Sunday, November 21, 2010

American Psalm

I am directly related to at least two families that took the famous ship across the sea and into the history books; one on my mother's side; one on my father's side.  Despite what you might think, this having a Mayflower ancestor business isn't much of an exclusive club.  There are millions of Americans that can make the same claim.  After all, every generation expands exponentially.  Ten generations in from my Mayflower ancestors and you end up with a whole lot of cousins.  For example, should you stop to get your oil changed in say, Quincy MA, chances are fair that they guy putting the oil in your car is also a grandchild of one of those Pilgrims.

People have a mistaken notion about those that arrived to America in those early years.  They are considered, "blue bloods," "America's first families," and other colorful and if not historically accurate terms.  

I don't wish to sound disparaging but no one that was a gleaming success in their Motherland was about to take their lives in their hands and hop onboard a ship to come to a wilderness filled with people that didn't necessarily want them there.  Leaving a life as you know it and taking a leap into the great unknown isn't a choice people readily make; certainly not when they are wealthy, comfortable, and well fed.  It's a ballsy move, deserving of accolades; packing up what little you can carry and getting on a ship to take to you somewhere else based entirely on a belief.

"I am willing to risk everything on the chance that it's going to be better for me in America."

If there is an American Psalm, this is Chapter 1; Verse 1.

We are all the children of Pilgrims. 

Happy Thanksgiving. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ida Mabel Nickett Blye and Freeport Odds and Ends

I received this photograph via email today.  This is my great (x2) aunt Ida Nickett Blye; the sister of Rose, Gerry, Mary, and Hannah Towle.  Her great-grandson, Chris, recently found me through and we've been sharing information.  Chris was unaware that his grandmother Ida had siblings; half, or otherwise.

I find it interesting to note that Ida is still wearing a wedding ring.  Her husband passed away in 1907.  I'm not sure when this photograph was taken but her clothing suggests the Edwardian Era (roughly 1890's-1914). 


In other news, on different branch: Today I saw that the former residence of my final sea captain grandfather, Captain James Creech, is up for sale again (still?) in Freeport, Maine.  He built the house in 1848 and my great (x3) grandmother, Frances Creech lived there from the time she was 12 until her marriage to my grandfather, Justus Richardson Brewer.   It's at 181 Main St - within walking distance of the village proper.  Presently, it's a B&B.  

Grandfather Captain James Creech's Former Home

During my trips to Maine, I've driven by but have never stayed there.  The original asking price back before the market fell was in $850,000 range.  I seriously doubt that they'd get anywhere near that price now.  Either way, it's still quite a lovely home.  

A map of Freeport, circa 1870 hangs on a wall in my house.  Homes from both sides of this branch are depicted living down the street from one another.   Both my Creech and Brewer grandparents are found buried nearby one another in the Woodlawn Cemetery.  Grandmother Frances Creech Brewer is there as well, having died during childbirth in 1869.

My master ship building grandfather, Charles Brewer's house is now a craft store in Freeport that sells beads and whatnot.  It's called Abacus.  

Former home of Grandfather Charles Brewer 

Life moves on, kids.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Inglewood Park Cemetery and The Ceremonial Pour Out

I had never bought a beer at 8:30 in the morning before today.   Despite my many self-aggrandizing assertions of coolness and less-than-tasteful sense of humor, underneath it all  beats the heart of a little goody-two -shoes.   I am nothing if not concerned with image presentation.  And politeness.  And good public manners.  Sure, I'll say the outrageous thing to get the laugh but that's just between us, right?   Walking into a 7-11 to buy a beer and an bottle opener before business hours, on a weekday no less?  This was way, way out of my field of experience   "Can you buy beer at 8:30 in the morning?" I asked my husband in bed last night.  "Is it even legal?" 

"Where do you think you live?" he laughed.

So, before most people had arrived at work this morning, I pulled up to the neighborhood 7-11 and cheerfully bought the big ol' bottle of Heineken while trying to appear as if I wasn't the type of person who needed a beer before breakfast.  And I bought the .99 cent bottle opener since I forgot that little detail.  I then headed up the 405 to the Inglewood Park Cemetery.  

I've traveled 3,000 miles to visit my the grave of my grandmother Rose, and her sisters Mary and Hannah, and her mother Hannah, but I still hadn't visited the grave of her brother Gerry Towle, who rests right up the street from me in Inglewood.  52 miles from door to headstone and I hadn't yet made the trip.  And if I owe anyone a cemetery visit, it's Gerry Towle.   I've been through so much with this guy.  He's been a challenge from the start, but if not for the time I devoted to unraveling him,  I wouldn't have come across all these terrific Towle, Pratt, Birdsall, and O'Connell cousins.  I just wouldn't have been that naturally motivated.   Every time I'd hit another brickwall with him, I'd just get all the more determined.  The frustration brought the determination, and the determination brought the people, the pictures, and the family stories.  You could say that Gerry Towle has been something of a genealogical personal trainer for me; mercilessly tough but I'm a much better genealogist because of him.

When planning the field trip, it occurred to me that I owed him a little something more than the customary cemetery drop-by.  Maybe I could bring some sort of gift?  What do you sort of gift do you give a dead person?  My great-uncle is  definitely not the cemetery flowers type - this much I know.  My cousin Mike Towle, Gerry's great-grandson has helped me along the journey; I thought it'd be nice if I could give him a little shout-out on the visit, too.   With these things in mind, I decided that I'd perform the time honored, pour-out ceremony for Gerry on his behalf.   I know Mike's favorite brand of beer; Heineken.   It would be a ceremonial gift for the living and dead.  Perfect.

By the time I arrived, my friend Teresa was waiting for me.  She was there to see if she could find the graves of the original owners of her former boarding school house.  She had spoken to the mortuary's secretary and the people she was looking for weren't there.  We did have a couple of other graves to find for mutual a friend.  Inglewood Park Cemetery is huge.  Even with the maps that the clerk printed out, we had our work cut out for us.  First stop, uncle Gerry.  

Keeping true to form, Gerry was tough to find.  Even with the help of one of the landscapers who was kind enough to stop and give us a hand, we weren't finding him.  We fanned out a little and searched the general area where he was supposed to be.   Getting more frustrated by the second, I said under my breath, "Come on Gerry.  Tell me where you are."  This isn't unusual cemetery dialog for me.  Rarely do I find people in cemeteries easily and in desperation, I'll try just about anything.  Petition the dead?  Sure.  Why not?  It doesn't usually pay off but this time it did.  I turned to my right.  A headstone covered in pine needles, three graves down immediately caught my attention.  I walked directly over to it, crouched down, and brushed away the needles.   Voila. Gerry.

We couldn't do the ceremonial pour with the landscaper guy standing there so we went off to find other people.  Among them, Gerry's wife Gertrude.  She wasn't next to Gerry but was close by; about 15 yards and a couple of rows down.  Unfortunately, the sun came out so I couldn't take a photo directly above the headstone without getting shadows.

Teresa and I would go look for a grave and then return to Gerry's section in hopes that the landscapers had left.  They hadn't.  One had started in mowing.  He kept going back and forth while we stood there, waiting.  By this time it was getting late and we both had kids to go pick up from school.  We'd have to make a move.  Now or never.  I opened the trunk and pulled out the bottle of Heineken and crouching behind my car, opened it.  I handed Teresa the camera and wrapped the bottle in my hoodie - her idea.   We waited until the lawnmower man looped past Gerry's grave and headed in the other direction.  We then made a beeline for the headstone.  I pulled out the bottle of Heineken and started pouring.  Teresa took the shot.

On behalf of my California Towles with love from your New England born niece.  Cheers.  And thank you.  

Friday, October 8, 2010

On That Civil War Court Martial Thing

I discovered that my great (x3) grandfather, Elbridge Gerry Towle was court martialed  for desertion of duty during the Civil War when I ordered his complied military record from the National Archives last spring.  At the time, I was busy tracking down the paternity of his son Gerry Towle, so I just filed away that nugget of information and put "Order EG Towle's Court Martial Record from NARA" on my genealogical to-do list.  The truth is, the longer it has sat on my list, the less inclined I've been to order it.

It isn't like I don't enjoy a good black sheep story on the family tree.  I do.  Very much.  I have a number of grandparents with interesting, if not perfectly wholesome stories to tell.  There's my grandfather Ebenezer Church who couldn't accompany his famous brother Benjamin on the raid that resulted in the death of King Philip because he was in jail on fornication charges.  There are the grandmothers accused of witchcraft.  There's the grandfather who just up and left Pennsylvania one day to begin his life anew in Maine without bothering to mention the decision to his Pennsylvania family.  There's the grandfather that avenged his father's death in a saloon in Freeport, Maine...and got away with it scot-free.  All are good yarns but this one...this one is different.

Maybe it's because I know how his story ends, tragically, within less than a year of his court martial.  Maybe it's because I can piece together information I've gathered on his family and easily conclude how his death affected the course of their lives.  My grandmother Rose was 6 years old when she lost her father.   The family lost the 100 acre farm.  There were multiple moves, a remarriage, and 4 children that appear eager to leave their childhoods behind with early marriages and move-aways.  Maybe it's because the government that court martialed him doesn't seem to know what they did with him after his death on board a hospital ship.  They can tell me all about his transgression, yes.  They can tell me that he's dead.  But they can't tell me where they laid him to rest after he gave his life for his country.  There is no medical record.  There is no grave. There is no small piece of granite anywhere memorializing the life of my grandfather.  And this bothers me to no end.

From what I gathered from his service record, his company had been given an 8 week furlough and were to return to Concord, NH to meet up again .  EG Towle did this.  He returned to Concord when his furlough was up and began the journey south with the rest of his company.  He got as far as New York City when he went missing, "on or about July 20th, 1863."   Did something happen in New York?  Did he get word of some dire emergency back home?  Did he simply spend the preceding days traveling, ruminating on deserting?  Or was this an impulsive decision?   Whatever the reason, it must have been a good one because instead of executing him  (the usual punishment), or dishonorably discharging him (the exceedingly kind punishment, in most cases with a Presidential pardon), they simply stripped him of his rank (Sergeant) and sent him back to serve with his company.  He was sent to Hilton Head, South Carolina and eventually onto The Siege at Petersburg; The Battle of the Crater, then to a hospital ship and 10 days later, a grave.  He was 34 years old.

But the fact remains: whatever good reason he had for deserting most likely isn't going to be a happy, pleasant one.  This is why I've avoided ordering the record.  I've watched this family take a beating for months now and while I've throughly enjoyed meeting the present day's been some painful research.

Today, I was tooling around the National Archives website and on a lark, put the name Elbridge Towle in the ARC search field.  Why yes, there is a paper record of a court martial concerning Elbridge G Towle in Concord, NH from the Nov 1863 files.   It's call number is LL-1833.  Would you like to order this?  $25, please.

I ordered it.  Yes, I'm ready to know.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Haverhill Records (finally) Received

It only took 52 days, 2 phone calls, and an gentle inquiring email, but I finally got the records I ordered from Haverhill, MA.  Honestly, I had forgotten what I ordered.  As much as love hanging out in city clerk offices, I had much better luck ordering from Haverhill online -  from click to mailbox in about 7 business days.  

Here's what I received:

This is the marriage license application for my grandparents, Fred Walter Pratt and Katherine Caron.  There's a couple of interesting things I noticed, beginning with the spelling of my French-Canadian surnames, "Coro" and "Belyea."  "Belyea" is the anglicized form of "Blier."  Blier is pronounced "Belyea" and Belyea is what I find on 99% of the records I come across pertaining to this branch - I almost never see Blier.  "Coro" isn't so much an anglicized form as it is a result of my great-grandfather, Katherine's father, Thomas Coro being illiterate in English.  A government type would show up and ask him what his surname is and apparently, the way he said, "Caron" sounded like "Coro."   In Canada, the same family is called Caron on all documents since the immigrant stepped foot there in the 17th c.   My grandmother and all of her siblings that moved to Lewiston eventually adopted the correct form.  

The second interesting thing is confirmation of my grandfather's first marriage  I had heard that he had been married once before so I had searched the Haverhill directories online and had found evidence that perhaps he had.  I'd also heard that maybe he wasn't quite divorced when he got hitched to my grandmother.  Nope.  He's claiming he's divorced - something he probably wouldn't have done had he not been.   And they were married just a couple of weeks shy of a year before the birth of my dad.  No scandal here other than my very Catholic grandmother got married by a minister.  In New Hampshire.

Here's my grandfather's first marriage license application.  I wonder what happened to ol' Floris.  I've poked around a little but I haven't found much.  I do know that Floris and Fred managed to remain on such good terms that after their divorce that she babysat my father.  For normal folk, that might sound incredible but you can't overestimate the likability of my grandfather.   He made friends everywhere he went.  My step-grandmother Arlene (wife 3), used to say she couldn't send him out to get a loaf of bread because he'd be gone all day chatting with people at the store.  My grandfather passed away 30 years ago and his ex-in-laws, my grandmother's living siblings and their children still go out of their way to tell me how wonderful he was.  

This is the marriage license application of my great-grandparents, Walter Fred Pratt and Alice Kellogg.  Everything is exactly as I expected according to the 1900 census.  The only surprise here is that they were married in February and my cousin Steve Pratt's grandfather, Elbridge Gerry Pratt, was born the following June.  Eh, close enough.  Certainly not the first "miracle baby" I've found on my tree.  This fact may or may not have been a factor in my great-uncle Elbridge's name.  After all, if you deliver a perfectly healthy baby a scant 4 months after your marriage, and you're living in the turn of the century, naming your baby after your your mother-in-law's long dead father is a darn good move. 

This is the record the city clerk screwed up.  As you can see, the bride is my grandmother, Katherine Coro which is nice but she wasn't born until 1912.   Hell, her mother wasn't even born in 1876.   And my grandmother Katherine didn't marry her grandfather-in-law either who by the way, happened to be dead nearly a decade when my grandparents, Fred Walter Pratt and Katherine Coro were married in 1933.  This is the jacked up record of the marriage license application of my great-great grandparents, Fred Wallace Pratt and Rose Ann Towle.  Clearly, the clerk simply got her Freds confused when she was preparing the document.  I was interested to see if there was another "miracle baby" on the branch, because I knew that my great-aunt Eva Pratt  was born in September of 1876, but the math works out just fine.  The only interesting thing is that Rose is claiming her father is "Gary" which is just shorthand for "Elbridge Gerry" her father.  My great-uncle Gerry Towle also claimed his father's name was "Gerry" on his marriage license application so apparently my great (x3) grandfather, Elbridge Gerry Towle was typically called,"Gerry," pronounced "Gary."

This is the death certificate of my great (x2) grandmother, Rose Ann Towle.  The clerk called me to tell me that she had found an error on the original record and wanted to give me a head's up.  Apparently, there was a misunderstanding when my great (x2) aunt Betty Birsdsall filled out the form; aunt Betty didn't identify her mother's surname.   The clerk called the mortuary to double check the record and wanted me to know that the maiden name of Rose was Towle.  For those that remember Gerry Towle's death certificate, his daughter Ida didn't identify the same grandparents correctly either.   Betty got the first names; Ida got the surname.  I guess together, the cousins could have put together the names but they were living on opposite sides of the country.  "Betty meet your cousin Ida....Ida, this is Betty..."

Am I surprised that I received two records with errors and both of them belong to Rose Towle Pratt?

Nope.  Not even slightly surprised.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Gerry Towle - Interstate Man of Mystery

Once in a while, you come across a particular relative on your tree who is more illusive and harder to pin down that the others.  While it's easy to click "add" to all those siblings of your grandparents on Ancestry, sometimes these sibling names seemingly disappear between censuses; sometimes forever. This was the case with my grandmother Rose's brother, George Towle.

This is what my Towle branch looked like circa 1860.  You see the father, my great (x3) grandfather, Elbridge G. Towle, age 31; his wife, Hannah J (Clayton), age 25 and their daughters Mary L (age 5), Rosanna (my grandmother, age 2), and Hannah J (age 5 months).

                                                                  (Click to enlarge)

In the 1870 Census, the family looks quite different.  Noticeable, is the absence of the father, Elbridge G Towle, and the additions of Mable (misspelled "Noble") Nickett, a baby named William Nickett, and a boy named George Towle, who is 8 years old.  I know that despite the changes, this is the same family.  They are living in the same town (Kingston, NH) and all the names and ages of the daughters correspond correctly to the previous census.  

If a male head of household is missing between the 1860 census and the 1870 census, there's a good possibility it's due to not surviving military service in the Civil War.  A quick check proved this was the case with my grandfather, Elbridge Gerry Towle.   He was wounded and did not survive.

Comparing the information in both census extracts and you can get a rough outline of this family's story.  The father doesn't survive the war, the mother remarries and she has son with the surname of her new husband.  The 3 children from the previous husband continue to live with her...but, what about that 8 year old boy, George Towle?  Doing the math, 8 years old, minus the census year 1870 gives the the rough estimate of his birth being around 1862.  1862.  Obviously, this boy wouldn't have known his father.  But did his father even get to see his face?  Did he ever hold him in his arms?  I have a number of other grandparents that lost a parent at a tender age: Thomas Caron, Frank Brewer, Henry Pratt, Thomas Means, Cora Blier...sad, yes.  Unfortunately, that situation isn't altogether unusual for the era.  I knew that Elbridge Gerry Towle's line continued on - I didn't have to look any further than myself.  But what about George?  

I began searching for him.  While there were plenty of George Towles in the 1880 census, not one of them fit.  They were too old or too young or were born in the wrong place.  I checked the 1900 census because maybe the 1880 census taker missed him or something.  1900 was a wash.  Same thing - there were no George Towles that fit.  1910?  Nothing.  Could George be dead?  Quite possibly.  Okay, probably, really.  At this point, I half-heartedly chalked up George Towle having died young.  I say half-heartedly because I didn't have actual documentation that he died.  A slim reed, yes - but I was hanging onto to it.  For whatever reason, I just couldn't bring myself to lose all hope for George.  Every so often I'd poke around to see if I could find him.  I never did find George Towle.  But I did find this guy on the 1880 census.


Gerry Towle?  Gerry?  That's my grandfather Elbridge's middle name.  And he's 17 - close enough for government work.  Plus, he's living cat swinging distance from my grandmother Rose and her mother, Hannah Nickett; they're in Haverhill, MA, this Gerry Towle guy is in Bradford, a couple of miles and a mere bridge away.  Intrigued, I began searching for Gerry Towle.  I found that he married, had children and moved to California.  Using the California database at Ancestry, I found that Gerry Towle had a living grandson named Howard living right up the street in LA.  Address provided and everything!

But a person can't just knock on a stranger's door and ask, "Hi, I was just in the neighborhood and I was your grandfather Gerry Towle the son of Elbridge Towle?"  You don't just namedrop a total stranger's grandparents out of the blue on them.  Doing that would scare the crap outta people.  This is what my husband Tim said, though my genealogical buddy Teresa wavered on the question: "I don't think it's that it?"

Yes, it is.  So I didn't knock on Howard Towle's door.  I just sat on the unanswered question though it bothered me enough that every so often, I'd Google search Gerry Towle.  And I'd look to see if anyone put up a tree with him included in it.  One day, I discovered that someone had.  In it, there was a cool story about Gerry winning a sculling contest in Haverhill back in 1890, written by someone named Mike Towle who I deduced must be Howard Towle's son.  This kid is into his roots!  Fabulous.  He's probably young enough to have a Facebook page, I can ask him if he knows who Gerry Towle's parents are!  It's weird to approach strangers over Facebook but much less weird than knocking on their front door.  He has the option to not answer and quietly, politely block me.  No harm, no foul.

He answered back within a day.  Unfortunately, he didn't know who Gerry Towle's parents were.  His father didn't know either.  Neither did his great-aunt.  None of the California Towles knew anything other than their Gerry Towle was the same Gerry Towle on the 1880 census living in Bradford.  Now I had to figure this out - I've got poor long dead Gerry Towle living in Calfornia without parents, an unanswered question about the fate of little 8 year old George Towle, and now this nice Mike Towle guy, surely a cousin of mine of some degree, totally unattached to any Towle tree.  I couldn't let everyone just dangle loose in the wind with their unattached branches.  For good measure, I put Teresa on the case, too.  

Using what scant clues we had, we scoured the internet for any possible information on Gerry.  We got no where in the way of answering the burning question but if you'd like a course on the history of sculling in Haverhill, Masschusetts, Teresa could teach it.  Meanwhile, I drove to LA to order Gerry Towle's death certificate from the LA County Department of Vital Records office.  Gerry Towle died in 1925; by then it was customary to list the decedents parents on the death certificate. Finally, we would have the answer!   I also ordered Hannah Clayton Towle Nickett's Civil War pension application.  She'd have to prove the births of all her children.  If she mentions Gerry, we're golden.  It would arrive in about a month.  Ugh.  I also quizzed Mike Towle...any idea where Gerry is buried?   Mike said his great aunt was certain that he was buried in Inglewood.  His dad wasn't so sure.  I was putting my money on the elderly aunt.  I had a hunch she was going to be right.  Elderly aunts and uncles have always had the inside scoop for me.  I emailed a couple of cemeteries.  The auntie was right.  Gerry was buried in Inglewood.  Unfortunately, there wasn't any information about his parents in their paperwork.  I'd have to wait for the answer by snail mail.

I don't know why, but as soon as I saw the envelope from the LA County Department of Vital Records sitting in my mailbox, I just knew I wouldn't have my answer.  Maybe because by this time, with all this time and effort invested and still no definitive answer I had grown accustom to disappointment...I don't know.  But I knew.  I knew I wasn't going to know.  When I tore open the envelope and saw the little box for the names of Gerry's parents and read, "Mr Towle" and "Mrs. Towle," I laughed out loud.  Death certificates are a secondary source.  After all, the person you're talking about isn't the one answering the questions.  I immediately called Teresa.  "You're never going to believe this..."

To hedge my bets, I decided to order Gerry Towle's marriage license application from the city of Haverhill - just in case.  By this time, Teresa and I began referring to Gerry Towle as our "genealogical bad boy" - like all "bad boys," he seemed to continuously lure me in with intriguing, implied possibilities but was unwilling to make a solid commitment.  I'd see Teresa and she would immediately ask, "Any word from Gerry?"  I'd answer, "Nope.  Nothing.  He's still toying with me."  

I spent a solid day going over all the information I had on Gerry/George.  It was a helluva circumstantial case for Gerry to be George for a multitude of reasons, but there lingered the possibility that my hunch was wrong.  If my hunch was wrong, it meant that George Towle had died.  There just wouldn't be any other reasonable explanation for his disappearance.  I tried hard not to think about that.  I was putting my chips on my hunch.

The Civil War Pension Application finally arrived.  In it, Elbridge and Hannah's children Mary, Rose, and Hannah were listed but no there was no George and no Gerry.  Huh?  Where's George?  Was George illegitimate or something?  "It's probably due to some dopey government rule," Tim said.  "Most likely they weren't going to give out pensions to children born while the father was enlisted."  I admit it, the dates didn't quite line up and that did bother me.  Elbridge Gerry Towle enlisted in September 1861 and Gerry Towle was born in September 11, 1862.  The Civil War Pension Application made me think that maybe, even if Gerry was George, that Elbridge Towle wasn't the father of either one of them.  If so, I don't know what the heck I could do to ever solve that mystery.  I ruminated on that possibility all night.  I woke up early the next day and wrote Mike Towle an email telling him that although I had received the paperwork from the National Archives, I didn't have an answer.  Again.  Still.    

While online, I ordered Elbridge Gerry Towle's war record from The National Archives.  I'm not sure why.  I didn't think it could tell me anything in the way of the George/Gerry question, but I was ready to order whatever paperwork pertaining to my Towle family I could find.  I shuffled off to work and on the way to my car, I picked up the mail.  There was a letter from the city of Haverhill - it had to be Gerry's marriage license application.  I took a deep breath and tore open the envelope. Okay, let's see who Gerry says his parents are:

Success!  Finally.  After asking his great-grandchild, his grandchildren, the city of Los Angeles, the cemetery where he's buried, the US government, and every genealogical resource available on the Internet, the answer eventually came from...Gerry, himself.  George was, in fact Gerry.  He didn't die a little boy after all and for certain.  Apparently my great (x3) grandfather Elbridge Gerry Towle was called simply, "Gerry" by his family. When his Civil War record finally made it to my house, I saw that although he had enlisted in September of 1861, he wasn't on the muster rolls until January 1862 - within perfect time to father his son, Gerry. I later found my grandmother Rose's marriage application - she too listed her father as "Gary Towle" - which is how the Calfornia Towles pronounce "Gerry" when they're talking about his son.  Their grandfather, my great-uncle.  The one with the grandson named Howard who lives up the street.

Today, I got another envelope in my mailbox.  This one was from Howard and his wife Dotti.  I had gone to their house to attend Mike's going-away party and to finally meet them in person.  What's a mere 115 years or so between family?  After I had left the party, they had found a photograph of their grandfather, Gerry Towle.  My grandmother Rose's brother; my genealogical bad boy uncle.  

Gerry Elbridge Towle circa 1880's

Of course, they found it about an hour or so after I had left. 

Today is September 11th.  Happy 148th birthday, Uncle Gerry.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Connecting My Cousins

For those cousins joining me in the discovery of our branches already in progress, welcome!  I thought I should probably do some explanation on how you all fit on our tree.  Here's the story I've discovered in a nutshell:

We all have in common one ancestor, Hannah Jane Clayton.  Hannah was born in Vermont on June 20th, 1835 to William Clayton and Roseanna Ayer.  Her father William is our immigrant ancestor on this line having been born in Yorkshire, England in 1799.  Her mother, Roseanna Ayer comes from a larger Ayer clan who was quite prominent in Haverhill, MA from the 1600's.  There is still a small village in Haverhill called "Ayer's Village" named after this branch of our family.

Hannah J Clayton married Elbridge Gerry Towle on 26 November, 1853 in Plaistow, New Hampshire.  Elbridge Gerry Towle is a direct descendant of the Philip Towle line of New Hampshire and also a distant cousin of the Towle Silversmiths.  Together, Elbridge and Hannah  had 4 children: Mary Louise Towle, Rose Ann Towle, Hannah Jane Towle, and Gerry Elbridge Towle. 

Mary Louise Towle (b. 1854) married Arthur Muzzy and had no children.  She was widowed young.  Her line ended with her.  The Towle-Muzzy family lived in Haverhill, MA

Rose Ann Towle (b. 1857) is my great-great grandmother.  She married Fred Pratt and had 9 children.  My great-grandfather is her 2nd born child, Walter Fred Pratt - hence my maiden name.  My cousin, Daniel Birdsall,  is the grandson of her 9th child, Elizabeth Clayton Pratt.  My cousin,  Steve Pratt is the great-grandchild of Walter Pratt and Alice Kellogg, as I am.  Our grandfathers Elbridge Gerry Pratt and Fred Walter Pratt were brothers.  Among my first cousins on this line are Joline Boulay, Melissa Merritt, and Bryan Baker. The Towle-Pratt family also lived in Haverhill, MA

Hannah Jane Towle (b 1859) married Elias P Dole and had 4 children; 2 boys and 2 girls.  William O'Connell is the grandson of  Hannah Jane Towle's daughter, Mary Louise Dole.  I suspect Mary Lousie Dole got her name from her aunt Mary Louise Towle.  The Towle-Dole family lived in Sailsbury, MA

Gerry Elbridge Towle (b. 1862) married Susan Gertrude Pickering  and had 5 children, one of which was Howard Pickering Towle.  Howard's son, Howard Towle is the grandson of Gerry Towle.  His children, Mike Towle and Tamralyn (Towle) Fontanez are the great-grandchildren of Gerry Towle.  The Pickering-Towle family also lived in Haverhill, MA but later moved to California in the 1890's.
Cousins Steve Pratt, Daniel Birdsall, and Laurie Pratt Sisk's
great (x2) grandmother, Rose Ann Towle Pratt

Elbridge Gerry Towle served in the Civil War with the 4th New Hampshire Infantry Co. H.  He died at age 34 onboard a hospital ship from wounds he received at The Battle of the Crater during the siege at Petersburg, VA in August 1864.  Hannah Clayton Towle was left a widow with 4 small children to raise.  She also lost a brother in the Civil War and another one was wounded.

On 5 July 1868, Hannah Clayton (Towle) married a second time to Mable Nickett in Kingston, NH.  Mabel was French-Canadian, born in Canada, and also served in the Civil War with the 25th Massachusetts Infantry, Co E.  He was wounded during the Civil War, sustaining an injury to his face.  Together they had 2 children - William Nickett and Ida Mable Nickett

William Nickett (b. 1869) died at age 11 in 1880 while the family was living in Haverhill, MA.  

Ida Mable Nickett (b. 1874) married Daniel W Blye in 1889 in Kingston, NH.  Together, they had 4 children, one of which is Cora M Blye, the great-grandmother of Mike Evans.   The Nickett-Blye family lived in NY for a time but ended up in Lynn, MA.  Daniel Blye died relatively young and Ida Nickett Blye never remarried.  

Hannah Clayton (Towle) Nickett and Mabel Nickett eventually separated though never divorced.  She continued to live in Kingston, NH while he moved around New England living in the general Exeter/Portsmouth area of NH.  Hannah died on 13 Jan 1908 in Kingston and is buried in Sailsbury, MA.  Mabel Nickett married again to someone named "Mary" and died at the VA hospital in Togus, Maine on 24 Mar 1917.  He is buried in the veteran's cemetery there. 

I think it's pretty cool that some of our family names live on in the present day.   My father's name is Fred Pratt - a name all of our common grandparents, including our grandmother, Hannah Clayton Towle Nickett would instantly recognize.  We also have a cousin named Clayton and Gerry is middle name of our cousin Steve Pratt.  Gerry Towle, named a son Walter - the same name as his nephew/my great-grandfather, Walter Pratt, and he had a daughter named Ida May Towle - reminiscent of his sister, Ida Mabel Nickett, the great (x2) grandmother of Mike Evans.  My great-grandfather Walter Pratt, named his son Elbridge Gerry Pratt.  Considering how intertwined our family was, it's amazing how lost everyone got in such a short amount of time.

I'm fairly sure I got the generations correct with respect to "grandchild," "great" and "great-great" but to tell you the truth, figuring out degrees of cousin is not something I'm good at doing - ask Howard Towle who patiently had to correct me umpteen times that he is the grandson of Gerry Towle and not the great grandson as I tended to think.  It's just odd thinking that while I'm 13 years older than Mike Towle, technically I'm in his baby son's generation.  Weird.

Now if anyone has info to add the our tree or any pictures of your grandparents, great, great-great, or otherwise, I'd love to see them!

How to Find Your Lost Cousins

I've had a lot of luck lately making connections with distant cousins via facebook.  Not only is it great to reconnect branches, it helps round out your tree and can be additional source of information.  Besides, who better to share your latest genealogical finds than a related cousin?  It's quite simple to do - once you get over weirdness factor about approaching total strangers with information about their family.   

If you already have an account at, make sure you add your ancestor's siblings onto your tree. Sometimes you can find a tree at Ancestry from the offspring of one of your ancestor's siblings that will bring you to *nearly* present day.  But even if there isn't a tree to find, if you can trace an ancestor's sibling's name (and/or) their offspring forward to the 1930 US Census, you can generally find their present day family on,, or   Double check to make sure that the general location of the present day person matches the information you already have on the sibling's offspring.   Often times, especially with the more common names, you need to sort out which person with that name is the correct one.

These websites often include the names and locations of people that are surely dead by now.  There aren't that many people over the age of 100 running around but I've used the names of my great-aunts and uncles over the age of 100 to find my cousins.  For example, my grandfather Fred Pratt is still being listed on these websites - today is his 107th birthday.  This is the same methodology I use when I'm volunteering my time to reconnect  unclaimed people at various coroner's offices with their next of kin over at  (We don't personally contact the next of kin, the coroner's office does that).  You can also find your long lost friends/neighbors this way as well.

Once you have a present day/living person's name from your branch, try looking for them on facebook.  I've found facebook friends/cousins Mike Towle, Steve Pratt, Nancy Birdsall, Bryan Baker and Melinda Callahan-Evans this way.

Good luck!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ludovicus Found

Generally, I don't spend an inordinate amount of time sussing out one branch fully.  And by fully, I mean all the siblings of my ancestor, their offspring, and their offspring's offspring.  I have done so with my Towle branch mostly because I found this particular family so oddly compelling for a number of reasons.  One of them being that no one seemed to know how my Towle branch fit with the the greater descendants of Philip Towle of New Hampshire branches.  The other was stumbling into a distant cousin online.  I didn't have proof at the time but I just knew that his great-grandfather was my grandmother Rose's sibling.   I'm no genealogical genius here.  If you find a man with your great (x3) grandfather's name inverted, living a stone's throw from your great (x2) grandmother, and he's of the same approximate age, common sense naturally leads a person to believe that he's quite likely your grandmother's sibling.   I just had to back up my hunch with documented proof - which took a while but I eventually did by way of a marriage license.  That's one branch mended onto the tree.  But what about the Towle tree?

This is what my amputated (and abbreviated) Towle branch looked like in a nutshell:

Laurie Pratt (b 1964)
--Fred Pratt (b.1934)
---Fred Pratt (b. 1903)
----Walter Pratt (b. 1878)
------Rose Ann Towle (b. 1857)
--------Elbridge Gerry Towle (b. 1829)
----------Ludovicus Towle (b. 1795)

No one had much on Ludovicus Towle.  There's a Ludovicus Towle of New Hampshire that fought in the war of 1812.  He had signed up in Exeter and has got to be my Ludovicus if only by virtue of the bizarre name.  I found him misspelled on the 1840 census living in Kingston with his second wife, Judith and my grandfather, Elbridge.  I found a land deed from Ludovicus Towle's probate granting Elbridge his homestead land in Kingston. And thanks to some Towle family experts willing to share information, I knew that Ludovicus Towle married a cousin of some degree, Mary Towle.  Ludovicus and Mary Towle were the parents of my great (x3) grandfather, Elbridge.

But who is Ludovicus Towles' father?  No one seemed to know.  With a crazy name like Ludovicus, you'd think someone, somewhere, would have remembered him in a family history book.  Nope.  404 - Not Found.  Given the fact he's spending time in Exeter, living in Danville (Hawke) and Kingston, it's a pretty sure bet that he's of the Philip Towle, Towles of New Hampshire.  But I, and no one else had any source material to back it up.

Until last night. 

On a whim, I decided to take spin on the new pilot program on records over on Family Search.  I had used Family Search when it first came out but I found the records listed generally pedestrian and sorely lacking in documentation beyond the 1880 US Census.  Who cares if someone made a tree and included my grandparent in it?  That's not documentation a person can hang a hat on.  Wheres the hard proof?  Where's the record?  Where's the source?

With the new search engine tied to actual vital records, I was bowled over.  In roughly 15 minuets the mystery of Ludovicus was solved.  Something I haven't been able to do in a half-dozen years.

Ludovicus Towle is the son of Rueben Towle and Abigail (Brown).  Here is my (and my Pratt-Birdsall-Towle cousins) line to Caleb Towle through Ludovicus:

...and Caleb was the son of Caleb, who was the son of Philip Towle and Isabella Austin.

Volia!  Done!

My grandfather Elbridge's parents were first cousins which seems a little creepy looking at it through 21st century eyes.  Though on the bright side, it saved Ludovicus and Mary the the dreaded, "Whose side of the family do we spend Christmas with this year?" decisions, I suppose. 

If you haven't checked out the new pilot record search program on Family Search, it is definitely worth a look these days. 

As a footnote to my Towle cousins in the know, it also confirmed my hunch that Rose and Gerry's sister Hannah J Towle maried Eilas P Dole.

I found a Towle/Dole cousin whose wife has a tree on Ancestry listing "Hannah J Tower" as the wife of Elias P Dole.  I sent her a message months ago but she hasn't responded.  Her husband, my actual cousin, has a Facebook page.  Hmmmm..maybe I should try to contact him directly.  Everyone should have a chance to know their family history, don'tcha think?

Trip to Haverhill and Kingston (July 2010) Part 2

My great-great grandmother, Rose Ann Towle Pratt

The Haverhill Public Library is directly across the street from the city hall so having about an hour before I had to check out of the hotel and meet with my newly discovered cousin Nancy, I thought I'd take a chance that I might find a microfilmed newspapers there.  As luck would have it, I did.

The main goal of this trip was to find my great-grandmother, Hannah Clayton Towle's grave.  For those that haven't followed my months long saga, my great (x3) grandfather, Elbridge Gerry Towle died onboard a hospital ship near Petersburg, VA. and I'd like to know what was done with him after his death.  The National Archives doesn't seem to have any record of a burial, at sea or otherwise and his name doesn't come up on any burial searches with the Veteran's Department.  I've been  holding out a slim hope that he had been sent home for burial.  I figured if I could find his wife, Hannah Clayton Towle, perhaps I'd find him next to her.  A long shot, yes.  But I'm a sucker for sentimental endings.

I first checked to see if there was any accounts of local deaths related to the Siege at Petersburg.  There wasn't. There was a description of events there beginning on August 6th, 1864 - but it didn't include any of the names of the fallen in days following that particular edition as far as I could tell.  Unfortunately, the collection didn't include every day of August/September 1864, so I checked out what I could but didn't find a thing.    

I then checked to see if I could find obituaries.  I began with my great-great grandfather, Fred Wallace Pratt - I found an account of his death on the front page.  In a nutshell, he was working as a salesman and on one of his calls, he stepped out into the street and was hit by a truck owned by the Towle Silversmith Co.  Unbelievable!  I couldn't find Rose's obituary but I was starting to get pressed for time.  I needed to get to get to Kingston to meet the cousins!  I found my cousin Nancy by tracing my Pratt tree forward and then doing a little detective work, and then searching on Facebook to see if I could find cousins on that branch.  Nancy is married to my cousin, Dan Birdsall.  Dan's grandmother, Elizabeth Clayton Pratt Birdsall, was the ninth child of Fred and Rose - my great-grandfather Walter Pratt, was their second child.

Kingston, NH Town Hall

I got to Kingston, NH without a hitch, having finally figured out enough landmarks around Haverhill to get my bearings to find my way out.  Nancy was kind enough to warn me about the long wait at the Kingston Town Clerk's office.  Words cannot explain that kind of wait.  Ay Carumba!  In the 2 hours Nancy and I sat there, they had gone through a mere 6 requests.   We got a chance to chat and laugh - Nancy is hilarious and we certainly made the best of it.  I mentioned that I was looking for my grandfather who had died in the Civil War and Nancy pointed to a list of local Kingston, NH men that had served.  I found Elbridge immediately.  And was surprised to see that the last name of the man following his was Nickett. Though this Nickett is not my step-grandfather he is probably related.

My great (x3) grandfather, Elbridge G Towle's
name is found on the left
(click to enlarge)
When it was my turn, the clerk found a chair and some desk space and let me search through the original record books.  Normally, this is QUITE a treat but holy hell...what a mess these birth record books were! Apparently, the attending physicians would just randomly stop by the Kingston clerks office and drop off their notes whenever they got around to it.   Generally, there were no names for the children born - just date of birth, sex, race, and names of  one or both parents.  I found my grandmother Rose's birth record and her brother Gerry's, too but only because I know their birth dates.  

I was expecting to find Rose and Gerry's mother, Hannah J Clayton (Towle) Nickett in one of the local cemeteries in Kingston.  I did find her death record, but she's buried in Newburyport, MA of all places.  I don't know what she's doing over there.  That mystery will have to be solved another day.

Nancy had to run a couple of errands and left her address so I could GPS my way to her house (Yes, I can make virtually any word a verb).  I found it easily enough - through a gorgeous, winding, tree lined road that reminded me so much of cousin Howard Towle's neighborhood in California.  Nancy and Dan are building their house and it's amazing.  It sits on a lovely pond with an expansive view and Nancy is extremely talented decorator.  They were kind enough to invite my other Birdsall cousins, including Rose's grandchilden Clayton and Ben, to dinner and we had a terrific time looking at old photos and sharing family tales.  They are all such lovely people.  Cousin Ben told me all about Rose's husband, my great (x2) grandfather Fred Wallace Pratt getting killed from being run-over by a Towle Silversmith truck - they still can't believe the weird coincidence.  And I filled them in on my meeting the California Towle family - they were pleased to hear that Rose's family, beyond my branch of the Pratts, are alive and doing well.  I asked my cousin, Clayton, if he remembered anything about our grandmother, Rose.  She had passed when he was just a little boy.  He said that remembered she was very nice - and she always kept a can of Ovaltine in the kitchen for him. Sweet.

The Pratt Birdsall Cousins

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Trip to Haverhill and Kingston (July 2010) Part 1

Haverhill, MA 
Because I can travel for free whenever I like, I'm fortunate that I get to go to New England at least once or twice a year, though  I've never had the opportunity to do so exclusively for the purpose of working on my genealogy.  All my previous trips were tied to some other worthy purpose (funerals, visiting relatives, getting married...)   Generally, when I'm there I just do whatever I can whenever a kindly driver and a spare hour or two presents itself.   I always try to be mindful of the time I'm spending, though I confess my father has fallen asleep in the Freeport Maine town clerk's parking lot while waiting for me to pull records and make copies.  And I have dragged my brother Steve along for some cemetery traipsing a couple times.  I was only slightly annoyed when he found our great-great grandmother's grave before I did.

My husband and I were planning to attend my stepchildren's play in Hingham, MA and to pick them up to take them to California on Saturday, July 31th.   My days off are Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday...hmmmmm.  It took about a nanosecond for me to realize I could tag a brief genealollapalooza onto the trip.  The thought of a trip, no matter how short, strictly for the the purpose of digging around the family tree sounded like sheer bliss - even if it was for a mere 48 hours.  I would plan a guerrilla-style, genealogical assault - Bing! Bang! boom!    I wouldn't be a bother to anyone in asking them to cart me around and listen to me blather on about dead relatives they couldn't possibly triangulate in their heads.  It'd be a win-win for everyone.  So off I went.

Despite having the nifty GPS app on my iphone, I wisely chose to get a real GPS with the rental car.  An excellent move on my part since I'm utterly void of any sense of direction and would probably be in Canada now without it.   Did you know if you fail to follow the GPS lady's chipper little instructions she suddenly takes on a decidedly bitchy tone with you?  Oh, she's all sunshine and flowers when cheerfully instructing you to, "Please fasten your seatbelt!" but the exasperation is palatable in her tone when you've blown (yet another) instruction and she's "Recalculating."   Trust me,  she recalculated my happy ass all over New Hampshire and Massachusetts.  I was on back roads, going around lakes and ponds, taking twisty two-lane roads though the woods; I even drove past The American Stonehenge - whatever (wherever) that is.  I never saw a single highway from Manchester to Haverhill.  I did see a number of roundabouts ("Oh hell, no!" ( exit stage right), "Recalculating") and 3-way stops ("What the...?").   I began to suspect that GPS lady was trying to kill me what with all those left turns into heavy traffic she was suggesting,  but I made it to Haverhill in once piece; even if it did take an hour to drive a scant 30-odd miles.  

I spent most of the first day tooling around Haverhill taking photographs.  I had a list of my grandparents former residences though almost all of the actual houses are now gone.  The property where their houses once stood are now parking lots, other people's backyards, or driveways which was a little depressing.  Not really planning on a map the most efficient way to go, I was driving hither and yon and back around again ("Recalculating").  At one point, I stopped at a McDonald's for a salad and later discovered that the parking lot was on the former property of my grandparent's home.   I can now say that I "ate lunch at over at Fred and Rose's place" - albeit inadvertently.   I found my other Civil War grandfather, Luther Kellogg's house.  It looked like the neighborhood was quite tony back in the day though it's readily apparent the years have not been kind.  There were people standing in front of the house that took note of my car immediately.  They didn't look like they wanted their picture taken so I moved along.  I'll have drive-by another day; hopefully not while someone else's drive-by is already in progress.

Headstone of Fred W Pratt and Rose (Towle) Pratt
Haverhill, MA
I found the cemetery where my great (x2) grandparents, Fred and Rose (Towle) Pratt are buried and paid my respects.  It's a lovely old cemetery, very well maintained and worthy a traipse even if you don't know anyone buried there.  The caretaker told me that the section my grandparents are in is rather old and laid out with horses and carriages rather than cars in mind - interesting.  It was nice to see day-lilies growing around my grandparent's headstone.  The caretaker said that they were planted decades ago and still come up strong every spring - lovely.  I wrapped up my driving around to meet up with one of my Internet friends, Kim, and her daughter, Abby.  We had dinner together downtown which was terrific.  Great food, great company, great atmosphere.

The Merrimack River in Haverhill
The following day, I woke up early and headed out to walk Haverhill's Historic District.  It looks like they're trying to restore the downtown area to it's former glory and for the most part, it looks to be a success.  I enjoyed seeing little bits of the past peeking out from the newly refurbished store fronts and former mills.  Original brickwork is plentiful and in some cases, crumbling, and being replaced.  Walking down the street, I debated whether or not to help myself to what appeared to be original loose cobblestone, though in the end I decided not to perform an "I Love Lucy" maneuver so far from anyone that would post bail.  I walked across the Merrimack and thought of my great uncle Gerry and the sculling trophy he won in Haverhill back in 1890 that sits on my cousin Mike's fireplace mantle.  And I thought of my friend Jo who was amazed we could cross the Merrimack about 99 times while driving south from Manchester to New York last fall.

Haverhill City Hall
My next stop, the Haverhill City Hall is an impressive, beautiful building,  Pratt family legend has it that when my father was born, my great-grandfather, Walter Pratt offered to take my father's birth certificate application over to the Haverhill City Hall and drop it off with the clerk.  Unbeknownst to anyone, he drew a line through the original name my father was given by his parents, "Paul Arthur Pratt," and renamed him Fred Paul Pratt - after his own father, Fred Wallace Pratt; a brief piece of editing that wouldn't be uncovered for several years.   Walking down the hallways I thought of Walter and wondered how he could keep a fabulous secret like that to himself.   Did he chuckle to himself when he heard everyone calling my father, "Paul" when that isn't his first name?
Inside Haverhill City Hall

The clerk that pulls records was out that day so I had to fill out request forms and leave them.  Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my little notebook so I had to improvise...what records did I want again?  I feverishly just scribbled out whatever I could think of on the spot.  Sitting here, some three weeks later awaiting the arrival of the records (ahem), I can't remember exactly what I asked for.  I guess when they finally do arrive I'll get to be surprised - sort of like getting Christmas in August.  Or maybe September.

(t0 be continued)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Beginning

My interest in genealogy began when I was a little kid.  My grandmother, Laura Lancaster, was a freelance feature article writer for The Lewiston Sun Journal in Lewiston, Maine.  Being a freelance feature article writer is a much better job than being a regular journalist in my opinion.  Rather than reporting the news, you get to write about things you're actually interested in; things such as your own genealogy, or "beekeeping," or the history of some random lighthouse in Maine.   And if you are my grandmother, you're a naturally curious person and enjoy visiting cemeteries, beekeepers, and lighthouses and from time to time, you drag your equally curious granddaughter along on your little adventures; that would be me.

Visiting cemeteries at such an early age with a grandparent who could tell a good story about who you were visiting meant that cemeteries weren't creepy places that should be avoided.  To me, they've always been places of personal historical significance where a person can stop by and remember their kin and maybe them bring flowers ("Watch where you're walking, Laurie.  Don't step on my mother, dear.").   Proper cemetery etiquette is burned into my brain like the alphabet.

When I got a little older  I'd go to the library and pick up genealogy books, though not exactly sure what I was looking for.  I'd read old newspapers on the microfilm machine, or I'd study old maps - I love maps.  But with my grandmother gone to meet up with all the people she'd told me stories about, I didn't know where to begin.  Back when we lived in Maine, my grandmother would drive to Augusta to pull family records but being transplanted 3,000 miles away from New England  it seemed an impossible task for me.  How could I mail away for records if I don't know who I'm looking for?  And if I knew who I was looking for, how do I know where they lived?  And when?  And who do I mail the requests to?  How would a birth certificate or an application for marriage license help me?  Where do I find the addresses for that?

Then Al Gore singlehandedly invented the Interwebs.  Alone.  In his garage during his spare time or something.  Suddenly, all sorts of genealogical websites started popping up.  RootsWeb, CyndisList, FamilySearch, Findagrave,!  But that didn't solve the problem...where to begin?  This is the most popular question I'm asked by friends that have read my genealogical posts on Facebook: "Where do I begin?"

I began where all genealogists begin.  I began with myself.  Voila!  One entire generation complete!

My Grandmother, Laura Lancaster
Next, I moved to my parents, and then my grandparents.  As soon as I discovered online I signed up for a subscription.*  Who cares if we have to eat boxed macaroni for the next six months and put off servicing the car?  It's worth it!  I had a rough idea where to find my grandparents on the 1930 US Census so that's where I started looking.  I found some of my grandparents there; others I didn't find.  I have an entire branch of French-Canadian ancestors whose surnames I couldn't pronounce correctly, much less spell with any certainty.  I have a great-grandfather who was adopted by his step-father and used a different surname for a while.  Later, I'd discover that a great-great grandfather married the sister of the woman his father married (Huh?).  No, she wasn't his biological aunt though she was technically his aunt nonetheless.  I discovered I belong to three entirely different Pratt trees, I'm a double Towle, and that my parents are (gasp!) related - about 10 generations back.  I'm also distant cousins with a lot of famous people and a few people I see at work everyday.

Over the years, I've learned how to cast wider nets on Ancestry and other genealogical websites to find the more illusive relations.  I've learned how to trace branches forward and find long-lost cousins.  I've learned how to "Google" up the living and the dead.  I've found places where all sorts of interesting public information is kept online - and I keep finding new ones.  I've met some amazing people, some of which I share a branch or two.  Or three.  Or four.

If I can do this, you can do it, too.

Today, my tree includes a couple of thousand well-documented grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  The longer I do this the more I'm convinced that everyone on the planet is just part of one enormous family.  Everyone is everyone else's cousin.  And I'll be done when I've made note of all my cousins.

Backed up with proper documentation, of course.

*You do not need a subscription to to check out census records.  Google up your local Genealogical and Historical Society- for about $20 a year you can become a member have access to the best the Internet has to offer in the way of premium paid genealogical websites at the library.  And you'll have a friendly docent sitting at the desk to help guide you.  Granted, you can't "save" people to an online tree but you can print out the information.  It's best to print out the information anyway.  In case your computer crashes.  Three times.  Over the course of 5 years.  Just sayin'.