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Connecting Cousins

PFA past president JF Purcell shared the following account.

Finding family history through newly discovered and long lost…Cousins.

The past is not lost when you can discover new cousins and their relationships to your family. I discovered this, or should I say, re-discovered this by connecting with cousins I’ve grown up with, lost contact with, and plain never knew existed before. Below are several scenarios that will hopefully provide impetus for you to find your family roots via various methods.

Scenario #1 The Mother/Daughter/Son discovery with: Jean Purcell McDonald, her daughter Val McDonald Carter and her son Michael McDonald.

I originally met Val and Michael’s mother: Jean Purcell McDonald in the summer of 1996 when our family of four motor-homed to the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Along the way we stopped in Purcellville, Virginia, located in the northwest corner of the state. (Purcell-ville was founded by my G-G-G-G Uncle Valentine Vernon Purcell in the mid 1800s.) Alice Purcell, then the Editor of the PFofA Journal, knew we were related and suggested we visit with Jean. Jean was delightful, escorting our family of four including my wife Fran and teenagers: Jason (16) and Matthew (13). She took us to visit a few cemeteries, including the Ketoctin Baptist Church & Cemetery, plus the Old Potts Graveyard, both in Purcellville. (We’re related to the Potts, with Anne Potts going back to the early 1600s in England.) I was so excited because for the first time I could relate to our east coast heritage that was only hinted at previously. However, I can truthfully say that neither Fran, nor “the young’uns” were interested in genealogy. They are still not there, yet, but hopefully they will take interest in their forefathers, especially now that we have twin grandsons.

Jean Purcell McDonald photo

Jean Purcell McDonald

Now fast-forward to the Purcell Family Reunion in Williamsburg, Virginia, in September 2016. There my wife Fran and I met many new Purcells and relations, including Val McDonald Carter (Jean’s daughter) and her husband Tom. With a last name like Carter, Tom could be related to the original land settlers of northwest Virginia. (Val is working on that connection.)

Val and Tom Carter

Last fall Val, her brother Michael, and I sleuthed our way through those cemeteries, the Kectoctin Baptist Church Cemetery and the Old Potts Graveyard, both in the outskirts of Purcellville. Each has plenty of relatives in them, including more than 100 Osborns (with several spellings), and tens of Purcells/Pursells. Researching them can help cement large family connections. My 6x great grandfather, Corporal Thomas Purcell, Sr. (1720-1779), who fought in the Revolutionary War, is buried in the Old Potts Graveyard.

CPL Thomas Purcell headstone

Val and I have made a couple trips to the Purcellville Library since the fall of 2016; it has a good assortment of local historical and potential genealogical resources. My favorites there were the Town Histories produced by historian, geographer and map maker: Eugene Scheel. He has, since the mid-1970s, compiled tremendous historical perspectives for more than 50 towns. He has published a series of five books outlining the wonderful history of Northwestern Virginia, and authoritative maps as well. His highly detailed maps of Loudoun and other counties are available for purchase through this website:

In late September I attended a special Thomas Balch Library fundraiser where Scheel spoke about ‘Things unknown in Loudoun County.’ One of his stories described how the flamboyant Arthur Godfrey would fly in his DC-3 from the Leesburg area to New York City to tape his weekly broadcast show. The DC-3, with its thunderous engines would always alert the townspeople that Godfrey was in town.

Val and I have also made a couple visits to he Thomas Balch Library in Leesburg, Virginia, which is packed with a most impressive resources you’ll find anywhere in the Mid Atlantic or Southeast Regions. The Library is particularly authoritative for researching the Civil War and how it affected northwest Virginia. We found a wealth of resources there from which to continue our historical and genealogical research.

JF Purcell and Val Carter

Scenario #2 Through the Facebook account of my high school classmate Celine Osborn née Jordan, I made connection with a couple of Purcell cousins.

Celine, who lives in southern California, mentioned she knew of me (Purcell) and my involvement with the Purcell Family of America (past President) to one of her best friends Carol Rush who, after living in southern California for 28 years, retired to southern Virginia near Charlottesville to help take care of her mother. Her sister, Barbara Mertz, lives in Quarryville, Pennsylvania.

So, I called Carol and we spoke for more than a half hour about our Purcell relatives. Both Carol and Barb are aggressive researchers; and, have uncovered deep pockets of relatives in the Virginia and southeast regions, including Purcells, Janneys, and Holmes. Not to mention their in-depth connections to the Roystons and the Strothers. The Roystons had land that was ultimately used to create Fredricksburg, Virginia; the Strothers sold some of their land to George Washington’s family.

In the Janney Line we share the following relatives:

Anne Janney White – 2nd cousin, 6x removed.

William Biles Janney – 1st cousin, 7x removed.

Joseph Janney –(1675-1729) – Nephew’s direct descendent, 7 generations

Another Loudoun County ancestor is William Holmes (1728-1775) – Direct descendent, 7 generations.

The accompanying photo is of (l to r) Barbara Mertz, brother Paul Van Wie, sister Carol Rush and seated is their mother Lois Jennings Van Wie, the 3x great granddaughter of Elizabeth Purcell.

Barbara Mertz, Paul Van Wie, Carol Rush and mother

In June, I used my son Jason’s home in Alexandria to host cousins: Val Carter from Springfield, Virginia, Carol Rush from Charlottesville, and her sister Barbara Mertz from Quarryville, Pennsylvania, northwest of Philadelphia. We each had a bushel full of materials to review and we all agreed we were cousins, though removed.

Both Carol and Barbara are involved and have attended seminars produced by the Pennsylvania Historical Society, as well as Virginia State Historical Society; plus, Road Scholar Genealogy week-long workshop at the State Library in Richmond. Carol has joined the PFofA. And both Barbara and I belong to the Bucks County Genealogical Society. We look forward to turning up new genealogical material together.

Scenario #3 My high school classmate and golf team member turns out to be my cousin, unbeknownst to either one of us for 46 years…

In high school, I ran cross-country and enjoyed it. However when I was asked to run the two-mile race, which includes 8 laps of a quarter-mile loop track, I was bored and looked for an out. The answer was being a sub for the golf team. Now I had never played golf before, but I could at least be outdoors, which I loved. While I was the worst player on the team, I didn’t mind…

As we approached the end of the season, 5’6” Mike Cucciardi challenged me to a dual: Play a 9-hole course with a preselected club. I thought for a moment and decided the 9-iron would be Mike’s club. Meanwhile I could use whatever clubs I had in my bag. In the end, he beat me by three strokes. His son went on to become a professional golf pro, while I’m still just a golf duffer…

Over the years, my wife Fran and I would see Mike and his wife Cheryl at reunions of Billings Central Catholic High School’s Class of 1968. Despite graduating in the same class, we never gave it a thought that we might be related. Then in 2015, when I was visiting my hometown of Billings, Montana, an unusual occurrence happened. My Aunt Jenny Simon née Zagorda (wife of my Uncle Keith Simon, brother of my mother Marion Simon) invited me to her family’s almost weekly Sunday breakfast. I said I would love to attend. So I showed up at the restaurant, swung open the door, and low and behold there was Mike. I immediately walked over to him and said: “Mike, what are you doing here?” And he replied: “Jenny is my aunt! And our family breakfast has been going on as long as I can remember.” My eyes opened wide as I gave him a great big HUG! His family was part of the Zagorda’s, whom I had known of, but not much about. When Aunt Jenny’s brother Pete Zagorda died this summer, his obituary in the Billings Gazette provided the links I had never realized were there. Mike’s Facebook postings will now have additional meaning.

Mike Cucciardi

Scenario #4 Ode to my Uncle Wes Olmstead and his wife Dorothy Simon, and my cousin Father Daryl…from the present to the 1200s

Before I discuss Uncle Wes, Aunt Dorothy and their son and my Cousin Fr. Daryl, let me provide a general overview of my focus on genealogy searching these days. Suffice it to say, I stumbled into the site and search engine with a 14-day free trial. I was determined to try it and then bow out. I failed by one day. And have succeeded in finding relatives over the past 14 months with over 9,000 individuals. Every day it seems I get a notice to check for individuals who might be a relative. These records will continue to come but, I thought to myself, what about all my cousins and nieces and their families? I can communicate by email or a phone call. Why not pursue the records of my known family? With that in mind, I decided to reach out to my known cousins and find out where their families are from.

My cousin Fr. Daryl Olmstead, who along with my brother Dick, were the only two relatives who attended my wedding on February 21, 1976, the bi-centennial year. I never forgot that, and so I have been to two anniversaries of Fr. Daryl’s: his 25th and 40th year of being a priest. The last celebration was June 2015 in Hayes, Kansas. I spoke to Fr. Daryl during 2017 and he said he would do some research and send me some information. He sure did! Specifically a paternal line chart with successive generations of Olmsteads from the present to the 1200s in England and I’m happy to share it with interested researchers. Amazing isn’t it? But you have to be proactive!

I challenge you to not let your connections with cousins lapse. Make a call, write an email or letter, and at least begin to put your family tree together. You’ll be surprised how quickly your family tree can grow, and grow, and grow….

JF Purcell

Past President, Purcell Family of America

October 6th, 2017

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