Autobiography, Writing Your Story

Family Connections

Those of us with the fortitude to spend countless hours researching our family history are sometimes rewarded with fascinating discoveries. Usually they happen when we least expect them. It’s what makes family history so interesting.

I come from a very small family. Until I picked up researching my family tree in 2006, I never knew how extensive it really was. Sure, I have many great aunts and great uncles I never knew existed, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. Over the course of the last 9 years, I’ve discovered over 10,000 relatives between my maternal and paternal sides.

It continues to grow in interesting ways.

I’ve been thinking about starting my own genealogical business for quite some time. While I’m not quite ready for prime time – thanks to my full time job – I am testing the waters by doing family histories for friends. My goal was to see how difficult it would be to research non-family members.

The Genealogy of Ervin Billy Lawson, 2013, by John Robert Cole (Privately printed)

The Genealogy of Ervin Billy Lawson, 2013, by John Robert Cole (Privately printed)

About a year or so ago, when I was stationed in Hawaii, I asked a colleague of mine whether he’d be interested in his family tree. I met him in 2011 when I reported aboard. Born in Spartanburg, North Carolina in 1952, Mr. Ervin Lawson was – and is – the information technology manager for the Fourteenth Coast Guard District office in Honolulu. During the course of my research, I learned that the majority of his ancestors settled in the North and South Carolina region. Things moved along smoothly until I ran across an interesting surname.

Elizabeth Jernigan, Ervin’s 5th great grandmother, was born about 1755. She had married James Hart, a Revolutionary War veteran. I recognized this surname from my family tree. Elizabeth’s father, Jesse, was Anne’s sister. Their father, Henry Jernigan, was the son of Thomas Jernigan (1655-736). His father, Thomas, was the son of another Thomas who married Elizabeth Thompson. Moving back two additional generations, I came across the connection I sought: John Jernigan and his wife Bridget Drury, daughter of Robert Drury and Anne Calthorpe. Robert was born before 1456 and died March 2, 1535-6. He was knighted June 17, 1497. Sir Robert was Knight of the Body to Kings Henry VII and Henry VIII, Knight of the Shire for Suffolk, Speaker of the House of Commons, and Privy Councilor.

Because Ervin and I shared common ancestors – John Jernigan and Bridge Drury – we are cousins.

More recently, I completed the genealogical work for Mr. Ernest Grindle. I met Mr. Grindle about ten years ago when I was stationed in Boston, Massachusetts. He and I had remained friends and I was thrilled when he said he and his wife were expecting their first child. When I saw him again in October of 2014, I asked whether he’d be interested in having me do his Grindle heritage for his daughter. He said yes.

For the next few months, I traced his family back to the early American Colonies. This wasn’t surprising since many of his ancestors were from New Hampshire and Massachusetts. What was surprising was finding the Pope surname – another last name that appeared in my family tree.

Déjà vu.

Sarah Pope, Ernest’s 9th great grandmother, was born about 1683. She had married David Peabody. Sarah was the daughter of Seth Pope who was the son of Thomas Pope and Sarah Jenny. Sarah, by the way, was the daughter of John Jenny, the proprietor of what is now known as the Jenny Grist Mill in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Anyway, Ernest and I share the same common ancestors: Thomas Pope and Sarah Jenny. I descend from Thomas and Sarah’s daughter Sarah who married Samuel Hinckley. Ernest and I are cousins, too.

Connections abound. Going back to Hawaii for a moment, I did some initial genealogical work for two other colleagues. While neither panned out as full-blown family histories, I did learn that these two were related to my wife Christine.

Those that read this may think, “So what? I know everyone is related to everyone.” While that’s most likely true, the difference is that I can prove it. Can you?

Happy hunting!

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