Monday, July 30, 2012

The Widow Jane Comes To America: Part II

Am busy searching (and not finding so easily) the immigration records of Jane James Williams (1815 - ?), widowed in 1865, and her family. Maybe I'll find them and maybe they'll continue to hide from me, but along the way this relative newbie is learning all kinds of stuff I didn't know. And I love that!

I found by google search a master's thesis by Paul Demund Evans written in 1914 entitled, "The Welsh in Oneida County, New York." It's a real treasure trove of background info to put some color on the family's immigration in the 1870s. And in it I find that the Williams people of Wales were amongst the very first settlers in Upstate New York and specifically Oneida County. Here's a link to it in case you're interested:

By 1850 a great many Welsh coal miners were thinking about immigration. The potato crop had failed in Wales in 1846, the winter following was harsh with heavy snows and a wet spring. Thunderstorms in the summer of 1847 were destructive and damaged crops. Families fell into famine and deceases broke out. The next harvest was good and imports from America insured enough to eat but drove down prices for farming families looking to cash in. By 1849 and 1850 manufacturing and mining were hit hard economically. Reading Evans thesis I got to the point of asking, how much can these people take? The Welsh are a hearty and somewhat stubborn folk, it is said, but gosh!

By the time of Thomas' death in 1865, Jane's husband, the tide of Welsh immigration to America had tapered off. Here is a sampling from the table in the Appendix: Numbers of Welsh Immigrants to the United States.
1865 / 505
1868 / 699
1870 / 545
Those totals are down from more than 2000 per year to NYC in 1851 and 1852, with 1848 to 1852 experiencing the greatest numbers of people leaving Wales for America.

The Evans thesis outlines a narrative of the immigrant experience before the establishment of Castle Garden in 1855. Yikes! As if the passage wasn't precarious enough with poor accommodations, rations, rats, disease and the vagaries of weather to extend the voyage, once here there was a crook at every wharf waiting to prey on them! Welsh speaking runners would grab up luggage supposedly for safe keeping, and send it to a boarding house. The unsuspecting immigrant, speaking only Welsh, went to the boarding house with the runner, was given a sales pitch and usually checked in. The overly friendly runner pressured them to buy transport tickets from him. Many did, only to find later that they were overcharged. Some tickets were worthless. At the close of their stay, boarding rates were hiked and a new hidden fee was charged for storage of the luggage.

Castle Garden put a stop to all of that. Not only were officials able to document and manage the influx of immigrants but agents speaking native tongues were best able to offer genuine help. Transport to certified boarding houses was provided and ticket sales to upstate location were sold within Castle Gardens. Jane and family likely came over through Castle Gardens so they would have been relatively safe from the runner's mischief, which eases my mind:)

As I read the Evans thesis I thought of Jane and family, and especially my GGF Daniel, on every page.

Today's photo from the Archive from Aunt Betty:

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Friday, July 27, 2012

The Widow Jane Comes To America: Part I

Jane James Williams was born on 31 July, 1815 in Strata Florida, Cardiganshire, Wales. She was born into a time of severe economic downturn. Families were eligible for relief funds based on how many children they had and so they brought yet more children into the world to beef up the subsistence funds. Not saying that Jane's family did this, just setting the stage for an understanding of the times.

Jane James married Thomas Williams on 29 January, 1841 in the Chapel at Strata Florida in Cardiganshire. Jane and Thomas appear in the 1851 Wales Census in the town of Caron, Cardiganshire: Thomas Williams age 35 working as a miner, his wife Jane age 35, Elizabeth 9, Jane 6, Daniel 2 months, who is to be my GGF. In the 1861 Wales census they are in the same place with more children: Thomas 10, John 7, and William 5. That's all the children they'd have and Thomas would die in 1865.

So there was Jane left with 6 children. The passage to America was not going to be cheap or easy. But what was she to do? Her two oldest children were girls and she could put them out as servants. Coincidentally, the 1851 census also shows on the next page an Eliz. Williams, saying she's 25, working as a servant. The same person? Daniel, the oldest boy, was 16 and could possibly work in the mines if that was allowed... and it night be interesting to do some research Welsh mines of the period.

The Wales census for 1871 reveals that Jane is now widowed and Daniel is working in the mines. They have moved to Breckenshire. Mom thinks they moved to be closer to Jane's relatives and there is a Dianah James also a widow, 31 years old, living next door to Jane... and remember that Jane's maiden name was James. Dianah works as a green grocer. Is she Jane's sister-in-law and the kids Aunt Dianah?

Daniel's sibs are all there in the 1871 census except for Thomas who would be 21 years old. Did he marry? Or did he already immigrate? I need to pursue that lead... but Thomas Williams is a very common Welsh name, so good luck to me.

What would you do? Would you send your oldest boy on ahead? Maybe. Mom found a Daniel Williams with Elizabeth (and Elizabeth was his oldest sister's name) arriving in New York on 2 May, 1873. Or did Thomas go on ahead, or did he stay behind with a wife and work in the coal mines? Is Thomas one of the brothers in that photo that's burning a place in my brain?

You know who is not in the Wales census of any year? David. He was born 22 May 1844 and the oldest boy. Strange. Maybe he's the one missing from the Troy NY photo of Jane and her children?

They all came to America, I know they did because of that photo. But when and who came first? As usual, more question than answers:)

Photo of the day from Wikipedia:

The Abbey at Strata Florida.
The Wikipedia link:

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Research Plan for Jane James Williams 1815 - ?

OK, here's the story. My GGF on my Mom's side was Daniel Williams (1852 - 1920), born in Wales to Thomas Williams (abt. 1815- 1868) and Jane James Williams (1815 - ?). After Daniel's father Thomas died in 1868, it is thought that the family moved to the USA. Daniel then moved to Western Maryland and worked as a coal miner, raising a large family, owning a home, and becoming a recognized member of the community.

After Daniel's Mother Jane and sibs moved the to the USA, we lose tract of them. They presumably move to the upstate New York area because Aunt Betty has a family photo of Mother Jane and her adult children taken in Troy, NY, about 1880 - 1890 or so, as best we can guess by the clothing. And pretty much, that's all we know for sure right now.

I have about a ton and a half's worth of questions! So what happened? What's the full story? How did Jane decide to move to the USA... that was pretty brave for a widow, no? Why did they come to upstate NY? Did they all come at once or a few at a time? So what's the story... what happened to them? Where did Daniel's family go? It's unlikely that they simply disappeared off the face of the earth. I need a solid research plan!

I talked to Mom this morning - and she's doing much better after her fall 3 weeks ago, thanks for asking:) We went over what we know and then what we'd like to find out.

I think I'll start with New York State records for the area around Troy. The lead is that photo of mother Jane and six of her seven children.
The two girls are there in the picture:
Elizabeth (24 Oct 1841-?), and
Jane (4 Oct 1846-?).
There there is GGF Daniel, seated on the right side of the photo next to his mother Jane. Mom, Aunt Betty and I have spent some time trying to match up the boys with the photo, knowing that one is missing.
For the record, the boys are:
David (22 May 1844-?),
Thomas (25 Mar 1851-?),
Daniel my GGF (31 Mar 1852- 19 Apr 1920),
John (Nov 1853-?), and
William (23 Jan 1865-?).
But which of the boys is missing?
So we do know that Jane was alive when this photo was taken, whenever that was. I'll need to study up on the available records for the area because I'm clueless:)

I think I need to start timelines for Daniel and his parents. In the past, timelines have been especially helpful to me. I use them in a very loose fashion and feel free to make copious notes anywhere and everywhere. They are for sure not your Family Tree Maker's timelines;)

Then it will be time to take a look at the good old US Census. Hopefully by that time and after looking into NY State records I might have a better idea of where in upstate NY to look. Hopefully. Those brothers will be my first target.

I want to check immigration records looking for when they came over. Mom says that she has tried without much luck, with the exception of perhaps finding Daniel and Elizabeth on the SS Wyoming on 2 May 1873. Want to spend time verifying that and seeing if the original record image contains any other clues. My bet is that if there are other clues Mom and Aunt Betty would have already found them... but I get lucky every once in a while.

Can cemetery records help? I could really use a location to narrow the search. Hope I find one!

Have my work cut out for me!! And as usual, any thoughts you might have are very much appreciated:)

Photo from the Archive of the Williams Family taken at Troy NY. Can you help us match the names with the faces?

The Girls:
Elizabeth (24 Oct 1841-?) she's the oldest girl so is that her on the right?
Jane (4 Oct 1846-?) is that her on the left in  the fancy dress?

The Boys:
David (22 May 1844-?)
Thomas (25 MAR 1851-?)
John (Nov 1853-?)
William (23 Jan 1865-?)

Daniel my GGF (31 MAR 1852- 19 APR 1920) is seated on the right
and his mother Jane (1815-?) is seated to the left of him

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Pretty Priorities

As I looked at my basket of genealogy (a literal basket) sitting on the floor next to the computer, I saw a mess. It was then that I realized that I wasn't making progress because I had lost sight of my priorities.

Now I must confess right away that I do love a well-crafted list! I thrive on lists. When I wake up every day a list is the organizing principle of my day. Oh, sure, there are days when I enjoy drifting, taking time here and there to float on the tide of what ever is going on at the moment. But there is hardly anything to rival the pure satisfaction of crossing out a task on my list:)

With five minutes of organization I had my priorities set! Gee, that feels good. Four projects have emerged from the basket, and let me relate them here as a personal exercise to draw sharper lines around them. They are listed below, posed as questions to be answered

1. Where did Daniel Williams' family - his mother, and sibs - go? They immigrated from Wales, presumably as coal miners, in the mid-1800s. We know they were in upstate New York, in Troy, because there is a family photo taken by a photographer there. Daniel moved to Western Maryland at some point, presumably for work. We know a lot about him because he's my GGF and Mom's grandfather. Plus Aunt Betty spent some formative years living with her grandparents. When he moved from New York, what happened to his mother and siblings? At present, they are lost to us. Gosh would Mom, Aunt Betty and I love to find a family historian in that branch of the family tree!

2. Who are Samuel Albert House and his natural father, Issac Biggerstaff's ancestors and how are the families intermingled? SA House is my 2nd GGF and Mom's GGF. I've written a lot about him here so I won't bore you with all that now. Just want to get it on the record that I need to investigate his ancestors for my own curiosity. It will be a challenge!

3. Come to understand Sarah Wooden Waggoner Yeast and Peter Yeast a bit better. Wrote about this most recently. (See below.) She's my 3rd GGM. Mom now has straightened out about the names but I want to get a better feeling of the time and place in which they lived. I love the history part:)

4. Check for other information about the Porter family and Delilah Porter in particular. I have a suspicion that I'm not done with that lot yet! Can't put my finger on it but I need to take another look at the info to see what I can see. Ever have that feeling... that you might have missed something?

Well, there you have it. That feels better:) Now let me grab a glass of iced tea and go sit in the garden with my Daniel Williams file folder. And make a new list! Priorities are pretty, don't you think?

Photo of the day from the Archive:

Daniel Williams and his family,
Daniel seated right with his mother Jane Price Williams seated left of him.
These are Daniel's sibs but we're only guessing at matching names and faces.
Picture was taken by TOWNE,
47 Third Street, Troy NY.

Friday, July 20, 2012

My Genealogy Guru is Under the Weather... Bums Me Out

Mom had a nasty fall in her home two weeks ago today. She's on the mend, with a couple of side tracks due to meds and such. I talked to her today and she sounded so much better my heart was warmed. She's turned a corner for the better. Please keep her in your thoughts and prayer, will you? After all she's going to be 94 on the 29th of this month!

We chat just about every morning and catch up on what we've been working on, genealogy-wise. She hasn't spent time at the computer because of the injury to her back and the added strain of sitting. But she'll be back soon.

Meanwhile the wind has gone out of my "ancestor search" sails. I left off sorting out the Wooden/Wooten, Waggoner, Yeast/Yost mess up in Grantsville, Maryland. Sarah Wooden/Wooten is my 3rd GGM and Mom's 2nd GGM. Her daughter, Sarah Waggoner might have been illegitimate but I'm not so sure. Seems that Sarah Wooden might or might not have married a Mr. Waggoner but Mom hasn't found record of that marriage. She did go on to marry Peter Yeast, a very prosperous innkeeper. Together they had six children: William, John, Alfred, F. F., Elizabeth, and James, as listed on the 1850 US Census.

So the two Sarahs, mother and daughter, are confusing enough to me. Add on two surnames that sound similar - Wooden and Waggoner (if that's how they were spelled at various times) - and it's all a muddle for me. Mom has it sorted but it falls out of my head whenever I think about it such that I have to resort to notes. See why I'm bummed out that Mom is under the weather... she keeps me organized and on the right track!

I have a copy of a letter from mother Sarah to daughter Sarah written March 5, 1869 which I'll transcribe here later. Mom has the original and I copied it last time I was visiting her. It's a lovely old thing and a tender picture of a family. In it mother Sarah asks daughter Sarah when she's coming for a visit. They only lived about 12 miles apart, mother in Grantsville, Maryland and daughter in Frostburg where, incidentally, Mom lives. Today it's a short drive but then the roads were difficult and prone to washing out. See photos below for a picture of how the road looked about 40 years later. (For more pictures of the National Road see the album via the tab at the top of this page.)

The most charming part of the letter to me is mother Sarah recapping the comings and goings of Sarah daughter's step-brothers and sisters, where they are living and what they are doing. It is difficult to read in some sections. And there is mention of Major and Sergeant. Don't know who they are and now in rereading the letter they might just be horses;)

I got curious about the Yeast brothers especially as this letter was written not too long after the Civil War. As best I can tell, William and James both served in the Union Army and survived. James was a private in the Second Potomac Home Brigade. I still don't have William's records sorted out properly but it looks to me as though he might have served in the 6th Calvary in West Virginia. Possible as West Virginia was "just over the hill", as Mom would say:) If so he was a POW at Andersonville... but I could be very wrong.

I did use the new search function at Fold3... and I love it! If I dreamed of the near-perfect search function, this would be it. I just searched on Union Army and Yeast and there all of the Yeasts were! Coulnd't be simpler.

So please wish Mom a hearty "get well soon"... and beg her to come back and keep me organized!

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Monday, July 9, 2012

A Reasonably Exhaustive Search

Now as you can tell, I'm having fun with this genealogy. I try my best on any given day to be as qualitative as possible but most of the time, as judged by the larger view of the craft, I really have very little idea what I'm doing. 

You might know that Mom has been doing this genealogy stuff sine the 1970s so she's done all the hard work of it, and she has standards. Like all Moms everywhere who want things to be better and maybe a tad easier for their kids, she's given me her GEDCOM with no specific instructions.  So I snoop around looking for ancestor puzzle pieces and stories. There are plenty or good stories and that makes us both happy.

Recently was very interested in the New England Historic Genealogical Society's issue of "American Ancestors", especially the article, "Weighing the Evidence." I learned a lot about the practical difference between these words: definite, possibly, likely, perhaps, or possibly. And once again I spent some quality time with the Genealogical Proof Standard.

Now I do understand that it's very important to make a "reasonably exhaustive search." But I have to confess that most days it just feels like a reasonably exhausting search!

Mom's under the weather due to an accident so please keep a good thought for her. Thanks.

Photo of the day from the Archive:

Mom and Dad, 1942,
Francis Patrick Kelly (1916 - 2007)

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Friday, July 6, 2012

Big Family Secret: Dunkers

Still considering myself a newbie to this genealogy stuff, and am imagining that will continue for years. I constantly feel as though I'm simply stumbling from thing to thing even though I do make lists that outline my research goals. But often as not, in following a line of inquiry there's a bit that demands my attention as though it's calling my name. Look here, it shouts. So I do. Then stumbling I go into a fact that shines a completely new light on a tiny branch of the family tree. Suddenly I feel that I understand what happened to the ancestors in a completely different way! Things start to make sense.

And so it was with the Samuel Albert House situation. This blog post is a continuation of one you'll find below, entitled "Big Family Secrets." Here's the link, if you want to catch up:

Got thinking about the Biggerstaff family, especially after making contact with Cousin William through Messages. Noticed that we share our 2nd GGF, SA House. He has a nice big tree in Members Public Trees and I messaged him about the SA House info he had there and the Biggerstaff line. He shared some web sites and other stuff.

As you seen in the previous post, Samuel Albert was illegitimate and every indication is that Isaac Biggerstaff was his father. But why didn't he marry Rebecca House, Samuel Albert's mother? Cousin William's info kept me thinking.

Can't even tell you how I got there but I found a web site about the Tarvin Family, and many thanks to them! Here's the link: As you see, it's beautifully done and a wealth of information even if none of our people are Tarvins!

There are two links on the main page that caught my eye. First is the PDF of the book, "Allegheny Passage: Dunkards on the Cacapon." The description reads: "We have received permission to scan and re-publish a key reference work on the history of the Brethren religion in the western area of Maryland and Virginia. The chapter that contains references to Rev. George Tarvin's family is posted here online."

I looked at the PDF and found about a full page on the Biggerstaff family as well as mention of the Longstreth family, both Church members. William and Samuel are mentioned by name, William being Isaacs's GF and Samuel his father. It also mentioned William's will, with which I was recently familiar due to the good graces of Cousin William.

As you might note from the previous post, Isaac Biggerstaff married a Longstreth girl instead of Rebecca House, mother of Samuel Albert. Mystery solved: he was expected to marry within his faith. I copy the following from a wonderfully lucid presentation by Rev. George Tarvin in 1988 at a Tarvin family reunion.

Here's the link:  I have taken the liberty to quote at length here and hope that it does not offend. It's of such importance that I can't help myself... and I'm forever grateful to the Tarvin Family for this text! The bolded portions have been added by me to emphasize the importance of marrying within the faith.

To more fully understand our ancestor, a person must first look at the history and doctrine of the Dunker Church. The German Baptist Brethren, called Dunkers, grew out of the Pietist movement of Germany in the late 17th century. The Church of the Brethren was officially organized at Schwartzenau in 1708 by Alexander Mack, a miller. There were eight original members baptized by triple immersion (hence the name Dunker) in the Elbe River. Their belief was to live as close to Bible teachings as possible. They found themselves a persecuted people and by 1719 the first group came by ship to Pennsylvania to seek a refuge where they could worship as they pleased. This first group settled in Germantown, now a part of Philadelphia. In 1729, Alexander Mack led the remainder of his group from their native Germany to America.
During these early years, several Brethren communities were founded in southeast Pennsylvania and two in Maryland. The Dunkers were progressive farmers and tried to live simply, hence they were invariably included among the so-called "plain people" of Pennsylvania. They were often on the frontier, locating in the mountains of Pennsylvania and Virginia, and later extending south to the Carolinas and Tennessee and west to Virginia and Ohio.
The Dunkers were one of the historic peace churches. Most Dunkers have been conscientious objectors to military service. On the frontier, this went as far as not carrying guns and being friends with the Indians.
Some of the distinguishing beliefs of the Brethren were (1) baptism by triple immersion, previously mentioned as the reason for being called Dunkers; (2) full communion service including a meal and a footwashing service; (3) "Fellowship of Believers" which in the early days meant marriage primarily within the membership of the church; and (4) simplicity, meaning to dress plainly and to avoid any extravagance in spending. There was no official church creed and the main emphasis was on living as close to the teachings of the New Testament as possible. It was said, "A Dunker's word is as good as his bond."
Their beliefs which set them apart, and especially their emphasis on marrying within the faith, led to a close-knit group with a tremendous number of intermarriages among the few well-known family names.

Now I'm adding score points to the theory that Issac might have married Rebecca had they been of the same faith.

Photo of the day from my Archive:

Elizabeth Longstreth Biggerstaff's stone,
Cherry Orchard Cemetery,
Magnolia (or what's left of it) WVa,
She was Isaac's wife.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Let's Explore Some Local History!

Am reading "Best Dressed Miners" by Katherine A. Harvey. It's a real treasure for me because, as I've said before, there's a lot of coal dust on my ancestors. It paints a detailed picture of the life and times of those mining coal in the Georges Creek area of Western Maryland, one of the richest mining fields anywhere, simply called The Big Vein. In 1892 it secured over 3 million long tons from the area mines, all mined by hand. Down from the previous year! I don't know much about coal mining but that sounds like a lot to me.

Before the Harvey book I read, "Allegany County - A History", by Stegmaier, Dean, Kershaw, and Wiseman, 1976. It's a wonder and treasure chest of information about the area compiled on the occasion of the county's Bicentennial. It traces the long history of the county and eventually gets around to mines, miners, and the economy of the area. AC - A History also underlines the importance of mining to the area and how the entire economy changed as the mines got mined out in the early decades of the 1900s.

Harvey gives an interesting picture of the miners and their work in her book, which is increasingly scarce as it was published in 1969. She contrasts the miners and their families of the George's Creek area with miners elsewhere. In reading it I've come to a better understanding of the area, the work, and my ancestor's relationship to it. And I've come to see yet again how important history is to a deeper understanding of genealogy!

One of the things I've often wondered about is why my ancestors all stayed so long - for generations - in this one small geographical area contained within about 15 square miles. Now I know: good work at a fair wage.

The earliest of ancestors arriving in the late 1780s were in search of farmable land and they found it in abundance. Then in the early to mid-1800s the ancestors came in dribs and drabs, often making their way from eastern parts of Maryland or Pennsylvania. The final wave came in the mid-1800s. They all stayed until work in Western Maryland became scarce after WWII. Then family members increasingly moved away. Today the cousins reside from coast to coast.

So here's a recap of salient points that shed light on my own ancestors. And I have both of those books, as well as Mom and Aunt Betty, to thank for it!

The miners of the 1800s were Welsh, German, and Irish. Some had their passage paid for by the mining companies who recruited them from mines fields in their native lands. While the various nationalities tended to live and worship with their former countrymen, they shopped and entertained together, thereby smoothing the assimilation process.

My Welsh miner ancestors lived near Welsh Hill in Frostburg and worshiped at the Congregational Church that was known early on as the Welsh Congregational Church.

Ladie's Aide Society of the
Welsh Congregational Church
Of Frostburg, Maryland
Their Picnic, about 1932.

My Irish ancestors were mostly railroad men. Interestingly, the RRs ran on Georges Creek coal. And of course they all worshiped at St. Michaels Catholic Church.

My grandfather wasn't lucky enough to be higher in the birth order so while his older brothers worked for the railroad, he had to go work in the mines. He eventually suffered from "black lung disease". Uncle Delbert remembers him coming home with 25 cents for  a day's work during the Great Depression. Good thing his father in law was the town's prosperous barber and had trained him how to cut hair in the little shop in back of the house. The income from haircuts given to miners on Saturday night carried them through the Depression.

My Grandfather,
John Lee Kelly, right,
and his brothers,
With their father the railroad man,
about 1912.

Employment in the mines was steady so miners often bought their own homes and put down roots, married and had large families. My GGF Daniel Williams was a mine supervisor and owned his own home... as well as two mines, which is another story I'll save for another day:)

This was not the case for the vast majority of mine fields. Workers tended to roam from mine to mine and sometimes state to state. They had no vested interest in the community and tended to be single and drinking men.

I keep reading and learning, soaking up as much as I can. It gives me a fuller picture of my ancestors.

If you'd like to peek into the daily lives of those living in the Georges Creek mine field in the late 1800s visit the Frostburg Mining Journal, some of which is now online through the gracious and wise auspices of the Maryland State Archive's state newspapers project. Find it at:
Click here to find the microfilm now online:

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