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.