Beyond the Black and White Image

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

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

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

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

Human beings were another thing.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Hero of The Hour

BRRR…cold January day here, but nothing like the late winter day along Cayuga Lake in 1923. My dad’s brother-in-law, Delancey Wayne, was quite the fair haired boy in the little village. He knew everyone and everyone knew him. He was a tough and vigorous young man to boot attending Cascadilla Prep and Mt. Pleasant Military Academy in Dobbs Ferry along the Hudson River. Del, as he was called by his many friends, exemplified the old chestnut…

you can take the boy out of Cayuga, but you cannot take Cayuga out of the boy.

After his education, Del returned to the Lake Street home of his widowed mother, Ida Van Sickle Wayne and tended to the farm and the large dairy operation. Del was an only child; his father, George Luther Wayne, having died in 1899 of typhoid.

MARCH 5, 1923

Newspaper Auburn NY Citizen 1923 Barely Escapes Drowning Del Rescues H BullThe Feds were gearing up to check bootleggers coming down from Canada as the warmer weather opened up the roads that March, but Harry Bull of Canoga paid spring thaw no mind. It was his practice to walk across the lake from his Seneca county home to the village of Cayuga where he would board the 3:23 PM train going into Auburn.

When about 500 feet from the Cayuga shore the ice over the Barge Canal channel had been eaten from underneath by the strong current and Mr. Bull broke through into about 20 feet of ice cold water. He clung to his overcoat and suit case and these kept him afloat for a time.

Mrs. Gertrude Smith and Miss Ruth Warrick were walking along Lake Street at 4:30 and chanced to see the man, but a first thought he had slipped on the ice. They then saw him struggle to the edge of the ice and climb out. The ice again broke and he was struggling in the water. The ladies hurried to the office of Dr. J. H. Whitbeck where they found Delancey Wayne.

Mr. Wayne quickly secured a boat and shoved it over the ice to the open water and seized Bull just as he was going down for the third time. There was a deadly struggle as Mr. Wayne had dived for his man and had to drag him back to the boat and get himself and Bull in. The task was accomplished and others from shore assisted in getting the half drowned man who was chilled to the bone to Doctor Whitbeck’s office where dry clothing on the outside and warm stimulants on the inside restored him. Today Mr. Bull is recovered and he as well as all who witnessed the thrilling rescue are hailing Wayne as the hero of the hour.

My dad and Uncle Del had a fondness for purebred pointers…both men bred them. And they haunted the shores and waters of Cayuga Lake all of their lives. I never met my uncle. He died of cancer in 1945 at the age of 53 at his mother’s Springport home. My dad died in 1958 and the two men are buried within feet of each other in Lakeview Cemetery in the village of Cayuga. But I know my cousins. We swam and boated and fished in the lake. We picnicked and frolicked with the dogs along the shore. They taught me to jump off the dock into the cold water and held me on their shoulders when I tired. I slept on the old farm porch with them on warm summer nights.

Today I learned that the wife of Del’s son (Delancey Wayne, Jr.), Norma Bell Coapman Wayne, had passed away on New Year’s Day. Norma’s heritage intertwined with mine through our Coapman roots and the earliest days of settlement in the village on the lake.

Perhaps I should amend the adage…

you can take the girl out of Cayuga, but you cannot take Cayuga out of the girl.

Rest In Peace, Norma.

 

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author. Historian and 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

 

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.

Wednesday

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.

Thursday

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.

Friday

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.

Saturday

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

What’s In Your (Virtual) Wallet?

I made a pledge to myself regarding my upcoming research-vacation trip to central New York.  NO OVERBOOKING!   Yeah.  Right.  It just seems to happen to me.  Every time.  For the past four years I have scheduled a trip to Ithaca, New York,  the city of my birth and the nexus of my New York state family history.  I firmly set goals for myself and structure my research so it is fruitful AND enjoyable.  I mean who doesn’t love it when you come away with some valuable piece of information that one cannot access without a physical visit to a library or archival site.  Or learning from a local historian who is a walking encyclopedia.  God Bless ’em.  And how about that amazing out-of-body experience of walking down the streets of your ancestors?

In this economy it is a special thing to be able to indulge in such an adventure.  We are all squeezing the proverbial penny…some of us with the intensity of our Scots blood.  All of us looking for free sources.  There are so many wonderful ones.   All of us stepping up and helping one another in the wonderful virtual community called social media…sharing on a level that would send genealogists of the past into an old fashioned swoon.  And all of us wishing…hoping…planning to find the money and time to make that research trip.

I almost…ALMOST…didn’t make any trip this year.  Spent the past year or two struggling to recover from debilitating pain due to nerve damage combined with the double nasty that we all are dealing with…a lousy economy that has us all holding our breath.  After a lot of tests…expensive ones…and bad ‘guesses’… one course of cortisone shots and like magic, the suffering ended.  I wish we could do the same for our politics and our economic condition.

Counted my coins…and with a “life is short” lecture to myself, I am planning TWO 2013 trips.   I started out simply at first…the basics.  Over a long weekend in June I am in Auburn, New York visiting friends from my youth and researching at the Cayuga County Museum of History and Art .  I miss my own history and reminiscing with school chums is just the ticket.  Besides…I am not getting any younger.  Working with museums has become a fun and intriguing sidebar to genealogical research.   The “things’ on display have taken on a whole new meaning…a serious human connection.  It is probably why I prefer the term “family historian” to genealogist.  It just has more weight it seems.

Over the summer I am back to the Ithaca area and gathering with historian friends I made last year.  Lunch lakeside..al fresco…with talk of history and writing.  A couple of pioneer cemeteries and a visit to the office of a small village town clerk and the Tompkins County History Center in Ithaca and the Cornell Library.   Evenings spent on the deck of my rental cottage…writing and having a glass of wine from one the local wineries along Cayuga Lake.  Some time with my kids and grandchildren sharing my day’s find and their discoveries..skipping stones on the lake and watching minnows swim around your legs.  Not bad.

I feel virtuous…darn near saintly with my restraint.   The research plan and itinerary for the Auburn trip is organized and the proper materials and tools are all set.  Appointments have been made and any fees noted and money has been set aside with a cushion for the ‘just in case’.  I found some places only accepted cash so I know when and where to bring enough.  My iPhone…my indispensable tool and sidekick works wonders in the field.  I GPS pioneer burials as iPhonewell as video and still photo record them.  The voice recorder comes in so handy.  The Facebook app allows me to pin where I am at.   My kids like to make sure their mother isn’t loafing off at Simeon’s  in Ithaca quaffing their most excellent Bloody Mary.   Since the iPhone serves multiple purposes, it has surely lightened the load of my backpack.   I still carry a notebook and pen.  Can’t break old habits.

Knowing me and the fact that life always throws some juicy plum in one’s path…I will find some impromptu diversions that MUST be done while I am there.

It happens every time.  It’s what keeps me going back.  That and the breathtaking beauty of the gorges…the deep blue of Cayuga Lake…the rise and fall of the glacier formed hills.  The wonderful people who have the same central New York twang that has never left me.  The whispers of my ancestors who call me home.

Author’s Note:  Every field researcher has their ‘kit’.   Their favorite method, materials and tools.  I started out with a trunkful of stuff to cover every contingency.  I still keep the cemetery research kit well stocked with what is needed for trekking and prepping…but the tripod is gone and the bulky camera equipment.  The snake stick-actually a hiking stick- is still there.  I call ahead on my cell phone…confirming appointments.  I input GPS coordinates to locate my meeting places and research sites…record voice memos…post on Twitter and Facebook…and Pinterest.   It’s all a virtual productive life in the field.  But…check my passenger seat for the dog-earred and worn notebook with the cheap pen clipped to the spiral…there you will find my most inner thoughts and fanciful doodles.  I wonder if it is a generational thing…or just plain human.

 

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved

Life Goes On. A Reminder to be Joyful.

Had some folks ask me…’where did you go?’  I realize that my writing…posting et al…took a hike for a period of time, but the reality is…life is a big ride and I have been hanging on to my brightly painted car while a crazed carny operated the whirl-a-gig-carousel-roller coaster-you paid to throw up?…uh thingie.

My oldest brother, Gale…my buddy that loved the cemetery trekking that I shared with him  in New York State is not doing well…that brings to bear a bunch of emotional stuff that I didn’t know before.  He gave me my family nickname…’hobster’ and he could remember the most amazing details about my young parents that I could not know.

At this post…I don’t know what future he has and that is tough stuff.

My paying business suddenly ramped up again after years of crickets…my promotional business’ reputation still holds in top companies…and the prodigal return.  At least the marketing folks KNOW…they were just holding their breath waiting for someone that held the purse strings to let the moths out of the corporate coffers.  And money at this point in my life trumps research and writing.  I still need to eat..and pay for prescriptions, food…shelter and I need to pay down the debt I incurred during this more than four year bitch of an economy.  My writing has been delayed by ‘life’ before…and practicality rules…but how I would love to have the gift of not giving a damn.  This hurts more than I can express.  Damn it.  The writer that can’t get traction weeps.

Hurricane Sandy happened.  We dodged a bullet so to speak…but America really cannot escape the effects of what has happened to our northeast neighbors.  Like everyone in the Philadelphia area I braced for the onslaught of a super storm.   We escaped by being in a rare bubble of sturm und drang.  Our coastal neighbors and the folks in West Virginia were not so lucky.  I can’t afford much, but I have donated to the Red Cross and some local organizations that have mobilized to help my fellow Americans.  I might not ‘know’ them…but that isn’t the point.  I still have a roof over my head.  They need us to help.

My HVAC had some kind of nervous breakdown and cost me megabucks.   Did you know THEY had motherboards?   Somehow I think the word ‘mother’ in this context is antithetical to a nurturing aspect.  And PECO…my energy company…has ‘sympathetic’ folks in customer service, but your problem isn’t ours.  Nothing personal.  Yeah.  Pay the bill.  Period.

My cousin Jimmie died suddenly. Tumor.  Maybe two months was what he got after one visit to the doctor…he was dead in two weeks.  Jimmy has ten years on me…but he was the muscled teenager that  taught me to row a boat…dive down to the bottom of the Cayuga Lake cove holding my breath…how to shuck corn at his parents’ farm and the fun of sleeping on the big farmhouse porch with his dogs on a summer’s eve.

But then…my grandson, Rory, was born yesterday…my baby had a baby.   He is glorious and I am in love him instantly….like I have been with each of my lovely grandchildren.   Four now.  For now.   More than I thought…my kids are ‘late starters’…at least by my generations’ standards.  But we gave them a bigger world and things to do.  And then the tick…tick…got them, too.   Thank goodness.

I have been uplifted.   Life does that, you see.   Rory was early and I am selfishly thinking his little spirit knew that the world…and maybe his struggling grandmother…needed reminding that wondrous things happen every day…full of promise, beauty, joy.   Thank you, Rory.   And please bring your parents, future siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins to Cayuga Lake with me to hang out…barbecue…listen to the violin virtuoso that your father raptly watched in the Commons while your mother, grandmother and aunt shopped.  Swim in the lake.   Skip rocks with your Uncle Karl  and your cousin, Amelia.   Paddle with your cousins, Hiroto and Mia along the shore.  Let your Uncle Mike ‘s tale of  exploring the lake with your grandmother…watching a deer cross our path in the hush of an October day wash over you while your roast marshmallows on the shore.   And listen to your grandmother tell you about your ancestors who came to this beautiful place in the 1700’s and feel your place.

I want to be here for my grandchildren while they grow up…to catch the magic of history…theirs…before the world grabs them up.  It is the stuff of grandparenting.

It is the great march of life.  And the beginning of their amazing journey and what we give them.

Notes to My Readers:   I have written to the audience of my fellow researchers…historians and researchers as a rule.  Maybe secretly to my children.

However, this post is really dedicated to my grandchildren.  One day I hope that this cyber-story will live in the ether world and they can ‘find’ my blog long after I have joined my ancestors.   Maybe they will say “Google…what is that?”

That said, while I exist on this mortal coil…I plan to hug my grandchildren…read them stories…feed them cookies (sorry to my kids…but I this is an immutable grandparent privilege.)…tell them that they are the BEST thing since sliced bread…and plant as many lipsticked kisses on them that they will allow.   But.  The thing that I can give them is their family history.  For good or ill.  Heroes to Humble…to Clay feet.  A lesson in humanity….tempered with chocolate…a perfumed hug…and unconditional love.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2012.  All Rights Reserved

Politics and Passion…History in the Making

It’s election day…I voted….and like most of us, I eagerly await the results. The past few days I began to assemble some of the political references that appeared in my ancestors’ obituaries, biographies, newspaper items, etc. Found it interesting that many obituaries…after the usual history…end up stating something to the effect that he (it was always a male relative when it came to political reference) was a lifelong Republican or whatever. After a period of time in the last century that quaint custom fell out of favor unless someone held office.

The Life and Death of Nicholas Bogart

Several of my ancestors were tavern owners and all manner of meetings…political and otherwise…were held at their taverns. Loco Foco rabble rousers met at the tavern built and run by my great great great grandfather, Peter Van Dorn, in Enfield, New York and the newspaper accounts of resolutions and speeches were full of exciting rhetoric including the colorful term “barnburners…disgraceful and unprincipled” . One meeting in the little village of Cayuga along the lake of the same name…at the inn run by Major David Sands Titus…my great great great grandmother’s brother…fairly brought the house down with its intense nature.  Yet the attendees were of ‘gentlemenly character”.

William Seward was a lifelong friend of the Major and the politics of the nation at that time were full of the passion of abolition. The Major had traveled with his family from Dutchess County to Cayuga County in 1829 with their hired man, Nicholas Bogart,  who was a former slave and a valued member of the Titus household. He eventually became Seward’s hired man and traveled by his side wherever Seward went for his entire life. I learned so much about the politics and sentiments of these men just by studying their relationship. I wish everyone had the opportunity to understand the living history of our nation and why passionate men and women must step up for change and equality….we might be better citizens of today.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2012.  All Rights Reserved