Saturday, February 28, 2015

Introducing the Slave Name Roll Project

Not surprisingly I enjoy watching genealogy programs on television. I marvel at the struggles African-Americans have to go through to find out anything about their slave ancestors before 1870. Many times, the key clues are found in the documents of their owners. Slaves were valuable property and were often bequeathed by name to an heir.

As a way to give back to my African-American genealogy colleagues, I am going through my ancestors wills and property records and posting any information about a named slave I find. In this way the names of slaves and their owners will be posted on the Internet and available through search engines to current and future researchers. If you would like to join me in the Slave Name Roll Project, simply submit a comment to this post which includes link to your posts and I will include on the Slave Name Roll Project page on this website. If you do not blog or have a website, just list your information in a comment on my blog.

Tobacco slaves in Virginia c1670; image courtesy of Wikipedia

Each year during Black History Month, I will remind everyone of this project so it become a continuous effort.

I would like to thank Cathy Meder-Dempsey of Opening Doors in Brick Walls because her post for Black History month (parts 12 and 3) gave me the idea. I would also like to thank Heather Wilkinson Rojo of Nutfield Genealogy, who generously let me steal her Honor Roll Project concept.

Slave Name Roll Project

We begin the project with slaves owned by families living in three states: Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.

If your ancestors owned slaves, will you join us in contributing to the Slave Name Roll Project?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Slaves of the Riggin Family of Somerset County, Maryland

From time to time I will publish the names of the slaves of my ancestors so they are on the Internet and available to search engines. One day I hope they will help someone break through their slave brick wall.

The first Teage Riggin or Riggen was born in Ireland c1640. His family was on the losing side of one of several Irish Civil Wars. When Oliver Cromwell prevailed in 1652 he sent many young men 10 years of age or older as slaves or indentured servants to Virginia and the West Indies. Teage arrived in Virginia in the 1650s. We do not when or how he came to be on the eastern shore of Maryland in the next decade, but he did. In 1667 he registered his cattle brand and married Mary London, daughter of Ambrose London, who gave him property in Somerset County that same year. Teage Riggin wrote a will in May of 1707 and died later that year. His will was proved on 12 November 1707. In it he gave a few slaves to his heirs but did not name them. He sons would be different and name slaves in their wills.

Teague Riggin II (1670-1721)

Teage's oldest son, also named Teague was born on 27 March 1670 and died on 27 December 1721. His will was proved on 22 March 1722. In it he bequeathed two slaves by name:

Item...I give and bequeath to my son, Charles Riggin, 2 negroes that is to say -- negro, PAT and negro, MARK -- her increase to him and his heirs forever.

It is possible that Pat and Mark had entered into a slave marriage, which is why they were bequeathed together and that Teague Riggin mentioned "her increase," which is to say future children.

John Riggin (c1680-c1740)

John Riggin was a younger brother of Teague Riggin II. He wrote a will on 1 November 1738 and it was proved on 20 August 1740. In it he bequeathed some named slaves:

I give and bequeath to my son, Cornelius Riggin, one negro boy named, SAMPSON, at the death of his mother to him and his heirs forever. Likewise, I give and bequeath a young sorrel horse and one feather bed and furniture and one iron pot and one basin and dish and three plates to my son Cornelius Riggin and his heirs forever.

I give and bequeath to my daughter, Mary, one negro girl named LUCY, at the death of her mother -- only the first child that LUCY has that lives to be two years old. I give and bequeath to my daughter, Jemime. I give my daughter Mary one feather bed and furniture, one pot, one dish, one basin, two plates.

I give and bequeath to my daughter, Martha, a negro girl named FISSIS, at the death of her mother, one feather bed, and furniture and one pot, one dish, one basin, two plates.

I give and bequeath to my daughter, Jemima, as above mentioned, the first negro that LUCY brings that lives to be two years old to her and her heirs forever. One pot, one dish, one basin, two plates, one feather bed and furniture, one pair of curtains, one pair of sheets, and one pair of blankets, one chest, one trunk.

Teage Riggin III (c1702-c1743)

Teague Riggin II's oldest son was also named Teague. I call him Teague III for my own sanity. He married Mary Townsend, daughter of James Townsend. His will was proved on 23 February 1743. In it he bequeathed some slaves by name:

Item...I give and bequeath unto my son, Teague Riggin, one negro boy called HOWBOURN, my pistols and my holster, my case of bottles, and my desk to him, his heirs and assigns forever.

Item...I give and bequeath unto my beloved wife, Mary Riggon, my two negroes, QUAKER and DINA, my riding horse and the colt of my gray mare to her heirs and assigns forever.

Item...I give and bequeath unto my son, James Riggon, one negro boy called COSAIR, and young gray mare, my gun, one desk, to him and his heirs forever.

Item...I give and bequeath unto my daughter, Elizabeth Townsend, one negro boy called DRAM, one cow and calf, one chair which is now at her house to her heirs and assigns forever.

Item...I give and bequeath to my daughter, Sarah Riggon, one negro boy called HARRY, to her heirs and assigns forever.

Item...I give and bequeath to my daughter, Grace Riggin, one negro boy, named JONAS, to her heirs and assigns forever.

Item...I give and bequeath to my daughter, Rebecca Riggon, one negro boy, called JACOB, to her, her heirs and assigns forever.

Item...I give and bequeath unto my daughter, Mary Riggon, one negro girl called PATIENCE to her heirs and assigns forever.

John Riggin, Jr. (unknown-c1776)

John Riggin, Jr., was the son of John Riggin (c1680-c1740) and a grandson of the original Teage Riggin who came to the American colonies from Ireland. He wrote his will on 2 November 1773 and the will was proved or probated on 2 May 1776. In it he bequeathed some named slaves:

Item...I give and bequeath unto my well-beloved daughter, Sarah McCrady, my negro girl named GIN, to she and her heirs and assigns forever.

Item...I give and bequeath unto my well-beloved daughter, Mary Matthews, my negro girl named JUDAH, after the death or marriage of my wife, Jemima Riggin, to her and her heirs forever.

Item...I give and bequeath unto my well-loved son, Nathan Riggen, my negro boy named WATT after the death or marriage of my wife, Jemima Riggen, to him and his heirs and assigns forever.

Item...I give and bequeath unto my well-beloved son, John Riggin, my negro boy named FESTIS, and also one feather bed and furniture and my gun and my fiddle after the death or marriage of my wife, Jemimah Riggen, to him and his heirs and assigns forever.

Item...I give and bequeath unto my well-beloved daughter, Rhody Riggen, my negro girl named LEAH, and also one feather bed and furniture after the death or marriage of my wife, Jememiah Riggin, to her own heirs and assigns forever.

Hannah (Harris) Riggin (c1734-c1787)

Hannah Harris was the wife of Teague Riggin, son of Charles Riggin, Sr., younger brother of Teague Riggin II. She was born about 1734 and wrote her will on 1 October 1785. The will was proved on 29 May 1787. In it she bequeathed some named slaves:

Firstly...I give and bequeath my negro man called JACOB to my son, James Rigan, to him and his heirs and assigns forever.

Secondly...I give and bequeath my negro woman called NANCE with all her increase to my son, Benton Rigan, to him and his heirs and assigns, and also to the said Benton Regan, his heirs and assigns, I give one feather bed and bolster and pillow, one country made linen sheet, one English linen sheet...

Eighthly...I give and bequeath unto my negro woman, NANCE, one old damask gown, one black and yellow single chain pretty coat, one old shift and apron and a cape and handkerchief.

Teague Riggin (unknown-c1803)

I am not yet confident I have figured out how this Teague Riggin fits into the Riggin family. He wrote his will on 20 July 1802 and it was proved on 10 May 1803 in Somerset County, Maryland.

Item...I give unto my son, George Riggin, one negro man name YORK and one half of the stock of hogs now in my mark over and above what I have heretofore given him in possession to be his whole share of my estate both real and personal.

Item...I give unto my son William Riggin, one negro named PETER provided that my son returns to the United States of America within five years from this date but if he should not return in the five years as aforesaid then my will is that the said negro PETER shall become part of the remainder of my estate and be distributed in the same manner as herein after directed...

Edward Riggin (unknown-c1813)

Edward Riggin is another person who I do not yet know how he fits into the Riggin family. He wrote his will on 8 June 1812 and it was probated on 22 June 1813 in Somerset County, Maryland.

I give to my beloved brother, James Riggin, whom I likewise constitute and make and ordain the sole executor of this my last will and testament, two mules, negroes by the name of JOSHUA, one negro woman named JANE and her child and all her increase and all other my property after paying my just debts by him freely to be properly enjoyed...

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Slaves of John Beard (1705-1780) of Bedford County, Virginia

From time to time I will publish the names of the slaves of my ancestors so they are on the Internet and available to search engines. One day I hope they will help someone break through their slave brick wall.

John Beard was born in Bedford County, Virginia, in 1705 and died in the same county on 26 November 1780. He married Elizabeth Rutherford (1706-1787). His will was dated 20 April 1780 and proved on 24 September 1787. In it he bequeathed several named slaves:

...I give and bequeath unto Elizabeth Beard my true and loving wife my negro woman named MOLL during her life and after her death I give and bequeath said wench to my grand-daughter Elizabeth Campbell.

Elizabeth Campbell was the daughter of Archibald Rutherford and John Beard's daughter, Elizabeth.

...I give and bequeath my negro boy SAM to Esabel Boze my grand-daughter

Isabelle (Rutherford) Boze was the daughter of William Rutherford and John Beard's daughter, Agnes. She married Shadrack Boze.

...and my negro boy JACOB I give and bequeath to my grand-daughter Rosannah Russel

Rosannah (Rutherford) Russel or Russell was the daughter of William Rutherford and John Beard's daughter, Agnes, and sister of Isabelle (Rutherford) Boze. She married James Russell.

...I will and bequeath also my negro girl NELL to my grand-daughter Jean Rutherford

Jean Rutherford was the daughter of William Rutherford and John Beard's daughter, Hannah Beard. She was Isabelle (Rutherford) Boze and Rosannah (Rutherford) Russell's half sister. She later married  Robert Russell.

...I likewise bequeath to my beloved wife Elizabeth Beard my negro man DIK

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

In Celebration of Black History Month (or More DNA Discoveries)

Several months ago I received a message via about two DNA matches, cousins with a common ancestor from Bedford County, Virginia, likely the surname Mitchell. I realized I had not worked on the Mitchell family at all. Once we started digging into the Mitchell line, we got our common shared ancestor sorted out in pretty short order. (You have to love land-owning families who stayed in one place!) And we got our shaky leaf. It's like a reward.

AncestryDNA match after research built out the Beard and Mitchell line

I am actually related to these DNA matches in three ways. The mother of Effie David Beard, my great grandmother, was Barbara Ann Mitchell. She was the daughter of Daniel Mitchell, a grandson of Robert and Mary (Enos or Innes) Mitchell. And Effie Davis Beard's great grandfather, Samuel Beard, married Mary Mitchell, another daughter of Robert Mitchell.

Martha Ann Mitchell married Samuel Claytor on 25 August 1788, becoming his second wife. Samuel Claytor acquired a great deal of land in Bedford County, Virginia, as well as large tracts in Kentucky. It is thought the family lived quite comfortably. They had 10 children and Harvey Claytor was their seventh child. Harvey married Adeline Walker in 1830. The couple had three children. Before the Civil War Harvey Claytor owned 3,000 acres of land in Franklin County, Virginia, and perhaps as many as 100 slaves.

One of his slaves was Letitia who was described as a "very fair skinned, red-headed mulatto." We know nothing about her parentage but believe she was born about 1814. She was the family cook. She had a slave husband named Henry, who was the father of five of her seven children. Her youngest son, William Armstead Claytor, born in June 1849, was fathered by Harvey Claytor or one of his close male relatives as proven by DNA. According to Claytor family lore, William bore an uncanny resemblance to his father. His father was also known to be a bit of a womanizer and, of course, slaves could refuse their masters nothing.

Photograph courtesy of member cclaytonarizona

After the war, William moved to Floyd County, married Judith Ann Reynolds, and started his own family, which would come to include 13 very accomplished children. He purchased land and became a farmer and was known throughout the county for his skill in caring for farm animals. The family prospered. William and his wife believed strongly in the power of an education and it showed in their children:
  1. Harvey David Claytor: Farmer and teacher
  2. Henry Shields Claytor: Farmer and teacher
  3. John Bunyan Claytor: Medical doctor
  4. William Oat Claytor: Farmer, teacher and dentist
  5. Manon Irvin Claytor: Farmer and teacher
  6. Solon Leonidas Claytor: Farmer and teacher
  7. Eura Ellen Claytor: Attended college and married Morton Harrison Hopkins
  8. Roy Homer Claytor: Teacher
  9. Carrie Jane Claytor: Attended college and married John Dave Hairston
  10. Dorinda Addison Claytor: Attended college and married Frederick Douglas Charlton
  11. Archer Adams Claytor: Medical doctor and World War I veteran
  12. Hunter McGuire Claytor: World War I veteran who died as a young adult due to a mustard gas attack
  13. Robert White Claytor: Medical doctor
The Claytors accomplished much of this when a "hands off" approach to the "Southern problem" was informal federal policy. Southern states began enacting a series of laws that amounted to legalized discrimination and created near slave-like conditions for African-Americans.

It is truly amazing the people you meet and the lives you uncover as you pursue your research.

I am indebted to Ruth C. Marsh and Margaret C. Woodbury, authors of Virginia Kaleidoscope, for capturing so much of their family's oral history. Any errors in the research are strictly my own.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

52 Ancestors #8: Apostle of Kentucky

Ancestor Name: Reverend David RICE (1733-1816)

David Rice was the father-in-law of my four times great grandfather, Rev. James Mitchell, who married Rev. Rice's daughter, Frances Blair Rice. I have said many times one of the things my ancestors could do well was marry! And I think you will agree once you've met Rev. Rice.

According to Wikipedia David Rice was born on 29 December 1733 in Hanover County, Virginia, and was one of twelve children. His family was Episcopalian but David converted early in his life and became a Presbyterian. He studied at the College of New Jersey in Princeton and later under John Todd, who had spent a great deal of time working with Samuel Davies among the slaves. In fact, David Rice named one of his son after Samuel Davies.

He spent over 20 years in Virginia, most that time in Bedford County working among the slaves and ministering his congregants, but was forced out of the state by the powerful planter lobby because of his views on slavery. After removing to Kentucky in 1783, he joined its Abolition Society and served as a member of the 1792 Kentucky Constitution Convention. He favored the gradual emancipation of slaves and felt the institution of slavery violated the most basic tenets of moral law. During the convention, he gave a speech entitled, "Slavery: Inconsistent with Justice and Good Policy."

Pamphlet printed of speech given by Rev.
David Rice at the Kentucky Constitution

He married Mary Blair, the daughter of fellow Presbyterian minister Samuel Blair, and had twelve children. Rev. Rice was the was the first Presbyterian minister in Kentucky and founded the Synod of Kentucky and Transylvania Seminary, which later became Transylvania University.

He is buried in the Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Danville, Kentucky, beside his wife.

David Rice Memorial Monument; photograph
courtesy of Find A Grave member Karen

The inscription on his monument:

David Rice
Pioneer minister of the
Presbyterian Church in KY.
Born in Hanover Co.VA.
Dec. 20, 1733.
Ordained Dec. 1763
Settled in KY. Oct. 1783
Died in Green Co. KY.
June 18, 1816
The righteous shall be in
Everlasting remembrance.
Erected by the Presbyterians
of Kentucky 1892

He was widely known as "Father Rice" or the "Apostle of Kentucky."

A favorite ancestor of mine (also by marriage) once said, "If any family tree is shaken hard enough, I am sure it will produce stories of heroes and horse thieves." David Rice is one of the heroes I discovered hanging on the edges of my family tree thanks to an AncestryDNA match. He stood for his beliefs during a time when they were not popular. Thankfully, more recent history has proved them to be the correct moral path.

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

David Rice was born on 20 December 1733 in Hanover County, Virginia, to David Rice and Susannah Searcy. He married Mary Blair in 1762 and became an ordained Presbyterian minister in 1763. The couple had 12 children. Rev. Rice moved to Kentucky in 1783 and died in Green County on 18 June 1816. He and his wife are buried at the Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Danville, Kentucky.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

S/S Captain Cook: A Ship with History

My third cousin once removed immigrated to New Zealand from Scotland in 1958 aboard the S/S Captain Cook, which was owned by the Ministry of Transport and chartered it to the New Zealand government. They ran the ship between Glasgow and Wellington, but she had a rich history before that.

The steamship S/S Letitia was built in Govan by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company. She launched in 1924. By 1925 she was part of the Anchor-Donaldson company and sailed between Glasgow, Montreal, and Quebec during the summer. In the winter months, she sailed to Halifax and St. John's.

The S/S Letitia became part of the Donaldson Atlantic Line in 1935 and that same year ran aground twice -- once at Cape Papas, Greece, and again entering the Belfast Lough.

The British Admiralty requisitioned the S/S Letitia in 1939. She was armed with eight 6-inch guns and two 3-inch guns and flew pennant F16. After performing convoy duty, the Admiralty decided ocean liners were too exposed and instead used the ship for transport duty starting in 1941. The S/S Letitia was badly damaged in 1943 and sailed to the U.S. for repairs. For the rest of the war she was used by the Canadian government to bring wounded soldiers home.

She was sold to the Ministry of Transport in 1946. The ministry renamed her the Empire Brent. A collision in the Mersey river required her to be dry docked for repairs. She was again turned into a troop transport and used between India and the Far East. In 1949 she began immigration runs between the U.K. and Australia.

S/S/ Captain Cook in Wellington Harbor, New Zealand sometime in
the 1950s; photograph courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand

In 1950 she was out of service for six months to be refitted for the U.K. to New Zealand run. She began sailing to Wellington via the Panama Canal in 1952 as the S/S Captain Cook. A fire broke out aboard her in Wellington Harbor in 1957 and caused extensive damage. She was able to limp back to the U.K. for repairs. She made her final return trip to Glasgow in 1959 and was laid up at Falmouth, Cornwall. In 1960 she was sold to British Steel. The company towed her to Inverkeithing where she was broken up.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

52 Ancestors #7: Love Gone Wrong?

Ancestor Name: Hazel Elizabeth (WENDELL) Criger Reed (1917-2002)

Hazel Elizabeth Wendell was my first cousin once removed. Her mother, Hilda Helen (Schalin) Wendell, was my maternal grandmother's older sister. Hazel was born on 22 March 1917 in Lima, Montana. She was a twin; her sister was Helen Myrtle Wendell. Her father was a machinist for Northern Pacific Railway, and sometime between 1920 and 1930 the family moved to Livingston Park, Montana. Hazel lived in Livingston Park for most of the remainder of her life. It is a picturesque town on the Yellow river that began as a trading post.

At the age of 19 Hazel married Philander "Phil" Warren Criger. His family had also moved to Livingston Park between 1920 and 1930 and his father worked in the railroad shops.

In 1937 Phil worked as a warehouse man for Milling Co. In 1940 he was a foreman at the same company. The 1954 city directory indicates Phil was not working and Hazel had taken a job as a nurse's aide at Lott Hospital. In 1956 Phil was a wood worker and Hazel was not working. During their marriage they had two sons.

Hazel and Phil Criger with one of their sons; photograph courtesy of member Scott Goddard

The couple divorced sometime in early 1960 and on 14 May 1960 an event that must have been tragic for Phil's family and sons occurred.

Montana Standard, 17 May 1960; image

Livingston Gunshot Death is Probed
LIVINGSTON (AP) - Investigation continued Monday into the gunshot death of Phil Criger, 46, Livingston, who was found outside his automobile at a firing range three miles east of Livingston.

Coroner Wesley Cloyd said foul play does not appear to be involved.

Critter's body was found about 5 p.m. Saturday. A .32 caliber Winchester special model 1894 rifle was on the front seat, pointed in the chest.

A native of Jones, Michigan, Criger had resided in Livingston most of his life. For a time he managed a grain elevator at Wilsall. Lately, he had been operating a delivery truck in Livingston.

Survivors include two sons, two brothers, and two sisters.

Marriages are unique things. And I often wonder what went wrong with Phil and Hazel's. Was it the reason he killed himself a few short months after the divorce?

Hazel married Gilbert Allen Reed on 16 January 1963. She moved near Brewster where the couple lived close to Gilbert's family. After he died in 1992, Hazel returned to Livingston. She died on 11 October 2002.

I have always been interested this part of my mother's family. Mom met her Aunt Hilda when she and her parents drove across the country from Maryland to Montana and on to Alberta, Canada, in 1949. It was the first time my grandmother had seen her siblings in over 50 years. Hilda also named Hazel and Helen's older sister, Albertine Schalene, and Schalene is my given name in honor of my maternal grandmother. Albertine married Phil Criger's older brother and that happened my my family, as well. My Dad and his brother married sisters!

Johannes "John" and Hilda Helen (Schalin)
Wendell in 1949, Hazel's parents; photograph
from my personal collection

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

Hazel Elizabeth and her twin Helen Myrtle Wendell were born on 22 March 1917 in Lima, Montana, to Johannes "John" and Hilda Helen (Schalin) Wendell. John was born in Stockholm, Sweden, and immigrated to Wyoming about 1891 at the age of 18. Hilda was born in the Volhynia region of what was then Russia (now Ukraine) and immigrated to Alberta, Canada, in 1893 at the age of 4. The twins were the youngest of four children. Hazel graduated from Park County High School in 1935 and married Philander "Phil" Warren Criger the next year. They had two sons before divorcing in 1960. A few months after the divorce Phil committed suicide. Hazel married Gilbert Allen Reed in 1963. Allen had been married previously to Veta Rue Hodges. He died in 1992 and was buried at the Sunset Hills Cemetery in Bozeman, Montana. Hazel died on 11 October 2002 in Livingston Park, Montana. Her body was cremated.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Robert Muir's Parents! Yes? Maybe? No.

Robert Muir's parents are a brick wall. Recently, I signed up for a subscription to Two people have "my" Robert Muir in their trees with parents listed. One person was unsure where she had gotten the information about Robert's parents but thought perhaps it came from her great aunt, who I believe descended from Robert Orr Muir, a son of Robert's.

Another sent me the following infographic from a book compiled by an Australian branch of the family, which would likely be the descendants of Henrietta (Muir) Williamson, a daughter of Robert's. They believe "my" Robert was born in 1803 in Flemington and was a brother to Andrew Muir, making their parents Robert and Margaret (Melville) Muir.

I eventually concluded this was not my Muir family. The 1841 and 1861 Scotland Census for Robert Muir indicated he was not born in Scotland. The 1841 census listed foreign born, which included Ireland and England, and the 1861 census indicated Ireland. Additionally, if he was born in 1803, his age would be off on those two census documents as well as his death registration. His death registration indicated his father's name was James Muir.

I believe I have found his birth and baptism record on Ireland Roots as name of his father matches his death registration, the year of birth aligns will all other known records, and the religion is not Catholic.

Love the infographic though!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

52 Ancestors #6: (Guest Blog) Flung to the Far Corners of the World

Ancestor Name: Alfred Wolfe BRISK (1880-1942)

I have many immigrant ancestors so one of their stories seemed like a natural fit for this week's theme, So Far Away. Many emigrated from Scotland to far-flung places like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, or the U.S. Others left different parts of eastern Europe in pursuit of a better life in places like Brazil or Guyana. But the person I kept thinking about wasn't even one of my ancestors. He was the great grandfather of the husband of my 4th cousin once removed. I first read about him in a book my cousin had written about the Brisk family.

Sarah, lives in New Zealand, and found me in through I live in the U.S. How's that for so far away?! Thanks to modern communications technology, we work together researching our common Scottish Semple family. And she has taught me a lot about proper research. I seem to learn more when working with her, plus it's always more fun to have a collaborator!

I thought Sarah would be the best person to tell Albert's story, so over to Sarah......

Albert Wolfe Brisk was the grandson of Jewish immigrants who had fled Belarus with their young family (including Albert’s father) during a sustained period of anti-Semitism in the mid-1860s.  The family settled in Safed, Palestine which is where Albert was born in 1880.

As a teenager, Albert moved to Switzerland where he trained as a watchmaker, completing his training in 1897.  He had an uncle who had recently moved to Singapore and so that was where Albert moved to next.  He opened a store in Kling Street for the Anglo-Swiss Watch Company in Singapore in 1898.  Albert became very successful and paid for his parents and half-brothers and sisters to move to Singapore. 

He married Betty Cornfield about 1902 in Singapore and they had six children. Betty was born in Constantinople (now Istanbul). 

Albert Wolfe and Betty (Cornfield) Brisk with their six children, circa 1920;
photograph courtesy of Sarah Semple

He became a naturalised Singaporean citizen in 1910.  He had a number of rental properties and his children were educated at the local convents in Singapore.  One of the nuns set aside a room so that the Jewish children could have somewhere to eat their Kosher lunches together.

Albert and Betty used to travel to places like Antwerp and Zurich to buy diamonds.  They were a very close couple who were seldom apart.  However in 1936, Betty took her youngest daughter to Shanghai in China to visit one of her sons, and then to Yokohama in Japan to visit another son.  Betty died unexpectedly in Yokohama.

Albert continued to live in Singapore where four of his children still lived.  The first Japanese bombs fell on Singapore in December 1941.  Albert managed to get his youngest daughter Lulu out of Singapore on one of the last ships to leave in January 1942.  He gave her some jewellery to sell and she successfully made it to England where she worked twelve hour shifts in a munitions factory in Leeds.

Albert and his five remaining children were interned by the Japanese.  Albert and three sons were interned in Changi in Singapore, one son was interned in Shanghai and his daughter Esther was interned in Sumatra. 

Esther had tried to flee Singapore on board the SS Kuala which sailed from Singapore on 13 February 1942 with approximately 500 evacuees on-board.  The ship was bombed by the Japanese with at least 100 people dying on-board.  The call was made to abandon ship, and as evacuees were swimming to the nearby island of Pom Pong, Japanese planes were bombing those in the water.  Esther spent nearly eight hours in the water before being rescued by some Chinese fishermen.  She was then captured by the Japanese and spent the remainder of the war in a women’s camp.  She never spoke about her experiences in the camp.

Albert died from starvation and a cerebral hemorrhage at the hospital attached to Changi on 19 December 1942.  His children managed to survive their internment although all came out of camp malnourished, grossly underweight and most had suffered from diseases like tuberculosis.

His son who had been in Shanghai ended up emigrating with his family to Australia and the remaining children eventually made their way to England to where their sister Lulu was waiting for them. 

The phrase “so far away” must have been felt with great frequency by Albert and his family.  First by Albert leaving his family in Palestine and moving to Switzerland and then Singapore.  Albert’s wife dying away from home in Japan, his daughter Lulu fleeing to England, his other daughter Esther surviving the Japanese bombing and being interned in Sumatra.  The family was displaced after the war with surviving family members leaving Asia to begin again in a new country. So many changes, so far away.

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge optional theme So Far Away.

I first discovered Albert Wolfe Brisk's story in The Brisk Family of Brest-Litovsk, Palestine and Beyond, by Sarah Semple and published in 2011.

Other stories of ancestors who found themselves civilians in the midst of war:

Odessa to Vancouver:  The Long Way
Living in War-torn Europe
Escaping from Eastern Germany
There's a Nazi in the Family
Trip Around the World: New York to Egypt (Franco-Syrian War)

Other guest blog posts by Sarah:

Am I Related? Definitely. Maybe.
What's in a Name?

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Guest Blog: When Things Went Sour on the Sauer

My father-in-law, who served in the 5th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army during World War II from 1941 until 1945, saw much bitter fighting. He rarely talked about his experiences until I started researching his unit and asking questions. Then he opened up. One story he told was of a brutal river crossing. I always assumed it was the historic assault crossing of the Rhine when he was strafed by a German plane early the next morning. Militarily speaking, though, it was a relatively easy crossing.

My brother, who is an amateur historian, has been helping me identify the crossing my father-in-law so well remembered. We thought it might be the crossing of the Sauer river soon after the Battle of the Bulge, but my father-in-law's regiment, the 2nd Infantry Regiment, had been held in reserve. So we continue our search.

But the crossing of the Sauer is a story that should be told; after all, if his regiment hadn't been held in reserve, my husband may not have been born! Today is the 70th anniversary of that crossing, which began during the night of 6-7 February 1945.

So over to my guest blogger, my brother, John:

Rivers have always made for a natural defense line during times of war.  The lack of cover (unless submerged, of course) and unobstructed views make for a ready-made no-man’s land.  Conversely, an assault crossing of a well defended river line can be one of the most harrowing tasks a soldier can be called upon to undertake.  In February 1945 the men of US 5th Infantry Division found out just how harrowing it could be when they attempted an assault across the Sauer River, which separates Germany and Luxembourg.  A common misconception of World War II is that the Battle of the Bulge was the last hurrah of the German Army, and that afterwards the Allies advanced almost effortlessly into Germany against only sporadic and dispirited opposition.  The truth was that much hard combat remained and the Germans were still a dangerous enemy, especially when fighting from prepared positions behind natural defense line such as the Sauer.

The Sauer operation was part of the larger Eifel offensive, an ill-fated attempt by Lieutenant-General Omar N. Bradley’s 12th Army Group to continue the momentum it had gained after the relief of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge and push its way through the rugged Eifel Mountains.  The mission of 5th Infantry Division was to cross the Sauer between Bollendorf and Echternach and take the first line of hills beyond the river to safeguard a march route toward the town of Bitburg.  In order to preserve the element of surprise it was decided to forego the usual artillery preparation that ordinarily is used to soften up enemy positions prior to an assault.  As the troops prepared to cross on the night of February 6th the weather turned cold and snowy.  But the river was swollen and turbulent from a recent unseasonable thaw.  Climbing aboard small inflatable boats (which were actually Luftwaffe left-overs from a captured depot) the troops set out from the western bank, eight men to a boat.  The little boats proved unequal to the fast 12 mph river current.  Many capsized almost immediately, dumping their occupants into the icy water.  Others careened out of control.  Those boats that stayed afloat and on course long enough to reach mid stream became the targets of a fusillade of fire from the German held bank.  Under the light of flares German machine guns raked the little dinghies plodding across the river.

Sauer River; photograph courtesy of

Out of two regiments sent across the river that night only two boats and sixteen men made landfall on eastern bank.  It is a testament to both the tenacity of the American soldiers and the aggressiveness of their leader, divisional commander Major-General S. LeRoy Irwin, that these sixteen refugees on the enemy side of the river were not viewed as a lost cause to be rescued but rather a toehold to be supported and reinforced.  Irwin ordered all available artillery to fire just beyond the toehold, tanks were even driven to the river’s edge to give direct fire support against enemy pillboxes on the opposite bank.  But try as he might Irwin could not get any more men across the river.  As night fell on February 7th those lonely sixteen men were still the only American soldiers on the eastern bank of the Sauer.  Every effort to span the river with footbridges failed due the strong currents.  Finally, on February 8th the tiniest of reinforcement got across:  a heavy machine gun section and six additional boat loads of infantrymen.  It was not until February 11th that the river was successfully bridged—on the 12th try—and the tactical situation was thus transformed in the American’s favor.

Maj. Gen. S. Leroy Irwin (right), commanding general 5th Infantry
Division; photograph courtesy of

Friday, February 6, 2015

We Are the Chosen: The Family Storytellers

I have frequently lamented the fact that I am not a teacher. I have tried many times, all unsuccessful. If someone learns anything from me, it is because they observed something they wanted to emulate; in other words, they did all the work. Why do I regret my inability to teach?

Since I've begun blogging, I've found many genealogy blogs that are dedicated to teaching others how to be a better researcher. Or how to use technology to make them better genealogist. Or...the list is almost endless. My blog is none of those things. And I've always been a bit regretful that was the case.

But I read something months ago that finally made me happy with my blog. Perhaps because it resonated with me as something my Mom had told me many times. I am the family storyteller and that is enough.

So on my blog's second anniversary, I would like to share those posts over the previous year that were the most popular in 2014. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did researching and writing them.
  1. Secret Wife of John Wilkes Booth?
  2. An Adoption on a Train
  3. Nathaniel Tucker, Poet
  4. How Much Tragedy Can a Woman Endure?
  5. Discussing Infanticide
  6. Genealogy Happy Dance of the Year...Maybe the Decade
  7. AncestryDNA and Finding a New Cousin
  8. Humorous William Bull
  9. 1793 Philadelphia Yellow Fever Epidemic
  10. Biblical Plague or a Locust Infestation?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Electrocuted in the Frederick Mine

James Richardson was born on 19 May 1896 at Glenlee Cottage, his parents' home in the Burnbank area of Hamilton, Scotland. He was the oldest child of Hugh and Janet (Muir) Richardson. His father was a coal miner. Hugh and Janet had three more children between 1898 and 1901.

In 1904 James' little sister, Lily Weir Richardson, died of diphtheria and septic bronchitis at the Combination Hospital in Hamilton. She had a tracheotomy before her death. Six months later, the children's mother, Janet (Muir) Richardson, died of catarrhal pneumonia, an inflammation of the lung tissue. James was nine years old when he lost his mother.

James' father, Hugh, married Marion Kilpatrick on 8 Jun 1906. She was a 35-year-old "spinster" who worked as a housekeeper. Later that same year her appearance was described as 5 feet, 2 inches tall, fair complexion, fair hair and blue eyes.

Four months after the couple married, they and Hugh's children boarded the Allan Line's S/S Parisian in Glasgow and arrived in Boston, Massachusetts on 22 October 1906. Their destination was Trinidad, Colorado, in Las Animas County. Trinidad was another coal town in a new country.

By 1910 the family was living in Segundo, Colorado. It was a company town where Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I) housed its workers. Segundo is practically a ghost town today. James worked as a laborer at a coal mine and his father was a miner.

Some time before 1917 James married Jean Evelyn Clark, a Colorado native who had been born in 1897 in Crested Butte. They had two daughters in 1918 and 1919.

When James registered for the military draft on 5 June 1917 he lived in Valdez and worked as a miner for CF&I at the Frederick Mine. Valdez was another coal town the mine company built to house it's workers. At the time James and his  family lived there, it had a company store, a school and a baseball field.

On his draft registration James was described as being of medium height and build with light brown hair and blue eyes.

James Richardson; photograph courtesy of member BarbZale, James'
granddaughter and my 4th cousin, who I
discovered through AncestryDNA

James was still working at the Frederick Mine when he was electrocuted on 8 March 1921. The circumstances of his death were described in the State Inspector of Coal Mines' Nineth Annual Report:

JAMES RICHARDSON, Scotch, motorman, experience 12 years, age 24 years, married, two children, employed by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company at the Frederick mine, Las Animas county, came to his death by electrocution. Deceased was cleaning track and was in the act of changing a trolley pole when he came into contact with a live wire. The accident was unforeseen and unavoidable.

Snippet of page 55 of the Nine Annual Report of the Colorado State
Inspector of the Coal Mines, 1921

James Richardson was buried at the Masonic Cemetery in Trinidad. His widow, Jean, married again in 1924 and his father lived until 1931 having buried a wife and two children. This tragedy is but one in a long list of my ancestors who died while working in coal mines, but I found it particularly sad.

Fatal Colliery Accident
Fatal Coal Pit Accident
1877 Blantyre Explosion

Sunday, February 1, 2015

52 Ancestors #5: Plowing Through (Literally!)

Ancestor Name: Homer Bradley Bailey (1907-1978)

I learned to drive on an old 1958 Ford tractor with a column shifter so this story from my Aunt Joan's brother Homer's, unpublished memoir about the family's first tractor resonated with me...and made me laugh out loud:

Summer was a thrilling time of the year. The spring field work led right into all kinds of activity. Along about this period, father purchased a Fordson Tractor. It was simply beautiful, all new and un-scratched. The wheels were fitted with steel lugs so as to hold traction in the field work.

Fordson tractor with plow. Photo courtesy of NCSU Libraries'
Digital Collections: Rare and Unique Materials

Occasionally we had friends visiting us from Detroit. A very pleasant older gentleman spent some days with us. He seemed thrilled with the farm life, enjoying the change of pace to that of the city. After watching the new machine a while, he wondered if he could drive it.

Father showed him how the machine was handled, how to put it in gear, and how to set the plow in the furrow. So the man set off down the row doing fine. It was at the far end when things began to go wrong. He forgot how to stop; yelled "whoa" several times; but the monster did not get the message. It took but a few turns of the wheel and the Fordson was clawing its way through the fence. The gentleman was completely rattled by this time. The plow caught the wire, causing the machine to stall, ending an interesting situation. 

No one got hurt. So after it was all over we had a good laugh at my parents' friend's expense."

Since the family sold the farm in 1917, the Fordson had to have been purchased prior to that date.

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challengev optional theme Plowing Through!

This post was originally published on 21 October 2013.

Homer Bradley Bailey was born on 5 April 1907 in Delaware County, Ohio, to William Judkins and Lilly Mary Manson (Bradley) Bailey. He was the second of six children. On 4 Sep 1920 the family arrived in Southampton, England aboard the Cunard Line's RMS Aquitaine, which had sailed from New York City. They traveled through France to Marseilles and sailed for Cairo, Egypt, and on to Palestine. The family spent several weeks touring the Holy Lands before continuing on to British East Africa via Mogadishu, Somali, and on to Mombassa, Kenya, where they boarded a train for Nairobi and the Kenyan Highlands. Homer and his brother Paul Orrin Bailey returned to the United States in 1927 and attended Anderson Bible College in Indiana. He married Vivian Opal Lewis and became a minister. The couple had one child and then the family traveled to back to Africa where they worked as missionaries from 1933 until just after World War II ended. Their sixth, and youngest child, was born in Michigan. Homer died at the Flow Memorial Hospital in Denton, Texas, in 1978. He was buried at Roselawn Memorial Park in Denton.

Homer Bailey's unpublished memoirs weren't much for genealogy but were a treasure trove of stories about living as missionaries in Africa nearly 90 years ago.