Saturday, November 30, 2019
Well, some books just fly off the shelf, once I decide to read them, even if they sat on said shelf awaiting that moment for years since purchase. But this time, we witness the total opposite: I will read this book for sure, but there is one limiting factor standing between me and this good read: I haven't gotten the book yet.
A Rebel Came Home, the collection of journal entries and letters written by Floride Clemson, has been on my to-do list, ever since I discovered that some of my Pendleton, South Carolina, kin were mentioned in various published diaries and letters. I obtained a copy of three out-of-print books for that specific purpose: to see what might have been mentioned by the peers of my ancestors. That was what first inspired me to get a copy of The Diary of Clarissa Adger Bowen, and then move on to A Faithful Heart and Far, Far From Home.
Once I finished all those books, the next volume on my list was to be Floride Clemson's diary. Besides the hometown connection shared with my Broyles and Taliaferro lines, Floride Clemson had one more link to my family—although one which she would never live to witness.
It was Floride's father, Thomas Green Clemson, who, after his children's death, willed his property for the establishment of an agricultural college in South Carolina. It was Richard Wright Simpson, the brother of Tally Simpson whose letters home during the Civil War were featured in Far, Far From Home, who served as legal counsel in devising that Clemson will—and who defended it, all the way to the United States Supreme Court against a Clemson relative by marriage who wanted to contest it.
While the Clemson home was about five miles distance from the Pendleton location of my own ancestors, Floride likely was familiar with many of the families in that nearby town—and hopefully mentioned some of my distant family members in her journal entries, once she returned to South Carolina. Even if there is no mention of these family members specifically by name, reading her journal will give me a bigger picture of the life and times of my ancestors who lived in that same region.
There is only one problem with this reading plan: the book of Floride Clemson's journal entries and letters, ranging from 1863 to 1866, was edited and eventually published in 1989. My best hope for obtaining a copy now is to find a gently-used version, hopefully in hardcover. Of course, my meaning to do so in the past apparently translated into thinking I did what it turns out I did not do, and I am still casting about for the best way to obtain a copy. Given the date, I am convinced this might be an excellent Christmas gift idea for someone I know who claims I am the most difficult person to buy for.
Friday, November 29, 2019
With the Thanksgiving holiday safely buttoned up for another year, it seems there's not a moment to lose in racing toward the next holiday on the wintertime list. And that means today is Black Friday.
Not a single child of this generation—except, perhaps, the precocious teenaged genealogist-in-the-making—is aware that, for multiple generations before them, the Friday after Thanksgiving used to be called...the Friday after Thanksgiving. There even was a time when—gasp!—people returned to work on the day after Thanksgiving (and not simply because they worked for a heartless 24/7 entity).
We can probably chalk it up to conniving marketers that we now speak of Black Friday as if it were a holiday designation of its own. But then, we could say the same thing about the whole idea of a white Christmas—only possible in the upper reaches of the northern hemisphere, but romanticized far and wide in song and nostalgic film settings—or the image of Santa Claus, himself. To reach back to family members' memories beyond those traditional images of the holiday season would require sitting down to chat with ancestors we never could have met face to face, in our own lifetime.
People who know me know I stay as far away as I can from the madness of Black Friday. No waking up at midnight, after putting in an earnest day's work in the kitchen, to hit the road into town in the wee hours this morning to snag the best door-buster prices on anything—for gifts for others or for myself. I've learned to develop traditions of my own. A peppermint mocha, some traditional Christmas hymns, and a box of artful Christmas cards to address to family and friends will occupy my attempt at avoiding all places commercial for the remainder of the day.
Well...and maybe a few peaceful hours crafting the finishing touches to some far reaches of my extended family tree. That should keep me away from the crowds, now, wouldn't it?!
Above: Image of Santa Claus by American cartoonist Thomas Nast, published in Harper's Weekly in 1881. Though development of the red and white costume has been attributed to marketers for the Coca Cola Company, this depiction long pre-dating the Coke advertisements is said to be the first representation of the character in what is now considered the standard red Santa suit. Image, courtesy Wikipedia, now in the public domain.
Thursday, November 28, 2019
Turkey? Up and ready to begin the day sometime after o-dark-thirty.
Cranberry sauce? Check.
Potatoes? To be mashed.
Gravy? Yet to be made.
Biscuits? Last minute touches.
Pie? Oh, my!
And we'll be all ready to enjoy the feast, re-enacting our traditional, annual meal.
More than that checklist, though, is the mental list of recalling all our blessings throughout the past year and beyond. Sometimes, that takes time to recall, but when those special moments come to mind, it's a good remembrance. There are times when I am overwhelmed by the consideration of what could have been, but turned out so much better...
No matter where your memories of the past take you, here's a wish for an enjoyable day spent with those who mean the most to you: happy Thanksgiving!
Above: "A Hymn of Thanksgiving," 1899 sheet music cover to a song by Ira D. Sankey and Fanny J. Crosby; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Wednesday, November 27, 2019
...and all through the house.
No, no, that doesn't have quite the right ring to it. Maybe try that again for Christmas.
In the meantime, at our home, we are pulling out recipes new and old, in preparation for the "big" feast for our small family tomorrow. We couldn't possibly cook all that food in just one day alone. We certainly will be eating it for far more than one day.
While we've been preparing for all this holiday hoopla, I can't help but think of the reason for the day: thankfulness. Our family has a lot to be thankful for.
I also can't help but think of a number of our family friends and acquaintances, some of whom have passed through a very rough year, indeed. And yet, I know that even these folks can acknowledge that they have a lot to be thankful for. It's not just a trite saying we have, coming up on the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's Presidential Proclamation which started the annual observance on the fourth Thursday in 1863. Most people really can think of something substantial that they are truly thankful for.
I hope you will join me in those positive thoughts about thankfulness, as you work in your kitchen in preparation for the wonderful day ahead. There is something that lifts the spirits when we focus on the positive—even in the face of difficulties.
Perhaps that is a lesson I've discovered from learning about how our ancestors overcame their hardships. That they survived against all odds gifts us with the resilience to put that encouragement to the test—even if we are not descended from the first visitors to this North American continent. Every family who has arrived on these shores has come because of hardships left behind and the hope for a better life. That alone is cause enough to celebrate.
Above: "Home to Thanksgiving," Currier and Ives lithograph circa 1867 from artwork by George Henry Durrie; courtesy United States Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division via Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Tuesday, November 26, 2019
As our family was maneuvering the stop-and-go traffic on our way back home through the Los Angeles region yesterday, MyHeritage was squeezing a margin of their own—enough to break the latest price barrier on DNA tests. For the first time, we now have a $39 sale price for autosomal testing, and for those purchasing two tests at that price, shipping to the same address is free. That is breaking news, indeed, but according to MyHeritage, it will only be true through November 29. There is apparently no need to wait until Black Friday for Black Friday sales.
Of course, the holiday season has lately been one of the best times of the year, as far as reaping additional DNA matches go. However, in this past year, with DNA news in the forefront, there seems to have been a chill factor affecting the number of new DNA matches. This holiday shopping cycle may reveal some interesting counter-trend tabulations if potential new test-takers turn away from the opportunity to learn more about their roots, based on recent developments. Makes me want to pout, "All I want for Christmas" is...a few good DNA matches on my paternal side.
It's not like I can go out and find that anonymous distant cousin to take that coveted DNA test; if I knew who that key cousin was, I'd have already taken care of business. It's the unknown part of the equation that becomes so frustrating. And so, I wait—and so do countless other researchers, as well. Researchers who all share the hope of making that one vital discovery.
Seeing such a low price, though, is encouraging—and one which I hope will be followed by others, as well. Time will tell whether price is the barrier to further participants entering the market—or there is another obstacle.
Monday, November 25, 2019
It may be a challenge to get everyone in a room of strangers talking to each other, but that may seem simple compared to getting family members to talk about their family. And yet, with this week's upcoming holiday, that may be exactly the kind of task which lies ahead of us. And what a timely opportunity to preserve remembrances of relatives no longer with us.
With Thanksgiving falling so late in the month—and marketers chomping at the bit to race to the prize on Black Friday—it almost seems as if we've bypassed this Thursday's event already. But not so fast, my friends. We need to linger over some turkey and mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. There may be a discovery or two to be gleaned by those visiting relatives—or a story to share from generation to generation.
I don't know about you, but even with our own small family, we like to begin our preparations a few days early—and I don't mean merely the act of shopping for the big feast. I'm the old fashioned type who prefers my mother's old cranberry sauce recipe—one not unlike the hundred year old magazine's recipe that blogger Sheryl Lazarus shared in A Hundred Years Ago. Traditional creations such as these take time to make.
So, once my family arrives home from our early holiday vacation this evening, we'll be busy preparing the cranberry sauce (my task) and brining the turkey (my husband's yearly wrestling match). This year, my daughter and a few friends will be overseeing a pie bake-in and sharing the results of three different recipes to make sure we have ample goodies left over for weekend noshing. Somehow, between this evening and Wednesday night, we should have everything prepared, other than the actual cooking of the traditional basics.
Each of those steps in the process of preparing the feast generates commentary on the re-enactment of our family's traditions, as we pull down recipe books handed down to us by generations before us. Food history is part of family history, as speaker Gena Philibert Ortega has pointed out so many times. What we like to eat can point us back to our family's origins with everything from feasts to favorite comfort foods.
While you are busy in your kitchen this holiday season, I hope you will keep in mind the tiny tells talking to you from the forms of the foods you choose to include in your festive menu. This week ushers in a wonderful opportunity to prompt sharing of memories encircled by the foods we love to eat—together.
Sunday, November 24, 2019
The art of getting everyone in a room talking about the same thing has always fascinated me. Small group dynamics—whether concerning a small circle of friends, or a collection of people like a genealogical society, dedicated to the same nonprofit mission—may seem mystifying, but definitely can provide signals to the observant. I try to read those signals.
While I realize every genealogical society is different—each group has its own personality—it can be gratifying to create a catalyst to get a group of near-strangers talking about the same topic. Of course, we have an up side in that genealogists' eyes do light up when talking about family history discoveries. The key, though, is to break the ice and move beyond timid reticence over being the one who "goes first" to the point where everyone feels she has something interesting to offer to the group.
Our training company has developed what we call "ice breakers" to help bridge that gap from silence to sharing, so it was a natural step to apply that to a meeting of our local genealogical society last summer during our annual potluck meeting. That event, though attended by many of the members who join us every month for our regular meetings, is also open to guests—often, non-genealogically-inclined spouses of our members—introducing that awkward silence that comes with first-time meetings.
To get everyone talking, we borrowed an activity from our company's playbook, and developed a genealogically-related icebreaker game. In essence, we created a way for total strangers to gracefully circulate among the crowd with the purpose of getting to know something fun and interesting about each visitor's family history.
In retrospect, we realized that not only did attendees really enjoy the activity, but it got everyone talking about the game as well as about what they learned about each other. That result also inspired our board of directors to take a step forward: offer these fascinating people an opportunity to share their stories with not just one or two members, but with the entire membership in a formal presentation.
The inspiration for this next step came, thanks to an article by Montreal blogger, Gail Dever of Genealogy à la carte. While Ms. Dever certainly writes her genealogical news blog "from a Montréal, Québec point de vue," her comments in that article last April certainly cross-apply to genealogical societies across the border in the United States, as well. She wrote about how genealogical organizations can encourage future speakers to develop presentations by mentoring their members in this process.
I requested permission from Ms. Dever to reprint her April 29 post in our society's September newsletter—which she graciously granted us—and then inserted the editorial note that our society would like to schedule an upcoming session in which we would feature brief talks by four of our own members.
We called our event "A Genealogical Sampler" and scheduled it for our November meeting. With four very tentative speakers—after all, public speaking reportedly ranks highest among Americans' top fears—we lined up an evening of presentations which would provide a taste of four very different research paths. It could either be a bomb—I wondered about no-shows, both on account of lack of audience interest and speakers' cold-feet syndrome—or a great success.
Thankfully, our four intrepid speakers played to a full house this past Thursday evening, and provided fascinating details of their own families' stories. One audience member told me privately that, of course, she would be there; she loved hearing people's stories. Another concluded the evening with a request: can we turn this event into an annual tradition?
Family history researchers often have the reputation of being introspective, quiet souls—with one exception: give them an audience of like-minded people who thrill to the same details that inspire their work, and they often brighten up to the task, despite the specter of getting up to speak in front of a bunch of strangers.
Of course, I have to say I was relieved that each participant seemed happy with the outcome. It sometimes feels like an uphill battle to persuade people to get up and talk, even about their favorite subject. But going beyond those stage-fright jitters to share a story that means so much to one's own family can be enough of a motivator to encourage people to reach out and make a difference. By choosing to share their own story, our members in turn are inspiring others to take up the challenge to do the same next year.
Saturday, November 23, 2019
I realize I missed an opportunity to say something last Thursday about an important date in American history. I actually didn't realize it until preparing final notes for our local genealogical society's meeting that same evening, long after posting the day's entry here at A Family Tapestry.
I've adopted a new tradition for our society meetings, ever since last month, when one of our members wrote an article for our group's newsletter. The article was about the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, the one that shook things up for us, right before the start of the game three of the World Series. It just so happened that our October society meeting started thirty years and forty one minutes after the Loma Prieta earthquake began. And of course, once I mentioned that fact, the room erupted, with everyone remembering where they were at exactly that time, thirty years ago.
With a reaction like that, I decided to start every month's meeting with a few tidbits of "on this date" remembrances. November's entry, for our meeting on the 21st, began with a note about another significant anniversary: on this date in 1620—which, according to the Gregorian calendar which we now use, would be November 21—the male passengers on the ship, the Mayflower, signed a document which we now call the Mayflower Compact.
That means, for us at the end of 2019, we will soon approach the four hundredth anniversary of the Mayflower's arrival in the New World. For those of us descended from any of the passengers aboard that ship, that four hundredth anniversary of their arrival would be a special time, indeed, to officially be included in the membership rolls of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.
This, you might have noticed if you have been reading along at A Family Tapestry for a few years, has been one of my long-standing goals. Only, instead of talking about that research goal, as I have done in past years, I need to get going on that project if I hope to make it a reality in that special anniversary year.
Granted, that goal will dovetail nicely with the goal I have for preparing for my colonial Virginia class at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy this January, for it is the very same migrating ancestors I'll be researching in Virginia whose roots trace all the way back to two passengers on the Mayflower. In fact, it is on account of the very location at which these wandering ancestors lose me in Virginia that I am taking the SLIG class: I hope to find my way back from the backwoods of Virginia to the landing place for Plymouth Colony to establish my claim to membership in the Mayflower Society.
Of course, it would be nice to receive that designation on the event of the Society's four hundredth anniversary, but if I hope to do that, I'll need to get busy on that application project now. I suspect I'll have plenty of company with the others who are realizing the same thing about the approaching year.
Above: Signing the Mayflower Compact 1620, oil on canvas from 1899 by American artist Jean Leon Gerome Ferris; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Friday, November 22, 2019
In his Civil War letters home to Pendleton, South Carolina, Tally Simpson seldom referred to his one sister, called Mary, simply by her name. His letters often mentioned her as "Sister Mary" or, in some later posts, merely "Sister M."
In strategizing with his Aunt Caroline over a likely candidate to court, once he returned home from the war front, he had noted to her in 1863:
I heard through Sister Mary of the reports that were getting out concerning my humble self. They actually had my wedding clothes nearly completed and reported that I was daily expected home on furlough for the express purpose of consummating my happiness by my marriage....
In later letters with family members, particularly when caught up in strategizing over that "Fair Unknown"—the visiting Fannie Smith, refugee in Pendleton from war-torn Charleston—Tally would resort to code talking, referring to specific individuals under discussion only by initials. Even his own sister Mary, he mentioned as "Sister M."
In one of Tally's later letters to Mary, he addressed her complaint that, when she wrote her brother, she was concerned about being in an "uninteresting mood." He responded,
it was one of the most interesting epistles that I have received from you in a long, long time, and if such are the productions of your dull hours, I must ask you to write me a letter only when you feel in an dull and uninteresting mood.
Yet, despite her own "uninteresting" mood, Mary seemed to have keyed into signals from Tally's own letters, writing that she was concerned that he was "very desponding." True, he had written others in the family concerning his assessment, in the summer of 1863, that Charleston would fall "sooner or later" and that "several other of our important cities" would likely fall at that stage in the war, as well. Despite the details of the circumstances, she seemed to zero in on her brother's feelings.
Perhaps there was good reason for Mary's sensitivity about her brother. Mary, herself, had already lost her own sweetheart, Colonel Benjamin Conway Garlington, to the war. The brother of Tally's brother Dick's fiancee, Benjamin Garlington had left for the war, secretly engaged to Tally's sister Mary. Upon hearing the news that Ben Garlington fell at the Battle of Savage's Station in 1862, Tally confessed to his confidante, his Aunt Caroline,
Never in all my life have I had any occurrence to so overwhelm me. I have felt mournfully sad, and tears have often filled my eyes when I think of [Mary's] deep affliction.
And yet, when he had occasion to write his sister after her tragic loss, his letter seemed to address anything but her current circumstances. In a postscript, however, Tally explained himself:
Perhaps this letter may not suit you nor may it be such as you would wish. But I am persuaded that it is best to make no further allusion to your bereaved condition, for it could tend to keep fresh in your mind thoughts and remembrances which open anew the wound in your gentle heart...
Mary did, eventually, step beyond this great loss in her life. By sometime in the early 1870s, she was married to Captain Thomas Lanier Williams of Greeneville, Tennessee. By the time her father's genealogy of the extended family from Pendleton was published in 1913, Mary and Thomas had six children living: Eliza, Richard, William, Thomas, Maria, and Anna.
Mary's husband, several years older than she, died in 1895, and was buried in Greeneville. Mary followed her husband twenty years later.
Though I have yet to trace the descendancy of each of those lines of Thomas and Mary Williams' children, hopefully they have some great-grandchildren left today who are aware of, and have read, Tally Simpson's letters to his sister Mary during those tumultuous times during his service in the Civil War.
Thursday, November 21, 2019
Tally Simpson, the voracious letter writer from the Confederate front of the Civil War, died before the close of hostilities. He never returned home to see how the lives of his siblings turned out.
Of course, I am one to wonder whether any of his family's descendants held his memory in their hearts long enough to pass it down to subsequent generations, so I went looking for who was left. Tally's sister Anna apparently never married, and his younger brother, John Garlington Simpson, died as a teenager before the war even started.
Tally's brother Dick, though, did marry and raise a family. Though Dick's letters home were also included in the book, Far, Far From Home, they ended at the point at which Dick was discharged from the Confederate army on account of his many illnesses. Once home, he and his sweetheart, Maria Louise Garlington, eventually married.
There were several footnotes in the book of war letters explaining the off-again-on-again wedding date for Dick and Maria. Maria's family suffered not one but two losses during the Civil War, and for the death of each brother, their wedding date was understandably postponed. That, however, was not the only reason their wedding date kept being pushed off. Besides Dick's recurrent illnesses, a lingering symptom of his days in the service, Maria herself encountered health problems.
A footnote in Far, Far From Home revealed that, in a private family history written by Maria, she "took diphtheria" one week before their wedding day. Not wishing to postpone any further this wedding event between two very much in love but terribly sickly sweethearts, on the appointed morning of their wedding, Maria was still sick in bed, but
got up and was closely wrapped up and went down stairs, was married, and immediately returned to my room where I remained for nearly a week.
With a start to married life such as this, one would expect the marriage to not last very long. However, as the book reported, Mr. and Mrs. Richard W. Simpson enjoyed a marriage "which lasted forty-seven years and produced ten children."
Only problem: of Tally's nieces and nephews whom he never met, I could account for only eight of them. Could two have disappeared from view by means of an untimely death? I went back through the census records I could find, but was unable to discover any additional names for the Simpson household.
There was, however, another resource: that recently-remembered book—by Richard Simpson himself, published after his death—which included many genealogies of families from Pendleton, South Carolina, the place where Tally and his family had lived. Sure enough, R. W Simpson did not neglect to include his own family in the recounting of Old Pendleton's heritage.
Only problem: according to the father of the family, he listed not ten children, but nine: Margaret, Susan, Maria, Annie, Conway, Richard junior, John, Taliaferro, and Jean. (Though I have yet to research her line, I suspect Jean was born after the 1880 census and married before the 1900 census was taken.) Of those nine children of Tally's brother Dick, at least six married and had children of their own—some of those generations undoubtedly stretching down to our own times.
With that, I have my research work cut out for me, if not for curiosity over whether any of them will show up as my DNA matches, at least for the question of whether any of Tally Simpson's nieces and nephews passed down his legacy for their own descendants to know.
In the process of learning all that, I discovered yet another missed person. I had neglected to note that several of Tally's letters were addressed to "Sister Mary"—a name I had not included in my own charts for his family group record. As it turns out, this Mary became yet another reason why Tally had nieces and nephews to remember his name in their own family constellation—and a line I need to add to my own records, as well.
Wednesday, November 20, 2019
Sometimes, the hints generated by genealogical programs seem to present more of a puzzle than a prod in the right direction. Take the clue I found yesterday, in the quest to determine if Tally Simpson—my first cousin, four times removed—had any nieces or nephews whose descendants might still be with us, reading his Civil War letters home.
Since Tally had written so often to his favorite aunt, Caroline Virginia Taliaferro Miller, I began my search with the descendants of her children. Sadly, Aunt Caroline's son Harry also lost his life in the war, and her two daughters—Resaca and Caroline—had no children of their own.
That left Henry and Caroline's youngest son, George William "Watt" Miller, as the only one of Tally's Miller cousins to have any descendants. And that was where the clue I found in the D.A.R. Lineage Book seemed to be more of a hindrance than a help.
The reason is likely because "Watt" and his wife, the former Edith Ellen Walker, married after the 1870 census, but did not show up in any enumerations following the 1880 census. George William Miller died in 1890, and though his wife died in 1903, I can find no mention of the widow or her children in the 1900 census (yet, at least).
The search plot thickens when we take a look at that sole snapshot of the George Miller family in 1880. The household includes their son, Percival, plus three daughters: Maud, Martha, and Caroline. But no Dorothy, the woman mentioned in the D.A.R. lineage book as being daughter of George and Edith.
Dorothy—by the time of her mention in the D.A.R. publication, known as Dorothy M. Miller Massey, wife of Arthur Ballard Massey—certainly wasn't a name included in the 1880 census, but could that middle initial be the clue to her identity in 1880? After all, southern families were often known to switch identities from one to the other of their given names. But which daughter would be the one whose "M" initial would be coupled with a first name of Dorothy? After all, there were two possibilities: Maud, and Martha.
It took a lot of traveling up and down the descendancy ladder with each of the Miller children to locate any further clues as to the "M" name which affixed itself to a Dorothy. I tried my hand at signatures of informants on death certificates and lists of survivors on family obituaries, but nothing seemed to show up.
In the process, I realized something: I already own a book of the genealogy of this extended family, thanks to Tally's own brother, Richard Wright Simpson. The book, History of Old Pendleton District, was published one year after Dick Simpson's death in 1912, and thus necessarily cannot include marriages in the Miller family after that date. It did, however, advise me of some important details.
Among those reports in the Simpson book was the mention of the names of all of the George W. Miller children. In a brief listing of the Miller family on page 138-139, the author included among George Miller's children five daughters: Dorothea, "Mattie," Caroline, Edith, and Beatrice. While all but one of the daughters—Caroline—were listed as unmarried at the point the book was written, the text did provide one other detail to help with my puzzle: it included the middle name of Dorothea.
Remember how the 1880 census gave one of the daughter's names as Maud? That is apparently a function of an enumerator misunderstanding the verbal response of the reporting party. As it turned out, "Maud" should actually have been Dorothea's middle name, spelled as Modd—likely representing a surname from her parents' own ancestry.
With that identity problem solved, it was easy to move forward to connect the D.A.R. listing with other documentation for Dorothy (as she apparently preferred to spell her name in later records). Her marriage record to Arthur Ballard Massey, listing her as Dorothy Modd Miller, provides the date of 12 June, 1913, the same year as the Pendleton genealogy book was published. And her 1947 death certificate in Virginia includes the name of her younger sister Beatrice as the informant.
Finding that entry in the D.A.R. Lineage book had been frustrating at first, because I had no way to link it to the right person, based on the information I started out with. But thanks to an old book from the time period in which these people all lived, I had an additional report to connect the dots from the family's past to its near future, leading me to additional verification of that line.
Above: Excerpt from the 1880 U.S. Census for the George W. Miller family of Pickens County, South Carolina; image courtesy FamilySearch.org.
Tuesday, November 19, 2019
When I first realized it was a surname like Miller that I'd be researching, I thought I might as well give up before I started. There are just so many Millers out there....
I was concerned, when considering researching all of the relatives mentioned in Tally Simpson's letters home during the Civil War, that tackling the surname of his most beloved aunt and uncle—Henry Campbell and Caroline Taliaferro Miller—would cause some research problems. There are, after all, so many Millers out there. Even narrowing the parameters down to just those Millers in South Carolina in the 1860s, I might find more Henry Millers than I cared to pursue.
But Caroline Virginia Taliaferro—Tally's aunt and confidante—did leave enough clues to help me find her in many places other than in the collection of family letters in Far, Far From Home. While revisiting her profile in my genealogy database, I realized that this was the youngest of the four Taliaferro daughters for whom it had been said that one of her suitors was the ill-fated Turner Bynum. It was he who lost his life in a duel with the future governor of South Carolina, Benjamin Perry.
That tragic loss in 1832 followed a year after Caroline lost her own father, Zachariah Taliaferro, when she was only nineteen. Though she had many suitors over the next decade, she didn't marry until she was in her early thirties, and her choice for a husband, though a doctor, may have surprised some, as he was said to have been a quiet type, unlike some of the other notables.
Caroline Virginia Taliaferro and her husband, Henry Campbell Miller—"Uncle Miller," as Tally Simpson called him—had at least four children before Dr. Miller's passing in 1899. Though Tally was not there to know this about his closest cousin, Henry and Caroline lost their son, Harry, in the war a little over a year after Tally's own death. A note on his company muster roll explained, "Killed in action near Strasburg VA Oct 19, '64."
Left after the war was Harry's younger brother, George Watt Miller—whom Tally referred to in his letters as "Watt"—and Watt's sisters Caroline and Resaca. In Tally's letters, he referred to these cousins as Carrie and Ressie. Only the daughters remained, after their father's passing in 1899, which may explain the legend on Dr. Miller's headstone, "Erected by his daughters." Their mother, Tally's Aunt Caroline, had been long gone by that point, having passed in 1877.
Just before her father's passing, Tally's cousin Ressie married a widower, John Hook. After her husband's passing in 1918, Ressie returned to her hometown of Pendleton, where she remained until her death in 1932. She apparently had no children of her own.
Tally's co-conspirator in the plot to woo "The Fair Unknown," his cousin Carrie, eventually married William Wragg Simons in 1875, but like her sister, apparently never had any children. The only one of Tally's cousins in the Miller family to have descendants was the youngest, Watt, who, before his early death in 1890, married Edith Ellen Walker in 1871 and had at least five children.
Maybe some day—if not already—one of those descendants will stumble upon Watt's daughter Dorothy Miller Massey's entry in a D.A.R. lineage book and learn of her Taliaferro roots in colonial Virginia. Hopefully, one of those descendants will also get to read the letters of Watt's sister to her cousin Tally during the Civil War, and catch a glimpse of what that teenaged Carrie was like, long before nieces and nephews were even there to know the proper Southern lady.
After all, a name like Miller might be commonplace, but the personalities which come out in these brief glimpses are anything but mundane. Thankfully, someone cared enough, through the generations, to preserve these vignettes in the form of family letters during a stressful time in our nation's history.
Above: "Battle of Cedar Creek," chromolithograph by Kurz and Allison published circa 1890, depicts the battle near Strasburg, Virginia, in which Tally Simpson's cousin, Harry Miller, likely was killed in action. Image courtesy U.S. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, via Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Monday, November 18, 2019
Now that I've finished the collection of Civil War letters of my first cousin, four times removed—Taliaferro Simpson, or "Tally" for short—my next task is to go back through all the notes I've gleaned from the editors' footnotes on family relationships. Just to be sure—one never knows, you see, whether I've missed an ancestor.
For instance, one footnote at the end of the volume, affixed to a letter of condolences from a Captain Henry P. Farrow of the Confederacy's War Department, mentioned that he was "husband of Tally's cousin Cornelia." Off I went to search for all the Cornelias in my family tree database. After all, how many Cornelias could there be?!
As it turned out, more than I cared to slog through, including one false lead on the Broyles side of our family. Tally's mother, you may remember, was sister to my third great-grandmother, Sarah Ann Taliaferro, who married Ozey Robert Broyles. Their daughter, Margaret Cornelia, married Samuel Van Wyck. Not Farrow.
I knew that. Maybe it's pushing capacity to remember all those names in a nineteen thousand person tree.
As for the other Cornelias? None of them seemed to relate to Tally's mother's side of the family. Besides, I have no Farrows in my tree. Must be a connection on the Simpson side.
But there are others. Remember the "Taylor Shop" entries in Tally's letters? I'll be reviewing those notes to see what can be added about another of Tally's aunts on the Taliaferro side. And of course, since the Miller family—another Taliaferro link—was featured so prominently in the book, I'll be reviewing all those notes to glean details for my database there, as well.
And then, there is the discussion of the future of the "Fair Unknown," Miss Fannie Smith. Whether the Charleston refugee shows up in any other documents frequented by genealogists, I'm not sure, but I'll be scouring those resources closely to see what became of her, after those tumultuous war years.
If there is anything remarkable to report of all this review of footnotes, you can be sure I'll mention it this week. After all, footnotes can provide the most valuable leads for research.
Sunday, November 17, 2019
It looks like a lot of companies are pushing for an early Christmas shopping season, given the late appearance on this year's calendar for Black Friday. Of course, you probably already can guess my opinion about Black Friday events. I avoid them at all costs.
Still, one thing I wish for, whether folks shop early or traditionally, is that somebody buys a DNA test kit for one of my distant relatives.
Have you noticed lately? The pace at which DNA matches have arrived in my accounts has slowed to a trickle. I used to get well over twenty each time I checked my biweekly count—from each DNA company. Make that well over one hundred each time, just at MyHeritage. Now, the new matches every two weeks total a mere handful at each company.
This, of course, had been predicted by a number of people who watch the industry. Whether it will hold true over this holiday shopping season is yet to be seen.
Still, I can't complain about the mere trickle of results I'm now getting in, considering that last summer, I got one of the most important matches I've been waiting for since beginning this genetic genealogy journey. And that's the problem: we can't pick who, among all those unknown third to fifth cousins out there, will step up to take a DNA test this winter. But I still can't wait to see the returns in the after-holiday results bulge.
Meanwhile, I'll keep chipping away at all those unknown twigs on my family tree. After all, in the last two weeks, I managed to add 182 to my mother's tree, to total 19,556 of her ancestors and their collateral lines. And that was about all I accomplished. I'm trying to focus on her line specifically on account of the week-long class I'll be taking next January at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. After all, it's because of my mother's colonial Virginia ancestry that I'll be sitting in Barbara Vines Little's course to delve into that topic.
Between now and the third week of January, I suspect the count for my other three trees will suffer the same fate as they have, this past week. I added a fat zero to each of my in-laws' trees, as I did to my own father's tree. Still, that leaves me with 654 in my dad's tree and 1,563 in my father-in-law's tree, and with 17,194 in my mother-in-law's tree. I'll be back to those other projects soon enough. Right now, though, I need to focus on getting ready—in the midst of all this holiday enjoyment—for some serious learning, come January.
Saturday, November 16, 2019
With all the different research projects I've been working on, and all the locations which they've taken me over the past month, I still find myself heading back to New York for indexing projects. Why is it that I have this unquenchable hope that I'll discover my paternal ancestors' immigration or naturalization records in a place the size of New York City? As unreasonable as that hope is, I find myself returning again and again to the U.S. District Court Naturalization Records for New York City's Southern District.
You will not be surprised to learn that I didn't run across any familiar surnames this time.
I did, however, transcribe the naturalization records for several immigrants from Germany and Italy in this month's volunteer moments. As much of a drop in the bucket as this attempt at giving back may be, at least it is something. I do appreciate all the many efforts of so many other volunteers who transformed the world of genealogical research for the rest of us, and want to chip away at what can be added to the process.
And though I suspect I'll never run into a yet-to-be-transcribed record of any of my distant relatives in that NYC collection, I can't help but wonder if their names might pop up as witnesses on someone else's affidavits.
Perhaps it might seem as if I'd have better chances if I just went out and bought a lottery ticket—but even if I lost that chance to spot an ancestor in all these unindexed records, at least the effort may make it possible to secure a win for someone else.
Friday, November 15, 2019
Finally, today I had just enough of the leftover sunshine from our waning fall weather to grab a cup of coffee and sit outside to enjoy the last few pages of the book I've been reading.
Well, perhaps "enjoy" is not the best choice of wording for the completion of this collection of Civil War letters home from one Tally Simpson. Spoiler alert: he died at the Battle of Chickamauga. But the editors of this volume handled the last chapter with just the right touch. In their epilogue, they even cast a passing nod to Emmala Reed's journal and her commentary on Fannie Smith—though the editors claimed not being able to identify Fannie Smith or her family in the years after Tally's death.
What the editors did flag for me, though, was a generous helping of footnoted commentary on the many members of Tally Simpson's extended family, many of whom have already taken their place in my mother's online family tree. My next task is to review all these marked passages and insure that the editorial notes provided in the book reflect what I have entered in my official record for this family line. My work is certainly laid out for me there.
The end of one book is seldom the end of a research journey; there is always one more book to be read. As soon as I wrap up the exercise of processing all these notes from the Simpson saga—and glean everything I can on what became of Fannie Smith—I will pick up again with the theme of this small, upcountry hometown of the extended family of my ancestors. There is still more to be read about Old Pendleton and Anderson County, South Carolina.
Thursday, November 14, 2019
As we follow the immigrant trails of the earliest Canadian settlers in the riverside valley locale eventually known as Lodi, California, we begin to see connections between these families. Just yesterday, not only did we realize that John Hutchins of Ontario, Canada, arrived along with his entire family, but that his oldest sister had married another of Lodi's early landowners, Ezekiel Lawrence. It was these two men, along with some others, who apparently secured Lodi's downtown site as stop along the way for a new Central Pacific Railroad route in 1869. If nothing else, John Hutchins was rich in land and ingenuity.
After their 1857 marriage and move to San Joaquin County, John's sister Mary Hutchins and her husband, Ezekiel Lawrence, had three children: William, George, and Nettie. The middle child, George, became focus of one of the many biographical sketches in George Tinkham's History of San Joaquin County. From that resource, we learn that George was born on his parents' property in Elkhorn Township—eventually to become the city of Lodi—and attended "district schools" until his enrollment in Saint Mary's College. After receiving a bachelor of science, George Lawrence returned to his hometown to study law. He soon was elected Justice of the Peace of Elkhorn Township, the same place where his parents had settled, back in 1857.
By the time citizens of Elkhorn Township were ready to entertain the possibility of incorporating the city of Lodi, it was 1906. The vote passed, by a margin of two to one, and immediately after the official date of incorporation on December 6, the new city's board of trustees elected George Lawrence as their first mayor.
By the time George Lawrence was elected to the first of his two terms as mayor, both his dad and his uncle—the two neighboring landholders who had been so instrumental in the formation of what would eventually become the city of Lodi—were gone. His dad, Ezekiel Lawrence, passed in 1899, as did his uncle, John Hutchins.
It will take a lot more reading between the lines to learn what roles, if any, were played by these two brothers-in-law in the political success of Lodi's first mayor, George Lawrence, but that is all the same as the original quest which introduced me to this research project in the first place: just who the city had in mind when they named one of their major streets after someone named Hutchins.
Wednesday, November 13, 2019
When our ancestors reported their place of birth as a foreign country—as, for instance, simply "Canada"—there is not much to learn in such a statement. Canada is a wide country, stretching from ocean to ocean in the same manner as the country to which our specific immigrant subjects immigrated.
One research technique is to follow the families backwards in time through each decade's census. That means, taking the John Hutchins family of Lodi, California, as an example, we would locate them in the most recent census record we can find, and then, using the details gleaned from that document, work our way backwards through the decades.
We already know from his biographical sketch in George Tinkham's History of San Joaquin County that John Hutchins crossed the continent from Ontario in 1853. Just which direction his journey took him, the article doesn't mention. To read Tinkham's entry, one would think John Hutchins—a teenager of about seventeen at the time of this migration—had made the journey by himself, but that is apparently not the case.
Looking at the 1880 census, we can find John along with his wife, the former Anna Nevin, and their children, Nellie, John, Edward, and Mary. The census reports that John was born in Canada, and that his parents were from Ireland. Likewise, the 1870 census shows that John was born in Canada, but that his two year old daughter was born in California—thus, gradually narrowing the time frame of his travels.
Moving beyond the date of his marriage to Ann Nevin to find John Hutchins before that 1870 census means looking for a single man—or, possibly, a young man in the household of his parents. This, fortunately, became the case for our search, finding a possible John Hutchins in the home of his namesake, his father John Hutchins, in the same Elkhorn Township of San Joaquin County, the very place from which the city of Lodi was later established.
The 1860 census shows this young John Hutchins reporting his age as twenty four, putting his year of birth as 1836, agreeing roughly with what we had gleaned from later census enumerations. Again, it showed his birth to be in Canada, and his parents, John and Catherine, to be from Ireland. Along with the junior John, the other family members were his (presumed) siblings James, Thomas, Hannah, Catherine, and Henry. All but the youngest—who at that point was listed as twelve years of age—had been born in Canada. Henry provided the location of the next stop in this Hutchins family's migration by the place of his birth: Iowa.
Indeed, in Dubuque County, Iowa, for the 1850 census, there was a family of an Irish couple, John and Catherine Hutchins. With one addition—that of a daughter named Mary—the family constellation remained the same, with John, James, Thomas, Hannah, Catherine, and Henry all making their appearance. The only catch was that each of the children was listed as having been born in Michigan, not Canada. Could that have been the family's entry point from Canada? Or were their parents fearful of divulging their foreign origin?
A quick double check of California's Great Register in the 1870s confirms, however, that Elkhorn Township resident Henry Hutchins—the baby of the family—claimed to have been born in Iowa (see entry 2538), while older brothers John (see entry 2485) and James (see entry 2565) had to declare the date and courthouse of their naturalization, as having been born in Canada, not the United States. Unfortunately, any Canadian census records before that point of the Hutchins family's departure from Ontario only sparsely covered the territory, leaving us without any further direction as to where, exactly, the Hutchins family had settled in that part of the British Empire.
There was one bright spot in the monotony of this exercise, however: the discovery of oldest sister Mary in the 1850 census, and her subsequent disappearance from the 1860 Hutchins household. By the time of that later census—if we can believe the age reported for her in the 1850 census—she would have been twenty eight. Very possibly, she was by then married and living in a household of her own. But where? Left in Iowa? Or continuing with the family to California?
Perhaps it was merely coincidence, but appearing in the biographical sketch of another pioneer of Lodi was the mention of his mother's maiden name as Mary Hutchins. As it turns out, that same person's father's name is one we've seen before. The father, Ezekiel Lawrence, was one of the men named as having had a hand in the establishment of the downtown area of what was to become the city of Lodi, California. If this is so, the younger John Hutchins and Ezekiel Lawrence were not only business associates and neighboring property owners, they were also brothers-in-law!
Tuesday, November 12, 2019
One discovery, in researching the five men credited by local history as having a hand in the formation of the city of Lodi, California, was how many of them had Canadian roots. This could merely be a curious coincidence, or it might be a detail worth pursuing. Since the pursuit of family history is not simply the study of individuals—as if they were independent, individual actors throughout their lifetime—but an observation of the collective actions taken by people who were closely associated with each other, it makes sense to handle this study of Lodi's founders in the same way.
Cluster genealogy—that study of the micro-history of families in relationship to their social and other connections—may serve our purposes at this juncture in my research project. Sometimes called the "FAN Club," this cluster, people taken in the aggregate, may provide hints generated by the whole group, whereas studying each person as an individual might fail to reveal broader connections.
One of the principles of the "FAN Club" is that people, moving from their home to settle in new territory, seldom make such long journeys alone. While I've been wandering in research circles, trying to determine just how the California city of Lodi actually was established, I've run across enough clues to tell me that not just one of the original settlers in this new state came from Canada. There apparently were several more.
Now, considering that Canada is a large country—and that even saying something like, "They both came from Ontario" seldom tells us much—it might seem like a fool's errand to determine just where in that immense dominion the exact town might have been, if even one location. But I'm game to trace these Canadian immigrants to see whether their paths coincided on their way from Canada to California.
For one thing, migration patterns seemed similar. Wherever these settlers started in Canada, their goal was to arrive in California as soon as possible after the news flash about the discovery of gold in the northern foothills. Young men being young men, the pattern included a marriage to another Canadian, usually in El Dorado County, likely at the county seat of Placerville—or, as it was known in that era, Hangtown. The finale to this pattern was obtaining a large tract of government land somewhere in the new state of California—for some coincidental reason, specifically in a place called San Joaquin County.
I've been focusing, in the past week, on the men named in an old history of the county as being key in establishing the downtown area which eventually became the city of Lodi. My original focus was on a man whose surname has somehow—through recognition of this man, himself, or others—become the name of a major street and cultural center in the city. However, as I branched out to the other four men listed as city fathers, I began realizing some of them, too, claimed to have come to this isolated valley in California from an undisclosed place in Canada.
The question is: which place in Canada? Or should we say, places?
To start this exploration, let's take a deeper look at the paths taken by the families of John Hutchins and Ezekiel Lawrence, tomorrow.
Monday, November 11, 2019
It was November of 1918. Sometime on that eleventh day of that eleventh month, word got out to the city of Paris that the war to end all wars had, at long last, ended. Someone from the United States Army Signal Corps grabbed a camera, ran out to the street where the commotion arose and snapped a picture. The result bore the exuberance of the moment in its caption:
Paris. Everybody nearly yelled their heads off an Armistice Day in Paris, November 11th, 1918. Here they are, children and grownups, singing the Marseillaise, marching about the streets.
One year later—exactly one hundred years ago, today—then-President Woodrow Wilson captured what he felt the day meant in an address to his fellow Americans. In establishing the first Armistice Day in the United States that year, the president saw the day as one "filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service, and with gratitude for the victory."
Armistice Day—like the cessation of war it was acknowledging—was not merely a commemoration in the United States, but one with international recognition. The first event, one hundred years ago, was held at Buckingham Palace on the eve of that first anniversary. Likewise, the entire British Commonwealth marked the day, one hundred years ago—no surprise to learn, considering the great price paid by subjects of the crown's far-reaching dominion—though later calling the designation Remembrance Day.
Today, the "Remembrance Poppy" is still a symbol of the aftermath of that conflict, calling to mind the poem by Canadian physician, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, "In Flanders Field," and the tiny red icon utilized by Madame E. Guérin in her humanitarian efforts following the war. From its start in France, the tiny red poppy's symbolism spread to the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as to the United States.
While Americans now recognize the service of all veterans on this day—which we now refer to as Veterans Day—its designation is rooted in a commemoration established one hundred years ago, long before most of us were even born. Gone are not only those who fought in that first Great War, but many of the veterans of the second World War which followed so closely on its heels. The visceral responses triggered by remembering the atrocities of that first war are no longer part of our collective consciousness, and so, perhaps, is the personal connection to the significance of this holiday.
And yet, so many of us do know men and women who, over the generations, served our nation in the armed forces—many of them members of our own families—and for this fitting recognition, we still need to acknowledge their sacrifices, with thanks for what they have done on our behalf.
Photograph, above, dated November 11, 1918, by the United States Army Signal Corps; courtesy United States Library of Congress; in the public domain.
Sunday, November 10, 2019
It seems surreal, drawing up a pedigree chart for a character I found in a book. While not all books are fiction, reading the letters of Tally Simpson in book form somehow removes me, as reader, from the reality of this historical event, his participation in the Civil War. I can't help but see it as if it were a drama unfolding in the theater of my mind, rather than the micro-history that it represents.
To take up the pursuit for the real-life status of the woman Tally dubbed as "The Fair Unknown" thus seems like stepping between two universes. And yet, Fannie Smith was indeed a real person, fleeing her sacked hometown in Charleston, South Carolina, for the relative safety of the upcountry in Pendleton, home of Tally's extended family. There she lived, in the same town with the Simpsons, the Broyleses, the Millers, and the Taylors of my own family tree.
And stole the heart of one cousin of mine, four times removed.
Since I have seen her mesmerizing effect in the narrative of two different books so far, I wondered just what kind of person Fannie Smith really was—and whatever became of her, once the war was over, and she had returned home to take up the life she had had to put on hold. So I did what any genealogist can do: I built a family tree for her.
Not that I'm anywhere close to being done, of course. That sort of effort takes time, even the "quick and dirty" type of rushed tree making. But I want to piece together the historic Fannie Smith.
What I have been able to find, so far, is that Fannie was born Frances Rosa Smith, daughter of William Burroughs Smith, classified in his obituary as "the richest man in Charleston." Mr. Smith had seen a lifetime of success, rising from the status of a son of an "obscure citizen" through a series of beneficial business partnerships. Of one of them—partnership in the firm of Jones and Company—partnership extended far beyond business, leading to William's marriage with Mr. Jones' daughter, Frances Susan Jones, in 1840.
Of that union, we meet the eldest of three daughters: Fannie, born around 1843. Her sisters, Helen and Pauline, follow, each three years apart. But it is Fannie, the charmer, who takes Pendleton by storm, making her presence known to even us in the twenty-first century, by virtue of comments in letters and diaries sparked by her temporary refuge in Pendleton during the height of the Civil War.
What I'd like to learn is how she developed such a striking personality. The best tool for that discovery, of course, would not be a pedigree chart. Lacking any better way to reconstruct the mystique of "The Fair Unknown," though, I think this might be a fair substitute for a weekend diversion.
Above: Excerpt from 1860 U.S. Census for Charleston, South Carolina, lines 30-34, showing the household of William Burroughs Smith; Fannie is listed simply as "Miss Smith" as the oldest of William's daughters, while her younger sisters Helen and Pauline are mentioned by name; image courtesy Ancestry.com; in the public domain.
Saturday, November 9, 2019
How can a non-fiction book be classified as a page turner? Moreover, how can a non-fiction composition include a plot twist? I'm not sure, but what keeps me reading through the letters home from Tally Simpson during his Civil War service is the race to discover whether his fascination with Fannie Smith, "The Fair Unknown," gains any traction before his inevitable fate closes in on him.
Tally, my first cousin four times removed, had become infatuated, sight unseen, with one particular young woman from Charleston seeking refuge with her family in the safety of Pendleton, South Carolina, during the Civil War. Tally's hometown relatives plotted with him to court her from the distance of his ever-changing position as a soldier in the Confederacy.
There was, of course, an obstacle to this plan, which reared its threatening appearance in the unlikely form of what Tally and his cousin called "The Taylor Shop." There was little explanation of what that code-speak meant, but I think I know. The explanation on this diversion from our Fannie Smith Sightings may both provide some insight as well as lead us to an interesting additional connection in a future post here.
While the book I am still reading—Far, Far From Home—has been developed into an annotated guide to Tally Simpson's wartime letters, it is more helpful in identifying historic battles and identities of the military personnel referred to continually, but there is not as much editorial guidance to piece together the family structure. I, of course, already know the family tree for that generation, being that Tally's mother, Mary Margaret Taliaferro Simpson, was sister to my third great-grandmother, Sarah Ann Taliaferro Broyles, but not every reader of this collection of letters would have that advantage.
When Tally conspired with his sister Anna, his cousin Carrie and her mother, Caroline Taliaferro Miller, his goal was to secretly win the heart of one Fannie Smith. There was a potential adversary, however, in the form of what the relatives referred to as "The Taylor Shop." It happened that the Taliaferro sisters—Tally's mother Margaret, my third great-grandmother, and Tally's aunt Caroline—also had another sister. This sister was named Lucy, and she had married a man by the name of David Sloan Taylor.
The Taylors, also living in Pendleton during the time of the war, had many children, including two daughters born at about the same time as Tally—Lucy, two years older than Tally, and her sister Susan, born two years after him in 1841. Tally's own sister Anna was born only a few years beyond that, in 1844. Perhaps as Anna served as Tally's eyes and ears, back home in Pendleton, she sniffed out some competition regarding Miss Fannie Smith—or at least disapproval—coming from her cousins' direction, and may have warned Tally.
While reading books such as this may afford me a wonderful opportunity to spy out the everyday complexities of life among my ancestral families, there is still much reading between the lines, even in this context. And yet, being a mere twenty six pages from the conclusion of the story, I am not sure anything further will be revealed on just what it was that kept Tally speaking so obliquely about his cousins.
There is, however, the historic context beyond the text of this book of letters. And I certainly know how to mine that vein of gold nuggets. Fannie Smith, herself, scattered a paper trail of her own micro-history behind her, which anyone can access, despite the challenge of a name as common as hers. What a wonderful rabbit trail of research to add to my list of diversions. I believe I shall set up a tree to see what has become of "The Fair Unknown" and her legacy.
Friday, November 8, 2019
Not many people give much thought to how the street where they live received its name. While some street names—notably those in sanitized suburban settings—may reflect the unimaginative sameness of tree-themed names, there are some street signs revealing a glimpse into a road's history.
Curious about the name of a major road near me, after discovering that the farmland once adjacent to what is now a city street bore the same name, I've tried to find sources to confirm any connection. Though I can find a biographical sketch touting the many civic contributions of that property owner, there is no mention of just how the street passing by his property managed to acquire the very same name as this man's surname.
Other cities have street names which reveal a glimpse into their history. I tried my hand at a search at GenealogyBank, repository of many archived newspapers, to see if anyone wrote an article about such a topic. Sure enough, there were a few choices. One writer expounded upon the "history and significance" of street names in South Trenton, New Jersey, for the Trenton Evening Times in a Sunday article on October 12, 1913. For some strange reason, the Portland newspaper, The Oregonian, ran a column called "Origin of Street Names" on April 14, 1900—only it was about the history of street names in New York City.
Delving into a theme I brought up yesterday, the Encyclopedia of Chicago explained the challenges behind coordinating street names in a city which, as it expanded, swallowed up smaller towns in its perimeter, resulting in several different streets sporting the same name, but different locations. For those hoping the fire department arrived before their house burned down, this would understandably cause some consternation, which city fathers hoped to rectify.
This, of course, brings up another challenge to finding the story about one's street name: street names have changed, over the years. In searching for how Hutchins Street got its name in Lodi, California, I ran across a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of the downtown area from 1895, which provides an example in its "County Road" label for one particular street. Today, residents would recognize that street as Lodi Avenue. Very possibly, the road past the Hutchins property may at one point had a generic designation much the same as this.
Working with other researchers attempting to discover more about the area where their ancestors lived, I have been made aware of other streets in our county which have been called by names other than what we call them today. Between that challenge, plus the re-numbering of house addresses in the early 1900s in many cities in the United States, inquiries into the history of the street where our ancestors once lived can encounter many twists and turns—even concerning some of the major routes of our cities. Whether these are causes concealing the elusive reason for the naming of Hutchins Street in Lodi, I can't yet tell.
Above: Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Lodi, San Joaquin County, California, showing "County Road" designation to the right of the map. Sanborn Map Company, Mar, 1895; map courtesy United States Library of Congress; in the public domain.
Thursday, November 7, 2019
Asking why a street received the name it has might not be among your top research priorities, but in my case, I can't help but wonder. I've already uncovered paperwork revealing that a relative by marriage was the namesake of Shields Avenue in Fresno, California. And discovery of a road in my adopted California hometown bearing the unusual surname of another distant relative prompted me to trace that property owner's pedigree back to our most recent common ancestor—someone living over two thousand miles away. So you see, I come by this curiosity naturally.
Now, my attention is turned to John Hutchins, a Canadian who traveled the distance of a continent to land in Lodi, California, right after the state's gold rush. Perhaps owing to success in mining endeavors—or possibly because the land was so cheap at the time—John Hutchins acquired much property in the Elkhorn Township area which eventually became the city of Lodi. Even more so, his influence on the growth of the area in its earliest years may have landed him one tiny nod in the form of the area's current cityscape.
It just so happens that there is a major north-south artery in Lodi named Hutchins Street, now the location of the city's cultural center bearing that same Hutchins name. I'm curious how the street got its name. According to a timeline of the city's early years (see page 22), Hutchins Street was listed as the city's western limit in 1906, only seven years after John Hutchins' passing. Though his biographical sketch included in George Tinkham's History of San Joaquin County was glowing, perhaps his wasn't the most illustrious claim to the Hutchins surname.
It's fascinating to learn the process of just how municipalities decide upon names for their streets. Some cities are quite upfront about their requirements, such as the city of Buellton in Santa Barbara County, which posted its street naming procedures online. As associate professor of law Ann Bartow observed in her article in the law review of the University of California at Davis in April, 2004:
Few people are likely to want to live on a thoroughfare named 198,457th Street because such an address lacks personality and interest. When public amenities are accorded more colorful denominations, however, complications can ensue.
It is those "complications" which have precipitated precise local government procedures on who can name streets and just how they are to do so. One review of the situation by Fox News detailed the complexity of a process which might take weeks from start to finish, shepherded by the planning department with vital input from not only engineering and public works departments, but also police, fire department and even the post office.
While it may seem as if streets are bestowed their names through a scientific process—above all, avoiding "monikers that might be unappealing to residents," though, as one New York Times reporter found, such are in abundance despite being "unappealing"—there is also a certain politic nature to the granting of honorific designations. National heroes often become the focus of naming committees, with examples drawn not only from national history—every name from George Washington to Martin Luther King—but from significant hometown developments, as well.
And yet, of all the reports concerning the process of naming streets, most of these resources divulged details about how real estate developers in our current times approach the issue. What I'm searching for is just how street names from our past history were bestowed—and how to learn the stories behind those designations.
*196,841st Street: with thanks to Ann Bartow's April 2004 article in the U.C. Davis Law Review, "Trademarks of Privilege," for the footnote #114 on the absurd concept of naming a street with a number as inconvenient to remember as that example.
Wednesday, November 6, 2019
Sometimes, it feels like a research project takes the researcher along a winding path which, eventually, leads right back to the place where it started. Take my discovery of a connection between my research subject and a man whose surname was significant to his adopted hometown of Lodi, California. I discovered that his biography, included in a History of San Joaquin County two decades after his death, mentioned his role in the establishment of Lodi in much more glowing terms than I was able to find anywhere else. At the same time, I discovered four other men were credited with the very same role—with no mention of the original focus of my attention. Which story was right?
I hoped that, in exploring what could be found about the history of each of those other four men, I would discover any connection between the two versions. Other than realizing that several of the men were connected to one particular fraternal order, I wasn't able to discern the root of the variations in the story.
So, what can be discovered about John Hutchins, the man from Canada who crossed the plains to arrive in San Joaquin County in the earliest days after the formation of the county? George Tinkham reported that Hutchins made his cross-country immigration in 1853. Yet, whether the Hutchins household in the 1860 census in Elkhorn Township includes our John Hutchins, I can't yet be sure. However, John's name did appear in the Great Register, where in at least two editions, he reported being naturalized at the county seat on August 27, 1866.
Almost a year later, John Hutchins married Ann Nevin, an Iowa girl whose family had moved to Stockton, and by the time of the 1870 census, the couple was living in Elkhorn Township, along with their daughter Nellie and son John. Although the senior John died in 1899, we can still find the names of his five children in his widow's household in the 1900 census.
But what of the street through the town of Lodi which now bears the Hutchins name? Was it named for John Hutchins, the one who supposedly donated land to jump-start the downtown area before it even became designated as a city? Or was that honor given to someone else with the same surname?
The ubiquitousness of street signs may dull our inquisitiveness about their origin, but I just can't help myself. I want to know how that street came to receive that name.