8    Feb 201417 comments

Our Stories: Finding a great-grandfather

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.

Henry D. Gregg (Click to zoom).

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.

Grave of Janice's great-grandfather Henry (Click to zoom).

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.

    Tresham Dames Gregg, 1932

    Grace Ellen Gregg

  • 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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Comments (17) Trackbacks (0)
  1. A great read and very inspiring. My niece just started a family tree and it has been a great joy to see it grow and branch off. This is a very user friendly site and I am having fun with it. I will use some of the tips offered in Janice's story. We need to leave these stories behind for the generations to come!
  2. What a beautiful, surprising, sad, exciting journey to have made. This is a very great story and so many new people discovered. What a genuine thrill it will be to show this to the grandchildren of future generations ... Family history is the best hobby in the world, and I am glad I took it up... from 1820 to WW1 to Australia, Sweden, Germany, UK and America...
  3. Janice,
    Congratulations on this wonderful story and blog. I have loved every minute and every mile we have travelled together. I can't wait to see where we go next.
    Your loving husband,
  4. Wonderful research, Janice! And an excellent story. I'm inspired now to continue my own genealogical journey. :)) You're the best!
  5. Janice,
    You've given all of us in the family a priceless gift. Thank you for your incredible discoveries and for pulling together family from the past and the present.
    Your grateful sister '-)
  6. Janice, you have been a source of inspiration and encouragement. Perseverance. The watchword.

  7. I am sad for Henry (and his family) who has left family and home, going off to war to do his part. He is badly injured, the brain injury resulting in problems that changed his life, imprisonment and total separation from his family for the rest of his life. How sad for all of them.
  8. Great story! I am an old MyHeritage fan and can attest to its fascinating twists and turns. I can only guess that the MyHeritage is faster and that getting instant records and documents makes the site a wonderful value!
  9. Congratulations on doing your research, it is great to find someone you didn't know about. I myself have found cousins on my Fathers side of the family and went & met them when I went to England in 2012, we emigrated to Australia in 1956. I have been doing family research and am now on my 9th Family tree, I enjoy every minute of it. So just keep on looking as you will never know what you will find out.
  10. Wonderful story! Thank you for sharing it.
  11. Great story and what a victory! You solved the mystery. It is hard to have holes in the tree but what a feeling when you fill it with the missing name/information. Hope your tree continues to grow. I started doing my family tree again after I married. My mother in law and my paternal grandmother had the same maiden name so I wanted to see if there was a correlation. There isn't but I have learned that I am related on both sides to people that I met at college. It is a nice surprise!
  12. It is a sad story but the good thing is that he was found. Both of his sons grew into fine successful men with their own families. Not all of my story would fit in this blog. Within a week of his arrest for stealing a horse and buggy, he wrote a letter to the newspaper asserting his innocence and stated that he had been the "victim of malice." He had run into a notorious horse thief who asked him to take the horse and buggy and sell it. I don't think he knew he was stealing it. He was pardoned by Governor Francis of Missouri after serving a year and a half of his 5 year sentence. It is also interesting that he was the son of the Archbishop of Dublin, had graduated from Dublin University, and at one time served as private secretary to General Philip H. Sheridan in the Division of the Missouri. One day, he resigned his job in the Adjutant General's office in Washington, D.C. and just disappeared. I found out he had served as a purser on a ship and worked as a reporter in Omaha, Nebraska. There is so much material here! But thanks to MyHeritage for posting some of the story! And thanks for all the great comments!
  13. Janice, you give me encouragement to keep trying.
  14. I am the custodian of my family who all like to hear about what I find and I have a couple of cousins who I haven't yet located - went missing, frustrating....I now have found a cousin 9 times removed in Sweden who helped me greatly, now have Dane, Swede, English and of course Aussie in my Blood and more to come I expect. My age is 78 1/2 so have to be very busy to find more. Keep it up every one and enjoy as I do. Thanks Heritage.
  15. hello marg, Just wondering if you are connected to Harry or Stan Hinchliffe who settled in Ararat Victoria in the 1800s.
  16. What a wonderful story,I have often thought of starting my family tree, but just don't no exactly where to start from, it must be very rewarding to any one who find exactly what they are looking for.once again thank you to Janice for sharing this wonderful part of her life.
  17. Wonderful story, I to have a Great Grandfather I have been looking for, for over twenty five years and had given up on looking for him this past year, but after reading your story it has inspired me so much there is no way I can ever give up until I find him and I know for sure where he is burried and what happened to him. Thank you so much for shaireing your story. God Bless you ! I know I will find him............

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