Thursday, July 24, 2014

Who Do You Think You Are?: Cynthia Nixon

SPOILER ALERT: I'm giving away all the details...

Last night a new episode of Who Do You Think You Are? aired; the first of season 5. This episode focused on the family history of actress Cynthia Nixon who is best known for her role as Miranda Hobbes in the HBO series Sex and the City.

Cynthia knew little of her father's family history. Her curiosity was sparked when the 1850 census revealed her great-great-great-grandmother and her 3 children, all under the age of ten, were living with the mother's maiden name, Curnutt.  As it turned out, 3rd great grandma Martha Curnutt, murdered her abusive husband, Noah Casto, with an ax and was sentenced to serve 5 years in the Missouri State Penitentiary at a reduced sentence of manslaughter. However, after having served two years and giving birth to her third child she pardoned by the Governor of Missouri. She returned to her father's home to raise the children. The child she gave birth to while in prison was not fathered by her late husband.

I thought it was one of the better episodes I have seen. Martha Curnutt made a compelling character and Cynthia asked all the right questions. They showed some of the research process in more detail than usual. I particularly enjoyed the moment when the librarian lead Cynthia to an old card catalog to look  for a microfilm reel of a newspaper. 

Not everything is online, folks. Yes, to get the whole story you might have to read a newspaper on microfilm.

In fact, this detail prompted me to request microfilm from the Family History Library. I ordered the films of New York City's Coroner's Inquisitions from 1874 to learn more about the murder of my relative, Edward Hughes. Which you can read more about in my past post called Edward Hughes Murdered?

However, the episode also showed Cynthia going to Washington, D.C. to view Union Civil War pension files; you don't have to travel to D.C. to see those, they can actually be ordered online for a fee.

Like with all of these shows the research goes much more smoothly and quickly than it does in real life. That is to be expected of TV though. Just as with real life though, once you start researching a specific individual you will bond with him/her. You will.

Next week’s episode features Jesse Tyler Ferguson, an actor on the sitcom, Modern Family.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Local History Books

As Americans we are a culture of documentation. We like things written down and stamp with seals from government agencies. We are generally more likely to believe the newspaper article we find than the stories of family lore told by great-grandma. It's just how we are. We do not put much stock in oral history which I believe is a hug mistake. Although, I too am guilty of fastidiously believing documents. I don't believe other researching cousins' "facts" until they can "show me where you got that."

In my heart though, in principle, I am a big proponent of using both oral history and documentation of vital statistics when researching your family history. Which is part of why I love good local history books.

What makes a "good" local history book? Well...

Authors of these types of books often blend together research they have done in community records as well as information they have gleaned from interviewing locals. Once they blend that all together, write it down, and publish it we're much more likely to believe the stories as facts. In many cases those "stories" are facts! They just aren't documented anywhere else and so we tend not to believe them...but if they're in a book, oh, then we believe them.

Does that mean they are true, honest-to-goodness, facts? Eh...that is debatable and depends on your perception of oral history and eyewitness accounts.

How do you recognize a "good" local history book? Well...

While on my trip to Newfoundland last month I had the happy circumstances of serendipitously meeting a relative; Cousin Charlie.You can read about it in my recent post "Norris Point - The Loss of the 'Reddie' from Gadds Harbour Island".

During our brief encounter, Cousin Charlie suggested a book about the history of Norris Point and the surrounding Bonne Bay area. The book is called The Good and Beautiful Bay: A History of Bonne Bay to Confederation and a Little Beyond by Antony Berger. It is an EXCELLENT local history book.

A good local history will have some if not all of the following qualities:
  1.  An index. By the way, The Good and Beautiful Bay lists several of my Samms, Smith, and Organ ancestors in its index.
  2. A bibliography of a list of works citing which indicates what sources the author used.
  3. A notes of endnotes section which extrapolates on how and where details mentioned in the text were  obtained.
  4. A reputable publisher. Now many you don't recognize the publisher but that doesn't mean you can't find out about the publishers reputation online. Some publishers are know for quality work...look them up!
Or better yet, check out the local history collection in the public library in the community in which your ancestors lived. Generally, libraries don't have the space to collect crappy resources. Their local history materials are worth checking out.

Using these types of resources will not necessarily give you the names, dates, and places of birth, death and marriage that you are seeking but they will give you a sense of the community and culture in which your ancestors lived. It will tell you about other families they lived along side and the events that shaped their everyday lives. Check them out!
 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Who Do You Think You Are? is Returning

The television network, TLC, has picked up the genealogy show, Who Do You Think You Are?, for its 5th season.

This coming Sunday, July 20, 2014, TLC will rebroadcast all 7 episodes of Season 4 which includes the ancestral history of the celebrities Chris O'Donnell, Cindy Crawford, Zooey Deschanel, Kelly Clarkson, Chelsea Handler, Jim Parsons, and Christina Applegate.

And if you're headed to a comedy club with your sister that night, maybe you can catch these re-runs on Wednesday, July 23 when you're off from work.

Season 5 of WDYTYA? will begin Wednesday, July 23 at 9 p.m. (Eastern) on TLC with the exploration of actress Cynthia Nixon's ancestry which promises to be filled with intrigue and mystery surrounding a murder in her father's family's past.

Monday, July 7, 2014

L'Anse aux Meadows Viking Heritage Site

I would be remiss if I did not mention at least a little something about my visit to St. Anthony, Newfoundland while on my vacation. It wasn't a spot where I learned much about my family history. In fact, I'm not sure any of my ancestors ever lived in St. Anthony. We went there to visit the UNESCO Norse, or what we would more commonly call Viking, heritage site in the nearby community of L'Anse aux Meadows.

"Discovered in 1960, this is the first authentic Norse site found in North America and could be Leif Ericsson's short -lived Vinland camp. Some time about AD 100 Norse seafarers established a base from which they explored southwards.The traces of bog iron found - the first known example of iron smelting in the new world - in conjunction with evidence of carpentry suggest that boat repair was an important activity. The distance from their homelands and conflict with the Native people may have led the Norse to abandon the site."

What is actually left of the Norse village is barely distinguishable in this image but if you look closely you can see the bumps of earth that has grown over the foundation of walls where the shelter for people living at this camp.


Nearby, reconstructions have been made to give visitors a sense of what the structures would have been like.



What does any of this have to do with my dead people? Well, if you regularly read my blog you know I have recently had my DNA test done through Ancestry.com. In my results I had a large percentage of Scandinavian DNA; 18%. However, my research has not led me to any Scandinavian ancestors. Could my ancestors in Newfoundland have been Norse at some point?? Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Norris Point - Old Anglican Cemetery

While in Norris Point, Newfoundland, Cousin Peter, Cousin Kelly, and I took a trip to the Old Anglican Cemetery where many of my Samms and Organ ancestors are interred.

My great-great grandmother was Sarah Samms-Earle-Bromley. She was born in about 1857 in Norris Point. Her parents were Reuben Samms and Frances Organ-Samms-Smith. I wrote about Reuben's tragic demise in yesterday's post about the loss of the ship named the "Reddie."

A few years after Reuben's death Frances remarried to a man named Matthew Smith.

Upon our first visit to the Old Anglican Cemetery I forgotten about her second marriage and overlooked her headstone. Granted, I am generally surprised to find any of my ancestors even have a headstone since most often they do not. But three of four of Sarah Samms-Earle-Bromley's grandparent did have headstone in this cemetery as does her mother Frances Organ-Samms-Smith.

Sarah's paternal grandfather who had the same name as her father, Reuben Samms, did not have a stone. Her paternal grandmother, Sarah, whose maiden name I do not know did has a stone:


This is Sarah's maternal grandfather, Michael Organ's headstone:


Sarah's maternal grandmother, Sarah Elizabeth Matthews-Organ's headstone is probably the most remarkable of all. It is wooden and according to an oral history which appears in the book, This is Our Place, This is Our Home by Joan Edward, this stone was craved by Michael Organ's brother, George Thomas Organ.

The funny thing about that last detail, that book was one of the coffee table books at the house we rented in Twillingate. Seeing the hand-drawn images of my 4th great grandmother's marker in that book made me feel like I was being nudged ahead to Norris Point with a mission to see these markers. I'm glad I saw them first-hand.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Norris Point - The Loss of the "Reddie" from Gadds Harbour Island

The third destination on our trip around Newfoundland was the town of Norris Point. Nestled in the National Park, Gros Morne, Norris Point is where my great-great grandmother, Sarah Samms-Earle-Bromley was born in about 1857.

I chose this destination because it was within the National Park. It was only after the trip was booked that I realized the connection to the Samms family...and I am glad I did.

While we were in driving around the National Park, Cousin Kelly and I stopped into a gift shop in the nearby town of  Woody Point. We almost didn't get into the shop. It was after their closing time and the door was lock but as we turned back to get in the car, one of the owners of the Hunky Dory, Mr. Charlie Payne, came running out of his home to open his shop up for us.

Just as with every stop, Cousin Kelly informed Mr. Payne that I was doing some genealogy research in the area; that I am an Earle. Mr. Payne immediately acknowledged that there were many Earles in the area. I explained to him that this was the section on Newfoundland where my Samms ancestors were from. "Samms?," he inquired. "My wife is Samms." At that point he excused himself to go back to his home to retrieve some genealogical research he had collected. When he returned he shared this story with us.:


Loss of the "Reddie" [recorded from] Louis and Ned Samms [by Charlie Payne]

During the 1870s, the Samms family of Gadds Harbour carried on a seal hunt on a small scale. The enterprise was short-lived because on an accident at the ice. It was during the 1870s that the "Reddie" went to the ice and was lost with her entire crew from Gadds Harbour and Norris Point. Her wreck was found later the same year on St. Paul's Island on the Quebec Shore of the gulf of St. Lawrence. Seven men were lost in total. Reuben Samms left a wife and 7 or 8 children, James Organ left a wife and 6 or 7 children, William Parrons left a wife and one child, James Harding was the only supporter of a mother, 3 sisters and 2 little brothers, and Richard Sams, the unmarried brother of Ruben Sams. It is said that there was only one man left in Gadds Harbour after the loss of the "Reddie." One day that same spring he left to walk across on the ice to Woody Point for food supplies and he too never returned. He fell through the spring ice and drowned.
Reuben Samms - also spelled Ruben Sams in this story - was my third great grandfather, the father of Sarah Samms-Earle-Bromley.

Mr. Payne - now more lovingly referred to as Cousin Charlie - recommended a book to me in which the story is recorded; The Good and Beautiful Bay: A History of Bonne Bay to Confederation and a Little Beyond by Antony Berger. 

When we returned to St. John's at the end of our trip I went to the Provincial Archives again to see if I could find anymore about the "Reddie." Unfortunately, I could not. As the librarian at the Archives concurred with me, oral history is perhaps the only way this story of the tragic event has survived. Thank God for the storytellers.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Twillingate, Newfoundland - St. Peter's Anglican Church

While on my trip to Newfoundland with Cousin Peter and Cousin Kelly we took a boat tour in Witless bay to see the puffins. 


I do not know how I can come from a seafaring people because I hurled like I had taken ipecac; that is a medicine used to induce vomiting. I was dying, a cold sweat, the shakes, the works - serious, serious motion sickness. Now granted, it was a rough sea that day but I get nausea just standing on the dock. So by the time we got to Twillingate, there was no way I was getting on a boat tour to see icebergs. I saw them just fine from the harbor - - look:


In any case, while Cousin Peter and Cousin Kelly hit the seas I romped around Twillingate looking for records on my dead people. 



A trip to Town Hall directed me to the Twillingate Museum which is housed in the former rectory of St. Peter's Anglican Church. 







They had a few records of burials in the community. In this instance, though, their records didn't provide me with anything I hadn't already learned online. But I got to give them information they didn't know.

Their records showed a burial for a Thomas Warr in December of 1890 but I know that Mr. Warr's body is not interred there. He was the captain of the ill-fated ship "The Rise and Go" on which my great-great grandfather, Abraham Earle, was lost.

You learn something new everyday, but once in awhile you get to teach something new too.