Sunday, June 11, 2023

Sometimes family legends check out.


shepherd302 | Deposit Photos
As you may remember from a couple of weeks ago, after several nudges (either subconscious or Otherworldly, take your pick), I succumbed and signed up for a membership to -- whereupon I found out, almost immediately, that my brother had died last year

Of course, once you find out something like that, you wonder what else is going on in your family tree that you didn't know about. So instead of canceling after the free trial, I've gone on to flesh out some other details. In particular, I've been trying to confirm some family legends.

It's been easier to find stuff on my father's side of the family. (Mom's parents came from what's now Czechia -- back then, it was Bohemia, a province of the Austrian Empire.) For one thing, I've already seen a family tree developed by a distant cousin who was adopted young, went looking for his birth family, and found out he was a Cantwell. (We got acquainted when he called my parents' house, asking whether we had a Lawrence Cantwell in the family. He didn't want my brother; he wanted my grandfather, whose given name was Lawrence, although he went by Tug, and who died when my dad was nine years old.) So I already had a general idea of the Cantwells' migration: from Delaware to Michigan where my dad was born, with stops in Maryland, the Carolinas, Kentucky, Indiana, and Wisconsin.

I remember hearing from Dad three family stories pertinent to this part of the tree: we were Irish, two brothers had married two sisters, and we had an "Indian princess" in the family whose maiden name was Terwilliger. 

About being Irish: That family tree I mentioned earlier (there's a copy in the Library of Congress -- ol' Henry Cantwell did it right!) traces us back to the first Cantwell in America, Capt. Edmund Cantwell, who came with the British fleet in 1664 to capture New Amsterdam from the Dutch. (New Amsterdam is now known as New York City.) The Brits were successful, and Capt. Cantwell stayed in the New World, marrying a Dutch girl born in New Amsterdam, and went on to have a successful career as high sheriff of what became New Castle County, Delaware. Anyway, the point here is that our first Cantwell wasn't technically Irish; he was born in Berkshire, England. He may have had Irish relations, and his immediate family might have emigrated from Ireland after Cromwell kicked them out. But there were also other Cantwells in England at the time. Bottom line: I don't know whether Capt. Cantwell was Irish. But if he wasn't, then which ancestor was?

I direct your attention to this snippet of a page in the 1870 census for the town of Rock, Wisconsin. 

On line 22 is William H. Cantwell. He's my great-grandfather. My grandfather, Daniel, is on line 26; he was just three years old in 1870. But just below William is his wife Margaret. Take a look at where Margaret was born. Ha! There's our Ireland connection!

It gets even more interesting. Skip over the Caughlins and go down to line 32. There's another Cantwell -- William's brother, James. See his wife Jane? She was also born in Ireland, right? 

I know from other sources that Margaret and Jane's maiden name was Lynch. And here on lines 38 and 39 are their parents, Timothy and Hanora Lynch, both born in Ireland.

In the 1880 census, James and his family are still in Wisconsin, but my great-grandparents are living in Marcellus, Michigan. I have no idea why they moved. But I've got two of my three family legends confirmed: we're Irish, and two brothers married two sisters.

The third one, about our Native ancestry, is proving trickier. See, there's a record of Daniel having married a woman named Mary Fobare in Holland, Michigan, in 1887. Her people were supposedly French. But what about the Terwillegar connection? There's a family of Terwillegars who lived north of Holland, in Bear Lake, Michigan, and who emigrated from Canada. Through them, I traced the last name of Weir. And there's a birth record for a Mary Weir in Ontario that says the father is "John (of the Nation) Weir". Does "of the Nation" mean he was a member of a First Nation? I don't know, but it seems worth checking out. 

I have a request in to Indigenous Services Canada for a genealogy search. Even that may not be definitive; he may not have been part of a registered tribe. But we'll see.


If you've read this far, you must be a genealogy buff. I can't imagine all this would be that interesting to anyone besides me.

Still, it would be cool to find that my interest in Native American mythology -- the springboard for my Pipe Woman Chronicles novels -- comes from somewhere other than just idle curiosity.


These moments of bloggy historical investigation have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell, who really can trace her ancestry back to colonial America. Stay safe!


Anonymous said...

Family stories have proved mostly true from what I’ve been able to trace in my mother’s family. One that doesn’t seem to have played out is that my mother’s cousin married an “Indian” which is why my great grandfather hated her. (Great grandfather Sharum was a total bastard, once sending his son to beat up the “Indian” wife after she’d
taken their two sons and fled her drink, drug addicted husband. She then sued great grandfather for alienation of affection, claiming GGF destroyed her marriage. But that’s a whole other story

The point I was getting to is that my cousin, the granddaughter of the “Indian” had her DNA tested and it came back showing no native ancestry. Her family is listed as white in the census but that doesn’t mean much. Lots of light skinned native people at the time claimed white in the census. So, is the story wrong or the DNA test wrong? I have no

Lynne Cantwell said...

Families are so great, amirite?

So there are a bunch of reasons why you could have Native ancestry without it showing up on a DNA test. One reason is that the farther back in your family tree you go, the more likely it is that you wouldn't inherit DNA from a particular ancestor. Also, places like Ancestry don't examine your whole DNA strand, and they may miss the bit where the Native DNA is encoded.

Another reason is that modern Natives have been suspicious of anything that indicates Indianness, if you will, outside of their own tribal tradition. The federal government came up with "blood quantum" to decide they would consider tribal members. It's based on straight percentages -- if your mother is an Indian, you're half Indian; if it's your grandfather, you're one-quarter Indian; and so on. That's not at all how many tribes decide who belongs. The result has been that many tribes, suspicious of DNA testing, wouldn't participate. So there was no bank of Native DNA to compare customers' results to.

There are a few other scenarios, too. I think I'm going to do a post on this next week. Stay tuned. :)