52 Ancestors – #9 Where There’s a Will

We genealogists love wills, especially ones that spell out family relationships. Wills written close to the date of death can be more accurate in describing then-living relatives, though sometimes the absence of someone who should be mentioned but isn’t will tell us a lot as well. But the will is a single document and it’s not infallible. It usually doesn’t describe the circumstances around the inheritance(s) laid out in the will, though of course it can.

Witcham House.jpgElizabeth Deeks Webb Flanders died at Witcham House in Witcham, Cambridgeshire, England, on 20 April 1921. Her husband William Flanders died fourteen years before, leaving her a widow with five adult children, two of whom had moved to New York City in the 1880’s.  William had been a wealthy farmer and horse breeder and his estate in 1907 was valued at £3,815 which would have the same buying power as $509,596 today.

Elizabeth’s will was dated 2 August 1911 and remained unchanged until it was probated 22 September 1921.  But a lot happened between those two dates, the biggest of which was the First World War; their home was used as an army hospital and lands were sold off.  There were family changes, too: one of William and Elizabeth’s sons died in 1912 and another son separated from his wife in a nasty split. “Times here are wretched,” said oldest son Harry.

MVIMG_20180228_171026.jpg

How do I know this?  Because Harry wrote a letter to his brother William (my great-grandfather) sending a handwritten copy of Elizabeth’s will and explaining why “Willie” had gotten so very little. It was full of details about the family situation and why “mother” had made the decisions she did – and then how Harry was trying to honor those provisions in light of the changed circumstances.

The will is wonderful to have and it does indeed detail family relationships. But in this case, the letter that came with it is even better.

52 Ancestors #8 – Heirloom Chair

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-23,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-YThis little chair isn’t particularly important or valuable but I’ve always liked it. It’s made of four pieces of pierced metal, with smooth curved edges that slot together to form a rocking chair which stands 4 inches tall. I’m not even sure what it’s made out of – it’s just a little metal chair.

According to my mom, it was made by Andrew Seger, my step-great-great-grandfather. Although he died in 1930, the year before Mom was born, his widow lived with her daughter (Mom’s grandmother) right down the street from them until 1939. The little chair may have been made for my grandmother, who was his step-granddaughter.

He was born on 12 July 1841 in New York City to German immigrants Henry and Frances Seger. They lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where Henry was a shoemaker; Andrew was the second of thirteen children and also worked as a shoemaker.

He enlisted in the Union Navy in May 1863 and served on the USS North Carolina, USS Monitor, and USS Roanoke, working as a coal heaver for a year. He reenlisted in June 1864 and served another three years as a coal heaver on four different ships, ending again on the USS North Carolina. This was hot, dirty, and dangerous work requiring men to haul buckets of coal from the bunker to the ship’s boiler, and Andrew emerged from his service with damage to his optic nerve and catarrh, an inflammation of mucus membranes. Although he worked as a shoemaker for a few years following the war, by 1890 he was an invalid and unable to work at his trade. He was 49 years old.

The Segars

Andrew married Margaret Ashley in Manhattan on 23 December 1869 and they appear together in the 1870 census. Margaret worked as a housekeeper and died childless in January 1878, according to Andrew’s pension records and her New York City death certificate. He married again to Margaret Brookmire Morrison in 1880 in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, and they were together for 50 years. Andrew died at the New Jersey Home for Disabled Soldiers & Sailors in 1930 at the age of 88.

But there are mysteries. How and why did he get to Pennsylvania when he was a New York City shoemaker? Andrew Seger doesn’t show up in New York City directories in the 1870’s; perhaps he was an itinerant and left his wife behind to wander. Her death certificate doesn’t list a husband’s name and she was employed as a housekeeper; perhaps she was working to support herself in Andrew’s absence.

The family story had been that Margaret Morrison married him after her first husband died, and that both husbands had fought together in the Civil War. That can’t be right because her first husband Charles was in the Army and Andrew was a sailor!  We do know they were married on 18 February 1880 in Wilkes Barre by a Presbyterian minister. Unfortunately, Margaret Morrison was already married at the time to her soldier husband, who was a patient at Danville Hospital for the Insane. Whether Andrew knew of her first husband’s situation is another unknown but it seems unlikely she could have kept that secret for 50 years.

Even Andrew’s military service is confusing in spite of a lengthy pension file. He is listed as “Andrew Seger alias George L. Sylvester,” which is still another mystery. I haven’t found actual enlistment papers but all documents in the pension file include both names. Maybe he lived as George Sylvester when he wasn’t being Andrew, though I haven’t found anything to prove that yet, either.

The one thing he left behind was the little metal chair. Whether he made it or not, and at what point in his life he was able to do so, Andrew Seger is worth being remembered.

Surgery While Obese

Surgery involves medical, logistical, and emotional issues. The medical ones are obvious: what’s actually wrong with your body, what the surgeon and medical team do to repair/remove/replace that, and what the recovery will involve. There are alsoStressed logistical issues that most hospitals and surgeons address with you at least in general terms for what to expect when you get home: rearranging furniture to clear pathways, filling prescriptions in advance, fueling the car, stocking the fridge and pantry with prepared foods that are easy to heat/serve/eat, figuring out hygiene issues, finding help for household tasks like laundry.

And then there are emotional issues. All surgery is scary, even when they tell you it’s a simple procedure. You’re in a strange place with people you don’t know poking and prodding you, sticking needles in your arm, and cutting into your body while you’re asleep. Things can go wrong; consent forms tell you of the risks. Some surgery carries with it bad news about cancer or organ damage, and the emotional toll that takes is high, both for you and those who wait with and for you.

Obese Man and DoctorWe “people of size” AKA fatties (or I prefer the term “fluffy”) have other emotional concerns that generally remain locked deep inside:  Will I and my body be respected while I am under your care?  Will you think less of me and talk about me and take pictures of my fat rolls while I’m asleep? Will the hospital gown fit me or will my butt be left hanging?  Will the blood pressure cuff fit on my arm?  Will the boot for my post-op leg actually fit?  If you have to make a trip to get things to fit me, will it be obvious that you consider that an unwanted chore? Do you even know that I’m worried about these things?

These have happened to me more than once, and to everyone else I know who is obese. They hang over me when I go the hospital. They worry me and raise my blood pressure. They make it harder for me to listen to you even when you’re talking about important things. Sometimes they are more important to me than the reason I’m there for the surgery in the first place.

Yesterday I had gastroc recession surgery at a hospital outpatient surgical center. It was a simple procedure to lengthen my calf muscle, but I was still worried about all of the above other things. The admitting clerk was friendly and efficient – and she was my size. So after we finished signing me in, I asked her if this was safe place for someone of size. And she got it. Immediately. She told me that yes, she trusted all of the people there to respect every patient regardless of size, and that other attitudes and behaviors were not tolerated. It was reassuring.

earWhen I got into the little prep room and even before they took my blood pressure, a woman dressed in different colored scrubs appeared and said she needed privacy to talk with me.  The admitting clerk had gone to her senior administrator to tell her of my worries and she wanted to reassure me in person that I would be treated with the best care and respect that they afford every patient. She looked me straight in the eyes and told me she would not accept anything less. I believed her.

The gown already waiting for me was generously sized and fit me. The blood pressure cuff already in the room fit comfortably around my arm. The IV went in without a hitch the first time. When I woke up in recovery, my boot was sized to fit my foot and not my leg, with first velcro and then tape to hold it securely in place. The wheelchair that took me to the car was roomy.

Everyone treated me with respect and care. My worries were real, but I believe I would have been treated that way even had I not shared my fears.  But I’m also not sorry I spoke up because it calmed me to know that I was really heard. The clerk heard me and took action; the administrator heard her and took action. They took me seriously and immediately addressed the concerns, which raises their quality as an institution in my eyes. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to others and would go back again without those emotional worries.

Surgery involves more than just medical expertise. We expect that from our surgeons and the staff who work there. The human element that respects all patients regardless of shape, size, age, or physical disability, matters just as much, for more than just the body needs care. At least I do.

52 Ancestors #6 – Green Thach

mynameis“Favorite Name” is this week’s prompt, and again, there are so many! My Heginbothams from Cheshire, England, win for favorite surname, and I do like that spelling more than some of the other variations (Higginbotham, Higinbotham, Hickenbotham, Higginbottom, Heginboth, and more).  My family’s forenames are rather dull, with lots of Williams and Elizabeths (or Williams who married Elizabeths). “Hyman” was a good one, and “Jabez,” and my father’s middle name is Cleopheus, named for a long-dead uncle.

But my favorite name, and one of my favorite ancestors, is Green Thach, my sixth-great grandfather. He was born before 1738 in Chowan County, North Carolina, to John Thach and what was probably his first wife.  He had to be at least 16 years old when he served in the Chowan County, NC Militia, his name appearing on “A list of men lately commanded by Capt. James Farlee, Deceased, taken the 25th day of Novr., 1754.” As another testament of age, Green witnessed his father’s sale of land in Chowan on 23 Jan. 1758, an activity for which he had to be at least twenty-one. Accordingly, Green was probably John’s oldest child and if not oldest, his second behind Green’s sister Ann.  Since John didn’t marry Sarah Standin until 17 April 1748, Green and Ann (and their sister Mary) had a different mother.

teachplaqueBut where did his name come from?  Green isn’t your average forename, though it was a common and widespread English surname, and there were a few Green families in Chowan County at the time he was born. It’s possible he was named for a relative or neighbor, but as of yet, I haven’t found evidence in probate or other records with any clues.

His last name, though, is another story. Family and local legend has it that the Edward Teach, aka the pirate Blackbeard, had a child by his young wife, Mary Ormond, not far from where Green’s family lived. His father John may have been that child.  Or he may not – who knows? Thach and its variant spellings of Thatch, Theach, and Teach, were found only in the Albemarle Sound area of North Carolina in the 1700’s, so at the very least, it’s likely that all or most of them were related to each other if not to Blackbeard!

 

52 Ancestors #5 – Census Clues

Census records have all sorts of wonderful information but they’re also full of contradictions, mistakes, and misdirection. Everything is, or can be, a clue. Just when you think you have it all, looking with fresh eyes can open up new information.

Take the 1920 census. Not that long ago, right? It wasn’t available to researchers when I first started working and to be honest, I didn’t really look at it carefully because I thought I knew its secrets. But ha! there are surprises worth looking at.

1920censusFlanders1

This is the record for the household at 916 Lake Street in Newark, New Jersey.  Head of household was 52-year-old William J. Flanders with wife Charlotte, age 40, and son William C., age 18. Also living with him was his mother-in-law, Alice McCormick, a 77-year-old widow. So far, so good.

Flanders,-Wm-John-&-CharlotOn the far right side, we can see that William J. arrived in the United States in 1888 and had submitted his first papers for naturalization. His wife Charlotte is listed as an “Alien” with no immigration date. Hmmmm. What’s up with that?  The rest of her census record shows that she was born in New York. How could someone born in New York be an alien in her own country?

Actually, she wasn’t; this is a mistake, but one that makes sense when you know that in 1907, eight years after Charlotte and William were married, Congress passed the Expatriation Act, which mandated that “any American woman who marries a foreigner shall take the nationality of her husband.” Charlotte’s husband was a foreigner, therefore Charlotte is an alien. Except not, because the law applied only to those who were married after the law was passed. American women who married foreigners before 1907 remained a citizen after her marriage. So the entry is wrong.

Mother-in-law Alice was also listed as alien, with an arrival date of 1853. That looks wrong because Alice’s husband Peter was naturalized in 1896, automatically making her a citizen. This is called derivative naturalization – her citizenship was derived from that of her husband. We have a clue about something else,  though, with the date given for her immigration. Her record in the 1910 census, which includes questions about immigration and citizenship status, leaves those questions blank.

There are more mistakes in the record with Birthplace information:

1920censusFlandersBirthplace

William J. Flanders, on the top line, was born in England of parents born in England. This matches other known information from parish records, other census years and birth and death records.  His son’s record is correct: born in New Jersey to parents born in England and New York.

The other two in the household have errors. Wife Charlotte, on the second line, was born in New York to parents born in Ireland, not Scotland and England. Oops. This is the only census that shows her father to be from Scotland; if it was the only one I looked at, I would be following false trails. Her father did have a connection to Scotland, though, as an indentured apprentice to a stonemason in Glasgow, but that information only appears on his indenture papers, which are privately held by family.

1 Alice McCormickAlice McCormick, on the bottom line, shows as being born in England to English parents – which is both wrong and right. Alice was actually born in Dublin, Ireland, to an English father and Irish mother. But Ireland was part of Great Britain at the time and sometimes this was recorded in the census as England, especially since her father actually was born in England.

Census records are building blocks for genealogy research but they are not perfect. It’s important to use them as part of wider research and not in isolation, picking up clues for names, dates, relationships, and locations. Look at the same person/family in multiple years to see what’s consistent and what isn’t. And look at other people on the page or pages around your target to get a sense of the neighborhood.