Mary Margaret Dean-Inghram Stillians (1795-1866) was my third-great grandmother. For years, the family knew very little about her, other than her first name. Some family members thought she came from England, while others thought she was of Spanish heritage. Some even thought she was a Gypsy. Intrigued with the mystery surrounding her, I embarked upon a search for her and for her family over twenty years ago. My questions took me to court records and to cemeteries in Greene County, Pennsylvania and in Washington County, Pennsylvania, in addition to the state archives of Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky–but not without a number of minor and major setbacks.
I was about to give up on ever finding her until my mother’s death in 2003. My father’s treasures were hidden inside cupboards in my parents’ garage in Cedar Rapids, Iowa–old photo albums and a large grocery sack full of pictures his mother had given him years before. He thought no one else would be interested in them, so he hid them inside the garage and passed away in 1974 without telling anyone they were there. I remembered those albums in our old house when I was growing up and would often tag along with him to the basement with my “Who’s this?” — “Who’s that?” questions that were never-ending. With my interest rekindled in family history in the early 1990s, I asked my mother about them. She told me Dad had thrown them away–they had no room for them in their new house when they moved to the northwest side of town. A flood in Summer 1993 revealed the sack of old pictures. Happily, I hauled those back to Colorado. Eventually, Mom discovered an album she found in another cupboard, and she gave that to me the following summer when we stopped to visit her while on our way to Pennsylvania. Since those were the only items she could find, I presumed the rest of the albums had been destroyed, but they were waiting to be discovered after her death on the highest shelves in various cupboards in the garage and were sent to me by my sister via a number of UPS shipments. The final one was found shortly after my sister and I had sold the house and after the new people took possession. This was the one I had been hoping to find! Information gleaned from those albums and memories of discussions with my father about his mother’s maternal great-grandmother rekindled my interest and enabled me to complete my study.
This is Mary’s story–who was searching for her own identity as well!
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