Politics and Our Ancestors: Finally, it’s a COG topic I really know. After all, the man at the center of my non-genealogical historical research was a politician–specifically a United States Representative–from turn-of-the-century slightly rural Pennsylvania. Though he was primarily a private businessman, his two-term Washington career ultimately became his best-known and most-hyped accomplishment. However, being a persistent researcher such as I am, I soon discovered there was a lot to his Congressional doings that the mainstream local histories and county biographies, well–just forgot to mention. And, at the same time, I found that I was uncovering an interestingly familiar story, one that in this turbulent political season may just prove that some things don’t entirely change with time.
[This blog entry is written for the 55th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy, to be posted at CreativeGene.blogspot.com next month.]
Since the topic for this next edition of the COG is “Show and Tell,” I thought I would present a newspaper article I located by chance today; not connected with my own research, but, I think, a thought-provoking read for genealogists and historical researchers everywhere. Those 1930 census records can be pretty useful whether you’re just starting in genealogy or are a seasoned researcher, but what’s the real story behind those microfilmed old pages? Here’s a Pennsylvania journalist’s take on the matter, written just about when the 15th U.S. Census first got underway–April 4th, 1930:
Census Takers Get Slant on Human Nature
Humor, Courage, Pathos, Tragedy–All These and More Encountered by Enumerators in Day’s Work
By Paul Glynn
Special INS Leased Wire
PITTSBURGH, Pa. April 4–To the earnest seeker after truth, or to the student of human nature, is unhesitatingly recommended a day in the company of the 1930 diogenes, a census taker engaged in the compilation of Uncle Sam’s fifteenth decennial census.
Humor–courage–pathos–tragedy. All these and more are met with as the gigantic job of finding the answers to “who, what, when, where and why” and countless other questions goes on.
For instance, the first question, “who is the head of the house,” brings forth a flood of variegated answers, some unconsciously and some consciously humorous.
“My husband thinks he is,” replied one young housewife with a smile. And another not so young, declared with finality, “I am!”
And then there is the question relating to the ownership of property. One answer to the query, “do you own your home,” was:
“We do, that is, we and the people who hold the mortage.”
And at what price would the owner sell?
“Why, as much as we could get, of course.”
Eager interest and an almost total absence of resentment is noted as the enumerator questions each resident. The queries are put in an impersonal, efficient manner, thus adding to the rapidity of the compilation.
Unemployment proved to be about the biggest obstacle in the way of the census takers to date. Several persons were reluctant to tell of the length of time they had been jobless; some refused outright to answer in the latter case the enumerator reported to his chief.
If all efforts by the chief, and then by the census supervisor, fail to bring an answer the case is referred to the United States marshal. Incidentally, the penalty for failure to answer is $100 or 60 days in jail. A fine of $500 or one year in jail or both may be imposed for making false statements to the enumerator. These penalties are prescribed by section nine of the census act and apply to all persons over 18 years old.
Two totally unrelated articles play a large part in the enumeration–Bibles and gas bills!
A great many wives have recourse to family Bibles, some in foreign text, when the question of their husband’s age comes up. In almost all cases the information wanted was noted in the thumbed pages of the worn testaments years ago–and then forgotten.
Last month’s gas bills are aiding uncle Sam in completing the census, especially in foreign colonies in the cities. Spelling of foreign names proved a problem until one resourceful enumerator called for the gas bill.
And there was the name, neatly typed and ready for copying.
[Shamokin, Pennsylvania, Shamokin Dispatch, 4 Apr 1930, p. 1, col. 2, and p. 11, col. 1]
[This article is written for the 54th Carnival of Genealogy, which is to be posted at What’s Past is Prologue.]
The topic for this edition of Carnival of Genealogy is: “The Family Language…Does your family use words and phrases that no one else knows or understands? Where did they come from? Did you ever try to explain your ‘family language’ to outsiders? Tell a story about your family-coined words, phrases, or nicknames.”
Well, at first this didn’t seem to have much relevance to my own historical research, but that thing about the nicknames caught my attention. Family-coined words and phrases may not apply, but unusual nicknames–that certainly does apply!
Monroe Kulp (1858-1911), the prominent Shamokin, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania native foremost in my research, was frequently known by the nickname of “Farmer.” You’ll notice it just about anywhere in reference to him–recent local history books, even newspaper articles from his own time. However, he had no direct connection to farming, and thus the source of the nickname has always been a bit of a mystery.
I’ve been kind of busy lately so I haven’t been writing as faithfully in this blog, but the evening before last I received a very exciting email which may have provided the first photograph I have found yet–of one of the most important persons in my research.
On August 11, I wrote to the curator of the Historical Society of Dauphin County, asking about a very extensive photo collection they have. Their website says it contains over 1 million images, so I thought I had a fair shot at finding some relevant portraits. For a start, I asked if they had anything about Sarah McConnell or her husband William C. Detweiler; including a few dates and places with my query for clarification.
August 12, evening, I did a final check of my inbox before heading to bed. For the past couple of days it seemed like both my email accounts had been really dead, no messages from anybody, no spam even! 😦 So I didn’t expect to find much. But, to my delight, there was a response from the curator at the Dauphin County Historical Society. The curator wrote:
Hi Val. I searched our photo collection and came up with nothing for Sarah McConnell. The only Detweiler photos that turned up was Philip Detweiler and a group picture that includes a William C. Detweiler dated 4/15/1871. Pictured seated left to right: William A. Kelker, William Calder, Charles C. Lombaert, standing in rear William C. Detweiler. Not sure if he is Champlin Detweiler. I’ve attached a low resolution preview of these images.
In 1871 Detweiler would have been about 15 years old. I haven’t verified if it’s actually him or not, but I would say it is, since it’s a rather uncommon name and there isn’t anyone else in the 1870 census for Dauphin County listed by that name. The man in the photo identified as Detweiler does seem to have been relatively young, although perhaps not as young as 15, but that’s just my impression. Could the date of 1871 be incorrect, perhaps?
In any case, it’s an amazing portrait. Though young, he had a very distinguished appearance, and must have been quite handsome. The photo has an informal and familiar air; the three men, Kelker, Calder and Lombaert, are seated languidly in the foreground, while Detweiler, slender and fair of countenance, stands behind them, his arm resting on Calder’s shoulder. While it’s clear they were probably friends, the Calder connection is especially interesting as Sarah McConnell’s brother, William McConnell’s, middle name was Calder. There were actually about three different William Calders in Dauphin County, according to maley.net’s Dauphin County biographical transcriptions. The one in this photo appears to be much older than his companions, 40-50 years old I would say, so he may be the William Calder listed in the transcription as having been born in 1821, and died in 1880 (possibly son of William Calder born 1788). I suspect that the Detweiler family had known the McConnells for a long time, so if William Calder was a good friend of the Detweiler family, he may also have known the McConnells, hence the namesake.
There are several Kelker families listed in the transcriptions, but no mention of a William. Also nothing on Lombaert, although in the photo he appeared to have been about the same age as Detweiler, probably in his teens.
This is truly a major find in my research. Originally, though, I didn’t think it was especially unusual that this collection of 1 million images included what I was looking for, but recently as I went over the email again (was too excited the first time to read everything!), I noticed that the curator had said there were only two Detweiler surname photos. (Never heard of Philip.) Well, I know that this family wasn’t the only one by that name in Harrisburg–there was also another lawyer by the name of Meade D. Detweiler, who was probably a relation although I don’t have any proof of a connection. He was, in fact, more prominent than the John S. Detweiler family, and I would have thought that in just about any Dauphin County collection there would be more information on him than William C., yet in a collection of a million photos, one of only two photographs with that surname just happened to be what I was looking for. Now that is luck.
Also today, I received an email from the genealogist at Trinity Episcopal. She couldn’t find much in the church records database, but she did some additional searching and came up with some interesting info. She has access to a local directory from 1900-1903 (wherever did she get that? I must know! 🙂 ), and there are some addresses listed I might want to check out. Also mention of MHK being affiliated with some company by the name of Montando Water Co. Interesting, never heard of it. She also says that Chester Kulp, his brother, who was an assistant postmaster, had children enrolled in the Washington School (built 1890, on Sunbury Street). Will have to ask about that.
The submission deadline for the next Carnival of Genealogy is tomorrow, and I have got to get to work on writing the article I will submit. I kept putting it off, as I thought I had plenty of time–and now all of a sudden it’s the 14th. Time flies!