Sunday, March 22, 2015

Justified Fear

Without a doubt, the fear was justified.

What initially began like the flu soon became much more. Within days of the beginning symptoms of fatigue, fever, headache and general discomfort, spots began to appear.  The red spots were followed by the formation of deep, painful blisters which often covered much of the body. Although not all who contracted smallpox died, all suffered greatly and the resulting deep pitted scars left their unmistakable mark on its victims for a lifetime.

The John Monroe Ganus family moved about considerably over the years. In the early years they lived in Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and Colorado. In about 1897 the family moved to Indian Territory, which would later become Oklahoma.

Smallpox comes up with some frequency in the history of the early days of Indian Territory. Although smallpox certainly was not unique to Indian Territory (Oklahoma), the risk appears to have been greater than it had been in Colorado where the Ganus family previously lived.  For example, according to the "Annual Report" by the United States Public Health for the year 1909, Oklahoma had 1,328 cases of smallpox with 6 deaths as compared to Colorado's 345 cases and no deaths. (see page 188)

A microfilm at the Family History Library entitled "Creek Nation: Outbreaks" for the years 1882-1909 * covers the period my ancestors lived in Okmulgee, in Creek Nation. It was while living in Indian Territory that my Great Grandfather William Franklin Ganus died in 1906 at the age of 53, and my Great Grandmother, Sally died in 1909 at the age of 45. In addition, my Gr Gr Grandmother Olivia Ganus died there in 1902, followed by my Gr Gr Grandfather John Monroe Ganus  in 1906, Although it's obvious that my great great grandparents were considerably older,  I've always thought it was curious that the four died in a relatively short span of time and particularly that my great grandparents died fairly young while many of the older Ganus generations lived until quite old. Because no death records exist for Indian Territory for that period of time, the cause of death is not known. I wondered if there was a chance that any of my Ganus ancestors died of smallpox.


As I scrolled through the microfilm, it became very apparent that smallpox was a major concern during those years.  There were a variety of records related to the efforts taken to control and reduce the spread of smallpox, such as setting aside funds to deal with outbreaks, plans for immunization and determining where to treat the victims. From the film I learned that on February 18,1899, Okmulgee, where my Ganus family was living at the time, was quarantined for smallpox. How had this impacted the Ganus family?  What changes did they make to the way they conducted their day to day life? Were neighbors and friends ill?

In January of the following year, houses and furniture of some of the ill in the area were burned, leaving the owners of the dwellings homeless. The act was justified as being for the "benefit of all people, white, black and indian residing in Indian Territory and adjoining states and territories."  In addition, a detention camp was prescribed by the board of health. Nurses and doctors were employed to assist in treating the smallpox victims in the camps and hospitals.

As I turned to Oklahoma newspapers, I found a variety of articles pertaining to smallpox.

From the Muskogee Times-Democrat 31 Mar 1909, I learned that the detention hospitals were more than just a place to receive medical attention, but as the name implies, they were literally a place of detention, with serious consequences for those who chose not to be confined. On page 1 I found the following:
 "Sheriff Ramsey today offered a reward of $25 for the apprehension of C. O. Zinn, who escaped from the smallpox detention hospital south of the city night before last."
Some Oklahoma community newspapers carried a monthly bulletin stating which illnesses were most prevalent along with the number of resulting deaths. Some communities listed the individuals suffering from smallpox as well as the specific towns under quarantine. Such was the case in 1909 of Fort Towson, Oklahoma which is located down near the Texas border. According to page 1 of the Dailey Armoreite on May 13th of that year,  the entire town was quarantined due to smallpox and no one was allowed to get on or off the train there without a physician's certificate.

Additionally sometimes courts were cancelled due to outbreaks of smallpox.  On page 2 of The Indian Chieftain (Vinita, Oklahoma) a headline read "DANGER OF SMALLPOX" No Court Should be Held in Vinita at This time." Schools and other pubic gatherings were often cancelled as well.

As a sideline, The Muskogee Cimeter 25 January1907  included the following humorous story.
An Illinois farmer, ...one day received a note from a Chicago friend which read as follows: "My dear John, the small pox is epidemic in this part of the city and for safety, I have taken advantage of one of your many kind invitations and sent my two sons down to you. In two weeks the farmer sent a note to the city friens (sic) which read:  "I herewith return your boys: please send me the small pox."  Oklahoma State Capital, Jan 19, 1907.  (page 1) 
Did any of the early Ganus family members contract smallpox?  I still don't know for sure, but I feel fairly confident that they likely had friends and neighbors who did. While I did not find any of the Ganus family on a list of smallpox victims, I can see that smallpox touched every member of a community in some way and that the fear it generated was justified.



*Creek Nation: Outbreaks, documents 22 July 1882 - 7 Apr. 1909- FHL US/CAN Film 1666283, Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah 

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2015, All rights reserved

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Without Means of Support Part 3

What were Rebecca's options? She was a 68 year old widow and by all indications, she was completely alone. What did elderly women do mid 19th century when they were left alone and with no means of support?

Many in that time period moved in with children, but what if they had no children? As the second wife to David Gurganus, there is no evidence that she ever bore any children. David's children all came through his first wife, Mary Swain. Ellen had been murdered and his sons, James, John and David, had long since moved away. If she had other family living nearby, I have found nothing to support that possibility. But determined and likely desperate, Rebecca appealed to two sources for help.

 On the third of November of 1851, listed in the Inferior Court Minutes for Bibb County as “insolvent,” Rebecca received a sum of $10.00.  It is the last time her name appears on the Pauper Account for Bibb County. I am not sure how she survived from that point on. 

On the 6th of November of 1852,  Rebecca next applied for a widow’s pension for Revolutionary War Soldier. Sadly, her pension application reveals very few details about her. 

On the application, Rebecca indicated that she was born in Edgefield, South Carolina and she stated that she and David were married in the Edgefield County Court house in 1816, although she indicated that she had no record of that marriage.There was no mention of her maiden name nor whether or not she had ever had children or if even this was her first marriage. 

I am sure she hoped for a merciful outcome as she made the following representation:
“She further says that her said husband has always been reputed and regarded in every neighborhood in which he has lived by his neighbors and those who have known him the longest as a Revolutionary Soldier and she believe him to have been one.”
Locals came forward to testify in her behalf, indicating that she was very old and very poor, but worthy and deserving and that they believed her to deserve the pension.  But ultimately her claim was rejected for lack of proof.

I found one final mention of Rebecca. A few weeks following her efforts to get a widow's pension, the following notice appeared in The Georgia Telegraph, p. 4 on 23 November 1852  for Bibb County:
BIBB SHERIFF SALE 
"Will be sold before the courthouse door in the city of Macon, Bibb County, on the first Tuesday in December next, between the usual hours of sale, the following property to wit.  Ten acres of land in the county of Bibb, adjoining the land of John Burkner, Esq. lying on the Forsyth road about four miles from the city of Macon and known as the place occupied by Mrs. Gurganus, together with all improvements. . . "
"Charles Ethan Porter - Autumn Landscape - Google Art Project" by
Charles Ethan Porter (1847 - 1923)
At that point Rebecca seemingly disappears. With no apparent means of support, and no place to live, where did she go? What did she do?

According to "A Digest of the Statute Laws of the State of Georgia" by Thomas Read Rootes Cobb, on page 1146, the Inferior Court was authorized to establish an asylum for the maintenance of the poor. Impoverished and aged, I wondered if perhaps Rebecca had turned to such a place. 

However, I was not able to find any information about whether Bibb County ever built such an asylum or if there was one nearby for the poor. I contacted the Middle Georgia Regional Library located in Macon, Bibb County, Georgia because of their genealogy collection and archives. They reported that there is no evidence of an asylum or facility for the poor in Bibb County during the 1850's. 

I am uncomfortable with endings that leave me hanging and so, every so often, I return to Rebecca, determined to learn what happened to her, wishing I had her maiden name, wondering if she had children, wondering where she went when she seemingly had no one and was without means of support. 

Some day I hope I find out.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2015, All rights reserved

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Without Means of Support, Part 2

It was 1849 and Rebecca was living just outside of Macon with her husband David Gurganus.  Dependent on funds from the Pauper Account from Bibb County, Georgia, they got by.  David’s oldest daughter, widowed and in her fifties, had moved in with them.   

In the spring of 1849, an event occurred that changed everything.  David’s widowed daughter, Mary Ellen, was brutally murdered in their front yard and David was clubbed in the head with the butt of a rifle. (The complete story is told here.)

Rebecca, stood helplessly by as she witnessed the horrific scene. After the attacker fled, it was Rebecca's wails that brought a nearby neighbor running to help. Finding Ellen dead from a gunshot wound to the neck and 87 year old David, kneeling on the ground, bleeding head in his hands, the neighbor carried David into the house and then went for help.

By Harry French [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Rebecca testified at the trial of Ellen’s murderer in September of 1849, but David was not well enough to even attend the trial much less testify. Newspaper accounts indicated it was unlikely that he would ever recover. As predicted, he never did fully recover and passed away the following March.  In a relatively short time, Rebecca found herself completely alone.

Rebecca had no means to pay for David’s coffin. Inferior Court minutes show that E.B. Mims was reimbursed for the cost of David's coffin from the Pauper Account. It was also the Pauper Account that continued to sustain Rebecca.


According to the newspaper,The Macon Messenger, in July of 1850 there were three unclaimed letters addressed to Rebecca Gurganus at the post office. I can't help but wonder, who wrote her?   Did she have children from a previous marriage? Did she have living siblings that knew of her plight?  Did she ever pick up and pay for her mail and did she respond? 

What did Rebecca do next?  I will share what I know in next post. 

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2015, All rights reserved

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Without Means of Support

Where would she turn next?  Alone and with limited means, Rebecca had to find a way to support herself. Her life had changed drastically in a few short years. 

It was 1852 in Macon, Georgia and Rebecca Gurganus was widowed and sixty nine years old.  If she and her deceased husband, David Gurganus, had children, there is no evidence of such and so, by all appearances, she was truly very alone.  

Rebecca had been married to David for thirty-six years.  She was 33 years old when she married David, a 53 year old widower with three boys at home. His boys James, David and John Wesley were all from his first marriage to Mary Swain and by 1830 were married and had moved away.

A Long Hard Winter, Library of Congress 1893 
In 1847, David had attempted to obtain his Revolutionary War pension, but like many applicants, he was unable to provide sufficient proof.  It had been 67 years since his first tour and while he remembered the names of a few men with whom he served, it had been almost 50 years since he lived in Pitt County, North Carolina where he entered the service. He then moved to Edgefield, South Carolina and later settled in Macon, Georgia.  It’s not difficult to imagine why he no longer had proof of his service and why none of the men with whom he had served were around to testify in his behalf.  


Beginning in 1849, David, aged, impoverished and with few options, turned to Bibb County for help.  From that time until his death, he and Rebecca appeared in the Inferior Court minutes on the Pauper Account, relying on the county for assistance.

Sometime in the early 1840s, David’s widowed daughter, Mary Ellen Pratt, who was in her early 50s, moved in with David and Rebecca and together they all lived about 4 miles from Macon, on the road to Forsyth.  Life was not easy, but they were together and for a time, that was enough.  Coming events would change Rebecca's life dramatically.

To see where Rebecca fits in, click on the Gurganus tab above and then select "David Gurganus Sr." 


Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2015, All rights reserved

Monday, February 2, 2015

A Tractor, Grandpa and Me


A few years ago while visiting our daughter's family in Washington state, I stood out in their back yard one beautiful spring morning and watched the field behind their house being plowed. Seeing the tractor make its way back and forth across the field took me back to my childhood summers spent with my cousins in Colorado. I have fond memories of driving the tractor as my cousins baled hay. As I stood out in the back yard that day, watching and remembering "the good ole days," our daughter's neighbor noticed my interest and invited me to ride along for a bit.


Heber Monroe Ganus, San Luis Valley Colorado


As I climbed up into the enclosed cab, I was amazed at how things have changed. With air conditioning, cushioned seats and a GPS system which ensures perfectly aligned rows, that tractor was a far cry from the open air John Deere I bounced and bumped around on so many years ago.

The funny thing is, the Deere that I drove was a vast improvement over earlier farm equipment, a fact verified by a few pictures I have of my Grandpa Ganus with plows.

I love the photo of Grandpa and his two children taken in the fields of the San Luis Valley of Colorado and I also love the photo below of him with a team and the plow behind.

I am not sure what type of fields they were plowing in either picture, but alfalfa fields are common there. 

Grandpa did not attend college and only had a seventh grade education, so he did what he could to provide for his family. He farmed, worked on a reservoir and in his later years worked as a mechanic.

Born in Oklahoma in 1900, he lived most of his life in Colorado, but due to health problems he returned to the lower elevation of Oklahoma in the final years of his life.  Grandpa passed from this life in 1964.  My how things have changed since Grandpa was alive.

Although riding in the modern tractor made me feel a little more removed from the soil, there were elements of plowing the field that felt the same as when I was a kid on that John Deere. I was out doors, the sun was shining and I felt joy from being out in nature. And while I know that plowing was a lot more work back in Grandpa's day, I can't help but wonder if he too loved the feeling of being outdoors behind the plow.

Heber Monroe Ganus, San Luis Valley Colorado



Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2015, All rights reserved

Monday, January 26, 2015

Searching for Perry

It has been over a month since my last post about the Perry family.  While I am not going to share all that I found on each family here, I am willing to share with anyone that has an interest. You can contact me using the "Email me"  link on the main page.  I will say that I feel a little disappointed with what I found, or should I say, what I did not find.

While I knew it was a long shot, I had hoped that as I researched down through the generations, I would eventually find Ganus and Perry families living near each other or some evidence of a close relationship.  In my family we have three generations of family members using the name Perry as a first or middle name and the story is that years ago there was family of significance with that name.

Therefore I was excited when I discovered that my second great grandmother's sister had a child who married into a Perry family. However, it does not appear that the descendants of my second great grandmother, Olivia (Rainwater) Ganus and her sister Frances (Rainwater) Bailey, ever lived close to each other even though Olivia and Frances chose to live close to one another during much of their married lives in both Alabama and Georgia.  One of Frances' daughters married a Perry and they eventually migrated to Oklahoma, as did Olivia's children, however the Ganus family was generally in the Oklmulgee County area of Oklahoma and the Perry family ended up in the Comanche County area, a distance of nearly 200 miles.
Map:  Federal Census Bureau Map 

On the maternal side of my family, my Grandma Hostetter provided a glimpse into the relationship between her family and her mother's sister's family in her journal. She documented a trip her family took from their home in Colorado to an aunt's home in Utah. Although the two families never lived in close proximity to each other, her journal entries helped establish the fact the two families remained in contact. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, no journal or any letters exchanged between family members exist for either the Ganus or Perry family and there seems to be nothing to suggest that the descendants of the two families were aware of each other, at least certainly nothing that warranted the naming of children after the other. If anyone has evidence to the contrary, I would love to hear from you.
Charles F. Perry, Hubert Perry, Huey Perry, Sam Crenshaw, Mary Ann Ayers Perry, Gerushia Laura Perry
Mary Ann Ayers Perry, along with her children
Courtesy of descendant, David
A descendant of Mollie's shared the above picture with me. He regretted that the photo is in such poor condition, but it is exactly as he received it.  It is always icing on the cake to have a picture.  I am thrilled that the photo exists and that he generously shared the photo with me and allowed me to in turn share it with you. Thank you David!

Back row, left to right:  Charles F. Perry b. 1886,  twins Hubert and Huey (source unsure of which twin is which), last man is likely Sam Crenshaw (Gerushia's husband).  Bottom row: First two women are likely in-laws, then Mary Ann (Ayers) Perry and Gerushia Laura Perry b. 1884.


Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2015, All rights reserved

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Understanding the Law Brings Perspective

It's Wednesday following the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy 2015  and I finally have a few minutes to share my experience. SLIG was a fun yet intense week of studying many aspects of the law with Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, and Rick Sayre.  I have long wanted to take a class that would help me understand how the law affected my ancestors' lives and that would teach me how to find those particular laws, so I was excited to take the course The Family History Law Library.

 Rick Sayre and Judy Russell 
As January arrived, I began to worry. Would I understand what was taught? Would I be able to keep up? Would I retain what I learned so that I could use it? Would there be a lot of homework and would I be able to do the homework?

Well leave it to Judy and Rick to ensure that yes, we would understand what was taught and yes, we would keep up
(most of the time anyway). The class was fun and engaging as we learned many of the ways the law impacted our ancestors' lives.  And of course we also learned where to find those laws as well.

With the help of an excellent syllabus and scads of documents in our Google Drive, Judy and Rick made sure we would have the needed resources to help us as we review what we learned and continue in our quest to better understand the law.

And yes, there was homework. It challenged me and made me think, even though my brain rebelled and did its best to convince me that the homework was too hard and that I was much too tired.

Among other things, we covered state courts, Federal courts,  legislative and executive records, state property law, the Serial Set, immigration and naturalization.  We learned about civil law, common law, family law, probate law and military law. We learned about Irish law, German law and  then about French law as we delved into Louisiana.  It was fabulous and exhausting all wrapped up into one wonderful week.

It made me realize how many of the difficult to understand situations in my ancestor's lives are woven in and around the law and I am anxious to dive in and see if applying what I learned can help me to at least understand my ancestors a little better but also hopefully take me a step further in solving some of my never ending genealogical mysteries.

Thank you so much Judy Russell and Rick Sayre for a fantastic week!

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2015, All rights reserved