Saturday, March 28, 2020

Ancestors in 2020 ~ March: Katherine VanLare's Life During the Pandemic of 1918

For my March ancestor, I'm writing about one that I consider having been lucky.   I had started to spend time researching my three times great grandmother, Mary Maguiness, who was Irish but soon changed my focus away from the luck of the Irish to a topic more in line with the current events and world happenings.  I sit here starting to write this blog post on a Sunday afternoon, just hours from entering a social distancing government order.  At eight o'clock this evening NYS will go into 100% mandatory social distancing with all non-essential businesses closing until further notice to help stop the spread of Covid-19.  We are urged to stay home; only going out for food and medical care.  All of this heightened anxiety and fear over the pandemic of 2020 made me wonder about my ancestors during the Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918.  How did it affect my family tree? Did anyone die in 1918?  I couldn't find a single death linked to the illness that ran amuck and led to October 1918 being the deadliest month in American History; over 195,000 American's died from influenza. More Americans died from influenza in 1918 than died in the Great War. 

Since it appeared that all of my ancestors were "lucky" enough to have survived and possibly not even suffer from the "grip" I wondered what life was like for them during this time period.  My grandfather, Vincent Haskins was born in July of 1918 just a few months before this pandemic took hold.  What was life like for his mother? I began exploring life through the eyes of my great-grandmother, Katherine VanLare.

Katherine (Kate) VanLare was born on September 23, 1885, to Jacob VanLare and Nellie Bushart.  Kate's parents were immigrants from the Zeeland region of the Netherlands arriving in America in 1873.  Kate was their eldest child.  She had one younger sister, Sarah. 

Katherine VanLare - B. September 23, 1885

Jacob, Nellie, Kate, and Sarah Vanlare

Kate spent her childhood living on different farms in Wayne County with her family.  At the age of 7, the NYS census shows she was living in Williamson with her parents and sister.  In 1900, the Federal Census says she was living in Walworth, where she is listed as being 14 years old and attending school.   Kate and Sarah attended the Smith Hill Road School, which is now a modernized home.

Schoolhouse @ corner of Smith Hill & Arbor Rd in Walworth, NY

An Interesting Side-Story

While researching,  I became aware of family folklore around the house where Kate and her family lived in Walworth around 1900.  My father communicated that he was always told that they lived in the same house where Winston Churchill's grandmother once lived.  Now, I love history and this seems like something I might have read about, heard or learned prior to 2020.  Needless to say, this intrigued me and I wondered if it could at all be true.  The historian in me went to work and  I am making a claim that this is not an accurate story.    However, I did learn that Winston Churchill does have deep-seated roots in Wayne County.  His grandfather, Leonard Jerome, did live in Marion for a short time during the 1840s with his family.  His parents were Isaac Jerome and Aurora Murry.  Leonard married Clara Hall, whose father was Ambrose Hall a prominent resident from Palmyra.   Clara and Leonard married in her childhood home in 1849.  Later,  while living in  NYC they had a daughter, Jennie.  Jennie Jerome went on to became Lady Randolph Churchill when she married Lord Randolph Churchill. They were the parents of the former Prime Minister of England, Winston Churchill.  Additional Information can be found at Wayne County: Deep Rooted Connections to Winston Churchill

And Now Back to Kate......

By 1905, Kate and her family had moved into the Town of Marion; living on Palmyra Road (or South Main St as it would later be called).  She was 19 listed as doing housework.   Jacob, her father was working as a farm laborer and her mother was taking care of the home and becoming a part of the Marion community.  The family was active members of the Baptist Church which I found surprising.  Both Kate and Sarah were baptized in the Dutch Reformed Church and most of the Dutch families from Zeeland were members and attended services there.  I wonder why they decided to move to the Baptist Church?  Nellie is mentioned in the newspapers as being involved in the WCTU.

Kate married Fred Haskins on June 4, 1913. Fred was the son of George Haskins and Sarah Drake.  He was born in Rochester, NY on April 14, 1894.  His mother, Sarah and grandparents, Charles Drake and Annagusta West moved to Marion from Sodus somewhere between 1900 and 1905.  The Drake's home was located across the street from the VanLare Family.

Fred & Kate Haskins - June 4, 1913

After their wedding, Kate and Fred resided on Buffalo Street in Marion.   Fred was working as a machinist at the Marion Canning Company.  The house they rented was actually owned by the Canning Co.  Kate and Fred had their first child, Paul, on February 27th, 1914.   In the spring of 1915,  Mrs, Lovica Newcomb came to stay with them after her brother Gilbert Shaw's funeral on March 26th.  She was unable to return to her home; Kate and Fred cared for her until in her death.  They held her funeral at their home on April 11th.  Gilbert and Lovica were both a major part of Fred's life.  He resided with one or the other from the time that he was 11 years old until soon before his marriage to Kate.

Kate and Fred's daughter, Rachel, was born on January 2, 1916 - her birth notice ran in The Marion Enterprise on January 7th.   In this same edition, the following headline appeared on the front page of the newspaper.

The article reports that this illness is becoming a huge problem, especially in larger cities.  NYC reported 272 deaths and Chicago reported 1,112 deaths for one week.  The article communicated concerns over it spreading to rural communities.  There is limited information mentioning the illness over the next month.  In February 4th's paper under the Local Gleanings, it mentions that doctors are busy and "La Grippe is stalking through the land."  The community seems to be moving through daily life in a "business as usual" manner.  Throughout the winter weeks there continues to be limited mention of this illness impacting the Marion community.  An advertisement begins running in the weekly paper for Father John's Medicine, an old fashion family remedy for grip and colds that turn into pneumonia.  Encouraged to take it today because it is free from morphine, chloroform, codeine, heroin, and other dangerous drugs.  March of 1916 is reported as entering lamb-like and gentle.  There is a mention of Mrs. E Hawley recovering from an attack of the grip, so it appears it has made its way into Marion.  The spring and early summer months of 1916 were wet and cool.  It rained on Easter, gardens were behind schedule, eggs sold for 20 cents and muck crops did not look promising.  However, there were reports of many strawberries and raspberries, but not a single mention of grip. Mid-summer was hot and dry.  July 1916 was the hottest July on record.  August brought concern over infantile paralysis AKA - polio.  By late August, the town health official, Dr. Besemer warned to keep children at home to prevent the spread of it including picnics, fairs, family reunions and visiting summer resorts.  He encouraged everyone to stay in their own town.  Autumn brought changes to leaves and colder weather.  Italy declared war on Germany.  Romania declared war on Austria which immediately followed with Germany declaring war on Romania and America did its best to stay neutral.  There was no Indian summer, the skies were dark and gray.  Early snow arrived in November and Woodrow Wilson was re-elected president.   The holidays came and went and in January with the new year -Rachel turned one year old.

1917 was very much like 1916 with the one main exception that in mid-April the US formally declared war on Germany and entered the Great War.  The spirit of patriotism ran high throughout the nation as well as in Marion.  The nation's colors were on display everywhere - women even wore hosiery that were red, white and blue.   The big question was "what can I do for my country?"  The answer - buy a liberty bond!  The first draft was in July with the second draft call coming in September.  Fred was asked to report.  He was found physically qualified but made a claim for discharge on grounds of dependency.  It was granted.   The Marion community continued to support the war as the months and seasons went by.  There was no mention of illness or disease just the need for Red Cross efforts to support the men overseas.

1918 found Fred and Kate with two young children and one on the way.  Paul was now four and Rachel had just turned two.   Kate was pregnant; due in the summer.  In January, Fred took at a position at the East Williamson Canning Factor as a processor, moving from the Wayne County Canning Company.   Community members were encouraged to buy thrift stamps which were a means to help finance the war while instilling traditional values.  There was a sugar shortage, so many housewives turned to molasses as a substitute.  Kate gave birth to Vincent Haskins, aka "Budd" on July 24th.  August had a run of good, but hot weather.  The canning plants were busy with beans, berries and soon juicy tomatoes. The harvests looked promising until the late summer heat took its toll.  By September Rochester's newspapers are beginning to run stories related to the "Spanish Flu" most of them urging the public to follow preventive instructions especially about covering coughs and sneezes, but there is little to no information appearing in the local papers in Wayne County.   The local papers are all about the Fourth Liberty Bond Drive.  October 4th was Liberty Day in Marion, which was part of a statewide observance.  At 2:30 the pupils of the Marion High School paraded in the streets of the village.  Sunday, October 6th was Liberty Sunday - the local churches mobilized with messages around the topic of the great war loans.  Every household was urged to invest at least one-eighth of their income into bonds.  Citizens were also urged to not use gasoline on Sundays as a way to help with the war efforts.   By the end of that next week, there was much more concern and information about influenza.   In Newark, village and county schools were closed as were churches, theaters, lodges, public and private meetings.  Doctors recommended drastic efforts to save lives.  Parents were urged to keep their children on their own premises and not allow them to play together in the streets.

The flu seemed to hit harder in towns around Marion -- There were over 700 cases in Lyons; there the doctors and nurses were having a very hard time taking care of all of the sick people.   Newark also had over 700 cases with 400 of them being at the NYS Custodial Asylum for Feeble-Minded Women. The Marion community did not close down public events as quickly as other places but they did eventually follow suit  The papers were reporting between 40-50 cases by mid-to-late October.  The Marion schools were shut down for two weeks and churches did not have services.  It was mentioned it was the first Sunday in over a century that a Marion church did not have a service.   Marion had two doctors at the time, Dr. Arthur Besemer, located on North Main Street and Dr. John VanDorn, located on Buffalo Street.  It was difficult for them to keep up with all of their patients.  The Wayne County Canning Compay had to be shut down during the prime of the canning season due to so many cases among the women.  At least eight canning factory work families were struggling with the flu.

The local health official, Dr. VanDon put a notice in the paper on October 11th and US Public Health Service issued an official health bulletin that ran on October 18th entitled "Uncle Sam's Advice on the Flu."

By November, things started returning to normal.  Just as quickly as the flu swept in it swept out.   Students started back to school after having two weeks off, however, there were many absences including one of the teachers due to illness.   Church bells began ringing for Sunday services, the Baptist Harvest festival was rescheduled for November 15th.   It seems that the small rural town of Marion was coming out of the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 better than others. 

On November 11th - Armistice Day, the Great War ended, and so did mention of the pandemic.  After the end of the war, papers stopped publishing death numbers.   In Rochester, over 13.000 people died in less than six weeks.  Rochester had more deaths from the flu than they did from the Great War, however, the war was always the bigger story with liberty bond drives leading the way.

Some interesting Rochester, NY statistics:

55% of the deaths were people between the ages of 20-40

More men died than women
More married women over married men
68% of the deaths were native-born
Most were laborers 
The death rate among school children was 10%

The New York State school system communicated that they would not defer or delay state exams.  The schools would make up their days missed by eliminating holiday breaks.  They would only get Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day as vacation days that academic year.

It was acknowledged that the lack of general health care abilities and lack of proper hygiene in the community contributed to the widespread of germs.  It was deemed essential for more education in this area.  One of the most important lessons learned was that people are the most valuable tool in fighting a pandemic and that best-laid plans are useless unless people carry them out.

It appears my family members and the Marion community must have done something right related to this pandemic as I am here over 100 years later to write about it which I consider pretty lucky.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Ancestors in 2020 ~ February: August Leisten

For my February ancestor, I've decided to combine the topics of Far Away and Prosperity and write about my three times great grandfather August Leisten.

August Leisten (Lehsten) was born on July 14, 1838, in Mistorf which was located in the Duchy of Mecklenberg-Schwerin, which would later be part of Germany.    His parents were Frederick Leisten and Sophia Kroger.  August, his parents, and siblings are the ancestors of mine that emigrated from the most distant location to America. 

Leslie Albrecht Huber has an informative website Understanding Your Ancestors which provides an overview of Mecklenberg's history.  It includes links to helpful resources for additional research for those looking to research their roots from Mecklenberg.  Another helpful website is the GenWebsite by Carol Gohsman Bowen.

The Grand Duchy of Mecklenberg-Schwerin was a territory in what would later become northern Germany.  At the time of August's birth, it was ruled by Paul Friedrich.  It was one of the poorest provinces, mostly due to poor land configuration and bad governance.

August's parents Frederich and Sophia were both born prior to 1820, meaning that they were born into a feudal society.  Around the time of their birth in 1805, Napolean passed through leaving much destruction and despair.  From 1806 -1813, Mecklenberg was under French occupation and was part of the Confederation of the Rhine.  During this time period, Mecklenberg villages suffered robbery and plundering by the French army.   The troops acquired their horses, food, and supplies.  The villagers were forced to house the troops and were subject to high taxes; it was a time of repression and great suffering.

In 1820 serfdom was annulled with the belief it would lead to tremendous progress and an improvement to the quality of living.   It had the opposite effect, conditions worsened for the majority of the population.   Former peasants could not make it on their own and often had to sell their land, which was purchased by nobles and landowners making their estates larger and more powerful.    The now landless peasants had to go back to work for the landlord as wage laborers, but the estates no longer had obligations to take care of their workers by ensuring housing and basic necessities leading to increased homelessness and poverty.  The majority of Mecklenbergers lived in the worst living conditions in all of Western Europe, similar to Eastern Europe.  They had nothing - little freedoms, few possessions, no land, farms or homes.  Many people moved from place to place with little hope for a profitable future.

It was a hard, physically demanding life.  Both men and women put in long days for little gain.  During harvest time it was typical to work between 17-18 hours in the field.  Women worked in the fields but were also responsible for cleaning stables, milking the cows, caring for the livestock, tending the garden, taking care of the children, preparing meals, doing laundry and mending clothes.

The time period between 1850-1890 saw an enormous exodus leaving Mecklenberg.  Over 150,000 Mecklenbergers left their home country and migrated overseas.  Migration peaked between 1850-1860 when 3% of the population boarded ships to America.  The region was overpopulated, there was a lack of suitable jobs, housing and there was devastating indifference from the rulers related to basic rights.  The worst was linking the right to marry with the right to domicile. An individual could not get permission to marry until they had established legitimate domicile.  This could take years, especially since there were housing shortages and renting was forbidden.  After 1830, all German states forced marriage restrictions as a way to decrease the poor population; they remained in place until 1919.  These repressive laws made life unbearable.

The marriage restrictions did not decrease the population, in fact, illegitimate birth rates grew in proportion to the severity of the marriage restrictions.   In 1850, 20.9% of the births were out of wedlock.  Pre-marital relations were widespread and were often looked at as pre-marital births verse illegitimate.  Many individuals began starting families once parents had given permission to marry even if there hadn't been formal permission from the state.

August Leisten was born after his parents married on January 7, 1831.   They did have one child before marriage, Elisabeth Sophia Christina, born on November 23, 1828.  She died before her first birthday on June 28, 1829.   August's brother Charles was born exactly a month after their wedding.  Their wedding and all of their children, including August, were baptized in the parish of Hohen Mortif in the local church.

August and his siblings were not likely to have much of a childhood by the age of seven most boys were hired out to take care of geese, pigs and pull weeds.  His sisters would have been hired out to look after children as their mothers were busy tending to their many duties.  By the age of ten, August, would have been put to work helping with the harvest while his sisters might have been sent away to begin working as small maids.

The ultimate goal of every peasant and farmer was to one day live and cultivate his own piece of land.  It became clear that this dream was not going to be fulfilled in their homeland.  America was calling and it promised a golden future.  In 1855, August's brother Charles emigrated to the United States as part of the first stage of migrators to leave Mecklenberg.  In the year previous over 8750 individuals left the state.  The rest of the family would follow Charles to America in 1857. 

The trip to America started with securing the passage to get there.   Families would need to have 50 taler in cash as well as 30-50 taler per person for the fare.  Their journey would begin by selling all of their belongings to help pay for the passage and then they would board a train from Schwerin to Hagenan where they would take a train to Berlin and then to Hamburg.  From there they would secure their tickets on a boat to America. 

The Lehsten family boarded the Doctor Barth which was a three-mast vessel called a bark.  It departed for New York on April 16, 1857.  The voyage was the most difficult part of the migration.  They were on the steerage deck which was the makeshift space between the upper deck and the cargo hold.  It typically was only five and a half feet in height. The steerage accommodations came with limited ventilation and light.  It was cramped, dark and dirty.  Each person had about six feet by two-foot space to themselves.  One half of the steerage deck was free space for eating and moving about.  The other half contained bunks stacked on top of each other.  The smells were horrendous as a result of poor ventilation and the combination of urine, vomit, rotting garbage, water-soaked bedding, and clothing as well as the rancid smells of unwashed passengers.    The Lehstens were lucky, their trip only lasted 37 days as it landed in NYC on May 22, 1857.

Once in New York, they headed to Rochester where Charles had been living since his emigration.  Here they established residency and lived out the rest of their lives.

August married his wife, Louise Eicas Stiegmann on Oct 29, 1868.  Louise was also born in Mecklenberg but her family did not migrate until 1867.  August and Louise had seven children.  Their firstborn was my 2nd great grandmother,  Wilhelmina Ruth Leisten.  She was born on April 21, 1869, in Penfield, NY.

As with most immigrants, the ultimate success story was to move to America and become prosperous.  Mecklenbergers wanted to own land and feel a sense of control over their lives.   August found this golden dream and died having found prosperity. 

In the 1880 Non-Population Schedule census outlines the specifics of August's farm.   August owned his farm mortgage-free.  It included 24 acres of tilled land with 10 permanent pastures and orchards.  It had 15 acres of woodland and one acre classified as an "old field."  The farm's estimated value was $1900 with about $100 in farm machinery and  $300 in livestock.   He owned two horses, three milk cows, two calves, two pigs, sixteen chickens.  He grew corn, oats, rye, wheat, potatoes, and apples.  His farm was self-sufficient and provided what he needed for his family. 

August died on November 12, 1922.  He and his wife are buried in the Smith Cemetery in Penfield.  He was a member of the Bethlehem Luthern Church in Webster, NY.

Friday, January 31, 2020

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks -- Well, Maybe 12 Ancestors in 2020

Last year I attempted to complete the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge and failed miserably.   I love the concept of the challenge but one ancestor per week is just too much so this year I'm modifying and adjusting to fit better into my life situation.   I am going to focus on one ancestor per month using one of the 52 Week prompts for that month.  Hopefully, I will find more success.

The first prompt of the year was a Fresh Start.   A fresh start is what I need to take with my four times great grandmother - Mary Ann Graham.   She is a brick wall and I don't know how to break it down.   This past week I watched a Legacy Family Tree Webinar entitled "Creative Hypothesis Development of Complex Geneology Problems" presented by Jan M. Joyce CG, CGL.   I was hoping to get some ideas to work through my brick wall.  One of the ideas that Jan presented was the idea of Simplification and Sharing.   First, you identify the challenge you are trying to overcome.  Then, you list the critical facts that you have pertaining to the challenge.  Finally, you brainstorm a series of hypotheses and share them for feedback.

So here it goes -

Who are Mary Ann Graham’s parents?

Facts related to Mary Ann Graham
  • She was born in 1815 based on her obituary appearing in the New York Herald on June 2, 1861.  It read - “West: On Saturday morning, June 1 Mary, the beloved wife of Edward West, aged 46 years and 9 months, The friends of the family are respectfully invited to attend the funeral without further invitation, from her late residence, No 37 First Avenue, this (Sunday) afternoon at 2 o’clock.  Her remains will be taken to Greenwood for interment.”
  • She died on June 1, 1861
  • There is no record of internment in the Greenwood Cemetery under the name of Mary West.
  • Census records state she was born in New York
  • It is assumed she married Edward West sometime between his arrival to the US, from England, in 1839 and the birth of their first child, Joseph, in June of 1841
  • Edward was a butcher that worked in the Fulton Market.  He came from a long line of butchers that remained in England
  • Edward and Mary had six children
    • Joseph - born June 20, 1841   ---- presumed to be named after Edward’s father Joseph West
    • Anna Augusta - born Sept 25, 1843 -- presumed to be named after Edward’s mother - Annaugusta Druitt
    • Edward - born 1845 - presumed to be named after his father, Edward West
    • Margaret - born  Nov 26, 1847 - no record of this being a family name on the West side of the family
    • George - born June 18, 1849 - Edward had a brother named George
    • Thomas - born June 15, 1852 - Edward had a brother named Thomas, also the name of his maternal grandfather
  • Joseph West, Ann Augusta West, Margaret West, George West, Thomas West as well as a Louisa Hartell West were baptized in the Church of the Epiphany in NYC on Feb 2, 1861.   Their parents/sponsors were Edward and Mary Ann West living at 99 First Avenue.
  • Joseph West’s Civil War pension file includes his medical death certificate listing his mother as Mary Graham born in New York City
My hypotheses

Mary's parents were probably living in NYC the year that she was born, so there is a chance that one of the Grahams listed in the NYC Directory could be her father.

Mary's father could be a butcher and that is how she met Edward West.

Her father's name could be one of her children's names especially since Joseph, Anna and Edward were named after family members. Could Margaret be her mother's name? Could her father's name be George or Thomas?

Your Suggestions

Does anyone have any ideas on things to explore, places to look, questions to ask? I am looking for feedback and ideas to break down this brick wall.