You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Genealogy’ tag.

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.


What does one do when they’ve been given a family name, a weighty name—a name bestowed through multiple generations—that doesn’t feel quite comfortable to bear?

Look Up! You might find a clue to your ancestry. Diller Avenue leads directly into New Holland PA

Look Up! You might find a clue to your ancestry. Diller Avenue leads directly into New Holland PA

Such is the case for my husband. He was named George Diller Herr, III. This was never a name he thought much of or has been particularly attached to. He was never called George because that was his father’s name. Instead he was given a nickname. None of his given names leant to any great nicknames… like a Smitty or a Mac. Instead he was called Chip. He’s never really liked this name either. Some people will call him “Skip” which he HATES…and others assume the nickname is an offshoot of Charles. Living in the Philadelphia area, when my husband introduces himself as Chip Herr, the question most often asked (a solid 9 times out of 10) is “are you related to the potato chip Herrs?” (If you don’t understand this question, visit for background.) Some people “hear” Chipper…and will just call him that, perhaps assuming he’s lost his last name like Cher or Madonna. It can devolve into a bit of a “who’s on first” routine. Chipper? No, Chip Herr. Mr. Herr? No, I’m a Him. Are you a potato chip Herr? No, I’m a pretzel guy.

What has complicated my husband’s situation even further is that beyond his father, he’s never had any connection to the former George Diller Herrs, or as it turns out George Dillers. Why this name? Why was it so important to pass down? Who were these ancestors who sent their name forward into future generations? He hadn’t the slightest clue.

In recent months I have rekindled my fascination with numerology—a sort of science of numbers based on the universal law that all things are made up of vibrations (energy), a law applied to people as well as things. Numerologists believe that each number has its own vibratory influence and therefore its own characteristics. A person’s name, day, month, and year of birth, among other factors can all be calculated to reveal very particular characteristics. I am fascinated by the information one can glean from this process. But what most piqued my interest in the subject, is the numerological belief that there is a special set of circumstances when a person is given a family name, and that perhaps, upon assuming said name, that child also takes on multiple generations of family karma.

This got me thinking…can we really inherit family traits numerologically just as we can inherit characteristics genetically? What if, like my husband, you have no particular resonance with the name you’ve been given and virtually no knowledge of where the family name came from?

the signs are everywhere... if only you pay attention

the signs are everywhere… if only you pay attention

Those of you who have read this blog before know that I have taken great pride in learning about my ancestors. I grew up with great family stories…and it’s been a real spiritual journey to discover even more about my ancestry. Finding these family names represented throughout history—in census reports, on land maps, and newspaper articles—has changed me. I look at the world a bit differently now. I thought perhaps helping my husband answer some of the questions about his own name might change the way he feels about himself. As it turns out, I didn’t have to go very far to find to make some large discoveries…only about 70 miles west of the place I current sit writing this post.

But before I reveal some of what I’ve found hanging on my husband’s family tree, you need a bit more background to appreciate these discoveries (or should I say the irony of these discoveries…) My husband was raised Catholic in southern New Jersey. He believed his paternal roots were in New England. When we first met more than twenty years ago, he was living and working in Lancaster City, Pennsylvania. When we were married in the Presbyterian Church in my hometown, it was a REALLY big deal to his mother (she still hasn’t forgiven me.) Shortly after we married we moved to Providence, Rhode Island (relocating from Hoboken, New Jersey where we had first settled.) We now live in Philadelphia, PA.

My father-in-law, the second George Diller Herr was born and raised in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. He was raised Presbyterian by a devout Scottish mother. Mary Dickson, arrived in the U.S. with her parents Andrew & Mary (Ross) Dickson, in the early 1900’s. Mary’s father worked in the textile mills in Paisley, Scotland, his last job listed as a power loom operator (1901 Scotland census). Pawtucket is where the US textile industry was born more than a hundred years prior at Slater’s Mill. It makes sense the Dickson family would end up where they did as the 1920 U.S. Federal census shows Andrew working in a local dye works factory. By all accounts, Nana Herr (mother of George 2) was a large personality. Her Scottish Presbyterian presence (and that of her Dickson family) would be all the more influential in her son’s world when his father died when George was only 13 years old.  Perhaps this is where the stories of the Herr & Diller names would start to disappear from family legacy. Even George’s grandmother (Mary Diller Herr) would die just after his 15th birthday, following her own husband who had died before George (2) was born.

My introduction into the world of the first George Diller Herr started with the 1940 Federal census. It was here I discovered he was born in Pennsylvania.  I already knew that this George had a father named Rufus. Turns out he was actually named Henry Rufus Herr and George’s mother was named Mary Diller. Rufus & Mary Herr had two sons, their eldest was named after Rufus’s father, John Forrer Herr, the younger was named after Mary’s father, George Diller.

George Diller Herr (1) grew up on his father’s farm in Strasburg, Pennsylvania. He majored in Mechanical Engineering at Lehigh University where he was a star wrestler. Like me, you might be wondering how a farm boy from a small town in Lancaster County PA ended up in Pawtucket Rhode Island. I found a clue in a 1914 Lehigh Yearbook. George was never meant to stay on the farm. Follow this link for the story of Shorty the “finest scrapper of us all”  George Herr 1 Lehigh yearbook 1914

Upon graduation, his Mechanical Engineering degree would take him to the center of the textile industry, where by age 24 he was employed at a Bleachery factory. During WWI he was employed by E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. in Hopewell, VA as a munitions worker. He would return to Rhode Island where he would resume working in the textile industry. By the time he married Mary Dickson in this mid-30’s, he appears to be prosperous enough to take his wife on a cruise aboard the Fort Victoria to Hamilton, Bermuda in September of 1926. By the 1940’s he was in a supervisory role at the Sayles Finishing Plants, Inc. of Lincoln RI.

There is much to be said about the Herr clan, but for now, I will just say it is a revelation that the first George Diller Herr found his way out of Pennsylvania, for he (along with his brother John) was the first to do so from his particular family branch. By doing so, they had left behind family land and a family legacy more than 200 years and 7 generations in the making. It was their father Henry Rufus Herr who started the ball rolling when he married Mary Diller. His marriage might not have been an easy decision, for he came from a long line of Swiss Mennonites, and the woman he married was a Reformed German Lutheran. With his marriage, he would likely have said goodbye to his entire family, who would not tolerate a marriage outside their faith. Based on the evidence of where his parents and siblings are buried, only Rufus and his brother John Ellsworth Herr are resting in non-Mennonite burial grounds. I need to dig a bit deeper, but the big revelation here is that the Herr family is not German, but Swiss (having come to the Colonies through Germany and England.) The Herr family received their land patent directly from the Penn family in about 1710, and they were among the earliest settlers of the area. The story of the Mennonites in Lancaster County PA , the Herrs and ancillary families, will be covered in Part 2 of this post. But for now we will switch to the Diller side of the story…to Mary Diller Herr’s father, and the eponym of her second son George Diller Herr (1).

Chip with his paternal great-grandparents at the Strasburg Cemetery...Rufus & his brother John (buried nearby) are the only members of their immediate family not buried in a Mennonite burial ground

Chip with his paternal great-grandparents at the Strasburg Cemetery…Rufus & his brother John (buried nearby) are the only members of their immediate family not buried in a Mennonite burial ground

Mary Diller Herr’s father, George Diller was born in 1827 into a distinguished family. When I started looking for “George Diller” in Lancaster County, PA, I found many of them. There appears to be at least one (and really multiples) in every generation of the Diller family. The earliest I found being born in 1777. That would make more than 200 years of George Dillers living in Pennsylvania. But the Diller name goes back even further in Pennsylvania, to Caspar Diller (1675-1775). A book written about the Diller family in the 19th century states that Caspar’s father, who was from Alsace France, was forced to leave his home due to the Catholic persecution of his Protestant views. It is believed he escaped to Holland sometime before 1700, where he became a shoemaker. Caspar found his way to England where he met his wife Barbara, but would be sent to Germany (perhaps by edict of the British Royalty) where several of his children were born. Philip Adam Dieler (1723-1777) was born near Heidelberg before the entire family would immigrate to the Pennsylvania Colony seeking religious freedom—arriving about 1733.

Chip kneeling between his 5th & 6x great-grandfathers. His 6x great-grandmother Maria Ellmaker is buried to the right of Philip and his 5x great-grandmother Salome Yundt is buried to the left of Adam

Chip kneeling between his 5th & 6x great-grandfathers. His 6x great-grandmother Maria Ellmaker is buried to the right of Philip and his 5x great-grandmother Salome Yundt is buried to the left of Adam

Diller might be an anglicized version of the French De-ller, pronounced De-lare. Philip chose to spell his name Dieler, while his son Adam (1746-1823)—who was born in Pennsylvania—utilized Diller. Whatever the spelling, the family appears to have acclimated quite well to their new country. Caspar was a farmer. His wife Barbara brought with her from Germany a graft of a pear tree which would become popular in the horticultural realm as the Diller Pear. Through the generations their offspring found jobs in politics, the military, and in the medical and legal professions. They worked as merchants, authors, and clergy. In religion the Diller family is split between German Reformed and Episcopalian. More than anything they seemed to be large landowners with a keen ability for matrimonial alliances. Through their marriages, the Diller family connected themselves to some of the most distinguished families of the time (rumors of connections to Washington & Madison among them.) Philip Diller married into the Ellmaker family, (father-in-law Leonard arrived from Prussia in 1726). His brother-in-law Nathaniel Ellmaker was a member of the Pennsylvania State Senate in 1796. His wife Maria Ellmaker’s nieces would become the preeminent citizens of Philadelphia, all marrying important men (interesting Civil War connections here…more on this later too!)

Philip & Maria’s son Adam (1746-1823) would marry Salome Yundt in 1769 and serve as a soldier of the Fifth Company, Eight Battalion in the Lancaster County Pennsylvania Militia, during the Revolutionary War. Adam’s nephew (through his brother Leonard) also named Adam Diller (1789-1823) would serve as the Adjutant-General of Pennsylvania and would also fight in the War of 1812 & the Mexican American War. (Dillerville PA would be named for General Diller.) But it is Adam (1746-1823) and his wife Salome who would produce the first George…naming their third son George Yundt Diller (1777-1842). At this point I am assuming that George was also a farmer, as his sons would be. Our line runs through Isaac (1804-1865) who appears in the U.S. Federal census as a farmer living in Salisbury Township, Gap Pennsylvania—but one of means—his wealth is listed in 1860 as $15K in real estate and $1500 in personal property, along with 2 house servants to cater to his 4 family members. Isaac’s brother George was also a farmer with land in nearby New Holland.

This George Diller farm in New Holland is likely the brother of our Isaac (1804-1865) and was right down Main Street from where his grandfather's were buried at Trinity Lutheran.

This George Diller farm in New Holland is likely the brother of our Isaac (1804-1865) and was right down Main Street from where his grandfather’s were buried at Trinity Lutheran. Found in a reproduction printing of a C.1900 Illustrated Historical Atlas of Lancaster County

Isaac and his wife Elizabeth would name their second son George (1823-1884). This George married Hannah Rutter. Hannah was descended from Conrad (Bucher) Rutter who arrived in Philadelphia on the ship “America” in 1683. The Rutter family initially settled in Francis Daniel Pastorius’ Germantown settlement in Philadelphia, but would purchase land in Leacock Township where they would remain for the next hundred and fifty years prior to Hannah’s birth. George and Hannah broke tradition with their farming roots and became “Hotel keepers” running hotels in Leacock, Salisbury Township, and Paradise Township. George & Hannah Diller were members of the Zeltenreich (German) Reformed Church in New Holland. Hannah gave birth to eight children, including one named George who died before the age of 2. Their fifth child Mary was born in 1866.

Zeltenreich Reformed Church in New Holland

Zeltenreich Reformed Church in New Holland

The Zeltenreich Cemetery is the resting place for many Dillers, including a fair number of George Dillers

The Zeltenreich Cemetery is the resting place for many Dillers, including a fair number of George Dillers

Chip with his 4x great-grandpatents: the first known George Diller born in 1777 buried next to his wife Mary Anna Eckert (1780-1852)

Chip with his 4x great-grandpatents: the first known George Diller born in 1777 buried next to his wife Mary Anna Eckert (1780-1852)

Chip's 2x great-grandparents George & Hannah (Rutter) Diller

Chip’s 2x great-grandparents George & Hannah (Rutter) Diller

The legacy of this George Diller- the Hotel Keeper- is one to be proud of..."An affectionate husband, A kind father and a friend to all"

The legacy of this George Diller- the Hotel Keeper- is one to be proud of…”An affectionate husband, A kind father and a friend to all”

I am still left with a number of questions. How and when did Rufus, who was raised in a closed Mennonite community, meet Mary Diller, the girl raised in local hotels? Was she the reason he left behind his Mennonite faith or did that happen before they met? Rufus was 31 when he married so he likely made his decision previously, but hopefully more research will provide some definitive answers. Several of Rufus’s cousins left the faith and made their way in the “English” world in a big way. Stay tuned for tales of a chocolate innovator, a brain left to science, and the answer to that pesky little question… “are you related to the potato chip Herrs?”

 Oh and my husband tells me he’s now contemplating adopting his given name for everyday use. No more Chip. You may now call him George.

In my very first blog post, Peace from the Pieces, I mentioned the project I have been working on—ghostwriting a book about someone else’s ancestor—and how that work fueled my curiosity about my own family legacy. Last month, the book William Lewis, Esquire: Enlightened Statesman, Profound Lawyer, and Useful Citizen was officially published. At the end of June, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania hosted a lovely event to celebrate the memory of Esther Ann McFarland (the author and woman I worked for) and publication of the book. I have to admit that since the party, I have taken a bit of a mental vacation…I’ve done little writing (fictional or otherwise), no genealogical research…no “production” of anything new. Perhaps that is how it should be. Perhaps I am still letting go a bit before I can refocus on what’s left before me.


Rudy Garcia (former Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association) with George McFarland (on right, Esther Ann’s son) holding a copy of the book (photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania)


In the meantime, I thought I’d share a few photos and words from the event. It meant a great deal to be able to share my experiences with the attendees—my relationship with Esther Ann and the process of becoming a ghostwriter and later co-author of the book.  I was grateful to have my mother, husband, and several close friends in attendance, as well as many of the people who helped along the way. A nice crowd of people came out to honor Esther Ann. She had many friends and those in attendance represented a number of important local organizations: The Historical Society of the US District Court (Eastern PA), Historic Strawberry Mansion, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, The American Swedish Historical Museum, Daughters of the American Revolution (among others), and of course The Historical Society of Pennsylvania who hosted the entire event.


Me (in the middle), with my mom Sandi on the left and Sandi Hewlett (the genealogist extraordinaire who provided research on the Lewis family and tracked down William’s final resting place just as we were going to print!)


Those of you interested in history, specifically Philadelphia history, and especially the history of law, will enjoy reading the book. William Lewis, like many American Patriots, was a man who wore many hats. A leader of the Philadelphia bar before the American Revolution, he would continue to build his legal reputation by defending those accused of treason, and during the Early National period he would become the leading authority on trade and maritime law. He would serve as a leading counselor to the Pennsylvania Abolition Society throughout his life, after helping to draft the Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in Pennsylvania. Lewis was an avid Federalist and politically active at both the state and federal levels. President George Washington appointed Lewis the first United States Attorney for the District of Pennsylvania and later the second judge of the District Court of Pennsylvania. He was one of the first attorneys admitted as counselor to the bar of the United States Supreme Court and was called upon to provide advice and counsel to a number of high-profile individuals including Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.


Lee Arnold in HSP’s beautiful reading room where attendees could see first-hand some of the important documents used in writing the book on the life of William Lewis, including rarely seen early maps and William Rawle’s journals.


I enjoyed getting to know Lewis through the eyes of his great-great-great-granddaughter and through the eyes of his friends and students who often wrote about him in their journals and letters. In time, I found that, like those before me, I also found William Lewis to be quite an interesting man.

Here are the words I shared with those who attended the book party at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania on the twenty-six of June 2012:

Here I am asking the question…What Would William Lewis Do? (Photo courtesy the Historical Society of Pennsylvania)


“What Would William Lewis Do?

That was the question I found myself asking as I read a newspaper article about the case of Carol Anne Bond v. United States, a Pennsylvania case that reached the United States Supreme Court in early 2011. Not your typical Supreme Court fare…the case involved a love triangle, chemical weapons, postal inspectors, an international treaty, and the 10th Amendment.  The 10th Amendment you may remember makes explicit the idea that the federal government is limited only to the powers granted in the constitution.  Add in the concepts of separation of powers, federalism, and an individual’s right to liberty and there is no doubt in my mind that William Lewis would have led the charge in defending Carol Anne Bond—despite her guilty plea—in arguing that the federal government had gone too far in using a terrorism statute, to prosecute a domestic dispute, that should have played out in a state court.

So, you may ask…how did I find myself pondering the thoughts of an 18th century attorney while reading about this modern day Supreme Court case?

I blame it all on Esther Ann McFarland.

In one of those “the universe works in mysterious ways” circular moments…I first became aware of Esther Ann more than eight years ago, while I was working here at HSP [The Historical Society of Pennsylvania]…right upstairs in the President’s office. I actually  first encountered her when I “found” her in our database…a Mrs. George C. McFarland, who like clock-work, diligently made annual contributions in support  of HSP. Multiple changeovers in staff meant that no one in the President’s office at that point had any knowledge of her…so I decided to give her a call to introduce myself and to invite her to an upcoming event for our newly formed Treasures Society. The Treasures Society, I informed her, was a special group of our most dedicated supporters…a group she was already well-qualified to join based on her long history of financial contributions. Of course, we all fell in love with Esther Ann when we met her at the party… this spry & petite lady who was so full of love and laughter. Afterward I sent Esther Ann a picture that was taken at the event… of her with then HSP board president Colin McNeil…both sporting brightly colored gold jackets and broad smiles…so off the picture went…and  I don’t think two days had passed before I received a note in reply along with yet another generous contribution. This was the start of a renewed relationship between Esther Ann & HSP. In all of us, myself, Lee Arnold [Director of the Library at HSP], and other staff members, EA found a whole new audience to enlighten about the venerable esquire William Lewis, her great-great-great-grandfather.

And somehow, we all became sucked into the project… Lee’s staff was processing the papers of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, so he was on the lookout for any mention of William Lewis…through the years Lee would continue to send EA tidbits he’d come across, anything he thought might be of interest to her.

Even after I left my position at HSP, as we maintained our friendship… I kept track of her progress on what became known as “the book.” “How’s the book?” I’d ask as if it were a person… During this time period she decided if she was going to complete this project…turning all of her years of research into an actual published book… that she needed help organizing and writing. I sent a few of my writer friends her way in hopes that they could work as her ghost… it took awhile but I was happy to hear that she had finally hired someone to help.

Another year or so went by…and during one of our phone conversations she shared her frustration that the book wasn’t progressing as she’d hoped…and she was on her second “helper.” During this same conversation, I had mentioned that I was thinking about picking up some additional work to help make ends meet…Esther Ann then decided we were the answer to each other’s needs…and indeed…that was true… so in the spring of 2010 I started working for her…  At the time, a little over two years ago, Esther Ann estimated it would be a six month project…and that sounded reasonable to me…

And having followed the project for a number of years, I thought I’d had an understanding of what I signed on for… and then I was introduced to more than forty years of research…overflowing filing cabinets and boxes…and all the stories Esther Ann wanted to include in her book.

Here are just a few of the topics she had in mind:

The Swedish settlement in Pennsylvania…and a little known land exchange between the Swanson brothers and William Penn, it turns out the Indians didn’t own the land on which Penn wanted to build his city of Brotherly Love…the Swansons did…

Then there was the extensive title research she’d done on the land the Swanson’s had been given (which is now part of Fairmount Park), as it relates to Historic Strawberry Mansion

The Welsh Quakers (Lewis’s ancestors), and their plan for a Welsh Barony in Philadelphia and their relationship to William Penn

There’s the story of Lewis’s summer home…Summerville which in time lost its name and is now referred to as Historic Strawberry Mansion… and the big question… how did that happen…and it’s not how you think…

And of course there was much to say about William Lewis himself…  his service to our Founding Fathers and the new nation… his involvement in the Abolition movement and in drafting the Act of the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in Pennsylvania…

That  was just the beginning…of what Esther Ann had in mind when she pictured her book in her mind’s eye… so I started to dig into her research and ponder how all of this might come together into one cohesive manuscript.

I’d like to point out some tidbits of research…

There was her March 1966 correspondence with the secretary of the Chester County Historical Society (I point it out because I was not yet two years old at the time she was having this conversation…a typed letter sent via the post office.)

Her 1989 correspondence with John McIlhenny of the Fairmount Park Commission is very interesting… where she indicated her great disappointment in an interpretation plan for Strawberry Mansion that had been presented that did not take into account the eleven items of research she had previously submitted to the Commission. She indicated that she was taking no chances with the mail this time, she would hand deliver the information to Mr. McIlhenny directly to his office. I am happy to report that when I personally visited the archives of the Park Commission in 2011, I found all of Esther Ann’s primary research included in their Strawberry Mansion files. (In other words, they wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.)

So, we were not just writing a book…Esther Ann was not going to rest until she could ensure—by whatever means available—that the legacy of her great-great-great-grandfather would not just live on… but would be interpreted correctly and not be forgotten a second time. William Lewis’s contributions to our nation are certainly important…and the fact that a case such as Carol Anne Bond v. United States could be heard in the United States Supreme Court in 2011 is certainly a testament to the work of William Lewis in setting the earliest legal precedents.

And while Esther Ann is no longer with us in the physical world, those of us who knew her, have no doubt that she is here with us in spirit, thrilled that her dream has become a reality… I am really grateful to have played a part.”


The book on sale in the lobby of HSP during the party


For those of you interested in reading the book, it is available on and also directly from the publisher at . If you live in Philadelphia, there are copies on sale at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania (corner of 13th and Locust).

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?

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.

Elmer & Frank like to talk...

I came across Elmer and Frank a few years back when I was doing some research—looking for photos of Scottsbluff during the WWII era for a book I hope to write. I discovered many useful images on the American Memory website hosted by the Library of Congress, (visit to view an amazing collection of digitized images available online) but there was something about these two men…they spoke to me…so much so that I ended up printing out a copy of their photo and tacking it to the bulletin board next to my desk. They hang out with me every time I sit down at my computer to write. I don’t know anything about Elmer and Frank beyond their names and the fact that they were on the board of something called the Cooperative Association of Scottsbluff Homesteads. The picture was taken in September of 1941 as part of a project for the Farm Security Administration. These two men would have been acquainted with the members of my family who were farmers, great-granddad Henry Otte and his sons, as well as great-granddad Archie Kaasch who was no longer farming at that time, but was working for the Farmers’ Union Co-op. It would be interesting to figure out those possible relationships. What could Elmer and Frank tell me about my own family?

Elmer and Frank are just two of the chorus of voices that have taken up residence in my head. My fictional characters—who already compete to tell me their stories—are none too happy about sharing space with all these ancestors who have joined them now that I’ve taken on this genealogical journey. My fictional characters are easier to deal with. They tell me what food they like, what music they want to listen to…some even have their own playlists on my iPod. They do get a bit restless though when I ignore them for too long. But these ancestors…I haven’t quite figured out what they want to tell me. I suppose the first step really is in the discovery of who they are. I have faith the rest will come in due time.

My friend Joe Paprzycki, a playwright and the Producing Artistic Director of the South Camden Theatre Company is an inspiration to me when it comes to figuring out who’s telling me what. He’s been able to combine all his voices in a unique manner. What first attracted me to Joe—as a friend and as a playwright—is his love of family history. Here is a man who not only uses his family as inspiration for much of his writing, but he was also able to build his new theater on the moldering remains of his grandfather’s former bar. I highly recommend that you take time to visit the theatre company’s website and read about the history behind this undertaking. (And of course, if you live in the vicinity, take in a show!) Joe opened the 2010/2011 season in his newly built theater with his own play entitled Last Rites… a beautiful and heartbreaking story about the men and women who lived through the decline of Camden during the exodus of the shipbuilding companies in the 1960’s.  I had enjoyed an earlier production of Last Rites, but to see it in the same (remade) space, where the actual individuals who inspired the fictional characters sat at Walt’s Café bar some fifty years prior, was a different experience altogether. If you believe in ghosts…well, let’s just say there was a spirit about the place that night.

This past Saturday night my husband, and a friend and I went over to Camden to see Joe’s newest play…one that he’s been working on for over twelve years… Tennessee’s Final Curtain. As it turns out, the subject of the play, the great playwright Tennessee Williams, had a number of voices in his head as well. Tennessee’s family history helped shape his iconic characters…Blanche and Stanley in Streetcar… Big Daddy, Brick and Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof…to name a few.  Joe in turn, spent a great deal of time haunting the places that Tennessee frequented—the towns and cities, even the hotel rooms—as he channeled the spirit of the earlier playwright.  Earlier that afternoon I had been sitting at my computer—with Elmer and Frank looking on—writing about this notion of “voices in my head” and how grateful I am I don’t live in a time where I would have been locked away for being completely crazy. And there I sat in the darkened theater…and one of Joe’s characters starts talking about “…the voices and being locked away…” I have stopped believing in coincidences…things like this just happen way too much in my life. The characters on stage, through the words Joe had written, were speaking directly to me.

Experiences such as this convince me further that my genealogical journey is leading somewhere…and is obviously more than a search for dead relatives. As I move forward, I am attempting not to feel the need to come up with some pre-determined outcome…but to simply remind myself to just keep moving forward and to stay tuned to all these new voices I am inviting in. And yes, to reassure myself periodically that I’m not going crazy.

Next up… tomorrow I will spend the day at the Philadelphia Convention Center for Ancestry Day sponsored by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Even though I’ve spent a good deal of time on, I hope to pick up some new tricks of the trade. This will be less about tuning into the voices and more about learning how to access and organize the information that’s available to all of us researching our family roots. Imagine…hundreds of people with the voices of their ancestors in their heads…all in the same place at the same time. Hint, I currently have 1157 members on my family tree and expected attendance at tomorrow’s event is at least 400 people. Should be interesting.

Past Posts

%d bloggers like this: