Reasons to Love Genealogy Conferences

I just made my lodging reservation for the 2018 Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) conference in August in Fort Wayne, Indiana because I know the hotel will sell out early, and I am already a little too excited about the event.   The Allen County Public Library there is the second largest in the U.S. in terms of the breadth and depth of its genealogical holdings, so I will definitely make  new discoveries there.

Also I know I will enjoy the lectures and other events because I have enjoyed every national and regional genealogy conference I have ever attended, even the one where I had to drag our sons along, then 15 and 13, because my husband had to take a work-related trip at the last minute.

These are the top reasons I love them:

The lectures improve your research whether you are a beginner or an expert.  My first conference was the 2006 FGS conference in Boston.  I went partly because several experts in Irish research were speaking, but I had barely begun researching my father-in-law’s Irish ancestors.  It was there that I learned the basics, and there that a gentleman from the South Mayo Family History Research Centre told me that the Willises were probably from the parish of Robeen, which turned out to be true.

The class schedule will indicate whether a talk is at the beginner, intermediate or advanced level, and there will be several tracks for different areas of interest–different ethnicities, places, periods, records.  There is usually something for everyone.  In fact there is often more than one thing going on at the same time that appeals, so that it is hard to choose between them.  Conferences are for all researchers, not just professionals, so don’t be intimidated or think you will feel out of place if you are a beginner.

Everyone there has been bitten by the bug.  I don’t have any genealogy buddies living nearby, and most people’s eyes glaze over if you talk about it unless you are helping them with their family.  But if you strike up a conversation with a person at a conference, it is likely to become animated on both sides and you are likely to learn something and/or help someone.  I am fairly reserved but I become outgoing and ready to talk to strangers (including genealogy “stars”) at a conference.

There is usually an amazing library or other repository nearby.  Often the problem at a conference is figuring out how much time to spend in the library and how much time to spend going to lectures.  When you can roll out of bed and be at either in a few minutes on foot, as is the case in Fort Wayne, it’s a tough decision.  Usually research facilities will have extended hours, sometimes late into the night.  This doesn’t help me because I am an extreme morning person, so by 6 PM I am ready for a nice dinner and some Law & Order, but if you are able to focus at night it would be great.

The keynote.  These vary of course, but are often both inspiring and entertaining.  The most inspiring one I have heard was “The Healing Power of Genealogy” by Dr. Andy Anderson.  The most entertaining was at the 2010 FGS conference in Knoxville, Tennessee, sponsored by both the Kentucky Historical Society and the East Tennessee Historical Society.  For the keynote, J. Mark Lowe and Kent Wentworth argued over which was better, Kentucky or Tennessee.  It was as funny as a good special by a talented comedian.  (I have to say the Knoxville conference really stands out in my memory, especially the special events which included a shape note singing demonstration and a trip to the Museum of Appalachia.)

The exhibit hall.  Here is where you have to try to keep a grip on yourself–a sea of vendors selling things you “need.”  Right before the hall opens a large and impatient crowd forms at the door.  There is usually a chance to win prizes from the vendors using tickets you get free with your registration.  Many of the booths are staffed by experts who are more than happy to answer your questions, so you can learn there too.

The SWAG.  Not only do you get a big identification badge, lanyard, and some sort of tote bag, there are always useful freebies that come with your registration.  The most important thing is the syllabus on a thumb drive, which contains key information from every talk, so that if you missed one you can still learn something about the topic.  Obviously you can make use of the syllabus at home, long after the conference is, sadly,  over.


Asa Fuller (1787-1868): A New England Mystery Man and his Ex-Ancestors

Massachusetts farmer Asa Fuller was not a brick wall when I began researching.  Family notes said that his parents were Asa Fuller and Meletiah Metcalf of Dedham, Massachusetts.  I had already spent a few years researching this couple and their ancestors when I realized that although they did have a son named Asa, he died in Medway, Mass. in 1872, four years after “our” Asa had died in Cambridge.  In a very aggravated state of mind I deleted Asa and Meletiah and all of their ancestors from my tree and began looking for Asa’s real parents.

The other set of parents some people assign to him are yet another Asa Fuller and his wife Elizabeth Winchester, originally from Newton, Mass.  At first this seemed plausible since our Asa was living in Newton when he married in 1818.  However I found that this couple had moved to St. Albans, Vermont by 1800, and that there was no tick mark for a son of the right age to be Asa in their 1800 census record.  I then determined that none of their six children were named Asa.

Fuller-Howe Descendants

Our family papers did contain a handy and mostly correct chart of Asa’s family going forward in time which must have been made in the 1970s.  This shows all seven of his children who lived to adulthood and some of their descendants.

Fuller-Howe 1818 Marriage

Baptist minister Joseph Grafton married 30 year old Asa and 15 year old Sarah Elizabeth Howe 23 Feb 1818 in Newton, Massachusetts.  Sarah was the youngest child of widowed Roxbury housewright David Howe, age 67, who applied for a Revolutionary War pension in that same year citing “reduced circumstances.”  His daughter’s early marriage is unusual but may have made financial sense.

I believe Asa was either brought up a Baptist or became one as young adult, and that that is why there are no baptismal records for his children.  Asa and Sarah lived in Newton in 1820 but moved to Roxbury about 1825, and while the deaths of two of their children were recorded at the congregational churches of Roxbury, I have found no baptisms recorded there or in Newton.  Sarah died in 1845, after which the children were scattered from Ohio to Quebec.

While Asa seemed to believe he was born in Massachusetts, several of his children’s records state that their father was born in Maine.  I think his parents may have been from Maine, or may have moved there during his childhood or youth.  His death record says he was born in Newton, and the spaces for the names and birthplaces of his parents are blank.

Rainsford Island in Boston Harbor, once the site of the hospital where Albert Fuller died.  Photo by Doc Searls from Santa Barbara, USA via Wikimedia Commons.

The children who lived to adulthood were:

Albert Fuller (1820-1877), who was somewhat of a mystery himself until I realized he moved to Quebec and lived much of his life there before relocating to Burlington, Vermont in his later years.  His 1852 marriage to Aurilla G. Yates took place at the Granby, Quebec Anglican Church.  The record describes him as “Albert Fuller of Roxbury eldest son of Asa Fuller of Canterbury Mass. U.S. Farmer and Sarah his wife maiden name Howe.”  At first I was confused by “Canterbury” but this turned out to be the neighborhood in West Roxbury where Asa’s small farm was located.

Albert died of diabetes at a hospital on Rainsford Island in Boston Harbor.  Death records indicate he was a farmer living in Burlington, Vermont.  It also says his parents were Asa  and Sarah E. Fuller, and that Asa was born in Maine.

Edwin A. Fuller (1821-1879) who was a shoemaker or shoe factory worker for most of his life.  He married Harriet Kimball West in 1849 at Nashua, New Hampshire, somewhat of a “Las Vegas” for marriages at the time, and there is no formal record that I can find.  The only evidence I have is Harriet’s affidavit in Edwin’s Civil War pension file, and she could not remember the exact day.

Edwin had served in the 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, and was seriously wounded in the thigh at Spotsylvania Courthouse.  His pension file has no clues regarding his father, but one paper refers to Edwin as Andrew and I wonder if that was his middle name.  His death record says his parents were “Asa and Lois,” confusing his mother-in-law Lois (Putnam) West with his mother, and the space for their birthplaces is blank.


Buildings in Dorchester that were formerly part of the Walter Baker & Co. chocolate factory, where both William and Caroline Fuller worked.  Photo by Marc N. Belanger via Wikimedia Commons.

William F. Fuller (1826-1886) was a blacksmith living in Walpole, Mass. when he married Maria Boyd in 1851, but from at least 1860 on he worked at the Walter Baker & Co. chocolate factory in Dorchester, Mass.  His 1880 census return says that both his parents were born in Mass., but his death record says that his father was born in West Roxbury and his mother was born in Maine.  Since his mother was born in what became West Roxbury, I think the birthplaces somehow got reversed in this record.

Sarah Elizabeth Fuller (1829-1913) who worked in Lowell, Mass. cotton mills for most of her life.  She married widower Isaac Peabody in 1867.  Her census records consistently say both of her parents were born in Massachusetts.  She moved in with her sister Susan after a hip fracture in 1904, and Susan was the informant on Sarah’s death certificate and gave their father’s birthplace as Newton, Mass.


Zachariah B. Porter’s Hotel in Cambridge, Mass., where Susan Clark Fuller lived and worked before her marriage.

Susan Clark Fuller (1831-1917) who in 1850 was living and working at Porter’s Hotel in what is now Porter Square in Cambridge, Mass., but was then surrounded by cattle yards.  She married Vermont-born Sylvanus Morgan Parsons in 1854.  Susan consistently gave both her parents’ birthplaces as Massachusetts.  Asa lived with Susan and Sylvanus for the last several years of his life, and her death certificate gives his birthplace as Needham rather than Newton, Mass.  Her middle name may be a clue.

Mary Jane Fuller (1836-1909) who was farmed out to Ohio after her mother’s death.  I cannot find her there in 1850, but she was said to have lived in the area 60 years at her death.  She married English immigrant Henry Lucas in 1857 in Montgomery County, and was a member of Dayton’s Central Baptist Church.  Her 1880 and 1900 censuses say that both her parents were born in Massachusetts.  Her husband was the informant on her death certificate and did not know the names of her parents but said they were both born in Massachusetts.

Caroline M. Fuller (1838-1914) who was farmed out to Bath, Maine.  In 1850 she lived with Levi and Huldah (Whitmore) Chadbourne, in 1860 with John and Annie (Humphries) Kimball.  In 1870 she lived in Dorchester, Mass. and worked at the chocolate factory with her brother William.  In 1880 she married Ira Avery Shaw in Bath, with a Baptist minister officiating.  She says her father was born in Maine in the censuses of 1880, 1900 and 1910, when she and Ira lived in Richmond, Maine, but her death certificate says her father was born in Newton, Mass.  The space for the informant’s name is blank.

I think the best way to figure out Asa’s parents would be to look at all census records for Fullers in Maine and Massachusetts in 1800 and eliminate those with no one in their household who could be Asa, then research the remaining families.  My mother and her sister have some interesting AncestryDNA matches with people who have Fuller ancestors, some of them from Maine, so I need to try that angle as well.  I believe there is only one living male descendant with the Fuller surname, and I have written to him to see if he would do a Y-DNA test but received no response.  I am very curious to know to which of the several Fuller families in early New England he belongs.

The Peace Family of Denby Dale, Yorkshire, England

My great-grandfather Vernon Linley Peace was born 2 Apr 1873 in Denby Dale, Yorkshire, England.  Though he left for America before he turned 20, his direct ancestors had generally stayed put, living in the West Riding of Yorkshire as far back as I have been able to research.  I have traced all of his lines back to at least 1750, and a few well into the 17th century.

Vernon’s ancestors are some of my favorites to work on.  The records for Yorkshire are rich and often easy to access even from the U.S., and the region’s culture and language are interesting, with the dialect retaining quite a few words from the Old Norse of the Vikings.


Portion of the West Riding in 1659.  Sheffield is in the lower right corner, Barnsley in the center right.  Denby is west of Barnsley by the paper fold and Cumberworth, where the Peaces were buried for a few hundred years, is a little northwest of it.  Shelley, where the earliest known Peace ancestor lived is just a little northeast of Cumberworth.  From the Fondo Antiguo de la Biblioteca de la Universidad de Sevilla via Wikimedia Commons.

The history of the West Riding is interwoven with the history of wool production, and the Peace family’s fortunes generally rose and fell with this industry.  At first a cottage industry, with many farmers keeping sheep and working on handlooms in their homes, production became increasingly mechanized and factory-based in the 19th century. Some in the Peace family became fairly large-scale manufacturers of fine yarns or fancy woolens at this time.  My fourth great uncle Aaron Peace exhibited his firm’s fabrics at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851.

Cousins of mine in Yorkshire still run the wool-spinning firm of Z. Hinchliffe and Sons Ltd.  Founder Zaccheus Hinchliffe (1835-1902) married Vernon’s aunt, Hannah Horton Peace, and their son James Peace Hinchliffe was knighted for his service to the British woolen industry.  Vernon himself worked as a “boss weaver” or woolen mill supervisor in New England throughout his adult life, probably having learned much of what he needed to know while growing up in Denby Dale with a father, Henry Horton Peace, who manufactured fancy worsteds.


Teeswater sheep produce lustrous, long staple wool and have been raised in northern England for centuries.  They were likely one of the breeds raised by some of the Peaces.  Photo by Paul Buckingham via Wikimedia Commons.

A Dictionary of Yorkshire Surnames by George Redmonds tells us that the name Peace is more common in Yorkshire than any other county, and that it first appeared in Ossett near Dewsbury in the 13th century, but that the modern spelling only began to appear in the late 15th.  The original meaning is unclear, but may relate to the Middle English word for a pea, pese.

The earliest Peace ancestor I can name is John Peace, born about 1640.  He and Alice Hepworth were married 20 May 1662 in the parish of Kirkburton.  (A researcher looking for this marriage could find images of the original parish record at, and of the Bishop’s Transcript or copy at  Both sites have extensive records for Yorkshire.)

John Peace was listed in the Hearth Tax roll of 1672 at Shelley, a village in the parish of Kirkburton.  “John Peace of Shelley” described himself as a yeoman in his will dated the “fifteenth day off December in the first yeare off the reigne off our Sofferine Lord and Ladye William and Mary kinge and queene over England and in the yeare of our Lord godd 1689.”  He mentioned his “loveing Wiffe” Alice and all of his living children by name.  The inventory includes two looms “in the chamber over the house” as well as wool and combs.

Peace, John 1690 Will RPWil1006161-page-2 (2)

The signature portion of John Peace’s will.  I obtained this beautiful color scan from the Borthwick Institute, which holds the vast majority of probate records for Yorkshire before 1858.  These are indexed on, with a handy link to the Borthwick order form.

John’s son William (1667-1729) married Elizabeth Dyson in the adjacent parish of Kirkheaton 18 Aug 1697.  Though their four previous children were baptized in the parish church of Kirkburton, their last was baptized at Cumberworth St. Nicholas, a chapel in the village of Upper Cumberworth which sits on the border between the parishes of Kirkburton and Emley.

A chapel had existed on this site since about 1255, so it is not the case that a new church in a more convenient location was built causing the switch.  It seems more likely that William and Elizabeth moved closer to Cumberworth in between the birth of Lydia in 1708 and Mary in 1710.  In any event, the majority of my Peace ancestors from 1710 forward were baptized, married and buried at Cumberworth.

Cumberworth St. Nicholas 2

Two generations after William another John Peace (1727-1772) was the only one in this line who did not follow a wool-related occupation.  John is listed as an Innholder in every record I have found, though I have not been able to figure out which inn he kept.  He was among those in Denby who were licensed to run an alehouse in 1771.


West Yorkshire Alehouse Licenses 1771-1962 found on

Every Peace from the innkeeper’s son James down to Vernon’s father Henry Horton Peace (1832-1902) was a  manufacturer of woolen cloth.  Henry was apparently doing  well in 1874, living at Inkerman House in Denby Dale.  He declared bankruptcy in 1887 however, and by 1891 was living apart from his wife.  I think the loss of the business and resulting (or underlying) family problems probably factored into Vernon’s decision to leave the country around this time.

Peace, Vernon Linley

Vernon Linley Peace in Vermont about 1925.





Slavery and Emancipation in Bergen County, New Jersey

Before I got started in family history I thought that with few exceptions only Southern  people had ever held slaves in colonial America, the United States and its territories.  Once I began reading their wills, I soon found that there were slaveholders among my colonial New Jersey Dutch ancestors.  I did not find any references to slaves in Post-Revolutionary wills, and at first assumed slavery did not persist into the Federal period in New Jersey, at least not among my people.  Surely they were better than that.

I now know that New Jersey was the last northeastern state to abolish slavery, that slaveholding was always disproportionately common there among those with Dutch ancestry, and that some of my direct Jersey Dutch ancestors held slaves as late as 1840.  New Jersey officially apologized for its role with regard to slavery in 2008.

The 1804 Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in New Jersey made abolition so gradual that 16 people remained enslaved there in 1865.  The law stated that people born to enslaved women after 4 Jul 1804 would be “free” except that they were required to work as indentured servants until adulthood, meaning to age 25 for males and 21 for females.  And that people born before that date would remain enslaved unless otherwise emancipated.


New Jersey in 1850.  Bergen County forms the most northeasterly corner.

The 1850 Federal Census Slave Schedules list 236 slaves remaining in New Jersey, down from over 12,000 in 1800, with 65 of these in Bergen County.  Though none of the 1850 slaveholders is a direct ancestor of mine, the majority are at least distant relatives, having the same surnames that appear repeatedly in my grandmother’s tree:  Ackerman, Blauvelt, Haring, Terhune, Vanderbeek, Westervelt.

Looking carefully at my ancestors’ 1830 and 1840 census records however, I now see several households with one or two slaves.  Some also contain “free colored persons,” though many of these may actually be indentured servants under the 1804 law.


Sample of the first page of the 1840 census, from New Barbadoes Township in Bergen County showing columns for free colored persons, from



Second page of the same census form showing columns for slaves, from

Unfortunately the 1790-1820 U.S. Federal Censuses for New Jersey are lost except for Cumberland County in 1800, so there are no decennial “snapshots” of  households available for those years.   The 1820 census form was the first with several columns for both slaves and free colored persons, broken out by age and gender, which would have been helpful to many researchers.

I first learned of latter day slaveholding in my family from an article in the Hackensack Republican of 20 Jul 1890, reprinted in 2007 in the newsletter of the Bergen County Historical Society.  Marginalia from Ancient Almanacs describes the events recorded by some of my Bogert ancestors in the margins of several almanacs between 1785 and 1840.

These events include births, marriages, deaths, relatives sailing for distant ports, and extreme weather.  (In the winter of 1820-1821 it was possible to cross between Jersey City and Manhattan on the frozen Hudson River.)  Many notes pertain to farm activities and household chores—”sowed buckwheat,” “left the red cow go dry,” “begun to mow hay,” “knitted our socks,” “made candles.”

Interspersed among these entries are records concerning the family’s slaves.  On 2 Oct 1796 my 5th great grandfather Casparus Bogert (1758-1826) noted that he had “Sold Susan.”  The 1804 law did not make buying and selling slaves illegal, and several later transactions are recorded, the last in 1818.   Mink, first mentioned in 1798, was sold in 1813 for $275, after he had been part of this household for at least 15 years.

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The Zabriskie Tenant House, from the website of the Bergen County Historical Society.  Unfortunately efforts to save the structure failed and an ugly McMansion now occupies the site.

I realized there must have been relatively recent slaveholding among my Zabriskie ancestors as well when I read of the effort to save the Zabriskie Tenant House in Paramus from demolition in 2012.  The Tenant House was built about 1786 by my ancestor Andrew Zabriskie (1728-1819) as a home for his son Christian.

By 1830 the Zabriskies had moved out and descendants of their slaves had moved in.  A small but vibrant African-American neighborhood known as Dunkerhook developed around this house, persisting into the 1930s.  Many people worked together to try to save the house, including descendants of both the Zabriskies and of Dunkerhook’s black residents, but unfortunately developers prevailed.

I need to do more research to document the lives of the people who were unfree members of my ancestors’ households, and to find out how those who finally obtained their freedom fared afterwards.

Zabriskie House

Jacob J. Zabriskie House, Paramus, New Jersey, from the Library of Congress website.



Rare Given Names from Aloysius to Zerubbabel

Genealogists often wish ancestral parents had been more adventurous in naming their children.  Did we really need another Bridget Walsh or John Clark to try to distinguish from all of their peers with the same name?

There is the occasional couple who did get creative, for example naming their children for continents—Africa, America, Asia, and Europe.  Some English Non-conformists and Puritans did choose obscure Biblical names, and this list would have at least a hundred of those if I had included them all.  The Puritans also invented quite a few names like Recompense and Hate-evil.

But many families simply recycled common names, often because they were following culturally determined naming patterns:  first daughter named for the mother’s mother, etc.  The result is that there are a lot of Johns and Marys across the board.  (Or, in my New Netherland branch, Jans and Marritjes.)

So, in honor of all the parents who helped their children to stand out in census and vital records, here are the most unusual and interesting given names in our tree.

Aloysius.  This is the only unusual name I have found among my father-in-law’s Irish relatives, and then only as a middle name.  If an Irish Catholic man has a middle initial F, it almost always turns out to stand for Francis.  A middle initial A often turns out to stand for Aloysius, after the Italian saint Aloysius Gonzaga (1568-1591).

Albreda.  This name evolved from Germanic root words meaning “elf counsel.”  My cousin Albreda Peace was born in 1868 in Yorkshire.

Archelaus.  From the Greek for “master of the people,” this name was popular among my Putnam ancestors who lived in Salem and Danvers, Massachusetts.  Several mythical and many historical figures have borne the name, and I am not sure why it was originally chosen by this family.  The only Archelaus in the Bible was the cruel and licentious son of Herod, so no one would use it for that reason.

Asenith or Asenath.  Meaning “devoted to the goddess Neith,” this was the name of Joseph’s Egyptian wife (Genesis 41:45).  It seems to have been most popular in the 19th century in the U.S., and I have seen it in both North and South.  My mother-in-law’s ancestor Asenith Fair Noble was born in 1810 in Georgia.

Azubah.  This Biblical name belonged to the wife of Caleb the son of Hezron (1 Chronicles 2:18).  Meaning “forsaken” in Hebrew, it was sometimes shortened to Zuba.  My ancestor Zuba Wickham was born about 1780 in probably Connecticut.

Buena Vista.  Buena Vista Jameson was born in Red River County, Texas 25 Feb 1847, two days after the Battle of Buena Vista, in which U. S. forces repulsed the Mexican army at Buena Vista in the state of Coahuila, Mexico.   She used the nickname Bunnie.

Cherry.  Not counting Neil Diamond’s “Cherry, Cherry,” I have only seen this girls’ name in my Maybury family of County Kerry, Ireland.

Deliverance.  A Puritan name for girls, with a nice nickname, Delie or Delia.  My probable ancestor Deliverance Gifford was born 1727 in Dartmouth, Massachusetts.

Dupuytren.  My ancestor Dupuytren Vermilye was the son of a Francophile physician, and was named for the French surgeon Guillaume Dupuytren (1777-1835).

Electa.  A girls’ name meaning “chosen,” most often seen in 18th and 19th century New England.

Elvie.  My aunt, named for her father’s initials, L. V.

Freelove.  A Puritan girls’ name referring to God’s love.

Junius.  Like Lucius, this boys’ name had a surge in popularity after the American Revolution, probably in reference to Lucius Junius Brutus who founded the Roman Republic.

Lafayette.  Another post-Revolutionary boys’ name, after the Marquis de Lafayette.  Sometimes shortened to Fayette.

Melangton.  From the last name of Lutheran reformer Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560).  My relative by marriage, Melangton Wetherwax, was born about 1837 in upstate New York.

Narah.  I have only seen this girls’ name in the West Riding of Yorkshire.  My ancestor Narah Horton was born in 1810 in Kirkheaton.

Orange.  Both a color and a fruit, this boys’ name could be revived by modern celebrities.  I see it most often in 19th century Vermont, and I don’t know what the significance is—could it have something to do with the House of Orange?

Osanne. French form of Hosanna, from the Hebrew for “deliver us.”  Osanne Planchet  was the mother of my ancestor Louise Faure who left France for Quebec before 1668.

Parmelia or Permelia.  Possibly an alteration of Pamela, I have seen this name in the 19th century in both the U.S. and England.

Paskey.  A girls’ name I have only seen in Yorkshire, probably derived from the Scandinavian Paske meaning Easter.  Heavy Viking settlement in Yorkshire influenced the language and vocabulary of the region.

Pleasant.  This boys’ name was fairly popular in the 19th century Southern U.S., but the only one in our tree is my mother-in-law’s ancestor, Georgia-born Baptist minister and Texas pioneer Pleasant Barnett Chandler.

Resolved.  A Puritan boys’ name, which became Resolveert in New Netherland.  My ancestor Resolved Waldron was born 1610 in Amsterdam to English parents.

Rheuby.  A girls’ name seen occasionally in the 19th century in both the Northern and Southern U.S.  Often misspelled Ruby or mistranscribed as Rhenby.  I am not sure of its origin or significance.  My Dad’s aunt was named Rheuby Mae Thurber.

Sazine.  Sazine Tillman was born 1852 in Mississippi and her parents may have invented this name.  She married John Collier Robertson whose diary was one of the four explored by historian Stephen V. Ash in his book A Year in the South: 1865.

Silence.  A Puritan name for girls.  There must have been more than one Silence who was a cranky baby or a loud person, which probably led to some jokes.  Sila is the typical nickname.  I have two direct ancestors named Silence.

Sophronia.  A feminine form of Sophronius, derived from the Greek sophron meaning  “prudent and sound-minded.”  Though this name is rare today, it was somewhat popular in the middle of the 19th century in the U.S.

Tamar.  Biblical girls’ name from the Hebrew for “palm tree,” more popular in England than in the U.S.  I have only seen it in my Yorkshire research.

Tedbar.  A very rare boys’ name found only in Yorkshire, probably a corruption of Theobald.

Tennessee.  You don’t see Northern girls named Massachusetts or Connecticut, but you do see Southern girls named Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas.  Most girls named Tennessee used the nickname Tenny.

Theodate.  A girls’ name meaning “God’s gift.”  My ancestor Theodate Batchelder was a daughter of the scandal-plagued and much-married minister Stephen Batchelder of colonial Hampton, New Hampshire.

Unity.  A girls’ virtue name.  Unity Croshaw is my mother-in-law’s ancestor who arrived in Virginia in 1608.

Vrouwtje.  This now obsolete Dutch name is just a diminutive of the word for woman, so it means something like “girl.”  I have two direct ancestors named Vrouwtje.

Zerubbabel. A Biblical name meaning “seed of Babylon.”  My ancestor Zerubbabel Kemp’s relative of the same name petitioned a Massachusetts court for a change—after 1816 he was known as Henry Kemp.


The Battle of Buena Vista by Adolphe Jean-Baptiste Bayot via Wikimedia Commons.



An Unlikely Texas Pioneer: Margaret Maria Tisdall (1813-1863)

Margaret Maria (Tisdall) Anderson is an ancestor of both my mother-in-law and her third cousin, Ross Perot.  Born into an affluent Anglo-Irish family, she is not the type of person you would expect to find listed as a music teacher in the 1850 U.S. census, let alone in a place like Red River County, Texas.  Yet there she is, with her husband, Presbyterian minister and school teacher John E. Anderson and their five children.  Also in the household is her younger brother William Henry Tisdall, age 33, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin who has left a wife and three children behind in Ireland.


Household of the Rev. John E. and Margaret (Tisdall) Anderson, in the 1850 U.S. census of Red River County, Texas found on

Margaret Maria was born 13 Oct 1813 at Rathcoole House in County Louth to Edward Tisdall and his wife Catherine Shiels.  Though the name is always spelled Tisdall in Ireland, I believe it must have been pronounced with a long “a,” because it is invariably spelled Tisdale in U.S. records for this family.

Obelisk at Drogheda

Obelisk marking the site of the Battle of the Boyne, Drogheda, County Louth, Ireland, from the Lawrence Collection of photographs at the National Library of Ireland, found on

The Tisdalls seemed to enjoy entertaining.  The Belfast Newsletter of 3 Sep 1833 reported that “Rathcoole House, in the county of Louth, the seat of Edward Tisdall, Esq. has been for some time the scene of much festivity and amusement. On Tuesday, the 27th ult., his family and a number of visitors from Dublin and elsewhere, at present enjoying his hospitality, were joined by a large party of the gentry of the surrounding neighborhood, the Officers of the 34th, quartered at Drogheda…”

Anderson-Tisdall 1834 Marriage Belfast News-Letter June 10

John Anderson and Margaret Maria Tisdall’s marriage was announced in the Belfast Newsletter of 1 Jun 1834.  They left for the United States soon afterwards, arriving in New York City 28 Jul 1834 on the ship Russell Baldwin.  According to family lore, Margaret’s father was originally extremely upset that she married a Presbyterian minister, but eventually forgave her, and shipped her piano to her in the U.S. before he died in 1838.

Rev. Anderson served several Presbyterian congregations before the family finally settled in Texas.  Their moves can be followed through the birthplaces of their children:  Catherine Shiels b. 1836 and Margaret b. 1842 in New Jersey; Thomas Tisdale Carrington b. 1845 in Virginia; Jane Martha b. 1847 in Arkansas; and John Edward b. 1849, in Clarksville, Red River County, Texas.

When we think of education in the old West, we usually imagine a one-room schoolhouse with a single teacher handling pupils of all ages, teaching the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.  In researching my mother-in-law’s many pioneer ancestors, I am often amazed at how quickly people founded fairly sophisticated educational institutions on the frontier.

The Clarksville Male Academy had been established in 1847, before the Andersons arrived in Red River County.  Rev. Anderson began teaching there in 1849.  He became Principal at some point in the early 1850s, and changed the name to the Clarksville Classical, Mathematical and Mercantile Academy.  In 1854 the school absorbed the local girls’ academy, becoming the Clarksville Male and Female Institute, with Margaret as Vice Principal as well as music teacher.

Anderson, John E. 1859 School Standard_1859-06-11_4

Advertisement appearing in the Clarksville Standard 11 Jun 1859 found on

Margaret taught music, piano and voice at the evolving school from at least 1850.  A newspaper report on the year-end exercises in 1858 said that the musical performances “were such as we have heard no where else in the State, and attest the high qualifications of Mrs. Anderson, the music instructor.”

Margaret died in Clarksville 2 Sep 1863.  Her long obituary describes her as an intelligent and refined woman who willingly gave up a life of relative ease, and as a “philosophical Christian” who “enjoyed the tranquil grandeur of a mind thoroughly imbued with natural and revealed religion.”

A Tragic (Love) Life: Lyndon Vassar Grover I (1873-1930)

I was shocked to learn of my great-grandfather’s third marriage and the subsequent divorce trial, though I have had a copy of the letter he wrote on his deathbed for years and it did seem to point to some personal disaster.  He wrote:  “But my great mistake is marrying that low, coarse woman—I do not want her at my funeral, or to have her buried with me.  There seems to be no legal way that she cannot claim one-third of what little I have left.”  If the 17 day trial with the courtroom full of gossiping spectators weren’t embarrassing enough, tabloid-style newspaper stories about the whole affair also appeared all over the country.

Lyndon Vassar Grover was born 19 Jan 1873 to Lynn, Massachusetts shoe manufacturer James J. Grover and his wife Ann Mary Brown.  I believe his middle name was a tribute to Baptist missionary John Ellison Vassar (1813-1878).

Grover, Lyndon Vassar I 3

In 1896 he married Louie Garvin Perkins, the daughter of a shoe factory foreman.  Sadly she died just over a year later of phthisis, meaning tuberculosis or a similar lung disease.

In 1898 he married Grace Mabel Fuller (1878-1945).  She was the daughter of New London, Connecticut newspaper dealer Charles Putnam Fuller and his (by then) estranged wife Agnes Delia Saunders who lived in Lynn, Massachusetts and worked in a shoe factory.  It is likely that Agnes worked at the J. J. Grover’s Sons Shoe Company, and that that is how her daughter met Lyndon.

Grover, Grace Mabel Fuller (3)

Grace Mabel Fuller.

This couple had four children: Dorothy Enid (b. 1899), Marjorie Putnam (b. 1900), Elizabeth West (b. 1903) and Lyndon Vassar II (b. 1906).  (Dorothy would become a noted packaging designer and artist under her married name, Enid Edson.  Among other accomplishments she designed the original packaging for Old Spice toiletries.)

Lyndon and Grace’s marriage ended in divorce sometime between 1915, when they were listed together in Lynn, Massachusetts directories, and 1919, when he married “that low, coarse woman,” divorcée Eleanor Cleveland.  By 1920 Grace had moved to Los Angeles alone, where she lived the remainder of her life.

Eleanor Cleveland was born Minetta Eleanor Rietz in Wisconsin in 1873.  She had two daughters—Dorothy (b. 1902) and Phyllis (b. 1904)—with her ex-husband, Alfred Edward Cleveland (1871-1933). The 1920 census lists the blended family and two servants living at 36 Kings Beach Road in Lynn.

4301090-00748 (1)

1920 US Census of Lynn, Massachusetts found on

Trouble entered their home in 1923 in the form of an extreme ladies’ man who styled himself Count or Viscount Paul Anatole Leon Montefiore, or Count Monte for short.  He claimed to be a wealthy French nobleman who had invented a way for airplanes to take off vertically, which had put him in line for the Nobel Prize.  He told “stretchers” to the point that people would have to be fairly gullible to believe half of what he said.

In reality he was Nicholas Wiseman, a married man who had quit supporting his wife and child as a clerk in a Boston shoe store in order to gad about with women and con people.  After the Grover drama, Nicholas “Count Monte” Wiseman was jailed for non-support.

It is hard to sort out exactly what happened from the various reports, and it is somewhat of a “he said, she said” case.  It appears that Monte first ingratiated himself to the family by seeming to court Eleanor’s daughter Dorothy Cleveland, but that Eleanor also became infatuated with him and may have had a relationship with him.  At some point Lyndon suspected this and hired detectives who confirmed his suspicions.  It also seems likely that Monte had accomplices who more than once stole money and valuables from the Grover home.

Lyndon’s divorce suit was unsuccessful and Eleanor was awarded separate support in 1926.  He was ordered to pay her the equivalent of about $55,000 a year in today’s money and quickly sold the house at 36 Kings Beach Road.  (It’s likely he was also still paying alimony to Grace.)  He died in 1930 after writing his letter, which also said “I do not regret an early death.”

Grover, Lyndon Vassar 1926 Estate Sold Boston Herald 14 Mar

Article from the 14 Mar 1926 Boston Herald found on

Irish Gaelic Speakers in Mayo, Ireland and Scranton, Pennsylvania

At first it did not occur to me that my father-in-law’s immigrant ancestors would have spoken any language besides English-with-an-Irish-accent.  Looking at his relatives’ 1901 and 1911 Census of Ireland returns, I realized they were probably all bilingual.

Both census forms contained a column asking whether the people enumerated spoke Irish or else spoke both Irish and English.  The space was to be left blank for people who could not speak Irish.  The completed forms for my father-in-law’s relatives who had remained in Ireland indicated that all excepting some in the youngest generation spoke both Irish and English.

In the 1920s the Irish Free State defined the Gaeltacht—the districts in which Irish Gaelic was the predominant language spoken in the home.  In 1926 these areas were still quite large and included a good portion of County Mayo as shown on the map below.


The Gaeltacht in 1926.  By at English Wikipedia.

The British government had strongly discouraged the use of Irish in the National Schools and elsewhere during the 19th century, but people’s interest and pride in Gaelic language and culture grew along with nationalism at the same time.  The Irish in America felt the same interest and pride, and were probably also afraid of losing touch with their heritage.  Around 1900 many Gaelic Clubs formed in American cities with large Irish communities, primarily for the study of the Irish language.

Although a club meeting weekly in West Scranton had already been organized, another similar club with just under 200 members formed in Scranton in 1904.  From newspaper accounts it seems to have appealed to many young people.  The first meeting was held November 2 and consisted of scholarly lectures and speeches.  My husband’s third great uncle, Dr. William Henry McGreevy, was one of the speakers.  The group planned to meet every Monday and Thursday night, which seems very ambitious.


Article from the Scranton Truth 2 Nov 1904 found on

In December of 1905 the Scranton Truth reported that members “will continue the study of the language with unabated zeal.”  They were learning to translate Irish texts into English, and also to use the language in conversation.  In 1906 the club was extremely pleased to get Dr. Douglas Hyde (1860-1949) to lecture.  Hyde was a leading scholar of Irish language and literature, and was president of the Gaelic League, an organization promoting Irish language and culture.


Dr. Douglas Hyde.

The Willis Family of Ardnacally, Big Park, Parish of Robeen, County Mayo, Ireland

Willis is a patronymic English surname from the personal name Will and is fairly common in England and the United States.  Knowing that my father-in-law Bernard John Willis’s ancestors were all from Ireland and probably all from County Mayo, I was glad to learn that the name is rare in Ireland except in the north where there was heavier English settlement.

Willis in Mayo 2

Map with the blue spots showing the areas where Willises occupied land in Mayo in 1856, and with the townland of Arnacally marked.  I was able to make this map on the website of the Mayo County Library.

It was fairly easy to figure out where the Willises were from.  The Pennsylvania death certificate for my husband’s immigrant ancestor Richard Willis (1861-1911) gave his parents as William Willis and Mary Naughton.  Though Richard was born several years before Irish Civil Registration began in 1864, I was able to find the births of five younger siblings on  twins Michael and Patrick (1864), Susan (1869), Mary (1870) and Margaret (1875).  All of these children were born within the Hollymount Registrar’s District in southern County Mayo.  I would eventually learn that besides Richard this couple had four other children born before 1864:  John (1854), Rose (1856), William (1859), and Thomas (1862).

Connemara Pony

A Connemara pony we saw on our 2013 trip to Mayo.

I then wrote a letter to a gentleman surnamed Willis who was listed on the web as a breeder of Connemara ponies in the Hollymount area.  Unfortunately he had passed away, but his eldest daughter answered my letter.  It turned out that she was my husband’s 4th cousin and had been researching the family for years.  We started to work together, trading information and figuring things out.  We have been doing this for several years now and have made great progress.  Besides her original research, she has a wealth of local knowledge and passed-down stories.

Willis, Robeen Graveyard List

Willises buried in the Robeen graveyard, which we were able to visit in 2013.

The Hollymount area falls within the Roman Catholic parish of Kilcommon and Robeen.  Unfortunately the records for this parish do not begin until 1857, so no marriage record survives for William Willis (c. 1830-1877) and Mary Naughton (c. 1830-1890) who probably married about 1853.  Their firstborn John married Bridget Conroy in 1880, and this family left for Youngstown, Ohio in 1892.  Conroy relatives were already established there, working in the steel mills.  John was still working in a steel mill as of the 1910 census, but by 1920 was a watchman for the Erie Railroad.

Conroy, Thomas Youngstown Steel Mill

Youngstown, Ohio Irish steel mill workers (including a Conroy) from the website of the Center for Working Class Studies at Youngstown State University.

My husband’s ancestor Richard and his older brother William went to Scranton, Pennsylvania where coal mining jobs were plentiful, though Richard had established himself as a grocer before he married in 1887.  The rest of William and Mary’s children remained in Mayo.

When asked to name their residence, this family did not usually give their townland (Ardnacally) but instead said they lived at “Big Park” which was a property encompassing the adjacent townlands of Ardnacally and Cashel.  William’s first cousin Richard lived on the Cashel side of Big Park, farming and running a pub which still exists today though it has passed from Willis ownership.  My Willis research collaborator is descended from these publicans.


Ballinrobe today.  (Fetler at English Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons)

We can trace this Willis family back two more generations to a William (c. 1763-1838) and Margaret (_____) Willis (c. 1765-1845).  Some of their descendants did very well as landholders and as shopkeepers in the towns of Hollymount and Ballinrobe.  Besides Youngstown and Scranton, some of their descendants left for Boston, Chicago and other places, including one for New Zealand, with Chicago and Youngstown being the most popular destinations for this family.

Willis-Tillman Wedding 2 (2)

My father-in-law and mother-in-law after their wedding in 1950.

The origin of this family in Ireland is a mystery, but it is likely that a Willis man or family came to Ireland from England in the 17th century, possibly under Cromwell, though any association with Cromwell would not have pleased my late father-in-law.  I don’t know how many of the sprinklings of Willises found here and there in Ireland in the 19th century were related to my husband’s family, but his Y-DNA has matched one other Willis gentleman on 66 of 67 markers.  This means there is a 99% probability they share a common paternal ancestor within 8 generations.  This other man descends from a Christopher Willis who left Ireland for Hardin County, Ohio about 1850.  One record indicates that Christopher was from Dublin, though his wife was from County Kerry.

Willis, Thomas 1890

Memorial in the Robeen graveyard for Thomas Willis (1847-1890) who died and is buried in Chicago.


Robert McCarthy (1812-1870): Harbour Master of Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland

Researching Robert McCarthy of Tralee has been  difficult because of the loss of so many Irish records and because County Kerry has so many McCarthy families, though thankfully few McCarthy men were named Robert.  I know he was born about 1812, probably in the Tralee area.  He must have married Elizabeth Neil about 1840, though I have found no record.  This couple had six children that I know of.


Blennerville windmill, Tralee.  By Jerzy Strzelecki (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Elizabeth was born about 1841, and was described as Robert’s “eldest daughter” in the newspaper announcement of her 1864 marriage to John Chard of the Irish Coast Guard.  They were married in a Church of Ireland ceremony at St. Anna’s in Blennerville, and  the McCarthys seem to have been Protestant.

Like most men of the Coast Guard, John was already an experienced sailor before he joined.  He had served several years in the British Navy, including a long stint on HMS Encounter during the Second Opium War (1856-1860).   I was surprised to find him in the 1861 Census of England and Wales, enumerated as a seaman aboard Encounter anchored at Yokohama, Japan.  His Coast Guard career was cut short by his death at age 36 in 1873.  Elizabeth then married John Watson of the Royal Irish Constabulary.


A second daughter, Anna, was born about 1846.  She was named administratrix of her mother’s estate in 1881, and died unmarried in 1886.

Their third child Joseph was born in 1848 and is the only one for whom I can find a baptism.  This record gives Blennerville as the family’s address and Robert’s job as Lock-Keeper of the Tralee Canal.

McCarthy, Joseph 1848 Baptism (2)

The canal was built to enable larger ships to sail directly to the town of Tralee.  It was completed in 1846, so Robert could not have had the job for more than two years when Joseph was born, and I am not sure what he did before this.  The family lived in the three-room home that was built for the lock-keeper, the ruins of which are standing today.

Tralee Canal Lock Keeper's Lodge 5

Robert and Elizabeth’s fourth child Mary Jane was born about 1850 and was my father’s great-grandmother.  She married Killarney forester and land steward George Maybury at St. Anna’s in Blennerville in 1871.  Like many other natives of County Kerry, this couple emigrated to Quebec, arriving in Montreal in 1874.

Their fifth child Harriet was born about 1854 and also went to Montreal in 1874.  She married a Scotsman named Alexander Mitchell in Ontario, Canada in 1882.  Harriet’s marriage record is the only document I have found that provides Robert’s wife’s maiden name, so I continue to search for more evidence as to her identity.

Their last child, Robert, was born about 1858 and served as Harbour Master after his older brother Joseph, who took the post between their “universally respected” father’s death in 1870 and his own early death in 1880.  Robert II was still serving in the post as of the 1911 census.

McCarthy, Joseph 1870 Harbour Master Tralee Chronicle 15 Nov

Announcement of Joseph McCarthy’s appointment as Harbour Master, from the 15 Nov 1870 Tralee Chronicle, found on

Records of Ireland’s Valuation Office show that Robert I was still living in the lock-keeper’s house in 1849 and 1852.  By 1853 he began to be listed as Harbour Master on complaints heard in the Petty Sessions Court, searchable at Findmypast.  Mainly he reported “riotous and disorderly” people who disturbed the peace in the harbor area, but sometimes he issued complaints against people who created unsafe conditions in the harbor with bad seamanship or disobedience to his orders.

I hope to uncover more about Robert’s earlier life and to determine something about his parents.  My Dad’s autosomal DNA does match people with McCarthy and Neil ancestors from Tralee.