Growing up, I didn’t think much about where my maternal side had come from. We lived in North Dakota, and my mom, grandmother, and great grandfather had all grown up there. It wasn’t until making an Ancestry.com family tree and a constant unraveling of discoveries, I have not only been able to put names into my family tree, but I have been able to put stories and photos to match who these people truly were. The following story we travel back over 200 years.
- Reynior Tyson 1658-1745
- Matthais Tyson 1686-1727
- Isaac Tyson 1718-1796
- Elisha Tyson 1750-1824
- William Tyson 1782-1863
- William A. Tyson 1807-1897
- Lewis Tyson 1843-1922
- Robert Tyson 1873-1955
- Victor Tyson 1899-1977
- Patricia Tyson 1936-2012
- Natalie Darling 1960-
- Kelcie Knutson 1985-
My grandmother was very good at keeping everything. Luckily for me, she held onto family heirlooms, family documents, and lots of photos. Sometimes she would write on the backs of photos; more often, grandma would write on an envelope or index card and put the photos inside or attach it somehow. Some families have a Rolodex of recipes… some families have a Rolodex of family information. I never was able to read her writing, so rarely do I even try. Typically, when I see my grandmother’s writing, I ask my mom or aunt to translate.
Over the years, members of my family and extended family compiled documents, news articles, and stories. Folders were made with copies of everything. I received my first folder of family information in my early 20s, and for over a decade it sat in a plastic tub with old photos from High School that I moved from one apartment to another, and then sat in my basement for half of a decade. The second folder I received after my grandmother died, and joined the first folder, in the same tub. Never to be read, until this past year. But something tells me my grandmother had other plans and is somehow guiding me to look into my family history. I like to believe that my ancestors are sitting in Heaven, helping to control what I find out — a sort of mixture of Disney Pixar films Inside Out and Coco …. making sure my ancestors aren’t forgotten by using Ancestry.com to get me to bring them to life again.
Following an email I received after an Ancestry.com DNA match, I had to look further into my family. A woman named Julie, from Baltimore, contacted me on ancestry messenger to thank my mom (I manage my mom’s DNA) for taking the DNA test because the match helped her solve something in her family tree, which she’d been trying to solve for 20 years. My mom’s DNA helped her to confirm her own suspicions of her family tree. We learned Julie was born with the same maiden name as my grandmother, and she let me know how she was related to us: a great-grandfather of hers was brothers with a great-grandfather of mine, to break that down, Julie is my 7th cousin 1x removed.
In one of her emails, the following sentence came flying off the page at me. “As I am sure you know Elijah Tyson was a great Abolitionist.” I was aware Elisha Tyson was in my family tree. The end. That’s all I knew about him. IMMEDIATELY, I took to google and typed: “Elisha Tyson Abolitionist.” Pages and pages of stuff came up, including: a Wikipedia page, a book written about him, articles written about him in the 21st century. Apparently, my 6th great-grandfather, Elisha, was a very well-known abolitionist. He had become extremely wealthy in the milling industry, real estate, and trade. Yet, what really drew me in was the following: I found out this great-grandfather of mine used his own home, as part of the underground railroad to hide free African-American slaves who were being held illegally, AND he used his own money to help free them. I read he was highly regarded by African-American slaves, they referred to him as Father Tyson, and at his funeral over 10,000 slaves marched to show their respect. 10,000 people marched at his funeral….. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?? Why hadn’t I ever heard of this man?
Google also displayed a house. A summer home for Elisha, built somewhere between 1790s and 1804, which a family had purchased in 2005, and spent half a million dollars restoring. THEN, I found the most miraculous thing, an AIRBNB was attached to the restored house, where the servants once lived, and had once been owned by my 6th great-grandfather. I knew I needed to go to Baltimore.
The morning after I learned of the Airbnb, my older sister called me as she often does on her way to work. She asked me if I wanted to make plans to go to lunch. I said, “I want to go to Baltimore.” She responded, “They probably have lunch there.” So I proceeded to fill her in on what I had learned about Elisha Tyson and the Airbnb. She told me she had two weekends in the coming months available, and to check into the Airbnb. I messaged Robyn, the owner, immediately. Robyn was very quick to respond, and one of the weekends my sister was available was open. I chatted with my sister, and by that evening I was booking the Airbnb and she was booking us an experience on Spirit Airlines. I realized I had roughly one month to learn whatever I could about my ancestors before we jetted off to Baltimore.
I decided it was time to start going through the family stuff I had. I dug out old documents. I ordered the book Life of Elisha Tyson, the Philanthrpist by John Shoemaker Tyson. In addition, I was fortunate to receive an email with a bookreport the daughter of the AirBnb happened to have recently written. I also made sure to tell Julie we were coming, with hopes of meeting her. I mentioned we were staying at the Airbnb. She proceeded to ask me which property it was at. This is when I learned there were TWO homes of my 6th great-grandfather’s still standing. The second home of my 6th great-grandfather’s was located at Jericho Farm, in Kingsville, MD.
In a few weeks time, my Ancestry.com family tree grew very quickly. I asked Julie questions regarding what she may know about people from the Baltimore area. I specifically wanted to know anything about my 5th great grandmother’s family, the Ellicott’s (Elizabeth Ellicott was married to Elisha Tyson’s son, William). Julie let me know there was a whole city called Ellicott City, MD; I eventually learned the city was started by my 7th great-grandfather and his two brothers. In addition, I learned my 7th great-grandfather’s nephew (a first cousin to my 6th great-grandfather, my 2nd cousin 7x removed) surveyed the Mason-Dixon line, was commissioned by George Washington to draw plans for Washington D.C., and taught Meriwether Lewis survey methods. I was suddenly living out American History books in my very own family.
Since my sister and I were only going to be in the Baltimore area for less than 72 hours, I made a short list of must sees:
- Main house/Airbnb
- Maryland Historical Society
- Jericho Farm/Jerusalem Mill
- Ellicott City
- Lunch with Julie
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” – Marcus Garvey