Rocky Ford, Colorado


On a recent Norton family vacation my family, my brother’s family, and my parents all stayed in a cabin in Breckenridge, Colorado. I really have no genealogical connections to the Centennial State, except one: a cousin founded the town of Rocky Ford. My wife, son and I continued our vacation in Colorado Springs, and our route home just happened to take us through ROCKY FORD, COLORADO.


Rocky Ford was settled by a man named George W. Swink. There is a four-panel display as you enter the town from the west on US Route 50. The signs tell you about Colorado, Rocky Ford, and George W. Swink.

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George W. Swink was born June 30, 1836 in Breckinridge County, Kentucky. (Note that the Kentucky spelling is Breck-I-nridge; the Colorado spelling is Breck-E-nridge.) His parents were Peter Swink and Mariah Beghtol, the daughter of Peter and Catharine Bruner Beghtol. Mariah had previously been married to Jacob Bruner and had four children. Bruner died, and Peter Swink proposed to the widow. They married about 1834. Eventually, the Swinks moved with Mariah’s father’s family to Schuyler County, Illinois. Peter and Mariah are listed in the 1850-70 census records of Ashland/Oakland Township, Schuyler County. Mariah died in 1872 and is buried in the Beghtol Cemetery. Peter married Mrs. Sarah Jewell in 1877, and is listed in the 1880 census. He died before 1900.

IMG_1728George W. Swink married Mary J. Cook on Oct 2, 1854, in Schuyler County. They had three sons. Lorenzo, Alonzo, and Lewis by the 1860 census. The family moved to Bardolph Township, McDonough County, Illinois. Clementine, William, Minnie, and Ellsworth had joined the family by 1870. Listed as a farm hand that year was David Worley, and a domestic servant, Winnie Daugherty, a cousin on the Beghtol side (and my great-great-great-great-aunt).

According to my great-great-great-aunt Bettie Beghtol Jones’ obituary, John Beghtol (my great-great-great-grandfather) worked for George Swink near Vermont, Illinois. In 1871 George W. Swink moved his family to Colorado. The Bureau of Land Management webpage shows his earliest land acquisition in 1876 in Otero County. The family is listed in the 1880 Bent County census. George’s occupation was Merchant. Living in the household were Lewis, William T., Minnie W., Eddie (Ellsworth), Schuyler, Mattie, Hannah, and Leona “Oney” Bell. Son Lorenzo was next door with his family, and son Alonzo was next to them. Also nearby were Samuel Deweese and Levi Beghtol, both in-laws and cousins to George Swink.

George W. Swink’s claim to fame was the Rocky Ford cantaloupe which he produced. He was instrumental in developing the melon industry in that area, and is credited with starting the Watermelon Days festival and the beet sugar industry.

He died on September 24, 1910. Here is a link to his Findagrave memorial.

Besides his tombstone, there is one more monument dedicated to George W. Swink. It is found on North 9th Street and is a bronze copy of an 1887 land certificate.   Based on the family’s address (west side of 9th Street) in the 1900 Otero County census, the marker sits at the site where the Swinks once lived.

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Turning back south,                                                                                       you cross Swink Avenue.IMG_1744

Rocky Ford has seen better days, but there are several shops open. US 50 is busy, so there are always people passing through. (My friends in Lawrence County, IL, will find it amusing that US 50 in Colorado is a mostly two-lane highway—just like in Illinois.)

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As you leave Rocky Ford and continue east, you pass through a small town simply named Swink, in honor of George W. Swink.IMG_1752

Genealogy for hire…and FUN!

In my real job, I teach students how to write and I use family history as one of the topics.  Everything I ever needed to know about life, I learned from tracing my family tree.

Genealogy can take on different avenues of knowledge, and I can help you in many ways.  For example, maybe you want to know who all of your ancestors are—that’s a pedigree.  For this we would start with you, add your parents, your grandparents, and so on until you didn’t know the answers.  Then, we would look at census and vital records online to add more information.  Eventually, we would need to write to the specific states and counties for copies of records to prove your descent.

Sometimes a person is only interested in one line of his or her ancestry.  In this case, we don’t branch off into collateral families, but stick to one line and take it back as far as we can, or perhaps to a specific ancestor.  This would be the type of research conducted for people wanting to join the Sons or Daughters of the American Revolution or similar lineage societies.  The techniques would be the same, just focused on one family.  Most lineage societies want certified copies of records, so that can add to the cost.

Another avenue to consider is tracking down all the descendants of a specific couple.  For the 150th anniversary of the Billingsleys in Schuyler County, I tracked down all the descendants I could find.  I’ll probably do it again for the 175th anniversary.  This research can be exciting because it shows how far one couple’s influence can reach.  Descendants will be all over the country, and the world, and sometimes famous!

A little bit of both?  I love tracing my ancestors to the first immigrant in the United States—and in 30 years, I’ve tracked a lot of them down, but there are still many more to find.  I also enjoy tracking down those long-lost cousins I never knew about.  DNA genealogy can help out with this sometimes.

I was bitten by the genealogy bug at a very young age.  I was lucky to have great-great-aunts who could tell me stories about their great-great-grandfathers.  I have conducted all my own research, and only once or twice did I hire someone to find records for me.  Hiring a genealogist is not a bad idea if you are interested in the information, but not looking forward to the research.  Or, perhaps you cannot travel to the county where you ancestor lived, hiring a local genealogist would be beneficial.

If you hire a genealogist, what should you expect?  First be specific about what you are wanting—a pedigree, a direct line to an important ancestor, all the cousins on your grandma’s side?

Next, figure out how much you can pay.  Most genealogists work by the hour—find out the rate and multiply!  When I help my students in class, I can usually get them back six to eight generations on one line of their family within a couple of hours of searching.  At my current rate, a person should be able to get some good information for under $100.  Give a deadline.  If you need information within a few weeks or a month, research will be confined to online and local resources.  If there’s more time, microfilm can be ordered or even traveling included.  For the final product, I usually write a report of the findings, and include copies of any documents or newspaper clippings I was able to find.  A client had 25 hours of research.  That included a 27 page report, transcripts or copies of documents, and luckily, a connection to the Mayflower.  (That doesn’t always happen!)  I could continue working on this family for many more hours depending on which direction—up or down—of the family tree the client wants to move.

There is one more way I feel I can help would-be genealogists.  In a couple of hours, I can show someone how to look up information and get started on family history.  It can be tricky, but it is not impossible.  You will feel like Sherlock Holmes, looking at a handful of details about a person, then making the connection to someone on your family tree.  (You’ll do the genealogy happy dance—sometimes in the privacy of your home, but more often than not, right in the middle of the library or archives!)  I can show you how to get started with online sources, then where to write or travel for primary documents.

One word of caution:  Sometimes genealogist can’t find anything, and sometimes genealogists unfamiliar with an area or family might mix some things up.  I work very hard to get the facts straight.  I recently read a professional genealogist’s report for a fellow researcher and told my friend to demand part of her money back.  In the genealogist’s own report, she contradicted herself on the names of an uncle and nephew, whom she later referred to as a father and son.  Furthermore, her lack of knowledge of Virginia probate laws caused a major mix up in the family report.  That woman paid many thousands for that information, and later DNA studies proved most half of it wrong.  If I see a problem or a lack of credible information, I would let you know early!

Thank You, Soldiers of 1776: Ancestor Roll Call!

As a teacher, I try to make sure every student can instantly tell me what war was happening in 1776—it was the Revolutionary War!  The war years span 1775-1783.  Men (and a few women), young and old, took up arms to fight for our independence from England.  Many of us had ancestors who fought in this war.  Some didn’t fight but supplied materials—horses, food—and were repaid by the then fledgling federal government.  Plus, the government, desiring that more people move West, gave large parcels of land to veterans.  A few of our ancestors may have fought for the other side!

The forefathers who fought  are mostly -great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, give or take a great.  For fun, search and see if your ancestor is listed.

Thank you to all my veteran ancestors!

David Norton—born in 1763 in Fluvanna, VA according the his Revolutionary War record recently discovered.   “David Norton aged 17 was 5 foot 4 and 1/2 inches tall. He had dark hair, Blue eyes and a Fair completion. He had a scar on the left side of his jaw. His occupation was given as a “Planter” from Virginia, Fluvana County. He was born in Virginia, Fluvana County and was a substitute for a man in Amherst County. He entered the service on the 18th of May 1780 and served 1 Year and 6 months.”

Henry Gay—born about 1758 in Virginia.  Died 1831 Perry County, Kentucky.  His descendants did not know he had served until his name was mentioned in the pension affidavits of Harper Ratcliff who served with Henry.

Garrett McAllister—born about 1765 in Virginia.  Died August 31, 1816, Mason Co, Virginia.  Served Capt Galloway’s 22nd Dist, Botetourt County, Virginia.

Enoch Russell—born October 1760 Essex Co, VA.  Died August 29, 1848, Jackson Co, Ohio.  Served Caroline County, VA.

Robert Gott—born 1745 in Orange Co, NC.  Died in 1840 Montgomery Co, IN.  I’ve not completely proven this is the father of my ancestor Thomas Gott, b. 1790, but he’s in the right places at the right times.

John F. Miles—Born 1759 in Virginia.  Died October 9, 1828, Henry Co, KY.

Elijah Stout—born 1743 Hunterdon Co, NJ.  Died after 1834, in Kentucky.  Served from Culpeper Co, VA.

Peter VanDyke—born 1747 in New York.  Died June 27, 1816, Shelby Co, KY.

Jesse Harper—married 1790 to Hannah Ratliff, lived in Tazewell Co, VA.

Abednego White—born about 1734 Prince Georges Co, MD.  Died May 25, 1820 in Tazewell Co, VA.

Walter Billingsley—An unexpected find at the DAR site.  I didn’t think my direct Billingsley line was in the war, but here he is!  Walter, born 1744 in St. Mary’s Co, MD.  Died August 16, 1810 in Harford Co, MD.  (Grandfather of Joseph Billingsley of Schuyler County, IL.)

John Warfield—born about 1740 Anne Arundel Co, MD.  Died before 1820.

Richard  Auten (Aten)—born Aug 22, 1721 Hunterdon Co, NJ; died Sept 8, 1809 Northampton Co, PA.

James Allison—born Mar 30, 1747, Prince Georges Co, MD; died Mar 27, 1847 in Brooke Co, WV.

Charles Allison SR—father of above, born about 1728 Prince Georges Co, MD.  Died after 1800.

Michael Harmon—born about 1744, possibly Prussia.  Died after August 25, 1807 in Germantown, Bracken Co, KY.  Served Capt William Johnston, Lancaster County Militia.

Hessian Mercenary FRY—According to our family legend, the father of Daniel H. Fry, born 1796 in Huntingdon Co, PA, was a Hessian soldier, forced to fight for England.  He either defected or survived the conflict.  Either way, he stayed in the colonies.  His first name is unknown, but his wife’s name was Elizabeth Harker—and I do have Harker DNA matches.

Henry Green—Revolutionary War soldier buried in Hughes Cemetery, Schuyler County, Illinois.


Photo at by Colista Acheson.

 George Humphreys—born about 1764, probably Stafford Co, VA.  Died April 10, 1840 in Edwards Co, IL.  Lived in Gibson Co, IN.  Wife Fraces Gerrard was the niece of Daniel Garrard, Gov. of Kentucky, and she may have a connection to the Washington family.

Joseph Woods—born August 22, 1745 in Albemarle Co, VA.  Died Jan 16, 1835 in Princeton, Gibson Co, IN.  Buried Marsh Creek Cemetery, Turkey Hill, Gibson Co, IN.

461000_10151644312995909_578690424_o(Photo: My son Paschal at the grave of Joseph Woods, 2013.)