Ask a Curator – Nov. 12th, 2010

Posted November 12, 2010 by Geni | No Comment

Each week, we ask our Curators some questions, and on Friday’s we post the Curators’ responses on the Geni blog.

This week the Curators share some of their favorite stories from their family trees…


My favorite is an ancestral cousin who wrote poems about her chickens, buried them with elaborate gravestones, and sold the poems to tourists. If it were up to me, she’d be the featured profile on the Martha’s Vineyard project 😉


I have a great uncle who beat his father to death with a stick (it was self defense). The same uncle also started a cemetery for his horses and mules that is still there today. He is by far the most interesting person I’ve run across.


This is a story about my third great grandfather:

“Before the Civil War he ran an underground station, so the negro slaves fleeing from their masters could get across the Ohio River, where they would be safe and free. This was just an old well that the negroes could hide in during the day. Uncle Henry would feed them and then they could travel at night that is, he would take them to another station and they would take care of them the next day, and so on till they were safe.”

Once I found that I was hooked on genealogy.


For many of us, it’s all about the stories–the ones told and the ones imagined (and yet to be uncovered). In addition to all the amazing stories I’ve found about various ancestors and ancestresses, I spend a lot of time trying to “connect the dots” from the sparse clues that history has left behind about others, and imagine–who *was* this person whose genes have come down to me? What was her daily life like? How did she manage to give birth to 14 children and lose eight of them and still go on and live to a ripe old age herself? Where did they get the courage to leave their homes and families and get on a ship and make the hard passage across the Atlantic for an unknown and unseen land and future?

One of my close ancestors whose story has touched me is that of David Chandler, my great-great-grandfather, born in 1829 in Person County, North Carolina, a farmer descended from one of the members of the Jamestown Colony. In 1862, as a middle-aged father of three very young sons, he enlisted in the 15th NC Infantry during an enlistment drive to replenish the Confederate troops. From letters he had someone write for him (since he was not literate), we learn that his unit marched by foot from Raleigh to Richmond, eating only “green beef” and being trained along the way, then went directly into Stonewall Jackson’s Manasses campaign. Badly wounded in a battle in the mountains of Maryland, David Chandler spent his last weeks in a makeshift hospital in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, dying of a wound infection in his leg in those pre-antibiotic days. A local woman who served as his nurse wrote a letter home to his wife to tell her of his death.

One fascination I have with the 11th century Anglo Norman ancestors is just imagining the transitions and scope of their constantly-changing world: that generation born in a village in Normandy who fought alongside William the Conquerer at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, relocated their families to England and became major or minor barons of that conquered land and people, were listed in the Domesday Book (the great census and inventory of Norman England in 1085), and just over a decade later, many of these knights ventured over land and sea to Constantinople and Jerusalem during the First Crusade. Although I may not approve today of their conquistadorial politics, I am amazed by the geographical and cultural experiences they lived.

So, for me, it’s the stories that keep me plodding along, climbing brick walls, and always imagining.


Mine is regarding Jean C. “Jenny” Wiley (Sellards).

Jenny was my second cousin once removed’s wife’s fourth great aunt. Her story is a testament to what it took to be a woman on the frontier. Born in Pennsylvania in 1760, she married Thomas Wiley in Virginia in 1779. Her new husband took her west to the frontier.

One rainy October day in 1789, she sat at her loom with five children around her. A relative stopped by to say that there were unusual animal sounds in the forest that day and he suspected an Indian attack was imminent. He told her to gather up the kids and get to the fort. Her husband was away on a trading mission.

She finished her piece of cloth, did her chores and then got ready to go to neighbor’s house. She had not even left the house when the Indians attacked. Within moments all the children except the baby in her arms lay dead on the cabin floor. The Indians grabbed her and dragged her along with them. The Indians threatened to kill the baby if she let him cry or if she were too tired to carry him.

They dragged her through forests and across rivers. She slept in the open and ate what the Indians ate. Eventually, the Indians did kill her baby. Still they traveled and still they dragged her along. Two chiefs fought over her.

What Jenny didn’t know when the Indians took her was that she was pregnant. She gave birth to that baby prematurely in a cave. The Indians killed that baby as well. She stayed with the Indians for the better part of a year before she was able to escape and was reunited with her husband.

Less than 10 years later, her husband moved her to a new frontier. Jenny had 16 children in all, six killed by Indians. She live to be 71 years old. Her children that survived became the principal families of the Big Sandy Valley, upstanding citizens in every way.

Why genealogy? I knew my roots were in Kentucky, but I didn’t know how far back those roots went. The tree I took over from a cousin began in the 1800’s, with families already established here. How did they come to the new world? Why did they take the risk? So many questions and such interesting answers.

Why Geni? I didn’t start the profile for Jenny Wiley. Someone else did. I picked up the threads that someone else left behind. I sat at Jenny’s loom and I finished her piece of cloth, her story.