Internet Search for Ancestors Simply Amazing
About a year ago I got completely obsessed with ancestry.com. It all started when Dr. George Schweitzer who lectures and assists on genealogy at the East Tennessee History Center gave me my “family tree.” Like most of us, I knew about 3 generations back and not much more except a few legends that my parents had passed down. My husband, William Dickson “Dick” Williams (who is actually the fifth WDW’s) has a very extensive and impressive lineage including First Families of Tennessee, Sons of the American Revolution, people in the Colonial Dames and even the Order of Charlemagne and that goes back a very long way! On the other hand, I had very little information about most of my ancestors. So, I joined ancestry.com and began the search which quickly turned into an obsession. Warning, it will happen to you as well.
My first glimpse of where my fraternal grandmother’s people, the Gladneys, came from was again through ETHS’s director, Cherel Henderson. She and Dr. Schweitzer were headed to Ireland and I thought the Gladneys came from Ireland but wasn’t sure. She not only confirmed it through the internet but found the Gladney cemetery in Winsboro, SC, where “Widow Jane” Gladney came with her three sons in the mid-1700’s following the death of her husband. All the Gladneys in America descended from Widow Jane and her three sons, including me and my fraternal grandmother. I have now discovered the whole Gladney clan has an association that meets annually and I have visited the Gladney Cemetery in Winsboro where Widow Jane, her three sons and several descendants are buried. My line was from Samuel, who fought in the Revolutionary War as did the other two sons.
Even more astounding was a document I found while researching my father’s great grandfather, Lasley Odem. We knew he was a Confederate solider and was taken prisoner by the Union Army and was sent to Illinois for his incarceration. I actually found his “Oath of Allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and to the Union” that he had to sign to be released from his Union imprisonment. That brought tears to my eyes. How thankful I am that he did sign it and that the Union was saved.
I also didn’t know about many early Virginia settlers, some I believe date back to early Jamestown. I am still working on proof and that is going to take a little time but the stories that unfold while doing research is amazing.
Here’s the best one though. Dick’s family of Williams came from Wales to Virginia to North Carolina and his direct 3-G grandfather came to Greeneville, TN. Dr. Alexander Williams who was one of ten sons of Colonel Joseph Williams of Panther Creek, NC, came to Greeneville to marry into one of the wealthiest families in Greeneville. Catharine Dickson, daughter of William Dickson, who came from County Antrim Ireland when he was 16 to seek his fortune in this new land and found it, married Dr. Williams. William Dickson built Dr. Williams and Catharine a mansion then known as the “showplace of east Tennessee.” Now it is the Dickson-Williams Museum in Greeneville. Here’s where the internet and google come in. We know a lot about the Williams, but very little about William Dickson from Ireland. I couldn’t even find his parents names. When I googled William Dickson of Ireland and Greeneville, TN, up popped the “Gulf States Historical Magazine, Vol. 2, l903. I couldn’t imagine why our William Dickson would be in it but amazingly, there were seven letters written from his father, John Dickson, of Carntall in County Antrim, Ireland between 1794 and 1803! They tell about political and religious unrest in their area as well as what’s happening with friends and family during that period. One of William Dickson’s brothers, Steel Dickson, left Belfast on the Brig Nancy to come to America to join William and was never heard from again. Their father reasoned that the ship either sank at sea or was captured by Algerian pirates! Now I know his parents, brothers and sister, uncle and friends thanks to those very informative and beautifully written letters.
Twenty years ago I can’t imagine that those published letters would have ever been found because no one would have thought of the Gulf States Historical Magazine. It states that the letters were owned by the Williams family in Greeneville but none of us know where they are. We believe they may have been donated to one of the museums or even to ETHS so now another search is on.
The internet and genealogy sites like ancestry.com are just packed full of census data, marriage licenses, death certificates and of course other relatives that you don’t even know about who have posted information from their family records. I have dispelled one myth from my family or at least I believe I have. My great grandmother, Mary Josephine Snow Odem, was supposedly at least one-half Cherokee but on all the census records, she is listed as “W”, not “I” as they listed “Indians” in the 1800’s.
I also discovered that my mother, Sue Tidwell Odem, was born a year later than she thought. Her mother died when she was only two years old and her aunt and uncle raised her. They told her that her birthday was July 3, 1916, when in fact the census records for l920 give her age as 2 1/2 which means she was actually born on July 3, 1917! What a gift that would have been for her to know that she was a year younger than she thought. I am trying to decide whether to change her grave marker to l917 or leave it alone.
I could write a book on the discoveries I have made about my and Dick’s families through the internet. It is a treasure hunt with each new discovery bringing more knowledge and sheer thrills in most cases. Now that my parents are gone I have come to believe that the only real gift to pass on to your children is the knowledge of who came before them, thereby allowing them to know who they are. I am determined to fill in all the blanks for my children and their children and their children and all the Odems and Williams to come.