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Some New Revolutionary War-era Ancestors

As we approach Independence Day, Revolutionary War ancestors come to the minds of genealogists. I am no exception, and I have a few:

  • Gershom Hall of Massachusetts
  • John Day of Virginia
  • Robert Kirkham from what is now Kentucky

I also knew that I likely have a Carter ancestor who served. Genealogists have disagreed on the parentage of my known Carter (John Carter, 1790-1841), but his grandfather was perhaps Levi Carter, a Revolutionary War veteran from Greene County, Tennessee. Investigating this family has been on my to-do list.

When my dad’s cousin passed away recently and I acquired her genealogy books, I found a history of the Greene County Carters by John Denton Carter. To my amazement, I learned that nine Carter men served in the Revolution. Wow!

Of course not all of them could be my direct ancestors. Still, I am really proud to descend from this family of patriots. I hope to learn the names of each one and how they relate to me.

All these Revolutionary War ancestors populate my dad’s family tree. His people have resided in America since Colonial times, and they helped forge the new nation. We have a great heritage to celebrate on the Fourth of July.

Summer Genealogy Plans

Our Colorado Genealogical Society has a Lunch Bunch group that meets monthly. We select different restaurants around the Denver area where we can enjoy a meal in a historical setting and discuss our research progress. This month we gathered at the Bull & Bush, a long-standing pub in south Denver.

It being June, the conversation turned to summer research trips. Everyone around me had something planned:

  • One woman will head to Texas for a family reunion. While there, she plans to visit a tiny library that holds a rare copy of a county history not available via inter-library loan.
  • Another woman has discovered second cousins she never knew. She plans to meet them this summer.
  • Yet another woman embarks soon for a visit to repositories in Ireland.

We genealogists love to take these research trips. I, too, am getting ready for summer discoveries on the road. We will loosely follow the trail of the Reeds and the Carters, driving in reverse order of their westward migration.

Colorado to Virginia is a long drive. Like everyone else at lunch this week, I am eager to learn something new about my family.

Obituaries Galore

This week I continued my search for Reed and Carter family information in the Mattoon, Illinois newspaper database found on I sought obituaries for family members of my great-great grandparents, Jane Carter and Caleb Reed.

Some I already had, thanks to diligent research by cousins in an earlier day. Now I hoped to fill in gaps in my data. Success!

I located obituaries for several of their children’s spouses:

  • Elbridge Dudley (husband of Emma Jane Reed) died 26 October 1927.
  • Elizabeth Davis Reed (wife of George Robert Reed) died 26 January 1934.
  • Mary Christina Scheer Reed (wife of John Carter Reed) died 26 December 1943.
  • Myrtle Redden Reed (wife of Thomas Logan Reed) died 27 July 1953.

In addition to the death dates, I gleaned additional family information from these obituaries. They sometimes provided cause of death and burial information. They listed the names of their surviving children (if any) and where they lived.

I learned that the Reeds were pretty much Presbyterian except for those who married Dudleys.

The Dudleys were Baptist and had generously donated land near Ashmore, Illinois for a Baptist cemetery (Enon). A few of my family members are buried there—Samuel Reed and his first wife Nancy Jane Dudley, and Emma Jane Reed and Elbridge Dudley. The obituary for Elbridge Dudley even told me that he had served for twenty-five years as the Superintendent of the Baptist Sunday School.

Sadly, I did not find any obituaries for the Carter clan. They lived further away from Mattoon, so perhaps their news did not find its way into the Mattoon paper.

All in all, I searched the database for over twenty-five people. I filled in many gaps on my family tree. This database allowed me to quickly and efficiently do newspaper research from home.

Newspapers: a Window to the Past

Recently I received an offer to subscribe to at a discounted rate. I decided to give it a try.

When I logged in, I found it easy to zero in on a geographic location. I started with Coles County, Illinois, where my Reed and Carter families lived in the 19th century. I did not expect to find much for this very rural area.

I knew that their Ashmore Township had little in the way of newspapers so many residents looked across the state line to Indiana to read the Terre Haute paper. No luck there finding anything about my family.

Next I turned my search westward to the Illinois newspapers for the smaller towns of Mattoon and Charleston (the county seat). There I hit pay dirt.

The Mattoon newspapers mentioned my great-great grandparents, Jane Carter and Caleb Reed several times:

  • Caleb was appointed to serve as the Ashmore Township representative on the Grand Jury in 1878.
  • Caleb’s real estate transactions were reported.
  • Visits by my great-grandfather Samuel and his sister Ida during Caleb’s last illness in 1903 were reported.
  • Although I already had Caleb’s obituary from the Charleston paper, I found that a more detailed one appeared in the Mattoon paper.
  • Jane’s declining health was reported during her last months in 1907.

Needless to say, I am thrilled to have these little windows into the everyday lives of my ancestors. I plan to look up the names of every relative who lived in the area to see what more I can find out about these families. I am so glad I subscribed to this database.

Thank You and Good-bye to a Cousin

About thirty years ago I met two of my father’s cousins, Alta and Leslie. This acquaintance opened huge doors into my genealogical research because they had been working on our family line for years. They gladly shared everything they had with me, and a long collaboration began.

Leslie passed away several years ago, but not before giving me a copy of his genealogy database. Alta shunned computers and typed up all her records. As of last week, they are all mine, too. No one in their family has an interest in genealogy.

Alta passed away on May 15 at the age of ninety-three. Her papers date back to 1939 when she began doing genealogy at the age of eighteen. She had a huge library of genealogies and books of records from our ancestral states. Sifting through all this will be a monumental job. What joyful work!

As I dig in, I will miss her and her enthusiasm for genealogy so much. She kept at it until the very end. To her chagrin, she never did positively identify our mysterious Reed and Carter immigrant ancestors from colonial times, so I will continue the search. I owe her that, and so much more. Rest in peace, Alta.

An Old Violin

At last week’s meeting of the Colorado Genealogical Society, members showcased family heirlooms. My husband/tech advisor participated by displaying and discussing our family violin.

This instrument is quite old, and we have a record of its history. In 1977, his father wrote it down as he remembered it.

According to him, the instrument traveled from Norway to North Dakota in the 1850’s in the possession of the Wild family. Eventually Bill Wild sold it to an August Johnson. Mr. Johnson spent many winters on the farm of Anton Hjelmstad, my husband’s grandfather. Anton purchased the violin from August Johnson in 1931.

Anton played the violin for many years, until his death in 1957. He maintained it as best he could, occasionally restringing the bow with hairs from the tail of the horse in his barn.

My husband remembers times spent as a small child listening to his grandfather play. When he began his own violin lessons, he received the violin. He played it through high school, until he needed a better one.

The old violin saw some rough times through its history. Anton Hjelmstad had played it at barn dances, and it was damaged in a brawl at one of those. He repaired it, but eventually the front began to collapse. The violin became unplayable.

Now it sits in a shadow box along with some remembrances of its Norwegian heritage–a piece of Norwegian hardanger embroidery and a stalk of wheat like that grown by Anton Hjelmstad. It serves our family as a wonderful reminder of our roots.

Don’t Forget County Death Records

Most genealogists know that state registration of deaths usually did not begin until the early 20th century. So we are out of luck in finding these vital records for people who passed away before then, right?

Not so fast! Individual counties began keeping records of local deaths earlier than the states did. These listings often provide surprisingly complete information on the deaths of a persons in the county. Usually the counties began recording deaths in the 1870’s or 1880’s, so you can reach back another 25 years or so from when state registration began.

Although Illinois did not initiate death certificates until 1916, Coles County began keeping a death register in 1878. Many people in my Reed and Carter families lived in Coles County from 1878 on, and many died there. I have found several of their death records.

Yet, many other family members are missing from the register. These include:

  1. Susan Carter Austin, died 3 May 1884
  2. Henry Paul Bovell, died 3 June 1886
  3. Eliza Reed Walton, died 20 September 1886
  4. Martha Jane Collins Carter, died 11 January 1888
  5. Emma Jane Reed Dudley, died 13 June 1888
  6. Albert M. Reed, died 8 March 1890
  7. Shelton Carter, died 25 May 1890
  8. Robert A. Wright, died 27 March 1895
  9. James Galbreath, died 19 April 1896
  10. Jane Reed Galbreath, died 11 October 1899

All these people lived in and were buried in Coles County, but after careful review I did not find their names on the Death Register. Why not?

My best guess is that compliance with the registration requirement was spotty in those days. In the early days of registration, when a person passed away out in the country people probably did what they always did. Perhaps they never thought to notify the County Clerk. Unless a physician filed a report, no one added the death details to the county register.

I am grateful to have found all the Coles County death records from the 1870’s – 1900’s that I did. It was so easy; I simply ordered the microfilm from Family Search. I just wish the deaths of the missing 10 people had been recorded as well.

Early Deaths

This week I made my way over to my local Family History Center to view a microfilm that I had ordered. I looked at the earliest death register for Coles County, Illinois where my Carter and Reed ancestors were original settlers.

Coles County began registering deaths in 1878. They did a good job, too, because the register contains quite a bit of valuable information for each decedent. I can learn the person’s place and date of death, age at death, place of burial, birthplace, current residence, and marital status.

The register also has a column for cause of death. This provides a little window into the times of my ancestors. So many children in the 1800’s died of diseases that we can prevent today—diphtheria, whooping cough, measles.

What heartache our ancestors must have endured when a child suffered and died. Sometimes entire families were wiped out in a couple of weeks when an epidemic struck.

These sicknesses were terrible and ruthless. I know that when I came down with measles when I was 10 years old, I was the sickest I have ever been. My mom, recalling her own battle with this fearsome illness, took all of my siblings for gamma globulin shots. These boosted their immune systems so they would not contract the disease. Of course they despised me for creating a need for shots, but my mom’s action protected them. Pioneer women did not have this option.

Parents today can be proactive. Vaccinated children today can count themselves fortunate that they will not suffer an early death from these preventable diseases.

Join Your Bygdelag

Anyone who has some Norwegian heritage and an interest in learning about Norwegian ancestry or native culture does not have to look far. Norwegians in America have long banded together to share their Norwegian ways.

Most descendants probably know of the fraternal organization, the Sons of Norway ( Women, too, can join this club and enjoy getting together for Norwegian food and activities.

Maybe fewer know about the numerous Bygdelagenes groups that focus on areas of origin in Norway. My family certainly never mentioned these organizations, so I do not think any of my Norwegian-American ancestors belonged to one. Most of the Bygdelagenes seem centered in Minnesota and Wisconsin whereas my family settled in faraway Montana.

I never knew the term Bygdelag until last weekend when I attended a Norwegian genealogy meeting. There I learned that over 30 of these groups exist, and each focuses on heritage from a particular county, or fylke, in Norway. Since my family emigrated from Nordland, I could join the Nordlandslag ( Descendants of those from the far north in Norway, (the counties of Nordland, Troms, and Finnmark) belong to this group.

Maybe I will look into joining. Other members of my Norwegian genealogy group have found Bygdelag memberships fun and helpful. For just $15 a year I would receive a newsletter and the opportunity to attend an annual get-together called a stevne.

I cannot make this year’s June stevne in Minnesota, nor can we get to my husband/tech advisor’s Hedmarken Lag stevne in Wisconsin in August, but perhaps we could plan for one in the future. We do have relatives and ancestors in both states, and I am always looking for that next genealogy road trip.

Look for your Bygdelag and find some like-minded Norwegians today!

Will the Real John Carter Please Stand Up?

My Carter ancestors, Mary (Templeton) and John Carter, were born in Tennessee and settled in Kentucky after the War of 1812. The family migrated to Coles County, Illinois from Wayne County, Kentucky to become original pioneers in 1830. They remained in Illinois where John died in 1841 and Mary in 1857. Both are buried, side by side, in the Ashmore, Illinois cemetery.

Together, they had nine children who survived infancy, Susan, Shelton, Nancy, Bailey, Thenia, Jane (my ancestor), Joseph, Elizabeth, and Catharine. I have spent many hours in 2015 researching this family.

Once I had plenty of information on all these folks, I hoped to post my findings on Family Search’s family tree. Imagine my surprise when I found Mary Templeton Carter already there with two husbands, both named John Carter.

One was her true husband, John Carter (1790-1841) who was born in Tennessee and died in Illinois. The other was obviously a different John Carter (1795-1864) who had been born in North Carolina. All of Mary’s children were erroneously attached to him!

This week I have tried to untangle this mess on Family Search. To begin, I was not familiar enough with the software operations necessary to complete this task. I have learned as I have gone along, but I am still not finished.

The project is worth the time, though. John Carter of North Carolina needs to find his own family. So far as I know, he does not belong in mine.