At The Courthouse: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Its been quite a while since I’ve been to a courthouse. I used them quite a bit during my career as an architectural historian, but now the records I’ve used that were created in courthouses are housed in historical societies and/or are available online.

There is research that I still need to do that has to be done at the courthouse. One of our burning questions is how the farm outside of Bluefield came to the Jarrell family, and when it did. I believe that it originated with the family of Rebecca George, who married George Washington Jarrell in 1838.

The courthouse where the records for that parcel of land are located is just a few hours from me, but since most of my time away from home is spent taking care of my elderly mother, I haven’t been able to get there yet. One of these days I will.

Family Photos: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Growing up, I never saw photos of my parents as children. Over the years, a few photos of my mother as a teenager surfaced, but that was it. My father died in 1994 and after my mother moved to assisted living in 2015 my siblings and I were left with the task of trying to find things in her house.

My paternal grandmother lived with my parents, off and on from shortly after their marriage, and then once they built their house she came to stay, so she was with us from the 1940s on. Over the years she developed what was most likely Alzheimer’s disease. First my mother stopped working so that she could be home because my grandmother couldn’t be alone. About 1969 my grandmother moved to a nursing home and in 1972 she died. She’d never had much, but I found out years after she died that my father had one box of my grandmother’s things.

My father, ca. 1928-29.

I knew the box was around but had only seen it a couple of times. I don’t know whether my father had ever gone through it thoroughly or whether he just kept it because the things in it had been his mother’s. When we finally started to look at the contents, not too long before my mother moved to assisted living, we found that it contained newspaper clippings, letters, and photographs. Among the photographs was the one above and several others that appear to be from the same session, of my father when he was 10 or 11. These were the only photos I’d seen of my father as a child. For most of 1928 and the first few months of 1929 my father lived with family friends far from his family. His mother and siblings moved from Philadelphia to Canada to find work and he stayed in Philadelphia. I think that there was no one to take care of him after school while his mother and older siblings were at work and unlike his other siblings, he was too young to be left alone after school. I think these photos were taken to send to his mother while they were separated.

My father with his mother, ca. 1918.

Then in 2016 one of my cousins sent me some family photos, including the one above over my father as a baby, with my grandmother. I had never seen a photo of my grandmother when she was young. I’m still so grateful to have this photograph and be able to share it with my siblings.

One very funny thing happened after I got this photo. My great niece, my parents’ first great-granddaughter was born in 2017. I shared this photo on Facebook last year and her maternal grandmother commented on how similarly her hair had come in to the way my father’s appears in this photo. It wasn’t as obvious because she’s blonde, but the more we looked at it the more certain we became of the resemblance. In addition to being funny, it was lovely to be reminded that my father is still with us.

At the Library: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

There are so many places to go with the topic of libraries. When it comes down to it, my favorite library will always be the public library. My family lived in the same house from the time my parents built it with their own hands in 1947 until 1980. We lived out in the country and rarely got to the library. This is why, as adult my habit each time I move, the first things I do are register to vote and get a library card.

I came to genealogy fairly recently, so my love affair with the public library was already well underway when I began to research my family history. When I began to look for family history records in the library, I was surprised to find volumes of transcriptions of West Virginia records in the Seattle Public Library. it just made me love the public library that much more.

At least two branches of my mother’s family have been in Virginia since it was a colony. Yet, I didn’t set foot in a public library in Virginia until 2012. I immediately found out that most Virginia public libraries have Virginiana Rooms, full of resources. Now I live in Virginia and my own public library, just a short walk from my home, has an extensive collection of resources on Virginia’s history and her families, going back to 1606.

These are not archives and they hold little in the way of original records. Still, the records that they hold are signposts towards those records and histories that provide the context needed to better understand the history of my family.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: I’d like to Meet

I’ve been putting this one off to see what bubbled up, but there was really only one choice. The ancestor I’d like to meet is one I’ve already met, but I can’t remember him.

My maternal grandfather, Frank Hereford Jarrell, died in July 1963, when I was not quite 2 1/2 years old. We lived in southeastern Pennsylvania and they lived in southwestern West Virginia, so we didn’t see them often, but we did visit at least once a year for Easter so I know we’d have met at least a couple of times.

They came to visit soon after I was born, though that I had been born was a surprise. My mother had several miscarriages and my parents had one child who only lived 3 days. My grandparents married late. My grandmother was 35 and my grandfather was 38. My parents were 18 and 25 when they married, but their struggles to have children meant that by the time my brother Bobby died my mother’s parents were in their 70s. I think my mother was concerned about the effect it had on them and any more losses would have on them. So, when my mom was pregnant with the younger of my sisters and with me, the ones who came after Bobby, they weren’t told we were on the way.

My sister was born in February, so that year when it was time for the Easter trip my parents took her. My dad played football in high school and college and I’ve been told that he had the habit when we were small of carrying us tucked under his arm, like a football. (I really wish I could see a photo of this) When he walked in carrying my sister, completely bundled up in a blanket, my grandfather thought she was a ham and offered to put her in the refrigerator.

I arrived in March, so it was too close to Easter to make that trip. Instead my grandparents were told that my mother’s varicose veins were bothering her and she couldn’t travel, so they came to visit. When they asked how she felt, I was produced as the reason she was feeling better.

My mother told me stories about her father, but not a lot of them. It wasn’t until I started researching my family history, less than a decade ago, that I learned how much she and her siblings knew of their family and about their family history. At a gathering of many of my cousins, who are 8-17 years older than I am, I learned that both of our grandparents had told the older cousins stories about their family history, both his Jarrells and her Kahles, and the younger ones had been told stories by an uncle. Each cousin told me something that they remembered being told as a child, and I began to feel that I knew my grandfather.

After that trip, my sisters and I visited my mother to help her rearrange some things. As we were sorting, everything that pertained to our family was put in a pile for me. In that pile were letters that distant cousins of my grandfather’s had written to him. The oldest letter was written in 1936, the last of them was written in 1961, not long before both that cousin and my grandfather both passed away. One of those cousins explained that he had written to the DAR near where their great-grandfathers had both married, who recommended that they contact my grandfather. So, at least one DAR chapter knew my grandfather as an authority on his family’s history.

Apparently his research did not survive, except in the memories of his children and grandchildren. Probably because of the gap between our siblings and cousins and us, no one told my sister and I stories about our family history when we were children. I was 8 when my grandmother died in 1969, and at that point we stopped going to West Virginia for Easter.

Various members of my family went back for the reunions my grandmother’s family held every year, but the first time I went back after my grandmother died was in 2013. When my cousins and I visited the family cemetery on the farm our grandfather’s family owned for roughly 160 years and where members of four different generations of his family are buried, I was glad that now I know my grandfather and his family.

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.