ALEXANDRIA, VA-Even when parents and grandparents are alive to answer questions about family history, getting the facts and understanding relationships can be difficult. My friend Laurie Sisson wanted to learn about her grandfather’s family and spent many years searching for the story.
All Laurie knew was that her father’s father, Clarence S. Hollingsworth, was a tailor who in 1948 owned a store called Holly the Tailor in Palm Springs, CA. In 1957, he moved his business to Garden Grove, CA, which was closer to Laurie’s home in Anaheim.
Clarence Hollingsworth turned 65 in 1959. To celebrate his birthday, Laurie’s mother threw a party and decorated his favorite sheet cake to look like his social security card. The family was thrilled with his milestone and the opportunity to honor Grandpa. Laurie, however, had noticed that her grandfather looked a bit ill at ease with all the fuss and always wondered why. But no one else seemed to notice.
Some years later Laurie learned from the 1900 Federal Census that Clarence in order to be officially 16, and therefore able to work as a barber, he tacked a couple of years on his date of birth. Had she known, Laurie’s grandmother would have been mortified because she thought friends would say she’d “robbed the cradle” by marrying a man two years younger than herself. So no one told her.
In looking further into this thread of information, Laurie found her grandfather’s military gravestone stating his birth date as May 24, 1892. He was boarding a ship to take him to fight in Europe when word came that the Armistice was signed. The date was November 11, 1918.
Grandpa visited Laurie’s family often while she was growing up. He told many stories of his life in rural Kansas, stressing the importance of family and how he wished he hadn’t lost touch with his Kansas relatives.
Clarence Hollingsworth died while Laurie was in college. Her mother knew that he had been born in Concordia, in Cloud County, Kansas, and her parents decided to visit the Cloud County courthouse. While there, they interviewed a local school teacher who vaguely remembered the Hollingsworth family. They talked to longtime residents of Concordia who knew stories about the family, that they owned fine carriage horses and their great grandfather had been the local blacksmith. Laurie remembers Grandpa Clarence saying that her great grandfather always traveled with a string of horses and that he – Clarence – was the first in his family not to be a blacksmith.
Her parents learned more about her father’s family in the Concordia courthouse, but they never found Laurie’s grandfather in the county’s vital records because they were still looking in the wrong year. And, sometimes the name was spelled differently, Hollandsworth and Hollinsworth, for example.
Many years later Laurie decided to join the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). The DAR application asked for her grandparents’ birth, marriage and death certificates. Her parents had not been able to find her grandfather in Cloud County. Laurie felt stymied; she didn’t know her great grandmother’s name.
Then in the mid-2000s, someone told Laurie that DNA testing could find “lost” relatives. To find a relative on your paternal side, the DNA sample had to be from a male relative. She asked one of her brothers to submit his saliva to Family Tree for a DNA test. The testing program, however, was still in its infancy and had a small data bank, only 14 families in her Hollingsworth group. It would take some years before the data bank was of sufficient size to provide a match for her.
Finally, in 2009, Laurie received an email from Family Tree. They had found a match, and they put her in touch with the Hollingsworth (Vincent) family group she belonged to! Not only did she gain a family but there was a book on the family history tracing them back to the 1700s, The Holly Tree. Laurie was beyond thrilled. She said she now knew what it felt like to win the lottery. (Today there are 457 members.)
Subsequently, Laurie “met” many of her grandfather’s relatives online. They often commented that they wondered what happened to her branch of the family. She also discovered that in several family lines the men were blacksmiths, going back through the 1700s in America.
The wonderful thing about family history is that it never ends. Just this month Laurie heard from a half cousin she met online at Ancestry. The cousin had found obituaries for their shared great grandparents Richard and Lucy Hollingsworth.
And that is why two years makes a difference and headstones are not always reliable.