Thursday, November 15, 2012

A second road trip, and some new videos

The wagons headed west this go-round, on an interesting road trip of discovery to Illinois and Tennessee, following the trail of the Gillham family.  Along the way we also found out some information on other families such as the Barnsbacks, Montagues, Kerrs, and Tuckers, as well as some "collateral kin," the Willifords.

We left on October 1st, which is why these installments of my blog and website were delayed until November.  The trip coincided with my 50th birthday, and was in fact a sort of birthday present, since our original plan to travel north to Montreal fell through.  It was a wonderful time to visit the Midwest, with cooler temperatures, wonderful autumn vistas and fewer travelers on the highways.


After traversing the Appalachians in Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia, we crossed into Kentucky near the Ohio River, just west of Huntington, WV.  It was a grueling 13-hour trip, but it put us in Frankfort, KY, on our first night, in perfect position to visit the Kentucky State Archives the next morning.  The Archives building was impressive and had stacks of information, but, unfortunately for us, we were unable to find much material on any of our ancestors, for two main reasons:  for one, our people settled in Kentucky very early on and headed further west shortly thereafter, and the log of births, deaths and marriages (in most cases) didn't extend back as far as the 18th century.  Second, the records were categorized by county, of which Kentucky has 120, which made it impossible to research individual names found on or in family histories that were not attached to a specific county.  Most of the families that came through Kentucky would ultimately funnel down to the Gillhams, including the Kerrs, Hendersons, Rices, Penistons, Barnsbacks and Minters.
Following a rather disappointing morning at the Kentucky Archives, we were able to spend a delightful evening with Carolyn Waskey Sheldon and her family in Louisville, a short hour's drive from Frankfort.  From there we crossed the Ohio River into Indiana, heading west to Illinois.  We traveled very near the point along the Ohio where in 1790 Indian abductors crossed the river with their hostages, the wife and children of James Gillham, the son of the original American Gillham, Thomas Sr.  (Read more about this here).  Interestingly, the route of the Indians, which eventually led across the Wabash River into Illinois, crossed very close to the area of Spencer County where 20 years later young Abraham Lincoln lived.  Like the Gillhams, Lincoln lived in Kentucky and moved west to Illinois -- and Lincoln's father had made the move specifically because Illinois was a free state, something the Gillhams had helped bring about in 1824.
In Illinois we stayed in Alton, a fine old town on the Mississippi which, despite the ravages of modern urban decay and the Great Flood of 1993, still retains some of its 19th-century charm.  Our main goal was Edwardsville, the seat of Madison County, where we visited the county historical society and archives.  When we first inquired about the Gillhams, the archives director asked, "Which one?  There are hundreds of them.  Maybe we should just bring out the Gillham box," which was a large banker's box containing about 40 folders of Gillham information.  The staff could not have been more helpful, subsequently dragging out books, plats, folios, maps, reference books and directories, and making piles of copies of everything we found that was pertinent to our Gillhams.
The Gillhams truly were one of the first settlers in Madison County, arriving in 1799, almost 20 years before Illinois became a state.  Our ancestors Ishom, son Shadrach and grandson George were all born in Madison County, and were prominent farmers, owning many acres and several large plots of land throughout the county.  One prime plot of land lay along the Mississippi River in a region known as the American Bottom, a five-mile wide strip of fertile farming land that hugs the river from Alton south to the Kentucky border.  On several plats and maps we were able to discern that Ishom's property lay just opposite the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi, straddling a small creek that flowed into the Big Muddy from the east.  It was along this creek in the winter of 1803-04 that Lewis and Clark and their party prepared for their famous expedition to the Pacific Ocean, thus giving credence to the old family story that the Gillham family helped outfit the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Once we made our haul at the archives, we visited Woodlawn Cemetery in Edwardsville, beautifully landscaped along a slope with large old-growth trees and shaded drives.  There we found the resting places of Shadrach Bond Gillham, his wife Hannah Barnsback and five of their children who didn't survive to adulthood.  Next to the Gillham graves was that of Shadrach's daughter Madora, who married into the Krome family.
We then headed west to the town of South Roxana, a rather unfortunate collection of houses situated opposite several mammoth, labyrinthine, smoke-puffing oil refineries built in the 1910s.  On the south edge of town is the Wanda Cemetery, which I had visited in 1974 with my Gillham grandparents and cousin Marshall.  In the cemetery we found the memorial graves of several of the original Gillham brothers, including our ancestor Thomas Jr.  Also there were John, Isaac and James, the man whose family had been abducted by Indians in Kentucky.
The next morning we visited the Lewis and Clark State Park and climbed the huge Confluence Tower (a private 250-foot tower that afforded sweeping views of the Missouri and Mississippi) and then headed south, driving through the American Bottom, crossing into Missouri for a stretch and finally crossing back into Tennessee near Dyersburg.  At twilight we found the Bethel Cumberland Presbyterian Church, the final resting place of William Augustus Tucker, the portrait of whom hangs in our dining room in Crosswicks.  Buried next to him was his father, William B. Tucker, and his mother, Elizabeth Murphy.
In the gathering dark we finally arrived in Kerrville, just inside the Shelby County line, and had supper at the Pig 'N Whistle BBQ restaurant, which at one time had been the general store.  My mother and I did some exploring in town until there was no light left, but we were able to find the property on which once stood the famous Little Brown House, a small house built by George Halsey Gillham that remained in the family until after WWII.
The next morning we drove into Memphis to the Elmwood Cemetery, a beautiful old urban cemetery on the scale of Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta.  The cheerful director helped us locate the plots of the six family members that I had found in my research had been buried there:  Helen Montague Tucker (wife of William Augustus Tucker), John Kelly Kerr (father of Maria Henderson Kerr Gillham), George Johnson Gillham and his wife Maria, and George and Effie Gillham.  We found Helen's grave with little difficulty, but, much to our amazement, none of the other five had any gravestone or marker at all.  Perhaps one day we can pool some resources form the greater Gillham family and at least purchase a gravestone marking the graves of the two Georges and their wives.
Our next stop was the Shelby County Archives, but first we stopped by the neighborhood that was once part of the Macon Road property, a tract of land purchased by Effie's brother Frank.  Part of this property was willed to Effie (and thus WTG), and after its sale in the 1960s, part of the tract was made into a housing development.  The main thoroughfare through the development is Gillham Drive, with a small cul-de-sac branching off it called Gillham Cove.  Below is a map showing the general area of the development off Exit 12 of Interstate 40 east of Memphis:
At the Shelby Count Archives we encountered Vincent, a very officious but ultimately quite helpful clerk, who showed us on the computer how to locate several plots of family land including that of the Little Brown House in Kerrville.  He also introduced us to a wonderful book entitled An Illustrated History of the People and Towns of Northeast Shelby County and South Central Tipton County:  Salem, Portersville, Idaville, Kerrville, Armourtown, Bethel, Tipton, Mudville, Macedonia, Gratitude, Barretsville and Rosemark, Tennessee (I think the title may have to be shortened for the movie version).  In it is a 30-page or so section on Kerrville that makes many references to our family, especially George and Effie.  I have posted a few photos and articles from the book on the website here
Vincent was nice enough to phone a local bookstore where we could buy the book, so we sped over there, bought the book and a quick lunch at the wonderful in-house bistro, and then raced back up to Kerrville -- my dad had left his hat at the BBQ restaurant the night before, and retrieving it gave us a good opportunity to revisit the town in the daylight.  That evening we drove over to Germantown and paid a visit to Betty Nelson Smith, my mother's second cousin, where we had a delightful dinner and were able to scan about 20 or so photos of our Aunt Allie and the Williford family.
On our trip back east, we stopped briefly in Chattanooga to see the McCallie School, where WTG had gone to high school in 1924-26.  None of the old buildings survive, but we were able to take a quick drive around the "new" campus, which included a gleaming new field house that was donated by alum Ted Turner.  We spent the night at Martha and Jack Waskey's house in Dalton, GA, and enjoyed the bounty of their garden for supper and made some scans from Martha's trunkload of Gillham memorabilia.  After a short stop in Asheville to see Katherine, Bob and Zysean, we made the now-familiar trek up I-81 back to the Garden State.
Prior to our adventure, I spent a day at the van Naerssen house in Treddyfrin, Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia, and was able to make a large number of scans from Bryant's collection.  I was able to post some of these photos on the website, especially on the pages of PopBryant, and Gartrell.
I also used these scans to put together a page of Bryant's remembrances of December 7, 1941, as well as a page containing the full version of Bryant's history of the Kiser family.
One of my efforts in the project is to include some information and photos from the families of Nancy Penn and Carl Moore, since we have dedicated quite a bit of space on the website to the Gillham family.  I have started an in-law page on the site containing just a few photos, and I am putting out the call for any photos or histories of the Penn and Moore families.  (It's hard to believe that in my whole collection I have only been able to find one photo of Nancy Penn Holsenbeck!)  As soon as Penn Holsenbeck recovers from his recent unpleasantness, I will make the trek up to Coopersburg, Pennsylvania, to rummage through his collection of Penn family memorabilia.
Another reason for the delay in this last leg of the website project has been the transferal of WTG's 8mm films to video.  The promised 6-week transferal soon became 9 weeks because of a backlog of orders at the company's headquarters in Chicago, and we received the video shortly after we returned from our westward excursion.  Of the five cans of film I sent out, the company was able to transfer four of them, and they were sent back to me on a 320-GB external hard-drive.  I then had to format, edit and divide the videos so that they could then be uploaded onto YouTube, enabling everyone in the family to see them.  The videos can now be accessed from here and no where else, since I have tagged the videos as "unlisted," meaning that one can only call up the videos if he knows the exact URLs, and no one may search for the videos on the YouTube site.
The next and final part of the project is the book, which will be cobbled together using text and images from the website, as well as other items in my collection.  Please stay tuned to this blog and the website for further updates!


Monday, September 10, 2012

Countdown to the book

The August post is a bit late, mainly due to a hectic but fruitful month that included the sale of my condo in Atlanta.  The process was lengthy and draining, but ultimately I closed on August 17.  The next week, my sister and her son, Zysean, came to Crosswicks to visit for a week, so I spent the first week of September finalizing my August benchmarks.

In August I began the process of preparing for the book that will be made from this website, as the ultimate goal of this project.  When I was first presented with this project proposal by Andrew Waskey nine months ago, a small voice inside me asked, "How will you ever collect enough material for an entire book?"  Now, nine months later, the voice is gone and I'm wondering how I can distill this 132-page website into just one book.

This month I finally added a branch of the family that I had heretofore neglected, simply because there was no easy place to put them.  Grace Lucy Holsenbeck Brandon was very close to her older brother Marshall, who we all know as Pop, and her family has kept up with ours over the years, mainly through her surviving daughter, Libba.  I have telephoned and corresponded with Libba over the course of this project, and she has been very generous with her help, in the way of material and remembrances.  She felt a kinship to this project, not only because of her Holsenbeck roots, but also because she lived at 992 Washita for several years just after the war and became part of our family.

Since Aunt Grace was neither a descendant nor an ancestor of Pop, there was no easy place to fit her family on the website, so this month I created three new pages that are devoted to her and her descendants.  You can begin here and navigate from there to the other two pages.  There are several photos of the family that she sent me, and I included a descendant page based largely on information gleaned from Bryant Moore's files.  This information is out of date, I am sure, but at least it provides a beginning for anyone interested in Grace's family.

After the successful and educational journey this summer to Chesapeake Maryland and Tidewater Virginia, and after finally finding the grave of Thomas Gillham, Sr., in South Carolina, I began envisioning a similar trip west to Illinois to visit the area settled by Thomas's children and our Gillham ancestors.  I am not sure when the trip will take place, and it may occur after the formal completion of this website, but I will definitely post information on this blog, which I hope to continue indefinitely.

In preparation for this trip, I did some research into the Gillham family and found a remarkable volume titled The History of Madison County, Illinois, Illustrated, With Biographical Sketches of many Prominent Men and Pioneers, published in 1882 in Edwardsville, Illinois, by W.R. Brink & Co.  According to this book, the most prominent founding family of Madison County was the Gillhams, led by James Gillham (the son of Thomas Gillham, Sr.) who came to Madison County by most remarkable circumstances in the 1790s.  After settling in Kentucky to start a farm, his family (all but a son) was kidnapped by Indians and led to Illinois where, through an agent, James was able to locate them five years later.  The entire story is depicted here on the website.  Once James settled in Illinois after this harrowing episode, he invited his brothers (among them our ancestor Thomas) to move to Madison County and lay roots.

I have gleaned the pertinent passages of the Gillham history and posted them here, which include a remarkable anecdote about how the Gillham family helped to make Illinois a free state.  Interestingly, Thomas Jr's son Isham named his son (and our ancestor) Shadrach Bond Gillham, after Shadrach Bond, the first governor of Illinois. 

The final additions and edits to "The Gillhams: 1933-1978" have been made and the entire story can be found here.  Emily and Martha sent me some additional information that completed the final chapter of the story, that of the family's life after the move back to Atlanta in 1955.  As always, if any of you have other additions or find errors or omissions, please comment on this blog or email me here.

On August 7, I mailed out 5 reels of WTG's 8mm film to located in Chicago.  They seem to be reputable and were actually recommended to me by my high school geography teacher, who I ran into on facebook.  I sent an estimated 900 feet of film, which at normal speed would equal one hour of footage.  If everything goes to plan, they will mail the film back to me and send me a 320 GB external hard drive containing the digitized film.  Then I can load it onto my laptop, edit it and upload it onto YouTube, and then provide a link to the clips on the 992 website.

 Stay tuned!


Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Road Back: After the Road Trip

Peter Montague

A highlight of our trip was a visit to the Peter Montague monument in Lancaster County, Virginia, in the so-called Northern Neck.  We gathered a lot of information about the man, including the fact that he is considered one of the Original 400 Settlers at Jamestown, having arrived there in 1621.  Prior to the trip, I had traced him on and found a plausible link between him and us Gillhams.  However, it wasn't until I finally got my hands on the definitive book on the Peter Montague family that I was able to confirm our relation.

The book was written in 1896 by George Montague, a descendant, and I finally tracked it down at the New Jersey State Library in Trenton, about 15 minutes from here.  The book traced Peter Montague's line as far down as Henrietta Helen Montague, the maternal grandmother of WTG, which is a score in genealogical terms.  We know her as Helen Montague Tucker (pronounced HEE-len), and her portrait hangs in our dining room, next to her husband's, William Augustus Tucker.  

William Smallwood

We are related to the Smallwood family through Pop's maternal grandmother's line.  The family came from England in the 1660s and settled in Charles Count, Maryland.  There were many prominent Smallwoods during the colonial period, but the most famous was probably General William Smallwood, who fought in the Revolutionary War under George Washington and led the First Maryland Regiment at the Battle of Trenton after famously crossing the Delaware with Washington the night before.

I was able to find plenty of information about the Smallwood family, but I was never able to definitively connect our line to William Smallwood.  There are several possible links that would make him a first cousin of ours, but the information about our ancestors is too vague to create a direct match with the many Smallwood genealogies.  I assume that we are related to him somehow, since Smallwood is an uncommon name and all Smallwoods in Maryland stem from Colonel James Smallwood, who was the first of the family to immigrate from England.

Thomas Gillham

We were able to find the gravestone of Thomas Gillham, Sr., the first of the Gillhams in America.  He was buried in Bullock's Creek cemetery in South Carolina, but most of his sons, including our ancestor Thomas, Jr., are buried out in Illinois near St. Louis, Missouri.  We had always assumed that the sons had moved out to Illinois as part of a land grant, perhaps acquired for military service in the Blackfoot Indian wars.  The actual reason appears to be much more melodramatic.

The first son to move away from the Southeast was James, who resettled with his family in Kentucky in 1797.  That same year, according to family lore, his wife and several of his children were kidnapped by Kickapoo Indians and forced to march hundreds of miles further west to what is now the area around Springfield, Illinois.  James was finally able to locate his family through an agent in St. Louis (i.e., he had to pay some sort of ransom for their return), and he decided to stay in the area, specifically Madison County, Illinois.

The first brother to join him in Illinois was our ancestor Thomas, Jr., in 1799, and by 1810 most of the other siblings had followed.  It's not quite clear why the sons all moved west, whether it was to support and aid their maligned brother or simply because James found some cheap farmland, but the family stayed out there until WTG's grandfather, George Johnson Gillham, came down the Mississippi to Memphis in the 1860s.

Presidents in the Tree

Genealogy research can be likened to the Dutch boy removing his finger from the dike -- usually just the smallest bit of information can lead to a gullywash.  This happened recently as I was going over some crinkled onion-skin pages that arrived in a package of materials from Martha Gillham Waskey, the source of most of my genealogical fixes in this project.  At first, it seemed to be an ancient, typed list of forgotten names, or at least names I had never seen before, so, as usual, I looked for any last names I might recognize.  Finally, my eyes fell upon John Rice Kerr, sporting a popular Gillham last name.  He seemed to be the highest Kerr on the list, so I followed the names listed above him until I came to Isham Randolph, typed in heroic caps at the top like some legendary primogenitor.  I felt I should be impressed, but I wasn't, so I checked the name in Wikipedia.

Turns out that Isham Randolph was the maternal grandfather of Thomas Jefferson, our third president.  It's still a mystery to me a) why the author of this list failed to mention how Isham Randolph was so important, or b) why I'd never heard of this family connection before.  But it got even better.

Isham Randolph was the son of William and Mary Randolph, who historians have dubbed the Adam and Eve of Virginia because of their many prominent decendants.  They had nine children, Isham being the third, and through these various offsprings they became the ancestors of the likes of  Robert E. Lee, Chief Justice John Marshall, several founding fathers of Virginia, and the aforementioned TJ.  Thus, we Gillhams share the ancestors of some of the most famous men in American history.  But there was even one more surprise.

John Rice Kerr, mentioned above, appeared later in another tree on this sheet, which listed his siblings and parents.  Next to his sister Elizabeth appeared the name of her husband, Joseph Jones Monroe, followed in parenthesis by "the brother of the President."  That could mean only one president, James Monroe, and after some searching on Wikipedia and, I was able to confirm all the facts on the sheet.  John Rice Kerr was thus the brother-in-law of President Monroe and John's wife, Sarah Henderson Kerr, was the first cousin once removed of President Jefferson.  Quite the power couple.

My mother (Monty) determined that this list probably came from two maiden "aunts" (actually fourths cousins of WTG) whom the Gillhams visited in Tennessee some time in the 1950s, since their names appear at the bottom of the list.

Henry W. Grady

Our connection to the great Southern publisher and promoter of the post-Civil War "New South" has been a big part of family lore, and also the source of some controversy.  Some family sources say he was Pop's second cousin, while others claim that we're no relation at all.  After some digging and cross-checking, I was able to determine that we are related to him, but not that closely.

Our mutual ancestors are along the Gartrell line, which first hits our tree with Pop's maternal grandmother, Olivia Marion Gartrell Bailey.  Olivia's paternal grandfather was also Henry W. Grady's great-grandfather, making Pop the third cousin once removed of the famous Atlanta Constitution editor.  I think the confusion lay in the fact that most Gartrell men were named Joseph, and those not named Joseph were called John.  It was very difficult to untangle the mess in the older generations, and I could see how one might think that we're actually no kin at all.

Daniel Marshall

Our relation to Daniel Marshall, the famous minister and founder of the Kiokee Baptist Church in Appling (the first Baptist church in Georgia), was always a mystery to me.  His name was the same as Pop's first and middle names, but we have never been able to find any relatives further back in the Holsenbeck line than Pop's grandfather, Marshall.  Then I heard that Pop's dad was given the name Daniel Marshall Holsenbeck in honor of the minister, who was an idol of Pop's grandfather.

Mary Air, the niece of Pop's niece Libba Paulin, sent me some information supporting the fact that we are actually related to Daniel Marshall, but along Pop's maternal line.  In other words, Marshall Holsenbeck named his son in honor of Daniel Marshall, never dreaming that his son would one day marry the minister's great great-granddaughter.  Of course, the idea may not have been so far-fetched, since they were all from Columbia County, Georgia, a very rural and sparsely populated community where everyone knew everyone.

Interestingly, Daniel Marshall's wife, Martha Stearns Marshall, has her own Wikipedia article, in which she is described as a Separate Baptist preacher who preached along side her husband.  Her brother's grandson Elias Wellborn married her daughter Mary Marshall, a practice of intermarrying that was common in the 18th century and which causes untold tangles in family trees.

Mary Air also sent me a list of corrections and additions to Pop's ancestor tree, mainly on his page and the page of Ann Eunice Wellborn, which includes the new Daniel Marshall information.

Frances' Letters to 992

I have posted a series of letters that Frances Holsenbeck Gillham wrote home to her parents while she was living in La Jolla, CA, in 1941.  They create an interesting, chatty slice-of-life portrait of the family on their new adventure out west.  She typed these letters on carbon paper and then made copies for There are others in this collection that have yet to be posted, although she didn't continue her weekly typed missives for very long, primarily because she wasn't getting any feedback from the family.  I will continue to update the website as I scan the collection.


I am starting the final push of the website project, and should make a few more additions and updates in the month of August.  My last major task will be transferring WTG's old 8mm film to digital and the uploading it on to YouTube and making it accessible to the family on the website. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Road Trip 2012

This month we headed out on a road trip of discovery, chasing some of our family roots along the east coast of the United States.  We had an idea of what we were looking for, but along the way we unearthed some new and interesting information.  We started in Crosswicks, NJ, and made stops in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, mainly along the coastline where our ancestors first set foot in the New World after their voyage from Europe.

Northern leg of our journey,
in the Chesapeake Bay area.
Click on these and all other photos
for a better view.

Southern leg, in North and South Carolina


Our trip began on Father's Day, and, out of deference to my dad, who really has no dog in this hunt, we spent the day in Annapolis, Maryland, a beautifully restored colonial city on the Chesapeake bay.  Just across the bay, in the town of Crisfield, the Caldwells landed from Donegal, Ireland, in 1731.

Annapolis, the seat of Ann Arundel County, was also most probably the port of entry for the Gartrell family, who immigrated here from England in the 1660s.  This family came down Pop's line, ultimately lending its name to Pop's brother, Gartrell.

Our first genealogical stop was in La Plata, Maryland, located in Charles County, along the Potomac River about a half hour downstream from Washington, DC.  It's still a remarkably rural area, considering its proximity to DC, and you can still see how it must have looked to our relatives when they first arrived.

There were three main venues where we did our research:  The Southern Maryland Studies Center at the College of Southern Maryland, the Charles County Courthouse in La Plata (pronounced la-PLAY-ta) and Port Tobacco Village, the original entry point for some of our families.  The family names involved were the Boswells, McAtees, Smallwoods and Poseys, none of which made it very far down our line, but all of them, except the Poseys, are in the line of Mama New, Pop's mother.  The Poseys are in the same line as Robert Warren Dixon, Mother Cile's grandfather.

Port Tobacco was, in fact, a port where they exported tobacco to Europe, but the name actually stems from an Indian name, Potobac, similar to the name Potomac.  At the time our family members arrived, it was a thriving port, the second busiest in Maryland.  Even as late as the 1930s it was a viable town, but now it has all but disappeared.  The railroad came through neighboring La Plata, which became the larger town and eventual county seat.

The reconstructed courthouse at Port Tobacco.

The harbor near Port Tobacco. 
Much of the river has now silted in. 

At La Plata, we visited the county courthouse, which had will records back to the time of our ancestors.  However, they were only on microfilm and couldn't be copied, and the originals were at the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis.  We were able to find five wills and took notes that were able to help us expand the information on the family tree and confirm some information we already had.

At the College of Southern Maryland, we were able to find some information about our relatives in several private genealogical collections on file in their Study Center.  Here as with all the places we visited, the lion's share of the information was about the family that stayed in the area.  In all of our cases, a son or daughter would move away, usually to the west or south, which is how our family ended up in the South.  Therefore, we only found but fleeting references to the early family, since record keeping was so sketchy at that time.

Most of the information we gathered is still in files and will be processed as part of next month's benchmarks.  However, we have made one interesting discovery already about our Smallwood relatives:  through our ancestor Col. James Smallwood (who immigrated from Chester, England, in the 1660s) we are related to Gen. William Smallwood, the Revolutionary War hero.  He would be a first cousin of our ancestor James Smallwood, the Colonel's grandson.  (Note:  in genealogy jargon, the term "ancestor" refers to direct ancestors, i.e., x-great grandfathers or grandmothers, and not aunts, uncles or cousins.)


Our next stop was just over the Harry W. Nice Bridge on the other side of the Potomac in the Northern Neck of Virginia.  This is Virginia's northern peninsula on the west side of the Chesapeake, and it still is very rural.  This is the area where George Washington and Robert E. Lee were born, and we visited their respective birthplaces on our way down to the end of the peninsula.  Our main goal was Lancaster County, at the tip of the peninsula, which is the supposed resting place of Peter Montague, the first Montague in the New World and of whom we Gillhams are direct descendants (through WTG's grandmother, Helen Montague Tucker).

Monument marking the birthplace
of George Washington in Virginia

Peter Montague arrived at the Jamestown settlement in 1621 aboard the Charles from England.  He came from the small village of Boveney in what is now Buckinghamshire, about a mile from Windsor Castle on the Thames.  He came over as a servant, but he was soon able to purchase land and became a wealthy landowner in his time.  He owned land in Nansemond County (now Suffolk), where his son (and our ancestor) Peter Jr. was born.  Peter Sr. bought land in Lancaster County, as well, and apparently died there in 1659, but the exact whereabouts are disputed, since Lancaster County was much larger at that time and covered an area beyond just the Northern Neck.

Nonetheless, in 1903, on the 300th anniversary of Peter Sr.'s birth, the governor of Virginia, Andrew Jackson Montague, erected a monument to Peter at his supposed burial place near the town of Lancaster, VA.  It is now located about 1/4 mile off the main road in a heavily wooded area, and we valiantly traipsed through the thicket in the blazing sun (it was in the 90s that day) to reach the monument.

Frances Montague at the
Peter Montague monument

Earlier in the day we had arrived in Lancaster (or more precisely, Lancaster Courthouse), the county seat, which is a small town comprised mainly of the old and new courthouses and some county office buildings.  Wedged between two of these buildings was an unassuming modern brick building which housed the local geneaology library, where we met a wonderful librarian who dragged out all the Montague information she could find.  The library closed at 4pm (not 5pm, like most county offices), so we had to work at a fevered clip, but we were able to amass some important information and create a working bibliography.

She was also able to give us some insight into a debate that has been raging among Lancaster County genealogists for many years, and which has an impact on our own family tree.  At George Washington's birthplace we saw a large wall-mounted family tree, which indicated that his mother, Mary Ball, was born in Lancaster County.  Her mother, in turn, was also from the area, and on the chart under her name were the words "Maiden name might have been Montague."  This would undoubtedly tie her to our Montagues, given that both families were from Lancaster County and that Peter Sr. is the assumed primogenitor of the Montagues in America.

Chart showing Mary Ball (Washington's mother) and
her mother, Mary Johnson (Montague)

Apparently we weren't the first Montagues to make this connection, and the question of the Montagues and Washington has dogged researchers for years.  One would think, with all the hundreds and maybe thousands of books and miles of research papers written about George Washington, arguably the most famous American ever, that someone would have been able to nail down the heritage of his grandmother.  Nevertheless, there are two distinct camps, with the Montagues claiming a connection and Washington scholars saying otherwise.  I have not delved into the debate deep enough to determine what the sticking points are, but, as a Montague, I'm perfectly happy to claim George Washington as a relative. 

Our next destination was the Jamestown settlement, where Peter Montague arrived in 1621.  We traveled over the middle neck down to the lower neck, which is flanked on the north by the York River and on the south by the James River.  On this neck are Yorktown, Williamsburg and Jamestown, and the area becomes a veritable history Disneyland in the summer when American families make their pilgrimages.  We were primarily interested in Jamestown, but to get there we passed through Yorktown and Williamsburg on the Colonial Parkway.  This is a beautiful, wide greenway built in 1930 through lush forests, connecting all three points of interest, and it is reminiscent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, built about the same period.

Mom at the Captain John Smith monunment
in the Jamestown settlement

The Jamestown settlement that was open to the public offered little in terms of serious research facilities or libraries for scholars, but it was a working archaeological site and they did offer a single-sheet bibliography regarding the history of the settlement.  We found most of our information in the bookstore, believe it or not, finding several books mentioning Peter Montague.  From what we could read, and from what the park rangers told us, we determined that Peter Montague was definitely an Original Settler and one of the Original 400 that arrived between 1607 and 1624, the time span considered the first colonial period (the time before the private Virginia Company was dissolved by the King and made into a Crown Colony).  It's not clear whether he actually lived in Jamestown, since the Virginia Company required all arriving ships to dock and register at Jamestown, no matter their ultimate destination in the area.

North Carolina

Our next destination was further inland in Wadesboro, NC, a six-hour drive from Jamestown.  After spending the night in Southern Pines, we went in the morning to the Anson County Library in Wadesboro to research the Kiser line.

I had learned from information available on and other Internet sources that Peter Kiser, the primogenitor of the Kisers in America, arrived in Philadelphia from the Palatinate in Germany (via Rotterdam) in 1734 at the age of two.  The only other piece of information on him was his will, probated in 1785 in Mecklenburg County, NC.  According to some records, his second son (and our ancestor), George Kiser, died in Mecklenburg County -- other sources mention Anson County.  The confusion starts when one realizes that county names and boundaries changed quite often in the early days, and so a piece of land in what was then Anson County, say, might now be in Union County today.  I had no way of knowing in which modern county the Kiser records might be found.

Despite the fact that I had found several Kisers listed in cemeteries in Anson County, our Kisers were nowhere to be found here.  The good people at the county library did their best to help us, but ultimately we had to make the 30-mile drive east to Monroe, the seat of Union County.  This county had been formed in 1892 from parts of Anson and Mecklenburg Counties, so there was a chance we might find something here.

At the Union County Library we struck gold, literally and figuratively.  The librarian there had done some research for us after we had called her the day before, and we arrived to a pile of books waiting for us in the genealogy room.  The county is apparently lousy with Kisers, but we discovered that our Peter was not from Union County, but rather neighboring Cabarrus County, which was created in 1792 from Mecklenburg County -- seven years after Peter had died.  We didn't have time to drive up to Cabarrus County, but we were able to find out that Peter had a farm in the southern part of the county along the Rocky River.

We also discovered that the name Kiser was quite prominent in Cabarrus County for one particular reason:  Peter's daughter Sarah had married John Reed (Johann Riedt, also of German extraction), who founded the first gold mine in the United States in 1799.  Quite by chance, their son Conrad had come across a large lump of gold along the creekbed near their farm, and the rest is history.  John and Sarah didn't profit initially from the mine, but it is said that they were quite wealthy later on in life.  There is no information to suggest that her brother (our ancestor George) was involved in the operation or got in on any of the profits.  By the Civil War the gold supply in the mine had diminished considerably, and today the mine is a National Historic Site and a popular tourist destination.

I think we have just scratched the surface of the Peter Kiser story, and there are records available in Cabarrus County that could help us piece his life together -- or at least the last part of it.  As with almost all counties in the South, records were lost during the Civil War when county records were transferred to the Confederate capital in Richmond, VA, for safekeeping.  It was a good idea, except that in the waning days of the war, Richmond was sacked and all the records were destroyed.  From the few records I was shown in Monroe, though, I think further research is possible.

South Carolina

The last stop on our journey was just across the Pee Dee River in rural South Carolina where the body of Thomas Gillham, Sr., is buried.  He is the primogenitor (there's that word again!) of all the Gillhams in America, having been born in Ireland around 1710 and immigrating to the U.S.  Like Peter Montague and Peter Kiser, not much is known about him and not many records exist, so the little information we have is from contemporary histories and reports, military records and family lore.  His son Thomas Jr., our ancestor, was born near Staunton, VA, and was a surveyor with George Washington.  He started the family migration to Madison County, IL, in 1799, but his father remained in the east, ultimately dying in South Carolina around 1785.

I had found online that he was buried at Bullock's Creek Cemetery in South Carolina, and I immediately became skeptical that any stone would still be extant.  18th-century headstones are quite rare, and the vast majority of stones we find in "old" cemeteries today date from the 19th century.  In 1974, I had taken a trip to Illinois with WTG and saw Thomas, Jr.'s grave in the small Wanda cemetery there, so it seemed a bit odd to me that WTG had never known or spoken about a possible grave of Thomas, Sr., which was supposedly much closer to home on the east coast.

Bullock's Creek is located in rural -- and I mean rural -- South Carolina, just south of York.  Again, it appears now much the same way as it probably appeared to Thomas, Sr., with rolling farmlands, forests and little else.  It was hard to imagine where the Bullock Creek Presbyterian Church got its congregation, since there were no town or even houses anywhere nearby.

Entrance to the cemetery

The grave of Thomas Gillham, Sr.

Soon enough we discerned where the older graves were, and without spending too much time in the relentless heat, we finally found the grave of Thomas Gillham, Sr.  It was a very new grave, certainly late 20th century, which had most probably been made as a replacement grave, or simply as a marker based on old records.  We ran into the pastor, who lived adjacent to the cemetery, and he regretted that there were no cemetery records in the church.  Ultimately, we didn't find out much new information about Thomas, Sr., but we were able to confirm where he is buried and that he was a Patriot in the S.C. militia during the American Revolution, and not a Loyalist, which were in great numbers in the South.

There was actually a cluster of three Gillham graves, with Thomas, Sr.'s in the middle.  His grave was flanked on the left by Ezekiel Thomas Gillham (1840-1856) and on the right by Ezekiel Gillham (1776-1848).  The elder Ezekiel seems to be of the same generation as Thomas, Jr., and his fate jives with the description of him written on our Gillham family scrolls:  "Ezekial Gillham, remained in S.C."  The younger Ezekiel may have been his grandson, who died at the age of 15 and, according to the gravestone, "was an obedient Child."

And so our journey came to an end, as we finished our stay in the South by visiting Katherine and Zysean in Asheville for a few days.  We learned a lot of things on this trip -- not just family information, but also the mechanics of genealogical research on the road.  We are now certainly better prepared for our next trip, which should include Atlanta; West Point, GA; Memphis; and St. Louis.

In other news on the project, I received a large packet of information from Mary Air, the niece of Pop's niece, Libba Paulin.  She has done extensive research on the Holsenbeck family and was able to send me some corrections and additions to the tree I have posted on the website.  She also provided me with some photos of ancestors, which I have posted on the ancestor tree.

Otherwise, there were no major changes to the website this month, but next month I will be processing our haul of information from the road trip and posting it, along with updates given to me by Mary Air.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Dan's Navy Journal is complete, and the living family tree is up

This month's update is a little late in coming, thanks mainly to the Web site design program, SiteSpinner, which continually got hung up while uploading the site to the Web host.  Once it did load, I noticed that it hadn't loaded all the new pictures I had posted, so it was back to the drawing board.  I'm now on a first-name basis with all the techies iHost in Seattle, but once again they pulled me through.  In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, the completed version finally loaded successfully.

The main benchmark this month was the living family tree, which basically combines the layout of the descendants' charts with the Photos pages of the various family members.  Now you can go to, say, Frances Holsenbeck Gillham's decendants chart, click on the relative of your choice and be led to their Photos page.  In the other direction (i.e., back in history), I have also enlivened the ancestors' charts with some photos that I have been collecting.

In the ongoing development of the Stories pages, this month we reached a milestone in completely Dan Holsenbeck's Navy Journal, which started as a 100-page scrapbook that Dan had created about his time in the U.S. Navy before and during World War II.  I put out the first section last month, and this month the entire story, along with scans of Dan's own photos and memorabilia, in on the site.

The most fascinating part of the Navy journal is Dan's day-by-day account of the Atlantic Charter Treaty Summit between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill in August 1941.  The story unfolds like a good mystery, since at first no one on board the USS Augusta was aware of any such summit, until the ship was summoned from its port in Rhode Island to a Navy yard on Long Island, NY.  Then it became apparent that they would be taking on the president of the United States, who would travel to his famed retreat in Campobello to do a little fishing.  At that point rumors began swirling in England that the Prime Minister was nowhere to be found, and that he was last seen aboard the British Naval ship HMS Prince of Wales.  The craftily concealed summit finally did take place on August 9 of the coast of Newfoundland, and Dan does an admirable job of giving us an account of his involvement in the proceedings, as well as his thoughts and impressions.

The thing that struck me the most of Dan's journal was his ability to sense the gravity and historical nature of the summit, and to realize as it was happening how important this meeting would be to the fate of world.  He was not a historian or political scientist, but rather, as he pointed out several times, just a boy from Georgia who was now thrust onto the world stage.  To most of his fellow sailors, this detour up to Newfoundland was nothing more than an annoyance, but to Dan, it was a life-changing event.

I have been in touch with Mary Air, who is the niece of Elizabeth "Libba" Paulin, who in turn is a niece of Pop's through Aunt Grace.  She lives in Houston, TX, and has been doing a lot of research on Pop's family lineage.  She sent me a wonderful letter outlining the histories of some of Pop's great grandparents that included dates and info that I had not been able to find at or in our own family histories.  She also sent along some photocopies of family photos, which includes the only photo that I have ever seen of Pop's father, Daniel Marshall Holsenbeck.  I have put these photos up on the ancestors charts, which you can find by clicking Pop's picture on the People page.

This month, my mother came across a treasure trove of photos that were squirreled away in a filing cabinet.  They include some great photos of Effie Tucker and her father, William Augustus Tucker, which, to my knowledge, are the only existing photos of him.  We also found a photo of Libba's wedding, which included Pop, Mother Cile, Uncle Gartrell (Pop's brother) and Uncle Ozzie (Pop's uncle).

This month is travel month, and, due to budgetary constraints, we may have to split the originally planned trip into two.  This month we will be traveling to Port Tobacco, MD, the entry point for several family members;  the Montague memorial in Virginia, which was near the entry point of the Montague clan in WTG's family;  the grave of Thomas Gillham in South Carolina, the first of the Gillhams in the United States, who left Ireland around 1730.  We will also visit Atlanta and West Point, GA.  The next trip will hopefully include Memphis and St. Louis.

As always, I am looking for any photos, letters and stories you may have.  Katherine Caldwell has submitted a nice piece about Frances, which is now on the Web site, and I have added a few stories, as well.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A month of stories

April was Stories Month here at the website, and I had a fair amount of success in gathering a few good family tidbits to put online.  The main goal this month was to create the stories pages, so there would be an organized space available to put new stories that come in.  I came to realize that there are different types of stories, and I created three categories that would include all of them.

Characterizations:  This refers to any attributes, traits, habits or descriptions of a person that makes him or her memorable.  This may be something like WTG's habit of eating salt, pepper or other spices after he'd eaten his meal, if he'd forgotten to season it beforehand.  Or Pop's penchant for pulling nickels out of your ear or giving you his famed "electricity."

Anecdotes:  These are memorable stories that you've heard from family members or even witnessed first hand, but the key is that they are one-time events.  Examples of this would be the story of Pop helping the sick during the 1918 influenza epidemic, or Bryant, Carl and Margaret living through the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  It could also be something as trivial (but memorable) as when Monty and Emily decided to put some frogs in the washing machine for safe keeping and nearly gave Frances a heart attack when she went to do the laundry.

Narratives:  These are basically family histories that flesh out the skeletal family lineages and trees, and add a bit of depth and substance to the normally dry births-and-deaths histories.  They could also be defined as a string of successive anecdotes used to build a family story.

Most of our stories this month come from Martha Waskey, along with a few from her husband Jack.  If you'd like to see how it's done, just click here to get an idea of the kind of stories we are looking for.  Everyone has these sort of stories tucked away in their memories, and hopefully this will jog some of them loose.  It is rather ironic that the best way to save a story is not to continually remember it, but to write it down.  First of all, the more you remember and re-remember a story, the more it changes over time in your mind.  And second, keeping a story alive in your brain takes up valuable time and space that could be used for other things.  Go ahead and have a brain dump, and free up your grey cells for more important projects!

As to some of the specific stories I've put up this month, the largest project is a narrative I created of the Gillham family history from 1933-1978, i.e., the Frances and Bill Gillham clan and their adventures.  This project was partly borne of a need to finally nail down the exact timeline of their extensive travels and determine when they lived where.  All members of the Bill Gillham family have heard stories of the various places that they lived, but it's always been tough to keep in one's mind the exact sequence of events.

The Gillham story is a work in progress, and I am hoping that you will read it and send me any changes and additions that you feel the story needs.  In this way we can begin to build the full history.  I would also welcome any family narratives from the families of Dan and Bryant!

We also continued to process Dan Holsenbeck's Navy journal, which we had begun last month.  This month we have a true narrative, or rather something like a family travelogue, in the 18-page journal of his trip to Scotland while he was in the Navy.  We are transcribing the main section of his Naval journal, because a lot of his writing is tough to read (he writes in all capital letters), and the pages are heavy with photos, postcards, menus, matchbooks and the like, which makes it very difficult to scan properly.  His Scottish journal, however, is written out in cursive on separate 8-1/2" x 11" sheets, which makes it almost like a letter, although it is not addressed to anyone in particular and has individual chapter headings.  Therefore, I decided to scan the entire document and make a link to it on Dan & Nancy's story page, so you are now able to read the original for yourself.

One last interesting story is a type-written narrative by an as-yet unknown author detailing (among other things) the connection of the Bailey family to famed orator and journalist Henry W. Grady.  The Baileys were Pop's maternal grandparents, through his mother, who most of us know as Mama New.  You can find the link to this narrative through Mother Cile and Pop's stories page.

And as always, I am continuing the drumbeat calling for all stories, photos and letters.  There are any number of ways to communicate with me, as you can see by clicking here.  I am also available on facebook, and you may send me a Message or write on my Wall whenever you'd like.  I check my facebook account fairly regularly, so please don't hesitate.

In the coming months, I am planning a trip to some sites of family importance, which will probably include some original landing places along the Virginia and North Carolina coasts, as well as the final resting place of Thomas Gillham, Sr., the first of our American Gillhams, in South Carolina.  I will keep you posted with the final itinerary on this blog, and I will also communicate via facebook status. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The month from heck

The month of March was ultimately a rather successful month, but it was dogged by two unfortunate developments:  I was sick for most of the month, and I encountered a major technical problem with the website that took until mid-April to resolve.

But first on to happier topics.  March was letters month, and I collected and scanned about thirty of them and posted them on the website.  In addition, I began the Herculean task of transferring Dan Holsenbeck's Navy journal to the website, which included scanning his substantial collection of ephemera and memorabilia, and transcribing his handwritten captions and entries.

The largest batch of letters is a series written by Andrew Jackson Kiser to his sweetheart/betrothed, Mary Emma Dixon in the year 1885.  Andrew (or A.J., as he was known on his letterhead) was a 41-year-old dry goods merchant living in Atlanta, and Mary Emma (or simply Emma) was a 23-year-old living in West Point, Georgia, near La Grange, situated on the Alabama border.  Unfortunately none of Emma's letters survive.  Most of the A.J.'s letters I received from Bryant Holsenbeck Moore in 1998 when I first moved to Atlanta, and the balance were given to me recently by Martha Gillham Waskey.

The other letters come from both the Kiser and Dixon families; that is, the paternal and maternal lines of Mother Cile.  On the Kiser side we have a letter of congratulation sent to A.J. by his sister, Eugenia, on the occasion of his marriage to Emma on December 17, 1885.  Eugenia had married George Alanson Fox, who was originally from Wisconsin and had settled for a time in Marietta, Georgia.  They eventually moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where they had several children, including a son Henry.

Henry Fox, a first cousin of Mother Cile, penned a letter that is also in our collection.  He wrote it to Mrs. A.J. Kiser, or "Auntie," on Kansas City Star letterhead, so we can assume he was an employee of the paper.  The main purpose of his letter is to request that his aunt send him any information she might have about the Leo Frank case, which had come back into the news after Frank was convicted of murder in August, 1913.  At the time of this letter (January 23, 1915), Georgia governor John Slaton was considering commuting Frank's sentence from death to life imprisonment, due to new evidence that had come to light since the trial.  Slaton would eventually commute the sentence in June, 1915, which then led to the lynching of Frank in August.

On the Dixon side we have several interesting letters, including a "mystery letter" penned in 1876 from Philadelphia, PA.  The envelope is worn clean of any writing, and the letter is addressed to "My dear boy," and signed "Your papa," so there is very little information to help pinpoint the author's identity.  Even the content of the letter consists mainly of general descriptions of the man's travels and the friends he meets.  However, in the letter's closing, the writer asks his son to "kiss Mamma and Sister for me," which definitely describes the family situation of Robert Warren Dixon, who had two children by 1876 -- James and Emma (Mother Ki).  Robert would have been 38 at the time, and James 10 (the probable recipient of the letter). 

Robert Warren Dixon would die three years later in 1879 at the age of 41, of an unknown yet "dread" disease.  On this occasion, his widow, Frances Catherine Fleming Dixon (Nanny Dick), received a letter of condolence from the director of her church's aid society.  In this letter the director also inquires as to the number of children she has at home, as the society would probably have some money to give her now that her husband has passed.

The last Dixon letter is a gem, written by Nanny Dick to Frances Holsenbeck in 1913, just five months after Frances was born.  In the letter, Nanny Dick gives a concise history of the Baileys and Flemings.  I received these scanned pages from Anna Waskey Hamel, and apparently only the first four pages of the letter survive.

In addition to transferring Dan Holsenbeck's Navy journal to the website, I have also scanned a letter he wrote to his family during this time.  It is quite long and informative, and is full of the wonder and innocence of a 26-year-old from Atlanta seeing the world for the first time.

The website is now up and running properly.  I still have not solved the original problem, but between me and two tech support teams and several hours on the phone, we have devised a solution that circumnavigates the problem and allows the website to load.  It involves a little more time and effort on my part every time I edit and re-publish the site, but not enough to make it unmanageable.

In the meantime, I have been working on my April benchmarks, which is the collecting of family stories.  The main event is Dan Holsenbeck's Navy journal, but I have also been getting some stories from you out there, and have found several in the various family histories and letters in my possession.  Also, I will continue to post photos and letters as I received them, including several on the Gillham side.  I also will meet with Penn Holsenbeck and Margaret van Naerssen this month to continue my search for Holsenbeckiana, as well as some Penn and Moore family information.

As always, please email me at any time about anything, and send me any scans or other information you care to share on the website