Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Leaving Their Marks Behind

Of all those who once lived in the Pendleton plantation home known as Ashtabula, the Broyles family was no exception. Just as the Gibbes family had filled the house with several children before them, the Broyles family burst on the home scene in 1837, complete with seven of their eventual ten children: Augustus, the oldest, born in 1824, followed by Charles, Zacharias, Richard, William, Margaret—finally! a girl!—and infant Ozey. Within the next decade after settling into their home and farm, Ozey and Sarah Broyles welcomed three more children: Sarah, Thomas (my second great-grandfather), and John.

Though education was important to the Broyles family—long before baby John was even part of the family, his big brother Augustus was already away at college—and school often represented a day-long absence from home, there were inevitably those typical outbreaks of boyish energy which left their mark on the home front during the childhood of those many Broyles boys. The Ashtabula book noted that at least two of those Broyles boys contrived ways to leave their marks on the home for future discovery.

Clear enough to be seen well over one hundred years later, two sets of initials can be spotted, carved in the basement of Ashtabula: ATB and JPB. ATB would be the leader of the pack, Augustus Taliaferro Broyles—to whom we will ever be left wondering whether his parents used the typical admonishment meant for oldest children, "You should have known better"—and JPB represented that spoiled youngest of the family, John Pendleton Broyles.

Whether both transgressions occurred at the same time, we can't tell, but we do know that John couldn't have gotten away with his mischievous act until well after he burst on the scene in 1846—if, of course, it wasn't one of his older brothers framing him with a forgery. And since the family left their beautiful country home in 1851, that possibly could have suggested that young John—by then barely five—might have had some brotherly coaxing to leave his mark behind upon their departure.

Monday, April 29, 2019

The Clemson Connection

What a bonus it was to discover mention of my Broyles and Taliaferro ancestors in a book of local history in Pendleton, South Carolina. I'm still steadily working my way through what I call the Ashtabula book—a collection of various resources centered around the home by that name where my Broyles ancestors once lived—delighting in each minor discovery. The detail gained on everyday life of my third great-grandparents and their children has enriched my perspective on this one branch of my family.

You have likely had your eyes opened to the possibilities of gleaning hints about the life of your ancestors through this method, as well. While we can search directly for genealogies written about long-gone people claiming the same surnames as we descend from, there are other sources to be tried, as well. One of those is the rich resource of personal journals and diaries, whether published or unpublished manuscripts.

I already know one avid supporter of that research method: a reader right here on A Family Tapestry. Lisa, who has commented with suggestions of various diaries incidentally mentioning the Broyles family members, has been working her way through a family collection of letters concerning her own Civil War era family members (and, I'm delighted to report, has begun her own blog to share her transcriptions and observations, as well).

The other day, Lisa commented about finding mentions of Margaret Broyles—"Maggie"—in a book containing the diary of Floride Clemson, A Rebel Came Home. That, of course, makes another addition to my ever-growing reading list meant to help me absorb the minutiae of life for the Broyles family of Pendleton, South Carolina.

However, there is a wonderful backstory to the connection between Floride's family and that of the Broyles family that could not possibly have been included in Floride's diary. To tell that story—briefly, I promise—I will partially rely on posts made here over four years ago, as well as refer to a brief review of a post at the beginning of this Ashtabula series.

Floride Clemson Lee was likely named after her maternal grandmother, Floride Calhoun, wife of former U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun. The younger Floride's early death—a young wife, she was not yet thirty at the time of her passing in 1871—eventually left her soon-to-be-widowed father, Thomas Clemson, the sole owner of the beautiful home and property her mother had recently inherited (through a long and complicated legal process) at the passing of John C. Calhoun.

Now having lost both wife and daughter—as well as all his other remaining children—Thomas Clemson may have seemed a tragic figure, indeed. However, the man had a dream: to establish an agricultural college to introduce modern scientific farming techniques to the residents of his home state. This is where the connection to the Broyles and Taliaferro families comes in.

While Sarah Taliaferro and her husband, Ozey Broyles, had a daughter they named Margaret—the one whom we've met as the Civil War widow of the ill-fated army surgeon Samuel Van Wyck—pushing back another generation, we discover that Sarah had a sister named Margaret, as well. She it was who was one of the four daughters of Zachariah Taliaferro we had seen mentioned in the Ashtabula book.

This sister Margaret married a South Carolina man named Richard Franklin Simpson, who, before the Civil War, served in the state senate, as well as becoming a United States congressman. An attorney by profession, perhaps it is no surprise to learn that his son, also named Richard Simpson, eventually became a local attorney as well.

The younger Richard Simpson—known as Richard Wright Simpson—became law partner with his cousin, Sarah Taliaferro Broyles' eldest son Augustus "Gus" Broyles. One of the things old Gus was known for was his expertise in crafting wills. Likely, so was his partner, Richard Simpson. Simpson worked with Thomas Clemson to make his dream of establishing an agricultural college a reality—in part, by seeing that that embattled property inherited from John C. Calhoun became part of the seed to plant the new college. This, as it turned out, was a good thing, as, after Thomas Clemson's passing, yet another round of wrangling, this time, instigated by Clemson's own son-in-law, the younger deceased Floride's husband, brought the argument over the contested will—and thus the establishment of the college on which the property was to stand—all the way to the Supreme Court.

Of course, I would never have found that connection if I hadn't stumbled upon another research quandary, the question of why some Broyles children had ended up buried in a Simpson family cemetery. It's these rabbit trails, as I call them, which, rather than leading away from the purpose at hand, not only lead us on a winding trail straight to the answer, but enrich us in the process of dogged pursuit of the discovery.

Back in 2015, when I first tackled the question, the trail led me from that question of the unexpected location of the Broyles burials to discover the nexus between the surnames Broyles and Simpson—through the Taliaferro sisters—and then, finally, the answer to why some of Ozey and Sarah Broyles' children were buried in the Simpson family cemetery which is now part of the school named after its benefactor: Clemson University.

With the town of Clemson being barely five miles away from Pendleton, and with the Broyles family and their cousins in the Simpson family so intricately involved in the plans of the university's founder, it is no surprise to learn that Thomas Clemson's daughter would have mentioned widow-turned-educator Margaret Broyles Van Wyck's name in her own diary upon her return back to South Carolina. Passing away so young, though, Floride Clemson Lee likely had no idea how much of a role Margaret's family would someday play in securing Thomas Clemson's initial donation and administrative work to create the school he once dreamed of endowing.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Reflections on a Bumper Sticker

Yesterday, following an event representing the culmination of a lot of hard work, landed me in a mellow mood—once I was rescued from the precipice of sheer exhaustion. It was one of those dazed, reflective kinds of reveries that can come when one is too tired to do any more work, but not tired enough to sleep.

I thought—of all the possibilities that could have been chosen—about a bumper sticker. I had spotted it on my way home, too busy—or perhaps already too dazed—to think fast enough to snap a picture of it. But there was no way I would have forgotten the tag line. It aligned perfectly with what had been bugging me about that huge project I had been tackling.

I'd have to admit, first of all, that that huge project had started out as a dream. It was a "what if" germ of an idea that grew to meet reality, but in the process had run into some rather hurtful roadblocks—you know, the kind of painful backlash that makes one swear, "never again!"

And that was what I had decided: never again. I didn't care, at that point, whether it was a noble project, a commendable effort, a needed service. If it was still needed after that, someone else could do it.

But then, I saw that bumper sticker. Let me say that again, only from a different perspective: "But then, after weeks of hard work, despite triggers that brought on a range of emotional rampages, I saw that bumper sticker."

And it made me think.

Thinking makes everything gel. It can bring together disparate remembrances from opposite ends of life, from bipolar extremes, from time warps and parallel realities. It puts two and two together when they never before could have met, let alone mixed.

In real life—you know the blogisphere is an alternate reality, don't you?—my family runs a training company. Mostly, the enterprise addresses training needs for other businesses, and my husband provides his unique perspective in that role. Around our house, some of the catch phrases for the team-building or strategic planning theories he presents in classes have become everyday sayings when we reflect on our own daily routines. While you may not find yourself regularly commenting on the "productive zone of disequilibrium" around your home, it is not uncommon to hear those words flow from a family member's mouth as he is pouring his morning coffee.

I know that was not what I was thinking, when I spotted that bumper sticker. I was thinking about how exhausted I was, and how much I couldn't wait until that project I was dreading was over. The backstabbing, the squabbling, the animosity had gotten to me. It was bad enough that a project had gone bad, but when that project used to be one's dream, that becomes doubly difficult to accept.

The bumper sticker, however, was not mindful of all that angst. It simply stated, "Life doesn't get easier; you just get stronger."

Where did a saying like that come from? Once home, I jumped on the search. There are just some sayings that resonate. They strike the right chord—or, more like a Helmholtz resonator, they are amplified by their receiver.

Google did not cooperate with my newfound quest. The first couple pages of hits for the quote from that random bumper sticker were all sported by fitness centers or businesses promoting workout routines. From there, they entered the realm of pithy sayings affixed to wall hangings or magnets, copied from there to Pinterest and posted at LifeHack. Or were even co-opted by sports enthusiasts turned writers who borrowed the line for their title.

By that point, my search had entered the realm of very dated results, like the title for this 2011 blog post from a young woman working in Saudi Arabia (I had to look, if only because that is what, in the course of his work, my husband had ended up doing a few years ago, as well). But at least that tip provided me a clue: this saying had been around for a very long time. How had I missed it?

Though he didn't have an entry on Wikipedia, the man attributed with having originally written that quote—actually, as I discovered from an entry on Goodreads, the correct version is, "Life doesn't get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient"—is an inspirational speaker named Steve Maraboli. In fact, for the fastidious researchers among us, that line can be found on page 61 of his book, Life, the Truth, and Being Free, something he wrote in 2009. I haven't read the book myself, but if you don't have time to read the "Most Quoted Man Alive," you can check out his pithy sayings, including this one, via Wikiquote.

However I missed resonating to this quote ten years ago, I'm not sure. Perhaps I wasn't on the same wavelength at the time. Now, however, is a different story. And all this gelled in the pressure cooker of my life in the past few weeks. With the project now officially over—and well-received, thankfully—I can bask in the stress-induced exhaustion and become philosophical. Somehow, the forsworn "never again" has morphed into something a little less unforgiving. It all has become a grand illustration of just what Ronald Heifetz meant when he described what he called the "Productive Zone of Disequilibrium." It may be an operative macro concept in adaptive leadership, but in the micro sense, it certainly applies to the learning curve for each of us as individuals.

In the end, going through misery can have its silver lining, if we learn and if we benefit from it and grow. Thanks to the unwitting reminder of a passing bumper sticker, it's good to know that this, too, can become a learning experience. At least now, I'm ready to tackle it all again.

Well...maybe after a break....


Saturday, April 27, 2019

Post-DNA-Day Reflections

DNA Day may have come and gone, but hope blooms perennially that a new match will eventually come my way—you know, that miraculous answer to all my genealogical questions, especially the key to open doors in my brick wall paternal grandfather's enigmatic past. So I always like it when folks like Family Tree DNA decide to extend their sale through the weekend—their "Family Finder" autosomal test is still going for $49. Or when MyHeritage stretches for one more day—yep, today—to keep that sale going. Or when 23andMe decides to be different and style theirs as a pre-Mother's Day sale—but only if you spring for the pricier ancestry plus health component for mom.

Somewhere in all those sales, surely a missing cousin will show up—complete with all the juicy details about the rest of the long-lost family.

Thinking about all this makes me realize I need to re-evaluate my research goals. Lately, I've been focusing on my Broyles ancestors because of a book I found. Before that, it was work on my McClellan line because of a trip and some exciting discoveries there. And I'll still be working on those two projects. Behind the scenes, I'm plugging away at completing each branch of my extended tree—first the McClellan line, then the Broyles line—but that often doesn't make for scintillating blog posts.

In the meantime, all those sales have produced a modest trickle of promising DNA connections, requiring me to work on yet other branches of my tree—on both my maternal side (where I claim those Broyles and McClellan connections) and on my paternal side. It's that paternal side which is suddenly warming up.

I have to say that what seemed to trigger the progress on my dad's genealogical connections was the launch of the AutoClusters tool at MyHeritage. Yes, I realize that same utility was already available at Genetic Affairs, but it never was one I had taken the time to explore. Really, with so many new "toys" coming on the market to further explore our heritage, it's becoming a challenge to triage that limited research time to focus on the most urgent pursuit.

Nevertheless, it is through the computing power of crunching relatively large amounts of data that the most useful clues will surface, and that is what tools like AutoClusters and DNA Painter are doing for me. I can't still research in a vacuum, now that such possibilities are in the air. This calls for forming a strategy for how to sort through those DNA matches and choose the best possibilities for solid discoveries. Can you tell I feel encouraged that I'm close to uncovering some useful leads? Either that, or some astounding rabbit trails...

Friday, April 26, 2019

When Life Must Go On

With her husband suddenly gone—and so soon after the start of the Civil War—Margaret Broyles Van Wyck faced multiple challenges. Though she had spent her entire childhood in Pendleton, South Carolina, following her husband's graduation from medical school, the young Van Wyck family had settled in Huntsville, Alabama, where Samuel set up his practice.

By the time of the 1860 census, the Van Wyck family included four year old son William, his three year old brother Samuel, two year old Oze, and an infant daughter, listed only as "Babe." Though Vandiver's Traditions and History of Anderson County reported that, when her husband was killed during the war, Margaret was left with "three little children, two boys and one girl," that was not entirely correct. That record, however, may have been in error for another unfortunate reason.

The oldest boy, William, born in 1856, was only seven years of age when he died in 1863. The Vandiver account doesn't mention him at all, though Margaret's daughter—the infant "Babe," likely named after her mother, or perhaps the other Broyles or Taliaferro elders of that same name—was poignantly woven into the passage on her widowed mother.
The little daughter soon followed her father to the grave, carrying a part of the mother's heart with her. Towards little girls Mrs. Van Wyck was always most tender.

Raising her two remaining children, Margaret Van Wyck either felt compelled to constantly be industrious, or to seek a way to provide financially for her family. Vandiver noted that "the young widow took up life as well as she could, and worked for her boys."

"Worked," as it turned out, was a word in that narrative meant most literally. Apparently, by 1881, a General Lewis M. Ayer moved from Barnwell County—original home of my McClellans who were the early settlers I've been researching in north Florida—to set up a school for girls in Anderson County. He called the school The Anderson Female Seminary. Included in the Vandiver history was a listing of all the teachers in the faculty of General Ayer's degree-granting institution, including "Mrs. Margaret Van Wyck, long one of Anderson's most honored citizens."

"Enthusiastic in everything that interested her," Margaret Broyles Van Wyck "impressed her vivid personality" on many of the women whom she taught. The Vandiver history—and its quoted passages in the Ashtabula book—noted that although Margaret lived "to be very old, and almost blind...her cheerfulness, enthusiasm and interest in life never failed."

That was Margaret Broyles Van Wyck's legacy in the community where she returned, after the death of her husband. As for her own family, her two remaining sons, Samuel and Oze, married and raised large families of their own in homes not far from that place of their later childhood.

Perhaps that return home, after the loss of her husband, was the wisest move for Margaret. Indeed, there were several relatives among the friends she had left behind in Pendleton when she and the grandson of her father's good friend and neighbor, Samuel Marverick, had married, back in 1855. Even embedded in her very name was the remembrance of those relatives intertwined not only in her family, but in her community, as well.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Not All Stories Have Happy Endings

The Ashtabula book certainly has served to provide me with delightful stories of my family's history, especially concerning my third great-grandfather, Ozey R. Broyles. Samuel Maverick Van Wyck, grandson of Dr. Ozey Broyles' close friend and neighbor Samuel Maverick, may have made both the Maverick and Broyles families happy when his proposal to Margaret Broyles resulted in uniting the two old friends as family, but that joyous event in 1855 came on the eve of an ominous period of life in the south.

After his wedding, the young Samuel had continued his college education, graduating from the medical department of the University of the City of New York in 1860. By that time, he and Margaret were proud parents of three sons of their own. The family moved to Huntsville, Alabama, where Samuel set up his medical practice.

That arrangement didn't last for long. With the outbreak of war, he served as surgeon for a cavalry unit under the command of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Late in 1861, after enduring his first battle, the young doctor wrote (as reported in Steven M. Stowe's Doctoring the South), "shot and shell fell thick and fast around me, and strange to say I was more collected and calm than when I used to pray in church."

His service as surgeon in the Confederate Army was not to last for long. On the last day of November in that same year, Samuel Maverick Van Wyck was shot and killed. Regardless of which report was the more accurate—one story held that he was killed in action along the Ohio River, while another mentioned that he was murdered by a local Kentucky citizen while riding through Crittenden County alongside Nathan Bedford Forrest—Samuel's bride of six years was now a widow.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

When Friends Become Family

Although Dr. Ozey Broyles had become friends with his neighbor, the distinguished Samuel Maverick, the elder man was at least twenty years Ozey's senior. Before 1850, the man was a widower, with his children far from old Pendleton. Still, Samuel Maverick was very much a noted man in his community.

For one thing, he was reputed to be "the richest man in South Carolina," and he struck a distinguished pose whenever he went about in the "dignified and aristocratic town" of Pendleton. One of Ozey Broyles' daughters was asked, years after Mr. Maverick's passing, to pen her remembrances of the man. The Ashtabula book shared excerpts of her letter about him. He "always wore a pale colored coat and broad brimmed low crown whitish hat," as she remembered.

Samuel Maverick, despite his age, had business which regularly took him into town, unwittingly providing a punctilious reminder of the time to all he passed. Sarah, Ozey's daughter, recalled
He rode in a buggy, driving a gray horse, and passed our home every day. The cook told the hour by his passing, so methodical was he, passed at seven, and now it is twelve, because Mr. Maverick is passing to dinner.

Mr. Maverick's only son, Samuel Augustus, had long left for the draw of adventure in Texas—of which he had his fill, having been kidnapped by the Mexicans and put to hard labor before his rescue by his own country's government—and his daughter Lydia had married a successful lawyer in New York City, far from the vaunted Upcountry's innocent glories detailed in Dr. Broyles' letter to his own daughter Margaret.

The elder Samuel Maverick was well into his seventies when he suffered a stroke and ensuing paralysis. Lydia Maverick Van Wyck returned from New York to attend to her father's health and apparently, at least judging by the record in the 1850 census, she did not return alone. Not only her husband but their six children returned with her.

Included in the transplanted Van Wyck family, by that point in 1850, was their oldest son, Samuel Maverick Van Wyck. By then fifteen years of age, he was precisely the same age as the Broyles' oldest daughter, Margaret.

Though shortly after that point, Margaret had moved to attend school in Charleston, perhaps that eclipsed vignette in her youth may have turned out to redirect the course of her life. In a matter of days after Margaret had received the letter from her father instructing her to return to Pendleton, the Broyles' neighbor Samuel Maverick passed away. Having died intestate—incredibly—his son-in-law, William Van Wyck, was appointed administrator of the Maverick estate, further delaying the Van Wyck family's return to New York.

In the interim, the Van Wycks' oldest son, Samuel, was sent to further his education at Amherst College. Though he did not graduate from that particular college, he did continue his education, finishing a course in medicine by 1860.

Somewhere in the midst of all that accomplishment, though, there was a pause to attend to some personal business, for Samuel Maverick Van Wyck, grandson of the Broyles family's beloved neighbor in Pendleton, proposed to Dr. Ozey's oldest daughter, Margaret, and the couple was married in 1855—likely making the respective families of two old "devoted friends" very happy, indeed.  

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Private Life in the Back Country

So much can be gleaned about an ancestor by reading between the lines in those few letters preserved from past generations. Fortunately, the Ashtabula book quoted liberally from several such sources, affording me the chance to glimpse what my third great grandfather might have been like.

In the 1850s, as had been the practice well before that point, the young ladies of old Pendleton attended school at an institution run by two sisters named Bates. According to Louise Ayer Vandiver's Traditions and History of Anderson County, students of the area arrived at school "in all kinds of conveyances, buggies, sulkies, carriages, carryalls, and even wagons." Since the boys attended a separate school from the girls, brothers and sisters from one family would ride together, the boys first dropping off their sisters before continuing on to their own school.

In the case of the Broyles family, since they were so close, not only as friends but also as neighbors, to the Maverick family, it was no surprise to learn that the children of that household would "call for us in their carriage and we would go to school together."

Sometime when Ozey Broyles' eldest daughter Margaret was in her late teens, Miss Bates decided to remove her Female Academy from Pendleton and re-establish it in Charleston. Margaret's father allowed her to attend the school in Charleston, despite the distance from home requiring her to board in the city.

Judging from a letter he sent to Margaret in the spring of 1852, however, Dr. Broyles had changed his mind about that arrangement, writing, "I only write now to apprise you of our wish and arrangement for you to come up...next week."

He continued, by way of explanation of his decision,
You have seen enough for one winter, and enough I fear to turn your brain, and disqualify you for the humbler walks of private life in the back country. I fear you will have even less fancy for the Valley, and by a strange and perverted taste, be found to admire the arts and embellishments of proud fantastic man even more than the country with all its mountains, rivers, deer, planned and executed by the great Architect of the Universe. I hope to see you plain and unaffected in your manners, and deportment, and totally uncontaminated by those false refinements always practiced in the social circles of City life.

As he drew toward the closing of his letter, he reminded his daughter, "All is not gold that glitters."

While that may have sounded like a drastic change of plans for the young Margaret's life, as it turned out, other changes back home provided another unexpected turn, as well.


Monday, April 22, 2019

"Original in his Thinking"

It's the little gems I stumble upon when reading asides in local history books that make this wandering so delightful. While my original intent in reading the Ashtabula book was to absorb the details of the pre- and post-Civil War culture in the South, the bonus was discovering actual mentions of my own ancestors.

Such local history books being what they are, it is not simply a matter of devoting, say, an entire chapter to one specific, named ancestor. That would be too easy. What turns out, though, is that, in reading the text, I stumble upon a line here, another line there—and packing them all together in my notes, I come up with enough of a sketch to see the faintest glimmer of what my third great grandfather, Ozey R. Broyles, might have been like.

Of course, to get to that point, we first had to detour through the remembrances of the young woman he married—and before that, the description of her father. At long last, a few lines about the good doctor, himself, emerge.

As the book's compiler, Mary Stevenson, put it, Ozey Broyles "was an interesting man who was very original in his thinking." He was apparently known for some of his inventions, one of which was called a "safety carriage," meant to prevent the all-too-common misfortune, as passenger, of being victim to a runaway horse.

That was not the only application for Dr. Broyles' ingenuity. Being a planter—the specific reason for his purchase of the Gibbes farm—he had seen the opportunity for coaxing the land in the South Carolina Upcountry toward greater yields, and invented what he called a "subsoil plough." This he entered in a local "ploughing contest"—in which, incidentally, John C. Calhoun served as a judge—and won.

Ozey Broyles was also popular as a speaker at local events, including Fourth of July picnics and Farmers' Society meetings—in whose publications his speeches were sometimes reprinted. Perhaps that, in addition to his business acumen, influenced further connections with John Calhoun, for in trawling through those helpful footnotes on other topics, I ran across mentions of Broyles in Calhoun's papers—mostly regarding financial matters in letters from Calhoun to his son.

As involved in the community's agricultural, business and political affairs as he might have been, Dr. Broyles wasn't necessarily always forward-thinking. Considering the time period—he lived from 1798 to 1875—that may not be a surprise to learn.

Once again, we discover this only thanks to letters which have been preserved and passed down through the generations—making the book in which I've found these resources all the more valuable, for it would have taken much trawling through private collections at multiple archives to amass the whole of the Broyles family mentions in one place, myself. Perhaps not very original in my own thinking, I'm a firm believer in taking my research cues from the trailblazing efforts of others.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

A Blessed Resurrection Day!

Wishing you all the peace and encouragement this day represents.

Above: From among the keepsakes belonging to Agnes Tully Stevens, my husband's paternal grandmother, was a card from the Seraphic Mass Association for Capuchin Foreign Missions, based in New York City. Dated May 14, 1946, its purpose was to inform the widow that her deceased husband was being remembered in mass, according to a statement imprinted on the back of the card. The card was sent to her by a friend, only a few days after Agnes' husband's passing.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

A DNA Detour

It's almost April 25. Have you checked out your latest National DNA Day sales offers?

Lately, in that ever-present chase to find more cousins, I've been adding names—and their respective supporting documents—to the four main family trees I've been tracking. Of course, I always hope a spurt in DNA kit sales will bring that elusive answer to some of my family's brick wall ancestors, so I've taken to keeping a biweekly tab on progress. However, since this Sunday is a holiday—at least for this genea-blogger—I'm posting my count here today.

That detour from researching my McClellan ancestors in Florida to pursuing my Broyles ancestors in South Carolina and Tennessee has led me to some branches of this line that I hadn't yet included in my tree. No surprise, then, to see my mother's tree jump 173 people in the last two weeks to total 17,729 names. Almost all those came from reviewing the lines descending from Ozey R. Broyles' father and mother—a story we'll revisit on Monday.

To top that off, a simple discovery of an obituary of a distant cousin of my mother-in-law led me to add 120 names to her tree, so now it has grown to 16,116 individuals. One name leads to another, which precipitates those shaky-leaf Ancestry hints, and before you know it, that's a huge branch reaching back generations that I hadn't even realized was missing.

And on my dad's tree, that wonderful DNA discovery from almost six weeks ago is still generating a continuing trickle of hints, allowing me to add another four names to his tree. It's now a modest 534 individuals in total, but I've already spotted some additional possibilities after using MyHeritage's AutoClusters program which may lead me to finally discover my paternal grandfather's origin—and maybe even some cousins from that mystery line.

Progress on growing those trees sometimes comes slowly—as in my father's tree—but the key really has been to keep up a steady effort. Sometimes, working on one line can move rather quickly—witness my attempt to glean all the information I could from a few simple obituaries in my mother-in-law's line—but it can also move discouragingly slowly.

I often have to remind myself that DNA matches are just that: matches. And it takes at least two people to make a match. Yes, I've already tested, but what I need to remember is to wait for that mystery person to show up and enter the arena. While that wished-for match may not have materialized—yet—he or she may eventually show up. And when that happens, hopefully we can collaborate to find answers about our mutual family history.

In the meantime, I'm still keeping busy adding to my trees all the descendants of my thirty-two third great-grandparents. After all, that's the slot in the family tree where all those elusive fourth cousin matches fit into the bigger picture. Before they show up at my digital door, I may as well put out the DNA welcome mat for them. 

Friday, April 19, 2019

"Always the Best of Friends"

To find a local history book which was also detailed in its genealogy is a bonus, and the Ashtabula book provided just enough to keep tempting me to turn its pages. Not far into the second chapter came not only a description of my third great grandfather, but also his wife, her three sisters and her father, as well. Apparently, they had been in the community long before Dr. Ozey R. Broyles married Sarah Ann Taliaferro.

Sarah, "one of Zacharias Taliaferro's four lovely daughters," was the oldest, followed by Lucy Hannah, then Margaret, and finally, Caroline. Lucy Hannah had married Col. David Sloan Taylor, staying in Pendleton District for a while in another graceful home, known as Woodburn. Her younger sister, Margaret, married Richard Franklin Simpson, eventually a congressman representing their home state. And the youngest, Caroline, married Dr. Henry Campbell Miller.

It was recalled, in writings by Sarah Taliaferro Broyles' namesake daughter, Sarah Ann Broyles Williams, that "Pendleton seems to have been called old Pendleton even in Ma's youth." Preserved in that 1926 letter by the younger Sarah was the remembrance that, though in South Carolina, the town of Pendleton had been settled by Virginians, including Zachariah Taliaferro. She noted, "his wife was of the Carters and Chews of Virginia."

By the time Zachariah and his bride had settled in South Carolina—their eldest daughter Sarah was born there in 1803—it wasn't long until he had struck up a friendship with one of the Pendleton neighbors we've already met, Samuel Maverick. This was the owner of the plantation known as Montpellier, seen on the 1825 map I shared yesterday.

The man had developed a reputation as a horticulturist, and it was noted that "there were no grounds like his in the whole County." Described as "kind, but particular," the man possessed "piercing eyes and heavy brows," enough details to warrant staying power in the memory of the neighboring children, among them Zachariah Taliaferro's granddaughter, Sarah Ann Broyles Williams, who wrote those words. According to Sarah Williams, her grandfather and Samuel Maverick were "always the best of friends," but during visits to the Maverick property, she was charged "to not step on the flowers or on the borders of his flowers" and, as she was quick to add, "I did walk straight on."

Connections formed even at that early date would, at some point in the future, serve to intertwine some neighbors as even more than the best friends.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

"The Most Beautiful Farm
in the Up Country"

It wouldn't do to discuss the history of a home without beginning at the beginning of the building's story. Thus, the Ashtabula book—story not only of a building, but of the families who once called it home—set the stage by starting with the early settlers in Pendleton, South Carolina. That brought the story back to one of the "gentlemen of fortune and high respectability from the low-country" who moved his family to Pendleton District in the 1820s. That man was Lewis Ladson Gibbes, whose wife's uncle had been a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Lewis Ladson and Maria Drayton Gibbes brought their eight children to a "small farm surrounded by many acres of forest along the old road from Pendleton to Greenville," as the Ashtabula book's editor, Mary Stevenson, had noted in the second chapter.
Clear clean water flowed from several springs over to the Eighteen Mile Creek. From the hilltops one could see the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and all the country around.

The vista, as enticing as it may have sounded, was not enough to keep the Gibbes' six sons home on the farm. One by one, each son, reaching adulthood and gaining the education—or sense of adventure—to strike out on his own, left the beautiful farm near Pendleton for more promising futures.

Among the other young men in this exodus from Pendleton was the son of Gibbes' neighbor, Samuel Maverick. His son Gus had left his hometown for the excitement of a young Texas. The elder Samuel Maverick had hoped to entice his son back home and, when hearing that the Gibbes property had been put up for sale in 1837, saw that as his opportunity—but, "all in vain."

Though the elder Samuel Maverick was unable to convince his son to return home, even with the promise of the gift of a lovely farm, another family sprang for the opportunity. John Gibbes, third son of the by-then-deceased Lewis Ladson Gibbes, had put the family farm on the market with the enticing tag line, "the most beautiful farm in the up country." Closing the transaction in the "up country"—the designation South Carolinians sometimes used to designate the parts of the state not along the Atlantic coastal plain (the low country)—in 1837, the Gibbes farm now became the property of Dr. Ozey R. Broyles.

The Broyles family—also large, with eight sons and two daughters—soon filled the home vacated by the descendants of the Gibbes family. Though the Broyles family was at Ashtabula for barely fourteen years, those years were filled with many events, thanks to intertwining connections with others in the community—many of which, thankfully, initiated letters, diary entries, and other preserved  remembrances, and, once I find them, these will inform us more completely of the day-to-day life of those ancestors of mine whose activities once filled the rooms of Ashtabula, the "large house with wide piazzas."

Above: Section of a pen and ink tracing by B. Schelten of a map of Pendleton District, South Carolina, from Robert Mills' Atlas of the State of South Carolina, published in 1825; note Samuel Maverick's property labeled Montpellier on the stage route eastward from Pendleton through Pickensville to Greenville, along which Ashtabula was later built. Map courtesy Geography and Map Division, United States Library of Congress.   

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Switzerland of South Carolina

If a book is designed to contain a potpourri of historic resources, only one of which is the featured attraction of the diary concerning the home of one's ancestors, it would be natural to expect such an eager reader to jump straight to the desired entry. But I resisted the temptation.

Though Clarissa Adger Bowen's diary about her years residing at the Ashtabula Plantation in Pendleton, South Carolina, was the prime reason I bought the 128 page book, hers was only one of several resources included in the volume. To set the stage—as well as bring us up to speed on the history of the location—editor Mary Stevenson included large sections quoted from other material. How could I skip over such mood-setting details as the quote from a book describing an Englishman's visit to the Pendleton District in 1837, or annotated maps describing the principal residences of the region during that time period?

And so, doing my due diligence to absorb the entirety of the Ashtabula book, I resisted the temptation to jump ahead and cut straight to the chase of the Bowen diary. Fortunate that I did, I stumbled upon a two page quote—plus sketch of Pendleton dating from 1823—of material about the area drawn up by Robert Mills. The chapter, at least in the Ashtabula book, was called "The Story of Pendleton, 1755-1823," and was assembled from various of Mills' publications.

Robert Mills, in case the name doesn't ring a bell with you, was—at least at the time of his sketch of Pendleton—the Engineer and Architect of the State of South Carolina. He wasn't, however, there for long. In 1836, Mills won the competition for the design of the Washington Monument which, though only one of several notable buildings he designed, is by far the best known of his works.

In several of his writings, Robert Mills detailed his observations about his visits to Pendleton District, location of Ashtabula, from which we can glean a sense not only of what the place was like, but how someone of his outlook observed it. It was he who, quoted in the Ashtabula book, fashioned the region as "the Switzerland of South Carolina," remarking that "a pure air, cool, translucent water, and all the necessaries of life to be found, are here."

What better way to set local history's stage for the arrival of my ancestors than words like these? How could I skip over such details, just to get to the part I was anticipating? I'd have missed all the stage-setting and ambience. Lights, camera, and action will come soon enough.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

A Story About Ashtabula

When I opened the book's large cover, it felt more like I was entering the world of a children's storybook than a volume on the local history of Anderson County, South Carolina. And that would be no surprise; that very hands-on dynamic has saved the entire publishing business from collapse, thanks to folks who understand the need for curling up with a book on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Enough people have a need to get their hands on a book, or we'd all have no choice now but to read e-books.

So I had to shake myself of that dreamy feeling of stepping into a storybook world when I lifted the wide cover to delve into the Ashtabula story. Reading the full title of the volume did help shake me from my reverie. I won't give the whole title right now, but it begins, "The Diary of Clarissa Adger Bowen, Ashtabula Plantation, 1865, with excerpts...."

I have no idea who Clarissa Adger Bowen is—although I'm sure I'm about to learn—but I do know a little bit about Ashtabula. Located in the historic Pendleton District, it was once—for a brief fourteen years—the plantation home of my third great-grandparents, Ozey R. and Sarah Taliaferro Broyles. Though the home had passed through many hands, my ancestors' included, it is still standing, now rescued as a house museum run by the Pendleton Historic Foundation.

The Broyles family sold their home in 1851 to someone who, in turn, sold it to Robert Adger, a Charleston man who purchased it for his daughter and her husband. If you guessed that his daughter was named Clarissa Bowen, you are an astute family historian. It was she whose diary, begun at the close of the Civil War, comprises the bulk of the contents of this 1973 used book recently given to me.

The book not only contains the text of Clarissa Adger Bowen's diary, but also includes supporting historical detail from a variety of other sources, skillfully woven into the rest of the publication by Mary Stevenson. You can be sure I perked up when Stevenson mentioned one of those other resources: "long passages" contained in a manuscript from the Maverick-Van Wyck Papers in the South Caroliniana Library, said to contain "the remembrances of Mrs. Sarah Broyles Williams, who spent her childhood...at Ashtabula."

That Sarah Broyles Williams was sister to my own second great-grandfather, Thomas Broyles—born just two years prior to his arrival in 1842. Any observations she may have made about her childhood years would serve to inform me of my own direct ancestor's experiences, as well. And whether those are actually quoted in this book or not, now I've gleaned another resource for researching the details of daily life of this ancestral family.

That, in fact, was how I stumbled across the Ashtabula book in the first place: a mention, a brief aside, in the narrative of something else I was reading. Research may oftentimes find us what we want through logical processes like keyword searches online or in finding aids, but in so many cases I've seen, it's been those little side mentions while I'm reading about something else that leads me to the answer I'm seeking. That's how the Ashtabula book arrived in my hands and, apparently, how I'll be led to other helpful resources in exploring the day to day life of my southern ancestors both before and after the Civil War era.  

Monday, April 15, 2019

So Many Books,
So Little Time . . .

While there may be disputation over just how many books are published in any given year—an outdated international reckoning puts the United States at second place worldwide with over three hundred thousand in 2013, while Bowker, the official ISBN agency for the U.S., in 2018 claimed the previous year had seen the launch of over one million titles of self-published books alone—one thing is clear: it would take a lot of reading to hope to glean what we need to find about the historical context of our family's roots.

That's if we limited our research to books published in this decade. And everyone knows we can't simply rely on this year's take on the situation to fully comprehend the attitudes rampant when our ancestors were alive. To best gauge that, we'd need to turn to the many volumes published in past generations. Thus, researchers' focus on the diaries, journals, newspapers, and other memoranda of bygone eras.

While I've been stuck on comprehending the mores of my antebellum ancestors' worldview, I've been casting about for a way to get inside their heads, so to speak. Though these third-great-grandparents are long gone—and unfortunately have taken their remembrances with them, judging from the lack of any diaries or journals—I'm still hoping to find a way to learn more about them.

Almost a year ago, I had been casting about for resources on another set of third-great-grandparents—not in Florida this time, but in South Carolina—when I stumbled upon a note about a unique publication issued in 1973 by a historic preservation association. From the little bit I could glean about the book, it promised to hold information specific to my family's line in that South Carolina location, so I went searching for a way to obtain a copy of that title.

My quest wasn't easy. The best I could do was locate a mention of it in a used book dealer affiliated with Amazon. For the age and condition of the book, the price seemed exorbitant, so I put that title on my wish list and set it aside.

And forgot about it.

Come this past Christmas, thankfully, someone had not forgotten about it, and the awkward hardcover version found its way onto the gift list for yours truly. In the flurry of trainings and travels and more events than I can remember, the tattered volume was set aside for a moment in which I wasn't absorbed by the genealogical chase du jour.

But now...stymied as I am by this photo mystery of the two Iowa gentlemen by the same name, and stuck by the vanishing research clues for the story of King Stockton and his family, perhaps I can use this annotated post-war diary of a South Carolina family to help me glean the attitudes and outlook of southern plantation families in the wake of their many losses. After all, now that I've opened the cover of this book, I've already spotted mention of the names of those great-grandparents. Perhaps what I am looking for will not be hidden far from that entry.


Sunday, April 14, 2019

Malaise over Matches

As my DNA matches count ratchets skyward, the more the possibilities, the more I'm paralyzed with indecision. More is becoming overwhelming.

This is where I'm tempted to play with new tools for sorting and analyzing: it's at a point of desperation. And at that very time, Ancestry offers up new gadgets to pacify that growing desperation. After all, now that I'm at 1,585 "close" matches—meaning fourth cousin or closer at AncestryDNA—I need something to help sort through the pile-up.

At the close of RootsTech last February, Ancestry did launch some handy tools designed to help us find that needle-in-haystack DNA match, which they trumpeted in a press release on February 28. At that point, the Ancestry team mentioned that they have "nearly fifteen million people" in their DNA network. No wonder those matches just keep on coming! And small wonder we need computer-assists in matching up this multitude of previously unknown relatives.

To their credit, Ancestry is still working on the beta version of the three product features and is quite receptive to feedback. Just this past week, they provided an update in their company blog, assuring subscribers that they will tighten up algorithms to make ThruLines suggestions even more spot-on.

All well and good, though I find the graphics for the ThruLines connections rather clunky at times—perhaps because I'm one of those Firefox users for whom the laggard scrolling mechanism needs more coaxing. But isn't there more that can be done, other than pile up more lists of how people match my DNA results?

That's when I turn to the rest of the market to see what innovations are popping on the scene. MyHeritage has my vote, hands down, for exceeding expectations with their DNA-match developments in their cleverly-named "Theory of Family Relativity," where their reach goes beyond the many trees posted at MyHeritage to include "collaborative trees" like those at Geni and FamilySearch. They use network-building capabilities of computers to connect possibly-like people from a multitude of other trees—both on MyHeritage and off.

It's not a surprise to see genetic genealogy bloggers write enthusiastically about these developments at both Ancestry and MyHeritage—or to see webinars quickly pounce on the topic in sessions offered.

Yet, even with all that, I find myself going back and revisiting other devices which promise to help sort those myriad DNA matches. Back in September, Blaine Bettinger observed that "testing companies have not provided users with the tools necessary to organize these matches." He advocates "clustering" of matches—"to identify information that is not visible or apparent when the matches are unorganized"—and worked with a computer programmer to develop an extension which works with Google Chrome.

He calls it the DNA Match Labeling Extension for Chrome. When I revisited Blaine's blog post from September 16, 2018, I remembered my good intention to hop on over to Chrome and give this one a try. After all, I'm a sucker for color coding, and I desperately needed a way to sort through these unorganized piles of cousins. The downside was that I don't use Chrome (hence my woes over clunky scrolling on Ancestry's MyTreeTags function), so last year, I set that thought aside for another day...and promptly forgot about it.

Now is a good time to revisit this—as well as go back to my half-done work on my account at DNA Painter. More color. And more opportunities to sift through matches. After all, it's not the cousins I know whom I want to find in my DNA matches—it's the ones I don't know about who may hold the breakthrough answers in this brick-wall-smashing mission. A little progress in getting those walls to tumble down might prove encouraging.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Off the Shelf: Jefferson's Daughters

Sometimes, the books I read aren't exactly volumes that have been languishing on my shelves for ages. There are times when I'm tempted to buy yet another book to add to my anti-library collection. For purely selfish reasons, this month's read was one of those instances.

I ran across a mention of Catherine Kerrison's year-old book just a couple months ago, as I was pondering the possibilities which connected me with a DNA match of African heritage. I was pretty sure I understood how that possibility existed, but my mind just couldn't get around the questions of how a culture could abide such an apparently widespread custom. Surely, I thought, there would be quite some domestic grief over the implications evident with such cases.

Of course, mine wouldn't be quite the scenario implicit in Jefferson's Daughters. I, for one, am not descended from an American president—certainly not one as eloquent as Thomas Jefferson. Nor were any of my ancestors educated in Paris while their father served on a diplomatic mission. Yet I needed to understand the views of the culture at that time concerning an apparently widespread issue: white enslavers fathering children with their enslaved women.

More to the point: what about the half-siblings? Did they each know about their relationship to the other side? How was that relationship perceived?

Obviously, answers to such questions will pull in a wide variety of examples. Every case was undoubtedly different—something I could already tell from informal discussions with other researchers dealing with the same relationship issues. Above all, I needed to be equipped to see the situations from the eyes of the culture in which these incidents occurred. Seeing that aspect of history in the American south from twenty first century eyes was not equipping me to apprehend the nuances of such relationships.

Kerrison's book—so far, as I'm not anywhere close to absorbing it all—has done a wonderful job of immersing me in the culture of the time, and unfolding the events, based on ample documentation. That, for one, will likely do my "just don't get it" twenty first century naivete some good. Not that I condone what had been done over two hundred years ago; I want to be able to comprehend how the relationships continued after the fact of behaviors we now find incredible.

To be specific, in my pursuit of the story of King Stockton and his mother, in reading between the lines in history's documentation of my McClellan family in northern Florida and my Tison family in coastal Georgia, it is quite likely that Hester, King's mother, chose her surname for more than just affinity with a mistress who greatly appreciated her. Hester may have been making a statement of just who she was related to—and not by marriage, but by descent.

As Kerrison delves into the cultural and psychological underpinnings of the Jefferson and Hemings story, it also informs me as to possible echoes in the south long after Jefferson's lifetime. Granted, I will need to follow up on this topic with much more than just one book, well written as it is. But take this as my first toe-dipping of the swimming season. I will eventually find myself immersed in the topic, and hopefully emerge from the plunge with a clearer understanding of not only Jefferson's family situation, but that of my own ancestors, as well.

Friday, April 12, 2019

An Easy Job Made Difficult

One would have thought, finding a second photograph of a candidate for the Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts whose likeness I found in a California antique shop, that it would be an easy matter of comparing and contrasting. Nope: too much contrasting. The details are driving me to distraction. I've reviewed everything I had found on each of the three candidate couples from Iowa—ruling out the third for a vastly different time period and ages at marriage—back when I first wrote about the couples in December and January. And I believe the best course to take at this point is to move forward, blindfolded.

Yep. That's right. My eyes are likely deceiving me. Let's look at the numbers. Albert number one, living in Fremont County, was born in 1869—well, at least that's what it looked like when we consider his father's report in the 1880 census when Albert was eleven years old. Albert married widow Alice Dooley Eachus in 1889, listing his age then as twenty. She was possibly twenty six, as the register reported, and considering the 1900 census gave her date of birth as October, 1864, that would approximately support the other date.

Okay, taking a peek here, I have to ask myself: does the groom in the original photograph look like he was barely twenty? Did his bride look six years older than he was?

I suppose the answers to those questions could be debated. But here's the clincher: considering that Albert number two was married eleven years later—on New Year's Day in 1900—does that original photograph include garb which looks like something a bride and groom would wear to welcome in that new century?

Scrolling through the fashion plates of 1900 through 1909, those examples hardly look like the new threads our Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts might have been photographed in for their momentous occasion. Even if Council Bluffs, Iowa, wasn't exactly on the cutting edge of high society fashion, the silhouette cut by Mrs. Roberts' outfit doesn't even seem to be a throwback to the previous decade. Her style looks much more in place with the date of Albert Roberts number one's wedding: 1889.

Which begs the question I posed yesterday: could Albert and Alice have aged that much between the time of their 1889 wedding photo and the date of their family portrait? When was that family portrait taken, anyhow? In 1893, before baby Eva made her appearance in April? Perhaps that was why Alice seemed heavier than in her bridal pose.

Then, too, a time span of only four years seems to have weathered poor Mr. Roberts quite a bit, considering the change in his appearance from the wedding picture to the family portrait. Was that twenty year old already sporting a comb-over? Could he have gone that prematurely bald as young as his mid twenties?

These nagging questions push me to wonder whether the Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts whose photograph I found in California might well have been a totally different couple who just happened to stop in at the Sherradan studio to sit for their portrait on their way to an entirely different destination. For all I know, this could have been a couple spending the weekend in Council Bluffs from Omaha. Or Sioux City. Or Des Moines.

Some suggestions which arose from the first time I explored this question included checking other online resources for family trees and seeking other sources for family photographs. I'm in the process of exploring trees at MyHeritage, FindMyPast, FamilySearch, WikiTree and Geni, especially seeking anyone with family photos of the second Albert Roberts. While I certainly have not completed that process, I haven't yet gotten any leads. And though the Fremont County Historical Society has been kind to allow me to post my query—as well as the photo I found—on their Facebook page, I haven't found anyone there yet who has other family photos, especially for that under-represented second candidate for the Roberts couple.

It appears this is still a work in progress...

Thursday, April 11, 2019

What About the Children?

Here we are, still puzzling over the identity of an antique photograph found in Sonora, California—despite the Council Bluffs portrait being labeled with a specific name: Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts. But now, we have another photograph, thankfully supplied by a descendant of one of the Iowa men by that specific name, with which to help determine the correct identity of our Mr. and Mrs. Roberts.

While we can't yet be certain, with this new version of our couple, whether we are looking at a portrait of the right Albert Roberts family, there are other ways to solve this identity puzzle than by relying on a side-by-side of either adult. After all, besides the issue of the effect of aging on appearances, different photography studios could have specialized in techniques that produced wildly different results, through lighting, positioning or placement of subjects. Different lighting can make eyes seem more deeply inset, for instance. Broad shoulders or a wide forehead can seem much less imposing when the body is angled slightly away from the camera lens.

In the photo we viewed Tuesday from a descendant of the first candidate for Albert Roberts—the couple from Fremont County, Iowa—not only was the opportunity to view the picture a gift, but the portrait came with three bonuses: the three young children included in the portrait.

If those girls were indeed Lillian, Mayme and Ola, as indicated on the back of the cabinet card, we certainly can find out more details about them. This, however, requires us to do a brief review of the personal history of Mrs. Roberts, who happened to be a widow before she married Albert Roberts.

Alice Roberts was the former Mrs. John W. Eachus. Together, they were the parents of Lillian Eachus, born in California in 1884, and her younger sister Mayme, who arrived in the Eachus household in 1887. Those girls were but five and two years of age when their mother married Albert Roberts in 1889.

The third child in the photo—nicknamed Ola, but born Ruby Viola Roberts—joined the ready-made family in the spring of 1890. Thus, if Ola was the little cherub dangling her feet from the lap of her father in the photo we viewed the other day, figuring out her age—two? three?—and that of her older half-sisters would help us fix a date for the photograph. And if that date we devise seems to align reasonably with the style of the cabinet card shared with us and appear to be a few years more recent than the style of photograph we viewed for the Roberts' presumed wedding photo, we might be able to claim relative confidence from simply the dating of the two photographs.

The main reason I say that: the other option for Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts would not be quite as cooperative a fit as this option. You'll see what I mean by that tomorrow.

Above: Inset of a young Lillian Eachus from the family portrait of Albert and Alice Roberts, undated, taken in Riverton, Iowa; photograph in private possession of a Roberts family descendant; used by permission.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Side by Side

In determining the correct identity of a couple whose photo was labeled only as "Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts," there aren't many easily found clues to guide us. Thankfully, an Ancestry.com subscriber and fellow researcher has shared the photo of the Roberts couple from Riverton in Fremont County, Iowa—not far from the Council Bluffs photography studio where the picture I found was taken. We've had a chance to take a look at that family portrait and compare it with the one I found in an antique store in northern California. But I still have my doubts.

Since I first posted the picture here at A Family Tapestry long before the winter holidays, even I had to go back and review what I had found. I checked my notes on candidate one for Albert Roberts, as well as candidate two and candidate three. In the end, I admitted I was partial to the possibility that the right couple was the first couple, Albert and Alice Roberts. But I still wasn't sure.

There are little nagging thoughts, like the one Wendy mentioned yesterday: it would help to have two photos of the subject facing the same direction for the side by side comparison. It's really hard to determine what is hidden by a camera angle.

Another thought is that, of the couple in their younger years, it seemed the one with the darker eyes was the wife, whereas in the subsequent pose, it was the husband. Other aspects had changed as well—for instance, those...ahem...few pounds we all tend to put on, moving from eligible bachelor or young ingenue to married couple, making slender faces look more rounded. And yet other comparisons can lead us astray, such as the detail of the pouf of curly hair framing the face of a woman—indicator of hair quality? Or sign of the hairstyles of the era?

Just to help settle the issue in my mind, one step I take—well, to tell the truth, that I have my computer-graphics-inclined husband take—is to view a side-by-side comparison of the subjects. Sometimes, that helps. In other cases, it doesn't leave us any worse off than we were before. Take a look and see if this helps you move your opinion in one direction or the other. Same woman, different year? Or different women?

Above: Photo on left from Sherradan photography studio in Council Bluffs, Iowa, found in Sonora, California; photo on right courtesy of reader Jim from his family's private collection; side-by-side comparison courtesy Chris Stevens.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Problem with "Mr. and Mrs."

Finding an antique photograph with a name is always an enticing moment for me. I wonder: with just the name—and perhaps the location of the photographer who created the portrait—can I find a way to return this abandoned item to descendants of the family?

In many cases, since I've taken on this challenge a few years ago, I've been able to do so. See, those genealogical research skills come in handy.

And so it was, last summer when a friend and I drove up to the foothills of northern California—think Gold Rush country—and found a stash of such specimens at an antique store in Sonora. My only mistake, at least with one candidate I found to purchase, was relying on the name of the husband without any regard to how helpful a wife's name might have been in the process.

You know that old-fashioned etiquette: a woman wouldn't dare let herself be seen outdoors without cover of that title, Mrs., along with (at the very least) two initials representing her husband's given names. To be called by one's own name? Scandalous, at least for a proper married woman.

And so, I picked up the photograph of a young Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts, never dreaming that the Council Bluffs, Iowa, portrait could represent one of three different Albert Roberts couples living in the vicinity of that midwestern city.

Granted, I made a valiant attempt at isolating the right Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts. I scoured newspaper entries. And more entries. I hounded local historical societies for dates of the photography business. I borrowed likenesses from Find A Grave volunteers. And, of course, I stalked other Roberts researchers at Ancestry.com.

One such researcher was gracious enough to answer my unusual request. I wasn't sure that my photo's Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts were one and the same as those in his family tree, but what I did know was that if he had any photos of his Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts, it might help me determine whether to rule out one of the three possible couples in the Council Bluffs area.

At first, this respondent doubted that anyone in the family even had a photo of this ancestor couple of theirs. But then, as Life has a habit of doing, circumstances changed. In the wake of an unfortunate loss in his wife's family, she had been sifting through old family photographs in preparation for the funeral, and came upon a photograph she never thought she had. You guessed it: it was a picture of the Albert Roberts family.

Though the photo was taken of a somewhat older couple—by then, with three children—the clothes seemed to indicate they were from about the same time period. The names of the children match up with one of the Albert Roberts families I had researched, as well.

Oh, for access to one of those computer programs that creates a graphics sequence of "aging" a face of a younger person. All we have to go on, here, is our imaginations, but see what you think. Here, with permission of their second great-granddaughter and her husband, is a photograph of Albert and Alice Roberts and their daughters Lillian, Mayme, and Ola.


Monday, April 8, 2019

Back to Work

There's nothing to restore normalcy, after a tumultuous episode, quite as effectively as just getting back to the old routine. As it just so happened, while I was hissing and moaning about the woe-is-me blow-up last week, I had not one but at least three contacts who replied to my ages-old inquiries. While one was a likely distant cousin wanting to compare research notes, two others were from strangers—well, fellow genealogy fanatics whom I haven't yet met—who replied to my messages inquiring whether an antique photo I rescued might be of interest to their family.

I'll take my cue from one reader who kindly nudged me with the tempting proposition to explore whether his family's Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts might be one and the same as my mystery Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts. Now that I'm done—hopefully—with sulking and pouting, I'm following up with his suggestion to check out the photo his family found. Maybe this is the right couple...and maybe it isn't. Hopefully, you will get a chance to weigh in on that verdict this coming week.

The other contact was someone related to another photo I had found in an antique store up in Sonora, California. I had contacted this researcher via the Ancestry.com messaging system back during the winter holidays. That being such a busy time of year, I wasn't surprised when I didn't receive any reply to my (admittedly odd) request. But when I got no answer in January, then February, then March, well, I figured that was a bum lead. Not so, judging by a message I received just this weekend. Now I have another story to go back and review, in the process of answering this new message.

There are other photographs I had purchased from that Sonora antique shop—photos yet to be shared with you on A Family Tapestry—but between preparations for my southern research course at SLIG and then my research trip to Florida, there just wasn't any place to insert posts on mystery photos. No matter how fun it is to help these abandoned photos find their way back home to family, I had some other stories to tell. Maybe at this point, while I'm catching my breath and re-establishing my genealogical and organizational equilibrium, following up on these timely messages would be just the thing.

We'll revisit the story of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts from Iowa, tomorrow.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Not Bad, For all That Complaining

So I had a bad week. Thankfully, there was a lot of support, and I got through it all—especially thankful for your support in particular. But when it came to tallying my biweekly research progress, I just had to cringe. After all, there were a few days when I just couldn't bring myself to do much of anything, and a few more days when I spent the entire time putting out fires and attending to the upheaval that comes when things go wrong. I had no idea what that was going to do to my counts.

As it turned out, not much damage at all, though I did have to sit myself down and force myself to do what used to flow from a position of sheer joy. I found out: I'll get over it. Life goes on. I may as well put my running shoes back on and catch up to the race.

So here's how things turned out in the past two weeks of research. My mother's tree—that southern-focused collection of "kin"—saw 275 more names added, including supporting documentation, to bring her count to 17,556 individuals. I guess things weren't as bad as they felt like they were.

Of course, I've maintained a steady diet of doing absolutely nothing on my in-laws' trees, so my mother-in-law's count stays constant at 15,996 and my father-in-law's tree is unchanged at 1,515. But with that DNA discovery of a missing branch of my paternal grandmother's line, I was able to add six more individuals to the puniest of my family trees—my dad's tree, which now stands at 530 names.

Having recently returned from a DNA conference and now teaching a genetic genealogy class locally, I'm keeping my eye on the numbers for all the DNA tests I administer. I had been concerned that numbers weren't keeping up their usual brisk pace of increase lately, but the past two weeks allay a bit of that concern. My test matches were up twenty one at Family Tree DNA, though only nine at 23andMe. I now have 3,504 and 1,104 matches, respectively, at those two companies. MyHeritage has numbers which are far beyond that ballpark, with 7,479 matches total, up eighty three from two weeks ago, but that count includes distant cousins beyond the range I normally consider. On the other hand, Ancestry's match count for fourth cousin and closer cuts off at the thousand mark, so I haven't had an easy way to determine the count there for weeks, now.

For the next two weeks, my research goal—should I agree to accept getting back into action here—will focus on more work on my mother's tree, as well as completing that new branch of my father's Laskowski line, thanks to this new cousin match. On my mother's tree, I've moved from the McClellan line—the one associated with King Stockton's mother's saga—to the Tison line. If I can zero in on whether it was a McClellan or a Tison in the roots of Hester, that would be superb, though I'm not yet sure whether I have enough information to follow such a study. Thus, holding the course on the Tison line for now will be the best approach.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Now Indexing:
Something to Match my Goals

While flitting about social media the other day, I happened to spot a tweet by genetic genealogist Shannon Christmas recommending that FamilySearch indexers volunteer to help the Restore the Ancestors 2019 Project.

Of course, then I had to ask, "So, what's the Restore the Ancestors 2019 Project?"

I'm sure you're asking that, too.

As it turns out, the project is a handy partner project to what I'm trying to do with my own King Stockton project: restore hidden clues about family to help descendants of former enslaved persons penetrate that family history brick wall and reach back prior to the Civil War for records of their ancestors.

Sponsored, along with FamilySearch and Black ProGenLive, by the Center for Family History at the International African American Museum, this online effort is calling for all volunteers willing to help by doing the data entry necessary to make already-digitized records searchable. The records selected for indexing are those which will be of most help to researchers pursuing their African-American roots. In many cases, they are documents obtained from southern counties in which few antebellum records still exist.

The project's website explains, in simple terms, how an interested volunteer can sign up to help, and what the project's first record set targets are. Since I'm already an indexing volunteer at FamilySearch, I requested to join the Restore the Ancestors 2019 project right away, and waited for the administrative go-ahead. Within hours, I was admitted to the group, and started my first indexing batch.

The first project selection is the marriage record set of Colleton County, South Carolina. While there are couples married there from all ethnicities—and thus, all records are indexed for this project, regardless of ethnic origin—the project managers feel that this set, completed, will greatly assist those researching their African-American roots in that region.

The records were easy to read—although the sets I did had images needing to be rotated ninety degrees—and I breezed through two sets with hardly a problem at all, despite the usual challenges of reading handwritten documents. Since the amount of time required to do just one set is minimal, it's a task which can easily be sandwiched in during breaks in the day.

Of course, with the 110 members—and counting—who are also working on this project, I suspect this record set will be dispatched to the "done" box in no time at all. There are doubtless others the project managers have already selected for completion. And what a sense of accomplishment to see those numbers on the graph chart the group's progress!

As King Stockton's ancestors likely did not come from South Carolina, it's not like this project will answer my direct research needs. Then, again, I don't really know; after all, Colleton County is not that far away from the Georgia coast location of the Tison plantation where King Stockton's mother Hester was once enslaved. Whether participation in this project leads to a personal research breakthrough or not, it's a good feeling to know that these crowdsourced efforts to make more records searchable will someday spill over into a region or record set that might provide an answer that I am searching for.  
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