Love – Love for a Wife…and a Mistress?

Love is a very complicated emotion. Although this is Valentine’s week, this story deals with how love can sometimes go wrong and how love can change over time.

My 6th great grandfather, Thomas Harvey, married his first wife, Sarah Ann (probably Williams) in about 1761. I have no idea if they were in love when they married, but I assume that they probably were. That is the challenge with our ancestors, isn’t it? We don’t really know their inner thoughts or their true feelings about anything. I would love to believe they were in love when they first got married.

Thomas and Sarah Ann were certainly married by 10 October 1765 when they both signed a deed selling 150 acres in Halifax County, North Carolina. Over about a fifteen year period, Thomas and Sarah Ann had seven known children: William, Thomas, Elizabeth, Caty, Sarah, Hannah, and Oney Scyprett.

Elizabeth, my 5th great grandmother, appears in several records while she was a child. On 10 Dec 1783, Thomas sold, or more likely gifted, a young enslaved girl to his daughter, Elizabeth, or Betty.

Know all men by these presents that I Thomas Harvey of the county of Halifax No. Carolina for and in consideration of the sum of fifty pounds current money to me in hand paid by Betty Harvey have bargained sold and delivered and by these presents do bargain sell and deliver in plain & open market to her the said Betty Hervey one negro girl about 16 years old named Lucy and the said negroe girl Lucy unto her the said Betty Harvey her heirs and assigns will well and truly warrant and for ever defend witness my hand and seal ye 10th day of Decem’r 1783.”
Thomas Hervey <seal>
Signed seal’d and deliv’d in the presence of William Harvey senr. William Harvey, Halifax County dst. Feb’y Court 1784. Then this bill of sale was exht’d in open court ack’d by Thomas Hervey Esq. the party thereto and on mo’n ord’d to be rd. Registered” Wm Wooten C.Co. Registered Jno Geddy P Regr.

Later, another entry in the deed books shows what happened to Lucy, though the wording to me is a bit odd. It does show, however, that this Betsey/Betty was the same as Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Hervey.

Betsey Hearvey of Halifax Co. gives a Negro girl Lucy given to her by her father T. Hearvey to a Negro girl Minny given to her by virtue of a bill of sale from her father aforementioned.

Around the same time as Thomas was presenting gifts to one of his children with his wife, Sarah Ann, he had also taken a mistress. Interestingly, her name was also Elizabeth, though she was known as Bettie. Bettie Pritchett at some point caught the eye of Thomas, and again, though I can’t say whether or not they were in love, they certainly had enough affection for each other to carry on a relationship for years that produced at least 6 children. The earliest birth date of any of their children I have been able to find is 1781, though some children could be born before that. Either Gideon, born in 1781, was the oldest, or possibly his sister Polly. Thomas and Bettie’s other children were named Peyton, Nancy, Betty, and Judith.

Bettie Pritchett was not Thomas’s second wife, as has been asserted in the past. Sarah Ann was still living when Thomas wrote his will in 1806, and Bettie died in 1802. As far as I have seen, Thomas and Sarah Ann never separated, so I am quite curious how this arrangement worked. Did Thomas live with his wife and legal children, or did he live with his mistress and his illegitimate children? Or did Bettie and her children live on property that Thomas provided for them? I also wonder what Sarah Ann thought of this. After all, Thomas had an entire other family. His affair with Bettie was long standing, not a one time mistake. Maybe he loved her, maybe she saw a good opportunity to be taken care of by a man with some wealth. Did Thomas love both women at once? I will never know the answers to these questions, but the possible ones are fascinating to think of.

By 22 December 1802, Bettie Pritchett had died, and Thomas decided it was time to do something in a legal sense for his illegitimate children.

Be it known to all people to whom these presents may come that I Thomas Harvey Senr for divers good causes & reasons as well as the good will and respect I bear unto the children of Betty Pritchet decd, Gideon Harvey Pritchet, Payton Harvey Pritchet, Nancy, Betty, Judah Harvey Pritchet I freely & absolutely give unto them & their heirs lawfully begotten forever as follows.

Five negroes named thus Cary, Redick, Sampson, Nat & Jacob and all that tract of land that I hold by virtue of a deed that I hold from Willis Alston Esq. with three feather beds and a good riding horse apiece, all to be equally to be divided amongst them at my death to them and their heirs forever.

Likewise I lend to their sister Polly Williams during her natural life one negro named Isaac with proportionable part of above mentioned land and after her death to be equally divided amongst her children lawfully begotten of her body for them to be possessed with at the time as above mentioned to them & theirs forever. And if any of the above mentioned children should die before they have an heir lawfully begotten of their body then their part of the above mentioned legacy to be equally divided amongst the rest of the surviving children.

This deed gives some possible answers to the above stated questions. Likely, Bettie died very soon before this deed was drawn up, and this was Thomas’s way of ensuring that his children with Bettie were taken care of.

It also gives a possible explanation of where his children were living before Bettie’s death. As he gave a tract of land, personal possessions, and slaves to his children, it is quite possible that all of this was already in their possession and that this was Thomas’s formal way of giving them their inheritance.

Another interesting observation concerns the children’s surnames in the deed. They are all called Hervey Pritchett, using the surnames of both their parents and demonstrating their status as illegitimate. However, it seems that Thomas did not object to his children using his surname and their mother’s interchangeably as on a deed in 1804, Peyton Hervey Pritchett signed as Peyton Hervey alongside his father’s name.

Thomas lost another whom he loved in the early 1800s other than his mistress, Bettie. Thomas visited William Hervey, his son, along with his daughter Elizabeth, when he was close to death and heard what William intended to do with his estate. A few days later, he died. Undoubtedly, Thomas was quite sad over the death of his son.

Thomas Hervey’s Will

On 12 February 1806, Thomas Hervey wrote his will. The majority of the bequests in the will focus on his five children with Bettie Pritchett, but he did have enough respect for his wife and legitimate children to name them first.

First Item I lend my wife Sarahann Hervey the plantation I now live on and three negroes namely Billy Jesse and one more negroe woman which my Exors is to purchase of equal value of my negroe woman Polla out of money raised out of my estate with a sufficiency of horses and stock and kitchen and Household furniture sufficient for her comfortable support during her life.

2nd Item I give and bequeath to my Seven children which I had by my wife Sarahann Hervey, Betty Sullivan (sic Sullivant), William Hervey, deceased (?), Caty Christie, Sally Smith, Thomas Hervey, Hanna Beele (sic Bull) and One Hervey, all that property of negroes land & that I have heretofore given, devised, and delivered to them & their heirs for ever.

Will naming wife Sarah Ann and legitimate children.

So it seems that his children with Sarah Ann had already been provided for, and he wished his wife to have what she needed during the rest of her life.

He then used the rest of the will to outline his illegitimate children’s inheritance. He reiterated what he had already laid out for them in the deed of 1802 – land and slaves – along with two other tracts of land. He also gave his grandsons by Gideon and Peyton land, and he instructed that the residue of his estate should go to Gideon, Peyton, Betty, Nancy, Judith, and the children of Polly to be divided among them. He also gave Sarah Ann’s share to his illegitimate children after her death.

Lastly, he appointed his two sons by Bettie Pritchett – Gideon and Peyton – the executors of his estate, and not his sons by Sarah Ann who were still living – Thomas and Oney.

Sons Gideon Hervey Pritchett and Peyton Hervey Pritchett named as executors.

I wonder if this action demonstrated some favoritism for his illegitimate sons over his legitimate ones. Were his sons by Sarah Ann not on the best terms with their father? Also, Thomas clearly names Gideon and Peyton as his sons, which I don’t believe he does in any other document.

Thomas is also very careful to use both Hervey and Pritchett as their surnames, not just Hervey, but not just Pritchett either. To me, this signals that he was not at all ashamed that he had fathered other children out of wedlock, but that he very openly claimed them as his own.

Using Hervey/Pritchett Surnames

After their father’s death, the Hervey Pritchett children stopped using Pritchett in many official documents and instead used only Hervey. Many, but not all. Take a look at Gideon’s census records. In 1810, 1830, and 1850, his name is Gideon Hervey. But in 1840, it is Gideon P. Hervey. P is undoubtedly for Pritchett. As for Peyton, in every census record except 1810, his name is either listed as Peyton P Hervey or P. P. Hervey. Again, the P is for Pritchett.

When both sons wrote their wills, they styled themselves as Gideon P. Hervey and Peyton P. Hervey. Although they used Hervey as their official surname, they wanted Pritchett to be a part of their name and were not ashamed to hide it. I think that shows love for both of their parents.

Conclusion

Thomas loved many people in his personal life: a wife, his seven children with his wife, his mistress, and his natural children with her. Thomas may have loved all these people, but how did they tolerate each other? Sarah Ann likely bore little love for Bettie and Bettie for her. Did the two sets of children get along or did they resent the existence of the others? There was quite an age difference between Sarah Ann’s oldest children and Bettie’s youngest, so maybe they had little to do with each other. Whatever their true feelings, Thomas seems to have put everyone in a rather interesting, if not uncomfortable, situation. I just wish I knew how everyone handled it! Love is complicated.

Surprise – Unknown Uncle Walter

I have shared a few stories about my Father’s Father’s side of the family on this blog. In some recent posts, I highlighted the Althausers, Prestons, Sears, Robinsons, and Dixons, all of whose stories have plenty of interesting turns and surprises. For me, one of the most exciting surprises, and earliest genealogy victories, was finding a great uncle that I didn’t know existed on that side of the family.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that my Dad is a fourth generation only son, so there are very few relatives on that side of the family. On the wives’s sides, many of their siblings either stayed single or never married, so no cousins were produced. Therefore, I was very familiar with the names of the odd great aunt or uncle.

All of my life, I heard about my great great grandmother, Jessie (called grandmother Robinson by my Dad) and her sister, Bertha (called Aunt Bert). Aunt Bert married but never had children, and after Jessie’s husband died, she moved in with Aunt Bert. My grandmother and my Dad knew them both, so I’ve heard plenty of stories about the sisters and their husbands.

My family also has lots of pictures of Jessie, Aunt Bert, and their parents, Charles and Cora Preston. While sorting through some of these family pictures, I found several of a very handsome young man who greatly resembled Charles, but I had absolutely no idea who he could be as all the other males relatives were accounted for. What made the photos even more tantalizing were that many of them were taken at photography studios in Nashville around the same time that Jessie, Bert, and their parents were having their photos taken in Nashville. Who WAS THIS?!

As I began going though other Preston documents, I found two letters written by Cora to Charles in 1882. Charles was living in Nashville and in the process of moving Cora and Jessie down. Cora made a mention of “the children” and what they were up to. Now this was very odd. In 1882, Jessie was six years old, but Aunt Bert wasn’t born until 1886. So, either I had Aunt Bert’s birthday completely wrong, or there was another child born between the two sisters, one I had never heard of before. Was this child the mysterious boy and man in the photographs?

This mystery is one of the reasons I first signed up for Ancestry.com. I wanted to search the census records to see if there was anything that I didn’t know or that my family didn’t know or had forgotten. The first census year I checked was 1880. With any luck, the mystery child was born prior to the census date. Here is what I found:

Preston household in Zanesville, Ohio in 1880.

As you can see, the Prestons are living in Zanesville, Ohio: Charles, Cora, Jessie, and….Walter? Who is Walter? According to the census, Charles and Cora had a 1 year old son named Walter. He is very likely the other child to whom Cora was referring to in her letter. Surprise 1: Cora and Charles had a child named Walter who was completely unknown to me and my parents.

Now I had more questions. Did this Walter die young? Is that why we didn’t know about him? Or did he live, and was he the mystery man in the photos?

Preston household in Nashville in 1900.

Without the 1890 census, I moved on to the 1900 census in Nashville, Tennessee. There, I found Charles, Cora, and Aunt Bert living together. No Walter. However, check out the last two columns. Either Charles or Cora reported to the census taker that Cora gave birth to 3 children, and ALL 3 CHILDREN WERE STILL LIVING. Wow, now wasn’t that a bombshell?!

So Walter WAS alive, but where was he living? He was not living with his sister, Jessie, and her family, so I assumed he must be living somewhere else in Nashville. After some searching, I found the following entry in the 1900 census:

Walter Preston household in Nashville in 1900.

This Walter was the best candidate for my Walter in Nashville. The birth year was about right and he worked as a moulder, the same line of work which his father and grandfather were in. They had been married for 3 years (about 1897) and had no children. A search of the Nashville City Directories showed Walter Preston in 1896 working as a moulder at the Phillips and Buttorf Manufacturing Company, the same company that Charles worked for as the foreman. In 1895, Walter was listed as living in the same household as Charles and Cora. I think I found their son. Surprise 2: Walter was still alive in 1900.

Walter, His Wives, and His Children

On 6 July 1897, Walter married his first wife, Clara Jackson, in Nashville. However, their marriage didn’t last. In April 1898, Clara filed for divorce from Walter. The newspapers cited failure to provide, but the divorce petition also listed not being faithful and cruelty.

The divorce was put on hold when Walter enlisted in the Spanish American War and was shipped off to San Fransisco for training. In October 1898, the First Tennessee Infantry left for the Philippines, where Walter saw action during the Philippine insurrection. Walter finally returned to Nashville in 1901 with the rest of the First Tennessee after 3 years in the army. During his service, Walter got into some trouble which resulted in a disease that contributed to health problems that he battled for the rest of his life.

In June 1902, Clara finally received her divorce from Walter. Clara moved back in with her parents, and Walter also returned to live in his parents’ house. In about 1905, Walter left Nashville and moved to Waterford, Ohio where he married his second wife, Nellie Shirk. Below is the marriage record:

The next year, Charles Preston died in Nashville, and named Walter as his son in his will. He left Walter a farm in Beverly, Ohio as well as some money.

The marriage record and the will showed that Walter was indeed the son of Charles and Cora McKelvey and was very much alive. Below is part of the 1920 census, which shows Water, wife Nellie, and two daughters Ruth and Cora, living in Cleveland, Ohio.

Walter Preston and family in the 1920 census.

Nellie Preston died in 1923, and as Walter was in such bad health, he sent his two daughters to live with their maternal grandparents. Walter’s health continued to deteriorate, and he finally died in 1927 while living in a home for veterans.

The Photographs

After these revelations – Charles and Cora had a third child, Walter reached adulthood, Walter was married twice and had two children – I took another look at some of the family photographs. There were several photographs labeled Cora and Ruth, who I now knew were Walter’s children. The girls were very distinctive looking, which helped me identify a photograph of their mother, Nellie, standing with the same handsome man, though a bit older, holding a baby in his lap. This was most definitely a photograph of Nellie and Walter. This photograph helped me determine that the other photographs of the same man were in fact Walter, Jessie and Aunt Bert’s brother.

This photo shows Walter in his wool uniform from the Spanish-American War. (Knowing that he served also helped identify that this man was Walter) The original photo was cut in a circle, likely to fit into a frame. I assume this photo sat in either Charles and Cora’s house or in Jessie’s.

Walter in his uniform.

This photograph shows Walter as a very fashionably dressed young man. It was taken soon after Walter moved back to Ohio. I think this is my favorite photograph of him!

Walter Preston, taken about 1906.

Conclusion

I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Walter, the uncle I never knew about. I have a couple of theories as to why we never heard about Walter. First, he died in 1927, before my grandfather was even born. Second, he lived in Ohio for half of his life, and it is doubtful that he ever came back to Tennessee. Third, he lived a bit of a wild lifestyle, and maybe Jessie and Aunt Bert tried to hide that fact. They did a fairly good job of keeping family secrets under wraps. I found out that Jessie did keep in touch with Walter’s children, particularly Ruth, and that Ruth visited Jessie on a couple of occasions. But, for whatever reason or reasons, Walter’s memory just disappeared.

After I told everyone about Walter, they were all so astonished. But the funniest part was after I found all of this out, I asked my grandmother if she had ever heard that Jessie and Aunt Bert had a brother, and she said, “oh yes, I kind of remember that now.”

Nice to meet you, Uncle Walter!

At the Library – Finding the Parents of Elizabeth “Besty” Wood Davis

I worked at a county Archives for several years after finishing my Master’s degree. This job was fun for me for many reasons, not least of which was that I could do some genealogy work on my own family during my lunch break. I knew that part of my mother’s family, the Davis family, settled in Williamson County, Tennessee for a time before they moved on to Marshall County.

Most of the research on the Davis family has focused on the male line; I was curious about the female sides of the Davis family, particularly Elizabeth “Betsy” Wood. She married Amos Davis, my 4th great grandfather, on 4 May 1809 in Williamson County Tennessee. Below is the marriage license:

Amos Davis and Betsy Wood marriage license.

As with most early marriage records in Tennessee, the parents of the bride and groom are not recorded on the licenses. All I knew at this point was that her last name was Wood, the license was dated 28 April 1809, they were married on the 4 of May, and that Betsy’s family likely also lived in Williamson County.

Williamson County Library and Archives Search

I began searching within the probate files located at the Library and Archives for testators with the last name “Wood,” hoping that I would get lucky and that either one of her parents would have left a will that named an Elizabeth or Besty Wood or Davis if she was married by that time. Most of the time, my blind searches don’t work out immediately, but in this case, it did! The first, realistic possibility of a family member was Johnson Wood who died in Williamson County in 1845.

Johnson Wood’s will was written on the 13 February 1845, and by May, he had died. I immediately began to read through the will, hoping to find any familiar names. The second bequest listed all of his children in this order: Thompson, Stephen, Johnson (deceased), Elizabeth Davis, Mary Sanford, Sary Wood, Fanny Sanford, and Jincy Fowlkes. Elizabeth Davis! How exciting! Elizabeth or Betsy Wood was the only woman of that name who married in Williamson County, so just on first glance it looked like I found the correct family.

Some of Johnson Wood’s children named in his will.

Johnson Wood’s inventory was very long, almost 7 pages of items that were purchased by his children, relatives, and neighbors. Elizabeth purchased a set of knives and forks, but that was all from her father’s estate.

Elizabeth Davis purchased items from her father’s estate.

Elizabeth Wood’s Family Background

This was all very compelling evidence that Elizabeth Wood Davis was the daughter of Johnson Wood, but I wanted to find more evidence that this was the case. I then stated researching Johnson Wood’s background. I found the record for a marriage between Johnson Wood and Fanny Thompson in Lunenburg County, Virginia that took place on 21 November 1783. This was an appropriate date of marriage for a couple to have a daughter who was born in 1793 (Elizabeth’s birth year). Elizabeth also reported that her birthplace was Virginia, also consistent with a marriage between the parents in Virginia.

Johnson Wood was the son of Stephen Wood and Ann Johnson, the daughter of Joseph Johnson. Joseph Johnson wrote his will in Lunenburg County, Virginia in 1761, in which he named his children: Michael, Isaac, Sarah Womack, Mary Weningham, Ann Wood, Joseph, Susannah Hudson, Elizabeth, Sisley, and Charity. After Joseph Johnson died, his son-in-law, Stephen Wood and his wife Ann, sued the executor. The spelled out the family relationships very well.

With these family connections in mind, it is easy to see how the naming patterns of Johnson and Fanny (Thompson) Wood’s descendants reflect their ancestry.

Stephen and Ann (Johnson) Wood’s children were: John, Sally, David, Patty, Johnson, and George. They named one son after Ann’s maiden name.

Johnson Wood, who married Fanny Thompson, had the following children: Thompson, Stephen, Johnson, Elizabeth, Mary, Sary, Fanny, and Jincy. Johnson and Fanny named a son Thompson after Fanny’s maiden name, a son Stephen after Johnson Wood’s father, a son Johnson after Johnson and his mother’s maiden name, and a daughter Fanny after Fanny Thompson.

Elizabeth Wood who married Amos Davis had the following children: Nathan, Stephen, Mary Elizabeth, John, Sarah Ann, Fanny T., Morgan A., Allen Johnson, and James. Stephen was named after his great grandfather, Stephen Wood, Fanny T. was named after her grandmother Fanny Thompson, and Allen Johnson was named after his grandfather Johnson Wood and great grandmother’s maiden name.

All the evidence shows that Johnson Wood and Fanny Thompson are the parents of Elizabeth Wood Davis.

More Records at the Library and Archives

It was so much fun to spend time with the original records and to see Johnson’s signature at the bottom of the will. Encouraged, I spent more time at the Library and Archives searching for other records pertaining to Johnson Wood and his family in Williamson County. I found deeds, court cases, tax records, and other documents that painted a clearer picture of their lives. Below are a few examples of records I found:

1. 1820 Census

Johnson Wood’s household in 1820.

1 male 45 years or over: Johnson Wood

1 female 45 years or over: Fanny (Thompson) Wood

1 male 26 to 44 years, 1 female 16 to 25 years: possibly Johnson and Fanny’s children or a child and a spouse

1 free black male 26 to 44 years: This is very interesting. I do not know the identify of this man, but he was living with the Johnsons on their farm along with 20 enslaved people.

Enslaved people enumerated on the 1820 Census.

There were 20 enslaved people living on the Johnson’s property and working the farm. From the record, it looks like 3 generations of one family are living there. This is one of the hardest aspects of the Johnson’s life to come to terms with. It is one thing to read about slavery in textbooks and history books, but it is quite another to see it in official records that your own family contributed to the institution.

7 enslaved males under 14, 5 enslaved females under 14

1 enslaved male 14 to 25 years old, 3 enslaved females 14 to 25

1 enslaved male 26 to 44, 1 enslaved female 26 to 44

1 enslaved male 44 and over, 1 enslaved female 44 and over

2. 1830 Census

In the next census, only Johnson and Fanny were still enumerated in the same household. However, 25 enslaved people were now living on the farm. This time, they were split up by more specific age groups.

5 enslaved males under 10, 5 enslaved females under 10

6 enslaved males 10 to 23, 3 enslaved males 10 to 23

2 enslaved males 24 to 35, 1 enslaved female 24 to 35

1 enslaved males 36 to 54, 2 enslaved females 36 to 54

3. 1836 Tax Records

Johnson Wood paid taxes on 250 acres located in Williamson County and on 13 enslaved people.

Conclusions

I hope that another prompt will enable me to write more about Elizabeth (Wood) Davis herself! But for now, I am grateful for this stoke of luck one day while doing some research on my break. And it just goes to show how valuable it is to spend time researching the females in your line. In many cases, I have found the most interesting stories on the female lines. They can be much more difficult than the males sometimes, but the rewards for the efforts are priceless!

I’d Like to Meet – Ann Cochran Dixon (1863-1857)

**Warning, this is a very long post!**

Several years ago, I very proudly finished my Master’s thesis in which my 5th great grandmother, Ann Cochran Dixon, was the focus. Here is the abstract of my thesis:

This thesis focuses on the importance that kinship network analysis lends to the study of women’s history, with a particular focus on women who did not leave behind personal writings. To colonial, national, and antebellum era women, “family” not only included the nuclear family, but also their effective kinship groups. To demonstrate the utility of kinship analysis, I have chosen Ann Cochran Dixon (1763-1857), a Scots-Irish frontierswoman, in relation to her Cochran kinship network. Ann and her kin are an ideal case study; she left no personal writings in which she specifically detailed life events, but the availability of sources documenting her family group makes it possible to reconstruct certain areas of her life through her connections with extended family members. Tracing and comparing the different actions of Ann Cochran Dixon and her kin spanning several generations will demonstrate that kinship can be used as a legitimate category of historical analysis.

My thesis heavily focuses on genealogy, the importance of family, and bringing the life of a woman who left no personally written records behind into focus. I lived and breathed Ann’s life for over three years, and when I was finished with my thesis, I felt like she and I were about as close as any alive descendant and deceased ancestor could be. So, I am very curious as to what I got right, and what conclusions were incorrect.

This is a very long post because I know so much about her and it has been a few years since I have reviewed my thesis. It is very difficult to summarize a project that was about 230 pages long and took over three years of research, but below are some of the most interesting points of her life.

Family Background

Ann’s life was incredibly interesting. Her Cochran family was descended from a John Cochran who lived in Paisley, Scotland in the late 1500s. He and his sons immigrated to Northern Ireland, where the large extended family lived until the early 1700s. In 1723, Ann’s grandfather, James Cochran, married his third cousin, Isabella Cochran, daughter of “Deaf” Robert and Jean (Stephenson) Cochran. The 1724/25 tax records for Sadsbury and Fallowfield Townships, Chester County, Pennsylvania, show that both Robert Cochran and James Cochran had left Ireland by that time.

In 1730, “Deaf” Robert Cochran, Ann’s great grandfather, authors an incredible document: a family history of the Cochran family in Northern Ireland. Over the next 130 years, the births, marriages, and deaths of subsequent generations were added to it and new copies were produced. I was astonished at the information contained within. Robert recorded family information stretching back to the John Cochran of Paisley. He remembered names, places, and recounted some interesting anecdotes. I found two copies of this document in Pennsylvania, and I was fortunate that Ann, her siblings, and her parents were recorded in the book by later generations.

James Cochran did very well in Pennsylvania, and he set up his children to do well. He owned a large farm, ran a successful tavern, helped found a local church, and funded a local school. He and Isabella had 7 children: Anne, Robert, George, John, Stephen, Jane, and James. Anne married twice, first to Alexander Lecky and second to Reverend John Roan, a well-known Presbyterian minister. Robert married Janet Boyd, but died quite young. George, Ann’s father, was a blacksmith and married Nancy Henry, the sister of Reverend Hugh Henry, whose ministry was based in Maryland. John became a medical doctor and served as the Surgeon General of the Continental Army during the Revolution. He married Gertrude Schuyler of the wealthy New York Schuyler family. Stephen’s primary occupation was farming, and he ran the tavern after the death of his father. He also served in the Pennsylvania General Assembly from 1777 to 1779. Jane married another Presbyterian minister, Reverend Alexander Mitchell. James learned the trade of saddlery and died at the age of 29. All of James’s children became important members of their Scots-Irish society and even played important roles on the state and national levels.

Early Life

Ann was born to George and Nancy (Henry) Cochran in 1763, though the actual day and month has not been verified. She was either born on April 9 (tombstone and death notice) or August 16 (obituary written by granddaughter). Ann suffered two devastating losses in her early years. Her grandfather James died in 1766 (Isabella died in 1760), followed by her mother in 1769. The deaths also greatly affected George, who struggled to maintain his family financially. As a result, Ann was sent to live with her aunt, Anne Roan, and uncle, Reverend John Roan, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where she spent the next five or six years of her life.

Rev. John and Anne Roan had several children: Jean, Elizabeth, Mary, and Flavel. Mary was a year younger than Ann, and they became very close. The Roans also took in their nephew, Archibald Roan, after the death of Archibald’s father. Ann, her cousins, and Archibald all received very good educations from John and Anne. They girls learned to read and write as well as household activities, while the boys learned many subjects as well reading and writing in Latin and Greek. It seems that all members of the Roan household enjoyed reading books from Rev. Roan’s impressive library of 101 books.

Reverend John Roan died on 3 October 1775. Before his death, he made a will in which he mentioned Ann and Archibald. To Ann, he gave £10 “To be paid when she comes to the age of eighteen years of age if her father remove her not from my family before that time.” He also left her an additional £5 if she married someone her aunt approved of. Ann was now 12 years old, and her father George had another choice to make: leave her with her aunt Anne or bring her back to live with him in Chester County and forfeit her inheritance. There is no evidence that Ann received her inheritance, and her obituary states that she returned to her father’s house.

Revolutionary War

Ann’s father’s family was very involved in the Revolutionary War. Ann was very proud of her family’s involvement, and she loved to tell stories about them. Her uncle Stephen Cochran captained a local militia company, and her cousin Samuel and brother John enlisted. Her father, George, also served in the war as an artificer making items like horseshoes for the army and in the militia. Her uncle Dr. John Cochran was eventually introduced to George Washington and quickly became one of his most trusted medical advisors. He was later the Surgeon General of the army.

Through her uncle John Cochran, Ann had interesting ties to the Valley Forge encampment. She, likely along with her father, traveled to the encampment where she stayed with her uncle. It was there that she met Martha Washington, which was one of her proudest moments.

Father’s Death and Marriage

Ann’s father George died in 1786 when Ann was 23 years old. Now, Ann had lost all of her guardians: both Cochran grandparents, both parents, and her uncle John Roan. Ann’s inherited a “Young colt and the colt the bay mare is with one bed and furniture, likewise a cow and calf.” George was worried about where Ann would live after his death, and in his will, encouraged Ann to live with her sister, Isabel, and her husband, Eliezer Hamill, but only “if they could agree.” Apparantly, they did not agree, and Ann instead chose to move to Northumberland County, Pennsylvania to live with her sister, Jean, and her husband, William Thompson.

While living with her sister and brother-in-law, she was introduced to Sankey Dixon, a close friend of her cousin, Sankey Dixon. She and Sankey were married on 7 June 1788 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Sankey was the son of John and Arabella (Murray) Dixon. John had a large farm, and Arabella was well-connected as the niece of wealthy merchant Robert Murray or Murray’s Hill, New York.

They made their first home together in Hanover Township, Pennsylvania. Their oldest son, John, was born in 1789 and baptized by their local minister. In about 1791, Sankey and Ann left Pennsylvania for the Shenandoah Valley. During thier residence there, more children were born to them: Matthew Lyle, Robert, Nancy Henry, Isabella, and Mary Roan.

Tennessee and Sankey’s Death

By 1807, the family had moved once again, this time to Knox County, Tennessee, where their youngest daughter, Margaret Ingles, was born. Interestingly, Ann’s cousin, Archibald Roan, was already living there and had served one term as Tennessee’s second governor from 1801-1803.

By 1814, Ann’s children were growing up. Both John and Isabella died as small children, Matthew was apprenticed to a doctor, Robert was apprenticed to a cabinetmaker, and the three remaining daughters – Nancy, Mary, and Margaret – were living at home with their parents. Sadly, Sankey died of an unspecified illness on 11 November 1814 when Ann was about 51 years old. The oldest son, Matthew, wrote a very sad letter to his father’s old friend and mother’s cousin, Flavel, to relay the news of Sankey’s death. It is clear from the letter how much Matthew was affected by his father’s death.

Ann was now a widow and had to support her three daughters. Her good friends, Hugh and Elizabeth White, came to her rescue and allowed her and her daughters to live with them until Robert came of age. Ann commented later that White acted as “more than a brother” to her during her time of crisis.

The family lived in Knox County until about 1822, when Ann and her youngest daughter, Margaret, left to live with her oldest son, Matthew, in Winchester, Franklin County, Tennessee

Life in Franklin County

Matthew Dixon was wealthy, had a successful farm and medical practice, was instrumental in beginning a male academy, and was the teller of the first bank in Winchester. Ann and Margaret lived a very comfortable lifestyle with her son.

In 1830, Margaret married the local cabinetmaker, McCama W. Robinson (link to my post on McCama can be found here), and Ann moved in with her daughter and son-in-law. McCama was constantly in trouble with the law, which probably made things quite tense at home. Nevertheless, Ann took great pride in her grandchildren, whom she helped name. Margaret and McCama’s children were: Rachel Ann, Samuel D., Elizabeth White, William Darby, Isabella White, Sarah Sloan, Henry Clay, and Mary D. Rachel’s middle name was for her grandmother, Elizabeth White was named after Hugh L. White’s wife, William Darby was named for the famous geographer and one time tenant of Sankey’s father and a correspondent of Ann’s. Isabella’s middle name also referenced the White family, Sarah Sloan was the name of one of Sankey’s nieces, and Henry Clay was named for the Whig politician. Both Ann and McCama were Whigs. As can be seen, most of the Robinson children were named for people important in Ann’s life.

Ann was also likely the driving force behind her grandchildren’s education, both the boys and the girls. The boys attended a private academy in Winchester, and the girls likely attended the female academy or one in Nashville.

Revolutionary War Widow’s Pension

In 1838, Ann applied for her widow’s pension for the first time. She went to court and gave a statement about her husband’s service, their marriage, and their children. She successfully submitted enough proof for her to qualify, and as a result, she received $320 a year due to Sankey’s rank as a Lieutenant. For the first time in her life, Ann was receiving an independent income. She returned to court several more times to refile her petition every time the legislation changed. She received her pension every year from 1839 until her death in 1857 for a grand total of $5,760.

This money allowed Ann to take control of her life financially. She purchased her own house in Winchester and moved her daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren to it in 1844. She also purchased her own furniture and loaned a substantial amount of money to McCama in 1842.

Ann’s Will

Both McCama and Margaret were in bad health by 1845, and Ann decided it was time to make her will so that her intentions about the distribution of her estate would be in writing. I believe at this point, Ann was quite worried that one or both of them were going to die. Ann made it very clear that if she was to die, all of her assets were to go directly to Margaret and were not to be touched by McCama. If Margaret predeceased her, then everything was to be split by Margaret’s children. Nothing was to go to McCama. She clearly intended to take care of Margaret and her children. She also stipulated that money was to be spent on the education of all of her grandchildren.

Five years later, Margaret died and was buried in the Winchester City Cemetery next to William Darby and Mary D. Robinson who were already dead. With Margaret’s death, Ann had outlived all seven of her children and even some of her grandchildren. This must have been quite a lonely feeling for her.

Ann’s Death and Legacy

Ann retained her health until March 1857. Then she quickly deteriorated, finally dying at home on April 12, 1857 in Winchester, Tennessee.

Ann Dixon’s tombstone.

A short death notice was placed in the local paper:

From the Winchester Home Journal

It in no way alludes to the full and interesting life that she led.

Ann’s property was sold off, and the money from the sales was divided equally between her living grandchildren. Over the next few years, tragedy continued to strike the family that Ann loved so much. McCama’s business failed, and he relinquished guardianship of his three youngest children – Isabella, Sarah, and Henry – to others, including his oldest daughter Rachel Anna Mankin. In 1861, both Samuel and Henry enlisted in the Civil War. Samuel was wounded but survived the war, but Henry was killed at the Battle of the Wilderness. McCama likely died during the Civil War as he disappears from any records after 1861.

The five remaining grandchildren – Anna, Samuel, Elizabeth, Isabella, and Sarah – worked to preserve Ann’s memory.

Ann Mankin learned from her grandmother’s past that when
relatives needed aid, other members of the kinship group had a responsibility to assist. Just as Ann Cochran Dixon’s aunt and uncle, Reverend John and Anne Roan, took her in as a child, Ann’s granddaughter Ann Mankin and her husband James extended the same care to their young relatives. Childless themselves, Ann and James supported not only her siblings Belle, Sarah, and Henry Robinson, but also James’s five orphaned nieces and nephews. Later in life, Ann also used her education, so important to her grandmother, to teach school in Rutherford County, Tennessee.

Reminiscent of his grandparents, Samuel’s “war record was his greatest pride and the chief topic of his thoughts and conversation.”An energetic writer, Samuel submitted his first essay, entitled “Battle of Kennesaw Mountain,” to the editor of The Annals of the Army of Tennessee, published in 1878. In 1883, the First Tennessee Infantry veterans appointed Samuel to a committee in charge of compiling information about the regiment for Dr. John Berrien Lindsley’s The Military Annals of Tennessee: Confederate. This resulted in the completion of Samuel’s second essay, “The First Tennessee.” Samuel also followed the lead of his uncle, Matthew Lyle Dixon, by becoming an enthusiastic and active member of various societies, including the Temple Division Sons of Temperance, Vanderbilt Lodge Knights of Honor, Nashville Typographical Union No. 20, Frank Cheatham Bivouac, and the Tennessee Historical Society. Although he did not preserve his family history to the same extent as did his sisters Elizabeth and Isabella, he did donate to the Tennessee Historical Society two original deeds to his uncle Robert Dixon’s property in Knoxville.

Ann’s influence can also be seen in the life of her granddaughter, Elizabeth
Sturtevant. Elizabeth and her husband John were well-respected educators in Nashville for many years, and they combined their talents in order to serve young men and women in Tennessee who had lost their sight. John and Elizabeth transformed the reputation of the Tennessee School for the Blind and changed the futures of students who might otherwise have received little or no education.

Ann’s youngest Robinson granddaughters, Isabella and Sarah, also showed their devotion to their grandmother. While Isabella guarded some of their grandmother’s possessions, Sarah was interested in retaining Ann’s real property in Winchester. Sarah purchased Ann’s lot and she and Isabella lived in their childhood home until in 1904. When Belle entered the newly established Old Ladies Home in Chattanooga, with the help of the honorary board president of the home, Emma Wells, she donated a small collection of papers that meant so much to her to the Tennessee Historical Society. They included Ann’s obituary, catechism, a letter to Ann from her brother John, the silhouette of Sankey’s brother Robert Dixon, and a few other items.

Why I Want to Meet Her

Ann had such an incredible impact on her family, and I would really love to meet her. I have so many questions to ask her about her life, and I would especially like to see if some of the conclusions I made about her life were correct or if I was completely wrong. Some questions I have are:

1. Who were Nancy Henry’s parents?

2. Can you give me exact details about your stay in Valley Forge?

3. What is your birth date?

4. Where did you and Sankey live in the Shenandoah Valley?

5. Was McCama an alcoholic?

6. What was your real opinion of McCama?

7. Why was Margaret’s health so bad?

8. Did you enjoy living with John and Anne Roan? Or did you wish you were home with your father?

9. Was Sankey a good husband?

I could go on and on with questions! If I could invite Ann to dinner, it would likely be a very long dinner.

 

 

 

Unusual Name(s) – Verena and Apollonia

Last year at about this time, I wrote a blog post about an ancestor of mine, Kunigunde Gerwig who married Andreas König, as her name is one of my favorites. It also works as an unusual name, but in this post, I want to highlight the names of her mother and paternal grandmother: Verena and Apollonia. They are also unusual names, but they are quite beautiful. All three generations of women were named after saints with whom I was not at all familiar.

Apollonia Zimmermann Gerwig

Unfortunately, I do not know very much about my Apollonia! I have put her and her family on my research “to do” list when I make my genealogy trip to Germany sometime in the future. I do know that she was possibly born in Maugenhard, a small town in southwest Germany on the edge of the Black Forest and very close to the borders of Switzerland and France. At some point, she married her husband, Hans Gerwig, most likely in Maugenhard, possibly about 1640. The couple had at least four sons: Paul, Conrad, Hans Casper, and Marx. I don’t know when she or her husband died or where the events occurred.

Saint Apollonia holding one of her teeth.

As you can see, I know almost nothing about her, but I do know that she was likely named after Saint Apollonia, a 3rd century Egyptian Christian who was martyred in Alexandria along with other young women during an uprising against Christians. According to tradition, all of her teeth were shattered or pulled out before she jumped into a fire and burned to death. Isn’t that just a horrendous story? I don’t know if Apollonia Gerwig had a particularly difficult life (more difficult than the average resident of Baden in the 17th century), but I do hope it was easier than Saint Apollonia’s.

 

Verena Jakob Gerwig

Apollonia’s oldest son, Paul, was born about 1645, and he married Verena Jakob on 25 January 1669 in either Egringen or Maugenhard. Egringen is just down the road from Maugenhard, but I have seen conflicting evidence of the marriage place. Again, research needed! Together, Paul and Verena had 7 children: Apollonia (named for Paul’s mother), Johannes, Kunigunde (my ancestress), Paul (named for his father), Verena (named for her mother), Anna, and Jakob. My source for the children’s births is the Ortsfamilienbuch, which is a transcription of birth/death/marriage records of families in specific places. It states that Kunigunde was born in Maugenhard, but I have seen other sources naming Egringen as the birthplace for all of Paul and Verena’s children. This is a classic case of needing to see the original church records and not relying on secondary sources. But whether the children were born in Egringen or Maugenhard isn’t a huge issue as I know I have the right family and the two towns were right beside one another.

Saint Verena helping the poor.

Verena was likely named after Saint Verena, who like Apollonia, was also from Egypt. She traveled to Switzerland where she performed acts of kindness and performed some miracles. She died in Bad Zurzach, Switzerland in the 4th century. Bad Zurzach is on the border of Switzerland and Germany, maybe 50 miles from Maugenhard. It is, therefore, not surprising that Verena was named after Saint Verena as she was a local saint.

I do love these unusual names, but I doubt I’d be able to convince my husband to name our future children after them!

 

Challenge – William Althauser (1846-1922)

Genealogy comes with many challenges, doesn’t it? There are research challenges like burned courthouse, ancestors dying intestate, reading particularly bad handwriting, and financing research trips, just to name of few. Then there are challenges that our ancestors faced like immigration, deaths of spouses and children, and war.

Another challenge that comes with the territory is reconciling family stories, newspaper reports, and other second hand information with historic documents like baptisms, immigration records, and death certificates. I came across this situation a couple of years ago when I first began to seriously research my German Althauser ancestors. I know that I have mentioned in other posts how much I love researching my German ancestry, particularly the Althausers, for a variety of reasons. At first, I think I was so drawn to them because they were such a mystery, and unlike most of my other ancestors, they immigrated in the 19th century (the majority of the others came in the 17th and 18th centuries).

This post covers multiple challenges: reconciling facts, researching in another country, and deciphering records in a foreign language. It also highlights the challenges faced by immigrants, especially since the immigrants highlighted here were a single mother and young children, none of whom spoke English.

Goodspeed’s History of Tennessee Article on William Althauser

When I began researching William, the only record I had was a short article written about William in Goodspeed’s History of Tennessee in the section on Robertson County. Goodspeed’s included a who’s who of each Tennessee County, so I was very fortunate to find William there. Here is the article:

William Althauser, foreman and book-keeper of a registered distillery, was born in 1847, in Baden, Germany, and is one of a family of five children born to Jacob and Anna (Krieg) Althauser. The father and mother were natives of Baden, Germany.

The father was a cooper by trade, and in connection did farming. He died about 1850. The mother was born in 1807, and came to North Carolina in 1852, locating in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she died in 1880.

The subject of this sketch was reared without a father’s care or training, being only three years old at his father’s death. He received his education in the schools of Cincinnati, Ohio. At the age of nineteen he commenced keeping books for S. N. Fowler, a distiller at Cincinnati, but after two years he engaged himself to Mr. Charles Nelson as book-keeper, and has proved so trusty and efficient that to compensate him for this he has been made foreman of the entire establishment, it being the largest distillery in the county.

September 25, 1873, he was married to Mary F. Swift, a native of Tennessee, born in 1847, and the daughter of Richard and Mary F. Swift. To Mr. and Mrs. Althauser have been born five children: Nathaniel L., Robert P., Anna M., William E. and James A. Garfield.

Mr. Althauser has control of the entire business, and looks carefully after the interests of his employer, and nothing is done unless under and by his personal supervision. He is a member of the German Lutheran Church, and his wife a member of the Baptist Church. In politics Mr. Althauser is a stanch Republican.

What a great starting point! At least I had some information about his background, parents’ names, and nativity as well as dates. What I was going to learn was that second hand information, especially when you don’t know where the information originated, is sometimes helpful but it can also be quite wrong.

1900 Census

I then turned to the census records. I knew to begin with the 1900 census because a.) he was alive and b.) that census year gives specific information about immigration. The 1900 census which listed William Althauser, his wife Mary, and their children William and James living in Robertson County, Tennessee. My family knew that he worked as the foreman for a large distillery in Robertson County, so in this case, the family story and his occupation on the census record aligned. In the census, William reported that he was born in Jan 1846 in Germany, both of his parents were born in Germany, and that he immigrated in 1851.

1900 census
1900 census

Goodspeed’s Article vs. 1900 Census Record

There are some major differences between the census and the article. When I first looked at these records, I assumed that William gave the information for both sources; now, I do not think this is correct.

Birth date: The article says 1847, and the census says January 1846. Not a very big difference, but a difference nonetheless.

Birth place: This wasn’t necessarily a difference, but the article narrowed the search to (what was at the time) the Grand Duchy of Baden rather than Germany as a whole.

Immigration: The census record gives his immigration year as 1851, but the article says his mother immigrated in 1852. I believe the article implies that William immigrated with his mother, but it is not very clear.

Death Certificate vs. Census vs. Article

My next step was to locate William Althauser’s death certificate. The Tennessee State Library and Archives has a list of early death certificates on the website, and not knowing exactly when William died, I checked each year until I found him in 1922. I then scrolled through the microfilm at the Archives until I found his death certificate. His son, Nathaniel, was the informant.

William Althauser’s death certificate

The death certificate gave me new information that I now had to compare with everything else I knew:

Birth date: Given as 25 January 1846, which matches the census record. So, here, the article in Goodspeed’s was likely incorrect.

Birth place: Given as Baden, Germany, which matched the Goodspeed’s article and was consistent with the census record.

Father: Nathaniel apparently did not know or could not remember the name of William’s father. According to the article, the father died in Germany when William was very small, so perhaps William did not speak very much about his father. Or perhaps Nathaniel wasn’t paying attention. The only name I had was Jacob from the article.

Mother: Nathaniel named Mary Krieg as William’s mother. This is different from the article, which states his mother was Anna Krieg. Luckily, the surnames matched, so I hoped that the surname was correct.

Passenger Lists vs. Death Certificate, Census, and Article

My next challenge was to find the immigration record. I was very worried about finding the passenger list because the earlier the passage, the harder it can be to find.

I knew that William came from Germany, he arrived in 1851 or 1852, he was likely traveling with his mother and some of his siblings, and that his mother was either Mary or Anna. The article stated she entered the country through North Carolina, which sounded odd to me, but I checked all passenger lists coming into New York, New Orleans, Massachusetts, Baltimore, and Philadelphia.

Finally, I found a passenger group that seemed to best match my William and Mary/Anna.

Althauser family on the Helvetia manifest.

Immigration date: Ship Helvetia arrived in New York City harbor on 28 November 1853. 1853 is different than both 1851 and 1852, but it is close.

Immigration place: New York City, not North Carolina as stated in the article.

Place of origin: Baden, Germany, which is consistent with the census, article, and death certificate.

Mother: William’s mother’s first name is Anna, not Mary.

Mother’s age: Given as 44, which meant she was born about 1809. This is two years difference from the birth year given in the article.

William’s name and age: His name is actually Wilhelm in German, which is never referred to in documents created in America. He is 7 years old, which is consistent with the 1846 birth year.

Siblings: Here was another challenge. I couldn’t read several of William’s siblings’ names! I could read Anna, Pauline, and Wilhelm, but I struggled with his brothers’ names for a while. I later determined that the captain had written their names as Andre, Jacob, and Johann. However, there were five people who looked like they were Anna’s children, which was consistent with the article.

Naturalization Documents

For several years, I was stuck at this point. I knew when William immigrated, his mother’s name, his siblings’ names, and I found him living in Cincinnati in 1860 and 1870, before he moved to Tennessee. However, I was no closer to finding out more about William’s early life and his ancestry. It makes it quite difficult when you don’t know the hometown of the immigrant.

But, after some research, I finally located William’s naturalization documents! I was beside myself with happiness because not only did they tell me where William was born, but it included his personal statement. William stated that he believed he was already naturalized because he entered the U.S. as a small child. I was incredibly fortunate that William was under the impression that he was naturalized at this time because if he had realized his mistake earlier, the documents might not have been as detailed.

William Althauser naturalization application

Birth date: Given as 25 January 1846. Consistent with the death certificate, census record, and passenger list. At this point, I assumed the birth date was correct.

Birth place: Given as Opfingen, a small town in the Grand Duchy of Baden. This little bit of information sent my research in a very specific direction. Baden was also consistent with the passenger list, death certificate, article, and census record. This was also the piece of information I was most hoping to find!

Father: No name given, but he stated that his father died when he was three or four years old in Germany. His death in the Goodspeed’s article was given as 1850, and if William was three or four when his father died, this would be consistent.

Mother: No name given, but he stated that she, himself, and his siblings immigrated on the Helvetia in 1853 and arrived in New York City. This is all consistent with the passenger list and the Goodspeed’s article.

Requesting Records from Germany

Here was a brand new challenge for me: ordering records from Germany. Doing some initial research, I learned that in some German states, including Baden, citizens who wished to immigrate had to apply for permission. I hoped that the Althausers applied and that the documents had survived. The local archives is the Landesarchiv Baden-Wurttemburg, and the website included some of the larger record groups for each small community. To my surprise, the permission to immigrate records were listed by each individual. It is actually quite fascinating. You can see all of the families who wanted to immigrate from that community during the 19th century. Here is the entry for the Althauser family:

It reads: Immigration of the widow of Jacob Althauser, Anna Althauser, born Krieg, with her children to North America to her siblings.

Names: Jacob and Anna Althauser. The names match the ones in the Goodspeed’s article as well as the name of the mother on the passenger list. Anna is called a widow and her birth name is Krieg, both of which are consistent with the article.

Immigration application year: 1853. This is consistent with the passenger list and William’s statement in his naturalization application.

I contacted the Archives and asked if they could supply me with copies of the permission to immigrate papers. They very graciously replied yes, and after I sent the fees, they sent me digitized copies of the records. I was very proud of myself for emailing them in German and deciphering the records request forms. I had no idea that the forthcoming records would be so detailed and informative!

Translating the Documents

I now had the documents! But I couldn’t read anything. Although I have a minor in German, at the time, I could only read German written in modern day lettering. In the 19th century, German was written in Kurrent, an old style of lettering. Below is an example of the alphabet written in Kurrent.

As you can see, it is quite difficult to read, especially when the letters are written close together. Some letters are quite difficult to tell apart, particularly e, c, m, and n. My other issue was that spelling could be a bit different in the 19th century, so it was very difficult for me to not only transcribe the letters but also translate them. I am not ashamed at all to admit that I contacted someone who specializes in translating German records to transcribe the records into modern day German. What I found out caused me to have conflicting emotions. Reading the words was so heartbreaking and sad, just to think what Anna and her children went through prior to immigration. I was also so excited because I was learning new information that no one in our family knew about.

The documents revealed that Jacob and Anna Althauser were quite poor, and she and the children were relying on money from the almshouse for support. Reasons for their poverty have been discussed in other posts, so I will not rehash those here. Jacob died on 9 July 1852 at the age of 44 and was buried two days later. Anna reported that her siblings wanted her to come to the United States (they had already immigrated), and they helped pay for her passage. At the end, both Anna and her daughter Pauline signed the document. (I was so surprised that they could both write! I later discovered that they both attended school.)

The last page was one of the most important in the whole packet. It was a transcription of the church records that gave the births, death, marriage, occupation, and parents names of both Jacob and Anna as well as the births of all of their children!! I couldn’t believe my good fortune.

Anna’s children and their birth dates.

You can see Wilhelm at the bottom of the page. It reads Wilhelm was born on 11 January 1846.

Permission to Immigrate vs. Other Records

William’s birth date: January 11? William reported that his birth date was 25 January on his naturalization petition, and his son Nathaniel gave the same date on the death certificate. The church records, and the permission to immigrate papers, clearly state that he was born on January 11. Church records also show that he was baptized on 7 February. I am inclined to believe that the church records would be the most accurate, as it was not uncommon for people to report different dates for their birth date. But it seems strange that both William and Nathaniel would agree on the wrong date.

William’s parents: Finally, the mysteries surrounding William’s parents were solved. William’s parents were Jacob Althauser and Anna Krieg, which aligns with the Goodspeed’s article. Jacob died in 1852, not in 1850 as the article alleged. Interestingly, the article reported that the family immigrated in 1852, and that was the year of Jacob’s death. Whoever gave the information knew the essence of the story, but did not have all of the correct facts.

Parents’ birth dates: The permission documents also give the birth dates of Jacob and Anna. Jacob was born on 11 October 1807, and Anna was born on 8 February 1808. The article reported that Anna was born in 1807, which was close to her birthday, but Jacob was in fact born in 1807. Again, the article was very close, but not quite accurate.

Conclusions

Researching William Althauser was challenging for many reasons, which include:

1. Reconciling facts from a second or third hand account to facts from other records.

2. Searching for the birthplace of an immigrant.

3. Ordering records from a different country and attempting to transcribe/translate them.

This research journey has also exposed the challenges that faced the immigrants themselves, both before they left for the US, during the journey, and after they settled in the US.

I also learned a valuable lesson: continue to question records, especially if they were made in an unofficial capacity, like the Goodspeed’s article. Obviously, someone who knew William well supplied the information, but I don’t know if that person was in fact William. It is curious to me that William would state that his birth year was 1847 when he clearly reports it as 1846 in other records, that he immigrated in 1852 when he reported 1853 on his naturalization paperwork, that the family entered the US through North Carolina rather than New York City, and that his mother died in 1880 when she died in 1877. William, from what I could tell, was a very careful person, and I don’t believe he would give all of this incorrect information in the 1880s but report everything correctly (or most of it) in the 1910s.

This made me wonder if his wife, Mary, gave the information to Goodspeed’s. All the information about the present – name of his wife, their marriage date, her parents’ names, their children’s names, and their church attendance – was all correct. If Mary did supply the information, it would be reasonable that she knew the basic story but the exact dates and some locations were incorrect. These inconsistencies only helped fuel my search for the truth, and the end result was very exciting and satisfying.

I believe that the most challenging cases can turn out to be the most rewarding and even the most interesting.

First – My First Genealogy Experience and Discoveries

Happy New Year! I am very excited to start a second year of 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. I only hope that I don’t run out of ancestors or stories to tell! If anything, this project has showed me how much more research I need to do on all of my family members!

My “first” post is about my first foray into genealogy and my early discoveries that got me hooked on researching my family.

My fourth great grandparents, McCama and Margaret Robinson, had 8 children. Two died as children, one was killed in the Civil War and was unmarried, two daughters never married, and two other daughters married but never had children. This leaves only one son, Samuel, who married and had one child. Over the ensuing 115 years, each new generation produced only one child. So when I came along, I was the first girl born into the Robinson family since 1846!

This is both a fortunate and unfortunate situation. Fortunate because my parents inherited everything that belonged to the Robinson family, including the family Bible that Samuel gave to his wife Sallie on her birthday one year. Unfortunate because we don’t have any Robinson relatives on that side to the family! We have a few relatives on each of the wives’ sides, but that is it. This means we only have family stories told by my direct ancestors; nothing from brothers or sisters of any generation who might have had different stories, different opinions on family events, or different insights into the family in general.

But back to the fortunate. One of my favorite family heirlooms is the Robinson family Bible. It is quite large, heavy, with beautiful embossed leather. On the front, it is inscribed to Sallie C. Robinson for her birthday in 1875. Six generations of Robinsons are recorded in the Bible, but sadly, Samuel did not record his parents or Sallie’s. The only clue to their residence was a notation on the marriage page which said it took place at No. 63 Spruce Street in Nashville. I also have one newspaper article which announced Samuel and Sallie’s marriage. Luckily, it gave the name of her father, T.D. Cassetty, but it failed to give the name of her mother or anything about Samuel.

I knew about the existence of this Bible for many years, and no one in our family knew anything about Samuel or Sallie’s origins. So when I decided to begin researching our family, I started with Samuel and Sallie, my first brick walls.

Before I went to the archives in Nashville, I purchased an Ancestry.com subscription and searched the census records. I knew I was looking for a Samuel and Sallie Robinson in Nashville. As they were married in 1869, I began with the 1870 census. I found a “Sam and Sallie Robison” aged 34 and 28 respectively, living in a very large household. It included T.D. Cassetty, a magistrate, his wife Matilda, their five children, four borders, and five domestic servants. At first, I remember being really discouraged. By 1870, Samuel should have been 38 and Sallie 29, and Robinson was spelled incorrectly. Did I have the right people? The names and ages were close but not perfect. After reaching out to a fellow Cassetty researcher, I learned that ages were often wildly incorrect and names depended on what the census taker heard. That was my first lesson: historical records are not always perfect.

1870 Census

After I got over my initial hesitation, I couldn’t believe my luck! Not only did I find Sam and Sallie, but they were living in the same house as T.D. Cassetty, who was named as Sallie’s father in the marriage announcement. I was pretty sure that I found Sallie’s parents, but more information about them would take more research.

Ecstatic, I then searched the 1880 census for Sallie and Samuel. I found them living in Nashville with their 7 year old son in the house of a dry goods merchant. I later learned that Samuel never bought property; instead he moved from place to place, always renting.

The census records also told me something none of my family knew: Samuel Robinson was a printer. This was a huge discovery because my father and grandfather both owned printing companies, but neither of them knew that families members were involved in printing in the 19th century!

Sadly, Sallie died in 1886 and Samuel in 1891, so my census research could not go any farther into the future. At the time, Samuel remained a brick wall, but I did find Sallie living with her parents in the 1850-1860 censuses.

Another major research first came soon after: my first visit to the archives. I spent a day at the Tennessee State Library and Archives, which was only 30 minutes from my house, trying to find as much information about Samuel, Sallie, and the Cassettys as I could. The TSLA staff were so kind and helpful, that by the end, I had more information than I knew what to do with. I remember struggling to make the microfilm machines work, using the reference guides to find newspapers and death records, and pouring over the records to located their names. That day I found:

Death notices for Samuel, Sallie, and Sallie’s parents

Sallie Robinson’s death notice. It gives the names of her parents, T. D. and Matilda Cassetty.

City death records for Samuel, Sallie, and Sallie’s parents

Samuel Robinson death record.
Sallie Robinson death record.

Nashville City Directories that gave their addresses during their residence in Nashville.

I remember going home that night just so excited about what I had found out about the Robinsons. After that, I was completely hooked. I had to know more and more! To this day, the Robinsons hold a special place in my heart as the first part of my family that I researched. I was so inspired by my research that I later used Samuel’s grandmother, Ann Dixon, as the focus of my Master’s thesis. I think it is fair to say that genealogy changed my life and set me on my current career path. So cheers to a new year, and I hope I experience many more “firsts” in the year to come.