Alford Abner Sisley

Have you ever thought about being that person who invents a catch-phrase? One of those phrases you hear people say like, “later, dude” or “Cowabunga”? Or maybe when you were younger you wanted to start a new dance craze? Well, my mother and grandmother have the great distinction of inventing Alford Abner Sisley out of thin air.

Alford Abner Sisley was born on February 11, 1848 in Meadville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania to Lewis William Sisley and Catherine Betts and died on February 11, 1948 in Clinton, Rock County, Wisconsin. Look him up, he’s all over the internet, on family trees dotted throughout the United States. Like Forrest Gump, Alford probably fought in wars and met presidents. After all, he lived to be 100 years old. And like Forrest Gump, Alford is a purely fictional character. Made up out of thin air.

Alford Abner Sisley
Birth 11 Feb 1848 in Meadville, Crawford, Pennsylvania, United States
Death 11 Feb 1948 in Clinton, Rock, Wisconsin, United States
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• Birth
1848 11 Feb
Meadville, Crawford, Pennsylvania, United States
• Death
1948 11 Feb Age: 100
Clinton, Rock, Wisconsin, United States

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Family Members
• Lewis William Sisley
1803 – 1880

Catherine Betts
1807 – 1880

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Spouse & Children
• No Spouse

You might ask yourself why my mother and grandmother would have done such a thing. The answer is simple. It was the early 1950’s and they were transcribing a family Bible. The actual reading should have been Absalom Sisley but they had difficulty making out the faded ink and read it as Alford. From that moment on, Alford took on a life of his own. He made it onto family trees in the 1950’s and 1960’s and then came the invention of the internet. Alford loved the internet! Alford has soared through the internet with the ease of no one double-checking their facts. He soared through the internet with the ease of absolutely not one piece of documentation supporting his birth, life, or death.

Since his creation Alford has spread his wings so wide that he can never be recalled. Sending emails and adding notes to trees is useless because he just sprouts up on a new tree. Poor Alford, a man without a document or a burial place. Sentenced to roam across the World Wide Web forever. When you come across poor Alford, do him a favor, don’t add him to your tree. Alford has had a miserable life and deserves to pass away into the thin air from whence he came.

Yukon Helen

As family researchers our jobs are not just to investigate the facts but to learn about the people, the times, and how they influenced each other. Are there occasions you when came upon a name that just drew you in, someone whom you wished to know more about? That is just the way I felt when I came across Yukon Helen and thankfully her son kept a couple of letters giving me some answers to my questions.

Helen Branch was born in 1838 in St. Lawrence County, New York and married Walter Elon Howe, my 1st cousin 5x removed. Helen and Walter had 3 sons, 2 living to adulthood. So far they appear to be a normal hard-working farming family settled in upper New York, but looks can be deceiving can’t they?

After years of marriage, with their two sons grown, one newly married and the other practicing medicine in Iowa, Helen made a choice that would affect all of their lives. She made the fateful decision to travel from New York State to the Yukon Territory in search of gold! Helen was 59 years old. She writes in a letter to her younger son Artie that she doesn’t wish for her older son William to travel to the Yukon without “near family”, I’m guessing she didn’t consider his new wife to be “near” enough.

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So Helen, her son William and his newlywed wife Mabel Short packed their belongings and made the journey to Seattle where they joined the throngs of men (and a few women) heading for the gold fields of the Yukon Territory. Arriving in Seattle the small group learned that the gold fields had all been claimed. Since they had prepaid for their journey to Skagway, they decided to continue. One of the requirements the Canadian government had set in place was that each person was required to carry in with them 1,000 pounds of food and supplies.

Being resourceful people, Helen and William bought 1,000 pounds of flour, sugar and blackberries. They made the arduous journey and settled at Lake Bennett which was at the bottom of Chilkoot Pass and the spot where the miners began their boat trek on the Yukon River. In this spot Helen, William, and Mabel set up a sales counter and began to bake and sell blackberry pies for $100 in gold dust each. William also purchased used mining equipment from the men returning to the States and resold it to newly arrived prospectors.

Helen died in 1898, just a few short months after arriving in the Yukon. Although there is a headstone in Potsdam, St. Lawrence County, New York with her name inscribed, I think it is more likely that she was buried where she died in Tagish, Yukon Territory. The cost of transporting her body at that time would have been prohibitive. William and Mabel remained in the Yukon for a few years, showing up in Seattle in the 1910 Federal Census. They moved to Los Angeles sometime before 1930 where William died in 1933. Mabel lived a great many more years, dying at the age of 95 in Los Angeles in 1967.

Yukon Helen is remembered in her family as a woman of great spirit with an indomitable will to go her own way. Genealogists love to seek out stories of perseverance, grit, and determination and pass them on, it is a way of learning who we are. I encourage you to pass on your stories. You can start by just writing them down.

Now that you’ve heard the story what do you do next?

Now that you’ve heard the story what do you do next? You know the story I mean, the one grandpa tells every time the family gets together. Maybe your story is the one where grandpa’s great-great-grandfather fought under George Washington. Or maybe he married a Cherokee princess, or maybe his cousin was Hannibal Lector.

When you are ready to learn the true facts of your family’s stories, narrow down which story you want to most prove (or disprove). Focus on just that one story. That word is the key to success. Focus. Single-mindedness. Don’t allow yourself to be side-tracked by the other interesting stories you come across. Note them down for later research and immediately return to your main goal.

Having a goal will keep you motivated and on the track to completion. If your story is about an ancestor fighting under Washington, look for your ancestor’s Revolutionary War pension application or land grant.

Research your ancestor’s movements in the Revolutionary War, in what battles was he involved? From which colony did he join? Was he the right age? Research the possibilities before you try to prove the connection. Why spend your time researching General Washington’s battles if your ancestor wasn’t born until 1770. You’ve never wasted your time when researching your own ancestor.

Keep notes on what you learn, record everything that you find, companies he was in, and captains he served under, other family members he served with, and pay records. Each of these documents will help you to slowly build your case. Once you have your proof contact your local Daughters of the American Revolution or Sons of the American Revolution Chapter and ask them what documents you need to join, they will be happy to give you that information. Good luck on your family story!

Grandma is related to Robert E. Lee and other stories I’ve been told

Grandma’s second cousin was General Robert E. Lee, at least that’s what I was told as a child. How exciting! I wanted to know more so I did what every inquisitive person does, I researched. The more I researched into my family and who they are and the more I researched into the family history of Robert E. Lee, the more questions I had. As hard as I tried, I could not find any relationship between my 2nd great-grandmother Malinda Lee and the family of Robert E. Lee. I asked others in my family and learned they all had heard the same story but no one had any actual facts or proof.

After years of research I was stuck, I had hit the proverbial brick wall. So what am I to believe? Were the family stories wrong or am I barking up the wrong family tree? Most families have that one story that has been passed down through the generations, some have been told they are Mayflower descendants, others “know” they share Native American bloodlines, or maybe like one of my other lines they are descended from someone famous. I was told my Chaffee line was descended from Geoffrey Chaucer but just a few minutes of searching one night proved that our forefather was actually a foremother, Katherine Chaucer, Geoffrey’s much lesser known sister.

So what am I going to do about the Robert E. Lee story? I am going to sit on it. I am going to let it simmer in the background until I get enough information to either discount it entirely or prove it to my satisfaction. Sometimes our success comes from our failure, like my failure to prove descent from Geoffrey Chaucer instead added a new line for Simon Manning born about 1344 in England. Embrace your failures.