Kindred Spirits

A Note to My Readers:

I spent most of yesterday in the company of two historians who generously shared their knowledge of Ovid, Seneca county, New York and its history.  But it was the scope of the generosity that moves me to write about the spirit of Gail Snyder and Naomi Brewer.  As I have done in the past, I contacted the current Ovid Historian, Gail Snyder, before my trip to Ithaca, New York in order to establish a working relationship.  I was also given the name of the past Ovid Historian, Naomi Brewer and spoke with her as well.  After the two preparatory phone calls, I felt their energy and knowledge and was optimistic that I would learn “some” things to add to my historical research for my ancestral grandfathers, Samuel Ingersoll and Samuel Weyburn. 

Some Things

When I arrived at Gail’s Ovid home, I was greeted by Gail’s exacting preparations neatly set out on her kitchen island.  I, too, had brought my printouts to facilitate a smooth collaboration.  Highlighters, pencils, paperclips, a stapler…binders and local history books rounded out Gail’s collection of working tools.  We were off to a good start!  She had identified the burial information for both Samuels and their kin…emphasized them with the bright yellow highlighter and annotated in Gail’s handwriting.  I was impressed!

“Is that a pen you are using?”, she asked.  I had brought my own materials as I said…strictly to make notes on my own notebook.  Gail handed me a pencil and explained that people had a tendency to write in the old books without thinking.  Now I knew she was not only a capable historian…she was a smart archivist.  I thought I couldn’t admire her more at that point.

After Gail and I had gone over the work she had prepared and what I had brought with me, Naomi arrived.  She was a bit late, but as we learned later, the eighty-seven year old had stayed up late to enjoy the Olympics.  I felt slightly sheepish that I am twenty-one years her junior and I was asleep by ten…Olympics or not.  But I came to learn that this was Naomi…engaged and engaging.

And I was about to learn more than some things.  About history.  About life.

Part of historical research is to connect with your fellow family historians.  After all, we are in the business of history…people history.  Over the years I have developed some wonderful relationships.  Dynamic partnerships driven by the research and some that have that “old soul” quality added.

Our friendly discussion of Ovid and history turned to my research goals.  I was prepared to take away the well prepared printouts and books that I had purchased from the historical society and the information from interviewing Naomi, when Gail surprised me by asking, “Do you want to drive or should we all go together?” I couldn’t believe this most generous offer.  They were going to spend time with me…in Ovid..specifically in Sheldrake and TAKE ME to the old cemeteries and drive me through Sheldrake Point so I could understand where Samuel Weyburn owned his land in the late 1700’s.

The drive was a short one…down County Road 139…past Amish farms and wineries and toward the lake shore, but Gail and Naomi kept a running commentary of local history wafting back to me…pioneer names and tales filled my head.   Despite the nature of the rambling banter, these ladies were laser focused on my initial goal…to find the burial site of Samuel Ingersoll.  I had found an old monograph…written in letter form…by Nathan Townley which told of his 1919 visit to the old Sheldrake burying ground.  He noted that he found the stone of Samuel Ingersoll and his third wife, Jerusha amidst the brush and tangle.  He also said that he had had to bully his way through. In 1919.

The Ovid historian’s record book, “Cemeteries Between the Lakes”, confirmed my information so I was sure that the ladies would get me to the site and perhaps I might take a photo of the general area to archive the site…GPS mark it…and be grateful that I had accomplished “some thing”.

As background, Gail and Naomi told me that the old grounds had been cut back and cleared decades ago, but that it had not been touched again for some time.  In other words, we most likely would find nothing but brush and inaccessible grounds.  The good news was that Gail had been contacted by a young man who wanted to reclaim and restore the burial site and fashion a sign to mark the historical site.  Money is a factor…isn’t it always?…but perhaps by next spring, he will begin the work in earnest.

Sheldrake Cemetery

“Pull over here”, directed Naomi, our shotgun tour guide.  Gail eased her van to a lush green spot alongside the road and the two of us hopped out and crossed the road to the erstwhile clearing.  I hadn’t brought my cemetery kit…or worn sensible shoes.  I hadn’t thought to change or prepare…or bring my “snake stick”…so unlike me…everything was back in the trunk of my car at Gail’s home.  But then…in for a penny….I could take a bug bite or the pokes and scratches from the brush and brambles.  Adventure time!

Gail had put on her sneakers and plunged in ahead of me.  There were a handful of broken and fallen stones and the ground was not just uneven, it was unpredictably so.  Carefully, we made our way deeper into the glade and there in the middle clearing stood two beautiful stones…side by side.  Slightly tilted but barely so…legible and with fine carving of sunbursts and linear hatchwork.  Samuel Ingersoll and his third wife Jerusha Gaylord had waited in the abandoned burial grounds for one hundred and ninety-four years for Samuel’s granddaughter to pay her respects.

Samuel Ingersoll Monument
Sheldrake Cemetery

Needless to say, I was deeply moved, but when I looked up at Gail, I saw she was astonished as much as I was.

I photographed the site and made note of the GPS location…not that I needed it with the likes of Gail and Naomi around!  Gail and I made our way back to the van…Naomi ensconced in her shaded perch and we were off to explore the world of Weyburn.  Samuel owned land from what is today Footes Corner Road down to the lakefront area of Kidder’s Beach and bounded by Deerlick Springs Road to the south and Morgan Road to the north.  PRIME beach front property as I would learn.  There was a bit of modern day discussion of taxes and I wondered what the pioneer Samuel Weyburn would think of his homestead as it stands today…vineyards and cottages…and taxes and tourists.

More things WEYBURN

On our way to the recorded burial site of Samuel and his wife, Jane Bratton at Lakeview Cemetery in Sheldrake,  Gail and Naomi treated me to a slow drive through the Sheldrake area, pointing out the old homes…some “grand old ladies” of a bygone era and the family stories that eventually wound their way back to Naomi’s own.

The cemetery of Lakeview in Sheldrake is beautifully kept, surrounded by a wrought iron fence and towering trees and shrubs.  We followed the map displayed on the cemetery’s administration building and found the Weyburns listed as buried in “frgrd” which stands for free ground and evidently is the area were the pioneers are buried.

Samuel Weyburn Monument
Lakeview Cemetery

Amid the old stones…in various conditions…broken, worn…, but fairly well intact…stood the WEYBURN monuments…perfectly level and still legible and very much in the fashion of the INGERSOLL stones.  I couldn’t help but wonder if the same stone mason made the monuments.  The shapes are identical…the heights…and the stone material.  But it is the etching detail that causes me to make that assumption…sunbursts and linear hatchwork…

I had more than met my research goals and couldn’t imagine a better morning when Naomi reminded me about her story…”the resting place of Samuel Weyburn.”  Seems local lore was that Samuel had been buried on the edge of his property which is now on Footes Corner Road…”by the ditch and near the hedgerow” as Naomi explained.

We were off to Footes Corner Road!

We sat for a bit considering the site, but I knew that Samuel had initially been buried on his property first and re-interred in Lakeview.  His son, George, had taken care of that and it was noted in the Weyburn Family Genealogy.  In a way, I hated to take the edge off of Naomi’s humorous story, but it is still a good one with some truth in it and at the end of our discussion, we were all satisfied that Sam’s bones are in Lakeview.

And Naomi can keep telling the story of Samuel’s bones in the ditch by the hedgerow.

Take A Historian To Lunch

Many of my readers know about my “Take a Historian To Lunch” policy.  I did it on a lark in the early days of field researching…after a morning of work.  “Hey, can I take you to lunch?” kind of thing.  A thank you and some human time.  Sometimes I have a group of people that I work with and we arrange some lunch time for history talk.  And sometimes…I am the one who is surprised.  I certainly didn’t expect to have a full morning of wonderful company in my research, but after a morning of pioneer talk, discovery, and Ovid history, the ladies began to discuss where we could have lunch.

I was like driftwood along the lake…I went with the flow which found us at “O’Malley’s”.   We sat on the deck and continued our conversation just as easily as if we had all been friends for decades.  Lunch on the deck was an extended affair as Naomi talked of her childhood…swimming in the lake and riding her bicycle along the lakeside….no mean feat in the days when you didn’t have a bike with all of “those fancy gears” as Naomi pointed out.  We spoke about the old ferries that traveled the lakes and the days when the lake froze.  Our lunch was long gone and cleared and we sipped our water, caught some afternoon sun and listened to the encyclopedic tales of Naomi.

But eventually it was time to go…Naomi had things to do…and she had been up late watching the Olympics…Gail was preparing for some folks coming from Utah to research Ovid and had to tackle more research.  And me?  My brain was full to bursting with information and I had to get back to the cottage to quiet the buzz…put it down in writing and make good sense of it all.

I have been doing this for a long time, but I don’t remember more generous and enthusiastic people as Gail and Naomi.  If I had a hundred years, I could not thank them enough for their kindness and invaluable help.  I would never have had such a profound understanding of the land of my forefathers.  I certainly would have missed out on one of the best research experiences.

And certainly I would have missed out on two kindred spirits.

Thank you, Gail and Naomi!  I can only hope that my future field work is as enjoyable and fruitful as the day I spent with you both.  And I wish that ALL historians could experience the same!

One thought on “Kindred Spirits

  1. Deb, what a magical day you had! I feel like I was right there with you enjoying your discoveries and newfound friends. How very exciting! – Sue

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