i am nothing without you

Very deep, very deep is the well of the past. Should we not call it bottomless?
~Thomas Mann~

Having spent an undefinable amount of time the past few months delving into my predecessors, I still consider myself nothing more than a mere novice in the endeavor of unearthing Intriguing Tidbits Concerning My Ancestors.  As a huge fan of history in general and with an overblown penchant for organization and love of minute details, genealogy had only to whisper its compelling sweetness in my ear just once and I was hooked.

four generations circa mid-1940’s. my mother is the little girl looking down, my grandmother is on the far left, middle is my great grandmother, far right is my great, great grandmother

YOU HAD ME AT ‘DNA’.

In the short span I’ve been immersed into my new hobby, I’ve discovered much about from whence I came.

Most of my ancestors were simple, everyday people.  The majority of the men folk were farmers, an honest, if not completely insecure and/or unreliable way, to earn a living.  And according to more than one census, the women ‘kept house’.  I’ll bet they cooked as well, a trait that obviously did not swim downstream in the gene pool.

IT IS NOT MY INTENT,  HARD-WORKING GRANDMOTHER CHEFS, THAT I BRING
SHAME TO OUR LINE.

FORGIVE ME.

I have yet to find any of my ancestors who were ‘professionals’ in the sense we’d define careers today.  To date, and going back over 250 years, I have uncovered no records to indicate that any of my direct lineage attended a college or university.  They may have.  I just haven’t found any evidence to that effect.

Many of the families consisted of over eight children; my 2X great grandparents on my maternal side had ten children.  The overall average was approximately five surviving offspring.

Young children and babies tallied in one census were sometimes absent in the subsequent years, from which I can only surmise a death.  This seems to happen frequently.

Women who were widowed often remarried very shortly thereafter, more than likely to a widower with children.  This type of life event can make it difficult to trace a concise path from a maiden name to a first married name then a second married name.  Unraveling the mystery is part of the charm, but can lead to dead ends in a line.  Which, as you can imagine, is not so charming.

Of all the branches I’ve climbed in my tree, it’s been my observation that once a line is settled in one area they generally tended to stay put. If they moved, it was a relatively short distance from where they started.  For instance, the majority of my ancestors on my maternal side emerged from Pennsylvania-Ohio-Indiana.  If the documents stated an ancestor moved ‘west’ it was within the context of the American landscape at the time.  ‘West’ meant Ohio or Indiana.  Which, in reality, from Pennsylvania, would have been ‘west’.

Based on this social trend, I have no Southern roots.

OH FIDDLE DEE DEE.

As to a few specifics of My People …

My 5X great grandfather on my maternal side, Isaac Headley (born in 1735) served in the Revolutionary War in a New Jersey militia.

Isaac’s son, my 4X great grandfather, Benjamin Headley was the first tax assessor in Morris County, New Jersey.

Going back to the late 1700’s on my maternal side, my ancestors were Pennsylvania Dutch.
I’m assuming that explains my immense love of Shoo-Fly pie.

BLESS THEM.

My 2x great grandmother on my maternal side, Sarah Jane Watson, by family accounts was reported to be a full-blooded Cherokee.  Although I’ve yet to unearth any photos of her, family photos of her daughter (my great grandmother) would support that belief as she has all the physical attributes of a Native American.  Sarah Jane is listed in every census as ‘white’, however, it might have been politically incorrect at the time to claim Native American heritage.  ‘Watson’ is reputed to have been Anglican-ized from the Cherokee name of ‘Watsoni’.

My 3x great grandfather’s last name was Pickleheimer.  For some reason,
I find that fact quite amusing.

And I can’t leave y’all without a few observations on the genealogy process as a whole …

While ancestry.com has been an invaluable tool in my efforts, I would recommend that you don’t fully rely on information gleaned from members who are tracing a portion of the same lineage.  When I first joined ancestry.com the benefit of crossing paths with others who were also searching and gathering information never crossed my mind.  In retrospect, it seems obvious that there would be such a group branching off from siblings of my own direct ancestors, therefore, I can only attribute my lack of connecting the dots to that possibility as a Moment of Blundering Stupidity.

HOWEVER.

Let me show you another such stupid moment.  The screenshot of ‘John Focht’ was a ‘hint’ from another member’s tree to a common ancestor.  Do y’all see a Giant Red Flag?

CLUE:  MOTHER AND FATHER
OF JOHN FOCHT

Methinks ‘rushcitygal’ best slow down and check her math.

GLARINGLY OBVIOUS ERROR.

If an ancestor has a common name, information is going to be plentiful.  Take your time and make sure you’re chasing the right individual.  Consume slowly and digest what you’re reading.  One wrong link in the chain can create a lot of grief in loss of time and wasted effort, not to mention the fact they’re just not Your People.

WHICH WOULD BE A CRYING SHAME.

My lineage includes George A.  Smith, a 2X great grandfather.  His wife was Nancy E. Smith.  Unfortunately, I’ve yet to discern her maiden name which makes that branch difficult to trace.  I have found many censuses with both the name George A. Smith and a wife of Nancy E. with a gaggle of maiden names.  However, the information I’ve reviewed to date doesn’t match what I know to be true of my George Adam Smith.  The years don’t necessarily jive and as my George and Nancy lived in Sandusky, Ohio, George A. and Nancy E. from Missouri aren’t interchangeable, no matter how much I want them to be so I can move on.

The litmus test of correct research is that it can be backed up by more than one piece of data.  My mom and her treasure trove of antique photos of our family history have been a huge boon in my toils.  Her knowledge and historical documentation allowed me to verify the information I’d amassed from ancestry.com.  One lone document does not an ancestor make.

Prior to the 20th century, it appears the population as a whole did not necessarily possess keen spelling skills. Therefore, last names, and even general written (and printed) words, were often spelled phonetically, as evidenced by the photo of a Revolutionary War pay voucher for my 5X great-grandfather, Isaac Headley.

Not ‘Hadly’.

Nor …

Captin
Colnel
Brigedeear (three vowels together
are kinda charming)

Genaral Wilamson
Jeneury (as in the first month of the year commonly known as January)

And my personal favorite, time in ‘sarvis’.

I MIGHT BE RE-THINKING THAT WHOLE
‘NO SOUTHERN ROOTS’ THING Y’ALL.

MY NORTHERN ANCESTOR GOT PAID
FOR HIS SARVIS.

On the same topic, names were often 1) misspelled or 2) mis-transcribed from census records, military draft records and even marriage documents.  Look for variations in names.  My grandfather, Norris, is listed in the handwritten notes of a census as ‘Oris’.   This ultimately created a hiccup for others on ancestry.com who took this as gospel and called the handsome devil Oris.

IT’S NORRIS, PEOPLE.  AND HE’S MY GRANDPA.

When you find a particularly interesting person in your lineage, go a step further and research the history of the area or the important events at that point in time in which they existed.  According to recorded history of New Jersey in late 1776 and 1777, I can surmise that my 5x great-grandfather who served in the Revolutionary War was part of a voluntary militia and was involved in the Battle of Trenton under the overall direction of General George Washington.  The Battle of Trenton took place on December 26, 1776 in the location and time where Isaac Headley was officially documented to be.  As militias were temporary units, it appears shortly after that battle, he was discharged and able to return home to his family, having served ‘1 month and 27 days’ in the fight against the British.

Additionally, during the time of the Civil War many of my ancestors lived along the Ohio-Kentucky border.  Kentucky was a slave state, Ohio was not.  If slaves were able to cross the Ohio River into the Cincinnati area, where my ancestors resided, they might have escaped into freedom.  I’ve wondered on more than one occasion if any of my ancestors were abolitionists living in an area that was a hotbed for that type of anti-slavery activity.

I think what fascinates me most about researching my personal history is the humble knowledge I carry some genes, some DNA from every one of these people who existed prior to me.  They were living, breathing people who had joys and sorrows, successes and failures.  They laughed and cried as part of a history other than my own.  And although we live in different times, they are me.  And I am them.

Without them, I am nothing.

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