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.