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Where am I from ?  What an easy question !  What a hard question ….

If I asked you where you are from, your first instinct would likely be to tell where you grew up, or maybe where you live now, depending on the context of the question.  But to a genealogist, even an amateur one like me, that question is loaded.  A genealogist hears not only “Where did you grow up?”, we also hear, “Where are your parents and grandparents from? What about THEIR parents and grandparents? Did your family originate in Europe? Asia? Africa? the Mideast? How did they get to America? When did they get to America? Why did they come to America?”  (At least, that’s what an American genealogist hears … I have no clue what a European/Asian/African/etc. genealogist hears!)

All my life, I was convinced I had Irish roots.  I mean, if you could see me, you’d agree … dark hair, light skin, a smattering of freckles (even at my age), green eyes.  SCREAMS Irish, doesn’t it?  Plus, once I read “Gone With The Wind,” I was convinced I was Irish.  Me and Scarlett (with her Irish father) … soul sisters for sure.  At some point, someone (not sure who) mentioned we were Scots-Irish, but at the time I (a) had no idea what that meant, and (b) cared only about the Irish part.

It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that the dream died.  OK, maybe that’s a little dramatic.  The point is, as I began to explore my family’s heritage, I discovered that we are very, ummm … white bread.  Not a melting pot.  No hyphenated heritage.  Not a blend of anything, unless you consider a blend of various towns and villages from England to be a blend.  Yep, that’s right.  I’m as English as they come.  Both sides.  No forking of that part of my family tree … one straight trunk all the way deep into English soil.  Queen Elizabeth likely has more variants in her bloodlines than I do.  If Henry Louis Gates, Jr. were to search my tree, he’d fall asleep.  (If you have no idea who he is, let me recommend “Finding Your Roots” on PBS – fascinating stuff.)

I was so disappointed.

But then the questions began, and disappointment faded.  Why did William Stewardson come here from England in the first place?  What about Ralph Shelton?  And the more questions I had, the more interested I became.  How did the Childress family, the Pettit family, the Elliott family, and the Mills family come into the picture?  And how about the Noels? The Parkers?  The Drumhellers?  WHAAAAAT ??  Drumhellers??!!??  Look! Germans!  Oh, for heaven’s sake!  How did THEY get in here ???  I was making a point … I was on a roll !!

My point is this … even the most direct line has some surprises.  You may know about them, you may not.  But every single one of those people had something to do with you drawing breath as you read this.  The fun of genealogy is stumbling over those surprises, meeting those people (even if it’s only on paper), and figuring out where they lived, how they lived, and how they fit into your history and the history of their society, wherever it may be.

So one of my goals of this blog is to explore where I come from geographically.  Mostly, that answer is Virginia, Virginia, Virginia, England, England, England. And Germany. Maybe Scotland.  And (oh please oh please oh please) maybe even Ireland.

Next post … where in Virginia ?

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One year ago, our family lost this dear man:

Bill and Ann Marion

I met him about 20 years ago, and adored him immediately.  One of the first things that struck me about him was how much he loved to laugh.  He had this great chuckle … and when something really hit him funny, he would throw back his head, slap his thigh, and really let it go.

Born on the first day of 1916, Bill was from a different era, and I’m not sure he ever truly left it.  Sure, he dipped his toe in ours from time to time, and certainly wasn’t disconnected or ignorant of what was going on in the world.  He just chose to let some of it pass by without his participation.  Newer technology amused him, but I think he viewed much of it as a toy, and he wasn’t interested in playing with it.  Bill pretty much stopped with the television remote because, really, what else do you need?  Because of his military service and subsequent jobs, he traveled the world, and saw things that became historically significant.  Those things affected him greatly.  But I don’t think any of those things changed the essence of who Bill was from the beginning.  Simple things pleased him – a good meal, a silly joke, a great baseball game (or even a bad one), reading the newspaper every day, and hearing about other people’s lives.  Like any of us, he had his flaws – notoriously tight with money, easily rattled, stubborn beyond all reason sometimes.  But he was also a good provider for his family, a veteran of WWII, and once he loved you, he loved you.  Period.  Bill was also a gentleman – even at his advanced age, he preferred to open doors for me, instead of the other way around.  As long as he was able, he stood every time a woman came into the room.  He said grace at every meal and was always neatly dressed.  He always complimented his wife on how she looked and he was your best audience when you were telling a story.  I think those things were so ingrained in him, he never really thought about it – they just happened.  As we say in the South, his mama raised him right.  And, boy! did he ever love his mama.

Alzheimer’s began to take him from us long before he actually died, but even in his last months, a glimpse of his true self would fight its way to the surface.  One of my last memories of Bill might be my favorite.  We had gone to visit for a weekend, and he was quiet and didn’t leave his chair for most of the weekend … observing but no longer participating in the lives that spun around him.  I think he finally figured out who I was only a few hours before we left.  When it came time to leave, I went over to give him a hug, and said, “You take care of yourself, ok?  I love you.”  He murmured, “I love you, too,” sort of vaguely, and I walked across the room to leave.  As I got to the door, I heard, “But don’t tell your husband, ok?”  I turned around, and saw the real Bill – his hand lifted, pointing at me, chuckling and grinning.  And he winked.

Four Generations

This is one of my all-time favorite photographs, for so many reasons.

Four Generations

First, there’s the obvious … four generations of women on my mother’s side of the family – what a gift to have this image.

Carrie Frances Mills Elliott – seated
Irma Frances Elliott Shelton – checked dress
Janet Arlene Shelton Stewardson – dark dress
and me … cute as a bug, right ?

Second, it makes me laugh.  Look at Grandma.  She does not look happy to be doing this at all.  Who knows? Maybe she wasn’t feeling well that day. I remember she wasn’t crazy about having her picture taken, so you kind of had to sneak up on her to get a good smile.  But, boy, when she smiled?  Best grandma face ever!  I could talk about her forever … the woman was born to be a grandma.  She was a lovely daughter, a terrific mother, and a great friend … but her gift, her reason for being put on this earth, was to be a grandma.  She cooked like a grandma, she sewed like a grandma, she told stories like a grandma, she grew flowers like a grandma, she spoiled us like a grandma, she hugged like a grandma, and she loved like a grandma.  Still – she didn’t like to have her picture taken.  Silly Grandma.  (Please note – my Grandma was not a giant … this was taken from an odd angle, probably to get us all in.)

Third, I like this because it’s really the clearest image in my head of my great-grandmother.  She died when I was barely 5 years old, so my memories are sketchy at best.  But they all look like this – a tiny little woman, with soft white hair and a serious smile.  My little sister is named for her, and was born the same year Granny died.  The only things I really know about her, I know because Mama tells me the stories.

Fourth, I like it because it gives me a real sense of how I came to be me.  I am exactly like them, and nothing like them.  I have characteristics of each of them, and of none of them.  When I look at these faces, they don’t just hold memories for me, they feel very “here and now,” even though two of them are gone.  They feel immediate and relevant and still influential on my character.  These women – particularly Grandma and Granny – are salt-of-the-earth women.  Their stories are very blue collar, hands in the soil, feet on the ground stories.  When I first began searching my family history, I thought those stories were boring, that they weren’t really stories at all.  I was wrong.  It’s a very solid place to stand, which has allowed my mother and me (and my brother and sister and my niece and nephews and cousins) to stretch and reach far beyond the boundaries of these women.

I think that’s what families are for, aren’t they ?  To ground us, teach us, bind us, and set us free.  And when I search our history, and find another name or place that connects me, I gain  insight and encouragement.

Hard to believe one little snapshot says all that, huh ??

Actually, the title should probably be, “Here’s What I THINK I Know.”  William Stewardson is a bit of a mystery.  I have enough tantalizing bits of information to let me know that I don’t really know anything … much.

Gravestone – William M. Stewardson

The stone says:  “Sacred to the Memory of William M. Stewardson of Westmoreland County, England Who departed this life January 23, 1851, Aged 72 years. If thou my Jesus still art nigh, Cheerful I live and cheerful die Secure when mortal comforts flee To find ten thousand worlds in thee.”

Based on this gravestone*, William M. Stewardson was born in 1778 in Little Asby, Westmorland County, England.  He died in 1851 in Nelson County, Virginia, USA.  In addition, I know that one of his sons was James A. Stewardson (perhaps named after William’s father?); James had a son, George William Beauregard Stewardson (how much do I love that name??); and George had a son, Harry Folsome Stewardson.  One of Harry’s sons is my father.  And then there’s me.

The earliest US census mention of William is (I think) from 1810, which shows William “Stuardson” living in Albemarle County, Virginia – thus, I think I know that William came here as a relatively young man, since he would have been 32 in 1810.  I know William married Sallie Wingfield in 1827 in Albemarle County, BUT his son James was born in 1821 in Nelson County, Virginia.  William had two other children, Jane and Mary Ann, who were both born before his marriage to Sallie, and he had six children with Sallie.  However, I can’t find any information on William’s first wife – no name, no date of her death, nothing.  All of William’s children were born here in the US as far as I can tell.

Here’s what I don’t know:

Who was William’s first wife?
Where were they married – in Virginia, or in England?
When and where did she die?  Why?

For me, one of the more intriguing questions is why did William come to Virginia in the first place?  According to research done by other Stewardson branches, the family in Little Asby had some prominence, and I don’t think William was the eldest, so perhaps he came to the new country to strike out on his own, create his own legacy.  He was listed as a farmer in the census forms (1810-1850), so I assume he wasn’t a businessman of any kind.  What brought him here?

The thing I’m learning is that “what I know” inevitably leads to a lot more of “what I don’t know.”  I can safely assume that half of what I’ve written above could be incorrect.  I haven’t been to Nelson County to search at the courthouse – all of the information I have found has been online.  What treasures are waiting for me in the archives of a small Virginia county?

I’d love to hear from someone with more about our family’s origins in Virginia.  If you have any information, give me a shout.

*Photo found at:  http://www.art-rageous.net/Stewardsonstones.html.  According to the photographer, this headstone (along with that of his daughter, Sarah) is located in Nelson County, Virginia, just east of the Rockfish Depot off of Rt. 617 on Silver Lane.

When I began researching my mother’s family line, I was rolling right along, because her family was the one I knew the most about.  My mother’s maiden name? check – Janet Shelton.  Her mother’s maiden name? check – Irma Frances Elliott [who would absolutely kill me for putting that on the internet, if she had lived long enough to encounter the internet].  Her mother’s maiden name? check – Carrie Frances Mills.  I figured that was enough information to really kick off that branch of the tree, so I started filling in the blanks on Ancestry.com and watching all of those little leaves pop up and start waving for my attention.  I didn’t know the name of Carrie’s mother, but it didn’t take long to find it.  Pocahontas Ann Elliott … wait, WHAT???? [insert sound of screeching brakes here]  POCAHONTAS ???

That can’t be right – I never heard that – ever – not even a hint!  So I started following some of those little leaves, and every single one of them led to the same conclusion:  my great-great-grandmother’s name was Pocahontas Ann Elliott [a distant cousin to the Elliotts her daughter eventually married].  I found U.S. census records and even a couple of other Ancestry trees that seemed to confirm it.  Pocahontas Ann Elliott, born in Pittsylvania County, Virginia in 1857 —  I could not WAIT to call my mother.

“Mom!  You never told me your great-grandmother’s name was Pocahontas!”
“It wasn’t – that’s silly.”
“Yes it was … I found it on-line.”
“Then you found the wrong person.  I never heard that in all my life.”
“I’m not kidding. She’s listed in census forms and everything.”
“I am absolutely certain that’s the wrong person.  No one ever, ever told me my great-grandmother’s mother was named Pocahontas, and I know my grandmother would have mentioned something like that.”
“But Mama …”
“Nope – it’s the wrong person.  Keep looking. ”

So I did.  I ordered records from the Virginia Department of Vital Records.  The birth certificate of Carrie Frances Mills lists her mother as Pocahontas Ann Elliott.  There is a birth certificate for Pocahontas Ann Elliott, listing the same parents I had found for her – Samuel L. Elliott and Nancy Hutson Elliott.  There is also a marriage certificate showing Pocahontas Ann Elliott marrying John Henry Mills.  Yep – it all checked out.  I could not WAIT to call my mother.

“Mom! HA! I was RIGHT!”  [I *LOVE* to be right.  Ask my husband.]
“Right about what?”
“Your great-grandmother’s name was Pocahontas Ann Elliott Mills.”
“I don’t think so.”
“I have documents that prove it,” and told her about them in detail.
“Well … then I guess it has to be right.  Wonder why nobody ever told me?”

We still have no idea where the name came from, or why she was named that.  Her brothers have perfectly normal names – John and William.  I assume she may have been called Ann, but she is not listed as Ann in anything I can find – it all says Pocahontas.  I know she’s not related to THE Pocahontas (of Virginia history fame), but Samuel and Nancy obviously liked the name enough to tag their daughter with it.

I don’t have any pictures of her, but am trying to coordinate with some of Mama’s cousins to figure it out and see if anyone has a photo.  I’m also not certain where she is buried – I’m dying to know what her gravestone says.  In fact, I don’t even know when she died.  She was in the 1900 U.S. census, but I don’t see anything after that.

Still … Pocahontas.  Terribly cool.

I’m 500 miles away from my Daddy today, but we’ll talk, as many fathers and daughters do.  We’ll catch up on what we’ve both been up to, how he’s feeling, and what the weather is like up there and down here.  I’ll tell him about our trip to New York, and he’ll listen politely, probably thinking that he’s glad he didn’t have to go.  He’ll ask when I’m coming home, and I’ll tell him I’m not sure, but I hope it’s soon — and I do.  I’ll tell him I’m not coming unless he promises to make his special ribs, and he’ll chuckle.

My daddy does so many things well.  He’s still, at age 80, great with his hands.  He does woodworking, takes care of their house, and has discovered late in life that he’s a fantastic “grill chef” – ha!  He was always like that – when he decided he wanted to do something, he’d study it, talk to people who did it, and figure it out … then do it.  I think my brother and sister and I all inherited a bit of that.  My brother does it with cars and house stuff, I’ve done it with jewelry and genealogy, and my sister does it in raising an amazing kid.  As we were growing up, Daddy built us swings, repaired our bikes, took us camping, introduced us to the Outer Banks, and loved us a lot.  Life came along and shook things up a bit, but none of that changes the fact that our childhood featured a father who was present and loved us, and he still does.  I love you, too, Daddy.

I also want to remember my father-in-law today.  He passed away last summer, after several declining years with Alzheimer’s.  I only had the privilege of knowing him for about 20 years, but those 20 years were a gift.  He was a gentle man, and a gentleman.  He loved baseball and a good laugh.  And he adored his son … so do I.  We miss you, Bill.

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