I’ve always known my great-grandfather was a doctor and died as a young father. My grandmother was only nine months old when he passed so she never knew him. Learning more about him and his medical career has been in the back of my mind for ages. Since my husband and I had a week off due to Hurricane Ian (we deliver in and out of Orlando), I decided now would be the perfect time to uncover part of his story.
I had just finished the latest assignment for my ProGen Study Group. This particular assignment was split into two sections. In the first part, we were asked to call or visit two repositories and find out what genealogy records or special collections they had. We couldn’t email, we had to speak with someone. The second phase included constructing a Locality Guide (a one-stop shopping guide to records in a particular area).
More on that in a future post. Find that here.
I made my two calls…one to the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania (which looks amazing!), and the other to the Bucks County Register of Wills. In both instances, the people were very kind and gave me great information that I can use in future research.
Making those phone calls put me in the perfect frame of mind to investigate my great-grandfather, Samuel Patrick Donahoo, M.D.
Samuel graduated from the Medical Department of the University of Louisville (Kentucky) in 1892. I knew this already from documentary evidence, but I wanted to know more about his time there. Well, it took five calls to get to the person who could help me, but it was worth it. My final contact was with the Kornhauser – Health Sciences Library and not only did the librarian have information about the classes he took and how much tuition was (plus a whole lot more), but she had his graduation picture!
(INSERT GENEALOGY HAPPY DANCE!!)
I have never known what he looked like…until now:
In fact, my mom had never seen a picture of her grandfather. She was thrilled to finally meet him. We were trying to figure out if his 3 daughters looked like him and decided they did not, they favored their mother, Effie Eans Dennis Donahoo Rankin.
I have no idea why Samuel wanted to become a doctor. Was he sick as a child? Did he admire the doctor in town and want to help people the way he did? Or perhaps he just liked science and that was his calling. Whatever the reason, he did it the right way. Up until 1889 when Tennessee started mandating licensing procedures, anyone could claim they were a physician. 1 Samuel’s graduating class was 163 strong. Their studies included clinical medicine and surgery, practical anatomy, microscopy, and midwifery/gynecology. 2
To graduate, “the candidate for the degree of Doctor of Medicine must have attained the age of twenty-one years. He must have studied medicine not less than three years, and have sustained a good moral character.”4
I’m sure the people of Jefferson County where he practiced medicine were happy to have him. The population of Jefferson County in 1900 was just a little over 18, 500.5 And of those, only 33 categorized themselves as a physician on the 1900 census.6
Samuel died in 1905. Since death certificates weren’t required by Jefferson County until 1908, I only have his obituary to tell me he died of an illness of only four weeks.7
In our research, sometimes all we get is places and dates and for a long time, that’s all I had of Samuel. It’s nice to finally put a face to a name.
Genealogy tip: Email is not the end-all-be-all. Yes, it’s easy, but it may not get what you want. Take the time to make a phone call or two. Explaining what you want to a live person is so much easier than typing. Maybe you’ll be doing a happy dance of your own!
1 Jane Crumpler DeFiore, “Medicine,” Tennessee Encyclopedia (https://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/entries/medicine/ : accessed 30 Sep 2022).
2 Fifty-Sixth Annual Announcement of the Medical Department of the University of Louisville Session of 1892 and 1893, (Louisville, Kentucky: The Courier-Journal Job Printing Company, 1892); Kornhauser-Health Sciences Library, Louisville.
5 FamilySearch Wiki (https://www.familysearch.org/en/wiki/Jefferson_County,_Tennessee_Genealogy: accessed 3 October 2022).
6 Ancestry (www.ancestry.com: accessed 3 October 2022), search for Jefferson County, Tennessee, and occupation physician.
7 “Obituary – Dr. S. P. Dannhoo,” Knoxville Sentinel, 22 June 1905, p. 11, col. 4; digital image Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com: accessed 19 October 2019).