• Davis Family,  Embrace the Bad,  Getting Personal,  Houston Family,  My Family Tree

    Meanest Woman Ever: Me

    I see myself in Annie’s story.

    It’s not just that I have a mean streak, because I do. 

    And that round face, large woman, and stern demeanor stuff. Check, check and check! 

    Annie’s work ethic and “never idle” mantra drums away inside my head. Every. Damn. Day. 

    Like Annie, I am a second wife.  I too have chosen an outgoing gregarious husband named Joseph who is also nine years older than me. Like Annie’s Joe, my Joe likes to spend his free time in a book/smartphone.  My husband may not call me the “other woman” but there was a time in our relationship when I felt like my husband’s second choice. 

    It’s more than the similarities in my marriage and Annie’s that connect her story to mine. 

    I too am the disciplinarian. I’m not the chop-off-your-finger-but-too-afraid-to-tell kind of Mom, but being respectful and courteous are something I want to instill in my son. 

    Son. Singular. No, not twelve children in twenty-four years. I can only imagine what raising ten children to adulthood was like. I hope to never know the heartache and pain Annie felt to have two children die in infancy, and have three adult children die before her. To have an adult alcoholic son die from exposure from a night spent on my own front porch in late December; that’s pain that I hope never to endure.

    Annie and I have had very different lives in very different centuries. 

    I didn’t grow up dirt poor in a rural frontier town. I don’t know what that kind of desperation feels like. I’ve always felt the security of a safety net provided by my parents.  I may never be wealthy, but neither have I experienced true poverty.  So, different than Annie, I will never know what it feels to be that close to the edge and the shame that comes from having to peddle vegetables. 

    I inherited from Annie (and other strong women like her) a love of learning and a desire for an education, but I will never know what it is like to dream of an education and have almost no opportunity to obtain it.  I will never know what it’s like to be so desperate for education that I would marry for the mere promise of it.  My education was a gift and the result, in part, of my parents’ conscious decision to raise their family in a neighborhood with the best schools and within the shadow of a major university.   I live in a time when women can achieve the highest levels of education and achievement and that is something Annie did not have even a hope of.  

    In some ways I will never fully understand the circumstances and forces that made Annie who she was. 

    As I look at what I’ve learned about Annie’s life, I see an ambitious woman who wanted desperately to rise above grinding childhood poverty to respectability and financial stability.  I see a woman of great pride.  I also see a woman who built walls around her.  Literal walls and emotional walls.  Walls to protect herself against poverty, shame, and vulnerability. 

    I see myself in Annie’s story.  The old woman feeding the neighbor’s chickens just to see something living. I’ve known that kind of loneliness. The woman with hoards of stuff but no close relationships, even with family; that could have been me.   

    Within the core of my identity, Annie exists.   At the core of Annie’s story is my fear that her story is my story. 

    I believe that by knowing Annie’s story, I know myself better.  Hers is a cautionary tale.  Her story is my story if pride and pain, ambition, and fear of being hurt ruled my life. 

    Instead, I push back from the voices that tell me idleness is a weakness, that the outward stuff matters, and that I can control those around me.  I have to choose that connection and compassion matter more than the trappings of wealth, the illusion of safety, and the hurt that comes from engaging with those around me. 

  • Brick Walls,  Genie Trips,  Tips N Tricks


    How do you get three rather serious-looking genealogists in Sydney, Nova Scotia to crack a smile? Laugh even?

    Mention that you are looking for a Norman McLeod married to a Mary McLean.

    In September, I was on a Holland America cruise from NYC to Quebec City. I know, pretty epic.  Two of our stops were in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia: Halifax, the capital city, and Sydney, which is a smaller city on Cape Breton Island.

    In Sydney, I walked a few blocks from the cruise terminal and the world’s largest fiddle to the Cape Breton Genealogy and Historical Society.  There I met Maureen McNeil, Anna Roberts, and Karen Porter.  Three lovely and very helpful women.

    When I told them who I was looking for they chuckled. Guffawed even. 

    Apparently, about half of Cape Breton Island is related to a Norman McLeod and/or a Mary McLean (only a slight exaggeration, I’m sure).

    Here’s the backstory on why I spent several hours of cruise time with Maureen, Anna, and Karen (other than the obvious fact that I’m a genealogy junkie).

    Before I left for my cruise, my Mom worked with a friend on her family history. They were stumped. Brick wall city.

    Here’s what they knew:  Beverly (my Mom’s friend) knows her grandfather’s name was: Norman Chisholm McLeod (“Norman C” from here on in). He died in Pioche, Nevada in 1947.  Norman C was a carpenter who worked in the mines in Nevada, Arizona, and Mexico. He was married to Mary Louise McKinnon in 1903 in El Paso, Texas.

    Norman Chisholm Mcleod and Mary Louise McKinnon McLeod

    Here’s the kicker, Norman C isn’t from Texas.  From what he told his posterity, Norman C was born in Whycocomagh, Nova Scotia.  He left Nova Scotia as a young man after his mother died and his father remarried. Norman C. said his father was from Scotland and his mother from Nova Scotia.  Norman C’s favorite younger sister was named Katie. His death certificate, with information provided by his son-in-law, lists Norman C’s birthday as December 27, 1970 in Whycocomagh.  

    Whycocowhere? You Ask

    Nova Scotia, or “New Scotland” was settled by a large contingent of Scottish emigrants in the early 19th century.   Many of the place names on Cape Breton are directly borrowed from names, towns, counties, or cities in Scotland.

    Whycocomagh is not one of those towns.  Its name comes from an Indian word meaning “by the sea” .  Which is sort of ironic because Whycocomagh sits on an inland bay (Whycocomagh Bay), which is part of a channel (St. Patrick’s channel), which connects to a much larger inland lake (Bras D’Or Lake), which eventually connects to the St. Lawrence Bay and the Atlantic Ocean through a series of channels and inlets.

    Whycocomagh YouTube Video. Pretty, no?

    I digress.

    The family research conducted by Beverly and family had tied Norman C to a Norman McLeod (“Norman Sr.”) and Mary McLean living in a place called “the Marshes” in Inverness County, Cape Breton. The Marshes is on the outskirts of  West Bay, a tiny village in Inverness County, Cape Breton Island.

    The connection seemed to fit. Norman Sr. and Mary had a son named Norman, who according to census records, was born in 1870.  Norman Sr. and Mary also had a daughter Catherine (or Katie) who was younger than Norman Jr.

    On closer review and research, here’s what made the connection of Norman C to the family of Norman Sr. and Mary McLean problematic:

    Norman Jr. died young.  Norman Jr. appears to have been buried in the same cemetery as his father, mother, brother, and sister. Oh, and he died in 1897!

    Norman, Sr’s death certificate shows that he died in 1922 and that he was buried in the Lime Hill Cemetery, not far from West Bay. Also buried in the same cemetery are his wife Mary (died 1920), son Kennie, and daughter Katherine.  

    There is no indication that Norman Sr. remarried after Mary died in 1920 and before his own death in 1922. The 1921 Census shows Norman Sr, living with his two children and no wife.  So, no evil stepmother who drove Norman C. to immigrate to the US.

    No connection to Whycocomagh.  Norman Jr., and his parents, Norman Sr. and Mary, lived in West Bay and/or North Mountain, Inverness County, according to the census records we can find in 1871, 1881, and 1891.  West Bay (and North Mountain) is more than 48 km (30 miles) away from Whycocomagh. A significant distance in that time period.

    Also, while we have not yet located the birth record for Norman Jr, several of his siblings have birth/death records that show they were born in the area immediately surrounding West Bay and not anywhere near Whycocomagh.

    Chisholm? Norman Jr. did not appear to have any connection to the Chisholm name. From his marriage record on, Norman C used Chisholm as his middle name. Scottish naming conventions suggest that both Norman’s first name and middle name would tie to his family and that Chisholm was likely his mother’s maiden name. Death, marriage, and birth records of Norman, Sr. and Mary’s children show that Mary’s maiden name was McLean.

    Also, Norman Jr had a “J” for a middle initial. Not “C” and not Chisholm.  

    Census record.  Norman C’s family story was that he left Nova Scotia as a teenager after his mother died and his father remarried. The 1891 Census shows Norman still living with both parents at the age of 22. Not exactly a teenager. Also remember, Norman Jr. died 6 years later while still living in West Bay.

    Scotland Tie.  Finally, Norman Chisholm reported to his family and census records after his arrival in the United States that his father was born in Scotland and not Nova Scotia. Norman Sr was born and lived his whole life in the West Bay area.

    Stay Tuned for the next installment: Death Certificate 101 and Whycocomagh: Jackpot!

    Takeaways and Tips: Look closely at the details of every document. Google the location of the places you are researching and the distance between them. Don’t let something like a birthdate (especially when reported by a 3rd party) bind you up in your research.

    Also, don’t buy a photo of a town your client’s ancestors came from unless you know they really came from there!

    P.S. – For those of you just dying for more Census records, here is Norman Sr. and Mary in 1871,  188118911901,  1911.  Also, I stumbled across the will of Kennie A. McLeod (Norman Sr. and Mary McLean’s youngest son).  

  • Brick Walls,  Getting Personal

    Fear of Failure

    About a month ago I started this page.  I was super excited and ready to get going.  The initial set up of this website and getting my Instagram (@bequethed.us) page going were a bit of learning curve, but I was on fire and ready to go.

    But then…fear crept in. 

    The fear of failure.  I began to look around at other genealogists’ websites, Instagram feeds, Facebook pages, YouTube channels, Pinterest boards, and found that there is already so much good content out there already!  How on earth could I find my voice in the huge digital space out there? Who would listen? 

    I am one of those people who will post something on Facebook or Instagram and then wait…wait to see if I get a like or worse, a negative comment.  If the response isn’t favorable, I’ll delete my comment or post.  The closer the issue is to my heart the less likely I am to put it out there for everyone to see. 

    I am very much still the awkward teenage girl afraid of rejection when it comes to social media, and especially when something is close to my heart. And genealogy and uncovering the stories of the past is my passion.

    For the past month I’ve stewed over what to post, how to post it, and then I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite authors:

    So, this is it, my leap from the cliff.

    My promise to you (or rather, to me) is that I will step into the vulnerability of this space, on a regular and consistent basis.  I will not retreat. 

    And, if you are not one of the 8.6 million people (and counting) to have watched Brene Brown’s Ted talk on Vulnerability, watch it.

    It is life changing. 

  • Brick Walls,  Embrace the Bad,  Getting Personal,  Legal Docs

    More than meets the eye

    When a birth certificate is more than a birth certificate. 

    Recently, I undertook the task of researching the family history of someone special.  My stepkids’ mom. 

    My stepkids know very little about their heritage. Theirs is a legacy of absent fathers. My husband’s parents divorced and his father had no voluntary contact with his three children after 1976. My kids’ mom (I’ll call her Claire) has only a name and very little solid information about her father or his family.

    That’s where Claire’s birth certificate comes in. She didn’t think it would provide me much to go on. Other than a name, birth state, and age it didn’t appear to offer much information about her birth dad.

    It did provide that, which was information Claire hadn’t remembered before pulling out her birth certificate.  It also, somewhat surprisingly, told us when her mother’s last period was and when her prenatal care began. 

    But the birth certificate wasn’t done giving up information and telling a tale. The informant on the birth certificate was identified as an aunt, and her address was also provided.  It also indicated that Claire’s mother had not reviewed the information for accuracy.

    Claire’s mother, at the age of 18, had traveled from upstate New York to North Carolina, with the intention of giving Claire up for adoption.  Her aunt was to adopt the child.  Claire was born early, at 36 weeks and weighed only 4 lbs 11 oz.  After Claire was born, her mother, her grandfather, decided to bring Claire home to New York.

    But the birth certificate still wasn’t done.

    On first glance, I missed the significance of the fact that Claire’s father’s name is handwritten and not typed.  There it was. Box 16 titled “Amended”, down in the bottom corner of the certificate, is where I found the handwritten notation “Order of Filiation” with a date 2 years after Claire’s birth. Order of Filiation, aka Order of Paternity. 

    What that one notation told us was that this was not just the tale of a single teenage Mom who traveled across the country to give her baby up for adoption and subsequently changed her mind.

    Someone went through the effort to file a court proceeding to have Claire’s father’s name added to the birth certificate two years after she was born. That person was likely Claire’s father.

    A Google search revealed that only a few states use the term “Filiation”.  A few phone calls later and I knew what I needed to do to get the case file.

    The brick wall now has a crack. I hope that the request we have made for copies of the Order of Filiation will bear fruit. Updates to follow. 

  • Uncategorized

    What’s New?

    What’s new?  This blog is new, that’s what!

    Yes, there are A LOT of genealogy/family history blogs out there.  The family history and genealogist world is big and friendly.

    This is my blog.

    My goal is to provide useful tips and tricks for the beginner genealogist and to take you along with me as I research client’s, friend’s, and my own ancestors.

    I love comments.  Your feedback and support are appreciated.