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Looking back to 2020, forward to 2021

The very best part of falling headlong into family history research is the stories.

Stories in The Legal Genealogist’s family take us back a long way in America on the maternal side and in Germany on the paternal side.

Stories that begin, in this country, in the late 1600s. Stories in Germany that we can take all the way back to the late 1500s.

Some of them, astoundingly, given my family’s tendency never to let the truth get in the way of a good story, that may even possibly be true.

Milestones in 2021

And some of the possibly-true ones — that is, the ones that I’ve managed to document with something other than a marginal note that one of the family storytellers told me so — had very big milestones in 2020 or will have big milestones here in 2021.

These “big milestones” are events that were exactly 50 or 100 or 150 or 200 years ago — or more! — during the year.

And they’re the kinds of milestones that we shouldn’t allow to pass without pausing to reflect.

Looking back

In 2020, for example, in the 250-year milestone category, we had the anniversary of my fifth great grandparents. Okay, so I only know the name of the groom — Philip Shew (his will named his widow as Susannah1 but we have no idea if Susannah was his one and only wife and mother of his children or …) — and I’m guessing at the date based on the fact that Philip’s first child, Eve Anna, was born in 1771-1772.2 Close enough.

In the 200-year milestone category, there was the — ahem — somewhat better documented birth of my paternal third great grandfather Carsten Hinrich Wilhelm Sievers, born in Bremen, Germany, on 3 December 1820.3

And in the 100-year milestone category, there was the birth of the one and only close member of my family killed in World War II. My mother’s cousin Phillip Cottrell was born 16 April 1920 in South Dakota. He died at age 23 in an aviation training accident.4

Looking forward

And in 2021, there are a lot of milestones coming up as well.

In the 250-year milestone category, we have the recorded militia service of a sixth great grandfather, John Pettypool, in Granville County, North Carolina. It’s one of those serendipitous records — a published list with the misspelled title of LIST OF GRANVILLE COUNTY MALITIA, 1771, set out in volume 22 of the State Records of North Carolina. John appears in the list of Captain James Yancey’s company of foot.5 His name also appears in the list of those who, in 1778, took the oath of allegiance to the new State of North Carolina “against George the third, King of Great Britain.”6

In the 200-year milestone category, sigh, my nemesis second great grandfather George Washington Cottrell. He said he was born on 5 March 1821 “3 miles from Lexington in Madison County, KY.”7 The facts that Madison County isn’t — and never was — that close to Lexington, that there isn’t even a hint of a Cottrell family in the rich, deep and well-preserved records of Madison County, and that that birthday doesn’t square with what he claimed on the two censuses where he can be found — the 1850 census8 and the 1880 census9 … well, those are just details, right? Love ya, George.

In the 150-year milestone category, we have the birthday of my mother’s maternal grandfather, Jasper Carlton Robertson. He was the last-born of the 11 children of Gustavus Boone and Isabella (Gentry) Robertson and one of only two born in Texas. He was born 18 April 1871, and died ridiculously young — he was just 41 when he died in Oklahoma in 1912.10 His daughter, my grandmother, the oldest of his four children, was just 14 when he died. None of his many grandchildren or great grandchildren ever knew him. And yet through the stories of my grandmother he has been such a part of our lives.

In the 100-year milestone category, there are the cousins born just six weeks apart. The elder, my father, Hugo Hermann Geissler, born in Bremen, Germany, on 5 July 1921.11 The second born and only surviving child of my grandparents, Marie Margarethe Nuckel and Hugo Ernst Geissler. The younger, Erna Margarethe Lauterbach, was born in Bremen on 15 August 1921.12 The second born and only known surviving child of my grandmother’s sister Marie Juliane Margarethe Nuckel and her husband Amko Lauterbach. And despite their closeness in age and geography at the start of their lives, the two were essentially strangers. My father emigrated with his parents to the United States when he was not yet four. He returned to Germany just once, as a nine-year-old, and may never have seen his cousin again after that. None of their descendants — if Erna left descendants — have ever met or been in contact. I was hoping to try to remedy that in 2020 during a long-planned trip to Germany that, of course, like so much else, was cancelled.

And in the 50-year milestone category, a death and a birth. The death is that of my mother’s cousin, Sam Walter “Pete” Harris. Pete’s mother Addie was the older sister of my grandfather Clay Cottrell, and Pete — born in 1902 — wasn’t that much younger than his uncle, born in 1898. Or, for that matter, his uncle’s wife, my grandmother, on whom he had a crush most of his life. A family story says that Pete made my grandmother Opal promise that if anything ever happened to my grandfather she’d consider him. Many decades later, when my grandparents got their first telephone at their Virginia farmhouse, the first caller was Pete. “Opal,” he said, when my grandmother answered the phone, “isn’t that SOB dead yet?” The birth, well, let’s just say that if I were willing to take my life in my hands and out a cousin, there is one who has a very special birthday coming up this summer… and many of you know this cousin well…

Each of these, a story of its own. And these are the stories we all have in our families, aren’t they? And they are, in truth, one of the real reasons why we do genealogy at all.

Why I have to write this blog.

Why I have to tell the stories.

To make sure that those I remember aren’t forgotten… that these milestones continue to be remembered down through the generations.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Milestones, 2021,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 9 Jan 2021).


  1. Wilkes County, North Carolina, Will Book 4: 159, Will of Philip Shew, 4 Jan 1826; digital images, “North Carolina Probate Records, 1735-1970,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 3 Jan 2020).
  2. She was shown as 88 in 1860, See U.S. census, Parke County, Indiana, Florida Township, population schedule, p. 185 (penned), dwelling 1267, family 1246, Evanna Lenderman in John Boatman household; digital image, ( : accessed 3 Jan 2020); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 287. And 99 in 1870. See 1870 U.S. census, Parke County, Indiana, Florida Township, population schedule, p. 65 (stamped), dwelling 334, family 326, Evana Lenderman in John Boatman household; digital image, ( : accessed 3 Jan 2020); citing National Archive microfilm publication M593, roll 349.
  3. Bremen Standesamt, Zivilstandsregister (Bremen city registry office, civil status registers), Geburten (births) 1820 Nr. 1242 (3 Dec 1820, registered 7 Dec 1820), p. 614, Carsten Hinrich Wilhelm Sievers.
  4. Crystal Bachman, “In Memory of Marine Lieutenant Philip Ellsworth Cottrell,” South Dakota WWII Memorial via Wayback Machine ( : accessed 3 Jan 2020). Also, “California Death Index, 1940-1997,” entry for Philip Patrick Cottrell, 4 Aug 1943; database, ( : accessed 3 Jan 2020); citing California Death Index, 1940-1997, California Department of Health Services, Center for Health Statistics, Sacramento.
  5. Roster of the Granville County Militia, in Waler Clark, ed., State Records of North Carolina, vol. 22 (Goldsboro, NC: Nash Bros., printers, 1907), 163; digital images, HathiTrust Digital Library ( : accessed 4 Jan 2021).
  6. Ibid., 178.
  7. Survivor’s Brief, 17 February 1890, pension application no. 7890 (Rejected), for service of George W. Cotrell of Texas; Mexican War Pension Files; Records of the Bureau of Pensions and its Predecessors 1805-1935; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  8. 1850 U.S. census, Tarrant County, Texas, Navarro District, population schedule, p. 89 (stamped), dwelling/family 3, G W Cotril, age 40, in the Archie Robinson household; digital image, ( : accessed 4 Jan 2021); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 910.
  9. 1880 U.S. census, Parker County, Texas, Justice Precinct 6, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 139, p. 458(B) (stamped), dwelling/family 10, George W Cotrell, age 59; digital image, ( : accessed 4 Jan 2021); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 1232.
  10. Oklahoma State Board of Health, death certificate 3065 (1912), Jasper C. Robertson; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Oklahoma City. And see interview with Opal Robertson Cottrell (Kents Store, VA), by Bobette Richardson, 1980s; copy of notes privately held by the author. Opal Cottrell was the grandmother of Bobette Richardson and the author.
  11. Bremen Standesamt (City Register), Geburten (Births), Nr. 2888, 1921, Hugo Hermann Geissler. Also, Evangelische Zionskirche, Bremen, Kirchenbuch, Taufregister Nr. 3 aus 1922, Baptismal Record of Hugo Hermann Geissler, 12 Feb 1922.
  12. Bremen Standesamt (City Register) 1917, Nr. 198, Bd. 1, Heiratsregistereintrag (Marriage Register entry) Nuckel-Lauterbach.
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