Let’s Talk About: Railroads, Part 1

Railroads were lifelines across America to our ancestors. Anything we can learn about railroads and railroading will benefit the social history we seek to fill out our ancestors’ lives. Do keep in mind that it was our ancestors who did this railroad building not “hired workers from elsewhere.”

David Norris authored a special issue from Internet Genealogy Magazines titled The History of Railroads. This issue was 50 pages all about the topic of railroads and you might want to order a copy for yourself. I do quote from that publication.

In the beginning, there were two railroads: the Central Pacific in the west and the Union Pacific in the east. Soon after the Civil War, it was apparent that the need to connect both side of the county was sorely needed. So the government gave financial incentives to these two railroad companies, with greater benefits going to the Central Pacific for they had the far rougher terrain to conquer. Railroad companies were granted up to 6400 acres of public land and $48,000 in government bonds for every mile of track; this was to the Central Pacific with lesser amounts to the Union Pacific.

First, surveyors had to map the path. Then crews wee assigned to build bridges, culverts or tunnels. Next came the graders to shape the track bed. Most work was done by hand with pick, shovel and wheel barrows. Other crews cut timber along the way for lumber to build these structures, for the ties and for fuel.

Working at top speed, crews could lay over 100 feet of track per minute or less than one hour to lay a mile of track. Each mile of track required 380 rails, 2600 ties and 10,000 spikes which were transported to the work site along the newly-laid tracks.

This last paragraph applies to the work across the midwestern plains. Work crawled along with much greater difficulty through the Rocky Mountains.

To be continued………………..

Let’s Talk About: Tsagiglalal

Tsagiglalal, She Who Watches, is an example of Native American art located high on the basalt rocks on the northern side of the Columbia River near Horsethief Canyon and lake. A longer translation of this name is “She who watches and sees all who are coming and going up and down the river.”

The book, Weird Washington, explains that “there is no doubt that Tsagiglalal was meant as a magical protection for the people who lived in her village for centuries.” The legend is that:

Long ago, in the before time, the Great Spirit wandered the world. He traveled along the Great River (the Columbia) and stopped at a village. He asked the people if they lived well or in poverty. They said that they were happy because of the guidance of their chief. He asked where their chief was, and they pointed to the hills above their village. He went up to the hills and found a woman sitting in front of a hut, looking down at the village. She told him she was the chief, and she looked after her people, teaching them ow to build and live well. He told her, ‘the world is changing and women will no longer be chiefs. What will you do now?’ The woman asked the Great Spirit to turn her into stone, so that she could continue watching over her people. As a sign of mercy, he did just that, and her image was painted into the rockface overlooking her village. She is still there today, looking out over a world that has changed very much since her time…and not always for the better.

Hikers can climb to view Tsagiglalal on tours with Park Rangers by appointment only. I’m glad that she is protected from vandalism and so can continue to watch over her people.

Let’s Talk About: Irish Emigration

You know you’re Irish; that your ancestor came from Ireland, but do you really know HOW and WHY he or she emigrated? There was more than one type of Irish emigration:

Emigration from Ireland began as early as 1603, when people immigrated to areas such as continental Europe, the islands of the Caribbean, the British colonies, and other parts of the British Isles. Emigration increased during periods of civil or religious unrest or famine in Ireland as well as during various gold rushes in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States. The period of greatest emigration began around 1780 and reached its peak from 1845 to 1855, when between one and two million people left Ireland because of the potato famine. The following categories of emigrants account for most people who emigrated from Ireland:

  • Free emigrants. Starting in the seventeenth century, emigrants left Ireland to seek opportunity in a new land; to flee religious persecution, poverty, or oppression; and to seek political asylum following rebellion in Ireland. These left on their own recognizance.
  • Assisted emigrants. In the nineteenth century, qualified emigrants received passage money or land grants as incentives to emigrate. Assistance was viewed by officials as an alternative to providing poor relief for able-bodied, unemployed workers and for the starving masses during famine. After 1840, colonies such as New Zealand and Australia offered money or land grants to skilled workers to attract needed immigrants. These were helped to leave by the government.
  • Transported prisoners. From 1611 to 1870, more than fifty thousand Irish criminals were sentenced to deportation to a penal colony for a number of years. Beginning with Irishmen who rebelled against Cromwell’s army in 1649, political prisoners were also often deported. Many Irish prisoners were sent to America, primarily to Virginia and Maryland, until 1775. From 1788 to 1869, over forty thousand Irish prisoners were sent to Australia. Many of those deported were later pardoned on the condition that they would never return to Ireland. These were mostly unwilling to leave.
  • Military personnel. Soldiers serving overseas were offered land or other inducements to settle in the colony where they were serving when they were discharged. This settlement practice was common for soldiers in Australia from 1791, Canada from 1815, and New Zealand from 1844.

Let’s Talk About: Census WOW Tidbits

If you but really look, the census records reveal some astounding factoids. Take this example:

The year was 1860 and the place the Western Rural District of North Carolina. I was helping a friend with her CHEEK family research and went WOW when I found her family………. but not for just the discovering of the Cheek family. Yes, F.J. Cheek and his wife Frances L., and children Margarett B., Willis P., Emmett and Sarah J. were her family but look what it says for 15-year-old Margarett: Wayne F. Colledge.

I first took that for a husband? employer? But then bells began ringing! I’d bet pennies that young Miss Margarett was attending the Fort Wayne Women’s College, a division of the Conference of the Methodist Church. (Now Taylor University, located in Upland, Indiana, it’s still a thriving institution.) The college was established in 1855………. the census year was 1860, making Margarett one of the first students. Wow.

Questions kept coming: how did Margarett travel from rural western North Carolina to Fort Wayne, Indiana? Wagon? Railroad? All by her 15-year-old self? How did her farmer/seamstress parents afford her tuition and why was that important to them? How did Margarett’s college education enrich her life??

Sidebar Question: Do you think Frances L., wife of F.J. Cheek, the mother of ALL four of those children? Did you see the gap between Willis, age 14, and Emmett, age 6? Doesn’t this ring a bell to you? Likely Father Cheek had two wives is what it speaks to me.

Let’s Talk About: Tom Jones & Puzzles

Most genealogists know who Tom Jones is, genealogist extraordinaire with decades of credibility and standing. The Eastern Washington Genealogical Society was privileged to have him teach us for our May society meeting.

His presentation title was Building A Credible Lineage Despite Multiple Research Barriers and he took us through a case study step-by-step. Here are my summary notes from that class:

  1. To solve a research problem, you have to define, outline and dissect the problem and the research steps to solve said problem. “The scatter-shot approach to research using your mouse is easy to do but with that approach you likely will not solve the problem.” he said.
  2. “You must search ALL the pieces from ALL the pertinent sources, pull out appropriate pieces (facts) and study out how they fit together,” he said next.
  3. “And how to know when you have enough information?” Tom quizzed us, and pointing to a zigzag puzzle, answered, “If you have enough pieces to show what the puzzle IS, then you don’t have to have every single pieces.”

Tom Jones was teaching some 60 members of the EWGS that while it’s good to strive to have every single puzzle piece, and every single genealogical fact, know that you will not be able to find every single fact you seek due to a large variety of reasons.

We all agreed; with the inspiration from Master Teacher Tom Jones, we just might complete our family history puzzle before we cross that bridge. Maybe.

Let’s Talk About: A Whale of a Tale

I picked up a 2004 issue of Nostalgia magazine and the blurb right on the cover caught my eye:  “A Whale Visits Spokane.”  Wwhhaaaatt?

Author Peggy Cunningham (a past EWGS member) wrote how in the summer of 1930 her Dad loaded up the family and off they went to Spokane to see the whale. Let Peggy tell the story:  “As I remember it was a warm day and Dad let us off by the railroad station. Mom paid for us, maybe ten cents each. Following the “SEE THE WHALE” signs, we soon were caught up with the rest of the crowd. When the pace of the crowd began to increase, we followed and soon smelled the reason for their hurry. We could see the (railroad) flatcar completely covered with the huge smelly carcass! With hankies to our noses we hurriedly looked and then made a hasty retreat to meet Dad.”

Peggy explains the beginning of this “whale tour.”  “The whale tale started in Massachusetts in 1930 when two friends happened to find a dead whale washing ashore on a local beach. Seeing an opportunity to make some money, they rented a railroad flatcar, pumped the monster full of formaldehyde, hoisted it onto the flatcar, and went from town to town charging admission to see the whale. They made sure that local papers in the towns along the route where they were planning to stop received an enhanced story……. their bonanza ran out when an unendurable odor began to rise from the corpse. (They soon) made a decision to call it quits, rolled the whale off the flatcar onto a vacant lot near the railroad tracks and buried it under a scant three feet of earth.”

This same photo appeared in the Nostalgia article but was taken about 1913 in Florida. Guess there were more than one “whale on tour.”

In 1930 my husband’s father was living in Spokane. Wonder if the family also went to see the whale?? Did somebody in your family?

Let’s Talk About: Cemeteries

Did you realize that there are more than 4.1 million people buried in the 167 national military cemeteries of U.S.? This includes personnel who died on active duty, as well as veterans (with other than dishonorable discharges), their spouses and dependent children. The National Cemetery Administration’s Nationwide Gravesite Locator at https://gravelocator.cem/va/gov  allows searches for burials in the national cemeteries and some burials in private graveyards. This from David A. Norris’ article in the Jun-Jul 2021 issue of Internet Genealogy.  And did you know this factoid:

25 American military cemeteries

The American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) has tried to keep a tally. They created and maintain 25 American military cemeteries located in 10 foreign countries, including France, Belgium, the United Kingdom, the Philippines, Panama, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, and Tunisia.

Closely related to the topic “cemetery” would be “burials.” Here are two I photographed near Kona, Hawaii, last February; think they’re on Find-A-Grave?

Let’s Talk About: Scandinavian Research

Sharon Fowler, a dear friend of mine, just completed the FamilyTree course on Finding Your Scandinavian Ancestors and she graciously shared some of her notes with me for you all. (Family Tree University: Find Your Scandinavian Ancestors in Denmark, Sweden and Norway, $99.00. The text to accompany the course was The Family Tree Scandinavian Genealogy Guide: How to Trace Your Ancestors in Denmark, Norway and Sweden by David Fryxell, 2019.)  Anyhoo. A most interesting bit of trivia was the 3-part list of common surnames in each country:

Denmark                                   Norway                                     Sweden

1-Jensen                                   1-Hansen                                   1-Johanson

2-Nielsen                                 2-Johansen                               2-Anderson

3-Hansen                                  3-Olsen                                    3-Karlsson

4-Pederson                               4-Larsen                                   4-Nilsson

5-Andersen                              5-Andersen                              5-Eriksson

6-Christensen                           6-Pedersen                               6-Larsson

7-Larsen                                   7-Nilsen                                   7-Olsson

8-Sorensen                               8-Kristiansen                            8-Persson

9-Rasmussen                                      9-Jensen                                  9-Svensson

10-Jorgensen                            10-Karlsen                                10-Gustafsson

In skimming this list, did it catch your eye that both the Danish and Norwegian surnames end with “EN” and the Swedish names end in “ON?” Interesting, no?

History:  Early Scandinavian immigrants settled in Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania but set their sights on the Midwest as early as the 1830s. Why? The region offered opportunities and unclaimed land. Chicago became both a destination and a jumping-off point for the immigrants.  Why did they come? Religious freedom, economic opportunity and simple survival. (The Irish potato blight in 1845 soon spread to Norway; I didn’t realize that fact.)

The Swedes headed to Michigan, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota

The Norwegians headed to Minnesota, Wisconsin, North/South Dakota…then on to

      California, Washington, Oregon and Texas

The Danes headed to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas

They were a literate lot; all three groups had official state Lutheran churches. Scandinavian newspapers sprouted and flourished.

When we think of early New York City we think “Dutch” but the borough of the Bronx was actually named for a Scandinavian. Jonas Jonasson Bronck, a Swede, brought 90 immigrants to New Amsterdam in 1639. For this, he received a grant of 680 acres which became known as Bronck’s Farm, then Broncksland and ultimately the Bronx.

Let’s Talk About: Trivia

** Every coin has two sides. The front is called “heads” and, from early Roman times, usually depicts a country’s head of state. The back is called “tails,” a term possibly originating from the British ten pence depicting the raised tail of a heraldic lion. (Our Daily Bread, April 2020)

** In 1787, Benjamin Franklin designed America’s first penny, often referred to as the Fugio cent. Fugio, Latin for “fly,” was stamped on the coin next to an elaborate sundial with a shining sun overhead. The ever-pithy and quick-to-quip Franklin was sending the message that time flies.” (Boyd Matteson, Deseret News)

**Did you realize that thanks to DNA, they are still identifying veterans’ remains after 80 years??  William Eugene Blanchard, age 24, serving on the U.S.S. Oklahoma, went down with his ship on December 7, 1941, in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Once remains were found, the soldier’s son provided DNA samples which identified him. Blanchard had been buried in the National Memorial Cemetery in Honolulu but will be reinterred in Tennessee. I found this a heart-warming story. Wonder if it would work on Civil War remains???

** Vonnie’s ring. That’s what I call this next photo. Vonnie is a dear friend living here in Spokane. She has 6 children and many grandchildren. She also has been recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. During a lunch together recently, she was talking about all she was going to do “before it’s too late to think of what to do.” She showed me this photo of her mom’s wedding ring set. Their wedding day and time is written in the lid of the box. Vonnie is giving this NOW to her eldest daughter. Giving it NOW while she can still enjoy the giving.

Does this spark ideas in any of you????

Let’s Talk About: Yearbooks

Lesson for you here:  if in yard sales, garage sales, flea markets or thrift stores, you come upon discarded high school or college yearbooks (the older the better), rescue them and contact the folks at e-yearbook. You can check yourself to see if they have or don’t have the ones you just found.  What a good pay-it-forward thing to do. Here’s how it works: You find old yearbook; you check the website to see if they already have that one; if they don’t, you email and ask do they want; you measure and weigh the book(s) and they will send you a postage paid sticker!! Such a deal. Note: they do not include really new ones for the privacy situation but they will take them for future adding.