“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.” ~ Henry Ward Beecher
As family historians, each one of us has taken a few trips down the Google highway in search of something in particular – only to be sidelined by happenstance. These occurrences serve as a twofold check, punctuating brick walls while allowing us to flex our genealogical muscles. For the most part these diversions are informative and entertaining, serving to supplement our knowledge of people or subjects. The beautiful part of being “side tracked” is that for the most part, all roads lead back home and to New England.
This was the case for me as I started out (once again) on the trail of my maternal great-great-great-great-grandfather Amherst Hoyt (1785/89–1851). I’ve been trying to piece together his westward migration from New Hampshire to Iowa – and in the Google archetype, all things ‘Amherst or Hoyt.’ (Sometimes these combination Google searches make me feel as if I am ‘game show contestant,’ with the prize hidden behind whichever door I’m bid enter.) But little did I expect that the search for Grandpa Amherst Hoyt would take me directly to Zephaniah Swift Moore, the nephew of my paternal ancestor Lydia Swift Young and founder of Amherst College.[i] [ii] See what I mean? All roads lead home.
So it was by means of a research ‘detour’ that this Swift descendant (and very uninformed Californian) was introduced to the “Consecrated Eminence” and to a few of those rascal Philopogonians of the Amherst Class of 1852.[iii] [iv] The college maintains some beautiful, well-identified, and often well-restored daguerreotypes of those young promising scions – and I began to wonder just who these men were, but even more so just who they might possibly be to me?
You see, like most aspiring genealogists and family historians I have run the gamut of wanting to know how many umpteen times or ways I might be related to historical figures, pop culture icons, or even a few circus performers along the way. However as I approach the ‘middle stage’ of my genealogical engagement I’ve become more interested in the generalized idea of how it is you might be related to me.
So here you have my case in point. As I am staring at these rascal Amherst lads of 1852, I begin to see the old names fall into line, and I realize that I am staring at the faces of multiple cousins. They are the “living” faces of these men, and are persons about whom I would not normally know anything. Somehow, learning about their lives and their connection to me seemed meaningful, providing me with more than just a diversion: a purpose that returns the focus of my research to where it needs to be – back home.
So with your permission, I thought I’d introduce you to a few of these lads, my cousins. Most of their brief biographies are reasonably available on line so there isn’t a big need to bore you with too many details. Suffice it to say that my friends in the Class of 1852 lived life a lot like the rest of us. Some were prosperous, some not. Some lived to a ripe old age, and some did not. Like all of us, they felt love and pain and a modicum of pride in their time on earth. They were estimably good folks, these lads. And while I have not followed a genealogical trail on all of them I believe you will find getting to know something of these cousins “of ours” somehow worthwhile.
Knowing any of this makes little if any difference in the grand scheme of my prosaic family tree. Still, I find inquiring about these humble classmates as self validating as if I had inquired about any relationship I might have to the King of Spain (he and I aren’t speaking lately) – and in truth even more so. I do realize its back to the drawing board to look for my ancestor Amherst Hoyt, but in the meantime I have met some interesting cousins, these Philopogonians, and in learning just a bit about just who they were I have learned an equal measure about myself.
You never quite know who you will meet along the way.
[i] Per Wikipedia, Zephaniah Swift Moore (1770–1823), founder and president of Amherst College 1821–23.
[ii] Lydia Swift Young (ca. 1741–1813), Zephaniah’s aunt, and my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother per Mayflower Descendant, Volume 64, No. 2.
[iii] consecratedeminence.wordpress.com, Return of the Philopogonians, 16 May 2014.
[iv] George Rugg Cutting, Student Life at Amherst College: Its Organizations, their Membership and History (Amherst, Mass.: Hatch and Williams, 1871), Quaint Societies, Philopogonia, 125–26, regarding an errant group of the Class of 1852 who made an agreement not to shave.
[v] John M. Tyler, Amherst College Biographical Record 1821–1921 (Amherst: The College, 1927), www3.amherst.edu.