Nonna. The Sicilian Connection – Part 3


Domenica retouchedNonna.  The Italian word for grandmother.  Pictured to the left is my mother’s nonna (and my “bisnonna” – great grandmother), Domenica Scaccia.  The photo was taken in Sicily sometime after her marriage in 1893 and before she emigrated to America in 1912.  When I compare this photo with her wedding portrait,  I see the face  of someone older than the teenager she was at the time of her marriage.  I see a face devoid of even the hint of a smile and with eyes that seem to express a steely resolve with just a touch of sadness.  I also noticed her prominently displayed left hand which, curiously, had a ring on her little finger rather than on her ring finger.  After researching the possible symbolism behind this,  I’m fairly certain that it signifies a change in her marital status. There are numerous websites that discuss the meaning of rings worn on different fingers and the consensus seems to be that someone wearing a ring on the little finger is divorced, single, or has made up her mind to remain single.  Her husband, Vincenzo Spera (my “bisnonno”), died in Buffalo, New York in 1902 (just three and half months after coming to America).  Since Domenica is no longer dressed in black, which would indicate that at least a year had passed since Vincenzo’s death, I believe it’s safe to assume that this portrait was taken after 1903 when she was  between the ages of twenty-nine and thirty-eight and her emigration from Sicily was in her very near future.

   Except for a dimly remembered trip to Brooklyn in the early fifties to visit her,  Domenica was absent from my life, so I had to rely on my mother’s recollections of her and, after mom died, those of her sister, Ann Cavaliero.  Nonna was, by all accounts, the archetypal Italian grandmother – loving, caring, protective, and tough as nails.

    When I accessed the municipal records of Vallelunga Pratameno, Sicily, I was able to find Domenica’s birth registration which was dated January 2, 1874.  Her parents were Andrea Scaccia, age 38, and Antonina Amenta, also age 38.  Interestingly, the two municipal officials who signed her birth certificate were Pietro Parisi and Pasquale Sinatra.  I then searched for Andrea Scaccia in the death index and found him in 1897.  His “Atti di Morte” (death registration) listed his age at 67 and his place of birth as Montemaggiore.  His parents were Santo Scaccia and Domenica Catalano.  Finally, he was listed as the “sposo” (groom, spouse) of Antonina Amenta.  All the information on this record confirmed everything that my grandfather had told me about his mother’s parents.  

   A search for Antonina Amenta yielded nothing.  I did find two death records for that name, both with the same parents,  Antonino Amenta and Calogera Cardinale.  The first one in 1890 was for an infant, age thirteen months. The second was dated 1892 for another infant who only survived one hour.  No ages are given for Antonino or Calogera, so any relationship to my Antonina Amenta would be sheer conjecture.  Given the recurrence of names in these family trees as well as the naming traditions of the time, I would imagine that this seemingly related branch of the Amenta family could descend from a cousin of my great, great grandmother.  

  In any event, this is where the trail to Nonna’s maternal ancestry ran cold.  Records for other towns in Caltanisetta were also available.  Montemaggiore Belsito, however, was not one of those towns.  I had resigned myself to the fact that I would either have to go to Sicily to research my Scaccia and Amenta lineages, or I would need to resort to the lengthy, time consuming snail mail letters of inquiry to the Montemaggiore municipal offices.  Then, in early 2012, I had the great, good fortune to encounter online a researcher, Donna Arcara, who was also searching Sicilian records and was having difficulty translating the microfilmed records that she had ordered from the LDS repository.  As I mentioned in one of my initial posts (“Bloodlines, Breakthroughs & Brick Walls, Part 1”) that the LDS church, a.k.a. the Mormons, have assembled the largest collection of genealogical data in the world and it was from these archives that Donna had retrieved records on her husband Greg’s family.  I am a firm believer in the practice of “random acts of genealogical kindness” so I contacted Donna and volunteered to help her decipher her acquisitions.I very quickly learned through our correspondence that Donna was focusing her search for Greg’s ancestors  in Montemaggiore Belsito!  Donna, like so many other family historians, is an enthusiastic and generous soul and she offered to be on the lookout for any Scaccias in her examination of the Montemaggiore records.  

   Shortly after making that offer, she emailed me four birth records, the most important being that of my great, great grandfather, Andrea Scaccia.  In addition to confirming the information gleaned from Andrea’s death record, i.e. the names of his parents, I also learned their ages at the time of Andrea’s birth.  Santo was fifty-two, making his birth year circa 1789.  Domenica Catalano was twenty-eight, making her birth year circa 1803.  In addition to Andrea’s birth record, Donna had also found and sent the birth records of three of Andrea’s siblings, Domenico, Rosaria, and Nicosia.  

   The marvelously serendipitous encounter with Donna Arcara led to each of us learning valuable information about our targeted ancestors and had the added, unexpected bonus of establishing a friendship with a kindred spirit.   In my search for family history, I have made new friends, re-established old friendships, discovered new cousins, contacted distant relatives, and renewed dormant relationships.  It has been a richly rewarding journey so far, a journey made more joyful by all the delightful people I have met along the way.  

  I will leave the reader with two more photos.  The first is of Nonna, NonnaDomenica Scaccia, and was taken in 1944 for her citizenship papers.  The other is Domenica’s mother, Antonina Amenta, date unknown.  Domenica's mother RT

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The Sicilian Connection, Part 2


   In “The Sicilian Connection”, I chronicled my initial foray into the search for my Sicilian ancestors.  I was able to corroborate much of the information that my grandfather, Andrea Spera, had passed on to me before he, himself, passed on.  His birth record, the birth records of his parents, Vincenzo Spera and Domenica Scaccia, as well as Vincenzo and Domenica’s marriage registration all combined to provide solid, accurate verification of Andrea’s lineage. Since then, I have thoroughly examined all of the pertinent online records from Vallelunga Pratimeno.  Each record makes mention of individuals other than the principal.  Birth records, obviously, name the parents of the child being recorded.  Death records will also name the decedents parents as well as his or her spouse and whether or not the spouse was living.  Marriage records name the parents of both bride and groom.  Each record also gives the year, month, day, and (frequently) the time when the record was made.  The age of everyone mentioned in the record is also a particularly valuable bit of information that enables the researcher to project backward in time to derive a relatively reliable year of birth, an important feature for those individuals for whom birth records are not available.   Since it is highly likely that there are other individuals with the same name as the person being researched, the inclusion of parents’ names is an important way to determine which of these individuals is, in fact, the person for whom you have searched.  I found, for instance, several Vincenzo Speras and knowing that my Vincenzo was parented by Onofrio and Rosa was invaluable in determining which of the birth records I found with the name Vincenzo Spera was actually that of my great grandfather.

   Moving on after these initial discoveries, I continued to plumb the depths of these marvelous documents.  By searching the index for marriages, I was able to find the marriage registration of Onofrio and Rosalia, my great, great grandparents, dated 17 Feb 1871.  Onofrio’s age at the time of his marriage was listed as 26, which enabled me to determine that he was probably born in 1844.  His occupation was farmer and  his parents were Vincenzo Spera and Vincenza LaMonica.  Rosalia was 27 years old, a “filatrice” (spinner, weaver) and the daughter of Giovanni Siragusa and Paola LaPaglia.  I had now pushed my ancestry back another generation!  

   I then found Onofrio on the index of deaths. His death registration reported his passing at 3:15 on the afternoon of August 6, 1897 and confirmed both his birth year, his parents names, and the fact that he was married to Rosa Siragusa.  Rosa, on the other hand, was not found on any of the indexes, which ended in 1879, so I can only list her death as occurring  “after 1879.”  I was able, however, to find the death registration of her mother, Paola LaPaglia, which gave Paola’s date of death as April 29, 1877.  She died at 2:50 p.m. and was seventy years old, thus making her birth year 1807.  She was the widow of Giovanni Siragusa and the daughter of Giuseppe Antonino LaPaglia and Giuseppa Nicosia.  Another generation!!  Paola apparently had a sister, Giuseppa, whose death registration on November 14, 1873 names the same parents as Paola.   I was astonished to learn that Giuseppa, at the time of her death, was eighty-eight, thus making her birth year circa 1785! She was twenty-two years older than my great, great, great grandmother and the widow of Antonino Gervasi. Given Giuseppa’s projected birth year, it’s probably safe to assume that Paola and Giuseppa’s parents, were born circa 1765 and maybe earlier, but probably not later than 1770.  

   My search for my grandfather’s oldest proven Spera ancestor ended with his great grandfather, Vincenzo.  While Vincenzo and his wife, Vincenza LaPaglia were clearly named in the marriage registration of their son, Onofrio, follow-up searches for their birth/death/marriage records proved fruitless thereby breaking the link to older ancestors.  I did, however, find a death record in the 1870 register for yet another Vincenzo Spera.  This individual was seventy-three at the time of his death, making his birth year circa 1797.  He was the widower of still another Vincenza (whose surname was Baudo) and the son of Vincenzo and Francesca.  Given the proliferation of names Vincenzo and Vincenza in my grandfather’s Spera lineage, it’s probably not an unreasonable assumption that this last record is that of Onofrio’s grandfather and not his father.  Without incontrovertible proof, however, I’m reluctant to list these two additional generations as fact in my database, choosing, instead, to include a note that states possibility/probability until confirmed at a later date.

  I’m more than pleased with the results of my search through the municipal records of Valllunga Pratimeno for my grandfather’s Spera lineage.  The surnames LaPaglia, LaMonica, Nicosia, and possibly Baudo were previously unknown to me and are joyful, welcome additions to my family tree.  My next post will focus on my grandfather’s matrilinear line of descent through his mother, Domenica Scaccia.  

   

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The Sicilian Connection


   In my previous post, “The Italian Connection”, I detailed how my Italian cousin Erminia found me online through my posting of my family tree on Ancestry.com. I also mentioned that I had interviewed my Sicilian grandfather, Andrea Spera, not too long before he passed away. I asked him where he was born, his parents’ names, the names of his grandparents, and when he immigrated to America. Here is what I learned from him: he was born in Vallelunga Pratimeno in the province of Caltanisetta, Sicily; his parents were Vincenzo Spera and Domenica Scaccia; his paternal grandparents were Neofrio Spera and Rosa Siracusa; his maternal grandparents were Andrea Scaccia and Anna Amenda; he immigrated in 1912 when he was fourteen years old. This information was invaluable when I began my online search for ancestors ten or twelve years later. (Sidenote: personal computers were in their infancy at the time I interviewed my grandfather. It wasn’t until the mid to late nineties that their cost had come down enough and internet connections were ubiquitous enough to justify pursuing online research).

In August, I began receiving periodic notices from Ancestry. com that my subscription was due to expire in September. As an inducement to renew, they offered the World Deluxe package for an additional $50.00, which represents a $100.00 savings over the regular World Deluxe subscription. I had wanted to upgrade for a while anyway, so I agreed, eager to begin searching European records. On my very first foray I discovered that civil records from Caltanisetta, Sicily were available online. Hoping to find actual documents that would corroborate what my grandfather told me, I accessed the site. While not all of the towns or “comuni” are listed, Vallelunga was among the municipalities that are. Their civil records begin in 1866 and consist of indexes for marriages, births, and deaths as well as “atti” for these all-important genealogical records. The “atti” are, basically, entries into the
respective registers and provide incredibly valuable information for family historians. For instance, the Atti di Matrimonio will have the marriage date; the names, ages, places of birth and residence; occupations of the bride and groom; and the names, occupations and residences of their parents. The Atti di Nascita or birth records, and the Atti di Morte – death records, have similar information. These sources, by the way, are what are known to genealogists as primary sources and are, therefore, incontrovertible proof of the veracity of the information they contain. I had struck a rich vein of genealogical gold!!

My first discovery was the Atti di Nascita of my grandfather, dated March 2, 1898. These documents are formally worded and follow conventions determined by the Napoleonic Code that was established earlier in the 19th century. The early records are all handwritten (in Italian, of course!) and are sometimes difficult to read. The information on this document, however, was entered into blank spaces on a pre-printed form and so were somewhat easier to decipher. The record states that Andrea’s father was Vincenzo Spera, age 26, and a “contadino” which I knew meant farmer. His mother was recorded as Domenica Scaccia, age 24, and a “filatrice”, an unfamiliar word that I learned meant “spinner”.


My next goal was to find my great grandparents’ marriage record. It seemed reasonable that they were married sometime in 1897 since my grandfather was born in the spring of ’98. Working my way backwards through the annual index of marriages, I found the notation of a marriage between Vincenzo Spera and Domenica Scaccia in an entry for 1893. After a quick search through the Atti di Matrimonio for that year, I found Vincenzo and Domenica’s registration of marriage dated August 26th, 1893 . At the time of their marriage, Vincenzo was a twenty-two year old farmer and Domenica was a nineteen year old spinner. The document names Vincenzo’s father, Onofrio, and his mother, Rosalia Siragusa. This document also names Domenica’s parents, Andrea Scaccia, and Antonina Amenta. When my grandfather told me the name of his grandfather, Neofrio, I remember thinking that it was an unusual name. Since I have a copy of Vincenzo’s death certificate (issued by the city of Buffalo, New York, where he died in 1902) that also states Vincenzo’s father was “Neofrio” Spera, I had unquestioningly accepted my grandfather’s testimony. I was quite surprised, therefore, to learn that Neofrio was actually Onofrio, a fact that was reinforced by my subsequent discovery of Onofrio’s death registration. Sometimes even seemingly reliable sources of information can turn out to be inaccurate. Note, too, that “Rosa Siracusa” was more accurately reported as “Rosalia Siragusa” and “Anna Amenda” was really “Antonina Amenta”.

Vincenzo Spera & Domenica Scaccia Wedding Portrait, 1893

My aunt, Ann Cavaliero, had told me that her father also had a brother who had died young. We had assumed he was a younger brother but we had no information to substantiate that assumption. I did a quick search in the index for the Atti di Nascita and found an Onofrio Spera, born 16 Jul 1894, son of Vincenzo Spera and Domenica Scaccia. The birth record confirmed that he was my grandfather’s older brother. I also found the young Onofrio’s death record dated 7 Sep 1899.

My next quest was to locate the birth records of Vincenzo and Domenica and I’m happy to report that I succeeded on both counts. First Domenica. On 4 June, 1874, her father, Andrea Scaccia appeared before municipal officials to report Domenica’s birth earlier that day to his “legitimate spouse”, Antonina Amenta. Both parents were thirty-eight years old. My search for Vincenzo’s birth record was equally fruitful. I found him in a document dated 24 Dec 1871. His Atti di Nascita names his parents as Onofrio Spera and Rosalia Siragusa, both of whom were twenty-eight years old.


I recall reading somewhere that those of us who are of Italian descent are most fortunate since Italian civil records concerning birth, marriage, and death are among the best records to be found anywhere. My searches through the Vallelunga Pratameno municipal records certainly confirm that assessment. It was particularly gratifying to see how the information gleaned from these documents reinforced information from other documents and, therefore, allowed me to approach and achieve a level of certainty regarding their accuracy.

In my next post, I will detail my further searches of birth records and the death registrations that allowed me to push back my Sicilian genealogy into the late 18th century.

Posted in Family History, Genealogy, Sicilian Genealogy, Sicily, Spera and Scaccia Families, Vallelunga Pratameno | Leave a comment

The Italian Connection


 My last name is George. My father’s last name was George. His father’s last name was Giangiordano. I’ve been annoyed about this my entire life. Annoyed that my surname doesn’t reflect my southern Italian heritage, annoyed that my grandfather, Domenico, discarded the name that his father gave him as though it were a worn out piece of clothing. Giangiordano isn’t a particularly common name, even in Italy, and I’ve often wished that I had changed it back. I had mentioned this desire to my dad in 1970 or ’71 and he got a rather hurt look on his face. “George was good enough for me” he said and I immediately felt guilty about hurting his feelings with my obvious willingness to discard the surname he and I were both born with. I would never have done anything to hurt my father, so I opted instead to sign all my artwork from that point until now with my ancestral name. All of my drawings, paintings, etchings, serigraphs, pottery – everything! – have since been proudly emblazoned with the signature “Giangiordano”.
   Since the bulk of my ancestry is Italian, I decided several years ago to take a break from researching my maternal grandmother’s family history and opted to concentrate on my Italian heritage. My mother was half Sicilian through her father, Andrea Spera.  I had very little contact with my maternal grandfather due to the bitterness and anger that my mom felt for her father following the divorce of her parents.  My mother and grandfather finally had a reconciliation of sorts toward the end of his life and I was present, so I had the opportunity to interview him shortly before he died. I learned that he was born in Vallelunga Pratameno in the Caltanizetta region of Sicily. He also told me the names of his four grandparents. If and when I ever get to Sicily, I should be able to find out more information on my Spera ancestors.  This, by the way, underscores the importance of interviewing your oldest living relatives for the information that they carry in their memory.  Once they are gone, so, too, is information that may prove priceless in your quest to discover your ancestry and heritage.

   Having established a fairly clear picture of my maternal ancestry, I turned my attention to my father’s family history, the Giangiordanos and Fariellos, both of which were a bit more problematic. I didn’t have very much to go on, knowing only that my father claimed to be Abruzzese and Napolitano.  I began some preliminary inquiries with older family members on my father’s side of the family. Dad’s sister, my aunt Mary, had told me that her father immigrated around 1910 and came from what she thought was “Roscalena” in Abruzzo. I had also met with several of my dad’s cousins from the LaTorre family to find out how we were related. From them, I learned that their grandmother, Maria Rosaria Giangiordano, was my grandfather’s sister (this also meant that all the LaTorres of their generation were my second cousins since we had great-grandparents in common). Fortunately, cousin Frances had a copy of her grandmother’s birth registration which had the names of Maria’s parents, Cosmo Giangiordano and Carmela Troilo and that they were from Roccascalegna in the Chieti region of Abruzzo, Italy. I now knew the names of two of my Italian great-grandparents. I had also found my father’s mother, Caterina Fariello, on a ship’s passenger list and discovered that she came from Centola, a small town near Salerno which, like Naples, is in the Campagnia region but much farther south.
   Focusing on the Giangiordanos, then, I began to collect all the online data I could about them, primarily from the passenger lists of ship arrivals from Italy, and I quickly discovered that most of the Giangiordanos on these lists were from Roccascalegna or from nearby towns like Altino, Atessa, Toricella Peligna, and a few others. I also found Giangiordanos in the U.S. Federal Censuses from 1900-1930. I had no idea if I was related to any of them, but reasoned that their origin in and around Roccascalegna, a town whose present population is a mere 1400 or so, must indicate the probability of a shared family history.  About a year or so after I had begun my research into the Giangiordanos, Ancestry. com announced a new feature, “Albero Genealogico” (Italian for family tree) wherein one could post one’s Italian family tree. I promptly did so and then largely forgot about it until April, 2009 when I received an email notice from Facebook that someone named Erminia Giangiordano had sent me a message. My heart began to race with anticipation as I accessed Facebook to read the message which was in Italian. Fortunately, I had studied Italian in high school and had recently begun a serious attempt to improve my ability to speak, read, and understand the language, so I was able to read Erminia’s message. In it, she stated that she was seeking Ron George, son of Frank George from Vineland, New Jersey and grandson of Domenico Giangiordano. Then she asked “Is that perhaps you?”  A direct hit!!  
   After several exchanges of emails, Erminia and I determined that we are second cousins because her grandfather, Cornelio, and my grandfather, Domenico were brothers, both being the sons of Cosmo Giangiordano and Carmela Troilo. I knew that my grandfather had two other siblings, the aforementioned sister, Maria Rosaria, and a brother, Francesco. While I had hoped that there were other siblings, I never knew for sure until Erminia contacted me. Neither did anyone else in my family. I later learned that our dear cousin, Julia DiChino, had maintained contact with her aunts, uncles, and cousins in Italy, but she passed away long before I became interested in our mutual family history, so I never interviewed her and the knowledge of existing relatives in Italy was lost to all those Giangiordano descendants in my generation. Lost, that is, until Erminia found me through her lengthy quest to find relatives in America.  She had seen my “albero genealogico” posted on Rootsweb, a sister site to Ancestry.com 
   During the flurry of correspondence that followed, Erminia sent me the names of all her aunts, uncles, and cousins that descended from her grandfather, Cornelio.  She also mentioned that our great-grandfather had a brother, Raffaele, who had six children and many grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc., some of whom I have been able to find on the internet and have contacted through email, Facebook, and, in some instances, directly via telephone.  The Giangiordano portion of my database was rapidly filling up!     

At one point in our correspondence, I casually mentioned that it was my lifelong dream to come to Italy but I wouldn’t be able to do so until our house in New Jersey was sold. Erminia wrote back and said, “You don’t have to wait. Just get here. Stay as long as you like. Stay six months if you want to.” How could I pass up such a generous offer? First order of business – get a passport. Then research flights and book passage. Accompanied by my sister, Judi, I left the borders of the USA for the first time in my life in early October, 2009. The day after we landed in Rome, we boarded a bus to Lanciano where Erminia’s husband, Franco, and their son William’s fiancee, Antonella, picked us up and brought us to Erminia’s house in Altino. It was dark when we arrived and I saw Erminia standing in the doorway as I approached the house. We embraced in what I can only describe as a joyous, magical moment, knowing that Erminia’s efforts to find her American relatives resulted in this reuniting of two branches of a family that were divided one hundred years earlier.  We stayed with Erminia for four glorious weeks and met many cousins, made new friends, visited some spectacular places, ate some great food, and I was able to improve my ability to speak and understand Italian (I still have much more to learn!).    All this as a result of two people searching for family, one from Italy and one from America.  In the space of six short months, I had visited and stayed with someone whose existence was completely unknown to me before the miraculous contact in April. One of the requirements for sainthood is evidence of miracles performed.  I truly consider  this reunion, this connection between two questing souls, to be one of the miracles of my recent life and I will always think of Erminia Giangiordano as “Sant’Erminia”!

   I really don’t know why my grandfather and his two siblings decided to emigrate from the land of their birth, their “Patria”, nor, I suspect, will I ever. Perhaps it was the economic conditions in southern Italy in the first decade of the twentieth century, a factor that compelled many Italians (and other Europeans) to leave their families and their way of life behind. Perhaps there were other, equally irresistible, reasons to uproot themselves and strike out for the glittering possibility that was America. Their reasons, their pressures and motivations are known only to them and are, thus, lost to those of us who wonder and question across the gulf of time.  

Posted in Family History, Family in Abruzzo, Genealogy, Giangiordano Family | 1 Comment

The Mathematics of Cousinhood


   My four grandparents had, collectively, thirteen children, twenty-eight grandchildren, and forty-six great-grandchildren for a  total of eighty-seven descendants in the three generations that followed theirs. Two of their thirteen children were my parents. The remaining eleven were my aunts and uncles whose children are my first cousins. As we step back in time through each of the preceding generations, our number of direct ancestors doubles. Each of us has two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents and so on. Like a real tree, the family tree has limbs, branches, twigs, and leaves all of whom relate to each other in some way. For most of the relationships in our family tree that are not on our “branch”, we most often use the term “cousin”. One of the major epiphanies I had when I began to research family history was how widely the web of cousinhood extends. Most of the people in one’s family tree, then, are cousins. This is such an important, pervasive family relationship that I felt it necessary to examine the idea of cousins.
   What are cousins? Simply put, your first cousins are individuals who have the same grandparents as you. Your first cousin and you are in the same generation and share the same genetic distance from your grandparents. Your first cousins’ children are your first cousins once removed. They are not your second cousins! Second cousins are the children of first cousins and, therefore, have the same great-grandparents. Your first cousin’s child is from a later generation than you, hence the term “removed”. “Cousin” is a term used to indicate a genetic link between two individuals with common ancestry whose descent is collateral with that of you and your siblings. It sounds complicated but it is really rather simple once you realize that the ordinal designations (first, second, third, etc.) indicate the same generational distance from the common ancestor, while the use of the term “removed” indicates a difference in generational distance.
   I have twenty-four first cousins. Eleven are descended from my father’s parents and thirteen from my mother’s. I also have fifty-two second cousins, all descendants of my great-grandparents. If I were to begin counting all of the “removes”, my cousin total would very quickly increase geometrically if not exponentially. First cousins once removed can be the children of my first cousins or they could be my parents first cousins. Cousinhood extends up the family tree as well as down. I have, for instance, sixty-five first cousins once removed!
   Fortunately, the database I use to organize my family history data (Family Tree Maker) has a feature that enables me to access what is called a “kinship report”. This report tells me how I’m related to everyone in my database. One of the truly surprising revelations in my kinship report is the fact that – besides being myself – I am also my own ninth cousin! After some reflection and a great deal of rummaging around all the branches of the family tree, I determined that one of my ancestors married a cousin (a fairly common occurence, I’m sure, in the sparsely populated frontier of 18th century Virginia). My sixth great grandfather, Mitchell Clay, married Phoebe Belcher, the daughter of his father’s sister, Obedience Clay and, thus, his first cousin. Mitchell and Phoebe’s daughter, Patience Clay, was, therefore, her own second cousin since second cousins are the children of first cousins. This is the same Clay family, incidentally, whose most illustrious member was Henry Clay, Congressman, Statesman, negotiator of the Treaty of Ghent and my second cousin seven times removed.   

   I’ve often said, half facetiously, that every time I visit my hometown I meet a new cousin.  This is not very far from the truth.  Since my database is incomplete, I suspect that I will meet quite a few more in the near future.   I have also found and contacted second and third cousins all around the country in what has become a previously unanticipated, joyful sidebar to family history research.   Throughout my youth I accompanied my dad when he visited his many cousins.  My father’s joy at seeing his cousins and his obvious love for all of them has been passed on to me and is an important, much appreciated component of my regard for family.  I am so grateful for my father. 

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Bloodlines, Breakthroughs and Brick Walls, Part 4 – Jackson, Jackson, Wherefore Art Thou, Jackson?


   First, a quick summary of how I found my great, great, great grandfather, Jackson Floyd. (A more detailed explanation of this search is in my previous post, “Bloodlines, Breakthroughs & Brick Walls, Part 3 – Buck, Who’s Your Daddy?”) Having guessed that Buck’s father may have served in the Civil War, I did a search for pension applications from that conflict. On the strength of an application made by “J.B. Floyd, et al” for the pension of Jackson F. Floyd, I sent to the National Archives for a packet of documents relating to that application. The information contained therein confirmed that Jackson was the father of my great, great grandfather, James B. (Buck) Floyd.
   Buck’s application for his father’s pension was denied on the grounds that Jackson deserted the Union Army after being held in the stockade for “threatening to desert”.  Desertion during the Civil War was rampant on both sides. There were many reasons that both Union and Confederate soldiers deserted.  Some did so to care for ailing parents or other family members; some returned home to harvest crops or to attend to other pressing family needs; and some went home to have their mothers or wives nurse them back to health from one of the many diseases that afflicted them.  More soldiers, in fact, died from disease than from wounds sustained in battle. The living con- ditions of these soldiers were deplorable as was the medical care they received. Since one of the documents in the packet I received from the National Archives is from the Bureau of Pensions and states that Jackson was “disabled by disease”, I believe that Jackson’s “threatening to desert” may have been an off-hand remark to someone that his medical care for this disease was inadequate and that he was thinking about going home. This, in my opinion, is a very plausible explanation of how Jackson wound up in the stockade.
In any event, he “broke confinement” from the stockade. He apparently met up with a band of Confederate guerillas, headed by a Captain Keeton. This group was captured by a Union unit led by Lt. John Seashoal Witcher who, by war’s end, was a Brigadier General and went on to be elected to Congress from West Virginia. One interesting side note to this revelation is the often repeated assessment of the Civil War as being “brother against brother”. This was certainly true in Jackson’s case. His brothers Thomas, James, and Daniel all fought on the side of the Union and I often wonder if Jackson unknowingly faced any of his brothers in battle in the brief time that he fought for the Confederacy.
Subsequent to his capture, Jackson was court martialed, found guilty of “taking up arms” against the United States and was sentenced to be “shot to death by musketry”. All capital offenses in the army at that time had to be reviewed by the President and Abraham Lincoln vacated Jackson’s sentence due to “irregularities” in the court proceedings, ordering that Jackson be returned to duty with his original unit.  Jackson, however, escaped a second time on 23 May, 1863 and was carried on the unit roster as a deserter (Jackson was, apparently, a slippery devil!). Interestingly, the Battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1–3, 1863, only a month and a half after Jackson escaped from his confinement in Charleston, West Virginia.  
   Neither Buck nor any of Jackson’s friends from home ever knew what happened to Jackson and all of my attempts to find him after war’s end have been unsuccessful. There are several possibilities. Perhaps Jackson linked up with another Confederate unit that was heading north to Gettysburg and was killed on the way or in the battle and ultimately wound up in an unmarked grave. Perhaps he survived the war and headed west, deserting his family and losing himself in the western frontier. Perhaps he changed his identity altogether.  I doubt we’ll ever know. Frequently, genealogists uncover as many mysteries as answers and this particular mystery, for me, looks as though it will remain an unbreachable brick wall,  hence the title of this post, “Jackson, Jackson, Wherefore Art Thou, Jackson”. 

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Bloodlines, Breakthroughs & Brick Walls, Part 3 – Buck, Who’s Your Daddy?


Before I begin, please direct your gaze to the photos at the top of this page. The first is of Buck and Phoebe Floyd and was probably taken in the late 30’s. The center photo has, from left to right, William Jennings Bryan Floyd who was the son of William Irvin Floyd (Uncle Irv), my great grandfather’s brother. Next to him is my great grandfather, Walter (Harry Walter Floyd) whose hand is on the shoulder of his mother, Phoebe Jane Sowards. Uncle Irv is in the middle next to his wife, Emma Southworth. That’s Buck on the far right. This photo was taken circa 1910-1912 since young William was born in 1900 and looks to be about ten to twelve years old. The last photo has three generations of Floyds. Seated on the left are my great grandparents, Walter Floyd and Gertrude Smith. My great, great grandparents, Phoebe and Buck are to their left. In the back row from left to right (and from youngest to oldest) are Walter and Gertie’s daughters, Virginia, Goldie, Marie, Lillian, and my maternal grandmother, Verna.

Back to Buck. The search for Buck’s parents proved to be somewhat intractable. The only leads that I could follow were derived from the few bits of information that my mother had supplied and a few pertinent facts that I gleaned from the 1900-1930 censuses. I turned to the censuses prior to 1880, knowing only that Buck was born in May, 1859 in Ohio. He should, therefore, appear in both the 1860 and 1870 censuses. No such luck. I then checked the 1850 census which was the first “every name” census. I found several likely candidates centered in the Lawrence County, Ohio/Cabell County, WV area, two counties that my mom had specifically mentioned when I had interviewed her. In this census I found a James M. Floyd living in Rome Township, Lawrence County, Ohio and he seemed to be the right age to be Buck’s father. James, however, left Ohio. I found him in the 1860 census in Des Moines, Iowa and in Winona, Minnesota in 1870. James had numerous children, none of whom, frustratingly, were Buck. Living just two doors away from James in 1850 were Thomas and Drucilla Floyd. (This proximity would seem to indicate some sort of kinship between the two households, a suspicion that later proved to be factual.). Thomas and Drucilla gave their respective ages as 76 and 66. They had three children living at home, Daniel, age 21; Jackson, age 19; and Elizabeth, age 17. Could either Daniel or Jackson have been Buck’s father? I found Daniel in every census from 1850 to 1910 and, while he fathered nine children, none was named James B. “Buck” Floyd. Jackson, then, was the last remaining candidate from Lawrence County, Ohio that could be Buck’s father.

Besides Ancestry.com, I had been searching several other genealogical sites that concentrated on family histories in Lawrence County, Ohio and in West Virginia. I was fortunate to find the West Virginia Division of Culture and History site where I discovered Jackson Floyd’s marriage record. Jackson Floyd, son of Thomas and Drucilla Floyd married Rebecca McVickers, daughter of Melia (Permelia) and Archibald McVickers on 21 April, 1856. I was growing increasingly hopeful that Jackson would prove to be Buck’s father since this scanned image of the Marriage Register, in combination with the 1850 census, provided incontrovertible proof of Jackson’s parentage and contained the potential of identifying all four of Buck’s grandparents.

The censuses stopped yielding much usable information, so I felt that I had to adopt a different search strategy. I reasoned that Buck’s father might have been in the Civil War, so I did a search for pension applications of veterans of that conflict. After entering rather broad search parameters (Floyds from Ohio), I proceeded to sift through all the responses. I was delighted to find Jackson Floyd’s name on the index of an application filed by minors “J.B. Floyd, et al”. I knew that Buck’s full name was James B. Floyd, so this seemed like a strong possibility. The index also stated that Jackson served with Company “E” of the 5th West Virginia Infantry, a unit that was formed in Ceredo, West Virginia, not too far from Huntington. Since it is possible to order the full pension application from the National Archives, I decided to take a gamble that the J.B.Floyd on the index was Buck, so I filled out a form and sent it (along with a money order for $37) to Washington, D.C. The packet arrived several weeks later and contained much information, including affidavits from people who knew Jackson and his wife, Rebecca McVickers and an affidavit from Buck that stated his parents names were “Jack Floyd” and “Rebecca Vickers”. He also named two previously unknown sisters, “Allice” (Lucretia Alice) and “Fannie” (who died at the age of eighteen). All of the affidavits from Buck and others absolutely confirmed that Buck’s parents were Jackson Floyd and Rebecca McVickers. The gamble paid off in one other way, too. By confirming that Jackson Floyd was Buck’s father, I also now knew Buck’s grandparents. Two generations for the price of one!

The main and surprising revelation, however, revolved around Jackson’s service history which I will detail in my next post, “Jackson, Jackson, Wherefore Art Thou, Jackson”.

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