Monday, June 29, 2015

How to trace your ancestors with Scottish heritage.

I recently had the pleasure of presenting two sessions at the Houston Family Genealogy Day sponsored by the LDS Church.  In this week's blog, I am presenting a few highlights of my Scottish presentation. My class handouts for the both the Irish and Scottish session are posted here.  In addition, there are handouts from several of the other presenters that are profiled here.

Millions of Americans claim Scottish ancestry.  Here are a few of the famous Scottish Americans.

Scots vs. Scots-Irish

James Webb in his book Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America -2004 cites statistics that 27 million Americans can trace their lineage to Scotland. Centuries of continuous warfare along the border between England and Scotland was one of the contributing factors that forced many to immigrate to North America.  England encouraged many Scots to become part of the Ulster Plantation in Northern Ireland.  One challenge in Scottish genealogy is to determine if your immigrant ancestors came from Scotland or Ireland.  The following slide shows that the number of Americans who were actually born in Scotland has always been a relatively small number.

Authoritative estimates of Scottish immigration between the period from 1607 to 1850 are difficult to find.  One measure of Scottish immigration is to look at the number of people who were actually born in Scotland according to the U.S. census at various points in our history.

Using (FS) for Scottish genealogy

The first stop that I recommend for researching Scottish ancestors is the Family Search Wiki for information, links and a bibliography of reference books.  My next recommendation would be to review the Family History Library Catalog.  Start by searching Scotland, then focus on localities of interest.  A similar search strategy can be used with Family Search Books.  You can also use a locality & surname as search terms.  Also review the compiled family trees for your surnames of interest.

Learn Geography of Scotland 

Counties and parishes are the principal record jurisdictions of Scotland but learning the names of the towns and boundaries of the estates is also important.  Maps, atlases and gazetteers are useful tools for learning geography.  The Genealogical Atlas of Scotland is available for free download at Family Search Books. I also recommend that you search “Scotland Maps” at Family Search Wiki  which has dozens of links to online maps, atlases and gazetteers.  The National Library of Scotland has an impressive collection of maps online at

One of the sites that I highly recommend viewing is   GENUKI provides a virtual reference library of genealogical information of particular relevance to the UK and Ireland. It is a non-commercial service, maintained by a charitable trust and a group of volunteers. One of the many resources on this website is an 1868 Gazetteer of Scotland.

By far the most valuable website for Scottish genealogy research is  This website has evolved from the 2011 merger of the General Register Office for Scotland and National Archives of Scotland.  The website has over 90 million records from 1500s to 1900s.   

ScotlandsPeople is a pay site but compares favorably to the cost of ordering microfilm for the same records which are available through Family Search.  Each page of search results costs one page credit to view ($.32). Viewing document image costs 5 credits (1GBP or $1.58). 

However if you already have a subscription to or have convenient access to a Family Search center you may want to pay attention to this comparison of records available at the "Big Three" of Scottish genealogy.

These are just a few of the highlights from my presentation on Scottish genealogy.  Don't forget to review all of my slides here.   I would be happy to consult with you on your Scottish genealogy.  If your genealogy society is looking for a speaker on the topic or if you need more information, please contact me in the box in the right hand column of this blog.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Father's Day Weekend Recap- Ireland, Scotland, Texas and Tahoe

It has been a very busy weekend for me with many celebrations and genealogical connections.

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of presenting two sessions at the Houston Family Genealogy Day sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My class handouts for the both the Irish and Scottish session are posted here.  In addition, there are handouts from several of the other presenters that are profiled here.

For those that attended my presentation on Irish genealogy,  I offer the following previous blog posts that I have written on Irish genealogy:

Feb 16, 2015
My paternal grandmother's ancestor, James McCrory, left County Monaghan, Ireland, settled in Lancashire, England married an innkeeper's daughter, Sarah Lee and took her to Pennsylvania. I have had the good fortune to ...

Jul 30, 2011
My wife and I traveled to Ireland in April 2008 and spent time in Dublin and Belfast with five days spent at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. I was able to document many of my family stories in the records at PRONI ...

Nov 24, 2014
However now that we know that Bridget Ann Moss was born in Ireland and that she had a son, William Patrick Moss born 1879 in California, it appears fairly certain that this is not my family. Annie Lanstein Moss and her ...

Feb 02, 2015
Born in County Fermanagh, Ireland in 1828, he immigrated to America in 1853 according to the 1900 census. He settled in Schuyler County, Missouri. On 31 March 1859, he married Mary Nevin in Schuyler County. In 1860 he ...

I acquired a wealth of material for future blog posts over the course of the weekend not the least of which was my Father's Day visit to the new Bryan Museum in Galveston.  The Bryan Museum is a MUST SEE historical and artisitic attraction.  My family was on the first tour of the day yesterday, which was led by the Bryan Museum curator. The tour also included a drop-in by Mr. J.P. Bryan who highlighted some of his favorite pieces in the collection.  The Changing Gallery features a special exhibition honoring the Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry to mark the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of Juneteenth.  This exhibit will run through Labor Day but visit the museum soon and visit often.

I want to thank both of my daughters for being such good sports about my family history addiction.  They both encouraged me with tips on new developments in the family history world:

To help bring thousands of records to light, the Freedmen’s Bureau Project was created as a set of partnerships between FamilySearch International and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Afro­-American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS), and the California African American Museum.  Read more about it at

I have also been having a lot of fun with a product called the Simply Fun Conversation Ring.
Each ring contains 98 question cards with a variety of conversation starters. It can be used two ways, ask questions to each other or predict how the other will answer the question.
Compact, sturdy cards on a ring go anywhere. Great to keep in your purse, car, on coffee or dinner table, etc.  Questions cover a variety of topics that are great for children and adults.
Great for: car trips, sports activities, waiting in line, hospital or nursing home visits, classrooms, gift toppers, around the kitchen table, at a restaurant, family reunions & gatherings, small group activities.

One of the questions was about the most beautiful place that we had every visited and Lake Tahoe was on the top of my list.  Coincidentally, my sister was also waxing poetic about Tahoe on Facebook.  My siblings and I have very fond memories of a place called Valhalla also known as the Heller estate at Lake Tahoe.

Nick Cimino and Uncle Jack Kelly on the pier at Valhalla about 1970.

Nick Cimino in front of the boat house at Valhalla, Lake Tahoe, June 1965.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Book Review: From Slave to Statesman - Joshua Houston, Servant to Sam Houston

Not many books about Texas history are written from the vantage point of a former slave.  Joshua Houston was an enslaved servant to Sam Houston, one of the most iconic figures in Texas history.

"From Slave to Statesman" was written in 1993.  It includes an introduction by Dan Rather: "We have always been equal; we must study the times that we didn't know it."
 This book paints Sam Houston as a benevolent slave owner who provided his slave, Joshua Houston, with the advantage of literacy and responsibility for the care of the family of the first President of the Republic of Texas and the first U.S. Senator and the seventh governor of the State of Texas.  Joshua Houston was able to parlay his skills and advantages into prosperity both during and after slavery which created one of the most enduring legacies in Texas history.

The co-authors, Patricia Smith Prather and Jane Clements Monday have created an intriguing story told in 276 well illustrated and documented pages.  The dust jacket includes a quotation from Barbara Jordan, another iconic figure in Texas history: "The book will make a lasting contribution to those who wish to put a human face on slavery.  I congratulate you on taking the institution of slavery out of the remote rhetorical and giving names, faces, identities and feelings to those who served."

Sam Houston acquired Joshua through his marriage to Margaret Lea of Alabama on May 9, 1840.  Joshua was 18 years old at the time of the marriage and the move to Texas.  Margaret Lea had acquired Joshua through the bequest of her father, Temple Lea.  In later life, Joshua Houston loved to tell the story of how the gallant hero of the Battle of San Jacinto came courting his mistress in Marion, Alabama.

Joshua Houston was a trusted servant who helped to raise money for his owners by being hired out as a blacksmith.  He was also skilled in carpentry and agriculture as well as serving as the driver and confidant to Sam Houston on the campaign trail throughout Texas from 1840 to 1863.  In the fall of 1862, in anticipation of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, Sam Houston had declared all of his slaves free.  It was illegal to free his slaves under the Texas Confederate constitution but Sam did offer his slaves their freedom and offer to pay them as long as he could.  Joshua Houston offered to continue working for the Houston family and did until the general's death in 1863.

At the time of Sam Houston's death, his family was in desperate straits.  Out of loyalty to Margaret Lea Houston, Joshua offered her $2,000 in gold that he had saved during slavery.  His owners had allowed him to keep a portion of the money that he had earned.  The following timeline includes a list of accomplishments for Joshua Houston that proves that he was a remarkable man whose legacy will endure in Texas history.

The life story of Joshua Houston is excellent reading for anyone interested in southern social history before, during and after the Civil War. The source material includes slave autobiographies and biographies, Houston family letters; oral histories of descendants  of both Houston families; birth, marriage and death records; land records and deeds; and church and school records.  The source notes are an excellent overview of the wealth of material available to genealogists and historians of African American families.

Monday, June 1, 2015

An Orphan, a Widow, a Survivor- The Grievous Life of Mary Hedge

Last week I posted several documents from the Widow's Pension of Mary Hill Woods of Fulton County, Illinois.  Her first husband, William Roland Hill died on 23 May 1863 on furlough at home after contracting tuberculosis in La Grange, Tennessee.  He was serving in Company A of the 103rd Illinois Infantry.

William Roland Hill served in Company A of the 103rd Illinois Infantry.
This picture of his military marker was taken in July 1993 in Apple Cemetery, Fulton County, Illinois.

William Hill married Mary Hedge on 22 October 1857 in Fulton County, Illinois. Mary was born 23
August 1842 in Liverpool, Fulton County, Illinois. Their daughters were Flora, born 3 December 1860 and Laura, born 20 July 1863 after her father’s death.

Mary Hedge Hill experienced more than her fair share of tragedy as a child and during her first marriage.  Mary's parents were Joseph Hedge and Hannah Martin.  It is presumed that her mother died before 1850 judging by the fact that she was not enumerated with her husband and children in the 1850 census.

Hedges, Joseph       50  M   Md.   Farmer
               Stephen     18  M   Ill.      Farmer    School
               Eder          12  M   Ill.                     School
               Richard      10  M   Ill.                     School
               Mary           8  F     Ill.                     School

Source Citation
Year: 1850; Census Place: Mason County, Illinois; Roll: M432_120; Page: 202B; Image: 245; Family Number: 858

Mary appears to have been the youngest surviving child of Joseph Hedge and Hannah Martin.  Hannah died between 1842 and 1850.  A few years later Mary's father died on 14 June 1853.  Mary's uncle, Eder Hedge was appointed guardian of the minor heirs of Joseph Hedge (Eder Hedge, Richard Hedge & Mary Hedge).  According to the probate file, Mary's siblings, Lousia Hedge, Eda Hedge & Stephen Hedge were "of age" by February 1857.  

Since Mary was only 15 years old in 1857 she had to get permission from her uncle and guardian, Eder Hedge to marry the English immigrant coal miner, William Hill on 22 October 1857.  Her first child, George Hill was born in August 1858.  George was the first member of the Hill family to be buried at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery also known as Apple Cemetery. The inscription on his grave marker reads: GEORGE, Son of W. & M. HILL, DIED, Oct. 17, 1859, AGED 1 yr. 1 mo. 28 ds. 

Also buried in the Mt. Pleasant/Apple Cemetery are all three of Mary's brothers, Stephen, Eder and Richard Hedge.  All three men served in the Civil War but only Stephen survived. Richard died March 1, 1862 on furlough in Fulton County and Eder died March 30, 1863 in Jackson, Tennessee.  Stephen was debilitated by dysentery contracted while in the service.  

Mary's sister Edey Hedge, wife of John G. Kaler died on 31 Jan 1864 in Lewistown, Fulton County, Illinois.  Before the end of the Civil War, Mary Hedge Hill had lost both of her parents, a son, two brothers, her husband and her sister.

Mary Hedge Hill married for the second time at the age of 22 on 1 December 1864 in Lewistown, Fulton County, Illinois to Henry Woods 1832-1909. 

Henry and Mary had the following children:

  1. Charles L. Woods 1865 – 1952
  2. Amy J. Woods 1868 – 1913
  3. Perry Clarence Woods 1870 – 1955
  4. Willard E Woods 1875 – 1964
  5. Edward Woods 1876 – 
  6. Arthur Woods 1877 – 
  7. Lucy May Woods 1881 – 1948
Henry Woods died in 1909.   Mary's daughter, Amy J. Woods Malakie died in 1913. Her first daughter, Flora Hill Price died in 1915 

Mary Woods died in Fulton County, Illinois on 13 December 1924.  Her residence at the time of death was Washington, Washington County, Iowa.  Presumably she was visiting family.  Her death certificate gives the address where she died as 907 South 6th Avenue in Canton, Fulton County, Illinois.

Mary Hedge Hill Woods was a survivor.  She lived a relatively long life of 82 years.  She had more than her fair share of grieving but she also led a very full life and has hundreds of descendants that celebrate her perseverance.

Mary Hedge Hill Woods 1842-1924