A Hawass Moment-Notes from the Field

Notes to my readers:  Even as a young child, I knew what an archaeologist was and wanted to be one.  Imagine finding a piece of pottery that someone held in their hands several hundred years ago.  Cool.  Way Cool!  As I grew older and realized it meant dirt, snakes, bugs and no modern plumbing, my girlie self turned to other things.  But I never forgot that notion of discovery and stewardship of life.  I suppose that is why I have a big archaeology crush on Dr. Zahi Hawass.  They call him “the Pharaoh”.

Dr. Zahi Hawass

He lives that passion.  I’d  love to tell people to “shut up” and “Go away or I’ ll fire you.” and stomp off like a fierce lion to make great discoveries.  So I don’t dig holes, climb in claustrophobic crawl spaces, dodge snakes and bats or ride camels.  But I have the passion and I dig…and I have stomped through knee deep tangles in pioneer cemeteries when I needed to pee.  In the rain. That should count for something.  And I have patience to keep going when others tell me that there is nothing there.  And I would like to wear his hat.  And maybe just one “shut up”.

Today was a Hawass moment for me.  A discovery that I knew I could make if I just kept believing that I was right.  The answer was THERE.  I just need the right artifact…the right clue.  And it came from a most interesting person.

Finding Sarah

I found my great grandmother’s family today.  Goosebumps.  The  two most recent blog posts mention her.  She has been on my mind lately.   Emma Case Penird Bobbett.  I knew her parents were William J. and Sarah Case and that she had one brother, William J. Case  Jr.  I also knew that they lived in the farming community of Summerhill in Cayuga County, New York.  I knew her father and husband were buried side by side in Groton Rural Cemetery.

William J. Case Monument Groton Rural Cemetery

I visited their graves last summer. Like the Syphinx and the Pyramids of Giza, they stood silent.  And like the Rosetta Stone…so many glyphs…but no key cipher to tell me the story of who Emma’s mother was.  Who was Sarah?

In 1869 when Emma was not quite six years old, Emma’s father died.  He was just 26 years old and died of consumption at their farm in Summerhill.  Her mother, Sarah, had remarried and disappeared off my radar.  She was just Sarah to me for years.  Not even Sarah D.  Just plain Sarah.  In May of this year I sent to Albany for Emma’s death certificate.  I had learned from another researcher that parents were often listed on death certificates and included the mother’s maiden name when it was known.  And then I waited.

My check wasn’t cashed for months.  I called Albany.  “Yep, we have it.  The economy has cut our vital records staff and we are short handed.  Lots of records.  Do our best.  Be patient.”  And I was and then I just gave up.  If you can’t fight city hall, what chance do I have with the New York State Vital Records Department?  I did what any other researcher does.  I found an easier path for awhile with lots of archival records and accepted the fact that I may never know who she was.  Sarah.

In the meantime, I have found ancestors for a couple of dozen people, found my adopted cousin’s birth mother and her family, recovered from a nasty bout of Shingles, lost 25 pounds, started a blog, cleaned the garage (well just one corner), but left Sarah and Summerhill, New York tucked away.

Oh, every once in awhile, I would wonder if I would get a letter from Albany, but there were so many things going on…and there is always the darn garage.  And today, I wandered down to the mailbox admiring the blue September sky thinking about nothing in particular.  I reached into the box and pulled out the usual stack of mail…you know…you could fly to Tahiti free if you signed up for a credit card at 18%.  Nonsense.  But I sorted anyway.  Could be something in there of interest.  Maybe.

I spotted the plain white envelope and for a moment wondered who the heck in Albany would send me something.  It was such an official looking envelope.  Probably junk…the kind that looks official, but is some darn sweepstakes thing.  I opened it anyway.  I did say the economy isn’t good, didn’t I?

And there it was, Emma’s death certificate.  Blurry, handwritten, but legible.  Her birthdate.  November 11, 1864 in Summerhill, New York.  I knew Summerhill, but not her exact birth date.  Her death date.  April 13, 1926.  Buried in Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn.  I knew that. I visited her grave last summer, too.  She was just 61 years, 5 months and 2 days old.  She had cancer.  I was sad for a moment.  I am 63.  Seems too young to me.

FATHER: William Case…born in Genoa, New York.  OK!  MOTHER:  Sarah Bouker(sp).  Hello, Grandmother.  It’s wonderful to see your name.

And there in the lower left corner, George Albert Bobbett had attested to his mother’s family.  Albert, our very own Woodchuck, told me who his grandmother was.  Who my great great grandmother was.  Sarah D. Bowker.  Thanks, Albert.  I owe you a lightbulb.

Author’s Note:

I have found wonderful information on the Summerhill members of my family…connecting them all…neatly…the Cases…the Lerners…and the Bowkers.  And now I can really dig.

So…Shut Up or I’ll fire you!  Now where did I put that hat?


Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2010.  All Rights Reserved

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