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Warning: This diary contains a sad story of murder and violent domestic abuse against a woman.
The more one researches family history, the more likely one is to find terrible things. Months ago I wrote about my distant cousin Amos Buckman, who dreamed of riches bubbling up from California’s hot springs, and the Grigsby family into which two of his daughters married.  This is the sad – and strange – story of a member of the Grigsby/Buckman family whose life ended in tragedy far too soon.

Loretta “Lola” Grigsby was born in Napa, California, on September 29, 1874, the fourth and last child of mine operator Robert Faires Grigsby (1839-1923) and his wife Harriet Buckman (1848-1940). Her father traveled a great deal to see to his mining interests, not only across California but throughout the western states and in Mexico. Sometimes the family traveled with him, but always returned to Napa County, with their official residence creeping up the Silverado Trail over the years from Napa to Yountville to Calistoga.

In the 1880s and 1890s, Lola and her siblings spent a good deal of time at their grandfather Buckman’s spa at Buckman Springs in eastern San Diego County. Perhaps that exposure to the southern desert led to her decision, when she was in her late 20s, to move to Tucson in what was then still the Arizona territory, a move that ultimately would cost her her life.

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So I signed up for this open thread...and just a couple of days ago I had no idea what I'd post. No stories ready to be told. No great research tips.

Actually, I do have one great research tip. Get heavily involved with cleaning out the home of a relative who's got a treasure trove of family photos and documents. That's what I did this past weekend and it gave me not only a post for today, but a huge new collection of fascinating items. The house in question is my grandparents' house, which has been in the family since 1947 but is now being sold. The bad news is that my grandmother never got rid of anything, so it's a long and arduous process. The great news is that my grandmother never got rid of anything, so it's an endless journey of discovery.

Below is a small sampling of what we've found in our museum of a house. They're available because, while I toiled away in the house, my wife (who will be up for sainthood shortly) did heroic work at my aunt's house a few miles away, making over 600 scans. Most of those scans have multiple photos or documents, so that's a lot of cool stuff, most of which I'd never seen before. Cataloging will be a chore, but one I'm excited to time permits.

These items tell the story of my family, but also of our national history for the past 120 years or so. Click on through to see a bit more about Eva, and Joan and Jim, and Michael, and so many others who made Brooklyn's gorgeous mosaic their home.

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You don't see so many blacksmiths nowadays.

Land of Enchantment, July 25, 2014

Many a family has its legends, passed down from generation to generation in ever vaguer terms, without a hint of detail or evidentiary support. In the United States, in fact, many families share the same legends; descent from a Native American princess and descent from some sort of European royalty are two of the big ones. I’ve heard both of those from members of my own family, and from members of many other families.

There are variants specific to specific American subgroups. I’ve known a great many Irish-Americans, including relatives of mine, who believed their Irish ancestors not only predated the Great Hunger wave of immigration to the United States, but fought on the American side in the Revolution.  I’m descended from people who fought in the American Revolution but, alas, they’re not my Irish ancestors.

The legend I’ll share with you this week is a little different. It’s the story, or rather stories, of one man’s origins. As the introductory quote suggests, that man was a blacksmith, my 8th-great-grandfather Anthony Coombs. Anthony was born in…wait, nobody knows, for sure, when or where he was born.  That’s the whole reason for the post.


Do you have any unresolved family mysteries or legends?

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Last March I posted a tongue-in-cheek list of girls' names from the extended family trees of my wife and myself that, for various reasons, we won't be using. It's long past time to post the boys' edition, particularly because I am lacking anything else I could whip into shape in time and -- more importantly -- because my wife showed me three different positive pregnancy tests (!!!!) in the past couple of days.

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A few weeks after I first started on my genealogical journey I discovered a document that made me both sad and, I’m sorry to say, happy at the same time. It was the death record for my great-grandfather Lee’s oldest sister, Ida Mae. She was a 20-year-old schoolteacher in the village of Stockbridge, Vermont when she succumbed to typhoid fever. Truly tragic, and the kind of thing that happened far too often in those days.

So of course I was sad about her death. But I couldn’t do anything to bring her back or to let her fulfill all the promise that she had.  What I could do, thanks to this document, was keep researching: the document was the first I’d seen that gave a birth name for Lee’s (and Ida’s) mother, Agnes Ida. Her last name had been Perkins. Aided by that discovery, I soon was able to discover that Agnes Ida’s father was Lyman Perkins, born in Barnard, Vermont, all the way back in 1803. Lyman’s father, in turn was Gaius Perkins, who would be my 4x-great-grandfather.

When doing research I tend to look at any source I can get my hands on. I went through everything I found via, including running searches for Gaius with about 12 different sets of search parameters, as well as several Google and searches. I found quite a bit about Gaius Perkins, as you shall see.

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Anyone who’s done any genealogical research has quickly figured out that some places are genealogical gold mines – they kept great records – and others, not so much. Since I started my family history research a couple of years ago, I have had varying degrees of success in researching different lines of my family depending on whether they were in a genealogical gold mine or a genealogical desert.

For instance, colonial New England is fantastic. You’ve got an entire library in Boston just filled with bound volumes of town records going back to the 1620s. Lots of pompous folks who did the legwork for you over a century ago, compiling their family’s genealogy in book form. Land records, probate records, you name it. That’s not to say there aren’t gaps, false leads, and brick walls, but relatively speaking it’s easy to research.

New York City is tougher. Thanks to the great work of the Italian Genealogical Group on Long Island, it’s not as tough as it used to be. The IGS’s volunteers have indexed, in searchable online form, the many records available in the New York City municipal archives. But New York presents challenges nonetheless. If your ancestors were Irish, like mine, looking for a “Michael Murphy” in 1880 New York City is like looking for a needle in a haystack. There are about 200 of them in the census, most born in Ireland.

If you’re trying to find cousins who might still be alive today, or even an ancestor born a century ago, good luck. New York City’s archives have no birth records available after 1909 and no death records available after 1948. The marriage records (which often don’t include Catholic and Jewish marriages since they didn’t bother to file) go up to 1937. Thus it is that I can find exact data on ancestors born over four centuries ago, but can’t get an exact date of death for my great-grandfather in Brooklyn.

It’s equally hard in many U.S. states. But I’ve learned not to complain. That’s because researching my wife’s family has proven much more difficult than just about anything I’ve had to deal with on my own tree. She is from Puerto Rico.

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So my trusty calendar beeps yesterday afternoon to tell me that today's my turn to post. Eek! I have no fewer than nine posts in various states of unfinished-ness and I had no time to write. The brick wall plea for help, the discourse on the socio-political history of Vermont, the long-overdue post on oddball boys' names on the family tree, the story of an early research screwup on my part, and the tale of the mysterious murder in the family will all have to wait. But I don't want to leave you hanging, so I'm posting some of my favorite genealogy-related cartoons, memes, and general humor.

First up is an old favorite:

Some folks do this for all the wrong reasons, or using all the wrong methods...
Still looking, personally...
Like adding my great-grandfather to my tree, that's just the tip of the iceberg. Come below the orange family tree for more genealogy-related fun!
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I’m not particularly talented at any musical instrument, but I’m an excellent singer…in my own mind, or perhaps my own shower. (To hear my wife tell it, I shouldn’t quit my day job.) It wasn’t so for a few of my distant cousins, who had the talent and passion to make music their life’s work.

I’ve already told the story of my 5x-great-grandfather John Perkins, who served in several capacities in the American Revolution. After the Revolution, he moved his family from Middleboro, Massachusetts to Windsor County, Vermont. John and his wife Hannah had several children at the time of their move, among them Elisha Paddock Perkins, born in Middleboro on May 21, 1782. Elisha was named for his father’s cousin (John Perkins’s mother was born Patience Paddock), who initially served in the same company as John during the Revolution but died at the Battle of Saratoga in September 1777. Several other cousins named children after Elisha Paddock Perkins as well.

Elisha Paddock Perkins married Hannah Taft, eleven years his senior, in 1799. She was the sister of Stephen and Daniel Taft, who had founded the village of Taftsville, just east of Woodstock, in 1791. Stephen was the first husband of Elisha’s sister Patience Perkins, who later married Daniel Drake and moved west with the Mormons. The Tafts had come from Mendon and Uxbridge, Massachusetts, where they were cousins and neighbors of Aaron Taft, great-grandfather of President William Howard Taft. (In 1800 Aaron Taft, following a common migration pattern, would move his family from Massachusetts to Townshend, Vermont, some 20 miles south of Taftsville. President Taft’s father, Alphonso, was born there in 1810, before the family moved to Cincinnati.)

Elisha and Hannah had nine children between 1800 and 1815. Their second son, Orson, who’s the first character in this musical story, was born in Taftsville on December 17, 1802.

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Westward migration is an important part of the history of many American families. It wasn’t really so in my family. To my knowledge – and I can go back more than four centuries on some branches and to at least the 1830s on all branches – no direct ancestor of mine has ever lived either south or west of central New Jersey. Our “westward migration” was from Europe to the eastern seaboard of North America, between 1620 and 1911 depending on the branch, and we stopped there.

But siblings and cousins of my direct ancestors sure did move westward. Close relatives of my Irish and “Yankee” ancestors, and even the Ruthenians, pushed on to places like Ohio, Wisconsin, Montana, and all the way to the Pacific. This is the story of one of those families.


Do you have Californians on the family tree?

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Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 09:30 AM PDT

GFHC Open Thread: A Life on the Water

by fenway49

I won't be around today but everyone else can feel free to discuss fishing, canals, or whatever strikes your fancy in the comments...

My great-grandfather Michael has always been a mysterious figure to our family. He died in 1915, shortly before my grandfather turned six, so details about him were scarce. Since I started my genealogy research in early 2012, I’ve learned a lot about him thanks to a whole pile of documents and a few people with better knowledge. Because I’ve always been drawn to the water, I’ve been particular interested to learn more about Michael’s life as a boatman.

Michael was born on January 18, 1874, in Ballyvaghan (or Ballyvaughan), County Clare, Ireland, a small fishing village on Galway Bay now well-known on the tourist trail. Just to the west lies the eerie landscape known as The Burren, with the Cliffs of Moher at its western end. Ten miles north, across the bay, is Galway City. Michael’s parents were John and Ann (good luck researching that family…). He was the fourth child, and third son, in the family, and had two younger siblings, a sister born a year later and a brother nearly nine years younger.

The R477 along Galway Bay west of Ballyvaghan. My great-grandfather grew up fishing these waters.
Ballyvaghan is famous for this sign. The Irish government ordered it taken down but relented in the face of popular outcry.
Fishing was the family business. Starting at the age of about 13, Michael went out on the turbulent bay with his father and brother Thomas in a traditional currach. By this time the oldest brother, John, spent his days on a Galway hooker (it’s a boat – what were you thinking?). The Clare coast has abundant bass, mackerel, pollock, and oysters.
Galway Hooker
A traditional Galway Hooker on Galway Bay
But the Ballyvaghan fishing industry was in decline in the late 1880s. After Michael’s mother died in 1889, when he was 15, and his little sister Maggie died in 1890, John decided to take his family to America. They (John and his five children, aged 7 to 26) arrived in Boston in September 1891, making 17-year-old Michael and his father John the last of my direct ancestors to emigrate from Ireland to the United States.  
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Word is filtering out from Beacon Hill (shorthand for the Massachusetts State House) that the legislature is poised to send a bill to Governor Deval Patrick that would raise the state's minimum wage to $11 per hour by January 1, 2017. That would be the highest statewide minimum in the nation.

This success is due in large part to the efforts of Raise Up Massachusetts, a statewide coalition of over 150 labor, faith, and community organizations who have been pushing this issue for some time now. But (there's always a but) it comes with a cost. Read on for a brief history of the promise, and the pitfalls, of grassroots activism.

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I'd thought to do something different but had no time this week, so you're stuck with more Pilgrim ancestor stories.

This one seemed appropriate because we recently celebrated the birthday of my mother’s cousin. Although we are close and generally get along well, she is conservative (pretty much the only one in my family) and I am liberal. In her honor, I write this week about a dispute between “conservatives” and “liberals” from the early days of the Plymouth Colony. This dispute led, pretty much directly, to the founding of the town of Barnstable, as discussed in this diary.

As I’ve mentioned before, the early Separatist congregations were progressive in the sense that they rejected hierarchical church structures in favor of congregations run democratically by their members. In virtually all else they were quite conservative. That did not mean, however, that they agreed on everything. Within fifteen years or so of the Mayflower’s arrival in Plymouth, congregations in the colony were strongly divided over a question of theology: the mode of infant baptism.

The hardline position in this dispute was that infants could only be baptized by total immersion in water. The “liberal” position was that mere sprinkling of water on the infant would suffice. Frankly, this dispute seems silly to me, but to the Puritans of early New England it was a question of paramount importance. In this instance, the liberal position was overwhelmingly favored by the population because they feared total immersion during harsh New England winters would kill their babies.

One place where this dispute played out was Scituate, Massachusetts, some twenty miles up the coast from Plymouth, a place dear to my heart.

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