Tag Archives: #52Ancestors

LARGE Family Origins

Per Amy Johnson Crow’s #52Ancestors prompts, this week’s topic is “large family.”

My ancestor, Henry Bland, born in 1770, can be described as a man with a big family. He had 12 children with his first wife, and 12 more with his second wife.

Henry’s father, Thomas, is the subject of much speculation among our relatives. He appeared in Colonial Virginia and settled in what is today Pendleton County (West Virginia). Although there were other Blands who figured prominently as landowners, merchants, and statesmen in early Virginia, we have no records of our progenitor being related to them. In fact, the descendants of our ancestor have very different DNA groups than the descendants of several other Virginia Blands!

Some of the children of Henry Bland, from the family Bible

This page is from my mom’s book Thomas Bland of Pendleton County.

Bland history

Bachelor Uncle

This week’s theme or prompt from Amy Johnson Crow’s #52Ancestors series, is “Bachelor Uncle.”

Probably, I can find someone to fit this prompt in just about every generation in my pedigree. But the one who makes the most sense is my own uncle Laurence. I didn’t know him very well. My dad moved away from his family when he grew up, and I only visited them a handful of times in my entire life. Maybe it had something to do with what my aunt called “the L— [our surname] curse.”

“What is the L— curse?” I asked her.

“Not being able to get along with anyone,” she said.

She wrote this little memoir about her brother Laurence:

Laurence, God rest his soul, was a very likeable guy. Its to bad his first and only marriage failed within a couple of years. He was still adored by his in-laws and they remembered him till his last days. I use to antagonize him when we were little kids. He never called me by my name. When he wanted me, he would open and shut his dresser drawers knowing I would come in to see what he was doing. If he didn’t want me in his room, he would try to drag me out. I would grab hold of his bed and he would pull the bed and me to the door. I always was one foot ahead of him when he chased me through the house. I would slam the bathroom door in his face and lock it. He had a temper when he was little. I remember hitting him in the face with a snowball once. He about killed me.

While my dad left town after his service in the military, Lawrence stayed around and got a job at the same paint and body shop where their father worked. Dad stayed in the army until he retired, but Laurence served in the Navy only until WW2 was over. He was also an Arthur Murray dance instructor, I heard. He continued to live at home with his mother and sister until he died of leukemia, just shy of age 60. My aunt said,

In later years we became close after his stroke and cancer. He died to young. I’m glad I was there for him.

Young Laurence
Young Laurence

Old Laurence

Old Courthouse records

This week’s prompt from Amy Johnson Crowe’s 52 Ancestors motivational challenge, is “At the Courthouse.”

I’m looking forward to what other genealogy lovers make of it.

My mom went to county courthouses a lot in the old days of genealogy research, back in the 1960’s. Some of the courthouses didn’t even have photocopiers, so she had to transcribe the items she found onto scraps of paper, in longhand. I have files full of these, and believe me, her handwriting is not easy to decipher.

But aren’t lots of old records you’d find in courthouses digitized now? And can be accessed by clicking on a green shaking leaf? Like deeds, probate records, vital records, marriages, etc.?

Let me amend that last sentence. I know that not everything is digitized. I worked for a county property appraiser, and once in a while we’d have to go to the courthouse to see if there was anything on file that would help in a title search. We had ancient old deed books in our office, but sometimes a property description would refer to a really old deed book that we didn’t have, or couldn’t display because the pages were brittle and yellow and crumbling. So, then a trip to the court house was in order.

Some of the records were on microfilm. Not too many years ago, all the techs in our office had a microfiche or microfilm reader machine on our desks. Then, we moved all of them (about 40, I think) to a storage room next to the loading dock, and they were piled up in huge stacks. Our office was vilified as having used heated and cooled office-worthy space for storage of useless junk. So they were moved elsewhere, I don’t know what happened to them. My mom bought one of them for $50. I think it broke, and of course, no one in the modern world knows how to fix them any more.

One time I went to the records annex of the court house to look at some old deed books. The clerk there found them in a cardboard box underneath the counter. The next time I went to look at those records, they couldn’t find them at all. So, sometimes our pilgrimage to the courthouse, with high hopes, turned out to be a wild goose chase. The films were too hard to read, your arm would ache from turning the crank on the microfilm reader, which was never located in an ergonomically suitable spot on the machine, and after long, fruitless hours, you were ready to go to lunch over in the historic district to salvage the day.

If you’re looking for ancestors who lived in the US back in the 1600’s and 1700’s and 1800’s, there’s the question of “which county courthouse should I look in?” My DAR patriot lived in the Cook’s Creek area of what used to be Augusta County, and later Rockingham County, Virginia. [See the historic atlas at this link for some maps that show changes in counties in VA, and other states.] Some of his contemporaries and offspring lived within a hundred or so miles of his old home place, in what is now Pendleton County, but formerly Hardy, Rockingham, Augusta, or maybe Randolph, Lewis, or Grant Counties. Try to find a deed, so you can find exactly where their property was situated, and it says something like “40 rods southeast of the old sycamore tree…”

Family Photo, Plain and Fancy versions

For the family history buffs who are following Amy Johnson Crow’s #52 Ancestors social media post-a-rama, this week’s prompt is “family photo.”

Lucky for me, some of my ancestors in the 1850’s and later, bought into the new-fangled technology of picture taking. It’s apparent that some of them traipsed home from working in the fields to pose for the camera. And what glorious images those old cameras coaxed forth! The beautiful sepias and crisp dark shadows are no match for the wimpy and fading pixels of today.

These two studio photos of my grandma (the littlest poppet in the pictures) and her family, in plain and fancy regalia, were taken in England about 1905, a few years before they emigrated to the U.S.

At ease and somewhat casual

With fancy hats and coats

Father had provided a good living as a carriage builder, but that market was drying up in favor of the new mode of conveyance, the motor car. When they came to the states, he got a job in a grocery store.


For all my fellow family history bloggers who are keeping up with Amy Johnson Crow’s #52ancestors challenge, the prompt for this week is “love.”

For me, the obvious relative to go with that prompt is my 2nd great-grandfather, Valentine Fitch, or Voitzsch, as his surname was known before he sailed across the pond.

Although, to my ears, Valentine for a man’s surname sounds strange, I’m told it was a common given name for Germans, Spaniards, and Scandinavians. It’s a swashbuckling, romantic name!

By many accounts, he was born in Prussia and emigrated to the US with his parents and some of his numerous brothers and sisters, and perhaps cousins. The parents settled in New York. Valentine and many of his siblings moved to the midwest and put down roots in Winnebago County, Illinois.

Ancestry. com has a cadastral map of 1886 that shows V. Fitch’s parcel of land in Section 9. His name is plentiful in historic records of the US in the 1800’s and 1900’s, not only documenting his life and times, but also his son’s, grandson’s, and nephews’ lives, who were given the same name as his! Alas, though, I’m still in the dark about his time of death. He is not buried next to his wife in the Cherry Valley cemetery. Where did he go? What did he do? His name might as well have been Ozymandias, for all I was able to discover about his death. But once, he was an immigrant, a pioneer in the promised land of America, with his whole life of opportunities ahead of him!

The Surprising girl Behind the grandma

“Surprise!” That is the theme of this week’s #52ancestors prompt by Amy Johnson Crow. Isn’t it funny how you can’t imagine your grandparent, wrinkled, stooped in stature, and white-headed, as the young woman she once was? That is, unless you are lucky enough to find a picture.

I got a text message this morning from Family Search reminding me that today is my Grandma’s birthday, and if she hadn’t died when she did, she’d be 120 years old now!

Grandma as a young woman

In addition to the birthday reminder, I got in the mail today a packet of pictures and memorabilia from a guy whose family bought the farm that my grandpa (eventual husband of the woman in the picture) and his family lived on, back in the early 1900’s. He was holding back from posting his pics online, so it would be a surprise!

My Aunt Virginia wrote this little memory about her mother:

She loved children and animals. In olden days we had hoboes that would come to the back door begging for a cup of coffee or a piece of pie. She never refused them and they never left hungry. Even in much later years when it wasn’t safe to help strangers, she would give a helping hand against our warnings. In her last years, when there was just the two of us, I was able to get her out of the house to go places. She opened up to people and made a lot of friends who thought she was a kind and beautiful person. She had a dry sense of humor that everyone enjoyed. I miss her much.

Happy happy birthday, Grandma! We’re glad you were born!

Using Real and Virtual Libraries for Family History Research

Would you rather look at a computer screen, a phone screen, or an actual paper page in a book? Your answer may rely on which of the “generations,” as defined by Wikipedia, you belong to. The younger the demographic cohort of a person, the more they seem to prefer the transient image, the disappearing snap photo, the meme: something to ponder briefly, identify with, for what it’s worth,  and then move on to the next thing. The older the demographic cohort of a person, the more they seem to prefer a book, something tangible and permanent, that can sit on the shelf and collect dust but be there, faithfully, when one has a notion to look something up.

My mom, possibly classified as being on the cusp of the “Silent Generation” and the “Baby Boomers,” (see Wikipedia link above) reveled in doing what one cousin recently dubbed “the legwork” in family history research: going to the courthouse, copying down information in longhand  because there was no copy machine at the facility in the 1960’s (and her script can be very difficult to read), traipsing up and down mountains in foul weather to find old neglected graveyards, knocking on the doors of unsuspecting relatives we’d never met before and doing impromptu interviews with them,  and taking blurry pictures of the old portraits in wood-and-plaster frames on their living room walls.

Eventually, she compiled all her notes into a book. This photo includes two versions of it.


For the first version, the spiral-bound one above, she asked me (as a much younger person) to draw the cover, with the background mountain formation the locals called “Ol’ Tom of the Rocks.” I guess she decided to go with something a little less primitive for the cover of the second, more mass-produced version. I think she self-published about 100 copies and sold them for about $10 apiece. They sold out quickly. Quite a few libraries across the country have non-circulating copies.

I have the original manuscript and I’ve thought about reprinting it, since people still contact me, craving a copy of it.

She recorded all she could find of the descendants of Thomas Bland, born c. 1740. I’ve entered a lot of her info  into my pedigree chart, and thus have enough hints generated that I will never run out of updating tasks for the rest of my life.

To find the nearest physical location where a copy of her book resides, or any other family history book, you have only to look it up in the virtual library card catalog in Familysearch.org. If you’re reading this, of course you know that Family Search is a free web site you can join, collaborate with others, post your pedigree, which becomes part of the global tree (except for the entries for living people, which are suppressed from public view).  It’s also a treasure trove of historical records. Sign in, go to the link “Search” near the top of the page, then go to “Catalogue.” Choose to search by “Titles” and then type in “Thomas Bland.” If you click on one of the Thomas Bland of Pendleton County entries, you can find a link inside, for “WorldCat” database, which will show you all the libraries that have a copy, beginning with the one closest to you. You may be able to get your local library to “borrow” it from one of the other libraries.

This may be possible with any book you find in the WorldCat. Real or virtual, you’ve gotta love your library. This is for week #5 of Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge. 

THe Ancestor I’d Like to Meet

Keeping up with the weekly prompts from Amy Johnson Crow’s #52Ancestors 2019 blog post, this week I’ll feature one of the ancestors I’d most like to meet.

Roger Conant was my 9th great grandfather. He was one of the founders of Salem, Massachusetts. He didn’t come to America on the Mayflower, but on another ship from England in about 1624. According to his Wikipedia blurb, he didn’t get on well with leaders in the Puritan community in the New World at Plymouth, and moved on to establish another settlement with folks who were less prone to violence and religious fanaticism.

Donna Seger, eminent author of the Streets of Salem blog, wrote in her “Massey’s Cove” post in 2016, that Roger Conant and his associates got short shrift in the history books. The famous statue of him, shown above, encourages the mind to jump to Witchcraft and the notorious Salem Witch Trials. Although he died in 1679, just a few years before all the hysteria and subsequent trial happened, he must have known many of the participants. He was said to have been active in Salem affairs his whole life.

That is what I would ask him about, if I actually could meet and communicate with him.

“What really led up to the Salem Witch trials?” I’d ask. “I didn’t see the Conant family name in any documentation about accusers or accused, or judges. Did you see it coming? Did your children play any part in it? If you hadn’t died just prior, would you have been able to contribute a voice of reason to shut it down?”

Through the ap “Relative Finder” I see that I have several 1st and 2nd cousins, 10 and 12 times removed, as well as more distant relations, included in the Salem Witch Trials group, but none of them Conants. Perhaps that is because many of those ancestresses didn’t have the hidden vulnerability of owning property (or eventually owning property once their relative died) and not having a male heir in the picture to protect their interest, and to pass it along to, as theorized by researcher Carol F. Karlsen in her book The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England (New York: W.W. Norton, 1987).

Yep, it would be nice to get his take on it!

We all love Green (Olive Greene)

Following along with Amy Johnson Crowe’s prompt for this week of #52ancestors, which is “unusual name,” I present a little summary of what I know of my 2nd great grandmother, Olive Greene.

Her full name was Olive Jane Greene, and she went by the nickname “Jenny.”

She was born about 100 years before I was, and lived her whole life in Cumberland County, Maine. Her father was a farmer. She was born when her father was 47 and her mother 44. Her oldest brother was 20 years older than she was. She was able to marry while her parents were still alive, so they could see their youngest child, and only daughter as far as I can see, happily situated in life.

In the first census taking after her marriage, they are listed as living with her parents. Jenny’s husband was described as a tinsmith by trade. In the next three census records, he is listed as manager of a local canning factory.

The couple were parents of two daughters who died relatively young, in their twenties (my 2nd great aunt) and thirties (my great grandmother). My grandmother (#52Ancestors 2019 pick number 1) did get to meet and know her husband’s Grandma Jenny and Grandpa Charles Herbert.

The Challenging Mr. Fitch

The designated theme for this, week 2 of Amy Johnson Crow’s #52Ancestors blog post prompts for 2019, is “challenge.”

The Challenging Fitch ancestor, my great-grandfather, has brought so many spine-tingling responses, whenever I found some unexpected trace of him popping up in my research.

None of the old-timers seemed to know much about him. My great-grandmother was married to him (very briefly) in 1896. Their son, my grandpa, was born in 1900. Historical records prove they were married at the time of my grandpa’s birth, and then later divorced, but he took his mother’s surname the rest of his life.

Wonder why she went to such great lengths to keep even the whisper of the name Fitch away?

great grandmother Nina, wife of Fitch for a brief moment

Gradually I began finding snippets of information about him, or at least, someone whose name was similar to his. The biggest treasure trove of hints came from a My Heritage newspaper vault. Apparently Fitch had moved to a tiny town in Indiana which had a nosy gossip columnist, and a reporter who noted every court action from the minuscule to the mighty. From this source, I learned a lot about his marriages, job, family members, what he did on the weekends, and all kinds of events either humdrum or tragic.

He worked at a dairy plant in Chicago, and apparently serviced a sales or maintenance route to several cities in Indiana, Wisconsin, and Illinois. At one point, according to the newspaper, the plant where he worked closed, and he could have chosen to move and work at a similar plant in Wisconsin, but didn’t. Around that time, he petitioned the court to have the time and place of his birth determined.

For someone supposedly born in 1875, the child of a German immigrant and an American mother, he did not seem to be a stable representative of that demographic, in my mind . He was married to at least six different women. There were some shady newspaper accounts, either about him or someone with his same name.

The Fitches, overall, were a challenge to find, and I still cannot find Great-grandpa Fitch’s mother’s family where they are supposedly from in Erie, New York.

From a member profile in My Heritage, and from some DNA matches in Ancestry, I found some likely relatives who were descended from Voitzsch ancestors in Prussia. The original US immigrants of this line were supposedly buried in a graveyard in Erie County, New York, according to a source. I found the roster of burials for that cemetery, and one name very remotely like Fitch or Voitzsch came up: Gaubeloupe Freitztsch Folilztson (compared to the name listed on historical records Johann Gottlob Fitch or Voitzsch) and wife were buried there, and their markers possessed the only possible dates that could have worked out to be the immigrants. Not exactly proof positive, but some DNA matches to me have these ancestors listed on their pedigrees, so it may be a good tree to bark up!

Recently I was contacted by someone whose ancestor bought the farm where Nina lived at the time of her death. Having already posted several salient newspaper articles about the life and times of Nina and her subsequent husbands, he says he may have a photo somewhere of the elusive Mr. Fitch!

This is the 2nd of #52Ancestors.