Saturday, January 27, 2018

Kidnapped: 52 Ancestors

The ship sat along the coast of England, awaiting high tide. It would set sail in a few hours on the long journey to the Virginia Colony. Ashore, the sailors enjoyed the last taste of freedom that they would have for perhaps two months. In addition to looking for fun, they were looking for something else -- children to kidnap. Two young boys playing near the waterfront were just right. They were old enough to work, perhaps 13, yet small enough to be easily snatched.

Evan Ragland and his friend found themselves aboard ship, torn from home and family. When the ship reached Virginia, they were sold into indentured servitude. Evan was well educated and became a secretary to his master, a planter of the middle class. Eventually he married one of the planter's daughters and inherited, with his wife, 500 acres of land. Together they were the progenitors of the Ragland family that today spreads throughout the United States.

Is this family legend truth or fiction? It has been repeated in the family for over 300 years. It has also been discussed and debated for many years. Thousands of children were kidnapped and brought to the American Colonies in the 17th century, so it is certainly possible.

If I could invite an ancestor to dinner, it would be Evan Ragland. His story is unique, engaging and horrifying. I'd love to hear his tale in his own words. Was he the Evan born in 1656, the son of Thomas Ragland and Jane Morgan of St. Decuman's Parish in Somerset? Was he kidnapped or did he sign on willingly? How was the voyage? What was his education? How did he transition from servitude to marriage?

Evan Ragland's death was recorded in the records of St. Peter's parish, New Kent County, Virginia. He died in 1717, just over 300 years ago. Only Y-DNA testing may eventually be able to prove his ancestry. Unfortunately we'll never know the truth about the family legend of his kidnapping.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Analyzing Ancestry DNA Matches on a Snowy Day in the South

What is the relationship between the number of matches at Ancestry DNA and the number of matches that are 4th-6th cousins or closer? It seems as if those numbers should correlate, but they don't. Rather the variation seems to be related to ethnicity.

I'm learning a new (sort of free) data analysis tool and, during today's snow holiday, I took the opportunity to experiment with my own data instead of my employer's. Here are my results and thoughts, gathered while ten inches of snow fell and interrupted by a two hour power outage.

A contact told me that a very large number of pages -- a large number of matches -- tend to belong to testers who have heritage from the American South. My heritage is about 30% American South. Of the 14 tests to which I have access, only two have that high a percentage. But others of the tests have higher page counts. One of my in-laws has a normal page count, yet an absurd number of close matches, as shown above.

I used Excel to collect all the statistics. I gathered the ethnicity percentages for each test. The number of close matches came from the main page. Then the fun part was estimating the number of pages, typing the page number into the page number box, hitting enter and seeing what happened. Then paging backward or forward to see the total number of pages. All page counts were rounded up.

In the graph you can see how the number of pages is a fairly close range, but the number of close cousins does not always move in the same direction. Not what you would expect, is it?

What is the ethnic breakdown for the person with so many close cousins? That person is of Hispanic descent, as are some others in the graph. Choosing Europe South, Iberian Peninsula and Native American hits the high points for that person. Now there is a clearer relationship between the number of close cousins and the ethnicity. It seems that this could be due to endogamy in the Hispanic population coupled with a high birth rate and a curiosity about ethnicity within that population.

Just to round out the exercise, here's a similar look at how European ethnicity relates to match counts. Notice that higher Scandinavian ethnicity (darker blue) results in fewer close matches and fewer pages.

It was a good day to spend some time thinking about the characteristics of Ancestry DNA matches and, in the process, to learn more about the tool.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Long Life Well-Lived: 52 Ancestors

Longevity is the prompt for week three of the 52 Ancestors challenge. I'm dusting off an old scrapbook layout for this one. In 2007, this was my response to a scrapbook challenge that asked my thoughts on aging.

Whenever I think of long-lived family members, my great-aunt is the first to come to mind. Effie Arvilla Crispen, born in 1896, was named for two aunts: her maternal great-aunt Effie Lake and paternal aunt Mary Arvilla Crispen. Effie married three times and had two children and two grandchildren, via her son. Her 100th birthday was celebrated in her community. I never lived near Effie and saw her only occasionally and briefly; however, my Grandmother often spoke fondly of her older sister.

No original photos were harmed in the making of the page. All photos were copied so that lumpy embellishments could be included. The text over the bottom right photo is an excerpt from the song referenced in the journal block, which says:

Aunt Effie

Effie Arvilla Crispen Knapp [Tonkin] Scherrer

August 27, 1896 - December 26, 1997 

My great-aunt Effie was the longest-lived member of her family, living to 101. Until the end, she was sassy and stubborn and eccentric. She was a prolific letter writer and just loved to write about her family, her dogs and her home. She was the family’s oral historian, though we are not quite sure how true her stories really are. The country tune, “Don’t Blink” reminds me of her and of the stages of life we each walk through.

Life does pass so quickly and it amazes me how it speeds up each year until the days seem to fly by. It’s my hope to live each day, each year, to the fullest. To focus on what’s important. To age with dignity. To maintain my eccentricity and alertness. In short, to follow in Aunt Effie’s footsteps.

Elizabeth Richards
December, 2007 

In my files is a fuzzy photo of Effie, taken in about 1960, that always makes me smile.

 She was truly one of a kind!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Following the Line: 52 Ancestors

Imagine you are standing in a railway station in 1880, waiting for a cousin's arrival. Can you see the steam engine coming down the line? It's huffing and puffing and hissing as it comes into the station with a screech of the brakes. The fireman is shoveling coal into the engine while baggage is unloaded and passengers step onto the platform. The conductor makes the final boarding call as new passengers board. The engineer pulls on the whistle and the train rumbles away, billowing noxious black smoke. As you brush ash from your clothing, a porter carries your cousin's luggage to your wagon.

You've seen a handful of railroad workers in those few minutes. But did you give any thought to the thousands of workers that created that infrastructure and manage the railroad line? Construction workers built trestles, blasted tunnels, laid tracks and built stations. Station staff now sell tickets and assist passengers. The line workers run trains, inspect tracks and manage signals and switches. Office workers manage schedules, staff and accounting.

One of the thousands of workers on the Swedish railroad lines was my great-great-grandfather, Eric Edward Fors. The government of Sweden was late to start building railroads, beginning only in 1855. Edward, born in 1840, in Björnlunda, Södermanland, found a job with the railroad about the time he turned 20. He became a järnvägsarbetare, a railway worker. The first few years of his career are a mystery, as he was moving around Stockholm, a large and challenging city to research.

1864 finds Edward moving away from the city to Södertälje, marrying and becoming a father. His occupation in the church records hints at the job he was doing for the railroad: mureriarbetare, a bricklayer. For the next 10 years, Edward moved from town to town as a bricklayer. Many of the railway stations were built of brick. Edward must have been building those railway stations as the lines were extended.

From 1875 to 1881, Edward had the occupation of banvakt, a line worker. A 1906 book describes the responsibilities of a banvakt to include managing signals and switches and walking part of the line to ensure that no obstacle to the safe passage of the train was found. He would also supervise the telegraph lines along the track and provide assistance in case of accident.

In 1881, at the age of 41, Edward received a promotion. He became a banmästare, an overseer of a railway line. He was a supervisor of the banvakt workers. His overall responsibilities included the safety of the train and periodic inspections.

The only photo I have of Eric Edward Fors shows him in his banmästare uniform with his wife and three youngest children. Gerda was born in 1879, so the photo was taken in the early 1880s.

Eric Edward Fors with wife Matilda Wilhelmina Wiberg
and children Arvid Edward, Eric Anton, Gerda Matilda

Edward and his family lived in the 1880s in the town of Boxholm, Östergötland. The old railroad station is still standing today, though it is not in use for that purpose. There is no record that Edward helped build it, but it is an excellent example of the many stations that were built using the same design.

The family may have lived in the railroad station or in a home nearby. They were recorded as living at Järnvägstation (railway station), which is also the name of the street that runs next to the old station. My cousin, Claes Nyström, visited Boxholm a couple of years ago and generously took photos of the old station for me. Behind the station you can see the tracks, a railway car and the lines that power the electric trains today.

Old Boxholm Railway Station, Östergötland, 2015
Courtesy Claes Nyström

Old Boxholm Railway Station, Östergötland, 2015
Courtesy Claes Nyström

Edward held the job of banmästare for 23 years, retiring in 1904, at the age of 64. He and his family moved from Boxholm to Huddinge, near Stockholm, in 1889. His final posting was returning south to Okna Järnvägstation near Kullerstad in 1896. In Okna they lived at the Banmästerebostad (Banmästere Residence). Edward had come a long way from his start as a järnvägsarbetare.

Edward and his wife, Matilda, moved back to the area southwest of Stockholm where they had lived early in their lives. Matilda died in 1922 in Frustuna, Södermanland. Edward died in 1927, also in Frustuna.

This map shows in red the places where Edward served as banmästare. The blue markers show all the other towns where he lived throughout his long career following the railway lines. Click on the map to see a live version.

The Railroad Career of Eric Edward Fors (1840-1927)

Taking the time to follow Edward down the railroad line also revealed the answer to a long-held mystery. That, dear cousins, is a tale for another day.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Aaron Lake: Starting a New Year of 52 Ancestors

Amy Johnson Crow has started a new challenge in 2018 for researchers to share 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. This year she's giving prompts, the first of which is simply one word: Start.

Aaron Lake (ca 1770 - ca 1828) seems like a good candidate to start off 2018. I've written about his presumed descendants throughout 2017, but starting on Aaron himself is a challenge. Rather than writing one long post with everything I know about him, I'll share smaller pieces.

We know little about Aaron Lake. He appears on the 1820 census of Breckinridge County, Kentucky. He seems to also be listed on the 1820 census of Perry County, Indiana, right across the Ohio River. We do know his daughter married in Breckinridge County in 1813. I spent several hours digging in the Breckinridge and Perry County courthouses in 2016 and 2017 with limited results.

Aaron did not own land in these two counties, but he did sign a mortgage in Breckinridge County in 1825. It raises more questions than it answers. It does help locate Aaron within the county, as he must have lived near Micajah Dowell. An image of this mortgage is at the end of this post.

Breckinridge County, Kentucky, Deed Book G Page 235
Know all men by these presents that I Aaron Lake of the County of Breckenridge and State of Kentucky for and in consideration of the sum of $51.66 do hereby sell transfer and make over to Micajah Dowell the following described property to wit about six acres of corn now growing on the place I cultivated this year, one pided [pied] cow two heifers, one a pided and the other a Dun heifer, one bed and furniture. Two pots and a Dutch oven, two water buckets a flax hackle, an axe two Iron wedges and a pair of Hairus [harrows?] -- to be the sole and exclusive property of the said Micajah Dowel, But with this express condition. That whereas some time since said Dowel became my security for the payment of several Debts to wit one to Ben Pate, one to Pullan and another to Churchill, which he was compelled to pay in all amounting to the sum of $51.66. Now it is understood that if I should at any time within six months repay to the said Dowel the said sum of $51.66 with interest thereon from this date then the above sale and transfer to be entirely void and of no effect. and  the property hereby transfered to return to and revest in me. This being intended only to secure the said Dowel in the payment of said money and to have the operation of a Mortgage only. and it is the express understanding that the said property is to remain in my possession until the time herein limited for the payment of the money expires. In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this 22nd day of July 1825.
Aaron Lake [seal]
Kentucky Breckenridge County Sct?
Clerks office July 25th 1825
The within Deed of Mortgage from Aaron Lake to Micajah Dowel was this day before me in my office duly acknowledged by the said Aaron Lake to be his act and deed for the purposes therein. and thereupon the same is admitted to record
Att Samuel C Jenings Deputy Clk
Breckenridge County Court

The county archivist was able to show me where Micajah Dowell had lived. In 1825, he had been taxed on some 400 acres of land in the Dorridge (Dorretts) Creek watershed. The area she identified is northeast of Hardinsburg, where Meadows Creek flows into Dorridge Creek.

Some questions come to my mind. What was the relationship between Aaron Lake and Micajah Dowell? Was Aaron perhaps a tenant farmer or sharecropper on Micajah's land? Was there a family relationship? Who were the men to whom Aaron owed money and what were his business dealings with them? There are new opportunities for researching these men who were part of Aaron's FAN club: his family, associates and neighbors.

For my cousins' files, here is the mortgage image.