Northumberland Research

Many of my ancestors originally came from England and Wales; 71% of my DNA is from Great Britain, according to Ancestry.  But unlike the more distant ancestors who left England for America in the 1600’s, the ones from Northumberland, who emigrated in 1881, seem almost close enough to touch.

My mother knew her grandmother, Mary Payne, very well, and we even have a photograph of Mary’s father, John Payne (born in England in 1846), holding my mother as an infant in the early 1930’s. So it feels like my connection to these people and this place easily spans the distance of time.

The family of Mary Payne’s mother, Jane Weightman, was the focus of my Northumberland research.  Jane was the oldest of three children born to Andrew Weightman and Mary Tunney in coal company housing in Radcliffe Terrace, long since demolished.

The family of Andrew Weightman and Mary Tunney

All three of Andrew and Mary’s children were baptized in St. Lawrence Church in Warkworth.  See my previous post “January in Northumberland” for photos of the church.

Before going to Northumblerland, I already knew the names and dates for most of my direct ancestors back to the mid-1700’s.  My goal was to confirm the vital events for all of the children of my directs so I would be able to create accurate Family Group Sheets, and also to try to solve some stubborn mysteries.  I was very successful with the former, but not so much with the latter.  Sometimes we have to accept the fact that not all family mysteries are solvable!

Andrew Weightman and Mary Tunney married in 1847 in a civil ceremony at the Register Office in Alnwick, and not in a parish church, and I wonder whether that choice had anything to do with the fact that Mary had an illegitimate son, born the year before, father unknown.  Mary was 26 when they married, whereas Andrew was only 22, definitely making me wonder about the significance, if any, of the older, more experienced woman with the younger man.

In 1851, three years after marrying Andrew and having their first two children, Mary’s five-year-old illegitimate son, John William Tunney, was enumerated in the household of his maternal grandparents.  Was this just a visit coinciding with census night, or did young John live there rather than with his mother and stepfather?

A short seven years after their wedding, Andrew, age 29, was killed in an accident at the Radcliffe Colliery.  Here’s the newspaper account of the coroner’s inquest:1

Newcastle Courant, Andrew Weightman Coroner’s Inquest, 1 Dec 1854

We can only wonder whether the three young children, all under the age of seven, witnessed this scene in their small house, and remembered it for the rest of their lives.

And how did Mary survive as a widow with three young children? Colliery company housing was only provided to working miners.  Several of Andrew’s brothers were working at the same place, so perhaps she and the children moved in temporarily with one of them.

Seven years after Andrew’s death, Mary was still living at Radcliffe Colliery, this time appearing in the census with her 15 year old son, John William Tunney (a miner), her children by Andrew Weightman (Jane, Ralph and James) and a boarder.  And, a little surprise:  a two year old son named Thomas Weightman, who couldn’t possibly be the son of Andrew.2

1861 England Census showing Mary Tunney Weightman’s household

Mary disappeared from the records after the 1861 census. One of my research projects at the Northumberland Archives was to examine the payroll records of the Radcliffe Colliery to see if they might provide any clues about the movements of the family between census years.  These original records are in huge ledger books which go back to 1860.  They were fascinating to see, but didn’t shed much light on the family’s whereabouts.

Mary’s daughter Jane Weightman married John Payne in August of 1869 in Morpeth, about 15 miles south of Radcliffe.  Jane’s half brother John William Tunney was a witness, and less than a year later, he appeared in the 1870 U.S. census in Jefferson Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, along with his half brother Ralph Weightman.  They were living there with a first cousin, also named John Tunney, who had married an American woman named Susan Brown in December of 1869.3

In 1871, Jane and John Payne’s census household in Northumberland included their first child Mary Payne, twelve-year-old Thomas (Mary Tunney’s youngest son), and Jane’s seventeen-year-old brother James.  Here again is the earliest family photograph I have, which was taken in Blyth, Northumberland around the time of the 1871 census:

John Payne, Jane Weightman (seated), James Weightman, and Thomas Weightman, with baby Mary Payne on Jane’s lap, ca 1871

The big question at this point is what happened to Mary Tunney, and why isn’t she with her children in 1871?

In the mid-1870’s, both John William Tunney and Ralph Weightman returned to Northumberland, married, and then went back to Pennsylvania. Finally, in 1881, John and Jane Payne and their five children joined them, along with their brother James Weightman and his wife and infant daughter, and their half brother Thomas Weightman, age 22.

So, all five of Mary Tunney’s children went to Pennsylvania.  Did she?  Despite thorough searches, I have NOT found any death or marriage record relating to our Mary on either continent.

I was fascinated to learn that after all the traveling back and forth between Pennsylvania and Northumberland, brothers Ralph and James Weightman returned to England with their families in 1890, and that’s where they lived out the rest of their lives.  I found their original burial records, and visited their graves at St. Paul’s church in Choppington.  Here’s James Weightman’s stone:

Gravestone of James Weightman, St. Paul’s churchyard, Choppington

I was able to get copies of the baptisms of all of the children of these two brothers as well, most of which are not available anywhere online.  But I still haven’t solved the mystery of what happened to Mary Tunney.



  1.  Newcastle Courant, 1 Dec 1854, “Coroner’s Inquests”, Andrew Weightman, p. 5, col. 6; digital image, FindMyPast ( : accessed 2 Apr 2013); citing British Library.
  2. 1861 England census, County of Northumberland, Parish of Hauxley, Enumeration District 9e, Mary Weightman household; digital image, ( : accessed 6 Mar 2018); citing the National Archives of the UK, RG9, Piece 3877,  Folio 51, p. 14.
  3. 1870 U.S census, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, population schedule,  Jefferson Township, p. 232 (stamped) A, family 205; John Tunney household; digital image, ( accessed 5 Jun 2015); citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 1292.

Northumberland Ancestors

The most favorite person of my mother’s life was her grandmother, Mary Payne.  My Mom was named after her.  That makes Mary Payne a very special person to me as well.

Mary was born in Bedlington, Northumberland, England, in 1870 to parents John Payne and Jane Weightman.  In 1881, when she was eleven years old, she and her parents and siblings emigrated to America, and settled in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, just south of Pittsburgh.

Mary Payne, circa 1891

Her father, John Payne, was not a native of Northumberland.  He and his older brother, George, traveled there in the 1860’s from Bedfordshire, about 250 miles to the south, presumably to find work in the mines.  Although I’ll research John and George themselves, their ancestors lived elsewhere.  So, my Northumberland research will focus primarily on the family history of Mary’s mother, Jane Weightman.

More specifically, my goal is to generate complete and well documented family group sheets for Jane and the three generations before her, which is eight families involving sixty-four individuals, all of whom lived here in Northumberland.  A family group sheet lists a couple and all of their children, with all the basic facts about each person’s life.  Here’s an example:

Partial Family Group Sheet for John Payne and Jane Weightman

I already know the basics about my direct ancestors back through Jane’s great-grandparents, but there are still plenty of mysteries to solve within the families.  In addition, I want to find out as much as possible about their lives by examining records in the local archive which can’t be accessed elsewhere.

I’m very fortunate to have a photograph of the Payne family, right around the time they baptized their first child, Mary Payne, at St. Cuthbert’s Church in Bedlington, just a few steps away from my flat.  I’ve posted it before, but here it is again:

John Payne (left), Jane Weightman (seated) holding baby Mary Payne, James Weightman (back right), and Thomas Weightman, ca 1871.  Photo taken in Blyth, Northumberland, England by W.T. Hunter.

The 1871 England census tells us that John Payne was working in the coal mines, along with the two boys, Jane’s brothers, ages 17 and 12.  It’s hard to imagine today that a 12 year old boy was going “down the mine” every day with the men.  I’m hoping to find out more about the mines, and how the families lived.  And I wonder why they were all dressed up for a photo that day?  Perhaps I can find  a special event at the right time which could explain that.

It’s unrealistic to expect that all my research questions will be answered.  The most important thing to me while I’m here is simply to experience being in Northumberland, and to look upon the same landscape, the same coast, and frequently the same buildings, that they saw each day.

A Christmas DNA Surprise

I know I don’t have to tell you again how much I enjoy spending Christmas with my family:  my ex-husband and our two kids.  You already know, so I won’t go on about it for long.

What I really want to talk about is the new cousin we got for Christmas, thanks to Ancestry DNA.  You know those TV shows where adoptees meet their birth parent for the first time?  This was like that, except it was real life.   Our new first cousin was a wonderful, delightful surprise.

I spent a week in Seattle with my daughter before the family converged to spend the holiday week in a cabin in the foothills of the Cascades.   The four of us are on an app called “Life 360”, so we can track each other down if needed.  Before the holiday, we were all in different corners of the country – Washington, California, Pennsylvania, and Florida:

The four of us in four corners of the country!

It isn’t too often that we’re all together, so it’s precious time for us.  We went on a couple of incredible hikes, saw many bald eagles, and our daughter’s little dog Foxy stole the show. Here are a few pictures from our Christmas:

A scene on one of our hikes
Christmas Tree 2017
Chris and Foxy in Seattle

So, on Christmas Day, I received an email from an Ancestry user, saying that she was adopted and that we were a DNA match.  I’ve had emails like this before, and usually it’s a distant match and difficult if not impossible to determine the relationship. I don’t even know why I read the email that day, much less looked at the match.

But I did, and was completely stunned when I saw that we shared 935 centimorgans, which is a match at the first cousin level.  She also matched my two other first cousins, so I knew we were related on my mother’s side.  And when I saw a photograph of her, I knew she was ours.  Here’s the match page from Ancestry:

What would you think if you saw a match this close with a stranger? Yikes!!

Deb said she was born in LA in 1964, and learned only that her mother was from Montana, was staying with her uncle in LA, and was 21 years old.  She had a physical description of her father, and knew that he had managed some parking lots in the area.  The social worker also made a note at the time that the father had not been informed about the pregnancy.

My mother had two sisters and a brother.  Since Deb’s mother was from Montana, the only possible relationship was that she was my uncle’s daughter.  And my uncle lived in LA, matched the physical description Deb had, and managed some parking lots in 1964.

Both my uncle’s and my mother’s DNA are on FamilyTreeDNA.   I got Deb on the phone and walked her through downloading her raw data from Ancestry so we could upload it to FTDNA to confirm the suspected relationship.  But we had some technical problems, so Deb called FTDNA the next morning to try to resolve them.  As it turned out, the more recent Ancestry  files aren’t compatible with FTDNA, so it wasn’t possible to upload there.

We were saved by GedMatch, which is a free website accepting raw data from most of the big testing companies.  I had already uploaded both my uncle’s and my mother’s DNA there, and Deb was able to upload hers as well.  In a matter of minutes, we did a one-to-one match with my uncle’s DNA and found that Deb shares 3,500+ cms with him.  Bingo!! No doubt about it – Deb is my uncle’s daughter and my first cousin.

There’s always the concern, rightfully so, that the birth parents won’t want anything to do with the child they put up for adoption, and Deb was very sensitive to that.  I suggested that the next step was for me to call my uncle, and she asked me if I thought her father would want to meet her.  I know my uncle, and I was certain he would be very happy to hear that he had another daughter.

And he was.  In fact, he was downright excited!  He told me he remembered Deb’s mother quite clearly.  He didn’t know her for very long and had no idea she was pregnant.  Unfortunately, he can’t remember her name, so we’re still working on that part.

He called Deb right away, and within hours, they met in person.  I heard from both of them the next day – by all accounts they clicked immediately and it was an amazing reunion.  My uncle met a daughter he never even knew he had, and my cousin met a father about whom she had known virtually nothing.  A day to go down in family history!!

My extended family is just the best.  Everyone was very accepting and welcoming to Deb –  of course, it helps that she is such a great person and makes it easy to love her.  The family has a strong Facebook presence, so now Deb has dozens of new “friends” there, and it’s been buzzing with the posting of everyone’s pictures at different ages to see all the family resemblances.

It was a very happy ending, and it made our Christmas even more exciting than usual.  And I’m so thrilled to have a new first cousin – I can’t wait to meet her this summer!

More about Illinois

I absolutely loved being in Illinois along the Mississippi, near the little town of Fulton where my Abbott ancestors lived.  In fact, it was probably my favorite place to date.  In my previous post about Illinois, I included a picture of a gorgeous sunset across the river – I saw many of those.  Here are daytime pics in both directions from my campsite at Thomson Causeway:

View from my campsite in Illinois looking left
View from my campsite in Illinois, looking right

Toward the end of my stay there, I connected with the very friendly and helpful folks at the Fulton Historical Society, who put me in touch with present-day Abbotts in the area.  I promised to provide the Society with my research on the Abbott family, which I first need to write up properly so others can benefit from it.

I spent a delightful afternoon with 91 year old Bill Abbott at a local nursing home.  It turned out that he is from a different Abbott line, but I greatly enjoyed hearing his first-hand account of the history of the area.  The next day, I had a great chat over coffee with a distant cousin, a descendant of my pioneer ancestor Clark Abbott.  Unfortunately, no one had any information on Clark’s parents, which has been a long-standing brick wall for me.

Amazingly, I also discovered some collateral Goodenough relatives who lived in Morrison, the Whiteside County seat.  My branch of Abbotts left Illinois in the late 19th century, while the Goodenoughs didn’t arrive until the early 20th century, so the common location was purely coincidental.  It was certainly thrilling to see my maiden name on all sorts of dairy farm memorabilia in the Morrison Historical Society’s Heritage Museum!


Model milk truck from Goodenough’s Dairy Farm 

On the “RV Living” side of things, my microwave got fried. I had decided to steam a bunch of vegetables in advance, so I wouldn’t have to do it in single servings every night.  After almost an hour of using the microwave, the breaker blew, and the skin inside the microwave was peeling off.

The microwave breaker is tripped and won’t go back up!
When I saw the tear in the liner, I knew the microwave was toast.

It was quite distressing because I use the microwave all the time.  I cook in batches, freeze serving sized portions, and then use the microwave to warm up a meal.  In addition to steaming vegetables, since I don’t have an oven, I often cook a baked potato in the microwave.  So it was basically a microwave emergency.

You would think that replacing a microwave is pretty straight forward – you just buy a new one and plug it in, right?  Not so.  The microwave in my RV is built in to a cabinet, so I knew there would be issues with venting, and with keeping it securely positioned.

The old microwave in the cabinet. What to do??

I thought about having someone install a new one for me, because I didn’t really want to mess with anything involving the electrical system.   I could contact a mobile RV technician who would come out to the campground, but it usually costs somewhere around $100 for the house call, and then the hourly rate for the work can be $125 or more.  And my experience with taking it in to a shop, like Camping World, is that they are booked out weeks in advance.  So, besides the timing of getting it installed, I didn’t really want to spend the money.

After much angst, I decided to try to replace it myself.  How hard could it be?  If I failed, I figured I could get help any time in the process.

My first step was to remove it from the cabinet so I could see what I was working with:


The empty cabinet after removing the microwave.

It looked do-able, with a simple outlet in the back for the plug.  After hours of research online, and of course consultation with my RV expert, ex-husband Eric, I figured out what I needed, and then found one specifically for RV’s that was the correct size for the opening, the correct wattage, the proper venting, and with its own trim kit.  So I had it shipped to my next stop – my cousin’s house in Marshfield, Missouri.

I’m skipping a lot of steps, but the short story is that I did it.  Here is the final product:

Fancy new microwave, installed!

This may not seem like a big deal to you, but for me it was a tremendous challenge.  I was SO GLAD not to have to spend the money on professional services, and it felt GREAT to complete a successful DIY project!


Fosket Brothers: North and South

Every last one of my ancestors lived in the northern states once they arrived in this country.  They ALL, on both sides, lived in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and all over New England, and then some of them went west.   But NONE of them went south.

At least I thought so until now.

For many years, I’ve been researching the ancestry of my mother’s grandmother, Sarah Fosket.

Sarah Ann Fosket, my mother’s maternal grandmother

I’ve traced her Fosket line back to her grandparents, Alexander Fosket and Sarah Ann Evans, who married in Troy, New York in 1837.  Alexander and Sarah had at least four children, but for the purposes of this post, I’m focusing on just two of them, Alexander E. and Alonzo.

Some descendants of Alexander Fosket

Sarah Fosket’s father, Alonzo, was a soldier in the Union Army during the Civil War.  He enlisted in Michigan and mustered in at St. Louis.  It’s still a mystery to me what a  New York City man was doing out there!

Alonzo Fosket, Missouri Infantry

I have few records and even fewer clues for Alonzo’s parents, Alexander and Sarah.

There’s a family in the 1840 U.S. Census in Albany headed by “Alex Fosgate” (as you know, the 1840 census only names the heads of households).  The surname isn’t quite right, but the ages were correct for both Alexander and Sarah, and for their first child born in 1839.  There was also an older woman in the household, but of course I had no idea who she was, and I wasn’t even certain that this was the correct family.

I haven’t found the couple in any other census record.  They didn’t own land. Records are scarce.

Both Alexander and Sarah died young.  Sarah died when she was between 30 and 40 years old.  Alexander was a 45 year old widower when he died of consumption in New York City in 1858, leaving four children under 18.  The three youngest children were raised by one of Sarah’s sisters; the oldest, Alexander E. Fosket (Alex Jr.), was nowhere to be found until 1870 when he was in New York City, a single man, boarding with strangers.  He then purchased a house in Brooklyn in 1873.

One of the unusual facts about Alex Jr. was that his first child, Henry, was born in South Carolina in 1872 (see above chart).    And his wife was born in Germany, not South Carolina.

I couldn’t make sense of that: Alex Jr., who was single and living in New York City in 1870, suddenly traveled down to South Carolina where he married a German woman, had a child, and then came back to Brooklyn to buy a house in 1873? I filed the information to be considered later.

There’s a confederate soldier in the Georgia Infantry by the name of Alexander E. Fosket, who was ultimately taken prisoner by the northern army.  There is quite a bit of correspondence between the Northern and Southern generals regarding his release.

Alexander Fosket in the Georgia Infantry

This didn’t fit with anything else I knew about the family, either.  Why would a guy from Albany and NYC enlist in Georgia?  Surely it was another man with the same name.  I filed the information to be considered later.

There’s a death notice in an Albany newspaper about one Amelia Fosket, a resident of Albany, who died of cholera in 1849 at age 62 while visiting her son in Colleton County, South Carolina.  I had no idea who she was, but thought this could somehow be related to the other southern connections – you never know.  So I filed the information to be considered later.

Joel Munsel, Annals of Albany (Albany: J. Munsell, 1869), 373.

Now I’m finally in Albany, researching at the New York State Library, which has all of the Albany City Directories on microfiche.

The directory for 1841 lists three people at the same address:  Amelia (a widow), Alexander, and Sarah Ann.  There’s only one Fosket family in Albany.

Do you know the feeling when you’re staring at the new discovery on your screen, mouth slightly open, and you can hear the loud “CLICK” in your head as all the puzzle pieces fly together and connect as though a magnet is pulling them to the center?  That’s how it was for me.

The Amelia living with Alexander and Sarah Ann in 1841 is surely the older woman in the 1840 census record, and the same woman who died in South Carolina while visiting her son.  It’s also highly likely that she’s Alexander’s mother.

When Alexander died in 1858, Alex Jr. was about 19 years old.  I think the young man chose to go live with his paternal uncle in South Carolina, while his younger siblings stayed in New York City and lived with their maternal aunt.  Then the Civil War started, and Alex Jr. enlisted in the Confederate Army.  He was, after all, a southern boy at the time.

Why Alexander enlisted in Georgia when he was living in South Carolina is as much a mystery as the question of why Alonzo enlisted in Michigan when he was living in New York City.  But that’s what happened.  So you hear stories about the Civil War, where brother was fighting against brother, and it turns out to have happened in my family exactly like that.  I plan to examine the activity of each company in great detail to see if the two brothers were ever on the same battlefield, opposing each other.

Of course, I stayed up until all hours that night looking for the Fosket son/brother/uncle in South Carolina, and I found him.  Fosket is an old New England name, not a southern name, so there was just one candidate:  Don Alonzo Fosket, a.k.a. D. A. Fosket.   The fact that he was born in New York, and that his name was Alonzo, were both big clues that he belongs to my family.

Evidently, Don Alonzo was a rascal who stirred up trouble, was tried for murder multiple times, but was also a contractor for the U.S. Postal Service, and was elected Coroner of Edgefield County, South Carolina in 1870.  It’s going to take a lot more research to figure him out.

I also found a Miss Amelia Fosket in South Carolina who was born in 1819, and traveled with Don Alonzo from New York to Charleston by steamer just after Christmas in 1871.   I believe she is a sister to Don Alonzo and Alexander Fosket, named after their mother.

Here’s my working hypothesis now for my Fosket family:

Expanded Fosket tree with new relationship hypothesis

It’s amazing how one little line in a city directory could pull all of the other records together into a scenario that makes sense.  As is often the case, this new discovery raises more questions than it answers, but the important thing is that it moves my research forward.  One step at a time.





Research in Vermont

I’ve been yearning to go to Vermont for over five years, since I first communicated with the wonderful folks at the Town of Orwell over the Christmas holiday in 2011.  I was researching my 3x great-grandparents, Clark Abbott and Betsey Crouch, who were pioneers in Whiteside County, Illinois in the 1840’s.

The records in Illinois weren’t clear about their places of birth.  Betsey died two years after arriving in Illinois, so she didn’t live long enough to be named in any census record. A Whiteside County history book stated that she came from New York and he from New Hampshire. Most of Clark’s census records state his place of birth as Vermont, but one says New Hampshire.

Clark and Betsey’s gravestone in Whiteside County, Illinois

One day, I was googling Clark and Betsey for the hundredth time, and finally got a hit.  Someone had posted an index of marriages in the little town of Orwell, Vermont, and there they were, married 6 October 1833.  That’s when I wrote to the town clerk.

Clark Abbott and Betsey Crouch Marriage Record, Orwell, Vermont

The clerk’s office was amazing, sending me stacks of information which provided the names of Betsey’s parents, Captain John Crouch (War of 1812) and his wife Sally Jennings.  After further research, I was able to identify Sally’s parents, Joseph and Faith Jennings of Hubbardton, Vermont, both born in the mid-1750’s and settling in Vermont after the Revolution.  From there back, the Jennings line has been fairly well researched by others.

Joseph and Faith Jennings Gravestone, Mountain View Cemetery, Hubbardton, Vermont

But I still didn’t know Clark Abbott’s parentage, or Captain John Crouch’s, so these were the puzzles I hoped to solve during my stay in Vermont. Unfortunately, I didn’t make near as much progress as I would have liked.

I originally scheduled two weeks in the area, which was cut short by two days because of my “Adirondack Adventure” – instead of arriving on Sunday the 16th, I arrived on Tuesday the 18th of July.  And then my best friends from childhood came to visit, which was fabulous (more on that in the next blog post), but it also meant fewer days for research.

It took me a while to figure out where the records for Orwell can be found.  Land and vital records are at the Town level in Vermont, and probate records are in one of two probate districts in each County.  Orwell is in Addison County, which was created from Rutland County in 1785, and its Probate District is the Addison District of Addison County, which suffered from a fire in 1852 in which all the probate records burned.

Fortunately, the little town of Orwell wasn’t annexed to Addison County until 1847, and by then my ancestors had either died or left Vermont.   Since Orwell was still in Rutland County in my time period of interest, the probate records should be located at the Fair Haven Probate District.  After more digging, I discovered that the Fair Haven Probate District Court was closed a few years ago, and combined with the Rutland District Probate Court.  So I trotted off to the Rutland County Courthouse, where I was told that they only had records for the past ten years, and that anything prior had been transferred to the Vermont State Archives.

Dontcha love a good treasure hunt?!?

By the time I sorted all this out, I had one research day at the Vermont State Archives.  The best part about my day  was handling documents from the time of the Revolutionary War, seeing familiar historical names in correspondence, and touching the same piece of paper that my ancestor touched when he signed his name.  It literally gives me goosebumps.

Signature of Joseph Jennings in 1794
Signature of Joseph Jennings in 1811

I still haven’t solved any mysteries regarding Clark Abbott – I have no idea where he came from.  But I do have a candidate for the father of John Crouch, and I have a few new leads to follow.

It was absolutely thrilling to see the gorgeous countryside, visit the cemeteries, and imagine what it was like when my ancestors lived there 200+ years ago.  As my stay in Vermont came to an end, way too soon, I consoled myself with the reassurance that I can come back any time, and I most definitely will!

Second Cousins

For the month of June, I’m staying in the Pittsburgh area, where my mother grew up and where her family settled in the 19th century.   They were all coal miners from South Wales and Northumberland, England.

The list of people I’m researching is ridiculously long with many collateral branches, and I’m starting to feel a little obsessive compulsive about it.  I had to make a spreadsheet to keep track of the facts I still need to confirm, and so far it has about 160 people on it.    At the Allegheny County Courthouse, I drove the clerks a little crazy because I requested documentation on 31 marriages!

I love the research, but the highlight of my stay so far has been meeting my cousin Melody for the first time.  She’s the daughter of my mother’s first cousin Grace, which makes us second cousins.

People often get confused when it comes to understanding the relationship between second cousins and beyond.  Here’s a visual which might help:

Relationship Chart, Melody and Chris

Since Melody and I are second cousins, that makes our daughters third cousins.  What about the once-removed part?  That just means it’s a different generation.  So Melody’s relationship to my daughter Caitlin is second cousin once-removed.  My relationship to my mother’s cousin Grace is first cousin once removed.

Melody and I spent several days going through pictures in her mother’s house.  I brought my Flip-Pal portable scanner and wore out the batteries over and over again!  Melody’s mother had pictures of my mother, my grand parents, and my great-grandparents which I had never seen before.  The most exciting one was an unidentified photograph which I believe is a picture of my great-great-grandparents, John Payne and Jane Weightman.

John Payne and Jane Weightman, maybe

Compare that to this one which I already had, and which was taken many years earlier:

John Payne, Jane Weightman (seated), James Weightman, and Thomas Weightman, ca 1871

It’s hard to tell if they’re the same people, but it’s certainly possible – I’d love to find another descendant with a photo so we can compare.  I have other photos of John Payne, and he’s always got that white beard so he looks like the same guy to me.

I loved seeing photos of my mother with her grandparents, who she loved so much:

Mary Payne Furlong, James William Furlong, and Mary Payne, about 1940

and I just love this one of my Mom:

Mary Payne Furlong, about 1947

Melody shared many, many other photos with me, none of which I would have otherwise had, and all of which I will cherish.  Researching your collateral relatives and finding second and third cousins is definitely worthwhile – you each might have different pieces of your family puzzle to share with each other!

NGS Annual Conference

It’s an incredible feeling to be in the same room with 2,000 other people who share your obsession with genealogy. The first time I attended the National Genealogical Society’s Annual Conference was in 2011 in Charleston, South Carolina, and I remember very clearly the initial thrill of being with so many like-minded people.

The following year, in 2012, I chose to use my vacation time to go to the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh instead.  In 2013, I was taking care of my sick brother.  In 2014, I attended the NGS Conference in Richmond, Virginia, which was also fabulous. In 2015, my mother had just died and I was putting the house up for sale. In 2016, my son was graduating from college the same weekend as the conference.  So I spent this week in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2017, attending my third NGS Annual Conference, and I’ve been extremely happy to be here!

National Genealogical Society’s 2017  Conference Banner

The four day conference was jam-packed with classes from 8 in the morning till 5 at night, with visits to the Exhibit Hall in between.  There were lots of options for group luncheons and dinners, but I didn’t sign up for anything extra (frugal me).  I would have enjoyed them I’m sure, but they’re pricey and could easily double the cost of attendance.  I have my cool little pink lunchbox that I take with me on research trips, so that’s what I did here, too!

Raleigh Convention Center

J. Mark Lowe presented the Opening Session, which was extremely inspirational and moving.  Among other things, he spoke about his work with a high school history class.  These kids did genealogy projects which involved creating presentation boards, including QRC codes to access recordings of the students telling their favorite story in their own words and voices.  It really inspired me to consider working with young people in the future.

Lately I’ve preferred taking classes which involve technology because I feel that’s where I need to learn the most – DNA, using Google maps, scanning and organizing digital photo files, and that sort of thing.  I also like to attend presentations by nationally known speakers, including top genealogists Elizabeth Shown Mills, Thomas Jones, and Judy Russell.  And depending on the other choices in a particular time slot, I attend lectures on German research, since I have generally avoided those branches of my family tree!

I have to say that the conference overall was nothing short of incredible.  The choices of high quality lectures made it difficult to choose just one to attend.  It always amazes me how many extremely intelligent people are involved in genealogy – many of the speakers had PhD’s or were Certified Genealogists.

I think the sessions I enjoyed the most were the DNA lectures with Blaine Bettinger, Judy Russell, and Diahan Southard.  They all packed the room – I think DNA was the most popular topic at the conference!

I’ll miss next year’s conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, because I’ll be over in England for the winter and early spring (more on that later).  In 2019, the conference will be held in St. Charles, Missouri, the same place it was held in 2015.  They say it was a great location, and that’s why they’re holding the conference again there so soon.  I’ll definitely plan to be there, especially because for years, I’ve wanted to go the St. Louis NARA location, where all the military records from World War I and II are kept – at least those which survived the 1973 fire.  It’s on my extended calendar!

It was NOT a great week from a camping perspective.  The closest campground to the downtown Convention Center was at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds.  It was just not a very attractive place.

My site at the North Carolina State Fair Campground

There was virtually no shade, and I wasn’t able to get my awning to work to create some.  Fortunately,  I wasn’t “home” very much, the weather cooperated by not being too hot,  it was a terrific location for my daily commute to the conference, and the price was right at $210 for the week (versus the cost of a conference hotel at $120 and up per night), so it absolutely served its purpose!

Tomorrow I’ll drive about 200 miles to my cousin Betsy’s house near Richmond, Virginia, where I’ll stay a week in her beautiful home, and have some much-needed “sister time” – can’t wait!!

Research in Elbert County, Georgia

Eric’s ancestors, and thus my children’s, lived in Elbert County for over 100 years, from its formation in 1790 to the very beginning of the 20th century.  Representing fifteen different surnames, several were Revolutionary War soldiers, some were wealthy plantation owners, and many were well known and respected in their community.  So I knew that my research in Elbert County would be a bit overwhelming.  With so many prominent ancestors, there would be plenty of records.

I learned about Eric’s Elbert County clan through other people’s research.  I’ve done very little research on these lines myself, except for what I’ve found on  So my objective is to confirm these relationships by locating original documents and forming my own conclusions.  Some of this research can be done online, and some must be done onsite.  While I’m physically here in Georgia, I need to prioritize locating the records which aren’t yet online.

After some poking around on the internet, I determined that I should research in land records, so I went down to the Courthouse last week to see what I could find.

Elbert County Superior Court

Elberton, Georgia is a sleepy little town of 4,500 souls, and there wasn’t much going on at the courthouse.  The clerk led me into a vaulted room where all the old deed books are kept, and left me alone all day.

In addition to the usual manual indexes and the many huge deed books, there were three published books which contained abstracts of Deed Books A through W, including an index, which covered the time period from the inception of the county through about 1835.

Deed Abstract Book

These books were a lifesaver.  I didn’t think to check in advance to see whether they existed, but I will from now on for all future counties.  And I wish there were abstracts for deeds after 1835.  The books save a huge amount of time in three important ways:

  1.  The original deed index is very hard to read, so when I initially tried using it,  I wasted a lot of time guessing the book and page numbers for the deeds I needed to scan.
  2. I usually abstract all of my ancestors’ deeds, which is very time consuming.  The abstracts in the book make that unnecessary.
  3. The index includes every mention of the person’s name throughout the book, which means you also get all the deeds your ancestor witnessed, and all the deeds which name your ancestor as a neighbor.  This information helps to put your ancestor in a place and time, and it’s also a huge advantage when you’re trying to identify your ancestor’s relatives and FAN (Friends, Associates, Neighbors) Club. It saves a tremendous amount of time compared to reading every deed yourself.
Example of manual index, which is faint and hard to read

So I used those books to locate all the deeds for ten of our surnames through the first two abstract books, and that’s pretty much as far as I got in that one day.  I took digital pictures of the original deeds and the corresponding abstracts from the books, and I’m in the process of cropping, sorting and filing them in my digital files.  I’m planning to return to Elberton as many times as I need to in order to finish the project.

One of the deeds which an ancestor witnessed is priceless and I had to share.  I’ve only seen the abstract so far:

Deed Abstract for deed witnessed by James Bell, found in the book pictured above

Some things don’t change in 200 years, eh?  She told on me?  It’s little gems like this that make our ancestors really come to life.  And why is this recorded with the deeds??  It certainly gave me a chuckle back there in the courthouse vault.  I’ll have to get a copy of the full deed to see what other details might be there!

It seemed like one of our fifteen surnames was mentioned on just about every page of those abstract books, and I felt like they would be incredibly valuable in my future Elbert County research, as I become more familiar with these families and all the collateral lines.  So I decided to buy them.  I would rather have digital copies, but they don’t exist. I ended up ordering them directly from the author, who lives in Texas.  He’ll be shipping them to my campground here in Georgia by the end of the month!


Norm and Sal

My grandfather’s longest relationship, and perhaps the love of his life, was with a man named Sal.  I knew that Norm, my grandfather, had lived with Sal for some period of time, but I didn’t know the full extent of the relationship until recently.   My first cousin has been in touch with Sal’s nephew Mark, who lives in Seattle, and she suggested I look him up while I was there visiting my kids for a week before going to China last month.

Sal died in 2005.  Mark is the one who took care of his estate, so he had photos and stories to share which I had never seen or heard before.  I was beyond thrilled to find out more about my grandfather’s life!

Some people might consider Norm’s relationship with Sal to be controversial, or maybe even a shameful “skeleton in the closet”, the type of thing better left alone, to fade into the mists of time until it’s forgotten.  On the contrary,  I embrace my colorful and unique relatives, and I want to know the truth about their lives, and who they really were.  It’s especially important to me to shine a light on this significant relationship in my grandfather’s life, which has pretty much lived all this time in the shadowy background.

Even though I was 29 years old when he died, I unfortunately didn’t know my grandfather very well.  Here’s a picture – how handsome was he?!?

My Grandfather Norm

Norm’s first marriage was to my grandmother, Viola, in New York City, where my mother was born in 1931.  Norm was a 21 year old hairdresser from Pittsburgh, and we’re not sure why he went to NYC, or how long he was there, but that’s where my grandparents met.  The little family moved back to Pennsylvania by May of 1932 when their second child, my aunt, was born. In the mid-1940’s, after fifteen years and four children, Norm and Viola were divorced, which of course had a huge impact on my mother and her siblings.  That’s a whole ‘nother story, but suffice it to say that Norm raised the children from then on.

In 1953, Norm married my mother’s high school English teacher, Ruth.   The children, mostly grown by then, embraced her as their new mother, and stuck by her when she and Norm divorced in 1963. I grew up on Long Island in New York, about 8 hours away, so we didn’t see the Pittsburgh clan often, and it was a long time before I realized that Ruth wasn’t my real grandmother.  She was the mother and grandmother of our hearts.

Ruth and Norm

And now I’ve learned that Norm and Ruth divorced because Norm had begun a relationship with Sal. At that time, Sal was about 26, and Norm was 54. I’d never seen a picture of Sal until Mark showed me this one:

Norm and Sal

Mark, who is the son of Sal’s sister, told me that Norm and Sal wanted a child, and they tried to adopt him in 1963, when he was a six year old orphan.  Unfortunately, a legal adoption wasn’t allowed.   Norm and Sal were members of the Christian Science Church, and there they were able to find a traditional couple willing to adopt Mark.  Mark visited Norm and Sal often throughout his childhood, so he knew my grandfather much better than I did!

Mark told me that Norm was into classic convertible cars, which I never knew.

Norm in his Impala

My mother had told me that he was into irises, so I was thrilled to see Mark’s picture of Norm’s garden, full of irises, which is also my favorite flower!

Norm’s Irises

Norm and Sal took an annual vacation to Florida in the winter.

Norm on the beach in Florida

They bought a lovely historic brick house on some property in Washington County, south of Pittsburgh. But, it wasn’t long before the nature of their relationship became known (they were seen holding hands), and they were kicked out of the Christian Science Church.  They had to move further out into the country because they were ostracized by that community.  They sold the brick house and bought a farm in the teeny town of Eighty-Four, where they lived a quiet life.

I’m sure I saw my Grandfather when I was younger, and in fact there’s a picture of me as a toddler at Norm and Ruth’s house in Pittsburgh, but my first strong memory of him was when I was 15 in 1970, at the farm in Eighty-Four.  The entire family had gathered – Norm’s four children and all of his grandchildren – because he had had a heart attack and everyone was sure he was going to die.  I must have met Sal then, but all I can remember is a vague awareness that he was there somewhere.  I can’t recall what I knew about his relationship to my grandfather.  I probably just didn’t care – I was much more interested in playing with my cousins, and the farm animals.

My grandfather came to my college graduation in Wisconsin in 1977, and to a family reunion in Los Angeles in 1981.  Then I saw him in 1982, when I stopped in Pittsburgh for a night on my way from New York to California.  And that was the last time; he died in 1984 at the age of 75.  I don’t remember why I didn’t go to the funeral/memorial service, or even if there was one, and if there was, whether or not I knew about it at the time.

Dad, Mom and Norm at my college graduation, 1977

So where was Sal all this time?  According to Mark, Sal took care of Norm until he died.  Mark says they had a 25 year relationship, about as long as both of Norm’s marriages combined, and if that’s true, then they were together well before Norm’s divorce from Ruth.  After Norm died, Sal never had another partner.

I try to imagine what it must have been like to be a gay couple in the 1960’s, and how much they must have loved each other to continue the relationship in the face of rejection from the community.  Norm’s children never really accepted Sal, either – it’s not that I heard anything negative about him, but I didn’t hear anything much about him at all.  It was as though everyone was pretending that he didn’t exist.   That was how it was back then.  I imagine that it would be different today.

As we genealogists often say, I wish I had paid more attention when I was younger, because I would have liked to have known Sal, and I have so many unanswered questions.  Now I’ve added him to our family tree, and when I’m in Pittsburgh next, I’ll find whatever documentation might be available in the public records to flesh out their life together.

You know how we genealogists tend to jump back in time as quickly as possible, without thoroughly researching the more recent generations?  That’s pretty much what I did.  It’s time to focus on my grandfather.