Finding My Roots (Part III)

This past April (2018). I took myself on a little vacation. Perhaps a vacation is not the best word, for the primary purpose of my trip was to visit my father’s grave, something I had been unable to do since he passed two years ago. Still, the trip was going to take a considerable amount of time (I was driving), much of my grieving had been done, and I was going to be in the area where I was brought up for the first time in about thirty years. I decided to make something of the trip, and in the last five years really gotten into my family history. I always had been, but with the addition of DNA genealogy, my interest had really taken off.

I did a lot of good things on my trip, and I made some mistakes as well. The first mistake was not allotting enough time for what I wanted to do, and not being a bit more careful with what was available to me when I went. More on that in the next segment. My intention was to go to Mount Holly, NJ both to pay respects to my dad and to see some of the things I had read about during my research, and then go to the Philadelphia area.

My ninth great-grandfather, Edward Gaskill, arrived in Massachusetts colony in 1635, on board the ship Hopewell. His son Samuel married Provided Southwick, daughter of Quakers and a Quaker herself. Her grandfather, Governor John Endecott (a fervent Puritan), actually sentenced the Southwicks to be sold into slavery in Barbados. While the sentence was never carried out, the Southwicks, along with their Quaker son-in-law, Samuel, made their way south. Provided’s parents never made it, dying in New York (some accounts have them dying from exposure on Shelter Island in Long Island Sound), but Provided and Samuel made it to New Jersey, where there was a burgeoning Quaker community. They first settled in Salem, NJ (the name means “peaceful/complete” in Hebrew), and then made their way southward to what is now Burlington County, across the river from Philadelphia – essentially the capital of Quakerism in the New World.

Samuel’s son Edward moved from Burlington (the county-seat today), most likely because he was looking for space for himself, and land near Philadelphia was becoming scarcer every month. They then relocated to what is now Mt. Holly and helped construct the Friend’s (Quaker) Meeting House that still stands in the center of town. They realized that the Rancocas Creek which ran through this very small town could be harnessed for a mill. Edward and his sons dug a mill race which still remains today as it was dug in 1720-23. They then built a watered powered grist mill. With this and the addition of other settlers, Mt. Holly soon became a wealthy and growing town.

All of this I knew before my arrival in Mt. Holly from doing work on the internet and ordering some very specialized books from Amazon. One of them was a record of Quaker meeting records in Mt. Holly from 1716-mid 1800’s. Mentioned in the meetings are some of my ancestors, who according to the meeting records, “took too strong drink”on many occasions. The Gaskill family also purchased a large tract of land for farming, which today lies north of town, under a housing development.

I knew a bit more about some of my father’s direct line, but the object of my visit was to try to find out more about his mother’s family. My grandfather Alvin married a Miss Ella Wood, and by all accounts, he was marrying up and she down. Actually, from what I have heard and learned, her family disowned her for that marriage.

I never knew my grandmother. I was told that she died when my father was a small boy. It was not until I was in my 40’s, that I found out that that was a lie. I had been told that she had been sent to the Ancora Mental Hospital in New Jersey and died there when my dad was a boy. It turned out that she actually passed when I was about 8 years old. She lived the majority of her life in the mental hospital. As far as I can figure out (and I have been unsuccessful in gaining access to any existing records), she suffered from either severe post-partum depression or bipolar disorder. Either way, my mother was told by her sister in law that there was a violent “incident” with my father when he was a very small child, and that was that. Very, very sad. Likely today she would have been examined, given a prescription, and life would have gone on in a more normal fashion. I can’t tell you what a change that might have made in many lives.

“Wood” is a common name, but with a little digging in old family photos and online, I learned that my paternal grandmother’s family came from Philadelphia and Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Her father was Howard Henry Wood and her mother Grace, nee’ Greenhawlk. Howard’s father was Howard Craven Wood, (b. 1831). This is where I hit the roadblock that I’ve been trying to break through for at least three years.

Though I may have found Howard’s father before I left, it was really tenuous, and I needed hard evidence. What I did find in my three-year search basically was this – Howard lived with a man (either as an orphan, which seemed most likely or as an apprentice – which the jury is still out on) in the Friends who seemed to put up young men and women, mostly those without parents. Over the course of thirty years, the names changed, but the ages didn’t. Mr. Joseph Norris of Bucks County was a saddle /harness maker and he trained Howard C. Wood in the trade.

That is as much as I could find out. Just before I left for my trip, obtained/digitized/released more Pennsylvania records. It might be that a Joshua Wood was Howard’s father, but there are many Joshua Woods, and I was not able to find the definitive clue that would solve the puzzle. “Close, but no cigar.” Finding Howard Craven Wood’s father was the object of my trip.

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