Genealogists are always on the hunt for cousins – it's what we do. But imagine finding them in the next chair at your local genealogical society library!
That's what happened to three active volunteers at the California Genealogical Society. Book repairers Marianne Frey and Dick Rees were chatting one second Tuesday and realized that they had both attended Yale and both had New Haven, Connecticut ancestors. When they started comparing surnames, they zeroed in on KITCHEL (an original settler) and his SHEAFE wife.
On another day at the CGS Library, Lavinia Schwarz referred to an upcoming visit to her daughter in New Jersey and some family research time in nearby Morristown. Marianne's ears perked up at the mention of the ancestral home of "hordes" of her ancestors and, as she tells it "we started tossing names around and found several in common, including KITCHEL."
[Photograph by Kathryn Doyle, January 19, 2008]
Marianne provided this background:
"The KITCHEL clan was part of a large group of colonists who didn't like the way things were being run in their part of Connecticut. They got a charter to start a settlement (now Newark) in New Jersey, which was Dutch when negotiations began but became English before they were finalized. Expansion meant moving inland, westward over the low "mountains" into what is now Morris county.
Some of the Kitchel-Sheafe tribe moved to New Jersey while others stayed in Connecticut. There's been lots of research, including articles in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register and The American Genealogist in the early 1900's and two books on the Kitchel family -- a slim volume from the 1800's and a nice thick one from the late 1900's.
I discovered the latter volume when a Jane Kitchel appeared on the roster of my folk dance club. She owns the book, which enabled us to figure out that we are seventh cousins, not removed! (During the 1800's someone in my line started spelling our name "Kitchell" with two L's.)"
In July 1983, Dick had the opportunity to visit Cranbrook, Kent, England, the home of their common SHEAFE ancestor. Dick sent this photograph of the monumental brass rubbing he did of the Thomas Sheafe (ca. 1470 - 1520) tomb in St. Dunstan's Church. The oval on the right is made up of Sheafe's initials (T.S.) with his merchant mark in the center.
Dick provided this account:
"Cranbrook is not easy to reach. I had to take a train from Canterbury to Ashford, then one from Ashford to Staplehurst and a bus from there to Cranbrook. I bought the last stick of rubbing wax in the town, along with black paper and a huge roll of masking tape. I made three rubbings of the brass (my brother has one of them and I don't know what became of the third.) I had time one evening and the next morning to walk around Cranbrook. There are several buildings still standing that belonged to the Sheafe family, as well as some windmills and a school named for Mary (Harman) Sheafe, the wife of Thomas Sheafe II."
Besides sharing New England ancestry, the cousins have lived for a time in the New England states while pursuing their education (Lavinia received her M.A. at Tufts) and all three have worked as educators. Marianne taught junior high (two years) high school (seven) and community college (twenty-three). Dick started his teaching career in public schools in Connecticut, moved to private schools in Shaker Heights, Ohio; in Montecito, California; and finally in San Francisco. Lavinia, better known as Vinnie, worked for a time as a preschool teacher.
At CGS, Marianne Frey was membership chair for a few years and set up the Lookups project on the Web site. She and Dick Rees are members of the Book Repair Committee. Dick wears several other hats at the society. He regularly teaches the class for beginners on Free First Saturdays, does occasional desk duty, manages some special projects and handles the mail. Lavinia Gilbert Schwarz is a member of the CGS Board of Directors and handles Lookups (with Pat Smith) as part of the research department. Vinnie is currently also overseeing a research project for the Peralta Hacienda.