Week 22: At the Cemetery

St. Mary’s Church, Eastwell, Kent, UK

First, let me tell you a little bit about this church, which we visited during our genealogical research trip to England in September, 2022. The organization that currently manages the church grounds, “Friends of Friendless Churches,” describes St. Mary’s with the following words (https://friendsoffriendlesschurches.org.uk/church/st-marys-eastwell-kent/:

St Mary’s was once a fine medieval church on an ancient pilgrimage route to Canterbury and the shrine St Thomas Becket. Situated within the grounds of Eastwell Park, all that remains is a 15th-century tower, a 19th-century mortuary chapel and a slender flint wall linking the two.

A picturesque lake created just to the east of the church in the 19th century brought about the collapse of the nave arcade, as the chalk columns sucked up moisture from the earth and crumbled.

In the 1940s, Eastwell Park was taken over by the army for tank training exercises. Shocks from nearby explosions didn’t help the vulnerable structure. But in February 1951, after weeks of heavy rain the nave roof collapsed and took the arcade with it.

Six years later the church was dismantled. The bells were sold for scrap. The monuments found a new home in the V&A. A sad end for this lakeside beauty.

Much mystery remains around this place. In the churchyard, there is a Victorian tomb, which is reputed to be the grave of Richard Plantagenet, an illegitimate son of Richard III. The church registers record his death, “Rychard Plantagenet was buryed on the 22. daye of December 1550”.

We took the church into our care in 1980.

We visited this church to learn more about my 11th great-grandfather John House (1560-1630).  He was born in Leicestershire, but after studying at Cambridge he was licensed to serve St. James the Great in Egerton, near Cambridge.

This plaque on the wall of St. James the Great indicates that he was named rector of this church in 1592; he was at St. Mary’s by 1610, where records show he officiated at the marriage of his daughter there.

After serving at Egerton, he was assigned to St. Mary’s in Eastwell, where he served until he died in 1630.  Most online records say that his burial location is unknown, or that he is buried (along with other reburied remains) at a cemetery about 25 miles from this church.  There is no documentary (or other) evidence to support either of these conclusions.  Since we were already planning to visit St. James the Great in Egerton, we decided it would be interesting to see what there was to look at in this remote churchyard.

Beneath one of these overgrown graves, however, we made a remarkable discovery.  On closer examination, the “whitish stone” that I mentioned above looked like this:

This marker with “J. House” inscribed on it was under one of the later graves you saw above.  I have never seen this picture anywhere; it may be a true genealogical discovery.  I have added it to John’s Ancestry profile, with information about how I found it and why I think it’s valid.  I also exchanged messages with the person who manages the Wikitree profile for John House; he said he didn’t know about this, and suggested that I post the pictures with my explanation.  So I did this.  There hasn’t been any feedback yet.

John House’s family is linked to important events in the Puritan Great Migration.  The 1610 marriage where John officiated was between his daughter Hannah and John Lothrop, a figure who would become significant as a dissenter in the 1630s.  

In 1632, when the Puritan Congregation Lothrop was leading in London fell afoul of Bishop Laud of London, who identified with a “high church” position and was generally seen as a dangerous opponent of Puritan clerics like Lothrop – and like House before him. 

In that year, Lothrop and 70 members of his congregation were arrested while worshipping in a private house.  They were imprisoned; Lothrop was held for two years, during which time Hannah died.  Several members of the House family were part of Lothrop’s congregation and were arrested with him – including John House’s 24-year-old son Samuel, who was my 10th great-grandfather.  When Lothrop and other captive members of his congregation were released in 1634, he and some of his followers – including Samuel and two of his siblings – boarded a ship and fled to Massachusetts. 

They settled in Plymouth Colony – first in Scituate and then in Barnstable. Samuel is identified as a ship’s carpenter, and served in several public offices in the early colony, including tax collector and grand juror.  Samuel married Elizabeth Hammond in Scituate shortly after he arrived in the colony, and moved several times in the next few years – to Cambridge, then to Barnstable, back to Scituate, and then back to Barnstable.  The family was soon to move on to Rhode Island, where they continued their tradition of religious dissent.

My House family ancestors in Scituate lived somewhere near the red circle on this map. This 1633 map was drawn before Samuel House arrived in 1634, but one source said his land was “southeast of the Colman Hills, near the land of Rev. John Lothrop.” That’s where the red circle is. (Source of map: http://genealogybyeric.blogspot.com/2013/10/connecting-dots-scituate-ma.html )

Week 21: Brick Wall

I have several “brick wall” ancestors (doesn’t everyone?), but my family tree is full of research opportunities apart from these barriers.  I’m not particularly frustrated by them, although it would be nice to break them down.

The “brick wall” that frustrates me the most is the “brick wall” of my family’s indifference, as most of my family members are just fundamentally not interested in anything I discover in the course of my research.  My husband, fortunately, doesn’t fall into that category; he’s very interested in my research and researches his own family tree enthusiastically.  But as for the rest of my family – they’re kind of “meh” over my findings.  I have one family member who is interested enough to read what I have written and comment occasionally, but for the rest of my immediate family the self-published books that I send them disappear into the ether and I don’t hear any reaction.  They don’t read what I’ve written. I get more feedback and encouragement from my cousins who live across the country from me. 

I know that this is a common complaint among genealogists. If you don’t share this passion, it’s hard to understand.  I keep reminding myself that they’re busy and, while they probably privately appreciate what I’m doing, they don’t respond openly.  I keep reminding myself about how much they’ll appreciate this later in their lives.  I think about how much I would love to have just one diary or letter written by one of my ancestors, and how much my grandchildren will value my research someday.  But I would like to be acknowledged and valued now, thank you very much.

Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.

Week 20: Bearded

Two photos of my great-grandparents Thomas and Mary Elizabeth Thomas Workman.  On the left – Tom, Mary, and six of their eventual 10 children in Guthrie, Oklahoma, in 1893.  On the right, Tom and Mary in El Campo, Texas, sometime before 1926. The beard is Tom’s prominent feature.

I never knew my maternal great-grandparents.  They died in 1926 and 1930, when my mother was under 10 years old.  I don’t remember her telling any stories about them; my mother’s family had moved from Texas to Arizona in the early 1930s and she didn’t talk much about those early years.

Neither of these pictures was in my parents’ collection of old family photos.  I found them in Thelma Anderson’s 1962 Workman Family History, a 700-page history of this family from the time they arrived in New Amsterdam in the 1640s through the 1950s.  I am in this book, together with my parents, siblings, and more distant family.  Mrs. Anderson did her research the old-fashioned way – spending decades driving around the country visiting libraries, courthouses, and cemeteries to compile the story of this family.  When the book was published, she made them available to everyone in the book.  My mother bought a copy, and I have it now.

These two pictures were on a page devoted to this part of my family.  It included pictures of other family members, along with a picture of the house the family lived in while they were in El Campo, Texas. 

My great-grandfather’s beard stands out in these photos.  I think he probably sported this beard for his entire adult life.  I have found a lot of pictures of the 1889 Oklahoma Land Run – which Tom participated in to get the land they settled on in Guthrie, Oklahoma – and I always look for a man with a beard.  I haven’t found him yet in these random photos, but I’m always looking.

From other information, I have pieced together a bit about Tom.  He was apparently not a very nice man – at least, to hear what some of my cousins have said about the stories they were told.  After Mary died, he remarried – badly, apparently, because after his death I found his second wife in a census record, which shows that she had reclaimed her maiden name. 

I have another great beard I want to share with you.

My paternal 2nd great-grandparents, Solomon and Mary Ann Botts Ellefritz. This photo was colorized through an Ancestry.com function. I kinda like it.

I’ve written about these folks often enough to feel like I know them.  They married in Hancock County, Illinois, in 1867, and had seven children over the course of 10 years, including my great-grandfather Howard P. Ellefritz.  Two of the children died – one at birth and the other at the age of five.  This is the obituary that appeared in the ”Carthage Republican” in January of 1995.

It’s not hard to figure out the cause of the “something of a cancerous nature on the lower lip” that led to his death; the picture shows the pipe that was firmly gripped over his impressive beard.  Formal photos were not very common in those days, and the fact that Solomon chose to have his pipe in his mouth when this picture was taken shows that this is how everyone knew him. 

Week 19: Bald

In trying to find something to write about for this week’s challenge, I feared I was going to come up dry for the first time in the 18 months I’ve been writing to the weekly “52 Ancestors” prompts.  I looked back through the family pictures in my possession, and all of the men seem to have kept their hair!  Most of them got a little thin on top as they aged, but I couldn’t find anyone who would be referred to as “Bald.” 

So I decided I had to get creative.  I began to think of the non-literal ways we use the term “Bald,” and I remembered the name of the brewery behind my sister’s house in the western part of Virginia.  It’s called “Bald Top Brewery,” and that set me on the path of trying to figure out if there were any mountains called “Bald” or “Baldy” or “Baldtop” that had any relevance to my family’s history.  The map below is the result of my research.

I’ve put a red circle around Baldface Mountain Overlook on Virginia’s Skyline Drive

Over the years, I’ve spent a fair amount of time on Skyline Drive.  When I was growing up in Northern Virginia, the northern terminus of the scenic highway, in Front Royal, Virginia, was a little over 60 miles to the west of our house in Falls Church.  In the days before the Interstate highway system, this drive could take as long as two hours.  I remember my Dad getting us all up early in the morning so we could drive to the first campground on Skyline Drive.  I think it was called Dickey Ridge.  My father took everything he needed to make us breakfast in the campground – charcoal to build a fire in the available grills, a cast-iron skillet, bacon, eggs, bread, butter, and juice, along with all necessary utensils.  I don’t remember ever eating anything that tasted as good as those breakfasts on the mountain – although the fact that I had been up for over two hours and hadn’t eaten anything may have influenced my perception of the quality of the food.

My parents, my brother, and me on a trip to Skyline Drive in 1952 or so. My brother was 8 and I was 5.

Tim and I lived in Charlottesville, Virginia, for the three years he was in law school at the University of Virginia.  We didn’t have any time (or money) to do a lot of recreational things, but we were only about 30 minutes from Skyline Drive, and once in a while we drove up to the mountains and did a little hiking.

The red line down the middle of this map shows Skyline Drive, which runs 105 miles through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, west of Washington, DC.

In the 1970s my parents bought a small vacation home in Greene County, Virginia, just north of Charlottesville.  They spent weekends there and joined the local golf club.  As they approached retirement, they began to spend more time there and soon decided to build a retirement home in nearby Madison County.  They moved there in the middle of the 1980s and lived there for the rest of their lives. My father died in 2001 and my mother died in 2012, never losing their affection for their “house on the hill.”  My sister and her husband lived with my mother for six years after my father died, and part of the family deal was that they would inherit the house when Mom died.  They still live there.

My parents lived in Madison, Virginia, in a house on a hill that gave them a panoramic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west.  Baldface Mountain Overlook faces west, away from their house.  My sister and her husband live in my parents’ house and can look at the Blue Ridge Mountains every day.

Be patient.  I’m getting to my point.

As the maps above show you, Baldface Mountain Overlook is just west of Madison.  Here are a couple of pictures of the mountains from the back deck of the house. You can’t see Baldface Mountain Overlook from here, but you can see the mountains between Madison and Skyline Drive.  Oddly, I can’t find a mountain called “Baldface Mountain” that would give a reason for this name.

There is a historical reason why my parents had an affinity for the mountains.  They met and married in Tucson, Arizona – which is surrounded by mountains.  This map shows the mountain ranges around Tucson:

My parents talked often about the day trips their families took to the mountains – in particular, Mt. Lemmon in the Santa Catalina Mountains.  You can’t drive anywhere in Tucson without being aware of the mountains.  My sister and I visited our Aunt Mary – Mom’s sister – in Tucson in 2017.  Here’s a picture I took of the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson.

You can’t really compare the mountains around Tucson with the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Mt. Lemmon reaches over 9,000 feet in altitude; the highest peak along Skyline Drive is Hawksbill Mountain, which tops out at 3,600 feet.  (This is about 20 miles from Madison and isn’t visible from the house.) I remember one time when my mother’s brother TC and his family came to visit us in Virginia.  They drove into our driveway after making their way across the country.  TC, who never met a joke he didn’t like, commented that he wasn’t sure he was on the right road; the directions Mom had sent him mentioned what he needed to do when he got to the mountains, and he said he never saw anything but foothills.  And by the way, all of the mountains around Tucson look “bald” to me – they’re too high to have the foliage that covers the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

I asked Mom one time if she missed living in Tucson and seeing the mountains all the time.  She seemed kind of uncertain about why I would even ask the question.  It wasn’t until I began to do family history research (after Mom died, unfortunately) that I realized how little time my parents had actually spent around the mountains of Arizona.  My father’s family had moved to Tucson from Illinois in 1936, and Mom’s family had come from southeast Texas only a few years earlier in 1931.  Mom and Dad married in Tucson in 1940, and by 1946 they had moved across the country to northern Virginia.  I got the feeling that they spent the first couple of years in Virginia thinking that they would probably move back to Arizona someday.  My mother’s family – her father, siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews – stayed in Tucson, as did most of my Dad’s family. 

But my Dad began to build a career in the civil service in Washington and before too long we had settled into the booming region around DC as my mother embarked on a career in banking.  My brother moved away from Virginia as soon as he finished college and never moved back.  My sister moved to North Carolina and seemed ready to stay there until she and her husband moved back to help take care of Mom.  I’m the only one who has stayed in Virginia – after attending William and Mary and then moving to Charlottesville with Tim for three years, we moved back to Northern Virginia, where we raised our kids from 1973 through 1997.  Then we moved back to Williamsburg and have lived here ever since.

No mountains around here.

Week 18: Pets

I don’t have any pictures of the two dogs my parents had while I was growing up. We didn’t record our every waking moment the way we do today. A black-spitz-terrier mix like our dog Butch is on the left, and a red long-haired dachshund like our dog Carrie is on the right.

As seems to be the case with many people responding to this prompt, I don’t know anything about pets my ancestors may have had.  Before my grandparents’ generation, they all lived on farms, and I think that the family’s animals were mostly working critters and not pets.

I do have a couple of stories about my father and pets.  He was a “dog person.”  While I was growing up, we had two dogs – a black spitz-terrier mix named “Butch” and a long-haired dachshund named Carrie.  Butch died as a result of his second encounter with a car on a nearby neighborhood road.  My father had Carrie put down at the vet when she was no more than eight years old.  I don’t think I ever knew why.

My dad always swore he would never get a cat.  Until he did.  I don’t remember how this came to be, but when I was in high school we had a white cat named Frostie.  My Dad was Frostie’s person.  The cat gravitated toward Dad and wanted to be with him whenever Dad was home. Dad responded to being adored and became a cat person, at least temporarily.

Frostie looked like this

I remember one silly story about my Dad and Frostie.  Dad had read somewhere that white cats can often be deaf, but if they have any black on them anywhere, they are less likely to be deaf.  Now, I don’t know how you figure out whether a cat is deaf or not; they don’t respond when you call them like dogs do.  But Dad decided that he didn’t want Frostie to be deaf, so he got out a black magic marker and put a big black splotch on Frostie’s forehead. That satisfied him.

Week 17: DNA

Here’s Looking at you, Velma.

DNA is a wonderful research tool for genealogists.  It provides links where the paper trail is weak and connects researchers looking for information on the same family line.

In my case, it has done both of these things – I have “found” DNA cousins (some as close as 2nd cousins) through Ancestry’s DNA function, and have used the information in their trees to enhance my own.

My most significant find was my mother’s first cousin Velma.  My mother’s family moved from Texas to Arizona in 1931, when she was just 10 years old, leaving behind a whole slew of family members – grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Given the difficulty of travel at the time (and the lack of financial resources to facilitate such travel), my mother saw very little of her family after the move.  She met and married my father in Tucson in 1940, and they moved to Virginia after World War II.  As far as I can recall, she never went back to Texas after that to reconnect with any family members.

In 2018, Velma popped up as a new DNA match for me on Ancestry.  I messaged her and soon got a response.  We communicated by email a couple of times, and she joined my Facebook group “All My Cousins.”  We spoke over the telephone a few times and she sent me information – including a picture of my mother as a young woman that I had never seen before.  She told me stories about her relationship with my grandmothers – her Aunt Susie and Uncle Tom – that painted a broader picture of their lives than I was able to glean from the paper trail.  She cleared up some questions about her part of the family – her mother had married Wesley Workman (my grandfather’s brother), and after he died in the 1918 influenza epidemic, she married his brother Charlie.  I hadn’t been able to figure this out from the various pieces of information on Ancestry, and Velma clarified it for me.

This is the picture Velma sent me.  My mother is the lovely woman on the left.

Velma and I also bonded over the fact that we were both social studies teachers.  She taught in a very different time and circumstance than I experienced, but we had common interests and it was fun to talk about them.

I connected her with other cousins living in Oklahoma and Arizona – my first and second cousins.  Velma had heard of them but never met them before.  I also connected her with my Aunt Mary – Velma’s first cousin – and they spoke on the phone a couple of times.  It was difficult – Mary didn’t speak very clearly (poorly fitted dentures) and Velma didn’t hear very well – but they enjoyed connecting.

Velma died during COVID in 2020 – but her family was quick to explain on Facebook that she didn’t die of COVID but rather of congestive heart failure.  She was almost 95 years old.  Here’s what a family member posted on Facebook after Velma died:

Velma Workman Poenisch was the wife of first a farmer, then a deputy sheriff, then an avid golfer (all the same man, in case you were wondering).   She raised eight children of her own and was a surrogate mother to many more who went through her classroom.  She adopted anyone who needed a family.  She was a Christian and epitomized what being a Christian should be.  She loved the Lord and found the good in others.  On June 1, she would have been 95 years young.

Velma lived a long and productive life.  I wish I had known about her sooner.  I made a genealogy research trip to Texas a few years ago, and I was in a town only about an hour from where Velma lived.  I would have enjoyed meeting up with her. I wish I had known about Velma before my mother died in 2012. She would have enjoyed reconnecting with a cousin who had been part of her immediate family when she was a child.

Ancestry DNA has provided me with more extended family members than I could ever research.  Here’s a map that shows where I have DNA connections.  I have an idea for a research project – identifying a set of DNA matches in a specific location and trying to figure out the connections between them and me.  I like to travel to do genealogy research. Where should I go next?

I’ll never be “finished.”

This map shows the location of my DNA matches.  I have three distant cousins in Alaska.  Who knew that?

Week 16: Should Have Been a Movie

We say something “should have been a movie” when the action is unexpected, a bit player suddenly becomes the star, the good guys triumph over the bad guys when all hope seems lost, there’s a good love story, and some adventure is involved.

I’m sure many of my ancestors experienced some “should have been a movie” moments throughout their complicated and adventurous lives, but it’s not always easy to tease out the elements that would make a good series to binge-watch on Netflix.  But I’ve picked one such story.  Here’s the pitch to potential investors and producers:

Against All Odds


Plymouth, Essex, and Dartmouth in Massachusetts, 1637-1655. 

Cast of Characters:

  • William Spooner, 16-year-old indentured servant (and my 9th great-grandfather)
  • John Coombs, William’s master
  • Sarah Priest Coombs, wife of John and daughter of Mayflower passengers Degory Priest and his wife Sarah Allerton
  • Isaac Allerton, father of Sarah Allerton
  • Fear Brewster, mother of Sarah Allerton
  • Mary Priest Pratt, sister of Sarah Priest Coombs
  • William Brewster IV, religious leader of Pilgrims on the Mayflower, grandfather of Sarah Allerton. and uncle/guardian of William’s mother, Ann Peck Spooner.

Episode 1: Indentured

William arrives in New Plymouth in 1637; he enters into a 6-year indenture with John Holmes, a freeman, landowner, and messenger to the General Court.

Episode 2: Traded

John Holmes almost immediately signs over William’s indenture to another resident of the colony, John Coombs, who has been in the colony since 1630.  John and his wife Sarah have three children – John (born in 1632), Francis (born in 1635), and Elizabeth (born in 1640).

Episode 3: A Day in the Life

As an indentured servant, William’s duties include assisting his master on his farm and helping to supervise John and Francis as they work with their father.  A housemaid, Elizabeth Partridge, assists Mrs. Coombs with household duties and supervision of the Coombs’s young daughter, also named Elizabeth.

Episode 4:  The Difficult Mr. Coombs

Mr. Coombs is a hardworking, conscientious member of the Plymouth community when William first comes to work for him.  However, over the years Mr. Coombs begins to drink heavily and behave in ways that disrupt the community.  He is soon stripped of his status of “freeman” and is relieved of other responsibilities he has in the community.  William takes over more and more of the responsibilities for the farm and mill that Mr. Coombs had begun to develop on his land.

Episode 5:  The Unfortunate Mr. Coombs

When the household becomes aware that Mr. Coombs has not returned home from a night of drinking at the local tavern, they are not alarmed at first.  But as the day wears on and there is no word of Mr. Coombs, William leads the efforts to locate his master.  He takes the two sons of the household – ages 16 and 11 – with him on his search; this is not the first time Mr. Coombs has gone missing, and they know all of the places to look for him.  Meanwhile, Elizabeth stays with Mrs. Coombs and little Elizabeth, waiting for the men to return.  They return with the hard news that they had found Mr. Coombs in the nearby pond, where he had apparently fallen on his way home the previous night.

Episode 6:  Mrs. Coombs

Despite Mr. Coombs’s recent decline into drunkenness and irresponsibility, Mrs. Coombs loved him dearly and seems unable to rise above her grief to tend to her property or her children.  All she can do is lament the loss of Mr. Coombs and yearn for her home and her friends in Leyden, where she was born and had lived among the Separatists who made their home there.  She cannot be dissuaded – she insists on going back home to recover from her grief.  She will not be gone long, she promises.  She will come back, healed and ready to assume the responsibility of her home and children.  She signs over to 25-year-old William the guardianship of her two youngest children. Her oldest son, John, is already indentured to another master in the community.

Episode 7:  William and Elizabeth

Because William is already doing most of the work on the farm, it is not difficult for him to continue this pattern.  Elizabeth, the indentured maid who had been the primary helper for Mrs. Coombs in the performance of the cooking and housekeeping chores for the family, continues in those duties, incorporating care for the young daughter Elizabeth in her daily routine.  It doesn’t take long for the companionship between William and Elizabeth to turn into something deeper; when Elizabeth finds herself with child a few months later, she and William marry.  Their son, John, is born six months later.  The household is set: William and Elizabeth could manage the farm and community responsibilities while raising Francis, young Elizabeth, and the infant John.

Episode 8:  Elizabeth is Gone.

Their happiness doesn’t last long.  When Elizabeth finds herself pregnant again a short time after John’s birth, she and William are delighted. Adding to their family will be a blessing.  But, as was often the case in the primitive conditions of colonial Massachusetts, Elizabeth’s pregnancy does not go smoothly.  She is often ill, and, as the time of her confinement grows near, she take to her bed and noticeably weakens.  When her travail begins, she is not able to withstand the trauma, and she succumbs – as does their infant.  William is left to care for all three children on his own.

Episode 9:  It Takes a Village

William is at his wit’s end.  He doesn’t know how he’s going to keep his family going.  He learns that Mrs. Coombs has died in Leyden, and he is now officially and permanently responsible for the Coombs children as well as for his infant son.  He turns to the community for help, and it is forthcoming.  William’s connection to the powerful Brewster and Allerton families in Plymouth focuses the community’s attention on his plight. 

  • William’s mother, Anne Peck Powell (she had remarried after the death of William’s father in 1630) is living a day’s ride away in Salem, but she is in poor health and can’t help her son.
  • However, Anne’s guardian (appointed after the death of her mother Prudence Brewster in 1609) was Elder William Brewster IV, leader of the Plymouth colony until his death in 1644.  
  • There is a second link to this important family: Mrs. Coombs’s mother was Fear Brewster, the second daughter of Elder William Brewster IV. 
  • Mrs. Coombs’s brother is Isaac Allerton, another leader of the Plymouth Colony. 
  • Both Fear and William are gone by 1648, but many relatives of the Brewster and Allerton family are still living in Plymouth and nearby Duxbury at this time, and members of his family step forward to help William.  

Episode 10:  William Finds Love Again

In 1652, William remarries after four years of raising his children without a partner.  He marries Hannah Pratt, daughter of Joshua Pratt and his wife Bathsheba, and they go on to have eight more children.  William lives until 1684, when he died in Dartmouth; he and Hannah had gone there to live with one of their children.


It is 1734 in Dutchess County, New York (in the Hudson River Valley between Manhattan and Albany).  William Spooner’s 2nd great-granddaughter Rebecca Tripp is marrying Benanuel Deuel, the 3rd great-grandson of two Mayflower passengers – Francis Cook and Richard Warren – who were neighbors of William’s mother’s family – the Brewsters and the Allertons – in Plymouth 100 years earlier.  Both families had moved to New York with a group of Quakers that emerged in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, at the end of the 17th century.


All of the historical figures in this Netflix series are accurately identified with the events documented in the story. I have embellished the details a little — for example, I don’t know the exact circumstances of Mr. Coombs’s death, but my scenario is plausible and in keeping with the overall narrative. The individuals identified in the Epilogue — Rebecca Tripp and Benanuel Deuel — are my 5th great-grandparents.

It’s been interesting to dig into this story. I think I’m going to try to turn this into a historical novel. I’ve done a lot of writing, and I often read historical fiction, so I can totally do this. Right? I’ll let you know. And maybe it will be a movie!!!

Week 15: Solitude

This story is about the solo trip made by my 5th great-grandmother Mary Parmenter in 1794, when she was almost 60 years old.

My 5th great-grandmother (1737-1815) didn’t live most of her life in solitude – far from it.  But in 1794, she made a solo trip that bears attention.  She traveled from Hopkinton, Massachusetts (about 30 miles west of Boston) to Marcellus, New York (just west of Syracuse – a journey of 300 miles) to scout out land made available to her as bounty for her husband’s service in the American Revolution.

Here’s how all of that came about.  She married Joseph Cody (1736-1787) in Worcester County in 1757, and the couple must have felt that they were on their way to a good life together.  Joseph was the grandson of Philippe L’Escaude (anglicized to Cody) and Martha LeBrocq, French Huguenots who had come to Massachusetts in 1698 from the Channel Islands off the coast of France.  They settled in Hopkinton, where they had six children over the next 16 years.  Their children grew up and married in Hopkinton, and the family became established members of their communities. 

Philippe and Martha’s grandchildren faced challenges that their parents and grandparents could not have imagined, as they lived in a colony that was increasingly at odds with Britain.  Four of their grandsons – John, Isaac, Joseph, and Samuel Cody – served in the American Revolution.  Joseph Cody married Mary Parmenter in 1757, and they proceeded to have 11 children before Joseph’s untimely death in 1787.  I’m not sure how Joseph died, but some records suggest that it was as a result of some business setbacks as the family attempted to run a farm and a store in the difficult years after the revolution.  Mary’s children ranged in age from 27 years old to three years old at the time of Joseph’s death.

The newly-independent United States was struggling financially during the 1780s.  Its financial failings meant that it was unable to pay Revolutionary War veterans what they had been promised.  In place of promised wages, the government offered these veterans land instead.  This land was free, but it was often far from the places where the veterans and their families lived.  It wasn’t easy for veterans to avail themselves of this benefit, and they often sold the rights to their land in order to recoup something (although often at reduced value) from their service.

The green-shaded area on this map is the “New York Reserve,” which was parceled out for Revolutionary War veterans in 1782.  This is where Mary traveled to find a new home for her family.  Source of map:  An Atlas of Settlement Between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi-Missouri Valleys 1760-1880, by Carrie Eldridge, 2006.  Page 15.

It’s not possible to understand what went through Mary’s mind when she decided to claim Joseph’s land bounty.  But claim it she did.  This is when she made the trip.

The lore of Marcellus (in Onondaga County) says that Mary made the trip by herself in 1794 to assess the land and figure out whether she would be able to bring her family to this new home.  She remarried in the same year – to a man named Jared Smith, who was also scouting out new land.  It’s not clear whether they had met before the trip or while they were both in Marcellus – but they met and married.  Mary then returned to Hopkinton to get her children, whom she brought back to Marcellus to set up housekeeping with Jared.  Several of her older daughters were married by this time, and they stayed in Massachusetts.  But six of them made the trip – including my 4th great-grandfather Daniel Cody, who was 17 years old when the family moved.

The family prospered in Marcellus.  Jared became a tavern and innkeeper, working directly with Mary and her two sons, Joseph and Elijah.  Mary died in Marcellus in 1817.

If the Cody name sounds familiar to you, it may be because the full name of  “Buffalo Bill” (of Wild West Show fame) was William Frederick Cody.  He was a third great-grandson of Philippe and Martha, while Joseph Cody was their grandson.  They were 1st cousins 3x removed.  Not close enough to be seated at the family table at a wedding, but close enough.  Buffalo Bill’s generational peer was my 2nd great-grandmother Lydia Deuel, born one year before Bill, in 1845. They were 4th cousins.  I think.

Week 14: Begins With a Vowel

The 1870 and 1880 Federal Censuses illustrate this problem (and the efforts made by various members of Ancestry, including me, to correct transcription errors).

I organize my genealogy research by the surnames of my four grandparents:  Arnold, Ellefritz, Anthis and Workman.  Three of these begin with vowels, but I don’t find this incidental fact very interesting.  The most interesting of these names is Ellefritz, so I’m going to write about it.

This name is spelled in many different ways on the records I have found documenting this name, although the original name was Ilgenfritz.  According to one source, this name refers to “Fritz, son of Ilg.”  Gotta say, this is not very helpful.

My immigrant ancestor on this line is my 5th great-grandfather Johann Georg Ilgenfritz (1702-1749), who came to Philadelphia from Germany on the ship Charming Nancy in 1737.  His descendants kept this spelling of the surname through the 18th century, so far as I can tell, but by the time my 2nd great-grandfather came along in 1825, at least parts of the family had adopted the more Anglicized “Ellefritz” surname. 

My 2nd great-grandfather Solomon Ellefritz was the 22nd of 24 children born to his father, Johannes George Ilgenfritz III.  Solomon was born to Solomon’s third wife, Permilia “Milly” Jarvis, who was 46  years younger than her randy husband.  With all of these Ilgenfritz/Ellefritz people roaming around Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, it’s not surprising that all sorts of creative spelling crept into the records.

Various census records identify the same person as having different surnames across the decades.  The same person might be identified as Ilgenfritz, Ellefritz, Elefrits, Elifrity, and so forth.  It depends a lot on who was writing down the information.  They wrote what they heard and spelled the name the way they thought it “should” be spelled.

This makes it difficult to find information in other records.  You have to search either with several “wild card” space-holders or search with a variety of spellings.  I usually get bored before I exhaust all of the possibilities.  Couple that with the fact that the family followed a Germanic naming tradition – for several generations, all of the male children were named Johann (insert name they actually went by) Ilgenfritz (or something like that).  So one man was Johann Georg Ilgenfritz, but in the records he is often George.  Another person with the exact same name was Johann in the records (but sometimes Hans or John, depending on who decided what to write).  Then there would be Johann Frederick (Frederick or Fred) or Johan Jacob (Jacob or Jake).  You get the picture. 

The name starts with a vowel and ends in confusion.

Week 13: Light a Candle

When I started doing genealogy research a few years ago, I didn’t pay too much attention to the dates I was recording for the significant events in the lives of my newly discovered ancestors: birth, marriage, death, and so forth. If I found information about these events, I recorded it. But I didn’t think much about it.

I was researching my great-grandfather Howard P. Ellefritz in August of 2017 when I realized that I was researching him just a few days before his birthday, on August 18. I certainly had hundreds of relatives whose birthdays had passed me by, unnoticed, while I researched their lives. What would it be like to chronicle the birthdays of my ancestors and commemorate them on their special days?

Being retired, I set to work on this project. How to accomplish what I wanted to do? Here are the steps I took.

  1. I created a new family tree on Ancestry.com, made up of only my direct ancestors.
  2. I found a program that would convert a GEDCOM (genealogy file) to an Excel spreadsheet. The program was called FamilyTreeAnalyzer (FTA), available at no cost. So I downloaded FamilyTreeAnalyzer.
  3. I downloaded my GEDCOM file from Ancestry.com
  4. I uploaded my GEDCOM file to FTA.
  5. I exported the FTA information to Excel.
  6. I got rid of data I didn’t want and adjusted the spacing and so forth on the resulting spreadsheet.
  7. I sorted the Excel spreadsheet by month and date of birth.
  8. I recorded the significant information about these ancestors on a calendar. I kept this calendar near my computer. Every couple of days I checked to see what dates were coming up so I would be prepared to write about each ancestor when their day arrived.
  9. I created a WordPress blog to record what I wrote.
  10. I uploaded each entry to Facebook so it could be read widely – or at least read sort of widely.

My research benefited greatly from my focus on this project. It led me to dig into genealogy lines I had not previously paid much attention to, and often opened my eyes to new avenues for research. I collected these entries in a book so that I would have them in one place and readily accessible both to me and anyone who would be interested in them.  I then published the book on Lulu.com – a self-publishing site that I’ve used to publish about a dozen books on my family’s history.

It doesn’t seem right to wish these folks a “Happy Birthday” – after all, they’ve been dead for decades or even centuries. But it is appropriate to remember them. Every Day is Somebody’s Birthday

I published this project in two volumes totaling almost 500 pages. First, here’s how my ancestors were spread across the calendar:

I have lots of ancestors who share their birthday with each other.  I’m not going to talk about each of them (see above, almost 500 pages), but this spreadsheet will show how this project helped me explore all parts of my family tree.  I generally sort my research into the four main branches of my family tree – my four grandparents’ lines.  You’ll see them on the chart below.  My paternal grandparents were John Arnold and Orpha Lydia Ellefritz; my maternal grandparents were Thomas Calvin Workman and Susan V. Anthis.

My father’s side of the family is generally more extensively documented than my mother’s side.  My father’s roots go back to the Mayflower, the Puritan Great Migration, and Jamestown.  My mother’s family has its deepest roots in New Amsterdam in the 1640s, but the other families that marry into her Workman line are generally more difficult to trace.  They are largely from the South, where the paucity of records makes it difficult to go back very far in the colonial era.

I’ll close by acknowledging two of my ancestors whose birthdays fall on today – March 28. 

Agnes Hester (6th great-grandmother, 1747-1821) was born in Louisa County, Virginia (west of Richmond) and married Simeon Walton in 1763.  Simeon was a Baptist minister who served congregations in Amelia County (south of Louisa).  Agnes and Simeon had lots of children – possibly as many as 18, although the records are a little confusing.  Agnes and Simeon moved to Kentucky with many of their family members in 1795.  Agnes died in Bracken County, Kentucky, in 1821.

John Portis (9th great-grandfather, 1627-1707) was born in Scotland (I think) and was living in Virginia by the 1640s.  He married Jane Exum in Isle of Wight county and they had several children.  I haven’t been able to find out much about John and Jane; records for this part of Virginia in the 17th century are unsatisfying, and the situation is not improved by the fact that the surname “Portis” is also spelled Poythress, Porteous, and other variations.