Sunday, March 22, 2015

52 Ancestors #12: Genealogist and Inspirational Author

Ancestor: Jessie BEARD

The optional theme for this week was "Same," and I had a terrible time with it. If it wasn't for my sheer determination to follow the themes each week as a way to write about ancestors I may normally not highlight, I don't know that I would have ever thought to write about Jessie Beard or to dig deeper into her life to discover what I did.  The theme made me realize how much a woman's life has changed over a fairly short period of time. I work outside the home as an executive at a software and market research company, a role once reserved for men in an industry that didn't exist a hundred years ago. I vote; I drive; I don't have children (by choice); and I hire a maid service to clean my home. How could I possibly find someone like that in my tree, which is filled with wives of coal miners, farmers and factory workers?

Inspiration finally struck when I thought about why I write my blog. I do it because I'm an amateur genealogist and family historian, who wants to share stories about my ancestors. With that thought, one person in my tree jumped out at me -- Jessie Beard. In 1952 she wrote History of Adam Beard and His Descendants, which can still be purchased from Higgonson Books and other sources. According to Jessie's introduction, she did it the hard way by writing letters to distant family members and relying on them to provide important dates, family stories, and search through old family Bibles for answers to her questions.

Jessie Beard from her high school yearbook available

Jessie was born and raised in Southside, West Virginia. I'm sure she spent many hours in nearby county courthouses doing her research. I've written before about old family genealogies and how much I enjoy them and how I use them in my own research.

My great grandmother was Effie Davis Beard. For years she was Dad's brick wall; he only knew her given name. Then the year before he suffered his first cerebral hemorrhage, one of his research collaborators (and my second cousin) found Effie's full name among her grandmother's papers. Slowly, Dad began answering his many questions about the Beard family.

He had a second massive cerebral hemorrhage in 2012 that changed his and Mom's life completely. I took over his research so that it would continue. At first, I concentrated on sourcing his information and correcting what few errors I found along the way. Early on I took a DNA test. Boy, did I have a lot of matches who also had the Beard surname in their pedigree charts. I was able to confirm that Effie Davis Beard descended from John Beard (1705-1780), my six times great grandfather, who had at least three grandsons who fought in the Revolutionary War -- David, Samuel (my direct ancestor) and Adam.

Jessie believed her Adam Beard descended from Capt. David Beard. She wrote in her book:

"The earliest record of the Beard family that can be traced here in the United States is of -- David Beard -- the first one of our family to settle here. Legend tells us that his family were natives of Ayrshire, Scotland, but left there because of religious persecution and went to North Ireland. No actual facts are known by the writer about his early life here, except, that he lived in Virginia and was a soldier in the American Revolution. He was in the army of General Greene, serving with him through the Southern Campaign, rising to the rank of Captain. He was badly wounded at the battle of Cowpens, January 17, 1781, having been shot through the abdomen while leading a charge near the close of the conflict. After his recovery, he again entered the service and was at the surrender of Yorktown. After the war was over, he returned to Virginia and settled in Bedford County."

Jessie began her book with Adam Beard (1787-1872), who she believed was a son of Capt. David Beard. I, however, believe he was a son of David Beard's younger brother, also named Adam Beard (1755-1788). DNA matches seem to confirm my theory. But I digress...

Adam Beard's cabinet Mason County, West Virginia, c1845; photograph
courtesy of member dlemberg1. It was also included in
Jessie's book.

Genealogy is never finished as there are new sources which become available daily and new technologies to help us in our quest. As I am writing a multi-volume history of the descendants of my Scottish three times great grandfather, I can empathize with the struggles Jessie must have faced to produce her Beard book. I can use Internet publishing technologies instead of a manual typewriter and online records in addition to the parish registrar's office. Even with all that is available today I would echo Jessie's comment, "It is not complete by any means as the many families are widely scattered and I have been unable to contact several of them and a few have been indifferent about giving me information."

Jessie Beard; photograph from her website

What gave me special pleasure was Googling Jessie's name and discovering that after retiring from her career as a teacher, she became an inspirational author. While I have had my writing published, I've yet to be paid for it. Here's hoping that happens after I retire!

So I celebrate the life of an ancestor who is a little like me. And more like what I would like to become in my "retired" career.

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge optional theme Same.

Jessie Beard is still living; I have written this post with her permission. She has also agreed to be interviewed.

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