Thursday, February 1, 2024

The Daisy Chains of Genealogy


We may be smack in the midst of winter—just the right time for staying out of the weather and working on genealogy—but right now, I'm envisioning a scene which better fits the much warmer days of summer. Ever sit on a lovely hillside overlooking the view of a grassy meadow, whiling away the time with  friends? In such a summertime scene, I've reached for some wildflowers and made daisy chains while chatting, slipping one stem through another until a necklace emerges.

As I work my way backwards through time in my family's history—set in a much more wintry scene—I still see myself crafting a daisy chain. Only this time, it's not one daisy looped through another, but one name drawing me to a previous generation. Slipping from one to another through times, name changes, quickly-passing dates: that's what happens when we keep on tying together our family's history.

At the beginning of the year, when setting up my Twelve Most Wanted for 2024, I decided to take on a project to learn more about my mother's Carter ancestors. I could hardly believe I was finally to the point where I was researching ancestors who lived in the 1700s. We start out with ourselves, adding our parents, then grandparents, and think we will never get "there"—that far-away time we hear others boast about. ("How far back have you gone?" we hear people ask others, while thinking we can hardly make it past our own grandparents.)

And then, as I looked at that Carter line—my fifth great-grandfather, a mind-boggling thought to me—I realized that name merely represented another flower in the daisy chain. If I researched John Carter, I'd have to research his wife, too. And if I researched her—making my fifth great-grandmother Hannah Chew my research goal for February—I'd soon find myself adding another daisy to the chain of family names, pushing back another generation to Hannah's own mother, part of the colonial Beverley family.

With the start of this month—with one hand still holding the Carter daisy, while the other hand reaches for the next daisy—we'll begin learning what can be found on the colonial Virginia family known as the Chew family. With some preliminary scouting, I already can see that this surname will lead us back as far in colonial American history as we can go. I also can spot some junctures where we'll need to take caution to not follow the wrong person with the same name—or the branch of the tree which led away from Virginia to Maryland, or the other branch which headed for Pennsylvania. Those are some of the research hazards we face when an ancestor's given name was one as simple—and common—as John.

We'll start off tomorrow with a review of what we already know about John Carter's second wife, Hannah Chew, mother of my fourth great-grandmother Margaret Chew Carter, whose middle name pointed me toward this new branch of my family by calling attention to her mother's own maiden name.

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