The Vagaries of Family History and Genealogical Records

No fiction today (so far as I know). That will return next week. Oddly enough, this narrative does come from a writing prompt at this week’s Gila Writers Group.

I began genealogical research the year I retired. That fall I traveled to Minnesota to see where some of my relatives lived, not being content with simply viewing land records or news clippings from the archivists of the family. My great-grandfather George Maberry received 160 acres a decade or so after the Civil War as part of the Federal Homestead Law. I downloaded a copy of the certificate signed by then President Ulysses S Grant and went to what I believe is the actual site of his acreage. The grid maps in this part of the Midwest make that task less daunting than it is further east. I found rich black soil amid farmland in all directions. No barns, homes or other structures were evident on the land I presumed to be his. I don’t recall for certain now, but I am assuming that subsequent farmers acquired the acreage in assembling a larger area for growing crops.

Picture of George Maberry, wife and two sons, 1884
GH Maberry and family 1884

Some miles away,  I visited the Gillford Township cemetery. There I found the well-worn tombstones of my great-grandfather’s mother Rebecca who died in 1875 and those of brothers who didn’t survive the Civil War. I also found the much newer polished granite tombstones of his brother-in-law and a sister. My great-great-grandmother apparently lived with her daughter and son-in-law until her death. The condition of the daughter’s tombstone no doubt comes from the fact that my great-grandfather’s sister died in 1937 (at the age of 91). My great-grandfather, who died in 1927, is buried many more miles away in Madelia within a much better kept cemetery which apparently is still in use, unlike the Gillford one. He served in the 1st Maine Cavalry during the Civil War. Ironically, he fought in battles not far from our home in Virginia before mustering out in June, 1865.

In the vagaries of sometimes erroneous family history, many aged relatives believed that my great-great-grandfather had abandoned her for a gold rush in western Minnesota and/or the Black Hills of the Dakotas. They also thought he had been scalped, but survived, by Sioux that weren’t happy with the gold rush happening on their lands. Apparently not so.  Peter White Maberry left his birthplace Maine separately from his wife in 1848. He traveled around the East Coast by boat and up the Mississippi. He may have done some logrolling on the river around Minneapolis and St. Paul before heading west to Kansas Territory. According to records in Maine of an execution and levy, he owed money to a creditor associated with his failed lumber business there. An annotation says he was believed to be in Pikes Peak (no Colorado at that point). So others in Maine knew where he was, even if his wife and descendants didn’t. Oddly, the Gillford Cemetery records say the plots in which his wife, children and some other relatives were purchased by P.W. Maberry. His wife Rebecca and other family members followed to Minnesota before and after the Civil War. Peter apparently died around 1888 in Colorado. Sometimes genealogical research raises more questions than providing answers.

One more tidbit of 19th century life in rural and small town New England, people married their nearby neighbors–often, to the exclusion of almost everyone else. For the Maberrys (sometimes Mayberry) it was the Roberts family. Brothers and sisters from one family marrying brothers and sisters from the other–again and again. It all started in Windham, where William Mayberry, a blacksmith, settled in 1735. Born in 1688 in Ballymoney, Antrim, Northern Ireland, his descendants amounted to over 200 people in that small town before the end of the 19th century. Moving from Maine to Minnesota is somewhat like moving from Dallas to Fort Worth–at least as far as climate and trees goes. That happened for my closest descendants because, reportedly, it was getting “too crowded” in Maine by 1850. If you haven’t been there or don’t live there, you wouldn’t know that Maine is not crowded now in the 21st century.

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