Land! We all know that shout from the crows nest when the smallest member of crew who can get up there spots the first signs of a coastline after weeks if not months at sea. It’s a promise of stable ground under ones feet, especially for those immigrating to a new land, likely with very few possessions unless they happened to be wealthy. The experience of living on a ship smaller than a modern jet plane on multiple decks with your only food what is carried on board when you left your home, among strangers, with very little hope of ever seeing your family there again, would be enough to make anyone feel a thrill to get to your next destination and off the bloody boat!
Once landed, new challenges and opportunities lay ahead. Depending on the era and place, the land may be available to settle directly. Or it may require moving farther away from that initial landing to find new land to clear and establish a new fort or village or farm.
Our family includes all of these: the Cosines arriving in New Amsterdam in the 1600s to establish their farm on Stuyvasants estate, John Whitaker arriving as an indentured servant as a young man in Baltimore in the mid 1700s until he received his own plat of land in 1761 to raise tobacco and a family, John Berfanger with his wife and children arriving in New Orleans from Germany in 1844 making his way to Evansville as a place to put down his roots and marry his second wife after the death of his first, and the Pinters who came later from Hungary in 1893 and traveled to the open lands of Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma before widow Juliana moved her children back to northern Indiana to the industrial area of South Bend. Some were renters, but most managed to buy the land upon which they lived and raised their families. It was a valuable asset. They built farms and houses. Some helped establish new churches. And many were buried on that land or next to those churches that they built.
Land. The records of that land leads us to understand who and where our ancestors were, what they did, who their neighbours were, and how difficult or possibly easy their lives were lived. They landed on their feet or on their faces and then got up on their feet again. But with very few exceptions, they made a place for themselves and a history for us to imagine or discover.
Little did I know how valuable maps would be when I started down these paths to ancestors. And may I say, bless the map makers! Be they explorers, navigators, geographers, cartographers or surveyors. They all had a place in the need for and creation of maps. And may I also say, bless those who are creating the collections of these valuable resources and make many of them available online.
Tracing/finding property maps and combining with taxation records has allowed me to locate the farm where my great great grandmother lived with her mother in the rural area of Evansville Indiana. Plat maps with names are extremely useful to put those pieces together. Sometimes you may be lucky and find your relatives were given the patent from the government or bought the rights to the land from the patent holder. You can find this in the Bureau of Land Management collection. https://glorecords.blm.gov/ It’s really a kick to find a certificate signed by the president of the time when the land was awarded to your ancestor. I’ve just looked at the website and they have added more information to the site.
Early maps in New Amsterdam when Stuyvesant led the Dutch colony in the 1600s shows where my 9th great grandmother lived near what is now Wall Street when that area was small farms near the village. It’s fun to look at the originals and then overlay the modern ‘village’ of the metropolis of New York City and know that my family once lived there, not to mention her involvement with the Tappan Patent where Rock County is today north of the City along the Hudson River. I wish I had known when I was in Rockland County in the 1970s that I had a direct connection to one of the houses that is still there!
One of the most useful map services that I’ve found is the collection of tools provided by Randy Majors. https://www.randymajors.org/ If you want to figure out what those surveyor identifiers mean, section/township/range, and how to find them on an actual modern map of your ancestor’s farm or town, this is where you go. Need an historical representation of early states and counties, this is where you go. His tools are continually developing so you never know what new insight one can find every few months. Revisit often. US only.
Another collection that I’ve used often in The David Rumsey Map Collection. https://www.davidrumsey.com/ Photographs, maps, information, a blog – what more could you want? This is a place I could (and have) spend hours.
These are just three of the many map collections that I’ve learned of in doing family history research. If you know of others I’m missing, please leave a comment below.
Is not all that we do in Family History Research because we are curious? About where we came from. Who our ancestors were. What their lives were like. Why they moved from place to place. What they did, who they married, and how they died. So many things to be curious about, so it’s difficult to narrow in on one specific thing, but I’ll have a go.
The first person who came to mind is my great great grandfather, Zachariah Whitaker. I know only the basics about him. Born 10 September 1836 in Vigo County, Indiana on the family farm near what is now Lewis; married Cassandra Stuck, moved the family to a farm in eastern Clark County, Illinois, enlisted in the Illinois Infantry but was out in a few months due to an elbow injury, came home, had a few children, and collapsed and died at age 56 after leaving a Sunday school meeting on 20 November 1892 near Hardinsville, Illinois, several miles from his home in West York.
What I am curious about and have searched for endlessly is for what church he was a Reverend. He came from a line of Baptist preachers – his father Isaac and grandfather John before him. Their churches were well documented and known, both in Kentucky and in Indiana.
Zachariah and his wife Cassandra are buried in Plymouth Cemetery, which, after being curious about its history while writing this post, I discovered was a Methodist Cemetery. A brief article about the church and cemetery at https://clark.illinoisgenweb.org/church/church_plymouth.html lists many names of the families near his farm in Melrose Township and spouse names of his children and others: Ralston, Drake, Due and Dix. This is seeming less and less curious. Perhaps he and his family joined the Methodist Church instead of the Baptists. I would think it unusual for a practicing Baptist preacher to be buried in a Methodist cemetery. So was he ordained as a Methodist minister? I have done lots of research about the Baptists, but not about the Methodists.
This is the Alien Registration card photo of my great grandmother, Caroline Reintjes Sauer. I have this document, which is very rare. Most German Americans burnt them when they were no longer required. When my sister found this document, it made me think about what Caroline’s life must have been like in Indiana during that period of “The Great War”. I’ve written a short bio piece on her, but must think more deeply about this. Grandma Caroline died on Christmas Eve, 1927 in Indiana.
I love stories of strong women, especially when I find them in my ancestry. When I found Grietje Cozyn (multiple spellings of that Dutch name), I was so happy to read her biography. And because of the historical nature of the time in New Amsterdam, the location of her family farms in what became Lower Manhattan near Wall Street and on the Stuyvesant property is well established. I love thinking about her life in the early Dutch colony and that she was part of the group that established the Tappan Patent in what is today Rockland County and surrounds. The house her 3rd husband built for their family is still there. After her lifetime, later during the Revolution, that house was twice used by General Washington as a headquarters.
Here is something about Grietje that I shared with my women’s group last year for International Women’s Day, my 9th great grandmother:
foundations: late 14c., “action of founding,” from Old French fondacion “foundation” (14c.) or directly from Late Latin fundationem (nominative fundatio) “a founding,” noun of action from past-participle stem of Latin fundare “to lay a bottom or foundation” (see found (v.1)). The Latin word is glossed in Old English by staþol.
It’s impossible to identify the many foundations or founders of our family in an historical sense. The many branches are infinitely broad and deep; or maybe they are the roots. So why do we think about upward branches instead of the roots as our foundation, given all those tendrils below ground out of sight, in the past, who have provided the nourishment for all that came later? Alex Haley recognised the importance of Roots. We talk of putting down roots. But we lay a foundation when building a house.
One of those foundations for my direct Whitaker family line was John Whitaker who sailed to the Maryland colony in the mid 1600s, likely as an indentured servant to pay for his passage and establish his new life. There were several John Whitakers who arrived then, so which one was ours is lost to the depths of time. His origin story from England is therefore a dead end as well. Did he establish an institution? An endowment? He did acquire land after leaving his indenture period. Through his wife he sent children into the world who took his farming legacy for a time to the wilds of western Pennsylvania near Fort Pitt, then down the Ohio river, and into the wilds of Kentucky, establishing some of the earliest Baptist churches in and around modern Louisville, another sense of religious foundation. Preacher Isaac Whitaker and his sons later moved the family from Kentucky to Indiana in the early 1800s, establishing my Indiana identity through several past generations, with a brief few decades across the Wabash in eastern Illinois before returning to Vigo County where I and my sister were eventually borne and raised.
I wish I had known of these foundation places in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Illinois and even my own county in Indiana, places that I visited in ignorance of the relationship to my family foundations. It would have been much more meaningful to me to know that I was walking where their farms had been, feeling those roots beneath my feet.
The task given this final week of the year is to nominate who I want to research next year. To decide how to answer this, I went to my family tree fan chart. That was no help. I have heaps of information back several generations, so none took my fancy. Where to next?
My writing project – eight great great grandmothers. I’ve been a bit slack on finishing it because, well, the last three are going to be VERY HARD. None of them came to the United States and all are from Hungary. I have basic information, have even looked up a few maps to get a sense of where they lived. I think I’ll need to put on my big girl pants and dig in to finish this project. So here’s to great great grandmothers Catherine Deutsch, Quela or Guela Tula and Juliana Burkos. See you in 2022!
The theme this week fits my personal history from an American perspective. I just got this prompt today, a week late, so I’ll keep it short.
I was born on Labor Day, moved out of my parent’s house on Independence Day. I’m sure there were a couple more that were connected but can’t recall now. But I can always claim Labor Day in memory of my mother. 🙂
As for the Christmas holidays, these were spent at either of the grandparents’ homes – in Terre Haute with my dad’s parents or after a long four hour drive to South Bend to my mom’s parents. To be honest, I don’t remember a thing about them. It’s all blank. Is that weird?
Fourth of July was a big holiday for us. We used to go to the park near the stadium so we could watch the fireworks. Fireworks were limited to the 4th when I was a child, not this every event shooting off we seem to have today, at least in Australia. Any excuse for a cracker here. I always wanted to go in the stadium, but Dad (or Mom?) never let us. There was maybe an entrance charge. So we had a blanket on the grass and watched from there. The sky was free.
Halloween was a good holiday. We dressed up and did the trick or treating thing. But we also went to the school for the ‘party’ and costume contest. I remember the taste of apple cider as a treat there.
Thanksgiving was one of the best holidays. Oh, the food! Turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Our was a traditional feast – complete bird, which meant there were plenty of turkey sandwiches for the next week.
Lines are not always straight, at least in families. They cross, they break and restart, they curve sometimes, and often just stop. When I thought about the concept of line in my family it was all of those. In fact I was describing this situation to friends over coffee just yesterday.
My 4 x great grandfather Isaac Whitaker is a bit like the above. And the reason the lines got screwy was because of his relationship with the Taylor family, all in north central Kentucky before a bunch of them picked up and moved to Indiana. And that relationship was children marrying children of both families as well as cousins. But here’s where the cross over of the lines really got sticky. So sticky that the lines I wanted to draw would have looked like a pin board for solving a crime – you know the one, with the crime scene photos and the suspects and victims all linked together with lines of red (always red) string.
I didn’t get that far in the venture, but through help from a distant cousin and some snooping, I think I figured it all out. Isaac married his children’s mother-in-law. Here’s how it worked. Isaac had a bunch of kids. Those kids married the children of James Taylor and his wife, Nancy Crist Taylor. Isaac was an old man. James had died. Isaac married a Nancy Taylor. One year later Isaac died. And all of this was pre-1850 census. Can you see my problem? If you do any US family history, you will know how important that 1850 census is because it names all the household members. Before that, they were just ticks in an age box on the form. The marriage registers exist, too, for all these people. But it wasn’t until that 1850 census that things fell into place because my 3 x great grandfather, Elijah Whitaker son of Isaac, was living in that house with Nancy Whitaker as the head, with his wife Rachel and Nancy’s son Jacob, and another passel of grandkids. And even though Nancy’s grave stone is with her first husband James, the facts line up.
I’ve ignored this blog for far too long, since 2019. That’s a long time. Pre-Covid even!
In the mean time, I’ve been doing a LOT of Family History work – collecting information about ancestors along various branches of our tree back into the 1600s settlement of America, as well as various lines across Europe. It’s been quite a venture.
Now it’s time to build the narrative, tell the story about these people, and see if I can make sense of any of it. To do this, I’ve joined another group from Amy Crow called 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. The idea is that each week Amy provides a topic or word and the task is to write something about your family or history using that concept.
There are 2 weeks left in 2021 (thank gods!), so I’m going to do at least one post next in the exercise – the concept: line. I’ll give it some thought now and see what sort of ‘line’ I can come up with. Watch this space.