Sunday, 25 September 2016

A Super-gene?

Current DNA research suggests that the descendants of plague survivors share certain genetic changes, described as super-genes, that may extend life expectancy by providing protective 
immunity and resistance to certain cancers and auto-immune diseases.  The theory interests me because two of my Italian ancestors may possibly have died of plague,  My 8x-great-grandfather Michele and his son Giovanni died on the same day at ages 85 and 54, respectively. Their deaths could be attributable to factors other than plague – an accident of some kind involving father and son (perhaps a hunting accident); or wounds sustained in battle (Italy's history is littered with countless wars of territorial conquest and retribution); but their deaths on 26 February 1729, suggest that they may have succumbed to a catastrophic illness - a localised plague epidemic.

The first recorded plague pandemic (an epidemic affecting countries around the world almost simultaneously) began in Constantinople in the 6th Century, killing one-third of the city's population and spreading, over the next three years, to southern France, the Rhine valley and Iberia (Spain), eventually causing the fall of the Roman Empire. The second pandemic in the 14th Century killed one-quarter of the population of Europe (including 60 per cent of people in the British Isles), while the 19th Century pandemic originated in China, spread to Hong Kong and then to Australia; there were 12 major outbreaks of plague in Australia from 1900 to 1925, with 1371 cases and 535 deaths, mostly occurring in Sydney (Curson P.H. Times of Crisis: Epidemics in Sydney 1788-1900. Sydney: Sydney University Press, 1985).  

Pandemics cause social, cultural and economic upheaval but are relatively short-lived - because they kill almost everyone who becomes infected.  In the years between the second and third plague pandemics, localised outbreaks occurred sporadically throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Africa owing to increases in population density (crowded living conditions = more people available to
succumb to the infection) but also to changes in agricultural practices, from small-crop farming and single-animal husbandry to concentrated production of single species crops and animals to produce domestic surpluses that could be traded for other staples. These developments led to further expansion of trade routes which, in turn, made the spread of disease more likely.  In medieval Italy, trade routes expanded inland from the port cities of Venice, Florence and Genoa, connecting previously isolated hamlets with the urban populace.  These changing social and economic conditions prevailed in Italy during the 1700s, when Michele and his son Giovanni lived in a small village about 70km northeast of Venice.  

The causative agent of plague is the Yersinia bacillus endemic to certain rodent populations; flea-infested rats spread plague over long distances.  But in medieval times disease (and especially plague) was viewed as God's judgement upon a wicked world, evidenced by the fulminating nature of plague that resulted in a mortality rate of nearly 100 per cent.  There would have been nothing more frightening than the appearance of blackened swellings in armpits and groin, a raging fever quickly followed by gangrene of the extremities, delirium and death within 48 to 72 hours. Whole villages were wiped out.  Early accounts of plague-ridden populations contain chilling descriptions of corpses stacked up in lane-ways because there were no grave diggers to bury them, no clergy to perform burial rites.

Fifty-something Giovanni was almost certainly the primary provider for an extended family that included his ageing father Michele.  Giovanni would have dealt with merchants and may even have plied the trade route to Venice, increasing his exposure to both human and animal vectors of plague. Giovanni's comparative youth and presumably strong physical condition may have delayed the onset of infection but Michele, weakened by old age and possibly by pre-existing illness, would have succumbed more readily. Giovanni's sons, with under-developed or compromised immune systems, may also have succumbed (their death dates are unknown), but the fact that father and son died on the same day is, to my mind, more than coincidental, and the familial relationship is key to my belief that they died of plague because communal living conditions of the period in which they lived would have been ideal for the spread of fleas.

Plague had drastic and permanent effects on the social fabric of the entire world. Food production was severely disrupted because there were fewer hands to grow and harvest food.  Famine usually followed a plague epidemic. The number of plague deaths reduced the number of available marriage partners at a time when producing children was essential in order to prevent extinction of an ancestral line (or an entire cultural or national grouping). Mating between survivors provided benefits – it reduced the pool of potential plague victims by strengthening the immune systems of the resulting offspring. The plague bacillus also benefited: successive plague outbreaks killed fewer and fewer people, ensuring the survival of the bacillus - it couldn't live without a host to infect and needed time to reinvigorate; this, along with scientific and medical advances, explains the episodic nature of contemporary plague epidemics (the most recent in the 1950s that killed more than 15 million, most of them in India; Butler T. Plague and Other Yersinia Infections. New York: Plenum Medical Books, 1983).

The widespread social and economic disruption that accompanied plague pandemics altered cultural distinctions between communities and between the nations of the ancient world (Rosen, W. Justinian's Flea: The first great plague and the end of the Roman Empire. New York: Viking Penguin, 2007).  Accounts of the medieval plague pandemic, such as Boccaccio's Decameron (1348), contain vivid descriptions of  'the pestilence', as plague was then known.  Contemporary studies of the consequences of plague have increased our understanding of the epidemiology of plague and led to improvements in public health policy and the development of pharmaceuticals to combat infectious disease epidemics.

For my family, the consequence of the 14th Century plague pandemic may be the legacy of a super-gene that confers survival benefits on those of us who carry it, courtesy of Michele and Giovanni.

Geraldine Lee

Monday, 19 September 2016

Healing Your Family Patterns

 A few weeks ago I acquired a bookcase specifically to hold all my family history and genealogy notes, documents, folders, books and other paraphernalia. The bookcase is tall, narrow and old fashioned looking and is perfect for that purpose.

I am not a tidy or methodical person much to my disappointment. These are qualities which would be great for my hobby and pastime of family history research. However, the acquisition of this bookcase will allow me to keep everything in one place. Well, that is the theory anyway.

As I was gathering everything from various rooms and shelves and bookcases and other nooks and crannies I came across a book that I had bought about ten or twelve years ago. The title is “Healing Your Family Patterns. How to access the past to heal the present” by David Furlong, published in 1997. I was delighted to rediscover this book. I hadn't completely forgotten about it but at the same time I had not looked at it or thought about it for years. At the time of purchasing it I was completely intrigued by the author's claim that patterns from past generations can continue to affect us today and that healing the imbalances in these patterns is crucial to the health and well-being of not only ourselves and our families but even future generations. At that time the idea truly resonated with me because I was going through some difficulties in my own life but it also made me think about some vague but unsettling feelings that I had about my own family. Nothing sinister or nasty but just a lack of closeness, a holding back in some way. For example, adults whispering when it came to the mention of some deceased family members and also a complete lack of knowledge or an unwillingness to talk about previous generations. At the same time I had only just begun my journey into genealogy and family history and it spurred me on to persevere and to gather as much information as I could so that I could try out the techniques suggested in the book.

This book has two parts. Part 1 discusses ancestors in general terms. The author states that the underlying themes of their lives are similar to ours in their concerns about family members, health, financial security, relationships and so on. He suggests that their experiences in these matters may have influenced subsequent generations. Part 1 also discusses the role of ancestors in Religion and Myth, it explores the role of DNA in our genetic makeup and what impact our genetic inheritance has on us, and it shows how to set up a particular type of family tree chart called a genogram. A genogram allows you to see family patterns through the generations: not just naming patterns but patterns in careers, relationships, illnesses, causes of death, coincidences and so on. These charts could take some time to prepare because there is a lot of background information required and that is why the author suggests that you gather information not only about your 14 primary ancestors (your parents, grandparents and great grandparents) but also their children, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles. This may seem daunting but it is quite surprising how much of this information is available and often comes to you unexpectedly when you are doing consistent research. There will be gaps in your knowledge but these can be accepted for the time being and filled in at a later date as more information comes to you in the course of your research.

Part 2 of the book gives instructions on how to clear or change any harmful patterns or energies that may be making life difficult for you or other members of your family. The method usually involves sitting quietly in a type of meditation and focusing on a particular ancestor or ancestors and then following the steps that the author sets out for each healing exercise. The names of some of these healing exercises are “to send healing to one of your ancestors, “ to send love to one of your ancestors”, “to bring healing and release to the ancestors”, “to free up the ties of past patterning” and “to determine the balance of energies between the two halves of your family”.

When I first read this book I couldn't wait to get started on contacting my ancestors. I must admit I didn't set up a genogram. I didn't even know much about the lives of my grandparents let alone my great grandparents. However, I did feel that there was a lot of sadness and anxiety associated with the First World War. I knew my maternal grandfather had served as an Anzac in this war and family stories suggested that before the war he had been a happy man, renowned in the district for his whistling. Family legend implied that he came back greatly changed. He suffered from nervousness and anxiety and was rarely heard whistling. My mother often spoke about the effect of the war on him. So, when I decided to do the first of the exercises in the book which aims “to access the dynamics of one of your ancestors”, I thought that I would concentrate on my grandfather. To my surprise however, no sooner had I begun the exercise when his mother, my great grandmother, came very prominently into my focus. I even felt her sitting beside me. She was dressed in a heavy, black, high necked dress and seemed to impart a feeling of great sadness and a life of hard work and sorrow. I knew very little about her at the time apart from her name and the details stated on my grandfather's birth certificate. I still don't know a lot about her life but I do know that her husband died very young leaving her with 6 children aged 2 to 16 and pregnant with another child who was born a few months after his death. I was very moved by this experience and it really brought home to me that our ancestors are much more than just names and dates on certificates. I think it was the beginning of my interest in researching the history of the times in which each of my ancestors lived. This, I have come to realise will be a life long project as there is so much to discover about times past.

In the book, the author David Furlong suggests that at first we need only go back as far as the past three generations. He says that it is these generations that would be exerting the strongest patterning on the present generations. However, in my family I feel that I need to go back one more generation to my great great grandparents. In my family history, in that generation, there are convicts, a female famine orphan and refugees from the devastating effects of famine in Ireland. This poverty, suffering and hardship must surely have had an impact on the generations that followed.

I realise that the ideas in this book may not be for everyone. Many people may think that the life of an ancestor could not possibly have any influence on their life today and that the healing techniques suggested may seem too spiritual or “new age”. However, family therapists and ancestral healers are beginning to speak about patterns of behaviour and experience that flow through generations and appear to cause disharmony and repetitive patterns of dysfunction. They say that the first step to changing these patterns and clearing blocked energies is to become aware of them. I can see many unhelpful patterns in my family which have been repeated through the generations and I am very open to the idea that there are ways in which I could clear and change them for this generation and future generations.

I believe that the lives of our ancestors are part of us and their stories are within us and I also believe that loving our ancestors for the people they were goes a long way to healing the past. I believe that everyone who is researching their family history is already doing this by recognising and naming their ancestors and documenting their lives. You have only to attend a family history session or seminar or a research library and listen to people speaking about the details they have discovered about their forebears to know how important they are to them. They speak with pride and awe of the achievements, survival stories, quirkiness and yes, even the bad behaviour they have uncovered. In my opinion, there is great healing power in doing this because we recognise and honour those who went before us and who have made our lives possible. However, for those who would like to go a little deeper into discovering family patterns that may be making life more difficult than it need be for the present generations I think that undertaking some healing rituals could be a very meaningful task. I am definitely going to continue with it.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

The family at leisure

Do you know someone who has been caught up in the Pokemon Go craze? or maybe someone who spends a lot of time on Facebook or Instagram or other form of social media? I'm not a fan of social media or computer games, but my daughter recently introduced me to a couple of games to play on my phone while I’m on the train or waiting for something else. I even helped her to catch a few Pokemon, while she drove. She’s giving this up when she reaches 100, which will be very soon. She has other more traditional interests such as quilting and beading, which contrast markedly with the computer-based activities. Allocating leisure time to computer games differs significantly from my activities in years gone by and certainly those of earlier generations.  

I am a member of an organisation which caters to those who are retired or semi-retired; it offers groups for those interested in activities as varied as gardening, scrabble, mahjong, theatre and movies, books, dining, tours, walking. If anyone asks me what my interests are I usually answer genealogy/family history and reading. Sport has never played a part in my life, but this is not the case for many.
How did our ancestors pass their leisure time, if they had any? It’s worth remembering that, dependent upon the time period, they would have had to rely on candles for light at night. No electricity meant no radio or TV, certainly not a computer. 
Pigeon sheds at the
bottom of the garden
One of my grandfathers, a coalminer, bred and raced pigeons; my dad took this up when he was young. I have an early newspaper record of him when one of his pigeons won a prize. In later years he won other awards, which my mum proudly displays in her glass-fronted cabinet. Like his father, and many of his ancestors, my dad was a coalminer and pigeon racing must have been a fantastic release for those who spent so much of their time underground to be out in the fresh air.  As well as the camaraderie of the pigeon club, members had to consider breeding, detailed computations of winners and losers, and manual tasks such as cleaning out the shed. 

My paternal grandmother was a dressmaker and she had an old-style treadle Singer sewing machine on which she used to make a lot of clothes and other things. She didn’t do as much of this as she got older. This is not her in the photo, but it may as well have been. Her other craft pastime was crocheting and she taught me how to do this.  A talented pianist, she rarely used sheet music, playing by ear. One aunt knitted everything from children’s clothes to sweaters as well as suits comprising a jumper and skirt.

An English pub
Time outside work was really devoted to ‘doing’ something rather than just sitting, apart from the time spent over a pint or two at the local pub, that is.  Where I grew up, leisure revolved around family and friends either in the home or in the local pub. Men played games, such as cards, dominoes and cribbage, in the local pub – again a way of maintaining friendships and relationships.

Activities were productive: the focus in the garden was to grow vegetables for the family table rather than produce lovely flowers; keeping chickens for their eggs, as well as to eat, helped the family to manage its food budget. We also used to sell fresh eggs to several friends and family members, which provided a small source of income.  

Walking and cycling were the main forms of transport, rather than leisure activities, although I remember going for walks on weekend summer evenings with my parents and brother and sister. Living in a semi-rural area provided opportunities for my dad to identify the various birds and trees for us. The long summer nights during school holidays meant we didn't have to get up early to go to school the following morning, so as a special treat we would stop off at the fish and chip shop on the way home.    
Just as technology has changed our working lives dramatically, it has also impacted on our leisure time. Do you remember what you did when you were young? Have any family leisure activities come down through the generations? do they tell you something about the character or nature of your ancestors? You’ll find reports on a wide range of activities in local newspapers. They are worth following up to learn more about what our forebears preferred to do, rather than what was necessary. Also take the time to dig out your own certificates, medals, and other items such as statuettes and rosettes, to help you document your prowess and achievements. 

Until next time


Sunday, 11 September 2016

It Is a Great Time to be Irish!

For many years if you mentioned you had Irish research the other person said how sorry they were for you as "everything had burned".

While it is true that many records of great use to family historians were destroyed in the Four Courts Fire, it is not true that everything was destroyed.

Over the last number of years more records have been digitised and placed online including the 1901 and 1911 censuses. (Sadly only fragments of previous censuses have not survived)

Civil Registration Certificates

Previously you have had the option of purchasing historical certificates: Births >100 years ago, Marriages >75 years ago and Deaths >50 years ago.

Today (8th September) is the official online launch of a fantastic resource. The digitised historical civil registration record images are in the process of going online for download as a PDF (whole page) for free (free as of 8 September 2016).

The Treasure Trove site is the Republic of Ireland Irish Genealogy site

Click through to the search Civil Registration and of course I search for Quested (remember I run the Quested One Name study, always happy to find them anywhere anytime!)

You will need to acknowledge you are not a robot and fill in your name before you will get the results.

Note you can search all at once but unless you have a very unusual surname it is probably not the best way to go. (Quested gave five entries three deaths and two marriages).
Three results were returned. Click through on the name and as you can see there is the word image at the bottom of the result. Click on that and you are taken to the full page PDF of the civil registration records.

Currently the site is still in the process of uploading the images and my other two deaths in 1867 and 1868 are not yet available.

There are a number of other resources available on the site or links to other search pages of interest.

Yes certainly a great time to be Irish!

Remember the Genealogical Society of Queensland also has subscriptions for a number of pay sites that you can access at the rooms that also have Irish records such as Findmypast with many digitised records and also an increasing number of Irish Newspapers. Just another benefit of being a member!

Monday, 29 August 2016

Family History Gems Hidden in Plain Sight

Hello again – it seems that my first effort at blogging a couple of months ago was alright, as I have gotten another invite to write the entry for the 5th Monday of the month.  So here goes ….

Many murder mysteries often have vital clues “hidden in plain sight” for the protagonists, and the reader/viewer, to miss noticing right up to the critical moment.  Things like a letter hidden in the pages of a book on a shelf right by where the body was found or the like.

Finding information about our family histories is sometimes similar to a murder mystery. Vital information can often be hiding in plain sight, in that the information we seek has always been where it is, but we have not looked “there”.  Yet.  We don’t look because we often think that there could not possibly be any worthwhile information in that place or any reason to look there.

I beg to differ on that point.  I have learnt the hard way.

I am an interloper in Queensland.  My parents brought me here as a child in 1963 from Melbourne, Victoria.  My parents, myself and my two brothers are the only members of either my maternal and paternal lines living in Queensland.  All the other rellies, apart from an uncle and cousin who came much later, were “stay at homes” in Victoria.  I have known that fact for the past 53 years.  It is irrefutable, so why would I bother to look for information in Queensland, eh?

Well …

A little while ago I was checking out the online indexes for inwards passengers on the Queensland State Archives website.  I was looking for a record for someone else, but while I had the item on screen, I also looked for Clydesdale’s – my maternal line.  I was shocked to find that there were indeed some listed.  In fact, one fellow, Andrew Clydesdale and his family were related to me.  So were all the other Clydesdales listed, as all Clydesdales are, to some degree – we just have to prove it.  It is not a large family, though it is wide spread. 

I was surprised to see them here, as I would have expected them to have gone to Victoria, where they had relatives already established.  The reason may have been because he was a printer and had a job offer in Queensland.  As it was he rose through the profession and ended up at one stage as either the Chief Editor or Owner, or both perhaps, of the Telegraph newspaper in Brisbane in the 1930s or so – still to be fully proved.

A second surprise regarding Andrew Clydesdale occurred just a couple of weeks ago.  I was in the GSQ Resource Centre idly browsing the bookshelves while waiting for someone I wanted to talk with to finish a mobile phone conversation.  I came across an old book on Glasgow history printed in 1899.  As my Clydesdales came from Glasgow, being bakers there, I took it down to see if there was any mention of them in it.  There wasn’t.  Then I happened to notice the inscription on the front fly page.  “To Andrew Clydesdale from his good friend Tom Henry, Glasgow, 1902”.  Well!  Knock me down with a feather! You can’t get better than that, can you?  Here was an item that had been owned by my ancestral relative, sitting on the shelves for goodness knows how long, of the society that I am currently president of.  And I never knew.  You can’t get much more hidden in plain sight if you tried.

The third occurrence - things always come in threes, don’t they? – also concerns Queensland State Archives.  I was idly searching through their online catalogue one day while waiting for some records to be retrieved, when I thought to put in my own surname, Doherty, just to see what came up. I did have the occurrence of the Clydesdales to spur me on here, though this was some time after that.

Again I was shocked to find a record that was related to me.  The first name on the results list was that of my father!  What on earth was he doing there with a letter in a Queensland Government departmental file.   For a few years after our arrival in Brisbane my father worked in several jobs for other people.  In about 1966 he decided to work for himself and took the plunge, purchasing a news- paper delivery run in the Moorooka area.  Initially it was just the delivery run, and his office was the family garage, then he leased a shop on Ipswich Road, becoming a proper Newsagent.  He then tried to apply for a Casket Agency to sell lottery tickets, and had some difficulties in obtaining it, as there was another shop on the other side of Ipswich Road already selling Casket tickets.  That is what the letter is about, explaining the reasons why people didn’t want to cross the road to buy their tickets – too much traffic basically, even back then.  The letter also contains a potted history of his business and some local history of the area.  I lived through that, even working in the shop, helping my dad wrap papers for delivery, and selling newspapers after school – I was a “paperboy” - but I wasn’t paying attention – I was a teenager!  This was all really good stuff, which I never expected to find where I did.

So the moral of this blog entry is, no matter how irrefutable your personal knowledge of your family’s history, whereabouts and activities might be – look in every repository you can possibly think of and have access to!    

You just never know what might turn up.

Geoff Doherty

Monday, 22 August 2016

King Philip's War

What began as an effort to contextualise the life of my ancestor George Parker (1612-1656), who emigrated to Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635, has consumed me for weeks as I continued reading the History of Plymouth Plantation 1606-1646 (William Bradford, governor of the colony 1626-1656; William T. Davis, ed, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1908, Although the initial foothold on the North American continent ended in disaster (Jamestown, 1608), Bradford's Plymouth Colony has come to be regarded as the seminal event in American history because the principles of democratic government were enshrined by these colonists before they disembarked from the Mayflower in 1620.  Other ships followed the Mayflower, bringing thousands more colonists interested less in religious freedom and good governance than in making money.  They did so at the expense of the native American population, a fact that (at least for my generation of Americans) was glossed over with sentimentalised accounts of pioneer heroism against Indian savagery. In reality, the 1620 colonisation was the start of an insidious pattern:  the invasion of Indian land, followed by a period of trade and friendly exchange, until the Indians came to realise that they were being swindled, objected, and found themselves in a position of having to accept the invaders or fight to preserve their remaining tribal lands - but they were outnumbered by an enemy possessed of superior weapons and technology.  Facing either extermination of acculturation, one of them – Metacom aka King Philip  chose to fight rather than lose his country.
In 1675-76, Metacom led the final effort of the North American Indian tribes to expel the English invaders. It was known as King Philip's War, aka Metacom's Rebellion. It lasted 14 months and destroyed 12 frontier settlements from Massachusetts to Rhode Island. In August 1676, Metacom was captured and beheaded. The colonists regarded their victory as a sign that God favoured their colonial endeavours. The surviving Indians faced cultural disruption and further expropriation of their lands.
Metacom was a sachem (chieftain) of a federation of Indian tribes that included the Wampanoags, Nipmucks, Pokunokets, Narragansetts and Mohegans. A child when Plymouth Colony was established, Metacom was called 'King Philip' by the English in acknowledgement of his revered place in the tribe as the son of the Wampanoag chieftain, Massasoit.   Massasoit offered assistance to Bradford's colonists during that first bitter New England winter of 1620, teaching them where and how to plant and harvest corn, guiding them to plentiful hunting and fishing grounds. Thanks in part to the help of the Indians, the colonists survived and, over the next 55 years, as colonial settlement spread into Indian territory, the invaders prospered while the native American population steadily declined. Indians became increasingly dependent on English food and weapons traded for ever-diminishing tribal lands. Tension mounted. Metacom, proud and determined not to give another inch, declared that he would no longer submit to English sovereignty over the Indian nation. An Indian hunter killed cattle owned by a colonist in what is now Bristol, Rhode Island (livestock trampling Indian corn had for years been a source of friction between colonials and natives); the farmer retaliated by killing an Indian. King Philip's War had begun.
Other tribes joined Metacom's rebellion. The native uprising that ensued threatened to wipe the New England Colonies off the map. Towns from Rhode Island to Massachusetts were attacked and burned by Indian warriors. By December 1675, the desperate colonists launched a pre-emptive strike against the neutral Narragansett tribe of Rhode Island. One thousand soldiers from the Massachusetts, Plymouth, Rhode Island and Connecticut colonies marched into Narragansett territory and mounted an attack that became known as the Great Swamp Massacre, which resulted in the deaths of 500 Narragansett women and children sheltering in a winter camp. The Narragansetts abandoned their neutral stance and joined with Philip in raiding and burning towns and taking prisoners for ransom. With only a few warriors left, Philip made hit-and-run attacks on isolated farms but the Indian alliance, facing superior numbers of well-armed militia, collapsed. Philip was captured and beheaded. His death effectively ended native American resistance in New England. Some of his supporters escaped to Canada; those who surrendered were shipped off to the West Indies as slaves and the few who survived either fled to Canada, or died of disease or starvation... all of it a far cry from the glorioius saga of taming the wilderness that been taught in school.
My ancestor George Parker left Massachusetts for Rhode Island in 1636. Although I cannot prove it yet (notwithstanding the Millenium files and other questionable online 'sources') I believe that one of George's descendants may have fought in King Philip's War.  I have yet to find a death record for George's son John Parker born 1854.  John would have been about 22 and presumably in Rhode Island when the war broke out; his father acquired substantial land holdings in Rhode Island and New Jersey, which raises the uncomfortable question of whether George was in any way involved in acquiring tribal lands to the detriment of native Americans.  I wasn't prepared for this discovery and it brings with it feelings of guilt and shame, even though what happened 450 years ago is beyond my ability to change. 

Genealogy can lead to some confronting discoveries.

Geraldine Lee