Tuesday, August 21, 2018

On Top of the Blue Ridge

Did your ancestors migrate through the beautiful Shenandoah Valley along the Great Warrior Trail? For many years the valley was a major route for migration and travel between Pennsylvania and North Carolina. This 1751 map shows dramatically how the mountains in Virginia limited westward migration and controlled the direction of travel. Today Interstate 81 parallels the old trails.

Map from Library of Congress

Some of your ancestors, like Thomas Jefferson and like some of mine, may have chosen to live in the Shenandoah Valley or surrounding mountains. Whenever I drive through that area, the beauty awes me and I understand their choice.

Soon, for the first time in his life, my younger brother will spend a few days in the magnificence of the lower Shenandoah. If you are a cousin, do read on to see if one of our shared ancestors lived in this beautiful area. Someday you might even wish to follow the trail yourself.

So, brother, this post is for you!

Near the orange marker at Glen Wilton, John Derrick owned land and it was the area where he died about 1790. It is also where he married Anna Maria Dunkelberger. Here Philip Fry married Maria Magdalena Derrick in 1781. The Fry family migrated on to Tennessee and Alabama. Philip had 25 children and many of our DNA matches are from this line in my father's ancestry.

Switching to my mother's family, the dark red marker is in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, formerly Greenbrier County. Members of the Greaton family were taxed in this area. David Greaton moved on to Ohio and Illinois. His daughter Elizabeth married Lazarus Maddox in Ohio in 1816.

Also in Greenbrier County, John Kelly was born about 1779. He moved on to Tennessee where his  great-granddaughter married Benjamin Franklin Pryor.

The dark pink marker is at the community of Hanging Rock. In this area a large group of Swiss Anabaptists made their home near the end of the 1700s. Today this group is known as Church of the Brethren. Our ancestors and relatives who settled here included members of the following families: Peffley, Rettinger, Gerst/Garst, Bosseck, Graybill, Borndragar, Mangus, and many more. My ancestors moved on to Indiana and Kansas, but many family members stayed in Virginia.

Lastly the purple marker sits near the stunning Blue Ridge Parkway. Nicholas Allee in 1797 was granted 38 acres that adjoined land he already owned. The land is partially described as
... Lying and being in the County's of Montgomery, and Franklin, the greater part thereof, in the County of Montgomery on the dividing Ridge, including the heads of Daniel's Run, the waters of Black water, and bounded ... top of said ridge ...
What amazes me about this grant is that it specifically mentions the Blue Ridge (dividing ridge) and lists the watercourses in a way that the land can be identified within a few miles. The counties no longer have a common line, as Floyd County was carved out of Montgomery County in 1831. The creek named Daniel's Run no longer appears to begin at the Blue Ridge, but its probable course can be seen on topographical maps. Using Deed Mapper software to determine the shape of the property and researching the watercourses,  I believe that it included land that today is part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, including milepost 144.8, the Pine Spur Overlook. I'm looking forward to visiting this site and seeing what my ancestors saw. 

Nicholas Allee died in 1808 and his descendants moved on to Kentucky, Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas. His legacy lives on in hundreds of descendants and his land enchants thousands of visitors to the Blue Ridge each year.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

A Letter Home: 52 Ancestors

One little error on a ship's passenger list created a brick wall in my Wisconsin research. A combination of serendipity and a miracle demolished that wall.

If you are part of my Dad's family or just appreciate a genealogical mystery, please stay with me through this amazing tale. If not, go straight to the miracle at the end of this post.

The serendipity started on the day of my Dad's memorial service. One of my cousins told me that he was planning a fall trip to Wisconsin. He would be willing to do some family research for me if he could. That would be nice, but there was a big problem -- I had been stuck for years and had not spent much time on these branches. With a willing victim, I decided it was time to dig back into Wisconsin. Thanks for the push, cousin!

You may think I'm strange, but I believe that those of us who research our family history receive inspiration from the other side: angels, spirits, heaven, whatever term fits for you. I started talking to my Dad asking him to send me help for all his brick walls.

My first step was reviewing specific surnames in DNA cousin matches for my Dad and Uncle. It looks like DNA matches will eventually solve our McFarlane puzzle, but there were no useful clues for the Mitchell family. It was time to face the possibility of a Mitchell surname study.

I knew very little about Margaret Mitchell. Her surname came from my great-grandfather's death certificate, which is not a primary source. Was the name even correct? She had been born in Scotland about 1830 and her eldest known child was born in Wisconsin about 1858. Her husband, Joseph McFarlane, had no wife living with him in Columbia County in 1850. There has been no marriage record found. She supposedly had family in Wisconsin.

That left some questions. Did they marry in Scotland and immigrate at different times? Had she been married before? Did she come to America as a Mitchell or a McFarlane or under some other name? I couldn't find any passenger list that fit. Also, not all ship lists have survived.

One of the challenges to finding a migrating ancestor is to be sure the person in the new location is found with some of the same people in the old location. That's true whether the move is across the ocean or across a state. Unfortunately I had no family context for Margaret.

However, there was one clue that I had never examined in depth. In the 1850 census of Columbia County, a woman named Margaret Mitchell of the right age was listed. She looked like a married woman, but there was no way to be sure. She was in the same household as a man named George Mitchell. Was she a wife or a sister or even a cousin? Was there a family connection to the Henderson family with whom they were living or were they hired hands? It was time to research this household, especially George Mitchell.

The 1850 census record is very hard to read. The head of the family is David Henderson, age 51, a weaver born in Scotland. With him are Ann Henderson, age 50 or 51; David Henderson, age 7; George Mitchel, age 27; Margaret Mitchel, age 20; William Taylor, age 57. Everyone was born in Scotland.

I had already seen the passenger list for the Henderson family. It looked as if Margaret Henderson had come to America with the family and then married George Mitchell. The Barque Clutha had arrived in New York on June 8, 1850, having sailed from Glasgow, Scotland. On board were David Henderson with wife Ann and family, listed as David Henderson and Margaret Henderson. The word Do stands for ditto. On the next page was Hugh Taylor, who may or may not have been the same man with them in Wisconsin.

By the time of the 1860 census, both Margaret Mitchell and William Taylor had disappeared from the family. Had she died or was she my Margaret? Since looking at these records in earlier years, indexes for the Scotland census of 1841 had come online at Ancestry. It was time to search through the 1841 census for George Mitchell, born about 1823.

There, in the 1841 census, was the answer to the family relationships. Had I braved the paywall at Scotland's People years ago, I might have unraveled this sooner. However, I hate how they structure their prices, so had avoided it. In order to look at the images of the census and church records, I have now conceded defeat and they have acquired a bit of my money.

In the 1841 census, David Henderson was living in the same household as Ann Mitchell and her three children: George, John and Margaret. The ages were rounded down in this census, so they do not align perfectly with the ages in the US 1850 census.

John Wilson was the head of the household. Also with him were Elizabeth Wilson; Ann Mitchell, age 40; George Mitchell, age 18; John Mitchell, age 10 (he was about 13); Margaret Mitchell, age 10; William Taylor, age 40; and David Henderson, age 40. Everyone was born in the County of Fife. William Taylor was listed as a tailor, but the rest of the males were linen hand-loom weavers, an occupation that was in decline due to the industrial revolution. Young John was an apprentice. They lived on a lane named Gas Wynd in the community of Linktown, which is near the town of Kirkcaldy and across the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh.

Research in the records of the Abbotshall Parish of the Church of Scotland revealed the parents of the Mitchell children were Peter Mitchell and Ann Taylor. They had another daughter, Helen, who had died. Ann Taylor had married Peter Mitchell on May 14, 1820. Peter's assumed death was not recorded.

The widowed Ann married David Henderson on November 22, 1841. Their son's birth was recorded as January 15, 1843, in Linktown.

The births of the Mitchell children were all recorded in the Abbotshall church records on a single page, rather than on pages spread over several years. It appears to have been either a transfer into the parish or an effort by the minister to document families, as other families are listed in the same mixed way on the page.

The Mitchell children were George born October 18, 1822; Helen born April 14, 1824 and died about January 19, 1841; John born October 7, 1827; and Margaret born February 26, 1830.

Returning to the erroneous passenger list, David Henderson, Sr., was the step-father to young Margaret, who then had sailed to America in 1850 under the Henderson name instead of the Mitchell name.

Having found all these lovely records for the family, the next question was whether they are my family or just a coincidence.

I traced the family forward, finding that John and George had lived near Margaret Mitchell McFarlane in Wisconsin at times. John Mitchell had moved to Chicago, where Margaret's only surviving son had later moved. There was a lot of circumstantial evidence, but I wasn't fully comfortable that this was the right Margaret Mitchell. All the other Mitchell lines ended or were impossible to find.

The next step was tracing the David Henderson family forward. Was it true that there was family in Wisconsin? Were there living cousins?

The descendants of David Henderson are few. I found two elderly gentlemen who are living, one of whom has a unique name. Searching for him on Google turned up a legal proceeding having to do with his land. The other gentleman has several descendants. One of the daughters -- I'll call her Connie -- was listed as having the power of attorney for her uncle. Included on the legal documents was her full address. The legal documents had disappeared from the internet only a couple of weeks later and were apparently online for only about a month. Finding her address so easily was truly serendipity.

I created a descendants chart for Ann Taylor, her children and grandchildren. I wrote an actual letter explaining who I was and asked if Connie could put me in touch with the family historian, if there was one. I sent off the letter and chart in the mail and waited impatiently to see if she would answer.

Connie responded by email and we've had an ongoing conversation for several weeks. She reported that her uncle was the one who knew all the family history, but now has dementia. She had never heard the names Mitchell or McFarlane, but would check into documents that she had received from her grandmother.

A few days later she sent me a scan of an amazing letter from 1862. The letter, which follows, proves without a doubt that Ann Taylor was the mother of Margaret Mitchell McFarlane and that George Mitchell was Margaret's brother. It also reveals a previously unknown child of Margaret's that fills in a six-year age gap in her children.

Connie had collected all the papers from her uncle's house when she moved him out. She'd thrown most of it away. For some reason he had saved this one old letter, but she didn't know why. In turn, she had saved it. I suspect they were curious as to the identity of the people who wrote the letter and to whom the letter was sent. The survival of this letter is truly a miracle and for me to have found the person who had the letter is yet another miracle. Connie and I have agreed that she will send the letter to the museum in Monroe County, Wisconsin, where the director has agreed to add it to their historical archives.

The letter to Ann Taylor Mitchell Henderson reads as follows:

Jefferson, Monroe
April 1st 1862
Dear Mother
     It is at present my sorrowful duty to inform you of the death of Margaret's youngest boy .. he died in the morning of the 21st of March at 4 A.M. and was buried on the saturday afternoon following. His trouble was Measles and whooping cough. Her oldest boy (Joseph) has had the same troubles and has not yet got well? of the whooping cough. Many of the children round here ar similarly afflicted, also diphtheria or putrid sore throat is pretty prevalent in this part of the country. As for the rest, all are well.
     I am living with Margaret for a little till I can get my own house fixed. I received your last letter and Mr. McFarlane also received the one you sent him. We both join in writing this and hoping you are all well. The snow is wearing very slowly away and we are afraid the spring will be rather late cattle feed is scarce, many have nothing at all to give their animals - we are not so bad but don't care how soon the grass were up.
     I can't devine who is meant by Betty Brand let me know when you write.
Yours Afftly,
Geo. Mitchell
Joseph McFarlane
St Mary's P.O.
Monroe, Wis.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Take a Sidestep: 52 Ancestors

Sometimes the only way to push back a generation is to step sideways and research siblings and cousins of your ancestors. Stuck in Wisconsin research for years, I recently decided to research a man named George Mitchell, who might be a relative of my great-great-grandmother. Indeed, he turned out to be her brother. The miracle of how that relationship was proven is a story for another day. Today, I'm introducing George to my family.

George Mitchell was born October 18, 1822, in Fife, Scotland. It appears that he and his siblings had their birth dates recorded at the new church when they moved within Fife, so the actual parish of birth is unclear as of this writing. In the 1841 census of Scotland, he was listed as an 18-year-old with the occupation of linen hand-loom weaver. Power looms were soon to threaten his livelihood.

In the spring of 1849, George left Scotland for America, arriving in May, possibly on the ship Cuthbert. Six months later he was living in Columbia County, Wisconsin. There he declared his intent to be naturalized, but he did not recall his exact arrival date in New York.

George was farming by September of 1850, when the census taker came calling, and he continued farming for the rest of his life. By 1859 he was paying taxes on just over 72 acres of land in section 9 township 13 north range 9 east, Fort Winnebago Township.

George Mitchell's 1859 tax receipt is still in the hands of a family member

George was a single man of nearly 40, yet living with his mother and her second family in June of 1860. In November of the following year, no doubt after the harvest, he sold his land to his mother. Some 80 miles to the west, in Jefferson Township, Monroe County, he joined his younger siblings. He lived for a while with his sister Margaret Mitchell and her husband, Joseph McFarlane, and their children.

A man named George Mitchell was purchasing land in Jefferson Township as early as 1858; however, it is unclear if it was the same George. The land was within two miles of land purchased by his brother and brother-in-law, so it is possible. There was another George Mitchell in the area and there has also been some online confusion with others. This is an opportunity for further research in land records.

Men in Jefferson who were subject to military service were placed on a list in August, 1862. George and his younger brother John were both on the list. However, it appears that neither served during the Civil War. Other local men did serve, among them a man named Emanuel P Gleason. He died in Louisiana in 1865, leaving a widow and three small children. George Mitchell married Phoebe Jane Drummond (or Drummonds) Gleason on May 10, 1866, becoming the step-father and guardian of the children: Mary, Samuel and Louis. George and Phoebe had no other children.

By the time of the 1870 census, George had moved a few miles north to Angelo Township. In 1874, he purchased, from the federal government, 160 acres in Angelo Township, in section 34 of township 17 north range 3 west. By 1897, much of this land, plus more, had been transferred to his stepsons, Samuel H Gleason and Louis N Gleason. It may be that George had invested in land with the military pension he was collecting on behalf of the children.

Throughout the rest of his life, the census reported he was a farmer, but the 1880 census said he was teaching school. That may have been an error on the part of either the census taker or a census copyist. Or it may have been something he tried in his later years or did in the winter.

George Mitchell died on July 24, 1907. His death record shows that the retired farmer died of exhaustion with contributing factors of myocarditis and senility. He was buried at Farmers Valley Cemetery, Monroe County, Wisconsin. Phoebe Jane Drummond Gleason Mitchell died on January 20, 1912, and was buried in the same cemetery.