Climbing Family Trees: Charles' Challenge by Judith Parsons

Climbing Family Trees

More great stories, poems, and helpful hints about genealogy and searching for your family's roots from the twin authors of "Climbing Family Trees: Whispers In The Leaves"

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Charles' Challenge by Judith Parsons

“Charles’ Challenge”
Judith Parsons

There is only one thing I like more than a challenge and that is a spiritual adventure. The search for Lucinda Henry turned out to be both.

Charles Nicholson, my newly discovered cousin (actually my father's first cousin) and I had just finished three intense days of talking, sharing details, traveling to cemeteries in South New Jersey and copying numerous documents pertaining to the families of our shared lineage. I was overwhelmed with the accumulated information held by this family historian -- the repository of all family information since the death of his father in 1947. Armed with thirty years of work and five hundred years of names and dates, I headed out the door of his home to later return to mine where I could sort out all my new findings.
"Where do you think you're going?" Charles asked, in his gruff manner. "Now that you have all this information, you have to go to work. I have an assignment for you." I thought he was kidding, but he continued, "Your great great grandfather, William Nicholson, was married to a woman named Lucinda. A few of us have been searching for her for years, but no one has had any luck. It's your turn." I felt like it was an initiation task for membership into the official clan.
He continued without a break. In the next few minutes he told me what was known about Lucinda. It wasn’t much! He didn’t even know her maiden name!

Lucinda was married around 1850 to William Nicholson. They lived near White Haven, Pennsylvania and both died there. They had fourteen children. She had a sister that married a Mr. Seeley and another sister that married a Mr. Green. Older people now gone had talked about Butter Valley. That was it. "No problem," I remarked with confidence as I looked at the scant clues. "Her father was Jacob Henry, so that should make it easy, I guess," I said naively. "And how am I supposed to believe that? I don't want guesses. I want proof,” Charles warned. Being an atheist, Charles elide purely on documentation. Being religious in nature, I relied on spiritual guidance.

On the drive home, all I could think of was this little lady, said to have worn a cap like an Amish woman. I could even see her tiny image, worn out from having all those children, constantly serving her family and her husband, living in a small house, hard working. What would be my first line of attack? Well, at least I already knew her father's name. I would just have to look for a Jacob Henry.

The first thing I did was plan a trip to Mauch Chunk, the county seat for Carbon County, PA, located about 300 miles from our home. All genealogy trips include my whole family. It was a lovely drive, and the courthouse was one of those old, small structures – inviting, but not too promising from the outside. I became a bit discouraged as soon as we entered the door. The kind lady at the information desk just smiled when I told her I was looking for the death record of Lucinda Nicholson in 1898. She explained that back in those days, death records were collected by a traveling scribe from the court who went out three or four times a year on horseback. She prepared me for failure when she said they rarely collected everyone's record. In addition, my great-great grandmother died in the wintertime. I remembered how cold it got in Northern Pennsylvania and shivered at the thought. Nobody was very interested in the death record when they had to travel in the ice and cold to the Township center to register the information.

Even more disconcerting was their filing procedure. "We keep all those old records over there in those boxes. You're welcome to look through them, but be careful. Most of them have never been unfolded." I began wondering why they collected the records if no one would ever read them, but ended by being very grateful that they did. There were at least fifty boxes piled on top of each other along the wall in front of me. "Help me Lord," I prayed earnestly, "Let's give it a try."

I pointed at a box and my husband lifted it down for me. The children watched in anticipation. They liked the drama and were used to miracles and fully expected to see another one as I picked up the folded paper on the top of the pile. It was amazingly well preserved. I carefully unfolded it to get a hint of what was in store for me and, realizing that I only had one day for the search, settled down for a day-long chore.

I marveled when I saw the name written on the first piece of paper I had selected from the box: Lucinda Nicholson! Everything was included: her death date, sex (Male, of all things!), her place of birth (Luzerne County). No one would have believed it, but I did and so did my children. I whispered a quick word of thanks.

Knowing her birthplace made the rest of the search easy. The next week I went to the National Archives in Washington, D. C. and searched for a Jacob Henry, my Jacob Henry. There he was, in the 1850 census in Nescopeck, Luzerne, PA! There was no Lucinda listed with his family, but then I remembered, she was already married. Of course she wouldn't be there.

Jacob was also in the 1860 census and again 1870, but missing in 1880. "Must have died by then," I noted. I also found some Seeleys and a Green. Hmmm… Amanda Seeley (I remembered the name Charles had given me.) There was an Amanda in the 1850 census living with Jacob. Hmmm…still too vague a connection. I needed to find a link Charles would accept. To find it I had to plan another trip to Wilkes-Barre. We always stayed with my mother when we went to Wilkes-Barre, and by now she was really tired of my coming, going off hunting and coming back at night just to sleep. She insisted we did not come to spend time with her, so once again we struggled when we got there and I promised I would only be gone a short time.

It was a hard promise to keep. Figuring that Jacob died after 1870, I looked for a will. I would later ascertain that Jacob died without one. There were a few land records for property purchases in his name. However, one recorded his death and referred to a "Power of Attorney, Book 2" for the recording of the legal papers necessary to sell the property after his death.
When I asked the clerk where they kept the Power of Attorney books, the lady behind the counter quickly pointed under the counter in front of her. “But they begin with "Book 16. Anything before that was destroyed in the flood," I was advised. I was shattered.

We went back to my mother's house, despondent and disappointed. As we ate lunch I kept hearing the words "Go back to the Court House" run through my head until I had to return. My mother wasn't very happy about that. I remember all too well her anger with my fixation with "dead people." We arrived back at the courthouse with less than thirty minutes until it closed. I returned to the lady who repeated the story about the flood loss. I would later discover that whenever Wilkes-Barre couldn’t find something they would say it was lost in one flood or another. After all, the Court House was directly on the banks of the Susquehanna River!

"Please," I begged. "There must be someone in this courthouse who can tell me where "Power of Attorney Book 2" is. I just know it's here." "If anyone would know it would be Francis. She's been here forever." She picked up the phone, dialed a three-digit number and asked for someone to come to the Documents Office. She seemed to realize we weren't going to leave until we found that book and she, for one, wanted to go home on time.

In a few minutes Francis arrived, complete with wrinkles, hair net for her gray hair, horn-rimmed glasses that were held on by a string fastened to her sweater by two flowered pins, and those old black shoes that all the school teachers wore in the 1950’s. I explained what I needed. She said she knew where some old books were, but was not sure whether we would find the one we needed or not. She motioned for us to follow her through the big, swinging doors that led to the corridor. We entered the elevator and soon were in the basement under the courthouse.

Since the Courthouse was a stone's throw from the Susquehanna, a beautiful view on a clear day, I could easily see how anything down there got "lost in the flood." Soon we were in a room at the end of the hallway with large file cabinets lining all sides of the room. "Up there," she motioned to the top of one of the cabinets. "Those are the only ones I know of that are left. Help yourself." She stood there guarding, as my husband climbed on a chair and looked on top. In just a moment he handed me "Power of Attorney, Book 2." We had just witnessed another genealogical miracle. There were only four books left, and one of them was the book we were looking for.

On that historical page was a petition for power of attorney by Jacob's oldest son, John, so he could sell Jacob's property, now that Jacob was dead, and distribute the inheritance to Jacob's heirs. To make it all absolutely perfect it was signed by each member of the family, including Lucinda! I never knew such documents existed! But there it was: a personal revelation.

Since that time, all of the Henry's have been identified and classified. Many researchers have come to know not only this family, but also Jacob's family, his brothers and sisters, and their children. And Lucinda -- I feel just as if I know her personally. Sometimes when I close my eyes, I can see her in that magnificent “Butter Valley” in front of the house William and his friends had built for her. In my dream he's always rocking in his chair and she's always hanging clothes, pumping water or chopping wood, surrounded by her children pulling on her dress, demanding her loving attention. Sometimes I see her look up from her tasks, stare right at me as if she sees me over by the trees, smile and wave, and then return to her time and place. I'm so glad I got to “meet” her.

Charles? He's happy. He has his documentation, although he still has a hard time believing how I got the facts after I made those assumptions. He says I did it backwards and that it doesn’t make “scientific sense”. However, he still raves about my find - tells me what a good job I did--what good luck I had. And there have been more finds, but none as meaningful as the day I met Lucinda Henry.

The long-reaching effects of this story are unlimited. This family appears on both sides of my genealogy. What’s more, all the relatives have been traced back to the Reformation in Germany.And on it goes. The family of Rauchs comes full circle and all because I watched for clues and listened for the words and had the willingness to seek out the facts to support them. I have concluded, after many years of research and study, that genealogy is more than analyzing data, it is like reading a romance novel full of adventure and excitement as the characters come alive. My children, now grown up with children of their own, talk about stopping at cemeteries and going to court houses when they were little and the miracles they witnessed. Soon our book on the Rauchs will be finished and published and left as a legacy for them and those children yet to be born.


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