Category Archives: history

Loose change and history

1938 penny 002

I look at the dates on all of the coins I get as change, because you just never know what interesting things a cashier will hand you. Today, it was a penny from 1938.

In 1938, my mother wasn’t born yet. My grandparents (her parents) were young marrieds with a baby. My great grandparents were still alive. One great, great grandmother had passed away just a few years before.

When this penny was minted, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President. The year after this penny was minted, war would break out in Europe.  Gone With The Wind, the book, had been published two year earlier and become a bestseller right away. The movie wouldn’t hit theaters for another year.

Random facts, but it’s funny to hold in my hand something that predates Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler on the big screen, was in existence before World War 2, was here before my parents were born. It’s one of the reasons I love studying genealogy, and putting people into a real life timeline.

Finding Emma Moore

The likely spot where Emma Moore's body was found in 1855.

The likely spot where Emma Moore’s body was found in 1855. The circled area is all parking lots and buildings now.

For a couple of years I’ve been doing some research on three women who died in our area in the 1800s. Just everyday women, but their stories really stuck with me. One of them is Emma Moore. Regular readers know that I’ve been taken with the story of the single woman who disappeared in November 1854. Her disappearance sparked a city-wide panic; the mayor refused to investigate, insisting she left town of her own accord. Her family had no reason to believe she was leaving town, and they feared the worst. The citizenry rose to the occasion and formed committees to do their own investigation. Thousands of people assisted. Rumors of screams heard near her home that night sparked committee members to question witnesses all the way to the lake. A line search was conducted from Brown’s Race to Irondequoit Creek.

Her body was found in March 1855, in one of the races that powered the saw mills. She was about six months pregnant, and it’s believed her body may have been there the entire time.

I’ve wanted to find the place where her body was found, but for a long time all I had to go on was “in the race, behind the Thorne Building.” No one seemed to know where that was; the Thorne Building wasn’t on any maps. I tried the library, the landmark society, maps. I just didn’t have enough information to go on.

If I’m being honest, I didn’t really try that hard; I had a lot of news stories to read through, and other women I was also researching. But I always had Emma Moore in the back of my mind.

About six months ago, I started going through the mounds of research I’d amassed over the last year, and found a very detailed description of where her body was found – down to the direction of race, how many rods in distance from the post office, what the walkway over the race was made of. I had details; now I needed to find a map.

This weekend was the annual River Romance along the Genesee River, so I took advantage of the chance to explore the city, from the river to the rooftops of the library. Today, I brought along my new information about where Emma’s body was found. And while on the tour, the guide, Hal, pointed to an area where he thought the mill races used to be – where we were standing, in a parking lot.

Later, he emailed me a map detailing the buildings I’d mentioned, all from the new research I’d just waded through. The map is from 1875, twenty years after Emma’s body was found. I probably didn’t even bother to look at that map when I was researching in the library, thinking too much had changed since 1855. But low and behold, there it is. The spot where Emma Moore’s body was found.

The area I circled is now parking lots and buildings. (For those of you in Rochester, that’s a block of buildings near the corner of Exchange Street and Main Street, just over the Broad Street Bridge.)

There’s still a question about whether she lay there the entire four months, or if her body washed there from farther up the river or race. Or if it might have even been held someplace else and dumped there during the winter. I have stacks of research to still read through.

But for now, I’m happy to find the spot where she was found. I’ll be going back to snoop around.

RELATED POST:
Emma Moore, Sarah Bardwell, and Me

When you’re dead, you’re dead a long time

Words of wisdom inscribed on the headstone of Robert and Grace McGowan, Mt. Hope Cemetery

Words of wisdom inscribed on the headstone of Robert and Grace McGowan, Mt. Hope Cemetery

Here’s the thing about death: it’s permanent. Regardless of your beliefs about the afterlife, in this life, when you take your last breath on earth, the story is over.

Think about it. In 100 years, with the exception of a handful of those who will defy the odds and live beyond a century, every single person on the earth will be dead.

Everyone. Gone. Me. You. Babies born at this exact moment, whether here in America or in India or China or Europe. In 100 years, billions of new humans will walk the earth, and while they’ll share our DNA and genealogical ties, none of them will be us.

How’s that for putting your life into perspective? It’s true. When you’re dead, you really are dead a long time.

Seasons of Mt. Hope Cemetery (pictures)

I was going through some photos today and realized I had taken some pictures a few weeks at Mt. Hope while I was out for a walk with Bailey and forgotten to upload them. I also remembered that while on that walk, I’d purposely tried to take some shots at places I’d shot during the last year,  places where I’ve been romping, roaming and researching in my favorite place in the city. So for fun, here are some pics of Mt. Hope, through the seasons.

Mt. Hope CemeteryOctober 2012 (c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery, Curtis Mausoleum
October 2012
(c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope CemeteryFebruary 2013 (c) 2013 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery, Curtis Mausoleum
February 2013
(c) 2013 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

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Mt. Hope CemeteryMay 2012 (c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery
May 2012
(c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope CemeteryOctober 2012 (c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery
October 2012
(c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope CemeteryFebruary 2013 (c) 2013 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery
February 2013
(c) 2013 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

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Mt. Hope CemeteryOctober 2012 (c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery
October 2012
(c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope CemeteryFebruary 2013 (c) 2013 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery
February 2013
(c) 2013 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

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Sylvan waters, April 2012(c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Sylvan waters, April 2012
(c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope CemeteryOctober 2012 (c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery, Sylvan waters
October 2012
(c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery, Sylvan waters
February 2013
(c) 2013 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Emma Moore, Sarah Bardwell and me

It took months, but a reward was finally offered for information leading to the disappearance of Emma Moore. While the citizens took up the search immediately, the mayor and police insisted Emma left town of her own accord. When her body turned up in the river, they were proven wrong.

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately doing research on a woman named Emma Moore, who I learned about when I went on the “Mischief, Murder and Mayhem” tour at Mt. Hope. (For the record, I am there so much I joined the Friends of Mt. Hope and volunteered to be a tour guide in the spring.)

Anyway, in Rochester, NY in 1854, Emma Moore went missing. Left home one night and simply disappeared. She was a single, 37 year old seamstress who had a loving family, a good job, some money of her own, and no reason to leave town without letting her family know where she went.

Her disappearance stunned the community, and for months afterwards thousands of citizens met nightly to coordinate a search for her – since the Mayor and police refused to believe she’d come to harm or investigate her disappearance.

The citizens scoured the areas surrounding the city, the lake, the river. They followed every lead and interviewed hundreds of people. They raised money and donated time and diligently searched for the woman they hailed as a modest woman of impeccable character.

Then in March of 1855, the body of Emma Moore was found, frozen in the river. When the coroner examined her body, he found she was six months pregnant.

Her 26 year old fiance was the prime suspect, but while an inquest found that Emma had drowned, the jurors were unable to determine if she had been murdered or if she committed suicide. Emma Moore is buried in an unmarked grave in her family’s plot, the woman once known for her impeccable character hidden away forever due to the scandalous nature of her death.

I’m fascinated by Emma Moore, her life and her death. In an era where woman had few rights or money of their own, she had a little money – about $20 cash left in her room, $20 cash on her when she disappeared, a savings account with about $100, and notes that indicated she’s lent out small amounts of money to friends.

In an age when woman married young, she was single into her middle years. Unmarried and with a much younger fiance. Was that unusual? Despite the fact they were engaged about 3 years, why didn’t they marry? He apparently had lost fingers in an accident and was unable to work (he was a cutter in a tailor’s shop); how would Emma have felt about working to support a younger husband – because upon marriage, anything she had would have become his.

How unusual was it for a woman to be sexually involved with a man to whom she wasn’t married? We like to think of our ancestors as pure and innocent, but was that really how it was? An unmarried, pregnant woman today doesn’t raise an eyebrow. But in 1854? Another story.

And of course, there’s the big mystery: Why did she disappear? Who knew she was pregnant? Was she killed or did she commit suicide? There’s much to believe the truth lies with the former.

I’m also enamored with the story of another woman, Sarah Bardwell. Her interment records indicate that she died of “insanity”. How does one die specifically of “insanity”? I get that you can die of causes related to insanity – suicide, walking naked around town in December and freezing to death. But just … going insane until you die?

Sarah Bardwell died of “insanity” after spending the last 25 years of her life in an asylum.

So I did a little digging and found a newspaper notice of her death, which said:

“Under the effects of religious excitement, at a time well remembered by many of our old citizens, Miss B. suffered mental injury, from which she never recoverd, and the latter years of her life were spent in an excellent Asylumn at Brattleboro, where her friends had placed her with the hope of restoration at first but where she remained for comfort and safety.”

From all accounts, the Asylum in Brattleboro was fairly progressive; treatment included nature walks and painting and music and lots of rest. And the “time well remembered” is most likely the Finney revivals that swept Rochester in the 1830s, making the city a hot bed of evangelism for the entire nation.

“Insane” is a little subjective, in this case. So you know I’m doing research into the Finney revivals, what a “mental injury” from that experience might look like, and what it would be like for a woman to be committe to an insane asylum in the 1850s.

What ties these two women together? When Emma Moore disappeared, Sarah’s brother was the Police Justice.

One of the things I’ve determined this year is that maybe my purpose is to give voice to those who can’t tell their own stories. It’s a general idea that I’ve been able to apply specifically without committing myself to any one genre of writing. And that realization has been really helpful for me. I can share about animal issues, although I find that I’m less and less interested (and often completely turned off by the aggressive, angry, divisive animal scene; but that’s a story for another day).

More importantly, I can share Emma and Sarah’s stories, two women lost in history but whose stories are interesting and important.

And soon, I’ll be sharing about some children in Uganda. Stay tuned for more on that.

Tracing my family tree: my ignorance of world history and how it affects my family tree

In the 1930 census, my great grandfather’s family said they were from Northern Ireland, my great grandmother’s family from Irish Free State. That I don’t even understand the difference makes me realize how truly ignorant I am.

One of the things that has been really driven home to me as I research my family tree is just how ignorant I am – about my ancestors, about world politics, about U.S. history.

Take today’s new discovery: I’ve been curious about why, in some census records, my family identifies themselves as from “Ireland,” sometimes from “N. Ireland,” and sometimes from “Irish Free State.”

To get some clarity about why that might be, I wrote to the Association of Professional Genelogists in Ireland. I got a quick response from Nicola Morris, who explained that the term “Irish Free State” was only used after 1922, when the Irish Free State was established following the War of Independence. It follows the ratification of a controversial treaty of 1922. Morris explains further:

“This term referred to the 26 counties that today form the Republic of Ireland.  It was not uncommon to find families in the US using the term Free State when referring to the origins of their parents or grandparents. It would have distinguished their place of origin as being from the 26 counties rather than ‘Northern Ireland’   Also, if any family had a republican leaning, it would perhaps have been important for them to acknowledge the steps that Ireland had taken to independence prior to 1922.  The Irish republican movement raised a great deal of money for the support of the state in the US, so the details of the struggle were well publicised in Irish circles in the US.”

Going back through census data, I learned that before the 1930 census, all of my Irish ancestors simply identified themselves as being from Ireland.

In the 1930 census, however, they got more specific. The Larkins and Maloneys now considered themselves from Irish Free State, while the Sheerins and McDade/McDevitts (that’s another mystery) noted they were from N. Ireland.

From what little I understand so far, discussion around the dinner table might have taken a bit of an interesting turn, seeing as how my great grandather James Sheerin’s parents had Northern Irish ties while my great grandmother Mary Ellen Maloney’s parents came from Irish Free State.

I always wondered how my Irish and Italian grandparents connected, but now I’m curious about how politics in Ireland might have affected life here in the U.S. for my family.

I think we forget that when our ancestors came to the U.S. they didn’t necessarily break all ties from home. I have no idea if my family was politically active – my guess would be not, but then again you don’t have to be involved in politics to have an opinion and voice it. But either way, that they identified themselves as either one side or the other does suggest they were still very connected to what was going on back in Ireland.

Another day, another mystery … and another topic to research.

RELATED POSTS:

The scent of my family tree – a little dust mixed with a lot of history

Pittsfield, MA c.1860; lithograph of painting by artist James Colt Clapp

There’s a spot in my house, as you walk up the stairs to the second floor and make the turn on the landing, where, if the conditions are right, it smells like my grandparents’ house.

It’s the smell of tiny dust particles suspended in the air, warmed by the bright sun that shines through the windows that overlook the driveway (and my neighbor’s house). It’s a quick scent of a sleeping dog and wooden banisters polished smooth by a hundred years of hands grasping on the way up and on the way down. It’s the smell of plaster walls and dark attics and creaking stairs, if creaking stairs have a smell. Which I think they do.

It only lasts a moment – less than a second – but when I smell it I’m transported to their house in Pittsfield, MA, an ancient triplex row house where my mother grew up, where her father lived. It’s the house her grandparents and great grandparents and great great grandparents either lived in or next to or around the corner from.

I think the smell of my grandparents’ house is actually the spirit of all of those people who slept, ate, laughed, cried and lived in those rooms for more than a hundred years. And as I’ve been tracing my family tree, those spirits have come alive for me in a way I didn’t expect.

It’s one thing to create a family tree – a bracketed chart that lists the basic details of my grandfather’s parents, their parents, their parents and their parents.

But those simple details – date of birth, date of death, date of marriage – don’t even begin to share the information I’ve amassed about their children, siblings, family. Where they lived, where they worked, how they died, and what the world was like when they walked the earth.

Take one set of my great, great, great grandparents on my mother’s side, for example. Continue reading