Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Genealogy Happy Dance of the Year...Maybe the Decade

A Kiwi cousin, a virtual friend from Scotland I met on a Formula One racing forum, and pure serendipity have me doing the genealogy dance of the year...maybe the decade.

A few weeks ago my Kiwi fourth cousin once removed emailed me with questions about my great great grand aunt, Christina Semple. We knew she was born in 1860 and my cousin surmised she had immigrated to Canada and died there. She had found some memorial monument inscriptions from Dalserf, Scotland, where the family lived. But the inscription we thought was for our Semple family confused the heck out of us because it referenced someone who neither of us had in our Semple tree. The inscription read as follows:

Erected by Alexander Fulton in memory of his [illegible] aged [illegible]4 years, his daughter [illegible] died 15th March 1903 aged 46 years. Also the above Peter Semple died 29th March 1904 aged 82 years. Also John Semple his eldest son died 4th February 1914 aged 67 years. Also his daughter Christina Semple died at Alberta, Canada [illegible]9[illegible].

About as clear as mud isn't it, though it did confirm Christina had moved to Canada. Her parents were tenants of Swinhill Farm in Dalserf.

British Ordnance Survey of Dalserf, Scotland,
including Swinhill farm, home of Peter Semple

On the Lanarkshire Family History website, I discovered a booklet of inscriptions collected by volunteers from Dalserf Parish Church cemetery and published in 2004. It included this inscription on page 15:

Erected by Peter Semple in memory of his wife Janet Torrance, died Swin[.]hill farm 16th November 1896 aged 71 years. Christina Semple died at Alberta, Canada 28th February 1912. (daughter of Jane Semple). (Stone broken) 

Dalserf Parish Church Monumental Inscriptions

Interesting, but this seemed to indicate that Christina Semple was Peter's granddaughter, not his daughter as my cousin had surmised. It also was silent on the question of Alexander Fulton.

I posted a photo of the booklet on Facebook, along with the inscription I found in the booklet. My virtual friend from Scotland had driven to Dalserf last year and taken several photos which he sent to me and I have posted on my public genealogy Facebook page.

Dalserf Parish Church; photograph courtesy of Andrew Scorgie

When he saw my post last night, he went looking through all the photos of Dalserf he took that day, even the ones he didn't send me. Here's where the serendipity comes into play.  He took three photographs of my great great grandfather's memorial marker not knowing it had any connection to me!

Peter Semple monument marker at Dalserf,
Scotland; photograph by Andrew Scorgie

Now that we know Christina's death date and place, we can order her death certificate from the Alberta, Canada, province government.

Pardon me while I do more happy dancing.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Claytors: Building America's Infrastructure

In my family tree I have at least five generations of men named William Graham Claytor. I discovered the Claytor line after being contacted by someone who administered a few AncestryDNA tests for his cousins. I was a match for two of his second cousins, but we had no shared ancestor...then. He thought we must be related through the Mitchell family.

One of my great great grandmothers is Barbara Ann Mitchell (1841-1890). I had not worked on her line at all. She descended from Robert Mitchel or Mitchell, who immigrated to the colonies from Ireland in the 1700s. One of Robert's daughters, Martha Ann Mitchell, married Samuel Claytor. Their third son, Robert Mitchell Claytor's (1792-1865) son was the first William Graham Claytor (1821-1903). His oldest son was William Graham Claytor, Jr. (1852-1903). He also named his son William Graham Claytor (1886-1971).

A portion of my tree which includes four generations named
William Graham Claytor

And it is this William Graham Claytor and his son I am writing about today.

William Graham Claytor (1886-1971)
William was born 26 December 1886 in Bedford County, Virginia. He graduated from Virginia Tech in 1906 and married Gertrude Harris Boatwright sometime before 1908. Gertrude began publishing poetry in the 1920s and is probably best known for her collection entitled Sunday in Virginia and Other Poems. William was an engineer with the Roanoke Railway and Electric Company, which later became the Appalachian Electric Power Company.

His rise in the electric utility business was rapid. In 1923 he was named chief engineer of the company and two years later he was named general manager. In 1926 when American Electric Power acquired his company, he was transferred to New York and was named operating vice president of several power subsidiaries. In 1951 he became a member of the executive committee.

William was probably best known for supervising the construction of a dam, which created lake, on the New River in 1939. The lake and surrounding park were named for him.

Hydro Electric Dam at Claytor Lake; photo courtesy of the New River
Valley Economic Development Allicance

William Graham Claytor, Jr. (1912-1994)
William Graham Claytor, Jr., was born on 14 March 1912 in Roanoke, Virginia, to William Graham and Gertrude Harris (Boatwright) Claytor. He graduated from the University of Virginia in 1933 and Harvard Law School in 1936. During World War II he was the commander of the destroyer escort USS Cecil J. Doyle. In August 1945, without orders, he rescued the survivors of the USS Indianapolis[1], from which only 316 men out of 1,199 survived.

He served as president of the Southern Railway from 1967 to 1977 and was appointed Secretary of the Navy under Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1979. He is often recognized as leading the Navy to accept a woman's right to serve on ships. In 1979 he was appointed Deputy Secretary of Defense and also served a short stint as Acting Secretary of Transportation.

He came out of retirement in 1982 to lead Amtrak. In 1989 Railroad Age magazine named him Railroader of the Year. He was the brother of Robert Claytor, who was president of Norfolk and Western Railway in 1891 and the first chairman and CEO of Norfolk Southern.

William Graham Claytor with part of his train collection;
photograph courtesy of TTOPS magazine

The main hall at Union Station in Washington, DC, is named Claytor Concourse for his loyal service to Amtrak. He is also honored in the National Railroad Hall of Fame. He was apparently a straight-shooting, direct communicator. When a Congressman, who wanted to stop federal funding of Amtrak, asked how many passengers trains could be run; Claytor's response was "NONE!" He told an Amtrak vice president before retiring in 1993, "I don't care they fire me. I'm going to do what I think is right." There is also a semi-permanent exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke entitled, "The Claytor Brothers: Building America's Railroad."

My kind of gentleman. This is another story of the wonderful discoveries I've made since taking the Ancestry DNA test. A previous story may be found here.

[1] The story of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the men onboard at the time is a tragic tale, which I'll tell another day.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

52 Ancestors #17 -- The Mysterious "Alice B" Revealed

Ancestor: Alice Barbara (Hatherly) Riggin

I wrote about John Andrew Riggin last week. You may recall I didn't know his wife's maiden name and referred to her as "Alice B." The research challenge I set for myself Easter Sunday was learning her maiden name.

I last looked at John a couple of years ago, when I was transcribing my father's information into my tree on I was pretty green, but learned quickly enough to review the record hints carefully and think of public trees only as a guide. However, I wasn't using the Search Records link on the profile page of my ancestors at the time, and I wasn't making research notes recording the date and order of the information I find. (I'm still not too good at that when I start making one discovery after another!)

I looked at the 1930 U.S. federal census for John Andrew and Alice B. Riggin, the first record that included both of them together, and realized she had been born in California. It wasn't likely they were married in Missouri as my father surmised, so I went looking for a California birth record. I didn't find one, but I found her death record on

California Death Index for Alice Barbara (Hatherly) Riggin from

Wonderful! The death index included her maiden name and her mother's maiden name. Next I found an obituary for her mother and a wedding announcement for her nephew in the Hayward Daily Review, which both provided rich genealogical detail about Alice's mother's family and confirmed she was married to my John Andrew Riggin. I learned her full name was Alice Barbara Hatherly and her middle name came from her grandmother Barbara Peralta. With all that knowledge and more digging, I was able to put the following incomplete family tree together for my no longer mysterious Alice B.

Alice Barbara Hatherly's parents are at the bottom and her great grandfather is Don Luis Peralta

The man at the top of the tree is Don Luis Maria Peralta. He was a soldier in the Spanish Army and in 1820 received one of the largest land grants from the King of Spain, 44,800 acres of land that encompassed most of the modern East Bay region of California.

1859 plat of the southern portion of Rancho San Antonio, Don Luis Peralta's land grant
Courtesy of Wikipedia

Someday soon I would like to visit the Peralta Hacienda Historical Park. I look forward to blogging more about the Peralta family in the future.

Research is never done. Don't forget to go back and review people you may have thought you'd finished.

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

Alice Barbara Hatherly was born on 12 February 1898 in California to Edward Ruben and Caroline (Whitcomb) Hatherly. She was the great great great granddaughter of Luis Maria Peralta, who received a 44,800 land grant in California from the King of Spain in 1820. She married John Andrew Riggin sometime before 1929 and was his second wife; he apparently divorced his first wife, Elsie C. Prall, a few years after their 1906 marriage. Alice died on 29 Dec 1993 in Santa Clara County, California. I have found no record of her burial yet. Her husband, John, died on 3 Jun 1970 also in Santa Clara County. They had no known children, though John Riggin had a daughter by his first wife, Elsie, named Lillian Irene Riggin, born in Missouri on 25 Jul 1907.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Reprising Pocahontas for the Worldwide Genealogy Collaboration Project

Today is my day of the month to blog on the Worldwide Genealogy -- A Genealogical Collaboration. Since the audience are other genealogists and family historians across the globe, I try to focus on topics specific to Virginia that may hopefully be helpful to others or about my family and why I got interested in family history.

For April, I am reprising my December 2013 post about Pocahontas because I recently discovered I have a very tortuous relationship to her through the research work I've recently been doing on my Mitchell family. One of my paternal great great grandmother was Barbara Ann Mitchell.

Rev, James Mitchell was my 4 times great grand uncle

I hope you'll click over to the Worldwide Genealogy -- A Genealogical Collaboration and check out my post.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Beatrice Colony and the Keene Summer Theater

Izola Forrester's sister, Beatrice (Henderson) Clutts, married Alfred Taylor Colony sometime before 1920. At the time the 1920 census was enumerated, Alfred was a college student and five years younger than his wife. Beatrice had been married previously and had two children. By 1930, the Colony family was living in Keene, New Hampshire, where Alfred was an inn keeper at the Bradford Inn. While in Keene, Beatrice founded the Keene Summer Theater.

Keene Summer Theater, photo courtesy of the Billy Rose Theater Collection, New York Public Library Digital Gallery

The Keene Public Library briefly documented the history of the theater.

"Summer theater in Keene was launched in 1935 when the Repertory Playhouse Associates of New York changed the location of its summer activities from Putnam, Vermont, to Keene. Professionals began annual summer productions under the direction of Herbert V Gellendre in the large barn adjoining the Bradford Inn, Beatrice and Alfred Colony's home. The elegant residence, dating from the early 19th century was originally the home of Captain Daniel Bradford.

Drawing of the Bradford Inn courtesy of Keene and Cheshire County Historical Photos

Royal Beal, a Keene resident, who became well known to theatrical and television audiences, brought his professional skill to the first year's ventures. Beatrice and Alfred Colony, who were associated with the enterprise, became "regulars" over the years as performers, directors, teachers, guides, and champions of Keene dramatic performances. Mrs Colony, a descendant of John Wilkes Booth and one of the nation's most celebrated theatrical families, came naturally by her interest and talent. 

John Wilkes Booth circa 1865, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

World War II brought a cessation of activities after the 1941 season until 1946, when for more than a decade longer the summer theater brought Broadway productions to Keene."

Beatrice and her sister, Izola, long held their mother's belief that she was the daughter of John Wilkes Booth. In fact, Izola wrote a book about the subject in 1937 entitled, This One Mad Act: The Unknown Story of John Wilkes Booth and His Family by His Granddaughter.

I have written about Beatrice (Henderson) Clutts Colony's grandmother and sister several times:

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My Cousin and the Gubernatorial Inauguration

No, William Casey Marland, the governor of West Virginia, who was inaugurated on January 19, 1953, is not a relative…at least I don't think so. But one of my ancestors by marriage did participate in the inauguration program.

1953 West Virginia Inaugural Program. Photograph courtesy of

From the West Virgina Archives and History website:

"Ceremonies began at noon with the playing of the national anthem, the invocation and the singing of the "Lord's Prayer" by young Juilliard-trained tenor, James L Bailey, of Charleston.

James Louis Bailey

James Louis Bailey[1] married Joan Marie Beard, my 5th cousin once removed, on August 24, 1951. He was born in 1921 in Charleston, West Virginia, and studied at the Eastman School of Music; Juilliard School of Music; the Akademie fur Music und darstellende Kunst in Vienna, Austria; and the Royal Academy in London. He subsequently earned multiple degrees in music from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champain, where he served on the voice faculty and later became chairman of the voice department.

From his obituary:

"Mr. Bailey's career was given early impetus when he won top honors in the Chicago Tribune's famed Chicago Musicland Festival. Other professional achievements included his recordings as a soloist for the renowned Little Church Around the Corner in New York City and Follett's educational series on Columbia Records. He appeared as a soloist at the official Memorial Day celebration at Arlington National Cemetery with then President Harry Truman attending. He sang the title role in Benjamin Britten's "St Nicholas" with the Vienna Boys Choir, the Vienna Opera Chorus, and the State Opera Orchestra. He also received critical acclaim for his performances as the narrator in Bach's "St Matthew's Passion."

Surrounded by his family, Dr. Bailey died peacefully at his home in Chicago on May 16, 2013."

[1] James Louis Bailey was born on 8 Aug 1921 at Charleston, Kanawha, West Virginia. He married Joan Marie Beard on 24 August 1951. He died on 16 May 2013 at Chicago, Cook, Illinois. I have not yet researched possible parents or siblings.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

52 Ancestors #16: A Wanderer Returns

Ancestor Name: John Andrew Riggin

Oh sure, old newspaper archives are great for finding your ancestors' obituaries, marriages, birth announcements and social activities; but did you ever look for more than those typical "black and white" facts when searching through musty archives, old microfilm rolls, or online indexes? I have found so much "gold" in these articles that I've added a step to my research process to include hunting down newspaper archives in the places my ancestors lived.

Clementine Wells was my great great grandmother. She married twice, was widowed twice, and had at least six children. The Wells branch of my family tree has been tough to trace, but that's a story for another day. The Troy Weekly Call archive yielded just the color I love about John Andrew Riggin[1], one of Clementine's sons:

Troy Weekly Call 17 Sep 1904

John Riggin, of this City, Who Has Sailed Almost Around the World, Tires of Sun Life and Returns
John Riggin, a son of Mrs. Wm. Collins of this city, returned last Saturday from San Francisco and arrived in Troy Sunday for a visit of a few days with home folks.

Since last leaving Troy about two years ago young Riggin has traveled almost around the world as a sailor and has acquired some valuable experience. He first enlisted as a sailor on an American sailing vessel at Portland, Ore., and went to Cape Town, South Arica. There he enlisted on a German ship of the same kind and went to New Castle and Sidney, Australia. The crew was shipwrecked of the coast of Sidney and picked up by a tug. He then went on an Italian sailing vessel and on account of the hardships and starvation to which he was subjected, was among a number to desert the vessel leaving several months' pay behind. On the Hawaiian Islands he went on another American ship which finally landed him at Tacoma, Wash.

Young Riggin says a sailor's life is a dog's life and he wants no more of it, but would take nothing for the experience and sightseeing has had had. He has secured a position with the Heydt bakery in St. Louis and how proposes to settle down.

Yes, the article contained and confirmed some genealogical facts:  1) Clementine Wells remarried after her first husband died to William Collins, 2) John Riggin was her son, and 3) Clementine Wells lived in Troy, Illinois -- all things I already knew. But unknown to me was the character and life experience of John Riggin. This articles provides a taste of both.

What interesting things have you learned about your ancestors in old newspapers?

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

[1] John Andrew Riggin was born 15 October 1881 at Madison County, Illinois, to John Wesley "Wes" and Clementine (Wells) Riggin. His father died 5 months before he was born. He moved to Oakland, Alameda, California in 1909 and married someone named Alice on 19 October 1909. He died on 3 Jun 1970 at San Jose, Santa Clara, California. I do not know if he and Alice had children as none were ever listed on the 1920, 1930 or 1940 census.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Day a Generation Died

On 18 Mar 1937 a natural gas leak caused an explosion at the London School in New London, Texas, destroying the school and killing more than 295 students and teachers. Of the 600 people in the school only 130 escaped serious injury. It remains the deadliest school disaster in American history. Many call it the day a generation died.

London School after the explosion; photo courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons

A variety of decisions and actions led to the explosion and the Wikipedia article does a good job explaining the more technical reasons behind the accident. Another good website that includes information about the victims is New London School.

Many parents had been on the 10-acre school campus attending a PTA event. After the explosion, they reacted immediately and began digging through rubble with their bare hands. One mother had a heart attack and died when she found out her young daughter died in the explosion.

In 1939 a large granite cenotaph was erected in the median of Texas State Highway 42, across from the school site, commemorating the disaster.

London School memorial cenotaph; photo courtesy of Wikipedia

At least two of Charlie and Belle Walker's daughters attended London School that day. One, Mary Inez, died in the explosion.

Mary Inez Walker was buried at Huffines Cemetery in Cass County, Texas
Photograph courtesy of

Ludie Mildred Walker, the surviving daughter, was born on 25 April 1923 at Snow Hill, Arkansas. She married Kenneth Albert Pharr, my 6th cousin once removed and they had three children. Ludie died on 22 October 2005 at Houston, Texas. It's clear from her obituary that the explosion left a lasting impression on her:

"Born in Snow Hill, Arkansas to Charles E. and Belle Hayes Walker and went to Heaven in Houston, Texas, her home of 40 years.

Mildred had many fond memories of her childhood playing with her cousins around her grandparent's home in Cass County, Texas. She was schooled in New London, Texas, and survived the 18 March 1937, New London explosion, where her sister, Inez, was killed. Mildred was a 1947 graduate of TSCW (now TWU).

Ludie Mildred (Walker) Pharr

She joined Gethsemane United Methodist Church in 1966 and was a member of the Beacon/Friendship Sunday School class. Mildred has many beloved friends and family who will miss her greatly. No finer wife, mother, sister or friend can be found."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Did John Wilkes Booth Escape?

Today is the 149th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Izola Forrester, a famous American author and film screenwriter, grew up thinking John Wilkes Booth, the assassin, was her grandfather. She never believed Booth was shot by a Union soldier in a barn in rural Virginia when he refused to give himself up.  She documented what she thought happened to him in her book This One Mad Act, which was published in 1937. Contrary to the official assassination story, Forrester attempted to prove:
  • John Wilkes Booth was secretly married to her grandmother
  • Booth and Forrester's grandmother had a daughter, Ogarita Rosalie, in 1859; her middle name was for Booth's favorite sister.
  • Lincoln's assassination was instigated by men high in the order of the Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC), said to have been a branch of Freemasonry
  • James William Boyd, a confederate solider was killed in the Garrett barn, not Booth
  • Booth escaped from the barn and lived in exile in California, England and India until his death in 1879
  • Booth and Forrester's grandmother had a son in 1870, who grew up as Harry Stevenson, nearly five years after the assassination
There is a fascinating article on the Barnes Review website entitled Wanted: The Hidden History of Lincoln's Assassin John Wilkes Booth, His Great Escape and the Truth about the Plot. I hope you'll read it and let me know what you think of this alternative history of the assassination of one of our most famous presidents.

Capture of John Wilkes Booth. Courtesy of The Smithsonian Instituate, The Harry T Peters Collectionn

Izola (Hills/Henderson/Forrester) Merrifield/Page (1878-1944) was the wife of my sister-in-law's 8th cousin once removed.

Are their any conspiracy theories in your family history?

 I've written about Izola Forrester before: Izola Forrester: American Author, and her grandmother, Martha Lizola (Mills) Bellows Stevenson: She Seemed Rather Fantastic and Extravagant and  Secret Wife of John Wilkes Booth?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

52 Ancestors #15: Secret Wife of John Wilkes Booth?

Ancestor Name: Martha Lizola (Mills) Bellows Stevenson

April 15th is the 149th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth. So it seems appropriate to write about Martha Lizola Mills again. I believe I could write about her for years to come. She, her daughter Ogarita Elizabeth Bellows, and her granddaughter, Izola Louise Hills, all believed Martha Lizola was the secret wife of John Wilkes Booth. They also believed Booth escaped and lived several more years and that he fathered a son with Martha Lizola after Lincoln's assassination.

Documentation and the recollections of Martha Lizola's granddaughter, which she included in a book, This One Mad Act, agree. Her parents were Abraham Standish and Izola Maria (Mendosa) Mills. Abraham was the owner and captain of a trading schooner in the China Trade. He met his wife in Spain. According to Martha's granddaughter, Izola Maria died giving birth to her only daughter on board ship off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, during a storm. Martha Lizola was primarily raised by her aunt, Abraham's sister, Fanny (Mills) D'Arcy.

Martha Lizola (Mills) Bellows Stevenson
Photograph from This One Mad Act

Charles Bellows is never mentioned in This One Mad Act but Massachusetts marriage records indicated he and Martha Lizola were married 30 Jul 1855 in Boston. Rhode Island birth records listed Charles and Martha as the parents of Ogarita Elizabeth, who believed she was actually John Wilkes Booth's daughter. Navy muster rolls seem to prove that Charles could not have been the father as he was stationed on a ship off Montevideo, Uruguay, during the critical period.

The 1860 census indicated Martha Lizola was living in Boston with Ogarita and a son, Harry, aged  five. Little Harry disappeared from the records after that; so I assume he died as a child. Martha's story was that she was a young actress and met John Wilkes Booth in Richmond in 1858 or 1859. It was love at first sight. She said she and Booth lived on a small farm in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and that Booth would return to their home between acting engagements.

After the Civil War, Martha Lizola married John Stevenson on 23 Mar 1871 in Boston. This is supported by Massachusetts marriage records. She claimed it was a marriage of convenience and that the son born to them a month earlier, Harry Jerome Dresback Stevenson, was actually the son of John Wilkes Booth. She claimed she married Stevenson, a friend of Booth's so she could travel to California and meet Booth while he was in hiding before leaving the country. It was during that meeting that Harry Jerome was conceived.

Harry Stevenson; photograph from This One Mad Act

Martha Lizola died in 1887 and is buried in Plains Cemetery at Canterbury, Connecticut.

Her daughter, Ogarita, was also a stage actress, and began using Booth as her stage name in 1884, six years before her death at the age of 32. Ogarita's daughter, Lizola Louise (Hills) was adopted by George Forrester, a Chicago newspaper man, after her mother's death. Her second husband, Mann Page, was my sister-in-law's 8th cousin once removed.

Ogarita Elizabeth (Bellows) Wilson Henderson
Photograph from This One Mad Act

So do you believe Martha Lizola (Mills) Bellows Stevenson married John Wilkes Booth and that he fathered two of her children?

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

Related posts: Izola Forrester: American Author and She Seemed Rather Fantastic and Extravagant.

Martha Lizola Mills was born at Stamford, Fairfield, Connecticut, in 1837 to Abraham Standish and Izola Maria (Mendosa) Mills. Her father was a sea captain. She married first Charles Still Bellows on 30 Jul 1855 at Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts; second John H Stevenon on 23 Mar 1871; and third, according to her granddaughter, but no documentation has yet been found, Edwin S Bates two or three years before her death. She died in Nov 1887 in Canterbury, Windham, Connecticut and is buried in Plains Cemetery at Windham. She went to her death believing she had been married to John Wilkes Booth, that both her children were his, and he escaped capture at the Garrett farm and died in 1879.

According to Wikipedia, muster rolls indicate Charles Still Bellows was aboard a ship near Montevideo, Uruguay, for the critical time period, making it impossible for him to be the father of Ogarita (Bellows) Henderson, Izola Forrester's mother.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ancestry DNA and Finding a "New" Cousin

My AncestryDNA results arrived several months ago when I was working on my great grandmother, Effie Davis Beard's paternal Beard line. I was able to conclusively work back to her great grandfather, Samuel Beard (1750-1814), but then I got stuck. Who were Samuel Beard's parents?

As I started looking at my DNA test results, I had about a half dozen matches with a shared ancestor. Those were great and mostly from my father's Jennings line, which have several very able and talented researchers so the trees are quite well built out and documented. After reviewing all the matches with a shared ancestor, I started looking at some other high confidence matches without shared ancestors.

One really got my attention.  Their family tree was filled with Beards and it seemed they originated from Bedford County, Virginia, just like my Beards. As I reviewed her tree -- and it was a wonderful tree that included old photographs and personal reminisces about family members -- I learned her Beards descended from a Captain David Beard (1745-1815). Could he be related to my Samuel Beard?

David Beard's father was Adam Beard (1725-1777).  Adam's father, John Beard (1705-1780), left a will in which he named several grandchildren. Through this will and several other documents related to David and Samuel's aunts, uncles and siblings, I've concluded they are brothers -- a fact the DNA match seems to support. Once I had that worked out, I began working on David Beard's descendants was was able to confirm how my DNA match and I were related. I reached out to my DNA match and introduced myself.

The Mason County, West Virginia, cabin of Adam Beard (1787-1872), son of Capt. David Beard
Courtesy of my DNA match's son's family tree

Over the last several months, we have become research collaborators, trading information back and forth, and email buddies.  Her uncle Clarence Mern Beard (1885-1960), wrote a book entitled, Last of the Covered Wagons. It is out of print now and I have not been able to find a copy. My cousin had a copy of the original manuscript and thoughtfully typed it into Word and sent me an electronic copy. She has allowed me to blog about the book from time to time and I look forward to doing so.

Clarence Mern Beard (left) with his father-in-law, Francis Henry Banker
I would love to know the story behind this photo.
Photograph is courtesy of member dac529

You just never know what you'll find at the other end of a DNA match!

Update: Another AncestryDNA test match had me confused for awhile, until the three of us did more research. We discovered my first DNA match, and a descendant of the people described in this post, descended from Adam Beard's (1725-1777) youngest son, also named Adam Beard (1755-1788), not his older brother, David. Genealogy research is never done.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

George Land Lotteries

Henry Crawford Tucker, Sr (1752-1832) was my sister-in-law's five times great grandfather. He was 25 when he joined the Continental Army in 1777 under Captain Thomas Ridley, a Southampton County, Virginia, neighbor. After Ridley was promoted, he served under Captain William Rogers. He was at the Battle of Brandywine, the encampment at Valley Forge, and the battles of Monmouth Courthouse, Petersburg, and Yorktown[1]. He served in both the Third and Fourth Virginia Line.

He must have spent some time just across the border in North Carolina after the war, perhaps visiting his brothers, John and William, who were living in Chatham County at the time of the 1790 census. For it was there he met and married Sarah Hunter, who was the daughter of Elizabeth and Elisha Hunter of Chatham County, North Carolina.

By 1785, Henry Crawford (or Crofford or Crafford) Tucker was established in Georgia. Over the course of his life he amassed a large amount of land in Montgomery, Jefferson, Wilkinson, Irwin, and Thomas counties. In 1826 he and his wife were among the founding members of Bethel Church.[2] Though Henry was the first Tucker to live in Georgia, he is certainly not the last. Nine generations of the Tucker family have called the Peach State home since Henry Crawford Tucker arrived in the state.

Bethel Primative Baptist Church Historical marker; photograph by David Seibert

Georgia was sparsely settled when Tucker arrived and just opening its frontiers. Virginians and Carolinians came in droves. Bounty land was available to veterans and headright grants were strong incentives to relocate. Tucker acquired 202-1/2 acres in the 1805 Georgia land lottery and more land in the 1825 lottery. The lotteries were a system of land distribution that replaced the headright grants after the Yazoo land scandal. Under the system, qualifying citizens could register for a chance to win lots of land that had formerly been occupied by the Creek Indians and the Cherokee Nation. The lottery system was used by Georgia from 1805 through 1833. Although other states also used land lotteries, none were implemented at the scale of the Georgia contests.

Grant issued to a lottery participant in the 1832 Cherokee Land Lottery
Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia

The lotteries changed the political power structure in Georgia. The elite planter aristocracy that controlled the state before the Revolutionary war made way for the "common man" once land ownership was more broadly established among the state's citizens.

An illustration of the land lottery courtesy of the New Georgia Encyclopeida
[1] I believe every Revolutionary War soldier I have in my family tree claimed to be at Yorktown!

[2] Elders of the church eventually excommunicated Henry Tucker in 1829 for drinking and in-attendance.

Henry Crawford Tucker, Sr. was born on 23 February 1752, at Southampton County, Colony of Virginia, to Benjamin and Elizabeth (Crofford) Tucker. He served in the Revolutionary War under Captain Thomas Ridley. He married Sarah "Sally" Hunter sometime before 1785 at Chatham County, North Carolina. By 1826 he was living at Lowndes County, Georgia, amassing land and assisting in the founding of the Bethel Primitive Baptist Church. He was awarded 202 acres in Wilkinson County, Georgia, in the 1805 land lottery, and more property in Washington County, Georgia, in the 1832 lottery. He died sometime after 1832 at Lowndes, Georgia. He and his wife, Sally, had nine known children.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

52 Ancestors #14: I'm Sorry Great Great Grandma!

Ancestor Name: Margaret (Semple) Muir

I'm not sure what the rules are about writing about the same ancestor twice during the 52 Ancestors challenge, but I felt it was important for me to do so. In Week #4 I all but accused my great great grand mother, Margaret (Semple) Muir[1] of being a hussy! She did have an illegitimate child before she married James Muir; but in light of what I know now, I prefer to think of that as a youthful indiscretion.

Janet "Jessie" Semple birth registration courtesy of ScotlandsPeople

Thanks to the wonderful research collaboration with my New Zealand cousin, I believe we've got the real story behind James Muir not being with the family. My cousin's first genealogy book was about the Scottish Semple family. The book is now out of print, but she sent me the chapter on Peter Semple and his family. Peter Semple was Margaret (Semple) Muir's father. The chapter provided a description of the life the family lived in Dalserf, Lanarkshire, Scotland, in the mid- to late-1800s, the birth dates, death dates, and information about spouses and children.  Margaret's husband, James Muir, supposedly died in 1926 at Mystic, Appanoose, Iowa. That made sense to me because Mystic was located in Walnut Creek Valley, which was one continuous mining camp at the time James died. What didn't make sense when I saw the death record index citation was his date of birth -- listed as 1894. That was 50 years too late; so I discounted the information and left his date of death blank in my tree.

What I did learn after looking up the birth registration records for all of Margaret and James Muir's children born in Scotland, was that James Muir was the informant when his son, Peter Semple Muir, was born in 1886. So I was feeling a bit better about Margaret's reputation!

That still didn't explain why the available documents were silent on the question of James Muir's possible immigration to the United States, the two children born in the United States or why Margaret didn't follow the Scottish naming convention for the son she should have named after her husband. Then my cousin found a passenger list record for James Muir. He immigrated to the United States on 6 June 1887 aboard the steamship Ethiopia, which meant he arrived three months before his wife and children. With all these new discoveries, my thoughts about Margaret were evolving.  I now believed all of Margaret's children (except the oldest daughter) were James' and they separated after the youngest was born. But how to prove it?

Passenger list for Anchor Line's Steamship Ethiopia courtesy of

As I've progressed in my research abilities, I've developed a step-by-step research process that I go through for every ancestor I enter into my tree. New steps get added as I get smarter, and I realized I'd last really investigated James when I was a beginner and there were several things I hadn't done. So I took a "Mulligan" (golf speak for a do-over) and started over. Once I verified all the information I did have and ensured I had at least one source citation for every known fact, I clicked the Search Records link on

A search result was returned for a 1925 Iowa census record. I'd seen that record many times but discounted it as not being relevant before. The other day I opened the image of the census record and really looked at it. It sure looked like my James Muir, but his wife, Maggie Muir, certainly wasn't my Margaret (Semple) Muir. My Margaret Muir died in 1920; I have her death certificate. Who was this Maggie Muir and why did most of the other people in the house have Greenbank as their last name?

1925 Iowa State Census courtesy of

After lots of research, this Maggie Muir turned out to be James Muir's second wife. Her first husband  had been committed to the Mt. Pleasant Hospital for the Insane sometime after 1895. He died there, perhaps in 1924. James Muir was listed on the 1900 census as a boarder in the home of Maggie Greenbank at Mystic, Iowa. His said he was divorced at the time. On the 1915 Iowa state census he indicated he first came to Iowa in 1895. Back in Reading, Illinois, his wife Margaret (Semple) Muir said she was married on the 1900 census.  But by 1913 James had married Maggie (McIntosh) Greenbank. I ordered James Muir's death certificate; as I suspected, his birth date was a transcription error. The birth date was listed as 1844 and his father was correct. It was a shame his second wife, the informant, didn't know his mother's name, but she died before he was 12 years old. I wonder if he remembered.

Margaret (McIntosh) Greenbank/Muir, the "other woman;" courtesy
So now I know why James' daughter by Margaret (Semple) Muir did not provide her father's name on her marriage license when she married in 1902. He had abandoned the family by that time, perhaps as early as 1895. Poor Margaret (Semple) Muir; she was no hussy. She was hard done by. She was pregnant eleven times and lost five children when they were very young. Her husband left her with several young children, the youngest likely only a year old. And she spent her entire adult life living in seedy coal patches (coal mining towns).

Coal patch circa 1900; photo courtesy of the Historical Scoiety of Schuylkill County, Pottsville, Pennsylvania

I'm sorry great great grandma!

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

[1] Margaret Semple was born on 22 June 1849 at Stonehouse, Lanark, Scotland, to Peter and Janet (Torrance) Semple. She had one illegitimate daughter, Janet "Jessie" Semple in 1871. Margaret married James Muir, a coal miner, on 4 July 1873 at Dalserf, Lanark, Scotland.  James arrived in New York, New York, on 6 Jun 1887 aboard the steamship Ethiopia. Margaret and their children followed and arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 30 September 1887. She had seven children with James before they emigrated from Scotland; however, only three were living when they boarded the ship at Glasgow, Scotland. Her daughter, Jessie, was also onboard the same ship. While living in Streator, La Salle, Illinois, Margaret had two more children. By 1900, her husband James was no longer living with the family. Margaret moved to Nineveh, Adair, Missouri, sometime soon after 1910 to help her widowed son, Robert (my great grandfather), care for his motherless young children. She died in Kirksville, Adair, Missouri, three days after an operation of uremia on 31 May 1920. She is buried in Novinger Cemetery at Novinger, Adair, Missouri.  Margaret indicated on the 1910 census that she had eleven children but only six were living; so there is one child for which we've yet to account.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Bundaberg Cemetery

Genealogy and family history research take you to some interesting places. While researching my grandmother's father's Muir family, I discovered my great great grand aunt, Henrietta (Muir) Williamson immigrated to Australia with her husband, John Williamson, and their four children. They arrived in Brisbane on 6 May 1885 aboard the cargo ship, Waroonga.

Immigration Depot on William Street, Brisbane, Australia.
Drawing courtesy of an member

Henrietta and her family lived in Queensland, Australia until their deaths. Henrietta's husband, John, died in 1919 and Henrietta in 1929. They are both buried in Bundaberg Cemetery. The original cemetery was originally established on land surrounded by current day Woongarra, Mayborough, Woondooma, and McLean streets. In 1868 Alexander Walker and Walter Adams envisioned the prosperous city of Bundaberg would soon encroach on the cemetery. They gazetted the land on which the current cemetery is located. The original cemetery was closed and the bodies were exhumed and reburied at either the General Cemetery or the Catholic Cemetery. Unfortunately, the records of the exhumations and burials before 1879 have been lost to the sands of time. Many of Queensland's founders are buried at Bundaberg in the monumental section.

John and Henrietta (Muir) Williamson's grave; photograph courtesy of an member

Their son, who died in in 1908 at the age of 23 is buried with his parents.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Dead Poets Society

There are poets in my family tree, but I will be the first to admit reading poetry is not at the top of my bucket list. Some poems resonate with me, which I shall not name, because they are distinctly out of style. It's just that I don't love poetry.  However, a favorite movie is Dead Poets Society and I am reminded of some quotes by Robin Williams' character, John Keating:

We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.

That sounded like it would have appealed to "poor Natty" Tucker, who had a powerful business and political leader for a father and doctors and lawyers for brothers while Nathaniel Tucker[1] just wanted to write poetry. (I wrote about "Natty" and his most famous poem here.)

Image courtesy of IMDb

The John Keating character also said this:

They're not that different from you, are they? ... Full of hormones, just like you.

According to his wife, James Martin Amsberry[2] was full of hormones, too. He wrote a poem about his wife, Lela Ann (Harbert) Amsberry, entitled "My Forest Queen."

Lela Ann Harbert with her sister, Iva Ellen. Photo courtesy of Brian Harbert via

James expressions of love and affection in "My Forest Queen" didn't stop Lela Ann from divorcing James Martin Amsberry sometime before 1930. Her youngest daughter, wrote a book entitled My Mother's Daughter:

"…the union was severed. She must have come out of that marriage an emotional cripple. She was repelled by the sight of Dad and equated her life with him as a form of slavery thus befalling every married woman. She grouped all the male gender together as having a single-purpose in life, that of 'using' the female counterpart for his pleasures.' The very odious overtones of her remarks scared me for life."

The divorce must have also been devastating for Vivian's father:

"…At the peak of all this distress, one day my Dad disappeared. My sister learned someone had Dad committed to the State Hospital in Salem [Oregon]…He appreciated our visits and never failed to ask about Mama…In his diary was this notation…One thing, if it is the Lord's desire, I hope to be restored to the mother of my children, the wife of my youth."

James Martin Amsberry's wish was not fulfilled in life. But at the death of his ex-wife, Lela Ann, in 1952, she was buried beside James, who died in 1939. And so James got his wish to be reunited with his wife.

James Martin and Lela Ann (Harbert) Amsberry are buried Multnomah Park Cemetery in Portland, Oregon. Photograph is courtesy of Chuck Munn via

The poets in my family tree may not have created words and ideas that changed the world, but they were each interesting in their own way.

My Forest Queen
She was born in West Virginia --
There's no better place on Earth
For the noblest of God's creatures
To derive a fitting birth -- 

She was schooled among its forests,
Its valleys and its hills,
Her bare feet trod the pebbles
Of the bright and sparkling rills.

In the valley where the bluebird
And the martin sought to nest
In boxes she erected
In the place she loved the best,
Where the cunning gray squirrel chattered
In the white oak trees so tall
Where the top-knot red bird whistled
And the quail sent forth his call.

There she rambled in the wild wood,
Gathering flowers in the spring;
'Mid the beauteous scene of childhood
While the woods with music ring.
Sometimes she sought the babbling brook
Where fish are wont to sport;
With bended pin for fishing hook
She brought the flounder forth.

I knew her in her childhood there
From three years old to ten
Then came out west and stayed four years
Then wandered back again.
I met her in a country store
Upon a wintry day
Her ruddy cheeks appealed to me
'Though aged fourteen, they say.

I visited her parents there --
They followed us out west,
There were my friends and neighbors, too,
I treated them my best --
Two years elapsed -- she is my wife.
A rugged road we've trod.
Two dozen years of life we've seen
Beneath the fatal rod.

Six children came to bless us here
Beneath the circling sun --
It seems to me but yesterday
Since our voyage was begun.
But, if I'm called to leave her here
To tread life's path alone, 
I'll not regret the choice I made --
That Fate tus made us one.

She bore the battle bravely'
Was ever brave and true.
In poverty she did her part,
'Tis said of very few.

And now my song is ended.
I will fill the cup of Life,
And drink the health of Lela Ann,
My Faithful loving wife.

[1] Nathaniel Tucker may be related my sister-in-law. DNA has proved the Georgia Tucker line is not known (at this time) to be related to the Bermuda Tuckers, but people are still trying to sort out which of the three Henry Tuckers in Virginia was the father of Benjamin Tucker (1704-1778), her 6th great grandfather.

[2] James Martin Amsberry is my third cousin three times removed.

NOTE: I ran across references to Vivian Louise (Amsberry) Martin's book, My Mother's Daughter several times in my research.  However, it is out of print but I was able to eventually purchase a copy on eBay. I am indebted to Brian and David Harbert, who wrote Echoes from the Blockhouse: The Thomas Harbert Family Saga. They included excerpts from Vivian's book, which helped answer several mysteries about which my Amsberry research collaborators and I were grappling.