The first time I heard of my second great grandfather, Thomas Mowatt, was when I was going through my father’s personal files about 1992, ten years after his death. I had started researching our family, and was following the advice to start with what you know. As far as I knew, my father had no interest in genealogy or family history, but evidently his family DID and had sent him some letters, photos, and documents over the years. He never shared any of this with me when I was growing up, but somehow had the foresight to not throw away the few things that he had that were relevant to his family history.
Thomas Mowatt was my father’s great-grandfather and had died about ten years before my father was born. I was raised knowing I was Scottish on both sides of my family and had proudly worn a wool jumper sewn by my mother out of the Mowatt tartan when I was in fifth grade- but that’s all I knew about the Mowatts. So when I looked through my father’s files and found a typewritten document about this unknown ancestor, Thomas Mowatt, I was curious.
The document reads:
This certifies that Thomas Mowatt, a native of this neighborhood, of credible parentage, leaves this country for N. Brunswick, wishing to better his situation in that land. He is a member in full communion with this Presbyterian Congregation and has always acted as becometh the Christian.
He is of a mild inoffensive disposition, exceedingly peaceable, quiet and retiring, very highly esteemed as a servant, well acquainted with husbandry in all its modern improvements. He has had for several years the oversight of a corn mill, and is very capable of managing such a concern, so he is likely to prove an acquisition to any gentleman improving his estate.
He leaves us in comfortable circumstances, with his brother, James. But if a mysterious Providence should visit them with shipwreck or disaster, the British agent or Consul must afford them protection, and the humane may rest assured that they lend aid to the deserving.
Given in the name of the members, Trustees and Elders of this congregation, Thomas Hall, minister
Crookham, County of Northumberland May 21, 1837
It had been transcribed from the original by a grandson of Thomas Mowatt.
Flash forward a few years to 1996, and my husband, son, and I were driving through Northumberland, England to Ford, the birth place of Thomas and which he had left with his wife and brother James and friends and neighbors on the Cornelius, headed for New Brunswick, Canada. Ford is a small village, but has a castle, a church, some homes- and a mill!
It turned out that the mill, restored and fully operational, is the same one where my ancestor worked- and that there has been a mill on this site since the 1300’s! There was a tour going on, and when we were approached by the person in charge, I showed him the transcribed document. He was thrilled- and introduced us all around as the Canadians who were descended from the local Mowatt family! Our status increased immensely!
I was not a photographer back then, but of course took many photos, and this one of the mill is a favorite. I had scanned the photo with a little portable scanner a few years ago so decided to make a little art piece with it for my photo class this week. I think my father would have been pleased- more with the photography than the genealogy!
When Lonnie and I walked into the Visitor Center at New Mexico State University, we did not have high expectations of finding anything.I explained to the very nice receptionist that my grandfather had been a coach there from 1910 to 1914 and that I was hoping to at find out that there were some buildings left from 1910 that I could photograph. We were told that no, the buildings from that era did not survive and that it was too late to meet with the archivist who might have some documents from that era (her office was closing at 4:00). They were being very helpful, however, and marked up a map of how to get to the library where the archives were and wrote down the contact information for the archivist so that I could let her know that we were coming.
While this was going on, Lonnie was in the adjacent conference room looking around, and he spotted a football up on a bookshelf. As he looked closer, her realized that it had my grandfather’s name on it- and that it was the game ball from when the team won the 1913 Southwest Championship! You can imagine our excitement!
As I was photographing the ball, the employee mentioned that there were old yearbooks in the archives. How exciting! But right there on the bookshelf were yearbooks; just as she was saying that these were the more recent ones, we saw some very small yearbooks in the collection. You guessed it- the yearbooks from the years Grandpa was there!
As I realized what a treasure trove we had come across, my hands started shaking, and I got chills- it was an out of body experience. We took some time carefully taking cell phone shots of the pages that featured Grandpa- and found a goldmine of photos and articles. An unbelievable find! One article was especially moving to me, because it told of his kindness and emphasis on sportsmanship and fair play over winning. Those were the qualities he demonstrated his whole coaching career- and what made him so beloved by his players and the community- and by our family.
Below is a photo composite- the football overlaid upon a photo of the champion team of 2013.
The next day we met with the archivist and discovered that the entire collection of student newspapers was online. I searched for Badenoch- there were 93 entries! There seemed to be an almost equal number of articles about my grandfather AND my grandmother! Mimi, as we called her, had a beautiful classical singing voice and performed at events through the college and elsewhere while living in New Mexico- and also managed to have two babies between 1910 and 1912 (her first child was born in Chicago)! The archivist found a file of correspondence between my Grandpa and the president of the college from when he applied to coach there. It was emailed it to me when we got home.
So now my task is to organize this information and integrate it into my genealogy software program. Family history, like laundry, is never done!
Most people that know me can’t help but notice that I am obsessed with family history. It has been almost a lifelong obsession; even as a little girl I was drawing family trees. I’ve always loved to read, and any book that had a family tree at the front or back earned extra points from me.
It wasn’t until 2017 that I started looking into DNA as a research tool for genealogy. I had already had my DNA tested (and Lonnie’s too) at two different companies (23andme and Ancestry), but like many people, I didn’t realize the full potential of a DNA test to match you up with people you are related to. So last year, I used DNA to finally discover the true identity of Lonnie’s grandfather. That question is now settled (although it still needs the paper trail to confirm it), and I moved on to help Lonnie’s stepmother, Laura discover her birth family. That has proved especially difficult. Laura’s granddaughter and I have been working on it for seven or eight months and, despite having worked on it daily and accumulating a huge file of data and correspondence, we can only say we know she is descended from the Andrews, the Flintoms, the Clicks, the Bordos, and a bunch of other people. Laura’s daughter has again filed paperwork to obtain her mom’s adoption records, which appear to be missing. Keep your fingers crossed!
I’ve managed to squeeze in a small amount of time to work on my own family tree. It is very satisfying to find DNA matches who are descended from the same people that, over the years, I have identified and researched and placed in my tree. And wouldn’t you know that the same ancestors who are my “brick walls” (dead ends on a tree branch) are the same ones whose descendants don’t show up in my matches?!?
Along the way, I’ve uploaded our raw DNA files to Family Tree DNA, My Heritage, and Gedmatch and managed to learn how to use chromosome browsers (which are not part of the ancestry.com service). I can ballpark tell you how closely you are related to a DNA match by the number of centimorgans you share, and I understand how the X chromosome is helpful in determining how you are related to someone. I knew none of this a year ago and can’t help but think all this work is good for my aging brain!
And how about the mug in today’s photo? It was a prize/gift from the head of a DNA group I’m a part of through our local genealogy society. I won it for being related to the most people in the group and for being the most enthusiastic! DNA is frustrating, but fun!
Happy National DNA Day!!!
Lest you think after yesterday’s post that my genealogy research consists of neatly organized and photo-worthy little objects, I’m posting some photos today of what I’m actually DOING these days in genealogy. After 20 years of researching obsessively- and 5 more years of slipshod sporadic research- I ended up with piles and files of papers and a computer database full of information- and not much to show for it all. I’m not getting any younger, so I decided it’s time to put my papers (and computer files) in order so that my descendants can make sense of it all- and perhaps make a few photo books.
Easier said than done.
Being an only child has its benefits and drawbacks. I have SO MUCH STUFF! And it falls to me to organize it all. In the background you can see just one of several big tubs of photos and family papers- and my new little portable scanner that I just love. I can actually scan photos while watching TV! The photo on top of the stack is of my father- one of a zillion I inherited (not all as cute as this one). What to do with them all???
Below is a project that I am so proud to have made headway on in the last month. I’m following a system of organizing and color-coding my genealogy paper files that makes finding things so much easier- especially for family members that may inherit these papers someday. These files still take up the same amount of space (two very full, deep file drawers in the garage), but I don’t feel so overwhelmed when I look at them now. Each color represents the family line of one of my grandparents- and I’ve done the same for Lonnie’s family. The yellow files actually take up more room than any other color and continue on into the next drawer. These are my New England forebears and my elusive Canadian Peaslees (lots of research but no definitive answers yet on that line).
Now that the files are organized by color, I am working on one branch at a time, mostly just up to my great-great grandparents. I’m checking sources, organizing digital media, writing bios for those that don’t have them- and noting what is missing in the files. I’m working in a very limited and structured way, so that I don’t go off on tangents. I am taking a break from researching in order to organize what I have. And it looks like it could take a few years. . .
My resolve has already been tested this week by the discovery by a distant cousin of the parents of one of my three most challenging ancestors (Lonnie’s great-great grandmother, Lucy Crump). After some screaming and jumping up and down, I noted the information and passed it on to another researcher- and am now trying to ignore the barrage of emails coming my way with more leads. Genealogy can be lots of fun when information just falls in your lap!
When I was a little girl, I was fascinated with the antique gold pencil that was kept in the chest that held the good silver. My mother said it belonged to a great-great grandmother, but that I was not named after her- which was obvious to me, because Melinda was SPELLED WRONG! My mother was not particularly interested in family history, but I was, even at a young age. I wondered who that Malinda could be (and why her named was spelled wrong).
Of course, I didn’t realize at that time that variations in spelling are the norm rather than the exception in genealogy- as are inaccurate family stories. When I started doing genealogical research, I discovered that Malinda Tucker was actually the second wife of my great-great grandfather, Luther Bean, whom he married after my great-great grandmother died. My mother’s mother would turn out to be Luther’s only heir after her aunt died, so we have quite a few of his things.
As you can see by examining the photo, he was in the Civil War as a surgeon. He grew up in New Hampshire, and he and my great-great grandmother, came from a long line of New Englanders- going all the way back to the early colonists (right AFTER the Mayflower). Later in life he moved to Waukegan, Illinois, where he continued to practice medicine.
Another inaccurate (I think) family story was that I had a great-grandfather who was in the battle of the Monitor vs the Merrimack, which I learned about in school. I remember being proud to tell my sixth grade class all about it- minus the name of this mysterious great-grandfather. I have searched and have yet to find him, the most likely candidate being Luther- but there is no record of this in his service record that I can find. This story may be as false as the story that my husband’s grandfather was “half Indian”- and his mother grew up on a reservation in Oklahoma. Wrong!
Oh- about the spelling of Malinda/Melinda– on her gravestone, her name is spelled with an E, like mine!
Photography note: the gold lines under the pencil in the top photo are reflections.
I’m slowly making progress with my project of digitally restoring old family photos. I love these old photos of my grandmother sitting in the chair and my great-aunt Margaret (at age 8) all dressed up in her fancy outfit. Both photos would have been taken in the 1890’s in the Chicago area.