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.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Deja Vu

Grandpa's Scot Arms Tavern in Tappahannock
About 270 years before my husband and I met at the University of Missouri our ancestors worked together in Colonial Virginia.
         Sounds like the makings of one of those meant-to-be romances, doesn't it? Except my marriage lasted only a dozen years and we've been divorced more than twice that long. Still, his ancestors are my son's ancestors so I have included them in my current research project.
          My husband was a Wallace, descended from the Craig Family, major land holders in the Missouri county where he grew up. The Craig family goes back to Toliver or Taliaferro Craig, a frontiersman born in 1705, either on a ship from Scotland to the Colonies or after arrival in Spotsylvannia County, Va. The details, and the exact parentage, are a little fuzzy. According to the writings of some of his descendants, Toliver was illegitimate, possibly the son of Jane Craig and an unnamed member of the Taliaferro family which was well known in Colonial Virginia. Or, possibly Jane Taliaferro and John Craig.
         Some of the trees on show Jane Taliaferro as a daughter of Col. John "The Ranger" Taliaferro. He has quite a string of colonial accomplishments. He was named a member of the House of Burgesses for Essex County on  April 17, 1699, and a few months later on June 19  he was named sheriff of Essex County. On July 8, 1702 he was named Justice of Essex County. 
         Wait a minute! These accomplishments sound vaguely familiar. 
          Oh, yeah. My ancestor Robert Coleman served on the Essex County Court from 1700 to 1710 and was named sheriff of Essex County in 1710. You think maybe they knew each other? Shared a pint in great-grandpa Robbie's tavern? Ya think? 
         I don't know if Toliver/Taliaferro Craig is descended from "The Ranger" but I'm quite certain "The Ranger" knew ggggggreat grandpa Robbie. What a small world it is! 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Out with the new, in with the old!

I had a hard time deciding what nugget from my current genealogy research would be appropriate for sharing on New Years Day. After all, today is about new beginnings. Genealogy, by definition, is about the past.
         Then I realized that one of the newest discoveries is about the oldest ancestors.
          Let me explain. My mother's mother was a Tullock, and like most of the world's Tullocks, her family came from the Orkney Islands on the north coast of Scotland. On the Orkney Islands, Tullocks are more common than all the Smiths and Joneses put together.
           The Orkneys also have some of the best neolithic ruins in the world. In addition to standing stones older than Stonehenge, the islands boast Skara Brae, the oldest dwellings in Europe. Uncovered in a storm in the 1850s, Skara Brae is a village of eight interconnected homes from the stone age. Although they were constructed more than 3,000 years before Christ, they're not rugged caves. On the contrary, they feature stone hearths, stone shelves, stone beds, even carved stone drainage tiles. Back when the wheel was being discovered in Mesopotamia and the Egyptians were first starting to use papyrus, my Tullock ancestors were living in a village of connected houses so they didn't have to go outside in the winter.
            So, what's new about that, you ask?
            Well, since I visited the islands in 2004, archeologists have discovered the biggest ruin yet. When I was there I drove a half mile down a country road between the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar. I didn't notice anything but sheep grazing among the heather. But scientists already knew there was an archaeological goldmine under my feet. The first hint came from a high tech geophysical survey in 2002. The dig started a few years later. In 2008 they uncovered a temple on the scale of the Acropolis in Greece, but it was built 2,500 years earlier!
            Check out the details at this National Geographic site.
             What's old really is new again!
             Happy New Year!