Uploaded More on Thomas Downs(#20)

I have added a couple of new pages to DownsGenealogy.com.  First of all, I’ve added a biographical sketch on my great grandfather, Tomas Downs(#20).  He came to America in 1882 and is the progenitor of my Downs family in this country.  He came to this country as a telegraph operator on the first direct telegraph cable connecting Europe and America.  Read his biography here.

The other piece is an article on Thomas Downs’s Contract with the French Cable Company as an operator in America.  Much of the information is the same in both, but the Biographical Sketch tells Thomas’s story, all I know.  The article analyzes that document and takes you through how I analyzed it and what it told me.  I expect most casual readers would want to read the biographical sketch first and if their interest is piqued, they can read the article.

I also forgot to link the genealogical charts and stuff for John W. Downs (#18) when I put up his biographical sketch last month.  That is now corrected, or you can just look here:

Ancestry of John W. Downs

Vital Information for John W. Downs

DownsGenealogy.com Goes Live!

I think I now have enough infrastructure up and running that I can go live with the website.   Now that things have settled into a final form, I can explain what is there, how to navigate it.  Actually, that is already done for you.  There is a table of contents that tell you what is there and links to everything.

I have been researching our family history since 1978, and I’m going to share that with everyone on this new site.  There will be two types of works I will be posting, and the first will be biographical sketches.  Consider these to be mini-biographies of our ancestors.  The other type will be articles, and these will cover the actual research itself, which is sometimes quite a fascinating tale.  The biographies tell the stories of the people, and the articles tell the story of how I found the information or show the proof for conclusions I have made.  To get up and running as quick as possible, I’ve only uploaded one article (on the Death Certificate of Thomas Downs) and one biographical sketch (my grandfather, John W. Downs).  There will be plenty more of both in the coming weeks.

There is a sister site, DownsFamilyTrees.com, that contains what most of you would consider the “genealogy.”  The two sites are cross-linked.  I have made a quick User Guide with screenshots to help you navigate that site too.

I will use the blog to let everyone know when I’ve added or updated anything.  You might also find there the progress reports on research, recent news, tangents that may be of interest and much more.  If you want to get an email when something new is published, follow the blog.  There is a link to do so on the right sidebar of the page.

There is also a Facebook group that I have created where you can keep up with updates.  I hope that maybe this group may be used for discussion on the topics I’m writing about in DownsGenealogy.com. Perhaps I might get inspiration from you on where to turn my sights next.

So, click around and explore both sites.  You can’t break anything.  If you have questions or need help with anything, please reach out to me at bill@downsgenealogy.com.

Progress on the Site

It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted so I thought I’d update everyone with a progress report.  I actually expected to have gone live by now with the site and not still be in the “blog only” stage.  I work on it daily and I’ve made some great progress.

The good news is that it should be up in a week or less and it will have far more functionality than I had dreamed possible at this stage.  The best part is the family trees are already uploaded to the server and you can click on an individual to see their family tree and information (family group sheet).  You can click through the sheets or the genealogical trees and follow all the different pedigrees and lines of descent.  These pages are created on the fly by software on the server.  There is information now stored in the database for 4,845 people on our family tree.

This is currently on a separate server from the website but I plan to use them in conjunction with plenty of linking.  If you read an article or biographical sketch of someone on DownsGenealogy.com, you will find links to them on the charts on the other server.  These will open in a separate window but should work well together.  I didn’t expect to have this working for everyone on the family tree so soon.

The website will be laid out on a main page explaining what you will find there and how to get to it.  I will go live with one article in the Article Section and one biographical sketch in the Biographical Sketch Section.  I also plan to have several of the other sections set up and ready to go like my Privacy Policy, Links, FAQs, Myths & Misconceptions, Reading Lists, etc.  I also plan to create a presence for this site on social media.

Look for the launch of DownsGenealogy.com sometime next week if I had to guess.

Two screen shots to show how the charts and family group sheets will look.



The Cemetery and Going to Sea

I will be publishing a few pages here at DownsGenealogy.com this long holiday weekend but right now I wanted to take a stroll down memory and maybe bring a few of you with me.  Delving deep into my memories of the past, here is a nostalgic look at bygone days.  Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving.

The Cemetery and Going to Sea

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white
sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean.

She is an object of beauty and strength and I stand and watch her until
at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and
sky comes down to mingle with each other. Then someone at my side says,
‘There! She’s gone.’

Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all. She is just as great in
mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side, and just as
able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her; and just at that moment when
someone at my side says, ‘There! She’s gone,’ there are other eyes
watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout,
‘There she comes!’ And that is dying.

Death stands above, whispering low, I know not what into my ear.
Of this strange language all I know is, there’s not a word of fear.


My family has been a part of Cape Cod for over 350 years. It was in 1644 that Giles Hopkins (#49) moved his family from Plymouth and became one of the founders of Eastham. His homestead occupied a major portion of land on the shore, opposite Eastham, on the Town Cove. This area is now part of Orleans and lies along both sides of Tonset Road. A ways down the road, you come to Hopkins Lane, probably named for Giles who settled there, but appropriate because the area has been full of Hopkins ever since. My grandmother’s maiden name was Hopkins and the driveway to her house on Tonset Road was only fifty yards from Hopkins Lane. As a young child, I figured that Hopkins Lane must have been named after her, since it was by her house. In reality, the old woman was living on a piece of land that had been originally settled by her great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather.

As a young child, I got to spend plenty of time at the Cape. I loved the Cape and I felt a certain magic there and this magic seemed to get stronger as we came down Tonset Road. On the right we would pass the cemetery where my grandfather is buried. About a hundred yards further was a little dirt driveway on the left side of the road. An old metal sign hung next to it that said, “John W. Downs.” As you came down the driveway, the first things to appear were two garages straight ahead. The first one had an old fashioned, accordion type door. The other one had the more modern overhead door. At the garages, the driveway would turn right and the house would come into sight. The first thing that you would notice would be the water. The house was built on the shore of the Town Cove, a navigable tidal inlet from the ocean.

I think the water and the ocean is what made this house, and the Cape, magic for me as a child. There was always that salt smell in the air. From the back porch, one could watch an endless display of boats on parade. A sunfish would glide gently over the water and then the silence would be broken by a power boat towing a water skier. Down by the water there were two boat houses and a workshop. One boat house was used to store the floating dock, the other contained the Helen. The Helen was my late grandfather’s boat. He named it after his wife, which seemed to be the custom of Cape men. Harry Hunt, who owned the next piece of property down along the shore, named his the Gertrude after his wife.

In one of the bedrooms downstairs, in my grandmother’s house, was a little statue of an old seaman. He stood upon a white dresser as if on watch. Another relic that fascinated me in that house was an old sea chest. I remember asking my grandmother about it. She told me it belonged to her uncle, Stillman Higgins(#500), who was lost at sea. In my young mind, I assumed that the ship had sunk. I asked her, “If the ship sunk Grandma, how come his chest is here?” She explained that he was washed out of the rigging during a storm and the ship returned to port with his belongings. He was just 16 years old.

Upstairs there was a single large bedroom and one bath. There were three beds up there and this is where my family stayed while visiting. One day while I was exploring the crawl space behind this room, I came across two quarterboards. A quaterboard is the plank on the side of a ship that has the name painted on it. They are usually black with white or gold lettering, and are affixed to the side of the ship near the prow. These were from the Marcellus and the Mary E. O’Hara. Tucked between the two boards someone, probably Uncle Giles(#102), had typed the story of the O’Hara on a couple of sheets of paper, to be saved for posterity. The pages were old, worm holed and hard to read. Apparently though, the O’Hara was a schooner that sank in Boston Harbor after a collision with another vessel. All but five members of her crew perished. The quarterboards, according to my mother, were given to my grandfather because he had something to do with the insurance settlement on the disaster. He was a Boston lawyer whose practice was mostly limited to insurance matters. These quarterboards, I was told by my father, used to be nailed to the side of the workshop by the dock.

This workshop was something straight out of bygone days. It had a pot bellied stove and a trap door in the roof to let the sunlight in. Many of the tools in there were probably over a hundred years old, as were the oil burning hurricane lamps, which at one time burned whale oil. The tools definitely were of boat building and repair nature. There were many planes of various sizes from eight inches to two feet in length. These appeared to be from the late 1700’s or early 1800’s to me, but I’m not an expert. They are carved from plain blocks of wood, with a metal blade inserted into them. This blade is held in place by a wooden wedge. In the corner stood two tools that were used to sand the decks of large ships. These were used in the days of the clippers, the tall ships. My grandfather served in the merchant marine back in the days when these square riggers were not only common, but still being built.

We used to go visit my grandfather’s grave in the cemetery along Tonset Road. The cemetery is adjacent to the Meeting House, which was built for the congregation to hold services in. Even though this isn’t the original, they have all occupied the same location. The cemetery has the oldest graves, dating to the early 1700’s, by the Meeting house. The Meeting House is at the bottom of a hill and the cemetery extends up the hillside. My grandfather is buried at the top of this hill. Working your way down this hill you can trace major portions of my family tree for generations and centuries. The magic of the Cape was very strong in the cemetery. Before I fully understood my ancestry, and the extent that it covered the landscape, I felt that it was a special place.

One day in this cemetery, I remember my father showing me the graves of his grandparents. I wish I had paid more attention to those stories then. We came upon a stone for Stillman Higgins. Dad confirmed that this was the same Stillman whose sea chest was back at Grandma’s house. The stone said, ‘Stillman Higgins, son of Thomas and Susan Higgins Lost at sea Sept. 9, 1854 ae. 16 yrs. 5 mos.’ I asked my father how could there be a body buried here, if he was lost at sea? He told me the stone was just a memorial to him, and explained what that meant.

When I was older, I read Uncle Giles’ manuscripts and the cemetery became even more special. I could actually recognize names that I now knew about. These were no longer just names and dates, they were people with stories. These were my ancestors, their brothers and sisters. Many of the names here in the cemetery, appear on my family tree. There are Higgins, Hopkins, Freeman, Snow, Bassett, Mayo, Knowles, Rogers and Linnell, to name just a few. All of them are either ancestors or cousins of mine to some degree. My genes and the blood in my veins come from many of them. A few of them I have had the privilege of knowing in life. Uncle Giles, for one, is buried a few feet away from Stillman’s stone.

In 1988, my grandmother died at almost 101 years of age. At the graveside service, the minister said a few words about our family. He mentioned that we have gone to sea for many generations and mentioned the special bond we had with the sea. He read the poem that I opened this chapter with and I believe it was also read at my grandfather’s graveside service. In fact, it has been implied to me that the reading of this poem at burials, may be something of a family tradition. It seems very fitting for a family that has known the sea so intimately in both life and death. As the minister read those words, I glanced down the hill about fifteen yards to Stillman’s memorial stone. Then I turned my attention to the blue casket that contained the remains of my grandmother. We were laying her to rest, next to her husband, on the top of the hill.

When my father died in 1995, I thought of how appropriate it would be to read this poem at his graveside. I had no idea where to find a copy of these words. I had only heard them once before at my grandmother’s burial and had no hope of calling them to memory. At the funeral home, an aunt tucked a piece of paper into my hand. It contained the poem and, later that day, I read it at my father’s grave. If it wasn’t tradition before, it is now. My father has now been laid to rest, next to his parents, on top of the hill.

Another place I went often as a child, was my Aunt Barbara’s house. She is my father’s sister and she lived in Chatham. Chatham was just a short ride from my grandmother’s house in Orleans. The house on Tonset Road was only built in the late 1930’s. Before this, my grandparents’ Cape residence was this house in Chatham. The house was situated on a bluff overlooking the ocean. A long stairway wound its way down to the beach. This was another magic Cape Cod place, and again it was the sea that made it so. I have many fond memories from this house too. We had a big family reunion there in 1969. My grandmother had eight of her nine grandchildren in attendance that day. My older brother Jack, living in California at the time, was the only one unable to attend.

When I heard the news of my cousin Doug’s passing, I was sadly reminded of how this link with my family and the sea remains strong both in life and death. He drowned in Mexico in 1997. I expect that the poem was read at his funeral, but I wasn’t there, so I don’t know for certain. It was, after all, his mother who slipped me the paper before my father’s funeral.

Even though our links to the ocean remain strong, a lot has changed since I was a kid. The property my grandmother’s house was on was quite large. She gave a piece to each of her three children and still held on to many acres herself. Both of my aunts long ago sold their pieces. My grandmother’s house was also sold. A new road, Driftwood Lane, now goes in to this land a little ways further down from where the old dirt driveway used to be. Her old house is still back there, on the water, with a big addition on it. A small neighborhood full of homes now occupies her old property. Farther down Tonset Road on the left is Sea Crest. This development occupies Harry and Gertrude Hunt’s old land. Sandwiched between these two housing developments is a parcel of undeveloped wooded property. This piece, which now belongs to my mother, is the last piece of my grandmother’s property. The property, as far as I can tell, has been in the possession of the decedents of Giles Hopkins (#49) since 1644.

My Aunt Barbara passed the Chatham house on to her kids. The old quarterboards from the Marcellus and the Mary E. O’Hara are hanging in my mother’s family room. The old “John W. Downs” sign by the dirt driveway on Tonset Road is hanging now by the pool gate at my mother’s house in New Jersey. The old tools from the workshop are in my fathers old workshop in my mother’s basement. In fact, my mother’s house is filled with artifacts from the Cape house. Stillman’s sea chest is in her finished basement and she has told me that someday it will be mine, because I would appreciate it as family historian. The white dresser, upon which the statue of the seamen kept his ever vigilant watch, is in my house, filled with my clothes. Even though I can never go back, my life is filled with reminders of those days.

Happy Thanksgiving from DownsGenealogy.com.

And We Begin…

John Helen2

OK, I’m starting a family history website and I’d like some opinions and input from all of you, the potential users of the site.  Before I ask, let me tell you who I am, and why I’m doing this.

My name is Bill Downs and I am one of nine grandchildren to John Downs(#18) and Helen (Hopkins) Downs(#19).  (I’ll explain the numbers in a bit.)  That is them at the top of this post.

Many of us have fond memories of Uncle Giles, Helen’s little brother.  He was the family historian and many of us recall reading the booklets he wrote on our family history and genealogy.  When he died in 1974, I slowly inherited the position of family historian and even became custodian of many of his notes and papers.

In the intervening 44 years, I have added much that storehouse of knowledge.  In addition, I didn’t really have anything for my Downs line, other than a few dates for my great grandparents, Thomas Downs(#20) and Anna (Watts) Downs(#21).  I also had the same scant information for their other five sons.  I soon began researching them and their lines, amassing much through the decades.

So, I have a lot of genealogy and history starting with the two people at the top of the post.  Recently, in a period of about ten days, I got three inquiries concerning this information, one through social media, one in person and one by phone.  I took this as an omen that I needed to do something with all of this research I’ve gathered through the decades.  The last time I saw Uncle Giles, he warned me and my family, to write everything down.  I have written everything down and I hope I’ve made Uncle Giles proud.  Now I can almost hear him yelling at me from beyond the grave, “OK, now you’ve written it all down, NOW DO SOMETHING WITH IT!”  Hence this project I now begin.

Where I could use some advice is in the scope and privacy departments.  First off, I’d never publish any information on someone that is still living but how about publishing information on parents of people still living?  Is that acceptable or should I best leave them be too?  The closer I come down to the present, the more I risk upsetting someone over privacy.  On the other hand, the closer I come to the present, the more collateral genealogical lines I can bring in and share.

I would like your thoughts on this issue.  Please leave comments below and we can even discuss it there.  I’m sure I will want your opinions on other issues as I move forward.  Please feel free to “Follow” this site so you can be emailed when there are updates.  I want to hear from you because I want to serve you the best I can here.

As promised, about the numbers

The names of our relatives in my database are in bold and followed by a number in parentheses.   I guess the best way to describe their use and show their value is by the following example:

My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was Joshua Hopkins(#97), who was born in 1657. I am descended from him through his son, Joshua Hopkins(#95), born in 1698. Among his sons was my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Joshua Hopkins(#93), born in 1725. This Joshua(#93) had a son, Joshua Hopkins(#91), born in 1753. Joshua(#91) had eight children. Two of his sons were Joshua(#838), born in 1787, and Giles(#89), born in 1791. Giles Hopkins(#89) was my great-great-great-grandfather.

I do have the dates of birth for these men, and I could refer to one as “Joshua Hopkins (b. 1725).” But I don’t always have that information for everyone in my database. I also think it is easier just saying “Joshua Hopkins(#93).” Basically, every individual in my database has been assigned a unique identifying number, which in database management is known as a “primary key.”  I’m starting this convention now and will continue it as the site grows.

There is one final word on the numbers. You might think that there is a pattern in their assignment. This is not necessarily true. While the Joshua’s in the example above were 97, 95, 93, etc., the last one was 838. The sequence is strictly the order in which I entered them into my database.