane Thompson were related through the Vanderwark line.

The last individual on the photo was indicated to be Charles Thompson’s brother. It was definitely not my great-grandfather, Newton Thompson. The only other brother it could have been was John Thompson, born in 1857. As far as I am aware, John never left Canada and it was unlikely he visited Charles and Newton in North Dakota.
 
Left – Newton Thompson apparently taken on his marriage day in 1884; right – individual on the group photo labelled as possibly John Thompson
I do not have a picture of John Thompson, brother to Charles and Newton, but I suspected the man was not a Thompson at all. He was very possibly Carsten Thede, the husband of Mary Thede. That would make more sense, having a photo of three couples rather than two couples and two unrelated people.

I looked for Carsten Thede on Ancestry and came up with a couple of family trees that had photos of the family. Though the quality of the image is not quite as good as my own photo, when compared, it seems hardly undeniable that the man was, in fact Mr. Thede.
 
Left – individual on the group photo; right – individual from a photo of the Carsten Thede family, taken about 1893
I can’t be sure where the photo was taken. In 1900, Charles and Mary were living in Mapleton, North Dakota, Peter and Alvira were in Ransom, North Dakota and Carsten and Mary were in Madera, California. Very likely they all got together someplace in North Dakota for a family gathering where the picture was taken. If the little girl is, indeed, Cecil May Thompson, then the photo was likely taken in 1895 or 1896.

With a little sleuthing and some good fortune in finding others researching these families, I managed to identify – correctly I hope – who the heck the people were in this old photo. None are in my direct ancestral line but some cousins may be interested in the results.

What I learned was that one should not take for granted what identities have been given to people in old photos but check each of them out with whatever resources may be available. Often those that attempt to record information are working from someone else’s memory or merely guessing.


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, 21 March 2017

London Asylum for Deaf and Dumb

In my post concerning the bequests made by my late Great-Aunt Emma Jane Wray on 29 November 2016 (What can you find out form a will?), I made mention of the Asylum for Deaf and Dumb Poor, where her niece Elsie Pearson was resident for a period. Aunt Emma had left an annuity for the care of her niece which, on the face of it, was rather unusual. It turned out Elsie was disabled and needed more care and attention than her other nieces and nephews.

I had found Elsie on the 1911 England census, along with 414 co-residents of the institution located in Margate, Kent. Its size alone was impressive and made me think its importance would be worth a blog post of its own.

There are several websites that describe the history of the asylum. Some of the recent articles can be found at: The London Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, John Townsend and the London Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb and The Asylum that changed the lives of young ‘unfortunates’. For many old photos of the institution see this website.

Reverend John Townsend (1757-1826) established the original school on Grange Road, in Bermondsey, London – the Asylum for the Support and Education of Deaf and Dumb Children of the Poor, looking after 55 children. By 1792 the school had become the London Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb. In 1807 it had been able to move to larger premises on Old Kent Road where they had space for 200 children.


There were some private institutions where people of means could send their children but this was to be the first public school where deaf children could receive a free basic education. Townsend received initial support from: Henry Cox Mason, rector of Bermondsey; Henry Thornton, banker and philanthropist; and the Duke of Gloucester.

Joseph Watson, one of the early headmasters was an inspirational and dedicated teacher, developed many techniques for instructing afflicted children and believed they were due an education as good as any other person. He wrote that, “Persons born deaf are, in fact, neither depressed below, nor raised above, the general scale of human nature, as regards their dispositions and powers, either of body or mind.

On the 1911 England Census, where I found my little cousin Elsie, the asylum was referred to as the Royal Deaf & Dumb Asylum. In later years it became known formally as The Royal School for Deaf Children, Margate.


The school was closed abruptly in December 2015, throwing 240 staff out of work, after the John Townsend Trust was put into administration (receivership).

On lists such as that found on the 1911 census, as well as other schools and institutions, one may get a better appreciation of the lives of ancestors. Such summaries are well worth looking for, as are the histories of those organizations.


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, 14 March 2017

From a note on the census…

In my search for my wife’s ancestors I found several that were born in Macduff, Banffshire, Scotland. One cousin (twice removed), Isabella Lyall, moved around a bit but her birthplace and date was consistent on most records allowing me to find her on many types of records fairly easily – up to a point.

She was at home in 1841, in Macduff, as a child of one year, with her parents and two sisters. On the 1851 census she was staying with her grandmother, Mary McKay, also in Macduff and just a few blocks from her parents’ home. She was going to school at the time.

She married James Storm, a seaman, on 12 January 1861 in Macduff. Shortly after their marriage they moved to Findhorn, Morayshire, where James was employed as a seaman in merchant service. Isabella also had an uncle living there. The couple was residing in Findhorn at the time of the 1861 census (April). Unfortunately James died the following year in Findhorn, of Phthisis Pulmonalis (Tuberculosis) after suffering for two years with the disease. Isabella moved back to Macduff afterward, no doubt to be closer to her family.

In 1871 she is shown on the Macduff census as a housekeeper in the Thomson family household. At first glance there is no head of household shown and my first thought was that the individuals shown at the top of this page, two children aged 14 and 8, were part of the family at the bottom of the previous page. The surnames were different but that sometimes happens if a widowed woman with children remarries. In this case, though, the couple were not old enough to have children this age. I noticed there was a note by the enumerator that said of the Thomson family, “Head absent at sea.” That was the clue I needed to help me find Isabella on later records.
 
1871 Scotland Census for Thomson family, with Isabella Storm, living in Macduff, Banffshire
I looked for the lady, with surnames, Lyall and Storm, on subsequent Scotland censuses and on marriage and death records for the area. But she was not to be found.

Then I looked for the two children on the 1881 census and found one, aged 18, in a family with parents, William and Isabella Thomson. This Isabella was the right age to be Isabella Storm. I thought the child was most likely was the same girl as was listed on the 1871 census. Since there was no mother shown on the 1871 census I reasoned the missing head of that household might possibly have been widowed. On the 1881 census, there were three younger children that could well have come from a second wife, if the man had remarried.

I did a search for these younger siblings on the ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk website and up came birth records that showed their parents were William Thomson and Isabella Lyall! To top that, their marriage was shown on the birth records as 20 May 1871 in London, England. Quite obviously the 18-year old on the census was not the natural daughter of Isabella.

Don’t you love those Scottish records that have so much information about the families? It is interesting that Isabella used her maiden name for the second marriage but then again, that is not unusual in Scotland as women generally keep their own names.

From there I managed to find vital data about Isabella and William, on censuses from 1891 to 1911 and right to their deaths. I found William’s marriage to his first wife and her death just a year after their daughter was born. Her name was also shown on his death record. Both individuals must have felt a kinship right from the start, having lost their spouses too soon. They ended up living a long life together, Isabella dying in 1901 and William in 1915.

A whole family was fleshed out from one little note in a census. The enumerator obviously believed that just listing two minor children, with a housekeeper but no mother, needed a bit more explanation.

Was this serendipity or just plain close observation of a record? In any case it does pay to read everything!


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, 7 March 2017

Digitizing Memories

I am currently digitizing all of our family albums. There are 60 of them spanning the years 1969 to 2015. There will be one more as soon as I get the last batch of photos mounted into number 61. I have finished scanning 37 of them which contain over 1,750 images comprising 3.3 GB of space.

So why would I want to do that?

Well, these albums contain all of the memories of our family captured in pictures, from when my wife and I met to the last trip to China to see our granddaughter’s lead performance in the Alice and Wonderland ballet. The main problem is that our family have all grown and moved away and are busy raising their own families. So the albums have sat on the bookshelf with no one to leaf through them. Yes sometimes the kids take a few down when they visit – to show their own children what growing up looked like. But since the visits are not very frequent the many years of memories do not get visited often.
 
Our Family Albums – now numbering 60, plus a few miscellaneous, specialty albums, containing pictures of our family from the time we were married.
I wrote about our albums and other material in a blog What will we do with future photos? last April. At the time I commented on what would people do with the thousands of pictures taken now with digital cameras.

The other reason for digitizing all the albums now is that I keep wondering what will happen to all these books when we are gone. I mentioned that in my previous post as well. That’s a great worry for all family historians – the preservation of files with family information gong back hundreds of years and memorabilia including everything from grandparents’ correspondence to cream cans used to haul milk from the farm way back when. It is all important to me but will it be to my descendants.

At least with digitizing the albums I can hope that our family memories will be preserved somewhere in virtual space where our children and grandchildren, and hopefully their children and grandchildren, might one day have a look-see.

The first 32 albums were the coil-bound type, usually with around 40 pages. Because I could not take the pages out and scan them separately, I had to hold the books down on the flatbed scanner and make an image much larger than the actual page size. Then I went through and straightened and cropped them. The last group are three-ring binder style which makes it easy to lift out and directly scan each page at 8 ½” x 11” size. Some of the binders have over 100 pages. It takes about an hour to do complete the digitizing of one album.

All the albums have the magnetic self-adhesive pages with the clear, fold-over leaves, although many of them are not very sticky anymore and the clear covers tend to come loose. That means some photos dropped out as I went through the books and had to be stuck back down with a glue stick. No matter! The end result is what matters.

I left the clear page covers down when scanning the pages. They did not generally interfere with getting a good scanned image. Certainly they are good enough to see who and what is in the photos. I also scanned at 300 dpi so the images are large and detailed enough to withstand enlarging on a monitor.
 
Screen shot of folder on my hard drive with album page images
One great thing about this exercise is that I have been able to relive the memories myself looking at every page as I went through the scanning process. It is neat to revisit the day your daughter arrived in the world, or your first grandchild, see the early school pictures and extended family get-togethers at Christmas. There are also wedding and birth announcements, some of which I have copied to my family history files. And copies of Christmas letters received over the years. In short, there is much more to our family album library that just pictures.
 
Some of the memories recorded in photos from albums now digitized
As I indicated in my April 2016 post, I am redoing all the old family albums of my parents. I am now working on volume five which will be the last one. They are large, leather-bound books. I have many of the really old photos scanned but will probably digitize all of the albums once I have finished the last one.

I will be putting the completed digital album library online so that all of our family members can access it – anytime and anywhere. The hunt is on now to find just the right venue to hold it all and still be secure. All the albums will go into plastic storage boxes now rather than back on bookcase shelves. I don’t have the room anymore for the bookcases. They will still be available if someone wants to dig out an album or two and they will be handy for whoever wants them later.
 
Albums now stored in plastic bins

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, 28 February 2017

The last of our kind?

Genealogists have learned a great deal about their ancestors by being able to find, read and transcribe old documents, in particular church registers with birth, marriage and death information. Anything older than a hundred years will almost always have been hand-written.

We know there have always been problems with interpreting what some scribe recorded centuries ago. I have found there were as many poor writers in the 18th century as there are now and it has been sometimes very challenging to figure out what exactly they were trying to record. Not to mention that the names of our ancestors were often spelled differently depending on who heard them or where they lived.

Most of us have been able to get a handle on what information was written because we learned cursive writing in school – many decades ago. We continue to be able to read and write in that style.

The old styles of writing were, in many respects, much different from how we show letters of the alphabet today. But our experience with penmanship at least has allowed us to see the patterns of how words were constructed. Having then familiarized ourselves with those old styles, sometimes with the assistance of the one of the many courses available to genealogist online, we could recognize the names of our ancestors and put together the stories around their births, marriages and burials.
 
Marriage entries from the 1630 Plympton St. Mary, Devon parish register showing, among other unions, the marriage of my 8th great-grandparents, Nicholas Shepheard (surname spelled exactly the same way it is today) and Margerit Lee.
Technology is being developed to read handwriting through optical character recognition. That will be a great boon to anyone dealing with old documents but it is likely still a long ways off before we have such a program on our own computers.

Schools across North America are phasing out, or have completely removed courses on cursive handwriting. Our own grandchildren have great difficulty in reading anything that has been hand-written. What that means down the road is that there will be fewer of us who will have the ability to read those old records. And the latest generation may be totally unable to do it. There may come a time when all those old letters you are keeping for posterity and as records of family events might be totally unrecognizable.

Have a read of one parent’s lament about children not being taught how to write using a pen or pencil in Karen Green’s article, published a few years ago on the Canadian Family website, Should Students Still Be Taught Cursive Writing? Her words still ring true.

It seems like the world now revolves around technology and communication involving the written word is increasingly being lost to brief outbursts through texting or Twitter – not a lot of it understandable or even polite.

As genealogists studying old documents for information about our ancestors, we may be the last of our kind. So be sure to keep handy all those transcriptions you have made for your family members in the future. They may need them.

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, 21 February 2017

Use of Data Concerning Living Persons

I recently received a notice from MyHeritage about photos of people who matched names in my own family tree.

I was surprised and shocked to see pictures of my children and grandchildren there! Along with vital information about them.


We have informed the member that no permission was given to use the photos on MyHeritage, or elsewhere – by any family member. We were especially concerned with them being related to living persons, especially children.

I fail to understand how information about our children is relevant to the study of ancestors. Yes, they are the latest in any line but who they are, when they were born, where they live or what they do has nothing to do with their great-great-grandparents. It is the latter who, as genealogists and family historians, we seek to find information about. Invading the privacy of minors – and that is what is happening here – does not advance the study of our forebears.

I believe people need to take extra care when publishing information of any kind about living people but should never, in my opinion, put up photos of children, without the parents' express written approval.

I do agree that the photo library of MyHeritage could be of value in the search for information about our dead relatives. In my case, I already have copies of the photos that were shown in the notice sent to me. Some actually looked like they were copied from my files although I do not think that was the case. They may have been shared by others to whom I sent copies, though. It has happened before and is impossible to control.

It is not necessary to import the bad behaviour shown in much of social media to genealogical pursuits. Surely we can respect the privacy of living people – AGAIN, ESPECIALLY CHILDREN – as we study and share information about our ancestors.

I have made my views known to MyHeritage. We will see what steps they take to preserve privacy. I have also complained to the individual who put up the photos on her family tree site. We expect her to remove them, along with the vital information and, in the future, seek permission before she uses such material.

By the way, on my own MyHeritage family tree I have clicked the box that says guests can view limited information but “can never view information about living people” in my family website. Only those that are invited to join the tree may do so. I also do not allow site members to invite other members to the site. I am hopeful that is enough to protect the privacy of people I have named in my family tree.


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