Monday, July 27, 2015
Blinded By Mindsets
I've lately caught myself making research assumptions based on details of experiences I'm accustomed to having now. There is apparently a part of my brain that automatically fills in the blanks on the cultural and historical aspects of my ancestors' lives that I don't know—handily inserting details that might be commonplace now, but not necessarily then.
Take this current mission to find documentation on the marriage of War of 1812 veteran John Jay Jackson and his intended, Ohio resident Sarah Howard Ijams. In my mind, I assume that they naturally exchanged their wedding vows after he completed his tour of duty. That weddings always take place in the location indicated by the bride and her family. That wives would never be out at the battle front—or even near it, sequestered within the confines of the fort—during times of war.
Since I wasn't making headway, relying on my presumptions, it was time to revise the protocol. Well, actually, this didn't occur in quite so rational a fashion. What I did do was attempt a detour around my brick wall detail by zeroing in on those several captains mentioned in John Jackson's pension papers. My thinking was: if I could learn a bit about the facts surrounding each captain's own tour of duty, then perhaps I could cobble together an idea of what assignments John Jackson might have taken part in, too. An added bonus might be a more precise timeline of service and an itinerary of where his almost-five-year tour of duty led him.
My thinking might have been stellar, but it encountered hindrances.
For one thing, not every captain's name came up in searches, no matter how clever I tried to be with search terms. Still, I found enough to make the effort worthwhile.
Another problem was that what was written about the captain might have been far removed from the segment which intersected with Jackson's own service. The price I paid for that, however, more than made up for that research handicap.
What I began to glean from my research wanderings was a fuller sense of what the times were like. More importantly, it revealed what was customary, in the realm of military service—and, actually, life in general—during the times in which this ancestor once served, out on the then-frontier fringes of western America.
But the end result was that this foray into books and reports of that time period opened my eyes to customs and options much different than those I handed myself by my limiting assumptions. The realm of possibilities for how Sarah came to meet John—and even further back than that, how Sarah's widowed mother came to meet her own second husband before their marriage at that Missouri Territory fort at Bellefontaine—has broadened considerably.
Above: "Fur Traders Descending the Missouri," 1845 oil on canvas by Saint Louis portrait artist, George Caleb Bingham; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.