Friday, March 26, 2010

Just because it's written in stone doesn't mean it's actually true

In my ongoing quest for documentation and verification of my "hand me down" genealogy, I discovered the other day that the headstone for my four-times great grandfather, Benjamin Williams, is wrong. Oops. The stone marking his grave in the Logan City Cemetery, Cache Co., Utah states "Benjamin Williams/Born/Nov. 10, 1823/Died/Mar. 1, 1905." [1]

However, his death certificate states that he died of dropsy (edema) on 28 February 1905 and was buried 3 March 1905.[2] Granted, it's only off by one day, but still: it's wrong. Note also that the death certificate spells his given name as Benjamen [sic] rather than Benjamin.

The moral of the story: Just because it's written in stone doesn't mean it's true.
A second moral of the story: Typos can be expensive to fix.

According to New Family Search, Benjamin was born in Llanidloes, Wales, and he has two sets of parents and three mothers, which I highly doubt. Now don't get me wrong, I am not speaking ill of New Family Search, but garbage in garbage out...and there's a lot of garbage floating around. So I take it with a grain of salt. Some of that information was based on personal knowledge of early LDS church members. But as we see from Benjamin's tombstone, sometimes the people responsible for remembering and recording the information don't remember correctly. I'm looking for *documentation* and verification.

According to the 1900 Census, Benjamin and his wife Mary Williams both immigrated in 1848, which at first glance sounds like they were married before they came to America, except for the fact that the 1900 census indicates they married about 1856. [3] Benjamin was a naturalized citizen by this time, but since he immigrated so early I do not expect his naturalization papers from Utah to provide any details about his specific place of birth. Therefore I haven't even bothered to look for them at this time.

I don't particularly like the 1856 marriage date, because my ancestor Mary Williams was born four years prior to that in Pottsville, [Schuylkill Co.], Pennsylvania on 16 May 1852, according to her death certificate. [4] This does not surprise me at all. In addition to my own ancestry research, I frequently discover my client's Welsh coal miners wandering around south western Pennsylvania during this time period and from there moving westward as the country opened.

In fact, I came across this interesting quote written by "an Aberdare (Glamorganshire) native, John R. Williams, [who] wrote a message home 10 November 1895, describing coal mining in Pennsylvania" on a fascinating website about Welsh in the Knoxville, Tennessee area:

"The coal trade in the anthracite districts has been extremely dull all through the year, the production overwhelmingly overbalancing the demand. Labor is so plentiful that operators can do just what they please. Pennsylvania is swarming with foreigners -- Poles, Hungarians, Slavish, Swedes, and Italians, etc. -- who are fast driving the English, Welsh, and Scotch miners out of competition. Noticeably, the Poles and Hungarians are a harder-working people and physically stronger men than the English and Welsh. They live much harder and at about half the cost and can stand more and harder work than our countrymen.

"Before the influx of the foreigners I have named into this country, the Welsh had the best show in the mines here, but in consequence of their foolhardy and unreasonable impositions in pretty well everything, they at length became perfectly unmanageable and the operators had no alternative but to send and get whole cargoes of the foreigners I have named, who now practically monopolize the business, and no longer will America hold out a friendly hand to the British miner who must stay at home and do the best he can there or come here and starve. There are in America today and especially in the west, thousands upon thousands of our countrymen who would gladly return to England and Wales if they could only do so, but they cannot find the money". [citing Alan Conway, ed., The Welsh in America: Letters from the Immigrants. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1961), p. 205.]

Although there are actually a very few births recorded for this time frame in Pottsville and other valuable information about this mining community [5], Mary's birth was not among them. Nor was there a record of the marriage of Williams-Watkins. [6]

I started exploring LDS church records yesterday to get to the bottom of the mystery. Although it should have been an easy thing to grab Mary Watkins Williams's place of birth from LDS records, she was not found in Logan 4th ward records where I expected her to be based on her death certificate. That is to say that she was not listed in early Logan 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th ward records, and in an odd twist of fate, the death records from 1911 (when her death certificate says she was in 4th ward) didn't make it to microfilm. It was the one year for which death records were mysteriously not on microfilm. Grrr. So the Williams quest for verification and documentation continues another day.

On a positive note, while researching the Williams family in the Logan LDS records, I came across the Hendersons. The Williams and Hendersons line merge for me with the marriage of James Henderson born 7 Aug 1847 in Haddington, Scotland to Mary Williams referenced above. I was delighted to find the rebaptism of Mary Henderson in 1864 because it provided me not only her place of birth and the names of her parents for my documentation delight, but also her paternal grandfather. More about this in a minute.


1. Headstone for Benjamin Williams, born Nov 10, 1823; died Mar 1 1905, Logan City Cemetery, Logan, Cache Co., Utah. Photocopy of headstone in possession of Heather Henderson as of March 2010.

2. Utah State Department of Health, Certificate of death (Utah Death Certificates 1904-1956), Certificate #31, Benjamin Williams, 28 February 1905; digital image, Family Search, Family Search Record Pilot ( : accessed March 2010); Utah State Department of Health. Certificate of death. Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society of Utah.

3. 1900 U.S. Census, Cache County, Utah, population schedule, Logan, enumeration district (ED) #79, Sheet 10A, Household #192, Family #202, Benjamin Williams; digital image, ( : accessed March 2010); Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls.

4. State of Idaho, Department of Health and Welfare, Death Certificate #108033 (copy issued 18 Feb 2010), Mary W. Henderson [died 24 Feb 1938, Pocatello, Bannock Co., Idaho]; Idaho Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics, Boise, Idaho.

5. Phillip A. Rice and Jean A. Dellock, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, vital records : genealogical and historical miscellany (Laughlintown, Pennsylvania : Southwest Pennsylvania Genealogical Services, c1989-1992) FHL 974.817 H2r v. 1 -3.

6. Miners Journal, Pottsville, Schuylkill Co., Pennsylvania, marriages, deaths, burials, obituaries, 1829-1855 [i.e.1862]; FHL 974.817/P2 V4m.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Always call ahead...and don't forget the local library

The tale of Penelope Stout (good) and my wasted afternoon (bad)

I learned a little lesson today. And was rewarded for remembering another one. First, here's the lesson I learned today: Although you may think the library or archive you are about to drive two hours to visit will be open, (because their website says they are open Monday through Friday 9:00-5:00) you should always, always call ahead...just to be sure. Here's why.

The Bad News

You may have seen on the news or experienced first hand the storms that rolled through the east coast last week. Well, in addition to leaving a trail of broken tree limbs and downed power-lines all over New Jersey, evidently one of them set off the fire alarm at the Alexander Library at Rutger University in New Brunswick. This happens to be where the special collections are stored, and genealogy is a very special collection. Unfortunately it happened to be especially inaccessible today because when said storms set off the fire alarm, a chemical powder was released and coated the holdings. This caused someone to have an asthmatic reaction this morning and so they closed it a few hours before I arrived. Drat!

The Good News

Which brings me to my second lesson, the one I was rewarded for remembering: Don't forget the local library. In my quest for locating the Sartor family I found myself in New Jersey examining a possibility that my Sartor family is related to the New Jersey colonial Salters. (The Sartor surname has also been spelled Salter, as shown in Revolutionary War pension application files and other documents) Ergo the attempted visit to Rutger Special Collections. Since I was in the area, I stopped in Hopewell, New Jersey. It was here that Benjamin Merrill is believed to have been born about 1731. Benjamin is claimed by some sources to be the father of my Nancy Merrill who was born about 1756. I am well aware of the fact that I haven't followed up on Nancy since my visit to North Carolina when I discovered that although Benjamin did have a daughter named Nancy, it doesn't look like she was my Nancy. So I'm not even certain Hopewell is still relevant, but since I was here I decided to check it out. Since the settlers of the Jersey Settlement in North Carolina came from Hopewell, I have a hunch that place is going to prove relevant, Benjamin Merrill or not. And I want to feel its local flavor, drive its back roads (and believe me, I did!) and all in all, I just plain wanted to go there. So I did.

Hopewell, New Jersey Cemetery

It was delightful, and although I still don't know who Nancy's parents really are, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to this charming town. There are two cemeteries. (Note: I don't see either of them at Find A Grave) The first was rather small, perhaps a quarter of a block, and was located behind the Catholic church. The other was large, old, and fabulous. Except I don't think any of my people have headstones there. I was hoping to consult the cemetery index in special collections at the library at Rutgers. (such disappointment...I should have called ahead!)

I made a stop at the local library, the Hopewell Public Library, where I was ably assisted by a cheerful and extremely helpful librarian. The library is quite small but it does the job. It has local histories of the area which were interesting and informative. I haven't had time to digest everything I copied yet, because I was in a rush to get to Rutger. (darn it...what a complete waste of time...I should have called ahead!)

The Tale of Penelope Stout

Of note is the fact that Nancy Merrill's paternal grandmother was alleged to be Penelope Stout. (once again, I have to reiterate this is probably not true...but it's still an interesting story for the real descendants of Benjamin Merrill!) The first book the librarian handed me told the story of a Penelope Stout. Not my Penelope by any means, but I secretly wish I could claim her. Hopewell Valley Heritage, by Alice Blackwell Lewis, gives the astonishing account of Penelope Stout:[1]
[Penelope] was born in Amsterdam about the year 1602, by the name Penelope Vanprincis. About 1620 she sailed with her first husband for New York (then New Amsterdam). This husband's name is not known. The vessel became stranded at Sandy Hook but the crew and occupants got ashore and started marching toward the said New York. Because Penelope's husband had been hurt in the wreck, they could not march with the others. As they tarried in the woods, Indians came upon them and thinking they had killed them both, stripped them to the skin. However, Penelope came to. Her skull was fractured and her left shoulder hacked so that she could never use that arm like the other. Also, she was cut across the abdomen exposing her bowels, and she had to hold them in with her hand.

For seven days she continued in this condition, taking shelter in a hollow tree and eating berries and whatever she could find; then two Indians appeared. She was glad, as she thought they would put her out of her misery. The older Indian prevented the younger one from violence, and throwing his matchcoat about her, he carried her to his wigwam and cured her of her wounds and bruises. After she was well, he took her to New York and made a present of her to her people. He expected to receive a present in return.

While residing there she met an Englishman whose name was Richard Stout. Their romance resulted in marriage and she bore him seven sons and three daughters, viz: Jonathan (founder of Hopewell), John, Richard, James, Peter, David, Benjamin, Mary, Sarah, and Alice. There were many children born to this family through good marriages. The mother, Penelope, lived to the age of 110 and saw her offspring increase in number to about 502, in the time of about 88 years.

So, I guess my afternoon could have been worse. Although it was pretty much a complete waste of time after leaving Hopewell, at least I was not attacked by Indians and I have a nice clean comfy hotel room to sleep in and get ready for another adventurous day tomorrow. I hope Lower Merion Historical Society proves as fun as Hopewell!


1. Alice Blackwell Lewis, Hopewell Valley Heritage (Hopewell, New Jersey: The Hopewell Museum, 1973) Hopewell Public Library, p. 8.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

17 Clues to 17th Century Sartor origins...Genealogy Sudoku

Emmitt Smith's story last night on Who Do You Think You Are was amazing. I think it hit me much harder than last week's episode because Emmitt is a real person, not an actor, and his story is so poignant. (If you missed it, or just want to see it again, you can watch it here on hulu) I was once again struck by the amazing power of identity. As he stood there looking into the woods where his people were buried I have to admit that I teared up. I know that feeling. They are there; somewhere. We can't see them, but they are there.

African American research is hard. My heart frequently breaks for my African American clients because it's so hard and time consuming, therefore expensive, and frankly rather sad. Sometimes I literally can't find *anything* about them because they just slipped through "the system" and disappeared from history leaving nothing but a memory planted in their DNA. Emmitt took my breath away when he said "we may be at a dead end; and that's not what I'm looking for, a dead end." I couldn't agree more.

I've been in Baltimore all week researching a client's family which has serendipitously coincided with my own adventure researching my Sartor family origins. Now that the project is winding down, I'm able to take a few personal days to get that ball rolling again. I'm so excited and motivated by Emmitt's story.

Much of the foundation for my work on the Sartor family comes from a book published by Juanita Sample Taylor in 1986 called The Sartor Search. I can tell that Ms. Taylor cared about these people every bit as much as I do, and I wish I had met her before she died. I also wish she had cited her sources. But I missed that opportunity, and in her defense she wasn't trained to cite sources and it was cumbersome and you have to admit it takes up a lot of time and space. Decades later we have better technology, standards published by Elizabeth Shown Mills, and we know that it's absolutely worth every inch and minute. But hindsight is 20/20. So I'll get off my source citation soapbox and get to the good stuff.

In The Sartor Search, Ms. Taylor cites a letter attributed to William Sartor born 11 Mar 1760. He (allegedly) states:

The Sartors came from Wales in 1687 to Roanoke, Va. My grandfather attended law school in (name illegible) and while there met my grandmother who, I am told was Miss Mary Gray. The Grays were very prominent people. My Mother died when I was an infant. I want the people who come after me to know this little that I have gathered. My Grandfather after marrying came to South Carolina and settled on the Broad River and turned his attention to farming. He was also in the war with the Indians. My Father, John Peter Sartor was born in 1733. He had one sister, Elizabeth.[1]

If I had a birthday cake and could really and truly have a wish come true just by blowing out the candles, I would wish for the original copy of this letter. (We'll save the genie in the bottle for a time machine. I have at least 60 more birthday wishes left in me to wish for more documents.)

But I don't have the letter. And I don't have source citations. And I don't want to think about birthdays right now. So, what I do have is a giant Genealogy Sudoku. I love Sudoku! I have broken this letter down into 17 clues. If everything is true, all the clues will line up in nice, neat columns, rows, and squares of documents, historical context, and reason. Like Sudoku, if something is wrong, it will stick out like a sore thumb and provide a "handle" for research.

So, here's what we've got:
1. The Sartors came from Wales
2. They came in 1687
3. They came to Roanoke
4. They came to Roakoke, Virginia [note that this is a separate clue in and of itself]
5. William's father was John Peter Sartor
6. John Peter Sartor was born 1733
7. John Peter Sartor had a sister named Elizabeth
8. William's mother is not named
9. William's unnamed mother died when he was a child, possibly in the 1760's
10. John Peter Sartor's father attended law school
11. John Peter Sartor's father was in the "war with the Indians"
12. John Peter Sartor's father met Mary Gray at law school
13. John Peter Sartor's father married Mary Gray
14. The Gray's were a prominent family
15. John Peter Sartor's father, after marrying, turned his attention to farming
16. John Peter Sartor's father, after marrying, went to South Carolina
17. John Peter Sartor's father, after marrying, settled on the Broad River in South Carolina

I'm not quite confident enough to call these clues evidence yet. That's coming; I need more documentation. But there is enough truth in the last few clues about South Carolina that I'm willing to accept this letter as a framework for my little Genealogy Sudoku and provide me with some structure and reasoning. You have to start somewhere, and I have as much reason to believe this letter as to not believe it. No one has provided me evidence to the contrary, so for now, these 17 clues are my foundation for researching the 17th Century Sartor origins.

I think Emmitt Smith said it best: "It's wild. It's challenging. It's heartbreaking. But just finding the information is incredible."


1. Juanita Sample Taylor, The Sartor Search (Liberty Hill, Texas: Self Published, Spring 1984), p. 6.
Web Statistics