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.
This week’s post has me scratching my head a little. I was so excited to find out the results of my DNA with the AncestryDNA project, and believe me I still am, but now I feel like I have more questions than answers.
First off, let me say that I was very, very surprised at the results. I believed myself to my very, very German in decent and it turns out I am not. The results yielded that my DNA is 73 percent Great Britain. Now, what does this mean?
Great Britain shows that there is a probable range of 49-97% with the average being 73 in my case. These results have ancestors primarily located in England, Scotland and Wales. Well, I do know for a fact that my father’s father’s side does hail from Scotland. This I have seen in black and white and have followed the paper trail myself. But that is only a small portion of my family tree…
Other possible ancestors can come from Ireland, France, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. Well, two of these totally make sense. Knowing that I have had ancestors from Switzerland that moved to Germany….sure I can buy that. But that leaves a wide area open. Open to possibilities that I have yet to discover. Now, it doesn’t mean that I have actually had ancestors from any of those other possible regions; it’s just letting me know that it “could” be. This is what makes me a little unnerved. I get it, it’s been a really long time since the dawn of civilization and I know I have had to come from somewhere and someone…but I feel like it would have been more exact. You know? Like the commercials? The commercial make it seem like “hey, I think I’m German but it turns out my family is really Scottish.” Not, “hey, I think I’m German but it turns out my family is really Scottish, Welsh and English.” That’s totally different. Don’t these areas of the United Kingdom have different ideals and customs?
Plus, the website does explain that the history of Great Britain is often told in the invasions of different groups that actually displaced the native people. Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans have all invaded in Great Britain. My sister is also currently reading a book on the history of Scotland that pertains to the area our family is from and she believes it is highly likely that our family actually descends from Vikings. Kinda makes me feel like pillaging something…
The website also explains that most people living in Great Britain today are a very mixed population. So, when creating a DNA profile they find that 60% of the typical natives DNA comes from this region. They also give you a history on the region that was interesting to read. All that reading about Anglo-saxons made me wonder if my family ever knew an Uhtred, son of Uhtred.
Next on the list is Ireland. I am ten percent Irish. Primarily located in Ireland, Wales and Scotland but also can be found in France and England. Still, makes sense in the Scottish aspect but maybe there is an Irish ancestor I have yet to discover. Here my DNA is only ten percent where the native to Ireland is 95 percent. So, maybe I am not at Irish as I think?
The next surprise on the list was the Iberian Peninsula. This shows as eight percent. This region is mainly Spain and Portugal but also can be found in France, Morocco, Algeria and Italy. Here I am at eight percent to the native’s 51 percent. But this still makes sense if you read more of the history of this region. They have a Migration Period, or Volkerwanderung, that was primarily Germanic tribes around 400 A.D. Everything circles back around to Vikings…
Now finally, we come to the results that I thought would have been the highest percentage, Europe West. In this category I am only at five percent. This region is primarily located in Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein but can also be found in England, Denmark, Italy, Slovenia and the Czech Republic. This region is a broad expanse stretching from Amsterdam to the peaks of the Alps. It was dominated by France in the west and Germany in the east. Its region is very culturally diverse. The typical native has about 48 percent to my puny 5. Even though I can specifically trace many ancestors of mine back to Germany. Recently I even posted about my ancestor Michael Holt and how he because one of the second colony settlers at Germanna.
Lastly, there are two categories in the “trace regions” section. First being Finland and Northwest Russia and the latter being Europe East.
Three percent for Finland and Northwest Russia which is Finland and Russia but also found in Estonia, Latvia, Sweden and Lithuania. Finland is a Nordic nation and shares a border with Scandinavian nations of Sweden and Norway. I have a tiny three percent compared to a typical native at 99 percent.
Finally is Europe east. This region isn’t very large but seems to boast the most countries. Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Austria, Russia, Hungary, Slovenia, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Lithuania, Latvia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia. Not to be left out but also found in Germany, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Estonia and Bulgaria. Phew. That was definitely a mouth full. Here I only have less than one percent of a DNA match to a typical native at 82 percent. Interesting but not particularly helpful.
Not only does the website provide the ethnicity estimate but they also give you DNA matches. These are other ancestrydna members who have been previously tested. Their DNA profile is compared with your results. So far, I have 312 4th cousins or closer that I may be able to contact and share my tree with. This could lead to a whole new way to discover your ancestors than just following the paper documents available on websites. These people could have living history stories and photographs that you would not have been able to access otherwise.
Also, they provide something called a DNA circle. I can see my 4th Great-grandfather, James Edward Hart’s DNA circle. There are 16 other members in this circle that I can contact and build from. I can’t wait to get started and jump into the gene pool!
This was a very cool project to undertake. It was easy to do and the results actually came very quickly. But, it only leads to more research. This is just a gateway into more secrets of my family tree I have yet to uncover.
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending my husband’s best friend’s wedding. What is a wedding? The ceremonious joining of two families? The perfect excuse to buy an expensive dress and throw a crazy party? Either way you look at it, marriage is a blessing. It is the joining of two people and their families for what hopes to be a lifetime.
We traveled down to Greenville, South Carolina on Friday after dropping our little one off in Charlotte with his Grammy and Pop Pop. We didn’t have much time to explore before having to try on suits and get ready for rehearsals because my husband was one of several groomsmen. Downtown Greenville is very cool, with a mix of old and new on every corner. I loved the historic district with its craftsman houses sprinkled in with new, urban construction. This city was alive with a mass of people at any given moment. People were running around for their morning exercise and enjoying cups of coffee at trendy cafes. In the evening, people were heading off to a fancy dinner or a night out for cocktails.
I enjoyed the rehearsal at a place called Larkins. It looked like an old industrial building turned into rustic reception rooms lined with brick walls and exposed beams. And the food catered was amazing. After that we went to an Ale House with a roof top open bar concept. Too bad we didn’t notice the open night sky until they closed it off. It would have been pretty to sit in the open air and enjoy the view while drinking craft beer like the total hipsters we claim not to be.
We stayed in the city the next day and were able to check into our hotel early. I took this opportunity to try to explore Main Street. Every Saturday, Greenville plays host to a local market. It’s called Market on Main and it’s literally on Main Street. They section off a part of the downtown district and set up little white tents with local farmers and vendors. It was really nice to see that sense of community and not just feel it. The rest of the day was spent eating brunch at a restaurant across from the hotel and getting ready for the wedding after having ample time to recover from the night befores festivities.
While, my husband went to go watch football with the boys and get dressed before tons of photogs captured his goofy grin for all eternity onto film, I went with his parents to go see his grandmother. She resides in a charming home for people over a certain age. It was delightful to see her since I had only met her once before. She is 87 years old, even though she can’t really remember that.
The wedding itself was held in a courtyard of a hotel in front of a waterfall wall. It was beautiful and the bride herself, breathtaking. The reception was held at the Westin Poinsett. The ballroom draped in blush and gold. A good time was had by all and for some maybe even too much of a good time.
The next morning, I dragged my husband to Falls Park on the Reedy. It is a wonderful piece of nature tucked into the middle of the brick and mortar city. Bridges and waterfalls with rock trails sit in what feels like a secluded park away from the hustle and bustle. I knew then I should have brought my walking shoes with me…especially after wearing heels the night before.
Waterfall at Falls Park
This to me is what marriage feels like. Having the strong support of the brick and mortar to help you though the bad times but the beautiful waterfall taking you through all that life has to offer, ebbing and flowing, with your partner by your side. The family that grows as a city grows and the sense of community you have with family members.
Marriage to me as an amateur genealogist is more than just a paper document full of dates and parents names and locations, but a story of how two people met, fell in love and decided that one another was who they wanted to be with forever. It is the story of how two people joined together to make a family for themselves but received so much more with parents and cousins and aunts and uncles. These are the branches that make us strong as individuals and help hold us together as couples.
Marriage records can be a valuable source of information while researching family history. Not only did the government keep a record of marriages, but also often times churches kept records along with other life events (baptisms, deaths). Records are usually stored with a city or county clerk’s office or may be found with the state’s division of Vital Records.
Applications and licenses are the most common types of records showing intent to marry. Sometimes you may find marriage banns (public announcements) or marriage bonds (written promises of payment made). The licenses and applications offer the most amount of information of value for genealogists. This includes the couples names, ages, and residences. Some offer race, birth dates, occupations, and names of parents. I have even seen number of marriages and the number of children on some licenses in my own family. Names of witnesses could be other potential family members, later records may show ministers who married the couple and their actual wedding date.
All this information may be helpful in order to assist in researching family history. An address may be helpful in looking at city directories or deeds, searching on maps and also concluding which census to check out. A birth date for the bride or groom can be helpful in making sure that you have the correct person in your family tree. Having to be able to see the maiden name for a woman can open a whole new door in a maternal line that was not in existence before.
Church records or family bibles are an excellent source to get started with a search. City and county registrations and vital records will most likely have copies on hand if not digital records and should be available for purchase if you would like a paper copy. Other sources can include newspapers (announcements), obituaries, state archives and last but not least any online source such as Ancestry, Family Search, GenWed, etc.
I hope that this posting has proved to be helpful in your search for marriage records if you are just starting out. Finding a record like that can be most beneficial when piecing together the story in your family tree. But I still think the more important story is about the two people who, once upon a time, fell in love and lived happily ever after.
Last summer, my sister and I made the four-hour trip to Washington D.C. to become official card holders at the National Archives. It was another one of our fun girl getaways all based on researching our family history. The only difference between this trip and the Wilmington, NC trip was the amount of drinking to be done. I, at this time, was already a few months pregnant with my son. So, no great bar recommendations in this posting!
Let me just start out by saying that the National Archives building was very intimidating. It is a massive structure with giant stone columns that act as a gateway into the past. We walked in, signed our names on the register and set forth to become actual members of the elite club of researchers! Nah, I am sure there are thousands of members who have walked the halls of the National Archives, but that is the way it felt entering the building and into the library.
The process to actually be able to start to look for anything took a lot of time. We had to watch a video, have our pictures taken and get our cards printed. By the time that was all said and done we only had a little over an hour to actually do any type of research before the place closed. My sister and I don’t always have the best timing on our adventures, but we do have a good time.
We decided to just dive in on the computers and try to get as much research as possible done on an international scale. We looked at Scotland first and found a few great leads. All things that will be shared in due time rest assured. But, this post isn’t really about what we found, it is about the journey and this journey takes us to a much better place. This place sits about an hour and a half from Washington DC near Culpeper, Va. It is Germanna.
Germanna was a German settlement in the Colony of Virginia, settled in two waves, first in 1714 and then in 1717. The name Germanna was selected by the Lieutenant Governor, Alexander Spotswood, and was meant to reflect on both the Germans who sailed to Virginia from Europe and the British Queen Anne, who was in power at the time.
Governor Spotswood was granted 86,000 acres of land in what was to become Spotsylvania County in 1720, of which the Germanna tract was the first portion. He served in that capacity between 1710 and 1722. He was eventually replaced by Hugh Drysdale as a result of disharmony between himself and the Privy Council.
Spotswood established the colony of German immigrants on the tract of land in 1714 to be partly used as a defense but mainly to help operate a newly developed iron works.
The Germanna colonies primarily consisted of the First Colony which was forty-two people from the Siegerland area in Germany. They were brought over in the first wave in 1714 to work for Governor Spotswood. The Second Colony of twenty families from the Palatinate, Baden and Wurttemberg areas were brought over in 1717. Many German families from these two settlements eventually migrated south and westward from the Piedmont area.
The site of the settlement is located in what is now known as Orange County along the banks of the Rapidan River. Many of these Germanna families played roles in important events in early American history such as the American Revolution.
What is important about this event? Well, according to our research our relative, Michael Holt, was in the second wave of German settlers. That to me is an awesome discovery in a family tree. My ancestor was a part of the second settlement in Virginia. No matter how far my family tree may take me, I always end up close to home.
Basically in 1717, about eighty Germans from the Wuerttemberg, Baden and Palatinate area agree with some guy named Captain Tarbett to take them to Pennsylvania on a ship from London. Captain Tarbett then hijacks the German settlers and takes them to Virginia where they become indentured servants to Lt. Governor Spotswood. And that is how my ancestor ended up in Virginia. Michael Holt is my sixth time great-grandfather. He is a direct ancestor on my mother’s side. So, we had to make a trip to the Germanna site to visit.
Now, the site of the settlement are large open fields and thickets of timber. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and traces of Governor Spotswood’s palatial mansion are still noticeable. We pulled of the highway and parked up a small incline in front of a chained off driveway. The visitor center was currently closed on the Sunday afternoon we were making our trek home. We walked a few yards and saw the small center sitting there.
Behind the center was a small garden, a monument dedicated to the families of the first and second colony of settlers and a large bell. Names carved into the large stone monument of the original families stood high above the circular path laid with the descendant’s names in stone pavers. It was a sight to see. I felt a sense of pride standing there, knowing my relative was among these brave me and women who left everything behind with the promise of a new life and land in the colonies. Little did they know that the new life they signed up for would have to be worked for over several years.
I wish that the visitor’s center would have been open at the time of our visit. It would have been amazing to see more and to speak to someone about further research that would have been available to us there. I hope to return one day and walk more of the grounds that my ancestor walked and where he worked for his freedom. There is nothing but a few miles of highway between me and those answers.
Join me in the future as I research more of the Germanna Holts and their decendants in North Carolina.
This past week was my birthday. Even though I frowned a little upon the thought of going farther into my thirties, it was a great day. I spent the morning helping my mom paint her newly remodeled bathroom. Seems I should take up a side job painting since this entire week has been dedicated to shutters, doors and bathroom walls. I am pleased with the outcome and feel like my house has a fresh face for another year of living to do!
But, this post isn’t about painting the exterior of my home, it is about presents. And the most valuable present I received this year was from my husband. I guess he really does read my little blog post after all and he helped me cross yet another thing off my list of “things in the works”. My wonderful husband purchased the Ancestry DNA kit for me! I was completely surprised and had to give him a pat on the back for getting me something he knew I really, really wanted. I had no idea as I tried to guess what would fit in the mailbox and be a dead giveaway once I saw the packaging. It never crossed my mind that this would be my gift this year.
So, on Sunday afternoon I sat down to read my instructions on what I needed to do. It was quite easy actually. The instructions are very crystal clear and straight to the point.
First, I registered my kit number on the Ancestry website at ancestrydna.com/activate. You must activate your kit number or you will not be able to see the results. Even if you don’t have an ancestry.com account, they will help you get one set up and the best part is – it’s free! If you happen to be doing multiple test tubes, they do offer space for you to write each applicants name and kit number. This code is linked to your sample and they say it is the only way to be able to identify you and your results!
Step two was to actually gather the DNA. Now, this wasn’t difficult but I was a little nervous if I would be able to get that much spit into the container that was needed without suffering from severe dry mouth. In reality it is only about ¼ teaspoon, but that tiny wavy line on the tube seems so far away when I can produce nothing but bubbles. They also instruct you not to over fill. I suppose this is for the solution and to make sure they have enough to mix with your saliva. I popped the funnel from the tube and replaced it with the cap that contains the blue solution that you must mix with your saliva. All you do is twist the cap on tightly and it releases the solution into the tube. This stabilizes your DNA in the saliva.
Last but not least, you have to shake the solution in the tube for a few seconds and make sure that your DNA is nice and stable for transport. Pack that bad boy in the collection bag, seal it and toss it in the prepaid box for shipping. I left my sample on the counter until Monday morning. And, first thing before my trip to the water park was a stop off at a mail box to send out my spit for testing!
I cannot tell you how much I feel like a kid at Christmas waiting for the results. And I am not even at Christmas morning yet, I am at those long days waiting for Christmas break, slowly sipping my hot chocolate and hoping that Santa brings me something I want to see. This is something that my sister and I had really wanted to share with our parents. We always love to call them and fill them in on all our little discoveries. Tracing back the family roots through documents is amazing, but being able to take a part of me and trace back generations to see where our family comes from just blows my mind.
Basically, when my results come back in a few weeks, I will be able to see my ethnic mix. Ancestry has a list of twenty-six different ethnic back grounds with the largest groups being in Europe and Africa. Also, once the results are in Ancestry will do a search of their network members and identify cousins – or people who share our DNA. But I suppose this would only be true for other people that have also taken the DNA test? There are a vast number of people who have participated in the DNA study, so I am sure that I will be able to get a few hits. Some people can even connect with someone famous! This is absolutely a great starting point for digging even further into my family research.
AncestryDNA seems to be the leader in DNA testing for family history and boasts a data base of more than 2 million people who have already been tested. Some research may require an ancestry.com subscription as well. I am in luck because I already have one of these and my results will link with my profile on ancestry.com. Once my results are back in about 6-8 weeks (insert sad face here due to the amount of time it takes) I will receive an email with a link to my profile.
And yes, I am a woman taking the test. Unlike some testing, which only analyze the Y-chromosome (and can only be taken by a male to look at paternal lineage) or the mitochondrial DNA test (which can be taken by either sex but only looks at the direct maternal line), AncestryDNA looks at a person’s entire genome. So, that is a way better in my opinion. Otherwise, I’d need two kits for both lines of parentage.
I cannot wait for the results to come back. I have a feeling I will have a huge portion of my ethnic background focused in Europe, with the largest cut of my pie chart in Great Britain and Europe West. I know that my family, a large part of it, is from Germany, some from Scotland, some from Switzerland. This will be a most interesting discovery and I can’t wait to see where this will take my family.
So, friends, check back with me in a few weeks to see the results of my AncestryDNA testing! Until then, keep reading and discover more fascinating places in my area and more people in my family tree.
I suppose the best place to look for information on family history would be within the family itself. Last week I posted about a packet of old photographs that my grandfather had ordered from a photographer after World War II. These photos astonished me. I was so interested in them that I flipped through the large stack several times and every time I looked at them, I noticed something new. The qualities of the pictures are fabulous. They have been very well taken care of for the last 60 years, even though the manila envelope they are stored in has worn with age.
As promised, here is the second half of “War in Photos”. I will conclude this portion of the posting with more information about my grandfather, Norman David Ferguson, and the part he played in the war. I’ve tried doing as much research on him as possible to follow up on this post. Sometimes it seems that the more recent the death, the less information is available on things like ancestry. I have stumbled across some of his muster sheets and pension files. Maybe that is what I should research for a future post…how to research more recent family members without having to shell out money to vital statistics for current records! All though I don’t think I would complain about a trip to Richmond, Virginia for a day.
My grandfather, Norman David Ferguson, was born on March 31, 1925 in Gibsonia, Allegheny, Pennsylvania. He was the son of Donald Ferguson and Mabel Sandman. They remained in Allegheny, Pennsylvania for the better part of Norman’s childhood and according to census records lived in Hampton, Rural Allegheny, Shaler and Glenshaw.
Row 5, first picture.
Norman attended Shaler High School in Glenshaw, Pennsylvania. From ancestry, I found this yearbook photo circa 1941.
According to a Veteran Compensation Application file, Norman entered the service on August 12, 1942. That would make him about 17 years old.
From what I found on his muster sheets, he was in the Navy and part of the LST 291 and the LST 344 crews. I didn’t find too much on the internet about the LST 291 but I did find something on LST 344. It was named the USS Blanco. It was commissioned in January of 1943 and was named for Blanco County, Texas.
It served during the Invasion of Italy (1943-44), arriving in Algeria in May and began making preparations for the Invasion of Sicily.
Native Quarters, Algiers
The ship arrived off Gela in early July . During this time in Gela, she was under attack from several German Bf 109 fighter bombers. After entering the causeway, several shore batteries tried to attack as well but didn’t cause any major damage. They managed to unload and went seaward.
Prisoners coming aboard, Sicily
Later she headed for Bizerte to begin reinforcement shuttles between North Africa and Sicily.
In September she was a part of the assault at Salerno. They remained off shore and were parry to sporadic German air attacks.
In November, they arrived in Plymouth, England to make preparations for the Normandy Invasion. For several months they participated in training exercises throughout the British Isles.
Arriving from Africa at Plymouth England
Thanksgiving day, arrving in England
Practice invasion, England
On D-Day, June 6th, she disembarked troops and unloaded equipment at Omaha Beach. The ship helped ward off an attack by Junkers Ju 88 bombers and returned safely to Southampton on June 7th.
Omaha Beach, Normandy France
Omaha Beach, Normandy
For the next 10 months the ship shuttled back and forth across the English Channel helping French Channel ports after they had been captured and reopened and also began first to many invasion beaches.
In English Channel
With convoy from Africa
Before returning to the US in 1945-46, the ship visited Falmouth, England as well as Belfast, Ireland. She departed from Ireland and returned home to Norfolk, Virginia in May and decommissioned in June 1946.
All of these places described are exactly what was photographed by Stan Barish during the war. I am proud that my grandfather was a part of the efforts! I hope that you have enjoyed this post to complete the two part series “War in Photos”.
After the war, my grandfather remained in Allison Park, Allegheny, Pennsylvania. He married Doris Jean Lightener and together they had four children; my father, being the first. He later worked as a painter, painting cars for a local company in Norfolk, Virginia. I don’t have very many memories of my grandfather. Most of my time spent with him was when I was a child. I do remember that he loved to watch the airplanes take off from the airport that was down the street from their house in Azalea Gardens. He would come back with pizza for us when we spent the night with our grandparents. I also remember his humor. He always told us if we weren’t quiet after lights out, he would put us in the shed. This was all because my cousins and I would sit in the room next to him giggling until all hours of the night. Those were the days.
Norman “Pee Wee” David Ferguson Sr., passed away on March 10, 2002 in his home at the age of 76. Even though it has been several years since he passing, he is still remembered thanks to things like these photos. This, to me, is why genealogy is such an important part of history. You must remember your ancestors and where you come from, for whom else will?
So, tucked away in my Grandmother’s house a few years ago was a large, ratted envelope. Inside this envelope were a stack of old photographs and a letter containing two pages. These photographs were a series of pictures taken during World War II and ordered by my grandfather, who served during that time.
Shellback, crossing the equator.
My grandfather served in the Navy during the war on the USS Blanco (LST 344) and the USS LST-291, both tank landing ships. These ships were designed to carry out amphibious operations by carrying vehicles, cargo and troops directly onto the shore. The USS Blanco participated in the Invasion of Italy (1943-44) and Invasion of France (1943-45).
Invasion at Sicily
I won’t go too much into the activities of these two ships just yet, I thought I would save that for another time. I think I will split this posting into two pieces. This post I will share the letter and a few of my favorite pictures from the stack and next week I can share more photographs. There are a lot and I have been sorting through them and trying to match them with the key that was sent with the packet.
The photographs were taken by a man by the name of Stanley Barish. He was attached to LST 325. I am not sure if all of these photographs were taken from that particular landing ship, and my grandfather just ordered them. But these photographs belonged to my grandfather and now are in my possession after his passing some years ago. In no way do I take credit for any photographs shared. I just want to show the world what an excellent piece of history was stashed away in my grandmother’s closet for over 65 years.
Below I will share the letter that was written to my grandfather from Stanley Barish himself, and a few of the photographs I found the most interesting.
“Dear Mr. Ferguson, June 7, 1946
You should get your pictures within a few days. Sorry to be so late. Couldn’t be helped though. When I first wrote you I xx was in St. Albans Naval Hospital, N.Y.. At that time I thought I’d be out of there within a week or so. As it turned out I was there for 4 mos. and a week, not leaving tre until April 20. I was in the hospital with abdominal pains and a stomach burning. They rmoved my appendix which relieved my abdominal pains. The stomach burning was found to be a case of strong hyperacidity. Am feeling pretty well now-just taking it east during my terminal leave. Once I left the hospital I really got my discharge fast, going through the separation center the next day. Since coming home on April 21 I have spent 3 – 4 hrs most everyday working on the pictures. I had also spent considerable time on the pictures when I was home on two convalescent leaves. So you see I’ve been getting them ready as fast as possible. It really turned out to be quite a lot more of a job than I figured on. But at last I am finished-thank goodness- for they were beginning to haunt me. I’ll really be glad to see them go.
On the back of each pic you will find a group of letters and nos.. They will give you certain information about the pix-in conjunction with the enclosed sheets. Don’t pay any attention to any nos. or letters on the back of the pictures except the group of three lines. The first line contains the date such as: 7-8-44 which means July 8, 1944. Sometimes the center no., the day of the month, is missing. On the 2nd line you’ll find a letter or letters which indicate the location and a description of the scene. If the letters on the 2nd line are for instance, BGS, look on the enclosed sheets for a letter group consisting of BGS. If there is no group like that look for the individual letters and put the meaning together. The third 3rd line of the main group is just my file no.. It would be a good idea if you’d write on the back of each pic just what the symbols mean- just in case you lose the identification sheets.
You may notice two other things about the pictures. One is that there isn’t quite as many pix as you ordered. The reason for that is the second thing you may have realized – that you are getting 3 ½’ x 5” enlargements rather than 4 5/8” x 2 ¼” contact prints that you ordered. For in spite of the special price I got because of the large size of the order it still wasn’t enough to get enlargements made. And you wouldn’t have been able to see much of the small pix, so I had a few less mpix made for everyone and got the enlargements instead of the small ones.
Look closely at each picture for on many of them the most interesting stuff is in the background.
Best of luck
Chow line Bay of Tunis
I only wish that I had known what the letter said that my grandfather, Norman Ferguson, wrote to Mr. Barish. I feel as though he may have been wondering what was taking so long for the pictures to be sent and may have given him a small piece of his mind. But this, I can side with Mr. Barish, for the pictures amount to many and the quality of the photographs for the era are stunning.
France (creppy double exposure)
The next posting, you should find the key that was included with the letter and more pictures from the tattered envelope that we discovered. It was really great to see that moment in time captured on film. Something different from all the videos and pictures of the war that I had never seen before; a real human connection to it. Not just something on television or a text-book. I am so proud of my ancestors and their military careers and of all the brave men and women who have served in the past and present. Maybe that is why I married one myself.
They say “life sucks” and sometimes I couldn’t agree more. Life hasn’t been kind to me or my family as of late. But, “that’s life”. It has punched me in the gut, breathlessly awaiting the kick once I am down. I haven’t written for the blog in almost two weeks. Instead I have been spending my time with my father, who passed away on Saturday, July 23rd. It was by far one of the worst days of my life.
My father had been battling an illness for almost six months. Two days after my son was born, he went into the emergency room and would spend the rest of his days in and out of the hospital and rehab centers trying to get well. I am sure there are many unknown factors that contributed to his passing and I guess I will never be sure but I am comforted to know that now he is at peace.
My father will no longer suffer or be tired or feel sick. He will feel no more pain. And even though I would rather be selfish and keep him here a bit longer, I am starting to accept that he is gone. It still doesn’t feel completely real. I am writing this, with my stomach in knots and tears coming down my cheeks…having to pause every few moments and gather my thoughts. I want to write this. I need to write this to work through my thoughts rattling around in my brain, to work through my feelings that seem to bubble to the surface in public and quickly are smothered down in hopes I do not upset my mom. I want to be strong for her more than ever now. I need to be strong for my children who lost a grandfather who loved them dearly.
So, I write this for him and for myself. I am happy that I was able, along with my sister, to share this with him at his service a few days ago. I had hoped that I would be able to muster through the words and let him know my feelings out loud. It was difficult to read in front of everyone; Strangers to me, but friends of my father who came to show their respect. This post is special to me because it hits so close to my heart. And my blog is about family and finding and knowing your family to know your true self. I don’t think I would know who I was without the love of my father.
Below is what my sister and I had written and read aloud at my father’s service this past Monday.
Ashley : “Today, we have gathered here to honor the memory of our father, Norman Ferguson. There are hundreds of words to describe him, but we will give you one: exceptional.
Adrienne: We say this because we believe that being honest, being kind, being funny, loving, selfless and intelligent can all fall under one word: exceptional. Our father was all of these things.
Ashley: Our father was an honest man, a good police officer for thirty-one years. He helped his community by serving the people and carrying out justice. He never once harmed anyone during those years but instead probably helped saved many lives and stopped wrong doings from being carried out. He was proud to have served his community and his country. He enlisted in the Marine Corps before becoming a police officer and that is why we are here today, with the best send off any military man could imagine.
Adrienne: Our father was a kind man. Never once growing up did we fear him. He never gave us a reason to, we respected him. He taught us that kindness goes farther than hate and that the world was a better place to live in when people were kind to each other. He created this world for our family, but it didn’t stop there. With his kindness, he touched many lives. We are sure that many of you standing here today have felt the warmth of his affection.
Ashley: Being funny was an understatement. We remember sharing many laughs with him when we would visit or call him and chat. He was a regular comedian with his smart humor and silly sayings. He could make my sister and me as children laugh and today made our girls laugh by playing with them or tickling them.
Adrienne: He was a loving father. My sister and I never wanted for anything growing up. He, along with my mother, sacrificed everything for us. They made sure that we had a proper education, food in our bellies and clothes on our backs. But most importantly we knew that we were loved and cared for. Our father may not have been the most outwardly affectionate man with hugs or kisses, but we never once questioned how much I was loved by him. If he wasn’t ironing Ashley’s hair in the morning, he was tolerating every kid in the neighborhood to keep us close by. He had a way of doing little things to make us happy, like he thought of us everywhere he went and brought home little tokens of that love.
Ashley: We hope he never questioned how much we loved him. That he knew how we looked up to him and that he showed us what a man was supposed to be like; that every man should be modeled after our father. He showed us that a man could be strong and nurturing all at once and what true love looked like, because the way that he loved my mother was like a fairy tale.
Adrienne: Selflessness was another quality of daddy’s. All though sometimes we wish had not possessed this quality. By this we mean, if he thought of himself more often, he may still be here today. But instead, he thought of our mother and his girls and our babies. Sometimes we think he didn’t tell us how sick he may have been feeling to protect us. He never wanted us to worry about him, but he always was willing to take care of whatever we needed.
With Grant in January
Ashley: He showed me this when he became a grandparent for the first time with my daughter, Caitlyn. He would have jumped over the moon for her.
Adrienne: And when Madison was born, it was the same. He loved his two girls more than anything. We always joked that my father was given more time on this earth with the birth of those two girls, that they healed him and made him feel younger and more vibrant.
Ashley: I only wish that my son could have given him a few more years, just as those girls had. I am happy that he was able to meet another grandchild and spend time with him. We had at one point wondered what would have been better or easier…to grow up only knowing a grandfather through pictures? But we realized we are the lucky ones for having known him and not just through paper; to have felt his goodness and to see him be able to embrace our daughters with open arms.
Adrienne: Our father loved history and politics and could carry on conversations and arguments with the best of them. His quick wit and clever banter was always a joy to be around. We remember spending many nights growing up having him help us with homework and projects and always calling for his advice on most matters in our lives.
Ashley: I am so proud to have known this man. I am even more proud to call him my dad. All though it hasn’t sunk in yet, he is gone. I will never be able to replace him. I will no longer be able to sit for hours and chat with him, to call him when I am excited or have questions. We all talk about it and know that it has happened. My brain registers it, but my heart cannot accept it. My love for my father will never fade. It will only grow as I get older and am able to share with my children all the memories that I will carry in my heart. I hope that I have made you proud. I know you will be watching over us all as our guardian angel and one day I will be able to see you again. In the words of my father to my mom, “we had some good times didn’t we?” Wait for me daddy. Treasure these few words till we’re together, keep all my love forever. P.S. I love you. “
Adrienne: Though it broke my heart to lose him, I know that I am lucky to have had him in my life for all of the years we were given. And while he made me the person I am today, I still strive to be more like him. More thoughtful. More caring. More patient. I strive to find the humor in life as he did. And to work hard to have all of the little things in life and make those around me happy. I also strive to have his strength and protect the ones I love as he did. I know that I’ll never lose affection. I know I’ll often stop and think about him. In my life, daddy, I loved you more.”
I sit here now, choking back more tears to be able to share these thought and words with you. My father was my best friend growing up. People told me days before he passed that I should say all the things I want to say and ask him any questions that I needed answers to. I had nothing. I had nothing because I shared everything with my father. I didn’t have any questions for him because we kept no secrets from each other. He was a huge part of my life. He cared for my daughter when I went back to work. Their bond was incredible. They were each other’s pals. My daughter comes to me now at the age of six, having to understand already what it is like to lose someone you love dearly. I think that she would be carrying a heavy burden having to deal with this. She tells me often she misses her grandpa and that she feels sorry for him. I tell her to not feel sorry, for grandpa is now in a better place, where ever that may be. I know he is looking out for us and making sure we stay in line and that his love for his girls goes beyond boundaries even in death. To this my daughter simply responds with a kiss that she blows towards the clouds.
Now, it is most important to me to spend more time with family. I lost my father. My rock, my greatest advisor. I have my mother, who is also my best friend. I guess I am lucky to have such wonderful parents. I want to be strong for her more than ever now. She lost the love of her life, her other half. She was married to my father for almost 36 years. They would be celebrating an anniversary next month. My mother not only lost my dad on that day. But, hours later I had the burden of telling her she also lost her brother. I received a phone call hours after we told my Aunt the news on my dad’s passing. She couldn’t bear the thought of telling my mother that her brother, who was closest to her in age, had also died that morning. My Uncle Walt. That was a terrible feeling, having to sit my mother down. It broke my heart. Those were the lines I gave her. My mother carries the sorrow of losing two great men in her life.
This is why family is the most important to me now. Cherish the people you love. Do not keep things from them. Tell them all the time how much they mean to you because you never know when you will draw your last breath.