Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


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Poppa & Sade: William Jesse Keel & Sarah Annis Peal

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Sarah & Bill Keel, 1942, on their 50th wedding anniversary

My dad grew up living with his mother’s parents in rural Martin County, North Carolina. He called them Poppa and Sade.

Poppa was William Jesse “Bill” Keel, born 22 August 1872 in Bear Grass, Martin County, to James L. Keel and Elizabeth (Betsy) Bowen, the second of their ten children. Bill was raised and worked on his father’s farm with his brothers and had a fifth grade education.  He was a strong man who loved to hunt and fish as well as farm, and had a big laugh.

Sade was Sarah Annis Peal, born 7 September 1874 in Cross Roads Township, a small community next to Bear Grass. She was the second of seven daughters born to William Ashley Peal and Jane Elizabeth Stalls and was named for her paternal grandmother, Annis Gurganus.  Sarah was a farmer’s daughter who was well educated for the time, going to high school for three years. She was a tiny woman with fine bones and a sweet smile.

Sarah Peal and Bill Keel married on 6 January 1892 in Cross Roads, probably at her home; she was 19 and he was 21. Their families knew each other; both of their fathers were general farmers in the county and both attended the Bear Grass Primitive Baptist Church, which Sarah and Bill attended for many years after their marriage.

They had eleven children but only four survived infancy: Mary Magdalene (Maglene), Susie Lanier, Edgar Durand, and Rachel Aldine. The first ten babies were born between 1895 (James Willie) and 1912 (Sarah Naomi). Daughter Rachel, born in 1921, was a “bonus” baby and only seven years older than my father, who was her nephew. The babies who didn’t survive were buried in a private family plot behind the “old home place” farm. Their graves now are covered by leaves and their names mostly forgotten. But Sarah recorded them in the family Bible so we have them:

Keel-Family-Record-From-Bib

When their daughter Susie Lanier Keel (my grandmother) married in July 1927, what she remembered most about her wedding was that her parents didn’t attend. Since she was probably pregnant at the time, it is possible that they disapproved of either the marriage or her husband. The newly-wed Myers were living on the Keel farm seven months later when their first child (my father) was born. Both generations lived together in the same house for the next twenty five years, first with Bill Keel as head of household and later, Bill Myers as head with his in-laws in the home. Poppa Keel farmed and did road construction work until they moved to Williamston in 1925.

SCAN0022My dad remembered that his grandmother did almost all the cooking for the combined household while his mother worked as a seamstress to bring in extra money. Poppa Bill Keel took Daddy fishing and also hunted to provide more food for the family; their farm cousins kept them well supplied with produce but protein was expensive. Bill Keel was the man in charge of barbeque whenever a hog was butchered; those were always social occasions with many family and friends to share the food and the occasion. They were poor and lived simply.

Sarah Keel died at home in Williamston on 28 June 1948. She was 73 years old. Her beloved husband Bill Keel died almost exactly four years later on 26 June 1952. He was seventy nine years old and had been in ill health for five years. They are buried together in Williamston’s Woodlawn Cemetery next to their daughter Susie Keel Myers.

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The Mystery of Anna Conway O’Connor

ConwayAnna Will 1926I didn’t know who Anna Conway O’Connor was but I had a privately printed copy of her Last Will and Testament, dated 1926 and probated in 1928. It was with other documents that came from my grandfather’s house. Why we had it was a mystery, and why we held on to it for almost a century without knowing who she was is yet another one.

So what did it tell me? At first reading, I was struck by how much money she was giving away in pre-Depression New York.  Ten thousand dollars here, ten thousand dollars there — which is $146,000 in 2018 dollars. That was a lot of money!  A second reading showed me that Anna also left bequests to names I recognized, including my great-grandmother Charlotte Flanders and her Heginbotham cousins.

ConwayWillp.3The big surprise was finding a stated relationship to “Alice McCormick, widow of my deceased uncle Peter McCormick” – and further, to “Annie McCormick, widow of my deceased uncle John McCormick,” and a large bequest to her beloved uncle Francis McCormick.  Alice and Peter were my great-great-grandparents, but who were these other people?  I clearly had work to do.  I started with the will and worked backwards. But once my eyes were focused, I started seeing Conways pop up near my known relatives for years.

Anna C. O’Connor was the widow of Thomas J. O’Connor when she died in January 1928. They are buried in Old St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx in a large plot that includes O’Connors, Conways – and McCormicks, including my great-great-grandfather Peter McCormick, who died in December 1898. He had originally been buried separately in the cemetery but Anna had his body moved to this new family plot when her husband Thomas died in 1926. Okay, that was weird, that someone I’d never heard of  had my ancestor moved to her family plot. But it was also intriguing. Peter’s wife Alice was a Protestant so therefore banned from burial in this Catholic cemetery.

1900censusclipThomas O’Connor was a widower with a young daughter when he married Anna. His first wife was Elizabeth Conway, Anna’s younger sister, who died of tuberculosis in 1912. Both were from Irish immigrant families; Anna and Elizabeth were born in England before the Conways migrated to the United States, where they lived in the Bronx. When I found them in the  1900 census, my heart skipped a beat to see who was not only living near them but in the same house: my great-great grandmother Alice McCormick, and her daughter and son-in-law, my great-grandparents. And two house numbers down the street we find John and Bridget O’Connor with their son Thomas, who later married both Elizabeth and Anna Conway. Wow.

My hypothesis was that Mary Conway was the sister of Peter, John, and Francis McCormick, based on relationships stated in Anna’s will.  Death certificates for  Elizabeth Conway O’Connor, Anna Conway O’Connor, and their brother Francis J. Conway all list their mother’s maiden name as Mary McCormick, which confirms it. I knew that Peter was indentured to a stone mason in Glasgow in 1856 but that the indenture was broken by the death of his master. I found him in Liverpool in the 1861 Census, listed with parents Patrick and Catherine McCormick with their children Mary, Francis, Peter, and John. All of the men were stone masons. All of those names appeared in Anna’s will and/or census and death records.

The 1880 Census finds the Conways and McCormicks at 347 76th Street in Manhattan, living in the same building and with consecutive family numbers.

1880 census ConwayMcCormick

Both Mary Conway and Catherine McCormack are listed as widowed, which is new information and can help me locate death records for their husbands. Mary is living with her children Francis, Elizabeth, Ann, John, and Lewis – all familiar names from Anna’s will and confirmed by other census records.  Catherine McCormack has sons Frank and John, both stone cutters.  Ages are consistent with other records.  It appears that widowed Mary Conway was living near her widowed mother and brothers. Peter McCormick, now married, lived a few blocks away on Lexington Avenue.  Anna’s brother Francis J. Conway, also a builder, was a witness to his uncle Peter McCormick’s naturalization and oath of allegiance in October 1886.

So now the question is, who was Catherine McCormack?  I know she was born in Ireland and I knew who her children were but I didn’t know her maiden name.  Her son Peter (my great-great-grandfather)’s 1898 death certificate lists her name as “Catherine” but no surname.  Now armed with additional names, I am researching death certificates for her other children. Francis McCormick’s record shows her maiden name as Catherine Murray which is lovely, but it only one source; I am still searching for records for her other children. However, the name also gives me a starting point for other research in New York, England, and Ireland.

The Conways and McCormicks overlapped in their residences, occupations, relationships, and even their resting places. I had never heard of Anna Conway but her little will allowed me to open new doors and uncover connections I would have missed.


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#52Ancestors – #11 Lucky Meeting with Louise Dail

Forty years ago I took a break from courthouse research in rural Perquimans County, North Carolina, to buy a soft drink at a store across the street. The nice lady behind the counter saw my notebook and asked if I was doing genealogy research. I wasn’t used to anyone knowing what I was doing research-wise and was surprised at the question, but was shocked speechless when she then asked, “Which Goodwin are you descended from?”

It seems everyone in the county is related to the Goodwins, one or more of them. I had been getting hopelessly confused by just how many Goodwins I was finding, all with the same sets of first names (William, Job, John, Caleb, Henderson, George). They appeared in Perquimans and neighboring Chowan Counties in the late 1600’s and have been farming in the same areas for two hundred and fifty years.

Our chance meeting led to a remarkable find. Louise told me I had to go to Raleigh to look at estates administration records (now digitized and available at FamilySearch) for Perquimans County. In one of the Goodwin files there was an heirs list dating to the early 1800’s. It didn’t sound very plausible to me, but what did I know?  Louise didn’t remember exactly where, just that it existed.

Before this meeting, I had really only looked at records for known ancestors instead of  everyone with the same surname. Louise taught me the valuable lesson of doing more than that. Following her advice, I looked through estates records for everyone named Goodwin and found a goldmine in the files for John Goodwin, not someone I even knew I was related to. He was actually my g-g-g-g-g-grandfather, which this document confirmed. Without Louise’s information, I might have just skipped the file.

GOODWIN John - Children - from Probate Records 1855

For there was exactly what she had told me about: a list of heirs of John Goodwin who died in 1815. A piece of property was in litigation at the the time of his death that prevented the estate from being closed. For the next forty years, various combinations of heirs had petitioned the court for their share of the estate. But in 1855, they finally did it together and submitted an heirs list to the court clarifying who was entitled to shares of the states. Voila!


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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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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.