Friday, September 23, 2011

Why Genealogy?

I've been interested in my family history for decades but only in the past couple of years have I really started researching and digging to uncover my ancestors.  Why is this important to me?  I’m sure my answer may be different than for many others. 
My primary motivation is not to learn if my ancestors came over on the Mayflower or were among the first to settle at Jamestown.  I don’t really care if I descended from George Washington or even Abraham Lincoln.  I’m not trying to build my self esteem on the backs of the famous or the infamous.  On the contrary, I like to think that my motivation comes from a deeper, more meaningful conviction.
To some genealogists, the search is a lucrative pursuit and some make their sole living from their research and teaching and books.  Certainly, that is not my motivation.  On the contrary, I’ve found genealogy to cause an outflow of funds from my household, not an inflow.
To me, genealogy is more about values.  My core values were instilled by my parents and theirs by their parents.  So, how many generations past have influenced my values today?  Naturally, there is no way to quantify this but it nevertheless is a source of contemplation.  
I’m very interested in the daily lives of my ancestors.  What kind of hardships did they endure and how did they overcome them or succumb to them?  Many of them were farmers and how did they eek out a living from the land and support their families?  For example, my great grandfather lived in an area that was heavily wooded with only small patches of cleared land suitable to grow anything. I wonder if they had chickens and what kind of crops they grew.  Did they have a cow for milk?  What did they do during years of bad weather when the crops died?  What kind of tools did they use and did they make them or trade for them?  
What did they do for entertainment, if anything?  One of my great grandfathers was disabled from the Civil War and was unable to work, yet he fathered ten children!  What was he thinking?  I suppose it answers the question of what that family did for entertainment.  
At least two generations of one branch of my family lived in Berkeley County, Virginia (which later became West Virginia) before they migrated to central Kentucky.  After staying there for a generation, they moved to Indiana for two generations, then to extreme western Kentucky in an area known as Madrid Bend or Kentucky Bend.  What motivated each of these moves?  Did they have the Daniel Boone mindset that wanted to go westward away from the crowds or was it primarily economics - the allure of land ownership?  I want to know these things.  I want to know how my ancestors dealt with the issues of a frontier society.  While many of the answers are buried, a few are there to be discovered and that is what drives me.  That is “Why Genealogy.”

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tracking Down James Champion

James Champion was my great great grandfather.  He was one of nine children born to John Champion and Mary Polly (Cannon) Champion.  James was born in Washington County, Kentucky, in either 1802 or 1808 and later moved to Perry County, Indiana, where he married, had children and died about 1845.  

Pinning down James’ travels from Kentucky to Indiana has always been of particular interest to me.  I have a theory concerning his route and timing based in part on documentation that is available and in part on my interpretation of the known facts.
Some think that James was born in 1802 but I believe the year was 1808.  In his Last Will and Testament, my great great great grandfather, John Champion, listed all five of his sons and James was listed next to last.  As a practicing attorney for almost a quarter of a century, I've written hundreds of Wills and I know it to be customary to list children in birth order.  If John followed this pattern, it would put James with an 1808 birth date.  If that is accurate, he was only 3 years of age when his father died in 1811.  
I believe Ruth Champion, older sister of James, took on part of the role of caregiver for young James when his father died.  Ruth was 16 at the time and Mary Polly, mother of James and Ruth, may have spent much of her time caring for her mother, Elizabeth Cannon. We know that Elizabeth joined the Shaker community in 1815 and died in 1822.  Although she did not formally join the community, we also believe Mary Polly was heavily involved with the Shakers, possibly in connection with the care of her mother.  If this is the case, it is likely that Ruth took up the slack in raising James and his younger brother, Joseph.
It is likely that Ruth and James stayed in Washington County at least until their grandmother died in 1822.  Sometime after 1822 and prior to 1826, Ruth moved to Crawford County, Indiana, a county that adjoins Perry County to the northeast.  We know that Ruth married William McMurtry in 1826 in Crawford County.  Volumes could be written about Ruth's husband, William McMurtry, (and much has been) since he was a larger-than-life figure in his community.  He was clearly a highly respected citizen who became a State Senator and eventually the Lieutenant Governor of Illinois after he and Ruth moved to Knox County, Illinois in 1829.  Since Ruth helped to raise James and Ruth's husband was likely a major influence on James, James named his first child William McMurtry Champion.  It is for these reasons that I believe James followed Ruth and her husband to Crawford County, Indiana sometime between 1822 and 1829.  
When Ruth and William moved to Knox County, Illinois in 1829, I believe James stayed behind.  James' older brother, Thomas, is listed in the 1830 census for Perry County, Indiana as head of a household with five males ages twenty to thirty.  Although I have no direct evidence, I believe one of these males was James.  It's only logical that he stayed in the Crawford/Perry County area when Ruth and William moved to Illinois in 1829 because we know that James married Elizabeth V. Langdon in Perry County in 1834 and they had two children there in the next couple of years, one being William McMurtry Champion and the other being my great grandfather, Francis A. Champion.  
James does not appear as the head of a household in the 1840 census for Perry County but I believe he and Elizabeth lived with a family member of Elizabeth, perhaps Lemuel C. Langdon.  Lemuel may have been Elizabeth’s father but that has not been established.  After James death around 1845, Lemuel was appointed guardian of James and Elizabeth’s oldest child, William McMurtry Champion, by the Perry County Probate Court in February, 1846.  Lemuel does not appear in a Perry County census until 1860 but the guardianship papers for William McMurtry Champion refer to Lemuel as “a discrete citizen of this county.”     
An interesting side note involves the guardianship.  Why was a guardian appointed for William McMurtry Champion but none for his younger brother, Francis A. Champion?  I’ll raise three possibilities.  First, William may have been given property, perhaps by William and Ruth McMurtry, while Francis had none.  This would necessitate a “guardian of the estate” but not a “guardian of the person” since William’s mother, Elizabeth, was still alive.  Secondly, could it be that Elizabeth was not the mother of William McMurtry Champion?  That’s a possibility, but unlikely.  Third, was Francis the child of another Champion family member who had died and he had been placed with James and Elizabeth under a guardianship from a Probate Court in another county.  I’ve found no record of another guardianship so I put little stock in this possibility.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Champion Family Cemetery - Shakertown

An interesting cemetery for the Champion family lies near Shakertown in Mercer County, Kentucky.  It's called the Champion Family Graveyard.  The oldest Champion buried there is John Hawkins Champion, who was born Sept. 30, 1820 and died Jan. 29, 1905.  His wife, Sarah Embry Munday Champion is also buried there along with three of their five children.

This branch of the Champion family is descended from James Champion, the brother of John, Elizabeth Joseph and Thomas Champion of Berkeley County, West Virginia.

I've not been to the cemetery but I'm told the gravestones placed by the Shakers are of soft limestone that is mostly unreadable today.  Additionally, most of the Shaker gravestones only contained initials, not full names or other identifying information.  An example of one with the initials "MC" is above.  This might be the gravestone of Mary Champion but cannot be verified.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Update on Yesterday's Shaker Village Post

There is a "Champion Family Graveyard" near Shakertown.  I was searching for "Champion Cemetery" on the Find-A-Grave website.  I must remember to be a little more flexible in my searches.  I'll update my findings from this cemetery in a later post.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Shaker Village in Mercer County, KY

I have a bit of additional information concerning the Champion family involvement with the Shaker Community in Mercer County, Kentucky.  I've learned that Mary Champion, an older sister of my great great grandfather, James Champion, joined the Shaker community in 1817 and remained a member until her death in 1829.  I've also confirmed that James Champion's mother-in-law, Elizabeth Cannon, joined the community in 1815 and remained a member until her death in 1822.  Christina Cannon also joined the community in 1815.  I believe Christina was the wife of Thomas Cannon, a brother of Mary Polly (Cannon) Champion.

I also learned that the "Champion Farm" was originally located near or possibly even adjoining the original Shakertown property.  I am speculating that it was owned by John Champion, my great great great grandfather.

Carl Champion, a third cousin once removed of mine from Tell City, Indiana, has told me about a Champion Cemetery in Mercer County near Shakertown.  It isn't on a road.  To reach it, you must walk a distance across a field.  Carl indicated that he didn't know the owner of the field and decided not to make the walk.  Lari, a lady who works in the library at Shaker Village, confirmed the general location of the cemetery and indicated that she was there many years ago.  Incidentally, the cemetery is not listed in the Find-A-Grave website.  If anyone in the family who live in that area and are willing to scout it out and take photos of gravestones, I would be grateful.