Discovering Your History With a Metal Detector
Searching For Family Treasures Making The Past Come Alive
Searching your Family Tree can be the most wonderful, incredibly rewarding and frustrating experience you will ever undertake. Depending on the information you start with you will either, quickly, add new "branches" of information to your research or you will follow a path of clues that lead to a dead end. The available records are extensive, but incomplete, and can be costly to access if you use one of the many commercial websites catering to people interested in their genealogy. If you choose to search, the old fashion way, by physically searching records at government archives, church records, or other various sources like school records etc you might save money but the search time required will be substantial.
Most people use a combination of all these sources. Often they have a starting point such as letters, family documents, photos or a living grandparent who can often send them off on the right path. The search can and will be frustrating but there will be moments of pure and genuine euphoria when you make a new connection to your past. When you discover that old dusty photo, you found in the attic, is actually a picture of your GGG Grandparent and another door to your past has been opened. It is a great and emotional undertaking that will, quite probably, never completely end. Your search will go on until you hit that proverbial "brick wall" where the information dries up and you can no longer glimpse at what is behind the wall. You may find yourself wanting to quit the search.....but then another sliver of information will surface sending you off on the hunt again. Knowing where we came from is such an important part of finding out who we are and where we are going. It is a search many of us have to undertake. The connection with the distant past take on a whole new meaning when that distant past is.....yours! Such was the case in my wife's quest to find her past and I will share with you our own personal treasure hunt.
This part of her family's story begins in 1888 when two brothers leave Newcastle Upon Tyne in Northern England and sail across the Atlantic to a new life and expectations of new adventures. Their ship arrives in New York City in the early spring of 1888 and they first step foot in America at "Castle Garden Immigration Depot", also know as the Battery, which was the main receiving area for immigrants before Ellis Island would takeover as the immigant receiving center 4 years later.
After a short stay in New York they made their way to Boston and connected with extended family there .Arrangements had been made, before they left England, for the two young men to be "taken in" and assisted by their "cousins" who had imigrated to Boston 20 years earlier. The "cousins" in Boston turned out to be the Robertson family who, a few years earlier had started "Chelsea Pottery" which, in time, would become "Dedham Pottery".
We are not sure how long they stayed with their "cousins" in Boston, perhaps, six months at most. They had no intentions of becoming potters, however, and in an old chest full of family papers we discovered what their ultimate destination was. We found a land grant bestowed ,by the English Crown, to each of the brothers. This document granted each of them 100 acres of land in a place called Cloverdale. This area was located in the wilderness of New Brunswick one of the maritime provinces of Canada. The place was about 25 miles from the US/Canada border crossing at Houlton Maine just south of Woodstock, New Brunswick.
These men came from a family of industrialists, merchants and professionals. They both had industrial trades and were very highly thought of in their professions. We can find no reference to their having any experience or even a working knowledge about farming and yet these two brothers were setting off into the wilds of Eastern Canada to start a farm in the wilderness. There wasn't even a local community. The name Cloverdale referred to an area of about two dozen 100 acre lots of land that had been set aside for immigrants by the Crown and the Canadian Government. The nearest community would have been the village of Hartland about 15 miles away. They had no idea about what lie in their future. They set off with hope and a sense of adventure that is all but lost in our time.
Had they known the hardships and heartache that awaited them, in the wilderness ,perhaps they would have stayed in Boston but I really don't think so. I believe that even if they had known they would have pushed forward and met their future head on. Such were the qualities of these men and many more like them, our ancestors, who persevered and overcame untold hardships that paved the way for our modern world and our home.
If I can bring you forward about 115 years to a time ,a few years ago, when we put together an expedition to find the old homestead and to discover any artifacts that might have survived. We had been shown the homestead site of one of the brothers, who was my wife's grandfather, by an elderly gentleman a few years earlier. There were several family members on the expedition and I brought with us my two metal detectors and was determined to do a proper grid search. Although I was still learning how to properly use a metal detector I was confident we would find something.
One of the problems we faced is the the farm was sold in the 1920's and after that a succession of owners would have lived on the property. We would be hard pressed to identify anything from the original house but we arrived on site undaunted. We had permission from the current owners to spend as long as we wanted on site and our search began.
When we arrived we found the physical characteristics of the site had been changed. This change would prove to be invaluable to our success. The owners had "prepared" the site to receive a small travel trailer. They had bought in a small bulldozer and had levelled the site off with the dirt pushed to the side. The home site was level and all the large rocks had been removed. This proved to be critical to our search. The dozer had removed about 4 inches of top soil and pushed that soil into a pile at the edges of the site. what remained was an area that would have approxmated the soil level as it had been in about 1890. What a stroke of luck!
The detectors began "beeping" immediately.Almost all "hits" were registering within 2 inches of the surface. We started recovering countess items. Irons, tools, lots of scrap metal, square nails, everything you would expect to find from a site from the 1890's. The dozer had done most of the work for us.
We recovered so many artifacts that we soon had enough items to divide up amongst the family members. We spend several hours searching and digging and while we did not find "valuables" we did make three finds, in particular, that transcended any monetary values. They were personal items and will always have a cherished place in the family history.
The first item was found midway though the day's search. I swept the detector slowly over an already searched area and was rewarded with a strong signal. The indicator showed the find to be a coin, perhaps, a quarter or 50 cent piece. I slowly pinpointed the target and began digging carefully. About two inches below the surface I found a piece of silver colored metal stuck in a ball of soil. Cleaning the soil away revealed the piece of metal to be... a Victorian era hallmarked silver thimble in excellent condition. We all examined the object and agreed that with such a personal find the search would have been a success if nothing else had been found....but of course we did find other "treasures"
The second find of note was a pair of leather boot soles. The detector picked up the hobnails, that the cobbler would have used to attach the soles to the boots. What made this find so poignant is that the boot soles were from an adult and a small child. We know that 4 children were born in the house with one of them being my wife's father. There is no way to definitively identify the child's bootsole found as belonging to her father,who was born in the house in 1910, but it's close enough that the soles are a cherished part of her collection.
The third and most puzzling find was discovered with the detector indirectly. A very strong signal revealed the presence of a large iron object. After digging we found the remains of an iron. The handle was missing but all the metal parts including the body of the iron were present. It was another great addition to our growing collection but another object in the "hole" the iron was removed from proved even more incredible.
In the bottom of the hole we discovered a "pipe stem" from an old clay pipe. This piece was the most confusing of all. We knew ,through the family letters, that the family were very devout Christians and smoking in the family would have been very unusual. The pipe stem certainly added a sense of mystery to our finds and we had no explanation for it and realized more research would be needed.
When we had finished our day we had a box of artifacts and several rolls of film from the area. No longer would the past, of the old homestead, be shrouded in mystery and remain hidden. The family members would share the artifacts and the photos and that chapter, of their past, would become known and shared by all. It was a great day and thanks to the metal detectors another family's history came out of the shadows and into the light.......what a great hobby. A special thanks goes out from our family to Bounty Hunter Detectors and to Garrett Detectors. They helped bring the past to life even in a beginner's hands.
As a post script I would like to pass on the mystery of the "pipe stem". Missed in all the family papers was a small notebook. Within the notebook my wife's "grandfather" recorded all the supplies needed for his home and the other neighbors. According to the notebook he was the one who went to town for supplies for many of the families in the area. We know that his mother in law came to live with them in her last years. The notebook recorded the purchase of "tobacco" for Mrs Stewart who turns out to be the mother in law. The pipe was smoked by my wife's great grandmother Stewart who lived in the house. What a neat revelation.She was originally from Brooklyn, NY where pipe smoking women, I don't believe, were that common however her mother was a "Clay" from Kentucky where I am told women smoking pipes were NOT that unusual so perhaps she learned this activity from her mother. Obviously the pipe stem holds a very special place in the collection. Monetary value...there is none but sentimental value......priceless!