Surname Saturday: Preparing for the Family History Writing Challenge

Your ancestor sits amid the details, seemingly solitary, independent, like a mushroom poking through tangled blades. 

Upon further investigation, you discover others by his side: parents, aunts and uncles, children, cousins, neighbors, bosses, friends, enemies – a figurative forest of ‘srooms.

A forest of 'shrooms

The simple family history narrative that the Family History Writing Challenge beckoned you to write has become a convoluted mess of story lines and mysteries and brick walls.  This predicament is exactly what thwarted my previous attempts to compose the story of Ira Sayles, my paternal great-great-grandfather.  But this year is going to be different.  This year I have committed to writing 500 words a day about this perplexing gentleman.  As Lynn Palermo prompts in her Family History Writing Challenge, these syllables don’t have to be great prose, and the 14,000 words don’t have to produce a finished book.  I just have to remain committed to writing 500 words a day. By the end of February, I will have a start on the reconstruction of Ira Sayles, if nothing else, and I will have a habit of writing, which is infinitely more important than any resolution.

Today’s Surname Saturday prompt from Geneabloggers will be a preparation step for this February project.  Instead of being thwarted by the forest of relations, I WILL be inspired.

AHEM.

Ira Sayles was born to two long-time residents of Glocester, Providence County, Rhode Island in 1817.  In fact, the families of Christopher Sayles and Sarah King had been in the northwestern corner of Glocester – Burrillville – for generations. In 1825, Christopher and Sarah took their young family and went to Tioga County, Pennsylvania.  They left behind Christopher’s dad, Christopher Sayles, who died shortly thereafter; his mom, Martha Brown Sayles had died in 1813.

Tioga County, situated along the north central Pennsylvania-New York border, was a land of fertile soil, hard wood forests and plentiful water.  It was also a land of Sarah King’s family.  Her parents, James IV and Merrobe (Rhobe) Howland King, had emigrated from Rhode Island to the Westfield area in about 1815.  Those two souls had joined Rhobe’s Quaker parents, John and Lois Eddy Howland, who had pioneered the Cowanesque River Valley in 1803-04 with their son, Dr. Eddy Howland and family.

By the time Christopher and Sarah brought young Ira to be a “codenizen with bears, wolves and panthers”¹, there was an extensive network of extended family – like filamentous fungi connecting brilliant ‘srhooms.

Sayles, Kings, Howlands.  As I begin his story, I gaze on all the colorful characters in his life, and happily imagine what remains hidden underneath my genealogical meadow of facts.

Fall color in Amanita muscaria

¹ Sayles, Ira. Letter to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; 1880. Archived in Houghton Library, Harvard University.Copy received 5 April 2010.

I Accept! the Family History Writing Challenge

You are a family historian; a collector of family lore, data bytes, census records, photographs, and old papers that mean nothing to nobody but you.  At some point, the names become people, and then the people become folks you really want to meet, which is a problem when all that is left is their memory.

Thus starts your journey; an impulsion carries you into a room with a blank screen or an empty page, and you sit and stare. And stare. And stare.  Because when it comes right down to it, as much as you know this person, there is twice as much left to uncover.  The story goes untold a bit longer.

PROCRASTINATION IS THE ASSASSINATION OF MOTIVATION

Those words have been ringing in my ears, almost as loudly as the high pitched hum of my tinnitus  and they are almost as annoying.  But, as the universe is prone to provide, a reading came my way, a blog post by Lynn Palermo of The Armchair Genealogist in which she offered community, companionship, advice, and encouragement to write that family story I have felt too overwhelmed to attempt.  Now I am counting down the days until I confront the blank page and reconstruct the life of my perplexing, aggravating, inspiring great-great-grandfather, Ira Sayles, during the Family History Writing Challenge.

I commit to writing 500 words a day, each day during the month of February.  

I can’t wait to start!  Check out Lynn’s page, and seriously consider if it is not time to confront your blank page.  Eighteen days and counting!!  See you there!

The Passing of Sarah Sayles: Sunday’s Obituary

I want to thank Nick at the  Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society in Janesville, Wisconsin, for his help in retrieving the following obituary in the Sabbath Recorder, volume 22: issue 18, p. 71.

DIED

In Wellsville, N.Y.; February 24th, 1866, Mrs. SARAH SAYLES, wife of Christopher Sayles, in the 72nd year of her age.   She was a member of the Protestant Methodist Church, and adorned her profession by a godly life.  Her end was one of triumph over the terrors of death and the grave.  She leaves eight children, and twelve brothers and sisters, being the first to die out of her father’s family of children, the youngest of whom is fifty-three.

A quick read of this paragraph reveals my great-great-great-grandmother Sayles to have been a  godly woman; a wife, a mother and sister.  The second read through tickles my curiosity. With its choice of the word “wife”, the author communicates that Sarah was survived by her husband Christopher Sayles, with whom she had had eight children. The author also states that Sarah died in Wellsville.  I know from other family records that the couple had lived much of their adult lives in Tioga County, Pennsylvania.  What, then, was Sarah doing living across the New York state border, in Allegany County?

START WITH THE FACTS AND CHASE THE TALE

1865 New York State Census - Wellsville, Allegany County

1865 New York State Census – Wellsville, Allegany County

The 1865 New York State census marked the trail head to this mystery path:  Sarah and Christopher were sharing a home with their daughter, Rhobe Sayles Crandall.

This discovery pushed me to flush out Sarah’s other seven children and her twelve brothers and sisters. Family historian and cousin, Sharon B,  fed me data crumbs which aided my search, and I reread a transcribed The History of Tioga County (Pennsylvania) on Joyce Tice’s site, Tri-Counties Genealogy and History.  Now my trail was well blazed.

THE FAMILY TREE OF SARAH KING SAYLES

Sarah and Christopher were born and  married in Burrillville, Rhode Island, and they moved to Tioga County, Pennsylvania in 1825. Here they raised eight children to adulthood: Ira (my great-great-grandfather), Rhobe (Crandall), Priscilla (died at age 2), James King, Christopher Loren, Martha (Pickett), Philander, Keziah King (Batcheller), and Adriel King. 

Many of Sarah’s siblings were among the residents of Tioga County, as her parents had also migrated from Rhode Island to Tioga County in 1825.  James and Merrobe (Roby) Howland King had thirteen children: Prince, Allen, Eddy, Ozial, Sarah (Sayles), John, James, Keziah (Crandall), William H, Hannah, Roby, Adriel, and Almon, who being the youngest, was just 53 at Sarah’s death.

Newspaper notices capture the facts of a life.

Sarah King Sayles passed from this earth on a Saturday, the 24th of February 1866.  That fact, and the reference to all those who shed tears upon learning the news, is easily transmitted in newsprint.

But who was Sarah, really?  I am left with as many questions as Sarah had siblings.   How did Christopher and Sarah contribute to their children’s household?  Where did her siblings reside?  How much time passed before they knew of her death?  Her obituary states that she adorned her profession with a godly life.  How did Sarah practice her faith?  Did any of her children serve in the Civil War? How did that affect her?  As she triumphed over the terrors of death, did she suffer a lingering illness?

Just who was Sarah King Sayles?

The Prayer-Centered Life of Florette Sayles Strickland

A most touching note came by snail mail last week.  My uncle, a darling man with a twinkling smile and gentle eyes, shared a memory of his mother, my grandmother.

“Mom went down on her knees beside her bed to pray,” he wrote, “EVERY night before going to sleep.  The attached is her adaptation of The Lord’s Prayer.” (copied in her hand sometime in November 1971)

Sunday’s Obituary: “And he was prospered beyond the lot of most men”

In the Sabbath Recorder, a newspaper of the Seventh Day Baptist Church, the following obituary appeared on September 20, 1860:

DIED

WHITE — At the Utica State Asylum, Sept. 4th, 1860, Samuel S. White, of Independence, Allegany County, aged 64 years.  Mr. White had been suffering from a partial, and at times, a total mental alienation, since about the 9th of October of last year.  In the fore part of November, he was removed to the Asylum, where his last days were spent.  After he became an inmate there, his physical health seemed to improve, and with it, his mental; especially was this the case during the past spring.  But, in the fore part of August, pulmonary consumption set in, and terminated in his death within a month.  Mr. White settled in early life, forty-two years ago last April, in the the town of Independence, earnestly and successfully devoted himself to business, and was prospered beyond the lot of most men.

New York State Lunatic Asylum at UticaFile:Utica03.png

By the 1850s, mental alienation was considered a disease of the brain that was treatable.  Its causes and cures were rooted in environmental factors found in food or water  and social issues like a stressful work environment.  The New York State Asylum at Utica was the institutional home of the American Journal of Insanity, and through its Superintendent, Dr. John Gray, at the forefront in the treatment of mental illness. It was held that insanity was curable, but that the patient had to be totally isolated from family and the stresses of society.  An orderly, controlled environment of light work, recreation and rest was essential to the cure. In instances in which a patient was at risk of harming him/herself or others, restraints were used.  One such device was the “crib”, a box shaped bed with a cover of slats,  which was securely locked while the patient was inside.

Samuel White was ill in October 1859.  However his mental instability manifested itself, his wife, Nancy Teater White, and children must have been gravely concerned, seeking the counsel of their local physician.  The decision to continue treatment at Utica was probably one of hope, with an expectation that this community leader would return home, cured of his mental alienation. Samuel was seen by Dr. Gray, diagnosed as insane and admitted to the men’s ward of the great Greek Revival building in early November 1859.

File:Utica02.png

What treatments did Samuel require that winter?  Was he permitted to socialize among the other 300 patients; or was he contained in a “crib?”  And at the end, as he lay dying of pulmonary consumption or tuberculosis, did Dr. Gray break the rule forbidding contact with family, and allow Nancy and his children to visit, to comfort him as he passed over?

“and he was prospered beyond the lot of most men.”

1. Photograph gallery of New York State Insane Asylum at http://www.AsylumProjects.org

2. Era of Asylum.  “Overview of Mental Health in New York and Nation.”  New York State Archives.  accessed September 29, 2012.

3. “A visitor to the Utica Insane Asylum.” Weekly Wisconsin Patriot. (Madison, Wisconsin). Volume 6: Issue 42: page 2 (Saturday, January 7, 1860).  Accessed on GenealogyBank.com September 29, 2012.