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Good For What Ails You

Dating back to colonial America and reaching its peak of popularity in the 19th century, “magic elixirs” were sold with the promise that they could cure just about every ailment known to mankind. In the 1800s, snake-oil salesmen would travel from town to town, selling their questionable and highly unregulated patent medicines to unsuspecting citizens. Some examples include “Morley’s Liver & Kidney Cordial,” “Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic,” and Dr. Potter’s “Chock-A-Saw-Sagwa Tonic.” Oftentimes, these “medicines” contained alcohol, cocaine, or heroine which may have relieved pain but were also highly addictive, all but assuring a strong repeat customer base for the salesman.

It is amazing to find any that have survived and continue to exist. And yet, there is at least one.

In 1826, as a reward for a kindness done to one of their chieftains, the Creek Indians bequeathed to Captain Irwin Dennard of Perry Georgia the formula for a treasured remedy made from swamp sumac from Alabama, Queen’s Delight (a root from South Georgia), and sumac from North Georgia. Dennard sat on the formula for a few decades but eventually passed it onto Charles Swift who partnered with Henry J Lamar, the great grandfather of my grand aunt. Henry suggested moving to Atlanta to take advantage of the transportation benefits of the railroads to be found there as they grew their new company.

Marketing the formula as SSS Tonic (the three S’s stood for Swift’s Southern Specific) the owners claimed that it was an effective treatment for dyspepsia, cancer and syphilis. In the 1950s, singer Eddy Arnold made a commercial touting its ability to enrich the blood with iron. The original formula of roots and herbs has not significantly changed since its early days although it is now fortified with iron and vitamins. 

SSS Tonic continues to be sold today. In 1997 it earned nine million dollars in annual sales and is still paying dividends to some of our family members, or so I’m told.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Toby, Or Not Toby

Sometimes, just by looking around the house, you can find little snippets of history just sitting there… doubling as decorative items. My parents, for whatever reason, liked collecting Toby jugs or character jugs which were vessels shaped to look like recognizable figures, either fictional or real. The one my mother passed onto me, pictured above, was made by Royal Doulton and depicts John Barleycorn, the personification of malt liquor. He also kind of looks like my dad.

Toby jugs have been around since the 18th century and there is some disputation regarding how they got their name. Some say they were named after Sir Toby Belch, the Shakespearean character from Twelfth Night. Others believe it to be a derivative of the French word “tope” which means to drink hard. But most seem to think that it was named after a notorious 18th century Yorkshire drinker, Henry Elwes, who was known as “Toby Fillpot” (or Philpot) and was inspired by an old English drinking song, “The Brown Jug.”

While many refer to any figural vessel as a “Toby jug,” purists define them as depicting full-figured personages usually seated, while a jug fashioned as the head or head and shoulders of a person is simply referred to as a character jug.  There’s also a difference between a Toby jug and a Toby mug. Jugs are used for pouring and will have spouts while mugs are used for drinking and are spoutless. 

In the early 20th century, at the height of its popularity, around two hundred companies were producing figural mugs and jugs but as interest has waned over the years, so have the number of producers. Only three companies still manufacture them. A vast collection of Toby and character jugs and mugs are on display in Evanston Illinois at the American Toby Jug Museum (https://www.tobyjugmuseum.com/)

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Half-Breed

The only thing I really knew about “half-breeds” was the 1973 song by Cher which, to be honest, did not paint the prettiest of pictures. But I was able to add to my understanding of what the French-Canadians call Métis when I found a relative that could be counted among them.

Claude “Old War” Caron, the 3rd great grandfather of my daughter-in-law’s great grand aunt, was born in 1710 to a French Canadian fur trader and a Abnaki Indian woman. This was hardly unusual at the time. Relations between the French settlers and native Indians was quite common, in fact encouraged, as a natural dependency formed between the two cultures.

Claude elected to live among his mother’s people, married a Menominee woman named Wau Pe Se Sui (“The Wild Potato”) and eventually became a Menominee chief. They bore sons who became chiefs of their own clans within the Menominee tribe. Iometah became chief of the bear clan; Chawanon became chief of the buffalo clan; and Tomah, the most “famous” of the Carons, was the chief of the prairie chicken clan.

The Menominee Indian Tribe dates back some 10,000 years and, at the beginning of the treaty era, occupied a land mass of around 10 million acres. This was continually reduced as they entered into a series of seven treaties with the United States government until they were left with only 235,000 acres today.

In the 1950s, the US Congress attempted to deprive the Menominee people of their cultural identity by removing federal recognition of their tribe. A long and difficult grassroots movement ensued which was eventually successful by the passing the Menominee Restoration Act in 1973 which restored their status.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

His Excellency’s Guard

On March 11, 1776, George Washington issued a General Order directing his Commanding Officers to select four men from each regiment. These men would be used to form his personal guard. He was very specific in his request:

“His Excellency depends upon the Colonels for good Men, such as they can recommend for their sobriety, honesty and good behavior; he wishes them to be from five feet eight inches high, to five feet ten inches; handsomely and well made, and as there is nothing in his eyes more desirable than Cleanliness in a Soldier, he desires that particular attention be made in the choice of such men as are clean and spruce.”

The official designation of this new unit was “His Excellency’s Guard,” or the “General’s Guard.” However, enlisted soldiers would refer to the unit as “The Life Guards” or “Body Guards.”

Two months after its formation, they were at the center of what came to be known as the Hickey mutiny. This attempt to infiltrate Washington’s inner circle in order to assassinate him was eventually uncovered and resulted in the arrest of a number of “Life Guards,” including Sergeant Thomas Hickey, an Irish migrant who deserted from the British army and reenlisted in the Continental Army. He was court martialed, found guilty and became the first member of the Continental Army to be executed. Following this incident, Washington ordered that no foreign born soldier could be assigned as a guardsman.

Captain Stephen Jackson who, at the young age of 17, fought and was wounded at the battle of Yorktown, was chosen to become one of Washington’s “Life Guards.” In fact, Washington is known to have once stopped at Jackson’s home in Rockaway NJ in 1780 to partake of refreshments. Jackson was the 4th great grandfather of my sister-in-law.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialized in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Family Feud

It all started around 700 years ago in Scotland. It is reported that Sir Andrew Leslie, 3rd Baron of Balquhain, a man with limited sexual control, had over 70 illegitimate children who took his surname. One of these was Red Sir Andrew of Pitscurry. In 1400, he absconded with and took as wife the “Fair Maid of Kenmay,” the daughter of Thomas Bisset of Balhagarty. Unfortunately she was already betrothed to Sir John “of the Black Lip” Forbes of Druminnor.

This did not sit well with the Forbes, a highly influential Scottish clan. They, in retaliation, attacked the ancestral home of the Leslies, Balquhain Castle, which was burnt down in the skirmish (later to be rebuilt). The Leslies, in revenge, destroyed Castle Forbes (aka Druminnor Castle) and devastated much of their lands.

The feud continued on and off for over a century, resulting in deaths and injuries on both sides. It finally culminated in 1617 when John Forbes of Enzean bought the debts of the Leslies who later defaulted. Forbes was then granted the charter and the Barony of Leslie from King James VI. John Forbes of Enzean thus became Baron of Leslie, merging the family lines and putting an end to the feud once and for all.

Personally, I had no dog in the fight. Or more accurately put, I had both dogs. William Leslie of Balquhain was my 14th great-grandfather and Jean (Janet) Forbes was my 14th great-grandmother so I am connected to both families. All I know is that there are probably a couple of abandoned castle ruins out there in Scotland to which I should be able to claim some kind of birthright.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories by the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Prisoner of War

“As we entered the place, a spectacle met our eyes that almost froze our blood with horror, and made our hearts fail within us. ‘Can this be hell?’”

This was the recorded impression of a Union soldier upon entering the infamous Andersonville Prison, a Confederate prisoner of war camp for captured Union soldiers. Of the 45,000 men held there, over 13,000 died, mainly from scurvy, diarrhea, and dysentery. A member of our family was one who survived.

John W. Ward enlisted in the Twenty-First Illinois Volunteer Infantry in 1861 and fought in a number of battles. In September of 1863 at Chickamauga, the second bloodiest battle of the Civil War (behind Gettysburg), he was captured by the Confederates. He was then force marched and spent time in a number of camps: the Libby prison at Richmond Va; then at Danville; at Andersonville; at Charleston; and at Goldsboro. 

In February of 1865, Ward became part of a prisoner exchange, effecting his release. It could have been sooner but the prisoner exchange agreement that had been a standard practice since 1862 was suspended by Abraham Lincoln in July of 1863 (two months before Ward’s capture). It was suspended because Confederate forces were refusing to release black prisoners, classifying them as slaves to be returned to their owners instead of soldiers to be released back north. The exchange program didn’t officially resume until January of 1865. Ward was released a month later.

Ward went on to marry Lucinda Larimore in 1866, started farming in the Crooked Creek township in Illinois, and raised five children. He was the step-son of the 3rd great-grand aunt of my niece’s husband. He died in 1933 at the age of 91.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Genealogy Jumble

It has been said that “everyone with a European connection ends up being related to Charlemagne.” My oldest son sent me that quote after reading my blog where I announced that I, for a day, thought I was of royal lineage. It turns out, maybe I wasn’t so off the mark.

Mathematicians have long concluded that anyone alive 1,000 years ago and who has left descendants is an ancestor of every single European living today. Interesting information, especially in light of a recent discovery made regarding our family tree.

You may remember that I traced my wife’s lineage back to Plymouth Rock. Experience Mitchell married Jane Cooke, daughter of Frances Cooke. His lineage has been traced through the generations until it reached my wife and, of course, through her, our two sons. 

This is where it gets weird. Frances Cooke had other children. And when I began tracing the lineage of Jane’s younger brother Jacob, I discovered that, as we move through the generations, his lineage, which was also passed down from Frances Cooke, ended up at the woman who married my youngest son.

That’s right. My son married a wonderful girl who, as it turns out, was made just for him… by his 14th great-grandfather. Or to put it another way, he married his 13th cousin, once removed. That is not so unusual. The same thing can most likely be said about any couple. If we go back far enough, everyone is related.

It does make me think of a song I heard Ronnie Prophet once sing.  A song dating back to the 1940s that has been covered by many artists including Ray Stevens who you can hear by clicking on the link below.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Baa Baa Black Sheep?

Some family history can be unpleasant. Or, at the very least, unsettling. Such is the case surrounding my wife’s great grandfather, Francesco Saccente.

Saccente was born in Italy in 1883 and, like many others, emigrated to the US in the early 1900s. He settled in Patchogue, New York. Over the next couple of decades he married three times, had fifteen children and made his living as a peddler of ice and coal.

One day, in 1933, he, with seven of his children in tow, paid a visit to the Miramar Beach Hotel in East Patchogue. While his kids were playing on the beach, he entered the hotel. Moments later, he was dead. Killed by a shotgun blast through the heart. James Stephani, the hotel’s proprietor, was charged with murder. Saccente was fifty years of age at the time.

After a well publicized trial that stretched over four months, Stephani was acquitted by the jury and the incident was reclassified as an “accidental shooting.” We may never know what really happened… even the main witness at the trial reversed his earlier testimony and said that he now couldn’t remember what took place at the time.

It so happens that, as I was poring over the newspaper articles about this event, I discovered another newsworthy story involving this family member. Five years earlier, Francesco and his son Louis were arrested for the assault of their neighbors, Raymond Anderson and his wife, who suffered two broken ribs and facial lacerations at their hands. According to the newspaper accounts, the Andersons were accusing the Saccentes of killing their dog and when Mrs. Anderson went to demand satisfaction, she was chased off by a shotgun wielding Saccente. Early the next morning, the Saccentes allegedly assaulted the pair as they were walking home. While the Saccentes were eventually acquitted in that case, Francesco found himself again charged with assault nine months later after beating up a man during a brawl in connection with an Italian celebration in West Patchogue.

In keeping with the “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” philosophy, I chose long ago to avoid arguing with my wife. I’m not saying she inherited any traits from her great grandfather but it seems to me to be prudent to err on the side of caution and defuse any potential conflict that may arise. Just in case.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Coming to America

Rose Family Crest

I’ve often said, “Everyone has a story.” After spending months of genealogical research, I’ve discovered a lot of hidden stories belonging to people who are somehow attached to various branches of my family tree. I look forward to sharing these stories with you in this and future blogs.

Stories like the one belonging to Tormut Rose, the 9th great grandfather of the husband of the niece of my wife. Born in 1632 at Kilravock Castle in Inverness Scotland, he eventually became an officer in the Scottish Covenanter army and fought in the Third English Civil war which was waged in an attempt to retain the independence of the Scottish church and restore Charles II to the throne of Scotland and England.

During the Battle of Dunbar, the Scottish army discovered the whereabouts of Lord Cromwell’s forces but were advised not to attack by preachers due to it being a Sunday. This gave Cromwell an opportunity to launch a surprise attack and vanquish the Scottish defenders. Tormut Rose and others were captured. In order to prevent any attempt at a rescue, the prisoners were forced to march towards England under severe conditions. Most died of illness, starvation or exhaustion.

As a survivor, Tormut Rose was sold as an indentured servant to the Robert Ricks Iron Works in Braintree, Massachusetts and was shipped off to the colonies along with 271 fellow prisoners. There, he spent the next 7 to 10 years working off his “debt.”

In 1660 he, along with 15 others, made the decision to purchase Block Island, RI from the Massachusetts Bay Colony who had claimed the land won by conquest of the natives who lived there.  It was there that he settled, married and re-began his life as a freeman. And that is the story of how this particular branch of the family came to America.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

With A Song In My Heart

I used to think that my company produces the best emotionally charged gifts available. I still do. And if you want to give your family a present that will live long into the future, there’s nothing like giving them a gift containing the memories of the past. That’s what we do at Home Video Studio.

But, the next best thing would be to take the emotions of your heart and set them to music. And that is exactly what songfinch.com does. Once you answer a few questions and provide a couple of details, they will produce a professionally mixed original song specifically for you that will melt the heart of your significant other. I should know… I had one produced for my lovely wife for her birthday. And outside of the videos that I produce, it was the best gift I ever gave.

It was a random Facebook ad I responded to so I realized that it was a roll of the dice that could have gone badly south. But songfinch.com exceeded my every expectation and allowed me to give my wife an experience she will never forget.  Fortunately, I had my phone out and was able to record her reaction the first time she heard it.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.