104 Degrees in the Shade

104 Degrees in the Shade

Note to My Readers: Part of a genealogist’s research involves delving into the world around our ancestors especially when there is something that seems out of the ordinary.   I have recently found the indexed information on my great grandmother’s New York State death certificate and sent away to Albany,  NY for a copy.  Lillian W. Jennings Martin was just 47 years old and a patient at King’s Park Asylum in Smithtown, Suffolk County, NY for at least five years when she died on July 18,  1905.


I began to read about King’s Park and its creation in 1885 as a ‘farm colony’ to care for Brooklyn’s ‘insane’ patients which included anyone who’s diagnosis ranged from mentally handicapped (idiot) to ‘hysteric’ (as you can guess women were those patients) to schizophrenic. It was a pretty terrible place where patients were subjected to lobotomies and electroshock therapy and were essentially locked away from the world.   Lillian’s diagnosis remains unknown to me though two factors are in play.  She was committed shortly after her daughter Lillian Florence Martin was born and her maternal grandmother, Orinda Bennett James, had been an ‘insane pauper’ inmate at Whitestown Insane Asylum in Whitestown, Oneida, New York at the time of her death in 1852 at the age of 62.  Postpartum Depression?  Incipient Dementia?   The Asylum was shut down in 1996 and records of Lillian are buried in some snaggled and bureaucratic mess.   If they exist anymore at all.


I ran across dozens of articles about the Heat Wave of July 17-19, 1905 that struck down easterners in astonishing numbers. Citizens in major cities east of the Mississippi were in desperate need of relief.  New York City found itself without the funds to ‘wash down’ the streets thanks to Tammany Hall corruption and ice handlers threatened to go on strike, but fortunately that did not materialize.  Ice was being given away for free to ease suffering and it wasn’t uncommon to see people in the streets of Brooklyn, Manhattan and Long Island chipping off pieces from the blocks that were placed in the streets.  The unclean streets.

By noon on July 18th thirty horses had collapsed and died in Brooklyn alone.  At nightfall the toll of horses dead from heatstroke was almost fifty animals.  Infant mortality was almost 80%.  The first day of the heat wave ten human deaths and two prostrations were reported and physicians advised populations to “(1) eat little or no meat, but ‘subsist on fruit and dairy foods’.  (2) Dress lightly in weight and color and avoid starched clothing as much as possible.  (3) Avoid violent exercise of any kind and keep in the shade.”    Still the populace collapsed and died.


Daily Star 21 Jul 1905 Heat Wave and Typhoid headline

Brooklyn Daily Star, July 18 1905

And then came the spread of typhoid. It was rampant and devastating. The Health Department had its hands full and hospitals were under siege with the heat prostration victims compounded now by typhoid. Advisories against consumption of oysters and milk were everywhere. But not ice. Not ice that was accessed by everyone on the fetid and sweltering streets by the desperate folks trying to get relief from the suffocating temperatures that reportedly measured 104 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade for three straight days.   The Stock Market seemed to be a victim of the torpor as traders themselves sagged under the oppressive heat.   As reported in “Billboard”, New York’s theater district was a ghost town as the more well-heeled citizens fled to the shores and mountains in pursuit of breezes and cooler temperatures. The Heat Wave of 1905 was reported in newspapers around the globe…Japan, Australia, London, Paris.

I scoured the Brooklyn papers that reported deaths on July 18, 1905 and for weeks after in the hopes that she was acknowledged. Nothing. Her husband, Henry had declared himself a widower in 1900 so was there shame?  It wasn’t uncommon for families to deny mental illness especially when a family member is ‘sent away’.  Perhaps Henry had been struggling so mightily to manage their children in the heat that providing a death notice to the newspapers was not a priority?  As one New York Times correspondent wrote:

“The suffering of the dwellers in the tenement districts is terrible. People sleep on the roofs, on fire escapes, in doorways, on the sidewalks-anywhere to get away from the suffocating rooms.  Yesterday an order was issued throwing open the parks at night, and every green space in the city was covered with sleepers.  The effect was exactly that of a battlefield.  All the ordinary rules of decency forgotten at such a time as this. Children bathe in the public fountains without any interference on the part of the police, and outside the public baths long lines men and boys stand waiting eager to lose no time when they are admitted that they have already divested themselves of almost all their clothing.”

King’s Park Asylum with its hundreds of patients no doubt had its share of prostrations and deaths due to the oppressive heat wave.  Did Lillian die due to the heat?   Will her death certificate reveal a truthful cause of death?   The conditions in New York City and Long Island may also explain why Henry’s son Albert…my grandfather…went to live in central New York (Auburn) with his grandfather’s family. Where he met my grandmother, Sarah Leona Penird.

Is my existence the result of the 1905 Heat Wave and a typhoid epidemic?

Deborah J. Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

© Copyright October 2017. All Rights Reserved.


Great Grandmother Nature Abhors a Vacuum

A Note to My Readers:  I may not be the “Lone Ranger” here, but I am fortunate to be the custodian of a great many family treasures including my maternal great grandparents’ family bible circa 1867, a myriad of cabinet cards, Victorian trading cards, a key to the city of Auburn, NY presented to my mother, my parents’ marriage ceremony booklet,  a panoramic photo of a 1929 Tyler Kindred of America family reunion and an 1896 fraternal order ribbon badge to name a few.  Most all photos are from my mother’s side of the family which includes a few reproductions of the originals that are in the possession of cousins.  My mother was hugely sentimental and the ‘keeper of memories’ and she passed the torch on to me. 

My father died when I was ten and there was some Martin family time with his kith and kin, but it did not have the bonded blood-to-blood tribal love that imbued every Purdy gathering.  Accompanied with singing and gossiping, cigarettes, cocktails, bosoms sporting expensive perfumes and glorious shades of lipsticks that marked cigarette butts and children’s cheeks,  nothing was done in small doses in my mother’s family.  Especially reminiscing.  Along with the affectionate and dramatic Purdy panache,  I was provided with enough memorabilia, photos and lore to know my mother’s side and to begin to build a worthy maternal family tree.  Not so with my father.  I barely had time to know my father and having no knowledge of my paternal history was something that challenged me from the very beginning.  It also gave me one of my first and ongoing brick wall mysteries.

Lillian W. Jennings Martin (1858 – 1905)

My great grandmother, Lillian Jennings Martin, disappeared off the planet shortly after her daughter Lillian was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1898. I have researched every entity, nook and cranny in and out of the genealogist’s toolbox within the boroughs of NYC and including a Long Island Sanitarium.  In fact, I even searched in nearby New Jersey as she had given birth to a still born child at a hospital there in 1888.  Though I could cull much about her husband Henry from Brooklyn newspapers, there was nothing about Lillian.  According to Evergreens cemetery in Brooklyn, NY where her husband (and my great grandfather, Henry A. Martin) is buried, she had no burial record there.  On March 30, 2015, I found that to be wrong.*

Failing to find her information in the Brooklyn area, I went back to her hometown of Auburn, New York.  Burial records for North Street Cemetery in Auburn, NY are full of gaps of information. The maintenance of the grounds and records have a terrible history, but I do have records of most of the burials in the Jennings family plot as recorded in an old sexton’s log book.  In addition, I have the obituaries of her father, Daniel and sister, Harriet Jennings White that state their burials took place in North Street Cemetery ‘in the Jennings plot’.   Lillian is not listed among them in the book and no stones remain to mark any Jennings Henry marries Lillian Jennings 1884 news and Democratburials due to scores of years of vandalism and lack of care.  Painstakingly searching through Auburn, New York newspaper articles for any Jennings or Martin mention, I had no trouble finding information on her Jennings family members including death notices and obituaries. Why not Lillian?  Her husband’s Martin family lived in Auburn and they never failed to show up in the local newspapers.   Only Lillian’s 1884 marriage to my great grandfather surfaced in an Auburn, NY newspaper article.

Lacking any more avenues to find Lillian, I decided to open up the research to her siblings.  Perhaps there was a clue awaiting me among the Jennings kin.  I began with  Lillian’s sister Emily Russell Jennings Trowbridge and brother William H. Jennings.

Trowbridge & Jennings Art Store in Auburn, New York.

Trowbridge & Jennings Art Store in Auburn, New York.

Lillian’s oldest sister, Emily Russell Jennings Trowbridge, lived in Auburn for decades with her husband and three children.  John Jasper Trowbridge in partnership with his brother-in-law William H. Jennings owned and operated an art and supplies store in Auburn, New York.  Both men were prominent citizens and socially and politically active.  Information on the two siblings was an embarrassment of riches.   When  John moved on to open another store in Binghamton, NY,  Will Jennings continued to run the Auburn, New York store with his sons.  His new venture was social and business news in both Auburn and Binghamton newspapers.   After the turn of the century, the Trowbridges relocated to Orange, New Jersey for a short time as John found a new opportunity to pursue.  Eventually the family came back to Binghamton where John had been offered a lucrative position.  He and Emily spent their remaining years in Binghamton as did their spinster daughters, Grace and Emma.  Son Charles Jasper Trowbridge had fallen in love with socialite Paula Mencken Flugal and the pair were married in West Orange, New Jersey in 1909.  Their wedding was reported in the New York Times.  A salesman like his father, Charles found opportunity in several places…Philadelphia, New York City, Buffalo, New York, Newton, Massachusetts eventually living in Long Beach, California with his wife and near his married daughters, Ruth Jennings Trowbridge (wife of Graham Hurd Stewart) and Louise White Trowbridge (wife of Philip L. Bruce).   I followed Lillian’s nieces and nephew in the hopes that sister Emily’s family would shed some light on her fate.

As I considered it, Emily and her family were living in East Orange about the time Lillian and Henry were living in Brooklyn.  And about the time she disappears from any records of any kind.  Emily would have known about Lillian’s life and death.  Possibly they spent time together as the distance was not great.  Perhaps West Orange might hold some kind of clue.  A long shot to be sure, but as any genealogical researcher can attest, long shots are very often the very weapon that solves a mystery.   New Jersey held no revelation so it was back to Auburn.

The Trowbridges of Binghamton…Emily, and her husband, John Jasper Trowbridge and their spinster daughters, Grace and Emma were all brought back to Auburn, New York to be buried in their family plot in Fort Hill Cemetery.  North Street Cemetery had long been disregarded as suitable and Fort Hill held the ‘new’ pioneer burials with all of the grand monuments.   Would Lillian have been brought ‘home’ to rest with her Jennings family members in North Street Cemetery?  Could she have died in Auburn and not in the Brooklyn area?  Was she buried in Brooklyn or her hometown of Auburn?  Nothing. No death records. No burial records. No obituaries or death notices.  Anywhere.  Just unanswered questions lurking everywhere.    Lillian’s fate remains a mystery despite my best efforts.  I keep at it…blurry eyed, out of ideas, yet still believing that I will find her.    Perhaps that energy and faith lives in the ether.

Emily Comes Home

Dad, his Uncle George and Uncle George's Aunt Harriett Jennings White. Two of my brothers play at their feet.  Four generations!

Dad, his Uncle George and Uncle George’s Aunt Harriett Jennings White. Two of my brothers play at their feet. Four generations!

One of two Jennings photos I have is one of Lillian’s sister, Harriet Jennings White. She lived in Auburn all of her life and died in 1940. My father visited her quite often and I am fortunate to own the original photo of Harriet taken around 1936 with my father, his Uncle George Martin (my grandfather Albert’s brother) and two of my older brothers. The other photo I have is gift from an individual who found it among her great aunt’s belongings. It is of Grace Trowbridge.  Her cabinet card was tucked among her schoolmate’s memorabilia for over a century only to be found by her schoolmate’s granddaughter.  She discovered my blog and reading about Emily and her daughter, Grace, sent Grace’s photo to me to once again be part of family.  Grace’s cabinet card is framed and hung in my gallery among her extended family members.  She is home.

Emily Russell Jennings Trowbridge

Emily Russell Jennings Trowbridge

Recently I was offered another family treasure…a gift…by another historian who found the cabinet card of Emily Russell Jennings…Mrs. John J. Trowbridge in an antique shop near her home.  Vicky is an historian herself and makes a point of rescuing the random orphan image and sets about to find family of the subject.  A thoughtful (and kindred) spirit, she dug in to the Trowbridge research and came upon my blog and sent me an inquiry.  On the back of the cabinet card is gold stamped “Mrs. J. J. Trowbridge.  Binghamton, NY”.  Was I family?   It was the most stunning moment because I had been looking into my Jennings material at that very moment with the hope that a new source had become available and perhaps I might find Lillian.

This was one of those shiver moments.  Scoff if you will, but to have the image of Lillian’s sister Emily cross the grand void and find me at that very moment took my breath away.   I think I am pretty stubborn…tenacious sounds better…and I hate an unsolved mystery and abandoning an ancestor.   What do they say?  “Nature abhors a vacuum.”  So do I.   An incident such as this reinforces my instinct to press on.

Emily’s image is now hung in the gallery in my sitting room where I research and where she has joined her daughter, Grace and her sister, Harriett in the Jennings collection.  Perhaps some day, Lillian will find her way home.  Meanwhile, I adore the image…the very light blue eyes that I sport.  I see family so clearly in her face.

For the few days it took for Emily’s image to arrive in the mail,  I haunted my mailbox.

This is when my neighbors question my sanity as I dance to the mailbox in anticipation.  Call me a silly and sentimental, but make sure you add genealogist.

Then my bit of Terpsichore to check the post will explain everything.

*March 30, 2015 UPDATE:  I found a death record today for Lillian and Henry’s 14 year old son, Howard.  He died in 1907 and was buried in Evergreens Cemetery.  I called them today and they confirmed he was in the family plot.  As was an “L” Martin.  That was Lillian!  She was buried there on July 2, 1905.  No details on where or how she died and it deepens the mystery since Henry declared himself a widower in the 1900 Federal Census and the 1905 New York State Census.  It does make me think that the Lillian W. Martin in Kings Park Psychiatric Hospital is my great grandmother.  It was abandoned and the records moved and I have begun the daunting process of trying to find out just where they ended up.  The good news is I know where she is buried and that is a sense of closure.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher


(c) Copyright 2015.  All Rights Reserved.

Coming Home…a Stranger’s Gift

A Note To My Readers:  What a week! I have been pretty seriously ill with a virus that oddly enough attacked my eyes…scary and painful…and made it really difficult to do any reading or computer work. I toughed it out…with the help of good medication and am on the mend.


That said…I did ‘force’ myself to do some genealogical work (I know you all can admit to the same thing…never too sick for genealogy!). Wonder of wonders…I received an email from a complete stranger who told me she had found a cabinet card with a name and date on the back…Grace Trowbridge 1890. She was going through her grandmother’s things in some old boxes and there it was!  Her grandmother and Grace were school girls together. She mentioned it to a friend who happened to know me and who follows my genealogical postings…including some regarding my Jennings and Trowbridge family members.

Would I like to have it? Well, I didn’t hesitate a bit. Of course! Yes! Please! And thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!

It arrived on Wednesday.

Grace Trowbridge

Grace Trowbridge. 1890. Auburn, NY.

GRACE TROWBRIDGE (1876 – 1948)

Grace is the daughter of Emily Russell Jennings and John Trowbridge. Emily is the sister of my great grandmother, Lillian W. Jennings Martin. Emily’s husband John and her brother William H. Jennings were business partners in Auburn, NY.  I have, but one picture from my Jennings line…Lillian and Emily’s sister, Harriett Jennings White.  Harriet is in her eighties in the photo standing with my father and his Uncle George (Lillian’s son) and my two older brothers playing at their feet.  Aging has changed her enough to make it a struggle to see distinct family resemblances.   With the picture of 14 year old Grace I can stare into Harriett’s face and I see family characteristics.
I have nothing of  great grandmother Lillian and the mystery is still there about her fate. I have checked with every authority to find a death certificate…cemeteries too numerous to count and all the pertinent newspapers for her obituary. But now I have her two sisters’ images and it makes the melancholy of not ‘finding’ Lillian sting a bit less.  Grace never married…nor did her sister, Emma and I suppose that any Jennings memorabilia that the spinster sisters might have from their mother Emily went the way of most things left behind by maiden ladies…either poof…or to their only brother’s children…their nieces Louise White Trowbridge or Ruth Jennings Trowbridge who hopefully have kept them for family sentiment and passed them down.  And awaiting another discovery in an old box.
Dad, his Uncle George and Uncle George's Aunt Harriett Jennings White. Two of my brothers play at their feet.  Four generations!

Dad, his Uncle George and Uncle George’s Aunt Harriett Jennings White. Two of my brothers play at their feet. Four generations!

Happily…Grace is now tucked among her family members’ images now and I will rearrange the framed pieces to place her next to Harriett.
A big thank you to a generous stranger who understands the power of family and pay it forward.
Deborah Martin-Plugh
Author, Historian & Genealogical Researcher
(c) Copyright 2014.  All Rights Reserved

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




Becoming Smithsonian; Discovering Personal History

A Note to My Readers:  Victorian Advertising Cards. Chances are if your ancestor was a merchant during that period in history, they used this print method of advertising. My paternal great grandfather (Albert S. Martin) advertised his sewing machine business with several styles of this type of card.   I found one for sale on eBay and put in a bid to purchase it.  At a cost of a modest $5.99 plus shipping, it has taken its place in the family memorabilia.  Another set is archived in the Smithsonian.  Most of these cards were…in the parlance of advertising…a co-op item. Typically the manufacturer printed up thousands of them and the merchant bought them blank and had the back printed up by a local printer.  According to collectors some rare cards can be worth several thousand dollars.  

A S Martin Victorian Business Card FrontUp to this point I had only the digital images of scanned newspaper advertising -blurred and ‘muddy’ – to add to my research base and upon discovering the card set being archived at The Smithsonian, I kept an eye out just in case one might be ‘floating’ about some antiquarian or dealer’s hoard.  It was brought to my attention by someone on my hometown Facebook page that one was up for sale on eBay.  Quicker than a flash, I was on the site and put in a bid and held my breath for five days.  The email notice came in that I had won the bid.   I posted to my Facebook page that I was awaiting my treasure’s arrival with the hash-tag #dancing to the mailbox.    A S Martin Victorian Business Card Back

When it arrived, I was one happy genealogist.  The colors are bright and crisp and it appears the delicate paper has been stored carefully.

Out of curiosity I checked out other collectibles from my hometown area and found another piece available and put a bid of $3.00 in for it…again with bated breath awaiting for the bidding to close.  Once more I was a genealogist in waiting and for the next few days I was at the mailbox before the red, white and blue jeep could pull up.  It put me in mind of the childhood experience of sending away for a Captain Midnight secret decoder ring and the giddy sense of anticipation.

Trowbridge and Jennings 1876 Exhibition CardMy latest eBay treasure arrived in yesterday’s mail…an advertising piece for Trowbridge and Jennings of Auburn, New York. William H. Jennings is the brother of my great grandmother, Lillian W. Jennings Martin and her sister is Emily R. Jennings, wife of John J. Trowbridge. The brothers-in-law went into business with one another in 1869 when William was just 21 years old. William had opened an art store in Oswego when he was just 19 and when the partnership was formed, the pair moved the store to Auburn. They had great success and the business continued to operate and thrive until the death of John J. Trowbridge in 1926.

The photo on eBay was very low resolution and I couldn’t quite make out the detail…though it promised to be a beautiful piece. Inspecting it this morning, it is indeed a piece of art…and something more. It appears this might be part of the catalog and trading cards of the International Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia in 1876.   There was nothing imprinted on the back as was the practice and that is a bit of mystery.

Fortunately for me, the Library Company of Philadelphia founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731 has a wonderful collection of Exhibition materials including the catalogs and loose advertising materials and that fact calls for a day trip in to the city for me to view the collection and speak with the librarians about reviewing the David Doret Collection. A grand research adventure to learn about the experience of two young men from Auburn, New York who participated in The Centennial International Exhibition of 1876, the first official World’s Fair in the United States!

Under it’s official name – the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine, it attracted about 10 million visitors which was about 20% of the population of the United States at the time. Auburn was a growing city of over 18,000 souls. It must have been quite a heady experience for the two young men.

While a collector’s definition of treasure might be measured in dollars, my family finds have a different value scale for me as an historian and genealogist.  It is a sentimental bit of personal  family history and a priceless addition to my own Smithsonian effort.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2014.  All Rights Reserved

In Search of Honey

A Note to My Readers:  Brick Wall.  Head Scratcher.  Haunting Mystery.  

There are degrees of frustration that affect family historians as we search for answers about our ancestors.  Why did they move west?  When and why did they in particular change the spelling of their surname?  Why is this child living with a relative and not their parents?  What happened in the winter of 1878 when three children died?  Was THIS man or woman my ancestor or was it the individual with the same name and approximate age…living in the same town?  Why does one enumeration say they were from Massachusetts and another Connecticut.  Some questions are answered with official documentation while some conclusions can be made through analyzing available evidence.  And some clues come from interviewing family membersOr combination of the three.

One of the questions that is hard to deal with is “What happened to my grandparent or great grandparent?”.  We accept that before centralized record keeping or a diligent family historian’s accounting that some individual’s fate will remain a void in our information.  The closer we are in relationship and generation to a forebear, the more we are puzzled and driven to know.   Chances are…the disappearance…the lack of information regarding his or her death…is some kind of family secret.

I am working on one of those mysteries…my paternal great grandmother, Lillian W. Jennings Martin.  I have dug in with a significant number of resources…obvious and obscure…and spent a good amount of time parsing and analyzing.  To no avail.  Yet.   How much do I invest in finding out what happened to this young woman who died shortly after her daughter was born in 1898?  Or did she?  I kept a research worksheet for her and the scratch notes clearly show my hope rise at a possible lead…and the burn when it turns out to be fruitless.  No death certificate on record in the New York City area.  Every borough heard from.  No death notice or obituary…in the New York metro area….even in her hometown of Auburn, New York where her large Jennings family lived.  No record of burial in the myriad of the likely cemeteries.   The last documentation I have of her is the 1892 New York State census living with her husband, Henry and her two sons, Albert H. (my grandfather) and George E. in the 18th Ward of Brooklyn, New York.

1892 NYS Census  Brooklyn, Kings, New York

1892 NYS Census Brooklyn, Kings, New York

If I find the facts about her somewhere in my determined efforts and they are unpleasant, I can imagine there will some kind of closure for me.  Regardless.

I am reminded as I pursue Lillian in the void, the words of  French essayist, Joseph Joubert.

When go you in search of honey, you must expect to be stung by bees.

My parents’ generation had euphemisms or slick diversions in conversation about one individual or another.  “Never speak ill of the dead”.  “If you can’t say anything nice, say nothing at all.”  “Don’t air your dirty laundry.”   I am sure we have all heard one or more of those homilies as we have tried to elicit information from an elderly relative about the family history.  SOMEONE is always some kind of ghostly presence…acknowledged as a relative, but glossed over in a purposeful fashion.  Rarely casual.  Family secrets were hinted at, but in the interest of propriety and family pride nothing was said about a “black sheep” or mental illness.  Let alone the “D” word – divorce.  No feet of clay.  No unpleasantness.  Perhaps the words “tragic” or “unfortunate” might be expressed.  As children, we GOT it.  It wasn’t our business and the subject was closed never to be spoken of again.  On to the nice memories.

If anyone is like me, that leaves some serious gaps.  I never did get the courage to ask my mother about the “tragic or unfortunate” ones…or the ones that simply were glossed over.  My bad.  But then again, she had her own hardships and lived on a plane of pink clouds and only good thoughts with which to cope.  To pry at that in search of the truth would have been utterly cruel on my part.   My mother’s siblings…my aunts and uncle…were tender and adoring and the warmth and affection I received from them curbed my curious nature to probe their childhood.   I accepted the vague references and used them to work through the facts and found answers to their immediate family dynamic outside of sentimentally crafted memories of their childhood.  Some of what I found on my own was very revealing.  And a bittersweet reminder that we come from a family of human beings.  I still have some wonderful stories to embrace and I celebrate that sweetness.

Albert H Martin Ithaca Daily News Death 1911My father died when I was ten and we were not terribly close to his family.   We had picnics and summer visits along Cayuga Lake.  It was noisy with plenty of older cousins, but I forged no deep and personal familial bonding with them after my father’s death.   My uncle was a jokester with only the occasional approachable moment.  Unlike my mother’s family, my father’s sister was not a ‘warm fuzzy’ presence for me.  The secrets were almost palpable in my father’s family history and when I began my research,  absurdly public and easy to find.  His father’s brother, John C. Martin,  was publicly labeled as the Black Sheep in the devoutly Methodist family…stealing from his brother and father and making headlines in the local newspaper.    My father’s father killed himself at the age of twenty-four.  In front of my horrified grandmother and father who was five at the time.  It was a story my mother told me after Dad’s death, but with little detail and a rush to close to the subject.  We moved on with the business of daily life never to discuss it again.  Once again research revealed the real story was more horrifying and painful than I had ever imagined.   What happened to undo my grandfather so profoundly?  Drink…like his uncle John Martin.  Was there something more?

In my case a bridge generation is long gone so getting a clue as to why a young woman simply disappeared…’off the grid’ so to speak…is a reality.  Or why her son took his life…despondent.   In fact, I am now that bridge generation.  The one who can fill in blanks.  Some of them anyway.  But Lillian?   I still am haunted by what I don’t know.  Could she have been a victim of Tuberculosis…in an institution…or gone mad and been ‘sent away’?  Could her son have witnessed some terrible moment and visited his unresolved turmoil on himself and his young family?   My great grandfather was a serious bible-toting Baptist.  Divorce is highly unlikely.  OR.  If he had young children with an incapacitated mother, would he have been given permission by his church to move on?   He listed himself as widowed in the 1900 Federal Census and the 1905 New York State Census and remarried in 1910.

Even as I write this, the questions and facts swirl in my head…certain that IF I just think about what I know…and what I don’t…and where I might look, a clue might just emerge as to where to look next.

Or maybe…not.

It’s just good to remember the bees.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2014.  All Rights Reserved

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