December 31, 2014

In 1914...

For the coming new year, I thought I would take a time machine back to 1914-- 100 years ago-- and see what life was like and what was happening.

1914, via the Great War, marked the end of the Edwardian era and what Mark Twain had dubbed "The Gilded Age." We were transitioning between the Victorian age to the twenties-- fashions, society, and technology were changing dramatically and rapidly.

Men's fashion color lithograph, 1914

The president was Woodrow Wilson.

Average life expectancy was 52 years for males, and 56 years for females.

The average cost of an automobile in 1914 was about $550.

1914 Dodge Brothers Touring Car

The First World War began on 28 July 1914, though the U.S. was declared neutral and would not officially get involved until 1917.

Phonographs allowed people to listen to pre-recorded music on cylinders whenever they wanted to; a musical hit of 1914 was "You Stole My Heart Away" by Henry Burr:

Motion pictures were still in their infancy, and Charlie Chaplin made his debut in a short film called "Making A Living", released on 2 February 1914.

The Panama Canal opened on August 15, and the first ship crossed from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.

At the time, a substance called radium that we now know to be extremely dangerous was widely used as glow-in-the-dark paint for clock dials. It was even used in medicine, as it was thought to destroy cancer (instead of causing it).

Electricity was still not widely used by the majority of people at home, as it was expensive, and there was no standardization of power or plugs or outlets. And as people didn't fully understand how electricity worked yet, things like improper (or absent) insulation were a serious danger.

On a more personal note, my 3rd great-grandfather George Albert Baker passed away in Gloucester, Massachusetts on 9 July.

George Baker with his grandson Everett, c. 1910

A lot has changed in the past 100 years, so much so that if we were to bring someone from that time to ours, they would quite literally be in shock.

What will people in 2114 say about 2014?

May 2015 bring peace, prosperity, and joy to us all!

December 15, 2014

Festival of Lights

One of the main things I love about genealogy is how it brings history to life. It's much more than collecting names and dates, it's about really getting to know who your ancestors were as people-- what did they do? What did they believe? What did they wear? What did they eat? How did they entertain themselves?

At this time of year, it's worth exploring how our ancestors celebrated Christmas. But considering that my grandfather was Jewish, and that Hanukkah begins at sundown on the 16th, I thought I would start there.

Hanukkah is on 25th of Kislev on the [lunar] Jewish calendar, which falls anywhere between late November through December. Its proximity to Christmas has raised its status in western, predominantly Christian countries from the minor holiday it traditionally was to a bigger one.

Hanukkah commemorates the liberation of the Jews from evil King Antiochus and the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem; the story is found in the first and second book of Maccabees, among deuterocanonical books in the Bible. The miracle is that, when the Temple was rededicated, they had only enough oil for the menorah to burn for one day, but it lasted for eight.

Celebration of Hanukkah involves lighting candles in the menorah, a 9-pronged candelabra. On the first night, only one candle is placed in the rightmost prong of menorah and lit, and each night another is added, from right to left, until on the last night all of the candles are lit. Hanukkah candles are supposed to be only for viewing and remembering the miracle; the shamash is the candle that is used to light the others, and it is placed in its own separate prong (usually the center, but sometimes on the side, depending on the style of the menorah).

On the first night of Hanukkah, three blessings are recited as the candles are lit:

First blessing: "Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season."

Second Blessing: "Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah light[s]."

Third blessing: "Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days at this time."

On the subsequent nights, only the second two are recited.

Then the Hanerot Halalu hymn is sung.

And, as with all Jewish holidays except for Yom Kippur, there is food, glorious food-- brisket, latkes (potato pancakes, usually served with sour cream or apple sauce), a beet soup called borscht, kugel (a noodle dish), and jelly-filled donuts called sufganoit.

It's customary today in predominantly Christian countries for Jews to exchange small gifts on each night of Hanukkah-- mainly because most don't live separately from gentiles like they traditionally have in the past, and it stinks watching your Christian friends getting gifts while you just get to spin a dreidel. It used to be, though, that the only gifts were in the form of "gelt" given to children (in the form of both real money and coin-shaped chocolates) during Hanukkah.

My own Jewish ancestors were from Volhynia, Ukraine, part of what was known as the "Pale Of Settlement." Jews were basically forced to live here in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Most who lived here were poor; my grandfather and his brothers actually had to share shoes-- the family literally didn't have enough money for everyone to have their own pairs. So I doubt that there was a lot of gelt to be given.

They would have no doubt played the previously mentioned dreidel game, however.

I myself am Christian and celebrate Christmas, but I love my Jewish ancestry, and have a menorah. It's been a few years since I've busted it out and lit candles...

To my Jewish family, friends, and readers, Happy Hanukkah!

December 1, 2014

The HOLGATE family and the throat distemper

Recently Heather Wilkinson Rojo of Nutfield Genealogy wrote a great post about historical New England throat distemper epidemics-- funny that she did so just now, because I had planned to write this month about the devastating impact that one such epidemic had on the family of my 7th great-grandparents, Dr. James Holgate and his wife, Jemima Davis Rideout Holgate, of Haverhill, Massachusetts.

In the mid to late 1730s, a disease at that time called throat distemper-- probably diphtheria-- was ravaging New England. Though this infection didn't discriminate between children and adults, most casualties of the distemper were children.

By December of 1737, the epidemic had struck Haverhill-- and the home of the Holgate family.

James and Jemima Holgate had a large brood; between Jemima's four children from her previous marriage, and the six they had together, there were ten total.

In one month, the throat distemper took five of them:

The first to succumb was Judith Holgate, born 3 Dec 1726, died 1 Dec 1737, just two days short of her eleventh birthday.

Benjamin Rideout, Jemima's son by her first husband Abraham Rideout, born 19 June 1717, died next, on 10 December, aged 20.

Deborah, born on 19 Jan 1724, followed on 12 December, aged 13. 

Abigail, born on 20 Dec 1728, passed away next, on 20 December, her 9th birthday.

James, born 7 June 1733, was last to die, on Christmas Day. He was only 4 years old.

About 250 children under ten were killed by this epidemic in Haverhill, according to the Historical Collections of the Danvers Historical Society (Vol 5-6, p 56).

Only two Holgate children were spared: Priscilla, born 3 February 1730; the second was Elizabeth, born 19 June 1737, who was only five to six months old during this month of unimaginable horror.

Ironically, James Holgate was a physician. His wife Jemima died on 19 April 1746-- we don't know what of, but I imagine that loss of the will to live probably factored heavily. Dr. Holgate remarried Mrs. Lydia Sawyer on 2 April 1747. He himself would decease in 1756.

To think that, had my 6th great-grandmother Priscilla not survived, I wouldn't be here.

Ancestry line:

James HOLGATE was born 4 December 1692 to James HOLGATE and Deborah WILLIAMS. He married Jemima DAVIS, about 1725 in Haverhill, Massachusetts. She was the daughter of Stephen DAVIS and Mary TUCKER, and the widow of Abraham RIDEOUT. Priscilla HOFGATE married David BARTLETT (b. 1713) in Newbury on 31 Jan 1754. Priscilla's death is unknown.

James HOLGATE I (b. 1638) m. Deborah WILLIAMS
James HOLGATE II (1692-1756) m. Jemima DAVIS
Priscilla HOLGATE (b. 1730) m. David BARTLETT
Priscilla BARTLETT (1756-1832) m. John DAVIS
Priscilla DAVIS (1798-1828) m. William FITTS
Sophia Haskell FITTS (1823-1880) m. Isaiah PURINTON
Mary Olivia PURINTON (1851-1898) m. George Bailey PALMER
Frank Bailey PALMER (1888-1958) m. Bessie Maud WINSLOW
Dorothy Elizabeth PALMER (1918-1984) m. Henry Richard HOWES
S. HOWES (1937-1999) m. my father

All above grave photos are from Find-A-Grave and taken by Herbert Rideout and Roslyn Schaefer