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Following in the Footsteps of the Rich and Famous

Recently we returned from a driving trip through the upper South. Along the way, we visited places where my ancestors had lived. As always, I found it moving to walk on the same land where they walked.

On this trip, I learned that several of these ancestors may have rubbed shoulders with notable people of the time. Some examples:

  • John Day (1760-1837) was born near Patrick Henry’s home in southern Virginia.
  • Thomas Reed (1783-1852) and his wife Ann Kirkham (1782-1869) married and began raising their family south of Louisville, Kentucky at the same time a boy named Abraham Lincoln was born nearby.
  • My great-grandparents Samuel Reed (1845-1928) and Anna Petronellia Sherman (1865-1961) already farmed about 20 miles from Mansfield, Missouri when Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder moved there in the mid-1890’s.

Finding these connections provides much context for the lives of my obscure ancestors. The lives of famous people living nearby, often heavily-researched and with available biographies, provide insight into the lives and activities of my own people.

As we visited the boyhood home of Abraham Lincoln with its tiny log cabin, I tried to imagine Ann and Thomas Reed living in similar surroundings. At the Laura Ingalls Wilder home I picked up a book by her daughter, the writer Rose Wilder Lane. Our Home Town contains a wonderful chapter on daily life in the Ozarks at the turn of the last century.

Whenever I discover an ancestor at a new time and place, I look at the local history to see if anyone famous lived nearby. For example, I know that my family and the Lincolns were also neighbors in Hingham, Massachusetts and in Coles County, Illinois. Following these parallel lives helps me understand the lives of my own ancestors.

They Followed the Waterways

I have always lived in states that use the Public Land Survey System. This surveying method organizes land into neat squares by Section, Township, and Range. Initially proposed by Thomas Jefferson, this system describes most American land west of the original thirteen colonies. It makes perfect sense to me.

My family, however, did not always live in the West. Like many pioneers, they landed on the east coast and worked their way westward over several generations. To research these families, I need to look at their land records.

Those records look very different from the ones in use where I live. They describe lands using a metes and bounds system whereby property lines often follow the contours of the earth. Many mention waterways.

Later this summer I will travel through some of the states that use this system. States where my ancestors lived. States like Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia.

I want to visit the spots where my forebears made their homes, but I am not sure where to look. I have learned that they often settled along waterways. Now I am making a push to identify those waterways. So far, I have come up with a few:

  • John Carter (1790-1841), a War of 1812 veteran, settled along Harmons Creek in Wayne County, Kentucky.
  • John Day (1760-1837), a Revolutionary War veteran, lived along Caney Creek in Morgan County, Kentucky.
  • Caleb Reed (1756-abt. 1832) moved from Pennsylvania to live in Kentucky for several years. He resided variously in Shelby, Spencer, and Nelson counties, as new counties were carved from the old. Old deeds that I have not had proper time to review mention Elk or Elkhorn Creek.
  • Daniel Sherman (abt. 1800- aft. 1863) conveyed land on Clear Creek in Madison County, Kentucky after living in several surrounding counties.

As I drive through these states and counties this summer, you can bet I will be on the lookout for these waterways. I may not yet know precisely where my ancestors lived, but with these creek names, I am zeroing in.


A Summer of Siblings and Cousins

So far this summer I have not had as much time for genealogy as I would like. Why? Well, because I am working on the family tree in a different way by building connections with siblings and cousins. We are enjoying a summer chock-full of family visits.


  1. In June, we traveled to Wyoming to visit a couple of our brothers and my husband/tech advisor’s mom.
  2. Also in June one of the brothers came to Colorado to see us.
  3. In July, my husband/tech advisor’s sister will visit.
  4. Later this summer, we will travel to Virginia for a wedding and a visit with my sister and other brother.


  1. Some of my second cousins have been to Colorado in May and July to settle an estate. They will return another time or two, and we get together when we can.
  2. One of my first cousins and her family will visit us around the Labor Day weekend.

I love these opportunities for catching up in person with all these folks. Preparing for the visits takes time, though. Time away from my research. The ancestors must wait this summer while I re-connect with the descendants.

John Carter in the War of 1812

I am the great-great-great granddaughter of one John Carter. Born in 1790, he came from Greene County, Tennessee and settled in Coles County, Illinois near Ashmore. He died there in 1841.

According to the Portrait and Biographical Album of Coles County written in 1887, John Carter served in Andrew Jackson’s army in the War of 1812, fighting the Creeks. An affidavit filed by his widow Mary in 1857 offers a little more information:

That she is the widow of John Carter deceased who was a private in the Company commanded by Captain Hyle or Register supposed to be in the commanded [sic] by Colonel Gibbs in the War of 1812. That her said husband was drafted at Greensville, Tenn on or about the 1st of February A. D. 1813 or 14 for the term of 3 months.

This week I visited the Tennessee State Library and Archives ( online to look at the rosters for the Tennessee units in the War of 1812. They list only Colonels and Captains, not privates. I found no Colonel Gibbs or Captain Hyle, but I did see a Captain Register under the command of Colonel Samuel Bunch. This 2nd Regiment of East Tennessee included soldiers from Greene County.

The website provided a means to contact a librarian at the Archives for lookups of enlisted men. Within a day, I had a response. They sent me a copy of the page from Tennesseans In the War of 1812 by Byron and Samuel Sistler showing all Carters who served from Tennessee.

There were 15 men named John Carter on that list. None served under anyone name Hyle, Register, or Gibbs. Darn! This is never easy.

Yet a couple of entries do look promising:

  1. Carter, John, Pvt, Col Ewen Allison, Capt. Jacob Hoyal E TN Mil; joined from Capt. McPherson’s Co
  2. Carter, John, Pvt, Col S Bunch, Capt Geo McPherson, E TN Mil; joined from Capt Hoyle Co

The names Hoyal and Hoyle seem awfully similar to the name Hyle as remembered by Mary Carter. Both of these Captains served in the East Tennessee militia raised in my John Carter’s vicinity. I plan to order these John Carter service files from the National Archives to see if I can learn more about my ancestor’s service.








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.