Take look at this beautiful family, especially the young woman standing center in the back row. Her name is Sarah Jane King and she was born in 1839. Sarah is part of a mystery I’ve been working on for weeks, which all started with a leafless branch extending from her father, David King.
So far in my genealogy research I’ve had remarkably good luck. Maybe because I wasn’t expecting to find much more than what my parents had already shown me. Any branch that’s opened up to a previously unknown set of parents or a new piece of vital information im able to fill is a whopping victory. The farther youre able to go, the taller and wider your tree.
But with David King and his parents, I kept getting dead ends. That is to say - I couldn’t find any parents at all.
So I turned to his children - specifically the names they were given - in hopes that might provide a clue to David’s own parents’ identities. His wife’s side of the family (Almena Caldwell) was incredibly well documented, so it was easy to identify which of their children’s first and middle names came from her ancestry.
One name unaccounted for was Quigley - two of David and Almena’s sons had it as a middle name and that struck me as worth noting. If I searched David’s mom’s maiden name using Quigley, would something pop up?
I tried so many combinations and still, nothing in the Family Search database. So over to google I go, searching each of his kids’ names, hoping there will be a headstone somewhere or maybe even a photo.
And that’s where I struck gold. David’s grandson David Ward King (he went by his middle name, Ward) was quite the 19th century inventor and developed machinery which made paving roads easier. For this he gets his own Wikipedia page complete with stories and photos of his ancestry. In the telling of Wards’ family history, I learned his grandfather was found wandering the streets of Baltimore as a toddler. The child only knew his own name, so his birth year is estimated and we don’t know anything about his parents, although it’s presumed they died during the yellow fever that swept through the city around that time. That child was David King!
Enter Robert Quigley, a Pennsylvania farmer. He took young David in and raised him as his own, but never legally adopted him. So what do you name your own children to honor the man who became a father figure to you? Bingo. The missing Quigley link. David and his wife Almena named their fourth son after David’s guardian Robert Quigley. Even though I wasn’t able to find David King’s parents I was happy to complete this portion of the puzzle of how he named his children and to realize I shouldnt use more energy on trying to find David’s parents for that branch of the tree.
When I found the post on Ward King I also found a lot of photos - of Almena and David and Ward at various ages. I used google image search to see what else might turn up.
And that’s where I found the photo of Sarah Jane. Dig deep enough, and with specific enough names, and you might find someone’s old photobucket account. Bonus points when someone else has written on the back of the photo with everyone’s names. I couldn’t believe it!! I had found a photo from approximately 1860 of my third (Sarah Jane) and fourth (Almena) great grandmothers along with great aunts and uncles (Robert Quigley King is seated at the bottom right).
Then I got greedy and that’s how the story shifts. In addition to a the photo of young Sarah Jane alongside her mother and five of her six living siblings, there was a photo of a much older Sarah taken forty years later. Her brothers David Jr and Robert and sister Mary Elizabeth are pictured. Below someone has labeled the photo with names. Her sister’s surname reflects her married name - Mary Elizabeth Gotwald but Sarah is still Sarah Jane King. That’s when a red flag went to to me. Why would one sister have been labeled with a maiden name and the other her married name?
There was another hole in the story I also needed to fix. On my Family Search page for David and Almena’s children, all but one were accounted for - either through stories, vital records or through photos. All children but one - Jennie. According to the information I had, she was second youngest - born in 1841 but with no date of death. After a little googling this and that I finally found a headstone for S Jennie King, which I updated in her file along with her life 20 December 1841 to 2 March 1927.
Then I went back to the siblings, which I often do when a direct line isn’t giving me answers. This time I looked around for Mary Elizabeth Gotwald and found a Wikipedia page on her husband Luther, who was a well known minister of the time. And a side note here, I do not take everything I read on Wikipedia to be the end all be all truth. Nor do I trust everything I find on family search, but they can and do help corroborate information.
That said, after reading about Luther I see that Mary Elizabeth’s Sister, Sarah Jane “Jennie” King lived with Luther and Mary at the King Homestead for the rest of her adult life. Then I keep reading to see a quote from Luther describing Jennie as “one of the sweetest and best “Old Maids” the world has ever had.”
It all comes together. The woman in the photo isn’t my third great grandmother Sarah Jane Fisher (neé King). She’s Jennie King, who never married or had children.
This one error canceled out a long and well documented ancestry on my tree. If Jennie King wasn’t my great grandmother, neither was Almena Caldwell King. And that knocks out a captain in the Revolutionary War, who legend has it was given 200 acres of land by the great George Washington himself. No great grandpa Europe Hamlin. Or connection to Abraham Lincoln through his Vice President Hannibal Hamlin.
And that’s the thing with genealogy. It’s what happens when you crowd source your lineage. My Sarah Jane King was born in the Midwest in the late 1830s. Another Sarah Jane King, also born in the Midwest (Ohio) just a year or two later. Both had fathers from Maryland. No wonder someone saw that and thought it a match. It’s the first big disappointment of what I know will be many as I carefully review documents for each and every generation, every grandmother and grandfather.
This false connection sends me back to ground zero for my Sarah. Probably a farmer’s daughter who never had a photo taken. But she still existed. She may not be the beauty in the antebellum photo above but she was a real person. I wouldn’t be me without her.
I wouldn’t be me if any of my thirty two third great grandparents didn’t get together to create my sixteen great great grandparents. All of those people meeting, falling in love, making love, having a child who grew up and did the same thing for generation after generation for ME to happen. That’s why genealogy is so fascinating to me.
It’s not just one sliding door that made you who you are today, it’s hundreds and thousands chance encounters, or parallel social classes, shared geographty, the same religious group, mother county, language, birth order and so on. One missing connection and you’d never be you. The odds of getting your special blend of good looks and talents are thousands of years in the making! And the odds that you’ll have the genes you do are microscopical small! But alas! Here you are!
So if you’re able to name your distant great grandparents- great. If you can put a face to a name - awesome. But if you can’t, it doesn’t mean that an unknown mother or father in your family tree wasn’t an absolutely necessary link in you being you.
Now tell me - who has done a mail order DNA kit? Did it reaffirm what you already knew or surprise the hell out of you? Has anyone done more than one and able to provide a comparison with pros and cons? Tell me all about it!
You can read more about my family research (and what websites I use!) by clicking here.