Everyone has leisure moments which are apt to hang heavy upon one’s
hands unless employed in some sort of recreation. One turns to golf and
outdoors, another goes forth with gun or rod, a third arms himself with
a camera. Many dabble a little in science. Some take to the telescope
and star-gazing, while the microscope claims others, who haunt scummy
ponds with jars and bottles in search of diatoms, and other denizens of
a drop of stagnant water. One goes in for bugs, another for ferns or
fungi. Others, of a bookish turn of mind, do their hunting in the dark
corners of second-hand bookstores, hoping to stumble upon a first
edition or some other treasure.

But it is doubtful if the whole range of hobbies can produce anything
half so fascinating as the hunt for one’s ancestry. This combines the
charm and excitement of every other pastime. What sportsman ever bagged
such royal game as a line of his own forebears? What triumph of the rod
and reel ever gave the thrill of ecstasy with which we land an elusive
ancestor in the genealogical net? If any proof be needed of the
fascination of this pursuit, behold the thousands who are taking it up!
The nooks and crannies of civilization are their hunting-grounds–any
corner where man has left a documentary trace of himself. Behold them,
eager enthusiasts, besieging the libraries, poring over tomes of deeds
and wills and other documents in State and county archives, searching
the quaint and musty volumes of town annals, thumbing dusty pages of
baptismal registers, and frequenting churchyards to decipher the
fast-fading names and dates on mossgrown tombstones, yellow and stained
with age, or cracked and chipped by the frosts and rains of many

A tidal wave of ancestry-searching has indeed swept over the country.
Genealogical and biographical societies have been organized. Periodicals
have sprung up which confine themselves exclusively to this subject.
Newspapers are devoting departments to it. The so-called patriotic
societies and orders have become a host, with branches in nearly every
State. They count their members by tens of thousands, their rolls are
steadily increasing, and new societies are constantly being organized.
There is scarcely an achievement in which our ancestors took part which
has not been made the rallying-point of some flourishing society. All
these draw life and nourishment from the mighty stream of genealogical
research. We must prove that we have had ancestors, and that one or more
of them had the distinction celebrated by the particular organization at
whose door we knock for admission.

Librarians and the custodians of public records bear witness to this
great movement. The libraries have become wonderfully popular, thronged
by multitudes who have enrolled themselves in the army of amateur
genealogists. So onerous has become the work of handing out historical
and genealogical books that in some large libraries such works have been
gathered into alcoves which are thrown open to the public, where the
ancestry-hunter may help himself.

Formerly such public records as deeds and wills constituted the special
preserve of the lawyer. But his monopoly is a thing of the past. The
genealogist has invaded this domain and established equal rights. He
still leaves to the lawyer the dry searching of titles to property,
choosing for himself the pleasanter task of sifting out important data
for the biography of an ancestor, or for the proofs of a line of

Old church record books, with their marriage and baptismal registers,
have acquired an extraordinary value. In many cases these volumes have
been rescued out of dark corners and from beneath accumulations of dust
and débris where they had been tossed as ecclesiastical junk. But the
pastors and church secretaries who unearthed them, at the instance of
inquiring genealogists, have now discovered a profitable occupation for
their leisure in transcribing items for correspondents. Indeed, a number
of societies are now engaged in collecting these old registers, or in
making transcripts for their archives.

What is the subtle attraction which draws these multitudes–the
fascination which lures so many into genealogical research? We have
hinted that the pursuit of ancestry yields the exhilaration both of the
chase and the stillhunt, kindling the suspense of expectation into
sudden thrills of discovery, as keen as those when the wary canvas-back
flies low over the blind, or a pair of antlers comes crashing through
the brush.

But while genealogical research affords all the excitement of the chase,
it is followed by no reproach for having taken life, but by the
permanent satisfaction peculiar to the benefactor of mankind. The
ancestry-hunter does not kill, but brings to life. He revives the
memories of the dead, and benefits the world with an honorable
contribution to the science of history. For a trophy he does not show a
string of fish, nor a few birds and skins to distribute among friends,
but a genuine historical work of ever-increasing value, which hands down
his name to an appreciative posterity.

We have compared the peculiar delight of establishing a family link,
long shrouded in mystery or attended with harassing doubts, to the
angler’s joy in landing a notable catch. In both cases the issue may
long hang in the balance between skilful manipulation and a possible
stroke of bad luck, which no skill can guard against. The fish may be
reeled in or given his head without a single mistake of judgment. But
who can foresee the sharp rock, the hidden snag, which cuts or entangles
the line? And so, too, is skill most richly rewarded in searching for
ancestors; but what can it avail against the positive wiping out of
indispensable records?

We recall one of these genealogical tragedies, which cast its shadow
over a remarkable record of successes in tracing a number of interesting
lines for a gentleman who could start us off with no more than the names
and birth-places of his parents. Two lines remained which pointed back
by strong evidence to European connections of the titled class. All that
was needed in one case was a clue to show to which of several branches
of the family in Great Britain, the first American ancestor belonged.
But to this day that clue has eluded every attempt to pick it up by
research here or abroad.

Cases which are parallel up to this point are not uncommon. But the
tragedy has yet to be told. At the colonial homestead of this ancestor
we learned that his personal papers had, indeed, been preserved from
generation to generation. Their last owner, a maiden lady, had carefully
kept them in an old trunk, which was itself an ancient heirloom. But she
had never taken the pains to examine their contents, and only a short
time before our investigation brought us upon the scene, these hoary
documents, after surviving the vicissitudes of seven generations, had
been destroyed in a fire which reduced the old house to ashes!

Who can express the sorrow of it? No finder of Captain Kidd’s buried
treasure could gloat over Spanish doubloons and glittering gems with
half the delight with which we would have contemplated those ancient
parchments. How fondly our fingers would have turned the precious pages
and smoothed the creases of those yellow papers! But now no hand may
touch them, no antiquarian’s eye explore nor pen exploit their contents
to the world! If our friend had only sought his forebears earlier, and
launched us sooner upon the voyage of discovery!

The other line, it is true, had no disappointments for us. It even
yielded the discovery and possession of an original parchment pedigree,
signed by an official herald of arms, which the ancestor had brought
over with him, exhibiting his descent from the many Sir Williams and Sir
Johns of an ancient Lincolnshire family extending back nearly to the
Conqueror. It also enabled us to confirm the connection through official
sources in England, and to prove that the emigrant was the son and heir
in the line of primogeniture. For these kind favors, we trust that we
were truly thankful. But they could scarcely comfort us for the lost
papers which might have carried back another line in the same
distinguished fashion.

Thus, genealogy has its griefs as well as its joys–some disappointments
among many triumphs. But so it is with life and with everything worth
while. Who would care to measure skill with a gamefish if the creature
had no chance? Or who would glory in the death of a bull-moose that a
look could bowl over? In genealogical research it is the part played by
skill and by the unknown quantities which gives to it all the
fascination, with none of the risks and evils, of a great game of skill
and chance.

Another pleasure is the sensation of original discovery. Would you
experience the feelings of a Columbus? Then set forth to explore the
unsailed seas and hidden continents of your own or some other person’s
ancestry! If your own happens to be virgin territory you are one of
fortune’s favorites, with the ripest joys of life just before you. Nor
is it any question of great achievements or high social position enjoyed
by the ancestor. The truth is that all ancestors are remarkable persons.
In the first place they are _our_ ancestors, and in the second place it
is a noteworthy fact, as mysterious as delightful, that every homely
feature about them wears a wondrous glamour and dignity. Their
homesteads, their property, their church affiliations, their signatures,
any little act of barter or sale,–all these items create an absorbing
interest as they stand recorded in old archives.

We remember, as if it were yesterday, the peculiar charm of the simplest
details in clearing up our family history. The most that parents, aunts
and great-uncles could give was a vague tradition of a certain
great-great-grandfather, a captain in the Revolution whose chief
distinction seemed to have been his success in getting captured by the
British and having his silver knee buckles stolen by a Tory. Of course
he subsequently escaped, met that Tory, knocked him down, and recaptured
the silver buckles.

Turning to the records we were able to identify this energetic patriot
without trouble, although in the process he dwindled from a “captain” to
a “sergeant,” and even held the latter title on a rather uncertain
tenure, having been once “reduced.” Indeed, his military record ends
(shall we confess it?) with the rather compromising word, “deserted.”
But what of that? This flesh-and-blood progenitor is much more to our
liking than any starched and laced dignitary of the imagination. And
while history saith not concerning the knee buckles, that he was ready
with his fists seems altogether probable in the light of his subsequent
career. His title of “captain” was acquired at sea. He commanded a craft
in the waters of Long Island, where he met an untimely death–through
“foul play,” says that old gossip Tradition, whose tongue we dare not
trust. Features of mystery still remain, and if we knew all, it is
possible that we could lay claim to a picturesque pirate–a most
desirable addition to any family line, and especially so if he escaped

Much as we delighted in this liberty-loving individual, the reader will
understand that we thought well to look backward for a more sober
character to maintain the family dignity. We found several who filled
the rôle of quiet respectability to perfection, and thus reached the
emigrant-founder of the line, a gentleman who drew our special
affections by the extreme littleness of his greatness and the romantic
character of his surroundings. He was of French Huguenot descent, a
weaver by trade, and possessed of a “frame for a dwelling house …
twenty foot in length and sixteen foot in bredth,” and other realty in
the shape of an acre of woodland and an acre of upland “lying in a place
called Hog-Neck,” bounded by “a cove west” and “ye Goose Creek north.”
What distinctions! Not every one can boast such a progenitor, a wielder
of loom and shuttle on the lordly promontory of Hog-Neck, where the
gentle waters of Goose Creek flow into the sea, near the ancient town of

We could not doubt that such a character had other claims to
distinction; and sure enough, the achievement of having loitered in this
world for ninety-six and one-half years is carved upon his tombstone in
the old cemetery where he rests beside a third wife, who herself
attained to ninety-two summers! Peace be to their ashes! We can almost
see this famous ancestor, the patriarch of the village, toiling down its
long street under the weight of the honor of his many years, responding
to the greetings of man, woman and child with a cheery nod and a
pleasant French accent. We would not have one single feature changed in
order to place him upon a higher pedestal.

His father and grandfather, as we learn from old documents, were elders
and leaders in one of the French churches established in England by the
Huguenots in the sixteenth century. But the dignity of these men,
banished from their native soil by the atrocities of St. Bartholomew’s
day, can not outshine the quiet glory of the aged weaver of Hog-Neck
and Goose Creek, nor even put to shame the restless career of their
later descendant of the Revolutionary epoch. In fact, throughout the
entire ancestral line we found every progenitor perfect in his place and
after his kind. And so has it ever been with the genealogist, and so
will it be to the end of time.

We may add that genealogical work is literary work–a fact which adds
immensely to its fascination. The genealogist tastes all the delights of
authorship, added to those of research and discovery; and it is the
purpose of this little volume to bring these pleasures within the reach
of all. For is there a reader of books who would not take delight in
making one, if he thought himself competent and the labor not too great?

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