Archive for the ‘Family History Posts’ Category

10 December

Give Me Liberty…..

Give Me Liberty……

Like most of the early immigrants to America, Muriel’s ancestors came to the new land in search of freedom, opportunity and liberty. Just how early they came is not clear. There is some speculation that Muriel may be related to John Alden, one of the leaders of the Puritan community who sailed on Mayflower and landed at Plymouth Rock. That research is ongoing and we will let you know whether this is in fact real or just family lore.

Some earlier researchers believed that Muriel’s Taylor ancestors were also related to one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and other notables of the era, but further investigation does not support those claims. Muriel did mention that her grandmother was a member of DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) so one of her ancestors must have served during that war. She always claimed that he was probably a General or something because don’t we all want to have THAT ancestor that was important, famous, rich, successful, royal – or at least infamous and fun?.

George Taylor, Muriel’s 3rd great-grandfather, did serve during the Revolution, but was a Corporal – not a General.  Still, as 99% of America’s army consisted of privates, being a Corporal showed this man had some leadership skills.  We also found evidence that he fought at the Battle of Long Island. This was the first major battle of the war and in command was an inexperienced general named George Washington.  General Washington, Corporal Taylor and 19,000 additional patriots tried to defend New York City against 40,000 English troops and hundreds of British war ships.  The battle went on for several days and when it was over, the inexperienced and untrained American troops got run out of New York with over 300 being killed and a thousand men captured.

George survived the war and in 1783 married Naomi Hollister.  Ten years later they and their three children (including George Taylor, Jr. – Muriel’s 2nd great-grandfather) and moved to Catskill, New York – a small village with less than ten houses at the time.  As new settlements sprang up to the west, Catskill became a major shipping port and George became a ferry Captain serving several towns along the Hudson River.  Naomi died in 1795 at the age of 31.  George remarried and had several more children.

In 1832 a Cholera epidemic killed several members of George Taylor’s family, including many of his children.  George was a leader in the community helping establish the first church, the first school and the first Masonic Temple in Catskill.  It’s interesting that George was a Mason as being part of this and other secretive organizations would continue for generations in the Taylor family.  At the age of 60, George returned to New York City where he ran a boarding house until his death in 1831.

George Jr., also a Mason, married Catherine E. Post.  Given the epitaph on his grave stone, George Jr. probably took over his father’s business or was a sailor of some sort…..

 Taylor, in all the prime of life,

Hath quit this brittle clay,

And calmly steered his single bark

To yonder world of day.

George Jr. and Catherine had eleven children, seven of which survived childhood.  The youngest one, Samuel Penfield Taylor, (Muriel’s great-grandfather) was born in 1827.  Now Samuel didn’t single handedly found San Francisco as Muriel suggests, but he did leave his mark on the area – so much so that today there is a state park named after him.  His story is one of determination, hard work and a lucky star that Muriel insists she inherited.

3 December

Go West Young Man

Go West Young Man!

Samuel Penfield Taylor, my great-grandfather, died before I was born, but I felt like I knew him because my family talked about him all the time.  As a child – everywhere I went in Marin County and San Francisco it was Taylor this and Taylor that…..even my father was named after him. My great grandfather and I had a lot in common.  We both sailed for unknown shores with a dream and very little in the way of money or a plan.   Be it hard work or a lucky star we shared, both our dreams came true….for a while anyway.” – Muriel

Muriel is right – our research shows that Samuel Penfield Taylor was quite the business rock-star of his day – a true “American Dream,” rags-to-riches story. His legacy, and that of his family, is deeply embedded in California history.

Samuel was only thirteen when his father died, so he left home and bounced around going from job to job trying to figure out what to do with his life. His older brothers went to work as rollers and puddlers at the local iron works in New York, but Samuel knew working in a factory was not the life for him – so he waited for opportunity to come knocking.  It took eight years but when it did, Samuel took full advantage of it.

In 1848 the United States of America could allow itself to pause for a moment from years of startling growth and change to catch its breath, but it would have to be a quick one.  Since the American Revolution; the Louisiana Purchase and the War of 1812 had increased the size the country three fold.  In addition, the U.S. had just defeated Mexico and found itself now owning what would one day become New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California. The hero of the Mexican-American War, Zachery Taylor, was President and he continued overseeing the constant, but relatively slow migration west of his fellow citizens.

The debate over state’s rights and slavery was heating up, but the Civil War was still more than a decade away.  So the nation was at peace and, considering the last hundred years, rather quiet. Then something unexpected happened that, in a few short months, would send the country into frenzy and change the course of history and the life of the Taylor family, forever.

It stated in Yerba Buena, a prosperous, but small California community built around a large bay ideal for shipping and fishing.  The town got is name from a wild herb that was abundant in the area. The community consisted of less than eighty buildings and a few hundred people who all went about their daily business trying to make a living anyway they could.  In January of that year, rumors reached Yerba Buena that a man working on building a saw mill near Sacramento had found gold.  There had been these kinds of rumors before that never panned out (pardon the pun) so most didn’t believe it.  But all that changed when Sam Brannan, a storekeeper at Sutter’s Creek, came into town with a bottle full of gold dust shouting “Gold!  Gold from the American River!” The great California Gold Rush of 1849 had begun.

It didn’t take long for this exciting news to travel 3,000 miles to New England and the ears of a 21 year old Samuel Penfield Taylor.  Immediately infected with gold fever, Samuel said “I’ll be back” to his sweetheart, a school teacher named Sarah Washington Irving, and made plans to head west as quickly as possible.

The overland routes from New York to California via the Oregon or Mormon trails were dangerous and could take over a year.  The only other option was to sail around the southern tip of South America.  Even though the 13,600 mile voyage was over four times longer than going overland, it was faster – taking about three months.  The problem was that the route was filled with hazards, especially traversing the Straights of Magellan by the southern tip of South America known as Cape Horn. This is where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans collide, generating currents, waves and storms that could split a ship in two in a matter of seconds.  Because of the high demand for passage to the gold fields, many ships that were ill prepared for the long, hazardous voyage were pressed into service and lost at sea.

Young Samuel wasn’t alone is his quest to go west, as within twelve months of Sam Brannan’s announcement, the sleepy port city of Yerba Buena, (which had recently changed its name to San Francisco) had grown from a few hundred to over one hundred thousand souls – each looking to strike it rich.  Very few did.

27 November

Who Do You Think You Are?

Who Do You Think You Are?

We always wondered if Muriel’s unique talent, adventurous spirit and determination to live life on her own terms were something she inherited – or was it just an attitude she learned along the way?

According to Muriel, her ancestors sailed on the Mayflower, almost single handedly won the American Revolution, were great writers & poets, personally founded the city of San Francisco and helped free the slaves. She might have been right about a very small part of that, but such was Muriel’s gift of storytelling.

We assumed these claims were mostly family lore as when pressed for details on this subject Muriel always became quite indignant. She was enamored of the big picture and but not so interested in the details.  Muriel’s take on our own efforts to research our families genealogy was “Personally, I don’t see what one gets from tracking down dead people, thrashing through graveyards, and spending months in dingy courthouse basements looking at smelly, old documents…….but whatever the hell turns you on.”

That was over thirty years ago, a time long before the internet and the vast assortment of historical and genealogy resources that are available today at the touch of a button.  Coming from a family of those boring genealogists with nothing better to do, we began tracking down Muriel’s ancestors hoping to better understand what made Muriel tick.  It wasn’t long before we found ourselves deeply immersed in Muriel’s family history, not only because they were Muriel’s ancestors, but because their stories were so intriguing in their own right.  And yes, finding a 200 year old newspaper article mentioning one of Muriel’s distant ancestors does turn us on, as Muriel put it.  It appears to be a family addiction, so to speak.

Lucky for us, we aren’t the only ones who happily find such things fascinating.  Researchers Judy Coy and George H. Stevens did an extensive investigation of the Taylor family.  They have been very helpful in sharing the results of their labors and have allowed us to reference some of the information they discovered and pictures of the Taylor family that we are going to post in this blog from time to time.  Genealogists tend to be a very open generous group and more than willing to share the information that comes from their hard work, dedication and talents.

In the following weeks and months we will share with you our findings which tells the story of a group of extraordinary people who helped define this country.  Some are rags-to-riches stories of pioneers who were willing to risk it all in pursuit of their dreams. Some are stories of family, trust in each other and perseverance.  Then there are stories of tragedy followed by triumph.  One is a story of a devout woman who saw wrong and tried to right it.

Genealogy is a never-ending process and, hopefully, some readers who have common ancestors with Muriel will find us and can add a piece or two to the puzzle. As we write this post, we are very excited about finding one of Muriel’s distant cousins on her mother’s side.  He too has indicated a willingness to share stories and pictures, so we can’t wait to see where that contact leads us.  Another piece of the puzzle reveals itself!

One thing is for sure. Many of Muriel’s ancestors were quite extraordinary and quite adept at making history.  It doesn’t seem right to tell her story without adding in the stories of some of those people who were responsible for her being who she was!