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!

Sunday’s Obituary: Merlin W. Sayles of Chase City, Virginia (1878)

A family mystery has been solved! My great-great-grandparents, Ira and Serena Sayles, had four children, wrote my grandmother, Florette Sayles Strickland. The daughter, Florette, died as a young girl. One son, Clifton, grew up to be a farmer, a husband, a dad – her dad. Another son, Christopher, grew up to join the peacetime army, and yet another son, Merlin, was lost to memory’s mists, until I uncovered his obituary in the Seventh Day Baptist archives of the 1878 Sabbath Recorder. From page three of Volume 34, issue 40, I finally learn the fate of this young man.

DIED

In Whitesville, N. Y., September 23d, 1878, MERLIN W. SAYLES, of Chase City, Maklinburg (sic) County, Va., aged 21 years, 2 months, and 11 days, second son of Prof. Ira and Serena C. Sayles, formerly of Alfred. His disease, as shown by examination after death, was aneurism in the right of the mesenteric artery, followed by a completely conjested mesentery, with incipient abcsess (sic) of the same, thus functionally destroying this vital organ. For the last two months, his sufferings were intense — he really starved to death. He was a member of the First-day Baptist Church of Chase City, Va., and died clinging to Jesus.

Just imagine the scene.  On a muggy, hot July day, Merlin collapsed after slopping the hogs. His brothers, Christopher and Clifton, rushed to where he lay doubled over, clutching his belly as the blood vessel lay ruptured inside him.  As they carried Merlin up the porch steps Clifton yelled to his mother, and Serena rushed into the front hallway of the family’s farmhouse.  Sizing up the moment she turned and took the stairs two at a time, with the boys on her heels.  Merlin was gently lowered into bed, his shoes taken off, his clothing loosened.  He must have been in agony that day, and each day after as his intestines slowly died and infection set in.  No tea, no soup, no biscuit would have stayed down; Serena would have tried every sort of remedy to ease the pain, to cure the fever, to stave off his withering.  Today the ruptured artery would be quickly diagnosed and surgically repaired. Serena could only watch over her boy, mopping his sweaty brow, wetting his dry lips, holding his feverish hand, praying for his recovery.

Would Ira have traveled down from New York for a last visit? Or did Serena meet this tragedy alone with her boys and neighbors?

Merlin W. Sayles may be buried in the family’s cemetery just off of Hunter’s Lane, south of Chase City, Virginia. Hidden among trees, his tombstone may still serve as testimony to the horror of his final days.

Sunday’s Obituary: Florette W. Sayles

From the Sabbath Recorder, Alfred, New York, July 1856:

DIED

In Rushford, N. Y., on the 25 ult., (of last month) after an illness of eight weeks, FLORETTE W., daughter of Ira and Serena C. Sayles, aged 8 years, 8 months and 19 days.  A few days before her departure, while in her father’s arms, she told him she was not afraid to die and be with Christ.  She also assured her mother, during her last hours of consciousness, of the same confidence.  She moreover reproved her mother for weeping, saying, “It can do no good.”

In grief we lay our daughter down
To sleep the sleep that knows no waking'
In faith, we look beyond the tomb--
We see the glorious morning breaking, 
Brightly dawning through the gloom:
We see, by faith, her spirit come,
Midst the joyous angel throng, 
To proclaim their Jesus King--
King o'er heaven and earth most glorious--
King o'er death, and the grave victorious--
King omnipotent to save 
All who put their trust in him.
Then where's thy victory, boasting grave?
O death! where is thy venomed sting?
Then triumph! triumph, weeping mother!
Triumph, little trusting brother!
Triumph, father, in thy faith!
Jesus hath won life from death!

Obituary accessed with the help of the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society.

Poem is not attributed to any person, though I suspect that Ira Sayles is the author.

Follow Friday: Historic Map Works

One of the all-time best inventions of the human mind, in my humble opinion, is the map.  Whether ink to paper or pixels to screen, maps represent reality as seen from the cartographer’s point of view.  Beyond the accurate recording of topography and societal infrastructure, map makers convey all sorts of information, depending on who has paid their salary!  Display all the gas wells in Allegany County! List all the businesses of the Whitesville!  Differentiate between a dirt road, a tiny local road and the main state road.

One of my favorite sites lets me explore the world according to my ancestors. Historic Map Works lets you browse United States, World or Antiquarian maps by searching with a Keyword, Family Name or Address.  I wanted to know what a map could tell me about my ancestors, Ira and Serena Sayles, in the 1860s when I know they lived in three separate towns in south central New York.

Using the keywords ALLEGANY COUNTY NEW YORK my query returned a treasure: The Atlas of Allegany County, published by D. G. Beers and Company in 1869. Each page of the atlas has been digitised, and can be opened for expanded viewing.

 

 

 

 

This page of Alfred Center shows my great-great-grandmother’s home, The Gothic. According to records this house was sold and the proceeds used to purchase a farm in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, shortly after the publication of this atlas.

Interestingly, I also found Serena Sayle’s name on a property in the township of Independence and her husband’s name, Ira, on a property in Rushford, where he was the principal of Rushford Academy.

 

 

 

With a subscription to Historic Map Works I can download and print these maps out, further exploring Ira and Serena’s world; who did they live next to, what stores might they have shopped in, how far did they travel in going about their daily lives? All these details, from a map.

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On This Day: Ira Sayles Enlists in the Union Army

On August 14, 1862, my great-great-grandfather, Ira Sayles,  volunteered “to serve as a soldier in the Army of the United States of America, for the period of THREE YEARS, unless sooner discharged by the proper authority.”  The forty-four year old teacher from Alfred, New York joined others gathering at the recruiting station in Almond, Allegany County, New York.  The blue-eyed volunteer swore that he would “bear true faith and allegiance to the United States of America” and that he would serve “them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whomsoever.”  He stood five foot eight inches tall, his hair still dark and full.  Having pledged to observe and obey the “orders of the President of the United States, and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the Rules and Articles of War,” Ira Sayles signed his name.  The next day Private Sayles was mustered into Company H of the 130th Regiment of the New York Volunteers Infantry.

*** Thank you, cousin Sharon, for sharing this photograph of Ira Sayles.