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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

family affairs

You've Met the Scotch-Irish; Now Meet the Germans

I am re-posting a blog from last October, with corrected dates and ages, thanks to the sleuthing of a newly-discovered third cousin, who is better than I am at this genealogy stuff. Of course, he has had the advantage of some family records, including a family Bible, that I have not seen -- just another of the many reasons I am grateful for our 21st-century access to the internet.

My grandfather, Joseph Lyle McCaskey, was all Scotch-Irish, but my grandmother, Karolina Schweinsberg, was German. Her parents (who would be my great-grandparents) were Johan F. Schweinsberg, (1831 - 1899) born in Hesse, and Philippine Jung, (1831 - 1906) born in Rheinland-Pfalz. She and Johan married on 17 July 1853. I do not have an immigration date for either of of them, but their first child, Wilhelm, was born 30 March 1854 in western Pennsylvania, when they were both 23 years old.

I can trace Johan's family back one further generation, and the Jung family for three generations, taking me to some great-great-great-great-grandparents living in Rheinland-Pfalz at the beginning of the eighteenth century. There are no details, however, beyond birthdates. Having found neither any horse-thieves or any relatives that seem closely connected to a great philosopher, I am content to let buried ancestors stay buried.

I was curious, however , about my grandmother's siblings -- wondering why I did not hear more about her brothers and sisters.  A little probing turned up some sad details. 
·      John Fredrick Schweinsberg, born in 1847, lived with Johan and Philippina in 1860, but he was actually the son of Henry (“Georg Heinrich”) Schweinsberg, the brother of Johann Friedrich Schweinsberg.
·       Wilhelm J. was born in 1854 and died in 1887.  That makes two young men who died in their thirties.
·      Johannes S. was born in 13 November 1855  and died on 17 January 1944, He married Mary Louise Workley and had two sons and two daughters.
·      Grandma Karolina was born in 1858 and died in 1933.
·      Karl Henrick was born in 1860 and died at age ten.
·      Maria was born in 1862 and died at age eight.
·      Henrick August. was born in 1864 and died in 1955 at the age of 90. (Talk about a changling!) I guess if  you survived childhood, you could survive most anything. 
·      Jacob was born in 1867 and died at age 1 year, 4 months..
·      Fredrich was born in 1869 and died at age 1 year, 6 months..
·      Emma Margaret was born in 1871 and died in 1942.
Family tally:
·      9 births and one nephew taken into family.
·      4 died in childhood
·      2 died in their middle to late thirties
·      only 4 lived to their Biblical three-score and ten or beyond

With that in mind, take a look at this picture. That's Karolina Schweinsberg McCaskey seated on the left, and on the right, her mother, Philippina Jung Schweinsberg or possibly her sister Emma. That's Minnie (Wilhelmina) McCaskey Swick standing and holding baby Gladys Swick. 

I grew up with an enlargement of that picture on my mother's dressing table, and I always wondered why they were all wearing black on what seemed to be a happy occasion. Now I understand. Poor Great-Grandmother Phillippina must have spend most of her adult life in mourning garments.

Those Six Degrees of Separation that Connect Us All

About this time last year, I was writing about the beginning of the twentieth century in my first rough draft of the third volume of the Grenville Trilogy. One notable event of the period was the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901. Naturally I had to stop and do some historical research. 
McKinley was in his second term of office. On September 6th,  he attended a public reception at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY. A young anarchist, Leon Czolgosz, shot him at close range. Czolgosz was an American citizen, a steel worker, and the son of Polish immigrants. The shot was not immediately fatal, but the president died of gangrene eight days later, and was succeeded by his vice president, Theodore Roosevelt.   

 This year, as I read through the final page proofs of Yankee Daughters, I‘ve again been thinking about various current events, and also wondering what my characters, who had also lived through the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, would have thought about another act of violence. But first, I needed to deal with creature comforts. It’s a cold, cloudy, damp morning, and although I know it's November, I'm not ready to turn on the furnace and admit that winter is here. So I decided to switch on the gas fireplace for an hour or two to take the chill off. 

I walked into the living room, as I've done thousands of times in the past twelve years. I glanced at the mirror above the fireplace out of long habit. (Who doesn't sneak a look when they pass a mirror once in a while—not my mother’s daughter, certainly!) Then it hit me. The mirror I was looking at once also reflected the image of William McKinley. How did that happen? The story, once again, goes back to those eight McCaskey sisters. 

The McKinley family was from Canton, Ohio, which you may only know as the location of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But for the McCaskey girls, Canton was a tempting destination. It sits not far across the state border from North Sewickley. It was a booming metropolis founded by a bunch of wealthy steel magnates, while North Sewickley had remained a backwoods settlement. It was where one went in search of fame and fortune, apparently.  One by one, most of the McCaskey girls found a way to move there. 

 Now we fast-forward to the nineteen forties. My mother had managed to marry the boss, and for the first time in her entire life, she had money to spend. She had left many of her friends behind, but there were always family members near by. She was particularly close to her sister Florence's second daughter, Helen, and the two of them enjoyed shopping sprees together.  

Helen had married a man who was related by another marriage to the McKinley family. (Helen’s daughter Sharyn, my own cousin once removed, provided me with the hand-written family documents that detailed the relationship.) Helen’s husband was a second-cousin-twice-removed of ida McKinley, wife of President William McKinley.  Since the McKinleys had only two daughters, neither of whom survived past childhood, Ida's cousins were her only living relatives. And that’s how Helen and my mother managed to wrangle tickets to the auction where the McKinley mansion and its contents were being sold off.

Now my mother was one of the original "material girls." Because she had grown up in great poverty, she valued THINGS. And at that auction, she fell in love with an antique mirror. It's about four feet square and surrounded by a frame of gilded (naturally! this was the Gilded Age) plaster of Paris roses. So she bought it. I have no idea how much she paid for it, or even how she managed to get the thing home. (Knowing my mother, I’d bet she just batted her eyelashes at the nearest fellow with a truck.)

The mirror hung in the living room during my entire childhood. When my mother died, I inherited it,  and I entrusted it to a whole succession of Air Force movers who shuffled us and our belongings back and forth across the country. The plaster of Paris framework is cracked at all its weakest points, but the cracks are clean and almost invisible unless you happen to grasp the mirror at the wrong point -- in which case a rose will come off in your fingers until you tuck it back in. The silvering on the back has held up remarkably well. And here it still hangs, over a century old, providing a link between me and a historical event I knew almost nothing about until last year.

My mother's niece's husband's second cousin (twice removed)’s husband. . .  Six degrees of separation, indeed.

Halloween Seems like a Good Time for a Graveyard Post.

Who's Buried in Uncle James's Grave? And Where's Grandpa?

I have learned a lot about cemetery research from a  mysterious headstone that bears the name of my great-uncle James McCaskey, who was killed in the Civil War. After much searching, I found this marker in the same Pennsylvania cemetery where many of my other McCaskey ancestors are buried. It reads: 

James McCaskey

April 12, 1839
June 16, 1862

James Island, S.C. 

Those details are all correct; the military action on James island was the Battle of Secessionville.  The problem is that the notification of his death says that his body was never found. The official records say that the Confederate troops buried the Union soldiers killed in the battle (some 509 of them) in unmarked graves on the battlefield. North Sewickley Cemetery records indicated that the headstone was placed in 1875, after Mrs. Jane McCaskey purchased three adjoining plots and ordered three matching stones — one for her recently deceased husband John, one for herself, and one for her missing eldest son James. 

Sure enough, the marker next to the one for James marks the grave of my great-grandmother Jane McCaskey. But on the far side of her grave, the ground has been cut away, and a gravel road lies several feet below the resulting ledge.  So where is Great-Grandpa John?  There is no sign of him or his tombstone at all. Was he ever there? Did an earthmover carry him away when the road was put in? Or is he in the plot marked with his son's tombstone?  At this point the solution to the problem becomes too macabre to consider, so I am willing to accept what I THINK I know without further investigation. 

Lesson Number One: A tombstone does not always equal a real burial. Obviously, James's headstone marks an empty grave, a not uncommon phenomenon during a war that swallowed up so many young men on distant battlefields. The Grand Army of the Republic honors James McCaskey's service every Memorial Day by placing a flag on the grave site, but even their records stop short of stating that he is actually buried there. 

Lesson Number Two: The lack of a headstone does not necessarily mean that no grave ever existed. As time passes, stones crumble, weeds take over, land subsides, new demands for grave sites force owners to change the layout of their cemetery plots. In this picture,  you can see that Jane McCaskey's stone now teeters dangerously close to the edge of the cut-away bank. In fact, it is largely supported by the roots of the tree in view just behind the stone. John's grave would have been on the far side, since wives were nearly always buried to the left of their husbands. John has disappeared, but we know from court records and other documents that he was buried in that location in 1875. 

Lesson Number Three:  Burial practices change over time. While I was planning this blog post, I received a message from another genealogist, a distant cousin of my husband's, who had found the graves of my husband's grandfather and great-grandfather.  I was astonished to learn that both men were buried in the same grave at St. Mary Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio — one above the other. The cemetery records show John Christoph Schriber (1845-1889)  in section A, lot 48 North  grave 4 E.D. (which stands for extra deep, or at about eight feet). His son, John C. Schriber, Jr. (1867-1928) is in section A, lot 48 North, grave 4 O.T.(on top, or at about 4 feet). 

Cemeteries can tell us a great deal about those whose lives we are researching. Sometimes, perhaps, they tell us more than we really wanted to know!

The McCaskeys in the 1870s

McCaskey Family Genealogy, Part 3.

The 1870 Census for Pennsylvania is as important for what it does not say as for what it does say.  Here’s why. Looking up the McCaskey name in Beaver County reveals nothing.  What happened to that large family?  Where are they?

The first part of the answer lies with the Civil War.  The oldest McCaskey son, James, shown as a 21-year-old farmhand in 1860, enlisted in the 100 Pennsylvania Regiment in August, 1862, and went off to fight in the Civil War. He was killed in the Battle of Secessionville, on James Island, SC, on June 16, 1862. 

The McCaskey  family remained in North Sewickley throughout the war, but when the other members of the 100 Pennsylvania (Roundheads) came home, John McCaskey found the reminders of his son too much to bear. He decided to uproot the family and move to Kansas.  I haven’t been able to find many details of their adventures.  Most of what I know comes from my mother’s stories, which she had heard from her father, who was still a young teenager when the family became pioneers again. So I don’t know when they left Pennsylvania, or what route they took toward Kansas. All I know for sure is that by June 1870, when the census taker came around, the McCaskey farm was empty.

Next door, however, the adjoining farm was now occupied by Simon P. Fisher, the local blacksmith, and his wife, Sarah Jane McCaskey Fisher. When were they married? Well, their oldest daughter Louisa was 16 in 1870, so she was born in 1854. It seems safe to date their marriage to some time around 1853. The Fishers had a large family. By 1870, Louisa had been joined by John C., 13; Eunice E., 10; Wilhelmina, 8; Joseph Grant, 6; Emma J., 3; and a second Louisa, age 1. Also rounding out the household was Eunice McCaskey, Sarah Jane’s sister, age 26.  I know that Eunice never married. Her tombstone in the North Sewickley cemetery puts her death on January 13, 1895. But I don't know why she stayed in Pennsylvania when the rest of the family took off for Kansas. 

And what about those pioneers on their way to Kansas? My mother described the trip in a typical Conestoga wagon, with a crate of chickens for eggs, a cow tied to the back of the wagon, and two old horses pulling the wagon loaded with two adults and three teen-aged sons, John, Theodore, and Joseph. Somewhere along the way, Great-Grandfather John contracted consumption, and his wife and sons persuaded him to turn around and go home. Again, I don't know when they returned, but GGF John died at home in 1875.  It was at that point that Jane McCaskey commissioned three matching tombstones -- one for John, one for herself, and one to mark the empty grave of son James, who had died in the war. In an old notebook I have an unreadable xerox copy of John's will and the appointment of John Jr. and Simon P. Fisher as co-executors of his estate.

That's about all I know of the early McCaskeys.  Of the children of John and Jane, the only one I have found no further trace of is Theodore -- still waiting for a long-lost cousin to turn up.  Or perhaps he never married.  John Jr.'s family just recently contacted me.  He apparently married a woman named Anne Emory, and fathered a son, Joseph Lyle.  Joseph Lyle's grand-daughter is currently working on that family line.  And of course, little Joseph, the baby of the McCaskey family, was my own grandfather and the father of those eight girls who served as my models for "Yankee Daughters."

The McCaskey Family in Mid-19th Century

McCaskey Family genealogy, Part 2.

The McCaskeys start turning up again in the 1850 Pennsylvania Census. In Beaver County, Franklin Township (which adjoins Butler County to the east), the family matriarch, Nancy Little McCaskey, is still alive, living on the family farm at age 90. I assume she died sometime thereafter, but there is no record.

 In the North Sewickley Cemetery, where I would have expected her to be buried, I found a detached stone, propped up precariously against the back of another family marker.  It contained only one word: NANCY. The cemetery records have no mention of that stone, and it has now disappeared.

GAH! Family graves are beginning to seem very impermanent. In my more romantic views, I think that Nancy was such a force of nature that everyone would have known who  was meant.  No need for dates for this timeless pioneer woman who came across the Atlantic in steerage with eight children in tow to start a new life in the backwoods of western Pennsylvania. (But then, you may have heard this description of a pioneer: You can always recognize a pioneer. He the one lying face down in the dirt with an arrow in his back.)

But back to 1850. In the household with her were two of her sons -- Andrew, now 55, seems never to have married and is listed as a farmhand. John, age 52, is married to Jane, age 40, and is listed as head of household. He and Jane have four children: Sarah Jane, age 17 and probably already hanging out in Fisher's barn; James, 11; Eunice, 8; and John 3. 

This map, hand-drawn in 1860 , is huge and detailed. In this fragment you can see the house belonging to John McCaskey, right on Conoquenessing Creek, and a short distance east, that of Conrad Fisher, whose son, I assume, married John's daughter. 

In 1860, the family roster has changed. Both Nancy and Andrew are gone, and so is Sarah Jane, missing along with Simon P. Fisher, the oldest son of neighbor Conrad Fisher.  I presume they are married but cannot find a record of that.  Balancing out the missing persons, however, are James, 21; Eunice, 18: and John, 13; along with two new sons, Theodore, age 8 and Joseph, age 6.

And then the Civil War changed everything.