Roots…the mundane ones

a mystery father…

All my life I have known that I have no blood relationship to the surname I was born with. Y’see, my Y chromosome donor was legally adopted by a stepfather (second husband) around the age of 12, and stopped being Albert Edward Williams and became Albert Edward Snavely. The image above, of his biological father’s World War I draft card, gives some details that have enabled me to dig a generation or so further back…and it turns out that Albert Constant (?Constantine) Williams was the “stepson” of Herman Carl Taetsch & Hulda T. Taetsch—she being the older of that couple and having had only one biological daughter, but three Williams (Charles, Theresa, and Albert) children are listed on their 1910 & 1920 census records as step children. Interesting!

However, I have never had all the data on who the heck my actual father was and his roots, although when I turned 18 and was a college student, I learned that he had converted to Judaism and changed his name to Abraham D. Knapp…because he was getting Social Security disability benefits, and as one of his dependents I had to sign SS forms to say that I was a full-time college student once I turned 18—my mother knew, but as a minor, she got the few bucks each month on our behalf, and simply gave it to us as cash allowance, something we had not had until around age 14.

Anyway, my great-grandmother on the maternal side had done a ream of research on her family…in the 1930s when that mean a lot of letter writing and visits to libraries and such—I inherited the remains of that paper research about 40 years ago. And one of my first cousins did a bunch of research on my grandfather’s side around 1990, and shared the resulting GED file around the family. And my sporadic hunts into trying to look up some genealogy when I didn’t even know whether my sperm donor was still ALIVE? Argh.

But I tackled it once more, taking advantage of all the free trials and such. The gift of a skilled amateur genealogical research got me several key data points that I now have puzzled through. Oral memory of what my mother said at various times to my sister and to me have helped to confirm the data that I found. Marriage records for either my paternal grandmother’s first or her second marriage are not being found online…is there an equivalent to Nevada in the Atlantic NE coast region? I seem to recall an old 1930s B&W movie making reference to a gent proposing to his lady that they drive down to Maryland to elope because Maryland did not then require a license… And New Jersey only just barely has any of their marriage records of the past century online, not a truly searchable database (which is where the paternal grandmother was born so because usually women are married from their home turf, it doesn’t matter that Connecticut has all its vital records searchable and online, if she married in NJ.)

What I have learned from this effort is that one may hit a “brick wall” at the most surprising places in any genealogy, and will likely discover new friends trying to break through such brick walls. I have a fourth cousin in Capetown, South Africa, who is sharing the hunt for one ancestor whom we know

  • where he was born & christened Henry Emmett…,
  • when he married,
  • when his daughters were born and that they were all in the 1841 UK census…

…but not how he acquired an extra surname

  • between joining the Royal Navy aboard the HMS Hound in 1846 as Henry Emmett, “gunroom steward”, and
  • his settling in Jamestown, Saint Helena (the island in the middle of the south Atlantic ocean, which was the home port of the HMS Hound,
  • and having his entire family there where wife Sylvia Emmett, née Wright, died in late March 1852 as Sylvia Bennett,
  • where Martha Priscilla Bennett received letters from her affianced whaler in 1854 & 1855,
  • where Henry remarried, probably in late 1854 or early 1855, given the regards sent to Martha Priscilla’s stepmother in the 1855 letter but not the 1854 letter
  • where both daughters Sylvia & Martha Priscilla Bennett stood  sponsors to an infant cousin Elizabeth Emma Bennett at her christening in 1855,
  • where both daughters wed their respective spouses in the spring of 1856 (parish registers found)
  • and, finally, where Henry Bennett himself died at the end of February 1859.
    But the only records we have found on Saint Helena are of the two daughters’ marriages.

It’s a mystery.

Likewise another mystery—the whaling captain in my family tree (all New England families probably have a whaler or three in their tree somewhere) is my great-great-grandfather, born to a British Army officer who married a Spanish girl while stationed at Gibraltar in 1820s.

Can find no data about his father, although his rare birth location makes him a snap to find in despite having the “John Doe” sort of name—William Brown. And, oddly enough, a fellow researcher/descendant of that specific William Brown made contact with me through a St. Helena genealogy group online—and helped me find some pieces of the Henry/Martha Priscilla Emmett Bennett puzzle! But we are both still stuck at the brick wall of who fathered Captain William Brown, master whaler.

I suppose I will have to learn to live with it.

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