I know that I’ve become annoying about my new favorite pastime, genealogy. It’s fascinating to me, and I wish I’d gotten hooked 20 years ago because in the years I have left I can never investigate, solve or even know, all the mysteries of my family.
Recently, frustrated with one family line that keeps running me headfirst into walls, I just started flipping through what is called my ThruLines on the website of Ancestry.com. As I understand it, people at Ancestry.com or the software they have devised, or some magic I can’t understand is triangulating information from other family trees to introduce me to potential ancestors I may not yet know about.
I very quickly met a maternal ancestor who had lived in the same community several of my paternal ancestors inhabited. Both sets of ancestors lived near each other in the 1750s, long before my mom and dad met and married in Indiana in the 1940s. It seems this was a very small world in the 1700s.
I met a potential ancestor (James Barrett) who was a farmer in Ontario, Canada. He was born there, lived there, and died there. I did not know I had family in Canada, and I do not know how they came to be the family I know in Indiana.
I met another potential ancestor (Arabrella Bailey) who was born in Maryland in 1707 but died in France at the age of 35. How and why did she go the opposite direction from all my other ancestors to end up in Europe? And even more puzzling, she is reported to have died on the very same day that her husband died…back in Maryland! There must be an amazing story there or some serious dating errors that need to be corrected.
There’s also a man named Nathaniel Burdine with the word “slaveowner” attached to his name. He was born in 1738 in Virginia and died in Tennessee in 1823. In that time and those locations, I have no reason to doubt he was a slaveowner, but why was his ownership so significant that he is listed in his family tree as Nathaniel Burdine Slaveowner? The same designation was given his son, Ezekiel Burdine, a title that was apparently as important as his other title, Reverend. I need to look into that, too.
And there is Elsbeth von Ochsner born in 1707 in Switzerland. She seems to be the Immigrant in that particular line of my mother’s ancestry, yet the dates are very confusing. She is shown as arriving in North Carolina in 1738…yet giving birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, in 1739 and a son, Jacob, in 1740, both in Switzerland. Finally, daughter Anna was listed as being born in 1742 in Bucks Co., Pennsylvania. Either Elsbeth was a brave, two-way traveler (remember this was the 1700’s) or someone somewhere has made a grave error.
These are just a few of the mysteries I dug up in a couple of hours of flipping through possible ancestors that somehow link to my own. You see why I can’t stop looking?
I am planning a trip this summer to one of the areas where I know my ancestors lived before coming to Indiana. I don’t know what I’ll find there or even who I might find, and I’m not even sure what I hope to find. It might be enough to just walk along the river bank where I think they walked, to see the area where they worked the salt lick I know they worked.
I certainly don’t miss the irony of being able to reach the area in less than two hours by driving an interstate highway on a route that took them days to walk as they sought a new future in a new land that would ultimately cost them almost more than they could bear.
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Thousands of immigrants braved the dangerous ocean journey to America. Many of us are descended from people who thought the possibility of a better life was worth the risk of the journey. We’re here because they took the first step.
Author Note (added sometime later than the writing of this entry): I have no actual proof, no DNA matches, no official records…no proof whatsoever that this guy is my actual ancestor. I’m all about the story of these people who braved hardships to come to this country and become what they became, but in the months since this was written it has been pointed out to me there are no “proofs” that this is my guy, so the story is as factual as I can write it from what I’ve found…but he may not be my “immigrant.” He is someone’s immigrant, though, and I honor that.
In genealogy, the first family descendant who left the home country to seek fortune in America is called “the immigrant.”
I’ve finally located the “immigrant” of my Collings branch of the family, the guy who left England and endured the 6 to 14-week ocean journey to make a place for him (and eventually, well…me) in the New World sometime around 1700. His name was Anthony Andrew Collings, and he brought with him his wife, Jane or Jaine.
Anthony was born in Cornwall, England in 1678. Jane has been a little more challenging to track down, and I’m still unsure of her maiden name. It might have been Lancelott, or it might have been Spence. Other reports claim that he was married twice, first to Jane Spence, then to Jane Lancelott. Either scenario leads me down different paths. Because of this uncertainty, I’m not sure what year or where he and Jane were married, but I believe Anthony’s son Zebulon (my ancestor) was born in 1706 in Frederick, Pennsylvania.
In 1712, there are some reports of a daughter Winifred being born in Westmoreland, Virginia. There is also some information about a daughter Elizabeth born in 1712 in Westmoreland, Virginia. That would seem to indicate that Anthony, a twin himself, had twin daughters.
Anthony and Jane at some point moved to Charles County, Maryland where they owned property and lived until their deaths, Anthony in 1754, at age 76.
I don’t know why Anthony came to America, but I have some thoughts and theories (of course I do). There were many reasons people took such a challenging journey, but I think there were probably three main reasons:
The primary goal, of course, the one we all heard in history class in school, was freedom of religion. Major religious conflicts raged throughout the countries of Europe and the British Isles during the 16th, 17th and early 18th centuries. People were desperate to escape persecution and to be able to worship as they wished.
Another reason was a desire to become landowners and create wealth and security for their family. There were complicated rules for the disbursement of English property upon the death of the owners and titles passed to first sons. Second, third, fourth sons and so on, made do with what they could when fathers died. In America, they could, by hard work and clever trading, become prosperous and successful.
For many, though, the allure of the New World was the adventure. These are the immigrants who just could not be satisfied with the limitations they suffered in their homelands. These were the immigrants who traveled to the new world at any cost, then pushed the boundaries of the country westward.
No one can know for sure why any one particular immigrant came, but I’d like to think that I have figured out Anthony Andrew Collings. He was not the first son of Sir Roger and Elizabeth Collings; he was not the second or third son. He and his twin brother, Roger, were the fourth and fifth sons.
I think that young Anthony Collings, sensing there was little future for himself in England, decided to travel to America to build his own legacy.
Anthony started his American adventure in Westmoreland Co. in the Colony of Virginia, then for some reason moved to Charles Co., in the Colony of Maryland where he lived out his life.
Anthony Collings returned to England, probably around 1715 returning to America in 1716 when he is listed as a passenger on a ship arriving from England. It’s possible this trip had something to do with a disputed inheritance concerning his grandmother, which is an interesting side story, but I find no official records to support that.
I did find, however, that in 1717, one Anthony Collings purchased 100 acres of a 320-acre plantation called Partner’s Content, for the price of “2500# tobacco.” I can’t help but wonder if Anthony returned from his trip to England with enough money to buy this land and start his life as a plantation owner and man of some esteem in his community.
In those early days of our country, property was described on deeds and in legal paperwork by the names of the neighboring plantations and their owners. Several pieces of property in early Maryland records are listed as bordering on or bounded by the property of Anthony Collings. He was also listed in various wills as creditor, appraiser and “test.” which I took to mean that he attested to the signatures of the witnesses of those wills, possibly individuals who could only sign their name with a “mark” or X.
I also found records of his paying for land and other goods with various amounts of tobacco, which was the main crop of those early plantations. The Maryland Tax Roll of 1733 lists him as owning 1 taxable property in “Durham Parish, Upper Part.”
I believe Durham Parish was in Maryland at that time, but one of the fun little tricks of genealogy that I have discovered is that our ancestors may not have moved around in America as often as we thought. It was actually the state, county, and other boundaries that were fluid.
The states of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina all disputed boundaries and claimed land that was or was not theirs well into the late 1700s. The same town could one year be in one state, the next year in another. Sometimes these changes would be accompanied by a county name change, or the familiar county name might show up in a different state at a later date.
Interesting sidebar fact:these disputes continued until two men were sent to survey the disputed areas and established a line from which all future claims could be decided. The names of those men were Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, and the property line they surveyed, known as the Mason-Dixon Line, played an essential part in the history of our country for many years.
I want to briefly return to the above three reasons immigrants chose to come to America. Strangely, while these immigrants were firm in their determination, second-generation Americans seemed to gravitate to the third category…adventurers.
The newly minted citizens who came seeking religious freedom did establish communities dedicated to their religious beliefs, but many of their children became dissatisfied with the rules and regulations…and began pushing the boundaries of our country westward.
Those men who came to America to obtain land or become merchants and shop owners, ambitions that were never available to them in the Old Country, were often successful and became influential citizens. Their children, though, were reluctant to be tied down by the responsibilities of those same plantations and shops…so they traveled westward to seek their own fortunes.
And the children of the adventurers who simply came to the New World to see what they could see? They kept looking and they, too, pushed west.
My family was no different. That second generation, the children of Anthony Andrew and Jane Collings moved west.