William McNair (1798-1776) and the Road Less Traveled

We are taught not to have too many assumptions in genealogy, but one custom that is generally true, is that the oldest son inherits the family farm from his father.  When he does not inherit and follow the pattern, there should be a good reason.  In Solomon McNair’s 1832 will, he makes only one statement about his oldest son William McNair.  It sounds a bit terse and one suspects there must be a story behind it.

Solomon McNair 1832 Will Bucks County, PA

Solomon McNair 1832 Will – Bucks County, PA


I give devise and bequeath to my son William McNair the

   two obligations I hold against him with the Interest that is

  due or may become due on them, to be his share of my Estate.

Solomon loaned his oldest son money on two occasions and charged him interest.  This was William’s only inheritance from his father’s estate and Solomon leaves his estate to be divided equally between his wife and 6 of his other children. (His son John McNair doesn’t get a share of the estate either, but that is for another post.)

So, what did William do with the money and where did he go? I found that William left Bucks County, Pennsylvania prior to August 1827 and traveled to the Michigan Territory. When he arrived, he bought land in Tecumseh, Lenawee County and settled down in the undeveloped region in the southeast part of the territory that would later become the state of Michigan.

William McNair Land Patent - Bureau of Land Management

William McNair Land Patent – Bureau of Land Management

Apparently, William wasn’t the type of person to stay in the town where he was born, working on the same farm that grandfather and father had successfully built. He didn’t want to marry a local girl, walk the already well-worn path or do what was expected of oldest born sons.  He had dreams of going west and of creating a new path of his own.

It didn’t take William long to get involved in the local community of Tecumseh. He joined the local militia and became a Colonel by 1832. His regiment served in the Black Hawk War, though Black Hawk and his warriors were captured before William’s troops arrived to the battle. He served as undersheriff of Lenawee County in 1835, when he became involved in a border dispute with Ohio that was called the “Toledo War.”  He plays quite a significant role in taking Ohio surveyors prisoner who were trying to measure the land they believed to be legally part of Ohio. No lives were taken and it sounds a bit humorous from the accounts, but one can imagine this was serious business deciding who really owned the land. He is even called upon to give a description of the event to President Andrew Jackson. Michigan loses this battle for the “Toledo strip”, but wins the war by getting over 9,000 square miles on the Upper Peninsula full of timber and mineral rights, when it is finally made a state in 1837.  It seems that William might have played a big part in getting satisfaction for the state of Michigan!

Disputed Toledo Strip - by Drdpw on Wikipedia Commons

Disputed Toledo Strip – by Drdpw on Wikipedia Commons

William married Elizabeth Robertson, from New York, in 1832.  They had 5 children that lived to adulthood: Eliza (b. 1834), James (b. 1836), David (b. 1840), Sarah (b. 1842) and Agnes (b. 1844).  According to the 1850 Agricultural census, William has 60 developed acres of land and 20 acres of undeveloped land worth $1200.  At some point he sold off 80 acres of land from the original purchase. He grew wheat, corn and oats and had a variety of livestock.

He was involved in Tecumseh community life in a variety of roles as a Michigan State representative in 1849 and later as postmaster from 1853 to 1861.  He died in Tecumseh in March of 1876 at the age of 78.  William McNair lived a full and eventful life, 600 miles away from his hometown, where he could make his own mark on the world.  Proving there is always an exception to the rule and not all oldest sons stay home.

Major General William Sharp (1868-1937) McNair, McNear and McNeir Genealogies by James Birtley McNair (HathiTrust.org)

Major General William Sharp McNair
McNair, McNear and McNeir Genealogies by James Birtley McNair

P.S. In Honor of WWI – Veterans Day

William’s grandson, William Sharp McNair, went to West Point (class of 1890), received the Silver Star in the Philippines, and rose to Major General in WWI where he received the Army Distinguished Service Medal. http://valor.militarytimes.com/recipient.php?recipientid=17931


As part of my “standard work” for research, I always check ArchiveGrid.  It’s a bit like playing the slot machine, in that you typically get a cherry, an orange and an apple….nothing matching the name, location and context of the person you are looking for perfectly. You have to look at the collection’s finding aid to see if the documents have anything to do with the individual you are researching.  The more you know about your topic, the better you can quickly determine if it’s a false positive result. I could almost hear the happy cling-cling from the computer, when I plugged in “William McNair, Tecumseh, Michigan.” I finally got something worth checking out at Yale University. There are two letters in the correspondence files of General Joseph W. Brown from Col. William McNair on 28 May 1832 and 17 Jun 1835.  General Joseph W. Brown was from Bucks County, Pennsylvania and moved to Michigan.  Something tells me these letters are from my William McNair. Now I have to get up to Yale University to check them out.

Posted in Genealogy General, McNair Family, World War I | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Rev. John McNair and the Value of Sibling Research

Black Bellied Whistling Duck Family by Matthew Paulson via Creative Commons

Black Bellied Whistling Duck Family
by Matthew Paulson
via Creative Commons

I am finally getting around to turning my University of Washington genealogy class paper on Reverend John McNair into a published book. I had spent a good 6 months of intensive research on the paper and visited both New Jersey and Pennsylvania to do on site investigation, but there is nothing like new eyes to realize how much I missed. I was a newbie genealogist when I started the class and as much as I learned about methods, I didn’t know what I do now 8 years later. I shouldn’t have been surprised that I hadn’t done very much research on Rev. McNair’s siblings, other than to identify their names and some cursory information. My excuse is that I spent most of the paper on Rev. McNair’s adult life, when he was preaching in various Presbyterian congregations around the country, debating, publishing poetry and serving in the Civil War as a chaplain. However, significant parts of his childhood and what happened to his siblings, is a gap as big as the Grand Canyon.  My plans for a quick update to the paper are in the trash and I have a new extensive research plan.

What can you find when looking at siblings? Many, many things – migration patterns, family alliances and tragedies, unknown facts about your direct ancestor and clues about family connections previously unknown.  Last week in the midst of researching his 7 brothers and sisters, I found an article about his sister Mary’s 50th wedding anniversary party in Riverside, California in 1889 that included information about her family:

Miss Mary L. McNair was born in 1812 – in stormy times for the young Republic. There were in all four sons and four daughters, only two of who remain in this land of the dying, Mrs. C. V. Craven and Mrs. Dr. Kirkwood. The McNair’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather were elders in the Presbyterian church and of Scotch Irish descent.  Two generations back, on her mother’s side, is a family of Quaker blood and a family which gave to Pennsylvania two remarkably able Quaker preachers. This family’s name was Sampson.  The same family on another branch gave to our country and the world General and President U. S. Grant. 1

What? Quaker’s? Sampson?  This just might be the maiden name I have been looking for Mary McMasters. And a possible distant cousin of Pres./Gen. Grant?  Oh, don’t miss the siblings…and remember to look at old research for new leads.  (See my head hang in shame)

1. “A Memorable Event – The Golden Wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Craven,” Riverside Daily Press, 9 Feb 1889, p. 3, col. 4; digital images,  GenealogyBank (http://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 19 Oct 2015), Newspaper Archives.

Posted in Genealogy General, McNair Family | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Life Can Be Taxing

purplehairI got my hair done last week. It’s one of those place where they have specialists, one person does your color and another does your cut. They make an effort to remember who you are. I suspect they actually put notes in your customer profile, so they can ask you personal questions that show their “customer focused” service. So, my hair stylist asks “What have you been finding in your genealogy lately?”  How sweet that he asks!  Well, I tell him (knowing not to go into too much detail or he might actually nod off while cutting my hair), “I have finally found a tax record that gives evidence of when my ancestor died in Texas.”  I can tell he isn’t impressed (even I know that doesn’t sound exciting), but he just looks at me with almost pity and says “Rachelle, you really need to get out more.”  I had thought I was being cool by adding a purple streak in my hair, but I was undone by my tax record.

But isn’t that just like genealogy, sometimes it is the boring records that give you exactly what you are looking for. Not the probate record or a newspaper article that says your ancestor committed a crime, but the steady unglamorous records of running a government.  Even worse, confirmation of taxation, Americans least favorite part of government.  But I tell you, this is a worthy document.

I had the 1870 census record that gave evidence that Irvin Patterson McCrary had moved from Lawrence, Alabama to Henderson County, Texas with his family.

1870 Census Henderson County, Texas Irvin P. McCrary Family

1870 Census Henderson County, Texas
Irvin P. McCrary Family

The 1880 census record shows his wife Mary Jane McCrary is still living in Henderson County, Texas but she is a widow.  Irvin must have died between 1870 and 1880.

1880 Census - Henderson County, Texas Mary Jane McCrary Family

1880 Census – Henderson County, Texas
Mary Jane McCrary Family

I haven’t been able to find church records, a grave, a deed of sale or anything else that gives an indication when Irvin died, until I found the county tax records for Texas on Family Search. There was a lot of taxing going on post Civil War and the state of Texas taxed their residents almost every year between 1870 and 1880. So what did I find? Mrs. M. J. McCrary paid property taxes in 1871.

1871 Property Tax, Henderson County, Texas Mrs. Mary Jane McCrary

1871 Property Tax, Henderson County, Texas
Mrs. Mary Jane McCrary

Eureka! So that means that Irvin had to have died sometime between August 16, 1870 and December 31,1871.

Yeah for tax records!  But now I need to come up with something really hot to discuss for my next trip to the hairdresser…oh the pressure…..

Posted in McCrary Family | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Civil War Medical Staff and the Stories They Tell

August 1864 Petersburg, Va. Surgeons of 3d Division before hospital tent (Library of Congress)

August 1864 Petersburg, Va.
Surgeons of 3rd Division before hospital tent (Library of Congress)

I am working on a couple of projects that involve men and women who provided medical support in the Civil War.  To get a better understanding of what their involvement might have been like, I have been reading first hand accounts of surgeons, assistant surgeons, nurses and Sanitary Commission workers. Even if you do not have ancestors that were in some type of medical service in the Civil War, these resources are informative about what the war was like for anyone who served.  Physicians and nurses were educated, so they may have been more likely to write diaries and letters home about their experiences than many of our ancestors.  They were at hospitals in Washington D.C. and New York and at the battles of Bull Run, Shiloh, Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, Cold Harbor etc. Reading these accounts might be the only way to know what it was like for our ancestors who were in the same places.  Here are some of the things that might give you insight:

May 1864 Fredericksburg, Va. Nurses and officers of the U.S. Sanitary Commission (Library of Congress

May 1864 Fredericksburg, Va.
Nurses and officers of the U.S. Sanitary Commission (Library of Congress)

Their non-medical experience:

  • Observations of  battles from a non military perspective, where they see the best and worst of human decision-making, as well as kindness and cruelty by both sides.
  • Stories of particular battles –  men faced with the reality of war responding with fear and panic, but more often by remarkable bravery.
  • Details about the rigorous life in between battles – long marches from one location after another, what they did at camp, what food was available etc.
  • Personal reflections – the expectation of a quick and easy war at the beginning quickly changes to the realization that it is going to be a long engagement. It is their own self-discipline that makes them stay with the army  and put one foot in front of the other.
  • Remarks about the politics of the army and hospital administration.
  • Problems with supplies and transporting the injured that organizations like the Sanitary Commission were able to help fulfill.

The medical experience:

  • Wounds and illnesses of ancestors identified in their pension files:
    • Injuries from mini balls, shells and canisters
    • Complications of battle wounds: gangrene and pneumonia
    • Illnesses not related to battles: diarrhea, malaria, dysentery, typhoid, measles – many associated to poor sanitation and food that the physicians tried to address
    • Recruits who came in with undiagnosed illnesses: epilepsy, tuberculosis, syphilis, hernias
  • Surgeons who amputated for days without sleep and who saw their battalion disintegrate with each body coming in through surgery during the battle.
  • The injuries they were able to “heal” and all the men that were released from hospital without arms or legs, with facial injuries and emotional trauma. They are sent home to be taken care of by family or their communities.
  • Types of foods your ancestor would eat depending on their injury and severity
  • Small gifts they would have received that were donated to the soldiers who were convalescing – jams made by local women, paper and stamps for writing home, reading material, small amounts of money, tobacco, fruit.
In Hospital and Camp by Harold Elk Strauburg

In Hospital and Camp by Harold Elk Straubing

I found an excellent collection of 1st hand accounts of the Civil War by medical personnel in the book In Hospital and Camp. The excerpts don’t focus on military strategy or fighting, but rather on the physical and emotional damage of combat and what it was like to face the challenges the battles created. They are mostly from the Union side, with just a few from the Confederate forces. The chapters from Louisa May Alcott, Walt Whitman and Frederick Law Olmstead were an opportunity to see another side of these well-known public figures.

Here is a bibliography of some of the books I have been reading.  You might be surprised at how many are available at your local library, university library or on-line. Check WorldCat for the closest location near you. If you know of any others books that have been helpful in your research, let me know and I will add them.

Posted in Civil War, Genealogy General | Tagged | Leave a comment

Genealogy Do Over – Weeks 11, 12 and 13

Week 11

Social Media IconsReview Social Media Options

Social Media is just another tool in the genealogy tool box.  Like all tools, it’s important to know when to use them and when they will be a black hole for your precious time.  Thomas MacEntee suggests various sites e.g. Facebook pages, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Twitter.  I currently follow “The Organized Genealogist”, but didn’t know about “Cite Your Sources” on Facebook.  I will be definitely be adding that one to my groups. I use Pinterest, but for recipes mostly.  I still haven’t found a compelling reason to use Twitter. I use LinkedIn for my professional life, but rarely for my genealogy life….something to think about. So the one thing that I haven’t done that has potential, is to automatically post my blogs on Facebook.  I guess I am kind of shy about different parts of my life overlapping, but maybe I need to rethink the importance of broadening my exposure.

Building a Research Network

This is about not doing all your research by yourself. You must find a tribe to hang out with to share best practices, ideas, resources and the joy of discovery. This has been incredibly important for my growth as a genealogist. I have learned so much from my peers at the UW Genealogy program, many of whom I still keep in touch with 6 years later.  I also have been fortunate to have made friends with fellow genealogists through seminars, conferences and our blogs.  The benefits of following good blogs, is you often learn about a tool, a resource or an approach you haven’t thought about before and bloggers are very generous about answering questions (many thanks to Michele Simmons Lewis, Diane Boumenot and Jill Morelli for their insights over the years.) Joining genealogy groups such as Transitional Genealogists or APG can be very helpful if you have a question about a specific source, need a genealogist in another location etc.

Week 12

Sharing Research

This section is about guidelines for sharing research between genealogists 1) be nice 2) always remember attribution 3) share (but be smart about it) and 4) monitor your own work to make sure it isn’t being plagiarized. Thomas MacEntee suggests that you mark any public trees you have that are not sourced as “unsourced”.

E.L. Todd 1909 - Library of Congress

E.L. Todd 1909 –
Library of Congress

Reviewing Research Travel Options

Travel?  Genealogy?  You had me at hello! I love this one that combines two of my favorite pastimes -genealogy and travel.   Every year, I try to plan at least two genealogy vacations.  Sometimes they are around a conference/seminar and sometimes it’s a destination location where I can access original sources and see where my ancestors lived – its even better if it’s both! Thomas MacEntee suggests reviewing organized genealogy trips by NGS, American Ancestors, FGS and Family Tree that take genealogists to various research destinations – Washington D.C., Salt Lake City, Allen County Library, England, Northern Ireland etc.  I think for the most part I prefer traveling on my own with my friends, but I would consider an organized trip to Northern Ireland or Germany where I might get consultative help on unfamiliar records and/or that are in a different language.  I am going to watch the free webinar “Family History Trippin” by Thomas to make sure I am using technology that might help in future trips.

Week 13

Securing Research Data

Haven’t we done this already? It feels a bit redundant. But, as always I keep finding gaps in areas that I thought were solved.  My back up device for my Mac laptop seems to have failed and that reminded me that I don’t have my pictures on my Mac backed up in the cloud like I thought I did.  Urgh…so my system is not fully in place. Also, I should probably send my children backup cd’s of all the family pictures. I don’t have an inventory of all my research.  Estate Planning? No haven’t done that either.  There is much more work to do here.  Guess it wasn’t redundant after all.

Westbury Mansion Entrance Gates - Beautiful Start to Any Journey

Westbury Mansion Entrance Gates – Beautiful Start to Any Journey

Reviewing the Journey

I have learned much on the Genealogy Do Over. By stepping back and reevaluating my whole research process, I have discovered new ways of doing things and have re-establishing good habits that I had strayed away from. It has re-energized my genealogy and I have integrated many of the lessons into my everyday practice. Some people are jumping right back in to the “Do Over”, but I will wait and do another cycle “Genealogy Do Over” in 2016 to continue my process improvement.  I need to see what works long term and what adjustments need to be made for efficiency, accuracy and better genealogy over all.

I would encourage anyone who hasn’t gone through the “Genealogy Do Over” to give it a try.  You will be surprised at how much you will learn, no matter how many years you have been doing it.

Posted in Genealogy Do Over, Genealogy General | Leave a comment

Visit to Long Island and the Land of “Turn”

Shelter Island Marina

Shelter Island Marina

I was in Long Island this last week and was able to visit a few historical sites as well as enjoy the natural surroundings of island. Long Island is steeped in history and despite its close proximity to New York City, in many locations it is still rural, quiet and feels like much of it’s past is still present. I only had a few days in town, but here are the highlights:

1) A ferry to Shelter Island…very different than Washington ferries, these fit about 15 cars and gets you are across the water in just a few minutes. There are so many bays, harbors and marinas filled with boats throughout Long Island, it was easy to imagine how fishing and boat building were profitable industries in the 18th and 19th centuries. Regret: I wish I had time to visit one of the 21 lighthouses on the island.

2) A visit to Old Westbury Mansion Gardens. A beautiful turn of the century mansion owned by the Phipps family who through wise investments survived the 1929 crash. The gardens are lovely!

Old Westbury Mansion and Gardens

Westbury Gardens

Westbury Gardens

Abraham Woodhull's Gravestone

Abraham Woodhull’s Gravestone

3) Setauket – My favorite history excursion was going to Setauket where Abraham Woodhull lived and created a spy network during the Revolutionary War. He and his fellow spies gathered critical intelligence about the British and passed it on to Major Benjamin Tallmadge via courier Caleb Brewster. Abraham is buried at the Setauket Presbyterian Church where Benjamin Tallmadge’s father was the minister. The Brewster House is just down the road from the church where Caleb Brewster’s cousin lived and where he visited regularly.  It was fun to see the town of Setauket and compare the area to “Turn” the AMC TV show.  The show definitely takes a lot of artistic license in the plot, but it is still does a good job of portraying the personalities and tensions of the time.  For those you who are interested in what is fact and what is fiction, you should read the blog “Turn to the Historian” by SpycuriousJ.L. Bell’s articles on the “Den of Geek” or the book Washington’s Spies by Alexander Rose.  Definitely fun for the history nerd!

I hope my travels take me back to Long Island again.  It’s a wonderful place to see all time periods and to relax in the present.

Posted in American Revolution, Revolutionary War | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Legacy of Slave Ownership – Matthew McCrary’s Slaves Part 2

Dr. Lyman B. McCrary 1860 Slave Schedule

Dr. Lyman B. McCrary
1860 Slave Schedule

Slave ownership is sticky and not in good way.  I wanted to know what happened to Matthew McCrary’s slaves when he died (see past post). I haven’t found a document that told of the final disposition of his slaves in the court records yet.  I did find a record that stated that the intention of the heirs was to sell the land and investments, but to not sell the slaves.  My assumption has been that they most likely divided the slaves among Matthew’s wife Mary and his 7 living children: Louisa, Reason, Irvin/Irwin, Thomas, Matthew, Lyman and America.  This led me to the 1850 and 1860 slave schedules to support or dispute my theory.   I found that Louisa (Matthew’s oldest child) and her husband Thomas Davis are the only ones who owned slaves in 1850 and appear to have the same slaves in 1860 with one additional child. None of the other heirs owned any slaves in 1850, but by 1860, all of them owned slaves. It is likely that some/most of the slaves were inherited from Matthew’s estate.   Either way, whether they inherited or not, what it does confirm is that they all participated in the institution of slave ownership.  There was not one dissenter who chose not to own slaves.  Yes, slavery is very sticky.

Matthew McCrary's Family Slaves Ownership in 1860

Matthew McCrary’s Family
Slaves Ownership in 1860

This begs all sort of questions and I may or may not ever find out the answers to:

  • Why did they have these slaves?
  • Did they use them for farm labor or house slaves?
  • Did they consider their feelings and desires when making decisions?
  • When some of the family moved to Arkansas and Tennessee prior to 1860, did they honor family units or split families up?
  • Did they believe in the institution of slavery or were they just too morally lazy to take a stand?
  • Were they non violent owners or were they cruel?  It seems ridiculous to say kind and owner in the same sentence.

So, I am taking a small break from this research – quite frankly it makes me profoundly sad.  I will return, but I need something to pick up my spirits…so moving on to Civil War doctors and nurses.  [Picture smiley face]

Posted in Civil War, McCrary Family, Slavery, Southern Ancestors | Tagged | 4 Comments