Monday, February 6, 2012

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy, Week 5, Life Experiences

The idea of blogging about my genealogy, as well as sharing layouts, grabbed hold of me while watching the live feed from RootsTech 2012. I really need a great source of prompts to give me direction -- otherwise I'd be wandering randomly. I missed the first four weeks and am overdue for week 5, but better late than never. The prompts are coming from Amy Coffin at WeTree and are published at Geneabloggers.

Week 5 prompt is:
  • Sometimes the challenges in life provide the best learning experiences. Can you find an example of this in your own family tree? Which brick wall ancestor are you most thankful for, and how did that person shape your family history experience?
There is one ancestor whose life experiences must have been overwhelming, yet she persevered. She's no longer a brick wall, but I have not finished finding her story. She is the Elizabeth whose name I proudly bear.

Elizabeth Childers Wilson Vossler 
The Value of Collateral

Club Scrap Generations digital kit
Looking for Elizabeth

To find Elizabeth, I had to collaborate with many members of my extended family. To push back each generation required me to look sideways for assistance, using contemporary collateral lines. I could not have found her by myself or by pushing straight back. Nor would I have any of these photos without the help of others.

The story begins with my paternal grandmother, Ruth Dorothy McFarlane and her sister Margaret Elizabeth McFarlane. My grandparents died very young, leaving my father and his siblings orphaned. Aunt Peggy stepped in to provide as much guidance as she could, though the children went to boarding school. The gaps in family knowledge are vast, compared to the rich storehouse that came from my mother's family.

I toyed around with genealogy for several years before getting serious about finding my roots. When my maternal grandfather died, it struck me how much history was being lost from his generation. I immediately delved into his widow's family, as I knew my time with her would be limited.

Dad was jealous, so I worked a bit on his ancestry as well. My father and uncle weren't even sure of their grandmother's name, so my first stop for this line was the census. This was an early mistake. I needed to talk to other relatives, but did not. After all, they all knew the same facts, right?

One day in 1999, my father asked what I had learned about his grandmother. I was stuck. I knew her name was Mary E. and that in each census from 1900 to 1920, she knew that she was born in Illinois and her father in Germany, but her mother's birthplace was USA.  There were several candidates in the Illinois death index, but I didn't know which one to start with. 

Dad walked away and thought about it for a while. He then asked if I had talked to my Uncle C. Embarrassed, I admitted to omitting that step. I failed to consider that the children had spent time with different relatives over the years and that indeed they each would have different pieces of family history. Today I understand that even close siblings may have absorbed their experiences differently.

Dad explained that while the rest of the family had been overseas with their father at his death, Uncle C had been in Chicago with his paternal grandmother. To her fell the task of telling little C that his father and maternal grandmother had died within a day of each other. Sure enough, there was the name in the death index: McFarlane Mary Ellen 1935-10-23 Chicago.

If I had talked to Uncle C, I would have saved a year of fumbling. 

I sent off to the Illinois archive for the death certificate, but when it arrived, my hopes were crushed. Her father's name was given as George Vossler of Germany. Her mother's information was all marked unknown. Her birthplace read only Illinois. Now what? 

Mary Ellen Vossler was born in March, 1870. Maybe she would be in the 1880 census soundex of children under 10, and she should certainly appear in the 1870 census with her parents. Several more months passed. On each trip to the Family History Center in Mesa, AZ, I would spend some time with the census indexes. I tried every spelling variation I could think of. I asked a German friend how she might pronounce Vossler and she suggested Fusler. Still I could not find George Vossler in the indexes.

Among the available records at the FHC, I found two marriages in Decatur, IL, for George Vossler. Was I looking at my ancestor? I was stuck again until Easter of 2000. Uncle C was hosting two other uncles and his wife invited me to dinner. You bet I went!

Uncle David had a clue for me.

While discussing the puzzle, my Uncle David gave me another piece of the puzzle. Mary Ellen had also been orphaned at a young age. She went by the nickname Mollie and she claimed to have been raised by a childless aunt and uncle in far southern Illinois. Aunt K knew where Mollie's grave was and that it was unmarked. I then broadened my search to all Vossler families in southern Illinois. The wall held.

There was one more person who had information. In 1969, my younger brother, a mere child, had interviewed our older relatives in the Chicago area. He had drawn out a family tree, but it was in storage while he was overseas. He promised to retrieve it when he came home to Arizona later in the year. The wait felt interminable, but it was worth it. There on his tree was something no one else remembered.

Mary Ellen Vossler McFarlane had an older brother named John Vossler.

His death certificate again showed mother's information unknown, but his birthplace said Decatur, IL. The informant had been his sister, Mary McFarlane. Hallelujah! I researched every Macon County record I could find, but other than two marriage records, there was silence.

Computerized indexes were the key.

While at the FGS 2000 conference in Salt Lake City, I bought a wonderful CD that provided a searchable Illinois 1870 census index. I filtered and sorted and combed through it and finally found the family. George FASSLER from Wurttemberg with wife Elizabeth from Alabama, and children John and Mary. But who were these other children? Three boys named Wilson were in the household: Sylvester (14) born in Alabama, and Henry (10) and George (8), both born in Arkansas. Next door was Joel Wilson (12), also born in Alabama.

Elizabeth Vossler was married before.

Oh, my! How would I find a Wilson needle in an Arkansas haystack in 1860? Or would they have been in Alabama? I knew that Sylvester Wilson would be the only unique name that would lead me to the right family. I did some methodical searching of the census index and microfilm and found the John Wilson family in Searcy County, AR. There were even more Wilson children, older than Sylvester. I added them to my files. Armed with the childrens' names, I headed for the various forums then available. 

Linda Cates posted about Sylvester Wilson.

Linda was a descendant of an older Wilson son, and was looking for missing information on the family, leaning on the name of Sylvester Wilson, also known as Vess. We both were leveraging this common collateral line with an unusual name. Had she not left this information readily available, would I have broken through?

From her postings, I was able to find the records showing that Elizabeth Childers had married widower John Wilson in Blount County, AL. Linda and I met in 2001, and shared our research. I was able to connect with other Childers descendants. I also connected with Suzy Burt, a researcher who was involved with a family association that published a book on another collateral line, Our Blackburn Branch.

Without my collateral relatives, and those of my ancestors, I would have been stuck far longer than the couple of years this quest required. Coming early in my research, I truly learned to appreciate the value of collateral.

Elizabeth's Story
Courage in Adversity

Elizabeth Childers was born about 1834 in Blount County, Alabama. She married John N Wilson on December 10, 1853. He was the father of 7 children and had 5 more with Elizabeth. 

When the rumblings of war began in 1860, John joined an Arkansas Peace Society, also known as the Yellow Rag Boys. Along with others, he refused to enlist in the Confederate forces, but was forced to serve on pain of death. After making his way home partway through the war, he was bushwacked, likely by Confederate sympathizers. His teenage son escaped the attack and watched as his father was hanged.

The Wilson boy ran from Arkansas, joined another traveler and ended up in Illinois. Seeing a place of peace and plenty, he returned to Arkansas for his family. Elizabeth Wilson sold the farm for Confederate dollars and took her young sons to Illinois. The Wilson family legends are silent on the the intervening time before her marriage to George Vossler. How did she survive with small children and worthless money? Did she regret selling the farm, her only collateral?

George Vossler and Elizabeth Childers married in Macon County, IL, on October 30, 1866, and are last seen in the 1870 census. Wilson legend says they went to Missouri and disappeared. The youngest Wilson boys were placed into the guardianship of their elder siblings in Searcy County in January of 1875. The two Vossler children next turn up in the Chicago city directories in the early 1890s. 

Elizabeth's story is still unfinished. I want to know where she went and what happened to her. I am waiting for the day the right records come online. Then I can close the chapter for myself and all our collateral relatives.

Where Did the Photos Come From?

Uncle C and his wife have a number of family photos in their keeping. I took my portable scanner to their home one day and Aunt K took the photos out of frames and out of albums and allowed me to scan them. The two photos at the bottom of the layout are from their collection.

The photo at the top left is scanned from the book, Our Blackburn Branch.

The photo at the top right is an image of an early daguerreotype. The image was placed in a booklet about the Cox family that was in the keeping of Suzy Burt. Since the lines were not hers, Suzy sent the booklet to me. After scanning the relevant parts of the booklet, I passed it along to a Childers-Cox descendant. 

Only through collateral lines was I able to acquire these scans.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed reading your story, so fascinating.