Monday, September 3, 2012

My Top 10 Genealogical Finds

Over the years, I’ve had some interesting discoveries about my family. A few years ago, I made a list of 25 things I learned through my own research. Recently, I stumbled on that list and decided to add to it and whittle it down to the top ten. While I first became interested in family history in 1968, I did not begin serious family research until 1978.

Some of the following broke down brick walls, while others were just plain interesting and added to the information I already knew about an individual. I have listed these discoveries in descending order in importance. Much like Billboard magazine has a Hot 100 chart, my Famboard list has my personal “Hot 10.”

1. There are three branches of my Owston surname that cannot be satisfactorily connected back to the 1500s by traditional methods; however, Y-DNA testing indicates that all three lines share a common patrilineal ancestor.

East Riding of Yorkshire - home of the Owston families.
Four of the participants (two from the Ganton family and one each from the Sherburn and Thornholme families) have 100% matches. Six other participants also had significant matches to these four individuals.  Our I1 haplogroup is a possible indication that we have Viking forebears which is consistent with the Old Norse prefix in our surname.
2. William Owston, my third great-grandfather who was master on the flagship HMS Superb in 1815, was presented to Napoleon as one of the ship's officers. This occurred when the emperor surrendered to the Channel Fleet and was presented to Admiral Henry Hotham in July of that year.

Napoleon on the HMS Bellerophon in July 1815
Although this discovery began as family legend, historical sources confirmed that it was valid. According to the ship’s logs, Owston was in command of the vessel that day and Hotham’s memoirs corroborate that the wardroom officers had brunch with their esteemed guest. Additionally, Hotham was criticized by the Admiralty for offering military courtesies to an enemy of the Crown. Napoleon spent three hours on the Superb before returning to the HMS Bellerophon.
3. For years I was misinformed of my great-grandmother's name. I was always told that it was Alice Amy Champlain. Through her husband’s pension records, I found that she really was Amy Alice Champlin. Once I made this discovery, I was able to trace most of her lineage through the 1600s.

Patriot Marker at the Gardner-Bulkeley Cemetery, Bozrah, CT
Her ancestry includes at least four Revolutionary War patriots – of which I utilized my lineage to one (William Gardner of the 20th Connecticut Militia) to gain membership in the Sons of the American Revolution this year.
4. My Gardner ancestors (of which I have three lines that converge) can be traced to King Edward III of England as well as to 70+ other royals in his lineage. These royal ancestors ruled areas that encompass geographic regions of the modern countries of England, Scotland, France, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Ukraine, Italy, Germany, and Israel.

King Edward III of England
While many Europeans (perhaps most) probably have similar claims – it still seems interesting to have a traceable royal connection nonetheless.
5. My 7th great-grandfather George Owston became so interested in the Society of Friends, that he locked the door of the Church of England Parish Church (St. Hilda's) at Sherburn, Yorkshire. He absconded with the key and tied the bell so it could not be rung.

St. Hilda's Church prior to its 20th century restoration
Because of his actions, he was the subject of a visitation by the Archdeacon of the East Riding of Yorkshire in 1670. Five years later, George was buried under the floor of this same church.
6. My grandfather's half brother (Ross Milton Covalt) attempted to steal a woman's purse in Hancock, Maryland in 1908 while intoxicated. He was chased down by a Catholic priest who happened to have been a former golden gloves champ and a sprinter. The priest gave him quite the pounding. The Hancock police felt so sorry for Covalt that they sent him home to his mother in Pennsylvania and dropped the charges concluding that the priest's beating was sufficient enough punishment for the crime.

The Washington Herald, May 4, 1908
The story appeared in numerous newspapers across America where he was misidentified as Jackson Covalt also known as Jackson Brakeall.
7. The house that my 3rd great grandmother, Ann Elizabeth Rausch Völler Eichenauer, had owned and had deeded to her daughter Elizabeth Eichenauer Goebert, was lifted off of its foundation during the Johnstown Flood of 1889 and was moved approximately 175 yards down two streets without suffering any major structural damage or loss of life.

Movement of the Goebert Home during the Johnstown Flood.
It was later moved back to its original location. It is not known if any of their large family was in the home at the time the disaster struck.
8. My second great grandfather, George W. Staley, who served in Tennessee in the 62nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, had a questionable injury during the Civil War. Some of his fellow soldiers testified that the ax wound he received as a pioneer was intentionally self inflicted and not accidental as he claimed.

Grave at Independence-Butler Cemetery, Butler, OH
Not enough evidence was present to prove the allegations and the US government granted him pension despite the testimony of some members of the 62nd OVI. Over 40 years later, the wound festered and required his leg to be amputated. He died shortly thereafter.
9. My grandmother's first husband Timothy Dalton’s 1903 murder at the Hotel Victory in East McKeesport, Pennsylvania was precipitated by racial slurs and pop-bottles hailed at the assailant. John Walter Swingler (sometimes identified as Zwingler and Zwlinger) drew a revolver and fired two shots – one mortally wounding Dalton and the other wounding my double great uncle John Freemont Merriman.

Hotel Victory in East McKeesport, PA.
A capital murder charge was brought against Swingler; however, he was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Swingler was sentenced to 8 years in prison but the sentence was commuted to 5 years and 3 months for time served and good behavior. Swingler later returned to McKeesport and married. He is recorded as living with his brother Howard in the 1940 census. His wife Pearl predeceased him and they had no children.
10. My step-father's father, Axel Peter Akerberg, was thought as being the only one of his family born in the US. This was the understanding of my stepfather and apparently the understanding of his father as well. Census records and the World War I draft registrations list him as being a natural born American citizen.

Axel Akerberg and his wife Edith and son Charles circa 1905
Emigration records from Sweden, however, indicate that he was born there and traveled with his mother and brothers to the US when he was five months of age. His father had moved to the US earlier that same year.

These are the Top Ten genealogical discoveries I’ve made since beginning my journey as a family historian. I hope you found this as interesting as I had in making these personal discoveries.


  1. What a fun and creative way to share family history. Now you have me thinking about what my top 10 would be...

  2. Thanks Amy. I was in the music industry for a number of years and it just struck me as a fun thing to do.