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smithsThere’s a story I have yet to write about how I grew up nowhere — never living in a place more than a few years – and somehow landed in my genealogical epicenter.

Though I bought a house because it was close to a train station and had a pretty little arbor in the back, I later discovered that I was nearly surrounded by ancestral ghosts.

My relative Fitzwater White once lived around the corner and is buried in a churchyard up the road (with both of his wives nearby).  I learned that the Fitzwater family founder, Thomas Fitzwater, arrived with William Penn and that many of my Fitzwater kin are buried in a family plot in the middle of a subdivision in nearby Fitzwatertown.

The Whites (the name my mother grew up with) may be found in the pretty meetinghouse yard up the road that-a-way.

In the opposite direction, a husband and wife from a different branch of ancestors lie under a poem inscribed on a stone erected in a cemetery where only a few years later British troops chasing George Washington would camp.

It turned out that my grandfather was born in a little town not far from here, at his father’s mill on a road that’s named after the family — White’s Mill Road.  The mill itself was torn down soon after I learned about it.  Losing it so soon after finding it was hard.  I wanted to know more.  And felt I should have done more to preserve its history and the tangible representation of that history.  (Read about White’s Mill here.)

Confronted with this connection to a past and people in a place that was new to me, I began to explore what it all meant.  Helping my father do geneaology research I learned about more and more connections to this place, reaching all the way to the early Swedish settlers.

Anna Mergner White, second from left

Anna Mergner White, second from left

A twist in my life journey found me back in school, pursuing a graduate degree in historic preservation.  Perhaps I was hoping to learn the skills that would allow me to bring back to life the people and places I was distantly connected to.

This blog is experiment in doing just that, a newfangled time machine that will allow me to share historic material with the intent of inspiring, informing or intriguing others.

I’m also a strong believer that the past shouldn’t be unapproachable.  History doesn’t have to be a string of dates and a quiz with a pass or fail grade.  With the time machine, the person from 1897 (my great-grandfather) might simply be your neighbor, with many of the same passions and concerns you and I have.

So, yes, I have an agenda here.  But this will be a work in progress and I encourage you to share your own ideas with me.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Allyson permalink
    October 31, 2009 12:05 pm

    When are you writing the book. I want to read it. Fiction? or Non Fiction? I want to know more…

  2. December 21, 2009 5:40 pm

    I just noticed all of the hovering descriptions you gave to your links – very entertaining. =)

  3. DJB permalink
    December 29, 2009 11:39 pm

    Sabra: Great blog with a wonderful point of view. Historic preservation needs interesting and persuasive voices on the internet – keep up the good work and thanks for the link in your blogroll to my personal blog at “More to Come” and to the National Trust’s blog at “PreservationNation.”

    All the best,
    David Brown

    • Sabra Smith permalink*
      December 30, 2009 12:06 am

      David: Thanks so much for visiting and for your encouraging words. Much appreciated. And I very much enjoy your blog and the way you blend your interests — I was sold as soon as I came across your Calatrava photos!

  4. joan shoemaker reed permalink
    August 10, 2010 9:24 am

    I have just gone into a box, that was my Aunts, and I found 2 books.

    1-Tyson-Fitzwater by Samual Ttraquair Tyson 1922

    2-Footprints in Montgomery by Albert S Paxson, Esq. of Lindenwold
    Bucks,CO., Pa 1897

    Would be pleased to help in info

    • Sabra Smith permalink*
      September 3, 2010 2:16 pm

      Joan: What a wonderful discovery! I am related to both Tysons and Fitzwaters — and I take it you are too?

  5. September 17, 2010 11:21 pm

    I just discovered your wonderful blog via a tweet about Olson House from Voices of the Past News retweeted by the Coney Island History Project. Really like your very personal take on a variety of preservation topics. Cheers! Tricia

    • Sabra Smith permalink*
      January 17, 2012 11:48 am

      Tricia: Thanks for visiting the time machine (and a hey-howdy-hey to Coney Island History Project!). I hope you’ll come back and visit again soon.

  6. February 29, 2012 2:43 pm

    Speaking of the Coney Island History Project, we have some Coney Island Then and Now photo fades on whatwasthere ( Sabra, are you familiar with our site? Maybe we can collaborate some how. Let me know via

    • September 19, 2012 9:39 pm

      Margaret — we love WhatWasThere and have been suggesting it to numerous historic sites seeking to tell their stories on the web without a big investment in web development. Yes — we should talk!

  7. June 8, 2012 3:41 pm

    Sabra, It sounds like you know a lot about the fitzwater history. was hoping you could help me out? since i am a fitzwater and don’t really know much of my families past.

    • June 8, 2012 3:48 pm

      I keep meaning to post the Fitzwater genealogy that we have — this weekend — I promise! (Fitzwater women raised a signer of the Declaration of Independence!)

      • Vera Fitzwater Shockey permalink
        August 9, 2015 3:13 pm

        Don’t forget, George Clymer (Deborah Fitzwater’s son) also signed the US Constitution!

  8. fitzwater6987 permalink
    June 8, 2012 4:45 pm

    hi sabra my name is jeramie fitzwater and was wondering if you could help me uncover some of the history of my fitzwater ansestors?

    • September 19, 2012 9:40 pm

      Jeramie — I just posted an extensive genealogy list that my father put together that will give you some idea of the Fitzwater’s many interesting stories.


  1. White’s Mill, Tylersport, Pennsylvania, Part 1 « My Own Time Machine: Buildings, Places, People & Things

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