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Letter from the Editor: Exploring Family History

by on December 31, 2019 12:04 PM

My attempts at mapping my family history have been scattershot at best.

Growing up, it was generally understood by my family – the Brackenburys and the Kings (my mom’s maiden name) – that our ancestors hailed from England. Details beyond that were scant, at least to me.

Like a lot of folks as they get older, I now wish I had been more curious and asked more questions of older family members.

One of my daughters gave me a 23andMe DNA saliva test as a gift a few years ago. I eagerly awaited the results, thinking they might reveal a surprising twist in my heritage. But the findings were pretty straightforward.

DNA suggests that 97.6 percent of my ancestry is northwestern European, mostly British and Irish, with the strongest evidence of ancestry near London.

So, nothing too surprising there. In the years since, I’ve used ancestry websites sporadically and discussions with my parents (my mom passed away in 2015, but my dad is sharp as ever as he approaches his 86th birthday) to begin building that family tree. It’s been an effort in fits and starts, but it has revealed some interesting things.

My paternal grandfather’s first name was Tower; a pretty cool and unusual name, but I never explored where it came from. Now I know that his great-grandmother’s maiden name was Tower. It’s a family branch that has been tracked back as far as 1582, when Robert Tower was said to be born in Hingham, Norfolk, England. His descendants came to the United States and settled in Hingham, Massachusetts, not far from Plymouth, beginning in 1637 (17 years after the Mayflower arrived).

There is documentation of Captain Levi Tower, of the Second Regiment, Rhode Island Volunteers, dying in the first Battle of Bull Run in July 1861. Wow, this was completely new to me – and my father.

Sometime in the mid-1800s, a Tower daughter married a Prue; their daughter married a Langley, and their daughter, Lela, married George Brackenbury. George, originally from North Walsham, Norfolk, England, and Lela were my great-grandparents. My grandfather Tower Brackenbury was born in 1905 in Rhode Island, where my family put down roots.

Those are just a few leaves on one branch of my family tree.

Genealogy buffs like Mike Dawson have gone much further with their own family histories. Inside this month, Mike shares his fascinating family story and those of three other local residents whose research yielded results that changed their lives.

Reading his story has inspired me to dig into my family roots in a more serious way. Perhaps it will inspire you, too!



Mark Brackenbury

Editorial Director

[email protected]


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