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Posts Tagged ‘Genealogy’

This summer I spent a few weeks in West Virginia with my granddaughter Tiffany and her family. They live near Kearneysville in the state’s eastern-most county, Jefferson County. Her husband Justin comes from a huge extended family. Both of his parents came from large families, as in ten or so kids, and their parents as well. He said none of them move away. They just stay there, generation after generation. He has so many cousins, known and unknown, that he wouldn’t date a girl from West Virginia. He played it safe, he thought, by marrying a girl from Florida.

My great-grandmother came from three counties away, Hampshire County, from the little community of Slanesville. Like Justin’s family, her forbears settled there in the 1700s and stayed, until one of the wandering Rogers, my great-grandfather John Thomas, married her and carted her off to upstate New York. I can see why they stayed. Unlike most of mountainous West Virginia, this area in the North River Valley is blessed with rolling hills and good farmland.

Slanesville, WV, looking toward the North River

Slanesville, WV. Looking toward the North River

Whenever I’m in the neighborhood, I like to do a little genealogical research. This can be challenging because these folks practiced subsistence farming and recycled most everything. They even recycled names. Say you have a man named John. He names his oldest son John. Half of John’s ten or so children might be boys. John, Jr. and each of his brothers name a son after their father, and in only three generations you end up with a half dozen or so men with the same name, and many of them are cousins about the same age. I’ve run into this sort of thing trying to trace my roots. I try to sort them by birthdates. Have you ever written a number or date wrong? Family historians are human, and records are not always accurate, if they even exist. Hampshire County libraries have good historical records, but I’ve been stymied by who is my ancestor and which are distant cousins. So before venturing over to Hampshire County, I went through my notes and wrote down the vital statistics of the people I was looking for.

One branch of the family tree is the Hietts. The name has variously been spelled as Hiatt, Hiet, Hyet, Hayet, and Hyatt. And the line is full of Johns. My ancestors John and Mary Hiett, Quakers, were born in England and joined William Penn in Pennsylvania around 1700. They had a large estate near Philadelphia and produced several children, among them, John Hiett, Jr. He married Margaret Stephens and they eventually ended up in Hampshire County, which at the time was part of Virginia.

Poring over my notes, I found an interesting tidbit: after they left Pennsylvania, before moving on to Hampshire County, the Hietts owned land in Frederick County, Virginia. In those days, the colonies were divided into large counties, which were later broken up into the smaller counties we know today. The part of Frederick County, Virginia where John, Jr. and Margaret lived is now Jefferson County, West Virginia! My ancestor Evan Hiett was born there in 1748. Wow

Historic Bridge on Opequon Creek

Historic Bridge on Opequon Creek, West Virginia

Several miles downstream  of the Hiett holdings.

Several miles downstream of the Hiett holdings.

The Hietts lived on Opequon Creek. I’d crossed that creek a dozen times going to and from Martinsburg. They lived upstream, near the town of Middleway.  “That’s just up the road from here!” Justin said. So Tiffany and I drove up the road to Middleway. I expected, at most, a sign indicating where the historical town once stood, but I was pleased to find Middleway is still, in its own way, thriving.

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Main St. Middleway

Main St. Middleway. My ancestors settled in the neighborhood before these houses were built. 

The Gilbert House, built in the early 1800s.

The Gilbert House, built in the early 1800s.

The Elizabeth Smith House, built around 1800.

The Elizabeth Smith House, built around 1800.

Masonic Lodge and Schoolhouse, early 1800s.

Masonic Lodge and Schoolhouse, early 1800s.

Opequon Creek flows from what is still Frederick County, Virginia, forms the county line between Jefferson and Berkeley Counties, and empties into the Potomac River. John, Jr. had farms on both sides of the creek. Property records still exist, so one day I may go back and locate them.

When John, Jr. and Margaret moved to Hampshire County, Evan went with them. He settled in the town of North River Mills where the restored Hiett Log House still stands. (You can see this house at http://www.historichampshire.org/nrm/building/finelli.htm).

In 1784, Evan “Hyett” was listed as the head of a family of eight “white souls,” with one dwelling and four out buildings. He married Sarah Smith and their daughter Margaret married Benjamin McDonald whose father had emigrated from Scotland. One of their descendants was Rebecca McDonald Rogers, my great-grandmother.

Evan’s brother John Hiett III stayed in present day Jefferson County. Eventually, some of the Hietts and their descendants scattered to the Carolinas, the Midwest, and who knows where else. But not all moved on. Uncle John is reportedly buried at the Hopewell Friends Cemetery in present day Frederick County, Virginia, less than ten miles from Middleway. Sons are fairly easy to trace, but daughters marry and change their names. Who knows what names my distant cousins in Jefferson County go by?

Uh, Justin, I hate to tell you—maybe you didn’t go far enough away to find a wife who’s not your cousin.

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Before I became more than casually interested in my family’s history, William Lewis Rogers had been a shadowy figure in our past. I knew two of his sons, Uncle Will and Grandad, who were old men when I was a child.  Family lore proclaimed W.L. was wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg and spent the night hiding in a corn crib where he had to fend off rats. We knew this about him because he kept a journal. But no one knew what became of the journal. It has been lost.

One summer, my sister Sue, our family genealogist, and I visited the county in Pennsylvania where W.L. had lived as a child. I helped her search records at their historical society for information on his family. We visited his mother’s grave.

Threads from diverse sources gather to weave a tale.

My daughter lived in Virginia Beach for a time. Traveling to or from her home, I took back ways to break the monotony of the usual route. Once I noticed a large bear by the road. It was a sign for a park, but later I could not recall where I was, or indeed what highway I’d traveled. On a later trip, back roads again, I spotted the bear and this time I stopped. Neuseway Nature Park in Kinston, NC has become one of my favorite places to visit when I’m in the neighborhood. There is no admission charge and the camping fee is almost indecently low.

Then my son moved to West Virginia. Well, we had ancestors in that state, too. Once Sue learned about my plans to visit there, she set me on the quest. Given a list of ancestor’s names and the location of the Hampshire County Library, which has a genealogical section, I reported, like a dutiful sister, intending to spend two hours in research. After three hours, I had to make myself stop. Not only did I need fresh air, I had to digest the volume of information I had acquired. I was hooked on genealogy.

W.L. Rogers had been born in Connecticut and died in West Virginia. Grandad always said, “Don’t go to West Virginia. They’ll kill you there.” Well, who killed William, and why? Unfortunately, my hours of research failed to solve the mystery. Could we find old newspaper stories or police reports that would answer the question? I would have to wait for another trip.

After West Virginia I proceeded to Virginia Beach. On my way home, I drove through Kinston. This visit was bittersweet because my daughter was moving from Virginia Beach and I thought I would have no reason to come through here again.

The following year, on my return to West Virginia, I searched through death records and learned the identity of my ancestor’s murderer–cancer! Cancer? So why did Grandad say he had been killed? Who knows! Grandad was more than a little paranoid. Knowing where W.L. was buried, I visited his grave. Below his name and the dates of birth and death was engraved, “Co. A 85th Regt. NY Vol.”

One mystery solved, another reared its head. Sue obtained W.L.’s military records. Guess what – Gettysburg was fought in 1863 and he did not enlist until the following year. So much for family lore! What about the corncrib and the rats? Was that part true or did the family once have possession of some other soldier’s journal? We will not know until it surfaces.

But we did learn that W.L.’s regiment had fought in the Battle of Wyse Fork which took place near Kinston, NC. Was that what kept drawing me to the place? Now I had an excuse to go back.

Wherever I go seeking historical information, I find people who are not only proud of their history, but willing to share what they know. This was no exception. I had a nice visit with Shirley at the Kinston/Lenoir County Visitor’s Center and left with a wealth of information, including a driving tour of the Battle of Wyse Fork. Armed with the pamphlet and my camera, I set out to trace the footsteps of my ancestor.

W. L. may be forever nameless in the history books, but what a thrill it was to drive around the battle area thinking, I am in the footsteps of my ancestor. I could not help imagining what this young man, only 21 at the time, was thinking and feeling amid the noise and terror of the guns, death, and suffering. No, W.L. did not fight through three sweaty days in July, but through three cold days in March, in rain and mud and snow. I followed his path from Wyse Fork, through Kinston, and as far as Goldsboro but I lacked the time to visit everywhere his regiment went.

My quest is far from complete. We have documentation that after the war W.L. married Nancy Turk who, we believe, was part Cherokee. He taught school in Pepin, Wisconsin, then homesteaded in Kansas. Family lore has stories of the family’s experiences in Kansas. How much is true? I hope to find out.

Why did they leave Kansas? What adventures took him to West Virginia? I am still on the quest for this ancestor.

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