Saturday, April 30, 2016

So, Who Was She, Anyhow?

Sometimes, it takes only an incidental occurrence to trigger a volley of memories. I'm not really sure what pushed me over the edge, back at the beginning of this week, to go on such a rant about the changes in the genealogical research world over the past two decades. I don't regret making the observations I did, and I'm certainly alarmed about the effect of this incremental change. Bottom line, though: despite the angst, I'm still glad to be pointed back in the direction of reviewing my oldand I mean oldresearch notes. It's beenand still will becometime well spent.

All this sturm und drang wasn't for naught, though. It brought me face to face with lots of unfinished research business in a family line certainly worth pursuing. And it reminded me that I really hadn't ever satisfactorily uncovered an answer to my question: whatever became of that fascinating researcher with whom I had spent years corresponding over our mutual genealogical goals?

You would think, of all people, someone trained in genealogical research could come up with an answer to a question like this. After all, the last I had heard from my fellow family researcher, before a long and ominous silence, was that she had been recuperating from a stroke. A small one, she assured me. And for a while, it seemed we were back on track, alternately regarding or discarding our hypotheses on how various members of one particular surname might have fit within that one extended familyno "collaterals" barred.

When that long silence stretched from months to years, though, I wondered whether my friend had been struck by "the big one"another episode rendering her incapacitated. Or worse.

We genealogists can find these answers, can't we? Believe me, even assuming the worst and searching through my subscription newspaper services for obituaries, I found not a word about her. Which only made me wish she would write again. Maybe with a different email address. Yeah, surely that was the problem...

There's no shortage of information online about this delightful research partner. I mentioned before that she was a college professor, specializing in Russian history. It turns out that her doctoral dissertationa study of a Russian author, human rights activist and dissident during the reign of Alexander IIIwas published, as was her more politically-minded master's thesis on an earlier era of Russian history.

At the point of her retirement, this well-trained researcher had turned her attention to a different sort of historical account: that of her own family. The reason will sound all too familiar to many of us. As she mentioned in a statement forever frozen in time in the Rootsweb archives,
I found a short barebones outline of my ancestors which was among my mother’s papers. After I retired, I decided to create a family history since little was really known about my own direct line of descent....

As it turned out, the line this researcher chose to pursue was that of the very progenitor from which my husband also descended: the family of John and Mary Helen Duke Gordon, an extended family which, by the 1830s, had emigrated from Pennsylvania to Perry County, Ohio—home, ever since then, of my mother-in-law's family. Perhaps now you sense my thrill at having made the acquaintance of such a one as shared my specific research goal.

Sad to say, for the last few years, my Gordon project has languished as I attended to the many other lines demanding research attention. Perhaps it was in reaction to missing this research companion. Who knows. It might be a good thing that it all is resident on a computer which threatens to quit working any day now. Procrastinators need deadlines.

What of my disappearing research friend, though? Not finding that telltale obituary, I toyed with the idea of writing a letter to her last known address, in hopes a sympathetic family member might respond. After all, I had checked all my subscriptions with no trace of her name. Ditto Google.

One more thought prompted me to try againthis time, pulling up the "Recent Newspaper Obituaries" section at Though my friend always included her maiden name in her correspondence, when I searched this time, I omitted it and just tried first and last name.

Sad that I found it, but relieved to put that question to rest, I retrieved the verdict: Ruth Gordon Hastie succumbed to a subsequent stroke and passed away on September 24, 2012. May I add to the many condolences my belated wishes that she not only rest in peace, but rest in the remembrance of many who appreciated the person she was.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Going Social? Or Losing It?

Connectivity became the buzzword in a decade that ushered in the ability to "go social" online.

Being "social" has never been a foreign concept to genealogical researcherswe've a long history of cooperative efforts, as witnessed by the myriad mailing lists, message boards and forums of bygone decades.

As I ponder the changes I've noticed, just from going back and reading old emails from fellow researchers from ten to twenty years ago, the ironic detail that stands out to me is the inverse relationship between ease of access to communications choices and likelihood that any two researchers would engage in lengthy exchanges regarding genealogical discoveries.

There's no doubt that there weren't many of us online sharing genealogical insights, over twenty years ago. And yet, with those limited means of access, those who connected could sometimes look forward to continued volleys of conversation, sharing data and the documents to back them up.

Now, we're inundated with multitude means for connecting with fellow researchers. Indeed, the specificity of connection can be mind-boggling. Consider this: in one of her posts at Genealogy à la carte, Gail Deverone of my favorite Canadian bloggersposted her finding aid for nearly four hundred Facebook pages (in either French or English) dedicated to helping researchers find information on their Canadian ancestors.

You think that's extreme? In her post, Gail referred her readers to another file, this one assembled by Katherine R. Willson, which includes over eight thousand Facebook pages (limited to English language resources) related to genealogy. That's a lot of people talking genealogy.

Or so it seems...

In the meantime, I hear moans about declining in-person attendance at genealogical events (especially at the local level). I hear people complaining that no one answers their emails even inquiring about something as basic as discovered DNA matches (that they've already paid to discover).

While the thought did occur to me that the underlying force behind this shift might have been the simple answer of demographic changes, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if the difference is owing more to cultural changesthe kinds of "environmental" shifts that occur so incrementally that we hardly notice them at all. Among these culprits might be those incessant words of advice to bloggers to post "simple" articles that can be easily scanned. Or the multi-tasking mask that provides the aura that we can do more than one thing at the same time (albeit each completed equally ineptly).

The snap, superficial exchanges that seem to be the hallmark of modern culture are the very elements that beg us, as genealogists, to become counter-cultural change agents. The plea to not go with the flow. To be the leaders of intentional change. To seek out the better, more beneficial way.

I hate to admit it, but I sometimes see as detrimental to our genealogical well-being the very resources of this Internet age that we are championing: the growing commercial concerns that make it so easy to find the documentation and other verifications that move our research forward so rapidly. Lulled into the complacency that comes with such ease of discovery, how can we shake ourselves awake again? Not by ditching the progress that is, after all, so beneficial. But by integrating it with the methods and systems that worked for us in the pastthe processes of genealogy that once brought us those social interchanges between cooperative researchers.

That level of communication exchange may, actually, be a universe unfamiliar to some now amidst our researching ranks. That doesn't mean, however, that we can't share that vision with othersand work to reshape behaviors to include the benefits of the past with the technological prowess the present has afforded us. These peer-driven cooperative efforts, in one way, can inspire us to get out in the researching world and exercise our own research "muscles"and to not let our powers of reason and discovery atrophy in the armchair effort to merely chase those virtual shaky leaves. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Demographic Shift

I've heard it said more than once that attendance at local genealogical societies dropped off at just about the same time as online organizations such as gained ascendancy. Sometimes, I've taken comments like that as sour grapes: groups sorely in need of a clue about how to join the twenty-first century bemoaning their condition instead of doing something about it.

Now that I've taken a few days to wander down the memory lane of archived emails exchanged with researchers back one and two decades ago, I'm wondering whether there might be something to that old harangue. It seems as if the people who were smitten with the genealogy bug back thenthe very folks most likely to attend society meetings of those past yearswere a different breed than those in our ranks today. The tenacity of the chase, the attention to detail, the consideration of multiple variables in a search for just one missing ancestor would be resplendent in not just one letter, but in a series of follow-up communications with other genealogy enthusiast I have met over the years. Looking back at these two way conversations, it was evident that what was unfolding was a sense of teamwork combined with the wonder and enthusiasm over the process of genealogical research.

It was a conversationa volley between two equally-engaged parties, both fully absorbed by the goal of solving a mystery. There were notes to be shared, copies of documents to exchange, critique of the possibilitiesboth pro and conregarding the hypothesis under consideration at the moment. And once that puzzle was solved, you know there would be another one to capture the attention with the next note.

Fast forward a decade or two. Now, I hear people complain that they can't even get someone to answer an email about being a possible match on their DNA testing results. Nobody seems to talk with each otherat least via email or other message systems. To listen to the few complaints I hear, you'd think nobody reaches out and connects with other researchers, at all.

Have we made a shift from a participatory endeavor to a one-way, spoon-fed level of communication? The highlights of the genealogical pursuitand note here, I'm referring to genealogy as an avocation, not a professionseem to be online suppliers of digitized material, combined with a consumer-focused supply of one-way lectures delivered (thankfully, at least face to face) at conferences or via webinars. We have shifted from participants to consumers in this brave new world of genealogical pursuit. The two-way street of sharing resources and information in a participatory model has collapsed into an expert-driven, uni-directional information flow.

In puzzling over what might have been behind this shift, I wondered if the change in demographics might play a large part in this. After all, the very thing that prompted my foray back into an old computer's email archivesthe likely death of a researcher with whom I had previously enjoyed a lively researching teamworkshouted that possibility.

I'm not an avid number cruncher, so don't look to see hard numbers here. But it certainly makes sense that, in the near-twenty years since I first started dabbling online with genealogical resources, some researchers will have passed off the scene and some will have grown up, realized they loved this stuff, and jumped in wholeheartedly.

Another possibility emerges: with the giant participants now dwarfing the rest of us in this playing fieldand I refer here to commercial entities such as and Find My Pastthey bring with them the marketing expertise and the financial backing to interject changes into the genealogical research game. Those participating twenty years ago might have done so for the sheer love of what they were doingbecause they loved watching an older relative make family history discoveries, or did it because their church urged them to participate, or (like me) because they just felt drawn to the subject for inexplicable reasons. Now? It's just as likely that someone entered the fray only because they were touched by a commercial.

And there's nothing wrong with that. We need to welcome all newcomers. In fact, I thrive on working with genealogical "seekers"those newbies who want to know how to get started. For me, there's nothing more rewarding than teaching some of the beginners' classes I've been privileged to present.

But people always come with baggagethe expectations, customs, habits, tendencies they've carried through life. Genealogists who grew up connecting with far-away friends and family by writing letters because they were horrified at the exorbitant cost of a long distance telephone call will approach teamwork on their research projects much differently than would someone facile with social media and technology-driven resources.

I still can't help wondering, though: why the shift? Is it just because one group has aged off the scene, only to be replaced with another demographic grown up in a different context? Or has the population itself undergone other changes, regardless of age?

What is the possibility that the companies which have become our champions of genealogical resources have fostered a different research paradigmand more to the point, a different set of behavioral expectations for those who wish to participate in this research endeavor? Have the very resources we've welcomed turned us into passive, point-and-click consumers of genealogical material served up by experts, rather than past decades' active pursuers of genealogical answers?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Sociology of Genealogy

Noun.  The systematic study of the development, structure, interaction, and collective behavior of organized groups of human beings.

At least, that's according to Merriam-Webster, the company whose dictionary-publishing lineage stretches back to the 1843 purchase of the rights to Noah Webster's An American Dictionary of the English Language.

You may not have thought of genealogists as an "organized group of human beings" having any sort of "collective behavior." Granted, we do assemble ourselves into genealogical Societies—both local and national—but for the most part, these are much less formal associations than corporate structures fettered by ponderous legal restrictions. Who would want to launch a "systematic study" of the development and ongoing progress of such a loosely-knit group of people?

I do. After reading through pages and pages of emails I had exchanged with researchers from what is clearly a bygone era in the world of genealogy, I'm certainly giving it some serious thought. What I am reading has reminded me of the way things used to be among us researchers of the 1990s and earliest years of this century. Well beyond nostalgia for what seemed to be a golden era of researching—shaped by the letter-writing habits of bygone generations but supercharged by the exciting dawn of a computer age of genealogy—my curiosity has been piqued by what I'm recalling. These reminiscing moments have pulled back the curtains covering such incremental changes, over the years, and let me compare two very different eras under the same "modern" canopy of time.

I'm not really sure what produced the change, but this experience has prompted the question, and it's taken hold in those wondering-prone pockets of my rabbit-trail-induced thought patterns. Scatter-shot, memories about researchers I've known pop into my mind. I realize just how educated, talented and multi-faceted were some of these people I've come to know through my forays into genealogical pursuits. I've met doctors, lawyers, and college professors of various academic backgrounds. I've met lay-scientists and -historians whose avocation has been attended to with as much rigorous application as that of some professionals.

If you were to attend a genealogy conference this Spring, and run into speakers like Judy Russell or Steve Morse, you might assume you were standing among the giants of the field. And you would be correct. It would not normally be commonplace to meet adjunct professors from one of the nation's leading law schools—nor federal prosecutors, whether before the bench or in less intimidating surroundings. Or electrical engineers whose industry-changing design has become their occupational legacy.

The list of talented speakers goes on. Read the bios on any conference's speaker roster, and you'll see what I mean. But that is not only at the national or even state level. Just last week, our own genealogical society hosted a much sought-after speaker who turns out, in addition to her genealogical accomplishments, to hold a Ph.D. in physics.

Thinking these things over, one might assume that individuals like these are a class apart—a special subset of all genealogists, the ones who circulate on a much higher plane, breathing air far rarer than the common genealogical researcher. Perhaps that is so, today. But I'm not sure.

You see, in those days I'm remembering, back at the start of the nexus between genealogy and a nascent computer age, I discovered the same effect among the researchers with whom I enjoyed such email friendships as I mentioned yesterday. Back then, it wasn't the elite who had interesting backgrounds, glamorous accomplishments, or enviable resumes. It could be the person you just emailed, asking for details on a possible match in your pedigree chart.

In my mind, the question that is just screaming to be answered is: so, what made the difference? Why, twenty years later, don't we bump into these same people, as if they were just average Joes (except for a highly-honed fascination with genealogy)? Did the collective behavior of our organized assemblage of enthusiasts change? Was it just a change in modes of interaction? Or did the group, itself, undergo some changes? If so, what outside forces might have made the impact that initiated such a change?

Those, apparently, are the kinds of questions that would be examined in a sociological studyif any sociologist would consider those who self-identify as genealogists to be part of a group.

Well, I'm no sociologist. And it might be argued that, as loosely defined as the realm of genealogists might be defined, we're no organized group. But I still think pursuing those questions might lead to some interesting observations.   

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Way Things Were

"Long, long ago and in a really distant galaxy..."

So began Dr. Brian Leverich's abbreviated history of how Rootsweb came to be—that 1998 explanation of the pioneering genealogy website that evolved from a world of listservs and file archives and antiquated protocols. If you have never read this significant snapshot of online genealogy's history, get yourself informed. It's well worth the brief moment's read.

I don't know what the connectivity quotient was for the genealogy community, pre-dawn of the computer age. I suppose it is possible that, whilst crawling around on library floors in vain attempts to read illegible call numbers on inconveniently-placed genealogical reference books, there might have been some camaraderie between researchers, but in the age of shushing librarians, I doubt it. It was only after people realized that the utility of computers reached so far beyond the vision of the computer geeks of that decade that the common, everyday genealogy aficionado jumped on board to expand research horizons.

But we did so much more than that, in that pioneering decade in genealogy: we discovered we could talk with each other about our current research projects. We could share our findings. We could haggle with conviction over enigmatic records—or commiserate over the outright missing ones!—with people whom we had never met, face to face.

We had a community—a virtual community—that sprang up around our ability to access each other online. Granted, it was clunky, inelegant and sometimes cumbersome to manipulate, but we found ways to discover, meet and talk with fellow researchers seeking our very own family lines, or checking out the context of local history of the places where our forebears once lived.

The conversations that took place in these email havens, lists and, later, online forums, stretched far beyond the one hundred forty character limit of Twitter, yet couldn't even include visuals—and often concluded with promises of follow-up via the now-disdained "snail mail."

And a funny thing happened in that world during the pre-dawn of Ancestry: we became hard and fast friends with people whom we had never laid eyes on. Ever.

Just last night, since I had been thinking of it ever since deciding to revisit an antiquated project on my fossilized to-do list, I booted up my dinosaur computer—you know, the wood-burning one—and pulled up my history of emails with specific researchers. The virtual memory lane that one task escorted me down was a long one, stretching back to conversations in emails exchanged well over twelve years ago. And that's just the archives captured on that computer. There was yet another computer with as long a legacy going before that one.

Besides the emails, there were mailing lists and message boards. Long before I even knew what I was into, I had found ways to sign up for "lists" from the University of Virginia and the University of Pennsylvania. Someone at each place with just enough computer savvy to do so had set up lists for genealogy fans. It seemed the idea spread like wildfire: if someone could build the mechanism, people would find a way to get to it. There just seems to be something inherent in genealogy that made us want to share our notes, pick each other's brains, and be generous with our resources. What an esprit de corps.

Once groups had figured out ways to format message boards, that decidedly became the place to be to let all this natural proclivity flourish.

Ironic that, as computer capabilities expanded and resources became more sophisticated, the advent of such supercharged researching resources as—and even free sites like—seemed to peak at just the moment when the social aspect of genealogy seemed to decline. It was as if the tools of modern genealogical research, aided and abetted by the organization and efficiency of such companies, reverted genealogy into a solitary pursuit once again.

I hardly engage in those extended email volleys with fellow researchers, concerning a specific family line or historic county, as I had in times past. The extensive analyses that once took place, either one-on-one or in small group communications—the stuff I have archived in my email files from years ago—can hardly compare to the sometimes bland, one-off exchanges that only occasionally waft my way, now. It's been a real education, just unfolding those old messages and reviewing their content. It sets me to pondering just what happened to change the course of collective research progress in a realm that, for a golden moment, seemed the epitome of a promising collaborative future for genealogy.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Standing on the Shoulders
of Those Who Have Gone Before

It may seem a strange project to select—the one I mentioned yesterday about transferring genealogical data from my antiquated XP-driven computer to my sleek, updated version. I mean, why not just start from scratch? Why not just rely on what can be obtained through the online resources so handily at our fingertips now? It does sound like an unnecessarily messy project.

I have a response to such an objection, of course. And it may sound somewhat like the reasoning behind utilizing those hundred-year-old genealogies still languishing on some library bookshelves: there is the possibility that we may learn something while benefiting from the hard work of those who have gone on before us. If nothing else, a project to reconcile an old fashioned research project with the multitude of resources now at our fingertips might yield a better product: a corrected version, now complete with documentation, that blends the work of the past with the insights of newly digitized records of the present.

There is, however, another reason I want to plod through this tedious process. And that "reason" has a name and a face. Not to mention, a story. Whenever those elements get added to a research project, for me, it heralds a turning point in the level of interest and investment of effort. It makes the whole thing more personalized.

Explaining all this will have to take me through a history lesson of online experiences in genealogy—albeit a brief history as, after all, we are only talking about a process which evolved from the 1990s onward. The explanation will also require that I introduce you to a fellow genealogical researcher who was quite thorough in her approach to discovering as many descendants as possible of the one family line we both shared. And all that will unfold, as we make our way through the upcoming week.

Any time you share a deep fascination in a specific topic with a friend, it makes for a special relationship. In genealogical research, it also supercharges the effort to find those missing family members of bygone generations.

Now that I'm going back and reviewing all those research notes I and this researching friend had exchanged over nearly a decade, I'm realizing what a gift that cooperative effort really was. And yet, as online friendships tend to be, it had its illusory side, which sadly manifested when the incorporeal and intangible could not possibly provide the connections one would expect in a face to face relationship.

And so, when a sudden health problem engulfed this researcher's life in a crisis, while her family rushed to do what was necessary, all I could tell, from my end of the ether, was that my emails were no longer being answered. After an interminable months-long silence, a very weakened friend did send a reply to tell me she had suffered a stroke—but assured me she was on the mend.

We "talked" a bit more, in that online way of sending and receiving emails and files, but after several months more, there was another long silence. This time, there was no message at the end to assure me she was still there.

Of course, my researching friend may still be there—somewhere on the other side of the country—but too ill to carry on the work that was the delight of her retirement years. That, however, I tend to doubt.

In retrospect, I realize what value there was in the material that was shared, and often wonder whatever became of all the multitude of files of raw data still waiting to be transformed into usable form. While I hope this woman's family didn't just chuck the material, like so many pages of scratch paper, I realize I have been gifted with much of this researcher's work. Even in the segments still requiring much fleshing out with verification—and in some cases, having only the bare bones of an outline of some parts of the family line—I have at least a smattering of what had been uncovered.

I realize I can build on this gift, even if I no longer have a connection with this talented and thorough researcher. As my husband is so fond of saying when he cautions young people not to just toss aside the insights of older generations, I can stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before me. While this researcher's work didn't come to me in the polished format of a hard cover volume, her work was just as thoroughly crafted. It is a gift—but only if I utilize what I've been given.

Despite the old format in which that gift currently resides, transcribed onto an antiquated version of Family Tree Maker on a computer built to run on a far-outdated version of Windows, this woman's work is still a viable contribution to the genealogical community—not to mention, to this particular family line. Transferring it to an updated version of genealogical software, plus verifying what may be done with digitized documentation available to us now, online, is the most reasonable way I can think of to honor those whose work has been of such benefit to me.

When I think of all the emails that passed between us, I want to go back and review them in light of what can be accessed online today. Maybe a reminder of past brick walls will prompt me to see what new material has come to light that will help skirt the research impediment of previous decades.

And when I remember that this was not an isolated process, this exchange of research ideas with one researcher, but was multiplied several times over with several family lines, I realize I've built my own archives of research history—a resource that may yield rich results, if only I can systematically review the holdings, and then put those findings to good use.

While it seems there has never been a better time to begin one's quest to find our roots, for those of us who didn't begin with this season's genealogy commercials, we can also lay claim to a treasure trove of research hints in our own rights, in the body of shared files and communications with like-minded genealogists. Just like benefiting from a legacy, we can only reap these riches if we recognize what's already in store and analyze that material with fresh eyes—and today's more powerful research tools.  

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Call of Unfinished Projects

Those of us who are not paragons of efficiency may, from time to time, recall the many unfinished projects scattered in our wake. As this month closes to an end, I've been reminded of a few that need further attention and I've been endeavoring to make up for that weakness.

While neither project ever faced up to a hard deadline, each of the two I'll be talking about today had a threatening sword hanging over its domain, so it's really something that I need to remove from the "to do" pile.

One is to transfer—and double check—the entries from a very old family tree database housed in my wood-burning computer (you know, the one that still is running on Windows XP). The other task is to attend to my DNA tests, as a key change at one company will soon make a difference in just who still is—and is not—among my genetic matches there.

With that in mind, it is no surprise that the only significant progress made on my bi-monthly statistics will be reflected in the family line best represented on my antiquated database—that of my mother-in-law. And while the second change—the one upcoming, if not already occurring overnight after I've put this post to bed for the night—hasn't yet impacted my DNA progress report, I guarantee it will make a difference, the next time I check my numbers.

The first matter of business during this month was to transfer names and details from my old Family Tree Maker program, which had about fourteen thousand individuals listed at the time I stopped working on it. Part of that work was thanks to collaboration with a wonderful researcher whom I'd like to mention in more detail later in the week. Most of that work was done pre-Internet era, or at the very latest, during the nascent moments of Later, I had always meant to go back and verify the work shared by this other researcher, in hopes of adding more details to the sparse listing on names and dates gleaned from resources accessible at the time. Now is apparently the time to do so.

It's not exactly a genealogy do-over that's engaged me in this project. It's just that, with all the resources now at our researching fingertips, I want to stand on the shoulders of the previous generation's researchers and flesh out the bare bones details I've inherited from them. We can accomplish so much more than we could in the old self-addressed-stamped-envelope and snail mail way of verifying entries. If seeing the term "SASE" brings back memories, you know what I'm talking about.

So it's no surprise, as I begin this process, to see that I've increased the count on that one family tree by 459 entries in the past two weeks. My husband's maternal tree now stands at 4,610 individuals.

With that one effort sucking all the time out of my schedule, it's no surprise to see that his paternal tree stayed at the same count as last time—955—as did my own paternal tree. Somehow, I advanced my own maternal tree by a measly twenty three names—probably owing to the search for Peachy T. Wilson's children among his extended family—so I now have 7,636 in my mother's tree.

As for DNA results, it was a mixed bag. My husband's lines advanced by fifteen genetic matches at Family Tree DNA, where he stands at 671 matches. But moved not a whit at Ancestry DNA, where he still sits at 107 matches. I received twenty additional matches at Family Tree DNA, upping my count there to 1,115 matches—but only one more match arrived at Ancestry DNA, for a total of 283.

That, however, is just as well. Changes are a-brewing at Ancestry DNA. There's hardly a serious genetic genealogy participant who hasn't already heard about the anticipated impact of those changes, as they were first announced in February at RootsTech, and have since made the rounds in the posts of key genetic genealogy bloggers this past week. (If you haven't yet read about them, blogger Randy Seaver provided a helpful recap, including links to three of them, plus Ancestry's own explanation of what's yet to come.)

Once the change has been accomplished, I figure it's time to do some serious work on connecting with these matches—especially if the revamped list turns out to be of the improved accuracy that Ancestry DNA believes it will be. Unlike some people who have had great results utilizing this tool, neither I nor my husband have had matches at the levels of first or second cousin. Given our propensity to take a keen interest in our family trees, we already know who our first and second cousins are. Most of our DNA matches have been at the levels of third and fourth cousin—or beyond. Those are the only results that have informed our genealogical progress at all, so for that focus to be sharpened up effectively should target the very realm in which we stand to gain the most. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Leaving Barely a Trace

There was yet one more Wilson descendant to trace for clues on what became of the children of Peachy and Mary Whitcomb Wilson: a son listed in a genealogy for Mary's family. The boy's name was given as Eddie, and according to the Genealogy of the Descendants of John White of Wenham and Lancaster, Massachusetts, unlike his older siblings, he was actually born in America. Where, of course, would be the main question.

The White genealogy gave this son's date of birth as 1873. Although it provided the clue that he was "now residing in the West," it failed to mention just where upon those fruited plains the child might have been born.

I tried narrowing the search parameters. For one thing, since the family arrived home from India on April 4, 1873, without any mention of an Eddie in the Wilson party, that gave me the earliest possibility for his date of birth. Likewise, on the other end of the date range, his unfortunate mother passed away on May 23, 1874, giving the other end of the possible dates for Eddie's arrival.

Since one memorial for Mary Whitcomb Wilson mentioned she had died in Springfield, Illinois, that state may have been the possible place of birth for this last Wilson child. No matter where I searched, or what terms I used, though, all the Edward Wilson possibilities were discarded. Granted, I have yet to search through all the rest of Peachy's brothers, any one of whom might have taken in this baby nephew. Based on our experience with the other Wilson children, though, there is a strong possibility that this youngest child could have found himself in a situation much like his sister Mary or his brother Harvey: placement with non-relatives, in whose household, the Wilson child's census entry might not even show the proper surname. Worse, in Eddie's case, there would be no telltale birthplace of India—just an innocuous American state like everyone else. Maybe even a state other than Illinois.

Then, too, there is always the possibility that the White genealogy was in error in reporting another child. Considering how unhealthy both the Wilson parents were when they left the mission field in India, it seems inconceivable that Mary would have been able to support a pregnancy. What if that entire entry were in error?

I had hoped that somewhere in all the material on the children of Peachy and Mary Wilson, there would have been an obituary or another report to give some clue as to what happened to the rest of the family. And yet, when I got to Harvey—the one who turned out to be the same person as the one we knew as Mansel—I couldn't even find a record of his death. Trying to push one generation beyond, I looked for Harvey's son, Wilbur, but got no farther than a perfunctory Social Security Death Index report. Apparently, Wilbur died exactly one day shy of the hundred year anniversary of his father's birth.

Thinking over the strange journey it's been, trying to replicate the family history of this missionary to India, I realize it is sometimes necessary in the face of such roadblocks to regroup and recall the original goal launching this chase. Yes, the plaintive cry for help in finding a missing son in Montana was heartbreaking. Discovering the placements in other families who opened their homes to take in a "missionary kid" was a challenge. And yes, I may even be walking away from the possibility of discovering whether there even was another son in the family.

But while it was enriching to uncover this family drama, and enlightening to learn about finding reports of their work in India—not to mention, discovering the link between Peachy's name and that of a character in a world-renowned author's book—I have to remember it was all on account of a routine exercise to lay out the matrilineal links between me and the two adoptees who are my only exact matches in my mitochondrial DNA test results.

And yet, that nagging curiosity may turn out to drag me back into the chase at some point. After all, there is one more mystery that presented itself in this chase to find the next generation: the location of oldest child Mary Wilson Gill's grave. Not in India where she labored following the footsteps of her missionary father, not in Illinois where her father grew up, nor in Massachusetts where her mother's family once lived, but "out west," just like those brothers of hers were said to have gone, was where I found her headstone.

I have no doubt this was the right Mary Wilson Gill, for the only other words inscribed on the stone, besides her name and the correct dates—1865 and 1941—was the designation, "Missionary—India."

The last stop in Mary Wilson Gill's earthly journey was in San Gabriel, California. Who knows—maybe that's where her baby brother Eddie ended up.  

Friday, April 22, 2016

One and the Same

Perhaps it was last night's genealogical society meeting which inspired me with the presentation showcasing just what it means to do an "exhaustive search." I returned home, determined to search every possibility for confirmation of Clendening twins. Was it Harvey and Mansel? Or one and the same with both names?

Admittedly, if the two were combined in the person of one, it would make for an awkwardly long name. After all, I've already posited that Harvey Wilson Clendening was really the son of missionary Peachy T. Wilson, placed in the Chicago-area home of clergyman Thomas Clendening when the widowed missionary decided to return to India. I have yet to find any documentation indicating that Harvey was legally adopted, but it seems Harvey did adopt his surrogate father's surname—at least, if this was the same Harvey.

So, to add Mansel to the Harvey Wilson name that got appended to the new Clendening family identity would make a long name, indeed.

I had to go take a look.

Thankfully, discovering that H. Wilson Clendening had had a son whom he named Wilbur made the search somewhat easier. But the man's knack of switching given names, depending on document—or, perhaps, mood—was a frustrating factor. And really, who knows if "H" Wilson would be the same person as Harvey Wilson?

Yet, it didn't take long to discover Wilbur Clendening in the 1940 census. However, it wasn't in the town where he had been residing for the past decade—Sedgwick in Harvey County, Kansas—but in a location far from there.

Granted, on this enumeration day on April 8, 1940, it was most likely that Wilbur and his traveling companion were on their way to catch that ship to Honolulu, as we noticed yesterday. After all, they departed San Francisco on April 19. Still, the hotel they were staying at when they were captured on the census record seemed a little off the beaten track for a trip from Kansas to California: a town called Browning in Glacier County, Montana. Could they have made a slight northern detour to stop in and see about the elder man's missing brother, William Wilson?

The other interesting detail about this census snapshot was the name given to the census enumerator by Wilbur's father. We've already seen him give his name in census records as either Wilson Clendening or H. Wilson Clendening. Then, too, one passenger list showed him as Harvey Clendening. This census record, however, did the same switch we've already witnessed yesterday in the passenger list for the return trip from Honolulu. The census had him as "Mensel," likely an enumerator's attempt at capturing an uncommon name.

So, was Mansel one and the same as Harvey? I found one more record to clinch it: a city directory from back in 1900, listing a printer—and our Clendening man had listed his occupation that way in some census records—by the name of Harvey M. W. Clendening.

I'll buy an M for Mansel and a W for Wilson.

Even so, that only tells me Harvey Clendening is the same person as Mansel Clendening. It still doesn't assure me that either Clendening name was once that of a Wilson.

Above: Entry from the 1940 US Census for Mansel and Wilbur Clendening in Glacier County, Montana; courtesy

Thursday, April 21, 2016

In One Way, Out Another

One by one, the children of Peachy Taliaferro and Mary Whitcomb Wilson in their own way seemed to elude discovery as I tried my hand at reconstructing the Wilson family tree. Only by stumbling upon eldest child Mary's married name did I find out what had become of her. Likewise, it was thanks to a newspaper report from a location quite off the beaten path—Helena, Montana—that I spotted the Wilsons' oldest son. We've just located a possible identity for the third-born Wilson child, Harvey. There is yet more of the puzzle to go, though, because at this point, I encounter varying reports of how many children the Wilsons had, and just where they might be found.

According to the original passenger list when, in 1873, the ailing missionaries Peachy and Mary returned to America, they were accompanied by three children: Mary, Willie and Harvey. In a memorial, published after Peachy's passing in 1898, it was stated that at his wife's earlier death in 1874, she had left four children.

A published genealogy of the White family—of which Mary Whitcomb was a descendant—affirmed that count of four children, but then went on to complicate matters by indicating there had originally been five, but one had died in India.

Well, the memorial never said she had four children—only that she left four children. Technicalities.

According to that genealogy, the children were listed as:
  • Mary Wilson, born in India, returned there as missionary in her adult years
  • Willie Wilson, born in India, later living in the western U.S.
  • Peachy Wilson, born in India and dying there in childhood
  • Harvey Wilson, born in India and living in the western U.S.
  • Eddie Wilson, born in the U.S. in 1873, living in the western U.S.

If you think that fifth arrival was a curve ball in this genealogical pitch, I join you in sharing that opinion. This, however, was not the only unexpected detail, when it came to the listing of the descendants of Peachy and Mary.

While I was struggling to find anything—anything!—on Harvey Wilson, I ran across an interesting tidbit of information. The trail started with the Social Security Applications and Claims Index entry I had mentioned yesterday—the one which clued me in to the possibility of a name change to the surname Clendening. The entry provided a date of October, 1941, which will help track the Wilson descendants' timeline, and indicated the record was for the original application. Thankfully, it also mentioned the parents' names as Peachy Wilson and Mary Whitcomb, despite the man's stated surname as Clendening.

The only trouble was: there was another entry for a Clendening man with parents Peachy Wilson and Mary Whitcomb. This man gave his name, in February 1939, as Mansel Wilson Clendening. Strangely, he gave the same date of birth as had Harvey: July 16, 1871. Although also born in India, this applicant gave more detail: he was born in "Dauri Nwp, India"—likely Pauri, where Peachy had been stationed in northwest India for part of his missionary service, and where, incidentally, he had worked with another missionary by the name of Mansel.

Twins? That seemed to be the only explanation for two sons with the same date of birth. And yet, there was one more document served up on that presented either a further puzzle, or the answer to our mystery.

On April 19, 1940, leaving from the port of San Francisco on the SS Matsonia, bound for Honolulu, was a sixty nine year old man named Mansel Clendening. Wondering if this might be our man Clendening, I pulled up the digitized listing of passengers to see who else might be traveling with him.

There was one other person with that same surname on the page of listed passengers: someone named Wilbur Clendening. As we've already seen from census records for the Wilbur we've found, our candidate was born about 1901, which handily aligned with the age given of this passenger by the same name: thirty nine.

The only trouble was: we've already found Wilbur Clendening in the household of H. Wilson Clendening in 1910. At least, I think it was H. Wilson. Could it have really been M. Wilson? I had to go back and look.

But there was another passenger record which included Wilbur Clendening. This one was, however, was listed as a man aged thirty eight, returning in that same year from Honolulu to Los Angeles on the SS Matsonia.

Besides that, there was one other difference: his traveling companion for this leg of the journey was named Harvey Clendening.

Could Mansel be Harvey? Or was this some sort of grown-up twin-swapping trick—leave with one man, come back with his twin brother?  

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

What Doesn't Get Indexed

Over at The Ancestry Insider, there has been a discussion unfolding in which a reader questioned just what is and what isn't included in the indexing process that helps subscribers find information on possible ancestors. Of course, in that case, the question was specific to public family trees posted at, not the situation we've been dealing with here at A Family Tapestry, in which I'm seeking whatever became of the near-orphaned children of missionary Peachy Taliaferro Wilson.

It is the indexing process that has revolutionized the whole genealogical research process, in that now, instead of poring over page after page of records in hopes of finding mention of the precise ancestor being sought, a computer-aided search can pinpoint the exact location on a specific page of the very person you wish to find. Embedded within that process, however, is one detail that presents us with today's quandary: what gets indexed, and what doesn't?

Fortunately for us, the question being examined in the Ancestry Insider posts was specific to names in publicly submitted family trees at Ancestry. In the case I'm looking at today—and one I've run up against in the past—the search is on in a different venue: government documents.

In the process of converting the scanned and digitized pictures of such documents, in order to make the material searchable via computer, someone had to set up a project that decided which keywords would be captured and which details would be bypassed in the process. Thus, for instance, the recently-added files at Ancestry on the U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index at first had the individual's own name included in the index at—but not the parents' names, though they were often provided in the file as well. Later, Ancestry chose to add those valuable bits of data to the list of words which were indexed in that collection. (Likewise, they then could also be attached to the records of each parent in a person's tree.)

While the process of indexing makes for a very efficient research mechanism, it is not the be-all, end-all of genealogical research. There are still reasons why we need to look at the actual image of the document. The one example I'm concerned with today falls within that category. You see, if it weren't for the ability to look at the document and see what wasn't included in that indexing protocol, I might have missed a vital detail helping me connect yet another son of P. T. Wilson back into his rightful family tree.

It was, in fact, that very collection—the Social Security Applications and Claims Index—that provided me with a first tip in the case of the Wilsons' second-born son. If you remember, when missionaries Peachy and Mary Whitcomb Wilson returned to the United States from India, along with their daughter Mary and son William, they were traveling with another son, Harvey.

According to the passenger list when the Algeria landed in New York City on April 4, 1873, Harvey's age was given as one year and six months. That would put his birth—if that were an accurate report—somewhere around October, 1871.

By the time the Wilson children had lost their mother in 1874—and subsequently were placed in homes so their father could return to his work in India, confident that his children would be safe and well cared for in their homeland—it seemed they had all but vanished. It was a chore to discover where oldest child Mary's new home was, since she was taken in by someone to whom the family was not related. Even son William's location was partially concealed by his uncle's use of initials, rather than his name, for the 1880 census—the only such record in which I've been able to locate the young man—showed us the family had moved from their customary location in Illinois to an entirely different state.

That didn't make the search for Harvey a promising venture. He might be with family—but with whom remained the question, as finding Peachy's brothers was a chore, as well. If with well-meaning friends, as we just found had happened with his sister Mary, his surname might be entirely omitted from the census record.

In fact, that was exactly what did happen. I'm sure I never would have found this out, had it not been for two serendipitous revelations, neither of which could have been located without a computer-aided search, combined with the exercise of carefully examining the originating document.

The first discovery was in that very Social Security Applications and Claims Index I mentioned earlier. But don't think it was an easy one. Thankfully, the search engine served it up, despite a jumbled-up name: instead of Harvey Wilson, the result read "Harvey Clendening," but included the names of "household members" as Peachy T. Wilson and Mary E. Whitcomb.

Well, that was a promising start. But what about that Clendening name? Just in case there was something to it, I decided to test out the hypothesis that Harvey had been placed in the home of someone named Clendening.

Sure enough—just as the 1880 census seemed to be the only window of opportunity to capture any record of these missionary kids back home in the land of their citizenship—there was an entry for a Clendening family with a Wilson boy. The caveat: "Wilson" was represented as the child's first name.

You see, in the 1880 census record for the Hyde Park, Illinois, household of Thomas Clendening, clergyman, and his wife Amelia, there was only one child: an eight year old son named Wilson. While that may seem unusual, it wasn't the first time a son had been given a "family name"—a surname from the family's ancestry, to be brought forward as the given name of a child.

Clendening, however, didn't figure easily in my Wilson genealogy, nor from the Gilmers—the ones in Peachy's maternal line whom he could thank for the gift of his unusual first name. What would be the blood connection?

Taking a closer look at the census record provided a clue. Just as the record for Peachy's daughter, Mary, had shown her born in "Hindustan," that was exactly the listing for this boy, Wilson. The report for his parents' origins, however, followed suit from the listings of Thomas and Amelia—Ohio and Massachusetts—not our Harvey Wilson's mother and father, which would have referred us to Kentucky and Massachusetts.

Call that one inconclusive. But what about seeking out later census reports for this Wilson Clendening? Thankfully, unlike our experience with Harvey's older brother William, this was somewhat easier.

The 1910 census, this time moving us into the city of Chicago, provided a glimpse at that same Wilson Clendening. This time, he was a man of thirty eight years of age, married, with a son of his own. One interesting alteration was the listing of his name: now, not merely "Wilson Clendening," he had added just one initial, to render the name "H. Wilson Clendening."


Of course, the first thing I did was zoom straight to the column revealing Wilson's place of birth. It didn't seem to do much good, though, for whatever entry was originally there had been overwritten. I knew what my heart hoped I'd find, but didn't want that impetus to overrule what was actually there to see.

It looked like Wilson's birth location was a state that began with a capital "I," but other words obscured the entry's full identity. Providing some hope, though, Wilson's father had been listed with a birthplace as Kentucky, and a mother's birthplace in Massachusetts. This was beginning to look promising, even though his own birthplace was unclear.

Still, since Wilson had a son, that questionable entry could be double-checked by the son's own entry for his father's birthplace—and sure enough, there it clearly stated, "India."

That's where those blessed marginal notes—the ones that don't follow protocol, and certainly never seem to make the cut when project managers decide which entries to include in the indexing effort—make all the difference for a researcher like me.

It was when I looked closer at the entry—blew it up to the largest proportions I could for legibility—that I noticed a marginal note explaining what had been written over Wilson's place of birth. It was the phrase, "son of missionary," which not only explained the attempted "Am Cit" over the original entry "India" but provided me the assurance I needed that H. Wilson Clendening was likely once known simply as Harvey Wilson.

Above: Excerpts from the 1910 United States Census, in Chicago, Illinois,  for the household of H. Wilson Clendening. The second excerpt shows the birthplaces, respectively, of H. Wilson Clendening on the top line, his wife Bertha in the middle line, and below, their son Wilbur. Both records courtesy

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Tormented by the Thought:
What If?

Reading the 1894 newspaper report from Montana, that June when the Reverend Peachy T. Wilson was supposed to meet up with his son William in Helena, it did seem as if William had likely died, lost in the wilderness during the harsh winter conditions there. Nobody had reported seeing him, or even knowing anything about his whereabouts.

Still, that didn't keep his father from looking for him. Nor did it keep us, either. We couldn't escape that nagging "What If?" which keeps genealogists pressing on. Perhaps he had been stalled, due to bad weather. After all, as reader Far Side had mentioned, maybe he had fallen ill and was unable to head back into town. While the area in Chouteau County—where William had been working after the winter months had passed—was considered to have cold, dry winters, temperatures even in April averaged a low of thirty two degrees. Once things warmed up—and what little snow there might have been started melting—the rivers of the area could have overflowed their banks, causing flooding which would make travel difficult.

Of course, the sad realization is that any of these hazards which could have prevented William's return to Helena to meet his father in June could also have caused his own death.

That didn't stop me from searching for him, though. I tried looking through census records—though results of an search didn't bring up anything promising, even for the closest subsequent enumeration.

Searching for William Wilson among the obituaries of the time in Montana didn't yield much, either—tempting not only me but also Intense Guy to look in later issues for the possibilities that William had lived to see another day after his 1894 disappearance. One possibility—a William Wilson born in approximately the same year of 1868, who died in 1950—turned out not to be our man, when his obituary revealed he had been born in Pennsylvania. (Indiana I can explain away, but I'd be hard pressed to excuse a detail like that.)

Desperate for any clues, I even pursued the newspapers for information on C. Wallace Taylor, William Wilson's most recent employer. Though I found nothing that would add to William's story, I did find out a few interesting things about Mr. Taylor. As the original newspaper article on William's father had mentioned in 1894, C. Wallace Taylor was indeed a businessman dealing in livestock, but he wasn't only operating in Choteau County. Several newspaper mentions of the man surfaced.
  • In October, 1888, he was "paying his friends in Helena a visit"
  • In February, 1894—the same year as the article on the missing William—it was "one of the commisioners of Teton County" who was in town again
  • At the end of March, 1898, The Helena Independent mentioned he was in town from Teton County to receive "a shipment of 150 Rambaulett [Rambouillet?] French rams from Ohio"
  • In May of 1898, he was "attending to some business in Great Falls"
  • According to "Choteau Notes" in the Anaconda Standard, in March, 1899, he had just bought a pack of "eight well bred hounds" to be used in "clearing the pests from the range" of the Sands Cattle Company.

By 1900, it was interesting to see C. Wallace Taylor was now mentioned as manager of the Sands-Taylor Cattle Company. But even more interesting than that was stumbling upon a mention of Sheriff C. Wallace Taylor, in town to investigate an "alleged robbery."

The mention of sheriff was for the man identified as C. Wallace Taylor of Teton County, while several other articles mentioned him as being from Choteau County. Either this was a case of father and son—or possibly even unrelated men coincidentally bearing the exact same name—or C. Wallace Taylor had considerable land holdings, since the two counties were adjacent to each other.

No matter who he was or how successful he had been—even discounting his investigative skills as sheriff—nothing about the man seemed to lead me to any mention of his former employee, William H. Wilson, the young man who had disappeared only a few months before his scheduled reunion with his long-absent father. Perhaps someday, there will be another way to unearth the records which could give us clues as to William's demise, but for now, it looks like it will have to be one of those genealogical puzzles we reluctantly give up on and set aside.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Those Drat Initials Again

So many times, I've been stopped in my tracks while hot in pursuit of the name of the man who married a female ancestor—or worse, the true identity of a Mrs. who, besides the married surname, sported only her husband's initials. What I didn't count on benefiting me, in a future genealogical search, was recalling that I could use that initial intelligence in the reverse direction.

In trying to determine which uncle might have been the one in whose household Peachy Taliaferro Wilson's eldest son had been placed, I was getting nowhere, searching for each of the Wilson brothers. Wilson is a name common enough to cause a researcher frustration. Spread the search out over several states, and it only compounds the problem. Add to that the quest for son William, and the dead ends leap to geometric proportions.

I had already seen William's older sister placed, after their mother's death in 1874, with non-relatives in Illinois. There was no sign that his sister Mary was living with any of the other Wilson siblings. I had already presumed that second-born William would have faced the same fate—making the search quite difficult—until I ran across that heart-rending story of the missing William in a Helena, Montana, newspaper from 1894. That was what clued me in to the possibility that William was actually living with a relative.

"An uncle" was the only detail the newspaper provided. Of Peachy's own six brothers, I had already managed to rule out only one, leaving a long search ahead of me, for I had already tried my hand at building out the Wilson family tree on general principles. I was beginning to feel as if they were not out there to be found.

That's when I remembered that men from that era sometimes preferred to go by their initials. Why not try my hand at locating a Mr. Initial-Initial Wilson?

Perhaps this is me being snarky, but it occurred to me that the increased likelihood of initial usage correlated with the escalating self-assessment that one's given name was unbearable. Hence, it wasn't surprising to find the Reverend Peachy Taliaferro Wilson using that very tactic, himself. After all, wasn't it in this very form that we were first introduced to the man?

The chase was on to discover which of P. T. Wilson's brothers would be most likely to disguise his own given names. It was quite easy to rule out four brothers immediately, for the names William, Henry, Daniel and John were certainly common names causing no personal embarrassment. That left me with two weak possibilities for initials to hide behind: Thornton G. Wilson and Alexander C. Wilson.

While neither of these names seemed unusual to me, I ran both searches through their paces, and my best candidate—keeping in mind I had to look specifically to the 1880 census, William's only window of time in which he would be found in a federal enumeration—turned out to be the household of one A. C. Wilson.

This household, however, presented its own problems. For one thing, it was not in Illinois, the state I would have expected, given the Wilson family's old homestead there and daughter Mary's residence there in that same census year. Mr. A. C. Wilson lived in the Whitewater Township of Winona County, Minnesota, along with his wife Mary Ann and a thirteen year old nephew born in "Indiana" by name of William H. Wilson.

Having seen several census entries for people born in Indiana whose listing actually was written as "India," I wasn't too concerned by the reverse instance appearing for the William H. Wilson in this 1880 census record. Besides, my Alexander C. Wilson—having been born in Illinois in 1835, according to the 1850 census—certainly aligned with this A. C. Wilson, who also arrived in Illinois at about that same time.

Furthermore, this A. C. Wilson had a father from Kentucky and a mother born in Georgia—exactly as had Alexander and his brother Peachy.

I'd say we've found the exact same William H. Wilson, Peachy T.'s boy.

Above: From the 1880 U.S. Census for Whitewater Township, Winona County, Minnesota, for the household of one A. C. Wilson; courtesy

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Seeking William

What little clues we sometimes have to go on in reconstructing the lives of family from past centuries. Add to that complicated lives, and it gives you a puzzle worthy of late night frustration, despite the wonders of instant online access to genealogical records.

The only hint that could be found for William, eldest son of missionary Peachy T. Wilson, was thanks to a newspaper article tucked away in obscure Helena, Montana. This was certainly far from the Illinois home left behind when the widowed Reverend Wilson decided to return to India, the land of his calling. All we had been aware of, before that hint, was that this father had "arranged homes" in which to place his children so that they could be raised in their homeland—and, presumably, with a surrogate mother's touch.

Despite the bonus of that hint, we discovered it in the midst of an article explaining how the Reverend was in town, hoping to visit his son before the end of his furlough, when he would again return to India. The difficult realization came when The Daily Independent revealed the distress of the visit: Peachy was indeed at the very place he and his son had planned to meet, but William was nowhere to be found.

The newspaper had, thankfully, given a timeline of William's life—his twenty seven years up to that point of disappearance—and had provided one additional clue for our own search: that he had been raised by an uncle.

Considering that Peachy Wilson had six brothers—almost none of whom I've been able to find documentation for, past their appearance in their widowed mother's household in the 1850 census—the search to find the right uncle who served as William's caretaker would be a challenge. But I was willing to give it a try. Still, remembering the difficulty in locating William's older sister, Mary—who, as we've seen, was listed in the 1880 census as part of a family which was no relation to her, and in which household her own surname never even appeared—I had my doubts of any success in the search for William.

Sometimes, when I'm stuck on a search, it helps to construct a timeline. Granted, the Daily Independent gave me a rough sketch of William's later years, and the passenger listing when the family had returned home from India provided a few other key dates. Putting both of these resources together, here's the snapshot that emerged of William's short life, up to the 1894 date at which he disappeared:
  • born, approximately 1867, in India
  • arrived with his family in New York City, April 4, 1873
  • death of his mother, May 23, 1874, in Springfield, Illinois
  • placement with his uncle, approximately 1874
  • about 1888, left for Custer County, Montana
  • about 1890, moved to Choteau County, Montana to work for C. Wallace Taylor
  • winter of 1892-1893, moved to Helena
  • March 1894, letter from his father returned, not delivered

In that brief window of time at his uncle's household, the only possible census in which he might be located would be the 1880 census. It was already clear that this would be an uncle on his paternal side, for his mother had only sisters and, as we've already noted, neither of those two would have been possible candidates to accept placement of a child in 1874.

Whether it was Thornton, William, Alexander, Henry, Daniel or John, the chase was now on to figure out just where Peachy's six brothers were in 1880. Although I made little headway—other than to determine that Daniel was listed by his middle name, "Harvey," and living as a single adult still in his mother's household—that all changed when I remembered one thing.

In that era, it was customary for gentlemen to go by their initials rather than by their given names.

Armed with that tactic, I was off, seeking the household of a Wilson sans first name, living with a nephew from India. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Peachy's Boy

Googling for genealogy may bring with it a certain measure of success, especially if the name in question happens to be an unusual one, like Peachy Taliaferro Wilson. But Google alone cannot open every digital door to researchers. Some treasures lie behind firewalls or require special subscriptions to access.

It occurred to me yesterday that I hadn't tried my hand at that very process—not at Google, but at some of the subscription newspaper services I use. So I headed over to and entered for my search term, "Peachy Wilson." I decided to leave all the search parameters wide open—not limiting the dates nor locations of publications—and see what might happen.

My only results were four hits from a newspaper in Helena, Montana. An unlikely place to begin my search for Peachy's children, The Daily Independent ran at least four issues in June, 1894, which included the Reverend Wilson's name.

The first mention, on June 17, was an announcement of upcoming activity at the local Methodist Episcopal church:
Rev. Dr. Peachy T. Wilson and wife, medical missionary of the North India conference, Budaum, India, [likely Budaun district, part of the Bareilly division of Uttar Pradesh] who is visiting in Helena, will talk at St. Paul's M. E. Sunday school to-day at 12:15, also at the children's day exercises in the evening. The doctor has been engaged in missionary work in India under the direction of the Methodist church for nearly twenty-five years.

Lest you think educational presentations were the sole reason for Dr. Wilson's arrival in Montana, there was apparently another purpose for his visit to the area. The clue slipped out in various "personals" placements among the pages of The Daily Independent during the week the Wilsons were in town. Inserted among the newspaper's ads, the notice read,
Wm. H. Wilson
Your father is at 727 Breckenridge street, Helena, and wishes to see you at once. Any information of my son will be thankfully received.

The insert was signed off by "Peachy T. Wilson, Missionary to India" and dated from Helena on June 19, 1894.

Perhaps this unusual published request caught the eyes of the editorial staff at the Independent, for it wasn't long until an article explaining the Wilsons' predicament ran in the paper. With the plaintive subheading, "Does Any One in this City or State Know the Address of Wm. H. Wilson?" the half-page-long column provided the back story.

Mentioning the personal ad having been run by Reverend Wilson, the newspaper called for a nineteenth century version of crowdsourcing when it guaranteed
There is a story in connection with that card that will enlist for Mr. Wilson the sympathy and aid of every man in the state, and of every woman also.

The article explained how the senior Wilson had served as a missionary in India for twenty seven years, and how, shortly after he arrived in India, his son William was born there. As we've already seen, the Independent recounted how, at six years of age, the Wilson son had traveled from India to the United States with the rest of his family, and how the children were left behind when "the parents" sailed, once again, for India.

Thankfully, the article included further details on William's life—at least the most recent part.
Six years ago the boy came to Montana. He found work on a horse ranch in Custer county, and every month his parents received a letter from him. After remaining in Custer county for a couple of years he went up into Choteau county and was employed by C. Wallace Taylor as a sheep herder. The winter of 1892-93 he spent in Helena, and also two months of the past winter and his parents heard from him regularly.

That is the point at which the litany of locations got fuzzy. Of course, it was also when his father wrote to let him know of his return to the States. Naturally, Peachy wanted to see "their boy"—which the newspaper was quick to mention was "now a man of 27 years of age"—but William advised them not to make the trip in the winter. It would be too abrupt a contrast in temperatures for the couple, now accustomed to the heat of India. They set their plans for a visit that June.

Despite letters being exchanged regularly every month, the Wilsons noted that the last they had heard from William was on March 4, 1894, in a letter postmarked Helena. William explained that he was headed out "in the country"—likely returning to his usual line of work. Peachy sent a reply stating the Wilsons would stick to their plan to visit in June.

That letter was returned to them, undelivered.

The report in the Independent noted how "sorely disappointed" the Wilsons were to not see "their boy" during this visit, since they hadn't seen him for years. Worse, they were soon to depart for India once again. They hardly wanted to leave without having the chance to visit with William, especially considering, as the newspaper put it, they "are well advanced in years."

The writer closed with a recap of the headlined plea to help the Wilsons find William, requesting newspapers throughout the state to also run a story on William, in case "he may see one of the country papers." Nearly begging the people of Helena—anyone associated with any boarding home where William might have stayed the past winter—to contact Peachy Wilson at his lodging in town, the newspaper concluded with their rallying cry, "That boy must be located for the old folks."

I never found any follow up report giving hope that the family was reunited. I tend to think Peachy and his wife left town without knowing what became of William.

Whatever the outcome of that drama in Helena, I do know one thing: in that long editorial call to action was inserted one clue that will further my search for William. According to the Independent, when the widowed Peachy Wilson left his children behind in America for his first return to India, he left William in care of "an uncle."    

Friday, April 15, 2016

A Home for Mary

A genealogist may seek out details on a couple's descendants in order to trace the line through further generations for specific reasons. In the case of the missionaries to India, Peachy T. and Mary Whitcomb Wilson, I needed to research descendants from two generations for one reason: I needed to find where the motherless Wilson children were raised.

Upon Mary Whitcomb Wilson's death, back in the United States in 1874, the Reverend Wilson had seen fit to return to India. There was only one complication: what to do with the children. With his wife gone, someone else would need to care for these young ones. Perhaps India was not, after all, the best place to raise them. According to reports, their father decided to find homes for them in America before returning, alone, to India.

The most logical place to find these children—at least, that's what I thought—would be with family members. That's why I was elated to find listings of Mary Whitcomb's siblings in the White genealogy I mentioned the other day. On the same page as her own entry, there were sections for each of Mary Whitcomb's two surviving sisters. I checked them carefully for possibilities that they might have taken in the Wilson children.

No such luck. As it turned out, one of the two married sisters—Nancy—had died within the very month in which she had married James M. Robbins. No chance she would turn out to be the doting aunt, having passed in 1866, long before the Wilson children had even returned home.

The other sister, Ellen, didn't marry until she was in her late forties. Besides, the year of her marriage—1889—was much too late to make a suitable household arrangement for the Wilson children, either.

I was gearing up to do a thorough search among Peachy's six brothers, to see who might have taken his children in, when I stumbled upon that hint of his daughter's subsequent marriage to someone named Gill. It wasn't long after I began googling for a Mary Wilson Gill that I came across one detail that seemed sure to be just the hint I was seeking.

The document was Mary's 1917 application for a passport. Just like her father after the death of his spouse, the widowed Mrs. Mary Gill was intent upon returning to India, and was set to sail in November or December of that same year.

I knew I had the right passport application, for she identified herself as daughter of Peachy T. Wilson, who was born in Christian County, Kentucky—which he was. She then further identified herself as widow of Joseph H. Gill, and explained the timeline of his emigration from County Tyrone in Ireland to school in Evanston, Illinois, via New York City—including date and location of his naturalization formalities.

In addition, she identified her "permanent residence" in the United States: a town in Illinois called Pekin (which in later missionary reports was rendered as "Peking," causing some confusion). Even better, additional pages of the application provided statements in support of her birth information by people who knew her since childhood—a type of delayed birth report, as evidently she had no documentation from the time of her birth in India.

One statement, by a man named Walter T. Smith—oh, Smith...did it have to be Smith?!—affirmed that he knew "the above named Mary Wilson Gill personally for forty years." I did a little quick math on that one, arriving at a date in 1877, only three years after Mary's mother had died. Conceding that might be close enough, I noticed that Mr. Smith's residence also happened to be in Pekin, Illinois.

Even better than that was the statement given on the subsequent page, by a Caroline Pieper Smith,
This is to certify that Mary Wilson Gill lived with me from June 1874 to February 1891 and that her father Rev. Peachy T. Wilson informed me that Mary Wilson Gill was born on July 10th 1865 at Rae Bareilly U.P. India.

What more could I ask? This must have been the couple who took in the Wilson children! How plain it all seemed, now. All I had to do was search for the 1880 census—the only possible year in which Mary would show in the enumeration in that household—and I would have the proof to back up this statement. wasn't so easy. For one thing, there wasn't any Mary Wilson in Pekin, Illinois, in 1880—at least, not one who was born in 1865 in India. As for husband and wife, Walter and Caroline Smith, there wasn't one of those couples, either.

What I did find, however, will suffice me—I hope. Sure enough, in Pekin, there was a Smith household in the 1880 census which contained a Walter and a Caroline, but Walter turned out to be the fifteen year old son of Caroline and her husband, D. C. (don't you hate those initials?) Smith.

The significant detail about that particular Smith household was not only the lack of anyone with a surname Wilson, but the listing of the rest of the children. After their oldest son Walter, the rest of the children were named, in order: daughter Mary, son Earnest, daughter Mary, son Dedrick, daughter Carry, son Austin.

Yes, you read that right: two daughters named Mary.

What was interesting about that older Mary—whose age was given as fourteen in this enumeration—was that, unlike all her "siblings" whose place of birth was in Illinois, hers was listed as something that looked like "Hindostin." And unlike the pattern of parents' birthplace listings for all the other children—father from Hanover, mother from Illinois—this Mary's father was from "Ketucky" and there was no entry for mother's place of birth.

I don't know about you, but I'd buy that as evidence of Mary's childhood home.

With no sign of her brothers, though, we'll have to look elsewhere for clues as to what became of them. Since it seems Mary's surrogate parents were not close relatives, the possibilities on this next search could be endless.

Above: Images from the 1880 United States census for Tazewell County, Illinois, courtesy
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