Sunday, January 10, 2021

Thousands of Miles and 200 Years


While the USA is in turmoil, it's hard to think about history. But sitting on my keyboard is a slip of paper which has graced my computer since being found in a fortune cookie several years ago. The advice is very timely:

The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.

So today I'm looking back 200 years, as promised to relatives on a Zoom call. 

Two very old pocket Bibles were passed into my keeping in 2019. While they don't add much to my research, they are precious family heirlooms that traveled from Scotland to America. The images are shared today for cousins near, far and future.

First will be photos of the Bibles. Second will explain briefly to whom they belonged. Third will tell what little they reveal to me and the questions they raise.


Taylor/Mitchell/Henderson Pocket Bible Images

These pocket Bibles are roughly the dimensions of an index card, or 3 inches by 5 inches. Both have missing pages and even missing sections. They are each part of a two-volume set. The date on the title pages is 1816 and they were printed in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Ann Taylor Mitchell Henderson's Old Testament, with Red Cover
William Taylor's New Testament, Containing Part of the Old Testament, with Brown Cover

A similar Bible, well preserved, was sold on EBay. This is how the covers would have looked when they were intact. The front part of each cover, including the tab, is now missing, as is the strap on the back cover.

Bible Sold on EBay
Red Bible Back
Brown Bible Back

Each had a volume number on the spine. 


Brown Bible, Volume 2
Red Bible, Missing Volume Number

The red Bible shows very little wear compared to the brown Bible. The red Bible is also missing a lot of pages.

Red Bible Wear
Brown Bible Wear




The red Bible has, written on the flyleaf, in ink traced over pencil: Peter Mitchell, Ann Taylor, 1822. There may also be the notation of a volume number, but that is unclear, as are some other marks.

Red Bible Owned by Peter Mitchell and Ann Taylor Mitchell Henderson

The flyleaf of the brown Bible has the words Willim Taylors Bible and No 2, along with stray marks. The next page has the words, written in pencil only, David Henderson, Fort Winnebago, Wis.

Brown Bible Originally Owned by William Taylor

Brown Bible Second Owner, David Henderson, Fort Winnebago, Wisconsin


Taylor/Mitchell/Henderson Pocket Bible Owners

The family immigrated to Wisconsin from Linktown, Fife, Scotland, which is on the north side of the Firth of Forth. I've written about the family members in the past and the posts are linked here.

Ann Taylor (ca 1800 - ca 1886) married Peter Mitchell in 1820 and the first of their four children was born in 1822. Ann married David Henderson (ca 1799 - ca 1880) in 1841. Ann's relationship to William Taylor is not known, but he was probably a brother or cousin. Ann had five children, three of whom have living descendants in 2021. The children were:

George Mitchell (1822-1907) married Phoebe Jane Drummond Gleason, no issue.

Helen Mitchell (1824-1841) died young.

John T Mitchell (1827-1911) married Mary McGregor. Two children (possibly three) have living descendants: Jennie Mitchell Duff (1866-1953) and John Gavin Mitchell (1868-1945).

Margaret Mitchell (1830-1885) married Joseph McFarlane. Their middle son, Walter McFarlane (1864-1922), had one daughter with issue: Ruth Dorothy McFarlane Ekstrom (1898-1931). This is my line.

David Henderson, Jr. (1843-1908) married Jane "Jennie" Robbins. Their eldest son, George Henderson (1887-1981), had one son with issue: Harold Henderson. The Bibles were found in Harold's basement after his death. His daughter "Connie" sent them to me.


Taylor/Mitchell/Henderson Pocket Bible Clues and Questions

The Bibles pushed me to dig into our roots in Scotland and Wisconsin. Unfortunately I found very little, especially about William Taylor, whose name is common and hard to research and sort out.
It appears that William Taylor's Bible was passed to David Henderson, Jr. If William had returned to Scotland or had children in America, his Bible would have gone to someone else. This is a clue that William died in America, without issue. William appears with the family in both the 1841 Scotland census and the 1850 Wisconsin census. No other Wisconsin records have been found. I look forward to digging into courthouse records when our lives return more to normal.

The names in Ann's Bible are an unexpected blessing that confirms her maiden name and her first husband as Peter Mitchell. Why is there a date of 1822? Was the Bible a gift to celebrate or record the birth of their first child? Were there pages, now missing, to record births, deaths and marriages? Why is her Bible fairly unused? The census tells us that she was literate. We know she sent and received letters. If she had a New Testament volume, it did not survive. Could it be that she preferred it and wore it out?
I also wonder about the long journey taken by Ann and her Bible. In late April of 1850, she and her husband and two youngest children started the journey of a lifetime. The first step was to travel the 60 miles to Glasgow and the port of Clyde. The family then boarded the Barque Clutha, which sailed from Clyde on May 2nd, for a five week journey to New York City. It must have taken a lot of courage to get on that ship, knowing they would never see Scotland again. They arrived in New York on June 8th, and had another thousand miles to travel to Wisconsin. How did they make that journey? They may have sailed on the Great Lakes, or traveled by rail, wagon or riverboat. Or they may have used several modes of transportation. Did Ann turn to her Bible for comfort over the many weeks of travel? Did she carry the Bible in her handbag to keep it handy, or was it packed away for safe keeping?

We will never know the answers to these questions and will never know the complete stories of these ancestors. Unfortunately, dementia has stolen the mind of the last Henderson family member who may know some of these family stories.
I deeply appreciate "Connie" sharing these heirlooms with me, her distant cousin, so that their images can be preserved for the use of future generations.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Blind Spot


Do you have a genealogical blind spot? While tracing my ancestral states, I recognized a blind spot in my own research. Recognition is the first step in changing behavior. The second step is to tell family so that they will tease me about it forever. I'm counting on you, brother!

You've seen blind spots in online trees. Too many women without parents is one pattern that I see frequently. Women can definitely be hard to research, and my blind spot involves women, but in a subtle way. 

There are five factors that will move an ancestor into my "before and after" blind spot:

  1. A late-life migration. 
  2. Enough is known about the migrating family that research can proceed backwards in time.
  3. Migrating away from a married child (generally a daughter) in my direct line.
  4. The migrating family has a name that is challenging to research, with either a common name or a name that is often misspelled.
  5. The migrating family is not the focus of research at that time.

A brief example of how this blind spot works is my 5th-great-grandfather, Thomas Carter. 

In 1834, in Morgan County, Illinois, he gave permission for his underage daughter to marry. That 1834 record created a dividing line in my mind. I was far more interested in his life before 1834 than his life after that date. His life and death after 1835 went into the blind spot due to the five factors.

Factor 1. Late-life migration. Thomas apparently left Illinois between the state census of 1835 and the federal census of 1840. His age is uncertain, but he was probably over 60 when he migrated. At that time, 60 would have been considered an old man.

Factor 2. Backward research is possible. I knew enough about where Thomas came from and his parents' names that I didn't really need to research forward and find his probate. 

Factor 3. Leaving a child behind. His daughter died young in Illinois, where her husband and her descendants lived for many more years. Originally I assumed that Thomas had also died in Illinois, but later learned from other researchers that he had migrated to Iowa, leaving behind his daughter and son-in-law.

Factor 4. Challenging name to research. A search on Ancestry shows over 100 men named Thomas Carter in the 1840 federal census. That was far too many to quickly analyze. 

Factor 5. Surname not in scope. Since my surname focus was on the allied Lake family, I set Thomas aside and pretty much forgot about him and his wife. I did no in-depth research on the Carter family and never even validated the research of my cousins. That all went into the to-research-someday list. You know, the research list that never gets done!

This is not the only ancestor that I've placed in this particular blind spot, unfortunately. One reconciled itself several years ago, which was the first time I recognized this blind spot. I thought it wouldn't happen again -- I was wrong.

So family, keep reminding me to check those blind spots! For my other readers, is there anything hiding from you? Do you see patterns of missed research?

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Your American Ancestral Map


How many US states and Canadian provinces are associated with your family history? The question was asked as a survey sent this week from the New England Historic Genealogical Society. It's an interesting question if your ancestors, like mine, have lived for many generations in North America and have migrated from place to place. I was surprised at the number of states where my ancestors were born, lived and/or died.

So I invite you to grab a map and your pedigree chart and follow the trails of your various ancestral branches. The NEHGS was specific in their survey about not counting cousin locations and not counting short stays, but rather having a real ancestral connection to a place. But your curiosity can take you wherever you like.

My total was 25 states, plus unexpected burials in a 26th state and in Mexico. Those burials are quite a permanent connection, but not exactly a family association. For several end of line ancestors, I know a state of birth or of residence, but nothing about their ancestors who lived and perhaps died in those states.

NEHGS, with their focus on New England, asked about Canadian provinces, but not Mexican states. That is an unfortunate omission, as the US truly is a melting pot. My grandchildren would add locations in New England, Canada and Mexico to their maps. 

I hope you are inspired to map your ancestral history -- here's mine.