The Dark Side of Genealogy

The following article was written by my friend, Thomas Fiske
Thomas Fiske

Who knew there was a dark side to genealogy? I certainly did not know until today. It was news to me before I figured it out.

While looking at an Internet epistle from Family Roots, I saw two books that looked mighty interesting. As a fan of Amateur Radio and Genealogy, I was long accustomed to being disappointed at Christmas when I opened packages of socks and underwear. No one knew what to give me. This last year I decided to take matters into my own hands and get something I really wanted: genealogy books. Besides, my chest of drawers were full and my shelves were empty. This year I opened two packages containing books and I loudly thanked an obscure aunt who lives in Kentucky. I even wrote her a note of gratitude for the volumes. But I didn’t mail the envelope.

The first book, titled something like Ontario People, contains information about those folks who were loyalists when the Revolutionary War ended. I read that Americans offered them a hanging with all the appropriate amenities, while King George III offered them land in Ontario, Canada. Most people wanted to escape the rope and III wanted to fill Ontario with his subjects. Outside of the cold weather, it was a match made in heaven, proving that III was no fool.

Now, it just so happened that among the loyalists were a group of folks named Shippee who lived in Rhode Island. They quickly fled to Ontario. Over the next 100 years the Shippee/Shippy clan worked their way in a south-westerly direction until they found the American border. There they slipped across and traveled until they got to Iowa, where they settled.

The second book was titled Expansion of New England. It seems that my ancestor, a man named Fiske, had with his ancestors, been living in Rhode Island for some hundred years or so. There was a big recession in the area in 1837, so he took his small family and left for Southern Indiana near the Ohio River. He settled in New Albany, across the Ohio River from the city of Louisville, Kentucky. There, he had many children and all of them lived to maturity. In 1866, just after the close of the Civil War, Fiske moved across the Ohio to that wonderful city of Louisville where his number one son took up residence and established a profitable business. The river was about 3/4 of a mile wide without bridges, so the move was no small thing.

The Fiske family settled down and waited for me to be born. Eventually I showed up and there was great rejoicing. But I did not lead them. I tried several cities such as Cleveland, Schenectady, and Ontario, California before settling down.

And it was in Southern California that I met a pretty young woman from Iowa. Her maiden name was Shippy.

We had a wonderful courtship and then we married. While in middle age I took up the august hobby of genealogy. After several years of recording facts about my family, I began looking into my wife’s family. Her uncle had been doing the same thing, so his records were a wonderful help. My wife is an identical twin whose husband is also a genealogist.

All three of our records showed the same thing. The Shippee/Shippy family were loyalists who fled from Rhode Island and went to Ontario as guests of King George III.

Only my records showed that my Fiske ancestor was a captain his local militia. His side won the War and was charged with the responsibility of hanging loyalists.

I tried very hard to keep this information from my wife and her family, but eventually it leaked. I found out when I came home from work one day and noticed the silence. My wife was not speaking to me that day. She had discovered that the Fiskes were wanting to hang the Shippees. Or could have been; it made no difference. It made for a dark day.

When I saw these two very interesting books for sale on the Family Roots web site, I was reminded of that time and how much pain it brought to my wife. Oddly enough, it brought me no pain at all. Did I buy the books anyway? You can bet your bottom dollar I did.

But I may keep them hid behind my collection of various texts about the intricacies of Amateur Radio.

Author: Leland Meitzler

Leland K. Meitzler founded Heritage Quest in 1985, and has worked as Managing Editor of both Heritage Quest Magazine and The Genealogical Helper. He currently operates Family Roots Publishing Company (, writes daily at, writes the weekly Genealogy Newsline, conducts the annual Salt Lake Christmas Tour to the Family History Library, and speaks nationally, having given over 2000 lectures since 1983.

2 thoughts on “The Dark Side of Genealogy”

  1. The following comment was submitted by Ellen Morris:

    My father’s two sisters were responsible for giving me a life long addiction to look for relatives.

    My father was a TWA navigator stationed in Cairo, Egypt. We lived there for 10 years until evacuated by the American Navy from Alexandria harbor around Halloween of 1956, the Suez war.

    We moved back to the family home on Staten Island, NY, for a few weeks then down to Florida to another aunt for warmer weather. Both aunts wanted us to learn about American history as soon as possible since we had been in a French school for years before going to the “Cairo American School” in the suburb of Maadi, a few miles south on the Nile from Cairo.

    The NY aunt told me that had “we” won the war, we would have owned a good part of NY state, but she did not mention which war. The Florida aunt gave me a book for recording ancestors, and the blank pages stayed that way until my high school history teacher began lessons on the American Revolution and the Tories who had to flee to Canada.

    Suddenly things made sense, my father’s parents both Canadian, the family cemetery I was dragged to visit on trips to Ontario, the great aunt and her sharp cousins in the village of Newcastle, the Tiffany church windows of ancestors – one portrayed as Moses giving out instructions from the mount, another as Mary Magdalen, were all MINE.

    The next visit to Ontario cemeteries included a camera! So over time I found out that our Thorne name was used in Thornhill, 17 miles north of Toronto, for Benjamin who went to Ontario in the 1820s and built up a fortune, only to loose it in 1846 when England repealed the corn laws.

    Samuel Street Wilmot, surveyor, had moved to Newcastle in the early 1800s, from New Brunswick, where his father, Lemuel Wilmot, had settled after leaving New York because of the war.

    Samuel’s wife was Mary Stegmann, daughter of John, Hessian soldier, who arrived at Sandy Hook, NJ, on my birthday in 1776. He survived the Battle of Trenton by escaping, and the Battle of Monmouth as well, all this in my state.

    From NYC he was sent to Quebec but ran into a September hurricane which sank three of their six ships. But he did get to Quebec the following spring, met and married a French Canadian lady after abjuring his wicked Protestant religion, and became a surveyor, who with apprentice, Samuel Street Wilmot, set out to chart the territory to York (Toronto) and create roads. Sam married his boss’ daughter, and their son, another Samuel Wilmot, “invented” artificial fish propagation and became the first Canadian commissioner of fisheries. Americans went to him to learn how.

    And Sam Jr.’s daughter, Helen, married Charles Edward Thorne, son of Benjamin of Thornhill.

    So the “war” my family was mumbling about was 180 years earlier!

    But then if you grow up learning ancient Egyptian genealogy, the rest seems easy. Except for collecting thousands of history books.

  2. For me this is an interesting find! I myself am a Shippee from the line that lived in R.I and have traced it back there. However I have never come across any of my ancestors having gone to Quebec. I have been able to trace all the way back to 1609 (Through Amasa Shippee) and his father and Grandfather.

    I say thank you sir for this interesting tidbit and lead of something to look into. I am not sure if you will be able to see my email but I would be interested in learning more if you are willing to chat.

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