Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Martha's Vineyard and the Deaf

I will never ever find a time that I will not be amazed at the interesting things I learn as I research my family history. After my post a few days ago about Luke and Elizabeth Stoutenburg moving from Dutchess County, New York to Ontario, Canada, I felt that I should do a bit more research on Elizabeth Case and her ancestors and relatives. The trail led me to Tisbury on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. At dinner tonight, I announced to my husband, " You won't believe what I just learned!" He told me that he isn't always interested in details of my extended family, but when I say something like above, he knows that I will tell him something interesting. Most of my knowledge of Martha's Vineyard stemmed from Senator Edward Kennedy's accident in 1969 at Chappaquidick Island. Well, to put it bluntly, it was not much. Because I discovered that I had cousins who lived on Martha's Vineyard in Tisbury in the late 1600s, I wanted to know more about this island. A Google search yielded a map of Martha's Vineyard along with a smaller island on the east, Chappaquidick. The town of Tisbury on this map is the northernmost part of Martha's Vineyard. I naturally assumed that Martha's Vineyard was a grape producing island. Unfortunately, I have not found any evidence that the island was named for its grapes. At this moment, I have no idea why this island is called Martha's Vineyard. In my quest to learn about this island, I came across a very interesting fact. It has nothing to do with my relatives, but I was intrigued. I came across a book, "Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language: Hereditary Deafness on Martha's Vineyard" by Ellen Nora Grose. There were so many deaf people in the community that a sign language was developed in order for the deaf and non-deaf to communicate. In the 18th century, 1 in 155 people on Martha's Vineyard were deaf while 1 in 5,728 people in the general United States population were deaf. Since most people at that time were related in some way, the development of a sign language used to communicate with the deaf relatives was important. Today's American Sign Language was greatly influenced by the Martha's Vineyard sign language. I would never have known this but I was researching my family history!

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