Let’s Call him James or maybe … James?

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My father is James Thomas

My grandfather is James Thomas

My great grandfather is James Thomas

My great great grandfather is William Thomas

My great great great grandfather is James Thomas

My great great great great grandfather is John Thomas

My great great great great great grandfather is James Thomas

With the exception of William born in 1834 and John born in 1769 there has been a James Thomas in every generation of my direct line since 1731.  And if we look at all the children of my direct line ancestors, there has been a James Thomas in EVERY generation since 1731.

They did live in different places so that should make it easier to distinguish them, right?

My father is James Thomas, b. 1935 in County Durham

My grandfather is James Thomas, b. 1894 in County Durham

My great grandfather is James Thomas, b. 1864 in County Durham

My great great grandfather is William Thomas, b. 1834 in Cornwall

My great great great grandfather is James Thomas, b. 1808 in Cornwall

My great great great great grandfather is John Thomas, b. 1769 in Cornwall

My great great great great great grandfather is James Thomas, b. 1731 in Cornwall

Not so much.

They had different occupations by which to distinguish one James from another…

With the exception of my father and grandfather, all were coal miners.

That didn’t help.

And Thomas is a rare surname in Cornwall, right?

An article from Who Do You Think You Are? magazine cites a study commissioned by the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site (CMWHS) and done by genealogist Stephen Colwill into the spread of Cornish surnames around the UK.1 Stephen Colwill concluded that, “The three most common Cornish surnames are Williams, Richards and Thomas.”

It’s certainly an interesting experience researching my Thomas roots in Cornwall and County Durham. I have to admit I kind of love that there is a James Thomas in every generation. And I am not one to buck tradition. So I named one of my sons…James.

 

This post was written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Week 25 prompt: Same Name.

 

 


  1. Rosemary Collins, Who Do You Think You Are? (http://www.whodoyouthinkyouaremagazine.com/news/your-surname-cornish : accessed 23 June 2018), “Is Your Surname Cornish?” 

Tax Records: An often overlooked source

Tax records are a valuable but often overlooked source:

  • They can help to fill in the decade between census enumerations and before the first federal census of 1790.
  • In burned counties tax records are often the only information you may find on your ancestor.
  • Tax records sometimes contain specific residence information, giving an exact physical location of an ancestor at a specific time.
  • Tax records can point to an ancestor’s occupation, give descriptions of land and animals owned and of personal property.

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A few interesting taxable items:

  • If you owned a billiard table or a silver plate or cutlery, a carriage or wagons, you owed the government some tax. If you manufactured boots and shoes, bonnets, collars or sold miscellaneous clothing, you had to pay a tax on those too.
  • In 1862 in Michigan, Albert B. Judd was taxed on 8 coffins. I sure hope he was an undertaker or perhaps a manufacturer of coffins because I can’t imagine any other reason someone would have 8 coffins lying around.
  • John G. Burnell of Trenton, New Jersey was taxed in 1862 on his 1316 lbs. of ground coffee and spices. He had to pay individual taxes on cinnamon, pepper, mustard, cloves, allspice, and ginger.

An example of an 1862 tax record from New York:

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Internal Revenue Assessment Lists for New York and New Jersey, 1862-1866, unpaginated entries arranged alphabetically; images, “Records of the Internal Revenue Service, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : accessed April 12, 2018), Record Group 58, citing the National Archives at Washington, D.C.

Tax records are worth the effort to track down as they can add rich detail to your ancestor’s life.

This post was written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Week 15 prompt: Taxes

One of The Second World War’s Best Kept Secrets

The headlines rang out with the news:  “Queen Mary Cut Cruiser in Two. Disaster that was Kept Secret.”(Dundee Courier) and “Queen Mary Sank a British Cruiser.  Disaster While Evading U-Boat” (Daily Record).  It was Friday 18 May 1945.  Joseph and Mary Thomas had been wondering for 3 years exactly how and where their youngest child, Stanley Mather Thomas had died.  They had received the news in 1942 that their 22-year-old son was missing ‘at sea’ presumed dead. The story of what happened to Joseph and the other 338 British sailors who died in October 1942 was one of World War Two’s best kept secrets.

Stanley Mather Thomas was born on June 1, 1920 in New Silksworth, Sunderland, County Durham.  He was the youngest of four children born to Joseph and Mary (Mather) Thomas.  Stanley joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Force, a reserve force of the Navy called…

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‘Where there’s a (contested) will …Thomas Lantry of St. Lawrence Co., New York

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Well known as one of the first settlers in Massena, St. Lawrence county, New York, Thomas Lantry died at the age of 98 in August 1887. 1 He left an estate of some $35 000.00, equivalent to approximately $890 000.00 today.

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The Ogdensburg Advance and St. Lawrence Weekly Democrat, October 13, 1887.

For the thirty years previous to Thomas’ death, he had been living with his son, Joshua Lantry and family. Thomas’ wife, Jane, died before 1880 and the rest of their children, all married, lived in their own homes. In 1872, at age 78, Thomas Lantry asked his nephew, Barnaby Lantry, to help draw up his will. Thomas Lantry left $500 dollars to each of his children and the bulk of the estate went to third oldest son, Joshua Lantry.

In May 1887, Joshua Lantry died suddenly of heart disease. 2 This meant his widow, Catherine and their children, would now inherit what Thomas Lantry had originally left to Joshua. Immediately, the other children of Thomas Lantry began to contest the will. They contended that the will was not properly executed, was not signed in the presence of the witnesses and declared the signature on the will to not be that of their father, Thomas. They also argued that the will was not properly published and that their father did not actually declare this his last will and testament. The contention to the will garnered a lot of attention from the county where almost all knew Thomas Lantry.

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The Sun, Fort Covington, New York, April 5, 1888.

Several newspaper articles were written, most favoring Joshua Lantry’s widow as the legal heir. Their sympathies lay with the family who had taken care of Thomas Lantry and his wife for over thirty years. Several hearings were held and the case finally argued in Norwood, St. Lawrence county in April 1888. The judge declared that the will was a valid document and that the principal property would go to the widow and heirs of Joshua Lantry.

Thomas Lantry was a well-respected and prominent citizen of St. Lawrence county, New York. Previously a shoemaker in Ireland, he had left there in his early 30s with his wife and two small sons. He arrived in St. Lawrence county around 1823. He managed to buy land in Massena and farmed there all his life. He became a wealthy man through hard work and determination. The Lantry family was well-regarded by all who knew them. It is hard to imagine that Thomas would have been happy with the contention surrounding his will.

This post was written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Week 9 prompt: Where there’s a will …

 

 


  1. “Death of Thos. Lantry,” The Ogdensburg Advance and St. Lawrence Weekly Democrat, St. Lawrence, New York, 13 October 1887, p. 5, col. 5. 
  2. No heading, The Ogdensburg Advance and St. Lawrence Weekly Democrat, St. Lawrence, New York, 26 May 1887, p. 1, col. 6., Vol. XXII, No. 21. 

Family Heirloom: The Thomas family bible.

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The Thomas family bible.

The family bible is one of the most precious heirlooms a genealogist can have. A few years ago, my father was visiting his brother in England, and the subject of the family bible came up. My uncle was kind enough to pass the bible on to me, knowing of my passion for genealogy.  It is a beautiful, large, and heavy bible, about 14 inches x 10 inches and almost 5 inches wide.

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Our biggest hurdle was getting the bible from England to the U.S. where I lived. I did not want to send it via the mail.  Fortunately, my father was staying at a guest house with a couple from the U.S. who had brought their daughter over to York to begin university. These strangers very kindly offered to bring the bible back with them to the U.S. and send it on to me.

The bible is titled, ‘Brown’s Self Interpreting Bible’ and the cover is embossed leather with metal on each edge and beautifully engraved metal clasps (one of which is missing). The Self Interpreting Bible was Rev. John Brown’s (1722-1787) most successful work. It contained the scriptures with marginal references and explanations for the ordinary person.

The inside of the bible contains beautiful pictures of various bible scenes, in vivid color.

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Scriptural scenes inside the bible.

In the middle of the bible are the pages that every genealogist hopes to see. Those that contain handwritten names and dates of birth, marriage and death. I can see from the handwriting that most of the names and dates were written by one person at one time, not at the time of each event. And the names are of only one family, the James Thomas and Margaret Bruce family. They are my great grandparents, who lived in County Durham, England. 1

James Thomas was born in 18622 in Medomsley, Durham, and Margaret Bruce was born in 18663 in Sherburn, Durham. They married in 1888 at Bethany Church 4, a Christian Lay Church in Sunderland, Durham.

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Thomas family bible with the names of my great grandparents, James and Margaret Thomas.

James and Margaret Thomas went on to have six children with only two surviving infancy. Those names are written in their bible. How sad it must have been to write down the death dates of their precious little ones.

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Dates of birth and death for James and Margaret Thomas’ six children.

The Thomas family bible is a valuable resource but it is more than that. To me it is the precious feeling of being able to hold in my hands something that I know my great grandparents once treasured.

 

 


  1. Thomas Family Bible, The Holy Bible (Newcastle Upon Tyne: Adam & Co. Lmt), “Births, Deaths”; privately held by Sue McNelly, [address for private use,] Arizona, 2010. 
  2. England, birth certificate for James Thomas, born 29 January 1862; registered March quarter 1862, Durham District 10a/265, Lanchester Sub-district, Durham; General Registry Office, Southport. 
  3. England, birth certificate for Margaret Bruce, born 4 May 1866; registered June quarter 1866, Durham District 10a/365, Saint Nicholas Sub-district, Durham; General Registry Office, Southport. 
  4. England, marriage certificate for James Thomas and Margaret Bruce, married 3 March 1888, registered March quarter 1888, Sunderland District 10a/715, Bethany Church, Durham; General Registry Office, Southport. 

Charles and Ella Zimmerman – an Enduring Love Story.

The moment I saw photographs of my husband’s great grandparents I wished that I had been fortunate enough to have met them. They seemed to radiate happiness and love for each other, for their family and for life. They are the perfect choice for a post on Valentine’s Day.

Charles & Ella

Charles-Ella

Charles Stephen Zimmerman and Ella Lucille McMahon were married on 17 May 1919 in Stockton, San Joachin, California. 1 Charles was 22 years old and Ella, 19. Charles was the youngest son of German immigrants, Louis Wendelin Zimmerman and Philippina (Bena) Tischbein, and Ella was the oldest daughter of James Thomas McMahon and Adaline Slater.

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Ella and Charles on their wedding trip.

They began married life with a move to Phoenix, Arizona where they rented a small home at North Sixth Avenue. 2

I’m quite sure the house below is not the one they rented but perhaps one they went to see as tourists.

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Ella and Charles, tourists.

Their first child, a daughter they named Helen Rose, was born on 26 April 1920 in Phoenix. 3 The family didn’t stay too long, finding the Phoenix summers too hot. By 1921, they had returned to California and made their home in Modesto 4.

They would welcome three more children to their family: Robert in December 1921, Patricia in April 1924, and Jon in August 1934.

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Charles, Ella and son, Jon.

Their sweet story plays out in the photographs they left behind. I am sure there was loss and tragedy, hard times and difficulties, tears of sadness as well as joy, but when I asked my husband what he remembers of them, he replied, “They were happy”.

Charles-Ella4

This post was written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Week 7 prompt: Valentine.

 

 


  1. “California, County Marriages, 1850-1952,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K8ZF-457 : 13 February 2018), Charles S. Zimmerman and Ella McMahon, 17 May 1919; citing San Joaquin, California, United States, county courthouses, California; FHL microfilm 1,841,865. 
  2. 1920 U.S. Census, Maricopa County, California, population schedule, Phoenix, ED 58, sheet 3A (penned), dwelling 50, family 68 , Charles Zimmerman household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 14 February 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 49. 
  3. Arizona Birth Records, 1880-1935, Helen Rose Zimmerman, 26 April 1920; image,  Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 14 February 2018). 
  4. 1930 U.S. Census, Stanislaus County, California, population schedule, Modesto, ED 10, sheet 9A (penned), 62 (stamped), dwelling 149, family 148, Charles S. Zimmerman household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 13 February 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 223. 

Headed to RootsTech 2018? Let’s Get Organized!

Rootstech-headerRootsTech 2018 is 19 days away! Are you ready?  This will be my 4th time attending and over the years I’ve learned a few things about organizing myself for each day’s classes and for research time in the Family History Library.

How I organize for RootsTech’s incredible line up of classes

First thing to do is to download the RootsTech mobile app. It’s available from the App Store and the Google Play Store. Using the app you are able to create your personalized schedule for each day. As you read through each of the class descriptions you can ‘star’ them, which moves them to your daily schedule (My Schedule on the app). I always pick my top choice class and a back up class for each hour. I also note when lunch is and when the Expo Hall will be open. Once you have finished selecting classes for each day, tap the gear icon on the upper right-hand side of the screen and slide down to a reddish box which says ‘Email My Show Summary’. You can email your class schedule to yourself or share it with a friend attending with you.

What about syllabus material for each class?

Handouts are only available on the app but can be downloaded or emailed to yourself. To do this, tap on My Schedule (which you have already created) and tap on your first selected class. Move down the page that shows information on that class until you come to the very bottom where it says ‘Resources’. Under that is ‘Handouts’. Tap on ‘Handouts’ and if the class has one, it will ask you if you would like to Take Notes on the Handout, Download Handout or Email Handout. I prefer to email the handout to myself. You will receive an email with a PDF of that classes’ handout. I print that out and write the location and time of the class in the upper right-hand corner.

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I then place them in day and time order in my binder. This way I don’t have to keep referring to my phone to see what’s next on my schedule. I can look at my binder and it’s all organized there. I use the back of the handouts to make any notes during that class.  Everyone has a different system to keep themselves organized. I’ve used this one all the years I’ve attended RootsTech and it’s worked well. My binder also has a place for pens and pencils, flash drives, business cards and more paper. I like having it all in one place.

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How I organize for research at the world-famous Family History Library

Going to RootsTech means making time for research at the Family History Library. Over the years I’ve worked out a system that keeps me on track and organized. My biggest tip for researching here is to plan ahead! There are lots of BSO’s (those distracting Bright Shiny Objects) hiding in the library and it’s easy to get sidetracked. It’s not always a bad thing to be lured in by a BSO, actually it can be kind of fun! But when you’re fitting in time between RootsTech classes or at the end of a busy and mentally exhausting day, you want to try to stay on track.

As I research I use the Research Log report on my desktop family history software to keep track of the films or books that I need to look at when I am next at the Family History Library and which are not available online. Use FamilySearch.org to find the correct film or book and check whether it has been digitized or not. If not, I add that information to a spreadsheet I have set up with columns as shown below.

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I try to be very clear about the information I am looking for. I create these Research Logs as I work on projects and it can sometimes be months since I marked that I needed to look at a specific film for information. I don’t want to spend time having to pull up my family history software program and look at why I wanted that information. Each item is numbered in the far-left hand column. That number is what I use in my handwritten notes as a reference for any information I find or do not find. Of course, I also add the film or book number again on the notes I am making in the library, as well as any notes on whether I photocopied, downloaded or transcribed the image. I never transfer any information to my family history software until I am back home and able to carefully evaluate it first. Some may prefer to use a preprinted Research Log template to write down what you find in the Library but those never seem to have enough space for me to write in.

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RootsTech is always a whirlwind of great education and fun socializing. Get the most out of your RootsTech trip by getting and staying organized!

What tips do you have on staying organized at RootsTech?