An American Quaker in Afghanistan: Josiah Harlan, Prince of Ghor

I am an adventurer by nature. I mean the kind of adventurer who has enjoyed trekking through far-flung places: the Indian state of Kashmir, Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan, to name but a few of the off the beaten track destinations I’ve visited. I prefer places without mod cons. Places where I have to rough it (which you wouldn’t guess if you were to look at me!). I’ve thought nothing  of sleeping in drafty old mountainside barns, along  with livestock, for the privileged of experiencing unspoiled parts of the world where few Westerners have ever travelled.

And I’ve finally found a distant relation I think would have appreciate this.  This cousin happens to be the first American to step foot in Afghanistan.

Josiah Harlan in his Afghan robes. The only known photograph of him.

Josiah Harlan in his Afghan robes. The only known photograph of him. Image is in the public domain

19th Century Pennsylvania-born Quaker Josiah Harlan, Prince of Ghor (Afghanistan).  He’s my second cousin quite a few times removed on my mother’s side of the family. The more I read about him, the more I feel he’s a kindred spirit. Restless in the times he lived in, definitely a non-conformist – he was a man who was never going to be a 9-5 white collar office kind of guy; although that was very much the world he was born into. A man who reputedly inspired the main character in Rudyard Kipling’s story The Man Who Would Be King.

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A Memoir of India and Afghanistan, which is actually still in print!

Josiah wrote a memoir of India and Afghanistan in 1842 (A Memoir of India and Afghanistan − With observations upon the present critical state and future prospects of those Countries).  His story would have been well-known during the time Kipling lived in Afghanistan.

Josiah Harlan was born in Newlin Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania on 12 June 1799. He was the ninth of ten children. When his mother died, she left a 2000 dollar inheritance to each of her children – a small fortune back in those days. Harlan and his brothers, however, were expected to build their own fortunes. Josiah and his brothers all had an adventurous streak, and a number of them chose to explore various exotic locations. Josiah’s brother Richard worked as a doctor in India. Richard returned to America with tales of his experiences and set up a job for Josiah on a ship to Calcutta. At age 20, Josiah worked at sea for a little over a year, using his shore leaves to explore China and India.

When his fiancée broke off their engagement, Josiah returned to India and stayed overseas for almost 20 years (This resonates with me. I spent 30 years in the not-so-exotic England). Interestingly, Josiah wasn’t actually trained as a doctor. I’m not sure how he blagged that one. However, he worked as a surgeon with the East India Company, which allowed him to live in India. His desire for adventure and glory soon pushed him beyond India’s borders. In 1815, he read an account of the Kingdom of Kabul, and its dependencies in Persia, Tartary, and India.  This book’s view of the Afghan Nation inspired Josiah’s goal to achieve the level of glory and riches described in this book.

I guess this where we differ. My treks to roughly the same part of the world were journies of enlightenment. A spiritual quest as it were. Josiah, it appears, was in it for the glory.

Map showing The location of Ludhiana in the Indian state of Punjab.

The location of Ludhiana in the Indian state of Punjab.

Image of Shah Shujah al-Moolk, circa 1835

Image of Shah Shujah-al-Moolk, circa 1835

His Central Asian saga began in the Indian border town of Ludhiana. It’s here that he met the deposed Afghan king, Shah Shujah-al-Moolk, who was in exile. Josiah approached him with a startling proposition: he would organize a rebellion against Dost Mohammed Khan, the usurper who had seized the crown.  In 1827, Josiah led a “ragtag” mob of Afghans, Muslims, Hindus, and Akali Sikhs off to Kabul. He followed the path Alexander the Great had taken into Afghanistan, both in travel and in politics. He disguised himself (as what, I don’t know) and slipped into Kabul.

By his own account, Josiah immediately fell in love with Kabul. He writes of “a jewel encircled by emerald, with flowers and blossoms whose odours perfume the air.” Its markets overflowed with fruit; grapes were so abundant that he fed them to his horse.

Image of Ranjit Singh, maharajah of the Punjab

Ranjit Singh, maharajah of the Punjab

Once he was in Kabul, Josiah survived a particularly virulent cholera epidemic. He credits “hard drinking and smoking intoxicating drugs,” in avoiding contracting the deadly disease. While there he heard rumours that Ranjit Singh, maharajah of the Punjab, was recruiting European generals. He rode to Lahore, where he met Singh, who granted him governorship of Gujrat. Joseph Wolff, an English missionary, sought a meeting with the Gujrat ruler, when “to his great surprise he heard someone singing ‘Yankee Doodle’.” Yep, this would be Josiah’s voice he heard.  Wolff described Josiah as a “fine, tall gentleman . . . with an Indian hookah in his mouth.”

Josiah was eventually sacked by Singh. The charge was for counterfeiting currency. Undaunted, Josiah struck oil in the ruins of a city razed by Genghis Khan, and later met the Hazara tribe – famed for its women, who were fearless hunters and famously beautiful.

Now quite a few adjectives get bandied about when it comes to Josiah during this period of his life. None of them are flattering: treacherous, duplicitous, and Machiavellian. While I don’t grasp all of his decisions, I’m trying to put myself in his shoes. He’s alone in a strange land where none of his fellow countrymen have ever been. I’m sure he was forced, many times, to live by his wits. Remember, there were no consulates or embassies to run to. Or, in the pursuit of glory, all other considerations were secondary.  I can’t make my mind up.

It’s reputed by the British (who occupied parts of Afghanistan at this time) that Josiah convinced the people of Kabul that he was a god. It’s worth noting at this point that the British were not Josiah’s biggest fans. Perhaps it was due to Josiah’s ‘going native’ – which was always a no-no with the British. Or perhaps it was because he upset the power balance in that part of Afghanistan where he settled by training the Afghans to fight.

ghor-province

Map showing the provice of Ghor in Afghanastan

Whatever the reason, Josiah became a prince through an agreement with the region’s ruler, Dost Mohammed Khan.

Image of  Dost Mohammad Khan

Image of Dost Mohammad Khan

In and amongst his personal papers, there is an ancient contract penned in Persian. By all accounts, this contract is stamped with an intricate and beautiful oval seal. Issued by a tribal leader, this contract granted him powers that included “the absolute and complete possession of his government.” Josiah had, indeed, become an Afghan suzerain (an autonomous sovereign). Which must have been anathema to the British government, which was engaged in annexing Afghanistan to its empire at the time. He ruled until 1839, resigning after British forces came to Kabul and reinstated an Afghani king.

After 20 years of adventure in India and Afghanistan, Josiah returned to the United States. He married Elizabeth Baker on 1 May 1849, in Chester County, Pennsylvania . Both were Quakers. Josiah was re-admitted back into the Friends after a judgment against him for violating the rules of pacifism had been withdrawn.

Harlan was feted as a national hero when he returned to America. His relationship with the American press was skillfully played. He instructed the press not to dwell on his royal title, since he “looks upon kingdoms and principalities as of frivolous import, when set in opposition to the honourable and estimable title of American citizen.” His glory quickly faded after the publication of his memoir, where he openly criticized the British and lauded the Russians, who were competing against the British for influence in this part of the world. It’s no surprise that Josiah was denounced in Britain.

Josiah became a consultant for the US government in the 1850’s during its quest to use camels as military transport in the deserts of the west. The US government opted for camels from North Africa instead, and a Turkish immigrant was used to secure them. All of Josiah’s plans to return to Afghanistan via a US government posting came to nothing.

Josiah wasn’t one to be idle. He turned a hand to botany. By all accounts he had a talent for it. At the outbreak of the American Civil War, he formed Harlan’s Light Cavalry (41 officers and 1,089 enlisted men) to fight for the Union. His abhorrence of slavery was his driving force. While I’ve read much of his writings, there isn’t any indication he was aware that his Harling cousins were slave owners in South Carolina. Whether or not he was aware of his own family’s connection to slavery, his Civil War gambit didn’t fare very well. Several subordinates objected to the old soldier’s abrasive manner and mutinied. There was even a messy court-martial.

Josiah died on 12 Oct 1871, while walking down the street in San Francisco, California.

As a result of a treaty Harlan signed, his heirs (which includes the 1978 Dawn of the Dead actor Scott Reiniger), are granted the title Prince of Ghor in perpetuity.

Whatever his faults and foibles may have been, I admire his adventurer’s spirit, his fortitude and his resilience.

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AncestryDNA: So what does it take to get a DNA Circle?

So I’ve previously shared my frustrations with the whole Ancestry.com DNA Circles thing. Namely, the fact that I have a distinct lack of what AncestryDNA refers to as DNA Circles.

For those of you not in the know, DNA Circles on Ancestry.Coms DNA testing service purportedly go beyond finding a common ancestor with your DNA matches. These circles are meant to link you to additional AncestryDNA members with the same common ancestor…thus creating a Circle of people who are all related. Nice and simple, isn’t it? :O)

Given the size of my tree and known DNA matches for my family lines such as Sheffey, Roane, Harling and Josey –  I shared my frustration about the fact that I didn’t have a single DNA Circle on Anctery.com.  I felt (and still do) that this was a legitimate gripe…and a gripe shared by many using the service, especially those with African American lineages.

Two months ago two names suddenly appeared on my AncestyDNA landing page. Now, the sting in the tail was these two names appeared as “New Ancestry Discoveries” and not as DNA Circles. And, of course, neither name was familiar to me. Then, just as suddenly as these two names appeared, they disappeared just as quickly.

So you can imagine my surprise when these two individuals appeared once more today.

ancestrydna01

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I have no Medders or Altmans on my family tree. So, in order to determine how these two people could conceivably relate to me, I had to do some digging.  And this is what I discovered:

I clicked on the link for John Smith Medders.

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I then clicked on “See Your Connection” in the right column…for obvious reasons. And got this:

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This left me none the wiser about who John Medders was or how we might be related. So I clicked on the “Relationship” link, hoping this might shed some light.

What this gave me was a list of Ancestry.com members I shared varying degrees of DNA with:

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Well, one thing became quickly apparent: I was definitely in the realm of the Medder family. Each and every individual was a member of various Medders family groups on Ancestry.

The second thing that quickly became apparent was that I had a solid DNA match with two individuals – the same two individuals that are shown in the third image in this post.

In order to “see what I could see’, I selected the “View Relationship” for both individuals. And that’s when things quickly clicked. I’m only going to show one of the relationships to illustrate the discovery.

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The surnames of Flowers, Gregory and Moore are exceedingly popular surnames in America. However, taken collectively, and with roots in Pennsylvania, and then the Carolinas, I knew exactly what family in my own tree these names related to: the Harlan / Harling family. Yep, another Quaker family connection via the Quaker Harlan family.  The Harlan / Harling family had married Flowers, Gregory and Moore for nearly three centuries: first in England and then northern Ireland. And continuing such marriages in Pennsylvania and then in the Carolinas.

In this instance, Hannah Flowers b. 1722 (a cousin many times removed), married a Joseph Ashton. Their daughter, Hannah Ashton, married William Thomas.  Hannah and William’s son, William Jr, married Celia Alice Gregory (yet another Quaker cousin through the Harlans). The Meddars family shown for my two DNA connections above are descendants of William Thomas, Jr and Celia Alice Gregory.

So, at the very least, I am a distant cousin to at least John Smith Medders.  I may yet be a cousin of Mary Ann Altman. At the moment, I haven’t come across any familiar family names in the family trees I’ve seen for her.

So, while these two DNA matches don’t have a single Harlan or Harling in their tree (yet!), I get the connection.

I don’t get the lack of DNA Circles though.  Of which I still don’t have a single one. Go figure.

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Ancestry DNA’s genetic genealogy tools are failing to deliver

Ancestry.com’s DNA Circles. Like many others, I’m still grappling with this one. Boiled down, a DNA Circle on Ancestry is like a collaborative family research group. Only this group is created through shared ancestry from a common shared ancestor. Only genealogical research can determine how individuals within a Circle are related. The Circle, generated by DNA results and family trees, can only indicate shared genetics.

Now, I have an extensive family tree with over 26,000 individuals. Now no, size doesn’t matter, however, in this instance, it raises questions with regards to my DNA Circle results. You see, the fact of the matter is, I’m a member of zero circles. Yep, that’s right.

Not. A. Single. One.

Have a gander at the image below:

cropped screengrab of my Ancestry DNA landing page

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Anything strike you as odd about the distinct lack of circles? Even after Ancestry’s ‘improvement’ to its DNA matching algorithm – which saw the number of my genetic matches decimated – I’m still left with 75 individuals who are identified as 1st to 4th Cousins. There’s probably another 100 or so who are identified as 5th – 8th cousins.

So I have  roughly 175 genetic matches. I have 7 shared family hints. At first I thought this had to do with the number of people who either don’t have family trees, or family trees with less than 50 or so people. This characterizes approximately 75% of my Ancestry DNA matches.

And, of course, locked trees present research issues as well.

Harlan DNA matchesDNA matches just for the Harlan name.

DNA matches just for the Harlan name. User names have been obscured for privacy reasons. Click for larger image.

And then I began researching my Quaker Harling-Harlan family. By that, I mean tracing all of its branches from the 1500s onwards; including the female lines. As I’ve recently mentioned…this is one huge family. And it’s a family that connects with both my maternal and paternal lines.

So I started to search my DNA matches for specific Harlan-Harling related names: Blackburn, Bailey, Hollingsworth, Peele, Cooke, Pike, Leonard, White, Heald and Calvert – just to name a few.

And there they were in a number of family trees. Over and over again there appeared the names of great-grandparents, grand uncles and aunts and cousins. Shared ancestors, in other words.

The tree below is a perfect example:

screen grab of George Harlan's family tree in Ancestry DNA

A Harlan family group form one of my DNA match’s family trees. click for larger image

Using the tree above:

  • Elizabeth Harlan is my 5th cousin 5x removed
  • George Harlan is my 2nd cousin 8x removed
  • James Harlan is my 4th cousin 6x removed
  • Samuel Harlan is my 3rd cousin 7x removed

Here’s the same group of Harlan cousins in my family tree:

Screengrab of Harlan cousins in my family tree

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I’ve located other trees with the same individuals. Yet, I have no shared family tree hints with any of them. And it’s not a ‘me’ thing either. Others with these family members also don’t have any Harlan related circles. Most don’t have any Harlan-related shared family tree hints either. We’ve had to work out how we’re related by looking at each other’s tree.  Which isn’t a bad thing. It’s always great making contact with newly found cousins. However, this is something that Ancestry DNA advertizes that its service can do…with all the usual caveats, of course.

I think part of the problem is the complicated genealogy for the Harlan family. Like a number of Quaker families, one Harlan family feature is 3th or 4th cousins marrying other 3rd and 4th cousins since the 1540s. So you can have a woman who is both a [however-many-times] grand aunt and a cousin. It’s a pickle. It’s a pickle I think Ancestry should be able to figure out, especially in light of its DNA service and DNA tools like Circles.

So I think I have a partial answer where the Harlans are concerned.

I know I have Matthews family DNA matches. The Matthews lineage is pretty simple and straightforward. Again, no DNA circles and no shared family tree matches. So I kind of have to ask myself what’s up with these two aspects of Ancestry DNA. I’m hoping the much-publicized pending upgrade to these tools will address this. I’m managing my expectations.

Ancestry DNA’s genetic genealogy tools remain promising. For me, at the moment, this aspect of the service fails to deliver.

So…I’ve discovered a glitch with Ancesty.com’s ‘View relationship to me’ feature. Anyone else experiencing this?

I’ve stumbled across an interesting issue with Ancestry.com’s ‘View relationship to me’ feature. It has to do with family lines where multiple generations of people married cousins. I’m wondering if anyone else is experiencing this.

This issue arises with my Harling-Harlan-Harland ancestors. Due to religious reasons (which I’ll get into in my next post), this family has a history of generation after generation of family members marrying 2nd and 3rd cousins stretching back to the early 1600s.

This family tree is so labyrinthine, so inter-connected within its branches, that even I struggle to comprehend the degree to which some of these cousin couples (as I call them) are related to me…forget how they’re related to each other. In many cases, some of these cousin-couples are related three, four and five times over. In other words, their parents, both sets of grand-parents and most of their great-grandparents were also cousins from the different branches of this enormous family.

So if I’m struggling, I can’t really blame Ancestry for struggling.

Here’s a classic example of the problem I’m having with this Ancestry.com feature.

image illustrating How Ancestry.com interprets Lewis Harlan's relationship to me.

How Ancestry.com interprets Lewis Harlan’s relationship to me. click for larger image.

Ancestry’s answer to how Lewis and I are related is quite the mouthful. Basically, boiled down, it’s Ancestry’s way of saying we’re related through marriage. Which is true. However, Lewis is most definitely my cousin by blood. His great-grandfather, Michael Harlan, Sr., and my 9x great grandfather, George Harlan, were brothers, as you can see below.

James Harland

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So, Lewis Harlan really  is my cousin.

Now the logical question to ask is where this family relationship glitch goes wrong. Turns out that it goes wrong straight away. Ancestry.com should show Michael Harlan, Sr to be my grand uncle. That is what he is, after all. Nope, not a bit of it according to Ancestry.com. This is how the service describes my relationship to him:

michael harlan

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What’s going on, then? Maybe it has something to do with the intertwining of all of James Harlan’s (my 10x great grandfather) lines. Trying to work backwards as I add subsequent generations of their descendants, it’s as though Ancestry.com is saying: “Sorry, mate, too complicated for me. Good luck sorting this out!”

My suggestion to Ancestry, for whatever it’s worth, is that it should tweak the algorithm behind this relationship feature so that the most direct familial relationship over-rides all others. In other words, forget all of the other ways I’m connected to  Michael Harlan, Sr and just go with ‘grand uncle’. In other words, ignore that he is also my cousin.

I make this suggestion for a reason. It has a knock-on effect on AncestryDNA results. I have  matches with a number of James Harlan’s descendants on AncestryDNA. However, because they are not showing as actual cousins on Ancestry.com, AncestryDNA doesn’t provide any match hints. Nor does it shows how we’re actually related. So there’s no chance of connecting through AncestryDNA’s ‘Circle’ feature. This is probably due to Ancestry interpreting that we’re only connected through marriage and not through blood. Which kind of defeats the purpose of spending months of intensive research on this family – and adding generations of descendants to my family tree.

Passing for white: ancestors who jumped the colour line

It’s that time in the university academic calendar where my schedule has been hijacked by a mountain of postgraduate and undergraduate marking and assessments. So my posts will be a bit sparse over the coming weeks.

However, in the meantime, I do have one intriguing find to share.

“Passing for white”. Now there’s a phrase that tends to hang suspended in space if ever there was one. The fact is, there are African-Americans who did so for a variety of reasons – and continue to do so today. There were more than a few instances of ‘passing’ on my maternal side of the family.

I grew up hearing the tale of how, in the depths of the 1930s depression, my maternal Turner grandfather ‘passed’ in order to get work and provide for his family. As any child, I took this as a simple family anecdote, one amongst a number of tales told during family gatherings during the holidays. It was only as an adult that I understood the significance of that act and what the potential repercussions could have been had my grandfather been rumbled.  I began to wonder if my grandfather had ever been tempted to make those forays into a white identity permanent…and asked myself what I would have done.

In researching the African-American Turners of Charles County, Maryland, some interesting facts have come to light. Death records between 1850 and 1870 cite a number of Charles County, MD Turners as having ‘very light’ or ‘white’ complexions. However, these records are for the Turners I traced who declared themselves as mulattoes during their lifetime. There were a number of their kin who moved from Charles County, MD and passed for white, their descendants entering into the white race. With respect to their descendants, who most likely have no idea they are descended from African-Americans, I won’t be posting specific family individuals I’ve found from the Turner clan who left their black roots behind.

There are other Turner lines I suspect followed in their footsteps and also ‘passed’. However, due to the popular nature of their names, it’s difficult to know if I’m looking at records for the same individual or different people born roughly in the same year bearing the same name as one another. What is interesting, for me, is the fact that my Turner antecedents had a complexion cited as ‘white’ who were born as early as 1825. That would suggest mixed race relationships had occurred for generations beforehand. This has presented an interesting genealogy hurdle to be overcome. Finding the names of fathers for many of the Charles County, MD Turners born before 1850 has been next to impossible. The reason for this is more than likely because the fathers of these mulattoes with such light complexions were white.

On my maternal grandmother’s side of the family, the Harlings, the same pattern emerges. A small number of Harlings caused all manner of confusion for doctors issuing death certificates. I’ve found three death certificates which first stated the deceased was ‘white’, which was crossed out and substituted with ‘black’. One individual went from ‘white’ to ‘black’ back to ‘white’ and then ‘black’ on the same death certificate. Like the Turners, many of my direct Harling antecedents had a complexion noted as ‘very light’ or ‘white’ as far back as the 1830s. Again, suggesting relations had existed between Harling slave women and white men for a number of generations. Unlike the my Turner ancestors, a number of the children born of these unions were openly acknowledged by their fathers (but more on this in a future post).

Like the Turners, a small number of Edgefield County-born Harlings jumped the colour line after the end of slavery and passed for white. However, unlike Charles County, MD Turners, documenting this amongst the Harlings has been fairly easy and straightforward. The Harlings seemed to prefer using distinctive names which has made tracing this family’s descendants far easier than tracing the Turners.

Again, staying with my maternal ancestors, my Josey great-grandmother’s extended family had a number of family members who permanently passed for white at the end of the Civil War. Like the Turners and Harlings, my Josey ancestors in Rich Square, North Carolina , could also pass for white from the 1820s onwards.

I’ve deliberated over publishing this post for quite a few months. “Passing” still remains a prickly subject. However, it did happen and shouldn’t be ignored. I decided to publish it, in the end, as it presents another set of genealogical challenges for Americans with roots in the ante-bellum Southern states. And I use the word ‘American’, without any ethnic qualifier, deliberately. An African-American tracing his or her family might come across individuals who seem to drop off the radar in terms of the official records. If that person comes from a long line of mulattoes, one reason you might have to consider is that person ‘passed’. So instead of seeking someone who is black in the official records, take a punt and look for someone with the same, or similar, name born around the same year. Of course it helps if they have a somewhat distinctive name. Or, if you’re white, and the trail runs cold for a specific ancestor, it just might be because the individual you’re researching was a mulatto who decided to ‘pass’. This won’t always be the case – but it is a possibility, no matter how remote.

Digging deeper with Census Records: Part 4

Recognising family groups

As mentioned previously ( Post: What’s in a maiden name), marriage records are important for a number of reasons. Two invaluable pieces of information marriage records provide are 1) the maiden name of the bride; and 2) in most cases, the maiden name of the bride’s mother.

Maiden names allow you to build a bigger picture of your family’s history. In my family’s case, certain names occur with consistency. Taking the Roanes for example, the family name of Hill, Carpenter, Byrd (or Bird), Richardson, Broaddus, Waring, Johnson, Holmes, Baylor, Braxton and Green occur over and over again, generation after generation in any number of combinations. Again, it’s worth bearing in mind that these were members of rural communities, an important genealogy and family research factor I mentioned in the first post in this series.

Roane cousins from different branches of the male Roane lines married. That’s one of the easiest ways to spot marriage between cousins. What’s more subtle and more challenging to spot is kinship through a family’s female lines. In my case,  by discovering women’s maiden names – and the surnames of their mothers – I’ve been able to recognising recurring last names…and establish degrees of kinship amongst cousins who married from different family branches.  The names listed in the above paragraph appear frequently.

Here’s a fictitious example: Nancy Roane marries Joe Richardson.

  • Nancy’s parents are Samuel Roane and Betty Broaddus
  • Joe’s parents are Charles Richardson and Nannie Green

Now, looking at both their parents:

  • Samuel Roane’s parents are Edward Roane and Annie Green
  • Betty Broaddus’s parents are Alan Broaddus and Sophie Richardson (Joe Richardson’s aunt)
  • Charles Richardson’s parents are Lawrence Richardson and Lena Roane (Samuel Roane’s great-aunt)
  • Nannie Green’s parents are Ollie Green (second cousin to Annie Green, Samuel Roane’s mother) and Kate Holmes

This is an extreme example. However, what this boils down to is Nancy and Joe are cousins. Charles Richardson (Joe’s father) and Samuel Roane (Nancy’s father) are also cousins. Stretch this example a few generations back and the same surnames criss-cross through time – different lines of a family coming together in marriage.

I’ve spent a great deal of time tracking down marriage records for my family tree. And whether it’s my Roane, Sheffey, Turner, Mathews/Mathis, Harling or Josey ancestors, I’ve noted the intricate patterns of their extended families. So when I scan a county’s census record I slow down – without even thinking about it – as soon as I begin to see associated names to the family I’m researching. It’s like Pavlovian conditioning.

If I’m researching my Roane ancestors, as soon as I see the names Hill, Carpenter, Green, etc I slow my scrolling down to a dead crawl. And usually a relevant Roane family group soon appears.

The same holds true for the Sheffeys: when I start seeing surnames like Byrd, Richardson, Hill, Ward and Johnson, my scrolling grinds to a snail’s pace and usually a relevant family group appears. With the Joseys it’s name like Padgett, Smallwood, Calvert and Barbee. With the Harlings, it’s names like Matthews/Mathis, Peterson and Fuller. These names are red flags that tell me to slow my scanning speed down.

And these tend to be families that live quite near to one another and subsequently appear together in census returns decade after decade after decade (until the 1920s when family groups began to move elsewhere within the US). This is where knowing maiden names pays off. The family living next door to your (rural) ancestors weren’t just neighbours…they were more than likely kin; especially if they remain living to one another through the 19th Century.

Keeping with the Roanes, have a look at the two census returns below. The first is Essex County, VA in 1870, the second is Newtown, King & Queen County, VA in the same year. Keep in mind the surnames Hill, Carpenter, Byrd (or Bird), Richardson, Broaddus, Waring, Holmes, Baylor, Braxton and Green. How many appear in both? And how close do they live to the Roanes?

That’s digging just beneath the surface in terms of scanning census records.

That’s it from me until just after Christmas.  So to new-found family and followers of the blog…my best wishes for a very happy holiday.

Genealogy challenges: Part 1 – General overview

The vast majority of my posts have been about successes in tracing my ancestors and their kin and surprise discoveries along the way.  Today it’s about the other side of the coin.  For in tracing family history, there are failures, dead-ends and moments of absolute frustration.

I’ll be covering this side of genealogical research in the next couple of posts. I’ll be concentrating on a specific family and highlighting the challenges and issues which has made tracing them a veritable mission impossible.

When researching family history, there will be a minimum of 8 families to tackle. For example, this is mine:

On my father’s side of the family:
1:  My paternal grandfather:  Sheffey (Wythe & Smyth Counties, Virginia)

2:  My paternal grandmother: Roane (Henrico County, VA)

And then:

My Paternal Sheffey grandfather
His father – will be a Sheffey, so this doesn’t count as it’s the same family.

3. His mother – my paternal great-grandmother: White (Wythe County, Virginia)

My Paternal Roane grandmother
Her father will be a Roane, so this doesn’t count as it’s the same family.

4. Her mother – my paternal great-grandmother: Bates (Henrico County, Virginia)

On my mother’s side of the family:
5:  My maternal grandfather:  Turner (Charles County & La Plata, Maryland)

6:  My maternal grandmother: Matthews (part of her extended family has the surname Mathis) (Wise, Edgefield, South Carolina)

And then:

My maternal Turner grandfather
His father – will be a Turner, so this doesn’t count as it’s the same family.

7. His mother – my maternal great-grandmother: Josey (Rich Square, Northampton County, North Carolina)

My maternal Matthews grandmother
Her father will be a Matthews, so this doesn’t count as it’s the same family.

8. Her mother – my maternal great-grandmother: Harling (Blocker Township, Edgefield, South Carolina)

These are the eight families that the majority of my research is based upon.

Or looking at it another way….

My immediate family tree

My immediate family tree

Of these eight families, the following have been relatively straightforward to research:  Sheffey, Roane, Josey and Harling. The Sheffey and Roane are well-documented families. I’ve also been fortunate that there are a number of African-American Roane’s and Sheffey’s tracing their family’s history and sharing information via services like Ancestry.com.  Meeting these newly found extended family members, and sharing information online, has helped all of us on our respective genealogy adventures.

The Harlings and Joseys have also been relatively straightforward to research. They are distinctive family names – which always helps – and, like the Sheffeys and Roanes, were close-knit form the end of the Civil War through to the early 1900’s. They also tended to stay in the area they were born.

The White, Turner and Matthews/Mathis families have posed all manner of challenges. I’ll cover the respective challenges each family poses in the next couple of posts.