The Dead Speak: Unraveling and Understanding Patterns Found in Death Records

I know this topic might not sound like it’s related to genealogy, but it assuredly is, in more ways than one. In fact, it’s one way the dead can, collectively, speak to us.

This article is the result of a rabbit hole that I managed to reside in for a week or so. More of a rabbit tunnel, actually, an underground maze. I’m sharing this joy with you because there’s good stuff down there – even if I didn’t find my ancestor! This is relevant for your genealogy too.

I’ve separated this data from the actual information about my ancestors because I wanted to share this process with you. While my ancestors aren’t relevant to you (unless you’re a cousin, in which case, howdy), this process certainly is because you can replicate it.

So, why did I go down the rabbit hole?

Rabbit Hole Entrance

Three things made me really curious.

I was searching for the 1838/1839 estate of my female ancestor, Elizabeth McKee, when my cousin, Carol, discovered a court record where her estate administration was ordered. Of course, I know that administration means there was no executor. An administrator was court appointed to handle her affairs, meaning she had no will.

However, the really big surprise was that the entry directly above hers on the same day was another female, Margaret McKee. I had never heard of Margaret McKee, but she was clearly an adult who was housekeeping, because she had an estate (minus land).

That’s really strange. There was no other McKee family in this area, and trust me, I’m painfully familiar with this family. Yet, here she was. Right with Elizabeth, or I would never have noticed. Virginia’s indexed records, where they exist, are painfully incomplete.

Was this an unknown daughter? If so, what are the chances of them perishing at the same time? Not very good, right?

Right?

Secondly, Elizabeth had a son, William, mentioned in her husband, Andrew McKee’s will written in 1805. However, Andrew did not die until 1814, when his will was probated without being updated. There was one William McKee who lived in a different part of the same county, so savvy genealogists noticed that and connected the dots.

However, there were things that really bothered me about that connection. The more I dug, the more contradictory evidence I unearthed, including the fact that the William McKee living in the southern district of the county was of age and on the tax list by 1803, and the 1810 census shows Andrew McKee’s son, William, still at home. Also, Andrew and Elizabeth weren’t old enough to have a son born 1783ish, and Andrew wasn’t in the county until 1787. Oh, and William McKee was a VERY wealthy merchant with a quarter million dollar estate in 1833, who came from New York City (wife’s family) and also had a home in Lynchburg, VA. Andrew McKee, on the other hand, was a farmer who first appeared on the tax list without so much as a horse to his name, but hey, details.

In actuality, after that 1805 mention of William McKee in Andrew’s will, and his cameo appearance in the 1810 census where he was about 18, we never hear about William again. The only reasonable conclusion I can come to is that he died sometime after the 1810 census and probably before 1814 when he was conspicuously absent at his father’s estate sale. His older and younger brothers were both purchasing, but no William. He would have been about 22 by then.

If the William in the southern part of the county was Andrew’s son William, he would have been mentioned someplace, but he wasn’t. Stone cold silence. He would also have been the oldest son, an adult in 1805 when Andrew wrote his will, yet son James was named as the executor.

Nope, something’s not adding up.

But, what were the chances of a young, healthy, strapping teenage boy dying? William had survived that perilous childhood deathtrap. Most people back then died as children, or women in childbirth, or as old people, right?

Right?

But is this accurate? Do we know that, or assume that?

I had to know.

Elizabeth’s oldest son, James McKee, died in 1855, not long after the Washington County, Virginia death records had begun to be kept in 1853, and he was reported to have been buried in the McKee Cemetery. The external reference looked like that information came from his death record, but those death records aren’t transcribed. Crumb!

I went searching at FamilySearch in those death record books when I decided to compile some death data. Early on, there weren’t death certificates as we know them, only an index-type book of deaths with one line entry for each person.

I really, really need to know what people were dying of back in the day, and their ages at death. Are my suppositions correct, or not?

What could I learn about the life and times of my ancestors, and their children, from 1850s death records, more than 15 years after Elizabeth died?

It turns out – a lot!!

Data

I compiled the first six years of death data in a spreadsheet, meaning cause and age, from Washington County, Virginia, from 1853 through 1858, for a total of 806 death records. (I told you I spent a week in this rabbit hole.)

Click on images to enlarge.

As you can see, there’s a goldmine of data here. But look what’s NOT here – place of burial. In case you are wondering, I never did find out where James McKee is buried.

First, some general comments and observations.

The first few years of death records did not include stillbirths. There appeared to be confusion about whether stillbirths, which were generally called “deadborn” were to be included. I also got the idea that babies who died immediately after birth may have been classified as stillborn, based on a situation where the mother died, and the baby’s death occurred the next day but was recorded as stillborn, with an age of “1 day.” Most of the time, the “age” for stillborn babies was left blank.

A majority of the stillborn babies had not been named which probably means names weren’t selected for any babies until after they were born. The exceptional situation is a stillborn child WITH a name. Some babies up to 15 days old that died had not been named. I’ve run across this before in the census records.

I wonder if that happened because the family was waiting to see if the child was a boy or girl, or if they were waiting to see if the baby lived, or if there was some superstition or custom about naming/not naming a child before it was born.

The oldest unnamed child was a child whose mother was enslaved and was 15 months old. I fully suspect that this child had a name, but the “owner,” noted as such, who reported the death, did not know the child’s name, so the child’s name was unknown, not unnamed.

As most genealogists know, middle names did not come into common use until in the 1800s, often mid/late 1800s in Appalachia, EXCEPT for middle names that were family names. If your ancestor born before 1800ish had a middle name, it was likely a woman’s birth surname – mother or maybe a grandmother. I noticed a couple of people in the death records with a middle initial, but very few.

I recognized a huge number of very familiar names of families also found in Claiborne and Hancock Counties in Tennessee, and Lee and Russell Counties in Virginia.

There were a total of 806 deaths or about 134 deaths per year, which was almost an exact number for each year. The 1850 census showed 14,612 residents, so .9%, or less than 1% of the population died each year. That’s quite low, because at that rate it would take more than 100 years for everyone to die if no one else was born. This causes me to suspect that these early death records weren’t complete. Scanning the deaths once again, I realized that there were almost no deaths reported during the winter months – December through February. The weather would have been bad, and people would not have been going to town on snowy, slick, and cold mountain roads riding horseback or in an open wagon. Additionally, you had to ford the river to get to Abingdon from the northern district, near Friendship, where my ancestors lived. Brrr.

Widener Valley, near Friendship – By RebelAt at English Wikipedia, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45097455

By spring, the earth was green again, and apparently, no one thought about reporting past deaths. Fields needed to be plowed, and the spring livestock babies were being born. Plus, the Holston River was still high, cold and swollen from snow melt-off and spring rains.

So perhaps these death numbers should just be uniformly multiplied by about 1.4. This really doesn’t affect our analysis unless the causes of death changed based on season, and I don’t think much changed based on what I’m seeing.

The 1850s was a relatively normal time. No known epidemics in this area, and there were no artificial outside stressors, like a war going on. Wars not only disrupt economies, but men die, and women carry the additional workload. Fewer children are born, and if the fighting takes place in that location, food supply and much else is disrupted, causing even more deaths. Not to mention the disease that’s rampant in areas associated with war.

During the 30 Years’ War in Germany in the 1600s, some entire areas were depopulated, and the “lucky” locations only lost half of their pre-war population numbers. This means that couples had less than the self-replacement number of 2 children per family that lived. If your ancestors had more than two surviving children, the population was growing.

Because the 1850 census listed individuals, it’s possible to reconstruct families using these death records if the deceased had been born by 1850.

These death records also include both enslaved and free people of color.

The cause of death was blank in 70 records.

I did not round ages up or down to the year. Many months/days weren’t given. If the person was under a year old, I recorded the months or days.

If you were alive then, what do you think was your most likely cause of death during these years?

Most Likely Cause of Death

  1. Dysentery – 131 or 16% of the people died of dysentery. Two really unlucky people had dysentery with flux.
  2. Flux – 120 or 15% of the people died of flux, also known as “bloody flux.”
  3. Fever – 107 or 13% of the people died of fever. Of course, fever could be anything from the flu to sepsis from an infected cut. If you had a fever and died, that’s what you died of, even though the fever was a symptom. It could also have been Scarlet Fever or Typhoid Fever, and “fever” was probably a catchall for all of the above.
  4. Consumption – 85 or 10% of the people died of what is now known as Tuberculosis.

There’s really no graceful way to say this, but let’s just say that Flux seemed to be another name for Dysentery, which causes me to wonder why both terms were used. After reading up on the subject (we genealogists do such morbid things,) it appears that Flux always involves blood, and Dysentery may not. If you aren’t queasy, you can read about it, here.

I’ve left those two categories separate, because they may have been caused by different organisms, or the criteria might have been different at that time, but it’s safe to say that about one-third of the people died a miserable death from those two.

Know what the good news is? In the US, people didn’t have to deal with the Plague, aka Black Plague, as European populations did.

Ok, so what else were people dying of?

Cause of Death Breakdown

This chart shows causes of death in alphabetical order, including the youngest and oldest ages of people who died of this ailment. Some were clearly afflictions of the young, and some of older people. For example, cough and croup clearly claimed the young, while consumption was by and large constrained to the older population – probably because incubation time was significant and victims generally didn’t die immediately.

Cause of Death Total Youngest Oldest
A fall 1 65 65
Accident 4 5 60
Affect of breast 1 79 79
Apoplexy 3 57 70
Blank (nothing written) 71 Blank (often newborns) 90
Bleeding of lungs 1 32 32
Brain fever 1 42 42
Bronchitis 1 71 71
Burn 1 Blank Blank
By taking arsenic 1 50 50
Cancer 2 69 79
Cholera morbus 1 1 1
Cold 1 82 82
Congestive chills 1 17 17
Consumption 85 3, but by far much more likely to be an adult disease 75
Cough (I’d bet this is croup) 8 3 months 4
Croup 17 2 months 9
Deadborn/stillborn 22 Blank 1 day
Diarrhea 2 7 78
Dyspepsia 2 25 53
Dropsey 14 5, next youngest is 22, by far an older person’s disease 80
Drowned 2 3 13
Dysentery 131 1 day (doubtful), 3 months 71
Encephalitis 1 68 68
Fall of tree 1 29 29
Fever 107 1 day 83
Fits (epilepsy) 2 1 1
Flux 120 18 days 99
Found dead 1 34 34
Gravel (gall stones) 2 76 90
Hemialgia 1 27 27
Hemorrhage of lungs 2 27 74
Hives 2 3 months 7 months
Inflammation 11 1 month 29
Inflammation of bowels 2 Blank but said “poor house” 34
Inflammation of brain 11 1 66
Inflammation of lungs 7 1 72
Injuries received from machine 1 66 66
Killed 3 1 day 45
Killed by horse 1 17 17
Liver complaint 3 18 months 63
Locked in? 1 13 13
Neuralgia 1 12 12
Old age 21 7 (this has to be wrong), second is 65 90
Palalasis, maybe paralysis 1 19 19
Paloog? of heart 1 56 56
Palsy 5 18 days 96
Patacha? 1 37 37
Pleurisy 1 21 21
Pneumonia 8 2 46
Poisoned 1 2 2
Rheumatism 1 67 67
Rufotine? 1 73 73
Scarlet Fever 27 11 months 17
Scrofula 7 3 33
Shot herself 1 21 21
Shot himself 1 51 51
Sore throat 1 3 months 3 months
Spanns? 1 14 days 14 days
Spinal affliction 1 2 2
Stabbed 1 62 62
Tetanus 1 79 79
Thrown from horse 1 18 18
Typhoid Fever 20 10 months 80
Unknown 38 1 day 95
Wheel? 1 28 28
White swelling 1 75 75
Whooping cough 4 1 2

Cause of Death in Highest Category Order

Here we have the same information sorted by the highest category total. Dysentery led the pack, affecting the very young and the very old as well, as did Flux. In fact, the 99-year-old woman was the oldest death recorded during that 6 years. It’s pretty amazing that she managed to avoid all other deaths her entire life, before antibiotics and modern medicine, and even in the end, it wasn’t her heart that gave out.

Cause of Death Total Youngest Oldest
Dysentery 131 1 day (doubtful), 3 months 71
Flux 120 18 days 99
Fever 107 1 day 83
Consumption 85 3, but by far much more likely to be an adult disease 75
Blank (nothing written) 71 Blank (often newborns) 90
Unknown 38 1 day 95
Scarlet Fever 27 11 months 17
Deadborn/stillborn 22 Blank 1 day
Old age 21 7 (this has to be wrong), second oldest is 65 90
Typhoid Fever 20 10 months 80
Croup 17 2 months 9
Dropsey 14 5, next youngest is 22, by far an older person’s disease 80
Inflammation 11 1 month 29
Inflammation of brain 11 1 66
Cough (I’d bet this is croup) 8 3 months 4
Pneumonia 8 2 46
Inflammation of lungs 7 1 72
Scrofula 7 3 33
Palsy 5 18 days 96
Accident 4 5 60
Whooping cough 4 1 2
Apoplexy 3 57 70
Killed 3 1 day 45
Liver complaint 3 18 months 63
Cancer 2 69 79
Diarrhea 2 7 78
Dyspepsia 2 25 53
Drowned 2 3 13
Fits (epilepsy) 2 1 1
Gravel (gall stones) 2 76 90
Hemorrhage of lungs 2 27 74
Hives 2 3 months 7 months
Inflammation of bowels 2 Blank but said “poor house” 34
A fall 1 65 65
Affect of breast 1 79 79
Bleeding of lungs 1 32 32
Brain fever 1 42 42
Bronchitis 1 71 71
Burn 1 Blank Blank
By taking arsenic 1 50 50
Cholera morbus 1 1 1
Cold 1 82 82
Congestive chills 1 17 17
Encephalitis 1 68 68
Fall of tree 1 29 29
Found dead 1 34 34
Hemialgia 1 27 27
Injuries received from machine 1 66 66
Killed by horse 1 17 17
Locked in? 1 13 13
Neuralgia 1 12 12
Palalasis, maybe paralysis 1 19 19
Paloog? of heart 1 56 56
Patacha? 1 37 37
Pleurisy 1 21 21
Poisoned 1 2 2
Rheumatism 1 67 67
Rufotine? 1 73 73
Shot herself 1 21 21
Shot himself 1 51 51
Sore throat 1 3 months 3 months
Spanns? 1 14 days 14 days
Spinal affliction 1 2 2
Stabbed 1 62 62
Tetanus 1 79 79
Thrown from horse 1 18 18
Wheel? 1 28 28
White swelling 1 75 75

What Am I Most Likely to Die Of?

At any age, what is your most likely cause of death before the age of modern medicine in Washington County, VA? It’s worth noting that these causes of death are probably very similar across most of the US during this time, except perhaps for eastern seaboard cities with heavy concentrations of people.

Using the chart below, find the age by year you’re searching for in the age column. I recorded the death ages by month and week for babies less than a year old, but in this chart, I’ve combined them into the category of “less than one year.”

The cause of death column is just that. I’ve bolded the most common cause of death for that age group. In some cases, more than one is bolded because blank and unknown aren’t causes of death. In other instances, there are multiple causes of death that are tied.

The third column is the number of deaths for that age by cause of death

The fourth column is the total number of deaths, in red, for that age.

So, age 0 is Deadborn, or Stillborn, which I’ve combined into one category. There were 31 deaths from that cause (remember, the early years did not record stillbirths), and the total deaths for age 0 is 31.

In the age category of <1 year, 22 deaths were blank and had no cause of death, and 17 were unknown, which would mean that it wasn’t recorded or “the baby just died.” Things like SIDS and babies with congenital heart defects would all be in the sudden death category which would have been unknown then. The highest actual cause of death is Dysentery with 12. The total for the age of less than one year is 88.

So let me give you an idea of how to use this chart. Let’s say your ancestor died at about 70 years of age. You have no further information.

What kinds of diseases were causes of death for a 70-year-old?

Scan down to age 70. You will see that several things might have caused that person’s death, in about equal probability. However, if I tell you that her daughter who was about 28 and lived with her, died at about the same time, that might shift your analysis to favoring communicable diseases found in both the categories for age 38 and for age 70. You might have guessed I’m referring to Margaret and Elizabeth McKee.

Fever and dysentery were killing 28-year-old people. Fever is also listed for age 70, as is Consumption. If one had Consumption, and contracted either a fever or dysentery, that combination would certainly be lethal. Here’s what I do know from Elizabeth’s estate settlement – a “girl” was paid to care for her “in her final illness” which did not seem to be quick, based on the amount that the caregiver was paid. So we know Elizabeth did not die quickly and was ill for some time. I’m leaning towards consumption here, maybe complicated by something else that Margaret also had. Or, maybe they both had consumption.

What about William, assuming he died between about 18 and 22? Dysentery, Flux or Consumption. It’s possible that he died of the same thing as Andrew in the spring of 1814. Andrew would have been about 50. Few people died at 50, but since he failed to update his will, he may have died quickly or been too ill to update the will. Dysentery is a prime candidate for both.

Age Cause of death # Deaths Total by Age Year
0 Deadborn 31 31
<1 Blank 22 88
<1 Unknown 17
<1 Dysentery 12
<1 Flux 9
<1 Fever 8
<1 Croup 6
<1 Inflammation 3
<1 Cough 2
<1 Hives 2
<1 Killed 1
<1 Liver complaint 1
<1 Palsy 1
<1 Scarlet Fever 1
<1 Sore throat 1
<1 Spanns? 1
<1 Typhoid Fever 1
1 Flux 13 57
1 Dysentery 12
1 Fever 7
1 Scarlet Fever 6
1 Unknown 6
1 Cough 4
1 Whooping Cough 3
1 Fits 2
1 Blank 1
1 Cholera Morbus 1
1 Inflammation of brain 1
1 inflammation of lungs 1
2 Flux 11 46
2 Fever 8
2 Dysentery 7
2 Scarlet Fever 5
2 Blank 3
2 Croup 3
2 Inflammation 2
2 Unknown 2
2 Inflammation of head 1
2 Pneumonia 1
2 Poisoned 1
2 Spinal Affliction 1
2 Whooping Cough 1
3 Dysentery 13 40
3 Fever 7
3 Flux 7
3 Cough 3
3 Typhoid Fever 3
3 Scarlet Fever 2
3 Consumption 1
3 Drowned 1
3 Inflammation of lungs 1
3 Scrofula 1
3 Unknown 1
4 Flux 9 32
4 Dysentery 6
4 Fever 6
4 Scarlet fever 4
4 Inflammation 2
4 Inflammation of brain 2
4 Blank 1
4 Cough 1
4 Unknown 1
5 Dysentery 7 24
5 Flux 5
5 Fever 3
5 Accident 1
5 Dropsy 1
5 Dysentery with flux 1
5 Inflammation 1
5 Liver complaint 1
5 Pneumonia 1
5 Scarlet fever 1
5 Scrofula 1
5 Unknown 1
6 Flux 11 29
6 Dysentery 6
6 Fever 3
6 Blank 2
6 Scarlet Fever 2
6 Consumption 1
6 Croup 1
6 Pneumonia 1
6 Scrofula 1
6 Unknown 1
7 Dysentery 12 24
7 Flux 8
7 Fever 2
7 Diarrhea 1
7 Old age 1
8 Dysentery 4 18
8 Flux 4
8 Scarlet Fever 4
8 Fever 3
8 Consumption 1
8 Inflammation of brain 1
8 Unknown 1
9 Dysentery 6 17
9 Fever 2
9 Flux 2
9 Consumption 1
9 Croup 1
9 inflammation 1
9 inflammation of lungs 1
9 Killed 1
9 Typhoid Fever 1
9 Unknown 1
10 Dysentery 5 7
10 Fever 2
11 Dysentery 2 9
11 Flux 2
11 Blank 1
11 Consumption 1
11 Fever 1
11 Inflammation of brain 1
11 Typhoid Fever 1
12 Dysentery 3 12
12 Flux 3
12 Accident 1
12 Blank 1
12 Consumption 1
12 Fever 1
12 Neuralgia 1
12 Scarlet Fever 1
13 Dysentery 2 8
13 Flux 2
13 Drowned 1
13 Fever 1
13 Locked In? 1
13 Unknown 1
14 Dysentery 2 4
14 Flux 1
14 Typhoid Fever 1
15 Blank 1 5
15 Consumption 1
15 Dysentery 1
15 Inflammation of lungs 1
15 Scrofula 1
16 Consumption 2 7
16 Dysentery 2
16 Fever 1
16 Flux 1
16 Inflammation of brain 1
17 Consumption 2 10
17 Blank 1
17 Congestive chills 1
17 Dysentery 1
17 Fever 1
17 Killed by horse 1
17 Scarlet fever 1
17 Scrofula 1
17 Typhoid Fever 1
18 Consumption 2 7
18 Flux 2
18 Fever 1
18 Thrown from horse 1
18 Typhoid Fever 1
19 Dysentery 4 7
19 Consumption 1
19 Flux 1
19 Paralysis 1
20 Fever 3 9
20 Consumption 2
20 Flux 2
20 Dysentery 1
20 Typhoid Fever 1
21 Consumption 4 12
21 Dysentery 4
21 Fever 2
21 Pleurisy 1
21 Shot herself 1
22 Flux 3 9
22 Consumption 2
22 Blank 1
22 Dropsy 1
22 Fever 1
22 Inflammation of brain 1
23 Consumption 3 11
23 Blank 2
23 Dysentery 2
23 Fever 2
23 Flux 1
23 Scrofula 1
24 Blank 1 4
24 Fever 1
24 Flux 1
24 Typhoid Fever 1
25 Consumption 2 8
25 Fever 2
25 Blank 1
25 Dyspepsia? 1
25 Flux 1
25 Unknown 1
26 Fever 2 5
26 Blank 1
26 Consumption 1
26 Dysentery 1
27 Flux 1 4
27 Hemialgia 1
27 Hemorrhage lungs 1
27 Inflammation 1
28 Fever 3 7
28 Dysentery 1
28 Inflammation of brain 1
28 Unknown 1
28 Wheel? 1
29 Typhoid Fever 2 6
29 Blank 1
29 Consumption 1
29 Fall of tree 1
29 inflammation 1
30 Fever 3 6
30 Blank 1
30 Consumption 1
30 Flux 1
31 Consumption 4 4
32 Bleeding of lungs 1 5
32 Consumption 1
32 Fever 1
32 Flux 1
32 Unknown 1
33 Consumption 3 6
33 Fever 1
33 Flux 1
33 Scrofula 1
34 Dysentery 1 6
34 Fever 1
34 Found dead 1
34 Inflammation of bowels 1
34 Pneumonia 1
34 Typhoid Fever 1
35 Consumption 3 6
35 Dropsy 1
35 Fever 1
35 Pneumonia 1
36 Blank 2 5
36 Consumption 1
36 Dysentery 1
36 Fever 1
37 Patacha 1 2
37 Pneumonia 1
38 Consumption 2 4
38 Fever 1
38 Flux 1
39 Typhoid Fever 1 1
40 Fever 2 7
40 Consumption 1
40 Dysentery 1
40 Flux 1
40 Pneumonia 1
40 Typhoid Fever 1
41 Blank 2 2
42 Brain fever 1 1
43 Consumption 1 4
43 Dysentery 1
43 Inflammation of brain 1
43 Unknown 1
44 Consumption 2 2
45 Dropsy 1 4
45 Dysentery 1
45 Fever 1
45 Killed 1
46 Consumption 1 3
46 Dysentery 1
46 Pneumonia 1
47 Flux 2 4
47 Consumption 1
47 Dysentery 1
48 Consumption 1
48 Fever 1 2
49 Blank 1 3
49 Consumption 1
49 Flux 1
50 Dysentery 2 5
50 By taking arsenic 1
50 Consumption 1
50 Inflammation of lungs 1
51 Consumption 2 3
51 Shot himself 1
52 Consumption 3 3
53 Dyspepsia? 1 2
53 Fever 1
54 Blank 1 4 
54 Consumption 1  
54 Dysentery 1  
54 Fever 1
55 Fever 2 4
55 Consumption 1
55 Dropsy 1
56 Consumption 5 7
56 Flux 1
56 Paloog? of heart 1
57 Apoplexy 1 2
57 Consumption 1
58 Dysentery 1 1
59 Accident 1  3
59 Fever 1  
59 Typhoid Fever 1
60 Fever 2 6
60 Accident 1
60 Apoplexy suppose 1
60 Blank 1
60 Palsy 1
61 Consumption 3 3
62 Dysentery 1 3
62 Inflammation of brain 1
62 Stabbed 1
63 Blank 1  3
63 Flux 1  
63 Liver complaint 1
64 Blank 1  4
64 Consumption 1  
64 Dropsy 1  
64 Typhoid Fever 1
65 Blank 3 12
65 Consumption 3
65 Dysentery 2
65 ? a fall 1
65 Dropsy 1
65 Old age 1
65 Unknown 1
66 Consumption 1 5
66 Dropsy 1
66 Dysentery 1
66 Inflammation of brain 1
66 Injuries received from machine 1
67 Rheumatism 1 1
68 Dysentery 1 3
68 Encephalitis 1
68 Flux 1
69 Cancer 1  2
69 Consumption 1
70 Dropsy 2 7
70 Apoplexy 1
70 Blank 1
70 Consumption 1
70 Fever 1
70 Old age 1
71 Bronchitis 1  4
71 Consumption 1  
71 Dysentery 1  
71 Old age 1
72 Old age 2 6
72 Blank 1
72 Dropsy 1
72 Inflammation of lungs 1
72 Typhoid Fever 1
73 Consumption 1  4
73 Fever 1  
73 Old age 1  
73 rufotine? 1
74 Blank 2 8
74 Consumption 2
74 Flux 1
74 Hemorrhage lungs 1
74 Old age 1
74 Unknown 1
75 Consumption 1 6
75 Dropsy 1
75 Fever 1
75 Flux 1
75 Old age 1
75 White swelling 1
76 Blank 1 5
76 Diarrhea 1
76 Dropsy 1
76 Gravel 1
76 Old age 1
77 Flux 1 1
78 Old age 1 1
79 Flux 2 5
79 Affection of breast 1
79 Cancer 1
79 Tetanus 1
80 Dropsy 1  4
80 Fever 1  
80 Old age 1  
80 Typhoid Fever 1
81 Fever 2 4
81 Old age 1
81 Palsy 1
82 Cold 1 3
82 Fever 1
82 Old age 1
83 Fever 1 1
84 Flux 1  2
84 Old age 1
85 Palsy 1 1
87 Old age 2  4
87 Blank 1
87 Flux 1
88 Old age 3 3
90 Blank 1  3
90 Gravel 1  
90 Old age 1
95 Unknown 1 1
96 Palsy 1 1
99 Flux 1 1
blank Consumption 4 12
blank Fever 3
blank Blank 1
blank Burn 1
blank Inflammation of lungs 1
blank Fever 1
blank Inflammation of bowels 1

Children’s Deaths Under a Year

For those interested, children’s deaths under a year are detailed in the chart below by age.

Age Cause of Death # Deaths
0 Deadborn 30
0 Unknown 1
1 day Blank 4
1 day Unknown 3
1 day Deadborn 2
1 day Dysentery 1
1 day Fever 1
1 day Killed 1
2 days Blank 3
5 days Blank 2
5 days Fever 1
8 days Unknown 1
10 days Unknown 2
10 days Blank 1
12 days Unknown 1
13 days Blank 3
14 days Unknown 2
14 days Spanns? 1
18 days Flux 2
18 days Palsy 1
18 days Liver complaint 1
21 days Fever 1
1 mos Inflammation 1
1 mos Blank 3
1 mos Flux 1
1 mos Unknown 1
2 mos Croup 1
2 mos Fever 1
2 mos Unknown 1
3 mos Unknown 2
3 mos Blank 1
3 mos Cough 1
3 mos Croup 1
3 mos Dysentery with flux 1
3 mos Fever 1
3 mos Flux 1
3 mos Hives 1
3 mos Sore throat 1
4 mos Blank 2
4 mos Unknown 2
4 mos Dysentery 1
4 mos Inflammation 1
5 mos Blank 1
5 mos Croup 1
5 mos Dysentery 1
5 mos Fever 1
5 mos Flux 1
6 mos Dysentery 4
6 mos Cough 1
6 mos Croup 1
6 mos Fever 1
6 mos Flux 1
7 mos Croup 2
7 mos Blank 1
7 mos Dysentery 1
7 mos Hives 1
7 mos Inflammation 1
8 mos Flux 2
8 mos Dysentery 1
10 mos Dysentery 2
10 mos Typhoid Fever 1
11 mos Blank 1
11 mos Fever 1
11 mos Flux 1
11 mos Scarlet Fever 1

What Age Category is the Most Likely to Die?

As a person living back in the 1800s, at what age would you have been the most likely to die?

Eliminating records that don’t include ages, we can look at the age category in which people are most likely to take that last ride to the churchyard on the back of the wagon.

I fully expect that if the stillbirths had been recorded during the first part of this comparison, stillbirths would outnumber the rest. So, if you managed to survive birth, then your next big challenge would be to survive the next nine years of your life, as illustrated by the number of deaths for those years, in chronological order.

Age # of Deaths
<1 88
1 57
2 46
3 40
4 32
Deadborn 31
6 29
5 24
7 24
8 18
9 17
12 12
21 12
23 11
17 10
11 9
20 9
22 9
13 8
25 8
74 8
10 7
16 7
18 7
19 7
28 7
40 7
56 7
70 7
29 6
30 6
33 6
34 6
35 6
60 6
72 6
75 6
15 5
23 5
32 5
36 5
50 5
76 5
79 5
14 4
24 4
27 4
31 4
38 4
43 4
45 4
47 4
54 4
55 4
71 4
73 4
80 4
81 4
87 4
46 3
49 3
51 3
52 3
59 3
82 3
88 3
90 3
37 2
41 2
44 2
48 2
53 2
57 2
84 2
39 1
42 1
58 1
77 1
78 1
83 1
85 1
95 1
96 1
99 1

This data somewhat dispells the idea that most women died in childbirth, although at the ages that a first child would be born, early 20s, deaths are fairly high. Death during or as a direct result of childbirth clearly did happen, but often the mother was recorded as having died of fever. It’s hard to know which came first, the fever or the childbirth. We see evidence of these deaths in the census, and when we find men remarrying, but I don’t think childbirth-related death happened as often as I previously thought.

Unfortunately, “childbirth” was not listed as a cause of death. In later years, after this analysis, I did see a few listed as “childbed fever” which was a form of sepsis. So yes, the mother clearly had a fever, but she would not have had the fever had she not given birth.

Based on these records, we can’t tell how many women actually died in or as a result of childbirth.

How Many People Were Old?

Of course, not all “old” people died during those six years, but several did.

Men could often stop paying tithes and some taxes above the age of 50, although that varied significantly by location and time period.

Certainly, people of age 60 and over were considered “old.” Look how much they had managed to survive! Not to mention their bodies probably ached from decades of backbreaking work plus injuries that may or may not have healed correctly. The youngest person with an “old age” cause of death was 65. We don’t consider that old today.

Still, 65 can be retirement age, so I guess “old” is a matter of perception and circumstances.

It’s interesting to look at each red age category, by year, above 60.

Of course, there are fewer and fewer deaths as age increases significantly because there are fewer and fewer people left to die in that category. Remember that these numbers encompass everyone who died during a 6-year period. Only 9 people in their 90s died in 6 years, or one every eight months, on average.

It hurts my heart that the poor 99-year-old lady didn’t just get to pass away in her sleep or rocking chair, but instead died a miserable death of Flux.

Twenty-two people died in their 80s, or about one person every four months or so.

Forty-eight people died in their 70s, or 8 per year, or about one every six weeks.

There were 42 people needing funeral services in their 60s, so slightly fewer than in their 70s.

By the time people in their 90s were passing away, there probably weren’t many people that old left in the county, but there were clearly lots of people in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s that were living.

What About Families?

I will never forget my first foray into a cemetery by myself when I was about 10 years old. We were visiting my brother who lived in a tiny crossroads farm town in Indiana that extended maybe two blocks in each direction. I was bored with adult talk and was allowed to take a walk. I found a cemetery not too far away, along the Eel River by an old covered bridge, and strolled through the cemetery, just looking around.

I recall noticing that one stone was different – tall, older, and slender – with small engraving on all four sides instead of on the front like the others. I read the inscriptions from the late 1800s and discovered that children with the same last name, clearly siblings, were buried on all four sides and had died within a few days of each other. I was stunned and immediately, even at 10, thought about how horrible it must have been for those parents. I wondered what on earth had happened to those children. I hadn’t even heard of Dystnetery and Flux, words all-too-familiar to our ancestors.

Over time, as genealogists working with census data, we’ve come to accept that children died – but 4, together, a few days apart? My 10-year-old brain thought that maybe their house burned, but that would have meant that they all died at once, so I dismissed that idea.

I’m still struggling with the idea that Elizabeth, who would have been about 70, and Margaret, who would have been about 28, actually died at or very near the same time. What are the chances of that happening? How often did this actually occur in families? That just seems too unusual to be happenstance. Elizabeth and Margaret weren’t vulnerable young children.

Elizabeth was older, 70ish, so her death isn’t surprising, but a 28-year-old woman who was not married, so no childbirth involved, who probably lived in the same house with her mother just happened to have her estate probated the same day as her mother?

Ok, so how common was this? I don’t want to connect non-existent dots, like the other William McKee, but on the other hand, I don’t want to ignore or dismiss the obvious either.

I went back and took another look at these death records, scanning for common surnames on the same page. To be clear, this means I likely missed several.

But, I also found several, and what I found chilled me to the bone.

These children are all siblings, from the same family, unless otherwise noted. Each group died in the same year.

  • Two children, aged 6 and 3, died on May 19 and 24 of fever.
  • Two children died on the same day in August of fever.
  • A couple, both aged 34, died on October 9 and November 1.
  • Three children aged 5, 7, and 6 months died on October 25, November 10, and 13 of dysentery.
  • Two children aged 11 months, and 3 years died on September 8 and October 8 of fever.
  • Two children aged 5 and 2 died of Scarlet Fever, both on August 5th.
  • Three children aged 8, 6, and 3 died of fever on November 2, 6, and 12.
  • A mother and 3 children died of fever and scarlet fever on June 1 (2 children), June 2, and 4 (the mother). OMG that poor woman. They were all reported by the children’s father. That poor man. I’m amazed he could function to do anything at all.
  • Two children died of cough, aged 6 months and 1 year, 11 months. This poor mother lost both of her babies.
  • Two children died of cough on May 15 and 29, ages 1 and 4.
  • Mother and child, age 43 and age 8. She died of inflammation of the brain and the child died of Scarlet Fever. The mother died on April 12 and the child on June 5th. One of this family’s enslaved children, age 6, also died of Scarlet Fever on June 2.
  • Three family members, aged 65, 10 months, and 7 years died of Dysentery on September 24, 25, and October 18. A man lost his two children, then his mother, and reported all 3. I’d wager his mother was caring for his children while they were ill.
  • A mother and daughter, aged 56 and 17, died on June 18 and 21 of Consumption. The son/brother was the informant of both deaths, which causes me to wonder if the father was already deceased.
  • A daughter died in April and her mother in October of Consumption. The husband/father was the informant. I can’t help but wonder if he later died of the same thing too.
  • Two children, aged 7 and 9, died of Dysentery in September and October in Glade Springs, not far from my ancestors.
  • Two more children died of dysentery at the same time in Rush Creek, ages 10 and 12. Dysentery is caused by contact with fecal matter, but can also be spread by poor hygiene, like not washing hands. Of course, people didn’t know that.
  • The Widener family experienced heart-wrenching losses beginning in July when 3 Widener children ages 7, 9, and 12 died of Dysentery. Six more Widener children from a different set of parents, ages 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, and 9 died on September 9, 14, 25, and October 1 in Widener Valley. Then a mother and two more children in the same extended family aged 5, 8, and 45 died on September 27, October 4, and 14 (the mother). There were a couple other Widener family members who died too, all of Dysentery, and were clearly related, but I could not place them with the others. That’s 14 people in total who perished within 4 months or so.
  • Four children, 12, 17, 19, and 21, died of Dysentery. They lived on the Middle Fork of the Holston, very close to my ancestors. One died on August 17 and three on the 18th. Good Heavens – three on the same say. Those poor parents. I bet the entire family was gravely ill.
  • Three children aged 7 months, 3, and 7 died of Dysentery on August 21, 26, and September 15.
  • 4 family members, ages 65, 66, 25, and 40, died. The son reported his parents, then his wife, then he died of Dysentery too.
  • Three children, aged 17, 15, and 2 months died of Scrofula on August 28, September (date not given), and November 25th. The mother reported all 3.
  • John Larimer’s 2 children, Hetty and Sarah, aged 6 and 3, died August 6 and 12, 1854, both of Dysentery. The parents were John and Sarah Larimer, and he reported the deaths of both. These are probably my ancestor, Elizabeth Mckee’s great-grandchildren.
  • Two children aged 3 and 6 died of Dysentery on August 21 and September 13.
  • Three children aged 7, 9, and 11 died of Dysentery on September 20, October 13, and 27.
  • Two children aged 7 and 9 died on August 7 and 12 of Dysentery.
  • Two children aged 4 and 8 died of the Flux in August and October
  • Two children aged 24 and 14 died of the Flux on August 24 and 27 and were reported by their mother.
  • Three children aged 2, 4, and 18 died of Flux in September, reported by their mother. Was the father ill himself, or perhaps already deceased?
  • A man lost his mother, brother, child, and wife, ages 81, 60, and 35. The older people had Flux (August – October), the wife had fever, and the child was stillborn in July.
  • Children ages 7 and 13 died of fever in June and December.
  • A mother died of hemorrhage of the lungs on July 12, and her 12-day-old child died 3 days later with no cause of death listed.
  • A baby was stillborn in March, and their older child, age 3, died of Flux in October.
  • A person lost their mother, age 56, then their 2-year-old child to Flux on May 21 and 24. I bet they were buried side by side.
  • A couple lost 2 children, age 4 and the other age not stated, both on October 19, of Consumption. This makes me wonder if the cause of death was actually something else, but that mattered little to the grieving parents.
  • Three children, ages 1, 4, and 8 were lost to Flux in June, July and September.
  • Two children aged 1 and 5 died of Flux on June 3 and 20.
  • Many Fleenor extended family members died of Flux, beginning with one man and three children, aged 1, 3, and 6. Then his mother or grandmother died, age 79. An enslaved person owned by the family, age 33 and her child, age 3 died too. Another Fleenor man along with 6 children aged 2, 3, 7, 9, and 11, plus one that was stillborn. Also, the family matriarch, age 89 plus an additional enslaved person, age 4, beginning with the enslaved child in March. Most of the rest were in June through August of 1858. It sounds like the entire plantation had Flux, resulting in 16 deaths, and that’s assuming I found them all. Married daughters would not have had the Fleenor surname.
  • Two children died, one 18-month-old died in August of liver complaint, whatever that was, and one was stillborn in October.
  • Two of Robert Larimore’s children, ages 3 and 8, died of Scarlet Fever in March and December of 1858. They were possibly my ancestor Elizabeth McKee’s great-grandchildren.
  • A 35-year-old woman died, and her child was stillborn. She died of Consumption on October 24, and the baby died on 25th, although I don’t know how the baby was stillborn the day after she died. I can’t imagine being pregnant while fighting for one’s breath with Tuberculosis.
  • Two children aged 12 and 8 died of Scarlet Fever on March 8 and 15.

I don’t know anyone personally, before Covid, other than a car accident, that lost multiple family members at the same time.

Wow, so much grief. I think I just need to sit a minute.

Bonus – Relationships, Occupations, and Locations

There’s more too. The informant is listed and their relationship to the deceased. This can help sort out other relationships as well.

Birthplaces aren’t just useful for the people listed but can show significant migration paths for the residents of this county and community.

Unfortunately, some years simply had the place of birth listed as Washington County with ditto marks for everyone, which clearly is not accurate, so those years simply have to be ignored, unfortunately. However, if you don’t look at what’s “normal” for other years, you won’t realize that the year you are viewing is not accurate.

The most informative places of birth are the locations for the oldest people because they reach back the furthest in time. If you can reconstruct their family, and find your ancestor somehow tied to theirs, that may provide a HUGE clue for you. One of the most difficult tasks for genealogists is figuring out where someone came from.

Tax, estate, land, and court records are wonderful for constructing and fleshing out lists of people found with your ancestors. People often moved and migrated in groups – not only for safety during the journey but to have resources and help once arriving. Plus, people talked about “amazing opportunities” in the places they gathered – at church, on farms, and in town.

Birth Places found:

  • Albemarle VA
  • Botetourt, VA (2)
  • Ashe Co., NC
  • Bartley Co, PA
  • Bedford Co., NC
  • Buckingham Co., VA
  • Craven Co., NC (2)
  • Greene Co, Illinois
  • Hagerstown, PA
  • Lee Co., VA – a student of Emory and Henry College (who knew there was a college in this county in the 1850s)
  • Massachusetts
  • Nashville, TN
  • NC (3)
  • Orange Co., NC
  • Pulaski Co., KY (2) student of Emory and Henry College
  • Scotland
  • Sevier Co., NC
  • Smyth Co., VA (7)
  • Stokes Co., NC (2)
  • Surry Co., NC
  • Wilkes Co., NC
  • Wythe Co., VA

The death location can be very specific, blank, just the county name, or even something unexpected like “poor house.” I was surprised to see some death locations in other counties. I wonder if the death was simply recorded, or if the body was brought back for burial.

Enslaved People

For researchers searching for enslaved people, death records began in the early 1850s, more than a decade before the Civil War, and provide context for where your ancestor was found and with whom. Their death location is often the name or location of a plantation, and even if not, the owner’s name can be tracked through land and tax records. Even if your ancestors died in earlier generations, or after the Civil War, finding that thread to pull is invaluable. Tracking the enslaving family back to where they came from likely informs you of where your ancestors probably came from too, given that wealthy families often brought enslaved people along with them to the frontier.

I suspect that not all deaths of enslaved people were recorded.

Correlating death records with tax records reaching back in time can be very enlightening. Free people of color are recorded on tax records as well. Lucky for us, The tax collector wasn’t going to miss any revenue!

Medical Treatment

What was medical treatment like prior to the 1900s?

Most people treated themselves, or a local midwife also dispensed accumulated knowledge of herbs and remedies that addressed the symptoms of the patient.

There were doctors in Washington County, but clearly, without knowledge of modern medicine, and without many tools, there often wasn’t a lot they could do. Bleeding as a treatment was falling out of favor but continued at some level until the late 1800s, and often made a bad situation worse. In situations where the body was severely weakened and dehydrated, like with Dysentery and Flux, the loss of blood would just be one more thing for a beleaguered body to fight.

Doctors couldn’t even help themselves. A doctor, age 33, died of fever and so did the doctor that was 81. A third physician, age 29, died of inflammation. I just want to scream, across the years, stop bleeding people and ANTIBIOTICS!!!! Of course, antibiotics didn’t come into play until the 1900s, so doctors simply did the best they could.

What Did I Learn?

I never did find what I was seeking, the location where James McKee or his sister who both died in 1855, were buried.

However, I discovered a HUGE trove of information about what was happening in Washington County, VA, which can probably be extrapolated for that region and perhaps further afield. Regardless, it gives you a pattern to follow for your ancestors where they lived.

I have a much better appreciation for how frightened mothers and couples must have been for their young children. Fear must have clutched everyone’s heart if someone had intestinal issues, or coughed. Reminds me of how we’ve all felt about Covid over the past couple of years. Close contact, such as church and funerals, probably spread their diseases the same way Covid is spread today. Covid also gave us a much better, and unfortunate, appreciation for mass and unexpected deaths. So many families have lost multiple members.

The only testament we often have today about deaths during that timeframe is a “space” of 3 or 4 years between children who actually made it to a census. The larger the space, the more children that died. Most of them never had tombstones that survived, just sad wooden crosses nailed together. The parents, and grandparents, if they were living, knew where they were buried. No one else would care, and a generation later, no one knew they had ever existed unless a person who was then old thought to mention their sister or brother who had died decades before.

I also suspect that while no one ever got used to children perishing, that at some level, couples expected some children to die. It was part of the natural life cycle – as painful as that was. Even royalty who had the best care available at the time referred to “an heir and a spare.”

Religion played a large part in their lives and these pioneers would have derived comfort from their religious beliefs and the pastor’s words at the funerals.

In many cases, the mother was either pregnant again, or they were busy doing chores that could not wait for grief to abate. Animals had to be fed, milked, and slaughtered – or no one else would eat either. Fields had to be plowed, and cotton, flax, and wool had to be spun. Grain had to be ground. Food had to be cooked every day. Time to grieve was a luxury no one could afford.

When I was young, I remember the older women whose birth probably reach back into the early 1900s making seemingly insensitive comments when a child was stillborn, died, or a miscarriage occurred. “Just try again” was what they said. That’s probably EXACTLY what had been said to them under the same circumstances. Now, I view that more as a defense mechanism and “legacy advice,” probably passed down for generations, than simply being hard-hearted.

Sadly, it seems that almost every family experienced multiple deaths of their children, and many people married at least twice, if not three times. Not because of divorce, but due to death. Now we know their causes of death.

Funerals were probably as common as the Sunday sermon. If 134 people died in a year (plus the ones that weren’t recorded,) that’s at least 2.5 deaths a week. I know there were two Presbyterian Churches during this timeframe, plus probably a Baptist and Methodist church. It would be safe to say that each preacher probably performed at least one funeral each week.

Everyone knew how to build a coffin. In fact, maybe a few were built ahead and stored in someone’s barn – especially child-sized, as sad as that was.

Years later, in Claiborne County, family history reveals that the community experienced what was reported as a smallpox outbreak. Many people died. Two of Ruthy Dodson Estes’s adult daughters in their 40s died two days apart in April of 1888, plus both of one daughter’s children. Ruthy’s husband had gone to Texas, permanently, so her son, Lazarus Estes, built his sisters’ coffins, dug their graves, and buried them, just like he had for his own two daughters four years earlier.

There weren’t enough people available to build coffins or dig graves in the community. No one wanted to handle the dead bodies, not only because of contagion, but because so many people were sick themselves. As awful as that time period was, there is little history remaining of that smallpox outbreak today, and we wouldn’t have known about it at all had the story not been repeated by Lazarus to his son, who told his son, Uncle George, who was born in the 19-teens, who repeated it to me in the 1980s.

I wonder if the Fleenor and Widener families, both of whom experienced a devastating number of deaths in Washington County, carry any oral history of that mass-death event? I suspect that people were discouraged from dwelling on the “past” and were encouraged to focus on the here-and-now. After all, nothing could be done about that, and one really did have to get on with life.

Viewing death records through the lens of local history is quite enlightening too. Where would these people have been buried? Was there a family cemetery on their land or did their religious denomination have a church graveyard?  Can you figure out who attended what denomination of church? If so, what is the relevant church history? Where did the family live? Dysentery was related to contaminated water. Did the family have a spring with their own headwater, or were they sharing a water source? Did they have a well that got contaminated?

Of course, these answers won’t be available in death records, but land and tax records may help to resolve these questions and illuminate the information forthcoming about the county and neighborhood where your ancestors lived – and even whose funerals they attended. Just discovering the name of the local preacher may help, because sometimes people settled with their minister when he was called to an area.

We often think of death records as the end of the line, but they have so much more to offer and can lead the way to the information you need!

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Find a Grave (Owned by Ancestry), Seriously, JUST STOP Incentivizing the Creation of Memorials of the Recently Deceased

I’ve been horrified, as has any sentient being, about the massacre in Uvalde, Texas.

I’ve also been increasingly furious these past few days because the practice of awarding “points” by Find a Grave, owned by Ancestry, to people who create memorials is making an already horrific situation much worse for traumatized families whose members perished.

THESE CHILDREN AREN’T EVEN BURIED, yet a non-family member rushed to create memorials for them, including photos and other family details lifted from news articles and other sources! We won’t even mention the copyright violations that Ancestry/Find a Grave consistently chooses to ignore.

This vampiristic death-gathering and memorial-creating behavior isn’t limited to the Uvalde massacre, it’s Buffalo and other victims of mass killings in addition to people who die of natural causes every day.

The same thing happened with one of my immediate family members a few years ago, and I still remember the shock of discovering her via a “hint” in the midst of grief.

Before I continue, I’d encourage you to read Judy Russell’s blog article, Ancestry, this one’s on you, but come back here when you’re done. Judy is on FIRE about this one, and with good reason.

Ancestry’s Failed Policy

Ancestry’s supposed policy of showing limited information about a memorial unless the creator is an immediate family member obviously had a major fail given that Judy was able to take screenshots of the memorial of this recently murdered child.

After a rather loud and persistent outcry from the community, back in January Find a Grave decided to redact some information for 3 months after a death. Yet, the memorial remains in place for the family to find. Ancestry does NOT prevent the creation of these memorials for bounty points.

This situation should never have happened in the first place and has been ongoing with incredible foot-dragging by Ancestry FOR YEARS! It’s just in our faces again with the Uvalde and other recent high-profile mass murders.

Even with the photo and some information hidden, for now, the Uvalde victims’ memorials are still listed. The one above is the same child’s memorial as in Judy’s article.

Even after eventually transferring the memorial to a family member, the original creator is always still listed. Unfortunately, this practice of awarding points and forever listing the “creator” by Ancestry encourages and incentivizes “trophy hunting.”

Here’s an example from one of my immediate family members.

You can then click on the name of the creator or the “maintainer,” which is me in this case, and see their stats. Here’s mine.

Notice that in Judy’s original screenshot, you could see the Find A Grave identity of the person who created that child’s memorial. However, Find a Grave has chosen to “protect” that person in the redacted version by not showing the creator’s identity. So we don’t know who collected that bounty point.

This is not a new issue. Ancestry/Find a Grave has not and is not acting expediently to resolve the situation. In fact, the “situation” doesn’t have to exist at all.

Take a look at this complaint board about Find a Grave. These issues pepper the genealogical community on social media, day after day after day.

Why Is This Happening?

This occurs because Ancestry displays the number of memorials created by volunteers. Some people spend their time finding obituaries and death announcements and creating memorials for people as soon as they die in order to rack up points, like a game.

The problem is that finding your loved one’s memorial, often with incorrect information, created by a stranger is unexpectedly jarring, at best. Especially to discover that your family member was only a trophy harvest whose memorial was created hours after they died. Then, having to ask (sometimes beg an unresponsive person) for the transfer of their memorial to you, only to have the creator’s name forever associated with the memorial adds insult to injury.

I’m not referring here to a volunteer who lives locally and “takes care” of local cemeteries, like the person who created memorials for my parents months after they were buried, not hours after they died. Most of those people are respectful, kind, and pleasant to deal with. They provide their services out of the kindness of their heart AFTER giving the family a respectable amount of time. Those ARE NOT the people I’m referring to.

Those lovely local volunteers aren’t the mega-harvester people searching online funeral home listings morning and night for new points to score. That is NOT a service to anyone except themselves, and oh yea, Find a Grave/Ancestry who can then serve up hints to Ancestry subscribers and garner page views.

Ancestry clearly wants to keep those harvesters engaged but to the detriment of the actual genealogists who subscribe to Ancestry’s services. That’s a mighty high price leveraged on the backs of their customers. And let’s face it, sooner or later, everyone’s parents, siblings, or (God forbid), children pass away. Ancestry is rewarding people to further torture the grieving. Every grieving person needs a respectable amount of time and space. Ancestry, of all companies, should be sensitive to this.

What Needs to Be Done?

I’m not privy to any inside information, but I believe that originally Find a Grave, before it was purchased by Ancestry, began listing memorials and other stats to encourage volunteers to document and photograph cemeteries to assist genealogists. That was the original purpose.

However, that purpose has morphed into something very different. Ancestry has the agency, and responsibility to put the brakes on.

Ancestry needs to:

  1. Stop awarding points like trophies, at least publicly.
  2. Remove the name of the original creator when the memorial is transferred to a family member.
  3. Prevent anyone except close family members from creating memorials for minimally 90 days and I’d suggest a year.

I wasn’t done with my mother’s estate for at least a year and wasn’t ready to deal with seeing her photo and obituary online until then.

And if that was my child, OMG.

Who in their right mind would think that entering those massacred children into Find a Grave immediately was acceptable by any criteria? Any standards of decency? And why would Find a Grave tolerate this for even a minute? Death is traumatic for family members under the “best” of circumstances and it only goes downhill from there.

And this is clearly the worse of circumstances.

While the individuals who created those memorials before the bodies were even cold were insensitive, and that’s the best spin I can put on it, Ancestry is the only one who can, should, and has the responsibility to stop this. And they have, so far, been unwilling.

It’s time for every single one of us to speak up. Bloggers and influences as well as the rest of Ancestry’s customers. We can all be influencers.

Use Your Outside Voice

Ok, bloggers and social media people – use your voices. We have even more influence cumulatively, together, as a chorus, than individually.

I do need to provide a word of warning though, especially to bloggers and other professionals.

Ancestry is punitive if you don’t always write positively about them. They will pull your affiliate account if you have one. They will exclude you from influencer calls, meetings, and related events at conferences. I’m guessing Judy and I will be enjoying snacks in the restaurant while those meetings are taking place. I encourage you to join us. It’s worth it to do the right thing.

You don’t need to be a blogger to have an influence. Everyone has a voice. Here are several things everyone can do.

Ancestry’s CEO

Deborah Liu was named Ancestry’s CEO in February 2021. She can fix this with one call or email.

This would be a good Twitter thread to reply to:

Based on Deborah’s social media photos, she has children. Ask her how she would feel if her children were massacred, and some unknown trophy hunter created their memorial as soon as their name was available. Would she feel violated? Crushed? Robbed of the opportunity to provide that caring act for her precious family member when she was ready?

God forbid this would ever happen to Deborah or her family, but if it did, this problem would be remedied in about 30 seconds.

Deborah may be “mourning with them,” but she is increasing the grief of countless people by failing to remediate Ancestry’s company policy. Furthermore, she, assuredly, is not following the Golden Rule by “doing unto others.” As if just doing the “right thing” isn’t enough reason alone.

Here’s the Biblical reference, if she needs it:

Matthew 7:12 (International Version), “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

Perhaps Deborah didn’t know before, but let’s make absolutely positively sure she knows now!

Other Resources

Here’s a list of other places you can place comments and make yourself heard!

Let’s be that squeaky wheel and get results. Be respectful, but be sure to remind Ancestry that you are a PAYING customer when you call.

Ancestry, it’s way past time to step up.

Happy Census April Fool’s Day – aka – Where the Heck Are My Parents???

What did we expect anyway – combining those two events? That’s just an invitation to fate to mess with our heads.

Nevertheless, like the drunken fly willfully walking into the spider web like an addict, at 12:01 AM, I suddenly “remembered” that the 1950 census was released and just had to go and try it out instead of going to bed. Well, I told myself it was “before” going to bed but it was actually instead. Let’s just say I saw the sunrise from the far side instead of the near side and woke up a few hours later with my phone on my chest and my last piece of chocolate melted to me. We should have had a party. I think I have a genealogy hangover.

Yes, we addicts did put quite a load on the National Archives (NARA) system causing errors, but it didn’t go down entirely. Somebody in NARA-land heaved a huge sigh of relief. Never underestimate the tenacity or craziness of genealogists who were OF COURSE willing to stay up all night.

I wondered if NARA would actually be able to pull off the massive AI census index project – but they did. Hats off to their team! What an incredible gift – even if it is April Fool’s Day and my well-hidden ancestors are still laughing at my expense.

You can access the NARA census, here, and I provided a prep article here that shows you how to find enumeration districts which you will probably need.

Found

I found the family members that I knew the location where they were living AND they weren’t living in large cities.

For example, my maternal grandparents were living at 107 East Main in Silver Lake, Indiana. That’s a very small town, so even though the AI didn’t record my grandparents, or brother who was living with them, I just paged through those records because I knew they were living in Silver Lake, and there was only one enumeration district. Easy peasy.

What was interesting to me was that my grandfather, who was the Lake Township Trustee had worked 72 hours the previous week, and my grandmother had worked 25 as a secretary.

The confusing part is that he was the trustee, and I don’t think she worked for the township. The enumerator mixed them up, apparently. So, was it her that worked 72 hours?

But, where was my mother? Back to that in a minute.

On the other side of my family, my paternal grandfather was living in Harlan County, Kentucky in a relatively remote location, up on Black Mountain. I half expected him NOT to be enumerated at all because he was a bootlegger, but lo and behold, there he is listed as a ”farmer.” Well, I guess that’s sort of farming.

The interesting thing about this record is that they have a boarder living with them, 22-year-old James Holcomb.

Their daughter, Evelyn had a child two years later, in 1952, reportedly with one Jake or Jack Halcomb, but that situation was always pretty hush-hush. I suspect that Jake Halcomb was actually James Holcomb, which makes a lot of sense. Her older sister was married to a William Halcomb, so I wonder if these men were brothers. Another mystery to solve.

Missing

My paternal grandmother, Ollie Bolton Robbins is missing. She lived in Chicago which had hundreds if not thousands of census enumeration districts. I checked the address given when she died in 1955, and where my father was reportedly living at that time, all to no avail. They were not living there in 1950.

My father is also missing. He had married Ellen Copack in 1949 in Chicago but I’ve been unable to obtain the actual marriage application from the Cook County Clerk’s office which would have (hopefully) contained the addresses of the bride and groom. By 1952, they were living in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

I checked both locations using the census name search but there were just too many entries to peruse them all. I need to be able to hunt at the vendors for William with a spouse of Ellen plus age information.

He was like a leaf in a windstorm, blowing from place to place, so who knows where he was in 1950.

My mother is also missing, and that’s a whole other story for another article. A chapter of her life I didn’t know much about is slowly unfolding, and not very easily either.

Let’s just say I expected to find her living with her parents and my half-brother, but she’s not there. I used a surname search in Chicago, Illinois where she had previously lived, in Fort Wayne, Indiana where she later lived, and in Florida where she was for about a year in 1949 through early 1950. At least, I think she was there in early 1950. Regardless, I can’t find her either with just a name search so I’ll have to wait until I can combine that search with age and other defining factors.

Patience is not my strong suit! I’m signing up for the new MyHeritage Census Helper to let them do the heavy lifting for me when their indexing is ready.

MyHeritage Census Helper

MyHeritage is offering their new Census Helper tool for free, just in time for the 1950 census. You can read about it, here.

All you have to do is upload your tree and MyHeritage prepares a list of people based on your tree information who are likely to be found in the 1950 census.

By clicking on the orange “Research” button, MyHeritage finds other records that are available now and will help to focus the 1950 census search.

I need to add some additional records for both my mother and father so that MyHeritage “knows” where to potentially look for them in 1950 when their indexed census records become available.

Of course, you can order a DNA test while you’re there, or upload your DNA file from another vendor, here, which is also free.

Juicy Finds!

It has been fun to watch social media today as people search for and find their relatives in the 1950 census.

One person discovered that their mother had a child they never knew existed. Of course, that begs the question of what happened to that child, and why the researcher had never heard of them. So many possibilities.

Another person discovered quite valuable information that required me to draw a chart to understand. It answered a WHOLE LOT of questions about situations only whispered about in that family.

A third person discovered that their father was divorced, and he had not yet married their mother. Of course, now that requires more research.

So many people receive unexpected close DNA relatives and the 1950 census information may well provide hints and clues that might at least provide breadcrumbs to those answers. In some cases, the answers are right there, in black and white. I keep expecting a half-sibling match, or their children or even grandchildren perhaps, but so far…I’m still waiting.

Are you in every database? You don’t want to miss any matches and you never know where that much-needed match might test. You can upload your DNA file to both MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA in addition to GEDmatch. I wrote free step-by-step upload/download instructions for all the vendors, here.

The discovery that really touched my heart, though, was the person who discovered that their father WAS the census enumerator. His handwriting reached out to say hello some 72 years later.

What a perfect April Fool’s Day.

What have you discovered?

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RootsTech Launches “Relatives at RootsTech” App – Are We Related?

FamilySearch has launched their updated “Relatives at RootsTech” app just in time for RootsTech’s opening day, February 18th.

You can see how this works for yourself, here, AND see if we are related, according to the trees at FamilySearch. Click on this link and find out IF we’re related and how distantly. Starting February 18th, we’ll be able to find out HOW we’re related.

And yes, before you say it, those trees aren’t always accurate, but one of three situations will occur:

  • The connection is accurate.
  • It’s not accurate and you can correct it as a service to yourself all that follow.
  • The tree contains new information that will serve as a hint for you and lead to either condition one or two, above.

When you click on my link, you’ll be prompted to set up or update your own account, or you can simply enter www.familysearch.org/en/connect.

Please be sure to register for Full Access RootsTech, for free, while you’re there.

OK, here’s how this works.

Connect

You can click on “Join Event,” or you can scroll down for more info about other things you can do.

More Info

You can see who else shares a surname.

You can see how Relatives at RootsTech works.

You can see how many other people have signed up for this app and where they live.

On Valentines Day, more than 360,000 people had signed up for RootsTech itself, and that number is rising rapidly now. Last year, attendance reached over 1 million and this year’s signups are slightly ahead of last year’s at this time.

I hope all of the attendees sign up for Relatives at RootsTech so we can all see how we’re related.

Join Event

When you click on “Join Event,” you’ll be promoted to either join FamilySearch or update your profile to grant permission for FamilySearch to display your connection to your cousins.

You can personalize the experience by uploading a photo.

I uploaded a portrait so people will recognize me. We can’t see each other in person this year, but we can at least smile when we see our cousins’ photos.

You’ll be asked for some pretty basic information.

Starting on February 18th, you’ll be able to see exactly how you’re related to your cousins.

In the couple hours it took me to write this article, the total participants signed up for the Relatives at RootsTech app increased by more than 2,500 to 15,640.

Register for RootsTech

Be sure to register for RootsTech when you’re updating your profile.

RootsTech is totally free with a dynamite lineup. Why wouldn’t anyone sign up for All Access?

Keynotes

One of the other generous speakers, Dr. Penny Walters, created this collage of the keynote speakers including Thais Pacholek, Molly Yeh, Azumah Nelson, Diego Torres, Matthew Modine, Apollonia Poilane, Maysoon Zayid, Elder Ulisses Soares and his wife, Sister Rosana Soares.

#chooseconnection

RootsTech encourages us to #chooseconnection and see how we’re connected to each other, to history and to our homeland. Ironically, I didn’t know this when I was creating my sessions. My session, “Native American DNA – Ancient and Contemporary Maps” speaks to connection in just about every way possible. I hope you will join me for this session and several more too.

The speaker session agenda will be released soon, and you will be able to create an individual playlist.

After you update your account so that you can connect with others, you’ll be prompted to share. I posted this link to both Facebook and Twitter, and of course, I’m sharing with you here.

Beginning on February 18th and continuing beyond RootsTech, until March 25th, you’ll be able to see exactly how you are related to your cousins who have also signed up and opted in!

I have to tell you, several people have already commented, telling me we are cousins. I didn’t know we shared ancestors. I’m having so doggone much fun!

So, are we related?

Here’s the link to see for yourself. Let me know. I can’t wait to find out exactly how.

I’m starting a RootsTech friends spreadsheet to track exactly how I’m related to whom. Some of you HAVE to have info that I don’t and vice versa. That’s what sharing is all about, and maybe our DNA matches too!

Maybe you’d like to start a spreadsheet and keep track too. Be sure to collect contact information so you can connect after the conference. How many cousins will you find at RootsTech?

Are you doing anything special to prepare? Please share in the comments and let’s make this the best RootsTech ever.

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Honoring Veterans – A HUGE Thank You

A few weeks ago, Jessica, a lady in a quilting Facebook group I’m a member of asked for assistance with providing quilts to honor veterans on Veteran’s Day. I wanted to help, so I finished a rescue top and sent it off to Jessica. It was the best I could do on short notice.

Our Special Veteran

I tell you what – a picture truly is worth a thousand words. Jessica is on the right, is presenting the quilt to one unsuspecting Mrs. Moore, a Navy veteran who served as a barber.

Jessica says, “she loved it.” I can see clearly see that she did – which is exactly WHY I quilt and donate. What an amazing, joyful, picture.

Here’s the rest of the presentation series of photos.

Initially, Mrs. Moore doesn’t know that she’s receiving a quilt. She does know that Jessica is honoring other students who are veterans with quilts – but not the instructors too. I’m suspecting here that her colleagues holding the quilt are in on the surprise.

There are 4 students who are veterans and 3 instructors as well.

Mrs. Moore has papers in her hand, so Jessica obviously caught her mid-something.

Thank you, Mrs. Moore, and all the other deserving veterans today. I wish we could make a quilt for each and every one of you!

Jessica

Speaking of deserving, I want to say a word about Jessica too.

In addition to coordinating the construction and presentation of quilts to 7 veterans today, Jessica is, herself, in barber school. She’s young, and spunky, a military wife and Mom, works, AND is in school to boot. That white jacket is her barber smock.

So, for any of the rest of us who think young people don’t care, or that we don’t have time to get things done – let’s think again and look to Jessica and Mrs.Moore for inspiration. Every one of us can do something to make life better for someone else.

Thank you, Jessica, for your caring heart and making time for the 7 veterans who received quilts today thanks to your efforts! You go, girl!!! (PS – I love your pink hair. I want purple.)

Internet Archive Genealogy Collection – Who’s There?

You may be familiar with Internet Archive because of the Waybackmachine that archives websites that, if you’re lucky, you can find again once they are gone. Sadly, the old WorldConnect RootsWeb trees that included comments with so much valuable information can’t be found (or at least I can’t find them,) but many other obsolete websites are only available through Waybackmachine.

I must admit, I use this tool a lot. I also donate from time to time to help fund this valuable resource. However, there’s more to Internet Archive than Waybackmachine. A lot more.

Recently, I received an email with a link to their “Genealogy Collection,” here.

Just scroll down – but only if you have absolutely nothing else to do today.

I mean, you can get lost here forever.

You can browse on lots of pages, but you can also search.

I selected the surname Ferverda because it’s fairly unique. It was spelled Ferwerda in the Netherlands and is also spelled Fervida in my family line in the US.

Click to enlarge images

There are a total of 237 results searching the text contents, falling into several years, as you can see at left.

Scrolling on down that left-hand sidebar, you can see thatFerverda results fall into different categories as well.

Some of these, like Leesburg and Fort Wayne, I recognize based on knowing exactly where this family lived.

But Argentina? Did a family line immigrate there?

And the US patent office? Ok, I have to look, so I clicked.

I recognize the name of my uncle who was a research chemist in the paint industry.

I didn’t know he held patents though.

  • Ferverda, Harold L., to General Electric Co. Method of making a laminated core. 2,786,006, 3-19-57, CI. 154 — 80.
  • Ferverda, Harold L., to General Electric Co. Process for bonding dynamoelectric machine coil end turns and article produced therebv. 2,802,120, 8-6-57, CI 310 — 45.

Hey, look….there’s my grandfather who was the station agent for the railroad at one point in his life!

I wonder what this has to say about him.

Next, there’s the Ferwerda surname with all publications in Dutch, in the Netherlands, under the genealogy tab.

Some documents are available as images and some in a downloadable text version. Even if the document is written in a foreign language, automated translators are available through Google and other resources. Who knows what treasures might be lurking where you least expect them.

What interesting discoveries can you make? Maybe your names will be found in the genealogy collection too. Let me know if you find something good!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

Into the Silence

I really want to encourage each and every one of you to work and speak “into the silence.”

What do I mean by that?

When we document something, write something or make something – we do so alone. Just like I’m doing right this minute. I’m writing “into the silence” because I’m writing on faith that people will read and, fingers-crossed, enjoy and utilize my articles.

Often, we write or create with the hope that some particular person, or persons, will appreciate our endeavors. Maybe we created a loving holiday or birthday gift for someone special.

Or, perhaps, our goal is less specific and more intangible.

Think, for example, of a journal.

Each person who writes in a journal generally isn’t journaling for someone else. If so, the “someone else” is a matter of faith – that they *will* exist someday in the future. Journaling is private and the eventual consumer, if they ever exist, is a byproduct of the journaling process, an accident.

In essence, the diarist is writing into the silence because the future is uncertain. Those future readers may not exist. That journal may not survive.

I ask you to ponder how grateful you would be, today, for your great-grandmother’s journal detailing everyday life in her house and garden. Her trips to the market, how and when she did laundry, did it rain or snow, are the tomatoes ripe, who misbehaved at church, along with her thoughts on what was happening in her life and neighborhood.

Or your great-grandfather’s journal about his time separated from his family while in the military serving his country. Did he serve in the Civil War or in WWI, living in a tent-hospital during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic? What was that experience like on a personal level?

Maybe letters from your ancestor as they made their way to a new country, seasick the entire time, but filled with hope.

What I’d give for any of those!

Today, maybe you’ve created a book about one of your ancestral lines. Or, maybe you took weeks to sort out, assemble, scan, and organize the photos of your grandparents to share with your siblings.

And perhaps no one even bothered to acknowledge your gift or say thank you. Did they even look at them? Do they care, at all?

That would leave anyone somewhat dejected with hurt feelings.

But if you think about it, what you’re really doing is writing, creating, into the silence.

Not their silence today. No, not that.

But the larger silence of time and space that exists between you and future generations. Without your endeavors, they have no opportunity to glimpse today, or your shared past.

This silence – this silence is what connects you. The umbilical cord that links them to their ancestors through you.

That document, or collage, or scrapbook, or quilt – whatever you created out of love will, hopefully, be passed along. A form of prayer on wings – winging its way to the future with a mission of its own.

The person who will most cherish that gift across time, who will love you for it even though they will never meet you, hasn’t yet been born.

So, I encourage you to continue to honor your ancestors, to tell their stories, to document their lives – and your own.

Yes, someone will care.

Speak into the silence by testing your DNA and making sure it’s available for future genealogists. By researching and documenting your ancestral lines. By ensuring that your work is photographed if it’s a quilt or scrapbook. By placing stories and other writing into repositories where they will be available for those listening future generations even if the current generations seem to be stone-cold deaf.

In my case, my 52 Ancestors stories fall into that category. I’ve written one each week for 320 weeks now, more than six years as hard as that is to believe, and I’m no place near finished. I search for the Y and mitochondrial DNA of each ancestor and document discoveries.

I’m planning to compile the articles, by family line, into books. I will probably use a self-publishing platform such as LuLu.com to assure that their stories are available indefinitely. I’ve linked each ancestor’s story to the proper ancestor on my tree at Ancestry and MyHeritage and I’m in the process at WikiTree as well.

I’ll be donating the books, when created, to various local and regional libraries and genealogy/historical societies, along with both the Allen County Public Library and Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

Remember that activities, pictures, stories, and memories that seem mundane to you today will be someone else’s goldmine happy-dance one day.

It’s not so much the silence we’re speaking into, but acting to honor the past and present for future generations – on faith that someone “out there” will care. We are being that ancestor who we wish would have left something, anything, telling us about their lives and family. How they felt, what they did, what was transpiring around them.

Especially in difficult and trying times, keep on doing what you’re doing and answering that call.

Be encouraged, take heart, and know that your efforts today will cause your name to be spoken with gratitude long after you’ve left this realm.

Merry or Happy Whatever Holiday You Celebrate Near the Winter Solstice

Yes, I know 2020 has been hell on wheels. 2020 itself has become analogous with bad things and is sort of a defacto swear word.

You just say, “2020” and everyone knows exactly what you mean.

Thankfully, it’s almost over! The year anyway.

Today, of all days, I want to share a different flavor message with you.

A Perspective of Hope and Gratitude

I’m writing this in a home with no twinkling Christmas tree, with no family members visiting, no grandchildren chattering, no crinkling of wrapping paper, and fewer family members than we began with this year.

And yes, I miss my family and the holiday festivities and traditions desperately – BUT – and this is huge….

I’m safe.

You’re safe, or at least I hope you are.

I’m extremely, extremely fortunate to be in a house that IS safe.

In a location that IS safe.

I’m blessed to have the ability to stay home SAFE.

It’s not a violation of my rights, but a sacred privilege.

To have the luxury of making the safe decision to shelter at home is an opportunity denied to many.

I don’t have to face Covid and the possibility of getting infected myself in a hospital as a front-line medical worker. Or as an EMT, or public safety officer, grocery store worker or others who have no choice in the matter.

For many, it’s work or starve – literally – a choice they are also making for their other family members, including children.

Children.

Children in America with no food. Let that sink in for a minute.

Several of my family members, including my children and their spouses, don’t have the luxury of safety because of the nature of their jobs, and I’m desperately worried about them.

I’m not forced to face or deal with unmasked people risking the safety and very lives of others.

And while I’m unhappy and inconvenienced staying at home and missing out on the things I’d like to be doing – my level of frustration is extremely, extremely minor in the grand scheme of things. A minuscule tradeoff for the ability to protect myself and others, saving lives.

I’m not being evicted because I’ve lost my job and can’t pay my rent.

I have heat and water and light and food. My family members and pets have food too.

My Christmas tree isn’t put up because I didn’t feel festive – not because I lost it in an eviction or because I no longer have a home to put it in.

No photo description available.

This year’s tree will simply have to be a Facebook memory of my tree from a happier time. Reflecting on the past that I took for granted, but certainly don’t now, hoping for the future, and simply trying to be grateful for what I have today.

Sometimes it takes misfortune to really bring the message of gratitude home.

My house did not burn to the ground, in the midst of a pandemic, like my friend’s house did.

My kids and grandkids aren’t suffering.

We are all staying safe, separately, together.

I have seen them in parking lots and on outdoor hikes a few times this year and we’ve made memories, nonetheless. Differently, than we would have preferred, but safely. Responsibly. No one risked the health of anyone else.

It’s not the best of circumstances – but it’s far, far from the worst.

I have multiple friends and family members who have died from and others who are severely debilitated by Covid.

And through all of this, I can’t help but think of my ancestors who died young, during plagues, of infections and situations now preventable or treatable, particularly with the advent of antibiotics in the era of modern medicine.

How blessed they would view our lives – given that we DO have the ability to understand the source of this plague and CAN do something about it. Simple things really, wearing masks, staying home, washing our hands, and soon, to take vaccines.

We can wage this war without marching off, killing others, and destroying the countryside. Although, ironically, Covid has now killed more people than Vietnam, Korea, and WWI, combined and is approaching the mortality of WWII – yet we don’t think of Covid as a war. Nonetheless, it is.

Instead of fighting in mortal combat, all we need to do is simply stay at home. It’s that simple. What our ancestors would have given for this opportunity.

Instead, they died. The church records tell their story, along with that of their entire village.

They died in childbirth, died of infections, died in wave after wave of pandemics such as the Black Death and recurring illnesses like typhoid and smallpox that wiped out one third to one half of the population, over and over again.

Many people were blamed for bringing these plagues into their villages by “witchcraft.”

Ignorance, too, is deadly in more ways than one.

Those who moved away from the homeland were truly alone, never seeing or talking to their family again. If you moved away and your family or spouse died – unless you could find someone else to marry quickly, especially if you were a woman, you too were relegated to destitution, poverty, and death.

Even in this current “worst of times,” we are so much better off than our ancestors. 2020 has certainly provided me with a different perspective of their world.

We have so much to be thankful for – beginning with the opportunity and means to keep ourselves safe. Such simple things, really.

I’m incredibly grateful for Skype, Zoom, Facetime, and other technologies that make being together, safely-distanced, possible. Apart doesn’t necessarily mean disconnected now.

These apps may even be responsible for encouraging some people to stay home that would have otherwise risked traveling, exposing and infecting themselves and others.

Yes, while 2020 has been “difficult,” to put it mildly, and the first half of 2021 will likely be even worse while Covid continues to spike, those of us who can stay home and stay safe until it’s our turn for that life-saving vaccine are indeed the blessed, even if we are the unhappy, complaining and sometimes ungrateful blessed.

Having Said That…

I want to share my heartfelt condolences and concern for those who:

  • Have lost family members
  • Are truly alone
  • Aren’t safe
  • Don’t have enough food
  • Are suffering, either physically or mentally

Because there are many, many…so many.

We don’t necessarily know who they are, because sometimes suffering isn’t evident.

And sometimes, it is, especially if we are cognizant and look.

I hope we all take this time to reflect on others, notice their need, and reach out to help to relieve their suffering, as best we can.

  • Drop off food. Safely, on porches.
  • Reach out to say hello and convey that we care.
  • Help with technology. My husband is coordinating Zoom calls for families.
  • Provide supportive assistance to solve problems, such as suggesting and arranging for grocery or prescription pickup and delivery.
  • Provide other types of assistance, safely.
  • And the animals. Don’t forget the animals who are entirely dependent on people.

Additionally, we can contribute to organizations and reputable charities that work collectively to assist people in need. Food banks come to mind right now.

My “gifts” this year, with the exception of small things delivered by no-contact “porch Santas” to family members have all been in the form of donations of one flavor or another to assist those not so fortunate.

Light, Prayer, Hope

It is for all of us that I walk in the labyrinth this winter solstice – the longest, darkest day of the year, carrying this single candle of light.

Hope for the future

For light in our life

For brighter days

For 2021

For humanity

For all of us, collectively

And individually

For you…

Preserve your Family’s Stories by Telling Them

This year has given us all a lot to think about.

One topic that has been brought into sharp focus for me is my ancestors who lived through, and died during, the 1918 flu pandemic known as the Spanish Flu. You might recall that even though the year 1918 was associated with that flu outbreak, it actually spanned parts of at least three years including two full winters.

I know that my father was in the Army at the time and very nearly died in the base hospital. In fact, he thought he was, in his words, “a goner.”

He wrote a few letters to his girlfriend, Virgie, who he later married. I was fortunate enough to inherit those letters after her death.

Otherwise, I would never have known anything at all about that time in his life – or even that he had that flu – let alone nearly died.

Looking at my family tree, all 4 of my grandparents were alive, but my mother had not yet been born.

However, all four of my father’s grandparents died during this time with a cause of death of “pneumonia” where we have a death certificate.

On my mother’s side, one of her grandparents was already deceased and the other three survived the pandemic. We don’t know if they were sick or not.

Other than my father, we know almost nothing about my ancestors’ lives during this time. What was it like? What were they thinking? Were they afraid? Did other family members or maybe people in the neighborhood die? Did they understand the infectious process?

So many questions.

The Gifts I Wish I Had

If I could reach back in time and ask my grandparents and great-grandparents for one thing, it would be the gift of letters – documentation of the daily hum-drum of their lives. Legacy letters. Newsy letters or a journal.  Maybe not so much telling me about the “big things,” although those too, but sharing personal aspects of their lives.

Let me put this in perspective. I have so many questions for my 8 great-grandparents that I desperately wish they had answered by leaving letters or journals. Something. Anything but silence.

  • Lazarus Estes was born in 1848 in Estes Holler in Claiborne County, TN and lived through the Civil War, dying in July of 1918. He would have been about 15 when the war broke out between the states. What was it like there? What did he do when there were battles within hearing of his family homestead? When the soldiers marched through the hills, confiscating all the food and livestock? How did they survive? And what about his sister, Elizabeth, sneaking into the soldiers’ camp and stealing their milk cow back? Is that true? His father, John Y. Estes was a POW – what was that like? Did they know he had been captured and where he was being held? Something happened right after the war when Lazarus’s father signed all of his household goods over to 17-year-old Lazarus. What was going on? Lazarus was the grandson of John R. Estes who settled in Claiborne County and the grandson of a Revolutionary War veteran, George Estes who didn’t die until just before the Civil War. George was reportedly at Valley Forge that terrible winter. Is that true? What was going on with George’s daughter, Susannah who never married, had 5 illegitimate children at a time when that was absolutely NOT socially acceptable, and went on to own all of George’s land. I’ve love to hear those stories. But there are no stories preserved today beyond vague references.
  • Elizabeth “Betty” Ann Vannoy was born in 1847 in Hancock County, TN, married Lazarus Estes, and died in Claiborne County in October of 1918. She too would have experienced the Civil War firsthand. It’s through the Vannoy family that we do have the story about the family taking the chickens and hiding in a cave to escape the marauding soldiers. Was that true? Where was that cave? Her father Joel Vannoy had mental health challenges, being committed to the Eastern State Mental Hospital in 1886s. How did that affect her and the family? What was he like? Why was his body dug up and reburied in a different grave? Why did Elizabeth lose so many children? Where did that oft-repeated story of Native American ancestors come from? Did she know that the “flu” was deadly dangerous before they both contracted it and died?
  • Joseph B. “Dode” Bolton was born in 1853 in Hancock County, TN and died in February 1920, just 12 days after his wife, both of “pneumonia as a result of the flu.” First, how did he get the nickname “Dode” and where did it come from? What did the initial, “B.” stand for? Where did your father’s middle name, Preston, come from? What can you tell me about the life of your immigrant grandfather, Henry Bolton? Were he and his brother, Conrad, really kidnapped on the docks in London? Or sold by an evil step-mother? Did Henry actually serve in the Revolutionary War, hand-selected by George Washington to care for his horses? Who were your grandmother, Nancy Mann’s parents? What was your great-grandmother, Mary’s surname, the woman married to John Harrold in Wilkes County, NC? Were they really Irish?
  • Margaret N. Clarkson or Claxton was born in 1851, married Joseph “Dode” Bolton, and died in 1920 in Hancock County, TN. I’d like to know if her middle initial was actually N. and if so, what was the full name and where did it originate? She too would have lived through the Civil War. Her father, Samuel Claxton/Clarkson was disabled with a bowel disease he caught during his Union Army service that eventually killed him. What does she remember about her father’s service in the Union Army? How did he cross the mountains to enlist? Was there pushback in the local community because he fought for the north? What is the truth about the haunted Rebel Holler, near where they lived, relative to the Civil War?

My Mom’s side was quite different. They lived in Northern Indiana.

  • Hiram Bauke Ferwerda, Ferverda here, born in Tierjerksteradeel, West Dongeradeel, Friesland, the Netherlands, immigrated at the age of 14 in 1868 and died in 1925 in Kosciusko County, Indiana. As a Mennonite family, they settled in northern Indiana among the Brethren where his father was a farmer and teacher. I would love to have a journal of his early life, his time as a baker’s apprentice in the tiny Dutch hamlet on a tiny canal comprised of all of 7 houses, up through and including the Atlantic crossing. His brother, Henry, seemed to have been tortured by epilepsy and resulting mental illness. Henry died a pauper in 1898 and was not brought home to be buried. I’d love to know more about what happened. How did Hiram Bauke, a Brethren man wind up becoming the town Marshall and a local banker? What happened?
  • Evaline Louise Miller was born in 1857 on a farm near New Paris, Indiana, married Hiram Ferverda, and died in 1939 in Leesburg. All 11 children lived to adulthood and all but two outlived her. I’d like to know about her early life in the Brethren Church. Her father, John David Miller, and grandfather, David Miller, homesteaded among the Indians along Turkey Creek in the 1830s and I’ve love to understand more about those early years. Did John David Miller actually serve in the Civil War, even being a Brethren? Who is the mystery Elizabeth Miller, David’s second wife who died in “the sickly year” of 1838? Four of Eva’s sons served in the military, unheard of for a Brethren family. How did that happen and what did the family think? Something occurred that caused Eva’s estate to be distributed unevenly, with some debts forgiven and agreed to by all. What happened and why?
  • Curtis Benjamin “C.B.” Lore was born in 1856 in Blue Eye, PA, and died in 1909 in Rushville, Indiana. The life of his father, Antoine “Anthony” Lord/Lore, and his early life are both shrouded in mystery. Curtis was married to Mary Bills when he left Warren County, PA, and didn’t divorce until after he married Nora Kirsch in Indiana. What happened? There were rumors of another son, other than the children from his first marriage. Were there more children, and if so, where and who? What happened to C. B.’s siblings and mother, Rachel Levina Hill after his father’s untimely young death? Was his father, born to Acadian parents Honore Lord and Marie Lafaille in L’Acadie, Quebec, Canada actually a river pirate? What happened to Antoine, and when?
  • Ellenore “Nora” Kirsch was born in 1866 in Aurora Indiana to German immigrant parents. She married C. B. Lore and died in 1949 living with her daughter in Lockport, NY. Unfortunately, I can’t find her death certificate, so I’d like to know her cause of death. I’d love to hear about life at the Kirsch House in Aurora, Indiana. Why did her father, Jacob Kirsch, deed the property to her mother, Barbara Drechsel? What about that lynching – and how exactly did Jacob lose his eye? Did Jacob serve in the Civil War, and was he actually summoned to euthanize an elephant at the Cincinnati Zoo? Did Nora know that C.B. Lore had been married before when she married him and that he was STILL married? Did she know about his children? What did she do when a son showed up at her kitchen door a couple of years after his death, looking for him? Who was that child? Nora married again, unhappily, after C. B.’s death and I’d like to hear more about that marriage. Nora was an exquisite quilter, with one of her quilts representing the state of Indiana in the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. I so very much wish she had kept a quilt journal.

Creating and Preserving Legacy Stories

When we think of recording legacy stories, we often get bogged down by the enormity of writing something book-length. Think small.

Here’s an example. On Thanksgiving morning, when I woke up to smell those yummy Thanksgiving smells, even though we were having pandemic-style Thanksgiving meaning that we weren’t seeing anyone – I recalled another Thanksgiving from the past. In a minute, I’ll share that memory with you as I posted on Facebook.

Note that Facebook is sharing spontaneously in the moment, but we should have no expectation of permanence or being able to google and find something later – or ever for that matter. Facebook is not mean to be an archive of any sort. So write those memories down and publish elsewhere – a blog, a webpage, or send these stories to your family directly. Maybe all three.

Additionally, I attach my stories to my tree at both Ancestry and MyHeritage. You may say, “yes but they make money from subscriptions,” and that IS EXACTLY WHY THOSE STORIES AND YOUR TREE WILL SURVIVE into the future. Free things tend to disappear. Businesses are in business for profit, pure and simple, and in this case, that works to your advantage.

Print those stories, send them to people individually as well as electronically to historical societies. I put mine together in booklet form and donate to the Allen County Public Library. The Family History Library (LDS) accepts items as well.

Here’s my short Thanksgiving Facebook posting that I also pasted into a document with the photos below. I hope this provides a bit of entertainment and perhaps inspiration.

Aromas of Thanksgiving Past

The smells of Thanksgiving. A unique blend that reminds me of Thanksgivings past. I’m so grateful that Jim likes to cook, because I don’t. I did it because I had to. He does it because he loves to.

One of my favorite Thanksgiving memories is the year mom accidentally got tipsy. I was about 13 or 14.

Mom didn’t drink. Not that she was opposed to drinking, it just wasn’t something she did much, if at all. Maybe occasionally socially.

My uncle and his family were coming for thanksgiving. Mom loved having family visit so she had been up cooking and getting ready for hours. We decorated for the holidays the day before their visit. Mom loved the Christmas tree too and was excited to put it up a couple of days early.

When Uncle Lore and his family arrived, he brought some type of adult beverage with him. I don’t remember what it was. I know it had alcohol in it because we kids had something else.

Mom hadn’t eaten at all that day. My uncle made her a pretty drink in a fancy glass and she began sipping it as she scurried around the kitchen.

Mom’s niece, Lore’s daughter, looked at me at one point and said, “I think your mom is tipsy.” I had never seen my mom tipsy – wasn’t even quite sure what tipsy was.

Mom always sang when cooking in the kitchen and sometimes kicked up her heels a bit with a dance step or two from years past, but that year she was singing and dancing both, across the kitchen floor as she cooked – and laughing. A lot. So were we. It was quite a raucous family sing-along.

We relieved her of cooking duty with hot things. By then, Mom didn’t much care.

After we ate, a meal she giggled through, Mom was tired and fell asleep with her glasses on – the first and only time she ever fell asleep at Thanksgiving.

We just covered Mom up on the couch in our midst. She smiled and shifted from time to time. I’m sure she could hear us because we all just continued to talk. And yes, we were bad and just might have decorated her forehead with a gift bow. I’m blaming my brother for that!

I fondly remember that quilt from her bed and that Christmas candle wreath in the window.

Mom was horribly embarrassed afterward. We teased her forever, of course. Our family was full of practical jokers and this opportunity could not be ignored. For those of you not a member of this kind of family – silence would have conferred shame, judgment and ostrification.

Singing together and Mom dancing around the kitchen is a very fond and joy-filled Thanksgiving memory for me – along with the ensuing joking and laughter for years after. It speaks to the humanness of everyone involved. Even if Mom was mortified that she had become a wee bit tipsy.

Your Legacy Stories

What fun stories come to mind that your descendants, born or not yet born, would be interested in hearing? How about nieces or nephews? What information about your life or that of your ancestors would you like to share with them? Think about how far back in time my grandparents or great-grandparents could have discussed with first-hand knowledge that was never preserved.

How about telling future generations about 2020 – you know one way or another, or maybe in multiple ways – it’s already legendary. How about sharing your perspective for posterity?

I’m positive there are heartwarming, amusing, or funny stories someplace in your family that desperately need sharing!

Don’t leave your family with a list of unanswered questions.

Give your family the gift of a family legacy story. It’s free to create and so much more personal than anything you could ever purchase – even if you could shop safely right now!

Happy holidays everyone!!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

MyHeritage + Mixtiles: Creating an Ancestor Wall

When MyHeritage introduced Mixtiles, I kind of yawned. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth. I’m not yawning anymore.

Mixtiles are photos printed on lightweight tiles that hang on your wall without nails.

Where did my skepticism come from?

  • I have no more wall space.
  • I already have photos hung.
  • I already have photos waiting to be hung that I’ve never gotten around to hanging.

When a new product emerges in this market space, in part because I write about emerging developments, and in part because I just love this community, I feel some obligation to work with new things. How else can I write about them for you if I don’t try them myself?

I’m getting ready to write an article about holiday gifts and I thought maybe I’d include Mixtiles in that article.

Scratch that.

Mixtiles deserves its own article, so here we are! Prepare to have fun. (And no, if anyone is wondering, this is not an affiliate linked product. It’s just that I love it!)

Not Yawning Anymore

So, what happened?

After pondering a bit, I realized that Mixtiles have several benefits:

  • I DON’T have printed copies of many photos that people have sent me electronically over the years and printing them would be a pain.
  • The photos I do have are mostly in black and white and often fuzzy. At MyHeritage, you can both enhance and colorize photos, separately, for free if you are a subscriber. I wrote about photo enhancement, here. If you’re not a subscriber, you can enhance/colorize a few for free and you can try a 14-day free trial subscription, here.
  • Mixtiles are all the same size, 8 by 8 inches, so it’s easy to coordinate a snazzy display.
  • Mixtiles are lightweight and adhere to the wall without nails, which is why I have an entire stack of pictures that aren’t hung already.
  • Mixtiles are less expensive than printing and framing photos – $11 each before any discounts – and there’s almost always a discount.
  • You can order Mixtiles from home and don’t have to go frame-shopping or anyplace else for that matter.
  • You can have them shipped anyplace and even include a gift note. Hello holiday shopping!!!

I realized that many of the photos I’ve received over the years are snapshot size and grainy, and I’d never frame them. I knew that MyHeritage plus Mixtiles would improve the photos, and print them, and I could have a wonderful Ancestor Wall in the stairway – something I’ve always wanted.

I had a coupon to order half a dozen. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many I ordered (28). When you place an order, you receive a welcome discount. I’ve ordered three times and the first time, the discount was about half off and the second time, 35%. The more you purchase at once, the less they cost each. I ordered three times and each time the discount was slightly less. I should have planned better – and now you can.

However, Mixtiles are only $11 to begin with (and shipping is free) so it’s easy to see another photo on your computer and think, “Oh, I’d like to add that one too.” Which is exactly how I wound up ordering 28.

Design

I decided that I wanted to colorize my photos. I realize not everyone wants to do this, and that’s fine. To me, color in their faces, even if not perfect, brings my ancestors to life. Even the first photos of me are black and white although I remember the colors of that plaid dress in the photo taken when I was about 5 at one of the department stores.

Using Powerpoint, I experimented with layouts. You probably don’t need to do this, but I did so I could share with you.

I uploaded any photos not already enhanced and colorized to MyHeritage and did both easy processes. I tagged the photos to the correct person so they are attached to my tree. Then, I substituted the enhanced/colorized photos in the layout for you to see.

Drum roll please…

What a difference enhancement and colorization made.

These are the photos that I submitted to Mixtiles, with the exception of the black and white one of my paternal grandfather in the lower right-hand corner. Mixtiles said that the original photo I wanted to use wasn’t of sufficient quality and might be blurry, so I substituted a different one.

I never saw my paternal grandparents in person – so these photos are as close as I’ll ever get.

Working with these pictures brought back such memories, in part because when possible, I selected photos of my ancestors that included me as a young child. Of course, I was too young to remember the ones with my father and grandmother.

I do remember “helping” my Mom make those matching dresses and wearing them oh so proudly. I doubt I was much help in that process, but for a 4 or 5-year-old, it was so much fun. That was my first sewing project. Until I saw this picture again, I never really realized those matching dresses all those years ago were the seed for my love of quilting today.

I have only one photo of me with my father and only a couple with my maternal grandmother. They both died when I was young and photos were rarely taken at that time. I am so pleased to be able to include them in my Ancestor Wall that I’ll be building along the stairway during the holidays.

How Does Mixtiles Work?

Here’s a short video about how you can order your Mixtiles through MyHeritage along with a blog article.

One important thing to note is that the higher scan quality of your photo, the better the end product. I was the lucky recipient of many of the photos I have today, electronically, so I can’t rescan them.

You will be provided with the opportunity to adjust and crop your photos once selected and the amount of “zooming in” that you can do is dependent on the size and quality of the photo.

You can see that the photos I selected are not the views of these photos that I ended up using after adjustment, zooming, and cropping. In one case, the photo at left, I couldn’t enlarge enough to focus in on just my grandfather, so I selected a different photo for his spot on the wall.

OK, truth be told, I ordered a Mixtile of this family photo too, after shifting it down so no one’s head is cut off – but I found a different photo to represent my grandfather in the primary layout.

I had a glitch with one photo and accidentally included it twice, in two separate orders. I noticed the problem immediately when I received the second order confirmation. Mixtiles resolved the situation immediately via email, offering to either refund the money for the one tile or to give me a free coupon code for one tile.

I’m still going to publish a gift ideas article in a few days – but today – I took a walk down memory lane and gave myself a gift – thanks to the team at MyHeritage and Mixtiles!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books