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March 4, 2009

Ancestor Name Changes

I still remember the frustration I felt many years ago trying to find the origins and ancestry of my Loyalist ancestor Isaac Vollick.

I had diligently followed all the standard genealogy research procedures. I had traced backwards (with much trial and tribulation but that's another story) along my father's lines until I reached Isaac, a Loyalist with Butler's Rangers.

I had census records, land records, Upper Canada land petitions and other documented facts. I knew Isaac had been a private in Butler's Rangers 1777-1782. With much slogging through various microfilm I had found records of his enlistment years. The Loyalist and early Ontario records are sparse so it was a challenging process but over the course of 3 years I learned quite a bit about Isaac.

He settled in the Niagara area of Upper Canada (Ontario) with his wife Mary and at least 10 children. His petitions for land grants as a Loyalist contained much detail. Mary's husband, Isaac, was imprisoned three times by the Americans for his loyalty to the British King. After Isaac joined Butler's Rangers and fled to Canada, Mary was left with ten children, six of them small.

Mary continued to aid the British, and in 1779 she and the children were taken from their home at North River, by American patriots. Their home was burned, Mary and the children were marched 80 miles north through the forest and left in destitute circumstances. Mary and family made their way to Canada and reached Montreal by July of 1779. They received food rations, lodging and blankets until 1782 when they settled in the Niagara area as impoverished Loyalists.

All of this wonderful information was important as I then knew that Isaac and family had lived in New York. But I could not find any evidence of anyone with the surname Vollick in New York before or during the American Revolution!

I knew that one of Isaac's sons used the surname Follick but that was just a slightly different spelling, the phonetic representation of the name Vollick. I knew there were alternate spellings - Volk, Vollic, Valick etc. But still no luck finding Isaac or even any evidence of his last name.

Then one tiny clue jumped out - on the pay list of Captain William Caldwell's Company of Butler's Rangers 24 Dec. 1777 to 24 Oct. 1778 I found a listing for Isaac Volkenburg But no Isaac Volkenburg was found on the roster of Captain Caldwell's company, only Isaac Vollick. It suddenly occured to me that Volkenburg could be abbreviated to Volk (which was one of the alternate spellings for Isaac Vollick's surname that I had found)

Then serendipity lent a hand. This was back in the days before the Internet made our genealogy lives so much easier and faster, and I had been sending in queries to various genealogical publications in hopes of connecting with someone else searching the same family. Bingo! A letter from a woman in the Niagara Falls area changed everything.

She explained that my Isaac Vollick had in fact been born in Schoharie New York as the illegitimate son of Isaac Van Valkenburg and Maria Bradt. The Van Valkenbug family was a well researched Dutch line who had settled in New Amsterdam (New York City) and Albany area in the early 1600s. Apparently my Isaac had shortened his name while in Butler's Rangers to Valk which became recorded as Vollick and other spellings.

Further research confirmed this story and his baptismal record was soon found. Sponsors at Isaac's 1732 baptism in the High and Low Dutch Church in Schoharie were Isaac and Lydia Falkenburg [sic. should be Van Valkenburg] his paternal grandparents.

These two seemingly small acts (finding the pay list for a man with a similar name to Isaac Vollick the Loyalist, and connnecting with another researcher) proved to be huge, as confirming that Vollick had been Van Valkenburg led me down many other research paths and finding my ancestors back several more generations to the early 1600s. It also led to the discovery that I had a Mohawk ancestor and of course that led to even more exciting genealogy finds, as well as writing a book called The Van Slyke Family in America.....

So if you have a brick wall ancestor my advice is to think outside the box and don't dismiss the possibility that the surname you are looking for might have been something entirely different!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think it is wonderful that you are doing this deep of genealogy, I have friends that claim they do it, but nothing this deep, keep up the awesome work!