Hi WikiTreers,

Welcome to a new installment of “Meet our Members.” It’s time to get to know another awesome member of our community: Meet Michael.

Michael Schell became a WikiTreer in August of 2017. He is very active in our Palatine Migration Project.

What are some of the surnames you are researching?

Schell—my family name. This line is full of Palatine immigrants and Revolutionary War soldiers.

Ice—almost ever person named Ice in the USA traces to the same ancestor, Frederick Iaac (1701-1794).  His son, William “Indian Billy” Ice had at least 4 wives and 18 children and lived to be 96. Family stories say his sister was the mother of Tecumseh, but this is false.

Hill—my maternal Grandfather wrote a book about his Hill ancestors; this line contains my only Loyalist ancestor, Thomas Hill, UEL, who was one the first settlers of Toronto.

Frette—The farm name of my ancestors from Norway.  My maternal Grandmother wrote a book about the Frette immigrants in America and reconnected and visited with her Norwegian relatives in Frette. 

Clevenger—Most Americans with this surname can trace to the same ancestor, John Good Clevenger (1678-1746)

What are some of the locations you are researching?

Tulpehocken Creek Valley of Pennsylvania, Spencer County Indiana, County Cork, Ireland, Frette Norway and Neckar River Valley in Germany.

When and how did you get interested in genealogy and family history?

I reckon it’s the genes.  After they retired, my maternal grandparents drove around the USA, towing a camper and doing research at genealogy libraries and historical societies. On my paternal side, I had a relative named Herbert Schell, who was a professional historian and archivist.  After he retired he spent years tracing the Schell Palatine lineages in Berks County, Pennsylvania, where he was born. If only I could locate his primary research! Finally, my paternal grandmother lived to be 101 and she retained vivid memories of her childhood, which my father recorded on tape; her colorful reminiscences are fun to reconcile with sourced information.

Who’s your favorite ancestor and why?

My answer to this question changes over time, but at the moment I’ll say Madison Ice (1850-1920), a two-greats uncle.  My grandmother recalls a childhood visit to her family homestead near Rockport Indiana. Her most colorful memory was of meeting her “Uncle Mad,” who was a prankster and had a peg-leg.  He was married to Mary, “who was a sourpuss” (according to Grandma). Madison is said to have lost his leg in military service, but I can find no record of his service. Already as a teenager he is listed on the census as “crippled.”  Last year on FamilySearch, somebody posted a group photo of an Ice-Harris family reunion in Rockport, Indiana from about 1895. Smack in the middle of that photo was Madison Ice, sporting his peg-leg. Now I am learning about his wife Mary (Reck/Lyndsey/Jones/Black)-Ice.  They married in 1906, and it was the first marriage for disabled 56-year-old Madison. But it was Mary’s 5th marriage—and she remarried a 6th time after Madison died!

Tell us about a brick wall you were able to break down or one you hope to bust through.

Building on the research started by my maternal grandfather, I traced one of my two Hill lines to Ireland. After finding the British military record of a direct ancestor, Boyle Travers Hill, I discovered that his father, Lt. Vesey Hill, fought for the British East India Company. In 1799, during the culmination of the 4th Anglo-Mysore War, he led the forlorn hopes through the initial breach of the wall that surrounded the city of Seringapatam. For those not familiar with British military practice, one must volunteer to become a forlorn hope because the casualty rate for the guys at the front was very high (think of hot oil being poured from above, along with boulders and enemy soldiers waiting beyond the breach). If you survived, you got an instant promotion. Lt. Hill “died gloriously” (according to his son), and he is memorialized at the Cenotaph in Ganjam, India.

If you could pick one person in history to be related to, who would it be and why?

Benjamin Franklin. He’s my favorite historical figure and a contemporary of my Schell Palatine ancestors in Pennsylvania. He was also a scientist (as am I). I have a recurring fantasy transporting Franklin to the 21st century and spending 24 hours showing him all the cool stuff humans have figured out since he died.

What are some of your interests outside of genealogy?

I am a retired 30-year veteran of Ultimate Frisbee, where I participated in scores of regional, national, and international tournaments. I am an aficionado of rock music made between 1965-1970, and I love to listen to jazz piano. I am interested in neuroscience and molecular evolution (which is sort of like genealogy—but you build protein trees instead of people trees).

How long have you been on WikiTree and what do you spend the most time doing?

I joined August 2017. My work habits are like a volcano. Something will catch my attention and my volcano will erupt with intense focus for up to a week. Then I’ll go dormant, not to erupt again for a long time. When the next eruption might occur is unpredictable. I tend to generate a lot of typos, but I fix almost all of them (eventually). I mostly participate in the Palatine Migration Project because my paternal line is a target-rich environment for Palatines. Also, I own copies of all 3 Palatine book sets published by Henry Jones. Since these are great sources that are seldom found in electronic form, I can often be useful to other members for book look-ups. Although my German language skills are cursory, I am married to a native speaker of German, which comes in handy for translations.

What brought you to WikiTree?

I was looking for a free, permanent, cooperative online tree, and I probably found WikiTree on Google.  I like the spirit behind the effort, and the Wiki format offers great flexibility and connectivity that dovetails with Wikipedia and other Wiki-based sources.

What is your favorite thing about WikiTree?

I have always liked jigsaw puzzles, and I often explain WikiTree to others with the following analogy.  At the beginning of the jigsaw puzzle you are working on the sky, another person is working on the tree in the corner, and a third is working on the little dog at the bottom of the picture.  Eventually, the dog hooks up with the tree and (finally) the sky. That process of hooking up is the funnest part about jigsaw puzzles and also the funnest part about WikiTree.

If you could improve one thing about WikiTree, what would it be?

Easy. Add a “follow” button to each profile (of non-living people). If a WikiTree genealogist wishes to add a profile to his watchlist to cause it to appear in his feed, he “follows” the profile. If he changes his mind, he un-follows. Nobody should have to ask to become a “trusted user” simply to track changes in a profile of interest. From what I’ve been hearing from the kids, this “follow” idea is becoming popular on bleeding-edge startup websites like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. 

What is an example of how WikiTree has helped you with your genealogy or how you’ve helped genealogy with WikiTree?

Not long after I joined WikiTree, I encountered an existing profile of a direct ancestor from Norway, born 1670. I had created a duplicate profile for this person, so it was time to propose my first merge (scary!). Little did I know that the manager of the other profile was Kitty (Munson) Cooper, a star contributor to WikiTree. Kitty pointed me to a bunch of Norwegian sources and really helped me build out my Norwegian tree. As many WikiTree contributors are aware, in addition to her skills as a traditional genealogist, Kitty is also a very good genetic genealogist, and finding her blog and her online presentation slides have fueled my education in genetic genealogy. Thanks, 8th cousin! 

Any tips for someone just starting out on WikiTree?

  1.  Mistakes are fine; they can be fixed. Assume no malice—and even when there is, be polite.
  2.  If you chose to upload a gedcom, just add a core tree of your direct lineages. Build out from that by hand, one profile at a time.  Expect that by the time you reach the mid-1700s, chances are very good that a profile already exists for that person (at least for Americans with European ancestry).  Search WikiTree creatively before creating a new profile.
  3. When images of the original documents are available online, take the time to look at them. You might find more information or transcription errors.  For example, on some census rolls the abbreviation IA stands for Indiana, not Iowa. Most electronic transcriptions will say Iowa.
  4.  In the profile biographies and in the sources, hyperlinks are your friend. Improve your skills at HTML in order to maximize the power of the wiki format.

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