Ancestry.com, I Love You!

A couple of weeks ago, I found a keepsake book meant for a mother to fill out for her daughter. I began working on it, filling in facts and memories for Ella Grace to have later in life. At the beginning of the book was a family tree for both sides of Ella’s family. As I began filling it out, it required knowing a few things about Andrew’s family that I wasn’t positive about, so I employed his assistance in getting the correct names of ancestors. When Andrew wasn’t for sure, he called his father. Eventually we got what we needed for the book, but my initial questions and Andrew’s conversation with his dad sparked some interest in learning more about his ancestors. As a result, we are now the proud members of Ancestry.com and while Andrew has looked into his family tree, I’ve also taken an interest and started my own family tree.

I started with my dad’s family – the McKnights and Ashcrafts (my grandmother’s maiden name). This side of my family is far more spread out so I was curious to track down some locations of where people were born and died. As I searched back through both branches, I discovered that in the McKnight side of the family, past wives came from families with the names Dalton, Shelton, and Patterson, which are all ironically local to where we live now. However, my dad’s side of the family comes from West Virginia, Ohio, and Virginia. To me, it’s so interesting to find and identify people and immerse myself further into the older generations. As the dates go back in time, the names of the people get pretty interesting as well. Way back in my grandfather’s family tree is a man named Littleberry Patterson, born 1729. What a name! The furthest back I’ve gotten on the McKnight side is Hayden McKnight, born in 1793. He was married to Patience Bradfield, which makes me think of Puritans for some reason, but those were the Bradfords. Ancestry.com supplied portraits of this lovely couple. They’re pictured below.

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My paternal grandmother’s name was Ruby Pearl Ashcraft. She died in 1976 so I never knew her, but when you talked to my dad and his siblings, you found out she had quite the legacy and large personality. Even her name – Ruby Pearl – has always seemed unique to me. 🙂
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Ruby’s mother, Olive, was a Swiger and as I traced into that branch of the family, I discovered the names Davis, Griffin, and even a Keziah (Kizzie) Underwood. Maybe I’m distantly related to Carrie Underwood… LOL! So far with my dad’s side of the family, I haven’t gotten far enough back to get out of the United States with ancestors.

However, with my mom’s side of the family, I’ve gotten back to Ireland on one side and Switzerland on another! My mother’s side of the family is Shires. But my grandmother’s maiden name is Robinson, and on that side of the family, the lineage goes back to Ireland through a man named Joseph Robison/Robeson, which is probably how the last name began in Ireland. On an 1880 census for the United States, he lists his birthplace as Ireland. Pretty vague but I’m determined to find ancestors in Ireland. Below is the listing of his existence in 1880.

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My grandmother’s mother, Gladys Robinson, was originally a Persinger. I began tracing the Persinger name and found lots of interesting information! It’s hard to know if all of this information is exact because some stories and connections are merely stipulated and not confirmed with valid records; however, many members of the site hold the same versions of stories and people, so for now, I’m considering these finds pretty reliable.

One of the cooler tidbits I found is that a woman from my great-grandmother’s side of the family, Sarah Persinger, had children with a Cherokee man named Joseph Sparrowhawk. Some stories say they were married – some say they weren’t but had children together. Sarah Persinger and her family were a unique bunch for their time period because the family supposedly protected and defended Joseph as one of their own. Some children of Sarah and Joseph were registered and labeled as mulatto but other children of Sarah were labeled white. Descendants and historians believe all of Sarah’s children were fathered by Joseph but that she and her family lied and told stories concerning who the father of the children were in order to get the younger ones labeled white. Or course, we know from history that anyone during the 1800s had better opportunities if he/she was white, so Persinger folks seem to think that Sarah wisened up about how to make life better for her younger children and lied in order to get them registered as white. However, Sarah and Joseph’s children were, in fact, part-Cherokee, which means as part of the long running joke in North Carolina, that I likely have “Cherokee blood.” Ask anyone in North Carolina if they have Cherokee heritage and he/she will say yes…haha. If this part of my ancestry is true, then I legitimately do!

The Persinger ancestor I found as the first generation immigrant was Jacob Bertschinger. He came from Switzerland in 1735 and at some point, his name was recorded as Persinger, obviously the American version of his Swiss last name. Jacob came into the U.S. at Philadelphia and married a woman named Rebecca at some point. Together with their children they began migrating down from Pennsylvania to Western Virginia, which is where the Persingers still live. On their way, accounts says that Rebecca and two of her children were kidnapped by Shawnee natives. They were never found and so in 1757, she was officially declared dead. Jacob remarried and eventually settled in the Alleghany Mountains of Virginia.

One of Jacob’s sons, John Henry, was born in 1752 to Jacob and Rebecca, and he later became a colonel for the United States. I haven’t researched much about his service but records indicate that he was killed by his own slave, Daniel Wright aka “Blue,” and Blue was subsequently tried and hanged. His hanging was the first recorded hanging in Alleghany County, Virginia. Below is an image of a text that records the account of Colonel Persinger’s death.

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These are the most exciting and interesting things I’ve found out about my ancestry so far. I knew I had ancestors from Ireland but was surprised to learn my maternal great-grandmother’s ancestors came from Switzerland. I personally find anything I can learn about my ancestors as fascinating. I’m sure some people wouldn’t care but I enjoy learning about my family and also hearing stories about family. I used to love to listen to my grandmother’s stories about her parents and grandparents, as well as her youth.

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I think it’s important for recent and future generations to know something about their forebears and where they came from. So coming full circle to why I started the whole research process: creating a memory book for Ella Grace to have about me. I have a weird and irrational fear that when I die, Ella might think she never truly knew her mother or what her mother was like, and I don’t want that to be the case. So I started the book for her and as a result, I’ve now become a more educated and enlightened descendant myself.

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