If you have visited this blog in the past, you might have noticed some major differences. I have changed the look of the site. I had to upgrade my family tree on this site after my host upgraded some technical things behind the scenes, which broke my family tree pages. I wasn’t able to upgrade successfully using the database I already had, so I imported a GEDCOM from my Ancestry.com tree. However, that tree has a lot of errors that will take a long time to weed out, so please be patient with me here as I fix those issues on this website.
Second, I have some plans for future research directions that I hope to document here on this blog. Like many White people with ancestry in the South, I discovered that some of my ancestors engaged in the heinous institution of chattel slavery. I want to make it very clear that I am anti-racist, or am striving to be, and I do not condone or excuse my ancestors, nor do I give them allowance for engaging in a practice that was common at the time because there were plenty of White people who opposed slavery. I also acknowledge that it’s impossible to be “kind” or “good” and also think you have the right to own human beings. I recognized that my ancestors were flawed—they may have had aspects of their personalities and attitudes that were kind, but I also have no doubt in my mind that they engaged in cruelty to both those people they thought they owned and the Native inhabitants of the land they settled. I have decided to reckon honestly with my ancestors in all their complexity. To do otherwise, for me, is dishonest.
To that end, I am very interested in learning more about the people enslaved by my ancestors and plan to do what I can to uncover their stories on this blog as well. If I can learn more also about the Native people whose land my ancestors took, I hope to be able to share what I discover here as well. That does not mean I will stop learning more about my direct answers, but rather that I am seeking a fuller picture of who they were in all their complexity.
For many years, I have had a brick wall on my father’s side of the family. My great-grandmother, born Gertrude Nettie Perkins, told her daughter in a letter written April 6, 1940:
I am English on my fathers [sic] side. His folks settled in Virginia shortly after the Revolutionary War and were English Quakers.
I had been unable to trace her father’s side of the family back any further than the small bit of information I had about his name. I had no idea who his parents were, and I couldn’t really find them on the census. I’ve been on spring break, so I’ve had a little bit of time to conduct family history research, and on a hunch, I did some digging into her father’s family once again. Ancestry.com appears to have added quite a few databases I haven’t had the occasion to use, so it makes sense that this information was harder to find in the past. I don’t have the luxury of spending tons of money to order documents or hire researchers, never mind traveling all over the country to research in libraries.
I tried using Ancestry.com’s search feature on my great-grandmother’s father, John E. Perkins. I had a match. After I did some digging around, I was certain I had the right person. His father declined to fight in the Civil War because he was a Quaker, and I found the family mentioned, finally, in Hector, Renville County, Minnesota, where I know my great-grandmother was born according to her own information. Unfortunately, the Perkins name had been misspelled “Perkis” on a census, but other evidence I found from books on the history of the area available online through Google Books confirmed it is Perkins and that I had at last broken down a brick wall.
John E. Perkins’s father was John B. Perkins, and he was born in North Carolina, rather than Virginia, but that was fairly close and fairly typical of the ways family stories often are partly true. Actually, when I do some more digging, I may indeed discover the family came to Virginia first. Tracing John B. Perkins back to North Carolina proved fairly easy because of the scrupulous records kept by the Quakers.
Sure enough, the lead from my great-grandmother that her family were Quakers proved to be a solid one, and it helped me determine I had the right family.
I am quite curious about John B. Perkins and his wife Deborah Outland. They had established a family in an old Quaker enclave in Wayne County, North Carolina. Based on the birthdates of their children, it’s possible to pinpoint their migration from North Carolina to Minnesota to 1852 or 1853. My ancestor, John E. Perkins is listed in census records as having been born in Minnesota in 1853, and his older brother William Samuel Perkins was born in Wayne County, North Carolina on 9 May 1852.
What made John B. Perkins and Deborah Outland pull up stakes and go to the Minnesota Territory? They clearly came from a close-knit community, and there would be no guarantee they would be able to continue to worship in the manner to which they were accustomed. What was the lure?
I discovered that John B. Perkins was something of a pioneer in the small town of Hector, Minnesota. He established a hotel there, and indeed, on the 1880 Census, he is listed as a hotel operator. The first school in Hector was taught in a room in the hotel above the kitchen, and the first church services were also held there. Reading about him in the various history books I could find online was absolutely like reading about characters from Little House on the Prairie.
Towards the end of his life, he headed west again to California, where he died in Brentwood in Contra Costa County. I am fairly certain he is the same John B. Perkins listed on several California Voter Registers I found because his name and birthplace match up. What made him decide to go clear across the country for a second time, this time, just about as far as he could go? I found him absolutely fascinating.
After I established the connection between John E. Perkins and his parents, using my great-grandmother’s clue to confirm what I had found, it was easy to fill in the rest going back fairly far. I have not yet input all of the information I’ve found to the family tree on this site, but look for it in the coming months.
On a related note, I have done quite a lot of updating to the family tree. Places are now geocoded so that you should see a map keyed up to events in the lives of individuals. I have also added sources to many of the facts—a time-consuming process that will take quite a long time to complete. However, it’s important to me to include verification for information. I have not added information I’m not sure about. There are a lot of errors in trees, especially when they go fairly far back. I want the tree on this site to reflect research, with accurate and reliable information.
I have done so many updates that it’s hard to list them all here, but in addition to adding sources, I have also added some portraits. Some of these portraits are from cousins on Ancestry. com, but Find a Grave has really exploded, and some users are quite generous in posting additional pictures they have of people on their Find a Grave memorials. A few years ago, it seemed I couldn’t find anyone, but now I can find most people in the last 200 years or so.
My husband and I have also both registered with and submitted DNA tests to 23 and Me. We had done Ancestry.com’s DNA test as well, but we had also grown frustrated by some of the limitations of that kit. Given how large and comprehensive 23 and Me is, I expect I’ll be posting here about results.
One other addition to the blog: I’ve made it easy for you to subscribe to updates via email. If you are family and don’t want to check for my sporadic (to put it generously) updates, please feel free to subscribe. The subscription area is in the sidebar to the right.
As I promised in my previous post, I will be sharing more about digital storytelling in a future post, but I wanted to share that I have found a family tree sitebuilder I’m excited about. My cousin Rick Zeutenhorst uses it on his site. I really liked the look of my cousin’s site, and based on his recommendation, I decided to get it for two reasons:
Having a site in the cloud will make it easier for me when I migrate. I know I can save gedcoms from software programs, and I have done so in the past, but I have also lost things in the transition, and I think this solution will work for me as well. I can back it up so that I always have a copy of my data, should losing data ever become a worry.
At this point, the only place I have my data is Ancestry.com, and there may come a day I don’t want to use the site anymore (right now, I’m happy with it, and I obtain tons of information quite easily that I would have to spend a great deal more money to obtain). It’s probably not a good idea to put all my genealogical eggs in one basket, though.
In addition to these two reasons, I also like the idea of having control. I have set living individuals to “private,” but collaborating family members can register for an account.
I opted to start building from scratch rather than using a gedcom because over time, I know errors have crept into my Ancestry tree, and untangling the errors seems to me to be a more daunting task, if you can believe it, than starting over. I also will be able to standardize conventions for dates and place names if I start over. Starting over allows me to be careful and cite sources for information as I work. I am a much more careful and thorough genealogist than I was when I started. I will admit it—I fell prey to the lure of looking for famous ancestors in my tree and often attached unproven connections that appeared uncited in other trees.
I know starting over is a lot of work, but it will prevent me from introducing errors and will allow me to go slowly. As such, the tree is a little spare at the moment. Rest assured I will be adding people, and if you have information to contribute, feel free to contact me.
Some things I really like about the sitebuilding software, which is called TNG: The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding, are the ways in which photographs are handled and the “Most Wanted” feature. I have really only just begun to explore the possibilities. The site is easy to manage after a small learning curve. The most difficulty I had with it was my original upload didn’t work, so I had to re-upload it to my site. I happen to feel comfortable with managing the back-end of my site, but others’ mileage may vary on that score.
You can view the family tree by clicking this link or by clicking the permanent link in the menu at the top of the page.
I have been a really poor genealogy blogger. I could blame grad school and general business, such as having three children. Add to that the fact that I also have other blogs where I regularly write (huffenglish.com and Much Madness is Divinest Sense). Genealogy fascinates me, and I have found myself going down a rabbit hole several times this summer. Frustrating dead ends!
I have added some new content. If you check out my family tree page, you’ll notice I’ve uploaded family tree web cards.
I went to the Burkhalter/Graham/Cunningham family reunion last month, where it was so nice to see my distant cousins.
I am going to try to start a more regular posting schedule: Saturdays. If I don’t have any other news to share each Saturday, you can expect research or stories about family members, surnames I’m researching, or musings about genealogy related issues.
You can follow me on Twitter. I plan to install a plugin here called Twitter Tools that will allow me to share when I have updated on Twitter.
If I haven’t already lost you after being so quiet for so many years, I hope you’ll join me.