Saturday, January 22, 2011

Growing My Family Tree

Obsessed with genealogy

Český Šternberk Castle, Czech Republic. Portraits of
six generations of Sterberg family in Jiří Sternberg's study.

I recently signed up for a trial membership with Maybe you've heard about it on television. They have an ad about typing your ancestor's name and seeing a little leaf sprout. When you click the leaf, it takes you to documents about your ancestor. It's an accurate advertisement -- except that it lacks a warning about developing an obsession with your family tree!

I started with a trial membership -- free for ten days. Within just a few days, had my payment for a one-year subscription. I was having so much success in looking up my ancestors that I didn't want to stop. (I do realize that there are free genealogy sites, but it seems to me that has a lot more sources in their databases, at present.)

Fascinating family trivia

For example, I discovered that my family is related to the Kackmeisters (through Stella Hill, a cousin of my grandfather) and to the Clappers (through a half-sister of my great-grandmother Lana Mapes). These are families who lived south of Johnstown, Nebraska, as my own family did at one time. I knew we shared bloodlines with the Clappers and Kackmeisters from listening to my grandma talk about them when I was a kid. Now, I understand the details.

I knew that my grandmother Violet Eaton taught the Lavaca School (in northwestern Cherry County, Nebraska) at one time and that my mother taught in the same school around twenty-five years later. But I had not known that my great-grandfather Marcus Eaton homesteaded in that community and lived there with his wife and four daughters for ten years or more. When Violet taught at Lavaca, she was back in the neighborhood where she grew up and probably in the very school she herself had attended. And when my mother taught there, the older folks in the community must have remembered her mother, her aunts, and her grandparents.

Finding family history facts

I've never known much about my family history farther back than my great-grandparents, but I'm learning what I can and trying to find documentation for every fact that I add. You have to be careful on It would be very easy to accept information from other member's family trees that is undocumented and even completely wrong.

So, as I "leaf out" my family tree in the older generations that I don't know at all, I'm testing every bit of information that I find. Do the names match? Do the children match? Do the birth dates and death dates match? Is there any documentation for the last name of the spouse, or is it just family tradition? Etc., etc.

Mapes Family Mysteries

Lately, I've been obsessed with the Mapes line, the family of my dad's paternal grandmother. Surprisingly, it may be possible to track those ancestors back into the 1700s and possibly even earlier than that. The line includes a William Mapes who fought in the War of 1812. His father (Smith Mapes) and grandfather (Samuel Mapes) fought in the Revolutionary War.

I have tried and tried to prove that they are not really my relatives. Part of my doubt stemmed from something I read about the Revolutionary War father and grandfather. It said that they had both signed the "Revolutionary Pledge" in Orange County, New York. That bothered me, because I had read on the census records that the next generation of the Mapes family (Ashibel) could not read or write. How could Ashibel's grandfather and great-grandfather have been Pledge-signers in the 1770s, when Ashibel was illiterate in the mid-1800s? And yet the names and dates and places all match as they should, and I have found layers of documentation.

Interpreting the documents

As I've been looking at my family tree, I've developed some new-to-me insights. For example, it is no great shame that various Mapes ancestors and others in my family tree were illiterate. When you look at the old census records, it's amazing how many people were illiterate. In fact, in some of the neighborhoods where my mid-1800s Mapes ancestors lived (Kansas, Illinois), census records show that very few people could read or write.

I suspect that when the Mapes father and grandfather signed the Revolutionary Pledge, someone wrote their names for them, and they "made their sign" or marked an X beside it. I think it's likely that a lot of people signed the Revolutionary Pledge that way. I doubt if literacy rates in the 1770s were any better than they were in the 1850s.

Illiteracy also explains how spelling variations in names occurred from one document to the next. For example, Ashbel Mapes is recorded in census records and other papers as Ashibel, Ashibald, Ashbel, and Ashabel. Ashbel couldn't write or read, so he didn't know how his name was supposed to be spelled. He told his name and someone else recorded it with spelling that was invented on the spot.

The Revolutionary Pledge

And what was the Revolutionary Pledge that Smith and Samuel Mapes signed? Well, I found a bit of information about the Pledge in some old histories of Orange County, New York. During the Revolutionary War, two lists were kept in Orange County. One list had the names of the Orange County residents who had signed the Revolutionary Pledge, indicating that they supported the Revolution and freedom from English rule. The other list had the names of the Orange County Loyalists who wanted New York to remain an English Colony. The people on the list of Loyalists complained that they were harassed by the Orange County militia.

Today, I found an old book that claims that the Samuel Mapes family came from Wales. It gives some names and dates back into the 1600s -- and so it goes. The twigs are always branching.


Enough already! This surely interests me far more than it does you. I just wanted to explain a bit of what has been keeping me away from my blogs, causing me to stay up late, and even popping up in my dreams. I've become obsessed, and I blame it all on


geneabloggers said...

Hello there!

You’ve got a great genealogy blog and we’ve added it to the list of over 1,600 genealogy blogs at GeneaBloggers (

We will announce your blog in our weekly New Genealogy Blogs on Saturday, January 29, 2011. In the meantime, please visit the About ( section at GeneaBloggers to learn how you can display your GeneaBloggers badge on your blog and also how you can participate in activities such as the Daily Blogging Prompts.

If you need technical assistance, please check out Bootcamp for GeneaBloggers (


Janet said...

Our family too have been climbing and enjoying our family trees thanks to the Ancestry web site. One piece of information leads you to so many other avenues, I'm glad to hear you are enjoying yourself - and your family library will benefit to say the least. Happy to hear you are not believing everything you read...I remember reading "Genealogy without documentation is mythology"!

Kellie S. Thompson said...

Great Blog! It seems from your post that you have found the joys of (The great wealth of information) and the fact that you still have to research and apply logic to their suggested sources to make sure they are really your relatives!

Ancestry is responsible for many of my own late nights too!

As to your family bein illiterate in the 1800s so were a lot of mine and I suspect most everyone else's families. Most "common folk" couldn't read at that time.

I agree with your theory that it is very possible that they signed the pledge with their mark! So, I wouldn't discount the information based only on an account of them signing the pledge when they were illiterate. However, I would try to find a copy of the pledges that they signed to see if they were signed by marks or signatures. Also, don't be too sure that the census was completely accurate. The census is a very important source full of lots of information but there were mistakes because after all people do make mistakes.

Great blog!


TCasteel said...

Absolutely love the mural on the wall - wonderfully done. Enjoy climbing your family tree. It is truly addicting. Be sure to confirm any 'trees' found on the web as there are, unfortuately, a lot of errors posted and then propagated on the big ancestry trees.
Theresa (Tangled Trees)

Anonymous said...

Found you through the new blog listings at Geneabloggers...

On the literacy issue, keep in mind the time period, the area of the country (or overseas, areas of urban settngs vs rural ones) and gender of the person in question.

At various times, literacy was not valued for girls or women. Likeiwse, many of my rural Arkansas and Tennessee relatives were working farms, and school was not held routinely. When there was school, it was in the "off season" of farming, which often meant the dead of winter, when snow impeded access to the schoolhouse.

Genevieve said...

Thanks for your comments and your words of wisdom, everyone.

My family tree is full of farmers, and I don't think they were particularly wealthy farmers. Many of the families came from New York and Pennsylvania originally, then moved to Ohio, then to Iowa and Illinois, and finally ended up as homesteaders and prairie pioneers in Kansas and Nebraska. I've been thinking about making a map that shows their various routes west.

RunAwayImagination said...

I share your love of genealogy. The bug first bit me in 1977 when I traveled to Nebraska for my father's father's funeral (they both died on my birthday, 2/14 - dad in 1971 and granddad in 1977). While packing for the trip, I rummaged through my dad's genealogy drawer, thinking I might find something of interest to say at his funeral. I read through my dad's genealogy on the plane and realized that we had descended from a Revolutionary War soldier who in turn was descended from an immigrant who came from England to Massachusetts in 1635. I've spent much time since then filling out my own family tree as well as that of my mother. Now I'm coming to the realization that we are all truly brothers and sisters.

Genevieve said...

Runaway, it's been very interesting to learn that our family history includes Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Civil War soldiers. In fact, both sides of the family can trace at least one line back to pre-Revolutionary War times. I have to laugh a little about that, because the kids could join the Daughters or Sons of the American Revolution if they wanted to do so. Those organizations have a reputation of being full of "bluebloods," but our family ancestors were mostly peasants and serfs, I'm sure. Genealogy services like have really opened the door to ordinary people discovering their family trees.

It's absolutely fascinating. :D

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.