Friday, November 30, 2012

Young Man, Headed East

Though the fabled advice, “Go west, young man,” may actually be an instance of a saying without a say-er, it does represent the general migration trend in the early years of our nation. However, not only does it post-date the action taken by one particular ancestor of our interest, it also stands in direct contrast to it.

For all that I do not yet know about Nancy Ann Jackson Snider’s own father—John Jay Jackson—I have been able to find some anecdotes recording a few of his life’s escapades.

I suppose I can say I found some consolation in locating a brief biographical sketch of his life in the 1883 volume, History of Fairfield and Perry Counties, Ohio: Their Past and Present. That publication, crediting A. A. Graham as “compiler” is actually one book in two parts: that covering the Ohio county of Fairfield, and a second focusing on the county I’m researching—Perry County.

The brief mention of John Jackson in that book did not occur until after three hundred pages of text on the more notable institutions and individuals of both counties. It was included in a section labeled, “Miscellaneous.” Well, I guess I should be glad for catch-all categories. That surely beats being totally excluded, at least for this researcher.

There is a lot to be gleaned from that mere paragraph—or at least to be pondered. If nothing else, it provides me with my marching orders for a future research project.
John J. Jackson, of this township, and the latest surviving soldier of the War of 1812 in it, though a quiet, modest man all his life, has rather an eventful history. He served through the War of 1812, and drew a pension to the day of his death, for military services rendered the United States Government. After the war was over, he in some way drifted to St. Louis, and he emigrated from that place, or vicinity, to Bearfield township, Perry county, Ohio, and his name will be found in the history of that township as one of the first settlers. His first wife was an Ijams, a sister of William, John and Joseph Ijams, well remembered by the older citizens of Perry county. Mr. Jackson and others journeyed from St. Louis, across the country, to this county, in 1815 or 1816. It was a journey full of strange adventures. So far as now remembered, Mr. Jackson and companions are the only pioneers of Perry county who emigrated from the West. All the others came from the East or South, and nearly all from the East.
Such a dubious claim to fame: being the “only pioneers of Perry county who emigrated from the West.” It is certainly a curiosity—one for which, I guess, I can be glad, for it earned him a place in the historic record from which I can now begin my work.

Despite appearing to be a valid resource, though, it still leaves me with that squishy sense of needing to further verify some details. Some of those details don’t jive with reports I’ve read elsewhere. While it is wonderful having access to a history book drawn up just after the later years of John Jackson’s own life, even this contemporaneous record gives me pause to proceed with caution.

It is interesting to note that, while the preface and introduction hope to “be free from errors,” with a wry sense of the inevitable, I noticed that the volume is, ultimately, the product of a newspaperman—and you know how I feel about newspapers and getting things right. Such irony was not long in making itself apparent, with the Perry County portion of the book credited in the compiler’s preface to E. H. Colburn, and in the author’s preface signed as E. S. Colborn.

And we get snappish when genealogy researchers state their source documents incorrectly!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

When in Doubt, Start From the Beginning

If, in the first place, I had never found all that material gleaned—and then lost—from my research trip last summer, how would I have started my search now? Wouldn’t I have turned to resources where I could find documents on the family’s existence?

I have to shake myself awake, back to reality, and realize: when I slip and fall along the genealogy research trail, just pick up and continue. If all is lost during that “fall,” then go back and start from the beginning.

It's kind of like the “Do Not Pass ‘Go,’ Do Not Collect $200” card in Monopoly. But it doesn’t really mean I’ve been sent to Monopoly Jail—nor Genealogy Jail, for that matter. Family history research is really that plodding journey, taking one painstakingly researched step at a time. Losing research notes is no excuse to imagine it will become any different from any other research assignment.

Since I’ve already discovered that my target person—Nancy Ann Jackson Snider—was the daughter of John Jay Jackson, let’s see what can be found in other resources regarding the man.

My handwritten notes said that John Jackson arrived in Bearfield Township of Perry County, Ohio, by late August, 1818.

Well, we’ve already seen that it is no problem to look up the 1820 census record, itemized by specific township, in this website here. Going straight to the link for Bearfield Township (which is only two pages long), it doesn’t take long to find a listing for the household of one John J. Jackson.

The household itself is small—only three people listed. That would make sense. For the 1820 census—which notes the enumeration date as August seventh—John Jackson would be at least thirty one years of age. His wife, Sarah, would be approximately twenty four years old. Depending on which date turns out to be the correct one for their marriage, it would be appropriate for them to have at least one child under the age of ten. And that is what the census reports for the John J. Jackson household in Bearfield Township.

Once again, that yields me a verification of an ancestor eligible for designation as a First Families of Ohio candidate. But what if this is not the right John J. Jackson? Although I’ve already read other reports stating that Nancy Ann Jackson Snider’s father settled first in Bearfield Township, just in case, I took a look through the rest of the 1820 census for Perry County, Ohio. While there is a Jacob Jackson in Jackson Township and a George Jackson in Reading Township, there is no other John Jackson listed in the 1820 census for Perry County.

While I fervently wish there were listings for the women in those early census records, I know that is a useless effort. Unless there were some online church baptismal records—there are none for this Jackson family that I can find—the women remained nameless in these governmental records, eliminating one way to ascertain whether the John Jackson I’ve found is the correct one.

I’ll take what I can get, though, and I’m settling with this census record—for the time being. There are still other records I can check in my quest to find out more about this Jackson family of Perry County, Ohio.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Deciphering Those Old Handwritten Notes

Ever get in a real hurry while trying to hand copy information? Especially during research trips when I have limited time, I’ve found it best to make a few general—er, make that cryptic—notes and then photocopy the material I wish to reference. In the end, it always works out better for me.

Unless, of course, I go and lose the photocopy.

In my case—and I’m talking about last summer’s chance visit to the Fort Wayne Allen County Public Library—I had found so many valuable snippets of information scattered throughout nearly a dozen books. One of the largest finds was an accidental discovery regarding an offshoot of my husband’s Snider line: the family of Nancy Ann Jackson, the woman who eventually became wife of Simon Snider of Perry County, Ohio.

Once I settled in to actually read the article on Nancy Jackson Snider, I found so much new—well, at least new-to-me—data that I grabbed pen and paper and began scribbling it all down. About midway between the first and second page of the article, I realized I was making so many notes that it would really do me a better service to photocopy the passage.

Of course, the rest of the story was that I somehow lost the photocopy. I’m now left, back at square one, with my own miserable chicken scratch. Which is pretty sorry.

The article itself seemed rather disjointed. Perhaps I should just chalk that up to my tendency to get in a rush when I’m short on time. After all, this was a huge library collection. I only get to pass this way once in a long while. And I had only that evening and the next morning to conquer it all.

In the midst of that rush, my speed-reading skills failed miserably. I started a quick outline of the main points of the article. Pretty soon, I lost track of whether the article was referring to father or sons. This got tricky when names were passed from one generation to the next, and then augmented with dates of death. Deaths of wives seemed mashed into the text in such a way that it was unclear who was married twice, and who had children from previous marriages.

My dream trip had turned into a nightmare.

You’d think I was talking about transcribing old German script, the way I’m carrying on. It’s not that bad. I did figure out a few things about Nancy Ann Jackson. She was the daughter of John Jackson and Sarah Howard Ijams. Nancy's father—and possibly the rest of the family—arrived in Bearfield Township of Perry County by late August, 1818.

But was I reading too fast? I have notes stating that Nancy's parents, John and Sarah, were married in Missouri, not Ohio—which wouldn’t make sense, since the Ijams family evidently was another candidate for First Families of Ohio. Why, in the early part of the 1800s, would Nancy’s mother journey from her pioneer home in Ohio to marry someone in Missouri, if he were planning to return to Ohio? Isn’t the wedding usually held near the home of the bride?

My notes include dates of death that don’t seem to match other records I’m finding online. And lists of siblings—for whom? Nancy Jackson? Or her mother, Sarah Howard Ijams? Those names all seem the same, as I’m discovering from other online records.

Sandwiched in amidst all the chicken scratch was a helpful note: the name of the book from which the material was extracted. Even though distracted by the limits to my time, I must have retained enough researching sanity to record my resource—or perhaps that was before I decided to scrap the note-taking method and make life easier for myself with photocopies.

And yet, that note itself seems doomed to not provide any assistance. The book, Pioneers of Perry County Ohio by 1830, which was published in 2003 by the Perry County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society, is mysteriously not on the chapter’s list of resources for sale. From 2003? Really? Then I guess listing the page numbers in my notes won’t entitle me to any self-congratulatory victory, if I can’t acquire a copy of the publication.

At this point, I am seriously considering belief in conspiracy theories…

Document, above, is an example of German kurrentschrift: "Lehrbrief der Barbier- und Chirurgen-Zunft zu Eisleben für den Barbier- und Chirurgenlehrling Johann Heinrich Bethmann aus Sondershausen. Kalligraphie auf Pergament. Eisleben, 17. Juli 1700" ("Lesson of the barber-surgeons' guild in Eisleben and the barber-surgeon's apprentice and Johann Heinrich Bethmann from Sondershausen. Calligraphy on parchment. Eisleben, 17 July 1700"). Courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Clueless About That Clue

How many times have genealogy researchers—you know, the ones who should know better—berated themselves for making one simple mistake, when it comes to documentation?

Let me paint you a scenario.

You have just found out that you have this wonderful opportunity to squeeze in a few hours of research at one of the nation’s primo genealogy libraries. You hurry and gather all your material in preparation for the big trip. On the day you arrive, you dive right in to work.

Fortunately—given the extreme limit on your amount of time allotted for the visit—you find yourself inundated with great resources almost instantly. Too many sources, actually. And you scramble to get everything organized, noted, photocopied, or whatever can be done to glean every last bit of material before you have to leave.

After time is up, you triumphantly close up all the books, button up your notebooks and computers with a flourish and head for the door with the rest of your crack research team, confident that you now have, in your possession, a reasonable facsimile of all the wealth you located during your whirlwind research opportunity.

And then you get back home, open up your new-found treasure trove, and discover—to your dismay—that that most important record you had transcribed neglects a source.

How did that happen?

I don’t know—but believe me, while I don’t know how it happened, in my case, I know that it did happen.

Cry, scream, rant, bang head—it all doesn’t matter. Nothing will recoup that missing citation. The only recourse is to reconstruct the research trail and hope to fortuitously stumble upon that same source once again.

Of course, another trip to the Allen County Public Library is not in my future for several more months. And I certainly don’t want to wait that long. So…step one in my process to recreate the record of Nancy Ann Jackson Snider’s family tree will be to write it all out here—what I know so far, and what I find as I try out the reconstruction phase of this search.

Here’s what I had in my notes. First, I believe the book in which I found the material (you know, the one I thought I had photocopied) was a publication by the local Perry County, Ohio, Genealogical Society. Step one might be to contact them and see if anyone knows which book I have in mind. (Of course, that might also mean that the book is actually a compilation of society members’ own research notes—in which case, it wouldn’t be source documents, and I would still need to check the paper trail for myself.)

Then, I need to transcribe my notes and put them in a reasonable order. I need to glean the substance from the outline I wrote.

At that point, I can use those transcribed notes as a road map on a virtual trip that will, hopefully, lead me back to the point of the information I’m seeking: whether Nancy Ann Jackson’s father was John J. Jackson and whether that John Jackson—or perhaps his father—did indeed serve as a patriot in the Revolutionary War.

At least, that’s what this nameless, missing source seemed to indicate.

Maybe it’s a good thing that I’m missing that actual photocopied page. It’s forcing me to retrace my steps and test the research trail for myself.

In that case, the first clue is: doing your own research is the best policy—as long as you don’t forget to include the source citations. You could, after all, have just walk out of the library without that photocopied prize you thought you still had in your possession.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Never Been This Way Before

The scary thing about finishing a series—at least for this genealogy blogger—is encountering that great gap of The Unknown into which the writer tumbles.

I’ve just finished tracing a viable route from my husband’s Ohio family back to an ancestor qualifying for First Families of Ohio status by virtue of arrival in the state before 1821. Nicholas Schneider—soon to be recorded as “Snider”—proved to be our man, and I am drawing up the paperwork so I can get our completed packet in the mail well before the deadline.

In the midst of that paperwork journey, I uncovered an interesting side note: Nicholas’ daughter-in-law—the one whose marriage record left me in doubt over her actual maiden name—may very well have also qualified as First Families of Ohio material.

That isn’t all. Miss Nancy Ann Jackson-or-is-it-Johnson may also lead to D. A. R. membership for any of the women in my husband’s family who cares to pursue the application.

Of course, this isn’t something I can rustle up at a moment’s notice. Just that little slip of the pen while the clerk filled out the Sniders’ marriage license back in 1841 will cause me extra documentation steps.

Even after sorting out that paperwork error, this pursuit will take me some research time. The problem is: once a genealogy aficionado commits to blogging about her research discoveries, there is an instant switch in the status of all available time: presto, change-o, suddenly all spare time is consumed with writing about what has already been discovered, leaving precious little time to pursue further research.

So, once again, dear guinea pig reader, I beg your patience as I take you on my next research journey: the quest to connect Simon Snider’s wife, (possibly) the former Nancy Ann Jackson, to a Revolutionary War Patriot. The quest, of course, will take some time, for I’ve never been this way before. Not being clairvoyant, I can’t foresee any pitfalls in this trailblazing journey. I can’t predict that I’ll even make my goal. I can only promise that, like a faithful guide, I’ll report what I see as I see it, and hope that we won’t miss any significant hints or warnings along the way.

In the meantime, let’s settle this niggling doubt about just what Nancy Ann’s maiden name was. We’ve already seen that the marriage record is of no help whatsoever. That document alone provides us a fifty-fifty chance of being wrong in our assumptions, which would never do.

There’s got to be some other way to verify her maiden name other than that erroneous 1841 record. Our quandary is that there are precious few other governmental documents kept at that time. There are church records, of course, but that introduces the tedium of having to rely not only on snail mail—anathema to most of us now spoiled with instant digital communication methods—but also on the good graces of the keepers of whatever archives are still extant in the local diocese.

However, if we are willing to bide our time until an era when governmental records stepped up to the plate and provided the kind of details we genealogy researchers prefer, we do have many ways to get around that 1841 clerical error that has me stymied. Let’s call those many ways “children.”

Nancy Ann and her husband, Simon Snider, were the proud parents of at least fourteen children. Of those children who lived past the date in which government agencies began collecting additional information on death records, we have several whose own death records report mother’s maiden name.

Now, you know how iffy death records can be—and can you blame bereaved family members for making reporting mistakes in the midst of such loss?—but I’d still like to say that these additional documents should be keepers for our paper trail.

Let’s take a look at what we can find, right now, online, as far as scanned and transcribed documents go.

Of Simon and Nancy’s children who died after, say 1905, I can immediately locate digitized records for two of them. Sarah Rebecca, who married John Overmyer, died in Ohio in 1935—a date sure to include all the information we’d be seeking. Her sister Emily Catherine Gordon—the one included in my husband’s direct line—passed much earlier, in 1915, but her Ohio record includes what we want, too.

Nicholas, one of the Snider children who emigrated from Ohio, was a bit more challenging to find. He moved to Iowa, but evidently died in Minnesota. Though the search for his record was more difficult—thanks to transcription issues listing him with the improbable spellings of “Nicholi,” “Nicholis” and “Nichols,” in addition to the alternate surname spelling of Snyder—the 1925 record still shows the mother’s maiden name we want, despite other obvious reporting errors. And his younger brother, Robert James Snider, dying in West Virginia in 1933, also provides a transcribed record.

Each of these four records shows the mother’s maiden name reported as Jackson. Not one mentions Johnson as the correct name.

Of course, there is the possibility that these are coincidentally the four out of fourteen that were in total error. I’ll grant that possibility. Yet there is simply not much more that can be done in recouping those records of the children who died prior to the more complete capture of personal information on civil records. And of those other children whose later death certificates I’ve yet to locate, I’ll do my due diligence to keep my eye open for any threatened Johnson surnames encroaching upon those governmental records.

Step one—confirming that we are talking about Nancy Ann Jackson and not Nancy Johnson—completed.

Now we can delve into the slow process of determining what happened in the generation that preceded Nancy—for we will encounter our next road hazard warning at this upcoming bend in the ancestral trail.

Above right: Edmund Leighton, "Til Death Do Us Part," oil on canvas, 1878; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Got Pumpkin?

Those of us in the United States are seeing another cozy Thanksgiving holiday weekend draw to a close. The afterglow of a mellow time with those we love, coupled with some fabulous feasting, make this a favorite time of year.

While we claim this holiday as a time to focus on gratefulness, there is nothing that reminds me so much of the countless reasons for gratitude as history. Yes, history. Pure and simple.

Just thinking back over this year, and the stories uncovered here in A Family Tapestry, I realize how many times in this research I had to stop—in amazement, often—and realize what a price some people paid to conquer whatever obstacles stood in their way to a new life. I think, especially, of Bishop Frederic Baraga and his work in establishing mission outposts throughout the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and of Bishop Edward Fenwick and his pioneer work throughout the early years of Ohio statehood—two men whose influence had a direct impact on my own family's ancestors' lives.

Of course, there is a story that we all share in common as Americans—whether you consider it legend or legacy, and whether you can link your own ancestors to New England heritage or not—the history of the pilgrims who established what became known as Plymouth Colony.

The hardships endured by these immigrants—and the many others from whom the great majority of us descend—illustrate the value of the lessons we receive from history. The simple observation of what life was like in specific instances, whether in the lives of what we now honor as “famous” people or in the lives of our own ancestors, can speak volumes when we compare life’s details back then with the bounty we enjoy today.

One year, while studying Pilgrim history as a homeschooling project, I ran across what seemed to us to be a humorous poem about Pilgrim life. I thought the poem’s closing comment to be a wry statement about their living conditions—although whether it was originally meant as such, I cannot tell. The poem was first featured in a volume called The Pilgrim Fathers, published by British artist and engraver W. H. Bartlett in London in 1852 and reprinted in Boston in Annie Russell Marble’s 1920 book, The Women Who Came in the Mayflower.

Writings like this—whatever letters, journals, or other original documents we uncover of our relatives’ stories or even the stories of the communities they lived in—give me a deeper appreciation of the heritage they have passed down to our own families today. Sometimes, it is so painfully clear what a great price they paid to gain whatever goals they sought. Sometimes, though, even amidst the struggle, there is still room for a wry smile.

The place where we live is a wilderness wood,
Where grass is much wanted that’s fruitful and good;
Our mountains and hills and our valleys below,
Are commonly covered with frost and with snow.

Our clothes we brought with us are apt to be torn,
They need to be clouted soon after they are worn,
But clouting our garments they hinder us nothing,
Clouts double are warmer than single whole clothing.

If fresh meate be wanted to fill up our dish,
We have carrots and turnips whenever we wish,
And if we’ve a mind for a delicate dish,
We go to the clam-bank and there we catch fish.

For pottage and puddings and custards and pies,
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies!
We have pumpkin at morning and pumpkin at noon,
If it was not for pumpkin we should be undoon.

Above: Henry A. Bacon, "The Landing of the Pilgrims," oil on canvas, 1877; from Pilgrim Hall Museum, courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Into a Season of Giving

In case you haven’t noticed it, we are barely twenty four hours past the cataclysmic launch into yet another holiday shopping season.

I’ve staunchly held my bah-humbug position that this should not be the time to fuel a Season of Getting, but in the true spirit of Christmas, focus on a time for giving.

My husband and I seem to be simpatico on this account. Just the other day, he was flipping through some reading material, out of which popped a card.

“Here,” he said, handing me the postcard, “What do you think of this for Christmas?”

Since we have just finished a major house makeover with a flooring project in four different rooms, plus the installation of some desperately-needed new appliances, I braced myself for the additional expense that would be revealed on the card.

It wasn’t another major purchase. It wasn’t even some fun technology toy. It was a simple way to re-think gift giving.

I had heard of the company which produced the card before. Actually, I had first read about the organization in former president Bill Clinton’s book, Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World. Now that company is proposing that people re-envision this season of giving as a time to become a blessing to others, instead of reciprocally blessing ourselves.

Not that we need any more of all that stuff! Think about it: in America, the land of opportunity, even in the midst of our current dire economic straits, when we need something—and I’m talking basic needs here, not cell phones or hundred-dollar sports shoes—we go out and buy it. Just like that.

The non-profit organization that placed that ad on the card in my hand was asking that people consider giving the kind of gift that would help someone who couldn’t go out and buy that item right away—or ever—even if it were badly needed. The gift would be given in our names, or could be given in the name of someone we choose to honor during this holiday season.

I’m not sure how overjoyed my sister-in-law might be on that bright Christmas morning when she opens her gift from us to discover that it was actually a gaggle of geese, but if we proceed with this idea, that may very well be what happens. Of course, the geese won’t exactly be right there in the same box.

That would be unsanitary.

And quite useless.

But in her name, Heifer International would send a flock of geese to a specific family somewhere out there in the world—someone neither she nor I would ever meet, but someone for whom this gift would make all the difference.

The idea on that card, of course, got me thinking. Whether we decide to pursue this crazy idea with the geese—or maybe a llama for my sister—we still can adapt the spirit of the idea. And we can do that looking no farther than our own backyard, in some cases. There is a lot we can do to make a difference in our own communities, whether in the name of Christmas gifts, or by extending the effort throughout the year.

I think of those groups genealogists and family history researchers focus on most: organizations like local historical societies and museums that remind us not to neglect the lessons of our past. I think of one of my favorite bloggers, who in real life plays a museum director for a county historical museum—a place where a dollar is stretched to the max to maintain and augment local displays, and where a kind donation would make such a difference. I think of all the local genealogical societies engaged in the same mission; knowing that when groups like these receive donations, they are greatly appreciated.

In doing the research for my D. A. R. application, when I told my sister about my successful completion, the first words out of her mouth were, “I want that, too!” Can I make that a Christmas gift? And for my First Families of Ohio application—what about “gifting” that membership to the rest of my husband’s family? Those are ways to give gifts that also benefit some worthy non-profit organizations.

That’s not even mentioning all the educational, scientific, research, humanitarian, and other organizations—both local and international—that claim our attention and personal involvement. A gift to one of these organizations would be so appreciated.

Of course, this idea isn’t original with me. If you noticed the link I included with yesterday’s post, the blogger who was passing along the word about choosing “Family over Frenzy” was also advocating a program called Giving Tuesday.

If you are in a position to join me in including that approach for your holiday shopping list, you’ll be extending your holiday cheer far beyond the walls of your own home. And you’ll likely be giving gifts that won’t be slated for the exchange desk back at the store come December 26. Best of all, you won’t have to wrestle someone over who gets the last box on the bargain table at midnight after getting up at four that morning to prepare the Thanksgiving dinner. Now that’s a season of peace and good will I can celebrate!

Above right: Henrich Matveevich Manizer, "Christmas Tree Auction," courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain in the United States, Australia, the EU and those countries with a copyright term of life of the artist plus seventy years.

For the sake of transparency, I am not affiliated with any of the above-named organizations in any commercial manner, and have linked to and recommended these resources only as a service to readers here.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Choosing Family Over Frenzy

Today is one of those notorious days in the American shopping calendar. Though it is meant as the day to kick off the Christmas holiday shopping season, Black Friday is more reminiscent of a horse race—complete with gate and starting bell—than a prelude to a favorite celebration.

I opted out of that race long ago. The Thrill of the Hunt is not my way to paint this winter scene. I have a hard time shifting gears from cozy winter hideaway to epic struggles in the big box arena. I’m still in that family get-together mood, remember?

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that a simple phrase I stumbled upon online caught my eye: Family Over Frenzy.

That’s exactly what I choose.

In my life-beyond-blogging, I have several interests, one of which is keeping up with what’s new in the non-profit world. In addition to other reading, one type of blog I read focuses on this niche. And that’s where I found this phrase—in this blog here, which explains the phrase further—which fits so well with my focus on family.

Granted, I don’t exactly agree with everything on the website which originated that concept. But I’m willing to grant wiggle room to anyone who can articulate reasons to not go with the flow when the flow is headed over the cliff of shopping insanity. My Christmas holiday means much more to me than who-got-which-gift. I hope it’s the same for you, and you will find the time to extend the mood of the Thanksgiving season through the weekend, putting people before products, and family before the frenzy of Black Friday.

As so many genealogy bloggers have recently been suggesting, make this a respite from that desperate dash by finding time to engage those gathered relatives in conversation. Soak up all the memories your extended family is willing to share. Encourage those of our generation of elders to share what their lives were like—what was special to them, what they endured, what they dreamed and even dreaded. Sharing their memories with you may possibly be the best gift they can grant you this giving season. And showing your appreciation for the time they take to do so may be the best gift you can give them in return.

Above right: Currier and Ives lithograph, "A Brush for the Lead," 1867; from the Library of Congress courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

How Lonely Thanksgivings Powered
My Passion for Genealogy

Today, all across the United States—and, no doubt, within pockets of American life abroad—people are celebrating a tradition known as Thanksgiving.

Whether you are settling down to a typical Thanksgiving meal with “all the fixin’s” or taking your Turkey Day avant-garde, you are most likely to have included one essential ingredient: family.

Family. That was the very aspect, when I was growing up, that turned my Thanksgiving weekends more cold and dreary than the New York weather. While my suburban neighborhood friends were off watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, or settling in for an afternoon of football—or, worst of all, gone on a long trip to visit out-of-state relatives—I was outside, sitting on the milk box on our front step, surveying the bleak scene up and down the street.

No one was in sight. The neighborhood was eerily quiet. No games of kickball in the street. No one organizing hide-and-seek games. No circle of giggling girls telling secrets. The sound of the winter wind amplified when the daily noise of life vacated.

That wind, scattering dry wisps of leftover leaves, reminded me of how deserted the streets really were. And those steel-gray clouds overhead—a usual Thanksgiving accompaniment—made the neighborhood specter even more cheerless. There’s nothing so lonely as a Thanksgiving Day, when all your friends have somewhere else to go.

What all those other kids had—whether they liked it or not—that I didn’t have was extended family living nearby. Granted, from my childhood home’s vantage point, an hour’s drive could bring a traveling family to a number of different states. In contrast, our family would have to drive the entire length of Pennsylvania—a feat nearly insurmountable to a when-will-we-get-there ten-year-old—to even get within a three-hour’s drive from my grandparents’ home. I don’t think there was one year, during my childhood, when our family went anywhere to be with relatives.

But all my friends, it seemed, did.

Of course, the reverse was also true: there wasn’t one year in which we had any relatives come and visit us for Thanksgiving.

Perhaps it was because a one-day holiday was too short a time period for working people to travel long distances. We hadn’t yet reached the civilized stage of adjoining Black Friday to our Thanksgiving festivities to create a man-made four-day weekend.

And so I’d spend my Thanksgiving morning, sitting out in that blustery wind on that gray milk box, peering up and down the street in vain for signs of life—at least kid life—and thinking. Thinking about how much I’d rather have one of those big families where there were lots of aunts and uncles and two sets of grandparents. And cousins. Lots of cousins.

Of course, that would get me wondering where all my cousins were, and what they were doing for Thanksgiving Day. And why there were so precious few of them to be had.

In my mind, I’d wander the lines of an imaginary family tree, reaching up ever further in search of a link that would yield me some kind of cousin—my age mates were really first cousins once removed, anyhow, so I wondered if looking for second cousins would help fill the family void.

Try as I might to find a path to more family, of course there was none to find. Which left me out in the cold, pouting over what I couldn’t change.

Eventually, the turkey would be cooked, dinner would be served, and us-four-no-more would gather around the dinner table. We’d ooh and ahh over the picture-perfect bounty before us, bow our heads and say grace over what we were about to overeat, and enjoy a splendid meal. But we’d be seated with the same three other people we had eaten breakfast with—and the same ones we’d be sharing meals with the next day. It was special…but somehow, it seemed hollow. It missed having family

I suppose it was the yearly re-enactment of this same disappointing scenario that fueled my yearning to find family—more family. I wanted to know about all those family members who weren’t there at our yearly feast. And that led me to wonder about how we connected to that broader family picture. There had to be someone out there we could connect with—someone else we could call family.

Wherever that childish pout directed me, in the end I found myself wrapped up in a decades-long quest to find even more ancestors. If this day has brought me a special hunger for anything, it’s to draw closer to an increasing circle of family members—to get to know their stories, their lives and the times in which they lived.

In touching off that unquenchable desire, what lack I felt has certainly been redirected to a bounty of its own.

Perhaps, even the things we don’t have to be thankful for can lead us, in the end, to something for which we can give thanks.

Above: Charles Auguste Romain Lobbedez, "Family Time," oil on canvas; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Benefits of Getting There First

Step by documented step, the generations unfold until the avid researcher marks the clear line linking the living with specific ancestor settlers from that certain state. It’s all about First Families designations. Or Pioneer Family descendants. Whatever it’s called, it is a way for state genealogical societies to recognize those descendants who’ve delved into the research—and documentation—with gusto, and produced the ancestral paper trail for others to follow.

For those first settlers, whoever they were, there were no notions of glory—no idea their descendants of multiple generations in the future would look back and obsess on their every documented move. Those were the hardy, hard-working men and women who risked so much just for some land upon which to eke out their own lives in peace and quiet—and independence. With such a common-sense mindset, what would these pioneers have thought of us in our pampered, electronically-connected world, doggedly pursuing every census line for signs of their whereabouts?

And yet we do.

I’ve just spent a month documenting my own steps to finding just one ancestor I can claim as a pioneer in the state in which he chose to settle. If you’ve been following the trail with me, you have seen that it is not always a path free from pitfalls. In fact, though I started out focusing on one early settler, I ended up pursuing the line of an entirely different family—causing me, basically, twice the research and documentation work as originally expected.

So, I guess the question really is: why do we do it?

After I had concluded my last blog series at the end of September, I outlined some of my goals for finishing out the year, which included this section on my pursuit of First Families of Ohio status. I had mentioned I did this to

·        Draft my readers as accountability partners
·        Lay out the details of the trail for others to use
·        Encourage others to join me on this trail and pursue your own heritage.

Not that I expect everyone reading here to be descended from ancestors who were Ohioans prior to 1821—though if you are, I hope you consider submitting an application to the Ohio Genealogical Society lineage program as well. However, there are other states participating in such programs, too. Some call them “First Families” programs; others are described as “Pioneer Families” programs. Whatever they are called, I hope you will pursue whatever program to which you are eligible.

I first heard of First Families programs through a distant cousin—one whom I had never met face to face, but whom I had contacted through the original Family Tree Maker program. On one of the old FTM disks, I found a family tree which included my maternal grandmother—she being the one who seems to have made it into a number of others’ databases—and I contacted the submitter through the company resources. When we first met each other through letters, he was quick to tell me that the records he had provided were sufficient to qualify me for Florida’s program for descendants of their pioneers.

I’ve since discovered that there are many such programs, not only at the state level, but even at county level as genealogical societies develop programs to recognize their region’s pioneers.

There is even a Cyndi’s List category for First Families programs!

Granted, each program invariably includes a fee for application review and formal designation. While this is the down side for those with personal budgetary limitations, for those who can afford to do so, there are several pluses.

First, you are supporting an organization whose mission is to perpetuate the memory of our ancestors and the history into which their lives were woven.

Second, by providing the documentation in your application, your research gets added to the body of knowledge stored by that genealogical society’s archives—material which then becomes available to the society’s membership, and sometimes also to the general public. The genealogical society becomes the repository for your research results, which then may be found by others—including your own distant (and as yet unknown) relatives.

Third, by receiving such recognition as a descendant of a state pioneer, you may now serve to encourage others to take interest in their own past—as well as our collective past as we examine the impact that the specific individuals that we knew or knew about had on the lives of those in their own communities. People find it interesting to hear that a friend is a descendant of specific individuals, even if the ancestor was not famous. Just being there in 1820—or whenever the program requires—is notable in and of itself. And knowing someone with such a designation transforms you into instant PR for the program and the genealogical society. And don’t we all like it when our favorite hobby—our passion—becomes an endeavor in which other people take interest?

Finally, you are honoring your forebears—those ancestors who have made some incredible sacrifices to move from their comfort zone to a place of uncertainty, all in the hopes of finding a better life for themselves and their descendants.

I see First Families programs as a way to discover, and then honor, the risk-takers who just happen to have been our own ancestors. I hope you will join me in finding ways to extend that honor to those in your own families who—in whatever state—got there first.

Above left: Frederick McCubbin, "The Pioneer," detail from oil on canvas triptych; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain in the United States and those countries with a copyright term of life of the artist plus seventy years.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tracing the Full Circle—And Then Some

We started this journey almost a month ago—this journey in pursuit of designation as First Families of Ohio descendants. My original strategy had been to find documentation for my mother-in-law’s paternal line, showing the Flowers family to have arrived in Ohio prior to 1821. In anticipation of achieving that goal, I started laying out the generations—complete with their stories, of course—working my way backwards in time from my mother-in-law’s father, John Ambrose Flowers.

That tack, however, didn’t work out. While I had already discovered published anecdotal reports that the Flowers family was indeed in Ohio well before 1821, I couldn’t locate any documentation verifying the reports. Fortunately, in the meantime—and thanks to a summertime side trip to a wonderful genealogy library collection—I realized that the spouse of John Ambrose Flowers was the one who could provide me that sought-after prize.

Thus began the research detour back down through time, following the line of emigrant Nicholas Schneider and his descendants—now Americanized as “Snider.”

That, as we’ve seen in the past week, brought us through a few generations of daughters to the point, yesterday, where we witnessed the marriage license of my mother-in-law’s parents, Bertha Genevieve Metzger to John Ambrose Flowers—precisely the man with whom we had embarked on the original quest.

In discussing John Ambrose Flowers, I had previously mentioned that his parents were Joseph E. Flowers and Anna Maria Snider.

Of course, when I first mentioned it, I don’t suppose the fact that John’s mother’s maiden name was Snider meant much of anything to you.


However, now that you’ve been through the litany of Schneider descendants, you have, no doubt, been sensitized to that Snider surname.

Remember how I’ve mentioned that a favorite comment about Perry County is that everyone there seems to be related to everyone else?

Well, guess what?! Not only was Bertha Metzger John Flowers’ wife, she was also his second cousin once removed (oh, and his half third cousin—but that’s a Gordon story for another day).

How, you ask? Simple. John’s mother, Anna Maria Snider, was daughter of Jacob Snider—that oldest son of Nicholas the immigrant, who made that early first purchase of land jointly with his father.

So not only do I have documentation for my family’s connection to First Families of Ohio through my mother-in-law’s maternal line, but also through her paternal—Flowers—line, thanks again to that very same Snider family.

Above right: Jan Davidszoon de Heem, "Festoon of Fruit and Flowers," oil on canvas, circa 1660; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Monday, November 19, 2012

“Don’t Publish Ages”

Every now and then, in researching those dull, dry public documents, you run across stray marks and enigmatic notes that make you wonder what the full story is behind those little slips of the pen.

In researching the Snider family heritage in Perry County, Ohio, I’ve now moved into the twentieth century, where government records are clear, detailed, and—thanks to the perseverance of organizations like FamilySearch—readily available.

It was a snap pursuing the relatively recent family history of our Snider line when I got to Bertha Metzger, my husband’s grandmother. Born in 1904, Bertha lived a long life that spanned nearly the entire century. Her wedding in 1926 was recent enough to be documented using a format that provided all the detail that a genealogist appreciates:  information on date and place of birth, parents names—including mother’s maiden name—and sometimes even additional specifications on the parents of both bride and groom.

Not that that was a surprise to me, since we’ve already ascertained this information, but let me affirm that Bertha’s marriage record provided every single one of these items.

And then some.

For whatever reason, after the marriage license was fully completed in easily-readable ink, someone took a pencil and marked a note at the top of the file.

The license itself still retained that old-fashioned charm. A pre-printed format, it must have been drawn up in a more circumspect age. “In the matter of John Flowers and Bertha Metzger,” the document began, “To the Honorable Judge of the Probate Court of said County, The undersigned respectfully make application for a marriage license….”

The wedding did indeed occur as planned. The local paper of record, Zanesville’s The Times Recorder saw to it that it was duly noted in their Wednesday, May 19, 1926, issue:

John Flowers, coal miner, Clayton township, son of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Flowers, and Bertha Metzger, Jackson township, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Metzger, Rev. Fr. Caien, St. Joseph, officiated.

Unlike some other newspaper articles I know of, this little bit of reporting got it right: all the details that were supposed to be included were there. And all the details that were supposed to be omitted were absent.

The newspaper editor followed directions. For some reason, someone felt it would be the better part of discretion to leave off one customary detail in publication—for on the marriage license application, across the top of the page, someone had penciled in “Don’t Publish Ages.”


While Bertha was twenty one years of age—well within legal parameters for marrying—perhaps the issue was the age of her groom. Her intended, one John Ambrose Flowers, was nearly twenty years her senior. A rugged coal miner and farmer, John was a working man before Bertha was even born.

Perhaps it was the delicate sensibilities of the era—such times as preferred to “respectfully make application” for marriage—that required the discretion of bypassing customary notice in cases such as this.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Birthday For Bertha

Today happens to represent one of those serendipitous yet simple coincidences that genealogy researchers sometimes stumble upon. Nothing monumental—it’s just a calendar thing.

My focus in this series has been on pursuing First Families of Ohio designation for one of the many Ohio ancestors in my husband’s maternal line. I’ve gradually moved through the family’s history from the point at which immigrant Nicholas Dominic Schneider staked his 1820 claim for land in Perry County, Ohio. We’ve moved clear through the century, taking a look at Nicholas’ son Simon, then Simon’s daughter Emily Catherine, and on to her daughter Bertha. Yesterday, we focused on then seven year old Bertha Metzger, named after her mother, Bertha Gordon, and herself a Snider descendant as the great-great-granddaughter of Nicholas.

I’ve been intending to trace the family roots through to the present, continuing with the younger Bertha’s marriage and family. However, in pulling up my database and taking a look at my files, it dawned on me: today is November 18.

And November 18, one hundred and eight years ago, this same Bertha made her entrance into the world. The girl with the big bow and the worried eyes, the lone daughter sandwiched between two older brothers and two younger brothers, eventually went on to marry and raise a family of her own. And we’ll talk more about that another day.

But for today, I thought it appropriate to pause and let Bertha have her day. It is, after all, her birthday. She may not be here to celebrate it, but we can certainly take the time to remember her.

After all, isn’t that what genealogy is all about, anyhow?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Looking Into Another Large Family

One thing that has struck me, as I work through the details of the descendancy from my target First Families of Ohio pioneer, is that with all these large families in the 1800s, it makes for a good number of potential candidates for the program. And yet, when I search through the Ohio Genealogical Society’s First Families roster, I find absolutely no trace of any of the surnames I’m pursuing. Is there no one from this Snider line who has already gone down this research path?

Now that I’ve traced Nicholas Schneider’s line down to his great granddaughter, Bertha Gordon Metzger, I see the line multiply once again. Between the Nicholas Schneider family of nine children, each one of those surviving to adulthood also added their progeny. Joseph and Bertha were no different regarding this Catholic heritage of large families.

Their early years together, though, did not come with a promising start. Shortly before their first anniversary, the young Metzger couple was expecting their first child. It was to be a girl. The baby arrived stillborn.

Joseph and Bertha thus claimed for their firstborn child a son, Lawrence Michael, who arrived in October, 1890. He it was who began a line of ten children—all of whom lived to adulthood, and all but two of whom married and had families of their own. Small wonder when I’d ask my mother-in-law if she knew such-and-so cousin that she would often give me a blank look. How could one keep up with so many cousins?!

To be fair, in making that statement, one must also consider the fact that the Metzger child that went on to be my husband’s grandmother was child number seven in this family constellation. Her arrival on the family scene didn’t occur until sixteen years after her parents’ wedding day. And she was an aunt to many, starting from the time she was only eleven.

Bertha Genevieve Metzger, though the fourth daughter, was the one bestowed with her mother’s given name—and possibly her aunt’s middle name, though the spelling wasn’t the same. Sandwiched between two immediately older brothers and followed in like manner, I wonder how she escaped growing up a tomboy.

There she was as a young girl, in a family portrait taken in front of their farm home, with the hugest bow resting jauntily atop her head—although admittedly, she didn’t look too happy about it. Perhaps her assigned seat, perched front and center between mom and dad, was a tactical move to insure subject compliance. Mom—Bertha Gordon Metzger—had baby Dorothy on her lap, while each parent had one of the two youngest boys—Joseph on the left, Robert on the right—flanking their outside arm.

The better-behaved older children comprised the second row in the portrait. Francis A. Metzger, by now ten years of age, started the line-up on the left. Next to him, his sister Mary—about to turn twenty—stood with her just-older sister Emma. The oldest son, Lawrence—by now twenty two and the tallest of the siblings by far—had yet to face service in the “Great War.” His much-younger sister Agnes stood at his other side, joined by yet another son, twelve year old George.

The scene was the old Metzger farm on Greenbranch Road near New Lexington. Frozen in place and time on a summer day in 1912 courtesy of an unnamed photographer, each one is now long gone, but for the memories.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Another Bride’s Happy Day

Weddings have a way of interjecting tension into the genealogical record. By saying that, believe me that I have no intention of wandering into a discourse on marital discord. I simply state that to reflect on the many opportunities inherent in this event to introduce yet more errors in the paper trail.

I mentioned yesterday that, of all the children of Adam and Emily Snider Gordon, the one we choose to focus on for the next generation of documentation is their daughter Bertha. Bertha it is who becomes my husband’s great grandmother. The goal is in sight, the accessibility of records now vastly increased as we inch closer to the 1900s.

Let me tell you, though: don’t breathe easy yet. There is more than one way to leave a genealogist stymied.

You’d think with a name like Snider, Bertha’s mother Emily would have been the one causing hair-pulling tantrums. However, her Snider-Snyder antics seem benign compared to the challenge of guessing phonetic misrepresentations of Bertha’s husband-to-be.

Bertha’s intended popped the question when she was young. Like many girls in that era, she was married while still a teenager—though in her case, the wedding took place just before she turned twenty. Like Bertha, her fiancé was a Perry County native, and while his parents were also married in Perry County, I can’t say that they had arrived there from their native Switzerland in time to put them in the running as First Families of Ohio material.

Perhaps it was Bertha’s future in-laws’ foreign accent that instigated that documentation grief. For their own marriage record, their surname is entered in the Male Index to Marriages—Perry County as Metzgar. (This resource is freely accessible online here, though once again, remember that it takes that tap dance of scrolling through the pages to get to page 55, where the 1849 entry for Michael "Metzgar" shows his marriage to Catharine Muter.)

By the time of the 1880 census, the family’s surname has morphed to Metzker, an obvious spelling approximation, once you think of it—though hardly a likely guess for those not initiated into the cult of phonetic creativity.

Yet on Bertha’s special day—April 17, 1888, the day of her wedding—the Index entry reverts to the Metzgar spelling.

Perhaps the census taker and the courthouse clerk never compared notes on this.

It will come as no surprise when, long after the wedding, the 1900 census record for Bertha’s young family reflects yet again the census taker’s preference in spelling styles—adding one variation: the “z” has been traded in for an “s” and the family is transformed from Metzker to Metsker.

Yet, for all those spelling liberties over the years—or turf wars between census officials and court clerks—I find it amusing to note that, in the end, the spelling variant that won the day was Metzger.

Not Metzgar.

Not Metzker or even Metsker.

Clear as the prize-winning entry in an 1888 schoolmarm's handwriting contest, it’s Metzger. Joseph Raymond Metzger.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Starting a Family of Their Own

in the public domain in those countries with a term of life of the artist plus seventy years
Despite this most recent bump in the genealogical road back to First Families of Ohio status, I need to keep working on documentation. I’ve found that, where one document fails to correctly identify the matter it was tasked with reporting, others will surface if the event did, indeed, occur.

In the meantime, on to documenting the next generation!

For the line of Simon and Nancy Ann Snider, that means advancing to one specific daughter in the next generation: Emily Catherine Snider. She it was who, yesterday, caused me some distress upon the discovery that her marriage record was—mostly—incomplete. (While I know that, as in The Princess Bride where one cannot be “mostly dead”—or, come to think of it, even “mostly” pregnant—one cannot be “mostly” married, I’m going to proceed as if the enigmatic “vouched for” addendum indicates that Adam Gordon and Emily Catherine Snider were more than just “mostly” married.)

Following the wedding date of—ahem—some time around May 24,1864, Adam and Emily Gordon proceeded to raise a family of their own. It is fairly easy to locate the birth records for most of their children, especially after passing that magic documentation date of 1867 in the state of Ohio. Indeed, the five births occurring 1870 and afterward are listed in the Index to Births—Perry County, Ohio, as can be seen online here, by scrolling through the alphabetical entries until page twelve of the “G” section.

As for those births pre-dating that 1870 entry in the Index, we need to rely on the 1870 census. With that in hand, we see the Gordons’ first two children, Simon Gilbert (born 1866) and Bertha (born 1868).

There are several entries for other births following these 1870 records. After all, according to Emily’s own report on the 1910 census, she was the mother of at least eight—possibly nine, though the handwriting is hard to decipher. Yet, of that total, only four made it to adulthood. The Index to Births bears that out, with three of the five entries there for unnamed baby girls. The entries in that Index registered by given name were for those children who, along with the youngest two listed in the 1870 census, were the survivors of the family.

So, added to Simon and Bertha were another daughter and another son. As to determining what their names were, exactly, introduces another minor glitch. For the daughter, while I have some entries showing her name as Mary Jennie—or even Jennie M.—there are other records showing her name spelled out as Mary Jeneveve. As for the son, the Index to Births types his name out as Mack—while the 1880 census records the infant as Mark. Who’s to say, though? The 1900 census records him as Mark, while the 1910 census seems to revert to Mack—or is it Mark?…the handwriting is so hard to read.

Because these records are on the far side of the century which eventually instituted the keeping of governmental records, it is not much of a chore to follow the data and see who ultimately marries whom. The Gordons’ oldest child, Simon Gilbert, claims the hand of one Sarah Catherine Shreider in a wedding ceremony celebrated on Christmas day, 1898. His younger sister, Mary Jennie, becomes the bride of Phillip Noll in 1904. The youngest son, Mack Henry—or, perhaps, Mark—claims for his own one Catherine Rose McCabe Ratliff, a widow, marrying nearly sixteen years after his next-oldest sister.

And then there is Bertha. You realize, of course, that I saved Bertha for last for a particular reason. She is the one representing the next step in our pursuit of the lineage from the First Families of Ohio pioneer, Nicholas Schneider. Still in Perry County, Ohio, Bertha joins Joseph Raymond Metzger on the start of their own partnership with a wedding date of April 17,1888, becoming the first of her siblings to marry.

And thus we begin a new chapter in the pursuit of the descent of our First Families of Ohio candidate.

Above right: Anton Dieffenbach, "Rest in the Forest," oil on canvas; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain in the EU, Australia, United States and other countries with a copyright term of life of the artist plus seventy years.

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