The Plaid of Alamance County


I have had the chance to have an amazing few weekends in a row lately.  First, we will start with the most recent trip and work our way back! Since this blog is mainly about my family history I thought it a good idea to stop in a see some for myself.

I was invited on a combined birthday trip that my best friend and I take every chance we can.  It all started with going to the Harry Potter theme park in Orlando seven years ago and most recently ended with a trip to Asheville, NC to see one of the United States’ most beautiful and largest estates, the Biltmore.  I guess our taste has improved over the years.  That adventure will be featured in the next post!

Since I live in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, a trip to Asheville took about seven hours.  To break up the monotony of interstate 40, I decided to make a small detour to Burlington about half the drive home.  The home was just a few miles off the highway, tucked into a grassy countryside and through the small little town of Alamance with its pink houses and rusty water tower.  There, nestled behind some walnut trees was the Alamance County Historical Museum or as I like to call it, the Holt family home.


Previously, I had done a small piece on the Holt family that had migrated from Germany and become the second colony to establish Germana.  This is part of the story about the descendants from Michael Holt.

The home is located on a part of a 1600-acre grain plantation, known during the 19th century as Oak Grove.  Three generations of Holt men owned the home.  It was built in three different stages, the first being in 1790 when it was just a two-room dwelling called a “dog trot”.  It was enlarged in 1800 and again in 1875.  The house is surrounded by outbuildings, including a granary, barn, corn crib and a carriage house.  There is a reconstructed summer kitchen behind the home between the property and the Holt family cemetery.


During the time that the family lived in the home, at the outbreak of the civil war, the family had enslaved African-Americans living at the home in cabins behind the house and across highway 62.   I know that this can be a very tricky subject to talk about.  I do not condone the actions of ancestors in my past, but it was a different time and out of my control.  But, it is a part of the history of the property and has an amazing story of one enslaved man who I think we should mention.

So, I pulled off highway 62 into a dirt parking lot and was greeted by a sign that told me a little more about the significance of the place.  I felt overwhelmed.  I was standing in a place that I had only read about during my research into the Holt side of the family.  It was neat to put a name with the face so to speak.  I made my way up the small dirt driveway and onto a brick path that wrapped around to the front of the home.  I was greeted by a sign that asked me to ring the doorbell.  The bell was inside the door itself and I gave it a few tiny turns and heard a faint ring behind the wood and glass.  I was soon greeted by a gentleman and was asked if I would like a tour of the home.  I said yes and we proceeded into the parlor as soon as I had signed my name in the guest book.  To say the least I think I left my mind on the wooded floor in the living area.  I felt like Catie, my daughter, when she was excited about something and it seemed as if her brain has just exploded from her skull.   Boom.


Inside the home are numerous original artifacts that are the Holt’s family treasures.  The music room was adorned with furniture and portraits and dress forms neatly draped in the clothing that once belonged to the family itself.  They were in such good condition I imagined they had just been taken out and dressed that very morning.  I was shown a grand piano that was purchased for the family and a large music box brought back from Switzerland that the gentleman gently cranked a few times around and began to play an eerily beautiful tune.

The entrance hall contained a large mirror and an English-made clock.  It was also the site of a marriage.


The parlor had velvety red chairs and a mirror that had been purchased in New York.  A large round table stood in the center of the room.  The piece had been made especially for the family by the free black artisan Thomas Day.

dininThis led into the dining room which held many treasures.  Hand painted china littered the table in neatly placed sets.  The silver, which had been passed down through the female line, was engraved with the initials MEH.  The wallpaper covered with pineapples, was a sign of hospitality.  And the family had much still there to entertain from tea sets and ice cream makers to a cold beverage pitcher.  I was enthralled with all the artifacts that were in the home.


I ascended the stairs to the second floor and was greeted by even more artifacts.  In the room to the right were glass cases that held even more treasures pertaining to the family.  A portrait of Thomas Holt hung proudly, as he would become the 47th governor of North Carolina.  Samuel Holt had information about the ship he owned, the Mary glassHasbrouck, and would sail as far as Australia.  Dr. William Rainey Holt’s medicine chest from the civil war was tucked into a glass display next to Lynn Banks Holt’s rifle he used during the war.  Everything from an umbrella and purse to toys the Holt children played with were on exhibition.


In the next room was a family cradle and mourning attire, a reproduction wedding dress of the daughter who married a Count in Milan and a portrait of a young woman who married in New York and lived on Central Park Avenue.  These women I had never heard of before in my family history but cannot wait to find out more about.


The last room in the home that I had the privilege of seeing gave more of the history about the textile industry and the cotton mill.  I learned that E.M. Holt developed the Alamance Plaid and founded what has now become Burlington Industries.   I saw a portrait of E.M. Holt showing him at the mill and women crowding around him looking at the fabrics of plaid as Caswell and his brother Sam, slave workers, helped stoke the fire and stir the indigo dye that would make the Alamance plaid what it was.

This was all so much to take in.  I had a plethora of knowledge just from a thirty-minute tour of a home that once belonged to members of my family.  E.M. Holt was my first cousin five times removed.   His father’s brother, William, was my 4th great grandfather.

Later, I got a small tour of the reconstructed summer kitchen outside and then was taken to the small family plot at the back of the home.  I had so much information that I could not wait to share with my sister and my mother.  This is after all, from my mother’s side of the family.


In 1837, E.M. Holt established the Alamance Cotton Factory.  The Alamance Plaid that was produced at the mills was the first colored cotton material commercially manufactured in the southern United States.  By the early 1900s the Holt family owned 24 cotton mills in Alamance County.  At his death in 1884, E.M. Holt was considered the wealthiest man in North Carolina.

caswellNow, let’s go back to the story of one of the men who had been enslaved and was a part of the Holt family history.  His name was Caswell.  I had mentioned him as being a part of the portrait that hung in the museum portraying Mr. Holt and Mrs. Holt inside the mill.   Caswell was born at Oak Grove in 1834 and worked for E.M. Holt for about 30 years before becoming emancipated and setting up housekeeping with Jeremiah Holt on his farm.  He took the Holt last name as his own and married Amy, a woman who had also worked for the Holt family.  The story I was told was that he had become the first African-American deputy in the area and was sought after by the Klan.  Eventually it ended with a run in with Klan members and they had shot him.  He survived.  This is an attribution to the strength that Caswell must have possessed to be a successful man in that time period.  You can read more about Caswell and his life in “Historic Alamance County: An Illustrated History”.

Over the next few weeks, I hope I can explore more of the workings on the Holt family and its ties to Alamance County and the textile industry.  I also, hope again that one day soon, I can go back to explore the small town of Alamance and all the rich history it has to offer.


One year later


One year has passed since I said my final goodbyes to my father.  It has been a tough road to get here.  I think of him every day.   I am reminded of him every day.  From the truck that sits in my drive way to the Beatles songs that come on at the perfect moment.  My daughter, who got to know my father the best out of all his grandchildren tells me of my father’s little quirks.   She told me one day that she remembered that grandpa would always lick his finger before turning a page in a book they would read together. 

I love that she remembers this.  She is holding onto memories of who her grandfather was.  How he acted and his mannerisms and not just what he did for a living or what he looked like.  Those memories are the most special to me.  It tells of the person’s characteristics and just not facts on paper anyone would be able to see if doing research.

This leads me to today’s post.  Sometimes while doing family research we only get to see facts on paper.  Birth and death dates, draft cards, social security applications and marriage licenses.  But, in those rare moments we find something truly special; a newspaper article explaining their time during the war, a medal given to them for their bravery in service or a story in an obituary telling of all the wonderful things one had accomplished during their life. 

Social media is a constant reminder of my father too.  Since July 23rd, the day he passed away, until today (the day we had his service) I have had numerous reminders of my time with him.  Photographs accompanied by song lyrics, condolences from family and friends and his own obituary telling of his life here with us. 

I clicked on the link that took me to the funeral home’s website.  There people could leave their own remarks and thoughts about him for us.  I had never read them until the other day.  A year had gone by and I had never had the courage to read through the comments under his obituary posting.  I finally did, with tears in my eyes, and was surprised at who left a comment and what some of them had said.  These people posted memories of who my father was as a person…not just what he was on paper.   I would like to share some of those now. 

“Dee Dee, I am so sorry to hear about the passing of your husband Norman. I know you feel lost without him. I miss you dear friend and hope and pray you are doing well.”

Mary K. Butler-Parise – 6 months ago


“Sorry to hear about Norm. He was a good cop, a good guy. No politics, no B.S. I met him in early 1979 and he was always willing to help a rookie.My toughts are with you. Burt Spry”

Burt Spry  – 12 months ago


“James R Elliott VBPD Retired Rest in peace Norm. May God bring peace to your family in this time of sorrow.”

James R Elliott VBPD Retired – about a year ago


“I meet Norman the beginning of August 78. l had just moved here from NY to begin the job of a Police Officer in the VBPD ACADEMY. I was not in a good place financial wise at that time, couldn’t afford a hotel or rental. I was living out of my car, sleeping in a parking lot, and using the facilities in a camp ground. Another police officer who I was working with at the time prior to the academy introduced me to Norman and told him my story. Norman had never meet me, knew nothing about me, yet because we wore the same uniform he opened his home to me. I stayed at his home from that moment on, during and until the end of the academy. For that I will be forever thankful to him. We became friends worked for years for the police department and even retired on the same day. To the family I am so sorry that you’ve lost Norman he was a great guy and I was so thankful that I met him. Thanks again Fergie. W D Woodard Woody”

William D Woodard – about a year ago


“Norview Class of 1968 would like to give prayers and sympathy to the entire Ferguson family . Our deepest sympathy goes your way. Sincerely, Norview Class of 1968.”

Susan P. West – about a year ago


“Very sorry to hear of Norm’s passing. We worked together for many years and he was always fun to be around. He will be missed.”

Kenneth M. Lowe Jr. – about a year ago


 “I have fond memories of retired Det. Norman Ferguson. I am so sorry to hear he has left us too soon. My deepest sympathies are with family. Catie Wilson, VBPD.”

Catie Wilson – about a year ago


“Lost another close brother in blue. Sad to hear of Normans passing. He was a wonderful officer and friend. He will be missed by many. May his survivors find peace and comfort knowing he has gone to a better place! Ret Jerry A Fenske, VBPD.”

Jerry A Fenske – about a year ago


“Mr. Ferguson, Dad, you’re already missed by everyone that loves you. Growing up Ashley and Adrienne became sisters and you and Mrs. Ferguson became a second set of parents. I will cherish all the time I spent with your family and all the waffles.  Thank you for all the great memories and chats over the years. I love you.”

Michelle Aubrey – about a year ago

Thanks for reading.


Rumor Has It

I have had a great couple of weeks.  I last left off on this blog with letting everyone know of things to come this summer.  I knew then that I would be very spotty when it came to posting because I was expecting my third child.  Well, she has arrived.


Caroline Elsie was born on June 23rd at 9:03 a.m.  She weighed 7 pounds and 6 ounces and was 19 and three-quarters of an inch long.  What a beauty!  We are happy at her arrival and now at 3 weeks she has fit perfectly into our family and is adjusting to that newborn life well.

I have also started on a business venture with my sister.  We have created our own small boutique featuring clothing and jewelry.  I hope that leads into being able to provide an outlet for the “My Past Life” shop that I had mentioned in my summer plans.  I have so many ideas and graphics already in place for merchandise that I would love to be able to share with you.

So, with all that being said let me tell you the real reason for this surprise yet overdue post!  I will preface by saying that all names have been changed to protect the innocent.  Intrigued?  I was too.

In my experience with being an amateur genealogist (I flatter myself) the record is key.  It is the proof in the pudding of who belongs to whom and who is what.   For instance, if I were to look at a birth record it clearly states who the parents of a person are.  This should be taken as fact.  But what if it wasn’t a fact…

Here is the story.

I recently heard a rumor that someone I know may actually not be the person I think she is.  We shall call her Jane.  Jane is a person in a large family.  Growing up she had several other brothers and sisters; some older, some younger.  She was born in 1948 to (let’s call them) Jack and Jill.

Now, Jane had an older sister.  We shall name her Mary.  Mary was born in 1934.  She was the oldest sibling in the large family.  At the time of Jane’s birth, Mary would have been about fourteen.

And let’s just say that the person I know…well, we can call her Betty.  Betty was the youngest of the bunch.  She is Jane and Mary’s sister.   And for timelines sake Betty was born in 1958.  So Jane would have already been ten years old.

But what if Betty and Jane weren’t sisters?  What if Betty was actually Jane’s aunt?  Strange to think someone younger could have been an older someone’s aunt.

Rumor has it that on Mary’s death bed she confessed to her own daughter that the person everyone knew to be her sister was actually her child.  She explained that she had become pregnant very young and that her own parents raised the child as one of theirs to cover up her pregnancy.

Sounds like something out of a lifetime movie to me.  I mean it was 1948.  A young girl becoming pregnant out-of-wedlock was a no-no.  And I am sure the family would want to do the right thing.  But how do we find out for sure?  Records show that Jane’s parents are Jack and Jill.  But didn’t a midwife record this information?  Or was it solely up the parents to report the birth?

If I follow a paper trail on an ancestry website and start to pull records, it will only show me that Jack and Jill are indeed the parents of Jane, Mary and even little Betty.  Everything would have been “covered up”.  I feel the only way to be certain of Jane’s parentage would be to do a DNA test.   If a DNA test is done, how accurate would the results be?  I am not expert when it comes to DNA but what would the results show…that Mary was the mother of Jane or that Mary and Jane were simply relatives.

This isn’t the first time I have heard a story like this.  And that is all it may be…a story.  I guess we shall never know for sure.  There will always be the “what if”.  Any older sibling that could possibly prove the story or deny it is already gone.  This will forever remain a mystery.  I have spoken with Betty.  She feels that Jane doesn’t have to prove who she is.  That she will be always and forever her sister.  And I think that is all that matters.

How would you go about trying to prove or disprove a rumor like this in your research?  What kind of ways have genealogists tried to figure out the rumors in a family’s tree?  These are all questions that I hope to answer myself one day with the more research and experience I gain.

Thanks for reading!



Summer Start Update

Logo_1472484168779Three more weeks of comparing baby Tillman to food.  Every Thursday when I open my Bump app on my phone, I get a little visual of what baby may be like inside my tummy.   This time at thirty-seven weeks it is romaine lettuce.  I feel the pineapple was more accurate two weeks ago.

Three more weeks of looking at my sweet little Grant and realizing he will no longer be the baby soon.  I still look at his face and think to myself, “You are still too tiny!”  And he is, but I am very excited to meet this little girl who wriggles inside at every given moment of the day.

School is now over for my oldest and we start the testing process soon.  Hopefully all of our hard work has paid off over the last few months.  This is my first time homeschooling and I just hope that I did her justice.  Caitlyn is the smartest little girl I know and she has seemed to pick up on everything thrown at her.  Sometimes, I think she is too smart for my own good.

So, for the next three weeks, now that most of my nesting seems to be coming to an end, I will be concentrating on my list of things to do here at My Past Life.  Earlier this year I had come back from a stint of being away.  I had wanted to start many projects that I continue to work on behind the scenes.

One being the new novel I had started.  This will be a summer project while little babes nap in the afternoon.  Currently I am working on a timeline and cliff notes.  I am taking journal entry by journal entry to really mold the story I am trying to tell.   Most of it fiction of course, but it is inspired by the article of my third times great-grandfather and his experience during the Civil War.

Next, of course, is continuing to trace my family roots in Scotland and follow the Mackenzie line even further back if possible.  I now have the Mackenzie’s of Ballone book on file and will be sorting through the who married who to input all the information I can into the website.  I may even have a new way to research but I will mention that in a few.   The Ferguson side needs more exploration and I am hoping to be able to connect more dots.

I want to work more on researching my husband’s side of the family as well.  I know this summer with the new arrival of baby Tillman number three, I will have plenty of visits from Grammy and Pop Pop to do more research and ask the big tough questions.

This all ravels into the breaking down of the surnames on my family tree website.  Cleaning up the tree is a lot harder than expected but I think it will be worth it in the end when research will become more organized and “clean”.    Nothing like having to wait for trees to load with over 500 people in there!

I have not yet had any word from my “Splendors in the Past” post regarding the WWII photographs and Stanley Barish.  But, I am a patient lady and have plenty to keep me occupied until I get the chance.

This brings me back to a new way to research.  My cousin, Wesley, had graciously given me access to her account.  She receives a lot of messages from people who have been connected to her from her DNA profile.  She had received a message from a person asking about the Ferguson side of the tree.  I, of course, having done a bit of research into the Scotland side was glad to help provide information that I had discovered.  It is hard to say where the connection lies, but I am working with a sweet lady named Sarah to hopefully uncover more.  We have been going back and forth between emails and soon she will be going to the London Archives to do a little digging!  How exciting!  If only I could actually go to the London Archives myself…or London for that matter.  Still, it amazes me how we can form connections through today’s technology to really find out more about the past.

But I hope after the summer we will get a glimpse into the Ferguson side over in England.  When I had done my DNA profile through AncestryDNA, I had realized that I was a lot more English than I originally thought.  But hey, that must be why I am an anglophile… right?

Still dreaming up ways to make this blog better for readers and also still considering the My Past Life shop.  All in good time I suppose.  I have a habit of taking on a lot.  My husband always told me I put a lot on myself but he is a great supporter of what I do in my spare time when I am not running the household.  So, in case I may be a little M.I.A. just know that I am working to bring more exciting content to My Past Life!  Now, back to the grind as usual.  These things won’t manage themselves.  Summer is going to be great this year!


Thanks for reading!



Splendors in the Past

My prolonged absence in writing has actually brought many splendors my way in the past few weeks.  I have been very busy with lesson plans, “spring cleaning” and trying to finish with the sale of my townhouse I lived in prior to having my son, Grant. Well, I can say for sure this weekend that one of those has actually come true.  I have officially closed on the townhouse as of last week and could not be more thrilled.  Woot woot and good riddance!

Another exciting moment was being able to see my sweet babe number three on my last ever ultrasound before I deliver later in June.  It is so bizarre to see that tiny life inside moving around on a screen but I did get to see her precious face and she is already a beauty.

Photos by Stanley Barish

I have also had some pretty neat comments in the last two weeks on this little blog of mine.  I was contacted under a posting about my grandfather and the pictures he had ordered during World War II.  The grandson of Stanley Barish, the photographer, reached out to me.  I think that is incredible!  He told me that Stanley is alive and well and hopes to see him soon and even offered to have some dots connected for me.  So, I hope to hear more from him in the weeks after mother’s day and even have words from the man himself!


The second thing was a mention on a fellow bloggers page.  Jana’s Genealogy and Family History blog listed me as one of her Newly Discovered Blogs.  It is an honor to be mentioned and thank you for the shout out.  You can check out her blog postings at .


Jana’s blog post.

Since all of this has been going on my husband has thrown in another challenge.  We were having a conversation about heritage and he mentioned that he was of Scottish decent.  I looked at him with unbelieving eyes and asked “Are you sure?”


He claims that he has heard tales of his own Scottish heritage from his family.   I again looked at him and told him of a tale of my own.   I have heard that my little pinky finger is part Native American.  I know this is not true.  I have taken the DNA test from AncestryDNA and nothing of Native American ancestry came out of it.  I guess we all have tales like this passed down in our families.  Lore told by elders in hopes that they will give us some connection to each other or the past.   My connection to a Scottish past is very black and white in the documents and testing that I have already accumulated.   My blood runs thick with white and blue.

Well, I have now accepted the challenge my husband and have set out to discover his roots too.  He is my family after all.  So, there was no perfect time than last week to get things started.  Andy’s, my husband, parents were in town for a visit to see us and the grandkids and I took the opportunity to start poking around in their family tree.  I sat with both Grammy and Pop Pop to ask of their parents and their parent’s parents etc. as far back as they knew.  To my surprise they actually do not know a lot about their lineage.  There may be quite a few family mysteries to unlock on this side.  This can be trying and rewarding all the same.

I am excited to start this journey along with so many others I have already begun.  It looks like an amateur genealogist’s work is never done.  Better get back to the grind.  I’ve got a lot of spring cleaning and research to continue!

Happy Mother’s day to all the great woman who have the privilege of being called “mom”.  Your work is never done either and you are most appreciated for all that you give!

Thanks for reading!


Spring Cleaning Your Tree

Spring has finally sprung here in good ol’ Virginia.  Seems the weather will be nice for the next few days and the tides are turning to warmer temps and sunshine.  The season has been a tad unusual as of the past week with two tornadoes in our area.  Tornadoes are not a common thing here, but we had two in one week that brought some damage to the local area.   Seems a lot of cleanup will be in order over the next few weeks.

Isn’t that what we think of during the season?  Spring cleaning: A chance to dust off the old and air out the closed up.  I know I have already made a list of all the things I would like to clean up and reorganize this month.  I think that is also a part of “nesting” but I digress.

Another thing I have noticed while picking back up on my research is that I really need to organize my family tree better.  I have five hundred and twenty-six people in my family tree on  FIVE HUNDRED and TWETY SIX.  That is a lot of people.


The more research I find myself doing, the more I keep adding on parents and cousins and aunts and uncles four times removed.  It is almost getting out of control.  The amount of clicking and dragging to go through one branch of my tree takes a while.

So, I thought to myself.  Why not reorganize and “spring clean” my family’s tree on Ancestry?   There has to be a better way to be able to log and search through each of these family lines without feeling so cramped on one little page.

So, that is what I will set out to do this spring.  I will take each line and create a separate family tree for each surname.  Mackenzies, Fegusons, Holts, Lighteners…they will all get their very own tree, like a small seed that is part of a bigger plant that I can continue to grow and nurture as my research progresses.

I guess the perks of having everything online at your fingertips is great for storage purposes.  Before writing this small spot, I tried to do a little research into how to organize your genealogy information.  Most of what I came across was a “how to” on organizing and documenting paper files.  Most seem to say the same things.  Below you will find some short tips on how to be organized in your records!

Being organized helps you to better check sources, compare them and evaluate, identify any differences and help you make more accurate conclusions of the information you have gathered.  Making sure that your records are up to date will help you figure out if a newly discovered source is accurate with the information you already know to be true.  The main goal in research is to be able to show the sources you have gathered and to be able to easily resume research after a break.   You want to be able to make sure that you are not re-using old sources that you have already tried as well.  Too many negative searches can show that it may be time to try something different or look at a source in a different light.  All these tips can help you save time and frustration and help contribute to better results!

First, organize as you go.  Some tips included having a research log on hand. Other tips also included having a goal in mind for your findings.  Would you like to be able to share your findings with others?  Would you like to be able to understand the family you are searching for and their behaviors?  Don’t give up until you can find a document that will tell the story you are looking for or exhaust all other possibilities.  Another tip was to study families in clusters.  Get to know as much as you can about the person’s kin or neighbors in the community.   This may tell you of the roles others played in your family’s history.

Research easy events first! I find that trying to search for birth or death records first will help tell a lot about the hierarchy of a family. You can often find marriage information, parental information and dates of birth and death all on one record.

Some people, me included, recommend one file for each family name.  This system creates on file folder or family tree for each family you research.  One family could consist of a father, mother and their children.  I, on the other hand, will be doing my family by surname.   Tips included for this method involve creating a folder that contains things such as a group record, pedigree chart, maps, research logs and photocopies of source documents.

Remember that each ancestor will be in two families.  They will appear in their family as a child and once as a parent in their own line.  A tip is to log and file sources of the child in the father’s folder and once the person is married, to file the sources in the husband’s folder.   For second marriages, in-laws, and step-children, log and file sources about these relatives in the file of their closest relative that is on your pedigree. If a source lists more than one family, pick the predominant family on that document.  Tips include creating document numbers to organize into different folders and to write on your research logs.

Researches recommend making paper copies of all your research and to not rely on computers to store all your information in the final steps.  This makes your records easily accessible to anyone who would like to comb through them for their own research one day.

Are there any tips or tricks you use to organize your family tree?

This is going to take me a while.  Guess I better get started…

Thanks for reading!


Photographic Memories

This past week has really been a roller coaster for me.  Not just because Grant has seemed to want to start sleeping through the night randomly but also because the husband has left for work and gone to Vegas.  Vegas…work must be so tough.

Between managing a household like something out of Downton Abbey, running back and forth between soccer practices, chasing after a toddler who loves to be naked and homeschooling I am pretty beat.  But, I like to make time to do what I enjoy on Sunday mornings while the little ones watch cartoons and become tiny little tornadoes of toys in my living room.  So, I got my fresh cuppa and sat down at the lap top for a little R&R.  Research and relaxation.  Relaxation turned quickly into having to read pages of a book over and over again about who married who and was it a cousin or someone else in a clan?

So, in doing research for the Scottish side of my tree I had stumbled across another website for researching family history.  I am not sure if I have actually ever used this site in the past.  If I had, it would have made my top ten sites in a previous blog posting, seeing how a majority of the website is free to use and record matches to build your family tree.

While I was doing research on Captain John Mackenzie, Sixth of Ballone, I came across the site  This actually was more of a seg way site to  I couldn’t access more information than just the general when it came to the site, so I created an account on my heritage and was immediately matched to people in my family.

This is great because the site is free to use to build your family’s tree.  I am prompted several times, of course, to extend my membership but the prices for a monthly subscription aren’t half bad.  It would run me about $10.00 a month to access more information available to the sites subscribers.  The site seems pretty easy to navigate through too.  It shows you record matches from other family trees to compare to your own.  It also has state records available.  This you will need the membership for, hence why I kept being prompted to purchase.

Now, most of this legwork has already been done by yours truly along with my sister, but it was still fun to build the tree from scratch and great to see how much information I had remembered from searching record after record previously.  Most of it seems to be my mother’s side of the family.  I started by inputting my parents and grandparents’ names.  And wha-la!

I got a match.

It was familiar.  It was something I had seen before but a very long time ago.  Tucked away in my mother’s house there is a bundle of photographs of my Grannie, Elsie Gertrude Brenaman, and my grandfather, William Floyd.

But here, on, there they were.  The photographs that are tucked away in a drawer somewhere in the house I grew up in.  It was amazing to see them again.  I remember looking at them when I was a teenager.  I can remember my Grannie, younger than when I knew her, sitting on the lawn in a grass skirt.  I can remember a photograph, and possibly the only one I have ever seen, of my grandfather standing in a yard, a hard look on his face.

My grandfather, William Floyd, died when my mother was a young child.  I never got the chance to know him, besides what my mother can remember or what she has been told of the kind of person he was.  What sticks out more clearly in my mind are the stories of my mother’s young life with my Grannie.   Stories about terrible haircuts, Crisco oil on babies in drawers, house fires and growing up with a gaggle of brothers and sisters.  My mother was the youngest in her family and I always love to hear the stories about how her brothers stood up for her or how her sister, one in particular, was always getting into trouble.

It makes me wonder.  How many copies of these photographs are out there? Where did this photograph come from?  Could I trace the original source of the upload?  Would they know about bad haircuts, troublesome sisters and growing up in Portsmouth?

So, I started to message people.

I am waiting on responses.  I want to try to post what people have replied about how they got a hold of the photographs and how they know these people in the family tree.  Are they close relatives or are they simply inputting the information into a larger puzzle?

What I love most about family history isn’t always seeing how far back you can go…or if you are related to a king…or the number or sources you can cite.  More importantly, family history is more valuable to me in the stories that come with the people you find.  Knowing what kind of human being a person was or their beliefs or their secrets is more fascinating to me than the facts in black and white on a birth record.

So, hopefully I can write an update on this endeavor and post more about it as part of living history on My Past Life.

Thanks for reading!


Down the Rabbit Hole


Castles and Earls and Mackenzies…oh my.

I know that I have been absent from blogging for a few weeks.  Things at home have been pretty busy as of late.  I had taken on a project of switching two bedrooms in the house to make room for our expected arrival in June.  This is my third pregnancy so I knew that the longer I waited the harder it would be on me to get the job done.  My husband, as much as he tries, is not a very handy person.  I always tell him that when I need a jet engine repaired I will come to him…but if I need a shelf hung, I guess I’ll take that task on myself.  *Bless his heart*

Any who, the rooms have been a success with hubby’s help.  I have all but completed the paint job on my daughter’s furniture to turn what is brown and dingy into a fresh coat of white.  Her room had not been truly updated since she was about three.  And celebrating her seventh birthday this past weekend allowed me to give her a more “grown up” girls room (complete with unicorn head).  The nursery that my son had once resided in has now been transformed into a gender neutral nursery.  I am very excited to put more finishing touches as I wait for the little one’s mobile to arrive from Italy.  I say that and it sounds fancier than it is.  I just really liked the one from Italy and it cost just as much as one from Texas.  Oh the wonders of Etsy.  Connecting not so crafty people to the crafty makers of the world.

So, I just renewed my annual subscription to and paid the few extra dollars to be able to search internationally and not just in the United States.  Let me say that  the extra twenty bucks has paid off big.  I sat here at the computer and thought that I might as well delve into Scotland again.  I remember a while ago, when my sister and I couldn’t even find a record to make it past our third times great-grandfather, Murdock Ferguson.  And now, we may be stringing our ancestry together for the past few hundred years.

Here is what I know so far…

James and Georgina, front. Donald may be back, far right.

My connection to Scotland is fairly recent with my great-grandfather, Donald Ferguson, coming over from Glasgow.  His parents James and Georgina immigrated to Pennsylvania around 1888.  I have several records showing James and Georgina traveling to and from Scotland during the later part of the 1800s and the early 20th century, such as passenger lists and also passport applications.  A 1900 United States Census record shows James and Georgina, along with Donald, residing in Allegheny County in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.  The census records before this time that we have collected have been from Scotland from 1861 to 1881.


Now, currently we have focused less on the Ferguson line, which is my maiden name, and more on Georgina, James’ wife.

Georgina Ferguson, my second great-grandmother, married James Ferguson in 1876.  Her maiden name is MacLennan.  We have gathered this information from a death record we obtained from  It shows that Georgina married James Ferguson, a carpenter, and died on May 24, 1932 from cerebral hemorrhages.  The most important information we got from this death record is who her parents were.  They list her parentage as Donald MacLennan and Christina Monk.

Death record for Georgina Ferguson

Christina Monk is the first wife of Donald.  He later married Catherine Ferguson.  We haven’t found many records on her line as of yet.  But, if you continue up the trail of MacLennan is where this post gets interesting for me.

I went onto and started looking at other people’s family trees that came up as little leaves to compare to mine.  I traced, according to other people’s findings, back to a Captain John Mackenzie.  This is where the research came to a halt on ancestry and I decided to Google Captain John Mackenzie of Ballone.

Ballone…what is a ballone you ask? Apparently it was a castle…yup, a freaking castle.  I was amazed.  I had always joked that I wished my family had a castle somewhere in Scotland and now it was a possibility that they may have once occupied the castle, also known as Castlehaven, during the 18th century.  Well, I went down the rabbit hole that was Google and quickly had to call my sister, who I share this passion with and let her know.

She, being the voice of reason in our genealogy searches most of the time, asked for sources.  I told her that I had not yet connected the dots with sources and that I needed her help before I got too far into it.  She agreed and came over the next day with her computer in hand.  We sat, laptop to laptop and opened our browsers in search of the lines that could possibly connect us to the Mackenzies of Ballone.

I opened once again and began searching their records.   Forty credits cost me roughly twelve bucks, but at 6 credits a pop for images I was nervous we may not find our first link.

Death record for Donald MacLennan

I found it on the first go.  I searched for the death record for Donald MacLennan and boom.  I found the connections we were looking for to get us to the next step.  We already knew that Donald MacLennan was the parent of Georgina from her death record.  Now, upon opening the image from Scotland’s People, I saw that Donald MacLennan, widow of Christina Monk and Catherine Ferguson, died on May 28th, 1904 from heart failure.  He was the son of Kenneth MacLennan and Georgina Mackenzie.  Mackenzie!  That is the name I am searching for to link to the captain.  This record also provided the son in law’s name as Alexander McPhail, which is something we had in our tree as well.  In the words of my daughter, “SCORE”!

We now have a record that shows Kenneth MacLennan (listed as MacLellan in other people’s trees) as being married to Georgina Mackenzie.  But, connecting Georgina has been more challenging that we thought.  We have not come across a document as of yet that officially connects her to Captain John, like a death or marriage record.  But, we have found numerous websites that do connect her to the captain via his second wife Ann.

georgina page 579
Page 579 of “The Mackenzies of Ballone”

Captain John Mackenzie of Ballone was first married to a woman named Margaret.  They had four children together, one of which was his heir.  Then he married Ann secondly and they had numerous children together, including Georgina.   This is sited on several web pages including “Mackenzie of Corry” on and also under “John Mackenzie” on  The most important source that we have found that documents our Georgina connection to Captain John is “The History of the Mackenzies”  under “The Mackenzies of Ballone” by Alexander Mackenzie.  On page 579, it states that Georgina was the daughter of John Mackenzie, sixth of Ballone, and Ann Mackenzie and furthermore that she married Kenneth MacLennan.  It also mentions that they had one issue – Donald.



I think that this would suffice to connect the dots that our ancestor is connected to Captain John Mackenzie.  This is an incredible find in my mind.  Now, we have an entire book as a source to connect further back into our Scottish heritage.  Well, at least on the MacLennan and Mackenzie side.  Time to input all the information we can find and start back on the Ferguson clan.

Oh yea, I forgot to talk more about the castle.  Well, apparently the castle went into ruin after our ancestor obtained it.  They moved into a different estate according to the lore on the internets.   But, back in the 1990s an architect and his wife purchased and restored the castle to its former glory.  I included a photograph I found and hope that one day I will be able to see this place with my very own eyes.



Thanks for reading!


The Journal


Battle of Richmond on the march not signed_edited-1.jpg
Photo: March of the Battle of Richmond

So, in my absence from writing this blog I did continue to write.  I do fancy myself somewhat of a writer from time to time, having co-written and novel of fiction with my friend and also a small tale of mice and men for kids.  Nothing published of course. Well, perhaps only what is written among these pages.

Since November, I have been writing (off and on) a new work of fiction.  I am taking on this task completely alone.  I am very excited for this new adventure.  This will also be a novel that surrounds a man who I feel I know quite well.

What does this have to do with my ancestry/genealogy blog you ask?  Well, the novel I am taking on is actually inspired by a person from my past.  It is indeed, my favorite ancestor…that go to guy…my third times great-grandfather, John Bryant.  Names will be changed to protect the innocent of course.

He was the inspiration for one of my very first postings on this very blog.  I had written two parts in regards to his life.  One, during the time he spent in the civil war, and two, his life after the war.  The book I plan to write is only inspired by actual events taken from his very own article in the Wilmington Star.  From the time he spent during the war to what happened to him after his life had to begin again.

I was inspired by his words to tell a different kind of story.  One that would not only honor the actual past but to enlighten readers to real life issues that happen even today.

My goal is to have this completed by the time Tillman baby number three makes their appearance in the world.  I have a lot on my plate but I am ready for the challenge.  Like I said, new year, new me.

I hope to continue on with my other stories.    The time I have spent writing them and creating the characters and the worlds they belong to have a lot of meaning for me.

So here is the first official update of the novel: The Journal of Joseph B. Caston.  I am currently about five thousand words in and only have scratched the surface of the article he wrote and adding in my own flare and dialogue.   There is much, much more to be written.  I can’t wait for the story in my mind to unfold among the pages before me.  I hope that you will follow me on this new endeavor and keep up with my progress.  I hope even more that I will have a finished product to share with everyone in the upcoming months.

Thanks for reading!


New year, new wagon…

You know how they have that saying…about jumping onto the bandwagon?  Well, I am going to do that.  I am going to jump right on that dusty bandwagon train and say that 2016 definitely sucked.  I have been neglecting my blog posting largely to the fact that I just did not have time or motivation at the end of the year.  Anyone who knows me personally can attest to the fact that I had it pretty rough after the month of July.  Adjusting to a person, who was a large part of your everyday life, to one day not being there anymore is hard.  I missed my dad terribly.  And the holidays didn’t make it any easier.  I powered through October with a month full of interesting and spooky things to do around my area in light of the Halloween season.  After that faded, so did my motivation to continue on with this blog.  This was supposed to be a creative outlet for me.  Something of my very own.  Something that I could be proud of.  I didn’t feel these things so much once the holiday season reared its ugly head.

But now I am back and hopefully here to stay.  What is the saying again?  New year, new me?  Yea, let’s go with that one.  That sounds much better than getting dysentery on the Oregon Trail.  First off, I would like to say thank you to everyone who has checked out this little blog page in my absence.  It seems I had a bit of traffic through here and that makes me very excited to keep doing this.

So, what is going to be new for the “My Past Life” blog?  Well, I want to continue on my list and keep checking boxes off.

Scotland travel plans may give way to England travel plans.  One of my greatest friends and I have dreamed of going to London for almost ten years.  We would plan our trips regularly with that imaginary bank account we seemed to have funded out of pure gusto.  Well, that friend has done very well for herself in the past few years and it looks like a trip to jolly ol’ England could be more promising than when we lived in our apartment and ate nothing but ramen and wine.   Scotland will have to take a back seat at least for the next few years seeing as I won’t be able to travel anytime before June 29th.

That gives me leave to segway into another wonderful announcement for us here at My Past Life.  Since this blog is mainly inspired by genealogy and my family history, I would like to go ahead and say that we are adding another small branch to our family tree.  My husband and I are expecting baby number three in late June.  This little one took us by such surprise.  Our son just celebrated his first birthday this past week.  So, we were a little shocked to find out that we had already been blessed with another little bundle on its way.

Since most of my travel for the beginning of the year will have to remain local, I would like to travel back to North Carolina to explore other parts of my family history.  I know a trip to back to Wilmington would be awesome and a trip to Burlington is definitely needed to explore more of the Holt side of my family.   There is an entire settlement that is yet to be seen and even a museum with their names on it!

I would still love to tinker with the possibility of opening a shop for this little blog.  I think it would be neat to offer some of my ideas for tees or coffee mugs and the like.  It’s still something I toss around in my mind.  Side note: Must learn how to print my own shirts for practice.

The “Living History” miniseries will still be touched upon and more of my family, along with others, will be highlighted throughout my postings.  I would love to get to know my readers and more about their families and even friends.  Any good stories are welcomed.  I believe the best way to learn is from the past.

This year has really been a struggle for me and it has touched the lives of people I am around every day.  My family especially.  Since the passing of my father and uncle and also learning of the addition to our family yet to come, I have had an internal struggle that I remained pretty silent about until recently.  I think that opening up about my depression and feelings during this pregnancy have let me feel that I am something to someone again.  That I could make a difference, even if it is just over someone’s cup of coffee in the morning…even if it only makes a difference to me.  Feeling a purpose for me and not just my family is a good feeling.

So, now that it’s out there let’s do this thing again.

Thanks for reading!