Part One: Tearing Down Brick Walls – Spence Family Mystery

 

Part One:  Tearing Down Brick Walls

Genealogy is like doing a puzzle after a two year old has played in the box.  The pieces are all there but it’s no small chore trying to find them.

Brick walls, or dead ends, are a part of any family tree.  I think of them as that stray puzzle piece the two year old swallowed. It’s not gone but it will take serious digging to find it and it is not going to be fun.

I have encountered many brick walls doing my own genealogy.  One that I still haven’t cracked is my maternal Grandmother’s father’s line.  My Great Grandfather’s name was William J Spence.

 

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William J Spence

 

 

William J Spence was born in Ohio in 1880.  His parents were James Spence and Emma Jane Davis.[1]

 

 

The household of a James and Emily Spence is located on 1880 census in Ottawa County, Ohio, with no children. This seems like a likely match.  Presently this might be the only source document recording Emma with her present during recording.[2]

 

 

 

 

Emma disappears after 1880 except mention in marriage and death records of her children

Notes and Tasks on Emma Davis:

  • Is Davis a maiden name or was it a later married name?
  • Look in Ohio and Canada for marriage record for Spence and Davis abt 1880
  • Look for Davis birth record in Ohio and Canada
  • Look for Davis families that could possibly be Emma’s family near the James and Emma on the 1880 census
  • Harry is a strong possibility for her father’s given name. Second son of James and Emma was named Harry

 

SPENCE Travels

 

North Atlantic PS map.jpg
The Spence Family Migration from Approx 1830 to 1900

 

  • According to records currently located James Spence was born in Canada to Irish born parents.
  • It’s possible his father was named John, James, or William.
  • His mother may have been named Jane Davidsen.
  • His parents likely married in Ireland or Canada prior to 1853.
  • Sometime prior to 1854 the James parents traveled from Ireland to Canada where James was born.
  • James migrated to US; first to Ohio where older children with Emma Jane Davis were born around 1880
  • James then migrated to Michigan married his second wife, Anna and lived out his life.

Looking at all these clues together I need to find an Irish household living in Canada at the time of the 1871 census.  There are at least 105 Spence living in Canada in 1871

Of those records only 1 at a first glance seems like a remote possibility.  The demographics of the family aren’t a perfect match but they are close enough to warrant a deeper look.  If nothing else I need to rule this family out.

1871canadacensuskingstonontariowilliamspence
William and Ann Spence with son James in Kingston, Ontario 1871

http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=1871canada&indiv=try&h=83790

James Spence in Kingston, Ontario

This household lives in Cataraqui Ward, Kingston, Ontario.  They claim Ontario birth but Irish origin and religion is listed as Church of England.[3]

  • The head of household is William born in 1832. William is definitely a family name so we can count this as positive evidence.  The age would be of the proper range to be James’ father so that is another positive.
  • The lady of the house is listed as Ann. That does not match up with our one piece of secondary evidence stating James mother was Jane however that in and of itself is not a rule out.  The name could have been Jane Ann or Ann Jane or it could be a second spouse.  Her age demographics do not rule her out or add supporting evidence.  Her origin is listed as French which is a contradiction; however James named one of his daughters Mary Ann which could be supporting evidence.
  • Oldest son James is definitely a strong likely match for our ancestor. He was born in Canada in 1854 of Irish origin.
  • Other names in the household are Margaret, Nancy, and Ellen. Our ancestor James named one of his daughters Margaret Ellen.  This could be possible supporting evidence.

There is nothing in these details that necessarily rules them out as a match, we do have a few weak clues to support the possibility it’s the correct family.

 

Continued Soon –  Part Two: A Closer Look at William and Ann Spence of Kingston, Ontario

Looking closer at the records on William and Ann Spence and family to determine if they are possibly the parents of Grandpa James Spence

[1] Ancestry.com. Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867–1952. Michigan Department of Community Health, Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics.

[2] Year: 1880; Census Place: Danbury, Ottawa, Ohio; Roll: 1056; Family History Film: 1255056; Page: 441C; Enumeration District: 069; Image: 0382

[3] Year: 1871; Census Place: Cataraqui Ward, Kingston, Ontario; Roll: C-10000; Page: 93; Family No: 396 Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1871 Census of Canada [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2009

 

When Your Cousin is an Axe Murderer

My Ancestors Were Boring…

One of the things I enjoy most about genealogy is discovering the unexpected.  Family history can seem rather dull until you discover that first axe murderer hanging around the branches of the old family tree.

Researching the lines connected to my Mayflower ancestor has turned up some interesting gems to say the least.  The great thing about Mayflower passengers is that they are such a big topic of interest that they have been researched extensively.  There are groups dedicated to the Mayflower passengers as a whole, groups dedicated to the genealogy of each passenger individually, and top historians in the field are researching the topic nonstop.  Due to all the interest and research early lines that might otherwise be hard to research are heavily documented for all to find.

Recently while following some of the lines in my Mayflower line I encountered the name Borden associated with the town of Fall River, Massachusetts.  Most people might not immediately recognize why it’s noteworthy that I came across the surname Borden from Fall River but I have read enough on an infamous Borden from Fall River that it jumped out at me as soon as I spotted the information.  The surname jumped right to the top of my priority list with one question in mind.  Were we related to the infamous murderess Lizzie Borden from Fall River?

No Sharp Objects at Family Functions?

borden_lizzie09
Lizzie Borden

No need to resort to finger foods at the next family function.  While, yes indeed, we are related to dear cousin Lizzie it’s a very distant connection.  Lizzie is my 7th cousin 5 times removed.  Our closest ancestor, my 11th great grandfather, was Richard Borden who died in 1671.  In a less researched line it likely would have taken decades, if ever, to discover the distant connection.   Useless but fun information discovered, go me!

There are so many people who connect to any one family tree that the odds of NOT finding something noteworthy are slim.  Consider for a moment that your great grandparents could have each been one of 10 children, and they likely had a large family, and so on for each generation through time.  The numbers of individuals connected can quickly jump into the hundreds and thousands!

My Great Grandpa was a Native American Chief

Many of us grew up with some sort of family legend.  In my family there were tales of my Great Grandmother being Native American and her being related to the first Native American judge, on another side there were claims of being related to President Adams.  Interestingly enough despite all my research to prove these tales I grew up hearing; I have found zero evidence to back up these claims…and plenty of evidence to call it nothing more than myth.

I don’t know how these stories got started or why they continued to be passed down generation after generation.  It was hard to let go of these so-called truths I had grown up with and accept a new set of facts actually supported by historical documents but I have to follow what the records show to be true.  Family legends can be a good jumping off point for research but don’t be afraid to alter your perceptions if the facts don’t add up.  I never found the connections I thought would be there but I did find an Abraham Lincoln connection and Lizzie Borden. You win some, you lose some.

 

In the end, the best stories are waiting to be found.

Oral Traditions and Family Lore

Who Knew?  It Turns Out Grandma Did!

Recently I became aware of a familial connection to a Mayflower Pilgrim.  Apparently Great (times 10) Grandpa, George Soule, way back in the line was an indentured servant on the ship when it made that legendary landing at Plymouth Rock.

It seems ironic to me that I grew up in a family that celebrated those adventurous pilgrims each year with elaborate dinners and big family gatherings yet most of us, myself included, were unaware of how close to home that celebration truly was.  Never once, not a single solitary time, was it ever mentioned to me growing up that we were Mayflower descendants.  It seems this interesting tidbit of family lore was deemed unimportant somewhere along the way and no one talked about it until the information was in danger of being lost.

The Value of Asking Questions and Sharing Stories

When asked about it, my Grandmother, the Mayflower descendant, admitted that she had heard of the information growing up.  It was no big surprise to her.  She was aware of the information all along.  Here she was in her late eighties sitting on this interesting piece of family lore.

45184_mayflower_lg

This instance makes it painfully obvious how important it is for each generation to make an effort to preserve and share the information on our heritage for future generations.  We need to lay stones in our wake for our own descendants to eventually trace and follow.  We need to tell the stories and share the knowledge so that it’s not lost.

Researching into the ancestors in this forgotten family line has led to many discoveries and connections.  I have found connections to Lizzie Borden, and Abraham Lincoln.  I located ancestors who founded towns, served in government, and built buildings that still stand hundreds of years later.  One line turned up the lost heirs to an English estate.  All these discoveries were a breath away from being lost and had already been basically forgotten in my family line.

Grandma Buried Her Skeletons

Occasionally brick walls are built by our ancestors on purpose, that was the case with one of my paternal Great Grandmothers.  She lived until I reached adulthood and I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time asking about her past.  To say she was not forthcoming is to make an understatement.  Her opinion was if everyone knew all the things she had done in her past no one would like her.  I would pry; she would hesitantly provide little details, but it was like pulling teeth.  It took me years to crack some of the brick walls in her family.

My Great Grandmother had escaped an abusive husband early in life.  According to her she smacked him in the head with a skillet, snatched up the baby, and didn’t quit running till she hit Iowa…from Arkansas.  She remarried, her husband adopted her only child, and her ex husband never gave her any problems after that but I’m sure she had a rough time surviving during those years as a single mother.  I have to assume because she was unwilling to discuss it.  I have heard family rumors she resorted to prostitution, there are whispers of running alcohol during the prohibition years, but she was unwilling to tell so large periods of her life will likely forever remain a mystery.  Whatever dark secrets she had Grandma took to the grave with her.

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Wednesday is for Weddings

Weddings are a gift to the genealogist

Marriage records are invaluable when performing pre-1850 genealogical research on female ancestors.  Prior to 1850 only heads of households were listed on the census.  Locating that elusive 200-year-old marriage record could make all the difference in the quest for great-great grandmother’s name.

Here is a favorite wedding day photo of mine.  The photo is from May 28, 1949 when my paternal grandparents, Jay Dee Fulkerson Jr and Loree Jane Ashley, were married in Flint, Michigan.  Pictured with the new couple are both sets of parents.

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Left to Right: Moman Harold Fulkerson, Lilly Mae Weatherspoon, Jay Dee Fulkerson Sr, Loree Jane Ashley, Sarah Eckler, Myron Ashley

Prior to this photo I had never seen a photo of my grandmother’s parents.  In fact, my grandmother’s father, Myron Ashley, pictured on the right with a cigarette in his hand died the year after this photo was taken.  His wife, Sarah Eckler, and my grandfather, Jay Dee Fulkerson Jr, both died before I was born.

During early periods in history, marriage was one of the few instances in a woman’s life when her full birth name might be recorded on documents.  In lucky cases a bride’s parents may also be listed in the marriage record.  Frequently, in the case of someone who was married more than once it can be a puzzle trying to locate each different surname, and surname changes are the cause of more than a few brick walls.  Tracking down every marriage, and searching out not only maiden names but other possible surnames is a vital part of tracking maternal lines.

Frequently locating those marriage records can be a tricky endeavor because couples would travel to another area to get married.  Other vital records searches are simplified by the fact they were typically recorded in the county or state where the person lived.  Marriage records can be located in places the couple never resided.

My grandparents were from West Virginia and Michigan; they married in Angola, Indiana.  Yet another set of grandparents further back in my line, both born and buried in Michigan, they married in Canada.

Tips while researching marriage records

  • Always begin with searching for marriage records using the groom first; his surname was more likely to stay the same and if her surname is unexpected you know to look for other possible marriages.
  • Don’t limit the geographic region of your search, people have been eloping forever.
  • Marriage records can provide the bride’s maiden name….but not always… remember women changed their surnames, sometimes more often than we realize.
  • Don’t disregard a record merely because both spouses don’t match.  Dig deeper to see if it is truly different people or if there is more to the story.
Here is the marriage record of Lucy Bell Brown and Dallas Finley Shuck.

 

finlucyshuck

There are two things that could make this record tricky to locate.

  • First, Dallas Finley who is listed only as Dallas F Shuck commonly went by the name Finley during life.  You had to realize that his legal name was Dallas to locate this record.
  • Second, Lucy was a widow when she married Finley so her last name is recorded as Jamison instead of her maiden name of Brown.

 

Till Death Do Us Part…. Or Not

On the flip side of the wedding coin another valuable source of information can be divorce records.  While it’s easy to think of divorce as a modern-day habit, it happened more often than we realize in history.  Ancestry.com has a wealth of historical divorce records on their site.  Tracking down divorce records can make all the difference between accusing great grandpa of being a bigamist or realizing he might have had a few personality flaws that made him hard to live with.

My great-great-great grandfather, Leming Eckler, kept the marriage and divorce clerks of Michigan busy late in his life.  I have found several marriage and divorce records for him dating from 1858 to 1907.  As a male ancestor his surname never changed making following his trail possible.  If he had been a female ancestor it would have been nearly impossible to follow the trail of rapidly changing names.

Divorce records also help to do something few other records do; they paint a more human picture of the person being researched.  Most historical records show basic vital stats while divorce records might show character flaws such as abandonment, cruelty, or failure to support.  They may not reveal some of the more flattering details of a person but it’s another way to see a new perspective on an ancestor’s personality.

From start to end weddings leave a trail to be followed

Marriage and divorce records can hold bits of information that can be vital to putting together the lineage puzzle.  Locating marriage and divorce records can be challenging but the reward for success makes it  worth the time investment.

 

Source Information

Ancestry.com. Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867–1952. Michigan Department of Community Health, Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics.

Ancestry.com. Michigan, Divorce Records, 1897-1952 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: Michigan. Divorce records. Michigan Department of Community Health, Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics, Lansing, Michigan

“West Virginia Marriages, 1780-1970,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FTHY-MZQ : 4 December 2014), Dallas F Shuck and Lucy Belle Jamison, 1926; citing Nicholas, West Virginia, United States, , county clerks, West Virginia; FHL microfilm 495,646

http://www.wvculture.org/vrr/va_view2.aspx?FilmNumber=495646&ImageNumber=474

Tombstone Tuesday

P.A. Shuck Cemetery White Oak Rd, Fayette County, WV

For Tombstone Tuesday it seems only proper to begin with the place where my love for genealogy was born, the P.A. Shuck Cemetery.  The P.A. Shuck Cemetery gets its name from the man who set aside the land for the cemetery in his 1917 will[1], Perry Addison Shuck, my Great-Great-Great Grandfather.

Perry Addison Shuck

Perry Addison Shuck

The cemetery sits behind a horse pasture, property still owned by members of the original Shuck family, at the end of a narrow right of way.  A simple fence surrounds the small cemetery and the many headstones are placed randomly around the enclosure with few defined paths.

Some of the stones are simple and handmade, rough etchings sometimes barely legible.  Many of the stones belong to veterans, still proudly proclaiming military service long after death.  One bears my own first name, the stone for the woman for who I was named.  Some belong to babies and young children sad reminders of a family tragedy.  A lot I know through memory or stories, while others still are unknown.

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It’s a sacred place, that old mountainside.  You can feel it in the air as you walk among the stones.

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=cr&GRid=84981968&CRid=2437579&

[1] Will Books, 1832-1969; Author: West Virginia. County Court (Fayette County); Probate Place: Fayette, West Virginia Title West Virginia, Wills and Probate Records, 1724-1978 Author Ancestry.com Publisher Ancestry.com Operations, Inc. Publisher Date 2015 Publisher Location Provo, UT, USA

 

Matriarch Monday

If fathers are the foundation on which a family is built then it’s the mothers that are the backbone which keep it standing.  History is full of strong matriarchs who kept the home fires burning through adversity and hardships.  Though they are frequently lost to history, matriarchs play a huge part in any families’ heritage.

Virginia Osborn, also known as Jennie, or Mother Brown late in life, was likely born on Oct 15, 1839 in what was at the time Greenbrier County, Virginia[1]

Jennie Osborne Brown

Jennie Osborn is pictured here, sitting in the middle wearing black, surrounded by some of her female descendants

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Jennie grew up in a time of turmoil for the young American county, and Greenbrier County sits on the dividing line between southern sympathizers who felt compassion for the southern cause and northern unionist who felt loyalty to the fledgling country.

The year of 1860 found young Jennie married to a man by the name of David Fox[2]  but the union was not one fated to stand the test of time

War broke out in the United States in 1861.  Virginia was a state of divided loyalties which led to the formation of West Virginia in 1863.  Greenbrier became part of the new state but many of its native sons felt the call to join their southern brothers and quickly joined the Confederate forces.

David Fox marched off to war[3], leaving a young bride and child behind.  David Fox was ultimately taken prisoner and held at Johnson’s Island before being returned to the south in a prisoner exchange.  After being returned to the south he was sent to Vicksburg, Mississippi where he died on Dec. 31, 1862[4].

Jennie Osborn Fox was left a widow with a young child to care for in an area that was still in the midst of a bloody civil war.  Jennie did what many women of her day did under her circumstances, she remarried.  As luck would have it Tinsley Brown was a neighbor man nearly twice her age that had also recently lost his spouse and was trying to raise kids on his own.  Tinsley Brown and Jennie Fox married on Mar 3, 1864.[5]

Life would once again throw a curve ball at Jennie only 18 year later when once again she was left a widow when Tinsley died on May 26, 1882.[6]  The couple had 9 children in their blended family; the youngest was only 2 when his father died.

Jennie was 42 the second time she found herself a widow.  Tinsley left her with a farm and she continued to live on and work the land he left her as she raised her family.  She never remarried and continued farming while raising her children, and later several grandchildren until she was in her nineties.

According to Jennie’s obituary she was 105 when she died on Jan 31, 1937.[7]  Historic documents place her age more accurately at 97 at the time of her death.

obit for jennie brown

During her life Jennie had a lot of amazing and adverse times.

  • She buried 2 husbands (Confederate Widow)
  • She buried 3 children (mother to 9 all who survived to adulthood)
  • Lived in the middle of a war torn region (Lived during the Civil War and WWI)
  • Witnessed the rise and fall of the Confederacy
  • Celebrated the creation of a new state
  • Experienced the marvel of the creation of things such as the automobile and electricity
  • Lived through southern reconstruction and the great depression

Virginia Jane “Jennie” Osborn Fox Brown was my Great-great-great grandmother.

[1] (Ancestry.com, US Federal Census Year: 1850; Census Place: District 18, Greenbrier, Virginia; Roll: M432_947; Page: 311B; Image: 309 , 2009)

[2] (Ancestry.com, West Virginia, Marriages Index, 1785-1971, 2011)

[3] (Ancestry.com, U.S., Confederate Soldiers Compiled Service Records, 1861-1865, 2011)

[4] (Findagrave.com, 2006 http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=13180392&ref=acom)

[5] (Ancestry.com, Dodd, Jordan, Liahona Research, comp. Virginia Marriages, 1851-1929 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2000. )

[6] (Ancestry.com. West Virginia, Deaths Index, 1853-1973 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data:”West Virginia Deaths, 1853–1970.” Index. FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, Utah. From originals housed in county courthouses throughout West Virginia. “Death Records.”2011)

[7] (Ancestry.com. West Virginia, Deaths Index, 1853-1973 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data:”West Virginia Deaths, 1853–1970.” Index. FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, Utah. From originals housed in county courthouses throughout West Virginia. “Death Records.”2011)

Missing Links

July 30th is the anniversary of the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa.  Seeing an article about his disappearance got me thinking about my own missing relatives.  Those people who exist only in name and vague references in records with more questions than answers as to where they came from or where they went, I wonder what happened to that grandmother way back in my line who vanished after the attack by natives.  Did she really die or did she due to circumstances build a new life with her captors?  I wonder about that Uncle early in my line who “went west” in his youth and was never heard from again.  Did he reach his destination?  Could there be some distant cousins out there somewhere trying to locate their missing kin back east, or did he die before he reached his mysterious destination and lays forgotten in some unmarked grave somewhere? With genealogy is seems it’s a constant search for one person or another that is missing and for every question that is answered two more questions take its place and sometimes it seems there are no answers at all.