Sources are essential to genealogical research. Typical sources include census records, birth and death records, marriage records, an so on. These sources provide various bits of information for the facts of an ancestor’s life. Sometimes in a search, or through serendipity, a unique or unusual source will come to light. These might include journals and diaries, letters, or artifacts from the ancestor’s life; the possibilities are endless. This week the topic for 52 Ancestors is Unusual Source. For this post, I will describe how I stumbled onto a path that led me to an unusual source and on to a genealogical goldmine.
A few years ago, my parents and sister traveled to Ireland and Northern Ireland. As part of the trip, they went to find, Chequer Hall, the home of my 7th great-grandfather, John Adams, in County Antrim. They had little information to go on other than the parish and the name of the house. Through a series of fortunate events, they found the house with the owners at home, who graciously invited them inside. While the current owners have no known relation to my ancestors, their family has lived in the house since their ancestors purchased it from a grandchild of John Adams more than 150 years ago. The current owners know a bit about my ancestors and, as they were parting, promised to send some information to my parents.
A few weeks after their return home, a manila mailer arrived from Chequer Hall. Inside was a red folder with two documents. First was excerpts from S. Alex Blair’s County Antrim Characters: ‘Portraits from the Past’ which first appeared in the Ballymena Guardian. This document contained short sketches of many notable people from County Antrim, including John Adams, and his son-in-law, James Bones, my 6th great-grandfather. The second document was an article published in Familia: Ulster Genealogical Review in 1998 entitled “The James Bones Family Circle: A United Irishman’s Southern American Heritage” by Katharine L. Brown. In the opening paragraph she states,
The Bones family story is interesting not only because they succeeded in America, or because of their intermarriage with historically significant families such as those of Confederate General James Longstreet¹ and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson²; much of its merit lies in the fact that it is the story of a middle-class, commercial, small-town, Southern immigrant group in a nation that has tended to focus its immigration history on industrial, urban, working-class Northern immigrant groups. (Footnotes added.)
It was amazing to read the story of my ancestors through this lens. I was blown away by the research she had done and the large number of footnotes, most of them referring to documents held by the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). It was like discovering a finding aid just for my ancestors.
After reading the article, I wondered how Katharine Brown had come to know about my ancestors. I performed a Google search and found that she, for part of her career, had worked as the executive director of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum in Staunton, Virginia³. I also found that she had written a second article called, “Antrim to Augusta: Adaptation among Ulster Emigrants in Augusta, Georgia, 1800-1875.” This article, I would come to find later, examines the strong group identity created by the Bones family and their friends and relatives in Augusta, Georgia, and with family back in Ireland. This, too, had numerous footnotes.
I found an email address for the publishing group that Katharine Brown owns with another woman. I sent an email late one evening and found a reply in my email the next morning. In her reply, among other helpful information, she told me that she had recently donated all her files to the Augusta Genealogical Society’s Adamson Library in Augusta, Georgia.
My family, my parents and I planned on visiting family in South Carolina to view the 2017 solar eclipse a few months later. I persuaded them expand the trip to include a visit to our cousin in Augusta so I could go to the library. They happily agreed. I made all the necessary arrangements with the library.
My dad and I visited the library together on a hot and muggy August day. The library is in an old bank and maintains all the charm of a mid-century bank with large windows reaching to the ceiling and brass fixtures. Rows of bookshelves take up one half of the library and the other half is filled with work spaces. From the bank vault, where the special collections are kept, a worker brought out a brown file box. Inside were notes, letters, wills, and newspaper articles, almost all related to the Bones family. Volunteers had just begun an inventory of the contents of the box, listing items on a pad of lined white paper. There was so much in the box that my dad and I decided that we would take pictures of everything, then convert the photos to PDFs and review the contents at home.
As I have reviewed the documents over the last year, it has felt as if someone had wrapped up most of the things I could want related to this family and tied it with a bow. I know it has saved me many hours of research time and offers invaluable context for some of the people in my family tree. I am indescribably grateful that I was able to find Katharine Brown, her papers, and her research files.
- The Bones family connects with the Longstreet family in the following ways:
- James Bones’ son, John Bones, married Maria Barney Fitzsimons Eve. Maria’s sister was Martha Henrietta Eve. Martha married Gilbert Longstreet. Gilbert was an uncle of General James Longstreet.
- John and Maria Barney Fitzsimons (Eve) Bones adopted Martha (Eve) and Gilbert Longstreet’s daughter Hannah B. Longstreet.
- My 2nd great-grandparents, James Hammond Carmichael and Elizabeth Seabrook Lake, also connect the families together. He is the grandson of Gilbert Longstreet and Martha (Eve) Longstreet. She is the great-great-granddaughter of James Bones, through his daughter, Jane (Bones) Holden.
- The Bones family connects with the Wilson family in the following ways:
- James Bones’ grandson, James William Bones, married Marion Woodrow, a sister of President Woodrow Wilson’s mother, Janet Woodrow. The children of the Wilson sisters were intimate friends.
- The Bones family was good friends with the Axson family. Woodrow Wilson would meet his first wife, Ellen Louise Axson, at the home of a daughter of James William Bones.
- James William and Marion (Wilson) Bones’ daughter, Helen Woodrow Bones, was the private secretary to Ellen (Axson) Wilson after Woodrow Wilson was elected president. After Ellen’s death, Helen shared the responsibilities of First Lady with Wilson’s daughter, Margaret, until he remarried the following year. Helen remained with Wilsons at the White House until early 1919.
- Another more distant connection was formed when my 2nd great-grandparents, James Hammond Carmichael and and Elizabeth Seabrook Lake, married. James Carmichael was 3rd cousins to President Wilson’s first wife, Ellen Louise Axson. As mentioned, Elizabeth Lake was the great-great-granddaughter of James Bones. This created another connection of a Bones descendant being related by marriage to the Wilson family.
- I believe this is how Dr. Brown became aware of the James Bones family.