To the uninitiated, genealogy can seem like a dry indexing of birth, marriage and death dates. But it can be a thrilling treasure hunt, too.
For instance, I recently learned that on May 29-30, 1795, a squirrel hunt was held on the Kentucky farm of my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Archibald Woods Sr.
When the shooting stopped, 5,589 squirrels lay dead. Yes, 5,589 squirrels.
I learned that through an odd chain of events: My cousin wanted to join the Daughters of the American Revolution, so she asked me to help document her direct descent from Archibald Woods, a soldier in the American Revolution.
I knew about Capt. Archibald Woods, and I have visited his grave in Richmond, Ky. I sent my cousin the information she needed.
A week later, a friend mentioned a website with links to hundreds of hometown newspapers. I clicked on Kentucky, then The Richmond Register.
Incredibly, on that very day the Register posted a column by local genealogist Fred Engle that told the story of Archibald Woods. It was Part Two of a series on the Woods family. I learned more about them in 15 minutes than I had ever known.
What are the chances?
Engle got most of his information from a story written in January 1900 by Clarence E. Woods, editor of The Richmond Climax.
Aside from the bloody squirrel hunt, I learned that Archibald Woods was born in Albemarle County, Va., in 1749, married in 1773, served as a captain in the Virginia militia, then served in the Continental Army. He and his men marched 200 miles to relieve Fort Watauga, in what is now eastern Tennessee, and returned with information that the Shawnees had begun hostilities.
He spent the rest of the war supervising frontier defenses.
Woods, a lawyer, moved to what is now Kentucky in 1781. By 1783 he had a farm in what is now Madison County, Ky. Records show that he traded a “rifle gun” for 1,000 acres, but when a spring guaranteed to be “everlasting” went dry, he got his rifle back.
Patrick Henry, then governor of Virginia, appointed Woods a justice of the peace in 1785, with the authority to try, punish, and inflict capital punishment on slaves.
Judge Woods and his wife had 10 children. After spending 11 years in Tennessee, he returned to Madison County in 1820. In 1833, he applied for an Army pension, and was granted $480 per year. He died on Dec. 13, 1836, aged 87 years, 10 months and 17 days, at the home of his son in Madison County.
Clarence Woods wrote this: “Archibald Woods Sr. was a fine specimen of the old Virginia gentleman. He maintained his carriages, horses and driver up until his death. He was a man of marked intelligence, great personal pride and dignity. The hospitality of his home was proverbial, and his life, public and private, was pitched on the highest ideals of manhood and patriotism.”
Genealogy is a treasure hunt, and I struck pure gold.
Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.