Saturday, June 21, 2014

At the June 2014 Meeting of the Pima County Genealogy Society

Today, I attended a meeting of the Pima County Genealogy Society (PCGS). The usual meeting place is in a room in the Medical College at UMC, and I learned recently that there is often an informal gathering in the UMC hospital cafeteria. I started by showing up for that, which was fun.

Typically, there are two topics for each meeting, and today's was no exception. The first topic was "Death Customs: Mourning and Morbid Mementos," presented by PCGS President Amy Ulman. The second was a presentation by PCGS Secretary Leslie Carney, on "Family & Taxes, Oh My!"

"Death Customs: Mourning and Morbid Mementos"

Since I read a lot and a moderate slice of my reading has involved historical contexts, I've been familiar with some aspects of mourning customs, such as keeping a lock of hair (which many consider a morbid memento), sometimes braided, as a keepsake. Plus, as an Etsy seller who deals in vintage postcards, I've become much more familiar with mourning rings and other jewelry, especially from the Victorian era, when the interest in such things was super-charged by Queen Victoria's long-term mourning following the death of her beloved husband, Prince Albert.

Queen Victoria also engaged in and popularized a related morbid memento practice by wearing jewelry made from the baby teeth of her children. This practice was also associated with mourning, and many people had jewelry made from a tooth or teeth of their dead children and other loved ones.

The tradition of morbid mementos and mourning jewelry, which Amy Ulman told us extends back at least as far as the 1500s, is one which continues today. It's now possible to have an artificial diamond made from the ashes of a loved one, even a pet, and to have this set into a ring or other piece of jewelry.

Note Amy didn't tell us this, but I don't assume that all jewelry made from hair or teeth is mourning jewelry. While much of it is and I was unable to find anything about this online, if one credits romance, fantasy, and historical novelists with doing their research (something that can't always be assumed, but which is true for many), such pieces were often made as keepsakes even while someone was still alive. For example, when lovers had to part for a time, one or both might share a lock of hair, sometimes elaborately braided, as a remembrance and a promise that they would be together again. In such stories, the braiding is generally credited as having been performed by a young woman on her own hair, so that her efforts contributed to the meaning of the gift.

Still curious about mourning jewelry? Here's some online reading on the subject:

"Family & Taxes, Oh My!"

I'll admit it. I haven't worked much with tax records. I suspect that's because tax season is, well, ... let's just say it's not my favorite time of year.

But, after Leslie's excellent session on tax records, they may just become my new favorite type of record.

Tax Records Start Early

Tax records in the United States, she told us, pre-date census records. In fact, they date back to 1646 in some parts of the country.

Tax Records Can Help You Estimate Date of Birth

Also, surprisingly, they can be used, fairly accurately, to estimate date of birth, because historically (sorry, I didn't catch an exact time and place) some kinds of taxes were applied to every man age 21 and up, and since lying to the tax collector about your age was a punishable offense, while fudging a bit on the census carried no penalty, you can pretty much figure out how old a guy was by when he started paying taxes.

Tax Records Provide Evidence of Changes in Circumstances

Tax records were compiled on a regular basis. While this was often annual, some types of taxes were collected every 6 months, or even every month. So, if your ancestor fell on hard times, or a sudden increase in business, the tax records will show a timely response. Plus, if your ancestor moved, tax records may help you pin point just when that happened.

Tax Records Help Document Lifestyle

Want to get a better picture of what kind of life your ancestors lived? Property tax records included an inventory of taxable items, which included some items that seem rather surprising today. For example, in some times and places, fireplaces, clocks, or glass windows might have been taxed.

Tax Records Identify Occupation and Business Ownership

It makes sense that business owners would face business taxes, but some kinds of professions also had special taxes.

There was a lot more, but it's late and I'm tired. So, I'm going to finish up by sharing something completely unrelated to the meeting. By way of a completely non-genealogical post, I stumbled across this cool video explaining cousin relationships. Enjoy!