Saturday, December 31, 2022

Ancestor #6: Try This One Again


Sometimes, it feels like those brick wall ancestors run us family history researchers around in circles. For the third of my mother-in-law's ancestors to tackle for the upcoming year, I'll be working on a challenge from another year's to-do list. Yes, we've researched this ancestor before. Hopefully, going further in-depth will flush out an answer on this sixth candidate of my Twelve Most Wanted for 2023.

I'm not sure why some of my mother-in-law's umpteenth-great-grandparents represent such research challenges. Many of her lines have lived in the United States, going back nearly to the founding of this country. Some even were here during colonial years. Yet, true to form for many pioneers, their lives remained hidden in remote places. Perhaps that call for in-depth research is due to the need to explore more than a simple paper chain connecting direct line ancestors only to their parents. Collateral lines may help broaden the perspective.

In the case of Ancestor #6, the last of my mother-in-law's three ancestors to pursue for 2023, it may precisely be thanks to collateral lines that I find any answers. And that ancestor would be the father of two sisters who married two brothers: Matthias Ambrose, my mother-in-law's third great-grandfather.

For that exploration, we'll dive into Matthias Ambrose's life during the early years of this country. Living his entire life in Pennsylvania, he died by 1804 in Bedford County.

We've explored Matthias Ambrose's two daughters, Susannah and Elizabeth, as part of my Twelve Most Wanted two years ago. While we did discover some information on their father then, there is much more to examine. Reviewing what we learned then, we'll put Matthias Ambrose on our list for this coming June to see if we can add to our discoveries and push that brick wall further back in time.

Friday, December 30, 2022

Ancestor #5: A D.A.R. Pairing


I've heard it said that it is not unusual to find not one but several Patriot ancestors for those who demonstrate eligibility for the Daughters of the American Revolution. The operating principle behind such a claim lies in the relatively small European-American population in the North American British colonies toward the end of the eighteenth century. Those D.A.R. members' ancestral families intermarried.

Thus, for Ancestor #5 of my Twelve Most Wanted for the new year, I'd like to follow with John Jay Jackson, the spouse of Ancestor #4. Just like his wife Sarah Howard Ijams' mother, Sarah's husband John  also had a father who served in the Revolutionary War. My only problem at this point is that I base that statement upon mere hearsay. I haven't actually documented that connection for myself.

This coming May, we'll take care of that tiny oversight for good—hopefully. Of course, I've already taken a sneak peek at the authoritative resource for that service, the website of the National Society of Daughters of the Revolution, where there is indeed a listing for John Jay Jackson's father, Lyman Jackson.

My task, this coming May, will be to collect all the resources I can find on John Jay Jackson's father—everything from noting the father-son relationship using appropriate documentation to recording Lyman's role in the war and, for that matter, during the rest of his life. It's high time to correctly and completely add this Patriot line to my mother-in-law's third great-grandfather, John Jay Jackson, and hopefully use the addition as a bridge to generations even further removed. 

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Ancestor #4:
Sticking to the Matriline


When it comes to my Twelve Most Wanted for the upcoming year, I plan to spend three months on each branch of my daughter's ancestry. The first three months, which we just reviewed, cover selected ancestors from my own mother's line. For month number four, we shift our focus to the ancestors of my mother-in-law. To kick off the listing of this trio of her ancestors, I've decided to stick with my mother-in-law's matriline.

There's a reason for following that matriline. If we follow the ancestral line from my mother-in-law to her mother, then to her maternal grandmother and so on for each mother in the preceding generation, we eventually end up at Sarah Howard Ijams, her third great-grandmother. I've puzzled over Sarah Ijams before—almost two years ago in May, 2021, in fact—without much success. It's time to revisit that family history roadblock for Ancestor #4 of this upcoming year.

Sarah was a research challenge to me for several reasons. For one, she died young in early February of 1829, following the birth of her fourth child, Robert Jackson. Among other research complications, documentation of her 1816 marriage to John Jay Jackson at a military outpost in what is now Missouri is most likely non-existent. Pushing even farther back to the earliest years of her life—not to mention, to her own mother's early history—will present some problems.

There is family lore that Sarah's mother, Elizabeth Howard, was possibly a Daughter of the American Revolution—literally. By that, I mean Elizabeth's father may have fought as a Patriot. When I say "family lore," though, I mean the kind of story that might better be prefaced by the phrase, "They say...." There have been such mentions on old genealogy forums, but nothing with sufficient documentation that I can find. Still, no sense bypassing the chance to—maybe—discover something interesting. If, that is, I can find appropriate and believable documentation.

Those are the problems I need to tackle this upcoming April when I make John Jackson's wife, Sarah Howard Ijams, and her matriline, beginning with her mother Elizabeth Howard, the focus of my research efforts. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Ancestor #3:
Attending to Unfinished Business


Have you ever found yourself progressing nicely on your family history research, only to discover you had left an unfinished bit of business in a previous project? That's me, as I decide which should be my mother's third ancestor to research for the new year.

The unfinished business was my Twelve Most Wanted goal for March of 2020—that infamous month which ushered in drastic restrictions on travel and just about any other freedom of movement. That was the month in which I had planned to dispatch that nagging question about my family's connection to Mayflower Society eligibility with one fell research swoop (or, as we say in our family, one swell foop).

In particular, the question hinges on accessing late 1700s records from the back end of Virginia, before my Tilson ancestors moved across the state border to Tennessee. I already know this will be a messy project, even if I could fly to Utah for some sleuthing.

I did try my best to tackle that Tilson question in the interim since that month in 2020 when the pandemic lifted its ugly head. Thankfully, I've made contact with some other distant Tilson cousins, who perhaps will be willing to pick up the task once again. It's always more encouraging to work together on messy projects, and at this point, I am ready for the teamwork approach.

For this March, I may not be able to be so laser-focused, though, since I have no travel plans pointing towards any massive research libraries. However, adding to that month's research goal, I will revisit the Tilson cousin DNA matches and see if there are any other Tilson connections in my ThruLines listings at AncestryDNA. That should be enough to keep me busy for far more than just one month.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Ancestor #2:
the Source of Distant Cousins


In my family, finding distant cousins isn't owing only to the Broyles family—though that family line will give me a workout this January as I piece together my Broyles DNA matches. For February's research goal, I may as well make the two months a couplet, for if it's not a Broyles ancestor giving me the opportunity to meet distant cousins, the most recent common ancestor serving as our connector will likely come from my Taliaferro roots.

There is already plenty written about the many branches of the colonial Taliaferro family, especially in Virginia. One would think those resources could serve as reliable trailblazers.

Think again. For whatever reason, there have been many pamphlets, books, and trees printed to assert various Taliaferro connections, but apparently not all of them are reliable. That means it is time to do our own homework, and February will be my month to confirm my direct line's connection to the right branch of the Taliaferro ancestry.

Granted, being a Taliaferro descendant has not only had its benefits, but it is indeed fun to meet someone and discover we are twelfth cousins. Who—other than genealogists—can do that?! On the other hand, the farther back in time we reach in our research, the more we need to learn to apply research tactics appropriate to the time period. As I push that direct line back from my comfortable current position of the DAR Patriot opening the door for my membership in that organization, that is indeed what I'll need to do to access a well-founded assertion concerning my Taliaferro connection. In February, we'll see how far that work can take us.

Of course, one other way to connect with Taliaferro descendants is through DNA. I have plenty of Taliaferro cousins showing up there—eighty five matches and counting on my ThruLines readout at AncestryDNA alone. Which brings up another complication: I am my own distant cousin, all thanks to this very family line. We'll take a look at that sticking point when we get busy researching Ancestor #2 of my Twelve Most Wanted for 2023. 

Monday, December 26, 2022

12 for '23


The best part of the holiday season—at least in my opinion—is the week which follows Christmas day. That was the time when the office was quiet, with both employees and clients taking a well-deserved week off from work. In the relative solitude, I could wrap up the year's work and get set up to launch into the new year.

As it turns out, it is not much different with my genealogy projects. I've made it a habit to transform these last few days of the year into a time to review research progress from past years and determine which parts of the family tree could use some focused attention. Actually, I've stretched that year-end review into the beginning of the new year—enough to cover twelve days, one for each month of the upcoming year—to permit enough thought to selecting one ancestral line per month for the upcoming year's research work. The result of that planning session yields my Twelve Most Wanted ancestors to pursue for the upcoming year.

Today begins that process. I'll follow the same schedule as I have the past three years now: each day, announce one ancestor to focus on for a month in the new year. For the first three months of 2023, I'll focus on three ancestors from my mother's line, followed by three months dedicated to my mother-in-law's tree. By the time we arrive at July, I'll switch to explore three ancestors from my father-in-law's family, and then wrap up the year with three ancestors from my father's tree.

In the past three years, I've covered ancestors who were among the earliest of settlers in North America, like my Tilson line, which reached back to Mayflower times, and my McClellan ancestors and related lines who settled in Florida during its earliest years as a United States territory. I've also explored ancestors whose earliest traces left me stuck in the early 1800s in Virginia—a Boothe ancestor—or my Laws family from Tennessee and North Carolina. I've also covered families who were not relatives, but had important connections to my family, such as the line of King Stockton in Florida, or my godmother's Ukrainian family, the Melnitchenkos.

This year, I feel the need to use DNA test results as my inspiration, and pull up DNA matches to specific surnames and enter those connections on my database. We'll start in January with my mother's Broyles ancestors, an important connection to history for my family.

While it isn't common for people to be able to point out friends or neighbors in town and identify them as a tenth cousin or a twelfth cousin, the Broyles family has allowed me that distinction. True, the family lines are well documented, and the family's earliest years in this country were a strong start, given their many children. Still, I'd like to explore those Broyles roots more deeply this month, especially concerning my direct line—and their relatives who share the same name and have been mistakenly given the wrong identity in online trees. It might be helpful to set the record straight, but even more important, to connect those DNA matches with the right location on the branches of that Broyles family tree. 

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Christmas: a Day of Memories


Besides being Christmas Day, December 25 may hold many memories for the people in our families. Some, of course, will remember warm, cozy times from growing-up years, or special visits with relatives or close family friends. Working on my family trees, though, I've found other memories tucked away in the dates I've recorded for my relatives.

One such date is that of a cousin of my husband, who was born on December 25. The perennial question: did she get twice as many gifts as she'd otherwise get if, say, her birthday had fallen in April or August?

While this may not be as much of a tradition now as it was in times past, I've noticed quite a few family members who were married during the Christmas season. For a way to capitalize on the gathering of family members, scheduling a wedding close to Christmas seemed a smart way to plan.

On another part of our family tree, I was working on a branch of my mother's Tilson line, and ran across an in-law whose last day of life occurred on that same day: December 25. For some people I've personally known, losing a loved one around a holiday can be particularly difficult, no matter whether it was a sudden occurrence or a quiet and expected close to a lingering illness. Christmas will never seem the same for folks in that situation. The one event will always recall the other.

This day, filled with so many memories gathered throughout a lifetime, has become one day to re-enact the traditions of our ancestors, but it blends in the customs of multiple family lines while borrowing something new from current culture and media. How many this year included the "Grinch" in their favorite holiday stories, much as families from generations ago might have included Dickens' Christmas Carol or more recent generations reached for the nostalgia of a movie from Hollywood's golden age?

Stories have always been part of Christmas, but no matter how many other tales are shared during the holiday season—from tales of Santa Claus to more recent inventions—the one I still go back to is the earnest simplicity of that one which has been repeated now for over two thousand years: the report of a baby born to a couple in the midst of their travels far from the place they had called home, a baby of promise, a child hoped for, a person whose life has made a difference by the gift He gave for so many of us around the world, even today. 

Above: "The Cratchits' Christmas Dinner," illustration by Gilbert Scott Wright for the 1909 London book, The Children's Dickens; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Holidays: A Time for Family Traditions


There is something about holidays which always makes me feel connected to family. Whether it is owing to the traditions which families have passed down over the generations, or those traditions created in our own home for our children, the day's events bring sweet memories with them.

While your family's holiday memories may not include the romanticized Christmas Eve lithograph created in 1878 by J. Hoover & Son, dubbed by some as "the most prolific Philadelphia chromolithographer of parlor prints during the late nineteenth century," I hope this day, and the one following on Sunday, bring you meaningful times with those who mean the most to you.

Above: "Christmas Eve" lithograph, produced in 1878 by the company of J. Hoover & Son; courtesy of Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Last Tally for '22


Around this time of year, I find myself saying, "that's the last time I'll do that this year." With the year rapidly coming to a close, there are quite a few tasks which qualify for that "last time" statement. For my biweekly tally—my way of encouraging myself over my family research progress—this, too, will become a "last time" exercise for '22.

Since I've spent the last quarter of this year working on my father's side of the family, it probably isn't much of a surprise to learn I added 244 names to my family tree in the past two weeks. I'm closing out 2022 with 31,305 people in my family tree, each one well documented and researched. Considering I started this year with 27,270 in that tree, you can see how encouraging it can be to keep such a tally. Progress may seem to move at a snail's pace if we look at it from a day-to-day perspective. But over the long haul, that means a boost to that tree of 4,035 individuals in 2022, all added a little bit at a time.

Same thing goes for my in-laws' tree. Granted, I haven't worked on that tree much in the last three months. However, the other day I thought that recent changes at's DNA configurations warranted some attention. Specifically, I wanted to visit the fourth category in Ancestry's current beta offering—sorting DNA matches by side of family—to see whether the "unassigned" category might include some easy-to-solve matches.

It did. Enough, in fact, to add eighty nine additional family relations in the past two weeks, all just from examining that "unassigned" category at AncestryDNA. Now my in-laws' tree is up to 30,359 individuals. Since this year began with 25,124 names in that tree, a little bit here and there added 5,235 people along the way in 2022.

So, what's up for next year? Now that I've gotten into the habit of this biweekly tally, it's become something to look forward to. It helps to feel like progress is being made, especially when the going gets tough on a messy research project. And who couldn't use a bit more encouragement?! That biweekly exercise has become part of my routine. When last tallies for the old year morph into New Year's resolutions for the new, I'd say this habit is a keeper.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Holiday Dinners and D N A


As the year comes to a close, I'm trying to do some year-end cleaning on my DNA match list. Yes, there are a lot of those matches—far too many to conquer in the last ten days of this month. But I can try, right?

At the same time, all the cooks in our family are trying to finalize their shopping lists for the special meals we'll be preparing for the holiday weekend. When I put those two items on my to-do list side by side, I have to laugh. I know there are many people out there who talk about their holiday menu choices in the same breath as they describe their family's heritage. Those two would be horribly mismatched in my book.

Let's take a look at our family's making and baking plans for the next few days.

My daughter just came home from a shopping trip to pick up fresh ingredients so she can make a certain type of donut from scratch—sufganiyot—the kind some people make during Hanukkah. Are we celebrating Hanukkah? No. Are we ethnically Jewish? Well, my DNA results at MyHeritage currently indicate I've got 1.9% Ashkenazi roots—possibly a trace from my mystery paternal grandfather's past—but that couldn't be why those donuts will be calling my name later this evening.

On a separate grocery-shopping expedition, my husband rounded up all the ingredients for our traditional Christmas Eve dinner: cioppino. Did I marry an Italian? Nope. He's mostly Irish, thanks to his father's eight great-grandparents who were all born in Ireland. Round that out with a smidgen of English and northwestern European, and that's about as close as he's gotten to an Italian heritage. And even though we'll be throwing in a recipe for baked brie in a sourdough round, don't think that French cheese reveals any genetic connection to France—well, maybe a mere two percent from his mother's side of the family, but that's it.

Yesterday morning, we braved the winter cold (California style, in the fog) to stand in line outside for almost an hour to purchase some sausages from an old-fashioned butcher. The store piped polka music outside through their sound system, as if anyone out there needed to get in the mood for this shoppers' endurance trial. Perhaps that food choice came a bit closer—I am, after all, a descendant of Polish immigrants—but as to German roots, no sign according to my DNA.

So where did these food choices come from? They are hardly reminiscent of our family's heritage. Perhaps the secret lies not in the long-long-ago roots of our families, but in some factors which lie much closer to home. We are, after all, residents of a state known for its fusion food traditions. Cioppino, for instance, while Italian in inspiration, actually was a tradition evolving from the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco, a region once populated by Italian immigrants. San Francisco is very much a part of our lives, as it is the biggest city within driving distance from our home.

The sausages? They will find their place within a hearty lentil soup I've made to tide us over until the holiday festivities begin. They come from a local business which has kept its old-fashioned traditions alive in both assuring quality products and business practices—a throwback to an earlier era. Our family likes to support places like that. Perhaps that, in itself, is a family tradition for us, since not only our generation, but the generation before me, have run small family businesses. Perhaps that is a nod to heritage, though not quite the way most people mean when they enjoy their holiday dinners.

And the sufganiyot? Once again, from the riches of our family's business experiences. This comes from years ago, when our daughter tutored the children of a local rabbi, and learned about the family's culture and food traditions. We shamelessly borrow any delicious food traditions when we make personal connections through our work, our friendships, and our neighborhoods.

What about you? Are you getting ready to prepare the same holiday treats your great-grandmothers once made for your family? Or have you, like us, learned to borrow from the more recent traditions of your own "F.A.N. Club"—the friends, associates, and neighbors of your own generation?  

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Smack Dab in the Dead of Winter


For those of us who live north of the equator—for some, that may mean far north of that demarcation—today marks the winter solstice. The sun's official line-crossing will occur at 4:48 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, for those living on North America's eastern coast, or 1:48 p.m. for those of us on the other coast. After that, though they certainly won't get any warmer for quite a while, the days will at least begin to get longer.

Any sign of hope, no matter how small, is welcome in my book. In this month's fog-shrouded weather, I'm already looking forward to a bit more sunshine.

I sometimes wonder whether some activities and pastimes reach their zenith of popularity in these winter months. After all, when it is warm and sunny outdoors, we are outside doing, well, sunshiny things. In the winter? That's when humanity has had to invent other diversions.

Like genealogy? Could it be winter weather which inspires some of us to hunker down and ponder our family's mysteries? Or to pull out those old, time-honored recipes and re-enact the family traditions of making, baking, or otherwise cooking the same foods our ancestors once found so delicious?

For some, it's not just a matter of pulling out old recipes. Some of us are looking forward to celebrating winter holidays. Some are actually in the midst of commemorating Hanukkah. Others are using these last few days to prepare for Christmas. For those with Irish roots who have returned to their motherland during this darkest, most dismal time of year, perhaps today began with a journey to witness the solstice at Newgrange—if, of course, they were lucky enough to have won the right lottery number to gain that coveted position.

For this blogger, the next few days at A Family Tapestry will be used to wrap up the past year's research, and finish up some year-end genealogical cleaning. Since Christmas falls on a Sunday this year—the very day normally scheduled to complete my biweekly progress review—I'll be posting that report early, on this coming Friday.

Afterwards, it's time to celebrate the holidays. But not for long. In those quiet days between Christmas and Epiphany, I'll launch into planning for next year's research projects. That will be when I introduce my Twelve Most Wanted for 2023. And before we can notice whether the days are actually getting longer, I'll have some research projects to look forward to during the rest of this winter season—and throughout another year of family history exploration.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

With a Little Help From our Friends


Recently, a friendly little emailed note from fellow blogger Charlie Purvis of Carolina Family Roots reminded me of another resource I could check in my quest to discover more about the watch-making Eggert family of Brooklyn, New York: local newspapers.

In the case of researching family roots from the New York City area, the usual outsider's thoughts might go to well-known newspaper titles such as The New York Times. However, unless your New York City family moved in circles of high society, don't expect to find their names in the obituaries and society news of such a publication. That is not the kind of paper which will print chatty stories about the out-of-town visitors who came to Sunday dinner with your Uncle Elmer and Aunt Sadie.

New Yorkers know there are other papers to be checked which will provide far more material for a family history search. In the case of my Eggerts and their chronometer business in Brooklyn, the place to look would be The Brooklyn Daily Eagle

The good news about that newspaper is that various organizations have worked to make that digitized newspaper collection free to access online. Over the years, I have been able to search that collection through portals at the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library. Now, apparently, the way to access it—still for free, I presume—is through a partnership between the Brooklyn Public Library and through a portal which they have dubbed the Brooklyn Newsstand.

The Brooklyn Newsstand doesn't just provide access to that one publication. Besides The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, this website grants access to a total of forty four newspaper titles from the early 1800s through the late 1990s. Search options allow me to look for entries specific to certain Eggert businessmen, or to the Eggert surname in general.

With access such as this, I can wander through entries on both the business dealings and social connections of a wide number of Eggert relatives. And this was exactly what Charlie Purvis had sent me. With a brief note to say he found this in his free time, he sent me a clipping from the collection outlining who attended a wedding in late September of 1882. The event was held in the parlor of the mother of the bride, and with such an intimate setting, the paper was able to print names of the entire guest list, including—you guessed it—several family members of our clock-making businessman, Charles B. Eggert.

For exploring the F.A.N. Club of an ancestor—Friends, Associates, and Neighbors—you can't beat the accessibility of some newspaper social columns. The Brooklyn Eagle, at least in the case of our Eggert family, did not disappoint. Thanks, Charlie, for the timely reminder. It is possible to learn much from wandering through the pages of our ancestors' local newspapers. Having a capable search function to help us navigate those digitized pages makes the journey even more rewarding.   

Monday, December 19, 2022

Answers and Questions


Isn't it always the way things turn out, when we chase after the mysteries in our family's history: once we finally arrive at the answer to our question, our research reward is to be confronted by another question. In this case, finding Dominic Eggert's original 1864 will (and all its codicils of the ensuing years before his 1872 death) gave me the answer I needed—that he was father of my uncle DeMilt's grandfather, John—but conjured up yet another question.

From that discovery, I could now connect my uncle to his father (George Dominic Eggert), to his father (John Eggert), then to the man at the helm of the watch and chronometer business known as D. Eggert and Son. Those collectibles bearing the labels which include variations on the "D. Eggert" name, I now know, were made under the auspices of my uncle's great-grandfather.

If we remember correctly, though, Dominic Eggert acquired that business from another family, of three brothers surnamed Demilt, after Dominic arrived in New York City from his apprenticeship in England. Before that, at least according to watch and clock collectors' histories, Dominic came from somewhere in Germany. But where?

One online discussion forum for such collectors mentioned that Dominic had come from "Hosskirch, Baden, Wurtemburg" in Germany. As it turns out—at least according to modern geography—that would be a town in the district of Ravensburg, part of the German state of Baden-W├╝rttemberg. But was that actually true? There was no explanation for how the members of that online discussion forum knew that detail.

Since Dominic ended up residing in a city as large as New York, relying on such documents as immigration or naturalization records might not assure us that we had the right individual. I couldn't help but notice, however, an 1833 oath of allegiance for one watchmaker, "Dominick" Eggert, forswearing allegiance to the Emperor of Austria.

Taking this question to documented reports of what Dominic claimed, himself—or at least someone in the family reporting on his behalf—the 1850 census noted that he was from, simply, Germany. Not much help there, as that country-only entry was usually the case for foreign-born American residents entered in census records. The 1870 census was a bit more specific, identifying Hamburg as Dominic's place of origin.

Sandwiched in the middle of those two dates was the 1860 census. At first, I could not read the entry given for Dominic's place of birth in that census. It certainly didn't read Germany, nor did it look like Austria. The handwriting scrawl ended with what looked merely like a doodle, and the first few letters didn't spell any place name I could recognize. Somehow, though, poking around the many reports I could find online of the occupational history of the Eggert company, I ran across an entry for a name I had never heard before: Swabia.

Googling the word, I realized there was a historic region by that name, existing for centuries in the southwestern portion of what is now Germany. I rushed back to the 1860 census to see if I could decipher the handwriting on that record enough to see if it lined up with that name, Swabia. As far as I could see, it sure looked like a possibility.

Better yet, though checking maps made it highly obvious that Hamburg would not be in the running as Dominic's location of birth—though it might have been the port city from which he sailed to England—the other, unsupported, assertion that he was from that small town in the Ravensburg district of Baden-W├╝rttemberg might have been spot on, at least according to maps of both the district and the entry for the historic location known as Swabia. Finding the support for that discussion forum statement might be one research approach now, but checking for baptismal records in that specific location might be more profitable for anyone wanting to pursue this Eggert genealogy.

If nothing else, this becomes a reminder that not all geographic names which are currently in use were the same as those names our ancestors might have called home. Nor did all those old names continue in use up through our own time. While maps have always been a genealogist's friend, in our research, we will sometimes also find ourselves in need of lessons on geographic name changes of previous ages. 


Sunday, December 18, 2022

Getting Good by Getting Real


Yesterday, genealogy blogger John Reid of Canada's Anglo-Celtic Connections posed a question: "What are the attributes of a good genealogist?" As if in answer to his own question, he added a list of seven points, each of which outlined skills which arguably could represent the making of a "good genealogist."

Then he added one further detail: an acknowledgement that the list was composed by ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence based, dialog format language model developed by OpenAI, an AI research and deployment company. Apparently, all it took to receive the written response to John's question was to take the ChatGPT for a free test drive at its website.

Funny he should bring up that topic. It's been only a month now since MyHeritage introduced its AI Time Machine™, transforming subscribers' "everyday" photos into self-portraits reminiscent of great moments in history. Since MyHeritage licensed their format from originator Astria, they certainly do not have a corner on the market driving the explosion of the AI remakes which are taking social media by storm. In reality, there are several resources for such artificial creations.

One online business innovator I follow, Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income, commented in his newsletter about the AI resources recently flooding social media channels. While he conceded that some of the AI products seemed "absolutely stunning—almost like pieces of art," he saw a down side to the trend. He wondered whether this AI would be used to "generate art versus hiring real artists."

True, the AI art often copies styles and techniques which real artists took years of hard work to develop. And this AI issue is not solely reserved to the world of art. There are AI tools for writing copy—as John Reid demonstrated in his blog post yesterday—and even for writing jokes. Content creators are facing some serious competition, and they—at least, the human ones—are not happy about it.

From the "an-AI-did-not-write-this" department of Techdirt, writer Nirit Weiss-Blatt, Ph.D., issued a call to examine the "ethical considerations and the dangers" of creating AI portraits, "right now." At the same time, she observed: "It's not the end of human creativity." After all, "the electronic synthesizer did not kill music, and photography did not kill painting."

So, what was Pat Flynn's concern with the AI photographs? He discussed the potential harm to business people who are also content creators. That is a very real financial risk they face, especially for those who believe they will not be able to compete with computer-generated work.

There is, however, one way to compete, as Pat mentioned. That one way is through the human—not computer-generated—ability to connect. He wrote in his December 13, 2022, newsletter,

You have the ability to connect. You have the ability to empathize with another person. You have the ability to make other people feel special. You have the ability to create experiences.

Those, according to "What AI Cannot Do," an excerpt published in BigThink by authors Kai-Fu Lee and Chen Qiufan of AI 2041: Ten Visions for our Future, are the very skills which AI cannot—yet—master:

  • Developing strategy
  • Exercising creativity
  • Utilizing dexterity
  • Employing empathy-based social skills

So, what does all this have to do with genealogy? Let's take this exploration full circle, back to John Reid's post yesterday which started this whole discussion. However, instead of asking ourselves for a listing—whether AI-generated or personally created—of what constitutes a good genealogist, let's think about what would make a good genealogical society.

Just as we've experienced the power of computer-assisted corporations to deliver a dazzling array of documents and resources—and realized how local genealogical societies simply cannot have the resources to compete with the computing power of such massive organizations—we can learn a lesson from the same conclusions drawn about what AI lacks.

Our strengths as local societies will be to develop strategies to nurture and encourage the research growth of members of our own communities. As we develop creativity in reaching out to local residents to offer ways in which we can help augment their genealogical needs, we'll develop the "dexterity" to become a responsive organization, fit for responding to the needs of our own community. But most important, it will be our personal skills in making connections with the people in our own towns that will make the biggest difference.

In the end, for our survival as the artists, the creators known as local genealogical organizations, it will be our ability to make connections that will matter the most. After all, we relate—in more ways than one.   

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Looking Forward to
an End of the Year Process


Some people see spring cleaning as a way to get a fresh start. Others talk about the need for fall cleaning. When it comes to my never-ending piles of genealogy papers, it's the year-end review that gives me a new lease on an overwhelming situation. And I'm looking forward to that end of the year process.

Lately, I've run across some additional folders which I had set aside for review. You know the type: something discovered that needs soon as I can get to it. There has been the surprise photo discovery on my mother's McClellan line last month that reminded me that there is more work to be done on that family. And a file folder with the name "Lee" written on the tab makes me wince, every time I see it. I think of how long it has been since I last reviewed that puzzling connection. If I don't schedule in some time to tackle loose ends like that, they'll never connect with a reasonable answer.

Setting specific times to work on such loose ends has been the whole point of my year-end review, as well as the year-long project I've dubbed my Twelve Most Wanted: one ancestral line to focus on for an entire month of research. Sure, I'll start that review process soon, taking the Twelve Days of Christmas as my theme and my set schedule for that review process. But it certainly doesn't hurt to give this issue a thought ahead of time, as I do some year-end cleaning. Perhaps those prompts, as I see folders and wince, are timely reminders, after all.

Friday, December 16, 2022

A Date, but No Name


Is it possible to find a record on a family member if all we know is just a date, but not an exact name? It can be, depending on the circumstances.

I have indeed, with past family history puzzles, been able to connect people, as long as the parameters were narrow enough and the details fairly specific. I wouldn't attempt such a search for, say, a Jones family member. But with other, more unusual circumstances or locations, especially if I could factor in some limiting search terms, it has been possible.

In the case of my quest to connect some of my uncle's Eggert ancestors to the family of well-known New York City watch and chronometer maker Dominic Eggert, yesterday we ran across a hint that provided a possible date of death for the unnamed youngest brother of Dominic's son Charles. Of course, given that the detail was provided in a newspaper—heads up for possible editorial errors—we can't be totally certain. With the help of a calendar, even if the date were off by a few days, at least we could search for the surname Eggert, plus a death in the New York City vicinity, on or about September 22, 1883.

I decided to hedge my bets and factor in an educated guess. I thought if Charles were Dominic's son—which we've already seen reported—and if Dominic's was the household living next to Charles in the 1860 census, as we've already seen, who was the youngest man listed in that enumeration? A twenty five year old man by the name of Sylvester Eggert.

Assuming that Sylvester could be the possible youngest son of Dominic—after all, no other Eggert men were living in Dominic's home in either 1860 or 1850—I started my search with Sylvester's name. And a funny thing happened.

I don't know why, but when I search for a name on a genealogical website, I expect the results to refer to the same name I had just searched. I know; I'm funny that way. However, when I use, lately I've seen results for other family members show up in my results. In this case, a search for the death of Sylvester Eggert on or about 1883 led me to something I had not been able to find directly, despite quite a bit of effort looking for it: I found Dominic Eggert's own will.

As it turns out, Dominic himself died early in 1872, not long after the 1870 census where, once again, he had appeared in an Essex County, New Jersey, household which included several surnames. The beauty of this discovery—at long last—was that this was a will which told all. Unlike some last testaments I've found, where the decedent left his property to his "beloved wife and children"—frustratingly leaving out any mention of their names—Dominic told all.

This 1872 document—and its many codicils attached over the years since the will was first drawn up in 1864—laid out the names of each of Dominic's children in order, adding in the mention of some grandchildren as well. Dominic was particularly careful to emphasize his concern for the care of his son Sylvester, which he repeated with each codicil added over the years.

As for my quest to determine whether it was Sylvester who was the youngest Eggert brother mentioned in Charles' obituary, I now had more than enough reason to call off the search. Not only were all the Eggert siblings listed, including the sisters' married names, but the executor named was the very man whose relationship I had been pursuing: my uncle's grandfather, John Eggert.  

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Looking for the Rest of the Family


When you are stumped with a family history question, collateral lines certainly can come in handy—if you can find them. Right now, I'm on the hunt for the siblings of Charles Eggert, one of New York City's watch and chronometer manufacturers, beginning in 1848. Thanks to various snippets found online, we've learned that Charles took over his father's business at that point, a handy detail which infers that his father was actually Dominic Eggert.

We can't say we conclusively know that, at this point. We still need to find appropriate documentation. And we are hung up by that nasty enumeration divide of 1850, before which date census records only provided the name of the head of household, with a mere age-bracketed head count for all the others living in the same residence. Those nameless listings would tell us nothing about Dominic Eggert's children, even if they were all living at home earlier than 1850. Thus, my whole quest in delving into this Eggert family tree—to see how my uncle DeMilt's grandfather John Eggert might have been related to Dominic—has, so far, been defeated.

When I began looking for Charles, in hopes that his records might reveal any siblings' names, I did find him recorded in the 1860 census, right below the household of another Eggert, listed only as D. Eggert. Dominic? If so, the household included residents of all ages, with at least four different surnames listed. Besides an older woman who was most likely Dominic's wife, there were two other Eggerts named Sylvester and Jane.

If those turn out to be Charles' siblings, we have a start on our collateral line list—but not any indication of a connection to our John Eggert. Pushing a decade earlier, the 1850 enumeration for Dominic once again included the names of Sylvester and Jane. This time, the name of the older woman—Mary Anne—also revealed a notation by the enumerator, "his W." Looking up and down the page of this census, it appears that, for each oldest woman in a household, the enumerator had also added either that same note, or a more complete, "his wife," as explanation. Even if we still don't know for certain the relationship of Sylvester or Jane (but we can guess!), we have the enumerator's take on the relationship between Dominic and Mary Anne.

Those two points alone are not enough satisfactory information to resolve my research question. Looking further for Charles, I discovered an obituary. Granted, many obituaries of our own era seem to "tell all," but prior centuries' newspaper notices of someone's passing sometimes left much omitted.

Sure enough, such was the case for Charles B. Eggert's obituary in the October 13, 1883, edition of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The article was quite complimentary of the man, heaping accolades upon his character, and providing details of his work history—not only concerning his family's business but also his association with Tiffany & Co. Yet, as to his family, only: "a widow, two sons and two daughters." 

With a line like that, though I hoped for some siblings' names, I was already prepared to discover no mention of other survivors in the family.

There was, however, one helpful detail. The article had mentioned that Charles Eggert's death had been "quite unexpected." In explaining why, the writer noted, 

Three weeks ago to-day, [Charles] attended the funeral of his youngest brother and was apparently in the best of health.

Youngest brother? Of course, once again there was no name given. But we have a calendar, and can certainly calculate the three weeks prior to when Charles' obituary was published. Next step in this genealogical goose chase: determine which Eggert died just before September 22, 1883. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Finding Dominic's Children


In this month's quest to see whether there is any family connection between my uncle DeMilt Eggert's grandfather, John Eggert, and the renowned chronometer maker and founder of the New York firm of D. Eggert, we've been stuck in 1850 New York City. New York City, because that was the earliest location where I could find John Eggert's family in census records, and 1850, because that was the earliest enumeration in which all members of a household were listed individually by name.

The problem lies in the fact that John, having been born about 1819, by that point in 1850 had been recently married to his eighteen year old bride Catherine, and was living in the household of his new father-in-law, ship's captain John Peckner. For that 1850 census entry, there was no way to connect John Eggert to his own parents. Thus, even locating a census record for Dominic Eggert would have told us nothing.

Taking a research step which could prove risky, let's reverse our search direction. Instead of trying to push backwards in time, locating a record showing John Eggert's father, let's jump to Dominic Eggert and see whether we can reconstruct a family line for the founder of the Eggert business.

To get us started, we have one small clue—one unfortunately coming to us without any documented support. For that detail, we'll need to return to the March 2017 discussion about the Eggert chronometer on the forum of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors. An entry in response to the original query on this forum thread mentioned that because Dominic Eggert was losing his eyesight, in 1848, he turned over the helm of the business to his son Charles.

Once again, owing to that census issue in 1850, we are left with the research problem of finding Charles and his household separate from that of his presumed father. How are we to know we even are pursuing the right Charles Eggert? In cases like this, I try to make an educated guess and start following the trail, looking for clues which will either stop me in my tracks or bid me pursue further.

In Charles' case, we once again encounter a scenario much like what we've already stumbled upon with the newly-married John Eggert. We see a twenty four year old man entered as "Chas." Eggert, along with an eighteen year old woman, presumably his bride, named Martha A. They were living in the household of an older woman named Martha McCormick. Interestingly enough, below this woman's name was an entry for a man half her age, named Robert McCormick, whose occupation was listed as ship's chandler.

Following those clues to other documents, it turns out that someone in New York City named Charles Eggert married someone named Martha A. McCormick in 1849. Moving to records a decade later, we can find the 1860 census showing a couple by that name, with children named Charles, Ada, and William Henry Eggert. While the elder Charles is listed as a watchmaker, a confusing additional detail shows the family no longer living in Brooklyn, New York, but in Millburn, New Jersey.

Not to worry, though, for we've seen that location pop up in our journey to trace this Eggert family before. Looking around on that same 1860 census page, it was easy to spot the name of the household next door: D. Eggert, a man whose occupation was listed as watch and chronometer maker.

While this looks like a promising candidate for father and son, what we need is not only more proof to connect the two men—and to make sure they are the right pair—but to broaden the family circle to see who else should be included. After all, if Charles doesn't lead us to more information on the other children of our Dominic Eggert, perhaps one of the other children—if there are any—may provide the help we need.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

"Demilt, New Yorck"


When Dominic Eggert took over the New York City shop where he had been working for several years, the business he acquired had been run by two men labeled as B. and S. Demilt. In my attempt to find the connection between the Eggert family and the start of their marine chronometer business, this discovery leads to the question: who were B. and S. Demilt?

In actuality, there were three men with the Demilt surname affiliated with that New York business: Thomas, Benjamin, and Samuel.

Whether they were three brothers or they were related in other ways, those three business partners by the name of Demilt operated in Lower Manhattan from at least 1800 onward until the late 1830s. Like the Eggert family I've been researching, the Demilt family's specialty was not isolated to one product. 

While I first discovered the Demilt name due to their association with Dominic Eggert and the marine chronometer business, like the Eggerts, the Demilts were known for several product lines. They have been noted as watchmakers, of course, but also as silversmiths. Variations on their name can be found signed on an example of a "Washington Clock" with the note, "Demilt, New Yorck," but also a straightforward "DEMILT" in their silver work, or a more flourished "Thos. & Benjn. Demilt" on a decorative watch paper advertising their shop at 156 Water Street.

In an article by chronometer expert Marvin E. Whitney published in the April, 1981, issue of the Horological Times (see page 21), an entry on B. and S. Demilt explained that Benjamin and Samuel got their start as nautical chandlers. Whitney fixed the start of the Demilt business in New York as 1795. In order to accurately check and rate their chronometers, the Demilts actually built their own observatory in the process of establishing their business reputation.

Due to their diligent business practices, notes Whitney, the Demilts amassed a large fortune. Part of their legacy can be seen in various philanthropic gestures noted both in the Whitney article and in Benson J. Lossing's 1884 volume, History of New York City, where page 154 notes Benjamin Demilt's $7,500 bequest to the library of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, as well as the donation of the entire collection of his private library—eighteen hundred volumes—apparently upon his brother Samuel's 1845 passing.

What Thomas Demilt began before 1800, and Benjamin and Samuel continued until the youngest of the three retired in 1839, they passed to their business associate, Dominic Eggert.

Though it took digging through some specialized resources to discover details on the Demilt family, there are ways to access this material—at least, for those for whom money is no object, and for whom the minutiae of specific crafts is fascinating. One auction for a Thomas Demilt silver-encased pocket watch advised the use of Theodore Crom's Horological and Other Shop Tools, 1700-1900, a three hundred eighty eight page volume which currently sells, used at one retailer, for $361. One website dedicated to being a "genealogical study of American silversmiths" recommends Louise Conway Belden's Marks of American Silversmiths in the Ineson-Bissell Collection.

Though there are brief mentions of Dominic Eggert interlaced within the various entries on the Demilts—for instance, this comment on "renowned chronometer maker, Dominic Eggert" at the end of an entry on a Demilt pocket watch—it is far more challenging to find information on this possible Eggert relative than on the men whose business he assumed in 1839. Still, I did find one small entry which mentioned not only Dominic, but the son to whom he eventually passed his business. With this small clue, we'll revert back to genealogical pursuits as we search for any information on at least one of Dominic Eggert's children. 


Monday, December 12, 2022

Someone's Talking Timepieces


If you have ever availed yourself of the help offered on genealogical forums, perhaps it will come as no surprise to learn that timepiece collectors also resort to such online resources to talk about the minutiae of their specialty. That type of online forum, almost immediately, was where my search for the Eggert chronometer led me.

From what we learned last week about the navigational tool known as the marine chronometer, someone doing business as D. Eggert had been selling the device to the United States government as early as 1839. Whether that person was related to my Uncle DeMilt's watchmaking grandfather, John Eggert, I couldn't ascertain, simply because John had left his parents' home and married by 1850, the earliest U.S. census to record the names of each member of a household. I have no way—yet—to connect John to any Eggert relatives, let alone one with a first initial "D."

When I searched online for the name "John Eggert," one of the first results to pop up was a discussion on a watch and clock collectors' forum, begun by someone seeking more information on a chronometer maker by that same name. Only problem: that John lived in New Jersey, rather than in Brooklyn, New York, as had my John Eggert.

Checking on that discrepancy, I learned that despite John's business being conducted in New York, he and his family did live, for a brief time at least, in a place in Essex County, New Jersey, known as Millburn. According to the 1860 census, all five members of the John Eggert family, all born in New York, had made their residence in this New Jersey community. (By 1870, the Eggerts had returned to New York.) 

What unfolded from that online discussion on the watch collectors' forum turned out to be helpful in my own research project. Apparently, some timepiece collectors' interests extend to genealogy. The original member's query about John Eggert included a timeline for the D. Eggert business, leading me to some of the details I've already shared.

It was the reply to the original query which provided even more information—though it is information that certainly needs more support and documentation. While this may turn out to be a wild ride down a rabbit trail, since I don't yet know that, I'll examine this information like I would the work of a trailblazer.

Here are a few details from the responses to that query which helped light my research path so far. First was the date given of 1839, marking the point at which chronometer number 106 was sold to the government. Since we had already learned last week that the Eggert numbering system began at 100, this helps put that 1839 date in perspective, regarding the start of the business.

The respondent also quoted from the Whitney Chronometer book I had mentioned last week. From that forum reply, I learned that Dominic Eggert was supposedly born in Strasburg, Germany, in 1785, and moved to England to work as an apprentice to learn the watchmaking trade. After Dominic Eggert completed his apprenticeship in Bristol, England, he emigrated once again to New York City, where he opened his own shop.

This is where things get interesting—and will certainly be one detail I'll need to confirm. Perhaps starting his own business as a stranger in a new location didn't go so well for the young watchmaker. Shortly after his arrival in New York City, Dominic Eggert took a position making chronometers for the business of two brothers. The older of the two brothers died in 1835, and the younger brother decided to retire in 1839, passing the business to the brothers' associate, Dominic Eggert.

This may not turn out to be the tale of just any brothers, though. I found it compelling to discover the name of the men. When Dominic Eggert took over that chronometer business in 1839, he assumed ownership of a company run by B. and S. DeMilt. Since the name DeMilt figures so prominently in the Eggert family tree of my Uncle DeMilt, you know I've got to take a little detour this week to learn more about this other business partnership. 

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Goals Provide the Thrust


Goals, in family history research as in any other endeavor, provide the thrust. Sure, if you don't have a target, you'll never know whether you hit it. But having a goal turns out to bestow its secondary nature: it also gives the motivation to get moving toward that finish line.

In the last few years of this blogging process, I've come to appreciate my year's-end habit of lining up my research goals for the upcoming year—a process I've dubbed my Twelve Most Wanted. For each month, I target one ancestor whose appearance in my genealogical database turns out to be, well, lackluster. Then, I assign that ancestor to a specific month, and devote that month to finding as many new references for that person as I can.

That, however, is not to say I don't work on any other family history projects during the year. There may be items that pop up—like discovering a relative's obituary containing information I had not included in my records, or someone in the family announcing a new great-grandchild. Of course, the never-ending stream of DNA matches also provides the impetus to work on other branches, all while retaining that main focus on my Most Wanted ancestor for the month.

This month has been somewhat different for me. The Eggert line, as I've already explained, is what my family calls an "outlaw" line—the line of my father's brother-in-law. While I am adding a few individuals from that line to my tree, most of what I am discovering will go into a separate tree for that special project I am tackling, not my own family tree.

Since today marks my biweekly research recap—and the penultimate one for this year—it would be natural to assume I hadn't made any progress on my own tree, nor even the tree of my in-laws. After all, I've been consumed with this puzzle concerning my uncle's line.

However, don't forget those other, minor goals churning away in the background. I've had an ongoing, unfinished project since writing about my Tilson line a few months ago. And that brief week at the end of November which I spent working on that unexpected McClellan photo project prompted another call for follow up. So there has been some progress this month on my own trees.

For instance, in the past two weeks, my tree has jumped by 184 documented names, simply because of work on these two unfinished projects from previous months. My tree now has 31,061 total individuals. Though there has been zero activity on my in-laws' tree—though we'll return to that tree next spring—that tree still stands at 30,270. Since of the two main trees I'm tackling, the second one is the easiest for making fast progress, I'll catch up and surpass my own tree in no time, once I return to my mother-in-law's lines.

In two more weeks, I'll be wrapping up the tally for the year's work. It can be quite rewarding to see how these increases add up over time. Keeping an eye on the goal—my Twelve Most Wanted, or whatever goal you might select—and doing a little work at a time, but consistently over the year, does produce a rewarding result at the end. There may be a week—or even a messy month, as I've sometimes faced—where the progress is less than encouraging. But looking back over the year, you can finally see the dribbles of work here and there do add up.

Still, I doubt the progress would be as robust without a target to propel me forward. Somehow, just keeping that target, that goal, in mind—and right before my eyes—doesn't just provide an end point. It provides the mile markers along the way, and the push of encouragement from behind to keep me moving ever forward.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Not (Unfortunately) Off This Shelf


Periodically, I like to pull a book down off my shelf which I had bought, well meaning, years ago—but never read. I'd like to think I can do the same this month, considering my current research involvement with an American watchmaker who might have been tangentially related to my family. However, when I pulled up the title on a bookseller's website, the best price I could find was for a used volume selling for well over one hundred dollars.

Um...I like books, but not that much.

My next attempt was to search on WorldCat for the closest library sporting the title. It appears that only two libraries in my entire state hold copies of this book, requiring a long drive. Worse, even the libraries near the places I plan to travel to next year don't include that title.

The book is the late Marvin E. Whitney's four hundred ninety nine page tome, The Ship's Chronometer. According to the official blurb, this 1984 publication provides a comprehensive treatise on ships' chronometers. Somewhere, buried in all the detail, is supposedly a page or two on the Eggert Chronometer and the man who originated the business. It's that specific Eggert ancestor whom I am after, but I will evidently have to wait for better fortune before I can access those hidden details.

What to do when an ancestor was known for a particular craft or profession? If you are like me, pursuing family history means far more than researching mere names, dates, and locations. You want to reconstruct a life, and learn about what each ancestor was truly like. What better way to learn such secrets than to examine the very stuff that went into the bulk of an ancestor's life: a person's occupation.

Getting curious about alternate ways to research such information, I took a casual glance through the "occupations" category at Cyndi's List.

Yes, there is such a listing. And it comes with many sub-headings. There are a variety of occupations listed, everything from the expected professions like scientist or photographers, to the least expected (try lace makers, circus workers or even prostitutes). Still, even though there was an entry for mariners and seafarers, that was not exactly what I was seeking.

I know that understanding the underpinnings of an occupation can help broaden a researcher's understanding of a particular ancestor, but apparently the information I am seeking on this Eggert ancestor is far too specific for mainstream research. I've benefited from membership information regarding ancestors working in law enforcement or medical professions and certainly for those working as musicians, actors, and attorneys. Why not for watchmakers?

I understand that the book which, but for the matter of a spare Benjamin, I would be consulting this moment contains some of the information I'm currently coveting. But you know how it goes: there is always another route to get around that brick wall. We'll piece together that story one way or another.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Checking an Occupational History


Though many a family's story can be pieced together simply by genealogical resources, when we hit those research roadblocks, it's time to consult other avenues. In the case of my Uncle DeMilt's Eggert family, we have the advantage of their unique occupation to help provide answers.

Granted, even when consulting such specialized resources as historical accounts of American watch, clock and chronometer makers, some have noted gaps in available information. One writer was said to have specifically noted that there was little known about the lives of "most of these important individuals."

We'll start, first, with a review of what is known about the family behind the Eggert chronometer. Next week, we'll move from there to see whether any clues revealed can lead us to confirm or reject a connection between my uncle and the original "D. Eggert" and the unnamed son affiliated with his business.

In searching online for examples of Eggert chronometers, it was fairly easy to see photographs of some of these products. Better yet, when I encountered a narrative describing not only the item for sale but the history behind the device, it provided more guidance to answer my questions.

One such posted entry described a 48 hour American chronometer made by Dominic Eggert & Son in New York City. The entry went on to explain that the business was established in 1847—too late for the original chronometer sale I had seen mentioned earlier—and even provided the addresses where the business was located over time. That entry also provided the date of Dominic's death—1892—and the curious detail that at one point, he had taught the chronometer business to the son of celebrated American clockmaker Simon Willard.

From another example online, I discovered that the company was also identified as "D. Eggert's Sons" at one point. In addition, since each chronometer was labeled with a number specific to that device, it seems it would be possible to date the evolution of the business name based on the changes on the name plate and the numbering system. Eggert began his numbering system at number 100. In addition, notes from this online example explained that Eggert had a contract for providing and servicing chronometers for the United States Navy until the contract was terminated in 1863. To add confusion, the notes for this entry indicated the Eggert business was established in New York City in 1838, not 1847 as noted in the previous example. This date makes more sense, based on what we had discovered the other day.

However, though these notes are helpful in our quest to learn more about the Eggert family business, we are still missing information on just which Eggert descendants these "& Sons" might have included. As it turns out, collectors of timepieces are just as keen to discover the genealogy of their most valued horologists as they are to track the history of the evolving craft, and thankfully have written their thoughts on puzzling over this very topic. Next week, we'll take a look at a thread on the Eggert business from a collectors' forum, to see whether we can find any other leads. 


Thursday, December 8, 2022

Connecting a Namesake
to an Unknown Past


When starting work on a family tree, you already know the drill: start with yourself, then move gradually—and with documentation!—backwards through the generations, going step by step. Since this month's exploration at A Family Tapestry concerns one of my family's "outlaws," we'll start with the one who supposedly was the namesake and descendant of the manufacturer of a historic piece of navigational equipment, my Uncle DeMilt. Our goal is to trace the Eggert family line to see who, exactly, was the one to produce the Eggert chronometer sold to the United States government in 1839.

As it turns out, my Uncle DeMilt was called by his middle name because his first name was the same as his father's: George. DeMilt's father, George D. Eggert, was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1869 and remained in that city until his death in 1939. His marriage to Nellie Royael produced three children: daughters Ruth and Carolyn and their brother, DeMilt.

It wasn't until my search for George and Nellie's marriage record that I learned that the "D" in the senior George's middle name did not stand for the same name as that of his son. For the father, that "D" stood for Dominick, not DeMilt.

To complicate matters, while moving back another generation, I discovered that the senior George D. Eggert had a brother who actually was named DeMilt. However, that brother, twelve years George's senior, succumbed to heart trouble while fighting a case of influenza at the age of forty three. He died unmarried and childless.

Moving back one more generation to George's and the elder DeMilt's parents, I expected to see yet another George—or at least some configuration including the name DeMilt. But I didn't. Instead, it turned out that their father had the rather plain name of John.

Remembering that some of the marine chronometers I had read about online were listed as made by "D. Eggert and Son," seeing John as the name heading up the previous generation stumped me. Besides, George Dominick Eggert's birth in 1869 certainly did not even come close to the date of the 1839 government purchase. I couldn't yet find any documentation earlier than the itemization of the 1850 census to indicate John Eggert's siblings or parents—only the newlyweds John and Catherine, themselves, in the household of his in-laws.

I hadn't forgotten the family's conjecture about a possible name change having to do with the rights to assume the business of selling marine chronometers. This temporary research roadblock started me wondering if I had found the turning point.

There was, however, another point that caused me to ponder. When researching family lines, I like to find my target person in every decade's census enumeration. Going back to the family of George, my Uncle DeMilt's father, I had trouble locating his household in the 1900 census. There was, however, an identical family listing in Brooklyn for a George, complete with wife Nellie and their infant daughters Ruth and Carolyn, and even his mother-in-law, Elizabeth Royael. The only catch was that the family was entered under a different surname: Dominick.

Could this have been the name change my cousin was mentioning? It seemed too recent a year to have been implicated in a business deal preceding that sale in 1839. Despite the road block of census records prior to 1850 not listing every name in a family's household, there had to be another way to find an answer to connect John Eggert to whoever it was who claimed the name D. Eggert on the chronometers I had found. For that detail, we'll jump from the usual genealogical chase to a paper chase of another kind: searching through records on the history of marine chronometers.  

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

According to the Family's Story . . .


If a product bore your ancestor's surname, you'd want to know the connection, wouldn't you? After all, even if an invention now seems commonplace, at one time it would have been an ingenious development, something possibly worth bragging rights for your own family. I'm always up for discovering connections like that to bolster my family history.

When I first learned about the connection between my Uncle DeMilt's family and the Eggert chronometer, the cousin who told me wasn't entirely sure about the story passed down from the generations before him. He knew the device was an important piece of navigating equipment and now a valued collectible, but the story of how the Eggert family came to claim a version of that invention as their own product was not as clear.

Somewhere in the midst of the story was a fuzzy report of a name change linked to the acquisition of the manufacturing rights. After all, a number of marine chronometers of the late 1700s through the 1800s were produced by British businesses, such as the Charles Frodsham marine chronometer. When New York City manufacturers began offering American versions, again, a number of businesses—including some of English origin—began vying for sales in that port city.

Somewhere in the midst of the American competition, the manufacturing details were passed to some ancestral member of my uncle DeMilt's family. Only problem was, the family was not clear as to whether that ancestor was actually named Eggert. There was a family story about a possible name change embedded in the details of the acquisition.

Well, there's only one way to find out for sure: do a little genealogical work of our own on this Eggert line. We'll begin our search to see what can be found about the Eggerts in New York City, tomorrow.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Chronometers and Questions


What is a chronometer? And why does it have my uncle's name engraved on it? If my cousin had shown me that little device housed in its cabinet when I was a child, perhaps those would be my questions. But I hadn't seen it at the lake house during school's summer break; my cousin showed me that little Eggert family treasure only a couple years ago. At the time, I hadn't the faintest idea what a chronometer actually was.

Silly me. I should have known, with this family at home both on the water and in the air, the device would have had something to do with navigation. What I didn't know from experience—or even thanks to conjecture—I made up for upon my return home from that recent family visit, with a little help from the search engine at my fingertips.

Marine chronometers have had a long history of development, most of which—for this month's exploration, at least—centered around the expanding British empire's development and implementation of this ingenious navigating device. Once the invention crossed the ocean from Europe to America, several entrepreneurs in New York City picked up on the opportunity to introduce it to a new market. Somewhere along that journey, my uncle's Eggert ancestors saw a way to capitalize on that development.

Consider the marine chronometer to be the precision timepiece of its era that looked to the stars to determine a ship's position. Although navigation equipment has evolved far from those developments of the time, it is fairly easy to search for the term "Eggert chronometer" and find several examples which were recently offered for sale as collectibles. In fact, according to the Catalogue of the Exhibit of the U.S. Navy Department World's Columbian Exposition, 1893, the Eggert Marine Chronometer 106 was the first American chronometer purchased by the government, on September 4, 1839. The current equivalent of the price paid at that time—$300—would be $9613.29. (To see the catalog's listing, courtesy Google Books, manually scroll to item "N. 2575" at the bottom of page 67, as the site's search sequence does not locate that entry.)

Though the marine chronometer my cousin showed me was engraved with the name "D. Eggert," unfortunately the "D" did not stand for the name I expected—that of my uncle DeMilt. And tracing that Eggert line back through the generations to about 1850 brought me to a name which in no way began with a "D."

However, along with the chronometer and its obvious connection to the family's surname, there was a family oral tradition. Whether that story passed down through the generations holds, now that we can check the documentation, that will be our research quest for the remainder of this month.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Unusual Name, Hidden Story


I like to say Uncle DeMilt was my favorite uncle, but in reality, he was my only uncle. He was the kind of uncle all the kids thought of as a fun guy. When our family went to visit the lake house, Uncle DeMilt was the one who took everyone out on the sailboat, or in canoes. With water sports, he was in his element.

I never gave much thought to my uncle's name, though admittedly, he did have an unusual name. It wasn't until long after those fun-filled lakeside years that I discovered Uncle DeMilt's first name was, like his father's before him, actually George. Perhaps to differentiate between father and son, the younger became known by his middle name.

I had always thought DeMilt was a name like, say, the surname of movie producer Cecil B. DeMille: unusual, but a name nonetheless. After all, I had to grow up with a name not exactly on the Top One Hundred list for American kids' names, so I could relate.

Come to find out there was a history for my uncle's name, one having to do with a family treasure shown to me only a few years ago, an antique navigating instrument engraved with the family's surname. DeMilt, it turns out, was a namesake linked to the history of the Eggert family's business in New York City from generations before my time.

Though this, for me, is the family story of what my cousin calls an "outlaw"—Uncle DeMilt was my father's brother-in-law—I promised myself that some day, I would trace his family's story and their small part in the history of America's navigational equipment in the 1800s. That "some day" begins this month, finally.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Exploring Namesakes


Somewhere deep in the tangled branches of my Tilson collateral lines, I ran across a descendant whose given names called to mind a popular singer of the 1950s. I had wondered whether this umpteenth-cousin had been named for a musician popular when he was born.

And why not? After all, my own mother was named after the given names of an actress popular in movies during the decade of my mother's birth. Patsy Ruth Miller had appeared in no less than eighteen films before my mom was born, and eight more films during the year of her namesake's birth. It was inevitable, when my mother finished high school, that her first goal would be to attend acting school and become an actress, herself.

I have seen several relatives in my family tree sporting names of past presidents. For instance, my tree has four men with the given names William Harrison, and one with the full name of America's ninth president, William Henry Harrison, "Old Tippecanoe." Considering Harrison served for only thirty one days after his 1841 inauguration, that's a significant number of namesakes. I sometimes wonder what inspires some parents to reach so deep into history for the names they choose.

It's not just presidents who claim so many namesakes among our family members. For instance, I took a look at my tree for any distant relatives with the given name of Benjamin Franklin. While the real Ben Franklin was never a president, he did figure prominently in politics of America's formative years, as well as being respected as a writer and scientist. No less than eight families in my tree chose to name their sons after this American icon.

And it wasn't just the star-studded among our country's best and brightest who can claim namesakes among my family's many branches. I was working on a collateral line last week, and discovered someone's marriage into a family with a name quite similar to Pascal. Though this in-law was most likely not of a French heritage, his surname's similarity was too tempting for this dad to pass up: he named one of his sons Blaise.

What a fascinating story it would be to discover why parents decided to name their child by a specific name. Who was important to these ancestors—and why? The answer to that question could paint another dynamic into the flat, two-dimensional sketch we often have of our ancestors. The names our ancestors chose for their children were important to them. In their own way, those namesakes bear witness to another facet of our family's past. 

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