Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Unpredictable Trail
Leading to Genealogical Discoveries

Who can explain the unpredictable outcomes that sometimes pop up when we attempt to uncover our ancestral past? Thankfully, there are heartwarming "coincidences" to counterbalance the never-ending drudgery of attempting to serve as human battering ram against those impenetrable genealogical brick walls.

And who can explain the seeming illogical approaches we researchers sometimes take? No matter how much that small voice nagged me about looking up that name I was working on—Charles Robb—I couldn't find it in me to do just that simple little matter. It was a roundabout way that led me to—finally—stumble upon the answer I would have had right away, if only I had paid attention to what my better senses were screaming at me.

With the eldest child of James and Frances Woolley Robb being born on the cusp of the 1940 census enumeration, there was little chance I'd discover anything substantial about their other children—if there were any other children to be found, at all. Besides, with that unfortunate entry for their baby in the 1940 census—listed only as "infant"—there was little for me to go on.

Since I couldn't move forward on this particular line, I had only a few details to wrap up on James Robb and his wife, and I would advance to the next step in my usual research protocol. If it weren't for the fact that I still needed to look up the dates and places for the couple's passing, I wouldn't have stumbled upon the serendipitous discovery I found at Find A Grave.

There to insure that I didn't just walk away without learning the rest of this line's story was the Find A Grave entry for James Spittal Robb. His last days were spent, apparently, in Fauquier County, Virginia, where he died on October 17, 1995.

It wasn't the mere gleaning of a genealogically significant date that was the capstone discovery, but the fact that some kind soul out there thought it might be helpful to post an article from the Milwaukee Sentinel, of all places, which included mention of both James and Frances Robb. While the volunteer was quite careful to remove mention of any person still living, she included quite an informative excerpt from the September 16, 1967, article.

The article, by Marian McBride, had a title which promised to be worth the read: "Robb's Lineage Old, Good." I took a glance at the body of the article, just in case I hadn't already captured any of the information the writer had included.

I didn't have to look far. The first sentence included by the Find A Grave volunteer in this excerpt began, "Their son's wedding is slated to be the first in the White House since 1918...."

I knew it! That name just rang a bell. Forget senator. Forget governor. How could anyone forget that fairy tale ending, dream-come-true wedding?

And this was the guy.

Oh, he was all the others, too. By this time, I had finally brought myself to Google the guy's name. Sure enough, there was the photograph of the handsome young marine, with the hand of the eldest daughter of the United States President tucked in his arm. Along with that, the Wikipedia article confirmed all the rest of the man's accomplishments.

Just in case some Wikipedia volunteer got that all wrong, I looked up the bio for the son of James and Frances Robb in the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Senator? Check.

And—doubting Thomasina that I am—I consulted the Encyclopedia Virginia, the official publication of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Governor of Virginia? Check.

But most interesting was the realization that here were the details on a man who was, incredibly enough, related to my family. Admittedly, sixth cousin once removed is quite a distance, genealogically speaking. We likely share zero centiMorgans of DNA, based on that level of relationship. But hey: it's a more likely link than anything the "We're Related" app could conjure up—and besides, I did the research for it all, myself. 


  1. I knew it! I just knew you were headed to this discovery. This is better than reading posts on Facebook about people being related to Charlemagne.

    1. I can't wrap my head around that thought about Charlemagne, Wendy. Forget that--when I first discovered the Robb connection, I couldn't wrap my head around even that!

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks...not to mention, the article you linked me to was a great piece on the family's recent history as well. Appreciate the tip!


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