Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Children's Blizzard - A Book Review

The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin cover
Considering central Ohio's cold weather these past weeks perhaps January, 2018, was not the best time to read The Children's Blizzard, a book about the blizzard of January 12, 1888.  But reading it now (while I'm mostly succeeding at staying warm) made me realize how grateful I am to live here and now. 

The early days of January, 1888, had been in the -20s in the plains of Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa.  So when, on January 12, the morning temperature was in the 40s, it seemed almost like a warm spring day.  Children went off to school while their families were outside doing chores the cold and snow had prevented them from doing earlier.  They were dressed for warm weather.  No one knew the weather would change so abruptly. 

In this book the author leads us into the storm by first telling us a history of some of the families who were affected -- their immigration, where they settled, family members and ages, etc.  He then gives us a history of the U.S. Army Signal Corps (and several of the indications officers, the men who prepared the weather forecasts) as they applied to the localities affected by the blizzard.  We learn about the abruptness of the blizzard's blast, what it looked and felt like, and how it affected some of the individuals and families who were introduced in the first chapters of the book.

This is Larson's briefest description of the blizzard, presented in the introduction. 
The blizzard of 1888 was unprecedented in its violence and suddenness.  There was no atmospheric herald.  No eerie green tinge to the sky or fleecy cirrus forerunner.  One moment it was mild, the sun was shining, a damp wind blew fitfully out of the south—the next moment frozen hell had broken loose.  The air was so thick with fine-ground wind-lashed ice crystals that people could not breathe.  The ice dust webbed their eyelashes and sealed their eyes shut.  It sifted into the loose weave of their coats, shirts, dresses, and underwear until their skin was packed in snow.  Farmers who had spent a decade walking the same worn paths became disoriented in seconds (p.6). 

Because of the warmth of the day, the children had gone to school with light wraps, no gloves or mittens, without boots.  Is it any wonder that hundreds died that day and night, some trying to reach home or, with the aid of their teachers, trying to reach some place of safety, others trying to find those who hadn't come home.

This is Laskin's description of frigid air as it touches one's body.
It's hard to find vocabulary for weather this cold.  The senses become first sharp and then dulled.  Objects etch themselves with hyperclarity on the dense air, but it's hard to keep your eyes open to look at them steadily.  When you first step outside from a heated space, the blast of 46-below-zero air clears the mind like a ringing slap.  After a breath or two, ice builds up on the hairs lining your nasal passages and the clear film bathing your eyeballs thickens.  If the wind is calm and if your body, head, and hands are covered, you feel preternaturally alert and focused.  At first.  A dozen paces from the door, your throat begins to feel raw, your lips dry and crack, tears sting the corners of your eyes.  The cold becomes at once a knife and, paradoxically, a flame, cutting and scorching exposed skin (p. 64).

Later in the book he describes how hypothermia gradually takes over a body, little by little, from the first feeling of cold to the last feeling of too hot.  Laskin takes the reader with five boys as they leave school together, try to reach home in the blizzard, and get lost along the way.  He explains how the blizzard's cold effected their minds and their bodies as they became colder and colder.  (They did not survive.)

Reading this book changed my idea of a blizzard.  Now I understand that a blizzard's winds are so strong that one can't walk a straight line; that falling, swirling snow and fine ice crystals are so dense in the air that one cannot see one's hands in front of one's face; and that the cold is so intense that one may freeze to death in a matter of hours.  If this particular blizzard had lasted only several hours, things might have turned out differently, but it continued for most of a day and long into the night with temperatures dropping steadily.

Science is not my strength so I didn't love the longish chapter on meteorology, winds, fronts, highs, lows, etc., but the other parts of the book drew me in.  What sadness for the families who lost loved-ones who were caught in the storm or survived the storm only to die of its effects on their bodies, and for the individuals who lost limbs to frostbite.  I thought Laskin's descriptions were amazing.

My one small problem with the book was the sources and lack of foot- or endnotes.  Sources were listed by chapter at the end of the book but sometimes the sources for statements in the chapters were specific, some were more general.  However, on the positive side, Laskin's research was extensive based on the number of sources he listed. 

You may enjoy this book
▸if you love cold weather, whether or not you've been in a blizzard.
▸if you've survived a blizzard.
▸if you're sitting in a warm, cozy house.
▸if you've never experienced cold weather and/or a blizzard but are curious about it.
▸if you love meteorology.
▸if you have ancestors who lived on the Plains during the 1800s.
▸if you generally enjoy learning about significant events in America's history.

I thought The Children's Blizzard was worth my time.  Maybe you will think so, too.

--Nancy.

Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.
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Thursday, January 4, 2018

Two Sisters Named Martha

The 1841 U.K. Census is the first document in which I found Martha (Reay) Doyle with her children.  (That census does not note relationship, but other research shows that these are her children.)  They were living in Bedlington, Durham (whose records were sometimes combined with Northumberland's records).  It seems that Martha and her family were living with Joseph and Susan Robinson, both 25, and a female infant, Frances. 

From the census:
Martha Doyle, female, age 30 (born ~1811)
Jane, female, age 16  (b.~1825)
William, male, age 10  (b. ~1831)
Larence [sic], male, age 10  (b. ~1831)
Andrew, male, age 4  (b. ~1837)
Martha, female, age 2 (b. ~1839)

I noticed that there was a gap of six years between the oldest and next children; another gap of six years between two children, and that two boys were the same age.  More than two years between births may suggest a miscarriage, a baby lost in childbirth, or the death of a young child.  All were common occurrences in the early 1800s.

As I continued to search for the family in other records I came upon Martha Doyle, born 1833.  Checking back to this census record, I was confused.  Then I guessed there must be some mistake because Martha of the 1841 census was born about 1839.  Perhaps someone misread the handwriting or part of the "9" had been erased and looked like a "3."

In a parish register, I discovered that a child named Martha Doyle, daughter of William and Martha, was baptized in 1833, at St. Peter's Church, Wallsend, Northumberland.  I posted this record and a transcription a few weeks ago.

Could it really be that there were two Marthas?

In early December, 2017, I ordered several death records from the U.K. GRO.  One of them was a death certificate for a little girl named Martha Doyle.  This is the record I received.



Superintendent Registrar’s District  The Morpeth Union
Registrar’s District   Bedlington
1838.  DEATHS in the District of Bedlington in the Counties of Durham and Northumberland
No.  154
When Died.   Nineteenth of September 1838  4. A.M. at Bedlington
Name and Surname.   Martha Doyle
Sex.   Female
Age.   5 Years
Rank or Profession.   Daughter of Wm Doyle pitman Deceased
Cause of Death.   Hooping [sic] Cough
Signature, Description, and Residence of Informant.   Am Alsop present at the Death Bedlington
When Registered.   Twentieth of September 1838
Signature of Registrar.   Robt. Soulsby Registrar

And then I ordered a U.K. GRO birth record for Martha Doyle, born 1839, and received this.

Superintendent Registrar’s District    The Morpeth Union 
Registrar’s District   Bedlington 
1839.  BIRTHS in the District of  Bedlington  in the Counties of  Durham and Northumberland
No.  304
When Born.   Twenty-fourth of March 1839   12 at noon at Bedlington 
Name, if any.    Martha
Sex.   Girl 
Name and Surname of Father.    William Doyle  /Deceased/ 
Name and Maiden Surname of Mother.    Martha Doyle formerly Reay 
Rank or Profession of Father.    Collier 
Signature, Description, and Residence of Informant.   Martha Doyle   Her + Mark   Mother   Bedlington 
When Registered.    Seventeenth of April 1839 
Signature of Registrar.    Robt Soulsby Registrar 


Notes and Observations
  • It's clear that there were two sisters, both named Martha, one born in 1833, the other in 1839.  Because the older Martha died just six months before her sister was born, it's possible that naming the younger daughter Martha was a way of remembering and honoring the recently-deceased Martha.
  • Is it possible that Susan Robinson was Martha's sister?  There are about five years' difference in their ages.
  • Despite the information in the 1841 census, the birth years of the children, as shown in other church and civil documents, are about two to three years apart.  William was born about 1828 and Lawrence about 1830.
  • Not all U.K. civil records give the mother's name, let alone her maiden name.  I was grateful to find Martha Doyle identified as Martha Doyle, formerly Reay.
  • As I learn more about finding British records, I'm grateful that various ones are available for free in so many places even if some are only transcriptions.  Transcriptions can be excellent finding aids.  Some online sources give more and/or different information than others, all of which is helpful when choosing which GRO birth, marriage, or death record to order.
  • At this time I believe that William and Martha (Reay) Doyle had six children.  It's possible that further searching will find births between the children born three years apart.

As always, there's more research to be done.

--Nancy.

Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.
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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

William Doyle's U.K. Death Record

Undocumented family records tell me that my third great-grandfather, William Doyle, died in 1844.  Neither a specific date nor a location came with that information.  When I didn't find William in the 1841 U.K. Census with his wife, Martha, and their children, I began searching for an earlier death record for him.  Both FamilySearch and FreeBMD have online indexes available and FreeReg has transcripts of some parish records.  When a result at FamilySearch led me to the man who was probably my grandfather, I ordered a death record from U.K. GRO.

This is the record I received for William Doyle, Pitman.

The transcription:
  Superintendent Registrar’s District Castle Ward Union
  Registrar’s District Ponteland
 1838. DEATHS in the District of Ponteland in the County of Northumberland
  No.  98
  When Died.  First of September 1838 [probably Plessey Creek, Parish of Stannington]
  Name and Surname.  William Doyle
  Sex.  Male
  Age.  36 years
  Rank or Profession.  Pitman
  Cause of Death.  Run over by a Cart Wheel
  Signature, Description, and Residence of Informant.  S. Reed [?] Coroner Newcastle
  When Registered.  Thirteenth October 1838
  Signature of Registrar.  Proctor Shotton Registrar

When I searched for William at FreeReg I found transcribed burial information. 


It tells me that William Doyle, age 36, was buried at St. Cuthbert Church, Bedlington, Northumberland, on September 3, 1838.

Notes and Thoughts
  • Having searched the U.K. GRO online registry I found no other William Doyle who could possibly have been mine.  That leaves me fairly confident that this is my grandfather.  However, I would have been happier about the death record if William's wife, Martha, had been the informant instead of the coroner. 
  • Though William died in Ponteland he was buried in Bedlington.  The distance between the two is about 10 miles by today's roads.  
  • I had hoped that I might at least learn the name of his father and his birthplace, especially since he does not appear in any U.K. Census record, though I knew it was a slim possibility based on the GRO's guide to death certificates.
  • William's age at death helps me determine that he was born about 1802.  That's a starting point for further research, though lacking a location will be a detriment.
  • He died after being run over by a cart wheel.  How sad.  I wish for details.  Was it a coal cart?  Was it full or empty?  Did that happen inside a coal mine, outside near a coal mine, or elsewhere?  Might there be a newspaper article about his death?

Of course, I have more research to do.  At the very least I'd like to obtain a copy of the parish record for his burial.  And what other records might give his birth location and the names of his parents?  To date I have not found a parish record for his birth but even if I did, how would I know for sure it was his?  Ah, the challenges.

--Nancy.

Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, January 1, 2018

To Wish You a Happy New Year


No matter how good 2017 was for you, I hope 2018 will be better.   I wish you health, happiness, joy, and plenty of newly-found ancestors.

Happy New Year.

--Nancy.

Copyright © 2018, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.
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Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Little New Year's Eve Memory and German Traditions

I hail from a long line of German ancestors and, it seems, German traditions hang on for generations.  My mother's paternal grandfather was born in Germany and her father was a staunch supporter of tradition.  My father's maternal grandfather and his paternal great-grandparents were born in Germany.  Germany is three generations or less away from America in my family.

Since my mom's parents lived just a few houses down the street from us it made sense that we celebrated many holidays together.  Mom sometimes invited my grandparents and others to our house on New Year's Eve.

Mom and Gramma would prepare platters of food for late-night snacks -- meat, cheese, chips, cookies, etc.  Perhaps we watched TV, played games, or just visited.  But as midnight rolled around and we began to eat, my father and Grampa would pull out the Limburger cheese.  (Maybe eating
Limburger on New Year's Eve is a tradition with only my family, but I've always assumed it was German.  I've never known any other person to eat Limburger at that time.  But truly, I don't know anyone else who ever eats Limburger.)

Oh, the stench of that cheese!  I'm glad I don't remember the smell and only just that it smelled.  I ran from the kitchen until my father and grandfather moved their sandwiches or whatever they made outside to our back porch.  Eating Limburger was a tradition for them, and running away from it was such a tradition for me.  I still don't understand how they could get the smell past their noses and into their mouths to eat it.  I'm grateful they were kind enough to take it outside. 

We must have had only German traditions to welcome the New Year because the other tradition was eating pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day.  Year in, year out, it was always pork and sauerkraut.  They said it brought good luck.  When I was a child I managed to eat the pork but not the kraut.  As an adult, I eat them separately -- the sauerkraut on a Reuben, or the pork as ham or a roast -- but I don't believe I've ever eaten them together.  If I were superstitious I might be concerned but I'm not.

After seeing numerous old New Year postcards with pigs on them, I researched the pork-brings-good-luck tradition but couldn't determine its origin.  My idea is that several German families a dozen or so generations ago happened to eat pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day and the next day happened upon a bounty of gold, or were somehow prevented from falling off a cliff, or their horses lived even after gorging themselves on grain, and those old Germans tied the events together.

Some traditions make more sense to me than others.  The ones around luck... not so much.

I wish you and yours a Happy New Year's Eve and if you eat pork and sauerkraut for good luck tomorrow, I hope it brings you a year's worth.

--Nancy.

Copyright © 2017, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Highs of 2017 - Most-Read Posts on My Ancestors and Me

I always find it interesting to see which posts generate the most interest during a year, or at least which ones were viewed the most, and am sometimes surprised by which were popular.  Based on Blogger's numbers, below is the list of most viewed posts of 2017 on My Ancestors and Me.  This is a little blog with few followers and readers so I didn't note number of views for each of the posts.  The ten posts are listed from least viewed to most viewed.  If you missed any of the posts and would like to read them, click the link.

10.  The Expectations and Surprises of a Beginning Family History Researcher
Remember when you started researching your family?  Remember what you expected you might find -- and then what you actually found?  This posts lists my experiences.

  9.  Presidents and Generations - SNGF 
This was a Saturday Night Genealogy Fun post in which we noted how many men served as presidents during our own lifetimes and the lifetimes of some of our ancestors.  To date I've lived through 13 presidents; one of my ancestors lived through 23.  How about you?

  8.  Mrs. Titus on a Windy Day
This is the second photo of an attractive lady. 

  7.  Research Results Based on Hints in an Obituary 
The obituary listed so many helpful hints that I had to make note of each and then follow the leads.  Read what I found.

  6.  Jefferson County Court Records at FamilySearch 
Who knew Jefferson County, Ohio, had so many people/family historians interested in its historic court records?

  5.  Alternate Spelling Finder  
There may be more ways to spell your ancestors' surnames that you realized.

  4.  Mrs. Titus - Friday's Faces From the Past
This is the first time we saw Mrs. Titus, a friend of my maternal grandmother.  Don't we all love a great old photo?

  3.  What You Need to Know Before Looking at Digital Images of Microfilms at a Family History Center
I wish I'd known these things before going to a Family History Center this year.  They would have saved me a lot of time.

  2.  Happy New Year 2017 
Just a beautiful postcard with a New Year greeting.  Who knows why it was the second most popular post in 2017!

  1.  A Touch of Mytreeitis  (The most popular post of the year)
Be honest.  If you use FamilySearch's Family Tree, haven't you sometimes had a touch of mytreeitis?  Maybe you occasionally find yourself thinking, "Get your hands off my tree!  Don't mess with my ancestors."  Let's talk about mytreeitis.


My personal favorite post this year is Done Is Better Than Perfect.  Making the decision to cite citations in my RootsMagic program as well as I can, whether perfect or not, has made all the difference in my success in recording the sources that document the lives of my ancestors.

Thanks for visiting and reading this blog, and if you leave a comment, thank you again.

--Nancy.

Copyright © 2017, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Graphic courtesy of Sam Churchill at Flickr under a Creative Commons license
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Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Best Genealogy Find of 2017: A Family of Ancestors

These particular ancestors were not behind a brick wall.  They were not long-sought.  But finding them is exciting, nonetheless.  I'm thrilled!

Undocumented family history records told me that my father's great-grandfather was Andrew Doyle, and that his parents were William Doyle and Martha Ray.  William Doyle's death date was noted as 1844.  Having names and approximate dates were a great aid to this research.  I had a beginning point.

Searching for Andrew led me to his siblings and his mother, Martha, in the 1841 U.K. Census.  Further research led me to census records for Andrew's family of birth, a parish marriage record for his parents, parish birth and death records for most of his siblings, and civil death certificates for his father and a sister.  I have posted only a few of these records to date, but will post about the rest in 2018.

I love reuniting ancestral families, gathering parents and every child to complete the family circle.  Having spent Christmas without one of my daughters at home I can relate to how William and Martha might feel to have all of their children reunited.    

This post is my contribution to the December 2017 Genealogy Blog Party (Part One), hosted by Elizabeth at My Descendant's Ancestors.  Thank you for hosting, Elizabeth.

--Nancy.

Copyright © 2017, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.
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Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Wishes

My Christmas wishes for you, dear blog-reading friends, include time with family sharing fond memories, making new ones, recording those of the oldest members of your family, health, happiness, and all the blessings you most desire.  Merry Christmas! 

--Nancy.
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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Glorias for Blog Caroling with footnoteMaven

The tune for "Ding Dong!  Merrily on High" was originally a secular dance tune and appeared in print in the early 1500s.  The lyrics, composed by George Ratcliffe Woodward, were first published in 1924.  Woodward's interest in church bell ringing influenced the lyrics to this carol.  Read more about the carol here.  I love the imagery of the heavens being split apart with the singing of angels at the birth of Christ.  Certainly that is cause to sing gloria!



I can't carry a tune in a bucket, as the saying goes, but I enjoy listening to carols at Christmas and joining in on the glorias when I'm home alone and no one can hear me.  I think the boys in this choir from Kings College Cambridge have beautiful voices. 

          Ding dong merrily on high,
          In heav'n the bells are ringing:
          Ding dong! verily the sky
          Is riv'n with angel singing.
          Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!

          E'en so here below, below,
          Let steeple bells be swungen,
          And "Io, io, io!"
          By priest and people sungen.
          Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!

          Pray you, dutifully prime
          Your matin chime, ye ringers;
          May you beautifully rime
          Your evetime song, ye singers.
          Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!


This post was written to participate in footnoteMaven's 2017 Annual Tradition of Blog Caroling.  Go to her blog on or after December 22 to join in the caroling.  Thank you for the invitation to join and for hosting such a fun activity, footnoteMaven.

What is your favorite carol?

Nancy.

Copyright © 2017, Nancy Messier. 
All Rights Reserved.
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Friday, December 15, 2017

Martha Doyle and Children in the 1841 U.K. Census

Family records (written but passed down by word of mouth, I think) gave William Doyle's death year as 1844.  When searching for him and his wife and Martha (Reay) Doyle, I hoped I would find them together in the 1841 U.K. Census.

 I found his wife, Martha, and their children in Bedlington, Durham County.  Martha is on the left page (19) at the bottom, the children are on the top of the right page (20/36).  They appear to be living with Joseph and Susan Robinson, age 25, and a little girl named Frances.


They were enumerated like this:
         Martha Doyle, female, 30 years, not born in Durham
         Jane Doyle, female, 15 years, not born in Durham
         Wm Doyle, male, 10 years, not born in Durham
         Larence [sic] Doyle, male, 10 years, not born in Durham
         Andrew Doyle, male, 5 years, not born in Durham
         Martha Doyle, female, 2 years, not born in Durham

But William was not with them.  Where might he have been?  A few months ago I posted the possibilities of William's whereabouts in 1841.  Further research since then has given me an answer to my question.  Details to follow.

William and Martha (Reay) Doyle are my third great-grandparents.

--Nancy.

Copyright © 2017-2018, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.
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