Sunday, June 29, 2014

52 Ancestors #26: "Not Likely to Become an Efficient Soldier"

Ancestor Name: James Muir (1882-?)

James Muir was my first cousin three times removed and the son of my great great grandfather's younger brother. He helped me validate that my great great grandfather had moved to Appanoose County, Iowa. James was born on 22 November 1882 to John and Lilias (Weir) Muir in Hamilton, Scotland.  He was born at noon in the family's home on 114 Whitehill Road. By 1901 he was working as a coal miner like his father and grandfather before him.

On 30 December 1904, James married Janet Lees Syme at the St. John's United Free Church Manse on Union Street in Hamilton, Scotland. They were married by George Wallace, minister of the church; their siblings, Archibald Muir and Maggie Syme, were witnesses. James and Janet had three sons -- John born in 1905, Hugh born in 1908, and Thomas born in 1910.

On 31 December 1910, when little Thomas was just three months old,  the young family boarded the Allan Line's S/S Pretorian, traveling in the steerage section of the ship. They arrived in Boston on 11 Jan 1911. Their stated destination was Mystic, Iowa, where James likely got work in a coal mine. His uncle (also named James Muir), had lived in Mystic since 1895. Uncle James' second wife, owned a boarding house; hopefully, there was room for the new immigrants until they could find their own place to live.

S/S Pretorian at Prince's Dock, Glasgow. Photo is courtesy of the Graham
Lappin Collection, publisher unknown

Less than two years after their arrival in Iowa, James' wife, Janet, died at the age of 28 on 29 September 1912. She was buried in Mystic.

Mystic, Iowa in 1909. Photo source unknown.

Six months later, James decided to return to Scotland with his three young boys. They arrived in Glasgow aboard the Anchor Line's S/S Cameronia on 11 May 1913 -- not long before the the start of World War I.

James enlisted on 9 September 1914 in Hamilton, Scotland and was declared medically fit. He was almost 32 years old and was described as 5' 5-1/2" tall with a fresh complexion, gray eyes, and dark brown hair. He was assigned to the Gordon Highlanders. It was a British Army infantry unit, which served on the Western Front and Italy, winning 65 battle honors.

But James saw no fighting during WWI. On 9 October 1914, just a little over a month after enlisting, he was discharged as being medically unfit under King's Regulation 392(iii)c:

392. Cause of Discharge
     (iii) Not being likely to become an efficient soldier
           c. Recruit within three months of enlistment considered
              unfit for further military service

While the Army may have found a medical condition missed during the initial examination, King's Regulation 392(iii)c reads like a way to get rid of recruits that just don't adapt well to Army life. Scottish coal miners were known as a fiercely independent lot who didn't much like authority. Perhaps that why James Muir was discharged so quickly. It's one of the many questions I have that will likely never be answered.

And that's the last record I have for James Muir -- five pages from the British National Archives of James' Army service records. He could have died in Scotland, but without more clues to narrow down the death date, finding his death registration would be an expensive proposition. Or could he have returned to the United States, which is a possibility I have yet to explore.

British Military History Sheet

I hope that anyone with a British soldier among their ancestors can locate their Military History Sheet. It provided yet more documentation that James' wife had died before he entered the Army. I do wonder why all three of his sons are listed as next of kin in number 10, but only the youngest son, Thomas is listed in number 12. John was only 9 years old and Hugh only 6.

James Muir was born on 22 Nov 1882 in Hamilton, Lanarkshire, Scotland, to John and Lilias (Weir) Muir. Like his father and grandfather, he was a coal miner. He married Janet Lees Syme, daughter of Hugh and Isabella (Lindsay) Syme on 30 Dec 1904. They had three sons in 1905, 1908, and 1910. In 1911, the family immigrated to the U.S. and lived in Mystic, Appanoose, Iowa. Jame's wife died on 29 September 1912 and was buried in Mystic. James and his sons returned to Scotland on 11 May 1913. James enlisted in the Gordon Highlanders on 3 September 1914 but was medically declared unfit to serve and discharged under King's Regulation 392(iii)c on 9 October 1914. If anyone has additional information about James Muir after 1914, I would love to hear from you.

On the centenary of World War I, I am writing occasional profiles about the lives of my soldier ancestors, who fought in the Great War. Previous posts include:

Celebrating a Cenetenarian: Henry Roy Tucker
Honoring Those Who Died in the Service of Their Country
Wordless Wednesday: Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery
A Soldier Boy's Creed

Friday, June 27, 2014

Out of Africa: Baboon in the Potato Patch

My Aunt Joan's father was a missionary in British East Africa in the 1920s. Her older brother, Homer, wrote an unpublished memoir about his life, and included many stories of the family's time in Africa. Here is one such story:

Below the massive granite ridge high above our house was a dense belt of forest. Brush grew thick between the trees. Perhaps as many as two hundred baboon spent the night there on those craggy heights. I bet you have never seen that many baboons, all busy climbing, running, fussing, hunting berries, or raiding a family's vegetable garden. They can easily consume a lot of corn given the opportunity.

It was early on a fine bright African morning. We had just finished breakfast when some of the Kikuyu we lived among came to the back door with news. A baboon was in the garden digging sweet potatoes. This did not usually happen as the garden was very close to the back of the kitchen. The baboon had never ventured so close to the house before. 

An 1800 drawing of a common baboon 

I reached for my gun, loading it as I went out the door. I cautiously edged to the back corner for a look and sure enough there he was, busy as a baboon could be. A mammoth old male was industriously digging, chewing and enjoying our sweet potatoes. He seemed to know exactly where to dig. In second, he had another one, enjoying a feast at our expense. He was sitting, facing me, watching for any kind of interruption. The dogs had not yet noticed the intruder. Quite evidently, the old baboon did not see me peering past the corner of the cook shack.

I quickly, cautiously slid the rifle past the corner lining up with the target, which was not all that far away. The baboon was shocked at the roar of the gun. I got to wondering why the baboon came into our kitchen garden, so close to the house. The explanation in my mind is as follows. He was very old, likely he had difficulty keeping up with the rest of the pack. Perhaps he chose to keep closer to the rocky, craggy spot where they would return later in the evening. Age may well account for the old one venturing into our sweet potato patch that bright morning.

NOTE:  Previous "Out of Africa" posts:
  1. Doctor Livingstone, I Presume
  2. The Kikuyu
  3. The Eland Hunt
  4. The Hippopotamus Hunt 
  5. Kagui and the Python 
  6. Water Buffalo Trouble

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Library of Virginia (Worldwide Genealogy Collaboration)

My post for Worldwide Genealogy ~ A Genealogical Collaboration this month is about my favorite library, the Library of Virginia. If you cannot visit the library in person, don’t be alarmed. Much information is available online:
  • Find It Virginia is the free access to a collection of Virginia databases
  • Virginia Memory includes the library’s digital collections of newspapers, prints and photographs
  • Virginia Heritage – a guide to the library’s manuscripts and archival collections
I hope you'll click over to the Worldwide Genealogy website and learn more about a great resource.

Library of Virginia courtesy of the Library

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Rocks that Fueled the Industrial Revolution

I have so many ancestors who were coal miners that I've become a bit of a coal buff. The first thing my husband told me about coal was that anthracite was best. Of course it was! That's what Adam Dagutis, his grandfather, mined in Pennsylvania so he would certainly think so. Sure, I scoffed; coal is coal. Not so and my husband was right. Anthracite coal was called "king coal" and commanded the highest prices because it burned cleanly. It has the highest carbon content and is black and shiny.

Anthracite coal; photograph courtesy of AmazonSupply

Here is my coal miner sculpture carved from anthracite purchased from the Anthracite Heritage Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvana in 2009:

Personal collection

The most plentiful coal in the U.S. is bituminous coal. It is used primarily to generate electricity and make coke for the steel industry. There is also a sub-bituminous coal, which produces less heat and is found mostly in the western U.S. and Alaska. Most of my Muir ancestors mined bituminous coal.

Bituminous coal photograph courtesy of Volunteer State Community College

Lignite coal is geologically young coal and has the lowest carbon content. It's sometimes called brown coal and can also be used for electric power generation.

Lignite "brown" coal; photograph courtesy of Colorado Geological Survey

A map of the U.S. coal seams is almost a map of where my ancestors lived. 

Coal bearing areas of the U.S.; image courtesy of

Learning about coal and coal mining helped me understand the lives my coal mining ancestors lived and what their daily lives entailed. My husband and I even took a coal mining vacation in 2009 and are planning on driving the National Coal Heritage Trail in West Virginia.  I can't wait.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

52 Ancestors #25: Marriage Happy!

Ancestor Name: Elizabeth (Morack) Semple Robertson Furlong Vann Pierce ... and Counting?

Some girls just like weddings and can never have too many.

Elizabeth Morack must have been just such a young woman. She was born on 15 May 1915 in Helena, Montana, to Michael and Anna Marie (Moravich) Morack. Michael was born in Moscow, Russia, and immigrated to the U.S. via Canada in 1909. Anna Marie was born in West Virginia. Anna Marie's daughter spelled her mother's maiden name many different ways: Morokovich, Maronich, Marivich, Moravitch, and Marovich.

A month after her 14th birthday Elizabeth married Henry Semple, my third cousin twice removed. Henry was almost 20 years old when they married but said he was 21 and Elizabeth said she was 18 years of age. They were married by a Justice of the Peace on 7 June 1929 in Deer Lodge County, Montana. Like so many of my other ancestors of Scottish descent, Henry was a coal miner.

Less than a year later when the 1930 census was enumerated, Elizabeth was living with her mother and step-father, Fred Jacob (or Jacobs), at Anaconda, Montana. Elizabeth was listed with her correct age of 14 and her marital status was divorced. Her ex-husband Henry was also living with his parents again in Washoe, Montana. He indicated he was divorced.

Elizabeth married for the second time on 5 July 1934 to Oscar Ruben Robertson, who was 32 years of age and had not previously been married. Elizabeth fibbed a bit on the marriage license and said she had not been married before either, yet she used Semple as her surname on the license. I thought perhaps Oscar was the man for Elizabeth. But I probably shouldn't have. It's possible they divorced and remarried in 1936. The records are a bit confusing on this point. They were married at least 10 years and had two children by 1940, but more weddings were in Elizabeth's future.

Oscar Ruben Robertson; photograph courtesy of
member heylolly

Husband number 3 was Joseph Newell Furlong. They were married on 18 June 1946 in Missoula, Montana. Number 4, William Charles "W C" Vann. They married on 9 April 1951 in Deer Lodge County, Montana. Both celebrants had been married previously. Perhaps W C was her soulmate? Sadly he died just a year later on 5 May 1952 in El Dorado County, California, during a fire -- truly an awful story.

As published in the Mountain Democrat on 15 May 1952

Husband number 5 was Chester Pierce. They were married on 16 Nov 1955 in Dillon, Montana. Chester was hard to find because I didn't locate the record for their marriage in the usual places. I just knew Elizabeth wouldn't stay single! So I kept looking. However, this marriage lasted about 4 years before Elizabeth filed for divorce.

As published in the Montana Standard 4 June 1959

I don't know if it took a long time to divorce in the 50s but when Elizabeth's step-father died in 1961, she and Chester were listed as married in the obituary. Did they reconcile?

I have yet to find any information about Elizabeth (Morack) Semple Robertson Furlong Vann Pierce's death. The trail has gone cold. She either married again or is still alive and next year will be 100 years old. If the latter is true, what stories she could tell!

Hunting Elizabeth all started because of my Kiwi cousin and Semple research collaborator. She emailed me one evening just as I was going to bed about Elizabeth's age at the time of her first marriage, wondering if it could be possible to legally be married and divorced by 14 years of age. I researched all morning while Sarah slept and she was hard at it by the time I came home from work. As of this writing, we've both been plugging away on the extended Morack family for five days! It's great fun to collaborate with someone as equally addicted as me. We've now wandered off into the family of her step-father and siblings and step-siblings. I just love interesting sort-of ancestors.

If anyone has additional information about Elizabeth, my cousin and I would love to hear from you.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Weddings Scottish Miner Style

My family tree is rife with Scottish coal miners from my Muir line. I recently purchased a used book entitled, The  Lanarkshire Miners: A Social History of their Trade Unions, 1775-1874, by Alan B. Campbell. In this book Campbell includes a description of miner weddings:

"Descriptions of the marriage celebrations of the miners, or 'pay weddings' (so called because the guests gave money to the couple), also evoke a semi-rural atmosphere. The bride and groom, according to Miller, were escorted to the church by a fiddler and twenty to thirty couples. After the ceremony they paraded the countryside, with their followers firing off shotguns by way of celebration.  After a wedding supper there followed dancing and drinking, culminating in the ceremony of 'bedding the pair.' The 'backing' of the wedding, however, might consist of several more days' carousing. An old Lanarkshire collier recalled his own wedding about the year 1820 in very similar terms. On his return to work in a pit near Hamilton, he was seized at mealtime by his workmates. After being bound hand and foot, he was placed in a coal hutch and pulled from the pit to his home by thirty fellow colliers, the remainder of the day being spent 'backing up the wedding' with liberal supplies of whiskey."

It certainly gave me a new mental image of a Scottish collier wedding than I had before. Looking at what seems like a hundred marriage registration records, I thought weddings were small affairs. Only the bride and groom, their parents, the minister, two witnesses and the registrar were listed. The description of the wedding is a bit dry as well: "After banns and according to the forms of the established church of Scotland" or "By declaration in front of witnesses."

1939 wedding in Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland;
courtesy Bla'an'tir's Ain and submitted by Jimmy Whelan

I also ran across several marriages that occurred on December 31st. I learned at the Fairfax Genealogical Society Spring Conference that Christmas was considered a work day but New Year's Day was a holiday. After reading the above description of a wedding, I can see that extra day would be important for continued celebrations!

Under early modern Scottish law, there were three forms of "irregular" marriage:
  1. By public promise 
  2. By cohabitation
  3. By repute
All but the marriage by repute were abolished by the Marriage (Scotland) Act of 1939. Prior to that law, any citizen was able to witness a public promise. Marriage by repute, or simply living publicly together as a married couple, was abolished with the passing of the Family Law (Scotland) Act of 2006.

I also began to believe that illegitimate children were not necessarily a stain on a young woman's character. This was confirmed in my Scottish genealogy class. Our instructor referred to it as "try before you buy!" Typically the couple would marry right before or soon after the baby was born. What is more unusual is to see a birth registration for an illegitimate child without a father listed.

I found the cultural acceptance of "irregular" marriages and illegitimacy quite refreshing!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Mining Coal in Appanoose County

I first found my wayward great great grandfather in Iowa in the 1900 federal census for Appanoose County, Iowa. He claimed he was divorced, had been in the U.S. since 1888 and was a naturalized citizen. I learned from the 1915 Iowa state census, he had been in Iowa 20 years. During the time he lived in Iowa, he lived in Mystic in the Walnut Creek valley area of the county, which Wikipedia describes as "one continuous mining camp." The Mystic coal seam was exposed on the surface and drifts were opened and abandoned so often the area looked like a honeycomb by the time James Muir arrived. It didn't surprise me to discover him near coal beds for he had been a miner all his life, like his father before him and his son after him.

Townships in Appanoose County. Mystic in is Walnut Township

From the History of Appanoose County, Iowa, published in 1878 by the Western Historical Publishing Company:

The first coal shaft ever sunk in Appanoose County, Iowa, was by B F Kindig, who found the coal bed about sixteen feet below the limestone rock which crops out in the vicinity. This was in 1863 or 1864; but coal had been known to exist in the county long before for it crops out in several places along Shoal Creek and its tributaries, and had been mined for several years for local uses.

At the mine of the Appanoose Coal Company, the coal is mined in rooms, which are 40 feet wide and are run back to a distance of 250 feet, when a room worked from the opposite direction is reached. A body of coal sixteen feet in width is left between each room and is termed a pillar. Each room is operated by two men, who mine the coal, load it on the cars and deliver it at the bottom of the shaft, where it is received and hoisted, together with the car, by steam power, to the top of the shaft, and then emptied into railway cars waiting to receive it. The coal, which is about four feet in thickness, lies 120 feet below the surface. The car-tracks on the bottom of the mine are made of light-weight T rails.

Diagram to explain room and pillar mining from Coal Mining by T C Cantrill, 1914

The price to miners at Watson Mine is now $0.03-1/2 a bushel, which is the price paid at most of the mines. It is stated that miners can dig from 55 to 80 bushels a day.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

52 Ancestors #24: A Tribute to My Father

Ancestor Name: Charles Theodore Jennings

Today is Father's Day in the U.S. So I am writing about my Dad. He and Mom gave my brothers and me an idyllic childhood and we are very lucky we can still share our lives with them.

My favorite photo of Dad on his boat somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay. 
You can tell from the wake, he is going his favorite speed: Fast

Dad's name is Charles Theodore Jennings; he was born in East St Louis, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St Louis in 1931. His parents were Marvin Edward and Alice (Muir) Jennings. His father was a clerk for the railroad and my Dad was their youngest son. They moved to Washington, DC in 1941 when my grandfather took a job with the federal government. A year later, they bought a home in Arlington, Virginia.

My grandmother says Dad was quite a hell-raiser in his youth. He drank beer, got into bar brawls and raced cars. Grandma used to tell stories about Dad's wild side and he was none too happy about it. As a rebuttal he would tell a story about when he did something good. Once my brother told him, "Dad, that story is a repeat. Grandma is still telling new ones!" 

Dad racing his sprint car sometime in the 1950s

My Mother's parents didn't like him and didn't go to their wedding, though they changed their mind about Dad after seeing the way he treated their daughter and his children.

Mom and Dad at their wedding

Dad worked out of our house, which was unusual in the 1960s, but great for his children. He was always home when we came home from school. He was the coach of every team sport my brothers and I played until I decided to try soccer at the age of 17. He told me he didn't know anything about soccer. Even though he didn't coach, he attended every practice and every game.

Dad graduating from Columbia Technical Institute as
class valedictorian

When I was in high school he and I attended every varsity football and basketball game, home or away, and later we branched out to wrestling matches. He asked once if anyone was asking me out on dates and was appalled when I replied, "Yes, but I turn them down so we can go together."

Once the big man on campus asked me out on a date and stood me up.  Dad took his very sad daughter out for ice cream and told me how to handle him if he ever called again. And BMOC did call again and I handled him just like Dad explained. It felt great. I was pleasant, never acted like being stood up bothered me, and turned him down every time he asked me out in the future.

I almost married my high school sweetheart but was conflicted. I went to Dad for advice. He said, "I think he'd make a good husband to you, be a good father to your children, but will he be a good provider for your family?" I thought long and hard about that and decided I'd out grown my high school flame. And I thank the heavens for that every day.

Our family after we "acquired" my first sister-in-law

After I started working, he continued to give the perfect advice at the perfect time. "When you make a mistake," he told me, "don't wait for someone else to mention it; own it and own the solution." As children, we never heard Dad brag about us, but would hear about it from other people. It made us all proud.

Dad is 82 years old now and still with us and for that our family is very blessed.  He's had major cerebral hemorrhages during the last 10 years that have begun to affect his mind and he can no longer speak much. But even when life has gotten hard, Dad still maintains his happy-go-lucky, sunny outlook on life. He's still teaching me important things.

The manner in which Dad has lived his entire life has made it so easy to love and cherish him and want to do anything for him to make him happy. He was the genealogist in our family for years. He and Mom would often take research field trips to look for old family records. My gift to him, and to myself, is taking that research over so it doesn't die. We talk about what I've discovered every time I visit and I hope he loves every minute of our genealogy discussions.

Dad clowning around

I am the luckiest daughter in the world.

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Celebrating a Centenarian: Henry Roy Tucker

Henry Roy Tucker, my sister-in-law's fourth cousin twice removed, died ten years ago today.  I found his obituary in the archives of the Tifton Gazette recently and I would like to share it with you. It seems appropriate to do so during the centenary anniversary of World War I.

"Born May 9, 1897, in Alapaha, Georgia, Tucker was the son of Warren and Margaret (Sizemore) Tucker, both deceased. He was preceded in death by his wife of 57 years, Addie (Creed) Tucker; a son, Ralph Warren Tucker; a sister, Lilly Tucker; and two brothers, Fred Tucker and Quincey Tucker.

Henry Roy Tucker with his wife Addie (Creed) Tucker and son, Ralph Warren Tucker. 
Photograph courtesy of Don Garrett and

Henry Tucker was the oldest member of the First Baptist Church of Tifton. He was also a lifelong member of the American Legion Post 21 in Tifton and a member of the Tifton Lodge No. 47 as a Royal Arch Mason.

The oldest World War I veteran in Georgia, Mr. Tucker was inducted into the U.S. Army during World War I on September 4, 1918. He served in Luxembourg, England, Belgium, France and Germany. At the end of the war, he remained in Germany as a member of the Army of Occupation for an additional ten months. Because he served on French soil during the war, the French Consul in Atlanta, on behalf of the French government, awarded him the French Legion of Honor, the highest medal awarded by France, in a ceremony in Tifton on August 5, 1999.

French Legion of Honor

Upon his return from service, Mr. Tucker worked at the Central Service Station for 18 years and then was employed by the City of Tifton for 32 years as the water meter reader. It took the whole month to read all the meters and then he would have to start over again. Mr. Tucker often attributed his longevity to all the miles he walked while reading the meters. He always had a keen mind, which was still great and he had a friendly smile for everyone.

He is survived by two daughters, nine grandchildren, 17 great grandchildren, and 11 great great grandchildren.

On the centenary of World War I, I am writing occasional profiles about the lives of my soldier ancestors, who fought in the Great War. Previous posts include:

Honoring Those Who Died in the Service of Their Country
Wordless Wednesday: Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery
A Soldier Boy's Creed

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Landing of Columbus Painting

I've blogged before about how much I love old books about the ancestors in my extended family tree. One book I discovered recently on Internet Archive is entitled Life and Times of Jonathan Bryan(1) 1708-1788" by Mrs J H Redding of Waycross, Georgia, and published in 1901, and included this intriguing sentence on page 16:

"In the wonderful art exhibit at the World's Fair in Chicago, perhaps no picture left a greater impression on the minds of the hosts, who saw it, than "The Landing of Columbus," loaned by a Russian prince."

I happen to know the painting by American neoclassical painter, John Vanderlyn, currently hangs in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. How in the world did it ever come to be in possession of a Russian Prince?

Landing of Columbus, image courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol

According to the U.S. Architect of the Capitol's website, the painting was commissioned by Congress in 1836 to hang in the rotunda. It was painted by Vanderlyn in his Paris studio with the help of assistants. It was completed sometime in 1846 and was hung in January 1847.

I am assuming since the book was written in 1901, Mrs Redding is referring to the World's Columbian Exposition, better known as the Chicago World's Fair, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World. However, I can find no mention of this painting being at the art exhibit or of ownership by a Russian prince. I did learn that one of the official medals that were struck for the fair was the Discovery of America dollar, designed by Charles Renish. It depicted the scene from Vanderlyn's painting on the obverse.

Discovery of America Dollar, photograph courtesy of Tom Hoffman

There was also a silk bookmark for sale at the fair that depicted the same scene from The Landing of Columbus.

Photo courtesy of the-forum Online Antiques Mall

Mrs. Redding is either incorrect or my research is incomplete. Or perhaps the artist painted more than one version of the painting. If there are any art historians out there that know more, I'd love to hear from you.

(1) Jonathan Bryan is the great grandfather of the husband of my sister-in-law's fifth cousin four times removed.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

52 Ancestors #23: Margaret (Rice) McGhee and the Staunton Lunatic Asylum

Ancestor Name: Margaret (Rice) McGhee

Margaret Rice was born in 1811 and was the grand daughter of David Rice, a Presbyterian minister, known as the Apostle of Kentucky for his work with the Kentucky Abolition Society beginning in the 1790s. When she was 23 years old she married Samuel Henry McGhee, who was 12 years her senior. The couple had seven children between 1832 and 1845. Samuel was a taciturn Scot and brooked no dissension to his point of view. Margaret apparently had a temper and was prone to violent outbursts.

Samuel Henry McGhee II courtesy of member murph39

Margaret spent most of her adult life at the Staunton Lunatic Asylum and during some of her time there kept a log, or diary. Her great granddaughter, Ann (Rice) Biggerstaff wrote Rice and McGhee Families of Bedford County, Virginia in 1982. She includes parts of Margaret's diary in the book:

"The earliest date in the log that I have is December 23, 1857. By April 17, 1858 she was at home but on May 9, 1858 she writes: 'I determine to leave' and on May 18, she writes: 'Arrive at Staunton as a patient.'

Margaret wrote, 'I determine to leave.' The words she chose, leave no doubt as to who was responsible for this incarceration. Peg Maupin wrote, 'I have always been told that great grandmother went to Staunton. She would feel a spell coming on and would ask to be taken to Staunton.' It is possible that the foundation for this was based on an interpretation of this particular entry or on the other hand it might be the actually remembered record of her visits.

One month after her re-entry she made an application for discharge and wrote to Mr. McGhee. It was after another appeal to Mr. McGhee on August 16 that she attempted suicide. In her deepest depression she blamed her 'unjust imprisonment' on 'those who were stronger than Mr. McGhee and forced him to remove her from her home and her children.' On August 16, 1858 she wrote: 'Sent letter to Mr. McGhee.' The next day her single entry was: 'Ate dinner in my room and cried.' The entry for August 23 was longer: 'I wish all my children to know, as my experience may be useful to them, that my health has been better and all my feelings more under the control of reason since I confined myself chiefly to milk and vegetable diet, which enables me to see clearly and follow faithfully the dictates of God -- who bids me come and not wait to be forced to his presence...On this day I swallowed a dose of powdered glass hoping it will relieve my children of my useless existence.'

Western State Hospital, formerly known as the Staunton Lunatic Asylum;
photograph courtesy of the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and
Developmental Services

Five days later, she wrote: 'I am nearly recovered from the burning pain in my stomach and bowels from the glass I took.' The next day her entry was: 'I am afraid to make another attempt to kill myself lest I only disable myself and have my family saddled with the expense of a special attendant.'

August 30: 'From the pain I feel this morning I hope the dose I took will not be so powerless as I yesterday feared and I pray if the men ever feel remorse for my untimely end they will do what they will to make it up to my poor wronged childen. I feel that I have done Mr. McGhee injustice in blaming him for what he was driven to do to me.'

August 31: 'I attempted to take another dose of glass but threw up. Got D [doctor] to apply for employment for me.'

September 2: 'Wrote to Mr. McGhee and kept to my bed. Found my letter could do no good, tore it up.'

September 23: 'I feel worse. D says he has advised Mr. McGhee to take me home.'

Gradually she shifts the blame for her incarceration from Mr. McGhee to D and the staff at the institution. Over several weeks they urge her not to lie in bed and to eat more. She is thoroughly depressed and refuses to speak. Sometimes she blows out the candle and covers up her head when D comes to see her.

On December 7 she is told that Mr. McGhee seems not to intend taking her again. 

March 5: 'D in. I would not speak. He paused to see if I was all right and I slammed the door after him.'

March 14: 'D offers me books. I want a discharge.'

March 23: 'D came but I gave him a note desiring him to keep away.'

In April she sent a note to Dr. Stribbling expressing her wish to go home, but she was still at Staunton on 23 May 1859 when the journal ends."

Sometime near the beginning of the Civil War all of the patients of the Staunton Lunatic Asylum were sent to their homes because it was felt the hospital could not insure their safety." 

So she got her wish at long last and was able to return home. She died on 14 December 1871. Margaret (Rice) McGhee's great granddaughters believed she asked to be buried at Staunton for she spent so much of her life there.

Margaret (Rice) McGhee's headstone. She was buried at the Western State Hospital Cemetery;
photograph courtesy of member murph39

Margaret Rice was born on 1 March 1811 in Virginia to William Rice and his second wife, Jane (Walker) Rice. On 23 June 1831 Margaret married Samuel Henry McGhee. Together they had seven children and lived their entire lives in Bedford County, Virginia. Margaret died on 14 December 1871 and is buried at the Western State Hospital Cemetery. Her husband, Samuel, died on 25 February 1877 and is buried in Berkeley Cemetery in Forest, Virginia. The author of Rice and McGhee Families of Bedford County, Virginia, Ann (Rice) Biggerstaff, descends from Samuel and Margaret's daughter, Elizabeth Frances McGhee. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Guest Blog: 70th Anniversary of D-Day

I'm so excited my brother, John, could take time from his busy travel schedule to write this guest blog  about D-Day. It's from his upcoming book about World War II.  If you have a D-Day story about your ancestor, please leave it in the comments section or include a link to your blog post about D-Day.

Today is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, France.  The cross-channel invasion of German occupied France by American, British and Canadian forces opened the long awaited second front against Hitler’s Nazi regime.  By decisively breaching the much vaunted Atlantic Wall and establishing a beachhead on the continent, the Normandy landings triggered a series of actions that led eventually and directly to Germany’s defeat.  D-Day must therefore be considered the most important single day of World War II.

With more than 5000 vessels of all types participating and 156,115 troops coming ashore, D-Day was (and still is) the largest sea-borne invasion in history.  Success, however, was not determined by the immense scale of the operation but rather by the initiative and uncommon courage of individuals.

Take for example General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s decision to launch the invasion in the first place.  The operation was postponed from its originally planned date of 5 June because of poor weather.  Forecasters presented an ever so slight glimmer of hope for a brief break in the weather for 6 June.  Eisenhower had a difficult decision to make.  If the promised fair weather did not appear, or appeared late, he would launch the invasion fleet—and the most complex military operation in history—into the teeth of a gale.  And there was the possibility the initial waves could be put ashore but left vulnerable to a German counter-attack if continued poor weather prevented reinforcements and supplies from being delivered.  Eisenhower made one of the boldest decisions of the war to launch the invasion.

D-Day Airborne troops; photograph courtesy of the National D-Day Museum
in New Orleans, Louisiana

First to land in enemy territory were airborne troops, whose task it was to secure the flanks of the invasion beaches.  Through a combination of factors the airborne drops were badly scattered, making it impossible for the paratroopers to assemble.  Undaunted, small ad-hoc groups gathered together and set off to accomplish tasks originally assigned to much larger formations.  Men from British 6th Airborne Division succeeded in their mission to blow up five bridges over the Dives River, one at Troarn by a group of just 10 men who raced seven miles in a jeep and trailer.  Another group of just 16 men from US 101st Airborne Division cleared the last obstacle of the northernmost exit from Utah Beach, a group of stone buildings housing an enemy barrack.  Similar initiative by men of US 82nd Airborne Division ensured the early capture of the important cross-roads at Ste. Mere Eglise.  A group of 108 men took the town by 0600 when its Germans defenders marched off toward the beach.  After the coup they held onto the village for the remainder of the day despite several counter-attacks of regimental strength. 

Omaha Beach, of course, truly exemplifies how initiative and courage of the individual won the day at Normandy.  Omaha Beach stretched crescent shaped four miles between the villages of Vierville and Colleville, bookended to the east and west by sheer cliffs some 100 feet high.  The beach itself consisted of a gently sloping tidal flat some 300 yards wide backed by a steep bank of shingle and pebbles.  Protecting the beach was either a line of sand dunes or a seawall, behind which lay a flat grassy strip before the land rose sharply in an escarpment that merged with the cliffs on either end of the beach.  The scrub covered bluffs overlooking the beach were cut by four draws that provided the only beach exits for vehicles via trails leading to the coastal road.  Each trail led to a stone village heavily fortified by the Germans.  Large caliber guns sited at either end of the beach were set to rake invaders with flanking fire and the flat section before the escarpment was thickly sown with mines, barbed wire, and anti-tank trenches.  Strongpoints consisting of pillboxes for machine guns, mortar pits, and casements for anti-tank guns and light artillery had been built to guard the beach entrance to the draws.  Furthermore, the Germans had recently moved up the veteran 352nd Infantry Division to take up positions alongside the static 716th Infantry Division, which had previously defended the sector by itself.  This fact was not recognized in time by American intelligence, so instead of four battalions defending the beach the Americans would actually encounter eight.

Major-General Leonard T. Gerow, who as commander of US V Corps had responsibility for the Omaha operation, planned for 1st Infantry Division to land two regiments in the first wave, one (temporarily attached from 29th Infantry Division) at the western wing near Vierville and the other on the eastern wing near Colleville.  Beach exits were to be seized within two hours to allow traffic to flow off the beach, after which the remainder of both 1st Infantry and 29th Infantry Divisions would come ashore.

Into the Jaws of Death; photograph by Chief Photographer's Mate,
Robert F. Sargent; courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

As the first landing craft approached the beach at 0630 German batteries opened up on the little craft, and a hail of machine gun and mortar fire met the first soldiers to jump into the chest deep water.  The experience of a company landing at Dog Green sector of the beach opposite Vierville was typical of those among the initial wave.  Of their six landing craft one foundered and another was sunk by a direct hit from a German gun.  Within just 10 minutes of beaching the company was so badly mauled it had ceased to function as a cohesive unit; the survivors were still at water’s edge intent only on sheltering themselves from enemy fire when the next wave landed 30 minutes later.  Successive waves became pinned down along the beach in small isolated groups.  Virtually no heavy weapons survived the run-in to provide supporting fire.  Two battalions of amphibious Sherman tanks were intended to swim ashore with the first wave but 27 tanks from one battalion of 32 sank because their fragile canvas hulls gave way during their long run through heavy seas.  All 26 howitzers carried by DUKWs (amphibious 2½ ton trucks) were lost, and only six of 16 armored bulldozers made it ashore, three of which were promptly knocked out by gunfire.  Under the murderous fire demolition teams could clear just six paths through the beach obstacles before high tide, and due to loss of equipment only one path could be adequately marked.  Therefore, the landing craft of the later waves became congested as they carefully picked their way through obstacles and the debris of earlier waves, thus becoming easy targets for German guns.

Aboard their respective headquarter ships Lieutenant-General Omar N. Bradley and Gerow became anxious for news as they watched the congestion on the beach continue to build.  As there was yet no way off the beach vehicles and equipment piled up upon arrival.  Bradley briefly considered abandoning the landing and diverting the follow-up forces to other sectors.  Most men were still pinned down on the beach or huddled behind the sea wall at 0950 when 1st Infantry Division signaled “too many vehicles, send combat troops”.  Major-General Clarence R. Huebner, commander of 1st Infantry Division, ordered another regiment to land promptly at Easy Red sector and instructed the navy to fire on the beachside strongpoints, regardless of the danger to friendly forces.  Eight American and three British destroyers steamed to within 800 yards of shore to lay down fire support.

Gradually the tide of battle began to turn to the American’s favor as the sheer weight of fire and the initiative of individuals broke down the German defense.  Groups of eager soldiers congregated around natural leaders to find ways off the beach and through the barbed wire entanglements and minefields.  Using natural cover of undulations in the terrain or taking advantage of impromptu smokescreens from grass set alight by the bombardment, small groups infiltrated between German strongpoints to take the defenders from the flanks and rear.  Separate groups converged to take Vierville by 1100, another group worked their way up to the crest of the bluff overlooking the Les Moulins draw to advance on St. Laurent, and still another group that landed farther east than planned found an obscure and weakly defended gully at the very eastern end of Omaha beach to skirt round the defenders of the Colleville draw.  Around noon the last German strongpoint along the beach was subdued to free the beach from small arms fire, allowing engineers to go about the task of clearing minefields more efficiently so men and vehicles could exit the beach.  After six hours the battle for the beach was finally won.

The build up of men and supplies after D-Day; photograph courtesy of
the National Archives and Records Administration

The outcome of even the greatest of historical events, such as D-Day, can be determined by the actions of individuals.  As genealogy is essentially the study of individuals, there is the tantalizing possibility that each newly discovered ancestor could be a historical gem of a find.  I would love to hear the D-Day stories of your ancestors.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Discussing Infanticide

On 23 December 1952 my fifth cousin once removed murdered his three children, ages 4, 2 and 4 months, attempted to kill his wife and himself. After he was paroled in 1968, he co-authored a book. In the epilogue he described killing his children and his life after. I blogged about it last year in a series of posts:

This discovery really threw me for a loop. I had often said I inordinately fond of my black sheep, but this was beyond the pale. Yet, he wasn't the first murderer I discovered among my ancestors or even the first one who killed a family member. The previous fellow was actually a closer relative but the crime happened a long time ago. What made this so different?

After each post, I would send the link to my youngest brother, John. We're 10 years apart in age and have always been very close. I've felt for many years he was the really scary smart one in the family. What I most appreciate about his brain is his analytical ability and the way he explains his position. I typically operate by instinct so I usually find his point of view thought provoking. I asked him for his assessment of Archie because I found myself disliking him intensely, especially his excuses for why he killed his children which included, in my view, blaming his mother. Blame being the key word.

Published in the Oakland Tribune on 24 December 1952

My brother's take on the events:

Your wanted my evaluation on this. I assume I have a somewhat different take on it than you.

I think there is a difference between blame and reason that you may not be taking fully into account. I think in the epilogue of his book Connett is talking about the reason he committed the crime. The part about his mother, the need to feel accepted, etc., is the reasoning behind why he did what he did. I don't think he is blaming his mother. Of course, there is no rational explanation for killing your three children, so the logic of any reason for doing so will obviously be twisted.

Let's use another example which removes the absurdity of killing your children from the scenario. Let's examine the case of a general who lost an important battle. His memoirs will likely be filled with lots of reason why he lost the battle, including things that were both in his control and beyond his control Some readers will call these excuses, but I tend to see them as explanations of why the battle transpired the way it did. Imagine an After Action Report in which a general says simply, "I take full responsibility for the defeat. I screwed up." It's good that he takes responsibility, but it doesn't provide any lessons for future strategists to learn from.

The more interesting question to me is should Connett have been paroled, either earlier or at all? This comes down to the question of whether a criminal is incarcerated for rehabilitation, punishment or to protect the rest of society. Connett was not the typical criminal; he was well educated and a productive member of society who committed a heinous crime in one spasmodic episode. In his pleadings for parole he made much of the fact that he had been "rehabilitated," as evidenced by the work he did with therapy groups. I think he missed the point. Since he was not a habitual criminal, rehabilitation means nothing. You can't rehabilitate for a one-time spasm of anger. Connett's incarceration was for pure punishment. I think the judge understood this point and I tend to agree with the judge when he wrote, "...if ever a man in the State of California had committed first degree murder, he was the man; that if ever a man deserved to go to the gas chamber, he was the man; that he should never be released from prison."

The fact that Connett was up for parole after only 3 years and 4 months is the most amazing point of this whole series of blog posts. That's a little over one year for each child. Incredible! Thankfully, the judge was around for 15 years to ensure the denial of his parole.

Published in the Gastonia Gazette on 25 March 1971

I responded a few days later after thinking long and hard about my brother's I said he is always thought-provoking:

I believe you have it right and I did not. Your analogy about the general is completely valid and really made your point. It doesn't come with so much associated anger as a child killer. I think your point about punishment motivating the judge is particularly on point.

I also agree that being eligible for parole after such a short time is totally unbelievable and I now understand why the "do the crime, do the time" movement got so popular.

My brother ended the exchange explaining his thoughts on parole:

I think about parole differently depending on the nature of the crime and criminal.  The guys who are running the prisons obviously want well behaved inmates, so I understand if good behavior is rewarded with a better chance at parole.  But it should only by 10 - 15% shorter sentence, not the incredible case below where a 10 - life term is eligible for parole in 3 years.  In cases where the primary point of the incarceration is punishment, then I don't think there should be any lessening of the sentence, except for the small reward for good behavior noted above.  In cases where rehabilitation is possible, such as someone whose crime was motivated by a drug addiction, then I think that inmate could be offered parole much sooner provided their addiction is overcome.

This is just one of the many reasons I love my baby brother so much. He keeps me on my toes. You can't have these types of conversations with just anyone. Plus he uses semicolons properly. What's not to love? I haven't got him totally interested in genealogy yet, but he is intrigued by DNA ethnicity results so I believe I've got a chance. What do you think?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Guest Blog: Am I Related? Definitely. Maybe.

My fourth cousin once removed, Sarah Semple, reached out to me through about a year ago. And what a treasure she has turned out to be. She lives in New Zealand, has written several books about genealogy, which are all fascinating; helped me with my great great grandmother Margaret Semple's family, immediate and extended; and taught me to really put records about a person in context with other people in their lives to determine if they really belong to "my" person. 

So over to Sarah...

New Zealand has a population of over 4.4 million people.  If you want to track down a Semple amongst the population, you will find 22 entries in the electronic white pages, of whom four are directly related to me (mother, brother, cousins).  The Semple name would not mean anything to people in New Zealand if it hadn’t been for Robert (Bob) Semple (1873-1955) – coalminer, trade unionist, politician and general stirrer.

The Honorable Robert Semple, New Zealand Minister
for Public Works and Transport, 1935

Bob was born on 21 October 1873 at Crudine Creek, near Sofala, on the New South Wales goldfields in Australia.  He joined the mining union, often getting involved in lengthy, bitter and violent disputes.  When he became blacklisted in Australia, he moved to New Zealand and soon involved himself in the mining unions of his adopted country.  He was known as “Bob the Ranter” or “Fighting Bob”. He was jailed in 1913 for supporting the general strike and again in 1916 after fighting conscription for overseas service.

Bob then entered politics, serving nine terms as a Labour Member of Parliament and held a number of infrastructure portfolios, such as Minister of Public Works and Minister of Railways.  He was flamboyant, colourful and devoted to the task of making working class lives better.

When people find out my family name, their next comment is usually “I hope that you are not related to that stirrer Bob Semple”.  I have not been able to identify any links to Bob Semple, however his wife Margaret McNair (1876-1967) is definitely related to me.  Her grandfather Thomas McNair and my great great great grandmother were brother and sister.

Margaret (McNair) Semple and her husband, Bob

So while I can claim to have no “stirrers” blood in me, I can say with a grin on my face, that my family is obviously attracted to stirrers.