Thursday, February 20, 2014

Step Relations - Discovering Danish Family History

My grandmother, Eliza Jane Coquigne Gillespie, died in 1941 from a mysterious illness and too young by all accounts. In 1944, my grandfather, Howard Gillespie, remarried to Hilda Nielsen, herself a widow whose husband had also been a Coquigne. For the next 30+ years before her death in 1977, Hilda Gillespie became a quiet yet ever-present part of our family, and the only person I ever knew as Grandma.

And yet when when the family trunk got passed my way, and I ran into several boxes stuffed with things that had belonged to Hilda, I immediately put them aside. Well, I did thumb through the many many many snapshots long enough to see that not a single one was labeled. Knowing that Hilda had no other relations who might want these things, I made a mental note to either toss her stuff or find a historical society who might have some interest.  Hilda was, after all, not my blood relation.

I feel ashamed now to admit that I thought anything like that about Hilda because at that point in my family history research I thought genealogy was all that really matters. And yet as time has gone by and I have discovered and pieced together one family story after another, I was often reminded of Hilda either in family photos or in letters that she wrote to my mother signed "Love, Mom", or in just recognizing her handwriting on various items found in the trunks. She may not have been my Grandmother, but she was my Grandma, and I recently found a surge of resolve to discover more about her family.

Well, I've learned so much in the last month about Danish family history starting with the obvious challenge of patronymics. But thanks to Google Translate and many genealogical records being available online through the Danish Archives, I have slowly been able to piece together much of the story. Hilda's father, Jacob Nielsen, was the youngest child of Niels Hansen and Ane Rasmusdatter. Jacob and a sister and half-sister all emigrated to the Greenville area of Michigan in the late 1800s. There Jacob Nielsen married Hilda's mother, Dorthea Sophie Pedersen, who was the youngest child of Peder Jensen and Johanne Kirstine Jorgensdatter. At least two of Dorthea's brothers also emigrated to the same area of Michigan. So on both sides of Hilda's Danish family, there was no shortage of aunts and uncles and cousins nearby!

Slowly and with clues supplied by Hilda's now-83-year-old son, I have been piecing together the Michigan Dane families of Nielsen, Petersen, Jensen, Hansen, and Christensen, just to name the names associated with the first-generation immigrants. Just when I think I have surmised who is in one of Hilda's unlabeled photos, I make contact with somebody related to these families and find their snapshots don't always match mine. But we're all sharing what we have and looking together for the right faces to insert by the names and dates. I am not the only one with Danish roots.

So this part of my research journey was inspired by somebody who was not a blood relation but whose memories and stories are most definitely part of my family history. Hilda didn't just fill an empty hole in my mother's family, she couldn't. But she was nevertheless loving and energetic and involved in our family in every way even though she also had a remarkable family history of her own that none of us younger generations ever thought to ask about. Until now. I like to think it's not too late to include Hilda's story with that of the Gillespie's and Coquigne's in Genesee County, Michigan. Maybe the Danish influence to my Scot-Irish & French family was subtle, but it was there all the same, and I shall love telling the stories I learn as much as I am loving learning them for myself.

The Nielsen-Pedersen family tree I have pieced together so far is available on rootsweb.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Napoleonic Wars

In the introduction to our Gillespie Family History Cookbook (see previous post), the author introduces her own memory of Mary Gillespie Lerossignol Henderson:
My memory of Mary Gillespie Henderson is of a tall lady of some severity whom we would be taken to visit. She would tell us stories of her life. One was her memory of an uncle who had fought in the Napoleonic war. She had been born in 1840 in Canada, but her family lore went back to the beginning of the 19th century. I have always thought of it as an example of how oral history might be an accurate account. 
As excited as I was to receive the Family History Cookbook, the researcher in me jumped on the part about the Napoleonic War. We've so far never run into any family account, oral or written, that has ever suggested our Gillespie family was involved in that conflict. So now we have stumbled upon another curiosity begging for research attention.

First, when were the Napoleonic Wars? The UK National Archives lists the dates of these series of conflicts with the French Empire to be circa 1803-1815, mostly because there is no clear date between the end of the French Revolution and the start of the Napoleonic Wars. But for our purposes, let's just go with these dates which covers roughly 12 and a half years.

Now, let's consider who might be an uncle of Mary Gillespie. We know her mother was Mary Orr Jamieson, who was born in 1814 in Armagh, Ireland. If we assume that any brother of Mary Orr Jamieson was born around the same time, he would certainly not have been old enough to fight in a military conflict between 1803-1815. So perhaps the uncle Mary Gillespie referred to was the brother of her father, James Gillespie, who was born in 1810. For that to be true, the uncle would have to be a half-brother of James Gillespie, born of John Gillespie's first marriage which produced offspring as early as 1780 and possibly as late as 1795.

The thing that bothers me about the idea of a Gillespie in the Napoleonic Wars is that our family lore, even though essentially unconfirmed, tells us that the Gillespie's were involved in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. This is from the Gillespie Family Record written by Edith Gillespie:
John Gillespie, a farmer and a weaver, whose father came from Glasgow, Scotland, was well-known in the county and was instrumental in raising a company of volunteers for Lord Charlemont in the Rebellion of 1798. 
If this is true, it's terribly hard to imagine any Gillespie wearing a British uniform. But do you see what I just did? I have presumed that any Gillespie involved in the Napoleonic Wars fought for the British. But low and behold and entirely by accident, I fell upon this website, which describes how the L├ęgion Irlandaise which was at first formed in anticipation of an invasion of Ireland, was later manned by expatriots from the failed revolts. The Irish Legion wore distinctive green uniforms, and carried their own flag with a large gold harp and the motto "L'INDEPENDENCE D'IRELANDE". They fought quite valiantly for Napoleon in Holland, Spain, and Portugal although they did not participate in the Waterloo campaign where Napoleon was finally defeated. The regiment was disbanded shortly after Louis XVIII regained power in 1815.

So, this is all very interesting! It's hard to know where to look for records pertaining to Irish soldiers in the Napoleonic Wars, especially given that we don't know the exact name of the Gillespie who might have served. And then there's the additional possibility that the term "uncle" was used more broadly to include maybe a grand-uncle, in which case we could be looking for the surname WOODS, ORR, or RAINEY.

With so little to go on, it seems fairly unlikely that we might be able to chase this one down, but stranger things have happened, especially in the pursuit of family history.  And meanwhile it's exciting to learn something new about this particular time period. All thanks to one small comment made in a cookbook introduction!

Cookbook Family History

As much as I try to remember that family history is really about the stories of our ancestors, I often get lost in the investigation of details. But thankfully, the stories still pop up in their own delightful ways.

This time it came as a family history Christmas gift from my second cousin who has been doing an astonishing job of collecting the stories of our Gillespie family. He has connected with a family member from our Canadian branch who shared a document with us that was written by our third cousin once removed, an 87-year-old woman still living. This 22-page document is, of all things, a cookbook of family recipes!

This cookbook is remarkable in several ways. First it starts with a one-page introduction to the author's maternal line, which contains a few details we had not heard before (more on that in another post). And then she proceeds to present FOUR generations of women starting with Mary Gillespie LeRossignol Henderson (1840-1935). Each section shows a picture of each female ancestor, gives a short but wonderfully detailed account of her life, and then follows with recipes that she was known for. Recipes included were: Dark Christmas or Wedding Cake, Christmas Pudding (recipe originated in Ireland), Orange Cake, Scotch Shortbread, Date Bread, Queen Elizabeth Cake, Shrimp Tuna Casserole, Tortiere (French Canadian pork pie, traditional on Christmas Eve before midnight), Pineapple Marshmallow Dessert, Salad Dressing, Walnut Applesauce Cake, Marschino Nut Cake (good for Valentine's Day cooked in heart-shaped pans), Curried Shrimp, Tomato Aspic, and Candy Cane Ice Cream. Of these, I can tell you that the Scotch Shortbread somehow made it down my branch of the family, as my sister has made that recipe at Christmastime, just as our mother did during our growing-up.

The thing that really moves me about this account is how well-educated and talented all these women were. We already know that Mary Gillespie Henderson was a prolific letter-writer. But I did not know that her oldest daughter, who had TB of the spine, was an early woman graduate of the University of Toronto. Another daughter was among the first class of women at McGill University, which would also become the alma mater of Mary's granddaughters. Her female descendants were not only mothers and homemakers; one became a doctor, one a lawyer, another a business owner. One played piano, two had an arts degree, one joined the Red Cross and traveled overseas, several were known for their gardens. All were loved and fondly remembered by their families.

I must admit all this makes me a little sniffly. In our modern western world where genealogy is defined patrilineally, and even the names of our female ancestors seem to fade as quickly as a sunset, this cookbook arrives as an especially precious gift. That it came from my male second cousin who got it from a male third cousin, both of whom clearly love this family history cookbook as much as I do fills my heart. These are the stories that round out our rich family history and give us some personal insights that we otherwise might never have imagined. And of course, now I have a couple of new/old recipes to try!

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Gillespie's in Ulster, New York

The LION'S SHARE of my NY research of Gillespie and Greer families has been in Orange County, because that is, after all, what the Michigan land patents acquired by our pioneers say, and Dutchess County, since that clue had been given in a Michigan county history that mentioned Greer's. I have obviously been up to my eyeballs in this research for a couple years now, and you'd think I would be smart enough to give Ulster County more attention. Especially since we discovered last year that the Greer's were living in Kingston, Ulster, NY when they had to register as aliens in the War of 1812, Ulster county should be more on my radar screen than it has been.

And here's another glaring fact to remember: several of the southern-most towns of Ulster were annexed to Orange in 1798. This included the town of Pine Bush, which today literally sits on the Orange side of the county line. And just up the road on the other side of the county line is Walkill, which I had thought was in Orange, but no it's in Ulster, and in fact Walkill is part of a town (what I call a township) called Shawangunk (pronounced sho-gum). All of these places were THE residential heart of what I have called "The Pine Bush Gillespie's" whose family elders were Samuel Gillespie and Esther Rainey, purportedly from County Armagh, and to whom we so far have not been able to connect.

The point here is that records pertaining to Gillespie's might have been recorded in and subsequently stored in Ulster County, even though certain family members may have later moved to Orange County, which might have been exactly what happened just before the family migration to Michigan. So I have decided to look more carefully at Gillespie's who were in Ulster County. As a heads-up, I am especially interested in a James Gillespie family who lived in Rochester, Ulster, NY (not to be confused with the bigger city of Rochester, NY) from 1810-1830. This James Gillespie was also probably the one in Hurley in 1800, just outside of Kingston, which is another clue for us. I have no documentation yet beyond census data, but I feel a little excited about the possibilities of a connection to this family. Here's why:
  1. From the looks of this James Gillespie's family makeup from 1810-1830, this family *might* have had a male who would qualify as our Thomas Gillespie Jr., the one in our family who later married Ellen McClung in MI and whose daughter Sarah married William McKinney; Thomas Jr. was also the one whose death certificate says his father's name was James Gillespie. There were also females in the household of James Gillespie from Rochester who were of the age to be Isabella and/or Mary Ann Gillespie, characters in our story who we have so far been unable to place.
  2. Another family in the exact area at that time was SLOAT. There was a Sarah Gillespie married to a Cornelius Sloat in New Hurley (Walkill area) and their daughter Elizabeth was christened at the church in Rochester, Ulster, NY. Suffice it to say, this is the area where Henry P. Sloat was born in 1816, his parents being James Sloat and Phebe Upright and his grandparents being Cornelius Sloat (different person from previously mentioned) and Elliner McKinney. Henry P. would later marry Mary Ann Gillespie and become the guardian of Thomas Gillespie Sr. when he was declared incompetent shortly before his death. 
The upshot here is this. We know with some amount of certainty that Thomas Gillespie Jr. was born in NY in 1816. If we assume that Thomas was still living with a Gillespie by the time of the 1820 census, there were four Gillespie households in Dutchess/Orange/Ulster, New York with a male under 10 years old:
  • Alexander Gillespie: Clinton, Dutchess, NY. This guy has showed up in my research previously. He was in the same area and church records as James and Jane Greer in Pleasant Valley, NY. I believe he moved to NYC from Dutchess in the late 1820s.
  • Mary Gillespie: Goshen, Orange, NY. She was the widow of James Gillespie who died 1817. To my knowing, their children included a daughter named Eliza (possibly Isabelle's full name), but no son Thomas. 
  • John D. Gillespie: Marbletown, Ulster, NY. This person is of additional interest because he appears to have had a wife named Sarah Smith. However, he was still living in Marbletown in 1840, after our Gillespie's migrated to Michigan, and the young male in his household still appears to be there. 
  • James Gillespie: Rochester, Ulster, NY. If our Thomas' father was named James, then this would seem the most likely possibility for the home of our young Thomas Gillespie. 
So I'm hopeful, but with plenty of reservations. What *I think* this would mean, if there is a connection to Gillespie's found in Ulster, NY, is that we might have more than one James Gillespie in play - one born about 1765 (Rochester, Ulster), one born about 1772 (1850 Michigan), one born about 1785 (1830 Newburgh). And because we know just how accurate was age reporting in early census' (not), any these might be the same guy.  Obviously we haven't run out of mystery yet.

We'll see what more research uncovers. The story of our Gillespie's in New York is still a very tangled web, but the trick is to keep looking for connections. One of these days, I feel confident we'll see the whole picture, or at least more of it. I think the story we learn about is going to be a good one.

Ireland Maps

I really love maps and I wanted to post here a wonderful place that integrates maps with the Griffith's Valuation.  Check it out here. Not only do you get to see the original pages of the valuation, but those pages actually cite a map location, which I had not known before. You can then use that information to pull up a wonderful old map where you can zoom in and locate not only your townland, but also the property number as well. It couldn't get any better. I wrote to the people who run that website to thank them!

Much less impressive is a map I've been working on for various locations in County Armagh that apply to my Gillespie/Greer research. Click here to see my map, which is a work in progress. Townlands of interest include Lisnadill, Drumagaw, Cavanacaw, Ennislare, Farmacaffly, and Roghan in Armagh, and Emyvale in Monoghan. If you run across any of the following surnames in any of these places, please feel free to contact me: Gillespie, Greer/Grier, Wood/Woods, Donaldson, Diffin, Orr, and Rainey. I would love to compare notes.

Rainey Days

The last month has seen a flurry of excitement for us in our Gillespie line, and very close to its foundation: Armagh, Ireland. The post I made here earlier about Diffin connections lead us to an Irish resident who descends from Henry Diffin and Mary Jane Gillespie! Mr. Diffin has been remarkably helpful to our research and especially kind in sharing the research that he has done in Ireland over the years. Of course, he suffers from the same problem that we do - the absence of old records. So so much has been lost with the destruction of so many old records in Ireland. But what remains still are its people, its descendants, and the stories told to them by their ancestors. With Mr. Diffin, not only do we have the insight of his own research and his lifetime residency in Ireland, but also the treasure of stories passed down to him. It's hard to describe the true blessing of this connection.

Thanks to Mr. Diffin, we have a number of new clues to consider in piecing together our Armagh family. Among them, and most essentially, Mary Jane Gillespie, Mr. Diffin believes, was the daughter of Thomas Gillespie and Mary McCore (the McCore surname being uncertain, but something like it). He further believes that Mary Jane's grandparents were John Gillespie, born about 1760, and Mary Rainey.

Nowhere in the Gillespie history passed down to us have we ever found the slightest clue about who might be the first wife of our progenitor, John Gillespie, born abt 1760 in Armagh. We know that some of the children from this first marriage emigrated to New York, later migrating to Michigan. And we've since found documentation that tells us Thomas Gillespie was at least one of the first-marriage offspring to remain behind in Ireland. Given what we estimate of our Thomas Gillespie's age, he could very well be the father of Mary Jane Gillespie Diffin.

But most astonishing of all is to have a possible identification of Mary Jane's grandmother, somebody who could be our family matriarch: Mary Rainey. The Rainey name stands out in another family tree - the Gillespie family of Pine Bush, Orange, New York. In that family tree, Esther Rainey married Samuel Gillespie, who purportedly came from County Armagh and who fought in the American Revolution. Sadly though, I have not located any documentation about the roots of this couple, nor have I found a connection between their family and ours, and believe me when I say, I have looked! Given that we know our Greer-Gillespie couples lived in that same Orange county area of New York before migrating to Michigan, some connection to another Armagh Gillespie family seemed to be more than wishful thinking. After several years of research, however, I have not been able to find a connection to the Pine Bush Gillespie's, although admittedly one could still exist. But now we have reason not only to not only consider the Irish origins of Samuel Gillespie, but also those of his wife, Esther Rainey - who was she?

And curiously, the Rainey name sticks in my mind for one other reason. The discovery of our Greer relations was mostly inspired by finding the marriage between James H. Gillepie, a descendant from John Gillespie's second marriage, to Isabelle "Belle" Greer, a descendant from John Gillespie's first marriage. A witness to their marriage in Michigan in 1873 was Agnes Rainey. We've never found any clue about how Agnes Rainey was a friend to our family.

So the Rainey surname is now one of extreme interest to us. In my preliminary searching, I found the following Rainey names that appear in the Flax Growers list of 1796 in County Armagh:
George Rainey, Parish of Armagh
Margaret Rainey, Parish of Armagh
William Rainey, Parish of Loughgilly

I think it's fair to say that my cousins and I are feeling some renewed energy of excitement about exploring these new clues. Please feel free to contact me if you have information or feedback. These conversations might someday soon answer some long-standing questions about our Armagh family!

Friday, October 25, 2013

DIFFIN Connections

I recently corresponded with another Gillespie researcher who has interest in Gillespie's who lived in Portneuf, Quebec in the 1800s. I love how these connections help us to re-evaluate what we have and notice things we might have forgotten. In this case it was the 1881 Canadian census where our forefather James Gillespie, age 73, was living next door to his son James Jr's family.  In James Sr's household was a 27-year-old female named Mary Diffon.  She was born in Ireland and was Presbyterian.  We have never figured out who she was.

Meanwhile, my cousins who never seem to forget anything (!), reminded me that a picture was found among our Gillespie family history mementos. Here it is:


Nobody we know has any idea who Mrs. Diffen was, but it's clear she was from Ireland, and very possibly Armagh. And it is certainly no accident that the Diffin name (yes, I am using yet another spelling of this surname) appears in a Gillespie household in Quebec in 1881, and a picture labeled as Diffin was found among Gillespie family history items.

I have found at least one record on familysearch that connects Henry Diffin and Mary Jane Gillespie in Armagh (click here). But at the same time, there are also records that connect Diffin and Jamieson (click here and here), and even Diffin and Smith (click here), which are both possible connections to our family. There is also a message board post that outlines a Diffin family in Armagh and the possibility that some from that family might have emigrated to Canada.

If you have any ideas or leads about how the Diffin family might connect to our Gillespie family, please feel free to contact me.