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How Looking To The Past Can Change Our Future

Last January, I was privileged to take the TEDx stage to share my “idea worth spreading.” It was a great experience and one that I will always remember. I am happy to say that the video of my TEDx talk has just been released and is available for viewing. It might help explain how it is that I am able to find all these stories about my ancestors. The link is below.

If you find any value in it, please take the time to like, comment or share. I’d love to hear what you think.

Privateer or Pirate?

William Joseph Kidd, the 8th great-granduncle of my niece’s husband, was, by all accounts, an accomplished seaman. He was born around 1654 in Scotland at a time when sailing was fraught with dangers. England was at war with France and piracy was common. Kidd, recognized for his skill and bravery, was given a privateering contract by high-ranking English investors. He was also given the 34-gun Adventure Gallery as well as the license to attack and seize French ships along with any pirate ships he came across. The spoils were to be split between the crew and his backers.

He set sail for Madagascar and the Indian Ocean, known to be a hotbed of pirate activity, but for the next two years found little action. A third of his crew died of disease and the rest were becoming surly. His luck changed in 1698 when he captured the Queddah Merchant, a Moorish ship with cargo owned by Armenians and captained by an Englishman. While it was not covered under the terms of his contract, it was allegedly sailing with French papers so Kidd decided it was fair game. He seized the ship and its contents, selling them off and dividing the proceeds with his crew. Their gain would be the equivalent of about two million dollars by today’s standards.

Kidd moved onto the Caribbean but news of his actions reached British shores and his investors, now influential members of the government, moved quickly to distance themselves from him. They labeled him a pirate and worked to keep their involvement with him a secret. Meanwhile, Kidd, learning of this, went to New York to clear his name. But first, as pirates are now known to do, he buried his treasure on Gardiner’s Island off of Long Island.

He was arrested and though he vehemently proclaimed his innocence, he was convicted and executed on May 23, 1701. While his treasure off the shores of New York was recovered, there are tales of a second treasure Captain Kidd may have buried “in the Indes” which, to this day, remains to be found.

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.

Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?

The Green Duck Company was founded in 1906 in Chicago, Illinois as a metal stamping and novelty production house. Within two years they landed the prestigious contract to produce campaign buttons for the presidential runs of the candidates from both political parties (Republican William Howard Taft and Democrat William Jennings Bryan). Their market dominance continued throughout the next six decades. It is estimated that they were responsible for 80% of all campaign buttons made during the 1950s.

The name Green Duck was chosen as it was a combination of the two founding businessmen, George Greenberg and Henry Duckgeishel. While they were predominantly known for their buttons (political, corporate, or commercial), they did make other kinds of metal novelty items including license plates, commemorative spoons, cigar cutters, etc. During WWII, they supplied the U.S. Army’s 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions with “crickets” or “clickers” which resembled a child’s noisemaker. These were used during the D-Day landing to distinguish American troops from the enemy. Two clicks for a U.S. soldier; four clicks meant a German soldier was nearby.

Green Duck continued to manufacture campaign buttons as late as the 1960s, generating two designs each for JFK’s and Nixon’s campaigns. However, the signs of waning appeal were already beginning to show. By the time the company was approaching its 100th anniversary (after multiple changes in ownership), its doors were closing for good. But in its prime, it provided steady employment for hundreds of workers, including Walter J. McLaughlin, the great-grandfather of my niece’s husband.

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.

The Chicken Oath

While conducting my genealogical research, I will often stumble across odd little snippets of history of which I am largely unfamiliar. They will, in turn, lead me on little side quests as my curiosity requires me to dig deeper.  One such incident came as I was reading through a narrative involving a distant relative, Richard Calvin Tate, the first cousin of my daughter-in-law’s 5th great-grandfather.

I came across this account in The History of Calloway County, Missouri dated 1884. In it I learned that “Mr Tate went to California in 1849, and was engaged for some time in hauling with his six horse wagon. During his sojourn in California, he served on a case in which several Chinamen were witnesses, and they swore to everything but the truth, until the judge had a rooster brought into the courtroom and placed on a table, when a blank expression of dread came over the face of each Chinamen, and after that they swore to the truth.”

Reading that paragraph raised a few unanswered questions in my mind, not the least of which was “what does a rooster have to do with anything?”  I found the answer to that question in The New York Court of Appeals, Records and Briefs (pg 48 and 49). It states that “The recognition of an oath or an affirmation is based upon a recognition of the forms which may be used as imposing a binding obligation upon the conscience… It is more or less common knowledge that a Chinaman does not regard an oath as a binding obligation unless at the time he takes it he cuts off the head of a rooster.”

As I continued to read, I found that there are numerous 19th century records in court documents stretching from California to Canada all allowing the unusual “chicken oath” administered to Chinese witnesses to bind them to the truth.

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.

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.