Monday, July 16, 2018
When devising a research plan, I'm accustomed to limited perspectives. "Research the Kelly line" or "get ready for that research trip to Fort Wayne" are typical, short-range plans I come up with.
In tackling my southern roots, especially in preparation for the SLIG class on southern research I'll be attending next January, I've got to expand my horizons. Why? In my case, it's not just a matter of researching one surname, or one line out of many. Thanks to my mother's family history, every line leads to a root in the south. Her paternal line involved a migration trek through colonial Virginia to settle in Tennessee, with a possible link to North Carolina, as well. Her maternal lines were in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, and elsewhere, also stretching back to colonial times.
It's one thing to learn how to expertly research a state. But in this case, we're talking about learning how to research an entire region—from the northern border of Maryland to the islands at the southern end of Florida, and from the tip of Cape Hatteras all the way to the endless domain of Texas.
That's a lot of learning.
The funny thing is, I've got kin in almost all of those places. And some of those folks have been making it pretty hard for me to find them.
It takes a plan to outfox those recalcitrant ancestors. And a strategy to step up my game from its status quo level of progress. For the past few years, my plan (other than for specific research trips) has been to move through all the branches of my family tree and add about one hundred documented ancestors or their collateral lines per week. Granted, now that process will be revised to focus specifically on only my maternal southern lines until I complete next January's class. But I need to do more than just "focus." I need some specific details to guide me.
A typical approach I've taken has been to regularly review my DNA matches to ascertain which family line can claim these hundreds of matches. While I've been contacting about one to two matches per week—some with gracious answers returned, some with nothing but silence—this is certainly no way to scale a mountain the size of my match lists. I've used some tools at GEDmatch.com and DNAGedcom—hey, I've even dabbled with DNA Painter—but I need to bite the bullet and learn how to master Genome Mate Pro.
Also, for the next six months, I need to organize a spreadsheet with all DNA match information, including notes from contacts, and which matches can be corresponded to which family lines. I think it would be great to just pull up a report of all the DNA matches across testing companies, for, say, my McClellan line. There is so much time frittered away, simply going back to look up one detail from one company, then jumping to details from another company. Streamlining the process, across all testing repositories, will help conserve time.
Most of all, though, my strategy needs to include the basic tactic of pushing each southern family line back as far in time as I can go through online resources. For families whose roots reach back to the 1600s here, it does me no good to stop at an ancestor living in the 1800s. There are still many lines I've not attended to, since stopping for lack of progress on their research when I last reviewed them ten years ago. So much has changed in online access to records in just the past year or so that it pays to review all these abandoned research lines to probe for fresh access to documentation. That will need to have its own plan for systematic review.
So, who am I looking for? I've got the Davis and Laws lines in Tennessee, both of which have me stuck in the early 1800s. I've got the Tilson line in Tennessee, which I know came from Mayflower origins in Massachusetts via Virginia—but how? I've got the Boothe line, also in Tennessee, from Nansemond County in Virginia, where I'm also stuck in the early 1800s. Likewise the Rileys, another early Tennessee family, supposedly from North Carolina in the late 1700s.
My maternal grandmother's Florida roots don't make life any easier. I've got McClellan, Charles, Tison and Sheffield who supposedly arrived there from North Carolina and Georgia, but how? I have yet to find out.
Many of these families are rich in history yet difficult to find, thanks to their status as early interlopers on the American frontier. My hope is that, with the many additions to online resources in the past few years, a fresh look at each of these lines will yield promising results. And for those mysteries still remaining, well, isn't that why I'm taking that research class at SLIG? One way or another, at the end of this campaign, these research strategies should yield me some helpful material—and help me figure out just how all those mystery DNA matches connect.
Sunday, July 15, 2018
When I decided, at my bi-weekly tally two weeks ago, that my next project focus needs to be on my southern maternal lines, I realized that would mean setting aside research on the other lines I'm working on. Of course, whenever those rare DNA test matches pop up on other family lines, I'll do what it takes to note any newly-discovered lines on my father's tree or my in-laws' trees. But from here on out until the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy class I'm taking in January, I may as well devote myself to working on the family line which relates to the southern research class I'm taking there.
So let's see how well I stuck to my plan in the past two weeks. When I started in this new direction, back at the beginning of the month, I had 13,732 in my mother's tree. Now, I have 188 more names—and supporting documentation—added to that tree. That's almost twice the increase I had gained over the past two-week sequence.
However, I couldn't quite let go of researching my mother-in-law's line, particularly because that is where most of my husband's DNA matches turn out to be. So, with a little incidental sprucing-up over the past two weeks, I still managed to add 140 documented names to her tree, as well. That tree, by the way, now has a total of 15,667 ancestors and relatives.
The hardest part about taking this new research approach is that absolutely nothing is happening on either my father's tree or my father-in-law's tree. Each one gained a big fat zero over the past two weeks. I'm not comfortable seeing those two lines languish, but unless a targeted research issue pops up—say, a promising connection via DNA test matches—I'll just have to set those two trees aside for a season.
As far as those DNA matches go, they seem to be in the doldrums, themselves, making me wish for a sale to perk up those languishing match numbers. I may have 3,182 matches at FTDNA, 995 at 23andMe, and an unbelievable 4,899 at MyHeritage, but for the most part, those represent distant connections or already-documented relationships. I'm still yearning for that magical moment when a match shows up whose line provides the answer to one of those intractable research puzzles. Don't we all.
Saturday, July 14, 2018
Sometimes, when I pull a book down off a shelf at my home, it's a volume which has been gathering dust for a long, long time. Other times, like today, it's a recent addition to my book-hoarding collection.
I'm not sure exactly how I stumbled upon this book by the prolific Dr. Jonathan Oates, but I suspect I first saw it at the book seller's exhibit during break time at SLIG one year. Or perhaps a fellow blogger mentioned it online. In either case, I put it on my wish list at Amazon, and a certain thoughtful someone in my family decided to make it a Christmas gift.
Fast forward to July, when I began wondering just how—and when—I could write up the outrageous story of the international crime spree of my distant cousin, John Syme Hogue, the "yeggman." That's when I remembered the reason that certain book seemed like such a good idea to read.
The book, Tracing Villains and Their Victims, provides a guide to researching one's black sheep ancestors, which is exactly what I intend to pursue in more detail than when I first posted the story of my distant cousin. There is, however, a caveat to the usefulness of this book—something I hadn't, at first, noticed. Jonathan Oates, the Ealing Borough Archivist and Local History Librarian, happens to specialize in a region far removed from that of the black sheep in my family: London, England.
Despite that drawback, the book still provides many useful resources, not only for England, but in guiding the reader through any legal system related to the British heritage. Thus, my criminal cousin, caught for his deeds in Canada, faced a judicial system, a hundred years ago, much like that of its parent nation, the primary focus of Oates' book.
Not only that, but in other research projects—for instance, reading the petty court reports for my husband's ancestors in County Kerry, Ireland, or the sentence of "transportation" for another Irish relative—I find the guidance offered in the Oates book to be helpful. The impact of the British legal system reached across the globe. Those now in Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand as well as the United States can better understand our ancestors' plight at the hands of the British judicial system of the past centuries through the reading of this guide.
The key is understanding the history of the development of that judicial system. That helps us understand what our ancestors—both law abiding and law-evading—experienced. As with understanding any type of history, learning the specific details of one given time and place will paint a clearer picture of what our own ancestors expected as day-to-day risks and protections.
Of course, for those notorious ancestors that sometimes pop up in our research, a book such as Oates' can help illuminate the process by guiding us to the documents we seem to crave in our quest to fill in the blanks on these people's lives. In John Syme Hogue's case, once I'm ready to delve into the court proceedings in both Manitoba and Ontario, I'm sure I'll need a handy guide through this international—to me—system of law and order.
Friday, July 13, 2018
The end of a project always creates an unwieldy vacuum. What's next? There are so many directions in which to head, making the choice difficult. But a choice does need to be made.
While I'm waiting for the green light on our next photo-hunting trip to the hills, I have some family research projects to work on. The big item on this agenda is to take a good look at my deep south ancestors, where a number of research projects have been hiding. Granted, it's a challenge to do on-site research when your ancestors lived in South Carolina or Florida or Tennessee and when the researcher happens to currently live in California, but I will eventually cross that bridge to get some hands-on work done.
In the meantime, I do have a class coming up next January at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy which will focus on that very topic: researching southern roots. I need to go back and pull up the main stories I want to pursue, so I can arm myself with questions once the first day of class opens. I haven't really delved into that side of my family, so there certainly is work to be done before class starts.
Regardless of these good intentions, I will probably not jump right in to that line of research quite yet. Why? Because a tempting offer just came calling with its Siren Internet call: there's free access to all the records at the New England Historic Genealogical Society website from this very moment onwards to next Tuesday. I'd like to insert only until Tuesday, July 17, but I suppose I should be grateful.
I suppose I can also claim that, in taking up the American Ancestors offer, I will really be doing the very work that I need to do, leading up to that SLIG class next January: my Tennessee Tilson line is, after all, rooted in the early years of colonial New England. As in, Mayflower colonial. And taking up the NEHGS offer of free access gives me a chance to peek at the Mayflower Society Silver Books to see what they have written on Ruth Bartlett, my fifth generation Mayflower-descendant ancestor.
Of course, I can't really help it if I find myself wandering off into other records...
Thursday, July 12, 2018
Now that the last of the abandoned photographs has been sent back to family, it's time to look for more. The thought that my ancestors' pictures—or yours, for that matter—could still be out there, facing the fate of being tossed out or lost in an estate sale, is a compelling consideration. While what I'm doing here at A Family Tapestry may never give me the chance to find my own family's photographs, at least it will allow me to grant a fellow researcher a pleasant surprise. Consider this a "giving back" project.
So it's off to a few more antique shops to see what we can find. We—my indefatigable genealogy-rescuing travel partner Sheri Fenley and I—are hoping to schedule a trip up to California Gold Rush country again soon.
If you recall, last time we went, we headed northeast to the area around Sutter Creek and Jackson. This time, we plan to follow the Gold Country Highway—state highway 49, named on account of the "49ers" who arrived there in 1849, just after the start of the gold rush—to the south of our last visit. Our goal this time will be to visit the historic community of Sonora, and possibly also stop in Jamestown or Angels Camp.
The good news is that there is at least one antique shop in Sonora, our first stop, which has—at least, according to their response to my query—"hundreds" of photos. We'll see whether any of those pictures include the vital element: an inscription on the reverse which provides enough identification of the subjects to make it possible for me to return the item to family.
Though most of the photographs I've already found were taken long after gold fever died down in the foothills of northern California, I am still amazed at how many pictures—taken in the 1870s through the early 1900s—still made their way from family roots in other countries to those relatives who chose to settle where their "get rich quick" schemes faded, so long ago. It is always fun to explore those bins storing abandoned photographs from a century long gone, and apparently, we are in for more fun with our next trip to the foothills.
Meanwhile, before we ever get on the road again, I've got some other research to take care of. We'll take a look at the to-do list tomorrow.
Wednesday, July 11, 2018
One of the benefits of those old-fashioned genealogical societies is that they gave family history hobbyists an outlet to meet other like-minded enthusiasts. One detraction we find on the other side of the digital divide is that lack of face to face interaction. There are, however, virtual attempts at reconnecting long-lost relatives and facilitating collaboration among distant cousin researchers, and Ancestry.com, for one, has made sure to include such options in their offerings.
When I build a tentative tree for the subjects featured in these abandoned, hundred-year-old photographs I find, I keep an eye out for those Ancestry shaky-leaf hints which show other subscribers who are also researching the same line.
Granted, they can't find me—I'm always careful to mask my research "sandbox" by making the tree private and unsearchable so no one gloms on to my guesses and transforms them into gospel truth by adding them to another tree, unverified. But by paying attention to what other Ancestry subscribers are doing, I can find serious researchers who are carefully constructing their tree through sound reasoning and ample documentation.
While it might be nice to cross check what I am doing with these well-documented trees, what I am really looking for, in this process, is a close family member who might be interested in receiving the actual photograph. It is fairly easy, on a public tree posted at Ancestry, to tell who is a close relative of my photo's subject, and who is someone like me, researching fifth cousins and beyond for the sake of DNA testing or other personal goals. It's those close relatives I'm looking for—someone who not only is particular about the accuracy of their research, but who is also close enough to appreciate the opportunity to receive that relative's picture.
But now we come to the photo of Henry with John Reed's daughter. Henry who? And which daughter? Do I even have the right John Reed? These are questions that plague me as I try to determine whether enough work has been done to send this little treasure home to family.
For one thing, I had to make the choice between two men. Knowing how much less people cared about precise spelling of names in that era of time, it was quite possible that either of two men with similar names could be the right one: John Holmes Reed, a teacher and farmer from the outskirts of Guelph, or John Read, the machinist from the north ward of the city.
Then there was the consideration of which of John Reed's (or Read's) daughters would be the right one. John Read's older daughter seemed a bit too old, yet his younger one too young. John Reed, the farmer from Erin Township, had two older daughters, either of whom could have qualified as the woman in the photograph.
The added benefit was the demonstrated connection to California—location where I finally found the photo, over one hundred years later—where John Reed's brothers had several descendants take up residence.
While I'm still not sure which Henry was the right identity for the man in the photograph, we do know that the woman in the picture was one of John Reed's daughters. Since the most helpful Reed family tree I found on Ancestry belonged to a direct descendant of John Reed, himself, it seemed the most reasonable choice to send the photograph to this descendant, who, incidentally, is interested in receiving it.
So, despite the remaining doubts, off this photo goes to its new home across the border, where a descendant of the only one whose first and last name were provided in the photo's inscription will gratefully add it to the family's records of their heritage.
Tuesday, July 10, 2018
Just at the point at which I was going to call it quits and stop puzzling over that mystery photograph from Guelph, Ontario, the ongoing conversation with the Reed family researcher I found via Ancestry brought up one more question: what about James Henry Reed's daughter Victoria Ellen?
James Henry Reed was the one Reed brother I had mentioned yesterday in that litany reciting the universe of possible Henrys to be the subject in the hundred year old photo I found. James Henry Reed's son—eligible on account of his name being Henry—I had already dismissed out of hand because he was married by the time our mystery photograph may have been taken. My reasoning was that it would be unlikely for this Henry to sit for his photograph with another woman—even if she was a cousin—because he was already married.
While that was a valid point, it was only true up until 1898, when that Henry Reed's first wife died. Between that date and 1904, the date of his second marriage, he was a widower. If the photograph was taken at the later end of our possible date range, it could have been this Henry who was featured in the photograph with our unnamed daughter of John Holmes Reed.
What makes that an interesting possibility is that this Henry—just like another of his cousins we had been considering—had a sister who moved to California.
The only problem with that realization: those Ancestry subscribers who include this sister in their family tree have noted the wrong California county in their records.
Hoping that the full date of death provided in some Reed family trees on Ancestry was correct, I entered the woman's first name only—those records all had her listed as still unmarried—and searched in California with the exact date of death. Then, with the search result showing a possible married woman with the same first name, I turned to newspaper archives to locate any obituaries under that exact name which might help determine whether that married woman was the same as the person I knew only by her maiden name.
With that, I discovered some interesting clues about Victoria Ellen Reed, this Henry's sister and daughter of James Henry Reed of Ontario, Canada. Victoria had married an Englishman by name of Fred Herring. For a while, they lived in Minnesota—long enough to add four children to their family—and then they headed to California.
What is interesting about this couple is that they were considered "early settlers" of the area in which they made their home in California—the small town of Rio Linda which, today, is just across the state highway from the Sacramento airport. Furthermore, as an echo of Victoria's grandfather, her husband served as Rio Linda's postmaster.
Of their two surviving children, Fred and Victoria left a daughter, Bertha, and a son, William Reed Herring. Bertha, in her younger years, served as a teacher in Turlock, California, not far from where some cousins eventually settled. Her brother, known as Reed, moved to Truckee in the employment of one of the railroad companies, but eventually joined the National Guard and could be spotted in newspaper articles mentioning his location in various northern California cities.
Whether either of these two surviving children of Fred and Victoria Herring ever inherited a copy of the photograph of—maybe—their uncle Henry Reed, I can't be sure. All I know is that it makes more sense for the Canadian Henry in the mystery photograph to be associated with a family member who had connections in northern California. After all, that's where I found the photo, over one hundred years later.