Monday, July 27, 2009

What IS a Family? (Part 1)

In tracing the Jenner side of my family back to its immigrant ancestor, I discovered that young Samuel Jenner I arrived in America as an infant around 1650 in the company of his mother, Hannah (Barrett) Jenner. His father, Richard Jenner, had died around the time of his birth. The widow Jenner left her two oldest children in England and ventured off to the New World to live in the care of her brother, Samuel Barrett. While it may seem inconceivable in our time that a women would leave two of her own children behind and cross the Atlantic Ocean to stay with her brother, it must be understood in its historical context.

The newborn Samuel Jenner was probably still nursing at the time Hannah was widowed. She was a Puritan and being persecuted for her faith. She and her children were in constant danger in England. Her brother, Samuel Barrett, on the other hand, appears to have been well established in the New World, where she would be accepted and nurtured along with her newborn son.

Not long after arriving in America, Hannah met and married a John Coe. She had two more children by John: Andrew Coe in 1654, and Hannah Coe in 1655 or 1656. At first, I filed this remarriage away as an interesting factoid. After all, this John Coe and his descendents were not ancestors of mine, so they were merely a footnote at the time I learned about them. It was only later, as I began to prepare and view Hannah's and Samuel's lives in narrative form, that it occurred to me that they were still family.

Although not his biological father, it was clearly John Coe who actually helped raise young Samuel Jenner. It would have been John and Hannah who instilled in Samuel the strength of character that propelled him to be one of the founders of ancient Woodbury township, where he is buried. It would have been John who taught him how to work, and the skills he would need to build a life for his family in the American frontier. It would have been John who served as his model for what a father should be -- and apparently it was a good model, since Samuel sired eight children, six of whom lived long and productive lives, while two died in infancy.

I now doubt that it was merely coincidence that I learned of both Samuel's biological and adoptive parents through personal contact with Carl Robert Coe. Carl was extremely generous with his time and information about the Jenner and Coe families, and even though I'm not actually a descendent of the Coes he has invited me to take part in Coe family reunions and other events. In short, he has treated me like family!

Subsequent research has led me to two more step-parents in the Jenner line. My grandmother's Jenner family Bible lists only Diantha (Carly/Cady) Jenner as the mother of Moses German Jenner and his sister Diantha. But she died in 1837, no more than two years after giving birth to the daughter who received her name. The widower, Moses Johnson Jenner, remarried 11 months later, so it was his second wife, Irena (Osborne) Jenner, who raised little Moses and Diantha. Similarly, Moses German Jenner's first three children, including my great-grandfather, Almond Lewis Jenner, lost their mother less than a year after Almond's birth. So they were raised by their step-mother, Mary (Epp/Upp) Jenner.

As if to underscore the important of step-parents in a family, it was probably Mary -- the step-mother -- who recorded most of the information in my grandmother's Bible. It is not my grandmother's writing, and it couldn't have been written by anyone who predeceased Mary. The handwriting seems too feminine to have been Moses Jenner's, which leaves Mary as the most likely. So most of what I know of my Jenner ancestors was probably passed down to me by the kindness of a woman who was not a biological ancestor.

Care, concern, and love are the building blocks of a true family; not merely biology. One of the many lessons our Jenner ancestors have passed down to our current generation is that our family consists of the people who love and nurture us; not just those who gave birth to us.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Famous Cousin - Alec Baldwin

Yes, Alec Baldwin -- the Alec Baldwin -- is my cousin. I don't think he realizes it, though, because he never calls or invites me over for dinner. Of course, Daniel Baldwin, William Baldwin, and Stephen Baldwin are also my cousins. 11th cousins once removed, to be specific. I know, that's not exactly a close family tie. But it was, in its own way, one of the early landmark discoveries in my genealogical journey.

Alec was the first famous person to whom I found out I'm related. Sure, I understand that we're all part of the greater human family and we're all descendents of Adam and Eve, so anyone reading this is a cousin of one sort or another. But Alec was the first celebrity whose relationship I could actually trace genealogically. We are 11th cousins once removed because the most recent common ancestors we share were Richard Baldwin I (1503 - 1552) and Ellen Pooke (1507 - 1565). Richard and Ellen were my 12th great-grandparents and the Baldwin brothers' 11th great-grandparents, hence the "once removed" in our relationship. I guess that qualifies as a little more than six degrees of separation, but I still found it be be an intriguing discovery.

As I wrote in one of my earliest postings, I had long been told that I was descended from Dr. Edward Jenner, the discoverer of smallpox vaccine. As a child, the idea of being descended from someone really famous seemed especially cool to me. Well before I discovered the Baldwin connection, I had disproven the link to Dr. Edward Jenner. Dr. Jenner lived from 1749 to 1823 in Gloucestershire, England. I had discovered conclusive evidence that our branch of the Jenner family had arrived in America before 1700, so we couldn't possibly be his descendents, and at first that had been a bit of a letdown.

So perhaps it was a form of recompense that it is through the Jenner line that we have a common ancestor with the famous Baldwin brothers. Here's the line: me >> John A. Pellman >> Vivian Grace (Jenner) Pellman >> Almond Lewis Jenner >> Moses German Jenner >> Moses Johnson Jenner >> Timothy Jenner >> Stephen Jenner >> Hannah (Parmelee) Jenner >> Elizabeth (Baldwin) Parmelee >> Nathaniel Baldwin II >> Nathaniel Baldwin I >> Richard Baldwin III >> Richard Baldwin II >> Richard Baldwin I. 14 generations spanning a period of 350 years!

The discovery affected me in several ways. First, it personalized the fact that each of us is related -- and more closely than we might imagine -- to the people around us. For all I know, my next-door neighbor might be a cousin, too! Secondly, it aroused my curiosity about other surnames in my family tree and the possibility of relationships to other famous people -- Phelps (Michael?), Harding (Warren?), Burr (Raymond? Aaron?), etc. And finally, having traced one branch of our family tree back to 1503, I began to appreciate the fact that my ancestors had not merely witnessed history; they had helped shape history!

As I discovered a few months later, the Baldwin brothers were only the beginning. And, as famous as they are today, I would soon learn that I was descended from people of even greater fame and importance in the pageant of human history!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Tears in the Graveyard

My first experience visiting a cemetery for genealogical research came in October, 2008 when my daughter and I traveled to Harmony, New York in search of information about Timothy Jenner, Ruth Hurlbut, Moses Johnson Jenner (son of Timothy and Ruth), and Moses German Jenner (son of Moses J.). We were specifically trying to find ironclad documentation of Moses German Jenner's birth, since all we had at the time were notations in my grandmother's Jenner family Bible.

We were supposed to meet a representative of the Harmony Historical Society at their offices that morning. They were preparing for the annual Harvest Festival in North Harmony and we were told they would be outside getting set up. We arrived about 11:00 AM only to find no one there. It was drizzling at the time and we later learned that they had headed to a nearby coffee shop for shelter and an early lunch, hoping the weather would improve while they were eating. Since it wasn't the nicest weather, my daughter and I decided to drive around the area and get the lay of the land, rather than stand around getting wet.

So we headed south on Open Meadows Road. We had gone no more than a mile or two when we saw a sign identifying the Blockville Union Burying Ground. The sign said it had been established in 1828, so we pulled in on a hunch that we might find some of our ancestors buried there. I pulled our car to what appeared to be the center of the cemetery. My daughter was in the passenger seat so I told her, "You take that [the right] side and I'll take this [the left] side. Yell if you find anything." We opened our doors and stepped out.

"Here they are!" my daughter immediately announced, "You parked right next to them."

I was still gathering up my camera and notepad and bumped my head on the door-frame when I looked up to see where she was pointing. There they were: a half-dozen aged headstones all in a row. My daughter was pointing to one in particular. "Here's Timothy." She moved to the next headstone as I was walking around the car to join her. "And here's Ruth," she announced with growing excitement. She moved to the next headstone while I was still walking toward her. "And here's Alcena." Just as I reached her side, she made a little whimpering sound I will never forget. "Oh my God, Daddy," she said in a quavering voice, "She was only nine years old." Tears were welling up in her eyes. "Daddy that's awful," she said, snuffling back her tears and wiping them from her cheeks.

That was the moment genealogy suddenly became intensely personal for me. As I write this I am fighting back my own tears, as happens every time I recall that moment. The hurt on my daughter's face and in her voice is more than I can bear, even in memory. Michaela has always been sensitive to the suffering of others -- especially children -- and little Alcena Jenner was no exception. We have talked at length about that moment, and it was also the moment that genealogy became personal for her.

It is no longer simply tracking down and recording names, dates, places, and events in a notebook or software application. It is the process of discovering and understanding the lives of those who traveled before us and brought us to this point in time. Through it, we glimpse their hearts and minds, their dreams and ambitions, their hardships and sufferings, and come to appreciate them as members of our own family -- now gone, but not forgotten, and no longer taken for granted.

Like most others of their generation, Timothy and Ruth (Hurlbut) Jenner, ventured out into a vast and dangerous land in search of a dream. It wasn't a dream of conquest and wealth; merely a dream to build a life that was just a little better for themselves and their children than it had been for their parents. They chased that dream by risking their lives for a tract of land just large enough to sustain them, working from dawn to dusk under constant exposure to possible attack by beasts, outlaws, or hostile tribes, while enduring the hardships of a harsh and unforgiving environment. And along the way, they would bury several of their own children before they reached adulthood. Michaela, then 13, began to truly understand their struggles that day.

That was the day that, for both of us, "frontiers people" and "pioneers" ceased being anonymous images in history books and movies and became ancestors we are proud of and grateful for.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

It's CARE Not CUR!

Kerr Clan Badge
Kerr Tartan

As far as I’m concerned, anyone who pronounces Kerr as “cur” is hurling me an insult and just begging for a beat-down! My maternal grandmother was Winnifred Violet Kerr, and as any Scot will tell you, it’s pronounced “CARE” with a considerable trilling of the r. If you pronounce it “car” then I know you’re English, nae a Scot!

The Kerrs originated as one of the border clans. The name most likely originates from the Nordic kjerr which means marsh-dweller, or possibly Scots Gaelic caerr (left-handed). A 1972 study by the British Journal of Medicine found that 30% of Kerrs are left-handed. Ferniehirst Castle and several other Kerr dwellings were built specifically to accommodate left-handed people. The most notable feature at Ferniehirst is that its spiral staircases wind in the opposite direction of most to give an advantage to left-handed defenders. Is it merely coincidence, then, that I was born with a preference for my left hand? My grandfather converted me to right-handedness when I was four or five so I could use his hand-me-down golf clubs. As a result, I am nearly ambidextrous.

Clan Kerr as it’s now known originated with two brothers, Ralph and John Ker, who settled in Jedburgh around 1330 AD. They and their descendents quickly rose to prominence by seizing and controlling, through sheer strength and cunning, two strategically located castles on the English border – Jedburgh and Roxburgh -- and defending them ferociously against any incursion from the south. They also developed a predilection for slipping across the border regularly supplement their diet with some prime English beef or to add a few English horses to their stock, for which they become known (infamous might be the better word) as “border reivers.” By the close of the 14th century Clan Kerr were important vassals of the Scottish Crown. Their loyalty and service was rewarded with the barony of Old Roxburgh, the barony of Cessford, and the barony of Oxnam in rapid succession.

Of the tenacious and warlike nature of Clan Kerr, the Scottish poet, Walter Laidlaw wrote in The Reprisal:

“So well the Kerrs their left hands ply
The dead and dying around them lie
The castle gained, the battle won
The revenge and slaughter now begun”

After the English destroyed Jedburgh Castle, the Kerrs constructed Ferniehirst Castle in 1470, which they have occupied almost continuously to the present time. Ferniehirst is now the official seat of Lord Michael (Ancram) Kerr, 13th Marquess of Lothian.

The Kerrs became so trusted and depended upon that at the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513, Sir Andrew Kerr stood beside King James IV of Scotland directing his troops. In 1526 Sir Andrew Kerr was killed in battle defending King James V when his royal procession was ambushed on its way to Edinburgh. In 1606, Mark Kerr was created Earl of Lothian and several additional titles were bestowed on the Clan throughout the 17th century, including Lord Jedburgh, Earl of Ancram, and Earl of Roxburgh. In 1707, following their support of the Treaty of Union between England and Scotland, the Earls of Lothian were advanced to the rank of Marquess.

The Kerr clan motto, “Sero Sed Serio” (“Late, but in Earnest”) originated at the Battle of Ancrum Moor, near Jedburgh, in 1545. The clan had been hired as mercenaries by the English in a campaign against the Scots that King Henry VIII was using to force a marriage between the infant Mary Queen of Scots and his son, Edward. The English held the Kerr cavalrymen in reserve, behind their encampment, waiting to deploy them where their battle lines seemed to weaken or when an opportunity to overwhelm the Scots presented itself. At one point in the battle, a small Scottish force attacked the main English line, then retreated in the face of overwhelming numbers. The English forces pursued the fleeing Scots over Palace Hill and down the far side, where the entire remainder of the Scottish army was waiting in ambush. As the English ranks began to break and commanders attempted to rally them, clan Kerr tore off the red crosses that identified them as English allies and attacked from the rear, ensuring the Scottish victory. Thus, they engaged the battle late, but in earnest.

I’ve made two trips to Scotland and met several of my Scottish kinfolk, most of whom have since passed on. I’m extremely proud of my Scottish heritage, and I am determined to discover how my grandmother, Winnifred Violet Kerr, great-grandfather, the Rev. John Kerr, and great-great-grandfather, David Kerr are related to the rest of Clan Kerr. Because records of common births, marriages, and deaths are so difficult to locate, it is proving to be a long and arduous task, but one well worth pursuing.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Granddad and Moonwalking

(15 August 1891 - 30 November 1970)

Apollo 11 Lunar Landing
(20 July 1969)

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and the media are inundating us with images, reflections, and analysis of the historic event. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldren, Michael Collins, Walter Cronkite, and John F. Kennedy are being celebrated for their roles in this world-changing event -- as they should be. But my most vivid recollections of the Apollo landing will always be of my grandfather, John Guss Pellman.

My parents traveled a lot when I was young, so I spent a lot of time at my grandparents' house at 4204 Ingalls Street in the Mission Hills district of San Diego. If I remember correctly, the house was actually ordered from the Sears & Roebuck catalog and built in 1924. It's been almost 40 years since I was last in that house, but I can vividly recall every detail of it, down to the pictures on the walls, the curtains, the nick-nacks, and even the smells. That's where I was on July 20, 1969 when Apollo 11 touched down -- sitting on my grandparents' brown hide-a-bed sofa watching it all unfold on TV with Walter Cronkite providing the commentary.

It was probably soon after Neil Armstrong uttered his immortal statement, "That's one small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind," that I turned away from the TV and exclaimed, "Isn't that cool, Granddad?"

To this day, I remember the sensation I felt. It was like a mild electric shock that ran down both of my arms. There were tears in my grandfather's eyes. It was the first and only time I had ever seen him cry! And I couldn't understand why he would be crying when the whole world around him was rejoicing.

"What's wrong, Granddad?" I asked.

"Now I've seen it all," he said softly, gazing in awe at the TV. I must have looked puzzled by his remark, because he explained it something like this: "When your Grandma and I were married, most people were still using horse-and-buggies. There was no radio or TV, and airplanes were still experimental. Not many people had telephones, so we heard about most things from newspapers, letters, or over the neighbor's fence. And now -- in my lifetime -- they've sent a man to the moon with a TV camera so I can actually watch it happen. I've seen everything!"

I didn't truly understand the import of his remarks then. It was only after I began studying technology and social change during my PhD program that I began to sense the enormity of the change he had experienced and why it had affected him so deeply that day.

Granddad was born on August 15, 1891 in Farley, Missouri. Farley was nicknamed "Schimmel Town" because the Schimmels were such a large proportion of the town's population, which is still only about 250 people. His parents were George Frederick Pellman and Mary Victoria Schimmel. His childhood home had no running water or indoor plumbing, no electricity or gas, no furnace or air conditioning, no refrigerator -- not even a fan! Other than the house being a little more weather-tight and having a cast-iron stove for cooking, and buggies and wagons having improved seats and suspensions, most technologies used in his everyday life were not that much different that those of the Middle Ages! The major technological advances at the time of his birth -- railroads, steamships, mechanized harvesting equipment, and the telegraph -- were not a part of his daily life.

After spending his first ten years in Farley, the family moved to Kaw City, Oklahoma Territory, where his grandfather had settled after trying to stake a claim during the Cherokee Strip Land Run of 1893. While his father was sheriff of Kay County, young John and his brothers spent much of their time on the Kaw Reservation, playing with the children of the Kansa tribe. He once remarked, "When we played cowboys and Injuns, we had real Injuns. The only problem was the Injuns always won!" Washungah, the last chief of the Kansa Nation, appears to have been like an uncle to Granddad and he always spoke of him with great respect and affection.

When Oklahoma achieved statehood in 1907, the family moved to Leavenworth, Kansas, where Granddad remained until the outbreak of World War I. He spent those years working a variety of trades including barber and blacksmith. As automobiles grew in popularity, Granddad made the transition from blacksmith to automotive mechanic. He returned from serving in the War, married Vivian Grace Jenner in 1919 and moved to San Diego, California shortly after the birth of my father, John A. Pellman, to take a job as service manager for the Paige (a brand that later became part of General Motors) Agency in San Diego. He showed up for work with just a screwdriver and pliers in his hip pocket. "If you can repair cars with just a screwdriver and pair of pliers," the owner remarked, "You must be one heck of a mechanic!"

Paige was acquired by the Graham brothers in 1927, but the company did not survive the Great Depression and Granddad found himself unemployed in the early 1930s. Nevertheless, he continued to hone his skills as a mechanic and adapt to new technologies. When the government began rationing gasoline during the Second World War, his son Robert C. Pellman converted the family car to run on butane, so they could trade their rationing coupons for other essentials. Granddad continued to do the majority of his own mechanical work on increasingly complex automobiles until quite late in his life.

So, he was no stranger to technological change, nor was it something that intimidated him, as we sat there together watching the moon landing 40 years ago. His tears were simply tears of awe, as he reflected upon all that he had witnessed during his life.

I will see nothing of that magnitude in my lifetime unless we invent teleportation, fully functioning androids, or break the light-speed barrier in the next 20 years or so. I've seen computers become smaller and more powerful, airplanes become faster, appliances become more energy-efficient, phones become smaller and portable, and dozens of other adaptations and improvements of technologies that existed when I was born. But there have not been, and probably will not be, the revolutionary and life-altering technological advances that occurred during Granddad's life, which literally spanned the Horse-and-Buggy Era to the Space Age!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Creating Harmony

The town of Harmony is located in Chautauqua County in the southwestern corner of New York state (see red dot on the map at left). It is a tranquil rural community of about 2,000 people with a growing reputation for producing some of the finest maple syrup in the country. The earliest settlers began arriving in 1809, and the town was incorporated in 1816, at which time it was on the western frontier of the newly created United States of America.

I first learned of the town during a Google search for information on my 4x-great-grandfather, Timothy Jenner, son of Revolutionary War veteran, Stephen Jenner. By this time in our research, my daughter and I had decided that she would join the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) when she turned 18 and I would join the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) now. By doing so, all my daughter would have to prove for her DAR application is her descendency from me, so by gathering all the documentation for my SAR application now, we would be killing two birds with one stone. As a result, the Jenner portion of our genealogical quest had shifted from merely knowing who our ancestors were to proving who they were -- a significantly more difficult task. We were looking for original documents, like birth certificates, marriage licenses, death certificates, or official town records that listed the parents of each of our Jenner ancestors. It only took a couple of days to learn that such records are sparse prior to 1900 and all but non-existent prior to 1850.

By this time, we had backtracked from my grandmother, Vivian Grace Jenner (born 1887 in Pleasonton, KS), to her father, Almond Lewis Jenner (born 1863 in Anderson, IN), to his father, Moses German Jenner (born 1833, location unknown). We had copies of their birth certificates or US Census records establishing their relationships, but we had not yet located any record acceptable to the SAR or DAR of the relationship of Moses G. Jenner to his father, Moses Johnson Jenner, or of Moses J. Jenner to his father, Timothy Jenner. So these were the focus of our research. And it was during this period of our research that we learned the history of American civil record-keeping.

Prior to the Revolutionary War, there was no federal or state government; only colonies and townships. Colonies were continually changing in size, name, and character during the period of colonial expansion from 1620 to 1750. For example, New Haven Colony in Connecticut started several "plantations" at nearby West Haven, East Haven, Guilford, etc. Initially, these plantations were subordinate to, and subject to the charters of, their sponsoring colonies. But, if they were successful and grew, they eventually separated into distinct colonies and were granted their own charters. With colonies being in flux, townships were the most stable level of governance, so the majority of civil record-keeping was handled by town clerks or, more often, by church clerks.

Churches were the center of social, civil, and economic life in the colonies. Most of the town charters that I have read include provisions that membership -- and regular attendance -- in the local church was mandatory for property ownership and citizenship in the town. This only makes sense. Colonial towns were often first settled by fewer than 50 people. Each new town was a dangerous excursion into the wilderness and its inhabitants were utterly dependent upon one another for their survival. It was absolutely essential that the settlers of each town be completely of like mind and harmonious in their relationships or the town would fail and its residents would die. All residents being members of the same church, sharing the same fundamental beliefs and values, was the best way of ensuring the harmony necessary for survival in a harsh and unforgiving environment. So, in addition to being houses of worship and centers of social life in the colonies, the churches also served as the centers of local government prior to the Revolutionary War -- and it was the job of the church clerks to record the births, marriages, deaths, and even deeds and other financial transactions of the towns.

Following the American Revolution and the establishment of state and federal governments, responsibility for civil record-keeping began to shift to agencies and offices of the government. Starting around 1790, when the first federal census was taken, church clerks turned their records over to town or county clerks, who became responsible for their maintenance thereafter. Until around 1850 the process was fairly haphazard, with no consistent methodology for maintaining and indexing previous information and no uniform method of recording new data. Some town clerks were much better than others at cataloging the information that was turned over to them, so many local records are woefully incomplete until late in the 19th century. Such was the case, it appears, with the birth records for Moses Johnson Jenner and Moses German Jenner.

Then, "once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, while I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly ..." from my tapping a Google search returned a hit on the History of Chautauqua County, New York, From Its First Settlement to the Present Time With Numerous Biographical and Family Sketches, by Andrew W. Young (1875). It was another Google Book, like the History of Ancient Woodbury, and it contained several paragraphs about Timothy Jenner and Moses Johnson Jenner!

Timothy Jenner and his wife, Ruth Hurlbut (Jenner), together with their son, Moses Johnson Jenner, were among the earliest settlers in Harmony, NY. They arrived in 1815, the year before the town was formally chartered, along with Samuel, Zaccheus, and Nathaniel Hurlbut. The Jenners and Hurlbuts had all come from Pittsford, Vermont (see black dot on the map at the top of this page). They bought lots in 1816 and 1817 and built homes on the south side of the town, not far from the settlement of Blockville. In 1817 Timothy, Ruth, and Moses were among the dozen founders of the Panama Baptist Church. Both Timothy and Moses went on to serve as the clerk of the church, keeping records of the births, marriages, and deaths of its members and the minutes of its earliest meetings. The Jenners and Hurlbuts were prominent throughout the early history of Harmony township, nearby Busti and Blockville, and other parts of Chautauqua County. Descendents of the original Jenner and Hurlbut families are still living in the area, and Michaela and I had the pleasure of meeting some of them when we visited the town (the subject of a future blog entry) in October 2008.

We are still searching for records to confirm that Moses German Jenner is the son of Moses Johnson Jenner. It appears that Moses J. left Chautauqua County in the mid-1820s, probably shortly after his first marriage (4 August 1825). He is not listed there on the 1830 US Census. In 1826, his parents were expelled from Panama Baptist Church for supporting women's suffrage. Perhaps Moses left in protest, so that his children's births were recorded in another township, if they were officially recorded at all. The earliest document we've found listing Moses G. Jenner is the 1860 US Census (his first as an adult) which places him in Indiana, but shows his birthplace as New York. There is some evidence that Moses Johnson Jenner was living with or near his daughter, Diantha, in Indiana at the time of his death in 1852. We know we are close to a breakthrough on our two Moses's. The records we are slowly collecting are being to "harmonize" with each other to form an increasingly clear and complete picture of the lives of these two generation of Jenner ancestors.

And my daughter and I have found that, as we discover more about the lives of our ancestors and begin to understand the sacrifices they made and the risks they took to create a new nation and lay the groundwork for freedom and prosperity for their descendents, the closer we grown in harmony with each other.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What'chu Talkin' 'Bout, Willis?

My mother was born Violet Joyce Willis in Chepstow, Monmouthshire. There is a long-standing controversy over whether Monmouthshire is truly part of England or Wales -- the joke being that the Welsh claim it is English and the English claim it is Welsh! She was conscripted (what Americans call "drafted") into the British Army shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War and assigned to duty with the American Army, Ordnance Division, in Ammunition Supply. That is where she met my father. Following the War she immigrated to the United States in 1946 and married my father, making her my immigrant ancestor on my maternal side.

For purposes of Michaela's school project on immigrant ancestors, that was the end of our research on the Willis side of the family. Of course, growing up I had heard stories about my English and Scottish ancestors, so I knew that her father was my namesake, Leonard John Willis, and her mother was Winnifred Violet Kerr of Clan Kerr in Midlothian, Scotland. I had also been told that my great-grandfather, William Willis, had been a barrister (we call them lawyers in the U.S.) and that William's father had been a Queens Counsel judge. On two trips to England, I had met quite a few of my Willis and Kerr aunts and uncles, as well, but for the first 57 years of my life that was all I knew of my Willis ancestry. But once aroused, my curiosity was no longer satisfied with that mere smattering of information.

When my daughter and I started our ancestral research, I was certain that tracing our British ancestry would be easy. After all, the British had been keeping meticulous records since the Norman Conquest of 1066 and the Domesday Book. And to govern an empire that had spanned the entire globe since the 16th century, surely the British maintained birth, marriage, property, and death records second to none. Well, once I turned my attention to my mother's side of the family I was again reminded of what happens when you assume ...

As it turns out, the British do have meticulous records of births, marriages, property transactions, and deaths. Unfortunately, they have no workable system for searching and locating those records! None of those functions were centralized until the 20th century. So, if you want to locate the birth record of someone born before 1900, you must not only know what county and city or town they were born in, you must also know which parish it was. That's roughly equivalent to knowing the Zip Code of someone's birthplace!

When you've waited until everyone who might have remembered what parish your great-great-grandfather was born in has died, the task takes an ugly twist! If I had had the sense to ask these questions while my grandparents and great-aunts and uncles were still alive my research might have been made vastly easier. Let that be a lesson to you younger readers!

Once again, I was spending two or three hours a night a couple of nights a week, and months went by without a breakthrough in researching my Willis ancestors. It was then that my mother came to the rescue! Knowing of the new found interest my daughter and I had developed in genealogy, my mother decided that one of the best gifts she could give her son and grandchildren was her memoirs. So, she prepared a book for each of us containing the story of her life and all that she could recall of her family. And in those memoirs I found a vital clue.

As had been the case with the Jenner side of my family (see "A Tale of Two Samuels"), one of the keys to unraveling the Willis line was realizing that there had been two William Willises: William Willis the barrister, and Judge William Willis, QC. In all the years my mother had talked about her grandfather and great-grandfather I had never realized they were both William Willis. It wasn't until I saw the information written down in her memoirs that I understood this. Still, I had googled "William Willis" and "William Willis QC" countless times and never found anything helpful. But, as I read Mum's spare recollections of the two men's lives a thought occurred to me: there might be an obituary on a Queen's Counsel judge, since he would have been a man of considerable prominence. And I was right! But it was not to be found in the London Times archives or somewhere you would ordinarily expect.

When I googled "William Willis obituary" in April 2009 the first UK result that Google returned was a PDF document posted on the website of Toddington Baptist Church. I clicked it and there it was: my great-great-grandfather's obituary! Of course, I wasn't certain of it at first, but once I read the entire article and compared it to Mum's memoirs there was no doubt. The funeral notice mentioned F. H. Willis ("Uncle Frank" in Mum's memoirs) and a son-in-law named H. S. Saunders, who had married my mother's "Aunt Trissie." All of the pieces fit the puzzle perfectly! And by visiting other pages on the Toddington Baptist site I was able to trace back three more generations! A page entitled "Roots" listed Judge William's father and grandfather: another William Willis and Thomas Willis. The obituary and funeral notice also provided several other bits of information we had not previously known, including the maiden names of both Judge William's and Barrister William's wives and the fact that Judge Willis was elected to Parliament in 1880 representing Colchester.

Every bit of additional information -- dates and places of birth, names of spouses and children, vocations, titles, achievements, etc. -- allows a researcher to refine searches in the various online databases. Names like William Willis are commonplace, but there are far fewer Judge William Willises who were born in Toddington, Bedfordshire, the son of a strawhat maker named William, and married first to Annie Outhwaite, then subsequently to Marie Elizabeth Moody, served as a Queens Counsel judge under Queen Victoria and a King's Counsel judge under Edward VII, and even served as a Member of Parliament. In fact, only one that I've found so far!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Who's Yo' Daddy?

There is a lot of erroneous information on the Internet. That's no surprise to any experienced web-surfer. But I was shocked to discover how much of the information on genealogical web sites is erroneous. Fortunately, it was a shock I received early in my exploits as a family tree researcher, so it didn't do nearly as much damage as it could have done.

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, much of my early research focused on the Jenner branch of my family, because I was originally searching only for my immigrant ancestors. My mother was an immigrant, so no search was needed there. I quickly hit a dead end on the Pellman lineage (see The Major Branches and others). So the Jenners had proven to be the easiest to trace at first. That is, until I reached Samuel Jenner I.

Two years ago, all the online genealogical sites that came up on the first few pages of a Google search listed the same information for Samuel Jenner I: He had been born in Charlestown, Massachusetts on 21 March 1669** to Capt. Thomas Jenner III and his wife Rebecca Trerice. This included what I took to be the authoritative sites, including the LDS, RootsWeb,, and With a little more digging, I was able to find information on Thomas Jenner II and the Rev. Thomas Jenner I. By all available accounts, the Rev. Thomas Jenner I had been the immigrant Jenner ancestor -- a Puritan minister who had arrived at the Saybrook colony in 1636. I still recall the excitement I felt when I emailed this information to my family and closest friends. We were descendants of the Puritans! Our family was among the first to colonize America!
**before 1752 events occurring prior to March 25th are usually recorded with a dual date, because prior to the Calendar Act of 1750 the calendar year began March 25th rather than January 1st throughout the British Empire. So 21 March 1669 (by current reckoning) would have been 21 March 1668 at the time. Such dates are now typically recorded in historical references in the format, 21 March 1668/69.

I was a little troubled by this, since it didn't concur with the notation in my grandmother's Bible that Samuel Jenner had been born -- and his father, unnamed, had died -- on the passage to America. But, when I learned that Capt. Thomas Jenner III had died at sea during a voyage back to England sometime between 2 November 1685, when the vessel sailed, and 12 December 1686, when the news of his death reached the Colonies, I chalked the difference up to faulty memories and word-of-mouth. But with each new bit of information I gleaned about Samuel Jenner I, I became increasingly suspicious of this account.

My suspicions became outright doubts when I finally got my hands on a PDF copy of "the Cothren." The Cothren, as genealogists are fond of calling it, is the History of Ancient Woodbury, Connecticut, from the first Indian deed in 1659 ... including the present towns of Washington, Southbury, Bethlem, Roxbury, and a part of Oxford and Middlebury, by William Cothren, published in 1854. William Cothren was the Town Clerk and Town Historian of Woodbury in the mid-19th century, and his book was a narrative presentation of the town's records of births, marriages, deaths, wills, trials, and land transactions.

Reading the Cothren I learned that Samuel Jenner I had purchased land and settled in Woodbury not later than 1682. If he was the Samuel Jenner born in 1669, then he would have been no more than 13 when he ventured off on a life of his own! This might have been feasible if he had been orphaned, but Capt. Thomas Jenner III and Rebecca (Trerice) Jenner were both still living in 1682. He married Hannah Hinman around 1684 and the two had their first child, Sarah, in 1685. That would have made him 15 at marriage and only 16 at the birth of their first child, which would only have been possible in a "shotgun wedding" -- a scenario that seems extremely unlikely given that Hannah Hinman was not only the daughter of one of Woodbury's most prominent citizens, Sgt. Edward Hinman, but would have been three years older than Samuel. Even if, despite the strictures of 17th century Puritan society, Samuel and Hannah could have found a way to sneak off together, what 16-year-old girl would have any interest in a 13-year-old boy?

The real nail in the coffin of this scenario, however, is the Woodbury Town Charter, which was also recorded in the Cothren. The charter states that only members of the local congregation were permitted to own land in the township. And only adults, aged 21 or over, could be members of the congregation! When I read that I knew that my Samuel Jenner I could not have been born in 1669 -- and that meant that someone other than Capt. Thomas Jenner III must be his father. So, now what?

For several months, I had been spending a couple of nights per week tracking down various leads and posting messages on,, and other ancestry message boards. One night I got a reply. Another descendant of Samuel Jenner I had seen one of my inquiries and checked her Jenner family Bible -- one that had been passed down through a different line of descent -- and it contained a notation that Samuel's father had been a Richard Jenner. Not only did it name the father, but mentioned that Samuel's mother had been Hannah Barrett, that Richard had been killed "in a foreign adventure" shortly after Samuel's birth, and that Hannah had remarried after coming to America -- to Capt. John Coe.

It took several more months and numerous emails between myself and members of the Coe and Hinman families to finally piece the evidence together. And it was during this process that I came to realize that real genealogy was a forensic science; not merely a record-keeping process. It requires extensive research, collection and examination of clues and evidence, evaluating each piece of evidence to determine its authenticity and credibility, and arriving at a well-reasoned conclusion.

In the matter of Samuel Jenner's paternity, I was able to piece together the following evidence in favor of Richard Jenner and Hannah Barrett:
  • The recently widowed Hannah (Barrett) Jenner arrived in America sometime after 1650 with her infant son, Samuel
  • She initially stayed with her brother, Samuel Barrett, in Newtown, New York
  • The will of Samuel Barrett's brother, probated in London in 1666, mentions a nephew, Samuel Jenner
  • Hannah had two children by John Coe: a daughter, Hannah, born in 1654, and a son, Andrew, born in 1655 or 1656.
  • Samuel Jenner eventually married Hannah Hinman, and Hannah Coe married Hannah Hinman's brother, Capt. Titus Hinman.
This Samuel Jenner would have have to have been born around 1650, making him about age 30 at the time he bought property in Woodbury, Connecticut, and eligible for membership in the Woodbury congregation. This Samuel would have known the Hinman family, since his half-sister married his brother-in-law. The Hinmans were among the founders of the Woodbury township, so it would have been natural for Samuel to have been one of the township's earliest landowners. And the Samuel Jenner born in 1669 could not possibly have been mentioned in a 1666 will. It is not proof, but it is certainly a compelling amount of circumstantial evidence.

I will not consider the mystery of Samuel Jenner's parents conclusively resolved until I secure incontrovertible evidence, such as a birth record. But for the time being, the extant evidence makes it all but certain that the 1669 Samuel Jenner of Charlestown is not my Samuel Jenner and makes a strongly convincing case that the son of Richard and Hannah is my 7x-great-grandfather.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Hey Dad!"

A Tribute to Alexander S. Hadad
1922 - 2008
. . . _ . _

This wasn't the entry I had originally intended to upload today. But, as I was reviewing my previous postings I was struck by how much all of them owed to my cousin, Al Hadad. So, forgive me for altering my plans a bit and allow me to pay a long-overdue tribute to a man who had been inspiring my genealogical research even before I began it.

Alexander S. Hadad was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1922. His father, Lewis Raymond (Ramon) Hadad had been born in 1889 in Petah Tikva, Ottoman Palestine. I don't know the whole story yet, but I'm guessing that Ramon Hadad left Palestine in the aftermath of World War I and the end of Ottoman rule over Palestine. With Palestine in British hands, it probably made immigration to Canada both feasible and desireable. Shortly thereafter, he met and married Mollie Trackman, who had recently immigrated from Zhitomir, Russia. In 1922 they had a son and named him Alexander Sanders Hadad.

I don't know much about Al's early life. What I know of him -- what he talked about most when I was around -- were the events following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. No sooner had the U.S. been dragged into the Second World War then Al joined the Merchant Marine as a radio operator. Now, "Merchant Marine" isn't technically supposed to be capitalized. But, once I came to know the heroic deeds of the Merchant Marine I began capitalizing it out of respect for all those who have served in it. You see, merchant mariners are not considered "veterans" of the wars in which they served, because they were not actually members of the armed forces. But, they took the same risks as any other mariner. Almost one out of every 25 Merchant Marine vessels was sunk by enemy fire during World War II, but the brave mariners who served in that armada are not "veterans" of the war.

After serving four years, Al returned stateside. In 1946, he married Marian Adele Jewett. Marian is the daughter of Ralph Jewett and Margaret Pellman -- so that's when Al became a member of my family. He was again serving in the Merchant Marine in the Korean War when I was born, so I have known him all my life.

After the Korean War, Al went to work for Trans-World Airways (TWA) as a flight radio officer. After a few years in the cockpit, he joined Philco-Ford Aerospace, working in its military space division until he retired in 1985. I don't know what his academic background was, but I do know that he was a brilliant mind, fascinated by the world around him and enjoying every moment he spent in it. He brightened any room he entered with his presence. Like Wil Rogers, he never seemed to meet anyone he didn't like and I can't imagine that anyone didn't like him in return. He was fun to be around, could carry a conversation on practically any topic without dominating it, and always saw the bright and hopeful side of things.

He would often announce his arrival with a shout of "Hey, Dad! The Hadad's are here!" pronouncing Hadad as "HAY-dad" rather than the Middle Eastern "haw-DAWD." From then until the moment he left, life was a party. And all the while you were in his presence you were engaged in a sparkling give-and-take conversation in which he would regale you with tales of his latest exploits and those of his children and elicit from you your most recent adventures. The whole time, his beaming, toothy smile and bright eyes never left you for a second, and you knew you were talking to a man who genuinely cared about you and every detail of your life. Simply put, he made you feel important.

For all the years I knew him, Al had a fascination with genealogy. During those years, he compiled a vast amount of information on the Pellman family and all the families connected to it. In the first six months of my research, 90 percent of my information came from the vast storehouse Al had passed on to me long before I showed the slightest interest in it. But, Al was far more than merely a repository of names, dates, and places. He was fascinated by -- and a master of telling -- the stories of people's lives. He understood, long before the same realization came to me, that genealogy is not simply a collection of facts about ancestors. It is the story of how we came to be the people we are -- the personalities, ideals, and events that have shaped us.

Sadly, I believe Al went to his grave never realizing how profoundly he had influenced my eventual interest and research. It was less than a year before his passing that my interest in genealogy truly blossomed, and by the time I had learned much beyond what he had provided me, he had grown ill and was no longer able to check his email, so I was never able to share it with him.

I launched this blog as a tribute to my ancestors and a way of expressing my appreciation for how they paved the way for my life decades, even centuries, before I was born. So it seems entirely fitting that one of my earliest postings should be a tribute to the man who, more than any other, inspired me to learn about my family and its multi-layered, multifaceted story. My closing tribute to him is inspired by his other lifelong hobby: ham radio. The caption beneath his photo includes a line of dots and dashes which are a play on words that ham radio operators and Morse code users will clearly understand. I'll end this message with the translation. If you don't know Morse prosigns it won't mean anything to you, but I know Al will understand, and that's who I'm writing it for.

30 (SK)

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Tale of Two Samuels

In my July 2, 2009 blog entitled "A Lamp Unto My Feet" I described how my grandmother's Jenner family Bible has led me to a number of wonderful genealogical discoveries in the past couple of years. It has also introduced me to several mysteries -- mysteries that have been both fascinating and frustrating to attempt to solve. The first of these great mysteries is the one I now call "A Tale of Two Samuels." It led us -- literally -- to the grave (pictured above) in Woodbury, Connecticut of Samuel Jenner, born circa 1650, died August 17, 1738.

In the family history section of my grandmother's Bible I found the following notation following the recorded birth information for my 5th-great-grandfather, Stephen Jenner: "Stephen was the son of Samuel and his father Samuel was born on the pasage [sic] to America." Reading this, we first believed that Samuel Jenner, father of Stephen Jenner, was our immigrant Jenner ancestor -- and he had actually been born while on the voyage to America! How cool was that?! But our excitement soon turned to befuddlement as we sought more information about Samuel Jenner.

A few hours of searching on Google and soon provided a perplexing array of conflicting information:

  1. Samuel Jenner had been born in 1669 in Charlestown, Massachusetts and died in 1738, or by some accounts in 1767, in Woodbury, Connecticut.

  2. Samuel Jenner had been born in London, England around 1650 and died in Woodbury in 1738.

  3. Samuel Jenner had been born in 1703 in Woodbury, Connecticut and died in 1767, or by some accounts in 1738.

  4. Samuel Jenner had married Hannah Hinman in 1684 and had eight children -- with no Stephen among them.

  5. Samuel Jenner had married Hannah Parmelee in 1728 and had 13 children -- with Stephen the last of them.
Over a period of weeks, my daughter and I sifted through a mindboggling collection of contradictory accounts. We found documentation of no less than five "Hannah Jenners" who might have been the wife of Samuel, with birthdates ranging from 1666 to 1732. We also uncovered five Samuel Jenners, but only three with plausible birthdates: 1650, 1669, and 1703. Those with birthdates 1739 or later simply couldn't have been the father of Stephen Jenner, who was born in 1749. Some of this information seemed highly authoritative, backed by the genealogical expertise of the Church of Latter-Day Saints no less, but most of it was based on no more than what we ourselves had: family folklore.

The process was immensely frustrating! I was frittering away night after night after night, often chasing a lead through the nightmarish labyrinth of the Internet for hours, only to reach another dead end -- and ultimately getting nowhere! Many nights I felt like Edgar Allan Poe, crying out in my despair, "Oh, the 'Net, 'Net, 'Net, what a torment has me beset!" instead of "Oh, the bells, bells, bells, what a tale their terror tells!" Several times I set the Samuel Jenner line of inquiry aside to concentrate on other branches of the family, only to come back to it a week or two later out of my compulsive resolve not to let it to get the better of me. It was maddening in the extreme, because it seemed so simple and straightforward on the surface, but was proving so difficult and convoluted in actuality.

But it was this very process that truly developed my understanding of genealogy. It revealed the patterns and traps into which so many erstwhile genealogists fall, as well as the reward that ultimately awaits those who remain steadfast and determined. And in the process it sealed my fate, dooming me to a fascination with genealogy.

Eventually, it dawned on me that this was a tale of two Samuel Jenners -- a father and son. I had been misreading the notation in my grandmother's Bible. What I had originally taken to mean, "Stephen was the son of Samuel and his [Stephen's] father Samuel was born on the pasage [sic] to America" turned out to mean, "Stephen was the son of Samuel and his [Samuel's; not Stephen's] father [also named] Samuel was born on the pasage [sic] to America." Once I grasped this distinction, the rest of the puzzle -- well, most of it, anyway -- fell into place.

Stephen Jenner was the son of Samuel Jenner II (1703 - 1767), who was the son of Samuel Jenner I (c. 1650 - 1738) , who was our immigrant Jenner ancestor. It would actually take several more months -- a topic for a separate entry that I will entitle "Who's Yo' Daddy?" -- to determine who the real parents of Samuel Jenner I were, and confirm that he and his mother (still another Hannah, for Pete's sake!) were the original immigrant Jenners in our family. But the mystery of the Samuels themselves was now solved, at last. In solving that mystery, I learned several valuable genealogical lessons:

  1. Never assume that a specific name represents only one individual. Often, especially prior to 1800, several generations of ancestors will share a single name. In my case, there are at least four successive generations of John Baldwins and three of Geoffrey Dormers in the Jenner line alone! This false assumption led several sources to erroneously combine the lives of Samuel Jenners I and II into a single generation.

  2. Never assume that an "authoritative source" has its facts straight. Not only did the LDS and many others have a considerable amount of erroneous information about Samuel Jenner in their records, but I later learned that even sources like Burke's Peerage contain occasional errors. Everything in genealogy has to be fact-checked -- even the experts!

  3. Just because it's the "majority opinion" doesn't mean it's right! The majority of information about Samuel Jenner I in the genealogical record is actually wrong. Very wrong. I will post the details in "Who's Yo' Daddy?" This is a great lesson for life in general. The majority are followers; not leaders. So don't expect them to be right just because they are the majority.

  4. Real genealogy isn't looking stuff up in record books and websites, then copying it by rote; it's genuine forensic science! It requires gathering evidence and and remaining skeptical while performing analysis, hypothesis testing, and both inductive and deductive reasoning. It resembles "CSI" or "Indiana Jones" much more than it resembles being a librarian or a county clerk -- and that's what got me hooked!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Ravages of War

For months, the name William Henry Pellman seemed like little more than a genealogical dead-end. Family records indicated that he had been born in 1827, but not where he had been born. There were records on of at least a dozen Pellmans born around 1800, any one of whom might have been William Henry’s father, but no documents linking him to any of them. There were also hints that he might have been a descendent of some of the Pennsylvania “Dutch” Pellmans or Amish Pellmans, but again no documentation. We even found some speculation that his parents – or at least his father – had been one of thousands of Hessians who had fought on the side of England during the American Revolution.

After countless hours chasing unproductive leads, I finally gave up on finding the parents of William Henry Pellman and moved on to easier lines of research. As if to mock me for my impatience, two significant documents came into my possession within a couple of weeks of my giving up on William Henry Pellman. One was a copy of the book, Four Trails to Texas by Walter L. Robertson, the other was a copy of some research done by other descendents of William Henry. Together, the two documents creating a moving portrait of a pioneering ancestor.

William Henry Pellman had been born Wilhelm Heinrich Pöhlman in Lűtesburg, Preussen (Prussia) on September 29, 1827. His early life was that of a lowly tenant farmer in the Prussian feudal system. He was not yet 21 when he joined in the March Revolution of 1848 and fought for a parliamentary form of government in the German Confederation. For the next three years he fought in the First War of Schlesswig. His earnings as a soldier and a brief lull in the hostilities gave him a chance to board the ship Harvest in late 1852 bound for the U.S.

When he arrived in Baltimore Harbor on December 14, 1852, William Henry was young and strong, and had just arrived in the Land of Opportunity. He must surely have believed that his days of warfare and tenant farming were behind him. Sadly, this was not to be the case.

Overnight, Wilhelm Heinrich Pöhlman, Prussian tenant farmer and soldier became William Henry Pellman, American pioneer. We don’t know what course his life took during the next five years that led him down the Ohio River to finally settle in Aurora, Indiana. But during this time, he met and married his wife, Elise Meier, and they had their first child. They next appear on the 1860 federal census as a tenant farmer on the property of James and Adda Gould in Aurora. And just a year later, he would be embroiled in another civil war.

Shortly after the outbreak of hostilities in April, 1861, William Henry Pellman joined the 45th Indiana Volunteers, a unit that was later reorganized as the 3rd Indiana Regiment, where he served for the next two years in the U.S. Civil War. Nine months after his return from the war, his daughter, Maria Louisa (“Louise”) was born. The Pellmans remained as share-croppers in Indiana until mid-1868, when they moved to Farley, Missouri, where the majority of Elise’s family had settled. Surely, their move was motivated in part by the hope of achieving more than just being tenant farmers. His children recalled that he had often stated that his dream was to “someday own a place of my own.”

Missouri proved to be a land of both joy and heartbreak for William and Elise. William was one of 13 men who founded the Lutheran Church in Farley, and it is said that he loved that church. He and Elise had four more children in Farley between 1868 and 1875. But William remained a share-cropper during his entire stay in Missouri. The winters of 1888 and 1889 were particularly cold and bitter, and took a terrible toll on the Pellman family. Louise died of pneumonia in February, 1888. In 1889, both Elise and their daughter Lizzie also succumbed to pneumonia.

In the aftermath of these tragic losses, the first Oklahoma Land Run of 1889 must have sparked William’s imagination with the possibility of finally owning land of his own. As additional land runs were announced in subsequent years, the allure must have steadily grown stronger. In late 1892, William – now 65 years old – set off for Oklahoma with his youngest sons, John and Guss. At high noon on April 16, 1893, William Henry, John, and Guss Pellman were lined up with an estimated 100,000 other dream-filled or desperate contenders for the 40,000 available tracts of Oklahoma land being offered in the Cherokee Strip Land Run -- the most dramatic pursuit of land in American history!

The exact details have long been forgotten, but it is likely that the Pellmans were ill prepared for this adventure. The going price for land was only about $10 per acre, so the fact that William Henry was racing for land instead of buying it suggests that he could not scrape together the price of a fast horse -- and certainly not the price of a team of fast horses to pull the family wagon. They found themselves pitted against men who had invested everything they had in sturdy wagons and fast horses for the race, as well as rifles to defend the land they claimed -- or in some cases to drive others off their rightful claims. And they probably weren't prepared to deal with men who were willing to cheat or kill for a scrap of land, like the "Sooners" who hid out in the prairie and stole the claims of many honest contenders. We will never know whether the Pellmans fell victim to Sooners, a broken wheel, if their wagon was just too slow, or if -- at age 66 -- William Henry was just too old for the rigors of the race. We know only that the Pellmans were not successful in staking a claim in the great Cherokee Strip Land Run.

William Henry Pellman, a man who had lived through five years of fighting in two civil wars and endured the hardships of tenant farming for over 50 years, would never fulfill his long-held dream of owning a piece of the Land of Opportunity. Nevertheless, he lived a life that exemplified faith, courage, perseverence, and fortitude in the face of daunting hardship -- a legacy I would be proud to live up to!

Despite his failure to obtain a homestead, William Henry lived out the rest of his days in the Oklahoma Territory. Following the Cherokee Strip Land Run, he and his sons, John and Guss settled in Kay County, Oklahoma. William Henry died in 1901 and is buried in the Oak Grove Cemetery in Ponca City.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Blame It on Google!

On July 4th I wrote of my Revolutionary War hero ancestor, Stephen Jenner. It was the discovery that we had at least one ancestor who had fought in the American Revolution that truly sparked my interest in genealogy. Up to that point my interest had been more of a stubborn curiosity than a deeply rooted interest. I hate leaving loose ends, so I wanted to finish the project my daughter and I had started and discover who my immigrant ancestors had been and how and when they had come to America, even though the project itself had been submitted and graded months earlier.

In the earliest days of my research, my two main tools were and Google. Each is a search engine with unique characteristics. Google searches a massive hodgepodge database consisting of every imaginable type of document or image, while the database is limited to records directly related to genealogy. Both typically return hundreds or thousands of "hits" on a given name search, the majority of which are non-productive. So, one of the first lessons I learned in online genealogical research is how to narrow a search to produce fewer, but more relevant, search results. One of the simplest ways is to include the names of related family members with the target person's name to produce only the records of the target person or those with amazing coincidences. It was in performing such a search on Stephen Jenner that I made one of my most meaningful discoveries to date.

I had searched on Stephen Jenner plus his wife, Mary (Kirkham) Jenner, and eldest son, Timothy Jenner. This narrowed the search results only to those documents that contained all three of these names and thereby eliminated many Stephen Jenners to whom I am not related. One of the URLs listed within the first couple of pages on Google was link to a Google Book entitled, History of the Town of Pittsford, Vt., With Biographical Sketches and Family Records, by A. M. Caverly, MD. This book, written in 1872 by Dr. Caverly, who was then the town historian of Pittsford, had been out of print for over 100 years and was obscure even in its heyday. But, thanks to the miracle of Google Books -- a project to scan and archive millions of out-of-print books that began in 2005 -- it was now readily available and searchable online!

And in it I found the story of Stephen Jenner that I related in my post on July 4th.

The "Caverly," as I later learned genealogists refer to the book, is one of hundreds of similar local histories that were written by town historians all over the U.S. in the mid-19th century to memorialize the origins of their towns and the actions of the towns' founders. Each is a treasure-trove of vital information about the early settlers and prominent citizens of American towns and cities. The "Caverly" records that Stephen Jenner was one of the earliest settlers of Pittsford, Vermont. He arrived there with his new wife, Mary, in 1774, just five years after the town was first settled, with several other young families from Woodbury, Connecticut. The following year their first child, Timothy (my great-great-great-great-grandfather) was born there. After the war, he built one of the town's first sawmills, and by all accounts was a pillar of the budding community.

For the first time in my life history was something more than just a list of faceless names, places, and dates in a boring textbook. It was personal. It was family. The realization that my own ancestors had suffered and risked their lives to create our nation made history come alive for me in a way I had never appreciated before! And suddenly the issues in the 2008 election came into startlingly clear focus for me: politicians were making promises about whether to prop up or to tear down the principles and institutions that my ancestors had risked their lives to create and pass on to us.

This one discovery caused me to re-evaluate practically every political opinion I held. In addition, that single discovery ignited in me a desire to learn everything I could about the members of my own family who had risked and suffered -- and dared -- to create the country in which I live!

So, if you're tired of listening to me prattle on about my ancestors these days, don't blame me. Blame Google!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

An American Hero

As I write this entry it is July 4th, 2009. I just finished celebrating the day with my daughter, elder son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. We had a lovely time, although little of our time together was spent in true reflection on the significance of this day. So it is fitting that this would be the day I post a tribute to a true American hero: my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Stephen Jenner.

Step back in time with me to July 7, 1777. It has been just over a year since the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Although the colonies are at war with England, it is a special day in the Jenner household. It is Timothy Jenner's 2nd birthday, but from the sound of it you would think it was the 4th of July. Pops, cracks, and booms have echoed through the little town of Pittsford, Vermont all day. But it's no celebration -- not for the 4th of July or little Timothy's birthday. The fireworks-like sounds are the sounds of real musket and cannon fire reverberating from the town of Hubbardton, Vermont, about 20 miles east of Pittsford. Late in the day exhausted colonists fleeing from Hubbardton brought the news to Pittsford: British forces under the command of Gen. Simon Fraser caught up with retreating colonial forces following their defeat at Fort Ticonderoga at the outskirts of Hubbardton. In the ensuing battle, the entire town was razed, killing some 300 men, women, and children. And now the British were headed toward Pittsford!

Upon receiving the news the townspeople went quickly to work, loading whatever possessions they could manage onto any available conveyance -- mostly horses and a few carts and wagons -- then burying everything they could not carry so that it could not be used by the British. After hours of hard labor, late in the night, a weary 28-year-old husband and father, Stephen Jenner, helped his wife, Mary -- pregnant with their second son, Asa -- onto their only horse, placed a sleeping Timothy (my great-great-great-great-grandfather) in her arms, and led them as quietly as possible out of town under the cover of darkness. I can only imagine how they must have prayed that no British scouts were watching the roads out of Pittsford that night!

Through the night, Stephen led his young family away from the advancing British toward the nearest place he hoped they would find refuge: Mary's birthplace, Stevenstown, Massachusetts (now Salisbury, NH). It was at least a 100 mile journey on foot, and they stopped to rest as seldom as possible since danger could be lurking all around them. They made it safely to Stevenstown. Asa was born in December, 1777 and the family probably remained in Stevenstown until he was at least a year old before returning to Pittsford.

In March, 1780 the British forces were again threatening the area. On March 23rd, the alarm was given and every able-bodied citizen took up arms to defend the town. Stephen Jenner grabbed his musket, shot, and powder and reported for duty in the company commanded by his neighbor and friend, Capt. Benjamin Cooley, in Col. Ebenezer Allen's Vermont Militia. The company patroled the area for five days, then returned without having encountered British forces.

As far as we can determine, Private Stephen Jenner never fired a shot in the American Revolution, but he is still an American hero because of his personal hardship and sacrifice for the cause of American independence and his willingness to risk his life in the service of that cause. Last month, my daughter and I visited the town of Pittsford and found the grave of Stephen Jenner. His headstone (pictured above) bears this inscription: "He was born and bred in Woodbury, CT. At 23 years of his age he came to this town and established his home for life. At 25 years of age he was married to Mary Kirkham of Stevenstown, NY whom he left a widow, he also left 6 sons and 4 daughters. At 33 he became a Baptist in which faith he lived and ever supported the general character of an honest Man." I would be honored if my descendants would write the equivalent of me!
When my daughter located Stephen Jenner's grave, I was surprised to see that someone had recently placed an American flag at his headstone. As I stood looking at his grave, I teared up at the thought that 200 years after his death someone still cared enough to accord him this honor. We were almost certain there were no Jenner descendants in the area who would have done so. After several inquiries, we finally learned that the local American Legion post maintains a roster of all war veterans buried in Pittsford and that every Memorial Day a local Boy Scout troop places the flags at their graves in honor of their service. I am deeply grateful to both organizations for honoring all of these American heroes!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Lamp Unto My Feet

Psalm 119 says, "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path." This has certainly been the case with the Jenner Family Bible!

A few months after we completed my daughter's school genealogy project, my Uncle Bob came across my grandmother's old family Bible (from the Jenner side of the family) in the back of one of his closets. So, knowing my daughter and I were still working on our family's history, he packed it up with a lot of other old documents and photographs and mailed it to me. It provided our first significant breakthrough in our search for our immigrant ancestors. In the back of the Bible was a section in which births, marriages, and deaths were recorded for several generations of Jenners -- most of them in florid handwriting that was difficult to decipher. Dates of birth were listed for Almond Lewis Jenner (1863), his father, Moses German Jenner (1833), his grandfather, Moses Johnson Jenner (1799), his great-grandfather, Timothy Jenner (1775), and his great-great-grandfather, Stephen Jenner (1749). Following this list was the statement: "Stephen was the son of Samuel and his father Samuel was born on the pasage [sic] to America."

I immediately emailed my daughter with the news! We had learned that at least one branch of our family had immigrated to America before it was an independent nation! I can't honestly say that my daughter was as deeply affected as I was, but for me this was a life-changing revelation. It meant that one branch of our family dated back to colonial times and that, at least to some degree, had participated in the founding of our nation!

This inscription also identified -- at long last -- our immigrant Jenner ancestor: Samuel Jenner! However, it would be several more months before I truly understood which Samuel Jenner was being described in my grandmother's Bible. I was soon to learn that there were many Samuel Jenners in the colonial history of the United States, and how tedious it would be trying to sort through the vast storehouses of information and misinformation to identify the right one.

And little did I know then, how literally my grandmother's Bible would become a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path as I continued my ancestral search!

In the weeks and months to come, the listings in my grandmother's Bible would frequently light the path through the assorted Stephen and Samuel, and Timothy Jenners to determine which were my ancestors and which were members of other branches of the Jenner family. And eventually, when I began traveling in search of the burial sites and ancestral homes of my forebears, that Bible literally guided my footsteps to the right people and locations!

The Major Branches

The first step in our ancestral quest was to identify the major branches of our family tree. While we were waiting for my ex-wife to provide a list of her known ancestors, my daughter and I went to work on the Pellman side of the family. This started off easily enough. My father was John A. Pellman and my mother's maiden name was Violet Joyce Willis. For my daughter's school assignment, we didn't need to research my mother's ancestors, since she was the immigrant ancestor on that side of the family. So we set the Willis side of the family aside for the moment and concentrated our efforts on the Pellmans.

My paternal grandfather was John Guss Pellman and my paternal grandmother was Vivian Grace Jenner. I remembered that my grandmother had believed that she was either descended from Dr. Edward Jenner, the discoverer of smallpox vaccine, or one of his brothers, and I had shared this information during show-and-tell at school many times during my childhood. So we were excited about exploring the Jenner line of our ancestry and documenting this descendancy. My Uncle Bob, who has the memory of an elephant, provided the names of my grandfather's parents, George Frederick Pellman and Mary Victoria Schimmel, and my grandmother's parents, Almond Lewis Jenner and Gabriella Belle Phelps. So, within the first few hours of our quest, we had already identified my daughter's Pellman-side ancestors back to her great-great-grandparents! We now had the surnames of Pellman, Jenner, Phelps, and Schimmel for the major branches of our family tree. And the assignment was going to be a snap! Or so we thought ...

Unfortunately, neither the records nor the memories on my ex-wife's side of the family were as complete as my Uncle's, so we weren't as fortunate with the other half of my daughter's ancestors. We spent a couple of hours a day for several weeks tracking down bogus leads on the Internet, but were never able to trace the other side of the family beyond my daughter's great-grandparents. Two years later, we are only just piecing together some of that information.

So, as far as the assignment went, we were done. We were able to determine from letters and other accounts that the Pellmans, Jenners, Phelpses, and Schimmels had all come to America earlier than my daughter's great-great-grandparents. Since my mother was the only immigrant among the known ancestors, she became the focus of my daughter's written report and oral presentation. And the case could have been closed, had our curiosity not been piqued by what we had learned in the process. Even though the assignment was complete, both my daughter and I still wanted to know who our immigrant ancestors were and when they did come to the U.S.

Many years earlier my cousin, Al Hadad, had done a considerable amount of research into the Pellman and Schimmel families while many of my older aunts and uncles were still alive to provide tales and information about the family's origins. He had managed to trace the Pellmans and Schimmels back one more generation: To William Henry Pellman and his wife Lizzie Meier, and Joseph Schimmel and Mary Margaret Trum. This added another generation and two more surnames to our list, but still didn't produce our immigrant ancestors. It was also the point at which the search took on a whole new level of difficulty. In every branch of the family, the trail simply came to an end with my great-great-grandparents. No one in our family had any records or memories of prior generations, had no earlier records, nor did or other online resources, and every government office we contacted gave us the same answer: "Our records don't go back that far."

For a few months, it looked like our journey had come to an end, and all we had to show for our effort and expense was a list of dead-end surnames representing the major branches of our family tree: Pellman, Jenner, Phelps, Schimmel, Meier, and Trum.

I posted inquiries on every genealogy message board I could find online. Occasionally, someone would reply, but usually with information about subsequent generations or additional details about those I had already identified. For months, we found nothing that shed light on previous generations or who had been the first immigrant in one of our major family lines. I was beginning to give up hope of ever solving this mystery.

Our first major breakthrough would come from a divine source ... the Jenner Family Bible!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Family Crypt Opened

With this announcement, I have opened my family crypt! Who knows what horrors will be unleashed on the world as a result? Mayhap I will suffer the ghastly fate of Lord Carnarvon, who died of the mummy's curse after opening the tomb of Tut-Ankh-Amun. It is here that I will relate some of the tales of my own ancestors that I find most interesting. Although they are being posted chiefly for the enjoyment and edification of other family members, all are welcome to peruse these Tales From the Family Crypt.

Like any other journey, these travels into my family's past began with but a single step. In this case, the beginning seemed accidental. Back in 2007 some of the children at my daughter's school in Scottsdale, Arizona were overheard making unkind comments about the children of illegal aliens in her class. So her teacher did what good teachers always try to do in these situations: turn it into a learning opportunity. She assigned the class to research their immigrant ancestors, write a report tracing their ancestry back to the immigrant ancestor of each branch of their family (or their great-great-grandparents, if they immigrated more than four generations ago) telling how they arrived in America, and give an oral presentation on the immigrant ancestors whose story they found most interesting. For some, the assignment proved little more than "my parents snuck under the fence last year", but such was not the case for my daughter!

At first, we didn't expect any difficulty providing her with the material for the assignment. My own mother was an immigrant who married a World War II GI and came to the United States in 1946. So we thought, "One down; one to go!" But, on my father's side, it was considerably more difficult. Old family records provided the names of several of his ancestors, but there were also many gaps in those records and there was no information whatsoever about when the various branches of his family immigrated to the U.S. On my ex-wife's side, the family history was even more clouded due to a lack of available records. Had it not been for the Internet, she would have failed the assignment! Despite what we were able to learn from sources on the Web, there were still enough missing persons in my daughter's genealogy that she only got a "B" on the assignment.

The whole matter might have ended there, but our curiosity and stubbornness got the better of us and we were hooked! We were determined to find out when our various ancestors really did immigrate to the U.S., even if the assignment was already submitted and graded. Besides, I had already paid for a membership in in order to try to track down some of the missing ancestors and I wasn't about to let that money go to waste ... More about my Scottish heritage later!

And so the journey really began in earnest. For two years now we have been searching the Internet regularly for new clues, sifting through family Bibles, letters, and other documents, and skulking about in graveyards in search of tidbits of information. What follows in this blog will be periodic installments in that journey, detailing the trails, tribulations, disappointments, and discoveries of the quest. In the end, I fully expect this blog to bore most readers to tears, but I hope it will prove interesting to my descendents at the very least and provide them with a sense of connectedness to the history and heritage of our nation and the role their ancestors played, not just in the founding and development of this country, but in the world. For what I have begun unearthing in this "family crypt" is a legacy that can be traced back to the Middle Ages and, in a few cases, even earlier -- a legacy that has given me a whole new, and much richer, understanding of the world and my place in it.