Saturday, March 17, 2018

My Irish Orange

I am going to admit in this post that it sometimes takes much longer than it should for certain facts to get past the fences in my brain to settle on my psyche where the ideas about my family history roost. It is fitting that it should be on St. Patrick's Day 2018 that I should come to an important realization about my Gillespie family of Armagh, Northern Ireland, and that is that they belonged to the Orange Order.  I have been deeply involved in genealogy for over eight years now, but today this news comes as some surprise to me.

Given that I made the early-on mistake of bypassing the very words of one of our beloved family historians, Mary Gillespie Henderson, I think it is now only fitting to quote from her book, "Memories of My Early Years" published in 1937, page 33:

He [Mary's father] "walked" in the Orange procession there [Ontario, Canada] on July 12th with a lot of other men in carts, carriages, or on horseback. Father rode a white horse and wore his regalia, including a sash made by Mary Walsh. He had been a member of the Orange Lodge in Ireland and used to speak in familiar terms of King James, King William, the Battle of the Boyne, and the Seige of Derry, as though they were events of yesterday. On Orangeman's Day he decorated himself with an orange lily or bow of orange ribbon, yet on St. Patrick's Day he wore the green."
That seems to make very clear the Gillespie political persuasions. And yet eight years ago, when I went to study the history of Northern Ireland in the 1790s, I could hardly imagine how my Presbyterian Gillespie family could have fit into such a chaotic scene. On the one hand, Aunt Edith Gillespie had written how our ancestor, John Gillespie, was "instrumental in raising a company of volunteers for Lord Charlemount (Charlemont) in the Rebellion of 1796." This sentence seems to imply that the Gillepie's were loyalists, and interested in defending Ireland from foreign invasion. On the other hand, the Gillespie's were known to be Presbyterian, and Presbyterians in Northern Ireland had some religious freedom but limited civil freedoms, so I let myself imagine that they did not favor the English and left Ireland to practice their faith more openly. With that thought, I justified dismissing the words of Mary Henderson by thinking that her memories were only second-hand stories. After all, Mary's father, James, was born in 1810, Mary herself was born in 1840, and the story of Mary's memories was being recounted when she was in her 90s. Mary could not really have understood the politics of her grandfather's lifetime in a country she had never even visited (to our knowledge). That thinking was mistaken.

It could be that both premises were true - Gillespie's were loyalists and they had limited religious freedom - because it was a complicated time, as explained more fully in this article, Irish Presbyterians: Church, State, and Rebellion. But why does the idea of Gillespie's as English loyalists just land on my brain today? Because I recently found a British military record that could well belong to our family. The Thomas Gillespie documented in that record was born about 1778 in or near the town of Armagh in the parish of Richill. He was 18 when he joined the English military forces and he served over 16 years with the 5th Dragoon Guards, finally ending his service because of severe wounds received at Llerena in April 1812. This Thomas Gillespie fought for the English in the Napoleonic Wars. Sound familiar?

Based on all the research of our family over the past many years, I suspect this Thomas Gillespie could be the mysterious Thomas Gillespie in our tree, the one who was enumerated in Oakland county, Michigan in 1840, later declared incompetent, and died in 1859. Not only might this man have been a brother of our progenitor, John Gillespie, but he was probably also a 1/2 cousin to Nancy Gillespie, his wife (whether he ever had a first marriage is unclear), and a 1/2 grand-uncle of Mary Gillespie Henderson whose descendants recounted Mary's memory of an uncle who served in the Napoleonic Wars. Full circle. Unbelievable.

So with that, I beg the forgiveness of Mary Gillespie Henderson for second-guessing her memories, and having the wisdom and patience to pass them down to us both verbally and in writing. And for myself, I am grateful to finally get past my own preconceptions to arrive at a better understanding of our wonderful Gillespie family history.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Cavanacaw Convocation

Well, some things take awhile. My Gillespie research has been at a virtual stand-still for the past five years. It's hard to know where to go when there simply are no Irish records to find, or at least the records that survive are, at best, spotty and incomplete. Nothing about that reality has changed much,  although I must give credit to the many Irish genealogical organizations and individuals who have applied countless hours to piecing together useful historical evidence to help our quest along. So occasionally I try to review our situation to see if any new evidence and/or brain power can yet be applied to the problem of better identifying our Gillespie's in Armagh, and then finding that longed-for link back to Scotland.

This time I zoomed in on Cavanacaw because that is an actual place name that was handed to us in a Michigan deed pertaining to Thomas Gillespie. It's about time we found out more about my half 4th great uncle. Instead of worrying about the identity of every Thomas Gillespie in Armagh, I focused on every Gillespie who lived in Cavanacaw. This slight shift of attention brought some interesting and informative results. I now have a much better picture of the brother of Elizabeth Gillespie, the Michigan pioneer who died in 1857 and whose probate records have lead to some exciting insights into our Gillespie family. But more than that, if my research is right, we have many more descendants with whom we might at some point find a paper or DNA connection. That's pretty great because it means we are still inching forward.

So just in time for St. Patrick's Day 2018, I give a nod to my Scot-Irish ancestors, and send out my renewed hopes for making new genealogical connections with my Gillespie clan.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Welcome to New Gillespie-Coquigne Cousins!

Until recently, I have been on the fence in my opinion about DNA testing and matching. In my experience, DNA matches have done nothing more than confirm what I already know from paper evidence. But then a close DNA match to me suddenly appeared for which there is no paper evidence whatsoever to suggest a family relationship. Now what do I say? A DNA match is still evidence, especially when this new match (we'll call him D.) is so high as to indicate the 1st-2nd cousin range! By this time, I know who my cousins are, and not knowing how this recent match could be related to me has lead to a new adventure.

To tell the entire story of what has been unraveling because of this DNA match would be to uncover some personal and brief encounters which occurred outside of wedlock and which resulted in two generations of sons who did not realize or know their biological father. After studying all of D's DNA matches and their associated family trees for several weeks, then comparing those with the genealogical records and my general knowledge of the Gillespie-Coquigne clan, it seems nearly certain that D.'s paternal grandfather was my very own uncle! Further study helped us to narrow down that D's paternal grandmother had her origins in Tennessee going back for several generations. In putting all these pieces together, D. started to reach out to other descendants of his father, and when those connections started coming together, the sharing of photographs showed family resemblances that are quite unmistakable. I'm happy to report that because of these discoveries, two half-brothers met for the first time this past weekend, and the introduction was a happy success. Who would have believed this story?

So I want to welcome the new Gillespie-Coquigne relations who are coming online, and who are just as curious to learn about your ancestry as the rest of us. Your experiences and memories are different from those of us who were raised with family reunions every summer on the Michigan homesteads, but now we can also incorporate your stories into the family fabric. And even more than appreciating our common ancestry, discovering each other as family brings us together into the here and now.  It feels like the time for creating new memories is upon us!

I dedicate this post to my grandparents, Howard Gillespie and Eliza Jane Coquigne, and to my Grand Aunt Edith Gillespie, our devoted family historian, who I am remembering in this moment as the one who sparked my interest in family history as a child. I'm thinking she'd probably approve of the methods that are now bringing our diverse families together, and she'd want to hear about the new stories as much as to tell her share of old ones.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Another James Greer

A Greer name appearing in the same general time/place as our early Michigan pioneers is one James Greer, who I have not yet accounted for in my research. According to "Portrait and biographical album of Oakland County, Mich.: containing full page portraits and biographical sketches" (available on, this James Greer was born in England, probably around 1812, and he came with his parents to the US as a young child. They made their home in Canada (not sure where) and then returned to NY around 1828. James then came to Genesee County and bought a small tract, and sure enough there is a land patent for a James Greer in Genesee in 1838.  Then in 1854, he moved to West Bloomfield in Oakland County where he spent the rest of his life. This James Greer was married to Mary Mosier, born abt 1822 in NY. The children of James and Mary were Achsa, Robert, George, Mary Jane (Dandison), Ida, Clara, James M. and Lillian.

With this information, here is a point of clarification pertaining to my previous Greer research:

The Greer family that intersects most directly with mine is that of James Greer (1785-1857) and Jane Gillespie (1784-1868), as well as the family of their son John M. Greer (1806-1894) and his wife, Isabella E. Gillespie (1813-1891). This latter couple had 15 children, one of whom was named Robert, and whom I now believe I had mistakenly attributed as married to Emaline Campbell. The evidence seems to support that Robert Greer, born 1850 in MI, died 1940 in Los Angeles, who married Emaline Campbell was the son of James Greer and Mary Mosier. So what happened to MY Robert Greer? His mother's probate record in 1891 said her son Robert was in Ohio, and so far I know nothing more about him.

There is a death certificate for this new James Greer who died in West Bloomfield, MI in 1877 at age 63 (born about 1814), birthplace, England, and parents James Greer and Mary M. Greer. This is a little confusing because the wife of this James Greer was supposedly Mary Mosier, born about 1822 in New York, making both the mother and the wife named Mary M.

And then we have to wonder what, if any, connection this James Greer might have had to our Greer relations. It seems more than a coincidence that he had all these factors in common with our Greer relations:
  • came from the British Isles around the time of the War of 1812
  • lived in Canada and New York (don't we wish we knew where?) before coming to Michigan
  • settled in Oakland county in the same vicinity as our pioneers
If anybody knows if there is indeed a connection between this James Greer and the other Greer pioneers of early Oakland County, Michigan, please let me know!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Drowned Lands!

I've recently been going through the piles of research notes I'v written in the past several years. It's interesting to try to follow my own breadcrumbs! But it also has lead me to re-discovering some things. Like for example, an advertisement in an 1808 and 1810 NY newspaper called the Commercial Advertiser, which read like this:
"Pubic notice is hereby given to the owners or proprietors of the Drowned Lands in the County of Orange, that the Subscribers, Commissioners appointed by the Act entitled "an act to raise monies, to drain the Drowned Lands in the County of Orange," have, by virtue of the power in them vested, deemed proper fo Assess the owners or proprietors of said Drowned Lands, for the purpose of draining the same, the sum of thirteen thousand two hundred and fifty three dollars, to be paid within three months to the said Commissioners, which assessment they have apportioned among the said owners or proprietors, according to the proportions in the roll specified, which has been duly made and filed agreeable to law, by the Inspectors in the said act appointed, and is as follows:"

In the first column, the following names appear together, making me wonder if they weren't neighbors:

Jacob Smith: $20
Daniel Millspaugh: $12.50
James Gillespie: $13
David Millspaugh: $4.50

So first off, what in world are the Drowned Lands? Here is just some of the interesting reading on the topic.

Now here are the Gillespie-Millspaugh associations I can come up with:
  • Susannah Gillespie, daughter of Samuel Gillespie and Esther Rainey of the Pine Bush Gillespie's married Martinus Millspaugh at Dutch Reformed Church in Montgomery, Orange, NY. Supposedly, this Martinus was born 20 Feb 1769 in Walden, Orange, NY, son of Jacob Millspaugh and Elizabeth Bookstaver.
  • Then there was a Martinus I. Millspaugh born 1785, apparently the son of Jacob Millspaugh and Eva Crist, who married a Sarah Gillespie, with no suggestion as to where that Gillespie name comes from as the only source seems to be an SAR application. However, Martinus and Sarah are attributed as being the parents of a Wheeler Case Millspaugh, which caught my attention. When James Gillespie died in 1817, the executor of his estate was David Millspaugh, who together with somebody named Wheeler Case were appointed as guardians to James' children. One of those children had the name Sally, which is a nickname for Sarah. It is entirely worth noting that somebody named Rev. Wheeler Case was the first pastor of the Presbyterian church at Pleasant Valley in Dutchess County, from 1765-1791, which is a time before our family was known to be in that area and seemingly a huge coincidence. It's more likely that the Wheeler Case mentioned in the Gillespie will is the one born in 1791 in Goshen who was a lawyer and an Orange County surrogate, who married Betsy Wilkin and attended the First Presbyterian Church in Goshen. All of which to say is that it appears that James and Mary Gillespie did have a daughter named Sarah who could have married a Millspaugh.
At the end of the day, however, this is just another passing point of interest. As far as I can tell, the only Millspaugh to purchase land in Oakland County in Michigan Territory was from Seneca County, NY. If the Millspaugh family in Orange County, NY had any connection to our Gillespie-Greer line, it's not evident, at least to me. The only thing we do know is that a seemingly unrelated-to-us James Gillespie had the misfortune of owning property in the Drowned Lands.

Roundabout New Jersey

I like to use my blog to record my research questions and findings, even when the results appear to be negative. Here's one road I went down in the spring of 2013 but never recorded. I'll try to summarize what I did in the hopes that there might still be some viable clues.
  • Looking at 1850 census of Oakland County, MI has shown us a 78-year-old James Gillespie from Ireland whom we have never been able to place, living with an 11-year-old girl named Margaret Gillespie. I finally got the idea to look more at his neighbors on that census for clues. Living next door to James was a 37-year-old woman, presumed to be a widow, named Mary Fort, born in New York, along with 6 children, half of whom were born in New York, and half born in Michigan.
  • The Fort name rang a bell with some case studies I had just been doing of Gillespie names in New York. There had been a John Gillespie of Poughkeepsie, Dutchess, NY who died in 1833. His will mentioned his beloved wife Esther, and his minor daughter Margaret, as well as a house in Bloomfield, Essex, New Jersey. One of the executors was James Fort. Subsequent research tells me that James Fort died in 1842 in Poughkeepsie. A wife is not mentioned in the probate petition, but other Fort names mentioned (apparently heirs) do not include the name Mary nor the place Michigan. So given the evidence so far, we don't know if Mary Fort, the neighbor of James Gillespie in 1850 Southfield, MI, had any connection whatsoever to John Gillespie of Poughkeepsie, NY.
This exercise did, however, lead me to wonder about Gillespie connections in New Jersey. First, I looked for John Gillespie in Poughkeepsie in 1830, but he was not there. There was, however, a John Gillespie enumerated in Newark, Essex, New Jersey. As mentioned in my previous post, Newark is significant because:
  • the death certificate of one of Isabella Gillespie Greer's daughters said that her mother was born in Newark, New Jersey
  • Charles Lemon, who married one of the Greer immigrants, had a son from a first marriage (Stewart M. Lemon) who was purportedly born in Newark, New Jersey
  • the second wife of Charles Lemon, Eliza Jane Greer, had a brother, James Greer, who was a graduate of the College of New Jersey in Princeton in 1836
The 1830 John Gillespie household in Newark had two adults 30-40, 1 male under 5, 1 female 5-10, and 1 female 15-20. If this was the household of John Gillespie of Poughkeepsie, NY, the younger female would be about the right age to be the daughter, Margaret. While I loudly admit that I was completely reaching, I speculated that the other young female in the John Gillespie household would be just the right age to be Isabella Gillespie.

But then two things popped my bubble:
  • I found a marriage record in 1829 in Essex County, NJ between John Gillasbie of the island of Cuba and Esther Bergen of Bloomfield. Even if I could get my brain around the Cuba part, at best this would mean that if our Isabella Gillespie were the daughter of this John Gillespie, she was the daughter of a previous marriage.
  • The 1840 census of Newark shows the same John Gillespie household enumerated there in 1830, just 10 years later. So given that John Gillespie of Poughkeepsie died in 1833, this theory went officially out the door.
It was a good try though! And the clues we found in Michigan pointing to New Jersey still remain. What we really need is to find a good Presbyterian church in Newark with surviving records!

The Lemon Tree

First, I want to dedicate this post to Shirley S. Farrell who came before me with her incredibly in-depth research on the LEMON surname. If not for all her online inquiries and her subsequent correspondence with me, I would never have pieced together the Lemon connection to our Gillespie-Greer family. Wherever you are, Shirley, THANK YOU.

So let me briefly summarize how the LEMON surname does connect to us. James Greer married Jane Gillespie and came to New York from County Armagh, Ireland just before the outbreak of the War of 1812 with two of their children: John M. Greer and Eliza Jane aka Lizzie Greer. Lizzie married Charles Lemon, who can be found in the census' and deeds of early Oakland County, Michigan, and who was also mentioned as a friend in the court documents associated with the divorce of our Elizabeth Gillespie Gordon. But then Lizzie Greer Lemon apparently died early in her life, and Charles Lemon sold his land to Thomas Gillespie and moved away from Michigan with his family. The End.

Except not really. It's not really ever The End, is it? I have learned so much over the last 5 years (thanks in large part to people like Shirley Farrell), but maybe the most important thing has been to learn everything there is to learn about the BIG picture, and especially the collateral families. The truth of the genealogy is that I am not directly descended from anybody named Greer or Lemon, so why should I care? Because learning about the Greer's changed the entire picture of what we understand about our Gillespie family. And knowing about the Lemon's might still help us find some answers to questions that just keep hanging.

Like here's one. If the very large family of John M. Greer and Isabella Gillespie followed a predictable naming pattern with their 15 kids, then where in the world did the name of Charles come from when there was apparently nobody with that name in the family? Except there was. It just dawned on me. Charles L. Greer was born in 1840, which is around the time that his aunt Lizzie Greer Lemon is thought to have died (her death record and her burial site have never been located; we only know that in the 1840 census, Charles Lemon was the only adult in his household). What I realize now is that Charles Lemon was not only close to the Gillespie-Greer clan, he was loved by them. Almost certainly John M. and Isabella Greer named their fourth child for Charles Lemon.

So here are some other clues related to the LEMON family, and if we find any answers to these questions, we might indeed find more answers to what remains of our burning questions, the top of those being who were the parents of Isabella Gillespie Greer?
  • According to Shirley's notes, "Charles was born in 1800 and came to this country in 1817 and was in Orange Co N.Y. for a few years." Later census' of Charles Lemon's household indicate that he came from Ireland, and some references I have seen about the LEMON surname say the family could have been Scot-Irish. So where did Charles come from? And where was he in Orange County? There were Greer's in Montgomery, so it's logical to think Charles might have been there too, but can we actually place him there?
  • Charles Lemon had a first wife whose name was supposedly Mary Montgomery, and supposedly their only child, Stewart Montgomery Lemon, was born in Newark, Essex, New Jersey in 1827. Can we place Charles in Newark and is there any record of this first wife?
  • According to Charles Lemon's obit, he was early on involved with the Reformed Presbyterian Church. Does that clue give us a connection to a church in Newark or Orange County, and possibly with the Covenanters who we know the Greer's were involved with?
  • The death record of Isabella's daughter Jennie says that her mother's birth place was Newark, New Jersey. Were there Gillespie's living in Newark where Charles met and married Lizzie? Did they then move to Orange County to be part of the families making the trek to Michigan? 
Finally, here are a couple more questions which might be a little less important to answer, but which might still hold some interest:
  • The will of James Greer Sr, written in Michigan in 1850 had the name of James G. Lemon as a witness. Who was that?
  • Shirley's notes indicate that Charles had one or more brothers, one in particular named William. There are several trees that include a William Lemon, a son of Samuel Lemon who married Bridget and was a pioneer in Washington State. He was apparently born in Orange County, NY and moved with his family, briefly, to Michigan. Was this William Lemon related to our Charles Lemon; were they indeed brothers?
  • Shirley's notes also included this tidbit: Stewart Lemon's wife Luroncy (Lucy) appointed George E. Lemon of Washington D.C. as her attorney for the declaration of a widow's pension in 1894. I've done some amount of digging on this one, and though I don't doubt there must be some family connection, I haven't yet been able to establish it.
So there we have our Lemon connections, at least our known connections. And somewhere out there, the answers to these questions are still waiting to be found.  And those answers might just hold the key to better knowing and understanding our Gillespie and Greer families in early America.