Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Write on and on and on!


The Great Lakes may be frozen on the surface, but creative energy is bubbling to the top and will be on full display next month at West Michigan Women's Expo.  Great Lakes Authors, a new organization representing 32 Michigan authors, will host its first ever browse-through bookstore at the Expo. .
      Close to 20,000 people are expected to attend the three-day exposition March 13-15 at DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids. This is the 17th year for the Expo but the first year for Great Lakes Authors.
      I'm tickled to be one of the authors represented. Copies of all three Jordan Daily News Mysteries -- Great News Town, One Shoe Off and Full Moon Friday -- will be available, as well as my 2009 memoir, Laughing for a Living.
       I'll be sharing space with some of my former colleagues at the Grand Rapids Press including Tom Rademacher, Charley Honey, Lawrence Heibel and  Janet Vormittag. Genres range from the job advice of Hudsonville employment counselor Susan Maciak to the humorous antics of Tricia McDonald's beloved white terrier, Sally.
       You can pick up locally written financial advice, young adult romance, urban fantasy, cookbooks, poetry and many more genres. And you'll have a chance to meet many of the authors who are scheduled for book signings.
        I expect Full Moon Friday to be glowing on the shelves since the Expo kicks off on Friday the 13th. How can you resist?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Double Friggatriskaidecaphobia!

Just when you thought you made it through Friday the 13th without a mishap, you realize there are only 28 days in February. That means the March day/date combinations are the same. Another Friday the 13th is on the way!
      It would have been the same in 1987, the setting for my most recent book Full Moon Friday. All the craziness of that book happens in one 24-hour period -- Friday, February 13, 1987-- and a few hours into the early morning of a very romantic Valentine's Day.
       Full Moon Friday and my other books -- Great News Town, One Shoe Off and Laughing for a Living -- will be featured this year in a special booth for Great Lakes Authors at the West Michigan Women's Expo at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids. The timing is especially appropriate since the March expo will open on Friday the 13th.
       I decided to celebrate the double Friggatrikaidekaphobia of back-to-back Friday-the-13ths by reducing the list price of Full Moon Friday on Amazon.  So if you can't wait for the Women's Expo, you can order a copy here for just $11.69 for a limited time only. Let the madness begin!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Colonial Write Stuff

We're often told to be careful what we write. A rude email or Facebook post  or a scandalous tweet can come back to haunt you. But I doubt ggggggreat grandpa Ambrose Coleman had any idea that a note he wrote to his cousin in 1801 would be posted for the world to read more than 200 years later.
        Of course, I was delighted to find the letter online to help with my current genealogy research.
         The letter survived because Ambrose's cousin was James Madison who was serving as Thomas Jefferson's  Secretary of State in 1801. The National Archives and University of Virginia Press have posted Madison's papers on the Founders Online website.
          Ambrose apologized for writing, "but necessity will compel a person to do that he is ashamed of."  Ambrose was looking for financial aid. Evidently, before the Revolution, Ambrose ran up a tab at the local British Merchant who escaped to Scotland when the fighting started. Ambrose said he tried to settle the debt a couple of times but there was no way to contact the merchant. Now, suddenly, the sheriff is at the door, wanting to collect the debt plus interest! Ambrose owes 8 pounds and change. "We have had a poor Crop year with us and I am not Able to discharge it without selling something that I can Illey spare," he writes.
         Ambrose's mother was Eleanor Madison, a great aunt to the future president. Ambrose lives on a plantation next door to Madison's home at Montpelier. Ambrose, who was about 64 when the letter was written, mentions all the help he had received in recent years from Madison's father, James Madison Sr., who died at Montpelier about six months before the letter.
        Ambrose doesn't come right out and ask the Secretary of State for money. Instead he asks him to contact Ambrose's brother and let him know of the need. The site suggests that the "brother" might be Daniel Coleman who was serving in the Virginia legislature at the time, but according to the genealogical information available on Daniel, he was a distant cousin to Ambrose. Based on the 1764 will of Ambrose's father, Ambrose had only one brother, James, who died in 1796 according to posted genealogies.
         Yes, the letter raises questions about the mystery brother, and it is a bit embarrassing to have an ancestor begging so, but it makes Ambrose seem human, don't you think?


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Named in the will

         Now that it is Black History month I have a huge confession to make. Some of the ancestors I've uncovered were slaveholders.
          Slager. Rose. James.
          Their names pop up in the wills, to be passed on to the next generation along with land and a favorite sorrel riding horse or a treasured spinning wheel.
           Sarah. Izra. Angelo.
           The names conjure faces. Tired and sweaty. Or wrapped in a bandana and dusted with flour. Frightened. Angry. Resigned to their fate.
          I never really thought my ancestors were part of this great national sin, not because my ancestors were morally superior but because they were dirt poor. At the time of the Civil War all of my ancestors were subsistence farmers in Missouri. They didn't own slaves. They didn't own much of anything.
           But now that I am looking more closely at my earlier ancestors in the 1600s, I see that several of them were caught up in the marketing mania that became slavery. In both Virginia and New Jersey the government offered inducements to attract settlers to tame the wilderness. Settlers received "head rights" -- grants of 50 or 60 acres per person. And if a man bought one of the black workers being unloaded at the dock, then he received an additional 60 acres in the deal.
           It doesn't make it acceptable or right, but it helps me understand how William Merrell, a man of fairly modest means in the northern state of New Jersey, ended up with two slaves to pass along in his will. And in Virginia, the Colemans amassed so much land they needed lots of workers to clear it.
           I'm  embarrassed and ashamed and very sorry to realize my family played a part in this tragedy.
          There's one named Sampson. He must have been big and strong. There's one named Mustapher. Sounds like one of the cats in a Broadway musical. There's even one called Cupid.
          Their names echo through the wills and legal paperwork right along with the names of all my distant cousins of long ago.
           They are part of my history, too. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

CF - The great family mystery

As I work on this genealogy project I look for signs of the great family mystery -- where did the CF gene come from?
       My son Ryan has cystic fibrosis. This is a picture of him in a hospital mist tent when he was diagnosed at the age of 2. They said he'd probably die before he reached school age, but next month -- by the grace of God and scientific research -- he will celebrate is 38th birthday.
        CF is caused by a recessive gene which means his father and I were symptomless carriers. Every time I come across a family in our tree that lost several infants I think maybe that's the CF gene showing itself.
         Normally a mutation with fatal results should work its way out of a species naturally, but this mutation grew until one in 25 Americans of European origin are carriers. In order for the mutation to have become so common, being a carrier must have a benefit, geneticists tell me.
         Soon after the gene was identified in 1989, researchers decided being a carrier might prevent a person from getting cholera. The CF mutation affects an ion transfer regulator that regulates salt causing thick sticky mucus. Cholera affects the same regulator causing dehydrating diarrhea. Mutated genes might be protected from the cholera bacteria.
           But not enough people died of cholera to explain the numbers of people who have the mutation. So then scientists theorized that a carrier might also be protected from typhoid which also affects this salt regulator.  Who knew?
           But even cholera and typhoid together is not enough to explain the high incidence of the CF mutation in European populations.
            In 2006 some Harvard statisticians looked at tuberculosis. Between 1600 and 1900 one in 20 deaths in Europe was caused by TB. That is a threat significant enough to explain the incidence of the CF gene.
            So as I look at my family tree for indicators of the CF gene, I look not for families that lost babies. Many families did. Instead I look for families that survived epidemics...cholera, typhoid, TB. Now that's a mystery.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Revolutionary, Aunt Penny!

      Although I never pursued it, I always knew I qualified for membership in the D.A.R. Three of my four grandparents are descended from documented Revolutionary War soldiers.
     But I just discovered this week that there's a D.A.R. chapter in New Jersey that's named for one of my ancestors.
      I was searching the Internet for some information on Penelope Hart and I wasn't having much luck. I vaguely remember reading that she had disguised herself as a man during the Revolution but I couldn't remember why and I couldn't seem to find the story.
      None of the web pages that came up on my Google search had the information I was looking for, but I noticed an image that popped up. It was a newspaper clipping of some women showing quilts. I couldn't read the copy but I could see it was  from the Trenton Evening Times, the same area where Penelope lived. When I ran my cursor over the picture I could see the image title:1933 Penelope Hart D.A.R.
     I found the website for the D.A.R. chapter. Turns out the Penelope Hart Chapter of Pennington, N.J., merged with the General David Forman Chapter in Trenton in 1993. But the site provides the story of Penelope's work during the Revolution.
     Penelope was the youngest daughter of my ggggggreat granddaddy William Merrell who you met in last week's installment. He was the one "killed with lightning."
     Penny was born in 1734 in Hopewell Township just north of Trenton, N.J. When she was only 16 she married Thomas Anderson and bore him at least four children. After he died in 1768 she married a widower, Ralph Hart, who was a cousin of John Hart, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
      During the Revolution the British soldiers were looking for the signers and hounded anyone who was related to them and might provide information of their whereabouts.  John Hart and his cousin Ralph were hiding in the swamp. Penny avoided the soldiers by disguising herself as a man, avoiding the main roads and never spending more than one night in the same place.
       According the the website, Penny's Revolutionary experiences are mentioned in the book Hopewell Valley Heritage by Alice Blackwell Lewis:
 She was required to carry water and food to her lonely husband, but more often the need was to carry these things to the hunted Signer, John Hart. This patriotic man survived many hardships because of the brave woman who put fear aside and came to his aid when others would not have dared venture out because of the lurking enemy, always ready to capture any suspicious person.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

When lightning strikes

      I have several ancestors named William Merrell but only one who was "killed with lightning."
      The unusual death has been reported in many family genealogies. I'm surprised no one ever questioned it.
          The reports usually paraphrased the court record from 1740, since it is difficult to read, but basically it says Will was struck by lightning on the front porch of Sheriff Hunloke in Burlington, N. J.  But that doesn't make sense. If he was struck by lightning out in his farmer's field or under a tree, I wouldn't have questioned it, but at the door of someone's house? Wouldn't the lightning have struck the house instead of the man? And what was he doing at the sheriff's house in Burlington, New Jersey, more than 20 miles from his home in Hopewell?
            I suspect the answer to that last question has something to do with the Daniel Coxe Affair, a colonial land scandal which evidently is typical of the kind of corrupt British government that led the colonists to revolution.
             Royal Physician Daniel Coxe purchased thousands of acres in West New Jersey for a few beads to the Indians. Then he transferred ownership to the West Jersey Society which surveyed lots and sold them to settlers. After Coxe died in 1730 his son, Col. Daniel Coxe, came to New Jersey and claimed the deed his father gave him superseded the West Jersey Society's deed. Hundreds of people in Hopewell -- who had spent 30 years clearing the wilderness and establishing farms -- were told their deeds were invalid. They would have to repurchase the farms or evacuate. 
            Fifty farmers -- including William's brothers and in-laws -- filed a class action suit against Coxe. The trial was moved to Burlington County where in December, 1734, the Royalist court sided with Coxe. When Hopewell farmers refused to repurchase their land they were forcibly removed. When new settlers were moved into these homes, an angry mob tarred and feathered the intruders. It was wilder than the night Ohio State won the national football championship.
            William, who would have been in his 50s, lived on a 100-acre farm that had belonged to his first wife. She received her deed in 1698 from the West Jersey Society. After her death in 1728, Will remarried. By1735 he had three small sons, plus three grown daughters. No doubt his farm was about to be confiscated. Many farmers were arrested for failure to repurchase their property. 
           You can see by the attached Burlington court record that on May 2, 1740, Will was allowed to file a writ of habeas corpus -- being held against his will. As a memorandum the clerk adds that said Will was "killed with lightning at Sheriff Hunloke's door" on the 25th of June following...or almost two months later.  "Lightning" was evidently the colonial euphemism for being murdered in police custody. 
          William's widow declined to serve as executor for her husband's estate. Here's an excerpt from her letter:

 I am informed by my brother Benj'n Stout that you desire me to take an inventory of ye estate of Will'm Merrill deceased - which I do refuse to do or concern myself about that Estate which will only be a profitless trouble for me which I am not able to undergo.
         I always thought her reply sounded spoiled and petty until I realized she isn't complaining about her deceased husband, she's complaining about the corrupt government which could overturn any inheritance anyway.