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  • Root, Branch and Twig: The Serendipitous Science Excerpt from a presentation to The Torch Club of Western Maine

    Peter C. Barnard

    Published Date : August 1986
     History, biography, religion, sociology, social history, economics, geography, government, law, travel - and on and on

    Nantucket; Benjamin Franklin; the Frontiers of Ohio and Indiana; the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in 1781; the craft of the cooper; land and surveying measurements; probate and deed records; George Fox; Old Norfolk County in the Massachusetts Bay Colony; the Pilgrims; the American Civil War; Simon Kenton, frontiersman, pathfinder, Indian Scout; Quakers; a place called “Ham” in Devonshire; and so forth.

    This litany begins to suggest some of the many disciplines and studies and areas of interest and specific topics one may encounter in pursuit of the “serendipitous science” - genealogy.

    Why, I ask myself, does one become interested in the study of genealogy and then pursue it?  Well, for one thing, it’s fun.  For many of us, it becomes a strong personal interest.  For some it bolsters the ego.  For a number of us it is an in-depth and continuing exercise in history.  Some seek to prove “important connections” - descent from royalty, relationship to titled nobility, etc. Some seek tickets of admission for membership in certain “select” societies.  Some of us find an appeal to the sense of curiosity and puzzle solving.  Even scientists are interested as they trace family patterns of illness, disease, and inherited weaknesses.  Most people who are interested in genealogy are interested in people and their lives.  And many have a desire to perpetuate and record the memory of certain individuals and family groups.  Surely it gives one a feeling of place and perspective in history.

    My own interest in genealogy has come and gone over a long period of time, but now it is back in fuller flood than ever before.  I think it derives partly from my strong interest in history and biography, as well as associated subjects such as geography, travel, current events, and politics.

    My parents represented two poles of interest in genealogy.  My father cared little for it, saying that surely we would come up with a family horse thief or a n’er-do-well at the very least if we looked very far.  He joked with my younger brother and me from time to time and succeeded in getting our goats by claiming that there was an Indian lady in our heritage, although just who she was, where she appeared in the family tree, or any other documentation was pretty vague.  (We reacted, of course, because fifty years ago youngsters knew that the pioneers and cowboys were the heroes and the Indians were the villains!) Subsequently, I began to think that he had made her up, although a distant cousin from his side of the family appeared in my ramblings recently and has also raised the question about the mysterious Indian, saying that she had heard it was Pocahontas.  I haven’t found any Indians yet, but there may be one or two lurking in the family bushes.

    My mother, on the other hand, deeply interested in history, politics, and literature, also had a strong interest in her family.  From her (and her mother) I heard various stories in my childhood and youth about members of her family.  They ranged from some fairly important and impressive accounts to down-right frivolous and funny anecdotes.  I did manage, over the years, to jot down fragmentary notes about several of these legends, and late in my mother’s lifetime, realizing that her time was nearing an end, I sat with her on several occasions with [176] a yellow pad and quizzed her at some length, jotting down some fairly extensive notes from those conversations and focusing on things that I had only casually observed or had never thought to ask about earlier.  Her father’s parents had migrated from England as children in the mid-1800’s, but her mother’s family came from sturdy pioneer stock that early settled the frontiers of Kentucky and Ohio when the land was being wrested from the Indians. (There they are again - the Indians, I mean!)

    One single document served to spark my interest, in a strange way.  Originally, a photocopy of a 1909 typewritten letter (fairly early in the history of typewritten letters, incidentally) written to my great-Aunt Ida M. Barnard, in Cleveland, by her cousin, J. N. Barnard, the cashier of a small bank in Daleville, Indiana, came my way.  It was obviously in answer to Aunt Ida’s earlier letter to him, questioning him about family history.  The two pages covered a variety of people and topics, most of whom are strange to me, but it did clearly outline direct descent from early English settlers of New England in the 1600’s and then a long line of Quakers on Nantucket Island.  I think I first saw a copy of that letter in 1945-50, but it didn’t really “take.”  A copy of the letter surfaced again around 1980 or so and began to spark my interest.  That was the time when my Uncle Jay was completing his work on the Zook family, which resulted in a good, documented paper.  By the spring of 1982, I realized that a business trip to Cincinnati would take me very close to the area in southeastern Indiana where my Grandfather Barnard’s family lived, descendants of those Nantucket Quakers.  I determined to spend several days on a little side trip to Connersville, Indiana, in Fayette County, about an hour and a half northwest of Cincinnati.  This trip considerably fed my growing interest in genealogy.

    Briefly, on that trip to the southwestern corner of Indiana, I ran into an interesting lady who worked in the Fayette County Library, who turned out to be a third cousin and a very helpful one at that.  (I am now in regular correspondence with her sister, the “genealogist” in her branch of my family.)  I came upon some very interesting records in both that library and the county courthouse, and began accumulating a stack of photocopies, which is growing steadily.  (I’m always faced with a shortage of time, and I seem to dash madly in and out of these places for my research, so that photocopying original documents, wherever possible, gives me a chance to study them more leisurely, to refer to them again if there are questions, and not to rely on my hasty scribbles which I sometimes cannot even read myself, afterwards!)  The trail led me to nearby Richmond, Indiana, and Earlham College, a small but well-regarded Quaker institution. The library staff there was very helpful, and I began to discover some interesting publications - abstracts of Quaker records of the births, marriages, deaths, and other interesting bits of information about a wide range of my relatives for a number of generations.  The “reverse trip” made the link to North Carolina in 1818 and then to Nantucket in 1773.

    A year later, in the early fall of 1983, my wife and I spent a week on Nantucket Island, and I was able in several extended sessions to dig out a great mass of fascinating stuff in the Nantucket archives. Nantucket is an island, a county, and a town - all in one - the only such three-in-one in the United States - and these records are located in a large municipal/county building.  Right across the street is the Peter Folger Library, which contains more interesting stuff.  Frustratingly, it also has a very large walk-in fireproof vault that is lined with thousands of bound and loose-leaf record books and manuscripts, virtually all of which are unindexed.  I did manage to put my hands on the first Quaker record books of the very early 1700’s, and was pleased to find some of my progenitors in them.  And by the time we left Nantucket, I had a sizable packet of notes and photocopies of wills, deeds, and other documents, including the texts of two Quaker marriage services in the early to middle 1700’s.

    Subsequently, I have been in touch with a fascinating ninety-year-old man in Philadelphia, who is my second cousin once removed, being the grandson of my great-grandfather’s young brother, part of that Barnard clan in southern Indiana.  He and I have exchanged letters and photographs, and then I met him on a trip to Philadelphia slightly more than a year ago and was pleased to have a lengthy personal conversation with him and other members of his branch of the family, whom he brought all together at a very pleasant luncheon.  I’ve also made contact with a long-lost Breyley cousin on my mother’s side, and after that, by some random telephoning in the Greater Cleveland area, I have come across an elderly gentleman who is a younger first cousin of my mother’s -thus my first cousin once removed - who has sent [177] me copies of some interesting genealogical charts which have greatly expanded my knowledge of several additional generations and a wide range of relations in the Breyley family.  More about that problem later on, however.

    Perhaps you are beginning to perceive that I am on a horse, riding in all directions at once, which is somewhat true.  Rather than hewing to a single line, pursuing one problem relentlessly, I’m working in about one or two dozen directions at once, gradually but deliberately bringing in bits and pieces of a growing picture, assembling facts and near facts and more questions about my family on both sides. (Some of my family and friends think I am slightly demented to pursue the project, but others in my family and a number of friends and acquaintances share my interest in genealogy.)  From my travels and investigations, I know that there are considerable gaps in the written material on both sides of my family, and I may at least be able to start a preliminary outline that will fill in the gaps and bring together material and ideas for others who might follow me on a project that now seems virtually endless.


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