"Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago"

In April I attended my first Genealogy conference. It was only my second family history event, the previous one being a family reunion I attended in 2011, about which I have posted elsewhere. Stephen had given me a membership to the Ohio Genealogical Society for Christmas, as well as registering me for the conference, held in nearby Cincinnati. Three days of learning, networking, and--perhaps--not feeling like the biggest genealogical bore in the room (appearing boring to non-genealogical friends and family being a recurring joke at the convention).

The big day came, Day One, and I really had no idea what to expect. I had pored over the syllabus, and chosen the sessions I thought would be of most interest to me. This year's theme was "Expanding Your Ancestry Through Technology," so there were--aptly--a couple of classes on blogging. Needless to say, I glommed onto those. And--from at least one class--learned that, apparently, I do very little right; something about my style. Nonetheless, I find digressive and discursive writing highly entertaining, and have no plans to change merely due to one instructor's opinion, albeit a famous and successful instructor.

Anyway. As it turned out, most of the folks leading the sessions were famous and successful, at least within the relatively small world of ancestral research. [Big leaves on a small family tree? There is a joke here, but it eludes me at present.] I recognized many of their names from bylines in Family Tree Magazine (I renewed); the founder of Roots Magic was there (I bought it), as well as the delightful fellow who runs Geneablogger.com (see badge to left). After a run through the vendor displays (stupefied by the seemingly endless array of tomes of minutiae with their inversely proportioned prices), I also bought a t-shirt that says "Genealogy: Life in the Past Lane," one of any number of whimsically phrased items from which to choose.

Along with the sessions on blogging, I attended one on using Facebook as a genealogical tool (versus simply a place to document one's every move, or forward "clever" memes about Jesus, wine, dogs/cats, or factually dubious political screeds....). So, being one with the zeitgeist, I posted comments on Facebook in "real time," as the kids say. Here are some samples:

    Thoroughly enjoyed the keynote speaker, but occasionally got distracted by the elderly woman in front of me: her continual tremors made me afraid she was going to shake off her wig. 

    DNA... it's not just for cheesy cop shows anymore.

    As interesting as the content is, I am realizing I like neither ballroom chairs nor fluorescent lights.

   You know you're a nerd when you get excited by a session about source citation formats at 8 a.m. on the third day...

   I (unfairly) think of cousin Moe and giggle every time one of the more pretentious speakers says "Jenny illogical."

And, in keeping with the theme of self-reflexivity:

I wanted to post on Facebook that my first session today is about posting on Facebook...

While hardly Nabokovian, it got a fair number of "Likes," and that must be worth something. And although I may be only so-so at tossing off terse quips, I am becoming something like a master at throwing out "Cousin Bait." For you non-bores out there (although, if so, I cannot conceive why you would be reading this) who wish to pick up some of the jargon, "cousin bait" is a term used by bloggers and others who pepper their blogs, Facebook posts, forum comments, and other such outlets with as many names, dates, and factoids as they can, hoping to snare other family members who may be doing an online search for family information. 

Providing one example of my success at cousin-baiting also means sharing a failure. In a previous post, I had conjectured that one of my fourth great-grandfathers, Eliakim Eaton (1800- 24 May 1881), had been married twice: first to Elizabeth Hart (9 Jul 1803 - 28 Oct 1874); next, to a woman known as Betsy E. I was quite proud of this theory, having based it on several things:

The photograph below, showing Eliakim's wife with different birth and death dates than Elizabeth Hart;

The troublesome monument.
Ludington Cemetery; Ludington, Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Photo by Terri Woodford.

That Eliakim Eaton was shown as a widower on the 1880 U S Federal Census;

And that Elizabeth Hart was never listed as Betsy on any documents, and likewise, there was no evidence of a middle initial E.

Alas, it was totally wrong. But it made for excellent Cousin Bait. Two cousins independently came forward, Judy and Tom, to clarify a number of things, specifically that Eliakim had just one wife. Tom even provided sources and proof (although--ironically--one of the key pieces of evidence had its own mistake, an obituary referring to Eliakim as "Eliphalet").

The troublesome obituary.

Apparently the cemetery monument has been baffling Eaton scholars for years; astute readers will note that not only are Elizabeth's dates wrong, but so is Elipahlet's Eliakim's death date. Is there a cousin out there with an explanation?

Although providing helpful answers, Judy and Tom also brought up further questions. Tom pointed out that although Eliakim is understood to be the son of Nathaniel Eaton (22 Jan 1772 - 22  Sep 1860), there is no DAR/SAR-approved evidence that he is; nor that he is the brother of Elijah Eaton (22 Jan 1796 - 22 Feb 1877), Elisha Eaton (1798 - 12 Jan 1893), or Nathaniel Eaton (16 May 1803 -27 Mar 1884), all of whom are well-(and apparently accurately) documented. Anyone?

Judy's information was the more startling. Although I have written about the Eatons and Harts intermarriages elsewhere (a common occurrence of that period), I did not assume it led to any consequences other than general genealogical confusion. In an email, Judy casually mentioned that "[t]he 1870 census showed that Betsy [Elizabeth Hart] was insane. Also, Elizabeth Hart's sister is listed on the 1855 New York census as insane." Okay then!

Verifying this, I saw that the U S Federal Census for 1870 does indeed list Elizabeth Hart thus: "Eats opium. Insane." Her sister, Mary Polly Hart (9 Nov 1800 - 16 Dec 1891), who married Nathaniel Eaton--brother of Eliakim, Elizabeth's husband, is "insane" in 1855, but apparently back to normal by 1860. Perhaps she had laid off the opium by then.... I like to believe it was the drug use rather than any in-breeding that led to the insanity, temporary or otherwise, for obvious reasons....

Judy also offhandedly offered another provocative line of investigation, which I long to research further:

I have often wondered what went on in the hills of Ludington. My grandmother... did not like the idea of her boys growing up around the Eatons because she thought they were hellions. Her parents were very respected in Polk Co, Wisconsin. She went to her father and begged him to get them away from Ludington.

Hellions, drug abuse, insanity....

Genealogy may be many things, but boring?  

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