Auburn man makes connection with Revolutionary ancestors

Genealogy research very popular pastime, group president says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn resident Smith Virgil can safely say his family has been in the United States since its founding, and four years ago he traveled across the country to pay homage to one of the men who helped found it. Virgil said he started his genealogy research in the 1960s after talking to his father about their history years before. “There was always a question … was I related to Virgil, the poet from Greece, of course,” Virgil said. “I asked my dad, and he left home when he was 12 to work, so he couldn’t really tell me. So, that is what got me started (thinking about it) in the 1950s. Once you start finding things it just snowballs from there.” Virgil said he did some traveling to look up his family’s roots. “Usually when I was doing this research, I went to Salt Lake City, the Mormon library,” he said. “They have a great collection, and they have so much on film, and I would go and stay a week to two weeks.” Virgil said he has made the trip about 20 times since the 1970s. He also made trips to libraries in Los Angeles and Sacramento. Through his studies, Virgil found his great great great grandfather, Abijah Virgil, who fought in the Revolutionary War. Several of Abijah’s relatives fought as well. Virgil said he thinks he has ancestors that came over in the early 1600s, but he hasn’t been able to trace it back that far yet because many records were burned during the Civil War. In 2007 Virgil and several of his family members visited Abijah’s gravestone in Groton, N.Y. They also visited Abijah’s wife, Zipporah’s, grave in Newfield, N.Y., as well as the graves of Abijah’s daughter and sister. “We were there on Memorial Day, and they had the color guard from the American Legion come and had the 21-gun salute,” Virgil said. “I had a nephew that lived back there, actually two nephews … and we got them together and we were all there. So, there was about 10 or 11 people there for the Memorial Day service.” Virgil said seeing Abijah’s grave was really rewarding. “It really makes you feel really proud, knowing that he fought almost during the whole war,” he said. “He was also captured and held prisoner.” Finding various ancestors was fulfilling and Virgil said people always knew when he found a connection. “It was pretty exciting for the old ladies in Salt Lake City because you find something, and it’s like, ‘Holy mackerel’ or something else,” Virgil said. “Sometimes I was a little more vocal than that. It’s really a good feeling.” Virgil said the search still continues today. “I am looking for Abijah’s grandfather, who was an American Indian or a half,” he said. “The Indians were never really counted, but when they became landowners then he became a landowner.” Dave Gilliard, president of the Gold Country chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, which offers residents help in finding family roots, said genealogy is very popular currently. “There is no doubt that it’s become a very big pastime,” Gilliard said. “I think part of it has to do with some TV shows that are highlighting it these days, and people are interested in learning about their family history, where they came from.” Gilliard said when it comes to research, the Internet is a good place to start and the ease of website searching could be one of the reasons why the research has become so popular. Gilliard said a couple of the four ancestors he found who fought in the Revolutionary War spent winter at Valley Forge with George Washington, and one of his ancestors joined the fighting at age 14. Auburn Councilman Mike Holmes, also a member of the organization, said he has found hundreds of his ancestors through genealogy research. “My father died in 1995, and I guess that is when I really started to think about this,” Holmes said. “I thought, ‘Gee, I should have talked to him more about his remembrances and things of that nature.’” Penn Valley resident Ron Barker, also a member of the Gold Country SAR, said sometimes if people call a city or county, they can refer callers to people who will do the research for them for a fee if they are unable to do it themselves. During his research, Barker said he found six ancestors related to his great grandmother and even saw the gravestones of his great great great grandparents. “It’s a fantastic, wonderful feeling,” Barker said. “My wife loves my history because there are so many characters in it.” The group is offering free genealogy assistance at the Gold Country Fair in Auburn. Their booth is located in Placer Hall. Reach Bridget Jones at