Sinking Valley Family Tree Project

Genealogy Notebook presents stories, research and information on Pennsylvania family histories. Ran regularly, Spring 2004 to Spring 2006.

Beginner family historians are counseled that going beyond their own direct line to find information about siblings of their ancestors­ – called “whole-family genealogy” – can help avoid and reduce errors, as well as add a rich dimension to their pedigree quests. More and more genealo­gists are ratcheting up the “whole-family genealogy” con­cept a few more notches by engaging in “community stud­ies” that research all the families of a specific area in a fixed time period.

One such study in progress is the Sinking Valley Family Tree Project spearheaded by Aileen Fulcomer and Karen Morrow. Sinking Valley, in Tyrone Town­ship in northern Blair County is triangular, bordered on two sides by mountains and on the third by the Little Juniata River.

The descendants of William Penn surveyed the Sinking Val­ley as a proprietary manor in 1762. (The term manor was applied to the most valuable of the Penn family’s tracts of land.) Penn’s heirs eventually divided and sold the land between 1787 and 1813 to nearly four dozen purchasers. Fulcomer and Mor­row’s purpose for their Sinking Valley project is to collect, preserve, and distribute the family histories of both the original and subsequent early landowners. In addition to the genealogi­cal aspect, an effort has been made to link the families to the location of their former properties and residences. Morrow be­lieves early dwelling building in the valley went through three stages. The very first pioneers used logs, but within a genera­tion, the more prosperous farmers erected more substantial stone houses, of which only three, dated between 1801 and 1805, exist. By the 1830s, Georgian-style brick homes were in vogue, according to Morrow.

Karen Morrow says Sinking Valley’s name, and the early oc­casional use of “Sinking Spring Valley,” is derived from the presence of half a dozen sinkholes, numerous abundant springs, Tytoona Cave, a natural limestone arch named Arch Spring, and several streams that run along the surface then dis­appear. It was originally believed that there was a large quantity of lead in Sinking Valley, and in 1778, Fort Roberdeau – known as the “Lead Mine Fort” – was erected to protect settlers from the Indians and as a lead mining operation to provide bullets for the militia. A re-creation of Fort Roberdeau was erected on the original site in 1976 as a Bicentennial project. The early settlers came from three different ethnic and re­ligious groups. Families with surnames of Crawford, Murray, Stewart, Dysart, Moore, and Wilson were Scotch Irish Presbyterians. Settlers with surnames of Fleck and Cressman were German Lutherans, who for­mally organized a congregation in 1804.The McClain and the McMullen families were Roman Catholic. Originally, Tyrone Township was part of Hunt­ingdon County when it was created in 1787, and ex­tended into what are now six different townships in Blair and Huntingdon Counties. When Blair County was established in 1846, the township was con­fined to Sinking Valley proper.

Fulcomer’s and Morrow’s families both claim longtime ties to the valley. Morrow’s husband John is descended from original settlers named Murray (later changed to Morrow), Moore, Crawford, and Stewart, while Fulcomer is a descendant of origin,al settlers with surnames of Crawford and Dysart. Each of the project leaders also has a niche in the overall work, too. Morrow, the project’s lead researcher, possesses knowledge of architecture; her husband is a valuable resource because he has lived in Sinking Valley his entire life. Fulcomer is an expert at collect­ing, preserving, and distributing information gathered from various individuals who have shared family trees, pictures, scrapbooks, ephemera, and documents.

Among the materials Morrow and Fulcomer have produced is a booklet that has as its centerpiece a photograph taken at the first Morrow family reunion in 1922 of 103 attendees. The booklet identifies seventy-nine of these individuals as descen­dants of six of the original settlers; others were subsequent landowners who married into these original families – Tussey, McCormick, Dickson, Wallace, and Burket. “In the book.let, I also outline the Morrow property transfers and include maps,” Morrow says. “I think it is a good example of how intercon­nected the early settlers were.”

An ongoing project profiles pioneer settler James Crawford and his descendants. A Crawford-owned house has been in the family for six generations.

Because Sinking Valley was such a “finite area,” sons who did not stand to inherit land often went off to find jobs outside the valley, primarily with the railroad in Tyrone and Altoona. Several group outmigrations have been documented, particu­larly to Smicksburg, Indiana County, and two sites in the Midwest, Dixon, Illinois, and Aberdeen, South Dakota.

As an example of the synergy that a “community study” creates, Morrow said that both people and materials are in­volved. “Three individuals helped me identify the 103 people in the Morrow reunion picture,” she says. “Each knew a piece the others did not and in the end all but one child is identified. Then I used existing family trees to figure out the one relation­ship that best explained why the individual was present at the reunion.” Property descriptions contained in deeds are an ex­ample of material sources. “The boundaries are often given as the neighbor’s property line so we know who the neighbors were on all sides,” explains Morrow. “This in turn helps us trace the ownership of adjoining property.”

Individuals wishing to learn more about the genealogy and history of this region should contact:

  • Blair County Genealogical Society, 431 Scotch Valley Road, Hollidaysburg, PA 16648; telephone (814) 696-3492; or visit on the Web.
  • Fort Roberdeau, R.R. 3 Box 391, Altoona, PA 16601; tele­phone (814) 946-0048; or visit on the Web.


For Further Reading

Africa, J. Simpson. History of Hunt­ingdon and Blair Counties. Evansville, Ind.: Unigraphic, 1974.

Blair County Genealogical Society;. Blair County, Pennsylvania, Cemeteries Tombstone Inscriptions: Tyrone Township. Altoona, Pa.: Blair County Genealogical Society, 1991.

Blair County, Pennsylvania, Church and Cemetery Records: Sinking Valley Presbyterian Church, Tyrone Town­ship, 1853-1958. Altoona, Pa.: Blair County Genealogical Society, 1991.

Davis, Tarring S. A History of Blair County, Pennsylvania. Harrisburg: National Historical Association, 1931.


James M. Beidler writes and lectures on genealogy. He authored “Genealogy,” a chapter in Pennsylvania: A History of the Commonwealth, co-published in 2002 by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and Penn State Press. His “Roots & Branches” weekly newspaper column appears in Lebanon Daily News and the Altoona Mirror. From 1999 to 2003, he served as executive director of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania.