Recent Finds

Submitted for your approval: an assortment of recent items found while mining the family history websites and databases that I have free access to via my local library’s digital network. These finds cover both sides of my family and, in some cases, presumably extends my pedigree back several generations.

Marriage & Military

Up first are military records of my third great-grandfather on my mother’s side, Col. David Dobbs of the great state of Georgia. He served for many years in the Georgia militia and began his career as an officer with the rank of Third Lieutenant in the 4th (Booth’s) Regiment during the Creek War of 1814. I discuss David’s movements during this period in my book, Gathering Leaves.

I found also a record of his service during the First Seminole War. During that time, he was a First Lieutenant in the 2nd Regiment (Little’s) of the Georgia militia

Following the First Seminole War, which was fought mainly in northern Florida, David married Elizabeth, the daughter of Patrick McMullan. Elizabeth McMullan was my third great-grandmother. She and David were married on 28 April 1819. The ceremony was officiated by David’s brother, John, who was the Justice of Peace of Elbert County. I found the record of this event attached to their person records at familysearch.org.

Long Lines

I first signed on with familysearch.org many years ago, and I used it then primarily for its free access to the U.S. Census of 1850. I recently rediscovered that the website has far more to offer today than it did when I last visited over a decade ago. In addition to free access to images of primary records, the website boasts having the world’s largest online family tree. And recently, I have been spending a lot of time exploring it. To make a connection to the shareable family tree. I had only to enter myself, my parents, and my four grandparents, at which point the website started making the rest of the connections for me. It was not long before the tree began to take shape in the form that I was already very familiar with, but it also connected me to branches of which I was previously unaware. One branch that caught my eye was one that I call the Morgan branch.

This was a branch extending from my fourth great-grandmother, Zilphia Morgan, wife of Nathanial Prothro, ancestors on my mother’s side. Zilphia and Nathaniel were first cousins by way of their grandfather, William Morgan. This line extends the pedigree 14 generations from Zilphia through her father, Solomon Morgan. I was scanning through the pedigree to see if I could discern any relationship between Zilphia and the legendary Nancy Hart of colonial Georgia (Nancy’s maiden name was Morgan) when I found something that did not look right.

The tree indicated that my 10th great-grandparents, William Morgan and Lady Elizabeth Morgan, were brother and sister. However, it did not take long to determine that was a mistake.

Yes, a man named William Morgan did marry a woman named Elizabeth Morgan. Yet, while her line goes back several generations, only William Morgan’s father is known, and therefore any further relationship between William and his wife is unknown. It is not clear why, after apparently a lot of discussion, the error remains unfixed. This branch requires further research, and I will provide more information about the Morgan branch in the future post.

(Update: I have since determined that Zilphia Morgan and the legendary Nancy Anne Morgan Hart were distant cousins; something like 7th cousins once removed.)

Precht Family in New York.

Sophia Precht, an ancestor on my mother’s side, was the mother of my great-grandmother Helen Spiegel Dobbs. She died sometime in the 1880s when Helen was just a child. I found four-year-old Sophia Precht and her family in New York City in the U.S. Census of 1850. They were also located in the New York State census of 1855.

U.S. Census 1850 New York City.
New York State Census 1855

One issue that I see with the records shown here is that Sophia’s older sister Margaret who would have been eight years old in 1850, is missing from the census record of that year. She does appear on the census taken by New York state in 1855 and on the U.S. Census of 1860 when she was 18 years old.

A Possible Connection

One of the mysteries that I hope to solve someday is the origin story for my second great-grandfather, George C Spiegel. We know that George Spiegel was born in 1839. Along with their first son, George and his wife Sophia appeared in the U.S. Census of 1870, living in Savannah, Georgia. His occupation is shown as a cigarmaker; his birthplace, Sachsen (Saxony). His wife, Sophia, is shown as having been born in New York. Unless her family had moved to Savannah before the couple was married, it seems more than likely that they would have been married in her hometown of New York City. And yet, I have not been able to locate a record of their marriage. Also, George C Spiegel does not appear in any census records for New York (or anywhere else for that matter.) At the start of the Civil War, George would have been 22 years old. He would at least have appeared on a draft registry.

The other day I found two records bearing the name George Spiegel. Both are military records that would connect him to New York City. The first is a draft registry from Draft Week July 1863. It lists George C Spiegel, 22 years old, a “segarmaker” born in Germany.

New York State Draft Registration July 1863

The second item I found was a record showing that a 23-year-old George Spiegel enlisted a few days after the Battle of Antietam on 22 September 1862. This page from the New York muster rolls shows that he enlisted in New York City for three years and was enrolled as a private company E of the 58th volunteer Regiment, New York Infantry. Further, it shows that he was mustered out on 12 September 1863 as a private in the Veteran Reserve Corps.

According to Wikipedia, the 58th Regiment was known as the Polish Legion. It was composed almost entirely of immigrant volunteers: Poles, Germans, Danes, Italians, Russians, and Frenchmen, most of whom were recruited at New York City in 1861. According to census records, George C Spiegel was born in Sachsen, a region in eastern Germany. In July 1863, the unit saw heavy action at the Battle of Gettysburg, and at the national battlefield, there stands a monument to the 58th New York volunteer Infantry.

Monument to the 58th New York Volunteer Infantry at Gettysburg

While this is a fascinating find, I feel like more evidence is needed to link the George C Spiegel of 1870 Savannah, Georgia to the George Spiegel of New York City in the 1860s. I still want to find a census or a marriage record that would place him in New York.

There is also a discrepancy between the two military records that I recently found. It is not clear to me that the individual listed in the draft registry from July 1863 is the same man who served in the 58th New York Regiment from September 1862 to September 1863.

Anyone who has seen Martin Scorsese’s The Gangs of New York will recall the scenes of the horrific Draft Riots in New York City in July 1863. The riots, which lasted over four days, resulted in the death of over 100 people, 2000 were injured, and millions of dollars of damage. It was the largest civil and most racially charged urban disturbance in American history. After four days of rioting, US Army soldiers returning from Gettysburg were sent into Manhatten to quell the riots.

I will add that I have been researching the cigar-making industry, for which George was employed for over 50 years. I hope to post something soon to explain why a cigar maker in New York City in the 1860s would want to relocate to Savannah, Georgia, after the Civil War.

Actes de Décès de DeBacker

Another important find is the Actes de Décès (death record) of my third great-grandfather Arnold Françoise DeBacker (1803-1872). It is an excellent example of an official record written in the format dictated by the Napoleonic Code. During the Napoleonic wars at the start of the 19th century, the young nation of Belgium and several countries in Europe adopted the Civil Code of the French. Someone needs only a basic understanding of the French language to translate one of these records, the main reason being that they are always written in the same format.

The above record states that in 1872 on 15 April at 10 o’clock in the morning, John Baptiste De Keyser, Bourgmeister, an officer of the state and the city of Renaix (Ronse), in the administrative district of Oudenarde, in the province of East Flanders, was met by Emile Gyselings, age 29 years, a son-in-law of the decedent, who previously lived someplace else for 14 years and now lives in the city of Renaix, who informed “us” of the death of Arnold Françoise DeBacker, age 79 years and 11 months, who was born in Neukirke and has lived in Renaix with his wife, Sophia Françoise Callwaert. He was the son of Andre DeBacker and Anne-Marie Vandendale, and he died in Renaix at 6 o’clock on 13 April. The witnesses signed this document after it was read to them. Below the statement are three signatures: Gyselings DeBacker, the second signature is difficult to read, and the third signature is the Bourgmeister De Keyser.

I believe the son-in-law identified in the record to be Emile Louis Gysclinck, the husband of Arnold’s daughter, Marie Flore Apoline DeBacker.

The Way Back Machine

Finally, I found another long pedigree line dating back to the middle of the 14th century. This pedigree line was an extension of a line of which I was already aware. There are a total of three lines that connect me to an ancestor on my father’s side named Hermes Van Copenolle, who lived in the 1500s. He was my 11th great-grandfather. I discovered that other researchers have extended this line back 200 years to an ancestor named Adelaert de Coppenhole, who lived in the 1300s. Adelaert would be my 18th great-grandfather.

When I think of 14th-century Flanders, I immediately conjure pictures of constant warfare between the Flemish and the French, a great famine that killed thousands upon thousands of people, and a plague that killed even more thousands, and in doing so, I wonder how in the hell our ancestors survived that. Compared to the Black Death, which lasted from 1346 to 1353, the Pandemic of 2020/21 was a walk in the park.

It is estimated that between 75 million and 200 million people died from the plague, spreading from Asia to Europe and North Africa. This horrific event was preceded by another calamity known as the Great Famine (1315-1317), which killed off a large portion of the population in the early 14th-century.

Added to this, the West Flanders region in which Adelaert de Coppenhole lived had become a constant battlefield. Starting back in the 13th century, the king of France had decided to assert control over the nearly independent region known as the County of Flanders. His claim was based on a ninth-century arrangement that granted authority over Flanders to the king of France. There are two things to note about Adelaert de Coppenhole and his son Fransoys van Coppenhole: Adelaert’s surname bears the French-style while Françoise’s is in the Flemish-style. Also, the city where Fransoys lived, Courtrai (Kortrijk), was the scene of a famous battle between French knights and a Flemish peasant army in 1302.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, the Battle of the Golden Spurs became an important cultural reference point for the Flemish Movement. In 1973, the battle date was chosen to be the date of the official holiday of the Flemish Community in Belgium. In the 19th century, the battle was romanticized in the first modern novel written in the Flemish language. The Lion of Flanders, written by Hendrick Conscience, was published in 1838.

This new pedigree line, which adds seven generations and stretches back to my 18th great-grandfather, is unfortunately unsourced and requires further research.

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