Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Visiting My 4th Great Grandparents

View From Old Homestead

My wife was tied up with business all day Friday so I was left to do my own thing. I was only about 40 miles way from the home of one line of my ancestors so the decision was pretty easy. It was a cold and windy day when I set off and thanks to my Garmin GPS unit, arrived without problems at the Fort Palmer Cemetery where my ggggrandfather John Luther and ggggrandmother Elizabeth Bennett are buried. It was a small cemetery with one section that was much older than the rest so finding them took only about fifteen minutes of walking around stopping now and then to peer closely at tombstones that were hard or impossible to read.

Finding the grave of a relative directly responsible for you coming into being is a special feeling. Here were two people out of 64, any of which could have made an infinite number of choices that would lead to me never being born and I am now as close to them as I will ever be able to get in this lifetime. If I have the time, I will usually clean off the tombstone a little bit and leave some flowers so that other people who happen by will know that someone still cares. However in this case, the cold wouldn't allow me to linger so I paused to think through all the stuff I know about the occupants of the graves, say a prayer of thanks, and left.

The fact is, I don't know a lot about the occupants. I don't know John's father though I have several suspects. Several books of the period on Westmoreland County family histories list his father as David and several more as James, both from Ireland. The ones that list David as his father list David's father as James from Ireland. Many online sources list David's father as another David. So whom it is I don't know yet but I'll keep on digging. I do know where they owned land in Westmoreland County and that was my second destination for the day.
John Luther's Gravestone

This time, I didn't have specific instructions though I had the knowledge that there was a monument of sorts on their land and I had earlier input my best guess into my Garmin GPS. It was close and though I asked fruitlessly for help at a nearby boyscout camp, I did stumble upon it as I made my way back to paved roads. There in the front lawn of what is now a private residence set back in some trees was a partially buried wheel from an old gristmill that was run by a brother of my ancestor John Luther on their family land. Being the son of a farmer, I have always felt graveyards were borrowed ground and temporary but the land where you lived, grew and died are where the family ties are always the strongest and I felt them now as I gazed off over the Allegheny mountains. What a beautiful place to raise a family.

Right before I left, I had discovered another 4th great grandfather named Daniel Igo (and perhaps his wife) buried nearby on the other side of the mountain I was on. His daughter Mary would marry John Luther's son Jesse and later move to about 10 miles from where I grew up in Iowa. All I knew was the name of the cemetery but despite my searches online, I couldn't discover the location other than the name of the town. So I headed over the mountain towards the town. As I gained elevation, the snow became a blizzard and the roads became slick. Only when I lost elevation on the other side of the mountain did they turn back to just being wet but I decided not to dally in case things got worse up on top. I drove through the tiny town of a few houses and gas stations but didn't see any place that had someone old enough who might know (or care) where a cemetery was. The two I drove by weren't the name I was looking for and so I made the decision to spend my time doing research in the Ligonier Valley Library on the other side of the mountain. It was again a slippery drive over the mountain but I made it safely.
Elizabeth Bennett Luther's Gravestone

With only two hours before I needed to leave again for Pittsburgh, I had to work fast and the lady in charge of the genealogy department was very helpful. I researched the family history files for my Luther ancestors that they had but found only the same mix of guesses as to who John Luther's parents were. So I turned my attention to Daniel Igo and discovered that he had a will filed away at the county seat 15 miles away. I put that into my Garmin GPS and was on my way. I was hassled by the police officer guarding the courthouse over my camera that I had in my pocket and was admonished not to go anywhere near a courtroom with it. So when I asked him to repeat the directions to the room where the wills were stored to make sure I didn't accidentally end up near a courtroom, he chewed me out for not paying attention the first time. I bit my tongue, apologized and followed his thumb that jerked towards the directions I needed to go. I found the will room, not sure if I was near any courtrooms, and soon had Daniel's will before me. Although he died before his wife and she inherited much of his estate, her name was not specifically mentioned though I already suspect her name was Mary Huston. There were also no clues as to his origins but with his last name being Igo, most likely of Irish origins, it lends credence to my Luther’s also being from the same country as back then, they typically settled in clusters. So in the end, my ggggrandfather Daniel Igo's will was of little research value but of high sentimental value. I made a copy and made my way back to Pittsburgh.

We would end up driving west until too tired to drive and then finish driving home the next day through a raging blizzard. I wish I could have spent another day out in Westmoreland County researching my heritage or even an entire week. Perhaps someday in the future I will.
Luther Gristmill Monument


The Real Mother Hen said...

There is one thing I do admire the westerners is that they keep excellent records. It is amazing that you can trace back to so many generations ago. I bet if you go to Ireland, you can find out more.

Personally I can't trace back further than my grandfathers (both sides), that's how pathetic it is, but again, I've no kid, no next generation to look through tombstones, so it doesn't matter as much as it should be. Sigh.

sage said...

The hills of Western PA are wonderful... Thanks for taking us along.

Ed Abbey said...

Mother Hen - My wife can't trace hers any past her grandparents either. I started off doing this for Little Abbey but now I just do it for myself. It's fun, doesn't cost much and it gives me a deeper sense of who I am. I never realized just how deep my roots are in this state until I did some digging.

Sage - It was beautiful and reminded me a lot of the Ozarks of Arkansas where I spend a great deal of time.

Beau said...

That was very cool. So glad you could do that, and the fact that you did what you did in that amount of time shows how much prior research and exploration you have already accomplished. Thanks for sharing.

Ed Abbey said...

Beau - It is a testament to how the field of genealogy has changed. A great uncle in the family was also a genealogist and did his work the old fashioned way by making lots of trips to courthouses across the U.S. Although I still do that, I cut down the number by doing a lot of prelim research online from the comfort of my home.