Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday's Photo/Grace Galloway Lash Wolcott, NY

Grace Galloway Lash 1898-1934
     Grace is my mother's mother, she was born in Wolcott, New York to Russell Carlton Galloway and his wife Harriet Elizabeth Vincent.  In the above photograph she is about sixteen years old.  Inscribed on the back is --"To Grandpa & Grandma Love, Grace"  They would have been her father's father George Galloway and his wife Harriet Foster.  Harriet was Grace's step-grandmother, and her aunt!  Harriet's sister, the late Clarissa Foster, was Grace's actual grandmother. 

     Grace's other set of grandparents John Vincent and Sarah Charlotte  Fowler, who was the subject of my last blog, were deceased by the time this photo was taken in 1914.  Sarah died of TB in 1883 and John passed in 1905.

     Grace married Lewis Lash in 1921, the young couple lived with his mother Mary Wiggins Lash until they purchased their own home in Butler, New York.  They had seven children, my mother being the fifth.  Grace died in a tragic accident when the kerosene can she was holding exploded while she was filling her stove.  Several of her children including my mother were in the room, and several more in the barn with their father.  Upon hearing the explosion, Lewis came running and wrapped his wife in a blanket to extinguish the flames but the damage was done.  She died seven hours later in a small, local hospital.  

Monday, November 9, 2015

The White Plague

                                                                   Photo by Henry Peach Robinson 1858

     It was spoken of in hushed tones, and certainly never outside the family circle, a certain stigma attached.  Whatever name you knew it by, be it phthisis, king's evil, consumption, the euphemistic "decline", or tuberculosis, it was usually a sentence of death; sometimes quickly, other times only after decades of suffering.  The first symptoms were fatigue, weight loss, and the cough. Later stages were characterized by pallor, sunken yet luminous eyes, night sweats and the horrifying expectoration of blood.  Death came when the infected lungs became so ravaged they could no longer perform their job, though this could be a long process.

      No one knew why whole families were sometimes afflicted, and it was once believed to be hereditary.  Not until 1882 would the responsible bacillus be discovered, but it would be over a decade longer before the medical community accepted that TB was a communicable disease caused by a specific bacteria.  Of course finding the cause was not the same as finding a cure, and with the knowledge that a contagious agent was behind the deadly illness, sufferers lives became that much worse.  They found themselves shunned and sometimes even wrenched from their homes and families and forced into public institutions.

     Several of my ancestors died of tuberculosis, four that I'm aware of, but I'd be willing to bet there were others.  It's been estimated that by the 19th century, TB had killed one in seven of all people who had ever lived.  That's an astounding number.  One particularly heartbreaking case was that of my third great-grandmother Sarah Charlotte Fowler Vincent.  Sarah lived with her family in the rural community of Butler, New York.  She died at her home in the summer of 1883 when she was fifty years of age, eleven days after the death of her twenty year old daughter Mary Ann from the same disease.  Sarah left a husband and three other children none of whom, to my knowledge, ever developed TB.

       Another was the equally sad case of my great-grandmother Ellen White O'Hora's sister Julia Sullivan. Julia, who had lost her husband years earlier to nephritis, died in Rochester, New York in 1917 at fifty-three, leaving an orphaned son of thirteen.  He doesn't appear to have contracted the illness either.  I found it puzzling that individuals living in close contact with, and caring for TB victims somehow escaped it's clutches.  So I did some research on tuberculosis.  

     After much reading, I learned that TB is spread when a person with an active case coughs, sneezes, or even talks thereby spreading droplets that can be inhaled by others.  Once that happens, several different things can occur.  The person can develop a TB infection themselves, but surprisingly,  in the majority of cases that does not happen.  Their immune system is usually able to overcome the bacteria, only one in ten of those exposed to TB will go on to develop the disease; usually those with weakened immune systems.  A third possibility is the person's immune system does not destroy the bacteria, but is able to keep it inactive.  Known as latent TB, this stage is not contagious; but if the immune system should weaken, an active case could result many years after the initial infection.

     The fourth known case in my family happened in Ballyraggan, County Kildare, Ireland in 1866; and was that of yet another third great-grandmother of mine, Anne Donahoe McGarr.  Anne's death certificate says she died of phthisis at the age of sixty six, after an eighteen month illness.  The book, "Medicine, Disease and the State in Ireland", by Greta Jones states that at the time of Anne's passing, tuberculosis was the leading cause of death in Ireland, just as it was in America, killing many more people than smallpox, typhus and cholera combined.  The last-named diseases however, had more dramatic onsets, tended to occur in epidemics and caused death in a much shorter period, so they received more attention in the 19th century than the easier to hide (up to a point) TB.  

     Anne's case fascinates me because the story in our family is that she was a folk doctor specializing in the treatment of skin cancer.  From what I've read of the old healers, they were often believers in the "fairy faith".  This may or may not have been true of Grandma Anne, but I'm quite curious as to how her illness was perceived.  A stroke of bad luck or a fairy stroke?

     The discovery of streptomycin in 1943, followed by numerous other drugs finally put an end to this scourge that had plagued mankind since the time of the pharaohs.  While there have been recent outbreaks of drug-resistant strains, tuberculosis is no longer the menace so feared by our ancestors.  After all the articles I've read, and my new understanding of how prevalent TB was in the 19th and early 20th centuries, I have to wonder who else in my family may have been it's victim.


Monday, November 2, 2015

Tuesday's Tip/Searching Startegy

     George Newton Bigelow Jr. lived in Palmyra, NY his entire life.  So why couldn't I find his obituary?  I tried searching with his middle name of Newton, tried with the middle initial N, and with just George Bigelow, all with no luck.  Finally I used the search terms --Palmyra NY, 1910 (the year of his death) and Bigelow.  The obituary came right up!  The problem was with the condition of the newspaper.  See below:

     The software couldn't read the darkened name George.  In another case, the name was on two lines and was hyphenated to Bige-low.  The software didn't catch that one either.  Often, if I'm not finding what I want and the database is for a smallish town, I search on a last or even a first name.  I've also found my person by limiting the search to only Irish born individuals and using no name.  Larger towns and databases can be searched this way with a date range; for instance, I found the death of Ellen Maher in Ohio by using just "Ellen", "Richland County" and her year of death.  She was mistakenly listed as Ellen "Marker".  I've found searching without a name particularly helpful with my Irish ancestors.  Officialdom had a great deal of difficulty with Irish surnames with which they were unfamiliar.  Some of the spellings were mind boggling.

     I've had success with newspapers, census records, death records and other databases using this method.  I wouldn't want to try a search of New York City or any other large metropolis using it, but it does have it's place.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Black Sheep Sunday/They Really Didn't Like Us Much

Gilman Bigelow Howe

     Check out the snooty looking fellow above.  He didn't much care for Irish Catholics.  Sure and he wasn't alone, there is a long history of such bigotry in America which after all, was settled primarily by the English.  Since colonial times there has been a strong bias against Catholicism culminating with the Know Nothing Party of the 1850's.  It didn't end there of course, but over the intervening years has slowly diminished.  Historian Arthur Schlesinger termed prejudice against Catholics, "the deepest bias in the history of the American people."  In 1925 the "cartoon" below featuring the KKK appeared.  That's right, even the Klan didn't like us.

     But back to Gilman-- in 1890 he published a genealogy of the Bigelow family which can be found online at Google Books.  The only reason I'm interested in the Bigelows is that George N. Bigelow Jr's wife was one Bridget from Ireland.  They had two sons, and then divorced.  Bridget Bigelow is buried in the family plot of Darby Hogan in Palmyra, NY along with my 3rd great-grandfather Cornelius Ryan and his son Cornelius Jr.  I'd like very much to know Bridget's maiden name, so yesterday I was searching all over the net to see if I could locate it.  I can just go down to the parish and check the records, I live about two miles from Palmyra, but I work and their hours are limited so I thought I'd try the net first.

     I searched Gilman's book and found George, but all it said was he "married in Palmyra".

     Just about every other entry in this lengthy book gives the name of the subject's bride or husband, except in this case.  It wouldn't have been difficult to find her name, they married in 1863 less than thirty years before the book was written, not in the distant past.  I believe she was excluded due to who she was.  I did have a laugh at Gilman's expense, George Jr. was not a photographer, his and Bridget's son George (4133) was.  In fact George Jr. must have been a huge disappointment to his Yale educated father, who was a doctor.  George Jr. was listed as a "gardener" in one census" and a "stone cutter" in the next.  And he married an Irish immigrant who was Roman Catholic to boot, talk about black sheep!

     Another case I found was that of Timothy E. McGarr, a distant cousin who despite being orphaned at age thirteen rose to become secretary to United States Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York, and later the secretary of New York State's Department of Mental Hygiene and in the process became a wealthy man.  He was listed in "The Albany and Troy Society Blue Book: Elite Family Directory" in 1917.  Still, his protestant father-in-law despised him for his Catholic faith.

     While there are still pockets of intense anti-Catholicism today, for the most part those sentiments are a thing of the past, though not long past.  Pope Francis' overwhelming welcome to these shores was welcome proof of that.