Announcing Brandywine Banks

Announcing the Brandywine Banks site, dedicated to the genealogy of the Toy families of Delaware.

Happy New Year!  Last year, I found that there are two groups of readers that visit my blog.  One group is interested in the Toy Families of Delaware.  Another group is interested in Delaware genealogy in general and families of Sussex County in particular.  Few of the visitors seem to have an interest in both. Continue reading “Announcing Brandywine Banks”

Lowder and the DAR

A Successful DAR Application!

Back in August 2013, I wrote an article about Lowder Callaway, my 5th great grandfather who fought in the Revolutionary War. To me, this was just a very satisfying family history puzzle to be solved. To my niece, Rebecca, this as an opportunity to join the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Another interesting challenge…
Continue reading “Lowder and the DAR”

Road Trip!

If you want, you can accomplish a tremendous amount of genealogical research without ever leaving your desk, but there’s still a great benefit to getting out of the house and visiting the places where your ancestors lived.

For the past twenty years or so, my family and I have vacationed with friends and acquaintances at Fenwick Island  in Sussex County Delaware every summer.  Most of the time, this vacation is a few weeks of sun and sand, conversations on the beach all day and happy hour at the tiki bar in the evening.  But for the last couple of years, I’ve spent many of my vacation mornings traveling to western Sussex County to  see some of my ancestral stomping grounds.

Road Trip Area 2013I explored several areas this year, but spent most of my time in the triangle of land roughly bounded by the Nanticoke River, Broad Creek, and the line running between Laurel and Concord. This area was (and still is) a major farming area.  During the mid 1800’s, Lewisville (now Bethel, Delaware), Laurel, Seaford and Sharptown, Maryland were part of a major shipbuilding region, constructing the Chesapeake sailing rams designed to move freight on the Chesapeake Bay.  I’ve found several relatives who were involved in the shipbuilding or shipping industry.

I have records of ancestors surnamed Clifton, Callaway and Morgan living in this area back to the mid 1700s, as well as Waller and Lloyd ancestors in more recent years.  You can see several of these family names on the Pomeroy and Beers Atlas map from 1868.

So what was I able to do that couldn’t be done on the Internet?

  • Meet with local genealogists and researchers with an in-depth knowledge of the area.
  • Visit local libraries, historical societies and town halls that have records not available online or in the official archives.
  • Explore local cemeteries and find grave markers not listed on findagrave and see family plots in the context of others buried nearby.
  • Gain an appreciation for the local geography and architecture of area homes and churches.

I was originally draw to this area based on the will of Obediah Smith (~1728 – 1796) who left property to his daughter Margaret (~1750 – ?) and her husband Benjamin Clifton (~1750 – 1820) described as “all of the land called ‘Pine Grove’ on the south side of the Nanticoke River”.  I followed the river roads from the town of Concord to Woodland Ferry (shown as Cannon’s Ferry on the Pomeroy and Beers map), to Phillips Landing to see what the area looked like today.  The picture below was taken at Phillips Landing at the confluence of Broad Creek and Nanticoke River.

Nanticoke Phillips Landing

The Willow and the Tombstone

The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree,
Sing all a green willow.
Her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee,
Sing willow, willow, willow.
The fresh streams ran by her, and murmured her moans,
Sing willow, willow, willow.
Her salt tears fell from her, and softened the stones,
Sing willow, willow, willow.

Desdemona’s ‘Willow Song’, Othello, Act 4, Scene 3

During a recent visit to several cemeteries around Milton, Delaware, I found the grave site of my great-great grandparents, John Carpenter (1813-1896) and Jensie (Bryan) Carpenter (1825-1882) in the Goshen Cemetery. Most of the older ancestor tombstones I’ve come across so far have been unadorned and quite plain.  These, however, were decorated with a carving of a weeping willow tree.  I didn’t think much more about it until I visited the Cokesbury Cemetery a few miles down the road from Goshen, where I found another willow-themed headstone. This led me to wondering about the history and symbolism involved.

John and Jensie

Weeping Willow Motif

The use of the willow symbol became quite popular in the early 19th century, reflecting a growing interest in greek art and architecture precipitated by the publication of The Antiquities of Athens and Other Monuments of Greece, published by James Stuart and Nicholas Revett in 1762.  Sometimes the tombstone willow was combined with a grecian urn although it was often just a solitary tree, as was the case with my ancestors. A google image search for willow tree motif on tombstones turns of dozens of examples of the different variations.

The willow is a symbol of deep mourning. The most obvious association is with the ‘weeping’ of the tree.  A weeping willow needs a great deal of water to survive.  The tears that would be shed over the loss of an individual would be sufficient to support the growth of a willow tree. In Greek mythology, the Greek poet Orpheus carried willow branches on his excursion to the underworld in search for his lost love, Eurydice. His quest ended tragically,  associating the willow with grief, sorrow and loss. According to Apollonius Rhodius, a Greek epic poet, the Greek witch Circe planted a riverside cemetery with willow trees at Colchis to honor the goddess Helice.

John and Jensie

So my family history search has once again led me to a diversion.  My great-great grandparents lived their lives around Milton in Broadkiln (or Broadkill) Hundred of Sussex County, Delaware. They raised at least eight children (6 boys and two girls).  John Burton Carpenter was identified as a farmer in census records. His death record shows that he died at the age of 82 in Rehoboth, Delaware.  His cause of death was ‘old age’ and his occupation was ‘gentleman’. A nice way to go and a nice way to be remembered.


A Revolutionary Ancestor

Lowder Callaway (1755 – 1834)

His Mark

Lowder Callaway is my 5th great grandfather on my father’s side, born in 1755 and died on July 7, 1834.  He had eight children. His oldest boys, Lowder and Nathan, left Delaware for Ohio between 1815 and 1820.  The other six remained in Sussex County. He had one more son, Stephen, and five daughters:  Polly, Betsy, Sally, Peggy (who married Thomas Thompson) and Ann (who married Obediah Clifton, my 4th great grandfather).

He lived in Broad Creek Hundred, Sussex County, Delaware and farmed in the Laurel-Seaford area. One document I discovered had him receiving correspondence in  Concord, Delaware.  Concord, just east of Seaford, Delaware, is an unincorporated area today.  In the 1868 Beers Atlas of Delaware, however, it was significant enough  to warrant its own map insert and business directory. There are several Callaways to be found on the 1868 Beers Map in the Laurel area.

The 1st Delaware Regiment

BlueHenChickenLowder Callaway was a private in the Revolutionary  war from August 1780 until after the end of the war in May 1783. He served first in Captain Peter Jaquett’s Company with Colonel David Hall’s 1st Delaware Regiment and then with Colonel Henry Neill’s 2nd Delaware Regiment (Militia). Joining the military in 1780, Lowder would have missed some of the more famous battles involving the 1st Delaware Regiment, such as the Battle at Cooch’s Bridge and the Battle of the Brandywine, although he likely would have been at the Siege of Yorktown, Virginia.

Although it has gone through numerous changes and reorganizations over the years, David Hall’s Regiment still exists today as the 198th Signal Battalion in the Delaware Army National Guard, also known as the First Delaware. There is a website devoted to the 1st Delaware Regiment, which is where I found the history of this regiment. Delaware’s State Bird, the Blue Hen,  as well as the “Blue Hen” nickname, originated with Captain Caldwell’s Company of the regiment.  The Blue Hen was used in cock fighting by Caldwell’s Company and became famous for its fighting ability. Like the bird, Caldwell’s troops were  know for their fighting prowess.

Revolutionary War Pension Records

Pension Letter

Most of what I know about Lowder comes from his Revolutionary War Service and Pension Records housed at the National Archives and available at Fold3, a website dedicated to providing access to US Military Records. Lowder applied for a pension under the Revolutionary War Pension Act of 1818.  Prior to this, you needed to be an officer or to be designated as an invalid due to war injuries in order to receive a pension.  Starting March 1818, pensions became available to anyone who served in the Revolutionary War until it ended, or served for at least 9 months and was in “need of assistance”.  Basically, if you had served and could prove you were poor, you could receive a pension.

In his pension application of 1828, Lowder wrote that he had no property:

… except bed, bedding and a few chairs.  I have no particular occupation but work at such occupations as the kindness of charity of my neighbors affords whenever my health, which is very infirm, permits me to labour. My health does not enable me to work half my time, and at great risk and with much suffering when I do work. I have a wife living with me about sixty five years old and a grand child thirteen years old.  The health of my wife is very infirm, and the child too young to contribute to its own support.

He was awarded a pension of $8 per month (officers receive twice that amount), paid from November 25, 1828 until his death on July 7, 1834.

How am I related?

I came upon Lowder’s records quite by chance.  I was searching Fold 3 for revolutionary ware records for one of my Clifton ancestors when I found a reference to my 4th great grandfather Obediah Clifton (1783-1852). At Lowder’s death, he was owed $26.63 in back pension (about $720 dollars today), and his children applied to have the arrears paid to them.  The petition to received these funds identified each of the children, including “Ann [Callaway) who intermarried with Obed Clifton”.  From a death record for one of Obediah’s children, I knew his wife was named Ann.  Like Lowder, Obediah lived in Broad Creek Hundred his whole life and is the only Obediah Clifton found in the Sussex County census and tax records from 1810 until his death in 1852.  With this one record, I found the maiden name of my 4th great grandmother, the identify of my 5th great grandfather, and an ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War!

Lowder's Children

Subdivision 11

Unlike Area 51 or District 9, Subdivision 11 in Sussex County, Delaware, has no known association with aliens or UFOs.  It does, however, contain a large number of my relatives in the 1850 US census.

In the 1840 census in Sussex County, enumeration was by hundred.  In the 1860 census, enumeration was by hundred.  But in the 1850 census, enumeration was by hundred and by a geographic area referred to as the 11th Subdivision.  What was this exactly and why was it created for this one census? Google search and a review of 1850 census turned up nothing useful.  There is plenty of speculation about Subdivision 11 in the genealogy forums, but nothing concrete.  Being someone who likes to trace the movement of my ancestors over time, I find Subdivision 11  a bit irritating.

Comparing the 1850 census geography to a list of the hundreds in Sussex County and their year of establishment does provided a partial answer to this mystery.  The table below shows this comparison.

1850 Hundreds

The ‘1850 Census’ column identifies those hundreds enumerated in the census and we see that six of the hundreds are unaccounted for.  However, three of these were not established until after 1850. We can infer that the remaining three – Broad Creek, Little Creek and Northwest Fork – made up the 11th Subdivision in 1850. This makes sense to me.  My 3rd Great Grandfather appears in Broad Creek in 1840 and 1860 so it stands to reason that he would have lived in the Broad Creek portion of the 11th Subdivision in 1850.

That answers the ‘what’ but not the ‘why’ of this subdivision.  As part of my day job, I’ve worked with census data quite a bit over the years, and I know that census boundaries are adjusted from time to time in an attempt to even out the population included within the areas.  Areas with a lot of population growth are sometimes split and areas with low growth sometimes combined.  Looking at the map of the hundreds in Sussex County*, we see that these three hundreds were in the western and least populated portion of the county.  That’s my best guess as to why the 11th Subdivision was created – to make the enumeration workload more comparable to that of the more heavily populated eastern hundreds in the county.

Sussex Hundreds

If anyone reading this has more information or a better theory, I’d love to hear from you.

*This map fragment is courtesy of the David Rumsey Map Collection that I wrote about in an earlier article.

Genealogy Loves a Good Map!

I would stare at maps of Delaware for hours.

– Ken Jennings

A good map can bring those spiritless census, tax and land records to life by placing an ancestor at a particular location at a point in time. Maps can let you know where to look for records, provide hints about family relationships or track family migration through the generations.  If you’re a genealogist or a salesman in “The Music Man”, “ya gotta know the territory”.

The Hundreds of Delaware

When you work with records in Delaware before about 1910, you quickly notice that most significant administrative records are organized by “hundred”. According to George S. Messersmith’s The Government of Delaware (1907), “Up to the formation of the constitution of 1897 each county in Delaware was divided, for the purpose of local administration and government, and for the assessing and collecting of taxes, into districts known as “hundreds”” (page 18).

The Delaware Hundred came from German and British forms of government as “a local division of land, the people living in which are supposed to be able to send one hundred men to war in case of need. Each hundred had its officers, was the unit in raising taxes, and had its own courts” (page 19).

This subdivision of a county in Delaware was eventually replaced by the Representative District, but the names of hundreds appear in historical records long after the 1897 constitution and the hundred continues in common usage today. Personally, I live in “Brandywine Hundred” in the northeastern part of the state.

Pomeroy and Beers 1868 Atlas of Delaware

Nanticoke Hundred
Nanticoke Hundred

So if maps are an indispensable tool for genealogy and the Delaware hundreds are the most important land division for genealogical research in Delaware, where do you find the best maps of the Delaware Hundreds? Look no further than the Atlas of the State of Delaware produced by the Philadelphia company of Pomeroy and Beers in 1868. Click on the Nanticoke Hundred map at left for a good example.

These are truly luxurious maps, hand colored lithographs, that are incredibly detailed, showing places, landowners, roads, railroads, businesses, and districts within hundreds. The maps were published by Pomeroy and Beers based on surveys completed by D.G Beers in 1868 and engraved by Worley and Bracher of Philadelphia. I’ve never seen the original atlas, but I believe there are 37 maps in all with numerous insets for major towns and cities.

The David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

You can find black-and-white versions of the maps, free to download, from several sites, such as the Delaware Geological Society.  You can also buy quality color reproductions of the maps from the Delaware Historical Society  or buy high quality images from Historic Map Works.

The best deals on the Internet, however, are found in the David Rumsey Map Collection of Cartography Associates where you can download, reproduced and transmit images for non-commerical use at no cost! Usage of the maps is governed by a Creative Commons License. In addition to making their work publicly available, they also make use of the latest scanning, image processing and viewing technology to produce and deliver maps in a variety of sizes. You do need to register on the site in order to download the largest images, which I have done for most of the hundreds maps I work with regularly. Spend some time exploring this site.  You never know what you might find and many of the maps are true works of art.

Finding Uncle Rion

As I mentioned, the maps of the Pomeroy and Beers Atlas identify place names and landowners. I often encounter place names in family records that don’t exist on maps of today but it’s not unusual to find that long forgotten place on an Atlas map.

My fourth great-grandfather was William B Rion (1794-1865). He is found in the 1860 census for Nanticoke Hundred, Sussex County, Delaware in an area served by the St. Johnstown post office. St. Johnstown (or sometimes just ‘Johnstown’) is one of those places lost in history. Wikipedia provides the following:

“a stop on the now defunct Queen Anne’s Railroad line between Ellendale and Greenwood. After the railroad closed down and the tracks were removed, all property owned by the railroad was returned to its previous landowners and several small towns built around the stops disappeared.”

The map earlier in this article is the Pomeroy and Beers Atlas map for Nanticoke Hundred.  Studying this map, I find St. Johnstown in the northwest portion of the hundred, in “District 76”.

William B Rion died in 1867 and his will was probated in 1868. His eldest son was John S. Rion. If you look closely at the map of Nanticoke Hundred in the uppermost portion at Staytonville, you see a landowner named J.S. Rion. I’m betting this is my fourth great-uncle, living on a property he owned near his father or on a property inherited from him. Pretty cool, huh?

By the way, the Ken Jennings quote comes from the Time Magazine article “Ten Questions for Ken Jennings“.

An Ann by Any Other Name

I am easily distracted in my family history research.  I might find the name of a minister on a marriage record and go  searching for the churches he was affiliated with.  That, in turn, might lead  to researching the church where the marriage occurred, leading to an investigation of an interesting place name for the church location.  You get the picture.

The Name Mystery

1850 Census Obediah Clifton

Anyway, I was troubled by the name of the wife of my 4th great grandfather, Obediah Clifton (abt 1783 – aft 1850).  In the 1850 Census, the wife of Obediah is identified as ‘Nancy’.  However, the death certificate for Obediah’s youngest daughter (Sarah Clifton)  identifies the mother as ‘Ann’ and the death certificate for Obediah’s older daughter (Nancy Hall Clifton) identifies the mother as ‘Annie’. I also have a military pension record that identifies Obedeiah Clifton’s wife as Ann Callaway.  To keep things neat, I really wanted Nancy and Ann to be the same person.

Know your Nicknames

A shot-in-the-dark Google search for “Ann Nancy Clifton” turned up an unexpected result that eventually led to an answer – Nancy was a common nickname for Ann! A lot of readers probably know this already, but this is new to me. Based on an article from Name Nerds entitled “Where do Our Nicknames Come From?”, i learned that it was once common to affectionately refer to a child or family member by putting the word ‘mine’ in front of the name.  Referring to my daughter you might say “mine Ann”.  Referring to your neighbor’s daughter you might say “thine Ann”. Eventually, the ‘n’ sound was contracted with the beginning of the name to form Nan, Nannie or Nancy.  Similarly, Edward becomes “mine Ed” and eventually ‘Ned’.


Not being one to rely on a single source for any piece of evidence, I eventually found a wonderful book on Google Books with the ponderous title Transactions of the American Philological Association, Volume 23, which includes an article titled “Attraction in English” by Charles P.G. Scott.  Published in 1892, this 126 page article discusses “English Words which have Gaind or Lost and Initial Consonant by Attraction”, attraction being the transfer of the final consonant of one word to the following word. On page 295 of the book he describes how Ann became Nan.

Attraction in English

A little further reading reveals that while Nan derives from Ann, Nancy actually derives from Annis, which is an older form of Agnes (mine Annis – Nannis – Nance – Nancy).  In any case, Nancy was a common nickname for Ann and I can conclude that Nancy Clifton and Ann Clifton are one in the same person.

The moral of the story is that a knowledge of traditional nicknames is useful in genealogical research.  I found the Charles Scott article to be a fascinating read and highly recommend it.  For those looking for a quicker means to an end, Family Search has a wiki list of traditional nicknames that is a great resource.

I have never encountered Philology before this.  Wikipedia defines Philology as ‘the study of language in written historical sources’.  Investigating this a little further, I really think that Philology is a useful minor for anyone majoring in family history.  But I digress…

A New Leaf

Reese William b&w

This is the newest member of the family tree.  My first grandchild, born just three days ago.  He’s one-day old in this picture. I meant to post this earlier, but I was occupied with work and taking pictures of this beautiful boy. A big part of why I’m documenting my family history is so that this little one will have a better understanding of where he came from and who his ancestors were and how they were special in their own way. He may not really care. But then again, he might.  And the history will be there waiting.

From a genealogical point of view, his birth would confuse me a bit if it turned up in a record from a hundred years ago. He’s the fourth ‘Reese’ in the family, but the previous two were born to the eldest son. This one was born to the second son.  What could have happened?  If it happened 100 years ago, the average family researcher of today could spin any number of theories about this occurrence in the family record. 100 years from now, I have no doubt that vital records and archived Facebook posts would leave little question.  The truth is, the youngest got the blessing of the eldest before the naming.

My other passion is photography.  From a photographic point of view, I tried to figure out what sort of photograph would have been taken of a newborn by a fine art photographer in the 1920’s.  I imagine it might be something like this.