Take pictures now!!!

So I was sitting on the bus on my way to school this morning listening to the current episode of The Moth podcast. It was a story told by a former New York City cop about his job going after fugitives. As it turns out, the young man he was sent to arrest in the story he was telling had himself been shot and killed a week earlier. The suspect's fate had been noted in the police rolls, but it was never matched up with other records to vacate the warrant for his arrest.  In his apartment, when the cop tried to arrest him, the cop met the fugitive's mother and sister who both tried to tell him that the person he was trying to arrest was already dead. To confirm that they were all talking about the same person, he showed the mother the suspect's mugshot from a recent conviction. It was him. A police mugshot is definitely not a flattering portrait for anyone, but the mother asked if she could keep the photo. In further discussions, the cop learned that she had absolutely no photos of her son. She had photos of other family members, but because of all the problems that her son had had with the law, he was never around to be the subject of a photo, and the mugshot was the only photograph that she had ever seen of him.

It got me thinking about how lucky we are when we take so many photos of the people we know. On my model railroad website, I'm always encouraging readers (and listeners on my own podcast) to go out and take photos of every building they want to build in model form because in a week, that building will probably be torn down and the chance for a reference photo will be gone. As genealogists, we know that people die, more often sooner than we expect, which makes my old saw just as appropriate here as it does for model railroaders. Take as many photos of your family and loved ones as often as you can.  Then label them with the names of the people in the photos before you forget their names (and you will forget at some time in the future or you won't be around to ask when someone needs to know); use the file metadata for digital pictures. Don't be left wishing for more time to photograph family and friends.

We're all bozos on this bus

Last year at Thanksgiving, we got everyone together again for a big family holiday dinner.  Since I'm in the middle of a career change to become a professional photographer, I was naturally asked to take the family reunion photo for the event.  I got everyone lined up, put the camera on self-timer and got in the shot.  Then, since we can't just let it go at just sitting for a standard group shot, I asked everyone to point at something off to their right when the shutter clicks.  Everyone had a great time and we try to get together like this as often as we can, but just like the Firesign Theater album title from 1971 says, "I Think We're All Bozos On This Bus."  B-)

Probably not a royal connection, but Prime Minister...

When I started doing genealogy research, I got a postcard from one of my relatives suggesting that there might be a connection to Mary, Queen of Scots.  For the entire time that I had known of this family legend, I thought it was a bit too unlikely to possibly be true.  After all, I had only this one postcard to go on for this story, and I haven't seen anything in the rest of my research that might suggest a connection.  So I haven't really tried to prove this connection with very much vigor at all.  The closest that I've seen was in the 1925 history of Alexander Meharry's descendants, where it mentions that the Meharry line emigrated from Scotland to America as a way to flee religious persecution during her reign.  It may not be as glamorous a connection as a blood relationship, but this is one explanation that I can believe.

However, in looking around on a different topic this week, I found many resources that show a probable blood connection to another very well known British leader.  He wasn't an ancestor, but turns out to be a cousin.  Sir Winston Churchill (b. 30 November 1874; d. 24 January 1965), Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the 1940s and 1950s, was descended from Mehitabel Beach (b. 1749; d. 1807), who connects into my Beach line through her great, great grandfather, John Beach (b. 1621; d. 6 November 1677).  John was the first of the Beach line to live in North America, and making the leap back to the British Isles has proven very difficult for a number of researchers.  I'm still digesting the assertions and trying to fit various people into my lines.  So now I have another avenue to research in proving my distant Beach relations.

Another family legend - Cotton Mather

Today's family legend is one that is told for my wife's side of the family.  For a while now we've heard the story that the famous Reverend Cotton Mather is related into her ancestry.  There may be some truth to this, but we have yet to prove it.

Cotton Mather circa 1700. The Wikimedia commons description page for this image asserts that it is in the public domain.
Reverend Cotton Mather was born on 12 February 1663 as the son of Increase Mather (b. 21 June 1639; d. 23 August 1723) and Maria Cotton.  There are a few references that I can find that mention a niece to Cotton Mather named Lucinda Mather.  Such a notation is made in American Ancestry; volume I, the city of Albany by Thomas P. Hughes in 1887 (page 71) and also in Genealogical and Personal Memoirs ... of Massachusetts; volume IV by William Richard Cutter and William Frederick Adams in 1910 (page 2280).  Both of these books state that she married David Shepard (b. 1744; d. 1817 or 1819) and explicitly state that Lucinda was Cotton's niece.  In American Ancestry, there is further evidence of a Shepard/Mather connection in the use of Mather as a recurring middle name within the Shepard family.

Our family records show Lucinda Mathers (sic) married to James Goodhue, with their daughter Mary Jane Goodhue born in Albany in 1819.  Some of the family papers suggest that Lucinda's father was named Eli Mathers and then go on to suggest that Cotton Mathers (sic) was Eli's father.  The eras between the Lucinda Mathers in our family records and Lucinda Mather in the above noted references seem to loosely coincide, and it is entirely possible that James Goodhue was a second husband for Lucinda after David Shepard's death.  What I haven't seen so far is any connection between Increase Mather and Eli Mathers; if the legend holds and the two women are the same, then Eli should be a son of Increase.

Is our family's Lucinda Mathers really the same woman as the aforementioned Lucinda Mather, niece of Reverend Cotton Mather?  Clearly more proof is needed to make this connection.

Finding the stones

As I was working through reviewing some of my genealogy records over the weekend, I thought I'd take a quick look at a site that I had been to long ago to see if there was any new information that might be of interest.  There was, and plenty of it.

The site in question is Find A Grave.  Basically, it's a database of gravesites and cemeteries showing memorial pages for more than 35 million grave records (that number is according to the bullet points on the site's front page).  Most of the people that I was looking for weren't particularly famous outside of the family, but I had a few successes this week.

Since I'd been looking at my Beach family line with the census records described earlier, I figured that would be a good place to start.  I opened the site's search form and put "Beach" for the surname, then filled in the fields for the "Cemetery in" dropdown lists as "United States" then "Indiana" and "Montgomery County."  Most of the records that came up in the search were direct relatives while a couple of them weren't yet listed in my own database.  Also, many of the records had photographs of the tombstones and their inscriptions.  I had most of the information that was mentioned on these pages already in my database, but a few of them did help fill in some years and dates that I was missing.  The grave marker photos also helped to add some color to my database, my favorite so far being the memorial stone for Nathan Beach and Mary Meharry, my 3rd great grandparents.

There is of course one strong caveat to the information on Find A Grave.  The website is not run by any governmental or civic authority.  It is run by individuals and allows contributions from the public to add content to the information displayed there.  Also, as much as we would like them to be, gravestones can have errors on them too.  Therefore, this website is definitely not a primary resource.  So, while I will take down information that I find there, I'll still keep looking for more resources to back up the data and further prove what I have in my own database.

Black Sheep Sunday - A letter from a prominent lawyer

A few years ago, one of my relatives sent me a photocopy of a letter that was sent to Thomas Meharry on April 21, 1857.  Thomas Meharry was my 3rd great granduncle.  The little notes above the original words were written on the copy of this letter that was sent to me and not on the original.

In case your knowledge of mid 19th century penmanship is a little fuzzy, here's a transcription:
Urbana, Ill., April 21, 1857
Thomas Meharry, Esq.
Dear sir
     Owing to absence from home your letter of the 6th. was received only two days ago. The land in question, as I suppose, is the two dollar and a half land, and my opinion is that there can be no lawful preemptions on those lands, based on a settlement made after, the allotment of those lands, in 1852 or 3 I think. If I am right in this opinion, your entry is valid, and you can recover the land. I suppose yours, and your brother's adversary, are in possession; and if so, I would advise suits in Ejectment to be brought in the U. S. court, at Springfield. I can not tell in advance what fee I would charge, because I can not know the amount of trouble I may have. If the pre-emptioners have had patents issued to them, the cases, as I think, can still be managed, but they will be a good deal more troublesome.
     If you conclude to have suits brought, & to engage me to bring them, call and see me at Springfield, from the 5th. to 10th. of May, at which time you will probably find me at home. I mention this, because I am absent a good deal.
Yours truly,
A. Lincoln
Yes, that's the same A. Lincoln that went on to be sworn in as President of the United States on 4 March 1861.

From what I can tell in a quick web search, this letter was a reply to one sent by Thomas on 6 April 1857.  Thomas had purchased some land at auction near Danville, Illinois, on 24 November 1855, but there were two pre-emptions filed against this land on 17 August 1855, and one of those pre-emptions was trying to claim it.  Thomas wrote to Lincoln to see if he would take the case and what he would charge for bringing the case to trial.

He was a census enumerator

If you've listened to Genealogy Gems Podcast episode number 70, you've heard a little about my successes with searching in the 1930 US census this month.  The images of the census enumeration pages were made available for free for this month only at Footnote.com, so I figured I had nothing to lose except the time I used in searching for them.  I was looking at the page listing my great great grandfather, Jonathan Rice when I made this discovery.  By 1930, Jonathan was 73 years old and living alone in Linden, Indiana.  When I went to build the citation information to include in my database, the enumerator's signature (pictured) caught my eye.  A quick search of my database showed Everett Josiah Beach was my great granduncle.  Everett's brother Emerson married Jonathan's daughter Grace Rice to connect the two families on 17 Nov 1904.  So, knowing that Everett was in one of the families that I was researching, and knowing that he was an enumerator for the 1930 census, he must have been enumerated himself, right?  Almost -- I fell victim to one of my biggest frustrations with research done by computer.

My first search for him by name turned up no hits.  I set this task aside for a moment while I continued searching for other family members, but then thought of another way to search.  I tried expanding my search of the census index by removing the first name field from my search criteria, but adding "Indiana" to the state field in my search.  This gave me a list of 515 names on 183 census images to examine.  While I could look at each of these in turn, I didn't relish the thought of scrutinizing that many pages to find this one relative.  The next search criterion is the one that got me there.  I added "Montgomery" in the county field, which narrowed the search to 14 names on 2 census images.  The first image showed Emerson's household, while the second showed the household of "Eanstt J. Beach."  I thought that spelling was a little odd, and looking at the image, it was actually Everett's household, and he signed the sheet as enumerator as I had guessed he would.  The problem was that whoever read the page to create the index that Footnote was using misinterpreted Everett's handwriting and typed Eanstt instead.

The thing is, if I hadn't expanded and then narrowed my search on a different set of criteria, I wouldn't have found the indexing error.  That's what I dislike most about computerized indexes; they are exact to a fault in that if it's misspelled in the index, you've got to know the exact misspelling to find it.  Yes, I sent a note to the staff at Footnote to let them know of the error, and they did send me a note thanking me for the correction and soon had the entry updated to reflect Everett's name correctly.

Researching the family legends

There are a few family legends that I heard many years ago that are still guiding my research inquiries. No, we don't have a legend of a connection to Billy The Kid, but there are a couple other famous people that are supposed to be connected to the lines I'm researching. I'll start with two legends on my own lines for this post and save other legends for later.

Oliver Wendell Holmes

The family legend that has had the most influence on my research direction so far is that my Holmes line connects to the Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes (OWH). I found this legend so fascinating from the day that I heard it, I've been trying to prove a connection to OWH's line.

The oldest Holmes that I have been able to prove in my line is Levi C. Holmes, born in 1814, in Hightstown, Mercer County, New Jersey. He married Mary N. Van Marter (born 1813), and together they had 5 children, including Charles H. Holmes (born 1838), William Ward Holmes (b. 1839, Trenton, NJ; m. Anna M. Wharton, 19 Sep 1861, Trenton, NJ; d. 1921), Harrison Holmes (born 1841), Clark Brownwell Holmes (my 2nd great grandfather; b. 6 Oct 1843; m. Phoebe Pullen, 1868), and Mary Holmes (born 1846). Levi's family appears in the 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880 US census enumerations in East Windsor (for 1850) and Hamilton, Mercer County, New Jersey.

The Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, was born on 8 Mar 1841 in Boston, Massachusetts. His father, also named Oliver Wendell Holmes, was born on 29 Aug 1809, and died on 7 Oct 1894 in Boston. The elder OWH's parents were the Reverend Abiel Holmes (born 24 Dec 1763) and Sarah Wendell (married 26 Mar 1801). There are a number of published genealogies that take these lines back to the mid-16th century. At one time I had this line entered into a database, but I've misplaced my backup of this database and must go back to the notes and photocopies I made of the original references. Thankfully, I made photocopies of the title pages of the books I was referencing so I should be able to find the books again somewhere.

At this point I'm very certain that my Holmes line does not directly descend from either OWH, but from what I've researched so far, a connection a little further back somewhere above Abiel might be possible.

Two Pullens meet on a boat...
The second legend that intrigued me was the story of Peter and Eliza Pullen. The family legend is that Peter and Eliza already shared a surname when they met and started a relationship while on the ship that took them from Britain to America during the time of the Great Potato Famine.

The facts as far as I've been able to find are that Peter Pullen was born in 1817 somewhere in the British Isles, and died sometime after 1907, with a will prepared in 1892 in Mercer County, New Jersey. Eliza Pullen was born to James Pullen in 1820, also somewhere in the British Isles, and died in 1897 (some records indicate that Peter was a widower, which would mean Eliza died at least before 1907) in Mercer County, NJ. Together they had three children: Phoebe Pullen (married Clark Brownwell Holmes in 1868, as mentioned above), Anna M. Pullen (b. East Windsor Twp, Mercer County, NJ; m. Stephen B. Bergen in Dec 1863), and Eliza Pullen (born Oct 1863 in Washington Twp, Mercer County, NJ).

There are a few grains of truth that seem to bolster this family legend more than the Holmes legend above. I've found that the elder Eliza's father was named James Pullen, and that both Peter and Eliza were born somewhere in the British Isles. According to one British surname popularity tool, Pullen is the 937th most popular surname in Britain with 10,776 people still living in the UK that share this surname; the tool also indicates that most of the Pullens are currently located in Highland County, Scotland, where Pullen is the 76th most popular surname. Wikipedia mentions that the Irish Potato Famine led to mass migrations away from Ireland in the late 1840s, which would fit the facts for the birth dates and locations that I've been able to find so far. I have read that there was some intermingling of family lines between Ireland and Scotland, but I need to read more on this before I make a more definite connection between these two data points. I haven't gone very far yet to prove this legend, but so far, it's looking very probable.

Hello world!

So here we are with another new blog. I know, yet another website to maintain is just what I need. Right.

What are we doing here anyway? Right now, I'm planning for this blog to be a research log showing what I've been doing in my genealogical research. I don't know what kind of posting frequency I'll be able to maintain, but there is an RSS feed so you can keep up with whenever I do post. As to the subjects of my posts, there will be many about people that I am researching and the things I do to find them, and there may be posts about the resources that I use. I guess at this point, it will be wait and see.