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Recently I have noticed a rise in discussions on whether or not a woman should keep her maiden name when she gets married. When I was in college in the early 1980’s I had a particularly broad-minded professor who had taken on his wife’s name by hyphenating both together. With gay couples now able to legally marry, the discussion has taken on a new timbre. When two men or two women join together, which name becomes the family name? What names will their children carry? If you’ve grown up with a hyphenated name already, do you just keep adding names? When I was married in the early 1990’s, there was no pressure on me either way. Neither my parents nor my husband gave it a thought. And really my maiden name—Otte—was not one I was overly attached to. For four letters, it was deceivingly difficult. No one ever knows how to pronounce it. (basically “ahh-dee” with a dull “t”) And when in my early twenties I took on a nickname in my professional life, well, “Mickey Otte” sounded strange to the ear—too many “ee’s”. Hyphenating or exchanging my middle name for my maiden name didn’t “sound” any better. So “Herr” was an easy sell…it felt a bit more grounded. A lot of years would go by before I would start to appreciate what it was I had given up. I am only just learning what it is I have taken on with the Herr name. I’m also beginning to understand why some people feel it’s so important to keep particular family names alive. I wonder, if we all knew a bit more about our family names, would we exchange them so easily?

My great-grandparents Will & Elisa Otte on their farm in Ohio circa 1910

My great-grandparents Will & Elisa Otte on their farm in Ohio circa 1910

I have shared a good bit of my Otte genealogy in this blog already, and those of you who have read earlier posts know that the family stories I grew up with centered primarily on the Otte family. The stories my father and grandfather shared have influenced me greatly, especially in my fiction writing. Growing up I had never heard of “others” or even came across someone with my same last name that wasn’t a direct relative. I always assumed that when my great-great-grandfather Fredrich Wilhelm Otte arrived in Baltimore in 1834, he was the sole progenitor of all things Otte in America. Of course, I was wrong. By 1837 Fredrich Wilhelm (now known as Will or William) was farming in Ohio. But it appears other people named Otte settled in other parts of the country throughout the years.  Are they related? I am still trying to figure that out. It is only in recent years that I’ve actually met some of the non-related Ottes. In my heart-of-hearts I never really believe they are “non-related” because there always appears (to me at least) a certain je ne sais quoi that makes me feel right-at-home with another person who bears the name Otte. If I had to specify what that quality was, it would lie somewhere between reliability, unpretentiousness, and a certain earthy-warmth. Through the years I’ve described my Otte ancestors as salt-of-the-earth.

Sometime in the 1990’s my father started talking about a man he’d become friendly with, a man named John Otte. As I said, the name didn’t appear outside our immediate family so I was intrigued. Even before I met John it seemed obvious there were “family” connections—some genetic qualities that were evident in both men—so much so that it was mutual friends that had brought these two men together. As John recently shared with me, he had first heard of my father in the early 1960’s when he was stationed in California. John’s passion for cars led him to pick up a copy of some sort of Hot Rod magazine that contained an article which featured my father. Of course he zoned in on the Otte name. And he was curious about this man—a man who shared his family name—who was involved in fire safety at a race track in Southern California. John shared the same twin passions—fire safety and fast cars. And eventually, John would become the Fire Chief at Speedway Fire Department (home of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway). Through the years the two men heard of the other in the relatively tight community of the fire services industry. “You must be related” they’d be told, “you have so much in common.” Indeed they did, and once they finally met many years later, they became fast friends. I find it no coincidence that it was John who ended up being the person with my mom and me the moment my dad passed from this world. My dad had been on business in Indianapolis. He was expected to recover from emergency appendicitis surgery. We were all at the hospital. John had come over to watch a car race with my dad while mom & I took a break from the hospital food. It was almost as if my dad had waited for John to enter the room…as suddenly my dad was gone, taken from us by complications of the surgery. John, the practiced Fire Chief was calm and methodical during it all—but it was more than that. My mother and I were in a city where we knew no one, so John instantly became our surrogate family, looking after our well-being and helping us make arrangements. I always believed he was sent there to be with us in our time of need. John and I speak by phone or email on occasion. I pester him with questions, convinced I will be able to one day connect our families through my genealogy research.

A few months ago I was contacted by another non-related Otte through this blog. A man named Fred Otte left me a comment stating something to the effect of “…I look just like your father and I also have a grandfather named Fredrich Wilhelm…” Could it be? Could this be an Otte I was related to outside my immediate family? And while yes, Fred (who also shares the name of my beloved grandfather) shares more than a passing resemblance with both my father and grandfather, it seems we are not directly related. His Fredrich Wilhelm was born years after mine, but I thought perhaps they could be uncle and nephew. Fred quickly dissuaded me of my notion—calling out my (self-admitted) ignorance of German history—by informing me that many little boys were named after German royalty. When I looked it up myself I saw that either a Fredrich Wilhelm, a Fredrich, or a Wilhelm Fredrich served as the King of Prussia from 1713 through the abolition of the monarchy in 1918. So yeah…there could be hundreds of Fredrich Wilhelm Ottes out there, over multiple generations. Fred has been quite gracious about answering all my “family” questions and beyond. It turns out Fred only emigrated from Germany in the early 1950’s. “What was it like,” I asked, “moving to the states after World War II?” An eloquent writer, Fred said he had traded in his apple strudel for apple pie and soccer for the NFL. He was matter-of-fact. He did what he needed to stay under the radar and soon enough no one noticed the German down the block. Fred has shared some of his genealogy which was researched in Germany some 70 years ago by an aunt. I have yet to directly connect our two families together, but my great-great-grandfather was born in the same region where all these other Ottes resided, so I think it’s just a matter of time.

Salzfahrer with a wagon load of salt

Salzfahrer with a wagon load of salt

A week ago, I received more mail from Fred. He sent me a copy of a letter he wrote that was published in the December/January 2014 issue of German Life magazine. According to Fred the Ottes have a Familienbund (family organization) in Germany with about 150 members. They have traced the Otte name back to Carsten Otte who was born in 1570 and have even published a family genealogy book (yes! I must get my hands on this!) It turns out the Otte family originally came from Sülze in the Lüneburger Heath from the Rosenhof (Rose farm.) According to Fred the Ottes have been on this farm since the first one married the oldest daughter of a farmer named Rose in 1660. The Otte name is common in the area of Sülze even today. What Fred stated next was a pleasant surpise, as “Sülze” he says is German dialect for saltwater. And there was a time when production of salt in this area was a major industry with the Sülze salt works first mentioned in 1381. Fred believes these Otte ancestors supported the salt manufacturing by cutting peat and working in the boiling houses. Several of them were “Salzfahrers” or salesmen who traveled the countryside with a wagon full of salt.

Depiction of a Salzfahrer carrying his wares

Depiction of a Salzfahrer carrying his wares

Yup. My American Otte relatives were real “salt-of-the-earth” types. If I can indeed connect them to Fred’s German Ottes, it appears my description was more apt then I ever could have imagined.


Fourth of July fireworks on the Parkway in Philadelphia


Caveat (added 1-3-2014): Dear Reader- please note that I have received new information concerning some of what I have reported in this particular blog- specifically as it pertains to Henry Zartman’s homestead and the Zartman cemetery. I hope to clarify this information and go back to Dornsife to visit another cemetery where I am told Henry is buried. Until I am able to do a bit more research, please be aware that all the Zartman info is NOT 100% accurate. I will update this post sometime in the future. Thanks for your understanding. And please contact me if you have further insight! 

Original Post:

I live in Philadelphia…the self-proclaimed epicenter of all things Revolutionary…indeed, the place where our founding fathers and mothers first proclaimed their independence from the British. We take celebrating the 4th of July VERY seriously here… “Welcome America” we call our celebration…ten plus days of activities, concerts, parades, and fireworks. There’s really no better place to be, especially in Old City and Society Hill, where it is likely you will come across a costumed interpreter who will talk to you like it’s 1776. You can’t help but get “into the spirit” of it all.

This year however, celebrating American Independence became a bit more personal. As those of you who regularly read this blog are well aware, over the past few months I’ve discovered quite a number of ancestors—grandmothers and grandfathers—who resided in the American Colonies before 1776. In some cases, I have found several generations…so of course it goes without saying I would find family members involved in the Revolutionary War. When I first saw several family lines residing in Germantown Pennsylvania (now a neighborhood of Philadelphia) in the mid-1700’s, my immediate thought went to the Battle of Germantown. When you visit Grumblethorpe, the home of John Wister, in historic Germantown, you will be shown the blood stained floor in the front parlor. This is the exact place where General Agnew—the British officer who’d taken over the house from the Wister family—was taken to die of his war wounds. I wondered…had “my family” remained during this battle or had they left their homes like the Wister family did?

Beyond Philadelphia I’ve located ancestral family living in Central Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, and New York State during this time period. I wish I’d had knowledge of this during my school years…I might have paid a bit closer attention when we were learning about the battles of the Revolutionary War. Despite my earlier lack of enthusiasm, I have been able, with relatively little effort, to locate nine “grandfathers” (5x and 6x) who fought in the American Revolutionary War and two who fought in the War of 1812. Luckily for me I have accessed most of this information through the digitized records of those relatives who have applied for membership into the Sons of the American Revolution or Daughters of the American Revolution. These records are easily found through a search on Additional records were accessed on specific websites, such as the one operated by Valley Forge.

Joseph McGuffin was a private First Battalion, 2nd Class of the Militia of Cumberland County, PA. He fought under the command of his father-in-law Robert Shannon (also a grandfather.) Jacob Teachout enlisted in the 3rd Regiment of Albany County, NY. (An interesting side note, Jacob’s original commander, Rudolphus Ritzema would actually change sides in the course of Revolution, escaping to Britain where he would live out the remainder of his life.) Jacob’s son Henry Teachout would fight in the War of 1812 as would my Maryland ancestor Captain W. H. Briscoe, a Naval Officer who served as a Chaplain from 1809-1815.

The most prestigious service appears to be that of Captain Andrew Wallace who would actually give his life for the cause on the 29th of May, 1780 at the Battle of Guildford (NC), commanded by Major General Nathanael Greene. Captain Wallace was a Company Commander in the 12th Virginia Regiment. He had served in Scott’s Brigade under Major General Marquis de Lafayette’s Division in Valley Forge. At some point his regiment was tasked with the defense of Philadelphia. I like to think about the fact that Captain Wallace would be protecting the Germantown family I mentioned earlier…this Virginia man would be protecting the Pennsylvania side of my family…which would ultimately connect several generations later in Nebraska with the 1935 marriage of my grandfather McGuffin to my grandmother Kaasch. Unbelievably, when Captain Wallace died at the Battle of Guilford he was 69 years old.

British Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis would leave Guilford and head to Yorktown, Virginia to face Major General George Washington. Also on his way to Yorktown was another grandfather, James Sims, who was serving his second tour of duty as an Orderly Sergeant in the Virginia Militia. According to his Survivors Pension Application, before his regiment reached Yorktown, Cornwallis had already surrendered to Washington.

Also serving in the Continental Army was my grandfather Jacob Zartman. Like Wallace, he was also in his sixties. He was a Private in the Pennsylvania Militia from Northumberland County, under Ensign Simon Harrold. Jacob’s son Henry also served. I haven’t yet confirmed it, but I am assuming he would have been part of the same Militia as his father. Henry had served on the Committee of Safety in 1774 and was a Representative from Mahonoy Township in 1777. Henry’s father-in-law, Jacob Hauser, served in the Pennsylvania Militia as well, but from Lancaster County (1778).

I previously detailed the story of Jacob Zartman and his son Henry in my post “You Have My Grandmother’s Eyes” back in May. When writing that particular post I stated that visiting the family homestead in Dornsife, Pennsylvania was on my “to do” list. Well, this past Friday I did just that. My husband and I were on our way to the Poconos to spend the weekend so I talked him into taking an extra long “scenic” drive on our way to our ultimate destination. Dornsife is located south of Sunbury, not far from the Susquehanna River. It’s a beautiful area which is still very rural…mostly farmland and mining country, with many Mennonite and Amish residents. It’s not a place you would ever “pass through” as it’s not on your way to any place in particular. At the time that Jacob Zartman purchased his original homestead in 1768 (having traveled up the Susquehanna River from his father’s homestead in Lancaster County), the area was considered the frontier, with nearby Sunbury featuring a fort for protection from the Native Americans.

My “cousin” Bill Zartman had sent me a picture of the Dornsife homestead, featuring a house he had informed me was still standing. Our mission last Friday was to locate that house, as well as to locate the “family” church said to have been built on that same land. I’m not sure how, but we managed to locate both after about an hour of trolling around the area. The house pictured in the photograph was built by Henry’s grandson Daniel in 1861. This was the same year that the church was built—sometimes referred to as Zartman’s Church—it is known in present times as St. Peter’s Evangelical and Reformed Lutheran Church. I am not directly descended from Daniel (but through Daniel’s uncle Samuel)…but still I knew if I could locate this house, I would be standing on Jacob’s land (and Henry’s land)…the land of my ancestors. And while my Zartman line would leave for Ohio (Henry’s son Samuel)…this parcel of land remained in the Zartman family for over 140 years. And it appears that while a number of Zartmans left, many remained in the area, purchasing land for additional farms and “ministering to the public good” as the family historian Rufus Zartman liked to say. Along with farming, the Zartmans were blacksmiths, weavers, and carpenters, who simultaneously held positions such as school director, justice of the peace, and township supervisor. They remained church-going folk who served as deacons and elders (especially at St. Peters). There was even a Zartman named Israel—a great-grandson of Henry—who served as the bell ringer at St. Peters for several years around 1870.

The Zartman family home near Dornsife PA

This is the house that Daniel built in 1861 on the land first owned by Jacob Zartman

The house that Daniel built… present day from behind

Daniel’s house, present day, street-side view

I wasn’t sure at first that this was the same house pictured in the vintage photo. I was looking for a house that was three stories. In the original photo you can tell that the house was built on a hill, but I had assumed that the photo featured the “front” of the house. Today, with the road running past the house on the opposite side, the “front door” is on the reverse side of home. This made me second guess myself. But then when I walked around to the back of the house, it was quite evident. The brick has been covered over by aluminum siding, a porch has been added and a third floor window removed…but all in all, the house is remarkably recognizable.

With the first, second and third generation owners of the property all deceased before Daniel built St. Peter’s Church across the road from his home, I presumed that they would not be buried in the cemetery that surrounds the church building. And indeed, early accounts of the family indicate that Jacob and his wife Anna Margaretha are buried in a “meadow west of the house.” Presumably “the house” would be the original log house Jacob built, which was still standing in a 1910 account of the property. Jacob died in about 1793, his son Henry died in 1803 and Henry’s son John Martin (the third owner) died in 1833. Henry’s will references “Henry’s Delight” which some have stated is the place he and his wife Elizabeth our buried. Various references to a “private burial ground” and indications of two cemeteries on the property, lead me to believe that these three generations are buried across the street from St. Peter’s cemetery. And while it is lovely to imagine these ancestors buried in a beautiful open meadow, it was also a bit disappointing to not be sure…to not have a headstone that stated… “here I am”… “here is where I rest in peace”…

“Henry’s Delight”… is this where the first three generation are buried?

Looking up from “Daniel’s house” toward St. Peter’s church and cemetery…”Henry’s Delight” (the meadow previously pictured) is just across the road from the church behind the white barn

Of course I found many, many, many Zartmans buried in the cemetery. But for all the headstones that provided great information, there were just as many headstones that were almost blank…the words worn away with the years. It was frustrating. And still I thought, maybe, just maybe I could locate Jacob or Henry in this cemetery. It was a blistering hot day…close to 100 degrees…but my husband and I kept walking up and down the rows looking at each name.

Many of the headstones are difficult to read…some are completely worn away

rows and rows of stones too difficult to decipher…

It was only after I returned home and spent time reviewing some of my notes that I came across a bit that family historian Rufus Zartman had written in his family book. About Jacob and Henry he wrote:

“Both served in the Revolution. The grave of neither was marked in any way. To us, this was unpatriotic, ungrateful, unbearable. Our appeal to the War Department in Washington brought us two properly engraved marble monuments which we erected, and at a public service unveiled and dedicated Sunday, 9/23/1934. The impressive service was attended by 150 people.”

He went on the compare these marble monuments to that of the one down at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Brickerville, Pennsylvania, (now called Brickerville United Lutheran Church) erected in honor of Jacob’s parents (Alexander and Anna Catherina). When I went back and looked through my photos I saw that there were two granite monuments…these might be what Rufus was referencing. I wonder if I hadn’t walked around to the other side that there might have been more information provided. Like I said, it was an impossibly hot day…my mind wasn’t working all that well.

this could possibly be one of the marble monuments erected in 1934 in honor of Jacob or Henry’s Revolutionary War service

Another granite monument…

Regardless of where the bodies of Jacob and son Henry actually reside, there is no question that their families were, and still are, proud of their Revolutionary War service. Which brings me back to Daniel’s home that he built on the property in 1861. When my husband and I were searching around for the house, we discovered a young man outside… turns out he’s a career army man, currently stationed in Dover, Delaware, who was home for the weekend to visit his family. He’d recently returned from this third tour of active duty…he’d served in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He had no knowledge of the Zartman family, despite having grown up in the house. He did admit that as a young boy he would sometimes see a woman dressed in white walking through the house…(perhaps it was Daniel’s wife, one of the first inhabitants of the house?). But he wasn’t much interested in learning about my ancestors…until I told him the original owners of the land had fought in the Revolutionary War. I told him that Jacob and Henry would be happy to know that he was fighting for our freedom…that an American soldier still resided on their land more than 200 years after they had. It was nice to see a flag draped on the rocker on the front porch… in honor of all those soldiers past and present. Their legacy lives on.

My husband Chip shaking the hand of the army soldier who grew up in “Daniel’s house” on the Zartman homestead

An American flag is draped across a rocker on the front porch of “Daniel’s house” in Dornsife… a nice reminder of those who first owned the property

Me and my dad at the Seaport in NYC circa 1988…is there any doubt that I am my father’s daugther?

Today is Father’s Day. It’s been more than six years since my father, Dick Otte, passed away unexpectedly at the age of 69, on Sunday, April 30, 2006. I can’t say I dislike Father’s Day, but it’s still not easy. What complicates things further is that yesterday would have been my father’s birthday. As a young girl, this time of year was always a time of great anticipation: the last day of school, Flag Day, my father’s birthday, and Father’s Day always fell within a few days of each other. And of course, these events also meant that vacation was near…a new adventure was about to begin.

I hesitated as to whether I should be writing about my father in this genealogical blog, wondering if it really fit into my original intent of “communing with the ancestors”… but, as he is the person responsible for half of my ancestry, I decided I could be self-indulgent.

Last night I attended a production of Annie, because my dear friend Jenny was playing the part of Miss Hannigan. She was a fabulously funny, drunk, bitch…which was all the more enjoyable because her true nature—a generous, loving, tea-totaler—is so extremely different from the character she portrayed. Having seen Annie on more occasions then I can even recall, I was struck last night by its message of a father’s love. Perhaps because my father was on my mind…and certainly heightened by the fact that the adult male characters (none of whom were professional actors) were played by the fathers of the young girls in the cast… I couldn’t help but think about those girls on the stage…and how, years from now, each one will remember her father on that night. And of course, Daddy Warbucks was ready to do anything for Annie, even if it meant losing her.

Even in death, my father continues to both challenge me and provide me the insight to meet those challenges.  One of the reasons I actually started my genealogical journey (and this blog) was my father…as it germinated from the research I started doing for a book I plan to write, the basis of which stems from my father’s childhood stories. I don’t find it a coincidence that my mother suddenly discovered a previously unknown cache of family photos and notes (left behind by my father) now that I am writing this blog. Those of you who regularly follow my posts are aware of the information contained in those particular photos because it opened doors and led to my “Es ist Gemütlich” post.

And when my father died and we were planning his memorial service, I would face one of the biggest challenges in my life. My father had many, many friends and acquaintances; including a fair number who had been part of his life for more years than I had. In the days before and after his service, my father was honored as a “Pioneer” for his work in rescue tools and safety in both the fire and motor sports industries; Pennsylvania Congressman Curt Weldon had a flag flown over the Capitol Building in Washington DC in his honor and Deputy US Fire Administrator Charlie Dickinson (of the Department of Homeland Security) wrote a heartful tribute.  These were all lovely and much appreciated gestures. But who would talk about my father as the family man?  Could I really stand up in front of a hundred or so people and eulogize my father? The answer was yes. And in the end, it was a gift to stand witness to the man who had given so much to so many.

Following is the Eulogy I gave on Wednesday, May 17, 2006 at a service held in the Red Clay Room of Kennett Fire Company #1, on Dalmatian Street in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania (with photos added in):

In the hours after my father died, my mother and I found ourselves gingerly rummaging through my father’s belongings—those few things he had taken along with him to the FDIC conference in Indianapolis [the world’s largest firefighter training conference, an event he had attended every year]. I don’t think we were searching for anything in particular, but what we found said quite a lot about who he was. His wallet contained a $2 bill. The same one carried by his father on the day he was killed in a car accident. [Was this a reminder of his father? A good luck token?] His date book contained, along with detailed notations of every fire conference for the year 2006, some vintage photos—including one of my sister at age three riding a rocking horse. We found his well-used pocket-sized road atlas featuring a center-fold of the United States. He also carried a small notebook full of collected notations—little affirmations and poems that caught his fancy. There were several that, viewed in retrospect, nicely describe his philosophy on life:

“People who build walls and not bridges will be lonely”

“Imagination is more important than knowledge”

“You may be on the right track, but don’t just sit there or you’ll be run over”

“Progress in life is not measured by security, but by growth; and growth means taking occasional risks, you’ll never get anywhere interesting by always doing the safe thing.”

Is there any question that my dad enjoyed a vivid imagination? Here he is at age 12 with his latest creation

There were a few others that should have been in his notebook- I’d like to propose four affirmations to add to his collection to further illustrate his particular philosophy on life [which will also provide some clarity as to why he chose to fill his pockets with the items I mentioned]:

  1. Marry Your Best Friend

I was lucky enough to marry my best friend too. Here we are with my mom and dad at Thanksgiving in 1991, a few months before we were married.

My father seemed to understand at a relatively early age that having the perfect partner in crime was a really good start to an adventure. When he met my mother, there was no question—she was the one he wanted to marry. They left Nebraska and spent the next 49 years criss-crossing the country.

As children, it seemed to my sister and me that our father was always in the center of the action…working on fire suppression systems for the rockets traveling to the moon, rescuing race car drivers in the heat of a crash, working on the set of our favorite television show—Emergency—teaching Randolph Mantooth how to use the Jaws of Life. Even in recent years—making sure needed rescue equipment got to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9-11.

My dad (right) teaching actor Randolph Mantooth (middle) how to use the Jaws of Life, on set of Emergeny in the early 1970’s

Where our father was magical, our mother was practical… for no matter where my father roamed or what state he moved the family… our mother created our home—our soft place to fall. She created the space where we were a family—just the four of us. And even now, with the addition of one grandson and one son-in-law—home for all of us is where our mother is… even if it is in a town we’ve never been to before.

The nuclear family c. 1965… mom, dad, sister Cindy and me (not yet one year old)….I love this picture because I have no memory of my dad wearing a suit when I was a child…

What I witnessed through the years was a deep respect between my parents. They were two complete individuals on their own, each with very different interests and neither needing the other for survival. But at the end of the day, both enjoyed nothing more than each other’s company. They shared many adventures together- and they remained each other’s best friend.

My mother said that she knew my dad was the guy for her on one of their first dates. My dad took her to the movies to see Old Yeller… and he cried. This brings us to our second affirmation:

  1. Don’t be afraid to show your sentimental side

My father didn’t just cry when a dog died… he would cry during a Hallmark commercial… the first, second, and third time he watched it.

One of the best illustrations of this sentimentality was his love of parades. He loved a parade… any parade… once he even took my sister and me to see some low-riders parading their cars in downtown LA. A holiday wasn’t complete without going to a parade… the Hollywood Christmas Parade, the Rose parade, the Chinese New Year parade in San Francisco… several years back we all went to the historic Fourth of July parade in Bristol, Rhode Island… one particular family favorite was the Fourth of July parade we attended in Lynchburg Tennessee. There were so many townspeople in the parade, there were very few people left to watch. We all loved that parade. And we can’t forget one of his perennial favorites… the Main Street Electric Parade at Disneyland.

A holiday wasn’t a holiday without a parade…here I am (in silly hat) with my dad in Bristol RI on the Fourth of July c. 1997… he especially loved all the vintage fire trucks

A Fourth of July parade in Lynchburg TN in the mid-1980’s…an unexpected event that became a favorite family memory…

There was one bit of Disney-sentimental pop he loved even more than their parades however… at the end of the day… we always had one last stop before heading to the car- we would go to the theater in the round to see “America the Beautiful.” To this day, my sister and I have this movie memorized… flying in a plane over the Grand Canyon, traveling by wagon through a covered bridge. We watched those images… the crowd sang along to America the Beautiful and inevitably, my father had a tear in his eye… because there’s nothing he loved more than his own country.

Which brings me to our third affirmation:

  1. Get in the car and drive!

My father’s love of cars started at an early age. Here he is with what is likely his first soapbox derby racer. He would build several soapbox cars, eventually representing the state of Nebraska in the Derby Championships in Akron, Ohio in 1951.

My father would drive anywhere… at any time. Period. He loved to drive and he loved to explore. It was rarely about the destination… it was really all about the journey. I swear he didn’t care if he even got out of the car once we got to where we were going.

Family vacations always involved driving someplace- as a family we have driven cross-country more times than any of us can remember. But each trip held some great new discovery. My father always knew where to go in any town… exactly what mile-marker the gas station was… where there would be none… and which motels to stop at. I say motel… because he loved a good motel… one where you could drive your car right up to your front door… it took him years to give in and stop at a place where you had to actually walk through a lobby to get to your room.

In the state of Washington I remember the smell of freshly cut timber and seeing a color green I never knew existed, the absolute beauty of the high-desert in New Mexico covered by a dusting of snow, watching the Taos Indians dance their sacred bear dance on Christmas day, witnessing the infamous duck-crossing at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, touring the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, the entire year of 1976 when dad decided we would visit every historic site from Monticello and Mount Vernon up through the Old North Church in Boston, … really, anytime in the car with my father was a happy time… which leads us to our fourth and final affirmation…

  1. Live your passion- (do what makes you happy)

My father never worked a day in his life. Rather, he figured out how to combine the things he loved… traveling cross-country, with his family in tow, driving to a race track where he’d soon be providing fire safety services- might just have been his definition of perfection. All things he loved in one place, at one time.

“On the job” in the early 1960’s at Riverside Raceway, ready to put out a fire or rescue an injured driver

Dad at work in the mid-1970’s…training firemen in the art of rescue tools… he loved teaching…something he did throughout his life

Dad at work in the 1980’s… a bit of fun during a convention…everyone waited to see what he was up to next…

Throughout my life I’d go to my dad and say “Dad, I need some advice- what should I do?” He’d say- “well- you need to get out your paper, make two columns, then list all the pros in one column and all the cons in the other.”

I would dutifully make my columns… and still not know what to do…“But dad,”  I’d plead… “what should I do?”

“Do what makes you happy,” he’d always say.

“But what if I don’t know what will make me happy?”

“Then you’d better go figure it out. If you don’t know, how is anyone else going to know?”

It was as simple as that. I was the key to my own happiness. With that knowledge he gave me the greatest gift anyone could. He wouldn’t give me the answers. He challenged me-he challenged me to figure out what makes me happy… he taught me to know myself, to trust myself, and to be myself. It is only then that you can truly live your passion.

My dad the cowboy c. 1940… a persona he adopted at an early age…he was most himself in a pair of broken in cowboy boots

And still a cowboy c. 1980… bright colored shirts (preferably plaid) were also a favorite

The truth of the matter is, my father was a relatively uncomplicated man with simple pleasures. Give him a box of popcorn, a comfortable bench on a warm afternoon… and he was content- he was content just to be in the moment and watch the people pass by.

Another of the poems found in my father’s little notebook was one by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition: to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

I couldn’t have said it better.


NOTE: for more about the professional side of my father’s story please visit

Storefront window celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee

If you haven’t heard by now…Queen Elizabeth is celebrating her Diamond Jubilee…sixty years on the British throne. It’s been interesting to see how many Americans have joined in the celebration. I will readily admit that I myself sat in front of the “telly” this past Sunday to watch the BBC broadcast of the Thames Jubilee Pageant. I mean who wouldn’t want to own a Royal Barge with which to parade down the Thames? Later that afternoon my husband and I walked to Rittenhouse Square to the apartment of a friend for a potluck dinner. Walking up Pine Street we came across the window at Blendo. “It’s good to be Queen” the window proclaimed. I think I have to agree.

Diamond Jubilee Storefront Window on Pine Street… “God Save the Queen”

Ironically, or perhaps not, the host of the dinner we attended was a woman who is actually a “Lady” herself… not British by birth, but born into a well-heeled Philadelphia family, she was sent off to England to marry a Lord. (Think Downton Abbey…although I’m not sure her British estate was quite that big…but surely grand. And she has her own incredible stories to tell.) She returned to Philadelphia a number of years ago and re-created a proper English apartment high above Rittenhouse. Her daughter, a lady in her own right, was actually in London celebrating the Jubilee with friends. I hadn’t seen Lady B and some of the others in attendance for quite some time, so I was happy to report on my recent genealogical journey and the fact I’d uncovered some of my own royal roots… “I share a grandfather with Queen Elizabeth,” I said. (granted…it’s something like a 23 x great-grandfather…but still) “Who doesn’t?” my friend Brian replied. Not the reaction I expected, but then I hadn’t really looked into how many other people might also have similar ties. It makes sense that if each of us went back far enough, especially those of us with colonial family ties, we’re all related somehow. Discussion ensued. Brian attempted to look up a statistic on his smart phone…he thought that perhaps as many as 1 in 10 Americans has ties to the British Royal family. So…could our fascination with the Queen and her family actually have something to do with our DNA?

The next day I did a bit of Google searching myself to see if I could come up with some more statistics. There is a lot of information out there on the web…I’m not sure if any of it actually answered my question though. I found several people blogging about “the conspiracy” that all of our American Presidents (and Presidential candidates) have royal genes. At some point Burke’s Peerage declared that the Presidential candidate with the most royal genes has won every single election. Is it really a conspiracy? Or something more simple? One statistic I found stated that 150 million Americans have traceable Royal European descent…(direct line from a monarch.) I’m not sure I’m doing my math correctly…but wouldn’t that mean that half of all Americans descend from European Royalty?

I located a quote from back in 1984 from someone representing Crown Genealogical Services in Los Angeles:

“…The answer is not that American Presidents have been people of exceptional ancestry; but rather that they have been people whose ancestry has received an exceptional degree of attention from skilled genealogists. The underlying truth is that medieval royal descent is very widespread among Americans, although this fact is not widely or clearly understood by most American students of genealogy…”

There is a theory out there that everyone in the Western world is descended from Charlemagne. Most of us have a difficult time locating information about our great-grandparents, let alone know anything about multiple generations (or centuries) previous to them. So if we are all descended from Charlemagne or William the Conqueror or some other important figure… can we prove it? That’s the key. And that’s the game of genealogy.

Genealogist Gary Boyd Roberts states that individuals with significant roots in 17th and 18th Century New England, Mid-Atlantic or Southern plantation states, have a high chance of being descended from the Medieval Kings of England, Scotland, France, and perhaps even Germany. Massachusetts and Virginia especially were two places that the younger children of English aristocratic families came looking for land. Once in the colonies, several of these land-grant families intertwined their branches so tightly that virtually everyone was related.

The recent proliferation of available digitized records on the internet and websites like (and many other genealogy-centric sites) certainly make it easier than ever to discover ones roots. Yet still, most genealogical lines cannot be traced back beyond the middle of the 16th Century. But a royal descent is another story…for the simple fact that gentry, nobility, and royalty were better documented. Once you find that gateway person on your family tree, you can add a thousand years of family history, at least along one or several family lines. And once you bump into one or two VIP’s on your tree, chances are someone else (and sometimes an expert) has spent a good amount of time researching your ancestor. Your ancestor might even have his or her own Wikipedia page.

This was the case for me. My “gateway” person is my great-great grandmother Elizabeth Jane Briscoe (1849-1907). Elizabeth’s paternal grandparents were John Briscoe (1785-1850) and Susannah Woods (1790-1869). When Gary Boyd Roberts talks about tightly-twined Colonial families…well, he might have had this family in mind. It appears that John & Susannah were cousins, as John’s maternal grandparents Captain Andrew Wallace and Margaret Woods were the brother and sister of Susannah’s paternal grandparents Susannah Wallace and William Woods. Further it appears that that Andrew and Susannah Wallace’s mother was Elizabeth Woods the sister to Margaret and William Woods’ father Michael Woods. Confused yet? Let’s just say it seems that the Woods and Wallace families got along very well… especially those who found themselves in Virginia in the early 1700’s. Margaret and William Woods’ relatives have quite a number of important connections. Their paternal grandmother was Isabella Bruce, a descendent of Sir Alexander Livingston, Baron of Callendar, counselor to King James I (and executed by James II at Edinburgh Castle). And if I ever go back far enough, I think likely descended from Robert the Bruce. (Which is actually redundant, as I’m already connected to him through another branch.)

Their mother was Mary Catherine Campbell, one of thirteen children born to Sir James Campbell, a Baron of Auchinbreck, and Susan Campbell. Susan was a Campbell by birth, her father had his own castle (Cawdor Castle) and her mother came from a Welsh Baronet. This particular branch leads to a very long line of Campbells, Buchannans and Stewarts (among others)…and a list of titles…Ladies, Lords (Lairds), Baronets, Earls, Countesses, Viscounts…and an equally long list of “family” castles…Stirling, Cawdor, Sween, Balnagown, Lennox, Falkland, Balloch, Birr, Edinburgh…to name a few of the more significant ones. A number of these castles are still in existence as tourist attractions and have their own websites and some even have genealogy pages listing the descent of their inhabitants and the important events surrounding these individuals. Very helpful when building a family tree.

Stirling Castle Scotland…an important site in the fight for Scottish Independence…and one of the “family” castles

It is through these various and intertwined lines that I have found some serious Scottish roots…especially to those who battled for Scottish Independence… it appears I am directly descended from the Kings of Alba—including King Duncan I (infamous for killing his cousin Macbeth)—as well as the Scottish houses of Bruce & Stewart. My descendency follows from Robert the Bruce (1274-1329), Marjorie Bruce, Robert II and Robert III. My direct line seems to have run into a bit of trouble sometime in the early 1400’s…when James I became King. I’m not sure my relation to James, but he didn’t appreciate the fact that Murdoch, Duke of Albany (my direct line) had a claim on his throne. Murdoch had served as a Governor of Scotland during the time that the English had held James captive as a child. Once he was returned to Scotland and officially crowned King, he decided it wasn’t wise to have Murdoch and his offspring around. (Don’t forget that other branch of my tree…Sir Livingston who was counseling James I at this time.) Murdoch’s wife, Isabella Elizabeth Stewart, was taken prisoner by James I as her father (Duncan Stewart, Earl of Lennox), her husband, and two of her sons were taken from Stirling Castle and executed. Isabella raised her grandchildren as a Royal hostage for eight years. James I was later murdered and James II eventually restored Isabella’s titles and estates (and had Livingston executed!)

Sir David Lindsay (1503-1558)… a “great” grandfather…and one of my connections to Mary Queen of Scots

I look forward to the day when I can visit Stirling Castle. Will I be able to feel an ancestral connection after so many hundreds of years? Present day Stirling Castle interprets 16th century life in the castle… especially as the childhood home of Mary Queen of Scots. And it is during this period I find yet another direct ancestor… Sir David Lindsay (1503-1558.)  A Wiki-page provided the following information on Sir David:

“The ‘True Renaissance Man’ of the royal court; a diplomat, poet, writer, artist, and producer of satirical plays. He began his royal service under James IV and continued on under the reign of James V. When the King was still young, Lindsay essentially became his surrogate father. By 1530 he was officially appointed Snowdon herald, eventually becoming the senior herald and Lyon King of Arms of all Scotland. In this role he observed and influenced the behavior of the court, organizing great state occasions such as weddings, funerals and christenings. He was also given the privilege of helping to organize the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots at Stirling Castle.”

Perhaps it is this association that helps to explain my girlhood fascination with Mary Queen of Scots? I read any and every book about her life… non-fiction or fiction…and was always taken with the film portrayals of her…that 1936 version with Katherine Hepburn playing Mary? Obsessed. We both descend from the Houses of Bruce and Stewart… but the Lindsay connection is also interesting. I believe my “connection” to the current Queen lies somewhere within that Lindsay family as well, but also somewhere in the House of Stewart.

I still don’t know how many other Americans have these same connections… but whether it’s one thousand or 150 million… it’s still…well…it’s still incredibly captivating, no?

I was dreaming in German last night… for the second night in a row. The problem with that is, well, I really don’t understand German. I actually studied the language in school…two years in junior high, two years in high school and a painful semester freshman year of college. I suppose it says more about how Americans are taught languages and less about my intelligence…regardless, it’s silly for me to say “ich verstehe nicht”… but who was I actually going to converse with in German?

One of the reasons I chose to study German, instead of French or Spanish, was actually my family heritage…I’m not sure exactly why, but it had something to do with honoring my ancestry. I suppose that was as good a reason as any. I remember consulting my parents and they thought it was a good idea at the time. And now I find I really do want to learn (or relearn) the language. I’ve gone so far as to “google” available classes in my city. I’ve scoped out the Germany Society website to see what they offer. And…that’s as far as I’ve gotten.

And now this… I’m starting to dream in a language I don’t understand. It’s those voices in my head again. Only now we have a language barrier. Go figure.

Es ist gemütlich… I woke up sometime last night with that thought in my head. In the haze of sleep I remember thinking…you need to look up that word in the morning. Germütlich. It’s actually not unusual for me to wake up in the middle of the night to remind myself to follow through with whatever it is I happen to be dreaming of. Sometimes I think my waking hours are in service to the people, places, and events that populate my sleeping time. So, this morning I dug out my German translation dictionary and found that es ist gemütlich might mean something like… it is comfortable, cozy or pleasant. If I had heard “sie ist gemütlich” it would mean something more like she is friendly, cheerful or easy going.

Wikitionary tells me that gemütlich derives from Gemütlichkeit… “a word that describes an environment or state of mind that conduces a cheerful mood and peace of mind, with connotation of a notion of belonging and social acceptance, of being cozy and unhurried.” Okay…so it appears I was having a peaceful sort of experience in the middle of the night.

Which one should I listen to first? Ella Miller, Dora Otte, Henry Otte, Eliza Otte (mother), Marie Otte, Lizzie Kuenning, ?, Wilbur Kuenning, John Doench, ? Miller, Henry? Miller, Mary Doench, Christ Otte, Katie Kendig, Harold Miller

Of course this notion of “belonging” makes a lot of sense in relation to all this digging around I’ve been doing into my ancestral roots. In past posts I’ve mentioned the fact that once I metaphorically opened the door to this process, I started to receive a tsunami of information. It’s a bit overwhelming really. I am starting to feel like Whoopi Goldberg’s character in Ghost…when she’s sitting at the table about to channel the spirits and there’s a long line of dead relatives waiting to speak… and suddenly the spirits get frustrated waiting for their turn and they all attempt to inhabit Whoopi simultaneously? Yes. That’s about right. So today I am going to attempt to embrace the gemütlichkeit… and spend some unhurried time with my German relatives…

These German ancestors basically break down into two sorts…those who arrived in the British colonies prior to the American Revolution and those who arrived in the early decades of the 19th century. I’m told that the earliest German immigrants were searching for religious freedom. It should have come as no surprise then that these ancestors were attracted to William Penn’s promise of religious tolerance. Yet I am still taken aback each time I discover a 5x or 6x German grandparent living in Pennsylvania (my current home state) prior to the American Revolution. Along with the Zartman family I’ve previously mentioned, there were families named Fisher & Fischer, Schieff (Scheaff), Lefler (Lofler), Pflueger, Trinkel, Denger, Wambold, Hauser, Ehro,  and Reitenauer (Ridenour).  Some claim the Reitenauers to be French, but they were likely from the Baden-Württemberg area that had permeable borders with France. These particular ancestors did not appear to be attracted to city life in Philadelphia. While several lived out their lives in the Germantown section outside of downtown area, most moved westward settling in the counties of Berks and Lancaster and further out to the counties surrounding the Susquehanna River. The first Federal Census conducted in 1790 showed that a full third of Pennsylvania’s residents were German. Many of those Germans continued to spread westward. A good number of my own ancestors ended up in Ohio and were among the earliest settlers of that state.

The second wave of my German ancestors arrived in America between the approximate years of 1833 and 1855. Many Germans immigrated at this time—having received word from those friends and family already established here—that they could acquire cheap land with relative ease. This was a time of large scale immigration, with early immigration averaging at about 10,000 Germans a year to the peak in 1854 of approximately 220,000 German immigrants. Those who arrived in later years (around 1860) were offered US citizenship if they volunteered to fight in the American Civil War.

One thing I find fascinating is how the Germans stayed so “German”… they continually married other Germans and mostly lived in German communities. On my paternal side, I can’t find anything but Germans…my great grandmother was born in Canada, but that’s only because her German family (named Weidenhammer) immigrated there before they headed to the United States. It took until 1935 for the first “break” in the family to occur—when my grandmother Evelyn Marie Kaasch eloped with my grandfather Clifford McGuffin, she was the first person to marry a non-German. No wonder my great-grandmother Julia Bott Kaasch was so upset. As active readers of this blog already know, Julia descended from the Zartman family, who were part of the pre-Revolution group of German immigrants. The first wave Germans in my family continued to marry other first wavers up until my great-great grandmother Martha Zartman. She married Gottlieb Bott, whose family had only arrived in around 1845…a relative late-comer. Martha’s daughter Julia married Archie Kaasch, whose grandfather arrived on the scene in 1853. Even though they married second-wavers, they still managed to marry men who came from the same regions (or states) of Germany from which their ancestors had emigrated. I don’t think this is coincidence. Julie Bott Kaasch, the seventh generation born in America, even attended German school as a child (in the 1890’s).

I stated that my German ancestors arrived in two waves…I should say that 98% of them arrived in the first two waves… my paternal grandmother’s father and grandparents (the Schank Family) did not arrive until about 1883. They were part of a wider immigration movement in the 1880’s that was driven by the increased availability of steamships and ocean liners. This last wave of European migration would be the impetus for the creation of Ellis Island which opened its doors in 1892. When my parents visited Ellis Island many years ago, they came away broken-hearted that they could find no information about any of their ancestors. What they didn’t realize at the time is that all of their relatives had arrived well before Ellis Island had even been created.

When my father married my mother, he was the first on my direct paternal side to marry a woman who wasn’t 100% German. My mother’s maternal German roots run deep, but the paternal (McGuffin) half of her carries Scotch, Irish, English, Dutch, and French blood (and it appears not a drop of German). While I’ve grown up self-identifying as being of German descendent, it’s been my mother’s paternal McGuffin roots that have held the majority of my interest these past few months…as they were previously unknown to me AND fascinating to boot.

Today I’ve decided it’s time for me to delve a bit deeper into the Otte family. This is my maiden name…the name I carried for 27 years. I thought I knew the story of the Otte family. As it turns out there was a bit more to discover. My mother recently came across a large envelope that she hadn’t realized existed. We think perhaps it was given to my father by his father Fred Otte. Back in the ‘80’s my father had an interest in tracing his roots and grandpa Fred had given him some information he’d obtained from one of his Ohio cousins. My father probably put this envelope of information and photos in a drawer for that magical time he planned to look into it all. With my grandfather and father no longer here I was overjoyed to be handed this envelope. My grandfather was a good storyteller and lucky for me, he left some good notes and photos with detailed descriptions.

The Ottes were part of that second wave of German immigrants…the ones that came to America looking for land. Growing up on the extreme West and then East coasts, my maiden name was quite rare and NO-body could figure out how to pronounce it… Oat, Ohtay, Ahht, Audi…for the record it’s “Ahh-dee” although some might pronounce a bit more of a “t” than a “d”…  We used to joke in my immediate family that if you came across another Otte you’d surely be related…because we thought there were about twenty in America. Turns out we had it all wrong. I’m told if you live in a place like Ohio and Indiana there are thousands of them…and people actually know how to pronounce the name when they see it. Imagine that! It appears there were many people with the name Otte that arrived from Germany at this time in search of land. They all had the same idea and Ohio seemed to be a good place to go when you were looking for your plot of paradise in the 1830’s. My particular branch arrived in Baltimore Maryland in 1834. My 3x great-grandfather Friedrich Wilhelm Otte (aka William) arrived at the age of 23. It appears he met his wife in Baltimore, Anna Marie Elizabeth Buddemeier, as records show they married and settled in Baltimore in 1836. I believe they both came from the Nordrhein-Westfalen area of Germany. I have yet to determine when Anna arrived and whether she came with her parents or other siblings. But by 1837 the couple left Maryland and relocated to Ohio. It wasn’t until 1854 that they purchased their own 80 acre farm 3 miles west of New Bremen Ohio. Anna gave birth to 7 or 8 children…my 2x-great grandfather, Johann Wilhelm (William) Otte, was their third child and first son. He was born in Mercer County Ohio in 1843. In 1863 this (second) William would marry Anna Marie Elizabeth (Elisa) Sollman.  Like William, Elisa’s parents also arrived in Baltimore (in 1833), but her family came from Osnabruck Germany. Elisa was born in Indiana, but eventually her family too settled in the New Bremen area of Ohio.

Anna Marie Elizabeth (Elisa) Sollman Otte b.1839 in Brookville, Indiana and d.1927 in New Bremen, Ohio

Johann Wilhelm (William) Otte b. 1843 in Mercer Co, Ohio and d. 1914 in New Bremen Ohio

The 1880 Federal Census shows William and Elisa living and farming alongside William (Sr.) and Anna. I was told that in 1900 they purchased their own 10.5 acre farm. Elisa gave birth to 9 children during this time period, the last child, a boy died at birth. Elisa & William also raised a boy Fred who came to live with them after his parents had died, and later when they were in their seventies, they took in a little girl named Dora whose mother was a relative of Elisa’s.

William and Elisa’s children were: Mary (b.1863), Katie (b. 1865), Will (b. 1868), Christ (b. 1870), Lizzie (b. 1872), Henry (b. 1874), Fred (b. 1876), and Carrie (b. 1877). Henry was my great-grandfather and the man previously chronicled in “Homesteaders, Hometowns & Final Resting Places” (see 2-17-12 post). I remember my grandpa Fred mentioning his various aunts and uncles through the years…and his Ohio cousins, but it wasn’t until this week that I really gave them much thought… until I took time and dissected the information and photographs contained in that envelope my mother delivered.

The first photo that captured my imagination… captured my heart really…was one of sister Katie (age 62 and widow of Walter Kendig), sister Mary (age 64) and her husband John Doench (age 60, a bricklayer from Dayton Ohio). According to my grandpa Fred the picture was taken in 1926/27, when the siblings were visiting their brother Will who had cancer. Will was a farmer who also had a ranch about 30 miles northeast of Scottsbluff, Nebraska. They took John up to the ranch as he’d never been out of Ohio prior to this trip…out there in the middle of nowhere John said he thought he had come to the end of the world…and if it wasn’t, you could certainly see it from there.

c 1927: John Doench looking out at “the end of the world” with his sister-in-law Katie (l) and his wife Mary (r)

Aunt Katie, Aunt Mary, Uncle John with their brother Will’s daughter Wilma Otte

The second photo features their niece Wilma at about age 10. Even at that age she looks like she can take care of herself…but I think about her knowing her father would die a short time after the photo was taken. She would go on to have a ranch of her own, as she married a man named Irvin Petsch who’s family were ranchers in Wyoming. They purchased the Y6 cattle ranch in Meriden Wyoming which grew to over 40,000 acres.

These sisters fascinate me. Mary was 34 years old when she married her husband John, Katie was 36 when she married Walter Kendig, a barber 4 years her junior. Sister Lizzie was 28 when she married Ed Kuenning. Ed appears to have been a farmer. Lizzie would have one son a year after their marriage, but would become a widow within a few short years. Neither Mary nor Katie had children. After Katie & Walter married they lived with Lizzie and her son Wilbur on what appears to be Lizzie’s farm, as the 1910 census lists her as “head” of house and a farmer. Brother-in-law Walter Kendig is listed as a barber. Katie’s husband would die by 1916, after 14 years of marriage.


Katie Otte as a teenager c. 1880’s (While my grandpa Fred had this labeled as his Aunt Katie, cousin Lucille thinks its really sister Lizzie- they look a lot alike…it’s hard to tell!)

Mother Elisa with her daughters and daughter-in-laws: Ella Miller (sister-in-law of son Henry), Dora Otte (wife of son Christ) Lizzie Kuenning, Marie Otte, Ada Kuenning, ?, Mary Doench, Elisa Otte, Katie Kendig

All of these women appear to have lived their lives on their own terms….with independence and their own homes and jobs. Katie worked for many years as a cook for the NCR company (National Cash Register) that was based in Dayton. Before Lizzie turned to farming after marriage she was listed on an earlier federal census as a dressmaker. Unfortunately it appears the same cannot be said for their youngest sister Carrie. I was curious as to why I never found Carrie included in the pictures at all these family gatherings. She too lived with her sister Lizzie for a short time, but tragically ended up in the Dayton State Hospital (for the Insane). The history of the hospital can be found online…and it appears to be one of those Victorian era locations that were once billed as “ a retreat” that we now understand could be quite torturous. I have yet to discover what led young Carrie to be institutionalized in such a place. She would spend 18 years at the hospital and die at the age of 40 of heart failure. It makes you wonder if she didn’t just die of a broken heart.

The brothers also appear to live their lives in an independent fashion…with three of the four heading out to Nebraska to acquire their own land through homesteading. Will and Henry would make a life in Nebraska, while brother Christ would eventually return to Ohio after several years. Youngest brother Fred seems to stick close to home. He married, but only stayed with his wife a short time before they were divorced.

c 1905…Fred Otte was married to Grace for a short period of time, this photo was taken in Dayton Ohio

Mother Elisa with some of the Otte men: Wilbur Kuenning (Lizzie’s son), ? Miller, John Doench (Mary’s husband), Henry? Miller, Harold Miller, Henry Otte, Eliza, Christ Otte

The Otte brothers returned to Ohio for visits. This is c. 1920 at the New Bremen home of sister Lizzie Kuenning with their mother Elisa. Also pictured (back row) brother Henry Otte, sister Katie Kendig, nephew Wilbur Kuenning,, and brother Will Otte. Front row with their grandma is Ray & Fred Otte (Henry’s sons). I love they way Fred (my grandpa) is mimicking his uncle Will’s stance.

And this is where I am going to end my tale of the children of William & Elisa Otte for today…as there are more stories to come. What I will tell you is that inside that envelope I found a letter written to my grandfather and grandmother (Fred & Dolly). It was from the early 1980’a and was an exchange discussing some family pictures that Fred had sent to his cousin Marie’s daughter, a woman named Lucille Francis. When I saw that name a light bulb went on in my head, I had seen that name before (quite a lot in the last few days as it turns out)…Lucille Francis…attached to all this wonderful family information on a website called Find-A-Grave.  She literally knows where all the bodies are buried. With a small bit of sleuthing I found Lucille’s email address and sent her a message…within hours she sent me a reply…and we’ve only just gotten started on our own exchange…two days in. I’m not quite sure what our official relationship is, her mother and my grandfather were cousins…so it makes us some sort of cousins, several times removed? Good enough.

I will give you a little tidbit of what she has sent my way… and save more stories for another day.

This is the Nebraska homestead of Christ & Dora Otte c. 1916 (the grandparents of Lucille Francis)

Dora Otte sent this postcard home to her sister-in-law Katie Kendig c. 1907. I love the sense of Dora’s spirit you get from what she writes. (Thanks to Dora’s granddaughter Lucille Francis for sharing this)

I will say one last thing…getting to know these great-great aunts and uncles over these past few days has certainly made me feel a bit more gemutlichkeit about my maiden name. It was a name I gave up easily on the day I got married. I feel much more connected to it now. (Oh…and a special shout out to my own sister…who knew our Otte great-aunts were so kick-ass?)

Julia Bott’s school photo circa 1900: even in this black and white photo, her blue eyes are evident

For years I believed this was a photo of my grandmother Evelyn Kaasch (McGuffin) and her grandmother Martha Zartman Bott. I now realize it can’t be Martha as she died the year Evelyn was born. We think this is likely Martha’s sister Elizabeth…who has a strong family resemblance to Evelyn’s mother Julia…and of course  those Zartman blue eyes

Last August, I talked my mother and my husband into attending our first Zartman Family Reunion, an annual event that takes place on the second Sunday each August. We were vaguely aware of these reunions, but despite living less than two hours away from the location, we never quite made the effort to find out any further information. But last year, I happened upon the “Zartmans Are Best” Facebook page and discovered the details of the when and where…so off we went to spend the weekend with the family we never realized we had.

By Sunday afternoon we found ourselves in a room filled with a multitude of newly-found cousins…perhaps fifty or sixty of them. (We were told this was light attendance). The rain had forced us inside…but we were enjoying a good old fashioned picnic of German staples…bratwurst, sauerkraut, multiple varieties of potato and marinated beet salads…with farm fresh corn, tomatoes, deviled eggs and rhubarb pie for dessert.

It was while we were eating and getting to know some of these new cousins that we found ourselves sitting across the table from cousin Bill…when the expression on my mother’s face suddenly tightened, as if she were holding back tears. My mother is not an overly emotional person—I can probably count the number of times I’ve seen her cry—so  I was taken aback when she blurted out “you have my grandmother’s eyes” to cousin Bill, who’s startled expression matched my own.

Growing up I was acutely aware of these characteristic blue eyes. My mother has them, my sister has them…I would recognize them in my nephew. In fact, if you place toddler-aged photos of my grandmother, mother, sister, and nephew side-by-side, you might be hard pressed to determine who’s who.  The likeness of these individuals is so strong that as a child my older sister had me convinced I was adopted, as I looked nothing like any of them. (The fact that it took weeks for my mother to unearth a single baby picture of me certainly did not help me feel any better…but that’s an entirely different story.) It seems my quest to “find myself” somewhere in those family photos started at a very early age.

While I have never quite recognized myself in the faces of my maternal ancestors, I have been surprised to find just how precisely some of these genes have been passed on to others, especially my only nephew. When cousin Becky recently emailed me a photo of my maternal grandfather (Clifford McGuffin), I was startled to find my nephew Jason staring back at me. When I compared Jason’s high school graduation photo with my maternal grandparents’ photos, I could see a road map from point “A” to point “B”.

My grandfather Clifford McGuffin circa 1926 in high school

My nephew Jason in high school circa 1999

My grandmother Evelyn Marie Kaasch, high school photo c1927

The photo of my grandmother Evelyn (Kaasch) McGuffin best showcases those eyes of which I speak. I had never given much thought to where those intense blue eyes came from…they were sometimes referred to as “the Kaasch eyes” as that was my grandmother’s maiden name.  But here we were sitting in a room full of our Zartman cousins—surrounded by individuals who had those eyes—what  my mother had just called her “grandmother’s eyes.”

Those of you who have been following my blog were introduced to this particular grandmother previously… Julia Bott Kaasch.  She is my maternal great-grandmother, my mother’s beloved grandmother with whom she spent a great amount of time as a child, and the person responsible for dismissing her son-in-law’s family legacy as nothing more than a bunch of drunken Irishmen (see Tales of Stoic Germans and Drunk-Ass Irishmen). As I stated previously, Julia would have something to say about her own family and she informs me that she’s waited long enough for this blog to focus on her family story.

Julia Bott was born on the fourth of August, 1883 in Schuyler Nebraska. She was the youngest of the eleven children of Gottlieb Bott and his wife Martha Zartman Bott. I’ve uncovered relatively little on the Bott side of the family, but the Zartman family has a well-documented and proudly celebrated history.

The first official reunion of the Zartman family in America was held August 29, 1908 at St. Paul’s Reformed Church in Glenford, Ohio.  Of the event the following was recorded:  “About 300 members of the Zartman family were present, and it was estimated that 1200 or more people assembled for this happy occasion.” Such reunions would be held sporadically throughout the first fifty years of the twentieth century until the late 1960’s when the events were reorganized and have occurred annually ever since.

The fifth reunion was held on August 14, 1913 at the Emanuel Lutheran Church in Brickerville, PA. (Brickerville has been the permanent location of the Pennsylvania reunions since about 1938.) This fifth reunion was a noteworthy event as it was at this time that the Memorial Monument to Alexander and Anna Catharina Zartman—the original founding members of the American family—was dedicated. The monument acknowledges the original arrival date of the Zartmans in America in 1728. The following was recorded about that reunion: “366 attended, Josephine Deam Zartman recited “Under the Buggy Seat,” Ezra Zartman played the ‘Cello, Sadie Steiner sang a solo, the Ezra Zartman Family played orchestral music, and Harry Zartman spoke Deutsch und English.”

The monument in honor of Alexander and Anna Catharina Zartman at Emanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church in Brickerville PA. One of the oldest cemeteries in the county, Continental and Hessian soldiers are buried nearby

The Zartman Memorial behind the church in Brickerville

The cemetery behind the Brickerville Church, the resting place for several Zartmans

The seventh reunion, held on August 19, 1920—also at the Emanuel Lutheran Church in Brickerville—holds interest because of the topic recorded: “Cousin Rufus presided, spoke on Zartmans and Patriotism, 280 attended.”  This would be the first family reunion held after the end of the Great War (later referred to as World War I). While the Zartmans were proud of their German heritage, they were also patriotic Americans whose ancestors had served during the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars.  America had joined the Allies who were fighting against the Germans.  I wonder which family members had their patriotism called into question during this conflict?

Cousin Rufus, was the Reverend Rufus C. Zartman, the self-proclaimed family historian and president of the Zartman Association of America. It is thanks to cousin Rufus that we have such detailed documentation of our family, as he researched and wrote the first and second editions of the Zartman family genealogy book (in 1909 & updated in 1942). It seems that cousin Rufus was the personification of all things Zartman: devout, sober, scrupulous, and modest. Cousin Bill told me that what he likes best about the Zartmans is that they are by nature, not extravagant or overly impressive, but rather simple, grounded folk who worked hard at building a new country.  Floyd’s Northumberland County Genealogy references the Zartman family as “the best element in that region for several generations past.”

Cousin Rufus’s book has been updated, there is a family website, a Facebook page, and countless genealogy-related forums to be found online. I am just getting to know some of these new-found cousins…several are now Facebook friends and all seem as genuine and accommodating as our ancestors were reported to be…but let’s start back at the beginning…at least at the family’s arrival in America.

My 7x great-grandfather, Alexander and his wife, Anna Catharina Zartman, and their five year old son Jacob (my 6x great-grandfather), came to America from the province of Wurttemberg, Germany, in the summer of 1728. They made their way down the Rhine River to Rotterdam, and from there, on June 22, 1728 sailed for America, arriving at the Port of Philadelphia on August 31, 1728, aboard the ship “Albany.”

After swearing their allegiance to King George II, Alexander and Anna Catharina left Philadelphia, following the pike toward Hamburg, ending up in the Tulpehoeken region southwest of Reading in Berks County, Pennsylvania. They worshiped at the Muddy Creek Lutheran and Reformed Church for the rest of 1728 into 1729. They eventually relocated in Warwick township in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. In 1738, they purchased a tract of land—197 acres—near Brickerville, the patent for which was given to Alexander by William Penn’s sons in about 1750.

The Original Zartman Homestead in Brickerville, PA

Site of the original Zartman Homestead as it is today (photo taken August 2011)

Son Jacob, my 6x great-grandfather, received his inheritance from his parents in 1754, when they deeded him seventy-one acres of the original homestead. Jacob Zartman sold this land to George Graffe in 1759 for £280. My understanding is that something happened to this great-grandfather—some sort of falling-out or disagreement—that caused great distress. Whatever it was, it was serious enough that Jacob, his wife Anna Margaretha, and their first son Henry (my 5x great-grandfather), left the rest of their family behind in 1768, traveling up the Susquehanna River and settling in Dornsife, Mahanoy township, Northumberland County.  Jacob purchased a 122-acre tract at the foot of Line Mountain. He would later acquire an additional 100 acres from John Adam Shaffer for £11. Jacob and Anna Margaretha would have seven more children, five sons and three daughters. Jacob would serve as a Private in the Revolutionary War in Ensign Simon Herrold’s Northumberland County, Pennsylvania Militia. On June 8, 1791, Jacob was issued one pound, fifteen shillings for his tour of active duty.  Jacob and Anna Margaretha both died about 1793. They are reported to be buried in a meadow west of the original family house in a private family burial ground. There are no tombstones.

This second Zartman Homestead would remain in the family for over 140 years (into the early 20th century), first passing through Jacob to his sons, Henry, Martin, and Peter. Henry would buy out his brothers and it would later go to Henry’s son Martin, Martin’s son Daniel and finally to Daniel’s son Samuel S. The homestead was continually developed. At some point a church was built on the property, the United Evangelical Church, but usually referred to as Zartman’s Church. A second graveyard was added next to the church. A second—presumably grander—house was built by Daniel around 1861. I am told this house still stands today. I don’t know if any of these buildings are in use today…but taking a drive out to Dornsife is on my “to do” list sometime in the next few months.

This is the second house built on “Henry’s Delight” which was built c 1861 by Henry’s grandson Daniel

Henry (my 5x great-grandfather) and his wife Elizabeth Hauser married in 1771 and had 12 children.  One interesting tidbit about the children of Henry & Elizabeth…of their 8 sons, 4 are named John-  John Martin, John Henry, John Peter, and John Jacob. (Why? I haven’t the foggiest idea.) My 4x great-grandfather, Samuel, was born in 1788, the youngest of Henry’s dozen. Henry & Elizabeth both died around 1803 and are buried in the cemetery at Zartman’s Church. Henry obviously loved his farm which was referred to as “Henry’s Delight” in his will. When Henry died, his two youngest boys were 15 (Samuel) and 17 (Alexander) years old. There obviously wasn’t enough land to go around to all his sons so the two boys were bound out to a trade “to such masters as the boys shall choose” under the terms of their father’s will.

It is unclear what masters each boy chose. I found some indication that brother Alexander learned the blacksmithing trade which he would later teach to Samuel’s son Israel (my 3x great-grandfather). Regardless of the trade Samuel learned, he left the family homestead in the summer of 1810 and headed to Ohio. Samuel, his wife Catherine Fisher, and their infant son Jacob, joined with Sam’s brothers Alexander and John Henry, a cousin Benjamin Zartman, their uncle Peter Zartman, and other relatives. As many as twenty Zartmans were said to have traveled by wagon on the long, tedious trip of more than 550 miles. They settled near Somerset, Perry County, Ohio. (Just east of present day Columbus.) On June 23, 1814, Samuel bought a quarter section of land in Reading Township, Perry County—the land patent bears the signature of President James Madison.  Sam and Catherine would raise ten children on their land. Catherine would die in 1850 and Sam in 1857. They are buried in the New Lebanon Evangelical Lutheran Burial Ground in Junction City, Ohio. As I was searching through the various cemeteries in this area, looking to locate Sam and Catherine, I found almost one hundred Zartmans buried in the following nearby cemeteries; Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church Cemetery, the Lutheran Cemetery in Somerset, the Lutheran Reformed Cemetery in Thornville, Mount Zion United Brethren Cemetery, Zion Cemetery, and Old Zion United Brethren in Junction City.

My 3x great-grandfather Israel Zartman was born in 1812, the third son of Sam and Catherine. As stated earlier he learned his trade as a blacksmith from his uncle Alexander. By age 21, he was married to Elizabeth Ridenour. She would die two months after giving birth to their son Jonathan in 1834. It appears that Israel married Elizabeth’s sister Anna Mary five days after Elizabeth died. Perhaps this was a necessity so that the baby would have a mother to care for him. Unfortunately, baby Jonathan would die weeks later. Israel and Anna Mary seem to take this in stride as the first of their own eleven children, a son Solomon, would arrive in July of 1835. At the age of 46, Israel would relocate his entire family to Illinois—first to Dewitt County and several years later to Logan County. I haven’t yet figured out the reason for this move. Israel would die in August of 1863 and is believed to be buried in the Mount Pulaski Cemetery in Logan County, Illinois. Anna Mary appears to have outlived her husband by at least nineteen years. I assume she is buried near her husband but I haven’t confirmed that yet. It is with Israel that my male ties to the Zartman name ends. Of Israel’s eleven children, seven would be daughters, and only one son would outlive him.  Israel and Anna Mary’s fourth child is my 2x great grandmother Martha Zartman.

Martha Zartman Bott is a bit of a mystery. I have no firsthand knowledge of her…but from what I can deduce she must have been some sort of character…I would say strong-minded to say the least. At age 24, Martha marries Gottlieb Bott, a tailor who appears to have immigrated to America from Württemberg, Germany at age 10. (Alone or with family members?) The 1870 Federal Census shows them living (presumably the place they met) in Mount Pulaski, Illinois with their first four children. Their next door neighbors are a tailor named Gustave Widenbacher, also from Württemberg, and Christian Miller, a tailor from Saxony. I wonder if Gustave could be a clue to how Gottlieb got to America in the first place? (To be followed up at a later date.) By the 1880 Census, now in their forties with nine children, Gottlieb and Martha are living on a farm in eastern Nebraska. We don’t know why the couple decided to buy a farm in Nebraska, but it appears that Martha’s brother Peter, a Veteran of the Civil War, her sister Elizabeth who had married Joseph Smith (another Civil War Veteran), and her sister Mary who was married to another German immigrant by the name of Frederick Rentschler, all had property in Colfax County, Nebraska. Martha appears to have had a close relationship to these particular siblings as she named her first born Peter and her second born Mary. We don’t know if one followed another or they moved all at once, but moved they did. As Zartman offspring, they all certainly had farming in their veins and Nebraska was offering land. Their tenth and eleventh children were born in Schuyler, Nebraska.

My favorite Federal Census is the one taken in 1900. On it we find Martha living on her farm (listed as “head of household”) with five of her children, the youngest being my great-grandmother, Julia Bott. Martha has reported herself as “widowed”…a particular detail which sent me on the trail of finding where my great-grandfather Gottlieb was buried. I couldn’t find his grave anywhere in Nebraska. For a good reason. He wasn’t dead in 1900. Rather, he was living halfway across the state with his daughter Anna, now married to a George Poole, a granddaughter Frieda Poole, and his daughter Clara Bott. It should be noted that Gottlieb reported his status as “Divorced” to the census takers, although I have yet to find any legal records that prove that they actually did get divorced. What did Gottlieb do to get kicked out of his home? We may never know. In the end, Gottlieb would die in June of 1909 at the age of 73. He appears to have died in Colorado, burial place yet to be determined. Martha died in June of 1910. She is buried in the middle of nowhere, among the farm fields in a tiny isolated plot called Zollman Cemetery. It’s a bit curious as she seems to be the only family member buried in this location. Her siblings are buried in the nearby Leigh Cemetery and several of her children are buried in the Schuyler Cemetery. Perhaps she wished to remain close to her farm. In the 1880 census I saw that the Zollman family lived on the farm next door. If she is buried in the Zollman Cemetery, she is likely as close to her land as possible.

The headstone of my great-great grandmother Martha Zartman Bott

Zollman Cemetery in the middle of the farm fields outside Schuyler Nebraska, my great-great grandmother is one of about 31 people buried here, and perhaps the only famiy member here.

This brings us all the way back to my great-grandmother Julia Bott Kaasch…the one who’s blue eyes appeared at that Zartman family reunion last August. So now I suppose it’s time to tell you a bit more about Julia…and I find I am not ready to do so. Sure, I can tell you the basics… the year she was born, the fact that she was the youngest child of eleven, the year she died, the man she married, where she lived…and even a few less basic things… like the fact she made baby clothes for my sister and my sister’s Barbie doll, or that she attended a German school as a child. But what about all the things I don’t know? What was her favorite color? What was her favorite food? I think I owe it to her to find out more. There  is only one person left on this earth who can answer these questions…why have I never asked my mother more about her grandmother? Her grandfather? Her mother? I will see my mother next Sunday for Mother’s Day…I already know what we’ll be doing that day.

Last week I went down a rabbit hole and never ended up posting anything. I’m not sure what drove me down this particular hole, but for some reason I started looking into the Wood family…and got sucked in for a number of days. I have several Wood and Woods lines that branch off my ancestral tree at various points, and I am currently under the assumption that they are all quite distinct, un-related families. Wood being a name like Smith, they seem to pop up everywhere. The particular line I have been following this past week appears to be of German descent and I know nothing much about them beyond what I plan to report in this post. You might remember John Abraham McGuffin, my great-grandfather who carried the names of ancestors, John Briscoe & Abraham Seay (as reported in my previous posting)… well, John Abraham married a woman called Edna Wood. Edna’s family doesn’t appear to have been in America for more than a generation or two, but they sure packed a lot of activity into a short number of years.

My mom Sandi with her two sisters Nancy (left) & Sue with their grandmother Edna Wood, late 1940's

My mom Sandi (center) with her Grandmother Edna Wood McGuffin and her two sisters Nancy (left) and Sue (right)…a few years before Edna’s death in 1953

It was Edna’s grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Wood, who first captured my attention. Benjamin Franklin would be my 3x great-grandfather. His name (Benjamin Franklin) was the thing that drew me in…how could you not think about someone given that name…and the seemingly German immigrant parents who were responsible for naming him? Franklin Wood, the name it appears he went by, and his wife Ann appear in federal census records from 1850 through 1900, as well as a number of Iowa census records. In all of these he lists his birthplace as New York. But his gravestone lists his birthplace as Germany. That’s a mystery yet to be solved. Whether or not he was born there, he seemed to identify with his German roots in a strong way. (Note- the gentleman who maintains Franklin & Ann’s memorial on Find-A-Grave states on that site that cemetery records found in his local library also indicate that Franklin was born in Germany, but he also found an obituary that lists his birthplace as Augusta, New York.)

Franklin and Ann Wood buried in the Okoboji Cemetery in Iowa

Benjamin Franklin Wood & Ann Wood are buried in the Okoboji Cemetery in the Great Lakes region of Iowa- this photo was found on the Find-A-Grave memorial created/mainted by “Just Us Relatives”

Ann preceded Franklin in death by about 18 years, having reportedly fallen into a newly dug basement for a Methodist Church (being built near her home) while walking in the middle of the night. She died from the trauma of hitting her head. Ann died in 1901 and Franklin’s burial date is given as October 29, 1919. According to an obituary published in the Lake Park News on the 7th of November in 1918, Franklin actually died on October 30th (1918) in the town of Marion, and his remains were brought back to where his wife was buried. They are buried side-by-side in the Okoboji Cemetery in the Great Lakes region of Iowa.

After finding Ann’s obituary, I stumbled across the obituary of her son Stafford (accessed through the same Find-A-Grave memorial site), my great-great-grandfather, as published in the Spirit Lake Beacon, Jan 4, 1894.

“WOOD – In Tulsa, Indian Territory, Dec. 25, 1893, of congestive chills, Stafford L. Wood, aged 46 years and 6 months.

Deceased was born in Oneida county, New York, came west with his parents, Mr. B. F. Wood, in 1857, and in 1862, at the age of 16 enlisted in Co. “K”, 7th Wisconsin and served to the end of the rebellion and was honorably discharged. He leaves a wife and five children, two sons and three daughters to mourn his loss.”

It was about this time I started channeling my own inner Laura Ingalls Wilder… while her family spent time in their Little House in Kansas and Minnesota, eventually heading to South Dakota…mine was in Kansas, Iowa and Wisconsin, and eventually in Oklahoma. Surely they crossed paths once or twice. I wonder how far the Ingalls’ Independence, Kansas home was from the Woods’ Liberty, Kansas home?

“Indian Territory”…aka Oklahoma…caught my attention. Oklahoma was always known in my immediate family as the “place my dad went to college”… he was a proud Oklahoma State Cowboy.  But we never imagined having further family connections there. Several weeks ago when I was researching in Virginia, I came across some information about a relative named Abraham Jefferson Seay (who is also a descendent of Abraham Seay of Virginia–making us cousins of some sort). It turns out he was the second Territorial Governor of Oklahoma in 1892 & 1893. While Governor, he built a mansion, called Horizon Hill, in order to host dignitaries present for the opening of the Cheyenne & Arapaho Land Run.

(Information on Horizon Hill at

So it appears, while Governor Seay was entertaining dignitaries in his new mansion, Stafford Wood and his family (not yet connected to the Seay/McGuffin family by marriage) had arrived in Oklahoma looking for their own home. I have yet to locate records of the Wood family from this time period. It’s been quite frustrating–after having this family appear in so many census records up to this point–but Indian Territory does not seem to be a place of great record keeping (or present day digitization). I think a trip to Oklahoma might be in order for some deeper digging. For those of you unfamiliar with the Land Runs…the biggest one, with the opening of the Cherokee Strip, took place on September 16, 1893. This was what was depicted in the Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman epic “Far and Away.” A great “race” with a gun shot at the starting line and tens of thousands of people running out to claim their piece of a dream.

Was Stafford’s entire family with him in Oklahoma? And which land run did they take part in? These questions do not yet have definitive answers. Stafford had married 23 year old Lydia Marie Teachout in Darien, Wisconsin in 1867. According to a 1910 Kansas census, Lydia gave birth to seven children. One of those seven is a complete mystery and must have died at a very young age. Their oldest son, Franklin (presumably named for his grandfather), died at the age of 11 of diphtheria in 1880 while they were living in Iowa. A sort of respiratory illness, diphtheria became an epidemic in 1880 in the Midwest, wiping out entire families of children. A daughter Maud lived only a year (1890-1891) and is buried in Iowa. Information on their second son Freddie is spotty, the only thing we know about him is he’s no longer alive by 1910. So he may or may not have made the trip to Oklahoma. That would leave third son Arthur and their twin daughters Edith and Edna (who would be teenagers at the time.)

The fact that their youngest daughter Maud is buried in Iowa in 1891 and Stafford dies in Oklahoma in December of 1893, suggests that the Wood family most likely took part in the third land run on April 19, 1892. I haven’t yet found definitive proof…although I have found the name Wood on land patents, but as I mentioned previously, it is a popular name.

It has been reported that more than 25,000 hopefuls gathered on a misty April morning to take part in this particular land run. At high noon the settlers rushed in from all directions by foot, race horse, plow horse, wagon, and buggy to stake a claim to their 160 acres. By sunset over 400 lots in the county seat and been taken. By the end of that year, more than 100 homes had been built in the area.

While I have made some educated assumptions about when the Wood family arrived in Oklahoma, I have even less information to help me determine when the family left the territory. As we know, Stafford died unexpectedly in December of 1893. Until we are able to uncover more records, we have only one small bit of information to help with this…and that is the birth of a grandchild, a daughter named Vera Wood, who arrived about 1900.

Vera is a bit of a family mystery. And various members of the McGuffin family have differing opinions on who exactly Vera’s parents were. Some later generations claimed it was Edna who gave to birth to Vera before she married John Abraham McGuffin. My own mother believes that Vera’s mother was Edna’s twin sister Edith. Like I said, we have minimal information about the Wood family time in the Oklahoma Territories at this point, so anything is possible. But I will present the following…

Stafford’s wife Lydia is found living in Kansas at the time of the 1910 Federal census. She is listed as head of house and with her are her 34 year old son Arthur (working as a printer) and her 10 year old granddaughter Vera. This census seems to confirm Vera’s birth year of 1900. I don’t have any definitive information on where twin Edith was in 1900. But we do know where her sister Edna was…she was living in Colorado and was likely already married to John Abraham McGuffin. We have yet to determine when and where Edna met and married John Abraham McGuffin- but knowing that the McGuffin family was living in Sugar Creek, Kansas in the 1880’s…chances are it was somewhere in southeastern Kansas. We do know they went to Colorado where John was employed by the National Sugar Company. A quick Google search indicated that the first inhabitants arrived in Sugar City (the town that was built by the company) in 1900. Their first son was born about 1902 (or earlier) in nearby Rocky Ford, Colorado. I haven’t come across John and Edna’s wedding date, but presumably, if Edna is in Colorado, she is likely already married.

Edna Wood in Sugar City Colorado 1900

Edna Wood (now McGuffin?) photographed in Sugar City, Colorado in 1900

If you follow granddaughter Vera Wood through several Federal Census cycles you find an interesting progression of her parentage. In 1910 her mother is listed as being born in Iowa and her father as United States, in 1920 both of her parents are listed as being born in Iowa, but by 1920 her mother is listed as being born in Wisconsin and her father in Oklahoma. In these same census records, Vera herself is (always) reported as being born in Oklahoma.

My question is, if indeed Edna met her husband John and landed in Colorado by 1900, how could she have given birth to a daughter in Oklahoma at the same time? The fact that twin sister Edith seemingly disappears makes me wonder if she remained in the Oklahoma Territories when the rest of her family moved back to Kansas. Did she die in Oklahoma? Or in Kansas? And when exactly did she die?

What we DO know is that by 1912, Edna & John McGuffin and their children moved to Scottsbluff, Nebraska when the Great Western Sugar Company built a new factory there. Lydia and granddaughter Vera left Kansas and moved in with the McGuffin clan shortly after. We don’t know if Edna’s brother Arthur moved to Nebraska as well, but we do have a picture of him with a hand-written note stating “in Scottsbluff.” Arthur appears to remain a bachelor and he also disappears from records around 1912. It was one (or more) of Edna’s children who speculated as to whether Vera was actually their cousin or their sister, and this information they passed down to later generations. After her grandmother’s death in 1930, Vera left Scottsbluff and made a life for herself in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she married and had children of her own.

Arthur Wood 1912 in Scottsbluff Nebraska

Arthur Wood photographed in 1912 in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Arthur disappeared from records around this time. We have not yet identified the boy on the left.

Since starting my genealogical journey a number of McGuffin “cousins” have made themselves known to me. The first, Becky, actually tracked down my mother on My grandfather Clifford McGuffin was the brother of her grandmother Edith Mae (not to be confused with twin Edith!) We actually got to meet Becky in person when she came through town over the Christmas holidays. It is through Becky that I have received many of the photos of the McGuffin family…and always at the perfect moment, like sending me Edna’s photo in Sugar City as I pondered the mystery of Vera’s parentage. Becky has sent other cousins my way…and so far I have had messages from Tina, whose grandmother Bernice is another of Clifford’s sisters, and Marshia, who’s great-grandmother Nora McGuffin was the sister to my great-grandfather John Abraham McGuffin. She lives in Kansas and has offered to do some research…I think I may have to take her up on that! (Marshia…we need to figure out if John and Edna got married in Kansas…when and where?!)

Every bit of new information I uncover appears to come with at least three additional unanswered questions. I see now that I might be at this for a very long time… (sigh)…I am not sure what rabbit hole I am headed toward next.

When I started this genealogical journey I assumed all roads led to Germany. A good number of them do. But for now, I’ve decided to take the road that keeps leading me to the most unexpected places… that “road” being my maternal grandfather, Clifford Preston McGuffin. For those of you who have been following my blog postings you know that after the untimely death of her father, my mother was raised with little knowledge of his family’s history. From age nine onward—due to limited contact with her paternal relatives—the only knowledge of his family came from her maternal German grandmother. As followers may recall, this grandmother had nothing nice to say about any of her son-in-law’s family and dismissed them as a bunch of drunken Irishmen.

My grandfather Clifford (second from left) with his siblings and parents John Abraham & Edna (back row) circa 1938 in Hayward CA

My grandfather Clifford (second from left) with his siblings and parents John Abraham & Edna (back row) circa 1938 in Hayward CA

By focusing on the ancestry of my maternal grandfather Clifford I am discovering a part of myself I never knew existed. It’s a quarter of me really…which feels like a lot until I think about my mother. I have to say one of the best parts of my own self-discovery is sharing this family history with her…being able to experience her joy and awe as we uncover new bits of information…learning the real story of her father’s family…and finding the other half of herself.

So for the moment, I am putting aside anything to do with my paternal roots…and anything I already know about my mother’s maternal roots…and focusing solely on my maternal grandfather Clifford… and his fascinating family.

The assumption I made about my maternal grandfather’s family is that they would all be Irish or Scotch-Irish…and while there is some of that—the first McGuffins to arrive in America were Scotch-Irish who came to the colony of Pennsylvania in the mid-1700’s from Ireland—there is so much more.

Clifford’s grandparents through his father John Abraham McGuffin (pictured above) are Preston Robertson McGuffin and Elizabeth Jane Briscoe. His grandparents through his mother Edna Wood (pictured above) are Stafford L. Wood, and Lydia Maria Teachout. I have yet to uncover much about the Wood branch of the tree, so at this point I am only reporting on the other three branches, of which there is much to say. There is SO much to say about these three family lines, that I am actually going to limit this particular post to my ancestors born in America between 1627 and 1700… and living in the settlements of Jamestown (VA), St. Mary’s City (MD), and New Netherlands (NY).

Somehow the history that stuck in my head from childhood studies was the voyage of the Mayflower and its landing at Plymouth Rock. I remember during a family vacation we visited the famous rock and the colony. I thought it was all a bit boring. As a child I couldn’t much relate to the 17th century and I certainly never gave thought to other early American settlements. It turns out I should have given them some consideration…as this is where my American roots start.


Present day St. Mary's City (MD) recreation of the 1634 settlement


The first 5 permanent settlements in America were Jamestown (1607), Plymouth (1620), New Netherland (1624), St. Mary’s City (1634), and New Sweden (1638). Providence (RI) would be established soon after, New Netherland would become New York by 1674 and New Sweden would become part of Pennsylvania in 1683. By 1690 the population of the British American colonies was about 250,000.


Closeup of the monument erected to honor the first settlers of Maryland and St. Mary's City


My English ancestors started to arrive in Jamestown after 1624 when it officially became a royal colony, my Dutch ancestors (with a few English mixed in) started to arrive in New Netherland from its beginnings, and some more English family arrived with Lord Baltimore to establish St. Mary’s City in Maryland in 1634.


Present day replica of the ship Dove--on which my ancestors, Dr. John Briscoe and his wife Elizabeth Dubois, arrived in America in 1634



Through my grandfather McGuffin, my American roots stretch back in time 11, 12, & 13 generations within the various branches of the family tree. I love that I’m now starting to recognize why some of my grandparents were given their particular names…Clifford’s father John Abraham McGuffin (pictured above) carried two important family names. His mother’s father was John Briscoe…a name that carried through six generations from that first American Briscoe. His father’s father was Abraham Seay McGuffin…the first two Abraham Seays (father and son) arrived in Virginia in the late 1600’s, with the name Abraham Seay appearing in every subsequent generation until the one before John Abraham. I wonder if my great-grandfather knew what sort of legacy he was carrying around?

Amazingly between 1627 and 1695, forty-eight of my (multiple) great-grandparents were born in one of the American settlements: Clifford’s paternal grandfather’s family (Sims, Loveing, Swann, Petty, Nalle, Brown and others) was settled in Virginia , his paternal grandmother’s family (Briscoe) was settled in Maryland, and his maternal grandmother’s family (Teachout/Tietsroot, Vandervoort) was settled in New Netherland.


In Virginia (from Jamestown to Richmond):

Edward Swann b. 1630

Susannah Heath b. 1632

William Garton b. 1635

Hannah Margaret Angell b.  1639

Jane Willis b. 1627

John Aldin b. abt 1627

Valentin Allen abt. 1630

Mary Page abt. 1630

Elizabeth Grizzell b. 1632

John Spilsby b. 1639

Charles Loveing b. 1640

Jennie Ross b. 1642

Rebecca (Petty) b. 1642

John Garton b.1661

Martha Adelade Martin b.1644

Amy Clark b. 1680

Thomas Petty b. 1680

Catherine Garton b. 1675

Martin Nalle b. 1675

Mary Jane Aldin b. 1681

Daniel Brown b. 1687

Elizabeth Coleman b. 1687

Francis Brown b. 1654

Elizabeth Allen b. 1660

Robert Coleman b. 1656

Ann Spilsbee b. 1659

Hannah Seaton b. 1683

John Loveing b. 1695

In Maryland (St. Mary’s City):

Phillip Briscoe b. 1648

Susannah Swann b. 1660

George Cole b. 1667

Phillip Briscoe b. 1680

Elizabeth Cole b. 1689

New Netherland (from Fort Orange to New Amersterdam):

Marretje Jorise Rapalje b. 1627

Garrett Travis b. 1633

Katherine Hewitt b. 1635

Hannah Jackson b. 1642

Elizabeth Ellsworth b. 1655

Willem Abrahamse Tietsoort b.1648

Jacob Tietsoort b. 1683

Machtelt Vandervoort b. 1642

Catalyntje Meesz b. 1650

Jannetje Keirsen b. 1651

Sara Van Heyningen b. 1681

James Travis b. 1670

Hannah Galpin b. 1669

Deliverance Conkling b. 1675

Angelica Boeckhout b. 1678

My first discovery of these 17th century American roots came through the Briscoe family in Maryland. When I “googled” St. Mary’s City and saw that it was some sort of a tourist destination, I knew a trip was in order. It was not too long after that I realized I also had these crazy deep Virginia roots. So when my husband announced a few days later that he had to travel to Richmond on business and wondered if I might want to ride along…well, of course I jumped at the chance. And so last Friday I found myself sitting in the archives of the Library of Virginia in downtown Richmond…like a kid in a candy store. I spent seven straight hours reading everything I could find…which was a lot…and reluctantly left potential sources untouched… with a follow-up visit in mind. The next day, Saturday, we had only a few hours before we had to head back north to Philadelphia in time to pick my sister up at the airport that evening. While I had discovered quite a bit more about my Virginia roots—including locations of ancestral grave sites—we decided with our limited time we’d head north, taking the scenic route through the Chesapeake Bay region…with the intention of stopping off in St. Mary’s City. It was just enough time to scratch the surface… to whet my appetite…I can’t wait to get back south to snoop around a bit more.

Trinity Church at St. Mary's City, the Anglican church of the Briscoes...the empty field in front of the church contains the unmarked graves of those buried in the 17th century


The unmarked graves at Trinity Church: this is likely the burial place of the original settlers Dr. John Briscoe 1612-1699 & his wife Eliabeth Dubois Briscoe 1615-1717, their son Col. Philip Briscoe, his wife Susannah Swann and perhaps the third generation Dr. Philip Briscoe and his wife Elizabeth Cole


Of course I’m also thinking about those New Netherlands ancestors…what more can I find out about them and their burial places? I know nothing about New Netherlands…except for that story about the Indians selling the island of Manhattan for a string of beads. Turns out I have an acquaintance who happens to be an authority on the subject. I discovered his expertise after reading about his association with the New Holland Society in New York after we connected on LinkedIn a few days ago. Guess what? He just happens to be giving a talk on that very subject at the Franklin Inn Club tomorrow at lunch time…guess where I’m going to be tomorrow afternoon? Gotta love the universe…

“If we are always arriving and departing, it is also

true that we are eternally anchored. One’s destination

is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.”

Henry Miller


This week’s installment…which should have actually been posted over a week ago…has been a difficult one to get down on paper…my thoughts are… every…where. So I thought I’d start with Mr. Miller. I came across this quote a few weeks back and it stuck with me. I’ve never really been a Henry Miller devotee; I’ve picked up and put down Tropic of Cancer countless times, but hey, you’ve got to love a writer who keeps on writing even when his books are banned.


I mentioned previously that my family—my ancestors—made a habit of “arriving and departing” as they crossed our nation, as I put it, like one hulking mass of kudzu. (A description my mother did not like by the way.) In my search for roots and a sense of belonging…belonging to some particular place…I’ve found I’ve already gained a new perspective. With each new discovery…with each new story of an ancestor I never knew existed…I do become a bit more “eternally anchored”…part of one big long linked chain.


So…I’ve opened this door…and oh my, well, once you do that, any number of things can come through…and have. I am a bit overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information coming my way.


When your perspective starts to change, so to must the stories you tell yourself. What is the story you tell to others? The story of you? For me living on the east coast, my story made me a bit different: born in 1960’s Los Angeles to mid-Western parents whose expectations were more or less a “get good grades in school, go to college, and be happy” sort of ideal. Southern California in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s always seemed to me the sort of place people went to live the life they always thought they wanted, leaving behind family pressures and expectations in the states they’d moved from. One result of this was that the married couples who’d escaped together often ended up getting divorced…once free…they wanted to escape each other as well. My mother told me that in my Brownie troop I was the only girl whose parents weren’t divorced. Even at a young age I sensed the relief of that escape…from family traditions and expectations…of wanting to create a whole new story for yourself.


It was eye-opening to me in later years when I learned of the family pressures put upon some of my east coast friends… to leave public high school for a private school education, to attend Ivy League schools or join particular clubs, to dress a certain way, or even to date from a small pre-approved pool of candidates. In college I had a friend who was tormented by the fact that her mother would only allow her to get a teaching degree—a proper pursuit for a young woman in her family. This friend was also quite proud to let everyone know she was on the Social Register. And later, while working as a development director, raising funds for major Philadelphia institutions, I got to know a few ladies of a certain social stature. This usually entailed event planning, whereby there was a committee of important people, and my job was to make their ideas a reality (on a budget no less). “Dear, this is how it’s always been done…” was the response I most often heard when, silly me, I’d question why we needed to do something a certain way. The ladies were always happy to teach me the correct way. The way they were taught by their mothers, and grandmothers, and great-grandmothers…in one long chain of propriety.


Several years back I was invited to join a private ladies club in town. It’s one of those clubs where you are proposed for membership and other members have to write letters of recommendation, then you are invited to lunch to meet more members before a particular committee discusses your worthiness. My friend who was on the membership committee at the time explained to me that I was classified as an “unknown”… sure they liked me, but who was I? Who was my family? What were my connections? This club, like many other private clubs with waning membership, needed to decide what to do when there’s no family legacy to determine one’s value. (Despite my lack of “family”…I was asked to become a member, and did, but after all was said and done I realized the club wasn’t the best fit for me. Well, it’s nice to be asked at any rate right?)


When it comes down to it, what I tell myself is that while I’ve always appreciated the traditions and yes, even some of the old school formalities of these long established institutions…underneath I am always thankful that this was not the world I was raised in.


There is another private club in town that I joined and actually became an active member of. The Franklin Inn Club operates in the same sort of manner…with letters of recommendation and the like…but this one is…different. A bit irreverent perhaps. Quirky certainly. It’s a sort of literary club and at one time you had to be a published author to become a member. Luckily for me, that isn’t the case today, but it was my motivation for joining. The bookcases are filled with a hundred years of Philadelphia writers. I wanted to surround myself with writers both past and present. It has certainly provided great inspiration for my own writing. And at the long scarred wooden tables in the dining room we discuss all the things you are told not to bring up in proper society…politics and religion are especially popular topics. We have a fairly decent range of views, although admittedly we lean farther left than right, but that balance can shift at any time. You are guaranteed at minimum one bowtie sighting per visit.


It was at the Franklin Inn last Friday night that I had the occasion to visit with my friend Martin Burke. Marty, an esteemed historian who specializes in Irish and American history among other subjects, had just presented a talk on the Careys, a Philadelphia publishing family. While at dinner I took the opportunity to ask Marty some questions about my family research. I was looking for further perspective into the actions of my Scotch-Irish ancestors and this notion of “Orange Irish” that I had been pondering. Earlier in the week, another friend who is a professional genealogist, shared with me that she’d come across information that noted St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Philadelphia prior to the American Revolution. This made me feel a bit more confident in the idea that the McGuffin clan (who I discussed in my “Wearing of the Orange” post) had always worn orange to celebrate the day. Marty however dismissed this notion telling me that the Scotts would not have been so keen on celebrating William of Orange—an Englishman—by wearing his color. According to Marty, it wasn’t until much later, following the surge of Irish immigration after the 1840 potato famine, that the distinction between green & orange, Catholic & Protestant…became important. It seems that those early (Protestant) Ulster Irish immigrants, the ones who had arrived in the British colonies, wanted to distinguish themselves from the predominantly Catholic and largely destitute new wave of Irish immigrants in America. Thus the use of “Scotch-Irish” became popular. Likewise, by this time there was less variation among the Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Methodists…they were all Protestant, not Catholic…and the color orange could be adopted by all denominations.


Certainly, this explanation would make sense for my great-great-grandfather Preston Robertson McGuffin, who came of age during this time period. He would have been proud to call himself Scotch-Irish and wear the color orange to distinguish himself as being from a long standing Protestant (and patriotic American) family. But what still has me perplexed about this great-great-grandfather is the name he chose for his third child (and first son)…Charles Cromwell McGuffin. When I told Marty of the “Cromwell” name he laughed and said it was a bold move. At first I focused on the middle name, but now that I think of it…Charles…and…Cromwell? Didn’t Oliver Cromwell get Charles I beheaded? Cromwell didn’t believe in a monarchy…but he didn’t much like the Scottish Presbyterians either. It seems he disliked the Irish Catholics most of all. What was Preston McGuffin thinking naming his son Cromwell? Was it a political statement?


When I told Marty that the mother of said Charles Cromwell was named Elizabeth Jane Briscoe he laughed even more. According to him Briscoe is a big Irish name…Irish Catholic. This notion didn’t feel correct to me as the Briscoe family I had so far uncovered all seemed to come from a place called Crofton Hall in the Cumberland region of England. Dr. John Briscoe, I told Marty, came over from England with Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore. The family helped settle St. Mary’s City. Well that explains it he said…Lord Baltimore was a Catholic. Somehow this was a fact I’d missed or long forgotten from high school history class. Yes indeed, Calvert had arranged to establish Maryland as a refuge for English Catholics. Okay, so maybe I do have some Irish Catholic ancestry after all?


After our dinner conversation I read up a bit on Calvert and the founding of Maryland. I read that Lord Baltimore actually lost his colony during the time that Cromwell was in control in England. If Elizabeth Briscoe McGuffin was descended from English Catholics that founded Maryland, would she really allow her husband to name their child after Cromwell? I read a bit more and found mention that not every settler that arrived with Baltimore was actually Catholic. Calvert believed in tolerance so he allowed some Protestants onboard as well. I dug a bit deeper to see if I could figure out Dr. John Briscoe’s religion. Three facts lead me to believe that there really is no question that he was Anglican—Church of England. First, the Briscoe family that remained at Crofton Hall funded (in later years) the local church, St. Andrew’s which is Church of England. John’s wife, whom I believe he married prior to leaving England, was a woman named Elizabeth DuBois. With a bit more digging I found that the DuBois family was considered minor French nobility who lost their titles and left France because they were Huguenots…Protestants who were not allowed to freely practice their religion. Elizabeth’s brother lost his title because he didn’t agree with Catholicism…would she really go and marry one after all that? And while I could not yet locate the burial records for John and Elizabeth, I did find that their son was buried at Trinity Parish in St. Mary’s City…the earliest Anglican parish in Maryland.


I was still curious about this notion that the Briscoe family name is Irish. It’s fairly easy to find information about the Briscoe family…there are several infamous Briscoe descendents (which I will touch on at a later date)…important enough that people felt the need to dig into their heritage and publish it. It appears that the Crofton Briscoes as they are known came to England on behalf of William the Conqueror. One account has Robert de Brisgau of Brisgau in Swabia bringing 100 lancers to join in the battle for England. Another branch of this tree did indeed immigrate to Ireland at some point, founding a big clan of Irish Briscoes. My branch, however, stayed firmly in the Cumberland area of England and acquired more and more land.


The stories that are starting to reveal themselves have to do with the great lengths my ancestors went through for opportunities… to own land, to worship according to their individual beliefs, to create a new way of doing things…they would cross continents and seas. A particular line I have not yet talked about is hard-core Scottish…with solid and long roots intertwined in the legacy of Scottish Independence. When I realized I came from this long line of fierce battle-to-the-death warriors, I said to my mom…don’t you just wish you knew that sooner in your life? When she asked why I told her… well when someone pisses you off or tells you “no”…you can just say f*ck you…you don’t know where I come from. She agreed. It’s nice to know what you’re made of. It really does change your self-perspective.


Last night, I went with my friend Jenny to see a play at the Wilma Theatre here in town, Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class. I didn’t know anything about the play beforehand. But as the universe always seems to do, before me was a story that deals with the exact things I was thinking and writing about just before I walked out the door and over to the theater. What do we inherit from our families on a biological level? What are the family traits that we carry through the generations without ever realizing we are doing so? The father in the story references his Scotch-Irish ancestry when he hears his daughter has been jailed for causing mayhem, proudly indicating to his wife that their daughter gets her fierce nature from his side of the family. This notion of what is carried in the blood…and passed down from parent to child…is a major theme. Are we cursed with what we’ve inherited?


I found it interesting to learn the playwright spent his early years in Southern California and that the location for this play is also Southern California (circa 1960). The family, trying to live the American Dream has gone as far west as they could…there is literally no place left for them to go to seek out further opportunity…the mother hopes to take a vacation in Europe…”everything will be different there” she tells her son.  The playbill contained a quote from The Cambridge Companion on Sam Shepard which summarizes nicely some of what I touched on earlier:


“There is no escape from the family. And it almost seems like the whole willfulness of the sixties was to break away from the family… We were all independent…we were somehow spinning out there in the world without any connection whatsoever…Which is ridiculous…you could be the most outcast orphan and yet you are still inevitably connected to this chain. I’m interested in the family’s biological connections and how those patterns of behavior are passed on. In a way it’s endless, there’s no real bottom to it.”


But if we carry this biology…this literal DNA connection with all those endless ancestors who have come before us…I am left to wonder do we then also carry the weight of our entire ancestral experience with us? Should we?


In anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day next week, I decided to spend some time getting to know my Irish roots. I mentioned in an earlier post that the untimely death of my grandfather, Clifford Preston McGuffin, meant that his young daughters (my mother and her two sisters), grew up mostly unaware of their paternal ancestry…and that the girls’ maternal German grandparents looked down their noses at all those “drunken Irishmen” otherwise known as the McGuffin family. But whatever my mother and her sisters never knew…a whiff of a proud legacy seemed to maintain a presence through the years.

As a young girl I anxiously searched for something green to wear each March 17th to avoid the painful pinches that awaited anyone who did not remember what day it was. It was something you had to do… to avoid attention and to fit in. But even as I dutifully wore the color green I had a sense that something didn’t feel quite right. At some point I became aware of the notion that “…we’re orange Irish…we never wear green on St. Patrick’s Day…”  Where that notion came from or what I thought it meant I can’t recall…because as a child, self-preservation dictated that you followed along with the crowd…so I don’t suppose I gave it much thought…I wore green. A bit later, in my early teens, I became aware of the conflict in Northern Ireland…what I understood to be a war between the Catholics and Protestants. I read a book about the 1972 Bloody Sunday incident where civil rights demonstrators were killed. And of course, everyone of my generation was aware of U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday anthem which made its debut during my college years. In the simplified world of black and white thinking, to be “orange Irish” meant that you sided with the oppressors…something no fan of Bono could ever think of doing!

The other “whiff” I recall from childhood was that the McGuffins were Scots-Irish… told to  me as “we’re the ones who caused all the trouble…” Of course the truth is never that simple. The McGuffin family members who emigrated from Scotland to Ireland were not really trouble makers, nor were they pesky Protestants looking to make trouble for the Catholics. My cursory understanding is that many Scotsmen and even some Englishmen were invited to settle in the Ulster region of Northern Ireland because the area, decimated after more than fifty years of war, was in great need of people to settle and farm the Ulster Plantations. The Scots brought along their Presbyterian religion and built churches where the previous ones had been destroyed. Even though the Scots were Protestant, they weren’t Church of Ireland or similarly Church of England, which meant they too were discriminated against under English rule. Of course the Scots had their own long, bloody battle for independence from the English. And it should be noted that the Church of Scotland is not Anglican but Presbyterian.

I recently asked my mother why–of all the things she did not remember or never knew about her father’s family–this idea of being trouble-making “orange Irish” seemed to be the legacy that endured. It was important enough to her father, she said, that it had been taught to her as a very young girl. Without really understanding why, it became important enough to her, that she taught it to her own daughters. Each generation had been taught by the one before. One of those McGuffin family teachers was Clifford’s grandfather, Preston Robertson McGuffin. Until recently, I had no knowledge of my great-great grandfather, in fact, I had been told his name was also Clifford, as my mother believed that her father had been named after him. He was, but it was his middle name of Preston that had come from his grandfather, not his first name.

Preston Robertson McGuffin at age 95

Preston Robertson McGuffin at age 95

Researching my newly discovered great-great-grandfather has been quiet interesting. Born in Hawksnest, Virginia (now West Virginia) in 1839, Preston would be buried 95 years later in Los Angeles, California. In September of 1863 at age 24, he enlisted in Company E of the 9th Cavalry Kansas Regiment of the Union Army, a regiment known to be “…employed in the irregular and hazardous warfare along the border, where it rendered valiant and faithful service against the various irregular forces of the enemy…”  In June of 1865 he would be promoted from Private to Corporal and later that year mustered out at Devall’s Bluff Arkansas. Two years later, in 1867, Preston would marry Elizabeth Jane Briscoe in Pleasant Hill Missouri. For much of his life he appears to work as a farmer in Kansas. The first four of his twelve children were indeed born in Kansas, with the fifth and sixth born in Winters California, a town near Sacramento. Number five, daughter Ella was born in 1877, just two years after the town of Winters was incorporated. Number six, my great-grandfather John Abraham was born in Winters in 1879. Whatever brought the family to California didn’t seem to keep them engaged for long, as the rest of the children were born back in Kansas. I am left to imagine what it might have been like to travel from California to Kansas circa 1880, mostly by wagon, perhaps with limited train service, with six children in tow, ranging from age twelve down to one year old. Perhaps wife Elizabeth was determined to stay put for the arrival of their next six children. The 1910 census shows that Preston, now a widower, still considered himself a farmer at age 71, even while living with his eldest daughter Annie. A number of his children located to the Los Angeles area in the early part of the 1900’s, which is likely what brought him to the area by the time of his death in 1933. Preston’s wife Elizabeth was buried in the Paola Cemetery (KS) in 1907. Her headstone includes the dates of her husband, which would lead visitors to believe he is buried right beside her—as perhaps he had intended. He is actually buried in Inglewood Park Cemetery in Southern California. His obituary states the following: “…Mr. McGuffin came of a patriotic family…for many years [he] was a leader in the Democratic party of eastern Kansas…He lived a noble life and made a splendid record.”

Preston's California headstone

Preston's California headstone

Preston's Kansas headstone

Preston's Kansas Headstone

The original McGuffins who came to the American colonies were Preston’s great-great-grandfather William McGuffin (my 6x great-grandfather) and William’s wife Nancy Nicholson, who arrived in Philadelphia sometime in the mid-1700’s. Records indicate that William died in Cumberland County Pennsylvania in 1768 and his wife Nancy, buried somewhere in Chester County Pennsylvania, died in 1779. Their son Joseph, who might have been born in Ireland (which would put immigration shortly after 1757)…appears to have followed the Philadelphia Wagon Road southward, with subsequent generations settling in Virginia and Maryland.  Joseph would die in Bourbon Kentucky in 1841, having left his wife Jane Shannon (also of Scots-Irish descent) and their children behind in Pennsylvania.

The McGuffin sons married into long-standing Scottish and English colonial families. They married well…into landed families… families with Virginia plantations. Joseph’s son William Levi (my 4x great-grandfather) married into the Seay family with roots running back to the early settlers of Jamestown Virginia. Grandson Abraham Seay McGuffin (my 3x great-grandfather) married into the Sims/Symes family, who through connections to the Garton and Angell families, were the earliest settlers of Lancaster County Virginia. Basically, all of Preston’s great-grandparents (my 5x great-grandparents)—what I call the revolution generation—were all born in the American colonies prior to the revolution.  They didn’t just help fight for independence; they helped form a new nation.  Yes indeed, a patriotic family.

So, the question remains, why would the McGuffin family, proud patriotic Americans, care so much about St. Patrick’s Day…to such a point that I—their descendent—am thinking about this notion of “orange Irish” more than 250 years later?

William and Nancy McGuffin immigrated to Pennsylvania from County Down, Ireland. With a bit of Google-searching I found that County Down seems to serve as ground zero for celebrating St. Patrick, especially as he is rumored to have been buried there.  Never really understanding the story of St. Patrick, I was surprised to learn that contrary to what I thought, St. Patrick wasn’t a Catholic saint but a pre-reformation saint (neither Catholic nor Protestant) who was honored for bringing Christianity to the Pagans around 400 AD.  It was actually an Irish Protestant organization that decided to start honoring St. Patrick as a means of unifying the Catholics and the Protestants in Ireland.

The tradition of wearing green or orange on St. Patrick’s Day is a bit more difficult to pin down. Early on, blue was the color traditionally associated with St. Patrick, but later celebrants pinned shamrocks to their lapels in honor of St. Patrick’s supposed use of the three-leaf clover to illustrate the Holy Trinity. This came to be known as “the wearing of the green.” In 1690, when Protestant William of Orange became King of England, Scotland, and Ireland by defeating the Catholic King James II, it appears people started associating orange, the literal color, with being Protestant. I came across an interesting story of a Scottish magistrate who in the late 1600’s was attempting to ward off St. Patrick’s day brawls by instructing the Scots (Presbyterians) to wear orange thistle flowers discretely pinned to their lapels. Those drunken revelers he picked up who wore the thistle were likely sent home, while the Irish who wore shamrocks were sent to jail to sober up. The magistrate’s system kept the Scots & Irish seperate, thereby limiting potential fights.

When the Scots-Irish, also known as Ulster-Scots, immigrated to the American colonies in the early and mid-1700’s, they seem to have brought their St. Patrick’s Day tradition with them. There are accounts of colonial St. Patrick’s Day celebrations occurring well before the American Revolution. Members of the McGuffin family from County Down, were surely among those celebrants. The Scots had fought against British oppression in their homeland and in Ireland, and would soon do the same in America. I can see why wearing orange had meaning to my proud ancestors. It was certainly more than just a color.

This year, in honor of my newly discovered great-great-grandfather, I will don some orange this March 17th.  But then again…I’m starting to think about my Scottish ancestors that go back even further through the centuries…you know, the Pagan ones… the ones who lost their religion when Christianity came along with people like St. Patrick. I hear Pagans like purple…maybe I’ll wear a bit of that too.

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