Saturday, May 18, 2024

Who are the Pierponts?

There are two Pierpont/Pierpoint family reunions taking place this summer. The Pierpont Family Association (PFA), who are mostly the descendants of two brothers who came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in about 1640, are having their 101st consecutive reunion at Hammonasett State Park in Connecticut in June. And the Pierpont/Pierpoint family, who are mostly the descendants of Henry Pierpoint who came to Maryland in 1650 are meeting in western Tennessee in September. But there are also family members elsewhere in the US, in Canada, in the UK, and in France.

But who are all these groups of people? Are they all related to each other? And if so, how?

I’ve done a lot of research on behalf of the greater Pierpont family over the years, and I’d like to first pull it together, then list all these various groups and tie them together as best I can.


Beginnings in Normandy

No one disputes that the family had their origins in Normandy, France, in the 900s. While it is not known for certain who was the first person to bear that name, the earliest which has been documented is Sir Hugh de Pierrepont who was born around 980. The name de Pierrepont, meaning of/from the stone bridge, has been the subject of considerable research over the years.

My own contribution to this research can be found here, where I explored the various sites around France and identified the most likely location for where Hugh lived. I’ll not repeat that research here, except to note that the de Pierrepont name can still be found in France now – over 1000 years later!   


Invasion of England

Sir Robert de Pierrepont, a grandson of Sir Hugh, was one of the leaders under William the Conqueror during the Norman invasion of England in 1066. Once the Normans had taken over southern England, Robert was rewarded with land in what came to be called Hurst Pierrepont in Lewes, Sussex, on the south coast of England. However, within a few generations, the family had relocated to Halliwell in Lancashire. And just two generations later, the family seat moved to the town of Holme, Nottinghamshire, which would eventually be renamed as Holme Pierrepont. This would remain the family home for the next several hundred years.

The below picture of an official genealogy of the Pierrepont family, which was drawn in 1764, shows the early generations of the family, including their place of residence.

[Beginning in England]


Moving to the Americas

There were a number of family members who made the trip to the Americas, with documented immigrations beginning in the 1600s, and continuing until the 1900s. I’ll give more details on these below as I explore the various branches of the family tree.


The Problem of Changing Names

The spelling of the Pierpont family name has gone through many changes over the last 1000 years. It’s tempting to simplify these changes by attributing the original name of “de Pierrepont” to those in France, to drop the “de” and give a name of “Pierrepont” to the generations in England, and to anglicize the name to a simple “Pierpont” or “Pierpoint” in the US. But things are not that simple!

While the family members still in France continue to use “de Pierrepont”, the “de” was not dropped immediately upon the Norman invasion in 1066. The above picture of the top portion of an English genealogy shows that the early generations continued to use the “de Pierrepont” surname. It was not until the 1300s that the “de” was dropped.

[Dropping the de]


While the “Pierrepont” spelling dominated in England after the 1300s, it was only consistent within the “peers” of the family. Thus, in the blogs I’ve written on this topic (see here and here), I’ve not had to deal with other variations. But outside of this main line, family members were merchants and other professions and were often not even literate.

The consonants in the name (P_rp_nt) stayed pretty consistent. But the first syllable was sometimes rendered “Pier”, “Peir”, “Par”, “Per” as well as the original “Pierre”. And the last syllable might be “Pont”, “Point”, “Poynt” or “Pointe”. Thus, variants such as Pierpont, Pierpoint, Peirpont, Parpoynt, Perpoynt, Perpointe, and others were often recorded. The name was pronounced per local dialects, but written down according to the hearing of the listener. Among the peerage, since the name was also associated with the estate (Hurst Pierrepont or later “Holme Pierrepont), the name remained consistent, but the farther one lived from these estates, the more variation crept in over the centuries. I’ve documented a number of these variants here just among the early New England settlers of the family. Even as late as 1848, my great*3 grandfather, Austin Pierpont, had his name chiseled on his tombstone as “Pierpoint” (see  


The Problem of English Hereditary Rules

In England, not only were titles subject to rules of inheritance such as being only able to be passed to males or only to legitimate children, but property was also subject to those same types of rules. There was benefit to this as it kept estates intact. But if you were a second son, your only chance of inheritance would be if your older brother died without a male heir, and if you were a third or greater son, you would have to leave the family home and make your living through something other than the taxes that were paid by the individuals working on the family lands.

This also meant that the family name would not be recorded or preserved over the following centuries, but would be even more likely to be distorted as in the above discussion. As you’ll see in the below, most of those who came to North America no longer carried the Pierrepont name.


Many Groups – All with a Common Heritage

Over the past decade or so, during which I have used my interest in genealogy and during which I’ve been privileged to be a co-historian of the Pierpont Family Association, I’ve been able to make connections to several distinct groups of Pierpont/Pierpoint/Pierrepont/de Pierrepont family members. The power of computers in investigating ancestral records and the power of social media (principally Facebook) in establishing connections has enabled research far more easily than in past generations. Here are the groups which I’ve investigated – groups which are not necessarily proved to be connected, but which connection is still quite certain.


Group 1 – the French de Pierreponts

As I mentioned above, while Robert de Pierrepont went to England in 1066 with William the Conqueror, he left behind his uncles and any male siblings or cousins. The de Pierrepont family name has continued on to this day. Two current members of this French branch of the family have joined the Pierpont Family Association and, with the help of Google Translate, I have had conversations with them in French.


Group 2 – the English Pierreponts

There have been family members in England for over 950 years. While the line of those in the peerage has “daughtered out”, there are others still living there. Like our French relatives, there are a couple of individuals who still carry the Pierrepont family name and who have joined the PFA.


Group 3 – the New England Pierponts

Most of my research into the Pierpont family has been on behalf of the Pierpont Family Association (PFA) of New England. While this branch of the family has been in New England since around 1640, many of the lines from the two brothers, John and Robert, daughtered out fairly early on, so all the members in this family line are descendants of the Rev. James Pierpont who got his education at Harvard and who became the pastor of the Congregational Church in New Haven, CT (see this daughtering out here). While most of these family members carry the Pierpont surname, in the early years there were many other variations. One of the Rev James grandsons changed his name back to Pierrepont, so that surname has also been passed along through that sub-branch.

This is the only branch where we have established a definite connection back to the main English line. The father of John and Robert, James, had also come to New England later in his life. But James’ father was William Pierrepont. He was unfortunately the third son of his father and so had to leave the family home (Holme Pierrepont) in Nottinghamshire and make his living in a small town nearby. In the process, he encountered many of the Puritans in that area – likely the primary reason that his grandsons, and later his son, made the trek to New England to join their Puritan friends in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. You can see William listed in the genealogical tree of the Pierrepont peers from the drawing in 1764. He is listed simply as “third son” and his marriage and any offspring are not even shown.



Group 4 – the Maryland/Virginia Pierpoints

The second largest group of Pierpont/Pierpoints in the US are the descendants of Henry Pierpoint who came to America in the mid-1600s. I’ve done some fairly detailed analysis of this branch of the family in an effort to see if/how they were connected to the New England branch of the family (see here), but like other researchers have not been successful. There are enough matches of names and similarities of places that it’s pretty certain that these two branches connect back in England, but to-date a connection has not been documented. On social media, the NE and MD/VA Facebook groups have a number of joint members and we will stay connected in years to come. A member of the MD/VA branch attended the PFA meeting in 1960 and just a few years ago one of the PFA members attended a reunion of the MD/VA branch. A link to this blog will be sent to the members of both branches for everyone’s reading pleasure.


Group 5 – the Maine Pierponts

The Maine branch of the family are the descendants of Richard Pierpont/Pierpoint. He was born in Liverpool, England in 1790, came to Norfolk, VA in 1811, and just a few years later moved to Washington, ME. His naturalization record (from 1857) has his surname as Pierpont, but he signed with an “X” as he was illiterate. His grave lists his surname as Pierpoint. Other records of the time for him and his children have his name listed variously as Pierpont or Pierpoint. Three of his great*3 granddaughters have joined the PFA. While the PFA is happy to have them be part of the ”New England Pierpont” association (PFA), the nearly 200 years between the immigration of Richard and John and Robert has made it difficult to document a genealogical connection.


Group 6 – the Utah Pierponts

The Utah branch of the family are the descendants of Thomas Fairclough Pierpont. He was born in Lancashire, England in 1836 and came to New York in 1851. There he married, became a Mormon, moved to Canada during the US Civil War, then moved to Salt Lake City in late 1865. I’ve documented his story here. I’ve traced his family tree back to the mid-1500s and noted that there were various spellings such as Parpoynt and Pierpoint until Thomas’ father, John Pierpont changed the family name one more time. But I have not been able to make a connection to any of the other Pierpont groups. As a relatively recently immigrant group, even with the Mormon tradition of multiple wives and large families, this is still a relatively small group.


Group 7 – the Canadian Pierreponts

Although the prior four groups came to what is now the United States, there is also one family branch which came to Canada. I’ve written about them before here. As noted in that blog, Samuel Whitworth Pierrepont came to western Canada (Manitoba) in 1911. He had been born in Nottinghamshire in 1887, married in 1911, came to Canada just 3 weeks later as an indentured servant to work off the cost of his passage, then sponsored his wife to come join him in 1912. While he and his ancestors were from several small towns just a few miles from Holme Pierrepont, because it was nearly 300 years from when John and Robert came to New England, it was too many years to make a definitive connection to the New England Pierponts. But it is quite likely that the two groups are connected. Only having been here for slightly more than 100 years, this group is pretty small, but one of the great-granddaughters of Samuel has joined the PFA and we have regular communication with her.


Group 8 – the Wolcott Pierpoints

In my hometown of Wolcott, CT, there was a Pierpoint family. Upon investigation, they were the descendants of Jesse Pierpoint who had been born in Birmingham, Warwickshire, England in 1860 and who had come to Rhode Island in 1880. This family had been in Warwickshire for over 100 years and had been in Cheshire before that. The spelling of Pierpoint in this family line appears to have been unchanged since the 1600s.


Other Groups

It’s been nearly 400 years since the first family members came to North America. It is pretty likely that there have been other members of the greater Pierpont/Pierpoint family who have done so just as the above groups (as an example, the Wolcott Pierpoint family would be unknown to the other groups except that they happened to be in the same town as a few members of the PFA). But finding records that can document exact family connections between these groups over such a long period of time is difficult and may even be impossible. But I have not yet found any groups/individuals where there is any indication that they are not connected. Some of the above groups have come to our attention just recently and we are happy to have additional family members.



Despite the considerable changes/variations in surname over the last 1000 years, all these Pierpont/Pierpoint/Pierrepont/de Pierrepont/etc. groups share a common heritage. I have documented all the groups that I am aware of, but there may be others. All of them are descendants of the original de Pierrepont in what is now Normandy, France. And all of them, whatever the spelling of their surname, and even if they no longer have the surname at all because of subsequent marriages and name changes, can be proud to be part of this connected family! My mother was a Pierpont, and my ancestral line includes a number of the variant spellings. But I am proud of my heritage and my connections to all my cousins, however distantly we may be connected!

If you are reading this post, what is your story? Are you a member of one of the groups listed above? Or are you a member of some other branch of the family? Share this post with other members of the greater Pierpont/Pierpoint/etc. family. And share your own connection as well. We’re all family and we all enjoy talking with other family members!

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Lies and Marriages

Recently I watched an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? where British actress Clare Balding was exploring her heritage in America. The name of her American ancestors was Hoagland and I thought I recognized that name. As I looked at my family tree, I realized that my wife’s great-grandmother had married William Hoagland (he was her second husband). So my wife and Clare Balding are distant step-cousins. But that’s not the topic of this blog.

I had written about the complicated family tree on my wife’s father’s side where she had no less than six women who she called “grandma” when she was born. They were actually a biological grandmother, a step-grandmother, two biological great-grandmothers, and two step-great-grandmothers (see here). I wrote that blog six years ago, but as I read it again last night, I noticed a nuance I had not seen before that even further complicated that story. The below is the expanded version of just two of those women – one of my wife’s biological great-grandmothers and one of her step-great-grandmothers.

Because dates are so critical to this story, I’ve had to be more exacting than typical doing this ancestral research and not just give years of birth/marriage/death. So, let’s get into the details.


William and Rachel – Just a little lie?

(The marriage law in Michigan was changed just last year. Previously, girls younger than 18 could get married with the consent of one parent if they were 16-17 or at age 15 if they also had a judge’s approval. Girls under the age of 18 could also not marry a man more than 3 years older than they were. Now the age of consent has been raised to 18.)

William Duba was born in French-speaking Canada on 8 Aug 1869. His birth name was Dubeau, but it was anglicized to Duba when he immigrated to Michigan in 1878.

Rachel Swaney was born in Grand Traverse County, Michigan, on 20 Nov 1883. William and Rachel married on 30 Mar 1900. William gave his age as 30 (which was correct), but Rachel gave her age as 18 when she was actually only 16. So, not only was she too young to get married without consent, but she was marrying a man who was almost twice her age!

[Marriage of William and Rachel]


Just a few months later in June 1900, on the 1900 census (one of the few that asked for actual month and year of birth in addition to age), Rachel backed off a little bit in her lie and told the census taker that she had been born in Sep 1882 and that she was 17.

William and Rachel lived in Bellaire, Antrim County, MI. Over the next few years, they had three children – Gertrude Rose (born 14 Sep 1901 when Rachel was only 17), Beulah (born 20 Feb 1903 when Rachel was 19), and Allen (born 5 Jun 1905 when Rachel was 21). But the marriage was not a stable one.


Charles and Mary Ann – Bigger lies and deception

Charles Holly was born on 19 Feb 1879. In the 1900 census he was living with his parents in Forest Home Township, Antrim County, MI. The census records indicate that at age 21 he was married, but that his wife was not living with him. He had married in Dec 1897 to a girl his same age (18), but had left her and returned to his parents. She filed for divorce in June 1901, listing a cause of desertion, and the divorce had been finalized on 22 Oct 1901.

Mary Ann Nestell was born on 17 May 1887. This information was accurate in the 1900 census taken in early June of that year when she was living with her parents and siblings. Her mother had also indicated that Mary Ann was 13 which is consistent.

Just a year later, on 11 Nov 1901, Charles and Mary Ann married (Charles’ divorce had been finalized less than 3 weeks prior!) He gave his age as 22, which was correct, but Mary Ann inflated her age by four years and said that she was 18. Not only was she under the age of consent, but she was even younger than would have been necessary if she had consent! Imagine a 22-year-old man marrying a 14-year-old girl!

[Marriage of Charles and Mary Ann]


Fortunately, Charles and Mary Ann did not have any children together to complicate the situation. But the marriage was not going well, and the pattern of lies was not yet over.


Divorce and More Lies – Mary Ann

The years just before and after 1910 were marked with turmoil in these two families. In May 1909, Mary Ann [Nestell] Holly filed for divorce from Charles with a cause of Extreme Cruelty. However, that petition was dismissed. But Charles returned to live with his parents once again. He can be found living there in the 1910 census, once again listing himself as married, but with no wife in the home. On 18 Apr 1911 Mary Ann once again filed for divorce, this time on the basis of desertion. It was granted and finalized on 22 May 1911. Given Charles’ pattern, I have no reason to doubt the claim of desertion. (I should also note that Charles was a serial marrier, as he married and divorced at least twice more in the coming decades.)

Meanwhile, Mary Ann had moved into the home of William Duba (more on his situation below). In the 1910 census, she lists herself as age 23 (no longer lying about her age), but with a status of widowed. But this is obviously another lie as she is still legally married to Charles who is alive and living with his parents. Apparently, she does not want to be shown in the census records as married and living with a man who is not her husband? Four months after her divorce from Charles was finalized, Mary Ann married Willam on 5 Sep 1911.

Mary Ann lived a long life, not passing away until her late 90’s. But she had told so many lies about her age over the years that even in her death there was confusion. Her social security record lists her birth as 18 May 1883, but her obituary lists her birth as 17 May 1886 and her gravestone has 17 May 1887. At least her grave has the correct date on it. The obituary was obviously written by someone who did not know the family well. Besides the date of birth being off by a year, it misspells the name of her stepson as Alan instead of Allen, and lists her local step-grandchildren as Louise Gibbard (instead of Louise Pop) and William VanDeCar (instead of Charles VanDeCar).


Wrapping up the Loose Ends – William and Rachel

But what happened to Rachel [Swaney] Duba? William was listed as divorced in the 1910 census and he remarried in 1911. And what happened to their three children?

William and Rachel divorced some time after the birth of Allen in 1905 and before her subsequent marriage (see more below). Mary Ann’s obituary, while having many errors as noted above, says that she moved to Bellaire in 1910 – again, just shortly before the census was taken.

The older two children of William and Rachel (Gertrude and Beulah) stayed at least for a short time with William as they were still there in 1910. Some time later they moved to Detroit and lived with their aunt. Beulah passed away in Detroit in 1919 at the age of only 16. Gertrude married Archibald VanDeCar (in Detroit) in 1920 at the age of 19. Allen, the youngest child of William and Rachel cannot be found in the 1910 census. But in the 1920 census he was 14 and working at a foundry in Pontiac, MI.

Rachel married a second time to William Hoagland on 7 Apr 1909. But she eventually divorced him and married Alfred Stafford on 20 Apr 1922. She and Alfred had one son together on 16 May 1923.



Rachel does not appear to have done any lying except for when she married at age 16. But Mary Ann gave many different years for her birth over the years and also lied about her marital status on the 1910 census. At the time of her death, there were conflicting dates about how old she was.

Divorces, second, third and even fourth marriages. Just trying to keep all the individuals straight is hard enough. But when you add in the phony dates it makes for a pretty complicated story!



Sunday, April 28, 2024

An Abundance of Counselors

Dr. David Allen, Executive Director of the Bible Fellowship Church, recent published an article in the BFC OneVoice magazine. It was titled “Proverbial Wisdom for Today: Proverbs 11:14.” (see article here) This verse reads “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” As he notes, “The Bible Fellowship Church takes this proverb to heart.”

My wife and I began attending the BFC in August of 1976. We have made Bethel BFC in Emmaus our church home for the past 48 years. We raised our two children here – in fact we stopped at the church on our way home from the hospital after they were born and held a private service of dedicating them to God – just my wife and I standing at the altar, praying and presenting them to God with outstretched arms. So they literally began going to church before they were in our home. While Chris and family are now living in FL, Kim and family continue to attend here.

[Bethel BFC]


David notes that all the BFC pastors and church representatives meet each year and that they have done so since 1883. Bethel was formed as a local church in 1882, so we have participated in this conference every year. I have had the privilege of being the representative of Bethel on several occasions, and I continue to watch it via livestream to keep up with the discussion of important issues each year.

I fully support David’s bold repeated statement in this article that “In an abundance of counselors there is safety.” I’d like to give a personal perspective of how that practice has also been my practice for this last nearly half-century.

It was not too many years prior to when we began attending that the BFC had changed from a governance practice of the District Superintendent – Pastor model where decisions were made by the denominational leaders and the local pastor was the key decision maker. This had been replaced by each church having local Elders, of which the Pastor was one of the Elders. Bethel had begun using this model, but many of the local church policies were either not well documented or were non-existent. As one who is skilled in policy writing, I offered my services in putting together a policy manual for the church. But as I was not an elder at the time, I was assigned to work with one of the elders who brought my recommendations to the Board of Elders for consideration and passage. I was happy to work this way so that the resultant policies were not just my words but had been considered by an abundance of counselors.

I was interviewed for the position of Elder in 1982 and presented to the congregation for their confirmation that fall. I served in that capacity for 40 years until two years ago when I asked to be considered for the position of Elder Emeritus (more on that below).

Over those 40 years I have had the opportunity to serve in a number of other positions as a representative of Bethel BFC. Many of these have been within the denomination, but some have been outside the BFC where I was a representative of Bethel. But in all these cases, I was only one of an abundance of counselors. As David says multiple times in his article, if you do not have an abundance of counselors then you have a good possibility of failure. I’d like to detail some of my involvement over the past 40 years.

Denominational Involvement

·       Board of Higher Education – 5 years, 4 as chair. This board promoted higher education within the BFC. Its duties were subsumed by another board.

·       Pinebrook Junior College Board of Directors – 3 years. Oversaw the operations of the denominational junior college until just before it closed.

·       Surrogate Elder – When a new BFC work is transitioning from oversight by the denominational Church Extension Board to being self-sustaining church, the BFC appoints surrogate elders to interview their local elder candidates and to recommend them to take that position going forward. I was privileged to be a surrogate elder for the BFC work in Newark, DE, since their first pastor was from our church in Emmaus.

·       Board of Church Health – There are sometimes occasions where a particular church needs to have elders appointed by the denomination. That happened to one such church a few years ago when due to some disagreement between the lay elders and the pastor the lay elders both resigned. Since it is not good to have decisions made by a single individual, the Board of Church Health appoints surrogate elders from elsewhere in the denomination so that decisions can be the result of an abundance of counselors. I was appointed to be one such individual. The other surrogate elder and I interviewed all the individuals involved and made the recommendation to terminate the current pastor and then to reinstate the prior elders – all with the approval of the congregation. We then resigned ourselves as the church could make proper decisions going forward.

·       Scholarship Committee – a local organization was collecting funds to be given to pastors in the denomination and wanted to have multiple men serving on their board to make the decisions on disbursal of the funds. I served a three-year term with them.

Bethel Representative

·       Collegiate Outreach Board - 22 years, 18 as chair. This board oversees the work of a local missionary who has an outreach to Kutztown University. The board has representatives from a number of BFC churches in the area.

·       Lehigh Christian Academy – 3 years. This institution, at the time a P-8 school, has a governing body composed of representatives from a few area churches. Bethel was one of those churches for a number of years and I was the first representative from Bethel to LCA.

·       Lehigh Valley Christian High School – 18 years, 15 as chair. LCA and a few other Christian elementary schools in the area jointly sponsored and supported a Christian high school. Having been appointed to the LCA board, I was then appointed by them to be one of the LCA representatives to the LVCHS board.

Elder of Bethel BFC

·       Naturally, over my 40 years as an elder, I have had the opportunity to serve on various committees – Pastoral Relations Committee, Finance Committee, Admin team, etc.

·       Some of my most memorable experiences have been the opportunities I had to participate in baptisms. The first of these was of my son-in-law who specifically requested that I do so when he was baptized in the swimming pool at Victory Valley Camp when we had a summer church meeting there. But in the fall of 2020, I had the pleasure of baptizing all four of our grandsons in the baptistry at church. You can read about that and see the pictures of that event here.

·       Elder Emeritus – As I mentioned above, I have recently moved from the position of active Elder to Elder Emeritus. While that means that I no longer have to attend our monthly elder meetings and participate in decision-making, it is not just an honorary label. I still have to have my name come before the congregation every three years for confirmation that I meet the qualifications of an elder. I am still a Shepherding Elder and have a list of a number of church families that I look after and keep in contact with. I still pray for those on my list on a regular basis. And I wear a nametag each Sunday so that people know they can come to me for prayer or if they have questions about the church.

David noted in his article that many evangelical churches go through an aging cycle where decisions are made by one person, where the various ministries are run by staff rather than volunteers and the church slowly ages and dies. That has never been true at Bethel. Our nursery and young children’s area was recently renovated, and we have many children to care for each week (my wife and I serve as greeters one Sunday each month). We just baptized seven people this month and there is another baptism service scheduled for next month. And we are in a period where there will be six weddings among our families in six months. All our outreach activities (such as running the local food bank, a widow’s ministry, our senior fellowship) are run by a team of volunteers. A comment that has been true for many decades is often made by new attendees who say, “this feels like a family!” When my wife and I visited on that long-ago warm August evening that’s what we said. And it’s still what’s being said by newcomers all these years later.

But it’s that way not because we have a modern church (our church building dates to 1932), or because we have a great location in the suburbs (we are in the middle of town and parking is at a premium). And it’s not because we have a dynamic young pastor nor because we have the latest in worship bands with flashing lights. Rather, it’s because we have a church with an abundance of counselors who are collectively attuned to the needs of the congregation, who pray regularly for them, and who make the best decisions we can for one another.

Just this morning I encountered a lady at church who had tears in her eyes because she had gotten an upsetting result from a recent doctor’s examination. I was able to put my arm around her shoulders and pray for her – right in the middle of the lobby with all the comings and goings. I told her that there were many other people at church whom she could also turn to. I checked in with her again at the end of the service and she was smiling. Yes, the church is a family. And in the abundance of counselors (Pastors, Elders, Deacons) we can be successful!


Lost and Found

Today I was watching a few episodes of Lost and Found – Only Human on YouTube. This show out of New Zealand is about an investigator who helps people find missing relatives – usually people looking for their birth father or birth mother and sometimes about parents looking for missing children or people looking for lost siblings. Generally, the investigator is successful, but sometimes the individual being looked for has passed away, so they try to find other relatives instead. I do a lot of genealogical research for others as a hobby, so I relate pretty strongly with this investigator. I’d like to relate some of the searches I have done.

[Only Human]


Adoptee Looking for Birth Mother

This was some research I did a few years ago for the husband of my second cousin. I’ve detailed that story before (see here and here), so I’ll not list the details again. Although his birth mother had passed away, I was able to connect him with three of his half-siblings. So, the story does have a happy ending.


Given Away, but not Forgotten

[Names changed to protect privacy]

Sharon was the youngest of four siblings. When she was only 2, her mother passed away suddenly at age 30 after a short illness. While her father felt confident enough to continue caring for the older children (ages 4, 5, 8), he did not feel that he could raise Sharon. So, she was given up for adoption and taken in by a couple in the next county.

When Sharon grew up, she moved frequently, but eventually ended up back in the county of her birth. Her adoptive parents had told her of the circumstances of her parents, and as a result she still harbored some bad feelings toward her father. Knowing his name, she was able to locate his grave as he had also passed away when Sharon was only 9. Wanting to know more about her birth family, she asked if I could uncover any further information.

The first bit of exciting information I was able to locate for her was a copy of her father’s obituary (from 1977). In it, she was delighted to see that her name was listed. Even though she had been gone from the family for nearly 7 years at that point, she had not been forgotten! That was a life-changing revelation. I was then able to connect her with her two sisters who still lived in the area. Even though it had been 50 years since she was separated from the rest of the family it was nice for her to know who they were and that she was not “alone in the world.”


Three Fathers?

[Again, names changed for privacy purposes]

Betty’s mother was married three times. She had children with her first husband, Betty with her second husband, and has lived for the past several decades with her third husband. But that is not the reason for the topic of this section, as Betty knows all of these individuals. The source of confusion and investigation has to do with Betty’s biological father, Ben.

Ben’s mother, Bertha, married Bobby when she was only 18. But she was evidently not faithful to her husband. When she gave birth at age 19, the father was not Bobby, but a 28-year-old married man, Carl, who lived near them in Philadelphia. Bobby was upset by this, so divorced Bertha and married someone else the following year. Unable to support Ben on her own, Bertha put him up for adoption and he was adopted by a couple who lived in the next county. As is often the case in such situations, Ben’s adoptive parents had him initially as foster parents for the few months it took to complete all the background checks and paperwork. Thus, Ben had three “fathers” – his biological father (who had no part in his life), his biological mother’s husband (who left her before Ben was born), and his adoptive father.

Ben had only been married to Betty’s mother for a short time. They had divorced and he was living in another state when he passed away suddenly at the age of 43. Betty was only 16 at the time. Ben’s cause of death had been an aneurysm, but during the autopsy, it was discovered that he also had a number of cancerous tumors of a type that sometimes has a genetic cause.

Betty was the only child of Ben, and as she got older, married, and began to have children of her own, she was concerned that that genetic component might have been passed on to her or her children. She had done some initial research, using the DNA analysis available on both and 23-and-me. She had determined the name of Ben’s biological mother (who was still living), as well as Ben’s biological father (who had died a few years prior). But his biological mother was understandably not willing to share much information from this painful period in her life. Betty asked if I might help in her investigation as I am much more skilled than she is.

Using the skills that I have developed over the years, I was able to locate a few more generations of both of Ben’s biological parents and identify the age at which they died and, for some of his ancestors, get death records indicating a cause of death. So, I was happy to report to Betty that all of those ancestors lived long lives, and there had been no traces of cancer reported in any of them. Thus, there is unlikely to be a genetic component to the cancer that Ben had and both Betty and her offspring can rest easier.

Not the typical reason for doing ancestral research, but a perfectly valid one.


Being Accepted and Finding a Cousin

[Name changed to protect privacy]

Anna had a non-typical life growing up. Her parents had each had multiple marriages. Several of those marriages had children involved, so she had a collection of siblings, half-siblings, and stepsiblings. But this made it hard to have established relationships. Her father passed away at the age of 50 and her mother passed away at the age of 54, thus Anna found herself, not yet 30, with no living parents and relationships with her siblings very strained. She moved around, got involved in drugs, and felt like she was totally on her own. In poor health, she became classified as disabled and her sole income was through SSDI.

Finally, in her mid-50s, Anna moved to Emmaus and got an apartment in county-owned housing that took individuals who were disabled and unable to work. Unbeknownst to her initially, the high-rise she lived in was just a block from our church. In December, as was our custom, we had a Christmas luncheon at the church and delivered invitations to all the residents in that high-rise. Not wanting to pass up a free meal, Anna made the short trip to our church.

It was unlike anything she had ever experienced. She felt accepted, people introduced themselves to her and talked to her. Many of the people who come to that Christmas luncheon leave right afterwards and we never see them again. But Anna felt this church was like family. She accepted Christ and kept coming back for Sunday services.

As is my custom, I like to build family trees for people in the congregation and see how they are connected to others in the church – including to myself. Knowing only Anna’s name, address, and a rough age, I did so for her as well (totally without her input). The following week, I presented her with my finding and said, “Hello, cousin!” She was shocked. Not only had she found a church family, but she had found a biological family as well, albeit a very distant cousin.

It is now a couple of years later, Anna is still coming to church nearly every Sunday, and she and I smile as we say, “Good morning, cousin,” each time we see each other. Her life has been changed in many ways. The power of God and the power of connections!



In the process of doing the above research, I also checked to see if these individuals were related to me. In addition to “Anna” being a distant cousin, I have determined that “Sharon” is a distant cousin of mine, and “Betty” is a distant cousin of my wife.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Utah Pierpont Mystery

Yesterday my grandson asked a question related to an article he had seen while doing his schoolwork. He had seen a reference to Pierpont Avenue in Salt Lake City, UT, and wondered how it related to the Pierpont family. As the historian of the Pierpont Family Association, I was naturally intrigued and thought that this deserved investigation. There were a lot of “rabbit trails” along the way, but in addition to finally answering his question, I also learned about a branch of the Pierpont family that I had not been aware of.


Pierpont Avenue

Pierpont Avenue is located in downtown Salt Lake City. It runs east-to-west between 200S and 300S, i.e. 2.5 blocks south of the main east-to-west street, Temple Street. It begins one block west of Main Street (thus only 3.5 blocks from Temple Square, the home of the Morman church). It is currently broken up into six segments with discontinuities caused by railroad lines, a small river, and, most recently, by the construction of both I-15 (which runs N-S) and I-80 (which runs E-W in the small space between 200W and Pierpont Avenue).

This section of I-80 was the last part of I-80 to be built. Although it was part of the original Interstate plan from 1956 which was proposed under the Eisenhower administration, the section near Salt Lake City did not open until 1986 (30 years later).

There are a number of buildings along this route which also carry the Pierpont name: Pierpont Building, Pierpont Place, Pierpont Townhouses, Pierpont by Urbana, and Pierpont Lofts. One of the questions that needed to be addressed was: were the buildings named after the street or was the street named after one of the buildings? Some of the buildings were obviously quite new, i.e., Pierpont Townhouses, but others looked like older buildings that had been remodeled. So, there were a few “rabbit trails” that I might need to follow.

But a more significant question was: is there a significant Pierpont family in Salt Lake City’s history that was being recognized in the naming of both the street and the buildings? I decided to investigate this possible family connection first.


The Salt Lake City Pierpont Family

The most significant Pierpont in Salt Lake City in its early years was Thomas Fairclough Pierpont. He had been born in England in 1836, came to the US as a teenager, and married a young lady, Naomi King, from England in 1858. He was nearly 22 and she was 17. They were married in Leeds, Greene County, NY which is just south of Albany. Their first child was born there, but when the Civil War broke out in 1861, the family moved to Canada where they remained until the close of the war. While there they had 3 more children. In late 1865 the family moved to Salt Lake City. He and Naomi went on to have a total of 10 children by 1879, of whom 7 survived to adulthood.

At some time during his life (probably during their time in NY), Thomas became a Morman. As was accepted at that time, Thomas married a second time to Juventa Beck in 1873. She was only 22 and Thomas was 37. He began having children with Juventa, even as he was still having children with Naomi – in one case having two children less than a month apart. The two families lived in separate homes. In addition to his 10 children (7 living) with Naomi, Thomas had 11 children with Juventa (10 living).

The population of Salt Lake City when the Pierpont family arrived in 1865 was only about 11,000, most of whom were Mormans, but by 1900 it was 7 times that. (With the Pierpont family supplying 17 living children and other Morman families similarly expanding, the population could grow quite quickly!)

While Thomas was a stalwart in the LDS church, they were not famous. In the 1900 census, Thomas is listed as a machinist who has not worked for over a year. He died in 1908 – both of his wives being listed on his gravestone.



His children kept up the same tradition of having large families, but they were not of the best of character. One of his sons, also named Thomas, had moved to Provo, UT when he was only 19 and, in the tradition of his father, had started the Provo Foundry and Machine company 10 years later. But he made the news in 1947 when he went to the home of his daughter-in-law and beat her in front of her four minor children – “intentionally, maliticously, wantonly and wilfully with the unlawful intent and purpose of the defendant of injuring, harassing and humiliating the plaintiff in front of the children.” [typos in original newspaper article]

In exploring the ancestry of Thomas (Sr.), I was able to trace his Pierpont family line in England back to 1565. The family even back then lived in Lancashire. The family name was recorded as Pierpont/Pierpoint/Parpoynt, but never as the more typical English spelling of Pierrepont as were the English ancestors of the New England Pierponts.

It’s 120 miles from the Pierrepont family home near Nottingham to the ancestral town of this Pierpont family near Liverpool – not a trivial distance back in 1575. Thus, I have not been able to make a connection between the two family lines. So, this is now another Pierpont family in the US – the other two being the New England Pierponts (who came to MA around 1640) and the MD/VA Pierpont/Pierpoint family of Henry Pierpoint who came to MD in 1665. So that’s still a great finding.


Pierpont Buildings

There remained the possible connection between one of the Pierpont buildings and Pierpont Avenue. Were they the source of the name? In looking for information on each of them, there appeared to be only one potential – the Pierpont Building. But the information I initially located showed the earliest date of 1911, three years after James Pierpont passed away in 1908. So I kept looking. Then, finally, I hit pay dirt! In an ad offering the sale of the building. The offering stated, “… the Oregon Shortline Railroad Company in 1897-98 constructed a building as offices for their operations. Before the first phase of the project was delivered, they decided to move forward on an annex and additional building to the west, both of which would be the new home for Utah’s first public high school – Salt Lake High School.”

With this date and the name of the company which built it, I noted that it was associated with a railroad, and I immediately thought of J. P. [Pierpont] Morgan. Some further checking revealed a newspaper article from Oct. 13, 1897 which listed all the railroads that he controlled, including the 1421 miles of the Oregon Short Line. Thus, I had the source of the name!



J. Pierpont Morgan controlled the Oregon Short Line. The Oregon Short Line constructed a new company headquarters in 1897 in Salt Lake City and named it the Pierpont Building. Subsequently, the street in front of this building was named Pierpont Avenue. As other buildings were later built on that street (such as the Pierpont Townhouse, the Pierpont Place, etc.) they adopted the name of the street that they were on as part of their name. So, the Pierpont name in Salt Lake City is all from J. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913), a member of the New England Pierponts and a great*3 grandson of the Rev. James Pierpont.

The Pierpont family who were Mormans and who lived in Salt Lake City, while probably distant relatives of the New England Pierpont family, are a previously undocumented immigrant Pierpont family.

One final note – in the 1900 census, Thomas Fairclough Pierpont, his second wife, Juventa, and nine of their children were living at 127 Second Ave, just a half-dozen blocks from the new Pierpont Building which had been constructed just 2-3 years earlier. But while it bore their name, it was not named for their family, rather it was named for J. Pierpont Morgan who lived across the country in New York City. I wonder what they thought about this “other” Pierpont? And I wonder if their high school aged children attended school in the building which bore their name?


Thursday, March 7, 2024

Back to the Emergency Room

2024 has not been a good year for me – at least medically. I started out by going to the ER the first week of January – a visit which resulted in getting a TransMetatarsal Amputation (TMA) of my right foot, and ultimately spending 2+ weeks in the hospital followed by 2 weeks in a rehab facility. I’ve been waiting for a custom toe-filler prosthesis to be made so I can walk normally and be able to drive again.

But then this past Sunday evening (3/4), I was preparing for bed around 9pm when things went south once again. The symptoms were not fun – an urgency to empty my bladder every 15 minutes, the process of doing so being VERY painful, and, the most upsetting to me, the very obvious presence of blood in my urine. After two hours of dealing with it, I got my wife up, brought her up-to-speed, and we made yet another unscheduled trip to the ER. Fortunately, we have excellent healthcare facilities in the county and it’s only a 20-minute drive away.

I checked in (in the process impressing the nurse on duty when I was able to recite my MRN (Medical Record Number) from memory. During the 30-minute wait, I gave a urine sample (more pain!). Then I was escorted back to a room in the ER. Standard procedure – remove all clothing except my socks, don a tie-in-the-back hospital gown, then get hooked up to various monitors (heart (5 stickers on chest), blood pressure cuff, index finger iron monitor). Also get an IV inserted in my arm so they can administer any needed medications quickly. Had two vials of blood drawn for testing, as well as the urine sample sent off for cultures, etc. They also took me down the hall for a CT scan of my abdomen.

Initial diagnosis was possible kidney stone being passed (although that didn’t show up on the CT scan), or one of several other kidney/urinary tract issues. Decision was made that I needed to be admitted, probably for two days, so Donna was able to drive back home (at 3AM!). (All these medical visits have been just as hard on her as on me – thanks, Honey!) Like back in January, they initially placed me in one of their “flex rooms” at the end of the ER corridor until they had a room available in the main hospital. They also hooked up my IV with a general-purpose antibiotic. By morning, I was feeling much better, figured maybe I had passed a kidney stone. They unhooked me from the auto-monitoring system after lunch in prep for moving upstairs. I even got the opportunity to walk with my IV pole to a nearby restroom so I could void properly.

I was placed in room 7BP5B – just four doors down the hall from where I spent those two+ weeks in January. But this time I had a roommate. Unfortunately, he was 90 and dealing with “confusion”, so kept getting mixed up on whether it was day/night, was confined to bed (with loud alarms if he tried to get up), kept calling for the nurse as he couldn’t comprehend the bedside alarm button, kept getting cold (eventually having 4 blankets wrapped around him), soiled his bed every few hours so they had to change to bedding. I tried to talk to him (through the curtain which separated us) but was unsuccessful. So, I just endured his outbreaks as well as the seemingly continual nurses/techs attending him. I suppose that’s why I was there – because I’m so tolerant of others and will pray for them instead of complaining about them. I also told the nurses that I viewed my job as making their life easier so they had a counter-balance to patients like my roommate.

I was still confined to bed because of my IV hookup, but otherwise I was feeling pretty good – relatively “normal” if that’s possible in a hospital. Had various visits from different doctors – urology, nephrology, etc., and a variety of staff – nurses, techs, cleaning staff, hospital reps, therapists, etc. Never a dull moment in a hospital!

My bloodwork, which they took a couple of times, was showing definite improvement. My urine color and flow was also normal. I was eating normally, etc. Only issue was that I was still waiting on the urine culture – they confirmed that it had been sent to the lab at 11am on Monday and indicated that it usually took 24 hours or so. But I was beginning to get “antsy” to go home as there was nothing negative going on.

Finally, in early afternoon on Tuesday they were preparing to send another dose of antibiotic through my IV port and it began leaking badly. The nurse was perceptive and said that she’d check if they could switch to an oral antibiotic instead of having to remove my IV and find another place to stick a new one in. She went “to bat” for me and contacted the hospital doctor who then called me and said I could go home with the oral antibiotic and a prescription for taking them 4x/day for several days.

At that point I already had two follow-up visits with the urology specialists (one for an MRI of my bladder, and one for the insertion of a camera into my bladder/kidney to confirm the issues behind the bleeding). I also had scheduled additional bloodwork to confirm that the improving trend on a couple of indicators was complete. So I called my wife to come pick me up and waited for the first oral antibiotic dose to be given.

I was glad to get home – and to have the opportunity to catch up on missing sleep as my sleep the prior night didn’t get started until after midnight because of the fuss my roommate was taking and (per typical hospital protocol), ended at 3AM when the shift change meant a visit to take my vitals.

But the story does not end there. Early this morning I received a call from the hospital doctor letting me know that the urine culture had finally come back late at night and the diagnosis was MRSA. But that meant that the antibiotic they had prescribed would not work and they had ordered a new one. I checked with the pharmacy and they did not have any in stock, nor was it covered by my insurance. But if I was willing to pay for it (the grand sum of $8 for a week’s supply), they would order some from another nearby pharmacy and have it ready later that day.

There has also been a good side to this just like there was for my amputation. Because of the way that the various medications I’ve been taking impact various body organs, they have removed two more of my medications that I had been taking daily. So instead of 7 pills each morning and 3 each evening (2 of which are repeats), I’m now down to just 3 each morning and 2 each evening (just 1 repeat). I’m also going to check with my PCP when I see her next week to see if I really need the weekly shot of Trulicity anymore. I’ve not had any for a month as it’s unavailable and on back order at the pharmacy. It’s also the most expensive one I’m still taking so I’ll be glad for that savings as well. My glucose numbers are doing fine without it, so why do I need it?

Besides being able to reduce the number of meds I take each day, my glucose levels are also staying down. And, perhaps, related, I’m keeping the weight I’ve taken off from coming back. I’ve had a number of people at church tell me that I’m looking pretty healthy, so those remarks are very encouraging.

As a friend told me, “You’ve used up all your sick days for the year.” I agree. And I’ve already got 7 visits scheduled for the next few months (follow-up with hospital doctor, bloodwork, semi-annual visit with PCP, toe-filler prosthesis, bladder MRI, urologist, and follow-up with foot surgeon). That’s already too many! I’m ready to stay healthy for a while!


Sunday, February 25, 2024

Little Things Count

Bob Koning’s latest story was titled “Whalen – The Other Side of the Story” (you can read it here). In his research, he says the following: “23 civilians were killed and were not remembered. Wahlen has no church anymore. … It felt weird: 23 civilians were killed and there was no place to remember them.”

He goes into a lot more detail on why there is no church, and that the graves are now located in the neighboring village of Steinfeld. But because there is no church in Wahlen the people there, several of whom are descended from those civilians who were killed during the bombing of 25 December 1944, no longer feel comfortable visiting the graves in the next town.

Such a simple thing – the government decided to not rebuild the church in Wahlen, the graves were moved to a different village, and now they sit among weeds and small bushes with no one visiting them.

[Cemetery in Steinfeld]


But that got me to thinking – about how some simple things (also associated with war) had significant outcomes.


Ruloffe Van der Kerr (VanDeCar)

I wrote the story of Ruloff, my wife’s great*5 grandfather, a few years ago (see here). But why did he choose to enter the Revolutionary War on the side of the British when all of his brothers and cousins sided with the colonists? As I looked at all the details of the story, there were some simple things that accounted for this.

The Van der Kerr family had been in the Hudson River valley for over 100 years before Ruloffe was born in 1745. His great-grandfather had been born there in 1637. So why would some still be favorable with the British? There were a number of reasons.

The first is the terms that the British gave to these Dutch inhabitants when they took over the Hudson River valley in 1664. While Charles I was a horrible king (he was beheaded by order of the British parliament), and his son, Charles II, was not much better, when agents of Charles II approached the Dutch, they gave them very favorable terms. As you can see here, the Dutch got to keep their weapons, their ale houses could remain open, etc. The terms even stated that “All people shall continue free Denizons and enjoy their Lands, Houses, Goods, Ships, wherever they are within this Country, and dispose of them as they please.” So the Dutch were given no reason to hate the new British government (unlike people in other parts of the British empire).

A second reason is that about the time that Ruloffe was born (in what was called at the time Loonenberg, but is now called Athens, NY), the British colonies were involved in the French and Indian War. A man by the name of Edward Jessup (1735-1816) (see here and here) had been living in Dutchess County, NY, but served as a captain in the NY Militia in 1759. Following the war, he and his brother moved to an area above Albany, NY where they received 500,000 acres of land from the British Crown. The area where they lived became associated with the British and remained so when the Revolutionary War broke out not too many years later.

Meanwhile, Ruloffe had moved out of the farming community where his relatives lived and had taken the profession of tanner and shoemaker. This seemingly simple choice of occupation meant that instead of being bound to the land, having other farmers as his principal contacts, and needing to tend crops/animals every day, he associated with men who could afford shoes and who walked as part of their everyday lives. These would have included men like the Jessup brothers as well as British soldiers. Thus, when the war began, 30 y.o. Ruloffe had his allegiance to his customers, including the British, instead of to the colonists who tended to be farmers. So he joined the group known as Jessup’s Raiders.

When the war ended in the early 1780s, Ruloffe was forced to flee to Canada. The British there, following their pattern, reimbursed him for the losses he had suffered. He remained loyal to the British for the remainder of his life. It was only after his death in 1830 that one of his sons moved back to the US – but not to nearby NY. Rather he went to the newly settled territory of Michigan which became a state in 1837.

One small thing – the choice of an occupation – but significant consequences for Ruloffe.


Peach Tree Creek

Like my wife’s VanDeCar ancestors, my Russell ancestors who lived in the Hudson River Valley were not unfamiliar with war either. My great*5 grandfather, John Russell (1756-1833) had left his young wife and newborn son to enlist with the NY militia on 1 May 1776 where he served until Aug 1777. Thus, when the Civil War engulfed the country, it was not unexpected that Stephen Simmons, the husband of my great*3 aunt, Rebecca Russell, also enlisted in a NY regiment in the fall of 1862. Rebecca, together with their two children (ages 10 and 9) moved back with her parents on the family farm. But Stephen’s service was not confined to the Hudson River valley and by mid-1864 he found himself as part of General Sherman’s armies in northern Georgia.

On 17 July 1864, the Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, had replaced General Joseph Johnston with General John Bell Hood, due to Johnston’s practice of a strategy of retreat (see here and here). As Sherman’s armies were approaching Atlanta, Hood’s strategy was to allow the Union Armies of Tennessee and Ohio to move east, but to attack the Union Army of the Cumberland, under General George Thomas, as they were crossing Peach Tree Creek and were most vulnerable. This was an excellent plan, however Hood lacked the insight to realize that he needed to position his troops where they could protect themselves from the Tennessee and Ohio forces on their right while still engaging the Cumberland forces crossing the river.

The original plan called for Hood’s forces to attack around 1-2 p.m. on 20 July, but because of the delay of about 90 minutes while they shifted to the right, they were not ready to attack until 3:30-4:00. By then the bulk of the Cumberland forces had completed crossing the creek and this led to a victory by the Union forces instead of the Confederate forces. With the Confederate forces once again being forced to retreat, the stage was set for the Battle of Atlanta two days later.

Just a small delay of 90 minutes in a war that had been going on for four years. But that simple delay was enough to change the course of the war by allowing Sherman’s March to the Sea.

But that outcome did not change the experience of Stephen Simmons. He was one of the casualties of the Battle of Peach Tree Creek. His wife filed for a widow’s pension, remarried three years later, and moved to CT with her new husband.  


Simple things sometimes have significant consequences. That’s partly why the study of history is so fascinating!