Hitting Pay Dirt?


Tarr Farm
Taking a "short break" from my genealogical research due to a spring flu and well...life, I felt the urge to refocus and jump back in. Staring at my family tree, I played around with various surnames; running new searches on ancestors I am still curious about.

Thumbing through many of my downloaded documents, I took notice of the large acreage my German ancestor in Pennsylvania owned. George Tarr, a son of German immigrants, pioneered a large tract of land in Northwestern Pennsylvania; about 1000 acres.

Contemplating the size of George's estate, my interest was peaked and I sped off on a Googling trail; placing the Pennsylvania Tarr surname in several search engines.

"That's a significant amount of land," I thought as I quickly clicked on various Rootsweb websites popping up with information on the Tarr surname. But nothing significant unfolded and new ancestral names were not discovered, except for the mention of the "famous Tarr Farm."

"Famous?" I sat up and paused, looking at a description of what might be my ancestor George Tarr's large estate. My fingers raced across my keyboard, furiously searching for details on the "famous Tarr Farm of Pennsylvania." New websites were discovered full of stories and articles about the Tarr Farm and as I scanned through the information, I found a picture of the old farm with a landscape of gushing oil wells.

Racing to read the story, I discovered that the Tarr Farm was at the center of "Oil Creek," the original land that the very first oil well was discovered. James Tarr, a grandson of my ancestor George, was the owner of the Tarr Farm. The land proved to be rich in oil, producing up to 4,000 barrels of oil a day.

"Fascinating," I remarked, and I continued to flip through various articles that mentioned the "famous Tarr Farm." But my rising thermometer suddenly dropped when I landed on Oil150.com: a well-done site by the Oil Region Alliance of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

The Tarr Farm did produce a significant amount of oil in the first years of Pennsylvania's big oil boom. But to my dismay, the farm had been sold from the Tarr family and the new landowner quickly hit pay dirt, turning a "farm" into gold.

As with many estates, the property continued it name with the previous owner, remaining "Tarr Farm" long after it was sold from my ancestors. And so I am, once again, deflated; accepting that my Tarr ancestors never enjoyed the wealth of the Pennsylvania oil boom.

Reflecting on my discovery of the history of my ancestor's property, I am reminded that learning the stories provides a richness to our genealogical history and a property's' history, such as the Tarr Farm, can add an interesting touch.

Explore the history of your ancestor's property. The story could provide a fun and interesting twist to your genealogical journey.

Even if the property's history was more famous than your ancestors who first owned it.

Keep searching for ancestors,

We are all drawn into genealogy for various reasons but for me, it's the discovery of immigrant ancestors. I value learning their culture and history; wondering if those traditions and cultures influenced who I am today.

Before my obsession into genealogy, I assumed most Americans searched for discoveries of immigrant ancestors in order to feel ownership to a distinct culture; the same ethnic traditions that the French, Scots and Germans experience.

But with years of research, I have come to realize that the cultures of Great Britain and Europe are not as "pure" as we Americans believe. They too, have had immigrants. Cultures that progressively migrate from one country to the next, melding their own traditions into a melting pot, just like in America.

I have taken you on this winded trail in order to explain my next revelation: even my French ancestors were Irish!

My family tree flourishes with Irish ancestors on several branches. And though I love the rich cultural history of my Irish ancestry, I am a lover of all things French. So, you can imagine the tingly feeling that washed over me when I found French surnames attached to my tree.

Staring at the beautiful names, I released a long sigh, glowing with the realization that I do have French blood. "I knew it!" I exclaimed. "I knew I felt French!" But as I peered at the tree, I followed my ancestor's trail of immigration from France, leading right back to where I started: Ireland.

My French ancestors were Huguenots; members of the Protestant Reformed Church of France during the 16th and 17th centuries. The French Protestants were followers of John Calvin but with years embroiled in religious wars with the French Catholics, the Huguenots eventually emigrated from France to countries such as South Africa, Germany and Scandinavia.

And yes, Ireland.

The Huguenots were a part of the plantation of Ulster; an act by Parliament to populate Ireland with protestants. And with the immigration to English speaking countries, the surnames of the French, over time, evolved into their English versions, such as in my ancestor's case: Jacques to Jack.

Feeling dismayed as I discovered my Huguenots settled in Ireland before the lineage immigrated to America, I felt my French bubble had been burst: A fleeting but lovely moment of my connection to the French culture.

But then I realized, there is still a little French in my lineage, though many generations ago and though they settled in Ireland, they most certainly passed on their French customs to their descendants. Spicing up my Irish ancestors with a taste for good art, wine and yes, snails.

So, I accept that my French ancestors immigrated to Ireland before making their way to America, adding a Frenchy savour faire to my boring fair-skinned, Anglo ancestors.

And I hold onto my dream that a touch of French culture is buried deep within my genetic core.

Au revoir et a beintot!

*To search your Huguenot ancestors, I recommend the following websites:

National Huguenot Society Bible Records.
Huguenot Ships
The National Huguenot Society

Keep searching for answers,

(Source: The National Huguenot Society)
As a child, I loved to rummage our attic through family heirlooms that whispered previous lives and untold stories. But there was one item that stands out in my memory more than the others: a mother-of-pearl inlay picture of the Titanic.

I loved to pull out the picture from its dusty attic box, mesmerized by the shimmer of pink and white stones under the light. And yet, even as a child, I felt the ghostliness of the picture: the tragic sinking of the RMS Titanic and ultimate death of over 1,500 souls.

In the early hours of April 15, 1912, the ship that was heralded as unsinkable, dropped to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. It is a story that continues to captivate us, 100 years later. And those of us who love history, are chilled each time the story is retold.

But what does the tragic sinking of the Titanic have to do with genealogy? The ship, though opulent for its time, not only carried wealthy passengers for leisure travel; it held immigrants from Europe eager for a new life in America.

The Titanic was divided by three classes and among other things, distinguishable by their toilets. First class held the affluent such as John Jacob Aster lV and Macy's owner Isidor Straus and his wife. The wealthiest enjoyed beautiful suites with bathrooms fitted of marble toilets.

The second class was reserved mostly for the middle income passengers and employees of the ship; their toilets made of porcelain. And the 700 passengers in third class--mostly immigrant families--sat on toilets made of iron.

I never thought of the Titanic as an immigrant ship. Pictures of her lavish interior and Grand Staircase conjure visions of only the well heeled. But shipping lines like Cunard and White Star, thrived from the profits of third class passengers.

I have always wondered how and why the mother-of-pearl picture of the Titanic found its way to my family's attic. And unfortunately, I failed to ask. Did I have an ancestor traveling aboard, wide-eyed and hopeful for a new life? Or, simply, was the picture purchased for its mere  beauty; a symbol of splendor and ultimate doom.

The Library of Virginia offers a complete list of all who were on board the Titanic and Ancestry.com offers a new search engine dedicated to researching records of the ship. The passenger's list can be utilized as a tool for genealogy, searching for immigrant ancestors. And though many of the immigrants did not survive, your direct ancestors may have had relatives on board.

History.com is a good resource for the facts of the sinking of the Titanic but my favorite website is Eyewitness to History. The chilling passenger story by Elizabeth Shutes provides a heart wrenching first hand story from the moment the 'bump' was felt to the ship's ultimate, final sinking.

The sinking of the Titanic: a shimmering, yet ghostly story with genealogical value.

It just can't get better than that.

Keep searching for answers,

(Source: History.com)

Maxine Beatty filled her canvas tote with paper and schoolbooks, glancing at her reflection in the mirror as she turned to leave her room. Wearing her new navy and white stripped dress; Maxine dashed out the front door to catch a ride to school with Opal May.

Grace Capps laid her son's new suit across his bed: black with a crisp white shirt. She ran her fingers across the lapel and released a long sigh. Her husband Will entered the room; his smile wide as he placed a tie next to their son's suit. "Paul can where my tie, mom. See...it looks just fine."

The parents shared a glance, feeling pleased with their son Paul. It was senior picture day and graduation would be only a few weeks away; a milestone each had longed for.

Seventy-two years ago this spring, my parents, Paul Capps and Maxine Beatty, began a countdown to high school graduation. I imagine both held romantic expectations for their lives just as we all did during the weeks leading up to graduation. But unlike many of us, my parent's young adult years were filled with fear and anxiety as the world approached war.

Last week's episode of Who Do You Think You Are, featured actress Rita Wilson and her ancestral search, but unlike previous shows, Rita's search focused only on her father.

If you watched the show, you know the story. Rita traveled to Europe to learn details of her father's life before he immigrated to America. Her discoveries were stunning; learning hidden struggles of her father during and after the war. Shocking but bittersweet elements of his past life she never knew.

The release of the 1940 US Census this week, reminds us all that details of the lives of our closest ancestors--our parents and grandparents--may be lingering, waiting to be noticed. Those of us in genealogy spend hours searching for records of ancestors living centuries ago; yet the best narratives are in front of us.

The story of Rita Wilson's search of her father's history grabbed me, more than any of the previous episodes. The discovered facets of her father's untold history held close to her heart and I felt touched by the story. And I paused to consider what details are still missing of my own parent's lives.

For the next few months, the National Archives, will continue to add searchable 1940 Census records free to the public. Make an effort to find your own parents records and dig a little deeper into their narratives.

Take notice of your parent's history, just as Rita Wilson did. You may be surprised to learn their stories are just as rich and interesting as the ancestors you never knew.

Keep searching for answers,

Harriet Sanders Capps
Does your mind form images of your ancestors? As you collect their records, learn their history, gather stories; do you imagine a picture of their face?

As I scanned my family tree on Ancestry.com last week, I peered closer at a "hint": the green leaf the website places on an ancestor when new records are found.

The ancestor is my great great grandmother, the one I became well acquainted with while proving my American Revolutionary Patriot for DAR membership. Harriet was the "missing link" I struggled with for almost a year, as I tailed her well-hidden records.

Clicking on the computerized "hint", I was blindsided by a document: my great great grandmother's picture. Harriet Smith Capps, a Civil War widow, descended from a lineage rich with great military history. Both her grandfather and great grandfather heralded honors in the War of 1812 and American Revolution; yet, I suspect she lived a hard worn life, as she was widowed twice during the Civil War.

As I stared at the portrait of Harriet, I felt as though I was looking into her soul and for me, her story changed. The movie of her life that played within my head shifted and I felt as though as I was meeting her for the first time.

Pictures of our ancestors create depth and value to our family tree. Without them, we are left to form our own images as we reach for an understanding of the person. And if you are like me, my mind's imagery is more romantic and attractive than the actual pictures.

I recently discovered a picture of another ancestor: A great great grandfather with an unusually long beard. Several consecutive photos were posted and with each picture, his image grew more grotesque with the white, scraggly beard dangling almost to his lap!

As I ponder the emotion that erupts inside me when I am faced with a picture of an ancestor for the first time, I am committed to share my own pictures of ancestors for others on my family tree. It is a feeling that provides a touch of authenticity and realism.

Preserve your ancestral photos by scanning them to a DVD or utilize a photo shop. Many now specialize in tintype restorations. It is a wonderful gift for not only yourself but also your family.

And If you are a member of Ancestry.com or
other genealogical websites, consider sharing your ancestral photos. I am confident that if you do, they will be given notice by other descendents, providing a touch of reality and authenticity for their own family tree.

Keep searching for answers,