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 Ancestry.com. 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, Ancestry.com 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 Ancestry.com 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 Ancestry.com. 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, Ashibel Mapes is recorded in census records and other papers as Ashibel, Ashibald, Ashbel, and Ashabel. Ashibel 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 Ancestry.com.