Tuesday, April 24, 2012

If you love dead people, you're either a serial killer or a genealogist

So sayeth cousin April and I.

So, a few weeks ago already - Good Friday, I think it was, since we both had off - April and I drove up to Albany to take a look at some holdings at the New York State Archives. If you're an armchair genealogist, there's nothing wrong with that - you can find all sorts of perfectly reliable info at your fingertips on the Internet nowadays. Part of the fun for me, though, is the field trips. Even when the field trips are a bit fruitless.

April and I are each currently researching several branches of our own trees but the thing that brought us together and that we're determined to solve, is the mystery of Jacob Raynor's parents. Jacob and his wife Rebecca are our common ancestors - April is descended from their daughter Elizabeth and I am descended from their sons Joseph and James. The Raynor name is huge where we're from on Long Island because they were one of the founding families of the area, but strangely enough, we're connected to them through Rebecca (who, yes, was a Raynor before she married a Raynor - that's what happened in these colonial towns where everybody was related to everybody else!), but no one seems to know who Jacob's parents are. Two theories have been posited but no one can seem to tell me or April the basis for putting forth these possible parents - all we want is some proof of said theories. That was the purpose of our Albany trip.

An interesting but also frustrating thing about genealogy research is that while there are records that are overaching, for the most part, each locality also has its own types of records that you may not find in other places or in other years. In the course of some of her own research, April had stumbled upon something for the Town of Hempstead called the earmark register, in which people had to register the identifying marks on the ears of their cattle. What some of these entries indicate, and what can also be inferred by similarities in earmarks, is who the cattle came from - in many cases, they were inherited by sons or grandsons. If we could find Jacob as someone's son or grandson...well, that would be too easy. That would solve our whole mystery there!

Needless to say, that didn't happen. April and I sat in front of a microfilm machine for hours pouring over pages and pages of indecipherable handwriting and nowhere did we find "Jacob, son of." What we did find, however, were some possibly important clues as to who else to look at to get to the next step - sometimes you can't go back from a person, but you can go back from a sibling or another relative. We saw a lot of "James, son of Jacob"s, which could be my James, son of Jacob, though they were both common names, but two other names were starting to show a pattern - Micajah Raynor and Zebulon Smith.

Gotta love those crazy Old Testament names, huh?

Those two names kept coming up in connection to a Jacob Raynor. Micajah pinged on mine and April's radar because when we took a fruitless field trip up to Boston several months ago, April had brought an inventory of Jacob's estate from 1829 that was put together by a one Micajah Raynor. When we showed it to David Allen Lambert, a professional genealogist with the New England Historic Genealogical Society, his very first reaction, without hesitation, was that Micajah was of course Jacob's brother. Now is it possible he was just a good friend or neighbor? Of course. There were Raynors everywhere at that time. But Dave's gut was telling him something and I never, ever discredit my gut when it comes to following a lead.

Now, Zebulon Smith was NOT a name April or I had ever seen in connection to our Raynors before, but he, too, was turning up everywhere. One set of posited parents for Jacob was Joseph Raynor and Phebe Smith. Was Zebulon Smith Phebe's father? Was he Jacob's grandfather? In many unsubstantiated family trees floating around the Internet, Joseph and Phebe most often are not listed with a son Jacob. But they are listed with a son Micajah. And Zebulah (bastardized version of Zebulon Smith?)

So that's the direction April and I are heading in now. Zebulon and Micajah, unlike Jacob, seem to want to be found, very much so. Is it because they're family? Maybe. But we're thinking if we can somehow find death dates and then wills or property deeds or transactions for Zebulon and/or Micajah and/or Joseph and Phebe, maybe someone will make mention of "my brother/son/cousin/nephew/grandson Jacob...husband of Rebecca, not to be confused with the other Jacobs out there." It's extremely, extremely frustrating. But this is also the exact reason I love genealogy so much - if it wasn't as much of a mystery and a puzzle, it wouldn't be half as fun!

And just as a sidenote, if any of you out there reading this has some reliable research on Micajah Raynor, Zebulon Smith, or Joseph Raynor and Phebe Smith, hit a sister up, would ya? :)

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