Years ago, Jeff Record sent me an ahnentafel report on his ancestry, curious to see if we had any connections back in Kansas. While we identified several common ancestors in New England, I was curious about his great-great-grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Neff) Young (1864-1898) of El Dorado, Kansas. Neff is not in my own ancestry, but it is the surname of some distant cousins I remembered from my childhood. I frequently went to Kansas over the holidays as a child and would stay at my grandparents’ farm in Sedgwick, Kansas. Most often my mother’s siblings and their children would also be there; sometimes there were more distant cousins present, and at the time I had no idea how they were related to me. The Neffs were some such cousins that would occasionally visit as two of their boys were the same age as myself and a few of my first cousins. Later, as I got interested in genealogy, I learned that they were my third cousins: their mother’s father’s sister Carrie Etta (Wright) Learned was a sister of my matrilineal great-grandmother Daisy Alice (Wright) Horton.
Seeing the Neff surname in Jeff’s ancestry made me remember these third cousins whom I had not seen in many years. Unfortunately, Jeff’s Neff ancestry went back to a Swiss immigrant – Jacob Neff (1697-1751), who settled in Frederick, Maryland – while my cousins’ patrilineal ancestry went back to a different Swiss immigrant, Ulrich Neff (1709-1778) of Northampton County, Pennsylvania. Always possible there is a connection back in Switzerland, but now we are talking about a much more distant kinship, and the connection to Kansas was merely a coincidence.
However, with my recent post on my ancestor Morris Larned, Jeff commented that his daughter-in-law also descended from this New England family, who are also ancestors of my Neff cousins through their great-grandfather Elmer Ellsworth Learned! The Learned family in New England and much of the United States descend from William Learned (c. 1590-1645/46) and his wife Goodith [not Judith] Gilman, who married at St. Olave, Southwark in 1606 and settled in Woburn, Massachusetts.
The Learned family in New England and much of the United States descend from William Learned…
While the surname was written Learned, it was traditionally pronounced Lar-ned, and by the late eighteenth century my ancestors were spelling it that way. This “change” is like some place names in America like Darby, Pennsylvania, named after Derby in England, which was pronounced Dar-bee. Other places change their pronunciation to how it is written, such as Norwich and Greenwich, which in England have a silent w, while the respective place names in Connecticut and New York now pronounce the w. I’m sure there are some Learned families who now pronounce their surname Ler-ned.
Descendants of William and Goodith Learned include Geraldine, Queen of the Albanians (who was half American), and the two Bush presidents, see chart below, along with Jeff’s and my own connections. The infamous quote by President George W. Bush – Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning? – is now stuck in my head in consideration of his Learned ancestors!
Sources for Chart: Ancestors of American Presidents, 455; William Addams Reitwiesner, “A Hitherto Unnoted Descendant of Henry Adams of Braintree – Leka I, King (Claimant) of Albania,” The American Genealogist 53 (1977): 18-20; Eugenia Learned James, The Learned Family in America, 176 (line to Thomas Morris Larned), 240 (line to Elmer Ellsworth Learnd), 137 (line to Josiah Learned), 34 (line to Edward Learned, Jr.); Jeff Record, “The Descendants.”