A story of one family; created from many families
William Leverne Smith and Nancy Ruth Bolger Smith
We started the quest in search of the true story behind the "family story" we had always heard about Nancy's Great-Grandfather Norman D. Wilson and his wife, Mary Ellen Offill, coming across the prairie in a covered wagon with the oldest three of their five daughters. Nancy is a granddaughter of their youngest daughter. We envisioned our own version of "Little House on the Prairie."
To an extent, the dream has been confirmed. However, the stories we have found, and are still finding, of the history of our families are much more exciting, much more widespread, and really much more interesting than a simple trek of a hundred miles or so in a covered wagon. Yes, the final leg of the journey was about a hundred miles in a wagon to bring the household goods and children to the farm on the prairie; but Norman had been both visiting and working the farm for perhaps ten years before the actual move. And, while he was breaking sod on the prairie, the train went by a few miles to the north and a few miles to the south. He was an authentic pioneer, in many respects, but, his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather, we have found, were each pioneers also, in earlier times and earlier places. As were many others of our ancestors not so many generations ago. They lived in times and places which had only been vague references in the history books until we probed and probed and probed to discover the lifes they must have actually lived in what now seems to have been really exciting times and places.
We want to share with you now some of those times and places we have discovered along with the people, people who are a part of us and our heritage, people who have become alive for us through the act of discovery. We have found a much deeper and personal sense of the history of our nation in this process of discovery also. In addition, we have found that these people were really no different from us. We each simply face life as it comes to us and deal with it, day by day, hour by hour, year by year. While facing major changes in our national character and striving to make a living for our families, our children are being born and seeking their own lives. Some of them die, they are killed in accident and war, and most grow up to do things we would never have imagined in our younger years. Along the way, we have been courageous and cowardly, rich and poor, brilliant and stupid, brave and afraid.
We write this for ourselves and our three daughters. That is enough. If others find any of our stories interesting, we hope they inspire you to seek your own stories, because they are exciting also. But much of the excitement is in the search. Begin today.
The Wilson line was a good place to start because a lot of good people before us had done a lot of work in recording and preserving records down through the years: From England to Connecticut shortly after the Mayflower landed at Plymouth, to upstate New York, to Illinois just after the Black Hawk wars, fighting in the Civil War, moving to Prairie City, Iowa and then to the Far View Farm in Carroll County, Iowa, between Coon Rapids and Glidden. The Wilsons, particularly in Illinois, were also active in the Underground Railroad. The Offills moved from Virginia to Kentucky, fleeing to Iowa as the Civil War threatened to engulf them. Meanwhile, during the early l800's, the Dolans and the Bolgers were migrating from Ireland, via Ohio, to the Cedar River valley in eastern Iowa, settling in central and western Cedar County. Our new discoveries in these families were very satisfying. We look forward to more "ah-ha's!"
Nancy's maternal side consists of the Thomas line from Wales, via Illinois, the Lynk line via Illinois, the Weavers via Ohio and the Yagers from Pennsylvania and Ohio. Do we see a pattern developing? Quite a bit was already known about the latter three lines, so we have done less discover work there and more simply becoming familiar with the details by visiting libraries, county offices and cemetaries in many towns and states. In the process, however, information was discovered in other lines. You never know where you will find the next clue. And then, a new bit of information makes other previously recorded notes more meaningful, and the cycle starts all over again.
Much of Bill's side of the family is shorter in terms of years in the United States, it turns out. Grandmother Dorothy Sorenson Kinnick, for instance, was born in Aalborg, Denmark, and came to the United States, to Stuart, Iowa, in 1904. Great-Grandfather Smith was born in France in 1829 as John Michael Schmitt (which became Schmidt, then Smith). His wife, the mother of Grandfather Smith, was born in Sweden in 1848. Grandmother Ellen Smith was a Preston (origins still being checked), but we do know that her maternal Grandfather was an Ohio banker. Finally, the Kinnick line was presented in a 1953 genealogy based in Indiana. It has been presented through the family as suggesting the thesis that all U.S. Kinnicks come from one family first identified in Maryland in 1775. Those in Indiana arrived there via North Carolina, the family having moved there from Maryland. Except, it appears one son, Joseph, moved across the border into Pennsylvania from Maryland rather than going to North Carolina. It is speculated in the book, no more than that, that our branch descended from that Joseph. The records (we are missing probably one generation, it appears) then pick up in Buda, Illinois, where the family of Walter Watson Kinnick (the older) appears on the 1850 census. The census shows he was born in Maryland and his first few children, including Great-Great-Grandfather Walter Watson Kinnick (the younger) were born in Ohio. His son, my Great-Grandfather, Alonzo Palmer Kinnick, married Margaret Jeanette Williams, whose father, Elias Williams, was born in Dinhigh, England, in 1838. This is where the Kinnick-Williams picnic in Coon Rapids, Iowa, of my younger years had it's origins.
This summary covers the eight families of ancestors of each of us, sixteen in total. There is another set of sixteen, one more generation back, of course. We have been able to identify many of them, at least by name: Dolan (a second family), Dickey, Adkins, Walters, Hurtman, Dockstader, Steel, Tyler, Symonds, Duncan, to date. In addition, some of these are identified back several more generations. It is quite a large number of people, and only a few of them have been officially identified in any written family history form. One of our secondary goals is to change that. We think they deserve it, and we deserve it. We recognize it will take years, but we look forward to the challenge.
Note the use of DRAFT on all the pages along with a date. That is because these documents are for our internal family use only at this time. As you read this and the numbered episodes that follow, please provide feedback, corrections and questions that come to mind to direct further research. We look forward to your reactions and thoughts.
Numbered episodes will follow in no particular order.
Here is the transmittal letter content:
To: Annette, Allison, Arrion
Re: Enclosed 3 page introduction document - regarding family history
I, your Dad, seem to have a way of being too formal, sometimes, but I want to do this sharing right, not mess around with it, like some others I have observed have done (we'll talk about that sometime in the future).
The enclosed set of thoughts is in DRAFT form, no more, no less. I don't know where it is going, if anywhere. It may never go beyond this little set of sharing reports with you.
Mom and I have been having a ball with the family history research so far. She has been the main one this time. I started on pieces of it long time ago, twice, but let it drop. She is now the lead researcher, but has gotten my juices running again, too. So, I am beginning to work on my side of the family as we work real seriously on her side.
If I follow through on this as I hope, some of the numbered episodes will be stories we have found, some will be stories of the search, some will be...who knows? I hope Mom will include some she has written. She is getting pretty good at it. Mostly, I want an excuse, and a deadline, to write stuff down, to finish little pieces, to keep me going. I don't want to have to worry about getting everything "exactly right" before I send them to you for your review. They will never be "done," as new stuff comes up everyday from lot's of places. Let me know what you think. Thanks,
[End of Letter]
Family is forever! ;-)