Notes to my Readers: My readers have missed me, I know. Emails asking what I am doing…when will you post something new? What will it be? So I am taking pity on my faithful readers and am taking a break from what I can only call a FLOOD of research that fairly overwhelmed the past two months to let you know that YES…I am here…and YES I am researching. As for writing, I have to keep that on the docket, but if I don’t deal with the research…the researchers…and the amazing influx of data and opportunities, I will definitely need a jacket with lots of belts and buckles.
Two recent very big breaks plunged me into following up on my Curtis-Downing-Titus family research…after being contacted by a “cousin”…another ancestral granddaughter of Lydia Titus and her first husband, Obadiah J. Downing. Marj found my blog post about “James Atchison Patrick, The Missing Grocer of Cayuga Lake”, who was her great grandfather. My intrigue with the plucky abandoned wife, Nellie Curtis Patrick, and her children led to writing their story and ultimately to connecting with my cousin, Marj.
Comparing notes with Marj before my research trip to central New York had me rearranging my focus…finding what I could on our ancestors and adding to our knowledge of their lives and relationships. I was beyond thrilled to know she owned silver spoons that were once owned by my great great grandmother Susannah Downing Curtis and her father, Obadiah. The hallmark on the spoons states “Chedell Auburn”. John Chedell was a silversmith in Auburn using this hallmark from 1827-1850.
So adjusting my research plans, I jumped in and added to the already dizzying goals for my field work.
Day One Monday, May 23rd
I spent several days last week researching along the shoreline of Cayuga Lake. “Bit off more than I could chew” as my mother would say. The first day of my trip, I picked up my brother, Gale, (after driving four hours from my PA home to his home in Auburn, NY) and made the one hour trek to Newark, Wayne County to visit the homestead of my Huguenot ancestor, Simeon J. Frear…only to be thwarted with a DELUGE of rain and lightning that is typical off the Great Lakes and that kept me from his grave. Tail between my legs…I went back to Auburn and took my brother out and fed him his favorite…anything with mashed potatoes……and finally after a hot shower and a glass of wine…I prepared for DAY TWO.
Day Two Tuesday, May 24rd
Day Two was a trip to my father’s grave in the small lakeside cemetery in the Village of Cayuga with my oldest brother. Gale is approaching 80 and is the eldest child in our immediate family. I am more than 15 years his junior with the enthusiasm and available “youngster” energy that is still mine. Though Gale has a generation knowledge of memories beyond mine…it is apart from my early life experience. My mother made me promise NOT to bury her in that modest cemetery in the village of Cayuga and it is more of her forebears’ resting place than it is my Dad’s. In fact he has NO family there other than his brother…though I wonder if my mother knew that. GENERATIONS of my mother’s Tyler grandparents are there and she was so proud of that heritage. I suspect it has more to do with her undying love for her parents and the sisters who died so young. I took a good number of photos and sent data to my Tyler, Curtis, Titus, Parcells, Olds “cousins” for their research.
When my mother died in 1997, my siblings and I surreptitiously dug a hole in Lakeview Cemetery in Cayuga Heights (on the east
side of Ithaca) between her parents and her young sisters, Kate and Ruth, and placed her ashes there. The Lakeview Cemetery located in Cayuga Heights didn’t allow that without a huge fee and all kinds of oddball requirements. So what the hell…my mother wanted that and we had her ashes and we were her devoted children. No time for processing…so I dug an impromptu hole…using the only available tool, an ice scraper from the trunk of my brother Dave’s car. Ashes properly placed…sod replaced…church bells spontaneously rang through the Cayuga Lake hills. We all held our breath and knew Mom had expressed her gratitude. I think my mother was pleased that we had granted her wish despite the bureaucratic restrictions and let us know with the bells. SHHHH!
A short trip to Soule Cemetery in Sennett, NY (outside of Auburn) to do some Parcells work and as they had done on a previous visit, the maintenance guys stopped to help me find a burial plot that had eluded me. They are reverent and respectful despite the fact that we are strangers and I was looking for Christopher and Nellie Parcells who left this earth long before their parents were born. They are more than guys who mow the grass…and I thank them!
After a long DAY TWO…Gale and I were ready for a good meal and ended up at my favorite haunt when I was a teenager, Green Shutters. Car Hops. Incredible French Fries. Hot Dogs. And the wonderful scent of Owasco Lake wafting into the open windows.
Day THREE, Wednesday, May 25th
Day Three…MORNING…I spent one whole morning at the Records Department for Cayuga County… in a windowless, concrete block room in the old jail that squats at the rear of the magnificent Cayuga County Courthouse in Auburn, NY. It certainly could have been a cell…without the toilet and sink and cot… though a toilet was next door with all of the visitor’s noises clearly audible. Ignoring the ah…neighboring audio of each visitor to the loo, I did end up finding the fate of my ancestral grandmother, Lydia Titus, a Quaker who had traveled the Erie Canal when it opened in 1829 with her husband, Obadiah J. Downing, from Dutchess County, NY. My “cousin” Charlie Baker and I have been communicating for years playing the game “Where in the World is Lydia?” I solved it…in that 6” x 8” cell-like space in Auburn. But as you can imagine, I solved one question and at least a dozen more popped up. Did I mention that I fed the damned ONE HOUR parking meter on Court Street three times? So I had to time my research with my iPhone alarm…jump up…grab my quarters and feed the meter at my parking space and run back to continue the research. It was kind of a jail break…and back to serve my time though it was research that was my offense. Chuckle. Have to say…the folks there were incredibly supportive and patient…and own a treasure trove of research information for Cayuga County. We owe them at least of cup of coffee….a hug and a big “THANK YOU”.
Day Three…AFTERNOON…did I say I had over scheduled my time? I drove to Ithaca and the library…found public parking…and dashed across the street and began the research. The research librarians were helpful and sweet…though for a university and college town…a bit archaic for my electronic research appetite…and satisfied with microfiche technology ( I suspect this is more about a reality check with funds available for “history” and the willingness to cope). So…an intense afternoon on my part-handwriting pages of research in my notebook while disciplining my scrawl to something I could read later without frustration. I realized that this is going to mean a multiple visit investment with scheduled and generous appointments with Cornell’s library and the Ithaca History Center. I gratefully accepted what I gleaned, packed up my backpack and traveled back to Auburn.
On my trip home I picked up Ithaca Beer…a Cascadilla Red and their Ginger Beer- DELICIOUS!
and then through Enfield and on to Van Dorn Road. Enfield Township has taken the wooded and meandering road down to the dirt base. Lurching and bouncing with my high tech suspension, I thought of the wagons and stagecoaches that had (TRULY) lurched and bounced in the early 1800’s and their inevitable stop at my GGG grandfather’s (Peter Van Dorn) tavern for their respite. I turned west on to Bostwick Road. At the rise, I parked and looked down on Ithaca and the deep blue waters of Cayuga Lake. I was home. So were they.
A Tribute to our Local Historians and Libraries
I am an enthusiastic internet researcher…but I wouldn’t miss these personal moments…treading in my ancestor’s footsteps. I appreciate those dedicated folks who struggle with tightening budgets and support us by their stewardship of our human history…THANK YOU for you dedication. You are our heroes!
It changes EVERYTHING about the way we work with the raw data.
And for my readers who are paying attention…WHAT was the second break? I wouldn’t be much of a writer if I didn’t leave you wanting more. Next post. See you here!
Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher
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