Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


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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.

 

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52 Ancestors #2 – Breeching Photo

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

William-John-Flanders

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.

4-Generations

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.


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Getting Started – #52Ancestors

I was 16 years old when I started collecting ancestors the old fashioned way: talking to relatives, looking up census records on microfilm,writing letters with self-addressed stamped envelopes for returned information. I bought books and photocopied blank forms to make family group sheets (once I knew what they were). And all kinds of scribbled notes with things I found, of course all unsourced and impossible to retrace. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but it was interesting.

My maternal grandfather suggested that I write to his half-brother, someone I’d never even met or at least didn’t remember meeting, for information about their shared English ancestry. Since it seemed like a good idea, I sent a letter and got an immediate response along with British newspaper clippings, some photos, and a fabulous picture of my great-great-grandfather. Uncle Lester died six months later, a lesson to me to not dillydally in contacting older relatives.

William Flanders

William Flanders, Witcham, England

My paternal grandmother had a memory like a steel trap and loved talking about “her people.” Grandmama, or Miss Susie as she was known in her town, even knew that her husband’s parents, who died when he was age 3, had been married in Virginia and not North Carolina.  This little kernal of random information gave me previously unknown names of North Carolina families that I’ve taken back another 150 years. She remembered it because family mattered. And I learned that open-ended questions sometimes generate random memories that are, or can contain, truth.

While in library school in Austin in 1976, I spent time working at the state genealogy library. All those microfilm readers! Books! Kind fellow researchers with experience who answered questions and made suggestions to help me in my research.  When Roots burst on the scene shortly after, the library hired me on the spot – right person, right background, right time. It was a thrill to be able to give back something and I learned about research strategies and the joy of helping someone else make a discovery.

I also learned through the years that collecting ancestors isn’t enough. Oh, it’s easy to add names of children to a tree and look for new original sources to add facts. But I want to know their stories, to understand what it was like to be a prisoner of war in 1863, to know what crops they raised, what jobs they had, what it was like to get on a ship and sail for weeks into the unknown. The stories, the backgrounds, make them real.

My task for 2018 is to take the stories in my head, the facts I’ve assembled over the years, and write profiles to share these interesting people with the rest of my family.  So I’ve embarked on Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks writing project. Stay tuned!


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Oh, THERE you are!

I found my great-great-great-grandparents today in the 1841 Scotland census. This is not the first, second, third, or fourth time I’ve looked for them. But it’s the first time I found them.

Databases are tricky. Census records are available on many sites but they don’t index, filter, or display their information the same way. Add to it that names are spelled as many different ways as humanly possible, requiring searching endless variations but missing the one that actually was used, or relying on “fuzzy matching” to get multiple spellings in one go. It takes patience, persistence, and creativity.

Today I found them.

Robert Brookmire and Isabella McAusland married in Campsie, Stirling, Scotland, on 3 July 1840. He was a calico printer and his father John lived in Belfast, Ireland. Isabella was a spinster and her father John lived in Dunbarton.

In the 1841 Scotland Census, Robert Brockmyce, age 20, Eliz[abe]th, age 25, and 4-month old John were living in the Village Of Thornliebank in Lanarkshire. Robert was born in Ireland and was a Calico Printer Apprentice; Elizabeth and John were born in Scotland. All the men on their street were also calico printers, many born in Ireland.

Finding one answer leads to more questions: Where is Thornliebank? what is a calico printer? What else can I find about young John?  When did Robert migrate to Scotland from Belfast? What can I find about his father, John?

The fun of research isn’t just finding the answer, it’s figuring out how it fits into context, adding to the puzzle until it makes a more complete picture.


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Little green leaves on researched lines

Ancestry.com has little “shaky green leaves” that pop up on our trees when the system finds what it thinks are possible matches. Many of them are wrong but for my direct lines, I’ve checked them all. But when a new green leaf shows up on a well-researched line, it usually means either a new family tree or a new database has been added.

shakyleavesSunday I found a new leaf for my maternal great-grandmother, Charlotte Ann McCormick. She was born in New York City in 1879 to Irish-immigrant parents. Her mother, Alice Heginbotham, was born in Dublin in 1842, the oldest of eught children to an Irish mother and English father. They came to New York in 1853 on board the Freia. Alice’s father made hats and all of the family ended up in the hat business at some point.

Alice’s family were staunch Protestants but she married Irish Catholic immigrant Peter McCormick, who was a stone mason and builder, between 1870-1879 (still working on finding that record).  The family story is that it was more important to marry Irish than to marry within the church, and that Alice and Peter made an agreement that any girls would be raised Protestant in her faith while any boys would be Catholic in their father’s faith. While that was never documented, they had one of each. My great-grandmother was the Protestant daughter and her brother Charles, the Catholic son.

In 1890 the McCormicks lived on 128th Street in Harlem. In April 1892, when Charlotte was 12 years old, a Charlotte McCormick was confirmed at St. Andrews Episcopal Church, located at 127th Street and Fifth Avenue, just 2 blocks from where my McCormicks lived. The right age, the right location – unfortunately for me, the record doesn’t show names of the parents for the confirmands, but still. This was the only Charlotte McCormick in that database (New York, Episcopal Diocese of New York Church Records, 1767 – 1970) and I’m confident that she’s mine.

charlotte_confirmation