Meet our Members: Kelsey Jackson Williams

+18 votes

Hi everyone!

imageIt'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.]

WikiTree profile: Kelsey Jackson Williams
in The Tree House by Eowyn Walker G2G Astronaut (2.0m points)

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

That's a difficult question! I could always pick a favourite writer - say Vladimir Nabokov or Jorge Luis Borges - or composer - say Johan Sibelius or J. S. Bach - but I think I'd particularly enjoy being related to some of the scholars I've written about in the academic side of my life: John Aubrey, Thomas Innes (not on WikiTree), or Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe (also not yet present), for examples. I've lived with them long enough that I feel I know them quite well and there would be something very pleasing about discovering a physical as well as intellectual kinship with these antiquaries and historians.

What are some of your interests outside of genealogy?

I'm a keen coastal rower, letterpress printer, and would-be bookbinder, but as a university lecturer and the father of a one year-old my main interest is sleep!

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

I'm fairly new to WikiTree, having joined in March 2019. Despite that, I'm team leader of the Baltic-German Team, part of the Germany Project, and coordinate the development and improvement of Baltic-German profiles across all periods. I also focus on profiles of eastern European nobility outwith the Baltic States, especially in Russia, and maintain an occasionally updated record of WikiTree's coverage of the core of the European higher nobility (you can find the latest version on G2G here). Occasionally I'll work on the Anglophone side of my family, but there are far more researchers here focusing on the English-speaking world and I think it's most useful if I put my central and eastern European linguistic and archival skills to good use in less heavily-worked parts of the site.

What brought you to WikiTree?

WikiTree is unique in offering the possibility of collaboration at a sufficiently scholarly level. Most aggregating genealogical websites are the repositories for thousands of unsourced GEDcoms, but WikiTree seemed to me to offer the chance for genuine and continuous improvement. Given all that, I thought I'd try to help.

What is your favorite thing about WikiTree?

The determination to document information fully and transparently.  We still have a long way to go in that regard, but it's so refreshing to see online genealogy being held to a good scholarly standard.

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

Naming conventions and the connection between name and URL/identifier. WikiTree's name templates are set up for the modern Anglo-American norm (first, middle, last), but this doesn't apply to most cultures and most historical periods. I would love to see the developers create options for more fluid, free-text naming which allows individuals to be given names they'd recognise!  As contributors to G2G will know, I find it especially galling that WikiTree seems unable to cope with the nobiliary particle ('de', 'von', etc.).

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

There have been a few times over the past year when I've been able to help people with their Russian or Polish or Baltic-German ancestors, often Americans trying to make the link back to Europe, and it's been very gratifying to see people's excitement at discovering new forebears and previously unknown places of origin.

Any tips for someone just starting out on WikiTree?

Be patient, take the time to explore and familiarise yourself with how things are done, and start out holding in mind the maxim that "less is more" (i.e., it's much better to develop a few high-quality profiles than many shoddy ones).

5 Answers

+4 votes
Best answer
Such a privilege to know you cousin, Kelsey and so appreciate your work and leadership on this project

For our Baltic German Noble backgrounds.  Because of events related to Lenin, Stalin and Hitler and others, many of our family have been lost for all time as people were assassinated or had to disappear under assumed names for 70 years plus.   

It is worth noting I suppose that our gang is probably the most interrelated of the nobles yet most expansive in terms of geography, military prowess, philosophy, music, citizenship, languages, culture, philosophy and good government and even recent martyrs.  

Yet records are pretty splendid - say compared to Ireland.

Does this work pay dividends.  Since working on our trees here and elsewhere, I have found many a small match for whom these relationships are the only possible connection.  

And having found them, it comes to say that many of us, once thinking that they were alone in this heritage are no longer so.

So thanks Kelsey!
by Lloyd de Vere Hunt G2G6 Mach 3 (33.7k points)
selected by Kelsey Jackson Williams
Many thanks, Lloyd!  You eloquently capture the essence of the Baltic-German diaspora here.  It's been a pleasure leading the B-G team so far and I look forward to further developments in the future . . . .
+5 votes
Thank you for sharing a little about yourself with us all
by Rosalie Neve G2G6 Pilot (140k points)
+2 votes
Thanks for highlighting Kelsey.  We are 9th cousins twice removed, we share MRCA Thomas Potts-41 .  Thanks cousin for all your leadership and sharing about the hard work in the projects.  I know who to turn to next time I need an interpretation of a German record.
by Loretta Morrison G2G6 Pilot (158k points)
+3 votes
Thanks for the run down Kelsey. I'm also a 9th cousin only once removed. Our MCRA is James Taylor (Taylor-679) m. Mary Gregory. Daughter Mary married Henry Pendleton. Henry's grandson Phillip Pendleton IV married Martha Awbrey making me a cousin of the John Aubrey you mention above.
by Frank Blankenship G2G6 Mach 7 (73.8k points)
edited by Frank Blankenship
+3 votes
What a great interview Kelsey.  And good for you to devote so much of your time to areas less researched!  Well done & keep up the good work. -Brad
by Brad Cunningham G2G6 Pilot (141k points)

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