Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fun with names: Whitehead Raynor

I promise this will be the last in the name series for a while. For a little bit, anyway... :)

So, my fifth great-grandfather's name was Whitehead Raynor and his is a name that has always intrigued me. As a kid and then as a teenager, the name "Whitehead" obviously conjures some unpleasant skin-related images and you wonder just what in the heck Whitehead's parents were thinking. Whitehead is not one of those old-fashioned names that randomly pop up or become popular again. And probably with good reason.

As it turns out, though, as I was scrolling through all the baptismal records and marriage records that were transcribed from St. George's Episcopal Church in Hempstead, New York from the 1700s and 1800s, Whitehead is a name that appears - well, to say frequently might be an overstatement, but let's just say that there were enough of them that in school, my Whitehead might have to have been known as Whitehead R. to distinguish him from the others. It turns out that Whitehead, like Raynor and Smith and Bedell and Pearsall, is a Hempstead family name. Unfortunately, if I can't connect my tree to a family, I usually don't pay that much attention to it - family history tunnel vision? But yes, Daniel Whitehead in fact was one of the original 50 proprietors of Hempstead in the 1640s.

So what does that mean for Whitehead Raynor? In Hempstead, as in other places, unusual first names turn up that turn out to be a surname from the same area - a mother or a grandmother's maiden name in many cases. But as I mentioned above, I don't have any Whiteheads in my family. Or do I? There are branches on my tree, maternal lines, that I can't trace. The mother is a dead end. Is it possible that along one of these lines I have a connection to the Whitehead family? Or maybe Whitehead's parents wanted to honor a friend who was a Whitehead or a Whitehead who married into the family through a sibling or a cousin - is that a naming practice that might have occurred? These are the questions I ask myself when I go back over these lines.

And then I guess it's entirely possible that Whitehead's parents just thought it was a cool or hip name in which case all I can do is hang and shake my head and add it to my list of things to ask my ancestors, when I die, "What in the heck were you thinking?"


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fun with names addendum: Freelove (Freeway)

Let's just get this out of the way at the start - this post is not about genealogy.

Ok, anyone who's a fan of the U.K. series The Office will know where I'm going with this. As I mentioned in my last post, Freelove was a somewhat popular name for baby girls in 17th & 18th century Hempstead on Long Island. If only those poor, Puritanical settlers only knew how prescient and ahead of the times they were giving their daughters such a hippie name (I mean, really, Freelove? That girl's going to grow up to be a flower child, whether its the 1760s or the 1960s...)

Anyway, besides the nice ring the name has to it, I couldn't figure out why I was so drawn to it, until I caught myself humming a little ditty over the last day or so. Couldn't get it out of my head. Realized I had stuck in my head an original piece by David Brent, the alter ego of Ricky Gervais from The Office. The song is hilarious within the context of the episode that featured it, but even without that context, it's just catchy. And so I won't be the only loony tune walking around singin' this thing, and because now besides always making me laugh this song will always make me think of genealogy (oh, word association!), I thought I'd share. There's some talking at the beginning - I would skip to about the one minute mark. Enjoy!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Fun with names. Again. :)

I am fascinated by names - where they come from, how people choose them, naming trends, naming patterns, you name it, I'm obsessed.

Usually, the first thing we learn about a newly discovered ancestor is his or her name. A name can tell you a lot about a person - where they came from, possible family names to keep an eye out for. They can even tell you things that have nothing to do with genealogy but everything to do with what kind of person someone was - were his or her parents traditional or creative, close to a family member they wanted to honor or hoping their child would be independent.

As you can see, I think a lot about this stuff.

Anyway, in looking more closely at my American family history, I've been going through old church records of marriages and christenings from St. George's Episcopal Church in Hempstead on Long Island, and it's mostly full of your traditional English Marys and Josephs and Margarets and Thomases. But every now and then you run into a Pamela or a Gloriana, something a little more fanciful and exciting. (This is coming from a Mary who loves her traditional name.)

My favorite part, though, are the Puritan-reminiscent names. Everybody's heard of them - the parents who named their daughters Mercy or Charity or Hope or Faith in the hopes that their daughters would embody those qualities. That's the way the original English settlers in America named - they wanted those virtues to be in your face. So it's never a surprise for me to come across them in my research (although I'm fairly disappointed that on my own lines, no one was apparently religious or Puritanical enough to bestow said names on any of my ancestors). You also get your Old Testament fare. I mean the Jacobs and the Samuels, but I also mean the Enochs and the Josephats, as if these people wanted to be biblical but also creative. Either that or they just hated their children. I definitely have some OT names on my tree.

So as I was going through these transcribed records, I thought I'd share some of my favorite biblical and Pilgrim-esque names that I've been coming across, that it'll be a good laugh for a Monday, but also a reminder of the different times these people lived in.

(All of these come from the book "Adventures for God: A history of St. George's Episcopal Church" by John Sylvanus Haight, New York, 1932):

Lemuel Ackley, son of Abijah Ackley (you'd think after having been given the name Abijah by his parents, ole' Abijah wouldn't have tortured his own offspring in the same manner - he also had a son Abijah...)

Elnathan Eldert - at least he learned from his own unfortunate name and named his kids Sarah, Robert, and James

Freelove Nicols, wife of Jacob - you'd be surprised how popular Freelove was in 16th and 17th century Hempstead. The name, not the person. Well, maybe also the person.

Uriah - that was a popular biblical name making the rounds of Hempstead...

Comfort Rhodes

Nehemiah Sammis, son of Benjamin and Abigail - they probably thought "How come we got the same ole' boring biblical names everyone else in this town got? Let's open our Bible to whatever page, point, and whatever we're pointing at, that's what we'll name our son!"

Sylvanus - I'm actually not sure where this name comes from, but it turns up a lot...

Parmenus Smith, son of Mordecai - 'nuff said

Abraham Wood, son of Epenetus - that's an example of a father learning from his parents' mistake...

Elijah Wood - that's not weird, that's just a name of a current Hollywood actor that turns up a lot in these old records... :)

Flower Hulse - unfortunately this is for real and even worse, it's a guy. It's a family name, but really, if your wife's maiden name is Flower, just go with John. Sometimes boring and the same as everyone else is okay.

Eliphilet Stratton

Divine, son of John and Sarah Hewlett - I don't know if they had drag queens back then, but if you name your daughter that, you're asking for her to grow up to be a stripper. If you name your son that, drag queen. Or you're just really religious and oblivious.

Jacamiah Allen - that's not too bad. You can go by the nickname "Jack."

Gebulon, son of Robert Pedrick

Lerujah, daughter of Daniel and Sarah Vine

Temperence Beedle - that's a good early New England name!

Freeman Place - the male version of Freelove?

Patience Cornelius

Anyway, that's just to name a few. If I shouted out any of your ancestors - it's all good-natured jesting, I assure you! Like I said, it was a different time. Believe you me, I guarantee our descendants are going to have an absolute field day when they look back at this time and place! :)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

End of the weekend musings

I went through "Who Do You Think You Are?" withdrawal this week...anybody else? Fortunately, "Friday Night Lights" filled the vacated WDYTYA timeslot and allowed me to continue my crying streak uninterrupted, lol...

I was covering a lecture by Cardinal Edward Egan for work this weekend on one of the Gospel stories, and the he was going in-depth about some of the customs and actions portrayed that are totally foreign to a 21st century New Yorker, and the explanation really helped clarify what was actually happening in the story and the significance of them, and I couldn't help but compare it to genealogy (doesn't everything come back to genealogy? :)) and how important it is to try to get as much information as possible about the times and places our ancestors lived to get a better understanding of the motivations that might have been behind the choices they made and the things they did...I think we all try to do that, though.

I also wanted to note how the Ashley Judd episode of WDYTYA really made me refocus on my old American lines - my family has been here for so long on my mom's side of the family that I don't always feel comfortable saying I'm English and Dutch. On those lines, I just feel "American." Anyway, I have old New York ancestry, I have old New England ancestry, I have a lot of Quaker ancestry that I've never really delved into - once you reach a point in your family history that there are just branches and branches to trace, you have to pick and choose what to focus on when, and sometimes it takes awhile to come back and refocus on a particular line. So I think I'd like to learn more about my Quaker family and some of my "American" lines for a bit.

Monday, April 11, 2011

150 years ago today...remembering the start of the American Civil War

150 years ago today, Confederate soldiers fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, marking the start of a pivotal part of American history. Whatever the reasons the Civil War was fought on a national scale - the abolition of slavery, states' rights - or a personal scale - pride, loyalty, a way of life, money - those four years changed the face and future of the country. Between 600,000-700,000 soldiers were killed, affecting not only families of the time but those of us here today!

Here is a link to the Fort Sumter National Monument website for the anniversary:


Today I remember my Civil War veteran ancestor, Charles Haase, a German immigrant who left his wife and baby daughter to fight with the New Jersey Infantry 33rd regiment, company H - he mustered in at Trenton, New Jersey on 22 September 1864 and was discharged at Bladensburg, Maryland on June 1, 1865. I also remember all the other soldiers - those who made it home as well as those who did not, all their families, and all their descendants who keep their memories alive as family historians!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Musings on the Ashley Judd episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?"

  • I get excited when I see how excited other people get by the information they uncover. It's like letting the rest of the world in on the secret that yeah, genealogy is pretty cool.
  • When I watch this show I sometimes feel like everybody uncovers such cool and interesting family histories and the things they find out make my own history seem so boring, but I think that's just that the "new" is always exciting - I've known most of my family history for years so it's lost some of its shiny-ness, but I remember what it felt like to first learn those things and I know how I feel now by the new things I discover.
  • It's interesting to see who people decide to pursue - I think we want to find out more about people we find relatable, people whose stories make us understand ourselves better.
  • I'm so jealous that Ashley Judd has a Mayflower ancestor!! I think all of us who have early New England/Great Migration ancestry get a kick out of the possibility of having a Mayflower relation...my English immigrant ancestors didn't get here until a full 14 years later :( (the Raynors, the ones I know the most about anyway...I'm still holding out hope for a Mayflower connection on one of my so far unpursued female lines! :))
  • I liked that Ashley really got into the story behind her Mayflower ancestor - we all know that the Pilgrims came here for religious freedom but I know very little about the actual stories for the individuals, the real troubles they faced before they fled...
  • Leyden shout-out! As soon as they said Holland, I said to myself "I bet they went to Leyden..." because there was an English population there (including some of my ancestors) seeking religious freedom before coming to America.
  • This episode made me realize the many experts they use to give more of a person's backstory - it's not just genealogists but so many experts in geographical areas, in historical areas...there are so many resources at our fingertips, not just documents but people!
  • I cried when Ashley was learning about her Civil War vet ancestor, Elijah Hensley - what a story. That was pretty cool (and moving) to hear about.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Season finale of "Who Do You Think You Are?" tonight

It's that time of the week again, folks...tonight is the season finale (I'm fairly certain) of the second season of "Who Do You Think You Are?" Ashley Judd is the subject - I've always liked her as an actress, and it looks like this southern girl discovers some deep New England American roots. Should be interesting.

These seasons are so short they just fly by - didn't this season of WDYTYA just start?? What am I going to watch on Saturday afternoons now when I need a break from cleaning my house? Lol... anyone out there who reads this blog who has seen the British original-recipe version of this show, are those eps worth trying to track down to watch? Do they follow any celebrities Americans might be familiar with (I remember glancing at a list once and only recognizing Alan Cumming)? Are the episodes interesting enough that it doesn't matter if I recognize the celebrity? Not only am I worried about WDYTYA withdrawal but I'm curious to note any differences - I think, while the pursuit of genealogy is similar across national and cultural borders, that the resources are sometimes different and the stories are certainly different. In America, we get eclectic background mixes; we get the children of recent immigrants; and we get those who can trace their families back centuries to the first wave of European immigrants. I wonder if, for example, there are many people in England who are the children or grandchildren of immigrants, or if most people's backgrounds are more homogenous. And I don't know much about modern British history - I know it's a big deal here to discover you had an ancestor who fought in the Civil War - is there a British equivalent to that? Is it easier to trace your family further back because there is the possibility of less immigration and emigration going on? These are the things I think about...

Anyway, just a reminder too that next Tuesday is the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War so I'll be posting about that next week and look for my thoughts on tonight's Ashley Judd WDYTYA installment at some point before Monday (hopefully!)

"Who Do You Think You Are?" airs on NBC at 8 pm EST.

Happy weekend everyone!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Wishing Grandma, the original genealogist, a happy birthday!

She is not, of course, the original genealogist EVER (she's not that old!) but my grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Cronin Raynor, is the original genealogist in my family. She was born April 5, 1915 to Timothy Ambrose Cronin and Ellen Marie Casey. She started genealogy as a hobby when she was younger and it just took off from there - she started when there was no Internet to help, when she had to write letters to churches and relatives and state agencies and visit cemeteries and read books and everything else we should still be doing but which has become much easier and accessible (yes, we are a little "spoiled"! :)) But it's because of her that I had so much information to start with on BOTH sides of my family and it's because of her that I was exposed to genealogy at all, that I saw I how fun and interesting it can be. If genealogy is an inherited trait, I got it from her (and since today is her 96th birthday and she's still going strong, I hope I inherited her other genes as well!) - so thank you, Grandma, from one genealogist to another, and a very happy birthday!

My grandma, Mary, and her older brother, Dan. She looks about 3 yrs old so probably about 1918.

Grandma at about 13 with her mom Ellen Casey Cronin

Grandma with her brother, Dan Cronin, to the left
and cousin, Ralph Casey, to the right.

The Casey women - my grandmother (second from left), her mom Ellen Casey Cronin (second from right), and all the Casey aunts (sisters and sister-in-law) at Coney Island.

Grandma and Grandpa at their wedding in 1946.

Grandma, her mom, and my uncle Cliff, about 1949.

The two genealogists and the two Marys :) - Grandma and me, about October 1979.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Belated thoughts on the Gwyneth Paltrow episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?"

It's been a lazy weekend for blogging - sorry for the delay, folks!

  • I think Gwyneth Paltrow's family background is more and more an example of the typical American background - an eclectic mix of countries and religions all coming together in this "melting pot." I'm kind of jealous of the variety she has, from the British from Barbados to the Polish rabbis - I'm proud of my heritage but sometimes I feel like it's your standard, boring old-school American ancestry of half-and-half (although not straight-up half-Irish, half-German, when I explain to people who aren't into genealogy my background, that's how I simplify it.)
  • I enjoyed Gwyneth's Barbados journey, especially when she was speaking to the historian. Not all of us can be experts in every time period we have family members in, but I think that's what we have to try to do if we're interested in the stories behind the names and dates. We might not have letters or documents detailing the motivations for the decisions our family members made, but to use Gwyneth's family as an example, we can look at what was going on in Barbados at the time, what society was like, to try to figure out why an 18 year old girl would have been desperate to leave there and travel to America...my mom had a similar project like that in college, where she was given a name, a birth date and place and a death date and place, and she had to research what was going on in that place at that time to develop a fictional but accurate life story for that person. I always found that fascinating. And that's what we do with our family trees.
  • This episode, unlike the Steve Buscemi episode, epitomized for me how much hand-holding the program does for these celebrities. All Gwyneth did was travel to different locations (Municipal Archives shout-out!) and get folders or books handed to her. If only our research was so simple!
  • I liked that Gwyneth was interested in the stories and motivations of her ancestors - I think she called them "more than names and dates," which is what people sometimes forget. I particularly liked her trying to understand her great-grandmother, the reasons behind why she turned out to not be such a great mother to Paltrow's grandfather. And there were reasons.
  • Paltrow said to her mother, Blythe Danner, how when you go through all the lines and all the generations, you see "echoes," traits and personalities and stories that get repeated from parents to children to grandchildren. In her case, she mentioned children who look up to and love their fathers as well as people who are seeking a deeper spirituality. I also enjoy that part of genealogy - we enjoy finding those who are different and exotic but we also look for ourselves in these family members.
  • She also mentioned how she wished she could have shared what she found out with both her father and grandfather and I think about that, too, all the things I've discovered that I think my mom or my grandparents would have found interesting, that we could've enjoyed learning about together, but I think those who have passed quite possibly may already know these stories from the people who lived them themselves...at least I hope so!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Our weekly WDYTYA reminder and a call for help from my fellow researchers!!!

Let's start by saying that tonight is the Gwyneth Paltrow episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" I always kind of liked her and her parents, so I'll be interested to see what she's looking for and which lines they follow.

On a personal note, I need some help on several things. Two of them have to do with deciphering handwriting. Handwritten records can always be a tricky thing and after awhile, sometimes you just get locked into one word or you just can't put it together. So I'm asking for a fresh set of eyes to look at these names - one is the maiden name of my fourth great grandmother, Sophie Ricklefs. I won't tell you what every transcription has it as so as not to put a preconceived notion into your heads.

The second is the town in Germany from which my third great grandmother, Meta Tiedemann Ricklefs, hails. For the life of me, I can't tell what it says. But maybe it's a town your family comes from or a name you're familiar with. Maybe all those crazy letters make sense to you or you just need a current puzzle and want to give this one a shot. Both of these are coming from the back page of John Ricklefs and Meta Tiedemann's marriage certificate - any ideas are appreciated!

The third request is not so much a call for help as just putting the information out into the universe - my great-great grandmother Mary Horgan Gorry corresponded with a soldier during World War I named R. Morrow. My father and I think he might have been from New York City and that his first name might have been Robert. He was at the N.C.O. School, Section C Co. E in Camp Greenleaf in Chickamauga, Tennessee in 1918. His letters give a little bit of insight into life at the camp in general and things going on in his life in particular and I just wanted to put out there that if R. Morrow has any family alive today, and any family that might be doing their own family history, that I would love to share his letters with you!

"Who Do You Think You Are?" airs tonight at 8 p.m. EST on NBC - watch it!

Happy weekend everyone!