It's time to meet another one of our Wonderful WikiTreers! This week's member is Kelsey Jackson Williams.
Kelsey became a Wiki Genealogist in March of 2019. He is the leader of the Baltic-German Team in the Germany Project.
What are some of the surnames you are researching?
Slaton, Stanfield, Biswell, Helton, Ice, Steele, Lea, Stewart, Menzies, von Oldekop, von Bruining, von Brevern, von Rosen, Zoege von Manteuffel.
What are some of the locations you are researching?
At the moment: Estland, Livland, Kurland, Semigallia, Halych, Lodomeria, Ingermanland, and other regions one would struggle to find on a modern map.
When and how did you get interested in genealogy and family history?
My maternal grandfather was an amateur genealogist in the age of handwritten charts and microfilm readers. I was fascinated by his binders of photocopies and as a child started making my own tentative attempts to expand upon what he'd already accomplished, first working on my father's family and later, as digitisation and the opening of eastern European archives gathered pace, beginning to rediscover the individuals behind my grandmother's memories of Russia and Germany. Growing up around a family of immigrants and then myself becoming an immigrant as a young adult, I think I've always been drawn to the thread of memory and belonging that genealogy provides. Equally, as an academic I delight in the way genealogical research can offer us micro-histories we might otherwise overlook and can provide a radical different framework for understanding the past from standard political or cultural histories.
Who's your favorite ancestor and why?
I'm not sure that "favourite" is quite the right word, but I'm certainly fond of the sprawling family of artists, sculptors, architects, and dreamers whose patriarch was my ancestor Wilhelm Johann Zoege von Manteuffel (1745-1816). Given an ensign's commission by Tsarina Elisaveta while still in the cradle, he retired from military service as a young man and spent his life on his estates in Estland. His grandson, Wilhelm von Kügelgen, wrote that at his principal manor of Alt-Harm (now Vana-Harmi in Estonia):
"[F]or the sake of his children's education and cultivation, [he] had brought together teachers of the most various kinds, handicraftsmen, artists, and scholars, who all dwelt under his roof, giving to his house the appearance of a little academy. There was instruction in the different sciences and modern languages; painting, modelling, engraving, turning, joinering, tinman's-work, were carried on; and there was, furthermore, admirable music. The beautiful quartettes performed in the winter evenings by the family, long lived as a pleasant remembrance in the neighbourhood."
This ambitious plan of education must have borne fruit as all of his children were remarkable people, including the artists Helene Marie (1773-1842) and Sophie (1775-1828). Two of his sons-in-law, the brothers Gerhard (1772-1820) and Carl von Kügelgen (1772-1831) were modestly famous Romantic painters and his descendants included men and women distinguished in the arts and sciences for well over two hundred years. I hope that curiosity and receptivity to beauty still runs in our family as it did at Alt-Harm in the time of Wilhelm Johann.
Tell us about a brick wall you hope to bust through.
I would be delighted to be able to confidently identify the parents of my grandmother's maternal grandfather, Arkhip Shevchenko (d. 1916). He was a Ukrainian who lived in the Kuban at the turn of the twentieth century, owning a farm and working as a porter-cashier for the Ekaterinodar Mutual Credit Society. His wife was noble and her ancestry - which includes the Zoege von Manteuffels I discussed above - is very well documented, but his origins are uncertain and the matter is complicated by his common surname. I suspect he may be the brother of Vasily Ivanovich Shevchenko, joint-owner of 200 desyatinas of land in stanitsa Kazanskaya, near Kropotkin, and son of Ivan Ivanovich Shevchenko, a lieutenant and member of the service nobility who lived first in Kharkov and later Poltava, but definite proof is lacking.
[Interview continues below.]