Monday, 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-- it sounds like this:

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!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas past: 1979

In 1979, at 4 1/2 years old I moved with my family to California because my dad got transferred for his job. We ended up living there until moving to Florida in the winter of 1982. I remember it pretty well, though.

So Christmas of '79 would have been the first one celebrated in our house in California.

We always had our main Christmas celebration on Christmas Eve night, and did our gift exchange then, while we basically just had a nice dinner and relaxed on Christmas Day. I know that Germans traditionally do their gift exchange on Christmas Eve, but in our case I think that, with five kids, it was just easier for my parents if we opened our presents then instead of waking them up to do so at oh dark thirty in the morning.

My sister holding me

Me opening presents

Mom, my sister, and me

My brothers with one of their gifts, "Sudden Death"

Me with a couple of my gifts, a polar bear and a tricycle--
strangely, I remember the bear, but not the trike

Me playing with my brother's new game

Friday, December 12, 2014

Christmas past: 1976

I've in the process of scanning old family photos to my computer-- a pretty big project, as there are a lot of photos-- and since Christmas is coming up, I was inspired to share some pictures of "Christmases past."

This is from 1976:

My sibs, my mom (holding me), and my maternal grandmother Dorothy

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Pearl Harbor not totally unexpected

December 7 marks the 73rd anniversary of the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

We tend to think of this event as being a complete surprise, but according to the archived newspapers I've come across (especially Australian papers), we were expecting trouble from Japan. We just thought that they would strike in either Thailand or Singapore. 

I'm no expert in World War II, so this for me was quite interesting. 

I know I've written this before, but it's important, so I'll continue to write it until my fingers fall off: old newspapers are rich and excellent resources. They are essentially time capsules that allow us  contemporary perspectives of historical events, not of modern people and historians, but those who experienced and witnessed them.

There are paid services like and GenealogyBank, but there are at least a couple of places on the net to get free access to digitized newspapers as well:

Google Newspapers

Monday, 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 HOLGATE 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
Me (b. 1974)

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

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Pilgrim food and etiquette

When we think of the traditional Thanksgiving menu, what comes to mind is turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, yams, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.

This has its origins in the Victorian era, however; the the spread on the table of the Pilgrims in the autumn of 1621 was quite different.

So what did the Pilgrims and natives actually eat at that first Thanksgiving? And how did they eat it?

Most Europeans in the 17th century didn't eat potatoes; they were thought to be poisonous and fit only for pigs. Meals in general were far more meat-heavy with few vegetables; 17th century people worked physically much harder than people do today, and they needed all that extra protein and fat.

So at this three-day fall harvest feast, those who had braved the Atlantic and the first harsh few months in a strange and foreign land would have likely had fowl (probably turkey and duck), lobster, eel, nuts, turnips, corn, and berries. The Wampanoag natives who participated (we don't know if they were actually invited or whether they crashed and the English were too polite/scared to tell them to shove off) may have contributed by bringing deer meat.

For 17th century Europeans, the main meal of the day was eaten at about noon, at the time we today consider to be lunch. The lighter evening meal, supper, would usually consist of leftovers from noontime "dinner."

The English custom of set mealtimes must have seemed strange to their Wampanoag native guests, who simply ate when they were hungry.

They didn't yet have porcelain or even pewter plates at this time. Instead they had wooden plates-and-bowls-in-one called trenchers, and children often shared their trenchers with siblings. No forks either-- just spoons and knives. Instead of placing  napkins on laps (which I personally feel is stupid and pointless), the napkin was draped over the left shoulder, convenient for wiping hands.

A trencher, c. 1600

There were no courses; everything would have been on the table at the same time. The feasters would not have been expected to sample everything, but would only eat the foods that were close to them.

Everyone would have been seated according to class, with the best foods next to the most important people. Children would have served the adults, and likely would not have been seated at the table with them, but would stand behind the adults, waiting for food to be passed to them.

Some things haven't changed much though; here is a little poem by Tudor-era poet Francis Segar from Schoole of Vertue (1582):

Photo courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library

For rudeness is thy pottage to sup,
Or speake to any, his head in his cup
Thy knife be sharpe to cut fayre thy meat:
Thy mouth not be full when thou dost eat
Pyke not they teethe at the table syttnge,
Nor use at thy meat Overmuch spytynge;
this rudeness of youth is to be abhorred;
thy self mannerly Behave at the borde.

Don't talk with your head bent over your cup-- look up before speaking.

Don't hack your food, and swallow what's in your mouth before taking another bite.

Don't spit too much or pick your teeth at the table.

Board is an old word that refers to a narrow table off which one eats, and it's still in use today in the expression "room and board"-- i.e., room and meals.

Whatever you'll have on your table today, and whomever you'll be sharing it with, have a happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

BILLINGTON of Plymouth, Massachusetts

For Thanksgiving, I wanted to focus one of the 8 Mayflower surnames in my family tree (it's not unusual for someone to have this many, by the way, considering that many of the families intermarried).

I decided to choose BILLINGTON... it's one of the more unusual Mayflower surnames names to be descended from, and because I'm connected to this line in three different ways. 

Generation 1: John Billington was born in Lincolnshire, England about 1580, and he married Eleanor Unknown. They had only two surviving children, John Jr. and Francis. 

John and his family seem to have been troublemakers. During the voyage across the Atlantic, 14-year-old Francis almost blew up the ship when he fired a musket among barrels of gunpowder. Once in Massachusetts, John Sr. was charged with contempt of "the Captain's lawful command with opprobrious speeches", but upon "humbling himself and craving pardon", he avoided the punishment of having his neck and heels tied together. 

Not long after, John Jr. was kidnapped by Indians while wandering in the woods, forcing the colonists to send out a search party and negotiate the boy's release. John Jr. died in 1627, unmarried and without issue.

In 1624, John Sr. was implicated in a failed rebellion against the authority of the Plymouth church, but claimed ignorance and was never punished. In a 1625 to Robert Cushman, Governor Bradford referred to Billington as a "knave."

Things only got worse when, in 1630, John Sr. shot and killed his neighbor John Newcomen, with whom he had been feuding over land hunting rights. It was decided that Billington should pay the ultimate price, and he was hanged for murder in September of 1630. 

Six years later, John's widow Eleanor was charged with slander against a Mr. John Doane and sentenced to be put in the stocks and whipped. 

Generation 2: Francis Billington (John) was born in Lincolnshire, England, about 1607. He married Francis Penn, widow of Francis Eaton, in July of 1634, and the removed to Middleborough. Francis died on 3 December 1684. 

Generation 3a: Martha Billington (Francis, John) was born in 1638 in Plymouth, and she married Samuel Eaton, who was actually her stepbrother (the son of her mother's first husband Francis Eaton by his first wife Sarah Unknown). 

John BILLINGTON (1580-1630) m. Eleanor UNKNOWN
Francis BILLINGTON (1607-1684) m. Christian PENN 
Martha BILLINGTON (1638-1704) m. Samuel EATON I (1620-1684)
Samuel EATON II (1663-1724) m. Elizabeth FULLER (1666-1723)
Barnabas EATON (1703-1790) m. Mehitable ALDEN (1707-1739)
Hannah EATON (1730-1809) m. John CLEMENTS  (1719-1805)
John CLEMENTS (1750-unknown) m. Sarah PERRY (1750-unknown)
Hannah CLEMENTS (1771-1835) m. Jonathan BAKER (1769-1852)
John BAKER (1792-1861) m. Mehitable HILTON (1796-1865)
George Albert BAKER (1842-1914) m. Hannah Melissa SPECHT (1843-1924)
Jessie May BAKER (1873-1927) m. Thomas Parker SIMMONDS (1871-1953)
Estelle MAY SIMMONDS (1893-1930) m. Horace William HOWES (1882-1976)
Henry Richard HOWES (1913-1987) m. Dorothy Elizabeth PALMER (1918-1984)
S. HOWES (1937-1999) m. my father (b. 1933)
Me (b. 1974)

I'm also descended from a second child of Hannah Eaton and John Clements, John Clements' sister Mehitable:

Mehitable CLEMENTS (1754-1834) m. John TRASK (1751-1833)
Hannah TRASK (1774-1829) m. Jacob Lufkin HILTON (1775-1855)
Mehitable HILTON (1796-1865) m. John BAKER (1792-1861)
George Albert BAKER (1842-1914) m. Hannah Melissa SPECHT (1843-1924)
Jessie May BAKER (1873-1927) m. Thomas Parker SIMMONDS (1871-1953)
Estelle MAY SIMMONDS (1893-1930) m. Horace William HOWES (1882-1976)
Henry Richard HOWES (1913-1987) m. Dorothy Elizabeth PALMER (1918-1984)
S. HOWES (1937-1999) m. my father (b. 1933)
Me (b. 1974)

Generation 3b: Mary Billington (Francis, John)was born about 1640 in Plymouth. On 20 January 1663, she married Samuel Sabin in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. She died on 28 June 1717 in Rehoboth.

                              John BILLINGTON (1580-1630) m. Eleanor UNKNOWN
                                    Francis BILLINGTON (1607-1684) m. Christian PENN
                            Mary BILLINGTON (1640-1717) m. Samuel SABIN (1640-1699)
                                  Israel SABIN (1673-1718) m. Mary ORMSBY (1677-1715)
                                Jeremiah SABIN (1703-unk) m. Mary ABBOTT (1707-1818)
                         Jeremiah SABIN (1732-1815) m. Susannah LEVALLEY (1732-unk)
                               Sarah SABIN (1747-unk) m. Borden THURBER (1748-1822)
                          Samuel THURBER (1774-1847) m. Mary "Polly" LEWIS (1777-unk)
          Margaret Sophia THURBER (1808-1846) m. Anthony C.  SPECHT (1796-1875)
             Hannah Melissa SPECHT (1843-1924) m. George Albert BAKER (1842-1914)
Jessie May BAKER (1873-1927) m. Thomas Parker SIMMONDS (1871-1953)
Estelle MAY SIMMONDS (1893-1930) m. Horace William HOWES (1882-1976)
Henry Richard HOWES (1913-1987) m. Dorothy Elizabeth PALMER (1918-1984)
S. HOWES (1937-1999) m. my father (b. 1933)
 Me (b. 1974)