Welcome to the McCollough journal. It is my hope that this journal will be a place where folks can share information on our extended McCollough family.
For seven generations the McColloughs have told stories around the kitchen table and across the split rail fences about our family history in America. Our family story survived for over 250 years in the oral traditions of potters, farmers, school teachers, bellringers, and yeoman of western Pennsylvania. For our ancestors, there were constant farm chores and little time to do proper genealogy research. Few of McCollough farmers had the time or means to travel into Butler or Pittsburgh to spend an afternoon in a library to look for information about our past. Times have changed in 21st century America. Now we have time to explore the world’s libraries from our home computers or take a simple cheek swab to discover what our genetic code tells us about our family’s past.
In the late 1800s, the stories about the McColloughs in the Butler County history books were well known to Captain John and Elizabeth’s grandchildren. But there were many mysteries about the origins of Captain John McCollough who was born in 1770. Allegedly when John was just four years, his father, a doctor, was away from the log cabin when his mother was killed in an Indian attack (another story relays that she was murdered by the hired hand). According to oral traditions, John hid in the woods, or behind a rock, or in the corn crib and escaped the calamity. He was raised by a German family that explains why an account book that he kept in the 1790s was mostly written in hard-to-read German script. Why did a man with a Scots-Irish name speak and write German? Who raised John? What happened to his father? So many questions….
Many Sunday afternoons, my grandfather, Theodore, told us jaw-dropping tales about our ancestors – some true, some having an element of truth, and others based on conjecture according to the latest history book or story he heard from other family members. People came from near and far to hear stories about the McCollough clan and see “Doc’s” collection of antiquities. Most left satisfied and maybe with a full belly from lunch prepared by my grandmother, June. In the 1960s, my father, Curtis, began to ask other McColloughs on nearby farms in Chicora what they knew about our family history. Some knew a bit, mostly from the Butler County histories or the address that Newton Clark McCollough wrote for the first McCollough reunion in 1912. There was much uncertainty about our family origins. Some sternly warned Dad, “Don’t ask too many questions or you’ll rattle some skeletons out of a McCollough closet!”
After retirement, Curtis began to search in earnest for the truth about our family origins. Captain John’s father was allegedly a doctor named William. Many, including Grandpa, surmised that he was related to the McCollochs of Wheeling, West Virginia, the famed frontier scouts. Sam McColloch escaped capture from the Indians by a daring jump on his horse off the precipice above Short Creek in Wheeling. Curtis searched throughout the 1990s and could write a book about the Wheeling McCollochs, but unable to find evidence that we were not related to this family. Dad hit the proverbial genealogy brick wall. Who were John’s parents? Where did they come from? Who was our immigrant ancestor?
Twenty years ago in a moment of weakness I agreed to help my father. Dad spent countless hours in genealogy libraries from Erie to Wheeling to the Holsten River in Virginia, but could not find references to a Dr. William McCollough. He compiled volumes of information about the McColloughs and related families. He also discovered new information about our family. His dream was to write a book about our family history. That dream was realized when we publish the McCollough book in 2003. It was a success, but it left many stones unturned. The greatest mysteries surrounding our family origins still remained. We continued to search for elusive answers.
In 2012, I was in Pennsylvania visiting Mom and Dad. We decided to have a picnic at Bushy Run Battlefield and spend a few hours afterward doing research at the nearby Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg. We first stopped at the Westmoreland Historical Society where Dad and I did genealogy research on many occasions. We asked for guidance on where to find the old court records. They encouraged us to review a stack of bulletins prepared years ago by the historical society that contained some of the transcribed court records from the late-1700s. We went through the indices looking for McColloughs or Spanglers, when an odd spelling of John M’Colagh caught my eye. This led us to the 1796 will of Gerhard Fiscus. This name was familiar to us as many of the Fiscus family were named in John’s account book. The will indicated that Gerhardt Fiscus left an inheritance to John McCollough “the only surviving son of my deceased daughter, Barbara Fiscus.” The Fiscuses were the German family that raised John! That serendipitous discovery led to many others in the library that day. One new discovery followed another, and in an hour we learned more about our McCollough past than the 20 years of previous research. The brick wall was shattered. Such is the nature of genealogy!
In subsequent years, many new discoveries were made – the origins of the Spangler family, Captain John’s in-laws, Captain John’s land cases in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and genetic samples that led us all the way back to Scotland and beyond. Old photographs continued to be contributed by family members. The family tree swelled to over 5,000 descendants of Captain John and Elizabeth McCollough. There was so much new information that we decided to rewrite the McCollough book that we published in 2003. Dad was able to see it to completion before he passed away in September, 2019.
It is my hope that this website and journal will help provide a forum for our extended McCollough family to learn more about our shared history. Perhaps new information and photographs will come to light. Most of the McCollough farms in Fairview Township have been subdivided and sold, and our family is scattered from Maine to Florida to California and countless points in between. Likewise, most of the McCollough reunions are no longer are held. Perhaps this website and journal can function as a virtual family reunion – a way for people to learn about their heritage and to connect with each other. I hope you find the information entertaining and informative and find some stories that you can share with your children and grandchildren about our proud past. Mark McCollough