Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It runs in the family

So, just thought I’d hammer out a quick post with some rather exciting (at least for me) news. A couple years ago I ran across the web site of the orchestra which my great grandfather (and his half brother) helped found in Bussum, Netherlands. In 1991 they celebrated their 100th anniversary and to celebrate it they published a book called Bussum honderd jaar met de muziek mee (something like 100 years of music in Bussum). For some reason, it didn’t really occur to me until very recently to write to them to ask about the book. When I did, I felt like they would need some kind of proof that I was who I said I was (which in retrospect seems a bit silly) so I attached a photo much like the one above and pointed out which ones were my relations. Well, it turns out that not only had they never seen the image that I sent but agreed to send me a copy of their book free if I could send them some more. So, here it is a couple weeks later and I just received not one but three copies of the book in the mail. 

Now, I’ve already promised one copy to Norm Vanden Bergh who gave me the images in the first place so there is still one copy up for grabs. Anyone interested?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Updates coming soon...

So, I know it’s been a while since the last update but I just wanted to let whoever is reading this (Hi Natalie!) that I plan on putting up another post soon. I’m cooking up a post about my great grandfather and his family’s immigration to the U.S. and another one about another great grandfather and his mysterious travels (well maybe not mysterious but at least not documented). 

So, please stay tuned. In the meantime, read about our new tortoise.

Monday, November 3, 2008


reg · i · cide | rejə · sīde | noun  •  A person who kills or takes part in killing a king

It seems that in late 1648 and early 1649, King Charles I of England had a problem. It was the eve of the series of conflicts collectively known as the First English Civil War and he was on the ropes. The Puritan supporters of Parliament who were keeping him imprisoned had come to the conclusion that since he refused to negotiate with them about his fate, insisting that he ruled by divine right while secretly amassing forces which eventually led to the Second English Civil War, they were going to need to kill him. So, they put him on trial for treason, and he was eventually executed in January 1649. But family grudges die hard and when his son, Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, 31 of the 59 Commissioners who signed Charles I’s death warrant were still living and they were conveniently not covered by the general pardon given by Charles II and parliament to all of the former king’s opponents. Fearing for their lives (and rightly so) most fled the country and three of them John Dixwell, Edward Whalley, and William Goffe fled to the colonies, eventually coming to  New Haven, Connecticut. 

As many times as I’ve had to list New Haven or Milford, Connecticut as a birth, marriage or death place in my family tree, it seems that if I were to go out there and kick the dirt, I’d more than likely turn up the bones of one of my dead relatives. The next part of this story illustrates this point very well.

When the regicides came to New Haven they were already being pursued by 2 merchants from the Massachusetts Bay Colony who were given magisterial powers by the governor of that colony to apprehend the fugitives on behalf of Charles II. The fugitives were friends (or possibly even relatives) of some of New Haven’s elders and intended to leverage that connection to save their lives. When they arrived a couple days in advance of their pursuers, they were given shelter on the outskirts of town at a mill which was near a large wooded area into which they could flee if they needed to. Unfortunately for the 2 guys charged with capturing them, not much happened in New Haven on the weekends and by the time the magistrates in New Haven were stirred into action (mostly out of fear of falling out of favor with the King), the regicides were pretty well hidden. On Friday, May 17, 1661 a general court was held in New Haven and it was decided that warrants would be issued and deputies would be marshaled to conduct a thorough search of the area surrounding New Haven. One such search party raised at Milford consisted of Thomas Sanford, Nicholas Camp (my 8x great grandfather) and James Tapping. 3 days later on the 20th, they reported back to the deputy governor that they had found nothing. What they didn’t know was that 2 days before the general court was held, Whalley and Goffe (the regicides) had been led by a few residents of New Haven including another 8x grandfather of mine, Richard Sperry, to an apparently really good hiding place in the wilderness outside town and eventually ended up staying in a place that’s called to this day Judge’s Cave until about mid June. During their stay there, Richard Sperry, having the nearest habitation to their hiding place, provided them with food and they would often stay overnight at his home, especially during stormy weather. They only left their hiding place after the colonial governor, John Davenport, was suspected of concealing them so they showed themselves publicly to relieve the suspicion. They then went back into hiding (in the same spot; must have been really remote in those days) and remained there until August.

Both of the regicides ended up dying of old age in Hadley, Massachusetts (where they ended up in the end) thanks in part to the incompetent (intentionally or otherwise) searching skills of one of my ancestors and also in part to the ability of another of my ancestors to keep a secret. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Almost famous

The other day I wrote about a Hall, today we’ll learn about a van Zanten

If there’s one relative that I’ve been accused resembling, it’s my grandfather, Pete. Which is kinda strange in a lot of ways because I never really knew the guy. He died when I was 10 years old and I only have vague memories of a visit that he paid our family when I was maybe 3 (although he did visit before then, but I was only just born). For most of my life I felt a kinship with him. I had no real reason for this that I could figure but there it was. So, when I first started this research, he was an early project.

First, a little background. My grandfather’s father, also called Pete (well, Pieter) was a painting contractor and semi-professional musician in Bussum, Netherlands. In fact, he and his half-brother, Dirk-Pieter, were founding members of the Harmonie Cescendo Orchestra in Bussum which was (and is) sort of a local civic orchestra. But, more on that later … Anyways, my great-grandfather Pieter played woodwinds, particularly clarinet, so it followed naturally that his son (and his son’s son, and his son’s son’s son) would pick up woodwinds as well. They came to the United States in 1907 (after spending a year in Winnipeg) and settled in Minneapolis where, when he got into his 20s, my grandfather joined the musician’s union and played in various theaters and for a while in the early 40s with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (now the Minnesota Orchestra). 

Now, the next part of this story is a bit apocryphal and I’ve never been able to find any evidence that it is 100% factual. On the other hand, there’s really no evidence that points to it being untrue either. I’d like to think there’s at least a bit of truth to it.

In 1923 a guy called Ted Weems formed an orchestra which enjoyed quite a measure of success during the 20s recording popular dance music and novelty songs. In 1929 they recorded a #1 hit written by Phil Baxter called Piccolo Pete (Real Player plugin required for that link). Growing up my dad always told us that this song was inspired by his dad. I don’t think there’s really a way of finding out whether or not this is actually the case but, for me at least, it’s evidence that my grandfather was almost famous. Not that anyone at the time even knew who the actual “Piccolo Pete” was or if they even thought about whether it was a real person or not as they did the Charleston across the dance-floors of America. Probably not quite 15 minutes but the closest thing I’ve got.

Update 11/3/2008: I saw my dad over the weekend and he says that his dad actually played with Phil Baxter’s and Ted Weem’s orchestras when they came through Minneapolis. Guess that makes this whole thing a little less mysterious …

Monday, October 27, 2008

A few relations, just to get started

OK, so, I realize I'm not going to be able to keep up this pace forever (three posts in a day? c'mon!) but I thought I should at least populate the blog a bit before letting the world know about it, OK?

My mom’s maiden name is Hall (and Preston, but that was her step-dad’s name) and her dad was a guy named Walter, who she didn't know that well but who is, nonetheless, related to her (and, it turns out, to me). For the longest time I didn’t really know much about his family because I had devoted most of my time to researching my dad’s family and didn't really know where to start with my mom’s family (I mean, do you know how many guys “Walter Hall” there are and were in the world?). It was only when my cousin Cecilia let me know that his dad’s name was Rheamer Clyde Hall that I really made any headway (now that’s an original name). My Hall relatives now all live on the west coast but the Halls that we are descended from were originally from Maine (and before that from the Massachusetts Bay Colony … but more on that later … ). Rheamer Clyde was born in Avon, Illinois because his dad, Lewis Alonzo Hall, moved from Maine to that area during the civil war and joined up with the Missouri Engineers (A Union regiment tasked with mechanical duties in what was then the Northwestern U.S.). Going back from there for four generations (we’re talking about the mid 1700s now) the Halls that I am related to all lived on an Island off the coast of Maine called Matinicus Island. The story of how they came to be on that Island is what makes these Halls interesting (to me at least). 

In about 1708, my ancestor, Ebenezer Hall decided it was time to move his family from Taunton, MA to Falmouth, ME. His son, also Ebenezer, the (anti) hero of this story was three at the time. Young Ebenezer served with his father in a militia company in the area and received a plot of land adjacent to his father’s in 1727. But apparently this wasn’t enough. Perhaps living next to his father was cramping his style. Perhaps his young wife couldn’t stand her new mother-in-law, the details have been lost to the ages but in about 1730, our Ebenezer sold his land and in about 1737 moved up the coast to Small Point, ME. His dad (and presumably his mom) tagged along as well but didn’t stay for very long. It was in Small Point that Ebenezer started sowing the seeds of his own demise for in 1739 while out “watching a flock of ducks at the same time with an Indian at a different place of observation” (I guess for the purpose of hunting them) he took advantage of the plume of smoke that arose when the Indian fired on the ducks and “fired at and killed him”. Now, these are the types of things that a proud tribe such as the Penobscot do not easily forget and after the death of his wife and after serving in the French and Indian War during the 1740s, he remarried and took his family to Matinicus Island where he engaged in fishing and raising cattle. Why or by what right Ebenezer moved way out to Matinicus is not known. There is no official land grant or record of purchase from the colonial authorities and he “seems to have assumed the right to govern it as he pleased”, much to the chagrin of the Penobscots who were “accustomed to egging, fowling, fishing, and sealing on the island”. I can just see the looks on the faces of the Penobscots who first ran across him on their turf (again): “Not that whitey …” By 1751, relations on the island were downright hostile. Ebenezer and his son (I’m guessing Ebenezer whom I’m also descended from) had shot and killed 2 Penobscots whom they found on the island, buried them in their garden, burned their canoe and kept their guns. When he then decided to burn over an adjacent island for better hay for his cattle, he was warned by the Indians that his actions were interfering with their egging and fowling and to please not do it again which Ebenezer basically ignored. In October of 1752 a grand conference was held at the truckhouse (which I’m thinking must have been some kind of trading post … anyone out there know?) and Colonel Louis, a Penobscot chief, complained that “… one Hall and family, who live at Matinicus interrupt us in our killing seals, and in our fowling; they have no right to be there; the land is ours …” and on April 25, 1753, four Penobscots sent a letter to Governor Phips (of the Massachusetts Bay Colony) asking that Ebenezer be removed from the island. From here, I'm going to quote William Durkee Williamson's History of the State of Maine

“On the first of June, 1757, a party of Indians beset the dwelling house of Ebenezer Hall, on the Island Matinicus, containing his wife and a young family of two sons, three daughters and a son-in-law. He was a man of courage and some distinction, having been a lieutenant at the reduction of Cape Breton. The attacks were renewed several days, and the house resolutely defended by him and his wife, at the imminent hazard of their lives, until the 10th; when he was killed, his house broken up, rifled of its contents, and reduced to ashes. The brave Hall was then scalped, and his wife and children carried into captivity. At some place up the Penobscot, she underwent the painful trial of being separated from them; thence compelled to take up a tedious journey to Quebec. The fair captive was a woman of piety and charms, which attracted every eye. Captivated by her uncommon abilities and beauty, Capt. Andrew Watkins, in a spirit of honor and generosity, paid her ransom, amounting to 215 livres, and finding a vessel bound to England, procured a passage for her thither. From that country, she re-crossed the Atlantic, returning by the way of New York to Falmouth, after an absence of 13 months …”

Thus, Ebenezer met his end. Apparently a bronze plaque was placed in a spot near Ebenezer’s death in 1906 (not sure if it’s still there) which read:

JUNE 6, 1757

His son, Ebenezer, through whom I descend (and who, I gather, was out fishing when all of the nastiness went down; hence me and all the people between he and I) and his descendants down through the Lewis Hall mentioned above were all born and raised on that Island so I guess in the end, it was Ebenezer who got the last laugh but I can’t help feeling that I’m kinda on the Indians’ side in this. All they wanted was the opportunity to live their lives as they had for generations. I suppose if it wasn’t Ebenezer who chased the natives off of the Island, someone would have, but it feels weird being descended from the really ugly side of American colonial history. My, how far we’ve come …

Genealogy: What's the point?

Really, what is the point? People live their entire lives without even knowing who their parents are, right? We all have friends who are closer to us than our siblings ever were and our children either have or will eventually wish that they were either a) never born, b) never had a brother/sister, or c) were not part of their family, right? So why even bother? 

I don't really have a good answer to that. Maybe I'll find one some day but not yet. My motivation in starting my research a couple years ago had mainly to do with the fact that when my family went to my wife's grandmother's funeral I had no idea how express to my kids how the kids that they were playing with were related to them (2nd cousins, it turns out) but I guess once I got started, I've found that I just enjoy the act of researching people. Of finding out their stories, who they were, how they lived their lives, what their challenges might have been. The fact that they are related to me I guess narrows it down from all of humanity throughout all of history to a slightly more manageable but still pretty ambitious and infinite job. And I guess I can derive a certain sense of pride in my findings. Even when they are embarrassing or uncomfortable I guess I am in awe that, in spite of all that, I'm still here and doing somewhat OK. 

If anyone out there is reading this, I'd love to hear what you think about this. Even if you stumble across this 10 years from now (now being October 2008; note to future readers: if McCain won, I'm sorry). 

Why now?

So, ever since I decided to start doing this at about ten o'clock last night, I keep asking myself that question and I've come up with a few answers that seem to make sense:

1) It seems like whenever I talk to other people about the research that I've done into all of my dead relatives, I get a mixture of confused stare and awkward silence, especially from people who are also related to all those dead relatives. So, I thought this would be a good way to ensure that other people who might only be passively interested in what's become sort of an obsession for me, to take what they want and not have to feel obliged to make small talk. And, on the off chance that someone else that I happen to start chatting with has also done some research into their family's past, I won't either.

2) Since blogging is basically talking to yourself, only in a way that you can refer back to, I thought this might be a good way to organize the research that I'm doing as I'm doing it. And who knows maybe someone out there will read it and find it interesting as well.

3) It seems like other people out there who are really into researching their dead relatives are either a) really old, or b) act like they are really old. Perhaps I fall into category "b" more than I'd like to admit but I'd also like to think that genealogical research can be something other than what librarians and retirees do in their spare time. So, with that in mind, I hope that I can make this kinda fun without offending all of the people in categories "a" and "b".

4) In the multitude of Googlings that I've done of the various branches of my family, it seems like most everyone that publishes their family tree online basically finds someone else that has published their family tree online, copies, pastes and then hits the publish button on their tree. Which is great and I'm guilty of it as well but ever since I read about the Springer hoax and started finding things that didn't add up in some of the pastings that I'd done, I've started to be a bit more careful and have tried to at least find some sort of real source material other than someone else's tree. So, I thought this would be a good way to start sorting out some of the materials that I've stumbled across and maybe relieve someone else's headache down the road.

5) My kids.

6) And, after 2 years of researching, I have rarely lost momentum so I guess I'm pretty convinced that I can keep this up (unlike a lot of things that I start)

If you've gotten this far, you're probably my mom, really bored or trying to distract yourself until you can leave work so, thanks. I hope this is fun.