March 9th, 2011

Recent Genealogical Activities include: Province Matters

Because so much of the low hanging fruit (er) has been picked off the family tree, I've developed some strategies for what to work on when I'm not sure what I want to work on. Early on in this process, I was very driven by certain goals (what happened to great-uncle Hein's child(ren)? Gramma's siblings and their offspring? Who raised Ellen Marie? Where _is_ my cousin D.? Just how far back can I take some of these lines? Where'd that name Millard come from? Etc.), and succeeded in reaching many of them -- some of the rest are still defeating me. Ever since that dinner with the M.'s, in which I learned about the stalkery goodness that is pipl.com, I will resort to attempting to learn everyone's birthdate who is still alive, if I can't think of anything better to do. Sometimes I'll chase a few generations up an in-law branch (but I'm running a little low on those at this point, too).

Genlias provides an endless opportunity for adding more people in a very placid and relaxing way. Usually. The data quality there is excellent and the connectivity between marriage records, birth and death records is at least possible, altho not always completely filled in. This is unlike Washington State records, where it isn't always even possible, if there wasn't a slot on the form for it. OTOH, Washington State records have facsimile images of a lot of the records, which offers up things like the opportunity to disambiguate by signature, witnesses, etc., and to get a little insight into what was going on by looking at officiant information.

Lacking anything better to focus on, "farming for relatives" often degenerates into looking at how many people there are currently in the tree, rounding that number up, and then trying to dig up enough people to meet that goal. Large agricultural families -- Dutch or otherwise -- are very useful for this, which makes the whole family tree farming seems just that little bit extra wackier.

Last night's exercise was a bit of a bummer, since I ended with some Hoogenbooms who lived what looked like a very horrifying life: one stillbirth or dead-while-very-young baby after another, the parents didn't live very long, just one kid making it to adulthood. I felt so bad about it -- and I knew I had other Hoogenbooms in the tree -- so I figured I'd work my way up the tree and try to find them some extended family. Today, I went up the tree, but I'm not doing great on the extended family: I've got a couple more generations of stillbirths and sole-survivors and I feel bad for these people. Also, I'm starting to get a little suspicious. Not of them, as people, but of where they were in time and place and how that might have doomed them from the start. Were they poor? Bad genetics?

There won't ever be any answers to any of these questions, but I've been pushing further back up the tree in search of better reproductive success and finally found at least one person (a mother, ironically) living into her 90s after this appalling pattern. And I'm also finally finding a relative who got three kids old enough to marry. And with those marriages, these Hoogenbooms that I've been trying to reconnect back to the other Hoogenbooms are marrying Poldervaarts. Which is where I ran across the first batch of Hoogenbooms. I might make that connection yet -- altho I'm also wondering if it is somewhat spurious to see all these people and assume there's any genetic diversity. This whole crowd might have come from a very narrow genetic neck with predictable consequences.

I keep thinking that it might be more fun to just go read Emergency Passport Applications over on ancestry.com (because I think there's enough material there to write a book, a la the books out there that list particularly memorable epitaphs from headstones), but at the same time, whenever I run into a repeat-but-unconnected surname, I remember my grandparents.

See, my grandmother's parents came from South Holland. And my grandfather came from Friesland. They are all Dutch to us, of course, and I've always assumed their isolation within the larger Dutch community in Skagit was a result of their personalities and/or religious choices. But now I'm wondering if what I'm really looking at is what happens when someone marries someone a little too different from Our People. Perhaps province matters. At least, when one of them is Friesland.

Malaria? I was not expecting malaria.

I've been going through genlias entering people from some of the South Hollands sort-of-ancestry (if there are words for how these people are related to me, I don't know them. I think of them as nth cousins a few times removed) and the pattern of deaths has just been mysterious. I mean: the _mother_ of all the dead children makes it to almost 90 or thereabouts? Really? After all those pregnancies. Yeah, no. This does not actually sound like gut-wrenching poverty.

Next step: what kind of disease _would_ explain this sort of pattern of deaths? In particular, the family with all the dead babies that finally got one to age five, one to age 3 and another one to age 1, at which point all three died in rapid succession. I was thinking, okay, maybe this _isn't_ agricultural, maybe they're in a city and it's cholera or something. It's too late for plague to be plausible. (Also, an unmarried adult man died in his thirties at sea gave me pause, but I'm treating him as an anomaly.)

A little research on the villages and towns in question killed the they're-living-in-a-city theory, because they're on Voorne-Putten. Hmmmm.

Malaria. Really. I have no proof, but the pattern looks about right, natural immunity would explain the weird selection of survivors and as recently as 1950 some people living in a retirement home in Rockanje contracted malaria. Was I expecting _malaria_ in the Netherlands (yeah, they _call_ it South Holland, but these things are relative)? No.

ETA: I don't know how or why I knew this, but I had this idea that a mother with malaria (even if she's doing okay with it) has trouble having living children. Googling suggests it is still a problem:

http://www.ijgo.org/article/S0020-7292%2809%2900697-3/abstract

and

http://www.hindawi.com/journals/idog/2010/350763/

I'm sort of scratching my head about why I'm not finding any indication that this is a long-understood connection.

Language in this:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1624843/

Suggests in fact that it's an area of ongoing debate! It looks like there is some difficulty disentangling malaria from co-factors that also lead to stillbirth.

Today's Activities include: itty bitty piduh

T. presented me with a rendition of the first verse of "The Itsy Bitsy Spider", complete with gestures. His articulation is still not what one would expect of someone his age, but he has made immense progress; if you didn't know the words to the song, you might have been able to figure some of them out. They were clear enough for me to make out where he's changed the lyrics (in the last line, the itsy bitsy spider comes down the water spout in his version rather than comes down the spout again, altho, to be fair, this may be the version they are using at his school). His fine motor control is also problematic, but the gestures are identifiable if you know what they are supposed to be.

This was _hugely_ exciting for me, obviously, and T. responds very strongly to high affect, so I got many repeat performances before he decided he was tired and we played Plants vs. Zombies on the loveseat for a while.

about that malaria theory

You might be wondering why I latched on to the malaria idea so intensely, because I have not explained it in a lot of detail. Here is what made me suspicious:

(1) A lot of stillbirths. Stillbirths aren't unknown in genlias, but they are (and I have no explanation for this, either) most common in three circumstances: (a) mother's first birth (b) one of a pair of twins (c) mother's last birth. A string of non-twin stillbirths from a mother who survives is wildly bizarre compared to the pattern I have been seeing. (It's pretty obvious why a mother's last birth might be stillborn; that's a risk associated with mother being in her forties. I would imagine the first-birth stillbirth is often attributable to difficulties of a first labor.)

(2) An occasional living child in a string of stillbirths (or living children), who then die (perhaps several at a shot) during the summer after they are over a full year old. Dying during the winter I'd be happy to chalk up to the flu (or, altho again, not likely in the Netherlands, TB). Not in the summer. I'd believe dying of gastro stuff in the summer, but not in an agricultural setting in the Netherlands in the 19th century.

(3) A mother who survives this rather unpleasant life experience to die at around age 70 or later -- and a husband who often predeceases substantially. Again, wildly unexpected.

Not likely to be rickets in a Dutch population in the 19th century, especially not an agricultural family. They ate well (and I would expect this particular group to be getting lots of fish). The women spent time outdoors. The Dutch have understood for a long time the importance of sunshine to good health. Not likely to be genetic or something like Rh, given that the living children die, too, when they are a little older, particularly with a seasonal component. Not respiratory, because it's summer time. Not gastro, because it's an agricultural community that isn't taxing its support system. Not the plague; it's the nineteenth century. Not any number of other things (smallpox, etc.) because it's not _one_ particularly dire summer in the area. When I saw malaria as a possibility, I really latched onto it.

The geography of the area in question plays into it. This is all happening in communities like Rockanje, Vierpolders and similar on Voorne-Putten. People who move to Nieuwenhoorn (more salt water and tidal action) or Brielle (drier) don't seem to have the same problem. The problem went away in the 20th century as a result of a variety of changes: screened housing, housing separated from livestock (which was a reservoir), dredging the silted up Bernisse, cleaning out the vegetation from canals. It's also possible that there just isn't anyone really living in the areas most prone to stagnant open water, for that matter.

I wanted to explain this partly for my own benefit, if I should revisit this topic at some point in the future (having by then forgotten most of my thinking) and also because I know I have readers who may well read what I had previously posted and continue to feel very skeptical of my conclusions. If someone has an alternate explanation for the pattern I saw, I'd be interested in hearing that theory. I'm not particularly interested in going over the exact birth dates and so forth in genlias, however, if _you_ want to peruse them, I'd be happy to point you at the names I saw. I didn't even bother to enter the stillbirths in those families in my tree on ancestry.com, because it was just amazingly sad. I did put a note describing what I was seeing in a parent's data.