Thursday, August 31, 2017


Sometimes, we get so caught up in our genealogical research that we lose track of what is happening in real life for those connected to our research.

I was pressing onward with finding a DNA match for one particular line in my father-in-law's tree—good intentions about researching those less-completed paternal lines in mind—when I realized my online connection didn't seem to be responding to my repeated clicks. Though I've had my husband test at three different DNA companies, in this case, I was working on a match to my husband's DNA test at Family Tree DNA. You know, the genetic genealogy company located in Houston...

...oh. Yeah. Harvey.

Sometimes, this twenty-four-seven access we've become accustomed to in the genealogy world spoils us. We forget about what is happening in the outside world when the documents of centuries past are at our virtual beck and call. Sometimes, however, clicks don't retrieve the expected responses.

On the company's Facebook page, Family Tree DNA mentioned two days ago that while the building they are housed in is safe from flood damage, they have closed their office until it becomes safe for their employees to commute to work.

Of course, there are many other questions in customers' minds, as well. According to FTDNA, the DNA samples they are storing for customers remain safe. While their summer sale is still in progress through tonight, there will likely be a delay in shipments—as well as with processing of returned kits. Some employees are working from home, but because of the lesser number of available employees, the best way to contact FTDNA is online, not by phone, for obvious reasons.

At the time of that Tuesday morning Facebook announcement, Family Tree DNA had anticipated being able to open their office again "later this week." Whenever they reach the point where it is safe to do so, they have our well-wishes for a safe return in the aftermath of such incredible destruction.

Disclaimer: While this post does include a link to a commercial entity, it does not include any affiliate links. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Meanwhile, Another Story Concludes

While I am floundering to figure out who my paternal ancestors were, and where they originated in Poland, I need to set aside the false start of that story to jump back in time to conclude another research story. The journey of that little photo album I found in an antique shop in northern California has finally reached its destination at the place where it originated in County Cork, Ireland.

This is a story long awaiting its conclusion. I found the album a couple years ago—at least I think; I didn't really mark down the date. The first post here on the story of the photo album came almost eighty years after the tiny package was mailed as a Christmas gift in 1936. By April of this year, I had discovered the identity of, and made contact with, a living granddaughter of Harry and Alice Hawkes Reid, the couple who sent the album. The Reids' granddaughter, Heather, helped me figure out who might have been the recipient, and with that hunch, I mailed the album to a relative, Rita, living in the States.

The final step in the plan to take this album full circle back to the originating family was for Rita's daughter Lollie to bring the album with her on her travels to Ireland this summer. At that point, Lollie would present the album to Heather, and the journey would be completed.

I received the news just a couple days ago, and was elated to hear. As planned, the two women—who are actually second cousins—met in Ireland. As a kind gesture making me feel a part of the process, they arranged to send me photos of the occasion, which I definitely appreciated.

Even though I've researched almost every step of the way from the sending of that album in 1936 to its discovery a few years ago in northern California, it still amazes me to realize that that one small package had made a trip with so many winding detours. More than that, it fascinated me to see all the stories that can be gleaned by studying one solitary object representing a sliver of the lifetime represented by just one family. Such a few pages offered up so many hints to a family's history!

Perhaps camping on that thought for this season will help encourage me, as I delve into the same process once again—only now, rather than names from Ireland, this time with a few names from Poland.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Why Newspapers can
Help Fill in the Blanks

There is a no-man's-land for beginners starting out with their genealogical research. It's a time that stretches from the end of the most recently released census year—in our case, currently 1940—to the present day. Unless a new researcher happens to live in one of those states sporting total disregard for personal privacy, it's hard to come up with documentation for family members post-1940.

Of course, there are exceptions. Draft registration cards for World War II are one handy example, but that only helps for the men we're seeking—and then, only some of them. City directories sometimes provide hints, but unfortunately don't come with any clues to link "John Smith" with the rest of his family (other than, perhaps, a wife's name).

When I'm researching a more recent ancestor—someone in my family who lived and died before my arrival here on terra firma—my go-to place for research has always been historic newspaper collections.

The frustrating thing about newspaper archives, though, is that there is not simply one place to go to find everything there is to find. I've even subscribed to a collection of newspapers, only to find that the specific publication—or even the specific date desired within an otherwise available publication—is not available on that subscription service.

There are two ways around that dilemma, of course. One is to shell out the bucks to subscribe to multiple newspaper services. That one can get pretty pricey, over the long haul.

The other answer is to discover the many outlets which provide digitized newspaper collections for free.

There is a wide assortment of resources for the savvy researcher wishing to locate near-modern ancestors in local news stories. The Library of Congress' Chronicling America collection comes to mind right away, as does the more-contrary Google News Archives resource. (To tame that search nightmare, I use Google to search keywords in specific publications, after entering the terms in quotes, "Google News Archives.")

For those appreciating a friendly guide through the free-newspapers universe, there is always Kenneth R. Marks' The Ancestor Hunt, providing search tutorials and clickable links to newspapers around the world.

There are many other resources, of course—the Wikipedia list of free online newspaper archives comes to mind here—but for filling in the blanks on my paternal side's extended family, my go-to resource will mostly be the quirky Old Fulton NY Postcards site. While the newspaper selections on this site obviously focus on resources from the state of New York, they have expanded far beyond those borders. The site is huge. To put that in perspective, by 2013, the website had grown to contain three times as much content as the Library of Congress' Chronicling America site.

For my puzzling paternal line—centered mostly in New York, once the family arrived from what is now a part of the country of Poland—this is the newspaper archive of choice for my research. The drudgery of it all, of course, is that I will have to systematically go through each cousin's name in the mid-twentieth century and earlier, searching to find any facts on births, marriages, funerals or other news items.

Just like the drudge work of adding each cousin's full details on names and vital statistics, this will take time—and patience. However, if just one or two leads provide me names for the subsequent generation, it will be worth it. I'd love to connect with distant cousins in this family line and ask them to consider taking a DNA test, or share their family photos, or just help confirm the BMD facts I've managed to scrounge up from other sources.

This, of course, will take lots of time. But being as prone as I am to wandering down rabbit trails, the news reports are an interesting divertissement for me. And if they provide an interesting story, all the better for these research efforts.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Rechecking the Fatherlines

It's time to take an inventory of my paternal lines to check for missing data. Since my surprise discovery last weekend of missing branches on our most recent generation of cousins, I've decided it was time to review every part of our current family—especially the paternal lines for both my own and my husband's family.

While this might seem like research drudgery, there are a few good reasons to periodically repeat this exercise.

For one, every time we switch our tree from one database to another, some individual records may not make the transition. In my case, while in the past I used Family Tree Maker as my primary tool for capturing the information gleaned while researching my relatives, when I switched to my new computer, I also made the jump from a desktop-resident program to The catch was: rather than just use a GEDCOM to make the transition, I spent a lot of time hand-entering each family member to the new format. My reason was to trigger Ancestry's hint mechanism to access support documentation for each step of the way. Of course, that process was not a guarantee of full coverage; I missed some people.

A corollary reason is that, given Ancestry's propensity to add more digitized documentation over time—or whichever other online genealogical program you might choose to use—that creates new hints for relatives already placed on my trees. I want to catch those new additions and link them to the appropriate ancestors, so that means reviewing my tree from time to time.

While most people start their tree with their own data, then move backwards in time to previous generations, there is an opposite process happening in real life, giving me yet another reason to review my paternal trees: the living generations have babies. Then those babies grow up and have children of their own. For those who've done genealogical research for decades, the time can slip by and suddenly, there's a tree missing two generations of data. I've got to retrace my steps and add the details on all those bouncing babies who've now graduated college or celebrated several wedding anniversaries.

Of course, the hope is that, in the process, I'll stumble upon some other clue which will lead me to answers on the brick walls in my paternal trees. I have some research problems which have kept me stumped for years. I keep hoping for a breakthrough, thanks to additional material now digitized and accessible.

In addition to the data, there are some family members who have taken an interest in sharing memories and stories with me, augmenting my own research. Social media has helped spark that interest, for every time I find a fun fact or unexpected documentation, I post it on Facebook and tag our siblings and cousins. That usually prompts a great conversation, the bonus being a few tidbits of further information.

Once this review process is taken care of for our two fathers' lines, it will be on to figure out the previous generations, checking each one until I run into those roadblocks, which are still there, awaiting my attention. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Missing Some Cousins

It's time to attend to some neglected branches of the family tree. I made up my mind yesterday that our family's two paternal lines needed some attention, but it wasn't until I actually started sizing up the work that I realized something important. I hadn't even added some of our own cousins to our trees.

If my next project is to work on my paternal line and that of my husband, clearly the first step needs to be insuring that all our own cousins—and their children (and, in some cases, their grandchildren)—are included in the trees.

I've already started doing that, and the flatlined numbers I've experienced for the past several weeks on those two paternal trees certainly show the jump. My father's tree had been languishing at a mere 422 for weeks, until I added five names in the last biweekly cycle. Yesterday, I added another ten entries, so now that tiny tree is up to 437 names.

That's a start. Remember, that tree is the one giving me the most grief. But my phone call to one cousin last week—part of this particular tree, incidentally—was encouraging because it allowed us to compare notes on family recollections. This is essential, since no one from the previous generation is still here to help us muddle our way through some immovable brick walls. And I'm realizing I can glean some family information for the current generation, right from all of our Facebook posts. This stuff needs to be added to the tree, providing one set place where all the dates and details can be found in one place. Trees are for the living as well as for our long-gone ancestors.

As for my husband's paternal tree, the fact that I left out cousins smacked me in the face yesterday. I know I have a lot of the data for the current generation tucked in an old Family Tree Maker database, but I guess the living folks' roots grounded in that database never made the transition to my tree-in-the-Cloud. So I added forty six names to bring my total to 1,308 on my father-in-law's tree, just from the current generation's additions of cousins' spouses and children.

In the last two weeks, since I've been researching that connection to my Mayflower ancestors, it makes sense that that is where all my work was focused. I added 103 names to total 11,179 people in my maternal tree. On the flip side, absolutely nothing happened on my mother-in-law's line, where I'm still sitting at 12,557 in her tree. But that is fine; I need to zero in on specific research goals if I want to make progress in my research.

On the DNA testing side, I'm hoping the current sale at one company—Family Tree DNA's sale which ends at the close of the month—will once again boost my match numbers. (Not to mention, it will hopefully convince some cousins to spring for a test of their own.)

Since all the Father's Day sales have run their course through their company's respective systems by now, my match numbers aren't surging anymore. I'm up to 2,340 matches at FTDNA (up 34), at 696 for AncestryDNA (up 11), and down six to 1,171 at The Magic Disappearing DNA Match Company, 23andMe.

The same patterns seem to replicate themselves for my husband's DNA matches. He's at 1,517 (up 19) at FTDNA, 333 at AncestryDNA (up eight), and down ten for a total of 1,216 at you-know-where. In other words, the matches are still coming in (well, for two out of three companies), but not with as much vigor as they had been, roughly six weeks after the last sale.

On the plus side, wherever I go, speaking about family history and the classes I teach, I invariably meet someone who has questions to ask me—not about genealogy per se, but about DNA testing. Usually, it's along the lines of, "Hey, does that DNA test stuff really work?" but at least that's a barometer of the public's awareness and interest in that one lone aspect of genealogy. That awareness is seemingly now widespread—and growing.

For the next two weeks, my marching orders will be to devise ways to augment my lackluster research progress on my two paternal lines. With serious application of the FAN Club or other techniques, hopefully the numbers on the other side of this biweekly report will prove I've done some homework in the interim.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Taking That FAN Model
Out for a Test Drive

There is one thought in the back of my researching mind which has troubled me. No, it is not my recent difficulty in accessing records for my Davis-Tilson connection to the passengers who arrived centuries earlier on the Mayflower. It is a totally different type of research dilemma.

The problem is this: no matter how much progress I can make on my maternal line or my mother-in-law's family history, for both my and my husband's paternal lines, I cannot seem to gain any traction.

Interestingly, both those male lines are descended from more recent immigrant arrivals to the United States. With that in mind, you'd think there would be more readily-accessible records to gain me some mileage. That, however, is not the case.

The nagging thought is: how to zoom down the road on these two lines which are turning into such roadblocks? Because they are obstinate, I tend to avoid the issue when I need to set every other tempting research trail aside and just focus on my quandary. Or, at least, give it a try.

Because these lines originate with nineteenth century immigrant families, I have an inkling these people may have traveled with others. That was, sometimes, the case with those leaving a far-removed home to come to the New World.

We have a model for tackling that type of family-history-evading entity. It's dubbed the "FAN Club."

"FAN" is an acronym standing for Friends, Associates and Neighbors. The handy moniker reminds us that those brick-wall individuals in our family tree likely did not pattern their life choices on Lone Ranger models of behavior. It is more likely that our mystery ancestors did what they did—even if we can't figure it out now—in the company of others. And those others, besides their own immediate family, were likely their friends, associates or neighbors.

The FAN Club model was a technique of research relying on the concept of cluster genealogy, brought to the mainstream by one of America's foremost current genealogists, Elizabeth Shown Mills. In the National Genealogical Society Quarterly of June, 2014, she championed the usefulness of that technique in combination with other hallmarks of sound genealogical research in her article, "Testing the FAN principle against DNA: Zilphy (Watts) Price Cooksey Cooksey of Georgia and Mississippi."

Articles like this prove to be a helpful demonstration, encouraging me to tackle some of those projects I've slid to the back burner for, ahem, a while. Among them are my paternal grandfather's murky origins preceding his appearance in New York City—after all, with the unofficial name change from Puhalski, can I really trust that that was his surname to start with?—and my father-in-law's lines leading back to pre-famine Ireland.

While these men seemed to show up as solitary shadows, the FAN Club seems to indicate that it's more likely they had connections. They were part of the fabric of society—their society, at the least. I need to seek out those connections and see if they lead me anywhere. In other words, I need to broaden the net to capture any of the names surrounding them that seem to repeat themselves.

True, taking myself to task for my lack of grunt work on these paternal lines won't necessarily produce fascinating stories for you to read—as I've said before, the making of laws or sausage or even genealogy can make for dull (or disgusting) reading. But if I stumble upon something interesting, I'll come up for breath and tell about it.

But do this, I must. I've neglected these gents' lines for far too long. Progress is pleading for me to make more of it. I'm going to try my hand at a test drive of the FAN Club principle and see if it delivers me to my destination. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Revisiting Reconnecting

So I'm stumped on my pursuit of records for my Davis-Tilson lines in Tennessee, without which I likely won't obtain my goal of membership in the Mayflower Society.

No problem. I'm still gaining lots from the process. Even twists and turns and "bad" outcomes can be learning experiences. I'm not about to cheat myself out of a full delivery of the goods.

One of the twists plopped into my lap while I was sitting at the computer, writing yesterday's blog post. While taking a detour onto my Facebook page, up popped up a personal message from a cousin. She had a question about DNA.

Now, you know me: if you want to talk about DNA, I'm there. In this case, for a ninety minute phone call.

It was good to reconnect. We caught up on family news and compared notes on the uses of DNA testing. (In her case, terms like Y-DNA, mtDNA, and admixtures applied not to people but to horses—she breeds Arabian horses, some of which she's delivered around the world. But the vocabulary and the usage is basically equivalent.)

The conversation reminded me of the importance of getting back to talking to the family we are researching. To be technical, this phone call was actually with my first cousin once removed. She lives on the other side of the country from me, and it's probably been over twenty years since I last visited her. Until we connected on Facebook a few years back, our only mode of conversation was infrequent—albeit always long—emails.

In the wake of this unexpected and welcome interlude, my thoughts on my research dilemma turned in that same direction: toward the act of reconnecting. That reminded me of an era before mega-sites of genealogical pursuit became prevalent.

Back then, there was a culture among family historians of connecting and sharing. Genealogical societies would collect historic data and publish them in books, or host seminars. They'd welcome "queries" from members—and even non-members, for a modest charge—and share them in their newsletters and journals.

In the early days of the Internet, we had ListServs. As the technology of connection advanced, we moved, along with everyone else, to bulletin boards and message boards—it's just that back then, we used the technology to talk about our mutual genealogical brick walls and to crowdsource the solutions to those research problems.

By the time businesses (and, in one important exception, a nonprofit entity) brought us the one-click-discovers-all online genealogical wonder worlds, our behavior had been reshaped. Those of us who had been around to remember those old days of mailing in our "queries" to local genealogical societies—along with our five bucks to have the note published in their newsletter—had now become accustomed to finding all that stuff on our own. In our jammies. At three in the morning. Because, Look! That's my seventh great grandmother!

It might do us all good to remember those olden days of research before the advent of one-click-does-all. While I'd never advocate retreating to a world without Ancestry or FindMyPast or MyHeritage or any of the myriad other online genealogical services, I realize there is a lesson to be learned from the community that sprang up around our research limitations.

We helped one another. We valued the exchange of information, person to person. We connected. With each other.

Here I am—I've always been an advocate for connecting with other researchers and not doing genealogy by only flying solo—and I forgot this important principle. In this case of needing to find information on some small but very old communities on the far end of Tennessee, I even forgot that I had—back in that era of interconnection predating the interconnectivity of the Internet—made connections with some distant Davis cousins. These were people whom I could likely benefit from, if I could only reconnect with them now.

I am beginning to see how important it is to know our roots—not just the roots of our families, but the roots of us, as family historians. The way we were can provide some valuable lessons to us, as we are now. To understand where we came from, as a body of researchers, benefits us by allowing us to glean insight from what worked in the past. By reconnecting with the beneficial aspects of our research roots and bringing them forward into our milieu now, we blend the good points of past lessons learned with the best of what technology has to offer us now. The resulting mix may be just what we need to strengthen us as a community.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Sometimes the Best Strategy is to Wait

Seeing the difficulty I'm encountering in locating any information on the nearly-First-Families settlers of Tennessee, the Davis and Tilson families, you might have been tempted to conclude that I should just chalk this up as a "brick wall." Shut down the online searches, push back from the desk and call it quits on James Davis and Rachel Tilson. The Greasy Cove settlement is as good as non-existent, as far as the results I'm finding.

While I might have been tempted to sport that attitude in the past, that's not my experience lately. I've learned a different way to view such research roadblocks now. I now know that time will buy me some unexpected bounty, if I just content myself to wait—and then revisit the specific research question in the future. See? Genealogy can teach us patience.

This frustrating experience has dogged me before, believe me. I have many snags in my research progress, but I've learned to hold on, give the problem some time to marinate, and then make myself an appointment to revisit it later.

What I've learned, when I hold to this process, is that the unfailing verve of multitudes of other researchers—and the talents of those dedicated to providing multiple options for viewing historic records—has created an insatiable demand for access. With online venues multiplying—a warehouse-full of genealogically-useful hyperlinks, if you take a virtual stroll through Cyndi's List—and expanding their reach, what might not have been online today may very well be found in a search sometime in the near future.

Mega-sites—those go-to resources for genealogical research like or—are constantly adding new collections, whether indexes, transcriptions, or visual representations of the actual documents. It is only a matter of time before someone uploads the records that would be useful to me in my quandary over those early Tennessee settlers.

And if not, chances are excellent that some smaller organization may take it upon themselves to provide records that perhaps only they had access to in the past. My own local genealogical society has recently moved to our new cyber-home, and we are in the process of uploading many databases of records pertinent to researchers interested in the settlers in our county. This is not only happening in my corner of the country; many other societies are upgrading their digital digs and following their mission mandates to find and preserve local records of genealogical interest. Someday, that will include the Tennessee locations I'm most interested in for my Davis-Tilson pursuit.

Sometimes, the students in my beginning genealogy classes bemoan their lack of progress on one of their family lines. They say things like "I'm stuck with a brick wall" or "guess I'll have to give up on that one." But no roadblock is permanent. There is always a way around. The way may not open up right while you are working on the problem. It's okay to set it aside. Wait a while—but don't forget to revisit the dilemma. In time, either something else will pop up in the multitude of online resources, or you will be able to travel to the source and see what's available locally.

With time, sometimes the gift of revisiting a research dilemma isn't only the gift of the very document you've been seeking. Sometimes, it's the gift of seeing the problem with fresh eyes. A detail will stand out in a different light, or a new understanding may have evolved in the interim. Whatever the situation, learning to wait when faced with a research roadblock is never conceding genealogical defeat. It's just the wisdom of adopting a long-term research strategy, and the experience to know that some day, that answer may very well show up.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Genealogical Wandering

Sure, it was Baxter Davis I was targeting in my most recent attempt to figure out just who it was who married my Mayflower ancestor's descendant, Rachel Tilson. James Davis had seemingly come out of nowhere to show up at a pioneer settlement in the hills of northeastern Tennessee—well, more accurately, what would later become part of Tennessee. It seemed there was an early settler in a place called Greasy Cove—later to become the town of Unicoi—who was known as Baxter Davis. Conveniently, I had noticed James and Rachel Davis named their firstborn son that same name: Baxter. Connection?

If you think I was able to come up with digitized documentation identifying anything further on that elder Baxter Davis, think again. The more I try to pursue this line of thinking, the less I seem to accomplish. Other than getting plenty of googling exercise, I haven't found much substance.

Granted, I found many other resources. That's what comes from the "milling about" disorientation from a lack of straightforward research purpose. I only think the Baxter connection will lead me somewhere. It might not. That's the price a researcher pays to experiment with "what if."

In the meantime, I've spent a lot of time wishing I were in Knoxville, researching at the East Tennessee Historical Society's McClung Collection—or at least being able to access the names of settlers included in the society's First Families of Tennessee collection.

I'm realizing, once again, the difficulty of trying to verify facts about ancestors who persistently chose to settle in places where they could maintain their fierce independence. Though my Davis line settled in and around the town of Erwin, Tennessee, claims that their settlement was in Unicoi County are misleading when spoken in the same breath as those 1790s dates. Unicoi, as a county, was simply not a governmental entity until 1875.

In those first-settlement situations, one question concerns the granting of land. Looking back at the last stop in this family's multi-generational migratory process—that spot on the southwestern part of the colony of Virginia near the Holston River—the earlier generation of Tilsons were said (at least by one account) to have moved there to claim land granted for William Tilson's service in the French and Indian War.

How to track records like that? Which would be the governmental entity serving as repository for that? At least, in the case of a paper trail for settlement at Greasy Cove, there are records dating back to January, 1778. But who keeps these records which came into being long before the current governments took charge? This is not going to be a straightforward paper chase.

And yet, stumbling along through those many Google hits, I did find some gems. Of course, I didn't need Google to tell me that the FamilySearch Wiki would provide helpful links for the county. But in my wanderings, I did stumble upon a cool map website providing historic maps of the area. Most importantly, I found a list of publications of local history, thanks to the U.S. GenWeb project for Unicoi County, Tennessee.

Better yet, that list included the option to take a peek at what was inside the cover of several local history books—including one which was apparently written by a distant Davis cousin. Reading the introduction to Linda Davis March's Images of America: Erwin and Unicoi County, I spotted a name in the credits who was not only listed as the author's cousin, but was a woman I had corresponded with, years ago, about our mutual Davis research challenges.

Taking that opportunity to peek at the pages in that book, I found a photograph of my second great grandmother, plus another photograph of her home in Erwin. What a strange experience to open a book at random and find such treasures!

While I wasn't able—yet!—to find anything further on the elusive Baxter Davis, pioneer settler of Greasy Cove, it was reassuring to discover others in the area who are also researching these same lines. It was also informative to find websites and indications of local historical societies for groups which I had no idea were even in existence. It does take some orienting to become facile at the terms of a locality's history, but the more I learn as I wander through this region's history, the better I'm armed with additional search terms.

Be very sure I'll be using that knowledge to my advantage. You will be found out yet, Mr. Baxter Davis!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Grunt Work of Next Steps

Sometimes, genealogical research flows smoothly and everything falls nicely into place. Other times? Those are the times a researcher wishes for the ability to travel to do on-site research. Sometimes, the wonder of online access loses its luster.

Now that I've reached that third part in my process to connect myself—and my prodding sister, incidentally—to ancestral passengers on the Mayflower, I'm languishing in the lack of documentation for my Davises in Tennessee.

Granted, the Mayflower Society directs applicants to hold off on the documentation part of the process until the original presumption has been properly vetted. But you know me: I can't wait. This is going to be a challenge to obtain the type of documentation I know most lineage societies will want to see. And challenges take time to overcome.

Meanwhile, it isn't every day that I pass through the state of Tennessee. Nor, when I go, do I customarily head to tiny Erwin in the northeastern portion of the state—last time I touched down in Tennessee, I flew to Nashville, a long way from either Unicoi County or its parent county, Washington County. To get there for research purposes would take planning.

At a point like this, it's easy to lose focus on what the appropriate next step might be. When nothing seems to surface, the feeling can strangely be much the same as when everything seems to surface: it's overwhelming.

Time to sit down and draw up a genealogical Venn diagram of what I have and what could possibly be found—if such a document even exists. In that process, a tally of which online resources might produce such documents would also be a handy inventory to keep.

I once had a professor in college who called this disorienting stage of research the "milling about" stage—not really sure which way to head or what approach to take for definitive results. While I'm not exactly preparing to write a term paper, this wandering research malaise has the distinct feel of such a dilemma.

Perhaps, given this uncertainty of the next best step to take, another approach might be to explore that little hint that I unearthed last week, while scouring online resources for any mention of the Davis surname in that little pocket of early settlements in northeastern Tennessee. The discovery of a Baxter Davis named in the generation previous to the appearance of my James Davis might actually help me stumble upon some other helpful records.

Maybe this is the best approach to take, while puzzling over those genealogical Venn diagrams to set my research course for the next step in the process. At least, in retrospect, it will seem to be the "best approach" if I manage to actually find something that connects me with the right Davis line in that early state history of Tennessee.

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Different Sliver of Life

While some families are sending their children off to the first day of school this week, others may be playing hooky. In fact, every time I heard someone tell me their family was taking a vacation this week, my mind flew to one particular reason to take a trip at this late date in the summer: to find the most advantageous spot to view today's solar eclipse.

Solar eclipse mania has captured the attention of a good number of people in this country, where the time of occurrence coupled with the abundance of promising viewing situations makes it an accessible activity for many. A friend of mine drove northward earlier this month with plans to rendezvous with other traveling friends somewhere on the path of the eclipse in Oregon. Likewise, my husband, squeezing a flight northward into his busy schedule, will blend taking in the solar spectacle with some much-needed social time with a good college buddy.

One thing that hasn't been lost on me, in the midst of this astronomical activity, is the predictable regularity of such signs in the heavens. Tracking the records of people who tracked the eclipses has given us an idea of how early in history such things were noticed—and calculated. In fact, there's even a name for someone who pursues such a study: archaeoastronomer.

Records from over five thousand years ago in Ireland helped one archaeoastronomer determine the precise date for an eclipse corresponding to the arrangement of one specific megalithic monument in County Meath, Ireland. Similar records from China, ancient Babylon and Greece align closely with the dates of other eclipses. Solar eclipses in particular have long captured the attention of our fellow human beings.

Once people have been able to determine the reason for these alarming celestial occurrences, it wasn't long until they could predict such events in their future. Of course, with technology and equipment at our disposal today, that dating system has been finely honed.

While you and I may not have the wherewithal to determine even who our ancestors were who viewed the eclipses of past millenia, we have at our access lists of dates for when these solar events occurred. A quick consultation at lists such as this five millennia catalog, provided by Wikipedia, can also allow us to learn when the more accessible of our ancestors might have looked upwards in wonder at the drama unfolding across the face of the sun.

Of course, for those who have letters or, better yet, diaries of their relatives from past generations, they may be privileged to learn when such events occurred in the lives of their family—and what those past family members might have thought about the eclipses of their day. For those of us who don't have such treasures, we can still learn the dates when our ancestors may have viewed various solar wonders—total, annular, or partial—just by consulting such lists as this one for eclipses of the 1800s.

When we think of assembling the family history of our ancestors, there is so much more to include than those stark realities of names, dates and locations of birth, marriage or death. The small but significant events that occur in our lifetimes have also, in one form or another, occurred in the lives of our forebears. When we think about these key events in life and how they might have intersected with the life stories of our great-grandparents and those who lived before them, it somehow brings their stories to life so much more crisply than the plain recitation of dates and places ever could.

And with the realization of these commonalities, we are gifted with a stronger sense of connection with the very people whose genes gifted us with the characteristics and tendencies that make us who we really are.

Above: "The Long Coronal Streamers of 22d January 1898 (from a photograph in India by Mrs. Maunder)" from page 230 of the 1900 book by Mabel Loomis Todd, Total Eclipses of the Sun; courtesy Google Books via Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Already Back to "Back to School"

Some of the school districts in my city begin school tomorrow. Some have already been in session for a week. Others won't start for a while longer. It's interesting to search for the reasons for the switch—and, by extension, the reason for much of what's happened in public education in the past centuries since we've become a country instead of a British colony.

Since it's my habit to wonder about the history in which my ancestors' lives were steeped, of course I'd be curious as to when school started for my great-grandparents. Or if my third great-grandparents even went to school—and if so, what it was like back then.

While some of us who grew up in the northeastern part of the United States may remember the official start of school never came before Labor Day, lately things have been different. For a long time. For the vast majority of parents in this country now, school starts long before Labor Day.

Interestingly, the start of school hasn't always been that engraved-in-stone post-Labor Day date. It's been an education of its own to peruse some writings on the evolution of when we start the school year and why.

Apparently, the line-drawn-in-the-sand Labor Day start hasn't always been so. The debate over start date, even now, is a "complicated, insidious struggle" between educators, commercial interests, governmental dictates, and financial analysts. And that line about starting school in September so the kids could help out on the farm? Myth, according to one article.

So, what was the norm when your ancestors started school? It largely depended on the era in which those ancestors were of school age, and where they grew up. City schools were vastly different than country schools in many requirements, among them number of days students attended school.

While I'll leave the bickering over start dates to others, the disagreement opens up the possibility for discovering more about our own ancestors' lives—and for making those discoveries relevant to our own families, especially the young ones still in our charge.

In fact, the many activities of daily life experienced by specific ancestors may reveal much about their whereabouts and their origins—clues we would miss if not willing to ask ourselves such questions. What, indeed, did our relatives of past centuries do about the myriad activities that become invisible to us because we take them for granted? Answers to such questions may awaken us to the texture of the fabric of life lived by the very people we're trying to research.

At the very least, it makes me wonder what, exactly, was the impetus for making the Wednesday after Labor Day my hometown school district's start date for my entire public school experience. Since I grew up near the beach, could it have been the vested interests of shopkeepers at the beach, wanting to keep their part-time help until the end of the season—or the whole tourism industry in general, wishing to support a healthy profit margin for the season? Could it have been owing to union organizers, intent on maintaining respect for the Labor Day designation?

There could have been many reasons. And different reasons, depending on which location became home for your ancestors.

Take this as an invitation to peruse the complex history of public education in the places where your ancestors once called home. Back in the day for your ancestors, school may not have started after Labor Day, either.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

What Heritage
for the Heritage Hunters?

I noticed something as our family spent this past week at a certain "kingdom" of the NGO variety. The place where everyone—human included—is happy to don mouse ears for a day of frivolity happens to be the same place where our hotel remembered to include a token of its heritage.

It wasn't until the last day, while I was packing our suitcases to head home, when I looked up at the enormous picture hanging on the wall and realized: this wasn't just a photo of a man walking in a special place. This was a photo of a man who did something significant over sixty years ago.

And that photo—of a much younger Walt Disney walking through the castle entrance to a brand new world of his creation—was hanging on my hotel room wall all this week. In fact, an exact copy likely was hung in each room in the same hotel complex. Why? Because someone thought it important to remember where it all started.

When we think of history, we think of things that happened hundreds of years ago. Even family history doesn't seem to count until those relatives take on the title of "ancestors." We hunt for our heritage, but we want that heritage to be captured from a long, long time ago.

Perhaps we should take a hint from the people running the place I visited last week: even stuff that isn't really all that old—certainly not yet old enough to be considered antique—should be recalled to mind and preserved so we can share it in the future.

I think in particular about the very organizations we form to help us as genealogists—the societies we create to encourage genealogical research and continuing education. When were those groups formed? Some were likely not even thought of, sixty years back. And yet, each society has its own track record, moments to celebrate—as well as moments to learn from.

Self-awareness, whether as individuals or organizations, is a sign of coming of age, of realizing the part we play in our world means something. And yet, while we as society members bend over backwards to help a fellow researcher find the tiniest tidbit of his or her family history, how many times do our societies take time to say "this is who we are, and this is how far we've come since we started"?

If for nothing else, let's take the time to preserve that narrative of who we are as an organization so that someday, someone who wants to know can find that answer. After all, not only do families have a heritage. So do the genealogy societies which help locate those personal stories.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Figuring out that "Washington District"

It has not been lost on me, tracing my Mayflower ancestors through that northeastern corner of Tennessee where they settled by the early 1800s, that some records report that family births occurred in Washington County, Tennessee, while others were said to have happened in Washington County, North Carolina.

It was once explained to me that the Tennessee version of that Washington County used to be the same place, only claimed by North Carolina. However, when I hauled my naive self over to resources to look up said Washington County, North Carolina, it appeared to be far removed from its namesake in Tennessee. In fact, it was distressingly far-removed from any part of Tennessee, being much closer to the coast than to the mountains.

While I understood the history of North Carolina's previous land-grabbing tendencies during colonial times, this still was quite a stretch, and I dismissed that verbal explanation from my scope of possibilities.

That decision may have axed any chances of pursuing the possibility of becoming First Families of Tennessee material, when in fact—at least if those two Washington Counties were one and the same—my ancestors may indeed have been in the state before the requisite cutoff for that designation.

Of course, I wandered onto that possibility while pondering just where my Tilson and Davis ancestors might have been when their children were said to have been born in Washington County.

That sparked a search for the details about Washington County—in Tennessee, the county from which my family's homes in Erwin of Unicoi County were originally carved. I decided to revisit all those websites genealogy researchers used to use before the advent of mega-sites for subscribers. Launching my search at Cyndi's List, I touched base at the Tennessee section of U.S. GenWeb, looking up any resources for Washington County.

The Washington County, Tennessee, GenWeb had a helpful page explaining that the place eventually designated as the Washington District was a settlement from the 1770s extending from "south of the Holston River, on the Watauga and Nolichucky Rivers, within the boundaries of the North Carolina colony." By 1777, the North Carolina legislature changed the place's designation to name it Washington County, North Carolina.

When North Carolina ceded the western reaches of their state to the federal government in 1790, and then six years later saw that land transformed into a portion of the new state dubbed Tennessee, the part which had once been called the Washington District now belonged to the newly-formed state. The name stuck: they were still called Washington County, but in the new state of Tennessee.

Thankfully, in a question and answer format on their website, the Washington County TNGenWeb explained that the former Washington County, North Carolina, was not the same as the current Washington County, North Carolina—thus allaying my concerns. The old North Carolina county was now the one belonging to Tennessee. So when I see my ancestors' children showing as born in Washington County, North Carolina, and dying in Washington County, Tennessee, I can rest assured they basically spent their entire life in the very same place. The turf was the same. It's just the boundaries that shifted.

As for my Tilson and Davis ancestors who were part of the Mayflower line I'm tracking—those difficult ancestors opting for the pioneer's life far from any signs of civilization (and their concomitant paper trails)—I did find a few shreds of evidence, though only in secondary sources.

For one, a transcription of the 1897 Goodspeed's History of Unicoi County mentioned, "The first settlers of this county located in Greasy Cove not long after the first settlement was made on the Nolichucky." The article mentioned several names of those first settlers, then continued, "and a little later came Baxter Davis, Enoch Job(e), Jesse Brown, Pheleg and William Tilson."

"Pheleg," most likely, was my fourth great grandfather, Peleg Tilson. The one accompanying him, William Tilson, might have been either Peleg's older brother or his father, both of whom were named William, and both of whom were said to have been in that very area.

What's tantalizing about that list of names is that it includes a Davis. And not just any Davis, but one named Baxter Davis. While not the James C. Davis who married Peleg's daughter Rachel—I have yet to discover the name of James Davis' father—it is interesting to note that the firstborn son of James and Rachel was given that very same, unusual, first name: Baxter.

Perhaps this detour to learn more about the area of my ancestors' pioneer settlement, the Washington District—and, specifically, the place known as Greasy Cove—has become a more beneficial divertissement than I anticipated. After all, not only did I find assurance that Washington County in North Carolina and Tennessee were one and the same location, but I found confirmation that their original settlement in Greasy Cove grew into the town that was later known as Unicoi


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Last of my Tilson Line

Daughters are always the genealogical challenge to tie in correctly into the family tree. We have daughters for whom we know the married name, but not the maiden name. And then we have some for whom the maiden name obviously gave way to a new surname, yet we can't seem to uncover just what it might have been.

And then we have daughters with fairly easily traced surnames that marry into family names that are so prevalent as to render them nearly invisible.

Not that the last of my Tilson line disappeared into the midst of a family of Smiths, but becoming a Davis was almost as difficult a research proposition. After all, once we crossed over from that fifth generation of Mayflower descendants as the last Alden descendant in my line (Janet Murdock) married a Tilson, we were fortunate to have a fairly reliable guide through the Tilson generations in the form of the 1911 publication, The Tilson Genealogy.

Now, however, Rachel Tilson, daughter of Peleg Tilson—William's son and Stephen's grandson—has gone and married a man first identified in The Tilson Genealogy only by his initials: J. C. Davis.

Fortunately, the generational litany continues on the next page with an entry for Rachel, herself, which completes the picture by offering her husband's name more fully: James C. Davis "of Erwin, Tennessee."

Keeping in mind that these two, the next link between me and membership in the Mayflower Society, predate the official 1876 designation of Erwin as a town in Tennessee, we at least have provision of a few dates for them—as well as a listing of their children's names. Rachel Tilson Davis, said to have been born June 12, 1801, in Saint Clair, Virginia, lived until October 25, 1851. Her husband, James Davis, was born January 15, 1795—though no indication was provided for location of that birth—and died October 24, 1855, presumably in Tennessee. But not yet—at least not officially—in Erwin, Tennessee.

It is at this point that I wish for an equivalent guide through the Davis generations as I had in The Tilson Genealogy. Searching for such a book with a name as commonplace as Davis, though, would be a tiresome effort, with so many unrelated Davis lines in existence in this country. Unfortunately, while I've found some Davis details on my own, after years of pursuing this line, I've yet to find answers to questions as basic as who James Davis' father was, or where he came from.

Still, I have the next step that I need laid out nicely for me in The Tilson Genealogy, where it reveals the names of eight of Rachel Tilson Davis' children: Ruth, Baxter, Thomas, Lucretia, Jane, Robert, William and James.

For our purposes, the next step in tracing the route between Mayflower descendancy and my own family involves taking a closer look at just one of these Davis children: James and Rachel Davis' second-born son, Thomas D. Davis, who arrived at the Davis home—wherever it was in Tennessee—on December 5, 1828.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Somewhere Between Two Rivers

When I began this quest to document my line back to the passengers who arrived in the New World on the Mayflower in 1620, I mentioned the effort would likely occur in three parts. The first involves work that has already been done by others—the lists ascertained by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants to be the confirmed lines of descent from each of the documented passengers who had surviving children upon landing at Plymouth.

Thankfully, at the end of that first part, the fifth generation of Alden descendants handily bridges the gap from the Society's Silver Books to a marriage into the Tilson line, another family whose descendants have been thoroughly documented. Thus we have confirmed documentation for the first part of the search, and an honored guide to bring us through the next three generations, from fifth generation Mayflower descendant and Alden descendant Janet Murdock Tilson, through her son William Tilson, to her grandson Peleg Tilson and her great-granddaughter Rachel Tilson.

When we arrive at the time period of those Tilson generations, though, we are also faced with a wandering family. William, having served in the French War, also apparently was said to have served in the American Revolution, according to some records held by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Yet, by the 1763 birth date of his eldest child, he was apparently far removed from his home in Massachusetts, living in a place called Saint Clair in Virginia.

And there's the quandary: where is Saint Clair? If we are researching an era devoid of such documents relied upon in genealogical research of more modern times—birth and death certificates—just how am I to locate the court records verifying the assertions made about these more recent iterations of the Tilson line?

From The Tilson Genealogy itself, I can glean geographic descriptions to gain some assistance in locating where the Tilsons settled in Virginia. For instance, Peleg, son of William, was supposed to have married his wife, Rachel (or, in other records, Rebeccah) Dungan "of Saint Clair, Virginia." But when? And where are the court records?

Peleg's first few children were born in Saint Clair, supposedly, in the 1790s. One gets the feeling this may have occurred in a place so remote that it might not have had the wherewithal to produce governmental documentation.

However, thankfully, his children born toward the end of that decade of the 1790s are reported to have been born in the northeast section of Tennessee.

Yet even that creates a problem. Just where in Tennessee would they have been born? The Tilson genealogy gives the location as "Erwin, Tennessee," yet Erwin was not established as a location until 1876.

Relying on geographic descriptions to determine location proves frustrating, as well. The Tilson Genealogy describes the Saint Clair location where William Tilson settled as in "the west part of Virginia...on the south branch of the Holstein River."

Looking up the "Holstein River" is a less than satisfying experience. There is no Holstein River. There is, however, a Holston River, which meanders for quite some way through southwestern Virginia before getting caught up in the water management system in northeastern Tennessee which has created quite a sizeable lake in the region, courtesy now of a modern system of dams. Likely not the same scenery encountered by William Tilson and family when they settled in the area in the 1790s.

Could the Holston River be the Holstein River described in the Tilson Genealogy? This is a question that could best be served by obtaining and examining old maps of the region. That in itself would have taken time. Fortunately, I happened to notice a comment in the Wikipedia entry for the Holston River, which informed me that earlier French maps had identified the same river as the Cherokee River, and that it was "later named after Stephen Holstein, a European-American settler who built a cabin in 1746 on the upper reaches of the river."

So Holston River was once called Holstein River. I headed over to the Find A Grave entry for some of my Tilson family's burials in a cemetery behind a pre-Revolutionary era church called, encouragingly, Saint Clair's Bottom Primitive Baptist Church. Clicking on the Find A Grave tab for the map to the cemetery, I enlarged the image until I spotted a squiggly blue line, signifying some sort of river or creek near the cemetery. I painstakingly followed that blue squiggle until it came to the place where the thing was actually given a name.

You guessed it: the name of that blue squiggle was indeed "South Fork Holston River." Now discovering that, it appears, then, that the location of the Saint Clair Bottom Primitive Baptist Church where my Tilson ancestors were buried was close to what is now Chilhowie, in Smyth County, Virginia.

Thus was my faith in The Tilson Genealogy restored. But that was only one of two river dilemmas. The Holston River was the one the Tilsons left behind when they moved to their new digs in Tennessee. The other river dilemma involved the river which the Tilsons lived near, once they settled in what was not quite yet the Erwin location mentioned in the Tilson book.

According to The Tilson Genealogy, William's son Peleg moved from Virginia to settle
on the west side of Nola Chucky River, one mile from the mouth of Indian Creek, and south of the Iron Bridge, about three miles from Erwin.

We've already dismissed the possibility of Peleg Tilson settling three miles from Erwin. Whatever he settled near, it wasn't yet a town called Erwin. Nor was there likely, at the turn of the century in 1800, to have been any bridge in the vicinity, let alone an iron bridge. Add to that the difficulty of there being not one but two creeks called Indian Creek (South Indian Creek and North Indian Creek), and it is pretty clear the best way to ascertain just where Peleg Tilson settled would be to find some old plat maps—if, of course, there was a government there to organize that sort of property records.

But where, again, was the river? If you are envisioning a woman by the name of Nola whose memory was perpetuated by its use to designate a river, think again. There is no Nola Chucky, person or river. However, there is the similarly-named Nolichucky River, running right through the very area which later boasted the town of Erwin among its geographic labels.

One wonders, in discovering these two small difficulties, how often other names were misrepresented in what otherwise would have been considered a reliable genealogy. Wonders, too, how often place names and geographic descriptors may have changed, over the years. The Tilson Genealogy, after all, was published in 1911. We have to have the grace to allow for things to have changed.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

And That Makes Five

Stretching from Mayflower passengers John Alden and Priscilla Mullins through the surnames I've covered—Pabodie, Bartlett, Murdock, and Tilson—we've made the stretch through the first five generations, precisely the number of generations confirmed in the Mayflower Society's "Silver Books."

From this point on, we're untethered from the assurance that we are on the right genealogical path. To join the ranks of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, I'll have to snap to and assure the accuracy of each documented step along the generational way. Though I'm fairly certain of my research accuracy, this is still a terrifying moment. Like Wile E. Coyote gone over the edge of the cliff.

The difficulty with researching William Tilson—that grandson who so fortunately inherited his grandfather John Murdock's farm in Massachusetts, but then abruptly moved to the far reaches of Virginia—is that this was not the only time this William made such a radical move. According to The Tilson Genealogy, the Massachusetts native spent his earlier years ranging as far as Nova Scotia as well as southwest Virginia.

William Tilson apparently served during the "French War," but presumably returned home to Plympton after discharge from service in December, 1761. It was in Plympton, after all, that he married Mary Ransom just a few months later in April of the next year.

Apparently, when William entered the service in March of 1759, he was barely eighteen years of age. Considering he inherited the farm when his grandfather died in the fall of 1756, that would have placed William then at fifteen—not a bad set up for a young man of that age. Perhaps that explains the note I found in The Tilson Genealogy mentioning a legal action taken in October of the same year in which John Murdock passed: William granted his father, Stephen Tilson, as "guardian" of the property he had inherited from his grandfather.

On the other hand, perhaps that detail only plants another question in my mind: what did happen to that farm after it was handed down to the fifteen year old grandson of John Murdock? And was it something that served to drive the younger Tilson away from his community?

At any rate, the next step in my attempt to document my connection with Mayflower passengers takes us far from that Massachusetts colony of the Pilgrims' landing—much farther than the minor move from Plymouth to Plympton. The next location to seek records needs to be the Virginia settlement known as Saint Clair, a place not found on the map today, and variously identified as part of more than one county in current-day Virginia.

Not only does the next generation take us far afield from Massachusetts, it also removes us from the tidily-ascertained five verified generations since the pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620.  

Above: "Landing of the Puritans in America," 1883 oil on canvas by Spanish artist Antonio Gisbert PĂ©rez; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Monday, August 14, 2017

To Him, His Heirs and Assigns Forever

Sometimes, in taking in the fine print in a family's legal proceedings, it's tempting to read between the lines. In examining the family which leads me back to ancestral ties with Mayflower passengers, we've been looking at the final wishes of my seventh great grandfather, John Murdock. In his will, drawn up in 1756, he gave the whole of his property in Plympton, Massachusetts, to his grandson, William Tilson.

What's strange about this arrangement is that John and Ruth Bartlett Murdock had four children of their own: Jeannette (variously listed as Janet or Jennet, who married Stephen Tilson), Ruth, James and Bartlett. I have not found it unusual, in the case of a married daughter, to see a father of that time period bequeath a token inheritance—if any at all—to such a daughter. In this case, daughter Ruth, having already married John Wall, saw her husband—not herself—receive forty pounds.

While John Murdock named his son-in-law rather than his second-born daughter, in the case of his eldest daughter, Jennet, while not naming her at all, he was rather generous in his dealing with her oldest son.

I give and bequeath to my grandson William Tillson (the son of Stephen Tillson) the whole Farm with the Dwelling House and all the other buildings thereon Standing is Situate in the Township of Plimton in the county aforesaid, and is the same now in the Improvement of Noah Pratt be the same more or less—to Him his Heirs and assigns forever.

One would presume this was the favorite grandson, seeing his generosity.

But what about taking care of his widowed wife after his departure? John Murdock saw to that, as well.

Item - I give and bequeath unto my loving wife Ruth the Improvement of all and Singular the Remaining part of My Estate both Real and personall, be the same or less however or wheresoever lying and Being, that is During her naturall life, and after that it is my Will the same Decend in equall halves unto my two sons James Murdock and Bartlett Murdock To them their Heirs and assigns forever.

Wait! Did John Murdock have more than one farm? Or was he speaking of the same property which he gave to his grandson, but let his wife have it while she was still living?

While it might seem I'll have to delve into property records of colonial times, subsequent events reveal this might have been a moot point. Apparently, that very same "fortunate" grandson, William Tilson, married Mary Ransom in Plympton in 1762, and was, by 1763, a proud father in his own right.

The difficulty with that scenario is that William's oldest son—also named William—was not born anywhere near that farm bequeathed to him in Massachusetts, but in a remote spot on the far side of Virginia in a settlement called Saint Clair. This was not a momentary visit to the far side of colonial civilization; all the rest of William's children were also born in the vicinity—and some subsequently moved to northeastern Tennessee.

One clue to the abrupt change in address for that grandson who got the farm in that 1756 will: his grandmother, John Murdock's wife Ruth, may have passed away within a few years of her husband's death. At least, an entry at Find a Grave indicates she may have died in 1761.

Once gone, which part of the property remained William Tilson's? And which part was divided between William's two uncles, sons of his so-generous yet departed grandfather? One can't help but wonder whether there was some family feuding over the rights to that piece of property. Perhaps William saw it best to move on to a future of his own making.

Above: The two excerpts from the will of John Murdock, dated 1756, courtesy the Massachusetts Wills and Probate Records collection at

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Still Counting

Now that I'm deep in the midst of researching a line that reaches to Mayflower ancestry—who knew I'd ever be spouting lines like, "and he was my eighth great grandfather"—you'd think the count on my databases would rise astronomically. But it hasn't. It seems the farther back you reach in your research, the harder the going gets to slog through the supporting documentation.

Let's take a look at progress in the last two weeks, anyhow—mainly because I promised myself I would. Tracking progress comes in handy when discouragement sets in.

The tree that stands to increase the most would seem to be the one I'm focusing on for this Mayflower research. After all, families back then were larger. Of course, on the flip side, families also lost more children to the hazards of pioneer life—everything from unexpected injuries to sicknesses to premature death following childbirth.

As it stands, my mother's family tree saw an increase of 106 names in the last two weeks, putting the grand total at 11,076. Even though it's a modest gain, at least it's an increase.

On the other hand, as focused as I am right now on putting together an application to the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, I did carve out some research time for the other parts of our family. On my mother-in-law's tree, the total jumped 188 to reach 12,557. Not bad for being focused on an entirely different project. But also illustrating my point handily: much easier to locate descendants of founder families in the mid 1800s onward than in the mid 1600s.

If only that could extend to my father-in-law's database, where the total somehow managed to inch up by one solitary name, for a total of 1,262. Or my own dad's tree, where I scrounged up five souls to make 427 in total. Chalk that up to new hints appearing at, for the most part, since newly-added digitized records sure help me muddle my way onward.

Part of that increase comes from the motivation of finding new DNA matches at any of the three companies our family has already used: Family Tree DNA, AncestryDNA or 23andMe. Whenever there is the faintest possibility that a DNA match belongs to either of our fathers' lines, I am on it, best I can be, given the lack of information on those previous generations. (And here, when I say previous generations, it certainly isn't with the luxury of boasting about far-removed centuries; both of these lines arrived in the United States well into the 1800s.)

As far as DNA testing goes, I'm sure grateful that two of the companies have decided to offer another sale this summer. It's when the numbers go up in each company's database that the likelihood of finding a match—especially in my father's and father-in-law's lines—improves. News like Ancestry's recent announcement that their database has exceeded five million customers is good news for someone like me, struggling to overcome brick wall mysteries from lack of documentation.

Still, it is becoming obvious that some people find more fertile ground for DNA matches at one company, while others reap their benefits at an entirely different company. It's really hard to tell at the outset which company will lead to the match that opens up those brick wall mysteries. Just in the past two weeks, I currently have had an increase of forty five at Family Tree DNA, fifteen at Ancestry, and a net loss of two at 23andMe. That brought me new match totals of 2,306 at FTDNA, 685 at AncestryDNA, and 1,177 at 23andMe.

For my husband, the numbers were up twenty four for a total of 1,498 at FTDNA, up six for 325 at AncestryDNA, and down eight to 1,226 at 23andMe.

Granted, those numbers represent different measurements at each company. I trace all matches at FTDNA, only fourth cousin and above at AncestryDNA, and all cousins who haven't yet removed their name from public matching at 23andMe. Yet even in this small sampling, it's interesting to see that my husband fares better at gleaning matches at 23andMe than I do, despite my significantly larger set of matches at, say, FTDNA.

The bottom line is that you can never know where distant relatives might choose to test their DNA—if at any place at all—so if you are hoping that a match will provide you with the answer to all your genealogical mysteries, you may as well resign yourself to testing at all the major companies. And if you are hoping to see the explanation for how you match another customer, you may as well resign yourself to doing some random acts of genealogical kindness in building a shadow tree for your most likely matches, if their own research prowess isn't up to providing the answers you are seeking.

 Above: "August Afternoon, Appledore," 1900 oil on canvas by American Impressionist painter Frederick Childe Hassam; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Off the Shelf:
Tillie Lewis: The Tomato Queen

Every now and then, I have to deviate from my intentions to plow through my backlog of reading. This is one of those months. Rather than pull a book down from my own bookcases, I borrowed one from the library.

This month's selection is a book I've been meaning to read for quite some time. It is not, however, a book about genealogy, but a chance to learn something more about a giant in my own city's history.

Because it involves my city, not yours, you might not think this applicable to you. But don't give up so quickly with that assessment. It turns out Tillie Lewis built a business which introduced the Italian pomodoro tomato to the agriculture of our Central Valley region. In the face of steep tariffs making imports of the Italian tomato impractical, this eventually made our county the top tomato producing county in the United States by 1940.

Following that introduction of the pomodoro to the area's agriculture, this businesswoman coupled that endeavor with development of a cannery in the city. By 1950, Tillie Lewis had grown that company to be the fifth largest canning business in the United States. If your mother made you anything with canned tomato products back then, you may have eaten an Italian dish made from tomatoes grown in my county.

I can't tell you how many times, over the years, I've driven by the old cannery bearing the Tillie Lewis name, but I had never given any thought to the business savvy that went into building that tomato empire—not to mention, any thought to what it took for a woman to make those strides in a generation in which board rooms were solely the domain of gray-suited businessmen.

While I don't have any ancestors to research in the city or county in which I now live, it certainly helps to delve into the history surrounding the home of my local genealogical society. Not only that, but it's informative and inspiring to see how another woman tackled the business challenges of her day. Tillie Lewis: The Tomato Queen is definitely a read I've been looking forward to.

Friday, August 11, 2017

According to his Will

It is probably a good thing that the will of Benjamen Bartlett was drawn up in 1717, after his daughter Ruth had already married. One simple mention of that detail in his will allows us to connect the names of Ruth's parents with her married surname, Murdock. Thus, we are provided with the stepping stone to advance us to the next generation in this procession from Mayflower passengers John Alden and Priscilla Mullins through their daughter Elizabeth Alden Pabodie, their granddaughter Ruth Pabodie Bartlett, and now their great-granddaughter Ruth Bartlett Murdock.

From that point, it was a will which provided the next generational step, as well. When Ruth Bartlett Murdock's husband John drew up his will before his passing in 1756, he referred not only to his wife and children, but remembered one particular grandson—as the Elizabeth Alden genealogy put it, "grandson Tillson," the son of Stephen Tillson—to whom he gifted his farm.

That "Tillson," of course, handily directs us to the next generation in our journey from the Mayflower's landing to our times. John Murdock and his wife, the former Ruth Bartlett, had among their children one daughter who had married said Stephen Tilson. Her name has been referenced variously as Janet, Jennet, or Jeannette.

It was during this generation, incidentally, that though the property in Plympton, Massachusetts, was provided to him, Stephen Tilson's eldest son was soon found to be settled and raising his own family, not in Plympton—not even in Massachusetts—but far to the west in Virginia.

Of course, that brings up the question: what happened? Why, if provided for with this bequest of property, did he marry in Plympton, yet move so far away to settle and raise his own family? To answer that, we need to shift from the resources provided in the Alden genealogy to a separate recounting of the family history of the Tilson line. And even there, we'll need to read between the lines, for the legal records only document the basic outline of the story.

Above: "Embarkation of the Pilgrims," 1857 oil on canvas by American artist Robert Walter Weir; courtesy Google Art Project via Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Googling for Colonial Significance

It is certainly a different world, plying my genealogical research craft to the world of colonial ancestors instead of scouring passenger lists for American immigrants of the late 1800s. Still, that doesn't necessarily mean I must resign myself solely to dusty archives or crumbling documents. As I traced one of my lines to the granddaughter of Mayflower passengers John and Priscilla Alden, I couldn't help but notice how many results came up when I took those colonial names and plugged them into the search bar at Google. Old World meets New.

It seems incredible that names like Richard Warren (Mayflower passenger) or Love Brewster (son of William Brewster) would be on the tip of the tongue of twenty first century Americans. And, in case you missed my tongue firmly planted in cheek, those names aren't. Yet, a quick search revealed that each of them has a Wikipedia entry. Somebody knew about them. And thought somebody else might be interested.

Perhaps arrival on the Mayflower conferred a sort of "street cred" among colonials. Names of those early arrivals were noted by someone, obviously, but I wondered how my luck would hold out if I tried searching for the next generation.

Using the 1897 publication by Mrs. Charles L. Alden, Elizabeth (Alden) Pabodie and Descendants, as our unofficial guide (for my final bid to become a member of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, of course I'll need to align with what has been verified in the "Silver Books"), we left off yesterday with John and Priscilla's granddaughter, Ruth Pabodie Bartlett.

She and her husband, Benjamin Bartlett, likely had nine children. This, though, may be difficult to verify as a complete list, for apparently there have been issues in which listings of Benjamin Bartlett's children may have been confused with those of Samuel Bartlett. The Elizabeth Pabodie author limits her list to those children gleaned solely from mention in Benjamin's will.

In particular, for our purposes, we are interested in Ruth and Benjamin's daughter Ruth. Born in Duxbury, Massachusetts, where the Alden and associated families moved after adhering to their seven-year obligation to the Plymouth colony, the younger Ruth eventually married John Murdock, son of the elder John Murdock and his wife Lydia Young.

While the earlier Mayflower generations provided me with names easily found on sites like Wikipedia, subsequent generations didn't carry as much historical gravitas, apparently, for while I can locate several ancestral names from this portion of my lineage, they are more likely to be found on genealogy websites than general interest pages.

Still, I can find information, thanks to Google—requiring further independent verification, of course—everywhere from the "Memories" section of to the online database listing the descendants of John and Priscilla Alden, provided by the Alden Kindred of America. That organization, interestingly enough, claims as one of its founding members—and treasurer—a gentleman by the name of Charles L. Alden, a name which we've seen affixed to a particular genealogy book of Alden descendants.

None of this I would have known if I hadn't decided to try my hand at Googling some of my ancestors' names. Granted, if there wasn't the cachet of being people associated—even several generations removed—with the landing of the Mayflower, perhaps these names wouldn't have been as ardently sought after. It's the demand that created the supply in this case. But I'm glad for access to that supply thanks to Google, nonetheless.

Above: The Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, by British-born American marine painter William Formby Halsall in 1882; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
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