Ralph’s in the middle

Aletha, Ralph, and Grant McSherry

Aletha, Ralph, and Grant McSherry

My grandfather was fond of his cousin, Ralph McSherry, shown here with his parents, Althea (Baylor) and Grant. By the way, does anyone else see a resemblance between Grant and the subjects shown in an earlier post, Where Are the Siblings?

Essential research facilities

Even in an Internet age, there’s no substitute for great genealogical libraries or appropriate historical societies. You never know what you’ll turn up digging around the filing cabinet folders or a section of the bookshelves. (Come to think of it, many of my early correspondents were people who’d written letters that were included in the folders – those addresses at the beginning of the letters or included on family charts were valuable in more than one way, as it turned out.)

Sometimes, finding myself at a dead end on what I’d come to investigate, I’d start opening books in the section I was working only to find answers to other ancestral lines.

A few treks up to the Case Western Reserve Historical Society’s acclaimed library in Cleveland provided crucial material at the beginning of my research. In an ironic twist, the core of its collection had been in the public library in the city where I was living, more than an hour away.

Floyd Hodson provided me with many notes collected in similar trips to the Fort Wayne, Indiana, public library, which claims to have the second-largest genealogical library in the country. From his photocopies I gleaned contacts for fellow researchers who helped flesh out our findings.

Sometimes a library may offer the “haystack” where the proverbial needle-in-the-haystack just might be discovered. The 14 filing boxes of papers in Albert Cook Myers collection at the Chester County Historical Society in West Chester, Pennsylvania, just might have a line that solves our questions about Orphan George’s tragic Atlantic crossing, along with names of his siblings and parents. It would take a dedicated researcher, though – one willing to order the two-box-a-day maximum well in advance.

For Quakers, opportunities to use the archives at Swarthmore and Guilford colleges in America or at Friends House in London can be, well, heavenly. For that matter, the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society in Pennsylvania is a trove for Pennsylvania Dutch family data spanning other denominations as well.

This points as well to the importance of specialized collections, since ethnic as well as religious denominational or regional considerations may require much different approaches. African-American research, for example, is quite different from French-Canadian or Irish.

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Considering your own roots, what libraries and historical societies (among other possibilities) have you found especially helpful in your research? Which ones hold special memories? Are there ones you frequent? Which ones are on your “bucket list”? What tips do you have to share with those starting out? Any you think we should avoid?

When fashion offers a clue

Mary Magdalene McSherry? This woman could well be my great-great-grandmother.

Mary Magdalene McSherry? This woman could well be my great-great-grandmother.

Clothing styles can offer clues in historic photos. In sorting through my Josephine (Josie) Jones and Alice McSherry family images, I have an awareness of style in the Joneses’ Quaker circles, and even as it moved away from traditional Plainness, it continued to contrast with the fashions of wider society, which would have included the McSherrys.

One portrait, in particular, diverges sharply from Josie’s collection, and since Alice’s parents owned a jewelry and millinery store, the subject’s relatively extravagant dress of the late Victorian era leads me to tentatively identify her as Alice’s mother, Mary Magdalene (Bahill/Bayhill) McSherry. The little I can make out from the photo of Alice’s parents as they posed in front of their store supports this assumption. And from that, I’m looking at another portrait that runs along the same lines.

What do you think?

Is this an earlier portrait of the woman in the photo above? Or is she a daughter? Or someone entirely different?

Is this an earlier portrait of the woman in the photo above? Or is she a daughter? Or someone entirely different?

This matter of home

Woven through any decent genealogy is the matter of place. For each individual, this can begin with birth, marriage, and burial. For families that remained in one location for generations, the story can unfold quite differently than it does for families that were constantly on the move. And, if we’re lucky, we might even be able to trace our lines back to “the old country” where we originated.

Place introduces its own sets of opportunities and challenges for researchers. Movement makes it more difficult to find appropriate courthouse, church, and burial records, at least until you have the track nailed down. I rather envy those whose families never left Lancaster County or some town in New England. Let me say that trying to trace a Pennsylvania Dutch family’s relocation into the Allegheny Mountains in the last decades of the 1700s until they reappear a generation or two later in western Ohio can be quite challenging. My Swanks are perhaps the most challenging of my linage in that regard, but they’re hardly alone.

There’s also the experience of traveling across the country to visit some of the locales. Sometimes you may know nothing of your family connection, yet feel something special, as I did in Whittier, Iowa, even when I was asked if I was related to Hodgins. Little did I know at the time. Or to stand in a burial ground and know that five generations of my ancestors are buried in the yard, all but one generation in unmarked graves, was quite a sensation.

I’ve heard many Irish-Americans speak of their pilgrimage to their village of origin. More recently, at a Greek Orthodox dinner, a man told me of his trip with his father to the village his father had left. “I felt a connection,” he said.

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How does place enter into your own genealogy quest? Have you had noteworthy experiences in visiting family locales? What were these like? What would you advise to researchers who are just beginning?

May 15: Where are the siblings?

His style stands out from the rest in the collection. Could it be a clue to his identity? George, for instance, went on to become a municipal airport manager.

His style stands out from the rest in the collection. Could it be a clue to his identity? George, for instance, went on to become a municipal airport manager.

Are they brothers? Or the same person? Or even unrelated?

Are they brothers? Or the same person? Or even unrelated?

Alice McSherry had six siblings: Grant, Arthur, Edward, Sarah, George, and Mary. I’m guessing that many of the photos from Joshua Hodson’s collection, rather than his first wife’s, Josie Jones, portray them. Edward died as a child.

A knowledge of military clothing might aid identification of this subject. Ralph McSherry, for instance, served in the U.S. Army in World War I.

A knowledge of military clothing might aid identification of this subject. Ralph McSherry, for instance, served in the U.S. Army in World War I.

Advancing alternative histories

When you casually sit down with other genealogists, the conversation soon turns to alternative histories – not the ones you’re ever taught in classrooms or the textbooks, but the ones that real families encountered. It’s life viewed from the bottom up, rather than top-down. It moves the bigger, more public, picture to the background or gives details that pop the conflicts of the wider history into face-to-face struggles.

In the case of my Piedmont ancestry, both British and Continental armies marched through Guilford County and the Confederacy was just as intense for a people who had long opposed slavery. The mere fact that there were Southern yeomen who tried to buy the freedom of slaves is an alternative history you don’t hear in the conventional versions, much less the fact that many courageously refused to participate in the war. Nor do you think about marauding troops trotting off with their livestock and grain.

You probably didn’t know about the gold mines in North Carolina, either. I still want to know a lot more about the Hodgin holdings.

Discoveries like these help you appreciate similar perspectives from other families. As I said, this are the real-life histories that need to be known. They’re all too easily lost.

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What has most surprised you in your own research? What stands in contrast to the general assumptions? What in your family legacy has changed the way you view history?

As I keep saying, doing genealogy is about a lot more than collecting names and dates.

Sorting through the duplicates

Could she be one of Alice McSherry Hodson's sisters? She resembles neither Alice nor a woman I believe to be Alice's mother. Or is she one of Joshua's relations, perhaps his sister Luranna Ellen?

Could she be one of Alice McSherry Hodson’s sisters? She resembles neither Alice nor a woman I believe to be Alice’s mother. Or is she a sister-in-law? Or is she one of Joshua’s relations, perhaps his sister Luranna Ellen?

Many of my family photographs appearing on the Orphan George blog – especially those displayed in the Josie Jones and Samuel Hodson album galleries – came to me by way of Floyd Hodson.

Recently, via email, I’ve received a lode of additional photos, this time by way of Michael Hodson, and sifting through them is renewing some of my puzzle-solving attempts. Both Floyd and Michael descend from Joshua Hodson’s first wife, Josephine (Josie) Jones, and many of the newly acquired images duplicate those in her gallery, with a few, as I’m finding, accompanied by actual identifications. One thing we can assume from Josie’s set is that all were taken before her death in 1891. (Hence the predominance of tintypes.)

In contrast, I descend from Joshua’s second wife, Alice McSherry, and since many of the portraits in the “new” pictures come from a collection preserved at the time of his death in 1930, I’m curious about how many of them possibly reflect Alice’s side of the family.

One approach has me trying to match up any duplicate photos, especially those from Josie’s own album, and then look more closely at the remainders. The result just might broaden my McSherry family picture.

What you see here is one of the suspects.