Sunday, November 10, 2013

Military Monday - Happy Veterans Day!

(This is a repost from previous years to thank those that have served in the military and to remember those veterans in my family as well.)

I want to take a moment to say thank you to everyone who has served honorably in our Armed Forces.  Without our service members past and present our country would not be where it is today. We would not have gained our independence, we would not have unified a divided country, we would not have stopped the atrocities of 2 World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. There are many conflicts not mentioned which do not make light of the sacrifices that servicemen and women made in them. Sometimes the sacrifice was in time away from family and long hours. At times it was witnessing the horrors of those wars or even succumbing valiantly to them.

Not everyone serves their country as a Veteran does and not everyone can or should. You are unique, respected and given a burden that many would not be able to bear. Whether you served many months or many years in our Armed Forces makes no difference. You served. Thank you!

I'd like to now pay tribute to my family members who have served (I hope I didn't miss any!).


Saturday, November 2, 2013

As If Researching African-American Ancestors Wasn't Hard Enough...

I'm more than a bit of a geek.  Doctor Who.  Sherlock.  Star Trek.  The list goes on and on really.  My absolute favorite actor is Benedict Cumberbatch.  He's brilliant.  Truly one of the best actors of our time.  The man can pull off anything from Shakespeare (pick a play…any play) to Khan in the newest Star Trek film to one of the best Sherlocks…ever.  So what does this fantastically talented actor have to do with the subject of this post?  Not much directly, but it was my love of his acting that introduced me to 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup.

12 Years a Slave was one in a series of movies that Mr. Cumberbatch has out in 2013.  I saw the preview for the movie several months ago and it looked excellent.  It spurred me to go out and get a copy of the book.  It's a true story I might add and I was stunned by what I read.  Solomon Northup was a free man who lived in New York.  He had a wife and children.  He was an excellent musician.  He was lured to Washington DC in 1841 under the pretense of a few weeks of lucrative work.  He was then drugged and awoke in chains and sold into slavery.

As you can tell by the title of the book, Mr. Northup remained a slave for 12 years.  He regained his freedom in 1853.  He was one of the few free black people that were kidnapped and sold into slavery to regain freedom.  The majority did not.  Of course, there's no way to even begin to guess how many free black men and women suffered this fate.  They were given new names and histories when they were kidnapped.  Solomon Northup became "Platt" and was told that he was a Georgia slave.  He fought this at first, but was brutally beaten until he willingly answered to his new name.

Reading this book made me wonder about genealogical brick walls.  Genealogy is seldom far from a genealogist's thoughts.  I spent last week thinking of how the whereabouts of my 3rd great grandfather may have been lost had it not been for a letter found and shared by distant cousins that told of his demise on a shipwreck.  How much more difficult would it be to trace these free black men and women that were sold into slavery and given new identities?  All but impossible.

The thought of slavery is repugnant to begin with.  The thought of a free person being kidnapped and forced into it (although weren't the ancestors of all slaves originally free and kidnapped!) is unimaginable.  To lose your identity completely.  It defies all attempts at explanation.  It is unforgivable.  These men and women victimized. Brutalized.  And the brutality extends down the generations when their stories are lost.

I'm not saying that I read this book and thought only of genealogy.  I'm not saying that I watched this movie and thought of brick walls.  That would be impossible to do. Doubt me?  Read the book.  See the movie.  What occurred to me after reading the book was how many dead ends could this sort of story account for?  Even more…why is this a story I've never heard of?  Why did I not know that this happened?  A failure of our educational system…and I always believed that I had been well educated.

Sadder still?  This movie was released 2 weeks ago in select cities.  Then last week in a few more.  Finally, this weekend it was set for "wide release" according to IMDB and the movie's Facebook page. A few days before this "wide release" I jumped on Fandango to see which theater I would be patronizing this weekend.  None locally.  I live near Colorado Springs.  A city and surrounding area that boasts of having a population of more than half a million people and the movie was not playing here.  Denver was the nearest city showing this film and you can be damn sure that I drove there!

Why is this movie not playing everywhere?  Why do we continue to hide things that happened? Pretend that they didn't?  The theater was packed.  There was hardly a chair empty when the film began, and it started almost 15 minutes late because people were still getting tickets.  You will hear more about this movie even if it never plays in a city near you.  This will most likely win the Academy Award for best picture.  Maybe then it will get the exposure it deserves.

As genealogists we should be familiar with history that impacts our research.  Do not ignore this film. Do not pass on reading this book.  Yes, the book is different from the movie.  So much had to be left out.  The book gives quite an insight into slavery from the viewpoint, the struggles of an enslaved, educated black man.

Steve McQueen did a phenomenal job with this film and it's star, Chiwetel Ejiofor, will move you to tears.  I had read the book prior to attending this film and I still found myself crying as I walked back to my car after it ended.  Sobs could be heard throughout the theater at its end.  Watch this movie. Hopefully, it will make you want to read the book.  The movie only touches lightly on what the book goes into.  The complex issues that Solomon faced, a better explanation as to his rescue, and everyday struggles and victories.

One of the only problems I had with the movie was when it shows "Platt" telling his first owner William Ford that he was a free man and Ford ignoring him.  Not caring.  This never happened.  Northup never admitted to Ford that he was a free man.  He was afraid to reveal this to anyone even though Ford was, by far, the kindest of his owners.  I suppose I can understand why Steve McQueen would alter the movie this way.  I know when I read the book I found myself willing Northup to tell Ford.  He respected Ford as much as any subjugated individual could.  When he fled another master (something the movie also did not show due to time constraints) he fled to Ford.  In changing the movie I suppose McQueen finally lets Northup say those words and illustrates to the audience that even a "kind" slave owner was still a slave owner.

I don't have any ancestors that were slaves or slave-owners, but this story is significant in our American history and in some genealogies.  It is a story that needs sharing.  A story that I would never have heard of if I hadn't been such a geek.

NOTE - This book wasn't easy to find when I originally went looking on a few months ago.  I'm delighted to say that when I checked this evening there were many publications in various forms available!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Welsh Wreck of Gold on ITV

A few months ago my Google alerts sent me a link to ITV's website.  A series about the sinking of the Royal Charter was airing and the link sent me episode one (which you can see by clicking here).  I sat down to watch and found it rather difficult.  The story is one of treasure-hunting and the thought of people rooting around the shipwreck that claimed the lives of so many people, including my 3rd great grandfather, seemed more than a bit disrespectful and morbid.

The episode centered around Gwenllian Jones who was born and raised in Anglesey, Wales, but had married and moved to Australia and treasure-hunter, Vincent Thurkettle.  Listening to Ms Jones at the beginning refer to the wreck as "romantic" was shocking.  Romantic?  A shipwreck?  Apparently she and I have completely different views on romance!  There's nothing romantic about a shipwreck that claimed the lives of so many people not to mention every single woman and child that was onboard!

Despite the rocky start to this episode of "The Welsh Wreck of Gold" I found it fairly interesting although not filled with too much information that I didn't already know...

-The Australian gold rush was focused in Victoria, Australia.

-The condition of the gold mines was harsh (shocker).

-The Royal Charter was one of the fastest ships of her time (ever notice that the best ships of the day always seem to end tragically?).

-The amount of gold on the Royal Charter was the equivalent of 80 million British pounds (sterling), but that was what was recorded as being on the ship.  They guesstimate that there was double that amount when you take into consideration what the passengers carried aboard in their luggage and on their person.  While the amount given in today's equivalency was news to me, the hiding/hoarding of gold among the passengers was not, and as I mentioned in my repost yesterday, this hiding of gold on the passengers no doubt contributed to their deaths.

-The Royal Charter remained in port in Melbourne for 2 additional days.  Had she left on time she most likely would have arrived safely in Liverpool.

-The wreck of the Royal Charter is considered one of the worst disasters in British maritime history (didn't know) and resulted in the starting of more formalized meteorology (knew).

-The storm was approximately 300 miles across and had winds in excess of 100 mph (knew about the winds, but not the size of the storm).

By the time the first episode of this series finished, I was certainly looking forward to the next episode. Sadly, it wasn't forthcoming on the ITV website and no DVD was available on the US or UK site for (hopes dashed).  I'll still go in search of the other episodes, but I wanted to get this post up to share since this is the anniversary week for the shipwreck.

Despite my initial distaste for the "romanticism" regarding such a horrible event, I had to ask myself if I would want to dive the wreckage if I had been given the chance.  I'll admit the thought is certainly tempting.  I think I would.  Just seeing video of the wreck was fascinating.  This is where Manus Boyle and so many others lost their lives.  So close to shore and with so much working against them ever reaching it.  Yes.  I think I would like to dive the wreck.  So many others have (apparently).  My only thought to Royal Charter treasure hunters is to please not disturb grandpa's eternal slumber in your quest for gold.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Remembering the Royal Charter Shipwreck

"The Royal Charter off Moelfre"
Image used with permission of E. D. Walker

(This post and the anniversary of this shipwreck is the reason I began blogging.  The blogging has slowed down over the past year as I take care of family obligations, but the anniversary of this tragedy always touches me.  I almost missed it this year because I haven't slowed down and taken time for things that are important.  It's now 154 years since my 3rd great grandfather lost his life in this shipwreck.)

October 26, 2010 is the 151st anniversary of my great-great-great grandfather, Manus Maurice Boyle's, death in the shipwreck of the Royal Charter. He worked in the coal mines of northeastern Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Alice Monaghan, were both Irish immigrants and longed for a better life for their two daughters, Bridget Mary and Anna. He left Pennsylvania in September 1856 to go to Australia to mine for gold in hopes of a better future for his family. He was returning to his family from Australia in the autumn of 1859. The Royal Charter would have taken him back to Britain. No one knows what ship he was to board to return to America. No one knows what fortunes, if any, he was returning from Australia with. During the last leg of his journey to Liverpool a hurricane struck. There was no advanced warning. None existed prior to that date.

The winds that raged over 100 mph changed from East to North/Northeast and the bay (Moelfre Bay) which Captain Taylor had hoped would shelter them became the instrument of their demise. The anchors that had been weighed, snaped in the first hours of the morning of October 26th and the ship was repeatedly thrown against the rocks until it split and sank. Of more than 480 passengers and crew only 41 survived. No women or children were saved.

The valiant efforts of one of the crew, Joe Rogers, and the inhabitants of the Moelfre coast were what enabled even those 41 to be saved. The storm had caused damage to one of the Moelfre homes and as residents were repairing the roof in the early hours of the morning they saw the ship in peril. They woke the town and 28 local men made a human chain in the violent waters of the bay to attempt to rescue those aboard. Joe Rogers took a line from the ship and swam to shore, being turned back in the violent waves of the storm at least 3 times before reaching the men on shore. The rope was used in an attempt to bring those from the vessel ashore.

Sadly, many of the passengers on the ship jumped or were thrown overboard. The bulkiness of the clothes of the time coupled with the fact that many had money belts and pockets filled with gold inhibited their efforts to the deadliest of degrees. Had they abandoned their garments and treasure many more may have survived.

There was over 322,000 pounds (British monetary unit) of gold aboard the ship. This was the amount insured back in 1859 and does not include the gold the passengers kept on their persons. I do not know the equivalent in today's currency the gold would be valued at, but it would obviously be substantially higher. The large amount of money combined with the rumors of "good fortune" that surrounded the town after the wreck led to the shipwreck being called the Golden Wreck.

The village church of Saint Gallgo became the collection point for the bodies. The Reverends Stephen Roose Hughes and his brother Reverend Hugh Robert Hughes paid the local inhabitants to bring the bodies to the church, a difficult trek up the rocky shores to the church made monetary remuneration the only way to persuade the locals to take on the grim task. They saw to the burial of those killed and personally answered over 1000 letters they received begging a response regarding loved ones. The stress from this caused the Reverend Stephen Hughes' life to be cut short. He died a few years later.

The church at Saint Gallgo still exists today and each year remembers those lost in this tragedy. Monuments stand to remember those lost. A distant cousin of mine Debbie Fay Buch and her husband, Josh Buch, placed a memorial stone at Saint Gallgo Church in August 2004. It reads:

Manus Maurice Boyle
Never Recovered from the Royal Charter
Placed by the Fay Family
Hazleton, PA USA 2004

I don't sit around depressed over the fact that this is the anniversary of my ancestor's death. What would have happened had he come home with gold from Australia? My 2nd great grandmother, Anna Boyle, may never have met her husband, Martin Blanchfield, and I would never have been born. Sometimes good can come from tragedy. People's fortunes can improve or worsen causing them to make decisions that determine the outcome of their history and sometimes other people's histories. It does sadden me to know that Manus was never to hold his youngest daughter, Anna. She was born 2 months after he left for Australia. It saddens me to know that his last thoughts were most likely of a family that he would not see again in this world. Or perhaps his last thoughts were of a determination to survive and get back to them. A determination that was matched by the ferocity of the circumstances in which he found himself. It saddens me knowing that he did not die the "peaceful" death of drowning for the majority of those lost were broken on the rocks of the bay. The passengers and crew of the Royal Charter died so close to shore that even today the wreck can be seen below the surface of the waters from the bay's shoreline. Still there, resting peacefully below the water.

It is not everyone that can say their ancestor's demise was written about in books. I have read two that write of the Royal Charter. One by Alexander McKee, "The Golden Wreck: The Tragedy of the Royal Charter" is out of print, but it tells of the voyage from Australia to it's wreck, the recovery of the remains of the victims and the trial of the crew that survived. I have read the account of the shipwreck written by the great Charles Dickens (yes, I said Charles Dickens wrote about this tragedy!) in his book "The Uncommercial Traveller" (only about the first 20 or so pages of the book are dedicated to this wreck. It's a series of 34 books and this is in volume 24. The entire series tells of Dickens' travels as he IS the Uncommercial Traveller).

I take this time today to remember a man I never knew, but love nevertheless. As a genealogist it can be hard to convey to those that do not research their ancestry that while we may never have met these names that appear in our family trees, we feel a closeness that defies explanation.

Rest in Peace, Grandpa. You will be remembered by your many descendants.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Tuesday's Tip - Tombstones Aren't Forever

Susan Lee's death year is completely buried.  I've danced/stomped on this grave trying to uncover it.

I've blogged before about going to photograph tombstones of my ancestors and finding stones that were slowly being eaten by the earth.  I've desperately tried to push down the ground around one of these tombstones in particular to see what a death year was.  As luck would have it there's an ant mound right near the grave as well, so any lingering visit to unearth the information results in me doing a very embarrassing get-the-ants-off-me-dance.  Less than 5 years later and the dates have gone from barely visible to gone completely.  So tempted to head to the cemetery next year with a small shovel to move away the dirt and grass and finally get a look at those dates...I'll bring a can of Raid to deal with the ants.  I think I might get odd stares if I march up to a grave and start digging though.

So my point in mentioning this is that even though there's a tombstone marking ancestors' graves right now, this may not always be the case.  As genealogists we appreciate the convenience of various websites such as FindAGrave, BillionGraves, etc especially when we're researching from afar, but we love actually visiting cemeteries, seeing, and touching the graves.  Being in the place where our ancestors are eternally at rest.  Yes, we can be an odd lot, but cemeteries are some of our favorite places to visit.

Many tombstones won't always be there though.  Those websites that we adore for convenience, but sometimes scorn because "real" genealogists get their feet dirty in cemeteries may one day be our only source to view these tombstones once they are gone.  Some disappear because they are reclaimed by the earth.  Many more are vandalized.  Regardless of how it happens, tombstones are often ephemeral.

It doesn't look like it's disappearing does it?
We'll always enjoy going through cemeteries.  They aren't going away anytime soon, but that doesn't mean a tombstone here today won't be gone tomorrow.  Don't hoard your genealogical tombstone-treasures. Share them with one of these sites. Your uploaded tombstone can and will help your descendants in the future.

This is the "Barrett" tombstone from another side.  It really is sinking

Four of my ever-sinking family tombstones
Still has a ways to go before the dates are gone, but severely leaning to
the left

Mary Quirk's tombstone is actually leaning forward quite precariously

Ella's tombstone (of the four from the picture above) is fairing the
best with only a slight forward lean.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Family Recipe Friday - Halupkie


My mom would make Halupkie when I was little.  Halupkie is another one of those family dishes that my mom made that had nothing (that I'm aware of) that had anything to do with my family history.  Or perhaps I should say it had nothing to do with her family history.  My mom's 100% Irish.  Halupkie (as we spelled it) or Halupki (as I found on the inter-tubes) is apparently a dish of eastern European origins and is quite popular in northeastern Pennsylvania.  

Get a cabbage leaf ready for stuffing
My father's side of the family was from Lithuania so perhaps this was a recipe that my mother made for him because he had it growing up.  My father referred to them as "Polish hand grenades." As I mentioned he wasn't Polish, he was Lithuanian, but I should still give my mom a call in the morning and check to be sure if she learned to make them for him.

She loved collecting recipes from her friend Linda Moyer's mom and would make them for us.  Perhaps this was one of the Moyer recipes if it wasn't from my dad's side of the family.  We grew up with family recipes that had nothing to do with our Irish heritage.  I tried corned beef once...perhaps that's why she branched out...YUCK!

Either way, this is a lovely family recipe that reminds me of happy times with my mom when I have it. She would make a much larger batch than this and would cook it in one of those large blue or black roasting know the ones with the little white flecks on them.  I wish I still had mine.  I'd post a picture.  Either way, any large roasting pan with a lid will suffice.  I altered the recipe to fit my crockpot.  It worked too.  Same taste and I love crockpot recipes (especially the ones that don't burn and this didn't).

Add a good scoop of meat (how much depends on the leaf)
One bad thing that happened was that the liquid started spitting out of my crockpot.  It was about 1/2-inch from the top when I started cooking, but it all expanded during cooking which resulted in tomato soup on my hardwood floor and on seat of a nearby chair.  Oh well.  You live, you learn.  Less liquid next time!


1 large onion, diced 
4 stalks celery, diced
2 lbs ground beef
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp pepper
1-1/2 c cooked rice
1 large head of cabbage
1 (50 oz) can tomato soup
Olive oil

Fold the sides over the meat mixture and roll up

Place the beef in a large bowl.  In a pan with some olive oil, saute the onion and celery.  Add to the bowl with the beef.  Add salt and pepper.  Generously shake Worchestershire sauce over the meat (this is not a precise measurement.  Shake enough in until it smells good and Worcestershire-y).  Add the rice and mix well with hands.

Boil cabbage until bendy.  Carefully remove cabbage from pot and remove the outer leaves of the cabbages to line the bottom of a large roasting pan (reserve some of the leaves from the center of the head of cabbage that are too small to use to cover the top of the halupkie in the roasting pan).  Continue removing leaves from the cabbage.  When this becomes difficult you can return the cabbage to the hot water and boil until it softens.  I brought my cabbage to a boil, let it boil for about 5 minutes and then turned it off and just let it sit for about 30 minutes in the pot.  It worked wonderfully!

Fill the cabbage leaves (not the ones reserved for the bottom and top of the pan) with about ½ cup of the meat mixture on the leaf and roll.  To roll the cabbage, place the meat in the center of the leaf then fold the left and right sides in, then bring the bottom of the leaf up over the meat and roll up.  Place seam-side down over the layer of cabbage that is lining the roasting pan.  Continue to make the halupkie in this manner until done.  Place the second half of the reserved leaves over the top of the halupkie and tuck the sides into the pan.

A nice cabbage roll
Pour the tomato soup into a large bowl.  Fill the empty can with water and mix with the soup.  Pour the mixture over the halupkie being careful not to overflow the roasting pan.  Cover with the lid and bake at 350 degrees (F) for about 2 hours.

NOTE:  You need to get really good sized cabbage for this recipe otherwise the leaves will not be large enough to roll the meat in.

Crockpot variation - Make the halupkie as directed above, but when adding the tomato soup/water mixture stop pouring when you get about an inch from the top of the crockpot.  Make sure the crockpot is not near anything of value or that would stain if it starts to splatter.  Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I did.  As an adult I enjoy cabbage.  As a kid...not so much, but I'd always eat this cabbage!

Remember to put cabbage leaves on the bottom!

More cabbage leaves on top

Pour the tomato soup mixture leaving space at the top

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

(Nearly) Wordless Wednesday - The Peshtigo River

The Peshtigo River - Where many ran to on the night of the fire in hopes their lives would be spared.

Memorial stone at the Peshtigo River bridge

"This bridge crosses the river that has been the heart of the community since the founding of Peshtigo.

This river provides power for our commerce and daily lives.  This river also protected some of our citizens who sought refuge in these waters during the great fire of Oct. 8th, 1871

The citizens of Peshtigo dedicate the bridge over the River In honor of those who have served and defended our country And those who protected, defended and rebuilt our community

From the embers of ruined hope, may the germs of virtuous industry spring, while nature in tears, weeping over the blackened funeral pile, shall plant, as the seasons come and go, fresh roses of Spring o'er the ashes of the dead.

The Marinette and Peshtigo Eagle
Saturday, October 14, 1871

Dedicated october 8, 2012"