- Posts for Family History Friday category
52 Ancestors, Week 3: Favorite Photo

This is another post for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks where you’ll recognize what I’m talking about if you’ve been here in the past. My favorite photo is the one that really started my genealogy journey, the July 4th picnic in Middleborough, Massachusetts between the Blake and Vaughan families.

Blake Family Picnic | Our Prairie Nest

The people in this photograph are my great-grandmother, Nina Blake, crouching on the ground, and Sylvanus Franklin Vaughan, lounging next to her with a fan. Sitting on the left is “Pa Vaughan” and “Ma Vaughan” is standing to his right. The woman next to her is my great-great grandmother, Ada Estella Gay, and the man sitting on the right is my great-great grandfather, Edward Henry Blake.

I don’t know what year it was, but it would have to be 1896, because “Pa Vaughan” passed away 17 June 1897. That would make my great-grandmother 4-years-old, about to turn 5 in a few days, which is younger than I first guessed her age in this picture.

I think my great-grandmother looks so pretty here, and I love everything about this photograph. I’ve had it on display in my house for many years. When I first saw it, I was about 12-years-old and my grandmother showed me a crumbling old leather wallet full of Blake family documents. She let me keep the wallet when I was an adult, and the documents in it helped me begin my genealogical journey in earnest, starting with the Blake family.

“Pa Vaughan” and “Ma Vaughan” are Sylvanus H. Vaughan and Eleanor Rodman Walker. The man on the ground is their son, Sylvanus Franklin Vaughan, who would be 19 going on 20-years-old in this photo, since he was born 23 August 1876 in Middleborough. The elder Sylvanus died in 1897, as I mentioned, and was born about 1827. Eleanor was born 11 July 1853 in Boston and passed away 16 June 1909 in Middleborough. The younger Sylvanus eventually became Nina’s brother-in-law when he married Bessie Bartlett Shaw on 19 June 1899.

My great-great grandmother, Ada Estella (Gay) Blake was born 21 April 1861 in Thompson, Connecticut. Edward Henry Blake was born 2 August 1856 in Wrentham, Massachusetts, though for some reason I have never been able to locate a birth record for him. It’s one of those things I’ve always wondered, if his birth was simply never reported, or if there was something else happening there, such as an NPE. However, our Blake lineage is confirmed with DNA.

Ada and Edward were married 20 October 1890 in Southbridge, Massachusetts, and had two children – Nina on 10 July 1891 and Edwin on 20 October 1900. Nina married Harrison Clifford Shaw on 28 January 1912, thus making her Sylvanus Franklin Vaughan’s sister-in-law.

The entire aesthetic of this photo is just lovely. The adults are a little too “posed” and formal in it, but I like how Nina and Sylvanus are on the ground, she looking demure and he looking relaxed. I’m sure 4-year-old Nina would rather be running around on a summer day like this one, but this picture reminds me of my own adorable daughter and some of the attitudes I’ve managed to photograph her in when we least expected it. The July 4th picnic will always have a special place in my heart.

Great-Grandparents: Wood-Wood | Our Prairie Nest
Great-Grandparents: The Wood-Wood Side

After almost 30 years of pursuing genealogy and family history, I’ve had to make many revisions. This is the result of both traditional research and NPEs identified through DNA testing. I thought I would review five or six generations of my ancestors and discuss what has changed and what I’ve learned as a result.

My parents, sister, and I are all from Plymouth County, Massachusetts. All four of my grandparents were born in Plymouth County. When we get to my great-grandparents, things branch out a little bit, though still remain in New England other than one recently-discovered great-grandfather who was born in Italy. So let’s start looking at my family with this generation! After this, I’ll share a series of posts looking both my ex-husband’s and husband’s ancestors, as well.

Lewis Preston Wood & Ruth Evelyn Wood

I knew my paternal great-grandparents, but since my great-grandpa Wood passed away when I was only 6 and my great-grandma Wood developed dementia before I was a teenager, I didn’t have as much time with them as I would have liked. As I grew up, I learned more about them, but I wish I could have gotten stories from them.

Wood Family of Blue Hill, Maine

Lewis was born 15 February 1892 in Boston. His parents were Lemuel Augustus Wood and Georgianna Winsor. Lemuel was the son of Benjamin Stone Wood and Susanna Whitmore, of Blue Hill, Maine. We descend from Joseph Wood, one of the founders of Blue Hill. My father didn’t have sons to pass down the Wood name, but he has many paternal male cousins. I’m currently working on deeper research into our gateway ancestor, Anthony Wood, who came from England to Ipswich, Essex County, Massachusetts before 1668.

William Winsor of Duxbury, Massachusetts & Port Angeles, Washington

Georgianna was the daughter of William W. Winsor and Elizabeth Ann Church Simmons. William was from the Winsor family in Duxbury, Massachusetts, while Elizabeth comes from the Simmons family of Little Compton, Rhode Island. The Simmons family of Rhode Island is easy to trace back to the 1600s, as are the other Rhode Island and Massachusetts families that married into it over the years.

I’ve been particularly fascinated with William and his mother for a while. William left his wife and three daughters sometime before 1860 and was one of the first settlers of Port Angeles, Washington with Rufus Holmes, another native of Duxbury. Rufus returned to Massachusetts, but William remained in the Pacific Northwest, meandering between Washington and Victoria, British Columbia. I don’t know where he disappeared to after 1867, when he was mentioned in a court case for debt collection that was filed against him in Jefferson County, Washington. I hope to obtain the documents from that case to learn more about him.

Howett Family of Tyrrell County, North Carolina

Meanwhile, William’s mother was Martha “Patsy” Howett and learning about her several years ago opened up an unexpected area of research for me. At the time, I didn’t know I had southern ancestors – as far as I knew, I was “all Yankee” with some Italian in there.

I soon learned that Martha was born in Tyrrell County, North Carolina. The deeper I dug, the more I learned about her old tidewater-area ancestry in Tyrrell and Perquimans Counties. Her mother was Lydia Sanderson, a granddaughter of Major Richard Sanderson, who possessed a considerable estate.

Martha’s father, Richard Howett, had at least 19 people enslaved at one point, and trying to discover both the history of their plantation and what became of those people has become an important project for me. Researching southern ancestors is, of course, very different than researching New England families. There are fewer vital records and we need to rely more on land transactions and probate files. Trying to bridge the gap between people who were enslaved in the early to mid-1800s and the years after Emancipation is a new challenge that I’m attempting to navigate.

Wood Family of Manchester, England

My great-grandmother, Ruth Evelyn Wood, was born 39 July 1898 in Pawtucket, Providence, Rhode Island. No, she and my great-grandfather (her husband) were not related. Her parents were John William Wood and Lulu Gertrude Lyman. Ruth’s father came to Willimantic, Connecticut with his parents, Thomas Wood and Sarah Ann Gray. They had lived in the Ancoats district of Manchester, England before emigrating to the United States.

Such common English names have posed research challenges for me, of course. One of the first records I ever requested from England was the marriage of Thomas and Sarah, which named their fathers. But, more than that, it gave me occupations for the fathers. You don’t realize how important knowing an occupation is until you’re trying to figure out which Thomas Wood and which John Wood and which William Gray you should be looking at in British censuses! It truly helps to have that additional identifier when you’re working with these kinds of names.

Thomas Wood’s parents were John Wood and Ann Siddall. Sarah Ann Gray’s parents were William Gray and Ann Jane Mason. Researching Thomas’s siblings has been difficult, however I’ve had no problem finding Sarah’s siblings, their marriages, their children, and even their grandchildren! Most remained in England, however at least one came to the United States and has living children here. We aren’t closely related – these are 3rd cousins, twice removed living in both the United States and England – but I may reach out to them and say hello, and see if we can connect.

Lyman and Barrows of Tolland County, Connecticut

On my great-grandmother’s mother’s side, we return to old New England families. The Lyman, Chapman, Barrows, and Gurley families of Tolland County, with some connections to Windham County, as well, go back to the early days of Connecticut. My great-grandmother’s mother, Lulu, had an interesting upbringing. Lulu’s parents were William C. Lyman and Martha M. Barrows. William served in the Civil War and then was part of the GAR. The family lived in New York City in 1870 and Kansas in 1880, before returning to Connecticut.

From what I understand, these moves had to do with their son, Frank, who was deaf. This allowed him to attend special schools, but I’m sure there is more to learn about Frank than I have ever delved into. He died in 1892, only 25-years-old, and I wonder if this was just bad luck or if he had other health challenges.

Lulu’s only other sibling was her sister, Bertha, who married Clifford Alpaugh on 27 May 1902. Bertha and Clifford never had children and are buried with Clifford’s parents in Windham, Connecticut.

As you can see, my paternal side has a few questions I would like to answer and people whose lives I would like to learn more about, if possible. The only thing about my Wood side that has changed from the paper trail is a cousin discovery that, unfortunately, no one seems ready to discuss. I hold out hope that, maybe someday, that DNA discovery is something the people involved will be able to reconcile in a healthy way.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Favorite Find | Our Prairie Nest
52 Ancestors, Week 2: Favorite Find

If you’ve visited my blog in the past, you already know my favorite find. It was a receipt for the purchase of a burial site, and it broke my 26-year brick wall wide open!

Ever since I was 18, I’d been trying to find the place and date of birth of my great-great grandmother, Emma Anna Murphy, wife of Erastus Bartlett Shaw. All the records we had, from her 1888 marriage to my great-great grandfather to her 1945 death certificate and obituary, offered conflicting ages and places, from Nova Scotia to Maine to Massachusetts. I couldn’t find her in the 1870 or 1880 U.S. Censuses, or the 1881 Canadian Census. A fellow geneablogger provided me with the 1871 Canadian Census for Manchester, Guysborough, Nova Scotia listing an Emma Murphy. She was the right age to fit, but how could I possibly be sure she was the correct person?

After several years of flailing in every direction, I finally got a hit on a person who appeared to share the same parents – a Margaret Murphy who had died in Boston in 1890. Some more digging also gave me a Margaret Murphy the right age in Manchester, Guysborough, Nova Scotia to be the one who died in Boston. But I was stuck again, not sure where to look.

It was time for another set of eyes to review my research and give me some direction. I booked a consultation with a genealogist at the New England Historic Genealogical Society and was scheduled for a call with Melanie McComb. Prior to the call, she reviewed my timeline and analyzed the records I’d already located. During the call, she went over her recommendations and followed-up by sending me a detailed list of the work she’d done, and where she suggested I go to follow up.

I returned to Margaret Murphy and Melanie’s suggestions for her: follow up on her burial and any probate that might have been filed for her. The death register in Boston didn’t list a place of burial, but the Undertaker’s Return did – Calvary Cemetery in Boston. I emailed a request to the Catholic Cemetery Association and, two days before my birthday in December of 2019, received the best birthday gift a 45-year-old genealogist could want: proof that Emma Anna Murphy had a connection with Margaret Murphy.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Favorite Find | Our Prairie Nest
Receipt for the purchase of a plot in Calvary Cemetery, Boston, by Emma A. Shaw for Margaret Murphy.

When I received the receipt, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I even woke my poor husband up from a sound sleep by squealing with excitement and shaking him. How could I not?

That one little handwritten slip of paper then led me to pursue Margaret Murphy’s probate file, which turned out to be the genealogical smoking gun that proved Emma Anna Murphy was, indeed, the Emma Murphy found in Manchester, Guysborough, Nova Scotia. Twenty-six years after I’d begun my genealogical journey, my most troublesome brick wall came tumbling down because of this find.

Genealogy Goals: 2022 Edition | Our Prairie Nest
Genealogy Goals – 2022 Edition

It’s that time of year when I back up all my files and determine what genealogy questions I’ll focus on over the next year.

First, let’s take care of backing up those files… Ah, yes, it feels good to get that out of the way. I’m a little late with both the backup process and this post, but here we go!

I had to really sit and think about what I intend to accomplish in 2022 and it’s kind of nebulous. Maybe because I spent my back to back 4-day holiday weekends wrapping up 2021 tasks, relaxing in front of the fire with copious amounts of tea, and playing a lot of Minecraft. A lot of it, because a friend set up a Cave Factory server and… well, you know how that goes.

So here are my genealogy goals for 2022:

Research Papers

Let’s start with my non-SMART Goals. I’m working on a couple of research papers and not sure if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew or what. They are taking me back to the 1500s and, um, that’s quite an undertaking. These aren’t necessarily for publication, though I have already formatted them in such a way that they have that potential if I ever reach my objective. I don’t believe these two goals are reachable within the year, but smaller aspects of them are more than doable.

One paper is on my distant paternal ancestor, Anthony Wood. Who was he? Where did he come from before emigrating to Essex County, Massachusetts Bay Colony? Is this even a question I can answer? I don’t know, but I’d like to try. Unfortunately, while my father graciously consented to an Ancestry DNA test, he would not provide me with a Family Tree DNA test to work with when I asked, so I have to rely on observing others’ Y-DNA from afar, while working on digging up documentary evidence. I hope that maybe one of my male Wood cousins will test their Y-DNA, but this remains a long shot as one of them just tested at Ancestry and uncovered an NPE that I’ve been aware of for the past 2 or 3 years, and have had to keep to myself. Well, cat’s out of the bag now and I really hope he is able to approach it in a positive way! But that’s neither here nor there.

The other paper is one I want to keep close to my vest. It’s on a Mayflower-adjacent family, the immigrant ancestor of which has hotly-disputed origins. I’m sure others are working on figuring out his origins, and I just happen to be looking at what I think is an unexplored theory. On to the specific goals!

Family History

I would really like to write up at least enough of a family history for my children to understand my life, and the lives of their grandparents, and great-grandparents. Last year, I started a file and gave my little book a name. It has a bunch of disjointed information laid out in it and needs to be added to, polished, and edited. It would be nice to have something in case the kids ask questions or, imagine this, grandchildren come along.

My son turned 19 in December 2021 and my daughter turned 9 after New Year’s. As I joked with my husband, grandchildren are the next inevitable phase. But I don’t want future generations to have to ask the same questions I did to learn about my family. Instead, I want to give them a narrative overview of the lives of the people I’ve known in our families, and open up other avenues of exploration for them. My children will inherit my work someday. I want to pass down more than names, places, and dates to them. Goodness knows I wish I could still ask all my grandparents and great-grandparents questions, so I’d like to give future generations of my family at least some of those answers.

Brick Walls & Research Questions

Oh gosh, who is waiting for me to find them out there? Which questions remain unresolved? Anything I mentioned on my blog last year, for sure. I didn’t make as many discoveries in 2020 or 2021, however I feel like I was better at finding information and getting it out there. While I didn’t blog as much, I stepped up the attention I pay to WikiTree because the collaborative nature of the site may mean someone will come across one of my brick walls or questions and have the answer I seek. Likewise, maybe I’ve put something out there that will help someone else in their research.

Of the list of questions I currently have, I would like to focus on the following:

Who was the first husband (known only as Mr. Regan) of my great-great grandmother, Emma Anna Wallace/Murphy (1861 – 1945)? When were they married? How did their marriage end (death or divorce)?

What became of Emma’s mother, Elizabeth Murphy (1838 – aft 1861)?

What was the maiden name of Esther, wife of Edward Curtis (circa 1747 – 1840)? DNA may help resolve this question.

Who was the father of John Goodwin Hawksley (1810 – 1893)? DNA may also answer this question. I have a hypothesis to work with on this one.

Who were the parents of Maria Ursula Taescher (circa 1853 – 1930), born in Switzerland and died in Oregon, United States? I have her father’s name as “John” based on her death certificate, so her father is possibly Johann. But that’s all I have to go on at this time.

Now that I’ve done this, I need to sit down with my list and write out next steps. Wish me luck!