A Family Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Note To My Readers:  Yesterday I spent hours in Brooklyn, NY…via my laptop that is.  I have been haunted by the fact that I cannot determine the fate of my paternal grandfather’s mother.   I know I am not alone in the family secret category.  Dad’s family seemed to be one with all manner of voids.  Almost like a scatter of chain links.  There they are in front of me clearly related…isn’t the material of the same making?  And the fabrication distinctly of the same hand?  One by one I pick up the pieces and rebuild the chain, noting the beginnings and the endings…watching for the telltale scars and scratches to match the partners.  On occasion several links have stayed fast.   And inevitably I come to the link that fails to close.  Lillian W. Jennings, my paternal great grandmother is that link.

Henry A. Martin and Lillian W. Jennings

My paternal great grandparents, 26 year old Henry A. Martin and 25 year old Lillian W. Jennings,  left Henry marries Lillian Jennings 1884 news and DemocratAuburn, New York in 1884 within days of their July 16th marriage by the Trinity Methodist Church pastor and settled in what is now known as Clinton Hill.  They set up household in one of the old brownstones on Waverly Street and Henry went to work as a stenographer.  The Brooklyn Bridge had been completed in 1883 connecting the boroughs and Henry rode the trolley into Manhattan.

Sag Harbor NY Corrector 1910 Ernest Martin diesHenry’s brother, Ernest had married another Auburnian, Emma Grace Kilmer,  the year before and they, too, had made their home in Brooklyn where Ernest worked as a stenographer and then began selling typewriters in the New York Metro area.   Ernest became very successful and with Emma and their two daughters lived in a lovely building in Prospect Park.   A long life for Ernest was not to be.  He died suddenly on Long Island beside the train tracks after collapsing from a massive stroke.  Emma and her daughters, Edna Mae and Grace Harriett,  did not stay in Brooklyn, but rather packed up their household and moved to Hempstead, Long Island where the girls grew up and married.

And Henry?   And Lillian?

The research began with the Federal and NYS censuses supported by Brooklyn directories and newspapers.   Addresses were pinpointed in directories in 1887, 1888, 1890 and 1897 and the NYS 1892 census shows the family, Henry A., Lillian W., Al H. and George E. living on Halsey Street in Brooklyn.    By 1900 Henry was living in Brooklyn as a ‘widower’ with their four children, Albert, George, Howard and baby Lillian on Jefferson Avenue according to the enumeration in the Federal Census.

Just yesterday I found that Lillian had borne another child – a girl – in Union, Hudson, New Jersey (now West New York, New Jersey) on August 12, 1888.  My grandfather would have been just a year and half old.  But why New Jersey?  All the other children were born in New York.  Since the child was not in any subsequent census, I can only assume she did not survive.

By the 1905 NYS Census, Henry and his children, Albert “Bertie” (my grandfather), George, Howard and Lillian,  lived in another brownstone this time on 236 Reid Street.  Henry was enumerated as “head” and living with the family was the children’s caregiver “servant”, Henrietta Fischer, a 35 year German immigrant.  No marital status category was provided in that census.  Henrietta was as close to a mother figure as little Lillian would have.  The two travelled together periodically.

In 1907 young Howard died in Brooklyn at the age of 14.  I never sent away for his death certificate.  Perhaps the knowledge of why he died might provide a clue.  Or add to the mystery.

By 1910 Henry had finally set up a permanent residence at 691 Halsey Street and that year married widow, Mary Giddings.    The Martins attended the Janes Methodist Episcopalian Church on Monroe Street. Over the years Henry threw himself into church and civic organizations.  At the Janes Methodist Church Henry ran the men’s bible study and served in several capacities with The Valley Forge Council, Jr. O.U.A.M.  76 and the Janes Social Union.

George continued to live with his father and stepmother on 691 Halsey until he went off to fight in the 49th Infantry inBrooklyn NY Standard Union Wed 14 Aug 1918 George E Martin Over There WWI in 1917 at the age of 26.  Uncle George was in the parlance of the time “a perennial bachelor”.  I vividly remember his auburn hair…curly and topped with a jaunty beret…sipping tea with my mother and my father’s sister in the big farm kitchen in the 1950’s.   He visited…motored was the term at the time…from his Murray Hill home quite often.  Always quiet and shy, he was almost delicate.  And I thought exotic (he was from NYC!)  and kind.  After my father’s death, he sent me a set of oils and brushes because he knew that I like to paint.   He is pictured in the blog banner with my father and his mother’s sister,  Harriet Jennings White.  George is buried next to my grandfather, Albert, and sharing a headstone in Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, New York.  His footstone is the only tender sign of affection I have found.

Beloved Brother.  Rest In Peace.

And baby Lillian?   She married Leo Franklin Leonard in 1922 and had three children – all before her father’s death in 1932.  She lived within walking distance of her father and stepmother and yet when Henry died in 1932, the only survivor listed in the Brooklyn Eagle obituary was his second wife.  No George.  No Lillian.  No grandchildren.   He was referred to as her beloved husband.  Odd and sadly detached.  And there is no stone marking his grave.

Not much mention about Henry’s central New York roots in his Brooklyn life.  No notices of visiting his family.  Except for a Brooklyn Eagle news article at the death of his first cousin, Will Cruttenden, in 1928 who Henry A Martin in will of W H Cruttenden 1928 cropleft him and his central New York cousins to share in a hoarded stash, he seemed removed.  Henry’s spinster sister, Harriett Cornelia Martin, kept the family ties together attending weddings and funerals as ambassador of sorts and she traveled to New York to visit her brother.    Henry’s daughter, Lillian,  was named in Harriett’s obituary.  Apparently Henry kept to Brooklyn.  And my grandfather, Albert,  didn’t.   In 1905, Albert Henry was sent back to Auburn to his Martin family and met and married my then 15 year old grandmother, Sarah Leona Penird.  In six years, the young father of three was dead by his own hand at the age of 24.  A troubled mind.

What happened to my paternal great grandmother, Lillian W. Jennings Martin?

Genealogists are accustomed to gaps in information the further we go back in our research, but there are occasions when a more recent generation has ‘mystery’ written all over it.  And family secrets.

Henry did not remarry until 1910, but relied upon two German sisters who lived in their building to care for the children while he went to work in Manhattan. Why was he single for so long a time? Is THAT a clue?  Was Lillian really dead? Did she run away? Was she ill in an institution? I found a Lillian W. Martin in a state mental hospital in the 1900 Federal Census and her statistics were fairly close.  The age was off by a very few years and this Lillian’s mother was born in Massachusetts and father in NY and my Lillian’s information was the reverse – mother was born in NY and father in Massachusetts.  Genealogists understand that a slight variance doesn’t constitute a wrong conclusion.  It just puts up a flag.  “Caution.  Proceed with Care.”    But proceed I must.  With Care.   I cannot ignore the fact that I know that Lillian’s maternal grandmother, Orinda Bennett James,  died in an insane asylum in Whitestown, Oneida County, NY in 1852 and my grandfather was so troubled that he took his own life by swallowing carbolic acid in 1911.  Pathology…hard as it is…might be this genealogist’s evidence.    HIPAA laws might get in the way of acquiring information and researching the Lillian W. Martin in what was Long Island State Hospital at King’s Park .  Still….

Earlier this year I sent a request out to the Vital Records Department that covers the NY metro area…and no death certificate is there for her…not before 1900.    I have poured over Brooklyn newspapers and Auburn NY papers for some kind of death notice for years now. Nothing. She is not listed in the Evergreens Cemetery in Brooklyn where Henry is buried. Alone. The North Street Cemetery in Auburn, NY has suffered from neglect and record loss…a shameful history story there…so I don’t know if her body was buried in the Jennings family plot.  But there were other Lillian Martins who died in the New York metro area and I dismissed them because the death date didn’t neatly fit into Henry’s statement of widowhood in 1900.

With this possible clue…this painful clue…the next step is to ascertain if there are burial records for the patients of Long Island State Hospital at King’s Park.

I will keep looking in every nook and cranny. It would be like abandoning her if I didn’t.

My education on Brooklyn is just beginning…I have two history books on the area since family members on both sides left central New York in the 1880’s to live and work in Brooklyn.   Just to get a feel for the Brooklyn of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.    But the personal history is as black and white as the old photos and so very full of shadows.     I knew my Grand Uncle George…my grandfather’s brother…and I own one of his lovely landscape oil paintings and my brother has one of his pastels…”The Three Cherubs”…that Uncle George created to celebrate my three brothers.   But so very little of his mother, Lillian W. “Lillie” Jennings Martin.

Bits and pieces.  Art and void.  And perhaps madness.

 

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2014.  All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

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Timetables and The Parlor of Samuel Jenney

A Note to my Readers:  It is such a small world and nothing illustrates that more than my research of my James and Jennings and Jenney family members.  They all migrated from the city of New Bedford in the early 1800’s.  The City that Lit the World…the whaling capital of the world…was losing it influence when whale oil stopped being the driving commodity for gathering wealth or at the very least financial security.   The family alliances…both through marriage and business…are like a spider web pattern and if I am not industrious, I will get lost in the intricacies. Particularly because of the repetition of first names…Samuel, Abigail, Harriet, Deborah and James.   Sometimes, one individual clarifies it all and becomes such a comfortable character in the process that I like to take time to visit awhile.  Even though he is not a direct ancestor, he is a sweet nexus in his farmhouse along Cayuga Lake and beloved by his neighbors, friends and family.   The year of 1885 was one of noteworthy moments in the widower’s life and so I take the H. G. Wells time machine out…drag it into the garden and set it to 1885.  See you there.

The Parlor

The year of 1885 along Cayuga Lake and around the nation was full of joy, sorrow, surprises, schemes, secrecy and mosquitoes…

On February 5th, Adelia M. Jenney, daughter of Samuel Jenney, Jr. and his wife, Sally Sharpsteen, married Franklin Eugene James in the parlor of her widowed father’s Union Springs home. Samuel’s father…who was also Samuel…was first married to Abigail James…Adelia’s grandmother and my 2nd great grandmother’s sister (Harriet James Jennings).   Her groom was my 2nd great grandmother’s nephew…which makes the newlyweds cousins.   The James’ and the Jenneys and the Jennings all came from New Bedford, Massachusetts to the shores of Cayuga Lake in the early 1800’s where Samuel’s generation was born.

At the residence of the bride’s father in Springport, Thursday, Feb. 6th, by Rev. S. A. Beman, Miss Adelia M. Jenney to Franklin E. James of Newfield. After the ceremony Mr. Jenny in a few appropriate worlds welcomed his children both to his heart and home. Mr. James, then through the officiating clergyman, presented his father-in-law with an elegant easy chair expressing the hope that he might live many years to enjoy it. Another elegant chair was also presented to the his bride. The occasion was an impressive and enjoyable one. The happy couple took the evening train on a trip to Buffalo and Niagara.

Just one month later, forty friends and family members of Samuel Jenney gathered in the Jenney home to celebrate his 65th birthday. The parlor was once again filled with celebration.

Monday evening last was the occasion of a pleasant surprise to Mr. Samuel Jenney when about forty of his friends and neighbors very unexpectedly came in to celebrate his sixty-fifth birthday. His cordial manner at once assured them they were welcome. A bountiful repast was served, and good music added much to the enjoyment of the occasion. The wish of all as the good nights were spoken was that their host might live to enjoy many happy birthdays.

The Jenney neighbors…the Gaylord family of Union Springs lost their yellow and white Scotch Terrier and offered a ten dollar reward for his return. In today’s currency that’s almost $250!   Some dog!

Samuel’s brother-in-law, William Sharpsteen, came for a visit that July from Defiance, Ohio and on a warm summer’s evening passed away in the Jenney’s home. William was laid out in the parlor and a somber funeral was held there in the very spot that his sister’s body was viewed a the time of her death five years earlier.  William’s mortal remains were transported to Chestnut Hill Cemetery were he was laid to rest near his sister.

And the World Turns

But…beyond the parlor and its activities in 1885 the world continued to spin and nature had its way with the residents.

It was a bitter winter and even into March Cayuga Lake was frozen solid.  Seneca County historian, Naomi Brewer,  reports that her great grandmother, Carrie Coleman wrote an account of the March weather in her diary .

…on Feb. 17 the lake was frozen over and many people skated on the lake, with one getting the mail this way. On March 4, the ice thawed in places but refroze the next day. On March 6 the ice roared and groaned as it froze harder. Iceboats were in use frequently. On March 27 she reported teams crossing on the ice but there was some thawing and water on the ice. Thawing continued so that there were open streaks on April 4.

That March temperatures held at freezing and below with a relentless grip.  An immense cake of ice reported to be 150 feet Glenwood Hotel 2long, 30 feet wide and 10 inches thick was cut from Cayuga Lake and towed to the hotel ice house to stock the Glenwood resort.

Reverend Ezra Dean, a retired Baptist minister of Auburn died from the effects of asphyxiation by coal gas. He and his wife were found unconscious when their daughter called upon them for a visit. It was too late for the minister, but his wife survived.

Roller skating…which had become a phenomenon in Auburn…faded into oblivion that winter and both rinks closed like a light winking out.  I imagine the ice being plentiful afforded the hardy winter sporting enthusiasts with more than enough surfaces to indulge themselves and for those that shied from the frigid cold, a good book and a warm fire kept them at hearth and home.

The going rate for a one way fare to San Francisco was a modest or princely sum depending on your circumstance…. of $50.00. (about $1219.00 in today’s currency).

My 2nd great grandmother’s brother, David Sands Titus…known as the Major…was a supervisor from Cayuga county and traveled from his home in the village of Cayuga to Auburn inspecting the old jail. The county was about to build a new jail and the Major and his fellow supervisors were inspecting the various proposed plans after visiting several cities and reviewing their facilities.

By July travelers of the NY Central between Union Springs and Auburn were relieved to find out that the old time-table had been restored. The new schedule had proved so inconvenient that officials heeded the complaints.

That summer the President of Yale College, Noah Porter, was reported to be revising Webster’s dictionary…in secret.  Gossip was rampant as to the nature of the revisions.  As with other editions…before and after, it was quite the hot topic with debates on the ‘war of words’.

And Detroit was beset with mosquitoes that summer…something the folks in the Finger Lakes knew too well. So was published a home remedy for the pesky critters…mix four ounces of cloves, two ounces of oil of peppermint, eight ounces of Persian powder (an organic blend of crushed Chrysanthemums and Tanacetum or Tansies), four ounces of gum camphor. The concoction was guaranteed to drive them from the room.

But as is the experienced and practical nature of advice from the folks along the lake,  there was a bit of extra wisdom to be shared.

“If it fails, hit him with a wet towel.”

Reluctantly I left the research visit with the Jenneys and Cayuga Lake and the year of 1885 with the full understanding that I would be back to visit in their autumn…when the leaves are golden and the flocks of Canada geese settle on the lake for a brief respite during their migration.

I am a Time Traveler.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved