Ever had one of those moments that just took your breath away? Even more so because it may never have happened in the first place but for one tiny blip in the cosmic universe?
Genealogy is a funny thing. You can beat your head into the desk for months…even years before finding a tiny sledgehammer to break down a brick wall. Then everything becomes crystal clear. We genealogists tend to get very passionate about “our strangest brick wall breakthroughs.” Strange little items that led us to a breakthrough. And we try to one-up each other.
Now usually, when I tell people I’m researching Smiths, they tell me I’m nuts. but I had a secret weapon in my quest. That was my uncle Bum, my dad’s brother. In the 1970s, he began this quest, and left me a road map to follow, which he drew out on butcher paper. When I told my aunt Hope that I was getting interested in all this, she gave me his trees, and in particular, an old article from the Beloit, Wisconsin newspaper in the 1930s that a cousin had written detailing the roots of our family, from Wisconsin all the way back to a little hamlet called Newfield, NY, southwest of Ithaca. With those two foundations in place, I went to work, figuratively digging up cousins all over the place.
My great great grandfather, Melchior Smith (that stern looking fellow above) came from NY with his family circa 1856 and settled in northern Illinois, then southern Wisconsin in the state line area around Beloit and Rockford. My great grandfather, Frank Smith, had 9 brothers and sisters. My original quest was to find out what happened to these other nine, see photos of them, and begin putting pieces together. That was it.
One of the first cousins I found was a man named Allen Gates in Colorado (R.I.P. Al). He and his wife Em were also researching. Allen’s grandmother, Effie Giles Gates (the Giles name is just a coincidence…we’re Smith cousins) was born in 1868, and lived to be over 100. She told him many stories of the early family, and one was that my family went west “to be with family, the Lindermans.” Rumor was that Melchior had lost everything in New York, and went west for a new start.
In 1860, I found them living with a family of Lindermans, but the man was listed as J.S. That was it. He had a wife, Catherine, and six sons, all born in new York, but i had no other way to identify this family. I even got further than my original ten, once I spent two years in Wisconsin, researching every spare moment I had, and visiting every cemetery and courthouse in the state line area. I visited Ithaca and its environs twice. Still nothing on the Lindermans. I found all Melchior’s brothers and sisters. I felt a deep sense of accomplishment. But still those Lindermans were a sore thumb to me. Melchior’s mother, Nancy Hufford Smith, had claimed in her last census that she’d given birth to NINE total children, and I only had eight. I knew there had to have been another sister who married a Linderman, but could never prove myself right.
I did so much research and found so many photographs, that when I was laid off in 2005, I decided to turn the whole project into a book. And kept pushing forward.
At the end of 2009, we had to leave Wisconsin behind when the economy crashed. But there was more family in Canada, and I wanted to move (in addition to healthcare and possible fresh start) so I could research at the Provincial Archives in Edmonton. I found more jewels there too.
In early 2011, I finally got my permanent residency, so I was allowed to cross the border at last, back into the old U.S. of A. I had air miles getting ready to expire, and some sort of refund on Expedia, so I was tickled. I headed to sunny California to meet with more cousins during the worst Edmonton winter I’d yet seen. My route took me from Sacramento, down through Lancaster, to Sun City outside of Riverside, then down to San Diego. I met loads of new cousins, eager to be part of the project.
One of my last days, I was sitting in the history room of the San Diego Library, idly browsing through anything I thought might help. And for some reason, I picked up a book called History of Allegan and Barry counties, Michigan, with illustrations and biographical sketches of their prominent men and pioneers. These early town histories are a goldmine of information, along with genealogies of various families our Smith family married into.
We had no connection to this county. The only reason I can think of that I might have picked it up was that I was looking through my other notes before I left. I’ve been trying to figure out more on Melchior’s father Henrich Schmidt, identifying his possible brothers, and one of the descendants of those possibles ended up in Barry County. I flipped to the back as I always do, looking for the elusive Lindermans, and this time I was rewarded with one.
“Isaac S. Linderman. Wife Catherine, six sons.”The part that leapt off the page at me was her name. “Catherine Smith of Newfield, New York.” Catherine died only three years after Melchior and his family appeared there. After her death, Isaac moved to Michigan, and he remarried twice more.
I started to shake. My knees didn’t want to hold me up. After over a decade of searching, I’d found my Lindermans.