Sunday, April 30, 2023

End of Another Research Month


The end of a research month is time to take stock of how plans fared, and decide next steps. For the past month, I've been researching the roots of my mother-in-law's fourth great-grandmother, Elizabeth Howard of colonial Maryland. While I was fortunate to discover those roots grew very deeply in that same turf, there is much more work yet to do.

At the same time, on this day falls my biweekly progress count, which will give me a peek at just what was accomplished with this research goal. Working on my in-laws' tree, I did add 207 individuals in the past two weeks, complete with documentation, but I am far from finished with this project. Right now, that tree includes details on 31,548 individuals, but that will never be enough when there are more—and specific—ancestors to find.

I still have details to add to the tree for several of the women I researched in the last few days, which I will continue doing behind the scenes through the next month, though my attention for blog posts here will shift to focus on my research goal for May. However, that one major objective—to discover just which most recent common ancestor on this matriline links my husband with his mtDNA matches—will need to retain top priority. When I do discover the link to those exact matches, I'll likely write about that, but I have a feeling it won't be completed any time too soon.

Though most of my attention has been riveted on this matrilineal pursuit, I have been tidying up some ancestral records from my own mother's tree, remnants from research goals in the first three months of this year. A bit of progress did occur here, with forty two additional names being added to my own tree, which now totals 33,500 individuals. That, too, will remain a behind-the-scenes project as we continue next month with another research goal on my mother-in-law's family history.

Tomorrow, we'll begin a new project, working on a family tangentially related to Elizabeth Howard's colonial family—the ancestors of one of her sons-in-law.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Where the Mitochondrial DNA Trail Leads


Sometimes, the connections found between distant family members can be surprising. Not long after I began this month's research project, I discovered my mother-in-law's matriline connected her with women living in colonial Maryland, reaching as far back in time as the mid-1600s. Now, reversing the process, I'm searching for descendants of those ancestral women who are considered an "exact match" to my mother-in-law's mitochondrial DNA signature. The trail this hunt has led me on so far has yielded some surprises.

The trail began with my mother-in-law's sixth great-grandmother, Elizabeth Duvall who, with her husband William Ridgely, gave the mitochondrial world eleven daughters whose multiple female descendants could possibly number well into the hundreds by the time of our current generation.

I started this mitochondrial chase with Elizabeth's daughter Martha Ridgely, sister of our direct line ancestor, Rachel Ridgely. The reason for this choice was simple: when researching ancestors in the 1600s, it is not easy to find mention of the women we are seeking.

In Martha's case, however, I was fortunate. One mention in a book—Joshua Dorsey Warfield's The Founders of Anne Arundel and Howard Counties, Maryland—revealed that Martha had married Henry Gaither. Henry, in turn, eventually became known as a D.A.R. Patriot.

From Martha and Henry, it was onward to following their daughters. First on my list—again, because I could find records for this—was their daughter Mary Gaither who, through marriage with another well-known family in Maryland, became the wife of Orlando Griffith Dorsey. The next generation brought yet another Mary, by then moved from Maryland to Kentucky, where Mary Dorsey became wife of John Carr.

Fortunately, this line from Martha to Mary to daughter Mary produced a family which once again included daughters. The mitochondrial line was still going strong.

That was where we met Mary and John Carr's daughter Mary Elizabeth Carr, wife of John Fenley. She it was who met that tragic end in the Quincy horror which claimed so many lives from the Fenley family. Though that appalling story permanently removed any chance of Mary Elizabeth Carr's mtDNA passing to future generations, Mary Elizabeth did have sisters.

Of course, I traced those lines, as well. I wanted to see where the mtDNA would land in the current generation. Unfortunately, I didn't find much to keep me going. Since Mary Elizabeth herself was born in 1819, the chances of finding her along with any other sisters in their parents' household by the time of the 1850 census—the first enumeration providing names of each resident in the household—would be slim. After all, Mary Elizabeth herself had been married to John Fenley in 1838. Still, I found three sisters: Martha, Laura, and Harriet.

Of those three, Martha married James T. Edmunds of Louisville, Kentucky, and had only sons. Laura married Benjamin Honoré and, though having what sounded like a fascinating life in both Chicago and Sarasota, Florida, had no children at all. Third sister Harriet died young—and unmarried—leaving me with no further leads.


I kept finding these mentions of another Honoré man who was somehow associated with the Carr family. Somehow, there had to be another Carr daughter to connect with this man. It wasn't until I went looking for the mother's own obituary—Mary Dorsey Carr died in 1883—that I finally found some leads.

What was strange was that Mary Carr's death notice appeared in multiple newspapers across the country. Much like had happened almost a decade later when her daughter Mary Elizabeth and the many Fenley family members died in the Quincy trail derailment, the elder Mary's story was carried by newswire services. 

One eight-line insertion, ironically carried in a Baltimore newspaper, simply read:

Mrs. Mary Carr, one of the oldest citizens of Louisville, Ky., died in that city Wednesday, aged eighty-nine years. She was well-known in New York, Chicago and other places. Mrs. Henry Honoré, of Chicago, was a daughter of Mrs. Carr, while Mrs. Fred. Grant and Mrs. Potter Palmer, of Chicago, were her granddaughters.

Who was Henry Honoré? And Potter Palmer? Just in case I'd get lucky, I started my search for answers with a quick visit to Google. Turns out, Henry was not only brother-in-law to Laura, wife of his brother Benjamin, but both couples moved from Louisville, where Henry became better known as Chicago real estate developer Henry Harrison Honoré. Also joining in the move to Chicago was Henry's bride, Mary Carr's daughter Eliza Jane Carr.

Passing that old Duvall mtDNA down yet another generation, Eliza became mother to daughters Bertha and Ida Marie. Bertha—who eventually became an astute businesswoman in her own right—married millionaire Chicago businessman, Potter Palmer. Her sister Ida Marie became wife of Frederick Dent Grant, oldest son of General—and later, President—Ulysses S. Grant.

While Bertha was mother to two sons, Ida Marie did have one daughter, Julia. Once again, this subsequent generation presented an unexpected trip further down the Duvall matriline. While traveling in Europe with her aunt Bertha, Julia met—and eventually married—Prince Mikhail Mikhailovich Cantacuzène. At the time of their 1899 wedding, he was a Russian nobleman, general and diplomat under the imperial order of the tsar.

Once again, that mtDNA line survived another generation, with Julia and her husband escaping the turmoil of the Russian Revolution and returning to the United States with their family, which included two daughters, one of whom eventually had two daughters of her own.

Despite the count of passing generations, that mitochondrial DNA might still be preserved in that line, even possibly without mutation, from the point at which I first began the genealogical chase with Elizabeth Duvall in colonial Maryland. Somehow, though, I doubt I'll see any of those names among the exact matches to my mother-in-law's mtDNA.

Friday, April 28, 2023

What Happened to Elizabeth


Sometimes, there are family stories so horrible, so painful, that those who lived through the trauma cannot bear, even years after the fact, to pass the tale along to the next generation. I wonder whether Elizabeth Fenley's story might have been one such example.

Elizabeth was a young six years of age when her family planned a delightful summer outing. The plan was for the extended family to take the train from their home in Louisville, Kentucky, to a favorite summer vacation spot in New England: Nantucket. From there, they planned to stop in Boston before returning home at the end of the summer.

While the vacation at the seashore may have been lovely, especially for Elizabeth, her sisters, and her cousin, the short train ride to Boston didn't end quite as well. The flurry of news reports about the train derailment near Quincy, Massachusetts, included mentions of the tragic outcome for the extended Fenley family—but apparently in the rush to get the "scoop" on the story, journalists confused the many Fenley names among the casualties.

Though several newspapers across the midwest published lists of the deceased passengers, it appeared that Mrs. Oscar Fenley was listed as the grandmother, for instance, when she was actually the mother of the three Fenley daughters. The confusion was never so obvious as when the Indianapolis newspaper published—on the same date and page—two articles regarding young Elizabeth Fenley.

After stating that "Elizabeth Fenley, four years old, died at the hospital," only inches below that column, the paper reported that "Elizabeth Fenley, aged six" was not at the hospital—where space was limited due to the immense number of injuries after the crash—but at the home of one "Mrs. Carr on Hancock street." Furthermore, "the little girl is badly scalded, and the doctor says her condition is such that he does not think she can live."

While the two reports contained discrepancies on not only her condition but her age, there was only one child involved in that train wreck by the name of Elizabeth Fenley. That she did not die immediately after the crash can be corroborated by Elizabeth's Find a Grave memorial, which was dated years later. However, the 1915 date on her headstone reveals yet another tragedy for the Fenley family.

A Find a Grave volunteer posted an explanation of what had followed for Elizabeth after she survived the horrors of the Quincy train derailment. Though badly scalded on the lower half of her body—injuries which took two months to resolve before she was able to travel back home to Kentucky again—she did return to Louisville with her father, who had not been with the Fenley family for that summer excursion, but came north to be with his daughter during her two-month-long recuperation. Only after their arrival home again was a memorial service conducted for the six Fenley family members who had died.

After the November funeral, it was said that Elizabeth never fully recovered from the effects of the train wreck. Her father, then president of the National Bank of Kentucky and a board member of the United States Regional Reserve Bank, provided for her in every way he could, including arranging for private schooling in Philadelphia and New York, and attendance at Bryn Mawr. Despite all that could be done for Elizabeth, by about 1912, she had been in bad health and was said to have been "on the verge of a nervous breakdown" when she traveled to New York, seeking treatment from a "nerve specialist."

From a headline in the New York Tribune on September 15, 1915, stating "Woman Killed in 8-Story Leap," the sad story of the culmination of Elizabeth's anguish was detailed. Wearing a blue taffeta dress and a hat with an ostrich plume, which she laid at the top of the stairway before her jump, Elizabeth made her irrevocable choice.

An unnamed aunt had been the last known person to have been with Elizabeth, as Elizabeth had seen her off at the train station that very afternoon before her tragic decision. Receiving the news by telegram, Elizabeth's father Oscar Fenley "collapsed and required medical attention throughout the night." The burden of what the Tribune had noted as an "appalling" tragedy of years prior which the Fenley family had suffered through had claimed yet another victim so many years later.

So many times, when we learn of tragedies borne by our ancestors, we may telescope the events into points on a timeline, rather than see them as the ongoing burden borne by those who survived. But those who remained had to continue living life with the pain of the experience. It is experiences like those which change us, point our life's trajectory in a different direction. Though such stories may have been too painful for our ancestors to tell, that is the stuff that became their reality—and a lens through which we can only attempt to understand them by.     

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Asking Questions to Find
the Rest of the Story


It was Mary Elizabeth Carr Fenley whose sudden death in Quincy, Massachusetts, plagued me with questions. Though I only this week had found the woman's name and family constellation, it seemed odd that a woman in 1890 would have died so far from home. I had to find the rest of that story.

Seeing her name on the death register, listed for Quincy as was often done during that time period—line by line on one page for the same month and year—revealed that Mary was not the only Fenley who had died on the same day. Delving further into the records, I could see there were others with different surnames among the dead that day who had also come from Mary's home in Louisville, Kentucky.

Despite having the help of archived newspaper collections to learn more about the cause of Mary's sudden death—and that of the other Fenley family members who lost their lives in that horrific twenty four hour period—there were some challenges to piece together who was who. Newspaper reporters, as we've seen in the past, can make mistakes.

Especially considering the sheer numbers of dead and injured in the train wreck which precipitated the loss of their lives, I certainly understand how the surrounding circumstances might have mangled reporters' ability to keep lists of casualties straight. It was back to the genealogical drawing board for me, after reading as many news articles as I could find, to sketch out the true relationships of the Fenley family members involved.

Mary, herself, was widow of John Norris Fenley, and mother of traveling companion Mary Fenley Abbott, who was accompanied by her husband, William. The party also included Mary's daughter-in-law Alice Short Fenley and her daughters, Mary's grandchildren Elizabeth, Mary Catherine, and Alice. Rounding out the party was another of Mary's granddaughters, Susan Fenley, daughter of Mary's son William.

All but son-in-law William Abbott and granddaughter Elizabeth died in the Quincy train tragedy within twenty four hours of its occurrence in August that year of 1890. Even so, both William and his niece Elizabeth were badly injured, marks which they bore through the rest of their lives and which, apparently, brought the young girl Elizabeth much anguish over the remainder of her brief life.

Before answering the question of exactly how—and why—I stumbled upon this family's unbearable loss, we'll first need to take a closer look at Elizabeth's story, tomorrow.  

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

The Quincy Horror


The end of summer was drawing to a close, and nine friends and family members from Louisville, Kentucky, were wrapping up their vacation at Nantucket with a quick train ride to Boston on the appropriately named Old Colony Railroad.

Among those in the traveling party were Judge I. W. Edwards, and the wife and family of Oscar Fenley, then president of the National Bank of Kentucky, who was to join the group shortly.

While the train was en route to Boston that August in 1890, unbeknownst to the passengers—and likely, the train's engineer, as well—some section hands had been working on the tracks beyond a curve in the route. They were using what was called a "track jack" which, left in place as the train approached—having received no safety warning from the workmen—caused a derailment ejecting passengers from their seats. 

The immediate derailment caused the steam engine to rupture, sending steam into the passenger compartment, further injuring those who had not been killed upon impact. Those passengers who could assisted the injured others outside to safety, and eventually help arrived to attend to the medical emergencies.

The local hospital in nearby Quincy, Massachusetts, was overwhelmed with the amount of medical care which needed to be provided. One newspaper report remarked, "No tongue can describe the scene at the city hospital."

Meanwhile, news wire services had picked up the story, as many of the travelers were from homes hundreds of miles from Quincy. Reports of the train catastrophe kept adding to the count of dead and injured at the scene—newspapers carried the story, dubbed The Quincy Horror, across the midwest, like Erie, Pennsylvania, and Indianapolis, Indiana. Many newspapers focused their reports on victims of the crash who were residents of their own city, such as this report from Cleveland, Ohio. Continued stories updated the count of the dead. To add insult to injury, some stories revealed that pickpockets worked the scene of the crash as well, lifting watches, jewelry, and money from victims too dazed to respond.

I wouldn't have known about this train wreck in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1890 if it weren't for one detail: my search to outline the descendants of one woman from colonial Maryland. Among those many dead and injured, one family stood out in news reports for their collective losses that day: the Fenley family from Louisville, Kentucky, the very family I had been researching from my mother-in-law's colonial roots. We'll piece together that list of casualties tomorrow, and see how they fit into the family constellation.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Research From Mother to Daughter,
Eighteenth Century Style


I'll jump straight to the punch line for this one: it's hard to find women in records of the 1700s. That, however, is where my research goal is taking me right now, as I celebrate DNA Day by looking for all eleven of the daughters of William and Elizabeth Duvall Ridgely of Anne Arundel County in colonial Maryland.

Elizabeth Duvall, incidentally, would be the sixth great-grandmother of my mother-in-law. The reason I thought she might be the best candidate for this jumping-off point is not just because she had eleven daughters, each of whom would pass along her mitochondrial DNA. She is actually my most reasonable choice for a starting place because I've already found accounts describing whom many of those daughters married. Besides, many of the women in subsequent generations in my mother-in-law's matriline had mostly sons, or daughters who married men who moved out of the area, or—worse—daughters who died young in childbirth or for other reasons did not leave daughters when their brief life was over.

So far, I've been able to gain a toe-hold on a line of descent from one daughter of Elizabeth Duvall. Following the paper trail from that daughter to her granddaughter, I've eventually traced the family to a great-granddaughter born in Kentucky, far from her ancestral home in Maryland.

That detail didn't surprise me quite so much as the fact of her death. Far from home, there she was, listed in a record of death reports for a city far to the north in Massachusetts, once again reminding me of cautions to tread carefully with this research, yet all the while pulling me down an irresistible rabbit trail.

I need to find out if this is really the great-granddaughter in a matriline which matches my mother-in-law's line, and if so, what brought her and several family members from Kentucky to Massachusetts? Bear with me tomorrow as I explore a miniscule matrilineal mystery.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Getting a Clearer Picture


It is always helpful to find a reliable history book which contains the names of our ancestors. In the case of researching my mother-in-law's fourth great-grandparents, that early colonial time period could use some helpful trailblazing, especially for the women in the family who would otherwise have remained nearly invisible. Now that we've scouted out the preliminary reports, though, it's time to get busy locating the actual documents.

But first, let's get a clearer picture of what we've discovered so far.

As I've been reading through books such as Harry Wright Newman's Anne Arundel Gentry and Joshua Dorsey Warfield's The Founders of Anne Arundel and Howard Counties, Maryland, I've been taking notes. From those notes, I've sketched out a possible tree from those authors' narratives. That way, we may more clearly see how all those names fit together.


From this diagram, which I gleaned from my mother-in-law's updated tree at, I can now see how all the names fit together in relationship to her fourth great-grandmother, Elizabeth Howard. Since one goal with this month's research is to examine that family's matriline for use with mitochondrial DNA test results, I now can visually follow that matriline from Elizabeth, to her mother Rachel Ridgely, to her mother Elizabeth Duvall, and then to her mother Martha Ridgely and (not included in the insert above) her mother, also named Martha.

Of course, as I assemble these notes, the next step will be to research the female descendants of each woman on that matriline. Any one of the women on each mother's line of descent could be a match to my husband's mtDNA test.

I've been gleaning dates wherever possible, as well as names of descendants, but the going is far different than I'd like it to be. For one thing, in the 1600s and 1700s, women were essentially invisible other than during a very few occasions. Birth, marriage, or death, while events which we now note in so many records, were not always occasions for so much as the mention of a name—with the one exception of being the daughter or wife of a property owner. The speed of research slows markedly.

There is one other task to complete before the end of this month: compare notes with those others who have tested their mtDNA and turned out to be an exact match to my mother-in-law's line. Even there, though, we'll find hurdles to mount.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Back to the Other Side of the Family


Since we have spent the better part of this month exploring the ancestry of my mother-in-law's fourth great-grandmother, I suppose it would only be right to say at least a little bit about this ancestor's husband.

That fourth great-grandmother, Elizabeth Howard, married another colonial Maryland man by the name of William Ijams. You may remember reading about that unusual surname at A Family Tapestry, not only with this month's commentary on the history of the letter J, but from some other discoveries I've made over the years.

Since we managed to push back four more generations on Elizabeth Howard's matriline, it's no wonder we haven't dwelt much on Elizabeth's husband's line. There's been too much to discover on the Howard side of the family equation. But at least we can afford one day to run down the generations of Elizabeth's husband.

Using Harry Wright Newman's 1933 book, Anne Arundel Gentry, as my trailblazer, I was able to locate a few paragraphs on three generations of Elizabeth's husband's line. From this point, as with Elizabeth's story, I'll use the dates and names to see if I can retrace Newman's research steps and locate the documentation informing his narrative.

Here's what I've found so far. William Ijams, husband of Elizabeth Howard, was one of at least eight children born to John and his wife, Rebecca Jones. John, however, was often listed with his surname spelled as Iiams.

Born in 1712 in Anne Arundel County, John was son of yet another William Iiams and his wife, Elizabeth Plummer. His bride Rebecca was daughter of Isaac Jones, part of another Anne Arundel County family.

Just as we saw when we wove our way back through the generations in Elizabeth Howard's family, we keep going back through the Iiams family, still residing in colonial Maryland. From the elder William, husband of Elizabeth Plummer, we can step back one more generation and still be in Anne Arundel County. John Iiams' father William was born there in 1670, son of another William and his wife, Elizabeth Cheyney.

It was this William who was apparently the founding immigrant ancestor of my mother-in-law's Ijams line. According to the Newman book, William's surname was recorded, at least in one instance, as Eyams. Though Newman could not find any record of William Eyams' entry into the colony, he presumably was there in Maryland before his 1669 marriage to Elizabeth, daughter of Richard Cheyney.

Once again, the woman—my mother-in-law—who thought her ancestors had just recently "gotten off the boat" turns out to descend from families with long-standing colonial roots.


Saturday, April 22, 2023

A Thought to Hold


Admittedly, it can be frustrating to comprehend all the relationship lines which tie us to our DNA matches. Sometimes—especially after working on my test kits at 23andMe—I call those diagrams my "spaghetti bowl" family tree. Lines are reaching out every which way.

I ran across a thought yesterday, perhaps meant for me to hold on to, given such research frustrations. It was a simple sentence toward the end of Barbara Rae-Venter's recently-released book, I Know Who You Are. She was explaining the hours and hours of work put in to solve some of the cold cases from decades past, or solve for the John or Jane Doe unidentified victims.

In one criminal case the author was working on, research was not going well. One DNA match might seem to lead to a breakthrough, only to ultimately result in another tangled mess.

As she explained the sequence of steps as they unfolded in her work, Barbara Rae-Venter shared an insight about one such disappointing lead. According to her, despite "twists and setbacks...the right question to ask was: What does this setback tell us about where to look next?"

Whether you are working on solving the identity of an unknown but violent criminal or simply stuck while trying to determine your own grandmother's birth parents, after a setback, Barbara's question is a solid reminder to re-center your thinking and strategize what your next step might be. We can learn from anything—even mistakes and setbacks.

Working with DNA for genealogy can be frustrating with everything from mounting a steep learning curve simply to begin, to feeling overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of matches—or the disappointing lack thereof. Learning the resilience of letting even our mistakes guide us to our next steps can redirect us rather than defeat us.

Friday, April 21, 2023

The Other Brother's Heritage,
the Other Husband's History


If it weren't for a research goal I'm working on this month, I'd never have stumbled upon some interesting history. Near misses these are, as you'll see, and not exactly my mother-in-law's family. But you can glean some fascinating stories on the way to discovering the truth about your own family history.

One goal I have for this month is to examine my mother-in-law's matriline. It goes without saying—but I'll say it anyways—that mother's mother's mother's history is the same for my husband as it is for his mother. Thus, the test results for my husband's mitochondrial DNA are burning a hole in my genetic genealogy pocket, so to speak. I want to see how far back I can go on that matriline and verify it with a paper trail.

However, I'm stuck at one point: my mother-in-law's eighth great-grandmother. If you think that is too distant a relationship to be picked up by a DNA test, you'd be right—if we were talking about an autosomal DNA test. But a mitochondrial test is different. I want to see just how different it might be.

The only problem I have with that research scenario is that I'm not exactly sure what the name of that eighth great-grandmother might be. If I follow the trail back to that generation—which, by the way, I can do on two separate lines (this is colonial America in the 1600s, after all)—I can spot her husband's name. Not, however, do I have a solid clue as to this woman's own identity.

I have a couple rabbit trails I've followed, though. One leads to the Honorable Robert Ridgely, our mystery mother's husband, who was named as father of one Charles Ridgely, sometimes referred to as Charles the Planter. I know this only because of his son by the same name, called Charles the Merchant—or, more conveniently, Charles Ridgely II.

That particular Ridgely family of Robert's grandson, the younger Charles, just happened to be the scions of a property-holding line which once included Hampton Hall. That, however, was the other brother in the Ridgely line of my mother-in-law. She descends from the younger Charles' brother.

That property, by the way, is now known as the Hampton National Historic Site, part of the U. S. National Park Service.

Of course, that little rabbit trail did not lead me to the answer I was seeking: who was Robert Ridgely's wife? I had one other lead to chase after. Though Charles Ridgely's brother was part of the paternal branch of my mother-in-law's fifth great-grandmother Rachel Ridgely, Robert Ridgely was an ancestor on the maternal side of that family as well.

From that side of the family, I had found the note I had mentioned yesterday: that Lewis Duvall had married Martha Ridgely, only daughter of Robert Ridgely.

There he was again: Robert Ridgely. But who was his wife?

This requires us to be willing to go down yet another rabbit trail. And you know I'm good for that. It turns out that whoever Robert Ridgely's wife was, she—like so many other women of that time period—had been married more than once. In fact, she had been married three times.

It turns out that I had run into information on that third marriage before—but that was a detail which I had long forgotten. Back when I was exploring another potential connection for my mother-in-law—this time, involving some men around the beginning of our country's history, by the surname Carroll—I had checked the wives and children of three men named Charles Carroll.

It is to this eldest Charles Carroll that we need now to return. This particular Carroll was first married to a woman who had been a widow—twice. Her second husband had been a Maryland man by the name of Underwood. But her first husband? That was the name which made a difference. It was Robert Ridgely—the same Robert Ridgely who had been father of Charles the Planter and grandfather of Charles the Merchant.

Though that wife's maiden name is apparently under dispute, with at least two different names being proposed, at least we now have her given name. That name was Martha—maybe a Smith, maybe a Hawks (though I find no substantiation for that). Whatever her maiden name might have been, at least I now have a partial identity to list for this eighth great-grandmother. And a speck of the minutiae of American history to discover in the process.   


Thursday, April 20, 2023

Finding Another
Founding Immigrant Ancestor


As I push back through the generations of each ancestor, it always calls forth wonder in my mind—wonder at just how long I will continue on this research path in my own country before I find the terminal position, the founding immigrant ancestor.

For the most part, my assumption is that that discovery will happen by about the mid-1800s. That, at least, was what my mother-in-law expected regarding her forebears. Sometimes, I find a really extended line which persists in this country up until the last few years of the colonial period, like those of my family's ancestors who qualified us as potential members of the Daughters of the American Revolution. And, of course, there is that one tantalizing line which, if finally proven through adequate documentation, would gain us entry in the Mayflower Society.

This line I'm working on today, though, seemed like it might keep going beyond the date of the Mayflower's arrival near Cape Cod late in 1620. After all, the region I'm researching with this month's plan lies far to the south of what is now the state of Massachusetts. The adventurers who landed in such an area as this first arrived as early as 1607 for the Jamestown settlement. What if...?

In pursuing the ancestors of my mother-in-law's fourth great-grandmother, Elizabeth Howard, we've already seen that Elizabeth's mother was listed as Rachel Ridgely, wife of Joseph Howard of Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Rachel, in turn, was daughter of William and Elizabeth (Duval) Ridgely.

With that discovery—and the handy detail that my mother-in-law's son has already taken a mitochondrial DNA test—I realized that I can pursue her matriline, all the way from my mother-in-law to the farthest extent to which it reaches, unmutated. If you have never conducted such a study, let me tell you: the power of the mtDNA test can reach back far further than the autosomal test that many of us have taken. Even though I'm now talking at the level of sixth great-grandmother for my mother-in-law—and seventh for my husband, the test taker—it could be possible that I will locate exact matches with descendants of some of the women living in this earlier era.

And yet, we push back even farther. While I have found some information for Rachel, what about her mother? Finding records for women in that era of colonial history can be challenging. What can be found on Elizabeth Duval, wife of William Ridgely and mother of Rachel?

Returning to the records we checked yesterday, it's time to read between the lines. In the passage we read yesterday from the 1905 book by Joshua Dorsey Warfield, which listed those ten sisters and three brothers of Rachel Ridgely Howard, there were some other helpful details. One was that Rachel's father had married his cousin Elizabeth Duval. Furthermore, the author gave this Elizabeth's father's name: Lewis Duval.

With that information, and while reading the book in its digitized format online at Internet Archive, I searched for all entries listing that specific surname, Duval. One entry that came up for a Lewis Duval through this search process mentioned that "Lewis Duvall married Martha Ridgely, only daughter of Hon. Robert Ridgely, of St. Inigoes, in 1699."

That sentence was embedded within a paragraph listing all the siblings of this Lewis Duval—or, more specifically in this English-speaking colony, Duvall—and led to the answer to my next question. Who were the parents of Lewis Duvall?

While from his vantage point at the publication of his book, Joshua Dorsey Warfield was unable to state the name of Lewis Duvall's mother, he did explain that Lewis' father was parent of twelve children, five of whom married before their father's death in 1694. Thankfully, Lewis was among those who were already married. My next task will be to locate his father's will to see how the family was actually listed there.

As it turned out, the Duvall children were born to a Huguenot refugee fleeing persecution in his native France. Born Marin Duval in 1625, he arrived in Maryland in the company of one hundred fifty "adventurers" in 1650. In records from his new home in Anne Arundel County, he was recorded as Mareen Duvall.

Thus, following the men affiliated with my mother-in-law's matriline, I've at least found the founding immigrant father for this one set of her eighth great-grandparents.

Mareen Duvall—or Marin Duval—has been the inspiration for the forming of a family history association, known as The Society of Mareen Duvall Descendants. Established in December of 1926, the organization is nearing its hundredth anniversary. While many of their four hundred-plus current members descend from Mareen's son, Mareen the Younger, and membership files are organized by name of the specific child of Mareen from whom a member descends, there are yet two of the Duvall children for whom no one has claimed membership. I wonder if one of those two children might be Lewis. I might need to test this application system to see whether any members belong to his line.


Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Of White Wine and Claret


Sometimes, in order to identify the right ancestor, we need to explore deeper into the family constellation. Since our task today is to locate the right William Ridgely of Anne Arundel County in colonial Maryland, we'll first need to take a detour to a place called White Wine and Claret.

We want to make sure we locate the right William Ridgely because Anne Arundel County had more than one man by that name, and because we don't yet have firm dates on this man's life.

The impetus for our quest is his daughter, Rachel, who sports yet another name with many duplicates in colonial Anne Arundel County. Rachel happened to be wife of Joseph Howard, another name with duplicates. Together, Rachel and Joseph were parents of my mother-in-law's fourth great-grandmother, Elizabeth Howard.

So, which William is the right Ridgely? From our original source, Harry Wright Newman's 1933 book, Anne Arundel Gentry, we see his name cited as husband of a woman named Elizabeth Duval. Discovering another book which researched many of the same names from colonial Maryland's history, I found mention of eleven daughters of William and Elizabeth. Rachel's husband Joseph Howard had many sisters-in-law.

Talk about potential for multiple descendants all claiming the same matriline! Researching those eleven daughters of William Ridgely will keep me busy for far more than the remainder of this month.

There was one additional—and tantalizing—clue about who this William Ridgely was: the name that was given to his inheritance. This was an inheritance of property gained not from William's own parents, but from his maternal grandfather, the Honorable John Dorsey

The property was patented in 1712, for the specific intent of providing for the sons of John Dorsey's daughter Deborah, wife of Charles Ridgely. Thus, Dorsey's land was willed to his Ridgely grandsons, Charles and William. Since the younger Charles chose to live on one of his other properties, the land—dubbed by John Dorsey as "White Wine and Claret"—went by default to the other grandson, William.

The land, hemmed in by the "crooked outlines" of the surveyor's work, Dorsey attributed to the gift he had bestowed upon the surveyors as he sent them off on their duties: white wine and claret. The land, originally encompassing 2,500 acres, is now located in Clarksville, part of Howard County.

That land became the site where William Ridgely and his wife, Elizabeth Duval, raised their three sons and eleven daughters. A book published almost three decades before Harry Wright Newman's work—called The Founders of Anne Arundel and Howard Counties, Maryland—actually names each one of them, including the identity of the married daughters' husbands.

More pertinent to our current goal—to pursue Elizabeth Howard's matriline—this second book spells out a few details on William Ridgely's wife, Elizabeth Duval. This is precisely the line we will need to follow next. While we'll have our work cut out for us at this stop on the generational train trip with those ten sisters of Rachel Ridgely, it will also be important to see what we can learn about Rachel's mother, Elizabeth Duval. We'll zero in on that, next.  

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Exploring Elizabeth Howard's Matriline


When you have a research tool at the ready, you may as well put it to good use. In the question of my mother-in-law's fourth great-grandmother, Elizabeth Howard, I happened to notice that the pedigree line connecting the two women is what genetic genealogists call the matriline. And yes, there is a tool ready to explore that matriline, called the mitochondrial DNA test, or mtDNA for short.

It so happens that mothers pass along their mtDNA not only to their daughters, but also to their own sons. Thus, though he himself cannot pass mtDNA along to any of his children, in testing my husband's mtDNA, I actually received results indicating his mother's matriline. 

With that test, I have my mother-in-law's haplogroup, and test results which include three "exact match" candidates to contact from that specific matriline. 

Alas, as has been the experience of many DNA test participants, I have yet to receive a reply to my request to compare family trees, but hopefully a gentle reminder before the end of the month may awaken a response.

In the meantime, the next step is to build out my mother-in-law's tree, specifically pushing back another generation or two on that important—and biologically tenacious—matriline. That means exploring any records on Elizabeth Howard's mother and maternal grandmother, perhaps even to further generations, as mitochondrial DNA mutates very slowly. That's the power of tests like mtDNA and Y-DNA.

We've received the first suggestion on explanding that matriline, thanks to the Harry Wright Newman 1933 book, Anne Arundel Gentry. Since the book mentioned the many generations of Howards in colonial Maryland, it has served as my trailblazer in building out that part of my mother-in-law's family tree. But now, we'll see what can be found specifically on Elizabeth's mother.

It wasn't hard to find the entry for Elizabeth's parents in the Newman book, particularly since I was reading the digitized version on Internet Archive. That website includes search capabilities, allowing me to cut straight to the chase. On the entry for Joseph Howard, Elizabeth's father who died in 1777, Newman stated that Joseph married Rachel, daughter of William and Elizabeth (Duval) Ridgely.

While this may seem to be straightforward information, don't think I can simply dive in to research Rachel Ridgely. It turned out that there were a number of women in colonial Anne Arundel County who carried that same name, either as a birth name or as a married name. A first step will need to be a study of William Ridgely, ensuring we select the right William so that we can then identify the right Rachel, his daughter.

Along with that step will be verification of William's own wife, Elizabeth Duval, yet another way to make sure we're following the right line—and an addition to the matriline we are compiling.

Of course, not only my Elizabeth Howard, but any of her sisters and maternal aunts who had children may become part of that same matriline, so that will be another work-in-progress as well: to gather data on those female collateral lines. But first things first. We'll make William Ridgely, father of Rachel, our first step in this process, tomorrow.

Monday, April 17, 2023

Finding the Founding Immigrant


We've pushed our way back through time on the Howard family of Maryland, but now we're about to find that colonial family in a different location.

First, we started with my mother-in-law's fourth great-grandmother, Elizabeth Howard, who eventually became wife of William Ijams and, at his death, the second wife of Major John Whistler. From that point, we learned Elizabeth's father was Joseph Howard, himself son of Cornelius Howard.

Still in colonial Maryland, Cornelius' father was yet another Joseph Howard, who in turn was son of another Cornelius Howard.

And we were still researching in colonial Maryland.

As we discovered last week, the elder Cornelius Howard died in Maryland in 1680, leaving five children under the age of five. Where this Cornelius Howard and his siblings were born, however, becomes conjecture—based mostly on following the whereabouts of his own parents.

According to the Harry Wright Newman book, Anne Arundel Gentry, Cornelius was one of eight children born to Matthew and Anne Howard. Newman explained that though Cornelius' parents did arrive in the New World from England, it was unlikely that any of the children were yet born at the time of the parents' passage to America.

The author estimated the date of their marriage to be 1630, and their arrival in the New World to be after that point. The only date available to help fix the time of their arrival would be the land grant Matthew received in 1638. As such grants by the English government were awarded to "adventurers" based on how many people an applicant had "transported," the amount received by Matthew seemed to be based on his passage plus that of his wife and two servants. Thus, each of those eight children were likely born somewhere in America.

That somewhere appears to have been in the recently-formed colony of Virginia. Specifically, Matthew and Anne Howard received land in the then-newly-formed—but now long-extinct—Lower Norfolk County. There, Matthew and Anne remained for nearly twenty years. It is likely that all eight of their children were born at that location, including their son Cornelius, my mother-in-law's eighth great-grandfather.

By about 1650, though, Matthew and Anne had relocated to Maryland, and their son Cornelius followed suit by 1659. Thus, we don't find our founding immigrant ancestors on this Howard line until my mother-in-law's ninth great-grandparents, Matthew and Anne Howard. Harry Wright Newman provides some interesting speculation on the connection between this Howard family and the Arundel family in England, and a marriage connecting the family to Cecilius Calvert, second Lord Baltimore.

That, however, doesn't concern us on our pursuit of my mother-in-law's Howard ancestors. Nor does it provide us with the information we'll need to find regarding her matriline, which passes through Elizabeth Howard—but then on to Elizabeth's mother, not the Howard line.

Let's backtrack to Elizabeth Howard Ijams' own generation and explore her ancestral connections on the maternal side of her family. With surnames changing with each generation, this exploration will prove to be a bit more challenging.   

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Keeping Track of the Collateral


It wasn't much of a surprise to discover that in the last two weeks, I had added 288 people to my mother-in-law's family tree. After all, hers is the family I've been working on during the month of April. When I discovered that the research goal I had selected for this month—to learn more about her fourth great-grandmother Elizabeth Howard—placed my sites squarely on her matriline, my first step was to work on all Elizabeth's daughters' descendants. That meant learning more about those collateral lines in the family tree—especially the sisters connected to Elizabeth's daughter Sarah Howard Ijams.

The result of that flurry of research activity means that my in-laws' tree now includes data for 31,341 relatives. That, however, wasn't all I had been working on for this month. While I do select one research goal per month, when I discover at the end of each month that there is yet more work to do, I continue the process behind the scenes.

While I haven't written about it much lately, I'm still working on the collateral lines for my Broyles line (January goal), my Taliaferro line (February goal), and my Tilson line (March goal). Just like I mentioned yesterday, the process for this behind the scenes work is to take each collateral line and follow all the descendants down to the present-day generation. Data like this makes for a much easier time of plugging in DNA cousin matches to my family tree.

So, what did all that behind-the-scenes work do for my own tree? Since all three of the family lines I mentioned come from my own mother's tree, it should be no surprise to learn that her tree grew by 241 people, despite it not being my major research goal for the month. That means my own tree is now up to 33,458 names, all thoroughly documented.

Not only is the practice of researching collateral lines helping me to identify the right place for each DNA match, but it helps me spot family trends, seeing geographic and economic changes and getting a feel for each family. Sometimes—and this happens quite often—a collateral line can give me the breakthrough I need when stuck on a "brick wall" ancestor.

Of course, cumulatively continuing those research goals from past months while still pressing forward with each new month's own goal will eventually leave me swamped with work. After all, I'm still working on those Broyles cousins from January.

Later on this year, I'll have to give up some of that collateral search process. But for now, it's a work in progress which I can pick up at odd moments of down time. Here a little, there a little sometimes is all it takes to get a job done—and paint a bigger picture of a family down through history.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Ex-Husbands of Sixth Cousins,
and Me


So there I was, sitting at my laptop and working on the endless collateral lines descended from the surnames I'd been researching earlier this year—names like Broyles and Tilson, with deep roots in this country's colonial history. My self-imposed assignment was to trace each line of descent to the present day for the benefit of placing my thousands of unknown DNA cousins on their proper branch of my family tree.

Working on one family's extensive line, I made it down to the level of my sixth cousin—a suitable stopping place, since the likelihood of two sixth cousins sharing DNA can drop below the two percent mark, depending on which company you choose for your autosomal test. But I'm a greedy researcher, and my mantra sometimes becomes, "Just one more." I wanted to find the next generation for this one particular, married sixth cousin.

In the process of searching for an obituary—those tell-all documents which have become research necessities for those of us smitten with the genealogy bug—I discovered a few things. I found the coveted names of the next generation, alright, but I also discovered the sixth cousin's spouse was actually an ex-husband. Who had remarried. With a spouse whose name sounded vaguely familiar—and triggered a volley of hints on my online tree at

One of those hints was for a listing of all other Ancestry subscribers who also have that name entered in their family tree. One of those trees happened to belong to a friend of mine.

I messaged that friend to ask just how she might be related to that wife of my sixth cousin's ex-husband.

"She's my sister," came the reply.

You know we had to get together for coffee and to compare notes. After all, it isn't every day that we genies bump into friends with connections to the ex-husband of our sixth cousin.

Come to think of it, it isn't often that we even meet anyone who could follow a relationship like the one I just described in that last sentence, let alone name that person.

What a uniquely-organized world we've plotted on our digital family trees, with tools which would seem to be no more than science fiction to the ancestors whose names populate the boxes in our pedigree chart. Our research world has exploded with possibilities. The time it takes to solve a genealogical riddle has shrunken. And the closest route to a sixth cousin can be a distance as short as the span of the table between me and the friend with whom I'm sharing a chuckle over a morning's cup of coffee.  

Friday, April 14, 2023

Still in Maryland


Going back, generation by generation, from my mother-in-law's fourth great-grandmother, Elizabeth Howard, to research her ancestors, I keep expecting to find the one who came to the New World from the Old Country. Now that we're back to the late 1600s, one would expect that scenario to make its appearance soon, right?

But no. Our Elizabeth's great-father, Joseph Howard, turned out to be born in colonial Maryland, as we discovered the other day. Since that Joseph was born about 1676—according to Harry Wright Newman's genealogical book, Anne Arundel Gentry—surely it would be his father who was the founding immigrant for the Howard line.

That, at least, was what I thought. The Newman book, however, set me right once again. Explaining that Joseph was the eldest son among his siblings, Newman named Joseph's father as yet another Cornelius Howard—Captain Cornelius Howard, gentleman. This one, married to a woman listed only by her given name, Elizabeth, was evidently a prosperous landowner, in addition to his many military duties and public service as a representative in the General Assembly.

Cornelius was father of five children, two sons and three daughters. Though his son Joseph was the eldest, born about 1676, the boy hadn't yet attained the age of five when his father died.

According to the Newman book, though no date of birth was given for Cornelius, land records showed he received his first land grant in colonial Maryland in 1662. But don't think he had just crossed the Atlantic to receive that property. Apparently, his parents arrived in Maryland before him—but not from the location you might have presumed. They arrived in Maryland not from England, but from the colony of Virginia, opening up yet another chapter in the Howard line for us to discover. 


Thursday, April 13, 2023

When a House Becomes
Part of the Family History


What would you do if you discovered the home of one of your ancestors was still standing? 

I know what I'd do. If I were in the neighborhood, I'd hop in my car and at least drive by the place, craning my neck to spy every detail I could from my roadside vantage point.

Unfortunately, when I read the entry in Harry Wright Newman's book, Anne Arundel Gentry, concerning the three hundred year old Maryland property of Joseph Howard, seventh great-grandfather of my mother-in-law, I wasn't exactly in the neighborhood. So I did the next best thing: I googled it.

According to Anne Arundel Gentry, when Joseph Howard combined some of his inherited properties and had them re-surveyed, he named the new parcel "Howard's Inheritance." The Newman book noted that the home built on the property was called Mulberry Hill, and that—at least as of the date of writing his 1933 book—it was still standing.

To Google I went, typing in those two names: Howard's Inheritance and Mulberry Hill. Narrowing my search to Anne Arundel County, I discovered a list of properties in the county which were included on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sure enough, on the list there was an entry for a place called Howard's Inheritance, complete with a brief description of the house and a photo. Better yet, a footnote led me to the actual application for registration, provided by the Maryland Historical Trust.

Clicking through to the seventy four page file posted on the MHT website, I perused the entire application. There, I found a simple description of the property—a one and a half story gambrel-roofed brick house with a hall parlor plan—and a great deal more detail.

After paging through the application, I reached what some people call a house history. While I was fascinated to delve into greater detail on who lived in the home, despite seeing a few familiar names—at least I spotted Cornelius—from the Howard family history, it quickly became evident that despite the correct name for the property, this was not the place owned by my mother-in-law's ancestor.

Trying to find yet another home called by the same names—Howard's Inheritance and Mulberry Hill—seemed a fruitless effort. Coming up with every alternate search term I could think of, I finally discovered another application under the name "Mulberry Hill, (Howard's Inheritance)." Unlike the other application, labeled "AA-136" ("AA" for the county, Anne Arundel), this second National Register application sported the number AA-195.

This application was also for a one and a half story gambrel-roofed brick house. However, by the time I reached the fifteenth page, I could tell this was indeed the application for the house once owned by Joseph Howard. Actually noted in the narrative was this remark:

The house bears some similarities to another brick house with a gambrel roof, Howard's Inheritance (AA-136), which was also built on a large tract of land belonging to the Howard family.

Both applications include a floor plan and many photographs of the property, the later numbered application being the property which, according to the narrative, was owned by seven generations of Joseph Howard's family, up until the time when it was sold in the early 1900s.  

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

The Howard Family:
Reaching Back Through Maryland History


Most Americans researching their roots expect that, at some point, they will identify the ancestor who was their founding immigrant, the one who came from "the old country," wherever that might have been.

Shortly after my marriage, when I set about to begin piecing together my husband's family tree, I interviewed my mother-in-law to gain the information needed to start such a research project. How clearly I remember her telling me that, surely, when I made it back past her grandparents, I'd discover the previous generation had just "gotten off the boat." She was that certain of her ancestors' immigrant status.

After pressing back generation after generation on my mother-in-law's matriline, however, that founding immigrant ancestor is yet to be found. With Elizabeth Howard, my mother-in-law's fourth great-grandmother, that family tree was still firmly planted on American turf. Colonial territory, admittedly, but still on the continent.

So far this month, we've explored Elizabeth Howard's patriline, briefly reviewing information on her father Joseph Howard, then her paternal grandfather Cornelius Howard. With those three, we've remained well within the bounds of the 1700s in colonial Maryland. But as we move back yet another generation, two details strike me. The first is that Elizabeth's great-grandfather was born in the 1600s—approximately 1676, but still within that earlier century. The second detail I noticed was that this man was also born in the New World, not a European-born immigrant.

Elizabeth' great-grandfather, yet another Joseph Howard, was a man who had married three times, outliving all three of his wives. All told, this senior Joseph was able to name nine children in his 1736 will, at least according to the entry in Harry Wright Newman's book, Anne Arundel Gentry.

It is from the children of his third wife that our Elizabeth was descended. Joseph Howard married "Margarey" Keith (sometimes reported as Marjorie) on September 28, 1708. According to the Newman book, the record for this marriage was noted as held at Saint Ann's Church, a document I'll need to verify.

Margarey and Joseph had five children, with the second-born being Elizabeth's grandfather, Cornelius Howard. Joseph became a "gentleman planter" with land holdings in the western portion of Anne Arundel County. What was interesting to discover was that the "mansion house" on the Howards' main property, said to have been "a fine specimen of early American architecture" and "the oldest brick house in Anne Arundel County," was still standing.

At least, that would have been true when Harry Wright Newman published the book providing these notes on the mansion. But that was back in 1933. My next question—and you know I'll have to take this detour—is: could that house still be standing today?  

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Learning About the
Howards of Colonial Maryland


Two types of documents can be relied on to trace families in pre-1850 America, and particularly during the time period before the founding of the United States. Both have to do with property. One is the last will and testament left behind by the dying landholder. The other is the paper trail produced as property is changed from one owner to the next. To use either to find your ancestors means, of course, that that ancestor needed to have been owner of something significant enough to warrant such records.

When it comes to my mother-in-law's ancestors, she had assured me years ago that she expected no such luck. The hard work of farming seldom came with unexpected windfalls. That, at least, was the experience of the ancestors she knew—or knew of. How was she to know anything about a fourth great-grandmother named Elizabeth Howard?

With digitized records at our fingertips—or the capability to access them within easy grasp—research has changed drastically. Now, following the way-pointers from a book published in 1933, I can follow author Harry Wright Newman's research trail to see for myself not only where Elizabeth's ancestors might have settled, but how they fared in the New World of the English colony in Maryland.

Yesterday, we discovered Elizabeth was the daughter of Joseph Howard and his wife, Rachel Ridgely. Joseph Howard, in turn, was son of yet another Maryland-born man, Cornelius Howard.

Cornelius, our Elizabeth's paternal grandfather, was born about 1717 in Queen Caroline Parish of Anne Arundel County, living there until his death in 1772. The third of six children, Cornelius was one of three sons and three daughters of his father, yet another Joseph.

Cornelius' wife introduced additional name repetitions into the family equation, as her mother was descended from a Ridgely family—possibly the same as that of her son Joseph's wife?—and received that maternal maiden name as her own middle name. Thus, Cornelius marrying Rachel Ridgely Worthington produced a son (Joseph) who subsequently went on to marry yet another woman named Rachel Ridgely.

If it were not for genealogical databases and the ability to electronically sketch out pedigree charts, this might become confusing. However, as I work my way through the Newman book, tracing Elizabeth Howard's forebears by entering them into my own database, I plan to integrate this note-taking approach with a thorough search to verify the documents referred to in Anne Arundel Gentry.

Before we examine the finished product of that pedigree chart, though, there is more work to attend to. While we have information on one more generation of the Howard line available to us in the Newman book—which we'll review tomorrow—because of the availability of mitochondrial DNA test results for Elizabeth Howard's matriline, it is important to follow tomorrow's post with further information on Elizabeth's mother's line as well.  

Monday, April 10, 2023

Finding Elizabeth's Roots


It is a far cry from researching the roots of our near ancestors living in, say, the previous century to the challenge of finding records for those far-removed ancestors in colonial times. That, however, is the task we're facing when we begin exploring the roots of my mother-in-law's fourth great-grandmother, Elizabeth Howard Ijams.

Elizabeth was supposedly born in colonial Maryland in 1758. If it weren't for someone sharing an unpublished genealogy of Elizabeth's second husband, Major John Whistler, I wouldn't have found the resource trail which led me to my only other clue to her roots so far: a book called Anne Arundel Gentry.

Once I got oriented to the layout of this 1933 genealogy book, however, I've begun piecing together what can be found on at least a few more generations linked to Elizabeth's family. This week, we'll begin exploring what author Harry Wright Newman included in his book about the families associated with Elizabeth's line, starting with Elizabeth's own parents, today.

In the entry for her first husband, a man listed in Newman's book as William Iiams, we find a listing for not only William's parents, but his wife's as well. William, son of John and Rebecca (Jones) Iiams, had married the daughter of Joseph Howard and his wife, the former Rachel Ridgely. This daughter, Elizabeth, was apparently listed in her father's 1776 will under her married name.

We are fortunate that the Newman book mentions that detail, as her name appears in a currently-available digitized copy of that will in the lower, faded, portion of the page. Harder to read, likely due to the age of the copy of the document, it is still possible to make out Elizabeth's married name—clearly shown as Ijams—but not much else in those last few lines of the page.

From the book's entry on Elizabeth's parents, using information drawn from her father's will, we discover that Elizabeth had at least three brothers and a sister, with one additional sibling not yet born at the time the will was drawn up. That sibling turned out to be Elizabeth's sister Sarah, joining the other sister, Rachel, wife of Eli Gassaway.

As for the brothers, though three were named, only one lived much longer than the time it took to settle the estate. That, completed on April 14, 1790, included only one son in the distribution: eldest son Joseph, who by then was married to a likely relative whose name was given in the book as Mary Howard. The Newman book surmises that Joseph's brother Cornelius died in 1785, and that youngest brother William Ridgely Howard followed suit before that 1790 date.

The listing of Elizabeth's sisters can be helpful in this project, specifically due to the one additional tool I'm using: the mitochondrial DNA test results for one descendant on Elizabeth's matriline. If either of those sisters had daughters of their own, their female descendants could also be passing down that identical—or near identical—genetic signature encased in their mtDNA. Perhaps one of them could be an exact match to the test results I already have on file. I am still awaiting responses to begin the process of comparing trees with those matches.

Better yet, the Newman book did not stop at Elizabeth's parents' generation. We can move on yet another generation tomorrow, by exploring what the Anne Arundel Gentry book mentioned for the generation previous to Elizabeth's parents, Joseph Howard and Rachel Ridgely.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Local Genealogical Societies:
More Questions


More questions this weekend: so exactly why do people want to be part of a local genealogical society?

Our northern California region has—thankfully—several city- and county-wide genealogical organizations which gather together on a quarterly basis to compare notes on administration and strategies for groups such as ours. Granted, our consortium cover a lot of area—a swath across the state's map from the San Francisco Bay to the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, encompassing ten counties—and our needs vary from group to group. Though we have diverse memberships, the basis of our organizations is to serve our local areas with whatever members require to remain successful in their family history quest.

Of course, we have the usual issues any local genealogical group might have: escalating costs in the face of diminishing membership. Face it, we have some stiff competition. There are other organizations out there which can provide a stellar lineup of speakers for training, or digitized documentation at a click of a mouse. It seems whatever a researcher might want, it can be had...elsewhere.

So, why have a local genealogical society? Perhaps that was the question on each member's mind as we discussed our challenges at yesterday's meeting. If all we are doing is providing services we can feebly offer—compared to professional organizations currently in the market—then that question seems rhetorical. Why, indeed? We may as well give up while we are (barely) ahead.

Perhaps looking at the situation differently might provide some answers. Could it be that we need to shift our assumptions of what people really would like to see in a local genealogical organization? One point brought up in the meeting was that many of us just want to connect with others who see things the same way we do: "genies" whose eyes light up at the mention of details for which others' eyes glaze over.

Could it be that we are looking for the personal touch? The opportunity to connect with people? People who are doing what we are doing, each on our own path, but sharing the commonality of a joint search adventure?

In the broader training world, there has been a shift away from instruction—the delivery of facts—towards a more experiential, hands-on, type of learning. If we, as local groups, were to align ourselves with this recent conceptual shift in the overarching world of education, would we be able to employ that personal touch to revitalize our organizations?

For the business world, optimizing their profit comes with buzz words like working "smarter" and finding ways to automate, or streamline, or remove redundant layers of the organization chart—and, in many cases, I'm all for that. I don't mind if AI is put to work on transcribing seventeenth century German script, or figuring out which part of my DNA test aligns with my paternal versus maternal line. But there is no feeling quite so hollow as realizing I've been chatting with a bot when I thought I was relating with a real person.

As the rest of the world abandons itself to the reality of more bots, perhaps the opposite is what people are hungering for: a real, live person with whom to share their triumphs and frustrations, at least concerning this pursuit they are most passionate about. This could be our clue as to the niche local genealogical societies can claim as our specialized domain, a place where people support other people in each one's individual quest to find their own roots. 

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Wondering Why


There are times when I wonder why the process of completing pedigree charts and family group sheets for multiple generations would continue to hold any fascination for me. After all, the work is fairly routine, and after a while, the draw of making new discoveries or finding one's "roots" would surely wear out. Granted, there are some who pursue this family history practice out of a sense of obligation or even for religious reasons, but that is not me. By the time a researcher takes that personal journey back to the early 1700s, it would seem that would be plenty of time to discover who one is.

And yet, that compulsion to keep going still remains. Thankfully, I've recently been able to see myself reflected in a glimpse of the work of others. As I read through Barbara Rae-Venter's recent book, I Know Who You Are, I noticed her description of working for hours to uncover an unknown identity, such as the several cases of abducted or murdered children discussed in her book. As anyone knows who has used DNA to confirm the actual identity of an unknown ancestor—or even help an adoptee find a birth parent—the process can be tedious and repetitive, taking hours to complete.

That's when I got to wondering: why? What drives people to devote so much time and energy to such undertakings? Perhaps it requires a certain type of person. Or a certain high level of energy.

It always helps when someone can reframe a situation, helping us to see it in a different light, and that is what Barbara Rae-Venter brought to the forefront in her book. Describing the process of identifying the remains of several young children through different cases, she shared the words of those who spoke at the belated burial services when those formerly unidentified little ones were finally laid to rest.

"A name is a powerful thing," one deacon addressed the mourners at one such burial. To finally know that name "makes a huge difference."

In the words of another speaker at yet another such service mentioned in the book, "A name is a dignity every human being deserves—to be called something." 

While we may not be in the middle of unfolding scientific progress, or solving crimes which have stumped experts for decades, those of us compelled to continue this research journey are still contributing something, no matter how small. We are giving every human in our ancestry a name. An identity. And with that identity, we begin to know these strangers within ourselves just a little bit more. After all, it is their DNA which makes us who we are.  

Friday, April 7, 2023

Mapping Out a Research Plan


For family history projects sitting squarely within the timeframe—in the United States, at least—of modern census and vital records documentation, the process of tracing one's family history becomes easier, the better we know those documents. When our modern record-keeping traditions fade from sight as we move deeper into the past, however, our research strategies need to change.

Now that I've pushed back in time on my mother-in-law's matriline—following her mother's mother's mother's maternal ancestors all the way to colonial times—I am now faced with having to discover who Elizabeth Howard's own ancestors might have been. That means finding the roots of my mother-in-law's fourth great-grandmother in mid-1700s Maryland.

As it turned out—and I nearly cringe when I say this—I found a shortcut. As we've already discussed, by virtue of Elizabeth's second marriage to John Whistler, I had found an unpublished Whistler family history which devoted a few paragraphs to Elizabeth's own origins. From the resources mentioned in that genealogy, a step-by-step research inquiry led me to a book, Anne Arundel Gentry, which seems a fairly reliable source of information.

While my overarching goal will be to locate documents which allow me to replicate—or reject—the details spelled out in the Howard family history, I realized there is one more step I need to take before I launch into the big document hunt: I need to map out the details found in the book in such a way as to move seamlessly from generation to generation. 

Not only did the Anne Arundel Gentry book include an entry for Elizabeth Howard and her husband, William Ijams, but it systematically worked backwards through time on each of the families included in the book. Thus, for William Ijams' entry, there was an earlier entry for his parents. Likewise for Elizabeth's own line, I can look up her parents, then both sets of grandparents. In essence, the book promises to help me work my way back to the earliest settler ancestor in Maryland for each line preceding William and Elizabeth.

Rather than simply search through the book for each of those entries, I've decided to make notations of the names, dates, and locations the book provides as I systematically move from generation to generation. The most logical way for me to do that is to enter the tentative information into my genealogical database.

Yes, gasp, that means entering unproven information into my family tree, where others might (horrors!) copy and pass on as unsubstantiated information. However, if we use such tree-building programs as a tool for a work-in-progress, there is no way around such a risk. Anything we enter into our publicly-available trees could be a mistake. And yet, doing without such tools means making unnecessary work, so I've decided to let my ever-growing tree be what it is: a work in progress.

So, as I work my way backwards in time, I'm gleaning the details from the Gentry book and organizing it into my database. From that point, I'll begin searching for documents already referenced in the book—after all, my eyes want to see that we're not dealing with forgeries; we want real documentation. Beyond that, I'll do a third sweep through the proposed line of ascent by looking for documentation which wasn't specifically referenced in the book.

Having that plan in place eases my mind. Shuffling from page to page in the digitized book—thanks to Internet Archive—is a task for which I am grateful to have the resource, but simultaneously frustrated about for the seemingly disorganized layout of the book's sections. True, Elizabeth's family is but one small part of an overarching, and multiple-generational, genealogy. But I need a way to proceed through the bigger picture in a step-by-step fashion for my own purposes.

As I'm going through the pages, I'm finding the potential for some fascinating historical perspective. We'll look at those stories as we move through the generations, step by step, and connect the book's facts with outside resources. Keeping in mind one of my goals is to examine Elizabeth's own matriline—remember, I have a mitochondrial DNA test result with three potential matches to fit into this picture—I will focus on the female side of the family equation for as many generations as is possible.

That said, come this Monday, we'll begin examining what we can find from the clues offered in Harry Wright Newman's 1933 genealogy, Anne Arundel Gentry.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Considering the Reliability of Books


For those of us who long ago have fallen in love with books, to question their reliability may seem counter-intuitive. After all, at least for non-fiction books, authors have worked hard to ensure that the material they are presenting has been fact-checked, logic-checked, proofread and inspected umpteen ways by diligent editors seeking to launch a successful new publication. However, despite what may be a well-deserved reputation for most books issued by established publishers, there is nothing quite so capable of stopping a genealogist mid-page turn as hearing mention of the name of one author: Gustave Anjou.

That writer, ever since arriving in New York City from his native Sweden—where, upon his birth, he had been given the name Gustaf Ludvig Jungberg, not Anjou—made a specialty of preparing "pedigrees" for well-to-do east coast American families hoping to find gems in their lineage. Representing himself as a professional genealogist, Anjou charged handsome prices for his supposedly well-researched and heavily documented works.

From his 1890 arrival in America through his 1942 death, Anjou created forgeries of documentation for at least two hundred known genealogies he produced. Of course, upon closer scrutiny, other authors were able to spot the errors through a process some have dubbed "critical genealogy"—the analysis and evaluation of any given genealogical reference work to determine its accuracy and trustworthiness. Some have actually published their findings, which can be accessed through libraries or through some online sites.

With the specter of unreliable published genealogies hovering over my head, you can imagine the mixed feelings I had when I discovered the book I mentioned yesterday—the one including a brief portion of the family history of my mother-in-law's ancestors. Could a title as pretentious-sounding as Anne Arundel Gentry have been written by someone like Anjou?

My first thought was to check out the author and see if his name was on any genealogy black list—if there was such a thing. I took a look at the listing of other books written by Harry Wright Newman. Granted, most focused on the history of early settlers in Maryland, including genealogies of specific family names, such as the Lucketts or Dents.

Searching for more of Newman's works, I spotted one title which seemed vaguely familiar: The Flowering of the Maryland Palatinate. Wait a minute! I own a copy of that book! And it is accessible through as well. And it is still being reprinted and can be ordered through a widely-known book distributor.

Even if the works of Harry Wright Newman are currently enjoying a favorable reputation, there is still one more detail I need to attend to: replicating the author's assertions by independently finding verification through documentation. That is the work we have cut out for us in the next several days. Newman may have become my trailblazer, but I still need to put in the "miles" of walking in his shoes and retracing his research steps. If I can verify his material, then for me it will become trustworthy.

And really, isn't that what we should strive to do when we evaluate anyone's genealogy?

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Reaching Back on the Research Trail


Pushing our way back through history, ancestor by ancestor, the research trail becomes different. Gone are the birth and death certificates we relied on for our more modern cousins. Gone, eventually, are the fairly reliable listings of family members in the decennial census enumerations. The farther back we push behind the 1850 United States census—the oldest such enumeration to list every name found in each household—the more elusive family records become.

And here I am, wondering about my mother-in-law's fourth great-grandmother, Elizabeth Howard Ijams. All I've been able to glean on the woman's existence was an approximation of her birth—about 1758—her husband's 1816 will in Fairfield County, Ohio, and a few notes concerning her second marriage to a military man stationed near Saint Louis by the name of John Whistler.

It was actually thanks to a paragraph in a privately printed genealogy on Major John Whistler that I was pointed in the right direction for Elizabeth's origin: going back east beyond Ohio to Maryland.

Among those notes, as we saw yesterday, were the names and location of her likely parents. With that smattering of information, my next task will be to verify and source those details. After all, assertions require documentation, right?

Having found that private genealogy posted on, I looked for any actual books which might contain further information on the proposed parents of Elizabeth Howard—and, of course, any information on Elizabeth's first husband, my mother-in-law's direct ancestor William Ijams.

First on that list of discoveries was a book published in 1933. Compiled by Harry Wright Newman, that era's typically long title was Anne Arundel Gentry: a genealogical history of twenty-two pioneers of Anne Arundel County, Md., and their descendants. Granted, Mr. Newman had published several such genealogies, and I'll have some thoughts on that status tomorrow. But for now, let's look at what he wrote about William and Elizabeth Howard Ijams.

In three brief paragraphs—out of 668 pages in total for this book—here's what I gleaned on William "Iiams" and his wife Elizabeth Howard. First, the names of William's parents: John "Iiams" and Rebecca Jones. Then, also, was the detail of William's birth in Anne Arundel County, and his move with his mother to Frederick County after the 1783 death of his father.

Fortunately, the brief narrative also provides details on William's wife Elizabeth. Thankfully, that includes the names of her parents: Joseph Howard and Rachel Ridgely, both of the same county, Anne Arundel. One additional detail gleaned from the information on Elizabeth's parents was that Joseph Howard must have died early in 1785 or at the end of the previous year.

The concluding paragraph mentioned that the family of William and Elizabeth eventually moved from Maryland to Fairfield County, Ohio, the place where we had already found them. It is unclear whether they had made the move with the ten children named in the book—but besides whatever number of their family joined them during the move, they were also accompanied by two of William's brothers, Isaac and Thomas.

While these dates and details point the way to further research possibilities, there is always one question in the back of my mind: how reliable can these old genealogy books be, anyway? Before deciding to consider such a resource, we need to pause and consider that question.   


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