Monday, March 17, 2014

A Wee Bit of Information for Ye Lads and Lassies

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day and because it seems I am running into more and more people tracing their Irish ancestry, I want to share with you some of what I am learning when researching the Irish immigrant.

You can break down your Irish immigrations into 3 parts; those who came during the potato famine years, those who came before, and those who came after.  Researching is easier when you focus on which time your targeted ancestor came to America.

The potato famine started in 1845 when blight hit the area’s potato plants and lasted about 6 years.  Successive years of crop failure led to many deaths and forced people to flee. 

When we begin our search of immigrant ancestors, we often feel that the passenger list is an important document we need.

However, you need to realize that passenger lists don’t begin in the US until 1820, 1865 in Canada, and 1890 in Great Britain.  So if you are researching someone you expected came from Ireland to Canada in 1842, you may not find a passenger list at all.

Many Irish immigrants did come through Canada to the US.  It was cheaper passage to come into the port of Quebec.  Immigrants were held in quarantine at Grosse Ilse.  It is estimated that over 5,000 immigrants died on Grosse Ilse and it is known to be the largest burial ground of Irish outside of Ireland[1].

Most common ports of entry into Canada were:  Grosse Ilse, Quebec, St. John’s, and Halifax.
About 1894, steamship and railroad advertised to immigrants to immigrate to the US by sailing into Canadian ports and then gaining entry to US ports to lessen the hassles.  Searching the Port of St. Albans, Vermont ship lists are a valuable source for tracing immigrant ancestors who might have come through Canadian ports of entry in the late 1890’s.  This database can be found on

The most important thing a beginning researcher can do when tracing their Irish ancestor is to know all you can from the records here in the US.  Using census records and birth and death records are a start, but most likely you will need to cast a wider net.

Consider finding tombstones which may have the place of origin inscribed on them.  Be sure to find naturalization papers, passport applications (if they went back for a visit) and lastly, biographical sketches of other known family members.  All may include a clue to the family’s original place of origin in Ireland.  That key piece of evidence, the county in Ireland where the family is from, is vital to continue your search “across the pond”.

Here are another couple fun tidbits:  Did you know that a nickname for “Bridget” is “Biddy” and “Delia”!  How about the name “Darby” being the nickname for “Jeremiah”?  If you are familiar with these particulars about Irish research, you will be way ahead of the game.  By googling your targeted ancestors given name (i.e. Nicknames for Bridget), you can find possible names you should consider whist doing your research.

For the most valuable information on Irish immigration research strategies, I suggest watching the many videos at In the search field, type “Irish Immigration” or “Ireland Research”. 

Happy hunting and may the luck of the Irish be with ye!

[1] “Irish”, online article, Library and Archives of Canada ( :  accessed 16 Feb 2014)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Myth of the Indian Princess

Many people have a family tradition along the lines of "my third great grandma was a Cherokee princess".  I have heard it several times, but here is the bad news;  there is no such thing as a Cherokee princess.  In fact, there is no such thing as any Native American princess.

Native American tribes did not have lines of royalty.  Perhaps your ancestor was the daughter of a chief, but that didn't make her a princess.

I have many clients ask me to find the truth behind their Native American family stories.  In every case thus far, the people who think they are of Native American heritage are NOT and the ones that had no idea they were of native stock, ARE!  Isn't that funny!?

When I started researching the Cole side of my family about 10 years ago, I feel over backwards when I found the census below.

1900 Federal census, Harlan County, Kentucky
You should note that I consider myself "white" and I am blonde and blue eyed!  Wash, born May 1893 is my great grandfather.  Want to see a picture of him?

George Washington "Wash" Cole, born about 1893

So you can imagine my surprise at the census above after viewing the column for race.  That is a "B" my friends and "B" stands for Black.  I was going to need to do more research.  Take a look at other census records for Wash Cole and his ancestors.  The Jacob Cole listed in the census below is Wash's father.

1870 Federal Census for Harlan County, Kentucky
The family could not be located in the 1880 census, but above is the 1870 census and below is the 1860 census.  Note that Jacob Cole is 2 years old in the 1860 census and though it is beyond a little weird, his mother is the 18 year old Eliza and his father is the 61 year old.  I know, I know...that story is for another time!

1860 Federal Census for Lee County, Virginia

Both the 1870 and 1860 census records record some form of "Indian", though that was not a standard answer option on this form.

Lastly, the 1850 census.  Note that John Cole is the father of Jacob Cole.  He had been married before and by this time, his wife had left him with the children.  Eliza-age-15 is NOT the same Eliza listed above in the 1860 census.  This Eliza, age 15, was his eldest daughter.

1850 Federal Census for Knox County, Kentucky
As you can see, in 1850 the family is listed as "M" and that is for "mulatto".  Mulatto does not necessarily mean a mix of "black" and "white", but rather a mix of any two races.

How do I explain this?  I guess my family wasn't always "white"!  Most likely, they were of Native American descent.  My grandfather never claimed he was an "Indian" and no one in the family had any idea. Why?  I speculate that being an "Indian" in the hills of Virginia and Kentucky during this time frame was not something you would go around talking about.  After all; we know the stories of the forced move to Indian Reservations were true.  The family lived as white people for the most part and did not find themselves being forced to move.

I began to research the family ties to Native American tribes.  The Cole's had all tried to apply as "Cherokee's by Blood" in 1898 in hopes to gain land from the government.  I first checked the Dawes Roles.  This is an index.  Once you find your targeted ancestor, you then need to find the Application for Enrollment packets.  These can be found on  It was here that I found each of the application files for my family members.  These applications led to a great deal of genealogical data.  It mentioned a grandfather by name who I did not have and children that I did not know about.  The family was ultimately denied enrollment by the Cherokee Nation.  The names of our earliest know ancestors could not be located in the censuses taken in the 1830's of the Cherokee Tribes.  My family members had left the area prior to 1830 as did many people trying to escape possible removal that seemed inevitable.

But wait, there's more!  Just recently, I ran across a webpage that suggests that my "Appalachian Indians" might not be Cherokee at all, but Shawnee!  It was suggested that a break off of the Shawnee tribe happened in the late 1700's and some went south and found friendship with the Cherokees.

I am fortunate enough to have two uncles who are direct male descendants of the known "Indian" ancestor and we are having their DNA tested (stay tuned for the results!).  Though DNA can not tell me which tribe we are from, it can indicate if the targeted male ancestor was Native American, African-American, or European.

So the moral of this story is:  Don't go around saying your grandma was a Native American princess, because people are laughing at you.  And if you think you are Native American, look for something to back it up...even if it turns out your aren't, you will have fun trying and might find gems of genealogical information along the way!

Read more about finding your ancestors on the Dawes Rolls and the Applications for the 5 Civilized Tribes at:

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Women Who Made Me

In honor of March being Women's History Month, I wanted to write a post on the women I descend from.

my mother, 1978

My mother is a very classy lady, but if you knew where she came from, you wouldn't believe it! Raised in the "holler", she was poor and uneducated, but learned to work hard and was faithful to the Lord.  The youngest of 9 children and with a twin brother, she ran and played in the creeks and in the mountains.  Her father was killed in a coal mining accident when she was 11 years old.  That one tragedy changed the course of her life.  Her mother, wanting to get the older brothers away from coal mining, moved to Ohio.

My father and mother

In Ohio, Mom had more opportunities than ever before.  Having been kept from schooling during her early years, Mom finished only 8th grade and then went into the work force. She was self taught and many a person never knew she was "uneducated".  She was a talented wig stylist and model.  Mom had four daughters.  She encouraged us girls to be good students and expected us to work hard, but above all to live right. There was nothing she thought we couldn't accomplish if we really wanted it.  She was an accomplished seamstress and taught us how to sew. She still hopes one of her 4 girls will take up quilting...which she loves!!
My mother was born to Goldie Mae Witt.  We called her "Big Grandma".  She was considerably bigger than the other grandma that was only 4 ft. 11 inches and weighed about 90 pounds!  (That grandma we loving referred to as "Baby Grandma".)

Big Grandma was a mountain woman.  She was rough and tough, not very educated, but had plenty of good common sense.  She dipped snuff and had no front teeth on the top or the bottom. She cut her fingernails with a butcher knife and washed her mouth out with isopropyl alcohol for a tooth ache.  When we would cry about our legs hurting (due to growing pains), she would run to the metal kitchen cabinets for some horse liniment and rub our bony, litttle legs till the pain went away.

Big Grandma as a young mother and her
first born daughter, Monetta ca. 1935

Big Grandma, Goldie Witt Cole ca. 1988

She could make the best runny eggs you ever tasted, but did no real baking like a typical granny would do.  I suppose that was because she had never had excess money to learn to make culinary treats.  She did can delicious jelly though!  She loved paw-paws more than anything!

Big Grandma was born to Nancy Blevins Witt.  I only have one picture of Nancy and she looks sad.  The picture would have been taken shortly after her husband died.  Nancy's parents were divorced when she was just a baby and she was raised by a single mother.  She was married at 14 years old and out of the 6 children she bore, only 2 lived to adulthood.  Her husband died when she was about 27 years of age.  She never remarried.

Nancy Blevins Witt and her children Goldie and Ethel, ca. 1918
PS...Ethel is a BOY, not a girl!!
Nancy's mother was Elizabeth Eldridge.  Elizabeth was a midwife by profession.  She married "Hen" Blevins when she was 18 years old and had one daughter with him.  They divorced and she did not remarry again until she was 38 years old.  She married a widow man name Enoch Creech. Together, they had a set of twin boys, Elisha and Elijah Creech.  I don't know if it is true, but I heard that Elizabeth was once stabbed in the back (literally) by one of her stepsons.

And lastly, is Elizabeth's mother Nancy.  I haven't been able to prove Nancy's maiden name. Some say she was a "Hoover" and she may have been.  She raised Elizabeth to adulthood before she died the same year Elizabeth married her first husband.  Sadly, Nancy died in March and Elizabeth married in December of that year.  I wonder how much Elizabeth missed her mother when her marriage dissolved so rapidly and all the years that she raised her daughter alone.

Elizabeth's father remarried just 4 days before Elizabeth did.  He married Nancy Pruett.  She has a special place in my heart because she is also a great aunt on another family line.  I have no idea what she was like, but for some reason, I picture her as gentle and kind.  She was 34 years old when she married Elizabeth's father and had never been married before.  She had 2 children, both died as infants.  Their names were Rosa and Carter.

This Nancy would have been there during Elizabeth's divorce and perhaps helped her to raise her daughter.  I remember Big Grandma telling me that her great grandmother was Nancy Pruett, so perhaps the grandkids never knew that Nancy Pruett was actually the stepmother.

That is where my maternal line ends...I know no more.  The mother's in this line had passed through great sadness and trial, but all were and are lovingly talked about.  I hope to take more time this month recording and enjoying the lives of the women in my family tree.