Ancestry and Collaboration

It’s not just about the dead

Photo of the Dunn family, Mount Comfort, Indiana in 1895. My great-grandfather, George, is 2nd from left. Mark’s grandmother, Ruth, is the wee little girl, 4th from right. Their parents, Martha and William, are seated.

When I started my journey down this rabbit hole back in 2017, I didn’t plan on having a nearly full time hobby. I had enough books to read, furniture to paint and other projects around my house to keep me busy for a long time. I didn’t expect to find working on my roots so… fun.

I enjoy reading, and always have. I used to get my sister and myself in trouble by violating the “lights out” rule ALL.THE.TIME. After getting into bigger trouble than I thought was warranted, I resorted to reading under the covers with a flashlight. That solved the problem of getting in trouble, but my 10 year old self didn’t want to admit that the rules were made for good reasons. Being super tired in school the next day never stopped me.

I also enjoy researching stuff. That’s fun. It’s like I’m David and stuff is the Goliath. Maybe now that school is 35 years in my rear view mirror I’m ready to learn more things? I especially like researching on the internet. I can watch a baseball game and still be successful. I’ve learned how to get very creative with my searches and sometimes pat myself on the back for discovering obscure information.

So why didn’t I expect my love of reading and researching to provide an endless source of entertainment? It’s like I’m peanut butter and genealogy is jelly. We were meant to be! And I never knew it.

I’m not posting to sell anyone the value of embarking on this hobby. Really. It’s enough that I have friends who share my obsession and family members who are kind enough to listen to me when I discover something new. I do it for myself, so that makes it a good reason.

But the unexpected side bonus is meeting the living who are indelibly connected to me through DNA and our family tree. These people were not in my life as a child, and I had no idea they existed. My older relatives may or may not have been aware of their ancestors’ existences either. Our American culture has evolved through the years, and our ancestors have migrated. Any connection that might have been possible had we stayed in one place became improbable, if not impossible.

Along came Ancestry.com and Facebook. A dynamic duo for those of us who have moved away from ancestral homes we never knew. In the past 2 years, I’ve added to my Facebook friends and correspondent friends a slew of people I never knew. What a blessing!

One particular relationship didn’t really come from either directly. It developed after one night of doing research on my Dunn line. And this relationship has become one I truly treasure. It came at exactly the right time in my life for the right reason. I’ll tell you a little more about how it began…

After the 2018 New Year, I was down my Dunn rabbit hole when I decided to do a Google search on someone who was my west coast haven after moving to California in 1988. She was my grandfather’s first cousin, and they adored each other. I moved to the Bay Area not knowing anyone, and my wise grandparents thought I would need someone to adopt me while I built a life on my own. Granddad gave me Ruth’s phone number, and I called her. She lived in Marin County, and became someone I could trust and visit when I needed someone who was really and truly family. Her children were grown and living across the country, she was recently widowed and had moved into her townhouse after losing her husband. We were really good for each other. The last time I saw Ruth was when my grandparents were visiting in 1989. I married in 1990 and moved to Colorado in early 1991, and somehow, Ruth and I lost touch. (What is wrong with me?)

So that night, I decided to Google her to see where she was living (with the intent of calling her), only to discover she had recently passed away at the age of 96. My heart sank at the missed opportunity. Instead, I expressed my condolences to her family and hit send.

About a month later, her son reached out to me after reading that note. He had never heard of me and wanted to know more about my time with his mother. Specifically, Mark is my dad’s 2nd cousin though 2 years older than I. We have built our cousin relationship from the obituary and have never looked back. Getting to know him and working on our family history and ancestry has been the biggest gift of all. To say I’m excited about finally meeting him in person soon is a gross understatement.

What I’ve discovered, through the musings of my other cousins, is that descendants of girls usually wind up with the family mementos. Mark’s grandmother was the youngest of 8; her older brother (my great grandfather) was the 2nd oldest. There was 14 years between them. After his mother died, he wound up with old photographs and household items that belonged to his great grandmother and my great-great grandmother. He and his sister worked diligently to make digital backups of photographs when California was on fire last summer. And I’ve been the ecstatic recipient of his digital collection. His generosity is very much appreciated.

In his collection are photographs of other extended family members–people neither one of us have ever known. I’ve located a few of them through Facebook and other means, and the results have been so rewarding. How on earth would I have connected with my 3rd cousin, Karin, in Kansas City?

Through Ancestry, I’ve collaborated with my mother’s maternal 3rd cousin and my father’s paternal 3rd cousins. These folks (Glen, Richard and Elizabeth, thank you!) have been extraordinarily helpful in my research and Val’s DAR application. The gentlemen live in California, far from our mutual roots in Minnesota and Indiana. Elizabeth is my family mentor and Indiana based cousin.

All of these photos are from Mark’s collection. As Mark says, Life is Good!

Martha Eleanor Wilson, 1869. Age 15. My great-great grandmother and Mark’s great grandmother
William Henry Harrison Dunn, 1869. Age 21. My great-great grandfather and Mark’s great grandfather.

Carefree Highway

Sibbill and Thompson Maxwell and their wandering descendants

Historical Marker in Milford, New Hampshire

I hadn’t planned on writing about my Maxwell ancestors so soon after the Nester vs. Wanderer post, but I’m listening to Spotify and Gordon Lightfoot is beckoning me to tell their tales. I think it must be the “wanderlust or trying to get free” thing preventing me from moving to any other topic out there.

These two people are probably the ones in my tree with whom I feel super connected more than most. As I mentioned earlier, this Maxwell line is the one that I researched almost entirely on my own. It’s not that I don’t feel connected to the others (I do), but my journey with them has been incredibly personal and rewarding.

I’m going to start with Sibbill, because there isn’t a whole lot of information to share on my 6th great grandmother. Born Sibbill Wyman on 29 Aug 1735 in Billerica, Massachusetts, to Thomas Wyman and Rachel Crosby, she was the youngest of three children. I truly don’t know much more about her than that. However, Massachusetts has very good town and church records for the time, and through those records, I was quickly able to trace her roots. Her paternal grandmother, Prudence Putnam, was the fourth daughter of Thomas Putnam and Ann Holyoke. The same Putnams who were accusers in the Salem Witch Trials.

Thompson Maxwell was born on 11 September 1742 in Bedford, Massachusetts, to Hugh Maxwell and Sara Corbett. Hugh was an immigrant from Northern Ireland (one of the Scots Irish Maxwells), and Sara was born in Scotland. Thompson was their youngest of seven children: five boys and two girls. His father died after being thrown from a horse in 1759 and his mother died 10 years later.

He said he was very influenced by his siblings and when two of his brothers and brother-in-law signed up for militia duty, he decided to join sign up as a volunteer in the French and Indian War at the age of 15 (1757). I believe his experiences fighting in the French and Indian War provided the seed for any future wanderlust on his part. He left home for New York, Canada and Michigan, and his experiences were published in an a manuscript in The Essex Collection in 1865. The article is an interview with Thompson, entitled “The Narrative of Major Thompson Maxwell”. It starts with a letter from the author, Mr. E. F. Miller, describing his interview conducted years earlier and providing the transcription taken from the interview notes.

The one eerie thing I read in this narrative is that Thompson Maxwell’s travels during this conflict took him to Grand Portage, which he describes geographically as on the northwest corner of Lake Superior what was then called the French Canada Territory. Grand Portage is about 35 miles from where my mother grew up in Minnesota. So very far from Bedford, Massachusetts, geographically and 7 generations away from my mother.

Anyway, he remained in military service for six years, until October 1763:

“We lay at Detroit without interruption until the end of the war and were discharged sometime in October. Thus ended my six years service. I returned home and thought I deserved a wife, so I got one and a good one, whose name was Sibbel Wyman. We settled in Milford, then Amherst, NH. I was in my 22nd year. She was 27. We lived happily together for 38 years, 4 months and 11 days, when she died leaving me with 5 children, four sons and a daughter. I lived in Amherst until 1777 and followed teaming to and from Boston. In 1773, I went with my team to Boston with a load of stores to the poor of the town, which at that time was shut up. I had loaded my team at John Hancock’s warehouse, and was about to return when J. Hancock requested me to drive my team up into his yard, and ordered his servants to take care of it. He requested me to be on Long Wharf at 2 pm and informed me what was to be done. I went accordingly, and joined the band under our Capt. Hughs. We mounted the ships and made tea in a trice. This done, I took my team and went home as an honest man should.”

He never ever really left the military and fought in numerous wars and conflicts (Bunker Hill, Lexington and the War of 1812) until he was a very old man. In 1812, he would have been 70; his grandson also served in that war in New York, a boon that I wouldn’t realize until I went looking for him. His oldest son, Hugh, is my 5th great grandfather; he, too, was not a young man in 1812 and died in Canandaigua in 1813. Without a will.

Through my genealogy research, I discovered that Thompson’s brother, Benjamin, was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Revolutionary War, serving in the 5th company of the 5th Hampshire County regiment in Massachusetts. His oldest brother, Hugh, also served in the Revolutionary War and went on to be a noteworthy surveyor of the Preemption Line and who died at sea in 1799. Hugh kept field notes of his time as a surveyor, and his manuscript has been transcribed and published; the original manuscript is apparently still in the possession of his descendants. I have read it, and it’s quite the experience.

Back to the interview. My 6th great grandfather detailed his life through those years of war. He continued:

“In 1800, party spirit having risen very high in Massachusetts, I moved with my family [I believe it was with his wife and son, James] to the State of Ohio, on the Big Miami, County of Butler. I remained there quietly and followed farming. In 1802 my first wife died. In 1807, July 6th, I married again to a Mrs. Little, widow of Capt. Little of the Revolution. In May, 1812, Gen’l Hull sent for me to pilot his army through to Detroit. I joined him at Dayton, Ohio, on the 1st day of June–Piloted the army through to Detroit–was made prisoner there–lost my faithful mare, saddle and bridle and remained with the wounded and sick about a month. I then returned home down the lake to Cleaveland and thence by land got to my family October 2nd. Soon after, a mob rose up to attack me. [A mob attacking a 70 year old man?]”

He then described how he had gone to Cincinnati and his wife was visiting her son and his family when his house was burned down. All that was left was his sword, which he had carried safe with him since the Battle of Bunker Hill. By the time he got home, he had received word that his wife had died. When he was 74, he was taken prisoner at Fort Erie. He entered into a conversation with one of his captors, who recalled that his father and uncle had told him that they had served with him [Maxwell] in the Revolutionary War. When Thompson confirmed that he knew both men, he was instantly placed into a private home and given food and clothing before being released.

In the end, Thompson Maxwell moved to the Detroit area and married a third and final time to a woman only known as Eleanor, in 1823. He indicated that he traveled on horseback at least once to visit family in New York and Massachusetts around this time. It’s probable that he met his great grandson (my third great grandfather, who was 5 years old) on that trip. In his later years, he apparently had lost everything and applied for a war pension for his service in the Revolutionary War. His plea was emotional on my end: he described giving his life to his country and not being able to afford food or clothing. He died 24 October 1832 at the age of 90. He’s buried at the Wallaceville Historical Cemetery, Eleanor’s family cemetery, in Dearborn Heights. The Colonial Dames placed and commemorated a burial marker for the plot thought to be his grave. I haven’t visited it yet.

I began researching Thompson Maxwell and his descendants about two years ago with the intention of applying for a supplemental DAR application. Although the information I researched was fairly straightforward, I had to meet genealogy proof standards. My problem started when linking Thompson’s son, Hugh, to his grandson, Erastus. It was a problem because Hugh died suddenly in 1813 without a will. I was still a novice in this genealogy game, became dejected, until I received good advice. I have some really good people in my genealogy group; it finally clicked when my DAR registrar urged me to look for probate and land records for answers. I also lamented how I lost four years of physical time in New York when Victoria went to college there, and wondered how on earth I was going to look through those records in New York from my sofa in Colorado. Fortunately, Family Search resolved that challenge; with some help from a knowledgeable genealogist in Canandaigua, she was able to help me piece together the probate and land records to New York law, establishing Erastus to his father that way. I was so excited, I yelled out a whoop in the library, until I realized…

…that my REAL problem was linking Erastus to his son, William. William was born in 1818 in Albany, New York, and died in 1891 in Osceola, Wisconsin. He actually had a death certificate, but it didn’t name his parents. His obituary was merely a death notice: “William W. Maxwell died yesterday of pneumonia.” Not helpful. His brother, James, died in 1910, and his death notice read, “Full obituary to be printed in the next issue”. Yeah, that never happened either. I found out that newspapers often did that to encourage families to pay for a full blown obituary. If they didn’t pay, it didn’t get published.

It took a trip to western Wisconsin last October to find one cemetery land deed to tie William indirectly but not inconsequentially to his father and brother (whose death certificate DID name his father). Earlier in this post, I referred to Erastus’ service in the War of 1812 as a boon. It was a boon because he, too, died intestate, about 1873. Then I found his pension application, which spelled out specifics, to include his wife’s maiden name and their marriage date and place (Attica, New York). It really was a boon, because without it, I have no other information that provides direct proof of her or their marriage. I don’t think he ever got that pension because the letters abruptly ceased in 1872. If you think that the government didn’t give its citizens trouble back then, think again. Erastus Maxwell made his case to his government for more than two years. I think he died before it was resolved. Which may have been the goal of people in Washington all along?

In another post, I will devote some time to William Maxwell, his wife, Julia, and daughter, Lavinia. If I feel any real, solid direct connection to a specific Maxwell ancestor, it would be William–who is my 3rd great grandfather. Touching his tombstone made me cry. I think Val was really worried about me.

During my trips to Buckland, Massachusetts, and Saint Croix Falls, Wisconsin, I met some beyond wonderful people who really helped me tie this family together. I want to give them the credit that is due them. When I visited Buckland, it was the 3rd of July, and almost everything was closed to prepare for the 4th. I stumbled into their library and told the librarian why I was there. She took me back to a room that contained a very old book that turned out to be the first written record of town history. It was handwritten in colonial script and contained the names of the 16 founding members of the First Congregational Church of Buckland. Two of those names were Thompson and Sibbill Maxwell. She gave me the name and phone number for the town historian, who also edits the newsletter for the Congregational church, and we’ve become friends. One of these days, I’m going to meet her in person.

The folks in Wisconsin put up with me for MONTHS without complaining about me (at least to my face!). One of them is with a local genealogy society; her husband is a distant cousin on my Hale side, and it turned out that she is related to my Maxwell clan through marriage. These women took time out of their personal lives to head to court houses and libraries to help me look for information. In the end, my trip there last fall bore the biggest payoff in a land document that created a cemetery and trustees between my Maxwell family members.

This trip with them has been so incredibly rewarding. I feel like I know each of them personally. It doesn’t hurt that Sibbill and Thompson’s only daughter was named Betsey. I’ve had distant family members tell me that the Maxwell men they know or have known share common traits: tall, lanky, sandy hair and gray eyes. If I close my eyes tightly, I can conjure up an image for each of them. If that weren’t enough, I named my adopted shelter dog Thompson Maxwell and my adopted shelter Siamese cat Sibbill. I hope my ancestors are not insulted and see this as my ultimate tip of the hat for a heartfelt and fun journey with them.

In the end, I decided I didn’t want to use Thompson Maxwell for my supplemental. At least yet. I decided to give him to my sister for her application into the DAR. She graduated from the Naval Academy and enjoys military history. I decided to let her go in under our most decorated ancestor. I consider it a labor of love to her and Thompson and Sibbill Maxwell. In the end, it’s always been about love and family.

Nesters and Wanderers

Should I stay or should I go?

Are you the person who never wanted to leave the place you were born and/or raised? Or were you one who knew you were inevitably going to leave? Did your family ever share stories of why your family left the old world or moved from one state to another or migrated west?

I come from a very long line of people who leave. Wanderers. There are people in my immediate family who are not wanderers: people like my dad, who was born in Washington, and with the exception of childhood moves with his parents, has remained in the Washington area most of his life; or my dad’s maternal line, who mostly stayed in Washington as well; and my brother. Specifically, I come from a line of women who leave, and my daughter is continuing the tradition. I also married a wanderer who descends from wanderers.

I never really thought about it too much until I started working on my genealogy lines. It was then that I discovered it just might be in my DNA. Going way back, my ancestors picked up and moved.

Almost all of the time, the reasons people left were income/jobs, land opportunities, political climate, and religious persecution. I think the first two are pretty relevant today.

When I first left Virginia for California in 1988, most people thought I was crazy. I moved to Northern California, where I knew NO ONE. Not one soul. I took a job and just left. I didn’t think twice about it. I felt compelled to leave, and had felt that way since I was young. I have never second guessed my decision, though periodically I do entertain the idea of moving back because I miss my family and friends. Especially now that my daughter lives there. There were times when I felt like a freak.

I often wonder if my ancestors had similar motivations? Why would my 6th great grandfather, born and raised northwest of Boston, who lived in New England most of his adult life, leave for Ohio via New York at the age of 60 and ultimately die in Detroit? I’ve found his narratives and he indicated that things got rough. Some of that rough was political (he fought in the Revolutionary War–and was a member of the Boston Tea Party– and the War of 1812, among others), and other “rough” was financial. I will be writing about him all by himself at a later date, because my journey with him and his descendants has taken me places I never imagined. I’ve met some wonderful people in Massachusetts, New York and Wisconsin on my quest, and I will tell that story soon. Thompson Maxwell is probably my favorite research subject. I am fairly certain that this has to do with the fact that he’s the one ancestor I’ve researched without my dad’s help.

I wonder why his wife, Sibbill Wyman Maxwell, who was born in Billerica and lived in New England all of her life as well, would agree to leave her entire family at the age of 67 and head to Ohio? A place she had never seen? I wonder how her family felt when she died in Ohio and was not buried with her people? That trip had to be difficult, especially for seniors.

Last summer, Valerie and I flew back east to spend the 4th of July with Victoria, who was living in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, at the time. We flew to Albany and then drove over the mountain. It’s a beautiful 45-minute drive. On that drive, you might blink and not see the sign for Stephentown (NY), the birthplace of my 4th great grandmother, who married the grandson of Thompson and Sibbill Maxwell. I was traipsing the path that my ancestors did. The funny thing is that 3 years ago, when Val and I drove that same road with Vic, I had absolutely no idea that my ancestral past and her new home were very well acquainted.

Vic knew I wanted to research while I was there, so she indulged me by taking off and driving us to Ashfield, Buckland and Chesterfield. We stood on the ground that my 6th great grandparents and their children and grandchildren knew very well. The landscape is stunning. Victoria is quick to remind me that winter is horrible there. I know! But as we had lunch in Shelburne Falls and looked around, I asked her if she could imagine putting all of her belongings in a covered wagon, and making a move from Buckland to Albany and beyond? We both decided that our ancestors would be disappointed in our wimpiness (is that a word?). We wouldn’t last more than 3 days in the conditions in which they did.

Before everyone agrees with me on that point, let me say I think our ancestors would be absolutely overwhelmed at the pace of our lives in 2019. I don’t think they would be able to fare well with all the distractions that are in our faces on a daily basis either.

One side note: people who live in Massachusetts celebrate the 4th of July like no others I’ve ever seen. Their outward displays of patriotism are impressive. These people deck out their homes, streets, churches, government buildings and businesses. It was so fun to see these little townships put their celebrations on display. I digress.

I’ve been helping one of my oldest and dearest friends research her lines back to the Revolutionary War for her DAR application. While she has mainly lived in Northern Virginia, her parents and ancestors were nesters in Pennsylvania. Her father’s people were eastern European immigrants who found work in the coal mines. Her mother’s people were German immigrants who were mostly farmers. While she lamented that they were “boring”, I quickly corrected her: “They’re nesters! Nesters have their own contributions, and they sure make it a lot easier for me to research them!” I hope she takes solace in the fact that her people have left an indelible mark on the land their forefathers plowed, and that’s something to admire. She’s very connected with them, and I believe this is why she’s never had the slightest itch to leave. Which is a decision I hope she doesn’t regret either.

I now have a deep appreciation for the choices our ancestors made, both nesters and wanderers.

Elisha Chadwell Creech and his grand adventures

To infinity… and beyond!

Remnants of old covered wagon, Chatfield State Park, Littleton, Colorado

In the span of a few days, since starting this blog, I came to realize that several–if not most–of my great-great grandparents were the adventurous types. Mom calls them intrepid. While this ancestor is not a European immigrant, he was industrious and was quite the traveler for his time. I wish I could impress you by stating that this post is the “fruit” I collected while doing hard core research. That would be a lie.

Elisha Chadwell Creech is the grandfather of my Mom’s father, who was also named Elisha. He was born in 1831 in Lee County, Virginia, to Elias and Mary “Polly” Gilbert Creech, their third child and second son. Elisha Chadwell’s great grandfather, John, was one of my ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War, as was Polly Gilbert’s father, Samuel. Right now, these lines are a work in process because I have to pore through land and probate records to finish up the applications to link the early generations. The Creech’s have been a nightmare to research because of their propensity for naming their sons Elijah, Elias, Eli and Elisha and every variation of that name. Elisha Chadwell had many first cousins with the same names. Adding to the confusion, most of them remained in Lee County or Harlan County, Kentucky. They make my head spin.

How do I know what I know about Elisha Chadwell Creech? The simple, unvarnished truth is because he made it very easy for me by writing a mini, though incomplete, memoir. I cannot properly express my delight and gratitude for this boon. The information he shared in his transcribed biography has proven invaluable when working on his people.

His parents left Lee County when he was young and migrated west; his father died unexpectedly in 1841 in Jamestown, Missouri, and it is only through the most minute clues that I’ve been able to find out more about what happened to his mother and siblings. What really turned out to be a major leap forward for my research was the “thru lines” feature in Ancestry.com. DNA linked me to a bunch of people with the surname of “Scritch”, and it was through Elisha’s memoir that I was able to figure out who they were and how they fit in my tree.

Before I share Elisha’s excellent adventure, I want to retell some of the things he shared about leaving Virginia for Missouri and then Illinois. If you are the kind of person who can imagine yourself as the star in this play, their journey might give you pause. I, for one, hold his mother in high esteem: she was one bad-ass pioneer woman. And I’d put money on her beating out Ree Drummond for that title too.

Elias Creech left Virginia around 1839, and the original plan was to head west to Illinois with a like-minded friend, leaving his wife and children behind in Virginia until he sent for them. He had a change of heart in Illinois and decided to continue on to Missouri to meet up with his cousin, a man referred to as Col. Hughes. He staked a claim in Jamestown, Missouri, and claimed squatter’s rights to 160 acres. He built a house and barn, planted crops, bought livestock, and then instructed his wife to sell their property and head west to join him. I was able to locate the land deed in Lee County in 1840 between he and Elijah (his father), apparently reselling his land back to his dad; in addition, I found another deed there for John Gilbert, Polly’s brother, at the same time, which coincides with the timeline in the biography.

Polly, her brother, John, and 7 young children headed west through Tennessee, traveling in a flat boat down the Tennessee River, making it to Florence, Alabama. They arrived in Alabama, where the townsfolk were battling raging epidemics of yellow fever and cholera; two of her kiddos fell ill, so she decided to stay put for awhile. She wrote Elias and asked him to come meet them so they could travel back together. She waited three months for a reply as she nursed the children back to health. When the response arrived, it was from her husband’s cousin, Col. Hughes, letting her know that Elias had died two months prior, about the time when he sent for her. Polly wrote back and asked Col. Hughes to sell the claim. A reply letter then arrived from Col. Hughes’ wife, indicating her husband been killed by some of the “rough element”. She considered returning home, but they had sold their property and she had no home left in Virginia. Ultimately, she decided to abandon the claim in Jamestown altogether and headed to St. Louis. Shortly after arriving in St. Louis, her brother, John Gilbert, died.

A quick sidebar to ponder. Polly was illiterate and without a means to provide for herself and her children; there was no life insurance and she would have probably had great difficulty finding employment. Heck, women weren’t even enumerated in the 1840 census, so that should pretty much say everything for the average woman in the mid 19th century. I can’t begin to imagine how she might have felt, but if I were her, I would have been terrified.

Polly ultimately remarried twice, and I’m still researching her to see if I can find more about the rest of her life; so far I can account for her as late as 1852. Her death is not addressed in his writings, so I’m on my own here. But according to his account, she and the kids wound up settling down in St. Louis before permanently settling in Bond County, Illinois. Sometime after losing Elias, the family remaining in Missouri/Illinois changed the spelling of their surname from Creech to Scritch. Until the DNA matches showed up, I had assumed they went by Creech, which is why I could never find more than what was mentioned in the memoir. Once I started using Scritch, things started to fall into place. It was also how I found out that Polly had married for the second time after being widowed. I have many DNA matches through the Scritch lines.

A side note about Bond County, Illinois. I have been there. I have actually stopped my vehicle there, and not by choice. Victoria, her boyfriend (now fiance) and I were returning to Colorado from New York after her sophomore college year when we stopped for Diet Coke, Twizzlers and more junk food just east of Bond County. I realized we had 2 choices, shared them with the kids and they unanimously chose to drive straight through home to Colorado. It was my turn to drive, so I set the speed on cruise control a little higher to make better time. It wasn’t long before I saw a state trooper whiz by in the opposite direction and held my breath… until Mike spoke up and said, “Uh oh. Mooms, he turned around in the middle of the interstate and he’s heading our way.”I received the most expensive speeding ticket I’ve ever received in my life in Bond County. Make sure you don’t speed there!

Back to the story. Elisha Chadwell left home in the fall of 1849 with a friend, who had persuaded him (his words) to head up the Mississippi River to Stillwater, Minnesota, to engage in the lumber business. I won’t regale you with all the details of his business, but he was a successful lumberman for the rest of his life, a partner in the jobbing firm of Creech, Ayers, Cross and Henney. He married a local girl named Mary Marshall Seed in 1863, whose family had emigrated from Ireland to Canada (where she was born) and then on to western Wisconsin. They raised 4 daughters and one son in the picturesque town of Saint Croix Falls. His only son and my great grandfather, James Seed Creech, also worked as a lumberman as his profession. The lumbering ended with James.

Before Elisha married Mary, he had one intriguing adventure that started in May 1859. It would seem that the townsfolk heard news of the finding gold in Pike’s Peak, so he joined a party of friends and a train of ox and provisions and headed west. The title of this chapter was aptly stated “Pike’s Peak or Bust”. The most entertaining part of his story occurred in Nebraska. They had arrived at their campsite and began setting up camp; a couple men head out to hunt while the rest stayed back to pitch tents, make dinner and tend to the animals. The folks who remained back were startled by a “blood curdling whoop”: a band of 500 Brule Sioux were were on the warpath against the Punkhaw, Pawnee and Omaha tribes. They had rounded up the Pikes Peak party’s stray horses and wanted compensation for their troubles. The party named my great-great grandfather as the negotiator, who then gave the Sioux a quarter pound of tobacco for two old mules. One of the men got so excited about getting two horses back that he gave them all their flour. The Sioux decided to only bring one horse back but not return any flour. My great-great grandfather was not happy that they were without flour for the rest of the trip either!

Ultimately, the entire journey was a true hardship due to the lack of available water. Elisha’s story really centers around their quest for water, and it’s a miracle they didn’t die of dehydration. Unbeknownst to them, a band of Omaha were hunting buffalo and followed them, eventually surrounding the entire party. They were extremely apprehensive about the approach, when the Omaha leaders asked them where they were going; they replied that they were heading to the Platte River. It turned out that the Indians were also heading in that direction and offered to let them travel with them. Ultimately, the Omaha decided they needed to head home and offered them good advice, which they took, but not until they traveled in a 40 mile circle unsuccessfully. Without finding water on the way, either.

In the end, Elisha did not remain with his party and set out on his own with his trusty rifle. Sadly, he did not finish writing about his trip to Pike’s Peak nor did he complete his memoir; perhaps he died before he could finish. It was believed that he made it to Cripple Creek, where he staked a claim in Poverty Gulch, but came up empty. Since I know the end of the story has a happy conclusion in Wisconsin, and he married Mary in 1863, I’ll assume he had safe travels back and was none worse for the wear. He became a widower in 1880 and died in 1907.

When I was in Saint Croix Falls last October, I headed to the cemetery before driving back to Minneapolis to catch a flight home. The cemetery is hilly and beautiful. There was a crew removing trees and debris, and one of them was kind enough to steer me in the right direction. Elisha, his wife, in-laws and at least one of their children are buried on a hill, at the highest point in one of the oldest sections of the cemetery. Their family grave is marked by an obelisk, and until I walked directly in front of it, could not see that it was close to toppling. I took the photo below for my dad to see. (The last time my parents were there, it was upright.) My dad has since hired a local company to do the work necessary to right the stone.

If you ever have the chance to visit western Wisconsin and the Stillwater area, I highly recommend it. The Saint Croix River is beautiful, and the towns of Stillwater (MN) and Hudson (WI) are lovely and rich with history. Val and I went on a trolley tour of Hudson and learned all about the early settlers (to include the corporate birthplace of Anderson windows). The architecture is lovely and it wouldn’t take much for me to imagine myself in one of those 19th century homes. Most of my other ancestors that settled there were from New York, and the landscape definitely reminds me of upstate New York. I’ll be going back at some point, and I’m sure the next trip will be a new learning experience. Not like Elisha Chadwell Creech’s, but fruitful for me nonetheless.

Elisha Chadwell Creech’s leaning tombstone, St. Croix Falls Cemetery, Wisconsin

Puzzles, Balance and Life

A reminder to dwell with the living

I’m not sure I wish I had discovered genealogy research earlier. It’s become a gratifying hobby. No, an obsession. There is very little I don’t like about working on my extended family lines. However, it can be likened to falling down a rabbit hole and not coming up for hours. “Just one more thing and I’ll stop for awhile.” More often than not, that one more thing leads to one more thing, I look up at the clock and notice it’s 2 am.

Genealogy is a monstrous puzzle of linking dead people. But it’s more than that to me. Last fall, my DAR meeting had a guest speaker who REALLY resonated with me. She happens to be the president of the local genealogy society (which I joined), and whose focus is bringing the lives of those dead people back to life. Our ancestors lived very full lives between their date of birth and date of death, and that the cause of their death was not necessarily a sum of how they lived. She’s a proponent of writing stories and books about our family members who are gone. And Noel is one of the biggest reasons I started this blog. I like writing, and it’s easy for me to put ideas on paper–as long as my topics don’t have to have a thread to link them all. I like writing vignettes. This is the most logical way for me to bring those people back to life and be able to put it out there for friends and family to read and learn.

You don’t have to be related to me to feel connected to my people. My people are undoubtedly no different than your people. They got up every morning, did chores or worked, they married and raised families, and they worried about their children and grandchildren. And when I say ancestors, I don’t necessarily mean people who lived in the 1700s. Sure, they qualify as ancestors. But so did your grandmother’s grandmother. Those people are *almost* the present. Yet they are often out of reach for a variety of reasons.

How does this connect to balance? Well, like anything else, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Spending too much time delving into the lives of the dead means I’m not 100% focused on the living. I’ve curtailed my research to make sure that the ratio of my time spent with the living is more than my time with the dead. I’m pretty sure my dead peeps would endorse this mindset.

I’m now at the age where losing friends and family is not uncommon. The past five years have been tough. I’ve lost people very close to me and people who were not in my everyday life but whose lives touched mine. Those loved ones serve as a reminder to… live. My friends have lost parents, children, siblings and friends too. We’re all in this together.

Back to puzzles. All my life, I’ve loved puzzles. My parents are puzzle people. When I grew up, there was often a puzzle on the dining room table. I’d come home from work, drop my stuff on my bed and come to the table to work on it for a spell. I may or may not have had times when I didn’t get along with my parents very well and didn’t feel like making small talk with them. Somehow, working on puzzles seemed to bridge the divide. By the time we quit for the night, the conversations weren’t as tense and there was some inexplicable healing.

I was fortunate to marry a man who also liked puzzles a whole lot. When we were going through tough times, the puzzle seemed to be a place where Kevin and I could let our guard down and work together. Maybe I’ll start a puzzle on my dining room table and encourage him to stay a half hour the next time he’s over? We get along great, so I don’t have an ulterior motive. Well, other than just enjoying a few minutes together to be a team.

When I share some of my own ancestral journeys with you, it’s a decision to let you in on the satisfaction of working a puzzle. It’s a pleasure to have you join me.

Photo by Rucksack Magazine on Unsplash

A German sculptor and his American dream

Big Pop and his connection to Lincoln

The past two posts were devoted to Mom’s side of the family, so I’m jumping over to Dad. Mom isn’t the only one with relatively recent European immigrants in her family tree. There’s a connection between Smith Croft and my other second great grandfather. Let’s see if you can spot what they have in common.

Before I tell you about him, I will say that working on my ancestral roots is often like playing with a barrel of monkeys: you find more monkeys linked after you successfully pull one through the opening. If you don’t like puzzles, you won’t like working on your genealogy. My ancestors are a big, fat puzzle of dead people who often don’t make sense. Until they do. One more thing you may not know is that I’m a card carrying member of the DAR and the Mayflower Society. I will definitely be talking about some of these folks in future posts because my journey and relationship with them is intensely personal. Between both of my parents, I have 15 known ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War. They make me super proud to be their xxth granddaughter. But so do my hard working immigrant ancestors. Today’s post is about one of them.

Born Carl Wilhelm Buhler in Speyer, Germany, on 22 Dec 1849 to Phillip Heinrich Buhler and Catharina Philippine Scheffel, Charles William Buhler emigrated to the United States in 1870 for what was always considered a very good reason. He was the youngest son and the second youngest child. Once he settled in the US, he either officially or unofficially changed his name to Charles William Buhler. Charles William Buhler was the paternal grandfather of my Grandmom, Elise Regina Buhler Dunn.

Charles William Buhler, who signed his work “CW Buhler”, will hereinafter be called Big Pop. Why? 1) It was Grandmom’s name for her grandfather; in all her stories, she referred to him as Big Pop. To this day, everyone in the family knows of him as Big Pop. 2) There were 2 more Charles William Buhlers coming down the pike, and neither of them were legally named Jr. or III. Big Pop called my grandmother by one name as long as he was alive: “Girl”. She never knew why he never called her by her given name–a name she shared with his wife, who he adored.

As the family lore goes, Big Pop’s father wanted him to avoid serving in the Franco-Prussian war and got him the hell out of dodge with the promise that the family would join him. As far as everyone knew, his parents sailed across the pond and then… dropped off the face of the earth (not really). One would assume by the above statement that Big Pop was the first of his siblings to emigrate, but he wasn’t. I discovered that his older sisters were here long before he arrived and his older brother made the trip shortly before he did. I don’t believe avoiding the war was the real reason he came to the US, mainly because his father died 6 years before he emigrated.

Big Pop sailed across the Atlantic on a ship called Bavaria on 7 May 1870. The Bavaria sailed under a German flag from Hamburg and landed in Havre, New York; the German manifest doesn’t provide the arrival date, and honestly, I haven’t looked very hard for it. His occupation was listed as Schmied–a smith. He remained in New York for awhile, maybe doing what a smith does? Or perhaps dabbling in what was his ultimate profession as a sculptor? He married his wife, Elise Fertig, in Manhattan on 17 March 1872. They had seven children (discussion later on this number), three who were born in New York and the rest of them in Washington, DC. The story is that there was family in Washington, so they eventually headed down I-95 (what did they call the horse and buggy route from New York to Washington?) and settled into life in Washington. And no, a big family is not what Big Pop and Smith Croft share in common.

Big Pop was a very, very talented sculptor. Some of his work is still displayed in buildings around DC. His best known work is in the Old Post Office. He also carved the tombstone for his sister, Barbara Buhler Vonderheide Wagner, pictured at the top of this post. This labor of love for his sister can be found at historic Prospect Hill Cemetery in NE Washington. It is nothing short of magnificent. There are little frogs and detailed ferns carved into the drapes of sculpted fabric, among other intricate details. It’s breathtakingly beautiful. I looked at it and wondered why I didn’t inherit any of this artistic talent? On the other hand, nobody did. Big Pop was one of a kind.

Dad, Valerie and my cousin, Martha, made the trek over to all the cemeteries where the Buhlers are buried last November while we where there for the Thanksgiving holiday. I grew up in the DC area and had never been to them. I’m not sure why, either.

On this trip, I discovered and began the uncovering more about the lives of Big Pop’s siblings and cousins, mostly through a bunch of death certificates I obtained on my first day of the trip at DAR Headquarters. Those stories will wait for another day, including the complete mess facing me in researching his parents. They really didn’t drop off the face of the earth! His father died back in Germany and his mother died in Washington. But I will tell you about his oldest sister…

Wilhelmine Marie Helene Buhler was married to a man who made his mark in Washington by accident on one unforgettable Friday evening, 14 April 1865. You could google that date unless you paid close attention in US History, specifically in the Civil War era. Julius Ulke and his brother, Henry, were boarders at the Petersen House in Washington, and were also photographers by trade. Julius captured Mr. Lincoln’s deathbed and was made instantly famous for the photograph. By a strange twist of fate, one of Big Pop’s daughters (Aunt Lolly) married into an old Georgetown family of hoteliers–who descended from an established Maryland plantation family sympathetic to the pesky slavery issue–suspected of funding John Wilkes Booth and his movement to assassinate Lincoln, so go figure. Helene and Julius are buried in historic Rock Creek Cemetery.

Big Pop’s wife, Elise–my grandmother’s namesake–died in 1923, 3 years prior to his own death, leaving him bereft and with a heavy heart. It was said he never bounced back after Elise died. He had cataracts and his vision was failing him. I believe he was legally blind. One day, he was walking in downtown Washington, accidentally stepped off the curb and got hit by a bus. Yes, I know I always tell people “when I get hit by a bus”… that I realize it’s a fate close to home and not really the way I want to leave this earth. Big Pop was unceremoniously buried next to his wife at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Northwest Washington. His grave marker is a huge disappointment: it’s plain, boring and not representative of his profession or his life. It saddens me. A photo of this pitiful marker is shown below.

There is one last mystery I have yet to solve. This mystery is likely to stay that way because there is nobody alive that knows the answer. My grandmother was well acquainted with her Buhler aunts and uncles and wrote as many stories about them as she could remember. But there is one person who will remain an enigma. In the 1900 Federal census, there was one additional person enumerated in Big Pop’s household. The person was a little girl named Emma, who is identified as his daughter, born in Washington, a student and 8 years old. There are no birth or death records for an Emma Buhler in Washington between 1890 and 1910. There is no further documentation about a daughter who might have died young. There are certainly no photographs and there has never been someone named Emma come up in any stories in my very large extended family. Who was this little girl and why was she there? She will forever remain a question mark.

I’ve never been to Germany, but it sits atop my bucket list. I’d love to visit Speyer and walk the land where my ancestors trod. The surname Buhler is translated to “hill dweller” in English. I wonder if it’s accurate? I aim to find out some day.

In case you haven’t figured out the commonality between Smith Croft and Charles Buhler, I’ll just state the moral of this story: one shouldn’t walk on train tracks or city streets if he is deaf or blind. It’s not wise.

All the photos except Barbara’s tomb marker and Big Pop’s marker were given to me by Aunt Kathy; the grave markers were taken by me last November. They may not be copied without permission from me.

Carl Wilhelm Buhler ca 1859
Charles William Buhler, by his brother-in-law, 1881
CW Buhler in his studio
Family heirloom in possession of the home of the late Frank Buhler in Lynchburg. The work is titled, “Two dogs barking up the wrong tree”
A pathetic and wholly inadequate foot stone for a very talented man

From England to Minnesota

One big boat and lots of smaller ones

I hadn’t planned on writing more about about this part of my family so soon, but it just feels like the right thing to do. I really had hoped I’d be writing about my late brother, as it’s his 51st birthday today, but I’m just not ready to talk about him. He’ll have to wait for another day.

What I didn’t say yesterday is that Grandma wasn’t *as bad* at sharing stories about her family with her daughters. I wouldn’t say she shared a lot, though. I’m fortunate that my mother is still alive, and I’ve been able to tap into some of her memories. I have to catch her at the right time of the day so that her mind is receptive to a blast to the past. It’s been somewhat enlightening. If I had known how fun it is, I’d have done it a long, long time ago. In this case, I’ll share what I know right now about the Crofts. I say right now because I have a cousin I met through Ancestry.com who is part of this big family. Glen was recently in Two Harbors and he promised to send me some stuff. It’s like the grab bag at the bazaar, and I can’t wait.

Smith Sowden Croft was born in 1841 to Thomas Croft and Anne Sowden in Scamblesby, Lincolnshire. He married Hannah Mary Cass on 27 June 1868 in Pickering, Yorkshire. They had the first two of twelve children while in England. In 1872, for reasons unknown to me, Smith, Hannah, Mary Ann and Charles left their families in Yorkshire, headed to Liverpool and boarded the ship Palmyra; they landed in Boston on 24 July 1872. What made them migrate to Minnesota specifically? I don’t really know. The passenger manifest lists Smith’s occupation as a laborer. That surprised me a little, because what I’ve discovered about my 2nd great grandfather is that he and his sons were fishermen. (Wasn’t Boston a good place to do that? I totally LOVE Boston!) They headed to Duluth and started their commercial fishing business and procreated on the side as recreation.

Some of the Croft children remained in the Duluth/Two Harbors area, but many headed north on the shores of Lake Superior to a place called Croftville, which is north of Grand Marais, where Hannah Jane and Thomas Carter ultimately settled. My grandmother’s cousins, EJ and Mike Croft, built boats and owned the Croft-Craft company. It turns out that Grandma knew all of her cousins. I think she liked most of them? It also turns out that Mom has met a few of these characters. Before I tell you about them, I’m going back to Smith.

While researching this one branch of my family, I discovered that they weren’t so easy to track. Minnesota has pretty good records, but in the time period we’re discussing, they’re spotty, if they exist at all. I easily found the death record for Hannah Cass Croft in 1918; Smith survived her, but there is no death record for him. Furthermore, without a death certificate, I didn’t know where any of them were buried. I suspected they were buried at Lakeview in Two Harbors, but there were no Find-a-Grave entries for them. Adding to the mystery, my parents have paid for the tombstones of known relations to be pulled up from the earth–several times–and didn’t remember seeing one for Smith or Hannah. Lakeview Cemetery sits on the shore of Lake Superior, the ground is soggy and tombstones tend to sink. Eventually, I wrote to the cemetery commission to get a list of Croft people buried at Lakeview. Many of them were there, so I created memorials for them in Find-a-Grave. Even though I knew Smith Croft had died in 1920 and was buried there, I didn’t know anything more. I’d lament to Mom that he literally dropped off the face of the earth and we would sigh and say in unison, “those damn Crofts”.

Then one day, I went on Newspapers.com and found what I had missed previously: three separate articles about Smith’s death. Smith struck out 3 times at the plate; in reality, he had been hit by a train for the third time in his life and finally succumbed to the injuries sustained from the final collision. Okay, I’ll say it…

I was reading the story aloud to my parents when I exclaimed, “My God, I descend from dumb people!”

Smith was hit by a freight train while walking to make a passenger train. What.the.hell. As the wheels were turning in Mom’s head, she said, “I think I remember Mama telling me he had lost his hearing in his old age and was deaf.” I also remember thinking if I were deaf, I wouldn’t walk on a train track–especially if I had been hit twice before. The karma just isn’t good.

Mom vaguely remembers meeting some of her great aunts and uncles. The only known she can share with me today is that Mary Ann, known as Aunt Polly, was blind. That answered one of my many silent questions, because I had noticed in all the census records that Mary Ann was the only one who was unable to read or write her entire life. That finally made sense. She lived with Smith until he died, and then moved in with her sister until she died in 1950.

Moving along to Smith’s grandchildren and my Grandma’s cousins. If you consider there were twelve children, you’d have to figure that more than one of the grandchildren would share a name. The English did have naming customs, after all. But was it necessary to have two boys named Elmer who were born a month apart in 1910? Who encouraged that? Fortunately, they had different middle names. Mom doesn’t remember Elmer Raymond, but she remembers Elmer Joseph, otherwise known as EJ. EJ died in 1984, so he lived a good long life and Mom was well into her adulthood when he passed. Well, Elmer Raymond died in 1985, so that might have been a mess had EJ not been known as EJ. For the record, I had to straighten out the mess on Find-a-Grave for both memorials. The memorial managers were confused too.

I should probably note that the Crofts were musically inclined. My own mother inherited that inclination from them; she was a very gifted pianist who also played a slew of other instruments in her life. Music comes naturally to her. EJ also possessed the same abilities.

EJ, as mentioned before, was a partner with his brother in their boat building business. He may have been better known for his affection for beer as well. Maybe more than is socially acceptable. But it was acceptable for him because he was a friendly guy who was always willing to offer a hand to anyone who needed him. People tend to overlook that kind of thing if you’re nice about it. EJ was that guy.

Mom has two distinct memories of EJ: 1) when she was young, she’d go over to their house for a visit and recalled that the house was really cold (it IS the north shore of Minnesota, after all). The house was so cold that EJ learned how to play the piano with choppers on his hands. She was fascinated by that. No, Mom didn’t learn how to pull that off. Anyone who plays the piano well gets a star in my book. But anyone who plays the piano well wearing choppers? They’re in a whole different league. I’m really sorry I never met him on one of our trips to Grand Marais. (Side note: Again. Why did I not meet him? We had been to Grand Marais plenty of times before 1984.)

2) EJ’s musical talents also brought him front and center to the town of Grand Marais. Every summer they have the Fishermens picnic, which coincides with the high school reunions and is marked by a parade. The townspeople would load a piano in the bed of a pickup truck, and EJ would ride in the back and play the piano in the parade. I used to be in a fife and drum corp and I don’t ever recall a drunk guy in a pickup bed playing the piano. Is this a thing?

Ironically, the only other cousin of my Grandma I know anything about is EJ’s sister, Florence. Grandma would drag my aunt and mom to the other side of the street when she spotted Florence heading in her direction. Grandma was a tolerant person–sometimes too forgiving–but she barely tolerated Florence. Florence was a religious fanatic and Grandma just didn’t have the patience or time for that. I can appreciate that.

Before I close, I’ll say that this post WAS inspired by Grandma. First of all, my soul is inherently connected to Grand Marais, Minnesota. For some reason, whenever I go there, I feel like I’m home in my heart. I practically felt her urging me to get this out. These were her wacky people, after all. Our wacky people.

There is still information about the Crofts that is missing. I’ll probably never uncover their truths either. Mom and I will undoubtedly go to our graves muttering, “those damn Crofts”.

Photo of Grand Marais via Good Free Photos