Friday, December 16, 2011

Will the Real Thomas Gillespie Please Stand?

For some time now, there has been much confusion (for me) about Nancy Gillespie because after looking at the various documents that have surfaced in the past couple years it appears that she - or more correctly stated - some person or persons with the name of Nancy Gillespie - is both a wife and a sister of Thomas Gillespie. Gad - really???

I have turned this problem every which way, and just can't seem to piece it together. Nancy was the petitioner for the probate of Elizabeth Gillespie and therein named herself as a sister and Thomas as a brother of Elizabeth. And yet in another document where Thomas Gillespie was declared incompetent, Nancy was named as the wife of Thomas. Gad - really???

What I'm learning is to go back over every shred of evidence mostly because I have now caught myself OVERlooking what is in front of me, and by that I mean I may have seen the evidence, I may have read it and filed it and posted it, but there's a very good chance that I didn't fully understand it. Such is the case for a document I found at the FHL in April 2011.

The document in question is a land deed from Thomas Gillespie to John Robert Slater in October 1860. Since Thomas Gillespie Sr. died in 1859 in Oakland County, Michigan, I presumed this document pertained to Thomas Gillespie Jr., further presuming that Thomas Jr. had somehow inherited his uncle's interest in Elizabeth Gillespie's estate (and even there I'm only guessing that Thomas Sr. was uncle to Thomas Jr.!). Furthermore, the document refers to Thomas Gillespie as being of Cavanacaw, in the County of Armagh, and it is even signed by a solicitor from Armagh! But again, I somehow pushed that aside, even knowing that Thomas Jr. was not born in Ireland, I thought somehow it was referring to Thomas Sr.'s birthplace. My gosh - look what the brain does when it doesn't grasp meaning! Well, every single thing I just wrote about is completely WRONG. And yes, eating crow is my new favorite pastime.

How can I say this when it seems so obvious? Elizabeth Gillespie's brother Thomas was a resident of Ireland. He did not live in either the United States or Canada (where Elizabeth's half-siblings had emigrated). This Thomas, the real brother of Elizabeth Gillespie, is a separate individual from the Thomas Gillespie who was married to Nancy and declared incompetent and died in 1859. He is the brother who stayed in the homeland. OMG.

So who was Thomas Gillespie Sr., the second husband of Nancy Gillespie, sister of Elizabeth? This could well be another case of cousin marrying cousin, which is probably the only thing that makes sense - as if there is any sense to be had in the tangled web of this family! So now the parentage of Thomas Gillespie Sr. becomes a mystery. Naturally I get to swap one mystery for another. WhatEVER.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Traditional Naming Patterns for Both Scots & Irish People

This is the title of an article I found online at

The detail that interests me here is this:
"The only difference between the Scottish & Irish naming patterns was that when the Irish father remarries after his first wife died, the first daughter born to this new marriage was often named after the deceased wife, and included her whole name."

Having been told that the Gillespie clan considered themselves more Scotch than Irish, the relevance of this detail could be questionable. But it's still interesting to peek at the family tree and consider the two marriages of John Gillespie. The Gillespie Family Record tells us that the mother of John's children by his second marriage was Sarah Woods. Curiously we have now three pieces of documentation that record the name Jane Woods, not Sarah, as the mother of the second-marriage children. Among us cousins, we mumble "well, her name must have really been Sarah Jane Woods." Ha. We don't know what we know.

But now given this information about naming patterns, perhaps we have a clue. If Sarah Gillespie was the first-born daughter of the second marriage (we don't know for sure, perhaps she was the only surviving daughter from that marriage), then MAYBE she was named for the first wife who died (presumably died - I really have to watch my assumptions lately). Unparenthetically speaking, maybe the first wife was named Sarah?

And maybe half the answers to all my questions pertaining to the details of family history (and life?) comes in a simple reply: tradition.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Reading Between The Lines

I stayed up late last night reading old letters that my fabuloso cousin has been so diligently transcribing. These letters add so much insight into the life and times of Alexander Gillespie and his family. But there is one letter in particular that I consider heart-pounding, from Alexander Gillespie to his son Alexander Garfield Gillespie, written October 28, 1911 from Gaines, Michigan. There is one run-on sentence that reads like this:

"Well it will soon be Halloween it was just 56 years ago on that night we came to Oakland County to Uncle Jimmie Greers and his 80 acres and the 40 acres your Aunt Elizabeth owned, that is the forty the share is not paid on. Well the 120 acres has been sold about 3 weeks ago to Detroit parties for $40,000 for a summer resort."

Oh my. Until now there has been not one shred of personal documentation that ties the Gillespie and Greer families together (before the marriage of James H. Gillespie to Belle Greer) - how cool is this? Maybe the most significant truth brought to light here is timing. Since discovering Pioneer Elizabeth and her probate record that mentions her half-siblings, I assumed that our Robert Gillespie came to Michigan to collect his inheritance in 1857 when Elizabeth died. Wrong. He was in Michigan a full two years before she died. With his family! This is a big wow for me. I keep crossing out and rewriting what I think I know!

But now several other questions bubble up from this letter of Alexander's, a few of which are:
  1. The letter mentions coming to Michigan on Halloween, which is a curiosity in itself. I'm pretty sure that Halloween is a uniquely American holiday (to Europeans it was All Saints Day), so it must have been a strange thing for a Scotch-Irish-Canadian to consider. And what exactly was the custom then? Did poor rural kids in the second half of the 19th century dress up and go out asking for candy??? This is a topic that could use more looking into.
  2. As I have reported elsewhere in my blog, our family historian, Edith Gillespie, published for many years a family newsletter. In one newsletter, there is a snippet from THIS letter telling about Alexander coming to Michigan on Halloween to stay with Uncle Jimmie Greer. But now that we have the actual letter, we find there is also the mention of Aunt Elizabeth's 40 acres. Now comes a bevvy of new questions:
    • Why did Edith drop this detail from the newsletter? a) she was simply short on space, cramming all the monthly news onto one sheet of paper whenever possible, b) she assumed Alexander was talking about his own sister, Lizzie Winslow, having no idea whatsoever about Pioneer Elizabeth, c) she knew everything there was to know about the Greers in Oakland County and just decided not to tell us.
    • Can we assume that Alexander probably did not first introduce the topic of arrival in Michigan in this letter, but he had told his son (and other of his children) about it personally at some previous point in time? And if Alexander G. and any of his siblings knew the full story of arrival in Michigan, why didn't THEY ever pass it on, even if only verbally?
  3. And what about those 40 acres? I just don't understand what Alexander is referring to nearly 50 years after Pioneer Elizabeth's death. Elizabeth originally purchased 78.45 acres. My understanding is that our Robert Gillespie got 40 acres (I'm not sure how he got half with several other heirs), but then it appears to me that he sold it almost immediately to the administrator of Elizabeth's estate, namely Robert M. Greer. Then Robert M. Greer sold it to Mary Slater for $75. It is entirely possible that I am still missing some of the details of the transaction, but this is what I know about it to date. What is meant by "the 40 the share is not paid on" is completely unknown. We have a few suspicions, but that's for another post, I think.

  4. Summer resort? Does that still exist today? And who collected $40,000? I can only guess it was a Greer?

Well, two of these questions are about what other people knew or didn't, which might not seem to have any relevance now. But I sometimes feel like we are learning about our past through two distinct layers - one is our own discovering and reading of documents and letters, and the other is Edith's earlier translation of those same documents and letters. It's so interesting, isn't it? It's like the difference between painting my own picture based on what I see now (even though I am farther away still from the true events), and turning around and looking at the painting that has been hanging on my wall since childhood, the one painted by Edith. When I started doing all this, I assumed these two paintings would be identical - mine would just have fresher paint. But they are not identical. They are strikingly similar, and some might argue in most of the ways that matter. But my story is different, so full of stubborn questions. And to think that at some point in the future, somebody will wonder about my own translation of this family history, what I really knew about, what I didn't tell about, and why. More and more I come to more fully comprehend history not only as a tangled web, but one that is still in process of being woven.

Monday, September 5, 2011


Well, I thought I was on to something today, but I always think that, right? I ran across some excellent history of the Southfield Reformed Presbyterian Church, also called the Covenantor Church of Southfield, Michigan. Here is the website:


Mostly this is a reprint from an interview done with Mary E. Thompson for the Birmingham Eccentric and published in 1915. The history of this piece is just wonderful. I got excited because I suddenly recognized surnames that I haven't really paid much attention to before: STEWART and PARKS. In addition are other surnames that have connections, like MCCLUNG.

David Stewart + Ann Porter
     Margaret Stewart + John Parks
          David John Parks + Mary Greer 
         (dau of John Greer Sr. + Isabella Gillespie)

Alexander McClung + Sarah McWilliams
     Ellen McClung + Thomas Gillespie
What I was really excited about was remembering recently reading a book (available on google) called Genealogy of Hugh Stewart and his descendants. This great book goes into some detail about Stewart-Gillespie marriages. If I could tie the Covenantor Stewart to any of the Hugh Stewart's then at last there might be a connection between "Pine Bush" Gillespie's and my NY Gillespie's.

But for naught. The very bottom line is TIMING!! All the "early" Stewart's and Gillespie's arrived before the American Revolution. There's just no getting around that. David Stewart arrived in 1800, which is precisely when I suspect "my" Gillespie-Greer's also arrived. The rub has been did they arrive before or after the War of 1812? And better yet, maybe they were deported as enemy aliens and then emigrated again?!

I will say this. The Covenantor connection is important in tracing these family lines. AND that connection seems much more obvious along the GREER lines than the GILLESPIE. The Gillespie's were definitely practicing Presbyterians in Quebec where the children from John Gillespie's second marriage landed. And Thomas Gillespie (Jr.)'s marriage to the daughter of a Covenanter elder would probably have him involved in the church as well. But generally speaking, I am finding more church association in America for the GREER than the GILLESPIE families.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Popping UP Greer's!

Here's the thing. I know that the Greer and Gillespie families are intimately connected. After two years of constant digging, there isn't much question in my mind. But providing documented proof of these ties is another matter altogether. Sometimes I think the ancestor ghosts are just playing with me because in reality there is nothing left to find. Other times I almost believe I am being nudged along to find the next tangible clue, whether or not it's what I was ever expecting to find.

You have to imagine me in Michigan. It was at the end of my 9-day trip and I hadn't really found anything I was hoping to find. I had been at the Oakland County Pioneer and Historical Society for several hours and the librarians there were extremely helpful but there just wasn't much to find. So we were putting things away and I half-heartedly looked the librarian in the eye and said "I've come a long way so before I go home are you SURE there's nothing else for me to look at?" She brought out one more binder full of general clippings that somebody had associated with Bloomfield, Michigan. The Greer Golden Wedding article was sitting right on top. I got so emotional I started to cry and the poor librarians could only stand there and pat my shoulder. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined I would lay eyes on a picture of John and Isabella Greer and 15 of their 16 children. Even though I have no idea where this picture came from nor can I name anybody in it save for John and Isabella, I still look at this picture almost daily out of sheer wonder.

So now there are faces to go with my desire to find these people. But what did it buy me? Well, once again, more than I dreamed. I posted the picture on my tree on And lo and behold, last week, comes contact from a living descendant of John and Isabella. She is the mother of three little kids and has more than enough to do keeping up with present day life, but something about that Golden Wedding picture moved her too. She wrote to her mom and her mom wrote back. They started forwarding more photos, newspaper clippings, and letters from other Greer relations who have in the past tried to document this history. Because of those new letters, we've now uncovered John Greer's brother, Reverand James Greer. We now know James Greer was living in Newburgh, New York when he enrolled at Princeton. We have his biography telling of his ministry work in Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri. He was the one living in Henderson, Kentucky where his mother Jane Gillespie Greer died in January 1868. And he was the one living in Denmark, Tennessee when Jane's estate was probated in August of 1868. It's all documented. The story, piece by piece, slowly falls together, until we begin to realize the story is real, the people were real, and everything about their lives was in fact quite vivid. All this digging is about shining the light into places that have faded just beyond shadows. The ancestors are tricky; they remain, they are in the fabric of us, they are tickling us with recognition. This is the part that was not in my research plan.

Stone Boats

In my Michigan research in July, I was reading The History of Oakland County, Michigan by Durant (1877), which tells the following regarding our Gillespie/Greer pioneers:

So naturally I looked at a map and determined that Gilbert Lake is roughly 4 miles away from Franklin Cemetery where the pioneer stones are located. Here is the picture I took when visiting Franklin Cemetery:

Is it just me or does it seem like those stones are lined up rather closely? And maybe the stones are not really resting on top of actual graves? Well, based on what I read in the book, it seems clear that the gravestones were moved at some point. I imagined that it had something to do with Highway 24 going in, but who knows. I have sent a letter of inquiry to the Franklin Cemetery to see what they have in their records about all this.

Ah, but there's now there's more to the story. Thanks to finding a new Greer cousin, we have found a letter written by a Greer family member 25 years ago. Here is an excerpt of the letter that applies to this discussion:

"Isabella and John are buried in Franklin, Michigan. I think it is called Franklin Cemetery. It is on the main road of the village. Think it is Middlebelt. The monument is a very large stone taken from their property on Lone Pine Road. Isabella hauled many of the stones from the property on a stone boat [used] to build the home (still there)."

What the heck is a stone boat? According to wikipedia:

A stone-boat is a device for moving heavy objects such as stones or hay bales. It was used with horses or oxen by the settlers of the Western United States, and is still sometimes used with tractors today. The device looks like a low-profile sled. They were usually made of wood, but metal versions exist with hinges.

OK - see how much there is to learn when doing genealogy? But here's the rub. The letter says Isabella moved the stones (which I take to mean the gravestones), but Isabella Sr. died BEFORE her husband John (she died 1891, he died 1894). So maybe the letter refers to their daugher, Isabella Jr, wife of James Gillespie? Or maybe this information is a mixture of fact and lore. Does it matter? Until I hear otherwise from somebody with access to Franklin Cemetery records, I am imagining the stone boat (regardless of its driver) carrying our pioneer gravestones to a place where they would be carefully lined up together to be found by the future, by us.

What's Lost Waits To Be Found

So many remarkable things have surfaced from the depths over the last several weeks. To separate each nugget at this point feels next to impossible, but it's important I think to document the process as well as the finds just so I can at some point in the future remember what's been learned about How to look and How to see.

This particular entry tells a tale of chance, of one forgotten or overlooked letter that just happened to contain a small 2 1/2" x 3 1/2" picture, which it turns out is now 146 years old. On the back is this handwriting:

Mr. James Gillespie
Co. I 3rd Mich Cav.
Vet. Vol
Baton Rouge

(please do not copy this image without permission)

There is also an orangish two-cent stamp with Pres. Washington on it. The stamp on the top reads U.S. Inter.rev with the bottom reading bank check. In doing some research on this, we find the stamp is a revenue, designated Scott number R6, first issued in 1862.

"The stamp shows that the federal tax was paid for the photo. A stamp with the word 'proprietary' on the bottom should have been affixed, but it was common that proprietary stamps would run short, and thus other stamps of the same denomination were used in its place.

R6 was printed in three varieties: perforated on two sides only, perforated on all four sides on old paper, and perforated on all four sides on silk paper. The most common is the middle variety, and fault-free, eye-appealing examples have a catalog (retail) value of 25 cents apiece."


Thanks to the research by Cousin Diane, we have determined that this extraordinary little photo is indeed our James H. Gillespie, younger brother of Alexander Gillespie who served in very same company as his brother in the Civil War. James' service was toward the end of the war, and here is how he came to be in Baton Rouge in 1865 when this picture is believed to have been taken:

"After the fall of Mobile, they were employed on outpost duty until the surrender of the confederate forces east of the Mississippi River, when the Regiment was selected as the escort of General Canby on the occasion of his receiving the formal surrender of the forces of General Taylor. They left Mobile on May 8th., marching cross country to Baton Rouge, reaching there the 22nd. When General Sheridan assumed the command of the Military Division of the Southwest, the Regiment was selected, then ordered to report to him for duty, then immediately prepared to join the expedition to Texas, leaving Baton Rouge for Shreveport, June 10th."


This find is so remarkable. Mostly because our knowing of James H. Gillespie evaporated over the years. Why? Maybe in part because James was the youngest - that part is hard to know. But after the war, James returned to Michigan to marry Belle Greer. They had one son, John Wilbur, and for whatever reason, their little family decided to leave Michigan for points west. Eventually they settled in Denver, Colorado where the three lived, died, and were buried. And because they left the Michigan family nest, they faded from the Gillespie family memory. Until now.

Who knows why this picture was not preserved and passed down with other family heirlooms. And it's doubtful that any one past or present could have predicted the circumstances of its discovery in 2011. But here we are, looking squarely into the face of a 20-year-old James H. Gillespie who served with the Union army and survived to help shape the place where I live and love today. It almost seems that James has been waiting for me all along, both to discover and to remember him and his family.

So here's to James H. Gillespie, my second great grand uncle, his wife Isabella Greer Gillespie, and his son who graduated from the University of Michigan and became a lawyer, John Wilbur Gillespie. I hereby proudly claim these Colorado pioneers my family.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Look and Look Again and Just Keep Looking

In my previous post, I made reference to a probate record for Jane Gillespie Greer which I found earlier this year. It mentions she had a son, James Greer, who in 1868 was residing here:

I gave up looking at this. It really looks like the first word is "Denmark" but the second word? Ugh. Like I said, it's been nothing more than a meaningless scribble. Until last night.

Sometimes if I stare at something unintelligible really really hard, turn my head sideways, then scrunch up my face and blink really fast, I can shake my brain loose from what it thinks it is seeing and I can see what's always been there. (I learned this technique from keeping a Magic Eye book on the coffee table.) Well, suddenly all my experience with old German handwriting from doing my Dad's side of the tree came to the foreground. That letter that looks like a "p" is actually a German eszett and represents a double-"s" in English. Once I realized that, the word just popped out - Tennessee! And yes, Denmark, Tennessee is a real place. Oh my gosh.

So this is exciting for a couple reasons. First just because of the fun of finally "getting it", the puzzle. Secondly, this clue opens a whole new door in my research box. I've been beating my head for nearly two years trying to find Greer's from Orange County, New York because that was the only clue given in the land deeds of the Gillespie/Greer pioneers who arrived in Oakland County, Michigan. Why would I ever look in Tennessee? Now of course, I will look, if only I can keep the magic eye open.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Puzzle Pieces

I guess sometimes the pieces which seem random do have a way of coming together. Case in point. Last Feb. I found Jane Gillespie's probate record mentioning her deceased daughter Eliza Lemon and her grandson William Lemon. At that time there was no clue as to who the LEMON surname belonged to. Then a few weeks ago at the Library of Michigan I stumbled upon a divorce decree granted to Peter Gordon dissolving his marriage with Elizabeth Gillespie. A deposition of Charles Lemon was recorded who noted being a witness at their marriage and knowing both parties. And now, thank you very much Mocavo, come 10-year-old message board posts from somebody named Shirley Farrell who obviously knew alot about Charles Lemon and his second wife Lizzie Greer. Well, when I looked at my tree with some boredom last night (which does NOT happen often, believe me), there was suddenly a flash of realization. I have added Charles Lemon as the mystery spouse of Jane Greer's daughter Eliza (aka Lizzie). It's going to take some effort to find out when Lizzie died and where she is buried, etc. but that's just fine with me.

It's a bit exciting to see all the descendants of Charles Lemon. If my theory holds that he married Eliza Greer and at the very least William was her son, then the list of descendants of our Jane Gillespie, daughter of John Gillespie is growing longer. Jane's legacy was assured when son John Greer married Isabella Gillespie and 16 children sprang into the world, but now we've stumbled on even more descendants. And the descendants of Jane's son Robert M. Greer are all over the place too, so who knows about the kids we don't know about or can't find! Wouldn't it be nice if somebody alive really knew the story of Jane Gillespie Greer? or Isabella Gillespie Greer?? Just hang on to those puzzle pieces. A day may come when the flash appears and the pieces prove they fit together all along.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Hunt for Isabella's Parents

It's been almost two years since I found Belle Greer buried nearly in my own back yard, at the Fairmount Cemetery in Denver, CO. Finding her buried in Colorado prompted ordering her death certificate, which uncovered that her mother was somebody named Isabella Gillespie. We have since been able to determine alot about Isabella Gillespie - that she came to Michigan from Orange County, New York and married John Greer, they settled in Bloomfield township, acquired quite alot of land, and raised 16 children, all of which seems stunning. But so far, we've not been able to determine who Isabella's parents were (there are lots of votes on that she is a daughter of William Gillespie and Isabella Houston, but I have not found any evidence to support that theory - my research notes for that can be found attached on ancestry).

So one of my primary goals for my recent trip to Michigan was to find an answer to this burning question. I'm sorry to say as I write this, the answer still eludes me. But here's what I found (and did not find):

I have been primarily focused on why I have not been able to find a death certificate for Isabella. Death certificates were issued in Michigan by 1891 and they often listed parents. Why can't I find one? At the Michigan State Archives, they have a register of deaths for the entire state by year, organized alphabetically and by county. There were no Greer or Gillespie deaths recorded anywhere in the state in 1891. So this means one of two things:

a) Isabella did not die in Michigan, but in this case, her body was brought back - presumably - and buried in Michigan. We should actually check the cemetery records personally - they might have some other info. It should be noted that this very thing happened to Jane Gillespie Greer. If not for the probate record which said she died in Henderson, KY (we still don't know what she was doing there), we wouldn't know where she died because she too is buried in Michigan (presumably).

b) Isabella did die in Michigan but for whatever reason it was not recorded at any official level (county or state). It should be noted, however, that I did find a death announcement in an 1891 Pontiac Gazette which noted that Isabella had been ill and quoted a poem at her passing.

I was pretty discouraged at not finding any death record. But on my last day in Lansing, I started thinking about what other documentation would list a person's parents, and I wondered about a marriage certificate. I had found one source that said John and Isabella were married in Wayne County, so I started hunting. Lo and Behold! There is both a religious and a civil record recorded in Wayne County on June 13, 1833. This information was recorded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1936 as part of the Vital Records Project of Michigan (a copy of what I found is attached on my research website). Because all this happened before Michigan was a state, the actual record, if it still exists, is somewhere in a Detroit storage room. Should I admit that I have my hopes pinned on this slim chance?

And here's one other little thing: John Greer and Isabella Gillespie Greer were officially registered as Oakland County Pioneers in 1903, interestingly AFTER they both had died. Although some have survived, the original forms for Greer's application are not found at the Oakland County Pioneer and Historical Society. Clearly one of their many descendants recognized they were pioneers and made sure they were registered. More Michigan pioneers. More history than we ever knew....

O Pioneer!

I just returned for a nine-day trip to Michigan. I'm going to be uploading some of my research notes to the my Gillespie/Greer research site, but want to add some highlights to the blog here.

Sometimes it's easy to forget the character who started all the research excitement in 2010: Elizabeth Gillespie, half-sister of my ggg-grandfathers James and Robert Gillespie. While I was in Lansing at the Michigan State Archives and the Library of Michigan, I was reminded of those who first bought land from the U.S. Government while Michigan was still a territory. The one and only person with the Gillespie name in that time and place and circumstance was Elizabeth Gillespie of Orange County, New York. In April of 1833 she purchased, in her own name at a time when women were elsewhere not entitled to own land or even be considered guardians of their own children, 78 acres in Oakland County in the township of Bloomfield. Elizabeth was single when she bought the land but soon after in 1834 she married Peter Gordon. Curiously though, by the 1840 census she was living alone. And of course it's interesting to note that Elizabeth's gravestone in Franklin Cemetery names her a Gillespie not a Gordon.

At the end of long library days, I like to save time for wandering the aisles because somehow I am always lead to something I am supposed to look at. So I ended up in an aisle with Oakland County records, and I pulled Divorce Records for Oakland County, 1839-1865. No reason, just did. What I found was a divorce petition filed by and granted to Peter Gordon in 1850, ending his marriage with Elizabeth Gillespie because of HER abandonment shortly after the marriage (the actual wording of the petition is located in the library of documents on my website). In addition, the witness who was deposed was named Charles Lemon. The name LEMON pops up because one of the daughters of James Greer and Jane Gillespie Greer, Eliza, married somebody of the name Lemon - a fact I got from Jane's probate record. Jane died in 1868, so clearly the LEMON family knew the Gillespie's quite a long time.

So. Miss Elizabeth Gillespie. A woman before her time, it seems, owning land, becoming a divorcee, a woman with no children. When she died in 1857, relations headed to probate court to divvy up her pioneer land. If not for those records, we would probably never know that Elizabeth was ours. And she was. Even though mystery still abounds as to who Elizabeth's parents were, and when and where she came to America from Ireland, she is no less a key character in our family history.

Any way, let's **toot**toot** the horn for Elizabeth, for as far as I can tell, she is the FIRST Gillespie in our lineage to own land anywhere in Michigan. She is also the ONLY original Michigan pioneer with the Gillespie name and she deserves all the credit for establishing the Gillespie family for generations to come upon Michigan soil. Cheers to Elizabeth, o pioneer.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Thinking about Reunions

I spent the day scanning reunion announcements that were found in the trunks of things that have been passed along to me. There were three reunions: The Gillespie Family Reunion, which started in 1910, The Dodder Family Reunion, which started in 1926, and The WAG (William A. Gillespie) Family Reunion, which started in 1957. I've not seen formal announcements from the very early days, maybe there were none other than word of mouth. But eventually the families grew to a size where announcements were sent by mail to family members, usually well ahead of time so that people could plan in advance to attend. And for a very long time, many did.

The phenomenon of the family reunion was really something. They were organized! They were in practice almost an institution! They had officers and committees, and business meetings. And family history was only a fraction of its purpose. Each reunion documented the oldest attendee and the youngest, and there was a reading of the past year's vital statistics - who was born, who married, who died. But they also worked long and hard on entertainment and activities for all the different age groups to participate in. It was a time for everybody to have some fun together. And I think most of the time, they did. Some of my earliest memories are of Michigan summers at these "events" that would be jammed with old and young alike, all of whom I knew nothing about because my family always traveled from beyond Michigan to attend. But reliably I would always be hugged by elders who looked and smelled funny, and then I would run off with the other kids to explore all the stuff in the family museum, or to ride around in the carriage that had come to Michigan from Canada. It seems like so long ago and it seems like yesterday.

So this afternoon, I found myself daydreaming about what a Gillespie reunion might look like today. And I started to think about all the relations I have met through the internet since I started working with this family history several years ago. What I come to realize as I locate and slowly get to know each new relation, is how we all come from the same traceable origin and yet how we have all branched out into the world in our own ways. Which is to say we're different. I think back in "the day", closer to the center of the now gigantic circle, people were more alike, generally speaking. We know they had the same ethnicity. We know they were all Protestant Christians and from their earliest days in America, their politics were Republican. We know they all knew what it meant to be self sustaining, to grow their own food and hunt and build and rebuild their homes. They all lived within certain economic means that seemed to improve gradually over time with all the talent and hard work of all the family units. They believed in education and service, and applied themselves vigorously in their communities as well as their families. And most certain of all, this summary of their ideology was shared. I think at a family reunion, one could count on having lively conversation with members who for the most part believed and lived a shared existence.

But how would that look today? So many progeny left the Michigan home nest, scattering to the four winds of the planet. And in the course of those journeys we diversified. We followed our interests and our hearts along unimagined paths. We moved, we worked, we fought wars, we struggled for peace and prosperity, and we fell in love with people and places so different from our Michigan heritage that we ourselves changed and grew into our own unique lives. We came to believe in something, whatever it is, and today we nurture ourselves and our loved ones within that context. But who are we Gillespie's now? We're not all the same any more. We have married across many lines by now. We have not one religion nor any singular spiritual view. We've found no one traditional way to make a living and feed our families. Our politics range the gamut, no doubt. And our families? Well, some look like they used to, and some do not. We're a blend now, both as individuals and as families.

Maybe the challenge of accepting our differences in the world is to accept them first among ourselves in our own families. My father, who was not a Gillespsie by the way, taught me this valuable lesson. For years, he and I didn't have much to do with each other because there wasn't a subject under the sun we could agree about. But somewhere HE decided that he simply didn't want that dynamic with his daughter any more. So he listened rather than judged, and gently, he asked me to do the same. With time and practice, we had lively conversations that we knew would never result in changing the other's point of view. But he'd kiss me on the cheek and I'd hug him hard, and we could smile with such deep affection knowing that loving each other was really all that mattered most.

So I think if I am ever part of resurrecting the reunion tradition, I will send announcements that say something like this: Come as you are. Be welcome and be seen and be open. Look into the kaleidoscope and be amazed. We are each part of the mosaic simply by virtue of the heritage we all claim, and we belong. We're blood. We're family. Let's introduce ourselves.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The News Fit to Print

First I want to give credit to people who blog full time. How do you do that AND everything else in both life and genealogy? Wow. With that said, I am obviously behind in logging my genealogy research.

Well, what have I been doing? I went back to SLC again to finalize arrangements on a timeshare since it's clear that spending time there often results in the most bang for the research buck. So naturally I did research in between signing papers. On the Gillespie side, we discovered a Gillespie of the town Cavanecaw in County Armagh. This was an exciting find - a town!

Then May rolled around, and my sister and I went to Nebraska to pick up 6 trunks of family history stuff. That was around Mother's Day and I am STILL sorting and labeling and filing. There are so many valuable things to be found including correspondence, photos, slides, memorabilia. But one particular treasure is found in hundreds of self-published newsletters about the Gillespie family, written in most part by Edith Gillespie (author of The Gillespie Family Record, which was last published in 1966). Indeed, there are two newsletters, one called The Gillespie WAG, where WAG are the initials of Edith's father, William A. Gillespie. The WAG newsletters start in 1954 and continue to 1981. The newsletters were written and mailed monthly, and as time wore on, some issues were multi-page, although Edith was very good at cramming as much as she possibly could on to one page, obviously to save on the printing and postage. The printing was done by mimeograph, and I am thinking she had her own machine, although I don't know that for sure. In any case, every single month for roughly 27 years, Edith printed and mailed out a newsletter to WAG descendants. Taken altogether, this piece of work is staggering. Not only am I reading about my own life as written by a far-away great aunt, but I am following the story of my mother's family. Since my mother was the first of the clan to leave the state of Michigan when she came of age, she left behind stories in progress - stories I only heard in roundabout ways, if at all. For that reason, my own memories and knowing of Michigan are sketchy. Some things reported in the newsletter are a surprise, like when Uncle Foster died suddenly (I never knew him or even of him much, so to learn about his life and then sudden death by way of the WAG newsletter took me off guard). On the other hand, some things beg anticipation because I do know what's going to happen (e.g., knowing the date of my grandfather's death, I find myself hanging on any mention of him in the months before). It's all truly amazing.

At some point Edith realized that we had/have a good number of relations who were not direct descendants of WAG, and so she started a second newsletter called Gillespie Cousins in 1964. This newsletter was much less frequent - usually only once or twice a year - but they are equally packed with details that are a genalogist's dream come true. Gillespie Cousins continued under the efforts for Bruce Gillespie until Edith's death in 1986.

To be honest, I'm still absorbing it all. It was a different time, when family was nearly everything in a person's life. In these trunks are photos and details about family reunions that occurred annually going back to 1915 or so. The reunions had a board and committees, and the WAG siblings even had a financial club where they invested in the stock market together and then made the proceeds available for family members in need. I'm still trying to determine exactly when the LAST reunion was, and why they stopped, although I can probably guess. They stopped in large part because Edith got old and then older, and then she died. She was a one-woman force who drove the Gillespie and Dodder (her mother's side) family and amazingly recorded its genealogy. I begin to wonder if I will ever get a handle on everything she did, never mind how she did any of it without a computer....

Well, the newsletters have given me yet one more thing to do. First I have made an index so I know which issues are in my possession and which are missing. I am sending out word to anybody anywhere who might be able to come up with the missing issues. Hoping and praying that I will indeed be able to come up with a complete set, I will then publish them altogether and make them available for family researchers. I have been scanning the issues I have into PDF and better yet, they are searchable! So even though I have stayed up late nights reading every word, I can now circle back through and search. This has allowed me to do things like start an index of reunions - when and where they were held along with any other relevant details. It's mind boggling, and fun, and most importantly, the things found in these newsletters will add tremendous depth to the story of so many Gillespie descendants.

I can tell you that when the newsletter set is complete, I will be generating a commemorative print edition with the front section dedicated to the life of Edith Gillespie. I start to run out of adjectives when it comes to being amazed by her fairly unsung accomplishments. It's time to give her proper honor.

In the mean time, my awesome cousins are gleefully joining in whenever and wherever possible. From Michigan and Hawaii start to come scans of photos and letters that have been (and still are) filling attic space. Each image is jaw-dropping, heart-racing, blood-pressure-rising exciting to look at. We are all scurrying trying to find elders who can identify and tell stories that go with these things. Time is ticking. And meanwhile we occasionally catch ourselves looking in the mirror wondering what part of us is them, what part of them is us, and who will be the ones to recognize any of us 100 years from now?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Thoughts on the War of 1812

Last night watched a great documentary (acquired from Netflix) about the War of 1812. It's interesting that this is known as the "forgotten war" when indeed it was significant in so many ways. To the British, the War of 1812 was only a side show to the Napoleonic Wars raging in Europe. But for America, it was the first (and so far only) war fought against foreign invaders on American soil. It resulted in the burning of the White House and destruction of Washington D.C. And it was the bombing of Ft. McHenry which inspired the Star Spangled Banner. Wow.

Now I'm wondering what this historic war might have to do with my having trouble locating Gillespie's and Greer's in NY around this time. The War of 1812 was actually fought over 3 years: 1812-1815. The war was fought along 3 fronts: the Atlantic coast, the frontier along the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River, and in the south along the Gulf coast.

America declared war on June 18, 1812. If our Gillespie/Greer's were not already arrived in America by then, they probably did NOT come during these years. However, at least one couple might have been in America: James and Jane Greer. It appears their daughter Mary Greer was born in NY in 1812, although we don't have definitive documentation for that. The next 2 children, James and Joseph were also born in NY in 1815 and 1817 respectively.

And here's another tidbit. Ancestry has a source called War of 1812 Papers, 1789-1815. And in it are passenger lists of enemy aliens being returned to Britain. There is even a record for a Thomas Gillespie, age 37 (about the right age of our Thomas), in U.S. for 4 years, returned with wife and 2 children, resident of NY (city, I believe), laborer. I don't think this is our Thomas Gillespie, although who knows. What's interesting to think about are families newly arrived in America from the British Isles being sent back as enemy aliens.

Regarding the question of when the Gillespie's and/or Greer's came to America, I still find myself believing that they came AFTER the Revolution, let's say after 1785 or even 1790 when the Revolutionary War was officially over and America was an independent country. If this is true, I find myself believing that these families were NOT loyal to Britain in any way, and in fact wanted to leave Ireland to get away from British rule. So if they were in America when the War of 1812 started, I don't think they would have been sent back, but if this premise is true, I might expect to find an oath of allegiance or some kind of naturalization record for them stating that they were indeed American. And there is also the question of whether any of them actually fought in the War of 1812. That's a subject probably worth exploring a little more.

Well, irregardless of where they were, America, Canada or Ireland, it was a tumultuous time.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Gillespie's in New York

I've spent the morning writing a report summarizing my research of the Gillespie surname in NY before 1830. (The report is found in the Library on my research website.) The bottom line is that I am no closer to figuring out Gillespie connections in NY. Well, maybe I'm closer and I just don't know it; that happens sometimes..... I have chased most of the collateral surnames that also show up in the Michigan family, and even though they also appear sporadically in Orange County, NY - the actual TIES are nothing more than speculation. Ugh. Where to go when you think there's nowhere else to go?

I need a plan. I thought I had one, but when a plan yields zero results, a new plan is called for. Hmmmm.

1. Look for immigration and/or naturalization records.
2. Research what resources might be available at the NY State Archives.
3. Look again for land records in NY. The purchase of land in Michigan Territory was for CASH SALES ONLY. Only one Gillespie made a cash purchase in Oakland County, Michigan (there were other purchases by Gillespie's in other MI counties, but Oakland is here the focus), and that was Elizabeth Gillespie, whose probate record was found a year ago. On the other hand, there were no fewer than 19 purchases in Oakland County by Greer's all from Orange County, NY. They bought ALOT of land with ALOT of cash. So where did that cash come from? They either brought it with them from Ireland and saved it, it was given to them (sent or inherited), or they earned it, presumably in NY. I *think* I would be looking for Greer's who are selling land in Orange County, NY - and I did spend a fair amount of time looking at land deeds in my last trip to FHL. Maybe that's the next step - just to organize and analyze that information so I might better know where NOT to spend time in the future.

And so not all research is fun, right? Or maybe that's not exactly right. In the balancing act of choosing where to spend the hours of my energy, would I rather be spending time elsewhere? Nah, not really. Not unless it would be writing the book that tells how all this turns out.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The WORLD of Gillespie's

Inasmuch as I intend to use this blog to record my own research, none of it happens in a vacuum. Ever. So even though I have plenty to do in keeping track of what *I* am doing and sometimes even a little of what my cousins are doing, I also want to share my knowing of what other researchers are doing.

There is an amazing woman out there, most of the time in Canada methinks, whose name is Norma Gillespie. She publishes a regular newsletter which she is happy to send by email for nothing. Her research goal? Well, here is a quote from her email to me today:

"Yes, I appreciate any free advertising about what I am doing, especially regarding the development of a Gillespie Family History Library and Archives (I have about 500 genealogies of other researchers of Gillespies carefully preserved for them). My focus is preserving Gillespie records from across the world. I try to add something about Ireland and Scotland in each newsletter since Gillespies originated from there).

My goal in time is to have a location where I can open the library to the public, maybe a bed and breakfast situation as well as a pioneer farm.....some people drop by already from time to time. "

I can hardly get my brain around this kind of ambition, mostly because my little Gillespie branch alone must represent a small mountain of heritage all by itself. But all Gillespie's everywhere?

Norma, having applauded you privately, let me also do so publicly. I'm so happy to know you are out there with your enthusiasm and your vision. You add fuel to my fire every single time I hear about what you're up to. So thanks, and keep on going. You are a true Gillespie, to be sure.

NOTE: Norma's March 2011 Newsletter about Gillespie Family History is available for download from my website (follow the link located on this blog).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

More Bloomfield, Michigan History

I just happened to run across a couple other sites that provide some interest for researchers in/around Bloomfield, MI:
Incredibly, this site has posted township records dating back to 1827!

Also, this group looks friendly :-)

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Birmingham Eccentic - Archives of Old Michigan Newspaper

OK - how much do we love librarians?  Seriously, can we all pause right now and applaud them one and all?

One of my brick walls is finding the parents of one Isabella Gillespie Greer, born 1813 in either Ireland or New York, died 1891, buried April 3, 1891 in Franklin Village Cemetery, Oakland County, Michigan.  Even though deaths were being recorded at that time in the state of Michigan, I have been unable to locate any official death record and thus any hope of a document that names her parents.

So what now?  The only idea I could come up with was that perhaps a local newspaper had published any account of her death, and if I am lucky, a mention of her parents.  I started with the Oakland County Library.  They do in fact have old copies of the Pontiac Gazette going back that far.  Would I give them a name and date and would I like them to do a look-up?  Holy cow.  Yes, please.  Well, sadly they did not find any mention of a Greer death in April 1891, but they suggested I should check the library for Bloomfield Township.  Well, ok, maybe I will.

Today in my email inbox is a short but pleasant email from Bloomfield Township answering my inquiry. Here is a link they sent me to access old copies of the Birmingham Eccentric, 1882-1929. There is no index and each page of the paper is its own PDF, but still, how terrific is this?

Sadly, I don't find mention of my Greer or Gillespie relations or even any other names I really recognize.  There is an occasional mention of Bloomfield, West Bloomfield, Southfield, Franklin, but most of the news seems to be about Birmingham.  Here is a map showing Birmingham, MI in relation to these other townships where my relations had settled:

View Larger Map

So the brick wall remains.  Nevertheless, it was fun to read these old newspapers and take note of all the churches, the businesses, the schools, the crops, the weather, the politics, and events happening elsewhere in the state and in the world.  It was a vibrant time and place to be sure.  If you are researching anywhere near this little part of the world during the decades just before and after the turn of the century, these newspapers will give you great insight.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Recent Discovery

I'm on a mission to be more organized.  How in the world does all this material pile up so fast?  And for me at least, the material lives in two dimensions:  paper and electronic.  It's one thing to have a paper filing system, and quite another to have electronic files.  On multiple computers.  Pause here to cross myself and pray they don't crash any time soon. 

So I've been trying to devote a small number of hours per week to some form of "organizing".  This last week I was going through files on ONE of my computers.  One by one, I am opening files and then trying to rename the file so it most accurately reflects the contents and then (possibly) moving that file to a folder where similar related things can be kept together. 

In the course of this task last week, I opened a PDF file that was simply named "Gillespie Family".  Well, the file contained scans of some Gillespie-related newspaper articles, some pages of the Gillespie Family Record, and what's this?  A two-page typewritten article dated August, 1917, titled "First Reunion, 1916" by Mary E. Jameson, Historian. 

Well all I can tell you is that some gremlin must have put this on my computer.  Seriously, if I ever saw this before in my life, the recollection is completely lost.  And so finding it now is like finding gold!  Especially after several years of intensive research with my Gillespie cousins trying to make sense of varying dates associated with our ancestors' arrival in the New World, this document leaps to attention!  In two pages, Ms. Jameson describes how Robert Gillespie arrived in Quebec in 1847 rather than 1838 as described previously in the Gillespie Family Record.  It describes how Robert arrived with his oldest daughter Mary Jane, and how they worked for 18 months before having the money to send for the rest of the family.  It then describes Elizabeth's voyage with her other young and some sick children, and how her arrival in Quebec became indeed a true family reunion.

There are no good words for how precious this piece of writing is.  It is written by a granddaughter 20 years after her grandmother Elizabeth Donaldson Gillespie's death, and so it is in time the closest description we have of Robert and Elizabeth's journey to the New World.  The piece contains other clues to wonder about as well as at least one clear mistake.  So we know it's not perfect.  But its value shines.  It glows.  It smiles quietly to be found again and pondered anew. Vive l'organisation!

Friday, March 4, 2011

OCGSNY - Yahoo Talk Group

I signed up awhile back to be on the yahoo talk group: OCGSNY, Orange County (NY) Genealogical Society.  There have been no shortage of emails flying through my in box for several months from people posting there.  Just when I think I should unsubscribe because I don't EVER see any info that looks applicable to my family history, here comes a posting from somebody with the surname SLOAT.  Hmmm, just a month ago in SLC, I found a marriage record for Mary Ann Gillespie to Henry P. Sloat in Oakland Co, MI in 1838. 

So I wrote to Mr. Sloat and he has lots of history about his Sloat family but nothing new about Gillespie.  Sigh.  But in the mean time, the message board has picked up with a lively discussion about why residents of Orange County migrated in some numbers to Michigan!  It was fun to join the discussion and share what I've learned in my recent reseach studies:   a) the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 made travel to MI much easier and b) MI was having an all out land sale in order to populate the territory and become a state (MI became 26th state in 1837). 

In the course of sharing that info, I threw out the surnames of other Orange County residents with connections in Oakland, MI:  McKinney, Beattie, McClung, Rainey, and of course, Gillespie and Greer.  Now there is discussion going on about McKinney.  All very fun.  Who knows - maybe it will lead to somebody stumbling upon our Gillespie/Greers!

Today is the Day

Well, here is my first research report for the work I'm doing on my Gillespie ancestry.  There's always something new.  Here's hoping that this becomes a fun way to record for myself what I'm working on while letting others out there know about it too.   As for the ancestors, I hope they approve and send some not-so-subtle guidance.