With the deepest gratitude

As this Orphan George blog illustrates, my interest in genealogy goes far beyond any chart of names and dates. I want a story of their lives, an understanding of their passions and perceived purpose. Maybe I even want my ancestors – or at least some of them – to somehow speak to me, today. And maybe they have, in part through distant relatives who’ve become part of the project.

My interest in family roots came rather late – my mid-30s – and then by way of two unexpected facts related second-hand from a family reunion. The first was that our common ancestor had come from North Carolina (I’d long thought straight west from Pennsylvania – at least Yankee, nothing Southern) and second, more crucial, that the family had been Quaker, rather than the Wesleyan-based Evangelical United Brethren all of us seemed to attend through my formative years. All along I’d thought we were simply homogenized Midwestern American – a culture I largely rejected in a loop that had led me, by way of hippie-era yoga, to independently worship with the Society of Friends, or Quakers, starting in my late 20s. In my evolving Quaker practice, I’d heard mention of the family records the denomination had traditionally recorded and, after inquiring about them and being handed one very fat published directory, I plunged into my first index to some of those minutes – one of the six volumes of William Wade Hinshaw’s Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy. My quest had begun. As you’ll find in my postings, though, my particular ancestry had its own twists; my direct line may have lived and worshiped within the Quaker culture, but we weren’t always members. Not officially, where we would have been recorded. We were in the informal shadow. What Hinshaw definitely did for me came in his opening a full range of questions I needed to explore.

Since you’re already reading this on a genealogy blog, I’ll assume you have a similar story to relate. Just what piqued your interest? How much had already been gathered when you began your research? How have you gone about working the puzzle?

The one thing I quickly learned was how much of a team project this would become. Not everyone at the table at the same time, as it were, but usually one-on-one exchanges dealing with one or two parts of the bigger picture.

For me, this began through correspondence with the cousin of my dad’s age who had made the presentation at the family reunion. Floyd Hodson had already collected an impressive array of material by the time I joined in, but in that pre-Internet age, details could be hard to come by. He had, amazingly, prepared two boxed files of index cards with the names and dates he had come across, not all of them directly related to our line, as far as we could tell. The correspondence, I should add, became extensive over the years before his passing. Floyd and his wife, Melba, show up in some of the portraits posted on this blog. Let me acknowledge that she did most of the typing, and that was back in the days when you couldn’t just backspace or delete a mistake.

Try as we might, though, Floyd and I were stuck trying to work from the present to the past once we got to the end of the entries in our family Bible – George and Delilah Hodson.

I have no memory of how the next key player came on board, but Arthur Hodgin of Richmond, Indiana, was vital to assembling the initial tree of Orphan George’s descendants as the family emerged in North Carolina. For me, this meant ruling out lines, too, in an attempt to match my potential ancestry to one of the remaining non-Quaker families recorded in Census records. What I gained in the process was a fuller view of the culture. Again, the correspondence was copious and full of dialogue on just how the pieces might fit together. Many of the charts and details he included would provide breakthroughs years later. One of those charts, I believe, led me to Charles Saunders, who finally connected my line to its previous generation – for Floyd and me, the big Eureka moment we’d long sought.

A comment by Floyd opened another front for research. He recalled a time his father had been told by my grandfather that my grandmother’s ancestry had been Dunker “way back.” Not Jewish, as we’d thought? Again, this was totally unexpected. Like the Quakers, the Dunkers – or German Baptist Brethren, today mainly continuing as the Church of the Brethren – maintained a Plain lifestyle that included pacifism as a tenant of faith.

Again, I have no memory of how I came across Gale Honeyman, then living in San Francisco, but I can tell you he spent hours in replying to my questions on my grandmother’s side of the ancestry. His generous pages of neat handwriting on grid paper will sometime go to a suitable archive, I hope. He, in turn, directed me to Agnes Winkelman of Englewood, Ohio, who provided the foundation of my great-grandmother Hodson’s McSherry roots. What a lode she had! For once, I wasn’t starting from scratch, either!

For the Robert Hodgson investigation, I was joined by a cousin I met at a Quaker Meeting in Iowa. Sabron Newton was as fascinated as I was in trying to prove or, as it turned out, discount the claims of our having him as an ancestor.

When I’ve mentioned the ways each researcher fits into a niche, I might add that for some, simply digging up material can be sufficient. With Sabron, especially, I fell into a role of simply fitting the pieces together into a sustained narrative.

Much later, thanks to the Internet, I came into contact with John K. Hodgin, who had assembled the definitive family tree of Orphan George’s descendants, in computer format, and Hank Hodgin, who added immensely to my understanding of my great-grandfather’s early years. Hank, in fact, provided portrait copies of our shared ancestors, George and Delilah Hodson, taken sometime after the Civil War. You can see them in an earlier posting.

Many, many other researchers have added to this understanding. I hope I’ve given all of them full credit and recognition in the narrative. If you’re working any of the lines I’m presenting, please know that all of us – past, present, and future – welcome you to the circle.

Maybe all my years as a newspaper editor and its reportorial focus have played into my fascination with this story. It’s detective work, after all, and detective stories have solid reasons for their popularity. And, as many of the novels, films, and television series show, the work gets really interesting when done with fellow detectives. Or, for that matter, any kind of puzzle solvers.

~*~

One of the things I’ve come to value in this project is that genealogical researchers often move into a particular niche in their approach.

For instance, I’ve centered on Quaker histories, Census reports, and published books. Others rely largely on court records, such as wills, property transfers, and lawsuits. A few draw heavily on land purchases and their placement within a township or county. Gravestones become their own specialty, as do family Bibles.

In light of the different approaches we can take, just imagine the long discussions we’ve had as we considered possibilities, proposed theoretical models, and then went looking for evidence to support or reject the line of inquiry. Eventually, it led to the findings you see. And to suggestions for what will help next.

~*~

So what’s your “specialty” in family research? And which fellow-workers would you like to commend?

Gratitude for the generosity of fellow researchers is one of the reasons for this blog, after all.

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