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1944 05 Bonnie and Rosemary20020000 Bonnie and her dolls

I was named for my mother’s eldest sister.  I’ve always liked that fact.  She well-deserved the adoration of her baby sister and she had many qualities worth emulation.

198700 Bonnie and dolls

As a little girl I remember going to her home where shelves in every room displayed her collection of beautiful dolls.  Her basement was a virtual museum with hundreds more.  Some were not so beautiful–yet cherished–antiques with a few broken or missing parts.  She had spent a lot of her life and treasure on them.  She knew the history of each doll and had restored and reconditioned many of them.  She loved music and I remember that she played the organ for church when I attended with my grandmother. She was outgoing and generous.

I remember Aunt Bonnie most for her role as the family genealogist.  She did family research when it required years of sending letters to county records offices and cemeteries and distant possible family members requesting information–and waiting–to discover a single piece of information.  It was tedious labor, but she made many lifelong friends with whom she collaborated in her research.  She always came to family reunions generously loaded with genealogical records to share.  She held us captive listening to stories of “our people” whose lives she knew in great detail and with whom she was personally acquainted–no matter  whether they had lived in her lifetime.  She had a special way of instilling in me a sense of belonging to a large, inclusive extensive family unit.

20040730 BonnieEveryone in the family figured that if Aunt Bonnie couldn’t find the records for a person or event in our history, they probably weren’t available anywhere.  There was one member of the family who proved to be too mysterious even for her.   John Ellis, the father of John Ellis (who was married to Hannah Stoner), the grandfather of John Ellis (who was married to Harriet Hales.)  She couldn’t find sufficient evidence to determine which of many other John Ellises belonged in our family tree.  She uncovered many other historical truths in her lifetime, but left to her posterity the nagging mystery of John.

A recent visit to our family tree on Familysearch.org reveals that somebody has been able to sort it out as John and a number of his generations of ancestors, have been identified on the tree.

A few years ago I got the genealogy bug and, armed with technology my aunt never had, I began to search records for my husband’s family.  I had records from all over the world literally at my fingertips as I searched from the comfort of the keyboard in my own living room.  Once I had collected everything my husband’s mom could share with me I got busy searching names and dates on a variety of websites.

I think the first discovery I made was that my husband’s family had an elusive John, too–His second great grandfather, John Peebles!   We couldn’t find conclusive evidence of the family he came from other than that he was married to Helen Hutcheson Mitchell who was born in Quebec, Canada.  He was born in Scotland, they were married in Montreal, Quebec, Canada; and he died in New York. We had a lot of territory to cover!  Results for my searches included countless men named John Peebles.  I found interestingly close information submitted by a man who lived in British Columbia, Canada.  I resorted to “snail mail” to contact him for more information and received a friendly letter back, but no keys to unlock the mystery.Family History Center

Next, I turned to a local LDS Family History Center for help.  They are equipped with computers,  access to Ancestry.com, and friendly volunteers who will help when needed (or just leave you alone to do your work, if you wish.)  Family History Centers are owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints (LDS) but free to the public.  They’re open most Sunday afternoons and for several hours a couple of evenings a week.

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I started my search of census records, finding several possible families, and narrowed the immigration date down to a smaller window of years.  Then I plugged in a few possible dates of entry into the United States and came up with a little miracle.  Scribbled in tiny letters on a line on the passenger record was the tidbit I had been urgently hoping to find. The column requested information on the location of the passenger’s intended residency upon arrival.  It merely stated that he was going to stay with his brother, Llewelyn.  LLewelyn!  Now there’s a distinctive name!  Bless that mother’s heart for naming her son Llewelyn!

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IMG_1351Back to the census records, using the search term Llewelyn, the family was reunited in no time!  John and Llewelyn were two of eleven children.  Their parents were John Peebles and Susan Mitchell.  We were able to trace them, along with four generations of their family, through Rattray and Blairgowrie Parish registers in Perthshire, Scotland.   Scotlandspeople.gov.uk  provided me with a plethora of marriage documents, birth and death records linking them all together.  Reading between the lines of the major events of their lives: marriages, births, and immigration travel, I feel a kinship with them.  In my dreams, I’ll travel to their homeland to visit the towns where they lived and loved, and the little church burial grounds where they were laid to rest.

Until then, my fingers continue to make connections with the world wide audience from the comfort of home.  It’s funny, though, to think that you, my readers, who have come to read my little blog from the far corners of the earth, might include folks who could be personally acquainted with the neighborhoods and Parishes that witnessed events in the lives of the Peebles and Mitchell branches of our family tree!

Scottish Boy

It’s such a small world, after all.

No offense to our Great Grandfathers John, I think if I honor anyone with a namesake again, it will be Llewelyn.  There are enough grandfathers named John.

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