(Note: Although I already posted my entry for the letter Z, I started this challenge with the letter G. So, I have yet to do posts for A-F.)
A is for Adoption
When I began researching my ancestry, I had no idea that my paternal great grandmother, Maxine Elizabeth Davis (1912-1992), was adopted. As I began piecing together my notes, my grandfather sent me scans of a letter that was published in a newspaper in Oregon that Maxine wrote. The article, which used aliases to hid identities, recounted what Maxine had learned from her adopted parents about her biological parents and the circumstances that led to her adoption. Because of her initial contact with the newspaper, she was able to get in touch with her biological mother. She always wanted to meet her biological father, but never got the chance as no one knew, as I later learned, that he returned to the state of his birth, Ohio. Through her biological mother, Maxine was able to fill in some details about her past. The following photo shows Maxine (center) with her adopted mother, Linnie (left), and her biological mother, Gladys (right).
Adoption, as I have come to understand it, is just another wonderful surprise in undertaking genealogical research. It has been fascinating to learn about the family that raised and shaped my great grandmother into the person she became (the Davis family who adopted Maxine), and it has been equally fascinating to learn about the family that brought her into the world (the Beeney family). I take the advice of many who research and discover adoption and are able to find the biological ancestry, in that I include both the adopted and biological families in my research, for both are important to the life of my great grandmother.
A helpful article for those just starting to research adoption in their ancestry is Maureen Taylor’s “All About Adoption Research” on Genealogy.com.
A is for Agee
Agee is the maiden name of my 2nd great grandmother, Lois Beatrice (Agee) Wellin (1897-1983), who married Wilhelm Percy Wellin (1895-1977) and was the mother of Alice Lucretia Wellin (1916-1985), who married Theodore Alexander Lapham (1910-1955). Although the Agee surname, or rather its original spelling of Agé, is French in origins, little is known with certainty regarding its meaning.
There are a number of theories regarding the surname’s meaning, however. One argues that the surname derives from the French word “âgée,” meaning “old,” and is thus perhaps an ornamental surname. Another theory argues the name derives from a Biblical name—that of Agee the Haratite, who was the father of Shammah, one of King David’s “might men” (II Samuel 23:11). In this account, the name is said to mean “fugitive, a valley, or deepness.” Another theory attempts to claim that the surname derives from “Ajean,” an adaptation of “á Jean,” which means “of Jean.” This theory has been refuted as Agee or Agé has no etymological connection to “Ajean.” Another theory argues the surname is of Visigoth origins, with a meaning that is unknown. A final theory argues that the surname is a variant of the French name “Augé,” which derives from “Agér,” a name that is Germanic in origins and derives from “Adalgar.” This Germanic name, which is similar to the English name “Edgar,” is composed of two words, “adal,” meaning “prosperous,” and “gar,” meaning “lance” or “spear,” giving the image of a successful warrior.
A is for Addiction
While researching my ancestry I have discovered that genealogy can be rather addicting. I had no idea when I started researching my ancestry for a school project nearly a decade ago that I would still be doing it. I’m not totally sure why genealogy is addicting, but I suppose it is fascinating to learn where you come from and what the lives of your ancestors were like. Or perhaps Van Wyck Brooks is correct in that there is something selfish in researching our ancestry, for as he puts it, “Nothing is so soothing to our self-esteem as to find our bad traits in our forebears. It seems to absolve us.”
Zsombor is the original name of a village located in the historic European region of Transylvania, and is the village of my Sebok branch’s ancestral origins. Throughout its history, which stretches back to the 14th century or earlier, the village has gone by a few different names, all of which are variations of Zsombor. When the village was inhabited by Saxons, it was known as Szászzsombor (or Saxon Zsombor). When Saxons left around the time of the plague (or after it), leaving the Lutheran faith that dominates the area still today in addition to some interesting architecture, the village became predominately inhabited by a group of Hungarians known as Székely, who spread into the village from neighboring areas that are collectively referred to in history as Székelyföld (or Székely Land). From about the early 16th century until the borders of Europe changed after the World War II, the village was known as Székelyzsombor. After the borders were redrawn, Székelyzsombor fell outside of Hungary, and became a part of Romania; and again the village’s name was changed, this time to Jimbor, the Romanian equivalent of Zsombor. In addition to these historic names, Zsombor is also known by the German equivalent name of Sommerburg.
Regardless of its name throughout history, Zsombor has always been a fairly small village. In the late 19th century, the village had about 1,500 inhabitants. Today, the village is much smaller, with a total population of about 483 in 2002. Of its current inhabitants, the majority identify themselves as Hungarian, with smaller numbers identifying themselves as either Romanian or Gypsy. Historically, and even to the present day, the people of Zsombor have primarily been occupied with raising livestock and harvesting grains.
Despite having such a small population in the village and many buildings and homes that are currently abandoned, the village has a number of different architectural and cultural interests. There are three major churches in the village: a Lutheran Church that dates back to the Middle Ages, which has been restored and rebuilt following a fire in the late 18th century; a Roman Catholic Church that dates back to the 14th century, which was added on to and restored in the 18th century; and an Orthodox Church that was built in 1905. Another architectural feature of the village is the small medieval castle that sits atop a hill overlooking the village. Although the castle is in a state of disrepair, a significant amount of the castle still stands. In addition to these buildings, the village has an untouched, old world street scenery from the 19th century. Although parts of the village are old with many abandoned buildings that are in a state of disrepair, much work has been done in the past decade to restore the village. High school students involved in an international cultural reconstruction camp have been working year after year in the village to restore various areas.
Apart from the historic architecture and the old world feel and look of the village, the Hungarian Székely culture can be seen throughout. The shapes and colors of the homes, the characteristic “Székely Gates” with their Asian influence that are still found as the main entrance to homes, and the characteristic decorative designs on homes and other items all keep the Székely heritage alive. Additionally, the people of the village dress in traditional costumes to celebrate annual festivals.
Two generations of my Sebok branch were born in Zsombor, or Székelyzsombor as it was known when they lived there: my great grandfather, Albert Sebok (1903-1968) and his parents, Frank Sebok (1875-1951) and Roza Mari Peto (1871-1937), my 2nd great grandparents. According to oral tradition, Frank was employed as a cobbler in Székelyzsombor before immigrating to the United States. The following photos of Frank Sebok with his son Albert, and Roza (Peto) Sebok with her son Albert and daughter Emma were taken in Indiana, where the family lived after arriving in 1905.
Yarmouth is a port city and civil parish on the Isle of Wright, an island off the southern coast of England. Being the oldest city on the island, Yarmouth is filled with old world charm, including a castle (Yarmouth Castle) that dates back to 1547. It is also a location that draws a lot of yacht-owners and other boating activities. Yarmouth, moreover, is also claimed to be the place of ancestral origins for many American branches of the Stearns family by unsourced accounts.
The Stearns family, which is the ancestral branch of my 2nd great grandmother Maudena Elizabeth “Lizzie” (Stearns) Kernan (1885-1936), has a long history in the United States, dating back to 1630’s. According to Stearns Genealogy and Memoirs (1901) by Avis Stearns Van Wagenen, one of the important progenitors of this surname in the United States, Isaac Stearns, and his family boarded The Arabella on April 8, 1630 at Yarmouth, and arrived in Salem, Massachusetts on June 12, 1630.
But was this Isaac and his family actually from Yarmouth? Although it is unclear if they actually lived there, sufficient evidence exists to suggest that he and his family were not in fact from Yarmouth. Records for Isaac’s wife, Mary Barker, show that she was from Nayland, Suffolk, England. Parish Register of Nyland also record the baptisms of at least two of Isaac’s children just prior to 1630.
The Isaac Stearns that arrived in Salem aboard The Arabella is not, moreover, an ancestor of my 2nd great grandmother; rather the progenitor of my ancestral branch of Stearns in America is Charles Stearns (ca. 1625-1695), my 9th great grandfather. Were Isaac Stearns and Charles Stearns related? Most descendants of Charles Stearns claim so. They often cite an oral tradition regarding the relationship between Isaac and Charles. Van Wagenen records this traditional account about the early Stearns progenitors as follows: “There is a tradition prevalent in Lynn, Mass., that three brothers, names Daniel, Isaac, and Shubael Stearns, came from England to American in 1630, and settled near Watertown, Mass; that Daniel died, unmarried; that Shubael and Isaac each brought their families with them; that, soon after landing, Shubael and wife both died, leaving two sons, named Charles and Nathaniel, eight or ten years of age, who were reared and care for by their Uncle Isaac.” Is there any truth to this claim? Presently, the claim cannot be authenticated apart from one reference made in the 1681 will of Isaac Stearns, which reads: “My will is, that my kinsman Charles Sternes, shall have ten pounds of my estate.” Isaac’s identification of Charles as a “kinsman” is frequently cited as proof that they were brothers. However, just what Isaac meant by “kinsman” is unclear, as kinsman can refer to any male relative, among other meanings. To date, no other document has been discovered that mentions a relationship between Isaac and Charles..
It is often claimed in unsourced accounts that Charles Stearns also arrived aboard The Arabella, and it is from this belief that the claim of Charles’s Yarmouth origins arises. However, this claim has not been substantiated. In fact, no details prior to 1646, the year in which Charles was admitted a freeman, have been authenticated yet. Perhaps he is in fact from Suffolk, England, like his “kinsman” Isaac Stearns appears to have been. It is unclear, moreover, just what ship he arrived on. Numerous other ships arrived after The Arabella in 1630, including The Jewell on June 13, The Ambrose on June 18, and The Talbot on July 2. In all, The Winthrop Fleet consisted of eleven ships, bringing approximately 700 Puritans to New England. If Charles arrived prior to 1646, it seems very likely that he was aboard one of them.
Although my Stearns family may have a connection to Yarmouth as the port of their departure from England to New England, it seems unlikely that Yarmouth is the ancestral origins of the family.
This week’s Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge features the letter X. Although I do not have any specific X’s in my ancestry (i.e., surnames, locations, etc.), noteworthy X’s with respect to family history certainly include X-Chromosomes and X-STR Tests.
X is for X-Chromosomes and X-STR Tests:
The use of DNA in genealogical research is a growing trend that many use to learn important information about their ancestry. There are several different types of test that can be used to accomplish this, which usually involve DNA from the Y-chromosome or Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Another test, however, involves the X-chromosome.
An X-chromosome is one of two chromosomes that play a role in sex determination—the other being a Y-chromosome. Males have one X-chromosome and one Y-chromosome, while females have two X-chromosomes. Thus, the X-chromosome is universally found among males and females.
With respect to the X-chromosomes inherited by females, one comes from her mother, which is itself a mixture of her parents, and one comes from her father, which is itself a mixture of his parents. The X-chromosome inherited by males comes exclusively from their mother. It is thus, a mixture of the X-chromosomes she inherited from her mother and her father.
Generally, the use of X-chromosomes in genealogical research is problematic because in females the two X-chromosomes randomly swap information and genes (undergo recombination) during cell division (meiosis). Nevertheless, X-chromosomes can be used to study genealogical relationships, though the technology is newer and less widely used than the more traditional ones involving Y-chromosomes or Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). As with Y-chromosomes, X-chromosomes contain short tandem repeat (STR) markers, or X-STRs for short. Genealogy DNA tests that make use of X-chromosomes (X-STR Tests) do so by focusing on regions of X-STRs called “haplotype blocks,” which are inherited over several generations despite recombination during meiosis. FamilyTreeDNA was one of the first to use this method. According to their website, this ancestral DNA analysis “creates a unique inheritance pattern that while challenging to follow may provide many insights into one’s maternal heritage.” It should be noted, however, that an X-STR Test alone will not provide a full report, so the more traditional tests are more widely used.
Weddings are an important and joyous event in anyone’s life, and no less so for the generations that came before us. Although I have records for marriages throughout my ancestry, I have few photographic, oral, or written accounts of the weddings that took place. The following are some of the ones that I have uncovered in the course of researching my ancestry.
My paternal grandparents, William Kernan (LIVING) and Margaret Ann Lapham (1936-2004), were married on June 28, 1952 in Portland, Multnomah Co., Oregon. The wedding took place at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, and the service was conducted by Rev. Patrick J. Dooley. The service was reported in The Milwaukie Review, a local paper in Oregon. The following newspaper clippings provide some details, such as a description of my grandmother’s wedding dress, the names of those who attended and the roles they played during the service, in addition to the only surviving photos from their wedding.
My paternal great grandmother, Alice Lucretia (Wellin) Lapham (1916-1985), married Willard Pershing Graber (1918-1988), her second husband, on December 13, 1947 in Portland, Multnomah Co., Oregon. Although I have few details of their wedding, I do know, from their wedding book that contains their certificate of marriage, that they were married in a Methodist church, and the services was officiated by Rev. Henry E. DuVall. The witnesses were Willard’s brother, Noel Graber, and Alice’s aunt, Althea (Agee) Morgan. Apart from these facts, I have some nice photographs from their wedding.
Perhaps the oldest image I have run across for a wedding in my ancestry is for that of my 9th great grandparents, John Bigelow (or Biglo) (1617-1703) and Mary Warren (1624-1691). John and Mary were married by a Mr. Nowell on August 30, 1642 in Watertown, Middlesex Co., Massachusetts. The following painting is said to be of John and Mary dancing at their wedding party (unverified by me).
Although I have no photographs for their wedding, I have an oral family history account regarding the wedding of my 2nd great grandparents, Alexander Balla (1886-1950) and Julia Molnar (1885-1962). According to this account, Alexander and Julia, who were from the same village in Hungary (Eszény) immigrated to the United States separately, with Julia coming to the United States first (1902), as she was offered a job working in the same household as her sister, Elizabeth, in Manhattan, New York. This family, whose name has unfortunately been lost to time, was fairly well off financially—they could afford to have a personal cook (Elizabeth) and at least one maid (Julia). Julia and Alexander were eventually reunited at a Hungarian Church social, which sparked a relationship that resulted in a marriage proposal in 1907. When the family Julia had been working for since her arrival in 1902 learned of this, they offered to pay for the wedding because they had grown very fond of her over the years. Alexander and Julia’s wedding took place on September 9, 1907, at which Julia is said to have been given away by the head of the household she worked in.
W is for Wedding Anniversaries:
Related to weddings are, of course, wedding anniversaries, milestones of which are often important events in the lives of our ancestors, as well for us today.
My 2nd great grandparents, Wilhelm Percy Wellin (1895-1977) and Lois Beatrice Agee (1897-1983), were married on December 2, 1914 in Vancouver, Clark Co., Washington. On December 2, 1964, Wilhelm and Lois celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, for which they had a family gathering and open house. This milestone in their marriage is recorded in the newspaper clipping below. By the time their marriage vow of “until death do us part” was realized in 1977, Wilhelm and Lois were married for nearly sixty-three years.
Kit Carson Graber (1875-1962) and Iva Mae McKeehan (1879-1950), the parents of Willard Pershing Graber (1918-1988), the second husband of my great grandmother Alice Lucretia (Wellin) Lapham (1916-1985), were married on February 27, 1893 in Mount Pleasant, Henry Co., Iowa. By the time their marriage parted in death in 1950, Kit and Iva were married for nearly fifty-seven years. The photograph below was taken on the occasion of their fifty-fourth wedding anniversary.
The following is a table of some of those in my ancestry that celebrated the milestone of making it to their 50th wedding anniversary:
Voter Registration records are an often overlooked source of information relevant to genealogical research. These sources can provide, depending on the location, not only name and date of registration, but also age or birth year, occupation, time frame of naturalization status, marital status, and place of residence. This information may fill in gaps in your research on a particular ancestor. While researching my Stearns branch, for example, I discovered that my 4th great grandfather, Lyman Stearns (1803-1879), was living in Sonoma Co., California between the 1860 and 1870 U.S. Federal censuses.
V is also for Vermont. The State of Vermont was the 14th state to join the Union in 1791. It was first inhabited by Europeans in 1535. In researching my ancestry, I have discovered at least one connection to “The Green Mountain State.”
My Dunton branch traces back to Vermont to about 1800 when my 4th great grandfather, James Cyrus Dunton (ca. 1800-1845), the father of Harriet Rose Dunton (1836-1927) who married Owen Francis Kiernan (1836-1901), was born. James’s parents, David Dunton (ca. 1758-1829) and Polly Stoddard (ca. 1762-1845), were originally from Massachusetts, but moved to Vermont on their way to Steuben Co., New York, where they both died.
V is for Virginia:
V is also for Virginia. The State of Virginia was the 10th state to join the Union in 1788. The first permanent European settlements began in 1607 with Jamestown. In researching my ancestry, I have discovered a few connections to the “Old Dominion” State, one of which, my Agee branch, I will focus on here.
My Agee branch traces back to Mathieu Isaac Agè (ca. 1670-1735), who was born in Nantes, Loire-Atlantique, France. As a Huguenot (French Protestant), life in France became very difficult for Mathieu and his family by the reign of Louis XIV, who revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had ensured Protestants the right to worship, in 1685. Undoubtedly motivated by religious persecution, Mathieu left France for the Netherlands. It was there that he was, like many other young French Protestant immigrants, conscripted into the invasion force of William of Orange (1650-1702), King later King William III, for invasion of England during the Glorious Revolution. For their service, many French Protestants took advantage of 10,000 acres land grant in the Virginia Colony. Mathieu was among those, arriving in 1690. Mathieu settled in Manakintowne, Goochland, Virginia, where he was a prosperous land owner. It was also in Manakintowne that he married Cecelia Ann Gandovin (1691-1761) in 1714. For three generations in my line, the Agee family remained in Virginia before moving to Tennessee, then Missouri, and finally Oregon.
Mathieu Isaac Agè (ca. 1670-1735) was a direct ancestor of Lois Beatrice Agee (1897-1983), who married Wilhelm Percy Wellin (1895-1977), and was the mother of my great grandmother, Alice Lucretia Wellin (1916-1985), who married Theodore Alexander Lapham (1910-1955).
V is for Van Nieukirk:
V is also for Van Nieukirk (or Van Nieuwkirk, among other spellings), a surname that is claimed to be the ancestral family name of my 7th great grandmother, Hannah Cornelison (1757-1844). My Cornelison branch, and the Van Nieukirk family, trace back to New Netherlands prior to British rule. Hannah’s grandparents, Garrett Cornelison (ca. 1700-1779) and Marietje Lammerse (ca. 1704-1785) were married in New Harlem. It is claimed that the surname was changed to Cornelison after the British gained control of the area. Many Van Nieukirk changed their name to Cornelison (because it was a common first and middle name in the family) or some variation of Nieukirk. However, I have not yet been able to find what branch Garrett belongs to.
The Van Nieukirk surname is a habitation name, deriving from Nijkerk, a municipality and city in the Gelderland province of the Netherlands, which is where the Van Nieukirk family is from. The word Nijkerk is a variant of Nieuwekerk, which means “new church.”
Although no ancestry will ever be 100% complete, everyone that begins researching their ancestry tirelessly seeks to accomplish just this. We search to the point of frustration for that elusive ancestor that we want to uncover. When I began researching my ancestry, I was excited every time I was able find another generation back in my family history. When I ran into brick walls, I would get frustrated, irritated, and discouraged.
Over the years I have learned to be more patient, and have realized that eventually I will uncover the unknowns, if they are possible to uncover. I have my fair share of unknowns in my family tree beginning with the sixth generation back from myself. Through countless hours of searching through records I have been able to find some of them. Although I have many more to uncover, I hope to do so as more and more records become accessible, particularly those in other countries.
U is for Unfortunate Findings:
U is also for unfortunate findings. It has been my experience that many people are unwilling or uneasy to begin searching their ancestry out of fear of discovering something truly unfortunate or unpleasant in their family tree. Here in America, people fear finding slave ownership, support of the Confederacy (if they are in the North), murderers, prison sentences, traitors, thieves, illegitimacy, and inbreeding.
While researching my ancestry, I have come across a number of unfortunate findings, of which the following are the most significant:
Harry Carl Hamilton (1891-1960), my maternal great grandfather, served a prison sentence at Missouri State Penitentiary prior to 1933 (the year he married my great grandmother Goldie).
Wilhelm Percy Wellin (1895-1977), born Per Vilhelm Ture Stålberg, my 2nd great grandfather, was of illegitimate birth.
George Benton Beeney (1890-1970), my 2nd great grandfather, was convicted of larceny following his separation from his wife (Gladys), and putting his daughter (Maxine) up for adoption.
Ernest Jacob “Jersey” Worthington (1885-1939), my 2nd great grandfather, was of illegitimate birth.
Theodore Frelinghuysen Stearns (1844-1930), my 3rd great grandfather, abandoned his family in Oregon and moved to California.
William B. Lapham (1838-1935), my 3rd great grandfather, committed suicide (according to his death certificate) after a long life of debilitating illness following service in the Civil War.
Anna Eliza Backer (1854-1919), my 3rd great grandmother, was of illegitimate birth and the only surviving triplet.
István “Stephen” Balla (1858-ca. 1930), my 3rd great grandfather, abandoned his family in Hungary when he came to the United States and started a new family (without divorcing his first wife), and then abandoned his second family when one of his sons, my 2nd great grandfather, from his first marriage found him.
Robert A. Gifford (1827-1871), my 4th great grandfather, served in the Cavalry on the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Isaac Agee (1811-1900), my 5th great grandfather, ran as a Secessionist candidate for Yamhill Co., Oregon Commissioner in 1862.
William Thornton (1766-1843), my 7th great grandfather, was a slave holder like his father, Luke Thornton (1743-1801).
I also have a distant ancestral connection to Benedict Arnold (1741-1801), whose name is synonymous with being a traitor in America.
Although these are unfortunate findings in my ancestry, I don’t try to hide them (as some do), but rather seek to learn not only more about the individual lives involved, but how I might grow as a person from them. Just as unfortunate situations don’t entirely define our lives in the present, they don’t for our ancestors; nor do they define our heritage, as many other lives play a role in shaping it.
U is for U Surnames
U is also for surnames that start with the letter U, of which I have two: Uzille and Underwood.
Uzille (or Usille) is the maiden name of my 9th great grandmother, Marie Uzille (1686-1760), who married Leonard LeRoy (1674-1750). Marie and Leonard are direct ancestors of Gertrude Charity Laraway (ca. 1797-1874), the wife of Ezekiel Cook (ca. 1790-1850), and great grandmother of Gladys M. Cook (1894-1957), the wife of George Benton Beeney (1890-1970) and biological mother of my great grandmother, Maxine Elizabeth Davis (1912-1992), who married Delmar Clair Kernan (1908-1979). The surname, for which there are many variations, appears to be French or Belgian in origins. My Uzille line traces back to Calais, France in 1635. The family left France because of policies against Huguenots (French Protestants), immigrating first to Belgium and then the Palatinate by 1660, living near Mannheim. In 1660, they immigrated to New Netherlands (now New York) aboard the Gilded Otter. They are listed among the Walloons (French speakers from Belgium) in New Netherlands. The meaning of the Uzille surname is not known, though it is speculated that it may be a habitation name, deriving from a place name like Ouville-la-Rivière, with spelling alterations being the result of Belgian or Dutch influence.
Underwood is the maiden name of my 7th great grandmother Hannah Underwood (ca. 1724-1753), who married Benjamin Marshall (1723-?) and was the mother-in-law of Enos Davis (1760-1841), who was the great grandfather of William Phylitis Davis (1876-1960), the adoptive father of my great grandmother, Maxine Elizabeth Davis (1912-1992), who married Delmar Clair Kernan (1908-1979). The Underwood surname is English in origins, though it is also found in Scotland. My Underwood line can be currently traced to Pennsylvania. According to available research, the Underwood surname is a habitation name for someone who either lived near the woods, as the surname derives from the Middle English “under,” meaning “under,” and “wude,” meaning “wood.”
Twins are two offspring produced in the same pregnancy, and are either identical (monozygotic) or fraternal (dizygotic). Pregnancies resulting in more than two offspring are polyzygotic. According to statistics, twins occur in 1.1% of births, while triplets occur in 0.013% of births. As a fraternal twin (my brother’s name is Gerad), I was fascinated to learn of the other twins in my family when I began researching my family history.
The following is a list of the twins I have discovered in my family (excluding living persons), some of which are biologically related to me while others are not:
William Phylitis Davis (1876-1960), the adopted father of my paternal great grandmother Maxine Elizabeth Davis (1912-1992), and his sister Lucy Davis (1876-?) were twins.
Inga Maja Stålberg (1863), the older sister of my 3rd great grandmother Anna Elizabeth Stålberg (1869-1918), and her sister Kristina Stålberg (1863) were twins. Both died soon after birth, with Kristina dying under a month old and Inga at nearly eight months.
Emil Conrad Andersson Lowenburg (1875-1930), the husband of my 3rd great grandmother Anna Elizabeth Stålberg (1869-1918) and step-father of Anna’s son Wilhelm Percy Wellin (1895-1977), and his brother Samuel Oskar Andersson (1875-?) were twins.
Frank Balla (1912-1920), the brother of my maternal great grandmother Irene Vera (Balla) Sebok (1913-2006), and his brother John Balla (1912) were twins. John died at nearly four months old. Frank died at eight years old of congenital heart disease. According to oral family history, Frank and John were blue babies. Additionally, oral history states that Frank’s death followed him witnessing a horse get caught in barbed wire, after which he went into shock and died.
Pauline Katherine Rains (1913-1997), my step-great grandmother who married Delmar Clair Kernan (1908-1979), and her brother Paul Robert Rains (1913-1978), were twins.
Kit Carson Graber (1875-1962), the father of my step-great grandfather Willard Pershing Graber (1918-1988), and his brother Frank Robert Graber (1875-1949) were twins.
Esther Balla (ca. 1888-ca. 1889), the sister of my 2nd great grandfather Alexander Balla, is said to have been the twin of her sister Vera Balla (ca. 1888-ca. 1905). Apart from oral family history, I have not been able to find any evidence (possibly due to the fact that they both died in Hungary).
Ann Eliza Backer (1854-1919), my 3rd great grandmother and the mother of Maudena Elizabeth Stearns (1885-1936) who married George Edward Kernan (1884-1960), is said, according to oral family history, to have been one of a triplet. The other two, one a boy and the other a girl, died young. One is said to have died soon after birth, while the other in infancy. However, I have not yet been able to find any records for them.
Oral family history claims that my 2nd great grandparents Frank Sebok (1875-1951) and Roza Mari Peto (1871-1937) had a couple sets of twins that died at birth or in infancy, possibly due to a cholera outbreak. However, I have not yet been able to find any records for them.
T is for Trails:
T is also for trails. By trails I mean wagon trails used by pioneers in the mid-19th century to settle throughout the American West. There are three historically important trails that many researching their family history look into, which include the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail, and the California Trail.
The Oregon Trail began as early as 1811 by fur traders, and became a full wagon trail by 1836. It was widely publicized by 1843. The trail traveled through the modern states of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and then Oregon. The Mormon Trail began in 1846 in Illinois as a westward movement of members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, which passed through the modern states of Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming and then Utah. The California Trail began in about 1841, and traveled through the modern states of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and then California. With the discovery of gold in 1848 the California Gold Rush was soon underway, during which time the trail saw a significant increase in use.
These three trials progressed along interrelated routes collectively known as the “Emigrant Trail,” starting in the Missouri River area until reaching South Pass in Wyoming, at which point they branched off. The Mormon Trail branched southward into modern Utah, while the Oregon Trail and the California Trail continued along interrelated routes until reaching Fort Hall in Idaho, at which point they branched off in different directions as well.
The journey along the two longer trails took about six months. Conditions along these trails were arduous. Pioneers faced rough terrain, disease, Indian attacks, harsh weather conditions, and supply shortages, among other challenges. Estimates of deaths range from 9,000 to 21,000, with disease (particularly cholera) being the leading cause of death. Despite these conditions, pioneers blazed these trails in large numbers. Between 1840 and 1849, nearly 19,000 people traveled along these trails, the majority of which did so by way of the Oregon Trail. Between 1849 and 1860, nearly 280,000 braved these trails, the majority of which did so by way of the California Trail. While researching my own family history, I discovered that several of my ancestors were among these pioneers, and that I have connections to all three of trails.
My Agee and Thornton branches, which connect to my Lapham branch via my Wellin branch, have a connection to the Oregon Trail. My 5th great grandfather, Isaac Agee (1811-1900), his wife Cordelia Thornton (1815-1893), and their children left DeKalb Co., Missouri along the Oregon Trail in 1852, eventually settling in Gopher Valley, Yamhill Co., Oregon. Traveling with them along the trail were members of the Thornton family, also from DeKalb Co., Missouri. One part of this family was that of Simeon Toney Thornton (1818-1917) and his wife Elizabeth “Betsy” Ann Adams (1818-1852), their children, and Simeon’s mother and step-father. While still traveling on the trail, but after they had arrived in Oregon in 1852, Simeon’s wife Betsy went into labor and died during delivery. Oral tradition states that she was weak from the arduous trip, and had a difficult delivery. Another batch of Thorntons traveled from DeKalb Co., Missouri across the Oregon Trail to Yamhill Co., Oregon in 1865: the family of Jeptha Thornton (1821-1889) and Martha Ragsdale Walker (1820-1899).
My Dunton branch, which married into my Kernan branch, has a connection to the Mormon Trail. Although I have not discovered if any of my direct Dunton ancestors were Mormon, a sibling of one definitely was. James Harvey Dunton (1829-1901), the brother of my 3rd great grandmother, Harriet Rose (Dunton) Kiernan (1836-1927), was a Mormon and traveled on the Mormon Trail from Hancock Co., Illinois to Utah, where he died in 1901. I have discovered no evidence (so far) that Harriet, herself, was a Mormon, as her husband, Owen Francis Kiernan (1836-1901), was a Catholic. As for Harriet and James’s parents, James Cyrus Dunton (ca. 1800-1845) and Mary Comfort Knowles (ca. 1801-1845), I am uncertain. I have not discovered any hard evidence that states they were in fact Mormons; however, they left Steuben Co., New York (where Harriet and James were born) and ended up in Hancock Co., Illinois, where they died within months of each other in 1845. It was also in Hancock Co., Illinois that Joseph Smith and the Mormons established a community and temple at Nauvoo in 1839-1840, after fleeing persecution in Missouri. By the mid-1840’s, persecution of Mormons in this area of Illinois grew, as did internal struggles within the Mormon community. In 1844, Joseph Smith was assassinated by an angry mob that had stormed a jail where he was being held. Apart from violence, many Mormons starved or died from illness in Nauvoo and surrounding areas. Following his death, the violence did not stop, which ultimately resulted in Mormons setting out on the Mormon Trail for Utah. Where James Cyrus Dunton and his wife Mary among the Mormons who died due to violence, starvation, or illness? I have yet to determine that.
Moreover, my Stearns branch, which married into my Kernan branch, has a connection to the California Trail. Lyman Stearns (1803-1879), my 4th great grandfather, was living and running a boarding house in Linn Co., Missouri in 1850, along with his wife Rebecca and their children. By 1852, they had left Missouri for California, undoubtedly hearing of the fortunes to be made in California gold mines, as they are enumerated on the 1852 California State Census living in Placer Co., California, which is among the counties of “Gold Country,” a region in California famous for its gold mines. Although no oral history accounts exist regarding their journey, most traveling to California at this time did so along the California Trail, the routes of which terminated in “Gold Country.” By 1860, Lyman and his family were living in Tuolumne Co., California, another county in “Gold Country,” where he had a worked a quartz mine called the “Riverside Quartz Mine.”
A wonderful historical account of the major westward trails in American History is John Unruh’s The Plains Across: The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840–60 (1993). A free preview of the book can be found on Google Books.
T is for Thornton:
T is also for Thornton, a surname of English, Scottish, and Irish origins. My Thornton branch traces back to Westminster, London, England before their arrival in Virginia in about 1660 and Fulham, London, England. According to available research, moreover, the Thornton surname is a habitation surname, deriving from the Old English words “þorn,” meaning “thorn bush,” and “tun,” meaning “enclosure” or “settlement.”
The Thornton surname is a maiden name in my ancestry that connects into my Agee branch (a branch of my Lapham branch) in three different ways, as shown below:
Mary Elizabeth (Thornton) Agee (1847-1920), my 4th great grandmother, was the wife of John Agee (1839-1912), and the grandmother of Lois Beatrice (Agee) Wellin (1897-1983), who married Wilhelm Percy Wellin (1895-1977) and was the mother of my paternal great grandmother, Alice Lucretia Wellin (1916-1985), who married Theodore Alexander Lapham (1910-1955).
Anna Elizabeth (Thornton) Stephens (1842-1925), my 4th great grandmother, was married to Thomas Prigmore Stephens (1830-1910), and was the mother of Tirzah Olive Stephens (1873-1967), who married Otto W. Agee (1868-1904) and was the mother of Lois Beatrice (Agee) Wellin (1897-1983), who married Wilhelm Percy Wellin (1895-1977) and was the mother of my paternal great grandmother, Alice Lucretia Wellin (1916-1985), who married Theodore Alexander Lapham (1910-1955).
Cordelia (Thornton) Agee (1815-1893), my 5th great grandmother, was married to Isaac Agee (1811-1900) and was the mother of John Agee (1839-1912), who married Mary Elizabeth Thornton (1847-1920), who is the same Mary Thornton that was mentioned above in the first bullet point.
Mary, Anna, and Cordelia are all related to each other, as they are descendants of William Thornton (1766-1843) and Martha Ann “Patsy” Owen (ca. 1766-?), my 7th great grandparents. Mary and Anna were both great granddaughters of William and Patsy, while Cordelia was a granddaughter.
William Shakespeare famously asked in his play Romeo & Juliet, “What is in a name?” The poetic and romantic nature and meaning of this question aside, those who undertake researching their family history know that there is a great deal in a name, particularly surnames. Thus, I will focus on surnames in general in this week’s “Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge” and close with some of my own surnames that start with the letter “s.”
A surname is a part of a personal name, which is usually shared in common with members of a family. Thus, the word surname is usually synonymous with “family name.” In most Western countries, the surname is typically placed at the end of a personal name, which is why it is commonly called a “last name.” In Hungary and many Asian countries, the surname is placed at the start of a personal name, before the given (or first) name. In my Hungarian ancestry, I encountered the practice of placing the surname first in personal names in my 2nd great grandparents’ family Bible.
In many Western countries, there are generally five categories for surname types: patronymic names, location (or habitation) names, occupation names, nicknames, and ornamental names. Understanding which of these your surname falls in can provide important information about your family and provide clues to tracing your ancestry.
Patronymic surnames are those that derive from the first name of the father. These often involve either the addition of a suffix (e.g., s, sson, son, ez, dotter, etc.) or a prefix (e.g., O, Mc, Mac, Fitz, etc.), which translate as “son of” or “daughter of.”
Location (or habitation) names are typically either generic, referencing a general geographic feature, or specific, referring to a specific location.
Occupation surnames have as their meaning a reference to a particular occupation, as in the surname Schindler which refers to the occupation of shingle maker. Additionally, occupational surnames can also have as their meaning the particular occupation of a person’s employer or master, particularly if an “s” has been added, as in the surname “Vickers,” which refers to a servant of a vicar.
Surnames deriving from nicknames, can either be “pet names” for given names, or derive from words referencing appearance, temperament, and personality.
Ornamental surnames are surnames that were adopted for no real specific reason, have no specific reflection on the person who first bore it, were often made up by or appealed to the person selecting it, and in some cases have symbolic meaning. Ornamental surnames were mostly adopted in the 18th and 19th centuries when laws required the adoption of a fixed surname (as opposed to a traditional patronymic surname), and are common among Jews and Scandinavians.
Ancestry.com has a helpful searchable database, which may help you uncover the meaning and origins of your surname.
Additionally, there are many genealogical resources available that involve surnames as an important aspect of the research.
One type of these resources are “one-name studies.” As opposed to a particular family history or pedigree, a “one-name study” is a project researching a specific surname that can range from a study of that surname in a particular geographic location to all occurrences of the surname world-wide. These projects are important genealogical resources as they are often a collection of data for persons that bare the particular surname in question. The Guild of One-Name Studies is an organization that was established to help preserve and centralize these studies. Their website has a free surname search, which includes contact information for those researching a given surname.
Another important genealogical resource involving surnames is surname distribution maps. Usually, these maps graphically display the frequency of a particular surname in a given location. This is useful in tracking possible locations your ancestors may have been from, if they are unknown to you. There are some free searchable surname distribution maps available online for several countries. Ancestry.com’s surname search displays the frequency in the United States, England & Wales, and Scotland. Irishtimes.com has one for Ireland. Dynastree has several that appear to still be working, including for Germany, Poland, and Switzerland. Genevolu has another one for Germany. RadixIndex has one for Hungary based on an 1891 directory. A fun one is WorldNames, which shows the frequency of your name around the world. If you click on a specific country, it will show you how your surname is further breaks down in that country and so forth.
Related to one-name studies and surname distribution maps are surname DNA projects, which use genealogical DNA tests to trace lineages of particular surnames. These projects can reveal more about the roots and family groups that bare a particular surname, in addition to identifying the genetic place of origins for a particular surname and line.
S is for Surnames that Start with S:
S is also for surnames that start with the letter S, of which I have six: Sebok, Sheridan, Stearns, Stålberg, Seely, and Stephens.
Sebok (or Sebök) is the maiden name of my maternal grandmother, Alberta (Sebok) Hamilton (LIVING) and thus one of the “cardinal branches” discussed on this blog. The surname is Hungarian in origins, though it is also found today in regions of Romania with large numbers of Hungarians. My Sebok branch traces back to the village of Székelyzsombor (now Jimbor, Romania), a rural village located in the historic region of Transylvania. According to available research, moreover, the Sebok surname derives, possibly as a nickname, from the personal name “Sebestyén,” which is the Hungarian form of the name “Sebastian.” Because of the prevalence of the name Sebastian in Christian tradition, the name probably emerged in Hungary following the adoption of Christianity. However, the name Sebastian historically originated to identify someone from Sebastia, an ancient city in the Black Sea region of Pontus. It is interesting to note that many accounts claim that Hungarians originated from the Black Sea area.
Sheridan is the maiden name of my 4th great grandmother, Martha Rose (Sheridan) Kiernan (ca. 1797-?), who married Felix Kiernan (ca. 1796-1882). The surname is Irish in origins. My Sheridan branch traces back to one of the northern counties of Ireland, possibly Longford or Cavan. According to available research, moreover, the Sheridan surname is an Anglicized form of the Gaelic surname Ó’Sirideáin, which means “descendant of Sirideáin.” Sirideáin (and Siridean) is a personal name of unclear origins. There are two accounts given, however, for its possible meaning. The first states that the personal name Sirideáin derives from the word “siride” meaning “elf,” making the surname a nickname for the original bearer’s personality, that of mischievous (which was the nature of elves in Irish myths). The second states that word derives from to important elements within the personal name, “sir,” meaning “search,” and “dean,” meaning “act,” “do,” or “perform,” giving the surname the meaning of “one who searches” or “a searcher,” which may be a reference to either an occupation or a personality trait.
Stearns is the maiden name of my 2nd great grandmother, Maudena Elizabeth “Lizzie” (Stearns) Kernan (1885-1936), who married George Edward Kernan (1884-1960). The surname is English in origins. My Stearns branch traces back to Yarmouth, England before their arrival in Massachusetts in 1630. According to available research, moreover, the Stearns surname is a patronymic surname that derives from personal name Stern, which is itself a nickname based on personality for a strict or austere person, coming from the Middle English word “stern(e),” meaning “strict” or “austere.” (The surname has a different meaning for those of German and Jewish ancestry.)
Stålberg is the maiden name of my 3rd great grandmother, Anna Elizabeth Stålberg (1869-1918), who was the grandmother of my great grandmother, Alice Lucretia Wellin (1916-1985), who married Theodore “Ted” Alexander Lapham (1910-1955). The surname is Swedish in origins. My Stålberg branch traces back to Soderhamn Parish, Gävleborg Co., Hälsingland Province, Sweden before coming America, and Nyed Parish, Värmland Co., Värmland Province, Sweden before that. According to available research, the surname is an ornamental name composed of the words “stål,” meaning “steel,” and “berg,” meaning “mountain” or “hill.” The surname was first adopted in my line by my 5th great grandfather, Nils Larsson Stålberg (1810-1899), in about 1834. Nils was born in Värmland Province, which is known for its picturesque scenery, particularly the mountains which are rich in iron ore. This likely explains the choice of Stålberg as a surname, though Nils was also a blacksmith one point in his life, which may also explain the choice.
Seely (or Seeley) is the maiden name of my 3rd great grandmother, Betsy “Bettie” (Seely) Williams (1858-1947), who was the grandmother of my great grandmother, Maxine Elizabeth Davis (1912-1992), who married Delmar Clair Kernan (1908-1979). The surname is English in origins. The exact origins of my Seely branch is not presently known, as the furthest backI have been able to trace is to my 5th great grandfather, Obadiah Seely (ca. 1794-ca. 1852), who was born in Ontario (now Genesee) Co., New York and died in Pennsylvania. My people with this surname in America appear to trace back to Warwickshire, England. According to available research, moreover, the Seely (or Seeley) surname is a nickname based on personality for a person with a cheerful disposition, deriving from the Middle English word “seely” meaning “happy” or “fortunate,” and the Old English words “gesælig,” meaning “happy,” and “sæl,” meaning “happiness.”
Stephens is the maiden name of my 3rd great grandmother, Trizah Olive (Stephens) Agee (1873-1967), who was the grandmother of my great grandmother, Alice Lucretia Wellin (1916-1985), who married Theodore “Ted” Alexander Lapham (1910-1955). The surname is English in origins, though variations can be found in Scotland, Holland, and German. The exact origins of my Stephens branch is not presently known, as the furthest back I have been able to trace is to my 6th great grandfather, Phillip Stephens (ca. 1755-1830), who was born in Virginia and died in Tennessee. According to available research, the Stephens surname is a patronymic surname that derives from the personal name Stephen, which is a variation of Steven, a name popular in Christendom due to the martyred Saint of that name, which means “crown.”
One of the interesting topics to explore when researching your family history is the religious history of your ancestors. For many, this will probably be the same religion or denomination that is practiced in their family today. However, many others will discover that their families have a diversity of different denominations or even faiths. When I began to research my own family history, I discovered a few surprises, considering the fact that I assumed that my father’s side was entirely Catholic and that my mother’s side was either entirely Presbyterian or Methodist as well.
Research into my Kernan branch confirmed that this branch was in fact Catholic and for all known generations. However, branches that married into the family were not. My Davis branch was Baptist. My Stearns branch was Puritan when they arrived in America, as was my Dunton branch, though original apart of the “Church of England.” Over the generations both Stearns and Dunton drifted from Puritanism, and no specific denomination appears to have replaced it. However, recently I discovered a possibly Mormon connection via Dunton, which will be discussed in a forthcoming post.
The religious history of my Lapham branch also consists of a variety of Christian denominations. The Lapham family arrived in America as Quakers in the 1630’s. Over the generations, the family became Baptists, then Methodist (by my 3rd great grandfather), and for a couple of generations they were Seventh-Day Adventists. My grandmother, however, was a devout Catholic. The families that married into the Lapham family also appear to have been of varied denominations. Although few records or details exist for the religious history of the Wellin family, as well as related families of Stålberg, and Lowenburg, they were most likely Lutheran when they arrived in America, as this was the predominate denomination in Sweden. The Agee family, which married into the Wellin family, were Huguenots when they arrived in America, after which those in my line appear to be primarily Baptist. The Graber family, which also married into the Wellin family, were Mennonites when they arrived in America in 1832. The Leishman family was Presbyterian when they arrived, and changed to Seventh-Day Adventist with my 2nd great grandmother’s conversion in 1894. The Reynolds and Colwell families were Puritan when they arrived in America, with no specific denomination appearing to have replaced it over the generations since their arrivals. The Arnold and Mann families were, like the Lapham family itself, Quakers.
Research into my Hamilton branch is has been recent and is still missing important details, and there is no exception with respect to its religious history. According to oral family history, my great grandfather, Harry Carl Hamilton (1891-1960), was a Methodist. Since it seems that religion did not play a very large part in the lives of those in my ancestry belonging to this branch, it has been difficult to determine if this oral account is true. For the known generations prior to Harry, few details have been discovered with respect to the family’s religious history. The most significant has been the fact that Harry’s father and mother, Rufus and Jennie Heldman, were married by a pastor of the Church of Christ. This is the only specific mention of a denomination or religion I have found, with marriages and other major events occurring in non-religious services. The Worthington family, moreover, were Quakers when they arrived in America in 1714. By the mid-1800’s, the family was Baptist. The Gifford family, which married into the Worthington family, was also Quaker when they arrived in American in about 1647. Based on records, the Gifford family was still a part of the Quaker faith by the late 1700’s, after which it is not totally clear what denomination became predominant in the family, though it was probably Baptist. The Lightcap family, which married into the Heldman family, was Presbyterian when they arrived in America in 1734. By the 1780’s the family were members of a Lutheran congregation in Pennsylvania.
The religious history of my Sebok branch was presumed to be Presbyterian. However, family records, particularly a baptismal certificate for my great grandfather, Albert Sebok (1903-1968) and several Bibles with stamps in them, show that this branch of my family was a part of the Hungarian Reformed Church, which is a form of Calvinism. The Balla family, which married into the Sebok family, was said to be Presbyterian when it arrived in America. However, a New Testament Bible that belonged to my 2 great grandparents, Alexander and Julia Balla, has stamped in it “New Yorki Magyar Istengyülekezet.” I have not been able to find a definitive answer on what “Istengyülekezet,” though it appears to roughly mean “Church of God.” This phrase is associated with many different denominations, including Pentecostalism, Baptists, and Adventists. The Bible itself is a publication of the American Baptist Publication Society. Perhaps this means they were members of a Hungarian Baptist Church in New York.
R is for Rhode Island:
R is also for Rhode Island, the only State in the United States that starts with the letter R. Rhode Island, or rather the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, was the thirteenth State admitted to the Union, being admitted in 1790. As a Colony, Rhode Island was one of the original thirteen, and was founded in 1636 by Roger Williams (ca. 1603-1683), an English Protestant theologian.
I have a few ancestral connections to Rhode Island. My Lapham branch left England and came to America in 1660 settling first in Providence, Rhode Island, joining many other Quakers in the state. They left Providence for Newport, Rhode Island in about 1673, following destruction to the city during King Philip’s War. In 1682, the family left Rhode Island all together for Dartmouth, Massachusetts, only to return by about 1765. In the 1790’s my line of Laphams left Rhode Island for good, moving to Madison Co., New York, where my 6th great grandfather was among the pioneers of that county.
Another connection I have to the state of Rhode Island is by my Gifford branch, which married into the Worthington family (a branch of my Hamilton family). The Gifford family came to Rhode Island just prior to 1716, where my 8th great grandfather, Jabez Gifford (1686-1761) married his wife Dinah Sheldon (1697-?) in Newport Co., Rhode Island. My line of the Gifford family remained in Rhode Island until about 1750, when they moved to Dutchess Co., New York.
Another connection I have to the state is to the founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams (ca. 1603-1683) who is my 10th great grandfather. My descent from Roger Williams is as follows: Roger Williams (ca. 1603-1683) married Mary Barnard (ca. 1609-1676). Their daughter was Mercy Williams (1640-1707), who married Samuel Winsor (1644-1705). Their son was Samuel Winsor (1677-1758), who married Mercy Harding (1683-1771). Their daughter was Martha Winsor (1703-ca. 1797), who married Robert Colwell (1702-1797). Their son was Benjamin Colwell (1746-1829), who married Deborah Brown (1747-?). Their daughter was Mary Colwell (1772-ca. 1808), who married Duty Lapham (1772-1846). Their son was Benjamin Lapham (1807-1860), who married Cemantha Broadway (ca. 1813-ca. 1846). Their son was William B. Lapham (1838-1925), who married Emoline Pauline Reynolds (1844-1886). Their son was Horace Irving Lapham (1869-1927), who married Anna Margaret Leishman (1875-1951). Their son was Theodore Alexander Lapham (1910-1955), who married Alice Lucretia Wellin (1916-1985). Their daughter was my paternal grandmother, Margaret Ann Lapham (1936-2004), who married William Kernan (LIVING).