What is it that inspires us to find family? One important part of MyHeritage member Janice Brown Moerschel’s family history was the story of her missing great-grandfather, Henry.
Born and raised on Staten Island, in New York City, Janice, 60, now lives in Spokane, Washington, in the Pacific Northwest, with her husband Thomas; they have two adult daughters.
Her interest in genealogy began when the couple had young children.
I guess you start to wonder about who you are or where you came from. So I got a family tree, photocopies of old pictures and some documents my mother had and, at some point, I heard that my mother’s cousin was still wondering about the disappearance of her grandfather, my great-grandfather.
Looking at the names in the family tree, I wondered what else I could learn about them and so started my journey. It was interrupted by a cross-country move, buying a house, and raising children as life got busier - but a family reunion in 2011 re-ignited my interest.
Along the way, Janice has discovered so many things. Among her ancestors is a Mayflower passenger; others are inventors, men of some prominence, businessmen, soldiers, preachers, a Revolutionary War General, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a connection to the Salem witch trials, a woman accused of being a witch, a beautiful singer - and so much more.
And little did I realize my Scottish coal mining roots. Not only was I a coal miner’s granddaughter, but I was a coal miner’s great-granddaughter, great-great-granddaughter, etc.! But the biggest discovery - and surprise - was the story of my Irish great-grandfather who disappeared in 1885.
Janice joined MyHeritage almost immediately following a family reunion in July 2011.
I like the new record matching function and it is easy to attach those records to my tree and build in the information. And it is always fun if the record match pulls up a census record, newspaper article, old document, or story. I love sharing photos with family and enjoy the slideshow feature for viewing them as well as the “time book” and statistics. MyHeritage has also helped me get back in touch with some of my cousins and introduced me to some I had not met!
She started looking for her lost great-grandfather when she connected with a first cousin, once removed, now 90, who wondered what had happened to her grandfather.
I had never met her but, in connection with genealogy, started emailing her, then chatting with her on the phone, and got to meet her for the first time in 2012. She has shared the stories of our common side of the tree, sent me photos, and even has sent me a scrapbook that belonged to my great-grandmother - amazing! Everyone should be so lucky to have a cousin like this!!!
Her cousins have been instrumental in assisting along the way.
One cousin shared many family photos from the mid-1800s by posting them to our MyHeritage tree. Another periodically posts current family photos. I re-connected with one more cousin, and together we visited a Minnesota cemetery in search of the headstones of our great-grandparents and other family members - and found them!
Janice notes that her cousin didn’t even know that he was now living in almost the same area where the family had lived during the late 1800s-early 1900s.
We toured with him, looked at the old neighborhoods and visited churches where our great-grandparents had been members. One church was on the National Register of Historic Buildings and I learned that my great-grandfather George had donated money towards its construction.
Most of her family members belong to her MyHeritage website, and the tree - still growing -has 2,491 people.
Janice has focused on adding direct ancestors, but recently decided that it's a good idea to add siblings of those ancestors as it helps to find more information.
While most of my relatives live in the U.S., including Alaska, I have cousins living in Scotland, England and Australia - more there than I expected!
Has she used SmartMatches?
Yes, I probably have thousands of SmartMatches. In Family Tree Builder, I have been able to add information to many of my ancestors and I discovered some relatives, via SmartMatches, who come from Scotland, England and Australia.
In addition, she’s located many previously unknown relatives and connected for the first time with other cousins.
I got to meet cousins in England and Scotland this past spring and my husband met some new relatives in Norway and reconnect with others he had met as a young man.
It has been very rewarding and has expanded my view of the world as well as my family. Some of our new cousins may come and visit us here in the US.
Janice shared one important story from her research as she searched for her great-grandfather Henry. Until this past summer, she had never found any information about his disappearance.
The first clue was an 1890 census record that showed he was in the Missouri State Prison. Boy, was that a shock! I sent for prison records and pension records and - while I was waiting - began searching newspaper websites for stories - which I found!
From a cousin, I received copies of a letter written by my great-grandmother in which she recounted her efforts to find her husband, and I was lucky that a post I wrote on a message board - trying to determine if the man buried at the St. Augustine National Cemetery in Florida ("H.D. Gregg") was, in fact, my great-grandfather - yielded a response in about a week.
A woman posted my great-grandfather’s military record from Louisiana which showed that he had enlisted in the Spanish American War in the 1st Louisiana Infantry and then had been transferred to the Hospital Corps in Florida … where he died in October 1898. So, after putting together all the pieces of the puzzle, I now have an amazing story that I never thought I would have.
Another high point in her research was her visit to Henry’s grave at the St. Augustine National Cemetery. No family member had ever known where he went or where he died, and none had ever visited his grave – although he had been buried there since 1906.
What is not included in my story is that Henry probably suffered a brain injury in the cavalry. His prison record showed he had been shot in the jaw and had a broken leg, so this seemed a logical assumption that he had been injured when he fell from his horse. Alhough newspaper accounts stated that he drank whisky and refused to quit, his dizziness, slurred speech and other symptoms were caused by a brain injury and the cause of death seems to confirm this.
Janice’s tips for those just starting their journey of discovery:
- Gather as much information and as many pictures as you can.
- Talk to your relatives, parents, grandparents, cousins, siblings.
- Take notes or, if they are willing, you could record their stories.
- Look at the backs of all photos to see if anything is written, and remove photos from frames to inspect them. There may be another photo in the frame, as was the case in one of hers Her mother Grace’s picture was hiding her grandfather's, Tresham D. Gregg. It is the very best picture she has of him, and she had never seen it before. Janice was thrilled to see he had signed it for her mother.
- Post inquiries to message boards whether on MyHeritage or elsewhere.
- The more questions you ask, the more answers you’ll receive. The more you look, the more you will find!
Did you enjoy Janice’s story? Let us know in the comments below.
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