Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Inaugural Post-So, What’s this Blog About Anyway?

My mother was born and grew up in St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands, the “American Paradise”. As a child, and later as an adult, I visited St. Croix from time-to-time and have always felt a connection to the island. Whether it was the lure of a simpler island life, the siren call of clear blue water, or the knowledge that this was the land of my ancestors is hard to say. I just know that when I am there, I feel like a local.

My mother wasn't the first of my family born there. Although she always knew that her father was born on the island, she never knew much about his parents; when they went to St. Croix and from where. Supposedly they were Danish. Finally, I decided to find out -- thus began my study of genealogy and my St. Croix family history.

In researching my family tree I have learned a lot about my family, genealogy research, and the history of the Islands. I learned that my family's residence on St. Croix goes further back than my great-grandparents. Much further. My great-great-great-great-great (that's 5th great) grandfather lived on St Croix by 1774. When my grandmother died in 1986, my direct ancestors had lived there for over 200 years.
Through my research, I discovered that I descend from a branch of the van Beverhoudt family, a prominent Dutch planter and merchant family with members on all three of the islands: St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John. Van Beverhoudts have been on the islands since early colonial days, the earliest recorded was E. van Beverhoudt in St. Thomas in 1673, a year and a half after the island was settled (Svend E. Holsoe, "Virgin Islands Families", van Beverhoudt, March 2011). I have no idea if we are related yet, but if so I will have to rename this blog!  There are a host of other surnames as well, like Conrad, Anderson, Scott, Robson, Moorhead, Pentheny, Colbeth, McNobney, Quickly, Dalton, and many others.  Some are ancestors, some cousins, some are in-laws. 

Why I am writing this Blog
I began my genealogical research to try and build a family tree. Initially, my goals were rather modest: just collect up the names and dates of the direct line. I subscribed to Ancestry.com, reviewed NARA and FHL microfilms, searched online collections and amassed a fair bit of information. I followed the direct line and also the brothers, sisters, and collateral families. As I reviewed the information I noticed that nearly all of the people were born, lived, and died on the same island, often the same city: Christiansted. Along with the bare facts, I suddenly started seeing stories develop from census records:
  • One ancestor converted his entire family to Swedenborgianism, a new religious movement in the 1850s.
  • Another relative appears to have lost both parents, moved in with her maternal grandmother's family, and subsequently married someone from Maine who was renting a room at her paternal grandfather's home. They ultimately emigrated to New York.
  • My 2nd great grandfather and his close friend married sisters, the daughters of a plantation estate manager, a year apart.
  • And then there is the issue of "common-law marriage". Not all of my ancestors were formally married. As much as this offends our modern sensibilities, it was commonplace at that time and place. My current brick wall is part of my direct line where I have only records of the women, children and mothers with different surnames. No fathers.
The more I look, the more I find, and the stories are interesting. At least to me. Hopefully, I'll make them interesting to you too.

Like most family historians, I am looking for a way to share my research with my family, mostly non-genealogists, who don't like the idea of reading a 400-page book, properly sourced, listing every fact on every person. But they do want to know; they are interested. I keep hearing, "you should write all this up"? This is my attempt to do just that.

Another reason, perhaps one with broader appeal, is that there are very few resources, and very few blogs, that deal with Caribbean family history, and none that I have found that treat the US Virgin Islands. There are few published genealogies of families of the area (I have only found one) to get a sense of place and time. Reference materials are hard to come by and not widely known. This is a gaping hole in the genealogy universe, so perhaps I can help fill it.

Plans for the Blog
I plan to use this Blog to share my genealogical journey. To tell the stories I uncover. To share my analyses and findings with other researchers. I hope to reach out to cousins I have never met and guide others in exploring this fascinating area. Perhaps, with luck, I will find others who will guide me in my work, helping to fill that genealogical hole.

11 comments:

  1. Dave,

    Thank you so much for starting this blog. I have also been trying to trace my ancestors, although I must admit that I have not been as diligent as you. As we have communicated before, we are cousins, with James Esli van Beverhoudt of St. Croix as a mutual ancestor. However, my branch of the van Beverhoudt family was more recently located on St. Thomas. My grandfather, Ernest V.D. van Beverhoudt, was a merchant who had a dry goods store on Main Street in the late 1890s/early 1900s. He moved his family to Maracaibo, Venezuela and the majority of is descendents still live there. My father, Arnold Edward, moved back to St. Thomas as a young man and lived here the rest of his life. My brother, Steven Gerard, and I are the last two of his line who still live on St. Thomas. Our three older sisters all live in the United States today.

    I look forward to reading your blog posts and learning more about my heritage.

    Arnold E. van Beverhoudt, Jr.

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  2. I look forward to your blog, too. My family is all New England Yankees, but my husband is a Spaniard who lived in Puerto Rico during his school years because his Dad was a professor there. He found out recently that some of his distant relatives lived in Puerto Rico, too, during the 1800s. I've never done research in any of the US possessions, and only done a little in Spain. It's a whole new world of genealogy than just doing local New England research. I'll be reading your posts with great interest.

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  3. Hi,

    My name is Leilani Acevedo. I believe I am distantly related to you, as your mother is my grandmother's cousin. My grandmother's name was Hellen Altman, nee Conrad. My father remembers your mother very well from Puerto Rico and calls her "Nita".

    I cannot express how excited I am about this blog as I have also been trying to research my grandmother's family history. I too hit a brick wall with the census. I was unable to go further than Elisabeth Scott.I live in Perth, Australia, so I found myself limited to the information available online.

    I haven't had time to go through all your posts yet but I have noticed your mention of "my ancestors were not married". I had suggested that possibility to my father. It seemed a pretty obvious explanation as to why our great great grandmothers never changed their surnames. He didn't love the idea...

    Thanks for all your good work.

    I will keep reading now.

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  4. Hi Leilani, I remember your grandmother, and her sister Gladys. Please email me directly at paradise200blog@verizon.net so I can reply to you! Meeting up with long lost family is one of the reasons I started this blog!

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  5. Hi Dave,
    This is one fabulous blog! Looks terrific and most thorough. Although I don't believe we have any ancestors in common, I read that one of your ancestors came from Flensburg. My great grandpa was also a sea captain from Flensburg,he sailed around the Pacific and settled in Chile. I have a very extensive family tree, but this branch is very short at the moment.
    I wanted to ask you if you could share with me the name of the researcher who helped you investigate records in Flensburg, I don't believe the records for the town are online yet, and don't see any other way of being able to examine them.
    thanks much!
    Nancy (sorry, tried to enter a URL but couldn't do it)

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  6. Nancy, write me at delynch@verizon.net. Do you have ancestors from the Virgin Islands? How did you find the blog?

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  7. My name is Marvin Elliott Ellis. I'm a 3rd generation maternal descendant of Joseph Ellis (b.1864-Ste.-Croix) and Rebecca Simpson Ellis (b.1864-Ste-Croix). I'm also a 4th generation maternal descendant of Joseph Spencer (b.ca.1830-Barbados, resident of Ste.-Croix) and Mary Elizabeth Dowling (b.ca.1840-Barbados, resident of Ste.-Croix). I have been researching my maternal family history in order to construct a pedigree chart/genealogical chart/family tree chart for myself and my Ellis-Spencer Family. I have been quite successful in my endeavor. The US Federal Census records and The Danish Period Virgin Islands Census records were tremendously helpful to me in achieving my goal. I encountered several brick walls in identifying by name ancestors whose names couldn't be found at the time in the census records. Those brick walls tumbled to the ground when I found what I was seeking in the church sacramental records (baptisms, marriages, burials) of Saint Paul (Frederiksted) and Saint John (Christiansted) Episcopal/Anglican Churches and Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church (Christiansted). These records contain an abundance of information that solved the puzzle I was putting together to seek my unknown family ascendants. Ms. Joan Felix and her team of volunteers at The Saint-Croix Landmark Society Library and Archives did an absolutely outstanding job of researching these records and providing me with copies of the original documents. I found that most of the ancestors were not transient at all. They were born in St.-Croix, raised their families there, and died there. That was the key to my success in tracing my family ascendants. Also, their religious faith affiliations were consistently Episcopalian/Anglican or Roman Catholic. For me, researching my St. Croix maternal family history has been a project of unceasing joy. When I think I've exhausted the last source of information, more names and sources come up. My best wishes to my fellow genealogy researchers to have happy ancestor hunting.

    Marvin Elliott Ellis
    Miami, Florida
    marvinellis1@hotmail.com

    PS I have also constructed family trees for some cousins (Motta) who are Ste.-Croix residents who are related to the Motta and Canegata Families.

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  8. Thank you for responding to my post above. I'm greatly looking forward to the experience of being a member of the 200 Years In Paradise Family.

    My Virgin Islands maternal family roots are deeply embedded in the soil of Ste.-Croix. Family names are Spencer, Dowling, Griffith, Ellis, Simpson, Franklin, Williams, Motta, Thomas, and Morris. (Spencer-Dowling-Griffith are via Barbados).
    My paternal family (Norman) roots are planted in the continental United States. (More specifically, Wilkes County, Georgia). I have researched both my paternal and maternal family lines and I have been quite satisfied with the fruits of my labor.

    Re my Ste.-Croix Antillean Creole heritage, as I stated in my previous post, The Sainte-Croix Landmark Society Library and Archive staff (Ms. Felix and Ms. Hector)has been quite helpful in my search in identifying my maternal family ascendants. They will be assisting me further in my research efforts.

    What I presently need to go back further than 1864 are the baptism records for my great-grandparents Joseph Ellis and Rebecca Simpson (Roman Catholics) and Therese (Theresa/Teresa) Franklin (Episcopalian/Anglican). Those baptism records would identify who their parents were and allow me to go further into my ancestry.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed your blog and look forward to using it as a resource.

    Sincerely,
    Marvin Elliott Ellis
    Miami, Florida
    786-202-6066
    marvinellis1@hotmail.com

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  9. A very interesting, must read article in this morning's Miami Herald/Tropical Life-Saturday-July 13th, 2013. I most definitely can relate. TRAVELING IN TIME: MIAMI TEEN DANIEL GARCIA EXPLORES HIS ROOTS BY TRACING HIS FAMILY TREE by Daniel Shoer Roth.

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  10. My family genealogy search continues with very, very positive results. An abundance of gratitude to GEORGE TYSON, Executive Director of THE SAINT-CROIX AFRICAN ROOTS PROJECT, who has assisted me tremendously in my search for my SAINT-CROIX ELLIS-SPENCER FAMILY ancestors.

    I am finding out many things re my maternal family heritage. We have quite a bit of Bajan (from Barbados)ancestry which prior to my genealogy research I was totally unaware of. I have also found many collateral relatives as well. Church records (Roman Catholic, Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran) have also been very, very informative because I have not only discovered the dates of births, but also the dates of baptisms, confirmations, marriages and deaths.

    So far, I have traced my blood-line to my great-great-great grandfather, DAVID SIMPSON who was born ca.1799 in Saint-Croix and his spouse, my 3xgreat grandmother, HESTER SIMMONS SIMPSON born ca.1810-1811 in Saint-Croix.

    I have pleaded constantly with the ancestral spirits to make themselves found and to be accurately identified. In return, they have responded very positively, I'M HAPPY!!!

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  11. THE ELLIS-SPENCER FAMILY REUNION-Reunions Magazine-February/march/April (Spring) 2014-Page 25-reunionsmag.com

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