By Connie Mateer
When our daughter, Terri, was young, my grandfather liked to call her his little Indian girl. When Terri was about four years old, my grandfather told me that her high-cheek bones and other features reminded him of his grandmother, Keziah.
Then he explained that he hoped I wasn’t startled about that. So, that is how I learned we had a Native American in our family.
A little later, my husband’s grandmother Iva, said she knew about that heritage also. It seems that my grandfather and my husband’s grandmother had common ancestors: Samuel M. and Keziah (Hawk) Snyder.
Genealogy detective work
With that family tradition coming down from both branches of our family – and being a genealogy researcher – I thought this story was great fun. And, I set out to prove or disprove it.
From Iva’s side of the family, there is a photograph of Keziah. She was always on call to help neighbors who were ill, or to do midwife duties. One story tells of the night Keziah was called out to help a sick neighbor while ministering to her own son, Sam Jr., who had the croup.
Keziah told her husband to give their son a teaspoon of kerosene, a remedy that was used in the old days. Sam Sr. must have forgotten the exact amount, as he gave the boy 2 tablespoons full.
“It just about killed me,” Sam Jr. later said, “But, I never had the croup after that!”
A story from another cousin tells that Keziah was from a tribe of Indians from around Cherry Tree, Indiana County. If that is true, it seems that she would have been from either the Shawnee tribe or the Delawares.
Location-based records give clues
The Senicas, of New York, did come as far south as Indiana County, and maybe even parts of Armstrong County. But, that was for hunting, and they would have returned to New York to raise their families.
If you look at the town of Cherry Tree, where some of these ancestors were born, you will see it is in the corner of Indiana County where Indiana, Clearfield and Cambia counties meet. So, where I might have had one county to check out, now I have three. That makes my research even more fun!
According to my grandfather, the man who would become Keziah’s husband was a fur trader, and that is how she and Sam Sr. met. Sam Snyder was also an inventor and my grandfather remembers being warned to “stay away from Grandpa Snyder’s knapsack,” for that is where he kept his patents. And by golly, the U. S. Patent office is online, and I have been able to find Sam’s inventions.
I told you this work was fun!
You can be a detective, too!
And, so, this is the short version of my family history research.
Of course, when you start yours, you will have to proceed through your grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents, and so on. You get the picture.
I hope I’ve helped you become interested in starting your own family research. The Kittanning Public Library is a good place to start. It’s open all year, so in the dreary months of fall and winter, it’s a great place to hang out. The Pennsylvania Room's genealogy section has a lot to offer.
The best time to do genealogy research is NOW
With Christmas just a few days away, consider starting a family history for your children or grandchildren, or even for yourself. Take the opportunity at family gatherings to talk to older family members. Do it now. You’ll be glad you did.
In genealogy or family history research, always start with what you know and work backward through the generations. So, start with yourself, then move to your parents, your grandparents, your great grandparents, and go as far as you can.
You will need to ask family members for their dates of birth, where they were born, and the names of their parents. Again, work your way backward.
You will be surprised at how many generations you will be able to trace.
The birthdays, residences, occupations, and all of this good hearsay evidence then has to be backed up with good, solid historical and genealogical research, such as birth and death certificates, marriage records, county/city incorporation dates, etc.
Your research will be fueled by sources, such as books, records, or people. Basically, you’ll use two kinds of sources: primary and secondary sources.
A secondary source is material compiled from other sources or written at a later date from memory, such as abstracts or extracts of courthouse documents.
The primary source is an original record created at the time of the event or shortly afterward. It is given by someone with personal knowledge of the facts or given by someone who was present at the event.
One example of a “primary source” is a certified birth or death record.
Of course, the oldest form of family history comes from stories that have been passed down orally from generation to generation.
What stories have been handed down in your family? Talk to the elders. Make notes about the family that they knew so well. Don’t let it pass you by as I did.
I always tell everyone, when I hit the pearly gates, Keziah had better be there waiting for me. I have a few things I’d like ask her!
Connie Mateer is the former genealogy librarian of
the Mildred Lankard-Thomas Genealogical Library in Armstrong County, where she worked for many years. She continues solving genealogy mysteries for herself and others and can be reached through the Kittanning Library. To date, her longest and hardest research has been in unraveling the story of her great-great-grandmother, Keziah Hawk Snyder.