Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A chance to give back

A great deal has happened since last we spoke!  I am pleased to report that I am able to check one thing off of my creative/scholarly "To Do" list.  We gave our presentation at the Museum of disABILITY History last Friday.  The idea of studying early urban poverty through the lens of disability is of great interest to me and I always enjoy comparing ideas with my new friends at the Museum.  There was a great crowd of interested and knowledgeable folks and they made the evening very enjoyable with their insights and thoughtful questions.  Many Buffalonians are very interested in our city's great history and some of them have been helpful in both my scholarly and creative pursuits.  I met one of the most brilliant and talented scholars of early Buffalo a few years ago.  She was interested in my work and contacted me about it.  We became fast friends and she has made significant contributions to just about every project I have worked on since then.

I finally got a chance over the weekend to visit the Research Library at the Buffalo History Museum.  I have been wanting to get back there ever since I found out that they now have the Proceedings of the Erie County Board of Supervisors for the period that the Erie County Poorhouse was at its original location in Black Rock.  There is not much known about the early history of the poorhouse.  Until now, we have only had the inmate records to study.  These Board of Supervisors Reports contain resolutions that were passed regarding the management of the poorhouse, budget issues and references to the reports filed by the Keeper of the Poor.  The only problem is that they are next to impossible to read!

Report of the Proceedings of the Erie County Board of Supervisors, 1830, from the Buffalo History Museum

The original documents are hand written, as opposed to the typed version in later years, and they only exist on microfilm, reverse negative microfilm, no less!  It is hard enough reading nineteenth century hand writing, let alone nineteenth century handwriting on reverse negative microfilm!  I was only able to get through the first three years before my head was spinning.  Needless to say, I need a new plan!  I learned that the level of detailed record keeping that we have been so impressed with during the later period of the poorhouse's history evidently evolved over time.  The resolutions passed in these early proceedings often refer to the need for more detailed reports and improvements in tracking items that were purchased for or produced at the asylum.  As yet, no actual report from the Keeper of the Poor, so I will be interested to note when they started to include the full Keeper's Report in the County Proceedings.  This will be a slow process and I will, of course keep you informed as I go!

Now on to a more personal topic.  In 2004 we lost our 11 year old son after a nearly year long battle with a rare form of pediatric cancer.  There are no words to describe that experience.  Over the ten years since he died, we have been stunned to realize that pediatric cancer gets very little public attention and even less money.  For years my husband and I have been searching for a way to make a meaningful contribution. September marks Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month.  Starting on September 1 and going through December 31, 2014 we will donate 100% of our profits from the sale of Orphans and Inmates to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.  We have chosen St. Jude's because not only do they do pediatric cancer research, they also help the families who are in a battle for their children's lives.  It is our hope to raise some awareness and some money for a very important cause.

Orphans and Inmates is available on line at:
Locally the book is available at:
Floral Explorations
1448 Hertel Ave, Buffalo, NY 14216
(716) 838-4916

The Antique Lamp Company and Gift Emporium
1213 Hertel Ave, Buffalo, NY 14216

Dog Ears Bookstore and Café
688 Abbott Rd, Buffalo, NY 14220
(716) 823-2665

Talking Leaves
3158 Main St
Buffalo, NY
(716) 837-8554

Talking Leaves
951 Elmwood Ave
Buffalo, NY
(716) 884-9524
Old Editions Book Shop and Café
74 E Huron St, Buffalo, NY 14203
(716) 842-1734

The Buffalo History Museum
1 Museum Ct, Buffalo, NY 14216
(716) 873-9644

The Museum of disABILITY  History
3826 Main St
Buffalo, NY
(716) 629-3626

Friday, August 15, 2014

Bullies big and small (and one mystery solved!)

Oh, this is going to be one of those days!  It is always hard when all of the bully breeds show up on the same day!  What is a bully breed you ask?  Well, that depends on who you ask!  Most people consider the pitties (pitbulls), staffies (American Staffordshire terriers) and eggies (bull terriers) to be included among the bully breeds.  These dogs are typically stubborn, play rough and are very strong.  I would add most terriers and any breed that begins with the words “toy” or “miniature” to the list!  It becomes one of those days when we have representatives from all categories of bully in the house. 

Currently the biggest trouble maker weighs less than ten pounds.  Finding a place for everyone to play without bloodshed  is tricky on a day like today (now remember, they can’t use their words because they don’t have any, so it’s pretty much teeth in a conflict).  The answer to the inevitable question, “Why do you allow such dogs in doggy daycare?” is that the dogs that are the most difficult are usually the ones that need socialization the most.  Besides with careful management by skilled staff members, every dog can have an enjoyable day at  “school”.

 The little bullies are the hardest to accommodate.  They can’t play with the small dogs because we don’t want the other munchkins to get hurt.  It is also not safe for them to play with the big dogs because they lack the common sense not to bully a dog larger than they are!  We have additional space for just these occasions, but today, with an equal mix of big and little bullies, we are running out of places to put them.  We will spend our day juggling certain dogs between crates, long walks and solo time outside in the hopes that every dog will go home with all the skin and hair they came in with!  

On the research front, the mystery of the workhouse identified on the 1848 map of Buffalo has been solved. One of the biggest resources I have discovered while working on this project is a facebook page called Buffalo and Western New York's Proud History.  This page has over 3,000 very knowledgeable and helpful members who are more than happy to answer questions or direct others to resources that are helpful to their projects or queries.  One of the members posted the picture below, taken from the Courier Express in 1929.  Note the title of the article.

On the 1848 map, the workhouse is located on Pennsylvania, but the side street in not labeled.  A quick check of Google maps (thanks to the suggestion of another BWNYPH member) revealed that the side street was indeed Trenton!  This revelation still does not explain why the Erie County Poorhouse was not represented on the 1848 map of Buffalo, so there is still a bit of the mystery yet to explore (assuming I have not been eaten by dogs!).  

Monday, August 11, 2014

Fun with maps!

With three dachshunds in residence this weekend, I was happy to be able to get a break from the noise and spend some time in the Grosvenor Room at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library  This room houses all of the rare books, documents, and maps that the library has to offer.  I went there on Saturday in search of maps.  Although some are accessible on line, I was hoping to see first hand their selection of early nineteenth century maps of Buffalo.  I was not disappointed.

Buffalo and Erie County Public Library

My second book in the Orphans and Inmates series takes place between 1840 and 1841.  I have used the City of Buffalo Directory for 1840 to establish authentic locations for various residences and businesses as the story unfolds around the city.  I wanted to understand how long it would take for my characters to get from one place to another.  For example, the poorhouse was located in Black Rock where York, Eleventh and North Streets come together, a few miles away from Buffalo.  While the original Buffalo Orphan Asylum was actually located on Niagara St., I have changed its location in my novel to the same property as the poorhouse because it is necessary to the story.  My main character lives on North Street, and her husband, the orphan asylum's physician, has a medical clinic on Niagara Street.  There is also a benevolent widow who lives on Pearl Street, a boarding house on Beak Street and a school on Franklin St. As it turns out, most of my locations are about a thirty to fifty minute walk from each other, although during the winter months the characters travel by carriage, which speeds things up a bit.

Interestingly, I found a rabbit hole to go down while I was looking at the maps.  On the 1836 map of Buffalo, the poorhouse was marked by the letter Q in the location I just described.  In this picture the letter Q is somewhat obscured by my red dot (still trying to get used to all this great technology!).  However the poorhouse was not indicated at all on the 1848 map, but there was a notation of a workhouse about a mile and a half away.  It was marked by the number 10 on Fifth Street, between Pennsylvania and Husdon Streets (now entirely obscured by my yellow dot!).  So, my next stop after the Grosvenor Room was the Research Library at the Buffalo History Museum (, where I spent some time trying to find out if the workhouse and the poorhouse were the same institution. 

City of Buffalo, 1836

City of Buffalo, 1848
As I have mentioned before, the Directories for the period contain a wealth of information, like the city charter (in the earliest editions), a list of the city officials, and in some cases, a brief history of some of the city institutions, like the Buffalo Orphan Asylum. After going through several City of Buffalo Directories, I learned that in 1840 there was a Superintendent of the Poor and a Superintendent of the Workhouse (and a coroner, which was unrelated to my current quest, but a valuable piece of information none the less), suggesting that the workhouse and the poorhouse were two separate institutions.  However, that didn't tell me why the poorhouse was not located on the 1848 map or why the workhouse was not located on the 1836 map.  I discovered that the Research Library at the Buffalo History Museum had a recent donation that will be of great use to me in my research.  They are now in possession of the Proceedings of the Board of Supervisors of Erie County for the years that the poorhouse was located in Black Rock (1829-1850).  This is a wonderful addition to an already fine collection, because they include the annual reports of the Keeper of the Poorhouse and other municipal institutions.  No other research facility in Buffalo that I am aware of has municipal reports for the poorhouse going back that far.  So, plans for next weekend include a trip back to the Research Library to spend several hours going through the microfilmed records to learn more about the workhouse and how it figured into the early social welfare system in Buffalo and a discussion with a local historian so that I can add more colored dots to my maps!.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Commitments and deadlines and responsibilities, oh my!

It's August and I am trying not to freak out as I look over the many calendars that keep my life on track. With a target release date of mid November for the second book in the Orphans and Inmates series (as yet untitled) and a 60 hour a week day job, it's time to suck it up and get to work.  A plan is necessary, hence my examination of the calendars.

The first calendar documents of all of the commitments relating to the Erie County Poorhouse Cemetery Project.  We are giving a talk for the Museum of disABILITY  History on August 22.  I am very excited about this because I love this museum's commitment to understanding and preserving the story of the individuals who lived part or all of their lives in various institutions, like the Erie County Poorhouse,during the nineteenth century.

Next on the list is the Western New York Genealogical Society's 40th Anniversary Luncheon on September 20th.  The genealogical community is very excited about the Erie County Poorhouse records.  We have had several requests to search the ledgers by individuals looking to track down family members who were either inmates at the poorhouse or patients in the insane asylum or hospital.  We look forward to introducing these resources to the genealogical community.

The second calendar holds the deadlines associated with the ECPH Cemetery Project.  While the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropology ( is in April, abstracts for research presentations are due September 15th (which also happens to be my birthday!).  I am still analyzing data from the ECPH Hospital Records.  We are specifically interested in the frequency, treatments and survival rates of patients who were admitted with infectious diseases.  Time to move this project off the back burner!

We have also committed to writing a chapter in and an edited volume entitled The Bioarchaeology of Dissection and Autopsy in the United States.  Our chapter, which uses a combination of historic records and skeletal data to document how the unclaimed inmates who died at the Erie County Poorhouse were transferred to the area medical schools for dissection,  is due by the end of November. Whew, a bit of breathing room there!

In the old days I would just work into the wee hours and get it done.  Not bloody likely these days as it's fifteen years later and I am fifteen years older!  I also have a day job that takes up a considerable amount of my time and mental energy!  That leads me to the third calendar, the boarding calendar.  In addition to running two doggy daycares, my husband and I also board many of our canine clients.  It started out as a courtesy service, but has grown into an important part of our business.  During the summer months the boarding calendar is full.  Even with the staff to help out, I am still responsible for the morning kennel chores. I can tell you that the enthusiastic greeting of several pooches all wanting out of their kennels at the crack of dawn is not well received after an all nighter of writing or research!

So, what's a girl to do?  Delegate!  As it happens, I have a teenage son who is on summer break!  Many of the time consuming domestic chores (cleaning, cooking, laundry, etc.) will be passed on to him.  I know, I know, I will have to sacrifice my standards a bit. At least I won't have to look around the kitchen to find things, as he crams everything into one drawer, maintaining that if the drawer can close, the dishes are all put away properly!  Anyway, it will be a good life lesson for him and I will have a few extra hours each week.  I imagine the news of his new domestic assignments will not go over well, that's okay, I have a secret weapon called Catholic guilt and if that doesn't work there's always the Xbox privileges to be renegotiated!  Stay tuned...