Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Postscript: The Road to the Ijams' Place

Perhaps you have heard of house histories. Just as we do genealogical research on the people in our lives, some people turn their research energy to digging up the history of the house they love.

There is apparently enough interest in the subject to generate a number of books on the topic. One, Sally Light's House Histories promises to be "a guide to tracing the genealogy of your home." You can imagine how the thought resonates with me in the subtitle of another book I noticed—this one by Pamela Brooks—"Every home tells a story."

Not only has the thought captivated enough of an audience to prompt authors to produce how-to material, but it has become the basis for a sub-field specialization among genealogists. Professional genealogist Marian Pierre-Louis, in fact, calls herself a house historian, and includes aspects of that focus in her media presentations.

While house histories may be fascinating, they serve solely as the springboard for today's post, for it is not house histories, per se, which inspired this one follow up project for my Ijams family research, but something quite akin to that. What I want to do is not a house history, but a road history.

Can there be such a thing as a "road history"? Why not? I've already mentioned—in a totally different research pursuit—that I became aware of the history of the name of one well-known street in Fresno, California. Shields Avenue was named for one of ancestors of my first husband—a landowner on the location of that very road—who also happened to have a son in law who served as director of the city's department of highways. It sometimes pays to have connections.

That was the kind of background knowledge that informed me, as I researched my husband's connection to the Revolutionary War era Ijams family of Maryland and Ohio. Besides having run into that unusual surname in family history research, the only other way I had encountered that name was in driving through a once-rural section that now is on the outskirts of the city where I live.

What would happen if I conducted a study on how Ijams Road received its name?

Based on what I had learned about Shields Avenue in Fresno, I pulled up old census records for my county to see if there were any landowners by the name Ijams. I started as far back in time as I could—considering our city was in existence when California became a state, that meant checking the 1850 census.

Well, it was a long slog until I reached my answer: the 1930 and 1940 census enumerations showed a William Ijams family residing in San Joaquin County.

William? What were the chances?

To answer that question, I took the quick but superficial route of seeing what other family trees on might have included that William Ijams family—and then traced that line back in time to see if there might be any connections to the William Ijams in Fairfield County, Ohio, that I've been studying.

As it turned out, there were two trees developed to that extent. And yes, after going through the three generations preceding that William Ijams—in which each man was named Isaac—I arrived at a John Ijams whose wife was Rebecca Jones. That, if you remember, was the very same couple who were parents of my husband's fifth great grandfather William.

How often do you run across a scenario like that? The ancestor of a family based twenty five hundred miles from where you live just happens to have another descendant who settles in the same distant town.

So, every time our family has driven down Ijams Road—well, before real estate development took those farm parcels and subdivided them, re-routing the roads and obliterating much of what used to be Ijams Road—we've been driving down the street named for my husband's third cousin, four times removed.

If this were happening, back in central Ohio where those Revolutionary War patriots had settled in the early 1800s, it would not have been such an unexpected coincidence. But hey, this isn't Ohio but California—and a sizeable state, to boot—and a mighty far distance from the family's old neighborhoods in Fairfield and Perry counties in Ohio.

Granted, following up on a hunch for a road bearing a more-common surname might not yield much. Don't, for instance, trouble yourself with the history of Smith Street. But if you run across the less well known surnames in your family tree printed across a street sign, it might be worth your while to check into the history of that road's name.


  1. Interesting concept-road histories. I have used a combination of the census and maps to find the approximate location of where an ancestor lived. I find a neighbor who is listed on a map, and then trace my ancestor from there on the census record.

    1. Maps, plat maps and property records are great tools to jive with other documents. Sounds like you have a great research plan, Grant!

  2. Replies
    1. And a highly unlikely one, too! But a fun one to discover. Who would have thought?!

  3. Spooky!!! The ghost of your ancestors are "out there, somewhere" Scully...

    1. Makes you think a little more about random connections, walking through airports or visiting other cities. Who knows the paths we cross, unaware?


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