The cost of voting

Peter Manoogian's Poll TaxMy mother’s cousin recently found their grandfather’s record of poll tax. My Armenian great-grandfather had fled the draft of the Ottoman Army and sailed to America in 1910. He arrived in Boston on February 6.

The family story goes that he actually had no destination–just to get out of Ottoman-controlled Syria. He met a man on the boat who was going to Nashua, New Hampshire and knew of a shoe factory that was hiring.  Bedros Manoogian followed this man to New Hampshire and worked in what our family story tells as a damp basement factory. He saved his money and sent it to his wife and young daughter that he had left back in Aleppo.

By 1914, his wife and daughter had come to America and their first American-born son was almost a year old. Based on this document, his name was already being Anglicized to “Peter”.

He would have paid this tax to vote in the U.S. Senate and Congressional elections of 1914. New Hampshire reelected Jacob Gallinger that year. The $2 he paid in 1914 would be around $46 in 2012, per inflation. Bedros afforded this in 1914, but I wonder about several years later.  By 1924, Bedros and his wife had 4 children, that damp basement had made him sick (which led to TB) and unable to work. His 13 year old daughter had to quit school to help support the family. Could they have afforded a poll tax then? If not, does that mean  they did not deserve the right to vote?

Poll tax came about as part of the Jim Crow laws. They were created to disenfranchise. The 24th amendment to the Constitution got rid of the poll tax for federal elections and most states ratified it by the mid-sixties.

Ironically, and of course why the timing of this is so interesting, New Hampshire has enacted a voter id law this year. I believe that voter id laws are nothing more than poll tax in disguise, enacted for the very same reasons. One argument is that they help cut down on voter fraud. A recent study found that a person is more likely to be hit by lightening than commit voter fraud, so I don’t buy it.

The AAUW has a great blog postabout why voter id laws are bad.

Bedros, Armenouhie and Azadhui Manoogian

Meanwhile this post is about Bedros Manoogian, using some of his hard earned money to make sure he could cast his vote.  Unfortunately he died quite young (the TB mentioned above), so none of us know what importance this held for him.

This was a man who had named his first child Azadhui (“freedom”), as she was born right after the Young Turk revolution had given Armenians hope for equality. Of course  within 2 years those hopes were dashed and he fled. I can only imagine that he really valued the ability to vote for those who would lead his new country.




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I’ve been interested in having my DNA tested for a while, but it’s been too expensive. has launched a new DNA testing service and as a subscriber, I was given a special deal… so I took it.

I received my results last night and at first I was surprised. I’ve read more into it and it started to make sense.

First, I have to say it’s pretty excellent to see the 27% Armenian blood. That can be detected from my saliva! It’s particularly amazing when you’re from a group of people who another group tried to wipe off the planet. They forced my people out of their homeland, but nearly 100 years later, I’m carring their DNA inside me! Crazy.

The large Central European percentage surprised me–I had imagined that I’d see more British Isles (rather than NONE).  So Central Europe includes places I know my family comes from: Germany and Switzerland.  Here’s the thing– this is also where the Celts originated. So I’m guessing a good amount of my percentage is Celtic and therefore British.

The 11% Southern European is a total surprise, but I do have people in my family I don’t know a lot about. It’ll be interesting to see how detailed that can get once Ancestry amasses more data. “Italy, Spain and Portugal” isn’t specific enough for me.

Finally, the 10% Scandinavian felt surprising at first, as well. I haven’t found anyone from Denmark, Norway or Sweden in my ancestry. Reading deeper I see this is where the Vikings started out and some ended up in Northern England, Scotland and Ireland.  This would make sense for the Scots-Irish and Northern British people in my family tree.

Some people aren’t sure if they trust AncestryDNA, but my results seem like mostly they line up with my assumptions. The Genetic Genealogist  has a great post addressing Ancestry’s Ethnic Prediction, which makes sense to me.  I don’t think this is a perfect test and for me, it felt like a taste of DNA testing. I would like to test again, with another service, and be able to download the raw data of my results.

If my British/Scottish ancestors are represented well in these results it does make me hope the results get more detailed. For instance, are my British ancestors oringinally Anglo Saxons–originating in Germany? Or Normans originating in France? Or were they Celts? “Central Europe” covers all of these, so sure, they’re in there, but where?

None of this matters in a big way to me, except perhaps to pinpoint ancestors that I simply have not been able to uncover in other ways. It’s also just amazing to spit in a plastic tube, mail it away, have a lab analyze it and then tell you where your ancestors came from. Amazing and really weird.


How far is Ohio?

Couldn’t help, but name this post with words from a Damien Jurado song–I often think of it when I think of Ohio.

In a previous post, I mentioned that a genealogy of my family was done in the fifties and sixties and added to the Library of Congress. From that genealogy, I learned a lot about the family migrating to Ohio between 1828 and 1830 after years in Virginia.  One of my great-grandfathers, Jerome Drais, went to Fayette County, Ohio with his parents and married a girl from Ohio. Together they farmed in Washington Court House, Ohio where they lived in a log house until 1848 when a larger house was built.

That larger house is where my 3rd great grandfather, the Civil War vet, was born. He and his 5 brothers left from this house to serve in the Union Army during the war. While my great grandfather ended up in Gettysburg, PA, much of the family stayed in Washington Court House. I learned from this genealogy that his sister stayed on the farm and raised her family there and when this genealogy was researched, her grandson was still on the farm.

Since the farm stayed in the family from the 1830s until the 1960s, I wondered if perhaps it was still in the family. Thanks to the names from the genealogy and the Fayette County Assessor’s database, I’ve learned that the same grandson is living on the farm. Amazing.

So now what? I’m considering writing them a letter just to find out what’s up with the house that Jerome built and if any of the farm is still functioning as such. I think I’d regret it if I didn’t. It’s kind of amazing to find out your family is living in the same house after 180ish years. There is no other branch of my family where this is true


Discoveries Abroad

I’m in the UK for a vacation, not genealogical research, but have had discoveries nonetheless.

Thinking back on my Scots-Irish post, it’s funny that it took me this long to make that connection. Nearby Edinburgh Castle, inside Geoffrey (Tailor), I looked over all of the family heraldry and there were my family names again: Martin, McNeely, Henderson, Livingston. I didn’t buy any heraldry-related products; I wasn’t sure I needed a McNeely keychain. It was just interesting to see them all and to see the tartans that were associated with these names.

Geoffrey (Tailor) also offers name look-ups, whether Scottish or not. I’m always skeptical about these things, but what appealed to me here was to find out when my surname first appeared on the rolls in the UK. I also wanted to know where it showed up. I’ve traced us back to the 1700s in Virginia, but I have not found an immigrant and although I assume they came from England, I’m not sure. What I found out was that our name first appears on The Shropshire Pipe Rolls, during the reign of King Richard 1, in 1191. There are also place names in the 1086 Domesday Book.

I probably shouldn’t have, but I purchased the document that they offered which stated this and shows the related coat of arms. They say they have a linguist on staff who translates the info about the surname into modern English and a heraldic artist on staff who uses that translation to then draw the coat of arms. Of course, from what I’ve read an English coat of arms was given to a person and not a family, so it’s not really mine per se. I got caught up in the history though and couldn’t help myself.

I wanted to learn more about the surname rolls and found the online Surname Database to have a wealth of information on most names.

We don’t ever necessarily trace back to the folks who these surname explanations are based on, but you never know…


All about Food

I was reading the article in the NYTimes today, On Lenten Fridays in New Orleans, the Catfish Are Making the Sacrifices and it made me think of the fish fries in Alabama I’ve been to and how food can symbolize a place and a time and often a tradition that runs deep in your family.

The first time I visited my father’s family in Talladega, Alabama in 1982, the trip ended with a big fish fry at my uncle’s gas station/store. The whole family was there–and when I say that about this family, I easily mean 50 people or more. The deep fryers were outside and catfish that various uncles and cousins caught were being fried alongside hush puppies. Inside were platters  of cole slaw, potato salad and big styrofoam cups of icey sweet tea. One of the rooms in the back of the store had been set-up with amps, a drum kit, microphones; folks showed up with guitars, ready to sing. The music was decidedly gospel and it was the first time I heard my grandmother sing “I’ll Fly Away”  in her distinctive alto voice. I grew up just outside Boston, I’d never experienced anything like this. Once back home, fried catfish, hushpuppies and even a can of Dr. Pepper brought a little bit of Alabama.

Frying catfish at a gospel singing in Clay County.

In subsequent trips, I’ve been to different fish fries. We drove out on a hot day, to a church in rural Clay County to hear my aunts and cousin at a Gospel Singing. Off behind the speakers, men were frying mud cat that the preacher had caught that week in a big old iron pot over an open flame.  It tasted more earthy than any catfish I’d ever had. It came with the requisite hush puppies, slaw and sweet tea which we ate, listening to gospel and trying to stay out of the really hot sun.

There have been other fish fries at my grandmother’s church and there’s always music. There have also been backyard meals filled with mac & cheese, butter beans, mustard and collard greens, fried and regular corn bread, bbq chicken, fried green tomatoes, okra, biscuits, black eyed peas, and red velvet, 7-up, and coca cola cakes. And huge styrofoam or plastic cups of ice for soda or sweet tea.

I suppose this is similar to what I was talking about in the post The History You Can Touch. Once in Alabama, I sat with my dad and his cousin while they ate fried and boiled chitlins, they reminisced over a time when your house would be filled with the horrible smell of chitlins being cleaned and cooked. A time when you ate chitlins because you wouldn’t waste one bit of the pig; so history pops up around the supper table just like it does in the cemetery or in the library.

Food connects me to my family, their culture, traditions and history–at rural Alabama fish fries, but also at Armenian Church dinners in East Watertown, MA and the Pennsylvania German farmer’s markets in York, PA. Which means I’ll be writing soon enough about lamejun, kufte, metch and then hog maw, german bologna and big tins of Utz potato chips and pretzels!

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Everyone is talking about the 1940 census, so I thought I would talk a bit about it. This census was released by the National Archives on April 2, 2012. It was the first online release of a census by the Archives ever.  Currently it’s browsable by enumeration district, but not searchable by name—however there is an indexing process happening which I’m happily volunteering for.

This census is exciting to me for two reasons. One is that most people can think of the name of someone alive in 1940. When I help people with their genealogy starting with 1930, they sometimes struggle. 1940 will make it that much easier. Second is the data. In 1940 new questions were asked that had not shown up on a census before:

  • Residence five years prior.
  • Annual salary, hours worked per week and weeks worked per year.
  • Highest grade attained in school.
  • There’s also a whole host of supplemental questions that they asked 5% of the population.

The first family member I found was my maternal grandfather at age 18, in York, Pennsylvania with his parents and siblings. While they didn’t own their house, they did rent it for quite a while so were in the same place they were in 1930; finding their enumeration district was easy. My great-grandfather was 42, had made it to 7th grade and was a trolley car driver making $1200 annually. Their house cost $20 a month where he lived with his wife and the 8 children left at home. The eldest two were already married and living elsewhere in York.

My great-grandfather’s mother was living nearby with her youngest son–he was supporting her as a bookkeeper for a “utility” making $1040 annually. He was 20 years younger than my great-grandfather and I don’t know much about him, except that in 1966 he was listed in the Gettysburg newspaper for having worked for Metropolitan Edison Company for 29 years. This must be the utility he was working for in 1940. I already knew that my great-great grandfather worked for Edison, as an electrician so this makes sense. It’s fun to piece this all together.

I’ve just scratched the surface of the 1940 census. I’ve been finding my Massachusetts family and some of my Alabama family, too. Comparing the salaries, education, and cost of housing is fascinating. Once I’ve found all of my grandparents, I’ll post about that.


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