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52 Ancestors - Worship | Our Prairie Nest
52 Ancestors, Week 10: Worship

This week’s topic is going to be a little all over the place for me, because religion may have played a major role in the lives of my distant ancestors, but I have few stories to tell. My father is somewhere between Atheist and Agnostic, so I grew up without any knowledge of religion until I was in fourth grade and became fascinated by various ancient pantheons of deities.

By the time I was 13, I’d told my father I wanted to be a Witch. Maybe the diverse people I had in my life – a Wiccan babysitter and my dad’s astrology-loving girlfriend when I was younger – had a part in that, as well. My dad never explained church or Christianity to me, because we never attended. But, ever the hippie, my dad responded to my desire to be a Witch by giving me a book by Scott Cunningham, along with some candles and incense, and I’ve never looked back.

For personal interest, I’ve learned about Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, but to this day my spiritual path is still Pagan. My mtDNA has me pondering my Jewish lineage about which I knew – and still know – nothing, until DNA gave me some hints. I do, however, have a couple of stories on my mother’s mother’s family to share when it comes to worship.

Catholic… Except not anymore

My Italian ancestors were, of course, Catholic (which makes me think my maternal ancestors may have possibly fallen more into the Crypto-Jew side of things, and perhaps found a way to hide their beliefs or integrate them with Catholicism somewhere in the transition from Spain to Portugal to Italy). Five of my great-great grandparents’ eight children were born in Massachusetts.

According to the story told by my great-grand aunt Espezzia, her baptism caused a little bit of a stir for the family. After the priest baptized Espezzia, my great-great grandfather gave him everything he had on him to pay. However, he wasn’t able to pay in full at the time. He told the priest he would bring the rest of the money later.

The next Sunday, the priest announced to the congregation that he had done a baptism for which he hadn’t gotten paid. My great-great grandfather paid the balance after that and said they would never return to the church. “And they did not,” according to the family history my aunt Espezzia recorded. Sometime later – whether it was months or years, I don’t know – they started attending the local Methodist church with a family friend.

A bishop… Except not a bishop

Another family story shared in that same history was that my great-great grandmother had an uncle who was a bishop. Well, I looked and looked, and found nothing on either side of her family as far as uncles involved in the church. Perhaps there is one out there, because I’m still researching my 3rd and 4th great-grandparents in northern Italy.

However, there was a nephew who was a Catholic theologian. Ernesta’s older half-brother, Bartolomeo Spiazzi (1865 – aft. 1925), married Anna Costa on 30 Jan 1910 in Moneglia, Genova, Liguria, Italy, and had two sons: Enrico Giacomo Attilio (born 1920) and Aurelio Giovanni Emmanuele (8 Jan 1918 to 14 Oct 2002). Aurelio changed his name to Raimondo Spiazzi, perhaps upon his ordination in 1944 (I’m not sure how Catholic priest naming works). Raimondo taught religion and published many treatises on his beliefs. He was a theological advisor to Pope Pius XII from 1954 until the pope died in October of 1958.

Our family doesn’t know much about Raimondo or his life, but it’s clear from the information out there that his work was controversial, and that he was deeply devoted to it.

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!

Wallace Family of Nova Scotia | Our Prairie Nest
The Wallace family of Halifax, Nova Scotia

In confirming my great-great grandmother’s paternity, I found myself digging deeper into her father’s family. It’s time to meet the Wallace family of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Emma’s father was Francis Wallace. It seems more and more likely that he didn’t marry Emma’s mother, Eliza (Elizabeth) Murphy. Francis was the son of James Wallace and Rebecca Elizabeth Smith. He is found in Hutchinson’s Nova Scotia directory for 1866-67 in Port Mulgrave as “Wallace, France – clerk.” He died 16 February 1892 in Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, United States. His probate was administered publicly, and the file doesn’t mention any property or relatives.

Francis came from a family that seemed otherwise respectable and well-to-do in Halifax. One story that Emma passed down to her grandchildren was that her family “owned ships.” That’s certainly possible, however the paper trail and DNA evidence that have led us to the Wallace family tell a slightly different story.

Francis’ brother, Vincent Wallace, was a customs agent in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He didn’t own ships, but he was tied to the shipping industry by his work. Vincent was born 19 Jul 1835 in Halifax and died rather young on 27 November 1878 in Port Mulgrave, Guysborough, Nova Scotia, Canada. He and his wife, Margaret Mahoney (m. 3 Feb 1864 in Guysborough) had 3 children: Clara E. (b 1865), Howard Sylvester (b. 6 Oct 1866), and Eugenie (b. Jan 1864, m. 2 Jun 1897 to John S. McDonald in Halifax, witnessed by Catherine Wallace).

Descendants from Vincent are among mine and my father’s DNA matches. Francis had other siblings as well, and I don’t know yet if they were tied to the shipping industry, or what his father did for a living. This is a family I’m still newly researching and I hope to learn more about them.

Finding NPEs among my family – first for my maternal grandfather’s father and then for Emma (my father’s great-grandmother) – has changed much of what I learned about my family tree when I was a teenager. As always, traditional, paper trail research is the best way to start. Genetic genealogy can provide confirmation or a different/unexpected path to research, and works well to enhance what you already know… or to lead you elsewhere!

Genealogy Goals for 2021 | Our Prairie Nest
Genealogy Goals in 2021

It’s time to decide what my genealogy goals are in the new year. This is more difficult than previous years, because I had the same goal from year to year. Ever since I broke through my nearest brick wall, I spent 2020 a little “scattered,” for lack of a better term. However, I did make excellent progress with my maternal Italian ancestors and correcting a family story that stated my great-great grandmother had an uncle who was a bishop (2020 correction: she had a nephew who was a theologian and advisor to a pope).

So it’s time to focus on some SMART goals for 2021.

My Ancestors

Even though I finally determined who my great-great grandmother Emma’s parents (and grandparents!) were, I still don’t know who her first husband, Mr. Reagan, was. I’d like to find this first name, their date of marriage, and what ultimately happened to him (divorce or death).

The first wife of Edward Curtis of Dudley, Massachusetts was Esther (born circa 1747 and died in 1840), and her maiden name remains unknown. I have a network of DNA matches who I am sure share her unknown parents as ancestors. I’d like to solve that mystery this year.

I would like to get a look at the probate record of Elisha Benson (1731-1813) found in Vermont to verify that he and his wife, Sarah Steward (1732-1790), are the parents of Levi Benson (circa 1765 – 1815) of Wareham, Massachusetts.

My Galfre ancestors in Italy come from France a generation or two prior, and I’d like to find that connection.

I would also like to focus on my mitochondrial lineage. Our mtDNA haplogroup is H1aj1, which seems to indicate Jewish ancestry. My most distant known maternal ancestor is Angela Giusto of Cogoleto, Genoa, Liguria, Italy. I’m giving her an estimated birth year of about 1815 or so, since her two known children were born in 1837 and 1842.

Other Ancestors 

My ex-husband’s paternal ancestors are still a mystery that I would love to solve. His third great-grandfather was John Goodwin Hawksley, born iN Fredericton, York County, New Brunswick, Canada in 1810. He had three sisters. Their parents were an unknown Hawksley and Mary Goodwin, the daughter of New Jersey loyalists whose names also remain unknown.

Online trees that give the unknown Hawksley man a name go with either Guy or William, both of which I believe are incorrect. My hypothesis based on research and DNA points to a British man who was stationed at Fredericton during the time frame that John and his sisters were conceived and born. That man returned to his family in Ireland and England after his service, and that was that. Is my hypothesis correct? I don’t know, but I hope to find out as I enter my 28th year of researching that family.

Wish me luck!