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.