Family History Through the Alphabet – T is for Twins, Trails, and Thornton

This week’s Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge focuses on the letter T. In researching my family history, I have run across a few noteworthy T’s.

T is for Twins:

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.

Twin brothers, Frank and Kit Graber

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.
My fraternal twin brother, Gerad (left), and I sometime in the early 1980’s dressed as ALL twins should, alike!

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.

A Map Showing All Three Trails

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).

A Map of the Oregon Trail

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.

A Map of the Mormon Trail

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 Map of the California Trail

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.

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Genealogy Challenge: Who Is Your Most Recent Unknown Ancestor?

Unknown ancestors are perhaps the most frustrating part of genealogical research. Of course, no ancestry will ever be 100% complete. Nevertheless, recent unknown ancestors always leave me (and I’m certain this is a shared feeling) particularly frustrated. In May, Genea-Musings posted one of his SNGF (Saturday Night Genealogy Fun) challenges focusing on the “most recent unknown ancestor” (or MRUA) in our ahnentafel. Having my share of these, I was naturally drawn to this challenge.

My most recent unknown ancestor is number 44 on my ahnentafel, who is one of my still unknown 3rd Great Grandparents. This ancestor was the biological father of my 2nd Great Grandfather, Wilhelm Percy Wellin (1895-1977). Wilhelm was born Per Vilhelm Ture Stålberg in Sweden the illegitimate son of Anna Elizabeth Stålberg (1869-1918) and an unidentified man. Wilhelm’s birth record in Sweden provides no clues as to the potential identity of his father, as it simply states that Wilhelm (then Per) was born of illegitimate (oäkta) birth to a mother that was unmarried (ogift) and a father that was unknown (okänd).

Wilhelm Wellin’s Swedish Birth Record, 1895

Because Wilhelm was born of illegitimate birth, the identity of his father, and my MRUA, will most likely remain a mystery. Some of the common methods for finding an unknown father in Swedish records have proven fruitless so far. Court records or clerical surveys (household examinations or censuses) that could have indicated Wilhelm was “legalized” or “legitimized” (legaliserad) by his biological father have not been discovered, if they exist at all. Additionally, the church and legal practice of punishment for fornication (lönskaläge) and having children out of wedlock ended by Wilhelm’s birth, leaving only court cases relating to suits for child support available which have not turned up in this case.

Another common method of tracking down an unknown father (or a potential unknown father) in Swedish records is something called the “name game,” in which you take the first name or a patronymic surname (e.g., Larsson)  and attempt to search out likely candidates in the same geographic location. This method has so far also proven fruitless, as no suitable candidate with the names Per, Vilhelm, or Ture have been found. Additionally, Wilhelm received his mother’s maiden name at birth, not a patronymic name.

There have been only two clues as to the identity, or possible identity, of Wilhelm’s biological father. One of these clues is the surname Wilhelm used from about 1914 until his death in 1977, that of Wellin. The choice of this surname has been a source of confusion, as there is no evidence in records (so far) linking Wilhelm to this surname. Apart from Stålberg, records show only one other surname used by Wilhelm in his life prior to about 1914, that of Lowenburg (Lövenberg or Löwenborg) which is the surname of Wilhelm’s step-father Emil Conrad Lowenburg (1875-1930). When Wilhelm (then Per) immigrated to the United States in 1906 with his mother, step-father, and step-siblings, he did so under the Lowenburg surname. He was also enumerated on the 1910 U.S. Census with this surname. At some point between 1910 and his marriage in 1914, Wilhelm assumed the Wellin surname. Oral family history on this issue states that Wilhelm assumed this name because his mother had been married to a man named Wellin (possibly Anders Wellin, Welin, or some other variation) at some point back in Sweden who adopted him before his death. To date, however, no records have been found in Sweden to prove this; nor have any records been found showing a person with the Wellin surname (or any variation of it) living in close proximity to Anna, though there are numerous people with this surname living in Göteborg och Bohus (now Västra Götaland) County, which is where Wilhelm was born.

1906 Immigration Record showing Wilhelm as Per Wilhelm T. Lowenburg

The only other clue regarding the identity, or possible identity, of Wilhelm’s biological father is a rather dubious claim in oral family history. According to this claim, Wilhelm was born the “illegitimate son of the King of Sweden.” This oral tradition, like most of this sort, adds that Wilhelm’s mother, Anna, was employed as a maid or chambermaid in Göteborg when she had this alleged royal encounter. Looking at available Swedish records for Anna, I did discover that she was enumerated on household examinations (censuses) as being employed as a maid (piga) in Göteborg at the time of Wilhelm’s birth, so that part of the story is true. Could the other parts be true as well?

Exploring the history and lives of the Swedish Royal Family at this time revealed that King Oscar II (1829-1907), the King of Sweden at the time of Wilhelm’s birth, had several affairs and allegedly several illegitimate children, including a daughter and also two sons by a Swedish opera singer, among others. Additionally, many other members of the Swedish Royal Family had affairs and are alleged to have fathered children from these relationships. Oral tradition is not specific as to whom “King of Sweden” refers, but if true it either refers to Oscar II, who would have been 66 at the time of Wilhelm’s birth, or his heir Gustav V, who came to the throne about a year after Wilhelm, his mother, step-father, and step-siblings left Sweden for America. Gustav V is alleged to have had affairs, and there are claims of illegitimate children, though the more notable of his extramarital activities is the infamous Hajiby Affair. In addition to Anna’s occupation and the prevalence of affairs and claims of illegitimate offspring, my research also revealed that the Royal Family frequently vacationed in Göteborg at this time.

Although some of the elements of this claim of oral history have turned out to be true, claims of illegitimate descent from royals tend to be more romantic inventions than fact. It seems more likely that Wilhelm’s biological father was the Mr. Wellin (or Welin) who is alleged to have been Anna’s husband at some point between Wilhelm’s birth and her marriage to Emil. However, it is worth noting that Wilhelm did have a slight resemblance to Gustav V, as may be seen in the following photos.

Wilhelm Wellin (left) and Gustav V (right)

Family History Through the Alphabet – M is for Military Service, Mistakes, Midwest, Molnar, & McLaughlin

M is for Military Service:

One thing many people find really interesting and take a great deal of pride in when researching their ancestry is discovering the military service of ancestors or relatives. In researching my own ancestry, I have discovered several ancestors and relatives with military service, many of which with service during war. Perhaps the earliest known of these is the service of Mathieu Agé, my 9th great grandfather, in the Glorious Revolution. Mathieu was a Huguenot refugee in the Netherlands and was conscripted in the army of William of Orange (1650-1702) that invaded England in 1688. He was among many Huguenot refugees that served and was granted land in Virginia for his service.

In addition to Mathieu, I also have ancestors and relatives that served in wars in and involving the United States, including eight ancestors that served in the American Revolution, one of which was on the side of the British; some yet unverified claims of service in the War of 1812; four confirmed ancestors that served in the American Civil War, one of which was on the side of the Confederacy; one in the Spanish-American War; one in World War I; no direct ancestors in World War II, but two step-great-grandfathers that served, along with some great uncles; one that served during the Korean War; and a couple of relatives that served during the Vietnam War.

M is for Mistakes:

M is also for mistakes. In researching our ancestries, everyone comes across mistakes, particularly in oral accounts of our ancestry. On my paternal side, it was always claimed that my 3rd great grandfather, Owen Kiernan (1836-1901), and his wife, Harriet, were born in Ireland. Research revealed that Owen was in fact born in Canada to Irish émigrés, and Harriet was born in New York. On my maternal side, many mistakes were collected from the recollections of my great grandmother, Goldie (Worthington) Hamilton (1912-2006). Although she had the names kind of correct for several ancestors, they turned out to be of her own ancestry and not both hers and her husbands, Harry Carl Hamilton (1891-1960).

Although mistakes can take some time to discover and correct, I have found the process in doing so to be rewarding, as you uncover the past for what it really was piece by piece.

M is for Midwest:

M is also for Midwest. As I researched my ancestries, I was amazed by how many of my branches traced back to the American Midwest. The Midwest, also called “the heartland,” is a region in the United States that consists of 12 states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. All four of my “cardinal branches” (Kernan, Lapham, Hamilton, and Sebok) discussed on this site/blog trace to the Midwest; and I have connections to all but Kansas (so far). I know (from oral accounts) that many of my Midwestern ancestors left the Midwest because of the cold weather, so I suppose they avoided Kansas because they didn’t want to end up in the Land of Oz.

The following is a listing of which of the 11 states in the Midwest each of my four “cardinal branches” (including related branches) trace to:

  • Kernan: Missouri, Minnesota, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois
  • Lapham: Michigan, Nebraska, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota
  • Hamilton: Ohio, Missouri, Indiana
  • Sebok: Indiana, Illinois, Ohio

M is for Molnar:

M is also for Molnar (or Molnár), the maiden name of my 2nd great grandmother, Julia (Molnar) Balla (1885-1962), the mother of my great grandmother Irene Vera (Balla) Sebok (1913-2006). The surname is Hungarian in origins and is an occupational name from the Hungarian word “molnár,” meaning “miller.” Some name studies state that it may be a Magyarized form of the Slavic word for a miller, “mlinar.” My Molnar family traces back to a village called Eszény, which was in the Tisza District of Szabolcs County in the former Kingdom of Hungary. Today, although still inhabited by a majority of Hungarians, it is located in the Zakarpattia Oblast of Ukraine.

M is for McLaughlin:

M is also for McLaughlin, the maiden name of my 3rd great grandmother, Eva Flora McLaughlin (1863-1899), who was the biological grandmother of my great grandmother, Maxine Elizabeth Davis (1912-1992), who married Delmar Clair Kernan (1908-1979). According to name studies, the surname is Irish and Scottish in origins, and is an Anglicized form of the Gaelic “Mac Lochlainn” or “Ó Lochlainn,” meaning “son (or descendant) of Lochlainn,” with Lochlainn being a personal name meaning “stranger,” originally denoting Scandinavia (a compound of “loch,” meaning “lake,” and “lann,” meaning “land”). This name may originate in Ireland around the time of the Viking Invasions of Ireland. Irish bearers of the name often claim descent from Lochlann, a 10th century lord of Corcomroe, County Clare.

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Family History Through the Alphabet – L is for Lost Records, Lapham, Leishman, and Lightcap

L is for Lost Records:

A tragic fact to uncover while researching your ancestry is that an important record has been lost. Everyone researching their ancestry in the United States has discovered that the majority of the 1890 U.S. Census was destroyed in a fire in 1921, leaving a census gap between 1880 and 1900. In my attempts to research the ancestries of several branches of my family in the nations of their origins, I have run into similar situations. In Ireland, the nation of origins for my Kernan branch, many records, particularly in historic Ulster Province, were lost. The 1813 Irish Census no longer exists, and most of the 1821 through 1851 Irish Census records were lost in the 1922 fire at the Public Record Office during the Battle of Dublin in the Irish Civil War. In Hungary, the nation of origins for my Sebok branch, many records were lost during various wars, particularly World War II. Although many have been preserved for specific locations in Hungary, in many cases original census records have been completely or partially lost.

L is for Lapham:

Margaret (Lapham) Kernan

L is also for Lapham, the surname of my paternal grandmother, Margaret Ann (Lapham) Kernan (1936-2004), and thus one of the four “cardinal branches” discussed on this site/blog. According to name studies, the surname has two possible meanings. The first states that the surname is Welsh in origins, being composed of two Welsh words, “lapis,” meaning “stone,” and “ham,” meaning “home.” It is speculated that this means “hearthstone,” the central heating and cooking source in pre-industrial homes. Other accounts have speculated that it means “cornerstone,” indicating either occupation (masonry or home building) or personal quality (e.g., “pillar of the community”) of its original bearers. Whether any of these interpretations are true is unclear. The second possible meaning for the surname states that it may be a variant of Lopham, a habitational name from a place in Norfolk, being composed of the Old English personal name “Loppa” and the word “ham,” possibly meaning “homestead.”

L is for Leishman:

Anna Margaret (Leishman) Lapham

L is also for Leishman, a surname belonging to a related branch of my Lapham branch, and the surname of my 2nd great grandmother, Anna Margaret (Leishman) Lapham (1875-1951). According to name studies, the surname is Scottish in origins, and means “servant of Leish,” with Leish being a variation of the personal name Gillies. Thus, the name is interpreted to be an occupational name, indicating that the earliest bearers were servants to someone named Leish or Gillies, with the exact details being lost in history. Some accounts of the surname also point out that Gillies derives from the Gaelic “Gille-Iosa,” which means “son of the servant of Jesus.” If this fact has any bearing on the surname, it may indicate that the occupation may have had a religious nature.

L is for Lightcap:

L is also for Lightcap, a surname belonging to a related branch of my Hamilton branch, and the surname of my 2nd great grandmother, Jennie M. (Lightcap) Heldman (1872-1905). This surname in my line was originally spelled Leitgeb, Americanized to Lightcap after about 1734 when this branch of my family left Germany and arrived in the United States. According to name studies, the surname derives from the Middle High German word litgebe. Litgebe consists of two words, “lit,” meaning “punch” (a kind of spiced wine), and “gebe,” meaning “giver” or “pourer.” Thus, the surname is interpreted to be an occupational name for someone who owned or worked in a tavern.

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The Death of Susannah Martin & My Family Connection to the Salem Witch Trials

Susannah (North) Martin Praying in Prison

On July 19, 1692, three hundred and twenty years ago today, Susannah (North) Martin (ca. 1621-1692) was hanged following her conviction of witchcraft along with four other women during the Salem Witch Trials in Salem, Essex Co., Massachusetts, USA. Although I am not a descendant of Susannah Martin, I am (unfortunately) a descendant of one of her accusers, William Brown (ca. 1622-1706).

Susannah (North) Martin was born in about 1621 in England and immigrated with her family in 1639 to Salisbury, Massachusetts. In 1646, she married George Martin, with whom she had eight children. In 1669, she was accused of witchcraft, but was acquitted. In 1692, when witchcraft accusations were again being made in Puritan Massachusetts, Susannah was once more a target. On April 30, 1692, a warrant for her arrest was made, ordering that she be examined by the court for “high suspicion of sundry acts of Witchcraft done or committed by her upon the bodies of Mary Walcot, Abigail Williams, Ann Putnam, and Marcy Lewis of Salem Village or farms.”

It is clear from the warrant for her arrest that her principal accusers were the four young women. However, these were not the only persons that testified against Susannah. In most cases in Puritan Massachusetts, more than just the accusations of children were required to convict a person of a crime such as witchcraft. Thus, there are usually many others offering testimony against the accused in court, particularly for those that were convicted and executed. In the case of Susannah Martin, there were at least fourteen additional accusers offering testimony before the court. One of these accusers was William Brown (ca. 1622-1706), my 10th great grandfather.

William Brown Deposition against Susannah Martin

William was born in about 1622 in Wiltshire, England and had immigrated to Salisbury, Massachusetts in about 1640/41 with his brothers and mother. In 1645, he married Elizabeth Murford, with whom he had at least six children. William’s testimony against Susannah Martin centered on the condition of his wife, Elizabeth, who suffered from mental illness. It was alleged by William that this mental illness began thirty years ago following a dispute and legal case with Susannah Martin. The following is a transcription of the deposition of William Brown against Susannah Martin, given May 11, 1692:

The deposition of William Brown of Salisbury, aged seventy years, who, testifying, saith: That about one or two and thirty years ago Elizabeth, his wife, being a very rational woman and sober, and one that feared God, as was well known to all that knew her, and as prudently careful in her family, which woman going upon a time from her own house towards the mill in Salisbury, did there meet with Susanna Martin, the then wife of George Martin of Amesbury. Just as they came together the said Susanna Martin vanished away out of her sight, which put the said Elizabeth into a great fright; after which time the said Martin did many times appear to her at her house, and did much trouble her in many of her occasions; and this continued until about February following, and then, when she did come, it was as birds pecking her legs or pricking her with the motion of their wings; and then it would rise up into her stomach, with pricking pain, as nails and pins; of which she did bitterly complain, and cry out like a woman in travail; and after that it would rise up to her throat in a bunch like a pullet’s egg, and then she would turn back her head an say, ‘Witch, ye sha’nt choke me.’

In the times of this extremity the church appointed a day of humiliation, to seek God on her behalf, and thereupon her trouble ceased, and she saw goodwife Martin no more for a considerable time, for which the church, instead, of a day of humiliation, gave thanks for her deliverance. She came to meeting and went about her business as before. This continued ‘till April following, at which time the summonses were sent to the said Elizabeth Brown and goodwife Osgood by the court to give their evidences concerning the said Martin; and they did, before the grand jury, give a full account.

After which time the said Elizabeth told this deponent that, as she was milking her cow, the said Susanna Martin came behind her and told her that she would make her the miserablest creature for defaming her name at the court, and wept grievously as she told it to this deponent. About two months after this deponent came home from Hampton, and his said wife would not own him, but said they were divorced, and asked him whether he did not meet with one Mrs. Bent of Albury, in England, by whom he was divorced. And from that time to this very day she has been under a strange kind of distemper and frenzy, incapable of any rational action, though strong and healthy of body.

He further testifyeth that when she came into that condition this deponent [got] Doctors Fuller and Crosby to come to her for her release, but they did both say that her distemper was supernatural, no sickness of body, but that some evil person had bewitched her.

Sworn the eleventh day of May Anno Domini 1692, before me, Robert Pike, Assistant.

Although there were many others that provided testimony against her, William’s testimony before the court helped to convict Susannah, who was put to death nearly two months later. The tragic death of Susannah Martin, and all the victims of the Salem Witch Trials, has never been forgotten. Her memory is kept alive by her many descendants, one of which was Chester A. Arthur (1829-1886), 21st President of the United States of America.

Memorial Marker of Susannah (North) Martin at The Salem Witch Trials Memorial Park in Salem, Massachusetts.

Although petitions were granted and legislative acts were passed to reverse the convictions of victims of the Salem Witch Trials, Susannah Martin’s family was never a part of them. It was not until 2001 that a 1957 Act was ammended to include Susannah (and others) among those whose convictions were reveresed.

William Brown and Elizabeth Murford’s daughter, Mary Brown (1647-?), along with her husband Thomas Hoyt (1641-1691), is a direct ancestor of Jemima Hoyt (1729-ca. 1762), my 6th great grandmother, who, along with her husband Samuel Stearns (1720-1776), is a direct ancestor of my 2nd great grandmother, Maudena Elizabeth Stearns (1885-1936), who married George Edward Kernan (1884-1960).

Mary (Todd) Lincoln Family Connection Claim

Mary (Todd) Lincoln

On July 16, 1882, one hundred and thirty years ago today, Mary Ann (Todd) Lincoln (1818-1882), widow of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), died in Springfield, Sangamon Co., Illinois, USA. Although I am not a descendant of Abraham and Mary Lincoln, there is a claim in a branch of my family that there is a connection to Mary (Todd) Lincoln.

Sally (Todd) Thornton (1793-1891), my 6th great grandmother, apparently always claimed throughout much of her long life that she and the First Lady were distant cousins. Sharing the surname Todd and having a connection to Kentucky (where Mary was born) undoubtedly was all that was needed to convince Sally of her relationship to the wife of the 16th President of the United States. When I discovered this claim, I set out to learn if it had any truth to it.

Sally (Todd) Thornton

Sally’s family did come from Kentucky, as did Mary’s, but hers came from Madison County, while Mary’s came from Fayette County, which shares a border with Madison County. Mary’s grandfather, Maj. Gen. Levi Todd (1756-1807), appears to have settled in Kentucky prior to 1792, while Sally’s grandfather, Benjamin Todd (1725-1810), came around 1797. Both Sally’s and Mary’s grandfathers came from Pennsylvania, with Sally’s being from Northampton County and Mary’s being from the nearby Montgomery County. Both of their great grandfathers were also from Pennsylvania as well.

However, it is with their 2nd great grandfather’s that the story shifts. Sally’s 2nd great grandfather, Joshua Todd (ca. 1685-1721), was born in Pennsylvania the son of Joseph Todd (1645-1699), who was born in Eling, Hampshire, England. Mary’s 2nd great grandfather, Robert Todd (1697-1780), was born in County Armagh, Ireland and immigrated to Pennsylvania prior to 1725.

The ancestral lines prior to their 2nd great grandfathers become difficult to trace and confirm for both Sally and Mary. Both are claimed to either be of English or Scottish ancestry prior this generation. Most argue that Joseph Todd (Sally’s 3rd great grandfather) was the son of a John Todd (1594-1678), also of Eling, whose father, William Todd (1569-1617) was from Scotland. As for Mary, her 2nd great grandfather’s ancestry is said to be either English or Scottish prior to their presence in Ireland, with many claiming that the father of Robert was a James Todd (ca. 1638-1669), who is said to have been born in Scotland and died in Ireland.

Despite the remarkable similarities in journeys within the United States between their families, I have yet to find any connection or evidence that Sally (Todd) Thornton was indeed a distant cousin of Mary (Todd) Lincoln. Perhaps a connection still exists, but the significant challenges in tracing either line with certainty beyond their respective 2nd great grandfathers makes it unlikely that it will ever be discovered.

Headstone of Sally (Todd) Thornton

Although it is very likely that there is little merit to her claim of kinship to one of the most famous First Families in U.S. history, Sally remains for me a fascinating person to look at in my ancestry. It is interesting to note that her long life began in the presidency of George Washington, the 1st President of the United States, and ended, at the age of 98, during the presidency of Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd President of the United States. It must have been amazing to witness all that she did.

Sally and her husband, William Thornton (1792-1858), are direct ancestors of my 4th great grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Thornton (1847-1920), who, together with her husband John Agee (1839-1912), are direct ancestors of my 2nd great grandmother, Lois Beatrice Agee (1897-1983), who is the mother of my great grandmother, Alice Lucretia Wellin (1916-1985), who was the wife of Theodore Alexander Lapham (1910-1955).

Family History Through the Alphabet – J is for Journey

Tracing one’s ancestry is indeed a journey; and one that is not only rewarding but also very enlightening. However, by journey here I mean the journey from the various places one’s ancestors were from and all the stops along the way down through the generations leading to ourselves and where we were born. In short, our ancestral journey in the world.

Arriving in America

In tracing my ancestry, I was fascinated by this. In looking into the ancestries of my four “cardinal branches” (Kernan, Lapham, Hamilton, and Sebok), as well as their related families, I uncovered that there are numerous journeys. Being from a country of immigrants, the United States, it is not too surprising that most of my ancestral lines have not only a journey to the United States, but also a story to tell behind it. The following is this for my four cardinal branches:

  • My Kernan branch journeyed from Ireland to Québec, Canada sometime between 1830 and 1832 likely because of early indications of the coming famine or changes in religious laws; and by 1857, they journeyed from Canada to Minnesota likely because of economic reasons.
  • My Lapham branch journeyed from Devonshire, England to the Colony of Rhode Island in about 1660 because of the persecution of Quakers in England, a religion my early Lapham ancestors were actively involved.
  • My Hamilton (originally Heldman) branch journeyed from the Grand Duchy of Hesse (now Hesse, Germany) to Ohio in 1835 for economic reasons, as Hesse was going through something of an economic depression at the time.
  • My Sebok branch journeyed from the small village of Székelyzsombor in the then Kingdom of Hungary (now Jimbor, Romania) to Indiana between 1903 and 1905 because of economic reasons. Székelyzsombor was a small village mainly involved in horse training for the Imperial Army and small-scale farming, with little opportunity for a better life.
Location of Lyman Stearns’ Quartz Mine

In addition to the journey to the United States, I was also fascinated to look at my ancestral journeys within the United States. Although it may be uncommon in some countries around the world, for those of us from the United States it is not too surprising to find that one generation was born in one state (like New York) and that the next was born in a state thousands of miles away (like California). For me, it was fascinating to uncover these journeys and even discover why they embarked upon them in the first place. For example, in researching my Stearns ancestry, which is a related family to my Kernan branch, I uncovered that my 4th great grandfather, Lyman Stearns (1803-1879), married his wife, Rebecca Hines (1816-1875), in Howard Co., Missouri; and that they raised six children together in Linn Co., Missouri, where Lyman was a farmer and ran a boarding house. I also uncovered that Lyman and Rebecca, as well as all six of their children, died in California. But why did they move to California? After additional research, I uncovered that they did so by 1852 during the California Gold Rush. Lyman was a miner in Tuolumne Co., California at this time, where he had Quartz mine.

In closing, the following is the ancestral journeys of my four “cardinal branches” from their ancestral origins down through the generations to me and where I was born, California.

  • Kernan Branch: journeyed from Ireland to Québec, Canada by 1832, to Minnesota by 1857, to Missouri by 1884, to Oregon by 1895, and to California in 1961.
  • Lapham Branch: journeyed from Devonshire, England to Rhode Island in about 1660, to Massachusetts by 1682, to New York by 1795, to Ohio by 1834, to Michigan by 1835, to Nebraska by 1880, to Idaho by 1911, to Washington by 1917, to Oregon by 1930, and to California in 1961.
  • Hamilton Branch: journeyed from Hesse to Ohio in 1835, to Missouri by 1912, to Arkansas by 1933, and to California in 1952.
  • Sebok Branch: journeyed from Székelyzsombor, Hungary (now Jimbor, Romania) to Indiana by 1905, and to California in 1920.

Our ancestral journeys, whether from one country to another or within one, are certainly a fascinating part of a family history, and one worth exploring.

Click here to learn more about Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge (Clicking this link will take you to another site.)

Family History Through the Alphabet – I is for Investigation

One of the hardest, yet most rewarding, aspects of compiling a family history is the actual investigations we undertake in the process. Investigating the people and the events of their lives can be a challenge but leaves a person with an awareness of where they came from that makes the difficulties worth it.

When I began to compile my family history, I learned quickly that the process was a long and difficult one. Gathering names, dates, and places; old photographs, anecdotes, and records, records, and more records; and then attempting to assemble it all together to build an accurate family tree proved to be a significant challenge for me, particularly since I knew few relatives at the time that were even remotely interested. As time went on, and my research skills and contacts developed, investigating my ancestry became more enjoyable. It became all the more so, or more like addicting, when brick walls would suddenly crumble with new access to records or when I would track down another distant relative that had important information that made all the difference.

John A. Heldman Headstone & Monument

Of all of the branches that I have investigated in my ancestry, my Hamilton family had to be the one that presented the greatest challenge and took many years and countless hours of investigation to finally trace. When I started investing this branch, I knew it would be particularly difficult, given the fact that my great grandfather changed his surname around World War I, and there was some confusion about the original spelling. Additionally, my great grandmother (his wife) could not completely remember certain details. Over the years, I used what information I could gather and began investigating for more clues. In 2009-2010, several new pieces of information, documents, and new contacts finally pointed me in the right direction, enabling me to trace my Hamilton branch back to my immigrant ancestor, my 3rd great grandfather Johann “John” Adam Heldman (1809-1883). Although investigating this branch was difficult, it was worth it as I was able to finally know where my maternal grandfather’s family came from and what their lives were like across the generations leading to my own.

Click here to learn more about Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge (Clicking this link will take you to another site.)

Happy Independence Day

Signing of the Declaration of Independence

On July 4, 1776, two hundred and thirty-six years ago, representatives of each of the thirteen colonies, who were then already at war with Great Britain, adopted the Declaration of Independence in a session of the Continental Congress. This event marked the birth of the United States of America.

In honor of this historic event, I want to present in this post my known ancestors that served in the American Revolutionary War.

David Dunton (1758-1829), my 5th great grandfather, served in Capt. Hasting’s Company of Col. John Brook’s Regiment (7th Massachusetts Regiment) of the Massachusetts Continental Line. David enlisted into Brook’s Regiment on April 11, 1781 and served for three years, first at the rank of Corporal and finally Sergeant.

Samuel Stearns, Jr. (1754-1840), my 5th great grandfather, served in Capt. John Jones’s Company of Col. Ephraim Doolittle’s Regiment (or 18th Massachusetts Regiment) of the Massachusetts Continental Line. Samuel enlisted on May 22, 1775 as a private in Doolittle’s Regiment. He served two months and fifteen days.

Enos Davis Headstone

Enos Davis (1760-1841), my 5th great grandfather, served in Capt. Henry Gates’s Company in the 1st Maryland Regiment of the Maryland Continental Line. Enos enlisted as a private in Gates’s Company on July 5, 1778 and served until December, 1779.

Obadiah Wilson (1758-1826), my 6th great grandfather, served first in Capt. Mathew Jack’s Company and second in Capt. John Findley’s Company in Col. Daniel Brodhead’s Regiment (8th Pennsylvania Regiment) of the Pennsylvania Continental Line. According to his pension records, he served for three years at the rank of private.

Simeon Reynolds (1763-1837), my 6th great grandfather, served first in Capt. Beriah Bill’s Company in Col. John Durkee’s Regiment (4th Connecticut Regiment) of the Connecticut Continental Line, and second in Capt. Samuel Clift’s Company in Col. Zebulon Butler’s Regiment (3rd Connecticut Regiment) of the Connecticut Continental Line. He enlisted as a private on March 1, 1778 and served for three years as a musician. Simeon may have been a Valley Forge, as Col. Durkee’s Regiment was.

Peter Todd (1756-1841), my 7th great grandfather, served in Capt. Robert Moore’s Company of the North Carolina Militia. He enlisted as a private in summer of 1776 and went on a sixth month expedition under Gen. Griffith Rutherford in a campaign against the Cherokee (part of the Chickamauga Wars). In 1780, he enlisted again as part of Capt. Robert Moore’s Company in Lt. Col. Archibald Lytle’s Regiment (6th North Carolina Regiment) to fight the British and their supporters (Tories), serving three months.

William Gifford (ca. 1750-1831), my 6th great grandfather, served in Capt. Moses Shelby’s Company in Col. Isaac Shelby’s Regiment in a campaign against the Cherokee in 1779 (part of the Chickamauga Wars). In 1788, he also served in Capt. Thomas Vincent’s Company in another campaign that was a part the Chickamauga Wars. (Some have claimed that he was a Lieutenant in the 5th Dutchess County Militia in 1778-1779, but this has not been proven or documented.)

An Example of a Pine Knot

Another ancestor, William Thornton (1766-1843), my 7th great grandfather, was for a long time reported in the DAR Patriot Index to have served as a private in the Virginia Dragoons. However, this account was shown not to be this William Thornton by 1990’s. It is presently unclear if he served at all. However, a family anecdote somehow managed to be passed down involving the American Revolution. In old age, William was noted to have had scares on his head, and when asked about them he informed his family that they were put there during the American Revolution by Tories (British loyalists) who severely beat him with pine knots (or cones) for being a Whig (supporter of Independence). This account has always been offered as why William enlisted.

In addition to these, I have one ancestor that is claimed to have served in the American Revolution but on the side of the British: John Worthington (1729-1810), my 7th great grandfather. John is said to have served in the British Legion. However, I have not been able to confirm this yet.

A Clue to a Family History Mystery: Jacob Worthington’s Civil War Service

In researching my family history on my Mom’s side, I uncovered something that struck me as being a little unusual dealing with the Civil War service of one of my ancestors, Jacob Worthington (1839-1920). Recently, while using Google Books, I uncovered information that offers a significant clue for this family history mystery.

Jacob Worthington’s Headstone

Jacob Worthington (1839-1920), my 4th great grandfather, was born in 1839 in Lexington, Davidson Co., North Carolina, and he died in 1920 in Harrison, Boone Co., Arkansas. When I was first researching my Worthington branch, I discovered early on the location of Jacob’s burial, in Grubb Springs Cemetery in Harrison. Using the internet, I tracked down a photo of his headstone, and it was a military marker, which was inscribed “Jacob Worthington 19 IND. L.A.” Digging further, I uncovered that this inscription indicated that Jacob served during the Civil War, and that “19 IND. L.A.” stands for “19th Indiana Light Artillery.” Further digging revealed that Jacob had indeed served in the Civil War on the side of the Union; and that he did so in the 19th Independent Battery Indiana Light Artillery, which he was mustered in on August 20, 1862 at Indianapolis, Indiana.

To say the least, this surprised me—and I must admit made me feel relieved to know that one of my ancestors did not fight to keep slavery alive (simplifying the war I know). Still, it was not at all what I would have expected from a young man of about 23 living (I assumed) in Confederate territory (Arkansas). I was always told that Jacob was in Arkansas, and so I was left wondering what could explain this. For years I could not uncover why Jacob was in or went to Indiana. There was no Worthington connection to Indiana as far as I had uncovered or been told.

Page Mentioning Worthington and Indiana Connection

Searching through old books on Google Books has helped uncover many facts about some of my ancestors in the past. Recently, after turning my attention back to my Mom’s branches, I decided to try this search tool for Worthington, and I found something. According to a biography about Alson G. Bodenhamer, who married Jacob’s sister Esther in 1857, published in Portrait and Biographical Record of Johnson and Pettis Counties, Missouri (1895), Jacob and Esther’s father, Brooks Worthington, moved his family to Indianapolis, Indiana after leaving North Carolina and before moving to Missouri in 1840. As it turns out Brooks was a shoemaker in Indianapolis. Based on this new information, it seems highly likely that Jacob was not in Arkansas before the Civil War broke out, but was rather in Indiana or Missouri (he is enumerated on the 1850 U.S. Census in Missouri).

Although I have found no details of Jacob’s experiences during the war, the 19th Indiana Light Artillery saw a great deal of action, being a part of numerous battles, sieges, and campaigns. They were even a part of Sherman’s March to the Sea. Jacob was discharged on June 10, 1865 at Indianapolis, Indiana. Three days later, he married Elmina Couch (1846-1921) in Wayne Co., Indiana. Perhaps she ultimately explains why he was in Indiana, as it seems likely that they knew each other prior to the war—her family was also from North Carolina. By 1866, they were living in Lafayette Co., Missouri, and by 1880 they were in Boone Co., Arkansas.