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.