Family Lore – Famous Ancestors?

I have often had inquiries from “family researchers” who want to find their “famous” Revolutionary War Major, a governor of some early state, wealthy land owner, even movie stars. Their grandmother told them they were related…..

Let me give you an example. “Lucy Hunt” has begun a family history project with two or three generations,  with some primary evidence (birth certs she got from Mom), but more info that is secondhand or undetermined source. As Lucy knows her parents, and probably her grandparents, she likely has gathered factual basic information-dates and place of births, marriages, deaths for example. However, jumping ahead several undocumented generations, to connect to Clara Barton or even further back, George Washington himself, is not valid genealogy.

Genealogy is widely popular today. Commercial online companies and purveyors of of millions of books, videos, heraldry sources, and software, promote genealogy “as easy as clicking online” to find your kinfolk. Lucy and millions of other people new to genealogy and enthused about finding their family, boast of the “thousands” of family members they have found on Ancestry.com. Lucy established a tree online, which is also highly promoted, and attached “proof” such as census, info from other trees, and info found on the database –none of which has she put through the process of proof…likely she is unaware of that step.  Lucy, still seeking her connection to Clara Barton has dug up some stories about the famous Civil War nurse and is excited to find that someone in her Grandmother’s family came from the same city as Clara….Chicago!

So what is the process? How do you create an accurate family tree? Genealogy is the construction of a family history that reflects historical reality as closely as possible is developed through:

  • A reasonably exhaustive search for proof, emphasizing original or firsthand information.
  • Documenting all findings by properly recording sources and citations.
  • Analysis of evidentiary findings; comparing and testing your sources is essential to accuracy of your genealogy.
  • Resolution of conflicting evidence.
  • Writing and recording an accurate family record.

The above are the components of the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) for genealogical research…. which is NOT what Lucy has done.

The field of genealogy has changed in emphasis over the past ten to twenty years . It is still immensely popular as a “hobby,” still commercialized too, but a shift has taken place. Our national, state and local genealogical organizations and institutions now promote genealogy as scholarly research, offering classes, seminars and other resources in pursuit of solid genealogy practices. Universities, libraries, and archives worldwide hold the history of our people and they, too, promote good research standards. DNA also helps identify ancestral lines and those that don’t belong on your tree too!

The other aspect of Lucy’s quest for connection to a celebrity, is that she is overlooking the real people in her family that passed on parts of themselves, in one way or another, to her. One of the joys of good research techniques, is learning about the life of your ancestor in terms of how they lived it, and discovering the person.

We have all sorts of people in our families, including a possible famous or notable persons, or hard-working folk who raised children, passed on beliefs, interests, physical characteristics, love of the arts or a particular occupation…to you.

By researching with good skills, as per the Genealogical Proof Standard, you will create an accurate history of your real ancestors and find interesting, maybe even “famous” people in your tree. For example:

Anne Samuel (1736-1825), Caswell County, North Carolina; she was designated a Revolutionary War Patriot, as per records in the National Archives, D.A.R., North Carolina legislative records archive. Anne Samuel was my 5th great grandmother, “who  furnished supplies to the militia.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting to Know Archibald Samuel

Published Boston, 1817

Published Boston, 1817

Archibald Samuel, born about 1749, is my 4th Great Grandfather. And he is my “brick wall.” My research has uncovered many facts about Archibald from the 1780’s to his death in 1832 in Caswell County, North Carolina. Archibald was a prominent part of the establishment of Caswell County in 1777, a property owner, obviously of means, a lawyer, County Commissioner, husband, father – all these life details found in deeds, books and various old documents. Even with much documented proof of his occupation and community activities,  the mystery remains as to where he was born, his parents’ names or how he is related to the other people of the Samuel surname in the county!

The search for ancestors often yields only the outline of their lives…birth, marriage, death, maybe occupation or military records too. When we happen on evidence of the person they were, their interests, beliefs, interactions, maybe sense of humor, it is rewarding indeed.

And so it was with Archibald Samuel when I discovered his purchase of a set of books in 1817. I found reference to this purchase in William S. Powell’s book,  When the Past Refused to Die, History of Caswell County, North Carolina, 1777-1977, as follows:  “In 1819, seven sets of the ‘State Papers and Publick Documents of the United States from the Accession of George Washington to the Presidency‘ were purchased in Caswell County. Only fourteen subscribers throughout the state bought this twelve-volume set. Those who added this useful source book to their libraries were John Daniel, James Daniel, Fred W. Pleasants, Archibald Samuel, James Sanders, Joseph Sanders and Charles Wilson.” (p. 408)

Archibald Samuel had lived through the American Revolution and is said to have served in the Army too. He lived in an geographic area where battles were close by, most of the men of the area were patriots, many served as Officers in the military and were loyal to the cause. Archibald was also involved in the legal processes, business and development of his county. It can be assumed that Archibald Samuel was well read and as a patriot himself, an admirer of George Washington. He was no doubt delighted in purchasing, owning and reading this 12 volume set of books. Did Archibald have a library in his home in Milton, North Carolina?

I wondered if the book set, State Papers and Publick Documents of the United States from the Accession of George Washington to the Presidency, might still exist today, shelved in libraries today. Yes! Found it on “Open Library” and is available for reading in a variety of formats. WorldCat has it catalogued and it is available for inter-library loan.

Archibald bought his set of these volumes in 1819 and likely they were the second edition printed and published in 1817 “under the patronage of Congress, including confidential documents, now first published.” (1817 edition published by T.B. Watt and Sons, Boston). I can picture Archibald Samuel, sitting by his fireside with candles burning, reading his books. I wonder if he made notes in the margins….