I have a confession:
During this very second, as I lounge at my computer clicking through genealogical websites, yawning and snacking and yawning again; a cousin and co-researcher is trekking two countries for me, tirelessly digging for ancestral finds.
Well...I guess not just for me...but also for him too.
It really is embarrassing and quite pathetic when you think about it. My unflagging trooper and fourth cousin is hiking genealogical trails (well, not really hiking), traveling from courthouse to courthouse, state to state, country to country, desperately rummaging the dusty dungeons of county and state archives while I sit in my plumped-up chair, zipping him e-mails of "Oh, hey...while you're there...can you try to find?..."
And, I am hopelessly ashamed to say he quickly responds with a "Sure, no problem...I can look for that."
My traveling fourth cousin has roomed in Canadian hotels without wifi and cell phone coverage, wrangled with the French language, and fought a downpour in Michigan, all for the purpose of finding the hidden keys that could unlock the heavy cement door to our brick wall.
Hearing reports of his daily trials, disappointments and bitter-few triumphs, I send him cute little encouragements from the sidelines like: "Hang in there! You can make this! I'm proud of you!"
And then I yawn once more, click off my computer and crawl into my cozy bed with a glass of wine and a good book.
Oh, and then there is my other co-researcher and newly discovered cousin. My contact with him has unfolded delightful insights into our shared lineage. His wisdom, both of the geography and political history of our ancestor's state, has opened aspects of my family tree I would have never known.
Ancestors and research I had tucked away in files are now viewed with new perspectives, delivered as a result of the brilliance of my cousin.
Both of my co-researchers are generous, kind and unselfish and our on-line contacts have been invaluable. Sharing documents back and forth, hearing another angle I had not thought of before and discovering my previous research through a second set of eyes, has bridged doorways I might have never crossed.
For this I feel blessed.
Genealogy, especially done by way of the Internet, can be an isolating hobby. And yet, it should never be that way. Pause for a moment to consider that for every ancestor you are researching, at least five others are doing the same for the exact ancestor.
You are not alone. Combining efforts will only produce better results: two minds are better than one and four eyes are better than two.
So, I am taking up my blog space on this heat-sizzlin' summer day to salute my dear co-researchers and cousins: your vigorous, unrelenting search for answers have lifted my spirits and kept me on track.
And, oh yea...forth cousin in your lonely hotel room in Michigan: Do you mind looking for those extra death certificates while you are there?
Keep searching for answers,
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Do you spend your time searching for the well bred? The tea sipping, white glove wearing ancestors of wealth and keen minds; The learned and noble grandfathers of military clout and intellectual brilliance?
Excuse me while I yawn...
I, instead, shriek with excitement at the discovery of an ancestor with flaws. The highs and lows, the ups and downs of grandfathers struggling over lawsuits and bankruptcies. An ancestor dabbling in petty criminal activity send tingles to my toes. Recently, I received a copy of a hand written will that hinted (or should I say shouted) to the disdain felt toward a son-n-law: my ancestor. When I read the will, I practically did cartwheels around my house!
And if you are of the other type, like me: the family historian who relishes in the down and dirty marginal guy that is both good and bad with daily struggles much like our own, then I have a great research tip that will make you drool:
A search through the State Supreme Court Archives.
Could you have guessed your ancestors might be found within the records of the highest court of their state? Well, I have discovered at least three ancestors with such records. And the details of the documents can lead you not only on a head-spinning ride but also to great genealogical finds.
I have discussed my Scottish Loyalist ancestor from Morris County, New Jersey within other blogs. His charges of Loyalist leanings were found within the New Jersey State Supreme Court.
Ok, that makes sense, you must be saying. An American Revolution Loyalist's records would most likely be found within the State Supreme Court Archives.
But what about his son, my great-great-great-grandfather, a simple tenant farmer struggling with poor crops, a life of monetary failures and years of debt? His records are also held with the New Jersey State Supreme Court.
Records of grandfathers living during the Colonial and early 1800's often have court records within their State Supreme Courts. They may be listed as the Defendant or as the Plaintiff. Charges and filings such as Trespass on the Case, Debt, Trespass and Eject, personal lawsuits and petty charges against neighbors; all minor disputes played out in the highest courts of the states.
The Colonial and early 1800's State Supreme Courts were not just appeals courts, they held court for the most trivial of complaints. The lower court system had yet to be well established and on top of that, our ancestors loved to use their Supreme Court system.
They filed lawsuits against neighbors for alleged stolen bushels of apples and criminal charges against their tenants for day-late rent. Those of us who complain about the number of lawsuits filed today should swear at our Colonial ancestors for starting the trend!
The State Supreme Court Archives are overflowing with genealogical finds that can expose tantalizing bits and pieces of the daily lives of our ancestors, revealing leads to more discoveries for your family tree.
Dig through your ancestors' State Supreme Court Archives for genealogical details. And if you don't find great leads within your ancestor's records, I can at least guarantee an urge to do cartwheels around your house!
Keep searching for answers,
A Japanese netsuke
I recently read a memoir and family history book, The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance, by Edmund De Waal. The author, a world famous potter, inherits a large collection of netsuke: small Japanese wood and ivory carvings.
As Edmund gently examines the whimsical toggles of people and animals, he imagines where they traveled and who held and touched them. His quest into the trail of the netsuke evolves with Edmund's poignant discoveries of his family's history, five generations through time.
The author takes his readers through the extraordinary history of his family as he peels layers of memories. The Ephrussis family had wealth equal to the Rothschilds, build by great-great grandfathers and uncles with minds keen to the banking industry; ancestors that held royal titles and befriended cultural icons and artists.
But Edmund De Waal treads through his ancestry not by the single focus of one ancestor or lineage. He searches his family history by way of the netsuke: how and where the collection traveled through each generation.
By following the path of the netsuke, Edmund takes his readers and himself inside the personal lives of his ancestors but as the netsuke moved from one generation to the next, so did Edmund's search. He uncovers a history of a Jewish family built of monumental wealth in the late 19th century only to loose everything as the next generations fell victim to Nazi Europe.
And yet, the netsuke remained unfettered and steadfast among each generation; the little ivory and woodcarvings withstanding the brutality of time and human demise. They were sometimes held, admired and touched by their owners and sometimes not. But Edmund's discovery of their travels provided a history of previous unknowns.
I found The Hare With Amber Eyes heartrending. And as I read, it brought memories of my own experiences as a child with family heirlooms; playing with my great aunt's knick-knacks or rummaging our attic of old hats and fur coats. Possessions passed from one generation to the next, typically relegated to a dusty attic only to be replaced by the latest and most desirable.
Family heirlooms tell a story of your history. They give meaning to your heritage. They have been passed through the hands of your ancestral grandfathers and grandmothers--some touching them more than others. But learning of your family heirlooms; when, where and how they were acquired can provide details to your story.
Write your family history and include your heirlooms; who owned them and when. If you lack the details, let the knick-knacks take you through undiscovered territory like Edmund De Waal did with his family.
A journey through time by way of an inheritance: the netsuke, the knick-knack, the china bowl, the precious heirlooms that fell into the lives of our ancestors and they now fall into the lives of us.
Keep searching for answers,
I learned two lessons this week: Always second-guess a church secretary and a Ball can bounce in unexpected ways. Both are hard, gritty lessons, especially when a family history has been placed in print.
Digging deeper into my maternal lineage from New Jersey, I kept stumbling upon a fellow researcher within a surname forum. I quickly noticed his maternal lineage matched mine and we were struggling along the same path. Two researchers are better than one, I thought, so I successfully contacted him by written letter (yes, some of us still use the archival method of writing letters to fellow researchers).
My newly found cousin quickly responded, eager to share his knowledge on our lineage. But though my point of contact held a quest for more information on a mutual ancestor, my cousin unknowingly revealed stunning details about another: Details that bounced my Ball right out of the court.
In explanation, my maternal grandmother's lineage follows a course that takes us to the historical county of Morris, New Jersey with the Rolstons of Ireland and the Templetons of Scotland. But as the lineage winds further into Colonial times, the Balls of England are abundant along our tree. Yes, my family tree has Balls, not leaves.
The shocking discovery--revealed by my fellow researcher--names a different Ball ancestor within our lineage; a brother to the one currently on my family tree.
Same lineage...same eventual outcome...just a different Ball.
My head felt swollen as I sat reading his well-written family history and in defense of my own "set-in-stone" publication, I questioned his research.
"But how could that be?" I asked my newly discovered cousin. "Provide proof," I quipped. "My records were obtained by the Morristown Presbyterian Church, a church grounded by Colonial history with over 200 year old registries." And my fellow researcher rightly responded, providing a copy of a hand-written will giving proof of ancestry to a different brother Ball.
Nothing can trump a hand-written will. A will is, in the genealogical world, the golden grail of proof.
The shocking truth is the "church lady" of our Colonial church transcribed the wrong Ball brother within the record and the written will wins.
It always wins.
So, is my head still swollen with dismay over the discovery of the wrong Ball? No, I'm thrilled. This is what keeps me intrigued in family research. The twists and turns as new records are dug up. It is about the search for the truth and if that means a little rewrite, I will gladly do it in order to find and preserve the truth.
So all in all, the Balls bounced but the court remained the same, and I had a thrill of a week.
Keep searching for answers,
Robert Schurtleff reenlisted in Captain George Webb's company of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment. He had completed a tour of duty with the United States Army during the American Revolution and Robert felt compelled to reenter the battlefield, bravely participating in combat alongside General John Paterson of Westpoint. But Robert's tour was cut short when an Army physician shockingly revealed his true identity: a woman by the name of Deborah Sampson.Occasionally, wives of the US Army soldiers of the American Revolution became "camp followers." They traveled alongside their husbands to each encampment: cooking, cleaning and mending the wounded. But Margaret Cochran Corbin did more than just tidy up the camp. She keenly observed her husband load and fire cannons and as she watched, she began to rehearse alongside the other artillerymen.Staying by her husband's side, Margaret's acquired skill was put to the test when she was forced to load the cannon after their gunner was killed during battle. Soon, Margaret's husband was also killed but she armed herself at the ready, reloaded her cannon and fought. Wounded, Margaret was left for dead but she survived and received a lifetime pension as an American Revolutionary soldier.The men of Groton, Massachusetts gathered one night to search out the nearby British soldiers. But Prudence Wright would not sit idly at home, waiting for her husband to return. She quickly gathered other wives within the village and the cocky bunch dressed in their husband's clothes, arming themselves with whatever could be found. Sneaking outside to defend their village bridge, the plucky women hid in the reeds along the river, rummaging through the pack of a British spy as he camped. Prudence's gang snuck back with secret written messages swiped from the British agent, relishing in their critical loot. ***As we approach the 4th of July, many family historians will feel called to dig deeper into their American Revolutionary ancestry. But it is important to keep a keen eye to the history of the wives and yes, female soldiers of the Revolution. There were notable women who served our country admirably as soldiers and spies. Some so driven to fight, they disguised themselves as young men in order to place themselves in harm's way.And even if we did not have a female ancestor who fought in the war, our grandmothers contributed to the Revolution by their sheer grit, determination and loyalty to their husbands, son, brothers and country.Take the time during this holiday to learn more about our women of the American Revolution. Read about their service at AmericanRevolution.org and consider the sacrifice of your own female ancestor of the Revolution, whatever her role might have been.Keep searching for answers,Cheryl