Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Book Review: The Stranger in My Genes by Bill Griffeth

Bill Griffeth photo from his Twitter profile
Bill Griffeth is a long time financial journalist with a impressive list of cable and TV programs to his credit, including his current gig as the co-anchor of CNBC's "Closing Bell". He has also written four books, the latest being The Stranger in My Genes 

Bill caught the genealogy bug in 2003 and had previously written "By Faith Alone: One Family's Epic Journey Through 400 Years of American Protestantism". Written in 2007, that book chronicled his research and his impressive family history going back to the Salem Witch Trials, during which one of his ancestresses was accused and executed.

In 2012, his cousin and fellow family historian, Doug, urged him to take a DNA test to learn what else they could discover about their family. He was not prepared for the results.

What he uncovered turned his world upside down. It truly rocked the foundation we all rely on; the intrinsic belief that we know who we are, who our family is, and where we fit into that family.

It also made 50% of his genealogy research inmaterial.

Bill  recorded his emotional roller-coaster as he integrated this new information into his identity. And he keeps the reader absorbed throughout. It was riveting from beginning to end.

If you are looking for a good, fast-paced, genealogical & DNA read, this is the book for you. I finished it in less than one day.

Borrow it from the library here.

And if you are interested in trying DNA testing for yourself, most of the companies are having sales for the holidays right now. See Judy Russell's post HERE.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Truth: a Perspective

Years ago, my cousin Becky and I were comparing notes about my grandfather who spent time in prison for attempted manslaughter. He was Becky's step-grandpa, having married her grandma as his second or third wife. We discovered that we grew up knowing two completely different versions of the tale. As we were both toddlers at the time of the incident, we only had family stories, or hearsay, to go by.

Being the researcher, I settled down to discover the truth! And of course, anticipated that "the Truth" would support my version.

NOT my grandfather! But 2 of his 4 children
are pictured; Uncle Don is on the far left and
 Aunt Martha is on the far right. This undated 
picture was probably taken before Grandpa
 went to jail. It would't have been funny after.
The Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections could only send me an outline of his time behind bars. The Court he was tried under never transcribed his trial and the cost of the transcription was way beyond my budget. So I turned to newspapers. And the tale I discovered there was worthy of an episode of "America's Dumbest Criminals." And it did not jibe with either Becky's or my version of the case.

That set me to wondering, just what was the truth of the matter? Certainly, Grandpa's version would have painted him in a more flattering light. Della, his then-wife and Becky's Grandma, would have had a version that downplayed her culpability in the event. And the man he shot would have had his own version. They would have all sworn they were telling the truth. And they were. At least, their version of the truth.

It was a very personal revelation for me into the nature of truth. How fluid it can be. How inconstant. I was reminded of this revelation this past Friday.

November 11th all of the branches of the Medina County District Library system closed for a staff development day. In the morning we attended different educational sessions depending on our department and in the afternoon we were allowed to choose from a large selection of topics. One of my afternoon sessions was on the nature of truth, titled "What is Truth? How People Can Live Together Sharing Different Perspectives".

The speaker was an Associate Professor at Tri-C
and an incredibly talented photographer, Daniel Levin, M.F.A.. He used his photography to illustrate that our perception of truth could be altered by different factors. He reminded us that, as a library system, we are a collector and distributor of truth. Most of his “talk” was a series of slides of his work chronicling the devastation that hurricane Katrina wreaked on the Gulf coast of Mississippi and on his travels in the Middle East. Occasionally, he would point out how the “truth” of a photo was manipulated, either by his own artistic editing, or by his own preconceived interpretations.

As genealogists, we are on a quest to discover the “truths” of our ancestors lives. But the “truths” we discover can be tainted, and we need to be aware of this. Here are some of the factors that can skew the truth:

1.Time. Over time, our perception of an event can alter. Slavery was once an accepted fact over a large part of our country. As time passed, larger and larger parts of our population grew to believe it was incredibly, terribly wrong. We went to war over it. Today, many genealogists are horrified when they discover slave owning ancestors and will try to suppress that information (Ben Affleck and Finding Your Roots). We cannot view past events using our mores and standards. They have to be viewed and interpreted within the context of the beliefs and customs of that time period.

Also, as more time passes between the event and the recording of the event, the memory of the recorder can become faulty, or inaccurate.

2. Our own cultural heritage, preconceived ideas, and prejudices. Dr. Levin showed several photos where he had taken several images from different time periods and juxtaposed them to create a new image, or new “truth” that meant something to him personally, and that he hoped would elicit an emotional response from his viewers. As genealogists, we have to guard against doing the same thing. We can't ignore an avenue of research because we don't like where it is leading us or because it challenges family lore. We can't create new “facts” to support our version of the truth, or because it makes our history more interesting.

3.Objectivity. We love our ancestors and are excited to share information about them. But it is not our job to make either heroes or villains of them. For our work to stand the test of time, we must be objective in our recounting of the facts we have discovered.

4. Perspective. The police have a saying. “When you interview five different witnesses to an event, you will get five different stories.” Each of those witnesses are telling the truth, from their perspective. Perspective can be physical, as in their vision of the event from a certain angle. Or it can be more personal, as in their relationship to either the victim or the perpetrator. Or from personal prejudice, as in a long held believe that certain groups of people always act a certain way. As genealogists, we have to be aware of the perspective of our resources (as in, the US censues were never collected for genealogical researchers, but were tabulated as a way to calculate statistics on the population for the government). We also have to examine how our own perspective has impacted our research. For example, did I ignore Lucinda Tillman Sartain WILLIAMS in my First Family Of Ohio application because I was so focused on a single ancestor, her husband, that I was blind to everyone else, or because as a society we undervalue and under report the contributions of women? I prefer to believe it was the first reason, but was it? Really?

Dan Levin reminded us:
  • That we have to use mulitple resources to find the truth, because so many resources are subjective.
  • Too many people use too few resources to determine their truth.
  • There is not always a single truth, or a single "right" answer.
Elizabeth Shown Mills in Evidence Explained (p.22) has this to say about truth:

Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills
Historian Robert Winks once wrote, The past was real, but truth is relative* It is also intangible and indefinable. Unlike Justice Potter Stewart's famed definition of obscenity, we cannot say, "I'll know it when I see it."+ We won't. Historical truth is physically pliable. We begin every research project with a vision of that pot of truth awaiting us at the rainbow's end. When we reach that end, we have only a mound of dough--dough that will be manipulated, stretched, shaped, and flavored by our own experience and standards."

*The Historian as Detective; Essays on Evidence, New York, Harper Colphone Books, 1968.
+Jacobellis v. Ohio,  378  U.S. 184, 197 (1964).

P.S. Just this morning when reading the news on NewsNet5, this article caught my eye. Check it out:

Levin, Daniel, "What is Truth? How People Can Live Together Sharing Different Perspectives", 11 Nov. 2016, MCDL Staff Development Day.

Mills, Elizabeth Shown, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, Baltimore, Genealogical Publishing Company, 2015.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Better Next Time...

Last week, I shared with you the approval of my application to the lineage society, First Families of Ohio (FFO).

In the interest showing you that even someone who has been researching their family for many years can learn something new, or can just plain make some mistakes, I want to share with you what I did not do completely, or could have done better.

Margaret Cheney was very kind in her review of my application. She wrote "This application was well presented. The applicant signed the application and put their name on each document. Source citations were used." This is expected of every application. Margaret was being kind.

She goes on to say "Kathy, this application is very good, but I think you can take it a step further."

And boy, was she right!!

First of all, I was using the 1818 Gallia County Ohio marriage record of John and Lucinda WILLIAMS to prove residency prior to 1820. But my application only submitted John WILLIAMS for FFO. I completely ignored Lucinda's claim for eligibility! I was so focused on proving John's claim, I was blind to his wife's contribution. It is mind boggling! NO EXCUSES! I messed up.

Now comes the really incredible part. Margaret researched Lucinda Tillman Sartain WILLIAMS and quickly came up with an online obituary, and the 1820 Census for Gallia County that reveals Elijah SERTIN, aged 26-45, living right next door to John WILLIAMS. This Elijah is a prime candidate to be Lucinda's father. 1820 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch. Courtesy of Margaret Cheney. 

Margaret did not have to do the extra research. She  goes on to suggest that early land records, tax records and estate records might prove the relationship. And gives me until 31 December to submit the additional papers to include Elijah.

I HAVE THESE DOCUMENTS ON LUCINDA IN MY FILES! I just failed to incorporate them.

Now comes my second genealogy fail.

I had water in my basement in September. Did you know that a basement is only considered to have "flooded" if it has at least 5-6 inches of water in it?

Of course, that is where all of my genealogy research is located. Luckily, none of it was damaged. But I had to pack everything up in boxes and remove it from the basement while the insurance company repaired the damage caused by the water. Also, did you know that insurance companies will pay to repair the damage caused by water in the basement, but will not pay to repair the problem that caused the water to enter the basement?

So my genealogy research is safe, but inaccessible BECAUSE I HAVEN'T SAVED IT TO THE CLOUD!! This is a basic tenent of genealogy research. Back it up and save it in multiple places. I have several CLOUD accounts, iCloud, Google Drive, Drop Box. But that doesn't help if you don't actually upload your documents & research! DUH!

The repairs on the basement are almost complete, and access to all the research & documentation will soon follow. Then I will submitt the additional information.

If you want to see how to do it right, Margaret just posted some guidelines for applications to a Lineage Society on the Ohio Genealogical Society Blog: OGS Blog  Also, I consulted with other genealogists from the Medina County Genealogical Society for assistance.

BTW, I have tried using  early land records, tax records, and estate records to establish who John WILLIAMS parents were, but haven't been able to narrow down the multiple possibilities.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

First Families of Ohio

First Families of Ohio (FFO) is a Ohio Genealogical Society (OGS) lineage society. "It is open to any member of OGS who is a direct descendant of an individual who settled in the area now encompassed by the State of Ohio by the end of 1820. Applications must first be approved by the appropriate lineage society committee and then by the Ohio Genealogical Society's Board of Trustees." 
First Families of Ohio
Ribbon and Pin

Today, I received an email from Margaret Cheney, the current President of OGS, informing me that my application had been accepted and approved for my 3X great grandparents John WILLIAMS and Lucinda Tillman (SARTAIN) WILLIAMS. I am very touched and humbled by this recognition. In fact, I am moved almost to the point of tears, even now. This emotional response has left me perplexed. Certainly, I thought my application would be accepted and that my research and my source citation would hold up to scrutiny, or I wouldn't have sent it in. So why was I so moved?

I replied to Margaret's email to thank her and told her of my reaction. This is part of her response: 

"It is a rather overwhelming experience to know that your hard work and research pays off with a form of recognition. I have had many people tell me the very same thing. You are in great company!"

So others have had similar responses. But something about this explanation just didn't ring true for me.

Later, I was sharing the news with my friend and co-worker, Lisa Rienerth. She repeated Margaret's words about recognition of my work but added "and it recognizes the contribution your ancestors made."

NOW, I get it! YES! I wanted that recognition for my ancestors! Because of what they dared and what they contributed and what they endured.

Picture of Johnson Cemetery of Gallia County, showing the
hilly country side. This cemetery is on a partially graveled,
very steep lane. Photo courtesy of Paul Clary on
They came to Ohio when it was still a wilderness. They came here seeking opportunity and cheaper land than could be bought back east. Specifically, they came to the Applachian area of Ohio in Gallia County along the Ohio River. It is still very rough country, with gravel/dirt roads and grass covered lanes. Rocky hills that are good for grazing animals, but not for producing crops. In the 1882 Hardesty's History of Gallia County, their son Elijah had this to say about those early days:
"They had to grind their own corn by hand, and had to grate and pound it to make bread; all the schools they had were supported by subscription; wild beasts were very plentiful, often destroying what little stock the farmers  had; game, such as deer, turkeys, and wild hogs was abundant." But they persevered. These days, Gallia County's biggest exports are timber and coal generated power. 

John and Lucinda had 11 children, most of whom grew to adulthood. In the 1800's, 20% or one in five babies would die before their first birthday.* They did lose two of their sons in the Civil War.

John lived to be 80+ years old, and Lucinda, 73. This at a time when the average life expectancy hovered around 40 years of age.* They survived the many epidemics that swept through the area, such as, cholera, smallpox, diphtheria, and typhoid fever. Additionally, Lucinda survived giving birth to at least 11 children at a time when childbirth resulted in death for many of her contemporaries. So they were hardy people who had a hard life. BUT THEY SURVIVED!

Not only did they survive, but they did well. By the time of John's death, he had already passed on a lot of his land to his sons and daughters, but there were still some plots and the "homestead" to be divied up to his survivors. And they donated the land that the Good Hope Baptist Church and cemetery still sits on today.

Good Hope Baptist Church
Family lore says that John Williams donated the land.

When I first visited the cemetery many years ago, John and Lucinda's original tombstones were still standing, blackened from coal soot, the inscriptions totally eaten away and unreadable. A few years ago on a return trip, the old stones were piled up under the branches of a bush and new granite stones had replaced them.

The replacement stone

Old discarded tombstones

So next April, I will attend the lineage banquet at the OGS Conference and I will accept the ribbon and pin. And I will be remembering John & Lucinda WILLIAMS. For that is what we do as genealogists - WE REMEMBER AND HONOR OUR ANCESTORS.

Next week learn how I could have done a better job with my application. (i.e. - learn from my mistakes!)


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

National Archives Virtual Fair

Let's All Go To The Fair!

Image from WikiMedia - NOT this kind of fair!

Do you sometimes feel like the universe is trying to tell you something? I DO!

I received two emails this week that told me about an event I had never heard of before. First, my co-worker and friend, James, sent me a link to the Press Release, then The Legal Genealogists'  post covered the same event. Thanks to both of you!

National Archives Press Release

Legal Genealogist's Post

The National Archives will be offering their 12th two day Virtual Genealogy Fair. For those of you who aren't familiar with the National Archives:

The National Archives holds the permanently valuable records of the Federal government. These include records of interest to genealogists, such as pension files, ship passenger lists, census and Freedmen’s Bureau materials. For information on National Archives holdings see
(From their web site.)

These are the people who hold the historical Service Records and Pension Records of our military ancestors. And they have so much more! But finding and accessing their materials isn't always easy. So I am thrilled to be able to participate in this fair. No sign ups required. If you can't view the sessions in real time, they will be available on You Tube.

These are just some of topics that will be covered:

  • Introduction to Genealogy at the National Archives
  • The Best National Archives Records Genealogists Aren’t Using
  • National Archives Innovative Online Resources and Tools to Help with Your Genealogical Research
  • You too can be a Citizen Archivist! Getting the most out of the National Archives Catalog
  • Department of State Records for Genealogical Research
  • Nonpopulation Census: Agriculture, Manufacturing, and Social Statistics
  • What’s New in the Lou: A Look at the Latest Accessions at the National Archives at St. Louis

Thursday's You Tube Link

I plan on viewing these sessions. How about you?

On another topic, have any of you encountered problems posting questions or comments on the RootsWeb mailing lists? I typically post this blog to the OH-Medina mailing list and the posting has bounced back as "undeliverable" for the last 3-4 weeks. I contacted RootsWeb support and received this answer:
"We are currently in the process of upgrading our technical infrastructure. Some processes are on hold until this upgrade is complete. This currently includes some Mailing List processes and features including the ability to send and receive postings. Once the work is finished everything should be working as normal again. Unfortunately, we do not have a timeframe as to when this work may be completed."

Hopefully, they will resolve this issue soon. If you routinely get the blog from the mailing list and don't want an interruption, you can always sign up to receive the blog directly in your email. In the upper right corner, look for "Follow by email" and a box for entering your email address.

Till next week...

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

But I Found it in a Book!!!!

... or on the Internet! Or my uncle told me so!!


When I can't verify the information in a family story,
I consider it a piece of interesting fiction.

As genealogists, we all must evaluate the sources that we use ALL THE TIME.

Lisa and I struggle with this constantly as we work with library members who come to us for help with their research. We try to gently remind them that they must have reliable sources for all of their information.

Unreliable sources fall into three main categories:
  1. Oral family stories
  2. Family trees uploaded to the Internet or or
  3. Unreliable Books
We will examine each of these.

1. Family stories are tales that get passed down from generation to generation. Most of us can spout several family stories that everyone will swear are true. But unless you have documentation that proves they story, that is all it is. A story.
Wilma Mankiller - First Female
 Chief of the Cherokee Nation

  • If you have a tradition of Cherokee ancestry, find the family in one of the several special rolls that document membership in the Cherokee Nation. Or track the family to a location that the Cherokee were known to inhabit and examine all sources on the tribe in that area. 
See why you are not related to a Cherokee Princess

  •  If you have a tradition of a famous ancestor, do your research. Work backwards on your family history from the present (yourself) towards the past to see if there is a connection. Avoid the tendency to bend the facts to support your cherished belief. And NEVER start with the famous person and try to work towards yourself.

I am not saying that family stories are useless. They can be great guideposts to help you point the way for your research. But if you rely on them without documenting them, they remain fictional stories.

2. Family trees that are uploaded to the Internet, or or Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with these sources. But you have to look at them critically. They are only as good as the research capabilities of the person who uploaded them. So many people just follow the "little green leaves" on Ancestry and accept what they find there as their family.  They may be. But most likely they are not. And that kind of clicking isn't research. That is more like playing a video game than serious researching. Then they upload their trees and perpetuate the mistakes.

Look for family trees that list where they find the information and use primary resources. If they have a way to contact the person who uploaded the tree, do so. Compare notes. Ask what sources they used.

Evaluating Family Trees on
3. Books 
 I LOVE books, as you might expect from someone who works in a library. There is a clear distinction between fiction/make-believe and non-fiction/based on fact.

However, some non-fiction books have blurred that distinction. Here are a couple of examples:
  • Frederick Virkus published a 7 volume Compendium of American Genealogy in 1925. It was taken at face value for many years and is often cited in published genealogies.  But now, it has been discredited. On page 228 of The Family Tree Problem Solver, author Marsha Hoffman Rising states that the Compendium is wrong 30% of the time.  But the Medina Library still has the books on the shelves of the Franklin Sylvester Room. Why? Because it is right 70% of the time. We expect you, the serious researcher, to verify the information within its pages in other sources. Rising's book goes on to say that "computerized census indexes have an estimated 10 to 20 percent omission rate, and a 30-40 percent inaccuracy rate." 

Bad books? Yes, 30% of the time.

  • Lisa touched on these next two books in her recent POSTThe Official Roster of the Soldiers of the American Revolution Buried in the State of Ohio and The Official Roster of the Soldiers of the American Revolution Who Lived in the State of Ohio. Mike McCann of Medina County Graves ran into this problem also and contacted the National and the State of Ohio DAR offices and got these responses:
    • From  Genevieve Shishak, Historian, NSDAR:   The volume that you mentioned–‘The Official Roster of Soldiers of the American Revolution Buried in the State of Ohio’ was not compiled by the National Society of the DAR, but under the direction of the state of Ohio, –published by direction of Frank D. Henderson, Adjutant General, and John R. Rea, Military Registrar, and compiled by Jane Dowd Dailey, DAR State Chairman of Historic Sites and Revolutionary Soldiers’ graves of Ohio, 1923-1932. Though our library has copies of these volumes, we do not have any records relating to their compilation, as this was not a NSDAR undertaking.It seems that Ohio DAR chapters collected the information contained in the volumes, in an attempt “to present an authentic and complete list of Revolutionary War soldiers buried in this state,” according to the Foreword, by Jane Dowd Dailey, who also stated the following: “The Roster is not designed as a genealogical reference book, although it may be of service in tracing pioneer ancestry.” You might wish to contact the Ohio Society of the DAR to see if they have any records relating to the compilation of this roster. 
    • Then from Laverne Ingram Piatt, OSDAR State Chairman, Lineage Research, Registrar, Jared Mansfield Chapter, DAR:“Frankly, the publication “Official Roster of Soldiers of the Revolution Buried in Ohio” is worthless. It is not accepted by National Society DAR as a valid source of evidence for service. I don’t know when it was published and I don’t know the requirements for research into the listings of the men included. Personally, I believe that a disclaimer should be pasted into the front cover of every copy of the book still in existence….. Your Fred Jones error is not the only one in the book, I’m afraid. And that’s why the book is not held in high regard.”
  • Bogus Compiled Family Histories: Halberts of Bath, OH, and Morphcor of Denver, CO, are two companies who preyed on susceptible people for years. They promised to send heirloom quality family histories. What their victims received were a few pages of generic genealogical information and a phone book listing of all the people in the country with the same last name. Halberts was forced in 1995 by the U.S. Postal to cease their false advertising. Reportedly the company moved out of state and continues operations.Morphcorp ran a similar scam and was forced by the Colorado Attorney General to change their business practices.  More information here.

What to look for in a reliable book, web site or family tree:

Reliable sources:
  • Show documentation- where did they get the information? 
  • Include complete citations so you can track their research. 
  • Use Original/Primary Sources - written at or near the time of the event by someone who had personal knowledge of the event 
  • Performs reasonably exhaustive search - see Lisa's blog from a few weeks ago Have all the records that are available been searched?
  • Completeness of Research - Is some vital information missing? Are there gaps in the timeline?
  • Analyze their conclusions. If primary source documentation isn't available, have they considered alternate scenarios? Have they scrutinized the information?
  • Resolve conflicting information from different sources. Do they use qualifiers like "probably" or "likely" to describe their conclusions that are not based on documented facts?
  • Make sense. 5 year old girls and 64 year old women do not give birth. Check to see if the information given makes logical sense. 

As always, don't miss an opportunity to learn more about this fascinating and demanding hobby. Take classes and attend conferences. There is always more to learn!

Evidence Explained: Cite History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills
Genealogical Standard of Proof

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Franklin Sylvester

Franklin Sylvester as a younger man.
From the Medina Library Collection

Franklin Sylvester


Franklin Sylvester was born on March 28, 1831 in Bristol, Ontario County, New York. His parents were Francis Sylvester (1798-1878) and Cynthia Hatch Sylvester (1812-1881). They left New York in 1833 and settled in Granger Township in Medina County.

The Sylvesters had seven children. The elder Sylvester was a wagon maker. They family scraped by, but the times were tough and there was little opportunity for much in the way of education for Franklin.

But at a very early age he learned the value of hard work. At 9, he started working for the neighboring farmers. He saved up his wages and started trading in livestock. He started with sheep and cattle and moved on to horses. At 16, he bought a team of horses and a wagon and hired  himself out as a hauling contractor. His twentieth birthday found him the owner of a farm and "one of the best judges of stock anywhere in the country." By the age of 25, he had saved up $3,000. He went into the mercantile business with R.N. Hickox at Grangerburg. He also ran an ashery* and continued to deal in livestock.

On Oct. 4, 1857, he married Eunice Reid, also of Granger Township.

He continued trading in livestock and also started dealing in real estate transactions. In 1878 he is listed as the executor of the estates of several of his neighbors. This was a real mark of respect and trust, both from his neighbors and by the magistrates that oversaw the transactions.

Sketch of the Sylvester homestead from the 1874 Combination Atlas Map
of Medina County

Map of Granger Township with Franklin Sylvester's holdings outlined in red.
From the 1874 Combination Atlas Map of Medina County

In the 1881 History of Medina County and Ohio, he is described as "a self-made man...(of) excellent judgment, a remarkable business tact, and indomitable energy and perseverance, a strict integrity in dealing and a power (which few men possess) of keeping his own counsels." It continues, "Through all his pecuniary prosperity, it is but simple justice to say he has been notably magnanimous in the use of a wealth that a propitious Providence has thrown into his hands. His donations for educational, religious and other charitable purposes have been very considerable..."

Picture from a 2001 Medina Gazette article,
showing Franklin, a dog,  his wife Eunice, an
 unidentified girl and a servant

Franklin and Eunice never had any children, but the couple enjoyed and assisted their many nieces and nephews. (16 are listed as beneficiaries in his will.) They cared for and helped several other struggling youngsters, including Etuna Heyl (also a beneficiary).

Franklin Sylvester Portrait
From Medina Library Collection
Eunice (Reid) Sylvester From
Medina Library Collection

Franklin continued to deal in cattle and real estate. He became know as a successful breeder of fine cattle, specializing in short-horns. He accumulated land until he owned 1,500 acres, of what was considered the best land in northern Ohio.

A.R. Webber claims that he inspired Franklin to make his biggest charitable donation. A la Andrew Carnegie, Franklin's name could live on when placed on the side of a library. Personally, I cannot imagine that a man with so many siblings and niblings** would be worried about the perpetuity of his name. But Franklin did believe in a good cause and had a desire to better the world.

Toward that end, he donated  the money for a dedicated library building in the county seat- The Franklin Sylvester Library. He donated $10,000 towards the building and not satisfied with the look of the roof, donated another $1,000 to have it remedied. He also provided $4,000 for the library in his will.

The Original 1907 Franklin Sylvester Library
Franklin died May 1907.

The Board of Directors of the Old Phoenix Bank were his pall bearers. Part of his obituary read: "Showing a mark of final respect to the man who had been so highly representative of all that is best in our county and who had so generously given to the welfare of Medina Village."

The Franklin Sylvester Library opened up for business on 29 September 1907. Franklin never got to see his dream realized.

Franklin Sylvester Local History & Genealogy Room

In a Medina Gazette editorial, a call went out for a life-size portrait of Franklin to be gifted from the citizens of Medina, and to hang in the library that bore his name. Perhaps the citizens stepped up to the challenge, for Franklin Sylvester's portrait in charcoal still hangs in the room that bears his name - The Franklin Sylvester Room.  

*Ashery - is a factory that converts hardwood ashes into lye, potash, or pearlash.
** Nibling - The child of one's sibling (in other words, one's niece or nephew), especially in the plural or as a gender-neutral term. 

The History of Medina County and Ohio, pub. Baskin & Battey, 1881.
The Medina County Gazette,  7 June 1907, p. 1.
The Medina County Gazette, 20 March 2001, p. C-1
1945 Letter written by A.R. Webber to Earl & Elbridge Gibbs urging the citizens of Medina to enlarge the library. (in the Medina Library's collection)
1874 Combination Atlas Map of Medina County
Franklin Sylvester's will. (copy in the Medina Library collection.)
Discover Medina

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

We All Have 'Em

Black Sheep*

We all have 'em. The ne'er-do-wells. The rascals. The "not mentioned in polite company". And the criminal. (read to the end to learn about my family's many "Black Sheep") Many families never do mention their black sheep relatives. And then there are those who celebrate them: Black Sheep Ancestors.

Question is, what do we do with them when we are documenting the family history?

First of all, we do document them. We document them just like any other ancestor or relative. And luckily, they turn up in the written records more often than their tamer cousins. You will find them listed in the newspaper accounts and in the court systems. You might even find these ne'er-do-wells in the history books.

And we interview our living relatives about these characters. And this is where it can get a little sticky, because not everyone will see these individuals in the same light as a genealogist looking to flesh out the lives of ALL of the relatives. Some people would really rather NOT talk about them. Or they might try to gloss over the perceived shortcomings of the eccentric members of the family. And just how hard to you push your living relatives about these "oddballs"?

Recently, I read an article from a respected genealogist who said that you pressure the reluctant relative to reveal all they know about their more infamous ancestors because "you will find it out one way or another". And by answering your questions they at least have a chance to give their side of the story.

I do not agree with this tactic. To begin with, by pressuring someone to reveal family history that they are not comfortable revealing pretty well guarantees that you will never be invited back for more interviews. You could cause real grief and possibly a rift in the family. Also, that person will never want to talk to anyone else about the family either, thereby closing off an avenue of discovery.

Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, recently posted about this topic on her blog:
The Legal Genealogist and she re-posted from another blog hosted by her friend and Certified Genealogist, Debbie Parker Wayne, Deb's Delvings in Genealogy. Deb says that these sensitive situations should be dealt with using Context. Empathy. Time. 

Basically, you want to treat ALL your relatives, the living and the dead, with respect. (EMPATHY) You don't pressure them into revelations that they will regret later and you don't broadcast all of their misdoings for the entertainment or edification of others.

TIME. If an incident happened 100 or 200 years ago and everyone immediately involved is long since dead, the effects of revealing an indiscretion are going to be minimal.

So you will want to "shield" some of your family information and not publicly broadcast it while the interested people are still alive. This is just a common courtesy. You don't lie about it. And you can share the information in a respectful manner.

And while I have a number of "black sheep" stories about my living relatives, the following events all relate to individuals who have long been dead:
Not just for sinners

  • One of my great grandfathers was often quoted as saying "Stop Signs are for sinners." It was always said to indicate that he never heeded stop signs.  A newspaper article about his traffic violations seems to confirm this little tidbit. (But as we are all "sinners" wouldn't this indicate that stop signs were for everyone?)
  • Another grandfather went to prison for 5-10 years for attempted manslaughter. He told the judge that he was just trying to scare the victim into telling him where his wife was. As he was an avid hunter and only wounded the victim, I suspect the he was "under the influence" at the time of the incident. He was also wounded during the exchange and was found walking up and down the street in front of his house by the sheriff. When asked what he was doing, he replied that he was afraid to go into the house by himself because he believed he would bleed to death. I would like to nominate this relative for an episode of America's Dumbest Criminals.
  • This same grandfather was arrested as a young man for "disturbing the peace on the Sabbath" as he raced his horse past a church during service, whooping and hollering at the congregants.
  • And in yet another example of bad decision making, this man left his wife and 3 young children for his sister-in-law, eventually having a fourth child by her. His wife, not to be out-done by her errant husband, also took up with another man and had his child before finally filing for divorce some 9 years later.
  • One of my 2 X great grandfathers was arrested for not showing up when was drafted
    Battle Flag of the 76th OVI
    for the second time during the Civil War. In his defense, he did show up the first time and was part of the Bloody 76th OVI. He had a medical discharge from that unit due to a "head injury received in camp, but not related to any battle injury". When he was later called up for the Ohio 43rd, he just did not show up. So they came and got him. Thirty years after the Civil War ended, his wife had him committed to an Insane Asylum for locking her out of the house. His commitment papers sound a lot like he was suffering from Alzheimer's which has been passed down on that side of the family.
  • Another, more distant, relative was sentenced for horse theft in 1820's Delaware. The Governor commuted his sentence, but the commutation arrived too late. The "corporal punishment" had already been administered. I am still researching to find out what that corporal punishment was.
I could go on, and on, and on... Yep, we all got 'em.

*Wikipedia definition of Black Sheep.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Reasonably Exhaustive Research

Hello again! It's me, Lisa Rienerth, Kathy is graciously giving me the opportunity to write another blog spot! She had to listen to me talk (and talk) about this confusing research and thought it might be a good lesson for all. 

The Board for Certification of Genealogists has a list of five elements that they use to judge research to be a fact. The first of these elements is "Reasonably Exhaustive Research".  This contributes to the credibility of the information and reduces the chances of future evidence contradicting the earlier results.

Many beginning family history researchers feel that if they find one source to back up their information, that is all they need. However, as I will show you, this can lead to years of false research. It is gravely important to search for every bit of evidence to substantiate your results.

Two other mistakes made during research is believing that the written word is correct, whether it is in book or digital form and using another persons research as a source. I can't stress enough that you must do your own research. Use the previous research as a stepping off place, but do not consider it proof. You must look at the original source and make your own decisions about the quality of it. Sometimes, you do not find the one source with the exact information you are looking for, but if you have done an exhaustive search, you should have enough proof to back up your results.

Let me show you an example of what can happen when using undocumented sources. My ancestor, Samuel Rhoades/Rhodes, was said to have been a Revolutionary Soldier. As I began my research I found a published source that listed my ancestor as having died in Sandy Hill, Washington County, New York, but that he was buried at Mound Hill Cemetery in Seville, Guilford Township, Medina County, Ohio. I do have sources that prove his wife, Mary Rhoades/Rhodes, is buried at this cemetery, but nothing I had said he was there beside her.

I obtained Samuel's pension record and it stated that he filed for his pension while living in Sandy Hill, Washington County, New York. The record goes on to say that he died on the 9th of February 1832, in Sandy Hill. It didn't say he was buried there.

The pension record also had a letter from Samuel stating that he desperately needed this money, due to the fact he broke his knee plate and was only surviving on the charity of his neighbors and the government.

After seeing this I couldn't help wonder if the family had the funds to bring Samuel's body to Ohio. For that matter, why would the family bring Samuel's body to Ohio in the first place? Washington County, New York is more than 540 miles from Medina County, Ohio. It was doable, but not probable.

I contacted the compiler of the information where I first found my ancestor listed as being buried in Medina County and asked if I could get a list of sources used to confirm Samuel's burial location.

The list of sources below were what was used to confirm his final resting place. 

1. DAR [Daughters of the American Revolution] Website: Ancestor #A096068
2. SAR [Sons of the American Revolution] Website: Patriot P277780
3. Abstract of Graves of Revolutionary Patriots, by Hatcher, Patricia Lee [Pioneer Heritage Press, Jun  1, 1987]
4. Official Roster of the soldiers of the American Revolution buried in Ohio, Vol II, page 292 [1938]
5. US Pension Records of Ohio 
6. NSDAR [National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution]  Lineage Book, Vol 91,    (1912), page 88
7.  Revolutionary War Pension W4319

The records found on the DAR and SAR websites do not include sources and I do not feel comfortable accepting genealogical research without sources.

I found the listing of Samuel in the Official Roster of the soldiers of the American Revolution buried in Ohio, Vol II, (1938) page 292 and the NSDAR Lineage Book, Vol 91, (1912), page 88. Which is shown below:

RHOADES, SAMUEL, Medina co [Official Roster of Soldiers...]
Pvt May 1775. 8 mo under Capt Seth Ballard Jan 1776; 12 mo under Samuel Parsons
Sept 1777; 4 mo under Harvey Sept 1777; May 1778 2 mo under David Shay.
In battles of Forge Point and Saratoga. B 9-25-1753 at Stoughtingham Mass; Son of
Samuel and AbigaU (Thorp) Rhoades; mar Mary Morse 11-21-1773 at Walpole Mass;
chldr: Jabez; Polly; Ireney; Andrew; Francis; Samuel; Jesse; Elias. Soldr d 2-9-1832
at Guilfard (later called SevUle) Medina co O. Bur at Seville O. In 1850 cem replatted.
Inscrpt on monument of yvife "Mary, wife of Samuel Rhodes, died Nov 21 1837 ae 81 yr 5 mo 7 da." A sunken grave adjoining with a 15 ft pine tree growing where stone would be is thot to be grave of Samuel. Ref No. 196473 D A R. Rept by Jonathan
Dayton chpt, Dayton O

Born in Lansing, Mich.
Wife of William Rose Lesher.
Descendant of Samuel Rhodes, as follows:
1. Charles H. Sutliff (1843-1907) m. 1868 Eliza M. Rhoades (b. 1848).
2. Jesse Rhoades (1824-98) m. 1847 Lucinda Harris (1828-1906).
3. Elias Rhoades (1794-1874) m. Phebe Safford (1798-1870).
4. Samuel Rhoades m. 1773 Mary Morse (1756-1838).
Samuel Rhoades (1758- 1832) served as private, 1775-78, under Cap
tains Seth Ballard, Samuel Parsons and Daniel Shay. He was
engaged in battles of Frogs Point and Saratoga. He was born in
Norfolk County, Mass. ; died in Seville, Ohio.

Two pieces of information stand out to me in these listings. 

The listing in the book of Revolutionary Soldiers buried in Ohio states "A sunken grave adjoining with a 15 ft pine tree growing where stone would be is thot to be grave of Samuel." This listing looked familiar to me. When my mother died I inherited some family papers and in those papers was a letter to my great grandmother from her cousin. The letter was dated 1931 and spoke of her visit to the "Seville Cemetery" looking for grave sites. To quote the letter "I pushed aside some of the B.B. [Bouncing Betties, Flowers] to read from old stone - I saw this: Mary, wife of Samuel Rhoades died Nov 21 1831 ages 81 yrs. 5 mos. 7 da. I looked for the other stone - for there was space which indicated the other grave, but the pine tree was growing exactly where the stone would naturally have been placed.......I hope it may be duly recognized as other graves are being  marked thru the courtesy of the Sons Organization & also the Daughters of the Revolution." It is almost word for word of what was stated in the 1938 listing.

I then checked an earlier volume of The Official Roster of the Soldiers of the American Revolution Buried in the State of Ohio (1929)  and Samuel was not listed. Note the dates of the two resources. In 1929 Samuel was not listed as being buried in Ohio, yet in 1938 he was listed. The letter written to my great grandmother was in 1931 and the same wordage is used to describe his possible burial in Ohio in the 1938 volume. Did my great grandmother's cousin use this information for her application for a Revolutionary War marker? Is this where the idea of Samuel being buried next to his wife started?

The NSDAR listing has one blatant error and that is that Samuel died in Seville, Ohio. I have several sources stating that he died in Kingsbury, New York. Neither of these books included sources and with these errors I don't trust the listings.

A piece of information that added to the confusion was the U.S. Pension Records of Ohio showed Mary Rhoades' pension payments commencing 4 Mar 1831 and coming from the bank in Cincinnati. Why would she be receiving pension payments when Samuel was still alive? And why from Ohio, if she is still suppose to be in New York? Was Samuel in Ohio while she was receiving the pension?

 I went through the pension records once again and found a few records that address this issue. I found a letter written by the attorney for the "heirs of Mary Rhoades". He asked why Mary hadn't  received her payments from March 1831 to Feb 1832. The statement he received back was that the bank's notes stated that they were not to begin until 9 Feb 1832. 

"The instruction from the Commissioner of Pensions to the pension agency now (The Franklin Bank) direct payments in this case from the 9th of Feby 1832"

The pension papers also included this pension slip that shows Mary Rhodes receiving $80 to commence 10 Feb '32. 


And this slip: 

                                                                                                                                                                                The top part can be a little confusing due to the lack of punctuation. It looks like Samuel Rhoades was of Medina County in the state of Ohio. However, it is actually saying: Mary Rhodes is Samuel's wife, Samuel died on the 9th of February 1832 and Mary Rhodes is of Medina County, Ohio.                                                                                                                          In the second section, outlined in red, the number 4 and the month of March are crossed out and replaced with the number 9 and the month of February. The year 1831 was over written with 1832.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
There had to be an error recording the date Mary was eligible for her pension payments. The bank's notation about starting the payments on the 9 of Feb 1832 and the changed date on the pension slip lead me to believe that Mary did not receive her widow's pension money until she was actually a widow. 

I also found some land records for Samuel Rhoades in Washington County, New York. One record shows him selling land to his two sons, Elias and Jesse. It then states that Samuel comes to record this record 6 days before his death on the 3 February 1832. 

With all I have found so far I have more than enough proof that Samuel Rhoades died in Sandy Hill, Washington County, New York, but I don't have solid proof that he was buried there. 

I was then lucky enough to be taking a family trip out to Salt Lake City, Utah, where the Family History Library is located. I was thrilled! I searched the online catalog and found that they had cemetery transcription records for Washington County, New York. When I arrived at the library I was able to pull the transcriptions and found the listing I have been looking for. It listed Samuel Rhoades as being buried in the Moss Road Cemetery in Washington County, New York. Samuel is listed on the eighth line down.

 Now, as I have been saying, I can't rely on this transcription to be correct. I need to see the grave. I have requested a photograph be taken for me on Findagrave.

So, my exhaustive search is not over. I am in the process of contacting the sexton for the Mound Hill Cemetery to see if maybe she has any additional information on Samuel's burial. I am also researching the town of Kingsbury, New York to see who might have the Moss Street Cemetery records.

 However, at this point, by using the land records, the pension records and the cemetery transcription, I think it is probable that he is buried in Washington County, New York. Too many assumptions were made early on in this research and those assumptions were then taken as fact and perpetuated throughout the years. Why no one thought to search for a grave site for Samuel in the town that he died is a mystery. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Educators

School is back in session here in Medina County.  So let's take a look at a couple of Medina's well known teachers; Eliza Northrop and Ella Canavan.

Both of these ladies have elementary schools named after them. But their career paths were very different.

Eliza Northrop is known as the first teacher in Medina County. The school named after her is located on Reagan Parkway. She taught 23 students in 1817 in a "log meeting house".

Log meeting house similar to the one Eliza would have taught in.
The next year, she became the first bride in Medina County when she married Giles Barnes. As it was the first wedding, everyone was invited and everyone came. The partying when on "rather late", and people went home with bark torches to light their way. Some arrived home "snapped with wine".

Eliza Northrop Elementary School on East Reagan Parkway
Thus ended her career as a teacher. It was the custom at that time, reinforced by school boards, that a married woman could not hold a teaching position. She and Giles had seven children and Eliza died in Medina in 1863.

The NORTHROP family is an old Medina name that goes back to Connecticut.

Ella Canavan was born in Medina 1877 to Anthony and Hellen (Staid) Canavan. His parents were born and married in County Mayo, Ireland. Shortly after the couple married, they immigrated straight to Medina County. Ella's given name on her birth record is "Hellen" Canavan and she was born 4 November 1877 in Medina.  Her father, Anthony, was a section boss for the C.L. & W. railroad. The family lived at 514 West Liberty Street in Medina. He died in 1890 leaving his wife and 6 children to mourn him. In the 1880 Census, she is listed as "Helen" but by the 1900 Census, she is "Ella" and that is the name she was known by for the rest of her life.

"Miss Ella" Canavan with her students (1946 Medinian Yearbook)

After completing high school in Medina, Ella graduated from Oberlin College with a degree in teaching. She started a private kindergarten in 1900. For the next 45+ years, "Miss Ella" was a beloved teacher in the Medina School System. She resigned in 1945 but the outcry from past students and the superintendent of the schools, Mr. Spencer, dictated her return. She later resigned permanently in 1949.

"Miss Ella" passed away in 1964.

Ella Canavan Elementary School on Lawrence Street in Medina, was dedicated to Miss Ella in 1960.

Ella Canavan Elementary School

Two other schools in the Medina City School system are named after teachers: Sidney Fenn Elementary School and Claggett Middle School, named after Howard Claggett. But that is a subject for another blog.

Gloria Brown has just published a new book on the history of the Medina County Schools, titled, The Story of Medina's Schools. Read more about it in this Medina Post article: New Book Chronicles History of Medina Schools.  The Medina County District Libraries will soon have copies available to check out!

Pioneer History of Medina by N.B. Northrop (1861)
History of Medina by the Medina County Historical Society (1848)
Highlights of Medina  (1966)
Medina County Gazette
The Medina Post