Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Racism and Genealogy (or The Musings of an Ignorant White Man)

Illinois National Guard questioning a black man, Chicago, 1919

A black youth dies as a result of an angry outburst of abuse from a white man. His crime? He was black. His encroaching presence within an unspoken and predominantly white area made people nervous and uncomfortable. When the police were summoned, they arrested a black man on a minor complaint of a white man, while letting the perpetrator of murder go free. This was the spark that ignited eight days of rioting and the death of dozens. While blacks protested inequitable treatment by the police as well as that experienced in employment and housing, disenfranchised white men looted and destroyed and burned African American businesses and neighborhoods, while also setting fires in neighboring white neighborhoods to incite violence against blacks. The National Guard was called. The police arrested predominantly black participants. Formal charges were almost exclusively brought against blacks, while whites were allowed to go free.

Sound familiar? This scenario has played out over and over and over again with a cast of different characters yet with only minor plot twists. But this isn't George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, or Eric Garner in New York in 2014, or even Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991.

It was Eugene Williams in Chicago in 1919.

White people have been writing the same script for well over a century while casting unwilling and unwitting black people to play the foil ‒ over and over and over again.

How does any of this affect a middle-class white male genealogist in Indiana?

I grew up in a racist household. No, we didn't have Confederate flags hanging in the living room, nor did we engage in white supremacy rhetoric at the dinner table. This is an important distinction, as those who love to exclaim, "I don't see color!" really do. The stereotypical skinhead with his myriad swastika tattoos is easy to spot. Those who are filled with passive racism are not.

My grandmother was born in 1917 and raised in Kentucky. Although she moved to northern Indiana shortly after high school and married an Italian, her new name and new home belied her Southern heritage. She and her sisters would tell stories of their father, who even as a coal miner was obsessed with his personal appearance. Prematurely graying, he dyed his hair when men doing so was unheard of. He loved fine clothes, and he took great delight at impressing the ladies with his presentation, even though as my grandmother said, he'd come back home from the mines "black as a n----r."

My grandmother had an illustrated version of The Story of Little Black Sambo. Although meant to be a story about a South Indian boy when it was first published in 1899, later American editions -- and the copy my grandmother owned -- had changed the portrayal of the main character into an unflattering stereotypical black boy.

When my grandmother recited eeny, meeny, miny, moe, she didn't catch tigers.

I was a teenager before I knew they were properly called Brazil nuts.

Was my grandmother a racist, or can we just brush these examples off as she being a product of her time and place? The latter is the excuse used most often amongst those casually dismissing their racist remarks and attitudes. I look back at my grandmother, and I don't see a racist. But sadly the signs were all there. She used inappropriate terminology when it was something ingrained within her psyche, like within a rhyme or a story, but in her day-to-day life she called black folk "the coloreds". She used to laugh when I would respond, "well what color where they?" Nevertheless, I do recall the big annual summer garage sale we'd have at my grandmother's house. She lived on a major thoroughfare that would invite more buyers, so we would lug all our used and worn-out garbage to Grandma and Grandpa's for the weekend. For three young boys, this was a chance to spend a weekend at our grandparents' house, but it also meant two tedious full days of pricing, placing, hauling, cleaning, and interacting with strangers. With my mother, my grandparents, and occasional other relatives involved, there was always someone to man the card table set up for purchases, but invariably it would occasionally be left unattended with everyone darting about.

I recall making iced tea in the kitchen with my grandmother while she surveyed the sale from her window. The cigar boxes neatly labeled with the names of yard sale participants were lined up on the table for deposits of money to be placed upon a sale. These were all sitting unattended when my grandmother stiffened a bit while gazing outside, and casually exclaimed, "Oh, I best get outside and watch things! There's some colored people here!"

It is virtually impossible to say within modern society that we have not all been exposed to that kind of casual and passive (and not so passive) racism. We are raised with the underlying message that White is Good and Black is Bad. The racial doll study often repeated since its inception in the 1940s shows that children as young as four years of age identify dark skin tones with being bad, ugly, dumb, and undesirable -- even amongst African American children. It means we have to start far, far, far earlier  in the lives of those who come ahead of us to turn the tide of subtle, silent, passive racism that has infected our society today.

Unfortunately, not all the racism I was exposed to was passive. My father was an officer with the Mishawaka Police Department from 1968 to 1988. Sadly, my father was an entrenched member of the Good Ol' Boy Club. He abused his power by garnering sexual favors in trade for ignoring crime, helping himself to criminal evidence if it suited his fancy, inflicting physical harm upon those who questioned his authority, and getting his kicks out of terrorizing black people.

Mishawaka was a sundown town. There was no law on the books, nor was there any signage to identify it as such. But black people knew that they were not welcome in Mishawaka after dark. In 1970, Mishawaka had a population of 35,517 people, of which only 107 were black. Many times I recall my father laughing with glee after pulling a night shift. Any black person was stopped after sundown.

"Hey you! Where's your passport?"

For obvious reasons, this would garner only a quizzical look of confusion.

"Boy, you better have a passport to be in Mishawaka after dark, because n----rs belong in South Bend."

This would often follow with detention, placement into the squad car, and transportation to Logan Street, where the east side of the street is Mishawaka, and the west side is South Bend. They were instructed to cross the street and not come back, regardless of what their business was in Mishawaka. I never heard what punishment was meted out if someone was found in Mishawaka twice in the same night, but I have a sick feeling it wasn't terribly pleasant.

He too was a product of his environment. Raised by his Italian immigrant grandfather on Eddy Street in South Bend, he grew up in a home that was purchased in a working-class white neighborhood in the 1940s, but was becoming largely African American in the 1960s. By all accounts, my 4'11" ex-convict Italian great-grandfather would sit on his porch with a gun to "shoot any n----rs that caused him any trouble." This racism was far from passive.

Yes, I heard that word a lot growing up.

Even when I joke to friends that I come from a long line of poor, white trash, I invoke the the silent racism behind the origins of the phrase. Yes, many of my ancestors were poor with few resources and lived a meager existence, but they were white trash. The adjective implies that even though they may have been on the lowest rung of the socioeconomic ladder, it was a ladder built for whites only. They were still superior to blacks.

Do I still have racists in my family? Oh yeah, definitely. How did I escape it all relatively unscathed? I can't answer that. I certainly wasn't exposed to black culture growing up. By the time I entered high school, Mishawaka could boast a whopping 10% black population, yet in my graduating class of 315 students, I only recall two people, neither of whom I was close to, being black. I went to veterinary school at Purdue University with sixty or so white colleagues. I took a job in Granger, Indiana, in 1991, where I live today, that according to the 2010 census is only 2.54% African American.

Perhaps growing up gay in white suburbia allowed me to develop a degree of empathy for those who don't follow the societal norms. Don't get me wrong. I am a white male, and I know full well what privilege that affords me. I know I've worked damn hard to get where I am from roots entangled amongst blue collar workers and high school dropouts. But I also know that a black man in the same circumstances would have never gotten where I am. Societal roadblocks would have been thrown into his path at every turn. As a gay man, if I happen to show affection to another man in public, regardless of how minor or innocent, I am suddenly aware of who is watching, what the level of risk might be, and how to best escape if confronted with hate. It is minuscule compared to what a black man or woman experiences on a daily basis. My tiny taste of persecution is nothing compared to the smorgasbord of hate awaiting people of color when they awaken each morning. I can hide my perceived "flaw" under my white skin, and if I were killed for being gay, it would more likely be from a religious zealot and not from the people paid to protect me. I often think LGBTQ folks side with Black Lives Matter because we get it at the most basic intrinsic level. We came of age hating ourselves so thoroughly for something we had no power to change, that we have empathy for those whose hate is also received through no fault of their own other than their mere existence.

I am a flawed person, but I am cognizant that change really needs to happen. And it needs to start in a million different ways. But I am a privileged white dude. I have read numerous articles lately from black activists indicating they don't want to hear from white allies who can't possibly understand what they are protesting. I've read essays from black people exhausted from placating the guilt of their white friends. "Yes, you're a good white person. Yes, I appreciate your concern. No, you don't really understand." Jimmy Fallon, recently called out for his use of blackface in 2000, is yet another stupid white guy like me.
"I'm not a racist. I don't feel this way."
"What I kept getting advised was to just stay quiet and not saying anything. And that was the advice because we're all afraid. I took the advice and thought, 'God, I'm going to do this wrong. You're right. I'm going to say something and get myself into more trouble.'"
It is long past time to cease the silence. That includes silence in voice as well as silence in action.

Nicka Sewell-Smith, a genealogist of African descent and the driving force behind BlackProGen LIVE!, wrote about racism in the world of genealogy in 2016 in her blog post The Problem of the Color Line. I loved that post. It certainly wasn't love borne out of its content. It boggles the mind that as recent as 1960 the members of the National Genealogical Society nearly lost their collective minds when a black man had the audacity to apply for membership. It is ironic that Alex Haley's 1976 book Roots: The Saga of an American Family, a compelling narrative of his slave ancestors that was turned into a 1977 television miniseries, touched off a near-hysterical renaissance of American genealogical research that has culminated in a billion dollar industry today. As Sewell-Smith pointed out in 2016, it's a revival tailored for white people. Four years later, still most national genealogical conferences offer just one African American track -- four to five lectures -- out of four days and nearly 200 lectures, banquets, workshops, and events. Less than three percent of conference time devoted to 14.6% of Americans of African descent.

Society does enough to strip black Americans of a meaningful future. We must be better as genealogists to offering them a gateway to their past.

The Farmer, George Washington
Lithograph, 1853
Who knew slavery was so idyllic?

I have given a lecture numerous times using my ancestor, Thomas Daniel (1740-c1809), as a genealogical case study. It is a methodology lecture on problem solving and analytical thinking as well as utilizing the knowledge of social history to better understand your ancestors and thus your research. Thomas married well, and upon his marriage to Elizabeth Stith in 1770 he was given a slave woman named Frank as a wedding gift by Elizabeth's uncle. I show my audience that following a man with a very common name like Thomas Daniel through Virginia and Kentucky can be tied together by following Frank and her children.

Thomas acquired Frank in Stafford County, Virginia, in 1770. He argued in court in Caroline County, Virginia, for his right to own her and her two sons, Reuben and Humphrey, "and all her increase" at the settlement of his uncle's estate in 1782 and 1783. Thomas was taxed on slaves Frank, Reuben, Humphrey, Clary, Sally/Celia, and Jude in Louisa County, Virginia, in 1782 and 1783. In 1795, Thomas Daniel of Jefferson County, Kentucky, sold Reuben, aged about 25; and Humphry, aged about 24; to Robert Breckenridge.

In 1797, Thomas Daniel divested his fourteen slaves in Jefferson County, Kentucky, to his children.  Apparently Reuben and Humphrey were back in his possession, as Frank and Reuben were given to his son Thomas Daniel Jr., while Humphrey went to son, Stith Daniel. The bottom line: where you find Frank, Reuben, and Humphrey, you will find the correct Thomas Daniel roaming around Virginia and Kentucky.

Sound research, yes. But I really hate this part of the lecture. Every time I give the lecture, I scan the room for black men and women in my audience before I start. I don't know if I should make eye contact with them or look away when I talk about Frank, Reuben, and Humphrey. Does this bother them as much as it bothers me? Do they care on a deeper level about what I am teaching other than methodology? Can anyone ever lecture about slavery casually? I sweat a little too much at this point in the lecture, and my face flushes. Like Jimmy Fallon, I am the dumb white guy who thinks he's going to say something wrong, or insensitive, or stupid. So I don't address the elephant in the room, and I move forward. Do I apologize for the deeds of my ancestors? Or do I continue talking knowing these ancestral attitudes are not mine and assume the audience knows this? What do I owe to the descendants of Frank as a descendant of the man who owned her?

I am uncomfortable. And it took me a while to be at ease with my discomfort, or at least understand that discomfort is an appropriate feeling. More problematic are those who don't feel or see or understand the far reaching negative impacts of slavery and the Jim Crow south on the African American community today. It's not my story to tell. It is my place to listen and read and research and understand. I can't say it any better than the woman featured on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on 7 June 2020. Although I recommend the whole clip, I cannot begin to fathom the pain and anger and frustration shared by Kimberly Jones at the 31:25 mark. If that doesn't move you closer to understanding, buddy, you have more hate and blind privilege in your soul than I can address in one blog post.

What can I do? What little part can a white male Midwestern genealogist do that can make a difference? I can do what I have been advocating to genealogists for decades now. Tell your stories. Tell the stories of your ancestors. Tell the stories of your community from a black perspective. Help your black friends discover their pasts and tell those stories. Only by understanding the adversity overcome by men and women of color in our country's past, can we begin to humanize and understand the generations of power imbalance and repression in this country that needs to change today. Only by seeing history's events unfolding with the eyes of African Americans can we even hope to grasp the white privilege people like me are granted, and to which many are blissfully unaware.

I deal in history and the deeds of the dead. As statues of Confederate generals are dismantled in this country, and the statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston is thrown into the River Avon in Bristol, England, I constantly hear the defiant refrain, "You can't rewrite history!"

Ummmm.... yeah, you can.

And it's about damn time.

Anyone who has read my blog from the beginning should know by now, history is constantly being rewritten. Personal histories are turned upside down by DNA findings. New documents or discovered artifacts may significantly alter long-held historical dogma and change historical "fact". History has always been fluid in its telling and retelling. It has to be. There is no right nor wrong way to tell the stories of those who came before us as long as we adhere to the facts, because the stories that need to be told arise from dozens of different points of view.

Let us circle back to where we started. How does the story of the Chicago Race Riots of 1919 read if told by Eugene Williams' mother? What does the story sound like if told by the black men who were beaten or lost their homes? What about the story of the sharecropper who fled the Jim Crow south in the Great Migration to find poorly paying work in the Chicago meatpacking plants, who then had to make the decision to continue struggling to feeding his family or standing up to the Irish mobs burning his neighborhood and risk arrest by the Chicago police? These aren't revisions of history -- they are completions of it.

It's time for white folk to shut up and listen, to think and reflect, to understand and empathize, to read and to educate themselves. It's time for white men and women to immerse themselves in a black history that is currently impossible for them to grasp.

There are stories that have been begging to be heard for 400 years. My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother was born to a Dutch man and a black slave in New York in the 1670s. I may never know her mother's name, let alone her story, but that tiniest fragment of African DNA still shows up in her descendants today. Were it not for her story, I would not be here to tell my tales, so I will do my best to tell hers, and those of the Franks, Reubens, and Humphreys I find along the way.

Black Lives Matter.

Black Lives have always mattered. For many, that awakening is long past due.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Copyright, Contracts, Commitments, and Human Decency: Resolution

The issues detailed in my previous blog can successfully, happily, and agreeably be put behind me. My issue with the National Genealogical Society (NGS) has been resolved thanks to the helpful intervention of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG). The president of APG, a dear friend and an advocate for professional genealogists, knew that if NGS’s president heard the entirety of my story he would seek a reasonable solution. She volunteered her time and her car to drive several hours out of her way so that all three of us could meet in Granger, Indiana, after the conclusion of the 2019 NGS Conference in St. Charles, Missouri.  The meeting was fruitful and productive, and we learned that we all want the same thing: for NGS speakers to have their individual needs accommodated whenever possible and for speakers to know and feel they are truly appreciated by NGS and the genealogical community. On a broader level, we all value the contributions of genealogists everywhere, and we all strive to be inclusive and welcoming to professionals and hobbyists alike. My passion for researching and lecturing is matched by the passion that both NGS and APG have to further promote education, advocacy, collaboration, and ethical standards in the field of genealogy. I hope through the resolution of this issue that all of us can achieve a greater good for genealogists, speakers, and societies alike.

Michael D. Lacopo, DVM
Ben Spratling, JD, President NGS
Billie Fogarty, M.Ed., President APG

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Copyright, Contracts, Commitments, and Human Decency

I received a royalty check from the National Genealogical Society (NGS) on 20 April 2019.

Cool, right? I am making money, and all I have to do is sit back and let the cash roll in!

The problem with that concept of "free money" is that the National Genealogical Society had nothing of mine to sell. So what was producing royalty checks? Unfortunately, I had an idea. And I didn't like it.

A few computer keystrokes were all it took to confirm my fears. Lectures that I had delivered for the National Genealogical Society's yearly conferences in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2017; and Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 2018; were recorded and presented for sale by NGS. Many speakers opt for their presentations to be sold in this manner. I do not.

There is this little contract provision found in both of my 2017 and 2018 documents that states "I do not want any of my lectures to be recorded." The bold is not my addition. It is written as such in the contract.

I would never consider myself a hot head. I rarely act out irrationally in a fit of passion. Trust me, I learned to be incredibly patient with people after a quarter-of-a-century as a veterinarian. One learns to find their internal happy place when berated by pet owners with unrealistic expectations, or to be a source of calm and reason when pet owners are justifiably upset with their fur baby's health issues.

But yeah, I was angry.

I understand that errors occur. I understand that something as simple as checking the wrong box or adding my name to the wrong list allowed my lecture to be inadvertently recorded. I understand that there was no malicious intent to make money off my hard work. But even the most innocent of errors have consequences, and as an independent researcher, lecturer, and author, who has to pay his mortgage by genealogical research and lecturing, these are very significant consequences indeed.

There's also this little thing called copyright. Dictionary.com defines it as "the exclusive right to make copies, license, and otherwise exploit a literary, musical, or artistic work, whether printed, audio, video, etc." Sadly, genealogists are absolutely the worst at respecting copyright law. They are the masters of the cut-and-paste, presenting work as their own and never crediting the author or researcher who spent years of time, effort, and money producing a masterful work of reason, logic, and analysis. It is such a pervasive problem that Judy Russell has covered it repeatedly in her popular blog "The Legal Genealogist." Books have been written about copyright exclusively for the genealogist. It's a big deal. A really, really big deal.

I immediately sent an email to the long-standing conference manager employed by NGS voicing my displeasure, hoping that my email would make it to the powers-that-be for some sort of resolution.

What does resolution mean to me?

Let me repeat. I am a reasonable human being. Sure, I want to be compensated in some manner for the improper reproduction and sale of my work. Sure, I think there should be some sort of penalty or remuneration for repeated breaches of contract. But remember, I am a genealogist. I gave up a life of monetary riches when I decided to chase dead people full time and abandon my medical profession. This was not an opportunity for me to see dollar signs rolling in my eyes like some sort of Warner Brothers cartoon. Not by any means. So what do I think would have been an appropriate response?

"Oh my God, we made a HUGE mistake! And we did it two years in a row! Yikes! We are so sorry! What can we do to fix this?"

In a world torn apart by divisiveness and nasty rifts borne out of race, religion, and politics, human decency goes a long, long, long way with me.

What did I receive?

Yes, I got an apology. Kind of.

I got an apology for being sent a royalty check.

Ummmm.... okay. That wasn't quite what I was looking for. This was followed by an explanation that only a handful of my lectures were sold, so it was no big deal. Get over it.

Remember that silly thing called copyright? It is apparently so important to the National Genealogical Society that it is mentioned twice on their website regarding Social Media Policy for Conference Attendees. "NGS does not permit photography nor audio or video recording in the lecture rooms at the NGS Family History Conference. Presentations, including slides and handouts, are protected by copyright and may not be reproduced." This is followed by encouraging a social media presence by conference attendees as long as "copyright law is observed." NGS conference organizers have in the past required speakers to include a slide in their presentations reminding attendees of this policy. They also have a script at every podium for speakers to read out loud regarding this policy before even beginning their lecture. In the past, NGS has threatened to remove attendees from sessions if they are caught snapping photographs of a presenter's slides.

It seems then that copyright should be a big deal for this organization, yes? Apparently it is not when they are the offenders.

Not pleased with a curt dismissal, I wrote again to the National Genealogical Society on 28 April 2019, asking for resolution -- not for excuses, dismissal, or denials. This time the entire Board of Directors was addressed. I also expressed reservations doing further business with them until this matter was resolved.

The tricky part? I was already contractually obliged to present two lectures and two luncheons for the 2019 National Genealogical Society's annual conference in St. Charles, Missouri, to be held 8-11 May 2019. I had spent many hours preparing a brand new lecture for this event, as well as producing a never-seen-before luncheon talk. National conferences are a wonderful way to reconnect with old friends and colleagues, as well as to meet new people willing and eager to chat for hours about musty records, remote repositories, crumbling tombstones, out-of-print finding aids, DNA findings, and long dead people. I was excited to do some book signings for the chapter I wrote in the recently-published Advanced Genetic Genealogy: Techniques and Case Studies. This conference had been on my calendar for a year, and I was prepared to drive twelve hours round trip to attend and speak even though I was scheduled to arrive home from a speaking gig in Santa Rosa, California, just the day before hitting the road to Missouri. Additionally, I had obligations to two additional respected organizations to give luncheons that they had generously sponsored. I am not going to lie. The thought of doing further business with an organization presently treating me so poorly was not topping my list of favorite things to do, but at least the conference's rapid approach might stimulate some sort of discussion and pathway to resolution on the part of NGS before I had to hop in my car for a six-hour trek to St. Charles.

I was wrong.


Loud, deafening, telling silence. That was the response I received.

The beginning of May found me at the annual Ohio Genealogical Society Conference in Mason, Ohio. Those of us who give genealogical lectures are a relatively small group. We see each other all over the country, so much so that none of us can remember when and where the last meeting occurred. "Was that Burbank? Or Columbus? Or Fort Wayne? I can't recall. But hey, how are you?" I have already told you that I think myself to be a reasonable, level-headed man. But I also like to talk to my friends and colleagues. And I am an easy read. Sad, frustrated, angry, confused, happy, joyful: it's incredibly easy to tell what I am feeling, and I am profoundly transparent in my conversations. There's little in my life I won't share with others who ask (or sometimes don't ask). Many of the speakers and vendors got an earful regarding my present dilemma. Not so surprisingly, I also got my share of many, many "this is how NGS screwed me over" stories from other genealogists and vendors. I also got shared outrage. Misery certainly does love company.

The most surprising thing to come out of my lecturing in Ohio was the one most unexpected. That being an ongoing, daily string of information from colleagues and organizations that they were being actively recruited to fill my lecture and luncheon time slots at the NGS 2019 Conference. Apparently, NGS's solution to the problem at hand was to remove me from the program without any form of communication. This is what would be classically called the "You can't quit. You're fired!" move. It seems that they expected me to show up in St. Charles, Missouri, to inform me that my services were no longer needed. A curt dismissal would have angered me, but I didn't even get the benefit of that. So now we can add a third year in the row that NGS has failed to live up to their contractual obligations, as well as depriving me of income that I rely on to make ends meet.

Still, I got only silence.

Why am I writing this? There are multiple reasons.

Firstly, as genealogists, lecturers, and conference attendees, I think you all should know the duplicitous nature currently employed by the National Genealogical Society. Their actions indicate that copyright law seems to be only applicable when and where it inconveniences them the least. Additionally, those who continue to do business with NGS or will be asked to lecture or vend at the 2020 conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, might want to take pause and rethink their decisions based on my experiences. Contracts are apparently meaningless slips of paper. I have been humbled by the outpouring of support by my genealogical colleagues, whether that be messages stating "stand your ground!" or the refusal by other speakers to fill my lecture slots in St. Charles out of a unified principled stance. I truly love those who share this insane genealogical obsession with me.

Secondly, I like to think that those who see me lecture can sense my passion for genealogy as well as my exuberant joy in sharing my knowledge and teaching. I deeply regret disappointing those who came to St. Charles, Missouri, expecting to see me lecture or those who paid additional money to attend a luncheon that I will not be presenting. I want all those wonderful genealogists presently in Missouri to know I am there with them in all their totally geeked-out, genealogy-everywhere-around-them wonder and joy in thought and spirit. I wanted to be there bodily and in person. I truly did. Those who showed up at a lecture or a luncheon or book signing expecting to see me deserve to know why I am not there.

Thirdly, take a look at those serving on the Board of Directors for the National Genealogical Society at https://www.ngsgenealogy.org/bod/. If you happen to run into any of them in the conference halls in St. Charles, Missouri, you might want to ask them what copyright infringement and contractual obligation means to them. Maybe you will get an answer. If so, let me know, I still I have not. Or perhaps snap some photos of some slides during one of their lectures and question them with bewildered amazement when they seemed perturbed or upset at your audacity to flaunt the law.

Fourthly, for loyal readers of this blog, you know writing is cathartic for me. From my father's suicide to my flooded library to my present frustrations, I gain some sort of calm by putting it all in writing. I gave a luncheon talk in Ohio about the benefits of genealogical blogging, and I felt like a fraud because I have been on hiatus for so long. I had mentioned that in addition to telling the story of my maternal grandfather (which will be told to completion -- I promise), I thought this might be a space to repurpose and remold into sharing other genealogical tidbits, research nuggets, and stories of successes and failures.

Consider this my first repurposing. It is one of frustration, anger, and sadness.

EDIT: For those who come across this blog post by itself,  you can read the joint statement crafted by the National Genealogical Society, the Association of Professional Genealogists, and myself at Copyright, Contracts, Commitments, and Human Decency: Resolution.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Sins of the Father, Part II

Daniel Daugherty would run from his debts in Ohio in 1839 to end up here, nearly 500 miles to the west, to start a new life with a new wife.
Note to Readers: This is a narrative. To start at the beginning, click on the "Blog Archive" to the right and click on the earliest entry, which is the first written, on 18 February 2014. Or simply click here:  Hoosier Daddy?: Beginnings. For those who have read the blog up to this point have accompanied me on my journey of discovery. We will now explore the life of the man I discovered, the meeting of father and daughter, and the ramifications thereof.
"The fathers eat the sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge."  Ezekiel 18:2.
Daniel Daugherty

Daniel Daugherty (1803-1880) had spent a lifetime on the move. Born in Virginia, his father moved him to the wild, sparsely-populated plains of southwestern Ohio by the time he was nine years old. Daniel was the oldest child to accompany his family on their westward trek. He was old enough to recall his mother's death the year before and likely a weighty sadness at knowing he would never see her grave again. His father, Thomas, had quickly remarried in the fall of 1811, and by the spring of 1812, they were on their way westward. So many changes had befallen the family in such a short time, and young Daniel was coming of an age where it all made little sense to him. One thing of which he was blissfully unaware was his father Thomas's ongoing legal problems. Thomas Daugherty and his father-in-law had concocted a fraudulent land sale nearly a decade before, and clear title and restitution were still being argued in the courts. Thomas, the only living person left to bear the brunt of the crime, likely found it easier to leave the state with a new wife two decades his junior in tow.

This new bride barely in her twenties, pregnant with her first child, and struggling with home life on the frontier with two brand-new stepsons would soon face her struggle alone. Shortly after arriving in Ohio, and while Daniel was still a boy, he was forced to take on the role of the "man of the house" when his father enlisted and left home for active duty in the War of 1812.

Thomas returned the following year, and several more children filled the household over the next decade. Daniel Daugherty took his first wife in 1824 and started his own family at the same time his youngest half-sibling was born. His stepmother died the following summer, and he watched these much younger half-siblings farmed out by his father to be raised by neighboring families. This lack of familial cohesion would repeat itself in Daniel's own family two decades later, and in all the Daugherty lines to follow.

Daniel operated a small mercantile business and storehouse in Jeffersonville, Ohio, under the name of "D. Daugherty & Company". The Panic of 1837 left him with debtors who refused to pay on their accounts and creditors who repeatedly took him to court. The Circleville Bank and the Bank of Xenia were pressuring Daniel through the courts to pay on his outstanding notes. Daniel defaulted on his loans and skipped town. By 1839, all court cases stalled indefinitely because Daniel Daugherty's whereabouts were unknown. His business partners were left with his share of the debts.

Daniel Daugherty hid from his creditors, but he also disappeared from his family as well. Although his siblings scattered all over the Midwest, many surviving documents indicate a consistent attempt to remain in contact with each other... that is, with all of them but Daniel. Perhaps just not knowing where to find him, they gave up. And he hid well. Not only do I have no idea where he was during the 1840s, neither did his own children have a clear recollection as they reached adulthood. Those born during this decade never consistently knew their own place of birth. Ohio? Indiana? Illinois? Somewhere around there. Some reported later on census reports that their place of birth was just flat "unknown."

By 1846, Daniel begins showing up in places along the Mississippi River between New Boston and Rock Island, Illinois. Sometimes he is on the Iowa side, sometimes on the Illinois side. Never does he stay anywhere long. In the Spring of that year, his wife died, leaving him with children ranging from 21 years to six months old, strangely reminiscent of his father's predicament two decades before. His response was identical. The elder children were left to fend for themselves, while the younger children appear to have been taken in by strangers wherever he seemed to drop them on his travels up and down the river.

In 1849, Daniel made the acquaintance of a widow, Elizabeth (Lequat) Holstein. In her late-thirties with three young children, she had been widowed for almost five years. Her father, Shadrack Lequat, had come to Rock Island County, Illinois, in 1838, and was a prosperous merchant at Drury's Landing. This bustling, growing town boasted one of the first steamboat landings in the area. Boats stopped for wood to refuel, for passengers to disembark, for trade and commerce. Elizabeth was not in a hurry to remarry. She could rely on the financial support of her family as well as the proceeds generated by the 80 acres of land her late husband, Henry Holstein, had purchased in 1841.

Daniel Daugherty married the widow Holstein in the Spring of 1849. Perhaps her economic future was less certain, as Elizabeth's father had died two years previously, and nothing had been accomplished regarding the division of his estate. Elizabeth was no fool though. She protected the land she had acquired from her deceased first husband. The day before her marriage to Daugherty, she sold to 80 acres of land to her 18- and 12-year-old daughters and to her 9-year-old son.

The records are silent regarding the reception of Daniel Daugherty into the Lequat family. At the time of his death, the elder Shadrack Lequat was caring for his namesake grandson, whose guardianship was a matter of heated debate between his new stepfather, and his deceased father's family. Although the younger Shadrack died as a child just months after Daniel Daugherty entered the family, Daniel was the one appointed administrator of his estate, much to the dismay of both parties feuding over the child. Both the elder and younger Shadrack's estates became intimately intertwined, and it was Daniel Daugherty who took the lead filing accounts in no less than three different counties in Iowa and Illinois, selling land and goods in multiple locations and bringing the matter to a close. Was he an outsider new to the family whose business acumen was needed at just the right time? Or was Daniel's evident financial success achieved only after his fortuitous marriage looked upon with disdain by the in-laws who only saw him as an opportunist?

The two families were permanently united with the birth of John Henry Daugherty in 1852. Daniel had none of his children living with him, and Elizabeth had already married off her eldest daughter. Daniel Daugherty was presented with another chance at fatherhood. Maybe he was overcome with a newfound sense of responsibility, or maybe he was just a man turning fifty with a baby who decided he needed to stop racing up and down the Mississippi River. In 1855, he reclaimed into his household his youngest daughter by his first marriage. Nine-year-old Rachel was living with her recently widowed eldest sister in Rock Island County, Illinois, when she rejoined the paternal household. Elizabeth's youngest son by her first marriage, Silas, was 16 years old, and the last one of her children to remain at home. That year, Daniel, Elizabeth, Silas, Rachel, and baby John, journeyed nearly 250 miles northward into the newly settled Minnesota Territory. Daniel Daugherty likely heard the buzz the year before on the many Mississippi River docks he frequented. Promoters as far-flung as LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and St. Paul, Minnesota, had invested in a new town to be built on the Wabasha prairie on the west side of the Mississippi. Willard Bunnell, the developer of the town, had been on good terms with the Wabasha band of Sioux Indians for years, and he had already built a hotel and a number of buildings in his new river town. The town of Minneowah or "Snow Water" was born in 1853, and Daniel saw it as a perfect location to start a mercantile business with the rapid and endless flow of settlers into the Minnesota Territory by way of the Mississippi River.

The whole plan was a disaster.

Willard Bunnell was a successful Indian trader, but he was a lousy town builder. He had neglected to register the land upon which his fledgling town was growing much to the chagrin of his investors. Once the land office opened, it was open for any squatter to claim. The first one in line was Daniel Daugherty.

Daniel laid claim to not only the land upon which his store and warehouse were located but also to the hotel and other choice pieces of real estate. This so infuriated Bunnell that his confrontation with Daniel quickly became physical. Some sources say that Daniel Daugherty bit off Bunnell's thumb, or that he bent it back so far and mangled it, that it had to be amputated. Nonetheless, Daniel kept his land while Willard lost his digit.

Bunnell's investors quickly sold their shares in the failed venture, and Willard responded by platting a new town, Homer, immediately to the south of Minneowah, in 1855. Bunnell was still seeking riches and success as the new Minnesota boom town on the Mississippi River. Both men − Daugherty and Bunnell − failed to realize their dreams. Just five miles upstream on a location Bunnell had previously dismissed as a miserable sandbar prone to flooding, the little town of Winona became the success story that Bunnell yearned for. From the laying out of town lots in 1853 to the end of 1856, Winona's population grew to 3,000. Homer never surpassed a couple hundred inhabitants. Minneowah ceased to exist, being considered merely a northern extension of Homer. Daniel Daugherty was left with a store in a tiny failed town. Willard Bunnell would die shortly after in 1861.

On the Mississippi, Near Winona, Shower Clearing (1868) by Alfred Bricher
This scene depicts the downriver stretch below Winona as you approach Homer, Minnesota

Was Daniel Daugherty a man prone to violence who ran from responsibility? Was he more concerned with his own financial advancement to give much thought to raising a family? He was apparently trusted by the people of Homer during his stay in Minnesota. He was elected chairman of the township supervisors at the first election held in newly formed Homer Township in 1858. He submitted a bid to the Minnesota House of Representatives for a contract to carry mail from Winona to Burr Oak, but lost it in 1858. He was business savvy enough to be chosen as an administrator for the estates of fellow townspeople during the 1860s. But on the family front, Daniel still seemed to fail at maintaining a nuclear family. His daughter Rachel, not even a teen, left the home shortly after their arrival in Minnesota to live in the household of an unrelated local family. His stepson, Silas V. Holstein, also left in his teens to work on the railroad and to spend his youth exploring the Midwest and learning the trade of mechanic and millwright on the verge of the Civil War.

Shortly after arriving in Minnesota, Daniel and Elizabeth welcomed their last child. These two young children by Elizabeth gave Daniel a second chance at fatherhood. As a man approaching his mid-50s with some apparent community respect and a moderately successful commercial business, he could raise his two young sons with measured patience, discipline, and understanding − something he could not provide to his first bevy of children, now grown and scattered throughout Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas.

It is not known what paternal guidance and affection Daniel Daugherty bestowed upon his youngest sons. It is not known if the lessons Daniel Daugherty learned from his own father and gained from his own life experiences were imparted upon young John and Ira. Whatever life path upon which Daniel Daugherty tried to guide his sons, fate would continue to produce Daugherty men in the molds of their fathers.

This time, John Henry Daugherty, the toddler who may have watched in horror as his father tore the thumb from his adversary, would bring the meaning of familial responsibility to a new low.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sins of the Father, Part I

Note to Readers: This is a narrative. To start at the beginning, click on the "Blog Archive" to the right and click on the earliest entry, which is the first written, on 18 February 2014. Or simply click here:  Hoosier Daddy?: Beginnings. For those who have read the blog up to this point have accompanied me on my journey of discovery. We will now explore the life of the man I discovered, the meeting of father and daughter, and the ramifications thereof.
"When positive masculine energy is not modeled from father to son, it creates a vacuum in the souls of men, and into that vacuum demons pour."   -- Richard Rohr

James Daugherty, a middling prosperous landowner and businessman in post-Revolutionary War Rockbridge County, Virginia, was experiencing his mid-life crisis. The last of his children were leaving home, marrying, and starting lives of their own. Unable to waste his money on a crimson red sports car and take up recreational drug use, he did the next best thing a man his position can do in the mid-1790s. He ran off with his housekeeper.

Having "went off with an idle woman of the name [Lucretia] Vanscoit to the County of Wythe where he had a valuable plantation", James Daugherty had resettled nearly 120 miles away down the Shenandoah Valley and left his wife Hannah with no means of support. Hannah Daugherty may have soon believed that her husband got what was coming to him. Shortly after his departure, he was "found dead, and died by a visit of God in a natural way" in 1799.

Hannah Daugherty took up residence in the household of her son, David Daugherty. It may have pained her to see her son follow in his father's footsteps. In 1815, David's wife Ruth filed for divorce. Her husband had for some time past been involved with a married woman, Betsey Carson. Betsey's husband, Martin, testified before the Rockbridge County, Virginia, Chancery Court that his wife told him "that the said David Daugherty had informed her that he intended to poison his wife that he might have the better opportunity of connecting himself with the said Betsey, and she acknowledged that he was the father of two of her children." Like his father James, David abandoned his wife into the care of his son and moved 175 miles down the valley, with no judgment made on his divorce.

Thomas Daugherty, another son of James Daugherty, may not have been as outwardly cruel to his spouse as his father and brother appeared to be, but then again, he rarely had time to tire of a wife. Repeatedly widowed, he married in 1791, 1800, 1811, and 1827. He left Virginia immediately after his marriage to his third wife, and headed for the wilds of southwest Ohio, an area having only been settled within the previous decade. Perhaps he had an adventurous spirit. More likely, he conveniently escaped prosecution for fraud in a complex legal case in which he was accused of marrying his second wife only to procure land, of which clear title was in question. His absence caused the case to cease without judgment.

Immediately upon settling in Ohio, Thomas Daugherty joined a regiment to fight in the War of 1812, and supposedly saw battle on Lake Erie. A thrilling adventure for a young man in his 20s, but Thomas was in his mid-40s and recently settled in an untamed wilderness. He may have experienced an adventure of a lifetime, but he left behind a new bride two decades his junior to care for a slew of children and step-children. Upon her death in 1825, many of his younger children were distributed into other families to raise. Although Thomas lived well into his 80s and fathered ten or more children, statements taken after his death in 1852 indicate none of his children showed interest in visiting him, even though some of them lived neaby. Ephraim Daugherty cared for his father, Thomas, only upon agreement that he would gain sole possession of military bounty land in Indiana upon his father's death.

Another of Thomas Daugherty's son, Daniel Daugherty, was a shrewd and cunning business man. Much like his grandfather James Daugherty, he invested in property. Not content to live the mundane  agricultural life of his peers, he invested in small businesses in his adopted home town of Jeffersonville, Ohio, that had only been laid out in 1831. He started a wholesale drygoods business and local store with backing from prominent figures in Fayette County, Ohio, political circles. Married in 1824, and already with a household full of children, his businesses failed in the Panic of 1837. Dozens of law suits followed. Banks and creditors demanded money from him that he did not have. He unsuccessfully sued those who owed him money. Business partners were angered by the debt he had accrued in their name, and even angrier when he failed to appear in court to answer their questions. Although Daugherty men in previous generations had run away from domestic problems, the solution was the same for financial ones as well.

He skipped town.

Daniel Daugherty's whereabouts for nearly a decade thereafter are unknown. He was crafiter than the generations before him, having effectively disappeared, evading those seeking him for unpaid debts. He reappeared in Mercer and Rock Island Counties, Illinois, shortly before his remarriage in 1849 to a wealthy widow from a prominent local family, his first wife apparently dead. Within months of marrying his second wife, he inserted himself aggressively into business dealings of his new wife's family. Reminiscent of accusations leveled against his father in Virginia decades before, documents uncovered in Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota accused Daniel of marrying for money and social leverage. Daniel maintained business contacts along a 300-mile stretch of the Mississippi River, all the while depositing children from his first wife amongst families in a tri-state area, relieving himself of the need to care for them.

In 1853, Daniel Daugherty removed to the fledgling town of Homer, Minnesota, on the Mississippi River. Willard Bunnell, the first white settler of the area, had plans for the town he created on the western bank of the river, initially dubbed Bunell's Landing. Although Willard had built a hotel and other buildings in his fledgling town, "he did not have the aptitute, patience, or the tact necessary to successfully organize and develop a town site." One of his oversights was filing a claim to the property he had developed. When the federal land office opened in Winona in 1854, Daniel Daugherty unscrupulously claimed all of Willard Bunnell's land. None too pleased, Bunnell angrily confronted Daniel Daugherty, and in the ensuing "fight Daugherty seized Bunnell's thumb in a vise-like grip and held on until Bunnell surrendered. Bunnell lost not only the fight, but also his thumb, which was so mutilated, it had to be amputated."

Daniel Daugherty followed members of his wife's family to Poweshiek County, Iowa, by 1865, where he purchased a modest 80-acre farm. When he was widowed again in 1873, it took him less than a year to marry another well-to-do widow, Galetsy (Gowen) Wright. The couple removed to the nearby town of Belle Plaine, Iowa, but the marriage lasted only two years. This time a Daugherty wife took a stand, and left her husband after "diverse unhappy disputes and differences" and the two "agreed to live separate and apart from each other during their natural life." Galetsy made sure she maintained sole rights and custody of the real estate and property she brought into the marriage.

When Daniel Daugherty penned his last will and testament in February 1880, he had only nine more months of life left in him. He left bequests to six children by his first wife that he had little part in raising, some of them unknowingly already dead.

From James to Thomas to Daniel, the legacy of Daugherty fathers was one of abandonment, deception, violence, and selfishness. The ensuing three generations of Daugherty men only magnified and built upon an already deeply ingrained and established theme.

The grand finale would end with a daughter.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

A Year In Review: Part II

Note to Readers: This is a narrative. To start at the beginning, click on the "Blog Archive" to the right and click on the last entry, which is the first written, on 18 February 2014. Or simply click here: Hoosier Daddy?: Beginnings

Nothing jolts you into wakefulness more than the realization that your life's work, your collection of rare books, and countless irreplaceable photographs are likely underwater.

Nate had calmly announced the watery disaster and walked out the door. He had left his bathroom toilet overflowing overnight, and eight hours worth of water had been cascading downward into my home office. Although I was standing in a significant amount of water at the door of the bathroom and in the hallway, I knew that the basement was probably far worse. Before sprinting down the steps to the office, I grabbed towels from the hall closet.

Yes, panic is not rational. A handful of towels was likely not going to absorb a deluge, but it's where my mind went at that moment.

I was met with ankle-deep water in the northeast corner of my basement, and the water rapidly rising. I also had an amazing waterfall feature coming from the ceiling air ducts, and the surrounding plasterwork from the finished textured ceiling had collapsed and was floating in front of my bookshelves as if to offer a life raft for any who would like to jump to safety. Ironically, the toilet lies directly above the unfinished part of my basement directly over a drain. Although admittedly there was a significant amount of water on that side of the finished wall, Mother Nature decided the path of least resistance was not directly down, but along the duct system and directly into my office.

There is really nothing to do at a moment like this. Even I was deeply torn and confused as to whether I should weep uncontrollably, scream with anger at the top of my lungs, or scurry about in some vain attempt of looking like I could actually accomplish something.

I did the latter... with a fair smattering of the former.

I threw the towels down. They floated briefly before becoming saturated and sinking to the floor. I ran upstairs and grabbed more.

In those panic-stricken moments, Kirk had silently left his bedroom upstairs and slipped out of the house. This was obviously all my problem and only my problem, regardless of who caused it. Assistance was not to be found within the home I shared with two utter morons.

Confession: I am a book whore. I have thousands of books. My genealogy library is arranged in a useful manner, mostly geographically. The books in the lower shelves were in obviously affected by the rising tide, and because of the waterfall and ceiling collapse, many of the books in the upper shelves were also in standing water. Geographically, Ohio and Indiana experienced the worst flooding. Who knew the corn belt would be swept away by a toilet?

The following days and weeks were filled with insurance agents, water remediation people, deafening industrial fans and dehumidifiers, contractors, flooring specialists (since my ranch home is all done in hardwood floors that were now buckled and warped), and the sounds of drilling into every baseboard and wall to dry it out. Finally tally: $30,000 in damage.

I could write several more paragraphs about the shoddy job done by the restoration and remodeling people, and their dogged determination to pocket all the insurance money when only doing a third of the work of what was estimated by my adjuster. My insistence on paying them for only work they had done lead to months of battling, a lien against my house, and the repetitive use of the phrase, "Dr. Lacopo, you just don't seem to understand how insurance claims work." Uh huh, yeah, I do....

Or I could tell you about how Kirk and Nate complained and whined bitterly about the need to move out of the house for a week when the floors were being replaced, stripped, and stained. They reasoned that since insurance was paying for me (and two cats) to live in a hotel, I should logically pay for the roommates to live somewhere for the week, while deducting a week from their rent. The work was delayed by a couple days, but on the final day of treating the newly-stained floors Kirk and Nate were instructed by me and the flooring crew that they could move back in the following day, and then in   stocking feet only. A sign was posted on the front door not to enter. I went back to my hotel room, but I returned to the house around 2 a.m. to dump some of my belongings in the garage to make moving back into my home the next day with freaked out cats less traumatic. My desire for minimal drama ended as soon as I turned the corner and saw the exterior of my house.

Kirk and Nate had decided that waiting for the floor to cure was unncessary. They were already in the house. The "Keep Out" sign was still firmly attached to the door.

What followed was a string of expletives not fit for this blog, and a complete breakdown of any sort of sanity or decorum. I nearly broke my hand beating the Nate's and Kirk's bedroom doors down. Yelling. Drama. And a not-so-kindly worded verbal invitation for the two of them to leave. Leave now.

Nate tried to argue that he never touched the floor. Apparently he floated down the hall. Kirk was a bit overwhelmed by my insistence that he leave my house and go straight to hell. He got out of bed, put on his clothes and shoes and started into the hallway.


Kirk left. I never saw him again.

Nate left, but he returned minutes later in an attempt to convince me that he crawled through his window. It is a crank window that opens vertically with a screen on it. I called him on his ridiculous lie. He threatened to come back the next day to show me what happens to "pretentious little faggots."

Then the police came. Apparently screaming on your front porch at 4 a.m. alarms your neighbors.

Nate returned in the following days, but only long enough to start packing for his departure to a new apartment. He was gone within two weeks, and with him an assortment of my electronics and cable equipment. Left behind in his wake was just the mess that had become one of my bedrooms... and the smell.

So, the water damage is repaired, the roommates are gone, and life can go on, right? I can chart a new course of gleefully living alone in a freshly remodeled home, right? Of course not.

Hours after I kicked out the roommates, I went back to the hotel to attempt an hour or two of sleep. The sun had barely risen above the horizon, before my cell phone was ringing with a call from the owner of the flooring company.

"I'm sorry, Mike. I'm really sorry. This has never happened to us before."

As an aside, this is NOT how any phone call should begin, regardless of the circumstances. Nothing good can follow. 

Hem. Haw. Apologize. Stutter. Stammer. Apologize some more. Delay. Throw out some clich├ęs. Stall. Stammer some more.


In the course of finishing my hardwood floors, the crew had cut through the water line that leads to my refrigerator and freezer. Their sander had severed it, and it had just slipped and fallen back into the basement. As the crew was sanding and staining and finishing my floor for eleven days, my basement was again slowly filling with water.

Destroyed books, photos, heirlooms. Dryers. Dehumidifiers. Mold.... Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

If you have read this far, you are likely getting a good idea of my 2015.

And I am only to August.

The remainder of the summer and most of the autumn was dedicated to fighting insurance companies, unfreezing salvageable books one at a time and drying them out, remodeling the destroyed bathrooms on my own, gutting the entire basement and deciding what to keep, donate, salvage, store, file, trash, and making lists and lists of books damaged and destroyed from two floods. You see, in the minds of an insurance adjuster any book that cannot be found in Barnes & Noble's present-day inventory is worth $9.58. I have no idea where that number comes from, but additionally, ths value is then depreciated by 50%, thus making every destroyed book worth $4.29.

And guess what? Most of the books you find in a genealogist's library ain't gonna be found in Barnes & Noble's inventory.

So, for example, the original 1913 history of Crawford County, Ohio, that I paid to have restored and rebound, and is obviously not in print, is worth $4.29. After receiving the book inventory from the insurance adjuster, my return email started with "Okay. No. Just no. No. No. No." Oh, and that additional $10,000 home insurance rider I added to my policy years ago to just barely begin to cover my library's worth? Nobody at my insurance company had any idea what I was talking about, nor is there any record of it. The idiot agent I had worked with years ago was long gone. Oh, and you use these books for your work? Your insurance policy doesn't cover as much for work-related items as it does for personal property.

While trying to pull my home together, I still had bills to pay. There were lecture and research trips (and associated travel disasters) to Virginia, Ohio, California, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kentucky, Texas, and throughout Indiana. Talking to researchers about genealogy gave me great joy, but they always ended with the knowledge that I had to go home to deal with ongoing chaos.

On 5 October 2015 the call came that my father had ended his own life (see Hoosier Daddy?: Phase Two: Life is Messy). Although we had not spoken in over a year, I was still the one people turned to with the hundreds of unanswered questions. "You know how to find things! Find out what happened!" Calls to police detectives, lawyers, medical examiners, crime scene investigators filled my early days of autumn. Much like genealogical research, the more information you discover and process, the more questions it raises without providing any answers.

Two weeks later I received another call much like the one before. Another unexpected death. My best friend from childhood had died unexpectedly at his home at the age of 48. David and I grew up one block away from each other, and our friendship stretched back to the days when I was allowed to ride my bike around the block, but I was forbidden to cross any streets. David lived around the block AND across the street. He too was not allowed to leave the safe confines of the sidewalk. So we would chat from opposite sides of a suburban neighborhood avenue almost always devoid of traffic.

We were inseparable in grade school and junior high, and being the fifth born in a hard-working, busy family of six children, it was easy for David to slip away to spend days with my family, eventually gaining status as my unofficial adopted brother. He joined us on family vacations. We shared secrets. We occasionally fought like brothers, but the bond you make with someone you choose to be your family often runs even deeper than blood.

Our high school paths differed, and he married and started a family shortly thereafter, while I went off to college. Time spent together lessened, but there were always visits, phone calls, emails, texts. The advent of Facebook allowed a closer reacquaintance with each other's lives. He fathered four children: the youngest a mere toddler at his death. I was busy with work, travel, trying to establish myself in a new field while shedding the skin of a veterinarian. The story is familiar. Our lives are busy. We are (relatively) young. There is always tomorrow. The last message I have from David was a few months before. It was a random Facebook text checking on me: "Hello Brother... you doing OK?"

Now he was dead.

Like the news of my father's death, it initially felt like a cruel joke. I think that was my first response, "You're kidding, right?" Once the information is truly processed, the hope that what you've learned is merely macabre humor is replaced with numb disbelief. Unlike the news regarding my father, the numbness was replaced with utter despair. One man in an anonymous sea of billions was plucked from this planet far too soon, but he was a special man -- to me, to his children, to his family, and to many others. So many previous opportunities to get together gone and wasted, never to be offered again.

I had the opportunity to go to David's viewing and funeral service. I was not given that chance with my father. I noted the time and the place. I made sure the proper shirt, tie, and jacket were not at the dry cleaners, but in the end, I did not go. I know the funerary rituals we embrace are largely absurd, and I am aware that they are performed for the comfort of the living. Perhaps his father, brothers, sisters, wife, children, mutual friends all would have felt consolation by my presence, and shared stories of David's life would have lessened everyone's grief. In the end, I could not do it. I can give you a million reasons why it was a good decision, but the bottom line is that I am a chicken shit. I did not want the last view of someone young, vibrant, meaningful, and loved to be an artificially recreated rendition in a box. Admittedly, the spectacle of me collapsing into a formless blob of tears, wailing, and spewing snot also figured into the picture. I mourned alone, in silence, and cataloged my regrets and missed opportunities without having to wear a tie.

The physical toll of 2015?

I gained 25 pounds. I hate those people who lose weight when they are stressed, at least they can look svelte whilst being distraught. Clothes that fit at all are uncomfortable. The shirts at the back of the closet I rarely wore because they were "billowy" now fit well. I am tired and easily overwhelmed. I have probably over-embraced the lack of roommates, and I cling tenaciously to my reclusive ways. Never having been a good phone person, I leave my cell phone mailbox full to avoid people leaving messages. It's a good thing. I rarely checked it anyway.

My hair turned white. No, I do not mean that I began to see white hairs. That happened long before. The smattering of white in my beard is now well beyond the salt of "salt and pepper." My chest hair turned white. Even my arm hair is now turning. The temples of my head hair are predominately white, with the remainder of my once-brown hair replaced by a dingy colorless gray. Spoiler alert: it's all dyed.

Conspicuously missing in this entire assessment of 2105 is the primary focus of this blog. This year of chaos should have been somewhat redeemed by the opportunity to get to know the fascinating man I chased so aggressively during the entirety of 2014. Had I been granted such an opportunity, it might have been. But the biggest blow of 2015 was one I have yet to describe. 

Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty died, on 25 March 2015, at the hands of the daughter he never knew existed.

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Year In Review: Part I

Note to Readers: This is a narrative. To start at the beginning, click on the "Blog Archive" to the right and click on the last entry, which is the first written, on 18 February 2014. Or simply click here: Hoosier Daddy?: Beginnings.

Okay. Yes. I am recapping my 2015 nearly eight months after it ended. I get it. I am slow.

Star Wars fans had to wait a decade for The Force Awakens after Revenge of the Sith. I figure by comparison, I am downright speedy. (((pats self on back)))

But how best to end a long silence with a bit of replay? Perhaps I need to jog your memory a bit (as well as mine), and get those literary juices flowing again. There is a lot to cover.

A lot.

Let me begin with some historical context. 2015 was supposed to be THE YEAR. You know... the year it all comes together, regardless of what "it" might be. 2015 was supposed to be the year my career choice as a professional genealogist netted a six-figure income. It was the year I was to find true love, my abs, and the miraculous ability to successfully manage my time while still trolling my Facebook feed and watching strings of meaningless YouTube videos. 2014 ended with all the chessmen in place. I just need to maneuver them into my checkmate.

It didn't quite work out that way.

I left my job as a small-animal veterinarian at a busy multi-doctor practice in January 2013. And by "left" I mean I was told after twenty-two years of practicing that my services were no longer needed and then given a five-minute notice to pack my things and leave. It was not unexpected. Having worked part-time since 2008, I had made myself expendible. I was also not exactly quiet and demure in my vocalization regarding the gross mismanagement of the business, as well as grappling with the wildly growing egos of money-hungry and power-thirsty younger associates. The medicine still excited and intrigued me. The health and well-being of beloved dogs and cats motivated and rewarded me. The people associated with both sides of the exam table were doing none of the above. To quote a blog I rarely read because of the associated anxiety it creates:"From time to time I'd have one of those days when I'd rather be the janitor in a porno theater than to continue this nonsense of being a veterinarian."1 

My contract was to end in July 2013, and I had no expectation of receiving an invite to stay on, nor did I necessarily want to. Being handed my walking papers six months prematurely was not unexpected, but it was traumatic.

Suddenly I was thrust into relying solely on genealogical income for my survival. The first few weeks after my professional life abruptly ended, I battled physical illness, nausea, and anxiety associated with the stress of realizing that years of higher education and nearly a quarter-century of my professional life had just been tossed into a dumpster. Thereafter, I slowly came to the realization how nice it was to sleep in past 6 a.m. and gain a sense of excitement toward channeling my professional energies into this "hobby" that had consumed my life since my pre-teen years.

My newly adopted attitude was along the lines of "Neener Neener Neener, I No Longer Have To Participate In The Rat Race!" I was born and raised poor white trash, so I never bought into the mindset and extravagence of spending money on things I could not afford. I had made a good living as a veterinarian and squirrelled away enough savings for this very moment. Sleeping in even after the alarm clock goes off was a luxury of which I was becoming accustomed, because now it was merely a suggestion, and not a command. Relaxing mornings became the norm, nursing a pot (or two) of coffee whilst reading the news, emails, or the stack of genealogical periodicals that previously were little more than part of the perpetual clutter that was known as my work space. Throw in some required laptime for three cats, random household chores, perpetual snacking, degredation of housecleaning and gym habits, and I was completely and totally embracing the reclusive life of a hermit. 2013 quickly became dominatd by oft-repeated questions, such as "Did I shower this week?" or "Should I shave this month?"  These questions were, of course, directed toward the cats, since human interaction was purely hypothetical.

"Why Working from Home is Both Awesome and Horrible," The Oatmeal, http://theoatmeal.com/comics/working_home

So let's just say that 2013 was a transition year; a year of much needed rest and a zero-tolerance rule for stress and anxiety. It was a year of increased travel and visiting friends from California to New Jersey. It was a year needed to bring myself to a middle ground where I was putting one professional life behind me, and embarking upon a new one. And hey, I had savings, and I lived alone in a three-bedroom house. If need be, I could rent out those two spare bedrooms and supplement my current non-existent income and unemployment benefits, and life would be peachy! Right?

And it's not as if I was doing NOTHING in 2013. I was still lecturing. I was still chasing the dead people of others for hire. I was still doing the work I was born to do. I just hadn't done much in the way of business planning or honing constructive time management skills before this transition was thrust upon me. Then again, I wasn't entirely embracing the need to do so right away either. When 2013 came to an end, there was the stark realization that I may actually have to work in 2014.

Unfortunately my 2014 began with a lecherous B&B owner sneaking into my rented bedroom and groping my nether regions in my sleep on an early, sunny Palm Springs, California, morning. This was quickly followed by a hasty and obscenely early retreat after some police intervention to catch an Amtrak train with my increasingly melodramatic mother. Sunny California gave way to a ridiculously frigid Midwest and a subsequent eleven-hour delay as we inched our way into Chicago during a polar vortex. With all transportation shut down and a state of emergency declared, I was booted out into the streets of Chicago in forty-below-zero weather by testy Amtrak personnel who had no idea when they could get me home, nor any desire to make it happen.

I really should pay a lot more attention to these New Year harbingers of doom and destruction.

The other thing that 2014 brought me? DNA. I do not need to rehash THAT part of my life here. Those who have read this blog from the beginning know that fact full well. In February 2014, I learned that the man I had regarded as my biological maternal grandfather was not at all correct. While I had long suspected that a reasonable doubt existed, and that my grandmother's first husband could be the man who fathered my mother, I was also shocked to learn that he too was not the man I was looking for. My grandfather was a complete stranger.

It really is a very unkind twist of fate to destroy one-quarter of a genealogist's pedigree after thirty-five years of research.

2014 was supposed to be the year I got my business off the ground. 2014 was the year I was going to finally work on my certification project for the Board for Certification of Genealogists. 2014 was the year I was going to tighten the reigns and make my mark on the world of professional genealogy. 2014 was the year I was going to leave Indiana and start life anew... perhaps in California, in Utah, in Pennsylvania... just somewhere that was not here.

Instead, 2014 became the obsessive year of finding my grandfather. Hours upon hours were spent analyzing even the tiniest autosomal DNA match in hopes of finding some common thread. When the trail began heating up, I would spend days extending pedigrees back several generations on Robinsons, Ryders, and adjacent families that would later be found to be completely unrelated. I stalked countless people on Facebook who might carry DNA that would help me. I made elaborate diagrams and trees. I begged strangers for DNA. Repeatedly. There was no comprehensible thought of leaving Indiana now. Knowing my mother was conceived in the area around Elkhart, Indiana, in the spring of 1946 meant that the likely home of my unknown grandfather and his extended family was also northern Indiana. The dream of starting a new life in a new place was put on hold indefinitely, because I was determined to identify this mystery man before ever leaving the state.

I WAS going to identify this man. I had no question about that.

Business in 2014 was laughable. Little money was coming in, and a whole lot was going out on dozens of autosomal DNA test kits. Client work was minimal and even those projects I took on where grievously delayed and perpetually behind schedule. I spent more time obsessively checking 23andMe's results pages for new matches to my mother instead of writing reports. No new matches at 9 a.m.? How about 10? 10:30? 2? Certainly there would be a new lead at 4 p.m. Over and over and over again like pulling the arm on a damn slot machine waiting for my three cherries to pop up and dump a jackpot into my lap.

It wasn't quite that easy. Obsession, compulsion, determination, fanatacism... whatever you want to call it... paid off. In less than a year I had found my grandfather. 2014 ended with not just a new name on my pedigree chart and new genealogical lines to investigate. It ended with finding a living human being who showed me how and why I ended up being a part of a family with whom I had so little in common - physically, emotionally, intellectually. Finding Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty was the end of a journey I had no idea I was taking. I did not find just a name, nor did I find an unremarkable old man. I unwittingly found myself. An intellectual, analytical, factual, genealogical search became intimately more personal.

This is what life offered me as 2014 drew to a close, and 2015 dawned. Yes, 2015 was going to be THE YEAR. Doors had been opened. A quest had come to a successful fruition. My motivation to work at my chosen profession energized me every day, and I had a wonderful new part of me that I yearned to learn about. Nothing could possibly keep me from attaining new heights of happiness, success, and world domination. Okay, at least the first two were easily within my grasp.

And then I tried to die.

Melodramatic? Maybe. But wandering around Salt Lake City in January 2015 drenched in sweat, confused and disoriented while gasping for oxygen through the audible crackles and wheezes of my diseased lungs certainly qualifies for the trivia list entitled Top 5 Illnesses of My Life. A fantastic weight loss plan, yes, but one I do not highly recommend using on a regular basis. This should have been my sign of things to come.

The ensuing Spring had me traveling to to a number of lecture venues and attempting to jump start my career with new client work and lecture opportunities. With the melting snows also came two new roommates.

Some background: if it does not relate to genealogy or DNA, I am a Scrooge. I can have my desk stacked with six spare autosomal DNA test kits, but I will agonize over the price of gum. Having roommates was a welcome -- and necessary -- addition to my financial well-being. But let's take a broader view here: how many responsible, sane adults need to live in a stranger's spare bedroom? I am near the Notre Dame campus, but not close enough to garner the interest of students. I live in the booming metropolis of Granger, Indiana. How am I going to find renters? And what kind of people would they be?

Craigslist. Yep. That's where I sought life's answers. I advertised for any lost souls who wanted to rent a room. Of course, I had prospective tenants fill out renter's applications. I conducted interviews. I ran credit and background checks. I may be desperate, but I ain't no fool. It wasn't all haphazard. After all, I did manage to avoid the very charming, attractive, and well-spoken man who conspicuously left a large portion of his application blank, and upon research was a convicted felon with a lengthy prison record, and as an additional perks was also on the state sex offenders list. I declined the guy whose occupation was "professional gambler" who upon first meeting proceeded to give me the intimate details of his sex life while on the road playing poker. Then there was the boyfriend-girlfriend duo with the German Shepherd who just wouldn't take "NO" for an answer. No, I don't want two people renting one room. No, I definitely don't want a large dog in my house with my two cats. No, I am not going to consider it. No, I don't want to meet you. No, I am not going to send you an application. No, I am not going to respond to your fifteenth and sixteenth email.

The first to move in was Nate. Forty years old and recently divorced, his ex-wife had moved with his two pre-teen sons from Wisconsin to be closer to her parents in nearby Edwardsburg, Michigan. He was looking to move nearby so he too could participate in his parental responsibilities. He was a bartender of long standing at a Madison brewhouse, and his references were sound. He had the personality of a grown-up child, or perhaps that of a frat boy that never matured passed his late teens. He was funny and relaxed, tousled and unkempt, with a penchant for magic tricks, collecting coins, treasure hunting with his metal detector, and indulging in political conspiracy theories. We were certainly not cut from the same cloth, and it was unlikely that we would be spending our evenings in animated discussion on the history of the German settlement of eighteenth-century Pennsylvania, but he also seemed harmless, financially sound, and possessing a legitimate reason for needing a cheap place to stay relatively quickly. Done deal.

The second roommate was Kirk. He was in his sixties, and his application boasted his professional history of successful investment banking in Chicago, while currently working part-time as a weekend concierge in a Chicago restaurant and as a fitness trainer at a local gym. To me, his nickname immediately became "Skeletor," as he was rail thin and hardly someone I would take fitness advice from. His ultralean frame was topped with unnaturally dark jet-black hair that obviously came from a bottle. He bathed in cheap department store cologne that would let any woman know by smell before sight that a way-past-his-prime-but-doesn't-know-it Lothario was out on the prowl. Kirk's aged father had recently died, and he had moved from Chicago to Michigan to live in the family's lake house and ready it for sale. Its immediate and unexpected sale meant that he needed a place to live while his estate in Florida was being built, where he would be moving with his steady girlfriend, who would likely soon become his wife. As it turned out, the Florida home was never again referenced, and the girlfriend was never seen.

Although his story reeked of bullshit, he seemed harmless enough. His background checked out, and he moved in with nary a pot to piss in (but enough dietery supplements to choke a horse). He had a daily routine that kept him away from the house for most the time other than night-time sleeping. It seemed perfect.

Perfection it was not.

I have learned to embrace being a recluse, and I did not rent rooms to hire friends. Nate loved to tell me about his day, his kids, his job, his magic, his everything. Fine. Okay. He wasn't a bad guy. I can do this. My office and library is in my fully-furnised basement. It is my sanctum sanctorum. Being an open concept house, there are few doors, so there was never an obvious physical barrier distinctly telling people to "Keep Out!" Nate loved to come downstairs to chat. Often. Then he decided since his laptop was broken, he could take over one of my desktop workstations when I was not at home. This led to his divine realization that he was destined to quit his job and become an eBay god, spending his days at auctions and garage sales and his nights listing various pieces of junk online. My house rapidly became a storage space for tchotchkes best relegated for a dumpster; each one of which he showed me, described its acquisition in detail, and to which he ascribed some sort of rare and expensive value. Soon he had commandeered by computer, my printer, my packaging material and tape, and most of all - my space. Rummage sale refuse was stacked in my living room, my kitchen, my basement, my garage.

Oh, yes, it was in his room too. But then again, so was everything else. His wordly possessions were mounded on top of each other in a disorganized heap, and he only just kept added to it. I thought eventually it would reach the ceiling, and he would not longer have headroom to stand up. This growing mound also incorporated within it a random assortment of unwashed clothes, food, and eating utensils.

The other thing housed in Nate's bedroom, but regrettably not contained within, was the smell. Not a terrible fan of showering, and even then, deodorizing, Nate was often quite ripe to the discriminating nostrils. When I spied a pizza box with uneaten pizza within lying on his bed for the fifth consecutive day, the law was laid down. If I can smell it, it needs cleaned. And I gave him fair warning that I would enter his room often to reclaim dishes, silverware, cups, and glasses that never seemed to make it back to the kitchen once they entered his odiferous abyss.  Truthfully, I think he found it all rather amusing. It was only when I also demanded the removal of his inventory from all living areas that he started getting defensive. When I declined his offer for increased rental payment in exchange for "work space" in my basement office, he countered aggressively and out of character with a string of expletives about how self-absorbed and greedy I was. It was apparent that frat boy Nate had the potential for significant anger.

Strangely, Kirk and Nate got along well, largely I am sure because of a shared dislike for me. I learned to be perpetually in tune with the sound of their cars, so that I could run and hide in my office or my bedroom. Kirk was odd. Nate was annoying. I was a prisoner in my own home avoiding any possible chance necessary interaction with either of them. Kirk was the polar opposite of Nate: a neat freak who had to keep his wardrobe perpetually clean. Nate would only wash the one pair of black pants and the one black shirt he needed to bartend. Of course he did this repeatedly, as his work place had commented on his sloppy appearance. Combined, my washer and dryer never stopped. My electric bill skyrocketed, and I rarely kept up with the depleting salt demands of my water softener.

This increased level of tension culminated in the events of the morning of 07 May 2015.

Since I have cats that demand complete and total access to my bedroom, I sleep with my door open enough for them to come and go as they please. On that particular morning I was awakened by increasingly louder repetitions of my name from the cracked door. "Mike. Mike. Mike. MIKE."

It was Nate. Once he recieved my acknowledgment, he stated with an obvious tone of amusement, "Dude. You're gonna be pissed when you see the basement." Then he left.

I struggled a minute with conprehending the meaning of his statement while coming to full wakefulness. He was already out the front door when I jumped out of bed and ran through standing water in my hallway.

This was an immediate invite for "Hysterics. Party of One."

My mind raced. My body struggled to follow the dozens of directives simultaenously issued by my brain. Where is the water coming from? Is the valve turned off? Do I grab a million towels? Do I assess the source and path of the water flow....

...Oh Jesus Christ, Mary, Joseph, and all the Angels and Saints on High, the path of least resistance for all this water is DOWN! THE BASEMENT!!!

Hell is not fire and brimstone. Hell is water. Lots and lots and lots of water.

1 "Veterinarians Behaving Badly," blog post, 2 May 2015, http://vetsbehavingbadly.blogspot.com/2015/05/herky-wont-let-me-be.html