Sunday, May 29, 2016

What I've learned about death from genealogy

Sure, we who work on family history have this peculiar relationship with death. We seek dates and places of death and spend an unusually large amount of time in cemeteries. Were did they die, when did they die, and who is buried with them? We want to know as much as possible about the circumstances of our ancestor's deaths.

I'm feeling that I've learned something about death from doing this work and I'd like to share observations with you here. As always, feel free to comment:)

1. No one gets out of this life alive. Everyone gets to die. I think that I want to live like I actually know that, and that I know time is limited. When I was in my early 20s maybe I did stuff that indicated I thought I was immortal. Maybe you did too? Now I know that death will come. Morbid? Naw. Just practical. It's good to know firmly that my stuff and especially my genealogy stuff will not go with me when I die. Therefore I need to figure out who gets it.

2. I'd like a nice smallish stone. We can't help but stand in the graveyard and think, gosh, that's a real nice stone over there! I am partial to the older ones, especially the Victorians. You can spot them across the way. They stand tall and maybe have a female figure atop. I like that even though it's not the style now. My Dad, his brother and brother-in-law all chose black granite. Maybe it's a guy thing? I'd really prefer a white marble stone but they deteriorate too quickly. Isn't it frustrating to see an old marble stone all eroded and losing the clarity of the inscription? It's amazing how quickly the old stones are going now. Maybe it's air quality.

3. I do want a stone. I wouldn't feel right without knowing that a stone was in place and waiting. Scatter my ashes where you please, but I want my page on Find-A-Grave. Stop by, leave a note or a flower. I like that FAG iris. When I think about it, that stone will be my placeholder in the physical world.

4. How long did your ancestors live? Having seen a whole bunch of tombstones that say the person died in the 90-something year of his life, and what with Mom being 98 now and going strong, and Dad making it to 92 plus, I need to take care of my parts and pieces because I'll be using them a while, most likely.

5. You can die anytime. A car accident took my aunt on a snowy day. Coal mine accidents took friends and neighbors of ancestors. My grandma, when she was just in her 50s, slipped on ice and hit her head hard after church one Sunday and was gone by the following weekend. Yup, you can go anytime.
If this is true, and it appears to be so based on the lives of the ancestors, it would benefit all involved if we were well prepared. Like with a will and making peace and stuff. Legal documents in order would be helpful. For gosh sake, we've looked at plenty of wills and know their benefit to heirs and genealogists too!! Ancestors dying intestate can be fun, but think of the relatives and heirs!

6. Back to tombstone designs. I don't want one that's overly tall and thin. There must be a ratio, I'm thinking, wherein the thing won't crack and fall over. Don't you think? I really am sad to see those old stones with a stub in the ground and the top asunder.

One can hope for an easy death but that's useless. We have little power over those aspects of life's end. But there's so much else that we do have power over and that's a joy to think about.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

One Photo, Many Emotions

Consolidated Coal Company Miners of Frostburg, Allegany County, Maryland.
I'm really lucky to belong to a closed Facebook group for Western Maryland History. This group has amazing members who know the goods when it comes to the history of my ancestors' homeland in Western Maryland. Document from the earliest times back in the early 1700s to now, members of the group bring obscure and overlooked oddities, often with links, and a short citation. There have even been some uploaded documents, especially maps. They're crazy about maps! Memories too get posted there. We have one thing so obviously in common: we love the land and history of our ancestors!
The above photo, taken in the early 1900s, got posted recently and there was a large and strong reaction. It's a group photo of a shift of coal miners all working in the very hazardous conditions that was the very nature of coal mining on what was called The Big Vein along George's Creek in Western Maryland. Men came, often with their families, from Wales, Ireland, and Germany, as well as north from the coal fields in Pennsylvania to the area for the work. It was hard and dirty work but it was a sure way to earn a decent living for your family, if you weren't killed in the process. Strikes were common as the mine owners tried once again to wring extra profits out of the operation by cutting the miner's salaries. But all-in-all, if a man was going to earn a living by coal mining, this was one of the best places to do it.

It's the faces of the miners that hooks everyone who sees the photo. The faces and expressions are clear. Young men, older men but no very old men. By the time a man reached middle age here he was too worn out and his body too damaged to work very hard. Young boys worked with their fathers and brothers for half-pay. They worked side-by-side, and lost limbs or lives in the same way as the men but earned half.

On the Facebook page, posts appeared under this photo. The comments were heartfelt, even emotional, rather than the cool factual comments that typically get posted. This photo was different. You see, many of us have strong men of the coal mines as our ancestors. Bit by bit, the lives of these miner came together as posts popped up.
I looked at it for the first time searching for my grandfather and great grandfather but I didn't see them there. My great grandfather Daniel Williams, who came from Wales to the area to work the mines, was a supervisor at one of the Ocean Mines, so he wasn't in this picture which appears to have been taken elsewhere. My grandfather Lee Kelly worked in the Borden Mines but he did so at a time later than this picture. But just from the looks of the picture, they could easily have been here because they would have fit right in.

There's my great grandfather Daniel Williams, second from the left, with a mining crew.

That's my grandfather, John Lee Kelly, about 1930 when he was working in the mines. That's Dad second from the right. No one knows who the kid on the left is.
Back to the photo up top. Do you see their lunch buckets? There in the front. Everyone had one. These men worked hard doing manual labor that burned a lot of calories, so they had big appetites. My Grandpop Kelly called it a dinner pail because that's what he called the mid-day meal. You can see the size of the bucket and imaging what all went in there. Lots and lots of food. No salads. No kale. No quinoa.
Look how clean their faces and garments are. Obviously this photo was taken at the start of the day when the men were on the way to the mines. By the end of the day they were covered in coal dust. Some homes had a "wash house" out back, for laundry but also as a place where the miners of the family could wash up and change clothes before entering the house. Grandma Kelly's house had a big back porch were Grandpop washed up.

But the killer detail in this big group photo is the lamps on the hats. And I don't use the word "killer" lightly. Those were carbide lamps and if the coal dust got bad or there was gas leaking from the mine, the carbide lamp would cause an explosion.

One of the members of the Facebook group posted that his ancestor raised canaries to be sold to the mining companies. If the canary died, well....

The mine caused all sorts of other businesses to prosper in the area. My great grandfather Gustav Zeller owned a "tonsorial emporium" or barber shop that had big bathtubs where the miners could have a bath on Saturday. He was a prosperous man!

Great grandfather Gus Zeller's barber shop on Main Street, Frostburg, Allegany Co., MD. Notice the oversized barber pole!

That's him. Can you tell he was a barber? Look at that mustache.

The 100 year anniversary of Frostburg happened in 1912. It might be said that the area reached it's prosperous zenith then. The population of the area was around 15,000 and they all came to town on Saturday, market day. Frostburg hummed on a Saturday afternoon as miners and their families came to Main Street. Those miners in the photo? Wonder how many had a Saturday bath at great grandfather Zeller's barber shop?


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Five Generations: Maryland with a bit of Wales, Ireland and a Touch of Germany

It's all the rage across the internet in the world of genealogy: Five Generation Country of Origin Chart. I'll include a link to it below. I saw others' charts and frankly they looked pretty cool so decided to try it myself. Thing is that so many of my ancestors came from Maryland and when I color coded each geographic area, well, look at all that green! Yeah, my peeps come from Maryland!

If you want to try it, here's where to go: Jana's Blog, and click the link at the bottom to download a sample chart. Then edit to make it your own, even adding generations!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Another Workman Cousin, a DAR Sister, and Another DAR Patriot!

Another new-to-me cousin found me through this blog! People Google around looking for general info about their ancestors and find this blog with regularity. She was looking for connections to her ancestors William Workman and his wife the Indian Princess Tereca, and William's father Andrew Workman all of whom I blogged about not too long ago. So she sent an email! Enter Cousin Denise!

Right off we found out that she and Cousin Brenda and I are all DAR members. That's super fun right there because in addition to being DAR sisters we're also blood cousins! So many great ways to be connected.

Right now I'm awaiting approval of my additional DAR application verifying my lineal descent from my Patriot Ancestor John Trimble. And Denise is working on her additional application proving her lineal descent from William Workman's father Andrew Workman. Because Denise had already submitted an additional application for my John Trimble, she had some documents for me just as I had Workman documents for her. We burned the midnight oil playing document swap! What fun!

Now you need to know that for me, the very best thing to happen besides breaking down one of my giant brick walls, is finding a new DAR Patriot Ancestor. (You can find the DAR Patriot Ancestor database and check if your ancestor is listed here.) The DAR has already verified my applications for five Patriot Ancestors and I have two more at National right now and if they go through that will give me seven in total.

I also have a list of other more challenging ancestors that I'd like to get approved by the DAR as new Patriot Ancestors. I'm working them all and that list is right by my side at this very moment. These individuals who are ancestors on my tree that I can prove my descent from but are not yet recognized as Patriots by the DAR because no one has yet submitted an application linking to them. There are about 20 ancestors of mine who might possibly be proven, with a lot of luck. But documenting a new Patriot Ancestor means proving their service and residence at time of service as well as the usual dates and places of birth and death. As you can imagine, each one takes massive amounts of work.

So, with seven Patriot Ancestors done or at National, when Denise casually mentioned that John Trimble's father, David Trimble, is also a Patriot Ancestor, my head about exploded!!

But that's truly not the point of this story. The real point is that I connected to both Brenda and Denise because this blog with my email address was floating around out there on the internet for them to find. We've had a blast sharing a ton of old family records and getting to know each other. None of that would have happened had it not been for this blog.

Take every chance you can to get out there and make connections to both cousins and others searching for your ancestral lines. Start a blog, post to message boards, join genealogical societies and historical societies in the places you research, join Facebook groups and post your questions. Make yourself and your connections to your ancestors visible on the internet. You'll be so glad that you did.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Indian Princess Finally Makes Her Entrance!

I remember sitting on the front porch with Grandma Kelly, sitting in the swing that overlooked West Main Street in Frostburg, Allegany County, Maryland. Main Street was, well, the main street and even though it's name was changed from Union Street to Main Street, it was the number one thoroughfare in the little mountain town in Western Maryland.

"Yooo-hooo!" Grandma would wave and call out to all foot traffic. She loved greeting people and more likely than not, she knew absolutely everyone who came past. And if she didn't, she'd ask, "Now Dear, who are your people?" And they'd tell her. Frostburg was like that then in the 1950s.

One summer day when we were sitting there she told me that there was an Indian Princess in the family, and by that I was sure she meant the Workman side of the family, her mother's people. She knew all about them. Grandma told me lots of good stories about all of the families going back generations on her side and on Grandpop Kelly's side too. I remember and have proven all of them except for the Indian Princess story.

But that's typical, isn't it, in American genealogy? There's a fictitious Indian Princess in just about every tree, isn't there? I'd never been able to find one on our tree, but suddenly that changed because of a Facebook post recently.

I posted something to my Facebook page and Cousin Glenn popped up and commented that he just found out that there is an Indian Princess on the tree in the Workman line, so off I went to find out what he was talking about! After a couple of emails, he sent a link to an obit of a Susan Workman's husband, Noah Alan Skidmore, and in the obit it says that Susan's mother was an Indian Princess!

Here's the link and check out the obituary:

Here's what it said:
Susan was born in the year of 1822 on June 21. She was 18 years old and Noah 24 years old when they were married. Susan was the daughter of William and Teraca Workman. She was born in Dutch Hollow, a small community two miles below Frostburg, Maryland. Susan’s mother was a Cherokee Indian Princess. Susan and her family were living in Kernes, West Virginia. when Susan and Noah were married. Susan was dark skin [sic] with very high cheek bones and jet black hair. Susan wore her hair in long braids. Susan was a talented artist, painting birds and animals. Susan’s father, Bill Workman, was also known as Indian Bill. He was a Revolutionary soldier. He received 800 acres of land for services to the government and he sold all of the land for a barrel of whiskey.

So Susan's mother was Teraca, or Tereca. I flew so fast to Google that name! And yes, she's the real deal!

Teraca's father was Chief Lonacona, aka. George Washington Cresap Fish, of the Fish Clan in the Turtle Tribe, born about 1700. His brother was Chief Nemacolin who is famous in Western Maryland.

But wait, as soon as I get that nailed down, this pops up and I'm not sure who is the father and who is the brother. This is from

I would love to find other descendants of this Lenape chief, who was born 1715 in a village on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania and died 1767 on Blennerhassett Island, in the Ohio River between the states of Ohio and West Virginia.He is in the history books:

"A Delaware Nation Chief, Nemacolin played an important part in the blazing of trails into the American wilderness. In 1752, he was hired by Thomas Cresap and Christopher Gist to act as a frontier guide. Together, he led the team along existing Native American footpaths in the Allegheny Mountains. From these explorations, they carved a major pathway into the west. The trail they blazed became to be known as Nemacolin's Trail."

Nemacolin was the son of another, and more important chief, Checochinicon, and the father of still another, Lonacona, a.k.a. George Washington Gist. Lonacona's daughter was named Tereca, and she married William Workman. They migrated to West Virginia and raised six children. William and Tereca were my great, great grandparents.

Obviously, I need to do a lot more digging about this family.

See what happens when an Indian Princess pops up?!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

You hear about stuff like this: Another lesson learned while doing DAR applications.

You've probably heard about this, maybe in an article or at a lecture. I know I have. Yet it was staring me right in the face, boldly and defiantly, for more than four months and I didn't even notice!

Before you say, "she must be dumb as a stone," look at this document below and see what you think. Take you're time and examine it carefully because there will be a test later! It's a page from the "Massachusetts, Births and Christenings, 1639-1915", and as you can see, it lists family groups. So what do you notice about this page? And especially the family featured in the close-up image below? 

Did you notice anything? If so, hold that thought.

So here's what happened. We were looking for the wife's maiden name, which as you can see is not listed here. The couple was married in 1769 in Plymouth, Plymouth Co., MA, but look: their first child was born in 1781. Why no children for 12 years? That is highly irregular for the time and place. Maybe they didn't get married in 1769 and maybe this record was for another couple with similar names. Or maybe there were more children not listed here. Which one was it?

After looking for another couple where the groom was named Isaac Howland and the bride's first name was Sarah, we found one other who came from Pembroke, Plymouth Co. MA and with a different set of children. Maybe that marriage date in 1769 belonged to them? After due consideration and tracking down a lot of information about this family unit and constructing the names of all of the children, it was determined that the couple in Pembroke did not have this set of children.

It then seemed logical that the marriage record of 1769 belonged to the couple listed above. So how to explain about the 12 childless years? Can you look at the page above and come to any conclusions that might fit the scenario?


So here's the thing that we all hear about but can so easily miss when we come across it. This record was a transcription of a church record. Look at the writing. Even though the date of birth for all of the children was years apart, the document was written all at once. Have you ever seen a family bible that recorded all of the births, marriages, and deaths? Each entry has a look of its own. These entries in the record above all look the same, in the same hand done at the same time. It makes a difference. Here's why.

If the couple had children during the 12 year period immediately after their marriage and before the date of birth of the first child, Ichabod, in the record above, if could that those records are in another book and was not transcribed at the time this record was.

We're still looking for those missing children. But noticing that the writing was done at the same time and in the same hand was a real clue to go look for children born before Ichabod.

Tip: know when and in what way the source document was made.

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Saturday, November 21, 2015

A lesson learned about proof from the DAR AIR

DAR AIR? What's that, you might ask. When you submit an application for DAR membership you must prove your line from yourself back to your Revolutionary War Patriot. Every individual on the Lineage page of your application must have a date and place of birth, a date and place of death, and for the first three generations, must have the marriage date and place. Not only will you enter those items on the application form but you'll have to submit a supporting document proving each of them. It might sound all but impossible at first, but once you get looking in the right places, it's amazing how easy it is to find much of it... and how hard it can be to find the last few. Finding those last missing documents is the best part of this game, at least to me:)

Once your application is approved by the highly professional DAR Staff Genealogist, or Genie as we lovingly call them, you can then submit what's called a Supplemental Application for another Patriot. And you can keep on going and going. With each Patriot approved you earn the right to purchase a lovely little Ancestor Bar to pin on your DAR ribbon and insignia. The pin looks something like this, below.

Ancestor Bar

Some of the ladies really enjoy the hunt for new ancestors! I know I do. I have just four so far with three more awaiting approval. But I've heard of ladies having 30, 40, or more! Here's a photo of a ribbon offered on eBay with a couple of ancestor bars, but not in the correct position. And yes, the order of the pins matters.


When you submit an application either to be a member or as an supplemental application after your original application, if you mess up and don't prove the name, date, or palace to the standards required, the Genie will send you an Additional Information Required letter, or AIR.

Recently I submitted two supplemental applications, one each for Isaac Workman and Peter Trautman. Each got an AIR. Bummer for me. But each one was an opportunity to learn and become a better genealogist. Read on!

When I got the AIR letter I must confess to being shocked. I knew this family cold. Knew them all because my Grandma Kelly talked about all of them as if they were still alive. Mom collected documentation on this line fore years and I've added to her treasure trove. So to have the Genie cast a shade of doubt on Elisha Workman as the son of John and to doubt John's date of death, well that was ... shocking.

How many times as genealogists do we have someone call us out on our conclusions? When was the last time someone called you out like that? And a high ranking professional genealogist at that! I had to take a moment to gather myself! Then I got to work:)

The problem with Isaac Workman's son John was that I found his probate file and worked off of that to determine that he died about 12 July 1859. The Genie writing the AIR pointed out that the previous application for Isaac through his son John used that date but exactly a year later: 12 July 1858. The AIR requested more information. I had no idea where the previous app got the date they did so I had to go look and try to determine what they used as a source. Luckily it was obviously the obituary of John's sister, Margaret, and I had that at hand. I tried to reconstruct the original source and had to contact an older researcher who had known Margaret of the obit. He said that it had been copied out of an old family bible. Well! It is no big stretch of the imagination to see where coping a date out of an old bible could go wrong.

What I used as the source for the death date was John's probate file. From the doctor's bill, it could be seen that the last visit to Isaac was July 11 of that year. The bill from the undertaker stated that he delivered a coffin on July 12th. Therefore, it could be concluded that he died on or about 12 July 1859. Hands down, the probate file was a better document that the missing bible record with the date passed down from generation to generation.

I knew I was solid on the probate file and the date of death so I started writing that up as I took time to think about the best way to prove that Elisha was the son of John. Of course the probate file contained a good number of documents that named John, but the Genie asked if there might be another John in the area: how did we know that this Elisha was the son of this John? I had to admit it: it was a good question.

The big red flag was the 1850 census that enumerated a John Workman in the dwelling place listed adjacent to John Workman in Allegany Co., MD. We can't say that they "lived next to each other" and that proved anything because we don't know if that was what happened. Maybe the dwelling were 10 miles apart and over the hill. Can't tell from this census record. What we can say is that the two were enumerated in the 1850 census, one after the other on the same page.

And that isn't even the worst of it!! Elisha Workman, the son, is listed as 29 years old. John is listed as 50. That makes him 21 years too young! Good grief!

The only thing to do, I felt, was to search all of the census records for Allegany County, MD for 1850 and 1860 to see if there was any other male named John who was the correct age for our John. And there wasn't. Whew.

It might be said that one of the biggest conundrums of the DAR Genealogy Consultant is the Multiple Men of the Same Name. I groan audibly every time I run into it, and it happens a lot back before 1850. The same set of names are handed down from generation to generation results in more John and Elijah combinations that you want to see. And why is there a Cuthbert in every generation? What you're going to need is a spreadsheet, or a chart at least. Names on one side and records on the other, or in whatever combination works for you.

And the key, most of the time, is location. Where were they when that happened? The same man can not, luckily, be in two different residences at the same time. Just go ahead and plug it all in that spread sheet or chart and have faith that it will work out. And it will. Give it time to breathe, and make sure that you haven't overlooked any records. The check tax records, and land records and any other local records you can dig up. Go local!! Use Excel if you're comfortable, or a chart or table. Or just spread them all out on the floor. But get them out there so you can see them all. Then give it time. Don't be in too much of a rush with this.

That worked for me on the Isaac Workman AIR. Between the probate file and a thorough examination of the census records for all Elijah and John Workman in that location at that time, it all made sense and the puzzle was solved.

I was so happy when I got official word that my supplemental application had been verified. The in the blink of an eye, I ordered my ancestor bar for Isaac Workman!

Another time I'll share what happened with the Peter Trautman and his granddaughter. That would be the wife of Elisha Workman, Nancy Ann Trautman. It's another case where the census helped, along with a probate file.

The Workman Settlement land, Zhilman, Allegany Co., MD.

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