Sep 8, 2011

Part 3: Finding Ancestors & Secrets You Didn't Know Existed

This is Part 3 of my experiences finding ancestors and secrets when you did not know they even existed.  You can read the previous posts here Part 1 and Part 2.

As I mentioned in Part 2 my great grandfather Eugene Ellsworth Lammay has been my biggest brick wall and the catalyst in my genealogy research.  He had at least one and possibly two "other" families besides my grandmother's and disappeared around 1920, suspected of running off with another woman.  My plan of action was to find out as much as I could about his parents and siblings, with hopes of leading me to more information about him.  Starting with the 1910 census and working backward I found his parents (Joseph & Anna) and siblings in the census fairly easily all the back to 1870, living in Allegheny County, PA.  From death certificates I knew his mother's maiden name was McKim and that Eugene was born in Chester County, PA.  When I did not find the family in Allegheny Co. in 1860 I thought I was sure to find them easily in Chester Co. because I had the names of the 3 oldest children born prior to 1860. 

They were no where to be found.  Not in Chester or anywhere else for that matter.  I tried a zillion different spellings, omitted birth years in case they were wrong on the census, nothing.  Felt I had hit another brick wall.

So I periodically did these random searches, sometimes searching just first name and age in Chester Co.  Two families kept appearing in the results.  A Joseph Lammey married to a Mary Ann with 8 kids--none of whose names matched my Joseph.  Also a Myers Chalfant married to an Anna with kids Lewis, Clara, and Ida.  This Chalfant family nagged at me because the mother was Anna and the kids names matched the 3 oldest siblings of Eugene.  But I thought it was coincidence and ignored it.

Then I found two other pieces of information that finally made the light bulb go off in my head.  The first was finding the married name of my great grandmother's (Eugene's wife) sister Annie.  Her husband was Lewis Chalfant.  The second was an ancestory.com message board post about the Joseph Lammey married to Mary Ann.  Apparently this Joseph had served in the Civil War as mine had and was said to have abandoned his wife Mary Ann after the war and disappeared.  Very familiar story!

I researched Eugene's brother-in-law, Lewis Chalfant, further and found a death certificate.  There is was.  He was not only Eugene's brother-in-law but also his half brother.  Lewis parents' were Myers Chalfant and Anna McKim.  Further research showed Myers Chalfant was married to an Elizabeth Brown by 1870.

So between 1860 and 1870 somehow Joseph Lammay and Anna McKim hookup up, left their spouses and moved to Allegheny County.  They appeared to try to hide their past.  In the census records and in obituaries the 3 older children were always listed as Lammay's even though they used the last name of Chalfant.

Interestingly both of the "other" spouses met rather tragic ends.  Mary Ann Lammey was left to raise 8 children and was found dead at around age 70 in a pool of blood on her bedroom floor.  There was a coroner's inquest and it was determined she had a stroke causing her to fall and split her head.  Myers Chalfant became a well known farmer and businessman in Deleware Co. where he had moved with his new family.  He hung himself from the rafters in his barn at age 55.  The newspaper article on his death stated there was no known reason to his family for his actions.

The discovery of these secrets leaves me with a big question.  Who was the biological father of my Eugene?  He was born in Nov. 1861.  Eugene's bother Joseph Lammay Jr. was born in 1864 so I am assuming Joseph and Anna were together by that year but I don't really know what events transpired between 1860 and 1870.  Short of exhuming my ancestors for DNA I am not sure I will ever find out. 

Research Tips I Learned From This Experience

  • Broad based searches can produce results, never know what may turn up.
  • If the same results keep appearing in your searches check them out.  Do not assume things are a coincidence without more research.
  • Always check out your ancestor's siblings.  If not for researching my great grandmother's sister I would not have made the Chalfant connection.
While finding these "deep, dark secrets" has made my research more interesting, I almost feel guilty sometimes digging up secrets that my ancestors believed they took with them to their graves.  I do not know if my grandmother knew her father's history.  She was very sensitive about his running off and always told me to "never tell anyone".  She remembered her Aunt Annie who was married to Lewis Chalfant.  But would always give me a stern "NO" when I asked if she remembered Aunt Annie's married name.  I suspect she did know but did not want to share the story.  It rattled me at first finding I may be a Chalfant because the Lammay name was so central to my genealogy.   But in reality I guess none of us really know if we are researching the "right" name.  Plus it gives me more interesting ancestors to investigate!

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