“First” is a very common theme in genealogical research. Genealogists are tasked with looking for the first ancestors of each family branch, identifying first settlers in the first towns in a new country, their first wives, their firstborns and all of the first stories. The first day of 2019 inspires me to think on all the firsts that occurred throughout my family’s history. Today, with the thought of resolutions and new beginnings, I find myself imagining the moment that my ancestors first decided to do something that changed their life completely - decisions that set fate in motion in ways they couldn’t fathom and echo throughout time to the present day. I imagine the first step they took away from their home, and the first step they took onto American soil after weeks of grueling travel. I imagine their faces as they looked upon their first homes, their first spouses, and down at their firstborn children.
I think of James Reynolds, the first immigrant of my surname line who was born in England around 1625 and appeared in Plymouth, Massachusetts records in 1643. He was the first white settler in an area of southern Rhode Island once known as King’s Province, later named North Kingstown. His first son was killed by Native Americans in the early conflicts leading up to King Phillip’s War.
I think of George Reynolds, the first of my Reynolds line to leave Rhode Island over 150 years after James settled in North Kingstown. George led his family to Pennsylvania after fighting in the Revolutionary War, making the long journey despite a lingering injury to his leg. They first settled in Benton before claiming land in a small township called Scott (later Sherman) in northern Wayne County where the Reynolds family would live for another four generations.
I think of Dr. John G. H. Gerlach, the first immigrant of my maternal line who brought his family to America in 1853 for only a visit, but stayed when he saw the need for skilled physicians in Providence, Rhode Island.
I think of Oliver Hale, the first of my ancestors to completely elude all of my attempts to identify him.
And more than anything, I think of the first time I was introduced to family history. The day my grandfather showed me his most prized possession - a journal handwritten by his mother, Barbara Ann Brothwell Reynolds (pictured above) who was the first to take up the role of family historian. He explained to me with profound admiration how hard she had worked to trace the Reynolds lineage and all the various branches included in it. That notebook and that conversation sparked my curiosity and led to decades of my own tireless research, ultimately taking our family tree to heights my grandfather and his mother only dreamed of. And as I close out my first year of helping others to discover their family stories, I remember that first conversation and how all the firsts of all my ancestors shaped the world into my current existence.
Here’s to a Happy New Year and many more firsts!