About Me

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Lake Mathews (Perris), CA, United States
Born in Illinois, I grew up in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago. I have one sibling, an older brother. I am married, for the 2nd time now, to Butch & got 4 children in the deal. They have gone on to make me grandmother 25 times over & great-grandmother to over 20!. After many years working in industry, I got my bachelors and masters degrees in speech communication, & was a professor in that field for 13 years. I retired in 2001 & returned to school & got my doctorate in folklore. Now I meld my two interests - folklore & genealogy - & add my teaching background, resulting in my current profession: speaker/author/entertainer of genealogically-related topics. I play many folk instruments, but my preference is guitar, which I have been playing since 1963. I write the "Aunty Jeff" column for the Informer, newsletter of the Jefferson County NY Gen. Soc. I work in partnership with Gena Philibert-Ortega & Sara Cochran as Genealogy Journeys® where we focus on educating folks about Social History. More about that: genaandjean.blogspot.com. More on our podcasts: genjourneys.podbean.com. More about my own projects: Circlemending.org.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

U.S. Postmasters - Part 2, Green County, Wisconsin

I have family that came from Green County, Wisconsin, and, since it is a rather small area, I thought it might be fun to see if I could trace the Postmasters there in the mid-19th Century. I discovered some interesting things that I am going to share with you in this and future blogs.

First, let's look at what the opening "page" looks like for the listing of Postmasters appointed during this time period (there is some overlap of records so do not expect to have the listings fall neatly into place):

(all images posted here are used with permission of the National Archives, Pacific Region, Riverside County, CA)

Obviously, I will be interested in cross checking information found here with the 1860 Federal Census and, if applicable, any state census schedules that fall within this time frame of 1855-1865.

My normal suggestion is that, if you discover an ancestor lists him/herself on the census as a "Postmaster" or "Postmistress" (or even just working for a Post Office - who knows, a promotion could be just around the corner), you would want to check these records for the information about the appointment and what Post Office was involved (just because a person lived in a given town, say Albany, it does not mean that that is the same town where he/she served as a Postmaster). 

As a reminder, these records are defined on my earlier blogpost and directions for finding which Archives houses the referenced microfilms is on a still earlier post. Follow those links for the information and aids in understanding why these records are of value to genealogists.

So I looked up Green County, Wisconsin and discovered that there are 32 towns and townships within that location. Of course, there were significantly fewer back in the mid-19th Century and some of the ones that were there (e.g., Shuey's Mills, Farmer's Grove, and Willet) are not listed on the RootsWeb site (some may have been abandoned while others may have been subsumed by larger communities). When I go through the history of the towns of Green County, I find some of the same names as those listed in the Postmaster pages. Some towns (Shuey's Mills, for example) had, as the first or subsequent Postmaster, the same person for whom the village (hamlet, crossing in the road, etc.) was named. In the case of Shuey, though he was a Postmaster for some period of time in the 1850s, by 1860 he pops up on the County Poorhouse roster in the census, leaving one to believe that being a Postmaster might not necessarily have been a lucrative profession in that time.

In fact, all but one of the Postmasters I traced in the census listed other trades than the USPS as their means of making a living. There were farmers and merchants, for the most part (the latter makes perfect sense as many of the Post Offices were housed in the General Store, making the store-owner also the Postmaster, by default). In one situation, the job of Postmaster seemed to be passed from one family member to the next as folks moved or (apparently) died. 

The value of these records is quite interesting, though not particularly obvious, at first. A recording in the Postmaster logs is more likely to have an accurate spelling of a person's name than we find in the census. It also clarifies where that person was working during a fairly specific period of time: while the appointment date is provided, the next recorded date is when the Postmaster's successor was appointed, not when the previous individual left the position . . . it is possible that the position might have been vacant for some length of time. Just because a Postmaster has vacated the position does not mean that the person died; he/she might have moved or been dismissed from the job for some reason or other. Other records that might help clarify the circumstances would be vital records, newspaper articles, historical information from the county (some Post Offices were discontinued because the town ceased to exist or was incorporated into another community), tax records, military records, etc. I presume that my readers are familiar with the various sources for some of these items, but welcome your inquiries if you need some guidance there.

And so now you may have a bit of a lead as to why these records can have significance to genealogists. In future posts I will give some specific examples of how these can be useful and what mysteries can be unearthed (or created) as a result.

Stay tuned . . .

Monday, May 30, 2011

When is a Princess not a Princess?

When she fails the pea test, of course. (No, not pee . . . pea, like the vegetable.)

I received a phone call from a gentleman who was embroiled  in a lawsuit, much of which is irrelevant to my involvement and that I will refrain from detailing here so as to protect his identity, along with the specifics about the other individuals in the case. His main concern was that I might be able to assist him in proving that a person's claim to royalty was nothing more than a fairy tale. With that premise, it was hard to resist my response when the lawyer for the case called and asked me if I knew how to tell whether or not a princess had a rightful claim to such a title. I remembered well the Broadway play "Once upon a Mattress" (my granddaughter played the princess in a college version and was magnificent, but I digress); being a folklorist, I am also well familiar with the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale from which the musical took its plot and simply suggested he try that test - a few mattresses, a pea, and a princess (or not, depending on her narcoleptic tendencies, of course).

The lawyer, at first, was mystified, then he howled and said that I appeared to be the best person for the job . . . I had a sense of humor, which, apparently, was necessary for this task of disproving a royal claim.

Shortly after speaking to the lawyer and my initial contact, I was deluged with documentation about the alleged royal highness's lineage. All I needed to do was sort through it all. No problem: I had four days to prepare! Everything in my life was moved to the back burners (and some things were removed to the outside grill): I had a mission!

Genealogists reading this will tell you that one of the mantras of this profession is "work from the known to the unknown." How many times I recite this when giving presentations, I cannot tell. We start with ourselves and work backwards, cutting through the generational foliage to compile a clean (if possible) tree with branches, limbs, and leaves representing the people who came before. But some people, especially those wishing to claim a root from a particularly rare or unusual plant, will start with the desired "source" and work towards the present. Why is this problematic? Well, one complication comes when the sought-after ancestor left no descendants. What then? Some people are content to just stick in a few to make the line continue (these are things that literally cause shivers down the spines of the real genealogists). Others look for a different origin of self to claim as theirs. And some just keep adding names without verification, often using sources that are suspect, at best, and often repeat frequently quoted, unfounded data that has no evidence to back it up (finding the same information on five different sources, all tracing back to the same, incorrectly researched source, is really just a single citation - quantity is not enough to create proof: quality is of utmost importance).

OK, that said, here I sat with a lineage of a very impressive line, going back into the earliest times of recorded history, with a narrative to explain how it ties together to come to the end result: a member of a royal family, living in our midst in America, with roots so long and so old that they must hold up an impressive tree. At least, that is what it seemed at first glance. With a little research, I unearthed the truth: the foundation of this plant was full of root-rot! Sorting through the hard-to-read paperwork proved to be my first challenge (if you want to impress people, the harder the "facts" are to read, the more accurate they must be, right?). Following the twists and turns of the tree led me into a veritable forest of families, intertwined and connected, often by unrelated vines used to bring the branches closer together - but closer together does not make two separate plants part of the same tree . . . or even in the same genus. Instead, I found different families of different locales mixed together to create an apparent jumble of DNA. A great-grandchild born a number of years before the related great-grandparent; everyone's favorite ancestor ("unknown") married to an unrelated person, grafted into the trunk and added to the mix; and a lack of primary (or a sufficient number of derivative sources) to create a sense of reality.

With the work of a professional genealogist who had traced the family from the present back to the earliest provable data, I was able to determine that the royal blood just might have involved a transfusion. I did not disprove her princess claim - but using the Appeal to Ignorance Fallacy ("if it cannot be proven false it must be true") is not how I proceed in the way I do business - I could only state that the claim could not be advanced using the information proved by HRH (her royal highness). While on the witness stand (which ended up being a week after the initially expected appearance), I made it clear that her claims could neither be proved nor disproved with the data provided. I did consider suggesting the pea test, but having no appropriate vegetables (nor the requisite 20 mattresses) with me, I elected to just give the reminder that genealogy, like any science, involves proof: hypotheses are just that - the information that requires further investigation and numerous tests before moving them into the "conclusion" category. I attempted to completely describe the Genealogical Proof Standard, but was not given ample time for a full explanation. Oh, well . . . let it be known by all present (and those not) that I did try.

So, to my reader friends, this is why I have been rather absent of late. It is not a desire to hide or an illness, breakdown, or other ailment - I've just been tangled in some roots and branches and have been out on a limb trying to find my way back down and out of the forest. Perhaps when I entered it to begin with, like the Haunted Forest in the Wizard of Oz with its "I'd turn back if I were you" warning,

I should have been like the Cowardly Lion and tried to heed the warning . . . but look at all I would have missed. And, with no real proof one way or another, I might have missed that opportunity of being in the presence of royalty, right here in the good old USA.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sunday Singalong with Circlemending: Remembering

Memorial day is upon us. A good time to remember. I'm at a campout with Songmakers and enjoying all sorts of music throughout the weekend. This morning was the traditional "Songs of Meaning" period where songs ranged through everything from remembering family members to religious upbringings to special times, along with some songs people might not have felt were "meaningful," yet held some sort of meaning to the singer. Many were in tears, remembering loved ones, times gone by, and private things they shared only internally. I sang a song I wrote for two 2st cousins, 3 times removed - both children - buried in a cemetery in New York. A guitarist and fiddler teamed to play one of my favorites: "Music Box Dancer" (I love that song and get a happy feeling when I hear it, but could not explain what it is or why it conjures up such good feelings). In a large circle, people held hands to sing "Will the Circle be Unbroken?" while some musicians accompanied from outside the ring. When people join together to sing a song, the feeling is one of unity. We can share those memories through songs.

With Memorial Day less than 24 hours away, what songs bring back memories for you? Certainly, songs that memorialize our military dead are most appropriate, but so are any songs that take you to a time, a person, a place, or an event long (or short) past. Share it here.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sunday Singalong with Circlemending - Songs about Endings

2 of my amazing grandchildren (FYI, all 24 are amazing, but these 2 have the spotlight today . . .) are graduating with honors from Georgia Tech. This is no easy feat. So while they have much to look forward to (both have been hired for good jobs!! Yay!!), it also marks the ending of 4 years of hard study, some serious play, and a lot of networking on all levels. I am so proud of them! So, in honor of our 2 graduates, Brad & Kati Schmidt, I am proposing that today's Singalong Sunday focus on songs about endings. Endings of childhood, endings of relationships, endings of war, endings of jobs, endings of life, endings of anything. Not all endings are bad, either, as they often mark beginnings. I remember being very happy when my school year was coming to an end and skipped and sang (with many others) all the way home, "School's out, school's out, teachers let the monkeys out!"

So my selection will deal with the end of the Civil War (I'm working hard on this topic for a number of magazines; one to be published a little later this month in GenWeekly - an on-line newsletter - will be an expose on "When Johnny Comes Marching Home"). I figure that is a perfect song about an ending that was bitter sweet (not all Johnnies came home and many who did were forever changed). My GenWeekly article compares the American Johnny at the end of the war to the Irish Johnny, "Johnny I Hardly Knew You," which is decidedly less celebratory.

Check out one version on YouTube. I have also recorded it on my Songs of the War of the Rebellion CD.

Now it's your turn - any songs of endings come to mind?