William Larkin Capps
I slammed the car door and skipped barefooted to the backyard; eager to spy my grandfather toiling his garden of pimple-faced potatoes and redheaded radishes. Certain of my secret presence, I slinked from behind, giggling at my sleuthing flair. His soft, brilliant eyes smiled with playfulness as he gave tickles to my side. I was a five-year-old granddaughter, awe-struck with the sweetness of a gentle, simple man.


I sat on the mettle stool, pushing against the wooden workbench as I twirled in circles. My eyes caught my grandfather's wink as he entered the little workshop and I grabbed the bench to a sudden stop, eager to jump to his side for a shared embrace. I melted into his belly and he tossed his brown felt cap to the chair. At ten, I could now reach my face to his soft-shaven cheek and brush him a kiss. I watched as he and my father tinkered their grease-slicked screwdrivers on old radio parts.


I sat at the Sunday table, a teenage mind distant in thought and bored with the adult conversation passing to each end. Suddenly, my eyes reached across the table to gaze at my grandfather's face. His thinned hair now gray and his bald spot broader to the sides, I imagined few men as handsome as he. A life void of higher eduction, the pitch in his voice sparkled with interest as I discussed my college goals.


I was called home from college, my grandfather abruptly scheduled for heart surgery. I leaned against the flat gurney as he lay, turning his face to smile and give a charm-filled wink. I brushed my hand across his and he clasped hold, still sweet and kind and beautiful.

And that was my last memory of a gentle, simple man.


I new my grandfather labored years in the Oklahoma oilfields; a hard-toiled job with rough-talking men and sweat-drenched days. I presumed he was a roughneck; an uneducated sort, but with a heart and mind that gave competition to the best.

I was content with that; left with a memory of the kindest grandfather God made.

And then I searched his 1930 Census record. Ancestry.com's latest beta device provides clear pictures of your grandparent's records, highlighting fascinating details. I clicked the zoom to read my grandfather's employer:

"Oil company."

And then occupation:


My heart contracted as I realized my simple grandfather quietly spent a career in charge of the Reno Oil Company in Nowata, Oklahoma.

Or perhaps I was told, but failed to give his history my attention.

Become reacquinted with your grandparents and give their life the attention you give to ancestors you never knew. Find them on the 1930 US Census and discover if they had a radio in their home or served in the military.

Or lived a life you never knew.

Keep searching for answers,

(Only 36 days until the 1940 US Census is searchable for free!)

Jumping The Border


Early Canadian Land Petition
Those that dismiss the practice of genealogy likely see the hobby as dull and tedious; a pastime for the gray-haired sedentary set. But I shake my head, keenly aware of the head-spinning adventure they smugly resist.

My experiences over the years have certainly been a testament to the knee-slapping thrills of ancestral exploration. And even to this day, I am shocked with new discoveries; constantly reminding myself to keep my eyes open and my net wide.

Many of you have followed my expedition into my Hobbs' lineage as I have discovered a wealth of records and knowledge unselfishly provided by an Internet Hobbs cousin. But I have yet to reveal my recent discovery that has lead me north into the Canadian Archives.

Thumbing through a stack of miscellaneous papers once again mailed by my Hobbs' contact, I paused at a digitalized copy ofa 1796 Late Loyalist List of Lower Canada. The signatures were men from Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont and I spied my Hobbs ancestors on the list. Searching further through the collection, my ancestors were again found on land applications for the Province of Quebec.

Thrilled with the discovery, I went straight to the Canadian Archives website, finding the records for myself. But my curiosity pressed me further as I wondered: what on earth were my Vermont ancestors doing north of the border and why was my American Revolutionary ancestor, Isaac Hobbs, signing an oath of allegiance to Canada?

Perplexed and bewildered, I researched this Late Loyalist List of Lower Canada along with the history of the land petitions for Upper and Lower Canada in 1792. I zipped an e-mail to an historian at the Canadian Archives and received a very informative summary:

"The term Late Loyalists were for those American settlers in Upper and Lower Canada who failed to conform to the definition of United Empire Loyalist. They were the so-called Late Loyalists who responded to invitations in 1792 by the governors of Upper and Lower Canada to file petitions for titles to lands. Many from the New England Border States were attracted by inexpensive and accessible land, as well as low taxes."

It was a Canadian land rush that brought settlers from the States into Canada. Their signage of the Late Loyalist List was required before petitioning for the lands.

My Hobbs ancestors, like many signers of the Late Loyalist List, never followed through with pioneering Canadian land, but their brief stint into Canada, add a fun and surprising twist to their history.

While browsing the Canadian Archives website, I was pleasantly surprised with the ease of the site. It is ripe with searchable census, vital and land records and I was awe-struck with the potential of locating records of New England ancestors.

I learned that many of our ancestors freely hopped north and south of the border for marriages, divorces, land, etc, making the Canadian Archives a must for anyone with New England ancestors.

So take a peak through the genealogical collections of the Canadian Archives--better yet, place it on your bookmark list.

Like me, you may be surprised to find your ancestors jumping the border, willing to cast loyalty to the States aside, for cheap land easy fortunes.

Keep searching for answers,

"Sarah my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break...The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I enjoyed them for so long...How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness..."

"But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights...always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again..."*

Who was the achingly lovesick author of this beautiful letter? Possibly Hemmingway, Fitzgerald or even Poe?

Your guesses, though flattering, were miles off. The above excerpts of the heart-wrenching love letter were penned on July 14, 1862 at Camp Clark, Washington D.C. by Sullivan Ballou; A Civil War soldier from Rhode Island. One week after the Union soldier poured his love and affection into the letter to his wife Sarah: Sullivan Ballou was killed in the Battle of Bull Run.

And the letter was never sent; found tucked within his belongings at the time his remains were retrieved.

As more and more Civil War documents are brought to light; thousands of records, held deep within the vaults of state archives, reveal the love letters from soldiers. Many of these men wrote from their hearts as they camped on blood-soaked battlefields. At a time in our history when the soldier's only communication to his wife and family was by pen and paper, the letters of Civil War soldiers allowed a private platform to describe the horrors of the war and to speak from the deepest of their souls.

The letters of Civil War soldiers, many of which are love letters to their wives or sweethearts, are beautifully preserved and readable on many of the state archives and university libraries. The Library of Virginia Tech's Special Collections offers a wonderful display of soldier's love letters from the battlefield.

History Happens Here, a magazine of the Missouri History Museum, began posting reprints of the James E. Love Papers: a Union soldier in St. Louis. James wrote letters to his fiance, Eliza Mary Wilson from 1861 until the end of the war. The magazine wittingly posts the letters in sequence, 150 years to the day after each letter was originally written, allowing subscribers to read them as if each were a chapter in a book, unfolding in front of them.

At a time when the art of writing love letters has grown old fashioned and antiquated, reading the beautifully written letters from young men ravaged by war, feels fresh and romantic. A fitting repose for those of us who love genealogy and long to imagine...just for a moment...the aching love and loneliness of our ancestors of the Civil War.

Read Sullivan Ballou's complete love letter to Sarah and dream your hearts away: 150 years after the prose was penned.

The love letters of the Civil War soldier; just in time for Valentines Day.

Keep searching for answers,

*(Source: PBS.org)
"Modern Journeys: The Irish In Detroit"
As human beings we have an inner drive to take risks; explore new paths that can push and pull us toward unknowns. And though change can ferment growth, a link to familiarity and sameness keep us grounded. Which has been the crux of immigrant communities throughout history; change and newness within the midst of villages of similarity.

Immigrants have come in waves. The British and Dutch explored and developed the colonies in the 1600's; the Germans flocked to the states in mass in the 1800's; the Russians came to America in the early 1900's. They came for various reasons, many of which included poverty and religious persecution. But as they migrated across America they searched out each other.

Immigrants grabbed hold of their bonds and formed communities across America. Dotting the country with little countries within. Irish, German, Italian villages where they could speak to one another in their native language (many Irish spoke Gaelic languages; not English) and hold on to the only cultural traditions they had known. These little immigrant societies provided a sense of security in a world that at times was strange and intolerant.

The immigrant communities have over the centuries, melded together, assimilating into a more homogeneous world. But many still hold tightly onto to their history and traditions; which can be a goldmine for those of us in genealogy.

All across America, descendants of immigrant communities have festivals, maintain historical societies and publish surname books of genealogical importance.

I found my 18th German ancestors listed within the historical publication of German town, Pennsylvania. While searching for an ancestor within another lineage, I discovered a German ancestor living on a street of the German Village of Columbus, Ohio. And the names of my Irish ancestors were embedded within an Irish surname publication from DetroitIrish.org.

It is not hard to discover the remnants of centuries old immigrant communities. In Texas, you may find your German ancestors in the historical publications of GermanTexans.org where German communities such as New Braunfels, Fredricksburg and Weimer still thrive today.

If your ancestors were Polish, they may have lived in New York, Minnesotaor Connecticut. And If Italian, they could have settled in Tontitown, Arkansas where families with Italian surnames such as Bariola, Fiori and Pianalto still live in the rolling Arkansas hills.

So explore the histories of little countries within a country. You may stumble upon your immigrant ancestor's name rooted within their publications.

It's worth the effort.

I think you could be pleasantly surprised.

Keep searching for answers,