Monday, January 05, 2015

Unraveling my family history

Patty here

My mother was from a close-knit family of German immigrants who came to the U.S. before 1900 from various German villages in what was then called South Russia but is now Ukraine. Catherine the Great, Czarina of Russia, who was German, invited her fellow country(wo)men to establish villages in Russia's outlying territories. My family heeded the call, with mixed results, I might add. For the most part, I know all the players in my mother’s family, because she and my grandmother passed down stories and a German Bible inscribed with all the births, deaths and marriages.

Kate the Great
Unraveling details of my father’s side of the family is a murkier task. His early life was fractured by a tragedy that separated him from his parents and siblings. He was sixteen when he began to search for information about what had happened, finding some details but not all of them. As an adult, he continued to write letters, search the LDS family library in Salt Lake City, and travel to cities and towns where his family had lived, hoping to find someone who knew them. Some of the data he found was incorrect or could not be verified; some was not what he expected to find. I helped him search, mostly as a way to strengthen our father-daughter bond. After he died, I stopped looking.

Recently, I was cleaning out a closet and came across a box of letters, replying to my dad’s long-ago inquiries. During my prior genealogy search, I had become frustrated by several family names that simply stopped. As diligently as I’d searched, I could not trace them back to the previous generation. One was my great grandmother, Emeline/Emaline/Emiline McCoy. I found her father and her grandfather, who was born in 1796, but nobody prior to that. I wanted to know their country of origin.

Flag of Ireland

I love a good mystery, so I began sorting through the letters. What I found inspired me to resume the search my dad and I had started so many years before. After overcoming some skepticism, I subscribed to Ancestry-dot-com, and found the information available is somewhat overwhelming.

All the names in my dad’s family tree are WASPy, although there may have been a Catholic or two thrown into the mix. Based on the history of the name Smiley, I suspected the family had come from the lowlands of Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Scottish flag
Once I entered the name of my 3-times great grandmother, I tapped into research already done by other people, and found an ancestor who was born in London in 1609 and who immigrated to Plymouth, Massachusetts on either the ship Anne or Little James in 1623, just three years after the Mayflower. My ancestor, Ralph Wallen, owned several pieces of property in Plymouth, including a house and garden at Hob’s Hole and land along the Eel River called “Wallen’s Well.”

Sailing to Plymouth

In the United State Revolutionary War service records, I found another member of that family who served as a seaman in the Navy during the Revolutionary War on a ship called Liberty. I'm a sailor, so I felt a definite kinship with him.

Me in my foulies

I realize some people don’t give a rip where their ancestors came from, but I find it not only fascinating, but also poignant to know that my people tilled the soil of a garden in Plymouth or sailed on a warship called Liberty. And now, thanks to fellow genealogy travelers, I have FINALLY located the next generation in the Emaline McCoy saga and look forward to following it wherever it leads me.

HAPPY MONDAY!

13 comments:

  1. from Jacqueline: A lovely post, Patty! A few years ago, my cousin Jim had a second heart attack, after which he was instructed to really take things easy. So, having taken retirement he looked around for something to do, and set about tracing the family ancestry. Let's just say a few skeletons fell out of the cupboard in a clattering heap on the floor. I asked him once if he had tried printing out the details to make a family tree. "And cover every wall in the house?" he said. But Jim's research gave me Kezia, my great-grandmother (and, ahem, she was also a cousin several times removed). I loved the name so much, I bestowed it upon the main character in my novel "The Care and Management of Lies" - and it was probably one of the best namings in my career as a writer of fiction. I also discovered that my maternal grandfather was born in Bedford Square, in London - which is really interesting as the square was once home to quite a few publishing companies, and to think that during the years I worked in Bedford Square, I didn't know of the connection. Thank you for this post, Patty - and I just love that pic of you in your foulies. (or "Henry Lloyds" as we used to call them in Britain - haven't sailed for years, so that's probably old by now!).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I have found a few skeletons of my own, but it's all interesting. The branches of my family are quite diverse. I love the name Kezia. I wonder what inspired it.

      Delete
    2. Jacqueline, that's amazing about your family tree. I wonder if your family name is in the Domesday Book, which has names of families in England around the time of William the Conqueror? On the subject of Bedford Square, have you read the Julie Kaewert mystery series about Alex Plumtree, a 8th generation publisher? Thank you for sharing.

      Diana

      Delete
  2. From now on, I will think of you as "Three years after the Mayflower..."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are so clever and funny.

      Delete
    2. hilarious!

      Diana

      Delete
  3. "three years after the mayflower" indeed, paul.... wonderful! very interessting post, patty. one of my uncles tried some research a long time ago but didn't get very far. i suppose his accesss to records must have been rather limited in east germany. perhaps one of us cousins should try and pick up where he left off before all the traces run dry.
    sybille

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sybille, new records are being posted every day. It's truly amazing. And you can tap into other people's research, including photos of gravestones. I recorded an interview with one of my mother's great aunts when she was around 97 and still living on her farm in Washington. She told me the most amazing stories she'd heard, passed down from relatives in Russia. Great fun stuff.

      Delete
  4. Patty,
    A lovely post! Thank you for sharing. A relative is researching our family history. I agreed to give my DNA for genealogical research and discovered that I am 2 percent Irish, 38 percent Great Britain, including 8 other regions. I also enrolled in the national geographic project about deep ancestry, which means they will look at where your ancestors were thousands of years ago! Wonder if you have thought about sending in your DNA? The Ancestry dot com DNA sometimes have a special deal. Usually it's 99 dollars. The genographic dot com site will charge you $199 but sometimes there is a special deal for $159 and the shipping is supposed to be free. The UPS is not always reliable though.

    Thank you for sharing,
    Diana

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've looked at the DNA option, Diana, but haven't done it yet. Sounds like fun.

      Delete
  5. James O. Born1/06/2015 11:49 AM

    Very impressive, Patty. Did Paul know your relatives on the Anne or Little James?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Janes, who is Paul?

      Delete
    2. Yes, Jim. I believe Paul was on the Anne in the next cabin.

      Delete