Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Hidden Names

Don’t you wish our ancestors made more generous use of their middle names? I have at least three men whose full given names elude me, though there is plenty of room for speculation.  Deeds, probate papers, marriage records (these are before birth records and no baptismal records have come to light) -- all carry very specific, but unrevealing, middle initials. And these names might lead to more family history, if I knew them.


Here is one:
John M. Cain (pictured at right), was born in Kent County, Delaware in 1810, the son of John Cain and Elizabeth Morgan. So what are the odds that his middle name is Morgan? He is not their first son (that was Cornelius, my gr-grandfather), so naming patterns don’t seem to be in play.  However, this is the only of John and Elizabeth’s seven sons to even have a recorded middle initial.

Another later example: Daniel M. Howard, my grandmother’s half-brother. who died in the Civil War. His father was likely named for a circuit-riding Methodist preacher by the name of Samuel Parker. Daniel’s younger brother was Jasper Newton Howard -- there were many Jasper Newtons born around the same time, possibly named for a pair of then-popular Revolutionary War heroes. So, in this family at least, so-called naming patterns are completely out the window.

The third puzzler is Thomas E. Sherwood (b ca 1795, KY), my great-great grandfather. His daughter, Nancy Jane Sherwood, named her first two children William Enoch (b 1850) and John Edwin (b1853).  The family, so far as I have been able learn about it, had no males with names which had “E” initials. The boys’ father, David Hammond, did have a half-brother named Edwin. Does that leave Enoch as Thomas’s middle name?


So, tantalizing clues, but no definite answers. So far.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The risks, the frustrations, the fun ...

When I sit down to do some serious research, whether trying to fill in gaps, add new family members, or expand a particular record with new information, something invariably pops up which has a pull I cannot resist.

 “Look for connection. Allie Lee Gabbert, Buchanan Co (MO), 1882-1942, m. Wm A Ebling. Sister: Nannie Gabbert m. Fr Dennis, dau Engene psychic.” This was a recent  culprit, a note in my own handwriting, with absolutely no indication as to its source.

By now I don’t even remember where I found the scrap of paper, let alone when or where the information was jotted down. But once it resurfaced I couldn’t let it go. The Gabberts are a particular interest because my great grandmother’s sister was Mary Ann Sherwood, born about 1829 in Bartholomew County, Indiana. She married Ransom Gabbert in February, 1850,  and they were in Buchanan County, Missouri by the time that year’s census taker came around. They had at least three children, William Edwin, James George, and Mary Frances (Mollie), and it has been a project of mine to try to follow the descendants down to the present day. 

Allie Lee Ebling was was buried in Amstrong Cemetery, Rushville, Buchanan County, along with her spouse, William A. Ebling. A photo of their gravestone is shown on the invaluable Find a Grave website. (Thank you, Tom DeBerry) Allie Lee’s birth name, Gabbert, and William’s full middle name, Anderson, have been added, presumably by Mr. DeBerry, along with the names of William’s parents.

But I still have no idea where I got the information that she had a sister Nannie, or a niece named Eugene, who was a psychic, no less!

This was a pursuit I could not resist. There are ten Gabberts listed in Armstrong Cemetery, some of whom I know to be Ransom’s relatives. And there are 43 Gabberts, all told, named in Buchanan County cemeteries. (Sadly, most of the listings do not indicate placement within plots, which would be a useful clue to relationships.)

So, I have found evidence of this Allie Lee, but not her supposed sister Nannie, mother of a psychic. And I have no idea of their parents’ names.

My concern is with their possible connection to Ransom, so I needed to look for their parents’ names. But I was so intrigued by the psychic that instead I looked for evidence that Nannie’s daughter was really named “Eugene,” and was said, by someone, somewhere, to dabble in the supernatural.

Nannie’s marriage to an E.F., or Frank, Dennis had been indicated in two census records, and the second one, in 1910, did show a daughter, Eugene, age 5.

Searching the web for the name “Eugene Dennis”  brings up endless stories about a prominent member of the American Communist party, a man by the same name.  Excluding “Communist” in my search query, however, yielded several references to the young woman in question, who apparently made quite a name for herself in the 1920s. Stories appeared in newspapers as far afield as Spokane, Washington, about her uncanny abilities, and several ads proclaimed her vaudeville appearances. The last record I could find was her presence in her brother’s household, with their mother (yes, Nannie) in the 1930 census for Los Angeles.  She was 25, single, born in Kansas, and her occupation was listed as “physic” (sic) in the “theater industry.” 

California death records show Nannie Dennis died in 1942 in Los Angeles, that her father’s surname was Gabbert, and that her mother’s birth name was “Bilderbock.”

On a hunch I went back to FamilySearch and came up with a marriage record which showed that Thomas Gabbert and Angeline Bilderback married in 1856, in Buchanan County, Missouri. Bingo!

The 1870 census shows the Buchanan County family of Thomas and Angeline Gabbert with Nancy, age 3 mo (born after date census was supposed to represent, but listed anyway, with a September birthdate). Also listed were Alexander, age 12, and Mary, age 7.

Ten years later there is Nancy B, age 11 with her family, which now includes a younger child, Edward, all still in the same place.

These records are still too early for Allie Lee who was reportedly born in 1882, but they pretty well establish that this is the Nancy/Nannie Gabbert of my ephemeral note.

So, is her father related to Mary Ann Sherwood’s husband, Ransom Gabbert? And if so, how? Stay tuned.


Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Of birthdays and bearded men

She must have been quite a woman. Married and widowed three times, she was the mother of eight sons. In her 40s, she was said to have travelled with her husband and all those youngsters, on foot, from Delaware to Indiana.
Sons of Elizabeth Morgan Wright Cain Holland

Elizabeth Morgan’s obituary said she was born May 7, 1779 -- 235 years ago today.  The daughter of Thomas Morgan and Elishua Finsthwait, she was first married to John Wright, who died before 1805, leaving her with a young son, Marcellous. In 1806 she married again, to John Cain.  From this union came seven more boys (and, one article  has it, a daughter who died in infancy). Property records show that in March, 1827, she and John sold their Kent County, Delaware, property. In November of that same year they are recorded in far-off Brookville, Indiana.

John Cain died soon after, “from over-lifting a sawlog,” according to one of his sons. But Elizabeth and her fatherless brood survived and seemed to have flourished. Her first husband's, son, who took his stepfather’s surname, moved to Benton County, Tennessee, where his descendents still live. John’s offspring chose to stay closer to home, settling in various Indiana counties. Among their occupations, as recorded in census records, were farming, papermaking, carpentry, shoemaking, and tailoring; one became a physician. (Marcellous was said to have been a stagecoach driver;  he married an innkeeper’s daughter named Sinda Rilla.)

Longevity was the norm in this clan. At least four of the sons lived into their late 80s and early 90s. Elizabeth, who is my great-great grandmother, died January 30, 1875, at the venerable age of 95.  A third marriage, to a man named John Holland, lasted only a few years, leaving her once again a widow.

The four longest-lived Cain brothers, staunch and bearded, are pictured in a group portrait taken in 1899, probably in Connersville, Indiana, where at least one of them was living. Prints of the original photograph have been handed down through the generations, and a cousin and I have been able to identify all four men by comparing notes.

Recently, however, I came across a copy of the picture evidently clipped from an unnamed newspaper and posted on Ancestry. As with so many images and factoids on that site’s family trees, it has been copied here and there with little or no attribution. Who posted it in the first place? In what publication did it originally appear? Was there an accompanying article? I’d love to find out.

The copies I saw had identification for only two of the men, and I’d be delighted to provide more information in exchange for answers to my questions.


In the meantime, Happy Birthday, Elizabeth Morgan Wright Cain Holland! Your sons must have been proud of you.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Some thoughts while away

Ruth, Florence, Gertrude Cain, Claude Murvin,
Tommy Cain, Mary Jean Koos
It’s been a long time since I sat down to look at my genealogy projects, and I miss the fun, the satisfaction, and even the occasional frustration of it all.

Two trips -- one for fun, one less so -- and planning for some household  remodelling have kept me away from this most engrossing pursuit for far too long. But thoughts do keep occurring, and one of these days I’ll be able to plunge in again. Perhaps, in the meantime, I need to follow the suggestions we’ve all read, about taking small steps when there’s no time to settle down with the Big Ones.

One modest task comes to mind immediately (because the evidence is sitting right in front of me): sorting the most recent family Christmas letters and photos, making sure they are dated with the year and the images are properly identified. 

The group on the right include three of my aunts, an uncle, my little brother (now in his 70s) and a cousin. Who besides me would know all their names?

Another is the perennial need to straighten up the work area. Folders pulled out and never put away, half-finished lists, books than need to go back on the shelf.  I am an inveterate list-maker and inventory-taker, but later, looking at the incomplete results, I am often puzzled at what prompted their creation. Then there are the newly-purchased books, the journal articles, and the many printed-out references that need to find a home -- preferably someplace where I can find them again. 


That brings up another question. How do you file items of general interest -- about places, events, living conditions -- in short, matters that are not about your family members but most likely had an impact on their lives? I have a file cabinet full of carefully labelled folders for the states and regions where my ancestors lived, with emphasis on their home counties, local topography, etc. But I almost never consult it! There needs to be a better way, and if you have any suggestions, I’d be delighted to hear them.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Quantity or quality?

Great grandpa?
Do you feel envious, or skeptical, when you read about someone who has zillions of relatives in his family tree? Or who claims to trace her illustrious forebears back to Charlemagne? (Funny, no one ever brags about being descended from Attila the Hun.) Are these people simply collecting names, harvesting them from other trees just because there might be a tenuous link?  Online family trees are great enablers in this respect, as there is endless space for adding names, and, sadly, very little on the need for valid sources.

While I’m chasing faint connections in an attempt to identify some first-name-only references in an old letter, these questions do come to mind.  I am looking at a family related only by marriage -- my great-grandmother’s in-laws from her first brief union.  This spouse was David Hammond, son of Nathaniel Hammond and the second of his three wives, Hannah Van Meter. All told, Nathaniel fathered 17 children we know of, and of course most of them married and reproduced abundantly. From various clues in the letter, written to my grandmother by her aunt, I am guessing the people she named are part of this enormous Hammond clan, most of whom lived their lives in 19th century Indiana.

 The researching involved is sort of like trying to solve a tantalizing puzzle with many equally tempting off-shoots, which means I can easily lose sight of my goal -- simply identifying the names in the letter. 

I am reminded of Stephen Leacock’s words: "Lord Ronald ... flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.” But I do try to keep to the point. It is a fascinating family, but only one individual is connected to my line in any way.  The letter’s references are my excuse for digging further, but how does one decide where to draw the line?  


What are you views?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Big time in Salt Lake City

Just back from my periodic foray to the Family History Library, for a week of immersion in genealogical research, and a chance to reunite with a group of fellow conspirators from the Midwest.  The weather was cool but mostly dry (as a Californian, I earned a few laughs for wearing a jacket outside when the temperature was in the low 60s).

It is always a treat to be there and learn what changes are taking place in and around town.  The local rapid transit system goes right to the airport terminal now, for one thing. The Salt Lake Plaza Hotel has remodelled most of their rooms, for another (and my closet was cleverly concealed behind a huge mirror -- took me a while to find it). In the library itself, there is at least one photocopier right out on the third floor (US/Canadian books), as well as the film-to-print-or-flashdrive equipment on the second floor. (I haven’t investigated the lower floors where my Minnesotan friends hang out, looking for their Swedish, German, and Norwegian lines.)

We hiked over to the LDS office building most days for hearty but very inexpensive lunches, and were in time to see the holiday decorations being put up in Temple Square. Hearing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir practice on Thursday night was a pleasure, as always.

My big find was on Ancestry.com (their “institutional” version is free to use at the Library). Browsing for Lewis Hartwell Thompson, whom I know had come west by 1860, I found him in a database of “California Pioneers,” with place and date of his birth, and the names of his parents. A real piece of luck! The list had been compiled by the California State Library (applause), originally from Hubert Howe Bancroft’s seven-volume History of California. Of course, if I had thought of it at the time, I could have followed up by looking at the books themselves, since the Family History Library has a set in print and on film.

Another rather intriguing clue I picked up was the discovery that my great-grandmother, Nancy Jane Sherwood, had signed her name “Nancy Sexton” in some probate documents after the death of her first husband, David Hammond. I was looking for some clue as to when she might have married my great-grandfather, whose surname was Howard. I had always thought he was her second husband, but it seems there was another brief union first.  Unfortunately this all took place in Jasper County, Indiana, before the time of their 1864 courthouse fire.  So, no marriage records are available, and I will have some digging to do in order to learn about this Mr. Sexton.

There were a couple of other pieces of information which came to light in my searches, but as we all know, the longer you work on this, the fewer the discoveries. At first it is like skimming the cream off the top. Later is it more like sifting through already-mined sources to find a tiny nugget or even a bit of gold dust.

Nonetheless, I had a really satisfactory visit, and now there are some real clues to stalk.



Sunday, September 08, 2013

The joy of sleuthing


“Perhaps the most satisfying task is to assemble in chronologic order all those bits and pieces of information from all those varied sources and watch a life appear before our eyes...”

This anonymous quote from an old genealogy newsletter really resonated with me. It is a satisfying task (and can be nearly endless if you let it).  We never can really know all there is to know about another person, especially one who is long gone, but, oh, the fascination in seeing a personality develop from a complete blank to a recognizable image. It may stay somewhat faded and fuzzy around the edges, but does gradually come to life, like a photograph in a darkroom bath.

Another source of satisfaction comes in working on a specific puzzle. Sometimes, when the very “dailyness” of daily life just gets to be too much, it’s a pleasure just to sit down and tackle something completely different, like the question of whether Uncle Wally really had six wives, or who that mysterious person was in Grandma’s household, circa 1880.

And it’s so much easier to find answers now! You must have seen those endless ads for cable TV, with kids harking back to the “old days” when you couldn’t record four programs at once while watching something else. (My question is -- who on God’s green earth thinks there are that many programs worth watching, much less recording? But I digress.) We researchers of a certain age could do them one better, reminiscing about our “old days” in genealogy, when there was no internet, doing research in books often meant waiting weeks to get them from distant libraries, and one had to be a detective to even discover where specific public documents or books were likely to be found.

My earliest experience in trying to learn something about an 18th century ancestor came when I received, on inter-library loan, a book from San Francisco’s Sutro Library: The Calendar of Kent County, Delaware, Probate Records, 1680-1800, compiled by Leon de Valinger Jr. How thrilling to find an abstract of Thomas Cain’s will, made 20 October, 1799! Being such a newbie, I didn’t feel compelled to look for the original document until years later, but the book’s entry did give me some very helpful information, and confirmed much of what my grandfather had written down about what was his great-grandfather’s family. 

It was a thick old volume, so fragile I couldn’t take it home, but had to use it in the library.  Now, paperback reprints are available, and the work has been digitized so it is fully searchable online. Not only that, but an index to the original probate files can be examined at the Delaware Public Archives website, as an aid to obtaining copies of the original documents.

Carping about the so-called tribulations of early television-viewing  makes me snicker, but when I recall what it was like to do family history research just a few years ago, I am truly grateful for modern technology.