Old No. 63 Trolley

A Note to My Readers:  Trolleys are one of my all-time favorite things. I lived in the San Francisco bay area for a couple of years and loved hopping onto those beauties. I am also a train geek…passed that on to my grandson. As a kid growing up in Auburn, New York, I only vaguely became aware of trolleys when winter thaw would lift the weakened macadam from the underlying cobblestone on Genesee Street and the iron rails would be exposed. My mother, who grew up in Ithaca, would often tell me about riding the trolleys as a child and what a thrill that was for her. It wasn’t a typical thing for the Purdys to do, but an event where everyone wore their best attire, including hats and gloves.

My grandmother would tuck peppermints in her purse and once they were seated, she would dole them out to keep the children still. There is something tender about that bit of nostalgia and I suppose that is why the romance of riding a trolley has stuck with me. When my father died in 1958, mom sold the car and our transportation modes were city bus and good old ‘bus number two’. Those were the days when not everyone had a car and those that did had just one. The family car. Fathers drove it to work and to church and took the family on those wonderful Sunday drives in the countryside.

I didn’t drive until I was 24 years old and a young mother. My mother said I was a pioneer. Really!

She always carried peppermints in her purse and I suspect if Auburn still had trolleys when I was growing up, she would have definitely preferred to hop on and let the buses go on without her.


Hiram Mial Titus (1861-1943) is my first cousin 3X removed. We are both descendants of Gilbert Titus and Jane Hoag who along with their son David Sands Titus and his family and their daughter Lydia H. Titus Downing and her family arrived in the village of Cayuga in 1829. Hiram is descended from David and I am descended from Lydia. Lydia is my mother’s great great grandmother. I have put together a scholastic publication for this branch of the family tree and it will be published later this year.

While it has been a great journey studying my Quaker family history, it has also been fascinating to learn about the generations beyond David and Lydia.

Hiram and Susan Cook Titus 1912 with Indian motorbike

Hiram Titus and his wife Susan Cook with his Indian motorbike in 1912.

David’s son Hiram inherited a substantial part of the Titus land in Cayuga and by 1879 had an impressive operation with prize -winning cattle and horses. Though he indulged in a team of “handsome” matching black horses for his sleigh and drove the team into Auburn, New York often to show off his magnificent animals, he also loved the ‘new-fangled’. He was an old man of eighty-four in 1912 when he was photographed with his wife, Ada B. Shoemaker Titus and his prized Indian motorized bicycle.

Despite all of Hiram’s successes at farming and his social and political prominence in Aurelius, his sons did not share his passion for the bucolic life along the shores of Cayuga Lake. In 1895 thirty-four year-old Hiram, Jr. sold his meat market and left the small village of Cayuga to go to the bustling and expanding city of Auburn, New York to ride the rails.

As one of the first men to be employed by the Auburn & Syracuse Electric Railway(then the Auburn Inter-Urban Electric Railroad), he helped survey the line on which he later became a conductor. During that time, Hiram served as superintendent of the old Lakeside Park at the foot of Owasco Lake for over fifteen years when the park was operated by the railway. A park that was part of my summer every day of my young life in the 1950’s and 60’s and where my 50th class reunion will be held this year.

No. 63 was full to capacity that day and many took the ride as a last goodbye to the old trolley that they had ridden for decades. One elderly woman who had traveled from Skaneateles needed to be helped aboard the car and told a reporter that she had made the journey to take the last ride before the buses of Cayuga Omnibus Corporation began that very day. Timothy Hayes of Throopsville in Cayuga County, who had made his first trip in 1903, was a passenger on that last grand journey. Charles H. Abbott of Auburn who traveled the line as a passenger on the very first day of the road’s history journeyed with Mr. Hayes. Many of the passengers kept their tickets as a souvenir.

Conductor Hiram M. Titus of Auburn, New York

Conductor Hiram M. Titus of Auburn, New York

There was no grand ceremony to see them off from Syracuse. No bands. No flags or banners. No grandstand. No speeches. Only two minor officials were present to travel on old Number 63 as it made its way to the Auburn barn before it would be claimed by a wrecking company. The crowds were there. The many faithful passengers and citizens who wanted to be part of a passage in time.

The car left Syracuse several minutes after its scheduled departure of 11AM and Hiram remarked to his passengers

“Well, if they don’t like it, they can fire us.”

Motorman Gordan Winters gave the whistle ‘vigorous pulls’ as they pulled out of Syracuse in a raucous goodbye to an era and to the crowds who had gathered to watch the trolley depart one last time.

As No. 63 slowly traversed the streets of Auburn, men and women had waved and shouted, but it was during the journey from Syracuse to Auburn that this event made its greatest impact. The farmer stopped his plow to watch its journey out of sight. The housewife stood on her porch

‘with wistful eyes as though looking for the last time at an old friend’.

Boys and girls ran along the route waved and swung their caps and bonnets in a hearty farewell. Frequently along the route line, the car was forced to stop by sentimental central New Yorkers in order to permit more snapshots of the moment.

Old No. 63 on its last journey.

Old No. 63 on its last journey.

It was at Skaneateles that an appreciative crowd had gathered and Hiram and Gordan stood to pose before a battery of cameras. The arrival and departure was signaled by waving of hats and blowing of horns.

It was Hiram’s 65th birthday that day. Cameras clicked as Hiram and Gordan took the car from the Dill Street station where they discharged fifty-nine passengers and took the car to Genesee and Exchange Streets where it was boarded by city and railroad officials who made the final leg of the trip to the Franklin Street Barn. Observers stood silently as they realized that they were seeing something that marked the changes of life. Changes that the automobile made on their everyday existence.

“Passing through the streets of Auburn during the noon hour, the car was the center of all interest until it had deposited its last passenger and had departed with its load of officials for the car barns.”

Not to let history go without a memento, the car was scavenged by onlookers. Still someone had a greater thirst for a piece of history.

“Some souvenir hunter possessed himself of the car sign and it was reported that the draw-head was sought by another before he was stopped.”

A draw-head is part of the coupling mechanism and this souvenir hunter was one ambitious gent!

When the No. 63 trolley entered the car barn switch for its final stop, “torpedos” (fireworks) placed along the rails gave out a passing salute.

As the A & S Electric Railroad Company passed into history and No. 63 sat at its destination in the Franklin Street barn, the final transaction to transfer the property of the road took place. Aboard No. 63, President of Enna Jetticks, Fred L. Emerson, delivered to Mayor Marvin of Syracuse a check in the amount of $225,000. In that single gesture, the interurban traffic over the A & S road ceased after twenty-seven years of continuous service. A single official photographer memorialized the transfer of the check.

On that day, Hiram Titus and Gordan Winters were presented a check for $50 and a commemorative gift by Treasurer Zinsmeister on behalf of Fred L. Emerson. After the two trolley men stepped down from the car, they shook hands and each man made his way home that April afternoon. Without further fanfare, Mayors Marvin and Charles D. Osborne, City Manager John F. Donovan, City Attorneys William S. Elder, A. H. Cowle, William H. Seward and William B. Haeffner, Superintendent William Lee and Treasurer W. K. Zinsmeister adjourned to awaiting automobiles that drove them to the Osborne home for lunch.

Within the hour of No. 63’s arrival…indeed as the check was being transferred, the Cayuga Omnibus Corporation’s first bus left Skaneateles eastbound at 11 A.M.

The Auburn & Syracuse was part of what was called the “Beebe Syndicate” or “Empire United” lines that also included the RS&E, Auburn Northern, Rochester, Lockport & Buffalo. Developed by Clifford D. Beebe, the network of suburban and interurban lines ran through Baldwinsville to Phoenix, Fulton and Oswego. A native of Michigan, young Mr. Beebe and his syndicate bought up the financially troubled Syracuse & Auburn railroad in 1904. At that time the line had only been completed as far as Skaneateles and had been initiated as the Auburn Inter-Urban Electric Railroad. Opened on January 1, 1901 it had struggled until Mr. Beebe’s group came along with the money to invest in its future. Under this syndicate, it was extended to Auburn within the year. The company also ran the South Bay line and the Newark & Marion Railroad. All of the lines were interconnected. While there were few grades on the Auburn & Syracuse line, it was still referred to as a ‘roller-coaster operation’. Trolleys ran every half hour with extra trips during peak periods.

In its heyday, the region was in the throes of ‘trolley fever’. A fever that had begun in the area when surveyors filed proposed railways in the 1870’s when Hiram Titus, Senior was a young farmer building his new barn and driving a well into the deep bedrock. When the cars first traveled the Auburn & Syracuse line, the roads running along Route 20 were narrow and dirt-covered and the tracks followed the shoulder of the road. From Syracuse the line passed out Burnet Avenue to Split Rock, Howlett Hill and Marcellus paralleling Howlett Hill and Lee-Mulroy Roads along Route 20 to Skaneateles and to Franklin Street Road from there to Auburn. The stop at Split rock was the first major stop along the line and from there it passed through a scenic gorge with rocky cliffs on either side. In the late 1920’s the roads were beginning to be paved. Trucks and cars were easily making their way between Syracuse and Auburn and with that, the fate of the electric interurban lines was sealed.

Marcellus NY Weekly Observer 1995 Trolley building restored near Skaneateles imageFor another year after the Auburn & Syracuse line ceased to run, travelers could still get from Syracuse to Auburn on the trolley via the Rochester, Syracuse & Eastern through Jordan and Weedsport to Port Byron, then to Auburn on the Auburn & Northern. Once the railways became a modern day dinosaur, relics of trolley fever still remained well into the 20th century. Along Route 20 just east of Skaneateles a brick building which housed machinery to convert alternating current to direct current for the Auburn & Syracuse Electric railroad stood abandoned for some time. It was a garage and then a restaurant known as “The Willows” during the 1960’s before it was abandoned again. A design firm owned it for a short while and restored it including adding some railroad tracks and ties in tribute to its past. The white paint was removed and the old bricks re-pointed and replaced. The design firmed moved on and sold it to an insurance agency. It is believed to be the only original building still standing on the A & S Interurban line.

I wonder as I come home and drive that stretch of Route 20 if there is a bit of rail line underneath the shoulder of the road.

As always, my genealogy research serves as a time machine and my first cousin, Hiram Mial Titus, is the conductor on this trip. Motorman Winters….pull that whistle!

All aboard.

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

Postcript.  In advance, I beg your indulgence if I have spelling and grammatical errors at this time.  I damaged my eyes and am awaiting eye surgery so my usual editorial fastidiousness is absent.


A Note to My Readers:   Family lore often assists in uncovering mysteries.  Breaking brick walls.  On the other hand, it can also be the cause of those brick walls as well.  Or the very least throw a cloud over the real lives of the people you are researching and removing an important aspect of the times in which they live.   For years I was under the impression that one family’s deafness was due to so many first cousins marrying.  It was perpetuated by other Tyler researchers like the proverbial ‘whisper down the lane’.  The more it was repeated, the more it became fact.  That is, until I began to find out more about my second cousins, the Doty Family of Cayuga County, New York.  I looked for the ‘signs’.

Researching my maternal 4th great grandfather, William Tyler (1773 – 1860) and his wife, Abelina Bartlett (1772 – 1855) also involved the extended family – the Dotys. My second cousins.  William and his wife, Abelina Bartlett Tyler, were feeble in their final years. William suffered from senility and so the pair were separated by 1850. Abilena spent her remaining days with her two daughters, Marietta Roberts and Almyra Swain in Aurelius. William went to live with his daughter, Anna Tyler Doty in Sennett. Anna married her first cousin Jason Martin Doty.  Jason’s mother, Deborah, was William Tyler’s sister and she was married to Timothy Doty.

New York Institute for Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb

New York Institute for Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb

It wasn’t uncommon in the Tyler line for first cousins to marry. Kin was a big deal…family wealth was kept close and family loyalty was paramount. It wreaked havoc on the gene pool back then among many families that practiced the tradition.  At first I thought that was borne out by the number of individuals that are recorded as ‘deaf and dumb’ in the family of William B. Doty…John Mason Doty’s brother. Will and his wife, Lucretia Pierce, had eleven children. Three of them were deaf and dumb and were sent off to New York City to the New York Institution for the Deaf and Dumb to learn to read and write, but more importantly to learn to sign to stay connected to the greater world. After their education, the children returned and married fellow students of the institution.

Several poignant records came to my attention regarding the Dotys. The first was the 1850 Federal Census that shows sisters Phebe Doty Cuddeback (1833-1930) and Rebecca Doty Gilbert Cross (1829-1915) living at the NYC school as students and enumerated as ‘inmates’ and ‘deaf and dumb’.  Inmate is a term frequently used for students and patients in institutions when enumerating in the censuses.

I also came across Phebe’s marriage announcement in a local newspaper – the Auburn, NY Weekly Journal from November of 1852.

“At Weedsport on Tuesday, November 9th, by the Rev. S. R. Brown, Mr. CORNELIUS CUDDEBACK, of Phelps, Ontario County, to Miss PHEBE DOTY, of Weedsport. Both were graduates of the New York Institution for the Deaf and Dumb. The ceremony was performed in the language of signs.”

U.S. Special Census on Deaf Family Marriages

U.S. Special Census on Deaf Family Marriages, Rebecca Doty weds George M. Cross

For Rebecca Doty, I found her first husband, Gustavus O. Gilbert and his sister, Lucy, each listed as an ‘inmate’ at the New York Institution for the Deaf and Dumb in the 1850 census. Rebecca and Gustavus were students there at the same time. When Gustavus died in 1865, Rebecca married George M. Cross, another young man who was profoundly deaf. Their marriage record in the U.S. Census on Deaf Family Marriages tells the real story about why the three Doty siblings were afflicted. The cause was attributed to WHOOPING COUGH. The Dotys were not ill at the same time as their ages ran a span of decades.  Rebecca and Phebe most likely were ill at the same time as they were just four years apart, but the youngest, who was also deaf, was not born until 1846.   All lost their hearing at a young age which in turn affected their speech.

As I read through Auburn area newspapers from the 1840’s and 1850’s, it became apparent that whooping cough was a widespread problem during that time.  Along with whooping cough, scarletina, diphtheria and consumption (phthsis),  the area residents had suffered for several decades prior to the 40’s and 50’s as well.  It was a constant threat and institutions had been established to manage the long-term effects.  The New York Institute for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb was established in 1817.  The U.S. Census on Deaf Family Marriages (1888-1895) read more like a medical report defining the cause of the deafness and details on the parents and other siblings.  This was a society looking desperately to manage infectious diseases that clearly impacted large segments of the population and remained unchecked.

Adelmor Doty Monument.  Throopsville Cemetery

Adelmor Doty Monument. Throopsville Cemetery

I mentioned three siblings…the last was Adelmor Doty (1846-1864) who died at the New York Institution for the Deaf and Dumb of typhoid when he was just 18 years old. Adelmor is buried among his Doty family members in Throop’s Community Cemetery. His monument is particularly touching. It features three signs that spell out G. O. D. and the inscription:

“The ears of the deaf shall be unstopped”. Isaiah 35 Chap 5 Vse. Selected by his teacher.”  ADELMORE. SON OF WM. & L. DOTY.  DIED AT WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, N.Y. CITY

In my initial research of this Doty family, I found Adelmor’s monument first as I did Tyler work in the old Throopsville Cemetery.  Walking cemeteries in the process of documenting my family’s old pioneer burials, I happen upon monuments that capture my attention.  They have a character that tells you that there is a bigger story to tell.  The unusual engraving and the inscription on the stele of Adelmor Doty was the beginning of that deeper research.



Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian, Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2015.  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


The Earth Shook and Two Old Men Went Home

A Note to My Readers:  Like many historians and genealogists, I spend a good deal of time pouring over old publications in search of mention of an ancestor…a marriage…a birth…a death…a family gathering.  Every bit is a tender thread to weave a story of the times in which they lived.  Context.  History.  Flavor.  Going beyond the discovery of a specific published morsel…is the indulgence in a full blown meal.  Reading the whole page…in fact, the whole publication…it changes the perspective.  Getting beyond the ‘ah ha moment’ and the impulse of stashing the nugget into your research is critical to becoming a complete historian and to developing a meaningful biography of your ancestor.  Everyone knows that there is more satisfaction when you eat slowly…enjoying a lively and interesting conversation with fellow diners.  The same holds true when researching.  Reading the complete document…savoring the complexities…sipping a lovely wine before nibbling on the next delicious tidbit…makes it a memorable occasion.  Before you snip and run, make the time to read the surrounding material.  By opening up your research strategy, you will know your family on an intimate basis in ways you couldn’t contemplate.  Enjoy the feast, historians!

Newspaper Auburn NY Semi-Weekly Journal  15 May 1906 banner

In mid-May of 1906 the weather was mild and the farmers of Cayuga County were well into their spring chores. In fact one old fellow had fields to till and was in need of beasts with which to pull his plow. As reported in the Skaneateles Free Press, James B. Robinson made quite a stir as he turned Genesee Street into the scene of his small cattle drive.

Newspaper Auburn NY Semi-Weekly Journal  15 May 1906 Long Overland Journey

“One day last week James B. Robinson who occupies the late James J. Gross farm in the southwestern part of the town, went to Fox Ridge, where he bought a pair of steers, driving them to Auburn, a distance of fourteen miles in one day, and the next day driving them home, where he is now using them in plowing and doing other farm work. His journey through Auburn attracted much attention, a yoke of cattle being a rare sight these days in city streets, or farm roads, either. Mr. Robinson is nearly 84 years old, but is a vigorous and active man.”

Newspaper Auburn NY Semi-Weekly Journal  15 May 1906 Scenes From San FranAuburnians F. D. Burleigh and his wife Clara L. Stockwell Burleigh wrote a letter home to her father recounting their ordeal in San Francisco having survived the great earthquake. Her letter was transcribed in complete. 

“We escaped San Francisco yesterday with what little baggage we could carry by hand. Last night we were taken in temporarily by acquaintances here and are trying to find a way to reach Los Angeles. Dean and Mr. Pyre represent a company with $35, 000, 000 in capital but cannot get in communication with them and we are almost penniless. Oakland banks are all closed, fearing a run, and no one here seems to be able to give us any help financially. If we can reach Los Angeles, money and telegraphic communications will be easier to obtain we hope. And, too, smallpox has broken out in San Francisco, it will soon be quarantined and in that case this place will be infected, too. The fire is out and our flat was saved.”

Mrs. Burleigh tells that the fire did not damage their household goods but she lost a valuable watch at a jeweler’s. Continuing she says:

“The weather has turned cold and the suffering and sickness will no doubt be doubled. we have cause to be grateful that our lives were spared and our household goods saved. But no one who was not there can ever get even the faintest idea of the horror of the hours since 5:15 last Wednesday morning. I have to stop and study before I can name a day that anything happened, for every hour seemed a day and every day was nameless.”

Her letter told of fear and death and desolation during those first dreadful hours.

“The house rocked back and forth and rose and sank all at once, together with an awful roaring and rambling and the noise of falling bricks and breaking crockery. I got to the door just as soon as the floor was quiet enough to let me walk and by even that time the first column of smoke was rising in the south. Little did we think that it was signal of a horror worse than the earthquake.”

“Thousands camped as thick as grass blades with no shelter except some kind devised from their small store of baggage; women fainting in the road and carried by the loads to the United States hospital.”

Amidst the colorful and witty charm of cattle being driven down Genesee Street and the harrowing and moving recount of Mrs. Burleigh’s earthquake experience in the May 15th Auburn Semi-Weekly Journal, sits the brief and practical death notice of my 87 year old, great great grandfather, Daniel J. Jennings.


“JENNINGS – At the residence of his daughter Mrs. John J. Trowbridge, East Orange, N.J., Thursday, May 10, 1906. Daniel Jennings (formerly of Auburn) in the 87th year of his age.
Remains will arrive in Auburn via N.Y.C & H. R. R. Sunday morning, May 14 at 6:46 o’clock. Funeral services at the residence of his son, W. H. Jennings, No 9 Easterly avenue, in the afternoon at 3:00 o’clock. Burial at North Street Cemetery.”

The Friday, May 11th edition of the Auburn, New York Citizen Advertiser offers only the additional Daniel J Jennings Auburn Newspaper Obit May 11 1906words “a well known and respected citizen of this city” to his obituary.

“The funeral of Daniel J. Jennings who died at East Orange, N. J. was held there (Auburn) this afternoon at the home of his son, W. H. Jennings, No. 9 Easterly ave.”  reports the Syracuse Daily Standard.”

I spent a great deal of time creating Daniel’s biography.  Beginning with his birth in the whaling city of New Bedford, Massachusetts to Samuel and Ruth Jennings and through his 1839 carriage maker apprenticeship as a young boy with Silas N. Richards.   Discovering his 1843 New Bedford marriage record to Harriet Jane James and their migration to central New York with their young family.  Exploring Daniel’s politics as a member of the Whig Party in Ithaca with his brother, Nathan supporting Zachary Taylor and Millard Filmore in their bid for the White House in 1848.  The Jennings family membership in the Trinity Methodist Church.  Daniel’s carriagemaking career first working at the shop of Bench Brothers Cayuga Wagon Works crafting wagons, carriages and sleighs and eventually opening his own business “Jennings & Lewis” on Dill Street.

Decade by decade assembling the life of the man who is my paternal great great grandfather, I came to know him and his children in Auburn, New York in the 19th century.  The days when the streets were filled with mud and sidewalks were fashioned of wood planks.  When horses pulled wagons and sleighs and trolleys.   During the Civil War when his 16 year son, Charles, went off to fight with the 111th NYS Volunteers and later his service as Auburn’s Chief of Police.  Exploring the successful business story of Trowbridge and Jennings that son William established with his sister Emily’s husband.  The pride of son Daniel carrying on his father’s craftsmanship with carpentry.  Giving away his teenaged daughter, Lillian, to a young man named Henry Martin, my great grandparents,  at Trinity Methodist Church.   Waving the pair good-bye as they left Auburn in 1884 for their newlywed adventure and the promise of the business boom of the New York City area fostered by the building of the Brooklyn Bridge.  Celebrating the marriage of 49 year old daughter Harriet who after years of being the family’s dutiful spinster daughter,  wed widower Roderick White in 1901.  Mourning his dear wife, Harriet and their daughter, Lillian and her son, Harold.

Coming Home

Amid the wealth of words in three newspapers, I could only find the briefest and final arrangements of Daniel’s death and his journey home.  No elegy to his character and his rich life.  That is left to me to construct over one hundred years later.

As part of that biography is the imagery of his daughter Emily’s long train ride accompanying her father’s body to Auburn and their arrival at the depot, steam billowing from the engine and the somber carriage ride to Easterly Avenue on a fine spring day where the siblings, Emily, Charles, Daniel and Harriet and grandchildren gathered to say farewell to their patriarch.

The intimate family rite transpired as the world still went on…lilacs coming into bloom;  the Burleighs recovering from the San Francisco earthquake and James Robinson leading his steers through the fields of his farm.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved


Scarlet Fever in Scipio

A Note to my Readers:  Family historians…genealogists if you will…are noted in the big world as those that plot lineage.  Who begat whom and all of that.  Except that is just the tip of the iceberg.  We are on the hunt for THE STORY.   What was their life like?  And so we go beyond all of the names, dates and places and visit HISTORY…or HERSTORY.  So much of what surrounds an individual is the greater drama with an interesting cast of characters.  Context.  Life.

Hoodoo.  Hemstitching.  Healing.

In the spring of 1915 my grandmother’s brother and his family thought they had struck gold.  Due to the Dreythaler family’s series of misfortune, their farm became available for a pittance and Floyd William Penird snapped up the opportunity to cultivate the rich Scipio soil.   His wife, Emma Hurd, and their infant son, Floyd were moved into the farmhouse and they began to make it their own.  The wood floors were scrubbed on hands and knees and the old paper was ripped from the walls to brighten up the house.

Newspaper Auburn NY Citizen 1915 Scarlet Fever in ScipioIt wasn’t long before the tiny baby was in the terrifying grip of scarlet fever.  Floyd and Emma sent for the village doctor – F. C. Smith – and prayed that their child would survive.  The little one, who was their only child, healed, but their tale put fear in the hearts of parents in the Auburn area with news of the doctor’s theory of just how Floyd, Jr. contracted the dreaded disease.

The month of May had been a hectic time for the village doctor -reducing fractures and stitching wounds.  Farmer Selah Allen was dragged some distance on the back lot of his farm before his runaway team came to halt.  Allen had suffered scrapes and bruises and a fractured arm which Dr. Smith treated.  He had just completed the needed care for farmer Allen, when he was called to the home of David Meyers of Fleming Hill “to do a job of hemstitching on Meyers’s head.”  Meyers had been placing his horse in its stall after a long day of work, when the creature spooked, reared up and struck him in the head with his hooves.

In a few hours Smith was called to treat young carpenter Will Bowen when his chisel slipped off a piece of hard wood and struck him in the thigh inflicting a six inch long gash more than an inch deep.  He had lost a great deal of blood by the time the now weary Doc Smith reached Bowen’s Fleming Hill home.

His next stop was at the Penird place to care for the ailing infant.

During that time black measles was making its way through the community, tuberculosis was a serious problem…infantile

Dr. Frank C. Smith

Dr. Frank C. Smith

paralysis would crop up within a year or two…followed up by the impact of the world wide plague…Spanish flu.

Astonishing to think about what Auburnians and their neighbors had to deal with just about one hundred years ago.  And what the life of a country doctor was during that time of house calls in a horse and buggy world.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved


Notes From the Field: Not Enough Sense to Come In Out of the Rain

Notes from the Field:  Recently I traveled to central New York…my childhood home and the sites where my ancestors lived and died.  I am 65 years old and have lived away for more years than I lived there, but it is and always will be the place I call ‘home’.   I concentrated on Cayuga County instead of including explorations in Tompkins, Seneca, Wayne and Madison Counties as I had in the past.  Partly because I wanted to be more disciplined and focused…partly because I am not the kid I used to be and my energy only goes so far these days.  And partly because I could take time to visit with my high school friends…and embrace my very own history.

I had a game plan as usual, but it was more relaxed and open to hanging out and experiencing the moment versus intense information gathering.  Good thing, too, because it rained every day I was there.  And I am a field historian by nature and don’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain.


Though it had been just past lunch time when I arrived in Auburn, I had skipped lunch and headed straight to my first research site.  Here is where my kids yell…MO-O-O-MMM!

I drove the few miles west of Auburn, NY to the little Village of Cayuga and to the Lakeview cemetery where my maternal ancestors and my dad are buried. I always look forward to that visit. As the name implies, the cemetery sits just above Cayuga Lake. I can imagine that when it was cleared to become a burial ground, there was indeed a generous view of the lake that sat just a few feet away. Over the century and more, large pines and elms grew up and shaded the monuments..some crowding the tombstones and engulfing others within the trunks and roots. Once I turn onto Center Street, I am home (owning in 1971 the historic Federal period home called Tumble Inn built by Dr. Jonathan Whitney in the early 1800’s) and just a block away from the cemetery entrance and my father’s grave. He is always my first and last stop.  “Hey, Dad.”

I drove down toward the lakeside entrance as is my practice so I can work my way up the hill visiting my ancestors and noting burials of newly discovered family. Turning down the old path I came upon an orange cone sitting smack in between the tire worn grooves.  I thought…must be a funeral below…or maintenance going on.   It was then I saw the large truck and tractor and the two men below.   And the enormous damage.  On Thursday, May 30th a violent storm swept off the lake with microbursts that tore 40 foot elms right out of the ground and twisted others so violently that their huge trunks snapped like mere twigs. I walked down the crude road and met one William (he told me to call him Bill) Patterson and his workmate who were cutting up the debris and clearing the monster trees out of the cemetery.

May 30, 2013 Storm Damage at Lakeview Cemetery

May 30, 2013 Storm Damage at Lakeview Cemetery

At first glance I saw one tree down, but as I approached, it was clear that several of the old sentinel trees had fallen and the men had a Herculean task ahead. I asked Bill…he was the chatty one…his younger workmate was no nonsense and ‘gettin’ on with it’… to pause for a few moments to share his storm experience. I introduced myself and shook Bill’s rough hand firmly and asked if he would stand next to the massive and broken tree trunk for a photo so I could show scale. He hitched up his well worn jeans and adjusted his suspenders and struck a pose. It was clear old Bill was enjoying his momentary celebrity.

Then it was back to loading the truck with the cut up limbs some as thick as Bill’s waist with a quick and nonchalant toss into the truck bed.  Bill..a self-described “old farmer who mows the cemetery and sees to burials”…took a shine to the talk of my ancestors buried there asking me for the litany of  family names. “Yep, know that name.  Buried a family with that name just recently,”  he said. I asked him about whose monuments were under the biggest fallen elm and he said, “We’ll find out when we get the rest of the tree cleared,” when his associate chimed in, “Damn mess and we got clearing all over the place to do..not just here.” He shook his head and climbed into the truck and hauled away the load. Bill stayed behind…muttered “damn mess” as an echoing sentiment and continued his chores while I headed into the debris to see if the monuments of my “people” had escaped damage. And they did in a remarkable twist of fate.  The fallen trees had found other directions and my family burials were just outside of the large canopy of the ruined elm.  I stopped to say “Hey” to my maternal great great grandparents, Deborah Jane Tyler and her husband, Francis J. Curry and up the slope a few steps to their daughter’s in-laws and my other set of maternal great great grandparents, Susannah M. Downing and Henry Eugene Curtis.  Someone newly discovered by me just before the trip, I found Deborah’s oldest sister, Abbie Tyler and her husband James Jenney just strides away.  Just across the road, my maternal great great great grandparents, Lonson Tyler and his wife, Betsey Tyler.  Cousins of some kind…the Tylers had a habit of that…and the parents of Deborah Jane Tyler.  Just to the north of the huge tree, my Titus family members and their monuments remained free and clear.  “Hey, everyone.”

“Hurts me awful when I see a fallen stone,” called out Bill. “Can’t do anything about either.” He made his way up to where I was taking photographs and listed all the burial grounds along the lake that he tends and his chagrin at his limitations. “Money,” he says, “and time.” Finishing up my video and photo session, I continued to make my way up to my car and Bill stopped me one more time to express his apology for his language…he had said “damn” a couple of times. “Just an old farmer”, he sheepishly reiterated and climbed aboard the tractor and made his way up the old dirt road that meanders up the cemetery.

They had a lot of work to do…those two men with just a chain saw…a truck and a tractor. And I had chewed up a bit of their time talking about the terrible storm and the lakeside damage. They advised me to take a drive down Lake Road to see the roof blown off one historic home and the big old elm that was lifted out of the ground with the exposed root ball….which I did.

I noted for my research cousins that the beautiful old Hutchinson mansion was untouched…a few small branches still sat on the portico, but the lakeside properties to my right and directly on the lake took a beating and looked like a giant had played pick up sticks with the huge trees. Yep, Bill…a damned mess.

After treating myself to an icy martini and a steak and a salad, I fell asleep sometime around 9PM.  I was wicked tired from my drive up from Philadelphia and the field work at the cemetery so I gladly gave up the idea of making notes or even pondering the plans for the next days work.  Waking at 5:30 in the morning rested, but content to snuggle into the super comfy pillows…in the dark, I stayed in bed until 6AM when I saw dawn peeking through the crack of the darkening hotel drapes. A decent cup of in-room brewed coffee and I was returning emails from the day before and organizing my research materials for the day. It was rainy and gray in central New York after the incredibly crystal blue skies that graced my northward drive up route 81 the day before.


My first appointment was at the  Cayuga County Museum to view the Civil War material archived there and to discuss a proposed exhibit with images of the family collection from my great great grandfather David Penird who served the entire war with the 75th Regiment formed from the ‘boys’ of Cayuga County.  The sky had opened up and gutters and downspouts struggled to keep up with the pouring rain.  Teeming, pouring rain, as my mother would say.   Tucking my head under the umbrella, I made a dash to the back entrance of the museum with one of the staff and her most handsome dog.   As I walked to the work room that obviously doubled as the staff lunch room, I felt instantly at home.  Two huge boxes and a large number of books were placed at the table in front of me and I dug into the as yet uncatalogued material.  Folder by folder the years fell away and the letters home to loved ones played out with the old cabinet cards and post war G.A.R. programs and songbooks capturing my every heartbeat. 

It was with the tender experience of holding the field arm band of a Cayuga County doctor who served in the 9th IMG_0547Corps…and the buttons and badges from the uniform of another young man who served in the old 75th regiment that I found myself having to remember to breathe and I sat back from the box and knew this was something special.   After awhile, I took a break and found my way down the hall to the office of Lauren Chyl, the museum’s curator.  We chatted for a few moments and she rose to walk with me back to my work area and to refill her mug.   While I was going through the boxes of Civil War memorabilia and old newspaper articles and she sipped at her coffee, I reminisced about my childhood days at the museum.  I took art lessons with Dr. Walter Long in the Case Research Lab and spent several summers there learning to draw and paint and listen to the wandering and amazing stories that only Dr. Long could tell.   He loved history and would often tell his students to visit the museum before we dashed home.   Even though we had seen the exhibits many times, we would dutifully walk across the parking area and scoot into the back door…the very one I had just entered and made our way through the museum.  The favorite stop for Dr. Long and ours as well was the velvet draped exhibit with the phosphorescent rocks that glowed in the gloom.  “Did you stop to see the rocks that glow?” he would ask.   Of course we had and pleased that we did, he bade us goodbye until our next lesson.   And the predictable gentle command to visit the exhibits before we went home.   I chuckled when I told Lauren about how many times his wife would come to the classroom with a brown paper bag neatly packed with his lunch…that he had characteristically forgotten on his way out the door.   Of course, sharing the well-known story of how he had returned home from a conference absentmindedly leaving Mrs. Long behind left Lauren and I smiling and nodding.  She had never met Dr. Long since he passed away many years before Lauren took up her position, but it was as if he was still there wandering about his beloved museum and its collections…forgetting that he had left this realm perhaps and looking for the rocks that glow.

Rain and More Rain

It was just after noon when I left the museum and the rain seemed to have circled around to have another go at me.  I grabbed my poncho from the trunk and ducked into my car.  Peering through the rivulets streaming down the windows I could just make out the interior of the Case Lab.  It seemed like yesterday that I had spent so many hours drawing horses and sweeping watercolors onto endless reams of paper.  But enough reverie.  There was an entire afternoon to work with and along with my own list…a request from a research cousin had landed in my email.   She was on the hunt for more Parcells information and ‘if I had time”, could I check on some burials at Soule Cemetery.   No time for lunch…maybe an early dinner…a hot shower and early to bed.  But later.   I was off to Soule Cemetery in Sennett where my great great grandparents, Albert S. Martin and Harriet M. Frear, are buried.  My father’s great grandparents and always another stop I make when I am home.

When I pulled into the entrance off Pine Ridge Road, the work truck sat outside of the office like a huge and hapless creature.  The bed was filling with rain water and the dirt that had been there was becoming a muddy mess and spilling over the edge in a sepia cascade.  I pulled around the truck and windshield wipers on full and hazard blinkers on made my way to the Martin plot.  Slipping on the rain poncho and my Wellies, I carefully made my way up to the slope to the monuments.  “Hey, Grandfather and Grandmother.”  The rain let up for a few moments as I paid my respects when the Parcells name caught my attention and I moved further up the hill.   I had found what Marj was looking for and pulled out my iPhone and began taking photos of the family plot and the stones and their inscriptions when the rain returned in earnest.  Slip sliding down to the road, I made it inside the dry interior of my car and though it was June, turned on the heat to chase away the chill.    As I drove to the entrance and near the truck, I spotted a cemetery worker standing in the open door of the office and staring out at the deluge and the hulk of the truck.  Not one to miss the opportunity to visit a cemetery office, I pulled up behind the truck avoiding the Niagara end, flipped up the hood of my poncho and hauled it to the door.  He must have been startled at the sight of me…or the thought of someone running in the storm.  “Hi!”, I said, out of breath.  Sticking out my hand, I introduced myself and asked his name.  “Michael,” he stammered.  “Well, Michael, I sure hope you can help me.   Can I look at the burial cards?  I am an historian researching here and standing in a dry office sure beats bashing around the cemetery in this weather,” I said.  Michael must have been thrilled at the thought of a dry few minutes and he swung open the door and waved his hand at the big set of drawers housing the cards.  In just a few moments I had pulled the Parcells cards and had photographed them…I am an old hand at such things.  I thanked Michael and headed out the way I came.   “Are you sure you have everything?” the young man asked.  I had the feeling that I had worked too fast and he wasn’t anxious to deal with the mess outside.

When I checked the time, I realized that I had just one hour before meeting two of my friends for “Zumba” whatever that was.   Was it a restaurant?  I texted them and got directions.  Okay…I thought I was pretty current on things, but this wasn’t going to be a cocktail with Brazilian liquor.  This was THE Zumba!   Luckily I had my sneakers on and my friend Marie coaxed me onto the floor.  I Zumbaed left.  I Zumbaed right.  I shook my butt and shimmied my shoulders for three-quarters of the class and took a break.  Leaning against the wall I posted the Zumba class on FaceBook and my daughter, Cate,  simply posted “!!!!”   With an “LOL”, I sat out the rest of the class and Marie and I scooted over to the neighboring restaurant for a bowl of soup and gal talk.   It wasn’t long before our friend, Sheila popped in the booth and after a round of hugs and laughs, we got down to a serious visit.  I was tired from the day’s work and the unexpected Zumba lesson, but the time flew by and the years left us all and we were girls again for those few hours.


Naturalization Testimonial Francis Curry 1856A good breakfast with some welcome cups of coffee and I was off to the County Records Department and then on to the new office of the Cayuga County Historian on Court Street.  The records clerks were barely in their offices when I was at the counter waiting to acquire copies of the 1856 naturalization papers of my great great grandfather, Francis J. Curry.  I had to put on the charm that morning.  Poor souls had probably not had an early bird come into the office right on their heels and disrupt a perfectly good routine.  But I was prepared with the index information and it was an easy find for the clerk.  He made copies for me…of copies, that is…and I asked where the originals were kept.  Oh, how I would love to see them!  He cocked an eye at me as if I had asked where Moses had ditched the tablet shards and told me that originals were destroyed after copies were made.  No room for all of that paper ‘stuff’.  While my exterior was calm, inside…from my toes on up…my historian spirit shrieked like a banshee.  “What if a descendant PAID for the originals?”.  County makes money and space is saved and descendant genealogist is giddy with archival love. Win. Win.  I was making sense to me anyway.  It was then that the truth of public records and the bureaucratic heart (or lack of one) brings down a harsh reality.  “Can’t sell public records,” came the reply.  I sighed and packed up the photocopies that had cost me 65 cents apiece and tried to be grateful for that.

The historian’s office is in the same building and just around the corner, but it still requires a walk around the exterior..and back in the rain.  My poncho was getting a workout.    The librarian was puttering about and hurried up to the counter to sign me in and instruct me as to the rules.   I had to leave my purse at her desk which was weird because it was just big enough for my car keys and some lipstick with my driver’s license nudging the seams.  But who knows the cleverness of a history thief, right?   No cameras, either.  Okay.  And of course the menu of costs for photocopies.  Got it.  Now it was my turn to ask questions.   Is there a catalog of what is here?  I think I asked an impossible question because she patiently told me that she couldn’t possibly tell me  what they had.  I just had to tell her what I was looking for.  HUH?  How do I know what I am looking for if I don’t know what is here?   If nothing I am a practical soul and just went for the obvious..how about surnames?  Jackpot.  She had just begun the task of indexing the files of surname loose material and now we had traction.  I spent two hours there and we began to talk genealogy…a lot about her family which was interesting, but I hadn’t traveled all the way to Auburn to talk shop.  While the librarian was photocopying (GAD I hate the word now), I wandered about the public room and found a binder full of material that was a gold mine for me.  Cayuga Historian Ruth Probst’s transcriptions of the Village of Cayuga Records.  Ruth was the quintessential historian.  A virtual encyclopedia herself…”was” being the operative word.  Ruth has joined her ancestors and I regret not having met her before I started my work, but she left behind a remarkably savvy and worthy effort.  But, oh what she took with her….

It was closing upon lunch time – which as you know by now I forget to indulge in – and the office closes down.  So I retrieved my purse and my poncho and in a naughty or was it saintly moment, I told the librarian that my iPhone was not only a still camera…but a video camera…AND a scanner and it had been visibly on the desk next to me the whole time I was working with the files.    “Just food for thought,” I told her and reassured her that I was as Mary Tyler Moore as you can get and had observed the rules, but that was me….    Out into the rain again and to the parking garage with my photocopy treasures, I decided to head to Fort Hill Cemetery.

I was a bit hungry and fished out an energy bar and washed it down with bottled water while I made my way to the old Gothic administrative building of Fort Hill.  Greeted by the secretary, Kristen,  who warmly welcomed me in to her office, I stood among the old burial records and books and found myself admiring the beautiful map of the cemetery…almost as tall as I am…that hangs on the wall behind her desk.  She graciously stopped her work for my impromptu visit and explained the records to me…pulled some cards for me from the files secreted away in the walk-in safe and showed me the beautifully bound records books.  I sat at the big table snugged against the stone wall and pulled out my iPhone and took pictures…with permission, of course.  After the visit at the Cayuga historian’s office, I felt a bit wicked even so.   The topics of conversation wove in and out of Auburn’s history and that of my family and I shared my findings about Fort Hill’s predecessor,  North Street Cemetery.  Secret burials and cholera.   Remarkably I knew so very little about Fort Hill and she began to share her knowledge with me.   I could see she had work to do and I had taken up her time when she suggested that I purchase “Auburn’s Fort Hill Cemetery” compiled by Lydia J. Russell.  She retrieved a fresh copy for me and for $16.50 I had a lovely little publication to take back with me for background research.   It was time to leave…back in to wet weather that had gone from steady rain to clinging mist.

For the first time, I went beyond the usual visits to my grandparents’, Sarah Leona Penird and Albert H. Martin, graves in Fort Hill.  “Hey, Grandparents.”

I drove and walked the 22 acres marveling at the stately monuments of Auburn’s notable families.  Some were IMG_0663soaring edifices, columns and obelisks of amazing craftsmanship and intended to impress.  It was misty and comfortably cool.  A perfect atmosphere for the experience.   I recognized a good number of the names…some of them my Tyler family members.   One Tyler monument that I came upon was more marvelous than all the towering stone tributes.   Fort Hill is not one hill, but a collection of them.  Steep hills.  I was mindful as I walked about the cemetery…careful of each footfall because the grass was wet and the ground so soggy as to defy even the most careful mountain goat…which I am not.  I gave up walking at one point and drove slowly along the winding, curving road and happened upon the tombstone of Almyra Doty Pierce.  She was the daughter of Jason Martin Doty and Anna Tyler.  Anna Tyler was the sister of my maternal 3rd greatgrandfather, Lonson Tyler.   Along side Almyra is the monument of her daughter, Helen and son-in-law, John Llewellyn Tyler.  Oh, the Tylers were still marrying cousins even then.  The monuments are lovely and modestly impressive, but that wasn’t the boggling aspect.  Wedged at the very edge of a high rise of earth, one would expect them to come popping out of the hill at any given moment.   I still ponder how they were put in the ground…and managed to be kept there.    At those uneasy thoughts, I turned off my hazards and made my way out of the cemetery…back to the hotel…a martini and a salad…a hot shower and a good night’s sleep.


Breakfast with friends!   I keep track of my high school chums on FaceBook and know that they gather once a month for breakfast so I had planned my research trip around that time to join them.  Though the skies continued to be gray and promising to rain, I left my poncho in the back seat of my car and joined my friends for a couple of hours of coffee and reminiscing and catching up with news of grandbabies and retirement challenges and joys..keeping the ‘who died’ to a minimum.    We sang Happy Birthday to one of our friends with great gusto and took a group photo before we all dashed off to our lives.   It went so quickly, I wanted to snatch their car keys and hold them hostage for another hour or two.

I had an unscheduled afternoon ahead of me that I had saved for spontaneity.   I drove the entire way around Owasco Lake.  That was a first for me.  I am a Cayuga Lake kid.   Before I was born my paternal grandmother had a summer cottage on Owasco Lake and rented ‘camps’ along Cayuga Lake for summer visitors.  A picture of her with my father and my two older brothers sitting outside her cottage hangs on my wall.  It is black and white and curiously formal and devoid of cheer like the somber weather that followed me around the lake and colored everything in shades of gray.

I stopped at Green Shutters on White Bridge Road and chatted and dallied with locals…ate a hot dog, fries and a root beer along the lake while listening to the 1961 hit “Blue Moon” sung by the Marcels play on the jukebox.  It was still early and going back to the hotel was not an option.  I was fourteen again and immune to the cholesterol and salt and sugar in my lunch.  It was Saturday and there were no afternoon hours at Seymour Library for researching historians.  After considering my options and observing the lift in the clouds, I drove back to Lakeview Cemetery to see how Bill was doing with the clean up.  Maybe I might be able to see what monuments were effected and record them before whatever fate was to befall them in the process.

May 30, 2013 Storm Damage LakeView Cemetery south

May 30, 2013 Storm Damage LakeView Cemetery south

This time I drove from the opposite direction and it provided an entirely different perspective .  In for a penny…I found my way via the side entrance and began thoroughly walking the pioneer section to inspect the damage and the progress of removing the debris. Clearly it was going to take more than one old farmer and a middle-aged man with a chainsaw to get the job done. I peered into the largest fallen tree and could only make out a single obelisk still standing and tightly wedged in among the huge limbs. The canopy was so dense that there was simply no way to tell if anything else survived the crush or if the obelisk is standing on its base.

I will go back to findagrave and see what is posted…and my notes from visits over the years to make sure no information I have is lost…that may be the only thing left in that area of the cemetery after the old giant is removed…my notes and some photos.

Union Springs is just a short drive south of Cayuga and I had one more cemetery to visit.   The sun was peeking through and shafts of light were finding their way to brighten the lake.  The waters looked blue again instead of leaden gray.  I had just found Chestnut Hill Cemetery for the first time and began to drive in when my cell phone rang and it was the Newfield historian from Tompkins County.  Did I have time to come down for a quick visit?    I pulled over and chatted with him for 20 minutes and though I really wanted to make the trip down and spend time, I had used up my energy and was ready to get back to the hotel and get some rest before the four and a half hour drive home the next morning.

At one time or another I could run rings about those many years my junior, but these days I respect the limits put upon me by the passing of time.   That doesn’t stop my historian spirit from chafing at those limitations, but it does provide me with an excuse for another field trip.   Back to Cayuga Lake and home.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved


A Note to My Readers:  Pretty much everyone should know by now that I am an old newspaper junkie. Anywhere that I can find them…I load the microfiche…log in to the digital files…whatever and wherever I can find them…I am like a pig in mud.   In fact, there have been a number of times that I have been transfixed for so many hours that I find that I have forgotten to eat or drink.  Getting up to stretch reminds me with every creak and ache that I need someone to babysit me lest I become frozen in my trance.  I like to think that with this rather benign guilty vice that I am not in too much danger of the need for rehab.  Maybe I might just need to get new glasses or apply a mist of Visine for my tired eyes…and perhaps I require a reminder to put a sandwich and glass of iced tea by my side before I begin to read.  Or an alarm clock to break the spell and to remind me to move.  Is there Pilates for Genealogists?

All of that aside, I do a great deal of research perusing military documents and land records…estate files…resplendent with legalese and their own special syntax.  That takes surgical concentration.   But not newspapers…there is a lyricism to the prose of yesteryear’s print media.  A folksiness that draws me in and transports me back in time.  Irresistible.  Magical.  And so close to sitting at an elder’s knee listening to stories of his youth…and the tales that were told about the canals…the trains…the crazy uncle…the year the crops failed…the time father came home with a new horse.   Something about the tang of the language, too.  It was sentimental and carefully constructed for polite society on one hand…and on the other…just as salacious and gossipy as today’s tabloids.  Don’t get me started on the advertising.   I love it all.

So when I am researching and finding the slimmest of proper documentation, I go straight to the old newspapers.  Forensic scientist, Dr. Edmond Focard, once said, “Every contact leaves a trace.”   It’s not such a far leap to think historians must be forensic scientists.  I have found more forensic evidence in newspapers than any other source.  And so it was researching my maternal great great grandfather, Henry Eugene Curtis.

It’s All Relative

Henry Eugene Curtis was born in 1825 in South Livonia, Livingston county, New York where his father, David, was superintendent of the County farm of Livingston.  In 1832, by the time Henry was seven, David was dead and his mother, Sophia Greene Curtis, had possession of their farmlands in Genoa, Cayuga County.  Sophia and her children, Levi, Edwin David, Henry Eugene and little Alexina put down roots in Cayuga County.  After Sophia’s death in 1848, with the exception of Edwin her children left the farm to strike out on their own.

Edwin carried on with the family farm in Genoa and like his father, he only lived to his mid thirties.  His first wife, Calysta Geer bore him two children, David Coleman Curtis and Calfernia “Callie” Curtis.   David moved on to Minnesota where he and his wife, Fanny Conklin raised a large family.   He left quite a footprint during his life and I was delighted to find living descendants to share the research on his family.   Callie was twice married, but had no children of her own.  She was a challenge…like many females of the past who bore no children.  Her first name, Calfernia, should have been Forensic 101.  Should have, but was definitely not.  That was another ‘newspaper trace’ marathon following Callie from Genoa to Auburn, New York -all through family news in the social sections of the newspapers of the day.  David’s second wife, Susan Bodine Vandermark, bore one child,  George Edwin Curtis.  George’s descendants live in the Genoa area to this day and once again…newspaper articles moved me from the mid 1800’s through to current day.

Brothers Levi and Henry followed the lure of making money along the Chemung Canal system.  The brothers owned grocery stores in Havana and Watkins Glen that served the barges and steamboats as they made their way along the Chemung Canal system and the Seneca-Cayuga Canal system…all part of the complex waterways that fed into the Erie Canal itself.  By 1860 Levi was running a hotel in Alleghany County and Henry was his own man in Watkins Glen.  It wasn’t long before the Civil War swept up Levi and he enlisted in the 5th Calvary, Company F in New York State.  Levi returned home to Caneadea in 1863 with the rank of Captain after being wounded in battle and as a result, discharged.  He and his wife, Lurana Elsworth, followed their only child, Charlotte “Lottie” and her husband, Edwin Trump to Fenton, Michigan where Levi and Lurana lived out their days doting on their only grandchild, Minnie Lurana Trump.  Levi left more than a trace.  He was a hero of the Civil War and his history was celebrated in his adopted state of Michigan.  I knew more about Levi than I did about my great great grandfather at one point.

Alexina married Livonia resident John Landis Van Sickle and had three children: Sophia E., Ella Curtis and James Hixon Van Sickle.  The Van Sickles were prominent citizens of Livonia and stayed close with the descendants of their ancestral grandmother, Sophia Greene Curtis.   The newspapers are filled with interesting stories of their gatherings and reminiscences of the ‘old days’ of Livonia. My favorite is the derring-do of the winter sledding of the boys in Livonia.  The descendants of James Hixon Van Sickle are celebrated for their accomplishments in publications and have a nice, neat trail to follow.

The Big Pink Granite Obelisk

Curtis Monument Full 2One fine May day I stood before the monument rising high in Lakeview Cemetery situated above Cayuga Lake in the Village of Cayuga.  The breeze from the lake was at my back and the sun struggled to find me through the high pines as I considered the inscriptions.  It was the most concrete…or should I say marble…thing I knew about Henry Eugene Curtis at that time.  Other than he was my great grandfather’s father.  I set to conquering the basics…following the census material and found that was as good as it gets at that point.  Meantime, I posted to my blog…pieces about my great grandfather- Henry’s son, George Downing Curtis.  And another about one of George’s grandnieces and her runaway husband.  I was leaving traces this time…in hopes that a descendant of Henry’s would find me and share the Sherlock Holmes effort with me.  Forensic science is a two way street and I was in sore need of a Dr. Watson.

I kept digging…checking anything in Schuyler, Livingston and Cayuga counties…anything to tell me about Henry.  I found bits and pieces of information and continued the process of building the profile…bland, but better than nothing.  And then a couple of years ago I was contacted by another descendant of Henry and Susan Curtis and the game was afoot.  Sort of.  Marj had read my blog posts and had wonderful old portraits of Henry and Susannah Downing Curtis, but not much more in the way of information.   That was my bailiwick.  And my impetus to keep checking.  New information is available all of the time and Henry Eugene Curtis’ great great granddaughter is no quitter!

Be Patient, Grasshopper

Finding new sources is a must…there are always new places to look and learn.  That said, going back to old sources…rereading old material and discovering updated materials is simply oxygen.  Besides…I love reading old newspapers, remember?  Any new publications out there?   Has Tom Tryniski at FultonHistory.com been busy again…finding publications from Schuyler county?  How about genealogybank.com or newspaperarchives.com?  Time to check back.

In just a short span of time…through the magic of newspapers (The Watkins Express on Fultonhistory.com)…I have learned so Watkins NY Express Thu 3 Mar 1864 H E Curtis expands hotel congratsmuch about my great great grandfather, Henry Eugene Curtis.  The first mention of him is as a grocer in 1853 in Watkins Glen. Henry was entrepreneurial and the canal systems offered a young man with ambition a plethora of opportunity. I know his hotel-The Curtis Hotel- stood on Franklin and Warren Streets in Watkins Glen with an attached ‘saloon’ where he served warm meals…including oysters…” in every form”…’at all hours’. He had a liquor license and was known by all as a “whole- souled man, big-hearted man” and most affable host. He was only 41 years old when he died and had suffered from an unnamed illness for quite a long time. During the last year or so of his life, he tried to sell the hotel, but finally ended up leasing it to a young man who had initiative of his own.

I learned that Henry was first buried in Watkins Glen in 1866 and 28 years later my great grandfather’s brother had Henry’s remains disinterred and brought to the lakeside cemetery in the little village of Cayuga where they had just buried their mother, Susannah.  To the layman…this may seem a paltry bit of information, but to the historian it defines a life that had up until now had only been a smattering of dates, a census enumeration and an 1864 liquor license roll and the presence of a pink granite obelisk at the rise of a hill above the lake.

And now the road trip!   After a brief phone call followed by a couple of emails to Andrew Tompkins of the Schuyler County Historical Society, I have a foundation of information to take with me to Montour Falls and perhaps to find more about the Curtis Hotel…or the Canal Grocery Store…and the life of Henry Eugene Curtis along the Chemung Canal.  It is always encouraging to speak with someone who has innate enthusiasm for someone’s quest for local history and I certainly felt that with the brief conversation we had this afternoon.  If nothing else, it will be a good day to explore Watkins Glen and learn the background history of the area.  Perhaps there is a hotel where they serve warm meals…including oysters in every form.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved


Jersey Boy

A Note to My Readers:  On May 1st of this year, I sent a request in to the New York State Vital Records in Albany for the death certificate of John R. Case, my 3rd great grandfather.  It is now September 1st and I have put patience aside and a phone call to the department on Tuesday is on my “to do” list.  This isn’t the first time the seven weeks wait advisory on the form turned into months…seven months to be exact…and two of the four documents were not my requested information.  At that point, I made my way through the frustrating automated phone message maze and happily found a real live person who was incredibly helpful.   I had the correct documents within a week.  I kept her direct phone number in my contact database.  I learned to ask for that kind of information in my career.  Networking with helpful and knowledgeable people is a must have tool for anything we do and genealogists can certainly benefit from developing a contact database…an address book for you non-marketing people.  And make sure you say PLEASE and THANK YOU. 

I do think I know why my second and third requests are bogged down though.  The first time I ordered from the NYS Vital Records Department, it was for ONE death certificate.  It arrived within a month. The second time it was for four.  That took seven months.  And this time…two.  I have a feeling that ordering multiples puts a wrench in the research process for some reason only the folks there know.  So the next time, I will send separate requests in…in separate envelopes with separate checks.  I will let you know if my theory bears fruit.

Working Around the Edges

In the meantime I have been working around the edges of  my 3rd great grandfather John R. Case with what I do know.  John was born in New Jersey in 1809.  At some point he arrived in the area of Summerhill, Cayuga County, New York where he met and married Sarah Learn, daughter of  John Learn and his wife, Elizabeth Freece.  The Cases had three sons, William J. (my 2nd great grandfather), James Henry and Adam A. and a daughter whose name is unknown to me at this time.

Summerhill New York 1859

John and Sarah Case ran a farm in Locke, New York on what is now Route 90 just past the Summerhill line.  Sarah died in 1851 and must have been ill for some time because her 11 year old son James was living with her parents in 1850.   Sarah was just 41 years old when she died and most likely was the victim of consumption…a disease that plagued families in the area for decades.  She is buried in Miller Cemetery on Breeds Road in Locke and  just a row away from where her parents were laid to rest.

After Sarah’s death in 1851, John married again to the spinster Huldah A. Loomis from nearby Groton.  Huldah was 22 years his junior.  In 1860 James Henry Case was living with his father, John and his second wife, Huldah on the farm where she had stepped in to mother the young man who was just 8 years younger than she was.

During the 1850’s William and Adam continued to live with their father John and helped run the 45 acre farm.  They plowed the rich fields above Cayuga Lake with a pair of oxen to sow the crops of barley, corn, winter rye, peas, beans and potatoes.  In spring they tapped the maple trees and made maple syrup for market.   The small apple orchard of about 75 trees produced about 20 bushels a season and the five milk cows on the Case farm produced about 400 pounds of butter every year.  Holsteins were the favored breed of milk cow and it is easy to imagine the big black and white “bossies” dotting the rolling hills above the lake.  It is still one of my favorite sights when I drive through the central New York country side.  Seven chickens produced eggs for market that brought in a neat $500 in the year 1865.  There were two horses and pigs for meat and sheep for wool. In fact, the Cases produced flannel for market as well.  Large stands of woods were part of John’s farm…large enough for deer to inhabit.  In fact the farm that is there today still is thick with trees.

John’s Boys

Before 1860 William and Adam had married and were off their father’s farm.  Twenty-six year old William was farming in Lansing with his maternal grandfather, John Learn and living with his first wife, Mary and their daughter, Sarah and infant son John J. Case.   Adam was a new bridegroom at twenty-three, working as a farm laborer in Genoa and living with his nineteen year wife, Lucy Boyce.

William J. Case had lost his wife, Mary in 1861 leaving him to raise their daughter, Sarah and newborn son, John J.   In 1862 William married Sarah D. Bowker, my paternal 2nd great grandmother.  Sarah was barely 14 years old when she became 28 year old William’s wife.  The young teen bride barely out of her girlhood took over the duties of his household and became a mother to his 7 year old daughter and 3 year old son.  Sarah’s parents, Jonathan and Emeline Bowker, owned one of the largest farms in the Groton, New York area and were descendants of Revolutionary War soldier Silas Bowker who had settled the area after the war for independence.  Before she turned 15 years old,  Sarah bore a son, William J. Case, Jr. followed by a daughter, Emma Lillian, my great grandmother  in the winter of 1865.  Sarah was a capable girl.  She was the youngest child and  had after all seen to her aging parents household on their large farm.

And in the fall of 1869 Sarah became a widow when she was nineteen years old.  Like so many in the area, 36 year old William had succumbed to consumption.

1860 Federal Census Death Enumeration

Though Sarah was a strong girl and had an extended family of Bowkers and Powers, she could not care for her stepson, John, her own children and manage the large farm in Summerhill.  It fell to his grandfather, John R. Case to take in the 10 year John and see to his upbringing.  Huldah was now mothering her stepson, James and her step grandson, John.  And the farm needed the extra hands.  John R. was aging and son Adam had just lost his wife, Lucy in 1865 and was newly remarried and they were raising his young ones, Alice, Katy and Samuel.  Martha died in the 1870’s leaving Adam once again without a mother for his children.

Will’s widow, Sarah remarried to a local farmer, Sylvester Johnson, and together they raised Will’s children, Will, Jr. and little Emma.  Sarah and Sylvester moved on to the Bowker farm where she could help her parents and where Sylvester could care for the Bowker farm business.

The Road to Jersey…is through Albany?

With his son, Will, gone and his son, Adam with troubles of his own,  John and Huldah increasingly turned to James and little John for help on the farm.  When John R. Case died in 1890 at the age of 81, he had owned and run his farm for over 50 years.  Every morning of those 50 some years John rose to milk the cows and turn them out to pasture.  He had hitched up the oxen and turned over the fields and sowed the crops for endless seasons.  And in the spring he walked among the tall maples, his breath sending wisps of clouds into the air, crunching through the snow and finally driving the taps into the trunks to catch the amber sap.  In the autumn with the geese honking overhead and the shortening days, he harvested the crisp apples from the orchard.   The Jersey boy had fought the hard winters, managed through the difficult years of the Civil War, buried his wife and son and his daughters-in-law and raised his grandson, John.  He was a good neighbor, father, husband and grandfather and part of the Cayuga lake pioneer community that rings with the names Learn and Bowker, Boyce and Powers, Miller, Robinson and Freece.   He lies among them in Miller Cemetery next to his wife, Sarah Learn.  In the middle of the glade stands the obelisk, encrusted with tufts of mold and a skim of lichen, but tall and straight among his extended family members.

John R Case and Sarah Learn Monument

And yet unlike the others I have not found him among his own.  I believe Mariah Case who married Jefferson Learn to be his sister…and perhaps Isaac Case of nearby Genoa…and another Jersey boy… to be his brother.  But I am guessing…a good guess with reason to believe I am right…but with no documentation or direction…except to Albany…where for six months someone is “processing” my request for his death certificate.    Enough time to sow and harvest a crop or two.  Pick some apples.  Churn some butter.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2012.  All Rights Reserved

Silence is Golden

Collaboration…the grownup word for sharing and Sesame Street’s “cooperation” lesson in the 1970’s is a fact of life for successful genealogists.  It’s that tiny tidbit of information…that magical morsel…that knocks down the brickwall haunting generations of researchers.   And frankly, this important discovery is going to let me do the “I told you so” dance. I will try not to gloat.  But just a little bit is okay…please forgive me.

I was the lone Tyler researcher that believed my 4th great grandmother was one ABILENA BARTLETT of Litchfield, Connecticut.  It was pretty much circumstantial, but the building blocks…the analysis and conclusion were pretty compelling and worth working to prove.  Long ago I had a hint that her sister was SILENCE BARTLETT.   It was in old Tyler notes in a handwritten file at the Cayuga County historian’s office.  No confirming proof.  Just a tentative, scribbled note by EVELYN TYLER next to Abilena/Abalena Tyler’s very brief statistics.

Sister of Silence Bartlett?  Jewett?

That was it.  Faint.  Barely discernible on my photocopy of untold generations of the original, but nothing should be ignored.  Especially when it was from a Tyler family member written in the last century.

A Debt Owed to an Old Veteran

I found a Silence Bartlett of Russia, Herkimer, New York…married to THOMASSilence Bartlett and Thomas Hubbart monument  Gravesville Cemetery Herkimer New YorkHUBBART/Hubbard and just went for it.  She was reported to be from Litchfield, Connecticut as was WILLIAM TYLER and his wife, Abilena.  And the Tylers were proved by New York and Connecticut documentation.  So close.  I was in and out of records in Herkimer county and Litchfield, but just couldn’t get that proof to connect the women.  And I was EVERYWHERE there was a Bartlett.  Wills, land records, censuses and all manner of local flotsam and jetsam.

And then it came to me.  Thomas Hubbart was of an age to be a Revolutionary War soldier!  And Silence had outlived him.  Ye Olde Widow’s Pension?  NARA – National Archives and Records Administration!  Be there!  PUH_LEEZE!  Oh, how I hoped for another building block.

Page after page I read through letters to the War Department that vouched for his participation, his identity and his dire need.  Seems the old boy suffered for decades and his doctor wrote of his terrible pain and resulting need for drink to ease his suffering…which contributed to his poor financial state.

On March 12, 1821 his physician and friend of twenty years, Westel Willoughby wrote to Secretary of War, J. C. Calhoun…

…have never known the time when he was able to pay me one dollar for my services, he has always been so poor that I never thought of making any charges against him –

…and nothing but the charity of the citizens, keeps him and his family from suffering for the most common necessities of life.  He like most of the old soldiers likes liquor too well, & has by intemperance materially injured his health, as well as invited his poverty.  From an injury he sustained during the revolutionary War in one of his leggs (sic) he is at all times disenabled (sic) from enduring severe hardships, and is at this time confined to his hovel, for such is the building that shelters him.

After old Thomas finally quit the earth, it was Silence’s turn to request a widow’s pension…and to prove her identity…and her marriage to Thomas.  And who vouches for Silence Bartlett Hubbart?  Why her dear sister, Abilena Tyler in Cayuga County.

A nation’s debt owed to an old soldier…and his widow, Silence Bartlett and a moment of inspiration to consider the history of the times, brought together the sisters Bartlett.

And so generations later, we descendants of William Tyler and Abilena Bartlett owe soldier and patriot Thomas Hubbart a grateful salute.


Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2012.  All Rights Reserved

Hell Hath No Fury

A Note To My Readers:  As my fellow genealogists know, you can spend as much time with extended family history as you do with your direct line.  The siblings of our forebears often provide us with critical information for our research and insight as to the nature of our family members and the times in which they lived.  Fortunately for some of us….one of these individuals was a hoarder, a snoop, a character of note in local doings or best of all, a sentimental soul who loved their own family history and passed it down before they, too, became part of yesteryear.

A few years ago, I was assembling what I could about the Frears…my paternal great great grandmother’s family.  Initially it was a hodgepodge cobbled together from Ruth P. Heidgard’s 1968 publication, “The Freer family: the descendants of Hugo Freer, patentee of New Paltz, (Frear, Fraer, Frayer, Fryer, etc.” and research done with the help of the knowledgeable staff of the  Huguenot Historical Society in New Paltz, NY and local historians in Ulster County.  Like Ruth P. Heidgard’s genealogical effort, many of these publications are a huge undertaking and by nature are inaccurate in areas and incomplete in others.  A base to work with for sure, but it behooves the wise researcher to validate their own work…generation to generation…family to family…person to person.  It was, therefore, no surprise to me, to find that my great great grandmother, Harriett Myers Frear Martin was not noted in her original family.  Indeed, only her three brothers – Samuel, John Lawrence Myers and William Henry Frear – were itemized in the book as offspring of Simeon J. Frear and Cornelia “Neeltje” Myers of Newark, Wayne County, New York. 

Absent an extant family bible or a will itemizing heirs and property, it took me over a year of reading local New York State newspapers…noting business dealings, family affairs, visits and obituaries in Auburn, Union Springs, Newark, Binghamton and Buffalo while cross referencing online records in Indiana for son, Samuel Frear…to put the proof of Simeon and Cornelia’s complete family together.  Finally I had the Frear girls properly in their place in family history…Elizabeth, Cornelia, Mary Ann, Harriet Myers (my GG Grandmother) and Phoebe Jane Frear.  Along the way I spent time with the eight Frear children and their parents and through them I learned about the early rough and rowdy days along the Erie Canal, the terrible toll that tuberculosis would take on the Frears, the student life of the little Newark schoolhouse, the heyday of the port of Buffalo and the impact that the Civil War would have on three of the Frear men. 

Throughout the process of solving the Frear family puzzle, I would run across a character and family story that would pull me up short.  The big project was set aside and I would while away the time visiting…drifting into their time and world…comfortably seated on the front porch of a home on Newark’s Main Street, delicately fanning away the heat and a buzzing mosquito or two with my embroidered hankie…and chatting with Mrs. Judith O. Stansell Welch Frear.

Becoming MRS. FREAR

In 1825 Judith’s father-in-law, Simeon J. Frear, had moved his family from their Saratoga, New York home in the Hudson Valley to the little community of Lockville in Wayne County…later renamed Arcadia.  Governor DeWitt’s “ditch” was completed in 1829 and the Frears and their neighbors celebrated the “Wedding of the Waters“.  Although Simeon states he is a farmer in the 1850 census, he also plied trades that were typical along the canal.

1860 Federal census Arcadia NY

At the age of 68 widowed “Old Daddy Frear” as he was called by the villagers, was caulking boats in the carpentry business of his sons, William Henry and John Lawrence Myers Frear .

John Lawrence Myers Frear had married young widow, Judith O. Stansell Welch on May 23, 1844 and along with her four year old son, Daniel, set up house on Main Street near the canal bridge.  Like her husband, Judith was the child of a pioneer family.  In fact the Stansells arrived in the Palmyra area in May of 1789 migrating from the Mohawk Valley region.  Pioneer royalty if you will.

An able carpenter, John built carriages, repaired canal boats and built homes in Newark.  In 1866 he was a successful viticulturist (grape grower) and winemaker.  Opportunity was at the hand of every able body in Newark and the Frears took full advantage.

Judith became pregnant right away and in 1845 gave birth to their son, Charles Henry Frear.  Son William Stansell Frear arrived in 1849 and was followed by John Milton Frear in 1854.  Little Nellie came along in 1864 while her oldest brother, Charles,  was serving in the Union Army as a bugler in the NYS Volunteers 2nd regiment Company F.  Nellie would die in 1870 at the tender age of six.

The Frears would lose Cornelia Myers Frear, matriarch of their family, on November 10, 1853.  Samuel Frear had moved to Indiana in the late 1830’s and his wife, Dolly Brown and their children were not part of the daily lives of the next generation in Newark.   Though Judith’s only other brother-in-law, William Henry, was her husband’s business partner, William had a much lower profile in family and community life.  He had married Harriet Bloomer and they and their children did not live long lives.  It could be that tuberculosis took a toll on William’s family…like it did on his brother, Samuel’s family as well.

In her adult life Judith had been widowed, given birth to five children, lost her only daughter, sent Charles off to fight Johnnie Reb and ran her home with a firm Christian hand and heart.  She sang in the choir and taught in the Sunday school of the little Methodist Church in Newark.  There wasn’t a soul in Newark that didn’t know and respect the woman that they would call simply “Mrs. Frear”.

The Next Generation

When Judith’s son, Charles, came home from the war, he settled into his hometown and established Frear Brothers grocery with his brother, William, in 1869 and in addition served as the town clerk.  That same year he married pretty Cornelia Brodt and they set up their household in Newark.   Soon after, the couple had two sons of their own…Charles and Frederick.

After the brief retail partnership with Charles, William and youngest brother, John were apprenticing at clockmaker, S. J. Childs and in 1873 they left Wayne county to establish themselves as jewelers in the little village of Union Springs situated on Cayuga Lake and the city of Binghamton, New York.  Eighty nine year old patriarch, Simeon, would die in 1878 and  Judith O. Stansell Frear would someday pass on the dignity of being Mrs. Frear of Newark to her daughter-in-law.  Or so she thought.

The year 1880 brought a shock to Judith’s…Mrs. Frear’s…ordered life.  Charles’ wife, Cornelia had been obsessively attending the local opera house in nearby Palmyra…bitten and smitten…by the theater.  Married life to Charles was strained because he suffered from chronic and debilitating diarrhea…an unfortunate and unpleasant souvenir of his Civil War service.  Cornelia was a pretty, vivacious woman and it wasn’t long before she caught the eye of Henry Carlos “Nat” Blossom, a charismatic actor that performed at the Palmyra opera house.  In no time Cornelia had packed up her boys and moved to Buffalo, New York and set up a boarding house for actors on 115 East Eagle Street.  An advertisement in the New York Clipper made it clear that the Eagle Street boarding house was headquarters for Nat Blossom and his acting troupe.  Nat was managing the Bunnel’s Museum in Buffalo.

It was another blow when Judith’s husband, John died in November of 1885 at the age of 72 of Bright’s disease and his brother, William followed not thirty days later, but her faith was her rock and she was a beloved elder in the village with a constant stream of visitors to her Main Street home.  Charles and his mother were alone in Newark.

Charles was divorced by Cornelia in 1886 and she immediately married Nat Blossom…eight years her junior…and moved to Missouri with her sons where Nat and Cornelia owned a theater and Nat managed comedic actors…minstrel acts were his specialty.  In 1900 Nat was counted in the Federal Census on board a railroad car as his residence in Fort Madison City in Iowa in the James LaPearl Show.

Charles went to Michigan with his half-brother, Daniel and became a major contractor builder in Grand Rapids finally to return permanently to New York State in 1905.  He was not entirely well, but still an ebullient, social man.

Courtesy of the Frontenac Museum

With the help of his brother William, Charles took over the Hotel Astoria in Union Springs as proprietor.  The hotel was renovated under his design and direction…a new cigar counter and a men’s lounge was added.  A newfangled ice cream maker was installed…and Charles’ big yellow dog named Birney made the hotel a welcome destination for the folks who sought respite from the central New York summer heat.

William lived in Union Springs and enjoyed the visits of his mother.   She would spend weeks with her son and his family…with frequent visits from her son, John of Binghamton.  Though the family joy of the visits with her sons and William’s children, Pearl and Leo, was obvious by their frequency and length, she would eventually return to Newark and her treasured home of decades. It was called “Mrs. Frear’s house” years after she left the earth.

A Shock of Corn Fully Ripe

On Monday, May 19th, 1902, eighty-four year old, Judith O. Frear died in Union Springs at her son, William’s home.   According to a Union Springs Advertiser obituary,

“The day before she died she sang “Rock of Ages Cleft for Me” and “Nearer My God to Thee,” carrying the tune and recalling the words. She was conscious to almost the last, and came to her end on earth like a shock of corn fully ripe”.

Among the out of town attendees was H. C. Martin of Auburn…Harriet Cornelia Martin, daughter of my great great grandmother, Harriet Myers Frear Martin.  After the funeral services, Judith’s body was taken to Newark where she was laid to rest in the Frear family plot in a Methodist committal service “where many friends of earlier days were gathered”.

Normally, genealogists don’t quit the research when the last handful of dirt is tossed on the casket, the grave is filled in…the sod neatly set into the neighboring turf and the monument installed.  There is unfinished business yet.

The Last Word

All during my research of the three generations of Frears in central New York and Indiana, I developed a sense the family dynamic and circumstances of the history of each individual.  Outside of my own direct ancestors…none more dramatically played out than Judith O. Stansell Frear.  She took her role as mother and head of the family to heart…even as her sons were mature men themselves.  And she obviously wasn’t going to let a small thing like her death keep her from her role as Mrs. Frear, matriarch.

Fully one year and one month after her death, her will was admitted to probate.  Along with the usual itemization of debts to satisfy, personal goods and real estate holdings, the names of the executors…her sons, William and John, and a description of the disbursement of the proceeds, the telling stipulation as to Charles’ share of her estate had the distinct ring of Judith’s iron hand.

One third of her will was to be divided equally between her sons Daniel Welch and Charles Frear.  “The portion to the latter (Charles) is to be held in trust for his maintenance and is given to him on the express condition that he never lives with “Cornelia B., the woman he first married. In case he does live with “Cornelia B., then he shall receive but $100, and the remaining port of his one-sixth of the three parts is to be divided equally between the other three sons.”  Judith left her grandchildren, Pearl and Leo the sum of $500 and $100 to only one of Charles’ son, Charles Lawrence.  His son, Frederick was not provided for.

Charles was almost sixty years old when his mother died, never remarried and had little contact with his sons, Charles and Frederick who continued to live with their mother in Missouri when she married Nat Blossom.  All was not bliss in Missouri as 51 year old Nat Blossom divorced Cornelia who was eight years his senior in 1905 in order to marry a 38 year old actress and songstress in his Vaudeville touring troupe, Nellie Rutledge.

Was there word before Judith’s death from her grandson, Charles Lawrence Frear, that his mother had regrets…that Nat was a philandering actor…which evidence clearly shows he was…and did Judith’s son, Charles continue to carry a torch for “Cornelia B.”,  the mother of his sons, with thoughts of regaining her favor?  Did that drive Mrs. Frear to incorporate such a stipulation in her will?  And did the exclusion of Frederick by his grandmother mean she did not recognize him as “hers”?  Or did he have unwavering and exclusive loyalty to his mother and seal his fate with his grandmother?  Or was it simply a transcription error?

There was as much unsaid in Judith O. Frear’s will as was said.  What we do know is the “why” of the stipulation of her son, Charles’ inheritance.   “Cornelia B.” was NEVER to be passed the mantle of MRS. FREAR.   But even the indomitable Judith O. Stansell Frear has her limits.  Her former daughter-in-law reclaimed the name FREAR and is buried in IOOF Cemetery in Monett, Missouri as Cornelia Brodt FREAR.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2012.  All Rights Reserved

What Kept Ya?

A Note to My Readers: Brick walls can drive any genealogist…well…UP the wall!   And we all know that brick walls are a big part of our reality.  So most of us are at one point or another…digging around it or climbing up it or trying to tear it down.  Sometimes brick by brick and sometimes with a big old stick of dynamite.  And sometimes…you just have to walk around it and be prepared to visit the neighborhood because there is no “aha” moment waiting on the other side.  And no ancestor waiting there patiently who asks,  “What kept ya”?

My latest brick wall has a big old sign on it…


Actually it’s not so much a brick wall as it is a gated community.  The family name is on the gate and I can see the quaint buildings of the old whaling seaport with the bobbing masts in the harbor through the fence.   BENNETT, TOBEY, JENNEY, JENNINGS, ESTES, CHACE, JAMES, WING are all familiar names in my ancestral stomping grounds of Dartmouth/New Bedford/Fairhaven, Massachusetts and Tiverton, Rhode Island.   They are all “in there” and my family free pass is still good…aren’t I the fifth great granddaughter of  New Bedford pioneers Isaac Jennings and Ruth Estes?  That practically makes me Yankee Royalty.

Several years ago I tackled my Jennings ancestry beginning with my great great grandfather, Daniel J. Jennings.  Daniel and his wife, Harriet J. James Jennings had settled in Auburn, New York in 1851.  I grew up in Auburn and never knew that my father’s family history took me back so far in Auburn’s history.  Daniel was born in New Bedford in 1820 to Samuel B. Jennings and his wife, Betsey Albert.  The Jennings were typical of the other folks in New Bedford…tradesmen, merchants, seamen, tailors, bankers, doctors and the occasional farmer.  And ultimately very transparent to research.  Births, marriages and deaths and the family relationships all as neatly situated as the row of buildings along Water Street in New Bedford.

“Good Day, Grandfather Jennings and many thanks for the comfort of your hearth and home.”   My Jennings brethren fairly flung open the doors to their home on 84 Linden Street and shared a meal with their granddaughter as if they knew the distance was not mere leagues of sea and miles of land, but across the expanse of time itself.  Whatever wall appeared, it seemed that a Jennings was there to dismiss it and take me onto the next generation.

I began to know not just the Jennings, but the expanding tree of family as the marriage records revealed my New Bedford roots.  Daniel’s brother, Adoniram, walked the streets of New Bedford with me…past his blacksmith shop and down to the harbor where their seafaring brother, Master Mariner Edmund Estes Jennings,  greeted us from his ship the “E. Nickerson”.  Their footloose brother, David H. Jennings, a mason by trade…and an accomplished inventor and tinkerer…made his home alternately in his New Bedford home and  in Union Springs, New York with the fifth Jennings brother, Nathan S. Jennings, and for a time with his sister Clarinda and her husband, Nathan Adams in Altoona, Pennsylvania.   Many thanks, Uncle David, for your wandering nature.  It cinched together your family as neatly as one of your clever inventions.

As fortune would have it, the family history of Daniel’s wife, Harriet J. James,  seemed to be as spare as a Yankee’s purse.  The Jennings came and went in each other’s lives with utter regularity in central New York and indeed in New Bedford.  Try as I might, using all of my best skills and resources, Harriet was just Harriet J. James, wife of carriage maker, Daniel Jennings.  She was born in New York state, but interestingly, she was married in New Bedford on May 21, 1843.

New Bedford Register 24 May 1843

That left me with two places to search for the James family.  It was a start.  A very meager one…as meager as the notice of her death.  Not even a mention of her children, never mind siblings.

New York state is a big place to research, but the best place to start.  The Federal Censuses were very nice and all, but not revealing so I was on to the New York State Censuses of 1865 and 1875.  1865 was more of the same information…affirming, but no new insight.  In 1875, the first brick fell.  There was Daniel with Harriet.  Harriet born in CAYUGA COUNTY!  and the Jennings children…and one “Elmira James”…SISTER!  And so fell the second and third bricks. Elmira, the tailoress…spinster…born in Massachusetts….living with her SISTER!

Another wanderer, my Aunt Almira James!  And like my Uncle David Jennings…a critical thread to complete the family tapestry.  Following Almira through the previous censuses, I found her in 1870 living in Ithaca, New York with Cornelius and Eliza Personius.  No relationship is given and the birth state is said to be New York, but Almira is a tailoress.  And not to be dismissed, Eliza is just a couple of years older and children in the household with the last name of Russell.  Russell is the middle name of one of her sister Harriet’s daughters.  Working backward to the 1860 census, I found 45 year old Almira living with her brother, Edwin W. James in Ithaca, New York who is a painter.   She is a tailoress, born in New York state and a “pauper”.  Edwin is also cited as born in New York state.

One more federal census to go before women in a household are not specifically named and become a hash mark in a male headed household!  On to 1850.  And Newfield, Tompkins County, New York and the household of John T. James and his family.  John is a painter.  A PAINTER! and next door to him is HIS younger brother, William who is also a PAINTER…and William’s father-in-law, Samuel Martin…ANOTHER PAINTER!  John’s birth location is Connecticut, and William is New York.   And Almira James  is there.  Hello, Aunt Almira.  It’s so nice to see you again.  A timeline of the birth dates and places is in order because clearly the James’ parents had been migrating from Massachusetts through Connecticut and on to New York state.

Brother, O Brother, Where Art Thou?

But first.  Could there be some other James men in Tompkins County or Cayuga County? After all, some of the  known James men were born in New York, not to mention Harriet who was reported to be born in Cayuga County in the 1865 New York State census.  And there in 1850 living in Tompkins county…bordering Cayuga County….were Almira and John and William and Edwin James!  A quick trip to my Nespresso machine and I was ready to tackle the search for James male siblings in 1850.  I barely stung my lips with the steaming coffee when I found an Arnold James in Caroline, Tompkins County…just a short distance from Newfield…a distance hardly worth the term “distance”.  Arnold was enumerated as a farmer…but doggone-it…he was born in Massachusetts and was of the right age to be a sibling of John, Almira, William, Edwin and Harriet. (And someday if I can prove it…Eliza Personius of Ithaca!).

The Timeline Analysis

While there is information “out there” that there are other siblings…sisters…,  I don’t have anything concrete on those individuals so I took what I had and created a timeline of birth dates and places to confirm this family group and to analyze the migration of this James family.

  • Arnold James was born in Bristol County, Massachusetts in 1808.
  • John T. (Tobey) James was born in Connecticut in 1811.
  • Almira James was born in New York (0r Massachusetts depending on what she reported in the census) in 1815.
  • Harriet J. James was born in Slaterville, Tompkins County, New York on 20 August 1820 according to her death certificate.
  • William Henry James was born in Cortland, New York according to the 1855 New York State census.  His birth date according to his death records is February 5, 1826.
  • Edwin W. James was born in New York state circa 1829.

Almira (also spelled Elmira) is the unifying James sibling.  Unmarried, she lived with all of her James family siblings and is a tailoress all of her adult life.  Her age remains consistent to her birth year in each census though she states both Massachusetts and New York as her place of birth.  She is called “sister” in Harriet’s Auburn, NY household in 1875.  That will do.

Three of the brothers, John, William and Edwin were all painters.  An important clue.  I followed the James brothers and discovered that the word “painter” was a bit too generic.  They weren’t slapping paint from Home Depot on barns or frame homes situated in the drumlins of central New York.  They were artists – graining…guilding…painting frescoes and applying decorative plasters in churches, public buildings and in the homes of newly rich.  And just to add one more delicious stroke of the James brush….21 year old Edwin James lived with Nathan S. Jennings…his sister Harriet’s brother-in-law…in Union Springs in 1850.  And Nathan was a noted painter in his area…specializing in graining, guilding, frescoes and decorative plastering.

But what of the farmer, Arnold James, from Newfield?  Is age or place of birth…or proximity of residence….proof enough of the relationship?  Further research…back to the 1865 New York state census which gives his occupation as PAINTER.  And his burial notes from YATES Cemetery in Caroline states that Arnold was Justice of the Peace in 1868 in SLATERVILLE…the birthplace of his sister, Harriet.  Check.

The next generation of James family members in central New York provided more proof.  Visits with siblings, cousins and aunts and uncles are recorded in Ithaca and Auburn, New York area newspapers and further demonstrate their parents’ relationships.   Short of the availability of a descriptive obituary which recounts family members and/or a brief history,  details from a family bible…or birth or death certificates or a will,  the collected data provided a strong path to conclude that Arnold, John, William, Edwin, Almira and Harriet were siblings.

The James family obviously had a journey…at least from Massachusetts and their birth dates and places clearly show that they were very young when the trek began or were born in central New York where their parents finally settled.  And who are the parents?  And where are they?  Their children were a challenge to document and that makes their parents the next brick wall.

While all of this cobbling was going on, I had sent the wheels in motion in Albany, New York.  I sent away for the 1890 death certificate of Harriet J. James Jennings.  For some reason, the normal one month turnaround ended up being seven.  Blame it on government cutbacks…   Whatever the reason, I had done the work on Harriet’s family and when the certificate arrived, it provided the names of her parents…Webster James, Jr. and his wife, Orinda.

All Roads Lead to New Bedford

The envelope was barely open and the certificate read and I was on http://www.familysearch.org, ancestry.com, americanancestors.org, fultonhistory.com, genealogybank.com and GOOGLE to search for anything on Webster and his wife.  One record.  Just one, but it was enough.  Webster James, Jr. married Orinda BENNETT in New Bedford, Massachusetts on March 7, 1807.  That’s it.  No “son of” or “dau of”.  But enough.  This was Bedford after all.  And I cut my teeth on Jennings research in New Bedford.  Yeah, right.

I did find a Webster, Sr. in a 1779 broadsheet ad in Providence, Rhode Island…as a bookbinder…and where Webster, Jr. was reportedly born.  That’s good.

U S Chronicle 7 Jul 1803 Norwich Connecticut
Webster James Paper Hanging Manufacturing

Perusing more old New England newspapers and hoping to find more on Webster James,  I found a notice in the July 14, 1803 U. S. Chronicle out of Norwich, Connecticut that Webster James….sailing from Providence to Norwich, Connecticut “lately arrived and moored in good harbor”…”The subscriber’s intention is to try once more to establish the Paper Hanging Manufactory, praying the public would encourage our home manufactures”.    Further research, of course, must be done…this could be Webster, Sr. or Jr., but it most definitely provides a connection to the birth of John T. James and his stated birthplace of Connecticut.  AND the very likely family trade of artisan painters that John, William, Edwin and at one time, Arnold embraced.

Orinda Bennett James lived until at least 1850.  She is in the 1850 federal census in Whitestown in the Whitestown Asylum in Oneida County, New York…an insane pauper.  While I have no concrete information, lore is that she died there alone in 1852.  And what of Webster?   A trip to the Ithaca area is in order and hopefully a random archive will surprise me with the fate of Webster James and his wife, Orinda Bennett.  Once and for all.

Which leads me to New Bedford.  And BENNETT. And the New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library and the BENNETT family papers (1765-1908).  And finding my BENNETT ancestors waiting and asking…

“What kept ya?”

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2012.  All Rights Reserved

Obadiah’s Grandsons

A Note to My Readers: Genealogists call it a brick wall…that ancestor who seems to have disappeared into the ages.   We all have a number of them tucked away for a fresh start at detective work -waiting for new sources to come available or playing on a new found research skill. There is no rhyme nor reason about why I choose which brick wall gets my attention.  Sometimes it is could be a simple as re-reading an old document that I had worked with a year or more ago.  A detail that has always been there failed to register as a clue and with a fresh and wiser mind, the detail becomes the clue that solves they mystery.  And the brick wall falls.

Obadiah J. Downing, the Quaker Gentleman of Dutchess and Cayuga Counties

On a 2011 research trip to Cayuga County New York I found the probate records for the estate of my great great great grandfather, Obadiah J. Downing, at the Cayuga County Records Department.  I had the framework details for his life from various historical resources including the Quaker records at Swarthmore Friends Historical Library in Pennsylvania.  The probate records of the estate of Obadiah J. Downing filled in those framework details with a richness beyond my wildest expectations.

Obadiah was born in northern Dutchess County, New York, the son of Quaker parents, Coe Searing Downing and Susannah Wright.  The Downings had migrated from Long Island and settled in Dutchess County where they were members of the Bulls Head – Oswego Meeting.   On November 14, 1827 Obadiah was joined in marriage to Lydia H. Titus, daughter of Gilbert Titus and Ann Hoag at the Bulls Head Meeting House.  Their marriage was recorded in the Bulls Head – Oswego Meeting Minutes.

Bulls Head Meeting House Photo circa 1960

Obadiah purchased land in Aurelius, Cayuga County in the mid 1820’s. On September 17, 1828, 18 year old  Lydia Downing was granted a certificate to transfer her membership from Bulls Head to the Scipio Meeting located along the eastern shores of Cayuga Lake.  In 1829 Obadiah and  a very pregnant Lydia packed up their worldly goods traveled the newly built Erie Canal system to the village of Cayuga where they set up household at the foot of the lake.  They were accompanied by his brother-in-law, David Sands Titus, David’s wife, Julia Ann Coapman,  and two year old son, Hiram and their “slave”.    Though the man who accompanied David was called a slave in a local historian’s account, subsequent information revealed that he was a free man named, Nicholas Bogart. Mr. Bogart eventually became the coachman for Auburnian and Secretary of State William H. Seward and lived to be 91 years old. His obituary recounted his relationship with David Sands Titus and his migration with the family in the 1820’s.   David was an abolitionist and a lifelong friend of William H. Seward.

Shortly thereafter, the Downings were joined by Lydia’s parents, Gilbert and Ann and her older brother, Daniel D. Titus and sisters, Sarah and Phebe Howes Titus. Sarah would marry Francis Twining who operated one of the hotels and stores in the bustling community.  Phebe married Alexander Crissey in 1839 and after his death, widower Norman Durkee.  Phebe would outlive all of her siblings, dying at the age of 85 in Buffalo, New York.

Brotherhood, Politics and Entrepreneurship

Obadiah and David Sands Titus were fast friends and supported one another’s enterprises.  Indeed, the two young men were like brothers.  The village of Cayuga was alive and bustling with travelers and traders along the Erie Canal system during the early 1800’s.  Merchants, tradesmen, entrepreneurs and inventors flourished.  Politics, too, were a vibrant element in the community and David Sands Titus (now called the Major) owned one of the most prestigious and strategic hostelries along the lake.  David and Obadiah held political meetings at the Titus House and in October of 1831 organized a committee to support the election of Andrew Jackson.  When I read the list of committee members, the name of Alanson Tyler fairly jumped off the page.  Like Obadiah, he, too, is my great great great grandfather.  Obadiah’s grandson, George Downing Curtis, would marry Alanson Tyler’s granddaughter, Deborah Jane Tyler.

While her husband and brother were in the thick of business and politics, Lydia was occupied with her growing family, raising them in the Quaker tradition.  She tended the sheep, carded and spun the wool to use in her household and to sell in the marketplace.  The Downings were prosperous and held in high esteem by their fellow citizens.

The Great Montezuma Marsh

If life was full of opportunities in the late 1830’s, it was also full of challenges.  In springtime, roads were packed dirt that ran to deep mud that would suck the boots off of a grown man’s feet and hold fast the hooves of horses and wagon wheels.  Winters brought fierce winds that blew across the frozen lake and drove the snow into high drifts confounding horses and man alike and isolating all but the heartiest souls.  Summer was relentlessly humid and hot at that end of the lake.  The Great Montezuma Swamp, one of the largest wetland systems in the Northeast, sits at the foot of Cayuga Lake. Historians, travelers and adventurers alike wrote in their journals that the area was one of the most dangerous parts of the canal because of the mosquito-infested marsh.  Native American folklore tell of mosquitoes the size of eagles.   Close to 1000 Erie Canal workers died of malaria.  Typhoid was an ongoing scourge as well.

A native American legend is recounted in Florence Pharis McIntosh’s 1927 publication, “History of Cayuga”.

Another Indian Legend concerns a huge mosquito which infested the Cayuga- Montezuma Marshes, and prevented the hunting of game. So one day Ha-wen-ne-yu, the famous warrior, came upon the beast, pursued it, and chased it all around the Great Lakes and surrounding country, until he at last slew it in the neighborhood of Seneca River. “The blood flowing from his lifeless body gave birth to innumerable swarms of small mosquitoes which still linger about the place of his death.”

While the location of the village was a strategic point of travel and commerce,  it was a haven for mosquitoes and I believe that to be the cause for the premature death of 37 year old Obadiah J. Downing on October 24, 1839.

Probate Records Spanning Thirty Five Years

Obadiah was a man in his prime when he died and no doubt thought a will was for old men.  Whatever took him must have been quick and unexpected as he and David were men of business, responsibility and influence and Obadiah would not have left his wife and children without the benefit of a well constructed document.  Obadiah’s father, Coe, left a practical, handwritten will in 1830, filed in Poughkeepsie, New York.  Surely, his son, who was a husband and father would have seen the value in that.  But he was young and he had many years ahead to worry about that.  Or so he thought.

It fell upon the shoulders of his brother-in-law, David Sands Titus, the responsibility of administering Obadiah’s estate and the guardianship duties for the three daughters and infant son of his newly widowed sister.  After reading the practical and short wills of various ancestors over the years, the job of studying the 85 pages of probate papers that spanned the years of 1839 to 1874, the year of Lydia’s death, was to say the least, overwhelming.  It was full of the most incredible information.  The inventory list of household goods, the sheep, the wool, the bedding…solid silver spoons and plates…told me that the Downings were prosperous.  Lydia was “given” a specific lot of goods as Obadiah’s wife.  In early America, there were laws that prohibited married women from owning property.  If a husband did not leave a will, probate court would more often than not, put the value of the estate in trust for the children as happened with the estate of Obadiah Downing.  Lydia kept her bible and her household goods and her garments including a coat and a number of sheep, her inventory of wool and a loom.

Silver Spoon belonging to O J Downing

My fellow researcher and third cousin, Marj Deline,  who is also a direct descendant of Obadiah and Lydia, has the monogrammed silver spoons that served the Downing household.  It means so much that the spoons listed as Lydia’s are still in the family and are treasured.

The Downing Children

Though she referred to herself as Susan M. Downing Curtis, my great great grandmother was Susannah in the probate records of her father’s estate.  It seems likely that Obadiah and Lydia’s first born was named for Obadiah’s mother, Susannah Wright Downing.   Like many children, she sought her own identity and so it was Susan throughout her life…even to the inscription on the pink granite monument that sits above Cayuga Lake.  However, she was 10 year old Susannah in the probate papers of 1839.  Susannah to her mother.  And so she remains Susannah to me.

Susannah married Henry Eugene Curtis sometime around 1847.  The Curtises settled down next to her mother Lydia in the village of Cayuga.  Henry and his brother, Levi, owned stores and “saloons” and inns in Cayuga and Watkins Glenn.  Four children were born to the Curtises; Hellen “Nellie”, Henry Eugene, George Downing and Jennie L. Curtis.  Like her mother, Susannah was widowed in her thirties.

Mary Jane Downing Rogers was born in 1832 in the Village of Cayuga and though I found her name indexed online in “guardianship records” in Cayuga County, I had not yet gone to the Cayuga County Records department and found the 85 pages of her father’s estate papers.  She had not been in her mother’s home in the 1850 Federal census.   Mary Jane Downing was a brick wall until the spring of 2011.  More on Mary Jane later….

Daughter Phebe A. Downing Buckhout was born circa 1846.  She had married Edward Allen Buckhout and bore him two sons, Edward E. Buckhout and Herbert Obadiah Buckhout.  In the New York State Census of 1855 Phebe and Edward are living in Aurelius with their young sons.  In the 1860 Federal Census, I found Phebe and her sons living without Edward.  In the 1865 New York Census, Edward is found living with his father, William and his sons, Edward and Herbert.  I found no record of Phebe after 1860.  Edward remarried, but his sons were separately sent west to live with Buckhout family members. Both grandsons are mentioned in Lydia’s probate papers.  I have followed Herbert “Obie” Buckhout’s line to Minnesota and California.  Edward was in Nunica, Michigan when his grandmother, Lydia died in 1874.  I have not found him after that.   And what happened to the daughter of Obadiah J. Downing?  If she followed her mother’s Quaker faith, she might have been buried with Obadiah in the Old Friends Cemetery in Union Springs.  I suspect her mother, Lydia was as well.  Many of the tombstones that remain have worn inscriptions that are nearly impossible to read.  For a good number of the Quaker burials there were either markers of wood and long gone…or in the tradition of modesty…none at all.

George Henry Downing was born in October of 1939 within days of his father’s untimely death.  The fact that he was named George Henry strikes me as tribute to his father’s family as both names are first names of Obadiah’s brothers and a good number of forefathers as well.  As George was the only Downing son, he took on the role of man of the family…under the watchful care of his uncle David.  The Downing children were well provided for as the land holdings of Obadiah were of substantial value and their Uncle David was a man of means himself.   At the end of his mother’s life, George Henry oversaw the goods and wealth of his father’s estate.  The probate records of his mother’s estate and the guardianship records all clearly indicate that he was fulfilling his duty as Obadiah’s only son.  George was briefly married in his twenties though her name is not mentioned.  He married his second wife, Anna Mills circa 1870 and the couple had two daughters – Mary and Georgia Anna.  George ran his farm in Venice and died in 1929.  He and Anna and daughter Georgia Anna Hodge and her husband, Perry are buried in the East Venice Cemetery.  Georgia and Perry had one son, Leon Curtis Hodge who ran the family farm until he collapsed and died at the age of 47, leaving behind a two year old, daughter Elaine Ann.  Elaine Ann’s mother had died just months before and there is no record of Elaine after her father’s sudden death.

Which brings me back to Mary Jane Downing…..

In her mother’s probated estate papers, the reference to her was “Mary Jane (Rogers) from Rochester NY”.  That’s it. Easy, huh? Nope. I found one Mary J. Rogers in the 1880 federal census in Rochester…wife of George G, a veterinary surgeon. Well,  that should make it easy…that’s an impressive occupation in those days. Oh sure…lots of George material…directories, et al. The search into 1870, 1860 and 1850 in ancestry.com was an entire frustration…they were a no show despite all my Soundex search methodology. The search brought up every Rogers from everywhere BUT Rochester. On to www.fultonhistory.com…let’s read some Rochester newspapers. First result!…George’s obituary stated he came to Rochester from CAYUGA COUNTY in 1862. His burial was “at Cayuga”. OOO…a clue!

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle Tue 4 Mar 1890 George G Rogers Obit

On to www.usgenweb.org to the Cayuga County site and to the burial records for the little lakeside cemetery in the village where Mary Jane’s sister (my gg grandmother, Susannah) is buried. Hello, George!…and there is Mary. Next to www.familysearch.org to check out the New York State censuses. The 1875 New York State census has a search option and there I found them in Rochester with both George and Mary J.’s birth county stated as CAYUGA. On to 1865 which requires you to know exactly what location in which to search…well Rochester, ok. YIKE…all those WARDS! In for a penny, page by page by page…ward by ward and hundreds of images later…there they were with their children! But he was Geo. G. Rogers which must have given the ancestry search option some kind of headache. At the end of all this that took me minutes to write…it took me hours of eyestrain and self sorting and reading to get this far. I forgot to eat…just one more search and I will get something……wait…one more… this time I really mean it….OMG when did it get dark outside?

With the discovery of the life of Mary Jane Downing Rogers, I began to learn about my great grandfather’s cousin, Edgar O. Rogers.  Edgar was in show business…like his cousin and my great grandfather, George Downing Curtis.  Failure didn’t seem to faze Edgar…he lost his “canvas show” in the mid 1880’s, but picked himself up, dusted himself off and opened another traveling show, booked himself as a lecturer and actor. He was a showman, an actor, a son and a husband…and a father. Edgar and his wife, Lillian toured New York State and Pennsylvania performing “Uncle’s Tom’s Cabin” and other classics of the time.  Edgar purchased a large farm in Friendship, New York and populated it with exotic animals.  He and Lillian summered there, performing the popular productions of the day.

I found adoption records in Rochester, New York for a little child, Sarah Richardson, age one, whom they renamed Edna Lillian. Edna would know the world of show business and have a prestigious education at Williamson School in Wayne County, New York. Her showy and flamboyant father will be in the headlines in 1898…not for his performance as an actor…but in the protection of his little daughter. “Cry Murder” caught my attention as Edgar had soundly beat a man who had attempted to “interfere” with little Edna and the frantic scene alarmed the neighborhood. The trial was swift. Edgar was exonerated as an “INDIGNANT FATHER.” When his dear wife, Lillie, died in 1903 after collapsing on stage during a performance at their summer theater in Friendship, NY, Edgar went on to raise Edna with the help of Lillie’s mother, Emma Hess. I found Edgar performing and lecturing in his elder years and promoting himself in the New York Mirror as ready and able to play old men with an ‘ample wardrobe’. Finally, Edgar faded away from the limelight and I found no more of him. I did find Edna had married post office clerk Charles M. Conroy and living in Manhattan with their daughter, Jean.

My great grandfather, George, also was a showman…owned restaurants and billiard parlors, ran vaudeville theaters and an early moving picture theater in Rochester, NY. He made and lost fortunes and found himself in the midst of an infamous, highly publicized trial in 1901.

Did the flamboyant grandsons of Obadiah and Lydia Downing from the little village of Cayuga know each other?  I wonder.

A word from the Author:  When I was first married, my husband and I with our infant son, Michael, moved to a historic home in the village of Cayuga that bore the name of “Tumble Inn” in 1971.  I had no idea at the time that I had moved into the little village that had been settled by my ancestors and that another of Obadiah’s grandsons would take his first steps 145 years later in the little village on the lake. 

I do remember the mosquitos…though modern efforts to diminish the biting beasties made a great difference in their population.  And I do recall the size of the spiders that would build webs in the shutters of our home…and the audible “dunk” of their bodies clinging on the webs spun across against the window panes.  Well fed by the throngs of mosquitos, no doubt.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2012.  All Rights Reserved

A Man Named Gideon

Notes to My Readers:  Several years ago when I began the earnest job of researching my family history, I had a small assortment of  family memorabilia and my mother’s recollections from which to draw.  One of my most treasured possessions is the black and white 18″ x 10″ panoramic photo of the 1929 Reunion of the Tyler Kindred of America which was held at Owasco Lake just outside of Auburn, New York.  My mother had kept it rolled up like a scroll and stuffed in various boxes as long as I can remember…curators, historians and archivists will gasp here.  But like the Tylers…the photograph was tougher than its environment and survived with nary a tear, crack or crease.  When my mother passed this family treasure to me, I decided that it should leave the confines of a box and indeed should be on display.  That meant it would be unfurled for the first time in at least 50 years.   Today it is mounted in a proper frame with proper archival material surrounding it though I wonder if a mere 25 years later if freed  from this controlled environment, it might snap back to its scroll state.

For most of my life I have stared into the two hundred or so faces…young and old…gathered in front of the Owasco Lake Pavilion with the Tyler Kindred of America banner held aloft.  I was haunted with the tantalizing bit of my mother’s claim that somewhere in that photo are my  grandmother’s two aunts… Ida and Jennie Curry Sinsabaugh, daughters of Deborah Jane yler Curry and sister of my great grandmother, Kate Curry Curtis.

Eventually I would know Kate as the great great granddaughter of Gideon Tyler and find myself in the midst an expansive family with such a strong pride in their heritage that they called themselves the Tyler Kindred of America.  Tyler genealogy books were published.  Elections were held.  Poems and songs were written and sung including the Tyler hymn.  Great speeches and presentations of family history were made.  Elders spoke of their youthful days and the pioneers that were their parents and grandparents.  Travelling from all over America, they celebrated their legacy at the reunions and at the end of the festivities the Tyler Kindred would raise their voices in the “Tyler yell”.

Tyler Genealogists-Then and Now

1929 Tyler Kindred of America 10th annual reunion

“The Tyler genealogy: the descendants of the Branford, Connecticut line of Roger Tyler, Volume III” by Willard I. Tyler Brigham and Calvin Cedric Tyler  continues the work “The Tyler genealogy : the descendants of Job Tyler, of Andover, Massachusetts, 1619-1700, volumes 1 and 2” by family member and genealogist, Willard Irving Tyler Brigham. Willard made the family history publications his mission.  Though he was educated as a lawyer, he became an actor and toured in a Shakespearean troupe for over five years. When his physical ailments forced his return to his Michigan law practice, he organized the Tyler Kindred of America in 1896 and began the work of compiling and publishing the genealogy.  His failing health halted the work in 1901.  In fact, it was said that the disorder that finally ended his life “was contracted among the damp stone buildings in London while searching for Tyler origins.”   Willard Brigham and Cornelius Tyler, Fay Webster Tyler and Rollin U. Tyler were faithful attendees at the annual gatherings…giving speeches and gathering family information.  Descendants and researchers owe these tireless Tylers a great deal of thanks.  And a rousing Tyler yell.

In 2007 I was introduced to the rich ancestral information gathered and published by my Tyler relatives in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.   Kathy McCarthy generously offered her contact information to the Cayuga County USGenWeb site as a long time Tyler researcher.  Reaching out to her for help was one of the first and best steps I took as a genealogical researcher.   Kathy helped me find my 2nd great grandmother,  Deborah Jane Tyler Curry’s parents, Alanson (Lonson) and Betsey by simply introducing me to the published genealogy books.  In that moment I was launched on an amazing journey of discovery of my Tyler heritage.  Kathy and Bernie Corcoran who coordinates the Cayuga County site, I owe you both a Tyler yell.

Though I grew up in Auburn, New York, I never knew that I was a direct descendant of one of the pioneer settlers of the Auburn area.  Like most children my early American history lessons consisted of the Pilgrims…quaintly scheduled around Thanksgiving and usually featuring the tale of  Priscilla Alden and Miles Standish and their love story.  Then a baffling leap to the American Revolution and George Washington with a stingy, chauvinistic nod to Betsey Ross.   Of course there was Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence and the Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the bad actor, John Wilkes Booth.  Dates and Names.  Over the years, a new teacher might add their own tale of interest to the mix…maybe Custer or Wild Bill Hickok…and there was always Ben Franklin…his kite and key.  This time-honored, but incomplete manner of teaching history had the effect of separating me and my classmates from the teeming stream of human history and our sense of belonging to it.  History was not local or personal.   It was about distant and grand people doing distant and grand things.  Nothing exciting or interesting happened here.  It was just home.  It was not until I began to research my heritage that I realized how ill served I was by the well-meaning educators of my youth…some of them with the same forebears as mine.  Ironically, some of them were members of the Tyler Kindred of America…folks who were instilled with the enthusiasm to know and appreciate their pioneer heritage.

So in the tradition of past Tyler historians, Willard, Cyrus, Fay and Rollin…my kinfolk…I share this story of a Man Named Gideon.

A Man named Gideon

Gideon Tyler was born in Sharon, Litchfield, Connecticut on July 6, 1743.  He was the only child of Gideon Tyler and Deborah Fuller and is my 5th great grandfather.  When Gideon was only two years old, his father, Gideon, died leaving his wife, Deborah, a widow at the age of twenty.

Gideon Tyler (1717-1745) Monument in old Sharon CT Burying Ground

Deborah was the daughter of Benjamin and Content Fuller and the direct descendant of Mayflower Pilgrims, Samuel Fuller and his wife, Jane Lathrop.  Good pioneer stock as my mother was fond of saying.  Deborah did what any sensible young widow with a toddler and a good farm would do.  She promptly married a 31 year old widower with two small children, James Warren,  who was a respected farmer and a lieutenant in the local militia.  James became Gideon’s legal guardian and he and Deborah raised young Gideon together on their Sharon, Connecticut farm which was situated among the many Tyler family farms belonging to Gideon’s uncles and aunts.

It was there Gideon met and married 16 year old Phebe Elliott and began his own large family.   Over twenty years, Gideon and Phebe produced twelve children-all but three surviving to adulthood and of the remaining children all relocated to Aurelius with their parents in 1795.  In 1791 Gideon had quitclaimed his share of the Connecticut family farm to his step uncle, Nehemiah Warren and in 1793 with his sons bought several hundred acres from land speculators in what was then the “Military Township” of Aurelius and what is now Sennett, New York.

Westward Along The Mohawk

The family made the long and difficult journey from Sharon, Connecticut to Aurelius in 1795.  As described in “History of Cayuga County”  by Elliott G. Storke, “The routes over which the early settlers came to Cayuga County, and by which their families and their household and other goods were transported, were circuitous, rude and toilsome in the extreme.”  Gideon’s family would have traversed the Hudson River to Albany and then made a difficult land trek of sixteen miles to Schenectady.  Once they arrived at Schenectady, they travelled the gentle Mohawk River via flat boat for fifty-six miles arriving at Little Falls, New York.  This was a breathtaking change from the placid Mohawk as it meant passing through a rocky gorge, carrying canoes and light boats while the heavier boats measuring about 30 feet long were drawn by oxen.

After the short, but difficult journey or portage through Little Falls, the Tylers would have moved on to German Flats were they once again struggled through the shallows.  After they made it through German Flats, the Mohawk River returned to more navigable waters and provided a serene voyage for the next fifteen miles to Utica.  Upon reaching Fort Stanwyck-now Rome, New York- the travelers would repeat the portage process in order to reach the small stream named Wood Creek which was thirty miles long and flowed into Oneida Lake.  From Oneida Lake they would continue along the Oswego and Seneca Rivers to the outlet of Cayuga Lake.  This entire journey called the summer route…from Schenectady to Cayuga Lake…took from fifteen to twenty days.  Improvements were quickly made by the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company by constructing locks at Little Falls and removing other obstructions in the Mohawk and connecting the river to Wood Creek by a canal.  This precursor to the Erie Canal system shortened the trip by half and doubled the value of the contiguous lands of New York State.

The Pioneers of The Military Tract and The Farm Called Tyler Springs

The Tylers had left behind the familiar lands of a more civilized and cultivated Connecticut, pushed through the grueling overland and waterway journey into the heartland of New York State.  Finally as they set foot on land at the northernmost end of Cayuga Lake, the land they saw stretching out before them would be the edge of Montezuma Swamp…heavily wooded, mosquito ridden and seemingly endless marsh.  Heaven knows what was in their hearts as the wagons travelled the last fifteen miles of their journey.  They were in the Finger Lakes which were formed by glacier activity over 100 million years ago…rich, alluvial soil…abundant waterways…and the promise of a rough, pioneer existence.   Crude log cabins replaced the more civilized Connecticut farms and communities.  The early Tylers and their fellow settlers would establish a thriving settlement with schools and churches.

The last child born to Gideon and Phebe was a son, Gideon who died at the age of eight in 1796.  His was the first burial in what later became the historic North Street Cemetery.

In the autumn of 1887 documents dated September, 1810 were discovered by Reverend William H. Hubbard, minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Auburn, New York, which included “a long strip of paper on which the names of the subscribers for the purchase of the North street burying ground were inscribed“.  The agreement promises to pay the trustees of the First Congregational society of the village of Auburn (Robert Dill, Moses Gilbert, Noah Olmstead, Silas Hawley and Henry Amerman) and lists  the original 70  subscribers to North Street Cemetery and their promisory sums.  “The purpose of the funds were to purchase  and fence one and half acres of land for a burying ground.”  Among the subscribers were Gideon, his sons, Amos, Warren, Elliott and Solomon (Salmon) Tyler.  Gideon and his wife,  Phebe,  and his sons Amos, Elliott, Nathaniel and William are buried in North Street Cemetery.   His son, William, is my 4th great grandfather.

Gideon Tyler Tombstone (1743-1829) (left) in North St Cemetery

It wasn’t long after their arrival before Gideon and his sons provided a critical working center for the other pioneer families in the area.   Tyler Springs,  as the family farm was called,  featured fast running springs and a rough grain mill.  His son, Nathaniel’s 1873 Auburn Weekly News obituary cites “the neighbors came from miles around, to pound their corn on a stump log dug out for the purpose, before mills or wheat were thought of.”

As evidenced by many newspaper articles and historical records, the Gideon Tyler family played a significant role in the history of the area.  Many of the Tylers ran inns along the busy Genesee Trail over the generations; one of the last was called the Sennett Inn which was owned and run by one of Gideon and Phebe’s grandsons,  Loron Tyler,  until his death in 1894.  The Sennett Township building was built on the foundation of the old inn.  Gideon’s son, Nathaniel and his son, Amos-a known character, was the proprietor of the Tyler Inn which was built on the original Sennett family farm until Amos’ death in 1897.  Gideon’s grandson, Jason Martin Doty ran the old American Hotel in Auburn, New York.

Most were farmers that served as Constables and Supervisors of the Poor and as the generations passed many became tradesmen…carpenters, railroad engineers-there was a doctor or two and one great grand uncle…with the great name of William Henry Harrison Tyler, designed and built many of the grand old wood frame houses that line East Genesee Street in Auburn.  Many of the Tyler women were teachers and principals of schools…landmark events in their time.  Among the farmers and tradesmen were Civil War veterans and an official or two….James Elliott Tyler, former warden of Auburn Prison and Republican Mayor of Auburn, New York and his father, Salmon Tyler who was a founder of the First Congregational Church, a Justice of the Peace and eventually became a trustee for the Cayuga Association of Universalists.

And, of course, they organized and attended Tyler reunions.

Gideon’s Granddaughters

Tylers from all over the country attended the reunions to rekindle family relationships and celebrate their kinsmanship.  The sons and daughters of Gideon wrote songs and poems to be performed in front of their kindred among the purple and gold flowers and decorations that were their Tyler colors.   After my years of researching my family, spending time with them vicariously through documents and despite the gap in years, I look at the old 1929 photo with a different heart.  While I still scan the faces…is Kate Curry Curtis recognizable?  Would I finally have a picture of her? ….I look more carefully at each of the faces and wonder.  Are you Gideon, the railroad engineer?  Are you Marietta, the young school teacher?  Are you George Loron Tyler, the innkeeper from Waterloo?

Deborah Jane Tyler Curry in Ithaca circa 1900 in her Eighties

Among the many Tyler kindred is my maternal 2nd great grandmother, Deborah Jane Tyler Curry who was born the year her great grandfather, Gideon died.  She was the wife of Irish immigrant and Civil War veteran, Francis J. Curry.  She died in 1918 at the age of 90.  My mother and I are her namesake and she was the bridge generation that took me to her pioneer great grandfather, Gideon Tyler,  and our Cayuga County Tyler family members and the role they played in settling my hometown of Auburn, NY including the lands along Cayuga Lake.  I am proud of each of those individuals…farmers, innkeepers, soldiers, carpenters, railroad engineers and after spending time with their history, I feel the Tyler spirit and have the urge to give them ALL a rousing Tyler yell.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

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