My thanks to Jesse Carpenter for asking me to write a few paragraphs about my role as “the family genealogist,” which I’m honored to be named and just a little embarrassed to accept. I’m not sure exactly when or how I started my own personal quest to find out where my Carpenter family name came from. “What country did our ancestor/s leave and what nationality were they?” I asked several family members, most of whom are no longer with us, some time after 1986 when I got sober for the first time. I had a lot of extra time, money and energy it seemed and although I’d never participated much in family events, I did have a longing to know the Carpenters’ country of origin and a bit more about our common story.
I got speculations from “maybe we were French, you know, Carpentier” to instructions from some wonderful women at the Santa Monica, California LDS Family History Library who said “you might want to look for ‘Zimmerman’ because that means ‘carpenter’ in German. Several of our families were Zimmermans.” They were speaking from experience but I didn’t really know where to start other than just looking through thousands of volumes of records for that name.
Some of my earliest Carpenter Family History letters (I designed a logo for it and made a rubber stamp for the return address I would be imprinting on hundreds of envelopes the next few years it turns out), most of them now in Jesse Carpenter’s archives, date from the early 1990’s. I subscribed to Genealogy Magazine, attended a couple of genealogy lectures in Los Angeles, and started talking with others who had successfully researched, written and published their family histories.
Mine was “simpler,” I thought, as I was only pursuing Carpenters — father-of-father-of-father as far back as I could find them was my goal. And I wasn’t researching any of their children other than those of Henry David Carpenter (my Great Grandfather) because many of them would most likely still be alive. That’s where I began sometime around 1992. What a lot of paper, stamps, and hours of genealogical sleuthing lay ahead for me.
Two things that really grabbed my attention at my first genealogy lecture were: 1) That in seven generations (please, no jokes about “seven degrees from Kevin Bacon” although it does apply to him genealogically) every person in the world has someone in seven generations of their family tree who “crosses” someone in (yours). That “commonality” really appealed to me. 2) If one starts with their parents and, “parents-of-parents” only, goes back 40 generations, about 800+ years figuring 25 years per generation, there are more than one million names on the chart (in mathematics it’s 2 to the 40th power). And the chart would be a city block long and the width of a city street to accommodate the names!!! That really “blew my mind,” as we used to say in the 60’s.
With that motivation, I then bought a book titled “How to Write Your Family History” as I had never attempted such a project before, needed some guidance, and wanted to “do it right” if I possibly could. All those factored into my approach and decisions for the next 10+ years. The book “suggested” (I later found out that this “suggested” style is what all professional genealogists and genealogical libraries use as a template) that one “proves” one’s own birth, parents, residence etc. with at least 2, hopefully 3, independent sources. Next proceed to “prove” both of your parents parents, in the same manner. “Easy,” I thought.
Now mind you, 2 to 3 independent sources of confirming each and every date and place gets time consuming but can be done especially in current times. But this method proves to be almost impossible in areas like Montana during its territorial era, and even more challenging during the Revolutionary War era of our country and earlier. At times this was mind boggling and frustrating, but I’d heard plenty of stories from the LDS ladies and people at conferences who had similar “brick wall” experiences, an expression that means not being able to find any record or mention of where they might be in any other document — a figurative barrier for researching any further. However I was determined to find as much as I could before I died or ran out of money and/or interest.
Finding several sources for my own Grandfather, Peter Patterson Carpenter, proved to be more of a challenge than I had though. No one seemed to know where he was born other than “maybe Kalispell.” I contacted the Research Librarian at the Kalispell Public Library (Jesse may have the letters from mid 1990s) to request anything they had on Peter or David or any other Carpenters in the period from 1888 to 1900.
Sharon informed me that the local Kalispell Historical Society had indexed all the newspapers from the early 1880s to the 1920s and that she’d contact me back when she found something. She called some time later to inform me that she had, indeed, found newspaper stories about David. “But I don’t think you’re going to like this very much,” she confided. “It really doesn’t affect me,” I assured her, “I’m just collecting the history.” Turns out that Great Grandfather had been arrested “on a serious charge” as it was reported (Statutory Rape as Cora Hopkins, the housekeeper for David and his three young children which included my Grandfather Peter, was 19 years old and still considered a minor), but that the charge was dropped after he and Cora were married in the Kalispell County Jail — he was free to leave with his new bride.
It was the marriage certificate from that single event that listed David’s parents’ names and both the date and place of his birth — Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania. Had he not been forced, it seems, to get married, we wouldn’t have this record which led directly to Williamsport, Pennsylvania. I’d already contacted the Bureau of Land Management which gave me the application that David had filed for his homestead of 160 acres north of Kalispell, but none of the information included his parents’ names and place of birth. This was a HUGE discovery that I shared immediately with cousin, Philip Carpenter, who was one of my greatest cheerleaders for family history both then and now.
It seemed the next stop would be research in Williamsport PA, close to Jersey Shore listed on the marriage certificate. Robin Leidhecker was a local Willimasport historian and genealogist who ran a small listing in Genealogy Magazine; I called her with my research request and she produced, over the course of more than a year, a binder of Carpenters in the area. The binder of her research is with Jesse Carpenter in his archives and it shows the land and court records for David A. Carpenter back 5 generations.
The next chapter of this story, however, may have to be written some time in the future after someone other than my self confirms a direct link. There’s circumstantial evidence for a Samuel Carpenter who lived and sold property adjacent to the last “proved” Carpenter in our line about 1802 (that’s right after the Revolutionary War) but no direct evidence, let alone 3 pieces of independent confirmation, for such a theory.
I offer my enthusiastic support and help to Jesse and every person who wishes to pursue the daunting research that lies ahead. From my point of view and from what I have read and heard from other genealogists, “proving back” (starting with an ancestor very far back in time and trying to find a connection to your self) is challenging, risky and usually inaccurate. If I’ve learned anything in my 67 years on this planet, one is to listen to people who have more experience and knowledge than my self. I’m sticking with that approach but welcome any and all facts and theories that any one has to offer. I believe that our shared goal should be to assemble and share the most accurate and creditable family research that we can.
- Roger Carpenter, August 20, 2016