Tag Archives: libraries

My new toy, Kindle Touch

I finally bought an e-book reader last week. I had been resisting them for a variety of reasons, the most prominent of which seemed to be “I don’t need it.” Well, of course I don’t need it. Does anyone really “need” an e-book reader, when regular books have worked just fine for hundreds of years?

Well, actually — if you think about it — librarians sort of do. The reason I say that is because many of our patrons have them, and want to use them to access the downloadable media available from the library, and it would be good if the library staff knew how to help them do that. And to that end, the library where I work decided to offer an incentive to staff members to purchase of an e-book reader. Sure, they had some on hand that staff could play with, but it’s not really the same as having one that you can make your own, really get to know it (and love it).

(I should also note that if the device isn’t compatible with OverDrive, the software we use for our downloadables, then it isn’t eligible for the incentive. The whole point is to get staff to learn how to use e-book readers with OverDrive, so we can help patrons with the process.)

I decided to go for it… Why not?

So, allow me to introduce you to my new Amazon Kindle Touch ($99, plus a $40 protective case):

Lisa's Kindle Touch

Lisa's Kindle Touch

I’ve only had it for a week, but I must admit (sheepishly) that I already rather love it.

The first thing I did when I got it out of the box was put it into its case. Next, I charged the battery (via the included USB cable). I figured out how to connect the device to my Amazon account (which is how you get content on to it).

Then, I read the User Guide, which comes pre-installed on the device.  I know that might seem counter-intuitive in a way, to only give you a user guide that is on the device, but the darn thing is just so intuitive in general, that you can’t miss it. It’s right there, when you turn it on, and you just click on it and start reading. Plus, I suppose it’s probably also one of those “immersive” learning strategies; it forces you to learn by doing.

Once I had the tools I needed, I set out to get some new content on it. I looked up some classics — like Pride and Prejudice or The Odyssey — on Amazon and found that many of them are free. Yes, free. Like, zero American dollars. On the one hand, that of course makes sense because the text of those works are in the public domain. But I must admit, I was skeptical whether that would be the case or if Amazon would have found a way to justify charging a nominal fee since they took the time and effort to create the Kindle version. But apparently not, so: Yay for free content!

Speaking of free content, next on my list was to figure out how I could borrow library e-books using my new Kindle.

Now, the ability to get Kindle books through OverDrive is a rather recent development. Until a couple of months ago, it was not possible to borrow library e-books on a Kindle. But, that is no longer the case. However, that being said, there are some aspects of this new feature that many librarians are not very happy about. Sarah Houghton, of the Librarian in Black blog, sums up those concerns better than I ever could (just FYI: her video blog contains language not suitable for work). But the short version is: when patrons borrow e-books on a Kindle, the book actually comes from Amazon and so Amazon is able to keep a record of that transaction, which is counter to the privacy mandate to which public libraries generally adhere. So, as a librarian, I feel obligated to mention that. As a consumer/patron/Kindle owner, it doesn’t bother me, because I have made the (informed) decision to be okay with the fact that Amazon knows what I’m reading. (They keep a record of all the stuff I buy from them, too, and yet I keep shopping there, so I suppose I’m used to it.) But Ms. Houghton definitely makes some valid points, so check her out.

But back to my experience with my new toy. I went to the Dayton Metro Library’s Downloadable Digital Media Library and searched for a book. Once I found one that was both in the catalog, available in Kindle e-book format, and had copies available, it only took a few clicks to “get” the book. I had to “add to cart”, put in my library card number, and then click “Get for Kindle.” I did have to login to my Amazon account (which is where the privacy issues come in) so that the book could be added to my device (because the device is linked to my Amazon account). The e-book then showed up on my list of e-books (with the notation “public library” next to the title). Once I re-synched my device (by connecting to wireless internet and clicking “synch”), the book showed up on my list there, as well. The borrowed e-book works just like my other books, except that in a couple of weeks I expect that it will disappear, once the loan period expires.

I did notice something interesting when I was trying to find a book to borrow, though. I searched for a book I have had on my mental list for a while now – Under the Tuscan Sun – and found that it was not available at all in the Dayton Metro Library e-books catalog.  Out of curiosity, I decided to check nearby Greene County Public Library, whose e-book catalog is also powered by OverDrive. It also appears to be part of a consortium (since you must choose which library your card is from, when you put in your library card number). Anyway, the short version is that they did have Under the Tuscan Sun in their catalog. I found this odd. Of books that both catalogs had in common, I noticed that the GCPL catalog seemed to have more copies of each one than DML (which could be because of the consortium, I guess). Since I am not privy to the inner workings of my library’s OverDrive contract, I can’t say why all of this is. I wondered if perhaps there might be different “tiers” of OverDrive service; perhaps GCPL had subscribed to a more expensive one? By chance, as I was poking around Sarah Houghton’s site today looking for that earlier blog entry about Amazon/OverDrive, I saw that her post from today discusses this very topic: “OverDrive has Different eBook Catalogs for Different Libraries.” I’ll let Ms. Houghton tell you about her theories in her own words…interesting stuff. [*Edit* Apparently, I misunderstood Ms. Houghton’s article. The problem she discusses and the one I’ve mentioned are not necessarily the same. But do still go and read what she has to say! Thanks to “Mike” for the clarification; see comment below. *End Edit*]

As a library patron, whatever the reason, the point is that if you don’t find what you want in one library e-book catalog, you should check the catalogs for other nearby libraries. They might have a book that your library didn’t have, or they might have more copies or copies available when your library did not. (For example, I ended up downloading Lev Grossman’s The Magicians from the GCPL because GCPL’s catalog has 9 copies, and one was available — as I write this, there are currently 4 of 9 available — whereas the DML catalog only has 2 copies, both of which were checked out.

All OverDrive weirdness aside, I’ve been enjoying reading The Magicians on my Kindle — both because the book is enjoyable and because my new toy is really pretty awesome. Here are some of the things I really like about reading on my Kindle:

  • The integrated dictionary. I was always bad about actually looking up words I didn’t know, when reading. I’d try to get the gist from context and failing that, I would usually just hope it wasn’t too important, rather than trudging off to find a dictionary. While reading on my Kindle, if I see a word I don’t know, I can just “press and hold” on the word, and the dictionary pops right up. Now there’s no excuse not to learn exactly what that word means, right then and there!
  • The overall design: the fact that it’s a flat, touch screen. It’s so much easier to read while eating, lying in bed, or even on the couch. I don’t have to hold the book open. I barely need to lift one finger (literally) to advance to the next page (just press anywhere near the right side of the screen). I mean, I know reading is a pretty sedentary, motionless activity to start with…but that one-finger page-advance feature makes it even simpler. I have to say, I am loving the ability to just prop the thing up against my computer at my desk and read while eating my lunch, which leaves both hands free except when I have to turn a page — so as long as I keep mayo or pizza sauce or garlic bread crumbs off at least one finger, it’s all good!
  • The instant gratification. Especially with the library downloadables and the public domain classics, both of which are free. As long as you are somewhere with accessible wifi, you are just a few seconds away from reading a new book (or an old one). You can also buy Kindle books right from the device itself, although I am trying not to get into the bad habit of doing that…it’s so damn easy, it could get expensive quickly!
  • The e-ink. Unlike an LCD screen (e.g., flat panel monitors, iPads, or Kindle Fire), the Kindle Touch uses something called e-ink and it looks like paper. It is black letters on a white background. It doesn’t “light up” exactly so you still need a lamp to see what you’re reading, but it also doesn’t give you trouble if you’re out in the sunlight. (Okay, I have to admit, I am taking their word for it on that one right now, since it is December in Ohio, and we’re unlikely to see much sun for several months.)
  • The percent completed notification in the lower right-hand corner while you are reading. It’s nice to see that, especially since (unlike holding a physical book in your hands), you can’t actually see that the majority of the text block shift from right to left as you read. (Then again, it’s also nice to not have that change in balance affecting your ability to hold the book open with one hand, depending on how big the book is!)

(Please note that as I am not intimately familiar with any other e-book readers, I’m not suggesting that these features can only be enjoyed on a Kindle. Much of what I just said is probably true of many other e-book readers.)

Hopefully this whole blog doesn’t come off sounding like some god-awful sales pitch for Amazon Kindle. That’s not how I meant it. I just thought I’d share some thoughts on this fun new toy I got. (And I do consider it a “toy”. I still believe that nobody really “needs” an e-book reader. But damn, they sure are convenient and fun to use!)

Oh and one last thing about Kindle. The $99 one does have “special offers” (ads), but they only show up in a small banner at the bottom of the Home menu (like when you are trying to decide which book to read today), or when the Kindle is in power-save mode. There are no ads on the screen when you are actually reading a book. And if you really, really want the ads gone, you can pay an extra $40 any time and get rid of them permanently. I’m glad I didn’t splurge for the ad-free Kindle to start with, because I really find the ads quite unobtrusive and not worth $40 just to be rid of them.

If you have any questions about e-books, e-book readers, or how to borrow e-books from the library, please ask your local librarian. If he/she doesn’t know much about it, maybe you can learn together. 🙂

Historical local directories at the Dayton Metro Library

After reading “City and County Directories: Hidden Treasures” on the Ohio Historical Society’s Collections Blog, I was inspired to share some details about the historical local directories available in the Local History and Genealogy departments at the Dayton Metro Library, where I work.

Early Dayton city directories in the DML Genealogy Dept.

Early Dayton city directories in the DML Genealogy Dept.

Historical directories are useful in many ways, particularly in genealogical research, as well as research pertaining to a house, building, or business.

In all the directories, you can look up a person or business by name.

For people, the information provided generally includes name, occupation, place worked, place lived, and sometimes their spouse’s name (if any). Very old and very new directories generally tend to include only the name of the head of household, but I have noticed that many times the directory lists each adult resident of a household separately and sometimes teenagers (usually identified as “students” for their occupation).

Some uses for directories in genealogy would be to find out where your relative lived or what their occupation was. If you check every year, you will probably find that they moved or changed jobs over time. When you suddenly notice the presence or absence of that person or a spouse in a particular year, you can get clues to marriage/divorce/death/moving dates.

Keep in mind: it’s just a clue, so you must always verify! But at least it can help give you a good idea of “when” to start searching for a particular event.

Also note: just because they “disappear,” doesn’t mean they died or even that they moved very far away. Many “city” directories only include people who lived or worked within the city limits. If you moved to the suburbs, you stopped being listed in the “city” directory, unless perhaps you still worked in the city. Consider the following entry from the 1914 Dayton city directory:

  • Wright, Orville, office 1127 W 3d, also Pres The Wright Co e s Coleman Av s of 3d, res Oakwood.

By 1914, Wright had moved to his new mansion Hawthorn Hill in Oakwood, but as he still had an office in Dayton, he still had an entry in the city directory.

For businesses, the information provided in directories generally includes location and type of industry (e.g., if it’s a factory, it will tell what they manufacture), usually the name of the business owner, and sometimes the names of other company officers.

As the OHS blog post stated, schools, hospitals, hotels, and many other types of buildings/businesses are also included in directories.

I like to think of directories as being like telephone books on steroids: they include basically everything you would find in a telephone book, plus more.

One of the biggest “plus more” aspects of directories is that directories eventually began to include listings that made it possible to search for a particular address and find out what was located there. In the case of Dayton city directories, the earliest year you can search by address is 1914. These listings are in the back of the directory, with street names listed alphabetically. Under each street, the numbers are listed in ascending order, with the name of the person or business next to it. If you are interested in more information about that person or business — now that you’ve found out the name — you can search for that entry in the front (alphabetical-by-name) part of the directory.

Street and Avenue Guide, Dayton city directory 1914

Street and Avenue Guide, Dayton city directory 1914

Being able to search by address is especially helpful for people researching the history of a house. Directories include the names of the residents of a house, as opposed to just the owner’s name that you would find on a deed.

Many times, house researchers just want to know a little about the families that lived in their home before they did. Sometimes, people think they have a ghost, and learning about the previous residents can help them figure out who might be haunting their home. In another example, I recently helped someone who had found some photographs tucked away in his historic home, and he was trying to find the family to whom the photos belonged, so he could return them.

And now that we’ve talked about some of the ways that historical local directories could be helpful in your research, I’ll give you the specifics on what we have at the Dayton Metro Library.

We have four types of historical directories, all of which are available for public use: city directories, suburban directories, Criss-Cross directories, and telephone books.

City Directories (Dayton only)

  • Years 1850-Present (almost every year) available in both Genealogy Reference and Local History Reference
  • Include listings within the city limits of Dayton only;
  • Include people who lived within the city limits, businesses located within the city limits, and usually people who worked within the city limits;
  • Includes yellow-pages-like listings for businesses by type;
  • Search by address possible from year 1914-present;
  • Later years can be searched by telephone number to get the person’s name.

Suburban Directories

  • Years 1956-Present available in both Genealogy Reference and Local History Reference;
  • Includes listings for suburban areas of Montgomery County only (areas of Montgomery County that are outside the Dayton city limits);
  • More recent years are split into North and South editions;
  • Search by address possible in all years;
  • Search by telephone number to get the person’s name.

Criss-Cross Directories

  • Years 1945-Present available in Local History Reference;
  • Years 1954-Present available in Genealogy Reference;
  • Similar to the search-by-street-address portion of regular city/suburban directories, but only gives street address, name, and phone number;
  • Includes city of Dayton, suburban areas of Montgomery County, and some nearby areas outside of Montgomery County;
  • Search by telephone number to get the person’s name.

Telephone Books

  • Years 1919-Present (most years) available in Local History Reference;
  • Both white pages and yellow pages available for most years;
  • Includes the “Greater Dayton area” which includes city of Dayton, suburban areas of Montgomery County, and some nearby areas outside of Montgomery County;
  • Cannot be searched by address.


The materials discussed here are available in the Magazines & Special Collections division of the Dayton Metro Library, located in the basement of the Main Library, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, OH 45402. They are available for public use anytime during regular library hours.

If you are unable to visit the library, a librarian can assist you with requests that are “clearly defined and limited in scope.” If you need a quick look-up in the directories, please submit an electronic reference question. For other questions about directories, you can contact the Dayton Metro Library or leave a note on this blog.

A visit to the Muncie, Indiana, local history library

This past weekend, I traveled to Muncie, Indiana, for a conference about CONTENTdm. The conference was on Friday and Saturday, but I went up a day early and explored Muncie (in the rain).

The first place I wanted to check out was the local history and genealogy department of the Muncie Public Library. Yes, geeky, I know.

(On a side note, I remember when I first started working at my current job, a co-worker remarked that he liked to visit other libraries while on vacation. I had never really thought about it before, but now I find myself doing the same thing. I do this especially on work trips if I have time, because that seems like a pretty good work-related activity: scope out what other libraries are doing, maybe bring home some good ideas.)

I knew from the library’s web site that I would be looking for a Carnegie library building. However, when I arrived, I got a little confused about how I was supposed to get inside, as I was parked near the back of the library, but there was this other building across the alley that had “Local History & Genealogy” etched in stone above the door (but was not attached to the Carnegie building). I tried to open the door, but it was locked. I know this place said it was open on Thursdays, I thought to myself. Then I saw a truck pull up, and a man wearing some kind of emergency responder uniform got out, and entered the locked building using a key. Hmm…that’s weird. Why would the library be locked?

I began to wander around to the front side of the Carnegie building, somehow missing the back entrance with the large “Open” sign on the door:

Muncie Public Library - Local History and Genealogy

Muncie Public Library - Local History and Genealogy

I didn’t make it all the way to the front of the building at that particular moment, but I found out later that it wouldn’t have done any good anyway. During my later walk around town, I came back to the library from the front and noticed that you can’t get in the front doors anymore; they don’t use them (“emergency exit only”).

But let me take this opportunity to share a picture of the front of the building, because who doesn’t love a good Carnegie?

Muncie Public Library - Carnegie Library

Muncie Public Library - Carnegie Library

Anyhow… So was I was about to wander around the back corner of the library towards the front, wandering if I had the wrong entrance or the wrong day (I kept thinking it was Friday for some reason, and they’re not open Friday), I heard a voice: “Ma’am…?”

I turned around, looking for the source of the voice. I saw a woman standing at the top of the stairs that led to that basement entrance (shown above). She said, “Are you looking for the Local History and Genealogy library?” I said yes, and she said it was through the basement door. She said she’d seen me wandering around, from her place at the reference desk…

Now, the only reason I am telling you the details of this story that makes me look like a dolt…is to highlight the dedication to public service of that librarian (whose name turned out to be Cindy). It’s one thing to help someone who’s already standing at your reference desk. But this woman went far out of her way — even out of the building — and into the rain — to flag me down and help me find my way. Now that, my friends, is excellent public service.

Once we were inside, she said she had seen me walking around in the alley and that I’d tried to get into the other building across the way. She explained that the Local History department used to be in that other building, which they had built new a few years ago for that exact purpose and that the Carnegie building had been a regular branch library. But then with budget cuts, they couldn’t keep both buildings as libraries, so they moved Local History back to the Carnegie building and rented out the other one to one of the local government offices. They figured the newer building would be easier to rent out…plus the Carnegie Library already looked like, well, a library.

Then she asked me what I was looking for, and I said, “Well, nothing in particular.” Then I explained about being a local history librarian from Dayton and how I was curious what their Local History department was like. So she gave me a full tour.

The Local History and Genealogy division has the majority of that Carnegie building all to themselves, with a small circulating collection and a computer lab on one half of the lower level. But the other half of the basement and the entire first floor were dedicated exclusively to LH&G.

The place looked great. It had been renovated a few years ago:

Muncie Public Library - Carnegie Library - interior1Muncie Public Library - Carnegie Library - interior2

There were lots of interesting little details of which I made note:

  • In addition to public computers specifically for LH&G use, they also have two flatbed scanners for patron use. This is something that the Dayton library has not embarked upon, although it has been discussed.
  • They had a nice little bookshelf where they display new items. There is a New Items section at the Dayton library, but we do not have one specifically for new local history items.
  • They have work study students from the university scanning items for their digitization projects. (They have scanned many kinds of records, including deeds and wills.) However, while the digitization itself is awesome, I was more intrigued by the idea that they are able to get work study students to do this work: meaning, the students are paid by federal work study, so it is low-or-no cost to the library, yet it gives them a staffing resource to work on these projects. I later asked the department manager about it, wondering aloud whether we could benefit from a similar program. Her response: “You never know unless you ask.” Too true.

Perhaps eve more wonderful than that — yes, I have deemed something even more wonderful than free-or-low-cost digitization labor! — was the library’s collection of original county records:

Delaware County, Indiana, Marriage License Books

Delaware County, Indiana, Marriage License Books

As I understand the story, Delaware County (in which Muncie is located) is now on its third courthouse. When the second courthouse was slated for demolition in the ’60s or ’70s, apparently many of the original record docket books were in danger of destruction as well (for reasons not fully explained to me). Apparently, a Ball State University history professor caught wind of this and mobilized an effort to save the records, which were then given to the library for safekeeping. And so, there they remain, in all their glory!

I’m so glad to hear (and share) this wonderful story of how history was saved and is being preserved. The librarian mentioned that unfortunately, the Carnegie Library is not as environmentally well-controlled as the new building they had to give up (the one across the alley). But, I’ve got to say, any record that exists is better than one that was completely destroyed 40 years ago!

Show us what you got

Recently, I was invited to participate on a panel of guest speakers in the Introduction to Public History course at my alma mater, Wright State University. After we three panelists had given our talks about our educational and career backgrounds, and answered questions, the course professor posed the following wrap-up question to all three of us:

What has been your most satisfying experience as an archivist?

I responded that, in general, I am most satisfied when a researcher contacts us in the Local History Room about any of our one-of-a-kind items or collections. The fact that this person was able to locate an item of interest in our collections tells me that we must be doing something right.

I’m always curious how people find us when they come calling with a specific archival material already in mind. Did they find us on WorldCat, the library web site, a search engine hit, the OhioLINK EAD Finding Aid Repository, or somewhere else? On at least two occasions that I’m aware of, I have received reference inquiries that stemmed directly from something the person read on this very blog (*happy dance*) because the blog entries show up on Google search results.

So, yes, I suppose my most satisfying experience in general is when people find our archival materials and want to actually use them. Because if people can’t (a) find them and (b) use them, then honestly, what is the point of having them? (Isn’t that like Rule #1 from Ranganathan?)

And I think that the reason it makes me happy when people find and use our materials is because that then gives justification to the other activities on which I spend most of my time, which pertain to preservation, arrangement and description, and access to those very materials. Allow me to elaborate.

My “the short version of my job” speech begins with: “I have about four hats…” Those hats include:  Reference, Processing, Conservation, and CONTENTdm.

Reference is the part where I help researchers find answers to their questions; that’s the part where sometimes people ask to use the archival materials.

Processing is a shorthand term for archival arrangement and description: figuring out what is in a manuscript collection, putting it in a logical order in boxes and folders, then writing a finding aid so other people (including yourself, later on) can find materials in the collection. I’ve also worked hard to get catalog entries for all our ready-to-use manuscript collections, because our local catalog entries are also fed out to WorldCat, which means worldwide discoverability…which hopefully leads to use.

Conservation work, in my case, involves item preservation activities and sometimes repairs (such as rebinding a book to better protect the information on the pages inside).

And finally, CONTENTdm refers to the digital asset management system we use to serve up the digitized images and descriptions of our historic photographs, postcards, and other types of documents.

So, when you consider that three of my four main job duties involve caring for one-of-a-kind materials, it’s not hard to understand why I get excited when people actually find those materials and want to use them!

A little Quaker love story, Part 4 (Final Installment)

The last point of interest in regards to the whole Samuel Forrer/Sarah Howard marriage situation was to explore the all the instances of name-dropping that Samuel felt was warranted in his letter to Horton Howard, Feb. 13, 1826, in which he announced, “Hey, I we got married anyway even though you told us not to, but all these other people seem to think it was a fine idea.”

The people whose approval Samuel mentioned were: M. T. Williams, Joseph Gest, and Joseph Evans. He mentioned in the letter: Rev. William Burke, Oliver Martin, and Joseph Ridgeway.

Let’s address the names in the letter one by one, shall we?

I’m going to skip M. T. Williams for now. I find his connection the most interesting, so I want to save him for last.


First, there’s Joseph Gest. He is listed in Hall’s 1825 Cincinnati city directory as a merchant and city surveyor. There is some interesting (but uncited) information about Gest on the Cincinnati Views web site, stating that he was the city engineer from 1819-1844.

More importantly, he was a fellow Quaker. I found his family listed in Hinshaw’s Encyclopedia of Quaker Genealogy, Volume 5 (p. 907), in the Cincinnati Monthly Meeting, and to be sure it was the same family, I checked some later census records. Furthermore, there is a letter in the very collection I’m working with that is addressed to “Joseph Gest, mercht., for Sarah Howard,” at Cincinnati; the letter is from Horton Howard, from Waynesville, to his daughter, dated 11th month [Nov.] 23, 1825.

Another letter from Horton to his daughter Sarah, dated 11th of 12th month (Dec.) 1825 is also addressed to her by way of Joseph Gest. In this letter, Horton also writes: “Tell Joseph Gest I should be pleased to receive a line from him as I consider him one of thy guardians or parents in my absence…”

Gest lived on Walnut between Fourth and Fifth. (I noticed that most of these individuals lived between Race and Walnut, and Fourth and Fifth. I’m not too familiar with Cincinnati real estate history, but if I had to guess, I’d bet that used to be a pretty ritzy residential area.)


Joseph Evans was a bit more difficult for me to investigate. The 1825 directory lists him as a merchant who lived on Fourth between Vine and Race. There are several entries for men named Joseph Evans (being not such a unique name as “Joseph Gest”) in Hinshaw’s Quaker records, though there was a Quaker man named Joseph Evans in Cincinnati at the time. I expect that may have been the same one, but I can’t be sure.


Basically, the same goes for Oliver Martin as Joseph Evans. There is an Oliver Martin who was a Quaker and living in Cincinnati in the right time frame, but I can’t be positive they are the same person. The only Oliver Martin in the 1825 directory was a merchant who lived on W. Market, between Elm and Plum, so a little further away than the others; his store was at the corner of Main and Second. Then again, the Oliver Martin from Samuel’s letter was the owner of “a genteel country tavern two miles from Cincinnati on the Hamilton road,” so may not have lived within the city limits at all and thus might not have been the same Oliver Martin from the directory.


Whoever this Oliver Martin was, he was “a friend of Joseph Ridgeway’s son,” according to Samuel. There is no Joseph Ridgeway listed in the 1825 Cincinnati directory. There are several “Joseph Ridgeway”s and “Joseph Ridgway”s listed in the Hinshaw Quaker records.

From what I have been able to surmise, Joseph Ridgway Jr. was an Ohio politician who seems to have had something to do with the Ohio canal system – which Samuel Forrer was also affiliated, so that explains how Samuel would have known him. For instance, see the Journal of the Senate of the State of Ohio, Volume 26 [year 1827], Issue 1, pg. 251. The Journal mentions that Ridgway was under the supervision of principal canal engineer David Bates, who happened to be Samuel Forrer’s supervisor as well.

And clearly, Horton Howard knew Ridgway as well, as he writes in another part of the Dec. 11, 1825, letter to Sarah from Columbus: “I make my home [at] J. Ridgway’s, who wishes to be remembered to thee…”


Before I get to M. T. Williams, I want to say just a word or two about Rev. William Burke. I suppose Samuel includes his name simply as a matter of information, since he was the minister who married them. According to Hall’s 1825 Cincinnati city directory, Burke was a Methodist minister, and the fact that they were married by a minister is the official reason that Sarah gets into trouble with the Monthly Meeting folks. Burke lived on Vine Street between Fourth and Fifth, according to the directory. (I include this only as a matter of interest, since Samuel’s letter states that he and Sarah were married at the minister’s home.)


And finally, without further adieu, who was M. T. Williams? We already know that he was the man at whose home Samuel first met Sarah. But Samuel seems to almost harp on him. I met Sarah at M. T. Williams’ house. M. T. Williams is my good friend. M. T. Williams threw us a wedding reception. Why all the fuss?

Well, as it happened, M. T. Williams was kind of a big deal. I had little trouble figuring out how Samuel Forrer knew him.

Micajah Terrell Williams was Cincinnati’s representative to the Ohio House of Representatives in the mid-1820s and was even Speaker of the Ohio House in 1824-25. He was one of the principal promoters of building a canal system in Ohio and when the project was finally undertaken, he was very involved with it and was appointed one of the seven Canal Commissioners in 1825. Later that year, the Canal Commissioners hired for the canal project a principal engineer and two resident engineers. One of the resident engineers was Samuel Forrer.

But how did M. T. Williams know the Howard family? After all, Sarah was staying at his home, apparently—which, by the way, was on Fifth Street between Walnut and Vine, in 1825.

I found useful clues in the following sources:

As it turned out, Micajah Williams was of Quaker descent. His family came from North Carolina—which perked my ears at first, since Horton Howard was originally from North Carolina. However, a check of Hinshaw’s Quaker Encyclopedia again showed that their families lived nowhere near each other (as in, opposite ends of the state).

But I did find that Micajah T. Williams was married in the Plainfield Monthly Meeting to Hannah Jones in 1818. Plainfield struck a chord—the Howards had belonged to that meeting at one time—during the same time frame, in fact (1815-1820). Coincidentally—well, if you consider the alphabet a coincidence—the Howard records and the Jones marriage were listed on the exact same page in Hinshaw: Volume 4, page 338. That could possibly explain how they knew each other; they had ties to the same Quaker congregation.

However it came about, clearly Horton Howard and M. T. Williams knew each other somehow, because I’m sure Horton wouldn’t let his daughter board with just anyone. And why was she staying with him anyway?

Horton’s Dec. 11, 1825, letter to Sarah, sheds even more light on these relationships. Horton writes: “Micajah is here and in good health, says he rec’d a letter from Hannah telling that you were well and that thou wast pleased with the School all of which is very satisfactory…” Evidently, Sarah was attending a school in Cincinnati and she needed a place to live while there. (I wonder what school it was? Ah, another mystery!)

Horton writes later on in the same letter: “I am doing all I can to aid the Canal Commissioners and the Commissioner of the Canal fund or rather to procure the enlargement of their powers, with I think a good prospect of success…” So it looks like Horton had some affiliation with the canal project himself. I wonder what it was? Still more mysteries.

Have I said before that the study of history is a sort of never-ending journey? One thing just leads to another and another…


Let’s recap, shall we? Samuel Forrer met Sarah Howard about 1825 while she was staying in Cincinnati with Micajah T. Williams and family, apparently while attending school. Samuel wrote to Sarah’s father, Horton Howard, asking for his blessing, although not expecting to receive it since the Howards were Quakers and Samuel was not. Horton Howard apparently did disapprove of the match, although we don’t seem to have the letter detailing his exact response. However, Samuel and Sarah wed anyway on February 8, 1826, in Cincinnati. Samuel then wrote to his new father-in-law, telling him what they had done, but noting the approval of several of their mutual influential friends (most if not all of whom appear to have been Quaker), in hopes that Horton would eventually look favorably on the union. It appears that Horton eventually came around, since there are several later letters from Horton to Samuel and Sarah, addressing “my dear children” and signed “your affectionate father.”


Well, I hope you have enjoyed reading about my little exploration and investigation surrounding the marriage of Samuel Forrer and Sarah Howard.

I’m sure this won’t be the last you hear from me on the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection. I think I’m only about 1/3 of the way through it so far. However, I do hope not to need 5 parts the next time I want to mention it!

The material discussed here is from the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018), which can be found at the Dayton Metro Library, Main Library, Local History Room, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, OH 45402. For more information on the collection, contact the library, or feel free to leave a comment on this blog.

A little Quaker love story, Part 3B

A lot can happen in 14 years. For instance, in the 14 years between 1793 and 1807, the following happened: the Treaty of Greenville (1795) opened Ohio up for more settlement; the city of Dayton, Ohio, was founded (1796); George Washington died (1799); the Library of Congress was founded (1800); Ohio became a state (1803); Thomas Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase (1803), doubling the size of the United States’ territory; and Lewis and Clark set out on their famous adventure (1804).

Why did I choose the arbitrary-sounding dates of 1793 and 1807? Because those are the years in which Samuel Forrer and Sarah Howard were born, respectively. He was 14 years older than her, and at the time of their marriage, he was 33, and she was 18. And actually: they were married in February, and Sarah had only just turned 18 the previous December.

I know I promised previously that Part 4 would be the final installment, and so as to keep that promise, I am cleverly deeming this “Part 3B,” and still reserving “Part 4” for a discussion of the men mentioned in Samuel’s second letter, as intended.

I noticed the age disparity sometime after writing Part 3 and decided that it really deserved a discussion.

I wonder how a father might view the situation, if a 33-year-old man wanted to marry his 18-year-old daughter. Today a dad might object purely on creepiness factor. (The would-be groom was probably already starting to think about shaving the year his prospective bride had been born.) However, that is looking at it with twenty-first century eyes and cultural norms.

But would it have been considered odd in the 1820s? I’m not going to answer, because I don’t know. I couldn’t find any good statistics on the matter from the time period at hand, although the CDC has an interesting document – “Marriages: Trends and Characteristics” – but it only covers 1867-1967. This document states at one point: “Men marry later in life than women” (p. 13), which seems like an almost obvious “duh,” but I suppose bears actually stating explicitly if you are going to bother writing up an analysis of statistics on the subject.

J. William Frost writes in The Quaker Family in Colonial America (1973) that “the average age for Quaker women [to be married] was 22.8 and for men 26.5; the median age for women was 20.5 and for men 24” (p. 151). He states this in contrast to “the popular stereotype of colonial women marrying in their teens, bearing a dozen children, and then dying young” (p. 151). But again, as I said in Part 2 when I mentioned Frost before, you can only extrapolate so much from Frost to the Forrer/Howard situation, since he was writing about the colonial era, of which 1826 is not a part. Furthermore, though Sarah was a Quaker, Samuel was not.

Another angle to consider is the possibility that an early 19th century father – or perhaps any father, for that matter – might actually be pleased that an older gentleman with an already well-established, steady career was interested in marrying his daughter. By the time Samuel Forrer met Sarah, he already had several apparently successful years of civil engineering experience under his belt, enough so that he was chosen as one of the three top engineers on the new Ohio canals project in 1825. So by the time he was asking for her hand in marriage, he had a good state-paid job on a project that would keep him employed for the next few years at least until the canals were finished. (And, although they did not know it at the time, Forrer was involved with the canals for much of the rest of his life, into the early 1870s.)

I’m not sure I will ever know how Horton Howard felt about the fact that his daughter’s suitor was 14 years her senior, all non-Quaker-ness aside. (Again, I really wish I could read whatever letter Horton wrote back to Samuel. And perhaps someday I will. Maybe it’s out there somewhere.)

But part of the reason that I bring all of this up is point out something about primary sources (e.g., letters, diaries, oral history interviews). Primary sources constitute first-hand information. Is that better than second-hand information? (Remember the telephone game in kindergarten?) Sure, it probably is. But is it always 100% accurate? Not necessarily. You have to remember to watch out for fallacies in the information from, well, just being human. There can be errors of memory (reconstructing things over time), perception (“I thought I saw…”), or estimation (fish tales, anyone? and some people, like me, are just genuinely bad at estimating sizes).

You could be reading a primary source and the author gives a reason that he or she thinks something might be true; their perception of “why” something happened or why someone else did something. But how do you know they are correct? There are a lot of factors that go into the degree to which you can trust their assessment but the bottom line is: you don’t, really.

When I wrote Part 2, I focused on whether or not Horton Howard would disapprove of Samuel Forrer marrying his daughter Sarah simply on the basis of Samuel’s not being a Quaker. Why did I do that? Well, it does seem to be the most obvious reason for Horton’s disapproval. But I didn’t know much of anything about Quakers before I got into this, so how did I even know that might be an issue?

Oh yeah, because Samuel said so:

I am aware sir that the rules of the Society of Friends imperiously requires parents to guard against the intrusions of strangers; and that, consequently I must not expect that you will give consent to our union…

But what I do not have, as I have said all along, is the letter that Horton wrote back, stating not only his answer but (hopefully) his reasoning. And that would be the most trustworthy source for Horton’s reason: a letter written by him, stating, “I disapprove, and here’s why.” Do I imagine that the objection was probably for the exact reason that Samuel expected? Sure, it probably was. But could it have been for a different reason—like the age difference. Which, come to think of it, did Horton even know Samuel’s exact age? They seem to have had at least a few mutual friends—which I will get to in Part 4—so I suppose it is logical to assume that someone could have given him at least an approximation of the man’s age if he had asked for it.

Back to the idea of factors weighing into whether or not you trust the writer’s assessment. Let’s not forget Samuel’s beloved Sarah. We might assume that Samuel knew Sarah well, and one would think that Sarah probably knew her father well. Perhaps Samuel assumed that Horton would disapprove on religious grounds because Sarah has told him so.

Can’t you just imagine them? Samuel’s just floated the idea of marriage, and at first Sarah’s all giddy, but then she gets somber and informs him, “My father will never consent to it, since you’re not a Quaker, but we have to at least ask him.” Now I have this image of her perched over his shoulder as he scribbled down that draft. Perhaps her suggestions even resulted in some of the strikethroughs? See, now I’m drifting into the realm of total, unfounded, imaginative speculation.

I get lost in it, I really do. I can imagine how long it has taken you readers to sift through the details of these last several posts. And hopefully they do not come off as completely scatter-brained. But even as long as they may take to read, I’ve spent quite a lot more time reading and researching and stewing on the matter myself, and then I had to try to unwind the web of thoughts into some kind of halfway-intelligent narrative.

As promise, the next will be Part 4, the final installment, in which we explore the men named in Samuel’s second letter, the letter that says, “Oh, by the way, we got married last week even after disapproved of it, but all these people think it was a good idea” with a silent “so you should, too.”

The material discussed here is from the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018), which can be found at the Dayton Metro Library, Main Library, Local History Room, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, OH 45402. For more information on the collection, contact the library, or feel free to leave a comment on this blog.

A little Quaker love story, Part 3

When you’re working with history, you sometimes find yourself in a situation where you don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle, many times far fewer than you’d like, and so you use your brain and you do some guesswork and speculation to hopefully help you connect the dots, get from A to B, explain whatever it is you’re trying to explain. But always keep your eyes open for hard evidence that will eventually tell you that you’re barking up the wrong tree.

During this investigation, lacking for any other documentary evidence (as yet), I wandered down what turned out to be a false trail myself for a while.

I mentioned in Part 2 that Horton Howard and his family were “disowned” in 1829 for joining the Hicksites. But what did that mean? Well, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, but suffice it to say that the Ohio Quakers found themselves divided in 1828, and when the dust settled, the more conservative members stayed with the “Orthodox” Quakers, and the more liberal members joined the Hicksite faction (named for Elias Hicks, whose ideas they agreed with). [If you are really interested, you can read more about it at the “Ohio YM (Hicksite)” entry on Quakerpedia. Yes, there is a Quakerpedia.]

So I was beginning to piece things together in my head: Hmm, so I know that there are later letters from Horton Howard to Sarah and Samuel addressed to “dear children” and they seem generally pleasant, so if he failed to give his blessing to their marriage, he obviously didn’t “disown” them himself or stay mad forever. And now, here I have this bit of information stating that he sided with the liberals during this religious schism in 1828, so I suppose that probably means he was one of the more, well, liberal Quakers himself. So could it stand to reason that perhaps he just went ahead and gave his “permission” for Samuel and Sarah to get married with a “devil may care” attitude towards what the rest of the congregation might think? But then again, he was one of their leaders, so that probably wouldn’t have looked very good, and maybe he was concerned about keeping up appearances, even if privately he didn’t care who she married?

You can see how my brain might have been starting to implode, with all these “what ifs” swirling around and seemingly no way to confirm any them.

(Here’s where I shake my fist on behalf of historians everywhere and encourage each and every one of you out there to write down more about your lives—and keep it safe, and in print—so that future generations will know the whos, whats, whens, whys, and hows of…well, more of your life than if you write down nothing. Now, back to our regularly scheduled 19th century tale…)

Just as I was about to resign myself to perhaps never knowing whether Horton Howard gave his blessing to Samuel and Sarah to be married, but knowing that whatever he said, they definitely did get married….I found this:

Letter from Samuel Forrer to Horton Howard, Feb. 13, 1826, Page 1 of 2

Letter from Samuel Forrer to Horton Howard, Feb. 13, 1826, Page 1 of 2

Letter from Samuel Forrer to Horton Howard, Feb. 13, 1826, Page 2 of 2

Letter from Samuel Forrer to Horton Howard, Feb. 13, 1826, Page 2 of 2

Why yes, that is a letter from Samuel Forrer to his new father-in-law Horton Howard, dated February 13, 1826, a little less than week after Samuel and Sarah were married on February 8. Apparently, they were married in Cincinnati—even all the biographical sketches I found claimed they were married in Delaware, Ohio, since that’s where her family was…

But here are the words, straight from Samuel’s own mouth…er, pen:

Smith’s Tavern, Feby. 13, 1826

H. Howard Esqr.

Dear sir,

With feelings of gratitude and pleasure on account of my peculiar good fortune I hasten to inform you that your daughter Sarah is now my wife— All that is now wanting to make my situation all that I can wish it is that yourself and family will excuse the step I have induced your daughter to take in opposition to the rules of your society and without the consent of her much loved parents, and that you will permit me to address you by the endearing name of Father in any future correspondence— This would relieve my dear Sarah from all doubts of your feelings, in regard to our union— We were married on Wednesday evening feby. 8 by the Revd. William Burke, at his dwelling house, and passed the evening at our good friends Mr. M. T. Williams, where we had the pleasure of the company of a most agreeable little party of our friends, all of whom seemed to congratulate us with much pleasantness and sincerity of feeling— Joseph Gest, who had not been made acquainted with the situation of affairs until about the time we were to be married at first doubted whether he ought to pay us a visit or not on the evening we had our little party at Mr. Williams— He however did come and I was much rejoiced to find him as cordial in his congratula- [page 2] tions as we could wish—by his and Mr. Gest’s particular request we passed the next evening with a party of friends at his house. On Friday morning Mr. Joseph Evans call’d and gave us a warm invitation to spend an evening at his home but we had determined t leave the city that day and consequently declined his and several other kind invitations to parties— I mention these little circumstances to show that the mutual friends of Sarah and myself, in this city, approve of the course we have taken— Sarah and myself approve of it I am sure— And that her much esteemed parents brothers and sisters will also approve of it (aside from the common objections under similar circumstances) is now the only wish of both of us— I have not yet fixed on a place of residence for any length of time; but it is my intention to locate myself for some time at some point on the Miami canal where I can spend the most time at home with the least possible injury to the public service— At present we are boarding at a genteel country tavern two miles from Cincinnati on the Hamilton road— The house is owned by Oliver Martin a friend of Joseph Ridgeway’s son. Mr. Williams will also probably bring his family here, in which case we shall both make it a summer residence— Sarah and myself will expect a letter from you very soon— Do indulge us and believe me[,] yours with much esteem—

Saml. Forrer

(Our mutual love to the family)

[Written on the side:] Direct your letter to Cincinnati.

So there you have it, folks: “without the consent of her much loved parents.” Mystery solved—that one, anyway. Apparently, dad said no, and they big fat did it anyway. Although it seems to have worked out all right in the end. Like I said, Horton Howard clearly wasn’t so angry that he cut off contact with them or anything. (He sent them several letters afterwards addressed to “dear children” and signed “your affectionate father.”) Heck, maybe he wasn’t really angry at all, but for the “official” record had to deny the request. Very interesting stuff, religion and politics.

But hey, let’s not forget our final point of interest: There’s that name again—M. T. Williams. (Remember, he’s the man whose home Sarah was staying in when Samuel met her?) And for that matter, now that I have this second letter, who are all those other guys? Samuel sure seems to think that the fact that he knows these people and the fact that they approve of his marriage to Sarah ought to win him some brownie points with his new father-in-law. Like, “Look, Dad—er, I mean, ‘Sir’—these guys think I’m good enough for your daughter, so you should too.” So who were they?

I think I may save that for Part 4. And I promise, Part 4 will be the final installment of this particular adventure.

The material discussed here is from the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018), which can be found at the Dayton Metro Library, Main Library, Local History Room, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, OH 45402. For more information on the collection, contact the library, or feel free to leave a comment on this blog.

A little Quaker love story, Part 2

When we left Part 1, Samuel Forrer had written a letter to his beloved Sarah’s father Horton Howard, asking permission to marry her and hoping that, if he objected, it would be “only on the ground that I am not a member of your society.” And by “society,” he meant the Society of Friends, or Quakers. This piqued my interest, so I decided to do a bit of searching into the marrying customs of Quakers.

The most useful resource that I found on the subject was The Quaker Family in Colonial America: A Portrait of the Society of Friends by J. William Frost (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1973). Granted, I wasn’t interested in the colonial period, but the 1820s; however, Frost’s work was the most comprehensive scholarly book I could readily get my hands on—and after all, this was just an intellectual curiosity—and I figured that the colonial period would be close enough for general background on Quakers customs. I did a little investigating into Frost himself, finding that he was a well-credentialed Quaker scholar and historian, and was later a professor at Swarthmore College, a Quaker college in Pennsylvania (which incidentally has his Papers).

Frost’s book was very helpful, in particular Chapter 8 “Choosing a Wife.” I learned the following helpful bits of information from it:

  • “The Quakers, who had no sacraments, agreed to register the event of a marriage ceremony with the government, but they insisted that since God alone could join people in holy wedlock the meeting should participate in all formalities” (p. 150). (The “meeting,” by the way, is the basic organizational unit of Quakers, like a congregation.) Quakers married each other; they were not married “by” someone. This was part of the objection to marrying outside of the Society “since a marriage involving a non-Friend entailed being wed by a cleric” (p. 158).
  • “Parents had the right to consent to the marriage of a son or daughter no matter what their ages… If…the parents allowed or did not actively oppose a marriage out of unity, Friends might discipline them and the newlyweds” (p. 155). A “marriage out of unity” was a marriage someone who was not a Quaker.
  • “The records of monthly meetings in America illustrate the great amount of time devoted to the problem of improper marriage. Throughout the colonial period marriage out of unity was the most frequent offense for which Quakers were disowned” (p. 159). Furthermore, Frost further states that by 1765, about 75% of Quaker marriages were “exogamous” (p. 159). From the sound of it, “marrying out” was rather common, at least in the colonial era. And I’m guessing that trend didn’t suddenly reverse itself as time went on.
  • Anyone who was disowned for an offense, including “marriage out of unity” or “marriage contrary to discipline” (being married by a cleric), “who appeared to be sorry and was willing to confess his sin could in time gain readmission. … The admission of guilt was not…for marrying a particular person but for violating a tenet of the Society” (p. 160).
  • And finally: “While there were no direct challenges to the endogamous pattern of marriage in meetings, both the frequency of marriage out of unity and the occasional comments show that some Quakers questioned this tenet” (p. 160).

A search for members of the Horton Howard family in the Encyclopedia of Quaker Genealogy by W. W. Hinshaw (Ann Arbor: Edwards Brothers, Inc., 1936+) yielded some interesting results and examples of the above. With a little help from this Glossary of Quaker Terms on Ancestry/RootsWeb, I was better able to understand the meanings of the abbreviations used in Hinshaw’s Encyclopedia.

I found the following entry in Hinshaw, Volume 4, page 1166, from the records of the Alum Creek Monthly Meeting:

  • HOWARD. 1827, 5, 3 [May 3, 1827]. Sarah Forrer (form Howard) con mcd.

What did that mean? I already knew that Sarah Howard did marry Samuel Forrer on February 8, 1826. The Glossary of Quaker Terms helped me understand. It meant that Sarah (Howard) Forrer had “condemned” her own misbehavior, that misbehavior being “marriage contrary to discipline.” (They were married by a reverend.) [Incidentally, Sarah’s sister Mary was “disowned” the following year later for the same offense, a record on the same page indicated.] I found it a little strange that there was no mention of a “marriage out of unity” since Samuel Forrer himself stated that he was not a member of the Society of Friends. Perhaps he joined? However, Samuel Forrer is mentioned nowhere in Hinshaw’s compendium. Interesting.

Also interesting and a bit mysterious was the entry just below Mary (Howard) Little’s disownment:

  • HOWARD. 1829, 1, 1 [January 1, 1829]. Horton &w, Hannah, &dt, Ann, dis jH.

In 1829, Horton and the rest of his family were disowned by the Alum Creek Monthly Meeting, for the apparent sin of “jH,” whatever that meant. I did have a hunch what “jH” might mean, based on the time frame and some other things I had read about Quakers, and as it turned out, I was right. Although Hinshaw failed to define the abbreviation “jH” in the front of Volume 4, a later supplement (online here) verified the answer: “joined Hicksites.”

More to come in Part 3.

The material discussed here is from the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018), which can be found at the Dayton Metro Library, Main Library, Local History Room, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, OH 45402. For more information on the collection, contact the library, or feel free to leave a comment on this blog.

A little Quaker love story, Part 1

My high school Latin teacher, an elderly Catholic nun who was usually slightly disgruntled anyway, always used to get exasperated with us for not having enough “intellectual curiosity.” She’d hint at something we ought to look up—but not “assign” us to do so—and then act all surprised the next day when we hadn’t looked it up. What did she really expect from a bunch of 16-year-olds who had friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, sports, extracurriculars, 6 or 7 other classes, and a bunch of other regular “assigned” homework to do (including nightly Latin assignments)?

This isn’t a story about my high school Latin teacher, though. It’s about a civil engineer who fell in love with a young Quaker woman at Cincinnati in the mid-1820s.

However, I think Sr. D would be pleased to know that somewhere along the past 12 years, I have definitely developed a considerable amount of “intellectual curiosity.” Maybe it’s partially because as an archivist I spend such a significant portion of my day surrounded by, for lack of a better simple term, “cool old stuff.”

And sometimes, I come across “cool old stuff” that gets my intellectual curiosity sense going, and I just know that (a) I’ve just got to look into it further, and now that I have a blog (b) I’m going to share that journey with others.

Now is one of those occasions.

A few weeks ago, while processing the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018) – something you may hear me talk about frequently over the next several months, as it is quite large – I came across the following letter (well, draft of a letter, really). The final version of the letter was sent from Samuel Forrer, a civil engineer at Cincinnati who was involved with the construction of Ohio’s canal system, to Horton Howard, a Quaker leader in the Delaware/Columbus area.

Letter from Samuel Forrer to Horton Howard, ca1825-1826

Letter from Samuel Forrer to Horton Howard, ca1825-1826

The letter from Samuel Forrer to Horton Howard, undated but probably written in late 1825 or early 1826, reads as follows:

Dear sir,

Your late visit to Cincinnati and the consequent accidental circumstance of leaving your amiable daughter Sarah Howard, at my friend with the family of my good friend M. T. Williams has given me an opportunity of forming and cultivating an acquaintance I have long since ardently desired. The result of this acquaintance has fully satisfied a conviction on my part that Sarah was a determination on my part to make Sarah a tender of my affections; which I did and am now happy to say that I have received from her an acknowledgement that she reciprocates them— In short we are morally engaged to be married, with the condition on the part of Sarah that you her much loved parents do not forbid it unconditionally— I am aware sir that the rules of the Society of Friends imperiously requires parents to guard against the intrusions of strangers; and that, consequently I must not expect that you will give consent to our union— But may I not hope that your acquaintance with my character will warrant me has given you an impression not unfavorable to my character that you will object only on the ground that I am not a member of your society? Pardon the interrogatory but my happiness here depends so much on my union with Sarah that I am constrained to make it, and for the accompany it with a request that you will have the goodness to consult with Sarah’s kind mother and affectionate brothers and sisters, for all of whom she has [discovers?] the most ardent feelings of affectionate regard, and immediately communicate your advice to my beloved Sarah.

So many things about this letter jumped out at me that I was compelled to look into it further.

The most striking thought I had was, So apparently Quakers do not like their children to marry non-Quakers? And Samuel Forrer states right here that he is a non-Quaker, while I know that Sarah Howard was one… And I’m going to go ahead and spoil things for you right here and tell you that, yes, they do get married. But what did her father say initially? Did he give permission, or did they disobey him? There are several other letters from Horton Howard to the Forrers in the collection, so if he was mad, he obviously wasn’t that mad, because they seem to have remained on good terms. I also wondered about these Quaker marriage rules in general.

Another thing that jumped out at me: Who was this M. T. Williams? This seemed like a reasonably researchable question. After all, how many men by that name could there have been in Cincinnati in 1826? Actually, I would hit the jackpot on answering the M. T. Williams question. I also wondered what Sarah was doing in Cincinnati with the Williams family, when her family lived near Columbus. I never did find an explicit answer to this, per se, but I have developed a speculation. And at first, I thought the mention of M. T. Williams was just a bit of good, honest storytelling. But as I learned more, I think there was another reason for the name-drop…

I think I’ll leave it at this for Part 1. Stay tuned for Part 2.

The Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018) discussed here can be found at the Dayton Metro Library, Main Library, Local History Room, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, OH 45402. For more information on the collection, contact the library, or feel free to leave a comment on this blog.

Quaker dating

They say you learn something new everyday. I’m almost certain that’s true. And my new thing I learned today was a little something about Quaker dating.

No, I’m not talking about how two young Society of Friends lovebirds might spend time together before marriage… I’m talking about a method of formatting written dates from the calendar.

I was working my way through some materials from the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection today (prepare to hear more about that in the future – it’s huge, and I’ve just started it), and I began to notice letters with dates such as “8th Mo. 9th 1833.”

What the…? I wondered. I mean, I could sort of logically figure out that the “8th month” is August, meaning the date was August 9th, 1833. But why would the date be written that way? As I continued, I found a few more letters dated in the same manner. Every instance I found was in correspondence among the family of Horton Howard, who, I had found out when researching the various families in this collection including him, was apparently rather important in the Quaker movement in eastern Ohio. So that made me wonder, Maybe it’s a Quaker dating thing?

Sure enough, thanks to “Quaker Dating before 1752” (don’t let the title fool you – they talk about post-1752 also) from the Swarthmore College’s Friends Historical Library, I found that my hunch was correct. Apparently, it was common practice for Quakers to refer to months by their numbers rather than their names. This practice originated because the Quakers objected to the month names given for pagans and pagan gods (e.g., January for Janus the Roman god of doorways; July for Julius Caesar, etc.). If you are interested in the specifics of the practice and the changes they made in 1752, please check out that Swarthmore College page linked above. Interesting stuff, and I thank them for posting the info, because as an archivist, I was really just trying to give my folder the proper date and wanted to be sure what the proper date actually was!

(Update 8/2015: The original links in this post had gone bad; thanks to Chris Dilworth for alerting me and providing the updated URL for the Quaker Calendar at Swarthmore!)


Sort of as an aside… In addition to the unusual dating method, the contents of the actual letter were quite interesting as well. Its subject matter pertained to the first cholera epidemic in Columbus, Ohio, which occurred from July-October 1833.

The letter was from one Ebenezer Thomas to John Howard (son of Horton Howard) at “College Gambier, Knox County, Ohio, ” (I assume that was an early way of referring to Kenyon College, which was founded in 1824 – how many other colleges could there have possibly been in Knox County, Ohio, in 1833?).

The letter reads as follows:

John Howard
College Gambier, Knox County, Ohio

Columbus, 8th mo 9th 1833

 Eternal Friend,

By request of thy Father I write to inform thee of the Death of thy dear sister Ann of Cholera, also the two eldest children of Harvey D Little [husband of John’s sister Mary] same complaint[.] Thy Father, Harvey and his wife and the other child have all been very ill, but are now much better. Thy mother in usual health.

May our Heavenly Father who giveth and taketh away endow thee with Fortitude for this great trial,

Ebenezer Thomas

Unfortunately, Mr. Thomas spoke too soon, because half the people he listed as “much better” would be dead before the epidemic was over: Horton Howard, his wife Hannah, and their son-in-law Harvey Little all died of cholera. So did Ebenezer Thomas himself, in fact. (See History of Franklin County, Ohio, 1858, p. 306.)

So I guess I learned something about Quaker dates, the 1833 cholera epidemic (which swept Dayton, Ohio, as well, just FYI), and of course, the members of the Howard family. (In case you are wondering how the Howards fit into a collection called Forrer-Peirce-Wood: Horton Howard’s daughter Sarah was the wife of Samuel Forrer.)

The material discussed here can be found in the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018), which is currently being processed (by yours truly) and will soon be ready for research at the Dayton Metro Library, Main Library, Local History Room, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, OH 45402. For more information on the collection, contact the library, or feel free to leave a comment on this blog.