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"Three months later, the seven youngest children were sent to an orphanage. The family was never reunited."
October 16, 2011 6:45 PM   Subscribe


 
What an interesting story. Be sure to enlarge the photos so you can see the details on their little faces. They are really striking photos. Which is like a lot of the photos on Shorpy, I've often wanted to do something like this. Find out who these people were, listen to their stories.

I like how all the kids have dirty, straggly hair except Mell the 14 year old, who has a neat, combed bun. Her younger sisters' hair gets progressively more unkempt as you go down (it just makes you think what part of that is due to being poor, and what part is due to kids being kids). The little things people feel the need to do no matter what else is going on.
posted by bleep at 7:07 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


very cool.
posted by sweetkid at 7:14 PM on October 16, 2011


Love stuff like this, particularly trying to reconstruct the genealogical narrative from the mess of hearsay. Great link.
posted by zvs at 7:17 PM on October 16, 2011


Amazing.
posted by padraigin at 7:31 PM on October 16, 2011


Also, it goes on for several pages. Be sure to read all of it.
At that time, the Georgia child labor law prohibited children under the age of 12 from working in mills and factories, unless the mother was a widow or disabled. If she was, then no child under the age of 10 could work. Hine documented six of the children working at the mill: Mell, Mattie, Mary, Alex, Eddie Lou and Elzy. On that date, Alex, Eddie Lou and Elzy would have been working illegally.

Exactly three months later, on April 22, 1909, Catherine brought her seven youngest children to the South Georgia Methodist Orphan Home in the Vineville section of Macon. Mell and Mattie stayed with her. No children over the age of 12 were allowed in the orphanage. It must have been a devastating event. Catherine apparently returned to her home in Tifton, hoping to get by on her wages and those of Mell and Mattie.
It says it's plausible that one thing led to another - Hines' report could have motivated local authorities to take action to preserve their credibility, dealing a crippling blow to the family's tenuous existence. How funny: laws meant to protect children cause families to be ripped apart, the photos that did the damage led to them being put back together 100 years later.
posted by bleep at 7:36 PM on October 16, 2011


You have to click through like three thousand pages to get the whole story of this family, but it is very worth it. And Jimmy Carter even comes into it!
posted by leesh at 8:22 PM on October 16, 2011


Jimmy Carter even comes into it!

And Joe Kennedy.
posted by Diablevert at 8:22 PM on October 16, 2011


That was a great read, but so sad. Thanks for posting it.
posted by gemmy at 8:25 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fascinating.
posted by buzzman at 8:39 PM on October 16, 2011


I loved this family's story. I spent almost two hours reading and looking at all of the pictures. Super post.
posted by tamitang at 8:53 PM on October 16, 2011


This is an excellent piece of genealogical work.

I looked, but may have missed it. Was there a final estimation of how many people today are descended from Catherine and A.J.?
posted by michaelh at 9:06 PM on October 16, 2011


"I looked, but may have missed it. Was there a final estimation of how many people today are descended from Catherine and A.J.?"


In her obit, it says 46 grandchildren, but I didn't see a final number to date.

Great article, fascinating work.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 9:23 PM on October 16, 2011


Just defriended a born-again Christian right-winger on FB, after she posted a picture captioned, "If you want money from the rich, get it the old-fashioned way: work for it." Posted while almost 1 in 6 Americans can't find work, and 1 in 5 of the US are underemployed. After I spent 18 months unemployed.

This picture resonates for me, although I am one of the lucky employed ones.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:29 PM on October 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


An absolutely remarkable piece of genealogical research from start to finish. I feel like I have a dozen things to say about it, but its going to take me a while to process it into anything coherent. Surprisingly gripping reading.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:28 AM on October 17, 2011


Then came the Spanish Inquisition.
posted by insulglass at 4:11 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow. Just wow.

Then a woman had to turn her kids over to an orphanage just so they could eat. Now some women keep having kids so they can get more money from the government.

Why can't we find a happy medium?
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:25 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now some women keep having kids so they can get more money from the government.

Cite? (And some Republican "Welfare Queens" speech doesn't count.)

Even the most down-trodden and irresponsible poor people I've known (and I've known a few that really were at the bottom and not necessarily all that noble about how they faced their lot in life) would never have actually done this. Get pregnant in hopes of forcing a marriage, sure. Get pregnant for a welfare check--when it often costs in excess of $20,000 in new debt just to give birth to that hypothetical cash-cow child--no. For one thing, it's too costly up-front to have a child, and for another, our welfare isn't that generous. It isn't worth it.

This idea is a pure political fiction that doesn't stand up to more than two seconds of critical thought.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:49 AM on October 17, 2011 [18 favorites]


No no no no. The past wasn't like that. Haven't you listened to all the old folks talking about how life was so much better, so much simpler in the past? How kids could go play all day without supervision, and how Mom and Dad and apple pie and church and traditional family values and all that make everything OK?
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:51 AM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Another thing: You think the kind of craven, selfish system-manipulator you're describing is capable of planning and committing to a scam that takes at least 9 months to carry off for such a paltry reward, you haven't actually known any poor people and you have no familiarity with how social programs are administered in the US.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:52 AM on October 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


Then a woman had to turn her kids over to an orphanage just so they could eat. Now some women keep having kids so they can get more money from the government.


Poor people have children because the barriers to family planning are just high enough that women who are otherwise preoccupied with the chaos of day to day survival don't or can't access those services. We give them money because keeping those children with their families is less expensive to society than throwing them in orphanages. Oh, and it's humane.

I've been working with needy families for 2 decades now, and sometimes I'm just astonished how far into our subconscious the myth of the welfare queen has been inserted. It's quite honestly the most successful marketing of the 20th Century: to convince people with means that the least in our society are the ones bleeding them dry, and it's proof of the total depravity of the conservative movement.

There never was a good old days. The plight of working class and poor people has steadily improved throughout the history of this country because of social programs and laws that protect human dignity and we are all better off because of it. Ask Catherine Young's grandchildren.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:26 AM on October 17, 2011 [21 favorites]


This was an amazing story. I wonder how many people who follow the link will actually read the whole thing.

What really strikes me is how much poverty determined the outcomes for these children. The ones who fared the best were taken in (not necessarily adopted) by couples who were closer to middle-class, and even when they weren't very good, loving parents, the kids still fared better.

There's not very many happy endings in this story, actually. A few.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:31 AM on October 17, 2011


I really need a sarcasm or hyperbole font. I know there aren't people who actually have babies to get more money. I was being sarcastic.
posted by TooFewShoes at 11:06 AM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Where the hell did my morning just go?

(Awesome post. Thanks.)
posted by mudpuppie at 11:52 AM on October 17, 2011


I really need a sarcasm or hyperbole font. I know there aren't people who actually have babies to get more money. I was being sarcastic.

Yeah, the big problem is that statements that, in a sane world, would be immediately recognized as 'fuckoff ridiculous garbage' are, in our world, 'default conservative positions held proudly by nearly half of the morons in this country'.
posted by FatherDagon at 12:20 PM on October 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yeah, a lot of people do think women have lots of children to "milk the system." (eh?) So it's probably better to cop to sarcasm/joking right away so as not to derail. Thanks for clarifying.
posted by sweetkid at 12:36 PM on October 17, 2011


And...getting back to the post, really great, interesting find.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:08 PM on October 17, 2011


And...getting back to the post, really great, interesting find.

Agreed. Didn't mean to feed a derail.

(Only now I'm struggling not to get sucked into looking into whether the Laniers mentioned here might be related to the Laniers in my family, who also possibly came from that part of Georgia...)
posted by saulgoodman at 1:25 PM on October 17, 2011


What really strikes me is how much poverty determined the outcomes for these children.

Except in the case of Alex, who stayed at the orphanage until he had to leave, entered the armed services, and seemed to have a great life living in Japan.

Here's the thing I've been trying to piece together.

Had there been a better health care system back then, maybe Jesse Young (the father) would have had decent treatment and would have lived - which would have allowed them to potentially continue living as sharecroppers, but living together.

If there had been some sort of Welfare program back then, Catherine Young (the mother) would have been able to keep her family together.

If there had been child labor laws back then, her under 10's wouldn't have been working at the Cotton Mill.

If there had been more comprehensive public education back then, her kids would have had greater opportunities once they became adults.

Basically, this family's story is an example of what the United States was like before progressive laws and programs. The son who seemed to have the greatest post-orphanage adventure, of course, benefited from the armed services (a government program).

1909 is where the modern conservative movement wants us to be again.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:37 PM on October 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


1909 is where the modern conservative movement wants us to be again.

Too right.
posted by sweetkid at 3:54 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just spent a good sized chunk of my afternoon reading this. Thanks, apricot!

The Addie Card story is fascinating as well.
posted by deborah at 5:01 PM on October 17, 2011


Perhaps in Alex's case he benefited from having a stable-ish home environment and an actual childhood (for the most part). Unlike the others, many of whom seemed to get adopted into unhappy families and then married off in their early teens.

If there had been child labor laws back then, her under 10's wouldn't have been working at the Cotton Mill.

There were child-labor laws, it was just the "feel-good" kind of law that said kids under 10 couldn't work, without trying to solve the problem of a family being so destitute that they rely on a 10 year old's income. The link says it's plausible that the child-labor law in question resulted in the illegally working Youngs getting fired, which was the tipping point to making the family's situation completely unworkable.

Yes, kids working in factories is bad, but there's a reason they're there and it's not because nobody knows better. Laws that put a ban on things that make us look bad without considering the consequences or the underlying problems that result in things that make us look bad.

I do agree with you though.
posted by bleep at 6:08 PM on October 17, 2011


I amend my statement: "if there had been more rigorous enforcement of child labor laws."

Indeed, the enforcement might have been the tipping point for the family, but the kids still shouldn't have been working there. I believe I recall that one of the kids lost part of a finger at the Mill?

Anyhow, we essentially agree, I think.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:23 PM on October 17, 2011


No obviously the kids shouldn't have been there, but there should have been some kind of accounting for the fact that the family needed their income to stay alive. Like if they made the factory pay a fine for illegally hiring under-age kids in the form of raising the mother's wages or something.
posted by bleep at 6:34 PM on October 17, 2011


Some kind of minimum wage might have helped, too...
posted by saulgoodman at 7:00 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Our previous Premier of BC lowered the working age to 12. BC also has a high child poverty rate.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:25 PM on October 17, 2011


Had there been a better health care system back then, maybe Jesse Young (the father) would have had decent treatment and would have lived - which would have allowed them to potentially continue living as sharecroppers, but living together.

TB was pretty much untreatable back then. Treatment mostly consisted of sending the infected to sanitariums, where they would live under sanitary conditions, be well fed, breathe clean air -- and spend pretty much 24 hours a day laying in bed, not talking, not reading (mental work weakens the body they believed), for months or years. The hope was that by supporting the bodies natural systems, conserving energy, and not stressing the lungs, the patients body might be able to wall off the infected areas. That was the best they could do until good antibiotics were developed in the 40's, and it didn't always work.

So treatment would have meant Jesse going away for several years, unable to earn, even if the treatment was free, leaving his family in much the same position. His wife may have been permitted occasional visits, but his children wouldn't hav seen him for years.
posted by pbrim at 8:33 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


This was wonderful, thanks so much for the link. My grandfather (born 1914) grew up farming cotton in that same town, Tifton, Georgia, one of 13 children. I know very little about his family and upbringing. I guess reading this at first I was hoping to spot a name I recognized (I didn't), but then it was enough to learn about this other family and feel a connection anyway.
posted by kostia at 10:25 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, what an amazing story.

Just had a shock when I noticed the death certificate of the oldest daughter, Georgia, listed the secondary cause of death was "abortion". She was 35 and was raising 5 kids alone.

Catherine Young and Family, Page 8

"She told the census taker that she was widowed. Four years later, on February 17, 1924, she died of acute peritonitis..."

"She was pregnant when she died. According to the death certificate, she was divorced from Mr. Watson, not widowed."

The historian doesn't mention that tidbit on the death certificate - in that era could it have been used as a synonym for miscarriage (or "spontaneous abortion" I've heard it called), or was this a choice based on the stigma of either an illegitimate child or the stress of raising five children? Either way, completely heartbreaking.

Thanks for sharing this.
posted by orchidarea at 8:24 AM on October 19, 2011


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