EUREKA! There’s Genealogical Gold Found in those Archives!

Ask any serious genealogist “What is one of the most important set of records you wish you could still access?” Without hesitation, many would answer the 1890 US Federal Census!

The United States Federal Census is mandatory according to our Constitution (Article I, Section 2) and requires we count US residents whether or not they are citizens. The first census was taken in 1790, soon after the successful completion of the Revolutionary War. By 1890, taking the US Federal Census was something we had done for 100 years and during this census, the federal government tried something new. Each family was enumerated on a SEPARATE SHEET OF PAPER! It is the ONLY time the US Census was done in such a manner.

1890 US Federal Census Blank Form

Here is the twist on this information: On January 10, 1921 there was a fire at the Commerce Building in Washington, D. C. and nearly ALL of the information from the 1890 US Federal Census was lost. Gone. KAPUT! Irretrievable. The records of only 6,160 people out of 62,979,766 total residents of the United States survived! Finding anyone you know in these fragments is probably more rare than winning the mega millions lottery.

I can’t count the number of times I am tracking someone I’m researching and I get to the point where I need the 1890 census only to grimace, pound my fist and shout UGH! Today, however, I came across genealogical GOLD! Eureka! In searching for an ancestor by the name of Roxie Laney Morrow Stevens, up pops the 1890 Census. Ancestry is VERY GOOD, but this stopped me in my tracks. How could they have made such a simple error? There IS NO 1890 census that survives. Well, Ancestry IS GOOD! There are small fragments of the 1890 Census left!

These are the ONLY surviving fragments of the 1890 Census and you’ll see in bold face type – ILLINOIS – MCDONOUGH COUNTY: MOUND TOWNSHIP! In all the genealogical world, McDonough County has ONE township that survived the fire!

Alabama—Perry County
District of Columbia—Q, S, 13th, 14th, RQ, Corcoran, 15th, SE, and Roggs streets, and Johnson Avenue
Georgia—Muscogee County (Columbus)
Illinois—McDonough County: Mound Township
Minnesota—Wright County: Rockford
New Jersey—Hudson County: Jersey City
New York—Westchester County: Eastchester; Suffok County: Brookhaven Township
North Carolina—Gaston County: South Point Township, Ricer Bend Township; Cleveland County: Township No. 2
Ohio—Hamilton County (Cincinnati); Clinton County: Wayne Township
South Dakota—Union County: Jefferson Township
Texas—Ellis County: S.P. no. 6, Mountain Peak, Ovila Precinct; Hood County: Precinct no. 5; Rusk County: Precinct no. 6 and J.P. no. 7; Trinity County: Trinity Town and Precinct no. 2; Kaufman County: Kaufman.

I feel like I’ve found gold. This may be the ONLY time I get to enumerate an ancestor from the 1890 census.

Above, you’ll find the picture of the fragment of the 1890 US Federal Census for Mound Township, McDonough County, Illinois which holds the information about my ancestor, Roxie Laney Stevens, on it. Too Cool!

Pardon me while I geek out today. The rest of the world is excited that football has returned during a pandemic. I’m excited there is a FRAGMENT of the 1890 census left for me!

Sometimes they demand my attention!

I almost hate to admit this, but it happens quite often as I work on my genealogical research. My ancestors fight for my attention. Yes, you heard me right. I truly believe, like small children demanding their parents’ attention, they push themselves to the forefront to gain my attention.

Case in fact for this theory. I have been doing a lot of pre-Revolutionary War timeframe research this year. I’ve pushed my lines back far enough to find the immigrant ancestor on many of my lines. Most of my dad’s family lines have been in Colonial America or the United States more than 100 years BEFORE the Revolutionary War.

While looking for early immigrants from Germany, I put a quick list together of all the relevant lines I could think of that I might need to find. They have surnames like: Zug, France/Frantz, Cupp, Holbe/Hulvey and Sheets/Sheetz. I found an interesting pamphlet/book called, “A collection of upwards of thirty thousand names of German, Swiss, Dutch, French and other immigrants in Pennsylvania from 1727 to 1776”. (I put the picture here to prove THAT really was the name of it!)

Who were on the same ship?

While searching through this, on page 110 it says, “5 Oct 1737 – 231 Palantines aboard the bilander, Townshead, Thomas Thompson, Master, from Rotterdam, last from Cowes. Listed as a passenger was a Ludwig Frantz – from the France/Frantz family I’ve been searching for. Suddenly, the name Conrad Holbe (Hulvey) jumped out at me. In a totally unrelated family line, my 6th times great grandfather’s name jumped out. Seriously? Aboard the same ship? It was as if Conrad Holbe wasn’t content with the Frantz family getting all the attention.

What is it about Newburyport, MA?

Next up is the pre-Revolutionary War town of Newburyport, MA. I had traced by Clannen/Clanin line back to this Essex County town in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I had “tramped” around in the ancient family biographies of this town when I ran across another name that sounded familiar: William Rogers – Captain William Rogers. While the Clanin family is on my dad’s side, the Rogers family is on my mom’s side. Again, they seemed to be competing for my attention.

Since then, I’ve started making a list of all the family lines that lived in Newburyport, MA and it now includes the Jacob Sherman family line as well as the Samuel Harris family line. Newburyport must have been a busy city at that time. Did all my ancestors on both sides of my family know each other? Crazy thought, eh?

Now I’m waiting for the Zug family, Sheetz family and Cupp family lines to jump out of the headlines and attract my attention. Any time now.

HMS Jersey and Edward Clannen/Clanin

I wonder how does this happen?  How do we forget important stories about our families that should have been handed down? It might be because someone in that line – the family storyteller – died before they could share the story.  Some stories are not passed down because the storyteller thought it might reflect poorly on the character of the ancestor, but Edward Clannen/Clanin’ story wasn’t that way.  Let me set the table.

My family research usually means I take a line and I work branches of it back until I can’t go any further.  Sometimes I find very ordinary stories. Other times I find stories  that are fascinating, but there are stories where I’m emotionally brought to tears when I discover something very difficult .  This is Edward Clannen/Clanin’s story.

The last name appears as “Clannen” in Massachusetts in the middle 1700s, but changes to “Clanin” near the 1800s.  Some people were never quite sure of their family name spelling.  We’ll refer to him as Edward Clanin for ease from here on out.

I began to unwrap the package that was his story working one family line back.  The Sherman family were from Newburyport, MA and quite a lot is written in early American history about them.  Edward Clanin married Mariah Sherman in 1835 in Clermont County, Ohio.  They are my 3rd great grandparents.

Mariah Sherman and Edward Clanin of Fulton County, Illinois
Mariah Sherman (1813-1890) and Edward Clanin (1813-1894)
married 1835 in Clermont County, Ohio.
Edward is Benjamin Clanin’s grandson.

I knew Edward’s father was Samuel Harris Clanin. He was born in Newburyport, MA and there was a little information about his life in books from Essex County. Samuel was born about 1778 and his father was Benjamin Clanin. His mother was Mary Harris Clanin, thus the middle name for Samuel.

Samuel’s mother died when he was around one year old. His father remarried in 1780 to a widow, Deborah Sinecross, and his father Benjamin, died in 1783. Here’s the remarkable part.

Benjamin Clannen/Clanin died before 7 February 1783 aboard the HMS Jersey – a British prison ship!

Painting of prison ships in the Revolutionary War.
HMS Jersey – prison death ship for Revolutionary War soldiers

Benjamin Clannen/Clanin had died a horrible death on board the HMS Jersey with 800 other Continental soldiers in Wallabout Bay, Brooklyn, New York. Just Google the stories about this ship.

The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument  - Wallabout Bay, NY
Monument to the men who died aboard the prison ships in Wallabout Bay, Brooklyn, NY. Oral history says his body is buried under this monument.

AND he left behind FOUR small children – including his youngest son, Samuel Harris Clanin, my 4th great grandfather.

Mary Harris Clanin’s brother, Edward, took guardianship of the four children. Edward had served as the Clerk of the Committee of Safety, Correspondence, and Information for Essex County, MA and Captain in the American Revolution for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

How did our family forget Benjamin Clannen/Clanin’s sacrifice? Who forgot to tell the story of the supreme sacrifice he made? Was this story too painful for his son to tell? Becoming an orphan at the age of five would not be easy!

I’ve found the probate records of Benjamin Clannen and can see Edward Harris did a good job raising the children and seeing to their needs. One of the entries is for “leather breeches” for the boys to wear along with “two linen jackets”.

As I wait for my admittance into the Daughters of the American Revolution, I know which ancestor I will next honor with the DAR – it will be Benjamin Clanin and you can bet I’ll share his story this Fourth of July! DAR Patriot Benjamin Clanin who gave the ultimate sacrifice to establish this nation.

Postscript: After more research, I have found that most likely the surname “Clannen” was McLennan and was either Irish or Scots-Irish. I continue on with my research.

I was admitted to the DAR 5 May 2019 and my patriot is John Chenoweth of Virginia. It is not often a member can enter under her own surname. I was proud to do so and to help my sister to also join.

#52Ancestors – First

CockeRichard_medium  Richard Cocke – 1597-1666

His name is Richard Cocke. He served in the Virginia House of Burgesses.  His first wife was an early settler of Jamestown, Virginia.  I believe he was my first – my first ancestor to come to Colonial America.  He was my 10th great grandfather – my 10th!  That’s my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather!

  • He came in 1627. Boston, Massachusetts wasn’t even settled until 1630.
  • Only three of the original 13 colonies were formed at this time – Virginia [1603], Massachusetts [1620], and New Hampshire [1623}.
  • When Richard Cocke came to Colonial America, it would be three years before the Puritans settled the Massachusetts Bay Colony!
  • Life expectancy for a man at this time was 48 years in Virginia.
  • Women, on average, lived to be 39 years old.
  • The book Gulliver’s Travels had just been written by Jonathan Swift.

At the time of his death, he had:

  • Been married twice
  • Had seven children
  • Owned 7,000 acres
  • Owned three plantations [Curles, Bremo and Malvern Hills]
  • Been elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses several times
  • His descendants served on the rebel side of the Revolutionary War
  • A Civil War battle would happen on his plantation [Malvern Hills] nearly 200 years after he was dead.
  • His last child was born soon after he died

He was the first of many.  Many of my ancestors settled in the American colonies in the 1700s. They became some of the first citizens of the United States of America and I couldn’t be prouder.


#52AncestorsIn52Weeks – Oldest

Top Row: Left to right – Elzie Chenoweth (grandfather), Dollie Swise Chenoweth (great-grandmother), Eleanor Senate Lawrence Harrison (2nd great grandmother)

Bottom Row: Left to right – Elias Birdine Chenoweth (2nd great grandfather), Della Margaret White Swise (2nd great grandmother)

Back in college, I took a class about families.  It seemed like a blow-off class with little information of importance.  Boy, was I wrong!  We studied birth-order of children.  It was fascinating and I still relate to what I learned there.  With the topic of oldest this week, I went way back to this class and comments my sister often makes.  “I didn’t have to remember that family trivia, you’re the oldest.  You always remember for me,” is a comment she frequently makes.  The other has something to do with the fact if something is not functioning at home, I quickly try to fix it myself which once led to me taking the one toilet out of our house to repair it.

Oldest children to have a tendency to do things differently.  Alfred Adler, an Austrian psychiatrist, was one of the first to develop this theory.  Supposedly the first-born child is the high achiever, the middle-born child the peacemaker and the youngest child is the outgoing charmer. It’s difficult to tell if that’s accurate.  Science sure can’t do it, but here is what I do know.

As a first-born or oldest child, I was my parents’ experiment.  They developed their parenting skills on me as do most parents.  By the time the next child comes along, they have skipped the books, discussion groups, forums, and advice giving columns.  The oldest child is the one who was an only child for a while.  They are the child who had the adults’ single focus.  In the beginning, they didn’t have to share the adult attention. It does make a difference.

After considering the topic for the week, I began thinking that most of my direct ancestors are not first-born children.  The first four – Elzie through Elias – were all first-born children as am I.  FIVE first-borns out of 31 possibilities – (16 – 2nd great grandparents, 8 great-grandparents, 4 grandparents, 2 parents and me).  In fact, most of my ancestors were youngest or near the youngest 1/3 of their family.  Families were much bigger in the old days, so if you fell in the bottom 1/3 of 9 children, you might as well have been the youngest.

It did make me consider what kind of effect it had on my ancestors, their choice of spouses, their occupations, the way they interacted with their siblings.  Just some deep thinking for a rainy Sunday.

The last young lady in the group of photos is Della Margaret White Swise.  She was #5 of 5 in 1862.  As her mother came west to Illinois, leaving Virginia and the Civil War and Della’s father in the Army, the four oldest children and their mother contracted diphtheria in Ohio.  Family history says they were nursed by an Indian woman.  The other four children died.  Only Della – being under the age of two – and her mother survived.  She went from being the youngest in the family to being the oldest.

The story of Della and her family ends happily.  Their father, apparently after his term of service in the Army, went west to find the family in Illinois.  He must have been very happy to see his wife, Eliza Jane Hulvey White and Della.  You see, Della went from being the youngest of five children, to the oldest of 10!  How’s that for a switch from youngest to oldest!

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Independence


Michael France Pvt. Ohio Mtd. Militia, War of 1812, Oct 6, 1776 – Nov 1, 1867

I’m a lover of military history.  It probably has something to do with the fact I was born 100 years to the day after the American Civil War began.  I cut my teeth on Civil War battlefield markers and learned to read by studying them.  I could name every kind of Civil War cannon and which side used them.

Lately, I’ve been digging more into the Revolutionary War and reading documents, books and watching TV shows such as “Washington’s Spies” to better understand the time period.  It’s a difficult thing to do.  When you know the outcome of the situation, it’s easy to sit back and consider the time period in a cold, sterilized environment rather than in the messy, neighbor versus neighbor, nastiness it must have been.  The Patriots were committing treason!

The military tombstone is of my 4th great grandfather, Michael France,  who was born in 1776 during the American Revolutionary War.  Several of my 5th great grandfathers served in the Revolutionary War including Michael’s father –   John France (Frantz) as well as  Major Francis Logan and  Capt. William Rogers. 6th great grandfathers Jacob Sheets, and James Trimble both served in Virginia.

The men served, but so did their wives.  While they were gone to war, the wives kept the farms going and the family healthy and fed.  Many pension records for the Revolutionary War were filed by wives left in their later years to continue the family legacy.

What could it have been like for my ancestors to have lived through this time period?  It was no doubt difficult, gut-wrenching and dangerous.  It was probably invigorating, uplifting and thrilling also.  Isn’t that what all life is like – a roller coaster ride of emotions.

A few months ago I had the privilege of transcribing a Revolutionary War soldier’s pension file for someone who happened to be my 7th great uncle.  His wife and children had filed on his behalf after his death.  The 44-page document cataloged the sacrifices, pains and heartaches the family had undergone during the war years.  It was a photocopy of the handwritten document and I was simply amazed to be thinking of how it stretched over so many years between two distant relatives to tell a tale of commitment, independence, sacrifice and family love.

On this Fourth of July, I hope you find your family story of independence and commitment and learn a little more about your family and the War of Independence.  In fact, I’d challenge you to take a family vacation to some Revolutionary War sites or read some books about the time period.

Cemeteries #52Ancestors Challenge

Quit Claim Deed July 6 1934Temple Cemetery Quit Claim Deed, Fulton County, IL

Some people go to yoga class to meditate, relax and gain some inner perspective.  My farmer husband often goes to the field or pasture to consider weighty issues.  I, however, am the strange one in the family.  I go to the cemetery.

Ask my children what they remember about summers and they will most likely tell you showing cattle, helping on the farm and when they were little, going with mom to the cemetery to discover and write down things.  It’s true!  They had no choice but to come along.


I also enjoy visiting bookstores and libraries.  Cemeteries, to me, have a similarity to bookstores and libraries.  The latter two hold volumes of interesting stories.  Some are romance or mystery stories.  Other books in the library or bookstore are references that help you gain perspective on historical events.  Cemeteries are much like libraries, but the volumes are the life histories of the people buried there.

At first glance, a cemetery looks very barren, cold and sad.  A closer look shows the life stories of people who were born, married and died in the area.  Their tombstones often list their children.  New tombstones even have laser-engraved photos of the deceased.

I like to sit and “listen” to those buried in a cemetery.  I read their tombstones, pay attention to those buried in the same plot and decipher their family connections.  There is often loss of a child at a young age, or a woman widowed too soon.  Blessings of large families dot the rolling prairie in places telling of a strong family who persevered.  Their stories inspire me.  I often dig deeper to learn more about what their lives were like.

In the small town I work in, I’m pretty sure there are more individuals buried in the cemetery than there are people living in the town.  There are many people yet to discover; many individuals to “listen” to, and stories of triumphs yet to tell.  The quiet visit to a cemetery puts my life in perspective and gives me the energy to carry on.


Simply a riddle

We all have those ancestors –  you know, the ones who are your continual brick wall.  August and Theresa Yess are my brick walls or I should say, ‘were’ my brick walls.  My 2nd great grandparents were from what is now Germany, but I couldn’t figure out where exactly or when. Every time I’d start down the path to discover their nativity, they would quickly frustrate me. Then I approached this riddle with a late 19th-century mind and I broke through the wall.

My mom had never heard the names of her great-grandparents before.  Her grandfather had died a tragic death overcome by gasses digging a well when her father was 11 months old.  No family stories were passed down from him, obviously.  Mom found this picture of her great-grandparents after her parents’ death in their attic.  It had only their names on the back.

Theresa Hanlach Yess and August Yess

Theresa Hanlach Yess (1824-1910) August Yess (1829-1905)

How do you solve a riddle like this?  We didn’t know any of my grandfather’s cousins very well.  Mom had never thought to ask them the family stories.  So, for over 30 years I simply knew Theresa Hanlach Yess was from Bavaria and August Yess from Prussia.  I had checked census records, city directories, probate records, marriage records, death records, obituaries, illustrated histories of Peoria County, Illinois, and other anecdotal information that was available.  No more clues than Bavaria and Prussia were available.  Yess is a relatively unique last name, much like my married name, Terstriep.  I had searched the United States census records and found some in Milwaukee, WI,. but believed my grandparents had come straight from what would become Germany to the Peoria county.

After feeling I had exhausted nearly every clue I had, I spent a vacation day at the local county clerk’s office hoping to find more information.  No luck.  I finally asked where the local genealogical society was and it was just a few blocks from the courthouse.  One quick lunch later, I went into the library and genealogical area to visit with a lady who worked there.  She helped me search several sources for more information: funeral home records, church records, cemetery records, etc.  No luck.

Then I began thinking like a Prussian and Bavarian immigrant from the 1850s.  “Who would care if I died?” I asked myself.  I thought about it and decided to check to see if there were any German-language newspapers in Peoria at the time of their deaths.  There were at least two – one wasn’t published at the time of their death.  The other newspaper, “Täglicher Peoria Demokrat, was.  The lady helping me in the library said she didn’t read German and couldn’t be of much help.  I, fortunately, had taken a year of German and could stumble my way through it.  German Fraktur font, which most everything was printed in, is not easy to read.  Over time I had become a little more comfortable deciphering it while volunteering to transcribe old papers for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and the National Archives and Records Administration.

She politely helped me load the microfilm and carefully explained how to advance on the film.  She shared what little knowledge she had of the set up of the paper.  As we visited,  I forwarded the microfilm to the day after my 2nd great-grandfather’s death and (I know you’re not going to believe this but, ) as if a light shone on it, I saw his name!


Enlarged copy of August Yess’ obituary in the Täglicher Peoria Demokrat, a German-language newspaper of Peoria, IL.


In the orange higlighted box is the original-sized obituary of August Yess.  You’ll note the German Fraktur makes the name look like “Auguft Deb” rather than August Yess.

I was so excited I couldn’t believe it! Did it tell where he was born and any other information?  I quickly snapped a photo of it, submitted it to the Facebook group I belong where group members translate all languages, and by the time I had made my 1 1/2 hour drive home, I had the answer.

Here is the translation: “August Yeß. 
August Yeß, who died in his flat/house, 203 Fischerstraße, yesterday morning, was born in the area of Stettin, Prussia, and came to America in 1852, where he settled at first in Milwaukee.  1855 he came to this area and earned a lot of wealth through a farm. He has been living in Peoria for 15 years. For a short period of time he was ill and his rapid death was very unexpected for his friends and family. He was appreciated in general and was an admired man. He leaves behind a widow and five children. The burial is on Sunday afternoon half 2 o’clock at the house and the Evangelical Trinity church. May he rest in peace!”

Stettin, Prussia?  A quick Google Map search told me Stettin, Prussia was today Szczecin, Poland!  POLAND!  Szczecin is very near the German border.  I hadn’t even considered this thought.  Today I would be considered part Polish because country’s borders changed so often.

You see, when I thought about it, I considered if  I was a Prussian immigrant, most people in the United States wouldn’t really understand the difference between Stettin, Prussia and Berlin, Germany.   It wouldn’t make much difference to them what town I was born in, it would make a difference whether or not I was an American or a German.  My great-grandfather did become an American before he died, but to his countrymen, they would understand and know the difference.  They would care to know exactly what town he was born in.  Looking for his obituary in the German-language paper opened that door.  Unfortunately,  “Täglicher Peoria Demokrat” was not published when my  2nd great-grandmother died.  What part of Bavaria she was from is still to be solved.

Just Read What You Have!


I’m an avid reader and it seems nearly everyone in my family is.  A set of historical fiction novels I love feature a character who is a historian.  He is a noted professor of History and recognized by his colleagues for groundbreaking research on a specific period of history.  This character is the author of many award-winning books, but for some reason, his family NEVER reads his books!  As I read these novels, I’m constantly saying to myself, “Why don’t you just READ Frank’s book!  It probably tells you the answer.” Recently,  I heard my ancestors saying almost the same thing to me.  “Just read what you have.”

I was putting together another list of documents I needed for different ancestors.  A small voice in my head kept whispering to me, “Just read what you have.”  I should have prefaced this by saying, my ancestors often talk to me.  I’m not always certain which ancestor it is, but I try to listen.  Again, the nagging voice kept saying, “Just read what you have.”

Out came the documents I had gathered decades ago to review.  I was quite certain I remembered everything about them.  They offered no new information,  but I was wrong. I pulled out a document for the marriage of my 3rd great-grandparents who were born in the 1820s in Germany.  I knew they had been married when they reached the shores of the United States.  The 1850, 1860 and 1870 US census showed them with their children.  Why did I have another marriage license for them dated 1887?

Christian Swise marriage certificate_marked

Christian Swise was listed as 64 years old and Mrs.  Louisa Swise was listed as 60 years old.  Why would they have another marriage license in Fulton County, IL ?  Clearly, they were married when they immigrated to the United States.  It listed her as “Mrs. Louisa Swise”, not by her maiden name. What did I have?  What was the meaning of this marriage license?

A quick message to another family genealogist brought the answer and a fascinating story with it!  What I had was the SECOND marriage license of my great-grandparents.  They were married in Germany when they came to the United States, but somewhere along the line and many children later, something happened and they divorced!  What?  Divorced?  My cousin had tracked down the court proceedings from their December 1886 divorce in all its legalese.  After the dissolution of the marriage, Louisa asked for the following items in the divorce decree:

  • one four-leaf table
  • one bureau
  • one feather bed, beadstead (sic) and bedclothes
  • one large brass kettle
  • one sewing machine
  • 1 rag carpet
  • 5 chairs
  • all the dishes bought in and from Nebraska
  • one large chest brought to this country from Germany
  • $50 payment of alimony, AND


That was it!  I could understand the frustration of Louisa’s situation when she DEMANDED the canned blackberries back….all 12 jars!  She had probably collected them, canned them, protected them and looked forward to making a pie with them.  She WANTED THOSE blackberries come Hell or high water!  Something had happened between them and snap, the demand for blackberries was the result!

You’re no doubt saying, “Well, they divorced, but what about the second marriage license?”  It seems to fill in the blanks of the rest of the story.

Article from The Fulton County Ledger, July 28, 1877

….Christian Swise, of Bernadotte, is sixty-five years of age and his wife sixty.  Last December they divorced, but soon got tired of single life; so on Wednesday of this week they were again united according to the laws of God and man.  The venerable couple Swiser than before, in all probability.


“Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”

I’ve fallen in love with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical, “Hamilton”.  Something about it speaks to me as a historian, genealogist, family story collector.  Driving by the city cemetery today, I was listening to one of the final songs in the musical sung by Phillipa Soo who portrays Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton.  She’s singing about Alexander Hamilton’s legacy and how she kept it alive.  When addressing her own life, she sings:

And when my time is up Have I done enough? Will they tell my story?

Who lives, Who dies, Who tells your story.

– from “Hamilton, Original Broadway Cast Recording”

Hamilton was a prolific writer and the musical uses the quote, “You really do write like you are running out of time.”  Much of what we know about him is from first-person letters he wrote.  Author Ron Chernow who wrote about Hamilton believes Eliza (Elizabeth) destroyed many of her letters to Hamilton due to personal strife, but she outlived him by 50 years and still was able to tell their story.

I looked at the gravestones in the cemetery and wondered who was telling their stories.  Did their family have diaries, letters, records they were using to tell their stories?  Who…was telling their story?  What wonderful stories are out there?

To me, nothing is as interesting as real life stories.  Irony abounds, love prevails and we are drawn closer to someone we may not ever be able to meet, yet we understand their soul.

We need to write down our legacies, our stories.  I’m very lucky to have so many first person stories of my family.  I have books about the Salmans family of Kansas, the France family of Pennsylvania, the Hulveys, Whites, and Sheets and copies of documents from the Civil War.  Someone was smart enough to write down their stories.


Michael France Pvt. Ohio Mtd. Militia, War of 1812, Oct 6, 1776 – Nov 1, 1867

I have other ancestors where I have only a photo of them, some census information and a note or two about something that happened in their lives.  It’s my job, as a writer and historian, to uncover these stories and find out more about these relatives.

My 2nd great grandfather, August Yess, came to the United States prior to 1855.  I know he lived in Peoria, IL as there are many documents about his life there.  However, I don’t know what the correct spelling of his last name really was.  You see, I actually studied the German language for one year just to try to understand what the correct spelling of “Yess” is.  Over the years people have suggested, “Gess, Goess, Jess” and many others.  In German the “yuh” sound comes from the letter J, not Y.  Somewhere along the line, someone unsure of the German spelling simply wrote what the name sounded like and thus the difficulty in finding him in Prussia.   I’ll find the information someday and I’ll tell more of his story.

I spent a lot of time as a young adult putting together information on the cemetery (Temple Cemetery, Fulton County, IL) where many of my ancestors are buried.  I was so very fortunate to still have my grandmother living at the time and her memory was rock solid.  I would often take census information, pictures, tombstone information to her and ask her what the connection was between people; what was their story.  The answers she gave me were priceless.  She had stories about people in the neighborhood, family connections, and some downright juicy gossip at times.  We marked the names of family members on the back of old photographs so I could later remember who they were.  I wanted to tell their story.

So, on those evenings when you’re tired of reading, watching television or cooking, take paper in hand or laptop on lap and write down your story.  Tell the details of what your life was like as a child.  Did you have chores? What were your siblings like when they were little?  Who was your favorite teacher?

Just tell your story.