Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind

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52 Ancestors #6 – Green Thach

mynameis“Favorite Name” is this week’s prompt, and again, there are so many! My Heginbothams from Cheshire, England, win for favorite surname, and I do like that spelling more than some of the other variations (Higginbotham, Higinbotham, Hickenbotham, Higginbottom, Heginboth, and more).  My family’s forenames are rather dull, with lots of Williams and Elizabeths (or Williams who married Elizabeths). “Hyman” was a good one, and “Jabez,” and my father’s middle name is Cleopheus, named for a long-dead uncle.

But my favorite name, and one of my favorite ancestors, is Green Thach, my sixth-great grandfather. He was born before 1738 in Chowan County, North Carolina, to John Thach and what was probably his first wife.  He had to be at least 16 years old when he served in the Chowan County, NC Militia, his name appearing on “A list of men lately commanded by Capt. James Farlee, Deceased, taken the 25th day of Novr., 1754.” As another testament of age, Green witnessed his father’s sale of land in Chowan on 23 Jan. 1758, an activity for which he had to be at least twenty-one. Accordingly, Green was probably John’s oldest child and if not oldest, his second behind Green’s sister Ann.  Since John didn’t marry Sarah Standin until 17 April 1748, Green and Ann (and their sister Mary) had a different mother.

teachplaqueBut where did his name come from?  Green isn’t your average forename, though it was a common and widespread English surname, and there were a few Green families in Chowan County at the time he was born. It’s possible he was named for a relative or neighbor, but as of yet, I haven’t found evidence in probate or other records with any clues.

His last name, though, is another story. Family and local legend has it that the Edward Teach, aka the pirate Blackbeard, had a child by his young wife, Mary Ormond, not far from where Green’s family lived. His father John may have been that child.  Or he may not – who knows? Thach and its variant spellings of Thatch, Theach, and Teach, were found only in the Albemarle Sound area of North Carolina in the 1700’s, so at the very least, it’s likely that all or most of them were related to each other if not to Blackbeard!




52 Ancestors #5 – Census Clues

Census records have all sorts of wonderful information but they’re also full of contradictions, mistakes, and misdirection. Everything is, or can be, a clue. Just when you think you have it all, looking with fresh eyes can open up new information.

Take the 1920 census. Not that long ago, right? It wasn’t available to researchers when I first started working and to be honest, I didn’t really look at it carefully because I thought I knew its secrets. But ha! there are surprises worth looking at.


This is the record for the household at 916 Lake Street in Newark, New Jersey.  Head of household was 52-year-old William J. Flanders with wife Charlotte, age 40, and son William C., age 18. Also living with him was his mother-in-law, Alice McCormick, a 77-year-old widow. So far, so good.

Flanders,-Wm-John-&-CharlotOn the far right side, we can see that William J. arrived in the United States in 1888 and had submitted his first papers for naturalization. His wife Charlotte is listed as an “Alien” with no immigration date. Hmmmm. What’s up with that?  The rest of her census record shows that she was born in New York. How could someone born in New York be an alien in her own country?

Actually, she wasn’t; this is a mistake, but one that makes sense when you know that in 1907, eight years after Charlotte and William were married, Congress passed the Expatriation Act, which mandated that “any American woman who marries a foreigner shall take the nationality of her husband.” Charlotte’s husband was a foreigner, therefore Charlotte is an alien. Except not, because the law applied only to those who were married after the law was passed. American women who married foreigners before 1907 remained a citizen after her marriage. So the entry is wrong.

Mother-in-law Alice was also listed as alien, with an arrival date of 1853. That looks wrong because Alice’s husband Peter was naturalized in 1896, automatically making her a citizen. This is called derivative naturalization – her citizenship was derived from that of her husband. We have a clue about something else,  though, with the date given for her immigration. Her record in the 1910 census, which includes questions about immigration and citizenship status, leaves those questions blank.

There are more mistakes in the record with Birthplace information:


William J. Flanders, on the top line, was born in England of parents born in England. This matches other known information from parish records, other census years and birth and death records.  His son’s record is correct: born in New Jersey to parents born in England and New York.

The other two in the household have errors. Wife Charlotte, on the second line, was born in New York to parents born in Ireland, not Scotland and England. Oops. This is the only census that shows her father to be from Scotland; if it was the only one I looked at, I would be following false trails. Her father did have a connection to Scotland, though, as an indentured apprentice to a stonemason in Glasgow, but that information only appears on his indenture papers, which are privately held by family.

1 Alice McCormickAlice McCormick, on the bottom line, shows as being born in England to English parents – which is both wrong and right. Alice was actually born in Dublin, Ireland, to an English father and Irish mother. But Ireland was part of Great Britain at the time and sometimes this was recorded in the census as England, especially since her father actually was born in England.

Census records are building blocks for genealogy research but they are not perfect. It’s important to use them as part of wider research and not in isolation, picking up clues for names, dates, relationships, and locations. Look at the same person/family in multiple years to see what’s consistent and what isn’t. And look at other people on the page or pages around your target to get a sense of the neighborhood.



What I Did With Mom’s Wedding Dress

Mom in her wedding dress

My mom in her wedding dress

My mom’s wedding dress no longer sits on the top shelf of my closet in a decaying cardboard box tied with string. I asked you all what you did with yours; here’s what I did with Mom’s.

Even if I had a boyfriend in sight, wearing the dress was never a possibility for me. Mom was tiny and I’m just not. Both of the granddaughters are married and had their own dresses. Holding on to this dress for another generation didn’t make much sense but I couldn’t bring myself to give or throw it away.

I found Fairy Godmother Creations in Dayton, Ohio, by doing web research, and looked at almost every photo on the site to see if I liked the work they did. I did. So I gulped, packed up the dress in tissue paper and carefully sealed in a fresh cardboard box, and sent it off to Liane.

Pillows from moms dress

Just before Christmas, actually, on my parents’ wedding anniversary, I got a package with the new creations: First, two decorative pillows made of the satin underdress topped with the lace overdress, featuring hand-covered satin buttons lovingly made by my grandmother, who created the wedding dress. Both the satin and lace had yellowed with age but are now glowing and beautiful. The backs of each pillow are lace over satin. I love them.

TreeAngelThe other creations were two identical Christmas tree angel-toppers. The back of each angel has a short row of buttons between the wings, taken from the sleeves of the wedding dress. Placed on top of our tree, the wings gently folded forward.

We had a piece of both Mom and my grandmother with us for Christmas. For my father, placing the angel made from the wedding dress on the tree on their anniversary brought Mom closer on a day when he missed her dearly.

I am very pleased with the work of Liane and her team at Fairy Godmother Creations and recommend them highly if you are looking for something to do with a wedding dress or other special garment. Now instead of a dress in a decaying cardboard box, I have keepsakes that are displayed and will last for years.

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52 Ancestors #4 – Favorite Family Recipe

I can’t remember when I first had this or who made it. The recipe was my godmother’s and long ago became our traditional food for family gatherings, either for a holiday, a funeral, or just a visit. I’ve made it so many times I don’t even need to use the recipe card, though I treasure it in my mother’s handwriting. Much to my shock, I recently learned that my godmother’s daughter has never even made this cake! How can this be possible when it’s so essential to my own family??

Peg Myers Jewish Coffee Cake Recipe

I’m not sure why this is Jewish Coffee Cake and not just Sour Cream Coffee Cake or some other title. A quick Google search for “Jewish Coffee Cake” yielded recipes and descriptions that sound very much like mine, so maybe this was a common recipe, and maybe it originated in the Jewish community. I did find an interesting article about the history of sour cream coffeecake, but am still not sure of the Jewish connection.

Even though I used my mom’s recipe, we made it differently and our cakes tasted different, too. Mom used 8 oz. of sour cream and I generously filled a measuring cup instead, making mine moister. I also have a passion for cranberry so make mine with dried cranberries instead of raisins – and also pecans from our yard instead of walnuts.

We grew up eating this cake for Christmas breakfast and on other holidays. It was what we ate coming home from college, when we flew in for Thanksgiving, when my nephew came for a visit. It’s tradition that we’ve shared for over fifty years. Knowing that the next generation sought out the recipe and also makes it for these special occasions makes me really happy and connects us all to my mom and to my godmother, who gave it to us.


52 Ancestor #3 – Longevity of a Search

Longevity can be defined as “long life” or “long existance or service,” which covers a few more options. While I have some long-lived relatives (Great Aunt Mary Magdalene, who was 98 when she died, or Great-Great-Grandmother Margaret Brookmire Morrison Segar, who died at 93), I’m taking this in a different direction: the length of time I’ve been searching for the parents of Grandpappy Jim.

Sometimes a search can yield results in a matter of minutes. You pop into a database, put a name into a search box, and filter resultsJamesLKeel by location and time frame, and Voila! A marriage record from 1906 for your great-grandparents, found online in Ancestry or FamilySearch or FindMyPast. And you’re ready for the next question.

But sometimes those searches take a long, long time. I’ve been looking for my great-great-grandfather’s parents for over 40 years. Sometimes I think he popped out of the earth or was dropped by aliens.

My paternal grandmother got me started with enough basic information that I could find the Keel family, her family, in the microfilmed census records, but they weren’t accessible anywhere near me so it took time to figure out what I could and couldn’t confirm. I lived in another state and traveled to North Carolina to look at courthouse and land records, but many were lost in courthouse fires in 1862 and 1884. Plus the state of North Carolina was thoughtless enough to not require state-wide birth and death records until 1913 and James Keel died in 1908. Rats.

Before computers, there was only so much I could do from a distance. Research trips were spread out – and once I moved to New England, they didn’t happen. I got copies of his military records in 1975 which were a treasure trove of other information – the man was captured at Gettysburg and went to a prison camp at Ft. Delaware, where he changed sides and became a prison guard. He went AWOL and was later captured and court-martialed, but then was returned to copmlete the rest of his service before he disappeared for 6 years. I would have disappeared, too, if I’d done that.

With so much online now, I can search many records from my home, but tax, land, estate records, and existing probate have been silent regarding Grandpappy Jim’s parents.  I’ve connected with cousins also working on the line and no one has been successful finding resources. We found the graves of Jim and his wife Betsy and have photos of their tombstones, but his parents are not buried in the same cemetery.

There have been false steps along the way and long periods of doing nothing while I worked on other lines; picking this one back up again over time meant repeating research because I wasn’t very meticulous in recording the steps I’d already taken. My research strategy has been far from strategic and it’s dragged on for a very, very long time. It’s time to sit down and actually come up with an actual research plan.



52 Ancestors #2 – Breeching Photo

This adorable young man is my great-grandfather, William John Flanders, born 25 March 1865 in Mildenhall, Suffolk, England.


He was the third of six children born to William Flanders and Eliza Newdick. We have a lot of William Flanders in this line, both back and forward in time, so it’s nice that they gave him a middle name to help us keep them straight!

Young William is wearing an elaborately decorated coat with a pair of short pants and high shoes. The first thing you notice is the coat with all the black embroidered trim; the next is that he’s wearing short pants (which are a different thing than our casual shorts).  He looks straight ahead at the photographer. This is a formal outfit and the setting is also formal. It could have been in his home or in a photography studio; the original photo is unmarked. William’s father was a well-to-do farmer and horse breeder who lived in a large home known as Burnt Fen House and the setting is not inconsistent with that type of residence.

Although I cannot prove it, I believe this to be a Breeching photo, marking William’s transition from wearing dresses to wearing trousers for the first time, a kind of “coming of age” event. Little boys wore dresses for the first years of their life and were in their mother’s domain. When they reached 5-8 years of age, they transitioned both clothing and activities into their father’s world. There is a fascinating blog post on breeching at the Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society that’s worth a read.

I got this picture from my great-uncle Lester in 1970 when I first began researching my family. William John, the boy in the photograph, was his father, but the picture came to Lester from William John’s family in England along with a few other family photos and articles. It seems so funny to see a little boy dressed in such an elaborate outfit, and it’s the only photo I have of him before 1918, but I cherish it.

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52 Ancestors #2 – Four Generations Photo

I had so many favorite photos that I decided to write each of them up! This one is a four-generation photo taken in the spring of 1929 at my grandparents’ home in the Forest Hill area of Newark, New Jersey.


Here we have my aunt with her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Their clothing and hairstyles are so very different, but you can see the facial resemblances.

  • The baby is my Aunt Jane Anne, born October 1928 in Newark, NJ. Round of face, barefoot, happy, she was the eldest of two beloved daughters.
  • The woman on the left is my grandmother, Marion Stokes Cooke Flanders, dressed in a white flapper-style dress that she undoubtedly made, as she made all her clothes. She is wearing pearls, a watch, bracelet, and rings, so this is not a casual photo. Marion was born in New York City in May 1902 and died in 1960 at age 58.
  • Marion’s mother and my great-grandmother, Jane Morrison Cooke, is the woman on the right. Jane, or Jennie as she was called, was born in Pennsylvania in 1871 to Scottish immigrants. Her husband died in 1925 and she wore black, as she is doing in this photo, for the rest of her life.  She wears a practical watch and a wedding ring, and long knotted pearls that gleam on her shapeless black dress. Jennie died in 1946 at age 74.
  • Margaret Brookmire Morrison Segar, my great-great-grandmother, sits in the center of the picture. She was born in Scotland in 1845, outlived two husbands, and died in New Jersey at age 93 in 1939. Margaret was a practical nurse and a practical woman, marrying her second husband while the first was in an insane asylum. Her hairstyle and black dress are very old fashioned, with lace at the neck and a long skirt in the age of flappers. Her snow-white hair is carefully arranged and she wears small wire-rim glasses.

I love this photo, seeing four generations of women in my family together. Each born in a different place and time, each dressed in their best but different fashions in clothing and hairstyles, showing that this photo marked an Occasion in their lives.