As a Child I sat with my grandmother, on her porch, rocking in a chair (whether it rocked or not,) while she told me of my ancestors. She said that my grandfather's grandfather was a Northern Carpetbagger ( thought "What's a Carpetbagger?"), who came to Chesconnessex VA, after the Civil War, with good northern money, and bought all the land from the Wise Family, (but who were the Wises?), and that her grandfather was a blockage runner during the same war and was almost captured by the north (see the story here). When we went to Town it seemed everyone was "somehow related." (See "Childhood Memories of the Shore" here).
I was hooked. In her backyard, more that 30 feet from the door were the graves of my great great great grandfather and grandmother on my grandfather's side. All that was left was their remains as two head stones and one foot stone. The two head stones had names and dates on them. I was lucky they were still there. (See the stones here). I wanted to know more about them and how these "somehow related" people were related to me.
Twenty years later I started, as some would call it, tracing my family tree. It was then that my ancestors became alive and the events that shaped their lives became my history. I was addicted. In Fact, my idea of a family vacation was to pack my five kids up, with a pail and shovel in tow, battling mosquitoes, and search the Accomack Cemeteries and Family plots or go to the court House in Accomack and leave the kids with my husband to amuse. At one point as we passed by a Family Plot in a field, my kids cried, "Do we have to go to that one too Mommy?"
As I started going back, I found out what a carpetbagger and a blockage was. But how far north did my great great grandfather come from? Unable to figure that one out I started with my grandmother's line, which among other families, included Joynes and Drummond. Over the next 10 years I did what I could on the Joynes Family and my other lines.
Then a big break came. A cousin mentioned that she knew the Marsh Family of Smiths Island MD and that they had a diary or memoirs of a Benjamin Franklin Marsh from there. Marsh was my grandfather's last name. (For example, see Lewis and Annie Marsh in Mt. Holly Cemetery.)
Smiths Island is in the Chesapeake Bay about 8 miles north of Tangier (see information about these islands here) and borders on the Maryland / Virginia State line. Forget about Maine or Vermont, They had only traveled 20 miles south to arrive at Chesconnessex. I got in contact with the Marshes there and sure enough, that's where they had come from.
I was living on Long Island, NY, (and still am), and had to re event the wheel. The first thing I had to realize is that there was no trains and no cars, that their main mode of transportation was either horse and carriage, (a very ruff ride to say the least,) or boat. I got a copy of Ben Marsh's Memoirs and I came across something very interesting. In it, he stated that one day, at the end of August, he sailed from Smiths Island for Chesconnessex VA, in a Schooner, to visit his brother. He said he left right before dawn and with a "good head wind" made it just at the time they were finishing breakfast. I figured the trip had taken about 2 hours. They could travel over water quicker than over land.
With an enlarged Exxon map and a compass, using Ewell, Smiths Island MD as center I made 10 mile, 20 mile, 30 mile, 40 mile and 50 mile circles and saw that Chesconnessex VA was within the 20 mile circle. But, I also noticed that these circles went as far as Dorchester County MD and over to the Western Shore. What an eye opener. By placing the compass on the Bayside directly west of Accomac, the same circles would encompass an area south to Cape Charles, East to Salisbury, and a goodly amount of the Western Shore of VA again. I then called a friend who had worked the water all his life and asked, "Jen, how far would you go to get a wife?" We discussed this at length, and figured that 50 miles or 5 hours "with a good head wind" would be just about long enough.
As I began to research my families and the region I found that Tangier island was not the only inhabited island below the State line. (Click here for information about the Bay islands.) There were many small islands with people living on them and in the Accomack county court records they were known as "Tangier Islands," with an "s." Tangier Island itself is the only one that remains lived on today. This accounts for much of the confusion in the local and family traditions of the area. For when the small island eroded with the tide and storms the "s" was dropped.
Sometimes there are more than one person with the same name of the same age. Finding the area in which your ancestor can be a great help and a compass could play a big part in finding which one is your ancestor. If you're having trouble, a compass and a map might be worth a try.
© Copyright 2007-2009 by Gail M. Walczyk