Thursday, March 21, 2024

Gillespie Riddle

Over the years, I've seen any number of Gillespie family trees that point to the couple, James Gillespie and Elizabeth Riddle, as the progenitors of their family line.  I eventually found one source which is probably responsible for this claim:  American Ancestry (AA), which is itself an unsourced work of many volumes claiming to register the pedigrees of early American males.  Volume 11 has an entry for Gillespie which runs for several pages, starting with brothers David, John, and James who descended from the Campbell clan in the highlands of Scotland and later crossed into Ireland to first settle in county Antrim.  After fighting for the Prince of Orange in 1690, the Gillespie brothers moved to county Monaghan where James Gillespie married Elizabeth Riddle around 1700 and from there, the story of all their descendants flows.  How I would love to know who was the author of this account.

As we know, the problem with these sorts of publications is their tale usually cannot be corroborated and yet they often contain some nugget of truth.  Some of the details almost fit what many of us know about our Gillespies, but not quite, no matter how much we want them to.  And for each unsubstantiated claim used as the precursor for the next unsubstantiated claim, the value of such sources shrinks into a sad curse befalling many family historians — to innocently believe in our own blindness. 

The good news is this:  even though some things get lost with the passage of time, other things, remarkably, get found.  Given that we're talking here about Ireland where so much family history was consumed by flames, any evidence "found" these days comes as a surprise.  And so, such a moment recently presented itself to me:

According to a marriage contract recorded on 19 Nov 1725, Andrew Rutherford of Caddagh and William Riddle of Annaghmacneal, both of Tullycorbet parish, co Monaghan acknowledged themselves to be indebted to James Gillespie of Derryvalley for 50 pounds on condition that he marry Elizabeth Riddle, daughter of John Riddle, deceased, of Tynascamphy (?); Rutherford and Riddle to turn over lease from Michael Fleming of 990 years for 40 acres in Mullacrock, Tullycorbet, several witnesses including David Gillespie of Drummuck, linen draper.

This contract was recorded as memorial 151382 in volume 228, page 405, part of memorial books going back to 1709 which are stored in the Registry of Deeds in Dublin.  We can thank the Genealogical Society of Utah for creating 2686 microfilms of the memorial books in 1951, and the Family History Library for since digitizing those films so they are viewable online today.  We can also thank countless volunteers who contribute to the efforts to index and transcribe these memorials, and in the case of this particular memorial, my personal thanks go to researcher Sharon Oddie Brown. 

There might well be other memorials pertaining to James and Elizabeth, which might see the light of day if another hard-working soul locates, indexes, transcribes, and publishes them.  Meanwhile, there a number of other memorials pertaining to Gillespies in Tullycorbet parish of county Monaghan.  In particular, we learn from them about one Bothwick Gillespie, who was mentioned at the end of the AA account as a son of Joseph Gillespie and who sailed for America after the Rebellion of 1798.  But now the memorials tell us that David Gillespie of Drummuck had a son named Bothwick, and even more astonishingly, on 9 Sep 1795, Bothwick Gillespie of North Carolina in the United States of America conveyed his lands back in Drummuck to John Coulter.  See how the memorials shed new light on the details from the AA account?  And see how one particular memorial now clearly associates Gillespies in North Carolina with Gillespies in Drummuck, Monaghan.  Happily, that which has been blurred becomes focused through the lens of real evidence.  

Maybe it's coincidence that I decided to start the new year by digging into Gillespies in County Monaghan (click here to see my research notes).  And now surprise, we have stumbled into some clearly identifiable Gillespie family groups in Tullycorbet parish, Monaghan.  The question of whether they are related to my Gillespie family is open, although it seems very likely that all Gillespies in that region of Eastern Monaghan-Western Armagh probably knew of each other, related or not.  

For the moment, it's just good to feel that my own Research Going Nowhere can still be revitalized.  All us family history researchers can use the reminder that new discoveries leading to new understandings are still and always completely possible.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The Kinship of Neighbors and Friends

 Historically speaking, the Hossack connection to the Gillespie family appears to have been more than just as a passing acquaintance. 

In early Quebec, a wholesale grocer company was formed called Hossack and Woods, or Hossack Woods & Co.  The Woods part of this company relates to our Woods family, nephews of my gggg-grandmother, Jane Woods, who was the second wife of our progenitor, John Gillespie.  This Woods-Hossack connection is further highlighted in the name of James Hossack Bert Woods, 1867-1941, son of Alexander Woods and Elizabeth Banfield.

The Gillespies and the Hossacks were neighbors along the St. Charles river at Little River, Quebec (Petite Riviere is the little river St. Charles flowing into the St. Lawrence from the north and the west just below Quebec City).  The Gillespies rented from the Hossacks for awhile, and then James Gillespie helped to restore the Hossack family home in later years.  Many letters between Gillespies and Hossacks who lived in Quebec and Michigan have survived.  

Research into the Hossack family who were Gillespie neighbors in Quebec has lead back to Moray, Scotland and a search among DNA matches of several Gillespie testers has revealed at least one small match to Hossacks of Moray. But I also found DNA matches who trace back to a Hosick family in Markethill as well as a Hozack family in Mullaghbrack, Armagh, close to where our Gillespie family group last lived in Northern Ireland. Were any or all of these families somehow related to Gillespies before becoming neighbors in Quebec?

Whether Hossacks are blood relations to the Gillespies is probably only relevant (to me) if the two families came from the same area of Scotland. But perhaps the two families were "only" neighbors and friends.  I am reminded of the number of people in my life to whom I am not blood-related but who are, for all that matters, my family. Such people often alter the course of our lives for the better and without them the quality of life would be far less bright.  It makes me wish DNA could measure love and connection as well as biology.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Jamieson Matches

 In 1835, my ancestor James Gillespie married Mary Jamieson in Lisnadill parish, Armagh.  Shortly after, they emigrated to Quebec where they raised their family and spent the rest of their lives.  According the recorded memories of their daughter, Mary Gillespie Henderson, (Memories of my early years, 1937 Montreal, pp 9-10), we know that Mary was one of four daughters of Arthur Jamieson and Mary Orr, and she had two brothers, John and William, who also emigrated to Quebec.  Arthur Jamison was recorded in the Griffith's Valuation of Ballymoran in Lisnadill, Armagh in 1864, and he died in 1866 at the age of 73.

Thanks to DNA matching, we are beginning to expand our knowing of the Jamieson family.  We now have matches leading to descendants of John Jamieson and Eliza Ferguson (Ontario, Canada), Ann "Nancy" Jamieson and James Diffin (Ontario, Canada), and Eliza Jamieson and Andrew Keys (Northern Ireland).  The Jamiesons are also thought to have originated from Scotland, so we also have them to thank for our Celtic ancestry.  

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Year in Review

This year I discovered DNA Painter, and have been busy building a chromosome map for myself. The hope is to identify the chromosomes and segments that pertain to my Gillespie clan, and knowing that, associate other testers on the same chromosome/segments whose relationship is currently unknown but whose stories might provide new clues and new links that lead to our Scotland connection. In the course of this venture, I was able to connect with a number of Gillespie elders both in U.S. and Canada who were willing to participate. The chromosome map is beginning to fill in! Finding more testers to participate is a challenge, but every year brings more unexpected advances. 

Here are few other research highlights for the year: 
  • Because of a match on FTDNA, I made contact with Glenyss G. who descends from Thomas Gillespie of Cavanacaw, and is a current resident of Northern Ireland. It's very exciting to make contact with a living Gillespie relation still in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, her family history reveals no more prior to Thomas Gillespie. And because Thomas Gillespie was the son of John Gillespie's first marriage, the fact that we can identify any DNA match with this branch is somewhat of a miracle. 
  •  I spent a fair amount of time researching COLL/COYLE family groups who emigrated from County Donegal before the US Civil War and settled in the Pittsburgh area. Multiple members from this family group are DNA matches to known Gillespie testers. The rub is that these families were heavily Catholic, and Donegal is nowhere near Armagh. Still in all, a study of the Griffith's Valuation shows that a surprising number of Gillespie households were found in Donegal. So somehow we share DNA with Catholic Gillespies from Donegal! 
  • I explored the life of John Gillespie, born around 1830 in Donegal, according to his Civil War enlistment records. He arrived in the U.S. in the early 1850s where he married Sarah McElhose. He was a blacksmith, and settled in Port Byron, IL. More DNA connections with no answer. 
  • I explored the life of Capt. James Gillespie, 1774-1868, a sailor and ship's master who lived in Portpatrick, Wigtownshire, Scotland, just a skip across the Irish Sea to Northern Ireland. His descendants emigrated to Montreal around 1835 and then settled in Ontario, and later the northwest territories where many of their DNA testers live today. How connected to us? 
  • I explored the life of Margaret Gillespie, ~1849-1945, who married Francis Waterson and then moved to Dunedin, New Zealand where descendants still live today. Margaret was the daughter of John Gillespie and Margaret Cameron who married in Glasgow in 1838. John is thought to have been the son of George Gillespie and Agnes Campbell who lived in Paisely. 
  • Finally, I explored the lives Maggie and Minnie Gillespie, both born in the late 1860s in Armagh with a father named Thomas. I suspect these were daughters of Thomas Gillespie and Sarah Woods, and granddaughters of Thomas Gillespie of Cavanacaw and his wife Margaret Johnston. These daughters made their way to Lancashire, England, also just across the Irish Sea, where they worked as servants. Maggie eventually married, and her descendants still live in the same area of the UK. 
  • And for those who know that in 2019-2020 I took a deep dive into Gillespie research in early Ulster and Orange counties, New York, a handful of DNA matches have since surfaced to some of those early American (pre-Revolution) families. The connection still eludes us but it is there. 
And so the beat goes on. For 2022, I'm considering giving up the notion of being frustrated that we're still poking around in the darkness with little reason to think the cave of the past holds answers. But just look at all these stories about Gillespies with whom I share some DNA!  It's like looking into the night sky that twinkles just on the edge of our comprehension — there's always more to learn.  In a continuing world of pandemic restrictions, I find comfort in imagining the fullness of our Gillespie ancestors' lives — how we got here and how we shall carry on.  And so we shall.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Scotland Saints

More of my posts these days are to report on small DNA matches to me who also have GILLESPIE in their family tree. No matter how small the DNA match, I check what I can of the match's family tree to see where the Gillespie name might fit in. Even though I have yet to confirm with genealogical proof that the Gillespie surname is the source of the DNA matches I mention here, these slim matches have nevertheless lead to some unexpected, interesting, and even amazing stories. Here is yet another.

This story starts in 1820 in western New York with a man named Joseph Smith. Smith had a religious vision that lead to the establishment of a new American church in 1830, one called Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and known by the public as Mormonism. By 1838, two native Scots living in Ontario, Canada, converted to the new religion, which they then introduced to Scotland on a trip back to visit family. They began preaching in Glasgow in 1840, and one decade later, several thousand Scots had joined the new religion.

Now for the Gillespie matches. The family trees of two small DNA matches to me trace back to Robert Easton (b 1751) and Ann Gillespie (b 1760). This couple apparently lived in New Monkland, Lanark, Scotland, an area 11 miles northeast of Glasgow and part of a municipal burgh called Airdrie. Large beds of coal and ironstone were mined from this area throughout the 19th Century. Here is one description of nearby Coatbridge in the 1840s:

"There is no worse place out of hell than that neighbourhood. At night, the groups of blast furnaces on all sides might be imagined to be blazing volcanoes at most of which smelting is continued on Sundays and weekdays, day and night, without intermission. From the town comes a continual row of heavy machinery: this and the pounding of many steam hammers seemed to make even the very ground vibrate under one's feet. Fire, smoke and soot with the roar and rattle of machinery are its leading characteristics; the flames of its furnaces cast on the midnight sky a glow as if of some vast conflagration. Dense clouds of black smoke roll over it incessantly and impart to all the buildings a peculiarly dingy aspect. A coat of black dust overlies everything."

Robert Easton and Ann Gillespie had a son, Robert Easton, Jr., born in 1796. In 1814, Robert Jr. married Elizabeth Laird, and they had 10 children before Robert Sr. died in 1849. According to the 1841 Census of Scotland, his occupation had been in the coal mines.

Now comes the amazing part, or the beginning of it. On 2 Mar 1850, a ship called Hartley sailed from Liverpool with 109 Latter-Day Saints on board, including Elizabeth Easton and two of her children. On 2 May 1850, the ship arrived in New Orleans where the passengers then traveled up the Mississippi River to St. Louis. There they met other of Elizabeth's children who had departed for America earlier. The family worked in coal mines as they had in Scotland until they had what they needed for the trip west to establish Zion. They traveled on what is now called the Mormon Pioneer Trail, which extended 1300 miles from Nauvoo, IL, to the Salt Lake Valley in Utah.  Some of the Eastons settled in Utah, and others continued to California.  Elizabeth Easton died in Gilroy, Santa Clara, CA in 1860 at the home of her son, George -- over 5000 miles from the coal mines of Monkland, Lanark, Scotland.

So for all my wondering about the religious associations of our Gillespie clan, we have never considered that a faith started in America might have also contributed to Gillespie migration away from Scotland. But maybe converting to Mormonism was more about existing religions of the time giving little help or hope to those living in poverty and despair, while a faraway vision espoused the idea that earnest goodness was enough to recognize simple people as saints. Whatever the true impetus for launching such a remarkable journey, the power of believing in something better had everything to do with finding Gillespie DNA traces among LDS descendants today.

Reflecting on this story gives me pause in our own trying times. With or without theology, what is it that inspires us to endure the worst and believe in the best, to reach beyond ourselves and our circumstances into the unknown? If the only promise of life is that being alive makes a difference, then the ancestors embraced that promise with their own determination. I want to be in that number.

Friday, June 19, 2020


This post comes about because of a faint DNA match between me with 0% African ethnicity and somebody with 75% African ethnicity. Her family tree points to a direct ancestor named Gillespie, and while the reason for the match between us might not relate to that surname, the story I am uncovering is beside the point of how we are related. This story is about all of us, and for that reason, the story deserves much more detail than I can put in this blog post. But today is one of those days, and I want to talk about it.

This story is set in Wayne County, Kentucky in the 1800s, in the years surrounding and including the American Civil War, 1861-1865, which still stands as America's bloodiest conflict. Kentucky was a border state between the North and the South and when the War Between the States broke out, the KY governor issued a proclamation of neutrality in the spring of 1861. But a shadow government favoring KY secession was formed, which then was accepted by the Confederacy in Dec. 1861 as the 13th Confederate state.

The dual governments in KY caused many family divisions with some sons fighting for the North and some for the South. About 100,000 Kentuckians served for the Union, and between 25,000-40,000 for the Confederacy.  In January 1862, the Confederates were defeated in the Battle of Mill Springs, which is geographically at the heart of the story being told here. 164 souls died there that day, another 611 were wounded or missing.

And now to the Gillespies. From my research, two Gillespies, James and Robert, both white, came to Wayne County just before 1820. They may have come from either VA or NC, and why they settled in Wayne is unknown. Based on a study of the records, I surmise that James and Robert were probably brothers, or they were otherwise closely related.

Robert Gillespie had a son named William, 1808-1855, who married the daughter of James Cowan, Nancy. This William Gillespie left a will which named the slaves apparently in his possession at that time:
  • Perry & his wife Rebecca, and their children Isaac and William
  • Rose & her son Louis
  • Lucinda & her child Green (?)
William's will stated that these slaves should go equally to his sons and daughters upon their mother's death. William also gave some additional instruction about the slaves:  "regarding the negros comfort and well being it is further my will that the negros belonging to me be kept in the family as long as they behave well and if any should become refractory and ungovernable, then it shall be the duty of my executors to hire such refractory slaves for the best price that can be had until they make amends."

At this point, I can hardly bear to continue this research because of the painful reality of white Gillespies directing so casually the fate of black Gillespies, who never chose the Gillespie name to begin with. But white William Gillespie gave us some important clues, the given names of his slaves. Do these names tie into the family tree of the black DNA match?

The black Gillespie family tree goes back to William Gillespie, born abt 1846 in KY; married to Lucy Jane, and by 1870 (post Civil War) appeared living in Mill Springs. In 1880, his children included Mary C., Rebecky J., Marthy T., Lueverney, Eddy J., and William P.  Lucy appeared in 1900 as a widow with two children: Perry, age 20, and Otho, age 18.  Lucy was last enumerated in 1910 at the age of 72 living with two sons, Perry W., 32, and Issac O, 23, and two grandsons, Ira M., 7, and Odis, 4.

Here's what I think. Given the names that appear in the black Gillespie family group, I believe the name patterns are repetitions from the slaves named in white William Gillespie's will in 1855:  Perry, Rebecca, Isaac, and William. If this is true, the child slave named William, the one recorded in white William Gillespie's 1855 will, was the same black man named William Gillespie who was free after the Civil War and then started his family with Lucy Jane.

Can we back this idea up with evidence?
  • The 1850 Slave Schedule for white William Gillespie does not show a male slave who would have been the right age to be black William Gillespie, and yet by 1855, white William Gillespie recorded a slave child, William.  Here's how I think that happened.  Remember James Cowan, father of William's wife, Nancy Cowan?  The 1850 census showed that Cowan had 11 slaves, one including a male around the age of 5 -- just the age of the slave William we are looking for. Cowan's will specified that his slaves should go to his wife, and after her death to his sons-in-law James R. Wilhite and William Gillespie. I contend that white William Gillespie probably inherited the slave child named William from the Cowan family.
  • The 1860 Slave Schedule for white Nancy Gillespie (widow of William) recorded 9 slaves, including one male, 15, mulatto. I contend this might have been black William Gillespie.
Oh, but there is still more. After April, 1864, African American soldiers were recruited and about 24,000 black Kentuckians joined the fight for their freedom.  I found documentation dated 1 Aug 1864, showing one William Gillespie, age 20, black, farmer born in Wayne, KY enlisted for 3 years. In the remarks we see "Owner Billy Gillespie." This black William Gillespie served the duration of the Civil War in the 6th US Colored Cavalry.  There is also an index entry for a pension application made by Lucy Gillespie for a William Gillespie of the 6th USCC. That William Gillespie was declared an invalid in 1891 (which is maybe why he was not enumerated in 1900), and Lucy was noted as a widow on 8 May 1906. Thus ended the life of a remarkable man named William Gillespie who had been born into slavery, and was known by an owner's name. But no matter the origin of his name, black William Gillespie joined the ranks of those fighting for freedom, which he ultimately gained and independently lived for another 40 years.

Summarizing this story does not provide half the justice due to the black Gillespies, nor does it answer all the questions. Even if the white Gillespies inherited the black Gillespies as slaves from the Cowans, where did the slaves come from originally? Who were their families and what were their stories? Is it still possible to find out? And what about Billy Gillespie, the owner who let black William Gillespie enlist to fight for the Union?  As far as I can tell, Billy must have been the son of white William and Nancy Gillespie, William K. Gillespie, 1844-1905. But it's still hard to piece this puzzle together. White William was about the same age as black William. And certainly Nancy was still alive in 1864, and I'm not sure that William K. at age 19 or 20 would have been able to authorize the enlistment of black William, especially given that there was no signature of the owner on the enlistment papers. I haven't found any evidence that the white Gillespies served for the militia of either side, so we don't know where they stood. Were white William and black William friends, having grown up together? Or did white William enlist black William for manumission and thus expect some compensation for black William's service? Or maybe black William just ran away to join the Union army. So many questions about what really happened.

And then there's the slight DNA match between the black Gillespie family and mine. Whatever that means, surely it includes my own desire to atone for the captivity and degradation and violence forced upon generations of black Americans, then and now. Most importantly for today, Juneteenth, I write to raise my voice in a flawed and still struggling America to honor the memory of all our ancestors and to strive for the continuing realization of what it truly means, freedom for all.

NOTE:  See also my related research on Mixed Race DNA matches.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Sweet Spot

I've been taking a bit of break from my NY Gillespy mapping project, but there's never a shortage of side topics to get my curiosity. Because the last place I studied was Walkill Precinct, I was reminded of a long-time mystery Gillespie, Robert Gillespie 1774-1857 who married Lea Crans. So I decided to reacquaint myself with Robert's life, and see if there's anything new to add to his story. You know, just for fun.

Who knew that following the genealogy trail to Susquehanna County, PA could be so much fun? There I found a deed between Robert's grandson, Joseph W. Gillespie, and Gilbert O. Sweet for one acre in Gibson, PA. Curiously, Gibson was the place where Almon C. Sweet lived with his wife, Caroline Foster. Caroline Foster was the daughter of Susanna Gillespie, ~1786-1829, who was in turn the daughter of James Gillespie and Mary Brown Bannerman, who in turn we can associate with the Rensselaer Gillespie family group. Much of my recent research has been devoted to the question of whether the Rensselaer Gillespies were connected to the Ulster/Orange Gillespies, as I believe they were. Now this little side trip to Susquehanna, PA gives us even more insight into all the possible connections.

All of which comes from recognizing the SWEET surname, (were their ancestors confectioners?), which in turn lead to another rather interesting discovery. Harford, Susquehanna, PA was originally a settlement called Nine Partners, Luzerne, PA. The settlers were nine families from Attleboro, Massachusetts, which seems to be the place of origin of the Sweet families I've been studying. One Sweet family intermarried with another Attleboro family: FOSTER -- the very same Foster family to which John Foster was directly related -- John Foster having been the husband of Susanna Gillespie and the father of Caroline Foster who ended up as the wife of Almon C. Sweet.  Read here for more details of my findings.

The complexity of this situation with all the nuances of myriad genealogical interconnections is almost beautiful. It could be that, like the Gillespies, seemingly, everybody was somehow related to everybody else. How sweet it was, is, and shall ever be.