Monday, September 15, 2014

Digging Up Skeletons

So I've been doing some genealogy research on Ancestry dot com, as you do. Well, as a lot of Americans seem to do; I don't know that many Brits who are doing it. I think we just assume our families have been where they are for centuries. Mine certainly have with the exception of one set of great-great-grandparents who came over from Ireland in the late 1800's.

I'm not getting far with my side of the family, mainly because we aren't landed gentry and there's not a lot of census information. Most information in the UK is to be found by trolling around graveyards and church records, which obviously I can't do from four thousand miles away.

My husband's side, on the other hand, is proving to be a veritable wealth of characters, good and bad.

I am able to trace both his parents back to ships coming over from England in the 1600's, several times over. Both are descended from William the Conqueror (as are millions of other people) and on my MIL's side it's just littered with aristocrats. Most interestingly is her connection to the mighty Percy family of Northumberland. I think my family were probably cleaning their boots!

It's been pretty easy to trace families on this side of the Pond because land possession was documented almost as soon as they got off the boat. We have several ancestors who came over to Massachusetts and Jamestown and either bought or were granted land, which was all carefully documented, as were marriages, births and deaths. The only thing you have to be careful about is that you get the right person, as even the most unusual name can have belonged to more than one individual. So far, every ancestor I have traced to a mother country has come from England or Ireland. Not one other European country thus far. My husband seems to be more English than I am!

As I said however, I've found characters good and bad:

Perhaps the most shocking is that my husband is fourth cousin to one Vernon Wayne Howell, otherwise known as David Koresh. That would be the one who set up the Branch Davidian cult and then got them all killed in the early 90's in Waco, Texas. Gulp. Fortunately he is also eighth cousin three times, to President Obama, so we're good.

Then we have a great-grandfather who was a wealthy land owner and sheriff in Texas and then managed to get himself shot by his successor in 1921. Seems he thought the sheriff's married son-in-law was having an affair with his daughter, so he shot him. The sherif didn't like that so he, in turn, shot this great-grandfather. Cowboy vigilante justice.

Or perhaps Robert Titus, who came from England in 1636 on the "Hopewell" and settled in Plymouth County in Massachusetts. Despite being a popular and successful member of the community, he was eventually "warned out". This was a practice of telling families to pack their bags and leave; on this occasion because Titus was mixing with "persons of evil fame", i.e.. Quakers who were a bit too strict in their religious observances.

And some of the names - Oh my! Let's just say it's a good job I hadn't done this research when my kids were born or they could have ended up being called Sharack, Obadiah, Fiern, Titus, or Americus.


  1. Isn't that fun! My mother starting tracing our family tree when I was in high school, some 4 decades ago or more...

    She became frustrated because on neither side of the family — hers or my fathers's — could she get out of North America. At the time, the further back the records went, the sketchier the sources became. Turns out just about all components on both sides were boots on the ground here in N.A. no later than the Revolutionary War. Like your husband's family, Toni, one branch dates back to Jamestown in the early 1600's, then more properly termed as the James River Area.

    Mom felt real triumph in nailing down some of the connections, since there was no to help. I have six looseleaf binders of neatly organized genealogical information she compiled.

    She turned these self-taught skills into a job: she became one of four (at the time) certified Indian (Native American) genealogists in the nation and worked for the White Earth Chippewa tribe in northern Minnesota.

    I know I've rambled on with this post, but I want to add that I have always been very proud of her!

  2. Wow Lee, that's fantastic. You should really put it all on Ancestry, or Geni and you'll get even more information. Geni also tells you who you are related to now.
    We also have Cherokee in two branches of the family but according to one family member who tried to get more info a few years ago, the Cherokee nation people weren't very helpful.

    Iota - Oh yes - Thomas Americus Snell, my MIL's great-grandfather. He's one of the individuals who goes straight back to the aristos.

  3. Oh, goodness, Toni, I have so many family history stories. It's kind of overwhelming at times. And, yes, I am on Ancestry (no endorsement implied! LOL) mostly for the sake of tracking down my husband's side of things. I've had some success, too, for both his and my families. I tend to do the research in binges.

    What I do know is that I, my husband, and even more so our children, are thorough-going American mutts. No illustrious pedigrees here.

  4. Fascinating stuff - especially the link to the Percy family. I know Dougie's uncle has done lots of research into his family and came up with links to plenty of Scottish kings but, as you say, along with millions of others no doubt.
    Great stories though.

  5. Americus?? You see? You were always destined to live in America!! Lx

  6. Blurry 'ell, you were a veritable mayflower madam.
    have not done this but no doubt will find out our families are potato farmers and scoundrels


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