Beyond the Black and White Image

I was talking with some genealogical researchers today and we were discussing physical traits of our grandparents East Gallery Walland great grandparents. Because I was born late in my parents’ lives, I did not know my grandparents and my kids barely knew theirs. There are records that give physical descriptions…mostly for men as they are military…that state height, hair color, eye color and ‘build’. On occasion there is a traveler who gets a passport that gives us our female ancestor description. Kids, you have seen my heritage portrait wall of black and white photos, but that doesn’t specify the details or the histories and I realized that I am your link to know about those facts.

So. Because my kids never knew him…their grandfather (my dad) was barely 5′ 3″ and though I know he was pretty slim, I don’t know his specific weight. Look at my brother, their Uncle David Martin…that is pretty much our dad. I do know that my father had straight, reddish blonde hair with a receding hairline and that he had (my) blue eyes. Oh…and though this is not genetic…he smelled wonderful of Old Spice and starch and just a whiff of lemon drops. He had his brilliant white shirts done at (pardon the politically incorrect language) the Chinese laundry and to hide his road tipple of whiskey, he sucked on lemon drops in an attempt to hide it from my mother. It never worked, but that is another story.

Al loses finger in accident at Beacon Mill AccidentAt the age of seventeen my father lost his right pointer finger and half of his index finger when his hand was caught in a piece of machinery when he worked at Beacon Milling in Cayuga (now part of Cargill). I held his hand without a hesitation when we tromped through the high grasses along Cayuga Lake while we looked for walnuts and butter nuts…and a handful of Tiger Lillies and Bittersweet for my mom. When he would pose for pictures, he hid his hand. Mostly in his suit coat pocket. Dad was nearsighted and had gold-rimmed spectacles that he would habitually remove and clean and replace in the same fashion. Left ear…nose…right ear…in such a familiar gesture that I can still see him doing it some 50 years later. His pockets were always filled with NECCO wafers or LifeSavers and he would share them with me while I sat on his lap.  I spun the sweet candy idly around my mouth, dreamily listening as he spun odd tales in a ritual we called “The Big Lie”. It was mostly a deliberately garbled rendition of various fairy tales spiced with his inventive imagination and twist and turns that left us breathless laughing.  Those were the good times.

A E Martin 5yrsHe was a complicated man arisen from a 5 year old boy who witnessed his father committing suicide by swallowing carbolic acid. Dad was brilliant and entrepreneurial and could take anything mechanical apart and put it together again without one ounce of doubt. On occasion when he hit a snag, he might utter a ‘dammitall”, but he was persistent and by golly, it never failed to run. It was kind of a magical genius.

Human beings were another thing.

I was four when Dad was first committed to Willard State Hospital for alcoholism. I have a letter from his doctor that my mother tucked in the pages of the family bible. It spoke of a man who doubted his faith in being loved. He was in his late forties and to everyone else he was a successful self-made man.  Dad had thrived during the Great Depression and WWII. He owned an airplane and a valuable piece of Ithaca real estate on State Street in the 1940’s that has since ‘disappeared’ into urban renewal. He also had a mistress…one Harriet “Hattie” Daniels.  Mom always knew about Hattie.  I can’t imagine what it was like for her.  Dad would take the plane and fly down to D.C. on the weekends to see Hattie.  The affair lasted for decades until I was born.  You can imagine that Hattie lost it and told him to take a hike.  Then my father’s unraveling truly began and we lost everything. Our home. Everything.  While Dad was hospitalized, his business manager cleaned out the assets.  When my mother and father came back to the business, it was an empty building.  The inventory was gone and the office equipment including my little pink wicker chair that played nursery rhymes when I sat on it.  The bank accounts were almost empty.  Just enough was left to keep the accounts open.  And the business manager had fled the country.  The authorities including the FBI bumbled around and called the trail to South America ‘cold’.    Years after my father’s death, my mother shared the story with me so I knew what happened to our Ithaca life and I suppose so she could mourn the loss with a sympathetic child.

To say that ‘Daddy” – I call him that to this day- had a difficult and complicated history is an understatement. But when I attempt to describe him with ‘my blue eyes’ and a slight build…it overly simplifies it all.

I have come to the conclusion that you cannot create a biographical profile in a sterile box and with just a physical description. That said, “what did my grandfather look like” is the question. We family historians cannot resist to fill in with the other senses and emotions.

Still and all, he was my ‘Daddy’ and that means something to my child self.

When my brother, Rich died this year, we sat by his grave…next to my father’s in Lake View Cemetery in the little village of Cayuga, NY…and I allowed myself to grieve for them both.  I will return next summer and place flowers like I always do and choose to remember “The Big Lie”.

 

Deborah Martin-Plugh
Author, Writer and Genealogical Researcher
© Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Taking Stock

Occasionally research takes you down unexpected paths.  I was stopped short today and went where the story took me.  The evidence left me with more questions and added to the research load, but I wouldn’t miss these jogs in the road for anything.  Picking up some loose ends today to see if I can find more Martin descendants, I casually checked back with a number of newspapers to see if there was anything new.  And boy, oh boy, I got more than I bargained for.

Newspaper Auburn NY News & Bulletin May 1883  Ernest Martin takes a NYC positionChasing down the descendants of my great grandfather’s brother, Ernest M. Martin, I uncovered some intriguing material. Ernest, and my great grandfather Henry A. Martin were both ‘stenographers’ and telegraph operators. I hadn’t previously identified their employers. I assumed they were Western Union. Both men picked up and left Auburn in May of 1883 to work as stenographers in New York City. I speculated that perhaps it might have to do with the soon to be completed Brooklyn Bridge since young people from all over the tri-state area were streaming into the city to work as professionals in Manhattan while living in Brooklyn.

What I found today has given me pause. I found they were employed in the Auburn, NY offices of stockbrokers Watson & Cox and Co. handling the ‘wire’. Irregularities were occurring at the time and investors were beginning to question what was happening with their money. In 1883 local reporters went to two brokerages and asked them point blank why were people losing money? Watson said it was nonsense…that crops were great and there was no reason for panic.

He said that in his opinion, the panicky feeling is the result of a large class of worthless securities being thrown upon the market, which has a tendency, naturally to affect first class collaterals.

“Then you have no idea of a panic? the reporter asked.”

That is nonsense.  The country never had better crops; the railroads are in excellent condition for transportation and there is a general feeling of contentment among all classes.  You can put me down as saying that there is no cause for alarm.


It wasn’t long before Watson & Cox, Co. had closed their doors and the principal brokers were indicted for grand larceny. Though they went through a trial in 1885, they were not convicted.

What was of interest to me beyond the intrigue of the economic impact on Auburn’s citizens was the fact that Watson & Cox was affiliated with the NYC brokerage Townsend & Yale that hired my grandfather and his brother and brought them from Auburn to NYC. In 1883. Men who would know EVERY transaction and message in and out of those offices at 82 Genesee St.

There is no evidence that Ernest and Henry were called to testify and they both worked for decades as stenographers on the New York Stock Exchange. I also found no evidence that Henry EVER returned to Auburn except to marry in July of 1884. He remained in Brooklyn until his death in 1932. Ernest married his Auburn sweetheart at the same time and immediately returned to Brooklyn. Only Ernest’s wife and daughters returned to visit her parents.

The effect on Auburn’s economy was felt for years. Newspaper Auburn NY Weekly Democrat 31 May 1888 Watson Cox destroyed Auburns economy


There is much to read on the Watson & Cox case. Just collecting it and organizing it has been Herculean.   Of course, this means I have a check list.  What is a bucket shop?  And worthless securities?  And even more unsettling…do bucket shops still exist under another name.    And worthless securities?  Time to talk to an historian about the stock market and the American economy.

 

Author’s Note:

DEFINITION of ‘Bucket Shop’

1. A fraudulent brokerage firm that uses aggressive telephone sales tactics to sell securities that the brokerage owns and wants to get rid of. The securities they sell are typically poor investment opportunities, and almost always penny stocks.

2. A brokerage that makes trades on a client’s behalf and promises a certain price. The brokerage, however, waits until a different price arises and then makes the trade, keeping the difference as profit.

INVESTOPEDIA EXPLAINS ‘Bucket Shop’

1. Bucket shops are sometimes called the boiler room. The U.S. has laws restricting bucket shop practices by limiting the ability of brokerage houses to create and trade certain types of over-the-counter securities.

2. The second definition for a bucket shop comes from more than 50 years ago, when bucket shops would do trades all day long, throwing the tickets into a bucket. At the end of the day they would decide which accounts to award the winning and losing trades to.

Investopedia.com

“1885, Jan. 5. – The firm of Watson, Cox & Co., brokers is dissolved; the Auburn members of the firm taking quarters with Sheriff Myers.  The firm was organized in 1880, as Watson & Neyhart.  Mr. Neyhart retiring, Mr. Ashby succeeded him and a New York broker, named Cox, was introduced.  The firm did a large business in the purchase and sale of stocks, and great expectations of large fortunes were indulged in, which I regret to say, were not in all cases realized.  Some misunderstanding having arisen between the firm and its patrons, the business office was removed and negotiations were carried on at the jail until the 8th of May, when the restrained brokers were honorably discharged.”

Collections of Cayuga County Historical Society, Volumes 9 -11.  Published 1891. Page 36

 

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2015.  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