History worth a fortune
Box holds treasures from family’s past
I walked in to the house of a woman I had never met. In her hands, she carried a box filled with photographs of the founding members of my family, most of whom lived, worked and died in Morris.
Amidst the photos and other memorabilia was something I had been searching for since I started my journey in genealogy. A letter that, to the un-researched eye, would seem vague and nondescript. But for me and my family, it’s a map to our family fortune; a fortune that’s been sought for generations, but never recovered.
Most people find their hobbies in their middle-age years, or after retirement. For me, it was when my eighth-grade social studies teacher assigned a family tree project. Since then, I have become known as the historian in my family, and part of the genealogy community in Grundy County, where nearly all of my ancestors resided.
The discoveries in the box run the gamut of a mysterious family fortune in Scotland that has since disappeared to the possession of a hotel room key owned by my great-great-aunt.
More locally, I learned my eight Morris-born great-, great-uncles and my great grandfather banded together to form an all-brother baseball team in the county known as the Enger 9. I also learned my family has deep pioneer roots in Morris.
The fortune, being one of my greater discoveries, is something that was supposedly swindled from my family’s possession. This fortune was talked about for years and mostly regarded as myth, but there was reference to it in the Morris Daily Herald in 1909 and accounts from relatives.
Recently, I was working on the Ferguson side, and hit a brick wall with my great-, great-grandfather, William Ferguson, who was the first of the Fergusons to come to America from Scotland. We have consistently come up with dead ends when trying to figure out when and where he came from in Scotland. We have no idea who his parents are or if he had any brothers or sisters.
Much of my research is done through ancestry.com, a genealogical website that provides access to millions of records and users tracing their roots. I can search families who have married into the Ferguson family on the off chance they have information I can use. This typically has not provided much, but even the smallest details have been exciting.
Last November, I emailed one of these members and did not immediately get a reply. I put it out of my head and continued to research other avenues. In March, I received a reply from a woman who lived in Morris named Bette Farmer. She said she had some information on the Fergusons, as well as a box belonging to my great-great aunt on the Ferguson side. I was thrilled, thinking there were probably a few pictures and maybe even information about where our Scotland roots were located.
As we communicated via email, she told me there were many photographs, cards and a letter or two as well. I arranged to meet her the next weekend, hardly able to wait to see what was in this mysterious box.
When I arrived, Bette brought out a banker’s file box FULL of pictures, cards and other personal items. I asked her how she obtained this box, seeing as our connection was quite remote. She told me that a neighbor of hers had helped someone move out on Benton Street. As they were finishing up, he asked if there was anything in the attic. The family moving said they never had gone up there, but the man was curious and asked if he could go up to look around. When he did, he saw a box sitting there.
He started looking through it and called a friend of his he knew was researching the Kay family. This man took the box and forgot about it for a couple of years, but as he was cleaning things up, he came across it again and called Bette, his cousin, to ask her if she would like it since it was more of her side of the Kay family that was being researched.
As I looked through the box, I realized that this was more than just a box belonging to my great-great aunt. This particular box had a much closer connection to my immediate family.
As I sifted through personal cards, pictures and letters, I realized this box had once been in my grandparents’ possession.
The house that the box came from must have been the house my father had been born in on Benton Street. When they moved, the box must have been forgotten in the attic and sat there for more than 60 years, just waiting to make its way back to me.
I also noticed a letter in the box dated 1909. It detailed the names, dates and details regarding the fortune we had always heard about as kids. As soon as I got home, I Googled some of the names and found that this family fortune was quite famous. Many of the photographs in the box are of unfamiliar faces with no names or dates labeled on the back. Identifying their faces will be the next mystery I undertake.
My journey with genealogy always surfaces new surprises. I’ve discovered that often your ancestors come to you when you truly seek them out. While we did not discover the origins of William Ferguson and where our Scottish ancestors came from, I know that someday those details will surface.
To see the pictures discovered in the box, please visit: https://picasaweb.google.com/112498463225742658257/FoundPhotos?authuser=0&feat=directlink. If you are able to help with the identifications of those in the photographs, contact me at email@example.com.