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.
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 janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com .
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!
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 ancestry.com. 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…
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 Geni.com. This actually was more of a seg way site to Myheritage.com. I couldn’t access more information than just the general when it came to the Geni.com 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 myheritage.com, 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.
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 ancestry.com 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…
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 Scotlandspeople.gov.uk. 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.
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 ancestry.com 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 Scotlandspeople.gov.uk 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.
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.
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 Rootsweb.com and also under “John Mackenzie” on Geni.com. 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.
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.
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.
This past month was the annual meet up for findagrave.com. This is where like-minded people can gather to volunteer their time to findagrave.com by taking photographs of local cemeteries and headstones for people researching family history. I saw the notice while I was researching my own history on ancestry.com. I was enticed and immediately created an account on the Find a Grave website.
I had no idea that this was another part of the find a grave website. Sure, I had been on there to research my own history: looking for headstones, family information and of course locations of graves right down to the sections and rows (very helpful when you are lost in a graveyard). So, I explored further and decided to volunteer my time to fulfill some requests.
First, I created my account on findagrave.com. It was quick and easy and probably will come in handy more in the future as I continue to research my family tree. Then, I signed into my ancestry account and looked at the meet up information. The meet up this year took place the weekend of October 7-9th. I searched but did not see any meet ups already in place in my local area. I think the closest to me was somewhere in Tennessee. Seeing as I had never done one of these before, I decided against championing my own gathering…at least this year. This was also the weekend that we were expecting Hurricane Matthew. Even though we did not get a direct hit up here in Hampton Roads, we did feel a lot of the effects. Rain, wind and flooding devastated a lot of our area since we had already such wet lands from all the rain the month before. So, this really put a damper on my wanting to go and explore some graveyards for the weekend.
I signed up anyway to volunteer to take some photographs of headstones at people’s request. I think this is a great idea for volunteers to do. Someone, who may not live here, can request information and a photograph of a headstone of their relative.
You can narrow your field to cemeteries close by to you, go on and see how much of the cemetery has already been photographed and of course claim names of people and headstones to take pictures of. The website gives you about 14 days to fulfill the request before it is released back for anyone to claim. I narrowed my search radius to about ten miles from my home and claimed about five headstones to photograph.
I couldn’t go on the weekend of the meet up since we were hammered with wind and rain but managed to get out of the house the following week to explore some of the local graveyards. My first one, I did not have access to since it was on a local farm and private property. Shoot. The next one, I didn’t feel like I could have explored with two kids in tow because it said it was in the woods behind a neighborhood. So, I went for my final destination that was supposed to be right behind a church. I went over to Deep Creek and plugged the address into my phone’s GPS. I found the church…but no graveyard behind it. Then I noticed it. A small, blue sign off in the distance after the clearing and a dirt driveway the led into the trees. Great.
I made my way across the clearing, wearing a dress and some sandals on this warm October day. Big mistake! The driveway that led into the woods had become over grown with grasses and downed limbs from the storm the week prior. It was hot and muggy and the mosquitoes were the size of my fists! No joke. Every time I look a step forward I had to swat away another bug and hope I wasn’t going to catch the Zika virus. The buzzing in my ears was enough to turn me around but I pressed on a little further. I must have walked over halfway up the dirt path when I saw my first vault sticking up out of the ground. It was covered with weeds and could not be accessed in the get up I was in. I walked a few more steps ahead and could see off in the distance a few more headstones before the tree line. There was also another path that led to the right and one to the left.
I decided to turn around. There was no way I was going to be able to do the job that I wanted to do with the clothing I was in and the amount of grass and mud that was still on the ground. I couldn’t see much of the headstones but the tops of the granite or stone sticking up from the grass. No wonder only seven percent of this graveyard has been photographed. There isn’t good access to it. And the bugs alone would drive anyone out of those woods.
So, out of the 311 headstones said to be back in the woods at Saint Julien Creek, only 21 of them have actually been photographed. I felt like I wanted to make it my mission to actually get as much done as I could. The cemetery had headstones that dated back to the late 1800s there. What a great part of our area’s history just lying in the back of the woods behind a church. I wondered to myself what it may have looked like before. Maybe it wasn’t shrouded with trees and tall grass 100 years ago. I felt like Saint Julien Creek has been forgotten with time. I don’t think any resting place for our dearly departed relatives should be forgotten or unmaintained. How else will people be able to visit and research history?
So, I have decided; I will go back to Saint Julien Creek after the first frost. I will try to go back with a full battery, in boots and covered in bug spray. I will hope to find help to restore the cemetery to its former glory and have it be more accessible for people to visit and explore. To me, graveyards are such a serene place to be and I would want others to see the beauty in them as I do.
If anyone has been down to the northern side of the Oceanfront in Virginia Beach, they would not have missed the beautiful and elegant hotel resting on a hillside.
Overlooking North Beach in the busy city of Virginia Beach, Virginia, sits the Cavalier Hotel. Previously the hotel boasted stunning views and dramatic chandeliers hanging in the lobby with glossy checkerboard floors and sharply contrasting blue paneled walls. Today, the Cavalier Hotel is undergoing a total transformation. I wonder if this transformation has stirred up any of its past hotel guests?
That’s right ladies and gentlemen…the Cavalier Hotel is said to be haunted. Claims reported have been of elevators that run when they are empty, toilets that flush of their own accord and guests report that their room towels have been changed from time to time. But these are only little occurrences compared to the tragedies that were said to begin only two years after the hotel opened.
The Cavalier Hotel was originally built on what was then a very secluded strip of beach. The seven-story Y-shaped building was designed by Neff and Thompson and completed in 1927. It has been a presence on Virginia Beach’s oceanfront ever since, and was at the time of its construction one of the fanciest hotels in Virginia. Most of its hotel rooms featured views of the ocean and all had private bathrooms. The hotel also featured many dining facilities and a large pool, which is very common at accommodations now days.
The hotel was built during the period of prosperity known as the roaring twenties, and was a major element of the development of Virginia Beach as a resort area. The hotel was operated successfully until 1942, until it was commandeered by the United States Navy as a training center during World War II. It was returned to its owners in 1945 and then the property was used as a private club for a time in the 1950s and 1960s.
After thirteen months of labor, the Cavalier Hotel opened and was once the haunt of the up and up of society, hosting such guests as Adolph Coors, author F. Scott Fitzgerald, and actors and actresses including Judy Garland, Will Rogers, Bette Davis and Jean Harlow. For three decades the Cavalier hired a wide variety of big-name bands. Performers included such greats as Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman and Bing Crosby. Now guests report that the piano in the ballroom sometimes plays by itself. Maybe it longs for the music of the past? It was nicknamed the “Aristocrat of the Virginia Seashore” because it was the spot to see and be seen. Even several US Presidents stayed or visited the hotel.
Perhaps it is the claims of the creepy feeling of something always lurking that causes visitors to draw such connections to a haunting. Guests have reported they feel like they are being watched in what was the Pocahontas room. One legend is of a waiter who supposedly walks through the walls of the ballroom.
It is said that during the roaring twenties, the Cavalier skirted Prohibition by driving guests on covert trips to the local speakeasies. This was not enough to keep brewery owner Adolph Coors from a mysterious fall that ended in his death on June 5, 1929. Whether suicide, murder or an accident, people have reported sensing someone still lingering and cold spots appearing randomly throughout the sixth floor. Some have reported that they can hear a sound outside of something hitting the concrete below. Ever since, receptionists claim they receive calls from the sixth floor regularly and upon investigation find the rooms locked and empty.
Local lore claims that the hotels first owner shot himself on the sixth floor as well, but it seems unconfirmed as hotel staff said the initial owners of the hotel were a group of people investing in a business venture and they had it until it was purchased by the Dixon family.
The hotel’s front desk is also occasionally plagued by guests calling to complain of a cat meowing and scratching at doors in the grand hallways. Rumor has it that a young girl’s pet cat escaped one night and drowned in the swimming pool with the little girl drowning trying to save it. Though the ghost of a little girl has not been sighted; people occasionally report strange sounds coming from the pool and wet footprints that led nowhere.
Visitors report mysterious orbs in their photographs and hearing footsteps where no one is seen walking. A popular tale involves the sightings of an older African-American gentleman dressed in a bellman’s old staff uniform. Guests report that he stands on the staircase of the fifth floor and warns people to not go on the floors above because there are ghosts up there. When people tell the hotel management, they say there hasn’t been a bellman in decades.
Overall, whether you believe the stories to be true or not, the Cavalier hotel is one of the most beautiful locations at the Virginia Beach oceanfront. It has played host to many of the well to do of the past and the present and is certainly a local piece of history and a hauntingly beautiful one at that!
Last Halloween I decided to try something new. My neighborhood that I grew up in seemed to be dwindling in the amount of people that participated in the tradition since I was a child. We would go and only make a haul of a quarter of our pillow case. If anyone knows what I mean that isn’t very much.
When I heard that Colonial Williamsburg was doing their first annual trick or treat’ing I was beyond excited. I adored the revolutionary city and could not wait to walk down Duke of Gloucester in my Halloween finest. The back drop of the historic city, with its old houses and store fronts would be ideal for beautiful photographs as we strolled down filling our buckets full of sweet treats. So, I told my good friend Michelle, who celebrates the holiday with us yearly, that we were going and she was all in.
Colonial Willliamsburg blew it out of the water. My mind was blown by the amount of effort and planning that had gone into the event. The theme was Blackbeard’s Revenge. It was surrounded the story of Blackbeard the Pirate and his crew, where some had been tried in Colonial Williamsburg around 1719.
Before that Governor Spotswood had sent troops by sea, led by Lieutenant Robert Maynard, to capture Blackbeard. The troops hid below the deck of an abandoned ship to lure Blackbeard and his men on board. It worked and the troops surrounded the infamous pirate and his men where a great battle began.
In the end, the Lieutenant and his men were victorious. Legend says Blackbeard went out swinging, being stabbed twenty times and shot five times during the battle.
“…struck time after time, spewing blood and roaring imprecations as he stood his ground and fought with a great fury. One mighty arm swung his cutlass like a deadly windmill while the other fired shot after shot from the brace of pistons in his bandolier.” – Donald Shomette
Maynard and his crew defeated the band of pirates on November 22, 1718. They cut off Blackbeard’s head and threw his body into the ocean. Eventually they placed his head high on a pole and put it at the mouth of the Hampton River. Blackbeard may have died in North Carolina, but his crew who surrendered awaited trial in Virginia.
They were kept in Williamsburg’s famous jail, simply called the Public Gaol. The conditions were very poor. It smelled, was infected with bugs and rodents, the food was horrible and a disease known as Gaol Fever was not uncommon.
The trial began in March of 1719 at the Capital Building. Virginians sentenced all but two of Blackbeard’s men to death. Samuel Odell was acquitted because he had only been on the ship one day and Isreal Hands, Blackbeard’s chief aide, was pardoned.
The remaining pirates are said to have left the jail riding on top of their own coffins to meet their doom. They traveled down Gallows Road and were hung along what is now known as Capitol Hill Road. Their bodies were to be hung in cages along the entrance to the city to deter would be pirates and inspire confidence in the justice that was delivered.
Sounds can be heard from what locals will call a wagon of death making its way down Capital Landing Road. They claim to have heard a horse and cheering from a crowd. Back then, hangings were public and people would come and shout and jeer at the accused. They would have the wagon roll out from under them to swing from the gallows. The sad part is, it wouldn’t always kill them right away.
There have also been sounds reported coming from the Public Gaol. Voices and heavy footsteps come from a deserted room on the second floor or moaning and whispers late at night.
Needless to say, Colonial Williamsburg is probably host to a lot of spirits, both restless and friendly. It has a long, rich history and it is beautifully maintained, not just the buildings but the stories of old.
So, back to the fun, kid friendly part of this posting. Last year, Williamsburg had two nights of trick or treating available during the early evening hours of the weekend of Halloween. Kids of all ages would be able to walk DOG Street and trick or treat with their parents. The best part of this event is that trick or treating is free. Yes, it is a free event hosted by Williamsburg and Mars candy (registration required). Bite sized candy bars and tangy starburst filled my daughter’s bag. They had blocked off half of Dog Street and every few houses or stores they would have people handing out sweet treats in costume. They were Colonial costumes but spooky.
Skeletons and decorations were littered all over the city. I don’t think we saw one corner of that street that didn’t have some sort of scene set up. I couldn’t stop taking pictures. They had stands set up with cider, soft drinks and the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted.
The city does offer kid friendly fare at their local restaurants as well as more tasty treats like cookies and cakes at their vendor stands. We bought a commemorative cup in the shape of a skull to get refills all night.
They had an area set up to paint and color stencils of pumpkins, live stories being told or past ghost stories, the history of Blackbeard and even an appearance by the dreaded pirate himself.
Horses were painted like skeletons that rode through the streets and games were set up to earn tokens to win prizes. It was perfectly done and young and old enjoyed the great time had by all.
View of DOG Street
Michelle and Caite with Blackbeard
Michelle and Caite
Williamsburg does offer a more adult haunting down DOG Street after dark. But, as we had a five year old we didn’t attempt to stay too long after the sun went down. But if you are looking for safe family fun this Halloween, look no further than Colonial Williamsburg. They have now extended their haunting to four nights this year. Trick or treating is still free with registration and a small fee per person who would like to participate in more activities than just collecting candy. Worth every penny!
So, this year we will be back at it again. Blackbeard is now cursed by a sea witch and the haunting on DOG Street will continue!
Or is it? Since we are entering the month of October (and not to mention my second favorite holiday), I thought we could take a step back away from the family history side and do a little local history. The kind of history that should chill you to your bones and keep you awake at night. This month I would like to share a few of my local haunts and legends in the Hampton Roads area.
The Witch of Pungo
Grace Sherwood is a name that most natives to the Virginia Beach area are very familiar with. Our very own witch that was tried among the hysteria of yesteryear.
Grace Sherwood was born in Virginia around the year of 1660. She was the daughter of John White and Susan White. At the age of twenty, she married James Sherwood in the Lynnhaven Parish Church and had three sons – John, James and Richard. They settled in Pungo. Not much is known about the Sherwood’s life before the year of 1698. Their popularity seemed to come around when Grace and her husband sued their neighbors John and Jane Gisburne and Anthony and Elizabeth Barnes for defamation and slander. They claimed that the Gisburne’s had said Grace had “bewitched their pigs to death and bewitched their cotton”. She was accused of blighting gardens, causing livestock to die and influencing the weather. Elizabeth even testified that Grace “came to her one night and rode her and went out of the key hole or crack of the door like a black cat”. Needless to say, the Sherwoods lost both cases.
James Sherwood would die in 1701 and Grace would never remarry. In 1705, she sued Luke and Elizabeth Hill for assault and won twenty pounds sterling in damages. Later, Luke Hill and his wife would charge Grace with witchcraft after Elizabeth suffered from a miscarriage. Back then it was a criminal offense. Her trial was delayed several times and finally two panels of female women were gathered in March of 1706. One was charged with searching Grace for witch marks; the other her home for waxen or baked figures. Witch marks were considered any spot where the witch might suckle an animal-like demon given to her by the devil himself. The woman said they found two such marks, but the case still did not go to trial.
Colonial authorities in Williamsburg, nor in the local court in Princess Anne County, were willing to declare Sherwood a witch. It was returned after an attempt to take it to a higher court. County justices ordered a “trial in the water by ducking” after a search of Grace’s home. She was taken to Lynnhaven Parish Church and placed on a stool and ordered to ask for forgiveness for her witchery. She is said to have replied, “I be not a witch, I be a healer.”
A trial by ducking, or water test, was considered controversial and no longer was being used in European courts at the time of her trial. This test involved binding her hands and feet and throwing her into a body of water. Grace Sherwood may have been tied with the thumb of her right hand to the big toe of her left foot and the thumb of her left hand to the big toe of her right foot and tossed in the water. In this case, it was the Lynnhaven River. If the accused sank, they were presumed innocent. If the accused floated, they would be found guilty. They say that the water was considered a pure element, so if the defendant were to float, the water was rejecting them. Sherwood agreed to the test. She was taken down a dirt road, known now a Witchduck Road, to a plantation near the mouth of the Lynnhaven River. News spread fast of the trial and attracted people from all over the colony. It is said that people could be heard shouting “Duck the witch!”
According to records, the test was administered on July 10, 1706 and Sherwood floated.
Another story is that once she was rowed out into the river she stated “Before this day be through you will all get a worse ducking than I.” and was cast into the water. Once she was pulled out of the water a downpour reportedly started, drenching everyone looking on.
Graveyard at Old Donation Church.
Old Donation Church
Once she reached the shore after freeing herself of her bindings, woman were once again instructed to look for markings upon her body and found two black marks. She was then convicted as a witch and ordered to await the court hearing in jail. She was marched to the jail, which was located near the present day site of Old Donation Church. No records of another trial exist but she did appear in front of the court around 1708 to pay a debt and petitioned for a reinstatement of her land in 1714. Her request was granted and most scholars believe that she has already been released from prison at this time. This would have put her in prison for almost eight year. She remained on her land until her death sometime in 1740.
Some historians believe that Grace Sherwood was the only woman accused of witchcraft in Virginia. This is probably something that would contribute to her fame. But, little is actually known about the woman herself but what is available in court records. In stories she is often portrayed as a healer and friendly to animals. Some descriptions include her as being beautiful and attracting male attention. This was thought it may have angered local wives. She was also said to be strong-willed and a non-conformist. Historical record doesn’t actually support any of these descriptions.
The Testing of Grace Sherwood sign.
Grace Sherwood sculpture.
There are several landmarks in Virginia Beach that are named after our popular witch. These places include Witchduck Road and Witchduck Point, where the trial allegedly took place. In Pungo, she is an honorary official in the annual strawberry festival. In colonial Williamsburg, a reenactment of her trial is put on.
In July of 2006, 300 years after her trial, the Virginia governor, Timothy Kaine pardoned Grace Sherwood. They mayor at the time read the pardon aloud during a reenactment of the trial at the Ferry Plantation house. It was also declared that July 10th would be celebrated at Grace Sherwood day.
Ferry Plantation House
According to local residents, a strange moving light still appears each July over the spot in Witch Duck Bay where Sherwood was thrown into the water.
I can say that this local legend of the Witch of Pungo has certainly put a spell on me.