Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Weighty Mission, Scant Remuneration


At the close of Joseph Henry Harrison Ijams' life on the eve of Christmas 1882, his send-off was overflowing with flowery accolades, but when the books were closed, his coffers were empty.

When I now consider the life stories of those burdened with a larger-than-life mission, I no longer am surprised at such a turn of events. It seems there are those who have so completely devoted their life to the advancement of others but who, when it is all said and done, have little to show for it.

Apparently, that was the case upon the passing of Joseph Ijams. Principal of the state of Tennessee's school for deaf school children since the close of the Civil War—not to mention, father of his own young family—Joseph left behind enough debts to cancel out any balance to his credit, leaving the administrator of the estate to declare that estate insolvent.

Could it have been possible that such a document referred to a different man in Knox County named J. H. Ijams? I tried looking through the Knoxville city directories, but all I could find under that surname was the unmistakable entry for Joseph himself.

Lest we presume that Joseph's sudden demise led to his removal from the community's collective memory as well, we have to realize that not all stories can be told within the framework of one generation. We are, after all, genealogists: we have learned to look for the rest of the story.

Just as Joseph's uncle Isaac had left a legacy for his nephews which likely led to their being equipped to answer the call to their particular missions in education—to their work with schools for the deaf in Iowa and Tennessee—Joseph's story reverberates in a legacy to future generations, as well. To find our way to the end of that story, though, we'll need to take a detour through yet another generation, as we examine the life story of the young children he left behind, at the sudden loss of his life at the end of 1882.


Above images of the Knox County Records of Insolvent Estates and the 1882 Knoxville City Directory courtesy of 

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