Monday, September 5, 2016


Before I talk about Family Tradition as a pitfall in genealogical research, let me say this... Family Traditions can be wonderful and valid and true.  Even those that prove to be not quite true can be good clues, but we need to exercise caution.  Some family traditions are greatly exaggerated or completely fabricated.  Therefore, it is best not to accept them without proof – lest we fall into a pit. I wish someone had told me this when I first began researching my family!

Oliver Hartwell Cook
and his wife Clarissa Quincy
My ancestor, Oliver Hartwell Cook, gave rise to two traditions that proved to be untrue.  The family always said that he was named after an ancestor named Oliver Hartwell.  His father was Ralph Cook and his grandfather was Elijah Cook.  I traced them back to Putney, VT, and found a record of Elijah Cook’s marriage to Laifa Hartwell.  I also found records of the births of all of their children.  So far, so good.  The family said her father was named Oliver Hartwell.  There was a Joseph Hartwell in Putney, but no other Hartwell men of an age to be her father.  So I began to look in the surrounding neighborhood and beyond for an Oliver Hartwell.  I found several, but none the “fit” as a father for Laifa.  In the course of time, I got in touch with a Hartwell family “expert” who told me that Laifa was an nickname for Relief and she was a daughter of Joseph Hartwell of Putney – which proved to be true.  I had fallen into a pit!  I believed what the family said and didn’t look beyond it.  After all, didn’t we have a whole bevy of descendants named after Oliver Hartwell?  The family was wrong – and believing what they said caused me to not even consider the most logical person as her father.  If it hadn’t been for this tradition, I would have looked at Joseph Hartwell right away and saved myself much time and effort.  The truth is that Joseph Hartwell had a brother named Oliver who died in the Revolutionary War, leaving no descendants of his own, and my third great grandfather was named after this brother.

Another family tradition said the Oliver Hartwell Cook was born in Oswego Co., New York.  He eventually migrated to San Diego Co., California, where he was mentioned in a history book as having been born in Oswego Co.  So I began a search for his father in Oswego Co.  I gathered information on every Cook family in that county and didn’t find a single clue.  Eventually, someone said to me, “You know Oswego and Otsego sound a lot alike and have been confused before.  Why don’t you try looking in Otsego Co.?”  I did and I found his father immediately!  Here is a case where a family tradition got into print and, as a beginner, I thought anything in print must be true.  So I went off on a “wild goose chase” that could have been avoided if I had looked at the census index for the entire state of New York instead of looking only in Oswego Co. for Ralph Cook.

There are some very popular categories of family traditions that very often prove to be untrue.  Here are a few of them:

DESCENT FROM A FAMOUS PERSON.  It is particularly popular to claim descent from a United States President or from European royalty.  If your family makes such a claim, look out!  There are a whole bunch of bogus genealogies in print that claim various American immigrants are descended from English royalty – and most of them are unproven and untrue.  Use caution when trying to prove a royal descent.
Jobje "Dollie" Van Buren
daughter of Martin
Van Buren

As far as descent from a US President is concerned, I can give another example from my family that will make the point.  I have an ancestor named Martin Van Buren.  He was related to President Martin Van Buren.  My branch of the family never claimed that he was the President but, sometime after I had his lineage all proven and had even joined the DAR on his service, I received some family records from another branch of the family.  These records showed birth and death dates for him that I knew were not correct.  On a hunch, I looked up the birth and death dates of President Martin Van Buren and, you guessed it, they were his dates.  Families just love the idea of being descended from someone famous!

DESCENT FROM A NATIVE AMERICAN.  This is another popular one -- in fact, it seems to be growing in popularity.  Many people will claim it without a shred of proof.  If your family tells you that you are descended from an American Indian, don’t accept it until it is proven.  The fact is, there weren’t all that many intermarriages back in the early days, not nearly enough to account for all the people who claim such descent.

DESCENT FROM THREE BROTHERS.  For some reason, there are an excessive number of stories where a family claims that three (not two or four) brothers immigrated and the family descends from one of them.  No one knows why three brothers are more popular than another number.  All I can say is that you shouldn’t assume that any persons were brothers without proof.  Even if three (or another number) men of the same surname arrive in a town at the same time, you cannot assume that they are brothers.

DESCENT FROM A HESSIAN SOLDIER WHO CAME DURING THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR.  It seems that many people of German descent make this claim, whether or not it is true.  If you believe you have German ancestry, you need to do some research to find out who the Hessian soldiers were.  Not every German who came, even if he came during the Revolution, was a Hessian soldier.  There are records both here and in Germany that can be used to find out if your ancestor was a Hessian soldier.  Don’t assume it without proof.

These are just some of the popular categories and examples that come to mind – enough to give you the idea, I’m sure.  I recommend that you enjoy those family traditions that you can prove and be quick to let go of those that you can’t.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


I spent a portion of my childhood in Independence.  We moved there when I was 4 years old.  I have many fond memories of this small town and still love to visit.  It is located in the Owens Valley -- in the high desert between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Inyo/White Mountains.  In this blog I'm going on a little historical tour of the town.  

Independence is the Inyo County Seat.  The real focal point of downtown Independence is the Inyo County Courthouse.  It is actually the fourth Inyo County Courthouse.  Independence has been the county seat since 1866 but this neo-classical building wasn't built until 1922.  In 1998, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Three previous court houses were built in 1866, 1872, and 1886.  One was leveled by an earthquake, one was destroyed by fire, and the third one was outgrown.  When I was a child, my friends and I used to love to sneak into the courthouse and go all the way upstairs without being caught.  (photo 2014)

The Winnedumah Hotel was built in 1927 and was visited by movie stars and other celebrities in its heyday.  It was owned by the family of one of my classmates when I was a child.  It is still operating as a bed and breakfast.  In fact, I stayed there on a recent visit to Independence.  (photo 2009)

During the Civil War, an Army camp called Camp Independence was located a bit north of the present town.  This is a picture of The Commander's House which was moved into town in 1880.  When I was a child, the family of one of my classmates lived in this house.  It is no longer occupied but is being preserved for its history.  (photo 2009)

The Masonic Temple is the meeting place for the local Masons Lodge.  It was built in the 1920's .The Masons retain the upstairs in the building but rent the downstairs out to Jenny's Cafe.  One of the places I lived in Independence was a house across the side street from the Masonic Temple.  (photo 2015)

The American Legion Hall was built in the 1920's.  It has been a "community center" for almost 100 years.  Many events continue to be held here.  The bar inside the building was once part of an old saloon in Goldfield, Nevada.  I once lived in a house right across the alley from the back of the hall.  (photo 2001)

Mary Austin House.  Mary Austin was a prolific writer, poet, and playwright.  She lived in this house when she wrote her most well known book, "The Land of Little Rain."  The house is a Historical California Landmark and is still a private residence.  (photo 2001)

The Edwards House is one of the oldest homes still standing in Inyo County.  I was built in 1863 by Thomas Edwards who was the founder of the town of Independence.  When I was a child, one of my classmates lived here with her grandmother who was a great seamstress and made us matching Easter dresses one year.  (photo 2001)

The Post Office has been in several locations over the years.  Its present location was once a Waterson's Inyo Bank branch.  After that, it was a saloon for a time.  By the time my family moved to Independence, it was King's Drug Store.  Next, it became Austin's Drug Store.  We all loved the soda fountain!  When Austin's closed, the Post Office moved in and has been there for many years.  (photo 2014)

Pioneer Memorial Methodist Church is the oldest existing congregation in Inyo County.  It was founded in 1871.  The original building has had several expansions over the years.  I attended church here when we lived in Independence.  I loved to get to church first so I could help the sexton ring the bell.  My kindergarten class met in the church hall because the school's kindergarten class room was still under construction.  I also took piano lessons from the pastor's wife.  (photo 2009)

This building has become known as the Pines Cafe Building.  It is one of the oldest business building still standing in Independence.  It was still open when this picture was taken.  My memories of this building begin in the 1940's when my parents owned a hardware/sporting goods store in the corner half of the building.  At this time, the Pines Cafe was in the other half.  When we first moved to Independence, we lived in the upstairs and the back room of our store for about six months -- so this was also my first home in Independence.  When we moved our store across the street, the Post Office moved into the corner half.  When the Post Office moved out, the Pines Cafe expanded and took over the whole building.  The Pines Cafe closed in 2004 and now the building, sadly, is all boarded up.  (photo 2001, side view)
Here is a front view of the Pines Cafe after it closed.  (photo 2009)

When we moved to Independence in the 1940's, Mairs' Market occupied the left half of this building.  There was a variety store in the other half.  After about two years, my parents bought the variety store and moved our hardware/sporting goods store into it -- Hillier Hardware became and hardware/sporting goods/variety store.  My father did gun smithing on the side.  His most famous customer was John Wayne.  He was filming a movie in Lone Pine but was hunting in his free time.  His gun broke and someone sent him to my father to get it fixed.  When we moved from Independence, Omie and Glorian Mairs bought our store, took down the wall, and had one big store that sold just about everything.  Mairs Market continued in the this building until a few years ago.  It closed but recently the Owens Valley Growers Co-Op has moved in.  (photo 2009)

I have many more pictures and many more memories of Independence but I think I'll stop for now.  I hope you've enjoyed my little trip down memory lane.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Blog About My Daddy For Father's Day

This is me with my Daddy and Mother.
My father, Hartwell Russell George Hillier (better known as Rus) was born on 16 February 1906 in Fallbook, San Diego Co., California.  I've already written a blog about all the places he lived as a child.  As an adult, he lived in Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach, and Long Beach in Los Angeles Co., California.  He also lived in Fallbrook, San Diego Co., California and Independence, Inyo Co., California and Seal Beach, Orange Co., California and in Westerville, Franklin Co., Ohio and in Toccoa, Stephens Co., Georgia.

When I was born, during WWII, my Daddy was working at Douglas Aircraft Co. in Long Beach.  He was Personnel Manager for the Engineering Department.  In spite of being too old for the draft and having a defense job, he wanted to do his part, so he joined the Coast Guard Reserves and patrolled off of the coast one night a week for a year.

My Daddy loved to fish and hunt.  He especially liked to do these things in the Owens Valley, Eastern Sierra area.  I was only four years old (so heard this story from my parents) when he came home from one of his trips and announced that we were moving to Independence.  My mother asked, "Missouri?"  She had never been to Independence, California!  There was a hardware/sporting goods store for sale in Independence.  His plan was to buy the store and live where he could fish and hunt right in his own neighborhood.  So off we went! 
This is my dad on one of his hunting trips.

I loved living in Independence as a child!  However, eventually, my parents realized that they just couldn't make a living there so we moved back to the city.  My father, once again, took up his career as a mechanical engineer.  He even invented some things that were patented by companies that he worked for in the aerospace industry.  

Besides his engineering career and his love of fishing and hunting, he also loved to build things (especially woodworking), was a gunsmith, and a great cook.  He built a garage on one of our houses, built a boat for fishing, and there wasn't anything he couldn't fix.  

I learned many things from my Dad...
-- He taught me to fish.  I caught my first fish at about age 7.
-- He taught me how to paint and wallpaper a room.  Something that has served me in good stead over the years.
-- He taught me how to properly set a table.  He was a real stickler for this!
-- I sort of inherited his love of fixing things.
-- And much more!
My dad and I on his 95th birthday.

For his 100th birthday, Daddy took a sky dive!  He died just a few weeks before his 101st birthday, while staying with my brother in Toccoa, Georgia, on 7 January 2007.  He is buried in a family plot in Fallbrook, California.  
PS -- One thing I forgot to say about my dad...  He was a great story teller!  I wouldn't know nearly so much about my extended family if it weren't for his stories.

Monday, April 27, 2015


In the Summer of 1990, I took a trip to Missouri and Kansas in search of my Russell ancestors and relatives.  I stayed with Rosie Russell Gaul and her husband Harold in St. Joseph, Missouri.  Rosie is a distant cousin, now deceased, who had a great interest in family history.  Rosie and Harold took me all over Buchanan Co., Missouri, and Miami Co., Kansas, to meet family members, both dead and alive.

Before I visited, Rosie had remembered that her mother told her about an old Russell family cemetery.  It was on the property of John C. Russell, a brother of my second great grandfather, Joseph Tipton Russell, near Faucett, Missouri.  This property passed out of the Russell family many years before.  Rosie figured out where it was and went to talked to the home owner.  She asked if they knew anything about an old cemetery that used to be on that property.  Yes, they know all about it!

They told her that one of the previous owners had wanted to plant a lawn where the cemetery was located.  So they removed the grave stones and threw them over the line fence into the neighbor's woods.  They showed her where.  After getting permission from the neighbor, she and Harold climbed over the line fence and found the stones.  A couple of them were in tact but most were broken and, undoubtedly, some were missing.  So sad.

When I visited in 1990, they got permission from both property owners and took me there.  This was really exciting for me since one of those stones was that of my second great grandfather, Joseph Tipton Russell.  I climbed over the line fence -- which was covered with poison ivy -- and had a great time looking at and taking pictures of the stones.  Rosie and Harold had propped some of them up and pieced some of them together on the ground on their previous visit.  Below are some pictures of how they looked.         (Read on after you look at these pictures.)

My second great grandfather, Joseph Tipton Russell's stone before restoration.

The next day, we went to the Pattee House Museum in St. Joseph.  This museum is amazing.  It has a collection of everything, from light bulbs to pottery to cameras to...  you name it!  As we were leaving, a man was coming toward us down the hall.  Rosie said, "That's the curator of the museum." I said, "I wonder if he would like some tombstones for his collection?"  She knew just what I had in mind!  We
stopped and talked to him and told him the story.  Yes!  He wanted them!

After I went home, Rosie got permission from both property owners and met the museum crew there one day.  They took all the stones back to the museum and had them restored.  They did an incredible job!  In 1991, the stones were installed on the lawn of the museum for all to see!  Here's what they look like now.

My second great grandfather, Joseph Tipton Russell's stone is upper right in picture.

Pattee House Museum, St. Joseph, Missouri

Thursday, April 2, 2015


When I was young, the "Easter Bunny" filled our baskets with goodies and we found them waiting for us when we got up on Easter morning.  The baskets were saved from year to year.  We put them out before bed on Easter Eve and found them full in the morning.

Also, when I was young, we often had an Easter Egg Hunt the day before Easter.  My dad would hide eggs and candy in the yard.  All the kids in the neighborhood were usually invited to participate.  Below is a picture of one such group of egg hunters, taken in Independence, CA in about 1949 or 1950.

Another tradition was to get a new Easter outfit every year.  (Sometimes it was the only new outfit I got all year!)  We would get all dressed up and go to church.  Then come home for Easter dinner.  In my family, we always had leg of lamb for dinner.  Below are pictures of my new Easter outfit in Independence, California in 1948.  Vicky Underhill's grandmother made us matching Easter dresses that year.

Top picture is me, bottom picture is me on left with Vicky Underhill.

When I had children of my own, we continued these traditions -- but I added one more.  At our house, the Easter Bunny hid the baskets and left a trail of clues to find them!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

My Father -- Schools!

It is amazing to me that my father, Hartwell Russell George Hillier, turned out to be a fairly stable person.  He lived with seven different families and changed schools twenty times.  One day I asked him to write down all the schools he'd attended.  I just came across that list.  Some things are abbreviated so I'll apologized in advance for any errors in interpretation.  I will also apologize for my dad if his memory wasn't perfect.  He was about 80 years old when he wrote this down for me.  All locations are in California.

His parents separated when he was about 4 years old so, at age 5, he was living with his paternal grandmother, his father, and two bachelor uncles in Pomona.  He attended kindergarten at 5th Street School.  He was still living there when he started first grade at Kaufman School.  

He did the second half of first grade at a private school.  He couldn't remember the name but it was located in South Pasadena where he was living with his dad and his Aunt Mabel and Uncle Charlie.

He was living with two different foster families during the week in second grade.  He couldn't remember what school he attended while with the first family.  The second family home schooled him.  Then he was with a third family (yes, all in one year!) who sent him to Claremont Grammar School.

Then he lived with his dad again in third grade and attended Walnut Street School in Pasadena.  Before third grade was over, he went to live with his mother and attended McKinley School in Pomona.

He lived with his mother most of the time after this.  However, he spent most of his summers with his maternal grandparents in Fallbrook and even did a little bit of one school year there.

In fourth grade they were living in Pomona and he attended Lincoln School for part of the year.  Then they moved to Claremont and he went to Claremont Grammar School.

In fifth grade, he was back at Lincoln School in Pomona until they moved to Stockton, where he spent the rest of the year at Fair Oak School.

Then they moved back to Pomona where he spent the 6th through 9th grades at Central School and Gary Junior High School

In the tenth grade they moved to Anahiem where he attended Anahiem High School for half of the year.  Then they moved back to Stockton where he attended Stockton High School for a year and a half.  

During what would have been his senior year, they were migrating so he did not attend school.  At age nineteen, he returned to Stockton High School and graduated at age 20.  Whew!

The family continued to live in Stockton and he went off to Modesto Junior College for two years.  Then he took a year off and worked at P.G.and E. in Stockton to help support his family.

He went to UC Berkeley for one year -- his junior year of college at age 23.  He didn't ever get to finish.  He had to quit to help support the family again -- working again at P.G. and E.  (His step-father didn't seem to be able to hold a job for long.)

Then the family moved to Santa Monica and he began his career as a mechanical engineer -- which was his major before he had to quit school.

Note:  I've fallen behind again -- not getting one of these published every week.  I may have to give up on that if I can't get caught up.

Friday, February 20, 2015

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks -- Week 7 -- Hannah Caswell, A Brick Wall and a Mayflower Descendant

My ancestor, Hannah Caswell, was one of my brick walls for a long time.  She was married to my ancestor, William Slack.  I knew his ancestry but, for years, I didn't know hers.  I did all the logical and appropriate searches and came up with nothing.

Someone had said the her father was Jonathan Caswell but the only reason I could see was that she had a son named Jonathan Caswell Slack.  This was a bit of a clue but certainly not proof.  So...  I eventually did my search the wrong way.  I started with the immigrant ancestor, Thomas Caswell of Taunton, Massachusetts, whose genealogy was published in the Mayflower Descendant.  I searched down all of the branches of his family and found several Jonathans who were the right generation to have been Hannah's father.  I easily eliminated all but one of them.  I found that the remaining Jonathan was a son of Joseph Caswell and Lydia Harding who lived in Middlesex Co., Connecticut.  Once I got there, I found Hannah and her family and proceeded to prove the line all the way back to Thomas.

Jonathan Caswell married Margery Markham.  Hannah was their daughter.  She was baptized in East Hampton, Middlesex, Connecticut on 2 July 1786.  Jonathan and Margery and much of Jonathan's family, including Joseph Caswell and Lydia, moved to Otsego Co., New York.  That is where Hannah married William Slack on 30 April 1807.  William was from Northampton, Massachusetts.  He was a land owner in Springfield, Otsego Co. and that is where they lived.  They had four children, including my ancestor Philinda Slack who was born 3 January 1809.  Their other children were Jonathan Caswell Slack, Levi Slack, and Lewin Slack.  Levi and Lewin died in 1812 and I believe Hannah died then also -- but I have not found her grave.  (Which means she is a bit of a brick wall -- still!)  William took his two living children and went back to Massachusetts to his family.  There he was remarried in 1813.

Hannah is not only a descendant of Thomas Caswell but, through her mother, Margery Markham, she descends from the Mayflower three times -- making me a descendant of William Brewster, John Howland, and John Tilley.  I thought I didn't have any Mayflower lines and then I got three in one!