Why I am Deaf
by Paula Wright
The Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind (VSDB) is located in Staunton, Virginia (VA) and is an institution for educating deaf and blind children. The Virginia Institution for the Deaf, Dumb and Blind was originally named and was established in 1839.
I have two hearing and two deaf brothers. L. Earl, Mike and I were born deaf. Our hearing parents sent us to the VSDB. We completely graduated there. Also, we went to Gallaudet University which is the world’s only university for the education of the Deaf and hard of hearing located in Washington, D.C.
My family sometimes discussed how my brothers and I became deaf. My parents said we have other deaf ancestors and relatives. According to the Gallaudet University, researchers at the Medical College of VA and Gallaudet University studied causes of hereditary deafness for over 30 years in which a nationwide study began in 1969. Connexin 26 is a genetic cause of congenital sensorineural hearing loss. The study of one specific gene, connexin 26 genes began in 1997. The researchers recruited deaf and hard of hearing individuals and families who were interested to be a part of a genetic study. L. Earl and I decided to participate in the study. We had blood samples. A genetic counselor contacted us and asked questions for us to answer. In 2007, we received a letter from the genetic counselor stating we both have connexin 26 genes in which it caused deafness. In fact, my parents have recessive genes.
I was retired from the federal government in March 2012. I began researching my genealogy. My hearing brother, Scott already built a family tree which helped me to start my family history journey. In 2016, I took the Ancestry DNA test. A result of my ethnicity estimate is Great Britain (33%), Scandinavia (21%), Europe West (17%), Ireland (16%), Europe East (6%), Iberian Peninsula (5%) and Italy/Greece (2%).
I have a several deaf cousins living in VA, North Carolina (NC) and Kentucky. But, it is possible that I have more distant deaf cousins out somewhere they are living today. My deaf cousin from NC told me that our cousin, Leonard Spence attended the VSDB in the early 1900’s. I confirmed, via the 1920 Federal Census report that Leonard was in fact, was a deaf pupil in the VSDB. I have not found his deaf brother, James where he went to school nor did he go. Leonard’s deaf sister died young. The other deaf cousin, Grady Spence was one of deaf pupils at the VSDB in 1941. Sally Tanner, my third cousin, was the VSDB alumna, too.
I traced my mother’s Moseley’s lineage to the Bollings. There was just not only my grandma's lineage to Bollings. I found a lot of surprises in my family tree. Also, my grandpa, Charlie Thomas's ancestors included Bollings, Joneses, Kennons and Clacks. For example, via my grandma’s lineage, I have a William B. Jones (my 5th great-grandpa), a son of William Jones (1737-1818) and via my grandpa’s lineage, I have a Frederick Jones (my 4th great-grandpa), a son of William Jones. On another side of my father, I have a Richard Jones (4th great-grandpa), a son of William Jones.
Colonel Robert Thomas Bolling (my 9th great-grandpa under my mother’s line) was born in London, England on December 26, 1646. On October 2, 1660, he arrived in the colony of VA when he was fourteen years old. About 1675, he married Jane Rolfe (my 9th great-grandma). They had two children, Jane (my 8th great-grandma) and John Fairfax Bolling (my 9th great-uncle). Jane Rolfe died as a young mother at the age of 21.
On my father’s side, I have another Bolling family. Colonel Robert T. Bolling is my 8th great-grandfather. He married his second wife, Anne M. Stith (my 8th great-grandmother).
According to the Histories of American Schools for the Deaf, 1817-1893 by Edward Allen Fay (Volta Bureau, published in1893), in New York, the Rev. John Stanford made the first effort to give instruction to the Deaf in America about the year 1810. It is quoted “the unsuccessful attempts made two years later by John Braidwood, Jr., a grandson of the founder of the Edinburgh school, to establish schools in Virginia and in New York are described in the histories of the Virginia and New York Institutions. Braidwood also attempted to found a school in Baltimore, Maryland, but failed there for the same reason as in Virginia and New York.”
The bronze Cobbs tablet is displayed inside the Main Hall building at the VSDB. You may have heard a story about “Cobbs” School for the deaf. “Cobbs” was the home of the Bollings and the site of the institution for teaching deaf pupils in America in the early 1800’s. The site is located near Petersburg, VA.
Via my grandma’s lineage to the Bollings, Major John Fairfax Bolling (my 9th great-uncle) lived, died and was buried there on April 20, 1729. He married Mary Kennon on December 29. 1697. They had at least seven children. John Kennon Bolling (the son of John and Mary Bolling) married Elizabeth Bland Blair on August 1, 1728. They had at least nine children. Their son, Thomas (my 2nd cousin 8x removed) and his wife, Elizabeth Gay (his first cousin) had several children, three of whom were deaf. Before the 1800’s, John, Mary and Thomas, Jr. (my 3rd cousins 7x removed) were sent to Edinburgh, Scotland for school at the Braidwood Academy for the Deaf and Mute. Thomas Braidwood, the well-known instructor of the deaf and dumb, took care of them. The three Bolling children returned to VA following the Revolutionary War in 1783. They became ill. John died on October 11, 1783.
William (my 3rd cousin 7x removed) was the son of Thomas and Elizabeth. On February 23, 1798, he married his first cousin, Mary Randolph. They bore five children, two of whom were deaf, William Albert and Mary (my 4th cousins 6x removed). About 1812, John Braidwood discussed with William Bolling who wanted to open a school for his deaf children. In 1815, the Cobbs School was established. It was closed in 1816, but the deaf Bollings were continued to go to a different school for the deaf in Manchester, VA where it was conducted by John Braidwood and the Rev. John Kirkpatrick for a few years.
In conclusion, that’s why I am deaf because of the hereditary. I am proud to be deaf.
Research your genealogy – Family Tree is amazing!
|1920-Leonard Spence at VSDB, line 48|