Shedding Light on the Family Tree: Searching for Stuff

The 36th in a series about my family tree

Prompt: Exploration


The beauty of exploring is finding all kinds of stuff. Stuff that’s fun to know; stuff that’s mildly (or insanely) interesting; and, stuff that’s simply eye rolling. Climbing the family tree is its own form of exploration and yields all kinds stuff.

Exploration takes time and focus neither of which have been much at my disposal lately, still here is a brief summary of one of my genealogical digs from this past week. I often pick a name at random and this time my eye wandered up the Sumner branch.

Sumner Stuff

My family are descendants of Thomas Sumner (1734-1820) of Thetford, Connecticut. He was a prosperous and respected “prominent citizen of his country, a justice of the peace, commissioner, associate justice of the inferior court of common pleas of Gloucester county in 1770.”* He and his wife, Rebecca Downer (1739-1783 or 1820, depending on who you’re asking), had nine children and lived a good life in Hebron, Connecticut, all of which changed at the time of the American Revolution. Like so many United Empire Loyalists his family was forced to abandon their homes and properties to make their escape to Canada.

Still, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Working with the tree at FamilySearch I traced the well-documented Sumner family line to Roger Sumner of Bicester, Oxfordshire (1578-1608) and his wife, Joane Franklin (1560-1620), my 11th great grandparents. Curious about the Franklin line I noticed they are traceable back a further five generations to Robert Franklin (1415-1492) and his wife, Ann Offord (ca1429-ca1492) both born in Skipton, Yorkshire; both died in Norfolk, England. They had four children. Their youngest son and fourth child, William Franklin (1460-1556) was born in Bledlow, Buckinghamshire. He married Margaret Ann Risby (1455-1543) in 1489 at Ravensden, Bedfordshire, and went on to become the Dean of Windsor, as per the following:

Internet Archive

This exploration led me to one of my favourite resources, Internet Archive at While climbing the various branches of our family tree I’ve discovered that many references are made to documented histories which are discoverable at this immense online repository.

The Internet Archive, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, is building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. Like a paper library, we provide free access to researchers, historians, scholars, people with print disabilities, and the general public. Our mission is to provide Universal Access to All Knowledge. …

Because we are a library, we pay special attention to books. Not everyone has access to a public or academic library with a good collection, so to provide universal access we need to provide digital versions of books. We began a program to digitize books in 2005 and today we scan 4,000 books per day in 18 locations around the world. Books published prior to 1927 are available for download, and hundreds of thousands of modern books can be borrowed through our Open Library site.

For further information visit Internet Archive at

Being a country dweller, access to an online resource like this proves useful. While looking for Sumner info I discovered some Gordon stuff from my Scottish granny’s lineage.

From “The Great Historic Families of Scotland”
by James Taylor (1813-1892)

The Great Historic Families of Scotland by James Taylor (1813-1892) published in 1889 and contributed to Internet Archive by the Kelly Library, University of Toronto … includes an entire section on the history of Clan Gordon. The spirit of my Scottish great grandfather, William Alexander Gordon (1880-1954), exemplified the “vivacity and sprightliness of their manners,” even after having served at Gallipoli during WWI. He was known for his good humour, generous heart, and enduring work ethic while pioneering in the wilds of northern Alberta well into his 50s. This printed history, now available online, helps to bring context to my understanding of the Gordon lineage, something I really appreciate.

From “The Downers of America”
by David R. Downer

Returning to the Sumner/Downer lineage I found The Downers of America: with genealogical record, a contribution from the Americana Collection of the New York Public Library. I stumbled upon this while grazing a selection of historical and genealogical titles that came up during a filtered search of the website’s millions of uploaded resources. The reference to Thomas Sumner and Rebecca Downer is brief, and so I did a little more online detective work to see what else I could find. It wasn’t something I planned, it was where the exploration down the rabbit hole led.

I should have quit while I was ahead because I came across two conflicting stories relating to the death of Rebecca Downer.

Version One ~ Rebecca dies sometime in 1783 after her family has fled Connecticut for New Brunswick:

On 26 April 1783 a large fleet of transports left New York with 7000 Loyalists bound for various parts of Nova Scotia; of these about 3000 embarked on twenty vessels bound for St. Johns (which was shortly to be in newly created New Brunswick). In a document in the Public Records Office in London is a
statement by Thomas Sumner as follows: “I arrived in St. John in May, 1783, with my wife and six children and being totally in want of the comforts to which my family had been accustomed my wife is since dead.”(5:396)

Source: Thomas Sumner: A United Empire Loyalist ~ A Biographical Sketch with historical sources by descendent Robert Hansen

This is supported in another document:

Source: Paper on Thomas Sumner by Col. Robert S. Sumner, September 1983

Version Two ~ Rebecca’s death date is noted on her FamilySearch file as some time in 1820, the same year her husband, Thomas, passes away in Toronto, York, Upper Canada, 6 January, 1820 at age 84. There doesn’t appear to be any documentation that substantiates this version, and yet the info is there, so it too must be documented somewhere. Or is it? Who knows? My explorations on this version are coming up empty. So frustrating. Did somebody make this up?

That’s the thing about exploring ~ we run into unexpected road blocks that detour us down endless rabbit holes which often lead us into more confusion. And so, in this instance my inclination is to go with what I know from what is documented and in-hand, i.e. Version One … that is until proven otherwise.

The Final Word

Searching for stuff is both fun and frustrating. I like to imagine the ancestors cheering from the sidelines as I endeavour to locate information that best represents the milestones of their earthly sojourn. It’s a work in progress. Explorations tend to be that way. ❦


*Thomas Sumner Life Sketch … FamilySearch

©Dorothy E. Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2022 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

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