Years ago, the name “Mary” caught my attention on my family tree chart. Besides the fact that she was my third great grandmother and the wife of William Stillens (1781-1843), I knew nothing else about her. Some people thought she was born in England. Some people thought she was of Spanish heritage. The only clue to a possible maiden name for her lay in her oldest son’s middle name: John Inghram Stillians (1815-1884). Approximately twenty years ago, I began my search for Mary –a search that took me through the Inghrams of Southwestern Pennsylvania, the Deans of Dorchester County, Maryland and Mercer County, Kentucky, and the Stillians families of Southwestern Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois and Guthrie County, Iowa. That search is now complete.
Mary’s story is told in my recently published book—Chasing the “Wild Bunch”—One Woman’s Journey (Aventine Press, 2014, 856 pages). Divided into three major family groups, the book first discusses Mary’s maternal line: the Inghrams of Southwestern Pennsylvania—their origins and related families. Part Two of the Books focuses on Mary’s paternal ancestors: the Deans of Dorchester County, Maryland and Mercer County, Kentucky. The Stillians families are next discussed and comprise the rest of the book. More information about the book may be found at my website:
I probably had enough material to write three separate books on this subject and entertained thoughts of doing so. That tactic proved not to be feasible when I discovered family groups from Section One later intermarrying with family groups from Sections Two and Three. The first draft of the book well exceeded 1,000 pages. Needless to say, it was cut to 856 and is guaranteed to provide a long winter’s read!
Needless to say, finding Mary’s true identity was like looking for a needle in the haystack. One discovery led to a new question and that question lead to a new search, often perplexing when existing records were missing! I provide the following example.
Sometime in 1993 I discovered my fourth great-grandfather’s estate file existed in the Washington County, Pennsylvania. We spent our summers in Pennsylvania at that period of time, so I looked forward to going there the following summer. When we arrived at the Washington County Courthouse, I was escorted to a room in a vault in the basement. I remember walking out of the Clerk’s Office with the attendant, riding the elevator down to the vault in the basement and standing there looking at layers of boxes with documents dating back to the late 1700s. She knelt down beside one box and said, “That file should be right here!” –followed by—“Well—where is it?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! She searched through the entire box before announcing, “Someone has TAKEN the file!” She looked through some of the other boxes without success. And she announced her discovery when we returned to the Clerk’s Office: “Can you believe these people drove here all the way from Colorado, and the file she needs is missing!” I told her we would be in the area through the summer. She suggested I check back with her before returning to Colorado, which I did. They had searched through the entire courthouse. The file had disappeared!
Needless to say, I was not a happy camper. I grumbled about it on some online discussion board, and about three years later, I heard from a man in Ohio. He was searching for the Stillings or Stallings surname and contacted the Pennsylvania State Archives. He believed he had a copy of the file I was seeking and told me the people were not elated to him. He would like to send the copies to me, and he did! Those copies were a boon to my investigation. I don’t think I would have completed this project without them! I did contact the courthouse, asking whether the originals were ever discovered. No, they were not. The file was definitely missing. And they were happy to learn the Archives had made copies of the file before the snatching. (Getting original records was a common problem throughout this search. Courthouse records were often destroyed by fires or by snatching fingers when people didn’t want others to find them!)
This has been a long journey that has finally ended. After the twenty plus years of searching and after three years of writing and rewriting, I am pleased with the final result!
In the words of Winston Churchill:
“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.”