I’ve talked before about my interest in family history, and the work I’ve done exploring so many different lines of my ancestors. That’s the thing about genealogy – it’s not fair, and certainly not complete to only try to find out who is in your family line that includes only your own surname. When you look at your parents, you already have two different limbs of the tree – in my case, the Cross line and the Luboski/Jorgensen line (I’ve only really explored the line of Mom’s birth father, and not her step-father). As soon as I take one more step, however, and look at my four grandparents, then I have four lines; looking at their parents, only three steps up the tree, there are eight different tree branches to follow. Since I am able now to look at relatives who are 15 generations (and more!), the number of relatives becomes exponentially greater, with all sorts of wives and husbands and such. Some of the lines, like the one of my great-great-grandmother, Clara Carson, goes one more generation to her parents, and then, up to now, I have found absolutely no information about their lives. They lived in the early 1800s, but their story is still a mystery.
Other lines take me back centuries. The wonderful thing about Ancestry.com is that I have hundreds of family members of all different branches each searching out their ancestors, and then posting the information they have found for me to gobble up and put in my own tree. Info like death certificates, and residences at different times, and census info – it’s all there for the taking. However, I quickly learned the old saying, “Trust, but verify.” There are some assertions about our history that are just wrong. One glaring one came as I researched the Pierce line (my great-grandfather’s mother). Now, our own history legend said that President Franklin Pierce was a three-great uncle of ours. First look at the research could lead you to believe that, since in my tree, I have a Benjamin Pierce, and ol’ Frank’s dad was also Benjamin. However, it happens that Frank’s Benjamin was about as famous as Franklin was – he was a general in the Revolutionary War, and later was elected governor of New Hampshire. With that pedigree, there is a lot of reliable information about his family and descendants that is public knowledge. When I looked at that Benjamin, I quickly found that, despite his having nearly 10 children, none was part of my line, which would have made Franklin a brother, and therefore the uncle designation.
I had to instead break it down, and I found from other research that Benjamin is a common family name, and that my relative’s line connected with the other Benjamin two generations earlier – grandparent – and so indeed, Franklin is a relative, but more like a distant cousin than a direct ancestor. It’s a fun way to use up enormous amounts of time! At this point, I have over 1900 ancestors in line, and I haven’t hardly begun to explore all the branches. Most of that, as well, is only the history of my wide family’s time in America, going back to more than a dozen different lines that had ancestors landing – mostly in New England area – between 1620 and 1660.
One part of the study that I really enjoy is being able to put some meat on the bare bones of who occupied one generation slot. For instance, my ninth-great-grandfather was Thomas Pierce who came over from England in the early 1630s. That’s a fact. What is fascinating, though, is to find out he occupied a status that I learned about in elementary school of early America. His father was from Kingston on Thames, and Thomas, the information shows, was “bound” to a Thomas Trench for four years in Maryland -- he was an indentured servant, selling his freedom to another person in exchange for a passage to America.
Recently, I came across a transcribed will of one of my older ancestors to America – Henry Dow. Henry was born in 1605 in Runham, England, and it appears that soon after his father’s death there in 1617, that Henry made his way – probably around 1630 – to America. After he got to the Essex County area in Massachusetts, he married Margaret Cole, and they apparently moved to New Hampshire.
Henry and Margaret had a bunch of kids, but then Henry died in 1659 at the age of 54. That was probably an average life span, but it’s important to note that he left Margaret with small children, one of whom was a son, Thomas, who was my 7th great-grandfather, being 6 years old at the time of his father’s death.
The will is fascinating, partly because it shows that spelling was a optional choice in the early 1600s, and also how things were distributed. Thomas was not the firstborn son, and so his part of the will states that “Give unto my sonn Thomas and my sonn Jeremiah 5 pounds a peece and bee payd to them att the age of one and twenty years…” That would be the equivalent of not quite $1000 in today’s world, but Thomas would have to wait 15 years to get his inheritance.
The oldest son, Henry Jr was named executor of the estate, and made off much better. That’s that dumb tradition of giving the oldest the greatest share, as though the accident of their birth means they win the lottery. As I said, as a third born – dumb. Brother – Henery – got “one fether bed wch He useth to ly upon and all the Bed Cloathes thereunto Belonging and the middlemost Iron Pott.” Plus, Henry got all the planting ground in the East Field, and 17 acres of the Salt Marsh. Lucky.
Of course, all that property and wealth has vanished from the ancestral lineage over the generations. I can’t imagine how much money was made and lost by my family over the centuries. Billions, I suppose. Or at least a few million.
But what I am left with – and it sounds corny to say so – is something much more valuable. My inheritance, when I am able to uncover it, is the priceless story of my family’s history. In unraveling these facts and figures and accountings, I know who I am. You see, once again, there is an intentionality to all life. Knowing all of this doesn’t change what I do, or my status in the world, but it does change a bit of my interior. Instead of accidentally surviving on this earth, my lineage and my history matters, and means something, at least to me. My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather traveled to what for him was a new land, and made his home here, like all the others in my family. Just having that knowledge roots me, and allows me to know that I fit into another place in history, just as my two sons, now with a 9th great grandfather as an immigrant, they can carry on a line, or lines, into history.
Word for the Day: negaholic. Pronounced neg-uh-HALL-ick. It’s amazing how many words that begin with “n” have something to do with noses, ships, birds or something negative. Today’s word is not different. From Latin, neg or nega, meaning “no” and holic, a recent word meaning “addict.” A negaholic can’t help but take on “no” as a way of life. That person has an habitually negative lifestyle and approach to the world. He or she sees the cloud in every silver lining, and when it’s a beautiful day outside, or a wonderful gift gets dropped in the lap, manages to peer into the future, and see only thunderstorms and the chance of losing what has been gifted. It’s a pretty horrible way to live, and unfortunately, we all know folks who make that their life’s work. I hope that doesn’t describe you!
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.