"Hurrah for positive science!"

In section 23 of his Song of Myself, Walt Whitman exalts in science--"long live exact demonstration!"--yet I find myself feeling closer to these lines that come a bit later:

"Your facts are useful, and yet they are not my dwelling,
I but enter by them to an area of my dwelling."   

I recently had my DNA tested, something I was not planning on doing, resisting technology as is my wont. I have traced and followed my family line back many generations through research and documents (albeit many found online, not being as much a Luddite as I protest), and have a fairly comprehensive idea of "what I am." Or so I thought.

The catalyst for my volte-face was two newfound cousins who came forward, independently, after the new year. They both had found me through this blog, happily enough. And they both had questions for me that only DNA could help answer. That coincidence--and an online sale price--convinced me to submit a sample. 

One fella is another descendant of Jesse Toliver (1756- 4 Mar 1838), a maternal 5xgg of mine about whom I have written before. Despite the Tolivers having lots of kids, surprisingly, this newfound e-cousin was the first in my line, descending through Jesse's daughter Sarah "Sally" Toliver (9 May 1786 - 28 Dec 1859) and her husband Absalom "Homer" Fender (20 Aug 1789 - 10 Mar 1849), while I am descended through a younger brother of Sally's, Jacob Toliver (26 Jul 1799 - bef Oct 1854) and Susannah Isom (abt 1804- aft 1860). Where the DNA comes in is that his results showed 1% African ancestry.

Another of my 5xggs, John Conley (30 Aug 1776 - 31 Jan 1853), and Absalom Fender
appear a few lines apart on the 1830 U S Federal Census for Lawrence County, Indiana.
Conley's grandson married Jacob Tolliver's daughter.

Sad to say, the Tolivers and their extended clan were slave-owners. It is not suprising, as they lived in the south in the early 1800s, but disappointing nonetheless. I like to think they had a change of heart, though, because many of the Tolivers and allied families moved north in the 1830s and '40s (as seen above); and many of the sons of the next generation fought--for the Union--in the Civil War. 

My cousin wrote asking if I had had my DNA done, and if so, did I have any percentage of African ancestry. He does. His family even has passed down the familiar myth of a half-Indian ancestor--so often, great-grandma was a Cherokee princess!--a common deception used to hide indiscretions, either for propriety's sake, or to avoid miscegenation laws. At any rate, that family tale had not come down to me, so only DNA would reveal if our common Toliver forebear was the source, or if perhaps it came from my cousin's Fender side. 

Meanwhile. Out of the blue, I received a message from another fella, in regard to one of my brick walls, Clarissa Adams (31 Jan 1791 - 7 Feb 1872), a maternal 4xgg whose lineage is far from proven. I was excited to hear from him, hoping he would have additional information that would confirm her parents. He didn't. What he did have was a DNA connection to one of Clarissa's purported brothers. So if my DNA matched theirs, it was likely I could confirm her parents. What was in it for him is that he was adopted, and signs point to one of the Adams' descendants as his biological father, my match giving him further evidence. Got it?

So I bought my kit, sent in my spit, and waited. Until my results arrived, Ancestry.com occasionally fed me little titbits of information, like this one about my last name: 

Coincidentally, my mother's maiden name is Brown. And both my sister and I were naturally blonde most of our childhood and young adult lives. Anyway....

The results finally arrived, just in time, because I was wearying of the fun facts Ancestry kept dropping: I am in the majority--68%!--because I do not have dimples, etc. 

Not to bury the lede: I do not have African ancestry, at least as far as my DNA results show. Of course, that many generations back, it's possible I could have a slave ancestor, but whose genes did not redound to me. If you're interested in a crash course in how that all works, you can go here.
As for my other potential cousin, we do not share DNA, so our hoped-for Adams connection is not proven. Again, it may exist, but DNA does not confirm it. We'll both keep searching for other records or documents, hoping to find our answers.

So, if I'm not black, what am I? Through my research, I thought I had a pretty good idea, but it doesn't sync up with the results I received. Based on my thirty-two 3x great grandparents, the oldest generation for which I have information on all of them, I should be:

50% United Kingdom
25% Swedish 
12.5 % Danish
6.5 % Polish
3% French
3% German

but here is what came back:

Or as my hubby said: "Wow. You are so white." Indeed. But what shade? 

The "Germanic Europe" percent matches just about perfectly, encompassing my Danish Severin, Thorsen, Nissen, and Christensen surnames; Polish Miller (and LKU); and respectively, French and German Runser and Brunner. "Sweden" is pretty spot-on as well, what with my Erickson, Jansson and Larsdotter ancestors, among others. 

My gripe is about that 27% "Norway." Going back several generations, there is no one in my family from Norway, at least modern-day Norway. I have not looked into the connected histories of Sweden and Norway; perhaps one was part of the other at some point, but even allowing for that, and the geographic overlap of the chart, I still shouldn't be more than 38% Scandinavian, and that's only by throwing in the 12% "Germanic Europe" Danes!

I will admit to an anglophilic bias, but I expect I must be more than the 28% "England, Wales, & Northwestern Europe" that is claimed. Sixteen of my thirty-two 3x ggs are either of English descent, or have veddy British surnames like Squire, MacDonald, Conley, and Cherry. It may just be that those genes didn't come down to me. 

I didn't learn anything surprising, or especially conclusive, but I'm not going to let a little thing like science deter me. Time to pour a stiff Bushmills and soda, pop the Elgar Enigma Variations into the cd-player, and resume reading Trollope's He Knew He was Right.

UPDATE April 2021:

My DNA analysis was refined a while ago, and looks much more like what my research indicates, although again, due to the haphazard way DNA comes down through generations, it is never an exact match. The update came as Ancestry gathers more data, and consequently can become more detailed. You'll note, for example, that Wales has been dropped from the original category of "England, Wales, and Northwest Europe" seen above.

Scotland, apparently, is a new "region" for Ancestry, so was lumped under the "England" category previously. More about Scotland later.

Thankfully, Norway dropped from 27% to a mere 10%, despite there being no obvious basis for any Norwegian DNA in my line. Not that I have anything against the Nordmenn. In fact, one of my favorite relatives was my wonderful great-uncle Thor (Thorald Paul Moe, 30 June 1905 -  November 2000), husband to my maternal grandmother's sister, Gleva Marcella Severin (15 January 1904 - 4 August 1982). He made wonderful wood carvings, and whenever we would visit, cooked the most wonderful spaghetti dinners--not a recognized Norwegian specialty, perhaps, but so delicious.

A favorite dual portrait of Thor and Glee; Minnesota, mid 1930s.

So with Scandinavia better managed, what about these newfound Scottish genes? Och aye, that bears investigation. Visions of kilts and cabers, haggis and highland dances to the skirl of bagpipes jigged in my head.

I already knew--and have posted about-- my Scotch-Irish ancestors, mainly found on my maternal side. But they really couldn't represent such a large proportion of DNA. And certainly none of them were Highlanders, being primarily from "the Borders," the name for the swath of land that encompasses northernmost England and southern Scotland. 

Common to both my maternal grandparents' ancestry is the surname Maxwell. On my grandfather's side, the person closest to me generationally is Elizabeth "Betsy" Maxell (1801 - 25 September 1850), a 4x great-grandmother. Her parents were William Maxwell(6 August 1765- 1832) and Lucy Toliver (23 May 1768 - 1832). It is believed that William's father was David Maxwell (1720? - before 1784), a Scottish √©migr√©, although from where more precisely is unknown. The Maxwell name originates in Roxburghshire, a historic county of the Borders, so no kilts there.

On my grandmother's side, although details are sketchier and more research is needed, the Maxwell surname's most recent appearance is with Margaret Maxwell (1579 -1597), a 9x gg, who married John Wallace (1581 - 1615). These Maxwells are from Dumfriesshire, another of those historic Border counties. Scratch the bagpipes. There are lots of John Wallaces throughout that branch of my family tree; the name lived on through generations, as recently as my 4xgg, John Wallace Cherry (27 May 1788 - 10 February 1857). You can read more about him here (and elsewhere on this blog). I have a soft spot for him because visiting his grave and environs was one of the first genealogical Road Trips I made. Anyway.

The Maxwells, both branches, are the best documented of my Scottish forebears. But many more ancestors seem to lead there, some simply needing more research to verify, others through Scottish surnames (McDonald, Morrison, Wallace), not least of which is my own: Burnett. 

Although I have not been able to find the connection, my farthest back verifiable Burnett ancestor, paternal 4x gg Isaac Burnett (1780 - May 1860) being a horrible brick wall, the Burnett name is Scottish, dating back--in variants--to the Norman Conquest. 

Originally Lowland/Border Scots, some of the Burnetts finally made it to Aberdeenshire and baronetcies, where the Burnetts of Leys are still present, and their former home, Crathes Castle, can still be visited under the auspices of the National Trust.

If I could get past Isaac Burnett, who knows what I might find here!

And guess what: with an assist from Sir Walter Scott (!) the House of Burnett, although not actually a clan per se, was issued a tartan in 1822, when King George IV made the first royal visit to Scotland since 1651. If I can find the connection from grandpa Isaac to Aberdeen, I'm going to order myself a kilt.

(The Burnett tartan. Actual results may differ.)

"irretrievable" updates

In 2015, I posted a list of vexing brick walls in my family tree. Here is that list, but with more updates. Anyone out there in cyberland who can contribute (or refute) any information about these folks, especially their parents, would be appreciated!

Isaac Burnett (1780? - May 1860), lived most of his life in Newport, Penobscot, Maine. He married Deborah Grindle (25 Feb 1784 - aft 1860) on 23 Dec 1802. I have written about his garbled ancestry elsewhere.
UPDATE: Although no further along with his ancestors, despite some interesting leads, I have at least been able to identify by name all ten of his children, and with the help of a cousin learned that the "S" of his son (and my 3x great-grandfather) Nathaniel's middle name stands for Spalding.
UPDATE: Still nothing new here, despite some interesting leads. I was contacted by a 
distant cousin--who found me through this blog!--and we are collaborating. In a happy coincidence, he is also a metal-worker, like our common ancestor, who was a blacksmith.

Samuel Squire (1773 - aft 1830); his wife was perhaps named Mary Ann LKU (abt 1775 -  aft 1830). He appears on the U S Federal Censuses from 1800 through 1830, primarily in Madison, Somerset, Maine.
UPDATE: This Samuel has become a lot clearer. His birth and death dates are now known (18 Jul 1768 - 17 Mar 1832), as well as the name of his wife: Rhoda Perham (24 Jul 1772 - 20 Nov 1847). His parents are Samuel Squire (abt 1740 - 3 Apr 1780) and Mary Hildreth (17 Dec 1732 - aft 1770); thus, I have Samuel Squires as 4x, 5x, and 6x great-grandfathers. Although still working on his ancestors, the chain of Samuels appears to be broken, as his father may be a John Squire. Mary's line has opened up several more generations.

Aaron Colman (abt 1783 - aft 1830 15 Jan 1838), and his father, Aaron Colman (? aft 1756 - aft 1820); both residents of Maine, appearing on the U S Federal Censuses from 1800 through 1830 and 1820, respectively. Aaron Colman, junior, was married to Mary "Polly" Lombard or Lumbar.
UPDATE: No additional ancestor information, but a little more detail about dates.

John Swarts (28 Nov 1795 - 24 Oct 1874), born in Pennsylvania, but living most of his life in Brighton, Kenosha, Wisconsin; and his wife Mary McDonald (abt 1799 - 1893), also born in Pennsylvania.

Anna B. A. "Annie" Miller (Jan 1867 - aft 1920), was born in Germany and arrived in the U S about 1870. She married Dor Henry Eaton (May 1869 - 31 Dec 1945) on 27 Jan 1890, in Minnesota.
UPDATE: Annie was born 28 Jan 1865, in Szczecin, Poland. At the time, it was part of Germany/Prussia. Her parents are August Miller (Aug 1833 - Apr 1924) and Amelia LKU (May 1831 - aft 1910).

Willard Brown (abt 1806 - aft 1860), born in New Hampshire. He married Mary "Polly" Rasey (21 Oct 1808 - 12 Dec 1868) on 17 Nov 1826 in New York.

William Carter (1800 - 30 Mar 1849) and Melinda Johnson (1813 - 1902). Complicated by both a scarcity of information and fairly common names, they were both believed born in Tennessee; she died there, while he died in Missouri.

William Kinman (abt 1830 - aft 1858), born in New York and died in Illinois, and Sarah R Moore (abt 1826 - aft 1875). She was probably born in Ohio (I have one U S Federal census to back that up), and the only reason I have "Moore" is that my maternal grandmother provided it, although she was occasionally wrong about these details. Sarah later married a Walter Reading or Redding (abt 1825 - aft 1875); they lived in Illinois.
UPDATE: Grandma was right: Sarah's last name is "Moore." But almost everything I thought I knew about "William" was wrong, starting with his name. Apparently this 3x gg was actually--for now--Seaborn G Kinman (abt 1816 - abt 1862). I learned all this through an article about his son (and my 2x gg), William Edwin Kinman (17 Mar 1858 - 13 Jun 1925). But nothing is settled yet: for starters, I have found no other records or mentions of a Seaborn G Kinman, although the Illinois Marriage Index does have a Greeham Kinman (G for Greeham?) marrying Sarah Moore on 25 Apr 1852. It could be our guy, although searching "Greeham Kinman" yields no other results either. And to further complicate things, William's brother, Francis Augustine Kinman ( 2 Jul 1853 - 14 Dec 1927), has their father listed as a "Fred" Kinman on his marriage record.  Another example of one document changing everything.

Jesse Toliver (1756 - 4 Mar 1838) and his sister, Lucy Toliver (23 May 1868 - 1832), are both 5x ggs; I have written about them before. There ancestry is confused and unlikely to ever be sorted out, despite many generations trying.
UPDATE: More cousins have surfaced, again through the help of this blog; two of them are other descendants of Jesse, the first I have been in contact with. DNA is helping to crack this family's mystery. We'll see.

Frederick Dillazone Ketchum (6 Apr 1811 - 21 Jan 1888), about whom I have written often. I believe I have discovered his father as Elisha Ketchum (abt 1771 - aft 1840), but yearn to know more about these two, including the identity of Frederick's mother. I would also love to know if "Dillazone" is in fact correct (I no longer know where I first saw it; it may have been another Grandma Brown error), and from where it derives. He was most often referred to as "Capt F D Ketchum."

And speaking of Captains, there is Samuel Cherry (15 May 1756 - 27 Oct 1825), about whom I have also written in one of my earliest posts. His parents, and even his place of birth are a great mystery. It is generally agreed that he was born in Londonderry--but which: Ireland or New Hampshire?

Finally, there is Clarissa Adams (31 Jan 1791 - 7 Feb 1872), daughter-in-law of Capt Cherry, above. She was born in New York, and died in Delaware, Delaware County, Ohio. I have visited and photographed her grave site, which perhaps explains in part her particular appeal for me; that and her potentially historically rich last name! The Cherrys were great patriots, after all....
UPDATE: Another one-document wonder, my lead coming from someone else's query in a genealogy publication, it seems likely that Clarissa is the daughter of a William Adams (dates unknown) and either Polly or Molly Roby (30 Oct 1763 - bef 1855); there are marriage records for them dated 4 Nov 1785 with both variations of her name, and a location of either Chelmsford MA or Dunstable NH. I believe the intentions, which were posted 31 Oct 1785 (and are often erroneously seen as the marriage date) are from Massachusetts, while the wedding itself occurred in New Hampshire.
UPDATE: I was contacted by a possible cousin, who was trying to tie himself to the Adams family. (Snap! Snap!) If his DNA matched mine, we might both have proof of our connection. Alas, nothing was conclusive, and he did not have any information beyond what I already "know."

I have uncovered almost nothing  else about Adams himself, except a few land records of upstate New York, although there was one thrilling tidbit. In 1806, William Adams, a 5x gg, purchased land in what is now Scriba NY, from the estate of Alexander Hamilton. Another brush with greatness.... 

But research is it's own reward, famous kin or not, and you can bet I'm not throwing away my shot at finding more ancestors, and, of course, writing about it.

"It seems to me more than all the print I have read in my life"

The Internet is a tremendous--if perilous--resource for research, genealogy included. But there is much to be learned by venturing out, and something especially satisfying about visiting actual places that connect with your family history. With the rain coming down outside today, giving me an excuse to stay in and blog, I will set down some of the genealogical outings I've made in the last couple years.

While researching a maternal 3x great-grandfather on my grandmother's side, Frederick D Ketchum (6 Apr 1811 - 21 Jan 1888), about whom I have written often, I came across mention of a book, The Schooner La Petite: Journal of Captain Oscar B. Smithreprinted from "Inland Seas" in 1970. La Petite was one of the ships Grandpa Ketchum built. 

I found and purchased a copy--online--and promptly read it through, eagerly looking for bits about Frederick Ketchum. Alas, although he built the eponymous schooner, he does not figure into the book itself, a reprint of journals Capt Smith kept for several years during the late 1870s. Capt Smith (21 Sep 1835 - 14 Aug 1916), a longtime Huron, Ohio resident, does mention many other relations of mine, however, including George Cherry Ketchum (Frederick's oldest son); Minnetta Amelia Ketchum (George's daughter); James Vance Bennett (husband of Frederick's oldest daughter, Frances Mathilda, known as "Fannie,"), who owned docks on Mackinac Island; and even the Huron Lighthouse, run for many years by Minnetta's great-uncle, Richard Lloyd Mansell. 

"Inland Seas," the magazine that reprinted Smith's journal, was established in 1945 by the Great Lakes Historical Society. I figured a visit to their National Museum of the Great Lakes was in order. I emailed first, letting them know my particular interest in the museum and familial connection to the lakes. I was thrilled to receive a reply that said

Did you know we have the capstan cover to a ship named for Mr. Ketchum on display at the Museum of the Great Lakes? It might be something you are interested in. There is a also a small section about his involvement in Toledo shipping, etc. 

"Might be..."? How exciting! And Toledo? That was definitely new information about Frederick Ketchum. It was time to hit the road....

At the museum, excited about seeing Grandpa K's capstan.

Alas, when I got to the Museum, the aforementioned capstan cover was named for a different Ketchum--in fact, a Mr Ketcham. Toledo surprise, indeed. These near misses are becoming their own kind of family tradition....

Anyway. The museum is lovely, and we spent a couple very entertaining and informative hours admiring the exhibits.

Although the capstan cover was a disappointment, I was all the more surprised, then, to see they did have an interactive exhibit about La Petite, taken from Capt Smith's journal. The journal had led me to the museum, so it seemed the circle was complete, as round as a capstan cover, no matter to whomever it belonged. 

Different virtual bookmarks led to different pages; 
this one featured a picture of the ship.

Before leaving Toledo, we also stopped at the Toledo Botanical Garden, which was gorgeous, despite some rain. I got a picture with a symbolic family tree to commemorate the outing.

Your humble blogger with "Monument to a Tree" (1994) by Carl Floyd.

Inspired by seeing second-hand information about my family, I wanted to see if I could get a bit closer. A few months later, another Road Trip was ready to roll. Next stop, Fort Wayne, Indiana. 

I began my trip at the Genealogy Center of the Allen County Public Library. It was a large, wonderful facility, but I did not learn a great deal there of note, in part because I wanted to move on and see sites associated with my family.

I headed out to Lindenwood Cemetery, to pay respect to my 1st cousin, 3x removed, Minnetta Amelia Ketchum (2 Jul 1865 - 25 Aug 1953) and her husband, Frank Bursley Taylor (23 Nov 1860 - 12 Jun 1938). You may remember her name from a few paragraphs ago. She is Frederick Ketchum's grand-daughter, and features in Capt Smith's journal; she was a playmate of his daughter.

Besides being buried in Fort Wayne, the Taylors lived there for many years, when not exploring the geology of the Great Lakes, which you can read more about here. Frank Taylor's parents moved to Fort Wayne in 1859, and soon became one of the prominent families. Robert Stewart Taylor (22 May 1838 - 28 Jan 1918) was first a lawyer, and later judge. The Pictorial History of Fort Wayne (B.J. Griswold, 1947) referred to Judge Taylor as "the dean of the bar of Allen County." He introduced a bill to bring streetcars to Fort Wayne, and ran--unsuccessfully--for Congress twice; in 1881 he was appointed by President Garfield to the Mississippi River Commission. 

Looking for the three homes the Taylor families owned in Fort Wayne over those years, I discovered that one was under a parking lot, ditto another, while the third was now just a vacant lot surrounded by houses. If nothing else, I wanted to imagine the tree was from their time, so I gave it a solemn pat and headed home.

Erstwhile Taylor home, and possible family tree.

My elusive ancestors.... I felt like I was getting closer, but still at a remove. Displays and empty lots are all well and good, but can't provide much context or elicit much feeling.

Itching to get on the road again, but not knowing where, a little digging in another branch of the family tree, ancestors of my maternal grandfather this time, led me back to Indiana, this time to the magically named Spice Valley.

My Conley kin came here from Ireland, the first to emigrate being my 6x great-grandparents, John Conley, Senior (28 Jun 1744 - 24 Jul 1798) and his wife, Sarah Wilson (16 Apr 1746 - 12 Jun 1824), although they probably did not marry until they were in the US of A. I know little about them (whether they met here or in Ireland, for example) until after they arrived, when, like a good many Scotch-Irish, they settled in North Carolina.

Son John Conley, Junior (30 Aug 1776 - 31 Jan 1853) was born in North Carolina, where he married Catherine Miller (15 Oct 1782 - 5 Aug 1845) on 7 Mar 1799. Eighteen years--and eight children--later, following brother Josiah Connelly [sic] (21 Aug 1783 - 20 Feb 1870), they had left North Carolina for Indiana, landing in the nascent Lawrence County in 1817. 

The Conleys/Connellys, along with allied families, among them the Maxwells, Isoms, and Tollivers (all of whom are my ancestors), were a strong presence in the early years of the region. Josiah was the first constable of Spice Valley, others holding posts such as Overseer of the Poor, and School Superintendent. Another brother, Elijah Connelly (7 Jul 1779 - 28 Sep 1831), was the first deacon of the Spice Valley Baptist Church, established on 1 June 1822. The congregation met first in the barn of William Maxwell (1765 - 1832), a 5xgg, before a church was erected a few years later. Although the current church building is the third on that site, being built in 1888, the original cemetery behind it is filled with Conleys and Isoms.

It was fitting that I met my fifth cousin, twice removed, Susan there; she is descended from my ancestor John Conley's brother, the deacon Elijah Connelly. My excitement upon meeting her was tremendous, not just because I had driven around lost for an hour, but because she is the first relative I have met face-to-face through genealogy research, rather than knowing all my life.

We clicked instantly, and shared family stories, both pulling out charts to better see our connection. Then came the real treat: I followed her a few miles up the road to the farm that has been in our family for two hundred years.

Conley farmland, Spice Valley.

The current farm is on land originally owned by John and Elijah's brother Joel Connelly (10 Mar 1788 - 8 Jun 1853). Although the Conley/Connellys and their in-laws owned much of the area, this parcel is the last to have stayed in the family, despite many of the pioneer Connellys deciding in the late 1830s to move further west to Clay County, Illinois. Family lore has it that the Connellys and their kin, always clannish, felt that too many newcomers were moving into their valley; that side of my family--down to myself--have always been a mix of gregariousness and the desire for near-hermitic privacy.

Anyway. Cousin Susan gave me a tour, of the property, which has been given a Hoosier Homestead Farm designation by the state of Indiana. 

[I was so excited, I did not get a picture of their sign on property;
this image--from a different farm--came from the web.]

We passed by a charming cabin, built in comparatively more recent years as a sort-of playhouse for the many boys in the family.

It had been raining, so we did not venture to the natural spring, but did pause for a picture by one of the barns.

I was captivated walking through fields that my family has walked for two hundred years. Pictures, exhibits, and stories are all wonderful, but there is something so forceful about really being there. Amidst a whirl of emotions, we reached our final destination, a small hilltop that is the resting place of many of our family. 

Although weathered with age, here was the headstone of our six-times great grandmother, Sarah Wilson, who came from Ireland to America in the 1700s, joined her family on their pioneering move to Indiana in the early 1800s, and finally came to rest here, in Spice Valley, in 1824.

Several other generations of Connellys join her on the hillside. I have visited grave sites before, but this was special, knowing that the view I had in all directions was one they had shared. 

Looming clouds and a long drive ahead meant it was time to say goodbye. Susan recommended I visit the  Connelly Cemetery in nearby Marion Township, but I decided to save that for next time.  We stopped and ate some windfall persimmons from an ancient-looking tree as the sky darkened. After a big hug from Susan, I got into the car, taking a few persimmons home with me. 

In part, I wanted to share some of the Conley persimmons with Stephen, who was not able to join me on this trip. But I also had another idea.... I saved some of the seeds, and planted them this spring. Who knows if I will ever get to taste my own home-grown Conley persimmons, but I can at least enjoy, no longer symbolic or supposed, my own little family tree. 

"To be in any form..."

I have written before about old objects and heirlooms, and how my family doesn't have too many in our possession. Imagine my shock when I saw that Bonhams had auctioned off a set of six "Queen Anne walnut compass seat side chairs," expected price: $30,000 - $50,000! Here's a little blurb (or whatever the fancy antique-world equivalent is called):

The Rhode Island Furniture Archive at Yale University Art Gallery identifies several examples of this form of chair, all bearing a pierced splat with distinctive scrolled ears and all attributed to Thomas Davenport (1681-1745). In his article "Lesser-known Rhode Island Cabinetmakers: the Carlisles, Holmes Weaver, Judson Blake, the Rawsons and Thomas Davenport," (The Magazine Antiques, May 1982, pp. 1156-1163), Joseph Ott suggests that the delicate scrolled ears may be a trademark of Davenport.

The cushions differ because the chairs had been left to various family members
 before being reunited and sold.

That lesser-known Rhode Island cabinetmaker, Thomas Davenport (10 Dec 1681 - 16 Aug 1745), is one of my paternal eight-times great-grandfathers. He is also sometimes known as "Captain" Thomas Davenport, although I am not sure how he received the title. It does appear on his headstone.

The Common Burying Ground; Newport, Rhode Island

According to the Rhode Island Historic Cemetery Commission, Davenport's headstone (as is his wife's) was carved by John Stevens II, whose father founded their eponymous shop in 1705. The John Stevens Shop was known for its beautiful gravestones, and owned by Stevens' descendants until 1927, when it was taken over by the Benson family. The company is still active today, and still doing beautiful work, including the FDR, Martin Luther King, and World War II National Memorials in Washington DC.

At any rate, Thomas Davenport was born in Dorchester MA, then moved when young to Little Compton RI. There he met and, in 1704, married Catherine Woodworth (5 Oct 1673 - 1 Jun 1729). They had six children; by his second wife, Mary Pitman (1 Jan 1721 - 1782), he had two more. It was in 1737, upon his marriage to Mary, that he settled in Newport RI. Her family contained many furniture makers as well; perhaps this is how they met. Incidentally, Little Compton is also known as the home of the Rhode Island Red chicken; there is even a monument there, although both came after Thomas Davenport's time.

Perhaps not as grand as the FDR Memorial, but still of note.

The Davenport family originated in Cheshire, England, and surely have been surrounded by beautiful furnishings since then, tracing their roots back to Alfred the Great (849 - 26 Oct 899). The first use of the Davenport name came with Orme de Dauenport (believed 1046 - 1086), who is purported to be a cousin of William the Conqueror. Despite how fanciful and sketchy some of these heraldic genealogies are, there is DNA evidence that proves that Thomas Davenport is descended from Orme, at least. (Lady Godiva of--shall we say--bareback fame is believed to be some kind of distant aunt as well.)

And speaking of horsehair, yes, the word "davenport," meaning sofa is derived from another relation as well, A[lfred] H[enry] Davenport (5 Dec 1845 - 22 Jun 1905), who established a famous furniture and interior design business that operated out of both Boston and New York at the end of the nineteenth century. That Davenport worked with Stanford White, and provided interiors for the Vanderbilt Mansion and even the White House. Work by the A H Davenport Company can also still be seen in the Smithsonian, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and elsewhere. 

Getting back to Orme, the Davenports continued for generations in Cheshire and environs, gathering land and power. So much power, in fact, that the family coat of arms charmingly includes a man with a rope around his neck (about which more later), indicating the Davenports had power over life or death. Reading through generations of Davenports, it was nice to see some Roberts along the way. 

By the 1200s, there were lots of "Sirs," and lots of advantageous marriages, including a merger with the de Bromale family, who since 1277 owned the land that is modern-day Bramhall. John de Davenport was the first to inherit Bramhall Hall, in the late 1300s. A later Lord of the Manor, beginning in the late 1400s, William Davenport, helped gain the crown for Henry VII. The property was to stay in the Davenport family for five hundred years, finally being sold off to a development company in 1877. Fortunately, the Hall and much of the land was preserved, and is still available to visit.

Bramall Hall 

Tours are given of Bramhall Hall, and one can admire, along with the other beautiful rooms and furnishings, a number of tributes to the family crest: busts of men with ropes around their necks, including these fellows flanking one of the fireplaces:

Cosy. But Bramhall Hall is not the only Davenport residence to survive. Far away from that precious stone set in a silver sea, far indeed, in the U S of A's deep South is another structure, sitting on Columbus Square in Savannah GA. It too is open to the public, as the Isaiah Davenport House Museum.

Isaiah Davenport (3 Nov 1784 - 16 Oct 1827), is a second cousin, seven times removed of mine. To make it clearer, he was descended from grandpa Thomas Davenport's oldest son, Eliphalet, while my line goes through another son: Ephraim.

Isaiah, like many of his relatives, studied carpentry. Indeed, one sees numerous Davenports across several generations engaged in work as chairmakers, cabinet-makers, joiners, masons, housewrights.... After apprenticing in New Bedford, MA, Isaiah moved--for reasons unknown--to Savannah in 1808, and a year later married Sarah Rosamund Clark (22 Feb 1788 - 7 Aug 1869). They had ten children, and their large home was built, in part, to house them all.

Besides designing and constructing private homes and public buildings, Isaiah served as an alderman, constable, and was even selected to give the toast when President James Monroe visited the town in 1819. Isaiah Davenport died during the Yellow Fever epidemic that swept Savannah in 1847. Maybe that's why they say the house is haunted. Isaiah was just forty-three. It is interesting to imagine what "Savannah's Master Builder" would have created had he lived longer. He would have been pleased to know, I'm sure, that the preservation and restoration of his home in 1955 led to the creation of the Historic Savannah Foundation, which has been crucial in keep the town both historic and vital.

So many grand homes, so many beautiful designs. An old saw has it that "there are more Davenports than dogs' tails." Indeed. The Presidents Bush are descendants of Thomas' sister Hannah Davenport (23 Dec 1686 - 26 Jan 1769), while William Howard Taft (who employed his distant cousin A H to design furniture for the White House, although their connection was enough generations earlier they may not have known they were related) had Thomas' uncle John Davenport (20 Oct 1664 - 21 Mar 1725) as a direct ancestor.

Kings and presidents, manors and museums. As I have mentioned before, too often to link, I am adjacent--and even sometimes tangent--to greatness in my family's history. (I haven't even mentioned another Davenport relation and distant cousin, inventor Thomas Davenport [9 Jul 1802 - 6 Jul 1851], who received U S Patent #132, the first for an electric motor, in 1837 [!], the model of which resides in the Smithsonian. He wanted to invent an electric car.)

Well, I guess now I have mentioned him. But to return to the other Thomas, my eight-times great-grandpa.... He wasn't a lord, or a hobnobber with tycoons, or a revolutionary tinkerer. But he made really nice chairs.

Photo courtesy of Stephen Kinnane, Sakonnet Furniture Makers

Thomas Davenport was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts on 10 Dec 1681, third son of Jonathan Davenport (6 Mar 1659 - 11 Jan 1729), a carpenter, and Hannah Manners / Maynard / Warren / Warner (1660 - 14 Jan 1729); he was the grandson of "Thomas Davenport of Dorchester," the first of this branch of the Davenports to reach America. On 20 Jul 1704, he married Catherine Woodworth (5 Oct 1673 - 1 Jun 1729), daughter of Thomas Woodworth (1636 - 13 Feb 1718) and Deborah Damon (25 Apr 1645 - Feb 1718), in Little Compton RI, Joseph Church, Justice officiating. They had six children. After her death, he married Mary Pitman (1 Jan 1721 - 1782) on 22 Jul 1737, in Little Compton, at the 2nd Congregational Church. They moved to Newport RI, where they had two children. Thomas Davenport died 16 Aug 1745, in Little Compton. He was buried in the Common Burying Ground, in Newport RI. On 25 Sep 2013, at the Bonhams auction, the Queen Anne chairs sold for just $12,500.

From the Card File of American Craftspeople, 1600-1995. The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum 

For more on the early Davenports and Bramhall Hall:

For more on Rhode Island furniture:

(search for Davenport)

For more on Stephen Kinnane and continuing the tradition of fine furniture:

For more on the other Thomas Davenport and his electric wonders:

"The friendly and flowing savage, who is he?"

After a long intermission, my time filled variously by my occupation, preoccupations, and a general feeling that the sagacious Lorelei Lee was right in her assessment that "Fate keeps on happening," I return to this blog with a post so lurid and sensational that I hope it offsets any impatience my supposed readers have had for more family stories. Anyway.

My subject is the preposterously named Cephas Hurlburt Miller Shibley (28 Mar 1855 - 23 Dec 1934), a big name for a big life. More about that name later....

Mr Shibley's connection to me is that he married one of my grandfather's aunts. Bertha E Brown (21 May 1870 - 15 Aug 1952), was an older sister of one of my maternal great-grandfathers, Clarence Edgar Brown (1 Dec 1878 - 21 Aug 1937). Shibley was the second of her three husbands.

The Browns were (and are) notoriously peripatetic, but at heart traditional. Most of her siblings married just once, and avoided scandal. Not so our Bertha, at least as far as Mr Shibley was concerned.

She married first, on 7 June 1884, James Henry Willerford (May 1860 - 17 Apr 1907); they had six children. Meeting and marrying in Missouri, by 1896 they had moved to Los Angeles, where Willerford worked as a laborer or hired man, and died relatively young, four of their children still being school age. 

Photo by "TLS," from Find A Grave

Bertha's third husband was German-born Henry Bricks (1 May 1878 - 30 May 1952). His birthplace is sometimes given as California, including on his World War I draft registration, understandably, but he immigrated to the US in 1884 and was later naturalized. Bricks' jobs included chauffeur (to Christian J Kubach, another German-born Angeleno, albeit a wealthy and prominent one), auto mechanic, and finally, owner of a roadside stand in Azusa CA.

There is one unresolved tidbit about Bertha's third hubby: was he the same Henry Bricks who was arrested in Chicago in 1915 for larceny?

Arrest information for Henry Bricks, chauffeur,
from the Chicago Police Department, 25 Dec 1915.

I have not been able to find out any more details. It seems unlikely, but still, the name, birth year, occupation, and birthplace are all correct....

Poor Bertha, if it is true. But she was not unused to having a shady husband, which leads us back to C H M Shibley. 

As Shibley was the middle of Bertha's three husbands, in a nice bit of symmetry, Bertha was the middle of his wives, but she was number number three of five! And those are just the ones I have discovered so far....

Cephas started out life innocuously enough, born in Newburgh, Ontario to George B Shibley (1830 - 1877) and Sarah Rose Derman (28 Aug 1834 - 13 Aug 1917). At age 22, he married his first wife, Margaret Riley (Jun 1859 - 28 Aug 1928), and they had two daughters. Just six month's after his second daughter's birth, however, he had immigrated to Ohio, and had married again. 

Wife number two was Ida Florence Bartlett (bef 1863 - aft 1890). With Ida, Shibley's true character starts to, if not shine, at least become clearer. This, from the Los Angeles Herald, 16 Jan 1890:

"A Divorce Case." There will be tried in Department 6, of the Superior Court, today, the case of Ida Florence Shibley against her husband, Hurlburt Miller Shibley. She sues for divorce and alleges desertion and adultery as the grounds for the demand. The woman was known as Ida Bartlett, in Cleveland, Ohio, prior to April 1, 1881, when she married the defendant as Seth Shibley. She afterwards discovered that Seth Shibley was not the name of the man she married, and in order to avoid complications, August 25, 1882, they were married at Erie, Pennsylvania. In this instance the man put on record all four of his names. The allegations of the complaint are that on March 12, 1888, Shibley left her and came to Los Angeles; that he has not since provided for her maintenance, and that he has been guilty of adultery since his arrival in the land of the Angels.

In the six--or seven-- years of their marriage, they had two children, this time a boy and a girl. Shibley had the good taste to wait a little under two years before he skipped out this time.

Of course, he may have left town for another reason, as well. He was hired onto the Cleveland Police Department (!) in 1887, after previously working several years as a switchman. Shibley did not last long on the force, however; by December of that year he was "dismissed upon charges" for "violating rules," after a fifty-six day suspension. Bye-bye Cleveland, hello land of the Angels!

He got a job, this time as a salesman for the Pioneer Roll Paper Company, a large firm dealing in roofing materials, asphalt, etc. He stayed there several years, uneventfully, it seems,with a few exceptions. In 1897, he got into trouble with the law, as reported by the Los Angeles Herald on 29 October:

Seth Shipley Worked a Fake Check on the Kitty Keeper

Incidental to a suit on a harmless looking check for $25, Justice Young was regaled yesterday with the story of a man who went out to see the tiger and the kitty, with the idea of ruining them in business, and who went home after the last jackpot with lots of newly discovered evidence of how foolish it is to dally with a cinch. Seth H. Shibley, salesman for the Pioneer Roll Paper company, took a hand in a game of poker at the Arizona Club rooms on the 14th inst., with only about $8 in his pockets. As Joe Halsey, who was watching the kitty of the game, would express it, probably, "Mr Shibley lasted very quick."  But whatever else might be said of Mr Shibley, he was game, and made up his mind to teach the other gentleman something about poker they had never dreamed of. But he had no money. Turning to the watchful Mr. Halsey, he inquired if he (Mr. Shibley) was good on a check. Mr. Halsey was happy to say that his check would be received in payment for $25 worth of chips. Then Mr. Shibley began to make life a burden to the other players. He lost a little oftener than he won for a time, and suddenly there was the grandest opportunity of his life before him. He had $14 in chips in front of him, and in the middle of the table was a jack-pot. And the hand he held! Well, he nearly fainted dead away. He felt sorry for the other players. "It isn't square, darned if it isn't," said Mr. Shibley to himself," to go into a jack-pot with three aces." But he threw his conscience to the winds, held up his three aces and another card, to put the gentlemen on their guard, and called for one. When he got a chance to bet he was there, and every man but another man and himself dropped out. The other man was perfectly reckless, and kept raising, which Mr. Shibley, being a dead game player, saw and raised again. In a few moments Mr. Shibley had his $14 in the middle of the table was was seen by the other gentleman. When it came to a show-down, the other gentleman raked in the money; he had four queens. And Mr. Shibley didn't ride home in a street car. he remembered on his way home that the other gentlemen had the deal when he (Mr Shibley) drew the three aces, and the awful truth burst upon him--he was not a poker player, but was learning. Mr Halsey brought suit on the check, because when he presented it to the Farmers and Merchants' Bank the paying teller refused to honor it. There was no account there in the name of C. H. M. Shibley, which was the name Mr. Seth Shibley had signed to it. Justice Young decided that the check was evidence of a gambling debt and that plaintiff could not recover on it.

In 1899 the sometime-Seth made the papers again with this:

From The Los Angeles Herald, 6 August 1899

Whether this is still the divorce from Ida, or from another, as-yet unnamed wife, it is certainly entertaining, if not quite as breezy as the previous article. At any rate, by 1902, Shibley was an employee of the Primrose Conserving Company. His widowed mother had also moved to California, and was living nearby.

And this is where great-aunt Bertha comes in. I do not know how they met, but they married in Orange CA on 7 December 1904. Perhaps she was a settling influence; by 1910 her mother had moved west, and was living with them. He worked as a "watchman" in city parks.

Domestic bliss never seemed to last long, though, with Mr Shibley. Within a few years, Bertha had moved on and married Mr Bricks; Shibley was now in real estate and in trouble with the law--again.

From The Los Angeles Herald, 23 February 1916.

His wealth apparently must have come from real estate investments, and they must have helped with the Seth/Cephas swindles--for lack of a better word. His voter registrations rarely gave the same addresses as the city directories, and the combinations of Seths and Cephases and initials is staggering. And I am wondering why he had returned to Cleveland; one of his children was already dead, two others lived in California, and one was  still in Canada. It seems unlikely he wanted to see Ida--remember her?

Now, by the time the above article appeared in early 1916, Shipley had already been married six months to wife number four: Vera Dorothy Smith (2 Jun 1892 - 15 Oct 1989), who had moved to Los Angeles from her home in Pennsylvania some time after her eighteenth birthday. 

Happily married 26 July 1915, we find that Shibley's age is a variable as his aliases: he has cut ten years off his birth date. Even then, Fifty was the new Sixty. But what are a few years, when greater problems are looming? Three years later, Vera and Shibley have separated, and he is in the papers again:

From The Los Angeles Herald, 6 August 1919

Cephas M Shibley, sometimes known as Seth Shibley, and widely known as a politician in the old days, was made defendant in a suit for divorce filed today by Vera S. Shibley, who is 28 years his junior.
Cruelty was the charge in the complaint, filed through the Attorney Milton M. Cohen, one of the allegations being that he failed to provide his young wife with amusement or recreation. He was also alleged to have beaten, kicked and choked her on a number of occasions while they were living at the defendant’s home on Ogier street.

They were married July 26, 1915, and separated Oct. 10, last, according to the complaint.
The romance of the former politician with his young wife came after a former alleged romance with Mrs. Mary Stringer, which culminated in a suit for breach of promise filed by the latter.

While Shibley was on a trip east he met Mrs. Stringer, an attractive divorcee, and according to her allegations promised to marry her.  She came to Los Angeles and acted as his housekeeper for some time and finally filed suit for $25,000 heart balm, declaring he had failed to carry out an alleged promise to marry her.

The suit came to trial in the local courts in November, 1917, at which time Shibley attempted to show that he and Mrs. Stringer became estranged because of her alleged attentions to a boarder in Shibley’s home. Mrs. Stringer and the boarder both denied the charges, and she was awarded judgment for $5000.

Now, I expect that it wasn't just a lack of "amusement" that led Vera to dump Seth. In 1918, just months before the separation, Shibley was ordered by the court to sell off a great deal of property, including parcels in Rancho Palos Verdes, San Pedro, and San Gabriel, to settle with Mrs. Stringer. I guess she knew better than to take a check. 

Anyway, somewhere along the way, too, Shibley had become a politician--with all the other drama, how did I miss that? (This was the only reference to a political career I could find in his otherwise perhaps embarrassingly over-documented life.)

By 1920, aged sixty-five--or as the 1920 U S Federal Census has it, fifty-six--you would think Seth/Cephas would be slowing down. You would be wrong. His next exploit would make him nationally known, when in 1926 this item ran in papers across the country:

From The Modesto News-Herald, 15 June 1926.

The Santa Ana [California] Register first reported the request for a marriage license between Nora Martin (1894 - ?) and Shibley, who gave his age as sixty-two; he was seventy. The Lincoln [Nebraska] Star helped fill in the story by reporting that they had been married just fifteen days, and that Shibley was worth $150,000. 

By 1930, Shibley was retired, and--apparently--finally living alone. He was seventy-five. On 23 December 1934, he died, and was interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, ensuring himself a place alongside such greats as Cecil B DeMille, Rudolf Valentino, and Toto.

Photo by Mark R Daniels, from Find A Grave
"...whatever else might be said of Mr. Shibley, he was game." Indeed.

And what of his wives and children?

Margaret Riley was married again on 3 Dec 1889 to Joseph Cameron Laird (5 Mar 1846 - 13 Feb 1936), and had a least one more daughter. They stayed in Canada. Daughter Sarah Maud Shibley (5 Oct 1878 - ?) I could not locate beyond her birth. Her sister, Mary Jane Shibley (14 Sep 1880 - 5 Apr 1896) died at age sixteen, after suffering from consumption for several years.

Ida Florence Bartlett could not be located by me after the divorce. Their son Frank Axworthy Shibley (6 Oct 1884 - 7 Jun 1915) followed in his father's footsteps and moved to Los Angeles. He married Flora Ethel Bunker (21 Sep 1887 - 7 Oct 1924); also like his father, he was the middle of her three husbands. Daughter May Evelyn Shibley (14 May 1886 - 28 Jan 1954) also moved to Los Angeles. She married James C Stevens (abt 1873 - aft 1910), then Rodrigo Vincent Castro (13 Nov 1884 - 26 Apr 1952). She had three children by each husband.

Bertha E Brown died just a few months after her husband.

Vera Dorothy Smith found amusement, one hopes, with her next husband, George Harvey Stoddard (16 Aug 1889 - 23 May 1973). If nothing else, they had a son, George H Stoddard, Jr (24 Mar 1927 - 4 Jun 1999).

And what of strop-wielding Nurse Nora? Despite all the nation-wide infamy, I could uncover little else about her. I know that her last name was Martin, although whether that was a maiden or married name is unclear. She was awarded fifty dollars a month in alimony after her divorce from Cephas Hurlburt Miller Shibley.

And, as promised, about that name, the first sign of excess in his extravagantly excessive life. You might think that it was as unique as the man who--on occasion--admitted to it, but he is still as full of surprises as he was mystery (or at least misdirection). In my research, I came across multiple Cephas Hurlburt Millers, albeit without the Shibley. I am sure there must be familial connections between them, and perhaps Mr Shibley, but I cannot find them. 

The first Cephas Hurlburt Miller (3 Jul 1808 - 2 June 1892) was, unlike his namesake, utterly respectable and upright. He was born in Canada in 1808 to William Miller and Hannah Lydia McKim, and married Jane Elizabeth Shibley, surely not a coincidence. Among their five children was Adelaide Augusta Miller, who married Sir Allen Bristol Aylesworth. He served in the Canadian Parliament, and held several cabinet posts. (I told you they were respectable....)

Second, Cephas Hurlburt Miller (abt 1835 - poss 20 Mar 1902) about whom there is a lot of online confusion, his life facts being carelessly garbled and blurred with the other Millers. If nothing else, we can be sure that he married twice (in Cleveland, like our Cephas), first to Catharine Hodges in 1875, and then to Deborah A Graves in 1885 (although they had been living together for several years previously). She had one previous husband.

Our third--and final--Cephas Hurlburt Miller (13 Sep 1836 - 19 Mar 1924) was also born in Canada, the son of Christopher Miller and Sarah Isabella Grant. He married Mary N Longley. Their obituaries are both charming and give a lovely view into their world. I kind of wish my family connection was with them! Although who's to say that deeper research won't connect all these Cephases...?

One last interesting discovery. There is a land sale dated 20 Apr 1882 from the Bureau of Land Management to Cephas H Miller in Santa Cruz. That land, since 1941, has been the home of the the one-and-only Mystery Spot. Coincidence?