Squirrels Came to the Rescue of Washington’s Troops in Valley Forge

The difficult winter of 1777-1778 nearly destroyed the Army when General George Washington and the American Continental Army were camped at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The damp and cold conditions, combined with disease, malnutrition and exposure, killed 2,500 of Washington’s 12,000 soldiers.

That tough winter was much colder than it has been so far this year in the eastern states. According to John Ludwig Snyder (1746-1860) – who was there with Washington at Valley Forge – it was an especially brutal winter, as recounted in his obituary when the Revolutionary War veteran died “in the 114th year of his age.”

obituary for John Ludwig Snyder, Sun newspaper article 9 April 1860

Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), 9 April 1860, page 1

It was so cold at Valley Forge that the men resorted to using squirrels to protect themselves from the freezing temperatures.

According to Snyder’s obituary:

He has said that the winter of that year was the coldest he ever experienced. Our troops, he has said, shot squirrels and drew their skins over their feet for shoes.

The Wikipedia entry on Valley Forge describes the camp’s shelters:

The first properly constructed hut appeared in three days. One other hut, which required 80 logs, and whose timber had to be collected from miles away, went up in one week with the use of only one axe. These huts provided sufficient protection from the moderately cold, but mainly wet and damp conditions of a typical Pennsylvania winter of 1777–1778. By the beginning of February, construction of 2,000 huts was completed. They provided shelter, but did little to offset the critical shortages that continually plagued the army.

I had two ancestors that served that winter with George Washington in Valley Forge.

Private Moses Starbird, a private in the Continental Army, had extensive service in the American Revolutionary War – including Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

This is an example of the cabin he would have stayed in. This replica stands in the Valley Forge National Park in Pennsylvania, approximately 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

photo of a replica cabin, Valley Forge National Park, Pennsylvania

Photo: replica cabin, Valley Forge National Park, Pennsylvania. Credit: Djmaschek; Wikimedia Commons.

Want to Involve the Grandkids in Family History? Tip #2

Make your family stories memorable. If you had an ancestor who camped with George Washington at Valley Forge, show them this photo of the replica cabin and read John Ludwig Snyder’s firsthand account from his obituary, telling that it was so cold and supplies were so low that they had to use squirrels for warm shoes.

Related Revolutionary War Articles:

Are You Sure That Is How to Spell Your Ancestor’s Name?

Portraits of my Starbird ancestors hang on our wall on the landing at the top of the staircase. Over the years I have chained the family back from Martha Jane (Starbird) Richmond (1836-1905) to Robert Starbird (1782- ) to Moses Starbird (1743-1815) to John Starbird (1701-1753) to Thomas Starbird (1660-1723).

photo of the Starbird family

Photo: Starbird family. Source: Thomas Jay Kemp.

All of them lived in Dover, New Hampshire, at some time in their lives, and by the 19th century several of the Starbird lines were living in Gray, Maine.

Looking in the deep Historical Newspaper Archives of GenealogyBank, I can quickly find multiple Starbird articles from across centuries of American history.

For example, here is a probate notice regarding Catharine Starbird, widow of Moses Starbird, published in 1838.

article about a probate proceeding involving Catharine Starbird, Portland Weekly Advertiser newspaper article 1 May 1838

Portland Weekly Advertiser (Portland, Maine), 1 May 1838, page 1

Here is an article about John Starbird (1742-1802), who served in the Continental Army. Both he and his brother (my ancestor) Moses Starbird (1743-1815) fought at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War.

article about John Starbird, Massachusetts Spy newspaper article 30 December 1779

Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 30 December 1779, page 3

So far so good.

Their name was “Starbird” and I am finding “Starbird” articles in the old newspapers.
Good. This is straightforward.

FamilySearch recently added to their site the “England and Wales, Birth Registration Index, 1837-2008.” Great—an index to all of the births in England. I thought: let me search there to see if I can determine where in England the Starbird family came from.

This should be easy family tree research.

Bang.

screenshot of a search on FamilySearch for the surname "Starbird"

Source: FamilySearch

What? There was only one “Starbird” birth in all of England, going all the way back to 1837?

How could that be?

Looking deeper into GenealogyBank, I found this old obituary notice.

obituary for John Starboard, Weekly Eastern Argus newspaper article 26 April 1805

Weekly Eastern Argus (Portland, Maine), 26 April 1805, page

This is for a son of John “Starboard” from Gray, Maine.
Oh—that’s it.
The name could have been spelled “Starbird” or “Starboard.”

When I think of it—I pronounce both words exactly the same way.

So—let’s do a quick double-check in the FamilySearch index to British birth records with this new spelling.

This time the search results were zero.

Zero “Starboard” births and only one “Starbird” birth—what is going on here?

I can find a ton of “Starbird” references in America but none in Britain.
Is there another spelling of the surname?

I have seen where some genealogists have suggested that Thomas Starbird (1660-1723) of Dover, New Hampshire, was the son of Edward Starbuck (1604-1690) who was also from Dover.

Would Thomas really have changed his name from Starbuck to Starbird?

Alfred A. Starbird, author of Genealogy of the Starbird-Starbard Family (Burlington, Vermont: The Lane Press), looked at this—especially since another Starbird historian said that Thomas Starbird had changed his name from Starbuck—but concluded “nothing has been found to support this claim.”

The title of his book gives us another variant spelling of this surname: “Starbard.” So, I tried that spelling in the FamilySearch—again zero references.

So—what about the spelling “Starbuck”?
I repeated the search, and that spelling produced over 5,000 English birth records.

Is it that simple—Thomas simply changed his name from Starbuck to Starbird?
Would that be a logical name change?
Is there another explanation?

Have any of our readers found a record proving who the parents of Thomas Starbird (1660-1723) of Dover, New Hampshire, were? If so, I would like to know.

Do you know any current men named Starbird or Starbuck who are willing to take a DNA test? That might be the only way we find the answer to this question.

What say you?

I’d be interested in your comments.

Related Ancestor Name Research Articles:

Top Genealogy Websites Update: Internet Archive Book Images + Flickr

Last year I wrote about Internet Archive, spiking it out as one of the top genealogy websites online.

Recently there has been a new development that I wanted to alert you to.

a collage of images from Internet Archive

Source: Internet Archive

Kalev H. Leetaru, the Yahoo! Fellow in Residence of International Values, Communications Technology, has used his position to mine the old images and photos in the Internet Archive and is putting them on Flickr, making it easy for us to find illustrations and photographs published in books over the last 200 years.

He has uploaded over 2.6 million images from the Internet Archive of old published books and put them online.

Enter Last Name










Why is this important to genealogists?

This new Flickr search feature lets you quickly find images, etchings, photographs, etc., of your ancestors that were published in books.

See this new image search tool here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/

Flickr – Internet Archive Book Images

Source: Flickr – Internet Archive Book Images

Here’s how it works.

In this example I am searching for illustrations pertaining to the Starbird family.

Looking at the results, I selected the image on the right.

Flickr – Internet Archive Book Images – Irvin Starbird

Source: Flickr – Internet Archive Book Images

Clicking on the image brings up the details about the book it was originally published in.

Flickr – Internet Archive Book Images – Irvin Starbird

Source: Flickr – Internet Archive Book Images

This image was published in:

History of Wayne, Pike and Monroe counties, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: R. T. Peck & co., 1886. Page 760.

Clicking on the “View Book Page” hyperlink, I can then see the image as it appeared in the original book.

Internet Archive -- Irvin Starbird

Source: Internet Archive

The image is the portrait of Irvin Starbird (1842-1897) of Preston, Wayne County, Pennsylvania. Along with his portrait, I was able to read his biography which contained extensive genealogical details about the family.

The Internet Archive Book Images site has put more than 2.6 million of these old images on Flckr.

Bookmark the Internet Archive search page on Flickr here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/

If you haven’t already, make sure to check out our “Top Genealogy Websites” post series to learn more about the best online resources for your ancestry research:

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 4: BillionGraves Smartphone App for Finding Graves

I recently wrote the article Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 3: Burial & Cemetery Records, which included a discussion of BillionGraves.com. This handy website provides an app that can be used to find the burial site of a relative.

Let’s look into this a little more.

BillionGraves is a free Internet site that encourages genealogists, Boy Scouts and local cemetery buffs to take photographs of the tombstones in their local cemetery and upload the pictures online using the free BillionGraves app.

This is really easy to do.

Remember—you’ll need a Smartphone to take these cemetery photos or find a gravesite already photographed.

Why? Because BillionGraves not only adds the photo of each tombstone, it includes the GPS coordinates to the spot where that person is buried. It has harnessed technology to make it easy to permanently record the photograph—linked to the GPS data used by Smartphones—so that anyone can quickly find the tombstone. This nifty app makes it so much easier to find what cemetery—or where in that cemetery—someone is buried.

How does this work?

Watch this short video clip of Tom Hester showing how easy it is to do this.

How do you find a grave using BillionGraves?

What if you’re looking for a particular grave and there is no cemetery office? No sexton available? No map to cemetery burials?

We’ve all walked cemeteries for hours searching for our deceased relatives’ graves.

BillionGraves is changing that.

With BillionGraves you can quickly find out if someone has uploaded a photo of your ancestor’s grave. With its GPS feature, your Smartphone can lead you right to it.

Watch how “Casey and Jake” found the grave of their 8th-great-grandmother using the Smartphone app.

Harness the information in both BillionGraves and GenealogyBank and you can fill in the details of your family tree.

collage of records about Lionel Starbird from GenealogyBank and BillionGraves

Credit: GenealogyBank and BillionGraves

For example, let’s say you are researching your ancestor Lionel Starbird.

On GenealogyBank you can quickly find the core genealogical information about Lionel Starbird—his name, date of birth and date/place of death—and by searching for him on BillionGraves you can see a photo of his grave. Notice that BillionGraves links all of the photos in a family plot to his record.

It’s a great day for genealogy!

Read these other articles about top genealogy websites:

Top Genealogy Websites Pt. 1: Google

Top Genealogy Websites Pt. 2: Google Books & Internet Archive

Top Genealogy Websites Pt. 3: Burial & Cemetery Records