Notes from the Field: Recently I traveled to central New York…my childhood home and the sites where my ancestors lived and died. I am 65 years old and have lived away for more years than I lived there, but it is and always will be the place I call ‘home’. I concentrated on Cayuga County instead of including explorations in Tompkins, Seneca, Wayne and Madison Counties as I had in the past. Partly because I wanted to be more disciplined and focused…partly because I am not the kid I used to be and my energy only goes so far these days. And partly because I could take time to visit with my high school friends…and embrace my very own history.
I had a game plan as usual, but it was more relaxed and open to hanging out and experiencing the moment versus intense information gathering. Good thing, too, because it rained every day I was there. And I am a field historian by nature and don’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain.
Though it had been just past lunch time when I arrived in Auburn, I had skipped lunch and headed straight to my first research site. Here is where my kids yell…MO-O-O-MMM!
I drove the few miles west of Auburn, NY to the little Village of Cayuga and to the Lakeview cemetery where my maternal ancestors and my dad are buried. I always look forward to that visit. As the name implies, the cemetery sits just above Cayuga Lake. I can imagine that when it was cleared to become a burial ground, there was indeed a generous view of the lake that sat just a few feet away. Over the century and more, large pines and elms grew up and shaded the monuments..some crowding the tombstones and engulfing others within the trunks and roots. Once I turn onto Center Street, I am home (owning in 1971 the historic Federal period home called Tumble Inn built by Dr. Jonathan Whitney in the early 1800′s) and just a block away from the cemetery entrance and my father’s grave. He is always my first and last stop. “Hey, Dad.”
I drove down toward the lakeside entrance as is my practice so I can work my way up the hill visiting my ancestors and noting burials of newly discovered family. Turning down the old path I came upon an orange cone sitting smack in between the tire worn grooves. I thought…must be a funeral below…or maintenance going on. It was then I saw the large truck and tractor and the two men below. And the enormous damage. On Thursday, May 30th a violent storm swept off the lake with microbursts that tore 40 foot elms right out of the ground and twisted others so violently that their huge trunks snapped like mere twigs. I walked down the crude road and met one William (he told me to call him Bill) Patterson and his workmate who were cutting up the debris and clearing the monster trees out of the cemetery.
At first glance I saw one tree down, but as I approached, it was clear that several of the old sentinel trees had fallen and the men had a Herculean task ahead. I asked Bill…he was the chatty one…his younger workmate was no nonsense and ‘gettin’ on with it’… to pause for a few moments to share his storm experience. I introduced myself and shook Bill’s rough hand firmly and asked if he would stand next to the massive and broken tree trunk for a photo so I could show scale. He hitched up his well worn jeans and adjusted his suspenders and struck a pose. It was clear old Bill was enjoying his momentary celebrity.
Then it was back to loading the truck with the cut up limbs some as thick as Bill’s waist with a quick and nonchalant toss into the truck bed. Bill..a self-described “old farmer who mows the cemetery and sees to burials”…took a shine to the talk of my ancestors buried there asking me for the litany of family names. “Yep, know that name.” Buried a family with that name just recently,” he said. I asked him about whose monuments were under the biggest fallen elm and he said, “We’ll find out when we get the rest of the tree cleared,” when his associate chimed in, “Damn mess and we got clearing all over the place to do..not just here.” He shook his head and climbed into the truck and hauled away the load. Bill stayed behind…muttered “damn mess” as an echoing sentiment and continued his chores while I headed into the debris to see if the monuments of my “people” had escaped damage. And they did in a remarkable twist of fate. The fallen trees had found other directions and my family burials were just outside of the large canopy of the ruined elm. I stopped to say “Hey” to my maternal great great grandparents, Deborah Jane Tyler and her husband, Francis J. Curry and up the slope a few steps to their daughter’s in-laws and my other set of maternal great great grandparents, Susannah M. Downing and Henry Eugene Curtis. Someone newly discovered by me just before the trip, I found Deborah’s oldest sister, Abbie Tyler and her husband James Jenney just strides away. Just across the road, my maternal great great great grandparents, Lonson Tyler and his wife, Betsey Tyler. Cousins of some kind…the Tylers had a habit of that…and the parents of Deborah Jane Tyler. Just to the north of the huge tree, my Titus family members and their monuments remained free and clear. “Hey, everyone.”
“Hurts me awful when I see a fallen stone,” called out Bill. “Can’t do anything about either.” He made his way up to where I was taking photographs and listed all the burial grounds along the lake that he tends and his chagrin at his limitations. “Money,” he says, “and time.” Finishing up my video and photo session, I continued to make my way up to my car and Bill stopped me one more time to express his apology for his language…he had said “damn” a couple of times. “Just an old farmer”, he sheepishly reiterated and climbed aboard the tractor and made his way up the old dirt road that meanders up the cemetery.
They had a lot of work to do…those two men with just a chain saw…a truck and a tractor. And I had chewed up a bit of their time talking about the terrible storm and the lakeside damage. They advised me to take a drive down Lake Road to see the roof blown off one historic home and the big old elm that was lifted out of the ground with the exposed root ball….which I did.
I noted for my research cousins that the beautiful old Hutchinson mansion was untouched…a few small branches still sat on the portico, but the lakeside properties to my right and directly on the lake took a beating and looked like a giant had played pick up sticks with the huge trees. Yep, Bill…a damned mess.
After treating myself to an icy martini and a steak and a salad, I fell asleep sometime around 9PM. I was wicked tired from my drive up from Philadelphia and the field work at the cemetery so I gladly gave up the idea of making notes or even pondering the plans for the next days work. Waking at 5:30 in the morning rested, but content to snuggle into the super comfy pillows…in the dark, I stayed in bed until 6AM when I saw dawn peeking through the crack of the darkening hotel drapes. A decent cup of in-room brewed coffee and I was returning emails from the day before and organizing my research materials for the day. It was rainy and gray in central New York after the incredibly crystal blue skies that graced my northward drive up route 81 the day before.
My first appointment was at the Cayuga County Museum to view the Civil War material archived there and to discuss a proposed exhibit with images of the family collection from my great great grandfather David Penird who served the entire war with the 75th Regiment formed from the ‘boys’ of Cayuga County. The sky had opened up and gutters and downspouts struggled to keep up with the pouring rain. Teeming, pouring rain, as my mother would say. Tucking my head under the umbrella, I made a dash to the back entrance of the museum with one of the staff and her most handsome dog. As I walked to the work room that obviously doubled as the staff lunch room, I felt instantly at home. Two huge boxes and a large number of books were placed at the table in front of me and I dug into the as yet uncatalogued material. Folder by folder the years fell away and the letters home to loved ones played out with the old cabinet cards and post war G.A.R. programs and songbooks capturing my every heartbeat.
It was with the tender experience of holding the field arm band of a Cayuga County doctor who served in the 9th Corps…and the buttons and badges from the uniform of another young man who served in the old 75th regiment that I found myself having to remember to breathe and I sat back from the box and knew this was something special. After awhile, I took a break and found my way down the hall to the office of Lauren Chyl, the museum’s curator. We chatted for a few moments and she rose to walk with me back to my work area and to refill her mug. While I was going through the boxes of Civil War memorabilia and old newspaper articles and she sipped at her coffee, I reminisced about my childhood days at the museum. I took art lessons with Dr. Walter Long in the Case Research Lab and spent several summers there learning to draw and paint and listen to the wandering and amazing stories that only Dr. Long could tell. He loved history and would often tell his students to visit the museum before we dashed home. Even though we had seen the exhibits many times, we would dutifully walk across the parking area and scoot into the back door…the very one I had just entered and made our way through the museum. The favorite stop for Dr. Long and ours as well was the velvet draped exhibit with the phosphorescent rocks that glowed in the gloom. “Did you stop to see the rocks that glow?” he would ask. Of course we had and pleased that we did, he bade us goodbye until our next lesson. And the predictable gentle command to visit the exhibits before we went home. I chuckled when I told Lauren about how many times his wife would come to the classroom with a brown paper bag neatly packed with his lunch…that he had characteristically forgotten on his way out the door. Of course, sharing the well-known story of how he had returned home from a conference absentmindedly leaving Mrs. Long behind left Lauren and I smiling and nodding. She had never met Dr. Long since he passed away many years before Lauren took up her position, but it was as if he was still there wandering about his beloved museum and its collections…forgetting that he had left this realm perhaps and looking for the rocks that glow.
Rain and More Rain
It was just after noon when I left the museum and the rain seemed to have circled around to have another go at me. I grabbed my poncho from the trunk and ducked into my car. Peering through the rivulets streaming down the windows I could just make out the interior of the Case Lab. It seemed like yesterday that I had spent so many hours drawing horses and sweeping watercolors onto endless reams of paper. But enough reverie. There was an entire afternoon to work with and along with my own list…a request from a research cousin had landed in my email. She was on the hunt for more Parcells information and ‘if I had time”, could I check on some burials at Soule Cemetery. No time for lunch…maybe an early dinner…a hot shower and early to bed. But later. I was off to Soule Cemetery in Sennett where my great great grandparents, Albert S. Martin and Harriet M. Frear, are buried. My father’s great grandparents and always another stop I make when I am home.
When I pulled into the entrance off Pine Ridge Road, the work truck sat outside of the office like a huge and hapless creature. The bed was filling with rain water and the dirt that had been there was becoming a muddy mess and spilling over the edge in a sepia cascade. I pulled around the truck and windshield wipers on full and hazard blinkers on made my way to the Martin plot. Slipping on the rain poncho and my Wellies, I carefully made my way up to the slope to the monuments. “Hey, Grandfather and Grandmother.” The rain let up for a few moments as I paid my respects when the Parcells name caught my attention and I moved further up the hill. I had found what Marj was looking for and pulled out my iPhone and began taking photos of the family plot and the stones and their inscriptions when the rain returned in earnest. Slip sliding down to the road, I made it inside the dry interior of my car and though it was June, turned on the heat to chase away the chill. As I drove to the entrance and near the truck, I spotted a cemetery worker standing in the open door of the office and staring out at the deluge and the hulk of the truck. Not one to miss the opportunity to visit a cemetery office, I pulled up behind the truck avoiding the Niagara end, flipped up the hood of my poncho and hauled it to the door. He must have been startled at the sight of me…or the thought of someone running in the storm. “Hi!”, I said, out of breath. Sticking out my hand, I introduced myself and asked his name. “Michael,” he stammered. “Well, Michael, I sure hope you can help me. Can I look at the burial cards? I am an historian researching here and standing in a dry office sure beats bashing around the cemetery in this weather,” I said. Michael must have been thrilled at the thought of a dry few minutes and he swung open the door and waved his hand at the big set of drawers housing the cards. In just a few moments I had pulled the Parcells cards and had photographed them…I am an old hand at such things. I thanked Michael and headed out the way I came. “Are you sure you have everything?” the young man asked. I had the feeling that I had worked too fast and he wasn’t anxious to deal with the mess outside.
When I checked the time, I realized that I had just one hour before meeting two of my friends for “Zumba” whatever that was. Was it a restaurant? I texted them and got directions. Okay…I thought I was pretty current on things, but this wasn’t going to be a cocktail with Brazilian liquor. This was THE Zumba! Luckily I had my sneakers on and my friend Marie coaxed me onto the floor. I Zumbaed left. I Zumbaed right. I shook my butt and shimmied my shoulders for three-quarters of the class and took a break. Leaning against the wall I posted the Zumba class on FaceBook and my daughter, Cate, simply posted “!!!!” With an “LOL”, I sat out the rest of the class and Marie and scooted over to the neighboring restaurant for a bowl of soup and gal talk. It wasn’t long before our friend, Sheila popped in the booth and after a round of hugs and laughs, we got down to a serious visit. I was tired from the day’s work and the unexpected Zumba lesson, but the time flew by and the years left us all and we were girls again for those few hours.
A good breakfast with some welcome cups of coffee and I was off to the County Records Department and then on to the new office of the Cayuga County Historian on Court Street. The records clerks were barely in their offices when I was at the counter waiting to acquire copies of the 1856 naturalization papers of my great great grandfather, Francis J. Curry. I had to put on the charm that morning. Poor souls had probably not had an early bird come into the office right on their heels and disrupt a perfectly good routine. But I was prepared with the index information and it was an easy find for the clerk. He made copies for me…of copies, that is…and I asked where the originals were kept. Oh, how I would love to see them! He cocked an eye at me as if I had asked where Moses had ditched the tablet shards and told me that originals were destroyed after copies were made. No room for all of that paper ‘stuff’. While my exterior was calm, inside…from my toes on up…my historian spirit shrieked like a banshee. “What if a descendant PAID for the originals?”. County makes money and space is saved and descendant genealogist is giddy with archival love. Win. Win. I was making sense to me anyway. It was then that the truth of public records and the bureaucratic heart (or lack of one) brings down a harsh reality. “Can’t sell public records,” came the reply. I sighed and packed up the photocopies that had cost me 65 cents apiece and tried to be grateful for that.
The historian’s office is in the same building and just around the corner, but it still requires a walk around the exterior..and back in the rain. My poncho was getting a workout. The librarian was puttering about and hurried up to the counter to sign me in and instruct me as to the rules. I had to leave my purse at her desk which was weird because it was just big enough for my car keys and some lipstick with my driver’s license nudging the seams. But who knows the cleverness of a history thief, right? No cameras, either. Okay. And of course the menu of costs for photocopies. Got it. Now it was my turn to ask questions. Is there a catalog of what is here? I think I asked an impossible question because she patiently told me that she couldn’t possibly tell me what they had. I just had to tell her what I was looking for. HUH? How do I know what I am looking for if I don’t know what is here? If nothing I am a practical soul and just went for the obvious..how about surnames? Jackpot. She had just begun the task of indexing the files of surname loose material and now we had traction. I spent two hours there and we began to talk genealogy…a lot about her family which was interesting, but I hadn’t traveled all the way to Auburn to talk shop. While the librarian was photocopying (GAD I hate the word now), I wandered about the public room and found a binder full of material that was a gold mine for me. Cayuga Historian Ruth Probst’s transcriptions of the Village of Cayuga Records. Ruth was the quintessential historian. A virtual encyclopedia herself…”was” being the operative word. Ruth has joined her ancestors and I regret not having met her before I started my work, but she left behind a remarkably savvy and worthy effort. But, oh what she took with her….
It was closing upon lunch time – which as you know by now I forget to indulge in – and the office closes down. So I retrieved my purse and my poncho and in a naughty or was it saintly moment, I told the librarian that my iPhone was not only a still camera…but a video camera…AND a scanner and it had been visibly on the desk next to me the whole time I was working with the files. “Just food for thought,” I told her and reassured her that I was as Mary Tyler Moore as you can get and had observed the rules, but that was me…. Out into the rain again and to the parking garage with my photocopy treasures, I decided to head to Fort Hill Cemetery.
I was a bit hungry and fished out an energy bar and washed it down with bottled water while I made my way to the old Gothic administrative building of Fort Hill. Greeted by the secretary, Kristen, who warmly welcomed me in to her office, I stood among the old burial records and books and found myself admiring the beautiful map of the cemetery…almost as tall as I am…that hangs on the wall behind her desk. She graciously stopped her work for my impromptu visit and explained the records to me…pulled some cards for me from the files secreted away in the walk-in safe and showed me the beautifully bound records books. I sat at the big table snugged against the stone wall and pulled out my iPhone and took pictures…with permission, of course. After the visit at the Cayuga historian’s office, I felt a bit wicked even so. The topics of conversation wove in and out of Auburn’s history and that of my family and I shared my findings about Fort Hill’s predecessor, North Street Cemetery. Secret burials and cholera. Remarkably I knew so very little about Fort Hill and she began to share her knowledge with me. I could see she had work to do and I had taken up her time when she suggested that I purchase “Auburn’s Fort Hill Cemetery” compiled by Lydia J. Russell. She retrieved a fresh copy for me and for $16.50 I had a lovely little publication to take back with me for background research. It was time to leave…back in to wet weather that had gone from steady rain to clinging mist.
For the first time, I went beyond the usual visits to my grandparents’, Sarah Leona Penird and Albert H. Martin, graves in Fort Hill. “Hey, Grandparents.”
I drove and walked the 22 acres marveling at the stately monuments of Auburn’s notable families. Some were soaring edifices, columns and obelisks of amazing craftsmanship and intended to impress. It was misty and comfortably cool. A perfect atmosphere for the experience. I recognized a good number of the names…some of them my Tyler family members. One Tyler monument that I came upon was more marvelous than all the towering stone tributes. Fort Hill is not one hill, but a collection of them. Steep hills. I was mindful as I walked about the cemetery…careful of each footfall because the grass was wet and the ground so soggy as to defy even the most careful mountain goat…which I am not. I gave up walking at one point and drove slowly along the winding, curving road and happened upon the tombstone of Almyra Doty Pierce. She was the daughter of Jason Martin Doty and Anna Tyler. Anna Tyler was the sister of my maternal 3rd greatgrandfather, Lonson Tyler. Along side Almyra is the monument of her daughter, Helen and son-in-law, John Llewellyn Tyler. Oh, the Tylers were still marrying cousins even then. The monuments are lovely and modestly impressive, but that wasn’t the boggling aspect. Wedged at the very edge of a high rise of earth, one would expect them to come popping out of the hill at any given moment. I still ponder how they were put in the ground…and managed to be kept there. At those uneasy thoughts, I turned off my hazards and made my way out of the cemetery…back to the hotel…a martini and a salad…a hot shower and a good night’s sleep.
Breakfast with friends! I keep track of my high school chums on FaceBook and know that they gather once a month for breakfast so I had planned my research trip around that time to join them. Though the skies continued to be gray and promising to rain, I left my poncho in the back seat of my car and joined my friends for a couple of hours of coffee and reminiscing and catching up with news of grandbabies and retirement challenges and joys..keeping the ‘who died’ to a minimum. We sang Happy Birthday to one of our friends with great gusto and took a group photo before we all dashed off to our lives. It went so quickly, I wanted to snatch their car keys and hold them hostage for another hour or two.
I had an unscheduled afternoon ahead of me that I had saved for spontaneity. I drove the entire way around Owasco Lake. That was a first for me. I am a Cayuga Lake kid. Before I was born my paternal grandmother had a summer cottage on Owasco Lake and rented ‘camps’ along the lake for summer visitors. A picture of her with my father and my two older brothers sitting outside her cottage hangs on my wall. It is black and white and curiously formal and devoid of cheer like the somber weather that followed me around the lake and colored everything in shades of gray.
I stopped at Green Shutters on White Bridge Road and chatted and dallied with locals…ate a hot dog, fries and a root beer along the lake while listening to the 1961 hit “Blue Moon” sung by the Marcels play on the jukebox. It was still early and going back to the hotel was not an option. I was fourteen again and immune to the cholesterol and salt and sugar in my lunch. It was Saturday and there were no afternoon hours at Seymour Library for researching historians. After considering my options and observing the lift in the clouds, I drove back to Lakeview Cemetery to see how Bill was doing with the clean up. Maybe I might be able to see what monuments were effected and record them before whatever fate was to befall them in the process.
This time I drove from the opposite direction and it provided an entirely different perspective . In for a penny…I found my way via the side entrance and began thoroughly walking the pioneer section to inspect the damage and the progress of removing the debris. Clearly it was going to take more than one old farmer and a middle-aged man with a chainsaw to get the job done. I peered into the largest fallen tree and could only make out a single obelisk still standing and tightly wedged in among the huge limbs. The canopy was so dense that there was simply no way to tell if anything else survived the crush or if the obelisk is standing on its base.
I will go back to findagrave and see what is posted…and my notes from visits over the years to make sure no information I have is lost…that may be the only thing left in that area of the cemetery after the old giant is removed…my notes and some photos.
Union Springs is just a short drive south of Cayuga and I had one more cemetery to visit. The sun was peeking through and shafts of light were finding their way to brighten the lake. The waters looked blue again instead of leaden gray. I had just found Chestnut Hill Cemetery for the first time and began to drive in when my cell phone rang and it was the Newfield historian from Tompkins County. Did I have time to come down for a quick visit? I pulled over and chatted with him for 20 minutes and though I really wanted to make the trip down and spend time, I had used up my energy and was ready to get back to the hotel and get some rest before the four and a half hour drive home the next morning.
At one time or another I could run rings about those many years my junior, but these days I respect the limits put upon me by the passing of time. That doesn’t stop my historian spirit from chafing at those limitations, but it does provide me with an excuse for another field trip. Back to Cayuga Lake and home.
Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher
A Note To My Readers: Today I decided to begin the process of developing a list of my direct ancestral lines -an index of sorts- from the first European to step off a ship and on to the New World. I regard the list of names as passengers who ride time through a wormhole…and I am along for the ride.
a Martin, Purdy, Penird, Curtis/Curtice, Carwithyn, Case, Curry, Learn, Jennings, James, Bowker, Roberts, Powers, Colwell, Frear/Freer, De Lay Haye, Le Roy, Van Bommel, Mynderse, Louw, Heermanse, Persen, Theuynes, Pierson, Gould, Richardson, Wellman, Willmarth, Billington, Myers, Van Kleeck, Bennett, Tobey, Jenne, Dawson, Hobbs, Garfield, Lambert, Chancy, Gunn, Williams, Van Dorn, Smith (two lines), Irwin, Davenport (two lines), Moulthrop, Street, Halle, Woodward, Hunt, Longstreet, Woertman, Briggs, Graford, Schenck, Shubber, Hinckley, Bliss, Brokaw, Ingersoll, Weyburn, Bratton, Wilson, Rowley (two lines), Green(e), Tyler, Downing, Robinson, Rowland, Hill, Franklin, Palmer, Coleman, Titus, Hoag, Germond, Wright, Searing, Dickinson, Bartlett, Elliott, Fuller (two lines), Johnson, Potter.
I am them. They are me.
Among them are sea captains and privateers, physicians, preachers, farmers, innkeepers, tailors, stonemasons, teachers, canal ‘boatmen’, bootmakers, theater owners, haberdashers, seamstresses, surveyors, merchants, carriage makers, master painters, carpenters, a stenographer, speculators, abolitionists, suffragettes, a politician or two, a murderer (Mayflower passenger, John Billington), Quakers, Mayflower passengers, Huguenots, Revolutionary War soldiers and Civil War soldiers.
The paths and places have taken me from England and Holland, France and Germany to the New World…Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and New Jersey to the nexus of New York State from the earliest days of New Amsterdam, the settlers along the upper Hudson Valley, post Revolutionary War military tracts and the westward movement along the Erie Canal system to central and western New York. I listened as my ancestor, Reverend John Robinson, preached to Separatists in the home of his friend, William Brewster in Scrooby and led them from England to the streets of Leiden, Holland.
It was not without a bit of interest that I discovered that my paternal 9th great grandfather was Mayflower passenger, John Billington, who was a thorn in the side of the Puritans, a nuisance to Captain Miles Standish and an aggravation to Governor Bradford. In 1630, when he was forty years of age, he was tried and hung for the murder of John Newcomen. The first recorded execution in the New World. While reading the accounts of John Billington, I found scholarly studies about his existence and fate including the earliest work, the famous “Mourt’s Relation,” written in 1622 by William Bradford’s cousin George Morton who like John Billington was a Separatist to the latest by Josh Clark, “How Stuff Works, Who Was America’s First Murderer?“ Some concluded that his decidedly different opinions earned him an unjust outcome. It was documented that young Newcomen was a poacher…a serious crime when survival was so dear and declared a crime punished by death. He had been warned to cease his criminal activity more than once. Billington, who was no marksman especially with such a crude weapon as was had in those days, shot to warn the young man, but instead wounded him. Newcomen fled into the woods and was found bled out. A quick trial and execution, the Billington properties taken over by the colony, wife and children put out to service and Standish and Bradford had rid themselves of the “vulgar knave”. One of my fellow descendants, a law school student, had taken on ‘the defense of John Billington’ as an academic piece and fascinated me enough to delve into the Bradford papers myself. I can credit my grandfather with teaching me that written history is at best a fascinating trail of human life and at its least…propaganda.
It was interesting to compare the two men…Robinson and Billington…both my 9th great grandfathers….and to note that they both rebelled against an established authority with two decidedly different outcomes.
Like dandelion seeds taken by a breeze I have followed my ancestors to the rough and rowdy days of Deadwood City, pioneering the plains of Nebraska and taming the wildernesses of Michigan and Wisconsin after a long and difficult
overland trip in Conestoga wagons. With all the family’s worldly goods loaded into wagons, the oxen followed the old Indian trails through the densely wooded Endless Mountains of northern Pennsylvania and we arrive at the great Susquehanna. Poling the flat boats along low waters, we travel northward to the Chemung system of the southern tier of New York State and build a log cabin at the base of Taughannock Falls. Fleeing religious and political persecution and the devastating loss of my family from the Black Plague, I packed up my only surviving child and make a life with other French Huguenots along the upper Hudson River. From the mighty Hudson, sturdy Quakers carry me along the newly built Erie Canal system to settle on the shores of Cayuga Lake. Before the building of the Panama Canal I ride with impatient passengers on trains struggling through the malaria ridden isthmus to reach the promise of gold in California. I sail on the sloop, Keziah, to the deepest parts of the Atlantic in search of sperm whales.
Countless journeys await me and some individuals I know better than others. Beyond the clinical names, dates and locations. Some were so well documented by their activities, or a published biography or genealogy that it was a short step into their lives with a quick familiarity. Some were so available to me by my mother’s stories that it was as easy as sharing a glass of lemonade on a pleasant Saturday afternoon. And some I had to work for. What genealogists refer to as the dreaded ‘brick wall’. In fact, there are a few that remain in that list and most are my female ancestors. Nothing is more gratifying than identifying an individual and rescuing them from that list and exploring history with them.
On occasion someone is searching for their ancestor and we find each other to share information, photos and memorabilia and declare ourselves “cousins”. That has happened to me several times and without equivocation, one of the best experiences to have as a genealogist.
Finding family. And fellow passengers.
Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher
A Note to My Readers: So much for soundex. I mean, let’s face it, it can only go so far and sometimes too far giving you a plethora of odd results. My fifth great grandfather is Samuel Weyburn. Sam finally settled on spelling his surname as Weyburn after generations of Wiborn(e) and Wyborn(e) ancestors. And I learned to use variations of the name working through the research. Soundex was pretty responsive to the whims of spelling and so the search results were decent enough. Just decent. Like most genealogists, I am a greedy goose and I want more than a decent amount. I decided to forgo the crutch of technology and use my own brain and begin to change my research strategy.
What did I know about Samuel Weyburn besides his name?
Samuel Fletcher Weyburn’s genealogical publication “Weyburn-Wyborn genealogy: a history and pedigree of Thomas Weyburn of Boston and Scituate, Massachusetts, and Samuel Weyburn of Pennsylvania with Notes on the Origin of the Family in England and Several Branches in Kent County in Particular”, copyrighted in 1911, provides the researcher with a glimpse into what he found as he went through old documents. Mentions of our common ancestor with spellings of Samuel Waburn and Weaburn settled me back into the job of using different spelling options as I poured through archival material myself. A tip of the hat to S. Fletcher Weyburn’s hundred year old research and using the variations he documented, I dug deep into Pennsylvania Archives and found the muster rolls of the Eighth Battalion of Cumberland Pennsylvania and Samuel serving under Captain Robert Samuels.
Of course, the surname variation is something we all expect to see in our research. It occurred to me as I read through the old archives that first name variations can trip you up as well. Even a simple name like Samuel. I found Sam, of course, but then Sam’l popped up from time to time and it occurred to me that I had to broaden my thinking and be prepared to find my ancestor as S., Sam, Samuel, Sam’l, Wiborn, Waborn, Waburn, Weaburn, Wyborn, Wayburn, Wyburn and even Wibron…a transcription error that I almost missed.
As a primary research parameter, Samuel Weyburn, was obviously not a good option. Going to the biography that I had assembled, I decided to use life events, dates and places as the primary parameter and to use his surname variation as a second qualifier. He was from Connecticut and he migrated to Pennsylvania where he served in the militia and participated in the Pennemite War. His wife was Jane Bratton from Juniata, Pennsylvania. In the late 1780′s they migrated to the head of Cayuga Lake with their seven children including my 4th great grandmother, Elizabeth Weyburn (Ingersoll) and where Samuel and his oldest son, Samuel had built a log cabin at the base of Taughannock Falls. Where he fought a bear.
A New York State Historical Marker sits at the trail entrance commemorating when Samuel Weyburn rescued Abner Tremain during a blizzard. And there is the 1790 Federal Census…the very first one, that has Samuel Wayburn and his family living in what was then geopolitically Chemung, Montgomery County, New York. In 1794 New York State land records show that Samuel Weyburn bought 150 acres from Abner Kidder in Ovid in what is now Seneca County. His probated will records are archived in Waterloo, Seneca County, New York where he is Samuel Weyburn. As is the simple inscription on his monument in Lakeview Cemetery in Interlaken, New York.
Reading and researching old history books about Pennsylvania and the Connecticut Yankees that settled the Susquehanna Valley, I found Samuel with Weyburn spelled in a number of ways and serving with Captain Samuels and the activities of the Paxton Boys. “A History of Wilkes-Barre, from its First Beginnings to the Present Time, Including Chapters of Newly Found Early History of Wyoming Valley, volume II” compiled by Oscar Jewell Harvey in 1909 lists Samuel Weyburn “or Wibron or Wybrant” as one of the eighty-nine Susquehanna settlers who were ‘inmates’ of Fort Durkee.
Of course, no Boolean online tricks there. I was back to the days of S. Fletcher Weyburn, my second cousin 3 times removed. Back to turning pages and comprehensively reading books and footnotes and bibliographies which lead to more books. I even own a few now. Hard copies. Early editions. A bit of an expensive indulgence, but then I don’t like foie gras and champagne so I am good with that. Besides…I gained an enormous understanding of the Scots-Irish that came from Norwich, Connecticut and claimed the Susquehanna Purchase in Pennsylvania and the colonial tug of war between the Yankees and William Penn’s Quakers. They were a particular thorn in the side of Ben Franklin, but as England along with their native American allies and the colonials began to clash, the two groups found their common interest and joined forces.
And amidst the militia men I find Sam Weaburn and his brother-in-law, Edward Bratton. I close my eyes and say “Weyburn” and imagine that Captain Samuels was spelling Private Samuel Weyburn…Weaburn. And in each case, it is the ‘soundex’ of an individual way back in 1781 that gets me there. And so it goes with enumerators and clerks, authors and any one who could put pen to paper…or keyboard to cyberspace. And now we have to worry about voice recognition.
Author’s Note: I will be back in central New York this summer haunting libraries, historical societies, and pioneer cemeteries. As always, I will take some time to enjoy Cayuga Lake and surrounds…where I was born and where Samuel Weyburn settled over 150 year ago. The journey back to his Pennsylvania and Connecticut days up until now has been by the written word and I plan for a field trip armed with the combined work of S. Fletcher Weyburn and a number of old history books, a handful of documents and the sure knowledge that I will be challenged with creative spellings. But then that is the fun of it, isn’t it. The ‘aha’ moment.
Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher
A Note To My Readers: Family historians have a penchant for heirlooms and many of us are fortunate to be the keepers of family treasure. Some of us haunt antique stores searching for a talisman of the past. Perhaps great grandpa was a cobbler and and a vintage shoe last calls out to you from a shelf and you take it home to remind you of him. Perhaps a Saratoga trunk with a stranger’s name. Deborah Chase.
I always marvel at those folks who have seemingly endless family heirlooms still in their possession. I have been reading old wills from the 1800′s which spell out the usual estate holdings followed by the distribution of goods and money. In those formal documents the trail of an heirloom exists. After all, these vintage things that we possess today were inherited down a line and have a history. Practical, personal and human.
The heirloom centerpiece of what I have belonged to my great grandmother, Elizabeth A. Williams Purdy Smith. Her marriage bible…the family bible…from 1867 and its companion pieces tucked away in its pages. Tintypes and cabinet cards, yellowing obituaries, handwritten birth, marriage and death notations.
And her rosewood parlor chair…delicate and small with a horsehair filling. It crunches when the seat is touched. I have recovered it a couple of times. It’s original ivory white silk cover was deteriorated and worn when I received it from my late Aunt Elizabeth’s belongings. I wished I had kept a scrap of the silk, but I was young when I reupholstered it the first time and what did I know about such things. I kept the horsehair fill though…it…spoke to me, I guess.
My mother told me of a stack of letters “from a loved one” that my great grandmother kept bundled in a blue silk ribbon and a marble topped table that sat in her parlor with the Brussels carpet. Her grandmother would carefully untie the silk ribbon and read aloud the contents of the letters while my mother sipped tea. Ceremoniously the letters would be tucked back in the envelopes….the ribbon neatly tied and Grandma Smith would finally pour her own cup of tea. My mother knew that parlor and could recall every detail of it right down to the marble top table and the lovely patterned carpet. It was because of the recall of my mother that the words from the 1887 will of my great great grandmother’s sister, Deborah Van Dorn Chase, leaped out at me when I read them.
“I give and bequeath to my grand neice (sic) Libbie Johnson the sum of four hundred dollars and the following named goods one Piano one parlor bedstead with high top one common bedstead one cane bottom rocking chair three can bottom chairs one marble top table eighteen yards brussells carpet and one Syrtoga (sic) trunk said property to be paid to her at the age of twenty-one years to have and to hold during her lifetime and in case she should die without child or children then the aforesaid money & goods or what shall be left of them shall go to my sister’s daughter, Elizabeth Purdy or her heirs.”
Deborah had been been married twice, but had no children of her own. In her last will and testament she bequeathed money and goods to her sister, Mary Williams (my great great grandmother) and her daughter, Elizabeth Purdy (my great grandmother). Deborah also left money and goods to her grand niece Libbie Johnson . Libbie’s mother, Mary Lorinda Williams Johnson, would die one year after Deborah leaving the young girl without a mother. Her father, Captain Albert Johnson, was a highly educated man, a Civil War Veteran and a career internal revenue man with the Federal government. Albert left the little village of Enfield behind after his wife’s death, remarried and his career took him to New York City and Chicago. Libbie found maternal love and support in her Williams and Van Dorn families and at age 20 married her second cousin, William Van Dorn who was almost twenty years her senior. And she had a child. Julia Burton Van Dorn. Her heir. Libbie and William eventually had separate households. While William remained in Ithaca , Libbie and her daughter lived in Rochester where Libbie ran a boarding house and Julia worked at Kodak. As a young woman Julia played the piano and spent many afternoons in my great grandmother’s Ithaca parlor serving tea. A parlor with a marble top table and Brussels carpet.
It might be a leap to think my great grandmother’s table and carpet might be the ones mentioned in Deborah’s will…especially because they were willed to Libbie Johnson, but I do wonder. And then there is the trunk. My mother never mentioned a trunk and she had a memory for those details so it leaves me to think that Libbie passed the trunk on to her daughter, Julia. Julia Burton Van Dorn became the wife of John Fulmer Davis in 1925 in Trumansburg, a small town near Ithaca, New York. Her father, William had died in 1922 and it is reasonable to think that she and her mother returned to settle William’s estate. Libbie and the newly weds moved to Binghamton, NY where Libbie’s father, Albert Johnson, had earlier retired and left a small estate upon his death in 1920. Julia and John Davis had no children. When Julia died in 1993, there was nowhere for the “Syratoga” trunk to go. The close family connection was long gone. My mother was the last of the Van Dorn Williams Purdy line to live in Ithaca and we had moved away in 1953. Mom never mentioned Julia and if there had been a relationship, she most definitely would include her in our afternoon trips down memory lane.
Perhaps the trunk ended up in an antique store in Binghamton. Perhaps a stranger treasures Deborah’s trunk. I hope so.
Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged antiques, Binghamton New York, Brussels Carpet, Enfield New York, Genealogy, heirloom, history, Ithaca New York, Purdy, Saratoga Trunk, Van Dorn, Williams | 1 Comment »