Monday, November 29, 2010

Reflections on Annie Halls and Emma Tanton

A few days ago I found a picture from North Dakota that has Annie Halls, and (probably) her brother Philip Halls in it. I had been to the Digital Horizons site before and not found anything, but this time, poof! There is was. It was a group picture of ND pioneers taken back in July of 1939 during a picnic. To be honest, they all look rather wilted by the heat.

On the other side of the world, 29 years prior to that picnic in the summer of 1939 is a picture of Emma Tanton, widow of Samuel Halls. In this case it is a stone laying ceremony for the local Baptist manse in Dolton, Devon. The picture appears to be taken on a cool day, and there are leaves on the trees and bushes. In so many ways the complete opposite of the North Dakota picture. A secular vs religious gathering. Warm vs cold. England vs America. Sunset of empire vs dawn of empire.

It leads one to reflect on the lives of Annie and Emma. Both pictures are taken not long before the World Wars. Annie lived to know that the Allies had won both wars, but Emma died in January of 1918 while issue was still in doubt. Emma had the added burden of fearing for the life of a child. She never knew if William James Halls survived the Great War, though I know he did. Annie never married or had children, though she took in at least two foster children/orphans. One of them may have fought in the WWI, but I can't find him.

I wonder if they knew of each other, and what they might have thought of their respective lives if they did. I suspect there was some contact between the families, for long involved genealogical reasons I won't get into here. They were both, in their ways, successful. Most likely they were well thought of by their communities. Certainly they lived very different lives. Emma lead a life that was secure, as far as I can tell from my place 100 year later. She did all the things a good English middle class woman should have done. Married, had children, supported her church. Her husband Samuel appears to have done much the same. Married, had children, supported his church. He followed in his father's and grandfather's footsteps, becoming a mason and builder, and generally supporting English society.

Annie did not follow a life path like that of Emma, or her cousin Samuel. She left her home in Ontario about 1900 and went to North Dakota. In Ontario she could have married, had children, and lead a quiet, comfortable life, with minimal hardship. Instead she chose to leave for an area that was still largely unsettled. She became a farmer, and never married or had children. One wonders why she made the choices she did, what she thought of the world she lived to see. She was born before airplanes, and lived to see men go into space.

In the end, I suppose I will always wonder. The chances of finding letters that give me insight into their personalities are small. On the other hand, Charlotte Halls has a letter posted to the Canadian Letters and Images Project, so there is always hope.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Health Records

I came across this site about a week ago called My Family Health Portrait. It is provided by the Surgeon General of the United States, and, as you might guess by the name, it allows you to create a health history for your family. It is available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese(?). My only complaint is that it is an online tool, with no software to download that I could find.

It did get me thinking that creating a family health history is a good thing. We have no doubt all come across patterns of disease in our families (if you haven't you may not be looking hard enough). In my own particular family I have found three different things. The first is from personal experience - both my father and his father died of respiratory cancer. Seeing as they were both heavy smokers we can guess what the cause of that was.

I don't smoke.

The second is that my great uncle and one of his descendants both died from ALS.

The third goes all the way back to one of the earliest official records of my line, Philip Halls death certificate from 1846, which states that he died from apoplexy. Now apoplexy, as used in the mid 1800's usually meant a sudden and catastrophic death from some sort of internal cause, for example a heart attack or a stroke. In the case of Philip I strongly suspect his apoplexy was actually a massive stroke. The reason I suspect it is because his grandson Samuel Pollard Halls also died from a stroke. Sadly, Samuel did not die as quickly as his grandfather. He lingered for a month after his stroke before dying.

Recent studies have indicated that knowing the medical history of both sides of your family is a very good idea. For example, it has been found that the risk of breast cancer on the father's side affects the risk of breast cancer in the daughter, which was not thought to be the case.

So don't ignore those little snippets of information. Find out what various family members died of, and if possible find out at what age they were first diagnosed with the condition that they had. Knowing this might allow you, or your children, or other family members, to avoid the same fate.