Category: Maine

Connections

Recently I was asked to write up something in honor of a cousin who I’ve gotten to know in the last few years. I finally got around to writing it up this morning, a bit ahead of the deadline (meaning I can’t post this until after August 23!) Here’s the core of the piece I wrote but expanded into a look at today’s society.

Today on Facebook my cousin, Dan, posted a bit about finding out that Tennessee Williams is a 5th cousin. He may be closer related to Dan than I am!

It’s all about connections. In this crazy mixed up world we live in now, it’s the connections that make it all worthwhile.

Back some years ago I found a DNA match to a guy named Dana Ward who was not a southerner. As a half southerner / half yankee, I figured he was related to me through my Maine family so I believe I contacted him first. We couldn’t see the exact relationship then but realized that he was a southern cousin instead. My Elam family was massive – making me related to possibly all Elams in the US now. Elams intermarried with Wards, a good bit closer to my family branch than other Elams. We are both descendants of Thomas Jefferson’s family (directly for me his uncle, not TJ). I was living in Charlottesville, Virginia, at the time so we pretty much said we have to visit each other. Dan never made it back to Virginia while we there but I certainly made it to Maine.

Since then I have been graciously hosted by Dan in Maine twice. We have a lot in common – but mostly the insane idea of chasing our far flung families to see what we can dig up. Now that we live in Maine, we’ve already seen Dan and Julia once and plan on getting together for more fun, food and “family” in Unity.

We still aren’t completely sure how we are related but it really doesn’t matter. It’s those connections that save me. It’s finding my Maine cousins and moving north that has saved me. It’s knowing that no matter where I go, there is a cousin lurking in there somewhere.

In Dan’s case, that cousinship helped me to further my research and find friendship out in the countryside of Maine. His constant genealogy work continues to prod me to continue, to remind me how important these connections are.  

Expanding on that theme from my birthday essay above, I can link these connections with a few truisms of our life today.

When I was growing up, it was all about family. There were 10 first cousins with my sister as the oldest and me as the next to oldest. Sis watched us all coming into the world as she is seven years older than I. I remember the other cousins starting more with one 8 years younger. I baby sat some for the youngest ones.

There were a few family reunions I attended and still can’t remember who any of those more distant relatives were. It was a little surreal to have old folks saying hello ’cause they knew who I was and remembered my birth! But I had family.

My son, an only child, with only 2 first cousins at all and none from my side of the family, was raised as a military dependent. Which really means he was raised to be independent. There was no family and no one besides me for him to rely on during his pre-teen years. I didn’t realize how much this made his life so different from mine. When he was about 4, we were living on base in a housing area of mostly 3 and 4 bedroom homes. Which means we were in a 2 bedroom due to less children in the household. He had only one friend who also didn’t have a sibling. One day he was visibly upset. Being a very non-verbal child, I had to dig into the problem. He finally asked me why everyone else had a brother or sister. He was very sad, unusual for him.

He didn’t have the family I had and have grown away from. In that particular circumstance it also made him different from our neighbors. Today it’s actually getting common to not have all those cousins around with society becoming more transient and families moving to get jobs.

One thing I loved so much about the military was holidays. We were usually not near family so we had to do new things to compensate. I had a wonderful time inviting young people to come to my table, to join with us as we made new connections overseas.

I started my genealogy work some years ago kinda by accident. I wasn’t looking for connections at the time. I was indulging my desire to get away from an untenable living situation that I could not walk away from. It was my escape at first.

Then I went ahead and got a DNA test and started getting matches. Mostly Yankee matches. 2nd and 3rd cousins – and even reconnected with one of my Yankee first cousins I hadn’t talked to in decades. I found many cousins from Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts; one came south on his way to his North Carolina home to meet in person. Most I met just through the tree on Ancestry.com and not in person.

Once I decided to write a book on the Wilsons of Maine, I started a new path and many new connections. I found, in the end, that I’m related to half of southern Maine and found how much of my identity was rooted in New England food and customs, handed down from my Bostonian great-grandfather. I traveled to Maine and fell in love – no, that’s not really correct – I felt like I had come home.

I established new connections, found new friends and family, and moved to Maine last summer. I am home now because I went looking for those new connections as many of my ‘new’ cousins have also done, thus leading to their journey on Ancestry.com.

If we are going to talk about what’s wrong with today’s society, this needs to be part of the discussion. We need connections and they are continually being destroyed in this century. So my question to you is, have you found new connections? Have you made an effort to find what floats your boat in a non-selfish way? Who do you call family? Who and what sustains you?

(originally posted http://deliawilson.com)

Home! In Maine.

Finally! I have taken a long hiatus after a surgery and the move to Maine but I’m back now. 

We moved to Maine last July and now that the daffodils are peeking their heads up, we are all coming out of the winter hibernation. So many things shut down during the winter that sometimes doing research is a bit iffy – especially if the weather turns. I’ve only gotten stuck once this year – on top of a ridge of hardened snow on a slippery road. Not too bad for this southerner but still….

I’m presently looking at my business and the accompanying websites to decide which direction I want to go. I cannot give up my web business as it still is our principal income beyond social security but with the move comes changes. I’m still putting the updated info online but at least finally have new business cards. I got my first Maine web design job recently – making me feel like we really are here!

In the meantime don’t hesitate to contact me about genealogy or compiling your family history!

Scotch-Irish of Maine in the 1700’s

Note: this chapter of The Uncommonly Common is about the Maine Scotch-Irish and their early life in Maine.

In trying to imagine what life must have been in the early 1700s, I found In trying to imagine what life must have been in the early 1700s, I found the Wheelers’ History of Topsham, Brunswick and Harpswell helpful with insights into our ancestors lives. We do know that when James Wilson, his wife Jean and children arrived there was almost nothing.

“In Brunswick…there were in 1718 no dwelling places for the families, except within the walls of the fort…A little before that time, three families settle in Topsham; all of whom were afterwards destroyed in Lovewell’s war.”1 The Wilsons may have arrived in 1719, only a year later. The Indian wars heated up in 1722 and we see Jean leaving the area with the children immediately afterwards.

Families lived far apart initially and only could travel by water as there were no inland avenues.

These Scotch Irish “were usually called “ wild Irish” by the native New-Englanders. It is said of these early settlers that “they used to peek out through a crack or partly opened door, to see whether their callers were friends or foes, and that the same habit of peeking out through a half-open door to see whom their callers may be, is noticed to this day in their descendants.” These settlers were nearly all poor, and often suffered for the necessaries of life. They had to work hard for their living, and dress in the plainest manner.”2 

They were understandably not happy: “During the period embraced by the Indian wars, the character of the people differed materially from what it afterwards was. Instead of gayety and dissipation, a melancholy spirit prevailed. Almost the only topic of conversation with the people was in regard to their troubles with the Indians and the individual difficulties of their situation. Their chief relaxation consisted in singing psalms and doggerel rhymes. The only news that reached them was of cruel murders, by the savages, of their friends and acquaintance, or else of the wonderful escapes and marvellous exploits of the latter.”3

Churches were not established until much later in the 1700s (though there were meeting houses at first) so they were again denied communal worship in the new world. I assume they were pragmatists – unlike the other colonial settlers at the time like the Pilgrims whose religion figured so prominently in their desire to settle (and conquer) the New World. Their life in Ireland would have been a preview for this lifestyle – since their communal and church life was dismantled before they left.

A few tales survive that frequently described one aspect of life in Maine – Indian encounters. One involved David Alexander, father of William who married James Wilson’s daughter, Jennet. William and a friend of him were set upon by Indians: “The boys’ outcries at length attracted the attention of the settlers up and down the river, and his father being first to comprehend the true state of things outstripped all others in going to the relief of his son, guided partially by the voice of the lad and partly by the zigzag trail of the furrowed earth which was a conspicuous mark and was made by the boy’s stubborn obstinacy and resistance. The father at length came in full sight of his son and was hastening to his rescue when the Indian, letting go the lad, fired, killing Mr. Alexander, who fell instantly dead. The son, the moment he saw his father fall, ran. and the Indian, fearing pursuit, desisted from attempting his recapture.”4

Bolton’s description of these Scotch Irish settlers is truthful even though a bit lyrical: “The Scotch Irish have never claimed that they brought literature or art to these shores. They knew little of the former and nothing of aesthetics. Diaries and letters of the migration period do not exist and perhaps never did exist. Let us speak frankly. Every race brings to our western civilization a gift of its own. These people from Ulster cared very little for the beautiful, with the single exception of the wonderful and beautiful Bible story.”5

He goes on to say: “The Scotch Irish could not see that the severe lines of a cabin are softened by a sumac against the south wall or a creeper at the corner. They did not trim the edge of the roadway that led to the front door. In short, utility required nothing of these things and utility was their law. For the same reason, if the soles of their feet were tough they saw small need of shoes in summer. Their bare feet, however, gave something of a shock to century-old New England. This rude development of taste was based possibly upon a primitive state of education.”6 

So utilitarian, no-frills, not educated (I prefer that to uneducated) – just survivors as our ancestors needed to be or else we would not be alive today. Bolton phrases this way: “It is evident that whether we view the Scotch Irish pioneers from the standpoint of education, or culture, or material success of the larger kind, they were in 1718 in their proper place when Cotton Mather consigned them to the frontier.”7

I only started looking at the role of the Scotch Irish after I had worked my way through numerous generations and thousands of descendants. I think this is why so much of early Maine was so hard for me to comprehend; it is a story very different from much of what we know about the early colonies. We are fed a diet of heroic ancestors and doings and never introduced to real life. Even the tragedy of Jamestown is more interesting. Talk of the “seasoning” that the English had to undergo, getting used to the heat of the south, the oft-told romanticized tale of Pocahontas – it all adds up to a marvelous tale. The story of James Oglethorpe, a social reformer, who founded the colony of Georgia is another tale that I, as a Georgia native, was raised with. Not only did he rescue debtors from prison but he also laid out a well-thought out city in Savannah. As anyone who been there knows, it is a gorgeous city with incredible history. Comparing those stories to Indian horrors? Not much of contest there! Once again, however, someone had to do it and the Scotch Irish settlers of early Maine performed their duty well.” target=”_blank”>Wheeler’s History of Brunswick,Topsham and Harpswell, Maine helpful with insights into our ancestors’ lives. We do know that when James Wilson, his wife Jean and children arrived there was almost nothing. 

“In Brunswick…there were in 1718 no dwelling places for the families, except within the walls of the fort…A little before that time, three families settle in Topsham; all of whom were afterwards destroyed in Lovewell’s war.”1 The Wilsons may have arrived in 1719, only a year later. The Indian wars heated up in 1722 and we see Jean Wilson leaving the area with the children immediately afterwards.

Families lived far apart initially and only could travel by water as there were no inland avenues.

These Scotch Irish “were usually called “ wild Irish” by the native New-Englanders. It is said of these early settlers that “they used to peek out through a crack or partly opened door, to see whether their callers were friends or foes, and that the same habit of peeking out through a half-open door to see whom their callers may be, is noticed to this day in their descendants.” These settlers were nearly all poor, and often suffered for the necessaries of life. They had to work hard for their living, and dress in the plainest manner.”2

They were understandably not happy: “During the period embraced by the Indian wars, the character of the people differed materially from what it afterwards was. Instead of gayety and dissipation, a melancholy spirit prevailed. Almost the only topic of conversation with the people was in regard to their troubles with the Indians and the individual difficulties of their situation. Their chief relaxation consisted in singing psalms and doggerel rhymes. The only news that reached them was of cruel murders, by the savages, of their friends and acquaintance, or else of the wonderful escapes and marvellous exploits of the latter.”3

Churches were not established until much later in the 1700s (though there were meeting houses at first) so they were again denied communal worship in the new world. I assume they were pragmatists – unlike the other colonial settlers at the time but like the Pilgrims whose religion figured so prominently in their desire to settle (and conquer) the New World. Their life in Ireland would have been a preview for this lifestyle – since their communal and church life was dismantled before they left.

A few tales survive that frequently described one aspect of life in Maine – Indian encounters. One involved David Alexander, father of William who married James Wilson’s daughter, Jennet. William and a friend of him were set upon by Indians:
“The boys’ outcries at length attracted the attention of the settlers up and down the river, and his father being first to comprehend the true state of things outstripped all others in going to the relief of his son, guided partially by the voice of the lad and partly by the zigzag trail of the furrowed earth which was a conspicuous mark and was made by the boy’s stubborn obstinacy and resistance. The father at length came in full sight of his son and was hastening to his rescue when the Indian, letting go the lad, fired, killing Mr. Alexander, who fell instantly dead. The son, the moment he saw his father fall, ran. and the Indian, fearing pursuit, desisted from attempting his recapture.”4

Bolton’s description of these Scotch Irish settlers is truthful even though a bit lyrical:
“The Scotch Irish have never claimed that they brought literature or art to these shores. They knew little of the former and nothing of aesthetics. Diaries and letters of the migration period do not  exist and perhaps never did exist. Let us speak frankly. Every race brings to our western civilization a gift of its own. These people from Ulster cared very little for the beautiful, with the single exception of the wonderful and beautiful Bible story.”5

He goes on to say:
“The Scotch Irish could not see that the severe lines of a cabin are softened by a sumac against the south wall or a creeper at the corner. They did not trim the edge of the roadway that led to the front
door. In short, utility required nothing of these things and utility was their law. For the same reason,
if the soles of their feet were tough they saw small need of shoes in summer. Their bare feet, however, gave something of a shock to century-old New England. This rude development of taste was based possibly upon a primitive state of education.”6

So utilitarian, no-frills, not educated (I prefer that to uneducated) – just survivors as our ancestors needed to be or else we would not be alive today. Bolton phrases this way: “It is evident that whether we view the Scotch Irish pioneers from the standpoint of education, or culture, or material success of the larger kind, they were in 1718 in their proper place when Cotton Mather consigned them to the frontier.”7

I only started looking at the role of the Scotch Irish after I had worked my way through numerous generations and thousands of descendants. I think this is why so much of early Maine was so hard for me to comprehend; it is a story very different from much of what we know about the early colonies. We are fed a diet of heroic ancestors and doings and never introduced to real life.

Even the tragedy of Jamestown is more interesting. Talk of the “seasoning” that the English had to undergo, getting used to the heat of the south, the oft-told romanticized tale of Pocahontas – it all adds up to a marvelous tale.

The story of James Oglethorpe, a social reformer, who founded the colony of Georgia is another tale that I, as a Georgia native, was raised with. Not only did he rescue debtors from prison but he also laid out a well-thought out city in Savannah. As anyone who been there knows, it is a gorgeous city with incredible history. 

Comparing those stories to Indian horrors? Not much of contest there! Once again, however,  someone had to do it and the Scotch Irish settlers of early Maine performed their duty well. 

—————————————————————————-

1William Durkee Williamson, The History of the State of Maine: from its First Discovery, AD 1602, to the Separation, AD 1820, Inclusive, Vol. II (Hallowell: Glazier, Masters & Co., 1832), 88.
2George Augustus Wheeler, M.D. and Henry Warren Wheeler, History of Topsham, Brunswick and Harpswell including the ancient territory known as Pejebscot (Boston: Alfred Mudge and Sons, Printers, 1878), 205.
3Wheeler, 206.
4Wheeler, 208
5Charles Knowles Bolton, Scotch Irish Pioneers in Ulster and America (Boston: Bacon and Brown, 1910), 301-302. 
6Bolton, 303.
7Bolton, 306.

The Uncommonly Common is still a work in process. If anyone finds any errors, I beg you to inform me!

And some Toothakers

I find this family to be fascinating – an unusual name and descendants from one of “witches” arrested in the Salem witch trials. One son stayed in Massachusetts and one went to Maine. Those descendants are many and far flung. I started tracking them a while back but when in Maine last month had a finding!

I was driving into Etna/Dixmont talking with my cousin who was giving me directions to her house up the road. Suddenly, on the left, next to the elementary school was a sign for a Toothaker Cemetery. Didn’t know there was Toothakers in that area so came back later to find only a few graves that are Toothakers and no answer to the mystery as it was a wife of Jacob who died before 1850. I had no Jacob in that area so I was perplexed.

My cousin said that Eleanor Toothaker had died some years before. At her death she was the oldest resident of Dixmont but had never married. Before I left Maine, we were able to find out what cemetery Eleanor was buried in – just up the road and I cruised through the whole thing snapping pictures of all the Toothakers there.

The cemetery had not been well documented on findagrave.com so I had to rely on the groupings of the graves to put families together. The oldest was William Toothaker b. 1810 d. 1884. William is just such a common name in this family but I definitely didn’t have that line in my tree. It turns out I didn’t have his father’s line in my tree – another William.

Once I finally puzzled it all out, I had a small Toothaker family in Penobscot County, in Dixmont, Etna, Plymouth, Brewer and up into Banger. They all stayed there unlike most branches of this traveling family. They all married into other small families of the area such as the Simpsons, Sylvesters, Davis’s and Arnolds. Most are buried in the Simpson Corner Cemetery on a dirt road off the beaten path.

I added my photos and missing family members to findagrave.com to document them publicly.

Now I’m ready to hit the back roads of Maine and see who else I can find!

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