Wednesday, 19 November 2014

New Records Coming Available Make a Difference…

…Or how finding a record in the War of 1812 Pension Files changed my tree.
This has been a confusing process for me as the change I made to the Burleson family in my tree is for a long researched brother of my ancestor. I may get some heat for this, but this is what is on FamilySearch Family Tree... Needs fixing, which is the purpose of Family Tree. 

David Burleson was born on August 17, 1785, in North Carolina. His father is listed as David Burleson Sr. who was born in North Carolina and his mother as Ursula Weatherford born in North Carolina. He married his first wife, Sarah Ruth Hobson, on March 8, 1819, in Rutherford, Tennessee. 

 Most researchers and the Burleson Bulletin have him listed as dying on 8 Apr 1856 - Concord, Leon, Texas, United States.  I fell victim to this train of thought because of a David Burleson in the 1860 Census married to a Sarah, ages so close, and it was added to my tree as such.
 I checked old deeds in Tennessee, he was noted there.  His marriage to Sarah Ruth Hobson is documented in the Tennessee Marriage index.[1]

  There weren’t any death dates found for Sarah Ruth, so I was satisfied with it for a brother of my ancestor.  Then I began working on my collateral lines, this made me rethink “good enough” for it needed my attention as much as my personal lines.
My findings for this family were not directly sought out as research for David.  Rather, it was a random click on a name that was familiar as I was assisting finding records to help with the Preserve the Pensions of the War of 1812 project. 
The name was Burlason, David.  The first index card[2]. taught me the War Department/Pension Department had as much trouble with the spellings as researchers do.  There is a page in the pensions that gives one reason for the many spellings. I don’t think I have ever seen it put so plainly the challenges of a pioneer man as this.

Fold3 Pension Image Files p22 and 23 for David Burleson
The index card also gave his two wives. Yes, two, and their names, Sarah Ruth was one.  It gave Sarah’s death date and place, where and when they were married.   The second wife Mathilda,who was applying for the widow’s pension was named, her marriage to David and her death date. Unfortunately only the one child he had with Mathilda was named. People have for years thought the David Burleson married to Mathilda was a different person, and there was some contention over which one belonged to David Burleson Sr.. This is a Goldmine!
It gave his death date and place.  A little more digging through the file revealed there was a bible in the family, affidavits as to truthfulness and character of David and his wife. If I were a researcher, I would be looking for Mathilda's child's descendants for a copy of the bible... hopefully it survived.

The exciting part for guys was the description of his service.  He fought in the battle of New Orleans. 

Fold3 Pension Image Files p80 for David Burleson
  (I hear that song of  The Battle of New Orleans [3]
“In 1814 we took a little trip. Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip.
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans and we caught the bloody British in a town in New Orleans…”
How neat to know a relative, even distant one, was there, and one who overcame the foe.

This man lived longer than anyone had originally thought.  He died on January 5, 1873, in Marion, Alabama, having lived a long life of 87 years.  

I am very glad that I found this information and have now helped point others to righting David’s Family Tree... well, a couple have now found my tree and sources and are excitedly changing theirs.  There are some that haven’t looked yet, but all in good time. 

See you next month!

[1] Tennessee State Marriages, 1780-2002 [database on-line] . Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2008 p2 

[2] Fold3, War of 1812 Pension Files, Digital files on-line, . Tennessee, Burlason, David, p 1.

[3] The Battle of New Orleans (arr. J. Driftwood) Johnny Horton Pop Chart # 1 Apr. 27, 1959. [Lyrics online] Columbia Legacy Records CK 69971, Transcriber:

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Men (and women) of courage

Rebel Hand’s post last month about the concept of a Rear View Mirror put me in a very reflective mood about "history" and how “near” the past really is. With my own Rear View Mirror year being that terrible year of 1914, when the entire world shifted on its axis and changed forever, the past – to me – is never too far away. Today, the events of 1914 often come to life through the photographs of our ancestors. We are very familiar with seeing photographs of Great War soldiers, sailors, airmen, and nurses resplendent in their uniforms.

But what about earlier times? With the thought that photographs capture a single moment in time, a recent browse of historical photos produced the remarkable images below.

Last survivors of the Battle of Waterloo (18 June 1815).
Photographed at Chelsea Hospital in June 1880. 

Standing at the back: John McKay of 42nd Regiment, aged 95 - wounded at Waterloo;
Robert Norton of 34th Regiment, aged 90.
Seated: Naish Hanney of 7th Hussars, aged 88 - present at Waterloo;
Benjamin Bumstead of 73rd Regiment, aged 82 - present at Waterloo;
Sampson Webb of 3rd Foot Guards, aged 82 - present at Waterloo.

© Royal Collection

Today, in 2014, you are looking at men born more than 200 years ago in the 18th century, who, as young men, all fought at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.  After I found the above photograph on the internet, I was intrigued to see if there were photographs of other Chelsea Pensioners who took part in other nineteenth century British conflicts.

Mrs Elizabeth Evans with Chelsea Pensioners of the King's Own Royal Regiment,photographed circa 1912.  

The men include veterans of the Crimea (1853-1856), Indian Mutiny (1857), Abyssinian (1868) and Zulu (1879) Campaigns.
© Trustees of the King's Own Royal Regiment Museum
Click on the picture to read the museum's own fascinating information about Mrs Evans

The 1912 photograph has captured a moment of tenderness (and reassurance?) between Mrs Evans and one of the pensioners.

When looking into their faces and eyes, it struck me that all these Chelsea Pensioners (if you removed their mutton chops!) could have been First or Second World War veterans.

Veterans from the First Word War, filmed in 1974.  

Click on the photograph to be taken to the British Pathé's website to see the complete 5 minute film with an interviewer talking to the veterans about their experiences in the First World War.© British Pathé Film Archive

Chelsea Pensioner at the Tower of London, 2014

The continuity of time shown in these photographs is incredible.  None of the men would look out of place if they "stepped" into one of the other photographs...

Have you forgotten yet?...
For the world's events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you're a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same--and War's a bloody game...
Have you forgotten yet?...
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you'll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz--
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench--
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, 'Is it all going to happen again?'

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack--
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads--those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?...
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you'll never forget. 
Aftermath by Siegfried Sassoon, 1919.

For more information about Chelsea Pensioners, you may enjoy these sites
Film archives from the 1920s onwards about the Chelsea Pensioners
Royal Hospital Chelsea: Home of the Chelsea Pensioners
How the 17th century Hospital is being brought into the 21st century


I look forward to sharing with you more of my discoveries over the coming months - see you next time on this blog on 18th December 2014. In the meantime, you can catch me on my blog Essex Voices Past or on twitter @EssexVoicesPast

You may also be interested on my previous posts on this blog
October 2014: Writing local history
September 2014: Hidden from history - the scandalous Redit women of Suffolk
April 2014: Happy Easter 1916?
March 2014: Who do you think they were?
February 2014: Family History Show and Tell
January 2014: Family history is like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're gonna get

 © Essex Voices Past

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Do You Record Your Thoughts?


This month I am writing to you from near Weatherford Texas.  Man and I worked hard for 3 days packing up and made our escape from SE Michigan and ran south as fast as we could get here.  Sadly, we did not out run the polar vortex.  It is cold here too. And, it just might snow here in the next 24 hours.  As long a we don’t run out of propane we can stay comfortable in our beloved Tana.

As Man and I run hard from the current polar vortex affecting just about all of the USA, I wonder, do you ever record where you were, what you were doing, how you felt etc., during these historic events?  

For example:  Where were you when the twin towers came down?  Where were you when J.F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas Texas?  How did you feel when a female was voted into political office, or the first female became a Supreme Court Judge.

Here is what I recorded in my data base about the resignation of President Nixon, you may note, snicker,  we were camping at the time.

"Resignation of President Nixon, August 9, 1974: We were camping in Harrison, Michigan in a Michigan State Park, tent camping.  We met some people in the campground that were "locals", and when we heard the reports that Nixon would be resigning, they went home and brought back a small black and white television.  In 1974, tent camping, we took only necessities, and televisions were not considered a necessity.  We plugged the television in with a few extension cords and sat in our lawn chairs and watched him make his resignation speech and walk to the helicopter, turn and wave good bye."

Have you recorded where you were and how you felt about events that were not necessarily historical in quite the same way?  For example, what was your first cell phone like, when did you get it, and what did you pay for it?  How about your first black and white television, your first color television, your first computer?  How about simply recording what you paid for your current techy toys, your tablet, your cell phone, your computer, you current flat screen television.

Record your social media posts?  There’s an app for that.  SocialSafe, now,  allows you to down load many of your posts and threads from Facebook and other social media to your hard drive.  Even photos you may have posted will be saved with your threads.  I have not done so, but you can create PDF’s with their software, that means printable.  (As a side note, I personally had some issues with the software, and I have to say, the staff at SS, now,, were delightful to work with.  Some of what they asked me to do to help them gave me fits, but, they stuck with me and worked me to the solution.  Also note, that at this time we were dealing with the death of a family member, so, let’s be honest, I was not fully functional, eh?)

Keep a journal?  Maybe you are not into social media.  Do you keep a journal, or do you record such feelings and reactions and visions on your family data base? My favorite go to place, is my data base, of course.  I keep photos there, documents there, and memories there.  Not just stories of my ancestors, but, stories like where was I during the Nixon resignation, or poems someone wrote, or special birthday/anniversary cards.  I view it this way, if I would be interested in what my ancestor did or had or said or thought, then, I hope, that maybe, my descendants will be interested in what I did, or thought.  So, I record it.

Do you Blog?  Yes, a Blog can be a wonderful place to record your reactions to events, and you may be doing so without even realizing it.  Review your posts, if there are some that are special, consider saving them as PDF files, or word processing files, and attaching them to your data base.

Did you know you can print a book from your Blog?  There are several online companies that can accomplish a printed version of whatever blog posts you want to include in a hard copy.  

There are many methods of saving your thoughts on history and events. But, first you must write them down, somehow, somewhere - - Are you??

* I am in no way affiliated with SocialSafe, aka  They have not asked me to review their services, have not offered me any special services or deals if I do so.  I use the product and have been happy with them.  This should not be considered an endorsement, just a suggested site for you to investigate.  For further disclaimers, please visit Reflection's page, Disclaim THAT! Beholden to - -, for further info on this.

** Graphics courtesy of Dan's Clipart Library and Free Clip Art Now, and other online web sites.


Friday, 14 November 2014

Keeping up with the Joneses, or making sense of census place names

Well, it had to happen. Anyone researching Welsh genealogy is likely to find a Jones somewhere in their tree. I’d been lucky until I started looking at my paternal 2x great grandmother, Elizabeth Lloyd (c1820 – c1890).
I’m planning a post about how I discovered more about her on my A Rebel Hand blog, so I won’t go over the details here, but eventually I found enough evidence pointing to her being born Elizabeth Jones in Llandysul, Cardiganshire (now Ceredigion) in Wales. Jones! Now that’s going to make research into her family easier, I don’t think.
Some of the material I used came from maps. If you’re a regular reader of Worldwide Genealogy you’ll have noticed that I love maps, old and new. They can fill in so much detail about our ancestors’ lives and can help solve the problem of streets, houses and farms which have changed names as well as when they were built. I’m going to write about how maps gave me a bigger overview of the background of Elizabeth and her husband, John Lloyd, who married in 1841.
1841 Wales census via Ancestry
Here she is with her parents, Jinkin [sic] and Anne and her brother David in the 1841 census. (I still haven’t come near to pinning David down. David Jones in Wales? I mean, please!) But where are they living? It looks like Gwarllenoydor. Google couldn’t find anything like that. Luckily I had an image of Elizabeth’s marriage to John Lloyd which had Gwarllwynoedos as the farm’s name.
Image via Findmypast
Of course, census enumerators could have, ahem, eccentric spelling, and if this one didn’t speak Welsh he’d have made a stab at it without being able to recognise some words,such as llwyn, bush or grove. So armed with the new spelling I searched again and found... nothing. I went back to the census and looked for a nearby farm, Cribor, adding the parish name, Llandysul (also spelled Llandissil), to get an idea of where to look. Yes! It was near Pontshaen (also Pontsian).
Now this is where luck came in. I was looking at the family story that my Lloyds were related to Frank Lloyd Wright. I’d been intrigued by Eliot Ball’s Wikipedia Ancestor Challenge at North Sydney Family History (thanks to GeniAus’s GAGs for pointing it out). And Frank's family came from... near Pontshaen.
I tingled. I had a map of the area already saved!
Ordnance Survey map showing Gwarllwynoedos
And what a map. I’d found it by looking for Frank’s ancestors’ chapel, since his Lloyd Joneses were famous Unitarian preachers, and luckily it was a listed building. The Listed Buildings Online site led me to this Ordnance Survey (OS) map. And there, in the top right corner, was... Gwarllwynoedos. Thank you, genealogy map fairy! So, here’s a hint: if you’re looking for ancestors in Britain and they lived near an old or unusual building, try Listed Buildings Online.
Google map not showing Gwarllwynoedos
I find the OS maps better than Google's for places in the countryside – here’s the equivalent – and Bing is great for getting an idea of the landscape, which can be so important to how our ancestors lived and who they met and married.
Bing aerial view of Gwarllwynoedos area
But for finding named buildings, OS is the one for me. Why not try all three out for yourself? I’m not so keen on the OS’s own get a map feature, though.
After I’d had my genealogy happy dance, I decided to see if I could find where John Lloyd, Elizabeth Jones’s husband, lived. The marriage document said Blaencerdyn, also in the parish of Llandysul, which was backed up by the 1851 census (as Blaencerdin). I had no luck with the Blaencerdyn spelling, so I tried the other. This time Google recognised the name – but came up with Blaencerdin Fawr and Blaencerdin Fach, both in the same area of Llandysul. Fawr means big and fach means small, it’s a common pairing in Welsh place names, so I was fairly confident that I was looking in the right place.
But Google Maps didn’t recognise either spelling, so I tried GenUKI’s list of Llandysul farms. I was excited to see that Blaencerdin Fawr was in the district of Llanffrene, just like Gwarllwynoedos was. I tried the OS get a map site, and was thrilled to see that the two farms were near each other. Elizabeth and John were neighbours! So that’s how they met.
OS get a life map - you can see why I'm not mad about the picture quality
With this information, I went back to my listed buildings OS map and found Blaencerdin Fach. So I had the ‘big’ farm and the ‘little’ one on two different OS maps. I needed both on the same map, though.
OS map of both Blaencerdins
I took a gamble and zoomed in on the listed buildings OS map and got lucky. Hint – use the + and – symbols, not your mouse scroll wheel, they’re more accurate for this map.
But which one was John Lloyd’s farm? This is where Ancestry’s back and forward arrows on the census images came into their own. I’d usually pinpoint the building by seeing what their immediate neighbours were and check the enumeration district details at the beginning of the record, then hope to find the places on the map. But this time I got lucky. One page on in the 1851 census there was a family living at... Blaencerdin Fach! So I knew that John was at the ‘big’ farm, Blaencerdin Fawr.
OS First Series map showing Blaencerdin (top left) and Gwarllwynoedos (bottom right)
I could also have checked at A Vision of Britain, Ordnance Survey First Series 1:63360, 1805 to 1869, which shows the two farms as Blaencerdin and Blaencerdin Fach, or Old Maps Online, but I’d need the co-ordinates for that since Blaencerdin doesn’t come up in their search. I’d have needed more information to use the National Library of Scotland’s wonderful map-matching service, too.
There was one last map I needed to go to. My own. I mark the places where my ancestors lived using Google Maps. I added them to my Lloyds map, alongside Sadlers Hall, where John and Elizabeth's son Rhys (my great-grandfather) later lived. And only this week I was able to add Rhyol, another Jones farm. Now that was a real toughie to track down!
But this post is l-o-n-g enough already. I hope you weren’t put off by the length. I wanted to ‘show my workings’, as they told us to at school, and hope that something here gives you a helpful tip for using maps to trace ancestors from Britain, if you have any.
Have you got any map tips to pass on?

Wednesday, 12 November 2014


Remembrance is when someone remembers things

In the UK this word has become synonymous with the commemoration of those who served in the military especially those who lost their lives in service of their country.

After WW1 with the loss of almost 20 million people and the impact this had on the lives of so many more, the commemoration of the Armistice on the Western Front on 11th November 1918 at 11am started the following year. Originally the commemoration known as Armistice Day was on the anniversary.

However during WW2 Remembrance Sunday was introduced as an aid to wartime production (something about this does not sit right but I have been fortunate enough not to have lived in a country under bombardment), this tradition continues to this day.

In recent years, approaching the 100 year anniversary of the outbreak of WW1 this year, and with the passing of the last of the veterans from that conflict, many of those too young to remember the fallen have also commemorated the Armistice of WW1 on the anniversary. The commemoration was a one minute silence but in the UK we now have the two minutes in which to reflect.

Unfortunately neither war has stopped the need for military personnel although many are now deployed in peace keeping roles across the world. So the list of the fallen and injured grows ever longer each year. We must remember them.


When I started to think about my post for this month I wanted to discuss more than the commemoration of those who have served their country in the military.

There are many other members of our families who will not have served in the military for whatever reason. We must not forget them and their struggles.

So how can we as genealogists ensure that our families are remembered for who they were.
Blogs such as this and our individual blogs (which can be found on the list of authors) allow us to share what we know about our family and tell our stories. 
Some of us have started to use videos as a way of recording what we know. 
Online trees and many of the social media sites can also be a way of getting the story across.

However you do it make sure you share those memories.
If you create something this month why not enter it into the Share a Memory Contest at DearMYRTLE's Genealogy blog. 

I am planning my entry which I plan to share with my family and hope will trigger some memories.
I will post it in the facebook group I discussed in last month's post.

This month I want remembrance to be more than thinking about loss it should be about the joy of living and the ability to think back on the good times even when times are bad.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Keeping Family History Stories Alive through Fiction - Part B - "Dr. Bill" Smith

Keeping Family History Stories Alive through Fiction
Part B
"Dr. Bill" Smith

My favorite readings are biographies and family sagas… and many, if not most, biographies read much like family sagas. Or, is it the other way around? In any event, I enjoy reading family stories though out our history. Little House on the Prairie, Centennial, How the West was Won, Godfather… books, movies and television series focused on family life, much as we each see as we gather our family history and genealogy family stories, over the centuries., around the world. I like to see these stories preserved. Saving them through fiction is one approach, as I began to speak of here, last month, in Part A.

Today I would like to draw your attention to the "family saga" story in the history of literature (and as adapted to film and other media). If you have not given much thought to this subject, feel free to spend a few minutes looking at a list of the stories in this genre: Which of these are among your favorite stories? A few, I imagine. Roots, Dune, The Thorn Birds, perhaps, or Star Wars or Brideshead Revisited? They are set around the world, and throughout time: past, present and future. I noted that few, if any, have been set, in one place, in the Heartland of America. Therefore, I have created "The Homeplace Saga" set of stories to fill this need. I hope you enjoy them, as well. In addition, I hope you will be inspired, perhaps, to create your own family saga. That is, write your family history stories as a series of fictional stories, adding your own creative touches, to bring them alive for you and your readers.

Family saga stories are not always labeled as such. I just finished reading the new Jane Smiley novel, “Some Luck,” for example, that is clearly a family saga. However, it is presented as mainline literary fiction. Each chapter, a year, from 1920 to 1953, follows the stories of the lives of a farm family, from newly-weds to the death of the husband, and each of their children, and their children, and some assorted grandparents and aunts and uncle and cousins. That sure seemed like a family saga, to me, from a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. This is also the first of a trilogy of books/stories.

What will your family story look like, in fiction? Which parts will you include, which parts will you omit? Which parts will you include from your own creative mind? Give it some thought! ;-)

If you have an active interest in what I have suggested, I would recommend that you consider reading the novel, "Back to the Homeplace," see below. It is how I got started. All the rest of “The Homeplace Saga” family saga is built around it. For shorter reads, check out one or more of the several recent episodes of "The Kings of Oak Springs," <>.

See you next month! I love to read comments, so please leave one or more, including questions. 

Dr. Bill


"Dr. Bill" (Wm. L.) Smith can be found regularly at his genealogy blog, "Dr. Bill Tells Ancestor Stories" <> or his family saga blog, "The Homeplace Saga," <>. He is an original contributor, as The Heritage Tourist, to the "In-Depth Genealogy" blog with a monthly column in the "Going In-Depth" digi-mag. He also writes a monthly post for the Worldwide Genealogy Blog.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Researching the Forgotten Side of Your Family Tree

My Grandmothers Edna Palin and Christina Lee
Firstly, please let me apologise for not posting last month.  Family commitments fully occupied my time last month and my blogging was unfortunately, put on the back burner.

As some of you may know, one of my blogging sites, “The other half of my tree – stories of my female ancestors” is an attempt to record the stories of the women in my family.  I thought I would share how I approach gathering all the little tit bits that can be pieced together to build an understanding of your grandmother, great grandmothers or great aunt’s story. As we all know, due to many social and financial circumstances, piecing together their history is much more difficult to that of their male counterparts. Often our family tree is traced back through the male branches and the female branches are neglected or put aside as being too difficult.

How do you unravel the history of the females in your family tree?  I think the key to discovering the stories related to your female ancestors is to rethink your approach to researching, using clues in different ways.  It helps to expand your area of research by looking outside her immediate family and start to develop a knowledge of her community. This month, I plan to follow on from my previous post on using Excel Time line as a tool, and expand some of the research methods that can be useful to fill in the gaps on your female ancestors time line. 

1. Birth, Death and Marraige Records - The first and most important place to start with are birth, marriage and death records.  Examine these thoroughly for all details.  These can provide, information on her parents, where they lived, and their occupation. Carefully check the witnesses signatures, as these can also provide clues to close relations or friends, and by researching these names you can come across more information about your female ancestor.  An example of this is: my great great grandmother Emma Weston.  One of the witnesses on her marriage certificate was Mary Ann Weston, after a little research I found that Mary Ann was Emma's sister.  Then after obtaining Mary Ann's wedding certificate I found that one of the signatures was Alfred Weston, this clue led me to discover that Alfred Weston was Emma and Mary Ann's uncle and that he had sponsored their trip from London on the "Kate" in 1856.

2. Immigration Records - These can provide details of parents, where they lived before immigrating, and their age.  In the case of Mary Ann and Emma Weston their immigration record also provides information about their occupation, their religion and that their passage of ten shillings was paid by their Uncle Alfred Weston.

3. Census Record - These will give provide details of their address, other family members, occupation, if she attended school and parent's occupation. If your female ancestor has a name that is difficult to search for eg Mary or Anne, you can search for one of her siblings with a more unusual name to  trace family movements and events. Also when searching census records, it is a good idea to check the pages before and after your ancestors record, as quite often you will find the records of other members of the family who live nearby. The census record will also give you an indication of the your ancestors social circumstances, ie, parents and neighbour's occupations, if there are servants listed on the record, and sometimes there is an indication of land ownership and if there any workers under their employ.

4.  Naming patterns - The names of children often will provide clues to parents names. It is common for the first child is names after one of her grandmothers and often a child’s middle name is the mother’s maiden name. I often wondered why my Nanna was called Christina Sterland Lee, as I couldn't find any link to the name Sterland.  Then when I was researching her mothers branch of the family tree I discovered that her aunt Christina Sterland (nee McGregor) passed away a couple of months before she was born, and obviously she had been named after her Aunt.

Headstones can be a valuable source of information
5. Cemeteries - These can provide proof of burial, and often also provide the date of birth.  Family members buried nearby may provide details of her maiden name, names of children and links to other members of her family. It is quite likely that if she was buried in a church yard or denominational section of the cemetery that she was a member of that church's congregation.  Further searching of the church records may provide you with more information on her marriage and baptism. For example in the picture of the gravestone here, the maiden names for David McNair's wife Marion Taylor and his mother Annie Simpson are listed on the tombstone, as well as information about other members of the family.

6. Wills and Probate Records - can provide information on widows, daughters and grandchildren, including names, addresses and inherited property.

7. Newspapers - can be a valuable source of information when researching women, especially articles in smaller local papers.  Looking for obituaries or your ancestor, or her husband, parents and children can also provide more information about the person you are researching.  By searching the names of the ships that your ancestor immigrated on in the newpapers, can also be rewarding.  In the case of Emma and Mary Ann Weston, I searched for the ship on their immigration record, the "Kate"  in Trove and was able to find a couple of references to the arrival of the "Kate" into Sydney Harbour just before Christmas in 1856.

8.  Stories from family members - Take the time to listen and take notes of family stories, these can often provide a valuable clue that can link you to more information. If you have old photos, consult with older family members, often a picture can trigger a memory.  A few years ago I met my great Aunt in Adelaide, and took down a couple of pages of notes detailing some of the stories that she had told me.  Earlier this year, when reading through my notes again I noticed I had written down that my great grandmother  Caroline Hornhardt had downed.  Using this clue, I searched for a drowning in Adelaide around the time of her death, and was rewarded with a number of articles outlining the circumstances of her death.

Family Bible and Letters
9. Family Bibles,Diaries, Postcards and Letters -  If you are lucky enough to be able to source family bibles, diaries/journals and or letters, they can be a valuable source of social and genealogical history. Families often recorded important family dates in their bibles.  Diaries and letters can provide an insight into the feelings, emotions, and relationships of your female family members. They can provide you with important information on dates, places visited, addresses, how they feel about events and an insight into their culture and social history.  Postcards, and letters can give you a sense of how your ancestors feel at the time of deaths, births or war, perhaps they may provide you with a clue to an admirer or close family friend.

10. Military Service - if you female ancestor served as a nurse you can search the military records for information on where she served.  Also, by searching the military records of your ancestors husband or son you can find in their record details of mother or widow, with copies of telegrams/letters notifying of death and pension records.

Family picture taken after a funeral
11. Photos - These not only give us a visual image of our ancestor, but can also tell us so much more.By carefully examining the picture, you can read the body language between those in the picture. How are your ancestors are dressed can indicate the importance of the occasion, their economic circumstances, their occupation etc. Buildings in the picture can provide clues to where they lived, worshipped, worked or their leisure activities. Always remember to check anything written on the back of the photo as well.

Putting together the story of your female ancestor's provides an interesting challenge and involves using combination of the traditional genealogical records such as birth, death and marriage records along with their social history which can be sourced from a myriad of resources such as those outlined in this blog.  By collecting all this data into a timeline, you will be able to put together a clearer picture of your grandmother, great grandmother or great aunt's life.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

A Transatlantic Collaboration on a Yosemite Traveller

You come across some amazing stories when you start to delve into family history and such was the life of John Kinsey Smedley (left)  - a naval engineer in the American Civil War, later inventor and traveller who wrote an account of his journey into the Yosemite Valley in 1874.  

I am grateful to John's  great granddaughter Gail in California  for supplying me with photographs and other memorabilia, whilst I have undertaken additional research to compile this profile - a true transatlantic genealogy collaboration between Scotland and the USA. 

Father - Jeffrey Smedley
John Kinsey Smedley  was born 10 July 1839 in Willistown, Pennsylvania   the fourth child of Jeffrey Smedley (1811-1861) and Catherine Denny (1803-1877)); with siblings  Lydia, Amy, Isaac, Abiah T., Catherine Ann, Anna Mary, Jeffrey and Charles.  He was a fifth generation American of English Quaker  heritage.   So far the origin of his distinctive middle name has not been traced.  It was not a name from either his parents or grandparents,  though his uncle was Kersey Smedley  - a similarity in spelling which deserves more investigation

John as a Civil War Naval Engineer 
In September 1862 at the age of 23, John  enlisted in the Union Navy as a naval engineer. He  participated in blockade duties and attacks on the Confederate forts in Charleston Harbor including  Fort Sumter,  and served aboard vessels Nantucket, Wabash, Mohican and Tullahoma.

The family is fortunate to have details of his service, written down by John's daughter Hattie. 

John Kinsey Smedley resigned from the Union Navy on 13 March 1866, and the family  still holds, among the family treasures, his naval sword, sheath, and belt, shown in this photograph below.

Heading West 
Unlike his brothers, John's life was to move far beyond Pennsylvania to Utah and California.
Golden Spike Ceremony
According to a story  passed down through the family,   he was present  on 10 May 1869 at the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit, Utah to mark the joining   of two sets of rail tracks on the  completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.     This meant that travel time between America's east and west coasts was immediately reduced from months by wagon  to less than a week.

In the US Census for 1870 John  was working as a steam engineer at Corinne, Box Elder County, Utah.

In 1872 the California Voters Register showed John to be in Sacramento where he was staying at the Pacific Hotel. 

1874 - a Yosemite Journey 
In 1874 John wrote an account of his trip by coach and four to Yosemite Valley - in a journal which has been transcribed by his great granddaughter.   

Front Cover

 An entry from late May 1874 reads: 
“Crossed the Tuolumne (River) at 9pm.   Arrived at the foot of Rattlesnake Hillat 10pm. Then it was our turn to walk. 

Just think of a hill two miles long and rising 1700 feet.  We all got out to walk but Sutton who was the smallest of the party.  Up, up, up we went and I thought we had walked five miles when Chase  said "This is halfway."  Oh goodness.  Only a mile, and up, up another.  Then we began to change riding as some had done the first quarter mile.  Around and around, thinking every turn would be the last. Coats and hats off, and 11pm.  By this time, we had all climbed in the carriage.

Finally, we heard the bark of a dog, knowing a house was near.  In a few minutes we reached Priest's, the best place and table in the whole land, and a pretty girl to attend to the table.  They were all snug in bed, but when we called they got up, and in 20 minutes, had a steaming hot dinner of fricasseed chicken, fried ham, beefsteak, good coffee and tea and milk, pie and cake and strawberries.  Such a luscious supper!  May Priest's shadow never grow less!

We enjoyed our supper and did not tarry long before retiring where we had good beds and slept sounder than ever.  In the morning, Saturday the 23rd, the sun was shining beautifully and when I got up and went down, I saw we were really above the clouds and to look down that awful long hill I could only laugh and think we would have the best of Old Hill when we returned.  Sure did!”

This is a section of Old Priest Grade – or Rattlesnake Hill as John Kinsey Smedley knew it, so named for Rattlesnake Creek flowing down the centre of Grizzly Gulch in Tuolumne County, CA.  It’s a shorter, narrower, steeper (15-17% grade) route up one side of the gulch.  It rises 1700 ft. in elevation in 2 miles.  The main highway on the opposite side of the gulch known as New Priest Grade (built in 1915) takes over 6 miles to climb the same rise in elevation with countless switchbacks. 

In California John worked as an engineer for rail, mill and mine companies from Monterey to Silver Mountain in Alpine County.  In the same journal as he recorded his Yosemite journey,  he jotted down notes about turntables being in good shape or needing repairs, and work needing to be done to mill and mine machinery. 

At the age of 38 in 1878, John Kinsey Smedley  married,  in San Francisco,  Ella Chase Taylor ten years his junior, with their only child Harriet (Hattie) Bell born a year later.    

Ella’s mother died when she was a young girl and she was raised with her father’s sister’s family back east,  while he went out west to Sacramento, California to open an apothecary shop and tend, as a doctor, to injured gold miners.  

Her father  remarried whilst in California and he and his second wife had a daughter  Eliza. On the death of her father and step mother, Ella traveled to California by ship around the “horn” of South America – with a piano, no less - to  look after her younger half sister.
Ella (right) with her sister Eliza

The voters' registers and census returns  continued to track John's moves across the state from San Francisco  to Alameda. 

In the 1889 census,  he was still in San Francisco, described as an Engineer with Ella's  occupation given as "Keeping Home".  

John later found steady employment with the US Post Office but his love of engineering did not fade and in 1898 he invented a "New Streetcar Fender" (right)   to be attached to the front of trolley cars - though there is no evidence that it was actually adopted in practice. 

Ten years on, in 1900, the family was in Oakland, Almeda with John described as:   aged 61,  a Stationary Engineer.  Besides Ella and Hattie was a "roomer" - 45 year old Elizabeth Soundry, a German widow. 

John Kinsey Smedley (1839-1905)

John died 22nd July 1905 at Alameda buried at San Francisco Cemetery with his gravestone paying tribute to his Civil War Service.

John Kinsey Smedley

With special thanks to John's great granddaughter Gail
for her contributions to this post, which is based on earlier posts on the Smedley family  that appeared on my personal blog. 

  • Family Notes, including those written by John Kinsey' Smedley's  daughter and transcribed by his great great granddaughter.
    • US Civil War Draft Registration Records 1863-1865
    • US Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles 1861-1865 
    • Officers of the Continental & US Navy & Marine Corps 1795-1900. 
    • US Navy Pension Records
    • US Veterans Grave-sites
    • US Federal Census Returns 1850-1900
    • US Quaker Meeting Records 
    • Obituaries of the Members of the Society of Friends in America,  1861.
    • Quaker Journal, 1877
    • California Voter Registers  
    • US City Directories 
    • California Death Index 
    • US National Cemetery Interment Control Form  
    •  Biographical and Portrait Encyclopedia of Chester County, Pennsylvania