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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

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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