Aug 24, 2012

Carnival of Genealogy: Emotional Discovery in My Research

The topic for the September 2012 edition of the Carnival of Genealogy is Great Discoveries.  Those genealogy discoveries that that make you do the happy dance, break through a brick wall or are significant to you for whatever reason.  So I of course had to write about my great grandfather Eugene Ellsworth Lammay.  Eugene has been the driving force in my genealogy research for 30 years (and my biggest brick wall), as well as the reason I started genealogy so long ago.

Eugene "disappeared" around 1920.  My grandmother claimed they do not know what happened to him.  Along with my Mom, I started researching with the goal of finding his place of burial so my grandmother would know what happened to him.  I have not yet reached that goal and both my Mom and Grandma have passed on but it is still a top priority.
The Elusive Eugene Ellsworth Lammay
Right before my Grandmother died she broke down and told us that when Eugene left the family he ran away with Emma Huber Schultz.  Emma was about 10 years younger than him and his niece (by marriage).  I have also hit a dead end with tracing Emma past 1900.

Any information about Eugene or his family has been significant to me in hopes of bringing me closer to finding him.  I have discovered many facts and uncovered more "secrets" over the years concerning the Lammay family.  But one discovery stands out because it was unexpected and surprisingly proved to be emotional for me.  My great discovery was finding another woman he had children with--in addition to his suspected relationship with Emma.

I have been fortunate that the Lammay name is not common.  I have found in my research that if the last name was LammAy (lots of other LammEy's) they are somehow related to Eugene.  As I would do census searches on Lammay a pair of siblings Stephen and Eva Lammay kept popping up.  This baffled me because they lived in Washington County, PA which my Lammay's had no connection.  At first I (stupidly) ignored them, figuring I finally found a Lammay who was not connected because Stephen and Eva's mother's name was Sarah not Emma.  Plus they were born in 1880 and 1883.  During these years I knew Eugene was living with my great grandmother Katherine (they married in 1880).  I just assumed his "wandering ways" started later in life.

Than I found Stephen's WWI draft registration.  I was stopped dead in my tracks when it said he was born in Natrona, PA.  The Natrona area was where Eugene grew up.  He lived there with my great grandmother until about 1900 or so when they moved to the City of Pittsburgh.  There had to be a connection.  I honestly at this time did not think of Eugene as their father.  I suspected maybe one of his brothers had a previous marriage I did not know about.

I first searched for and found the obituaries of Stephen, Eva, and their mother Sarah Lowery.   There it was---Eugene Lammay listed as Stephen's father.  Eugene Lammay listed as the father of Sarah's children Stephen and Eva.  It had to be my Eugene.  There was no evidence of any other Eugene Lammay in the Natrona area.  I sent for Stephen's death certificate, Eugene Lammay was listed as his father.

This was an unexpected find.  I knew he may have run off with Emma and possibly had children but I did not expect to find another additional family.   Also what I did not expect was to have a genealogy discovery upset me.  It would now appear he was cheating from the start of his marriage to my great grandmother Katherine.  I was beginning to understand why grandma and her sisters would always say their mother "died of a broken heart".

I know from the 1880 census that in May 1880 Eugene was married and living with Katherine and that they had married within that year.  Stephen Lammay was born in May 1880.  Which means he probably married Katherine when Sarah was pregnant with his child.  By using the birthdate of Eva I determined that he "renewed" his relationship with Sarah Lowery at the same time my great grandmother Katherine was about 8-9 months pregnant with twins.  Or possibly he never stopped seeing Sarah from the beginning of his marriage to Katherine.

This raised so many questions that I cannot answer.  Did my grandmother know she had two additional half siblings?  Did Katherine and Sarah know about each other?  It was not like they were in different states, they all lived in the same area.  If my grandmother knew about these siblings she never told us.  I have never been able to connect with any descendants from Stephen or Eva who knew anything about Eugene.  Was he a part of their lives?  They did use the Lammay name, not Lowery nor the name of Sarah's husband when she married sometime before 1900 and moved to Washington County, PA.

These deceptions can be "amusing" bits of info that makes our reserch more interesting.  But this hit close to home.  Grandma seemed to have a soft spot for her father Eugene but also had pain and embarressment.  She would end any story about him with "Don't ever tell anybody how he deserted the family" (sorry Grandma!).  So it definitely was difficutlt for her.  For awhile I felt like Eugene did not deserve the top shining spot in my research and I was actually mad at him.

These feelings made me realize that the ancestors we are researching were real people.  Because we have never met most of our "subjects" they can become like characters in a novel.  At least that happens for me.  My mind always wonders and "fills in" those missing bits of information that cannot be found in records.  Then I many times say "Wow, this would make a great book".  But they were real ordinary people who made mistakes, some were good people, some were not so good.  Plus the bottom line is we never really know the whole story without interviewing our ancestors.  If someone has figured out a way to do that please let me know.  I still have many, many unanswered questions.


  1. What a great story and welcome to Geneabloggers.

    Regards, Jim
    Genealogy Blog at Hidden Genealogy Nuggets

  2. I can see how that discovery could grab your emotions. While we may have never met these ancestors, they are still a part of us.

    Glad to have found your blog today via GeneaBloggers. Looking forward to reading more.

  3. Fascinating story! I understand your feelings, entirely. I have a similar situation I am trying to decipher, however, it takes places in Shropshire, England in early 1600s. Great site! Good luck finding out what happened to your mystery man!

  4. Welcome to the GeneaBloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories" and family saga novels:
    "Back to the Homeplace" and "The Homeplace Revisited"
    The Heritage Tourist at In-Depth Genealogist:

  5. Great story of your research journey! It is amazing the secrets people keep. My own family has a few! You have a lovely blog.

  6. Thank you everyone for your comments and the welcome to GeneaBlogger family! One of my favorite things about it are the Daily themes also, I hope to do more thank just Tombstone Tuesday in the future.

  7. This is a wonderful article, not just about your discovery and it's significance in your family's history but also about the emotion you felt. Thanks for a good read and for sharing your story in the Carnival of Genealogy!

  8. What an incredible story. It really brings things alive to see our ancestors flaws and think about how they must have felt. Thank you for sharing it.

  9. Great story and well told. For me, if I am not emotionally involved in the stories of my ancestors, I don't do them justice.
    BRW, really liked this line "we never really know the whole story without interviewing our ancestors" and I might add,"and also interviewing our ancestors' ancestors. Thanks.

  10. Wow, that is quite a discovery - and a fascinating story! Did Stephen or Eva leave any descendants? You might be able to get additional information on Eugene if they did. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Wanted to add my appreciation to you for such a good article! Welcome to geneablogging & our growing "family"! I look forward to reading more of your posts. I hope you discover more information about your gr-grandfather.

  12. Thanks to all for the kink comments on my story!

  13. Always remember that our ancestors were real flesh and blood people who lived their lives the best that they could. Sometimes they made mistakes, sometimes they did things that we can not understand. But they are our family - good or bad. I have an ancestor that ran to California to get away from his family, and then years later she tracked him down and moved the family to California. Bet he was surprised when he opened the front door and saw her standing there! I look forward to more of your discoveries

  14. Katherine and Eugene are my ggg grandparents!!! I was simply shocked when I discovered this. Like you, I was completely hurt to make this discovered. It was like searching for the "brick wall ancestor" and then getting smacked in the head with the same brick you're looking for.

    1. Which of their children are you descended from? Always glad to find others researching the Lammay's! If you are the person who sent me an email---I apologize for not responding--I was having difficulty with my email and it accidently got deleted so I could not respond.