Friday, April 30, 2021

Starting With What we Know


A cardinal rule of genealogy—at least, one oft repeated—is "start with what you know." In our chase to confirm the parents of my mother-in-law's third great-grandmother, at least we already know her name—Sarah Howard Ijams—and the approximate dates of the start and end of her brief life. What we need to do this month is branch out from that pinpoint in my mother-in-law's family tree to see where the Ijams and Howard lines lead us.

We've already explored the details of Sarah's husband's life—that John Jay Jackson was a soldier in the War of 1812, and that he migrated eastward from Saint Louis to settle in Ohio, at about the time of his marriage to Sarah. Though he merited not much more than one paragraph out of the nearly six hundred pages of the History of Fairfield and Perry Counties, Ohio, I'm grateful for the mention of such details—else I'd know little, if anything at all, about Sarah's husband.

It was in that same stingy word allotment concerning John Jackson that we can glean the slightest inferences about Sarah, herself:

His first wife was an Ijams, a sister of William, John and Joseph Ijams, well remembered by the older citizens of Perry county.

Speaking of those "well remembered" Ijams brothers, the only other passage the book offers mentioned that "several families of the Turners, Plummers, Ijams, and Koutz[es] came from Maryland about 1802." Now, that gives me a starting place to help trace my way back east on behalf of Sarah Howard Ijams' roots in colonial Maryland.

There's a reason we want to follow such a trail. Besides the hope that the more established cities closer to the Atlantic seaboard would have the type of organized governmental systems to yield us pertinent records to trace Sarah's family tree, Sarah's parents both came with their own heritage to share—if the hints I'm finding are indeed regarding her own ancestors. We'll take a closer look next week.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Sarah's Story


It's hard to recall details about someone long dead. That, unfortunately, is my lot when I attempt finding any information on the life of another of my mother-in-law's third great-grandmothers. Today, we'll lay down the basics on what I do already know of Sarah Howard Ijams—and get ready to launch into a new month of research on the fifth goal in finding my Twelve Most Wanted Ancestors for 2021.

I first encountered Sarah's story while working backwards in time on my mother-in-law's family tree. You know how it is: you start with yourself (well, in this case, my mother-in-law), then you take a step backwards to the previous generation. Once I gathered all the information I needed on my mother-in-law's parents, it was time to move to the previous generation once again.

Eventually, I arrived at Sarah's own story. Sarah married a soldier who had served in the War of 1812, a man by the rather common name of John Jay Jackson. There is a lot yet to be discovered about their initial meeting, despite my having written about it before. You see, while Sarah was supposedly born in Maryland—at least, according to statements offered by the two of her children surviving until the 1880 census—and her family was living in Ohio before her marriage, she somehow traveled to a military outpost near Saint Louis to wed this soldier.

There is obviously a lot of detail missing from this story.

On the other side of that mystery, Sarah bore John Jackson at least four children: two daughters, then two sons. And then, she died.

Although I have yet to find any documentation even for her death, Sarah must have died early in 1829—at least after the birth of her son Robert on December 30 of the previous year, and before the August 28, 1829, date of widower John Jackson's marriage to Miss Mary Grate.

I've struggled with this passage of family history for such a long time without much more success than the observations I've recounted here, and written in much more detail in the past. One thing I realized, though: I've always approached this story by following the records of John Jackson. There are several reasons for that. Not only did he outlive Sarah, but in that era, it was the man's identity which figured most prominently in tracing a family's timeline.

Perhaps, though, this might not have been the most effective strategy for finding Sarah. What I propose doing, for this research attempt, is to jump ahead and examine what documents can be found on Sarah's parents—at least, the parents so many researchers affirm to have been hers. Much as I did in April for the question of another third great-grandmother, Mary Carroll, next month I'll delve into what can be found on Elizabeth Howard and William Ijams, in the hopes that they left some records which include mention of their long-departed daughter Sarah. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Planning . . . Or is it Dreaming?


What is it about this pandemic season that makes us feel as if we'll never travel again? I already know that isn't true. My husband is planning a business trip to Oklahoma, and my daughter has already made it to Hawaii. Even I, without the shield of a vaccine on board, managed to survive a couple emergency get-out-of-town trips this year.

But when it comes to a research journey to benefit those never-ending questions about our family history, that sort of travel seems out of sight. Yes, I know I can request that copies of records can be mailed to me. But it is not the same thing as going there myself. The thrill of the "hunt" is still a motivation.

Thus, here I sit, trying to gather my thoughts and determine what I would hunt for, if I had the opportunity to head back east to West Virginia and Pennsylvania. There have certainly been astute observations made by helpful readers—and I intend to follow up on these. But I can't seem to envision the opportunity to actually go there and get to work on any research plans.

Do you ever reach that stage of research malaise? Perhaps it is just an artifact of can't-do-that limits. Or maybe that, combined with ancestor exhaustion. I have, after all, worn myself to a frazzle, trying to invent ways around my research roadblock. I've tackled Mary Carroll Gordon's ancestry before, after all. This is not the first time I've tangled with this dead end.

I realize there is a camp within the family history milieu which believes in setting a research goal and sticking with it. Not so, for me. I sometime reach a point when I feel that I can forgive myself for laying aside an invincible research question.

There are many reasons why I give myself that permission. Every year, for instance, more and more records become digitized and available to view online. In addition, my travel plans can change—or at least they had in the past, when opportunities opened up to visit a new-to-me part of the country. I am, after all, amassing quite a collection of reasons to stop by that particular corner of the country, and once things open up, I just may be able to do so.

With all that in mind, I don't struggle too much with setting aside an unanswered research question at the end of its designated time. There will be another season to revisit Mary Carroll's story. Maybe next time, it will be in person, not within the limits of cyber-space.

If the struggle to find documentation regarding the connection between Mary Carroll and her parents—whether Anthony Carroll and his first wife or some other couple—was not a successful one this month, don't worry about setting that project aside for now. For next month, we've got another research question which has proven just as much a challenge as Mary's story. For that one, I've already wrestled with it before, so we may as well get an early jump on May's research goal.

With that, we'll begin laying down the preliminary groundwork for another of my mother-in-law's research challenges a few days early. Tomorrow, we'll meet Ancestor Number Five on my Twelve Most Wanted for 2021: Sarah Howard Ijams.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

One Small Problem . . .


After all the effort, over this past month, to confirm the father of Mary Carroll Gordon, my mother-in-law's third great-grandmother, I'm still left with one nagging thought. It may turn out to be a matter of one small problem, but it is a sticking point, nonetheless: why would a woman who had been dead for over a decade be named as an heir in her father's will?

If that father was indeed the Anthony Carroll of Monongalia County whom we've been studying this past month, he certainly did name someone in his will whom we can presume was our Mary—well, if we assume that the "Polly Gorden" in Anthony's will was nickname for Mary, that is. And I count it as an assuring sign that a hundred year old history book in nearby Preston County, West Virginia, explained that Anthony Carroll was married four times, including to the woman who was listed as mother of a daughter the couple named Mary.

On the bright side, that book—A History of Preston County, West Virginia—also mentioned that Mary Carroll, daughter of Anthony, married a local man by the name of William Gordon, which she did before the couple left Monongalia County for nearby Greene County, Pennsylvania. Another positive indicator was that William and Mary named one of their sons Anthony, presumably after her own father.

However, depending on which account we follow—either the Howard Leckey book, The Tenmile Country and its Pioneer Families, or the headstone pictured at Mary's Find A Grave memorial—Mary died in either 1814 or 1812. Anthony—if he was her father—died in 1830. He drew up his will at the end of the previous August. Surely by that time, he would have gotten word of his daughter's death, wouldn't he?

Knowing how many errors I've been able to spot in the various local history books which were the offerings of a nostalgic previous century, that one thought keeps nagging at me. What if "Polly Gorden" was an entirely different person? Why aren't there other tokens of our Mary's connection to the Carroll family?

I'm beginning to draw up a mental list of documents to look up, once we are all able to get back to traveling and researching family history in person. I may as well commit that list to paper—or at least file it virtually as a future to-do list. I can't quite yet hit the road to visit any repositories in Monongalia County, or even in southwest Pennsylvania, but it wouldn't hurt to prepare for the eventuality that someday, we will be back to researching family history on site where that family once lived. 

Monday, April 26, 2021

But it Couldn't be, Could it?


Sometimes, it seems we get so tightly wound around a genealogical research question that it feels as if, while chasing the answer, we are running in circles.

Take this James "Walls" mentioned in Anthony Carroll's 1830 will in Monongalia County. I'm particularly interested in Anthony Carroll because he quite possibly could be father of Mary Carroll Gordon, my mother-in-law's third great-grandmother. It would be helpful to find some documentation tying the two together, but no matter how I try to find more information by snooping through those collateral lines, I still come up short.

The fourth heir mentioned in Anthony Carroll's will as one of his children was someone whose name was given as James Walls. We've already noted that Anthony Carroll's fourth wife—at least, as long as we can believe the report published in a local history book from a nearby county—may have previously been married to a man named Walls, signifying a step-son relationship to Anthony Carroll. However, there is one other possibility to consider.

As intermarried as these families living in frontier Virginia territories might have been, we can't just pass this topic by without considering that James "Walls" might have possessed a surname claimed by several of Anthony Carroll's fellow residents in Monongalia County. I say that, however, not only because there were several members of the Wells family living in the county, but because another Gordon relative actually married someone by that name.

Before we consider that likelihood, let me note that this is why I needed to back-pedal and inspect that timeline of the Carroll family, including Anthony's possible daughter Mary and her marriage to William Gordon. The Gordon family, as it turns out, was a rather large family. William Gordon's parents—John and Mary Duke Gordon—had at least nine children, of which William was sixth, born about 1772.

The eldest of William's many siblings was a daughter named Elizabeth, likely born in 1761. She it was, as we've already discovered, who married Christopher Guseman, the one whose son Godfrey eventually married Anthony Carroll's daughter Margaret.

Elizabeth and Christopher also had a daughter, whom they named Elizabeth. She apparently was married at quite a young age to a man much senior to her by the name of James Wells.

Since this elder James Wells died by 1816, he certainly couldn't be mistaken for the James Walls who appeared without explanation in Anthony Carroll's will. However, Elizabeth and James Wells had named one son James. According to Howard Leckey's Tenmile Country and Its Pioneer Families, that son James was identified in guardianship proceedings as having been under the age of fourteen at the time of his father's death. Leckey also noted that more than one guardian had been appointed for those several underage Wells children.

Although a long shot, it would be curious to see whether Anthony Carroll would have had anything to do with his son-in-law's nephew's upbringing.

Or are these convoluted suspicions the type of possibility that only stumped genealogists would dream up?

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Yet Another Change


With the advent of blogging, years ago, barriers to sharing our family stories were addressed in ways that enabled so many to be able to "publish" with little difficulty. Some websites sprang up which, in effect, allowed willing writers to craft their stories with little cost—other than time and effort. According to the GeneaBloggers website, well over three thousand bloggers write about their family history, many of them using free online services.

Some of these blogs, while accessible online via their own URL, also offer the option to be received by email. A simple program enables bloggers to offer "subscriptions" to their posts. The blogger publishes the post, the subscriber receives it in email format. No need for a subscriber to go searching for the website every day, checking to see whether the site has been updated with new information. Many of the blogs I follow come to me through that convenient service.

For those bloggers using a Google-based blogging service, news has recently come out that Google is discontinuing their "Feedburner" subscription service. The change won't be immediate, but it will get here soon enough: effective in July. For subscribers to any blogs hosted at Blogger or Blogspot, your subscription status will be impacted. And for bloggers using those free services, you've got some work ahead of you to download records of current subscribers and transfer your subscription management system to a new provider.

Of course, there are multiple benefits in shifting to a different blogging service; this latest change is not the only reason. And over the years, I've noticed several bloggers opt for other services. The most recent one coming to mind is that of Ottawa blogger John Reid, who this past week migrated his Canada's Anglo-Celtic Connections to a sleek new site with a streamlined name, Anglo-Celtic Connections. And, right up front, he is reminding his previous subscribers to re-subscribe to his daily posts at the new site.

For those of us subscribers to other blogs who don't wish to lose contact with our favorite blogs at Blogger sites, this will mean checking in with those writers to ensure we will continue to be notified of new posts.

And for those of us who are bloggers, now's the time to rethink the cyber location we currently call home. It may be time to make the move to a new blogging home—or at least a new subscription system. Of course, it's always fun to find a sleek new home of our own in the process.    

Saturday, April 24, 2021

"When Will We See You Again?"


We're four months and two hundred eighty two million vaccine doses into the year—at least in the United States—and people are yearning to get back to normal. Beyond yearning: desperate to be able to meet, face to face.

It's almost as if everyone's new theme song is, "When will I see you again?"

Face it: the weather's brightening up, people are hoping to travel again—or at least meet outside for lunch or a cup of coffee with friends.

Even Zoom events at our genealogical society meetings are tinged with that melancholy theme song. Although partly because our April society meeting included an excellent speaker on a necessary topic, it seemed no one wanted to say goodbye after the presentation was over. People just hung around to chat. We miss each other.

With millions of vaccine doses administered—recent CDC stats indicate at least eighty percent of the retirement age segment of the nation's population has been covered with one dose of the vaccine, and at least two thirds of that same group with both doses—one would expect to see signs of returning to in-person activity.

A recent peek at upcoming genealogical events at the go-to website,, doesn't reveal many indications of societies returning to face-to-face meetings. Even those meetings in upcoming months lacking the "V" for virtual events, upon closer examination, turn out to be hosted by teleconferencing means.

Still, despite warnings of travel restrictions due to pandemic surges, there are signs of change. In my city, the local library has begun opening their doors, though only for tightly restricted activities; our society volunteers may return to do obituary lookups via microfilm readers, but only if they maintain social distancing at all times, wear a mask, and leave the facility within thirty minutes. Other centers are cautiously beginning to open, as well—usually for strictly limited times and services.

I tried searching online to see whether anyone from other societies had begun a dialog on this hope we are all harboring—this yearning to return to normal. Oddly, the only items I could find online were hopeful articles written nearly a year ago—a laughable thought, considering how premature it seemed to see writers wondering, last June, what genealogy research would look like, post-COVID-19. How little we suspected, back then, that we'd have yet another year of waiting ahead of us.

I found it a promising sign to spot Gena Philibert-Ortega's article from last November in the Legacy News blog, asking "What did your society do differently during the pandemic?" and inquiring about societies' plans for the upcoming year. While I missed that post when it first appeared, I would appreciate seeing that topic brought up once again. Hopefully, this year, asking societies to reflect on their experience gained—and what to do next—will not seem as premature as such topics did, when they were brought up a year ago.   

Friday, April 23, 2021

It's About Time


To orient ourselves to the historical sequences in our ancestors' lives, we need the underpinning of dates and locations. The launching platform we've built so far for some research questions, however, provides scant details with which to even begin our quest.

Take the research question I've been grappling with this month. I'm trying to determine the identity of Mary Carroll Gordon's parents. Mary, my mother-in-law's third great-grandmother, was the first wife of William Gordon of Monongalia County in old Virginia, who moved with her husband to what later became Greene County, Pennsylvania. There, they raised their many children. And there, at a relatively young age, Mary died.

If it weren't for the headstone left as her memorial, I wouldn't even know any orienting details about her lifespan. What the marker reveals in the Gordon family cemetery in Greene County, Pennsylvania, is that Mary, wife of William Gordon, died June 3, 1812. The headstone also provides her age—best I can read it—as thirty eight years, nine months and twenty four days. A Find A Grave volunteer entered her date of birth on that website as August 10, 1773.

Therein lies the problem, not only with determining the exact timeline for Mary's life, but for ascertaining correct dates. As it happens, the Howard Leckey book, The Tenmile Country and its Pioneer Families, lists Mary's birth as occurring August 29, 1773. More concerning, her date is provided not as the headstone's 1812, but as 1814.

Two hundred years later, not many people would find themselves quibbling about a two year discrepancy. But genealogists would. Generally speaking, such dates become added to a string of identifiers helping us know we are, without a doubt, talking about the right individual.

Likewise, as we've already seen, we are hard pressed to find accurate dates for Mary's presumed father, Anthony Carroll of Monongalia County, across the disputed state line in Virginia. While hundred year old local history books report Anthony's date of death as 1832, we find his will presented in court in February of 1830.

With such blurred timeline details to guide us, all I can say for this family is that the birth of Mary's children, beginning with eldest son James Gordon in 1794 (at least, according to the math on his headstone), seems to allow for a mother who could have been born around 1773.

And yet, those calculations don't quite help us pin down the time frame for Mary's possible father, Anthony Carroll. He could have been a young father. He could, just as easily, have been more advanced in age by the time of his youngest child's birth, especially if we accept the possibility that the report of his earlier life, according to A History of Preston County, West Virginia, was correct, at least about his four wives.

All that to say, when we try to determine who that fourth person named of Anthony Carroll's "children" in his will might have been, it is near impossible to pin a date of birth on "James Walls" or engage any other research toe-hold on his identity. While I can guess that James Walls might have been son of Anthony Carroll's fourth wife—labeled as "a Mrs. Walls" by the History of Preston County—there simply is no documentation available online that I can find so far to verify or contradict that assumption, barring a trip to investigate the actual records held in that location.

However, there is yet another possibility—although a remote one—to examine, concerning the possible identity of James "Walls."  I say remote, because I'm not entirely convinced, given the dates we've already mentioned. But neither can I pass it by without at least a mention. We'll take one last look at this other branch of an intertwining family line next week.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Collateral Damage


When the search for details on direct ancestral lines results in no leads whatsoever, one tactic is to look at what information can be found on the ancestor's siblings. Collateral lines are those family members who are not in one's direct line of descent from a given ancestor. The possibility is that, while documentation may be lacking in one direct line, something is sure to show up, once the researcher delves into those other lines.

Here I sit, stuck on the research sidelines, because after three weeks of searching, I have failed to produce any information connecting Mary Carroll Gordon to her parents—other than a mention of "Polly Gorden" in her possible father's will. True, the western outpost of colonial Virginia where her father chose to settle—the region soon to become Monongalia County, once the colonies revolted from British rule—was sparsely populated and not well equipped to fulfill the normal functions of an organized government (not to mention, be able to protect from the ravages of fire, which eventually destroyed their few records in 1796).

But if I couldn't find any further connection to Mary's previous generation, I had three other family members mentioned in Anthony Carroll's will for which to create a family tree and trace the next generation's records for wills, property and tax records, and other signs of their continued existence in Monongalia County.

So far, no luck.

To make matters even worse, I'm not yet convinced that I've located the right person for that supposed step-brother of the Carroll children, a man named in Anthony's will as James Walls. The other day, we discussed those research woes having to do with the uncertainty of spelling in those early records—was the name really Walls? Or could it have been Wales? Or Wall? Or even Wells, a surname which provided ample possibilities in the Mon County vicinity.

It was Wells which became the surname throwing me a curve. Remembering that Mary Carroll, once she was married to William Gordon—the Gordons being another family in the Monongalia County vicinity—had moved to Pennsylvania, I wondered whether there were any mentions of that surname claimed by Anthony Carroll's supposed stepson in the new region.

Turning to local historian Howard Leckey's book, The Tenmile Country and Its Pioneer Families, what should I stumble upon but someone with almost the same name, who had married into the Gordon family. And had a son named James, as well. 

This did not bode well for any neatly packaged theories derived from collateral lines. Not only did I have a James Wells—a more likely surname than Walls—but I had someone with a demonstrated connection to another part of the extended family. Could it be that the transcription of Anthony Carroll's will included a misspelling of James' surname?

It was then that I realized there was something missing from the equation: a timeline for these collateral lines. With lack of documentation comes lack of dates. It would help to have such details more clearly defined, which means we'll need to look first at what dates we have for Mary Carroll Gordon and the others mentioned in Anthony Carroll's will—plus the James Wells who married into the extended Gordon family—before we can evaluate whether this discovery represents a viable possibility for the missing fourth heir of Anthony Carroll's "children."

So much for the idea of easily gleaning clues from those collateral lines. Before that technique can be of any use to us, we still need more information.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Covering Ground While Standing Still


One difficulty in dealing with my research goal to discover the parentage of Mary Carroll Gordon was realizing the number of places this woman's family lived during a lifetime which began before the birth of our own nation. To see her possible father mentioned as originating in Great Britain and settling first in Annapolis, before traveling over rugged terrain to reach Monongalia County in the far western reaches of colonial Virginia sets the stage, mentally, for us to assume that when Mary married William Gordon in Monongalia County and moved to Pennsylvania, that she likewise faced an enormously challenging journey.

Not so, it may turn out. Much like a limber tourist to the Four Corners monument might plunk down one limb in each of four southwestern American states, these Carroll and Gordon ancestors of my mother-in-law might have owned property contained within what, in their time, was considered all part of one county.

We noticed the first sign of that possibility yesterday, in pondering the identity of the fourth "child" mentioned in Anthony Carroll's will: a person by the name of James Walls. Whether finding the right James Walls, we stumbled upon an account of one person by that name who at first had settled in what was then Monongalia County—until the county lines were redrawn to form the new Preston County.

It will probably be helpful, at this point, to review what we had learned last week about the geography of this remote back corner of colonial Virginia. In what could be called by some a greedy land grab, the Virginia colony had entertained some impossibly grandiose notions as to what their domain should encompass. Their neighbors to the north, in Pennsylvania, had done likewise.

Actually, these geographic designations were originally set by what apparently were conflicting charters granted by two different English kings—one to Lord Baltimore by King Charles I, creating the colony of Maryland, and the other to William Penn by King Charles II. In time, the border disputes which arose prompted a fair appraisal in the form of a land survey, thus engaging the services of two land surveyors by the names of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon.

The dividing line they proposed, while figuring prominently in future years of America's history, somehow fell short, just when approaching the very territory where Anthony Carroll and some of the Gordon family members had settled. That region, if you remember, just a few years later was established by colonial Virginia as the District of West Augusta. Because the Mason-Dixon line had not been extended beyond the western border of Maryland, both Virginia and neighboring Pennsylvania laid claim to the land lying within the District of West Augusta.

That, as it turns out, puts us right inside the original domain of Monongalia County, itself a far more encompassing region than in subsequent years. So large was its claim that, at its start in 1776, three counties which eventually became the domain of Pennsylvania were included in Monongalia County. And two of those counties—Washington County, from which Greene County was later carved—figure in the continuing story of Mary Carroll and her husband, William Gordon.

When the border dispute was resolved by the extension of the Mason-Dixon line westward in 1781, part of that land claimed by Virginia in Monongalia County became part of the state of Pennsylvania. While I might have imagined that Mary, after her marriage to William Gordon—likely in 1793 in Monongalia County—traveled long distances to arrive at the couple's new home in "Tenmile Country" in Washington County, what might actually have happened was that the land they lived on simply experienced a shift in political control from one county—and state—to another.

All of Mary and William's children—and the best I can tell was that there were eleven of them, beginning with their son James in 1794—were born in either Washington County, Pennsylvania, or the newer Greene County after 1796. Perhaps even then, that designation of a newer location was simply due to politics, not the buying or selling of property on the part of the Gordons.

All along, they could have been standing still on the same turf. And I, in turn, need to disabuse myself of the notion that Mary, having left her father's home, had traveled far beyond her community to settle in a distant land. They all lived within the greater river basin of the Monongahela, whether in one state or the next.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Trouble With Spelling


I don't suppose it would be entirely necessary to determine just who James Walls, heir of Anthony Carroll, actually was. I do have one reason for my search, however. Depending on who James Walls was—and how he was related to his benefactor—I might simultaneously uncover information which could help answer other research questions. For one, it might identify who Anthony Carroll's wife Temperance was, and if she had been previously married to someone named Walls. For another, it might straighten out yet another relationship mess I've stumbled upon. That, as it turns out, has to do with some spelling issues during that same time period of Anthony's will—the early 1800s.

I've searched for information on James Walls, believe me. And I've realized one thing: in the area of Monongalia County, the western region formerly part of the state of Virginia, there were several similar surnames to be found, all claiming James as a given name. In addition to James Walls, there was the predictable James Wells. Besides that, though, there was James Wills. And, in nearby Preston County, there was a James Wales—and yes, I looked, and can't excuse that as simply poor handwriting; it actually looks like Wales.

If that time period was rife with clever clerks who considered the knack of creative spelling to be a way to demonstrate their intelligence, how will I ever know I've found the right James Walls?

One thing I did find: Anthony Carroll—the one who named James Walls in his will—lived in what at the time was called the "Eastern District" of Monongalia County. He was easily spotted in the 1820 census under that heading. Of course, creative spelling rendered his surname as "Carrill." But we can use our imagination, too.

So, it would be no surprise to find, in the 1830 census, an entry in that same Eastern District for someone named James Walls. But trying to find him in the 1820 census, I can only come up with someone named James Wells. Same person? Impossible to tell from that entry alone.

Remembering our discovery that so much more was written on Anthony Carroll's family in the history book published for neighboring Preston County than for Monongalia County, itself, I wandered over to that neighboring county to see what could be found there for anyone named James Walls.

Fortunately, there was something to be found in A History of Preston County, West Virginia. The entry on one featured community member by the name of John Ormand Walls began with this promising observation on his family's roots: "The Walls family, of Grant District, are descendants from James Walls...."

Of course, we have to realize that, despite the nearness of the two counties, there was no guarantee that this James Walls was the same as the one we are seeking. However, the continuation of that sentence in the history book provided some insight: "...who settled in that part of the county before its separation from Monongalia."

I took a look at a map. Sure enough, somewhat to the northwest of Preston County was what is the remainder of Monongalia County, now all in West Virginia. What we have, at least in this situation, could be someone who, at one point, lived in Monongalia County—until the county lines were redrawn, carving out the new county—and suddenly, he was a resident of Preston County.

That, apparently, was what happened. Preston County, formed in 1818 from Monongalia County, may well have included what had previously been claimed as part of the "Eastern District" of the former county. While James Walls was clearly listed in Monongalia County in the 1830 census, that doesn't necessarily preclude his owning property in what eventually became the other county.

Whether the James Walls in the History of Preston County turns out to be the same as the James Walls mentioned in Anthony Carroll's will, I can't yet determine. But stumbling upon this detail points up one condition to remember: boundaries change. In the case of the vast colonial region which once encompassed Monongalia County, not only was it affected by this relatively benign boundary change, but there also were other boundary disputes which may come into play as we continue to explore the possible relatives of Mary Carroll Gordon. The lesson to be learned: know your geography—even the minutiae of historical changes to those borders.    

Monday, April 19, 2021

Another Anthony


When searching for ancestors, do you ever look up the wrong person?

I realize that is an odd question. Of course we all make mistakes. But what I mean is, do you ever deliberately look up the wrong person in your search for an elusive ancestor?

Right now, I'm stuck in my pursuit of the parents of my mother-in-law's third great-grandmother, Mary Carroll Gordon. It seems reasonable that the unsubstantiated claims in several publicly posted family trees could be right when they affirm that Mary Carroll's father was a man in Monongalia County named Anthony Carroll, and that her mother was named Temperance Dunaway. After all, Anthony's own will provides for a daughter by the name of Polly Gorden, who could well have been our Mary.

But what of our discoveries last week, in which a hundred year old history book from a nearby county—Preston County, now in West Virginia—provides another set of stories? These, too, were unsubstantiated, but could well have originated from, say, a family Bible's records, or stories passed down the generations in another branch of the Carroll family. After all, those passages were included in the biographies of two Preston County men: Hardin Duvall Carroll, and his father, James H. Carroll.

It was in that very same biographical entry that we found the back story on our Anthony Carroll: that, arriving from England, he settled first in Annapolis, then settled in that frontier region of what eventually became Monongalia County. It was also that same narrative which produced the erroneous date of Anthony Carroll's death as 1832, when we can see from the court reports that his will was filed in February of 1830.

With nagging doubts swirling in my mind, it might seem reasonable to be solely focused on verifiable facts. Perhaps my weakness for the Bright Shiny Objects of rabbit trails has overcome me once again, but I couldn't help notice some parallel details in a family history of another Anthony Carroll.

The discovery came about like this: I wondered what the possibility would be of finding documents I needed if I shifted my search to another provider. I've done this quite a bit, composing a search query on a different website in hopes the terms would trigger different results at other companies. So I switched from searching at, and moved to There, I tried looking for marriage records for, first, Anthony Carroll and a wife named, simply, Temperance—and then, secondly, a search for his marriage to someone with a surname Walls.

This search attempt didn't produce anything specific to help my speculation that the second James mentioned in his will—James Walls—was son of Anthony's supposed fourth wife. However, I did spot something of interest: records concerning a different Anthony Carroll.

The time frames were too far off to have belonged to our Anthony Carroll, of course. And this one lived in Preston County, not Monongalia County. But I found it a curious discovery that this Anthony happened to have, for his wife, a woman named Temperance

This clearly could not have been our Anthony, as the search result I just mentioned was for the 1850 census—long after our Anthony was gone. But could the stories about the two Anthonys have been telescoped to meld into one family saga? This younger Anthony, after all, was likely son of the original Anthony's son James Carroll.

In pursuit of answers triggered by this new discovery, I admit the research path will either lead me (hopefully) to further information on our Anthony Carroll, or I will learn far more than I care to know about someone else's family. Still, the chance to benefit my own research is worth the risk, and I'll spend some more time learning about this other Anthony Carroll's family.

In the meantime, there is one other task yet to complete: following the trail of the heir of Anthony Carroll named James Walls.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

When Your Pedigree Collapses


Most people, when researching the story of their ancestors, might chart their relationships by sketching out a pedigree chart. For each generation the researcher steps back in time, the number of ancestors will usually double. 

While we each can count two parents, then four grandparents, then eight greats, that is not always the mathematical progression for every researcher's family tree. In some instances—and my mother-in-law's tree is a prime example—some branches of that ancestral tree duplicate the names entered elsewhere in the family. Cousins married cousins of various degrees of relationship.

Genealogists call that issue pedigree collapse. It's not all that rare, either. People from isolated communities—South Pacific islanders come to mind here, or residents of valley communities nestled between indomitable mountain ranges—end up marrying people whose families have been remotely related for generations. In previous centuries—such as during the early colonial period in America—limited populations of marriageable age sometimes meant a decreased count of great-grandparents.

For the unsuspecting avocational genealogist—that would be me—building a family tree for my mother-in-law meant pushing each individual family line back through generations, oblivious to the fact that that ancestor's name had also showed up on another family line, way on the other side of the ever-expanding pedigree chart. Eventually, the "oh, duh" moment hit me, and it would be time to "merge" individuals in that tree. 

Though that "rinse, repeat" mantra has been my tune over the decades, I'm still surprised to discover yet another duplicate person entered in my mother-in-law's tree. This was one of those weeks. In tracking some lines, I've discovered not only duplicates, but triplicate entries, thanks to the many lines which have intertwined themselves through the branches of Perry County, Ohio, relatives since the founding families settled in that region in the early 1800s. I'm sure even more will surface.

So what does that mean for my biweekly count? Since my research goal for April involves one of my mother-in-law's ancestors, I have certainly been adding several individuals to her tree. At the same time, having to comb through the generations to remove duplicate entries does make me feel like I'm going backwards.

However, the numbers don't say so—which is a good point for advocating the practice of keeping track of progress. After shedding so many repeated entries on her tree, I feel so much better to realize that though I may be collapsing, say, three individuals down to one, I've managed to add 197 new names to my mother-in-law's tree over the past two weeks. And that count includes all the individuals whose duplicated names needed to go "poof!" That tree has now reached 20,562 people.

Of course realizing just where the lines converge becomes important, once we introduce the element of DNA testing. DNA matches descending from intermarried lines can sometimes show up with a greater centiMorgan count—making the relationship look closer—but a telltale sign is sometimes the larger count of small matching segments. Such signs are immediately visible when using a chromosome browser, but even knowing to look for the segment count will help provide a clue that there may have been intermarried lines in a family's history. 

During these same past two weeks, I was busy adding 115 names to my own tree, as well. Of course, I'm not encountering as many duplicate entries there, and the total count on my family's tree has made it up to 25,581. But as I stretch back to those colonial times, I will begin to encounter some pedigree collapse on my mother's side, as well. It's just not as pronounced as that isolated region in my mother-in-law's home in Perry County where, for generations, a relatively small group of settlers intermarried.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Only Constant is Change


For those of you who like your family tree "just so"—and kept that way—don't look now, but there's another change afoot at 

I'll have to admit: most of the changes coming our way from the various genealogical giants on the for-profit side of the equation have been, at the very least, benign. Many are outright helpful. Not so, this latest addition to the toolbox.

I happen to prefer viewing a document and deciding for myself whether the person featured is indeed my ancestor—not just taking someone else's word for it. When building my tree on Ancestry, I always look at the document in question before clicking to make it part of my "footnote" column on an ancestor's profile.

It used to be such a simple process. View hint. Click through to view document. Examine evidence. Choose yes. Or no. And move on to the next hint.

Now? It takes a tango with a jungle of transcribed information sliding into view from yet another page before I can get to that small, hyperlinked "View Record Page" key to access the stuff I wanted to see in the first place. Tedious.

I'm sure someone means well. It's quite obvious with another recent addition—the "tour" of the 1940 census—that Ancestry takes their calling as educators to heart. They want their product to be usable, and with so many newcomers taking delight in discovering their roots, the company surely understands their responsibility to enable customers to benefit from their product.

But it would be helpful for customers to have a way to decide whether an upgraded option is helpful—or simply more clutter standing in the way of attaining our research goals. After all, so many ancestors, so little time.

Why call for yet another step to coax me into doing what I already do without fail, anyhow? If I could find the switch to turn that option to "off" and dispatch this new feature to the ignored hints bin, I'd gladly do so.

Perhaps for some, options like this are necessary training wheels. I appreciate the "app" feeling shaping the research behavior of new subscribers. But when we're ready to start pedaling on our own, it's nice to not have to lug around those extra wheels as baggage.

Friday, April 16, 2021

"I've Heard That Story Before"


Stories about our ancestors, repeated often enough, sometimes take on the aura of truth. I'm sure everyone has them: those questionable recitations of the ancestral "Indian princess" or the immigration saga of "there were three brothers..."

Sometimes, though, those stories turn out to be true, when taken at face value and researched, using proper techniques to evaluate what we find in source documents.

The story I'm going to share today lies somewhere in the middle: not too outrageous, and not too bland—but hardly can I say it is "just right" and justify swallowing the tale whole. Let's just say I'll consider it a possibility, if only because I've run across it in more places than one.

The main strike against this story is owing to its source: one of those biographical history books so much in vogue in small-town America at the turn of the century—the nineteenth to twentieth century, that is. I just re-discovered it, courtesy of a suggestion sent by a reader last week—thank you, Kathy, for pointing it out!

While those History of tomes may have their weak points, like any family legend, we should pay some heed to them, in case the story leads us further toward the truth of the matter. But you'll see how, in its very wording, the one particular entry on our Anthony Carroll causes me some doubt—even though I've run across this same story in other reports.

Here's how A History of Preston County, West Virginia began their description of that man who may have been the father of Mary Carroll Gordon, my mother-in-law's third great grandmother.

Anthony Carroll was a remarkable man. When ninety six years old, he walked from Morgantown to Kingwood one day, and walked back a few days later.

Let's pause this spin machine for a moment to realize exactly what a feat that might have been. The best driving route, today, from Morgantown in Monongalia County to Preston County's county seat, Kingwood, covers twenty one miles through hilly West Virginia terrain.

I suppose it is not impossible to cover twenty one miles in a day's walk. After all, there are many joggers who can run that distance. But at ninety six years of age? Perhaps that was remarkable. 

It was, however, the line immediately following that tale which has me concerned about overall veracity. In one way, it sounds about as believable as this initial report about the man. On the other hand, if the first can be a true report, and the second followed suit, then we may have found some usable information to assist us in determining the source of that fourth person listed in Anthony Carroll's will as "my children."

According to A History of Preston County, Anthony Carroll was married four times. Granted, any man living beyond ninety six years of age could have outlived more than one wife, especially during that era and nestled into those frontier hills.

The book provides a vague catalog of those four wives of Anthony Carroll. The first had her name given only as "a Miss Donaway, whom he married in England." From this union, the two descendants named were James and Mary—a fortunate discovery for me, indeed, if it was true and if I can locate any record documenting such a connection.

The one promising clue is that the book includes a comment that from this Mary descended an "Hon. William Gorden Worley." Since I've been a researcher of the Gordon line now for decades, I can vouch for that statement. However, the book continues with the assertion that Mary married William Gordon and "moved to Ohio." Marrying William Gordon, yes. But though William Gordon did indeed move to Ohio, Mary unfortunately never made it that far. But what would the editors of this 1914 history book know about that?

From that point, the book mentions a second wife of Anthony Carroll who "died not long after marriage." Though there were no children from that wife, Anthony apparently married again, to a "Miss Rose Hall" who was attributed as the mother of Margaret, the future wife of Godfrey Guseman.

It is the fourth wife, though, who will prove most interesting to us—provided the reports in A History of Preston County turn out to be supported by documentation. Although all the writer states is that there was "no issue from this marriage," it is easy to see why the name given for this fourth wife could be helpful to us: she was mentioned only as "a Mrs. Walls."

Pinning dates on any of these nuptial events has been challenging, simply because I don't yet have a timeline of when Anthony arrived in Monongalia County—not to mention, marriage records in Monongalia County before 1796 were lost in a fire. It would be far better for me if all of Anthony's four marriages occurred elsewhere.

The key now is to discover whether the "Mrs. Walls" of the Preston County book happened to be one and the same as the "Temperance Carrell" of Anthony's will. If so, then it must have been her son who became the fourth "child" named in Anthony's will as James Walls.

However, thanks to those crazy rabbit trails which wind in and out of the Carroll extended family lines—and considering the liberties taken in the spelling of those children's names—there may well be another candidate for the "James Walls" in Anthony Carroll's will. That, however, is a research adventure to save for another day.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Rabbit Trail Redux


From the looks of it, one could presume that "rabbit trails" have a bad reputation among family history researchers. I'd like to propose we reconsider that viewpoint. After all, what is a researcher, if not one embued with inquisitiveness and the willingness to check out possibilities. If nothing else, our pursuit of that Bright Shiny Object beckoning us to confirm—or reject—a possibility can lead us to an answer. Yes. Or no. Possibly even maybe. That should be sufficient to reduce the myriad options down to a manageable few research directions.

Even though our wild chase after a possible Guseman relationship caused our crash into a null set, we are not quite finished exploring the Guseman connections to my mother-in-law's third great-grandmother, Mary Carroll Gordon. As it turns out, there is another Guseman hypothesis out there, proposed by the writer of one of those nineteenth-century county history publications.

You know those tomes: the books with such imaginative titles as History of Monongalia County, most of them published any time between the late 1880s and the early 1910s. They were also called by some, "mug books," for their flattering vignettes of the leading members of the town, occasionally embellished with their likeness.

We've talked about one such book before: The Tenmile Country and Its Pioneer Families, by Howard Leckey. Never mind that that 1950 book focused on a somewhat different region—Tenmile Creek of southwestern Pennsylvania—it happens to contain several entries on the Gordon family, among many others, including one Guseman we'd be particularly interested in following.

As much as I've researched the many lines of the Gordon family, how could I have missed this? But there it was, on page 435—I told you this was a tome—the eldest daughter of John Gordon and Mary Duke, Elizabeth, marrying a Guseman.

According to researcher Howard Leckey, Elizabeth Gordon was born in 1761, just to provide some perspective. Her marriage was back at the location of the Gordon's previous family home in Frederick County, Maryland, though by the time of the birth of her second child, her family was living in Monongalia County, Virginia.

Elizabeth, by the way, was older sister to William Gordon, who eventually become husband of Mary Carroll, that third great-grandmother of my mother-in-law. And now that we've entangled ourselves in the intertwining lines of the Gordons and the Carrolls, let me add yet another knot: Elizabeth Gordon and her husband Christopher Guseman—at least, according to the Leckey book—were parents of Godfrey Guseman, the man who eventually became husband of Mary Carroll's supposed sister Margaret.

At least, that's according to one of those history books. And presuming that Anthony Carroll was indeed the father of both Margaret and Mary. I'm not quite sure of that Guseman-Gordon connection, even at this point. But wandering down these rabbit trails certainly has opened my mind to more possibilities to explore. After all, in seeking to cement further family connections, we may need to revisit Anthony Carroll's own will to see if we can detect the identity of one more person he mentioned among his children: the Carroll heir named James Walls.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

A Real Daughter


What to do when finding oneself, as a family history researcher, on the far side of a rabbit trail? 

In the case of our discoveries while examining the "F.A.N. Club" of my mother-in-law's possible fourth great-grandfather, we can't quite yet vacate our precarious position. After all, in our research wanderings yesterday, we not only learned something about the Guseman family of Monongalia County, but their possible connection to the Cobun family for whom Anthony Carroll's property was named.

It's on account of that Guseman discovery that we can't quite yet leave this topic.

Granted, the Susan Guseman we found was not the same person as the Susan, sister of Godfrey Guseman, mentioned in his will. That Susan, by the time of Godfrey's death in 1838, was already married to someone else. But it is not beyond possibilities that the name Susan was a significant namesake in the extended Guseman family—in other words, perhaps a cousin to the Guseman who married Anthony Carroll's daughter Margaret.

Because I had to check that out, it presented the opportunity to learn a bit more about what the Daughters of the American Revolution refer to as a "Real Daughter." And this particular Susan—or Susannah—Guseman certainly qualified as a "Real Daughter," revealing to us a bit about her roots in the process.

When the D.A.R. speaks of a "Real Daughter," they are not simply referring to any member of the organization—after all, every one of those members are addressed as "daughters." However, the designation of a "Real Daughter" signifies those women who joined the D.A.R. through the Revolutionary War service of their own father.

Although that designation represents a very special—and quite limited—category of members, there were more than a few who were recognized for that unique relationship. D.A.R. chapters in states such as New Hampshire, as you can imagine, have commemorated several "Real Daughters." Susannah herself, not long after her death, was included in a 1912 publication listing the D.A.R.'s "Real Daughters."

Susannah Guseman Cobun happened to be the daughter of a Patriot named Abraham Guseman. A soldier serving in the Berkeley County, Virginia, militia after enrolling at Harper's Ferry at the age of seventeen, Abraham served for seven years, over which time he was injured three times, including being struck with a bullet which he carried for the rest of his life.

This I first discovered while searching for Susannah's obituary, in an attempt to see whether she was the "Susan" connected with Godfrey Guseman, our Anthony Carroll's son-in-law. As often happens when we get lost on rabbit trails, I eventually discovered the answer was no—at least, as far as I can tell. But the obituary led to helpful information for creating a quick and dirty pedigree chart on this branch of the Guseman universe. Keep in mind that we are researching the cluster of friends, associates, and neighbors situated in a sparsely-populated wilderness emerging from a struggle for freedom with the world's current superpower. Where there was one Guseman family member, there likely would be more.

According to Susannah Guseman Cobun's obituary—dated March 23, 1910, and published in both the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post—she lived to be one hundred and one years of age. In both articles, it was mentioned specifically that she was a "Real Daughter" of the Revolution, naming her patriot father.

Susannah Cobun was a member of the Elizabeth Ludington Hagans Chapter of the D.A.R. in Morgantown, West Virginia. In 1924, the chapter placed a commemorative marker at her grave in the city's Oak Grove Cemetery. (Interestingly, while the marker spells her married name correctly, her entry as a descendant in the national D.A.R. records carries the oft-used alternate spelling we encountered yesterday, "Coburn.")

While it was exciting to discover a small vignette of our country's early history—and to see how close it came to connecting to my mother-in-law's own heritage—the Cobun and Guseman sagas did not specifically provide us the answers needed to connect Anthony Carroll's son-in-law, or the Cobun namesake for the property he once owned, to my mother-in-law's own line.

There is, however, another possible Guseman connection—but whether to believe the source of that information, I can't yet say. What that resource does promise, though, is another possible wild ride down yet one more rabbit trail.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Concerning Coburn's Creek


Perhaps one would never suspect it, but be forewarned: the 1830 will of Anthony Carroll is about to lead us down a rabbit trail which may—or may not—prove fruitful in our assembling of the cluster of names associated with the Carroll, Gordon, and Guseman families of Monongalia County in old Virginia.

Recall, for a moment, that in his will, Anthony Carroll stipulated the customary instructions to pay "all my just debts and funeral expences."

Out of concern that, perhaps in liquidating the "perishable part" of his estate, the reconciling of debts and assets might come up short, Anthony had conditionally instructed his executors to sell his "land lying on Coburns Creek."

Of course, the curious family historian would want to know just where such ancestral property might have been situated. And this is the beginning of our long slide through Monongalia County history, almost to the formation of the county itself, in 1776. 

You see, before Monongalia County was part of West Virginia, it began its history, carved out of what once was the Virginia county of Augusta. However, disabuse yourself of the modern notion of counties, for at the formation of Augusta County in 1738, the land was part of such a sparsely populated territory as to not even have an organized government until seven years after its formation.

Furthermore, Augusta County was such an immense territory as to swallow up most of what has now become West Virginia, plus the whole of Kentucky, as well. That, plus containing an indefinite western boundary which eventually precipitated a boundary dispute—which will figure into our story in a few days—yielded an unwieldy matter of governance.

The solution, in 1774, was to designate this vast wilderness of then-colonial Virginia as the District of West Augusta. It was from this immense chunk of land that, in 1776, three counties were carved, one of which was Monongalia County.

Don't hold your breath about the creation of a governing body to direct the activities politic of this nascent American county, though. The act forming the three new counties out of the erstwhile District of West Augusta stipulated that the qualified voters of that year were "to meet at the house of Jonathan Coburn...on the 8th of December following," weather permitting, of course.

So there it was: that name Coburn. Whoever Jonathan Coburn was, he was resident in Monongalia County by 1776. Presumably, his was a house which included property adjacent to the creek which bore the same misspelled surname—although that is merely a presumption of mine at this point. Of course, that research path would require construction of a viable pedigree, plus likely a thorough examination of property records.

Let's follow that "Coburn" trail just a bit farther. As it turns out—creative spelling being a favorite pursuit of the inventive mind of that era—the name was actually Cobun, not Coburn, though Colburn was another variant. And there were signs of further family members in the area.

One such entry in the History of Monongalia County mentioned a Cobun relative by the name of William Sanford Cobun, born not in Monongalia County, but in nearby Preston County in 1838. He was the son of Samuel W. Cobun, who early in his son's life had moved the family to Barbour County before his own untimely death.

At that point, William's widowed mother moved the family to Monongalia County. Why move there? I suspect it was because the former Susan Guseman—who had originally married Samuel "Coburn" in Monongalia County on May 28, 1837—had family back in Mon County, herself. Though likely not the "Susan Murdock" mentioned in Godfrey Guseman's 1838 will as his sister, this little discovery does give rise to considerations of how interwoven those early Mon County families once had been.

Add that to our growing cluster of friends, associates, and neighbors of the ancestors and relatives of my mother-in-law's third great-grandmother, Mary Carroll Gordon. We are in the genealogical vicinity, in exploring this "F.A.N. Club," but not close enough, yet, to confirm any of the details we need to know about Anthony Carroll or his son-in-law, Godfrey Guseman.


Monday, April 12, 2021

Constructing the Cluster


How do you tackle a research problem when you know next to nothing about the southern families in question? You consider all the connections you can find as "suspects" and create a list of the cluster of the target ancestor's friends, associates, and neighbors.

For instance, in the Monongalia County case of Godfrey Guseman, likely husband of Anthony Carroll's daughter Margaret, we have a few resources to help us gather such a list. Remember that, during the time period of the War of 1812, the preferred approach to military defense was to raise a company of men as part of a state militia. In the county where Godfrey Guseman resided in the early 1800s—Monongalia County, at that time part of the state of Virginia—there was such a company formed by Captain Samuel Wilson, with Godfrey Guseman as his lieutenant.

Included in this company were a few other names of interest. For one thing, we already have spotted the other men carrying the same surname as Godfrey: Joseph, Isaac, and John.

In addition, recalling that the ancestor who prompted me to start this month's research quest—my mother-in-law's third great-grandmother, Mary Carroll Gordon—also had relatives by marriage in the same county, it is no surprise to see another Gordon included in Captain Wilson's company: Philip D. Gordon. Philip, as it turns out, was older brother to Mary Carroll's husband, William Gordon.

Turning from this one indicator of friends and neighbors—and likely family—to another source for community names, let's look back at the references we've already found in the wills of Mary's possible father, Anthony Carroll, and her sister Margaret's husband, Godfrey Guseman. Interestingly, both wills mention names associated with specific properties.

In Godfrey Guseman's will, he mentions "the mill property on the Monongahela now occupied by James Kern." And Anthony Carroll's will makes note of "my land lying on Coburns Creek."

It is instructive to turn to the local history books of the 1800s to find mentions of various early mill properties in Monongalia County. In one such book, published in 1883, an entry mentions, "Abram Guseman came from Martinsburg in 1779, and settled on Decker's Creek, and built the Hagedorn mill."

Another entry in the same book explains,

Hagedorn's Mill was built about 1807, by Abram Guseman, and was in the possession of the Guseman family until 1869, in which year it was bought by Lewis Hagedorn and Peter J. Weinig.

In addition, we've already seen the significance of the surname Kern in this family cluster, so we know to pay attention to tips found in the Monongalia County history book about that name, as well. Apparently, the first mill in the "Morgan District" of the county was erected by a man called Michael Kern. Whether that was someone connected with Godfrey Guseman's son-in-law, James Kern, I can't yet say, but in addition to the mill north of Morgantown, another member of the Kern family—Michael junior—built one south of the town, as well. Add those Kern names and their mills to the cluster around the Carrolls and the Gusemans, too.

But what about the property mentioned in Anthony Carroll's will, on "Coburns" Creek? And the additional clue which came in the mention of Godfrey Guseman's sister, Susan Murdock, in his own will? These two clues, as it turns out, lead us outside their home county into neighboring turf. We'll turn there next to see whether there are any other names which can be useful to add to our cluster.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Get Your Hands on It


Sometimes, in working with a sticky research problem, you just have to get your hands on it.

I've compared genealogy to knitting in the past. That is not the limitation of comparisons that can be applied to the pursuit of family history, of course. Last week, in wrangling with the possible cluster of connections that emerged in one nascent community of western Virginia, the feeling reminded me of a number of other endeavors. Sewing, for instance.

A long time ago, when I had plenty of time to spare on sewing my own clothes, the one wrestling moment in the creation of a new outfit was the step which demanded a hollow tube—think sleeve—be inserted into an uncooperative gap hanging from the shoulder. It always seemed there was far more material in the sleeve than could be crammed into the armhole. Or that the two lines refused to mesh.

The only way I could make sense of the process was to do it so many times that my hands gained a muscle memory of their own. 

There are many such touch points in the everyday activities of bygone eras. I'm sure there are several occupations which illustrate those same unworkable tasks that simply have to be done. You just have to gain the know-how to know how to get the job done.

Take farming. This may be an apocryphal example, but think of those stories of old farmers, when considering whether to buy a field, stooping down to scoop up a handful of the dirt—then sticking it in their mouth. I don't know whether any farmer actually did such a thing, but I do know that farmers wanted to check the quality of the soil and whether it would be suitable for the crops they intended to grow, if they went ahead and purchased the field.

Eat dirt or not, farmers apparently followed the soil. I'll never forget a comment in a southern research course taught at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy by Mark Lowe (who will be back to address that subject again next winter). His tip: when your farming ancestors disappeared from one community, follow the USDA soil and climate charts to track which other regions shared the same farming conditions; perhaps your ancestors would resurface there.

A story about checking the dirt wouldn't make sense to anyone but another farmer—another person who has invested the same years into the experience and knows what to look for. Same thing with any field. When two details don't seem to jibe—at least to the uninitiated—that's when getting your hands on the material, again and again, creates the muscle memory needed to make the impossible work.

It's no surprise, then, to learn the same dynamic works for genealogy. When the lines get messy, when they don't seem to fit together comfortably, that's when we need to get our hands on the documents—not just one, but many—to get the sense of what belongs and what doesn't apply.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

We Are All Trailblazers


I don't suppose many have given this notion much thought, but every time people share something about their family history, they have automatically become a trailblazer for those researchers who come after them. The task, then, is to first determine the worth of a trailblazer's work and whether to follow that trail, and secondly, to enter such a journey, equipped to evaluate not only the work, but what else might be hidden along the trail.

Just as I would never think of hiking a trail blazed by another hiker without carrying tools and equipment useful in addressing any hazards I might encounter along the path—after all, it's not incumbent upon the trailblazer to guarantee freedom from possible hazards like a snake coincidentally crossing my path—we need to likewise follow genealogical trails with our eyes wide open.

Genealogy is rife with trails created by other family researchers. Some include documentation. Others blend in photographs and family keepsakes, like entries in family Bibles and other privately-held resources. And some...well, some are just full of hearsay: "This other tree here says this is so, so I will, too."

I don't mind following those third trails. I go down such paths with my eyes wide open, though. Those types of "naked" trees may be devoid of the usual trappings for some honest reasons: they might be place holders for work to be done in the future, or second copies of trees kept in complete detail at other locations. I think of those as creations sketching out "what Aunt Mary told us"—back of the napkin diagrams snatched in the chance serendipitous conversations after Thanksgiving dinner. Sometimes, the Aunt Marys of the world really did know the names of their great-grandparents' married sisters.

Still, whether the words came straight from Aunt Mary's lips, or via the guy hired to write the 1880 history book about Our Family's County, these are reports which still need to see the reflected light of solid documentation. Those Aunt Marys of the world—or the publishers who sold their stories—still need a copy editor to verify their assertions. At least, that's how I see it. They may be trailblazers of their family's history, but following a trail such as that, I want to ensure my own research safety by putting my genealogical tools to good use.

We each, as it turns out, play both roles. We cautiously follow the family history trails blazed by others who initially struck out in this research direction by being the first to publicly report their discoveries. And we are trailblazers every time we, ourselves, post a discovery about our family's history. But just remember: never walk such trails—or create new ones of our own—without carrying and using the tools traveling such a path requires.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Godfrey's Stipulations


It is fascinating to see just how differently two men can express themselves in a single-page document which, on its face, would seem to be a rather perfunctory listing of last wishes. In exploring the family relations of my mother-in-law's third great-grandmother, Mary Carroll Gordon, we first encountered the will of her possible father, Anthony Carroll, in 1830, whose wording was brief and to the point. Now, in considering the will of Godfrey Guseman, Anthony's son-in-law—who died only eight years afterwards—we see an entirely different personality coming through the written words.

For one thing, while Anthony got right to the point—"I, Anthony Carrol do hereby make my last will and testament"—Godfrey employed far more of the flowery language we've come to expect from that time period of the early 1800s. He started off with a phrase oft seen in New England documents, "In the name of God, Amen," then waxed on with the traditional "considering the uncertainty of this mortal life."

Considering that uncertainty, perhaps Godfrey was less uncertain than his written sentiments might lead one to believe, drawing up his will on Christmas Eve of 1837. He was dead by the following March.

From the document he drew up, we learn several key points about his family relationships, including one unexpected detail which is downright rabbit trail worthy, should we wish to follow the indicators of property ownership to help clarify family connections.

First, of course, our goal is to find confirmation that Godfrey's wife was the "Pegey" whom Anthony Carroll listed in his own will. As it turns out, Godfrey listed his wife as Margaret, to whom he bequeathed one third of his estate, including "use of the mansion house" if she wished to remain at that residence. Unfortunately, the will did not provide any additional clues as to Margaret's identity—not even the typical clue of one of her Carroll relatives named as executor or witness to the will.

Godfrey's will also named his two children, who were essentially to split the remainder of their father's property. His son, Amaziah, was designated as sole executor, as well as "agent or trustee" to ensure that Margaret's "portion of the estate is properly managed and taken care of." Godfrey's daughter was doubly identified as "Mary Guseman now Mary Kern."

In stipulating the division of the property, Godfrey included the detail of the "mill property on the Monongahela"—a nearby river—"now occupied by James Kern," which he specifically excludes from the half of the property awarded to his son. That mill property is granted to his daughter Mary "and her children." Since that property was "now occupied by James Kern," it is most likely that James Kern was Mary Kern's husband—but we'll be sure to find documentation to confirm that detail.

Unlike so many wills of the time which named descendants but not collateral lines or any connections to the previous generation, Godfrey's will mentioned one other family member. Identifying one Susan Murdock as his sister, he granted her "use of the house and garden she now occupies," opening up the possibility that his sister might have been widowed, and maybe also childless.

There were three witnesses listed to confirm that the document was indeed the last will of Godfrey Guseman: Christopher Nicholson, Joseph Reed, and Samuel Tibbs. In many cases, such witnesses represented key relationships with the testator—often trusted family members or business associates. In this case, it doesn't appear that any of those three men were connected with the Carroll family—at least, not based on what little I've been able to glean about that cluster of relatives so far. 

As for the extended Guseman family, I know next to nothing at this point. But what is fairly easy to see is that Godfrey Guseman had enough property to demonstrate that he was successful at his endeavors. Perhaps that mention of a mill property may be worth following up on, after all. If direct documentation doesn't provide the connections we wish to see tie Godfrey's wife to our Carroll ancestry, we can at least seek inferences from the cluster of associates forming around their day to day lives.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Possibilities for Peggy


We started this month with the goal of discovering something about the parents of Mary Carroll Gordon of Monongalia County, once the domain of the state of Virginia. Despite our research goal to focus on the identity of the parents of my mother-in-law's third great-grandmother, we find ourselves exploring the details we are discovering on the family of one Anthony Carroll, who could possibly be Mary's father.

Though it is important to stick with a research goal, it is sometimes helpful to branch out to explore what can be found on other potential members of the family. These collateral lines can sometimes—possibly—reveal details which weren't provided in the course of strictly researching the specific individual we are focused upon.

With that, we are now exploring the descendants of Anthony Carroll, as mentioned in his 1830 will. While we will certainly return to study the "Polly Gorden" who was mentioned as his daughter—Polly hopefully signifying a nickname for Mary, the one we are keenly interested in—today, let's see what we can find on "Pegey Guseman," the one listed as sister of Polly. 

Since we already ascertained that Anthony Carroll was living in Monongalia County by at least the time of the 1810 census—and likely before that point—it stands to reason that a married daughter by the name of Guseman might also belong to a family found in records pre-dating Anthony's 1830 will.

First, checking the census record for the same year as Anthony's death, we find two men by the name of Guseman on the same page, followed by one more on the subsequent page. Since only heads of household were listed in census records pre-dating the 1850 census, our possibilities for Peggy's husband now become John A. Guseman, Godfrey Guseman, and Isaac Guseman

It appears all three Guseman men were in Monongalia County long before that point. Taking a look at a list of the county's militia company assembled for the war of 1812, we actually see four Guseman men listed in Captain Samuel Wilson's company: Lieutenant Godfrey Guseman, Corporals Joseph and Isaac Guseman, and Private John Guseman.

Fortunately for us, despite the earliest marriage records for Monongalia County long ago appearing "obliterated, defaced and injured from use so as to be partly illegible," their court system, in 1917, authorized the clerk of the court to prepare a typewritten index of those first marriage records for use by the public. This is now provided in a digitized form, in which I found an entry for the marriage of one Margaret Carrol and a man by the name of Godfrey Guseman on July 28, 1800

Further cementing that relationship, not long after the passing of Margaret's father, Anthony, Godfrey himself drew up his will, which was presented to the same county court during the March term of 1838

Godfrey's own will confirmed that his wife was identified as Margaret Guseman—although whether she was the sole woman by that name in Monongalia County, we can't yet say. Nor can we affirm yet that this Margaret Guseman was one and the same as the "Pegey" Guseman mentioned in Anthony Carroll's will eight years earlier. We'll need some more time for additional exploration, starting first with the details included in Godfrey's own will.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

About Anthony


It certainly helps to locate a will of an ancestor, especially if it enables us to discover the full mention of names in that family. Unlike some other wills I've encountered—listing, for instance, "my wife" or "my five children" without so much as the mention of any names—the possible father of my mother-in-law's third great-grandmother, Mary Carroll Gordon, was careful to include the names of those to whom he bequeathed his possessions. 

Before we explore anything about the names listed in Anthony Carroll's 1830 will, let's see what we can discover about the man, himself. At the point of his death, Anthony's will was presented to the court in Monongalia County in what was then the state of Virginia. The date was only mentioned as the "February term 1830," but that clearly indicates that the many online trees showing Anthony's date of death in 1832 would not apply to this Anthony Carroll of Monongalia County.

So what can we find about this Anthony Carroll? Since he died, at the latest, sometime before the end of February of 1830, he wouldn't have appeared in the 1830 census, which was taken beginning on June 1. However, because the population of Monongalia County, at that point, was relatively small, it was not a difficult process to page through the handwritten records to see whether there were any Carroll family members still living in the same county. After all, Anthony's widow was likely still living there, since he had stipulated that she remain at his property after his death.

The census records for Monongalia County, with heads of households listed in roughly alphabetical order—all the surnames beginning with "C" in the same place, for instance—we can see right away whether there were any Carrolls mentioned on the two pages which covered that category. Sure enough, we can find an entry for a man by the name of William Carroll, and another entry for someone named John Carroll.

One of the benefits of the 1830 census was that the age categories used in previous decennial enumerations had been expanded to be more specific, especially for the older adult ages. Thus, we can tell that William Carroll was a man of at least thirty years of age but under forty. We can also see that his household included a woman aged between thirty and forty years, as well, plus six children all under the age of fifteen. If this were a relative of Anthony's widow, it does not appear that she was included in this household.

Turning to the household of John Carroll, we find another head of household aged between thirty and forty, along with a woman of the same age category. Together, they were responsible for five girls under the age of fifteen. However, once again, there was no sign of an older woman who might fit the age category of Anthony's widow.

Turning back in time to the 1820 census, we now can pick up signs of Anthony's whereabouts in Monongalia County. With this earlier census, the enumeration was completed over a thirteen month period, beginning on August 7. The age categories were more general than those utilized for the 1830 census, masking any delineation of adults older than forty five.

There, under the first page containing surnames beginning with the letter "C" we find Anthony "Carrill" or "Cassill," as it is indexed at Unfortunately, the headings for the census pages are cut off from the digitized version—or, perhaps, were never included as headers in the first place. Complicating the matter is the fact that the format provided for the 1820 census does not align well with what we can see from the handwritten form for Monongalia County. Nevertheless, we can tell that there were three tick marks for the Carroll household. Whatever that meant, at least it indicated that, by 1820, Anthony Carroll was resident in Monongalia County.

Moving back to the 1810 census, Anthony was still resident in Monongalia County. Once again, the enumeration period for this census began in August of that year, and listed only heads of households, plus delineations of age categories for all others residing in the same household. For this census, we can find Anthony listed as "Anth. Carroll." With no headings included at the top of the census page, we can only assume that the entries for his household indicate one male forty five and older, one female within the same age range, plus two girls under ten and one fifteen years of age or younger.

Before that point, I can't locate Anthony Carroll in Monongalia County. This is not surprising, though, for several of the other families which have intermarried with this line had arrived there from somewhere in Maryland—and eventually moved on to the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania, not far away from Monongalia County.

With that, it's time to consider what we can find about some of those related families, especially those who were mentioned in Anthony's will. Let's look first to see what we can find about Anthony's daughter, the one listed as "Pegey Guseman" in that 1830 document.    

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