My name is Kathleen, and I have been researching my family history since I was a child. I love to go into county courthouses and smell the old books and paper... or is it dust? This blog will focus on the stories I've heard over the years and the research methods I follow. I am particularly interested in data management and cloud genealogy.

Some of my personal areas of interest include Southern Maryland and DC (Robie, Rhodes, Grimes, Lindsey), NY state (Hill, Cookingham, Flynn, Rhodes, Skinner, Wheeler, Mead, Havens, Trotter), NJ (Parcell), North Carolina and Eastern TN (Lynch, Seabolt, Spears), MO (Wilcox, Kiddell), and CA (Simi, Grady)

I am always happy to compare notes or share my experiences, so please leave a comment!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Gather your own family documents!

I have been tracking down my family history all my life, ferreting out every detail possible about all those ancestral lives that contributed in some way to my own.  But it wasn't until I became involved in the DAR, and particularly in my role as chapter Registrar, that I realized the glaring error in my ways:  I never collected documents for the living members of my family.  Clearly, my reasoning was: "why bother, just to prove what I already know?"  

I know why we tend not to get these documents.  The process of gathering them is a hassle.... you have to send a request to the town, county, or state where the event took place (every location has different rules, of course), send in a check.... and then wait.  Some states are tougher than others.  I (rhetorically) asked my great-grandmother, Jessie Lee Lynch, why she had to be visiting her daughter in New Jersey when she died, instead of staying home in Maryland? 
Jessie Lee Seabolt Lynch

Didn't she know that New Jersey takes much longer than Maryland to respond to vital records requests?  Not only that, but I had to furnish NJ officials with the same number of proofs that I did for my DAR application in order to show I had a right to her death certificate.  Actually, NJ needed more hand-holding, because I had to write a letter explaining what the certificates meant (the DAR understands how to read them!)

When I joined the DAR, most of my known patriots were on my mother's side of the family.  That's when I began to understand the importance of having a full set of vital records for my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.  So you'd think that I would have started right away to collect all the vital records for my father's parents and grandparents.  Wrong.  I guess it's just harder to make that effort without an impetus.  

Not too long ago I found my impetus, in the form of new data linking my Dad's line to two Revolutionary War patriots.  One of them, David Vermilyea of Albany, NY, had a rather interesting heritage.  He was the grandson of Johannes Vermilyea, a member of Jacob Leisler's council of ministers and part of the famous Leisler's Rebellion of 1689-1691.  How exciting...he would be my first ancestor who was sentenced to be executed!  

My happy dance faded away, though, as I recalled that while this line is thoroughly documented from Johannes in New Amsterdam down five generations to my great-grandfather, Foster Cookingham in Chatham, NY.... there's the minor detail of a few missing vital records for Foster's wife and daughter, my great-grandmother and grandmother.  Did I mention that New York state is now taking about 8 months to fulfill orders for vital records?  It's so frustrating because I knew my grandmother -- and her mother, too -- it would be so easy just to write "personal knowledge" on the application and be done with it.  Sigh.

So even if you aren't addicted to joining lineage societies, please take that extra step and gather all the family documents you possibly can.  Ask your living relatives for copies of their vital records so you won't have to wait those agonizing months and months before you can even submit the application to add another supplemental ancestor to your collection.

Your descendants will thank you.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

How my ancestor helped create the Constitution

Today is Constitution Day!  

My ancestor did not help draft the Constitution, nor did he vote on it -- but his misfortune in 1786 helped create a consensus that America needed a stronger national government.

On September 17, 1787, the fledgling United States adopted a constitution protecting the individual liberties of its citizens, and defining the roles, rights, and responsibilities of the states and the federal government.  After the Revolution, the country had been governed by the Articles of Confederation, which left the central government relatively powerless compared to the states.  Within a few years it became clear that the Articles did not provide enough protection for American citizens -- economically and militarily.  

This is where I come in.  

One day several years ago, when my youngest was still in Middle School, I sat down to help her with her history homework.  I opened the textbook to the chapter she was working on, and was floored by what I saw:

Call to Freedom by Sterling Stuckey & Linda Salvucci, published by Holt, Rinehart & Wilson, 2003

You see, Thomas Amis is my 5th great-grandfather.  I have studied his life in the course of my family history research, but never imagined that his experience would be used as an example of the "straw that broke the camel's back," leading to the creation of the U.S. Constitution.  

 A member of the North Carolina legislature in 1776 that unanimously ratified the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Amis was also an entrepreneur -- perfectly suited to frontier living.  During the Revolution, he was Commissary to the 3rd Regiment of the North Carolina Continental Line.  He sourced the food and supplies for a large segment of the army during the Revolution, and presumably made a nice margin on every sale.  

In 1786, the mood among western settlers was unsettled.  Spain's threat to cut off Americans' access to trade directly impacted their livelihood.  The confiscation of Amis' goods was just the latest in a long series of actions by the Spanish hindering trade.  Those who lived on the western frontier were a tough, self-sufficient breed.  When they faced a problem, they didn't wait for government to solve it, but picked up their rifles and took action.  Even if Congress had resolved to address this situation, however, it was powerless to act under the Articles of Confederation. 

Tempers were on a hair trigger as Amis returned home and news spread of his treatment by the Spanish commandant at Natchez.  Matters could have gone either way, as was evident from a letter written by William Blount and Benjamin Hawkins, Congressmen from North Carolina, to an unnamed member of the North Carolina legislature:

In a postscript, Blount and Hawkins warn of the dangers should the public anger get out of hand:

In the end, Thomas Amis never recovered his lost cargo, and he bequeathed his claim on the goods to his son, John, who accompanied him on the ill-fated trading expedition.

Hawkins Co TN Wills, Liber 1, p. 1.  Will of Thomas Amis, 16 Nov 1797,

Sometime around 1787, Thomas Amis moved west with his family to Hawkins County, in what eventually became Tennessee.  There he set up a trading post, grist mill, and supply center on the main road heading west.  His home is still meticulously preserved by another descendant -- one of these days I hope to visit!

One last insight to Amis' character -- I think he had a quick wit and a certain sense of irony.  In 1788, he returned to the North Carolina legislature representing Hawkins County, where he supported the efforts of settlers to create the new state of Franklin on the western frontier.  Samuel Cole Williams' History of the Lost State of Franklingives an entertaining account of one debate between Amis and John Tipton, who was a vehement opponent of the proposed new state.  Heated words were exchanged on the floor of the senate, which nearly led to a fist fight.  

Amis was reproached by his colleague, James Roddy, for provoking an angry response from Tipton and was urged to "soothe his feelings" in the future.  They agreed that Roddy, a more temperate character, would resume the debate with Tipton the following day.  The next day, Roddy took the floor, but hardly began speaking when Tipton, enraged, sprang from his seat and seized Roddy by the throat.  Amis then called out from the sidelines: "Soothe him, Colonel, Soothe him!"

*Heritage Books, facsimile of the 1933 edition, pp 246-247