The “Laundry List”

Note to my readers:  I have my mother’s peculiar penchant for creating lists.  Lists with an “s”.  I rewrite lists as I go and though it may be a bit anal retentive, it pays off when I am deep in research with so much complex data…names, timelines…and geography.  Plus…it is kind of nice to see my handwriting in my notebook…I am present, engaged and concrete.  And the doodles that manifest while I am contemplating,  give my lists dimension and a hint of where my intellect and imagination co-exist.

While I am a devotee of the electronic media…an old geek, if you will…I still have notebooks full of my handwritten work in progress.  To the casual observer, the scrawled words looked disordered and enigmatic and bereft of craft.  To the author, the ordinary,  line-ruled sheets of paper are the canvas for my random questions, thoughts, proposals and conclusions and is as lovely as the finest art.

I am reminded of the revered sketches of Da Vinci and Michelango…as treasured…perhaps more…as the exquisitely executed masterpieces that grace museums throughout the world.  And the graffiti found among the tombs of the Pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings…tell tale streams of consciousness…maps to the masterpiece.  After all, it does the observer little good to stand and stare at “The Pieta” or “The Last Supper” or wonder in the shadows of the ancient tomb of Seti without a glimpse into the creative process.

And thus, I am my own archaeological dig.  I rediscover my work by idling over my own handwriting, revisit my thinking page after page, line after line.  The random doodles have a new relevancy that distance and time reveal.

I have had this post in draft mode for several months…my mind too full of the research and events to write a relevant piece.  I have notes upon notes…strings of emails, vintage images and new knowledge of history that spans colonial Philadelphia, the Civil War, the settlement of Wisconsin, westerners in Japan in the late 1800’s and the existence of my fourth cousin, Bill Tegner.

I have been researching my Williams-Van Dorn-Purdy lines for years.  I grew up with those names populating every “good pioneer stock” reminiscence  my mother ever told.  She had a thread..inferences and the family bible.  I took up her memories and mementos and began to fill in the blanks.  List making.  Doodling.  Painting family portraits.  Sculpting when the material allowed me three dimensions.  The most complete and human masterpiece of all…finding the Tegners.

Philadelphia…my fourth cousin, William Tegner and a Revolutionary Moment

At the end of June 2011, I had the amazing opportunity to meet FACE TO FACE…my fourth cousin, Bill Tegner.  Bill and his wife, Pam had traveled from their home in Great Britain to walk the streets of Old Philadelphia. Several years ago, I discovered the 1863 Application for Dower Rights of my 3rd great grandmother, Lorinda King Williams. 

3:25 Lura** WILLIAMS wd/o Parvis A. WILLIAMS (dec’d) 18 May 1863

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.

Her son, my 2nd great grandfather, Oliver S. Williams, is listed as an heir along with his youngest sibling, Parvis Austin Williams, Jr. and his sisters, Sarah Elizabeth Williams Cowen, Almira Lorinda Williams, Frances Minerva Williams Heath and Frances Amelia Williams Day.  My great great grandfather remained in Enfield, New York as did his brother Parvis and sister Sarah and Almira.  As noted in the application, the two youngest sisters, Frances Minerva and Frances Amelia were “out of state” at the time of their mother’s death in March of 1863 and the filing of the application in June.

At this juncture, I have yet to find the descendants of Parvis through his daughter and only child, Emma.  Not much is documented in local history about the youngest child of Dr. Williams, other than Parvis, Jr. served the Union Army, enlisting on August 26, 1862 with the 109th NYS volunteers in Company G and mustering out in St. Petersburg, Virginia on January 3, 1865.  Daughter, Emma was born in 1863 while her father was in the throes of battle.  Parvis came home a diminished man…physically and spiritually.  In 1878, Parvis cut his throat and died.  He was just 40 years old.  When interviewing a long time resident of Enfield who is also a Williams descendant, family lore is that Parvis was mentally unbalanced and sickly when he returned to Enfield and so tortured that his suicide…though regrettable…not a complete shock to his family and friends.

Sarah Elizabeth Williams married Enfield farmer and lumber mill owner, Harry Cowen.  Sarah and Harry had two children, Charles Williams Cowen and Abigail May Cowen.  Charlie worked as a lineman and was killed in 1889.  Burial records state that he was buried with his friend, William Knickerbocker in Inlet Cemetery.  That implies to me that the young men met a catastrophic fate on the job and perhaps the condition of the remains were such that they were buried in a common grave.  Abbie married Guy M. Hoagland ,  a successful insurance agent and who eventually served as Mayor of Cortland, New York.  Abbie and Guy had one child, Onalee Marion Hoagland.   She grew up in Cortland and married John “Jack” Stokes Ensor.  The last generation of this family that I have located… their daughter, Joan Hoagland Ensor,  graduated from the University of Connecticut in 1951.  The search for Joan and her descendants is punctuated in my notebook…”???!”

Almira Lorinda Williams never married.  She spent her life living with sister, Sarah and her family.  Like Sarah, she spent her final years in Cortland with Abbie and Guy Hoagland.

The Two Sisters Named Frances

In two previous posts entitled “The Country Doctor and Two Daughters Named Frances” and “Making History”, I told the story of the two sisters of my great great grandfather, Oliver S. Williams.  At least part of it anyway.  Their history.  And mine.  And the Tegners.

I had worked through the lives and descendants of Frances Amelia Williams Day and her husband, Dr. Fisk Holbrook Day thanks to the Daughters of the American Revolution and the membership of their descendants.  Frances Minerva Williams Heath took a bit more “doing”.    “Out of State” was a pretty cryptic reference in the application for their mother’s dower.  I decided to start in Enfield and on to nearby Ithaca for any newspaper articles that might give me a clue as to who Mr. Heath was and just where they had gone.  Her siblings were local and often as not, family events and visits were the local news of the day.  In a Tompkins County newspaper, I found the other bookend of her life.  Her obituary.

Frances Minerva Williams Heath Death Notice

It was simple with no embellishments regarding her character or her life.  BUT!  It did define her as wife of C. G. Heath and daughter of Dr. Parvis Austin Williams.  Not much…but it was everything.  She died in Washington, D.C. on March 9, 1876.  And I had all of that space in between to research.

Fast Forward

I will bow to your willingness to go back to the previous two posts for the story of Frances “Frank” Minerva Williams and her husband, Chauncey Graham Heath and their lives in the territory of Wisconsin…and their daughter, Frances Lorinda Heath and her marriage to Dr. James Stuart Eldridge.  They are after all, the Tegners’ ancestors…and the bridge to our new found “cousin” status.

I had traced Frances Heath and her husband, Stu Eldridge to Japan in 1874 and read with a thrill their ex-patriot life in the Meiji Period of Japan.  After all, it rang of my mother’s “good pioneer stock” sentiment.  Lingering through the material on Dr. Eldridge and his remarkable career, I went back to his life with Frances…she, too, was Frank…like her mother and aunt.  I found that they had a son, Chauncey…named after his grandfather, Chauncey Graham Heath…and two daughters, Beatrice and Frances.  I decided to GOOGLE.  Why not?  And there was the pathway to their descendants.  God Bless Bloggers!  Henry Tegner, Bill’s brother, has a son who was married in Japan and the wonderful blog told of the next generations and my Tegner cousins. I emailed through the blog, but no connection was made at that time.

Meanwhile…Back at the Ranch (really the laptop)

Because of my published work of Dr. Eldridge, I was contacted by Sue Campbell of California.  Her ancestral grandmother, Lillie Cecilia Eldridge Gaspard was Dr. Eldridge’s sister.  A wonderful research “lab” was born.  Soon I was working with her and her son and another Eldridge researcher, Dan Stites.  Sue had been communicating with Bill Tegner and put us in touch.  The circle was complete.  Soon we were all exchanging research and knowledge and the whirlwind was intoxicating.  History was alive in our communications and it just kept expanding.

I live just outside of Philadelphia…Eldridge country.  Stuart Eldridge was born in Philadelphia and his father, Levi,  was a prominent shipping merchant out of the port of Philadelphia.  His history is documented in Philadelphia archives, but no composite, central biography has been organized or published.  I decided to focus on Levi and his wife, Martha Stuart Eldridge and their son, James Stuart and their adopted daughter, Lillie Cecilia.

The Eldridges and Stuarts of Philadelphia are the embodiment of colonial Philadelphia and worth a blog post of their own.  I have notes upon notes…an epic story to say the least and the draft is under way.

A Pilgrimage at Old Pine Church

The work aside…I have spent years in pilgrimage to my ancestor’s burial sites…in pouring rain and gentle sunshine…stomping through brambled cemeteries laced with groundhog holes and tumbled monuments…just to place a single rose and pause for awhile.  After all, how long has it been since a living family member has known their resting place?  And how long has it been since anyone has spoken their name and remembered their life?  It is at once a tender and yet powerful moment.

Bill and I finally met in Philadelphia in June of 2011.  It felt more like August…steamy and oppressive.  I arranged our first meeting to be at the Old Pine Street Church Third Scots and Mariners Presbyterian at 412 Pine Street .  It is the church that Bill’s ancestors had attended in colonial Philadelphia.  The interior of the church was cool and full of the shadows of the towering trees along the exterior. There we met, Ron Shaffer, the church’s historian.  After a lively introductory conversation,  we stepped into the graveyard of the church and began the tour.  The Tory soldier buried in the churchyard…and the Reverend Brainerd, pastor and friend of Levi Eldridge…and Levi Eldridge. A humorous tale of Nicholas Cage and special effects and the scenes from “National Treasure”.  Ron had a plot map of the burials and explained the tight nature of burials in the churchyard.  The individuals are buried within inches of one another.  The initial graves were dug nine feet deep and in some three burials to a grave..the Scots are not known to waste.  Ron’s merry recounting of the church, its history and the Eldridges, fell silent as Bill had his moment…his pilgrimage before Levi’s worn and tilted monument.   It was not unlike so many that I have had over the past few years and I was happy that I could provide Bill with this unique moment.

Bill Tegner at the burial site of his 3G Grandfather, James StuartMuch to our delight, Ron told us about the “other” Presbyterians…an older congregation.  Old Pine Street had accommodated this congregation with burial space and Levi’s father-in-law, James Stuart was buried on the west side of the church in an above ground crypt.

Smothering heat and humidity aside, we followed the little pathway to the west side of the church and the burial site of James Stuart, Bill’s American great great great grandfather.  Once again, the spirit of the Scots prevailed, we had two pilgrimages that day instead of one.

Author’s Note:

The two days I spent in Philadelphia with Bill and his wife, Pam, were so extraordinary and the honor to share Bill’s heritage was immeasurable.    I have journeyed through my own history and had great personal moments, but to share it with another leaves this author uncharacteristically without words.  I wrote this piece to encourage my readers…fellow historians…to “pay it forward”.  Our lives are enriched by sharing the knowledge and experience of heritage with others.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2011.  All Rights Reserved

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4 thoughts on “The “Laundry List”

  1. Hello – I am researching some of the early residents of Yokohama and was hoping to get some more information on Dr. James Stewart Eldridge and his wife Francis. I would really appreciate it if you could contact me. Thanks

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