Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Genealogy Blog Party: Time Travel to an Ancestor!

I may not understand many of the Dr. Who references in the party invitation, but I'll take an ancestor time machine any time! These days, I'd go back to the late 19th century to meet my enigmatic 3x great-grandfather Richard Toner.

He could answer lots of questions for me:

I certainly would not tell Richard Toner who I am. There were times when he seemed a bit psychologically unstable, and I'm not sure a visit from 2016 would be in his best interest. This is part of what makes him such a fascinating ancestor; there are a lot of interesting things going on in his life, a lot of different jobs, activity with different organizations (police, fire, Democratic party, just to name a few), a roller coaster of financial fortunes (in 1877, he was "formerly worth considerable money") and some apparently very difficult personal relationships. I'd love to get to know this complicated individual. Even without revealing myself, though, I'm still going to have to deal with disrupting the future, because the best way I can see to help him with a problem would be to teach him to boil water during a cholera epidemic, in hopes of saving the lives of two of his children, Julia and James Thomas, who died during NYC's 1866 epidemic.

By Sanatory Committee, under the sanction of the Medical Counsel, in New York City - New York Historical Society. "Plague in Gotham! Cholera in 19th-Century New York." New York Historical Society. April 04, 2008 - August 31, 2008., Public Domain,

Since the official cholera prevention advice of the time wouldn't do much to save my 3x great aunt and uncle, I'll have to step in and do it.

What impact would this encounter have on the future? None of Richard's sons lived to have children, as far as I have been able to determine. If James Thomas had survived to adulthood, there might still be Toner men in this family to test for Y-DNA! If Julia had lived, wouldn't be another Julia Toner. My 2x great-grandmother, the second Julia Toner born into this family, would have had a different name. That is, of course, if she had been born at all. Who really knows whether Richard and his wife Mary would have gone on to have a 9th child in 1868 if they hadn't lost 2 - the oldest and the youngest - in 1866? (Another boy, Richard Joseph, then the youngest, had died in 1863.) If Julia hadn't been born, I wouldn't be here today, and neither would something like 50% of the people I know and love. And if I weren't here, I wouldn't be around to travel back in time to save the elder Julia and potentially wipe out our entire line. (Then what?)

But when I think about the heartbreak of the Toners, losing two children in two days, I'm convinced that going back in time to institute a boil water advisory is a risk I'd have to take. (Plus I really want to find out what happened to the money!)


Nancy Vest said...

You sound like me. I picked the most advantageous person, too, who could give me the most information and solve a mystery that picks at me. Your choice is a fascinating man, and I'm sure his stories would keep your spellbound. I enjoyed reading about him.

Linda Stufflebean said...

Cholera epidemics were horrendous. My grandmother's village church registers show them arriving every 20-30 years and a tiny village of 700 would bury 10% of its inhabitants each time. Richard Toner does sound like a very interesting character - I would want to know more about him, too.

Nicole Dyer said...

I bet they would have gone on to have all their children even if none of them had died early! That would be helpful to have someone to test for YDNA. It really helped in our Royston research!

Anonymous said...

This story has all the hallmarks of a TV mini-series! Good luck breaking through the series of brick walls your post presents.

Elise Ann Wormuth said...

How interesting that you go right to the Y-DNA connection :) It would be really fun to be able to go back, wouldn't it?

Nancy said...

That's an interesting ancestor you chose to visit, Kathleen. It seems like there were a lot of different things going on in his life. Maybe newspaper research will help reveal the answers to some of your questions. I think it's admirable that you would want to go back to teach him about boiling water during the cholera epidemic. Hopefully he would believe you when you told him about germs!

Joshua Sweatt said...

I know how hard it is to keep up with this genealogy efforts. It looks great. Keep up the good work. Sweatt Genealogy