Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Master Post: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, 2019

In 2019, I have decided to take on the 52 Ancestors in 52 weeks challenge! Every week I will write a post about an ancestor that fits the weekly theme, as explained by the creator of the challenge, Amy Johnson Crow.

In this post I will list all of the themes and ancestors as we go along, so that they can be found easily later on. I will also post them to the Rooted Heritage Genealogy Facebook page (and a few of the other genealogy groups on Facebook), using the hashtag #52Ancestors. I will also include a few "practice posts" from 2018's themes, since I am so anxious to get started. 

It is my hope that other descendants of these ancestors will stumble upon this blog and discover their stories, and be as in awe of where we came from as I am. Happy reading, and wish me luck!

2018 "Practice Posts":

Sunday, December 1, 2019

A Belated Obituary: Christan Elizabeth Whaley, 1989 - 2016

Awhile back I came across a Facebook post from a friend that read:

"Miss you more each day
 Really wish you were here
 Happy early birthday, Sunshine"

Attached to the post was a collage of photos of my friend who wrote the post with Christan Whaley, a girl I had gone to middle school with. We had been in band and several other classes together, and although we were never close friends, we were at least friendly with one another. I hadn't seen her since our freshman year of high school. And I had no idea that she had passed away three years ago.

Christan Elizabeth Whaley in 2016.
I searched for her gravesite on Find A Grave, thinking that I could at least go and pay my respects. When I looked at her profile I found that she was buried in another state, but I also found something that saddened me even further: she didn't have an actual headstone, only a temporary marker provided by the funeral home. I contacted the friend who had written the Facebook post and asked if she knew how to get in touch with the family, because if finances were the issue I would like to help. And then, just when I didn't think the situation could get any sadder, my friend told me that finances weren't the issue at all; in fact, her family was very wealthy (something I had never known).

My friend had never even known where Christan had been buried. Her death had been quietly swept under the rug as much as possible. There had been no obituary, no memorial service (at least, not one that could be attended by anyone but immediate family), no grave marker. It was as if she had simply ceased to exist. From what I understand, the cause of her death was the reason why. But just because someone dies in a way that is unseemly to you does not mean that you can erase the memory of that person from the Earth, and that is why I decided to try remedy this great wrong, and to give Christan the obituary she deserves.

Christan and I weren't the kind of friends who have sleep overs and talk on the phone for hours at a time, but she was the kind of person who would smile, say hello, and ask me how my day had been when few other people would. Middle school is an awkward time for all, and was especially so for me; I had a couple of close friends, but I was also frequently the target of bullying. I was usually wary of anyone who was actually nice to me, always suspicious that it was some kind of joke or trick. But I never felt that way when Christan would talk to me in band class, or said hi as she passed me in the hall, or tell me that she liked my outfit on the rare occasions when I would wear something outside my comfort zone.

I only have a few specific memories of Christan from middle school, but they are good memories. I remember her leading the clarinet section in an arrangement of "Angels We Have Heard on High" at our first ever band concert in the 6th grade. I remember her playing a duet with me out of our beginning band book when we had some spare time in class one day. I remember her talking to me at lunch one time when she saw that I was sitting by myself. But the things that stick out most to me are the little things, like smiling at me when she saw that I was upset about something, or telling me not to let it get me down when people would tease me. Little things like that came easily to her, but they meant the world to a kid like me.

We fell out of touch after she transferred to another school in the 9th grade, and never reconnected. In those days social media was in its infancy, so keeping in touch with someone actually took effort - and sadly, since we were never particularly close, it just never happened. So when I saw the post that spoke of her passing, I was shocked and very saddened. The world is definitely a darker place with her gone.

If anyone who knew Christan better than me would like to contribute to the little glimpse of her life I have provided here, please contact me with what you would like to say and I will add it here. I hope that we can shed light on a beautiful soul that deserves to be remembered with fondness.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

2019 #52Ancestors: Week 9 - "At the Courthouse"

For Week 9's theme of "At the Courthouse," we're going to be looking at a particular kind of court record that can be a wealth of genealogical information, and one that is often overlooked: Revolutionary War pension records.

On several occasions between 1776 and 1867, Congress enacted legislation that allowed veterans, their widows, and their orphaned children to apply for government pensions in exchange for their (or their relative's) service during the Revolutionary War. Each act after 1776 expanded on the benefits received by the veterans and their families.

In order to establish that the people applying for the pensions truly were entitled to the pension benefits, they had to appear in court and give testimony about such details as when and where they served in the continental army, which company they were in, and who commanded it. Widows and children of the veterans had to provide additional information, such as the date and location of their marriage, the date and location of their spouse's death, and the date and location of their own births. Occasionally they would be required to bring witnesses to attest to these facts, and to provide additional evidence that they were who they said they were.

Because birth, marriage, and death records were unreliable at best during this time, pension records can be an incredibly valuable source for vital information. As an example, we're going to examine the Revolutionary War pension record for John Wright, my 4th-great-grandfather. I was lucky enough to find his transcribed pension record online, which can be viewed at this link.

From this particular record, we find the following information:

  • John Wright served in the 3rd Virginia Regiment and saw a number of battles, as well as the Siege of York Town. He witnessed Corwallis surrender to Washington.
  • He was married to Elizabeth Walker on October 5, 1789 by the Reverend George Morris, at the home of her father.
  • Elizabeth Walker's father was named William Walker, and he lived in Goochland County, VA at the time of John and Elizabeth's marriage.
  • John was living in Fluvanna County, VA at the time of their marriage, and was living in Rockbridge County, VA at the time of his death.
  • John died on May 26, 1836 at the home of David Little.
  • Elizabeth had a sister named Mary Walker, who married a Humphries.
  • John and Elizabeth had a son named Lewis Wright who served in the War of 1812, and died prior to the deaths of his parents.
  • Elizabeth died in March of 1846.
  • John and Elizabeth were survived by the following children: Nancy, wife of Thomas Bird of Allegheny County, VA; Fanny, wife of Samuel Frasier of Rockbridge County, VA; Eliza, wife of Henry Frasier of Rockridge County, VA; Maria, wife of William Thomas of Bath County, VA; Matilda, wife of Andrew McFarland; and Patty Gillespie (husband's name unknown).
As you can see, this pension record offers a wealth of genealogical information that might otherwise have been lost to time. They are an amazing resource!

~ ~ ~

My descent from John Wright and Elizabeth Walker is as follows:

John Wright (1757 - 1836)
4th great-grandfather

Matilda Wright (1810 - 1870)
Daughter of John Wright

Sophia Lavinia McFarland (1841 - 1881)
Daughter of Matilda Wright

Ella May Lovejoy (1879 - 1952)
Daughter of Sophia Lavinia McFarland

Harold Warren Kessinger (1920 - 2012)
Son of Ella May Lovejoy

Joseph Wayne Kessinger (1958 - )
Son of Harold Warren Kessinger

Allison Quinn Kessinger
You are the daughter of Joseph Wayne Kessinger

~ ~ ~

Saturday, August 17, 2019

2019 #52Ancestors: Week 8 - "Family Photo"

I had trouble choosing just one family photo to write about for Week 8's theme. So as a compromise, I chose to write about a wonderful app that I've been using to preserve family photos - Photomyne.

This video from Photomyne shows how you can scan photos and information to them with your mobile device:

Photo scanned with Photomyne, with
writing on the back added in the
Photomyne allows you to scan multiple photos at once with your device's camera, and will then crop, color correct, and adjust perspective for the photos that you scanned. You also have the option to sort the photos into albums, add information about who is in the photo, when it was taken, and where it was taken. You can even add a voice memo if you wish.

Photo scanned with Photomyne,
with all information sections
One of the most valuable features of Photomyne is its option to save the photos to your phone or cloud storage program with added details. With older photos, I often use this feature to include anything that was written on the back of the photo. In the case of photos where I know specific details, such as the date and location where it was taken, I make sure to add as many of those details as possible.

The app also has an interesting feature that adds color to black-and-white or sepia-colored photos. I have tried it on a few, and it works surprisingly well for an automated feature. Usually colorization is a process that takes many hours of painstaking work on Photoshop.

This app makes it incredibly easy to take albums full of precious memories and not only preserve them for generations to come, but also to share them with the rest of your family and friends. I think about all of the family photos like these that might be packed away in an album in someone's attic, and it makes me want to scan all of the old photos that I have collected over the years and share them with the world using this app. You never know - a photo of some distant relation of your great-grandmother's that means little to you might be a treasured find to someone who has never seen a photo of their own great-grandmother.

Friday, June 14, 2019

2019 #52Ancestors: Week 7 - "Love"

Week 7 of the #52Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge featured the theme of "Love" (since it was supposed to be written during the week of Valentine's Day). My family tree features hundreds of love stories, but I decided to take the theme in a slightly different direction and write about my great-grandmother, who actually had "Love" in her name: Ella May Lovejoy Kessinger.

Ella as a teenager, before her marriage
in 1897.
Because of two large generational gaps in my family (my grandfather was born when Ella was 41, and my father was born when his parents were about 39), there is a lot more of an age difference between me and Ella than between the typical great-grandmother and great-granddaughter. In fact, Ella would have been 140 this year! And although she died before my father was even born, I think about her a lot. I look at my friends and family who have small children and how hard they work as parents, and I think, "My poor great-grandmother had FIFTEEN children. How on earth did she do it all!?" I'm fortunate to have several photos of her throughout the course of her life, including a couple of her when she was young in beautiful Victorian and Edwardian clothing. But I am most fortunate to have a recording of her from a cottage prayer meeting that was made in 1950, only two short years before her death. In the recording she talks about her love for God, and how she was praying for several of her children, who were not attending church at the time. Many people whose great-grandparents lived at the same time mine did don't even have photos or recordings of them, so these are things that I treasure dearly.

Ella Lovejoy with husband Clifton
Kessinger on their wedding day:
October 31, 1897.
I am also fortunate enough to have several letters that were written to Ella from various family members, and several that she wrote. They are collected in one annotated volume that was compiled by my cousin, the author Linda Lenhardt. The book is called Cliftons and Kessingers: Their Kin, Their Letters, Their Stories, and is available on Amazon. One piece of memorabilia stood out to me in particular: a postcard from Ella to her husband, Clifton, postmarked from City Hall Station 5, NY on September 26, 1927. The postcard had a photo of the Statue of Liberty on one side, and a short note from her on the other that reads: "Dear Husband, I have been to the top of this statue today. You must know I feel better. We took a boat ride over there. I enjoyed myself. Your best friend, Ellie." I teared up when I saw the photo of this post card in the book while looking for info for this post, because about a year ago I too rode a boat across New York Harbor to see the Statue of Liberty. I had no idea that Grandma had ever been to New York City. (She might have been visiting her son, Archie, who apparently lived in NYC for awhile. There are letters from Archie to his parents that have a NYC return address.) The idea that I shared this same experience with her, 91 years later, was just amazing to me.

Ella May Lovejoy was born on Mary 7, 1879, to Alfred Lovejoy and Sophia Lavinia McFarland of Poca, Putnam County, WV. She was the second-youngest of fourteen children. Her mother, Sophia, died when Ella was only two years old, on September 22, 1881. Her father, Alfred, remarried to Mary Elizabeth Wade in 1885, so Ella was raised by her stepmother during most of her childhood. For a long time I believed that Alfred passed away in 1886 because of information found on the tree of a fellow researcher, but according to Ella's marriage record she was married at her father's house in 1897. Alfred does not appear in the 1900 census, so I believe that he passed away between 1897 and 1900.

The Kessinger Family on May 6, 1922: Allie Violet's
wedding day.
Ella was married to Clifton Kessinger on October 31, 1897. They originally lived in Poca, Putnam County, WV, but moved to Kanawha County, WV by 1920. They first lived in Kelley's Creek, but then moved to Ruffner Hollow (now Greenbrier Street) by 1930. Their last residence was on Oak Ridge Drive, where several of their descendants still live to this day.

Ella and Clifton had fifteen children together, thirteen of which lived to adulthood. Their first child, Virgie Violet Kessinger, passed away at 3 months old. They went on to have fourteen more children: Allie Violet, Roy Sleigh, Archie McClung, Calvert Donnelly, Willa Grace, John Thomas, Alva Lee, Alfred Arnold, Gladys Marie, Harley Canalis, Mary Elsie, Robert Hulling, Juanita Ruth, and Harold Warren (my grandfather). The youngest daughter, Juanita Ruth, passed away at age three from a burn injury. The injury happened on her older sister Allie's wedding day, on May 6, 1922. She passed away nine days later on May 15, 1922, at Saint Francis Hospital. The rest of Ella and Clifton's children lived good long lives; five of them lived to be 90 or older, and most of the others lived well into their 80s.
Ella with her husband, Clifton, in their later years.

Ella passed away on November 14, 1952 from congestive heart failure. She was buried in the Kessinger Family Cemetery in Poca, WV. Although she died before my father was born, he remembered hearing about a strange occurrence that happened on the night of her death. She had been sick for a long time, and had been in a tremendous amount of pain. When she finally passed away, the family members in the house shortly afterward heard a strange rattling and dragging sound on the steps leading down to the house's basement. When someone went to check who or what was there, they found nothing. My grandfather said that he believed it was the Devil making his way back to his domain, having done his worst to torment his mother and ultimately lost, since she went on to her Heavenly reward when she passed.

The few pieces of information that I've put together here are only a shadow of the wonderful life that Ella lived. It would take years to thoroughly research documents and anecdotes and compile them into a thorough account of her life. If any family members have stories about her, please share them in the comments, so that they can be preserved for future generations!

~ ~ ~

My descent from Ella May Lovejoy is as follows:

Ella May Lovejoy (1879 - 1952)

Harold Warren Kessinger (1920 - 2012)
Son of Ella May Lovejoy

Joseph Wayne Kessinger (1958 - )
Son of Harold Warren Kessinger

Allison Quinn Kessinger
You are the daughter of Joseph Wayne Kessinger

Saturday, June 8, 2019

2019 #52Ancestors: Week 6 - "Surprise"

For this week's theme of "Surprise," I have a story that should be read as a cautionary tale to all genealogists, be they young or old, new or experienced. When I first began my genealogy research in 2010, I was unfamiliar with many of the sources that researchers use to find and confirm their connections. I was young and new to the field, and I foolishly took the word of other researchers as gospel because I figured that they knew better than I did. So when I found an Ancestry tree that listed Alexander Kidd and Mahalia Adeline Slinker as the parents for my great-great-grandmother, Nancy Kidd, I accepted it as truth, added it to my tree, and moved on. And I was happy to do so, considering that one line of Mahalia Slinker's ancestry connected to a noble gateway ancestor, which led that line all the way back to the Norman Invasion in 1066.

My great-great-grandmother, Nancy Kidd.
A year or two ago I decided that I was going to try to go through all of my leaf hints on Ancestry (an endeavor that I soon realized was overwhelming in a tree containing thousands of people). Starting with the most recent generations and working my way backward, I soon arrived at Nancy Kidd. While looking through her leaf hints, I quickly realized that something was very wrong. All of the records I was coming across were listing James Kidd and Delilah Turley as her parents, not Alexander Kidd and Mahalia Slinker. After looking at the census, birth, death, and newspaper records, I had to conclude that the researcher whose work I had consulted was wrong. Alexander and Mahalia Slinker Kidd did indeed have a daughter named Nancy, but their Nancy Kidd did not marry Morris Midkiff and become the mother of eight children, including my great-grandmother, Louise Midkiff Hudson. My Nancy Kidd was indeed the daughter of James Kidd and Delilah Turley.

After kicking myself for awhile and mourning the loss of a line that went all the way back to 1066, I set out to research my newly-found 3rd-great-grandparents and their ancestry. As it happened, James Kidd's line ended up going back to a noble gateway ancestor as well, so I didn't lose that noble and royal ancestry after all. I found a fellow researcher's tree on RootsWeb that was actually well-researched and thoroughly sourced (unlike the fateful tree that I followed so blindly), which took some lines of the tree well past the year 1000AD. I am still in the process of verifying and adding all of this valuable information to my own tree, and I regularly find names that I recognize from English history.

Nancy Kidd's obituary. She
is referred to as "Mrs
Meyers" because she had
remarried to Joseph Meyers
in 1911.
During my frantic research to confirm Nancy's true parentage, I also found a surprise that was not as pleasant as having a whole new line of ancestors to find. I found a newspaper article and an obituary that told an incredibly sad tale of how Nancy passed away. On December 10, 1935, Nancy was walking down the sidewalk on MacCorkle Avenue in her hometown of Charleston, WV when she saw her son walking on the other side of the street. She began to walk across the street to greet him when she was suddenly struck by a car. The car was driven by her grandson-in-law, George Tilgham. Tilgham said that he did not have time to stop, as he was only a few yards away from Nancy when she suddenly stepped into the street. He was arrested and charged with manslaughter, but I was unable to find any records that tell us whether he was convicted or acquitted. Nancy suffered some broken bones and lacerations as well as severe shock, and was rushed to Kanawha Valley Hospital where she unfortunately passed away about 40 minutes later. She was laid to rest at Mount Joy Cemetery, where several members of her family are also buried.

This whole experience, while nearly causing me to have an ulcer when discovered, made me grow significantly as a genealogist. I learned to never take someone else's work at face value, especially if they do not have sources to back up their work. And even if they do have sources, it is still advisable to independently verify everything, just to make sure. Genealogy is a science, and as such it must be based on evidence; without evidence, the work is meaningless.

So let this be a lesson to you: surprises in genealogy can be a good thing, but none of us want surprises that are the result of shoddy research. Don't do what I did - verify, verify, verify!

~ ~ ~

My descent from Nancy Kidd is as follows:

Nancy Kidd (1854 - 1935)
2nd great-grandmother

Louise Midkiff (1884 - 1971)
Daughter of Nancy Kidd

Edna Josephine Hudson (1921 - 2011)
Daughter of Louise Midkiff

Joseph Wayne Kessinger (1958 - )
Son of Edna Josephine Hudson

Allison Quinn Kessinger
You are the daughter of Joseph Wayne Kessinger

Thursday, June 6, 2019

2019 #52Ancestors: Week 5 - "At The Library"

Week 5's prompt was another one that I struggled with. Although I love going to the state archives' library to research, I rarely get the chance to do so due to a very demanding work schedule. As a result I don't really have any stories about big genealogical revelations that happened "at the library."

So instead of writing about a find that occurred at a brick-and-mortar library, this post will focus on how I found an amazing first-person anecdote about my 4th-great-grandparents, Joseph Moore and Hannah Cady Moore of Pocahontas County, WV. This treasure was found in a vast virtual library that is available to everyone and is an incredibly valuable resource to genealogists: Google Books.

If you have never used Google Books in your genealogy research, now is the time to start. Google books has over one million books in its database that are in the public domain, and can be viewed in their entirety online or downloaded (you can also save them to "My Library" via Google Play: Books). Millions of other titles feature a preview or a "snippet view," which is a very limited preview. 

The best part of Google Books is that the vast majority of titles in its database are fully searchable, even if the title only has preview or snippet view available. When using this feature I usually search the names of two ancestors together (usually a husband and wife), then review the results from there. If you are lucky, as I was in the case of Joseph Moore and Hannah Cady Moore, you may find your ancestors in a book that is available in full text. 

If you find them in a book that is only available in preview or snippet view, don't be disappointed: it's still a win! Google Books has a link on each book's profile that reads "Get this book in print." This link will show you several websites where you can purchase the book, or find the book in a library near you. 

Front Cover of Historical Sketches...
by William Thomas Price
My Google Books search for the term "Joseph Moore and Hannah Cady" turned up a wonderful book called Historical Sketches of Pocahontas County, West Virginia by William Thomas Price, published in 1901. The book contains an entry five pages in length of memories that the author had of Joseph and Hannah, which was surprisingly detailed (albeit with a few small inaccuracies). He tells us who Joseph's parents were, names his brothers and sisters, and even describes where his parents' home was and where their graves are located. He goes on to name each of Joseph and Hannah's children, names spouses for some of them, and tells where each of them ended up settling down.

The above information in and of itself is more than so many people have for their 4th-great-grandparents, but the entry doesn't stop there. Price tells us that Joseph Moore was a soldier in the War of 1812, and that he met Hannah Cady, whose family was from Vermont, while he was in the army. He tells us that "Joseph Moore, Esquire" was at one time a high sheriff and justice of the peace, and that he was frequently consulted regarding legal matters and documents. He tells us that Joseph and Hannah were both school teachers, and that they loved to study and work with their students. And finally Price tells us a couple of personal stories about Joseph, which really showcase what a colorful personality that he had. 

One paragraph in particular stood out to me as the saying of someone who had some strong and controversial opinions. Joseph is quoted as saying, "Now you must excuse me, William, when I say to you that in my private opinion there can not be much in the Christian religion if it puts its most earnest and zealous professors to wearing out the knees of their pants in religious services in the fall and winter, and then lets them turn over and wear out the rest of their breeches backsliding during the spring and summer. Somehow, William, it does not prove out to suit my notion of what religion should be." 

In the previous paragraph Joseph was quoted as saying that "There are people who think I am an infidel, because I sometimes make remarks they do not agree with." I can certainly see how he might have ruffled some feathers in his day! 

If not for Google Books, I would probably have never found this amazing wealth of information about my 4th-great-grandparents. It is a fantastic tool for every genealogist to have in their arsenal. Many thanks to all of the fine people who spend so many hours scanning and indexing, so that we can have this amazing resource available to us!

~ ~ ~

My line of descent from Joseph Moore is as follows:

Joseph Moore (1795 - after 1860)
4th great-grandfather

Josiah B. Moore (1825 - 1911)
Son of Joseph Moore

John Harmon Moore (1888 - 1957)
Son of Josiah B. Moore

Madaline Eva Moore (1923 - 2017)
Daughter of John Harmon Moore

Phyllis Carolyn Hunt (1943 - )
Daughter of Madaline Eva Moore

Lora Marlene Quinn (1961 - )
Daughter of Phyllis Carolyn Hunt

Allison Quinn Kessinger
You are the daughter of Lora Marlene Quinn

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

2019 #52Ancestors: Week 4 - "I'd Like to Meet"

I fell off the wagon with these #52Ancestors posts mostly because I have a very demanding and draining job (middle school chorus teacher), but to be honest a small part of it was that I had such a difficult time with Week 4's prompt that I just never wrote it, and got behind from there. But Summer break is almost upon us, so I plan to catch up on them over the next few weeks and eventually get current.

Week 4's prompt was so overwhelming for me. How on Earth could I choose only one ancestor to write about!? I would have loved to meet each and every one of them. So eventually I buckled down and got creative - in order to narrow it down, I decided to write about an ancestor who's birthday occurred during Week 4 (January 22-28). After looking at my anniversary report (created by Gramps Portable, an open source family tree maker that I highly recommend), I saw that I had two options: my 12th great-grandfather, John Winthrop, 3rd Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and my 10th-great-grandmother, named Jeanne Guillemin. I decided to go with Jeanne because John Winthrop is such a well-known figure in American history. Although I have to admit: at first glance, I didn't even recognize the name of Jeanne Guillemin, and had to look up my line of descent from her. 

Jeanne Guillemin was born on January 25, 1615 in the city of Chalons-en-Champagne in northern France. Her parents were Jean dit-l'Esprit Guillemin (a tailleur d'habits, or "tailor of clothes") and Jeanne Delahaute. She married Jacob Brion (1619-1695) before 1637 and had at least three children: Anna Elisabetha Brion (b. March 12, 1637), Jacob Brion (b. January 25, 1644) and my 9th-great-grandfather, Abraham Brion (b. July 1648). Jeanne passed away on May 5, 1662.

I could only find the cut-and-dry vital information for Jeanne - no interesting stories about her or her life have been recorded. So I decided to get a sense of what her life was like by researching the city where she was born and grew up: Chalons-en-Champagne. I found that the city was a very ancient one, having been the location of the Battle of Chalons in 274 A.D. It was also the setting of a Strauss opera called The Goddess of Reason, which premiered in 1897. Today it is a medium-sized city of about 45,000 people, which is about the size of my own home town of Charleston, WV. 

Chalons-en-Champagne in 1623

I was fortunate enough to find the above city plan of Chalons-en-Champagne as it was in 1623, when Jeanne would have been 8 years old. Even then it was a bustling little city, featuring two beautiful cathedrals and a cloister that was actually a pilgrimage site in the 17th century. Jeanne probably would have helped her father in his tailoring business; perhaps she was a talented seamstress herself. She might have met interesting people from all over France and perhaps from all over Europe while they made their pilgrimages to the cloister of Notre-Dame-en-Vaux, and I'm sure she went to weekly or even daily mass at the Chalons Cathedral or the Church of Notre-Dame-en-Vaux.

I studied French for several years in high school and college, so it makes me smile to think that if I truly did have a chance to meet and speak with Jeanne, I could speak to her in her own language. I would ask her hundreds of questions about what her life was like, and I would make sure to say "Je t'aime, Arriere-Grand-Mere Jeanne."


My line of descent from Jeanne Guillemin is as follows:

Jeanne Guillemin (1615 - 1662)
10th great-grandmother

Abraham Brion (1660 - 1724)
Son of Jeanne Guillemin

Hans Jacob Brion (1677 - 1746)
Son of Abraham Brion

Anna Maria Brion (1724 - 1804)
Daughter of Hans Jacob Brion

Johann Jacob OLINGER Sr. (1746 - 1813)
Son of Anna Maria Brion

Johannes Olinger (1773 - 1823)
Son of Johann Jacob OLINGER Sr.

Elizabeth Olinger (1799 - 1869)
Daughter of Johannes Olinger

George E. Schofield (1837 - 1920)
Son of Elizabeth Olinger

Joseph Elliot Schofield (1887 - 1951)
Son of George E. Schofield

Clara May Schofield (1906 - 1989)
Daughter of Joseph Elliot Schofield

Arthur Ray "Jack" Quinn (1939 - 1986)
Son of Clara May Schofield

Lora Marlene Quinn (1961 - )
Daughter of Arthur Ray "Jack" Quinn

Allison Quinn Kessinger
You are the daughter of Lora Marlene Quinn

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Genetic Genealogy: Confirming Connections with DNA

I prepared this presentation for a local DNA conference, so I thought I would share! This presentation focuses on how traditional genealogy research and DNA research complement each other. The presentation includes two case studies, each focusing on different methodologies: confirming a suspected ancestor connection with DNA, and supporting the findings of DNA research with documentation.

Conference Information:
Saturday, May 4, 2019
West Virginia Capitol Complex
Culture Center
Archives and History Library

More information about the conference and the presenters can be found in this article from the Charleston Gazette-Mail.


Download the slides alone here, and the slides with space for note-taking here.

Monday, January 21, 2019

2019 #52Ancestors: Week 3 - "Unusual Name"

I could not have picked a more unusual woman to write about for this week's "unusual name" prompt! This week's post will feature my great-great-grandmother, Vazzie Angelee Hancock (1900-1984). She is the only person I have ever encountered, in person or otherwise, with the name Vazzie, or with the middle name of Angelee.

Vazzie Angelee Hancock was born on May 10, 1900, to Charles Wesley Hancock and Laura Belle Leftwich. Both the Hancock and Leftwich families have a long and noble history: Vazzie's ancestor, William Hancock, was a participant of the First Thanksgiving in the New World, and the Leftwich family was an ancient and noble house in England, descending from the de Vere family, which accompanied William the Conqueror from Normandy (as recorded in The Leftwich-Turner Families of Virginia and Their Connections by Walter Lee Hopkins).

Vazzie in the 1920s.
While Vazzie's early childhood may have been relatively normal, her teenage years were not. She began helping her father dig coal in a "punch" mine in Witcher, WV at age 14, and even became proficient at making and using mining explosives. An article from The Charleston Daily Mail on March 23, 1972, described her mining career in great detail. She is quoted as saying "You can bet your life it is hard work. Anyone who gets his miner's pension or black lung benefits deserves it. You can't go in there and sit down. You have to work."

Perhaps the most unusual thing about Vazzie was not her unconventional job, but her love life. She had five husbands throughout the course of her life, and divorced four of them. Her first marriage was three days before her 18th birthday, on May 7, 1918 (her age on the marriage record is listed as "21"), to Goldie Woolwine. She had one child with Goldie, named Charles Woolwine.

The 1920 census finds Vazzie, Goldie, and Charles in the household of Andrew and Luticia Hunt. Luticia was 33 years older than Andrew and was very ill, so Vazzie was her caretaker. Although Goldie and Charles both lived in the home, Vazzie and Goldie are both listed as "divorced."

Vazzie Rucker article.
Thu, Mar 23, 1972 – Page 8 · The Charleston Daily Mail 

Vazzie's second child, my beloved great-grandfather, was born on January 9, 1921, and was named Ernest Zacharias Hunt. He was the acknowledged son of Andrew, and has been confirmed by DNA to be Andrew's biological son. Andrew was still married to Luticia at the time of his birth, and as far as I know, Vazzie, Goldie, and Charles were still living in Andrew's home at this time.

A little more than a year later, Vazzie married her second husband, George Hayes, on March 15, 1922. Their marriage lasted about the same amount of time as the first, and produced no children. by mid-year 1923 Vazzie and Andrew were back together, because their second child, Luticia Margot Hunt, was born in February of 1924. (She has also been confirmed by DNA to be Andrew's child.) She was named after Andrew's wife, who had died less than a month earlier on January 17, 1924. My great-grandfather had a very early memory of being on a train, traveling back to live with Andrew and Luticia after Vazzie and George separated. He also remembered going to Luticia's funeral.

Vazzie in the 1940s.
I have not found a marriage record for Vazzie and Andrew, but I know that they were married sometime between 1924 and 1930, because they appear together in the 1930 census. They went on to have three more children: Douglas Newton in 1926, James Franklin in 1931, and Alma Belle in 1934. Douglas was unfortunately killed at age 5 in November of 1931, when he was run over by a car.

Not long after Alma Belle was born, Vazzie and Andrew separated and later divorced. Andrew was reported by several family members to have joked that he "paid for two divorces to get her, and one to get rid of her." When my great-grandfather was about 14 or 15 (1935-36), his mother remarried again to a man named Taylor Clay, whom my great-grandfather did not like. (I have also not found a marriage record for them, but I have seen a copy of the divorce record.) My great-grandfather did not like Taylor Clay so much that he actually left home and set up housekeeping in a renovated chicken coupe. When Vazzie's divorce from Andrew was finalized, Andrew was awarded custody of all of the children, a very unusual ruling for the time. The 1940 census finds Andrew living in his hometown of Belle, WV with all of the children, including Charles, Vazzie's child from her first marriage. By this time Charles had assumed the last name of Hunt, to match his brothers and sisters.

Vazzie in the late 1970s.
Taylor Clay eventually went the same way as the first three husbands. In 1953, Vazzie married her fifth and final husband, Walter Rucker, and was married to him until his death on May 10, 1968 - Vazzie's 68th birthday. Walter was by all accounts a good man, and was known affectionately as "Uncle Walter" to Vazzie's grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Later in life, Vazzie was known for her unusual mix of hobbies. The same newspaper article that described her coal mining career also told of her fondness for squirrel hunting (a hobby she shared with two great-aunts on my paternal side, Aunt Allie Clay and Aunt Elsie Keeley), and of her great skill as a quilter. Two of my most treasured possessions are quilts that she hand-made.

My great-great-grandma Vazzie was clearly a most unusual woman to match her most unusual name. She was ahead of her time in so many ways, and was an amazing woman. I had such a hard time choosing between this week's prompt of "unusual name" and next week's prompt of "I'd like to meet" to write about her, because she is at the top of my list of ancestors that I wish I could have a conversation with.

~ ~ ~

My descent from Vazzie is as follows:

Vazzie Angelee Hancock (1900 - 1984)
2nd great-grandmother

Earnest Zacharias Hunt (1921 - 2008)
Son of Vazzie Angelee Hancock

Phyllis Carolyn Hunt (1943 - )
Daughter of Earnest Zacharias Hunt

Lora Marlene Quinn (1961 - )
Daughter of Phyllis Carolyn Hunt

Allison Quinn Kessinger
You are the daughter of Lora Marlene Quinn

Thursday, January 10, 2019

2019 #52Ancestors: Week 2 - "Challenge"

Many of my posts tell the stories of my ancestors that have proven very difficult to find. My goal in writing about them is to set the record straight about who they are and where they came from, and to paint them as actual human beings instead of names on a piece of paper. There is a unique joy that comes from unraveling someone's story and telling it, often for the first time since their death. 

Sometimes the story is an amazing one, like the story of how my great-great-grandparents met while my great-great-grandfather traveled with Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show. But sometimes, the story is much more commonplace. The story that will unfold in this post contains no exciting venues (like wild west shows), no famous names or places, and no connection to noble houses. This is Isabell's story, and it deserves to be told as much as any other ancestor with a noble heritage or a famous connection.

Everybody has at least one great challenge - at least one ancestor like Isabell, my 5th-great-grandmother - in their tree. You know the type. The one that has no birth record, no marriage record, no death record - nothing, in short, that gives you any idea of what her maiden name was, which is the key to where she came from. The only surviving records of Isabell are four census records (1850-1880), and the scant information that they contain is often contradictory.

The Adkins family in the 1850 census.
 We first see Isabell in the 1850 census. She is 18 years old, married to William Adkins, and has a one-year-old daughter, named Drucilla. They are living in Nicholas County, Virginia (later West Virginia) and William's occupation is listed as "farmer." 

The differences between the 1850 census and the 1860 census tell us a lot about what the Adkins family went through in the ten-year time period. In 1860 the family is still living in Nicholas County, but William's occupation is now listed as "hunter." There is now no Drucilla listed, so it must be assumed that their first child had passed away. They now have three children: James (age 8), Jones (age 6), and Sarah (age 4). There is no real estate value listed, so chances are that they didn't own the home they lived in. From the information listed (and not listed), it seems that the Adkins family's fortunes were low at this time.
The Adkins family in the 1860 census.

The 1870 census shows us some big changes for the family. They are now living in Malden, Kanawha County, West Virginia, and William is once again listed as a farmer. There are now 8 children, but 4 of them (including my 4th-great-grandmother, Hannah) are older than ten years old. It is unclear why they were not listed in the 1860 census, if they are truly the ages listed. Another curious factor is that the 1870 census also lists a daughter, Sarah, as age 4. James would have been 18 and Jones 16 by 1870, so it is conceivable that they were out of the household; but the Sarah of 1860 must have passed away, and the Sarah of 1870 must be her namesake. It must have been so difficult for Isabell and William to have lost at least two of their precious children, and possibly more.

The Adkins family in the 1870 census.
The last record of Isabell that we have is the 1880 census. Five of the 8 children from 1870 are still listed in the household (the oldest three were of the age to be out of the house), and there are two new younger children. There is also a newborn grandson, named John Dent.

These four records tell us a few details about Isabell that help us understand a little bit about her life, even if they don't help us to know who her parents were. We know that she gave birth to at least 14 children: Drucilla, James, Jones, Sarah (1), Lutha, Hannah, Martha, Elizabeth, Catherine, Sarah (2), Lorenzo, John, Lucy, and William. We know that at least two of those children did not survive to adulthood, which must have been a tremendous loss to Isabell and William. We know that Isabell could neither read or write. We know that whoever her parents were, they were born in Virginia. We know that Isabell and William must have died before 1900, because they do not appear in the 1900 census.
The Adkins family in the 1880 census.

After piecing together these details, I set out to try to find out what Isabell's maiden name was. If I only had a maiden name to go on, I could use a combination of paperwork and the DNA results of my great-great-aunt (Isabell's 2nd-great-granddaughter) to connect her to other people with that name in their trees. As already mentioned, there is no birth or death record on file for her, and no marriage record on file for her and William. So I decided to branch out to the marriage and death records of their children, in the hopes that Isabell's maiden name might have been listed on one. I was able to find death records for Sarah (2), Lorenzo, and John, but unfortunately all of them had "unknown" listed for "mother's maiden name." I was also able to find marriage records for Sarah (2), but her parents' names were not listed. I also searched for a marriage record between an Adkins bride and a Dent groom (since Isabell and William had a grandson named John Dent), but there were none that fit the time frame. Finding records for the other children has been a challenge, in no small part because Adkins is such a common name.

So far the results have been discouraging, but I don't intend to give up on Isabell. It's so hard to not look back on these few paragraphs I've just written and think, "Is this all there is left of a life? Is this really all that remains of a wife, a mother of 14, a woman in her own right?" Isabell has been one of my greatest challenges thus far, but I will not despair. Somewhere, there has to be a clue as to what her maiden name was. And when I find it, I will be able to tell the rest of her story, and to preserve it for all the the subsequent generations of her descendants.

~ ~ ~

My descent from Isabell is as follows:

Isabell (1828 - )
5th great-grandmother

Hannah Adkins (1855 - )
Daughter of Isabell

Charles Wesley Hancock (1875 - 1930)
Son of Hannah Adkins

Vazzie Angelee Hancock (1900 - 1984)
Daughter of Charles Wesley Hancock

Earnest Zacharias Hunt (1921 - 2008)
Son of Vazzie Angelee Hancock

Phyllis Carolyn Hunt (1943 - )
Daughter of Earnest Zacharias Hunt

Lora Marlene Quinn (1961 - )
Daughter of Phyllis Carolyn Hunt

Allison Quinn Kessinger
You are the daughter of Lora Marlene Quinn

Saturday, January 5, 2019

2019 #52Ancestors: Week 1 - "First"

Abigail Royal Garrett
This week's #52Ancestors post is dear to my heart because I have the privilege of writing about one of my favorite ancestors: my great-great-great-grandmother, Abigail Royal Garrett (2 Jan 1823 - 23 Feb 1891). Incidentally, this post falls during the week of her 196th birthday.

I chose Abigail for this "first" prompt because she was the ancestor who started it all: the one who made me interested in genealogy. One of my best friends growing up also happened to be my 4th cousin. Because our family has lived in the same neighborhood since Abigail and her husband, John Clifton, moved to the area by 1870, we always knew that we were cousins. However, it wasn't until my third year of college that I began to question exactly how we were related. During a telephone conversation one evening, I asked my cousin (named Garrett - after Abigail, as it turns out) if he knew who our common ancestor was. And as it happened, he did know! His mother had long been interested in genealogy, and had told him how we were related. I got curious and decided to see if there was any information about her online. I came upon this webpage about Abigail's hometown in England, which included a page about her family and about her specifically. When I saw the photo of her and read about her life, it was like a spark igniting: I instantly had to know more. I had to know how I was descended from her, who her parents were, and her parents' parents, and so on.... And the rest, as they say, was history (or, indeed, genealogy).
The Garrett House in Ludham, Norfolk, England

Abigail Royal Garrett was born in Ludham, Norfolk, England on 2 January 1823, to Royal Garrett and Hannah Vincent. The Garrett family was a moderately affluent one, and were well-known and well-respected in their town. According to census records, their income primarily came from farming and owning/operating The Baker's Arms. They had a large house, and several employees.

Abigail had five brothers: Israel Royal, Jabez, Abiathar, Nathan Vincent, and Jethro Littlewood; and three sisters: Dorcas, Miriam, and Merab. (Abiathar ran the local mill in Ludham, and apparently taught the skill to Abigail's oldest son, Royal Jethro Larter, who opened a mill near where Abigail's family settled in Charleston, WV. The location is still called "Mill Creek" to this day.)

John Thomas Clifton
Abigail was first married to John Francis Larter on 20 September 1842. They had four children: James Garrett, Royal Jethro, Miriam Susanna, and Dorcas Hannah. In 1851, John Francis Larter immigrated to America on the ship "Savannah", presumably to establish a home for his family. Abigail and the four children immigrated one year later in 1852, and traveled in the company of John Thomas Clifton on the ship "Christiana". John had a wife and seven children left behind in England; perhaps he intended to do what John Larter supposedly did, and establish a home for them in America before sending for them.

This is where the story gets murky. Several different versions exist, but what is certain is that Abigail did not leave New York City with John Larter. Whether he had passed away, or simply abandoned them, is impossible to know. We also do not know where Abigail, John, and the children lived between 1852 and 1856. What we do know for sure is that they settled in West Virginia by 1856. John and Abigail married on 8 June 1856, despite the fact that John's first wife was definitely still alive in England. On the marriage record, they both referred to themselves as "widowed." They originally settled in Boone County, WV but moved to Charleston, Kanawha County, WV by 1870.

John and Abigail had three children of their own: Hannah, Merab, and Ella. Their life was very difficult, and they often had a hard time even keeping enough food on the table. We know several details about their everyday lives because Abigail brought a lap desk with her from England, and over the years she and various family members saved letters they wrote to each other in it. The lap desk was "rescued" by my Great-Aunt Mary when my great-grandfather, Clifton Kessinger, passed away. Aunt Mary's daughter, the author Linda Lenhardt, transcribed these letters and published them in one annotated volume, along with family stories, poetry, and artwork by various family members, all descended from Abigail. The book is called "Cliftons and Kessingers: Their Kin, Their Letters, Their Stories," and is available on Amazon.

John passed away on 27 January 1879, and Abigail passed away on 23 February 1891. They are buried in the Old Circle of Spring Hill Cemetery in Charleston, WV. The location of their graves is known; however, they do not currently have markers. I have long wanted to have markers placed for them, and I hope to accomplish that goal this year.

In one of her letters, Abigail wrote to her daughter, Hannah (my great-great-grandmother) that

"As I write, the want to see you all grows, worsens. Is it so with you?" 

My answer to that question is yes, absolutely. I so wish that I could have known Abigail. I admire her for her courage, her determination, and her great love for all of her children and grandchildren, which is so very apparent in her letters. I like to think that whatever I have of those qualities comes at least in part from her.

~ ~ ~

My descent from Abigail and John is as follows:

Abigail Royal Garrett (1823 - 1891)
3rd great-grandmother

Hannah Clifton (1856 - 1905)
Daughter of Abigail Royal Garrett

Clifton Kessinger (1872 - 1966)
Son of Hannah Clifton

Harold Warren Kessinger (1920 - 2012)
Son of Clifton Kessinger

Joseph Wayne Kessinger (1958 - )
Son of Harold Warren Kessinger

Allison Quinn Kessinger
You are the daughter of Joseph Wayne Kessinger


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