The Oft Travelled Road

For those genealogists who ask yourselves time and time again..”Why didn’t I see this before?”

Periodically I return to the places where the trail has ended in the hopes that new information will provide an answer to the puzzle.  And sometimes that trail is so familiar…each bend and rise, leaf and blade of grass…that I realize that I was so preoccupied with my destination that I failed to enjoy the walk.

Today I was in that “occupied with the answer state of mind”…looking for the parents of my orphaned great great grandmother, Martha Colwell.  Throughout her marriage to David Penird, she had maintained ownership of her Summerhill farm…through David’s years as a Civil War Union Soldier and his subsequent jaunts to the Dakota Territory and the post war Deep South.  How did a female orphan come to own a farm?

And so I went to Summerhill.

Summerhill Map 1875 District 9

After purposefully looking at New York state historic maps of Cayuga and Tompkins county dating back to the mid and late 1800’s for the umpteenth time, I stopped being purposeful and just scanned them…looking at names and places. Visiting familiar family members in the way we genealogists like to do. No particular reason…just a neighborly howdy do.

Oh..yes…there are the Bowkers and the Cases and the Johnsons.  And of course, the Powers and the Robinsons.  Oh and there is David Peniard (Penird), my 2nd great grandfather, in the 1875 Summerhill map around the corner from the S. Johnson place and down the road from the Cases.

Interesting I…WAIT! That location! Those names!

1859 Summerhill New York Map

I pulled up the 1859 Summerhill map and RIGHT SMACK there in the same location as the 1875 Peniard farm is the farm that had belonged to Jonathan Bowker.   The Bowker farm was passed down to his daughter, Sarah D. Bowker Case who after being widowed married Sylvester Johnson. And the home of Sarah’s daughter, Emma, who married David Penard’s son, William.


I sat back and took a few moments to put together the analysis before my head exploded with everything I knew.   Feel the history.  Now connect the dots.

With a casual visit to the Summerhill area of 1859 and 1875, I had painted the picture of my great grandparent’s childhood and how they knew each other. Willie Penird and Emma Case probably went to school number 9 that was just a few steps down the road from both farms.  Perhaps they courted along the country lane now named Howell Road.  Perhaps the young lovers found a shaded grove in the lovely Finger Lakes countryside to share a picnic and a stolen kiss.  Could they have married at the Summerville Methodist Episcopalian Church? Among the extended families of Powers, Robinsons, Cases and Bowkers? How nice for David and Martha’s son, William,  to marry into the pioneer families of Summerhill…

Author’s Note

If  your head is spinning with this narrative, it should be.  This post wasn’t designed to give the reader a step by step primer or “how to” or even a clear and concise pedigree of the families named, but rather to bring you along with the energy of the genealogist who has an epiphany and the mind storm that pulls us up and away as surely as a tornado in Kansas. Speaking of Kansas…OK…that can wait for another day. I am fine. No intervention or rehab needed. Really.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2011.  All Rights Reserved

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