Category Archives: McKay

Maternal Grandmother, Kathryn Elizabeth McKay, born 1905, Sterling, Whiteside County, Illinois.

A Day at the Beach, circa 1910

I knew my Oklahoma great-grandparents. Both sets were alive and kicking until I was in high school so they were real people to me. My Florida great-grandparents, however seem so long ago. They were older than my Oklahoma great-grandparents, they died before I was born, but I think more importantly, that side of the family is in Florida. I didn’t grow up hearing stories about them. To me they are just names on a family tree. So here they are. Olive Mae Wink and Donald Graham McKay.

Olive and Donald McKay, on AmericanSaga

Ollie and Donald McKay about 1910

Both were born in Whiteside County, Illinois. Donald in 1869 and Ollie, as she was known, in 1870.  They married in 1890, about the time my other great-grandparents were born. According to the History of Whiteside County, Illinois, Donald previously taught school and had been in the life insurance business. In 1908, however, he had purchased land and was farming.

He didn’t stay a farmer long. He made some trips to Florida and soon he packed everyone into the Model T and moved. He was in real estate now.

By this time they had five kids: known to me as Aunt Iva, b. 1892; Aunt Mildred, b. 1896; Aunt Gertie, 1899; Uncle Donald, b. 1902; and Grandma, Kathryn, called Kat, b. 1905.

McKay 4

Couple at far right: Donald & Ollie McKay, at the beach with friends. About 1910, Florida.

I think they were in Jacksonville for a short time, but very soon they were homesteading in Kissimmee.

McKay 3

Donald & Ollie Wink McKay homestead in Florida. McKay family gathered in the front yard.

I wonder if they made the move in one of those cars. My brother said Aunt Gertie told him during the trip–that must have taken forever–they stayed for a while in Georgia to make adjustments to the car. Adjustments as in they had to get new axles made?!!

Roads in the south were the width of the wagons that hauled a bale of cotton. Which was not the same width as roads in the north. But they weren’t roads as we know them, for the most part they were ruts in the dirt. So the wheels of the car had to fit in those ruts or it was very rough traveling, if you could use the road at all.

The McKays moved from Kissimmee to Orlando between 1921, when Aunt Gertie married there and 1927 when Grandma married in Orlando. Donald was ahead of the Florida real estate boom of the 1920s, but unfortunately he couldn’t get out before it crashed. At one time he owned the land that Disney World now occupies. In 1926 real estate prices crashed in Florida. Donald was going broke. And then the stock market crashed in 1929 which must have compounded whatever trouble he was having.

Donald G. McKay died in a hunting accident in September 10, 1930. He was 61 years old. The story is he was climbing through a fence and the gun went off. Hunting accident is the official cause of death listed on his death certificate, but the family generally believed it to be a suicide.

In high school I learned there were many suicides due to the 1929 stock market crash, but I had no idea there was likely one in my family.


P.S. While I have no idea who the photographer was, the photos came from descendants of one of Olive’s older sisters, Axaphia Wink Kennedy. Her son DeWitt was friends with his McKay cousins, Aunt Gertie in particular and they stayed in touch for a while after the move. He went to Florida to visit about 1911. Years later, his daughter Jayne came across the pictures and assembled them into an album. She emailed me a copy and these are the only images I have of my great grandparents, Ollie and Donald McKay. Thanks, Jayne!


Posted by on July 13, 2017 in McKay


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My Family Moves to Florida

My dad’s birthday was yesterday. He was James White Miller V and was born July 10, 1932 in Kissimmee, Florida. He liked to tell people he was from Kiss-a-me, and then he’d pucker up. He died in 1989 and thinking about him this week inspired this post about my Florida ancestors.

In 1842 the US Congress enacted the Armed Occupation Act with the purpose of populating and protecting the eastern shore of the Florida peninsula. It was like the Homestead Act that settled the plains that we learned about in U. S. history. Someone occupies and defends 160 acres of land, builds a dwelling, cultivates the land and after five years they own the land free and clear. The act was only in effect nine months and less than 1,200 permits were granted. As far as I can tell no one in my family took advantage of it but it was part of the process that encouraged settlement in Florida.

Ask me about Oklahoma history and I can rattle off all kinds of facts and figures and trivia, but Florida not so much. My dad was born there, so I know a little as it pertained to his life, but not much about the really olden days. Turns out bunches of the early pioneers to Florida came from Georgia, which makes sense, since it’s the closest state. Some of my ancestors were in that mass of Georgians who moved south.

My grandmother Kathryn McKay was born in Illinois in 1905 and her family moved to Florida just after 1910—as near as I can figure—but my Miller and Bass great grandparents came much earlier. The Millers came from York County, South Carolina between 1870 and 1875. Census records show they were quite the land holders (and slave owners) in Lancaster County, South Carolina for decades leading up to the Civil War. One of my ancestors, Stephen Miller—born in 1740—died at Belaire, Lancaster, South Carolina. I can’t find any town or city by that name, but when I googled it, the name Belair turned up a lot in the Lancaster area. I wonder if Bellaire was the name of their plantation. A few generations later, census records suggest the Millers lost the family home during or after the war. In the 1870 census, six years after the war ended, the James Miller family was counted at Ft. Mill, South Carolina in York County. And five years later, in 1875, my great great grandpa, James Miller, died and was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Kissimmee, Florida. He was just 51. His son, James White Miller II would marry Honoria Quary Mills and become an early sheriff of Osceola County.

As to my other Florida great grandparents Quinn Bass married Jane Richards in Sumter, Georgia in 1845.Their son William, the first of 13 kids (I think), was born in Florida in 1848 according to the 1860 US Census.That year the family was counted in Brevard County which had a total population of 246. U.S. Census records show Quinn and Jane were counted in Brevard County in 1860, Orange County in 1870, and in Osceola County in 1900. At first I wondered why they moved around so much during those years. They were living on the frontier so new arrivals had to build a house from scratch—probably a log cabin—to live in. It was not an easy thing to “move” unless there was a very good reason for it so I started doing some digging.

I’ve found a wonderful website, part of the Newberry Library in Chicago that has an Atlas of Historical County Boundaries. I use that page frequently. There is a map of the United States and after you click on one of the states you’ll get a state map and when you click on “View Interactive Map” you’ll get a map of the state with the date the territory was established and counties in place at the time. You can change the date to show how the counties changed through the years. Here’s what Florida looked like in 1825.

Did you know most of the east coast of Florida was part of Mosquito County? As accurate as that is, it’s probably a good idea they dropped the name as more counties were created.


As I clicked through the years and looked at the county boundaries I found there is a little sliver at the top of present day Osceola County—a sliver that includes Kissimmee—that was first part of Brevard County, then part of Orange County, and finally ended up in Osceola County. I tend to think Quinn and Jane Bass set up housekeeping somewhere along that sliver in the vicinity of Kissimmee and the future St. Cloud and were in the same general area all those years. In 1867 their daughter Effie, my great-grandmother, was born there.

Effie Bass married James White Miller II in 1885 when she was 18 years old. They had three children, Corrie Elizabeth (Aunt Corrie to my dad), James White III (my grandpa) and Honora Jane, who died when she was two years old. The baby was named after her two grandmothers: Honoria Quary Mills Miller and Jane Richards Bass. She died in 1899 and so far I haven’t found anything that tells me why or how she died. Five years later, in 1904, Effie died at the age of 37.I don’t know how she died either.

Sheriff Miller married again, to Marion Miller Butler (yes, her maiden name was Miller), who was born in Vicksburg in 1863 in the midst of the Civil War. Union soldiers quartered at her house during the war and called her “Little Reb.” In fact, her middle name was Rebella. Grandma Miller, as we would know her, lived to the ripe old age of 101. She received a birthday card from President Kennedy when she turned 100. He would be assassinated later that same year.

The McKays were the last of my grandparents to arrive in Florida coming shortly after 1910. After the previous generation settled Whiteside County, Illinois, Donald Graham McKay (his father was born in Nova Scotia) decided to take his family to Florida. He was anticipating, and hoping to take advantage of, the land boom which continued into the 1920s.

The McKays were the first of my ancestors to arrive in Florida by car, traveling from Illinois in a Model T. My brother remembers hearing they had to spend some time in Georgia (Atlanta or Macon I think) to have the axles rebuilt to fit the ruts that formed the roads in the south. Evidently the width of a bale of cotton and the wagon that carried it dictated the width of the ruts of roads in the south. I don’t know what determined the width of roads in the north, but it wasn’t a cotton wagon.

In the 1930 the kids were all grown, and Donald and Olive McKay lived on Poinsettia Avenue in Orlando. Their home was valued at $20,000 on the 1930 census, easily the most affluent home in the area. They lived just around the corner from their daughter Gertrude and her family. Robert Dyer, his wife—we called her Aunt Gertie—and their five kids lived around the corner on Sheridan Avenue. The house on Sheridan was always our first stop when Dad took us home to Florida for vacations.

So that’s how my family got to Florida. They started arriving in the 1840s and my dad left when he joined the Air Force after he graduated from Orlando High School in 1949. He met my mom while he was in the service. That is a story—totally romantic—for another day.

Do you know how your family got to where they are now? I’d love to hear your stories.


xo to you Dad! 🙂

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Posted by on July 11, 2014 in McKay, Miller


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What’s Your Name?

So yesterday I posted a bit about the Lard/Laird branch of my family tree and coincidentally today the Genealogy Tip of the Day was about last names.  How fixed are they?  Turns out not very.

In certain regions of Europe last names changed from one generation to another or were tied to the property on which an ancestor lived…

Learn about your ancestor’s country of origin and determine what the common practices were in that region…

Even before I started researching my family tree I’d heard names sometimes changed from the old country to the new world. Different languages, different accents, unknown spellings all played a part in the names new Americans acquired upon arrival. The name Vito Corleone is recognized as the main character in the Godfather. However, in the Godfather II it’s a young Vito Andolini who arrives at Ellis Island from Corleone, Sicily. As the boy is registered to enter the United States there are language difficulties and Vito is given the last name Corleone, which is actually the name of his home town.

However, It also seems to have happened to our names as we moved from state to territory to new frontier areas as we settled the country. My research into my great-grandmother Bessie Jane Belew Rose turns up relatives and ancestors named Belue, Beleu, Ballew and even Ballou, as in Cat Ballou. Remember that movie with Lee Marvin playing the drunkest gunfighter in the west? Cat—as in Catherine—Ballou hires him to protect the family ranch and then avenge her father’s death. It was a comedy by the way, made in 1965. But back to our story… The name is pronounced “blue” like the color, and that’s how it’s spelled in some families along with a very French version of Ballieux, or something like that.

Turns out I have a branch of Blues, like the color, on a different part of my tree. And a great great grandmother, Catherine Blue—I wonder if she was called Cat. These Blues came from Scotland by way of Nova Scotia and as far as I can tell the name was always spelled Blue. This is the same family that begat Ronald Reagan and makes the former president one of our distant cousins on my Dad’s side.

Speaking of French—back to the Ballieux spelling—Phillippe Du Trieux arrived in New Amsterdam in 1624 with the first immigrants on the ship the New Netherland to settle on Manhattan Island. In a few generations Philippe, became Phillip, and du Trieux became Truax. One of the du Trieux boys married Sarah la Roux, They named a son Larue, and his last name became Truex, with an “e” and then later the name settled on the spelling of Truax, with an “a”. About the same time someone named VanderVinck arrived in the area and over a couple of generations his name evolved to become Wink, as in Sansom Wink, my great great grandfather.

Other family names that have evolved over the years are Beavins, Bevins or Bivens, and maybe before that it was originally ap Evans, which means “of Evan”, as in “son of Evan” in Ireland and Wales.

Then there were different spellings, Talmadge became Talmage, as in America’s first spies. Stillwell, was spelled Stilwell sometimes. In looking for information about my great great grandmother Nancy Qualls, I can’t overlook Quarles and Quails.

Some of my family names have seemed fixed through the years: Rose, Miller, McKay, Scott… although Scott was written Schott in a marriage record once, Rose can turn up as Ross in some families; Miller can be Millar; McKay might be McKee… It’s good to keep these things in mind when looking for specific documents that don’t seem to exist.

How about your family names?  What differences have turned up in your research?


Here’s how I’m related to some of these people.

Me > Dad > Kathryn McKay, she was called “Kat” > Olive Wink > Sansom Wink > Jacob Adam Wink > Adam Wink > Jacob Wink, Esq. b. 1733, Bedford, PA > Sebastian Wink b. 1705 in Rotterdam, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands, immigrated and returned to die in France > Isaac VanDerVinck

Me > Dad > Kathryn McKay > Olive Wink > Sansom Wink > Jacob Adam Wink > Adam Wink > Jacob Wink, Esq. who married Elizabeth Truax > Larue Jacob Truex > Phillip Truex > Jacob Du Trieux > Philippe Du Trieux > Philippe DuTrieux, b. 1586, Roubaix, Nord, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France, arrived New Amsterdam, 1624.

Me > Dad > Kathryn McKay > Donald Graham McKay > Robert McKay who married Catherine Blue > Donald Daniel Blue (great great grandfather of Ronald Reagan) > Donald Neil Blue b. 1799 in Kilcalmonell, County, Argylshire Highlands of Scotland

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Posted by on July 1, 2014 in McKay, Miller, Rose, Scott


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Revolutionary Grandpas and Uncles

I’m hooked on Turn, the AMC show about America’s first spy ring. Sunday’s episode 5, Epiphany, takes place at Christmas in 1776 when Washington crossed the Delaware to avoid a confrontation with the Redcoats and set up the Battle of Trenton.

I’d come across Trenton and Monmouth County, New Jersey during my research so I set out to find out who might have been there during the revolution. It was an easy search.

My family has several immigrant ancestors who were part of the original settlers of New Amsterdam in 1624. My 8th great-grandfather Phillipe du Trieux, his wife and son, were part of that settlement. In 1645 his youngest son, Jacob du Trieux my 7th great-grandfather was born in New Amsterdam. His son Phillip—6x great grandfather—was born in Monmouth County, NJ in 1676. It was during this generation the name changed from the French spelling Du Trieux to Truex or Truax. The family would be in New Jersey until the Revolutionary War.

Larue Jacob Truex—5x great grandfather—was born there in 1705. He died in 1774 two years before the colonies declared independence. It would be his sons that participated in the Revolutionary War and were likely involved in the Battle of Trenton.

His sons included

  • 1) Benjamin, 1731–1801. His grave marker indicates he was Private in the Pennsylvania Bedford County Militia during the Revolutionary War.
  • 2) Samuel, 1740–1801, PFC Rush’s Co PA Militia, Revolutionary War
  • 3) Jacob, 1745–1807
  • 4) Obedia, 1745–1787
  • 5) John, 1749–1807
  • 6) Phillip, 1752–1822, a Revolutionary War Soldier
  • 7) Stillwell, 1752–1822, a Revolutionary War Soldier
  • 8) Joseph, 1758–1839, 4x great-grandfather

Joseph Truex, his youngest son, is my 4x great-grandfather. He was 18 years old in 1776. There were also two daughters, Elizabeth, 1733–1810; and Catherine 1746–1804.

NOTE: After I wrote this I decided to look for the grave sites of some of these Revolutionary soldiers. On Find-A-Grave Joseph, son of Larue, is said to be born in 1741 and to have died during the Revolutionary War in 1777. I’ll investigate more.

Elizabeth Truex married Jacob Wink and they are also my 5th great grandparents. Jacob, 1833–1806 was likely in the militia. Their oldest son, Jacob, 1756–1820, was 20 years old in 1776 and was probably also a participant either in the militia or the Continental Army. After two daughters their next son, Adam Wink, my 4x great-grandfather, was born in 1764 so he was only 12 years old at the start of the war and too young to fight.

NOTE:  According to information on Find-A-Grave Elizabeth was daughter of Samuel Truex and Sarah Stilwell. But that can’t be right because, according to that same entry, Samuel was born in 1743 ten years after Elizabeth was born in 1733.

Both lines descend to my grandmother Kathryn McKay Miller Hamilton, and then to my dad.

I have other revolutionary relatives in North Carolina and South Carolina, but I’ll save those stories for another day.

Any questions?


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Posted by on May 6, 2014 in McKay


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The Palatines

If you saw Tim McGraw on the recent episode of Who Do You Think You Are? you heard about Tim’s German heritage and the Palatines who arrived in New York in 1710. Turns out part of my family arrived with the same group of immigrants.

Merckel is the name of my Palatine relatives.

Sansom Wink, born in 1819 in Fulton County, Pennsylvania, is the connection that got me there. He’s my 2nd great-grandfather on my dad’s side.

Sansom Wink

Sansom Wink, Whiteside County, Illinois

His mother, Sarah Markle, was born in 1799, also in Pennsylvania.

I followed Sarah’s family backwards through several spellings of the name (Markle, Mearkle, Mercley, Mericle, … you get the idea) and came to the family of Heinrich Felix Merckel born 1643, probably in Sachsen, Germany. Heinrich Merckel, and his son Johann Friedrich with his wife and kids arrived in New York in 1710.

When I put it like that, it seems rather routine, but like many crossings of the era, this was extremely difficult and deadly for about 20 percent of the immigrants. Over 3,000 individuals left England on ten ships (I think) and only 2,400 arrived alive. Many wives were widowed on the journey, and still more kids were orphans upon arrival.

There is much more to this story, but unfortunately my hard drive crashed in December, taking with it much of the research I’d collected. (arrrrghh!) I know the information is still online out in the wide world of web resources, but I’ve googled all over the place and haven’t come across it the past couple of days. I will track it down and tell the story with more of the tragic details as soon as I find it.

As to the area they ended up in, it was purchased from the Indians by the Governor of New York in 1677. A sawmill on a stream the Indians called The Little Sawyer marked the northern boundary of the purchase. The payment was a blanket, a piece of cloth, a shirt, a loaf of bread, and some coarse fiber.

Map - Palatine Settlements

Palatine Emigrant 1709ers

Early settlers were joined by the 300 Palatine families in 1710. The lands set aside for them became known as West Camp in the Town of Saugerties, and Germantown, on the east side of the river. In case you may have family from the same area, a list of the families appears on a commemorative plaque beside the church in West Camp, Ulster County, New York. You can find my Merckels in the list of families at the West Camp.

Prior to 1712, controlling traffic at river landings and the roads leading from the river provided the primary business opportunities for settlers. As the 1710 arrivals cleared land for new homes and businesses, sawmills became big business to process the freshly harvested timber.

Here’s one place you can go for more information about the Palatines. And here is another.

By the way, if anyone has the definitive family tree for the Merckel family from Germany until 1800 I would love to hear from you. Mine is a total wreck.

I found German children (at least in my family tree) were given repetitive names. For instance, the boys will have the first name of Johann, then a middle name that is his own, so you’ll see several Johann sons in the same family. As to the girls, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a collection of Anna Marias in one place. It’s very confusing. And when you add the evolution of the spelling from the German—Friederich/Johann—to a more Americanized—Fredrick/John—it’s even more confusing.

Since this is before the first census in 1790, I don’t have that as a reference. However I have found what appears to be good information in some church records and some early histories.

I also found a collection of Merckels who were in the Revolution: John, Jacob, Phillip, Nicholas, Harnes, Henrich, Dewalt, and Peter Merckel. But I haven’t yet sorted out who might belong to my branch of the tree.

If anyone has something to add to this part of my family story, I’m all ears. I’d love to hear from you.

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Posted by on February 14, 2011 in McKay


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