Surname Longevity

How long do surnames live in memory?

With people, women’s average life expectancy is longer than men’s. With surnames, just the opposite is true.

Paternal surnames are often remembered for many generations, but maternal surnames are often forgotten after only two generations. It seems that most people, except those who have been bitten by the genealogy bug, do not know or remember the surnames of either of their grandmothers.

Why is this? Why do non-genealogists believe that genealogy is only about one’s own surname? Why does mainstream media continue to encourage this belief? Aren’t mothers’ genes important? Just as important? Why aren’t mothers railing against this unfair bias by the mainstream media?

The line of one’s father’s father’s father’s father’s etc. is but one thin thread from the large and undoubtedly very colorful tapestry of one’s ancestry. The law of averages says that most of the excitement is elsewhere; on one (or most probably both) of the paths that begin with either one’s mother or one’s father’s mother.

To know all of one’s ancestry for twenty generations (only about six centuries) means that one can fill in more than one million boxes on one’s ancestor chart. The line of one’s father’s father’s father’s father’s etc. represents only twenty (20) of those one million plus boxes.

I wonder when the mainstream media will begin exploring and reporting on all of the exciting and enriching possibilities on mothers’ ancestral pathways?


Who established the first steam laundry in California? Who ran the first regular steam ferry between San Francisco and Oakland, CA?

The answer to both questions is Hon. Henry Augustus Stearns, but it almost would have had to have been someone else.

In his early twenties, Henry Augustus Stearns was engaged in the manufacture of cotton-wadding in New England. But in 1850 he sailed for California via the Isthmus of Panama with machinery for a steam laundry.

Shortly after leaving Panama, Henry’s story could have easily ended. He could have been just another young man who embarked on an adventure, perished at sea, and never had a chance to make his mark on history.

The ship was not seaworthy. It floated about on the Pacific Ocean for four months. All on board were allowed only four ounces of bread and a pint of water each, per day.

But he survived to reach California and make his mark on history in the San Francisco Bay area. Later he returned to New England and became the first Superintendent of the Union Wadding Company in Pawtucket, RI, father of eight children, Lieutenant Governor of RI, the largest stockholder in the Kilby Manufacturing Company in Cleveland, OH, the owner of a cattle ranch in NM, and a member of the Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. He also obtained a number of patents on cotton-gins, and patented the railway safety-gate.

How might one additional week adrift at sea have affected the subsequent chain of events?

The Crossing

After watching “The Crossing” last night on television, we looked in our new American & European Family Forest Millennium Edition for more information about Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River.
Of course the Founders & Patriots section of the A&E Family Forest contained soldiers who were there, but the two people I found of most interest were in the Mid-Atlantic section of the A&E Family Forest. They were Dr. Nathaniel Luff (PIN 2713) and Major John Hazzard (PIN 918).

According to volume III of “Delaware: A History of the First State” Major John Hazzard was a Revolutionary War hero who “piloted” Washington across the Delaware River. It might be that “piloted” is a bit of exaggeration, since Colonel John Glover’s Marblehead fishermen appeared to have had complete control of Washington’s crossing. But then again, Major Hazzard was from nearby Delaware, and could have been much more familiar with the territory and the river than those from Marblehead, MA.

Whatever the particulars, his descendants can be justly proud that he was there. Major Hazzard married three times, was the father of a Delaware governor, and had numerous other descendants. In addition to those named Hazzard, his descendants (and families they married into) who are included in the Mid-Atlantic section of the A&E Family Forest had surnames of Clark, Coates, Davis, Fisher, Hafleigh, McCurdy, Wolf, and Wolfe.

Dr. Nathaniel Luff, only twenty when he crossed the Delaware with General Washington, was a surgeon in the First Battalion of Philadelphia. Twenty-three years later, he was a founder of the Delaware Medical Society. He was married twice and had at least eight children. In addition to those named Luff, his descendants (and families they married into) who are included in the Mid-Atlantic section of the A&E Family Forest had surnames of Atkins, Buckingham, Camper, Clancey, Coverdale, Cohee, Elliott, Green, Harrington, Jarrell, Kruger, Lord, Miller, Reoch, Ross, Southard, Tucker, Valentine, Voshell, Warren, Warrington, Wassman, and Wharton.

After more than two centuries, there can be a very large number of descendants from those hundreds of young soldiers who crossed the Delaware River with Washington at that pivotal point in American history. I can’t help but wonder how many people who watched “The Crossing” had ancestors who were actually there in December 1776, but are unaware of the fact.