52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Unusual Names

Everyone who has researched their family history has some branch or several branches that drives you crazy with the names. At least a couple of branches of my mom’s side have been in Virginia since before it was a colony, so of course a bunch of them are named after Virginia-born presidents. A few on both sides are named after other presidents. My maternal grandfather was named after a senator. A fairly large number bear the name of a man killed at the Battle of Point Pleasant, and there are always those who are named after other family members.

Still, there’s one branch that is so much worse than the rest of my family. The Clay family has been in Virginia since 1613. Yes, Henry Clay is a distant cousin. Practically everyone named Clay is. They repeated names, over and over and over. There are a dozen Henrys, though only one is THAT Henry Clay. There are even more Williams, Elizabeths, Charleses… A large group of us have managed to connect with each other to research our shared roots, but any time anyone wants to discuss someone they have to give their dates or whatever else stands out about them, because there will be a bunch of people with the same name.

In the midst of all of this there’s one branch that stands out. They’re not in my direct line, but I have to love them because we can tell them apart! Green Clay, who is already unusual because so far I’ve only found three people in the family with that name, named one of his sons Brutus and one of them Cassius. Okay, yes, today Cassius Clay is now a familiar name to most of us, but this is the Cassius Clay that Cassius Clay was named after. Don’t think about that sentence too much, you know what I mean. I like (my cousin) Cassius Clay because he was a vocal opponent of slavery, even after attempts on his life. But really, I like Cassius Clay because he is distinct from the sea of Henrys and Williams.

Cassius and Brutus did something that made following their families confusing, though. Cassius named a son Brutus and Brutus named a son Cassius. Neither of them named a son after themselves. As you can imagine, many people miss that swap and attribute them to the wrong fathers.

Green Clay’s brother Thomas also made it easy to distinguish some of his children. They were Nestor, Tacitus, and Ulysses. Tacitus named a son Thomas, thus contributing to that glut, but he also named children Thetis, Valeria, Vitula, and Artreus. This branch of the family probably studied Latin, and Greek and Roman history and literature. They were probably also very familiar with Shakespeare’s works. No matter why they chose these names for their children, I’m grateful that someone in this family chose names that aren’t shared by dozens of their cousins.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Challenge

I could write about one or more of my brick walls this week, but one of the things I enjoy most about researching my family history is how many of them impress and inspire me. Thus, I’d rather write about an ancestor who faced a challenge.

Lydia McDaniel and Alexander Hutchison married in Monroe County, Virginia (now West Virginia) in 1852. Alexander was called to the ministry of the Red Oak Ridge Brethren congregation, in Mercer County and they moved there. Their daughter Cynthia was born in Mercer County in 1856. With the exception of one brother who died before he joined the church, all of Alexander’s brothers were ministers. The Brethren are one of the religious groups that holds opposition to war as one of their basic tenets.

Times of war were always difficult for those who were members of pacifist faiths. Those outside their faith saw them as disloyal. The Civil War was no exception, and for those along what would become the VA/WV border, it was particularly difficult because the could run afoul of units of either army. Andrew Hutchison was stopped by a Confederate unit and when he refused to join their ranks the commander ordered his men to shoot him. Only the entreaties of one or more unit members who knew Andrew and knew that he told the truth when he said that he was both physically unable to serve because of a childhood injury and a Brethren minister, saved his life.

Knowing that their lives were constantly in danger, many of the Brethren left the area for the duration of the war. Alexander and his brothers moved their families west. They did not dare tell those who remained exactly where they were. So, we know that Alexander Hutchison contracted typhoid fever and died on 22 Aug 1864, but we don’t know where the family was at the time, other than that they were not in Mercer County. We also don’t know when they got to go home.

Alexander’s death left Lydia with four small children, the fourth just having been born that March. Appraisers were appointed in 1866, the value of his was recorded with the court in May 1867. It was 1870 before the appraisal was finalized with the courts, after his carpentry tools had been sold.

Lydia never remarried. Somehow she kept the farm and the family going, and they did well considering the loss of Alexander and the other ways they would have been affected by the Civil War. All of her children were among the founding members of the Smith Chapel Brethren Church, which still exists in Mercer County, West Virginia today. When she died in 1880, her personal property was worth about $350, the equivalent of about $10,000 today.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: First

My father died in 1994 at the age of 75. When he died, I would have said that I knew him. Instead, almost 25 years later, I’m still learning about him. A few months after my father died, I moved to Seattle and moved in with my oldest sister, who is 12 years older than I am. She left home when I was about 7, so until then we’d barely known each other. Part of the process of forming an adult relationship with a sister I hardly knew was that she learned to see our father through my eyes, and I learned to see him through hers. For those of you who don’t have siblings, learning to be parents and anything else that happened over the years changed your parents. No matter how hard they tried to be impartial, it wasn’t possible. The more years between the first and last children, the more they changed. So, with 12 years between us (and we’re talking about 1949 to 1961, when the world changed a bit, too), my sister and I realized what has since become one of our jokes, that we had different parents.

A few years ago I became an unemployed historian/architectural historian. I started thinking about projects I could work on that I could put on my resume, so that if I was unemployed for a while it wouldn’t look as though I hadn’t been using my skills. I like to tell people that I came to genealogy backwards, and that’s what I mean. I started all of this just for something to do.

I had done some genealogy research for jobs and as part of my master’s thesis, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. Its been quite a process.

And back to my father… First I started to see him differently, courtesy of my sister, and then I started researching his family. I didn’t think I’d learn anything new about my father.

First my mom told me that my father wasn’t the youngest child. She said that my grandmother, who lived with my parents from shortly after they were married, had another child after my father and that the baby died. My mom was right. I found records of that baby. I knew that my grandfather left when my father was very young. We now believe that he left after that baby died, and my grandmother almost died. She always told everyone that her husband had abandoned the family. We now believe that she made him leave. Her mother died in childbirth when she was about 7, and I imagine that she was afraid that if she became pregnant again she would also die in childbirth.

I knew that my father was held back twice, when his family moved, and thus he was 19 when he graduated from high school and turned 20 before he started college. I knew that he was the first in his family to attend college, and to graduate. I didn’t know until I started researching the family and asking questions of my mom and cousins that he had first been the first in his family to graduate from high school. His five older siblings all went to school as long as they were legally required to, and then they went to work. With their mother and all of them working, they were able to keep my father in school, even as several of them married and started their own families. He worked during his summer breaks and while in school, but he couldn’t have done it without the support of his family. He graduated from high school in 1939 and from college in 1943, so his family didn’t just help financially. They also communicated with the draft board for him. I have a number of letters that he wrote to his mother while he was in college, and the draft board is mentioned again and again.

While my father was in college he met my mother, but that’s a whole other story.

Researching at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

I’m often asked for tips on researching at the National Archives. This post will cover your arrival, getting a researcher card, and requesting records. I’ll cover record particulars later.

Over the past few years the National Archives (Archives I or NARA I) has undergone renovations, so when you’re reading blogs that give research tips, check the date before you rely on any for exactly where you need to go.

When you enter via the researcher entrance, on the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the building, you’ll first go through security. This is simple – you just put your bag(s) in a gray bin so that they can go through the x-ray machine and then you walk through the metal detector. From there, you go to the desk, show photo id, and fill out the researcher sign-in sheet. The security guard behind the desk will hand you a temporary researcher pass, which you’ll clip to your clothing. If you come in before 9 am you’ll wait in the lobby with other researchers until one of the guards calls “Researchers!” If you come in after 9 am, you’ll be able to go right through the next set of doors, which will automatically open for you. Once you’re through those doors, there will be a desk in front of you and two doors at each end of that room.

If you don’t have a researcher card yet, you’ll need to go to Registration, which is on the left. On your first trip its a good idea to be there by 9 am and go directly to Registration as soon as you’re allowed in. Part of the registration process involves watching a Powerpoint presentation and there are only a few places available in the registration area, so they can get backed up. You’ll sit down at a computer, go through the slideshow, and enter your information at the end. Then you’ll go through the closest door, hand them your photo ID, get your picture taken, and get your card. It will be good for a year. When you come in after your first card has expired, bring photo ID and your old card. The process of getting your new one is really fast if you have both of those things. Since I first got my card they changed the way the wifi is set up so that you don’t have to have a password for it, so you may not need them to set up access for you, but ask just to make sure.  The NARA wifi can be really slow. Sometimes I use it and sometimes I resort to using my phone as a hotspot and give up on the wifi. The person who hands you your card will direct you to a computer to activate your card so that you can add money to it. Don’t skip this step, even if you think you’ll never need to make a copy. If you decide that you do want to print from a microfilm reader or make a copy you will be able to add value to your card in the research room, but only after you’ve activated it on one of the lobby computers.

So now you’ve got your researcher card. The hallway past the desk where you got your photo taken and your card leads to restrooms and the locker room. When you walk back out into the room where the registration computers are, the other door at that end leads to the microfilm room. If you’re looking for microfilm, when you go past the desk and into the room, there’s a small table with the entire list of microfilms on it. They are arranged by microfilm number, so you’re going to need to find out the number before you try to find out where it is stored. I can sometimes find the numbers via the NARA microfilm catalog website and sometimes via searching the NARA website. This is one of those places where you really want to ask for help, as there’s lots of microfilm at this location.

In addition to viewing microfilm in this room, you can request military service, pension, and bounty land files at that desk. Pick up a form from the table opposite the desk, fill it out, and hand it to the staff member behind the desk. They’ll look it over to make sure its filled out correctly and that records is not closed for digitization or already on Fold3.com. If everything is fine, they’ll write the pull time on it and hand it back to you. You’ll put it in the box on the table behind you.

On the opposite side of the lobby, the door on the left leads to where you submit requests for any record other than those you request in the microfilm room. There are staff members working in this room who specialize in Navy, Army, and Civilian records. Anything you’re looking for that pertains to ships will fall under Navy, whether the ship is military or not. The most commonly requested civilian records are land records. If you need Congressional records, you need to ask for them to call upstairs for someone. They don’t get enough requests to keep someone down there, but they’ll send someone right away.

The other door on that end of the lobby leads to the Innovation Hub. You can scan records there for free. In return, you get a copy and a copy is added to the NARA online catalog. When you submit your request, ask about having the records sent to the Innovation Hub instead of to the 2nd floor records room where you’ll usually view records.

There’s one really important thing you will want to do while you’re at NARA. Ask questions. Don’t worry that its too basic or off topic, ask. The staff are knowledgeable and  they’re nice. You don’t want to go home and start wondering about something, especially if it might be the only time you get to go there. ASK. In keeping with that, if I’ve left you with questions or created new ones, please ask.