Monday, August 14, 2017

My Genealogy Road Trip

I've mentioned in previous posts that some day I'd like to take a genealogy road trip to Haddam, Connecticut to do research on the earliest generations of my Ackley line. Well, that trip is still on my to-do list, but recently I was able to take a less ambitious genealogy road trip that I'd like to report on.


I've always been a planner, and this trip was no different. Given that my time at each location was going to be limited, I made an outline of the information I planned to look for at each library, court house, cemetery, etc. so that I could maximize the time spent actually doing research. The outline included name, address, phone number, and types of records available for each place I planned on visiting, as well as the names of the people I wanted to research as well as the types of information I hoped to find. I found some very good information about research resources on the web site of the local genealogy society in Akron which was very helpful in filling out my outline; if you are planning a research trip I would highly recommend consulting the genealogy society at the location to which you are traveling.

Some other things that I brought with me included my laptop, a lightweight flatbed scanner, and quarters -- lots of quarters (to pay for copying). Although technically not considered portable, the scanner I brought is small enough and light enough to fit easily in my back pack along with my laptop, notebooks, and other office supplies. A truly portable scanner would probably be easier, but I find the quality of the scans from a flatbed scanner to be much better than the scans obtained from running a wand-type scanner over a document multiple times. I also found that the libraries I visited were fine with me using the scanner to make copies of anything I wanted; I always asked a librarian if it was OK before I used it. The scanner also came in handy when visiting cousins (see below), who were very generous in sharing pictures and documents with me. Turns out I didn't need all those quarters since almost everyone let me use my scanner.

Akron, Ohio

The main focus of this trip was to conduct research on my 3rd great grandfather, Gibbons Jewett Ackley, and 2nd great grandfather, Franklin Cady Ackley, who lived in Akron. Gibbons was one of the earlier settlers in the area, arriving in 1834 and living there until his death in 1851. Franklin was born in Akron in 1841 and lived there until 1865. Although I had already collected a lot of information on this part of my family through correspondence with the local library and court house, I wanted to go there in person to see if there was anything I was missing.

My first stop in Akron was the Summit County Fiscal Office. This office holds all land records for the county, and I was hoping to find records of my 3rd great grandfather Gibbons Ackley's land ownership. It turns out that Summit County has digitized all of their land records, and they have self service computers available for patrons to do searches and print whatever they want on their own, which was very convenient (I did use a few of those quarters for this).

Unfortunately the records didn't begin until a year or so after Gibbons' death so there were no records for him, but I did find many pages of records for his wife Amanda's land purchases and sales. Apparently after Gibbons' death she supported herself at least partially by buying and selling property as well as renting her properties to store/shop owners.

An example of a deed record for Amanda Ackley

I also spent a couple of days at the Akron-Summit County Public Library. This is a very nice library with a large genealogy department that is very helpful. I had corresponded with the library in the past concerning some newspaper articles that I had requested from them, but being there in person and being able to see everything they have in their collections was definitely worth the trip. I made heavy use of their microfilms of the local newspapers, local history books, and old maps of the area. I was able to scan a very large map of Akron from 1856 in pieces, which I then was able to "stitch" together with software.

Akron-Summit County Library [1]

The other location I spent time at in Akron was Glendale Cemetery (formerly known as Akron Rural Cemetery). Glendale is a beautiful, historic cemetery that was founded in 1839. My 3rd great grandfather was one of the founders of the cemetery, and there are many Ackley ancestors buried there.

Glendale Cemetery Caretaker's Lodge [2]

I had a little trouble finding the plot where most of my ancestors are buried. As it turns out, most of their headstones have fallen over and are buried beneath a few inches of dirt. There is one small headstone still surviving that is readable that I finally found, and I was able to use that to get my bearings on the plot. Although they are no longer readable, I did find other ancestor's headstones that had toppled over and gotten buried over the years. Fortunately I have a photo taken years ago by a 4th cousin when the headstones were still standing. As well maintained as this historic cemetery seems to be, it was a surprise (and a disappointment) to learn that when old headstones fall over, they are left where they fall and many eventually get covered by dirt over time.

Canton and Massillon, Ohio

I spent some time in Canton and Massillon, both in Stark County just south of Akron, doing some research on Maria (Jeannerette) Ackley, my 2nd great grandmother and wife of Franklin Cady Ackley, Sr. I am preparing a future post about Maria and the sometimes frustrating search for her family, so I won't spend any time here discussing the details of her story. I spent parts of two days at the Stark County District Library in Canton, and part of another day at the smaller Massillon Library. While I didn't find anything that helped me knock down the brick wall associated with Maria, I did find a few useful tidbits of information that added to her story. I found the staffs of both libraries to be very friendly and helpful.

I also went to the Massillon City Cemetery to look for information on a woman who I believe might be Maria's aunt. Since Maria's family represents a major brick wall for me, I am researching any and all relatives I can find in hopes of finding links back to her immediate family. I found a picture of this woman's headstone on Find-A-Grave, so I knew she was buried there. When I went to the cemetery office, the nice lady there checked her computer records as well as some old record books she had. She could not find a thing about the burial I was searching for, but she was able to direct me to the section of the cemetery where the burial was supposedly located according to Find-A-Grave. I parked my car and stepped out, expecting to have to hunt for a while to find the grave in question. As luck would have it, the grave was right there next to my car, so I took pictures of it and all of the graves around it so I could report back to the lady in the office to help her with her records. She was happy to have the information, and a couple of weeks later she called me to let me know that she did indeed find a record of the burial in a very old record book in the office that she hadn't thought to look in when I was there. Ultimately there was no additional information in her records that was useful to me, but I was happy to have helped the cemetery straighten out their records.

Chardon, Ohio

My final stop in Ohio was the small town of Chardon. Before settling in Akron, my 3rd great grandfather and his family had lived in Chardon for a few years and had owned a store there. When I drove into the town it reminded me of a New England town, with a town square at its center. The small local library was on one side of the square; I headed straight there to see what they had. The genealogy department was small, and although I didn't find a lot of new information, the information I got from the local newspapers on my 3rd great grandfather's business made the drive to Chardon worthwhile.

Adrian, Michigan

Adrian is the town where my 2nd great grandfather Franklin eventually settled after he left Akron as a young man. This town was not originally on my list of places I intended to visit on this trip, but when I looked at the route I would be taking from Akron to my hometown in Wisconsin, I discovered that the interstate I would be on would take me within 25 miles of Adrian. So I decided to make a short detour to see the town and visit the cemetery where my 2nd great grandfather is buried.

My first stop in Adrian was at Oakwood Cemetery. Oakwood is another historic, well-maintained cemetery. My 2nd great grandfather and grandmother, Franklin and Maria Ackley are buried there, as well as their son Charles, who died at a young age from scarlet fever. When I first started researching this part of my family I learned that Franklin did not have a marker on his grave; since he was a Civil War veteran I filled out the paperwork to get him a marker from the Veteran's Administration and had it installed on his plot. Although I had a picture of the headstone that was sent to me by the cemetery superintendent after it was installed, I had never been to the grave in person, so I was happy to have the opportunity to visit the cemetery on this trip. One of the cemetery workers knew exactly where the graves were, and he was nice enough to take me straight there, which saved me some time.

With time running short because I was on my way to meet a cousin (see below), I decided to just drive down Main Street to see what it looked like. My 2nd great grandfather had had a business on Main Street when he lived in Adrian, and although the building where he worked was no longer there, there were some nicely preserved buildings from that era (1880s-1890s) that caught my interest. The building below had a date of 1898 on it, and it was across the street from where I figured my 2nd great grandfather had his business. It was a pretty neat feeling to be walking down the street and seeing some of the same things he saw 120 years ago.


The final stop on my trip was at my hometown of Pewaukee, Wisconsin (just west of Milwaukee). The major reason for going there was to visit my dad and sister, but I can never go there without doing some genealogy research since so many of my more recent ancestors settled in Milwaukee.

One of the places I visited while in Wisconsin was the cemetery in the small town of Watertown, about 30 miles west and a little bit north of my equally small hometown. My great grandmother on my maternal grandmother's side of the family was born there and was supposedly buried in Lutheran Cemetery. The town had a large German population, and there are three Lutheran cemeteries in the same neighborhood, so things got a little confusing. Two of the cemeteries are actually adjoining each other, with not even a fence separating them. I finally figured out that Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery was the correct cemetery, and fortunately the superintendent was there so he was able to look up the burial for me.

With his help I was able to locate my great grandmother's headstone pretty quickly, as well as headstones for a couple of her sisters. I learned from the cemetery records that her father and mother were also buried there, although there were no headstones on their plots. I also got some new information that indicates that my great grandmother may have had another sister that I didn't know about; there was another burial in the family plot (the records indicated she was a baby). I need to do some research to confirm this.

My Great Grandmother's Headstone (married name Jones, maiden name Misegades)

I spent a day at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee doing some research at the Area Research Center operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society (see "Link of the Day" below for more information). This facility is located at the university library, and has all kinds of paper as well as microfilm records for the counties in the southeastern part of the state. The microfilm records include extensive birth, marriage, death, probate, and tax records for the mid-to-late 19th and early 20th centuries. The use of the records is free, and you can make electronic copies of anything on microfilm for free, so I have made heavy use of this resource to gather records for my Wisconsin ancestors.

German language obituaries were the object of my research at the Milwaukee Public Library on this trip. The library building itself is a spectacular old building both inside and out that has been nicely restored, and the genealogy and local history room is large and well-stocked with a variety of resources.

Milwaukee Public Library [3]

Milwaukee was home to many German immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century, and most of my non-Ackley ancestors were German. There were close to 20 German newspapers in Milwaukee during that time, and fortunately there is a local genealogist who has made it his mission in life to index the obituaries in these newspapers. The library has most of these newspapers on microfilm, and I was able to find about a dozen obituaries for my German ancestors in an afternoon at the library.

The final cemetery I visited to look for ancestors' headstones was Union Cemetery in Milwaukee. My sister came with me on this excursion -- little by little I am trying to get her interested in this genealogy hobby of mine. Union Cemetery is in a not so nice part of town, and the cemetery itself is pretty run down and not very well maintained. On top of that, there is no rhyme or reason to the way the sections are laid out in the cemetery, so we had a tough time just finding the correct section to search for our ancestors. Unfortunately we were not able to find the headstones we were looking for (we did find the correct section); either they never existed or had long since been broken or destroyed (this was a very old section of the cemetery).

Meeting Cousins

The most satisfying aspect to this trip was meeting some "new" cousins along the way. I didn't start out planning to meet any of these people on this trip, but as I was planning the trip I was contacted by a fourth cousin on my mother's side of the family who I had begun communicating with when we discovered a DNA match. It turns out he was planning a genealogy road trip of his own (much more ambitious than mine) to do some research on some of his ancestors who had lived in Wisconsin. It so happened that our trips would overlap in Wisconsin, so we arranged to meet for lunch. That gave me the idea to contact some other cousins I have been in touch with who lived along my route to see if they'd like to meet, and they all said yes.

The first cousin I visited was Joyce, my dad's first cousin. I had actually met Joyce once before (I tracked her down when I found some of her genealogy information online), but it had been several years since our first meeting, and I welcomed the opportunity to catch up with her and her husband. They had recently moved to the same town where their son Jeff (my second cousin, who I had never met) lived, so it was an added bonus that he would be joining us for lunch so I could meet him. Even though Joyce and I don't know each other very well, we managed to talk about family for over 3 hours. And she had some photos of our family that I had never seen, which she was kind enough to let me scan. I also learned that my great grandfather had tried his hand at oil painting -- something I never would have expected knowing his background as a factory worker and foreman in a straw hat factory. Joyce had one of his paintings on her wall, and when she pulled it off the wall to show it to me she revealed that there was also a painting on the back; my great grandfather was known as a frugal man and probably painted on both sides of the canvas to save money. The painting was a portrait of a woman; Joyce had no idea who it was. But it was no mystery to me -- it was definitely my grandmother (his daughter-in-law), and I had the photograph of her that my great grandfather had obviously used as the model for his painting. Learning this type of information about ancestors is what makes genealogy so interesting to me. As much as I like doing the research and finding all the puzzle pieces that tend to tell a person's story, knowing these personal and sometimes surprising details makes it all the more enjoyable.

My great grandfather's painting and the photo that inspired it

The next cousin I met on my trip was Greg, a 4th cousin once removed on my mother's maternal side of the family. Greg and I first made contact a few years ago while communicating about our DNA match. Along with the help of another cousin from that part of the family (who I met earlier this year on a trip to California), we have managed to work together to knock down some long standing brick walls. As mentioned above, Greg had traveled to Chicago and then Wisconsin from California on a genealogy road trip himself, doing research on some of his ancestors who had lived in the area. Like me, Greg is a planner and had his trip jam packed with research activities in several different towns across the state, but we managed to catch up with each other in Appleton, which is about an hour and a half from my home town. My sister Karen went with me, and we had a very enjoyable lunch with Greg and his wife Barbara. We managed to talk for over two hours until it was time for Greg and Barbara to move on to their next stop.

From the left: Me, my sister Karen, Greg's wife Barbara, and Greg

The final group of cousins I met were on my mother's paternal side of the family. Chuck (my 2nd cousin once removed) and his wife Marsha invited me into their home for lunch, and also invited David (another 2nd cousin once removed), his wife Linda, and Joanne (the wife of a third 2nd cousin once removed who has passed away). As was the case with Greg, my communication with Chuck had begun because we had a DNA match on Ancestry.

After a delicious lunch of bratwurst and German potato salad in honor of our German ancestors, we spent the entire afternoon sharing what we knew about our ancestors. This group had a wealth of information about our common ancestors (my 2nd great grandparents), including many pictures I had never seen, silver that belonged to my 2nd great grandmother, and furniture that was built by my 2nd great grandfather, who was a carpenter. Chuck also had a copy of the same family tree scroll that my mother had, which somehow got lost when my parents moved the last time. He had made a copy of it, and generously gave me the original because he knew how much it meant to me. Once again I left feeling that I knew a lot more about my ancestors because of the personal stories that my new cousins had been willing to share with me.

Chair built by my 2nd great grandfather

Silver belonging to my 2nd great grandmother on top of a wooden chest built by my 2nd great grandfather

A portion of the family tree scroll; the full scroll is 12 feet long and goes back to the year 1600

My advice would be if you have a chance to meet cousins, no matter how close or distant, take every advantage of it!

Discussion Questions

  • Has anyone taken a genealogy road trip? If so, where did you go?
  • If you have taken a genealogy road trip, did you learn anything new or surprising about your ancestors?
  • What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about taking a genealogy road trip?

Link of the Day

Today's link is for the Wisconsin Historical Society's Area Research Center Network. The Wisconsin Historical Society has divided the state into 13 regions and has placed loads of good research materials in each of those regions, typically at a university library. The UWM library mentioned above is one of those centers. If you have any research to do in Wisconsin, I would recommend consulting this website to see which region your ancestor lived in and then finding out what types of research materials that region has available.

Quote of the Day

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."

-- Sir Winston Churchill


1. Akron-Summit County Public Library,

2. Glendale Cemetery,

3. Milwaukee Public Library,

1 comment:

  1. Great adventure, Mike! My genealogy road trip is a fantastic memory for me. I went to Chicago to find my maternal grandmother's history. The city had changed all the street names/numbers, so the first step was in the city library translating her birth certificate into modern addresses. At that time, 1890, the area was where all the German immigrants lived. It had since become Chinatown. Her actual address was replaced by supports for a freeway! I wandered around there, asking where the parish records might have been moved, and got some leads. It was so much fun asking current residents what they knew about 1800's residents! I found a church where the person who answered the door had written a history book about "my" people! We managed to find paper records of my ancestors, too. It was the most fun I've had with genealogy!