Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Discovery in Revolutionary War Records

Before living in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, I knew practically nothing about the military. The difference between the Navy and the Marines seemed to me as mysterious as the difference between the Redskins and the Cowboys, the Red Sox and the Yankees, Barcelona and Real Madrid. I just didn't get it.

But as I've gotten to know service members - mostly in the Navy - I've grown to understand some of the lingo, the way of life, the complexities of their transient lives as they've moved in and out of the area. And as I've been able to unlock some of the mystery of the military, I've also grown to appreciate some of the complexities of military records.

In this post, we're going to look specifically at Revolutionary War records. Where do you find them? What records contain evidence of service to the United States during the War of Independence? And as we investigate these records, we will be looking at examples from Powhatan County, Virginia as they relate to John Stratton.

Setting the stage: what are we looking for?

When it comes to looking for a patriot ancestor, or working to prove that an ancestor was a patriot, it would serve us well to set the stage. What is the time period, exactly? What do we consider as service to the United States? How old would have our ancestors been at the time?

The Daughters of the American Revolution has a clear list of accepted Revolutionary War service, as does the Sons of the American Revolution. Both organizations define the time period as between 19 Apr 1775 (the Battle of Lexington) and 26 Nov 1783 (the withdrawal of the British from New York). A patriot is defined as someone who offered military, civil, or patriotic service to the cause of American Independence. Be sure to check both sites in the links above for the whole list of service possibilities.

In our modern era, we think of adulthood as beginning at either 18 or 21, depending on the topic. In the 18th century, the time of the Revolution, a free white male was a tithable (taxable as a member of the labor force) at the age of 16. This was also the age of enlistment into the military.

So we're looking for an ancestor who was 16 between 1775-1783 who offered either military, civil, or patriotic service in support of American Independence. You may want to search some of the available resources on Ancestry, for example Revolutionary War Records: Virginia, by Gaius Marcus Brumbaugh and Historical Register of Virginians in the Revolution by John H. Gwathmey. Now let's look at some of the possible ways our ancestors offered military service.

Military Service: Militia

The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia passed an act on 5 May 1777 to regulate and organize the colony's militia. In this act, the General Assembly set out the structure of Virginia's militia and the age of service. All free males between 16 and 50 (with a long list of exceptions like those in public office, those producing firearms, and the clergy) were included as part of the militia, with free mulattoes serving as drummers, fifers, or pioneers.

The commanding officer of each county formed companies of 32-68 men. The companies were formed into battalions of 500-1000 men. Each company was commanded by a captain, two lieutenants, and an ensign. Each battalion was commanded by a colonel, lieutenant colonel, and a major. Once a month, except in January and February, there would be a private muster of every company. And in April and October each year there would be a general muster of the whole county.

Militiamen would be expected by 11 AM on their muster day, or they would pay a fine based on their rank (captain - 40 shillings, lieutenant or ensign 20 shillings, every non-commissioned officer or soldier 5 shillings). When they arrived at the designated location, they would have to bring the weapons according to their rank. Poor militiamen would be provided arms to be used and given back to the county. Officers carried swords while privates carried either a rifle and tomahawk, or good firelock and bayonet with all the necessary ammunition.

If you have free male ancestors that were between 16 and 50 during the revolution, they would have either served in the militia or served in a capacity that exempted their militia service. (Or they were Loyalists and likely fled the country.) For researching militiamen in Virginia, consult Virginia Militia in the Revolutionary War by J. T. McAllister. You can find the full text online and you can also find it through Ancestry as a searchable collection. The records of county militias were the responsibility of the county. That means militia records are at the county level; you will find lists of officers listed in county court minute books, deed and order books.

Military Service: Continental Army

While the militia was mandatory yet irregular service, the Continental Army formed a professional regular army for the new nation. On 4 Nov 1775, the Continental Congress called for an army of 20,372 men, with regiments of 728 men, divided into eight companies. On 16 Sep 1776, a reorganization of the Army called for 88 battalions or regiments, 15 of which were from Virginia. The benefit of Continental Army service is that these records were kept by the National Archives. We just need to develop an understanding of what records are in which record set.

The case of John Stratton

Oh John...John...John. Why did your Mama have to name you John? John Stratton of Powhatan County is my 4th great grandfather. When it comes to a case of men with the same name, or proving that various records are for one man with a common name, it can get tricky. Or, if one isn't careful, it can seem all too easy!

Take for example, this M881 card abstract for John Stratton, a Light Dragoon from Virginia with the Continental Troops. If you notice, it's undated and contains no identifying information as to where this John Stratton lived or served. It does contain a curious number listed under remarks: 12.591. [If you know what this points us to, please let me know!]

The image immediately before this abstract card in the collection is the jacket envelope that lists and holds the cards for this soldier. 

This jacket envelope contains a tad more information; we learn that John Stratton served in the First Regiment Light Dragoons, Continental Troops. The card number listed is simply the number stamped on the back of the abstract card (the previous image) that this envelope holds.

The funny thing is that this is all the evidence anyone ever has that a John Stratton served in the First Regiment Light Dragoons of the Continental Troops. Yet Harriet Russell Stratton in A Book of Strattons makes the assertion on page 223 that this record is for my John Stratton who lived in Powhatan County. As we saw in "Nurturing a Critical Eye," there were two John Strattons living in neighboring counties at the same time. There was also a John Stratton in Northampton County that served in his county militia. Additionally, numerous people have joined both SAR and DAR with John Stratton as their patriot through this service record, but also through citing a record that he served the Powhatan County Militia.

So did my John Stratton serve as a Light Dragoon or was he in the Powhatan Militia? Or both? How many John Strattons were there in Virginia?

Digging Deeper

After making a solid timeline for John Stratton and all the Strattons in Powhatan County during and right after the Revolution, I was sure that there was only one John Stratton of age at the time. So my next line of action was to find the record that my John Stratton of Powhatan County served in the militia.

There in Powhatan County Deed Book 1, on page 179 we read that "At a court held for Powhatan County at Scottsville the twentieth day of June one thousand seven hundred and eighty one...John Stratton [was appointed] Ensign to the company formerly commanded by Robert Hughes who is now a prisoner of war." This was pretty great news for me, because I had evidence that my John Stratton of Powhatan County served not only in the militia but as an officer. Though there isn't a pension file for him, I have found several of John Stratton's neighbor's pensions. The pension of his captain, Wade Mosby, is also available online. By reading these available pensions, I have been able to understand where John Stratton may also have served during his time with the militia.

But was he in the Light Dragoons? John Stratton fathered nine children, and many of his descendants have joined the DAR and SAR through their descent from him. His DAR patriot number is A111137, and his SAR patriot number is P-299349. Both organizations list his name as John Handley Stratton with his service being to the First Regiment Light Dragoons, Continental Troops. One SAR application approved in 1969 combines the two and reads that John Handley Stratton was an "Ensign, First Regiment Light Dragoons, Continental Army." I would have to clean up this mess.

A trip to the DAR Library

Where did all these applicants get the middle name Handley? And how does everyone from a published book to SAR and DAR connect my John Stratton of Powhatan who served as an ensign with the county militia to a John Stratton in the Light Dragoons? To try to answer these questions, I took a trip to the DAR Library in Washington, D.C.

The first DAR member to use John Stratton of Powhatan County as their patriot ancestor was accepted in 1909 with National Number 71195. She lists his full name as John Handley Stratton. But she also provides his parents names as James Henry Stratton and Annie Handley, and his paternal grandparents as Joseph Dickinson Stratton and Mary Anne Huster.

If you're just following names, your eyes would have turned into beating hearts of joy. All done. Finito! But we're not just following names, and we already know that John's father was William, the son of Edward Stratton III. So we know that DAR member 71195 is wrong about John's parents and grandparents. And see anything curious about the mother's surname? Handley. I can't say where she got this information but it seems she has assumed John's middle name from the surname she had for his mother.

So far, we've looked at Compiled Service Records, Deed Books and Order Books, DAR and SAR applications. Next, let's look at a more systematic approach for how we can find more about this John Stratton who served as a Light Dragoon. 

Searching National Archives records

I'm not going to lie, I really struggle making sense of National Archives records. They seem a never-ending list of numbered and un-numbered records, some indexed some not, some online some not, some free and some behind multiple paywalls. So what's a passionate researcher to do? Figure it out!

First, read some articles on Revolutionary War records available at the Family Search Wiki. Know what is available on subscriptions you are already paying for. For example, here's a full list of Revolutionary War collections on Ancestry. This is helpful, because many other records are only available at a library, for a fee on Fold3, or only at the National Archives. 

Fun fact: all the National Archives microfilm publications for the Revolutionary War begin with M. The first publication you want to check is Compiled Service Records, M881. These records are a compilation of other records the War Department gathered together into one place. You can browse and search these records on Ancestry here. To learn more about M881, check out this page. For more background and to better use this record set, read this article by Craig R. Scott. The M881 records are made from the original and copied records which are in two other publications, namely M246 and M853.

M246 is titled "Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775–1783" and is available on Ancestry. You can browse the collection by regiment. Included in this collection, for example, are the pay rolls of the First Regiment Light Dragoons. M853 is titled "Numbered Books Concerning Military Operations and Service, Pay, and Settlement Accounts, Supplies in the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records." 

Other National Archives publications related to the Revolutionary War

- M860, General Index to Compiled Military Service Records of Revolutionary War Soldiers (58 rolls)
- M879, Index to Compiled Service Records of American Naval Personnel Who Served During the Revolutionary War (1 roll)
- M880, Compiled Service Records of American Naval Personnel and Members of the Departments of the Quartermaster General and the Commissary General of Military Stores Who Served During the Revolutionary War (4 rolls)
Note: M880 is listed together as one collection with M881 on Ancestry.
- M804, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files (2,670 rolls). Available on Ancestry
-  M847, Special Index to Numbered Records in the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, 1775–1783. (39 rolls).
- M853, Numbered Books Concerning Military Operations and Service, Pay, and Settlement Accounts, Supplies in the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records. (41 rolls). 
- M859, Miscellaneous Numbered Records (the Miscellaneous File) in the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, 1775–1790s. (125 rolls). Available on Ancestry.

Read more about these collections

Dig deeper into less well known Revolutionary War records - Claire Prechtel-Kluskens

Thank you, General Fred C. Ainsworth! - Claire Prechtel-Kluskens

Revolutionary War pension files—an introduction - Claire Prechtel-Kluskens

Trevor K. Plante, Military Service Records at the National Archives, Reference Information Paper 109 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2009), available online.

John Stratton: Light Dragoon

One of my questions was whether my John Stratton, who served the Powhatan Militia as an ensign, was also the John Stratton who served the Continental Troops as a Light Dragoon. To answer that, I was hoping to find records relating to the M881 showing more detailed biographical information on John Stratton, Light Dragoon. M881, Compiled Service records, are arranged alphabetically by regiment. The person immediately after John Stratton, in the First Regiment Light Dragoons, is Seth Stratton. Hmm! Another Stratton. Worth looking deeper. What if they were related and from the same county?

These are two of the four abstract cards listed on the jacket envelope. Like John Stratton's, the first card lists a number, 87.787, for a remark. [Don't forget to tell me if you know the secret to this number!] The second card provides more detail, showing that Seth was in the Third Troop of the First Regiment Light Dragoons. 

By searching M804 on Ancestry, I found Seth Stratton's pension file. Through scrolling through M246 for the First Regiment Light Dragoons, I found Seth Stratton in the pay rolls of the Third Troop. 

I haven't been able to connect John and Seth Stratton, except that they both served in the First Regiment Light Dragoons. I haven't found John Stratton in the pay rolls yet either, so I'm not sure if they were in the same troop. What I'm hoping to find is evidence of a residence for the John Stratton Light Dragoon. Since I know my John Stratton lived in Powhatan County during the Revolution, this will be a determining factor for separating these records or combining them for one patriot. 


There are a variety of different records available for conducting Revolutionary War research. Whether you are trying to find your patriot ancestor, prove your patriot's service, or (like I'm trying to do) disprove a record belongs to your patriot, there are records available worthy of your seeking and sleuthing. 

Revolutionary War records are available in courthouses, on microfilm, indexed in books, and online. Some are available for free on Family Search and at the National Archives, others are included in an Ancestry subscription, or with a subscription on Fold3. But records are only as good as the researcher that uses them, y'all! So educate yourself about the records available, how to use them, and how to make the most of your time in the archives. 

I may not have all the answers to my John Stratton conundrum, just yet. But I'm confident that with more research and with more experience with National Archives publications, I will solve the riddle!

This post was inspired by the week 21 prompt "Military" of the year-long series that I'm participating in with Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

My ancestors - and your ancestors - deserve the best researcher, the most passionate story-teller, and the dignity of being remembered. So let's keep encountering our ancestors through family history and remembering the past made present today!

*Photo by Rick Lobs on Unsplash.*

Saturday, November 30, 2019

RootsTech 2020 Pass Giveaway

The weather is crisp, the leaves are falling from the trees, and it's nearing the end of the year. Thanksgiving has come and gone, all but those few remnants of that most family-centered of American holidays in our refrigerators. That means we can officially acknowledge that Christmas is less than a month away! I'll let you debate whether or not we can play Christmas music yet though...

But guess what, dear reader? Christmas may be coming early for you this year with your chance at winning a FREE four-day pass to RootsTech 2020!

RootsTech 2020 is an awesome conference spanning four days, filled with world-renowned speakers and entertaining shows. It's a week of learning, reunion, and fun! This year, it will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah from February 26 through February 29 at the Salt Palace Convention Center.

What does this pass offer?

- One 4-day pass valued at $299!
- Access to over 300 classes! You can choose your classes and make your schedule here.
- Keynote and general session speakers! Friday's keynote speaker was announced as David Hume Kennerly, the Pulitzer Prize-winning White House photographer who has photographed all U.S. presidents from LBJ to the present! Stay tuned for the press releases for the other keynote speakers!
- Access to the Expo Hall filled with exciting new products and tech innovations!
- Evening events!

Plus, the Salt Palace Convention Center is just blocks from the Family History Library! With months to plan your schedule, you can be sure to work in time to research at this one-of-a-kind research facility.

Giveaway rules and limitations

This giveaway begins November 30th and ends December 15th at Noon EST.

The winner will be announced on my blog, Facebook, Twitter, and will be notified by e-mail.

If you've already registered for RootsTech 2020, you can still submit for this giveaway! If the winner of this giveaway has already registered, the paid registration fee will be refunded by RootsTech.

*NOTE: This pass giveaway does not include airfare, hotel, paid lunches, or paid labs.*

Enter the giveaway!

To enter this giveaway, simply click here to submit your entry!

I look forward to seeing who enters this year's giveaway and to reading your entries!


My ancestors - and your ancestors - deserve the best researcher, the most passionate story-teller, and the dignity of being remembered. So let's keep encountering our ancestors through family history and remembering the past made present today!

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Mental Health, Addiction, and Genealogy

When it comes to family history, everyone has their motivations to either explore more or to hold back in hesitation. While our motivations may be different for why we want to explore our family history, it's also important to note the reasons many are hesitant to go down that path.

For much of Western European history, genealogy has been an exercise in documenting one's connections to people of high social standing, to nobility, to royalty. With this history, we can forget that it's okay to see imperfections in our ancestors. Even in the New Testament, there are two descriptions of Jesus' genealogy - and they show that His genealogy includes both Jews and Gentiles, both honorable and scandalous.

Just as there have been scores of reasons people have wanted to name their ancestors in the past, there are also reasons many have no interest in doing so. As the joyful genealogist goes on discovering their roots, it can be easy to forget that these discoveries might not always be happy ones for many others. For them, it's hard to see the appeal of looking backwards when their past brings them pain. What if we don't come from the most upstanding of families to begin with? What if our childhood saw abuse, mental illness, and addiction?

In this post, I'd like to explore the challenges faced by genealogists who discover evidence of mental illness and addictions. I'll also address the struggle faced by those who have grown up with these challenges and how they too might experience healing through family history. Finally, I'll give suggestions to the wider genealogy community about how we can be a more inclusive and welcoming community in relation to these issues.

Don't look the other way

Let me start on a positive note. In a community that has tended toward focusing on people of status and success, there has been a growing movement toward lifting up the laborer, the enslaved, and our female ancestors. In our push to join lineage societies, we might go the easy route of finding well-known ancestors. With wealth and prestige came documents - and we need documents for evidence. But in following the successful, we also look the other way when we see the names of the enslaved, the names of our female ancestors, and the working poor.

So my first suggestion is that we don't look the other way when we discover something or someone we might not want to find, or when it's not what or who we're looking for.

The nature of genealogy, at the very essence of family history research, is that we document what we find - we look backward so that we can understand our present and move forward into the future. We look to our ancestors so that we can have compassion for our families and for ourselves today, and hopefully leave the foundations for a better tomorrow. We need to be in the habit of fully seeing our ancestors - in all their complexity - for who they were, not who we wish they had been.

If we're honestly looking at our ancestors - not to condemn nor to exonerate - we will be better prepared to see their complexity for what it was. Their story.

Recognize what we find

Once we're prepared to find anything and are open to finding anyone in our family history, we will suddenly be attentive to evidence of mental illness, addiction, and other complexities in our families. If we are adamant that grandpa could never have stepped out of his marriage, we will refuse to believe what DNA evidence presents. If we look down on addicts, we will not want to see evidence that they make up the branches of our family tree.

Death certificates are often our source for understanding how addiction or other struggles impacted our ancestors' lives. We can find there that someone died by suicide. We might find that someone else died in a mental health facility. In some older death certificates, we can see the cause of death being sexually transmitted diseases that in our day are no longer death sentences. And more common, we may see liver disease or lung cancer - evidence of drug and alcohol abuse.

When we see these details, we need to be willing to recognize what we find. We don't need to be judge and tribunal. We just need to recognize how these details in our family members' lives affected their families and how those very struggles trickle down into our families today.

As we see how our ancestors weaknesses and illnesses may have affected their families, we will then have greater compassion for those whose families struggle today.

Be more sensitive to others

Our family history research ought to lead us to being more compassionate, understanding members of society. If it's making us more judgmental and divisive, we're doing it wrong.

If we aren't looking away from what we find, and if we're recognizing what we find for what it is, then we also need to be more sensitive to those experiencing these issues today. Let me give some examples.

First off, there are scores of people who have no interest in researching their ancestry. They may have experienced abuse in their homes that has warped their understanding of family or has at the very least colored their ability to look without pain at the names of those family members. So we need to address that looking back isn't always good for everyone. That means that not everyone you may want to interview is going to want to dig into their memories for you. Their past isn't yours to demand access to.

There can also be a lot of fear about becoming our family, of being like our abusive or mentally ill ancestors. We may be scared to look back or to look at ourselves in fear of seeing them in us now. A great example of this is the song "DNA" by Lia Marie Johnson. In this song she talks about her father and how she sees the past repeating itself:

I won’t be, no I won’t be like you 
Fighting back, I’m fighting back the truth 
Eyes like yours can’t look away 
But you can’t stop DNA.

All the pieces of you and the pieces of me 
I’m just so scared you’re who I’ll be, 
when I erupt just like you do, 
they look at me like I look at you.

In our genealogical research, we may want to find similarities between ourselves and our ancestors. But for many others, it's these very similarities that can cause fear and anxiety.

Secondly, be sensitive to yourself and your past. If you have experienced trauma yourself, it's important to seek professional help for working through and processing these experiences. Genealogy isn't a self-help tool. But many have found healing in being able to recognize that our families - not unlike ourselves - are complicated: neither all bad nor all good. It can be a healing process, but it isn't going to be a healing process for everyone.

And that leads me to my one final call to genealogists when it comes to the issue of mental health and sensitivity.

Stop calling genealogy an addiction

Please, stop calling your interest in genealogy an addiction. Stop calling yourself a geneaholic or a genealogy addict. Just stop it. And here's why.

Unless you truly believe that you're powerless over a habit which controls your ability to be with and relate to others, you're not a genealogy addict. Unless your life has become unmanageable, you're not an addict. And using these words degrades those whose families have been torn apart by the pain and wreckage that comes through addiction.

Substance abuse and behavioral addiction are complex issues. Is it possible that some in our genealogy community may suffer various levels of behavioral addiction in relation to research? Sure. It's possible. But I doubt they are the ones using this language. And I see it all the time. In blogs, Facebook posts and Tweets, genealogists are regularly using the language of addiction to describe their love of family history research. And this serves only to desensitize our community to the real struggles of others and the lived experience of our own families.

We can do better, y'all. So please respect the experience of those who have battled addiction, those who have been affected by family members with addiction, and those who are addicts today.


Our genealogy community is experiencing a surge of interest in light of a rise in record digitization and easy access to DNA testing. But as we have more and more new genealogists from various backgrounds, and as we dig deeper into the varied stories of our ancestors, we need to remember several things. 

We need to stop looking away from what we may find as unsavory. We need to recognize what we find, and be sensitive to the needs of our wider community. And finally, it's time we all stop calling genealogy our addiction.

How has your genealogical research made you more sensitive to the needs of others? How have you been able to relate to others better because of genealogy?

This post was inspired by the week 20 prompt "Nature" of the year-long series that I'm participating in with Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

My ancestors - and your ancestors - deserve the best researcher, the most passionate story-teller, and the dignity of being remembered. So let's keep encountering our ancestors through family history and remembering the past made present today!

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Connect to the Genealogy Community!

Genealogy can often feel like a solo job. We venture out to local libraries, archives, and cemeteries. We go off to do some online research for a few hours. We study our families and conduct our research when we can find the time, but so often it is done alone.

And that, y'all, is where conferences and the online genealogy community come in!

Our community is a dynamic one, too. Whether you're on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram (or all three, right?!) you can connect with writers, bloggers, speakers, professional genealogists and amateur family historians alike.

Following #genealogy or #familyhistory can keep us connected to others, and if you think about it...that's why most of us study our families to begin with. To feel - or to truly be - connected to them. To discover the story of you.

As I've followed my friends and colleagues online, I can't help but be a little jealous of something I wasn't able to attend recently. This past week was RootsTech London, the first time RootsTech went to Europe. I've only been to London once, and that was just for a few hours during a long layover. So to go to a genealogy conference in the land where nearly all of my ancestors come from sounds so much fun! And from photos I saw, it looked like a really great conference!

Even though I missed out on RootsTech London, guess what's coming up soon!? Like 117 days, soon. RootsTech 2020 in Salt Lake City, Utah!!

I've been counting down the days for many months, but as we get closer to 2020, I'm getting that much more excited. It's a chance to see friends, to make new ones, and to make sure that the fire of excitement for family history is rekindled and made strong again. During the year, we get busy and our focus on our individual research can often fall by the wayside in light of immediate priorities. But after attending a conference, we're given new ideas, given fresh vision to see the holes in our research, and the new ways we might be able to approach our brick walls.

I hope you'll join me this year at RootsTech from February 26-29, 2020. It's only $189 for 4 days of amazing content. Find your flight now, book an Airbnb, and you'll save a lot of money...and make a great trip to bolster your genealogy research. Trust me, it's the third RootsTech I'm making in a row! You won't regret it!


My ancestors - and your ancestors - deserve the best researcher, the most passionate story-teller, and the dignity of being remembered. So let's keep encountering our ancestors through family history and remembering the past made present today!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Greek Genealogy Conference in Virginia Beach

Each community has its own unique genealogical challenges. But genealogists love challenges, don't we? There seems to be something ingrained in the genealogist that makes us a glutton for punishment! Genealogy gold always seems to show up at 12:30am, for example. It's just one of those things!

The Greek community has various challenges relating to access to records, to their relatively small DNA sample database, and diverse ethnicity estimates. Over the years - in my time working with the Greek Orthodox Church - I've had the pleasure of researching several Greek families and have had first-hand experience maneuvering U.S. records relating to Greek families and the challenges of Greek naming conventions.

I have wanted to do a genealogy project to serve the Greek community in my area, to rouse some excitement about family history, and to inspire them to dig deeper into their family roots. Enter the lovely Carol Kostakos Petranek of the blog Spartan Roots. Together we planned a Greek Genealogy Conference here in Virginia Beach on Saturday, October 19, 2019. Carol was even able to bring in a researcher named Matt Ellsworth to share his expertise in Cypriot research.

Over the course of the day, we had 30 participants from as close as Virginia Beach and Norfolk, to as far away as Michigan, and even Ottawa, Canada! There was a beautiful moment where one of our parishioners from Constantinople - modern-day Istanbul, Turkey - was able to translate Turkish documents written in Greek script! These are the sort of things that can only happen through collaboration! This is the beauty of conferences and the hospitality that comes from Greek filotimo!

Despina translated several documents for Denise from Michigan

Knowing that not everyone was able to attend in person, we made all of our talks available through Facebook Live on our St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church Facebook page. These talks will be available for you to view for one week, free of charge, through Sunday, October 27, 2019.

Below is the full schedule from our Greek Genealogy Conference along with the links to the Facebook Live videos from each of the talks. I hope you will take the time to watch or re-watch these videos in the week that they'll be available!

Please note that unfortunately some of the videos did not share properly. Matt Ellsworth's presentation stopped after only a minute or two, and two others (Carol's talk on Greek Civil Records, and mine on U.S. Church Records) shared to Facebook Live only as audio. The slides do not change on the versions shared through Facebook Live. Oh the joys of technology!

Virginia Beach Greek Genealogy Conference

We had to take a selfie with our participants!

Presenters: Sam Williams, Carol Kostakos Petranek, Matt Ellsworth

Introduction to the Conference

Why Orthodox Christians Should Do Their Genealogy - Sam

Greek Genealogy Toolbox & Making connections: Internet resources - Carol

Using U. S. Records to Prepare for Research in Greece – Carol

Using DNA in Greek Genealogy – Sam

Research in Cyprus – Matt Ellsworth (Zoom meeting)
- Unfortunately, Matt's presentation did not properly share to Facebook Live.

Greek Civil Records in Archives and Town Halls - Carol
- The presentation audio is all present, but the slides do not change on Facebook Live.

Orthodox Church Records in Greece - Carol

Orthodox Church Records in the U.S. – Sam
- The presentation audio is present, but as with the Civil Records presentation, the slides do not move in the Facebook Live video.
- If you would like to view the notes from this presentation, please contact me at orthodoxgenealogist@gmail.com and I can send you a PDF of them!


We hope that all of the participants left feeling filled with not only new information on records available, but also with the hope that Greek genealogy - though challenging - is not impossible for their families! It was a blessed day!

If you have any questions regarding the content, I'd love to hear from you!

My ancestors - and your ancestors - deserve the best researcher, the most passionate story-teller, and the dignity of being remembered. So let's keep encountering our ancestors through family history and remembering the past made present today!

Monday, October 14, 2019

Virtual Genealogical Association Conference

There's a saying attributed to Albert Einstein that goes, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know.” The more we dive into any particular subject, the more we realize how much there is still yet to discover and understand.

When it comes to genealogy, you might think there's a finite amount of information on any one person that you can find. You collect their birth, marriage, and death dates. What more is there to know!? Well, if you think your life could be condensed into three dates, then keep it that concise. But if you recognize that your ancestors' lives were as beautifully complex as your own, then you will need to find all of the possible records that will flesh out and paint the various scenes from their lives.

But how do we find those many, varied, records? How do we understand the different record sets, the laws that made them, and the changing borders where our ancestors lived? How do we fully utilize our DNA results to better understand our ancestors? How do we use oral history, photographs, and modern technology to discover our ancestors and involve the next generation in family history?

Wouldn't it be awesome if there were an online conference where you could learn all of those things? It can be hard to commit to a conference in another state with a limited budget. The only thing that would make an online conference even better...is if you could watch the sessions for up to six months afterwards. We all get busy, after all!

Guess what!? That conference exists and will be this November, from Friday 1 November through Sunday 3 November! And, if you register, you'll have access through 3 May 2020!!

Learn more about 2019 Virtual Genealogical Association Conference, including the list of speakers and their sessions here.

If you're a member of Virtual Genealogical Association, the cost is $59 and if you're not yet a member of VGA, it's only $79! For THREE whole days of content!!

You need to register by this Friday, 18 October! If you'd like to enter for a chance to win a FREE pass to this amazing conference, click here!! I will notify the winner by this Thursday, 17 October.

Don't forget to enter my giveaway, and then register by this Friday!! I hope to "see" you at VGA 2019!

My ancestors - and your ancestors - deserve the best researcher, the most passionate story-teller, and the dignity of being remembered. So let's keep encountering our ancestors through family history and remembering the past made present today!

Monday, October 7, 2019

Nurturing a Critical Eye

Our brains so often can play tricks on us. We're so busy multi-tasking all the time that we don't always see what's right in front of us. We're on auto-pilot, just like when we're driving a familiar road and seem to just show up at our destination. 

Take a look at the image above. How many of you noticed that "the" was repeated twice each time? Did you notice that "inform" was spelled as "informm?" This is just one example of how easy it is for our eyes to see what our brain wants to see.

When it comes to our genealogy work, and looking at the records that will unlock our family history, we need to develop and nurture a critical eye to see what is before us. If we only see what we want to see, we're going to make assumptions that may lead us down the wrong path. And in genealogy, the wrong path may mean the wrong family.

Let's look at four steps you can take to nurture a critical eye in your genealogy research. We'll look at examples from my research on John Stratton of Powhatan County, Virginia. This John is the father of David Stratton - the common ancestor from my 2019 Family Reunion.

1. Make a timeline

Our first step at nurturing a critical eye is to make a timeline. Why should you make a timeline? Doesn't Ancestry already make a timeline for you, you ask?!

We need to know everything we know about a particular person we are researching. How do we know that they are the child of their parents? How do we know they aren't being confused for a first cousin of the same name? By making a timeline, we can see where all of our documents have been found and visibly keep track of what we know - and do NOT know - about our person in question.

A few months ago, I decided to make a timeline for John Stratton of Powhatan County, Virginia. It's a working document - I add to it as I find more sources. I use Microsoft Word and organize each bit of information by year - day - month. I label each event, include bullets of information underneath, and I make a footnote with the proper citation for each event. The great thing about timelines is that they can help us to work through the first three steps of the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS). We see whether our research is thorough and reasonably exhaustive, we are able to keep complete and accurate source citations, and we can begin to analyze and correlate what we have found.

This has already borne fruit for my research. In finding John over the years, I have also been able to see how he fits into a family unit within the county. I can see all the various documents I have that include him and his family from deed books, order books, land and personal property taxes. I can see who his neighbors were and who he interacted with most in the county. As I look at my timeline, I am naturally developing and nurturing a critical eye because now I can ask myself, "What do I know and what do I not know?"

2. Resolve conflicting evidence

After we have begun to nurture our critical eye with a timeline, we'll see possible conflicting pieces of evidence. What are we going to do with that bit of evidence? Ignore it?...or will we work to resolve that conflict? It's no accident that the fourth step of the GPS is the resolution of conflicting evidence. 

In my research with John Stratton of Powhatan County, I wanted to know where exactly he lived at all times. With changing county borders, this can be a challenge, but it was vital to verify that all of the records I had for John Stratton were actually his records. In my research, I have been focusing on the research question, "Who is my John Stratton's father?"  

According to A Book of Strattons, two volumes published by Harriet Russell Stratton in 1908 and 1918, my John Stratton was the son of Thomas Stratton. But there was also a John Stratton, son of William Stratton. Since Thomas and William were brothers living in neighboring counties, how can I be sure that I wasn't confusing these two first cousins?

What I knew for certain - from my timeline - was that my John Stratton lived in what is now Powhatan County until moving to Cumberland County in 1791 where he wrote his will in 1805 and passed away by 1807.

There was only one problem, a piece of conflicting evidence that shows a John Stratton being a resident of Cumberland County in 1781. Was there a third John Stratton? How can I resolve this conflicting evidence?

3. Double check your sources

Our third step in nurturing a critical eye in genealogy is to double check our sources. Are we using an original document or is it a transcription? Could the name have been transcribed incorrectly?

What does my source say and what does it come from? First, my information comes from a transcription in a book, the second volume of The Ligon Family and Connections by William D. Ligon. In this book, on page 627, there is the text of a petition written on 16 November 1781 from the "Barracks near Cumberland Co. Ct. House." Among the signers are John Stratton and William Stratton. 

Before I went to double check my sources, I had a few hypotheses about this 1781 conundrum. My first was that perhaps these were troops from Powhatan that were travelling to Cumberland where they wrote this petition. That idea was squashed when I re-read the petition that says that the subscribers were "inhabitants of this county." Next idea? Well, it's a transcription, so I figured maybe "Stratton" was misread from "Shelton" or "Skelton" - two surnames I have seen in Cumberland County records. I knew I wouldn't know for sure until I double checked my source.

Thankfully, this book cited their source as, "Calendar of State Papers, Vol. 2, p. 604." I recently took a trip to the Library of Virginia where I found this book and voila, presto, eureka, I found something!

Do you see it? Instead of "Barracks near Cumberland Co. Ct. House," as The Ligon Family and Connections had transcribed the Calendar of State Papers, this reads, "Barracks near Cumberland O. Ct. House." Well - you might assume - this is a transcription too...so maybe William D. Ligon was correcting an error? So in double checking my source - Calendar of State Papers - I decided to check the pages before page 604 in case another document was also from the same location.

The previous document begins on page 602. Here's its heading:

This letter was written on the same day, 16 November 1781, and it's noted as being from "Cumberland Old C. H." So what's the big deal? Cumberland Old Court House must be in Cumberland County, right?

4. Analysis: What does it all mean?

We've worked with a timeline, we have found conflicting evidence, and we've double checked our sources. But what does it all mean? We need to analyze what we've found.

After looking at the Calendar of State Papers, I found that John Stratton signed a petition not at Cumberland County Court House, but at Cumberland Old Court House. Where's the Old Court House?

First, a bit of background. Powhatan County was formed in 1777 from the eastern portion of Cumberland County. Cumberland had previously been created in 1749 from the southern portion of Goochland County. So from 1749-1777, Powhatan was a part of Cumberland. And wouldn't you know it, we have a building called "Old Cumberland Courthouse" in Powhatan County?

Mosby Tavern, also called Old Cumberland Courthouse, or the Littleberry Mosby House, is a National Register of Historic Places building in Powhatan County. As the name might imply, it was the home of Littleberry Mosby and was used as the courthouse for Cumberland County while Powhatan was part of Cumberland, as well as being used as a jail, tavern, and family home. 

As I look back at the source in the Calendar of State Papers, I see that the first signature is "L. Mosby" and there is also a "Litty. Mosby Jnr." that signed. And now that the scales had fallen from my uncritical eyes, I could then see several other familiar things. Nearly all of the names I recognized as neighbors of John Stratton - not in Cumberland - in Powhatan County! How did I know they were his neighbors? Because I included all neighbors' names that were mentioned in land deeds, processionings, and those mentioned as witnessing events with John Stratton. And where did I write these details? In my timeline!


We all need to nurture a critical eye when it comes to genealogical research. Otherwise, we're going to be reading one thing and recording another. We'll be assuming we know what we're looking at when we're really just confusing ourselves and our future readers. We might even be researching the wrong tree.

We can nurture a critical eye in our research by beginning a timeline - do it today, y'all! - and by working to resolve conflicts we see in our timeline. We need to double check our sources and then spend time in analysis to be clear of what we have found. And next thing you know, you'll be doing better research and working much closer to following the Genealogical Proof Standard in the process!

When I made this discovery recently that John Stratton was NOT a resident of Cumberland in 1781 - but had instead signed a petition in Powhatan County at the Old courthouse - I did a little dance right there in the Library of Virginia! And, as I feel I must do, I shared my joy with the librarian. We all need to share our success stories!

How are you nurturing a critical eye in your genealogical research? Are you using a timeline? What types of sources are you relying on that might be leading you astray?

This post was inspired by the week 19 prompt "Nurture" of the year-long series that I'm participating in with Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

My ancestors - and your ancestors - deserve the best researcher, the most passionate story-teller, and the dignity of being remembered. So let's keep encountering our ancestors through family history and remembering the past made present today!

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Register for RootsTech 2020!

Guess what today is, y'all!?

It's 146 days until RootsTech 2020 in Salt Lake City, Utah!

RootsTech is by far the largest genealogy event around; part conference, part family reunion, part family history mall, part concert. But 100% fun and entirely worth the trip!

As we get closer and closer to RootsTech (February 26-29, 2020) I'll be sharing blog posts about the conference, and what you can expect from speakers. And there's something more...

You have the chance of winning a free conference pass from me! You'll have to check by regularly to my blog and my Facebook page to find out how you can win your pass ($299 value).

I get to give away a free pass as part of my roll as a RootsTech 2020 Ambassador - I'm part of the media group that will be at the conference: blogging, tweeting, and posting on Instagram.

In the meantime, you can check out these links to learn more about RootsTech 2020:

- Click here to register by October 11th for the early bird price of $169!

- If you've already been to RootsTech, click here to discover what's new this year!

- Not sure what you'll learn? Find out all about class sessions and speakers here!

- But if that's not enough, discover 10 reasons why you should come to RootsTech!

Stay posted for more news on RootsTech 2020!

My ancestors - and your ancestors - deserve the best researcher, the most passionate story-teller, and the dignity of being remembered. So let's keep encountering our ancestors through family history and remembering the past made present today!

Monday, September 9, 2019

Reconstructing a Pre-1850 William Adams

Growing up, my least favorite part of every new school year was roll call. I was always at the end of the list - the curse of my "W" surname. And then, the teacher would inevitably call for me with my first name - which nobody knows me by. "Here! But, I go by Sam, please." Looks of confusion would ensue until I explained that Samuel was my middle name.

I never liked my first name. It helped me identify with my friends who had complicated or "ethnic-sounding" names. Not everyone likes to stand out. It's no surprise that immigrants changed their names after living in the United States for a bit (and no Ellis Island didn't change their name!) But for the genealogist, we yearn for different sounding names for our ancestors. Not so different that they're constantly spelled differently...but different enough that you don't have five men of the same name in the same town!

Alas, I was blessed with a family full of Williams, Adams, Smith, and the like. So what is a genealogist to do with an ancestor like "William Adams"? And worse yet, a William Adams who lived his entire life before the 1850 census that collected names according to household?

Introducing William Adams

The first I discovered that I had a William Adams ancestor was in the 1838 marriage record in Powhatan County, Virginia of my third great-grandparents Joseph Williams and Ona Ann Adams. In this record, Ona Ann's father is listed as William Adams. So I looked for William Adams' marriage record, and I found that he married Mary (Polly) Moore in Powhatan in 1801. I turned next to census records, and found only one William Adams in Powhatan County for the 1820, 1830, and 1840 U.S. censuses. Since these censuses do not list family members besides the head of household, I noted the numbers and ages of those listed in his home including the enslaved.

The 1850 U.S. census was the first to list all members of a household, but unfortunately I cannot find William Adams or his son-in-law in the 1850 census. By 1860, I see Mary Adams (presumably now a widow) living with Joseph Williams and Ona Ann in Powhatan. So why can't I find any of them in 1850? Did William Adams pass away before 1860?

Since there are no death records in this time for William, I have to turn to other records to discover more.

Where there's a will...

Though there didn't seem to be a lot of records on William Adams, he had one thing going for him: he wrote a will! And where there's a will, there's a way...to discovering our ancestors!

William Adams wrote his will in Powhatan County on 3 Jan 1843 and within his will, he mentions his children as Sarah OBryant, John Adams, William Adams, Richard J. Adams, Peter F. Adams, and Ona Ann Williams. He also includes his grandchildren John T. Moore and Catherine Watkins. Catherine Watkins was the daughter - I have since discovered - of William's daughter Pernetta who appears to have passed away before her father. I haven't discovered how John T. Moore fits into the story yet.

There are a few other nuggets of information that are hidden away in this will. The first is that William desired to have his estate kept together for ten years after his death. "At the expiration of the said ten years my will and desire is that all of my estate be divided between my beloved children and grandchildren," he goes on to write. We will see that this little detail will prove helpful in creating more records!

Did we ever discover when William passed away? The bottom of the will gives us some clues about this too. We see that on 1 Apr 1844, "the foregoing last will and testament of William Adams deceased was presented in Court and proved by the oaths of Wm. R. Moseley and Joseph Goode and the solemn affirmation of Ro. M. Moseley, the subscribing witnesses to the same, and ordered to be recorded."

This tells us that William Adams passed away between 3 Jan 1843 (when he wrote his will) and 1 Apr 1844 (when his will was proved in court). We also now have a list of three witnesses to his will: one of which - Robert M. Moseley - gave a solemn affirmation instead of an oath. Some take exception to taking oaths - particularly the Quakers - so law allows these individuals to solemnly affirm in lieu of swearing an oath. These are new individuals to research who may also have records that include my family. I also plan to look at Quaker records for Robert M. Moseley.

Taxes taxes taxes

Genealogists really ought to love taxes! I've written about them before, and I'll keep sharing how much we can find in these records. Since censuses were every ten years, tax records - both land and personal property - help fill in the gaps in the lives of our ancestors.

William Adams is found in land tax records from 1828 through 1844. In 1842, when Joseph Williams first appears paying land taxes, his property is listed as a contiguous tract - sharing a border - to William Adams. The property of William Adams was noted as being 168 1/2 acres "by deed from Edward Haskins" and connected to the estate of H. W. Watkins. In 1845, the property appears as the estate of William Adams. His widow Mary Adams begins paying taxes on her portion of the property in 1855, and the estate of William Adams continues to be taxed through 1868.

Personal property taxes are also very helpful, since all males 16 and older were included by name. William Adams appears every year in Powhatan beginning in 1802.

Militia records

In checking Powhatan County militia records, I found that William Adams appears in an 1805 Powhatan Militia list. It was an unexpected find, but fun! The record says it was "for the purpose of forming a rifle company" with William Moseley as Captain, John T. Swann as Lieutenant and Samuel Davis as Ensign.

The beauty of chancery records

If you have Virginian ancestors, I really recommend that you search the Library of Virginia's index for chancery records! For Powhatan County, you can even view the scanned records from home! And guess what? William Adams is included as the subject of two chancery files: one from 1854, another from 1860.

Within these 106 pages (of course I read them all!) of legalese, there are tons of golden nuggets about the family of William Adams. The chancery files deal with the settling of William Adams' estate. Based on his will - as you may remember - they had to wait ten years after he died before they could divide up his estate. But, William seems to have forgotten someone in his will: his wife Mary!

Mary Moore Adams was very much alive ten years after her husband when his estate was being divided between their children and grandchildren. But, William's will did not provide for her! These records show how the estate was divided to provide for her - her 1/3 due as dower rights - as well as their children. The larger chancery record also includes the names of the six people enslaved by William Adams who were divided along with his estate. [The divisions of the enslaved are mentioned on pages 33, 36, 40, 41, 44, and 47, among others.] On page 41 is a bill of sale from 1848 involving Joseph Williams - William Adams' son-in-law - selling Amy and Sam to Benjamin Watkins.

These chancery records even solved a mystery that tied together various records and DNA evidence, painting a clearer picture of my William Adams!

Lost and found cousins

From the will of William Adams, I knew that he had a son named John Adams and that he was still living in 1843 (when the will was written). But I couldn't find anything more about him. I knew there was a John Adams who married Lucy Ann Williams in 1832 in Powhatan, but I didn't know what came of him.

In my descendancy research for Joseph Williams, I found that Joseph and Ona Ann's daughter Eliza had two Adams men living with her and her husband Archer Hoye in 1860. They're listed as being born in Tennessee, one is William Adams, a 17 year old nail cutter, and the other is "A Adams" a 22 year old sailor. I didn't think anything more about them because they were born in Tennessee and because the 1860 census didn't note relationships to the head of household.

But then, I read the chancery records involving William Adams! And they confirmed that "A Adams" was Aurelius and that he had a brother named Marcus. Their father was John Adams who had passed away by about 1853. That means that William and Aurelius were first cousins to Eliza, with whom they were living in 1860. But I never would have discovered their relationship - or where John Adams went off to (Tennessee!) - without chancery records!

Road Trips and DNA

Over the years, in building my list of DNA descendants of Joseph Williams and Ona Ann Adams, I have connected online with some of my DNA cousins of William Adams. Two of these I had the pleasure to meet in person this July!

Earlier in the month, I finally got to meet Donna Adams McGrath! She is descended from William's son John Adams, through William Marion Adams. That's the William Adams who was living with his cousin Eliza I just mentioned. We suspect that John Adam's wife Lucy Ann Williams was also the sister of my Joseph Williams. [This is going to take more time to prove though!] Donna and I are 4th cousins once-removed - she and my dad are 4th cousins. She came down to Virginia Beach with her husband John and we had a great lunch together at the Bread Box Cafe.

This past summer, I led a service trip to Tijuana and on my way south I was able to meet with another William Adams descendant in San Diego! Joan Adams-Reynolds descends from William's son William Adams Jr. and is my 5th cousin. We met while my group enjoyed delicious tacos from Tacos el Gordo. It was great seeing Joan on the other side of the country!

Not only had our traditional genealogy research brought us together, but DNA evidence has also linked us as family. Our shared DNA, along with shared DNA matches connect us as sharing William Adams as our common ancestor.

It just took a few road trips and nearly 200 years to bring our family back together again!


It can be a challenge researching ancestors with common names, especially before 1850. But no challenge should make us give up seeking our ancestors and telling their stories!

We can put down on paper all that we know about them, noticing all the little details in these records, and look for them in new record sets we might just have to dig for. Through our research, we may even get to meet distant cousins on road trips and find that our ancestors have stuck around in the gifts they've passed on to us, hidden in our DNA!

This post was inspired by the week 18 prompt "Road Trip" of the year-long series that I'm participating in with Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

My ancestors - and your ancestors - deserve the best researcher, the most passionate story-teller, and the dignity of being remembered. So let's keep encountering our ancestors through family history and remembering the past made present today!

Saturday, July 27, 2019

A DNA Inspired Family Reunion - Part 3

This is the last post in a three part series about my DNA inspired family reunion. If you missed the first two posts, you can check out Part 1 by clicking here, and Part 2 here.

In Part 1, we looked at the process I took to identify DNA cousins, confirm our common ancestors, and plan the event that brought us all together for the first time. In Part 2, we looked at the evidence that proves we are family, that none of us are out of place. And in this post, Part 3, we'll see how the reunion went and how a place of worship became our place of reconnection.

The game plan

The structure for the family reunion was pretty simple: eat, presentation, fellowship, field trip.

As people arrived to the fellowship hall at the church, they signed in with a sign-in sheet I had made in advance. It had their name, address, phone number, and e-mail address. If a section was missing, I asked if they would fill in the information. This is helpful because now I have a better resource for next year's reunion. Also, now we can keep in touch better!

Next, I gave them a name tag with different colored stars for them to put next to their name. The original idea - as I wrote in Part 2 - was that there'd be families from different branches of my great-grandparents' family. This helps everyone have a visual - "oh you have a blue star too!? We're cousin through the ____ family!"

Since it was a potluck lunch, we wanted to start with the food. For a reunion with (mostly) Southerners, I knew food wouldn't be a problem! And I wasn't wrong.

We had chicken, macaroni and cheese, green beans, sandwiches, sides galore, and tasty desserts! And...you better believe we had sweet tea. Because Virginia, y'all!

Once everyone had finished eating, I began a short presentation explaining how everyone in the room was related. I had my laptop and projector, so I was able to project my family tree onto a screen for all to see. I talked about David Stratton and his ancestors; where they had come from in Chesterfield before moving to what became Powhatan County. I explained that David had been married twice - to Susanna Norris and then to Jordenia E. Hopkins. And then I explained the story of Kate and her mother Sally.

It's hard to condense years of research of a complicated story into minutes of an easy to understand explanation, but I tried by best.

Three Branches

For our first reunion, I'd say attendance was pretty good! We had 40 people - including spouses and kids. Together, we represent the three branches of David Stratton's family through three women: Susanna Norris, Sally, and Jordenia E. Hopkins.

David Stratton fathered a lot of children over a long period of time. His last child was born when he was 64 years old! His first marriage began in 1808 and produced six children. Most of these children moved west to Alabama and then to Kentucky. One of them, Mary Elizabeth Stratton, returned to Powhatan where she raised her children. Three descendants of Mary Elizabeth came to the reunion.

Kate Stratton was born after Susanna's children, in about 1830. Descendants of two of Kate's children were able to make it: even Trisha made the trek from Maryland for the special day!

After Susanna, David married Jordenia E. Hopkins in 1832, which produced seven children! Descendants of three of these children were at the reunion: Louisa, Edmonia, and Douglas. I wrote about Douglas in a post entitled Douglas E Stratton: A Bachelor by Law. We even had a more distant cousin - descended from a first cousin of David Stratton who stopped by on her way to New Jersey (a special shout out to Sally!!)

Family rediscovered

After working to discover the story about Kate and her family, it was a joy to get to meet some of her descendants. And since discovering the story about Douglas and his daughter Suvella (make sure you click on the link to his story above!), I was thrilled that three of her grandsons came as well - from North Carolina and New Jersey! In the photo above, there are four descendants of Jordenia E. Hopkins (three from Douglas E. Stratton and one from Edmonia - yours truly!) and one from Kate.

And no family reunion in the 21st century would be complete without a selfie.

I also just couldn't handle there being anyone not in the group photo - thanks Jerry for the official group shot! 

Family memory

One of the benefits of collaboration in family history is that you get to harness the power of memories that are passed down from person to person. For whatever reason, my line of David Stratton seems to have forgotten all of these stories...but that's not the case of Mary Elizabeth's descendants!

Matilda and Frances Hicks

Not only do the descendants of Mary Elizabeth Stratton have memories that have been passed on - stories and traditions - but they have furniture, a family Bible, family records, and photographs!

In the photos above, you can see two of Kate Stratton's daughters: Matilda and Frances Hicks. The photo of Frances was passed on in the family of Mary Elizabeth. They called her Aunt Frankie. It was a special moment for these two sides of David Stratton's family to meet, and for Frances' descendants to be able to see her face for the first time.

Remembering the departed

Remembrance is a powerful thing. Meeting long-lost family, speaking the names of our ancestors, learning their stories, and visiting their graves are all a part of this remembrance. And who doesn't love a field trip, right?

So before we finished our reunion, we had one last thing to do: honor our family by placing flowers on their graves. We headed out to the Hague cemetery where Louisa Stratton and her family are buried. Her sister Susan is buried there too, and interestingly enough so are some of Kate's descendants.

There, in the same clearing that is the overgrown Stratton family cemetery is the grave of Rosa Bates, the daughter of Frances Hicks - Aunt Frankie.

It may be that these were once two cemeteries - one white, one black - or perhaps they were always together. Today, weathered by time and covered by an encroaching forest, our Stratton family - both black and white - stands together in those Powhatan County woods.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't honor my great-grandparents once more: Arthur Lewis Williams and Mary Susan Wooldridge. The flowers we used to decorate for the reunion were put to use again - to decorate the graves of our loved ones. The church that was once the center of my great-grandparent's lives, Graceland Baptist, has now became the home of a new tradition - the Williams and Wooldridge Family Reunion!

With that said - family! - mark your calendars for our second annual reunion:

June 20, 2020!


My family has lost a generation of family reunion memories, but I think it's safe to say we've brought the tradition back. We will never know why those reunions really stopped, or if my great-grandmother knew about her cousin Suvella, or her cousins through Kate. We will never know how David grappled with the reality of a family blended across the line of slavery, or what it was like having to live with secrets that everyone seemed to understand already.

I'm grateful today though that we have the opportunity - through records and through DNA evidence, through laws and a country driven to continually improve - and the blessing to be able to call one another family and to move forward making new memories for the generations to come!

This post was inspired by the week 17 prompt "At Worship" of the year-long series that I'm participating in with Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

My ancestors - and your ancestors - deserve the best researcher, the most passionate story-teller, and the dignity of being remembered. So let's keep encountering our ancestors through family history and remembering the past made present today!

Discovery in Revolutionary War Records

Before living in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, I knew practically nothing about the military. The difference between the Navy and the Mari...