I have sworn to produce more and consume less in 2013; write more, research less; read more books and fewer status updates. I have stumbled a bit in the last week, as I prepared for the Family History Writing Challenge.
Determined to set a rich social context for my protaganist, Ira Sayles, I returned to accumulated notes hoping to glean early childhood vignettes. A self-defeating act, as it turns out, since I spent an ENTIRE day surfing the ‘net for collaborating evidence of the family register and family trees. By nightfall I felt like a zettabyte of information was smothering my writing spark. Yes, I found genealogical gems, that appear to be well-documented and thoughtfully written. And yes, they offer conflicting information.
DID IRA DESCEND FROM ARTHUR, JOHN OR HENRY HOWLAND?
Previous genealogists have gathered quite a bit on this dilemma, as it turns out. I have enough family documentation, indirect and direct primary as well as secondary sources, to rest assured that Ira Sayles was the son of Christopher Sayles and Sarah King Sayles. Sarah King was the daughter of James King and Merrobe (Rhobe) Howland King. Rhobe Howland was the daughter of John Howland, Jr. and Lois Eddy Howland. Now I pause, not quite certain of my sources in tracing lineage back further, not an uncommon dilemma for folks with Revolutionary Era ancestors. I feel fortunate to document this much of the family, for I can say with a fair degree of certainty that the Howlands farmed land that they had purchased in Scituate, Providence County, Rhode Island, where they were free to worship as Quakers.
But there is a tug on my line that threatens to reel me back further, for you see, the Howlands came over on the Pilgrims’ boats. Intriguing, no?
John Howland was an indentured servant on the Mayflower, and signed the Mayflower Compact. Henry and Arthur, brothers of John, came over between 1623-1630. All of the Howland boys were successful farmers and landowners in the early Massachusetts colony, but Henry and Arthur were obstinate troublemakers, from the Pilgrims’ point of view. Henry and Arthur broke the Sabbath, refused to worship in public, and *gasp* harbored Quaker meetings in their homes. Finally the two brothers migrated toward Roger William’s colony – Rhode Island. Settling in communities along the southwestern coast of Massachusetts, the Quaker Howland descendants continued to flourish, and in time migrated on into the western and northwestern corner of Rhode Island.
And that is where I find my Ira’s great-grandfolks. Quaker Rhode Islanders. That fact serves as a clue pointing to descent from either Arthur or Henry, not John as a 19th century Tioga County, Pennsylvania history purported. Yesterday’s search uncovered a source, The John Howland Who Married Freelove Wood, by Frances G. Jenkins, Williamstown, Massachusetts; this well-documented paper gives evidence that John Sr. who married Freelove Wood was a descendant of troublemaker Arthur.
Now I am really intrigued to read the substantial record of Arthur’s life. BUT I have yet to determine with certainty the John Jr. who married Lois Eddy is the son of John Sr. who married Freelove Wood.
I turn to you, fellow Keepers of the Family Lore.
- How do you use the genealogical work of other descendants?
- When do you decide that enough is enough, just write about it already?
- What sources are available from my armchair to confirm parentage for New England ancestors of the mid-1700s?
- What folks might be able to conduct look ups for sources, and in what archives?
Someday my family history writing will be someone else’s old family history. I would like them to consider it a reliable story, more gospel than clue.
For me this dilemma is at the core of much family history work. When do we treat our sources as gospel and preserve the family stories we have uncovered, as is? And when do we treat our sources as clues, to inform the next research question, leaving the story untold, or incomplete?
TWENTY-TWO HOURS UNTIL YOU CONFRONT THE BLANK PAGE!
My countdown calendar fairly shouts at me. My brain feels like a tangled, sticky mess of dates, lists, register reports, and story ideas. I have dutifully completed the interactive tutorial with Scrivener, a wonderful writers-specific word processor, and entered an outline for my project, Reconstructing Ira Sayles. The thought of confronting the dazzling blankness of the editor page tomorrow reduces my keyboard activity to just characters per hour. AUGH!!!! My wonderful stories are trapped inside my brain, struggling against the mind web, getting ever more buried into its fibers.
I must remember my promise, first articulated by Lynn Palermo, the host of this crazy challenge. Confront the page, one bit at a time. The day’s results don’t have to be great prose. Though I would love to provide Ira admirers with a complete narrative – someday – the best outcome of this next month may not be measured by my word count. The final result may be the habit of daily writing.
And that addition to my life will ultimately be more wonderful than even the story of Ira Sayles.
I open the door to release restless pups, and they gallop into the yard, dawn breaking overhead. I open the refrigerator to grab peppers, onions, garlic, and ginger, with the gorgeous low-on-the-horizon beams flooding my kitchen. I pick out dropped leaves which lie among my flame red poinsettias, no matter how carefully I attend their food-making needs. These observations mark mid-winter. We in the northern hemisphere are inching toward equinox, toward sprouting bulbs and passerine symphonies.
Your ancestor sits amid the details, seemingly solitary, independent, like a mushroom poking through tangled blades.
Upon further investigation, you discover others by his side: parents, aunts and uncles, children, cousins, neighbors, bosses, friends, enemies – a figurative forest of ‘srooms.
The simple family history narrative that the Family History Writing Challenge beckoned you to write has become a convoluted mess of story lines and mysteries and brick walls. This predicament is exactly what thwarted my previous attempts to compose the story of Ira Sayles, my paternal great-great-grandfather. But this year is going to be different. This year I have committed to writing 500 words a day about this perplexing gentleman. As Lynn Palermo prompts in her Family History Writing Challenge, these syllables don’t have to be great prose, and the 14,000 words don’t have to produce a finished book. I just have to remain committed to writing 500 words a day. By the end of February, I will have a start on the reconstruction of Ira Sayles, if nothing else, and I will have a habit of writing, which is infinitely more important than any resolution.
Today’s Surname Saturday prompt from Geneabloggers will be a preparation step for this February project. Instead of being thwarted by the forest of relations, I WILL be inspired.
Ira Sayles was born to two long-time residents of Glocester, Providence County, Rhode Island in 1817. In fact, the families of Christopher Sayles and Sarah King had been in the northwestern corner of Glocester – Burrillville – for generations. In 1825, Christopher and Sarah took their young family and went to Tioga County, Pennsylvania. They left behind Christopher’s dad, Christopher Sayles, who died shortly thereafter; his mom, Martha Brown Sayles had died in 1813.
Tioga County, situated along the north central Pennsylvania-New York border, was a land of fertile soil, hard wood forests and plentiful water. It was also a land of Sarah King’s family. Her parents, James IV and Merrobe (Rhobe) Howland King, had emigrated from Rhode Island to the Westfield area in about 1815. Those two souls had joined Rhobe’s Quaker parents, John and Lois Eddy Howland, who had pioneered the Cowanesque River Valley in 1803-04 with their son, Dr. Eddy Howland and family.
By the time Christopher and Sarah brought young Ira to be a “codenizen with bears, wolves and panthers”¹, there was an extensive network of extended family – like filamentous fungi connecting brilliant ‘srhooms.
Sayles, Kings, Howlands. As I begin his story, I gaze on all the colorful characters in his life, and happily imagine what remains hidden underneath my genealogical meadow of facts.
¹ Sayles, Ira. Letter to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; 1880. Archived in Houghton Library, Harvard University.Copy received 5 April 2010.
You are a family historian; a collector of family lore, data bytes, census records, photographs, and old papers that mean nothing to nobody but you. At some point, the names become people, and then the people become folks you really want to meet, which is a problem when all that is left is their memory.
Thus starts your journey; an impulsion carries you into a room with a blank screen or an empty page, and you sit and stare. And stare. And stare. Because when it comes right down to it, as much as you know this person, there is twice as much left to uncover. The story goes untold a bit longer.
PROCRASTINATION IS THE ASSASSINATION OF MOTIVATION
Those words have been ringing in my ears, almost as loudly as the high pitched hum of my tinnitus and they are almost as annoying. But, as the universe is prone to provide, a reading came my way, a blog post by Lynn Palermo of The Armchair Genealogist in which she offered community, companionship, advice, and encouragement to write that family story I have felt too overwhelmed to attempt. Now I am counting down the days until I confront the blank page and reconstruct the life of my perplexing, aggravating, inspiring great-great-grandfather, Ira Sayles, during the Family History Writing Challenge.
I commit to writing 500 words a day, each day during the month of February.
I can’t wait to start! Check out Lynn’s page, and seriously consider if it is not time to confront your blank page. Eighteen days and counting!! See you there!
Through the generosity of fellow family historian, Doug Kreis, I have the following obituary for my great-great-grandfather, the fiddle-playing man of my grandmother’s youth. Amaziah Bradford was the son of John R. and Hannah Geyer Bradford of Highland Township, Muskingum County, Ohio. This life synopsis originally appeared in The Adamsville Register, Adamsville, Ohio.
A. G. Bradford Called By Death Last Thursday
Amaziah Bradford, aged 81, died at his home in West Lafayette, Ohio, Thursday 18 October (1928) of heart trouble and infirmities. He had been in poor health for some time. Several years ago Mr. Bradford had conducted a confectionery store in West Lafayette and was later employed in the enameling plant in that village. Mr. Bradford had been a member of the Odd Fellows Lodge in West Lafayette for several years. He was a member of the M E Church. He had been a resident of West Lafayette for 30 years. He formerly lived near Bloomfield. The deceased was united in marriage with Miss Julia McCall 53 years ago who together with one son and two daughters survive; Charles of Coshocton, Mrs. Samuel Bell of Cincinnati and Mrs. E. A. Robinson of Walhounding. The funeral was held Saturday afternoon at the M E Church in West Lafayette and burial was made in the cemetery at that place. The following nephews and nieces attended the funeral : Mr and Mrs. J. A. Bradford, Harry Bradford, John Kay, Ray Bradford, Isaac Bradford, W. R. Bradford and Mrs. W. D. Brannon of Adamsville and daughter Mrs. Myrville Truax of Zanesville.
This is the year, I thought, of the De-Clutter Project, as I surveyed each room’s crammed shelves and drawers. Impose a fifteen minute limit and voluntarily suffer a daily dose of sorting, storing and recycling, and by year’s end I will have managed 5,475 minutes of life simplification. Resolutely, I reached for that first stack of books, envisioning an clean and orderly home in just ninety-one 2013 hours.
If today is any indication, the 3.8 days I committed to de-cluttering will only get me to the bottom of one pile.
I started the resolution with a photograph album; more journal than photo-document, this book chronicles an eleven day visit south of the Mason-Dixon line. I didn’t make it past the second page before deciding that I couldn’t give this to my daughter, or store it in an safe place. I had to reread it, and keep it within arm’s length for future reference and rumination. In other words, there was not one jot of de-cluttering in today’s 15 minutes of suffering.
Aw, I thought, I was such a sweet young mom, wanting to record my first mother-daughter trip. I kept reading, not sorting. The second page opened with an entry in my grandmother’s hand:
“She has grown so much. And she is talking- hurrah. Caitlin calls me GG for Great Grandmother. I love the name.”
What followed her note was a forgotten Story Moment, in which some minor details of my grandmother’s family were recorded.
Kerma Pauline was born to Charles Ross and Katherine Roahrig Bradford in 1905. In 1989 Kerma sat in my mother’s home, watching my toddler play, and recalled:
Grandpa John Roahrig (1849-1919)
One day, my grandmother recounted, she sat in the dining room playing paper dolls with her sister Thelma, her Grandpa Roahrig asleep in a nearby chair. Thelma talked incessantly and presently Grandpa, always a stern man, spoke up and said, “Thelma, your mouth moves as fast as a goose’s ass!”
The two girls decided to leave the fireside and play in the next room.
Grandpa Amaziah Bradford (1847-1928)
Kerma recalled that her Grandpa Bradford played the fiddle and clogged and played horse with his grandchildren. His son, Charles Ross, must have inherited his gifts, since Kerma recalled that her dad could play any stringed instrument–guitar, banjo and fiddle.
De-clutter to Discover
I may not have accomplished much in the way of de-cluttering, but I DID discover a treasure, hidden within the minor details of an old photo album, a side benefit of my daily fifteen which is sure to be repeated often in 2013.