The Country Doctor and Two Daughters Named Frances

Notes to My Readers: Until I began the serious research of my genealogy,  I had been under the illusion that life is a force that moves forward relentlessly…with just the occasional look back…not so much to ponder and wonder at but to see how much distance we have travelled.   In the process of identifying the individuals that are my American forebears,  I have spent a good deal of time learning about the historical details of WHOWHATWHEREWHEN…and HOW.   Reading old newspapers accounts, transcriptions of personal journals, biographies of  distinguished men and women, handwritten wills with quaint language populated with practical value and sentimental intent.

Somewhere along the DNA trail, I found a story…then another…and another.  I learned to stay awhile and visit in those days of yesteryear that are brimming with human experience.  I was breathing with them…walking down a well worn, dirt path to my neighbor’s Enfield Center home…my long skirts moving the dust around my feet.   Answering a Minuteman’s alarm from my Attleborough home where the local militia had secreted their armory.  Burying my loved ones and Pilgrim brethren in the first harsh winter in the New World.   Battling an enraged bear at the base of Taughannock Falls that left my leg so damaged that I limped for the remainder of my life.  Raising my children in an unpredictable environment fraught with uncertainty.    Another moment and I am turning to see my family…my beloved mother and father and dear siblings… disappear into the distance as I clutch to a lurching wagon while my heart is full of adventure and the sweet pain of realization that I will never see them again.

Pouring over old typeset words I am carried along with the excitement of travelling from the heartland of New York State to the new city of Chicago as I prepare to study at the new Medical College.  And being swept away by the astonishing and harrowing experience of that young man who witnessed the city of Chicago burning and fighting to survive.

This research is a life altering and affirming experience…without a doubt.  It is as if my family members have reached out over time and distance to find me…not the other way around.

Recently I have been tortured with what I can only characterize as writer’s block.  The culprit to my dilemma is clear enough to me.  Each story…each individual holds such sway over me that I am at odds with where to begin.   Whose story to tell.  To add to my predicament I have been contacted by several researchers who share my lineage.  Two descendants of Simeon J. Frear and his wife, Cornelia (Neeljte) Myers have enriched my knowledge of the Frears tenfold and the information keeps coming from their stockpile of years of work.  I recently posted work about my 4th great grandfather, John Learn and the flood gates opened.  I am awash with Learn family members reaching out to me as the descendant of the two year old boy who survived the massacre of his family in 1781 in Tannersville, Pennsylvania.  Another recent post has connected me with a cousin researcher…another granddaughter of Samuel Smith of  Montague, Massachusetts and Cazenovia, New York.   We each have pieces to the other’s puzzles that has us fairly giddy.  And just yesterday…a Weyburn-Ingersoll descendant…found my post on Samuel Ingersoll and his wife, Elizabeth Weyburn.    I am overwhelmed.  In a good way.  I think.

So here I am…standing at a fork in the road.  There is no wrong way to go.  Just choices and they are all good.  With that in mind I am pulling out a coin and doing what any sensible person would do.  Heads or Tails.

The Story That Won the Toss

 A Country Doctor 

In the spring of 2009 I took a trip up to central New York to archive some tombstones…and to go “back home”.  I was born and raised there – where no one asks me, “What kind of accent is that?”  I am a type A, list making individual so I brought all of my burial transcriptions with me…by cemeteries, of course.  I knew there was missing interment information since most of the cemeteries were old and volunteers had walked the cemeteries…some fifty years or more ago.  I was prepared that gravestones might be in poor condition…or not there at all after the long, harsh central New York winters.  I was not prepared, however, to find some gravestones from the early 1800’s…in remarkable condition…perfectly legible……that had not been documented.  And one of those was for Oliver S. Williams and his wife, Mary Van Dorn….my maternal great great grandparents.  A beautiful granite obelisk among more traditional tombstones stood gleaming in the morning sunlight of the pastoral Christian Cemetery in Enfield.

Before my trip I had spent some time going over some materials from an old folder…you know…one of those “brick wall…there is no hope…forget about it” ancestors?  I had written on the tab…Oliver…who are your parents?  I felt a bit guilty about the “forget about it” feelings and more than a little bit miffed that I was so stuck.   Oliver S. Williams-like his wife, Mary-was a native of the Enfield area and the Williams family was part of its early history.

After some traditional genealogical research methods failed to determine Oliver’s parentage, there came the “eureka” moment of finding his mother’s 1863 application for her dower rights (her husband Parvis had died intestate in 1859).  I had my answer.   There was Lura…her formal name was  Lorinda…Williams with sons, Oliver S. Williams and Parvis A. Williams.   Also listed were married daughters, Minerva Heath, Sarah Elizabeth Cowen, Frances Amelia Day and spinster sister, Almira Lorinda Williams.

“WILLIAMS, Lura wd/o Parvis A., of Enfield applied for dower rights 25 June 1863. Heirs at law of Parvis A.,Oliver S., Parvis Austin all named WILLIAMS, Sarah E. COWEN, Almira Lavinda WILLIAMS, Minvera HEATH, Frances Amelia DAY both of out of State of New York. Harry COWEN served with papers (husband of Sarah E.) Property was an inheritance of dec’d.”[i]

So there it was, Oliver’s family…father, mother, sisters and brother.  And his father with the most intriguing name of Parvis Austin Williams.  He was Dr. Parvis Austin Williams…the pioneer physician that served the community of Enfield and surrounds and the husband of Connecticut born, Lorinda King.  By 1818  36 year old Parvis was one of a handful of New York state physicians that were practicing members of  the the Tompkins County Medical Society.  As was generally the case with local physicians of the time, Parvis also served as the coroner, an elected office.  His civic duties expanded in 1835 to serving as a New York State Assemblyman and member of the Committee of Medical Societies and Colleges which established the standards of medical education and practices within New York State.  Established in 1834, Geneva Medical College was one of the earliest medical colleges established in New York State under the stipulations and oversight of men like Dr. P. A. Williams.

Dr. Parvis Austin Williams Tombstone

Both sons of Parvis and Lorinda, Oliver S. and Parvis Austin Williams, stayed in Enfield, married and raised their families there.    Daughter Sarah Elizabeth married Harry Cowen and had a small farm and saw mill in Enfield near her brother, Parvis and his wife, Martha in 1860.  Spinster Almira Lorinda continually lived with her sister, Sarah Elizabeth, even moving with her to Cortland to live with Sarah and her married daughter, Abbey Cowen Hogan, after Sarah was widowed.   And, of course, my great great grandfather, Oliver S., married his neighbor, Mary Van Dorn.  Oliver established himself as a successful produce merchant having no desire to follow in his father’s footsteps.  His brother Parvis -the baby of the family-fought in the Civil War and when he returned home to his wife and farm, he was “never right” according to one neighbor’s diary.  At forty, Parvis committed suicide by cutting his throat with a razor.

And that left me with the intriguing research of…

Two Daughters Named Frances

Frances Minerva and Frances Amelia…where did you go…”out of State of New York”?  And who is Mr. Heath…and Mr. Day?  And why do you both have the first name of Frances?

More months of digging and reading old New York State newspaper articles to track the comings and goings of central New Yorkers then stringing together the visits and announcements of marriages and births and deaths…fathers and sons…mothers and daughters…aunts and uncles and cousins.  Not to forget forages into the deep resources of the Daughters of the American Revolution® and a GOOGLE™ or two and then on to a smattering of  historical sources.  I know there is a logic to my research technique, but I would fully admit it is accompanied by a decent bit of serendipity.   I continue to call is “Sideways” and sometimes it becomes an archaeological dig that requires a rainy afternoon when my clients don’t call and I can spread everything out and begin to put together the information…logical, concrete and serendipitous data with a bit of analytical thinking thrown in…until there is that EUREKA moment I speak of so often.

Frances Amelia Williams

The one bit of information I had as to the whereabouts of the daughters Frances was that they were “out of state” according to their mother’s  application for her dowers rights.  Out of state?  That left…well…a whole lot of territory.

Using my old notes…and finding Frances Amelia’s  husband listed as Fish Day…you may chuckle here…I did…in a census search and there was Fisk H. Day in Wauwatosa, Milwaukee, Wisconsin along with Frances and their children…Margaret Amelia, Sarah Caroline, Minerva F. and Florence W.  I could not help myself…I Googled Fisk H. Day…that named just cried out for an internet presence.  There he was…in Wikipedia…and more.  His biography revealed that in 1858 Fisk Holbrook Day married Frances Amelia Williams.  Dr. Fisk Holbrook Day had studied medicine in New York State at the Geneva Medical College where Dr. Parvis A. Williams had colleagues and where he obviously played an important role.   Dr. Day graduated at Jefferson University in Philadelphia.  No doubt…young Dr. Day met his bride through her father.

Fisk Holbrook Day was not only a prominent local physician, but an avid amateur geologist who developed an impressive collection of Silurian-age fossils which is now housed at Harvard University.  Their beautiful home “Sunnyhill” is fully restored and on the National Register for Historic Places.  Further research through the Daughters of the American Revolution provided confirmation of Frances Amelia’s identity through her daughter’s – Minnie Frances Day Bush- membership.  Minnie’s membership focused on her father’s lineage with just a mention of her mother’s name-Frances Amelia Williams born in New York.

Fisk and Frances had four daughters, Margaret Amelia, Sarah Caroline, Minnie Frances and Florence W.    Researching the daughters, I found that some of them wrote beautifully.  And a living grandson in Alaska…growing apples like my great great grandfather back in Enfield, New York.  And Florence Day Buckbee wife of an Illinois politician named a daughter, Frances.

And Frances Amelia Williams was always referred to as Frances or Fanny.

Frances Minerva Williams

A rainy day…they do have value!  I made a phone call to the Ulysses, New York  historian who is a distant Williams “cousin” and has wonderful local knowledge was definitely in order.  I had scoured Wisconsin Heaths – I thought perhaps the sisters might have located near one another – and took a wrong turn with a Minnie Heath that was born in New York…in the same year as Frances.  Thank you, Karen Dickson, Ulysses historian, for putting me on the correct path.  She had a transcription for Frances’ obituary and I was back on the correct path and on to finding more descendants of Dr. Parvis Austin Williams.   Frances had died in Washington, D.C. where her husband, Chauncey served as a member of Congress for the new state of Wisconsin.

Tompkins Co. newspapers Marriages and obits – “Frances Minerva Heath, wife of C. G. and dau of Dr. Parvis A. Williams, late of Enfield, NY, died in Washington, DC, March 9, 1876.”

Frances Minerva had married an ambitious young man, Chauncey Graham Heath of  the Heath family of nearby Lansing, NY.   By January 1847 the Heaths were living in Pewaukee, Waukesha, Wisconsin and Chauncey’s political career was well underway as a house member of the fifth Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Wisconsin representing Waukesha.

Frances Lorinda Heath Eldridge

Their only daughter,  Frances Lorinda married Dr. James Stuart Eldridge who took her to Japan in 1872 where they raised a family.  James had a remarkable career and still remains an esteemed figure in Japanese medicine.  He was also a man of culture and fell in love with Japanese pottery and became a potter in his own right.  I found his collection up for sale in Southeby’s in the early part of the last century.  Both James and Frances are buried in the Yokohama Foreigner’s Cemetery.  Further research on the family led me to their daughter’s grandson living in England and a most wonderful long distance family friendship.

And Frances Minerva Williams was always referred to as Frances or Fanny.

Both sisters- the two Frances’- born to Dr. Williams and his wife, Lorinda, in the early 1800’s in the little country settlement called Enfield-took me to Wisconsin to Washington, DC to Yokohama, Japan to Alaska to Denmark and to England.  All along the way they made me new friends and researchers…Caroline, NY historian, Barbara Cone and Ulysses, NY historian Karen Dickson,  the Heath families of Lansing, New York and Wisconsin…the Buckbee-Riggs of Illinois…the  Bradleys who grow apples in Alaska…and the Tegners of England and their incredible knowledge of the Eldridges.

Many questions were answered along the way, but I will always wish I could ask Parvis and Lorinda, my 3rd great grandparents, why they named both of their daughters, Frances.

[i] Index to Dower book/ DAR Intestates.  Index to Dower Book 3. Surrogates Office, Ithaca, New York

Intestates Tompkins County, New York DAR © Copyright 1995  Contents by Catherine Machan Martin and presentation by Tompkins County NYGenWeb.  All Rights reserved.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2010.  All Rights Reserved

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