THE MONSTER IN THE CLOSET
A Bumpy Ride Down the Genealogy Trail
by Judith Harris
Publisher: American History Press, Franklin, USA, 2012
When Rome-based journalist and author Judith Harris set out on her roller coaster ride deep into the past, she had barely a handful of names, and nothing more. She ended up discovering pirates and Puritans, steamy sex exposed in a l7th century court in New England and even a close family connection to Abraham Lincoln. Arriving from England in the early 1600s, the Harrises were among the earliest settlers in New England.
In the early l9th century a descendant became a successful Manhattan manufacturer before setting out for the prairies of Illinois. Thanks to land grant purchases he was a founder of Tremont, a town near Peoria. This prairie pioneer's young grandson built his own airplane and became a barnstormer at county fairs. A pioneer in American aviation, he was a pluri-decorated major who fought the world's first air war in World War One France. In civil life he was a prestigious architect in the steel-rich Cleveland of the Van Sweringen brothers, and helped to build one of America's most handsome suburbs, Shaker Heights.
Very little of this fascinating detail was known to anyone in the author's family. But the Age of the Internet has made the search for family roots possible as never before. Volunteers everywhere are scanning distant church records and the minutes of town meetings held centuries ago. Magazines of genealogy churn out advice. Websites introduce complete strangers across continents who may turn out to be distant cousins. Professionals are there to keep the amateur on track.
Today's post-pedigree genealogy, which is among the world's top hobbies and the second most popular among all Internet searches, goes beyond the personal. While providing an exciting and personalized gateway into history, the electronic portal has sweep that extends beyond the personal into the shared past.
Journalist and author Judith Harris was born in Bay Village, Ohio, and is a graduate of Northwestern University. During a long career as a free-lance reporter in Rome, Italy, she worked on investigations into the Mafia and terrorism for NBC News, BBC TV and Time magazine, and traveled into Pakistan and Afghanistan in a probe of the international heroin traffic. Here her investigation is into a family mystery that carried her back four centuries and from the West Coast of England to Boston, New York, Peoria and Shaker Heights, Ohio.
Introduction: Icarus in Shaker Heights
The crash when (metaphorical) wings of wax melt
At the funeral, vapor trails in the sky
The face of the mad monster resurfaces
Chicago museum suspects Nazi loot
Timid entry into the labyrinth of the past
How I became the archaeologist of my own life
Get your very own crested coffee cup
Betty finds the family's missing silver teapot
But can a family history also be fun?
The 1800s: twice prisoner of war, twice swapped
From boy apprentice to riches in Manhattan
Nothing mad about John the New York hatter
Canny land speculators convene in Manhattan's finest mansion
When "Westward ho!" meant wolves and wilds
From Wall Street to New Orleans sailing on the "packet"
Through the tall-grass Illinois prairie on horseback
"A distant wolf stood in relief against the snow"
Mother Slough opens Peoria's first hotel
"All nations and kindred and people and tongues"
The "Winter of the Sudden Freeze"
Laying out a brand new town in the 1830s
An Eastern lady's diary of life in a prairie village
The hatter donates a courthouse
Oprah Winfrey and mitochondrial DNA
1600s, when Catholic soap burned Puritan hands
John Winthrop invests in ships for the New World
A Puritan family flees from the Cotswalds
Massachusetts and the "Mynes of Gould and Silver"
A thousand set sail in England's "Great Migration"
"Supplies bought in England had been left behind"
All the goats in the hold are dead
Let's call it "Charlestown|, on the Charles River
Sailors fined for getting drunk at Mr. Maverick's tavern
"Harris hath undertaken to set up a ferry"
Hurricane strikes just as the ferryboat lands
For Native Americans, red cloth, wine, hoes and catechism
Nearly killed in battle for his king, Edward Lake is knighted
Margaret Lake sails away from husband and stately home
A stylish marriage for Tom, the fisherman's son
Puritan Tom is promoted to religious sheriff
"Drag the Quaker female preachers through the streets"
Colonists swarm into the Connecticut River valley
Dutch forts are attacked and conquered
Gifts to Native Americans: smallpox and yellow fever
"Payment for the land: 12 coats, 12 hoes, 12 knives, 4 kettles"
"Sacrifices offered, and it is supposed sometimes human"
Daughter Martha inherits a gold ring and a mantle
A diplomat on an island plantation in the river
For each unwed daughter, one cow
The first society in history when grandparents were common
1701, the brutal tail end of Salem witchcraft trials
Death sentences for blasphemy, gay sex, stubborn children
Connecticut Catholics conduct "filthy ceremonies"
Robert Harris convicted of fornication
Robert the Fornicator becomes Bob the Bigamist
New riches from Bob's tidal saw, fulling and grist mills
Fight for America, get paid in acres
Carrying on the milling trade with 14 children
Full circle: middle child John, the Manhattan hatter
7. Lincoln by candlelight
Riding the Amtrack in search of John the Hatter
A stroll down Harris Road in Tremont, Illinois
Meet Robert Mazrim, the archaeologist of the prairieland
Lincoln's two decades on the road for the Eighth Circuit
"I had studied law, and removed to Springfield to practice it"
Cases Lincoln tried for John the Hatter in Tremont
Honest Abe fights on behalf of Harris hogs
Lincoln battles judge in a pillow fight
A challenge to a duel in Tremont
The big case: Illinois Supreme Court, Abe and John the Hatter
8. A wonderful life
A sorrowing letter to a soldier in the Civil War
"Stick faithfully to your bargain, as I do mine"
Gentleman farmer tends his fields and the post office
Where grass still grows in the streets
One hotel, three saloons, a dozen churches
Widow Bradley invents a university in Peoria
In Chicago, architects build the world's first skyscraper
Prairie houses with medieval accessories
With Barney Oldfield at the Indianapolis Speedway
Build your own airplane and barnstorm in 1910
Ancient glaciers dig a port for Cleveland
A compass spinning in 1844 begets a boomtown
Big steel sings the grace notes
"This will be an air war"
Inventing U.S. military aviation for World War I
In France, beauty and the beast of war
The Flats in the quintessential factory town
From gaslight to Rockefeller's Standard Oil
How to get filthy rich from dirty mortgages
10. In the Valley of God's Pleasure
Mother Ann Lee founds the "Shaking Quakers"
Shaker convert donates vast East Cleveland settlement
No sex, no children - the Shakers die out
Cleveland wheeler-dealers snap up 1,400 acres
The selling of Shaker Heights, "home of the happy family"
Architect-inventor Allie Harris back from the war
County fair amusement becomes commercial aviation
Moreland Courts, "A narrative of English architecture"
Mail fraud and jury fixing send mortgage mogul to prison
Cleveland as bellweather of the American economy
11. Afterthoughts: Armchair genealogy
Just who do you think you are?
Celebrity ancestry hunts
Fishing for family history on the Internet
"Discover the skeletons and scandals in ancestors' closets"
Let your family story retell American history
The future in a shared past