Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Importance of Family Stories: The Fable of Jack and Jill


This is a "lost" post, originally intended for publication on Wednesday, 28 November 2007. It was discovered in the "Draft" file on Wednesday, 31 May 2017 (a mere nine and half years late!).

I know two young persons who are about to get married. For the sake of this story, let's call them Jack and Jill [certain other personal identifying information has also been changed to protect the privacy of individuals. Dates and places of genealogically significant events have not been changed.] They live somewhere in the United States of America. Jack, 32 years old, is an assistant professor at a well-known university. Jill, also 32, is a chemist for a small private company.

Jack identifies himself as an African-American. Most people would call Jill "Caucasian" or "white."
But if you know her, you get the impression she doesn't spend a lot of time concerned about "what" she is in these terms. And therein lies the root of Jack and Jill's "problem" as they approach their wedding day. Jill, it seems, has some relatives who are glad she's getting married; but that her fiance is a black man, well, not so much. Some of the objections have been so intemperate that Jill after much angst, has decided not to invite certain relatives to the wedding.

Jill had thought that if only her relatives got to know Jack as a person, they might see things differently. That hasn't worked because they aren't interested in getting to know him. But suppose her relatives knew what I know about their family history . . . .

Jill knew of my interest in genealogy and awhile ago, she asked me to help her learn something about a relative, now deceased, that her mother had mentioned. Here's what I discovered as I pursued that mission:

Jill's mother's maiden name is German. Jill's great-great-grandfather, Johannes R., came to New York from Bavaria in 1847. Johannes settled in Queens and married another German immigrant. Their son, also named Johannes, also married another German immigrant. A third Johannes was born of this marriage.

Johannes III left New York when he entered the service during WWII. After the war, Johannes III ended up in Texas where he met and married Conseulo G. Conseulo was the daughter of Cristiano G., who was born in Mexico but crossed the border at will and maintained a residence in Texas and in Mexico. Jill's mother, Barbara, is the fourth child of Johannes and Conseulo.

Jill's paternal great-great-grandfather was Pedro M., born in Cuba in 1866, the descendant of African slaves. He married Maria, whose paternity is unknown, in Puerto Rico in 1890. In 1905, Pedro and Maria moved to Hawaii. In Hawaii, Pedro and Maria raised their sons, including Ricardo M., who was to become Jill's great-grandfather. Ricardo married Victoria S., whose family had immigrated to Hawaii from the Philippines. Victoria's family was of the Ibanag people. In 1920, Ricardo and Victoria had a son, Estaban, Hawaii. Soon thereafter, Ricardo moved his family to California. In California, Estaban grew up and met Anna T., whose family had come from Mexico. Anna had been born in Mexico. Estaban and Anna married and in 1945, had a son which they named Stephen. In 1966, Stephen met Barbara R. and they were soon married. Jill is their only child.

Suppose Jill's recalcitrant relatives knew their own family history. Would they behave differently toward Jack? I suggest that it really takes something more than just the facts. That is a knowledge of family stories that makes the names come alive for them. If they knew Grandpa Pedro through family stories, they might feel as if they really knew him.

Jack and Jill were married in 2007 and today are the happily married parents of two children.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

We've Moved! Come visit us at http://blog.geneablogie.net

But if you'd like, you're welcome to stay here and rummage around to see some of the best posts from the past as they originally appeared.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Missouri Insurance Company

In the first half of the twentieth century, it was a common practice of many immigrant families and African-American families to purchase life insurance policies on their infant children. Indeed, as late as the 1990's, an otherwise respected baby food company was sponsoring such insurance policies.

Why would someone purchase a life insurance policy on an infant? Isn't the textbook purpose of life insurance to provide for the survivors' needs in the event of the insured's premature death? Well, that's one of the purposes. The families who bought these policies [and my family was one] were told that the policies were a way to "build wealth" or to provide a "nest egg" for the young person's adulthood. Sometimes the less-educated or illiterate were simply told that it was a way to "protect" their child.

The policies that were sold in this manner were a species of "whole life" insurance (now sometimes called "permanent insurance"), which simply put, require premiums to be paid for the insured's whole life or for some other specified period until the policy's "cash value" is fully paid up. The insurance component remains in effect as long as the premiums are paid (i.e. for one's whole life--in practice usually to age 95, although I understand now in some cases, it can last to age 121!). The cash value is accumulated from a portion of the premium paid. The policy can be surrendered at certain points for the then-accumulated cash value. (This is a simplified description of what today is a somewhat more sophisticated product).

In the case of these policies on infants, the premiums were payable at least until age 18 or 21 to receive the maximum death benefit; and could be paid longer for a greater cash accumulation.

Whole life and its more recent companion product, universal life insurance, can be good investment vehicles in a well-planned and well-managed portfolio. But the folks buying these products in the first half of the twentieth century rarely had access to financial or estate planning information. And truth be told, they would have been better off in most cases putting their money in the bank.

Today, these policies don't turn up often because of the greater access to other investment and saving vehicles. More people can buy stocks and bonds today than ever could be before. These instruments are no longer just for the wealthy.

One company that sold the infant policies was the Missouri Life Insurance Company, formed in the 1830's as the first insurance company in St Louis (see Missouri History Recalled During Past Week, The Sikeston Herald, March 13, 1936, p.3, available from Newspaper Archive.com). In 1907, the company was issued a corporate charter by the Missouri Legislature. The company existed as a major business force in St Louis and Missouri for more than eighty years.

In 1956, the company changed its name to Life Insurance Company of Missouri (Business Notes, The Sunday News & Tribune [Jefferson City, Mo.], April 15, 1956, p. 9). But in 1957, it was taken over by Cincinnati-based Western & Southern Life Insurance Company, which remains in business today.

These infant policies will eventually become known as a bit of socioeconomic and anthropological ephemera.

Below is a copy of a policy sold by the Missouri Insurance Company in 1953. In addition to the death benefit, there are "Accidental Death Benefits" and "Dismemberment Benefits." The premium on this policy was $0.76 weekly for maximum death benefit of $1000 if premiums were paid for 18 years.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Living in Two Places

GeneaBlogie is between homes right now. No, we're not homeless; some of you have noticed that we have two homes! We are at both:

http://geneablogie.blogspot.com AND http://blog.geneablogie.net.

We will be moving permanently to the latter site. This has been in the works for quite awhile; we had several hiccups along the way. But with the recent spam-flagging of several legitimate blogs on Google's Blogger system, I really accelerated the process. I'm not in need of a nanny; I can be master of my own domains, so to speak.

If you visit us in our new home, you'll see it's not totally ready, but our guests will be comfortable. In a few days, our old place will be boarded up. So update your address books now to:

http://blog.geneablogie.net

Friday, August 01, 2008

Carnival Carousel: Harvesting & Sharing the Bounty

Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, I've been blessed with a bounteous trove of genealogical riches, nearly more than one person can handle. We've been slowly and carefully going through boxes of documents and photographs (and at the rate we're going, we're likely to spend the next 15 years at this!

For this Carnival, I thought I would give you a glimpse of some of the stuff. You'll see the challenges and the joys ahead. You can enlarge any image by clicking on it.

First, there is this curious picture below, which I call "Children in Wagon." I think that there are actually two, maybe even three adults in the picture. I have no idea when or where the photo was taken. I do suspect that it was taken in either Illinois or Missouri. On the back of the original is the handwritten notation "For Francis." That could refer to a number of family members, none of whom seem to be in the picture. Or it may refer to someone other than a family member. The problem is that the people most likely to know have all passed away.

"Children (?) In Wagon" (Photographer unknown; original in possession of Craig Manson, Carmichael, California)



The photograph on the right I labelled "Young Woman." Again, we have no idea of the woman's identity or when the photo was taken. We do have several clues, however. On part of the original which I have covered with the frame here, there is the embossed name and address "Maxwell, 2607 Lawton Ave, St Louis, Mo". This apparently refers to photographer William C. Maxwell, who had a studio in St Louis from at least 1910 until at least 1915. See Early St. Louis Photographers. I haven't found any evidence that the business still exists.

The other potential clues about "Young Woman" are that this was actually a post card. I've come across several post cards with identifiable family members in them, leading me to believe that this was a popular way in which to send pictures in the early part of the twentieth century. Below is the "Young Woman" post card. You can see what kind of shape the photograph is in by looking at the post card back.




There is an address on the post card. To me, it appears to be:

"Miss B. Mc. Quin
2828 Morgan
St Louis
Mo"

And I'm not sure that it isn't "McQuin." There were families named Quin and McQuin in St Louis in the period that Maxwell could have made the portrait. But beyond that, nothing else is known to me about the photo.



The next photograph I call "Surly Woman, Distracted Man." I have no idea who these people are or when or where the photograph was made. I presume that their clothes are a clue. Notice how the man has his right hand tucked inside his coat. And what does the sign behind the man's head say? Another challenge for you photo-sleuths!








Finally, I've come to realize that a lot of the material may be valuable to researchers looking at other families. So from time to time, I'll share some things that may be of broad interest. Today, somewhat apropos of a Carnival, here's a list of couples who were feted on their 50th (or greater!) wedding anniversary in the Archdiocese of St Louis in 2001. See if one of your surnames is there! [Click on pages to enlarge].









Monday, July 28, 2008

Dealing With Thousands of Photographs, etc.--Step 1

We decided as a first step to "sample" one of the boxes. There we found hundreds of photos, a number of documents, vital records (including some for living family members!), and a lot of ephemera. Here's a partial inventory of stuff in that first box:

  1. Photographs, amounting to several hundred.
  2. Two family tree (descendancy) charts, filled out to the sixth generation (how cool is that?!).
  3. Several funeral programs.
  4. School records.
  5. About a hundred newspaper articles dating from the 1930's to the 1970's.
  6. Three Greyhound bus tickets from 1954.
  7. Military records for several individuals.
  8. Three life insurance policies taken out on infants in the 1940's and 1950's.
  9. Two family address directories produced for family reunions in the 1970's.
  10. Several high school diplomas from the 1930's.
As I said, that's only some of the stuff. Photos clearly are the dominant matter there. But here's the deal with the photos in this box: they include portraits from the late 1800's through about the 1940's; Kodak snapshots from the 1940's through the 1970's; and Polaroids from the 1970's and '80's. The portrait type pictures are great--like some we've posted here before. Most, however, are in need of serious rehabilitation. The Kodak snapshots have held up surprisingly well. They are all black & white, and generally show a sense of composition on the part of the photographers. The Polaroids are in better physical shape than one might expect, but frankly, they are just not as nice in most respects as the others. Many of them are contained in small plastic albums from which they are difficult to remove. Some of the pockets contain as many as five pictures. They may not be keepers.

A major problem with the photographs is identification of subject, date, and place. As for the older unidentified pictures, there are few living people who can credibly identify the individuals in them. Isn't amazing how we fail to label our photos?!

One of the things that struck me was a photocopy (and a bad one, too) of two portraits probably taken in the early 1900's. Somebody, I hope, has the originals, but who?

I think the next thing to do is go through all the boxes and segregate the photos, the documents, and the ephemera into separate temporary storage. This will take some discipline to do efficiently, because of the "Hey-look-at-this!" factor.

I've also begun a list of family members likely able to identify the photographs. We did identify a few today, though that was not our main purpose. By the way, I think it useful when labelling these to include a line that says: "ID'd by (name), (relationship), on (date)."