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Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Family Affair

By ‘The English Rose’.

I always wonder what things about England will be of interest to you ladies over in USA? Our country is so much smaller, and to many of us who live here, so much more boring than yours! However, UK has a lot of history behind it and despite its size, many interesting and exciting things have happened here over the centuries. I try to give you a small taste of these things in some of my posts if I can, without boring you all to death I hope?

However, I recently mentioned something to the lovely Miss Kathleen and she thought it might be of interest to you, so I am going to tell you how one branch of my family became settlers in the USA in 1872. I was thrilled when I discovered this information some time ago and it has been filed safely away in my ‘Family Tree’ folders ever since. There is also a rather spooky coincidence tying mine and my late husband's families together in USA!

Much of the information I do have has come from the ‘Ancestry’ site, some came from family who had kept in touch, on and off, with the American branch. I am not certain if any of the family here is still in touch with any of our USA cousins though. Much of this information came from my cousin Lyndsay, who now lives up in Scotland (returning to our roots!) has done a whole lot of work on this. Many thanks for that, Lyndsay.

I have been researching my ‘Tree’ sporadically, for many years now and have a lot of information; however there is some we will probably never find. My mother’s family originate in Scotland and Ireland. The earliest records we have to date are from late 1700s.
Unfortunately many Scottish records were taken from the country by Edward the 1st, in the 13th Century. Those records that did survive were taken, supposedly for safety’s sake, to Parliament House in Edinburgh. That move turned out not to be quite so safe though, as the records were stored in a damp room, with a lot of them left lying on the floor. Then, in 1700, a fire broke out in the building, destroying many of the precious records.
Now, almost the only way to find out about the old records is to physically go to the various parishes and look at any written Parish records which may still exist. That is not always the case though, and without plenty of free time and money, that type of research is usually difficult to complete. 

Okay then, here goes with just a little family affair.

In 1799, Robert was born to Gilbert and Jean Alexander in Ayrshire, Scotland. In 1826 Robert married Margret Cowan. Their first child, also Gilbert, was born just five months later! (Naughty!) They had nine children in all, John Ronald was born in 1833, but unfortunately developed consumption, and passed away in 1841 aged 8. I have visited his grave in the small churchyard at Kirkmichael in Scotland.

 John Ronald's gravestone in Kirkmichael.
Their son William was born in 1828, and emigrated to America in 1852, arriving in New York in the December of that year. He was a carpenter, and went first to Philadelphia, then Ohio, to get work. He stayed in Ohio for two years, during which time, Irish blood was added to that line, when he married Anne McWilliams from Belfast. By 1860, William Alexander and his family were living in Oxford, Marquette County, Wisconsin. In 1864, most of the family from Scotland had emigrated and were living close to William in Wisconsin.

In 1873 William and Anne moved west with their 7 children. They had a wagon pulled by two oxen, and were one of the first pioneer families to arrive at Plainview, Nebraska in the June of that year. (My family were pioneers! YAY! I’m so proud of them!) They eventually had 11 children together!


William Alexander built the first school in Plainview, using his carpentry skills (his daughter Mary was one of the first teachers at that school) he then went on to build many other houses, and a mill named ‘Bazile Mill’. (Records are not very clear as to the type of mill it was, but as he was a carpenter, I’d guess it was something to do with wood? Although I did see a record which suggests it was a grist mill? Can any of you ladies help with that?)

By 1880, Plainview had 2 General Stores, 2 Blacksmiths, 2 Agricultural Implement Dealers, 1 Doctor, 1 Drugstore, 1 Hotel, and 2 Churches, many of which William, as a carpenter, had a hand in building.

The Alexander family eventually bought a small farm south of the town, and worked it for 2 years, until a pesky plague of grasshoppers decimated all their crops, forcing them to hitch up their ox wagon again and move back to Wisconsin, where some of the family were still living.
The family became homesick, strangely not for Scotland, but for Plainview! They moved back there in 1879. Eventually they owned 800 acres to the south of Plainview. William eventually gave up that farm when he retired, but carried on doing some carpentry work until his death in 1911, Anne died in 1923. They were Presbyterians, and are both buried in Plainview Memorial Park Cemetery.


Their children married and moved out to various other states, including Illinois, Maryland and Minnesota, though many of the family did remain in Wisconsin. In Wausau, Wisconsin, another member of the Alexander family still keeps the old family Bible. My second cousin, Gilbert, used information from that same Bible to start his own research. (Another Gilbert, that’s where the ‘Gil’ comes from by the way, Cheryl!)

Of the family left behind in Scotland, (one also named Gilbert), most were farmers and farm labourers, one or two were also carpenters/joiners. That came down through the family, as my own Grandfather, Harold Alexander, was also a joiner in Liverpool, England.

One family member however, remains a mystery, Thomas Alexander died in Jamaica. That’s all we know of him!

The uncanny thing about all this is that my husband, Chris, (who passed away 18 months ago), had never known who his real father was, and often said he would like to find him. I bought him a DNA test for his birthday one year and put the results on the Ancestry site. Within a month, we had a true match from a man in California, who turned out to be Chris’s second cousin, and had known my father-in-law well when he was younger.

Chris’s father had been in the American Army, stationed over here in the war, (there are so many of those stories aren’t there?) He had been half Native American, his grandfather was a Chippewa chief! After being a huge fan of Indians all my life, I was suddenly married to one!

Then, it turned out that Chris’s family actually came from Wisconsin. Some of them had even lived in Marquette! Probably at around the same time as the Alexander family. Spooky or what? I hope my husband and I weren’t actually related in some way?

His cousin, Stuart, over in California, has done a lot of American Tree research and found many famous people related to their family in one way or another, including the Wright brothers (the pioneer aviators). To my mind though, two of the most interesting of my husband’s ancestors (for those of us who write cowboys and like Wild West history) are - his 5th cousin (X times removed) who was the outlaw, Johnny Ringo, friend of the infamous Clanton gang!

Also, Chris’s 6th cousin (X times removed?) was actually ‘Wild Bill Hickok! Hey, it was in the cards that I should write Westerns!! Thanks to Stuart’s in-depth research, he found that they had many more famous (and infamous) family members, including actors and presidents. Some of those might just form the bones of another one of my posts later!  
Oh no!! Whilst I have been working on this post I have just had another look at Chris’ distant relatives!! There are so many you ladies will know! Yep, that’s a definite post for the future, or maybe more. Look out!

My own Tree research has thrown up lots of interesting facts. (No very famous relatives at my side though.) Some of those people include an Irish ancestor, Samuel, who in 1859 used to own a stables in Foxboro, Massachusetts. He liked his drink though, and through that, eventually lost the stables, was disowned by his family and ended up as an alcoholic, working for a pittance in the very stables he had once owned! 

We have a newspaper clipping from the time, which shows that Samuel was a curmudgeonly old character, accommodating when sober, nasty and violent when in his cups. In the year 1892, (when it was in the paper) he picked a fight in those same stables one night, with a younger and fitter man, and died after a blow from that man knocked him down and he banged his head on the floor. What a sad and sorry end for the old feller. That story might end up in a book one day!

When I last went mad and printed all my Tree onto A4 sheets, and stuck them together, it ended up around 12 feet long by 4 feet wide! There are still many more names to add since I did that. I dread to think how long it will be now!

So there you are, a very potted history of part of my family, carpenters, farmers and real-life pioneers, with more than one connection to the USA, and very many more connections on my late husband’s side. So maybe I really can call myself a ‘Prairie Rose’ after all?

Thanks for reading, folks.


  1. I loved this. Finding and researching ancestors is such a great exercise. I've been doing it off and on for years.
    I would agree, you were made to write westerns. Your family tree is pretty fascinating. Here is to finding more 'famous and infamous' folks who want their stories included. Doris

  2. What a rich and interesting family history you and your hubby have. I think you're actually lucky to have as many resources as your do in the UK. I worked on my genealogy years ago, but found it pretty impossible to cross the Atlantic back to Ireland and Germany, which seem to be the two countries they came from. I wasn't even able to learn more about my grandmother's Northern Irish parents. Love that your husband had such illustrious and infamous ancestors. And for the record, I'm always interested in what is going on in the UK. So much history in one little spot.

  3. Hello ladies. Thank you for your comments. Doris, you wait, there's plenty of info on those ancestors of my husbands! Enough for a few more posts I reckon! What a lot of 'famous and infamous' folk are in his Tree! I will be putting something together about that at a later date! Watch this space!

    Linda, Hi! Yes we are lucky over here aren't we? There is such a lot of great history in such a small area. A subscription to the Ancestry site is well worth the money if you want to trace your ancestors, there is such a huge amount of material that can be found on there, why not take a quick peek and see if it can help you with your search, they do have many kinds of records from all over the world, much of the information that my cousin, and Chris's, have found has come from Ancestry. I think they do free trials too. It's well worth it if you are serious about the research. As I have a subscription, if there is anything I can look for please give me a shout, I'll certainly take a look for you. Thanks for commenting!

  4. Loved your post, Jill, and posted at the Pickle Barrel on your welcome thread, so I hope some of them will come over and visit, too. Family history is so fascinating! I'm glad you're able to find so much juicy information, and I hope that you can eventually uncover the missing pieces on your mother's side. I have info from my mother's family back to the Domesday Book, but my dad's family... well, they're Walkers. There are a boatload of Walkers. We can get back to New York in the late 1700s but that's it. It's almost a sure shot that he came from Scotland, though, since he lived in a Scottish settlement. I'm hoping we find out a little more, but I'm assuming he was a soldier who was sent to America to fight in the French and Indian War as so many Scots were. (Or, if he immigrated earlier, he could've been a convict. Nah.)

  5. Thank you Jacquie, I just put a link on FB but it came up with someone elses picture on it! I'm a dunce and don't know how to change it! But I hope its all okay. I do think Family Trees are fascinating, the problems come when the names a more common don't they. Heaven help if your name is Smith eh! Do you have a subscription to Ancestry? Its worth it! Thanks for coming by.

  6. Better late than never, right? Here I am, finally! I love this post, Jill--you really have an interesting family tree! My aunt is the genealogist in our family. I wish I had more time to work on it and go down and visit with her--she lives three hours away from me, so it would have to be an overnight trip (at least!) if we were to get anything done or discussed.

    Here's something spooky for you. When my son was born we named him Casey--just because we both liked that name. When he was about 4 or so, and our family was at a reunion, one of the very elderly aunts said, "I'm so glad you named him a "family" name." I just smiled and nodded like I knew what she meant. I asked my genealogist aunt (on the other side of the family) what she could find out--turns out, I have an ancestor named James Casey who came over from Ireland in the early 1800s. He married an Indian woman named "Horseshoe", and they came west to settle in Texas, then in Indian Territory. But I didn't know that when I named my son Casey.

    I loved learning more about you and your family!


    1. Cheryl, Hi! Thanks for commenting. It seems that there is always one family member who likes to search out all the skeletons oh er sorry - likes to do family research! But its good that they do I think. It's important that we understand where we come from. I love these 'spooky' tales/coincidences' I bet there are a lot of people who have similar tales. Have you been able to find out much about James's Irish family? Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Wow!! That is exciting stuff, Jill. I, too, have been researching my family tree on Ancestry. I've discovered that I have Irish and English roots. But I'm stuck right now. It's extremely difficult and time consuming pouring over millions of Smiths and Jones records. Don't know why my ancestors had such common names!

    1. Hi Linda, thanks for coming over. Tree research is intense isn't it? you get going on it and before you know it the days gone!That's why I don't do as much as I used to now, but I am still pleased with what I have to date. But heck, smith and Jones! (The famous outlaws!) Those must be two of the worst names to try researching! You have to hope that they had unusual first names, or that you can find another family member with a different or unusual surname, way back, that's hard! Ancestry is a very good site though isn't it? Nice to see you here, thanks for joining in.

  8. Jill, I love your blog today. I too find researching my family tree fascinating. One thing I find interesting is the names. It seems some names just reappear every other generation or so. We have a lot of Alexander's and Emma's in our tree. and then there are the unusual names. My great grandmother was named Birdie?? Why? I haven't a clue. And then there are the distant relatives family members were named after. I have an aunt whose first name is Wuanitha, but goes by Vi ad then there is Aunt Jean whose real name is Wava. I know there must be stories in regard to the names and I now wish I had asked more questions when I was younger and my grandparents on both sides were alive. Sorry for your loss sweetie.

  9. Hello Barb, thanks for dropping by today and for the condolences. It leaves a big hole. It is gradually easing though, and life is going on. I am just so very glad that we were able to find Chris's real family before he passed on, at least he had that resolution. Glad you liked the post. What interesting names your family have, have you tried to find their origins? Wuanitha sounds like a mis spelling of Juanita to me? were they Spanish or Mexican? Maybe Hawaiian? I'd be doing some digging! Look forward to speaking soon. Thanks.

  10. I think perhaps its an Indian name. My mother's name is Juanita which is why I think it has a different origin. That or perhaps they gave my grandmother strong meds when they delivered my aunt and she was saying Juanita but it came out Wuanitha. LOL.

  11. Hi again. Yes that last could make sense!! Gas and air! It would be great to find out, and what a great name for a heroine. Or has she already been used?
    Speak soon.

  12. Jill,

    Researching family origins is as fascinating as it is challenging and rewarding. You are so fortunate to have discovered so much about your ancestors. I have a little bit of family history that an aunt and a cousin have compiled, so that's good, but I'd love to know more. *sigh*

  13. Hello Kaye! Get a sub to Ancestry! I sound as if I must have connections to that site! I don't honest. It's just such a good site for research, you can find most anything on there, but it does take a lot of work, and an even bigger amount of time! It's taken me years even with Ancestry.But its worth it. If there is anyone particular you want to find out about, maybe I could try and check them out for you? Let me know. Thank you for dropping by. Speak soon.

  14. This is so fascinating, Jill! Sorry I didn't get a chance to read it until today. I've done research on my family and my husband's, both with English, Irish, Scottish ancestry. It's so intriguing! So far though I've only used family names in my fiction, no actual histories yet.

  15. Hi Kristy. Thanks for visiting. Better late than never. Glad you liked it. It always amazes me how many Americans have Scottish Ancestry. But then I don't suppose it should really should it, given the history!
    Thanks agin.