Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Ancestral Stories ~ You Can't Make This Stuff Up

There are times when you are a participant in a genealogy story so full of serendipity that the storyline is hard to believe even though it is happening to you.

Case in point.  Our family as known for over a hundred years that our grandmother, Eliza Sampson, was from France and that her husband Henry Friedlander, was from somewhere on the continent.  They married, had three children and lived in Saint Peter Port on Guernsey off the French coast where grandpa died.

After a series of voyages that literally took her around the world, Eliza’s daughter, Rosa Clara Friedlander, ended upon the coast of California with her husband and their baby.  They walked and rode in wagons over the course of the next two years to Utah.

From Rosa’s notes and stories, we had knowledge that even though her mother’s maiden name was Sampson, she was indeed born in France.

Finding an Eliza Sampson, yes, spelled with a “P”, in France in the early 1800’s proved to be the Brick Wall in our research.  None of the cumulative research until a year ago found a single useful clue about her parentage.

A cousin, Marsha, from England enjoyed one of the most serendipitous experiences in the research lives of anyone in our family.  Marsha and I have talked and shared research information for years about our common ancestry.  Between the two of us, we’ve knocked down many genealogy brick walls thanks to our respective locations, resources and skills.

The lineages of Grandpa Friedlander and his wife, Eliza Sampson, has always been like a thorn in our sides during our years of research successes.  While other seemingly impossible clues had been found, their respective brick walls proved to be made of the impenetrable SciFi metal Krell from the “Forbidden Planet”.  The wall seemed to even be covered with a frictionless surface, because nothing we threw at it would stick.  Everything slid off as fast as it touched.

And then ….  One evening not long after reviewing our research on Grandma Sampson, Marsha went to a lecture at a college in London where the lecturer talked about the records he’d uncovered about the English Navy and citizenry who lived or were in Port anywhere in France who were taken prisoner by Napoleon so they couldn’t fight against them when he declared war on England.  He said that he had microfilm copies of the French prisoner records if anyone wanted to look through them. 

Marsha was irresistibly drawn to them and within a short time found the name of William Sampson, a British Naval Lieutenant who was taken prisoner aboard his ship in a French port.

Knowing that these prisoners were held in France for many years, she decided to trace his life in France.  She found that he was among the prisoners who were taken to Verdun where they were basically under arrest and not allow to leave town.  The French government did not pay for any of their expenses, so they had to find employment to pay for their shelter and sustenance.

Many Engllish families lived in barns and other similar housing during their captivity.  Grandpa Sampson was fortunate because he found employment with a restaurant - pub owner by the name of Remy Thiery.

Apparently, his work was received well by Remy because it continued for a number of years.  Eventually, the young British office fell in love with Francoise Thiery, one of the young daughters in the family of Remy and Marie Claire Maloiseau Thiery.  Marsha found their marriage record and from that knowledge was able to find the birth of their daughter, Eliza Sampson!

The discovery turned the key in the door of our Brick Wall.  Does a tree make any sound as it falls in the forest and no one hears it?  Well, I know that the tumbling of Brick Walls makes a sound because the lucky researcher who fells it makes the sound in the form of a “Yahoo!” or “Wahoo!” or “Yeah!” or “Holy Cow!” string of sounds combined with many more incomprehensible sounds.  Many new dances are scored while the lucky wall-buster is dancing in joy as well.

Since that time, I’ve been able to push many of grandma Francoise Theiry Sampson’s ancestral lines back to 1600.  All we need was the clue to fell the wall.  We’ve also been able to trace Grandpa Sampson’s English ancestry back several more generations thanks to the knowledge of where he was born.

So let’s recap this story of serendipity and wall-felling success.

  • A cousin went to a lecture on a whim.
  • The lecturer was probably the only English born person who had personal knowledge of the records we needed and had a copy of them after having spent years examining them.
  • He invited my cousin to read his transcripts and view a copy of the original records about Englishmen captured by Napoleon without the declaration of war.
  • He had a copy of not only these prisoner records from Verdun, France but also a copy of French church records that related to the births, marriages and deaths of the prisoners.
  • The records proved that William Sampson  was our ancestor due to his marriage to Francoise Thiery and the birth record of their daughter, Eliza Sampson whose birth date matched the date that her daughter, Rosa Clara Friedlander Logie had in her records.
  • The journey of the ping involved in tracing this story started in the Isle of Guernsey in the early 1800’s, traveled to England, then to Australia, then surviving the sinking of a ship in the South Pacific, then to Tahiti, then to San Francisco, then to Utah where it simmered, stewed and generally acted as a thorn in the side of Rosa’s descendants for almost one hundred and fifty years.
  • Two of Rosa’s descendants of approximately the same ages were bitten by the “genealogy bug” early in their lives.  Both were born in the States, enjoyed genealogy research training and eventually lived in locations that are conducive to finding ancestral records that neither would have found on their own, yet thanks to collaborative research had just enough resources available to them to seize on the random threads of serendipity that float through their lives from time to time.
  • Both of these researchers have learned to listen and watch with something other than their natural senses.  Outsiders can argue all they want about the root causes, but as one of these blessed folks, I know the source of the ribbons of serendipital knowledge aren’t from physical prowess, yet are nonetheless real.

How many serendipital successes have you enjoyed in your own research?  What are your stories?