War Hero

We shouldn’t have to look deep into the past to find stories that have meaning or poignancy. Each of us are making tomorrow’s history today simply by living our lives and having the experiences we have. And that goes for our family members who are not that far removed from our present.

My grandfather, whom I called Hop (his name was Herman Oliff Parish), had plenty of stories to tell. A career military man, he served in the US Navy for most of his adult life. When WWII came along, he was given the command of Destroyer Division Fifty. One day, on April 14, 1945 to be precise, his fleet came under attack by Japanese forces near Okinawa. 

The official report reflects that “undaunted by overwhelming odds, Captain Parish skillfully directed ships and aircraft under his command in repelling suicide attacks by fifteen to twenty hostile planes, thereby playing a major part in destroying ten aircraft and denying the remainder access to his Task Group.” That report can be found in the accompanying documentation for the Navy Cross he was awarded for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service. That Navy Cross has been passed down to me and I have it along with the Legion of Merit medal and Bronze Star he also received.

My grandfather, once he retired from active duty with the rank of Rear Admiral, continued to serve by teaching mathematics to young recruits at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). Besides that, in what is probably the event that had the most impact for me, he was the one who introduced his daughter to the man who would become her future husband. If he had failed to do that, I wouldn’t be here to write about it. Thank you, Hop.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Eight Lords Proprieting

There are many different ways of coming to the Americas. Thomas Clutterbuck, my brother-in-law’s 9th great-grandfather, brought his family there via Barbados and was a part of the burgeoning British colony that would become the third largest (behind Plymouth and Jamestown). The Clutterbucks came to own Six Mens Plantation which produced sugar cane, the leading crop of the Caribbean at this time.

In 1663, the “eight Lord Proprietors”, a collection of English lords, received a charter by King Charles II to establish a colony in the Carolinas. They commissioned William Hilton to lead an expedition to explore potential sites. Thomas Clutterbuck was part of that expedition aboard Hilton’s ship Adventurer which eventually led to the discovery of Hilton Head Island (named after the captain) and the settlement of Charles Town (Charleston SC). A page from the ship’s log is illustrated above.

Clutterbuck returned to Barbados where he died in 1671, followed by his wife Mary in 1680. Their son John indentured himself to a William Freeman to learn the tobacco trade and established the family’s foothold on the mainland, settling in Caroline County Virginia.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

The Battle of Guilford Courthouse

There are a number of people who have found their way onto our family tree through marriage. As we trace their lines, we discover segments of history that have not only helped to shape our family but also our nation.

Mark Snow was a farmer from Virginia who happens to be the 5th great grandfather of the man who married one of my nieces. And without Snow, and others like him, the Revolutionary War may have turned out quite differently.

Snow served under Captain Jacobus Early as part of Col. Charles Lynch’s regiment in the Virginia Militia. Once France entered the war in 1778 on the side of the Americans, the British army began focusing on obtaining victories in the south so as to gain a foothold from which they might launch an offensive to the north. In March of 1781, when Lt Gen. Cornwallis and his 2100 men marched upon Guilford Courthouse near Greensboro NC, Mark Snow and 4500 other soldiers were there to meet him.

After a battle that lasted nearly two hours, the colonial troops withdrew, giving the British a dubious victory. Dubious because due to the Americans’ early withdrawal, their troops were left largely intact while Cornwallis’ army suffered casualties of 25% or more, decimating their effectiveness. As British statesman Charles James Fox commented when asked about the battle, “Another such victory would ruin the British army.” 

Afterwards, Cornwallis abandoned his efforts to gain a foothold in North Carolina, marched his troops into Virginia to refit and replenish but to no avail. In October of the following year, after the Battle of Yorktown, he surrendered to George Washington.

Snow later married Elizabeth Torrence and relocated to Gwinnett County, Georgia where his name was drawn as part of a land grant lottery made available to Revolutionary War veterans who had given service for 3 years or more. He died, in Georgia, in 1843 at the age of 79.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

An Out-Of-Meeting Experience

Last week, I announced that my wife had an ancestor that could be traced back to the Plymouth colony in Massachusetts. Being the competitive sort, I immediately focused on my family lines to see if I could uncover something as historically important stemming from those who share my DNA. And darned if I didn’t.

It may not have been the Mayflower or Plymouth Rock but on my maternal grandmother’s side, I did have relatives who were with William Penn as he settled Pennsylvania. 

Ellis and Jane Jones were Quakers who believed they were not living the freedom that God granted them. They, along with their three daughters and infant son, boarded the ship Submission, one of 22 ships that sailed with William Penn’s new colonists in search of a better life. It was an arduous journey that, at the end, unceremoniously deposited them at Choptank, Maryland. They had to make the rest of the way overland.

Once they arrived and settled, Dorothy, one of the Jones’ daughters, met and married Richard Cantrell who was already there. This was not without controversy as Dorothy was a Quaker and Richard and the Cantrell family were members of the Church of England. The records therefore reflect that the marriage was “out of meeting,” to use an old Quaker term, which indicated that Dorothy married a non-Quaker and most likely was disowned by her fellow church members. 

There is no definitive explanation for how or when Richard arrived in the States. It is a well known fact that at this time there were people who would come to a new colony before the immigrants arrived in order to greet them and help them get established; to try and minimize the loss of life that once plagued the Plymouth colony. It is presumed Richard was one of these. There is a family story that he, Richard, was related to William Cantrell who came to Jamestown, Virginia as part of John Smith’s expedition but that has yet to be verified. In any case, Richard was my great-grandfather, 7 generations removed, and played a part in the founding of Pennsylvania.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Baa Baa Black Sheep?

Some family history can be unpleasant. Or, at the very least, unsettling. Such is the case surrounding my wife’s great grandfather, Francesco Saccente.

Saccente was born in Italy in 1883 and, like many others, emigrated to the US in the early 1900s. He settled in Patchogue, New York. Over the next couple of decades he married three times, had fifteen children and made his living as a peddler of ice and coal.

One day, in 1933, he, with seven of his children in tow, paid a visit to the Miramar Beach Hotel in East Patchogue. While his kids were playing on the beach, he entered the hotel. Moments later, he was dead. Killed by a shotgun blast through the heart. James Stephani, the hotel’s proprietor, was charged with murder. Saccente was fifty years of age at the time.

After a well publicized trial that stretched over four months, Stephani was acquitted by the jury and the incident was reclassified as an “accidental shooting.” We may never know what really happened… even the main witness at the trial reversed his earlier testimony and said that he now couldn’t remember what took place at the time.

It so happens that, as I was poring over the newspaper articles about this event, I discovered another newsworthy story involving this family member. Five years earlier, Francesco and his son Louis were arrested for the assault of their neighbors, Raymond Anderson and his wife, who suffered two broken ribs and facial lacerations at their hands. According to the newspaper accounts, the Andersons were accusing the Saccentes of killing their dog and when Mrs. Anderson went to demand satisfaction, she was chased off by a shotgun wielding Saccente. Early the next morning, the Saccentes allegedly assaulted the pair as they were walking home. While the Saccentes were eventually acquitted in that case, Francesco found himself again charged with assault nine months later after beating up a man during a brawl in connection with an Italian celebration in West Patchogue.

In keeping with the “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” philosophy, I chose long ago to avoid arguing with my wife. I’m not saying she inherited any traits from her great grandfather but it seems to me to be prudent to err on the side of caution and defuse any potential conflict that may arise. Just in case.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Pilgrimage

This Thanksgiving is going to be especially significant for our family. Our genealogy research has just uncovered a member of our family that was part of the Plymouth colony some 400 years ago.

Experience Mitchell (how’s that for a name?) sailed across the Atlantic aboard the ship Ann, the third vessel to bring colonists to the new world. The first, as all know, was the Mayflower. It was followed by the ships Fortune, Ann, and St. James. When Experience arrived at Plymouth as an unmarried man, he found himself in a strange position. Due to the many illnesses and deaths of the original Mayflower colonists, there was a considerable shortage of eligible women. At that time, there was a ratio of just one single woman for every six single males. Despite those odds, Experience managed to wed Jane, the daughter of one of the colony’s leaders, Francis Cooke, who had arrived on the Mayflower a couple of years earlier. 

After Jane passed, Experience remarried a Mary Prior. While the maternal parentage of their resulting children continues to be debatable, it is clear that, from his two wives, Experience fathered a total of thirteen children. One of whom was Jacob Mitchell, my wife’s 9th great grandfather… which makes Experience her great grandfather number 10.

Eventually, Experience joined with 53 other colonists, among them Miles Standish and John Forbes (who had married his sister, Constant Mitchell), to purchase from the native Americans “the Bridgewaters,” which was originally a part of Duxbury. Bridgewater, Massachusetts now has a population of over 27,000 people.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Go West Young Man

Patterns tend to emerge whenever we trace our origins. Back in the day, families would establish a home base and entire generations thereafter seemed to stay close to that same area. But eventually an enterprising soul would spot an opportunity and venture from the familiar into the unknown. For most of us, this is exactly how we came to be born and raised in America. One or more of our ancestors took the chance on the opportunity of a new life in a new world.

But once settled in America, the pattern repeated. Generations would remain in the area where their parents lived, and their parents before them. Eventually, other opportunities would arise that would cause people to venture beyond the homes they had always known. One branch of our family is an example of this. They were, for generations, firmly entrenched as farmers in the Cove Creek area of West Virginia. But in the late 1800s, evidence of the family name began to be seen showing up on the other side of the country… in Oregon.

Looking deeper, we find an explanation. The federal government, under the Homestead Act of 1862, released public domain land to the general public. it was made available for people to be granted ownership of land (up to 160 acres) in exchange for a willingness to work and live on said land for no less than five consecutive years. Governor D. Daniel, the great-great-granduncle of one of our family members, was among those who took advantage of this opportunity. Leaving his home in West Virginia he, along with his wife and seven children, traveled west by train and wagon to the untamed land of Wallowa County in Oregon. He was 39 years old. Once there, he built a home for his family as well as a school which he called Utopia. He even served as postmaster for the area for a few years while it got established. Today, Wallowa County has a population of 7008.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

The Old Corner Bookstore

If you ever find yourself along The Freedom Trail in Boston, you may stumble across a little piece of my family’s past. The Old Corner Bookstore, which stands at the corner of Washington and School Streets, was once the site of the home of Anne Hutchinson, famous Puritan dissident and religious reformer. While she was not a relative, after she was expelled from Massachusetts for heresy, her home was bought by Thomas Creese II, my wife’s 8th great-grandfather, in 1708. Although the original home was lost to the Great Fire of 1711, Creese rebuilt a structure upon the land to be used as an apothecary shop.

Over the years it traded hands, eventually to be turned into a bookstore and printing shop managed by Ticknor and Fields. They were the nation’s leading publisher in the mid 1800s and produced works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., Charles Dickens and Louisa May Alcott, many of whom were frequent visitors to the building.

In the 1960’s it was in danger of being demolished to make way for a parking garage but was saved through a purchase by Historic Boston, a not-for-profit organization. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

King For A Day

While researching one’s genealogy, it is very easy to chase shadows and jump to ill-advised conclusions.

For an entire day I traced a certain line from the Americas to England and found to my amazement and delight that I was descended from Charlemagne, king of the Franks, emperor of the West and founder of the Holy Roman Empire. We’re talking mid 700 AD. Suddenly, my family tree was filling up with ornate family crests; names and titles like Earl of Strafford and Wadsworth of Woolingsly. I discovered I had ancestors with multi-page Wikipedia entries and the stories they told could be made into a Game of Thrones sequel.

For example, I had a great uncle nine generations removed (Thomas Wentworth, known as “Black Tom Tyrant”) who was falsely accused of treason, locked up in the Tower of London, and eventually beheaded. The details of his story are amazing and filled with political intrigue.

I found myself floating amidst a sea of movers and shakers, firmly at the center of world history, rubbing elbows with kings and queens, bishops and lords… and then, as I was fact checking, ready to fly off to the UK to see if there was a castle somewhere with my name on it, I realized that, while compiling my family tree, I had somehow married off the daughter of an English lord to a 18th century Virginia farmer who never strayed far from his small parcel of land. Mind you,  I’m not saying that it is impossible for the two to have ever met, but even I have to admit that the likelihood is improbable. I’m still holding onto the dream, but for now I’ve removed all the royalty from my tree until I can find a verifiable connection.

Ah well, at least I got the wife to refer to me as “my lord.” Felt good. I may delay revealing the truth to her for another day or two.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.