“Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” – George Eliot
My love of family history came from my grandmother. Growing up, I recall asking a lot of genealogical questions that most of my family couldn’t even begin to answer – except, of course, for Grandma Record. She had the gift of recall, and could summon a second cousin’s birth date as easily as she recalled (by rote) the names of the streets in the small town where she grew up – sixty years later. Indeed it was my grandmother who kept what records we “Records” did keep – when we kept any at all.
Remembering this, I got out the old family tree “booklet” I had inherited almost 25 years ago. It contains all our old vitals on pages that still shout out “purchased on clearance at Sprouse-Reitz.” By the 1960s the study of genealogy had finally come home to the dens of ordinary folks. We could now record our family histories as we watched the Ed Sullivan Show and men traveling into space.
However, I needed to (and still do need to) supply more information to complement my grandmother’s original records. While I’ve been pleased at how much I’ve filled in “after the fact,” there still remain all those blank spaces. The knowledge of my ‘genetic stew’ has increased since my grandmother’s entries, but I am still vexed as I spy too many of those forgotten family lines in my records.
A forgotten family line is a lot like a dropped call. The line returns only static, so we tend to give up. These forgotten lines are what make each of us an extra branch in someone else’s family tree – requiring a shift in our own research perspective. Usually these forgotten lines are relegated to the “bulk section” of our ancestral root cellar, ignored and often neglected, remaining items we are always planning to get to – and never quite do.
One forgotten family in my ancestral root cellar has been the Reeves family of Columbiana County, Ohio. The Reeveses married into the Bursons, and because I always felt more like a Burson I hadn’t really studied the Reeves. The Bursons seemed more relevant with their ancestral lines to Scarborough in Yorkshire, and their tenuous Potts family connections to the Roosevelts – “Are You Going to Scarborough Faire?”[i] [ii] I also relished our Quaker ties to distant Nixon cousins.[iii]
As far as the tree goes, I knew that Thomas Burson of Columbiana County, my great-great-great-grandfather, had married Harriet Reeves.[iv] Because the Bursons were Quakers I presumed that the Reeveses (whoever they were) might also be of that faith. So I began to look for Harriet Reeves, wife of Thomas Burson, and began to pick up one of those dropped and forgotten lines to see what I might find.
As I researched, I found an unsourced family tree listing Harriet Reeves. There was no reference to any husband. I knew I needed to move onto the Quaker records, and that I should just move past an unsourced family tree. Everything I had been taught about genealogy has been to document, source, and document again. So I had no expectations upon opening this singular family tree for a “Harriet Reeves” with no husband recorded – but naming her father. A father named Benjamin Reeves of Columbiana County in Ohio.
Almost immediately, I was prompted (thank you, Grandma, and Ancestry.com) to look at the Wills and Probate records for Columbiana County. Located there was the will of one Benjamin Reeves.[v] Well, I had come this far on an unsourced whim, so I figured I might as well take a look. And there it was, right where it should have been: “…and to my daughter Harriet Burson…” Bingo. I now had Harriet Reeves Burson’s father, and I knew the name of my great-great-great-great-grandfather. Further, the estate papers showed Harriet’s husband Thomas was the administrator in the estate of his father-in-law Benjamin Reeves. The will also named Harriet’s brother and six sisters, including one sister Mahala Reeves, a spinster, whose probate was administered by (her nephew) Hiram Burson, son of Harriet Reeves and Thomas Burson, and my great-great-grandfather.
So I guess if there is a moral to this story it would be to not give up on those forgotten family tree lines. There is always hope of finding a clue in the strangest of unsourced places. If you want the answer (or if I do), one truly must leave no stone unturned.
Here is to you, Benjamin!
[i] Clarence V. Roberts and Warren S. Ely, Early Friends families of upper Bucks with some account of their descendants: historical and genealogical information about the early settlers of upper Bucks County, Pennsylvania (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1975), 74; Simon and Garfunkel, lyrics 1966, “…Are you going to Scarborough Fair?”
[ii] Sarah Cox Burson (1715–1786), daughter of Margaret Potts Cox; William John Potts and Thomas Maxwell Potts, Historical Collection Relating to the Potts Family in America and Great Britain (Cannonburg, Pa., 1901), 231, 260.
[iv] John C. Burson, History of the Burson Family (Acampo, Calif., 1932), 4; William Wade Hinshaw, Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy, 4: 1: 653. Harriet Burson Reeves is said to have been “dis mou” – and disowned for marrying outside the faith. There is no indication that she and Thomas Burson ever recanted and applied for readmission.
[v] Ohio, Wills and Probate Records, 1786–1998, Ancestry.com, probate record of Benjamin Reeves, Columbiana County Ohio, 17 June 1851.