Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Genealogy Narrative

One of my main goals in publishing this blog is to transform dry genealogy data into a more meaningful narrative story of my ancestors, their times and their journeys to America. This approach lacks the academic rigor of a drier, more straightforward cataloging of historical records, but is far more readable. I try to strike a balance between these two approaches by including direct links to as many original documents as possible. This allows the reader to see the basis for my stories and come to their own conclusions if they so choose.

I'm pleased to see others taking this narrative approach to genealogy in order to appeal to a wider audience. Today the New York times has published a very interesting story on the family of Michele Obama. The article focuses on the discovery of a white ancestor in Mrs. Obama's tree. However, the trail of records is sparse and lacking for detailed information, as was quite common for black families after the Civil War. To fill these gaps the author includes stories of those who knew Mrs. Obama's ancestors. The article also includes a multimedia presentation with an interactive family tree and images of all the original documents on which the story is based. Cheers to the Times for taking this narrative approach to a genealogy story and especially for publishing the original documents. Too often newspapers publish stories on famous genealogies that only cherry pick interesting and often misleading details from a serious genealogist's work (i.e., headlines like "Obama and Bush and Cheney are all Cousins -- imagine the family reuinions!"). To see genealogy presented in the press in this professional and moving way benefits both the reader and the view of genealogy in general.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ellen Ruth Roberts, 1919-2009


Ellen Ruth Taylor Roberts, wife of Roy Gilbert Roberts, daughter of William Daniel Taylor and Dona Westerfield, passed away on Monday, September 28, 2009. Ruth, as she was known, was among other talents a wonderful mother, grandmother, and storyteller. Her stories of her family inspired me to get back into genealogy research. I thought I would try and share a few of those stories with you to help celebrate her life. Apologies to her family if I do not quite remember every detail correctly.

Ruth was born in Arkansas on October 31, 1919. Her family moved between Oklahoma and Arkansas several times during her childhood. More than once she told the story of how her family traveled to Oklahoma in a covered wagon (yes, such events did happen in the 20th century, at least in Oklahoma). At one point she was afraid the wagon would fall into the river when they traveled over a particularly gap-filled wooden bridge, so she got out of the wagon and crawled across the bridge on her hands and knees.

When she was 14, she moved to Owensboro, KY to live with her older sister Rose, to whom she was very close throughout her life. She and her sister got jobs at the local GE factory. She told the story of how they stood in line with hundreds of people to apply for a job at the factory, and were somehow noticed by a manager at the factory who pulled them out of line and gave them jobs. I guess he thought they were pretty! Ruth was fiercely proud of her independent nature and worked hard to support herself. By the time she was 16, she had saved enough to buy a full bedroom set for herself (a set which, as a sensible child of the depression, she used to this day).

On August 24, 1940, Ruth married Roy Gilbert Roberts, son of Joseph Lawrence and Agnes Maude Roberts. Even after she was married, Ruth continued to work. She worked as a beautician for the most part, operating a shop out of the back of her home. She also held various other jobs, including for a time postmaster, general store proprietor for the town of Adair, Kentucky, a small town that was little more than a mail stop of the railroad on the way out of Owensboro. She told of how it was her job to put the mail on the mailhook for the train to pick up. When the Roberts family eventually moved back to Owensboro, the mail service in Adair stopped and the town ceased to exist.

Ruth and Roy had five children, and by saving and sacrificing, they were able to send all five to college. Roy died in 1987, but Ruth continued to live on her own until suffering a stroke in 2006. In her later years, Ruth was always full of love and advice and wisdom for her grandchildren. She was fond of proscribing home remedies, such as soaking a sore elbow in epsom salts or giving beer to a colicky baby.

Ruth Roberts' obituary can be found here. Her funeral service is 10am on Friday, October 2 at Sts Joseph & Paul Catholic Church in Owensboro, KY.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Roberts Family

A few weeks ago I attended the Roberts family reunion in Owensboro, Kentucky. This reunion brought together the descendants of Joseph Lawrence Roberts, my wife's great-grandfather. Joseph Lawrence had 11 children, 8 that lived to adulthood. All 8 of those children have now died, the last, Paul, passing in April of this year. However, the Roberts family is still very much thriving. We had dozens of Roberts cousins attend. Four spouses of the Roberts children are still alive and three of them attended the reunion. The oldest Roberts there was Catherine Roberts, age 93, widow of Manuel Roberts. She is in excellent health and I think she may even have driven herself to the reunion! Here are some pictures from the reunion.



At the reunion, Roy Roberts, son of Roy Gilbert Roberts and Ruth Taylor Roberts, presented each family with a book of the family's genealogy. Roy's book contains a lot of interesting stories about the family and paints a portrait of what life was like for a rural Kentucky family in the early 20th century. I contributed a bit to the book, mostly by referring Roy to other Roberts researchers who had far better and more detailed information than me. Since the Roberts family already has this detailed information on their family, I am merely going to post a summary of my findings on the Roberts family instead of my usual posting that includes source documents:

The earliest confirmed ancestor of the Roberts family is a John Roberts who died in 1724 in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Family tradition is that this John Roberts was from Wales, but like most early Virginia settlers, it is impossible to tell where he was from as few colonial documents recorded this information.

John Roberts and his wife Elizabeth Trammell had at least five children. One son, John Jr., lived to be about 100 years old. We do not have exact dates for his life, but we know that he was born prior to 1703, and he is mentioned in an 1802 letter as being "one of the oldest residents in the county." He may have been over 100 when he died. He and his wife Elizabeth Russell had at least four children.

John Jr.'s son Benjamin was born in about 1741. He served as a Sergeant in the General George Rogers Clark's Illinois Regiment in the Revolutionary War from 1779 to 1782. This was the group that headed west to defend settlers on the frontier from Indian allies of the British.

It appears that Sgt. Benjamin signed up with Gen. Clark with the intention to permanently move to Kentucky. Three days after enlisting, he sold his land in Culpeper county, Virginia, and his family likely followed the army west.

Once in Kentucky, Sgt. Benjamin was part of the expedition that established a fort at the Falls of the Ohio, which was the founding of the city of Louisville. Also present in the expedition were several of Sgt. Benjamin's cousins, including the confusingly similar Captain Benjamin Roberts, son of George Roberts. Many researchers (including myself) have mistaken these two, as they were about the same age, from the same county, and both married to women named Anne (hence the reason I refer to him as "Sgt. Benjamin").

The Falls of the Ohio at Louisville, Kentucky, circa 1912, before dams largely removed the falls as an obstacle to boat travel.



During his service, Sgt. Benjamin filed for a land grant for land in Jefferson County, Virginia that eventually became a part of Henry county, Kentucky. His wife, Anne Duncan, died shortly after arriving in Kentucky in 1780. Sgt. Benjamin remained on his land in Henry county for the rest of his life, and died after 1810. Sgt. Benjamin and Ann had 8 children.

Sgt. Benjamin's son James was born in 1766 in Culpeper county, Virginia. He moved to Henry county, Kentucky with his parents in 1780 and then on to Daviess county, Kentucky around the time his father died after 1810. James was married twice in Henry county. James and his first wife, whose name is unknown, had three sons, James, Merry, and Benjamin. His second wife, Elizabeth, had two sons, Willis and Henry. All five sons moved with their father to Daviess county to the village of Yelvington. James died there in 1822.

James's son Benjamin was born about 1793 in Henry county. Moved to Yelvington in Daviess county prior to 1820. In 1821, he married Rebecca Frazier, daughter of James and Nancy Frazier. The had seven children, and lived in Yelvington their entire lives.

Benjamin Roberts and Rebecca Fracier


One of Benjamin's sons, Marion Franklin, known as Frank, was a bricklayer in the Knottsville area in Hancock county, Kentucky, who helped build one of the first Catholic schools in that area. On May 9, 1917, at age 80, Frank converted to Catholocism. He died at age 88 in 1924 and is buried at St. Lawrence Catholic Cemetery in Maceo, Kentucky along with his wife, Arilia Ann (Relly Ann) Bowlds, daughter of William N. Bowlds and Sarah Pickerell. Frank and Relly Ann had six sons and five daughters. Their son Joseph Lawrence, born July 6, 1881, married Anges Maud Hartley on January 2, 1909. It is the descendants of their children that attended the Roberts family reunion. Most of their descendants still live in Daviess and Hancock counties, Kentucky.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Famous Fridays - Jesse and Frank James

Jesse James and Frank James
American Outlaws

The James brothers, members of the infamous James-Younger Gang, are my 9th cousins 4 times removed on my father's side (via the Beasley family). It is possible that some of my Missouri relatives were knew the James brothers, perhaps from the other end of their guns. The James-Younger Gang was known for terrorizing the area of Missouri where my family lived.
My wife's family has a story that her great-grandfather, a very secretive man whose origins are unknown, was once a member of the James-Younger gang. If he was, it was under a completely different name, which I suppose is not that unlikely. Still, I doubt this story is true.

Likelihood of relationship: 50%

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ancestor Spotlight - Engle Backer (1806-1890)

Johannes Engleberth Becker, called Engle, is my G-G-G-Great Grandfather on my father's side. He was born on January 27, 1806 in the village of Burbach in Germany. Engle was one of three brothers that emigrated to the United States in 1854 (though despite knowing the names of over 30 people who traveled together, I have yet to find a record of their ship). All three settled in Callaway county, Missouri. Engle and his brother Phillip, who owned adjoining farms, were both farmers. Their third brother, John Henry, lived in Fulton. Upon arrival, the family changed the spelling of their name from Becker to Backer (either spelling is supposed to be pronounced "Baker").

Engle was first married on Dec 30, 1830 to Katherine Sophie Sauer, at the Lutheran Church in Burbach, Germany. The couple had six children: Christian, Sohpia Landman, Katherine Frank, William, Leonard, and Henrich. In 1843, Engle's wife Katherine died in childbirth with Henrich, who also died. Engle then remarried Dec 24, 1843 to Juliann Hild in Burbach. Engle and Juliann had nine children, six of whom lived to adulthood. Of these children four were born in Burbach: Henriette Charlotte Bury, Charlotte Hagebusch, Henry and Charles Backer. Two more were born in Missouri: Louis Backer and Matilda Brooks.

Engle lived in Callaway county, Missouri from 1854 until about 1877. During this time he and his family were members of the Presbyterian Church in Fulton. Between 1876 and 1880 Engle moved his family to Washington, Missouri, in Franklin county. His wife Juliann died in 1885. Engle remained in Washington until his death on Jan 27, 1890 of pneumonia. He died on his birthday and was exactly 84 years old. He was survived by 11 children.

Below is a copy of the Fulton Sun from Jan 28, 1890, recording the death of Engle Backer. Right click and select zoom in to read the text. His obituary is at the bottom of the middle column.

Engle Backer Obituary

Other resources:
Engle Backer 1860 Census
Engle Backer 1870 Census
Engle Backer 1880 Census (listed as Charles Becker)
List of all Backer descendants

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Famous Fridays - Barack Obama

Barack Obama
44th President of the United States
Barack Obama is my 12th Cousin on my father's side (via the Beasley family) and is my wife's 8th cousin on her father's side (via the Roberts family). My common ancestor is Robert Brasseur born in France, died about 1665 in Maryland. My wife's connection is a few generations closer, through Jacob Duvall, born 1715, died 1796 in Maryland.

Likelihood of relationship: 50% for me, 70% for my wife.

If you would like to learn more about our president's heritage, click here. That site contains a really great presentation on the genealogy of President Obama. My wife and I both connect to him through the Brasseur/Duvall line in his tree, which is shown on the far middle-left. The tree contains many interesting stories about his relatives and even contains a bit of genealogy for his Kenyan heritage. It also explains how President Obama is related to George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Harry Truman, among others.

Jacob Frank, 1833-1909

Today is the first in a series of obituary postings I plan to make. The county libraries in Fulton and St. Louis, Missouri have indexes for local obituaries going back to the late 19th century that make it very easy to find multiple obituaries for relatives. The St. Louis library has their obituary index online here. Both libraries charge only a nominal fee to locate and mail copies of the obituaries to you. If you have any relatives who lived in these areas (regardless of where they died) then you should check with these libraries as obituaries are one of the best pieces of genealogical evidence available.

My first profile is for my G-G-Great-Grandfather Jacob Frank. The Fulton library had two obituaries and a burial notice for Jacob Frank. These obituaries provided a great deal of information and I was happy to see most of my theories in my prior post on the Frank family were correct.

Jacob Frank was born in Hammelburg, Bavaria on April 19, 1833. He emigrated to the United States at age 17 and settled in Fulton, Missouri at age 19 (about 1852). In 1857 he married Katherine Backer, the daughter of a recent Prussian immigrant.

Jacob worked as a coal miner from 1852 until 1891, when he retired and became a gardener. He had a house on Market St. in Fulton with a small plot of land in the back with a garden from which he sold produce to other residents of the city. Oddly, neither obituary mentions his service in the civil war. He served for about three years in the Missouri 9th Calvary Regiment State Militia Volunteers. Perhaps this was omitted because much of his service during the war was dedicated to combatting Confederate sympathizers in the Fulton area.

Jacob was a member of the Fulton First Presbyterian Church. His obituary from the Fulton Journal describes him as a very holy and honorable man:
He was faithful in filling as his obligations to his fellow man and to his God. His one ambition in life was to deal justly and fairly with all men and in this he was remarkably successful. He was a man of generous heart and sought to be helpful to those about him. Mr. Frank was a consistent and faithful member of the Presbyterian Church and lived a truly Christian life in both his public and private affairs. It can be truly said of Mr. Frank that he was a faithful servant to his God, his country and his home. For none truer or more faithful and useful men have come and gone in this life than our departed friend and neighbor.
Jacob Frank died at his home in Fulton on Wednesday, May 12th, 1909 at 9:30 a.m. of a heart attack. He was preceded in death by one son, Albert Jacob Frank of Fulton (I will post his obituaries later) and one daughter, Lottie Kester, wife of August, also of Fulton. He was survived by his wife, Katherine, and seven children. He left three sons: Charles, Henry and William Frank, all of Fulton, and four daughters: Matilda Langenbach, wife of Herman, of Marion, Ill., Julia Egerer, wife of Adolph, of Mexico, Mo., Bertha Lockridge, wife of James, of Fulton, and Mary Fitzhugh, wife of George, also of Fulton.

Below are Jacob's obituaries from the Fulton Telegraph and Fulton Journal, and a burial notice. You can right click on the obituaries to zoom in if you would like to read the text better.

Jacob Frank Obituaries