Saturday, 7 March 2009

Annoying Dead People

We've been tracing our family tree for years. Most times it's an intriguing pursuit, lots of research, scrolling through old documents on microfilm, old census records, and word of mouth from other researchers. It's really quite rewarding. But they can drive you nuts when you hit a brick wall. We hit the wall back in 1765.

We've always been stuck on the progenitor of our McCombs family in Canada, named Timothy; like that means anything to anyone reading this - like one of you is going to comment "hey, I know that guy, we had a Late at Starbucks last week".

Everything I have found on the family stops with this guy. No birth date or place, no death date or place, he just disappears from the records. Some of his sons are documented, hence me being on this earth. However, Timothy is a dud.

My sister and I recently found info on him, but in the most annoying manner imaginable. A contact is insisting he knows all about him, and the story, if released, would blow the lid off the family. He's the black sheep, and must be kept under wraps. He has been feeding us hints for the past couple of weeks, and I would like to shake him until he stops this little game. Timothy has been dead for close to 200 years. If he was a black sheep and did something horrendous, WHO CARES! He's my ancestor and the key to the genealogy of my family. I need to know without being fed little snippits and clues. If the info is out there, it shouldn't be kept hidden by someone who just feels like playing a game. This guy thinks the world will crumble if the crime is made public, and he wants nothing to do with it. Frankly, he doesn't have to. It wasn't his research, he just knows where the research is.

Here's the scoop. Timothy was living in the Niagara region at the outbreak of the war of 1812. His two sons joined up to fight with the Canadian Lincoln Flank Militia, supporting the British Army against the Americans. The only record we have of Timothy is that at the time he tried to join up, he was refused entry to the militia on the basis that he was 47 years old and 'infirm'. This puts his birth at 1765. He was too sick to fight. The great scandal is that in 1813, he sold his lands and headed off to the American side. He was a traitor to the British crown. There it is, the great secret is out. His sons fought on with the Canadians, eventually gaining pensions for their efforts and settled here, raised families, blah, blah, blah, hence, me.

Timothy was tried in absentia in 1818 by the British government as a traitor and found guilty. He was exiled from Upper Canada (present day Ontario). Ironically enough, he had been gone for 5 years at this point. The problem with this theory is that there is not proof given as of yet. Until we see the microfilm with his name on it, it's just a theory. But it at least clears up a mystery. Why is there no record of him in Upper Canada?

Timothy was originally from the US. One of his sons that fought in that war was John McCombs, born in Bennington Vermont, 1792. He died in St. Catherines Ontario, in 1865 after a long well documented life. So Timothy simply went back to his roots. He went back home. We can't find him there because nobody ever really looked there. We were still looking here.

Ok, so my GGGG grandfather was a traitor to the British Crown.

So what. The person who fed us this juicy tidbit thinks the world will end if this becomes general knowledge. So he's just feeding us clues. Well, here's a clue - IT IS GENERAL KNOWLEDGE. Just not by us. In the past couple of weeks we have pieced the clues together and realized that this has been all over the internet since at least 2000, we just weren't looking in the right places. Now, sis and I are on the hunt for the irrefutable proof.

Now the question turns to who was Timothy's father? The search begins anew. We have leads that place him in the realm of General Alexander Macomb and his family. We think Timothy was actually his uncle. General Macomb was the Commander of the American Army in the early 1820s, hero of the battle of Plattsburgh in the War of 1812, and son of a very well known trader from New York. A very rich trader (trader, traitor? Hmmmm).

Strangely, General Macomb's statue in downtown Detroit (conveniently located in Macomb County, Michigan), is the perfect likeness of my great uncle, Theodore McCombs. A humble farmer from Essex who died in 1971. Uncle 'Doke' lived his entire life just 40 kms from the General's hometown of Detroit. I live 2 kms from that statue. Strange how things work themselves back around. The Macomb family lived in Detroit before it was part of the US. When it was still a french colony. The family also owned Grosse Isle, a large island downriver from us at the terminus of the Detroit River where is meets Lake Erie. Their history is well documented. Google 'The Macomb Purchase', and you'll see just how rich and powerful this family was. Great architects, military men, land speculators, and the like made the Macomb family a powerful influence on the infant United States. My line comes from the few of these men who wanted to move to Upper Canada, a british colony at the time. If the hunch is correct, I am related to this great American family.

It's not the only tie I have to the US. In the late 1700s, as the outbreak of the Revolution, my Depew family line was living a comfortable farming life in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. They were Tories, or supporters of the British Crown in the colonies. They lost everything when the patriots gave them, like thousands of other loyalists, the option of changing alliegence, or changing their addresses. The Depew and Cohoe families chose to leave. They lost everything and became refugees at the Niagara frontier. Some of them signed up to fight with the Crown, one in particular fought with the famous Butler's Rangers in the New York area throughout the revolution. He served with distinction and was granted land in what is now the City of Hamilton. We've even traced his lands to what is now the Stelco Steel plant along the waterfron of that city. We even have is actual petition for lands as a United Empire Loyalist.

So there, multiple connections to the US. I am a proud Canadian, and always have been. Lately, I have been seeing this connection more often and have a newfound appreciation for my roots. Although it's been 200 years since my family came here, the origins are almost certainly American.

We've even traced ancestry back to the great American frontiersman Daniel Boone, and loosely to Wyatt Earp (although this line is still speculative). Every family has their heroes and black sheep. We should all be proud of both. Both have shaped who you are. I like to think that I have a little bit of hero and a little bit of trouble maker in my blood. I'm not ashamed of Timothy, if indeed it proves true that he really did betray his country and his family. It's history. It's my history and I'm proud of it. I really don't think that the descendants of Benedict Arnold want him swept under the rug.

At the end of the day, the hunt goes on. There are more out there we haven't found, and for better or worse, I will accept them as my ancestors and be proud of my roots.