Monday, September 30, 2013

Military Monday: French & Indian War



When it comes to my father’s side of the family, I’ve always told people that no one went past the Mason-Dixon line. They were all Southern as Southern can be, mainly in Virginia and Kentucky, especially the Watts family. So it’s somewhat ironic to me that I ended up marrying a man from the North and eventually settling there to raise my family.

The Watts family originated in Halifax County, Virginia and there was mention of the surname as far back as the formation of the county in 1752. And that’s basically where I’m stuck on that particular line. I traced all the Wattses in that county back to one progenitor, Samuel Watts, who first bought land there in 1775. I speculate from tax records that he was born about 1738. I descend from his eldest son Thomas M. Watts who was born about 1765.

I know nothing of Samuel’s origins, other than he might be English. Of course that far back, he had to come from somewhere unless he was Native American, which does not appear to be the case. The only other clue I have is the fact that in April of 1780, he appeared before the Halifax County court and made oath that he had been an inhabitant of Virginia for many years. He stated he was recruited within the same and served as a common soldier in the First Virginia Regiment. He was under Captain Thomas Bullet “in the last war” and he served until discharged from his commanding officer. (Halifax County, Virginia Pleas, No. 10, p. 130: microfilm of original.)

I have a note from my early research that I took down the following from a book at a library in Tampa, FL: “Samuel Watts rec’d military certificate 1014 on 19 May 1780 for service in Dunmore War from Halifax Co, VA and served in 1st VA regiment under Capt Thomas Bullet (VA Land Ofc Records),” but I did not properly record the source. Crozier’s Virginia Colonial Militia states much the same as the County Plea Book and gives a date of 21 April 1780. The Virginia State Library’s List of the Colonial Soldiers of Virginia shows Samuel Watts bk. 2, p. 467 in the French and Indian Bounty Warrants, 2 manuscript volumes. Bockstruck’s Virginia’s Colonial Soldiers lists a warrant for 50 acres issued to Samuel Watts, a solder in the 1st Virginia Rgmt under Capt Thomas Bullet 21 April 1780 Halifax Co.  Bockstruck explained that eight months after the Treaty of Paris closed the French and Indian War, King George III issued a proclamation whereby men who served in military units from 1754 until disbanded were entitled to bounty land and that the same proclamation became the basis for soldiers seeking bounty land after Lord Dunmore’s War. Further, in May 1779 the Virginia Legislature placed a time limit of twelve months on receiving such land. The claimant had to produce a certificate from Lord Dunmore while he was the Royal Governor or from the county court before which proof of military service had been made and that most of the bounty land was in the western section of Virginia (i.e., Kentucky).

All this research was done nearly twenty years ago and just seemed to go circular without expanding my knowledge. I didn’t have access to any other resources that could help me go further. In fact I lacked the genealogical skills to go further in colonial Virginia. I don’t have a firm grasp in my mind about this time period. When I thought of the French and Indian War, I guess I just imagined this took place in the hills of Virginia.

The place where I transplanted my roots is next door to the Seneca Indian reservation. I am sure the valley I live in was once a place the Haudenosaunee called home as well. There is a rich history here to learn and I did some of my undergraduate work on Native American culture. In fact the faith community of which I am a part is led by a native Mohawk. I count many in that community as friends, although I have encountered others who still struggle with feelings of distrust of us who identify as white. I try to be sensitive to those feelings. I realize that I cannot walk in their shoes, but I hope to seek to understand and perhaps bear respectful witness to some of their experience. I was disconcerted once several years ago to hear one talk of what he went through at an Indian boarding school. What I thought was old history was still a living memory.

It was at the local library on this reservation where the other day I picked up the book Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir which I reviewed in this post here. Ever since my undergraduate research for my paper on Handsome Lake, I have been interested in learning more about Native American history. These pictures were taken on a local trip with a friend whose father descended from Handsome Lake and Cornplanter’s family, although I did not know of his connections at the time I wrote the paper. An odd thing happened after I wrote the paper though. I had a brief dream of driving down a road with beach sand on either side and was marveling at this sight. A few weeks later on a rainy day in August, I read about a planetarium in Erie, PA and decided to take my children there for a Saturday outing. We went to lunch afterwards and I found a pamphlet about a lighthouse on Presque Isle, a state park in the area. I thought it would be neat to see, so we drove over to check it out. What a sense of déjà vu I had when we drove in and around the isle and discovered lovely beach areas on both sides. I had read how Handsome Lake had taken a group of Europeans to explore the island once but I never really connected anything with the trip. It just seemed odd to me. 

Another book I picked up at the local library was about another Native American called Guyasuta of Haudausaunee origin. I have not heard of him before, but the author started discussing the French and Indian War, mentioning Lord Dunmore’s War as well.

Wait, was there a connection to my Samuel Watts? I got online and typed in CaptainThomas Bullitt. Between Wikipedia and a couple of other sites, I discovered that Captain Bullitt was indeed past the Mason-Dixon line (Yes, I know that term was not in existence until the Civil War, some one hundred years later). Bullitt led forces in the early skirmishes in the Battle of Great Meadows, the march against Fort Duquesne with the Braddock Expedition and again at the Battle of Monogahela on July 9, 1755. At the end of the war in 1763, Thomas Bullitt became adjutant general of the state militia. In 1773, Governor Dunmore authorized Bullitt to organize a party to survey northern and eastern Kentucky. Bullitt gathered a group of about forty men and tried to maintain peaceful relations with the Indians, even traveling to speak with Chief Cornstalk of the Shawnee. In 1775, when Governor Dunmore took his last stand, Bullitt was part of the forces that assembled for the Battle of Great Bridge and by the end of December 1775, Bullitt was promoted to Colonel.


I am still unsure whether Samuel was in just Lord Dunmore’s War in 1775, took part in the other battles or both. I don’t know how to go about finding out right now, but I find the possibility intriguing that unbeknownst to me, my ancestor may have been closer than I thought. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Book Review: Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir




2013 by Deborah A. Miranda
Paperback, 6 x 9, 240 pagesISBN: 978-1-59714-201-4


Author Deborah Miranda writes in the introduction to this book: “Human beings have no other way of knowing that we exist, or what we have survived, except through the vehicle of story.” She also states, “My ancestors, collectively, are the story-bridge that allows me to be here. I am honored to be one of the bridges back to them, to their words and experiences.”

I love how Deborah Miranda has taken all the pieces she has of her family history and woven them together in this story. Using old government documents, BIA forms, field notes, diaries of explorers and priests, photographs, family stories and genealogy work her mother had done, she created a beautiful tribute to her ancestors and allowed their voices to be heard along with her own voice in the form of poems and commentary that are insightful and moving. It’s not always pretty and some parts may be disturbing, but she tells the truth of her personal history and is able to hold in her hands the bad and the good of a person with dignity and honor.

Every family has a story no matter what form it may take. And every family has someone who seems destined to tell it. I believe Deborah Miranda knew that she was the one.

I have always felt strongly that I was called in some way to be one who tells the story as well and the bridge image or metaphor resonates with me personally. I wrote in the preface of my chronicle of the Hardy family: “…I am happy knowing that I played a part in bridging the gap between the future and the past.”

For those of you with an interest in Native American history, read this book. For those of you with an interest in genealogy, read this book. For those of you with an interest in historical trauma, read this book. For those of you who can relate to being the family story-teller, read this book. For those of you who can relate to a past that includes domestic violence, read this book. For those of you who can relate to being human in an imperfect world, read this book. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wordless Wednesday - Bringing the Youngest Home to What is Oldest


"...of all the nostalgias that haunt the human heart, the greatest of them all is an everlasting longing to bring what is youngest home to what is oldest."
                                                              ---Laurens van der Post

Monday, September 9, 2013

Granny's Albums


I wrote so much about the encounter with a group of old photo albums in my last post that I didn’t have time to discuss the photo project I started working on. In light of how those old photo albums were treated, I took another look at more recent family photo artifacts. My children’s paternal great-grandmother passed away in 2001. Like with my grandparents, during visits I would often sit with Granny Westfall and go through her photo albums and quiz her about family history. After her death, one of her sons lent me her albums to go through. There’s about six or seven old “magnetic” photo albums that are filled with snapshots and other photographs mostly of her children and their children. She had ten children altogether and most of them went on to rear families so she had a lot of descendants. I was touched to see in one album where she carefully added the first photograph of my oldest child along with the birth announcement I sent to her.

In a few places, some photos had already been removed when I got the chance to go through them. Again, someone likely took them because of their connections to that part of the family history. Maybe it was their baby photos. And to confess, when I first got the albums, I started going through them for the oldest known photos to add to my family files. But I realized that the order and arrangement that they were in were important as well. For instance, Granny had systematically put together this collage of photos of her late husband in one of the albums.



Some are these are pretty old including a school photo of him as a boy. Since he was a direct ancestor, I was interested in those. Instead of just taking them out of the album for my family files, I decided to scan a copy of the photo album page first and then take it apart. These more historical photos need to be better preserved as Granny had put the collage together using scotch tape. Scotch tape is not archival-friendly and the chemicals will eventually eat away at these rare images. But I want her descendants to know how she honored the memory of her husband with the page she created.


And someday the other images will be rare and I think it will be important to share them in their entirety so I have started scanning each album page by page. I’m hoping that each individual photo in each of the album pages can later be cropped for printing individually as well without having to rescan them. There are seven albums altogether. I have one completely finished and it didn’t really take that long. I worked on it perhaps two hours or less. One of the albums is all about her trip to Germany and I may leave out the tourist-y ones. Wish me luck!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Window to the Past

Are you a stranger without even a name,
Enclosed and forgotten behind the glass frame,
In an old photograph, torn and battered and stained
And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame?
-- Eric Bogie




Once when I was a child, I laid down my mother’s long wardrobe mirror on the floor and stared into it to find another world. The ceiling was the floor in this world and everything was a mirror image of reality. I so wanted to step into that world and explore the odd dimensions of it. To me, old photographs are also like staring into another world, they are a window to the past.

I’ve written before about old photographs and my work with them. They played a prominent role early on in my family history quest. I would sit down with a box of old photographs and quiz my grandfather on each of the images. He was in his 90s at the time. I remember showing one photograph of a gentleman and his family to my grandfather and having him lean in close and whispered, “He was a bastard.” Gee, I thought, I guess my grandfather didn’t really care for this man. Turns out what he was whispering was the truth, the man had been born out of wedlock and was indeed labeled a bastard. Even my grandfather had lived in a different world where such things spoken of in hushed tones.

Some of the photographs in the box however, were older than even my grandfather’s and so I turned to other means to help identify them. One book I found on identifying old photographs was Lenore Frost’s (see my bibliography on identifying old photographs here). The author emphasized working with the album as a whole for identification clues. Over this summer, a couple of encounters with old photo albums led me to start working on another photo project in an attempt to preserve more family history artifacts.

For the last several years, my former father-in-law, Gerald Westfall, and his siblings have held a family reunion for their immediate family and each year I bring the family history stuff I have worked on. There used to be another family reunion hosted at the farm of a distant cousin, Francis Andera, that included more extended family but Francis passed on and that reunion tradition died out. There are very few who even remember how any one is even related anymore. The branches have spread too far out from the original source. My children attend school with some of their fourth cousins but you have to have the family tree chart out to go back to figure out the common ancestor of whom the children certainly have no recollection or knowledge of.

Anyway, that distant cousin’s grandmother was a Westfall but the reunion included the Trautman and Ploetz families and we started calling it the Trautman/Ploetz/Westfall (TPW) reunion. Um, let’s see, even I have to go back to my family files and figure it out: Augusta Westfall married Carl Ploetz and their son Martin married Louise Trautman. Their daughter Caroline was the mother of Francis. At one of the TPW reunions, Francis shared with me a photograph of Gerald Westfall’s grandmother taken in the 1950s or 1960s. Francis told me it was taken at a family reunion that was held back then. I used the copy machine there at the farm to make a copy of that one and another one of Carl and Augusta Ploetz for my family files. The photographs were part of some old photo albums that Francis had. I believe they came from his mother Caroline, but she died in the year 2000 and I had only met her briefly.

Now it’s 2013 and I live in the house across from that farm where the family reunions used to be held. It’s been at least four years since the last one. Not long ago, I asked Francis’s widow if I could look at the box of old family photos again. My intent was to make a better copy of those original photos for my family files. She lent me the box that appears to be originally Caroline’s stuff. It includes, among other things, a bible of hers with some newspaper clippings inside, a lot of loose snapshot photos and three old photograph albums. Putting the other items aside, I was eager to look through the albums for those pictures.

But they are no longer there.

The photo albums have been ravaged. It appears that someone went through and took a lot of the photos out. It makes me sad. There is now no order. No coherent story is really left to tell. Someone went through the trouble to put the albums together, but someone else took what they wanted and left the rest. Now I understand this is not exclusively my family history and for the person or persons who took the photos, they probably did it because of their connections to that part of the family history. But I feel bad because I’m interested in the family as a whole and preserving the legacy. And some of the names and stories will now no longer be told.



Some months after going through those old photographs with my grandfather, I found the tombstone of the gentleman my grandfather called a “bastard.” Beside his grave marker was one for his wife and then several for their children who had died young. I felt sad because it appeared that his line had died out. In later research though, I discovered there was a happier ending. The gentleman and his wife had several additional children (one even became a minister) who lived to adulthood and continued the family line.


I hope there’s a happy ending with the photograph albums. Maybe someone has taken the photos and used them to put together a more comprehensive family file. I hope so.  

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Bloggers Dilemma



I have a dilemma. I don’t have time to keep this blog fresh. It’s dear to my heart, though, and I don’t want to abandon it forever. It’s just that life is so daily right now and I have to reserve time for the living. I anticipate that I won’t always be this busy, but for the foreseeable future, probably. My children are in their late teens/early adult years and well, that takes up a lot of my time. I can see myself working on getting them launched for the next 5+ years. Add to that a somewhat demanding day job and other outside obligations and here I am posting some five months after my last one.

But sometimes I still have some great ideas for blog posts. And I’m always one binder away from delving into the pastime of family history. It’s just that my time for such things does not stretch for days on end as it once did. Instead I can only snatch minutes here and there, sometimes longer stretches, but the time in between when I can’t fit it in at all can turn into a span of weeks and months.

I don’t know what the proper blog protocol is. Can I keep it as is and just add to it when I can? It still attracts cousins every now and then with the content already there. Should I revamp it to incorporate guest bloggers or other posts? Should I just ask other genealogy bloggers if I could guest blog when I do have a good blog post idea?

What’s a blogger to do? Again I’m not sure what proper protocol but I may just do what I can when I can and call it enough. Any suggestions or comments are appreciated!