Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Musings on ... consumption and family roots

I (only half ironically) tweeted the other day about whether I had a cold or consumption (btw, it's definitely the former - the sneezes and coughs have firmly settled in today).

Up until just recently, I wasn't really sure what consumption is. I thought it was TB (tuberculosis). (I was right.) This is a little sad given how many years I've worked in healthcare, but it's a very old fashioned word that you just don't often see, except in the pages of historical or classic novels.

Consumptiontook on a whole new meaning this last year during my continued search for my family's roots. We've done great work with some of our family lines, but keep getting stumped on my last name's line. If you know my last name, you might say, "Well, obviously, you're of French descent." BUT ... my last name in America is most commonly of Irish descent. My brother and I battled about this for years - I wanted to be Irish, he liked being French. Turns out we're both (with a lot of other things), and I was wrong.

My earliest identified ancestor, Peter, was a ropemaker in the Southwark district of Philadelphia in the late 1700's/early 1800's. He may have been born in Louisiana, according to a son from his second marriage. My dad and I have surmised that his parents may very well have come from Canada to New Orleans or to the Louisiana Territory, or directly to New Orleans from France. I'm stumped about how to further research this, given lack of records and complex history. "New France target="_blank"" was HUGE (see below), encompassing much of the continent.

His son from his first marriage is Joseph, my ancestor, also a ropemaker, living in the same area. Up until the early 1800's, this looked like a normal early American family, living and working together, growing up in one of the infant country's prominent cities, but things went downhill for my family fast.

Joseph died of lockjaw (Amazing! Tetanus shots are truly important!) just seven years later, leaving his pregnant wife widowed with a whole passel of children, including my ancestor William, all of 12 or 13 years old. All sorts of horrible things plagued my family from that point on, including the near decimation of my family line thanks to consumption. Consumption! So far, it appears that only three of nine children who lived beyond infancy, lived beyond 1852. Between 1845-1852, nearly every one of my family living in Philadelphia (including spouses and children) died from consumption.

I just find this so tragic. When I found that one of Joseph's grandchildren died at age 10 in a school for orphans, his parents having died when he was just 4 or 5, I was heartbroken and wept.

I'm also eager to learn more - there's such a story here (including a ne'er-do-well who took liberties with the children's inheritances). One of my life's desires is to spend time in Philadelphia in research and publish my family's tragic tale, which has a happy ending, because there were survivors! I'm proof positive as I type this today.

Amazing how far we've come as a country, for the most part. Leprosy (related to TB, ironically), consumption, and other "old fashioned" and deadly diseases seem things of the long past. Unfortunately, with globalization and antibiotic resistance, many diseases thought eradicated are making a comeback.

Family history is so fascinating. With every generation you're able to identify, it's both humbling and awe-inspiring to consider what a miracle it is that YOU are a survivor of generations and generations of survivors of flooding, plague, war, disease, falling down the steps, etc. I am feeling mighty lucky to be suffering through my miserable cold today. After all, as one of my friends pointed out on Twitter yesterday, plague is making a comeback.


RedBessBonney said...

wow - quite a family history! someday I want to research my family...

feel better soon!

. Phydeaux . Phydelle . said...

It's so much fun - and VERY addictive!

Thanks - I'm looking forward to feeling better one day soon ...