Believe You This?

In a letter to brother James dated 10 April 1872, Ira Sayles sent both sympathy and sermon to his ailing 50 year old sibling whose diagnosis of palsy had been shared in a March note.

Palsy by definition in the 1870s was a chronic condition involving some sort of paralysis. A person had three alternatives in seeking a recovery:

  • medicinal remedies,

“There is no pain that Centaur Liniments will not relieve, no swelling it will not subdue, and no lameness it will not cure.” (1)

  • a physician’s treatment,

Dr. Clark A Miner of Chicago the Celebrated Chronic Disease Specialist will make his next visit to Austin, August 13th and 14th till ‘Noon at the Fleck House where he can be consulted free upon any disease in his specialties…Scrofula, Syphilis, Consumption, Kidney Disease, Piles, Paralysis, Palsy, Female Complaints of Whatever Character…Almost hopeless cases are successfully treated.” (2)

  • or, as Ira preaches, ” A sincere, calm trust in Providence is of more consequence than all else.”

Much of this letter could have been delivered from a pulpit. Ira writes long detailed paragraphs that delineate his belief system.

“I have spent years in studying these matters, and my Father has gradually opened to me the whole scheme, scope and aim of human life, with all the human faculties and susceptibilities. He gave us the exhibition of the Life of Jesus, as the modle(sic) of a perfect man. Through Him He promises to confer on the perfect man Immortal Life; and, in the resuscitation of the mangled carcass of Jesus, after a death of nearly three days, He demonstrates His power to fulfill His promises.”

Words not at all out of the ordinary for a devout Christian.

But Ira then goes on to weave the language of science into this religious doctrine.

The death and resurrection of Jesus he states is “strictly scientific, if we make our scientific basis broad enough; if we make it too narrow, we fail to reach this great fact.”

“The narrow-based scientist and the narrow-based religionist are forever at loggerheads. Both are dogmatic: both wrong.”


Ira was a citizen scientist, collecting botanical and geological specimens throughout his career as a teacher and academy principal. His keen observations of and theoretical writings about nature earned him local acclaim.

In fact, Ira would be appointed to the United States Geological Survey in 1883 by Secretary of the Interior Henry W. Teller, a former student, where he served as an assistant geologist and assistant paleontologist until his final illness. Ira was a scientist at heart.

And he was also a Christian, his faith formed during the Second Great Awakening spurred by the religious revivals of Charles Finney. He received his education and first teaching opportunities at Alfred University, a school deeply intertwined with the Seventh Day Baptist church.

Separating religion from science, science from religion, embracing both, or one and not the other…this is the stuff of existential debate that has raged from the moment humans began to observe, classify, hypothesize, and offer testable explanations based on facts. It is fascinating to bear witness to my great-great-grandfather’s grappling.

“The scientist sees just to the end of his nose, and thinks that the whole universe. The religionist scarcely sees from our corner of his eye to the other yet he thinks nothing worth seeing, which he don’t (sic) such are the facts in the case. IF your religion rests on a ‘scientific basis’, be sure that your basis is broad enough.”

Believe you this?


1. The St. Cloud journal. (St. Cloud, Minn.), 27 Feb. 1873. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. 

2. Mower County transcript. (Lansing, Minn.), 02 Sept. 1875. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. 

Leaf Litter from the Family Tree

The leaves from our deciduous forests are turning yellow, or brown, and dropping with alacrity to the ground.  They carpet every surface–grass, water, rocks, moss, driveways.

Falling LeavesFor years I have used the family tree metaphor to structure my genealogical research.  Only today did it strike me that leaf litter can also be an inspirational metaphor, as in those leaves, those ancestors, that get dropped, and disappear to nurture the soil of the family’s winding tale.

 

And as a review of this deed transcription suggests it is often women who carpet the family forest floor.

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On 15 June 1770, Samuel Whitworth sold 120 acres of land to William Wills Green, my fifth great-grandfather.  The parcel included houses, outbuildings, orchards, woods, water, and parts of Allens Creek, Mecklenburg County, Virginia…land that lay not far from where my father grew up.

William W Green took possession of the real estate on the same day.  His neighbors included Edward Beavils, Francis Moore Neal, Abram Green, and Thomas Whitworth.

No women were present for the sale.  No dower rights were acknowledged.

 

English common law crossed the ocean with the European settlers from which I descend.  Among the provisions of this legal framework was coverture, the principles enshrined to govern married women, prohibiting their agency to hold property, run businesses, conduct trade,  and act as citizens.

Therefore, though I know from William Wills Green’s last will and testament that he had 10 children, there is no record of their mother in this deed, or among the long list of deeds I have uncovered.  There is no acknowledgement of the women with whom she quilted and cooked; no indication that a midwife helped birth all those babies; no public record of any domestic work that contributed to the Green estate development.

Which is frustrating.  I have to snuffle in the leaf litter of history to discover the women in my past, more imagining than documenting their stories to fill out my family tree.

If you are a women’s studies buff, please leave any sources and ideas for research questions in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

Memory Scraps

James A. Corrigan, spring 1912My “decluttering for the holidays” was stymied today by the discovery of scan-able scraps that directly pertain to my previous post.  And so, as is often the case with my reorganization efforts, I am at the keyboard rather than behind the vacuum.

The photograph of James A. Corrigan was dated in the upper left corner–1912.  During this morning’s work, I found his medical school year book, Jefferson’s The Clinician, among the boxes I was sorting.  Inside the black leather cover were a few scraps of paper.

Dead stop.  Flip Pal out.

James A Corrigan at Jefferson

What a hoot!! No letter of “Congratulations! You have been admitted to the class of 1915!”  Just a notice of matriculation, number 386, confirming that James Corrigan had satisfactorily completed preparatory classes in 1911.  His family certainly counted it as an important document, and carefully preserved the scrap as proof that Jim had been admitted to Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia beginning with the 1911-1912 session.

Another valuable piece of paper was this stationary, remarkable for its header.James A Corrigan at JeffersonBeing asked to serve as President of the school’s pathology society as a second year student (1912-1913) must have been quite an honor.

The scraps add dimension to the image in front of the flowering shrub.  It is  more than a photo of a thirty-something Jim Corrigan.  It is a snapshot of the Hazleton native’s transition from scholar to doctor and community leader.

 

 

 

 

Photo Friday: James Aloysius Corrigan

Aunt “Sissy” Rattigan saved the Treasury Department envelope, “Important: Contains U.S. Savings Bonds” recycled to store important photographs and newspaper clippings.  My husband identified this 1912 candid as his grandfather, James Aloysius Corrigan.

 

James A. Corrigan, spring 1912

After graduating high school, Jim worked as a clerk in a Hazleton (PA) clothing store, and held offices in the Clerk’s Union and St. Gabriel’s chapter of the Knights of Columbus. In his late twenties, Jim attended Bloomsbury State Normal School before following his brothers’ footsteps to Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1911. The thirty-one year old medical student posed for someone’s camera the following summer, nattily dressed in a wool suit, hat in hand.

I wonder what stories floated through that open window.

 

 

 

Tip of the Day: Details Matter

I took another box of mixed media from the house, the house my father last lived in.  Most of the holiday cards I threw out, their messages meaningful only to Norman.  Many of the photographs were ones I had sent him, or copies of pictures he had snapped and sent to me years ago.  Several letters from my uncle I sent on to my cousin, sure that she would appreciate the insight into her father.  Letters from my grandmother, Florette, I saved for a rainy day read.

Methodically I sorted the box’s contents, pausing now and again to hold a memory tight.  And then, just as I thought there was really nothing new here, I came upon an envelope postmarked 1985.  Pearl Freeman had shared a few photographs with my father.  Without annotations or a note of explanation, I don’t know the relationship but apparently this stranger was sharing adolescent memories.

To date the photographs I pulled out a few key details that my father had shared about his high school years.

  • Norman, like his three brothers before him, attended Chase City High School, in Chase City, Virginia.
  • Chase City High School went up through eleventh grade.
  • Norman graduated in 1945.
  • My father began to smoke at the age of 17.
  • Chick, as my father was known by his pals, drove one of his father’s school bus routes.

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photo-normanstrickland-1945-01
Norman is front row, third from left. These teenagers appear posing in their best outfits, in front of a brick building that may be the high school, with adults milling around in the back. I suspect that this is the Class of 1945, posing after Chase City High School’s graduation ceremony.

Norman Strickland and friends
Here Norman sits on what appears to be a bus’ fender, reveling in female attention. His peak bus driving years were the mid-1940s.

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Norman relaxes.  The cigarette dates the photo as around the time he graduated, at 17. 

Norman Strickland, Car unidentified
I am still researching the make and model. Because this capture was included with the other photographs, I am betting that this smile is of teenage-driver Norman.

If Pearl Freeman, or a descendant/friend, is reading this post, I hope you will leave a memory in the comments!!!