July 4, 2011

Discovering Relatives in the American Revolution and More!

A few months ago I decided on a whim to sign onto Ancestry.com to see if I could learn anything more about my family history. I've always thought our family to be very small and without much in the way of "roots."

My father, Woodrow Wilson Phelps (1913-1990) was orphaned by age 4 and raised by his grandparents, the youngest of four children and always, it seemed, surrounded by the cloud a great loss endured so young might cause. My mother's parents were an active part of my childhood, but still, there were mysteries surrounding her paternal grandparents. Could Ancestry.com help me solve these mysteries?

I signed up for the 14-day trial and became so engrossed in the search the first week, that I signed up for a 3-month subscription. This would keep me hooked into the research and "leaf hints" through my mother's visit to our home this past month.

For a very reasonable price and not much time, really, I have learned so much about our family history and assembled a rough sketch of a family tree that I look forward to putting in some sort of artistic-like form (a large drawing, a scrapbook, etc.). The "small family" I've complained about my whole life is actually much larger than I realized and as I've learned about the various members whose actions and genetic make-up and choices have impacted my life today, I have learned a bit about history as well... and this has also affected my reading choices over the last few months. Suddenly, history is coming alive to me.

Here are a few things I have learned:

Relatives on my mother's side have been in America since the late 1700s. Family names: Greene, Nichols, Ague/Aga, Daily. That's my grandmother, Helen Ora Nichol in the photo at left.

Frederick Ague was born in 1746 in Germany and his wife Catherine died in Bedford, PA in 1776. Their son, Nathan Ague, was in the War of 1812, in the Ohio Militia. Nathan's son, Nathaniel, was in the Civil War and is buried in the National Cemetery in Little Rock, Ark. I've seen a photo of the cemetery.

Nathaniel's brother, Timothy Ague (1836-1903) was my 2nd great grandfather. My mother remembers his wife, Mary Martha Dailey (1840-1938), who told Mom of coming to Ohio from Pennsylvania at age 6 in a covered wagon. She had 11 older brothers who fought in the Civil War. One of them, surviving the War, died when the balcony of a hotel he had stopped at on the way home after the war, collapsed.

My mother's paternal side of the family (Greene, Hartzell, Lathrop) is still lost to us, as I could get no further than her grandparents... Still, it was very cool to see the Census report from 1900 with my grandfather's name at age 4 on the ledger, along with his parents and sisters.

My father's side of the family, surprised me! I had thought this side of the family would be lost to me, because I've always thought since his parents (Hattie Terry and Guy Phelps, shown at left) died a year apart when their youngest son was a toddler, there wasn't much story there. Silly me! So much to discover...

I was able to trace my father's family back to the 1400s: to my 16th great grandfather Saloman Lyman (1404-1495) and to my 13th great grandfather Francis Phylppes (1460-1491).

The Lymans can trace their genealogy back to "Charlemagne, Pepin, King of Italy with sundry other kings, noblemen and noblewomen," and it stunned me to see the pages of text documenting who married whom and all their children way back to, well, Charlemagne. Jeepers. I was more impressed with record keeping and the institution of marriage than possible connections to fancy people. I'm interested in courageous people, strong women, and brave men, intelligent for their time, questioning and curious. This is what I would like to think is in my genetic make-up, whether the steelworkers, farmers and bridge builders on my mother's side or the New England founders and descendants of prominence on my father's side.

Regarding the Deweys:

The Dewey lineage can be traced with some degree of accuracy, according to ancient Saxon Chronicles, to the Saxon cult hero, who is almost a myth, called variously Vothinn, Othinn, Odin, Bodo and Woden, king of the West Saxons during 256-300 A.D. This king Woden, the god of war of the southerly Germans, is described as the great-great-grandfather of the bugaboos of English history, Hengist and Horsa, brothers, freebooters and pirates. The Saxon annuals relate that Hengist was king of the Saxons and died between 474 and 495 A.D. and was the first king of Kent.

From Garber-Zent Genealogy. The author notes: This material is based mainly on the account of the royal ancestry of Admiral Dewey as reported in "The Life of George Dewey, Admiral, US Navy, and the Dewey Family History", by Adelbert Dewey, 1898.

My father's family had these main lines: Phelps/Phylppes, Weirman, Terry, Dewey, and Lyman:

* My 10th great grandfather, John Dille/Dilley, was born in England in 1600. He died at Jamestown in 1660. I wonder if he knew Capt. John Smith and saw Pocahontas! Thanksgiving will never seem quite the same to me...

* John Ingersoll (1615-1684, my 8th great grandfather) was born in England. He came to America with his brother in 1629 and lived for a while in Salem, MA, before moving to Hartford, CT, and marrying Dorothy Lord, daughter of one of the founders. Dorothy gave birth to three daughters and died at age 26. John's second wife died after giving birth to four daughters. So, here was a widower with 7 daughters and it's understandable he married once again. (I can imagine a YA novel about those 7 daughters! Also, Salem, MA in the mid 1600, yikes!)

* George Phelps arrived in America about 1630 in MA. His son, Jacob, married Dorothy Ingersoll, John's daughter.

* The Lyman's arrived in America in 1631 from Essex, England. Richard Lyman (1580-1642) was my 10th great grandfather. He and his wife were part of a group of 25 people who founded Hartford, CT. I found a photo of a monument there with Richard's name on it.

* William Dewey (1692-1759) was a minuteman in the American Revolution, a corporal in the Continental Army. William's daughter, Hannah, my 5th great grandmother, married Silas Phelps.

* William Wierman was born in Germany (1700) and his wife Gertrude Stateman was born in Holland (1705). They died in York, PA in 1766, ten years before our country was born.

* My 4th great grandfather, Eleazer Heath (1754-1850), was a soldier of the American Revolution, lived to age 96, and is buried in Williamsfield Center, Ohio.

* Another 4th great grandfather, Eliphalet Phelps (1743-?) served in the 18th Regiment, CT Militia, detailed for service in NY state from August to Sept. 1776. He also served under capt. Oliver Lyman's Co. and marched from Northhampton to East Hoosuck on Aug. 17, 1777.

I was amazed at the amount of information I was able to find with relative ease. On ancestry.com and on other Web sources. Pages and pages of books written about family histories; passenger lists from ships, censuses with old-fashioned handwriting, and family crests, photos, and other memorabilia.

Not content with researching my family history alone, I also found out much information for my husband on his family, the Williams, Van Akens, and Barlows. The Barlows were from Utah, and Mark knew much about their history in America, but nothing about their roots in England. It was exciting to present him with info such as this:

The Manor of Barlow in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, was long held by a family who adopted that surname, with one Thomas de Barlow having been in residence there from about 1200. By 1389 Roger de Barlow was in possession not only of lands in Barlow, but others in Chorlton, Hardy, and Withington.
The Barlows had built Barlow Hall, as well as a small half-timbered chapel, on lands which they had held in the area since the 13th century. In 1567 Alexander Barlow was Lord of the Manor, and unfortunately for him, was among many local Manchester Catholics who fell foul of the religious changes made by Queen Elizabeth I, was committed to prison and died in custody on 24 August 1584.
A notable member of the family was Edward Barlow, later known as
Saint Ambrose Barlow, a famous local Catholic martyr. Ambrose Barlow, who had done missionary work in Lancashire, was several times imprisoned, and was finally executed for his priesthood on the instructions of Parliament on 10 September 1641 at Lancaster. (Source: http://www.manchester2002-uk.com/history/old-families2.html)

Ambrose Edward Barlow was hanged, dismembered, quartered and boiled in oil for his religious beliefs. He was one of the Forty Martyr-Saints of England and Wales and his feast day is Oct. 25th. (see painting above).

Ironically, my 6th great grandmother, Hannah Perry (from Admiral Perry's family), was a direct descendant of Sir William Wallace, a Scottish hero from the 13th century.

William Wallace is one of Scotland's greatest national heroes, undisputed leader of the Scottish resistance forces during the first years of the long and ultimately successful struggle to free Scotland from English rule at the end of the 13th Century.


He was also hanged, dismembered, quartered, and had his body parts put on display by the British. Today, there is a huge tower known as Wallace tower, in honor of Sir William Wallace.

(The Wallace Monument, near Stirling, Scotland. Photo by Finlay McWalter, of Scotland, on Wikipaedia.)

Hannah (1728-1795) lived in New Jersey during the American Revolution. Another member of Ancestry.com posted this family story:
Both her husband, Aaron and son, Ephraim were soldiers in the Revolutionary War. Son Aaron was a Minuteman. Hannah plowed all one day while a battle was going on in which both Aaron and Ephraim were fighting. She could hear the cannons roar, but told the children it was thunder. She herself, was too distressed to eat.

You can read a transcript of Clyde E. Williams, Sr. (Mark's paternal grandfather) on "This I Believe" (we have the vinyl LP with the original recording). Mark's maternal grandfather, William Van Aken, was the mayor of Shaker Heights, Ohio, for 40 years.

I also searched information for my children on their father's side (Merlin and Lyon). (There was little on the Merlins, but much on the Lyon side of my sons’ family tree, including the fact that the Lyon ancestors were Loyalists or “Torries” who favored the British crown during the American Revolution. After the Revolution, they settled near Kingston, Ontario, on lands granted to them by the King of England.

How interesting to see how our families were part of history... I found documents telling how one of my ancestors was at the first funeral for a white person in the Youngstown, Ohio, area. I also found out, sadly, that perhaps the brother (the relationship is, as online records show, debatable) of one of my ancestors was part of the Massacre at Mystic, CT (May 26, 1637). I would like to visit the Pequot Museum...I wonder how that would feel and what I might learn.

For, in my family's history, and in all of our histories I suppose, there is good and bad. The "let's remember" and the "let's forget." But all of these events tie us to our neighbors, our country, our land, and our descendants.

The second full day of my search, I called my mother early in the morning, tears in my eyes and my throat choking up. "I wish Dad could be here to go through this information with me. He would have loved finding out about his ancestors."

And he would have loved it! Dad (in photo at left and below with my mother and sons) died in 1990, before most folks had a computer in their home and instant access to so much. I'm sure if he'd had the opportunity he would have researched his family history and then written in all out in his careful engineer's printing. I would have asked him to tell me his childhood memories, such as they were, and I would have written them down.

In any case, I'm glad for the chance to learn about our family now, and share this with my sisters, my mother, my sons, my husband...and you! I am thankful for all the people in history and in the present who have documented and researched information so that I might learn about my family.

If you have any interest in learning about your family history, give ancestry.com or another family history site a try. You might be surprised at what you learn!

1 comment:

Dina said...

Hi Janice,
Love love love this post! I, too, researched extensively on ancestry.com (years ago so memory is murky) and found that my branch of Fullertons had already been traced back to 1600's in Aberdeen, Scotland. Much of the rest of my family history is in Quebec, New Brunswick and other parts of Canada.

Hartford CT - I am 30 minutes from there. If you visit, I'll be happy to drive you and Mark around.

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