The Genealogist Knows That When the Frost Is On The Punpkin’, It’s Time For Genealogy…

Writer James Whitcomb Riley’s poems have delighted our genealogist Joan Shurtliff for her entire life. As for many a genealogy researcher, our RecordClick genealogist has made new discoveries about her own family through researching the family of her favorite poet.

This RecordClick genealogist knows that Autumn is in the air.

Mornings are getting brisk. Animals are transitioning into winter mode. Days are shorter.

For this professional genealogist, the gentle poetry of James Whitcomb Riley expresses the season perfectly:

When the frost is on the punkin’ and the fodder’s in the shock, 

And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock…

Many long years ago, when I was still in school and before I got interested in genealogy research, my grandmother gave me a set of James Whitcomb Riley poems and When the Frost is on the Punkin’ is one of my favorites.

So, dear genealogy researcher, who was the writer of my favorite poem? Who was this James Whitcomb Riley?

This genealogist can and will now answer that. He was a native and favorite son of Indiana and a good deal is known about him. Riley’s parents were Reuben Riley and Elizabeth Marine. Dad Reuben was a well-known local attorney in Greenfield, Hancock County, Indiana who dabbled a bit in politics. Elizabeth enjoyed literature and James inherited his mother’s love of language. Young James, born in October 1849, did not get along well with his father and sooner rather than later struck out on his own.

It is easy for a genealogist to be satisfied with finding the typical information such as vital statistics and church membership. But by pursuing other areas of interest, the genealogy researcher can learn a lot more about a family’s dynamics.

Our RecordClick Genealogist has found new family info in a favorite book of poems.

Our RecordClick Genealogist has found new family info in a favorite book of poems.

The genealogist often can choose to look at an aspect of a person that highlight the person’s life interests. When the genealogy researcher is creative in this way, lots more information becomes available to you.

Currently, we are in the campaign season, here, so this genealogist thought it might be enlightening to discover more about that aspect of the poet’s life. Let’s take a look at the politics of James Whitcomb Riley’s father, Reuben.

Reuben Alexander Riley (1819-1893) held several political offices from Mayor to State Legislator. In 1884, he was a candidate on the Greenback ticket (Elkhart Daily Review; Monday, Dec. 8, 1884, p. 2).

A genealogist can see from the historic research that the active political parties and movements in that election were the Republicans, Democrats, Greenbacks and Prohibitionists. Political party membership is another avenue for genealogical research.

This genealogy researcher has found that the Greenback Party grew out of the financing of the Civil War. Before that time, currency was backed by gold or silver. During the Civil War, financing the war took an amount of cash that was greater than the amount of precious metals available to back it up. So, the genealogist will find that as in most issues, there are two sides to this situation. Some politicians wanted to stay with the system of using only dollars backed by gold and silver but felt it would reduce the amount of money in circulation. This would affect those with debt. Other politicians wanted to begin printing money without gold and silver to back it up. But many felt that doing this could lead to inflation.

What have we found with our Riley family politics? Our poet’s father, Reuben, was for taking a chance and doing away with the gold standard. This type of thinking was considered more progressive in that time.  When the genealogist sees this type of thinking, it likely is an indicator of how the family was thinking.

In the late 1880s, Prohibition was also playing a role in politics. The genealogy researcher will see that this anti-drinking crusade began in the 1860s and continued until 1919 when the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified.

The genealogist will find many political ideas, movements and parties. Over the years, some were taken on by mainstream parties, while others faded away. The genealogist will see that politics were, and are, the focus of many news reports in local, regional and national newspapers, magazines and other periodicals. When the genealogist understands the politics of a family, the family historian might find evidence of how and why the family members made certain decisions in their lives.

As for our poet, James Whitcomb Riley, he had an interest in politics, too. This genealogist has found that he did some campaigning for Presidential candidate Benjamin Harrison. Ultimately, political activity wasn’t his strong suit and he found more satisfaction in writing poetry. (This genealogist is happy for that!)

Genealogy is serendipity. Most any family history researcher will tell you that.

The set of James Whitcomb Riley’s books of poems that has followed this genealogist from place to place still has a special place on my bookshelf. When I recently opened the first volume of his poems, I recognized my grandmother’s handwriting immediately. She had signed the book with her maiden name and the address of the Army camp where she served as a nurse for a year during World War I. I now know where and when she got the books! What a pleasant surprise and treat for a genealogist!

And there was even more. On the inside of one volume, neatly tucked in between the cover and the flyleaf, there was a program for the Eighteenth Annual Convention of the Nebraska Federation of Post Office Clerks held in Superior, Nebraska in 1935.

My grandfather was a postal clerk for many years. According to the program, there was a picture taken. For any genealogist, in particular, this one, that would be fun to find.

Genealogy research is challenging. There are always many different resources worth investigating. The genealogist may find it difficult to decide what information to look for and where to find it.

A RecordClick genealogist can always help. Our genealogists for hire are knowledgeable about the resources available and we always locate amazing information for your family history.