Sunday, August 5, 2012

Illness, injury, affliction: have you found them in your lines?

OK, it's been two months since my last post. I knew I named it "Round Tuit" for a reason! Since then, I attended Midwestern Roots 2012, a conference sponsored by the Indiana Historical Society (great work, Margaret Bierlein and crew!). A few projects for work had to be completed, and I've been helping research soldiers for the South Shore Civil War Trail project.

I also had surgery for a foot fracture, so a big walking boot is on my left foot, and the shoe is on the other. This blog, and a random Facebook post, are about the only places where I mentioned this surgery. What sort of events, illnesses, or accidents happened in your ancestors' lives that you never knew about?

I was reading the Summer issue of Four Score and Seven, a publication of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation. An article by James M. Cornelius, Lincoln Curator at ALPLM, is titled, "Provenance and the Pursuit of the 'Mysteries of Ownership and Authenticity'." It mentioned new finds about Lincoln artifacts and interpretations. In a 1851 printed endorsement for a Peoria doctor who fixed children's crossed eyes, Abraham Lincoln's name is one of a list of "references." Cornelius says that Robert Lincoln's crossed left eye was fixed somehow, and that he went blind in that eye later in life, but finding Lincoln's name on the endorsement does not prove that Robert had surgery by that doctor. (I never knew about Robert Lincoln's eye, but I was familiar with the condition because years ago, I worked for a doctor who surgically straightened crossed eyes.)

Have you ever seen early photos of Helen Keller with her teacher, Annie Sullivan? Annie and Helen appear to be clasping hands, but unless you knew Helen's story, and that Helen used her fingers to spell words into Annie's palm, you'd likely miss the significance. If you're lucky enough to have photos of your ancestors, have you ever noticed that great-great-grandpa is missing some fingers, that great-aunt Josie's left eye looks cloudy, or that an ancestor is sitting in a wheelchair, or using a cane?

While traveling through Illinois, I've had occasion to go through the village of Dwight, home of the original Keeley Institute, a commercial medical facility that offered treatment to alcoholics. I've read that, in the day, if someone were offered an alcoholic beverage, a reply might be, "No thanks; I've been to Dwight" or "I've taken the cure." Are there any family letters, diaries, or newspaper accounts that might document an illness, affliction, or injury to your ancestor?

In tracing a family through the census, do you assume that a child present in 1870, but not in 1880, had died? Maybe that child attended a school for the deaf, or was residing in some other facility. If you found your uncle in Chicago, and your aunt in Arizona, do you assume they divorced, or might she have been in a warmer climate for health reasons, such as tuberculosis?
Have you checked all those columns to the right of your ancestors' names? Many of our ancestors could not read or write, but a red flag should go up if a child could not read or write, yet the parents and siblings could. Some censuses asked whether the person was deaf, dumb, blind, insane, or idiotic. Remember to view such information through your ancestors' eyes, as well as through present-day filters. Afflictions that required institutionalization years ago may today be managed through medication or treatment. I think of Landon, one of my collateral ancestors who lived at home most of his life. Apparently he was a resident of the county home on occasion. His niece recounted how the staff at the home would have to take his shoes away, because he kept running off.

A friend asked for assistance for someone whose ancestor was found dead on some railroad tracks. The family suspects that the ancestor may have been the victim of foul play. I didn't find any newspaper accounts online but perhaps those issues just aren't online yet. I did find that person in a coroner's inquest database. Those records may contain information of interest to the family. (In another "Round Tuit" moment, I never have gotten around to requesting the inquest records for my great-grandmother, who died a few weeks after having been struck by a car. This would be useful, as I have very little information about her. Definitely a case of "do as I say, not as I do.")