Here’s how it started: we were visiting my parents and got talking about past generations. My dad was telling me about my great grandfather Herman, who was an avid angler, loved black licorice, and smoked a pipe rolled his own cigarettes.

my great grandfather, Herman Beckstrom (possibly also known as Hermann Backstrom or Hermann Johnson), in 1963

In the course of the conversation, one of my parents casually mentioned that they had a book that had some history about my mom’s side of the family as well.

They got it out… and I was astounded!

The book, “The Tuggle Family of Virginia: Thomas Tuggle of Middlesex County, Virginia, and his descendants 1630-1967” by Virginia Tuggle, is an incredibly thorough history detailing just what the title suggests. Up until the moment they brought the book out, I thought of my family tree as being rather small, and didn’t know much about our family’s history. This book not only showed me that our history is deep and rich, but also planted a seed in me: I wanted to know more.

The book only details the Tuggles, the family of my mom’s dad; What about her mom’s family? And my dad’s family? And my dad’s mom’s family? And my dad’s dad’s family? And so on and so forth?

And thus I began my quest to find out.

Why?

My primary motivation is simple: I want to know. I’m not especially concerned with my family’s ethnic background – whether we come from northern Europe or anywhere else doesn’t change who I am – but I want to learn more just to learn. I want to know because it’s possible to know.

How?

Since that moment a few weeks ago, I’ve spent hours upon hours on the internet and at the library poring over census records, draft registration cards, immigration records; plotting addresses on maps, finding family photographs and connecting names to faces; I’ve been learning about my family. Using a piece of software called Gramps (basically an open-source clone of Family Tree Maker) with help from my father-in-law (he entered in a bunch of the Tuggles) and my parents (filling in more gaps, providing pictures, etc.), I’ve been able to use the information I’ve found to reconstruct a portion of my family tree.

part of my family tree; folks directly related to me. (Click to download the tree full-size. Some names blacked out for privacy/security)

I’ve been able to find a great deal of information for free, using websites like Find a Grave, geni.com, and Family Search (I really appreciate the LDS folks making all this information available for free!), supplemented by details and photos from ancestry.com, provided by my father-in-law’s subscription and the library version available at any Kent District Library (!!!), as well as information from living family members (although I’ve only scratched the surface here).

Isaac James Strode (6th great grandfather), tax list from Kanawha County, West Virginia, 1802

Granted, I certainly have errors – incorrect dates, misspelled names, wrong relationships – but it’s a start. Perhaps living members of my family can help me make corrections and fill in the gaps!

Aside from collecting and documenting this information, I also want to share it with family. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is interested in our family history, and I’m definitely not the only one who has been researching it. (In fact, digging through message boards I’ve found posts from extended family members looking for the same information I am, sometimes decades earlier.)

My Uncle Tim researching Homer G. Frew online 14 years ago, just like I’m doing now

Ideally, I’ll record all this information – names, dates, records, photos, locations, stories, notes – in some accessible format and make it available to every living person on the family tree. This might take the form of a book, like the Tuggle book; or perhaps a website, printed pages in a binder, or all of the above. (I’m also working on scanning the Tuggle book so I can make it available online, and am toying with the idea of using OCR programs to convert it to text, which would allow making a easily distributed, searchable ebook. Big plans!)

Rudolph Jarchow’s World War I draft registration card

Now that I have some information I think my family might find interesting, I begin the process of reaching out and sharing some of it; right now I don’t have a nice way to distribute all of it, but I’m working on it.

The Jarchow Family, sometime between 1885 and 1887

Discoveries

My great grandmother, Carrie Lehman

In the meantime, I thought I’d share the first steps of my family history journey here. Throughout the short course of my research thus far, among the collection of dates and places, I’ve also stumbled upon some facts that I find especially interesting. Here are some of my favorite discoveries:

General stuff

I’ve learned that a bunch of my family comes from Essex, England. Other parts of the family originate in the Westphalia region of Germany (what used to be far western Prussia) and northeast Germany. Portions of the Tuggles, who have been in North America since the 1600’s, are found all over the southern United States.

Not surprisingly, many of my ancestors had tons of kids (Willhelm William Jarchow had a hand in making at least twelve kids, apparently with three different women).  I suspect I am related to a whole lot of living people.

My ancestors had difficult lives. I’ve found many accounts of illness, childbirth deaths, crowded ship crossings (400 people in one case), and unemployment.

Privilege

All that said, I also must appreciate the privileged place in society my ancestors have occupied, and I still do; people of African descent living in the United States most likely can’t trace their ancestors back to specific towns or villages. As is becoming more apparent to more and more folks, people with white skin from the northern parts of Europe (i.e. all of my ancestors, so far) have had it comparably good to everybody else in the United States. To summarize: I’m really glad that I can so easily find so much of my family tree, and I’m doing my best to acknowledge the immense privilege that represents.

Beckstrom side

  • Captain John Sherman, my 9th great grandfather, was chosen Ensign in 1654, and was Steward of Harvard college in 1662
  • Fritz Lehmann (great great grandfather), ran and owned a saloon in St. Paul, Minnesota around 1900. His son Frank was a piano builder

    Frederick “Fritz” Lehman and Caroline (Karelina) Deebach on their wedding day
  • My 9th great grandfather, Ralph Allen of Sandwich, Sr., came to Massachusetts from England and became a Quaker. He was jailed and fined because of it. He started a church that still exists as a church today!

    Allen’s Neck Meeting House (church), Dartmouth, Mass
  • Ralph Allen and Susannah Allen had two kids (among many others) – Ebenezer Allen and Increase Allen, whose great great great grandchildren got married (they were 4th cousins)
  • My 4th great grandfather, Rescom Tallman, fought in the revolutionary war on the American side
  • My great great grandfather, John F. Beckstrom, appears to have had a child with a woman that wasn’t my great great grandmother

    this MIGHT be my great great grandfather, John Beckstrom

Immigrations

  • Ralph Allen of Sandwich – from Thurcaster, England sometime before 1630
  • Captain John Sherman – from Essex, England in 1634
  • Benjamin Boorman – from Kent, England in 1835
  • Sarah Hosmer – from Headcorn, Kent, England in 1844
  • Wilhelm William Jarchow and Sophia Henzpeter – from Wesentin, Mecklenburg-Vorpommen, Germany on October 24, 1863 left from Hamburg, Germany aboard the ship “Teutonia”, and arrived in New York on November 21, 1863
  • Karelina Deebach – from Germany in 1872
  • Frederick “Fritz” Lehman – from Germany in 1874
  • Ida Johnson – from Sweden in 1876
  • John F Beckstrom – from Sweden in 1879

Tuggle side

  • Homer G. Frew (great grandfather) had a patent for nut-lock, was involved in local politics in New Philadelphia, Ohio; worked at U.S. Immigration, possibly at Ellis Island

    Homer G. Frew’s patent for “nut-lock”, 1908
  • Clayton Tuggle and Mildred Becker, my great grandparents, were born in Kentucky
  • Emma J. Stroud, b 1846, moved from Illinois to the Kansas Territory (conceivably to homestead and be a pioneer etc.)

Immigrations

  • Thomas Tugwell – from England in 1654
  • Johannes Theodor Schepers – from Dingden, Germany before 1876

What’s next?

If you are in my family tree, I’m going to be getting in touch with you soon! Let’s connect, share stories and information, pictures and recipes, anecdotes and jokes. Let’s reconstruct our family tree!


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