It seems most appropriate for my first post on this blog about finding family stories to be the first family story I ever found. It’s almost ironic that the story involves planting seeds, because that’s exactly what the discovery did to me – it planted the seed that grew into my passion for finding stories about my ancestors.
My parents were from Ohio. Their parents were from Ohio. THEIR parents were from Ohio. And on and on it went until the dawn of time, or so I thought (with the exception of my maternal grandfather who came from England). I grew up with “ancestor envy” — my very best friend’s family had New England roots of the pilgrim variety. She had a dollhouse decorated in early Americana. It was very cool. As far as I knew, my family had all been farmers. In Ohio. Forever.
Now don’t get me wrong, for a Southern California gal, it was still pretty cool to spend every summer back East on my grandparents’ dairy farm, shooting bats from the rafters, playing with the calves and the kajillions of cats, riding the tractor back to the crick, past the sugar shack where the maple syrup was prepared. But it wasn’t New England. You know, pilgrims, founding fathers … that sort of thing.
Like any good genealogist, when I began researching my heritage, I collected up all the known information about my family – parents, grandparents, and so on. Then I started perusing census records, and birth and death registers to find yet more family. After exhausting the census information on HeritageQuest (since it was free), one night I decided to check out the “Search Books” option from the HQ site. I entered the name of my 3rd great grandmother, Rachel Negus, because I knew next to nothing about her. I was very pleased when several books appeared in the search results claiming to have information about her. I was hoping at best to find out who her parents were, or perhaps some of her other “vital statistics” – birthdate, marriage date, etc. The usual. The boring stuff.
What I found instead knocked me out of my chair. I found Rachel Negus listed in a biographical history of the family that she married into, “The Higleys And Their Ancestry” by Mary Coffin Johnson, and woohoo! The full text was right there, searchable and readable, and I quickly flipped to the pages the index indicated that she could be found on. And there she was, and so much more than a name and a date!
I learned that Rachel Negus was a “tall, slender, clever girl … She proved an industrious, prudent wife, developing into a woman of unusual energy, and with a forcible character, firm in purpose and possessing a well-balanced mind.” (She must be where I get it from…)
The best was yet to come however. As the family prepared to move to the new frontier in 1803, the “Western Reserve” which later would become Ohio, Rachel went to the local cider mill and gathered up apple seeds. Her neighbors ridiculed her, saying they would never grow in such a place as she was going. But after walking the distance from Connecticut and establishing a new home in the wilds of what is now NorthEastern Ohio, she planted the seeds. She cultivated her orchard for several years, and eventually named the favorite of her apples after her husband, “Jonathan“.
That was it. I was hooked.
HeritageQuest Books – available free for card-holding patrons through many public library websites, and at Family History Centers.
Johnson, Mary Coffin. 1896. The Higleys and their ancestry. New York: D. Appleton and company.