Dark and Bloody Cayuga

A Note To My Readers:  Researching my Freece/Freese family (my paternal lineage) along Cayuga Lake, I found a Mr. John Freese that lived in the village of Cayuga.  As I have often discovered when I return to the peaceful little village in the 1800’s,  my paternal and maternal lines have multiple familial and social connections.   My cousin Charlie Baker and I are both family historians and share the same ancestral grandmother, Lydia H. Titus Downing Coapman who lived in Cayuga.  Over the years Charlie and I have marveled at how many of our family members have shared life altering events in that tiny community.

Henry Clay Hutchinson (1830-1878)

As I was trying to establish more information on John Freese, I discovered that he was at the death bed of the mortally wounded  Henry Clay Hutchinson, my cousin Charlie’s grand uncle.  An intelligent and ambitious young man,  Henry  was an engineer and submitted designs for the Cayuga Lake bridge, but his design was rejected.  It was around that time, Henry fell in love with a young beauty from Ohio and anxious not to lose her, promptly proposed marriage.  Henry was content in his marital bliss.   It wouldn’t last.  Henry’s lovely bride gave birth to a full term infant five months after their nuptials and embittered, he had the marriage annulled.   Thereafter, Henry was a surly, contentious man and never remarried.

Henry’s prickly nature led him to suing people so with his sharp intellect and litigious nature, he achieved his attorney’s shingle in his thirties. When his mother, Elizabeth Boardman Hall Hutchinson died in 1877, she had quite a bit of land and just below the grand Hutchinson house,  a Cayuga lakeside lot  which she had leased to Mr. James B. Robinson, a boat builder.

James B. Robinson (1823 – 1911)

Hutchinson House Lake St view

Hutchinson House.  Lake Street, Village of Cayuga

Henry wanted Robinson off the property, but Robinson had built a boat-making shed and ‘apartment for living’ and was running his business and was not about to go. Henry took him to the Supreme Court, but it appears that Elizabeth’s lease was in good faith.  Henry’s half brother, Cyrus Davis, managed their mother’s estate and agreed that Mr. Robinson could continue to live on the property.

Thwarted once again and  true to his disagreeable disposition,  Henry was livid.

He harassed Robinson…breaking out his windows…shooting at the building and chopping at it with an axe. He even tried to sabotage a little potato patch Robinson had planted.  Hutchinson would often rail at the situation and in one instance at the local store owned by John R. Van Sickle and Ransom Olds (two more kin of mine), Henry threatened

“If he did not leave he should put a hole through him, and if one hole was not enough, he should make another.”

The tension was very high,  constant and escalating so Robinson spoke with several members of the village and went to the law for advice. He had Hutchinson arrested on July 9th, but Hutchinson was from a respected family.  So free he went and the law told Robinson to just do his best to ignore him. Robinson tried, but Hutchinson became more and more threatening and even told Robinson’s adult son that he would burn him out. Robinson borrowed a shotgun and kept it by the living room door he was so afraid. Men from the village would walk Robinson to his door to try to help keep the peace. It wasn’t to be.

On July 19, 1878 Henry shot at the house and a confrontation ensued. Finally afraid for Newspaper Auburn NY Evening Auburnian 1878 - 0690 Killing of Henry C Hutchinson Dark and Bloody Cayugahis life, Robinson took up the borrowed shotgun and seeing Hutchinson with the gun, he shot in Hutchinson’s direction. Robinson was not familiar with guns and thought he aimed at Henry’s legs, but Henry was injured fatally…in his abdomen and wrist and leg.

David Coapman (1844-1911)

When the shots were heard, men came running and Henry, lying in a pool of blood,  told them Robinson had shot him. Doc A. J. Cummings, whose wife was a cousin of Henry’s, was summoned and Henry said he knew he was dying so John Freese was summoned to record his testimony and his last will in front of witnesses including Henry’s half brother, Cyrus H. Davis. James Robinson was arrested by Constable David Coapman (my cousin’s great great grandfather and my maternal 2x great grandmother’s brother).  Circles.

David Coapman knew Robinson to be a peaceable fellow and testified to his docile disposition at the trial.

When John Freese, a Justice of the Peace was summoned to the dying man’s bedside, Henry used his last breaths to declare himself harmless and to indict Robinson as a cold blooded murderer and that “this was all the work of Cyrus Davis”.  Then Henry’s focus was on directing his sister, Mary Rebecca Ferree (my cousin’s great great grandmother) to evict James Robinson from his late mother’s property…immediately.   Even to the end, Henry was intractable.

A coroner’s inquest was held on July 22 and after a long list of testimonies, the jury’s verdict was manslaughter in the first degree and the case was set for the grand jury.  The pronouncement of manslaughter was roundly criticized as outside of the province of a coroner’s inquest and only fitting for a trial jury.  On October 12, the grand jury convened and indicted Robinson with 21 indictments, one of which was murder.  He pled not guilty.

Thus James Robinson went to trial in Auburn, New York on October 19th attended by a  jury of his peers – twelve good men from Cayuga County.   From the beginning the testimonies given by several individuals who knew both men were clear about Henry’s  threatening and relentless  behavior.  A long time acquaintance of Henry’s,  James Cox, testified at the trail.

Hutchinson was passionate, unforgiving and vindictive.

Despite District Attorney Sereno Elisha Payne’s summation attempting to downplay the provocations against Robinson and his often declared fear of Hutchinson, the testimonies were irrefutable and Defense Attorney Milo Goodrich’s case was airtight.   Six months after Henry’s death, Robinson’s fate was in the jury’s hands.  After deliberating for a little over two hours, they returned with their verdict.   James B. Robinson was acquitted.   The audience which had been held rapt by the proceedings, rose and applauded the verdict.  Robinson’s wife, son and daughter-in-law, moved to tears, embraced James amid the hand shaking and congratulations.

During all of the trial,  a close friend had removed Robinson’s boat shop and personal belongings and took it to his place on Owasco Lake. James Robinson never set foot on the Cayuga Lake property again.

Henry Clay Hutchinson is buried in Lakeview Cemetery in the Hutchinson family plot- a few hundred feet from the Hutchinson house and the site of his death.

The news coverage was statewide and the village was described as ‘quiet’ and ‘idyllic’ and the shooting an ‘interruption of the peace’ and one headline declared “Dark and Bloody Cayuga”.  The drama of Henry’s life and death gave me a ton of reading material for the afternoon and provided insight into a good amount of characters from Cayuga.  Unfortunately, it left me with no clue as to my relationship to John Freese other than a familial name.

And another topic of conversation for my cousin Charlie and me.

Deborah J. Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

© Copyright 2018. 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

James Atchison Patrick -The Missing Grocer of Cayuga

A Note to my Readers:  I stumbled upon the story of James Patrick, the Missing Grocer,  because I was determined to connect my lineage…once again…to my “cousin”, Charlie Baker.  Charlie and I became research cronies as a result of our shared great great great grandmother, Lydia H. Titus Downing Coapman and the endless search for her fate.  The center of our genealogical universe lies in the little village of Cayuga located at the northeast tip or “foot” of Cayuga Lake.  Charlie and I seem to be cousins of a kind through the Titus-Downing-Coapman-Curtis families all of whom settled there in the early 1800’s.  I say “cousins of a kind” because I can circle our lineages back to us through several other families…the Titus-Downing-Coapman-Curtis family is the most direct, but Ferree , Hutchinson, Cowing and Dewees all create the unending gene pool that Charlie and I seem to have.  So, Charlie, this story is for you and I just know you brush your teeth with Colgate and have a love of Italian food and an ice cold vodka martini.
A Brotherhood of Grocers

Cayuga Lake Map

Although this story is about James Atchison Patrick, it actually begins with the central New York institution of grocers that populated my Curtis family in the 1800’s.   It started with the sons of David and Sophia Green Curtis…Henry Eugene (my great great grandfather) and his older brother, Levi Curtis.   The brothers had established a merchant partnership in the 1850’s while they were just in their early twenties.  Cayuga and Seneca Lakes were bustling with waterway traffic thanks to the canal systems and the young tradesmen soon had stores on the foot of Cayuga Lake in the village and another at the head of Seneca Lake in Watkins Glen.  The men prospered and by 1860 they had added a small hotel in western New York at Caneadea on the Genesee River.   In that year New York State was the richest and most populated state in the Union and civil war was brewing.

The call of May 3, 1861, for 42,000 men for three years, authorized committees and individuals by the war department to recruit regiments while the state was engaged in raising the thirty-eight two years’ regiments and by August of that year, both brothers had enlisted as volunteers and left the care of their enterprise in the capable hands of their wives.

Levi distinguished himself in Company F, the 5th Cavalry, NYS Volunteers, fought at Shenandoah and the second battle of Bull Run and after being wounded in battle, the innkeeper from Canaedea, New York was discharged on January 17, 1863  with the rank of Captain.

NY Town Clerks Registers of Men who served in the Civil War 1865 Levi Curtis

Records suggest Henry served in Company F, 136th Regiment Infantry, but there are several Henry Curtises and more than one is a Henry E. which makes proving his service difficult and really unlikely.  What is certain is that Henry E. Curtis was registered in Dix, Schuyler county, New York in the 1863 draft as Class II which classified “Salloon Keeper” Henry E. Curtis as a married man between the ages of 36-44.

1863 Draft Registration Dix NY H E Curtis

At the end of the war, Levi and his Michigan born wife, Lurana Ellsworth, moved to Fenton, Genesee, Michigan to live with their married daughter, Mrs. Edwin (Charlotte) Trump and to enjoy the company of their infant granddaughter, Minnie.

Henry Eugene Curtis and his wife, Susannah Downing, and their three children, Helen “Nellie”, Henry Eugene, Jr., George Downing (my great grandfather) and little Jennie L.  was not to stay whole long as Henry died in Watkins Glen at the age of 44 in 1866…little more than one year after the conclusion of the Civil War.

The Corning Journal Thu 4 Oct 1866

Levi, too, died young…in 1868 at the age of 49 at his son-in-law’s home in Fenton, Michigan.  A Death Notice in the Michigan Fenton Independent 22 Apr 1868 reports…

CURTIS, LEVI, ae 50y, at residence of his son-In-Iaw, Edwin Trump, in Fenton, Mich. Fentonville Lodge No. 109 3 June 1868 passed resolution: “Levi Curtis, late of Belfast, N.Y., formerly member of Chemung Lodge…”

The Curtis brothers who had a small and vital merchant empire along the New York Canal system in the heyday years before the War of the Rebellion lived long enough to know the embrace of family but not long enough to regain their spirited life of entrepreneurship.

A Safe Place to Fall

Susannah sold the store in Watkins Glen upon Henry’s death in 1866 and moved her family to the village of her birth…Cayuga.  Her twice widowed mother, Lydia Titus Downing Coapman, was still living in the village as were her siblings, Mary Jane, Phebe and George Henry Downing and half brother, David Sands Coapman. With the support of the Titus and Coapman families, the 34 year old widow settled into her Aurelius home to raise her children and live out her life.

In four years the siblings had acclimated to life in their mother’s birthplace and indeed the oldest child, Nellie, had fallen in love and married Christopher French Parcells, the dashing young son of Maria French and Joseph Jerome Parcells, a well loved and well travelled preacher who was born in Cayuga in 1822.  The Parcells owned one of the first stores in the village…located across the street from the Titus House.  The Titus house was established by my great great great grandmother Lydia H. Titus Downing Coapman’s brother, David Sands Titus.

Henry Jr. became the man of the house long before he reached manhood.  It wasn’t long before he was well known among the village residents for his good work ethic and his good nature.  From the start he was a “hardy” fellow and a strong support for his mother.  Susannah continued to live with her son, Henry,  as did his siblings until they married.  In fact, life long bachelor Henry cared for his mother until her death in 1893.  Sister, Nellie M., left the village home when she married Christopher Parcells in 1872 and they moved to Auburn. My grandfather, George, left when he married Kate Curry in 1879 and they moved to Port Byron.  The youngest, Jennie, was the last to leave when she married John Stahlnecker in 1880 and they moved west to the Minnesota Territory.

We have reached the point where we can introduce…..

The Main Players in the story of the Missing Grocer from the little Village

Nellie M. Parcells

Nellie M. Parcells was born in 1875 in the city of Auburn-the second daughter of Nellie Curtis and Christopher Parcells.  Her father was a well known pharmacist and for most of his life owned and operated his store on 29 Grant Avenue.  Nellie and her siblings, Anneka, William and Hortense had a happy and socially connected life.  When her mother died unexpectedly in 1890, her father soon remarried to Alyce Dewey who was 27 years younger than he and proceeded to have four more children-: George Dewey, Marguerite, Henry Curtis and Guy Alton Parcells.  The Parcells household was full of music, family and friends and was an altogether agreeable environment.  The only spoiling moments were the tormenting bouts of malaria that plagued Christopher.

As a young man, Christopher had spent time in and around the swamps of Montezuma…which were a haven of mosquitoes and I suppose that might well have been the source of his disease.

James Atchison Patrick

James Atchison Patrick, son of John Patrick and Jesse Nisbet was born in Ontario, Canada on December 9, 1877.  James and his parents left Canada and moved to Milo, Yates County, New York when he was just a toddler.  They had two more sons, William J. and Clarence, and had moved to Auburn by 1890 where the Canadian saddle maker bought a home on 96 Owasco Road and set up shop where he invented the Patrick Horse Collar.  Jesse died in 1893 when she was just 34 leaving John with three boys under the age of thirteen.  In 1895 in Mount Blow, Ontario, Canada, he married fellow Canadian, Agnes Jameson, a young widow with a son.  Agnes and her son had lived in Auburn several years before the Patricks so it appears they went to Canada to marry and immediately returned to Auburn to raise their boys together at their home on Owasco Road.

The late 1890’s finds James working at the McConnell Dry Goods Store on Genesee Street as a salesman and living as a boarder at 29 Grant Avenue where he met Nellie Parcells.  Nellie and James married when they were 19 and 17 respectively.  In December of 1896 they welcomed daughter, Christine Beatrice and less than two years later, son, Curtis Atchison Patrick arrived.  By 1905 James and Nellie were living in Throopsville, NY and in 1910 he was a working as a poultry farmer in Aurelius.

And then in 1911 Nellie’s favorite uncle…Henry Eugene Curtis… died.  Henry had property in several areas of Aurelius and owned the country store in the village of Cayuga…his favorite haunt …where folks came from all over to buy their goods…but especially to pass the time with the now rotund and ruddy shop owner.    Henry died a very financially secure bachelor and his nieces and nephews were all well remembered in his estate.  In 1911 the bustling store became the property of Nellie and her husband, James.  They moved to the village and began “keeping shop”.  James bought a boat and named the white motor boat “The Christine” after his daughter.

And on August 5, 1917, 39 year old James Atchison Patrick disappeared.

States He Saw Missing Man In Ithaca Monday

The Disappearance

When the little white boat was found bobbing off shore near Ludlowville the following day, the alarmed family began the frantic search.  The word went out up and down the Ithaca-Auburn Shortline- the railroad line that followed the lake shore to the city of Ithaca.  The newspapers were filled with the alert for James Patrick and the authorities prepared to drag the deep waters of Cayuga Lake.  James’ brother, Clarence, who by now was a successful plumber and prominent citizen of Auburn, led the search.  On August 7, an Ithaca man named George Taylor, an acquaintance of James Patrick and soliciting agent for the Shortline, reported that he had had a conversation with Mr. Patrick.  James had boarded the Shortline at Ludlowville and had casually told Mr. Taylor that he was on his way to “do a little swapping”.  His demeanor was casual and quite normal according to Mr. Taylor.  Sheriff Lyman Gallagher and his deputies combed the city of Ithaca, but James Patrick was nowhere to be found.

For five years, Nellie and her son, Curtis and James’ brother, Clarence searched for James through several states and sightings and into Canada where the Patrick family had relatives in Ontario.  Christine….the namesake of the merry little white boat her father had abandoned in August of 1917…married George Eugene Ferree, a young farmer from Aurelius.  The marriage would produce one child, Barbara Jean Ferree.   By 1918 the mortgage for the property in the village was foreclosed and Nellie and her son were left to pick up the pieces.  James had left the once thriving store in financial ruin.

Man Missing Five Years Returns: Memory Blank

The Prodigal Son Returns

And then on Sunday, October 15, 1922 “the mystery surrounding the sudden and strange disappearance of James A. Patrick from the quiet little village of Cayuga” was “ partially resolved by the return of Patrick to the home of his brother, Clarence Patrick in South Fulton Street”.   James had arrived that Sunday night “tired out from a long ride from Louisville, Ky.”  He was examined by a physician and found to be fit “but his memory is a blank except for matters of the immediate present.”

When questioned, he stated that he had no memory of leaving Cayuga or why or of places he had been in the past year.  According to James, while in Louisville someone mentioned the name of “Patrick” and the name “Auburn” and James had a sudden recall of his brother so he started out immediately for Auburn and the home of his brother, Clarence.

Now forty-six and apparently with no memory of a wife or children or family members…including his father and brothers, Nellie and her children were brought to the home to attempt to recover his memory.  Upon his return, James had made his home with his brother at the advice of their physician.   Whatever memory he did recover evidently did not ever include Nellie, Christine or Curtis.

Nellie Moves On

Despite the continuing search for her husband, Nellie had managed to take her monetary inheritance from her Uncle Henry and with what little she received after her father’s death-remember there were many siblings-she kept her home in the little village.   She gathered up her still devoted and grown, unmarried son, Curtis…and divorced daughter, Christine, and granddaughter, Barbara…and bought a small ice cream shop in Florida.  She had become a well known travel expert…perhaps in her five year long search for James…and headed a travel association to encourage New Yorkers to “winter” in Winter Haven, Florida.

Barbara Jean Ferree became quite the little traveler and was reported to have taken the train to Auburn from Florida when she was just 12…visiting her Parcells and Ferree family members. Barbara married her Auburn sweetheart, William H. Staat at the little Sand Beach Church at the head of Owasco Lake in 1946.  No mention of her father was made in the wedding festivities.  Her brother escorted her down the aisle.

I could not find out what happened to James for quite some time.  Indeed I just thought he died alone as he was never mentioned again in social notes despite the continuing and merry gatherings at Clarence Patrick’s home.  The last mention I had of James was in 1933 when his father, John, passed away.  “living in Cayuga”, it said.  The little village where the mystery started…where Nellie still owned her uncle’s home…but where she did not live again.

Nellie M. Parcells died in Auburn on May 7, 1962. Her obituary reads “Mrs. Nellie Patrick Dies in Hospital”.  Nellie was 87 years.  And her obituary states she is the widow of James Patrick.  The logic goes that her surviving family provides the obituary information and so I began to search for James’ resting place.  Did they reconcile…forgive…forget…accept?  Nellie is buried in the Parcells plot in Soule Cemetery and there is no James Patrick there. UPDATE: When I was contacted recently by Nellie’s great granddaughter, she told me that Nellie divorced James Patrick.  She writes:

Nellie Patrick filed for divorce from James Patrick and it was granted after 7 years of abandonment, as was the law back then. I’m sure the word “widow” was used by the undertaker in Auburn for the obit and not by anyone in the family. My grandmother, Cristine Patrick Ferree told me at one time when I was looking over her family genealogy papers, that she had been invited to go fishing with her father that fateful day in 1917, but she wanted to stay home and wash her hair instead(possibly she had a date that night with George Ferree, whom she married 2 months later). She always felt guilty that she didn’t go with him and perhaps could have prevented whatever happened.

Did he disappear?  Again?

A Canadian Moment

And then…I had a “Canadian moment”…might have been the bacon I had for breakfast.  Whatever.

So back I went to Ontario, Canada research and there it was…..James A. Patrick was James Atchinson (sp) Patrick.  The game was afoot.  I never found his World War I draft registration…don’t forget he disappeared on the very day that draft registration took place in central New York…could that have been another strain on his already distressed mind?  But then I tweaked his middle name as all genealogists know…what’s in a name?  So taking poetic license…thanks Will S….I researched James Atchison Patrick.

There in 1942 in Fairfield, Ohio on the KENTUCKY border is James Atchison Patrick, born in Brant, Ontario,  Canada on December 9, 1877 …and married.  To widow Alma Smith.  To someone who is not Nellie.

After Alma died in 1944, he married a third time to a woman named, Grace Leota.

James A Patrick Monument

And there he died in 1965…three years after Nellie.  He is buried next to Grace Leota in Forest Rose Cemetery in Lancaster, Ohio.

Questions Questions Questions….

At some point…did James return to Kentucky with the knowledge that he was married to two women?  Was he a grocer again? And with only the memory of one wife and not the mother of his two children…are there children with “that” Mrs. Patrick?  Did he stay in Cayuga because Clarence wanted him to find his old life only to give it up and go to the wife he remembered?  And is that why when Clarence died…he was not listed as a surviving brother along with William?  Did he just want to start over?  Or did he really suffer from a form of amnesia called retrograde or dissociative?

During this research I came across a family member of Alma Smith – her grand nephew.  So I did it…I asked the question and hit “send”.  What did he know about Mr. Patrick?  Turns out James was not a “talker” and they never met any of his family.  James never spoke of them.  And they never knew he had been married before.  “A nice enough fellow.”  And Alma was Canadian…lived in Kentucky with James with her Canadian born family members…who happened to be from Brant, Ontario, Canada.    Gently, gently, I closed that door….and let James Patrick disappear…again.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2010.  All Rights Reserved


Finding David Dewees Ferree – Notes from the Field

Dear Readers, this post is  a “discovery” story from November 2008 and just how researchers are family in more ways than one.  I have been fond of sideways researching from day one and with the added magic of GOOGLE, my family…blood and spirit…has multiplied exponentially.

November 8, 2008

Recently I connected with a “shirt tail” cousin named Charlie Baker.  Charlie had been researching his ancestral grandmother, Lydia H. Titus.  Like many avid family researchers, Charlie had “hit a wall”.  For those of you who aren’t genealogists “hitting a wall” is just what it sounds like.  You are cruising along with archival documents that provide the evidence you need to confirm a family member and WHAM.  The wall.  No documentation anywhere…not personal…not legal…not published…a big black hole.  This is where the intrepid detective replaces the historian.  We slip away from the world of the concrete and head into the world of clues and logic.  After all, part of us…the human part…cannot leave someone out there in limbo.

Lydia is my ancestral grandmother, too.  And my brick wall.  Well, one of them anyway.  When everything I knew as a family researcher failed, I did what any cybergeek, lost soul does.  I GOOGLED Lydia.  That’s how I found Charlie and his wonderful blog about his family research.  After years of applying standard research methods,  I have learned that the straightest way to solve genealogical problems is to go sideways.  If you have names of relatives, go visit them and their history for awhile.  Sooner or later your “brick wall” will be right there where they belong…among family.  Charlie knows that, too.

Using census materials, archival records and family lore along with some solid research techniques, Charlie placed Lydia right where she belonged…with our family.  But he knew that it was still going to take  “sideways” and was still in search of something that declared concretely that “Lydia was here”.

So I reached out to Charlie through his blog via his email.  You can’t be too timid about connecting with a promising source.

When I contacted Charlie, we realized that we each had puzzle pieces that straightened out the “sideways” a bit.  Nevertheless, we were both feeling much more reassured that our individual assumptions made the case for Lydia H. Titus.  Sometimes that is as good as it gets and that beats staring at a brick wall.

And one good turn deserves another.  Charlie and I have been emailing about the Titus, Downing, Coapman families since that is what we share.  At one point I had gone off to find out more about our ancestors…Quakers from Dutchess County and shared some of the research with Charlie.  In some prior research I found I could take my family back to Charlie’s again through another line of family members…the Ferrees.  Can you be double cousins?

Charlie has a fabulous blog about the Ferrees.  I have blog envy!  Out of curiosity about the Ferree connection to my family,  I carefully read Charlie’s Ferree information only to discover that in the early 1800’s they had settled in a Pennsylvania location not twenty minutes from me.  Charlie had shared that he couldn’t verify the death date of his ancestral grandfather, David Dewees Ferree.  Time for GOOGLE again.  Almost instantly I found DDF and his family were interred in a small churchyard in the countryside of Chester County, Pennsylvania.

St John’s Cemetery Location

At the very first opportunity, I grabbed my Blackberry, my digital camera and recorder and headed out to the little stone church in Compass, Pennsylvania.

It was  gray and cloudy  and the foliage was past peak, but the few trees that still had leaves were like fiery sentinels.  I had called the church to see if someone could tell me just where the Ferree family plot was located.  St. John’s is a small country church and as is often the case, the minister or the church secretary are not there constantly and so I was invited to leave a voice mail message.  I would be walking through the entire cemetery with no direction.  No problem.  I GOOGLED.  This time I found the map section and accessed the satellite image.  I can do this!

Nestled among the rolling hills of Pennsylvania farm fields, it was everything a country church should be and though the cemetery was a small one, it still meant walking up and down rows upon rows of graves to find David Dewees Ferree.  At the front of the cemetery there was a curious mixture of old and new grave markers and to make it more uncomfortable, the ground was boggy though the weather had been dry and the cemetery sat in full sunshine.  I realized that I must be in an area riddled with underground springs.  Great for farms…not so great for cemeteries.

St Johns Episcopal Cemetery-Old Section

After trekking halfway through the front of the cemetery, out of the corner of my eye I spied the old and weathered pioneer burial section.  Dozens of neatly lined headstones that no longer marked a final resting place had been propped up along the fence.

As I began to walk through the old section, the soggy ground gave way at every foot step and made me hesitant to continue.  BUT I came here to find David Dewees Ferree and that is that.

Row after row of long gone pioneers …the old monuments yielded no sign of David Ferree.  Patience and perseverance paid off in one of the very last row of tombstones…very like the journey we family researchers take.  Be patient.  Something or someone is always there.

David Dewees Ferree Monument

Tucked next to the church’s foundation and an old stone wall, barely touched by weather,  the Ferree headstones were almost pristine.  The names carved long ago in the Pennsylvania bluestone declared each name…each life.  David Dewees Ferree.  Elizabeth S.   Mary.  Diller Baker Ferree .  Adam and his wife Mary.  Allen W. Ferree.

As any family researcher can tell you, these are the moments that transcend the research work and take it to what it really is…a sweet celebration and appreciation of life…yours…those who came before you and those yet to come.

So David Dewees Ferree and his great great grandson, Charlie…thanks for the privilege.  It is nice to meet you.

For more on Charlie Baker’s family, click on www.bakerfamilytree.blogspot.com.


Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

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