Thursday, March 29, 2012

How the Experts Do It

There are two shows each week on television that show how the experts find ancestors for celebrities: one on Fridays at 8 PM on NBC, the other on Sundays at eight PM on PBS.

The first is in its third season, "Who Do You Think You Are", sponsored by It is on NBC Friday nights at eight PM. If you want to catch the previous shows, they are available in streaming Internet video at this website.

The second show is "Finding Your Roots" and is a repeat of the original season shown four years ago. The first show this year was last Sunday, a two-hour introduction. It is available at PBS here.  It is showing on PBS every Sunday night at eight PM through May 18th.

I find both of these shows to be interesting and informative.  Sometimes I find out about a technique for finding ancestors that is new to me.

If you feel you need some inspiration to get started on researching your family tree, I recommend both of these shows, which are also very entertaining.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Chasing my Ancestors

I have been chasing my ancestors for decades now, not through forest and field, but through books, charts, CDs; through census reproductions, military documents, church records and cemeteries.

I have found them in family Bibles, old photographs, handed-down journals, and social histories.  Catching up with people who died one hundred - or eight hundred years ago, takes determination.  I don't regret the time I have spent in the pursuit of long-gone and mostly-forgotten people, though.  I have learned far more than I anticipated at the start of this journey.

I have learned that the fate of nations is decided by men of resolve and action, whether they be sailors on a ship of war, barons signing the sureties at Runnymede, or pioneers bringing their families two thousand miles to better farmland.

My ancestors - your ancestors, all of our ancestors, by actions large and small, created the world we have now.  We, by our actions big or little, create the world our descendants will inherit.  Battles I never heard of until I read the details of the American Revolution are what turned the tide of war and gave us victory. Things we do now may never gain renown, but may be what makes life tolerable or otherwise for generations to come.

These are not new discoveries, but discovering in such a personal way that individuals matter, has renewed my care for the "small things", the day-to-day decisions, which are the fabric of our lives. Each person is important, each thread is necessary to create strong communities, and a strong country.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Parlez-vous Francais?

After 1066, when William, 7th Duke of Normandy invaded England and won the Battle of Hastings, the ruling class in England spoke French.

Not all of King William's barons were from France, but his most trusted friends were from France, and not just Normandy. His strongest and most loyal supporters were those whom he sent to guard his borders with Wales and Scotland.  So on the borders, people might be speaking Cymraeg, or Gaelic or French or Anglo-Saxon, depending on who was doing the talking. (I wonder how they made themselves understood to each other.)

Maybe I would have worked harder in my French classes in high school if I knew I had French ancestors. But I never suspected such a thing. I "knew" my ancestors were all Finnish, except the ones who were Scots, Irish, English or German.

It took me most of my life to discover my "English" ancestors were actually from Wales, and now I find that the rest of them weren't really English either - they were French!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Knights in Shining Armor

When I was twelve years old, I discovered a beautifully illustrated book on King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.  It was written for children, and it made chivalry come alive to me.  The sword Excalibur, which could only be pulled free of the rock by someone with a pure heart, came free in the hands of young Arthur. He wielded it with righteousness, and there was not a drop of blood to be seen in the death of dragons and monsters he killed.

Arthur never even was scraped or dirtied in his many battles, but stood in immaculate clothing to receive the thanks of the villagers and their fair maidens. It did not cross my young and literal mind that it was unrealistic, to say the least. In my vision of Arthur and his knights, their world was colorful and shiny, full of flowers and smiling peasants.

Fast forward fifty-five years. Reading about the knights in my family tree, I can picture them in England in 1066 to 1300.  They had to be strong and resolute, for enforcing the will of the king and his barons was noisy, bloody, and sweaty hard work. After a battle they needed a drink, a bath, and probably a bandage - or at least some comfrey salve for their bruises.

Although I no longer think of knights in shining armor the way I did at twelve, I still consider it exciting to find them in my family tree. They were warriors, a band of brothers, who had each others backs in battle. Between battles, they trained to sharpen their skills as if their lives depended on it - which they just might in the next conflict. Some of them were mercenary soldiers who fought for pay - and loot. But many were sworn to loyalty with a particular baron, and went with their lord when the king called upon him for service.

It seems a great many of "my" knights are from forts on the border with Wales or Scotland. While the rest of the country might be enjoying peace, those border lords and their households experienced nearly continuous fighting, defending the border. Even among strong and resolute men, those knights had a reputation for skill and courage. Not pristine characters out of a book, but flesh and blood men who wore their scars proudly, my knights in armor still epitomize courage, strength and honor.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day

According to (and they - if anyone - ought to know) one in eight americans have some Irishman (or woman) in their family tree. That is about thirty-six million people.

My own Irish ancestor was Constant Thomas Barchus; a red-haired, fiddle-playing Irishman. He came over the Oregon Trail in 1864, when he was just eighteen years old, and claimed a quarter-section (160 acres) under the  land grant law. He settled next to some Welsh immigrants and eventually claimed their eldest daughter, as well. They raised eight children on their farm, where he also had a blacksmith shop. His wife was midwife for most of their neighbors.

Here's to you, Constant, and all immigrants from everywhere who have come to America seeking a better life. May all your dreams come true.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Finding Immigrant Ancestors

April's Tree
When I began investigating our family's roots in 1989, my first ambition was to find the immigrant ancestor. I wanted to find out who had crossed the ocean to come to America, and when.

For my mother's ancestors, that was relatively easy. Her parents were both born in Finland, and eventually I found their immigration records at Ellis Island.

Earlier ancestors were more of a challenge, but some of them are listed in The Great Immigration Begins, at, (just one of the many reasons I think my subscription is worth it).

Now I have discovered a whole new challenge: find the immigrant ancestor of the the immigrant ancestor!  Rev. Thomas James, Jr., (my 8x-great-grandfather) was born in Lincolnshire, England in 1626, and died on Long Island, New York, in 1696.

So, end of story, found the immigrant ancestor who crossed the ocean.  Whoa, not so fast.  Who was his immigrant ancestor? Was he of native Saxon roots? Or did someone cross an ocean to become his immigrant ancestor?

Today, I found the answer. Eighteen generations up Thomas James' branch of my family tree is Monsieur de St. Pierre (a younger brother of the house of St. Pierre), who was born in Normandy, France. I haven't found a date, but calculating the generations puts him at about the time of William the Conqueror. So we may speculate that St. Pierre, a younger son looking for opportunities to make his fortune, might have joined the thousands of warriors who invaded England with William the Conqueror.

This puts a whole new light on the phrase "immigrant ancestor"!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


William the Conqueror   1066

The picture above is a bit of the the 42 meter* long metal tapestry, created by Michael A. Linton, over a period of twenty-five years, he says, "in my spare time".

 A quote from 1066 -
"This complete re-creation of the Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts the Battle of Hastings in 1066, was created out of 1,500,000 pieces of spring steel. The tiny pieces of steel, which have an area approximately 7 square millimetres, are the off-cuts from a patterning disk used on a very large industrial knitting machine."

As originally recreated in a twenty-year span, the tapestry is about half-scale  (at 33.8 meters) to the original. In another five years, Michael, working with his daughter Rachael, created what might have been the missing scenes,adding about nine feet in length to his original work.

If I calculate correctly, nine of these bits of spring steel would fit into one square inch, with a tiny bit of space left over. Drawing a square inch, dividing it into thirds both ways (nine parts), I see that one of these bits of spring steel would not quite cover the fingernail on my pinky finger.

The Medieval Mosaic weighs about 230 kilograms.**

When I read the description of how the Mosaic was actually put together, and painted, my amazement reached zenith - could go no farther.

Here are some links to descriptions of the original Bayeux Tapestry. If, like me, you find the history of Medieval times fascinating, these links should please you.
The Bayeux tapestry by Fowke published 1913 - from Internet Archive, free e-book
The Bayeux tapestry by Fowke published 1913 - free ebook from Google
The Bayeux Tapestry - information from The Middle Ages org. in the United Kingdom
The Bayeux Tapestry as copied in England, scene by scene (my favorite)

The world is full of beautiful and amazing people and the things they make.  It is a marvel to be able to see so many of them without leaving home.         

* 137 feet and 9 and a half inches (rounded)
** 507 pounds

Sunday, March 11, 2012

6th Lord la Zouche? Or First Baron la Zouche?

Could he be both? I'm dizzy. Sorting out the complexities of English titles is not for the weak-minded.  

I don't want to insult any of my ancestors (nor any living, titled English person either).  So adding generations to my tree will wait until I learn enough about the nobility to be sure I am giving the correct title to my accomplished forebears.

To learn more than the rudiments of heraldry, I suspect one must begin in the nursery.  Make no mistake, the nobility is an exclusive club and speak their own impenetrable language. They are much like any profession today, be they doctors, lawyers, accountants, programmers or mechanics - why, even chef's have their own specialized vocabulary and traditions. The twelfth century British knights and lords are just that much more obscure to this twenty-first century American.

Maybe someone has written a "Titles and Family Crests for Dummies".  I'm off to Amazon, seeking rescue.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Is it a Fist? or is it a Fish?

April's Tree
Half the records I see show that Alan de la Zouche held his manor at North Molton, Devonshire, England.  The other half show it to be at North Melton. So, Molton or Melton?  What a difference one letter makes...

Such questions may often be resolved with a quick query on Google.  Not so fast with these ambitious young knights, though. They often received manors from the king in more than one part of the country. How to discern from the wrong side of the Atlantic which one it was?

Let the GENUKI decide it! That is the Genealogy of the United Kingdom and Ireland. It's their parish, surely they know where it is.

"NORTH MOLTON is a large village on the ... river Mole...This large parish extends ... to the sources of the Mole and Duns Brook, among the lofty hills on the borders of Somersetshire and Exmoor Forest... There is a woollen mill at Heasley, and the village has two cattle fairs, on the Wednesday after May 12th, and the last Wednesday in October. It had formerly a weekly market and a fair on All Saints' day, granted in 1270 to Roger le Zouch, whose family obtained the manor from King John, . . .  " [From White's Devonshire Directory (1850)]

I found North Molton, but North Melton doesn't seem to really exist, except as a typo multiplied by the fast and fearless Internet. Such are the perils of hunting my ancestors from about 5,000 miles distance and nearly 800 years forward in time.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Digital Revolution

 The Digital Revolution is creating a transformation in genealogical research.

I'm looking at a book first published in 1819: "The History of the county of Palatine and city of Cheshire: compiled from original evidences in public offices, the Harleian and Cottonian mss., parochial registers, private muniments, unpublished ms. collections of successive Cheshire antiquaries, and a personal survey of every township in the county; incorporated with a republication of King's Vale royal, and Leycester's Cheshire Antiquities." by George Ormerod, 1785-1873: Free Download & Streaming: Internet Archive.

The 1882 three volume set is for sale for about $1,500.  Or, from the convenience of their home computer genealogists and amateur family tree makers may access such documents, whose copyright has long since expired.  I use Internet Archive, Google ebooks, and other Internet resources both to do further research and to verify source records.

Yesterday I read the chapter on Sir Saher de Quincy from Magna Carta Ancestry by Douglas Richardson.  I also checked on the religious affiliations of my ancestors who settled New Jersey around 1692, which was available over the Internet through Heritage Quest with a Multnomah County Library card.

There is only one "problem" with the amazing proliferation of old and rare books on the Internet.  How will I find the time to read them all?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Way they Used to Do Things

April's Tree
Our Ancestors 'social safety net' wasn't the government, it was Each Other:

People living disconnected from all their relatives and apart from where all their ancestors were buried is a fairly recent phenomenon. I won't go into all the economic reasons that society is so fragmented, but must point out that welfare, social security, etc. are modern inventions.

Our ancestors depended on each other for help when they were sick, mutual defense when they were threatened, company when they rejoiced, and care taking when they were old and feeble.  They did not usually move without their social safety net. They moved as a group.

When my great-grandfather with his wife and children moved from Union County, Georgia in 1882, they traveled in a covered wagon along an established trail to Gentry, Arkansas. Siblings and cousins traveled with them, and other relatives were awaiting them.

When my 2xgreat-grandmother came over the Oregon Trail in 1864, her four children came with her. Three of them were married and brought their husbands and children, and husbands' brothers and their wives and children, and so on.

In census records, I look for related names. Finding them is part of the whole picture. Often, from the earliest Puritan records, down to Mormon converts in the 1800's, a family moved not only with their relatives, but when their faith was persecuted, they stuck together with others of the same faith.

So I consider it a good investment of my time to record not only my 'direct ancestors' but also their brothers and sisters and sometimes even their cousins.

I love working out the puzzles, hunting down the clues. It's the best game ever.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Langley Castle

 © Copyright Ken Brown and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

April' s Tree
"probably built as a principal residence by Nicholas de Bolteby, the lord of eight manors, a Yorkshire baron who died in 1273, and who held the Langley barony (an area of about 13,000 acres) by right of his wife, and who took trouble to empark his demesne at Langley." 

Ref: "Thirteenth Century England IV: Proceedings of the Newcastle Upon Tyne Conference 1991"; Peter R. Cass, Simon D. Lloyd, Boydell & Brewer Ltd. 1992 

 Langley Castle, in Northumberland, England, belonged to my 25xgreat-grandfather.  I think I'd rather have central heating and indoor plumbing, but I do admire his style.

Monday, March 5, 2012


What difference would it make if you knew that King Henry II of England was your 25th great-grandfather?

Perhaps none - or perhaps you would develop an interest in Early Medieval history. Perhaps you would discover a deeper respect for yourself and demand more of yourself.  

If you knew one of your ancestors was a Baron of the Magna Charta, would you care?  Would you feel a personal commitment to asserting freedom and liberty for yourself and others?

Friday, March 2, 2012

When the Records Don't Make Any Sense

Sometimes I'll be staring at a record of a long-past ancestor of mine, and I'll suddenly realize, "This record makes no sense at all."

That happens when I see a many times great-grandmother has died age 311 years old. Or a great-grandfather has married someone after his death date.  Or the people in the record are living in the mid-seventeen-hundreds, and along comes their close relatives suddenly living in the late eighteen hundreds.

Oh, there are so many ways to create a disaster instead of creating a family tree, that I occasionally wonder how any of us get it right.

But, get it right we can and do, if we only have a dash of humility - and pause to do verification checks on our work. Most programs will run an errors report, tattling on us when we make such egregious mistakes.

The mistakes that are much harder to spot are like when "everyone's tree" agrees that Mary Weld married Daniel Harris in 1648 and their son Thomas Harris Jr. is the father of the Harris line in New Jersey, migrating there from Connecticut.

The problem with that scenario is this: the records show that particular Thomas Harris married twice, had only one child, a daughter, and she died young and unwed.  So we need a different Thomas Harris  (or a different "somebody") to father the New Jersey Harris line of the late sixteen hundreds.

Conveniently, there is another Thomas Harris and he is a very different kettle of fish, as they say.  Whether or not he is the particular person I'm searching for? More documentation needed to tell.

I cannot say this strongly enough in summary: consider all the hours of work, the expense and effort we go to in creating our family trees.  When just a little more research will prove that we have our own ancestors perching on our branches, and that we haven't poached the ancestors belonging to someone else entirely, there is little justification for not taking the time and care to do so.