I am a little bit excited about this week’s genealogy post as it also marks my first ever guest post! The eponymous travelling lady behind the fabulous The Travel Lady In Her Shoes kindly agreed to do a bit of a write-up regarding her journey of discovering her family history …
It seems to me that no one studies their genealogy until you are the last one left. Or maybe one just gets older and the END/BEGINNING is nearer and one wonders “where in the world did we come from?” This was the case for me anyway. Both my parents had passed and I realized I knew very little about my families and I wanted to leave SOME imprint to my children and grandchildren. So I started to search. The first thing I did was go to my father’s older sister, a woman I hadn’t seen since I was a child. If anyone knows a good way on how to land on your relative’s doorstep after 50+ years to ask for family information, please let me know! I just called and showed up. I think it helped that my father was well liked. My aunt had photocopies and booklets made of family reunions from way back, way before my time. I was thrilled to see these since I didn’t know these papers existed and even more thrilled that my aunt let me take the entire caboodle to copy and then mail back to her! I had pictures! I had stories! I had names!
I was hooked!
The big challenge that many Americans face is the mobility of our society. I do not live where I was born, not even in the same state. Neither did my father or mother, neither did my grandparents. So it’s not like we were seeing our relatives frequently. So growing up I got pieces of this and that, only from my father, mostly when he was drinking. Not a word was ever said about my mother’s family. I was in high school before it was revealed that my mother’s parents and siblings were alive. More on that story later.
My first shock was the fact that most of the knowledge of the family from my father was true. Not entirely accurate, but close enough. These were stories passed down from one generation to another. These stories were documented in my aunt’s papers. I never thought too much about the fact that unless you are a Native American, your family came to this country from somewhere else. It was interesting to learn that my father’s family came here in 1843. At the time, I thought that was a long time ago! The other interesting fact is that most families had their surnames changed on immigration, due to the fact that the processors could not understand the many languages, so they wrote down the immigrants names as it sounded to them. Also, because the new arrivals wanted to fit in, as quickly as possible, they also changed their first names to English names. So I learned our surname had been changed and my great-grandparents spoke German, which was true. My father had always said this. He also said that his grandparents came from Alsace Lorraine, on the border of France and Germany.
I found my great-grandfather’s entry into the U.S. from Hamburg, Germany, on the ship “John,” with his mother, father, uncle, brother and sister. Within a year his father had died, his uncle returned to Germany, and my grandfather was separated from his mother, brother and sister when he was sent to work on a farm as a laborer. He never saw them again. He was 14 years old. He met my great-grandmother many years later. She was a German speaking immigrant also and on her family’s immigration papers it states her family came from Weiler, Germany, or on some documents Savern, Germany, in 1856. I looked and looked for Weiler and Savern, Germany! Thanks to a member on Ancestry.com a gentleman told me to look in France for Weiler. There it was, Neuwiller-lès-Saverne, France! In the Alsace region – sometimes France sometimes Germany! The French Ancestry member also told me there was a genealogy center in Saverne, France and I should contact them for information. So I wrote them a letter, stating the name of my great-grandmother, where she was born and what year she immigrated. That was all the information I had.
Then I went to France on vacation and made plans to go to the genealogy center and to Neuwiller-lès-Saverne. Imagine my shock when I got to the center, not far from Neuwiller-lès-Saverne, to find the genealogist had traced my great-grandmother’s family and their siblings back to 1600! Also, there was a couple from Neuwiller-lès-Saverne, genealogists who helped families trace their trees in France, there to talk to me! They were elderly and spoke German, French and a little English. They were thrilled that I had traced a family back to their village! So I went with them to Neuwiller-lès-Saverne, and they showed me family graves in the Protestant graveyard. The Zimmermann family had lived there for centuries!
They took me to the church. The village was really small with a few farming families still living there. I asked them if they knew why my family had emigrated. A cloud came over the old man’s face. “They were Calvinists,” he replied. “Not allowed to live in the village proper.” The church had helped them to emigrate. I got to thinking what it would take for me to up and leave my country, my family, my friends, taking only the clothes on my back and go to a new home in a far away country, not speaking the language and at the mercy of people I did not know. It would take a lot. These people wanted something better and were willing to give up everything. Tracing the family after the arrival to the United States I found the children marrying Irish immigrants, Scottish immigrants, and other Germans, mostly working at farming, but after the 1920’s moving to the cities to work in factories. I still correspond with the French genealogists from Neuwiller-lès-Saverne, the French man who pointed me in the right direction of Neuwiller-lès-Saverne, even meeting with his family and touring Colmar with them. And I renewed a family tie with my aunt that lasted until her death in 2010. You never know where your finds will take you!
My mother’s story was such a tragedy. WWII had such a toll on so many people. It was heartbreaking and I learned the entire story long after my mother and father’s death, meeting with my mother’s older sister and going to the courthouse to get all the facts. My aunt was hesitant to tell the story; I believe she felt a betrayal of sorts since her younger sister had kept the secret for such a long time, who was she to repeat it? But get the facts I did and it made me want to know about my grandparents, their upbringings and family history.
My grandmother was a Lee and my grandfather a Jones. Can you be any more English?! Their families, especially the Lees, were relatively easy to trace because that family had been here a long, long time. Basically, they had lived in only four states from the time they arrived in the U.S and never strayed very far from other relatives. My surprise was the English families only married into other English families and most of them were well established in the U.S. too. I discovered the families were large, usually twelve or more children, to work the farm and they all named their children the same names! There might be a family with 12 children, Mary, John, Catherine, Polly, Charles, etc. who all have 12 children naming them Mary, John, Catherine, Polly, Charles, etc. So you end up with a bazillion children very close in age to their cousins of the same name and age! What a nightmare to discern!
However, I got lucky in one family who always passed down the name of Greenberry. Green Lee, Mary Berry Lee, Sarah Greenberry Lee, Greenberry Phillip Lee, you get the picture. I finally traced the family of Greenberry’s back to the original Mr. Green and Miss Berry! It’s amazing how families can focus on a name! I was surprised to learn that my name Cady was a continuously passed down name. My Lee family was traced back to the Robert E. Lee descendants and that family has been so well documented it was easier to trace my English roots. So I set off to find Kinlet in Shropshire and the Blount family home.
Humphrey Lee (great-grandfather to Richard Henry Lee who came to the U.S.) married Katherine Blount in 1531 in Coton Hall, Nordley Regis, Shropshire. I did not know enough about getting records or such in England so I set out to find their home origins as a first step. As with most Americans the hardest time I had in England was threefold:
1. Driving on the opposite side of the road and car than I am used to.
2. Arriving in bustling London, when I come from a town of 11,000, where we don’t even get mail delivery.
3. Confused, because we speak the same language, but I had trouble understanding what people were saying. When I got to the smaller villages, things went much more smoothly! Since the Lees had left England a long time ago, I was not sure just what I would find. I wrote about it in my post Meet the Family.
There is much more to discover in England, so I am looking forward to another visit to Shropshire and to stay in one place long enough to meet the locals and glean more local information. I look forward to finding (I drove around, but was unable to find) the birthplace of Richard Henry Lee, born 1613, at Coton Hall, Nordley Regis, in Shropshire. I am also wanting more information on Ann Owens Constable, his wife. I know Coton Hall still exists, it was listed for sale a few years back! Slightly out of my price range! If you have any information that might be helpful to me, please let me know!