“What about your mother’s family?”
“…Oliver was a man who knew his own mind. He had two daughters (one was my mother) who were never allowed to attend school. Oliver was sure that they would learn too many things at school that weren’t included in the curriculum. Mrs. Moody was a former school teacher, so Mr. Moody bought the books that were necessary and the girls studied at home. The law stepped in and tried to force the issue. But Oliver was adamant: he’d go to jail first! So, they let him have his way, and those girls had the highest grades in the county when it came time for eighth grade commencement in Broken Bow. Their father allowed them to go to high school and college thereafter.” (from Clear Creek Echoes)
Custer County, Nebraska
Recently I decided to take up where I had left off several years ago, with learning about my maternal lineage. In 2001 I went to Custer County, Nebraska where my maternal great grandfather, William H. Moody, homesteaded in 1885, to explore the Custer County Museum. I found newspaper articles, quotes from my grandfather and obituaries. I discovered the story quoted above about my grandfather, Oliver H. Moody, shared in the book Clear Creek Echoes which recorded memories of the area between 1878 and 1978. It gave me insight into the man I knew only when I was a child.
My grandmother, Grace, was a school teacher until she was married in 1902. The state of Nebraska frowned on married women teaching school so she left the classroom when she became Mrs. Moody. My grandfather served as the school superintendent until he had to take over the family farm. Among the files I inherited from my mother are teaching certificates from the 1890’s demonstrating Grace’s competence to teach first and second grade and teacher’s contracts dating from 1896 to 1900, some of which are signed by Oliver Moody.
The homestead site
While I was in Custer County, I took a nostalgic drive out to view the land where my great grandfather homesteaded outside Broken Bow, Nebraska and met the current farmers. The one hundred and sixty acres of the homestead seemed like a lot of land to farm with a horse and plow! I researched the deeds for this land at the county courthouse. The “patten” by William H. Moody was filed in November,1885 under President Cleveland. Since my grandfather was the only boy in the family, the land was passed to him. I was very sad when I discovered that my grandparents lost their farm in the Depression after they had mortgaged it and couldn’t meet the payments.
Solomon Butcher, Prairie Photographer
I discovered at the Custer County Museum that the photo I have of my great-grandparents and their children in front of their sod house, is a Solomon Butcher photo. As a young man, Butcher decided he wasn’t up to the rigors of homesteading. Instead, he began to chronicle the photographic history of pioneer life. He gave one photo to the family and kept one himself. Between 1886 and 1912 he took more than 3000 photos many of them in Custer County. Many of those photos which adorned the walls of homesteading families in Custer County, were donated to the Custer County Museum. Today the Museum has as one of its missions the preservation of his photos.
Back on the Genealogy Trail
Families often share stories and rumors which may or may not be true. My mother’s family story was that we were descendants of William Brewster of Mayflower fame. But, did it have any basis? With my renewed focus on my maternal ancestry, I not only reviewed my notes from the 2001 trip to Nebraska, but I also rummaged through files that my mother had left me. I discovered a one-page document describing her mother as a descendant of William Brewster! However, there was no documentation. The piece of paper was just as good as the family story.
Many people have heard or read the story of my journey to find information about my mysterious paternal grandfather who was born in 1840. I combed cemeteries, libraries, county courthouses, historical museums and the US Census. I searched online, on genealogy sites and requested documents from government agencies. My quest ultimately took me to seven states in the Midwest.
I learned a lot about my paternal grandfather, John Howard Scott, aka Harvey Depew Scott. I discovered the family rumor about him was true. However, there were twelve to fourteen years when he disappeared from the records. I was dedicated to the pursuit, convinced I would uncover where he was during those years. With the curiosity and passion for that search, I neglected the exploration I had begun of my mother’s family.
Mother’s family now
Now, refocused on my mother’s side of the family, I was curious to find the records of my maternal ancestry. I turned to Ancestry.com to see if I could use the names and relationships on the page from my mother’s files to find documentation. Unbelievable, how easy it was to find marriage, census, death and historical records which documented the relationships for thirteen generations from William Brewster to me. Although the whole family tree is not yet complete, I feel thrilled that I had the luck to easily find the information to establish this branch of my maternal ancestry.
It is such a contrast to the long journey and search for small clues about my paternal grandfather. I had begun that search in the paper files over twenty years ago at the National Archives. Since my grandfather fought in the Civil War I used the only information I had about him, his enlistment information given to me by my aunt. Those paper files gave me many clues, confirmed the family secret and launched me on the journey I described above. It is now much easier to search for records online. I recently checked online again to see if I missed something in that journey. There is still no information about my grandfather during the times he disappeared.
The Records Reflect Stability and Disruption
What does the difference I describe between my two sets of ancestors suggest? My conclusion is that a stable family life, permanent residence and several generations of the pursuit of learning and education on the maternal side makes it easier to find records and documents. In contrast, losing a father at an early age, moving constantly and the lack of education characterizes my paternal grandfather’s story and leaves fewer records to pursue.
I am excited to be back involved with the genealogy of my mother’s family heritage. Although it is not mysterious, perhaps it will stimulate me to write some of the stories that I have uncovered and find quite fascinating.
Have you traced your family heritage? What have you learned?