Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Tribe of Ishmael - Part 1

One of our CVGS members handed me an old newspaper article yesterday - and said "here's a genealogy challenge for you." I said "Thanks, I think!" It is an intriguing article!

The article is from the Indianapolis (IN) Star Sesquicentennial Edition, dated Sunday, November 7, 1971, Section C, Page 13. I will post this in two separate posts due to its length, and then we'll see what further research will find.

TITLE: "Tribe of Ishmael Shows 'Classic' Degeneration."

TEXT:

"An interbreeding gypsy-type "family" that lived in Indianapolis for many years has been described as a 'classic' case of social degeneration.

"The "Tribe of Ishmael" was active here from 1832 until the 1920s, but its curious history has been limited to studies by public health experts and sociologists.

"Numbering hundreds of families at one time, most of whom lived preferred living near White River, the Ishmaelites were involved in prostitution, murder, welfare and destitution.

"The Interbreeding has been described as almost 'beyond belief,' although its extent is indicated in this part of an 1890 study of the tribe:

"'Robert R----- Jr. enjoyed several relations not generally allotted to mankind, for his mother was the daughter of his father. This came near letting him out without a grandmother, but he doubled up in another direction, inasmuch as his brothers and sisters became his uncles and aunts. He had a record of one term in prison. He first married Christina E----, a well-known prostitute, but they were soon separated and next married Christina E----, a well-known prostitute, but they were separated and next married Lydia Ann U---- and here he secured some odd relationships. For he became stepfather and father-in-law to his brother's uncle Alex. His daughter-in-law was his step-daughter, his aunt and his sister-in-law. His wife became the niece of her son-in-law.'"

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I will post the rest of the article soon.

Gee, this is "I'm My Own Grandpa" in real life - back in the 1800's. I wonder just how much of this is true. How would one research this? I'm guessing that there may be more newspaper articles about them, but what about the genealogy databases and web sites? How difficult will it be to figure out who these people were?

UPDATE, 2 May, 9:30 AM: Craig Manson, who writes the Geneablogie, posted this comment which enlightens me (and all of us) on the back story about this "family":

I suspect that a lot of modern researchers have stayed away from this story because of its "back-story," as journalists say. The "back-story" is that the 1890 study of the "Tribe of Ishmael" was done by Rev. Oscar McCulloch and soon became a basic document in the eugenics movement.

"Eugenics" was a pseudo-scientific effort in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to prove that criminality, poverty, and socially undesirable behavior were genetic in origin. Efforts were made to identify "any individual group--white or black--considered physically, medically, morally, culturally or socially inadequate . . . . Often there was no racial or cultural consistency to the list of those targeted. The genuinely lame, insane, and deformed were lumped in with the troubled, the unfortunate, the disadvantaged and those who were simply 'different,' thus creating a giant underclass simply labeled 'the unfit.' " Edwin R. Black, War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race, (ThunderMouth Press 2004), p. 53.

Based on the McCulloch study, the Indiana legislature passed a law requiring mandatory sterilization of certain people. (The law was declared unconstitutional in 1921). Eugenics became a fundamental part of fascism and formed the basis of the Nazis most repugnant medical experiments.

There is value in undertaking a genealogical or other study of a group like the Ishmaelites using modern research techniques. An upcoming book, The Tribe of Ishmael: Inventing America's Worst Family, takes a serious modern look at this group. It's by Prof. Nathaniel Deutsch of Swarthmore College.

By the way, McCulloch's study can be found on Google Books.

Sorry about the length of this comment--but I wanted to share "the rest of the story."

And an excellent summary of the rest of the story! Thanks, Craig.

2 comments:

Craig Manson said...

I suspect that a lot of modern researchers have stayed away from this story because of its "back-story," as journalists say. The "back-story" is that the 1890 study of the "Tribe of Ishmael" was done by Rev. Oscar McCulloch and soon became a basic document in the eugenics movement. "Eugenics" was a pseudo-scientific effort in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to prove that criminality, poverty, and socially undesirable behavior were genetic in origin. Efforts were made to identify "any individual group--white or black--considered physically, medically, morally, culturally or socially inadequate . . . . Often there was no racial or cultural consistency to the list of those targeted. The genuinely lame, insane, and deformed were lumped in with the troubled, the unfortunate, the disadvantaged and those who were simply 'different,' thus creating a giant underclass simply labeled 'the unfit.' " Edwin R. Black, War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race, (ThunderMouth Press 2004), p. 53. Based on the McCulloch study, the Indiana legislature passed a law requiring mandatory sterilization of certain people. (The law was declared unconstitutional in 1921). Eugenics became a fundamental part of fascism and formed the basis of the Nazis most repugnant medical experiments.

There is value in undertaking a genealogical or other study of a group like the Ishmaelites using modern research techniques. An upcoming book, The Tribe of Ishmael: Inventing America's Worst Family, takes a serious modern look at this group. It's by Prof. Nathaniel Deutsch of Swarthmore College.

By the way, McCulloch's study can be found on Google Books.

Sorry about the length of this comment--but I wanted to share "the rest of the story."

Howard said...

I happen to be an Ishmael descendant and have read the entire article by Oscar McCulloch. I am of the opinion that Oscar perhaps might have seriously needed some help with his mental problems. If you have read his entire article, it is all simply opinion, and at the present time a person could not publish a book of this type without facing some rather serious legal challenges.
Howard Johnston, Kimberly, ID