Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Road Trip Into History - Part 4

My Northern Neck odyssey had proven as successful as I could have hoped for so far in the discovered of the burial spot of my grandparents.  I’d honestly expected to find a small overgrown cemetery with broken, illegible stones, so even  it would have been wonderful the original graves, at least I’d solved what had been a family mystery for those Northens who were not raised in the area.  My next destination was vaguer. Specifically, it was Bogey Neck road, the Northern clan area and the place where my contact James and the rest of the family had met Dad when he came back to his birth place in 1987.  I can remember coming down to pick him and Mom up in the sweltering heat with Eli and Maya in our little non-air-conditioned Hyundai, the cornfields bone dry. We had picked them up at his foster mother Leta’s house, however, and not down in the Bogey Neck region, so I had no clues other than seeing a picture of the water – presumably the Wicomico River – from Robert’s house. 
            Bogey Neck Rd. was lined with small houses, some red brick, some white clapboard, some relatively new, some quite old and faded, but none of them that looked as though it was inhabited by anyone with a large income.  I passed several dirt roads that appeared to go through woods down towards the water but they had signs posted such as “Trespass at Your Own Risk.”  At length, Bogey Neck Rd. ended at a fork of private driveways that appeared to view down to water that I could not see at the end of the neck.  There was nothing more to do. This was the first real failure, of the trip; there was nothing to do but turn around and head back down the road.  My only consolation was that at least I had been in the area, so was a tiny step closer to experiencing the area where Dad was raised.
            Before leaving Wicomico Church, I decided to look up the site of Wicomico High School.  Just as Bootsy Burgess had described it, it was about a quarter of a mile off of the main highway.  There was a new brick apartment building where the main part of the school would have been flanked by a couple of older, nice painted buildings that were now private dwellings and could possibly have been part of the school.  I took pictures just in case. 
            At this point it was already after 3 PM and the heat was increasing. I was hoping to make it back to the Northumberland County Historical Society to see what the opportunities for research were there.  On the way back, I crossed over the Wicomico River.  It was very blue and much larger than I expected.  I stopped on the bridge to take a picture.
This was the river where Dad and his brothers had earned money by crabbing when they were young.  This was the river where my Grandmother Mattie’s body had been found floating in September of 1931.   According to the Rappahannock Record, she was discovered about a mile down river from her home.  Looking across the river, I knew that one of those shores, was Bogey Neck. I wondered what it must have been like there in those days 82 years ago. 
            I arrived back at the Northumberland County Historical Society less than half an hour before closing.  A couple of people had stopped in to chew the fat and, like me, were interested in find out and talking about their backgrounds.  Not having much time, I wanted to get right to work.  The Northumberland County Historical Society puts out an annual journal –sized publications with articles about many aspects of regional history.  Rather than subject, the index was arranged according to last names and, unfortunately, there were no Northen’s/Northern index.  I did, however, spy one name I recognized, Richard Thompson.  Thompson was a member of the William Claiborne party, that in the days of Capt. John Smith, had sailed up the Chesapeake and claimed what is now Kent Island in Maryland for Virginia.  He was also one of our first ancestors on the Lewis side of the family.  When I looked up the article, the mention was of Richard Thompson’s son, Richard Jr, saying the king had granted him one of the first pieces of land in Northumberland County. (Unfortunately, it was Richard Jr’s sister we are descended from - so no land for us.)
I was given several folders with the label Northern/Northen on them. Most were information that I already had, but there was a chart and a couple of pages that added to my knowledge of relatives not directly in our line.  I asked to have a copy or two made, but given the shortage of time, even had it been new information, I would not have had the time to go through it.  What I did learn there, though, is that they have a back room with several sets of journals relating to the area history.  It could prove a wealth of information about those members of the family on the Lewis side who were active in the early days of Northumberland County and the Northern Neck.  On the next trip down, I’ll have to give myself plenty of time.
It had been a full day, to say least but even as I was riding back, my adrenalin was still going thinking of what I had been able to see for the first time and discover for myself.  About fifteen minutes past Baltimore, Eli called to ask if I could swing back by and bring Joey with me.  The dog sitter that they had lined up for the weekend had completely forgotten and made other plans.  I turned around headed back to Catonsville.  I  was actually glad for the stop.  I’d been so busy and had such limited time that other than the iced tea in Warsaw, I’d eaten only a banana and some string cheese all day.  Eli grabbed some dinner for me while I recounted some of what I been able to uncover that day.  Joey proved an agreeable companion on the way home. He didn’t mind that I loved to leave the windows open to let the warm air rush over me as I drove and rarely contradicted me when I gave my opinions of the day.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Road Trip into History - Part 3

My family research in Richmond County proved rewarding. I felt pretty good after about having found the Old Northen Homestead and the Lewis graves at Oakland church. The one area in Richmond County, other than the historical society, that disappointed me was being able to find the Old Budweiser plant which, apparently has the grave of Peter Northen (one of the more prominent  family members), or a marker about him behind it.  Around 1 PM, then, I headed down to Northumberland County. 
            I was able to find the Northumberland Historical Society and walked in.  To my surprise, upon walking in, it looked like it had a fair amount of material, with their society magazine and many other books all spread out.  There was a ten dollar fee for researching.  I was met by Bootsy Burgess whose name I recognized from Lora’s and my previous trip there.  One of the things that she showed me was a large framed wall hanging the said Wicomico High School Honor Roll.  She said it had been hanging in one of the Methodist Churches, I think, and they were going to discard it so the society took it.  I found my father’s name on it along with John’s and Roberts, but not Dad’s sister Elizabeth. 
This was strange because neither John nor Robert went much beyond elementary school, but it also verified the story that all through high school Dad's last name was spelled with a second r.  After Looking at it, I realized what it was from one of the papers in the packet of documents about my father that my mother had send many years back.  It was not an academic honor roll, but a list of those from Wicomico school who had served in a branch of the armed forces.  I was also able to find Peyton’s and Calvin’s name listed under, Army.   I asked Ms. Burgess where the Wicomico High School had stood, knowing that it no longer existed.  She described the site to me on Brown’s Store Road saying that most of the original had been torn down and now there was an apartment building.  She also confirmed that the Northen’s had lived out on Bogey Neck road and was pretty sure that John Northen had run a crab shop from there.  She also said there were two churches out on Mila Rd., but, luckily, I had an address.  She invited me to come back and do some research that day if I had time; they closed at 4 PM.
            As with my search for Oakland Church, I had my trusty Google map with me.  Eli had helped confirm this for me the night before.  Once again it was a long ways down the road.  I pulled into a short dirt road and the church looked exactly as it did in a picture I discovered on line.   The cemetery was small so even from near the front, I was able to see two large markers that said Northern.  The first graves that I found were those of my Dad’s brother John and his wife Myrtlene. I had heard that John might be buried here, but even so this was a nice surprise.  James Hoffman had told me that my grandparents markers were small, not much more than a stone and might be illegible, but it was clear that, as with the Richmond County cemeteries these markers were pretty new.  It took very little time to find a large marker that said Northern at the bottom and then on the top the names of my grandparents. 

I was both delighted and disappointed.  Delighted because I had been searching for my grandparents burial site for a long time, but disappointed because there was one generic stone and neither of the original stone.  To me there is something about each person having his or her own marker that just seems more real to me, as though I can point to the spot and say that whatever remains of that person is buried there.  A couple things interested me about the marker, though.  First, it does not take a linguist to see that the stone was placed there by Crocker and Mattie’s children and that the inscription is an anachronism.  Knowing this also shows how oral tradition, even within a generation, can change things.  First of all, according to the E. E. Northen account of the family, written when my grandfather was still attending school in Emmerton, his name was Marcellus Crocker Northen.  My grandmother’s obituary and this grave marker, however make it clear that he was known as Crocker.  This latter also gels with my own memory from childhood when my mother would say that Dad’s fathers name was Crocker Marcellus and we would laugh at what a strange names that was.  Moreover, despite the spelling on his father’s and brother’s name in Calvary Cemetery, it was spelled Northern in Northumberland County.
While I was in the cemetery an electrical truck pulled up that was supposed to do some work on the church.  I asked if they were church members and might know anything about the grave yard, but they said they were just workers there and knew nothing about the church.  I did, copy the church address and name of the minister from the sign in front for future use.  My next stop was to just drive to Bogey Neck Road, the road where apparently the Northen clan was known to have lived.  It was not far and paralleled this one, leading out to the Wicomico River.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Road Trip Into History - Part 2

     Having had luck in the first stop on my journey with the likely discovery of “The Old Northen Homestead,” my next destination was Oakland United Methodist Church.  Sometime last November, I had received an email from a woman who was doing  research for a book on the church members who were buried in the cemetery.  She had seen my family on ancestry.com and wondered if I knew anything about Robert Northern.  I told her that, in fact, he had been my father’s older brother.  She said that he was buried in the cemetery, but that no one knew much about him.  With continuing emails, I also learned that my great grandfather, John P. Lewis and his wife were also buried in the cemetery.  So that is where I was headed. 
Without having had this information, I would have never thought to have gone to Oakland church cemetery.  It was very rural and quite a ways off the highway 3, the main route through Richmond Country.  The time was edging towards noon when I got there, and the temperature was approaching the mid-nineties.  What caught my attention immediately when I entered the cemetery was that the name Lewis was probably the most frequent name to appear on the head stones.  I wandered back into the cemetery trying to see if any of them were for John P. Lewis, and was having no luck when I came across my uncle Robert’s grave marker.

One thing that strikes any of my family is the spelling of the last name.  My father always said that growing up his last name was spelled with a second “r” in it and that his brothers’ name still were spelled that way.  Near Robert’s grave I spotted another one that said Clara W. Bryant.  Bryant, like Lewis, is an extremely common name in Richmond County, but I recognized this as the married name of my Dad’s youngest sister Peggy.  (How she came to be nicknamed Peggy has always been a bit of a mystery.)  The dates on her tombstone read 1924-2007, so she was the last of my fathers siblings.  Near her was the grave of her husband and a stone that included both of their names.
      I made my rounds through the cemetery – a fairly large one for a church in a thinly populated area – inspecting all the Lewis stones with no luck.  I came back up to the church and was about to leave when I looked at one last Lewis marker.  Around it, I discovered my grandmother’s family.   There were John Pierce Lewis and Katherine Edwards Lewis (my great-grandparents) as well as John Ball Lewis and his wife Alice Ruic Lewis (my great-grand parents).  There was also a Maggie Lewis who was either my grandmother’s oldest sister or her aunt.  I can’t help but add that the “Ball” in my great-grandfather’s name was after his great-grandmother, Sarah Ball, who was related to Mary Ball, George Washington’s mother.
I was obviously excited about finding the site where my dad’s brother and sister and  my grandmother Mattie Lewis’ family were buried.  My plan was to head back to the Richmond Historical Society now that it was well past 11 AM. First, though, I wanted to stop by the  Calvary Baptist church where I knew my great-grandfather W.F.L. Northen (see blog about the man with many names) was buried.  I’d been there on the previous trip but it was on the way back to Warsaw and I wanted to check in to see if anything new turned up (well, not literally). 
     Rather than new discoveries, the visit back to Calvary cemetery (a much smaller one than Oakland) tended to deepen some understandings.  First of all, there is a joint stone saying “Northen and Bryant Families.”  After having seen my Aunt Peggy’s (Clara’s) grave this just cemented for me the relationship between the families.  Moreover, there was a grave there at Calvary that also said Clara Bryant.  It was next her husband and I recognized that this Clara was my father’s aunt.  A 1910 census records my great-grandmother Mary Elizabeth Northen as having had five children, only three of whom survived into adulthood.  My grandfather Marcellus Crocker was the oldest and his brother Robert was the third.  Those two I knew had lived.  I also knew that one brother Norman had died at four years old from congenital birth defects.  Norman’s grave was also right there.  Next to it was also the grave of a girl, Ruth Mytrle, who died at two years old.  This would have completed the list of the five children, three who lived and two who didn’t: Marcellus, Norman, Robert, Ruth and Clara.  It helped me form a better picture of my grandfather’s family.
      From my experiences with looking in cemeteries in Richmond County so far, it appears that there has been some kind of Renaissance in an attempt to maintain cemeteries.  It doesn’t take too long to realize that most of the stones that I have been looking at cannot possibly be the original tombstones.  From an informational standpoint, I am grateful for this and commend the churches who are involved in preserving family memories. It makes the difficult task of seeking out barely readable old stones from a hundred or more years ago much easier. At the same time, there is something about actually seeing and touching the stones that were put their when that person was originally buried that works on a deeper emotional connection and I wish that they had left the original tombstones when they also put in the new ones.
One last comment before finishing up with Calvary cemetery and heading on.  Here is my great grandmother’s grave marker (obviously new):

Newness aside, when compared to her grandson Robert’s grave marker above, what is most obvious is the spelling of the last name – no second R.  Mary’s two children who died young (Norman and Ruth) also have their last name spelled Northen. So obviously my grandfather’s name was originally spelled Northen as well.  What happened? One other rather eerie thing is that there was a grave there that read:  James E. Northen (1848-1900). Of course, Dad was James E. Northen as well, so this may be who he was named for.
     I headed back to the Warsaw and the Richmond Historical Society.  When I arrived back at the historical society, it was still closed despite the fact that it was now 12:45 and the hours said 11-3.   Thinking that perhaps the person running it was out to lunch I went  to a restaurant called The Daily News – named for the newspaper office next to it – both to wait out the time and to get out of the heat.  The restaurant was a bustling and lively place, so I had an ice tea at the counter, but, having only one day for my research only stayed about 20 minutes.  Once 1 PM came, I headed I went back over to the historical society, only to find it still closed.  Lora and I had experienced the same phenomenon on our previous trip down, closed when the schedule said it should be open, so I cut my losses and decided to head on down to Northumberland County for the next part of my trip.   


Friday, July 19, 2013

Road Trip into History - Part 1

After much procrastination, I’ve finally gotten back into researching the history of the Northen side of the family again.  On Thursday, I took at trip down to Virginia, to check out a few sites that I had heard about where I might pick up clues about my family. A bit of background.  My father, James E. Northen, was born in Wicomico Church in Northumberland County Virginia, but his father and all the Northen generations before him from the late 1600’s had been in Richmond County Virginia. There were places in each that I wanted to visit, and each county also has a small historical society. Geographically, Richmond County and its county city, Warsaw, were the closest so I headed there first.  Eli had let me stay overnight at his house in Catonsville, so I was able to get an early jump on things.

I arrived down in Warsaw at the Richmond County Historical society at about 10:30 and the hours on the door said it was open 11-3, so I headed out to do the field work, which is why I really drove down.  I had three places in mind to visit in Richmond County that I knew existed but had not been to before.  The first was the most mysterious.  I was trying to locate what, in a family history by E.E. Northen in 1900, was referred to as the “Old Northen Homestead.”  It was where my grandfather Marcellus Crocker Northen had been born and most generations of the Northen family from some time in the 1700’s.  At the time E. E. Northen wrote it’s history, it was still standing.  I’d been contact by a distant relative who said that he had been down their looking for it based upon clues in Northen’s book and gave me some directions.

According to my relative, the old homestead was listed as being next to The Old Bostwell House on Boswell Rd.  He said there were supposedly some family graves on the property.  To my delight, I found the Boswell property right near the end of the road and next to it an old housethat was decomposing, surrounded by farm equipment.  I knocked on the Boswell door, but got no answer so I began looking among a some bushes between the two properties.  I found a small buried plot, about half a dozen grave markers – but they all were for the Boswell family.  I was about to leave when I pushed aside a few weeds and found:

His wife Catherine Northen’s marker was next to it.   I was instantly excited because Edward Jones Northen was my great-great-great grandfather.  This showed me that this more than likely was the spot of the old homestead.  I went next door and began taking pictures of the site.  This is the house.  

This morning when I thought about it, I was chagrined to realize that something was not quite right.  Edward Jones Northen’s  (my ancestor) wife was named Sarah, not Catherine.  I also realized that the date was too late. However, he had a son Edward, Jr. who married his cousin, Catherine, so that’s whose markers these must have been.  Old notes from a deed, however tell me that Edward Jones’ Sr.’s son, George, who was my direct ancestor lived in the land next to Edward and Catherine - so this is still a prime candidate for the old homestead, after all. 

It was a hot day in Richmond County – in the mid-nineties, and just thinking about it is making me thirsty, so  I think I will post this for now and continue with the rest of the trip soon. The next place I wanted to find was a cemetery where my Grandmother, Mattie Lewis parents, were buried.  It was a hot day in Richmond County – in the mid-nineties.