Learnings and Experiences from this Search
Keeping things in prespective
"My forefathers didn't come over on the Mayflower, but they met the boat." (Will Rogers)
While thanking God for having given us such ancestors, each successive generation may thank Him
not less fervently for being removed one step further from them in the march of ages." (Nathaniel Hawthorn)
Searching for our ancestors- their names, spouses, children, dates and places of birth, death,
and marriage- has been and continues to be an interesting puzzle and learning experience. But
it also has been much more than that. I've obtained a new insight and understanding of cultures,
history, geography, and relationships. Initially I started with a brief outline of direct
Winslow ancestors back to Kenelm (who some thought came on the Mayflower) and a
little (2-3 generations) on the Burkes, Ovells, and Johnstons. The rest has been library hours,
cemetery visits, and many hours on the Internet researching genealogy websites and sharing
information with others with similar family interests. Now it's to a point that one new piece
of information or picture is just as exciting as the first. Finding old pictures of Ebenezer
Stephens (thanks Melinda), Mary Elizabeth Levan Burke (thanks Jodi), Andrew Johnston and
family (thanks Helen), and the William K Winslow family- homestead (thanks Uncle Bill) have
been great and pleasant surprises. Hopefully this genealogy story will provide you with a
similar insight and joy. The following thoughts highlight some things I've learned and
experienced during the process:
The ancestors and descendents of Bill and Gladys Winslow give us a full and rich involvement in
the growing of America- from the Plymouth days in the 1620s to the present. We truly are a
melting pot of experiences and relationships.
It's been interesting and informative to see how names (first, middle, and last) are passed from
generation to generation (Kenelm, Burke, Winslow, Carpenter, etc). There are many other surnames
and family lines that are just as much a part of us as the Winslow, Johnstons, Burkes, Stephens,
and Ovells (e.g. Colburn, Hicks, London, Brumbach, Levan, Wadsworth, Keene, Alden, Mullins,
Fullers, etc.). Spellings of names change for many reasons ( e.g. Wynslowe to Winslow, Burk to
Burke, Johnstone to Johnston, etc). The calendar changes; county boundaries and names are
changed. We have a heavy English ancestry, but also we have links to at least German, French,
Swiss, Irish. Most of our American ancestors started in the Massachusetts/ Maine/Conneticutt
areas and Reading- Philadelphia area. Many of their migrations were as early settlers to the
wilderness areas like Pittston, Maine , the Conneticutt River Valley, and Benezette,
Pennsylvania. Indian encounters- some peaceful; others quite the opposite- happened in each of
these new areas (remember the French and Indian wars of the 1700s). One story of a Levi
Hicks (his family connection is not completely proven yet) included a possible marriage to an
Indian half-breed and later to the Battle and Massacre at Wyoming Pa (late 1770s) where he lost
his life. Then there was another Indian war (King Phillip's War of 1675-76) where Job Winslow
and John Stephens played a significant role. I'm not sure how sturdy and adventuresome we 21st
Century "Winslows" are. Our ancestors had many ( 5-10 or more) children, some of which
died in infancy. They needed children to tend the farms and their retirement I guess. Those
that lived into adult hood lived to good old ages.
I've now visited the "Mayflower", the Cape Cod area, Plymouth Plantation ( a living Pilgrim
exhibit/ town), the Alden home, and the Winslow homes in Massachusetts and "talked to Uncle
Edward Winslow" about his brother Kenelm. I missed personal conversations with our
Mayflower "ancestors" (Alden, Bradford, Brewster, Mullins) mostly because at that time I wasn't
aware of the ancestral connection. "Uncle Ed" stated that Kenelm was the typical younger brother
always in trouble and he didn't expect him to come to America. Lo and behold, three years later
Kenelm comes over and has a spirited life in the early colonial days ( like a few days spent in
court defending himself). This made some of those American history lessons come alive. Then
there are history lessons of the Irish (as I've tried to check out the Burke ancestors) and the
Potato famine and immigration. Also I've learned about the French Huguenots and their trials,
tribulations, and immigrations (in 2006 finally connecting to the immigrant Levan family
We also have many ancestors serving the American war efforts from the Colonial Militia, American
Revolution, Civil War, World War II, and Vietnam era. The five Winslow brothers that initially
came over in the 1620's and 1630s became split on their loyalties to England. The Kenelm
Winslow side, for the most part, supported the American patriots while his brothers remained
loyal to England. Many served in the Colonial Militia and battles (Lt. Job Winslow , Major
General Humphrey Atherton,John Stephens, Love Brewster, Samuel Varnum, Philip Brookins, William
Collier, Thomas Prence, Gamaliel Bradford, William Bradford, Phillip Nelson )and many more in
the American Revolution (Major Reuban Colburn ,Samuel Callender, David Slawson, Manus Brumbach,
James Winslow, William Keene, Cyrus Brookins, Edward London, Ebenezer Stephens, Reuben Brookins,
John London, Carpenter Winslow, Hugh Polly, David Slawson, Wait Wadsworth, and others).
The Civil War has taken on more meaning with Robert E. Burke in the Union Army of the James
(did you know Union armies were named after rivers; Confederate armies after States). I've
visited the Richmond- Petersburg, Virginia area and battlefields ( in addition to many others
now) where he was stationed (Fort Monroe, Hampton, VA) and fought for almost three years. It
was not a very attractive lifestyle. And with my father's grandfather serving in the Confederate
army, another perspective of the "War Between the States" comes into play. Grandpa Bill (W.A.)
Winslow was excused from World War I service because of his previous injury where he lost his
eye. I've heard the story that the recruiters thought he was faking the eye exam until he
supposedly dropped his glass eye out and showed it to them.
The descendents of Bill and Gladys now reach four generations with great great grandchildren now
coming into our family. In some cases, we can only go back 3-4 generations from Bill and
Gladys . And, then, in some families we can span 12 generations or more to the 1600's immigrants.
In one or two cases the family lines can go back another couple generations into England like
the Winslows. When one investigates all these generations and their stories/ relationships,
the old saying seems to come true- "there's dirty linen hidden in every family closet" .
I'd prefer to say that we all are human and experience many of the same challenges to living
no matter what generation we come from.
Finding some of the old family pictures has been a pleasure also. Based on personal opinion,
which I think many of you will agree, there are some good looking women in the family.
Pictures of Mary Elizabeth LeVan Burke , a young Nora Ovell Burke , and the other Burke- Winslow
girls can verify these opinions. Good genes for the female descendents.
There's a lot of information ( most good, some erroneous) on the Internet. There are genealogy
reports on many families. The early Winslows are heavily documented (including the Winslow
Memorial) and also our Mayflower ancestors, Brumbachs and Colburns. The Burkes, Johnstons, and
others are more difficult to trace, but we keep trying- it's a continually evolving puzzle of
our family picture..
Visiting the final resting places ( e.g. Winslow Hill/Mt Pleasant cemetery, Hicks Run, Mt Zion,
Rehobeth, Benezette, New Castle's Graceland) of our ancestors has come to be much more meaningful
than I would have imagined while I was young. But there was one visit to a East Cleveland
cemetery tracing my wife's ancestors which created the ultimate story. After becoming engrossed
into finding many of her family's gravestones , we forgot the time , and as we were leaving we
found ourselves locked in. Thank Heavens for the modern invention of the cell phone to call
for help- after the police operator quit laughing.
I've met new cousins and friends through this effort. Kate Ovell Bennett is, to me, both a 3rd
cousin on the Ovell side and also a 2nd cousin once removed on the Burke side. There is Pam
Patton a 5th cousin on the Winslow line, Linda Valetta who is connected on the Hicks side
(John Hicks), and Mildred (Winslow) Thorwart who grew up in Benezette with our "Winslow girls".
Others now include Bruce Winslow Smith and his wife Cecelia, Bruce's sister Kathy Myers, Lori
London, Joan Spargo, and Martha Breene. They've all been very helpful in this search, and its
been fun getting to know distant relatives. And I must not forget my closest relatives: aunts,
uncles, mother, wife, and cousins who have helped tremendously-- Bill Winslow, Mary Winslow
Nay, Dorothy Winslow Roussos, Jeanne Winslow McNulty, Shirley Winslow Bloom, Kathryn Rhoads Nay,
the Burkes-Jimmy, Keith, and Judy - and all their families. This has brought me into many
interesting discussions with many of you regarding our family ties and sharing of information.
Your relationships have always been important to me and always will be.
The following story probably is more for my benefit as it must be for anyone who takes an
interest to compile a family's genealogy-- to remind us why we do this. There were times when
someone would state that I must be obsessed, or crazy--- for why would I be interested in dead
ancestors; I would hear we should not live in the past; the past is past; who cares what they
did - they were mostly poor farmers; cemeteries are creepy, etc . This story helps to express
(and defend) why we do this.
The Story Tellers...(author unknown) We are the chosen. My feelings are in each family
there is one who seems called to find the ancestors. To put flesh on their bones and make them
live again, to tell the family story and to feel that somehow they know and approve.
To me, doing genealogy is not a cold gathering of facts but, instead, breathing life into all
who have gone before. We are the story tellers of the tribe. All tribes have one. We have been
called as it were by our genes. Those who have gone before cry out to us: Tell our story. So,
we do. In finding them, we somehow find ourselves. How many graves have I stood before now and
cried? I have lost count. How many times have I told the ancestors you have a wonderful
family you would be proud of us? How many times have I walked up to a grave and felt somehow
there was love there for me? I cannot say. It goes beyond just documenting facts. It goes
to who am I and why do I do the things I do. It goes to seeing a cemetery about to be lost
forever to weeds and indifference and saying I can't let this happen. The bones here are
bones of my bones and flesh of my flesh. It goes to doing something about it. It goes to
pride in what our ancestors were able to accomplish. How they contributed to what we are
today. It goes to respecting their hardships and losses, their never giving in or giving
up, their resoluteness to go on and build a life for their family. It goes to deep pride
that they fought to make and keep us a Nation. It goes to a deep and immense understanding
that they were doing it for us. That we might be born who we are. That we might remember them.
So we do. With love and caring and scribing each fact of their existence, because we are
them and they are us. So, as a scribe called, I tell the story of my family. It is up to
that one called in the next generation to answer the call and take their place in the long
line of family storytellers.
That, is why I do my family genealogy, and that is what calls those young and old to step up
and put flesh on the bones.
There are many reasons people search their ancestor stories. But one special reason occurs to
me And that is the realization that life is short. That relationships are important. That
knowing our ancestors gives us a better appreciation of our past life, our present life, and of
our life to come. Not only is the destination important, but it is how one gets there that may
mean the most. Enjoy your trip.
From a "Pilgrim" letter of their resolve on going to a New World:
" Lastly, it is not with us as with other men, whom small things can discourage, or small
discontentments cause to wish themselves at home again."