Thursday, June 16, 2016

Why Genealogy Matters

There are those who do not understand why we "do genealogy" and that's alright. It is not everyone's cup of tea. But to treat it like nothing more than the study of names, dates, and places to add branches to our family tree is to dismiss a pastime of cultural significance.

The people we come from - all of our ancestors - had a hand in shaping the world we have today. Some did it in significant ways, perhaps by ruling an empire or sailing across an ocean to establish a new world. Some did it in smaller ways, like my grandfather who was one of the construction workers on the local college where I grew up. But be your ancestors butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, explorers, or conquerors, they lived in a time and place we can only know through books, paintings, music, and the words of those who lived then and there.

In my opinion, genealogy and history are inextricably linked. History tells us what happened and who made it happen, and genealogy tells us if these people left children, grandchildren, and others who might have made a continued mark on this world.

Of course, when cannot deny the personal significance of the study of family history. It is interesting to see when a family endured it's hardest times and how that fits into an historic or cultural context, such as the years of and following the Great Depression or perhaps the Civil War. If I go through my family history and match up the stories of hardship with historic events, you can bet there was something major going on at the time that contributed to my family having problems with family, finances, and health.

So if we sit down at our computers and think genealogy is about typing in a few words and hitting on a family tree that gives us 20 generations of our ancestors, then we are missing so much!

At its best, genealogy is an active endeavor. I don't just mean writing a letter to the Town Hall where great-grandma was born to get her birth record. I don't just mean taking the time to visit a church where several generations of your family were baptized, married, and honored upon their death.

I mean integrating the fabric of their lives with the threads of history, and caring about the links between the two. I mean realizing the War of 1812 was significant to your ancestors and, thus, the Preserve the Pensions Project is something meaningful for you to support. Or perhaps realizing the town where your family lived, worked, and died generation after generation is in need of help to keep it viable. Maybe deciding that because a website such as Family Search has given so much to you, you want to give something back by volunteering to transcribe records.

When someone tells you family history is not a "real" field of study, that it's not "academic" because it's not an objective examination of past events and the sequence and patterns thereof, consider this:

History didn't just happen. People made history and those people are our ancestors.

Copyright (c) 2016 Wendy L. Callahan

Monday, May 30, 2016

Hawksley - another ongoing mystery

Brick walls seem to be my major focus this year and one I've been hammering at for about 20 years now is John Goodwin Hawksley. A visit to NEHGS in 2008 helped me find an unexpected letter in their manuscript collection, which gave me at least one of John's parents. It put together the following family tree:

Mr. Hawksley ("an Englishman") and Mary Goodwin (daughter of "a Goodwin and a Workman"; her father was a loyalist from New Jersey who fled to Saint John, New Brunswick) had:

1. John Goodwin Hawksley, born 8 February 1810, Fredericton, York, New Brunswick, Canada. Married Lucy Thomas Lilley on 29 March 1842 in Hodgdon, Aroostook County, Maine, and had 13 children. Died 21 September 1893 in Mars Hill, Aroostook County, Maine.

2. Mary Hawksley, born about 1812. Married Robert Chambers Nichols on 14 February 1833 in Fredericton, York, New Brunswick, Canada, and had at least 1 child. No records found after the death of her son in 1837.

3. Sarah Brown Hawksley, born about 1814. Married John Wellington Adams on 23 December 1831 in Fredericton, York, New Brunswick, Canada, and had 5 children. Died sometime in December of 1840 or in 1841.

4. Margaret Elizabeth Hawksley, born 23 May 1816 in Fredericton, York, New Brunswick, Canada. Married Isaac Benjamin Adams on 3 October 1833 in Prince William, York, New Brunswick, Canada and had 9 children. Died 11 September 1889 in Forest City, York, New Brunswick, Canada.

Mary (Goodwin) Hawksley married William Madigan on 14 October 1824 in Fredericton, which means Mr. Hawksley either died or went missing between 1816 and 1824. Mary (Goodwin) (Hawksley) Madigan died May of 1868 in Hodgdon, Aroostook County, Maine. 

I wrote to the Town of Hodgdon in hopes of obtaining a death record for Mary, however they did not have one. In their reply, they told me many of their records for that time are missing, so Mary Goodwin's loyalist father and Workman mother remain a mystery.

The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick have many digitized records, including vital statistics from 1800 onward. However, I have found nothing on the births of the 4 Hawksley children.

There seems to be plenty of information about the Hawksley and Adams families after their moves to Maine, as well as other Goodwin loyalists, but not the ones I seek. I hope someday to find the answer...

Copyright (c) 2016 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Samuel Blackden, from England to Boston

Samuel Blackden is an ancestor seemed to have led an interesting life. Born circa 1690, probably in England, and possibly married to a woman named Ann, Samuel possibly had at least 8 children:

1. Mary Blackden;

2. Unnamed Blackden;

3. Lydia Blackden, born about 1736 in England and married Joseph Fairbanks, 21 Aug 1756 in Halifax, Nova Scotia;

4.  Ann Blackden, born 21 Mar 1741/42 in England and married Dr. Jonathan Prescott, 11 Oct 1759 in Halifax, Nova Scotia;

5. William Blackden, born about 1746 in England and married Sarah Oaks, about 1771;

6. Joseph Blackden, born about 1750 and died 9 Apr 1750 in Halifax, Nova Scotia;

7. Elizabeth Blackden, born about 1751 and died 5 June 1831 in Halifax, Nova Scotia;

8. Samuel Blackden;

As you can see, we have many children without dates and places of birth, and very few primary sources have been discovered about this family.

"A List of the Families of English, Swiss, &c, Which Have Been Settled in Nova Scotia since the Year 1749, and Who Now (1752) Are Settlers in the Places Hereafter Mentioned (Halifax, et al.)" places him in Nova Scotia as of 1749. He is found in the 1752 census of Halifax. Samuel Blackden was a brewer and tavern-keeper by trade, a profession that got him into some trouble.

In the "General Index to the Annual Register" for 1758-1780 (edited by Edmund Burke, printed in London, England) is this entry:

Blackden, mr Samuel, of Halifax, Nova Scotia; remarkable verdict he obtained against captain Gambier, iv. (106, 107)

The text of the case and decision is found in "The Annual Register or a View of the History of Politics and Literature for the Year 1761" (7th edition printed in London, 1800, and available from Google books). The case is basically this:

Samuel Blackden filed suit against Captain Gambier of the ship the Burford. As the case states, "The action was brought for damages the plaintiff sustained in Nova Scotia by the defendant's taking him by violence from his freehold there, burning his house and detaining the plaintiff unjustly on board the Burford 125 days: when after a hearing of 3 hours, a special jury of merchants gave the plaintiff (number?) damages and costs of suit."

There is more specific information in "The Repository or Treasury of Politics & Literature for MDCCLXX" (June 1770), volume 2, pages 373-374, also available via Google books. It specifies that Captain Gambier took Samuel Blackden captive in 1755 and confined him for 125 days. Samuel became ill with a fever over that time and nearly died. Meanwhile, the captain's sailors also burned down Samuel's home, leaving his wife and young children with nothing.

The whole reason for this capture is that Samuel was accused of providing rum to the British sailors. Samuel was apparently innocent of this, and the captain sailed him to England and ditched him at Plymouth. Samuel somehow got to London and sought recourse until he got a decision in his favor.

Captain Gambier was punished to the tune of 800 pounds, payable to Samuel Blackden. Whether he paid it or not, I don't know. But Samuel ultimately returned to his family, because he later became a resident of Boston, Massachusetts by September of 1756, when he granted a deed for a lot at Halifax.

Samuel died 18 June 1768 in Boston. It appears his wife, Ann Blackden, died September 1788 in Halifax and is buried at St. Paul's there.

Samuel's story is over 260 years old and the facts are as tattered as his and his family's life probably was when he was taken prisoner in 1755. Maybe that's one of the reasons I'm so interested in putting it all together.

Copyright (c) 2016 Wendy L. Callahan

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Low Tech & Modern Tech for Genealogy

Recently, Kassie Nelson and I got together for brunch, to discuss the future of The Rogue Genealogist and our current research projects.

She also offered me some books she no longer had use for and how could I refuse?

While so much is online these days, there remain many books - particularly those that remain under coypright and have not been transitioned into ebook format - that are useful to us. Can a genealogy tip or suggestion ever be outdated? I'm sure it's very possible.

However, I think it's more likely that there are things we might not consider or, a more likely possibility, things the next generation of genealogists might not think about.

One of the books given to me is a 1993 publication about how to find your Italian ancestors. I'm only 24 pages into the book and found tips I hadn't even considered. Most of the time, I think about vital records and census records as a starting point. Then I move on to compiled genealogies and newspapers, and then Google searches in hopes of hitting a blog or website or an older book that mention an ancestor.

Additionally, I look at probate and land records, and sometimes voter registrations. I still love Family History Library microfilms and splurging on a military pension file from the National Archives is exciting to me.

Are our younger genealogists digging deeply? Are Gen Xers, like me, and Baby Boomers digging deeply enough? Is the ease of digital genealogy and high tech keeping us from looking at things we might no longer see as valuable, because they aren't in front of our face as often, like "Who's Who" guides?

I think, for me, an intersection of modern-tech and low-tech is a good way to cover most of my bases. The amount of resources going digital is fantastic and the ways we access information is changing everyday. But it's also worthwhile to take a step back in time, process-wise, and look at other avenues. You might not find an ancestor in the records online, because they don't cover a particular year, surname or area yet, so it may behoove you instead to write a letter overseas or check out a print resource at the library. Manuscript collections, such as those at NEHGS, that are not scanned or transcribed are rich with information that you might just be missing if your focus is solely on digital research.

Not sure which bases to cover in your research? Family Tree Magazine offers several research forms for download, including an Online Database Search Tracker and Repository Checklist. Checklists and logs like these might direct you to types of records you'd never considered.

And when you see a genealogy research guide on sale or offered for free, it could very well be worth picking up. That 1993 book might provide insights that are still valuable today.

Copyright (c) 2016 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, April 17, 2016

My Favorite Genealogy Resources

Over the years, I have relied upon the same resources time and again. Most of my research is centered on New England and Nova Scotia, and these resources reflect that. They are the most useful in my research and I return to the websites week after week:

Family Search - this is my go-to for general genealogy. This free LDS-funded site is for searching family trees, censuses, various records (vital, land, court, and more), as well as sharing photos and stories. You can give back by volunteering on transcription projects.
The New England Historic Genealogical Society - the oldest genealogical organization in the U.S. with extensive holdings both in their library and online. For anyone with predominantly New England ancestry, like me, the $89.95 annual membership is well worth it. They also have records for the rest of the U.S., as well as Canada and many other countries.

Ancient Landmarks of Plymouth Project - this is a transcription of the book by William T. Davis. If you have any family in Plymouth, Massachusetts in the 1800s or prior, it is well worth searching the index for their surname(s) and reading the entries.

Nova Scotia Historical Vital Statistics - a free searchable database of births, deaths, and marriages in Nova Scotia. Absolutely recommended for anyone with ancestors or family in the province. There are some gaps in the coverage, but you will not find a more comprehensive online resource for Nova Scotia vital records.

Library and Archives of Canada - known for the widest variety of microfilm and digital holdings for all of Canada, it can take time to learn your way around the site. The digitized microfilms are not indexed, so you're in for the long haul if searching through them, but you can do it from the comfort of your own home.

Copyright (c) 2016 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, April 10, 2016

What If...?

I'd like to share a little something from the heart this week, inspired by what I posted last week about the great-grandmother I never knew, and my belief that she was not a bad person, but instead subjected to hardships that shaped her as a person.

When we look at our ancestors, we can only guess so much based on their actions. In the episode of Finding Your Roots with Mia Farrow, she was appalled to learn that her grandfather, Joseph Farrow, committed her grandmother, Lucy Savage, to an asylum after the birth of their only child. For a while, she was angry about it, but when she learned of Joseph's heroism in World War I, she wondered if he was really such a bad guy.

She'll never know, just like I will never know about my great-grandmother Mildred, which is why I cannot and will not judge her.

I know very well there are two sides or more to every story, because I am a story. When I was only 3-years-old, my parents divorced. Once it was finalized, I did not see or hear from my mother again until I was 19.

We gathered for a Bartlett family reunion in Massachusetts in 2008 and that was when, at long last, I would see her again... 30 years after the last time I saw her.

Did I judge her? Did I wonder why she left? Of course, so I asked questions and I received three different answers from three different people.

Whose answer is most accurate? My mother's, because she was the one involved in the situation? What about the opinions of the outside observers who perhaps saw something she did not see? Or were their observations merely inaccurate perceptions of the overall situation?

I think that's the key word when dealing with family stories: perception.

Where one person perceived my great-grandmother's behavior and choices as wrong, another might perceive it as the only thing she could possibly do in her circumstances. We were not in her shoes, so we were not the ones sick after childbirth or giving birth to frail children whose lives hung in the balance. We were not the ones with five mouths to feed and a husband who left. We were not the ones reported to reported to the state for neglect, our children removed from our care to go into foster care.

It was with help from her second husband (my great-grandfather) that my great-grandmother was able to get on her feet, but it is not an overnight process, as anyone who has gone through hard times understands.

Things often look one way from a certain angle, but it's when you take the time to see the other side that you realize it's not the shape you expected.

It was such a different world only 50 years ago, let alone 100 years ago, and though we look at genealogy analytically and judge family stories harshly at times, we need to remember that we were not there. And those connected to the stories can only tell their side.

I think we also need to remember not to hold on to judgements or regrets that things did not turn out differently. That holds us back in the past, and not in a good way.

Genealogy and family history is going to have good and bad, amazing triumphs and awful tragedies. I believe the key is to understand that we aren't just dealing with names and numbers. We're talking about human beings with hopes and dreams, and the capacity to suffer and hurt.

As the ones still living, I think we should embrace the opportunity to learn from the past, rather than dwell on it, and heal the present.

Copyright (c) 2016 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Family Secrets

Last night I finally watched "Finding Your Roots." Like "Who Do You Think You Are," I think it is a good way to stir up the general public's interest in genealogy. Interesting personal stories of others often make us wonder about our own family.

For the most part, my family seems pretty normal. If there are any awful family stories or secrets, they are mostly relegated to the 1800s and earlier, and none of us are aware of them.

But there is one family member about whom we have heard awful things and I wish I could know so much more about her. I've written about my great-grandmother, Mildred Marian Burrell, before in 2011. Much like my great-great grandma Emma, who I revisit often, Mildred remains a mystery - one we know is full of secrets.

Mildred was born 12 June 1897 in Randolph, Norfolk County, Massachusetts to George and Susan (Jones) Burrell. She died 9 October 1972 in Abington, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, so I never got to meet her, let alone know her.

She first married Joseph William St. Onge on 17 April 1920 in Dover, Strafford County, New Hampshire. They had:

1. Joseph Edward St. Onge, 1919-1978 (paternity questioned; Mildred was pregnant before marrying Joseph)
2. Mary Ellen St. Onge, 1920-1985
3. Gertrude Mildred St. Onge, 1921-2000 (tried to find all her siblings after they were scattered)
4. William St. Onge, about 1924 to...? (paternity questioned; raised/adopted by William Perry of West Bridgewater)
5. Frank St. Onge, 1925-1996 (left in the hospital and spent his first 5 years in an orphanage)

What we know from the children and grandchildren of some of these five children is that Joseph William St. Onge was a cruel man and possibly involved in illegal activities. I'm not sure if it was Mildred's upbringing, her marriage with Joseph, or the pressures of the depression, but she was also known as a not-so-kind woman. I have a feeling she endured abuse at Joseph's hands, but I'll never know for certain.

It's also possible Mildred was seeking love and intimacy elsewhere, as family members have hypothesized that William St. Onge was the son of another man. Mildred left Frank at the hospital after his birth, and fostered her other children out at some point before 1930, because they are all living with different families in the census.

I have yet to find Mildred or Joseph in the 1920 census. It's possible they were moving or Joseph was "on the run" during that time, since Mary Ellen was born in Biddeford, Maine, but her younger siblings were all born in Massachusetts.

At some point, Mildred must have divorced Joseph or given up on him being a part of her life after he left the family, because she moved on with my great-great grandfather, Herbert Benjamin Haley.

After 20 years of searching, I still have not located a marriage for Mildred and Herbert, but her death certificate shows her as Mildred Haley. Together they had:

1. Herbert Benjamin Haley, Jr., 1926-2014 (my grandfather, paternity questioned)
2. Lorraine Janice Haley

Herbert was reared by his Haley grandparents, Hiram and Rosanna (Cassidy), and Haley aunts and uncles all living in Middleborough, but Mildred chose to raise Lorraine. Why did she make that choice? Was she just not equipped (emotionally, I wonder, not financially) to handle a baby at that moment in her life? Was Joseph St. Onge still a presence in her life or long gone out of the picture? Did she fear for her child, born when she was not yet married to his father, but still married to another man? (The surname "St. Onge" appears on my grandfather's birth certificate.)

We do have one possible way of determining whether or not grandpa Herbert was a Haley or a St. Onge, and that is thanks to my Uncle Dave Haley, who had a DNA test. So far, we don't have any Haleys or St. Onges to compare him to, but maybe someday we will.

Maybe someday, we'll resolve one mystery - was Herbert Jr. the son of Herbert Sr. or Joseph St. Onge? But I think even if that happens, it will still leave many secrets, like why Mildred made the choices she made.

Those of us here today waver between sympathy, disdain and confusion about the person Mildred was and why things turned out as they did for our father/grandfather/great-grandfather Herbert Jr. - why she would not or could not be a mother to him.

When family tried to reach out to Gertrude (St. Onge) Templeton, she refused to speak to them about the family. I wish she had talked, because it might help family understand and - one hopes - not perpetuate any sort of negative cycle.

Copyright (c) 2016 Wendy L. Callahan