Friday, February 19, 2010

What's in a name?

As we turn over another decade, we will see census recorders canvassing the corners of our country to ensure we have a complete and accurate count of the number of people living in the USA. The task will not be easy considering the projected number of people living in the USA, but in 2010, it is more a matter of verification than recording. Early census takers had to write down all the information and since most people were not able to read or write, it was up to the census taker to interpret how to spell names. This is one reason why you will find names in the census records with several variations.

As a quick test, try to respell your name phonetically or write it out with your opposite writing hand. Chances are you will have several variations. For example, my last name is Sanders. The original spelling was apparently "Alexander", which over time and through different linguistic cultural influences, the ALE became silent and Xander, became Sanders.

Recently, one of my ancestors was stricken with a misspelling in a different record type, but has the same effect. Either way, I didn't know it at first. Her name was May Ellis, my paternal great-great grandmother who lived from 1863-1950. It is always important to consider the sources and potential pitfalls of vital records, even if they are very legible.

The record I am referring to for May Ellis was a death certificate from Oklahoma. This document was typed and as you may know, death records contain birth dates, birth locations, parent names, burial location, cause of death, maiden name and more. For many years I did not know May's lineage, but with this one record, I saw for the first time her maiden name - Horner. Since it was typed, I was pretty sure how to spell it and started looking for more details on the family. This was an exciting find for me to say the least!

However, after many hours of searching on, I was unable to confirm any familial connection. Then I happened to find another researcher who listed May Ellis but with a different maiden name - Hamar. So I tried that maiden name and my other sources confirmed this to be a true match. What likely happened is that the typist of the death certificate misread a hand written name and in turn created a transcription error. If you imagine the spelling of Hamar in cursive with a poorly written "a" and a smudged or broken "m", you can get Horner.

There is a lot to be said for how your name is spelled as it denotes origin, even if it is spelled differently. Therefore, for those of you doing research on your family tree, be sure to check your spellings (twice) and always confirm with two or more reference sources, so that our future generations don't end up calling us by a different surname!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Heirloom photo finds family after more than 100 years

This story is about a family photo and its extra-ordinary journey over distance and time, starting in Hastings, Nebraska about 1890, moving to Seattle, Washington in the early 1900's, and finally arriving in Arizona in 2008.

Before we delve into how it found our Family, we need a bit of history about the people in the photo and to help matters, perhaps a quick look at the photo itself.

From left to right: Gilbert “Bert” Foy, Edgar “Ed” Foy (boy),
Charles “Bub” Foy, George “Pete” Foy and sitting Charles E. Foy.
The photo on the table is of Adelia Arnold Foy.
Hastings, Nebraska c1890.

My great grandfather is Edgar Foy (the boy in the photo) and great-great grandfather is Charles E Foy, civil war veteran.

The story behind the "reason" for this photo is best told by my grandmother, Margie (Foy) Wood - Edgar Foy's daughter.

After the Civil War, Charles [Sr.] lived in Whiteside County, Illinois, until 1866, when he married Adelia Arnold. In 1874, they moved to Bluehill, Nebraska, where they secured a homestead when practically all the county was undeveloped and most of the people lived in sod houses. They had to fight all plagues which assailed agricultural efforts in Nebraska.

Six children were born to this couple, Charles E., Gilbert, George, Edgar, and two children who died at infancy. The prosperous years that followed encouraged expansion of livestock feeding and farming, but when drought struck this area in 1890, the bankers in Hastings, Sam Pratt and William McKinstry, foreclosed on all of the property. With no feed for the cattle, Charles was stymied and lost everything he had worked for in sixteen years. A Sheriff’s sale was held and though he was brokenhearted, he vowed he would make a comeback soon - that no one could take his home. A short time later, a child was born without hands, another tragedy, but the saddest of all memories was the loss of his wife and the baby.

Charles Foy, the eldest son was now 21, Gilbert Foy 19 and George Foy 17. They could get work elsewhere but Edgar, nicknamed “Tink”, only 9 years old, remained with his father on the farm and attended school.

These circumstances that preceded this photo in 1890 were tragic, but sadly part of the life in the 19th century.

After taking the photo, Charles E Foy Sr. departed for Oklahoma to make his riches in the oil fields; the older brothers, Charles "Bub" and Gilbert "Bert" migrated west to Seattle, Washington and started a business, while George "Pete" went off to Alaska in search of gold. In time, Edgar went west to Colorado to homestead.

From here, the photo likely went with Gilbert Foy to Seattle, Washington, in the early 1900's. From that time point forward, it is not clear what became of the photo, but this is where the story gets interesting. 

In the 1980's, it was located by a research in Seattle, Washington.   Time passed and a new in 2008, another researcher, MaryLynn Strickland [] began researching the photo.  She looked for the name "Foy" on and found my website and contacted me.

MaryLynn documented the "case study" which is reproduced below. This is an excellent example of great genealogical detective work!   As far as our family knows, this photo is the only known picture to exist of the entire Charles and Adelia Foy family - truly a treasure.

On behalf of my family, I thank MaryLynn for her determination, innovative research, and for graciously sending this wonderful heirloom photo back "home"!   

Foy Photo: A Case Study
It is an old, professional studio photograph of a woman’s photo on a small table with five male figures around it. The woman’s photo is a cabinet card in the style popular from the late 1860s into the 1890s. The male figures are a seated balding older man, three standing younger men and a pre-adolescent boy. The furniture consists of the small cloth covered table and an upholstered chair complete with silk tassels. A floral carpet covers the floor. The somber men wear various styles of three pieced suits with wide lapels and ties. The boy is wearing a sack coat with a bow tie and pants that might be too short for him next week.

On the back of the photo are three lines of information, “Mr. G. B. Fay, 506 Ward St Wednesday”. The photo is sepia tone on thick mat board and in remarkably good condition, given its age. There is a little water damage on the lower left corner and there are minor splotches and scratches. Along with the photo are three pages of jotted, handwritten notes by a researcher who was trying to identify the family.

The researcher was Waneta Bosshart and we have no idea how she gained possession of the photo. From her notes she may have been doing the research in about 1981, looking through city directories and land records looking for the Fay family. She found several in this area but no “G. B.” and none at “506 Ward St.” She did find a Julia Fay who died in 1903 but again nothing to tie in the five males.

Time passed and other projects took Waneta’s attention so the photo and her notes were set aside in a plastic sleeve and forgotten. After her death, Waneta’s family gave research materials such as this to the South King County Genealogical Society, judging that someone would be interested in carrying on her previous work.

This is how I received the photo. I have neither the time nor patience to spend hours in libraries poring through old city directories on the odd chance that I will spot either G. B. Fay or 506 Ward St. But I do have the internet and a quick search for the surname Fay in King County Washington turned up several families in the 1900, 1910 and 1920 censuses. Still no G. B. or anything similar. Then that little voice we so often ignore said, “Why not try FOY?” and Bingo, in the 1910 Seattle census was Gilbert B. Foy. When I looked at the image online I was not surprised to see that Gilbert and his family lived at 506 Ward Street in Seattle. (I’m not especially skillful, just very lucky.)

Now I had a base of information on which I could be certain of the family I was following. The Washington State Death Index 1907-1960, found at gave me his parents’ names and agreed with his birth date and place. I found two other Foy men with the same parents and then other Foy family members, children of the three men. I now had enough information to find the family in the 1870 Illinois and 1880 Nebraska censuses.

I could make a pretty good guess that the older man in the photo was Charles Edward Foy, father of the three younger men—Charles, Gilbert and George, all present in the 1880 census. In the 1910 census Gilbert had a five year old son so I tentatively dated the photo as 1915 or so. But it didn’t feel right; the clothing and furnishings were more 1890s and the mat board was heavier than that usually preferred in the early 20th century.

I went back to the internet and to see if there were other people researching this specific family. There I found a descendent with extensive information including the birth of a fourth son Edgar in 1881 and the death of the mother in 1891. Now everything fit and I could date the photo as being taken in the mid 1890s when the youngest son was about 11 years old.

I contacted this researcher, Brian, through and received a reply within hours. After sending him, via email, scans of the front and back of the photo, he confirmed that I had correctly identified the family and that the young Edgar was his maternal great grandfather.

From a book written by Edgar’s daughter (Brian’s grandmother) we learn the circumstances of the photo. Due to hard times, the father Charles Edward Foy was leaving the farm in Nebraska and going to Oklahoma where there was an oil boom. The three grown sons were looking for work where they could find it, eventually settling in Seattle and young Edgar was living with other relatives until he could join his father.

Charles suggested they all go into Hastings (Nebraska) and have a family photo taken before they went their separate ways. He placed the photo of their mother, Adelia Arnold Foy, on the small table around which they were gathered.

Who knows how Waneta took possession of this photo. Did Gilbert take it to a photographer to have copies made and fail to pick it up? Or was it among items in the family estate that wound up in an antique store or thrift shop? Whatever its journey so far, it has served as a wonderful learning tool and will soon be back in the possession of its rightful family.

My objective in working on this photo was to date it as accurately as possible. Identifying the subjects in the photo helped accomplish that. There is much more information available for Brian to continue his research. Gilbert’s photo has helped point the way.

Friday, January 08, 2010

In the spring of 1819

The following is a letter written about the times of 1819. William Foy's sister was Ruth Foy Thorpe. Her granddaughter, Selia A. Turner wrote:

"In the spring of 1819, Sara Foy, a widow with five sons; William, Benjamin, David, Jonathan and Samuel and two daughter, Ruth and Maribee, left Lyndon, Vermont to go to Napoli, Cattaraugus County, in western New York state. See page 28a.

It was wilderness area and the Holland Land Company advertised the fertility of the soil, valuable timber, mild climate and the absence of hostile Indians. The journey was made by ox team and sled and with as many of their household necessities as could be carried, leaving small space for the mother and daughters on the journey.

The sons guided the oxen and the family cow was tied to the sled, and their flock of sheep driven on the same trail. Roads were impassable and swamps were crossed on beds of logs and many a swollen stream was forded. At night they would find shelter with a family along the way where they would spread their blankets on the floor of the log house.

But Grandmother said the slow progress of the ox team gave time for the younger children to play and pick spring flowers.

The family settled in Napoli, joining three families from Vermont who had moved there the year before. They paid about 20 shillings an acre for land, which was about 42 cents an acre.

They built a log house, cleared land and raised crops for food. The nearest grist mill was 12 miles away. Their first problem was to keep the bears and wolves from killing their sheep. The kept a constant watch day and night till the home was built. The sheep were then kept in the house at night until a pen was made which would keep predators out."

Transcribed by Brian Sanders, Jan 8, 2010. Source: Foy family documents, page 28. Owner: Richard Sorensen.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Patience, Passion, Persistence and Planetary Alignment

Want to know how to find a "long lost relative"? In my experience, it requires a large dose of patience, passion, persistence, a little "outside of the box" thinking and a strong influence of planetary alignment (aka luck). Sounds easy right? In no time at all you can start finding those long lost relatives. Albeit, for a family genealogist, this is where the fun really is. Before the advent of the world wide web and other tools, it was of course 1000 times harder to find them, but even today, it can be a bit challenging.

Recently, there was some excellent planetary alignment, etc... and I found a "long lost relative". This was (is) very exciting for me, but I have found it isn't true for everyone. Thankfully I have an understanding and considerate wife, whom I usually bore with the details of my latest "find". To help relieve her, I am capturing this in writing, so that I can also share it with her (and others) and save some time. I hope not to bore, but instead share my techniques and tricks I used.

A "long lost relative" is someone that can be living today or be from the distant past. For example, I recently found several long lost relatives (6th cousins) on FACEBOOK. Amazing, I know!! As you will see, finding cousins may help you in more ways than you might know. Sometimes, it is just that one puzzle piece that can lead you toward completing the picture.

The story of HOW I found a recent "long lost relative" starts off with an email I received about my family genealogy website from a cousin of mine - Robert S. He said he had a document that could help with some details in my research on the Foy family and would send it to me via snail mail. A few days after Christmas, I made it to the mail box and collected a large manila envelope containing some 50+ pages from Robert. At first glance, it was the usual family tree details, with lots of names in several branches not listed in my database. However, as I started to look through the lists of names and generations of the Foy family, I came upon a page that was a "letter", written by the granddaughter (Selia A. Turner) of Ruth Foy-Thorpe about a trip made in the spring of 1819. Ruth Foy-Thorpe (1797-1874) is my 5G aunt, sibling of William Foy (1791-1869), my 4G maternal grandfather.

The story is too long to put in here, but I added it as a standalone blog, here at "In the spring of 1819". The summary of this letter was a 1st hand account, about the difficulties of traveling in the early 19th century, from Vermont to western New York by Ox! I was aware of this trip, but only through many years of research and only a few minor references in history books. Keep in mind that in 1819 the area from Vermont to New York was a true wilderness and these pioneers were traveling some 500+ miles through forests and over rugged terrain. They also had to deal with wolves, bears, and hardships that few of us can relate to today. You had to be pretty strong to take on this adventure! Just to give you an idea, the same distance today, via interstate and paved roads, takes about 10 hours. For them, it was likely closer to a month!

What was so critically important in this letter was that it confirmed what I had suspected (theorized) in just one sentence. A few cousins and I have been looking for this "next generation back" for years!! The sentence which held so much information in the letter was as follows: "In the spring of 1819, SARA Foy, a WIDOW with five sons; William, Benjamin, David, Jonathan and Samuel and two daughters, Ruth and MARIBEE, left LYNDON, Vermont to go to Napoli, Cattaraugus county, in Western New York State."

Previously, we knew simply that
a) "...Samuel Foy [Jr] came to Napoli, NY with his mother in 1819" based on history book.
b) a tombstone for a Sara Foy, buried close to Ruth Foy-Thorpe in Napoli, NY, had an inscription "Wife of Samuel", linking Samuel [Sr] to Sarah.
c) "William Foy and his brothers Benjamin, Jonathan, David, Samuel and sister Ruth, located in Napoli, NY." based on history book
d) Samuel Foy from Lyndon Vermont existed, along with 3 other Samuel Foy's in Vermont, based on census records, and tax records.

Based on this, we could connect Samuel and Sara Foy from Lyndon VT as the possible parents of William Foy and his siblings. In addition, we assumed that Samuel Foy had died prior to 1819. So, the letter from Ruth Foy-Thorpe's granddaughter is just another corroborating piece of data, but increasingly supports the current connection of Samuel and Sarah Foy as my 5G grandparents.

All that is amazing, but back to the long lost relative! The last word capitalized in the paragraph was Maribee. This is a NEW name that I did not have in my database. Finding a new name may not sound like a big deal, but for those of you who have done genealogy research will know what I am talking about - it gets more difficult to find people the further back you go. It is also extremely difficult to locate the female names, simply because marriage records were not always kept AND prior to 1850, census records only listed the head of households.

Starting with this name, I through it would be great to see if I could find out what happened to her. I already knew there we 4 unknown female siblings of William Foy, based on census records. Therefore, I started on census records and other Genealogy websites that had previous details about the Foy family during the era she would have lived. Looking for the name Maribee was not going to be easy, but I began with the obvious. This resulted in a lot of nothing. I expanded my search parameter to just a first name "Mar Foy" and got a hit, that had some promise - SeelyBio. Note: Sometimes it is easier to find more with less information in the name!

If you looked at the link, you will see that her name is spelled a bit different - Mariba Foy, and her husband's name is Jeduthan Seely. It's not too much of a jump to say this is the same person! Besides, names are mispelled a lot of times, much worse than this. The family had located in Whiteside County, Illinois in an area that I knew one branch of the Foy family had migrated to after 1839. From this biography, about Jeduthan Seely, I figured I could find Mar Seely, but as it turns Seely is also hard to spell! Because of transcription, translation, and transmogrification issues, it took a few days of solid searching to finally come up with a complete picture, but only when I started thinking "outside the box". One trick for finding families is to look for a common FIRST name, no last name and a VERY narrow geographical location. This will get you closer all the time... then you can translate the mispellings!

This is exactly what I did. I searched for a William, in Whiteside County, Illinois and found a William (Seely) in the 1850 census living with his siblings and 2 adults - Michael Eldred and Maybel Eldred. Who?? Looks like Mariba remarried after 1840. Well, with this data in hand, I looked for Maybel Eldred, my long lost relative, in the 1860 census, which ended up taking a while to find since they misspelled here name as Marybe Eland (Eldred is another surname hard to spell!) and Seely was misspelled as Suby. Again, I found this with a FIRST name only search using the youngest daughter Celeste, which was listing in the Seely Bio! I was on a roll and for the 1870 census, you guessed it, I found another misspelling - Marylee Eldred! By now you are getting the idea. First and last names are not always spelled the way you think they are and sometimes it helps to search for just the first name, or part of the first name and especially ALL family members in different combination's, with a narrow search location.

So far, I had the following: Mariba was married twice, had at least 4 children, and lived in Illinois from 1850 to 1870, based on 3 census records and a cryptic biography. Well, must keep moving on: what happened to Jeduthan Seely and when did Mariba Foy-Seely marry Michael Eldred?

In the 1840 Federal Census, I found Jeduthan Seely listed as head of household, with the appropriate number of kids and a wife (aged 30-40 years) which would fit Mariba and family. For the marriage to Michael Eldred, I looked on the Illinois vital records database and found a marriage license in 1847 for a Mirebah Seeley (again with the spelling!) to Michael Eldred. This now provided a time frame for Jeduthan Seely, who likely passed away between 1843 and 1847.

On the Genealogy forum, I searched for Jeduthan, Mariba, Seely, Foy, Eldred (and various combination's) and found a few matches that helped tremendously. In fact, one was the obituary for Michael Eldred, which linked Foy and Seely. Another, on NY Historical society website, had more details on the Seely family, talking about early pioneers in Napoli New York. Well, this is where the Foy family migrated to in 1819 (remember that letter above?). So, this must have been where Jeduthan Seely and Mariba Foy met and married. More research should focus here for any marriage records, tax records, etc.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article about how I found a "long lost relative" and that our cousins are very important to any quest to the past. Mariba's story is important, not just to me, but to her descendants in more ways than you can imagine. Hopefully, there was also a few "tricks" that will help you in your research when you hit a brick wall, but always remember, to find those "long lost relatives", it takes patience, passion, persistence and the right planetary alignment.

To complete this, I have summarized what I know so far, of Mariba's story. Enjoy!

Mariba Foy-Seely-Eldred was born about 1810 in Vermont to Samuel and Sarah Foy(e). She grew up in Vermont, but in 1819, moved west across the great state of New York, a rugged and vast wildernesses, to Napoli NY, lot 57. Land was cleared for farming and raising animals. Sometime before 1830, she met and married Jeduthan Seeley Jr, whose family had also migrated to Napoli, NY in the late 1820's. They were blessed with a child in 1830 and named him Marvin. Another child, this one a girl, soon arrived around 1832. With the promise of cheaper lands, milder climate, and better growing conditions, the family decided to move west to Illinois. Jeduthan made a trip out to Illinois and secured a plot of land then came back for his wife Mariba and 2 children. They were soon settled in Illinois and were blessed with several more children, with only 2 surving - William F, born 1837 and Celeste in 1843. Sadly, Jeduthan Seeley Jr passed away after 1843 and with 4 children ranging in ages from 17-4 years old, Mariba remarried in 1847 to Michael Edlred, in Portland, Whiteside County, Illinois. She spent the remainder of her days in this place until her death in 1876.