Tuesday, July 16, 2019
Going Back to Scituate
It's a big thing these days to track down your family roots. My wife and I were watching Eurovision a few weeks back and the constant plugs for My Heritage had us thinking why not? Some of our friends had gotten their results back on the DNA tests and were busy assembling their family trees on the interactive website. We're still waiting on our DNA results, but we both started putting together our family trees.
I didn't expect much to come of it. I had a fair amount of information on the Ferguson side of my family, but almost nothing on the Lahr side. I figured my mother's father or his father was a German immigrant and not much information is on file, at least not in the US. I didn't feel like going for the annual subscription just yet, so I started searching around the Internet for information on my mother's parents, mostly to fill in the blanks on the family tree. Lo and behold I discovered my grandmother's mother was a Sprague, and there was a project devoted exclusively to this family that was freely available to search out connections.
The Sprague family line tapered off pretty quickly, but it turned out my Great Grandmother had Torrey and Hatch family connections, which took me all the way back to the early 17th century Plymouth village of Scituate, one of the earliest settlements in Massachusetts. Here I was thinking I was mostly a product of Scottish, Irish and German ancestry and I find this deep English connection that I tracked all the way back to 1415 and the town of Sellindge in County Kent. I was floored!
I imagine I will find much more once I choose to subscribe to the services that MyHeritage provides, as I have a slough of notifications I can't open until I do. Meanwhile, I followed up on some old leads I had, and tracked my great grandfather on my father's side to Bicester, Oxfordshire. Everyone in the family thought he hailed from Inverness, Scotland, but his Scottish father was an itinerant minister who ended up in this English town where my great grandfather was born. I paid five pounds to The Genealogist, which gave me 50 credits, and I came up with a marriage notification for my Great Great Grandparents, and a historic birth record of my Great Grandfather.
Pretty much all these search engines cost money these days. It seems MyHeritage and Ancestry cull together huge data bases to help ease the search. They will find matches for you so that you can better fill in your family tree. These sites also serve as a social network, as my wife found out when some guy in California wrote to say his tree overlapped with hers, and they have been sharing information ever since.
The flip side is that myths are often shattered. My family believed our Great Grandfather came from some great Highland clan, but turns out he was of much more humble origins. When he came to America in the early 1870s, he reinvented himself, as so many persons did, and those stories were passed down through the family. He did eventually make a name for himself in starting a steamship company to bring silver ore from Alaska to San Francisco in the late 19th century, but died broke in a hotel in Denver, Colorado, in 1895. Fortunes made and lost overnight.
My grandfather had pieced together a scrapbook that included photos, wedding and birth announcements and other sorts of fun information. That book has been passed around quite a bit, and it is hard to say where it is now. Fortunately, I made copies of it when it passed through my hands. The photos and handwritten family notes helped a genealogist locate John Henry, when my wife and I visited Inverness a few years back.
Genealogy is fun. It gives you a great sense of who you are, as long as you are willing to accept the findings. Neal Ascherson made fun of Americans, like Trent Lott, hoping to find Scottish clan connections, in Stone Voices. It wasn't very hard to get a certificate signifying you had "royal blood." I found a copy of Samuel Deane's History of Scituate online, which I hope to read in the days ahead.
I encourage others to do the same. Having these search engines greatly speeds up the process of discovery.