Prompted by an eighth grade assignment to construct a family tree, Jim Owston has been interested in collecting genealogical and historical data for over 40 years.
As part of this assignment, the discovery of a yellowed newspaper clipping detailing the 1929 death of his great-great grandmother, Sarah Ann Merriman, prompted an initial visit to her grave site at the McKeesport-Versailles Cemetery in 1968. He was pleased to add this grave to Find A Grave as a new contributor in 2008.
He has traced all the lines of his family back at least four generations. His direct ancestors include the following:
Four Civil War veterans (John Merriman, Thomas W. Day, John C. Brakeall, & George W. Staley).
A decorated Royal Navy warrant officer that served in the War of 1812 and the Napoleonic Wars: William Owston.
At least two Revolutionary War veterans (William Gardner & David Gardner).
A soldier in Captain Beer's company in King Philip's War — John Gustin, who was born as Augustine Jean de le Tocq in the Bailiwick of Jersey in the Channel Islands.
The Plantagenet royal house of England and Anjou via 3 Gardner lines that merge. This lineage includes 60 European kings and 8 canonized saints.
Members of the Waldensian sect that escaped religious persecution in southern France by traversing the Alps into Germany - the Maneval/Manewal family. His great-grandmother, Marie Katherine Manewal Schad was his most recent relative born with the Maneval surname.
Among the Quakers who traveled with William Penn to the colonies was his ancestor Thomas French who settled in Burlington, NJ.
His ancestors came from England, Germany (Würtemberg & Hesse), Scotland, France, Ireland, Wales, the Island of Jersey, and perhaps Switzerland. Family tradition holds that one or several of his New England lines were Mayflower descendants. Another tradition signifies that one of his German ancestors served as a Hessian soldier (on the side of the British) during the American Revolution. Neither of these traditions have yet to be satisfactorily proven.
Beyond record keeping, Y-Chromosome DNA Testing has determined that Owston's paternal line was among the haplogroup I1. This group originated in Scandinavia and his ancestors may have been Danish Viking invaders that attacked and settled the north of England in the 9th Century A.D. The modern spelling of his surname Owston indicates Norse influence over the original Saxon spelling Æston which became Easton elsewhere.
As far as his maternal ancestry, mitochondrial DNA testing places his ancestry in common with 47% of all Europeans in the the H haplogroup. This DNA grouping has been nicknamed Clan Helena - one of the theoretical seven European foremothers. Apparently, the H haplogroup was the most successful of the migrations into the European continent.
In addition to his genealogical studies, he is currently researching the 9th Pennsylvania Reserves with Chris Rasmussen. Three blood relatives (although not direct ancestors) served in this unit which was formed in Western Pennsylvania in 1861. His relatives in the unit included Captain Charles W. Owston, Daniel Merriman, and Charles Champlin Townsend.
Owston holds a doctorate (Ed.D.) and educational specialist (Ed.S.) in Leadership Studies from Marshall University in addition to masters' degrees from Marshall and WVU, and bachelors' degrees from Kentucky Christian University and Mountain State University.
His Master's of Arts in Humanities from Marshall included a concentration in history. Owston's internationally recognized doctoral dissertation on institutional rebranding utilized historical research as one of the multiple research methods that he employed. The dissertation is available online at http://www.newriver.net. This work was the winner of two outstanding dissertation awards.
Other historical works under his belt include being the designer & caretaker of the Virtual Nixon Era Center at Mountain State University. This project was actively worked from 2001-2003. While currently operational, updates have been added on an infrequent basis since 2003.
Two historical papers are available online: Heterodyning in the Hills - The WOBU Story and The Early History of Transylvania University: An Archetype of Restoration Movement Institutions of Higher Education and has contributed to several WikiPedia articles including most of the article on his hometown of North Versailles Township, PA.
Owston, a former dean at Mountain State University, lives in Beckley, WV with his wife and two daughters.
Search memorial contributions by Dr. James M. Owston