J. V. Thompson Notes

I have used the J.V. Thompson notes a number of times as source material in my genealogy work related to some of the Scotch-Irish settlers in the Cumberland Valley, particularly in the area in and around Newville. I have found that many of the other sources which often appear relative to these lines (LDS IGI, LDS Ancestral File, Flower files at the Cumberland County Historical Society, etc.), are heavily based on these same notes.

Because I often refer to these notes in my source information, other researchers will from time to time inquire as to what they are. Rather than answer these questions individually, I thought it might be helpful to post the answer on this site, thereby saving me some time while hopefully helping other researchers. My thanks to Charlee Wilson, of Albuquerque, NM, for helping me with this description (“helping me” is a bit of a misnomer as a good deal of it was directly written by her and only slightly edited by myself).

Should anyone want more help regarding this subject, feel free to inquire via e-mail

In the early part of the 20th century, Josiah VanKirk Thompson of Uniontown, PA, spent a considerable amount of time and money researching the genealogies of various early Pennsylvania settlers, most of whom were originally in the Cumberland Valley. His intent was to publish a book containing the ancestry and descendants of his Revolutionary War forebearers and he was a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, and had several lines listed with that organization. Included in these genealogies are the descendants of Thomas Thompson, a son of John Thompson and Mary Wilson and the brother of John Thompson who married Susanna Laughlin. Among other lines recorded are Scroggs, Blain/Blean, Jack, Carruthers, and Laughlin. He also hired a professional genealogist, Gustave Anjou, to assist in the search, primarily in obtaining the pre-American ancestry of the lines he maintained, e.g. the early history of his Carruthers line in Scotland. Anjou's work has subsequently been found to be flawed and some researchers claim that he was fraud.

Thompson was a wealthy coal entrepeneur and a major figure in Pennsylvania's coal and coke boom of the late 19th and early 20th century. He lived in a large mansion, once named Oak Hill (and now Mount Saint Macrina ), and kept Albert Gallatin's Friendship Hill as a summer home. As coal prices fell, his fortunes declined and he was eventually forced into bankruptcy. His wealth, coupled with his interest in genealogy, gave him the time and resources necessary to compile these notes.

Thompson traveled throughout Pennsylvania and the surrounding area, interviewing everyone he could find connected with the early settlers, and in the process generated what are today called “The J.V. Thompson Journals”. These journals consist of 28 volumes, each about 600 pages in length, legal size, specially bound and all hand written. He began his extensive project in the late 1890s and was still recording in the journals the day before he died in 1933. By that time, he was blind, penniless & estranged from his son. Much of the information in the last two volumes was dictated to his wife or step-daughters.

These journals have been filmed by the LDS church and are available in the Family History Library and to Family History Centers worldwide. The notes are not easy to research. They are not indexed (there is a sort of very rough index which can be seen on the old CD-ROM version of the catalog or on one of the films, but it is only slightly helpful) and they are handwritten. The handwriting is often shaky and hard to read

Also, there are LOTS of notes. These volumes occupy something like 16 reels of 35mm microfilm, so you can see that one is not going to casually research these in a day or so. My technique has been to find the surname of interest in the rough index, get that film, and then wade through that particular volume page by page. Since by doing this I have to read every page, I'll often find other items of interest. Sometimes the reader is directed to another page, or even volume, for more information about a particular individual or family.

I personally have researched portions of these notes many times, yet have only just scratched the surface. I am considering bringing them in their entirety into the Huntington Beach (California) Family History Center but have not yet done so (time, money, usual stuff, etc.)

In addition to the film copies of the original documents, there is a project underway to try and get these available online.

In 1987, F.L. Hastings, a Jack researcher, bought a copy machine, grabbed his cousin, Marilyn Lynch, and drove from Kansas to New Jersey where he talked Thompson's step-daughter, Mrs. Rollin Smith, into letting him photocopy all 28 journals. Having these copies in hand, Hastings then contacted Cheralyne (Charlee) Wilson to get some help indexing them. The was they chose to do that was to manually type the text into a computer and develop word processing files from which they could generate indices.

Although the project was difficult and took two years to complete (there were several software limitations at the time), journal indices were eventually made for both the Family History Library and for the Western Pennsylvania Historical Society (to whom in the meantime the original journals had been donated by the family). The results of this effort can be viewed on-site at either the Western Pennsylvania Historical Society in Pittsburgh or the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. The Family History Library’s copy is not available for distribution to Family History Centers.

This computerized text had some limitations and was made particularly difficult by the necessity of trying to transcribe all the descendant charts which Thompson had drawn manually. Also adding to the difficulties was the problem of reading his handwriting accurately.

As both computers and software evolved, Wilson and her husband continued to clean up and improve these files on their own, moving them from the original software to WordPerfect and then, finally, to Microsoft Word. One of the issues with which they have had to struggle is that the formatting of these files did not always travel well and today there are still issues with seemingly strange symbols occasionally appearing, depending on the viewer’s software.

Wilson’s current project is aimed at cleaning up the existing files, making the descendant charts clearer, and re-typing those volumes which were unusable. This is not a small thing and she has brought in the films of all the volumes into her local LDS Family History Center in order to be able to do this. She is posting them to the MyFamily.com website, which is a private host, and she eventually hopes to be able to make them available to a wider audience.

If you wish to view the films of the original journals, you can locate the appropriate film numbers by going to the LDS Library's Family History Library Catalog , click on "Author Search", enter "Thompson" for the last name and “Josiah” for the first name, and you’ll get two alternatives, one of which is not available for distribution to Family History Centers. Read both of them and you’ll figure out the right one. If you use the old CD-ROM version of the Catalog (at a FHC), the search technique is slightly different. You'll have to use the surname search, enter "Thompson", and then add the keyword "Josiah". Be aware that this will bring up two different sets of films, one of which is the film of Vol. 8 which cannot be distributed to FHCs. If you land on this item, it is the wrong one and you should go to the other one.

Chuck Thompson
June, 2000

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