Genealogy has its hazards. When you start digging around among your ancestors, you never know just what you might find. Sometimes you come across information that isn’t appropriate to include in the official record.
This happened to me last week. It all started when my mother asked me to help her assemble a book of family history. I learned something that didn’t seem right to include in the book. Still, I just had to tell somebody, so here it is. It can be a just our little secret.
Back in 1925, after losing the lease on their rented farm, my grandparents had an auction to sell their machinery and livestock. My mother’s genealogy material included one of the original sale bills. She also had a couple of photographs of what was clearly a mule, described as “Jack” in someone’s faded handwriting, with a note that “Grandpa was proud of this mule.”
Among the horses listed on the sale bill was a “Mammoth Jack, 12 yrs. old, wt. 1100.” Also listed were six mares described as “bred to Jack.”
At this point, the elf in my brain who keeps track of odd bits of information piped up and said, “Wait a minute. A jack is what a male donkey is called, but at 1100 pounds that critter was no donkey. But mules are hybrids. They’re almost always sterile. How could those mares have been bred to a mule?”
Like any dedicated researcher faced with facts that seem to contradict each other, I knew just what to do. I asked my mother.
She knew that her father had owned a mule, but didn’t remember much else. Not surprising, since she wasn’t even born till several months after the farm sale.
Then I asked Google. Where I discovered that “Mammoth Jack” was a separate breed of “mammoth donkey” developed as draft animals in the 1700’s and 1800’s, mostly in Europe. Several Americans were involved in getting the breed established here; George Washington was one of them. Mammoth Jacks are still around as a designated breed with their own registry. They don’t need to be included in anybody else’s family tree, thank you very much; they have their own.
At half a ton each, these animals clearly aren’t donkeys. But it’s probably not wise to call one a “jackass,” either. Not unless you use a very respectful tone.