Back From the Future – Part 3 (With John Rolfe and Pocahontas)


I wish to thank my dear friend, retired College Lecturer, and fellow Pocahontas research enthusiast, Christine Dean, for her ongoing updates about happenings in and around her hometown of  Heacham, Norfolk, England.  From her undaunting energy and perseverance while delving into local legends about Pocahontas and John Rolfe, I am able to bring you new posts that allow us to travel back from the future and into the past based on new details and discoveries provided to me with the help of Christine in our present day.

So let’s begin Part 3 of this journey back from the future in the year 1597.  Here, we find John Rolfe, age 12, living at Heacham Hall with his mother Dorothea Mason Rolfe Redmayne, (who had been widowed in 1594 at the death of John’s father (Sir Johannes Eustacius “John” Rolfe), and with his stepfather,  Dr. Robert Redmayne (since his mother’s marriage to him in 1595).  Robert Redmayne had been Chancellor at Norwich Cathedral since 1588.  His chancellorship went on to span 37 years and five bishops including a family relative, Bishop William Redman (1595-1602), who chose to spell his name as it sounded. It would be only 12 years later when the U.S. and Canada, Passenger and Immigration records would show that John Rolfe arrived in Jamestown, Virginia.  In fact, pages 15-21 of this reference include the persons aboard the Sea Venture, which left Britain in 1609 for Jamestown but was wrecked off Bermuda. And, specific names appear on pages 16 and 17, with genealogies of some of the passengers on succeeding pages.

Six years later in 1615, biographical histories have documented a visit to Heacham Hall in Norfolk County, England, by John Rolfe, his wife Pocahontas, and their infant son Thomas Rolfe.  This visit lasted nearly two years–from early June 1615 until March 1617.  Unfortunately Pocahontas died in January 1617, leaving her husband, John, a widow with their two-year-old son, Thomas.  Shortly after Pocahontas’ death, John Rolfe departed England to return to Jamestown, Virginia.  John left his son, two-year-old Thomas, in London, in the care of Sir Lewis Stukley.  Upon Sir Lew Stukley’s death in 1620, Thomas’ guardianship was transferred to John  Rolfe’s, two-years’ his junior, younger brother, Henry Rolfe, until Thomas was 21.  And in 1635, passenger and immigration records show that Thomas Powhatan Rolfe arrived in Virginia.

But Wait, Our Story in England Isn’t Yet Finished–We’re Gonna Be Talk’n ‘Trees’

The mulberry tree in the grounds of Heacham Manor (far right of building) Picture: Chris Bishop

The mulberry tree in the grounds of Heacham Manor. Picture: Chris Bishop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heacham Manor Hotel 3

Today’s luxurious Heacham Manor Hotel

A four hundred year old legend exists.  It tells of the Rolfe’s now infamous visit to Heacham Village and adds trees into the mix of our family’s history–and not branches of our ancestry tree. But, literally a living mulberry tree and its branches.  A tree that Pocahontas is said to have planted at Heacham Hall during her stay there.  And today, 400 years later, the manor and villagers say this same mulberry tree  remains and is thriving beside the Heacham Manor Hotel main entrance.  

But wait–what if this mulberry tree could talk–what might it tell us?

Palace of WhitehallPrincess Pocahontas is said to have visited Queen Anne and King James I on Twelfth Night 6th January 1617 at their Palace of Whitehall in London.  They had a garden that had nine mulberry trees and they were giving away 1000+ mulberry seeds to all their noble friends, who they encouraged to plant them to grow trees for medicine, healthy food, drink, and wine and to cultivate silkworms for spinning silk from which new shirts could be made.  So, the question remains “could the Heacham mulberry tree seeds have come from King James I’s and Queen Anne’s Buckingham Palace Gardens?”

Syon House and ParkSyon Park also in London has about 200 acres (Thames-side near Isleworth), and includes the Syon House. This estate has been owned by Ralph Percy, the 12th Duke of Northumberland,  and his ancestors for about 400 years. Syon House was the  home of the 9th Duke of Northumberland’s family and Earl George Percy  was a President /Governor at Jamestown in 1609-1610 and his brother ‘Wizard Earl’ alchemist expert Henry Percy.  Henry Percy remounted  Pocahontas pearl wedding earrings with  silver clasps when she visited him at the Tower of London in 1616. Syon House  has the oldest surviving mulberry tree in England dating back to 1548 and growing in the meadow where Pocahontas stayed in their two cottages close by at Brentford after she became ill in London.  Could this tree be the parent tree to the one in Heacham?

Mulberry Tree Red Lodge Country HouseAnother old mulberry tree grows on the estate of Narford Hall that is situated in the Breckland District of Norfolk County, in the garden at the  Red lodge Country House behind the wooden seat–this was the home of John Rolfe’s  stepfather’s family, the Redmayne’s.  It possibly dates back to a 1643 gift from King Charles 1.  Further, Uncle Edmund Rolfe also lived at Narford Hall with his son Henry and grandson Francis.  Princess Pocahontas’ might had picked up seeds or truncheon twigs from this tree to plant at Heacham Hall.  Princess Pocahontas probably commuted between Heacham and other England vicinities by carriages, possibly changing horses at relatives’ stables in Narford Hall.

The map of England’s Norfolk County from 1658, below, is the best I could find to try to show where the Rolfe and Redmayne farming families would have traded in their ships, horses and carriages along the yellow River Nar that flows from Kings Lynn to several major ports at Waterbeach Cambridge, Huntingdon, Peterborough, Isle of Ely, and the Royal Boston port.  The tidal water is highlighted in  grey.

Norfolk England Map 1658

Cottrell Joan

Dr. Joan Cottrell

Dr Kevn Burgess Columbus St Univ GA

Dr. Kevin Burgess

In just a few weeks, (sometime in May 2017), when the fresh mulberry leaves at the luxury country house Heacham Manor Hotel (formerly Heacham Hall) are mature enough, Dr. Joan Cottrell of the Forest Research, Northern Research Station, Roslin, Midlothian, UK, and Dr. Kevin Burgess of Columbus State University, Georgia, USA will take a six-inch branch from this tree to conduct DNA testing of it and compare it to branches from three other very old mulberry trees.  It is hoped this will lead to finding a DNA connection between the Heacham Manor Hotel’s tree and three other very old mulberry trees identified in the UK – at Buckingham Palace, Syon House in West London and Narford Hall, Swaffham, Norfolk, where it is thought Pocahontas might have visited and collected seeds from one of them.  This research could establish whether any of these three other trees are forebears of the Heacham tree–which today is still producing delectable fruit that is served on the menu at Heacham Manor.

As I understand it (in very lay persons terms), one chromosome passes from a mother tree to a child tree.  By analyzing clippings, scientists can sometimes detect a matching digital DNA barcode.  Ultimately, this process might identify and connect a species of seeds to this mulberry tree to help corroborate the story of Pocahontas’ mulberry tree planting in Heacham Village!

Back From the Future – Part 2


 A Quote from the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, June 2014:

Christopher Columbus never reached the shores of the North American Continent, but European explorers learned three things from him: there was someplace to go, there was a way to get there, and most importantly, there was a way to get back. Thus began the European exploration of what they referred to as the “New World”.

A Quick Recap

  • So, we left 21st Century Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in America (1607). Today, it is a living history of the 17th Century Jamestown Colony.
  • We resurrected and boarded the massive customized 300-ton English merchant sailing vessel, The Sea Venture–the same Virginia Company-owned ship that had 153 travelers and crew aboard and was to deliver the third supply to the Jamestown Colony in 1609.
  • We paused for a time to look back upon my 11th great grandfather, John Rolfe and others devastation, about 661 nautical miles short of their intended Jamestown destination.  This “tempest,” or hurricane, as we might call it today, was nearly the end of all of them.  But, they prevailed over the course of 4-days through their never-ending and tireless fight for their lives and the rescue of their ocean water-hemorrhaging ship. They finally steered the ship onto the surrounding reef to prevent its sinking then landed ashore on “Devil’s Isle.”  Bermuda, with its subtropical temperatures soon became a paradise to them and they replenished their souls and spirits.  The food, in fact, was plentiful because the island had an abundance of wild pigs, birds, and fish, tropical fruits, and even a freshwater lagoon.
  • When we last left our castaways, a year had nearly elapsed and it was springtime. Twenty-four-year-old John Rolfe’s wife, Sarah Hacker, had recently passed; his infant daughter, Bermuda, passed shortly thereafter.  Bermuda had been the first baby born there and Reverend Bucke performed the first marriage there, too. Today many go to Bermuda to marry or honeymoon.
  • I also learned that at some point before leaving Bermuda, John Rolfe may have grabbed up and secretly pocketed some tobacco seeds; possibly from an area today called Tobacco Bay on St. George’s Island, Bermuda.
  • The castaways are once again setting out to complete their voyage to Jamestown, but not before there are five separate mutiny attempts.  In general, some of the castaways questioned authority of their leaders in Bermuda and had fallen in love with the islands.  They weren’t willing to risk unknown hardships in little known Jamestown.   This time the remaining Jamestown-bound passengers and crew numbered only 138.  Eight had already left in a small boat never to be seen again; three died of natural causes; one sailor was murdered; one Indian was murdered; and one castaway, Henry Paine, was executed for sedition.  That left 138 to board the two ships they had built from salvaged steel and wood from the Sea Venture. And, these ships were named: Patience and Deliverance–How very understated yet so very appropo!
  • May 24, 1610 – Our English seafaring ancestors, headed by Sir Thomas Gates, now aboard the Patience and Deliverance, arrive at Jamestown–They find only sixty survivors of a winter famine, known as “the starving time”.

Onward to Heacham

We are journeying on, as well.  We are headed ENE, crossing further up the North Atlantic Ocean from our Bermuda latitude and longitude coordinates: 32.299507, -64.790337. Our destination once again: the time when John Rolfe’s family lived in Heacham, Norfolk, England (Latitude: 52.92 Longitude: 0.48), and where John and his father, Johannes Eustacius Rolfe, both were born–another 3,244 nautical miles.

The year is now 1585.  We have come to Heacham to learn more about John Rolfe’s family life and his early beginnings to better understand his quests.

But first, we need to learn more about the Heacham Village from which John Rolfe emerged.  Our 21st Century Heacham is a thriving village community and popular Norfolk coastal holiday resort situated three miles from Hunstanton and eight miles from Sandringham Village in Norfolk, England.  It is lit by breathtaking east coast sunsets and surrounded by glowing and aromatic purple lavender and scarlet poppy fields. Residents and visitors alike relish in Heacham’s sloping beaches and the soft rolling West Norfolk countryside, which has remained unchanged over time.  In fact, archeologists have discovered that Heacham has existed as far back as the stone age.  And that running water with fertile surrounding lands made Heacham an ideal location for early man to settle. What we know for sure is that there were inhabitants in Heacham around the 5th century when the Anglo-Saxon invaded present-day East Anglia.

lavender-and-poppy-fieldsHeacham–the home to the Rolfe family–History tells us that John Rolfe came from a farming family. For generations they farmed the land and traded on the nearby shores of the Wash.   Quite possibly, it was fields of lavender or poppies that they farmed.  Interestingly enough, Lavender is a plant rich in its own history and myth. With its roots going back to ancient herbalists, it’s properties as a disinfectant and antiseptic, lavender’s reputation grew throughout the centuries.  Lavender became known for its ability to even ward off the plague. And it’s popularity with English royalty also helped anchor it as a cosmetic herb. Queen Victoria had used it as a tonic for her nerves.

Heacham Hall before it burned down in 1941

Heacham Hall before it burned down in 1941

Sadly, Heacham Hall (the family home of the Rolfes) burned down in 1941.  My genealogical research traces the Rolfe family line back as far as 1455 when my 14th great grandfather, Robert Rolfe, also was born at Heacham Hall. But, it was October 17, 1562, when Johannes Eustacius “John” Rolfe, father of John Thomas Rolfe, our subject, was born there.  John Eustacius at the age of 20 married local Heacham, Dorothea (Dorothea/Dorothy) Mason on her 20th birthday, on Friday, September 24, 1582. Together they had five children in 10 years. Unfortunately, John Eustacius died two months after his 12th wedding anniversary. He was 32 at the time of his death, leaving John, age 8, and his other four siblings, with a 32 year-old widowed mother.

It is disappointing, to learn that not much more is known about John Thomas Rolfe’s childhood or education.  We do know, however, that his mother Dorothy Mason Rolfe, married a Dr. Robert Redmayne, LL.D. (Doctor of Law), on March 9, 1595, just a little over three months after John’s father’s death! Despite Robert’s preferred spelling of his last name “Redmayne,” he descends from Bishop Redman, whose family first settled in Cumberland, and then in Lancashire.  John Rolfe’s mother Dorothy, his stepfather, Robert Redmayne, and his father, John Eustacius Rolfe, are all buried in Heacham at Saint Mary the Virgin’s Church.

So, we can safely assume that John Rolfe’s skill, farming interests, and former family status in Heacham are likely the bases for his drive and desire to create a marketable crop in Jamestown.

We also know that John Rolfe, his wife Pocahontas and two-month-old son, Thomas departed Jamestown in the spring 1615 for Heacham, Norwich, England, to visit his mother now Lady Dorothea (Dorothea/Dorothy) Mason Rolfe Redmayne.

Much more history in John Rolfe’s life continues . . .

 

 

John Rolfe Letter to Governor Thomas Dale, 1614


marriage-of-john-rolfe-and-pocahontas

Wedding of John Rolfe and Princess Pocahontas,  April 5, 1614

Continuing to further document and understand the lives of our earliest ancestors – emigrants from England to Jamestown, Virginia, I have included below, the 1614 letter  (transcribed and updated to today’s word usage and spellings by me–I made no changes to word choices or punctuation and kept present day English spellings).  My  11th great-grandfather, John Rolfe, (English Explorer), penned this letter to Sir Thomas Dale, then Governor of the Jamestown Colony.  In this deeply moving and revealing letter, John Rolfe asks permission to marry Princess Pocahontas, daughter of Indian Chief Powhatan, who presided over the Powhatan Empire until his death in 1618. If you would like to see the online letter with 400 year-old English words and spellings, please visit  “Virtual Jamestown’s” site .

Honourable Sir, and most worthy Governor:

When your leisure shall best serve you to peruse these lines, I trust in God, the beginning will not strike you into a greater admiration, than the end will give you good content. It is a matter of no small moment, concerning my own particular, which here I impart unto you, and which toucheth me so dearly, as the tenderness of my salvation. Howbeit I freely subject myself to your grave and mature judgment, deliberation, approbation, and determination; assuring myself of your zealous admonitions, and godly comforts, either persuading me to desist, or encouraging me to persist therein, with a religious and godly care, for which (from the very instant, that this began to root itself within the secret bosom of my breast) my daily and earnest prayers have been, still are, and ever shall be produced forth with as sincere a godly zeal as I possibly may to be directed, aided and governed in all my thoughts, words, and deeds, to the glory of God, and for my eternal consolation. To persevere wherein I never had more need, nor (til now) could ever imagine to have been moved with the like occasion.

But (my case standing as it doth) what better worldly refuge can I here seek, then to shelter myself under the safety of your favourable protection? And did not my ease proceed from an unspotted conscience, I should not dare to offer to your view and approved judgement, these passions of my troubled soul, so full of fear and trembling in hypocrisy and dissimulation. But knowing my own innocence and godly fervor, in the whole prosecution hereof, I doubt not of your benign acceptance, and clement construction. As for malicious depravers, and turbulent spirits, to whom nothing is tasteful but what pleaseth their unsavory palate, I pass not for them being well assured in my persuasion (by the often trial and proving of myself, in my holiest meditations and prayers) that I am called hereunto by the spirit of God; and it shall be sufficient for me to be protected by yourself in all virtuous and pious endeavours. And for my more happy proceeding herein, my daily oblations shall ever be addressed to bring to pass so good effects, that yourself, and all the world may truly say: This is the work of God, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

But to avoid tedious preambles, and to come nearer the matter: first suffer me with your patience, to sweep and make clean the way wherein I walk, from all suspicions and doubts, which may be covered therein, and faithfully to reveal unto you, what should move me hereunto.

Let therefore this my well advised protestation, which here I make between God and my own conscience, be a sufficient witness, at the dreadful day of judgment (when the secret of all men’s hearts shall be opened) to condemn me herein, if my chief intent and purpose be not, to strive with all my power of body and mind, in the undertaking of so mighty a matter, no way led (so far forth as man’s weakness may permit) with the unbridled desire of carnal affection: but for the good of this plantation, for the honour of our country, for the glory of God, for my own salvation, and for the converting to the true knowledge of God and Jesus Christ, an unbelieving creature, namely Pocahontas. To whom my hearty and best thoughts are, and have a long time been so entangled, and enthralled in so intricate a labyrinth, that I was even wearied to unwind myself thereout. But almighty God, who never faileth his, that truly invocate his holy name hath opened the gate, and led me by the hand that I might plainly see and discern the safe paths wherein to trade.

To you therefore (most noble Sir) the patron and Father of us in this country do I utter the effects of this settled and long continued affection (which hath made a mighty war in my meditations) and here I do truly relate, to what issue this dangerous combat is come unto, wherein I have not only examined, but thoroughly tried and pared my thoughts even to the quick, before I could end and fit wholesome and apt applications to cure so dangerous an ulcer. I never failed to offer my daily and faithful prayers to God, for his sacred and holy assistance. I forgot not to set before mine eyes the frailty of mankind, his prones to evil, his indulgence of wicked thoughts, with many other imperfections wherein man is daily ensnared, and oftentimes overthrown, and them compared to my present estate. Nor was I ignorant of the heavy displeasure which almighty God conceived against the sons of Levi and Israel for marrying strange wives, nor of the inconveniences which may thereby arise, with other the like good motions which made me look about warily and with good circumspection, into the grounds and principal agitations, which thus should provoke me to be in love with one whose education hath been rude, her manners barbarous, her generation accursed, and so discrepant in all nature from myself, that oftentimes with fear and trembling, I have ended my private controversy with this: surely these are wicked instigations, hatched by him who seeketh and delighteth in man’s destruction; and so with fervent prayers to be ever preserved from such diabolical assaults (as I took those to be) I have taken some rest.

Thus, when I had thought I had obtained my peace and quietness, behold another, but more gracious temptation hath made breaches into my holiest and strongest meditations; with which I have been put to a new trial, in a straighter manner then the former: for besides the many passions and sufferings which I have daily, hourly, yea and in my sleep endured, even awaking me to astonishment, taxing me with remissness, and carelessness, refusing and neglecting to perform the duty of a good Christian, pulling me by the ear, and crying: why dost not thou endeavour to make her a Christian? And these have happened to my greater wonder, when she hath been furthest separated from me, which in common reason (were it not an undoubted work of God) might breed forgetfulness of a far more worthy creature. Besides, I say the holy spirit of God often demanded of me, why I was created?

If not for transitory pleasures and worldly vanities, but to labour in the Lord’s vineyard, there to sow and plant, to nourish and increase the fruits thereof, daily adding with the good husband in the Gospel, somewhat to the talent, that in the end the fruits may be reaped, to the comfort of the laborer in this life, and his salvation in the world to come? And if this be, as undoubtedly this is, the service Jesus Christ requireth of his best servant: who unto him that hath these instruments of piety put into his hands and wilfully despiseth to work with them. Likewise, adding hereunto her great appearance of love to me, her desire to be taught and instructed in the knowledge of God, her capableness of understanding, her aptness and willingness to receive any good impression, and also the spiritual, besides her own incitements stirring me up hereunto.

What should I do? Shall I be of so untoward a disposition, as to refuse to lead the blind into the right way? Shall I be so unnatural, as not to give bread to the hungry or uncharitable, as not to cover the naked? Shall I despise to actuate these pious duties of a Christian? Shall the base fear of displeasing the world, overpower and withhold me from revealing unto man these spiritual works of the Lord, which in my meditations and prayers, I have daily made known unto him? God forbid. I assuredly trust He hath thus dealt with me for my eternal felicity, and for his glory; and I hope so to be guided by his heavenly grace, that in the end by my faithful pains, and christian-like labour, I shall attain to that blessed promise pronounced by that holy Prophet Daniel unto the righteous that bring many unto the knowledge of God. Namely, that they shall shine like the stars forever and ever. A sweeter comfort cannot be to a true Christian, nor a greater encouragement for him to labour all the days of his life, in the performance thereof, nor a greater gain of consolation, to be desired at the hour of death, and in the day of judgment.

Again by my reading, and conference with honest and religious persons, have I received no small encouragement, besides serena meaconscientia, the clearness of my conscience, clean from the filth of impurity, quo est instar muri chennai, which is unto me, as a brasen wall. If I should set down at large, the prohibitions and godly motions, which have striven within me, I should but make a tedious and unnecessary volume. But I doubt not these shall be sufficient both to certify you of my true intents, in discharging of my duty to God, and to yourself, to whose gracious providence I humbly submit myself, for his glory, your honour, our Country’s good, the benefit of this Plantation, and for the converting of one unregenerate, to regeneration; which I beseech God to grant, for his dear Son Christ Jesus his sake.

Now if the vulgar sort, who square all men’s actions by the base rule of their own filthiness, shall tax or taunt me in this my godly labour: let them know, it is not any hungry appetite, to gorge myself with incontinency; sure (if I would, and were so sensually inclined) I might satisfy such desire, though not without a seared conscience, yet with Christians more pleasing to the eye, and less fearful in the offense unlawfully committed. Nor am I in so desperate a state, that I regard not what becometh of me; nor am I out of hope but one day to see my Country, nor so void of friends, nor mean in birth, but there to obtain a match to my great content: nor have I ignorantly passed over my hopes there, or regardlessly seek to loose the love of my friends, by taking this course: I know them all, and have not rashly overstepped any.

But shall it please God thus to dispose of me (which I earnestly desire to fulfill my ends before set down) I will heartedly accept of it as a godly tax appointed me, and I will never cease, (God assisting me) until I have accomplished, and brought to perfection so holy a work, in which I will daily pray God to bless me, to mine, and her eternal happiness. And thus desiring no longer to live, to enjoy the blessings of God, then this my resolution doth tend to such Godly ends, as are by me before declared: not doubting of your favourable acceptance, I take my leave, beseeching Almighty God to rain down upon you, such plenitude of his heavenly graces, as your heart can wish and desire, and so I rest,

At your command most willing to be disposed of,

John Rolfe


Source:

Jameson, J, Franldin. Narratives of Early Virginia. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1907. (237-244)

Christmas Traditions in Our Nation’s Capital


One of my former colleagues posted this article from a pamphlet he picked up at the Mary Surratt House Museum titled, “Christmas of Yesterday: A History of Our Treasured Traditions and Holiday Customs.” (If you recall, Mary Surratt was an alleged member of the Abraham Lincoln assassination conspiracy, and holds the dubious distinction of being the first woman executed by the U.S. government. She was hung for treason in July 1865.)

Some of us who are natives or have lived in and around Washington, D.C. (Congress on July 16, 1790, declared the “District of Columbia” as our nation’s capital). may already be familiar with some stories about Christmas traditions just because of our close proximity to The White House.  Others, maybe not so much.  So this post is intended especially for those of you who may be interested in Christmas traditions  in our nation’s capital during the Georgian (1714-1837) and Victorian (1837-1901) Eras.  I added parenthetical and bracketed information to further clarify the times covered within the quotes from the Surratt Museum pamphlet.

[Our second president {1797-1801} and first vice president {1789-1797}], John Adams, inaugurated the custom of holiday parties at the White House. The Oval Room was decorated with greens, and the tables were laden with cakes, punch, and other refreshments, while the children sang, danced, and played with the Adams’ grandchildren.

“Under Thomas Jefferson [President from 1801-1809],  Christmas parties became adult affairs where his guests feasted on imported cheeses, preserved fruits, and other delicacies and where vintage wines accompanied the meal. His six grandchildren wandered among the dignitaries, Congressmen, and Ambassadors, an informality which shocked many in Washington society.

“When Andrew Jackson came to the White House in 1829, he was in mourning for his wife; but his family put up a stocking on a White House mantel and the morning found it stuffed with small presents – including a corncob pipe. His nieces and nephews also had stockings filled with cakes, candles, nuts, and fruits.

“Because President Jackson had been raised as an orphan, he threw a party for other orphans. Among the treats were ices shaped like apples and pears to eat, and snowballs made of starch-powdered cotton to throw.”

“The first Christmas Tree entered the White House in the 1850s during the administration of Franklin Pierce (1853-1857). This official presidential sanction helped to popularize the custom in America.”

Our 16th president’s young son, Tad, reportedly rounded up street waifs during his father’s administration (1861-1865), and brought them home for turkey dinners.”

“By 1885,  President Grover Cleveland (1885-1889) had added new-fangled electric lights to the White House tree.”

“The tradition of Christmas season receptions spread throughout the area into homes not so grand as the White House.”

“On New Year’s Day, our early Presidents generally held an open house in the best democratic tradition. It was open to all, no matter the political and social differences.”

Even the simplest of homes in nearby Southern Maryland (where I grew up and still reside), could be simply decorated with pine, cedar, crowsfoot, running cedar, laurel, bay and holly from the nearby woods. Ivy and rosemary were, surprisingly, the most prized Christmas decorations of the Victorian era. Fresh fruits from the Washington Markets, abundant osage oranges, and pine cones and pods could all be added to the arrangements. Some accounts of the period refer to cedar boughs being dusted with flour to achieve the ‘snow’ effect that we spray on today.

“Mistletoe, shot from trees, abounded. New Englanders had to pay for mistletoe for it grows only in warmer climes, but Marylanders found it abundant in neighboring woods.”

“The proper Victorian was not too staid to enjoy a stolen kiss! And there was a proper way to kiss under the mistletoe. As the man kissed the lady, he was obligated to pluck a berry from the branch and present it to the lady. This practice continued until the berries were gone. The mistletoe then lost its power of love, and no more kisses could be had.”

Huh. That seems to be the Victorian version of the expression, “if you snooze, you lose.”

“Many a Christmas romance started under the mistletoe and led to a Christmas wedding the next year. The season was a popular time for weddings because family and friends traditionally gathered at Christmas and it was easier to get everyone together. The night before the wedding, a party was held at the bride’s house. The next morning the wedding procession began. The days following the wedding were filled with parties, for the bride and groom of the early and mid-19th century did not take honeymoon trips.”

“But, back to our customs…In the nearby hearth burned the traditional Yule log – or Christmas log as it was called in the south. This had been an English custom, and the Southerners stuck with their English ties.” [The Yule Log was believed to bring beneficial magic and was kept burning for at least twelve hours and sometimes as long as twelve days, warming both the house and those who resided within. When the fire of the Yule Log was finally quenched, a small fragment of the wood would be saved and used to light the next year’s log. It was also believed that as long as the Yule Log burned, the house would be protected from witchcraft. The ashes that remained from the sacred Yule Log were scattered over fields to bring fertility, or cast into wells to purify and sweeten the water. Sometimes, the ashes were used in the creation of various charms…to free cattle from vermin, for example, or to ward off hailstorms.]

“One practice on the plantations called for the Master to allow a Christmas rest for the slaves. The holiday lasted as long as the Christmas log burned, so slaves were often caught sprinkling water on it to keep it burning slowly.”

“A Victorian Christmas was bright and cheerful, and the decorations and parties were as simple or as elaborate as the people cared to make them.”

But, no matter the year, where you live, or how you and yours celebrate this season, let us all not forget, the true meaning and its reason!

Wishing everyone a Very Merry Christmas!

Thanks Charlie–One Man’s Genealogical Random Act of Kindness


This video shows the great work ethic and commitment this man has for honoring those who paved the way for the rest of us in this world.  As a genealogical enthusiast, I can relate to this man’s passion for identifying and uncovering the lost people and histories of our families. In fact, I volunteer for Findagrave.com.  When family members who do not live locally want pictures of their loved ones’ grave markers, I go to the cemeteries within my locale to find those gravesites and to create or add to a memorial page on findagrave.com for that person and his family.

Founder of Find A Grave Website

FindAGraveFounder-Jim TiptonIt was Jim Tipton, who created the Find A Grave website in 1995 because he could not find an existing site that catered to his hobby of visiting the graves of famous people. He found that there were many thousands of folks around the world who shared his interests. What began as an odd hobby became a livelihood and a passion. Building and seeing Find A Grave grow beyond his wildest expectations has been immensely satisfying for Jim. Every day, contributors from around the world enter new records, thousands use the site as an educational reference tool, to locate long-lost loved ones and millions of lives are fondly remembered.

We often are disappointed when we find a headstone that is illegible due to the weather and the passing of time.  Some of us try cleaning the headstones as best we can.  However, if  we use the wrong techniques and solutions, we risk permanently damaging or destroying the grave marker further over time.

So, I’m very glad “Charlie,” made it his mission to clean each gravestone at the West Dennis Cemetery, (AKA Crowell Family Cemetery) as a tribute to those whom have passed as well as their families.  The dates of death on these gravestones range from 1809 to 1849–about 150 to 200 years old. After three years, 3-to-5 days a week, and about 800 gravestones already cleaned, Charlie probably still has another year before finishing all the grave markers in this cemetery!  Let’s hope this story triggers more volunteers at more cemeteries.

May 13, 2016: Jamestown Colony’s 409th Anniversary


Four hundred and nine years ago today (May 13, 1607), one hundred colonists (dispatched from England by the London Company) arrived along the west bank of the James River.  The next day they founded the first permanent English settlement in what is now the Virginia, known as the”James Fort.”

As I have written in other posts on my blog, it was during the next two years that disease, starvation, and Native American attacks wiped out most of the colony.  Yet, the London Company continually sent more settlers and supplies. The colonists referred to the severe winters of 1609 to 1610, as the “starving time.” These severe winters and lack of supplies were attributed with killing most of the Jamestown colonists and the survivors to plan a return to England in the spring.

On June 10, 1610, however, Thomas West De La Warr, the newly appointed governor of Virginia, arrived with supplies and convinced the settlers to stay at Jamestown. In 1612,  John Thomas Rolfe, my 10th Paternal Great Grandfather cultivated the first tobacco at Jamestown, introducing a successful source of livelihood.  Unfortunately, on March 22, 1622, he killed in an indian massacre on the Jamestown colony.

Jamestown ChurchThis photo taken in  the 1900’s shows the fifth church in the settlement.  

In one of his books, Captain John Smith wrote of building the first structure at Jamestown that was used as a church. According to his account, the settlers stretched a sail among the boughs and used rails to build the sides of the structure. They sat on benches made of unhewn tree trunks. The altar was simply a log nailed to two neighboring trees. This was a purely temporary arrangement and is not counted as a church building.

First Church — In 1607, the settlers built the first real church inside the fort. Smith related that this was a barn-like structure, but he gave few details. The settlers worshipped in it until it was destroyed by fire in January 1608.

Second Church — The church which was built after the fire in 1608 was similar in appearance to the first church. When Lord De La Warr arrived as governor in 1610, he found that the church had fallen into a sad state of disrepair, so he had it restored and its furnishings improved. It is assumed that this is the church in which Ann Burras and John Laydon were married and their daughter, Virginia Laydon, was later baptized.

When Captain Samuel Argall came to Jamestown in 1617, he found “but five or six houses, the church down, the palisades broken, the bridge in pieces, the well of fresh water spoiled, the storehouse used for the church; the marketplace, the streets and all other spare places planted with tobacco; the savages as frequent in their homes as themselves, whereby they were to become their “experts in our arms”…the Colony dispersed all about planting Tobacco.”

Third Church — From 1617-1619, when Samuel Argall was governor, he had the inhabitants of Jamestown build a new church “50 foot long and twenty-foot broad.” It was a wooden church built on a one-foot-wide foundation of cobblestones capped by a wall one brick thick. When visiting Jamestown today, you can see these foundations under the glass on the floor of the present building. The First Assembly was held in the third church. This church is best remembered as the meeting place of the first Representative Legislative Assembly, which convened there on July 30, 1619. This church endured until 1639, when it was replaced by a brick structure.

Fourth Church — In January 1639 Governor John Harvey reported that he, the Council, the ablest planters, and some sea captains “had contributed to the building of a brick church” at Jamestown. This church was slightly larger than the third church and was built around it. It was still unfinished in November 1647 when efforts were made to complete it.  Ten years later a fifth church was functioning, probably using the walls and foundations of the fourth church. Sometime after it was finished a brick church tower was added. During Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, this church was burned.

Fifth Church —  About 10 years after the 1676 burning, the fifth church was functioning, probably using the walls and foundations of the fourth church. Sometime after it was finished a brick church tower was added. The tower is the only seventeenth-century structure still standing above ground at Jamestown.

The tower is slightly over 18 feet square and the walls are three feet thick at the base. Originally the tower was about 46 feet high (ten feet higher than the ruins) and was crowned with a wooden roof and belfry. It had two upper floors as indicated by the large beam notches on the inside. Six small openings at the top permitted light to enter and the sound of the bell or bells to carry across river and town. This church was used until the 1750s when it was abandoned. Although the tower remained intact, the building fell into ruins by the 1790s when the bricks were salvaged and used to build the present graveyard wall. Throughout the nineteenth century the tower remained a silent symbol to Americans of their early heritage. It was strengthened and preserved shortly after the APVA acquired it in the 1890s.

 

The Present Church — The Memorial Church building was constructed in 1906 by the National Society, Colonial Dames of America just outside the foundations of the earlier churches. It was dedicated May 13, 1907.

 

Immigration — A Hot Topic!


The Joy of Discovering New Information

Some of you may know that I am a retired career employee from the U.S. Census Bureau.  I love my family and sharing the statistics and data that make up my heritage, family history, and the perpetual stories that keep coming from new discoveries.   Although retired now for nearly five years, I keep active with the newest and finest technologies, video graphics, and live charts.  I want people to enjoy, visualize and better understand past times and changes in the world over time as they may have related to their families and mine.

As far back as 2010, I first shared one of my visualization idol’s videos:  200 Countries, 200 Years–The Joy of Stats created by my peer and former national colleague from Statistics Sweden, and now renowned spokesperson Dr. Hans Rosling.  Hans and his son, Ola, built Gapminder, a software application that allows you to input raw statistics and automate them into meaning infographics.  Dr. Rosling has now produced many exceptional videos and made hundreds of live data presentations which he shares regularly on YouTube and at the TED conferences, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give talks about their specialties in 18 minutes or less.

Who And What is Metrocosm?

Much like Dr. Rosling, Max Galka, is a twenty-something New Yorker, an entrepreneur and all around data geek, and a Huffington Post contributor. Max built his Metrocosm website to focus on the graphical and storytelling side of data and to use it to offer new perspectives on familiar topics that analyze life through statistics and data.

And, just a few days ago on Facebook, I came upon Max’s recent interactive map that remains a hot topic in the news on the presidential campaign trail–Immigration.

This map focuses on about two centuries of immigration (from 1820 to 2013), and illustrates how 79 million people migrated to the United States to get lawful permanent resident status. It visualizes emigrants based on their earlier country of residence, and the brightness of a country corresponds to its total migration to the U.S. at a given time.  Each dot represents 10 thousand people.  And what I noted first was for the first 70 years, immigrants arrived from three countries only:  Ireland, Germany, and the United Kingdom (which includes the British Isles).  In 1892 you see Italy joins the top three countries and about 10 years later, Russians and Hungarians start arriving.  It wasn’t until the 1950’s that we start to see Mexican, Cuban, and Filipino’s immigrating.

As for the numbers of emigrants arriving–we first noticed in 1820 about 130,000 immigrants.  In 1840, the number rose to just over 1.4 million; by 1850 the numbers doubled in that 10-year-span to 2.8 million.  Then in 1880, there were 5.2 million, or nearly double again, though this time it was within a 30 year span. Twenty years later, immigration levels rose to 8.2 million.  They dropped by 2 million during the WWI period; and dropped by another 2 million in the early Roaring 20’s. With the onset of the Great Depression the number dropped below 1 million again to only about 700,000. Post WWII immigration jumped back up to 2.5 million.  For 1960-69,  there were 3.2 million ; 1970-79, 4.2 million; 1980-89, 6.2 million; 1990-99, immigration peaked at 9.9 million, then rose again starting in 2000-2009 to 10.3 million; and in 2010-2013, the number of emigrants dropped dramatically to  4.1 million. Immigration from Mexico has been a constant country listed in the top three countries emigrating since 1970; as has “Other Asian” countries since 1980 (which excludes the Philippines because it was included separately.  And, as late as 2000, the graph shows China among the top three countries whose people migrated to the U.S.

I’d like to say I had answers for why people from certain countries chose to migrate to the United States at certain times, but I’d rather hear comments from my readers about why they think people from the various countries chose to come to America when they did.  Too, it would be interesting to see how many Americans out migrated to other countries in a parallel graphic.  I think I’ll contact Max to see what he has to say about preparing one for us.  I’ll let you know when I hear back.

“Snuffing Out” Tobacco in Southern Maryland


Tobacco’s 17th Century Beginnings in the Colonies

English_Settlers_Harvest_Tobacco_1Maryland’s tobacco growing farms date back to the 17th century. Upon their arrival in 1634, Maryland settlers quickly hopped onto the tobacco bandwagon which the Virginians had started at the beginning of the century in Jamestown, Virginia. Borrowing seeds from my 11th great grandfather, Captain John Thomas Rolfe’s (1585-1622) now famous sweet-scented variety, they busily cultivated Maryland’s “tidewater area,” (geographic areas of southeast Virginia, northeastern North Carolina, part of the Atlantic coastal plain, and portions of Maryland facing the Chesapeake Bay).

Colonists quickly found that tobacco was the highest paying crop per acre. Colonial agriculture was primitive but exceedingly profitable. The annual tobacco crop brought in as much money as all the other American exports totaled. Family farms grew into plantations. Indentured servants were slowly replaced by slaves from Africa and the Caribbean.

And, the tobacco market wasn’t without its periods where sales slumped; e.g., the Revolutionary War Period (1775-1783). Yet, it still maintained and stimulated the growth of Maryland and other states throughout the colonial period. Tobacco farming became Calvert County’s main cash crop and the family farms grew rich through the generations.

Maryland’s Tobacco Farms in the late 20th Century

20th century tobacco barnIn fact, in the late 1990’s, southern Maryland tobacco generated 70% of farmers’ incomes, even though it occupied only 5% of their acres under cultivation. Scattered on small plots on almost every farm, the crop was a laborious and a year-round occupation–one of the reasons in labor-strapped southern Maryland that it was not a bigger crop.

Actually 24 years ago, when my husband, children, and I moved to Calvert County, we would see farmers in late summer harvesting tobacco leaves, turning over their hand cut leaves to others who would string them onto sticks and then hang them in their barns for curing.  After a couple of months, when the farmers were sure the leaves were completely dried, we would sometimes see them hauling their crops to a local tobacco warehouse for auction.  In our case, northern Calvert’s tobacco was either taken to the Hughesville Barns in Charles County, or the Upper Marlboro Tobacco Barns in Prince George’s County.

About seven years later, (1999), tobacco crops became almost extinct. I believe the tobacco farm on Mount Harmony Road was one of those that started growing soy beans instead of tobacco.   A late-1998 $206 Billion settlement by the nation’s largest tobacco companies and the 50 states brought the tobacco industry to a halt.  Life-long Southern Maryland tobacco farmers (whose average age was about 65), had been around long enough to see that the tobacco industry was dying. Their embrace of the wholesale buyout was both eager and sad. They were paid as much as $20,000 annually for 10 years to keep their farms and to replace their tobacco crops with other vegetation. This put about 1,100 Maryland  farmers out of the tobacco business.  

Parris N. Glendening was Maryland’s governor in 1999 when the tobacco settlements began to be paid out.  Governor Glendening vowed to use part of Maryland’s share of the windfall to close the book on “Maryland’s history as a tobacco state.”

Even so, about 100 Amish tobacco farmers refused to accept subsidies from the government.  They just changed their brand of tobacco leaves to “burley,” which was in demand in Europe.   And, some farmers sold off their farms to land developers and subdividers instead of accepting a financial settlement that would lock them into their farms for 10 years.  This decision by the farmers, might help explain the State’s third largest housing boom and population growth (nearly 20 percent increase in population) in Calvert County that took place between the 2000 and 2010 censuses.

The tobacco crops may have disappeared but, the Calvert County Flags that had tobacco leaves on them can still be found.

Calvert County Flag CollageReferences:

  • U.S. Census Bureau:  U.S. by County Population & Housing Patterns: 2000 to 2010″End of an Era For Maryland Tobacco,” By Philip Rucker, Washington Post Staff Writer, Thursday, March 1, 2007
  • “Snuffing Out Tobacco is No Easy Task for Maryland Farmers,” By Melissa Healey, Times Staff Writer, August 15, 2000

  • “Maryland Pays Farmers Not to Grow Tobacco,” World Net Daily “WND,” August 23, 2000

  • “Pulling up roots : Maryland move discourages tobacco,” Michigan Daily, February 1, 2001

 

 

 

My Genealogy Story


My Desires to Know and to Learn

One day my dad and I were talking about his young life, the absence of his mother early on and her mysterious death at age 32 that had left him and his family with unanswered questions. We also visited my paternal great grandmother about once a month for many years. She lived in the Home for Incurables in Washington, D.C.,  for about 25 years after becoming crippled with arthritis and abandoned by her husband of 33 years, never to be heard from again.  And then there was my maternal great grandfather who I had heard was one of the last two remaining soldiers who fought in the American Indian Wars. And yet, he married a full-blooded Cherokee bride, and after many years of marriage retreated to the National Soldier’s Home and lived there for about 30 years. Family referred to him as a disgruntled old man or “habitually intemperate.”   There were so many sketchy and questionable stories that seemed to naturally arouse my curiosities and had left me feeling incomplete about who I was and what I could share with my children and the rest of my family about our heritage. Then in 1980, came our eldest son’s 8th grade family history school project, where he had to draw his family tree as far back as he could and he began asking questions–some we could answer, others we couldn’t, and the completed information in the tree went back only to grandparents.  He had some names of earlier generations, but not enough specifics to include them in his tree.   That was the final impetus that set me on my path to being our family’s historian.

My  First Resources

The facts I collected and recorded from the United States censuses became absolutely key resources for me when I began my serious research into our family’s histories.  Yes, it was January 1980, and coincidentally I had just joined the Census Bureau’s staff and had completed a brief new employee orientation that included a bit about the origin of the census and the agency.  I learned that the  first United States Census was conducted in 1790 and at 10-year intervals ever since then. Thus, Census 2010 was the 22nd census of population.

In the Spring  of 1980, 36 years ago, I first trekked to the National Archives in Washington, D.C.  There on weekends, I used their family coding system and microfilm machines to scroll through hundreds of reels of film that contained copies of the original census forms.  I remember being inside the Archives on a warm and sunny day, researching family and hearing bands and people cheering the Easter Paraders passing by outside on Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues.

Using microfilm was a long and tedious, mental and eye-straining process. I would copy by hand the facts I found and make notes on lined paper, then take this work home and transcribe it using a typewriter.  Each little factoid I found exhilarated me so much that I would persevere and I kept trudging along at a snail’s pace uncovering just the tiniest of bread crumbs along my journey.

To give you a better idea of what I was up against, in 1983, the most recent census data available to the public was from the 1910 Census.  This was due to the “72-Year Rule,” where the National Archives was not allowed to release census records to the general public until 72 years after Census Day (about a person’s lifetime when originally established)–this holds true til this day.   As a result, the 1940 census records were released April 2, 2012 and remain the most current census data available. So, this 70+ year gap in data didn’t make it easy to uncover facts about people who came 3 to 4 generations before me.  But, a known birth state here, a remembered relative’s name there, was enough to get me started.

Technology Advances My Research

Ancestry dot com birthIt was also in 1983 when Ancestry Publishing was founded–the precursor to today’s Ancestry.com.  But, it wasn’t until 1996 that Ancestry.com was launched.  Ancestry developed efficient and proprietary systems for digitizing handwritten historical documents, established relationships with national, state and local government archives, historical societies, religious institutions, and private collectors of historical content around the world.   These profound advances in technology and genealogical research occurred at a time when my family commitments had forced me to take a brief hiatus from my research. But my desire to continue my research never faltered and sometime shortly thereafter that I first subscribed to Ancestry.com and my family tree began to grow by leaps and bounds.

In 2001, Ancestry.com added its one-billionth record to its site and it resources.  Today, my public tree has over 12,000 records, about 600 family photos, many copies of newspaper clippings from yesteryear, copies of birth and death certificates, and various family documents and stories.

Surprises Along My Way

Uncle Same Have Your Answers Ready With all this being said, I’m not quite sure why people seem to remain “up in arms” about today’s “invasive” census questions.  Especially, when my research gave me the opportunities to compare questionnaires and schedules going back over 200 years with today’s slimmed and trimmed down questions and forms.

For example, the seventh U.S. Census of Population was conducted by U.S. Marshals and Assistant Marshals in 1850.  It was the first census where Marshals recorded names, relationship to head of household, age, sex, and color for all persons living in each household.  These census takers were also required to ask the head of each household about each individual’s full health. If the head of a household (usually the husband, father, or other male relative) claimed an individual was deaf and dumb, blind, insane, or idiotic the census taker also recorded this in a separate column designated(column 13, below).

1850 census form header

Additionally, there was a separate 1850 schedule relating to numbers of slave inhabitants. The forms collected the names of slave owners; number of slaves; the slaves color, sex, age, and whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane, or idiotic; and the numbers of fugitives from the state. The 1860 census is the last federal census where slaves were enumerated. Unfortunately, they were not enumerated by name but by quantity with their owner–only on a rare occasion did I find a name listed.

Slave Inhabitants Questionnaire

Wretched Terms Used to Describe Family Members Health

Then, in the 1880 Census, (and only the 1880 Census), there was a “Special Schedule of Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes (sometimes called the DDD or 3D Schedule). When an enumerator recorded a health issue on the census of population form, he would then have to fill in this 3D Schedule to further clarify an individual’s defect, dependency, or delinquency; successively, for all individuals with any of these conditions. In fact, there were seven categories used to classify “health” conditions:

Insane: The schedule lists the “form” of the person’s insanity (melancholia, mania, epilepsy, etc.), history of “attacks,” if they need to be under lock and key, type of restraints (if any), and history of institutionalization.

It’s important to remember that it was often a family member giving information about the “insane” person and understanding mental health could be quite subjective.  Even Epilepsy was considered a form of insanity, as was postpartum depression.  Even veterans of the Civil or Indian Wars could have been classified as “insane,” where in later years we might have described them as “shell-shocked (from WWI and WWII), or in later wars as suffering from PTSD.

Idiots: An idiot for this schedule was defined as “a person the development of whose mental faculties was arrested in infancy or childhood before coming to maturity.” Questions included if the person was self-supporting, age at which idiocy occurred, supposed cause of idiocy, size of head, training school history, and other disabilities the person had. Let’s see, this classification probably included children with Downs Syndrome, autism, ADD, and ADHD, or for that matter, just spoiled, ill-tempered brats.

Deaf-mutes: Enumerators were tasked with not listing those who were only deaf or hard-of-hearing or those who were only mute. “A deaf-mute is one who cannot speak, because he cannot hear sufficiently well to learn to speak.” Information includes whether he or she was self-supporting, age that deafness occurred, supposed cause of deafness, history of institutions, and other disabilities.  Helen Keller would have fit into this category.

Blind: The semi-blind could be included, but not those who could see well enough to read. The form asked if the person was self-supporting, form of blindness, supposed cause, the age that blindness occurred, institutional information, and other disabilities.

These next categories were used to enumerate people in institutions, poor houses, and boarding homes:

Homeless Children: Rather than homeless children, it was for children in institutions (children’s homes, poorhouses, etc.) Information included their residence when not in the home, if the father and/or mother were deceased, if the child was abandoned, if the parents had surrendered control to the institution, if they were born in the institution, year admitted, if the child was separated from his/her mother, the child’s criminal history, and disabilities.

Inhabitants in Prison: This section gave information about the prisoner’s residence, type of prisoner, why they are in prison (awaiting trial, serving a term, etc.), date of incarceration, alleged offense, sentence, and if the prisoner was at hard labor.

Paupers and Indigent: Similar to the Homeless Children section, this part of the schedule was for those who were “in institutions, poor-houses or asylums, or boarded at public expense in private houses.” Information included residence “when at home,” how he or she was supported; if the person was able-bodied, habitually intemperate, epileptic, or a convicted criminal; disabilities; year admitted; and other family members in the institution (spouse, parents, children, and siblings). There was also a section at the end about the institution itself.

So there you have it.  I have gathered so much information about our past and yet there is so much more to be learned from these antiquities about our families lives and times.  I will say, if I God called me home today that those in my family who have an interest in their family’s history would be given a great starting point from which to continue on–that is unless the suspicious and conspiracy theorists about our government’s intentions and uses of data collected squelch the availability of future genealogical resources such as these.

And, yes, I discovered where my father’s mother went to live, that she was a “Rosie the Riveter,” and her official cause of death was chronic alcoholism; I found my paternal great grandfather’s death information from the 1970’s in Las Vegas and have even gotten to know, to love, and maintain contact with my new family members from my great grandfather’s second family that he built while in Vegas; and was led to an unknown uncle from my maternal grandfather’s first family in Hawaii, which we knew nothing about.  I also found many colonial leaders–settlers from what is now Great Britain–statesmen, lawyers, musicians,  and many fascinating and larger than life characters.  And my stories will continue as long as I am still here to research and write them . . .

Words from: Robert M. Groves, Director of the United States Census Bureau at the time of the 2010 Census–our most recent:

“Just like we can’t survive without roads and bridges, the country doesn’t function well without an updated Census to distribute funds to areas that most need them and to support community decisions about their own future.”
And let’s not forget the growing love and interest in family histories and genealogy!

Addicted to Genealogy


For the Love of a Dear Sister

sistersAfter many years as an Ancestry.com (the world’s largest online history resource) subscriber and enthusiastic supporter, I went looking for a similar but free resource for a friend of 40 years (who’s like or better than a biological sister to me) who has never been consumed like me by researching family history

In fact, I immersed her as my genealogy cohort when she mentioned to me that she knew little about her family. Her father passed when she was 13 when he lost control of his propane tanker truck, and her mother, who she continues to mourn, passed away from brain cancer 12 years ago.  I asked her for a few simple facts, names, dates of birth, city, state, entered them into Ancestry as a new tree, and one entry led to another, and so on . . . most of you know this storyDanville Register - Sat Aug 14 1971 - William Irvin Owen

When I found the August 14, 1971, newspaper article about her father’s accident and listed his relatives in the obituary portion, that’s all it took.  I had hooked her and the addicted researcher behavior in me took over my life again.  Within a matter of few furious days I gifted her a tree of 368 relatives and 82 photos.  So obviously, she was on high with delight and wanted to continue this trip and get to know her family for herself.  Thus, my search for a free online family history database resource.

Finding the Mother Lode

I first looked at FamilySearch, the genealogical organization operated by the Genealogical Society of Utah (“GSU”), and the genealogical arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is the largest genealogy organization in the world.  It is this organization that we can thank for digitizing billions of family history records.

And yet, here is this completely FREE genealogy website with billions of indexed records, access to billions of pages of unindexed records (most of them original source material), with a significant educational component (the Wiki and Video Courses), a collaborative family tree (featuring sources, notes, record hints, photos, stories, etc.), and only five percent of a genealogy enthusiasts audience of 100 use it–and 95 out of 100 in this audience were aware of it and had visited it (according to Randy Seaver, author of Genea-Musings Blog).

At any rate, I took my friend’s small ancestry.com tree, used my Family Tree Maker (FTM) software and downloaded her tree’s .ftm file into a GEDCOM (.ged) file so I could upload her file into FamilySearch’s database.  My only other option would have been to re-enter all her family history data manually into FamilySearch (FS).  Next, FS uploaded the information into its database, but it didn’t add all her records automatically.  I was required to do a one-to-one comparison of her records to those possible duplicate records already in FS.  On a small file this isn’t so bad, but on a file as large as my ancestry.com tree (12,000+ records) this would be a tedious and exhaustive process–a real downer.  Perhaps this is why people choose not to transfer their files to FS?  Or, maybe because it’s a collaborative database and they are not willing to share or have their data edited by others who they do not know or feel they can trust their genealogical skill sets?  Bottom line, my dear sister friend was euphoric to have her own family tree and to be able to manipulate it on her own.  My sister and I are going on a short out of town trip very soon to hear her son’s band play and this will be an opportunity for us to revive our genealogical buzz.

Awaiting Another Intoxicating Adventure 

Meanwhile, in my endeavor to try out and test FS, I queried the database about my third maternal great grandfather Henry Ford–a brick wall in my tree.  I didn’t nail down Henry’s data, but I discovered there were two conflicting records for my second great grandfather–the father of my maternal great grandmother, Mary Susan Morris, who was the wife of John Carpenter Ford.  One record had his death in 1880, which agreed with my record, but a census record showed an inmate in 1900 at the North Carolina State Insane Asylum.  So, I contacted the FamilySearch research support team. Within a couple of days I received the most unexpected in-depth research about the conflicts and directions to further resources about these people. And, to boot, FS researchers complimented me on one of my blog posts that they had found and read as a result of their queries on my behalf.

So now, the genealogical addict in me is adding my ancestry.com public tree (slowly and surely) using the GEDCOM file upload and one-to-one record comparison method to see what my sharing and comparing of these data might bring to light.