Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Professor Wrote My Family History

Genealogy is more fun when you're able to collaborate with cousins on the research process. There's nothing like being able to bounce ideas off of someone who's equally curious and passionate about shared family history.

Even better when you find a cousin who's deeply invested in your shared family history and has already produced significant research.

Finding the Professor

While conducting desk research on Brooke County, (West) Virginia - the location where I speculate my fifth great-grandparents Thomas Kirk and Sarah Bonar met and married - I came across the research of a Bonar descendant.

I read with interest the work of Mr. Bonar who mentioned the existence of a family diary indicating that William Bonar, Sarah's father and my sixth great-grandfather - was born "on the Roenoke."

Excited to learn of the existence of a family diary, I wondered whether it still survived and if it made any mention of Sarah and her husband Thomas.

After some speedy online research, I located Mr. Bonar on Facebook and sent him a message introducing myself and asking about the diary.

Happily, he responded:

"The 'diary' is very short—not a real diary, just some comments about the family. It was in the possession of the Wells family of Wellsburg WV."

Mr. Bonar added that he had a photograph of Sarah's brother G.D. Bonar, his direct ancestor, which he was happy to share.

The Professor's Surprise

Our correspondence shifted to email, where Mr. Bonar divulged the wonderfully surprising news:

"I have written a book about our pioneer ancestors, William Bonar and Jane McColloch."

Mr. Bonar, I learned, was a retired university professor who spent years researching and writing the history of my sixth great-grandparents William and Jane (McColloch) Bonar - Sarah's parents. Published last year, he still had copies available.

He kindly shipped a book to me, which I read with great gusto. 

A copy of the book detailing the history of my sixth great-grandparents William and Jane Bonar

How often do you come across a professor who has researched, written, and professionally published your family history?! 

Not often!

I learned so much about the challenging circumstances that confronted the settlers pushing into Virginia's northwestern territory. Encroaching into the lands of Native American communities, conflict raged and led to an often volatile and uncertain existence. 

He painstakingly detailed 18th century frontier life in Virginia, while acknowledging the "dearth of original records" that makes it very difficult to tell the story with specificity for any one person from this era. I've certainly learned that from the many challenges I've encountered with my own Kirk family research.

My Elusive Ancestors

The book reiterated that the Bonar family lost touch with my fifth great-grandmother Sarah Bonar. 

There's only passing mention of Sarah Bonar and her marriage to Thomas Kirk. The book notes that she married a man by the name of Kirk and that they lived in Captina [Belmont County, Ohio]. That's it! Blink and you'll miss it.

This brief reference originally comes from Dorothy Rine Brown who, in 1969, published the Bonar Genealogy.

Her book explained that, "The records of the late Tabitha Bonar Wilson say that Sarah "Sallie" married a man by the name of Kirk, and that they lived at Captina, Belmont Co, Ohio."

Again, no known first name for the mysterious Kirk husband. Pedigrees are provided for each of William and Jane (McColloch) Bonar's children with the disappointing exception of my Sarah. There's even a sad blank line where Thomas' first name should be. Sarah and Thomas really disappeared from the Bonar family radar.

Tabitha (Bonar) Wilson was a daughter of G.D. Bonar, and niece to my Sarah (Bonar) Kirk. Her proximity in both time and relationship lends credibility to her claim that Thomas and Sarah Kirk settled in Captina Creek in Ohio after marrying most likely in Brooke County, (West) Virginia.

Both books make it clear that there's a need and place for my own history of Thomas and Sarah (Bonar) Kirk to provide the missing pieces.

My chief genealogy goal this year is to publish a family history on Thomas and Sarah (Bonar) Kirk. Clearly, this book would fill a void that even the professor couldn't.


  1. Congratulations for reaching out to The Professor and obtaining a copy of his book. Good luck with your goal!

    1. Thank you, Cathy! Now the hard work continues...

  2. I left a comment on FB---but just to reiterate---how fortunate you are to have a fellow genealogy addict in the family, and how fortunate HE is to have you!

    1. I was thrilled to connect with him, and loved the book!