Scarlet Fever in Scipio

A Note to my Readers:  Family historians…genealogists if you will…are noted in the big world as those that plot lineage.  Who begat whom and all of that.  Except that is just the tip of the iceberg.  We are on the hunt for THE STORY.   What was their life like?  And so we go beyond all of the names, dates and places and visit HISTORY…or HERSTORY.  So much of what surrounds an individual is the greater drama with an interesting cast of characters.  Context.  Life.

Hoodoo.  Hemstitching.  Healing.

In the spring of 1915 my grandmother’s brother and his family thought they had struck gold.  Due to the Dreythaler family’s series of misfortune, their farm became available for a pittance and Floyd William Penird snapped up the opportunity to cultivate the rich Scipio soil.   His wife, Emma Hurd, and their infant son, Floyd were moved into the farmhouse and they began to make it their own.  The wood floors were scrubbed on hands and knees and the old paper was ripped from the walls to brighten up the house.

Newspaper Auburn NY Citizen 1915 Scarlet Fever in ScipioIt wasn’t long before the tiny baby was in the terrifying grip of scarlet fever.  Floyd and Emma sent for the village doctor – F. C. Smith – and prayed that their child would survive.  The little one, who was their only child, healed, but their tale put fear in the hearts of parents in the Auburn area with news of the doctor’s theory of just how Floyd, Jr. contracted the dreaded disease.

The month of May had been a hectic time for the village doctor -reducing fractures and stitching wounds.  Farmer Selah Allen was dragged some distance on the back lot of his farm before his runaway team came to halt.  Allen had suffered scrapes and bruises and a fractured arm which Dr. Smith treated.  He had just completed the needed care for farmer Allen, when he was called to the home of David Meyers of Fleming Hill “to do a job of hemstitching on Meyers’s head.”  Meyers had been placing his horse in its stall after a long day of work, when the creature spooked, reared up and struck him in the head with his hooves.

In a few hours Smith was called to treat young carpenter Will Bowen when his chisel slipped off a piece of hard wood and struck him in the thigh inflicting a six inch long gash more than an inch deep.  He had lost a great deal of blood by the time the now weary Doc Smith reached Bowen’s Fleming Hill home.

His next stop was at the Penird place to care for the ailing infant.

During that time black measles was making its way through the community, tuberculosis was a serious problem…infantile

Dr. Frank C. Smith

Dr. Frank C. Smith

paralysis would crop up within a year or two…followed up by the impact of the world wide plague…Spanish flu.

Astonishing to think about what Auburnians and their neighbors had to deal with just about one hundred years ago.  And what the life of a country doctor was during that time of house calls in a horse and buggy world.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

In the Cool Shade of Sighing Willows

A Note to My Readers:  I get riled up when it comes to the loss of a heritage site.  That and when I run out of Nespresso…but that is another story and much more easily remedied.   Every year I stop in my hometown of Auburn, New York to research and spend time in the field…in the pioneer burials…updating my information and to assure myself that the old burial monuments have been saved from time and another central New York winter.  It inspires me that I can walk down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland and pop into an ancient burying ground dating back centuries and it is serene, well-kept and almost to a startling degree…intact.  Conversely, it irks me to no end when I visit a cemetery in the city where I grew up and the quintessential pioneer cemetery has gone to ruin through vandalism and frankly neglect over a paltry century and a half.  Oh…not total neglect.  It is worse than that.  Begrudging sums were thrown at it over the last century where one sexton had to beg for $50 to tackle the care of the monuments and grounds over a year’s time.  Prisoners were utilized periodically to mow and weed as an economic ‘solution’ and every half-hearted effort added insult to injury.  After all, these were dead people that we cannot tax and we have things to do.  Not in one thing that I have read after 1870 thus far.. save one article in 1876.. shows respect and the sense of heritage that North Street Cemetery represents.  Fallen stones were carted away and graves left unmarked for eternity because…well because.  Lost.  Forever.  I cannot restore or reclaim these indignities and disregard for pioneer history, but I can raise awareness and inoculate today’s citizens with a good dose of HERITAGE MATTERS.


Auburn, New York has a rich pioneer history established by a few brave souls after the Revolutionary War.   Some of those souls are my Tyler descendants, headed by Gideon Tyler and his wife, Phebe Elliott, who migrated from the stony

Gideon Tyler Tombstone in North Street Cemetery

Gideon Tyler Tombstone in North Street Cemetery

fields of Connecticut to find a new life surrounded by the rich soil and plentiful fresh waters of central New York.   Gideon and his grown son, Amos, expanded their holdings and bought land in the Aurelius military tract in 1796 and the Tyler sons, William (my 4th great grandfather), Elliott, Warren and Salmon began to settle in and enlarge the family.  Early records show the existence of Tyler Springs, where Gideon and his family established their grist mill in Sennett and where settlers came from far and wide to process their grain.  Amos and his son, Nathaniel established an inn in Sennett that was run by several of his descendants.  Generations of Tylers played a role in the history of Cayuga County and can boast a Mayor of Auburn as one of them…James Elliott Tyler.

As a Tyler descendant and family historian, I can go on and on about the Tylers and their fellow pioneers because the history is that deep and rich.  And I am sure that there is much more to learn.  Like all of us who celebrate our heritage, I find it comforting to pay my respects in ancestral burying grounds…taking a moment to thank them for their courage and sacrifice.  And their neighbors and fellow settlers who made it a true community.  Because of these humble souls, I am fortunate to call this home.

Gideon’s youngest son, Gideon was the first burial in 1796 on what was then the Olmstead property before the formal establishment of it as a designated public burying ground.  The Olmsteads and the Tylers and the Dibbles were all Connecticut Yankees from Sharon and settled the area at the same time.   As a member of the First Congregational society of the village of Auburn, Gideon and his sons, Amos, Warren, Elliott and Salmon along with almost one hundred others paid a subscription to the trustees to establish North Street cemetery in 1810.   Subscribers included Noah Olmstead, Silas Hawley, Samuel Crossett, Edward Stevenson, Abraham Bristol, Lyman Paine, Jacob Doremus, John C. Jeffries, Caleb Woodworth, Ashtabel Treat, Jr., Bradley Tuttle, Benjamin Ryard, David Hyde, Elijah Esty, E. & H. Hills, Hart, Burt, Rufus Wells, John H. Cumpston, David Brick, Israel Reeve, John S. Burt, J. L. Richardson, Daniel Grant, Frederic Young, R. & T. Patty, Nathan Smith, David Clapp, Arthur Miller, Benjamin Polhemus, Henry Polhemus, Henry Amerman, John Demaree, William W. Cook, George Hudson, Peter Sedam, Lemuel Spoony, Zenas Goodrich, John Sawyer, William Court, Noah Taylor, James Rood, David Storke, James Murry, David Smith, Jeremiah Sutton, William Boyles, James Wilson, Aaron Hayden, David Eastman, Ambrose Olmstead, Ashbel Treat, Ezekial Goodrich, Noah Gilbert, Moses Gilbert, James Baker, Elijah Baker, Willys Lathrop, James W. Bridges, Elisha Patchin, Isaac Patchin, Timothy Doty, Matthew Rockwell, John Haire, Abraham Carpenter, Solomon Tibbits, Thomas Thut, Abraham Bonker, William Carpenter, Abraham Drake, Edward Allen, David Murray, Elisha Fitch, Jr., David Snow, Amos Bowen, Samuel Bonker, Jehiel Clark, Joseph Cole, David Horoer(sic), Robert Dill, H. & J. Pace, Seth Kruger, Ephraim Hammond, Isaac Camp, Thomas Hibberd,  Silas Olmstead, Friend Phelps, Abner Beech, George Smith, Nicol Parker, David Brinkerhoff, E. T. Throop, Oliver Lynch, R. Porter, Chancy Dibble, E. Williams, Jr.

Warren was the only Tyler to move west to Illinois with his wife, Diadema Hatch and their children.  Though there is no burial record for Salmon Tyler, it is fair to surmise that he was buried in North Street Cemetery or in Throopsville Cemetery where his children are buried.  Gideon and Phebe and sons, William and his wife, Abilena Bartlett and Amos and his wife, Elizabeth Goodrich and Phebe Tyler Stewart  are recorded buried in North Street.   Only the monuments of William and Abilena Tyler and Phebe Tyler Stewart, Gideon and Phebe’s youngest child, are missing…probably because they were buried further back and subject to vandalism.  Daughter Deborah and her husband, Timothy Doty settled in Sennett and is buried in Throop.  Mary “Polly” married Thomas Barnes and settled in Throop where she is buried.  Their stones remain though Deborah’s has fallen.

But of course, the focus is on the history of North Street Cemetery.


North Street Cemetery NYS Historical Marker

North Street Cemetery NYS Historical Marker

The first time I visited the North Street Cemetery I was armed with an old list and I was so excited when I approached the wrought iron fence along North Street.   Peering through the fence, the first stones I spotted were the Tylers…Gideon and Phebe.  I couldn’t believe my good fortune.  These were the earliest stones so as I stepped into the cemetery, I had high hopes to find an amazing pioneer burial grounds.   Then I walked a few feet in and my heart dropped.  It became worse as I walked to the back of the cemetery and the poor condition of the few remaining monuments told the story along with a vast emptiness in what had been a significant burying ground.   Hundreds of pioneers lay at my feet with nary a stone monument.  My research told me so…but my eyes…tearing up…told me an unpleasant truth.

I needed to know why and set about to learn what I could about how a community’s earliest cemetery could come to such a state.

The “haunting of North Street Cemetery” just may have more to do with bad politics than any other single reason.

I have posted a few times in the past about North Street Cemetery…its historic significance and its inexplicably deplorable condition. It must be something in the air…undefinable…but definitely contagious to the politicians over the years. At one time the city fathers and citizens took pride in the cemetery and in 1850 it was planted with lovely trees and flower beds and pathways that had benches strategically placed for those that cared to walk the cemetery to visit departed family members or just for an afternoon stroll.  The last few words tell us that long before the 1850 clean up and improvements that the cemetery was allowed to fall into disrepair.


The Common Council are improving the North Street Cemetery by removing the brambles and surplus shrubbery therefrom, laying walks between the tiers of graves, and grading the surface of the ground to as near a level exits natural conformation will admit.  This will be an excellent improvement upon the whole, if the walks shall be graveled; yet it will have something more of a garden-bed appearance than is really tasteful.  It will admonish our citizens who have friends buried there to re-adjust their monument to suit the modern walks and grading, so that upon the whole the Cemetery will present a far better appearance than it has for several years.

In 1851 Fort Hill was opened for business and North Street slid back into deterioration though determined loved ones continued to bury their family members there.

North Street belonged to the entire community and thus it had a potter’s field where indigents and unclaimed bodies from the prison were given a ‘decent’ burial.  Burials continued for decades until the sexton came to Auburn politicians with the news that the cemetery was ‘full’ in 1873.  I understand that at one time, desperate loved ones buried their dead on top of another family member in the middle of the night because they were refused a permit.

Dozens of Civil War veterans are buried there and monuments had been installed for each after the passage of a federal law in 1873. Auburn Police chief and Civil War veteran Charles W. Jennings and my great grandmother’s brother organized the effort for the area with Charles H. Shapley and Thomas J. Bell. Even with his good efforts, three Civil War soldiers’ graves –men of the 193rd- were found with worn and cracked wooden ‘boards’ at the east end ‘among the disregarded graves.’  Reading the accounts of their efforts, these men and fellow veterans, walked the Cayuga County cemeteries on a mission for over three years…and they missed these three because they were in an unkempt area of North Street cemetery.

The Auburn NY Morning Dispatch, September 12, 1886 decries

In the cool shade of sighing willows, which fan breezes laden with the sweetness of clover over the many disregarded graves in the east end of the North street cemetery, on a slight eminence well- populated with the dead, three plain round-topped board, well cracked from exposure to the sun and weather, designate the location where three of the 193d. who resigned their lives to their country’s defense, are resting.  They are inscribed:  “L. CRONK. Died April 5, 1863 Aged 16 years. Co. G, 193 N.Y. Vol.”  “R. CROSSET. Died April 3, 1865. Aged 17 years, 193 N.Y. Vol.”  G. ALLEN, Volunteer, Veteran 193”.

Strangers, foreigners, in these parts, if they gazed upon these crude, sickly memorials would be apt to recall the oft-quoted adage that the Republics are ungrateful.  There is no excuse for this condition of affairs, however.  The government has generously provided granite stones to mark the tombs of the fallen dead, and it does seem as if the veterans should interest themselves in procuring more imposing headstones for their form(er) comrades.

Charles W. Jennings is buried in North Street Cemetery in 1902 and today his veteran’s stone no longer marks his grave.  In fact, I had to refer to old burial records and a sexton’s hand-drawn map made in 1875 at the request of the Common Council and supplemented by the record book that began to be kept in 1881 to figure out where the Jennings family plot is located.  The last Jennings burial in North Street Cemetery was Charles’ sister, Harriet Jennings White, who died in 1944.  She was a devout Methodist who was active in her church and in fact saved it from burning to the ground.  She was also a beloved family member of my father’s family.  There is no way that she would have been buried in an unmarked grave, but like her other family members buried in North Street Cemetery…no stone exists.

The recorded statements of the politicians about its obvious deterioration boggle the mind. In a city council meeting in 1876, the disagreement over burials in North Street Cemetery became heated. It had been three years since it had been declared full and the desperate sexton was pleading for help.   Alderman Hudson and Alderman Wheeler (who would become mayor and the nemesis of Charles W. Jennings) saw no reason to invest in North Street Cemetery and that people could be ‘buried in the roadways’ thus eliminating the pathways throughout the cemetery. Mourners and undertakers carrying caskets would be forced to walk over the graves and between the narrow spaces of monuments. Keep in mind that by that time the cemetery was declared full and though today there are a paltry few left, it was dense with gravestones at that time.

Aldermen Perkins and Crocker and Rathbun fought the penurious pair and eventually additional land was purchased from Mr. Amizi Wood to provide additional proper burial space for Auburn’s citizens. The reported debate in a public council meeting gives a clue as to the resistance to expand. Wheeler stated that the

north street cemetery, comprising less than eight acres, had been occupied for the past 80 years. For 55 years of that time it was the exclusive burial ground for the entire city. Twenty-five years ago Fort Hill cemetery was started, and more recently the Catholic cemetery. Not one third of the lots on Fort Hill had been sold in 25 years.

It isn’t a small leap to understand that Fort Hill needed burial business and North Street was ‘old’ and no longer had the social panache and would be taking away ‘business’ from Fort Hill. A good number of folks preferred to be buried in North Street with their family members. Money and class might just be the culprits that found its way to the demise of a heritage site of Auburn’s pioneer families.

Why not have both the presence of new success while preserving the resting place of those that established the community? Why let one go to ruin?

Some communities have a core of individuals who understand and protect its heritage and for generations it shines through.  Did we never have that?  Or was it such a small group that it could only make an occasional difference?


Newspaper Auburn NY Citizen Frank Avery Skilton Obit1931 - 0050I am inspired by the late Frank Avery Skilton, a gentleman from Auburn with a great sense of history and with a particular fondness for North Street Cemetery.  He left behind a collection of personal papers that most surely would be uplifting and enlightening.  I followed Mr. Skilton’s Auburn activities for decades…his law career and his lectures on Mexico and Auburn’s history and genealogy.  And his railing against the powers that be…pleading to honor the pioneers of North Street Cemetery.  His editorials were full of passion and conviction that we not abandon our own honor.

When he died in January of 1931 at the age of 70, his citizen voice was silenced and he left behind a rich library of material that he had collected over the years.  After his death, his wife, Clare, also a genealogist, wrote an editorial about his extensive work and papers and books he left behind.  Among other important historical and genealogical organizations, Mr. Skilton was a trustee of the Cayuga County Historical Society…could he have willed his collection to them?    If that is true, it would be THE most important collection that they would have.  As I write this, it is the Fourth of July and I am itching to give them a call to find out if they have them in their archives.  And to tell them to guard them with their very lives because I am packing my bags and heading there the minute I hang up the phone!

This last article I found from 1950 pretty much sums up the political ‘disease’ that contributed to North Cemetery’s Newspaper Auburn NY Citizen Advertiser 9 June 1950  North St care criticizedcondition.  One man stood up to confront the City Council, Henry J. Barretts of 18 Jarvis Street.  The question is…Mr. Councilman Charles Parker, how can you walk THE pioneer cemetery of Auburn with its appalling condition and declare it well kept? And how in the world can you have the temerity to utter those words and ask your citizens to deny what is before their own eyes?  And Mayor Boyle..shutting down a concerned citizen…with a sense of honor…I have one word.  Shame.

Makes me want to dig up these foolish old buggers, ask them why and kick them in their…well whatever is left!  I am pretty confident we can find THEM….in Fort Hill Cemetery with perpetual care.

Author’s Note:   If I sound feisty, it is because we cannot turn back the hands of time and resurrect a building or restore a cemetery the size of North Street Cemetery from generations of inexplicable mistreatment.  With some decent money, expertise and willing hands…and a solid maintenance line item in Auburn’s budget…perhaps we can grant peace to the sighing willows and regain our heritage and civic pride and perhaps pay tribute to citizens like Frank Avery Skilton.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

-and daughter of Auburn, New York

A Port In A Storm

A Note to My Readers:  Organizing old photos….what a daunting task…when I came across these black and white photos taken by my brother Dave in Auburn, New York on October 22, 1954 one week after we had been in the direct path of Hurricane Hazel. The monster storm had made landfall in the Carolinas on Friday the 15th and moved up to New York State and hit Auburn during the afternoon, hammering us all through the night with winds up to 90 MPH.

Perrine Street

Perrine Street. Auburn, NY. October 22, 1954

Saturday was normally grocery shopping day and my family..with everyone else in the Northeast…had spent Friday night hunkered down listening to the world outside come apart. As soon as the adults thought it was safe, Dad made his way on foot to the auto parts business on East Genesee Street where he worked and Mom walked to the Mohican with my eighteen year old brother, my baby sister and me and we joined the other ladies and their children in line to get groceries. There was no electricity, but then there were no automatic open doors or cash registers that required electricity.  It was dim inside, but Mom knew the store from her years of shopping the aisles. She could have shopped it in complete darkness, I think. The Mohican ran out of change at one point so they could not provide change to their customers. My mother signed a piece of paper for our groceries. I was handed a black and white cookie for being patient and we went home. The next week when my mother went back for more groceries, she settled from the previous week’s shopping. All on trust.

I was seven years old at the time and there was no school that week. Auburn was a city of massive trees…oaks and elms.

North and Seymour Streets.  October 22, 1954

North and Seymour Streets. Auburn, NY. October 22, 1954

So many had fallen that it was weeks before you didn’t hear chainsaws or smell freshly cut wood. I remember walking to church the following Sunday and being lifted over fallen trees so we could get through. Men from the church had formed a line and the ladies and children were lifted over the debris. It was warm in the church, but we kept on our coats which I thought was quite wonderful. Even the grown ups were fidgety in church that day. I missed the sounds of the organ…it was an echoing creature in the big old church building on Exchange Street, but the congregation was in a grateful frame of spirit and the singing was full of energy.  The strains of the choir singing  “Onward Christian Soldiers” moved us to the pews of the old brick church.  

This was the Methodist church where as a historian and genealogical researcher  I would  learn  that from the early 1870’s my paternal great great grandparents, Daniel J. Jennings and Harriet James worshiped with their children.  Their daughter, Miss Lillian W. Jennings would marry fellow Methodist,  Henry A. Martin on July 16, 1884 in a ceremony conducted by the Reverend L. C. Queal and leave Auburn within days to live in Brooklyn, New York.   Henry’s parents, Albert S. Martin and Harriett Frear and their family were all in the member role in 1875 with the Jennings.

Jennings, Daniel M 33 Seymour St.

Jennings, Harriett M 33 Seymour St.

Jennings, Hattie S 33 Seymour St. Jennings,

Lillie S 33 Seymour St. Married Martin.

Martin, Albert S. M 13 1/2 Clark St., 60 Seward Ave.

Martin, Harriet C. S 13 1/2 Clark St. 60 Seward Ave

Martin, Harriet M. M 13 1/2 Clark St. 60 Seward Ave.

Martin, Walton S. S 13 1/2 Clark St. Rem. by C. Mar. 24, 1878

Martin, William A. S 60 Seward Ave

First United Methodist Church Membership List Summary “Circa 1872- 1885″ from the records archived at the Cayuga County Historian’s Office in Auburn, NY.

I sat next to Mrs. Glen Mosher that day. She ran the Sunday School and conducted the children’s choir…and wore fur coats…and sang like an angel.  My mother was in the big kitchen with the other ladies of the church assembling lunch for the congregation.  Big tables had been set up in the large hall with white tablecloths where plates of sandwiches and pickles and salad were served. After everyone cleaned up the church…the children, too…the men reformed the line and we made our way home. I thought that was the best Sunday church I ever went to.

WIKI – The hurricane made landfall in the Carolinas, and destroyed most waterfront dwellings near its point of impact. On its way to Canada, it affected several more states, including Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York, bringing gusts near 160 km/h (100 mph) and causing $308 million (1954 USD) in damage.

Deborah Martin-Plugh
Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

In Civil Defense of Root Beer Floats

After the events of the past few days, I was thinking…I don’t remember feeling so vulnerable as an American as I have since 9-11, but that isn’t true. In fact, I remember the Cold War era of my childhood and the air raid drills at school. Duck and Cover. It was an odd game to young children, but one look at stern Miss McDonald chilled even the most innocent heart. Bombs were never as scary as she was.

Then there was the day the Civil Defense ran an air raid drill in downtown Auburn just as I was leaving the dentist’s office. I was 12 years old and felt pretty wise for my age. Didn’t I go to the Saturday movie on my own? And ride the bus by myself! I just went to the dentist. On My Own, for heaven’s sake. But the adults were run-walking to the shelters with such a look of anxiety on their faces. It was a drill. Right?

Well, I turned away from the bus stop and began to walk home…the opposite direction from the shelter that was in the basement of W. T. Grant’s. Somehow heading toward that black and yellow sign and down into a basement with fearful adults made me want to go home to my mother. I was twelve and could take care of myself and besides old Miss McDonald wasn’t there to scowl at me. W. T. Grant’s was where I liked to sit at the soda fountain and savor a root beer float. They gave you two straws and you could make springs out of the wrappings. I would swing my legs while I sat on the stools at the counter and watch the hot dogs go round and round on the grill. Somehow root beer floats with two straws and air raids just don’t belong together.

Fallout ShelterAfter just three or four steps of my westward journey on Genesee Street, two firm, gloved hands had clamped down on my shoulders and put me back in the path of the scurrying grown ups. Turning my head I glimpsed up at the hard hat with the Civil Defense logo and figured the old man under it must be Miss McDonald’s twin brother. He wore the same look on his face…”This is not a game, little girl.” It was like being in rapids and I was pushed along despite my dread. Funny how I still remember the sound of leather soles on the steps in the echoing stairway and shiver.

Since at 12 the concept of time revolves around…time for school…time for church…time for breakfast, lunch and supper…time for bed…and I was too young for a watch…it seemed forever that we stood among the stacks of ‘emergency supplies’. Boxes and boxes with that terrible logo. No danger of a root beer float down here. As if we were hiding from some unseen invading force, the adults stood in small clusters and spoke in whispers. Their faces were oddly lit with a sickly yellow wash. There was a faint and unpleasant smell of floor wax, sweat and a light lavender perfume.

I felt homesick. I wanted my mother and HER clean smells of fresh starch and perfume. I wanted to laugh OUT LOUD and jump rope and to sit on the front porch when it rained. And I wanted to run up the stairs and sit at the soda fountain where everything smelled right.

The “All Clear” siren wailed and like salmon we swam upstream…up the steps…to the light…to Genesee Street where I broke away and headed west…homeward…and the adults found their original paths and assumed their light strides as if they hadn’t stood in a fallout shelter…in the semi-dark and with an uncertain boogeyman lurking in the shadows. Adults were baffling to me then. Maybe they still are…I know I wonder at myself sometimes.

I never spoke of it to my mother. A young widow doesn’t need her daughter’s fears added to the big worries she already had. So I adopted the behavior of the adults. I worried in the basement and headed for the sunshine when it was All Clear. But I never sat at the counter at W. T. Grant’s again. I took my root beer float reveries to the counter at F. W. Woolworth’s across the street and learned to ask for an extra straw.

They didn’t have a bomb shelter there.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

What’s In Your (Virtual) Wallet?

I made a pledge to myself regarding my upcoming research-vacation trip to central New York.  NO OVERBOOKING!   Yeah.  Right.  It just seems to happen to me.  Every time.  For the past four years I have scheduled a trip to Ithaca, New York,  the city of my birth and the nexus of my New York state family history.  I firmly set goals for myself and structure my research so it is fruitful AND enjoyable.  I mean who doesn’t love it when you come away with some valuable piece of information that one cannot access without a physical visit to a library or archival site.  Or learning from a local historian who is a walking encyclopedia.  God Bless ‘em.  And how about that amazing out-of-body experience of walking down the streets of your ancestors?

In this economy it is a special thing to be able to indulge in such an adventure.  We are all squeezing the proverbial penny…some of us with the intensity of our Scots blood.  All of us looking for free sources.  There are so many wonderful ones.   All of us stepping up and helping one another in the wonderful virtual community called social media…sharing on a level that would send genealogists of the past into an old fashioned swoon.  And all of us wishing…hoping…planning to find the money and time to make that research trip.

I almost…ALMOST…didn’t make any trip this year.  Spent the past year or two struggling to recover from debilitating pain due to nerve damage combined with the double nasty that we all are dealing with…a lousy economy that has us all holding our breath.  After a lot of tests…expensive ones…and bad ‘guesses’… one course of cortisone shots and like magic, the suffering ended.  I wish we could do the same for our politics and our economic condition.

Counted my coins…and with a “life is short” lecture to myself, I am planning TWO 2013 trips.   I started out simply at first…the basics.  Over a long weekend in June I am in Auburn, New York visiting friends from my youth and researching at the Cayuga County Museum of History and Art .  I miss my own history and reminiscing with school chums is just the ticket.  Besides…I am not getting any younger.  Working with museums has become a fun and intriguing sidebar to genealogical research.   The “things’ on display have taken on a whole new meaning…a serious human connection.  It is probably why I prefer the term “family historian” to genealogist.  It just has more weight it seems.

Over the summer I am back to the Ithaca area and gathering with historian friends I made last year.  Lunch fresco…with talk of history and writing.  A couple of pioneer cemeteries and a visit to the office of a small village town clerk and the Tompkins County History Center in Ithaca and the Cornell Library.   Evenings spent on the deck of my rental cottage…writing and having a glass of wine from one the local wineries along Cayuga Lake.  Some time with my kids and grandchildren sharing my day’s find and their discoveries..skipping stones on the lake and watching minnows swim around your legs.  Not bad.

I feel virtuous…darn near saintly with my restraint.   The research plan and itinerary for the Auburn trip is organized and the proper materials and tools are all set.  Appointments have been made and any fees noted and money has been set aside with a cushion for the ‘just in case’.  I found some places only accepted cash so I know when and where to bring enough.  My iPhone…my indispensable tool and sidekick works wonders in the field.  I GPS pioneer burials as iPhonewell as video and still photo record them.  The voice recorder comes in so handy.  The Facebook app allows me to pin where I am at.   My kids like to make sure their mother isn’t loafing off at Simeon’s  in Ithaca quaffing their most excellent Bloody Mary.   Since the iPhone serves multiple purposes, it has surely lightened the load of my backpack.   I still carry a notebook and pen.  Can’t break old habits.

Knowing me and the fact that life always throws some juicy plum in one’s path…I will find some impromptu diversions that MUST be done while I am there.

It happens every time.  It’s what keeps me going back.  That and the breathtaking beauty of the gorges…the deep blue of Cayuga Lake…the rise and fall of the glacier formed hills.  The wonderful people who have the same central New York twang that has never left me.  The whispers of my ancestors who call me home.

Author’s Note:  Every field researcher has their ‘kit’.   Their favorite method, materials and tools.  I started out with a trunkful of stuff to cover every contingency.  I still keep the cemetery research kit well stocked with what is needed for trekking and prepping…but the tripod is gone and the bulky camera equipment.  The snake stick-actually a hiking stick- is still there.  I call ahead on my cell phone…confirming appointments.  I input GPS coordinates to locate my meeting places and research sites…record voice memos…post on Twitter and Facebook…and Pinterest.   It’s all a virtual productive life in the field.  But…check my passenger seat for the dog-earred and worn notebook with the cheap pen clipped to the spiral…there you will find my most inner thoughts and fanciful doodles.  I wonder if it is a generational thing…or just plain human.

Fractious Horses and the Insane Prince of Oranges

Today I am cleaning up my files about my great great grandfathers…one in particular…Albert S. Martin.  He was the first Martin in our line to settle in Auburn, New York in 1875.  Albert was a boot maker by trade when they left Madison county.  He had plied his trade with his older brother, Hiram in Wayne county where Albert met and married Harriet Frear in 1849.  While remaining a cobbler, his occupation shifted to selling and repairing sewing machines and selling second hand goods.  He and Harriet raised their eight children in Auburn.  They belonged to the same Methodist Church I attended.

Somehow…somewhere along the way…the knowledge that my Martin family had lived in Auburn was lost to us.  I suspect my father knew, but as is true with all of his family history, I had to learn it through research.  His father had committed suicide when my father was five…his mother married twice more and I suspect all of that turmoil was packed away in his head…along with the family heritage.

And so I have been in search of my Martin genealogy and I suppose recent family history…the dark and light of it along with the names and dates.

Reading old documents…especially the old Auburn newspapers.  I found my great great grandfather’s display ads…A.S. Martin Union Springs AS Martin & Son Agents Ad June 1880.jpgand Sons…for his sewing machine business.  And there were the classifieds buying and selling second hand goods and expanding to repairing bicycles and lawnmowers.   On occasion there was a personal item in the social news…a visit from a relative…a church function…a Y.M.C.A speech to the young men of the community on being ‘humble’.

The Martins were well known merchants in Auburn with stores located at 136 Genesee Street and later 96 State Street and another on Clark Street.  A bicycle shop on Williams Street was run by son, William which was located right around the corner from the Genesee Street “Fancy Goods” store established by Albert’s daughter, Harriett Cornelia.

Everyone had business with the Martins at one time or another.  The men could repair just about anything and Harriet had a lovely shop with the best of laces and fabrics and the latest in French corsets.  William A. Martin’s bicycle shop proved to be the launch of future Martin descendents’ love affair with the automobile.  The Springer and Bench families had their roots with William Martin’s venture.  My uncle and my father spent their lives in the auto industry…both tinkerers and lovers of anything with wheels.

Auburn NY Bulletin Sat 30 Dec 1899 A S Martin Dislocates Collar BoneAlbert seemed to have trouble with the family horse and came away the worse for wear more than once.  He was tipped out of the sleigh on the corner of Genesee and State streets in mid November of 1886 and his horse had to be restrained before it could bolt down Auburn’s main street..overturned sleigh and all.  On December 30,  1899 71 year old Albert lost control of his horse-drawn wagon and broke his collar bone when his wagon collided with a hack parked in front of cafe on State Street.  Once again his horse proved to be a…uh…nervous Nellie.   His horse was reported as “fractious”.    Not every Martin was a “transportation” guy it seems.

Mishaps with horses aside, Albert had his issues with the characters of the town.  He was robbed in his store in 1898 and though an old man, gave the young coat thief a run for his money.

However, the story that jumped out occurred in the summer of 1884 in the form of the “Insane Prince of Oranges” when addled Sam Francisco ran down the street of Auburn shouting that “Mr. Martin was going to kill him for losing the keys” and several buildings downtown “were going to burn”.  He found his way to my great great grandfather’s home on Seward Avenue and bawling up at the windows at one o’clock in the morning, begged not to be killed for he had no keys.  Father and son managed to assure the crazed man that all was well as they soothed him from the second story windows.  Eventually quieted, he began the journey home, but his odd and noisy behavior had caught the attention of Officer Malone and the poor man was hauled away.

Having had no family lore for my dad’s family passed down through the generations, I found reading these published snippets of activity and moments of drama are worth finding and getting familiar with.  Family historians can get caught up with securing evidence…finding proof…data mining and don’t take the time to take a more gentle stroll through the past.  If luck will have it, some worthy item will crop up and often does if you are willing to spend time reading.

You could find out your ancestral grandfather…a living, breathing human being… had a fractious horse that he could not handle, but could calm a deranged soul dubbed the “Prince of Oranges” in the middle of the night.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

A Trip to the Museum

It’s January…bleary…chilly, but not frigid and we have no snow.  I hear you all muttering “Global Warming” and I have to agree.  Normally this is the time of year when cabin fever strikes (along with a terrible flu outbreak this year) and I take to planning my research field trips.  Without a doubt it will be back to my roots in central New York.  It is impossible not to ‘go home’.  I am getting older and more wistful and sentimental and I find great pleasure in connecting with old friends and visiting the places of my youth.  Imagine my giddiness that I can combine that with some very pithy research that invariably provides nuggets of gold to satisfy my endless craving for historical knowledge and rich subjects for my writing.

I have been daunted by the thought of researching my great great grandfathers’ Civil War experiences.  It is an enormous subject matter and I guess there is nothing for it except to dive right in.  I have been reading a great deal of material and been speaking with a Civil War historian or two, but it has been less than a focused, energetic effort.  Last summer I contacted the Cayuga Museum to ask about what they had in their archives and discovered that they have a great deal there on the 75th and the 111th…two regiments that were formed in Cayuga County.   My maternal great great grandfather, Francis J. Curry fought with the 111th and my paternal great great grandfather, David Penird fought with the 75th.

Cayuga MuseumIt’s been decades since I have been in the museum.  I visited it constantly as a child. It was a short walk from Genesee Street Elementary School and practically a next door neighbor to West High School.   In fact I took art lessons there in the summers with Dr. Walter Long in what is now called “the Lab” and after our lessons were over, I meandered about the rooms, pondering the exhibits.  It didn’t matter that they didn’t change much.  I particularly liked to duck into the gloom of the heavy curtained booth in the front corridor and stare at the blueish-green phosphorescent glow of the rocks in the case.  That was over 50 years ago.  I suppose I won’t be able to pass by the spot and not feel its spectral presence still there.

The upcoming visit won’t find me toting a bag of watercolors, pencils, brushes and pads of paper.  Nor will I have a packed lunch consisting of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a jar of milk.  Yes, a jar.  My mother saved Hellman’s mayonnaise jars which served as my ‘thermos’ and I had to carry my lunches with great care lest I plop it down on the sidewalk in a moment of childish forgetfulness.   There was one instance that I forgot and was rewarded with the sickening crunch of glass accompanied by a torrent of milk that soaked through the wax paper wrapped sandwich and turned the brown paper sack into a pulpy mess.  To add insult to injury I tried to retrieve the coins for my bus trip home from the melange of glass shards, PB and J and mushy, milk sodden paper only to pierce my knuckle and add blood to the disaster.  I managed to fish out the coins, wrap my finger in art paper and skulk into the art class…embarrassed, bloody and smarting.  Dr. Long was a grand character…larger than life and a bit child-like himself.  I had seen him sporting many a band aid and imagined he, too, had run into a Hellman’s mayonnaise jar or two in his time.  Nonplussed by my wound, he cleaned it up and retrieved a band aid from his desk drawer and we were on to drawing horses.  And he shared half of his sandwich and a cup of iced tea with me at lunchtime. Funny how I remember that detail to this day.  I drew horses all that summer.

Leona Penird Palmer SOUV honoree 1949

Newspaper clipping kept by my father’s sister, Leona and passed on to her daughter, Barbara.

The Civil War material that I have on Sergeant David Penird of the “Old 75th”  is rich and deep and from our family archives.  GAR photos, discharge papers, letters home from his encampment days in the Deep South campaign…and an amazing GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) framed certificate of service that is almost as tall as I am.  To add to this rich treasure trove, I have my research from the National Archives (NARA) and the activities of my grandmother…David’s granddaughter…in the Seward Post Auxiliary for the Sons of the Union Volunteers New York State.  Sarah Leona Penird Martin Merithew Palmer…Leonie to friends and family…served as President among other functions of the Auxiliary for several years.  She spoke at conventions and was honored for her service on several occasions.  I never knew this about my grandmother…in fact I knew almost nothing about her except that she was married three times…she liked to read…like my father…like I do…and she died when I was four.

I just learned that the SOUV is headquartered in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and there are generous records about the GAR and the SOUV housed there.  The comradeship for the “boys” that went home…the badges and ribbons and reunions…under the organization of the GAR is a touching story to tell.  The war didn’t end for those soldiers at Appomattox.  The fellowship remained tight and the storytelling was important…to never forget.  It is certainly a part of the Civil War experience that is worth focusing on.  Going home.

Of course, David’s story has been carefully kept with his personal effects being handed down to each male heir and we are all fortunate to have found each other and put his story together.

However, Francis “Frank” Curry’s Civil War story can only be told by a few disparate records that I have uncovered in my research and the bronze GAR star that still sits with his gravestone.  Fortunately, I purchased a beautifully researched and written book, “The 111th New York Volunteer Infantry” by Martin W. Husk, a descendant of Major Lewis Husk.  His very first paragraph grabbed me and I was swept away by the image of my hometown on August 21, 1862.

Just over 1, 000 men resplendent in military dress stood in formation before the Western Exchange Hotel in Auburn, New York.  An intense August sun beat down as dust from their recent march through town settled on the soldiers’ new uniforms.  In front of them was a raised platform, festooned in red, white and blue bunting.  New York’s governor Edmund Morgan and Colonel Jesse Segoine, along with other leading citizens from New York’s Finger Lakes region, sat atop the dais and gazed with admiration upon the volunteers.  Thousands of onlookers pressed in on the formation, searching for the familiar face of a loved one.  They all listened intently as Governor Morgan delivered an eloquent speech on such an auspicious occasion.

Martin’s research is impeccable and inspiring and he and I have had an exchange or two over the last year as I formulated how I would go about the business of researching the 111th and Private Francis J. Curry.  When he told me about his findings at the Cayuga Museum, it was such a thunderbolt.   Of course!   Professor Long was in love with Cayuga County history and  it would be unthinkable that there would be no archival Civil War information housed there.  The biggest concern was the fire that occurred at the museum quite some time ago.  I still remember the volunteers bringing books and papers out into the sunshine.  Water soaked and wilting, each leaf…each tender paper…was carefully dried in the central New York sun.  When I spoke with the museum’s curator, she told me that most all has been rescued though not precisely catalogued or indexed…a work in progress.  The research will require time and patience.

My bag this time will be a backpack  filled with my laptop, a digital camera and hand scanner, an iPhone and a notebook.

Perhaps I should pack a sandwich….and a band aid…just in case.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher