Tag Archives: surnames

Jesse James Treasure Discovered…and Returned

Who’s treasure is it? The email from the unidentified woman was insistent. “This family is part of the Jesse James family. You represent the Jesse James family. These things now are yours.”

Nothing about the woman, what she said, or what she described made any sense at all. But I’m used to dealing with that. All I could glean was that some woman died in Florida – I couldn’t get a name. Locally, she was known to be kin to Jesse James – How? I couldn’t learn that either. Now, the deceased woman’s house was being cleaned out, and her debris was flying my way.

bag of treasure

What I expected to receive was a letter envelope with, maybe, some photos. What I got instead was a shipment box. Inside was a large plastic shopping bag. The bag was loaded with studio portrait photos in their cardboard fold-out frames, piles of fading snapshots, an envelope of records and official documents, and a baby shoe.

Like most people, the deceased woman was a bad record keeper. The photos were not identified by names, but rather by relationships. “Sis’s grandkids.” Great. Who’s Sis? Who are the grandkids? Who are these people? I was reminded of occasions when asking for directions in the South. Replies contained no specific point-to-point directions by name, but only by oblique references, informed by personal memory. “Go down about two miles to the corner where the gas station used to be.”

Some of the photos bore the name of James. But none of the names was familiar. The images didn’t resemble any James I know. I searched the internet but found nothing relating to these James. So, whose Jesse James treasure was this? I was stuck with the mystery.

research files of the James Preservation Trust

The historian, genealogist, and archivist in me recognized I could not throw any of this away. This belonged to someone unknown, someone yet to be found. Meanwhile, I was stuck with it all. I stashed the collection with my files, hoping someday, someway, someone or something would appear to claim it, or direct me to its rightful heir. For about seven years, the bag and its treasure sat waiting, like so many family orphans.

Two weeks ago, I was browsing Find-a-Grave for updates and new information, just as I continually browse courthouses, libraries, and research archives for things overlooked, new references, identities familiar from my growth of knowledge, or for the latest deaths, notices, or entries. A Find-a-Grave listing appeared with references to a James, familiar from my mystery treasure.

Find-a-Grave posting

I promptly dispatched an email to Christine Cartwright, who posted the entry. “Are you related to this family, or know someone who is?”

“Hi Eric, Yes, I am a relative William Everett James. He was my great-grandfather. What kind of information do you have may I ask? Some of us are in the dark because a small part of the family doesn’t want to share pictures, docs, and stories with the rest of us…Please if you have new information I would love it…”

In further correspondence came this revelation “Yes, there has been talk that one of the great aunts had some letters from Jesse and Frank and somehow they are cousins. But no one can find this so-called letters or maybe someone is hiding them. I don’t know but it would be great to know if there is a link.”

Christine Cratwright
Christine Cartwright & Her Orphaned Family Archive

The treasure sent to me anonymously finally has found its rightful home. Returning the collection has been deeply gratifying, like so often before when orphans of the James are rediscovered, or rediscover their past, with the help of our Stray Leaves website and its SURNAMES genealogy database.

True to any genealogy quest, though, arriving at one answer always raises more questions. Is the Everett Roscoe James of Clinton County, Ohio related to the James in our SURNAMES database? Christine has solved one mystery. His real name was William Everett James, and Roscoe was his nickname. Christine’s research will continue. Is William Everett James related to the Jesse James family? Christine will continue working on that, too; as I stand by to help. Perhaps a DNA test will put the question to rest. But does that really matter? It took six years to resolve the mystery of this lost treasure of family photos. What’s another month or two to nail down a family identity? For many, it takes generations. Meanwhile, Christine and her family now have some lost treasure from their own family to study and enjoy.



The 1854 Family Bible of Ione Gray, Granddaughter of Mary Harriet James, is Returned to Descendants

Missouri Returns Burton Allen James Family Bible



Stray Leaves Has a New SURNAMES Genealogy Database

The new “official genealogy” database for the family of Frank & Jesse James is gigantic. Researchers now will have more paths of discovery to kinship relationships, not only with America’s iconic outlaws, but also with presidents, office holders & public servants, famous arts & cultural icons, and business behemoths who changed the nation.

The Stray Leaves SURNAMES genealogy database

It’s been a decade since the popular SURNAMES genealogy database on Stray Leaves was last updated. While visits to the database rose as high as 55,000 daily, its content was replicated across the internet. Meanwhile, new research did not stop growing the database.

Eric F. James has compiled the SURNAMES database since 1997. “Most genealogists only research their own family surname. So did I – in the beginning. But soon I learned that the in-law families of the James knew more about the James than the James knew about themselves. So I started to research the genealogy of the in-law families just as much, if not more. That’s when the explosion came.”

The more his research expanded, the more the names of other historical American icons entered his genealogy. “In 2002, when I showed Judge James R. Ross, Jesse’s great grandson, my findings about his previously unknown ancestry, he was not so surprised. James family lore historically foreshadowed his relationship to the French Bourbon Kings, but never to Judah, the King of Judea. As a lifelong Democrat, though, Judge Ross was dumbfounded completely to find himself related to the Presidents Bush.”

One research discovery now produces more controversy for the James than does their relationship to outlaws. “In today’s social climate, what can you say when you find out Wal-Mart’s founder Sam Walton is your cousin?” As Eric F. James is called upon often to defend kinship with the criminal career of Jesse James, he’s just as often called upon to defend the business practices of Wal-Mart. James thinks he found the perfect answer, though. “I simply tell people this when I request the family discount at WalMart, I never receive it.”

data transfer
Upload of the SURNAMES database began January 23rd, and continued to upload over 100,000 new web pages around the clock until 2 a.m. January 28, 2014.

Stray Leaves’ new SURNAMES database expects to serve more than just genealogists and family historians. The database now includes 273,469 people, in 94,761 family groups, almost double the size it was before. “It got that way,” James says,” because a third tier of research was added. Beyond the James family and their in-laws, I also explored the relatives of the in-laws of the James. That’s when a lot of new James family history was discovered.”

The third tier of research led Eric F. James in unexpected directions and down pathways he never would consider taking before. “Soon, not only was the genealogy piling up, but a lot of new history, previously unknown, was revealing itself, too.

“That’s when it became necessary to start writing the history of the Jesse James family. I had to explain with more than just a skeletal genealogy format what happened with the James, with whom, and why. That’s also why his book Jesse James Soul Liberty is just the first of five volumes to be published in the coming years. Volumes of new history have emerged from the genealogy. “I could write more than just five volumes.”

“The new SURNAMES database includes many of the characters who populate my history books. Readers will be able to go to the database, and clearly see the relationships, how they went back generations, and why their existence was not so surprising after all. The James family were not isolated. The James were part of a large influential community, that cut its path across America together, all the time creating the fundamental identity of America and what it stands for in the institutions they founded, that still hold sway and influence in American life today.”

List of surnames appearing in the Stray Leaves SURNAMES genealogy database
Book author Eric F. James
Eric F. James, historian, genealogist, compiler and publishers of the Stray Leaves SURNAMES genealogy database

What will another decade hold for the SURNAMES database? “Believe it or not, the database had to be cut back about 15% in order for the software to compute and report kinship. The process of very selective trimming took almost two years. The database continues to grow exponentially. In the future, there may be more than one gigantic database. There may be many databases that will be all interlinked.”

James adds, “My time for this may be running its course. The next stage probably will be handled by someone younger, coming up behind me. I love everything I’ve learned hanging out with the dead. But, really, I’ve got to get up from this desk.”