Finding David Dewees Ferree – Notes from the Field

Dear Readers, this post is  a “discovery” story from November 2008 and just how researchers are family in more ways than one.  I have been fond of sideways researching from day one and with the added magic of GOOGLE, my family…blood and spirit…has multiplied exponentially.

November 8, 2008

Recently I connected with a “shirt tail” cousin named Charlie Baker.  Charlie had been researching his ancestral grandmother, Lydia H. Titus.  Like many avid family researchers, Charlie had “hit a wall”.  For those of you who aren’t genealogists “hitting a wall” is just what it sounds like.  You are cruising along with archival documents that provide the evidence you need to confirm a family member and WHAM.  The wall.  No documentation anywhere…not personal…not legal…not published…a big black hole.  This is where the intrepid detective replaces the historian.  We slip away from the world of the concrete and head into the world of clues and logic.  After all, part of us…the human part…cannot leave someone out there in limbo.

Lydia is my ancestral grandmother, too.  And my brick wall.  Well, one of them anyway.  When everything I knew as a family researcher failed, I did what any cybergeek, lost soul does.  I GOOGLED Lydia.  That’s how I found Charlie and his wonderful blog about his family research.  After years of applying standard research methods,  I have learned that the straightest way to solve genealogical problems is to go sideways.  If you have names of relatives, go visit them and their history for awhile.  Sooner or later your “brick wall” will be right there where they belong…among family.  Charlie knows that, too.

Using census materials, archival records and family lore along with some solid research techniques, Charlie placed Lydia right where she belonged…with our family.  But he knew that it was still going to take  “sideways” and was still in search of something that declared concretely that “Lydia was here”.

So I reached out to Charlie through his blog via his email.  You can’t be too timid about connecting with a promising source.

When I contacted Charlie, we realized that we each had puzzle pieces that straightened out the “sideways” a bit.  Nevertheless, we were both feeling much more reassured that our individual assumptions made the case for Lydia H. Titus.  Sometimes that is as good as it gets and that beats staring at a brick wall.

And one good turn deserves another.  Charlie and I have been emailing about the Titus, Downing, Coapman families since that is what we share.  At one point I had gone off to find out more about our ancestors…Quakers from Dutchess County and shared some of the research with Charlie.  In some prior research I found I could take my family back to Charlie’s again through another line of family members…the Ferrees.  Can you be double cousins?

Charlie has a fabulous blog about the Ferrees.  I have blog envy!  Out of curiosity about the Ferree connection to my family,  I carefully read Charlie’s Ferree information only to discover that in the early 1800’s they had settled in a Pennsylvania location not twenty minutes from me.  Charlie had shared that he couldn’t verify the death date of his ancestral grandfather, David Dewees Ferree.  Time for GOOGLE again.  Almost instantly I found DDF and his family were interred in a small churchyard in the countryside of Chester County, Pennsylvania.

St John’s Cemetery Location

At the very first opportunity, I grabbed my Blackberry, my digital camera and recorder and headed out to the little stone church in Compass, Pennsylvania.

It was  gray and cloudy  and the foliage was past peak, but the few trees that still had leaves were like fiery sentinels.  I had called the church to see if someone could tell me just where the Ferree family plot was located.  St. John’s is a small country church and as is often the case, the minister or the church secretary are not there constantly and so I was invited to leave a voice mail message.  I would be walking through the entire cemetery with no direction.  No problem.  I GOOGLED.  This time I found the map section and accessed the satellite image.  I can do this!

Nestled among the rolling hills of Pennsylvania farm fields, it was everything a country church should be and though the cemetery was a small one, it still meant walking up and down rows upon rows of graves to find David Dewees Ferree.  At the front of the cemetery there was a curious mixture of old and new grave markers and to make it more uncomfortable, the ground was boggy though the weather had been dry and the cemetery sat in full sunshine.  I realized that I must be in an area riddled with underground springs.  Great for farms…not so great for cemeteries.

St Johns Episcopal Cemetery-Old Section

After trekking halfway through the front of the cemetery, out of the corner of my eye I spied the old and weathered pioneer burial section.  Dozens of neatly lined headstones that no longer marked a final resting place had been propped up along the fence.

As I began to walk through the old section, the soggy ground gave way at every foot step and made me hesitant to continue.  BUT I came here to find David Dewees Ferree and that is that.

Row after row of long gone pioneers …the old monuments yielded no sign of David Ferree.  Patience and perseverance paid off in one of the very last row of tombstones…very like the journey we family researchers take.  Be patient.  Something or someone is always there.

David Dewees Ferree Monument

Tucked next to the church’s foundation and an old stone wall, barely touched by weather,  the Ferree headstones were almost pristine.  The names carved long ago in the Pennsylvania bluestone declared each name…each life.  David Dewees Ferree.  Elizabeth S.   Mary.  Diller Baker Ferree .  Adam and his wife Mary.  Allen W. Ferree.

As any family researcher can tell you, these are the moments that transcend the research work and take it to what it really is…a sweet celebration and appreciation of life…yours…those who came before you and those yet to come.

So David Dewees Ferree and his great great grandson, Charlie…thanks for the privilege.  It is nice to meet you.

For more on Charlie Baker’s family, click on


Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2015.  All Rights Reserved


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