Saturday, August 31, 2013

Good Time to Do Genealogy?--NARA's Virtual Genealogy Fair, Sep 3 & 4--My Great Grandfather's Undertaking Bill

Good Time to Do Genealogy?

I found the following article from GeneaNet Newsletter very interesting, particularly the last part of it that suggests we might be returning to the same habits as our great, great, great and earlier grandparents.  Barbara Renick and others often speak about doing genealogy in their "jammeys" and "bunny slippers" and I have talked to several people who mention doing genealogy in the middle of the night when they can't sleep, so maybe "two sleep" nights weren't limited just to our ancestors.

Your Ancestors Didn’t Sleep Like You

Author: |

Your ancestors didn't sleep like you
Ok, maybe your grandparents probably slept like you. And your great, great-grandparents. But once you go back before the 1800s, sleep starts to look a lot different. Your ancestors slept in a way that modern sleepers would find bizarre – they slept twice. And so can you.

The History

The existence of our sleeping twice per night was first uncovered by Roger Ekirch, professor of History at Virginia Tech.
His research found that we didn’t always sleep in one eight hour chunk. We used to sleep in two shorter periods, over a longer range of night. This range was about 12 hours long, and began with a sleep of three to four hours, wakefulness of two to three hours, then sleep again until morning.
References are scattered throughout literature, court documents, personal papers, and the ephemera of the past. What is surprising is not that people slept in two sessions, but that the concept was so incredibly common. Two-piece sleeping was the standard, accepted way to sleep.
“It’s not just the number of references – it is the way they refer to it, as if it was common knowledge,” Ekirch says.
An English doctor wrote, for example, that the ideal time for study and contemplation was between “first sleep” and “second sleep.” Chaucer tells of a character in the Canterbury Tales that goes to bed following her “firste sleep.” And, explaining the reason why working class conceived more children, a doctor from the 1500s reported that they typically had sex after their first sleep.
Ekirch’s book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past is replete with such examples.
But just what did people do with these extra twilight hours? Pretty much what you might expect.
Most stayed in their beds and bedrooms, sometimes reading, and often they would use the time to pray. Religious manuals included special prayers to be said in the mid-sleep hours.
Others might smoke, talk with co-sleepers, or have sex. Some were more active and would leave to visit with neighbours.
As we know, this practice eventually died out. Ekirch attributes the change to the advent of street lighting and eventually electric indoor light, as well as the popularity of coffee houses. Author Craig Koslofsky offers a further theory in his book Evening’s Empire. With the rise of more street lighting, night stopped being the domain of criminals and sub-classes and became a time for work or socializing. Two sleeps were eventually considered a wasteful way to spend these hours.
No matter why the change happened, shortly after the turn of the 20th century the concept of two sleeps had vanished from common knowledge.
Until about 1990.

The Science

Two sleeps per night may have been the method of antiquity, but tendencies towards it still linger in modern man. There could be an innate biological preference for two sleeps, given the right circumstances.
In the early ‘90s, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr of National Institutes of Mental Health conducted a study on photoperiodicity (exposure to light), and its effect on sleep patterns.
In his study, fifteen men spent four weeks with their daylight artificially restricted. Rather than staying up and active the usual sixteen hours per day, they would stay up only ten. The other fourteen hours they would be in a closed, dark room, where they would rest or sleep as much as possible. This mimics the days in mid-winter, with short daylight and long nights.
At first, the participants would sleep huge stretches of time, likely making up for sleep debt that’s common among modern people. Once they had caught up on their sleep though, a strange thing started to happen.
They began to have two sleeps.
Over a twelve hour period, the participants would typically sleep for about four or five hours initially, then wake for several hours, then sleep again until morning. They slept not more than eight hours total.
The middle hours of the night, between two sleeps, was characterized by unusual calmness, likened to meditation. This was not the middle-of-the-night toss-and-turn that many of us experienced. The individuals did not stress about falling back asleep, but used the time to relax.
Russell Foster, professor of circadian neuroscience at Oxford, points out that even with standard sleep patterns, this night waking isn’t always cause for concern. “Many people wake up at night and panic,” he says. “I tell them that what they are experiencing is a throwback to the bi-modal sleep pattern.”
Outside of a scientific setting, this kind of sleep pattern is still attainable, but it does require changing our modern, electric lifestyle. Very cool person J. D. Moyer did just that. He and his family intentionally went an entire month with no electric light.
In the winter months, this meant a lot of darkness and a lot of sleep. Moyer writes “…I would go to bed really early, like 8:30, and then get up around 2:30am.  This was alarming at first, but then I remembered that this sleep pattern was quite common in pre-electric light days.  When this happened I would end up reading or writing by candlelight for an hour or two, then going back to bed.”
Moyer didn’t set out to reproduce our ancestors sleep pattern, it just happened as a byproduct of a lot of dark hours.

Should We Revive Two Sleeps?

Although history shows that two sleeping was common, and science indicates that it is (in some conditions) natural, there is no indication that it is better. Two sleeps may leave you feeling more rested, but this could simply be because you are intentionally giving yourself more time to rest, relax, and sleep. Giving the same respect to the single, eight-hour sleep should be just as effective.
Note too that two sleeping needs a lot of darkness – darkness that is only possible naturally during the winter months. The greater levels of daylight during summer and other seasons would make two sleeping difficult, or even impossible.
Perhaps two sleeping is merely a coping mechanism to get through the long, cold, boring nights of the winter. Today, we don’t need to cope. So long as we give our sleep the time and respect it needs, getting the “standard” eight hours of sleep should be fine.
But next time you wake up at 2 AM and can’t sleep, just remember your great, great, great, great, great grandfather. He did the same thing every night."

I would love to hear from some of you as to whether your sleeping patterns resemble today's typical "one sleep" or your g3grandparents "two sleep" night.  Do you use the time between "sleeps" for doing genealogy?
National Archives Virtual Genealogy Fair 
September 3 & 4, 2013

I mentioned the upcoming Virtual Genealogy Fair by the National Archives in my 24 August blog.  I did not, however, provide all the details about logging on, the schedule, and handouts.  The Southern California Genealogical Society's August 30 Update did a good job of covering all those details, so I decided to pass along their article rather than trying to recreate the details myself.  Following are the details: 

WHAT: National Archives Virtual Genealogy Fair. For the first time ever, the National Archives will host a virtual Genealogy Fair with live lectures and chat via a call-in genealogy help line and the website UStream ( 
§ Lectures: This two-day program will showcase tips and techniques for using Federal records at the National Archives for genealogy research. Lectures are designed for experienced genealogy professionals and novices alike. 
§ Genealogy Help Line: Call with your genealogy questions during the fair. National Archives staff in Washington, DC, will be available from 1 to 4 p.m. eastern daylight time (EDT) on September 3 and 4 on our special hotline at 202-357-5420. (Toll free at 1-855-309-8404) You may also email us at, or call our Washington, DC, Customer Service Center telephone during regular business hours at 1-866-325-7208. 
WHEN: September 3 & 4, 2013 (see schedule at

WHO: Speakers include genealogy experts from the National Archives and U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services.

HOW: The National Archives will host the virtual Genealogy Fair via webcast using the website UStream and a call-in genealogy help line. Recorded sessions will be available online after the event. Closed captioning and American sign language interpreters are part of the broadcast.
§ View live broadcast on September 3 & 4 [

WHERE: The National Archives will host the live lectures via webcast on UStream.

SCHEDULE: times listed in Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) Genealogy Help Line Schedule: Call in during the fair, from 1 to 4 p.m. (EDT) at 202-357-5420.

For more information about the fair, e-mail

Join the Genealogy Fair conversation on Twitter using #genfair2013.


An Interesting Document--My Great Grandfather's Undertaking Bill!

While going through some of my files yesterday preparing for an upcoming presentation, I ran across a document that I had looked at before; but never very closely.  It is the type of document I doubt many people have in their record files--the bill from the undertaker.

Wesley Ritchhart's Undertaker's Bill
I thought it was interesting that one of the expenses was for a Suit--$35.  Note that they threw in the shave for free.  It was marked x.xx.  It is interesting to speculate whether he didn't own a suit and needed one for the funeral or the family wanted him to be buried in a new suit.  I have a photo of him in a suit and he was a Veterinarian, so I am guessing he owned a suit; but the family wanted him to have a new one.    Wesley died on 23 March 1921 and the bill is dated 25 March 1921, the day he was buried. 

Wesley Ritchhart

I noticed the names of the Knell family, who owned the Undertaking Company.  They are E. Knell (Photo), and across the top of the bill: Miss Emma R. Knell, Frank W. Knell, Lucy Knell Buckwell, Mrs E. Knell and Fred E. Knell.  I thought it might be interesting to see what information I could find about the Knell Undertaking Company. 

I googled and came up with several pieces of information--one being that they are still in business!   The opening sentence states that "In 1882 Ed Knell started a funeral home on the south side of the Carthage square. . . . ".  Thus, the business had been in existence almost 40 years when Wesley passed away and has now been in business for 131 years.

Knell Mortuary Web Site

I also found the below information on the Find a Grave site for Fred Knell.  Interestingly, Fred died on Feb 11, 1921, just a month prior to Wesley and his father, Edward, had died 10 years earlier.  Note that Edward's photo is still on the billing form, even though he had passed away 10 years earlier.  Also mentioned in the write up are Edward, his sisters Emma and Lucy Knell Buckwell, and brother Fred, all of whom are listed across the top of the bill.   

"His grandparents Fred Knell and Bernolli came to Canada and then returned to Switzerland. His father, Edward Knell, started the family business of Knell Undertaking in Carthage, MO. Fred Knell, eldest son of Edward Knell, was named after his grandfather Mr. Fred Knell of Stein am Rhein, Switzerland. He followed in his father's footsteps along with his sister, Emma Knell and Lucy Knell Buckwell and their brother Frank Knell.

His grandfather had the honor of founding Zurich, a town in Canada on Lake Huron. He owned a big tract of land there and in the early fifties [1850's] he established a trading post and operated the town grist mill, grocery store and blacksmith shop."

While the bill appeared quite straight forward when I first viewed it; upon closer examination, it is fascinating to see that it really is a story unto itself.