My mom’s maiden name is Harper, so when we started doing our family tree over a decade ago, she wanted to trace the Harper name. We were stuck at her great-great-grandfather, a man named James William Harper. He was not on any census record with his parents. There were several Harper families in the Cheatham/Davidson County, Tennessee area, but none we could positively link him to.
My mom messaged some other local Harper researchers to see if anyone knew of our James William. It was tricky, because sometimes he was called James, other times he was called William. (We would later find out most people had just called him “Bill!”)
A lady my mom emailed thought she remembered an Uncle Bill talked about by older relatives. She even found an old postcard that a cousin had sent mentioning Uncle Bill’s son Mat/Matt. I looked up James William’s children and there was no Matt. It seemed like another dead end, until a couple of years later. I was back at the case to find James William’s parents and I was researching his children. When I looked into his son James Madison, I discovered he went by Matt! I can’t believe we brushed off that lead for years!
A DNA test confirmed it. This lady was one of my mother’s top DNA cousin matches! Very exciting. We were finally able to name James William’s parents: Elizabeth Satterfield and James Hansel Harper. (More about James Hansel Harper here.)
That was in late 2016. 2017 had more surprises in store for my research.
I reached out to several DNA cousins through Ancestry and hit the jackpot after I messaged Michael Glasgow. Not only did he have two photos of James William “Bill” Harper, but he also had two family history documents about the Harpers written by his aunt and his father. What more could a family genealogist dream of discovering?!
Bill now had a face. He had a personality. He was more than just a name on a computer screen or an entry on my family tree!
It’s a wonderful reminder to actually message your Ancestry matches and talk to your cousins! You never know what gems you’ll find.