Monday, February 20, 2012

Pott's Disease or Not

Reta HACKETT was not 100% certain whether she broke her back falling down stairs or she had tuberculosis of the spine, Pott's disease.  Then again, she was at best a preschooler when the treatments began around 1918 - 1921.

After some research, TRAEA's Grandma decided that Reta (pronounced Reta as in "cheetah," not Reta as in Greta) had TB (Potts disease).  I could be wrong.  The family story was sketchy at best:

  • She lived a long time on a "frame," and needed considerable care.
  • Reta was one of five children in a still growing family, and her parents, Elsie JONES and George Hackett, simply could not give extra attention to one child.
  • So she went to live with her widowed maternal grandmother, Carrie Maria FRENCH Jones.
  • Because Grandma Jones could not understand Reta, her next older sister, Hazel HACKETT, also went to live with Grandma Jones  
  • Reta's case was unusual and written up in medical journals.
The Surgical Diseases of Children, published in 1912 by D. Appleton and Company, discusses Pott's disease.

  • "Pott's disease is frequently found in childhood, specially from the second to the fifth years. . . . . "
  • Spinal deformities created by Pott's disease can be severe, and Pott's disease can lead to abscesses in other parts of the body or even paralysis.
  • "Absolute recumbency" is necessary "in general . . . . . from twelve to eighteen months" as part of the treatment.
  • The Whitman-Bradford frame ensured that.  It was made of small-diameter galvanized gas-pipe or steel tubing, slightly longer and almost as wise as the child.  It was covered with stretched canvas and two felt pads about an inch thick sewn along each side of the spine at the tuberculosis site.  
  • Whitman explains, "The child, wearing only an undershirt, stockings, and diaper, is placed upon the frame and is fixed there usually by a front piece or apron . . . . .  As soon as the patient has become accustomed to the restraint one begins to over-extend the spine by bending the bars from time to time, with the aim of actually separating the diseased vertebral bodies . . . . . so that the body shall be finally bent backward to form the segment of a circle.  The greatest convexity is at the seat of the disease. . . . . "
  • Patients lay on this frame continuously, except when they were turned over to clean and powder their back.
  • After patients no longer needed the frame, they were fitted with one of several forms of a steel brace or plaster jacket.

Although the Whitman-Bradford frame could explain "the frame" she recalled, what role was played by a tag that identified five-year-old Reta on a trip, probably to Boston?  (She lived in Taunton, MA, which does not have a North Station as listed on the tag.)

 Then there was the letter that she wrote about a year later to a family member, gleeful that she no longer needed the frame, but could "roll around the bed."  Since she didn't mention running around, she was likely still under treatment.

And a picture of a slightly older Reta in what is obviously a brace, standing next to her sister Hazel.  Grandmother Carrie Maria stands behind Hazel, and the others are unindentified.

Although the pieces seem to add up to Potts disease, there is one remaining question.  Where in the world of literature was the writeup?  Oodles of articles have been written about Potts disease, but so far this grandmother has yet to find any reference to the little girl from Taunton.  Another hunt.

Reta was a great granddaughter of William and Maria L. WILBUR Hackett, Abraham and Evelina REID Thompson, Benjamin Paul and Anjenette PETTIS Jones, and Ephraim and Mary BETTERLY French.

Thanks for the letter Debbie!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Will Our Hacketts Please Stand Up

During the last half of the 1800s there came and went through Taunton, MA, a whole slew (technical term) of Hacketts.  The trick was not to find them - the abundance of city directories listed them from year to year.

Who, however, were those most directly related to TRAEA's Grandma?  The choices were:

  • Benjamin the painter
  • Edward the upholsterer
  • Francis F. the junkman turned harnessman
  • George E. the laborer
  • Henry F. the moulder
  • Myron H. the carpenter
  • Nancy the widow 
  • (No first name) the laborer
  • Philander the laborer
  • William the furnaceman turned moulder
  • William the upholsterer
  • William the hairdresser
  • William the moulder (another one)
  • William H. the farmer
  • William H. the stone mason and
  • William M. the laborer

Whew!  I really wanted to see everyone pretty much at the same time.  Sure.  Being a pencil-and-paper sort of researcher, I folded a blank standard sheet of along the longer side to create "strips."  I ended up needing multiple sheets, so an 11"x17" sheet of paper would have been better.  But that's hindsight.  A spreadsheet might also work for those who prefer computer analysis.

I wrote the name of one Hackett at the top of each strip, followed by the first year I found that person in a directory, their profession that year and their address.  Through the decades, those addresses and occupations changed - or people appeared and "removed" from the scene.  If information remained the same, I wrote just the directory year.  As information changed it was added to the growing information base.

Truth be told, I had pretty much known at the start that the most direct ancestors were William the furnaceman turned moulder and Francis F. the harness maker turned junkman.  And, since the number of Hacketts was mushrooming by the end of the century, this search spanned only about 50 years.

But the exercise served several purposes.  First by combining this with census data I felt more certain that a great uncle hadn't become lost somewhere.  Then it opened my eyes to a whole crop of possible relations (what's with all the Williams???).  And finally it provided some guidance when TRAEA's Grandpa and I visited Taunton.  It's unlikely that we saw all the same houses where these Hackett ancestors lived. But there was a sense of place - literally standing in the middle of the street and knowing it was the same neighborhood where some of my Hackett ancestors lived.  Way cool!