Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Things I keep learning about my grandfather

As I sit here, writing this post, I am astounded by the information available in the United States Census.

A reader might remember that I have changed how I do my own family tree searching. Instead of climbing up the tree and just adding older and older names, I have decided to focus on learning more about individuals, starting with my most recent ancestors. This day, I am looking at my maternal grandfather, JOHN FRANCIS BURKE in the most recent U.S. census report available, 1940. He was 48. My mother, his oldest daughter of two, was 11. I would be born nine years later; I will appear for the first time in the 1950 Census when it comes out in a couple of years.

As I have written, he is one ancestor about whom I have learned a lot and have had some of what I thought I knew as a child corrected by my discoveries. Today is one of those days.

I thought my Grampy John, as he was called, was a mill worker at one of the plants owned and operated by Samuel Abbott, a very rich industrialist in New Hampshire. My childhood memories are that all four of my grandparents worked for Sam Abbott in one or another of his places, but I have, once again, learned those memories are wrong.

From the 1940 Census, a copy of which I cannot add for some reason (it is probably a Blogger issue), I learned that my maternal grandfather identified himself as a "trucking company owner," not a textile or mill worker!

Having spent the past 8 years as a commercial truck driver myself, there is some satisfaction knowing that my grandfather did it, too.

What amazing information can be learned by digging into the census reports. The next one, the 1950 Census, will be released to the public in a couple of years. That will be the first one to include me! I cannot wait to see what my life was like in Wilton, New Hampshire, as a 1-year old. What do I think I know that will not be true? Time will tell.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

When In Doubt, Go Back to the Beginning

I have been working on filling out my family tree for several years. My search started slow, using information I thought I knew, and eventually became a pretty serious past-time. In fact, I recently spent a great deal of money on a 3-volume set of books that list the immigrants to New England - New Hampshire is the birthplace of my parents - in what has become known as The Great Migration. I have pretty much validated that the first person in my family tree to arrive in North America is my 9XGGF (ninth great-grandfather) JOHN BALCH, born in England in 1605 and died in Salem, Massachusetts in 1648.

None of my ancestors are alive; my parents died long ago as did my grandparents, so when I began to climb my family tree, I had no person to whom I could to to ask questions. My initial searching had to be done online. As you might remember, I grew up thinking all four of my grandparents were immigrants from England and Ireland and I learned that is incorrect. My maternal grandmother is French-Canadian by birth, and her husband, my maternal grandfather, was born and raised in New England. My paternal grandparents emigrated from Lancashire, England, to the same small town in southern New Hampshire, Wilton, as did hundreds of other immigrants to work in the factories and mills owned by the Abbott family, specifically, Samuel Abbott. Wilton became my hometown, even though I grew up the son of a US diplomat in Amman, Jordan, and went to school in Amman, Beirut, Lebanon, and Ankara, Turkey.

(As an aside, my paternal grandmother worked her entire New Hampshire life in a worsted mill weaving the fabric for what would be sewn into expensive Brooks Brothers suits in New York. When she retired, she was making just over the minimum wage, but to her, the security she had was worth it; she lived in a "company town" and everything was available at "company town" prices. She was a simple woman who had immigrated to the USA to improve her life; she was not used to "fancy" anything, including anything made of the cloth she wove for a living, and lived her life accordingly.)

So now that I have climbed to the high branches of my own family tree, I have come to a point where climbing higher - going back even farther in my genealogy - has become very challenging and troublesome. Validating or even finding records is far more difficult when the source is another country's church records from 400 years ago!

I have come to the decision to change how I work my history. Now, instead of merely 'finding' more ancestors, I will find out more about each of them. I am researching my history for the benefit of children, grandchildren, or any subsequent generation seeking information and a connections with their ancestors (me!) and I hope to give them the full benefit of my research efforts by filling out the picture I have of them.

Since my parents are well-covered with records, I will start with my grandparents, about whom I knew little as a child - and as I mentioned, some of what I thought I knew turned out to be incorrect - and will work to fill in details. I want to know original names (fortunately, with one exception, my immigrant ancestors came from countries where English is the primary language, so I do not have to deal with translation or transliteration.

I will begin with my paternal grandfather, FRED WILKINSON. I know he had no middle name and I already have records that indicate his original name might have been Frederick, but I have neither proven nor disproven that yet. I know his father's name, but I do not know his mother's original name; there are two of them and I cannot find many records to tell me what her name was.

I hope that by spending my energy on one or two people at a time and not just growing my list of ancestors, I can fill in many blanks and perhaps write a story about my most recent immigrant arrivals. It will be a challenge, one that I need.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Validating Information is Tough...and Necessary!

As I have moved farther up my own family tree, the branches themselves branch out to more branches that, themselves, branch out.

I have been working on trying to validate the first person in my own family history who arrived in this country as an immigrant. For the most part, learning when my relatives arrived has not been difficult. My paternal grandparents were from Lancashire, England, and became naturalized US citizens, thus making my Dad a first-generation American-born citizen. My maternal grandfather was two generations removed from immigrant status and he married a Canadian citizen who became my maternal grandmother.

It was when I started looking into my maternal grandfather's grandmother, my own Great Grandmother Burke, that things started getting interesting.

And difficult.

As I worked her family history backward, I was able to confirm - with the not insignificant help of an experienced genealogist who happens to be a cousin, a fact we discovered as I worked! - that my 8XGGF (eighth great-grandfather) is BENJAMIN BALCH, born, raised, and died in what is now known as Salem, Massachusetts, the Salem of witch trial fame, though he was not part of that. Also, having been born in 1629, he was not a passenger on the Mayflower, which arrived in 1620.

However, going backward from him is far more challenging. There are many well-researched books on the Great Migration of people, mostly from England, that arrived in that time period, but the records of folks prior to that are found in England.

That is what I am working on now. Here is what I think I know.
  • BENJAMIN BALCH was born here. His father, JOHN BALCH, was born and died in England. I am fairly sure about that.
  • JOHN BALCH's father was also JOHN BALCH, which is not uncommon (there is no "Jr" added; that came much later and in a different country...ours.) He was born in England, made the trip on a ship to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and died in Salem in 1648.
  • That John Balch's father was also named JOHN BALCH, but he was born, baptized, lived, and died in England. He died in 1620, the year the Mayflower made its journey.
The challenging part is trying to validate information from those early-1600 records. What follows is most likely the baptismal record for John Balch, my 10XGGF. Because the penmanship is beautifully hand-done, and almost completely illegible to my eye, you can see how difficult it is to verify any bit of information from this record. Remember, we are talking about a record from the early 17th Century...

I have the entire record and it all looks like this. I think I can make out the word "Marriage" in one section on one page, but that is about all.

Methinks at some point I might have to pay a professional genealogist to help me validate the information! But hey! I have said before if it was easy, everyone would do it.

Onward and upward, space fans!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Those Details are Important

For the budding genealogists among you - I am one, too - there is plenty of evidence in the records you might find to validate the need to be careful with the details, even if the record you found is the original. Here is a case in point.

As I have written before, similar names were used often in a family and interchangeably, so verifying beyond doubt that *this* John Balch, for example (he is my 9xGGF, or 9th great-grandfather in genealogy shorthand) is, indeed, the John Balch whose records I need. In my case, there has been question because John Balch had two sons, one named Benjamin and one named John.

And it gets even more complicated. Remember, I am referring to electronic copies of original records from the time of the Great Migration from England to the so-called New World and what would become the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This area would include Salem, Massachusetts, which has a somewhat infamous past, itself.

What follows is a copy of probate records of Essex County, Massachusetts, showing the names AGNES BALCH, AGNIS BAULCH, and ANES BALLCH in the same paragraph, referring to the same person. The purpose of this is to reinforce the importance of clearly validating spellings, relationships, dates, and all other data points when making decisions about your early ancestors. I have not been able to verify which, if any, of these spellings points to my own ancestor. In fact, another record shows Annis Balch as being the mother-in-law of Benjamin Balch, her grandson!

If it was easy, anyone would do it, right?