Answering this prompt is almost too easy this week. On September 22, my husband Tim and I returned from a three-week genealogy research trip to England. We put 2,200 miles on our rental car during this trip, so I think it qualifies as a road trip.
This project, which I called The Way-Back Machine, was the culmination of a year-long effort to learn about my ancestors from England who came to America during the 17th century – mostly as part of the Puritan Great Migration of the 1630s. In the course of this trip, we visited locations identified with 22 of these immigrant ancestors.
I had initially identified more than 90 immigrant ancestors, but began to whittle this number down as I searched for information that would show something other than a birth, marriage, or death record in a village or town. I wanted to be able to see tangible evidence that my ancestors lived in a location I chose to visit – and I was able to do that for almost all of the villages we visited. I found signs, brass plaques, stained-glass windows, houses, and taverns associated with my ancestors.
For this week’s essay, I’m going to focus on one of the ancestors whose village we visited. This was my 13th great-grandfather Rowland Taylor (1510-1555), who was an English Protestant martyr burned at the stake during the Marian Persecutions. For those of you who don’t know this history (which included me until I discovered my ancestors who were caught up in it), these persecutions followed the death of Edward VI in 1553 and the succession of Queen Mary I, who began a program to re-establish Catholicism in England. Rowland Taylor was one of the Protestant clergy who resisted this program — and paid for it with his life.
Briefly, here’s what happened. Rowland was arrested for heresy just six days after Queen Mary ascended the throne. There were several reasons for his arrest: in addition to supporting Mary’s rival Lady Jane Grey, he had denounced the Catholic practice of clerical celibacy and the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. In March of 1554, the Privy Council ordered Taylor’s arrest, and he was brought to trial on January 22, 1555. On January 29, the verdict was handed down: he was to be excommunicated and then sentenced to death by burning at the stake. This sentence was carried out on February 9, 1555.
We visited the St. Mary’s Church at Hadleigh in Suffolk County in the UK, where Taylor was serving at the time of his martyrdom. There are several displays in the church, including a stained-glass window and explanatory sign, that feature him.
But there is more to this story.
Rowland Taylor’s great-grandson, John Taylor (1607-1651) was on my preliminary list of immigrant ancestors. But in trying to trace him back into England, the trail seemed to dry up. John’s father was named Thomas Taylor, and there were men named Thomas Taylor in several counties in England. I couldn’t figure out what information was accurate. So, because I already had 20 or so ancestors that I had pinned down in England, I demoted John Taylor from my Priority 1 list to my Priority 2 list. I focused on my Priority 1 list and didn’t pay much attention to Priority 2.
On the morning when we were planning our foray into the Suffolk countryside to visit a couple of other locations, we realized we were going to end up with some extra time. So I looked back into my spreadsheet and pulled up my “Priority 2” ancestors, which included John Taylor. As it turns out, this was an ancestor that my husband Tim and I share. I am descended from one of John Taylor’s sons and Tim is descended from one of his daughters (this makes us 10th cousins). So we decided we would drop by St. Mary’s in Hadleigh. We didn’t expect to find anything interesting.
But neither of us had researched far enough into John Taylor’s ancestry to pick up Rowland Taylor. We weren’t looking for him. When we arrived at the church, we were welcomed by the church rector, who was in the church for a Saturday casual parish lunch meeting. We told him we were looking for ancestors, and he immediately asked “Is it Rowland Taylor?” Neither of us recognized that name, but I pulled up the Ancestry app on my phone and we soon concluded that our common ancestor John Taylor was descended from Rowland. Apparently, this church gets regular visitors from descendants of their most famous rector, Marian martyr Rowland Taylor.
This was the best “find” of our entire trip. The lesson here? Expect the unexpected. Leave yourself open to serendipity. Take that 15-mile drive over narrow English country lanes in case there’s something interesting at the end of the road.
This week’s prompt is “Free Space,” and I’m going to write about the times when my maternal ancestors got free land as they moved west over the course of 250 years.
The immigrant ancestor on my mother’s line was my 8th great-grandfather Dirck Janse Woertman, who was 16 years old when he came to New Amsterdam with his mother and siblings in 1647. The family lived in Brooklyn until Dirck’s son, Jan Dircksen Woertman, moved his family to Somerset, New Jersey, in 1699. Jan had 10 children, including my 6th great-grandfather Abraham, in New Jersey. Abraham’s four sons – including my 5th great-grandfather Jacob (1740-1821) all received land grants in Allegany County, Maryland, in return for their Revolutionary War Service.
The Revolutionary War land grant process was not complicated. Veterans from the Revolution were offered land grants instead of back pay because the country was deeply in debt from the expenses of the Revolution and the disruption of the economy (especially foreign trade) that accompanied it. These land grants varied in size; grants from the national government were often 160 acres in size, but state land grants were often smaller. My Workman ancestors received grants from the state of Maryland, the home state of the military unit they joined during the war.
Here’s a list of the land patents awarded to members of the Workman family in Allegany County. Jacob’s name does not appear on the list, but other sources tell me he was the grantee for the land called Workman’s Desire (by the red star on this list). The dates show when the land was last surveyed. (I like most of the names given to the land patents – Workman’s Desire, Workman’s Farm, Workman’s Fortune, Workman’s Sugar Camp. I’m not so sure about the Snake Den.)
None of the Workman brothers stayed on this land for very long. Within four decades after receiving this land in 1780, they all had moved on, to Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, or Kentucky. My 5th great-grandfather, Jacob, had moved to Kentucky by 1815, taking many of his children with him. This included my 4th great-grandfather, Abraham Workman.
The next couple of generations of this family lived in Kentucky for a while – some for many decades – but my line of the family moved on to Tennessee after just a few years in Kentucky. Abraham’s oldest son (and my 3rd great-grandfather), James Workman, had relocated to Kentucky with his family but was living in Tennessee by 1826. The family stayed in Tennessee until after the Civil War, when James was chased out of Tennessee by the Ku Klux Klan for his pro-Union views.
After two decades in Illinois, some of the family in Illinois (several Workman branches were living in the Springfield area by then) decided to take advantage of the Homestead Act and acquire land in Nebraska.
So the next place my Workman ancestors got free land was in Nebraska. Here’s the document that shows 80 acres of land given to John B. Workman along with the details of his land patent.
Who is John B. Workman, you ask? He’s both my 2nd great-uncle by marriage (through my great-grandmother Mary Elizabeth Thomas) and my 1st cousin 5x removed (I think) through my great-grandfather Thomas Calvin Workman. Hope that clears it all up. He and his family lived near Springfield, Illinois, the same area where my 2nd great-grandfather James Workman moved with his family after the Civil War. Some of these family members moved together to Nebraska in 1870 – John B. Workman, his wife Martha Ann Roberts, several of their adult children, Martha’s widowed sister Caroline, and Caroline’s daughter Mary (age 11). Thomas Calvin Workman (my great-grandfather and the grandson of James Workman) and his wife Eddie joined John’s family in Nebraska sometime between 1880 and 1885. Tom Eddie had two children in Illinois, but had lost both of them as infants. The move to Nebraska must have seemed like an opportunity to leave their grief behind and start over.
Tom and Eddie had two more children in Nebraska, but Eddie died shortly after the birth of their last child. Mary, almost 30 years old and unmarried, cared for Eddie while she was ill and continued to care for the children after Eddie’s death in February of 1887. It cannot have been a surprise when Tom married Mary eight months later, in November of 1887. Tom and Mary had two children before they pulled up stakes and moved again. John, Martha, and the rest of their family stayed in Nebraska.
This is a good time to insert a note about the difficulty of tracking the Workman family. They were a prolific bunch, and they tended to move as an extended family group to the same locations over and over again. The problem is compounded by the fact that they had lots of sons, which means that there were a whole bunch of people with the Workman surname in the locations where they lived.
This chart illustrates the problem:
Most of these boys also had lots of children. As just one example, I looked at the family of John Butler Workman, a collateral ancestor of mine. He was also a grandson of Jacob Workman and was a first cousin of James Workman in the chart above. John Butler Workman was one of 22 children (16 were boys) born to Jacob’s fifth child John A. Workman. John Butler Workman went on to have nine children — although only two of them were boys, which meant there were fewer Workman men around to pass on the name.
And of course there are only so many first names to go around, so I have lots of direct and collateral ancestors with the same names. There are a lot of Workman men named James, Jacob, Abraham, John, Isaac, Stephen, and so forth. Here’s a paragraph I wrote for another project that illustrates this problem:
In 1815, Abraham and Hannah moved to Kentucky, along with many other family members. By that time, they had five children, including my 3rd great-grandfather James Workman (1806-1884) – not to be confused with my 4th great-uncle James Workman (1812-1878), my 5th great-uncle James Workman (1797-1850), my 2nd cousin 5x removed James Workman (1780-1864), my 1st cousin 4x removed James R. Workman (1830-1882), or my 2nd cousin 5x removed James Workman (1821-1904). These men named James Workman all lived at roughly the same time in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, or Ohio.
Back to my main story.
Tom and Mary moved to Oklahoma – specifically, they participated in the first Oklahoma Land Run, which took place on April 22, 1889. For those of you who don’t know this part of American history, the land run started at high noon on April 22, 1889, as an estimated 50,000 people were lined up at the start, seeking to gain a piece of the available two million acres. Tom and Mary were waiting at the northern border in Kansas, about 300 miles south of John Workman’s homestead in Nebraska. At the sound of a gun, wagons carrying families mingled with men on horseback to make their way to the land claims, which had been surveyed and marked prior to the run. When the participants in the run got to a piece of land that appealed to them, they “claimed” it and sped off to the newly-established claims offices to register their claim while family members squatted on the land to protect it from newer arrivals.
The way the Oklahoma Land Run came about is complicated and would require going back to the 1830s to understand the series of treaties, land purchases, and wars that led to the events of 1889. I’m not going to do a deep dive into this, but I’ll lay out some breadcrumbs.
This map explains the situation by the 1880s.
You would think that getting free land would set you up for the rest of your life, wouldn’t you? Tom was 35 years old and Mary was 30 when they made this move. They had two children when they made the “run” in 1889, and expanded their family over the next 14 years, having eight more children, including my grandfather Thomas Calvin Workman, Jr., (1898-1973), who was their sixth child.
According to the 1910 census, Tom owned this land free and clear – but they moved away from Oklahoma in 1915. I don’t know what the circumstances were that led them to move on, but here’s the newspaper advertisement documenting their decision to move away. They were selling everything as well as providing a free lunch. You can see my great-grandfather’s name at the bottom of the advertisement.
The family moved to El Campo, Texas – about 500 miles south of Logan County. I can’t identify any family or obvious attraction leading them to make this move, but they went anyway. The move itself was probably not too difficult – a train ran from Guthrie to El Campo during this time period. My grandfather Tom married Susie Anthis in El Campo in 1919, and my mother was born there in 1921.
At the end of a family history book I wrote in 2018, I included this paragraph about what drove my ancestors to move west:
This is fundamentally a story about land.
Who owned it, how it was transferred, and what its practical and political meaning was.
How land created wealth and community and identified winners and losers.
In Illinois, it was the story of vast expanses of cheap or free farm land and the expected prosperity and community (as well as national prestige and power) this would engender.
From the Land Ordinance of 1785 through the Homestead Act of 1862 and beyond, the territories of the Old Northwest evolved from frontier communities to the states and established towns into which my ancestors were born in the second half of the century.
In Texas, it was the story of the expansion of “King Cotton” from the American South into a multi-ethnic society evolving on the border between Mexico and the United States, belonging to both countries and in some ways to neither country.
In Oklahoma, it was the story of the continuing quest for land by Americans whose desire for landed autonomy blinded them (and their government) to the genocide that had been, and continued to be, waged for centuries against the Indians.
No one in my family ever got free land again. My mother’s family kept moving – to Tucson, Arizona, in 1931 – but they moved in with a relative who lived in the city and never returned to the farm.
While I was wandering around in the history of my family in colonial Virginia about six years ago, I came across what looked like a link to the Madison family. I came across some evidence that suggested my 8th great-grandmother could be a women named Catherine Madison,. My antennae went up: Madison is a big name in Virginia history. James Madison was the 4th President of the United States and his uncle, also named James Madison, was the President of the College of William and Mary from 1777 until his death in 1812. My parents lived in Madison County, Virginia. I had visited the Madison home in Orange County, Montpelier, several times while I was growing up in Virginia. A connection to the Madison family would be cool.
The connection with the Madison family first appeared as I was researching a branch of my family that settled in the 1640s in Gloucester County, Virginia – not far from my home in Williamsburg on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. It appeared that my immigrant ancestors of this line, Thomas Todd and Anne Gorsuch, had a daughter named Isabella who married a man named John Madison II. I was able to connect John to President Madison’s lineage; therefore, Catherine (the daughter of Isabella and John) was also related to President Madison. And that means I was related to President Madison. Pretty cool possibility, right?
This is where the timelines come in. I couldn’t get the generations to fit. Here’s the problem:
I have conflicting dates – and Catherine is the major problem. If Catherine was born in 1683, as some records suggest, then Isabella probably wasn’t her mother – she would have been only 13 at the time. But if Catherine was born in 1693, as other records suggest, William couldn’t have been her son, because Catherine would have been only 11 at the time. Some online trees have fudged this by putting Catherine’s birthdate as 1683/1693, but that doesn’t really help. Neither of these dates can be accurate if this lineage is to be proven. She needs to have been born in between these dates – around 1688 or so – for this to work. No records give 1688 as her birthdate.
Then I had to acknowledge the confusion about the dates of Catherine’s marriage. All three of the possible marriage dates – 1700, 1703, and 1724 – are supported by some records, although the support is weak. If she was born in 1693, she would not have been married in 1700 or even 1703. But the 1724 marriage dates is way later than the birth dates of her “children,” including my ancestor William.
NOTE: Records from colonial Virginia are notoriously sparse and unreliable. I knew this would be a problem as I tried to pin down this relationship.
Finding all of this out made me question what I “knew” about Catherine’s heritage. I wanted her to be the daughter of Isabella Minor Todd, because that connection took me back to the Gorsuch family – a gateway ancestor to a signer of the Magna Carta. But the more I looked into this, the more I came to recognize that I had a lot of questions about Isabella herself. Todd family records – particularly wills – don’t identify a daughter named Isabella, and the ubiquitous inclusion of the middle name “Minor” was also confusing. People were not routinely given middle names in the British colonies in the 17th century, so her name suggests that her birthname perhaps was “Minor” and that she had married a man with the “Todd” before she marries John Madison II.
This, of course, presents another problem. It always does. There doesn’t appear to be a family named “Minor” in Virginia at the right time to have a daughter of Isabella’s age.
In exploring this question on a genealogy Facebook page a few years ago, I linked up with someone from central Virginia who had DNA connections with the Madisons. I sent him my GEDMATCH kit number and he ran my DNA against his. We were a match, so I’m definitely connected to the Madison family of Virginia, and probably through Catherine. But until I can sort out who her parents were, I can’t connect with the Todd and Gorsuch families.
My conclusion: even very simple timelines are a good way to document what you think you know in order to find out what you don’t know. When you lay the stark facts out before your eyes, it’s hard to persist in believing something that “ain’t necessarily so.”
When genealogists think of the word “service,” the first thing that usually comes to mind is a list of ancestors who served in the military. In the US, that usually means in one or more of the series of colonial wars, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War (1846-48), the Civil War (1861-65), the Spanish-American War (1898), the two World Wars, and then Vietnam and on into the wars in the Middle East over the past 30 years.
For this prompt, however, I’m going to talk about two women in my family tree whose support for their families while their husbands were at war is the very definition of service. I’ve taken these two biographical sketches from a book I wrote during Women’s History Month in 2018. In that book, I wrote about one of my female ancestors on each day of the month. In this paragraph from the introduction to this book, called Women Who Shaped Me, I explain why the word “service” applies to these women:
I was captivated by these women’s stories. Until I began to write the stories for this project, I had not tried to see these stories from the women’s points of view. The stories changed when I wrote them that way. Their fathers’ adventures became periods of fatherlessness. Their husbands’ decisions to pursue the promise of land (always to the west) were sometimes only brief episodes of disruption and relocation, but more often were part of a constant process of leaving behind everything that was familiar in search of something new and unknown. The military service that had defined the men’s lives turned into periods of time where the women raised their children alone and the children lived without their fathers. Their husbands’ deaths became traumatic events in the lives of entire families, resulting in relocation, remarriage, or poverty.
Elizabeth Wilson (1745 – )
My paternal 6th great-grandmother Elizabeth Wilson was the second of eight children born to Nathaniel and Martha Newhall Wilson, born in Leicester, Worcester County, Massachusetts, about 50 miles west of Boston. One of Elizabeth’s paternal 2nd great-grandfathers, Jacob Wilson, came to Massachusetts in 1641. Her paternal 3rd great-grandfather, Thomas Newhall, came to Massachusetts with the Winthrop Fleet in 1630.
Elizabeth married Parley Brown in Leicester in 1762 when Elizabeth was 17 years old and Parley was 25. Parley’s 3rd great-grandfather, William Brown, arrived in Salem in 1635. This family is a little hard to trace, because several generations of men named William married women named Mary, so things are a little confusing. Interestingly enough, Parley is also descended from the Thomas Newhall I mentioned in the paragraph above, so Parley and Elizabeth were 4th cousins. They had four sons, including my 5th great-grandfather Nathaniel Brown, who was their second child.
When Elizabeth and Parley married, they had little idea of what was to happen in their lives. They had four sons in quick succession – between 1765 and 1775 – and then revolutionary fervor overtook Massachusetts. Elizabeth’s father-in-law, John Brown Sr., had served as a captain during the French and Indian War in the 1750s, and had been present in 1758 at the surrender of Fort Louisbourg in Nova Scotia as part of the long-lasting struggle between Britain and France for control of North America.
In addition, John had been part of the committee from Leicester, Massachusetts that drafted instructions for the town’s representatives to the Provincial Congress in 1774. The Provincial Congress, which lasted from 1774 to 1780, was the de facto government of Massachusetts after British Governor Thomas Gage dissolved the provincial assembly as a result of the Boston Tea Party a year earlier, in 1773. This assembly was the first autonomous government in the 13 colonies. Its meeting site moved from place to place, because a number of its leaders (John Hancock and Samuel Adams among them) were being sought by British authorities, and would likely have been arrested if they were found. It was precisely this possibility that led people like Paul Revere to ride to warn that “the British were coming;” John Hancock and Samuel Adams were actually in Lexington, MA, on that storied April day in 1775, and they fled to avoid capture.
Elizabeth’s father-in-law, John Brown, Sr., served as one of a group of residents of Worcester County who instructed the Worcester representatives in the Provincial Congress to carry out the wishes of the people of Worcester. This position suggests that John Brown, Sr., was a well-respected elder statesman whose judgment and experience were valued at this tumultuous time in Massachusetts history.
In 1775, Elizabeth’s husband Parley answered the call to arms and participated in the Lexington Alarm. He was not alone; his three brothers (some were half-brothers), John, Benjamin, and William, also answered the call. Elizabeth stayed home, caring for her young family, as her husband and his brothers took off once again, this time to participate in the Battle of Bunker Hill two months later in June of 1775. Parley’s older brother John was wounded in this battle, and Parley, against John’s wishes, risked his life to save his brother. We find Parley and his brothers again at the Battle of White Plains in New York in 1776, but things don’t turn out so well. Parley was killed in this battle, at the age of 39, and his half-brother William (age 18) was captured and then died on a British prison ship in New York harbor.
Elizabeth must have been grief-stricken by the news of her husband’s death. But the anxiety of this family was far from over. In all, four of Parley’s brothers (2 of them were half-brothers) and three of Parley’s nephews served in combat in the Revolution. Elizabeth was living in the midst of a family that sent a total of 14 of its members to service.
All of these men except Parley and William survived the war, and Elizabeth lived to see her children grow and prosper. I don’t know when she died.
According to the town records of Leicester, Elizabeth remarried in 1780, to a man named Jeremiah Chase. This would have been a logical move for a 35-year-old widow with four children, two of whom were under the age of 10.
Vandia Orilla Brown (1825-1900)
NOTE: If you have been reading my weekly posts for this series, you may notice that I’ve written about Rilla before. My Week 9 post on “Females” contains much of this information about Rilla.
My paternal great-grandmother Vandia Orilla Brown (always called “Rilla”) was born in Fredonia, Licking County, Ohio in 1825, the third of eight children born to Harley and Anna Alden Brown. (She was Elizabeth Wilson’s 2nd great-granddaughter through Elizabeth and Parley’s son Nathaniel. Given how much Rilla’s family line had moved since leaving its Massachusetts roots – to Vermont and New York before settling in Ohio – I would be surprised if Rilla knew anything about Elizabeth.)
Rilla married Miles Arnold in Licking County in 1844, where they had five children in the space of 10 years. Three of these children died as babies – Oscar Eugene Arnold (1845-1847), Elizabeth Victory Arnold (1847-1847), and George Washington Arnold (1854-1855). In 1856 Rilla and Miles moved to McLean County, Illinois (between modern-day Bloomington and Champaign, in the east-central part of the state) with their two surviving children, Joseph and Rosa. In the same year, they had one more child – my great-grandfather Warner Lismond Arnold– before moving back to Ohio in 1858.
They had two more children – Nelson Franklin Arnold in 1858 and Miles Arnold, Jr. in 1861– in Ohio before Miles Sr. enlisted in the 76th Ohio Regiment in April of 1861 to serve in the Civil War. Miles served for three years, throughout the South. His regiment participated in the battles of Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Corinth, Vicksburg, and the Chattanooga Campaign at the end of 1863.
The soldiers in the Union armies were given a break over the next couple of months, and Miles must have gone home to visit his family, because Rilla would give birth to another child in August of 1864, after Miles returned to his army unit.
After Miles went back to the army in the spring of 1864, he participated in the Atlanta campaign. In the Battle of Atlanta, on July 22, 1864, he was shot three times on the battlefield and left for dead. On the day after the battle, when the armies went out to collect their dead, Miles was found to be still alive. He was taken to the base hospital and then sent home after he had recuperated enough to travel.
Rilla was waiting at home while all of this was going on. She was pregnant, with five children (three under the age of five) to care for. When Miles came home, it cannot have been easy for Rilla. To add to the difficulty, their son (Charles Miller Arnold, named after Miles’s commanding officer) was born in August of 1864. When Charles died just over a year later, in September of 1865, it must have seemed like an unfair compounding of tragedy.
The family continued its wandering ways, despite Miles’s injuries. In 1866 they went to Bloomington, Illinois (the same general area where they had lived for a couple of years in the 1850s), where Rilla had another child, Lucy Gilman Arnold, in 1866. They returned to Ohio in 1869, where Rilla gave birth to Emma Violette Arnold in 1870. In the 1870 census, Miles is described as an “invalid.” Apparently, parts of him worked just fine.
In 1871, they went once again to Illinois, this time to Ferris in Hancock County in the western part of the state (where Miles as a young man in 1843 had led a wagon trip for a local wagoneer). They didn’t stay long, however, as they soon moved on to Beloit, Kansas, where they lived for four years before returning to Ferris in 1875. Although I can’t prove it, Miles may have taken advantage of preferential treatment afforded to Union veterans of the Civil War under the amended Homestead Act; instead of having to wait five years to “prove up” their claim and gain ownership of land, veterans could offset this waiting period by the number of years they served. With Miles’s three years of service, they were able to assume ownership of their land after only two years. Once they owned the land, they sold it and returned to Illinois in 1875. They did not move again.
Miles never did fully recover from his wounds. The 1870 census identifies him as an “invalid,” and in the 1880 census he is identified as a carpenter, with the annotation in the “sick” column saying that he had two problems – he was “wounded in the arms and shoulder in the Army” and that he had “heart disease.”
Miles died on March 8, 1899. Although I have not been able to find his precise cause of death, his wounds and heart disease certainly played some role. He must have been a tough guy – despite everything, he lived to age 78. At the time of his death, Rilla and Miles were living in Hancock County, Illinois, with their six surviving children, all six of their children’s spouses, and 33 grandchildren. Rilla must have felt like they finally put down some roots.
Rilla died in Hancock County on July 8, 1900, 16 months after Miles’s death. They are buried in Moss Ridge Cemetery in Carthage, Hancock County, Illinois. The grave marker does not mention Rilla.
The service these women provided to their country was as consequential as that of their husbands. Both women were left at home with small children while their husbands went off to war. Elizabeth never saw her husband Parley again, and had to learn to cope with her grief and that of her sons as she raised them to adulthood. Rilla lived out her days with her husband Miles, although he never fully recovered from his wounds. His long life – he lived for 35 years after he was wounded in battle – is a testament to Rilla’s service.
Both women were surrounded by families that had also been impacted by the wars they experienced. Elizabeth saw 14 of her family members go off to war; Rilla saw Miles’s brother Adna serve in the same unit as Miles, and her two brothers registered for the draft in Ohio, although I haven’t been able to find details of their service. The women around them – mothers, aunts, sisters, and friends – helped them cope with the circumstances in which they all found themselves.
Elizabeth remarried and lived out her life in relative obscurity; she did not have children with her second husband, and her only heirs were through the line of her son Nathaniel – my 5th great-grandfather, who was living in Vermont by 1790 and in New York not long after that. I have no record of Elizabeth’s life after her 1780 marriage to Jeremiah Chase. Rilla accompanied Miles as they moved several times after the war – from Ohio to Illinois and then back to Ohio again, to Illinois again, and then to Kansas, finally settling in Illinois after 10 years on the move. She is remembered because she had lots of descendants to keep her memory alive.
Here’s what I wrote in the conclusion to my book:
The stories of the lives of the women in this book are not well known, except to the people who lived with them and loved them.
Their stories are not of heroism in battle or public service. There are no statues of them in town squares or books about them in university libraries. You won’t find most of them on the voting rolls or property registries. Traditional records document only the barest outlines of their existence. To tell their stories, I had to extrapolate from existing records and employ some historical imagination to talk about what their lives might have been like.
Their stories are the timeless stories of women over the centuries. Theirs are stories of quiet and unheralded service.
Several years ago, I saw an ad on a Facebook page about a local genealogy society that was sponsoring a bus trip from Newport News, Virginia, to Washington, DC. The bus planned three stops in DC – the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Library in Constitution Hall, the National Archives, and the Library of Congress. I had only been doing genealogy research for about five years at that point and had just discovered several “patriot” ancestors – those identified and proved through the DAR. The trip was sponsored by the Tidewater Genealogical Society (TGS), which I knew nothing about at that point. The society is based in the building you see above, about 30 minutes from my home in Williamsburg.
So I registered for this trip. On the appointed day, I boarded the bus at a local shopping center and rode the 3+ hours to Washington. At this point, I didn’t know anyone from the society, although I met some folks on the bus. After a fruitful day at the DAR library, the bus brought us back home (we stopped for dinner at a Golden Corral in Fredericksburg, VA).
I thought it would be polite to join the society, so I did. It costs $30 a year (more if you want a hard copy of the quarterly publication). I went to a few meetings and began to volunteer at the society’s library.
The library is staffed by volunteers and is open three days a week: Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10-3 and Saturdays from 10-4. I volunteer at the library two Saturdays a month, usually for the entire day (although volunteers sometimes cover only one part of the day). The library’s collection holds 2,500 books and a large number of journals. The collection is focused on Virginia, but it has books and journals from other states as well.
The library also houses the Alvin Reynolds Papers, a manuscript collection donated by Mr. Reynolds, a resident of Isle of Wight County (across the James River from Newport News). This collection is indexed and is available for research; the items in it are being scanned and transcribed by volunteers as time is available.
My role in this society has grown over the past five years. I now serve on the Board and am the editor of their Quarterly journal. I have also given several presentations at our general meetings. I enjoy working at this library and helping patrons who come in to explore elements of their family history.
My decision to volunteer is not entirely altruistic, however. We have all seen questions (on social media and other places) from people who want to know what to do with the family history materials they have inherited from their parents, or who want to know what to do with their own research if they don’t think their heirs will preserve it. A common suggestion is to donate it to a local genealogical society – but I’m here to tell you that no one wants your stuff unless they think it will be useful (and usable) for patrons. No library has the space for random boxes of unorganized papers or unlabeled photographs.
I’ve been in the library when people have brought by boxes of stuff – usually from a deceased spouse or parent. The person with the boxes is often desperate to get rid of the material but doesn’t feel right about just tossing it. When this happens, we generally accept the boxes but tell the person we can’t guarantee that we’ll keep the material. We ask the donor if he wants it back if we can’t use it. The donor always says no, that he doesn’t want it back. To be honest, the most common fate of these materials is that after we glean usable office supplies from the boxes (binders, file folders, storage boxes), save books that we want for our library, and offer the rest of the books on our “for sale” shelf, we toss everything else. Brutal, I know. But it’s the reality. Genealogy libraries are not long-term storage facilities.
I figure if I’m on the Board of the genealogy society, edit the journal, and volunteer at the library, they are more likely to take my stuff when I’m gone. Not guaranteed, but more likely.
Many of us use Facebook to share family pictures, inexplicable photos of unremarkable meals, cute pet pictures, and so forth. Many of us also use it to share political views or fire insults into the universe. However, Facebook can provide help for a variety of hobbies, including genealogy. This obviously does not come as a surprise to those of you who are reading this on Facebook.
I belong to more than 100 genealogy FB groups, although I don’t visit most of them regularly. I joined them when I was researching a specific location, surname, or historical era, and then didn’t unjoin them when my research moved on.
Here are a few examples of how this has worked for me:
Within a couple of hours, here’s the response I received, along with my reaction to it:
Here’s another thread from a couple of years ago:
And here’s an example of how group members can “pay back” for the assistance they’ve received.
Here’s one of the responses I received to this post:
We all like to feel smart. We also like to be appreciated. I have found that genealogists are very generous with their time to help other researchers, because they know how much they have appreciated the help they’ve received in the past. The Facebook hive-mind is very knowledgeable and they LOVE to share what they’ve learned.
In 2021 I decided to do a “Descendants’ Tree”, focused on all of the people descended from my 3rd great-grandparents Spencer and Martha Pease Arnold. They were both born in Maine – Spencer in 1794 and Martha in 1800. They married in Maine and had their children there before moving to Ohio in 1830.
To accomplish this project, I built a new tree on Ancestry named the “Spencer and Martha Descendants’ Tree.” Building this tree involved a whole new set of skills for me – my previous research had all involved moving backward in time, from “more” available resources to “fewer” resources. As I moved forward in time through the 19th century and into the 20th century to build this tree, new resources kept opening up for me. By the time I was researching my most current distant cousins, I was finding them on Facebook and Linkedin. I “drove” past their current residences on Google Maps. The Google Maps camera truck never actually caught them out in their yards, but it could have. It began to feel a little stalkerish. This tree has over 1000 people in it – including 160 people who are my 4th cousins. These 4th cousins were born between 1906 and 1942; I’m apparently the youngest in this group, born in 1947. You’ll see in a minute why this matters.
I haven’t totally abandoned this project, but I’ve put it on hold for while. My goal, which was to identify as many living descendants of Spencer and Martha as I could and then hold a giant family reunion, was impeded by COVID. I’ll get back to this project at some point.
You’re probably wondering why I’m writing about this in response to the prompt “teams.”
I don’t have any ancestors who are associated with teams, so far as I have been able to determine. There is no family lore about people playing for or supporting specific teams at any level. But in the course of my descendants’ research project I came across my 4th cousin, George Elwood “Woody” English (1906-1997), who played professional baseball in the 1930s. He didn’t have children, so far as I can tell, so there aren’t many people who will tell his story. So here it is.
Here’s what Find-A-Grave says about Woody:
He was an infielder making his debut as a shortstop for the Chicago Cubs on April 26, 1927. For twelve seasons he played with the Chicago Cubs (1927-36) and Brooklyn Dodgers (1937-38). In 1930, he was the Cubs’ highest-paid player at $12,000 and he was selected to the National League All-Star team in 1933. He finished his career with a record of 1356 hits, 801 runs scored, 32 home runs, 422 runs batted in, a .286 batting average, and a .957 fielding average.
Other sources add that he was captain of the Cubs for six years and was once tossed out of a World Series game and fined $200 for disagreeing with an umpire. The Newark (Ohio) YMCA rededicated their Gymnasium in honor of him in 2001, naming it the Woody English Gymnasium. The gym features art of the baseball player by local artist Julie Ketner Barrett. YMCA administrator Alan Cecutti said the rededication was “a way to give back to the baseball legend.” English Avenue, a short street in Newark, is named after Woody.
In 2008, Westerville Ohio resident Frank Cromer, produced a documentary titled “Buckeye Cubbie”, highlighting English’s life and career as a baseball player. Here’s the link to a clip of that video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-h4UqsQhVo. In this clip, Woody (as a very old man – and a former shortstop) explains why the shortstop is the brains of a baseball team. It’s worth watching.
In addition, his obituary says that he later spent two years with the Brooklyn Dodgers and five years as manager of the Grand Rapids Chicks, a women’s baseball league. He led this team to the championship of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in 1953. After leaving baseball, he returned to his hometown of Newark, Ohio, and was employed by the State Farm Insurance company as a night supervisor until his retirement in 1971. His obituary does not indicate that he was married or had children, although some trees on Ancestry include undocumented family information.
Woody’s younger brother, Paul Vernon English (1910-1944), always called Verne, also played baseball – one year in the minor leagues at Terre Haute, Indiana, in the IIILeague (Illinois-Indiana-Iowa) in 1935. He died quite young – he was only 34 – and I haven’t been able to find the cause of his death.
So I celebrate my distant baseball-playing cousins. Several members of my immediate family played Little League or high school baseball, and my daughter goes to minor league games whenever she can as she travels across the country for her job. We have all enjoyed learning about the unexpected family connection with a pro team.
I identified today as William Gaines Day as a new “fun fact” for this week’s prompt. Here’s how I came to do this. I was having trouble thinking about what to write for this week, so I decided to google “fun facts about genealogy” to see if the results would give me any inspiration. I scrolled through the first page of results – nothing caught my eye. Then the second page – still nothing. I decided to scroll through the third page, and, if nothing juicy came up, I’d have to think of another way to do this.
On the third page, I came across the “fun fact” that the second Saturday in March is National Genealogy Day – at least in some corners of the world. That got me thinking – there are probably other genealogy-related “days,” right? So I started looking around. Yes, yes there are other genealogy “days.” Some of these “days” are proclaimed at the national level, while others are more localized. I live in the United States, so my list is US-centric. Because immigration is such an important part of American history, the US has recognized more of these “heritage” days, weeks, or months than other countries. Many of these “days” seem to have no historical provenance at all – so I invented William Gaines Day. You can invent your own “days” as well.
Here’s a list with a bit of an explanation for each ethnic day, week, or month . Click on the website links if you want more information.
Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. Also known as African American History Month, the event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating Black history.
Greek Independence Days falls within Greek American Heritage Month— on March 25. Greek people have been celebrating Greek Independence Day since the end of the Greek Revolution in 1921. Before that, Greece had been occupied by the Ottoman Empire for over 400 years. Today, Greek Independence Day is celebrated around the world— including by Greek Americans in the U.S. For example, Boston, New York, and many cities in Florida have Greek Independence Day parades. A common Greek tradition for Greek Independence Day is having school children march in a flag parade dressed in traditional Greek costume while waving the Greek flag.
Irish–American Heritage Month is celebrated by proclamation of the President and Congress in the United States to honor the achievements and contributions of Irish immigrants and their descendants living in the United States. It was first celebrated in 1991. The heritage month is in March to coincide with Saint Patrick’s Day, the Irish national holiday on March 17.
National Genealogy Day was created in 2013, by Christ Church, United Presbyterian and Methodist in Limerick, Ireland to help celebrate the church’s 200th anniversary. For this day, Christ Church brought together local family history records not only from its own combined churches but also from the area’s Church of Ireland parishes, including the Religious Society of Friends in Ireland (Quaker) and the Church of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon).
The idea proved so popular that the day was repeated for the next two consecutive years and has inspired many people to take a look into their family tree to find out a bit more about where they come from.
Women’s History Day, then Week, then Month evolved from the first International Women’s Day in 1911, through President Jimmy Carter’s 1980 proclamation of Women’s History Week, to the 1987 passage of a Congressional Resolution proclaiming March as Women’s History Month.
The Russian American Foundation (RAF) was founded in 1997 as a non-partisan organization to encourage interest in and understanding of Russian heritage among all communities in the US, as well as to promote reciprocal interest in and understanding of American heritage among global Russian-speaking communities. RAF’s programming builds mutual understanding through initiatives in the fields of arts, education, and sports.
The Annual Russian Heritage Month (centered in New York City) celebrates and honors the rich diversity of cultural traditions brought to the U.S. from the many countries of the former Soviet Union. The Russian-speaking community plays an indispensable role in the culture, economic, and social life of New York, the US, and the world. The Annual Russian Heritage Month has become a unifying force in the community by allowing all to preserve their heritage, culture, and language while also expressing their cultural identity.
Each April, Scottish-American Heritage Month highlights Scottish heritage and remembers the Scottish-Americans who have had an impact on U.S. society. With an impressive list of contributions to American culture, Scottish-Americans have a lot to celebrate. Scottish immigrants and their descendants have made vital contributions to American society and culture. Today, about 8% of Americans claim Scottish heritage, including celebrities like Hillary Clinton, Jennifer Aniston, and Barack Obama.
April is Arab-American Heritage month, where we celebrate the Middle Eastern and North African heritage of nearly 3.7 million Americans. This designation was made in 2017 and President Biden officially recognized April as Arab-American Heritage month in 2021.
On 9 March 1986, a ‘Tartan Day’ to promote Scottish heritage in Canada was proposed at a meeting of the Federation of Scottish Clans in Nova Scotia. Jean Watson, President of Clan Lamont, petitioned provincial legislatures to recognize 6 April as Tartan Day in honor of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath on April 6, 1320. This document asserted the independence of the Scottish kingdom.. The first such proclamation was by Nova Scotia in April 1987. On 19 December 1991, in response to action initiated by the Clans & Scottish Societies of Canada, the Ontario Legislature passed a resolution proclaiming 6 April as Tartan Day, following the example of other Canadian provinces.
Meeting in 1997 in Sarasota, Florida, the Scottish Coalition USA looked to see Tartan Day recognized in the US as it was being observed in Canada. In 1998, the efforts of the Scottish Coalition with the leading help of Senator Trent Lott saw the United States Senate Resolution adopt April 6 as National Tartan Day. This led in turn to the Congressional and then Presidential passing of the recognition of Tartan Day Observance on 6 April each year.
Shortly after the Canadian establishment of Tartan Day, in 1998, the Coalition of Scottish Americans in the United States also successfully campaigned for April 6 to be commemorated as National Tartan Day to pay homage to the “the outstanding achievements and contributions made by Scottish Americans to the United States”. About 25 million Americans claim Scottish descent.
In Australia, wearing tartan on 1 July has been encouraged since 1989. The day has been promoted as International Tartan Day in Australia since 1996 and has been formally recognized by some states, but not at a national level.
National DNA Day commemorates the successful completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 and the discovery of DNA’s double helix in 1953. NHGRI began celebrating DNA Day annually on April 25th after the 108th Congress (United States) passed concurrent resolutions designating it as DNA Day. The goal of National DNA Day is to offer students, teachers and the public an opportunity to learn about and celebrate the latest advances in genomic research and explore how those advances might impact their lives.
The idea for this designation started with a Congressional staffer in 1976. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed legislation recognizing the first 10 days in May as Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, and in 1990 President George H. W. Bush extended this designation to include the entire month of May. May was chosen because it commemorates the migration of the first immigrants from Japan to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to celebrate the completion of the transcontinental railroad by over 20,0000 Asian immigrants (largely Chinese) on May 10, 1869.
May is also Jewish American Heritage Month. It was established by President George W. Bush in 2006 and is organized annually by the National Museum of American Jewish History as a nationwide celebration. The month of May was chosen due to the highly successful celebration of the 350th Anniversary of American Jewish History in May 2004, which was organized by the Commission for Commemorating 350 Years of American Jewish History.
Reverend Dr. Charles Leonard of the Universalist Church of the Redeemer in Chelsea, Massachusetts started Children’s Day in 1856 as a special day to Baptize children. He originally named it Rose Day. In 1995, President Clinton proclaimed National Children’s Day as October 8th. He was later followed by President Bush in 2001 who declared the first Sunday in June as National Child’s Day. However, National Children’s Day is generally celebrated the second Sunday in June or October 8th.
I haven’t been able to find out exactly why June 14 is Family History Day – and there appear to be other dates that have also been given this designation. I think this means you can declare your own Family History Day on a date that makes sense for your family history. The MyHeritage Blog provides many ideas about celebrating Family History Day.
Descendants Day is a time to remember and honor the lives of your ancestors. It is also a time to reflect on your own heritage and to learn more about the people and cultures that have shaped your family history. It’s a day to celebrate the connection between living people and your ancestors.
Beginning in 1968, Hispanic Heritage Month was originally observed as “Hispanic Heritage Week” under President Lyndon Johnson, but it was later extended to a month during President Ronald Reagan’s term in 1988. Since then, the month has been celebrated nationwide through festivals, art shows, conferences, community gatherings, and much more. The month also celebrates the independence days of several Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua on September 15th, Mexico on September 16th, and Chile on September 18th. They also include holidays that recognize Hispanic contributions such as Virgin Islands-Puerto Rico Friendship Day which is celebrated in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
October is German American Heritage Month in recognition of the founding of Germantown, Pennsylvania in October 1683. Fifteen percent of Americans are of German descent, which is the largest ancestral group in the United States. The first proclamation of German-American Heritage Month was issued by Ronald Reagan in October 1987, and since then we have been celebrating every year.
Italian-American Heritage and Culture Month is celebrated by proclamation of the President and Congress in the United States to honor the achievements and contributions of Italian immigrants and their descendants living in the United States, particularly in the arts, science, and culture. Events are held throughout the month to celebrate and educate the public about Italian-American history and culture. It was first celebrated in 1989. The heritage month is in October to coincide with Columbus Day, the American national holiday traditionally celebrated on October 12, now celebrated on the second Monday in October.
In 2001, Congress first passed a resolution, introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who wrote, “By searching for our roots, we come closer together as a human family.” You should note that Senator Hatch was a Mormon from Utah, and the Mormon faith takes genealogy very seriously. Since then, Family History Month has been observed annually during the month of October. I haven’t been able to find out why it’s in October.
The first American Indian Day in a state was declared on the second Saturday in May 1916 by the governor of New York. Several states celebrate the fourth Friday in September. In Illinois, for example, legislators enacted such a day in 1919. Presently, several states have designated Columbus Day as Native American Day, but it continues to be a day we observe without any recognition as a national legal holiday.
In 1990 President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Similar proclamations, under variants on the name (including “Native American Heritage Month” and “National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month”) have been issued each year since 1994. Native American Heritage month is in November because the month of November “concludes the traditional harvest season of Native American Indians and was generally a time of celebration and giving thanks.”
Since 2004, the U.S Surgeon General has declared Thanksgiving Day as National Family Health History Day. This move was to encourage families to discuss their health histories on a day when everyone gets together anyway. There’s nothing like a good discussion of the family’s predisposition to potentially fatal diseases to liven up the dinner table discussion, amirite?
President George W. Bush signed into law legislation introduced by Congressman Joe Baca (D-Calif.), to designate the Friday after Thanksgiving as Native American Heritage Day. The Native American Heritage Day Bill was supported by the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) and 184 federally recognized tribes, and designates Friday, November 28, 2008, as a day to pay tribute to Native Americans for their many contributions to the United States. Since then, it has been observed on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
I see this designation as kind of a “make-up call” for the celebration of Thanksgiving the day before. The American myth surrounding Thanksgiving goes like this: the survival of the Pilgrim settlers of Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620 was aided by the eager and willing support of the native Americans in the area, and the “First Thanksgiving,” in the fall of 1621, was a celebration of the survival of the Pilgrims and to acknowledge the assistance from the natives in the region. However, relations between the settlers and the native populations were not all that good, and wars between the two groups dominated the region throughout the 17th century. After that, the natives moved further west, where they lived in general peace until white settlers moved in on them again, forcing them even further west. You can see on the earlier map that the native population in the United States is now dominant only in the areas that have been designated as reservations in several states west of the Mississippi River.
National Roots Day on December 23 gives people a chance to delve into and reflect on their family’s heritage, history, and ancestry. The holiday season is the perfect time to learn about your ancestors and collect family information.
Again, I haven’t been able to determine why, exactly, December 23 is given this designation.
I think that these genealogy-related days could provide a great re-energizer for your genealogy research. We all reach a point where we’re kind of bored with what we’ve been doing and would like a fresh start. Deciding to observe one of these “days” would be a great way to do this. Most of the websites I’ve included in this post suggest ways to observe the day, week, or month being described. We can’t all tap into Black History Month or German-American Heritage Day, but a lot of these days are general enough that any of us can find something to focus on.
This is how I’ve approached this type of specific project. In March 2018, I wrote about my women ancestors to recognize Women’s History Month. In 2018-2019, I wrote about my ancestors on their birthdays – unofficially proclaiming that they be remembered on these days. You can use the days on the list to scaffold your own “days.” Use the date of a town’s founding to honor the people who lived there. Use the date of a memorable event – either good or bad – to talk about the people who experienced it. And so forth.
I haven’t been able to find any reason why this is Perfect Family Day. But why not, right? Family is everything to genealogists. Distant family, near family, extended family, estranged family. It’s all up for exploration. So what makes up a Perfect Family? We’re all trying to figure that out.
My essay for last week was a tongue-in-cheek reflection on all of the famous people I’m supposedly related to. This week I’m going to focus on one famous person — and the only “character” — in my family tree. This is a person whose image transcends his reality. When I was growing up, I knew only a couple of things about my family history. One was that my mother’s ancestors, the Workman family, settled in New Amsterdam in the 1640s. The other was that I was somehow related to Buffalo Bill. I have been able to pin this down a little; to be precise, William F. Cody (1846-1917) was my 4th cousin 4x removed. He is my one “character;” I call him Bill.
I have other ancestors who should have been remembered by my family but were not.
On my father’s side, my paternal 2nd great-grandfather Miles Arnold (1821-1899) fought for the Ohio 76th Infantry in the Civil War, was wounded at the Battle of Atlanta and left for dead on the battlefield. He was found alive the following day when both sides went out to collect their dead, and he lived until 1899. My grandfather knew him, but I never heard of him.
On my mother’s side, my paternal 2nd great-grandfather Oliver Kyle (1829-1863) fought for the 28th Illinois Infantry in the Civil War, was captured after the 1862 Battle of Shiloh, paroled when he contracted malaria in a prison camp in Montgomery, Alabama, rejoined his unit for the 1863 Siege of Vicksburg, and died of malaria in the hospital in Natchez, Mississippi, a few months after the siege ended.
I never heard of either of these men until I started doing genealogy research 10 years ago. Both of these men lived in the middle of the 19th century, just like Bill. Miles Arnold was 23 when Bill was born, and Oliver Kyle was 15. Bill’s generational peer in my family tree – my 2nd great-grandmother Lydia Deuel (1845-1881) – was born just one year after Bill.
Let me tell you a little about Bill (this is taken from what I wrote in my self-published 2016 book The Ellefritz Family in America). I am related to Bill through my paternal grandmother, Orpha Lydia Ellefritz Arnold.
Bill’s 3rd great-grandparents (Philippe Lescaude and Martha Le Broque) were my 7th great-grandparents. They were born on the Channel Islands between France and England. Philippe was born on the Isle of Jersey and Martha was born on the Isle of Guernsey; they married on the Isle of Jersey in 1695 and relocated to Beverley, Massachusetts in 1698. They were part of a late surge of migration to Massachusetts.
Bill and I are descended from two sons of Philippe and Martha. My 6th great-grandfather was their son Isaac (1703-1737), and Bill’s 2nd great-grandfather was Isaac’s older brother Joseph (1700-1756). Sounds a little biblical. Anyway, both sons, along with three other siblings, lived out their days in Massachusetts. Same with the next generation, as Joseph and his wife Mary (again with the biblical names) had several children, including Bill’s great-grandfather, Philip, Sr., while Isaac and his wife Hannah had two sons, including another Joseph, my 5th great-grandfather. Hang on.
The next generation gets a little hinkier. Bill’s great-grandfather, Philip Sr., had 11 children, more or less, including Bill’s grandfather, Philip Jr., who was born in Massachusetts in 1770 but died in Ohio. Meanwhile, my 5th great-grandfather Joseph and his wife Mary (really? again?) had five children, including my ancestor, Daniel, who was born in 1777 in Massachusetts but died in Ohio. The records are a little confusing – there are lots of Josephs, Philips, and Isaacs, along with a fair number of Lydias and Marys.
Daniel’s life was pretty straightforward. He lived in Massachusetts until he moved to Syracuse, NY, where he married Hannah Manley in 1798. (Daniel and Hannah were my 4th great-grandparents.) He and Hannah had 13 children who all lived to adulthood (including two sets of twins) and lived most of the rest of their lives in western New York, moving only late in life to Ohio.
The story of Philip Jr. (on Bill’s line, second cousin of the Daniel I wrote about above) looks similar at first. Born in Massachusetts, died in Ohio. But when you look closer, you see an unusual pattern. Born in Massachusetts, married in … Canada? Several children born in … Canada? (including Bill’s father, Isaac, in 1811). How is it that the showman of the iconic American West comes from a family with Canadian roots?
I began to research this question and immediately found myself in muddy waters. Why would people move from the United States to Canada between the American Revolution and the War of 1812?
After a little bit of thought and research, I thought I had the answer – maybe the Cody family was made up of Loyalists, many of whom left the United States because their cause had been unsuccessful during the Revolution and because they saw no future in the United States of the 1790s. This was borne out, I thought, by information that I was able to dig up about the founding of what would ultimately become Toronto by Loyalists from Massachusetts. But I also knew that my 5th great-grandfather Joseph Cody fought for Massachusetts in the American Revolution, so I wasn’t sure about this.
I soon discovered information that suggested another possible explanation that fit better with the later evolution of the Cody family later. This explanation relates to the family’s opposition to slavery. Philip Cody, Bill’s grandfather who moved to Canada, married a Quaker woman, Lydia Martin, whose views likely reflected and had an influence on Philip’s views, although there is no evidence that Bill was raised as a Quaker.
I was able to find out some interesting things about Philip’s life in Canada. According to an article published in the April 2011 International Cody Family’s Genealogical and Historical Review, in 1803 he had received a 200 acre land grant in the County of York, Ontario, Canada. Philip Cody was Toronto township’s second settler, in 1806. (Another record shows that he was the first settler in Toronto in 1796, and first Justice of the Peace.) In 1806 he purchased 200 acres of land on the condition that he clear five acres, build a 16×20 foot log cabin, clear the roadway in front of his homestead, and show proof that he had done all of this.
By 1807, he had built an Inn on his property and was making a comfortable living. In 1810, he donated an acre of land for the building of the Dixie Union Chapel, which became the first Union Church in Upper Canada and the first community hall. They purchased several lots of land and built the ‘Cody Inn and Tavern’ on the southeast corner of what is known today as Cawthra Road and Dundas Highway. Isaac Cody, Bill’s father, was baptized in this church in 1811, and (according to legend – and a plaque on the wall of the Dixie Union Chapel)Bill was brought back to this church to be baptized in 1847, although his own published memoirs don’t mention this and no one has found documents to support this claim. There is a small stub of a road called “Cody Lane” in Mississauga, Ontario, which supposedly abuts the original Cody farm.
Back to my part of this story. After Bill’s family’s story, mine looks a little mundane. One of Daniel’s children was my 3rd great-grandmother Melinda Cody (1803-1888), who married Joseph Putney Deuel in 1821 in Syracuse, NY.
Now back to Bill’s story. Bill’s line had only one generation to go before you get to Bill. Bill’s father Isaac, now firmly back in the United States, married his first wife, Martha Miranda O’Connor, in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1832. She lived for only a few years after their marriage, and he married again in 1844. His second wife, Mary Ann Bosnell Laycock, had their first child, William Frederick Cody (aka Bill), in Iowa in 1846. By the time Bill was 10 years old, the family was on the move again, from Iowa to Kansas Territory, where two of his siblings were born and where his mother died when he was 18 years old.
This is the point at which the Cody family’s anti-slavery sentiments become obvious. The mid-1850s featured violence between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces in Kansas, a time called “Bleeding Kansas.” The Cody family was caught up in this violence to the point that Bill’s father Isaac was wounded by pro-slavery “border ruffians” who objected to his anti-slavery views. This led the family to leave Kansas during Bill’s childhood. In 1867, Cody hunted buffalo for the Kansas Pacific Railroad work crews, earning his moniker “Buffalo Bill” and his reputation as an expert shot.
The next year, he was employed by the U.S. Army as a civilian scout and guide for the Fifth Cavalry. His experience and skills as a plainsman made him an invaluable tracker and fighter. On April 26, 1872, Cody became one of only four civilian scouts to be awarded the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor during the Indian Wars for valor in action. (He was later declared ineligible for the medal and stricken from the roll in 1917, but his name was reinstated in 1989 by the Army Board for Correction of Military Records.) During his life, Bill moved on to Nebraska and to Wyoming, where he became an army scout, buffalo hunter, pony express rider, land speculator, water entrepreneur (water was scarce in the West and Bill figured out a way to make money on this scarcity), and, most famously, a showman.
So what can we make of all this? First, Bill was for-real famous in the years following the American Civil War (1861-1865). I’m sure that my family (Bill’s cousins) had heard his name and attached it to his Wild West Show. Bill had been born in Scott County, Iowa, about 100 miles up the Mississippi River from Hancock County, Illinois, where my father’s family lived. Lydia Deuel’s mother (my 3rd great-grandmother) was Melinda Cody, and I think that the family must have been aware of the familial connection.
The Cody family is well-researched. The International Cody Family Association was organized in 1925 in Chicago, Illinois. Some of my family members have been active in this Association; my cousin Dorothy was editor of the Association’s newsletter, the Cody Review, for years before her death in 2016. Here’s how the International Cody Family Association acknowledged the work that Dorothy and her husband Bill did for the Association:
“Dorothy and Bill have been Active Members for years, working on the 2010 ICFA Reunion in Tucson, serving on the Executive Board, and editing the Cody Review.”
In 2014, I attended the Cody Family Reunion in Jamestown, NY. It happened to be scheduled at the same time that I was already planning to be at Chautauqua, NY, for a week. So I drove on over and caught up with distant family. I missed the festivities – the parade, the dinner, and the concert – but it was fun to connect with this part of my family.
This association publishes a lot of information about the Cosy family, including a number of directories and membership lists, including a two-volume set updated in 2013.
I’m going to take a slight diversion to explain how an Ahnentafel works, in case you’re not familiar with it. If you break down the numbers from the picture above and show the associated ancestors, the Ahnentafel is a concise way of showing a lineage. Here’s what my daughter’s number — 264/C61221 — means.
I have visited the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, in Cody, Wyoming. The clerk in the gift shop got excited (well, sort of) when I showed her my family’s entry in the book – although she didn’t give me the book for free even when I asked. We ate dinner at the Irma Hotel while we were in Cody. This hotel/restaurant was built by Bill in 1902 and named for his daughter Irma.
Genealogy research is easier when you have someone in your lineage who is at least semi-famous. Other people have done a lot of the work for you. I’m glad to be connected to this “character,” but it makes me a little sad that my family has recalled and celebrated our connection to a buffalo-hunter, huckster, and showman but has forgotten our real-life family heroes, Miles Arnold and Oliver Kyle.
FamilySearch.org has a fun game on its app called “Relatives Around Me.” If you’re in a group of friends, you can use your phones to log on to the FamilySearch app, and sign in to your accounts; the app will let you know if you are related to anyone in your group. It’s kind of fun – we did this at the last meeting of our local genealogy group, and found that some of us were distant cousins. Of course, the app does this by using the FamilySearch “one world” tree, which is notoriously unreliable and inaccurate.
On the FamilySearch website, there’s also an option to identify your Famous Relatives. You can find this at https://www.familysearch.org/discovery/famousrelatives Again, caveats abound – these connections are made through the FamilySearch tree. It’s still kind of a fun parlor game.
According to this site, I am related to 30 Presidents of the United States and 15 Mayflower passengers. However, I have a paper trail to support only two of these claims. These charts show that President James Madison is my 2nd cousin 8 times removed and that President Zachary Taylor is my 3rd cousin 7x removed.
But FamilySearch isn’t satisfied with these claims; the website says I am also related to Presidents Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Millard Fillmore, George Washington, Martin Van Buren, James Monroe, Franklin Pierce, Rutherford B. Hayes, John Tyler, Thomas Jefferson (our common ancestor is purported to be someone called “Thomas Kerr of Ferniehirst” 1529-1586), William Henry Harrison, Abraham Lincoln, John Adams, Lyndon B. Johnson, Warren G. Harding, Benjamin Harrison, John Quincy Adams, Franklin D. Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, James A. Garfield, Calvin Coolidge, James K. Polk, James Buchanan, Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, William McKinley, and Richard Nixon. I don’t have any evidence that supports any of this, and some of the suggested relationships are pretty preposterous.
Other world leaders? I have them too – Winston Churchill (my 6th cousin 2x removed) as well as Princess Diana (10th cousin 2x removed). I don’t have evidence of any of this either.
What early American writers did you read when you were in high school? According to FamilySearch I’m related to a bunch of them, including Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Jane Austen, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, T. S. Eliot, and Robert Louis Stevenson. I’ve looked at the family trees that supposedly “prove” these relationships, and I don’t recognize the names of our supposed common ancestors.
Do you want some modern stars of stage and screen? I’m related to Buster Keaton, Bing Crosby, Shirley Temple, Elvis Presley, John Wayne, Katherine Hepburn (our common ancestors are purported to be 17th-century individuals from the Pamunkey tribe in Virginia — preposterous on so many levels), Lucille Ball, and Audrey Hepburn. Again, there is no paper trail for any of this, and some of the supposed connections on my own line are inaccurate.
Do you want “trailblazers?” This app says I’m descended from 13 passengers on the Mayflower (my paper trail says maybe four, although I haven’t “proven” any), and other significant folks like Helen Keller, Robert Perry (of North Pole fame), Amelia Earhart, Neil Armstrong, and Florence Nightingale.
As for inventors and scientists, I’m also related to a lot of them. Isaac Newton, Eli Whitney, Samuel Morse, Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, Charles Darwin, and Alexander Graham Bell. From a more modern era, let’s throw in some entertainers – Shirley Temple, Bing Crosby, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Katharine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Elvis Presley, and Lucille Ball.
You should know by now that none of this is documented.
There are fewer famous athletes in my “lineage.” Hockey star Gordie Howe is supposedly my 10th cousin and baseball legend Babe Ruth is identified as my 13th cousin 1x removed.
So. If you don’t already have a FamilySearch account, create one (it’s free) and start a small tree. Although the tree on FamilySearch are not worth the powder and shot to blow it away (IMHO), the website does provide access to documents that are not available from other sources. Meanwhile, the website will populate your tree with information from other trees, and you can find out about your “famous relatives” as well. Just don’t expect a seat at the family table at the next wedding, and don’t claim your inheritance quite yet.