Sisters share a passion for the past
Unlocking the doors to their family’s past and unearthing the roots to a rich history spanning several generations have been a fruitful lifelong passion for identical twins Joann Forney Cook and Joyce Forney Haydu.
These 79-year-old Columbiana residents have spent countless hours tracing the winding paths of their family history, which includes ties to royalty and connections to an influential artist.
Cook’s eyes light up with excitement as she thumbs through several dozen binders that cover the kitchen table as she describes her family’s tree, beginning when some members of the Spencer family emigrated from England to America in the 1600s, settling in an area now known as Connecticut.
Not all members of this family came to America, and Cook said she later discovered through her membership with the Spencer Historical and Genealogical Society that the members of the family who remained in England were ancestors of Diana, Princess of Wales.
By following the roots of the Spencer family, Cook and Haydu found ties to the Huxley family. Ancestors of the Huxley family eventually settled in the Mahoning Valley, in what is now known as Ellsworth Township.
The family left an impression on the area, as Huxley Road — located near Western Reserve Road — still bears the family name, Haydu said.
A descendant of the Huxley family then married into the Trumbull family in the early 1700s. A member of this family was John Trumbull, a Connecticut-born painter who lived from 1756 to 1843 and was widely known for his paintings of American historical events, including “The Declaration of Independence,” according to www.encyclopedia.com.
In the early 1800s, the House of Representatives commissioned Trumbull to paint four pictures for the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. These paintings were installed in the Rotunda in 1826.
The sisters also said they discovered that another descendant of the Trumbull family settled in the Western Reserve and was influential in the naming of Trumbull County.
Cook and Haydu also are descendants of Henry Forney, a family member on their paternal side, who fought in the Revolutionary War and is buried in Unity, Ohio.
The sisters have been members of the Daughters of the American Revolution for more than 50 years. They also are charter members for more than 25 years with the National Society of the Colonial Dames 17th Century.
Daughters of the American Revolution is a nonprofit volunteer women’s service organization dedicated to promoting patriotism and preserving American history, and the National Society of the Colonial Dames 17th Century is dedicated to preserving historic sites and to fostering an interest in historical research.
The memberships in both organizations have helped broaden their historical knowledge and offered them opportunities to meet other people with similar interests.
Although Cook and Haydu share a profound curiosity of their genealogy, they credit their father, Howard Forney, for sparking their interest in preserving their past. Forney worked at Packard Electric and died in 1996 at age 84.
“My father, I would say, was the real genealogist. Bill [Joann’s husband] and I used to go on trips with him [Howard Forney] to cemeteries,” Cook said.
The sisters’ grand- father, Emanuel Forney, a letter carrier with the U.S. Postal Service who was active with the Canfield Fair Board and with community politics, maintained the family history, passing down the genealogy gene to Howard, Cook said.
Howard spent hours researching the family history, traveling to Europe to gather more information, eventually publishing the book “Descendants of J.A. Forney 1557-1963,” Joann said.
The sisters say that, although genealogy can be time-consuming and tedious, it is rewarding and fun to discover the missing links to family history.
They recommend that anyone interested in learning more about family history save all pictures and important records such as marriage, birth and death certificates. Pictures, especially larger group pictures, should all be labeled with the names of the people in the picture and the year the picture was taken and numbered to serve as a guide for remembering family names.
Haydu said that, although there are several Internet sites that offer genealogy information, she recommends spending the time to visit important family sites and to speak with family members about the history.
“With programs on the computer, you miss the personal stuff. You come across some of the strangest stories. It’s one of those things. Maybe not your children or maybe not even your grandchildren are interested, but someone down the road might be interested,” Haydu said.