Family History Research

James Shannon and Elizabeth Galbraith

Continuing with James E. Shannon, today I will discuss his family briefly. James married Elizabeth Galbraith 16 Nov 1865 in Lawrence Co., Arkansas, just a few months after being discharged from the 2nd Arkansas Cavalry (Union) Civil War unit.

The couple resided in Lawrence Co., until 1870 where they are found in Clinton, Texas Co., Missouri. James and Elizabeth had the following children:

  1. William Henry Clay Shannon b. 26 Sept 1866 in Imboden, Lawrence, AR
  2. Malinda H. Shannon b. 29 Dec 1867 in AR
  3. Marion Emmet (M.E.) Shannon b. 11 Mar 1870 in Mountain Grove, Wright, MO
  4. George S. Shannon b. 17 Aug 1871 in MO
  5. Robert Jackson Shannon b. 10 Aug 1873 in Texas Co., MO
  6. James W. Shannon b. 1 Oct 1879 in MO
  7. Fred F. Shannon b. 25 Mar 1886 in MO

Fred F. Shannon continues the line of descent to my friend of a friend.

James E. Shannon was a farmer his whole life, as was his father before him, from the records I have gathered. James owned many acres of land in Lawrence Co., (became Sharp Co.) Arkansas in 1861. When he moved to Missouri he again purchased land. According to the U.S. Federal Census, James owned $200 in Real Property and $200 in Personal Property in 1860 and in 1870 he increased his Real Property value to $500 and his Personal Property value to $225.

Check back for more on the Shannon family as I reveal information about James’s Civil War life.

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The Value of Studying History Today

Going through old notes I came across a lecture I attended in the fall of 1999 at the Chicago Humanities Festival.  The theme that year was “Old and New” and incorporated many lectures about history.  One such lecture was “History’s Value Today,” presented by four historians:  Johnathan Clark, John Milton Cooper, Michael Kammen, and David Kennedy.

Clark explored the idea that history has big underlying themes. It is complex and can be used for scholarship to teach or propaganda to sway public opinion. Cooper argued that people expect to get certain knowledge out of history. Kammen took the stand that history should be studied because it is necessary to see the whole human experience. Doing so allows people to know where they are now and where they came from. Kennedy argued that history helps us see who we are and what makes us different from others.  From a family historian’s perspective, Kammen and Kennedy’s arguments should be understood so we may better write our ancestors stories.

Kammen’s stand that history should be studied to see the whole human experience is crucial to family historians.  We must look at the historical context of our ancestors to have some understanding of their values; the choices they made; the lives they lived; and the beliefs and ideas that were passed down to their children, and in some cases, to their present day descendants.  Without looking at the historical context, we could make assumptions and judgments about the kind of person our ancestor was, that may be incorrect.

An example about making judgments about an ancestor can be taken from my husband’s Italian side. His great uncle, Fortunato Fratto, was born about 1869 in Italy, was educated, and held a job as a customs agent. He immigrated to the United States three separate times in the late 1890’s before settling permanently in Chicago. Here, in Chicago he worked for the city as a Street Cleaner.  In an interview in the 1980’s with his daughter, Rose, at the University of Illinois at Chicago for the Italian Project, Rose describes her father as a very strict, demanding, almost dictator-like father figure. She describes how the children would kneel at his feet at bedtime, kiss his hand and ask for his blessing.  She goes on to describe how his word was law and if you disobeyed or spoke against him, you were sometimes hit. She also describes how he felt degraded working as a Street Cleaner and how he disliked living near undesirables (people he considered lower class).

Without understanding the historical time period, one might compare him to a father in the present day and believe Fortunato was the devil himself.  What kind of father behaves this way? Was he prejudice? Were some of those beliefs passed down to his children? When you examine the time period and his ethnicity, you see that class and standing were very important to Italian men.  In Italy he was considered petty-bourgeoisie due to his education and occupational standing.  In the United States, he was considered to be in the lower class because of his job, earnings, and language skills. As head of the house, the Italian father’s word was law. And in the early 1900’s in Chicago, ethnic groups tended to live together in certain areas of the city. While there was some mixing of ethnicities within an area, typically a street would divide one ethnic group from another, keeping the “undesirables” from being too close. The whole historical picture must be examined in order to form more correct assumptions about the lives of our ancestors. By not looking at the whole picture, how could we understand what life was like for our ancestors and their descendants?

Looking at Fortunato’s life leads into Kennedy’s desire for us to understand that history helps us see who we are and what makes us different from others.  From the standpoint of looking at our immigrant ancestors, it is easier to see “who they were.” We can see what their ethnic beliefs and values were. We can see how they were different from other ethnicities. Once our ancestors became part of the melting pot, and ethnicities, beliefs and values were merged, “who we are” becomes a complex make-up of those beliefs and values.  Going a step beyond looking solely at “who we are” based on ethnicity, I think we need to examine “who we are” based on being American. Who are we in the present day? How are we different from people of other countries? How are we similar and different from our assimilated and American-born ancestors?  All these questions generate new insights into our family histories and provide new research paths.

Studying history today and incorporating it into our family histories, allows us to present a more historically complete narrative and make fewer incorrect judgments.  It allows us to view the people as they were during the time in which they lived, rather than what we wish them to be based on our present day experiences. That is the value of studying history today.

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Book Review – Chicago In and Around the Loop

I think when we write the stories of our ancestors, or even our current history, it is good to explore the buildings in the area in which our ancestors resided. Learning the history of a particular part of the city or buildings in which your ancestors worked or conducted business can add a lot to their written story.

The book Chicago In and Around the Loop by Gerard R. Wolfe, is a book of “Walking Tours of Architecture and History” for the city of Chicago. The book is broken down by chapters which are a specific part of the city. Each chapter begins with a map of the area in which the walking tour is conducted. It then goes on to describe each building on the tour complete with the building’s history. Sprinkled in each chapter are current and past photos of the buildings. It even includes a Pedway Tour. Have you ever explored the underground of the city?  The book also contains a Glossary; Resources on organizations related to Chicago Architecture and History; Recommended Readings; and an extensive index.

If you are looking for something fun to do this summer in Chicago, pick up a copy of this book and take a tour. You might discover something exciting about your family!

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Why do you research?

I just read a marvelous article on a blog called “Personal Past”. The article is called Not How-to but Why-do? This article deals with a couple of big questions. Why do we research? How do we research based on why we research?

Why do I research? I research because I had to do a project near the end of college when finishing my History degree on my family tree. Included in this project was a paper on researching women in the family and the roles they held through the generations. When the project and paper were finished I was hooked. From that point on I wanted to research to tell the stories of my ancestors.

Researching family history is similar to being a detective. You find pieces of a puzzle and you have to figure out how to put it together and how to find the missing pieces. Putting pieces together gives me a sense of accomplishment when I finally solve a mystery.

I also strive to tell the stories of the people in my family who were doing great things when their life was cut short. Many of these people served in our armed forces and should be honored and remembered.

I love to find connections between my ancestors and my life. What things did they do that I do? What things did they do that I cannot fathom doing? What things did they do I wish I could do?

I want to know the whole truth and story. I dig into every source I can to find the truth, especially when the person whose story I want to know has passed away and cannot give me any answers.

One of my dreams it to be an author and write my family history and some of my ancestor’s full stories. My research is currently giving me that opportunity.

And finally, I think a major reason I research is to quench my thirst for knowledge on historical topics.

How does this affect how I research? I first try to find all the documents I can proving the existence of the person, their relationship to others in the family, and their life. I then delve into the history of the time period in which the person lived. This gives my person a fuller, more interesting story.

Why do you research?

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