FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

The Tale of the Tail

I continue to receive requests for more ‘Elwood Drew’ stories.  Apparently, tales from his life are as funny to others as they have always been to me.

Born prematurely in the early 1900’s, the midwife didn’t think he would live, so she put him in a shoebox wrapped in a blanket and stuck him on the open oven door of the wood stove in the kitchen.  After caring for his mother, she was surprised to find him still alive when she went back into the kitchen.

When a horse stepped on his foot as a youngster, the horse shoe perfectly cut off his little toe.  He picked it up and took it to his mother who proceeded to clean both the toe and his foot and then sewed the toe back on with her needle and black thread.  I know this happened because he used to show the scars to me when I’d complain about getting immunization shots at school.

I remember watching him use his pocket knife to carve out several teeth that were bothering him when we didn’t have the money to go to the dentist.  Home remedies and home doctor’n were not strangers in our family.

The older generations were tougher than us I suppose.

whiskey_bottle_smPrior to World War II, my parents lived in Park City, Utah, where my father worked in the mines.  One of my mothers brothers lived with them while he too worked as a miner.

For various reasons, boils and carbuncles were more common place back then.  If you’ve ever had one or more of them, you understand how painful they are.

Late one evening, Dad and my uncle decided to use some ‘medicinal’ whiskey to try and fix a couple of extremely painful boils that were on the posterior of my uncles anatomy.

After testing the whiskey for poisons, they found that they’d used all of the contents. Dad turned and put the empty bottle on the coal stove in the kitchen to warm it up with the intent of using it to draw out the core of the boils as it cooled down.

Dropping his drawers, Earl presented the awful swellings to my father for remediation.

Dad put the mouth of the hot whiskey bottle over the worst offender and then they waited for it to cool and create the intended suction to pull the core free.

coal_stoveWhen telling me the story, he said that everything didn’t go quite as planned.  The boil wasn’t quite ‘ripe’ and the core wouldn’t come out.  The rapidly cooling bottle began to suck Earl’s posterior inside the narrow neck of the bottle.

Dad said that when a little over an inch of boil and surrounding flesh had been drawn into the bottle, Earl’s aplomb vanished and he began to dance around the kitchen exclaiming all kinds of things.

Apparently, his thought process increased significantly, because he rallied long enough to run to the side of the cast iron stove where he could literally, “twist and shout” and strike the bottle against the metal.

There must be a certain skill set required to break a whiskey bottle attached to your tush by swinging it against a stove, because it took a number of swings to do the trick.  After each swing, Earl’s exclamations became louder and the suction seemed to consume even more of his tender flesh.  Finally, the bottle broke and released its embrace on his rear assets.

Of course, by that time, all of the family had been awakened and had run downstairs to see who was being killed in the kitchen.

There was less psychological damage to the minds of my older siblings who witnessed the naked tush of our uncle than you might suppose.  None of them ever exhibited any lasting effects from the vision, but from time to time, I have witnessed tears run from their eyes when they’ve been together and revisited the ‘Tale of the tail’.

Family stories are a treasure.  I hope you are recording your own stories.

31 July 2009 Posted by | Diaries, Family History | , , , | Leave a comment

Cosmo, Cuthbert and Cudbear

My 5th great granduncle, Cosmo Gordon was born in 1748 in Clashdow, Morayshire, Scotland.  A descendant of the Gordon, Stewart, Grant, MacWilliam and O’Laggan families / clans in northern Scotland, Cosmo was the oldest son in the family.  As such, much was expected of him.

A Gordon Arms Living in the Gordon Castle and surrounding properties presented opportunities for education that weren’t enjoyed by all of the residents in the area.  Eventually, his education and desire to succeed in life were rewarded with wealth and notoriety.

Cosmo met beautiful young lass named Magdalen Gordon and fell in love.  I haven’t been able to trace Magdalen’s lineage beyond her father yet, but have little doubt that they were related to some extent.

Two of Magdalen’s brothers were entrepreneurs by nature, a trait that matched Cosmo’s own inclination.

George Gordon was a coppersmith from Banffshire and his brother Dr. Cuthbert Gordon was a dye merchant from Leith.

One day, while mending a copper boiler in a dye house in London, George noticed the orchil (reds) dye being used was similar to the dye used in his native highland home.

The sight sparked an idea in George’s mind.  Talking it over with his brother, Cuthbert, who had training as a doctor and chemist, the pair knew the red and purple dyes used at home were made from lichen that grew on rocks and old wood ruins.

After some experimentation, the pair discovered a secret formula to extract a permanent, non-fading dye from the lichen.

Telling their brother-in-law, Cosmo, about their discovery, the trio decided to go into business with Cosmo providing the financial expertise and many of the contacts in the marketing world.

The dye became famous because unlike other dyes on the market, it didn’t fade in the light.  The trio patented their process in 1758 under British patent no. 727 and named it “Cudbear”.  The name was unique because it was named after Cuthbert.

An entry on Wikipedia details the extraction process:

“The lichen is first boiled in a solution of ammonium carbonate. The mixture is then cooled and ammonia is added and the mixture is kept damp for 3-4 weeks. Then the lichen is dried and ground to powder. The manufacture details were carefully protected, with a ten-feet high wall being built around the manufacturing facility, and staff consisting of Highlanders sworn to secrecy. The lichen consumption soon reached 250 tons per year and import from Norway and Sweden had to be arranged.”

Eventually, Cosmo became a Deputy King’s Waiter of the Customs of the Port of  London.  In that position, he found huge errors in accounting and theft in the tobacco warehouses.  Presenting his evidence and recommendations to Prime Minister, William Pitt, on January 6, 1786.  He was subsequently appointed Comptrolling Surveyor of the Warehouse in London.

London Custom HouseCosmo’s recommendations were introduced into a new law to stop this type of theft and accounting manipulation resulting in huge increases in tax revenues to the governments coffers.

Passage of the new law was not easy because so many well connected people had benefited from the graft.  Mr. Pitt instructed Cosmo to be in attendance to all discussions of the law in the House of Lords to explain the proposal, illuminate the graft and address the opposing statements and efforts by the Lords who opposed the law.  After a long and arduous period of time, Mr. Pitt was satisfied that Cosmo had represented the proposal so well that he pushed for approval.  The law was subsequently passed in the Act of the 29th George III cap. 69.

Cosmo was promoted to Principal Surveyor of the Tobacco Warehouse, at the desire of the Commissioners of the Customs.  He traveled throughout England and Scotland arranging import agreements, procedures and documentation for several years thereafter.  As he had expected, graft and mismanagement was rampant throughout the the import activities in every port.

The Commissioners of Customs moved on his recommendations and much of the corruption was stopped.  Of course, not everyone in government, or even among the Commissioners were happy with these actions.  They had benefitted from them and thus, Cosmo accrued numerous well-placed enemies in government.

Eventually, the acrimony in their hearts moved them to action.  Cosmo was forced out of his prestigious position in London to a lesser assignment in Liverpool where he lived the rest of his life.

Magdalen Gordon died on 24 Oct 1796 in London.

Cosmo eventually remarried. On 12 Jan 1808, he and Mrs. Sarah Butler were joined as husband and wife.

Cosmo and Magdalen had two children:

Thomas Gordon of whom it was said that he “seemed to possess rather more than common abilities, and never was sent to any school except to learn French, having acquired all the knowledge he had under his father.  Indeed he was almost self-taught, for he used to say that what one had heard and seen and could not teach himself to do, it was not worth being taught.  He prided himself in his penmanship and accuracy in accounts, and at the time of his death he kept as elegant a set of mercantile books as any in London.”  He died October 1798, in his 19th year.

Robert Henry Butler Gordon, who was third mate in the Albion East Indiaman and died the preceding year at Bencoolan, on his voyage to China, in the 24th year of his age.

With his death, his branch of the Gordon family surname ended although the Gordon name was carried in the names of many generations of the descendants of his only sister, Elizabeth Gordon, who married Major James Logie.

24 July 2009 Posted by | Genealogy | , , | 3 Comments

Farmers Feud

Featherstone and Richardson ended their water rights argument on Sept. 20th in Bonne Terre, Mo.


17 July 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My Mother Was a Quilter

A cascade of vintage quilting fabric brought back memories of growing up with a mother who was a quilter.  As the caboose in the family, I frequented the quilting bees she attended because there was no one at home to tend me.

My parents raised my older siblings during the depression and were grateful to have the cloth from flour sacks to make pajama’s, aprons and probably play blouses to wear under my sister’s jumpers.

Even though I was born two decades later than them, I also heard the constant refrain; “Wear it out.  Use it up or do without”.  The extreme lessons learned in the depression never left my parents minds.

Hence, the pattern of the vintage fabric produced a flashback of laying my bored, tired young body under a quilt frame with a quilt stretched across it.  Surrounding me were the legs of a dozen women wearing similarly patterned dresses, thick hose and ‘sturdy’ shoes.  I can still hear their constant chatter, laughter and the occasional ‘Ouch!’ from an errant stitch.  Once the “chickens in the coop” started to cluck, my eyes rarely stayed open for more than two minutes.  Maybe someone should sell that sound as a sleep aid for children and men.

Of course I married a quilter.  Not necessarily by conscious thought, but certainly to my delight.  The craft has passed on to our daughters and daughters-in-law.  When I sit in my chair in the living room and they all gather to discuss their latest projects, designs and favorite fabric patterns, the two minute rule is still in effect.  Cackle, cackle, ….. snore….

Unfortunately, all of the guys in our family think there is a downside to our wives hobby.  Sometimes we are dragged by them, (usually screaming), to a fabric store.

Reading the Pickles comic strip makes me think its creator has a copy of the security tapes from my visits to these stores.  I’m obviously the inspiration for the strips covering this subject.



Mom’s quilting legacy lives on in the current generations.  They don’t make many quilts out of old Levi’s and worn out shirts like Mom did, but they do help several quilting stores remain viable in our area.

I’m glad the legacy is being passed on to our granddaughters.  They are full of creative ideas and are bonding with the older quilters in the family in ways that make me smile.

I wonder how far back the quilting talent can be traced in their lineage.  It was probably less ‘fun’ for the earlier generations.  Our grandmothers were sewing clothing to wear and quilts to warm their beds rather than the current creations that are produced under less pressure and thus with probably a little more enjoyment of the work.

Looking at some of the designs in my grandmothers old quilts makes me think that there was more than a little whimsy stitched into their designs though.  The patterns are obvious, but when you explore the stitches closely, you often discover the quilters initials and other signature stitch designs.  If you spend just a few minutes more, you can see the elongated, crooked and loose stitches that were made by the young folks in the family who were being taught the craft as they sat in on a quilting bee.

All the quilts our ladies have made are Treasure.  Pure Treasure.

That’s family history you can touch!

16 July 2009 Posted by | Research Tips | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Twig That Knocked Down A Brick Wall

None of the descendants of Hiram Anderson had been able to find his ancestry.  A single scant clue to his lineage was in the note stating that he was born ‘on the north branch of the Potomac River.

Single individuals and cousin groups had searched for the meaning of this phrase for years.  Finally, two cousins who live many states away contacted me via the web and our ancestral musings rekindled the quest.

I lived closest to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, so the task to spend whatever time required to break this brick wall in our ancestry fell to me.  There were only two days available in my schedule for months ahead, so I spent them at the library from door opening to door closing.  If a book or film had any reference to any Anderson in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia or West Virginia, I copied the page, listed the source reference on it and tucked it into my briefcase to review later during late night hours at home.  My time in the library was too valuable to spend any of it analyzing the pages.

There were a lot of promising clues but none detailed any facts that could tie our Hiram Anderson to the Anderson families in that area.

ForsheyAndersonTwig.jpgNight after night, I extracted the facts on the photocopied pages into a new database that I’d created for this quest.  All the handwritten notes, drawings and poor copies were scanned and enlarged to be studied on my computer monitors.

This activity continued for weeks with no success and then one night I noticed some tiny writing on the branches of a hand-drawn image of a family tree.  Hiram’s uncle had long ago had drawn the tree for his extended family and a copy of it survived to be published in a family history.  When I enlarged the area of interest by 500%, Christmas arrived early.

There, detailed in small print, was the name of Hiram Anderson with the correct names of his siblings.  He was the son of William Anderson and Nancy Ann Forshee.  The puzzle pieces all fell into place.  Because his parents names were in the database that I’d created from the research copies, I was able to construct both sides of Hiram’s ancestry for several generations.

Hiram’s parents move their family from Anderson’s Bottom in Hampshire County, Virginia west to Fairfield, Ohio in April 1806. In February, 1807, Hiram’s mother died leaving William with six children. The youngest, Rachel, was only two years old at that time. The family struggled to survive on the frontier, building a log home, clearing the land for farming and growing enough food to eat.

As with most early settlers in frontier settings, births, marriages and deaths were usually only recorded in a family bible, if they were recorded at all. This was true for the Anderson family.

William Anderson’s father, Thomas Anderson, served as a captain in the Revolutionary War and was involved in the surrender of Cornwallis that effectively ended the war. He had also served as a captain in the local militia protecting the settlements in western Virginia from attacks by the Indians and British. Both he and his father, William, knew George Washington personally. As a young man, General Washington worked as a surveyor and frequently stayed with the Anderson family. Service to their country and fellow men was deeply instilled into the hearts and minds of the men of the Anderson family.

At the outbreak of the War of 1812, William Anderson and three of his brothers joined the militia in defense of the fledgling United States against the British and their Indian warriors. Three of the brothers didn’t survive to returned home. Among them was Hiram’s father, William Anderson, who had died at Fort Malden, Ontario, Canada. Hiram was left to support and raise his younger siblings alone.

No wonder birth, death and other records were difficult to find. A move to the frontier where record keeping was scarce. A mother dying soon thereafter leaving a husband and six children scrambling to survive and carve out a home and farm from the raw land. A war that took the father from the home to never return.

I’d love to shake the hand of my great grand uncle who drew the family tree so there was a record of Hiram’s lineage that was created by someone who knew him personally.

Fortunately, several primary and many secondary sources were in the stack of copied records about the Anderson Family.  Because I had time at home to carefully sift through the pages, details emerged that helped fill blank lines in my database. They also pointed me to other areas to search including specific documents and sources that were in the Library in Salt Lake and some that required written requests and associated fees.

The twig on the tree expanded to bring down our brick wall.  To date, we have only found circumstantial evidence of Hiram’s ancestry in other records.  The hand-drawn tree by his uncle is the only record that lists Hiram with his parents.

Sometimes the smallest clues bring great rewards.  Moral: Never give up.  Check, double check and even triple check all of the data from your research.  The smallest element may be the seed that expands to break down your brick wall.

15 July 2009 Posted by | Documents | , , , | 1 Comment

1,000th Cousin Contact

1,000 extended cousins have now contacted me after finding my websites.  Years ago, I wondered if the effort to create the sites was worth the investment of time.   I wish all of my investments had such fantastic returns.

Slow Joe The contacts have been mutually beneficial for all of us.  I share information that I’ve found about our joint family during my lifetime of research and they share information that they have inherited or have found in their own ancestral quest.

All of us have unique perspectives and advantages of local resources and family knowledge.  The combination of our efforts in continued research always produces more than the sum of our two data repositories.  Perhaps it is generated by the spark of renewed interest resulting from our contact, but it is probably due to many factors especially the complimentary engagement of our skills and perspectives.

If you are reading this you are probably already using the Internet and social tools focused in genealogy in your own quest.  If you aren’t enjoying a lot of contacts yet, don’t give up.  Keep posting your successes, your brick wall lineages and the surnames and locations you are researching.

Help others if you can.  You’ll always receive substantial interest from this investment of your time, talents and resources.

10 July 2009 Posted by | Research Tips | , , | 1 Comment