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Be It Resolved

America’s war for independence was not born overnight. Discontent over British rule fomented and grew over time. And, much like most rebellions, it had its origins at local, grass root levels.

As early as 1774, while local counties were selecting delegates for new Provincial Congress, many of their Committees of Safety would publish documents known as “resolves” or “associations.” These were intended to state the positions of their delegates on loyalty to the Crown and the emerging American Republic.

While, at first, professing allegiance to King George, they also outlined what they believed to be unfair practices of Parliament. As time went on, the “resolves” changed their tone, inserting conditions to their loyalty and asserting certain rights as free citizens. After the battles at Lexington and Concord in April of 1775, the Mecklenburg Resolves were published which outright denied the authority of Parliament and the king… the first time any colonial committee had done so. More counties quickly followed suit.

In July of 1775, the Pitt County Committee of Safety produced a set of resolves at Martinborough NC. In it they pledged to follow the directives of the Continental Congress to resist “the several arbitrary illegal acts of Parliament.”  One of the signers of this document was Henry Ellis, my 6th great-granduncle. His name is included on the plaque commemorating the document which currently hangs in the Pitt County Courthouse.

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 Fratellanza Society

Because my wife is of Italian heritage (three out of four of her grandparents had their ancestral roots firmly planted in Italy), I’ve always had a soft spot for the stories I am able to uncover regarding the Italian side of our family.  But this one did not originate from my wife’s relatives. It comes from my daughter-in-law’s.

Emmanuel Bombassei was born in 1881 in Auronzo di Cadore, Belluno, Veneto, Italy. Based on the birth records of his children, he emigrated to the United States between 1907 and 1908, settling in Missouri. He was a tailor by trade, owning his own business, and lived to a ripe old age of 98. He was my daughter-in-law’s great-great grandfather.

His obituary states that he was a proud member of the Fratellanza Society for over 50 years. According to their Facebook page, the Fratellanza, located in St Louis Missouri, is the oldest Italian American organization in the United States. It was organized on November 11, 1866 and incorporated on December 6, 1866 as a fraternal and benevolent society.

Their primary objective was and continues to be, to create an organization that will promote unity between Italians and their adopted country. 155 years later, they continue to meet every first Wednesday of the month at a restaurant fittingly known as “Guido’s on the Hill.”

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 Doomsday Book

In the year 1085, William I (aka William the Conqueror) sent agents to every shire in England for the purpose of evaluating all holdings so he might calculate the dues owed to him.  In this way, William could determine what taxes had been owed during the reign of King Edward the Confessor, allowing him to reassert the rights of the Crown and assess where power lay after a wholesale redistribution of land following the Norman Conquest.

The survey was completed in 1086 and its findings were recorded into what has become known as “the Domesday” Book, using the Middle English spelling of “Doomsday.” It was so called because, much like the Final Judgement, its findings were fixed and would broach no appeal or amendment.

Within its pages is listed the manor of Shelvock, located near Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England. At the time of the Domesday Book, the manor was owned by Odo, under Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury. While possession changed hands a few times over the centuries, it has become most closely linked to the Thornes whom took ownership in the 1400s and held onto it for the next two centuries. 

Roger “The Wise” Thornes, thus named because his advice and counsel was often sought by the citizenry, served as alderman, burgess, bailiff and coroner of Shrewsbury. He is a 13th great-grandfather to my sons.

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 First Prime Minister

It is largely accepted that Great Britain’s first Prime Minister was Sir Robert Walpole, a Whig who was initially elected to Parliament in 1701.  Seen as a political moderate and efficient administrator, his skill in retaining his political office was noteworthy.

When the Tory government took control of Parliament in 1710, they targeted him and stripped him of his powers; even drummed up corruption charges of which he was (falsely) convicted. He was then briefly imprisoned in the Tower of London.  However, when George I ascended the throne, the Whigs regained control of the government and Walpole assumed his mantle as the defacto party leader, being appointed First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1715. His dominance strengthened in 1720 following his handling of the scandal of the South Sea Bubble. The Whigs, under the steady hand of Walpole, were to remain in power for the next few decades.

In 1732, George II offered 10 Downing Street to Walpole as a personal gift. He accepted it only as the official residence of the First Lord of the Treasury. While his successors did not always live at Number 10, preferring instead to remain in their private homes, it has become known as the official residence of the prime minister.

His father, Colonel Robert Walpole, has the dubious distinction of being in the Guinness Book of World Records as the person having the oldest overdue library book. He borrowed the book from Trinity College in 1667 when he was an undergraduate. It was eventually found at his family estate, Houghton Hall, and returned… some 288 years later.

Sir Robert Walpole is the 6th great-granduncle of my daughter-in-law’s great-grandaunt.

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




The Woll Invasion

Tensions between Mexico and Texas did not end with Santa Anna’s defeat at San Jacinto in 1836. in fact, there were a number of skirmishes between the newly formed Republic of Texas and its neighbor to the south. On September 11, 1842, during a time when the District Court was in session in San Antonio, there were rumors of a large invading force moving towards the town. Scouts were unable to confirm the reports and most chose to dismiss them. They were to be proven wrong.

A Mexican invading force led by General Adrian Woll, a French soldier of fortune, descended upon the town of San Antonio. After a two hour skirmish, the invaders captured sixty-two citizens… most of them high officials or highly respected men who had business before the district court. These non-combatants were taken as prisoners of war to Perote Prison (originally the Castle of San Carlos built in the 1770s) outside of Mexico City. It took them three months to make that overland trek.

Santa Anna apparently had several goals to justify his actions: “to disrupt civil proceedings and the progress of government in Texas; to demonstrate the strength of Mexico’s forces; to assert Mexican sovereignty; to chastise the Texans; and ultimately to redeem himself and regain the Texas that was lost in the battle of San Jacinto.”

The US government was able to secure the release of some of the prisoners the following year but most remained in captivity until 1844. Unfortunately, my first cousin (six times removed), John Casey Trapnell, succumbed to pneumonia while incarcerated there and died in the confines of Perote Prison.

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.




Mural Maker

Sometimes, historic documents used for genealogical research don’t tell the whole story. For example, when researching my wife’s grand-uncle, Angelo Magnanti, one would get the impression that he was either an architect or interior designer for that is how he described himself on the federal census reports from 1920 through 1940. It turns out that he was far more. Hearing of some family stories, I looked a little deeper and found that he was a renowned artist specializing in large scale projects. 

Born and trained in Italy, he immigrated to New York, where he decorated numerous banks and churches and two walls within Penn Station (that building was torn down in 1966). Magnanti designed the mosaic ceiling of the banking room of the Williamsburg Savings Bank and four painted murals (illustrated above) that depicted scenes from the Bronx’s early European settlement for the Dollar Savings Bank in the Bronx. 

In 1935, Magnanti executed the decorative finishes for architect John Russell Pope’s renovation and addition to the building housing The Frick Collection. Drawings for the renovation were among those exhibited at the Frick in 2010 to celebrate the museum’s 75th anniversary. Indeed, The Frick Art Reference Library is decorated with an earlier Magnanti mural and houses an archive on the artist. 

Outside New York, Magnanti’s projects included decorations for the conference room of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. and the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.

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.




Let Freedom Ring

In the early 1700s, the colonies of North America were still developing their identities and civic infrastructures. In Pennsylvania, construction was underway for the erection of their State House in Philadelphia, under the supervision of Alexander Hamilton. The crowning touch was to be a beautiful bell of “such size that its voice could be heard not only in the city but all the countryside thereabouts.”

Great pride was taken that the State House was being built using native materials: wood from Delaware, bricks home-kilned in New Jersey… it was truly going to be a seat of American power fashioned by American hands.  Which is why some felt uneasy that its bell would be commissioned to a British bell-maker. But Edward Warner and Thomas Leech, who served on the bell committee, argued that the British were renowned bell makers and that where it was made was not as important as how it was made… for the bell “should give out a clap like thunder.”

Finally the bell arrived and was installed in the completed state house. As an excited crowd gathered for the initial test, at the first strike of the clapper, the bell split and went dead. Instead of shipping the bell back to England for repair, it was decided to trust American workmen and the bell was given to Charles Stow and John Pass for recasting. They melted down the bell, added copper to the mixture and poured it into a newly constructed mold.

A second test was scheduled. This time, the bell sounded… but the noise was nothing like the clarion peal people were expecting. So dreadful was the sound that the bell was again lowered and given back to Pass and Stow to recast for a third time. Upon completion, it was once more hoisted into the tower and as a now somber audience waited, the bell was struck. This time, people heard a deep and resonating sound that matched the quote etched onto the side of the crown.  “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land and unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

It, of course, became known as the Liberty Bell and Thomas Leech, who served on the committee charged with its installation, married one of my 6th great-grandaunts.

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.




Have You Heard The One About…

Family stories are the best. You know… the ones that are passed down from generation to generation; perhaps with a few added embellishments that come with each telling. What they may lack in historical accuracy, they more than make up with their homespun charm. I’ve collected quite a few from the archives I’ve read.  This one involves the 5th great grandfather of my niece’s husband’s aunt.

Alexander McAllister, born in Scotland, was descended from Lord of the Isles and Thane of Argyll through Alester, eldest son of Angus Mor, Lord of the Isles and Kintyre. He emigrated to North Carolina and became a prominent citizen, serving in the Cumberland County militia as a colonel, the provincial congress and the state senate.

He arrived in America first in 1736 but returned to Scotland in 1739 presumably to marry for he returned to North Carolina in 1740 with his wife, Mary, who unfortunately died during the crossing.

As the family tale goes, during the crossing, a child was born to two of his fellow passengers. The baby, as they are wont to do, was crying incessantly. The irritable Alexander, mourning his departed wife, lashed out at the mother, “Would you just spank that little “b-****”!” The mother quickly shot back, “Never mind sir, she’ll be the wife of you yet.”

Twenty-three years later, that prophecy was fulfilled. That baby, who was named Jane Colvin, became Alexander McAllister’s third wife in 1763. Together, they had eleven children.

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.




Trail of Tears

America’s treatment of its indigenous people was undeniably cruel and severe, culminating in the decades long practice of Indian removal, relocation, and ethnic cleansing.  Between 1830 and 1850, approximately 60,000 Native Americans of the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw) were forcibly removed from their homelands in the Southeastern United States and relocated to a designated Indian Territory west of the Mississippi. Thousands died from exposure, disease and starvation either before, during or shortly after their grueling journey. 

What some forget is that the experience caused a major rift within the ranks of the Indian population itself. There were a few who relocated voluntarily. They were known as the “Treaty Party,” as they obeyed the terms of the Echota Treaty which exchanged Cherokee tribal lands in the east for lands in the west. While the federal government viewed this treaty as valid, it was never formally accepted by recognized Cherokee leadership and the majority opposed its provisions. Those who did not relocate of their own volition began being forcibly removed in 1838 via an overland march that has become known as the “Trail of Tears.” The ones who survived that march, when they arrived in the western territory, clashed with the smaller “Treaty Party” who were already there, killing many of them.

Benjamin Cooper ( my daughter-in-law’s 5th great grandfather) and his wife Oowoduageyutsa (Pretty Girl of the Cherokee nation) voluntarily left for the Indian Territory in Oklahoma in 1834. They both died there in 1852. His son, Cornelius Benjamin Cooper, and his family decided to avoid the possible violence awaiting them in Oklahoma and instead set their course for Rusk, Texas where they settled among other native families who made the same choice.

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.




Raid on Deerfield

We can sometimes forget that long before the American colonists fought for their independence, other nations were battling to gain dominance in this new land. Throughout Queen Anne’s War, English and French forces fought each other to gain control of North America. On February 29, 1704, fifty French troops, allied with two hundred native Americans savagely attacked the British settlement of Deerfield Massachusetts. Forty-eight villagers were killed and one hundred twelve were captured. 

The prisoners were then forced to march a three hundred mile journey to Canada. Winter had set in and they faced deep snow and bitterly cold conditions. Those who could not keep up were killed. Of the one hundred twelve prisoners, only eighty-nine survived the journey. Some were ransomed and returned to America, while others stayed in Canada, assimilating into the Indian or French communities. My wife had relatives who had settled in Deerfield and were a part of this nightmare scenario.

61 year old John Caitlin (9th great-grandfather) was killed in the village attack. 

47 year old Thomas French (8th great-grandfather) was captured and ransomed in 1706.

40 year old Mary Caitlin French (8th great-grandmother) was captured and killed en route to Canada.

20 year old Ruth Catlin (8th great-grandaunt) was captured and ransomed in 1707.

18 year old Mary French (7th great-grandaunt) was captured and ransomed in 1706.

17 year old Joseph Caitlin (8th great-granduncle) was captured but killed in the meadow outside the compound during a militia rescue attempt.

17 year old Thomas French (7th great-grandfather) was captured and ransomed in 1706.

12 year old Freedom French (7th great-grandaunt) was captured and remained in Canada as Marie Francoise French.

9 year old Martha French (7th great-grandaunt) was captured and remained in Canada where she married a Frenchman.

7 year old Abigail French (7th great-grandaunt) was captured and remained in Canada with the Indians.

1 year old John French (7th great-granduncle) was killed in the village attack.

“The Redeemed Captive: Returning to Zion, ” a first-hand account of the raid on Deerfield and the march to Canada was published in 1707 by John Williams, Deerfield’s religious leader, who survived the experience.

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.