29 August 2013

Thankful Thursday--New River Notes

So I was filling out my family group sheets, minding my own business, when I opened up a census record from 1850 I had categorized for Richard Wright, father of Sarah Ann Wright. That was when I noticed another set of names that I didn't expect to see.

1850 Census for Grayson County, VA--Note families of Richard Wright and James Williams

Richard Wright's next-door neighbors are James Williams, his wife Priscilla and their children. His daughter Margaret Williams was the one who married James P.W. McKenzie. I haven't had any sort of documentation for Margaret Williams' family at all--and suddenly I find her family next door to some ancestors I already had?

So I started working it out on paper, and after several minutes finally figured out what didn't seem right... 

That's right. Stephen Bartlett and Emma McKenzie were already related when they got married. His grandmother and her grandfather were siblings.

When I was putting the information for these individuals in my Ancestry.com family tree, I discovered that I already had some information for Mary Polly Williams. I had copied the maiden name "Webb" from some tree on Ancestry.com back when I thought that was a good idea, so I set out to see what I could document.

 A crucial source in helping me to do this was New River Notes, a fantastic resource which documents the history of several southwestern counties in Virginia and northwestern North Carolina. The fabulous historians behind that site have done an excellent job of sharing their wealth of records, knowledge, and expertise. I run into their digitization everywhere in my research, and their site provides access to records that either no longer exist, or would be inaccessible in any other way.

The 1850 census was the one that roused my suspicion that there might be some inbreeding going on, so I decided to fill in more of the blanks using Heritage Quest. While that resource is free through most public libraries, and I find their search feature superior despite its simplicity, their image quality certainly leaves a lot to be desired. I usually check FamilySearch for more pristine copies once I know exactly what I'm looking for.

James Williams and family on the 1860 Grayson County, VA Census

Richard Wright and family on the 1860 Grayson County, VA Census

Families of Richard Wright and James Williams appear on the same page for the 1870 Census of Grayson County, VA

Richard Wright and family on the 1880 Census for Grayson County, VA

James Williams on the 1880 Census for Grayson County. Note that his wife Priscilla has died, and he lives with his son Greenberry

While those records go to prove that they've been neighbors for a long time, it doesn't prove whether or not there's any sort of inbreeding going on. So the next stop for me was to start looking for burial information. Here's where New River Notes enters.

[Note: Some people would say that just because you find information like this, you can't take it seriously as a source. You need more, harder evidence--a document or a photo. But what these individuals fail to recognize is sometimes that kind of proof just doesn't exist anymore. While you certainly need to myth test your sources before you trust them, there comes a point where you can trust a resource after it repeatedly proves to be accurate. In my opinion, New River Notes surpasses that standard.]

The have digitized copies of the Wright and Williams cemeteries which fill in crucial details on parents and relationships. This website possess more information at this time than FindAGrave.com does. I filled in some of the blanks for my ancestors, and put in some photo requests. I'll be happy if I see results from those. But they provided the parental information I need to begin documenting the relationship between James Williams and Mary Polly Williams.

Their parents are Henry Williams and Sarah Kinworthy. I'm looking forward to exploring more to see what I can find on them. Their line is coming to the point where they either have to jump the pond soon, or I'm simply going to run out of records. I'm always excited to see which one it turns out to be.

So, moral of the story: Pay attention to neighbors on the census records you collect. You may be related to them. And if you pay even closer attention, you may discover that you're related to them twice.

Throwback Thursday--Harry Potter

Two of my favorite scenes from Harry Potter have really resonated with me throughout my life, and especially now that I have come to know and love my ancestors so much.

The first scene was from Harry's first year at Hogwarts. He stumbles upon a mirror tucked away in the castle, and it's called the Mirror of Erised. It's a mirror that shows you the deepest desires of your heart--the thing you want more than anything else. For young Harry, whose parents were killed and whose extended family neglected and abused him, having a family was what his heart yearned for more than anything else. When he looked into the mirror, he saw his mother and father, and generations of his family, so real to him, for the very first time.

I have also struggled in my relationship with my family throughout my life--but despite the suffering I have experienced, I have no doubt that I would see exactly the same thing in the Mirror of Erised as Harry did. To me, that is the dream to which I have dedicated my life. It is the driving force, the desire behind the work I do with genealogy. Doing genealogy throughout my life for the chance that I will have a united family in death has always been an irresistible offer to me, because it is something I have never known.

This scene from Harry Potter resonated with me when I was Harry's age exactly because I was Harry's age and I knew what that pain felt like. So you can imagine how much more that pain resounded with me in the scene when Harry accepts the fact that he has to die in order to kill Voldemort.

The assurance that his family has been with him his entire life is one of the more powerful moments in the book. The promise from his family that they will stay with him in death is something very real to me. I believe that our ancestors are present in the very same way, with the same love from this story. I believe in that with all my heart, and I always have.

Harry Potter has been a part of my life since I was a child. The series grew up with me, and my age more or less corresponded to the age of the characters at every stage until the end. And it's because of scenes like these that I will never forget them--what they showed me about myself and what was most important to me.

Because of those lessons, I already look forward to sharing these books with my children. I've already imagined printing Hogwarts letters for them, reading the books to them and watching them read them as they grow older. And certainly the thought has occurred to me to restrict them from reading the books from later on in the series--both to let them experience the anticipation that I felt in waiting for them to be published, and to be sure that they are mature enough to understand what they're reading.

All in all, Harry Potter shaped an entire generation--my generation--of readers. And seeing that continue in my own family is something I look forward to in the years to come.

27 August 2013

TARDIS Tuesday--The End

Genealogy is kind of like time travel--trying to make sense out of life through the lens of past experience. But what would it be like if we really were able to use a time machine to go anywhere in the world, at any time period?

On the show Doctor Who, which I adore, The Doctor has just that opportunity. With his time machine called the TARDIS, he travels throughout space and time. But as a genealogist, how would it be to have access to anyone, anywhere in time? Where would you go? Who would you want to meet?

This is going to be an ongoing theme for me on Tuesdays now. And because I do watch Doctor Who and I've seen him take more than one companion to the ends of the Universe, it occurred to me that I would do just that.

If I could take a ride in the TARDIS, I would want to meet my last descendant at the end of his or her life. I would be too curious NOT to know about how far my genes go into the future. Where does my life drop off, with whom, when, and why?

Some people would find it too sad to see their last descendant, too much like watching yourself die. But I have always believed that you can't really judge a person until you reach the end of the story. The ending, in many ways, is the most important part. If I could, I would want to see what my life amounts to in the end.

Let's hope it's not anywhere near Lake Silencio. I always said everything goes to Utah to die, even the Doctor.

23 August 2013


I was doing some routine documentation on Ancestry.com this morning, and I saw I had new hints on my tree. Normally I ignore the hints because most of the time they're for my husband's tree, but today I decided to be curious.

Headstone of William E. Loveless and Lavina F. Loveless--Linwood Cemetery--Alamance County, North Carolina

It was a FindAGrave entry for William E. Loveless and his wife Lavina

After clicking through I got excited. I had not been able to locate burial information for this family anywhere. Another example of the importance of spelling variants. The last name on the headstone is Lovelace, but he was documented as Loveless pretty regularly.

My love affair with FindaGrave.com continues!