I'm not sure how it happened, but I have been the national co-ordinator of research on the Peter LeValley family since 1968. (That was back when you did genealogy by filling your car with cheap gas, and spent summer vacations going from courthouse to courthouse. There were no census indexes; you had to search the entire village or township line-by-line, and hope you were looking in the right place.) Fortunately, I started young, and should yet live to see the project brought to some reasonable completion.
My main work has been on the lineage (or descendants) of the original Peter LeValley of Warwick RI. To keep the project under some sort of control, I have limited my research to those people (including spouses) who ever used the LeValley name. The female lines will have to be somebody else's projects.
I have also dabbled with the pedigree of Sarah Aylesworth LeValley (daughter-in-law of Christopher), who was descended from an early governor of Rhode Island with ties to the medieval nobility of Europe. But this is not my main focus.
In 1980, I left Michigan (where I once taught a college course on Genealogy) and moved to Florida, where I sometimes teach Humanities at Florida A & M University, and sometimes teach Art of India at Florida State University. I am single.
My other projects include research on the ancient Gymnosophists (holy men that Alexander the Great met in India), and writing a series of magazine articles on the nude in art history that will eventually form a book. I garden and watch birds. In past years, I directed or helped to direct many youth camps--most of them associated with Boy Scouts.
Disclaimer: I'm no computer whiz, but have managed to stumble
through the basics.
of LeValley research (added in 2008)
In 1968, I made my first genealogical trip from Saginaw, Michigan to Lockport, New York, where my grandfather and great aunt had last visited relatives more than sixty years before. I lucked out. Niagara County is one of the few with a full-time county historian. He showed me lots of LeValley information in his files. That was how I learned that they had originally come from Warwick, Rhode Island. He also gave me the California address of Mrs. McCluskey, who had recently inquired about her ancestor--a brother of my James.
In downtown Lockport, I walked into the LeValley Photo Shop and introduced myself to Harold LeValley. Turned out he was the grandson of my great aunt's favorite uncle. He telephoned home to his wife to put on an extra plate for supper. Because we were related, he assumed we would have similar tastes. As he walked into his living room, he turned on some music and stated (rather than asked), "You do like Mozart, don't you?" He was right.
Later that summer, I was in Chicago. Feeling overconfident, I telephoned the one LeValley in the phone book. He invited me over, and I met his wife and infant son. He gave me the address of his great aunt, the last of her generation. Well, I was in over my head. I didn't recognize any of the names she gave me, and it took nearly twenty years before I could make a definite connection (through the original Peter LeValley's son Michael and grandson Peter Jr.) I was in Chicago the week before the infamous 1968 Democratic Convention. There were police everywhere, and tension hung in the air. I was glad to get out of town.
Fortunately, the Saginaw library had a good little genealogy collection, including Arnold's Vital Records of Rhode Island. I copied a lot of fragments, not sure how they all fit together. I contacted the Rhode Island State Archives, and visited them the next summer. (On the way, I kept talking with people on their way to some place called Woodstock. If I had any idea what a historic event it would be, I might have taken a detour. But I was doing genealogy.) The Archives director sent me over to the Rhode Island Historical Society Library, where I struck gold. The Snow manuscript laid out the relationship of most of the branches that had come out of Rhode Island--including two more batches that had migrated to other places in Michigan. But it was silent on the two biggest groups: descendants of John's son Cook, and Michael's son Peter Jr.
That fall, I followed up by checking courthouse records and meeting LeValley branches at Ionia and Columbiaville, Michigan. By now, I had a fair idea of the parts I would later call branches A, B, C, part of D, and part of J.
I spent 1970 traveling around the world, including a fruitless search through the archives at Lyons, France. I finished the trip with visits to Mrs. McCluskey and the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. There I found the first traces of descendants from Peter's grandson Peleg. The next year, I sketched everybody I knew about on a long scroll--impressive at the time, but it still had huge gaps that I only suspected.
The University of Michigan library owned a large collection of telephone books from around the country. I copied all of the LeValley addresses, and wrote to them. Soon I was getting letters from other branches of the family--as well as from people I couldn't connect at all. Everyone else seemed interested in only their closest relatives. Somehow, I became the clearing house through which everybody's stray bits of LeValley information got sorted out and sent to the right branch--or the right separate family.
Each summer during the 1970s, I made a genealogy trip to meet the people with whom I had been corresponding. I can now date only a few of those trips. 1972: courthouses and newly found relatives in New York state--mainly branches B and D. 1973: a westward loop to meet correspondents descended from Cook LeValley (branch F) in California and Idaho, as well as branch G descended from Cook's grandson Stephen in Dayton Iowa. I also visited distant cousins from branch J in Oregon. 1974: New England courthouses, including a lengthy stay in Warwick RI going through family letters and pictures. 1976: Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, meeting more correspondents descended from Cook, checking cemeteries and courthouse records. It had been exactly 100 years since Stephen traveled there from Iowa on his way to the centennial celebration in Philadelphia--their last contact with any other LeValleys. 1978: My records show another stop in Dayton, Iowa. That was probably when I checked out the cemetery and courthouse in Victoria, Illinois, and visited longtime correspondent Lora Thorson (branch J) in Wisconsin.
In 1980, I moved to Florida--far from where any of my LeValleys had been. Ph.D. studies cut down on my travels for the next few years, though I did get to peek at marriage records on the Isle of Jersey when passing through Europe in 1984. But we kept the mailman busy. I especially remember all the new information Vonda Cooper (branch H) sent from California. Census indexes were being printed during those years, and I kept finding LeValleys in places where I had never thought of looking. The State Archives here also had some good books on colonial ancestry. My ancestor James LeValley married Sarah Aylesworth, who descended from younger sons of the English nobility. So part of my time went into a parallel project of discovering those medieval ancestors.
In 1989, I resumed my travels with another trip to Warwick, RI, where I was able to get inside the original LeValley house. That trip also included Marblehead, Massachusetts; Riverhead, NY (branch D)--and probably records of Peleg LeValley's descendants in Hancock, NY; and another large group descended from Cook (branch E) in Covington, Pennsylvania. On the way to my parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary in 1991, I swung around through Muncie, Indiana to visit briefly with long-time correspondent Billie North of the Xenia LeValley/LeVally family. Though unrelated, it was nice to finally meet her after all those years of writing. In 1992, I visited newfound cousins in Ottawa, Kansas and Missouri (branch J), and renewed acquaintances in Dayton, Iowa.
In the late 1990s, computers completely changed genealogy research. Suddenly it was possible to do much of the work from home. And searches could be conducted in a couple of seconds, instead of leafing through hundreds of pages. I joined the LaValley list at RootsWeb for a few years, before deciding to start a separate LeValley list in 2000. Creating the LeValley web site was part of that plan. Discoveries since then can be found in the annual progress reports.
Fortunately, I started doing this research when I was young. Forty years later, I'm not young any longer. People keep asking when I will stop doing research and publish what I know about the Peter LeValley family. With bits of information coming in faster than ever, it's hard to find a stopping point. Everything is on my computer. I've decided that when I find my memory beginning to slip so I can't keep the different branches straight in my head, that will be the time to press the print button. Until then, we keep going.
Betzing added this note:
You forgot to mention all the other people you've helped along the way, sir. Job well done would not sum it up at all, but it is a true statement. Thanks Paul .
Clayton E. Betzing
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