Week 40: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – The family Bible no one filled out.

Ancestor of the Week: Elwood Hinshaw (1849-1924) [my 1st cousin 4x removed] and his wife Hannah Robbins (1850-1922) [my 1st cousin 5x removed]
Prompt of the Week: Oldest

This blog has been on hiatus for a few weeks, but I’m back and excited to celebrate Family History Month this October.

Elwood Hinshaw and Hannah Robbins aren’t the furthest back relatives on their respective branches of the tree, nor were they particularly long-lived. What’s special about them, at least as far as I know, is what they left behind. I had seen it on a bookshelf at my grandparents’ house for years, but only glanced at it a couple times – an old family Bible, inscribed on the front with the names Elwood Hinshaw and Hannah Hinshaw. I knew it had to be old as I knew those names from my family history research, but I didn’t know how old until I bought it home after the devastating house fire at my grandparents’ house this past summer, which I wrote about in Week 35. It wasn’t fire damaged, just saturated with smoke smell and had a sooty residue on the outside. I gently cleaned it up as best I could, and the smell has mostly dissipated at this point. There are actually two volumes – the thinner book just a slimmer Bible with some German language text.

The Elwood Hinshaw family Bible

The date of publication is 1876, making it the oldest known artifact in my family, which of course I thought was pretty cool. There’s also a handwritten notation on the inside cover, which says, “Lynn Lodge #119 Sept-14-1876” Lynn refers to the town of Lynn, Randolph County, Indiana, where the family resided. Lynn Lodge #119, I learned from a search of newspapers.com, refers to the local chapter of the Knights of Pythias. I couldn’t find any direct references to this, but I suspect that the Bible volumes were presented to Elwood upon being inducted into the society.

The inscription on the inside front cover.

The other interesting thing about the Bible is that it is obviously intended to be a family Bible – cherished as a family heirloom and passed down through the generations, which indeed it did – both volumes even. My assumption is that the Bible passed to Elwood and Hannah’s younger son Ray Hinshaw. He and his wife Bernice Jennings (my great-grand aunt) had no children, so the Bible probably passed to Bernice’s younger sister Irene (my great-grandmother). And after her death, to my grandfather. So as I was flipping through the pages, looking for the family history documentation as any genealogist hopes to find, and I get to those pages – intended to record births, deaths, marriages, etc. they are all blank. No one filled out anything. It was a mild disappointment because I have fairly good documentation on those branches anyway, but it would have been nice to find some primary sources written in the hand of my own 19th century relatives. I’m not sure why it was never filled in… maybe there was already a family Bible that was being filled in? Maybe it just wasn’t important to them? We may never know. But there is one more positive note – tucked in the front cover was a photograph of a couple – a late 19th century image, which is possibly a photo of Elwood and Hannah, or Elwood’s parents Absalom Hinshaw and Eliza Carter.

The photo tucked in the front cover – Maybe Elwood & Hannah Hinshaw?

That’s the story of the Hinshaw family Bible so far. I hope to eventually find out more about the family and conclusively identify the photo.

Week 35: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – The unforgettable fire that brought much to light

Ancestor of the Week: My maternal grandfather & step-grandmother
Prompt of the Week: Unforgettable

I have had a busy last couple months. On June 30, my maternal grandfather and step-grandmother’s house caught fire. It started in my grandfather’s workshop on the south end of the house, roared through the garage, and started scorching the kitchen before being extinguished by the local firefighters. Thankfully, my grandparents were able to escape unharmed with the aid of their neighbors who saw the smoke, called 911, and ran over to help. The blaze even made a local news website, whose office is actually up the street from them. We were all in shock at what had happened – it’s something you never expect to happen in your family. The house wasn’t a total loss however. The fact that it was brick construction and the firefighters got there quickly saved the majority of it, but thick black smoke had filled every room, and the intense heat, and water from the fire hoses caused a great deal of damage.

A few days later, my cousin and I decided to go over and rescue what we could of the irreplaceable items before the restoration company went through and decided what was trash and what they would remove to try to restore. We wanted to make sure the family photos and small heirlooms stayed with us and were protected.

So we masked up with painter’s respirators, gloved up, and wore old clothes and shoes to go in and see what we could find. I had never been inside a fire- or smoke-damaged house before and the smell was surprisingly strong and acrid. We had to use flashlights to get around because the power had been shut off and most of the windows boarded up. Amidst all of the destruction – the blackened walls, the broken glass, the scorched furniture, and the darkness – we found some amazing treasures.

We knew generally where were needed to look to pull out the photo albums and framed photos, and an old family bible. All of those made it through ok, even though they had a layer of gray smoky residue and the odor of burnt hot dogs. We decided to look in the guest bedroom closet as well, and there we found some surprises – boxes of snapshots we had never seen, mostly from the 1990s. There was however a small photo album I didn’t recognize – it was filled with very old photos, and only a handful were labeled, but I knew they were from my grandfather’s mom’s side of the family. Upon getting that album home and sitting down with it in the light, I realized that some of the photos were small tintypes, likely dating to the 1880s. Most of the other photos are cabinet cards, which seem to date from the 1890s. (Maureen Taylor’s book Family Photo Detective has been a great help!) And of course I’m scanning everything and backing it all up! There was also an old framed photo – an enlargement of one from the album, labeled “Grandma Blizzard.” I believe it is a photo of my 4x great-grandmother Charlotte (Platt) Blizzard (1822-1911). That was an exciting find for sure!

A couple weeks later, we were able to get access to the garage, and see what remained in the storage closet. I found a couple boxes of snapshots, mostly from the 1980s – some cute ones of me, my brother and cousins as toddlers! It was amazing that many of the photos survived just fine. Some were protected inside a metal tin, however, there were several paper envelopes of photos in a cardboard box were all stuck together due to the heat and water. I have been able to separate many of them by soaking in warm water and peeling them apart carefully, with varying degrees of success. Some of the negatives are in good shape, so I’ll scan those to hopefully get better images. There was also a wooden box with the estate papers of my great-grandmother, and a bunch of other genealogical goodies – vital records, diplomas, funeral cards, etc., and some family tree info sent by by great-aunt – all in near-perfect condition. Another box labeled “keepsakes” contained a wooden covered album of family snapshots from the 1940s, among other old items (even a cast iron skillet!) in near-perfect condition. I have been going through all that stuff and scanning as well.

So as devastating as the fire was for my grandparents (and it will be many months before the house is renovated and ready to move back into) we were very fortunate that a lot of family treasures, irreplaceable documents, and heirlooms survived for future generations. Trudging through the debris, seeing the destruction, and the being saturated in the smell is unforgettable, but the fire brought out into the light so many great things.

Week 32: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – The small yet mighty 35mm color slide

Ancestors of the Week: Hays family ancestors
Prompt of the Week: Small

This week, I though I’d write about the small yet mighty 35mm slide. We have many in our family collection, all from my paternal grandparents and great-grandparents. My grandfather shot slide film while he served in the coast guard in the 1950s, and when he was home in Missouri during that time as well. My great-grandparents took slides of their travels during the 1960s and 70s. They road-tripped around the western U.S. and saw many sights from Missouri to the Oregon coast, through Arizona many places in between.

In a time when most of the regular photographs were black and white, the slides offer a rare glimpse into the colorful world of the 1950s. For example, we have a few slides of my grandparents’ wedding from 1957. Their actual wedding album has all black and white prints, but the slides give us a view to what the true colors really were. It makes everything come to life so much more. There are slides of my 2x great-grandparents who were born in the 1870s and died in the 1960s. They are the oldest ancestors that I have a color photo of.

I feel really grateful to have these small but very useful and enlightening color photos I can use to illustrate my family history.


Week 31: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Large family and a large distance

Ancestor of the Week: Thomas Carter (?-1838) [my 4x great-grandfather]
Prompt of the Week: Large

P1790716 carter reunion 1911

Photo from the Carter family reunion, 1911.

Another large family among my maternal ancestral branches is that of Thomas Carter and his wife Mariam Cartwright. They migrated to Randolph County, Indiana from Gilford County, North Carolina in 1829 with four young daughters. The book “The History of the Carter Family”, written in the late 1920s by Thomas and Mariam’s grandson (my 3rd great uncle) Columbus R. Carter describes their trip this way:


“Just how the trip was made we are not informed, but as it pre-dates the steam railroad, the interurban, the bus lines, the automobile, the airplane, or even the modern road-wagon, we can reasonably conclude that they came like hundreds of others came about that time, either in a one horse cart or a two horse tar pole wagon. They pitched their tent, or built their shanty on the banks of White River near the southeast corner of White River township in Randolph County, Indiana. In the deed recorded in the recorder’s office in Winchester the fact is disclosed that Thomas Carter purchased eighty (80) acres in White River township in the year 1832 for the sum of one hundred dollars…”

After settling in Indiana, they had eight more children, including my 3x great-grandfather Thomas Wesley Carter (1836-1906), for a total of 11 surviving children. In order, the complete list is: Rachel, Elizabeth, Mary, Eliza, Lucinda, an unnamed infant (did not survive), Jane, Margaret, Hannah, Marie, Mariam, and Thomas Wesley.

Thomas Wesley was the only son, and the youngest child, and was only two years old when his father died. Thomas Wesley, in turn, had nine children, with seven surviving to adulthood, including my 2x great-grandmother Sarah I. Carter (1874-1938). Thomas Wesley only had one son as well, Columbus, nicknamed “Lum,” who I referenced earlier as the author of the family history book. Columbus and his wife Mary only had one child, a daughter named Thelma. So that was the end of the surname being passed down on this branch – the line “daughtered out,” as they say.

Sarah I. Carter and her husband, Jesse Thurston, went on to have 12 children, with 10 surviving to adulthood. I’ve written about them before, in Week 12 last year.

Overall, the Carter family was pretty prolific, although very few retained the name of Carter, and none from this branch have it today. Large families abounded, which was standard practice back in the day, and are now spread throughout the country.

Week 30: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – My first and last immigrants from the Old Country

Ancestors of the Week: John Thurston (1607-1685) [my 11x great-grandfather] and John Fels (1856-1921) [my 3x great-grandfather]
Prompt of the Week: Old Country


St. Nicholas Church in Wrentham, England. (source: Wikipedia)

All of my known immigrant ancestors came from western Europe (and my DNA is also 100% western European – Great Britain/Ireland/Germanic Europe), so I kinda feel like the ‘Old Country’ is a little boring. But I do enjoy when I get back far enough on a line to the original immigrants. The furthest back I have discovered an immigrant is John Thurston (1607-1685) (who I wrote about in Week 25 last year). He and his wife Margaret (Buck) Thurston came to colonial Massachusetts in 1637 from Wrentham, County Suffolk, England. Interesting fact – Wrentham’s St. Nicholas church dates back to the 13th century and still stands today, so it was definitely there at the time my ancestor lived there. Someday I’ll visit!

My most recent immigrant ancestors were John Fels (1856-1921) and his future wife Mary Kammerer (1860-1939). They came from what is now Baden-Württemberg, Germany in 1882 or 1883. John was baptized at 6 days old in the town of Altenheim, in Baden, so I believe that to be the ancestral village. By 1884, they had settled in Belleville, Illinois, where they were married and their first child, a daughter named Mary (my 2x great-grandmother), was born. They went on to have three sons in Belleville, but by 1910, they had relocated to St. Louis, Missouri, where they spent the remainder of their lives. An online tree I came across a while back stated that they were possibly related to the family who founded the company that produces Fels-Naptha soap. If they are related, however, it would have to be far back in Germany or somewhere because the company founder, Lazarus Fels, was already in Baltimore starting his company in 1866. I’m not sure if he was even an immigrant, or who he descends from.

So that’s a little peek into some of my immigrant ancestors and the ‘Old Countries’ they came from. Someday I’ll visit Germany as well!

Week 29: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Great finds and new stories in the newspapers

Ancestors of the Week: Lydia (Thurston) Sickels [my 2nd great aunt]; Antonio and Lucy (Tierney) Alvares [my wife’s 2x great-grandparents]; and my maternal grandfather and great aunt
Prompt of the Week: Newsworthy

This week I thought I’d share a few interesting newspaper articles about various family members I found on newspapers.com.

The first one is about my great-grandfather’s sister, Lydia (Thurston) Sickels (1898-1970) who was an artist. I didn’t know much about her, but I learned from this article that she was a lifelong painter of landscapes, and later in life was fairly prolific and sold many paintings in the Randolph County, Indiana area. I thought it was pretty neat to find a relative who I share an interest with. I enjoy painting and drawing, and have ever since I was a kid. In high school I started painting with oils, and every once in a while I’ll break out the art supplies and put paint to canvas. I don’t really have much time for it though, but as a professional graphic designer, I do get to be creative on a daily basis.

Lydia (Thurston) Sickels artist [A] - Newspapers.com

Published in the Richmond, Indiana “Palladium-Item,” 3 July 1966, page 12.

The second article is about my wife’s 2x great-grandparents Antonio (1883-1916) & Lucy (Tierney) Alvares (1891-1958). They were married in 1911 in Woodland, California. On a Thursday morning at 6:30 a.m. And they didn’t tell anyone. And then they had tamales for breakfast. Some pretty interesting details there that we wouldn’t have known any other way. According to the article, “the young couple kept their secret so well that none but their most intimate friends knew of their plans this morning.” The reason for the quick nuptials is unknown. Maybe their families didn’t approve? Maybe they feared too much interference in their plans? Maybe they were just impulsive? We will probably never know the answer, but it makes for a good story and adds rich detail to the family tree.

Alvares-Tierney marriage 1911 - Newspapers.com

Published in the Woodland, California “Woodland Daily Democrat,” 25 May 1911, page 1.

The third article I wanted to highlight was about my paternal grandfather and his sister, and their accomplishments in their high school’s 4-H club in the 1940s. I knew my grandfather was in 4-H in high school, but never asked specifically what he did. When I showed him this article a while back, he remembered the work and told me about the trip to Chicago he earned. He and his sister each were recognized for their work on individual projects that I’m sure took many many hours of dedication to finish. My great aunt devised an organizational system to save time getting ready in the morning. (Hello Container Store!) and my grandfather landscaped the property around the family home as a beautification project. (Eat your heart out Property Brothers!) They did everything by hand and without much help it seems. Could I imagine doing all of that myself? Not a chance! It really speaks to their value of hard work and ingenuity, and I’m proud to have them in my family tree.

Clipping from Tucson Daily Citizen - Newspapers.com

Published in the Tucson, Arizona “Tucson Daily Citizen”, 7 Jan 1948, page 10.

Week 28: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Twins in the family

Ancestors of the Week: The twins in our family
Prompt of the Week: Multiple

My wife and I have identical twin boys, and people always ask us if twins run in our family. Our standard answer is just…. “yes,” even though science seems to show there is no genetic tendency for identical twins. (Fraternal twins can run in families – a tendency for women to release multiple eggs at a time can be an inherited trait. We just find it’s easier to not go into the reasons for people’s misconceptions about twins.

But there is truth to there being twins in our families. The closest ones to me are my paternal first cousins who are fraternal boy/girl twins. They are about nine years younger than me, and I remember visiting the hospital with my parents when they were born. We saw them all the time at family gatherings growing up and we still get together as adults.


Twins Doris & Dorothy held by their mom Lillian (Chambers) McLaughlin

The closest twins on my wife’s side were her paternal grandmother’s sisters who were twins. She met them both a few times when she was growing up in northern California. I’m not sure if they were identical or fraternal. Their names were Doris and Dorothy McLaughlin, born in San Francisco in 1928, the oldest of 8 siblings, 6 of whom lived to adulthood. (We stopped after having our twins, so I can’t imagine going on to have 6 more children – Yikes!) Doris passed in 2006

P1790728 thurston

Opal and Oval Thurston (front in matching outfits) with parents Lyman and Emma (Keltner) Thurston and siblings.

I have discovered other sets of twins in our family trees through my research. There’s Opal and Oval Thurston, born in 1888, sisters of my 3x great-grandfather Jesse Thurston. (I’ve never understood Oval as a first name :/ ) I don’t really know anything about them other than the basic info of their husbands and children from census and vital records. Oval died young, at age 26 in 1915. Opal lived to the age of 83, passing away in 1971.

My mom also has maternal first cousins who are fraternal boy/girl twins. They live in Indiana, as does most of that branch, and my mom knew them from their summer road trips to visit family there when she was growing up. They are only a couple months older than her, so I’m sure they played together as kids.

Last, but not least, there are the Saeltzer twins from my wife’s side. Dudley Saeltzer II and his brother Eugene were her 2nd cousins 2x removed. Dudley died young – at age 25 in 1963. I don’t know much else about them unfortunately.

So that’s all the sets of twins I’m aware of in our family tree.

Week 26: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – What’s in a (middle) name?

Ancestor of the Week: Many people from mine and my wife’s family trees
Prompt of the Week: Middle

For week 26, I have decided to list the 26 most interesting middle names by letter from both me and my wife’s family trees (how convenient there are 26 letters in the alphabet!) ha! I chose only deceased people to protect the living.

A: Almond – Floyd Almond Alderman (1877-1942) [husband of 2nd great-grandmother of wife]

B: Bliss – Edith Bliss Thornburg (1913-2008) [wife of 1st cousin 3x removed]

C: Chauncey – Lyman Chauncey Thurston (1845-1931) [3rd great-grandfather]

D: Dolph – Dorothy Dolph Harper (1902-1973) [1st cousin 3x removed]

E: Elvyn – Eugene Elvyn Hopper (1912-1965) [husband of great-grandmother of wife]

F: Foote – William Foote Rhyne (1921-2005) [husband of grandmother of wife]

G: Geanell – Bernice Geanell Jennings (1892-1976) [2nd great aunt]

H: Hermine – Alda Hermine Shierding (1913-1991) [wife of 2nd great uncle]

I: Ione – Juanita Ione Holliday (1917-1978) [wife of 1st cousin 3x removed]

J: Jefferson – Thomas Jefferson Hays (1928-1981) [3rd cousin 2x removed]

K: Kossuth – Louis Kossuth* Musler (1844-1898) [4th great uncle]

L: Luzena – Ida Luzena Davis (1860-1916) [4th great aunt]

M: Melba – Dolores Melba Williams (1928-2018) [1st cousin 2x removed of wife]

N: Nele – Rex Nele Carr (1913-1992) [husband of grandmother of wife]

O: Ozro – Henry Ozro Collins (1877-1934) [3rd great uncle]

P: Pieterse – Egie Pieterse DeGroot (1698-1750) [8th great-grandmother]

Q: Ok I couldn’t find any Q middle names…

R: Right – Silas Right Harper (1857-1908) [4th great uncle]

S: Shell – Joseph Shell Hays (1872-1948) [1st cousin 4x removed]

T: Teal – Charles Teal Harman (1864-1909) [3rd great-grandfather]

U: Urania** – Urania Gertrude Chambers (1877-1957) [2nd great-grandmother of wife]

V: Viola – Mildred Viola Harman (1889-1936) [2nd great-grandmother]

W: Wilhelmine – Frederike Wilhelmine Feilenhauer (? – ?) [4th great-grandmother of wife]

X: Couldn’t find any X middle names either… but I did look for a long time.

Y: York – Ida York Hubbard (1915-2005) [wife of 2nd great uncle]

Z: Ziora – Lydia Ziora Thurston (1898-1970) [2nd great aunt]


* Unproven

** Urania was actually her first name, but she went by Gertrude and sometimes used Urania as a middle name.

Week 25: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – A genealogical gift

Ancestor of the Week: My wife’s Alvares family
Prompt of the Week: Unexpected

Screen Shot 2020-06-26 at 11.04.19 PM

A sample page of the family research I received.

Last month, out of the blue, another Ancestry member contacted me regarding the Alvares branch of my family tree. It’s my wife’s maternal great-grandmother Frances’ family. Frances’ father Antonio is the son of Portuguese immigrants from the Azores islands. I have written about them before, in Week 8, where I detailed their tamale business in Red Bluff, California in the 1910s. Also in Week 9 , I wrote about the tragedies the family experienced.

The farthest back I had gotten in my research were actually just Antonio’s parents, Manuel Jose Alvares (1850-1920) and Maria J. Goncalves (1854-1928). I did find evidence that they came from the island of Flores in the Azores, but I figured I would just be stuck there due to lack of record availability online and a language barrier.

So I was very grateful to receive the message regarding research of the family of Maria Goncalves in the Azores, all the way back to the 1700s (and with source citations!) I’m still in the process of analyzing the research, but I was very grateful to receive it and hope to pay it forward someday and give another family historian some “genealogical serendipity.”

Week 24: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Grandma’s heirloom china

Ancestor of the Week: Tierney/Alvares family [my wife’s maternal ancestors]
Prompt of the Week: Handed Down


The china and other items in our new cabinet.

Recently my wife and I celebrated 15 years of marriage. For milestone anniversaries, we have bought a big gift we both can enjoy. Several years ago, my wife’s mom promised her a set of heirloom china when she had a place to put it. So I thought it was a good opportunity to buy a china cabinet. She thought it was a great idea and said it made her feel more like a real adult. 🙂 New ones are very expensive, so I opted to find a used one on Craigslist. I located a good one that went well with our other furniture and arranged to bring it home (and what a task that was!). We got it set up and a few days later we were at my mother-in-law’s house shopping in her china cabinet. She explained each set – who it belonged to in the family and how old she thought it was. She actually told us about nearly everything in the cabinet, as there were many more pieces than just the china.


Lucy’s china in our cabinet.

Being the genealogist that I am, I took the opportunity to take notes about each item or set, and photograph everything with my phone. I had recently been reminded of the importance of documenting family heirlooms from some of the genealogy podcasts and videos I subscribe to. We wanted to make sure we capture her stories and knowledge of the items before her memory fades and the information is lost. (She’s not that old, but does have a family history of Alzheimer’s) When my paternal grandma passed away, we were going though the house and there were definitely some things that could have been heirlooms… or something she picked up at a yard sale, which she was known to do frequently. No one knew really what was important. I want to avoid that going forward!

So my wife picked out the set she liked the best, which her mom explained had belonged to my wife’s 2x great-grandmother Lucy (Tierney) Fitzgerald, who I have written about before in Week 9. The set had been handed down to her daughter Frances, and then to my mother-in-law after Frances died. We weren’t sure about the china’s age, but it’s an ivory color with delicate gold-colored trim. Upon further research, using the imprint on the bottom of the dishes, we determined the set was made in the mid-1930s, and was a fairly common Japanese import. Nothing really that special about it intrinsically, but the fact that it had been in the family for almost 80 years, and was well cared for by several generations made it very valuable to us. We suspect it was purchased around the time of Lucy’s marriage to her second husband in 1934.

My mother-in-law also gave us a green ceramic carafe that belonged to Lucy, and a small crystal bowl that belonged to Frances. We have used a couple of the china serving dishes, and I feel a little nervous handling the pieces, but maybe we’ll pull out more for next Thanksgiving. We hope that by using the dishes, and passing along the stories, it will create memories for our kids, and eventually inspire them to care for the heirlooms and keep handing them down. (And maybe they’ll even develop an interest in genealogy along the way) 🙂