Amanuensis Monday: A Letter From Ira

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to a blog-reading  cousin, Sharon B., who contacted me after perusing this site.  After a flurry of excited email, I received a packet of letters written from MY great-great-grandfather to HER great-great-grandfather.  Today I transcribe the first of these brotherly exchanges.  Thank you, thank you, Sharon!

From Rushford, Allegany County, New York, my great-great-grandfather, Ira Sayles, wrote a letter to his younger brother James Sayles.  The circumstances of that summer of 1869 must have been strained; the weather was unpredictable, his marriage unsatisfactory, his birth family scattered far and wide.  Ira seems unsettled and forlorn.  On a Saturday, July 24 he wrote:

My Dear Brother, James,

Yours of the 18 inst (of the present month) came to hand, last evening.  I need not say I was somewhat surprised: for I had lost all trace of you.  My last to you was directed to LaPorte, and was never answered.  I received a paper published at Austin, Minn. sometime last summer, a year ago.  Your name was onit, and I supposed you sent it.  This was ll the clue I had to your whereabouts.   I could not discover where that was mailed.  So I supposed you would rather I should not know.  Of course I was quiet.  I am glad to receive a line now.  Since I wrote to you, my matters have run along in the usual track.  My year’s expenses devoured my year’s salary, and left me as poor, today, as one year ago today.

Serena (White Sayles) does not dispose of much of her landed property, though, of course.  She is moving to sell her Alfred property, house (1) and all, for six thousand.  It ought to bring ten thousand and she wanted me to invest her means in Virginia lands.  Then she thought she didn’t dare trust me alone, so she went with me.  It was exceedingly warm; and I suspect she will not go again, very soon.  (2)  I could get and make a splendid home there, at a very low price.  But it is all of no use.  The means of making such a home are hers.  Where she says invest, there investment will be made, or nowhere.

Loren (another younger brother) is in East Boston, I suppose.  He has twice inquired of me for you.  I could not tell. so the matter has rested.

I am again engaged in this school (Rushford Union School/Academy), for another year.  So you will know where I may be found.

This season has been a very unfavorable one for corn with us; but wheat has done well.  Grass has a heavy growth, but the weather for haymaking is tremendous.  No on can guess what hour it may rain like Noah’s flood.  These rains are frequently cold as April rains.

We are all very well.  I have not recently heard from any of our brothers and sisters.  My respects to Lucinda and Anna.

Very truly, Your Brother,

Ira

(1) The Gothic house on Alfred University’s campus, built by her father, Samuel S. White, in 1852 to house the Sayles’ family.  Both Ira and Serena were on faculty at the time.

(2) In fact, the family had purchased a farm in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, just south of what would become Chase City, by the spring of 1870, when it was recorded to be the residence of Ira and eldest son, Clifton.

Tuesday Tip: Think Outside the Search Box

I favor Google Chrome, a largely irrelevant opinion.  We all start in the box.

Dutifully we type surname and variations; we add locations or events or dates. Genealogists troll the internet for data, stories, articles, and cousins.  I must admit to some success with such random meanderings; but I have felt hungry for context, for a fuller understanding of the intellectual and economic landscape of my ancestors.  Particularly one. My muse.  The one ancestor I wish I could invite to lunch.  Ira Sayles.  Professor, teacher, principal.  Geologist, poet, soldier.  Son, husband, father.  And so I stared at the box and pondered.  What else could the internet expose?  How could I think outside this query box?

Among my earlier query returns was a letter published in The American Journal of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 39, May 1865; it established Professor Sayles’ geology credentials and was cited throughout oil industry documents for the next century. Staying inside the box, I felt proud of this citation. Outside my thought box I wondered: Why was a New York school teacher and administrator writing a letter about rock porosity and oil quality in northwestern Pennsylvania?  And why was he taken seriously?

The blinking cursor taunted me and finally I typed: Ira Sayles’ town of residence in 1865 – Whitesville, New York – and the keywords “oil history”.    Holy moly.  I got a whole new line of research, the most helpful site being developed by fellow genealogists in Allegany County, New York, with the page “Who Drilled the First Wells in Allegany County?”  Among the comments, assembled from various historical resources, was this tidbit: “this well, which was drilled on the Alvia Wood farm in the summer of 1865 by the Whitesville Petroleum Company” which was incorporated “for $2500 on March 6,, 1865, to bore for oil or minerals in Allegany and Steuben counties, and six trustees were named to direct drilling operations.  The stock was sold to residents of the village and vicinity farm owners.”  ( Empire Oil by John P. Herrick)

America’s first oil boom occurred just as the Civil War cannons boomed, and my ancestors were living in the middle of both.  Outside the old search box is a landscape of oil pockets and financiers purses.  Expanding a genealogical search to include more than the names on our trees expands our understanding of their stories, and their communities.

 

 

Mappy Monday: Oil and Coal and Gas! : Pennsylvania’s Resources

In the fall of 1864, Ira Sayles, my great2grandfather, penned a letter to an acquaintance.  From his berth in Meadville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania, Ira described boring samples from nearby oil wells.  An excerpt from this letter was published in The American Journal of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 39, in May 1865.  Ira’s observations about the relationship between the quantity/quality of oil and the porosity and permeability of the area’s Devonian sandstones remained relevant to oil and gas industry geologists well into the 21st century.

Amateur geologist Sayles begins his note by referencing an 1858 map of Pennsylvania, a product of geological surveys conducted between 1836-1857, and printed under the superintendence of Henry D. Rogers, Pennsylvania’s first State Geologist.  The map can be accessed at the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website.

1858 Geologic Map of Pennsylvania

As I studied this map – thoughts racing and crashing into one another – I discovered traces of the Minors and the Sayles, the Delehantys and the Corrigans.  All of these pieces of my past had been influenced by the topography and the geology of the Keystone State, with its deposits of Devonian coal and oil.

With a jolt, I recognized the patterns so carefully displayed; the first Pennsylvania Geological Survey resembles a DCNR map published almost 150 years later!

So, it turns out that the Devonian sandstones Ira Sayles described in 1864 actually cap the black, organic-rich Marcellus Shale now at the center of my state’s natural gas fracking debate. The scavenger hunt for ancestor stories has led me, once again, full circle to my own story.

*The first American oil boom began with the drilling of Edwin Drake’s well in Titusville, Pennsylvania in 1859.

Tuesday’s Tip: RootsMagic 5 from a Novice

Though I have been collecting documents, photographs and family stories for three years, and writing a blog for almost two, I have never tried to systematically record my genealogical information.  Now that I have amassed enough treasure to genuinely call myself a genealogist/family historian, I feel compelled to organize it – to better tell my stories and to refine my research.  

I am fortunate in that my treasures include a great many primary sources: family Bibles, postcards, pension files, letters and ledgers, in addition to those sources plucked from internet repositories.  I need genealogy software that will help me structure data, source it thoroughly and bundle it with transcriptions, summaries and media.  After asking around my +google circles and doodling with a downloaded trial or two, I settled on RootsMagic 5.

Just do it NOW

The sea of data has threatened to drown me more than once in the past couple of months.  Even with a nifty new program I was daunted by the work that lay ahead of me.  Just pick an ancestor NOW, said a cyber colleague.  Just start entering data,  NOW.  Start climbing the software’s learning curve NOW.

So I selected an ancestor, Ira Sayles and Serena, his wife, and just started using Roots Magic 5.  Innocently I chose the 1894 Civil War Pension File, because I wanted to reread the documents within the set and because I remembered that these primary sources contained a rich assortment of dates, names, occupations, etc. Almost immediately I was struck numb with doubt.   How will I ever structure this information so that I capture MORE than dates?  How will I capture stories of his health? His Civil War service?  Then the magic of the software appeared.

RootsMagic 5

The home screen of RootsMagic has a familiar appearance, and is constructed for intuitive use.

Double clicking the person of interest brings up an edit screen.


As you can see, Ira Sayles served during the Civil War; he applied for an Invalid Pension in 1893.  One of my first genealogical research trips was to the National Archives in Washinton, D.C., where my request to see the contents of pension application 1124613 returned a whole sheaf of papers.  Over the New Year holiday I began rereading them, and recording the data in no particular order.  Soon I had three separate entries documenting the fact that Ira Sayles had served in Virginia and succumbed to prolonged exposure and fatigue.  Unable to fulfill his duties as Captain of Company H, 130th Regiment New York Volunteers, he resigned in February of 1863.  Suddenly I was swept up in the urge to differentiate these sources further so that each perspective about that resignation was recorded. Determinedly I delved into the full power of RootsMagic.  

I selected one of my resignation facts – Ira’s letter of resignation – and started clicking tabs.

When you click the source button for your fact this page is brought up. 

At first all I tried to do was figure out how to cite my source.  Then I noticed the tabs to the right of the Citation Tab and went wild!  The Master Text Tab will let the user create further commentary on the Source Set.  What I wanted to do was find a way to record details of the individual documents within my pension file.  I moved on to the Detail Text Tab:

What a perfectly lovely sight!  The changes on this page apply ONLY to the specific citation; here you can name your document, attach your transcription or research note AND write down any further information that you want captured! 

So here I am, three days into my RM5 learning curve, and I already know how to capture information as structured data, how to cite my source AND how to bundle the data with transcriptions, research notes and summaries.  Magical.

 

The 110th Anniversary of Anna Florette Sayles Strickland’s Birth

Today is the anniversary of the birth of my grandmother. Born December 4, 1901 to two middle-aged farmers in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, Anna Florette Sayles was a bit of a miracle girl.

Her father, Clifton Duvall Sayles, had five children from his first marriage to Anna McCullough, both Yankees drawn to the south after the Civil War.  After Anna died sometime during the year of 1900 Clifton paid court to his first love, Miss Rebecca Eulelia “Lilly” Dodson, a spinster who lived down the road near Butchers Creek on the family’s farm with her two spinster sisters.

Lilly and Clifton had fallen in love right after his arrival in Mecklenburg County in 1870 but James and Sarah Jane Dodson would not accept Clifton’s proposal to marry their daughter.  Feelings ran high against Yankees for the Dodson’s had lost both a son and a brother to the Cause.  So Lilly lived her life, without ever marrying.  Clifton met and married Anna in 1879.  They had five children, two of whom were still at home when Anna died in 1900.  Clifton set out to complete his family.

In January of 1901, no longer needing anyone’s approval, Lilly and Clifton were married in Chase City, Virginia.  Just twelve months later, the forty-five year old bride gave birth to her only child.  Anna Florette grew up pretty much an only child, for all the McCullough Sayles had married or moved off the farm by the time she was a young girl.

In 1920 George R. Strickland, who had been adopted by Lilly Dodson Sayles’ sisters and unmarried brother, hitched up a wagon and drove his team to the Sayles’ house to pay court to Florette. They were married September 28, 1921 in the Baptist parsonage in Chase City, Virginia by the Rev. H. L. Williams.  Four sons were born to this union:  George Sidney, Clifford Ricks, Paul Warren, and Norman Scott.  The family survived the depression by returning to the Dodson farm.

By 1951 all the boys had left Mecklenburg County, and my grandmother and grandfather lived in Chase City, keeping up the farm with the help of tenant farmers and the like.  My grandfather ran several school buses for the Chase City district and was landlord for several city properties.  My grandmother kept George straight, and the home running smoothly.

Florette Strickland loved music; she made sure all of her boys could play an instrument, and that they played together regularly.  She played the piano; my granddaddy had purchased this big old piano which sat in the living room of their home.  Her pile of music contained anthems for her church choir, as well as popular ballads and tunes.  One of my favorite memories is of me on the bench, playing Clair de Lune, by Claude Debussy.  Grandmother sat on the couch, crocheting another blanket.  When I finished I turned to see her smiling and she said, “I believe you just made that piano sing.”

Anna Florette Sayles Strickland died in March 1981, leaving behind a rich legacy of music loving family.

Anna Florette Sayles Strickland shares a chuckle with her husband George Ricks Strickland, circa 1951