Michael A. Ports and the Genealogy Bug
Editor’s Note: Genealogist and professional hydrologist Michael A. Ports, Ph.D., is one of the most prolific authors in the recent history of this blog’s parent company, Genealogical Publishing Company. Spanning scarcely (three) years, he has produced twenty-two separate publications for Genealogical.com. Dr. Ports has authored separate research guides in our laminated series, “Genealogy at a Glance” on the states of Maryland, Ohio, and North Carolina.
Michael did much of his initial research in Maryland, and this is reflected in nine collections of Baltimore County marriage licenses, tax assessments, and licenses. Many of Ports ancestors are from the Deep South and especially Georgia. Working in courthouses and archives in that state enabled him to transcribe the groundbreaking ante bellum series, Georgia Free Persons of Color, which spans over a dozen counties. He has also transcribed thousands of records from Elbert and especially Jefferson counties. To date Genealogical Publishing Company has published five volumes of his Jefferson County Inferior Court Minutes, a separate book of buried Jefferson County Confederate military records, and another title on Elbert County, Georgia court minutes.
In this post below written by Dr. Michael Ports, he explains his genealogical journey from being bitten by the genealogy bug to his research for his publications.
Genealogical Odyssey of Michael A. Ports
In 1972, while in graduate school at the University of Maryland, wandering through the stacks of the main library searching for an empty desk, I noticed the epic work titled American Genealogical-Biographical Index, its numerous volumes filling shelf after shelf along almost an entire row. Intriguing enough to catch my eye, I searched for the right volume and looked for my surname, surprised at what I found, historical references to seventeen people named Ports. All thoughts of my academic studies vanished as I spent the next few hours tracking down the various references and making photocopies. On the next weekend, I took my findings to my grandfather and asked him how we were related to the newly discovered members of the Ports family. My grandfather was pleased that I was interested in our family and, over several visits, shared what he knew about his childhood and early life, his parents, and all four of his grandparents, all native Marylanders. He had a vague idea that our Ports line might be German and that we might have come from Pennsylvania.
The Genealogy Bug
Bitten by the genealogy bug and determined to discover more about my Ports lineage, I visited the library of the Maryland Historical Society. Almost immediately noticing my obvious confusion and befuddlement over their vast holdings, Robert Barnes took the time to introduce himself, show me around, explain the layout, and introduce me to the various collections and finding aides. Robert then asked specific questions about the surnames I was researching, offering numerous suggestions on how to get started effectively and efficiently, and further suggesting that I join the Maryland Genealogical Society and attend their upcoming genealogical workshop for beginners. That workshop transformed me into an avid and zealous researcher, who has continued assiduously over the decades.
In just a few short years, I traced all of my paternal grandfather’s lines back to before the Revolution, uncovering deep roots in north central Maryland and south central Pennsylvania, sharing my discoveries with my grandfather, who died before I could show him the graves of his grandparents in the St. Mary’s Cemetery, just across the street from the old Green Spring Dairy, where he had worked for so many years. From their earliest known settlement, all of my grandfather’s ancestors were farmers, leading lives typical of rural America. In the 1870s, his paternal grandparents moved to Baltimore, where they owned and operated a small dairy, gradually becoming rather typical working class urban residents.
After reaching brick walls and other dead ends on all of those lines, I commenced working on my paternal grandmother’s family, longtime residents of Baltimore City. Her ancestors proved to be more interesting, composed of bakers, shoemakers, steamboat engineers, tavern keepers, photographers, policemen, railroad mechanics, lighthouse keepers, glass blowers, carpet weavers, plasterers, preachers, and cemetery superintendents. All of her paternal lines came to Baltimore directly from Switzerland and Scotland. Her maternal lines came from Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maine, mostly first appearing in the records circa 1800. The New Jersey lines stretch back in New Jersey to as early as the 1690s, and from there back to the earliest years of the Connecticut and Massachusetts Colonies.
Because my mother was born in Texas and her father died in a construction accident when she was a young girl, researching her lines was more difficult before the age of the internet. Old fashioned correspondence with a couple of great aunts and uncles, three great great aunts, and two great great great aunts proved to be enlightening, entertaining, and exciting. My maternal grandfather’s roots stretch back to the earliest days of the Texas Republic, one ancestor dying a private in the Texas Army during its war for independence. My grandfather’s lines reach back through Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and Tennessee into Colonial Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, and are filled with numerous interesting and notable individuals, including frontiersmen, Indian fighters, buffalo hunters, gunsmiths, cowboys, ranchers, planters, farmers, and Baptist preachers. Most served in the Revolution, War of 1812, the Creek Wars, the Seminole Wars, the Florida War, the Indian removal, or what many of their descendants still call the War of Northern Aggression.
My maternal grandmother was born in the mountains of southwestern Virginia, her father bringing his young family to the Texas Panhandle just before the turn of the last century. Her ancestors settled that region when it was a wild frontier, coming originally from the Tidewater Region of the colony. They served with Washington in the French and Indian War, Lord Dunmore’s War, numerous clashes with the Indians on the Virginia frontier, the Revolution, and in the Confederate Army.
Continuing the Journey
Over the years, I have visited all of the places on this side of the Atlantic where my ancestors lived, searching for their cemeteries, seeking their records in countless courthouses, state archives, local libraries, and other repositories, amassing more than five filing cabinets of research notes, correspondence, and photocopies, and meeting scores of distant relatives and other genealogists, even if only through correspondence. Starting in the early 1990s, I started compiling articles on the various branches of my family tree and publishing them in appropriate genealogical society journals, in all more than one hundred articles. Starting in 2012, I began compiling substantial genealogies on several of the more interesting branches of my maternal grandfather’s family and publishing seven of them online at www.scribd.com. About the same time, I started transcribing selected Maryland and Georgia records from complete sets of photocopies and scanned images in my collection, all available at www.genealogical.com. While transcribing the Jefferson County Inferior Court Minutes, I learned a great deal about life in the rural county, whose seat of government also was the second state capital, that I never would have known had I simply looked up the few references to my own ancestor from the index. Anyone with family in early Jefferson County, should read the full court minutes and get a better understanding of their ancestor’s life and what went on around them.
Image credit: Library of Congress