East Hill Where Heritage Lives. 100 Acres.

East Hill Where Heritage Lives. 100 Acres.

Purdy Family Bible

Family Bible of Elbert Purdy and Elizabeth A. Williams of Enfield, NY

A Note to My Readers: Going back to the heirloom that is the root of my genealogical interest and ultimate passionate life long study, I began to parse the details from the clippings that my maternal great grandmother, Elizabeth A. “Libbie” Williams Purdy Smith (1848-1940), carefully secured to her family bible.  Details matter and more often than not, offer us a greater picture of our ancestors’ lives.   In the case of Samuel D. Purdy (1818-1898), it gave me a pivotal clue as to where his farm was located and the knowledge that Semantha, his wife, co-owned the property.


When Libbie’s father-in-law died in Elizabeth A. Williams Purdy with son, Burt Samuel1898, she had been a widow for ten years and pasted not one, but two newspaper clippings of Samuel D. Purdy’s death into her bible. By then she had remarried to a widower, Charles R. Smith, and relocated from Enfield to Ithaca, but she clearly maintained her Purdy and Enfield relationships. Perhaps she felt her matrimonial bible was not just her anchor of faith, but it also would serve as a treasured family time capsule. A remembrance of her and our entangled family history.  The tiny, distinguished and iron-willed woman who her descendants recall as Mrs. E. A. Smith of 309 Eddy Street, Ithaca, New York.


Samuel D Purdy obit 1898So…what is Libbie telling me with her inclusions? In my many trips to Enfield, I carried with me the 1866 map which indicated where Samuel D. Purdy’s mercantile – cum – U.S. Post Office and carpentry shop stood in Enfield Center. It was easy to identify the site of his business operation, but his obituary said he had a farm.  On East Hill.  Samuel bought and sold multiple parcels over his lifetime as an Enfield resident and I realized that I didn’t clearly understand exactly where his ‘farm’ on East Hill stood.


Without finding an official designation of what East Hill was/is, I assumed it is informally named by locals and not necessarily a bona fide geo-political name. I started to read references to East Hill of places in the area of Enfield Center (Harvey Hill and Bostwick Road intersection) and considering the steep inclination of Enfield Main Road to Enfield Center, I deduced that East Hill refers to Enfield Main Road.  Surely there was a stronger and more precise case to be made.  On to more official clues.


A record of a 1867 transaction selling 2/3 of an acre of land gave me another important benchmark location when a piece of property was sold by Samuel and his wife, Semantha.

“in the Town of Enfield in the County of Tompkins and State of New York being part of lot no. 60 in said town of Enfield as follows: to wit; Beginning at the south east corner of a lot of land on said great lot no. sixty & at the centre of highway running north and south through the village of Enfield centre & which lot is owned by Eliza Barber running from thence westerley as the fence runs on the south line of said Barber to lands owned by Gertrude Bailey hence southerly as fence now stands to the northwest corner of a certain piece of land owned by Sylvester Wright on said lot no. sixty….Being the same premises conveyed by deed  by S.D. Purdy & Semanthia (sic) his wife on the twenty seventh day of March 1867 to Elizabeth Kellogg.”

In a 1918 classified notice in the Ithaca Daily News I found a more precise description of Samuel and Semantha’s farm.

“All That Tract or Parcel of Land situate in the Town of Enfield, Tompkins County, N.Y., known and described as being subdivisions No. (blurred, but appears be ‘2’) and No. 5 on the north side of Lot No. 61 in the said Town of Enfield, and bounded as follows: Subdivision No. one thence running south thirty-nine chains and sixty-nine links: thence east twenty-five chains and twenty links; thence north thirty-nine chains and sixty-nine links; thence west along the north line of said lot No. 61 twenty-five chains and twenty links to the place of beginning, containing one hundred acre of land, more or less, and being the farm at one time owned by Samuel D. Purdy. Being the premises described in a deed recorded in the Tompkins County Clerk’s Office in Book 147 of Deeds at page 560, and also in Book 150 of Deeds at page 593 in said Tompkins County Clerk’s Office. Being the farm owned by Frank Cummings at the time of his death.
Dated, April 4, 1918”

1920 Enfield MapWith all of these elements…references in transactions dating back to the 1850’s to Military Lot 53, Lots No. 52, 60 and 61 owned by the Purdys and consulting a 1920 plot map of the Enfield area,  I will take Grandma Smith’s ‘hint’ and begin to diagram the mentioned lots, neighboring landowners, dates to develop the history and timeline of the Purdy properties.

Next spring upon returning to my ancestral roots in Enfield…diagram in hand… instead of having the general sense of  heritage presence, I hope to stand with surety upon the farmlands belonging to my 2x great grandparents.


Deborah J. Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

© Copyright October 2017. All Rights Reserved.


Hoss Flesh and Cow Tails

A Note to My Readers:  Researchers find information in so many sources to fill in a biography…censuses, wills, land purchases and birth, marriage and death records.  Sometimes there are personal documents and memorabilia such as letters and family bibles to provide a detail or two.  Nine times out of ten these types of records give us timeline events and relationships, but few and far between give us the slice of life stuff.  Of course that leaves most of us tingling with curiosity and with little or no way to touch that personality.   But…controversy shows up in newspaper articles like the village gossip inviting you to sit a spell and listen to a yarn or two.  

And so it is with Lewis Purdy, Jr. (1840-1923)

Goodness me. I long had the gist that Lewis Purdy, Jr., the half-brother of my maternal 2nd great grandfather, Samuel D. Purdy (1818 – 1898) of Enfield, NY was a bit of a character with a life of highs and lows, but today’s research tells me that ‘bit of a character’  isn’t exactly an apt description.

Samuel’s mother, Rachel died in 1839 when he was a young man and his father, Lewis, Sr (1791- 1875). remarried a much younger woman named Sarah J. and had several more children.

Lewis, Jr. was born in 1840 so Lewis, Sr. had wasted no time. Sarah died in 1863 and left behind several daughters who as young girls were farmed out to various families in Tompkins county working as house help.  Lewis, Jr. was off to fight in the Civil War with the 109th Regiment that year. When he returned and mustered out in 1865, he married Miss Olive Sholes of Newfield on February 5th in Enfield. Probably under the watchful eye of  his staid and respectable brother, Samuel.  Olive and Lewis initially lived with her parents in Newfield. The Sholes were neighbors of Lewis, Sr. and his third wife, Esther Eddy Purdy.

Lewis and Olive went off on their own buying a farm at Van Etten (Swartwood Station) in Chemung county, New York.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Immediately Olive gave birth to daughter Fannie in 1866 and in 1870, son Freddie was born. Death came to the Purdy household in 1873 and both children perished. In 1882 Olive gave birth to daughter, Murtie, but she, too perished, dying at the age of 7 years old. All three children are buried in Trumbull Corners in Newfield.

Life goes on as they say and Lewis seems to have followed a dark and angry path.  He was in conflict with his neighbors…far beyond verbal, many set-tos turning to violence.  In 1888 after another angry dispute, Lewis suffered a “body execution” upon being sued by Lewis Smith and so his brother, Samuel had to travel to the jail to retrieve him.  In one 1893 fray, Lewis sued a Mr. Thompson for false representation of ‘hoss flesh’.

But it was the bitter feud between James R. McKay that festered and boiled over and by 1910 the duo were in Chemung court after 70 year old Lewis was assaulted by Mr. McKay.  He was dragged to the ground from a wagon by Mr. McKay, his clothes torn and two teeth broken and one loosened causing Lewis to purchase false teeth.  Before you want to dig up Mr. McKay and yell at him, the court testimony states that

Mr. Purdy is a man of violent temper, of a quarrelsome nature and given to brawling and fighting; that prior to April 1 the defendant was forced to eject Mr. Purdy from the defendant’s hotel in Van Etten and on April 1 was forced to remonstrate with Mr. Purdy because the man was using profane language in the presence of a woman with whom the defendant was conversing.

While I did not find the conclusion of the court case, I did find that the quarreling men were not done with one another.  No, sirree.

Ithaca NY Daily News 1911 Lewis Purdys Cow Loses TailIn 1911 they were back in court when Lewis sued James McKay…oh, I can hardly type this without shaking my head….because Lewis’  Holstein lost her tail to the jaws of Mr. McKay’s dogs.    The saga went on for six weeks, calling 23 witnesses and finally going to the jury.

Lewis lived to be 83 years old passing away in 1923 at the Old Soldier’s Home.  He had been widowed since 1916 when patient Olive went to her peaceful reward.

Lewis and Olive Sholes Purdy Monument

The Purdys are buried in the family plot in Trumbull Corners with their three children – a quiet and bucolic spot where matters of  ‘hoss flesh’ and cow tails are of no consequence.




Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2014.  All Rights Reserved



Legacies and Heirlooms – Past and Future

A Note to My Readers: We spend years and countless dollars, travel to ancestral grounds and haunt offices of county clerks,  libraries and museums – looking for new research material…new information to feed our habit.  That’s all well and good…I love it, too, but taking the time to organize and maintain your home archives is one of the most important things a family historian can do.  You are a personal museum if you think of it and your inventory is irreplaceable.  Put down your Indiana Jones hat and pick up the white gloves and become an archivist for a bit.  You might have new revelations about your ancestors providing a new path for research, but if nothing else you will find comfort and confidence knowing that your legacy will be passing down the knowledge of what your family heirlooms are.

Family Bible Front CoverMy family bible is 146 years old.  It was the marriage bible for my great grandparents Elbert Purdy and Elizabeth Williams of Enfield, Tompkins County, New York.   The wedding certificate is a page that is one of the illuminated pages at the very center of the bible that contains pages of marriages, birth and deaths.  Other than the fact that the front cover is separated from the binding…the pages are in remarkable condition.  The bible has survived house fires, many moves…from Enfield to Ithaca to Auburn to Cayuga, New York to New Hampshire and Rhode Island cross country to California and back to New York state to New Jersey and finally here to Pennsylvania…thousands and thousands of miles over 146 years.  It has been passed down through several generations and I hope it continues to do so.  For years it was in a box…in my mother’s closet…and then in mine.  Until I started working on the family genealogy…and was bitten by the bug.

I work with historians and archivists…museums and libraries…and have learned how to protect my valuable family treasures.  Mementos is too small a word.  Treasure is more fitting.  The bible is in my barrister bookcases…behind glass…not exposed to sunlight and in a temperature controlled environment.  The newest expert opinion is out on the subject of handling old paper with or without gloves.  Making sure your hands are clean before perusing old books and documents seems to be the prevailing wisdom of the day though I still run into museum and library folks who maintain the glove requirement protocol.  The standards I have hung my hat on come from the National Archives…and you don’t have to be a big institution with vaults and expensive methods to use their guidelines.

Digital is nice for sharing with multitudes of people…and I have an ongoing project to scan old photos, documents and ephemera to do just that, but the real thing…the tangible items are dear and touching and a digital image can never evoke the same awe.

Store your items well…organize them.  If you are a Virgo, Type A like I am…catalog and index what you have.  When you pass them down, there will be no guess work for the next generations about what they are and to whom they pertain.    I spent over a decade working out mysteries and I still have some ‘orphan’ material and photos, but they are few and far between, thank goodness.  After all, we all have expressed regret because we didn’t get that information from the previous generation and we are left wondering.

Lots of stuff?   It’s not going to get any less, so choose one small box at a time starting with the oldest material and settle down on a rainy or snowy day and begin.  Your great grandchildren will be glad you did.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved

The Lovely Daughters of Ithaca

A Note to My Readers: My great grandmother’s family bible is an amazing ‘go to’ source for me. She was meticulous…her reputation of propriety and a stickler for detail was borne out by her record-keeping. She died in 1940 at the age of 90 and by the time my mother passed it along to me, the ‘who was whom’ became ‘they are Grandma Smith’s family – the Williams and Van Dorns’. So it was up to me to begin the task of putting these folks -the lovely daughters, granddaughters and great granddaughters of Peter Van Dorn of Enfield – in their rightful place in the family pedigree.
Mary J Holmes Stamp Obituary Barely yellowed and still clear as a bell and neatly clipped as would be her style, Norma Stamp Griffith’s obituary was adhered to the pages of the family bible. And nearby was the obituary…likewise aged and with tidy corners…of Mary J. Stamp. A bit of researching using my great grandmother as a nexus…and I had my connection. Mary J. Stamp was Mary Julia Ette Holmes, my grandmother’s first cousin…and Norma Van Dorn Stamp Griffith was her daughter. Mary’s mother, Margaret Van Dorn, had married the handsome sheriff, Samuel Holmes from Enfield who later purchased the Tompkins House in Ithaca and with his son-in-law, Abial B. Stamp ran the hotel for a number of years.

Norma was the only child of Abial and Mary- the Stamps having lost a young son so she was the source of their love and devotion…educated and refined. The lovely Norma caught the eye of a successful young attorney, John Samuel Griffiths. He whisked Norma away to New York City where he had already established a successful practice. Once more…a lovely daughter was born in Ithaca, New York. Juliette Holmes Griffith, a debutante and gifted vocalist who was the darling of New York society. She was a sought after young lady for marriage…listed in the Blue Book, but she only had eyes for one Dr. Burr Burton Mosher, an accomplished (and very married) physician thirty years her senior. He had a fine education…he was born in Union Springs, Cayuga, New York and attended Oakwood Seminary before going on to his higher education.

In fact, Dr. Mosher had a glorious reputation as a pediatric surgeon and philanthropist, but his marriage woes were very Juliette Griffith Brooklyn Eagle engagement photopublic and decidedly fiery. Their rows were public record and subject of much gossip. Tiring of the embarrassment, he packed the first Mrs. Mosher off to Europe ‘for a vacation and rest’ and set the legalities in motion and secured his home against her return. They were divorced in 1915 and he married Juliette in 1918…his daughter Harriet attending her new stepmother. He was 55 and she was 25. Harriet was three years older than her father’s new wife. Burr and Juliette were to have only three years together. Dr. Mosher was seriously hurt in a trolley accident in 1920, but seemed to recover. Unfortunately his injuries and trauma were such that eventually, he collapsed and died in 1921.

And the lovely Juliette with the voice of angel? What of her? She was still a young woman and her voice was considered spectacular so she went off to Europe and trained her voice with the finest coaches eventually returning to her home in Brooklyn…visiting Ithaca. Eventually she met Dr. Harmon Hadley of Princeton, a widower and successful doctor. The pair married and raised Harmon’s two children.

Juliette Holmes Griffith Mosher Ashley is buried with her parents and brother in Ithaca City Cemetery.


Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved




A Saratoga Trunk with a Stranger’s Name

A Note To My Readers:  Family historians have a penchant for heirlooms and many of us are fortunate to be the keepers of family treasure.  Some of us haunt antique stores searching for a talisman of the past.  Perhaps great grandpa was a cobbler and and a vintage shoe last calls out to you from a shelf and you take it home to remind you of him.  Perhaps a Saratoga trunk with a stranger’s name.  Deborah Chase.

I always marvel at those folks who have seemingly endless family heirlooms still in their possession.  I have been reading old wills from the 1800’s which spell out the usual estate holdings followed by the distribution of goods and money.  In those formal documents the trail of an heirloom exists.  After all, these vintage things that we possess today were inherited down a line and have a history.  Practical, personal and human.

Elbert Purdy and Elizabeth A Williams Matrimonial BibleThe heirloom centerpiece of what I have belonged to my great grandmother, Elizabeth A. Williams Purdy Smith.  Her marriage bible…the family bible…from 1867 and its companion pieces tucked away in its pages.  Tintypes and cabinet cards, yellowing obituaries, handwritten birth, marriage and death notations.

And her rosewood parlor chair…delicate and Libbie Williams Purdy chair 2small with a horsehair filling.  It crunches when the seat is touched.  I have recovered it a couple of times.  It’s original ivory white silk cover was deteriorated and worn when I received it from my late Aunt Elizabeth’s belongings.  I wished I had kept a scrap of the silk, but I was young when I reupholstered it the first time and what did I know about such things.  I kept the horsehair fill though…it…spoke to me, I guess.

My mother told me of a stack of letters “from a loved one” that my great grandmother kept bundled in a blue silk ribbon and a marble topped table that sat in her parlor with the Brussels carpet.  Her grandmother would carefully untie the silk ribbon and read aloud the contents of  the letters while my mother sipped tea.  Ceremoniously the letters would be tucked back in the envelopes….the ribbon neatly tied and Grandma Smith would finally pour her own cup of tea.  My mother knew that parlor and could recall every detail of it right down to the marble top table and the lovely patterned carpet.  It was because of the recall of my mother that  the words from the 1887 will of my great great grandmother’s sister, Deborah Van Dorn Chase, leaped out at me when I read them.

“I give and bequeath to my grand neice (sic) Libbie Johnson the sum of four hundred dollars and the following named goods one Piano one parlor bedstead with high top one common bedstead one cane bottom rocking chair three can bottom chairs one marble top table eighteen yards brussells carpet and one Syrtoga (sic) trunk said property to be paid to her at the age of twenty-one years to have and to hold during her lifetime and in case she should die without child or children then the aforesaid money & goods or what shall be left of them shall go to my sister’s daughter, Elizabeth Purdy or her heirs.”

Deborah had been been married twice, but had no children of her own.  In her last will and testament she bequeathed money and goods to her sister, Mary Williams (my great great grandmother) and her daughter, Elizabeth Purdy (my great grandmother).  Deborah also left money and goods to her grand niece Libbie Johnson .  Libbie’s mother, Mary Lorinda Williams Johnson, would die one year after Deborah leaving the young girl without a mother.  Her father, Captain Albert Johnson, was a highly educated man, a Civil War Veteran and a career internal revenue man with the Federal government.  Albert left the little village of Enfield behind after his wife’s death, remarried and his career took him to New York City and Chicago.  Libbie found maternal love and support in her Williams and Van Dorn families and at age 20 married her second cousin, William Van Dorn who was almost twenty years her senior.  And she had a child.  Julia Burton Van Dorn.  Her heir.  Libbie and William eventually had separate households.   While William remained in Ithaca , Libbie and her daughter lived in Rochester where Libbie ran a boarding house and Julia worked at Kodak.  As a young woman Julia played the piano and spent many afternoons in my great grandmother’s Ithaca parlor serving tea.    A parlor with a marble top table and Brussels carpet.

It might be a leap to think my great grandmother’s table and carpet might be the ones mentioned in Deborah’s will…especially because they were willed to Libbie Johnson, but I do wonder.  And then there is the trunk.  My mother never mentioned a trunk and she had a memory for those details so it leaves me to think that Libbie passed the trunk on to her daughter, Julia.    Julia Burton Van Dorn became the wife of  John Fulmer Davis in 1925 in Trumansburg, a small town near Ithaca, New York.  Her father, William had died in 1922 and it is reasonable to think that she and her mother returned to settle William’s estate.    Libbie and  the newly weds moved to Binghamton, NY where Libbie’s father, Albert Johnson, had earlier retired and left a small estate upon his death in 1920.   Julia and John Davis had no children.   When Julia died in 1993, there was nowhere for the “Syratoga” trunk to go.  The close family connection was long gone.  My mother was the last of the Van Dorn Williams Purdy line to live in Ithaca and we had moved away in 1953.  Mom never mentioned Julia and if there had been a relationship, she most definitely would include her in our afternoon trips down memory lane.

Perhaps the trunk ended up in an antique store in Binghamton.  Perhaps a stranger treasures Deborah’s trunk.   I hope so.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved


I am Dr. Parvis Austin Williams’ ancestor and I approve this message

Speaking of politics…I know. I know. We all have campaign trauma. But I began to be curious about my ancestor’s political activities a few years ago and gathered some information to read for a rainy day.

My 3rd great grandfather, Dr. Parvis Austin Williams, was not only a practicing physician in the Ithaca area, but he was a political animal as well. He was an original member of the Tompkins County Medical Society, a Republican delegate for Tompkins County in 1819 and Ulysses Town Delegate in 1820. In 1821 he was a Tompkins County Commissioner of Turnpikes and Roads.

He ran for New York State Assembly in 1834 as a Democrat and won a seat for the 58th Session in Albany.  I read with great interest about the celebrations in Albany, NY.

The Democratic citizens of Albany held a celebration on Tuesday evening last….At sundown a salute of 100  guns was fired and in the evening there was a brilliant display of fireworks.  After the republicans of the city had partaken of the refreshments which were prolific, they “separated in high spirits, with renewed zeal in the cause of the democracy.”

While he still practiced medicine….Tompkins county had more than its fair share of babies named Parvis…, he devoted his time to Temperance issues and published opinions on the effects of alcohol on the body.

Though I have no documentation, Parvis was also a Mason.  The giveaway is his tombstone

Quaker Settlement Cemetery

which is deeply etched with the Masonic symbol.  And could be my pathway into the doctor’s political leanings.  There was an anti-Mason movement in the 1830’s which became an element in the Whig Party.   This is not doubt the critical factor in Dr. Williams’ choice of political affiliation in the 1830’s.  The anti-Mason movement was bitter and violent fomented by suspicion and not fact.
A Politician’s Work is Never Done

In the 1850’s he continued his political interests closer to home and was Supervisor of the Poor and Coroner for Enfield.

Doc Williams’ activities were numerous and he brought along my 2nd great grandfather, Oliver S. Williams who was a Democratic convention delegate and county secretary for a number of years. After his father’s death, it doesn’t appear that Oliver had much of a political ambition and turned his energies to business.

The little town of Enfield was a hotbed of contrary opinions during the early years of its establishment…speeches and resolutions abounded. That said, I singularly gathered the individual mentions of politics and never built a picture from the pieces. The early mentions of the doctor in Republican activities to find him in his fifties in the 1830’s as a Democrat surely has a connection to the history of our nation and the attitudes and political sentiments of one country doctor.
Time for a dive into the history books to learn more about the world in which my 3rd great grandfather lived and what shaped his politics.

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

213 Questions Without Answers

One of those idle moments…no purpose to it really. Every once in awhile I dabble. It’s one of those ‘Brick wall? What Brick Wall?” things that make you laugh and cry all at once. A rare bit of random flotsam floating in the world that for some reason makes itself known to a methodical, experienced and determined genealogical researcher as an elfish bit of whimsy. Oh sure…I used all of the educated strategy that is now part of my wiring and NADA. ZILCH. GOOSE EGG. So I marked my place…Elizabeth Austin Williams, wife of Isaac…and most likely my maternal 4th great grandparents. I just based that on the fact that Elizabeth is buried in Christian Cemetery in Enfield, New York. The cemetery is just down the road from the home of Dr. Parvis Austin Williams…my 3rd great grandfather. A modest assumption…but a good place to start.

Old Doc Williams has been such a serious challenge for me. The Williams name in the Ithaca area is a common one, but you would think with the moniker Parvis Austin that it would be a walk in the park to find something. But my grandfather fancied his initials and P.A. Williams put me pretty much back to square one. His wife, Lorinda SMITH Williams, on the other hand was a tiptoe through the tulips.

So P.A. Williams, M.D., coroner of Tompkins County…deliverer of so many babies that bore the name Parvis that the county was an embarrassment of Parvis boys…PARVIS…New York State Assemblyman and charter member of the New York State Medical Society…I find all these things about your life…wonderful things and I have NO idea where you came from. Like you were dropped out the clear blue skies of central New York to that lovely spot above Cayuga Lake. Perhaps there IS something to alien visitation.

I had this carefully constructed family of his…based on odd bits cobbled together that seemed to make sense, but definitely flimsy fancy. It assumed his parents…Elizabeth Austin and Isaac Williams to start with…and cherry picking some attractive options of Williams siblings that lived nearby. And one possible brother…Oliver. Possible. Assumption. And perhaps some day I might dig in and prove my assumption. Lots of coffee…burning the midnight oil kind of research.

Well, all of that work ethic romantic notion took a hike tonight when I dabbled…anything new out there, Parvis? You can infer a snarkiness…I had asked that question so many times over the years and CRICKETS. It’s so easy to be bitter.

Except my grandfather’s voice echoed out of the cyber void…outer space, if you will, and pretty much told me…”HERE! Now stop fussing and get on with it.” His brother, Oliver, reached out and handed me a path to their parents, Isaac and Elizabeth Austin Williams through the Williams family bible that belonged to him and his wife, Rachel Swift. And a pamphlet given to him by his brother, Parvis Austin Williams…!

The Christian Faith: 213 Questions Without Answers”, published in London.

It begins…

1.Be ready to give an answer-be prepared. 2. Be ready ALWAYS-do not put off a Question.

I guess my grandfather had enough of my questions…and I have my answer.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2012.  All Rights Reserved

As You Are, I Once Was…

Presbyterian Cemetery Pioneer Burials
Enfield, New York

I spent this morning in my ancestral grounds of Enfield, New York…just above Cayuga’s waters…traipsing about the two old cemeteries in Enfield Center.  They are still active…meaning they have open lots and current burials…handsome new stones that neither tilt nor mildew and glisten in the summer sun.  But for the pioneer areas…Mother Nature is relentess and the presence of man is only embodied in the old epitaphs.  In the four years since I began to visit these cemeteries, the odds against these old monuments being here for another generation continue to rise.  My great great grandparents and my great grandparents are buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery. And my great great great grandmother, Elizabeth Weyburn Ingersoll.   Samuel D. Purdy and his wife, Semantha Ingersoll rest at the very back of the cemetery down a forbidding slope, but their monuments still sit fairly upright…the eight foot obelisk is a mighty sight.  More modestly…but more level and pristine sits the headstone of Elizabeth Weyburn, wife of Samuel Ingersoll, Jr. and daughter of Ovid and Ulysses pioneers Samuel Weyburn and Jane Bratton.

When my son, Mike, came with me a couple of years ago…he bullied his way down the overgrown slope and beat back the brush so we could visit their graves and lay a pink rose at each monument.   Mother Nature has reclaimed this grandson’s rude path and the blackberries with their prickly sentinels once again guard the way.   So I can only stand there from the high ground and zoom in with my camera to reassure myself that they are there for one more year.

I made my way down the Enfield Main Road to the Christian cemetery and walked up to the Van Dorn and Williams graves.  They remain as always…darker with mildew and pollen…but still upright and facing East as the Christian burial tradition dictated, but I cannot say that others have fared so well.  I still peek into the heavy brush at the back, but dare not enter…take a photograph or

Pioneer wife Lydia Baker’s broken monument

two…and then head south to the old debris pile to make sure that Judah Baker’s Revolutionary War Medallion is still stuck amidst the brush…and his wife, Lydia’s broken stone still sits…slowly being covered by broken wood, leaves and dirt.

I wish I were twenty years younger with my strong body and hands and fearless heart.  But I am a (gulp) senior citizen now and clearing and hauling brush and mending stone is for the next generation.  If they will.

As I drove away…it occurred to me that these pioneers settled this land…made the first roads and maintained them…most new ones follow the old turnpikes….many bear their names…Applegate…Harvey…Van Dorn.  Judah and Lydia Baker have a NYS historical marker at the road by Christian Cemetery.  And yet we shrug sympathetically…”there is no money…I don’t have time….someone else will do it.  Oh well…that’s how it goes…”.   Townships are strapped and spread thin and have priorities…that’s a reality.  The same holds true with cemetery associations.  What to do to preserve our history and honor those that struggled so that we could be free and live in this most amazing country?

I had put off joining the DAR…the economy has a grip on my purse. I still have the original papers from 2008…dated the day before Leaman fell.   But I think for me this might be the place to start…an organization that has in the past tackled these cemeteries…raising funds…getting grants…moving mountains to make sure our pioneer cemeteries continue to exist and stand as a testament to those that came before us.

I have told this story before…but it bears repeating.  Years ago I found an old cemetery and began to push through the rusty gate when an old and faded sign caught my eye.  It had hung on the gate at one time and had been as white as the snow.  Its letters once coal black as a raven’s eye were weathered and worn and the words barely legible.

“As you are, I once was.  As I am, you will be.”

I thought how poetic…it was as if the old sign whispered to me…the words as gray as a ghost.  I never looked at a pioneer cemetery the same way again…or the history and lives these old cemeteries represent.

It may start with a five dollar donation and rustling up some high school kids and college kids who love and study history…but the journey has to begin somewhere and if I cannot heft a sickle….I will tug at someone’s conscience and grab a hold of their change purse.

It’s just one Starbuck’s coffee away from reality.  And heck…THEY would approve…Starbucks were pioneer whalers….

What will you do to preserve history?

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2012.  All Rights Reserved

Thank You, Libbie Van Dorn

A Note To My Readers:  While genealogists spend enormous amounts of time researching public records…court records, deeds and wills, birth, marriage and death certificates, state and federal censuses, military service and pension records and the thousands of archived newspapers that are available with announcements of births, marriages and deaths, it is the old pioneer story that captures the heart and imagination.

Yes.  Yes.  I know.  We all know that these stories are a blend of fact and fiction.  And just because an oral tradition is in black and white print doesn’t make it so.  None the less when a biography is published, we read it not only for corroborating proof of pedigree, but for a sense of history and personal character as well.  It is as close to a personal interview as we are going to get and how many of us wish that some generation before us had the interest and wherewithal to sit down with grandpa or grandma to ask them about their memories.  About family lore.  And write it down.

I suspect it is a bit like the young folks in my life.  “Oh, Lord.  She is rolling out the old family stuff again!”  They can’t say they hear their mother calling…because I AM their mother.  So they are stuck with my golden years, early bird special, sentimental journeys with long dead people.  Stuck.  Just like I was with my mother.

The difference now is that unlike my mother who threatened to write, I am chronicling what I know and how I know it.  The usual tree building data…the central information of our lineage… is populated in Family Tree and on Ancestry.com.  But there was always so much more to it than that for me.  The fact is now I wished that I taken the time for an honest to goodness formal interview session with my mother.

Lucky for me I grew up in central New York in the 1950’s and 60’s and we had time for one another.  Winters were long and more often than not, it snowed.  Buckets!  After clearing the porch and front walk and perhaps after a brief snowball fight, it was good to sit in our little living room and sip hot cocoa and listen to my mother’s stories.  Summer nights were laden with energy leaching humidity.  We were smack in the middle of the Finger Lakes.  Perched on the front porch with a cold glass of lemonade and a bowl of fresh strawberries, we sat so very still to preserve the chill in our hands and wait for my mother’s murmuring journeys into her past.

The stories were familiar ones.  I suspect the ones we heard most often were more about her reliving pleasurable childhood moments and comforting herself…perhaps with a tinge of hope that her children would gain some understanding of her as a human being.  But I was young and lacked the maturity to understand how important those moments were..not just to her, but to me.

With this blog I not only share a bit of scholarship and retrospection with my fellow historians, but I like to think I take my place with other ancestors who liked to tell the tale of family on a Sunday afternoon to anyone who would listen.  My front porch, if you will.

And Libbie Johnson Van Dorn’s.


My grandfather’s mother was ELIZABETH A. WILLIAMS PURDY SMITH .  I have written several times about her as her presence loomed large in my mother’s trips down memory lane.  In her youth Elizabeth was just plain Libbie.  A personal fact that my research revealed as my mother and her siblings referred to her simply as Grandma Smith and she was formally known as Mrs. E. A. Smith in Ithaca society.  She was the daughter of Colonel OLIVER S. WILLIAMS and MARY VAN DORN of Enfield, Tompkins County, New York  and one of two children that survived to adulthood.  Her younger sisters, Henrietta and Emiline,  died within a few months of one another in 1853 leaving Libbie and her older sister, MARY LORINDA WILLIAMS to carry on the next generation.

Mary Lorinda wed “Captain” ALBERT JOHNSON when she was nearly thirty years old.  Her sister had married at nineteen to Elbert Purdy in 1867 and already had one son, Wilmot, when Mary gave birth to her only child, ELIZABETH MARY “LIBBIE” JOHNSON.  Though her birth year on her monument states 1874, little Elizabeth Mary is not enumerated in the New York State 1875 census so the exact birth year is in question.

On November 15, 1875 my grandfather, BURT SAMUEL PURDY, was born in Enfield and the two sisters raised their children in Enfield under the guiding hand of the family matriarch, sixty year old MARY VAN DORN WILLIAMS.

It was a short walk between the PURDY, JOHNSON and WILLIAMS Enfield households.  In fact the Purdys and Johnsons lived virtually steps away from one another.  No doubt the children spent a good deal of time with their maternal grandmother and heard the VAN DORN family lore.  The Purdy boys…my grandfather and his brother… might have enjoyed a brief afternoon of Mary Van Dorn’s cookies and indulged her here and there, but it was little Libbie Johnson who fell under her grandmother’s spell and became her generation’s VAN DORN family historian.  And my kindred in flesh AND spirit.

The years of 1887 and 1888 would decimate a generation beginning with the death of OLIVER S. WILLIAMS, followed by his seven year old granddaughter, MARY SAMANTHA PURDY (Libbie Johnson’s only female cousin) in 1887.  The following year ELBERT PURDY would leave the mortal coil at the age of 43 and MARY LORINDA JOHNSON succumbed at the age of 45.   LIBBIE PURDY lost her father, daughter and husband and sister within one year’s time.  AND her namesake…her niece, LIBBIE JOHNSON was a motherless 14 year old girl.


Albert Johnson…the Captain…was an ambitious man with a political aspiration beyond Enfield and he was ill-equipped to raise LIBBIE on his own.  He belonged in the world of men as it was back then and knew nothing of girlish needs.  And so he turned to his newly widowed mother-in-law and sister-in-law to fill the void that his wife had left and made his way to New York City to bigger things.

There was plenty of money and land wealth to support the household of three women and the Purdy boys, but the rural life of the little community of Enfield simply wouldn’t do.  So the women packed up their precious belongings, sold their properties and moved to Ithaca, New York where there were no cows to milk and chase when they escaped the fences that always seemed to need mending.  There were no fruit trees to tend and harvest.  Dust would not cling to their long skirts nor mud splash upon their button shoes.  Milk was delivered to the front porch as was ice and a neighborly visit wouldn’t entail an hour’s walk.   And there was Cornell and by 1892 the Conservatory of Music where LIBBIE JOHNSON learned to sing and become an accomplished pianist.  The Conservatory would become Ithaca College where Mary Van Dorn Williams’ great great grandson, CHRISTOPHER PURDY would be educated.  So the women found civilized life with trains and trolleys… sidewalks and ice cream parlors where the first documented ice cream sundae was served in 1892 at Platt and Colt Pharmacy.  And, there was the shopping in some of the lovely Ithaca stores where BURT PURDY would eventually meet his future father-in-law.

The move to Ithaca did not separate the women from their Van Dorn heritage, however.  Until her death at 85 years old in May of 1901 at her daughter’s home, Mary Williams remained the maternal heart of her family and granddaughter Libbie Johnson’s touchstone.


The PURDY WILLIAMS family bible has Mary Van Dorn’s Ithaca Journal obituary neatly pasted into it.  I have read and reread the obituary over my lifetime trying to find out who was this granddaughter Libbie Van Dorn of Ithaca?  How does MARY VAN DORN WILLIAMS have a granddaughter with the surname VAN DORN?  Once I traced my great grandmother’s sister’s history and found she had but one daughter named Libbie, that pretty much set the path.  So which VAN DORN did she marry?  I knew all of the Enfield VAN DORNS and all of the men were old..too old for young Libbie…and I also knew there were more distant cousins that settled along Cayuga Lake.  And then I found the breathtaking marriage announcement.

Ithaca Morning Herald, December 7th 1894

On November 30th, 1894, 20 year old  LIBBIE JOHNSON became Mrs. WILLIAM VAN DORN.  She had married her grandmother’s 43 year old nephew at the old VAN DORN home at VAN DORN Corners.   As if the actual 23 year age gap wasn’t bad enough, William was reported to be 50 and Libbie as 19. Clearly a bit of tsk tsk.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Mary Van Dorn felt her vitality slipping away and Libbie wasn’t getting any younger.  It was time.  And what better man would there be for her than a Van Dorn?  William was a successful builder in Ithaca and would be a good provider for Libbie.  In 1896 their only child, Julia Burton Van Dorn was born. By 1900 the Van Dorns had set up house next door to Libbie’s aunt, the newly married Mrs. Smith and grandmother, Mary Williams on Pleasant Street in Ithaca.  The silken thread was wound and the Van Dorn circle was pulled tight.

William and Libbie still shared a home as recorded in the New York State 1905 census.  I don’t find either of them in the 1910 Federal Census, but by the New York State 1915 census, Libbie is living alone with Julia in Rochester, New York where Julia is working as a clerk.

By 1920 Libbie…like her Aunt Libbie…had a boarding house.  She claimed to be a widow though William was alive in Ithaca and still building barns and homes in the city.  Julia was recorded as 23 years old and working at Kodak at that time and still single.

William Van Dorn had led a single man’s life for decades and died in 1922 in Ithaca.  He is buried in Hayt Cemetery with his parents and his brothers in the VAN DORN family plot.  Libbie’s father, ALBERT JOHNSON had died in Binghamton in 1920 and as his only child,  left her a tidy sum and his home.  By the year 1925 Libbie and Julia are back to the Ithaca area and living in Ulysses where Julia would marry John Fulmer Davis.  Upon Julia’s marriage, Libbie, Julia and John left Tompkins County and moved to Binghamton.  Julia and John had no children and this line of the Van Dorns came to an end.

Libbie and Julia visited Ithaca periodically during those decades as noted in the social items in the Ithaca Daily News

“with Mrs. E. A. Smith of Pleasant St.”


Mary Van Dorn Williams was always on her daughter and granddaughter’s mind.  In 1915,  fourteen years after Mary’s death, the two Libbie’s submitted a Van Dorn pioneer story to the Ithaca Daily News celebrating Mary’s 100th birthday.   Ninety six years later…just short of the 195th anniversary of her birth, I found this item lost to the descendants of Mary Van Dorn Williams.

I like to think it was her birthday present to me – her great great granddaughter and family historian.


Within a brief and thrilling few moments of discovering the birthday article, I was astonished to find that Libbie was still celebrating and sharing her Van Dorn heritage with a story of her great grandfather, PETER VAN DORNThe occasion was the razing of the old tavern at VAN DORN Corners in 1917.  A faded and askew New York State historic marker stands on the location today where the Dutchman from New Jersey established the inn where weary travelers and horses would find respite from their journey along the old Catskill Turnpike. It was the site of many rousing speeches at political meetings and where Peter conducted his role as postmaster and overseer of the poor.

It was where Colonel OLIVER S. WILLIAMS won the hand of PETER VAN DORN’s daughter, MARY and why I return to Enfield each year to honor the old Dutchman.

And now to say, “Thank You, Libbie Van Dorn.



Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2012.  All Rights Reserved

Good Pioneer Stock

A Note to My Readers:  At first I intended to write primarily to my fellow historians…to share my experiences researching my family and to share analyses and tips…to be scholarly with a personal perspective, if you will.  Over the past two years, it has occurred to me that I am channeling the matriarchs of my family and their love and pride in their family history.  I am fortunate that my mother saw fit to trust me with her childhood memories, the Williams-Purdy family bible, boxes of photos from the 1800’s,  the days of the Roaring Twenties when she was a young “flapper”, the “Depression”, World War II, the Fifties…my childhood days, and the Sixties, my teen years.  She kept my report cards…from kindergarten on up.  I thought she was “weird”.  Now I am so grateful.  I suppose at some point I told my growing children about me…and my mother…maybe threw in an ancestor story or two.  But then they grew up and there was so much to tell and they are off into the busy world and making their own history.

Enfield Days

Oliver S. Williams, son of Dr. Parvis A. Williams and Lorinda Smith, was born in 1816 at Applegate Corners…just a short walk down Mecklenburg Road from the home of his future bride, Mary Van Dorn.  Mary’s parents had migrated from Somerset County, New Jersey and built a tavern in 1820 on what was then (as it is still) called Van Dorn corners.  Oliver took Mary as his bride on July 3, 1842 and the pair set up house and a business on land given to the newly weds by Dr. Williams.

Map of Applegate Corners in Enfield New York 1853

In 1843 Oliver and Mary welcomed their daughter, Mary Lorinda to their Enfield farm, followed by Henrietta, Elizabeth and Emiline.  The joyful early years were followed by a series of heart and spirit breaking events.  Before 1850 Oliver’s home and business had burned to the ground and part of the farm was sold at a Sheriff’s Sale.  In 1853 Henrietta and Emiline died within a few months of one another.  Their grandfather was a well known doctor, not just in Enfield, but in New York state as one of the charter members of the New York Medical Society.  It must have been a terrible experience to tend to his granddaughters to no avail.

But…as my mother would always remind me…”we are from good pioneer stock” and so the Williams family persevered and indeed flourished.  Daughters Mary Lorinda and Elizabeth…Libbie to family and friends…knew a comfortable life, a good education and the love and support of the Williams, Smith and Van Dorn families.  And the confidence that comes from the knowledge that they were “from good pioneer stock”.

So much of the family lore was passed down to me by my mother…along with Libbie Williams’ family bible, a smattering of old photos and Libbie’s petite rosewood chair.  Mom spent a good deal of time with her grandmother in the three story home perched on the hill on 307 Eddy Street in Ithaca. Afternoons of tea in the formal parlor crowded with marble topped tables and delicate china were accompanied by the childhood stories of “Mrs. E. A. Smith”, as she loftily referred to herself.  Tales of Libbie’s grandfather, Peter Van Dorn, and the early days of the tavern were a favorite.   Libbie’s father was a bit of an enigma, however.  That they were considered “well-to-do” was a certainty and if one had any doubt, Libbie would straighten up her tiny frame, pat her perfectly coiffed white hair and with the air of a “lady born of the manor” voice,  soundly cast doubt from your mind.

“Farmer” has a connotation of a hic, a hayseed, a bumpkin, a rube…that can get in the way of historical knowledge of the folks in an agrarian culture of the 1800’s and the boon of opportunities that our young nation provided.  Though Oliver’s occupation was listed as “farmer” in each of the federal census records, I knew from my great grandmother’s musings to my mother that Oliver had been some kind of speculator and that he had an adventurer’s spirit.  I am not sure what my mother thought that meant…just that it was another impressive word her grandmother would roll around her tongue.  And one never interrupted Grandma Smith when she was favoring you with her childhood reminiscences.

Oliver’s obituary tells that he spent some time in California.  Was he prospecting for gold like his brother-in-law Norman Van Dorn?  Or part of the land speculators of the early 1840’s and 50’s?  Young men from that area bought land in the rich Sonoma and Napa valleys during that period.  Perhaps one.  Perhaps both.

If you Blink, You will Miss It.

While I found the Van Dorns and the Williams and the Purdys (Libbie’s future husband’s family) all in their Enfield homes and businesses in the New York state census of 1865, Oliver S. Williams and his family were nowhere to be found.

Was the census record incomplete?  Not unheard of.  Or…were they living somewhere else?  Why would a successful farmer and produce buyer leave his boyhood home? The New York state census of 1865 is not indexed so a researcher has to know precisely where an individual lives and winnow down to the location and read each enumerated page to find them.  As my mother would say, “Huh!”.

Being a genealogist…a family historian…requires a laser focus at times…and the agility to temper it with global perspective.  A chain of events will impact family members and provide all manner of clues.

Case In Point

Estate of Peter Van Dorn

In 1866 Mary Williams’ father, Peter Van Dorn died.  In his 1867 estate probate record, Mary’s residence is given as “Corning, Steuben County, New York”.  Had I only focused on Oliver as the pivotal figure, I would have created my own brick wall.  It was with this critical piece of information that I went to familysearch.org and delved into the 1865 New York state census in the city of Corning, Steuben county, New York.

And there they were…Oliver, Mary, Mary Lorinda and Libbie with their servant, Ralph Reynolds, on page thirty-one.  The family was living in their wood frame home valued at a $3000.00 which in today’s commodity value would be $41,000.00…and one of the most expensive homes in the Corning area.

Oliver S. Williams of Enfield, New York, had moved his family to live in Corning, New York and had become a petroleum agent in Oil City, Pennsylvania.  A speculator, if you will.

By 1870 the family was back in their Enfield home.  Mary Lorinda had married dashing Colonel Albert Johnson and Libbie was now Mrs. Elbert Purdy.

Ithaca Days

Oliver S. Williams died in his Enfield home in 1887 and daughter, Mary Lorinda, would die at the age of 45 the next year leaving behind her husband, Albert and twelve year old daughter, Libbie Mary Johnson.   That same year Libbie Williams lost her husband, Elbert Purdy.  So Mary Van Dorn Williams packed up her Enfield home as did her daughter, Libbie Purdy and moved to Ithaca where the two women oversaw the raising of my grandfather, Burt Purdy and his brother, Wilmot.

Mary Van Dorn Williams died in her daughter’s Ithaca home on Pleasant Street in 1901 at the age of eighty-five.  She had fallen and broken her hip the year before and never really recovered.  Libbie had remarried to widower Charles R. Smith.  Upon Charles’ death in 1913… from that day forward she became Mrs. E. A. Smith…each letter and word pronounced distinctly from the other.  I wonder if I was the first to reclaim her as “Libbie” in scores of years.  When Grandma Smith died, she was ninety-two years old.  She died in her bed, stubbornly propping her head up with her hand.  She hadn’t laid down and died in all the years of highs and lows and I guess she wasn’t about to give the Grim Reaper much due either.

My mother was born in Ithaca..as was I…and the pull of that place seems to be stronger for me every day.  The Eddy Street home

Libbie Williams Purdy Smith with her son Burt S. Purdy of Ithaca New York

is long gone…razed by Cornell University to make room for one of its buildings, but my older cousins and brothers remember it…and Mrs. E. A. Smith well.  I was born seven years after her death so she is alive through my mother’s stories and those of “the boys”…my cousins and brothers.  These days we all share stories and memories of our parents and Ithaca and go back periodically to see one another from our scattered homes across the country.  I like to think that Libbie would approve.  Her grandchildren…”good pioneer stock”.

Authors Note:  Much of what I know about the illustrious Libbie Williams…daughter of Mary Van Dorn and Oliver S. Williams…wife of Elbert Purdy and with the self anointed title of  “Mrs. E. A. Smith”…comes from the precious moments my mother would share with me when I was young.  I dearly wished that I didn’t just listen with youth’s restless mind, but then the young girl that was to become my mother, no doubt, sipped her tea and dreamily watched the dust motes drift in the parlor while her grandmother gave up her most precious treasures to her granddaughter.  Her childhood memories.

And so I write.  For my children and my grandchildren.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2012.  All Rights Reserved

The “Laundry List”

Note to my readers:  I have my mother’s peculiar penchant for creating lists.  Lists with an “s”.  I rewrite lists as I go and though it may be a bit anal retentive, it pays off when I am deep in research with so much complex data…names, timelines…and geography.  Plus…it is kind of nice to see my handwriting in my notebook…I am present, engaged and concrete.  And the doodles that manifest while I am contemplating,  give my lists dimension and a hint of where my intellect and imagination co-exist.

While I am a devotee of the electronic media…an old geek, if you will…I still have notebooks full of my handwritten work in progress.  To the casual observer, the scrawled words looked disordered and enigmatic and bereft of craft.  To the author, the ordinary,  line-ruled sheets of paper are the canvas for my random questions, thoughts, proposals and conclusions and is as lovely as the finest art.

I am reminded of the revered sketches of Da Vinci and Michelango…as treasured…perhaps more…as the exquisitely executed masterpieces that grace museums throughout the world.  And the graffiti found among the tombs of the Pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings…tell tale streams of consciousness…maps to the masterpiece.  After all, it does the observer little good to stand and stare at “The Pieta” or “The Last Supper” or wonder in the shadows of the ancient tomb of Seti without a glimpse into the creative process.

And thus, I am my own archaeological dig.  I rediscover my work by idling over my own handwriting, revisit my thinking page after page, line after line.  The random doodles have a new relevancy that distance and time reveal.

I have had this post in draft mode for several months…my mind too full of the research and events to write a relevant piece.  I have notes upon notes…strings of emails, vintage images and new knowledge of history that spans colonial Philadelphia, the Civil War, the settlement of Wisconsin, westerners in Japan in the late 1800’s and the existence of my fourth cousin, Bill Tegner.

I have been researching my Williams-Van Dorn-Purdy lines for years.  I grew up with those names populating every “good pioneer stock” reminiscence  my mother ever told.  She had a thread..inferences and the family bible.  I took up her memories and mementos and began to fill in the blanks.  List making.  Doodling.  Painting family portraits.  Sculpting when the material allowed me three dimensions.  The most complete and human masterpiece of all…finding the Tegners.

Philadelphia…my fourth cousin, William Tegner and a Revolutionary Moment

At the end of June 2011, I had the amazing opportunity to meet FACE TO FACE…my fourth cousin, Bill Tegner.  Bill and his wife, Pam had traveled from their home in Great Britain to walk the streets of Old Philadelphia. Several years ago, I discovered the 1863 Application for Dower Rights of my 3rd great grandmother, Lorinda King Williams. 

3:25 Lura** WILLIAMS wd/o Parvis A. WILLIAMS (dec’d) 18 May 1863

WILLIAMS, Lura wd/o Parvis A., of Enfield applied for dower rights 25 June 1863. Heirs at law of Parvis A.,Oliver S., Parvis Austin all named WILLIAMS, Sarah E. COWEN, Almira Lavinda WILLIAMS, Minvera HEATH, Frances Amelia DAY both of out of State of New York. Harry COWEN served with papers (husband of Sarah E.) Property was an inheritance of dec’d.

Her son, my 2nd great grandfather, Oliver S. Williams, is listed as an heir along with his youngest sibling, Parvis Austin Williams, Jr. and his sisters, Sarah Elizabeth Williams Cowen, Almira Lorinda Williams, Frances Minerva Williams Heath and Frances Amelia Williams Day.  My great great grandfather remained in Enfield, New York as did his brother Parvis and sister Sarah and Almira.  As noted in the application, the two youngest sisters, Frances Minerva and Frances Amelia were “out of state” at the time of their mother’s death in March of 1863 and the filing of the application in June.

At this juncture, I have yet to find the descendants of Parvis through his daughter and only child, Emma.  Not much is documented in local history about the youngest child of Dr. Williams, other than Parvis, Jr. served the Union Army, enlisting on August 26, 1862 with the 109th NYS volunteers in Company G and mustering out in St. Petersburg, Virginia on January 3, 1865.  Daughter, Emma was born in 1863 while her father was in the throes of battle.  Parvis came home a diminished man…physically and spiritually.  In 1878, Parvis cut his throat and died.  He was just 40 years old.  When interviewing a long time resident of Enfield who is also a Williams descendant, family lore is that Parvis was mentally unbalanced and sickly when he returned to Enfield and so tortured that his suicide…though regrettable…not a complete shock to his family and friends.

Sarah Elizabeth Williams married Enfield farmer and lumber mill owner, Harry Cowen.  Sarah and Harry had two children, Charles Williams Cowen and Abigail May Cowen.  Charlie worked as a lineman and was killed in 1889.  Burial records state that he was buried with his friend, William Knickerbocker in Inlet Cemetery.  That implies to me that the young men met a catastrophic fate on the job and perhaps the condition of the remains were such that they were buried in a common grave.  Abbie married Guy M. Hoagland ,  a successful insurance agent and who eventually served as Mayor of Cortland, New York.  Abbie and Guy had one child, Onalee Marion Hoagland.   She grew up in Cortland and married John “Jack” Stokes Ensor.  The last generation of this family that I have located… their daughter, Joan Hoagland Ensor,  graduated from the University of Connecticut in 1951.  The search for Joan and her descendants is punctuated in my notebook…”???!”

Almira Lorinda Williams never married.  She spent her life living with sister, Sarah and her family.  Like Sarah, she spent her final years in Cortland with Abbie and Guy Hoagland.

The Two Sisters Named Frances

In two previous posts entitled “The Country Doctor and Two Daughters Named Frances” and “Making History”, I told the story of the two sisters of my great great grandfather, Oliver S. Williams.  At least part of it anyway.  Their history.  And mine.  And the Tegners.

I had worked through the lives and descendants of Frances Amelia Williams Day and her husband, Dr. Fisk Holbrook Day thanks to the Daughters of the American Revolution and the membership of their descendants.  Frances Minerva Williams Heath took a bit more “doing”.    “Out of State” was a pretty cryptic reference in the application for their mother’s dower.  I decided to start in Enfield and on to nearby Ithaca for any newspaper articles that might give me a clue as to who Mr. Heath was and just where they had gone.  Her siblings were local and often as not, family events and visits were the local news of the day.  In a Tompkins County newspaper, I found the other bookend of her life.  Her obituary.

Frances Minerva Williams Heath Death Notice

It was simple with no embellishments regarding her character or her life.  BUT!  It did define her as wife of C. G. Heath and daughter of Dr. Parvis Austin Williams.  Not much…but it was everything.  She died in Washington, D.C. on March 9, 1876.  And I had all of that space in between to research.

Fast Forward

I will bow to your willingness to go back to the previous two posts for the story of Frances “Frank” Minerva Williams and her husband, Chauncey Graham Heath and their lives in the territory of Wisconsin…and their daughter, Frances Lorinda Heath and her marriage to Dr. James Stuart Eldridge.  They are after all, the Tegners’ ancestors…and the bridge to our new found “cousin” status.

I had traced Frances Heath and her husband, Stu Eldridge to Japan in 1874 and read with a thrill their ex-patriot life in the Meiji Period of Japan.  After all, it rang of my mother’s “good pioneer stock” sentiment.  Lingering through the material on Dr. Eldridge and his remarkable career, I went back to his life with Frances…she, too, was Frank…like her mother and aunt.  I found that they had a son, Chauncey…named after his grandfather, Chauncey Graham Heath…and two daughters, Beatrice and Frances.  I decided to GOOGLE.  Why not?  And there was the pathway to their descendants.  God Bless Bloggers!  Henry Tegner, Bill’s brother, has a son who was married in Japan and the wonderful blog told of the next generations and my Tegner cousins. I emailed through the blog, but no connection was made at that time.

Meanwhile…Back at the Ranch (really the laptop)

Because of my published work of Dr. Eldridge, I was contacted by Sue Campbell of California.  Her ancestral grandmother, Lillie Cecilia Eldridge Gaspard was Dr. Eldridge’s sister.  A wonderful research “lab” was born.  Soon I was working with her and her son and another Eldridge researcher, Dan Stites.  Sue had been communicating with Bill Tegner and put us in touch.  The circle was complete.  Soon we were all exchanging research and knowledge and the whirlwind was intoxicating.  History was alive in our communications and it just kept expanding.

I live just outside of Philadelphia…Eldridge country.  Stuart Eldridge was born in Philadelphia and his father, Levi,  was a prominent shipping merchant out of the port of Philadelphia.  His history is documented in Philadelphia archives, but no composite, central biography has been organized or published.  I decided to focus on Levi and his wife, Martha Stuart Eldridge and their son, James Stuart and their adopted daughter, Lillie Cecilia.

The Eldridges and Stuarts of Philadelphia are the embodiment of colonial Philadelphia and worth a blog post of their own.  I have notes upon notes…an epic story to say the least and the draft is under way.

A Pilgrimage at Old Pine Church

The work aside…I have spent years in pilgrimage to my ancestor’s burial sites…in pouring rain and gentle sunshine…stomping through brambled cemeteries laced with groundhog holes and tumbled monuments…just to place a single rose and pause for awhile.  After all, how long has it been since a living family member has known their resting place?  And how long has it been since anyone has spoken their name and remembered their life?  It is at once a tender and yet powerful moment.

Bill and I finally met in Philadelphia in June of 2011.  It felt more like August…steamy and oppressive.  I arranged our first meeting to be at the Old Pine Street Church Third Scots and Mariners Presbyterian at 412 Pine Street .  It is the church that Bill’s ancestors had attended in colonial Philadelphia.  The interior of the church was cool and full of the shadows of the towering trees along the exterior. There we met, Ron Shaffer, the church’s historian.  After a lively introductory conversation,  we stepped into the graveyard of the church and began the tour.  The Tory soldier buried in the churchyard…and the Reverend Brainerd, pastor and friend of Levi Eldridge…and Levi Eldridge. A humorous tale of Nicholas Cage and special effects and the scenes from “National Treasure”.  Ron had a plot map of the burials and explained the tight nature of burials in the churchyard.  The individuals are buried within inches of one another.  The initial graves were dug nine feet deep and in some three burials to a grave..the Scots are not known to waste.  Ron’s merry recounting of the church, its history and the Eldridges, fell silent as Bill had his moment…his pilgrimage before Levi’s worn and tilted monument.   It was not unlike so many that I have had over the past few years and I was happy that I could provide Bill with this unique moment.

Bill Tegner at the burial site of his 3G Grandfather, James StuartMuch to our delight, Ron told us about the “other” Presbyterians…an older congregation.  Old Pine Street had accommodated this congregation with burial space and Levi’s father-in-law, James Stuart was buried on the west side of the church in an above ground crypt.

Smothering heat and humidity aside, we followed the little pathway to the west side of the church and the burial site of James Stuart, Bill’s American great great great grandfather.  Once again, the spirit of the Scots prevailed, we had two pilgrimages that day instead of one.

Author’s Note:

The two days I spent in Philadelphia with Bill and his wife, Pam, were so extraordinary and the honor to share Bill’s heritage was immeasurable.    I have journeyed through my own history and had great personal moments, but to share it with another leaves this author uncharacteristically without words.  I wrote this piece to encourage my readers…fellow historians…to “pay it forward”.  Our lives are enriched by sharing the knowledge and experience of heritage with others.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2011.  All Rights Reserved

Making History

Note to my Readers:  Hard to believe that I have not posted in over two months.  For awhile I was writing at a feverish pace and the stories were abundant and rich.  Like all of us who are fortunate to spend time with our family and friends at the holidays,  I became part of the hubbub and was swept away with the December joy of it all.  I kissed my grandchildren, made cookies, played in the snow, sat in front of a crackling fire and sipped lovely wines from South Africa.  And I stowed my notes and my laptop and made memories with my family.

The month of January has brought unprecedented amounts of snow to Philadelphia along with a blizzard of emails from family researchers across the world.  Tucked away from the howling storms and curled up with my Dell laptop I once again have picked up the thread of histories other than my own and began the business of time travel in February…no pat downs…no lost luggage and no jet lag.   And very little geographic distance.


In June of this year in the Cradle of Liberty I will celebrate my family and share a remarkable history that spans the globe with my Tegner cousins.

Dr. James Stuart Eldridge of Philadelphia (2 Jan 1843 – 16 Nov 1901)

“Stu” as he signed his name in a family photo was the son of successful Philadelphia merchant,  shipping agent and prominent citizen, Levi Eldridge and his second wife,James Stuart "Stu" Eldridge Martha Mitchell Stuart.  Born in 1843, Stuart grew up in the Fifth Ward of old Philadelphia just a short walk from the Old Pine Street Episcopalian Church that the Eldridge and Stuart families attended.  At the time of Stuart’s birth, Philadelphia was second only to New York City as a major shipping port and was first as a publishing mecca in the young nation where Edgar Allan Poe published his prize story “The Gold Bug” in the Philadelphia Dollar.  Great social and political events were part of the rich life that would welcome baby Stuart into the world.   In 1843 Frederick Douglas railed against the injustice of slavery at an abolitionist convention in Philadelphia.  Sharing the podium with Mr. Douglas, Susan B. Anthony delivered an eloquent speech supporting the abolitionist movement and passionately promoting the Women’s Suffrage Movement.

While Levi and Martha enjoyed the comfort of their faith and the security of their financial success, they suffered the loss of two children including an unnamed infant daughter born in 1848.  In 1845 Levi lost his daughter, Mary Elizabeth, to a childhood disease and buried her next to her mother, Mary Crowley in the Old Pine Street Episcopalian Church Cemetery.  Stuart remained their only child until the Eldridges who were longing for another child, adopted Lillie Cecelia shortly after her 1848 birth.  One more child was born and lost to the Eldridges.  In 1851 one year old “little Katie”, as she was named in her epitaph, succumbed to scarlet fever.  She, too, is buried in the churchyard with her siblings and her father, Levi and her grandfather, James Stuart.

Business was thriving for the Union Steamship Company and Levi as the industrious General Agent for Philadelphia and his brother-in-law, Sea Captain Daniel McBride, were well known figures at the wharves of what is now Penn’s Landing.  When Levi died at the age of 49, his minister, Reverend Thomas Brainerd delivered a moving sermon at the Old Pine Street Presbyterian that was eventually published as a commemorative of the occasion.  Levi was a man of great character and tender heart and was one of the notable Elders of the church.  This final tribute to a gentleman of Old Philadelphia still rings with great emotion.

Left to raise eleven year old Stuart and six year old Lillie, Martha reached out to her large Philadelphia family for help.  Stuart was becoming a young man and needed a strong male hand to give him guidance and support and so Martha sent her son to Waukesha, Wisconsin to live with her cousin, Stewart Mitchell.  Stewart, a graduate of Princeton and a Presbyterian minister affiliated with Carroll College was just the right influence for Stuart.  It was in Waukesha, Wisconsin that Stuart met Frances Lorinda Heath and where my family and the Tegners converge.

Frances Lorinda Heath (26 Mar 1847 – 1930)

Born on March 26, 1847 in the lakeside village of Pewaukee, Wisconsin to Judge Chauncey Frances "Frank" Heath EldridgeGraham Heath and his wife, Frances “Frank” Minerva Williams, little Fanny Heath would grow up in the throes of a territory becoming a state and her father’s vigorous political life.  Chauncey and his brothers John, James and Ebin Heath were pioneer settlers of the Waukesha area from Caroline, New York.  Older brother, James, like Chauncey, was politically active and a Justice of the Peace.  James Nelson Heath worked as a carpenter eventually becoming a successful lumber merchant in Pewaukee.  John Murat Heath ran the Heath House hotel, a major center of social activity and a genteel welcoming beacon for travelers in the Waukesha area.  Youngest of the Heath brothers, Ebin Cook Heath established himself as a jeweler in Waukesha finally relocating his business in Milwaukee.  Though the Heaths had left their central New York home and family behind, the brothers brought a strong sense of family and community service with them to their new homes in Wisconsin.

The impressive home of Chauncey and Frank Heath on Main Street in Waukesha was the site of both the passion of Republican political rallies and the devotion of church fundraisers.  In 1846 twenty-eight-year-old, Chauncey was appointed postmaster in Pewaukee by President James Polk.  In 1847 he was a member of the Territorial Legislature and by 1848 he was member of the newly formed state legislature of Wisconsin.  In 1860 enthusiastic supporters of the Lincoln-Hamlin presidential ticket known as the “Wide Awakes”,  brandished lit torches and paraded in the streets pausing in front of the  home of “leading Republican” C. G. Heath to deliver “hearty and rousing cheers”.    That same year, Chauncey became a new Waukesha merchant on Main Street with his partner, M. Newton, opening C. G. Heath & Co. which offered a “complete stock of groceries, ready-made clothing, boots & shoes, hats & caps, cloths of all descriptions, and all qualities of dry-goods of foreign and domestic manufacture…”

The Organ Society held fundraisers in the Heath home for the Episcopalian church and, of course, friends and family were a constant presence at the popular couple’s home.  The one sadness that marred the happy family life was the loss of the Heath’s one year old son, Austin Webber Heath, in 1851.

Frank graciously opened her home to Waukesha area couples who wished to be joined in matrimony by her husband who was also the Waukesha Justice of the Peace.  On November 3, 1859, Frank’s younger sister, Frances “Frank” Amelia Williams was married to Dr. Fisk Holbrook Day in the lovely parlor of her sister’s home by Dr. Day’s father, Reverend Warren Day.   Like Chauncey and his wife, Fisk and Frank Day had both left their central New York homes behind to become Wisconsin settlers.  In an historical biography of Dr. Day, it is revealed that he was an avid amateur geologist who had a fascination for Silurian fossils.  His collection remains inventoried at Harvard University.  It is easy to imagine Fisk scouring Pewaukee and Waukesha areas which are rich in Silurian deposits.

So it was that Frances Lorinda Heath grew up as the cherished daughter and only surviving child of Chauncey and Frank Heath.  She no doubt found her childhood in the picturesque village of Waukesha filled with her father’s energy and passion for the politics of the young state of Wisconsin and eventually the calling of his nation’s business in the Treasury Department in Washington, DC.    Chauncey’s boundless ambitions were complimented by his wife’s gracious nature and her devotion to education, music and her church which no doubt prepared young Frank for life with James Stuart Eldridge.

Civil War

In the tumultuous days early days of the Civil War Chauncey and his Republican brothers quickly rallied to the Union cause embracing the Union Party label and the young men of Waukesha answered the Union call in the summer of 1862.  Among those young men was seventeen-year-old Stuart Eldridge who was mustered into the Union Army’s 28th Regiment Wisconsin Volunteers, Company B in Camp Washburn, Wisconsin on October 13, 1862.  Training immediately commenced at Camp Washburn located just outside of Milwaukee.  The 28th dubbed itself the Waukesha Minutemen in a spirit of patriotic fervor.

Stuart and the Twenty-eighth left Wisconsin on December 21, 1862 for Columbus, Kentucky to engage in guard duty and to take part in the fortification of Columbus.  During January 1863, the Twenty-eighth left Kentucky to become part of an expedition on the White River in Arkansas.  Stuart and his comrades spent the year of 1863 in a number of confrontations with Johnny Reb in Arkansas and along the Mississippi.  Skirmishes were won and lost, but the regiment held their own.

Sergeant Stuart Eldridge was discharged from the 28th and promoted to 1st Lt. 64th U.S.C.I. (United States Colored Infantry) on 1 Jan 1864.  Stuart had clearly distinguished himself as a leader during the Civil War and the newly wedded young man found himself attached to the staff of General O. O. Howard in Washington, D.C. by 1866 where he served as acting Assistant Adjutant General enforcing the Freedman Bureau’s Proclamation. Shortly after the assignment to General Howard, Stuart served under General Ulysses Grant in the nation’s capital which led to a lifetime friendship of the two men.

A Wedding in Waukesha

On November 8, 1865 the dashing Lieutenant Stuart Eldridge wed his Wisconsin sweetheart, Frances Lorinda Heath, at St. Matthias Episcopal Church in Waukesha.  The impressive stone edifice had been built in 1853 and still stands as an active church in Waukesha.  Records of the marriage archived at the church were also entered into the Heath family bible and announced in the Waukesha Freeman with a flowery tribute to the bride and her love.

“The young people of this village, will miss “Frank” more than they would most any other young lady.  She had no enemies, and hosts of friends.  She was a very pleasant, amiable and intelligent girl, and an only child.  It was hard parting with her old associates, and particularly her parents.  But it seems that “To love, to bliss, their blended souls were given, And each, too happy, ask’d no brighter heaven.”

An assortment of choice cake was served after the nuptials and the young couple immediately boarded the noon train for Vicksburg where Lieutenant Eldridge was stationed.  Stuart and his bride had begun the great adventure of their lives that would first take them to post Civil War Washington, D.C. where he was the first librarian for the Agricultural Department.  During their residence in Washington, D.C., Stuart took up the study of medicine and obtained his M.D. from the old Georgetown faculty.  He was appointed to the position of Assistant Demonstrator of Anatomy in college while he was the full time Librarian.  It was his position with the Agricultural Department which eventually lead to his assignment in Yokohama, Japan in 1871 as part of the General Horace Capron Expedition.

Three years after Stuart and Frank’s Waukesha wedding, his adopted sister, Lillie Cecilia, married Waukesha native, William Henry Gaspar, in Philadelphia.  William immediately brought his bride and mother-in-law, Martha, to his Waukesha home.  Shortly after returning to Waukesha, William moved his family and his furniture business to Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Lillie and William would move one more time to La Crosse, Wisconsin and there raised their seven children.  Researcher “cousin”, Sue Campbell is a direct descendant of Lillie and William Gaspar.


It was shortly after Stuart’s arrival on August, 23, 1871 that his connection with the agricultural branch of the commission was severed and he was appointed by the Japanese Surgeon General of Hokkaido and stationed at Hakodate.  Stuart wrote prolifically to his wife upon his arrival and his journals now are held in the tender care of his Tegner heirs. The transcripts have been posted in a blog written by his great grandson, Henry Tegner. In 1875 the appointment contract was ended and Stuart removed to Yokohama to enter upon his medical practice there.

Yokohama Japan Fire Brigade Ball 1877

Yokohama Japan Fire Brigade Ball 1877 donated by Dan Stites and Sue Campbell

Stuart and Frank Eldridge were a popular and respected couple in the Yokohama community-“a handsome picture” as told in Stuart’s Waukesha Freeman obituary.  Their love of Asian culture and Stuart’s dedication to the health and well being of others was apparent in the recounts of their life and his career of over twenty years in Yokohama.  Children were a welcome blessing to the Eldridges.  Their young son, Chauncey, who was born in Wisconsin just one year after his parents’ marriage, found life in Japan exciting.  His father writes in his journals about Chauncey’s thrill at learning to ride his pet donkey.  Frank and Stuart were once more blessed by two lovely daughters, first in 1873  Beatrix Stuart Eldridge whose pet name was Trixie  and then Frances “Fanny” Heath Eldridge in 1876.  In 1882 their eldest child and only son, Chauncey Webber Eldridge, died unexpectedly in Princeton, New Jersey at the age of 16 of rheumatic fever while he was attending school.  Brokenhearted grandfather, Chauncey Heath, travelled to New Jersey to accompany his grandson’s body back to Pewaukee where he was interred next to his grandmother, Frances Minerva Williams Heath in the Prairie Home Cemetery and where grandfather Chauncey would eventually be laid to rest.

After Stuart’s unexpected death in 1901 at the age of 58, Frank remained in her home in Yokohama.   Frank applied for an emergency passport  aftGraves of Stuart and Frances Eldridge Yokohama Japaner the disastrous earthquake in 1923 that measured 7.9 on the Richter scale and devastated Yokohama and made her way to her widowed daughter, Beatrix in England.  She and Stuart are buried in Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery.



Back to the Future

I have spent months reading about Dr. James Stuart Eldridge searching for references to just who his wife… my great grandmother’s first cousin… was…and with the heartfelt wish that I would find an image of Frances…though now I feel so close to her,  “Frank” has become familiar and comfortable.  I think somehow Frank took my hand and brought me from her mother’s Enfield, New York home and the households of her father’s Heath family members in nearby Lansing and Seneca Falls to the little lakeside Village of Pewaukee, Wisconsin just over 800 miles away.  While I lingered in Waukesha with the Heaths…with a side trip to Milwaukee to the home of Fisk and Frank Day….Frances Minerva passed my hand into her daughter’s and she took me on a journey to the Meiji period of Japan and to my cousins in modern day Great Britain.

Elizabeth A. Williams Purdy with son, Burt SamuelMy great grandmother was Elizabeth A. Williams Purdy, daughter of Oliver S. Williams and Mary Van Dorn of Enfield, New York and I am now the steward of her family bible.  She was a central character in my mother’s storytelling of her Ithaca childhood.  Grandma Smith.  Initially married to my great grandfather, Elbert Purdy, she was a grandiose woman with a high sense of propriety that she dramatically imposed upon her children and grandchildren.  After Elbert’s death, she remarried to a gentleman named Charles R. Smith and referred to herself in the first person as Mrs. E.A. Smith.  I am her great granddaughter and though I never met her, her imperious presence is as solid as mahogany in the collection of memories that my mother and her sisters shared with me.  My mother loved her and she loved my mother enough to pass down the family bible to her.  My mother loved me and gave me the same honor.

My great grandmother has held court in my family’s heart and mind all of my life and when I began the genealogy “thing”, it was her story that caused me to open the family bible and begin the research of her young life as the daughter of Oliver and Mary Williams in Enfield, New York.  The census details gave me a small glimpse into their Enfield life…their neighbors and family members…the physician and the merchants…the farmers and the tavern keepers, but it was Oliver’s mother’s application for dower rights in 1863 that told me who his siblings were.

“WILLIAMS, Lura wd/o Parvis A., of Enfield applied for dower rights 25 June 1863. Heirs at law of Parvis A., Oliver S., Parvis Austin all named WILLIAMS, Sarah E. COWEN, Almira Lavinda WILLIAMS, Minvera HEATH, Frances Amelia DAY both of out of State of New York. Harry COWEN served with papers (husband of Sarah E.)”

And then I knew my 3G Grandparents were Dr. Parvis Austin Williams and his wife, Lorinda “Lura” King.

The tapestry of extended family history began to take shape across a network of discoveries through the DAR and with the help of my researcher partners Karen Dickson, a Ulysses New York historian and “cousin” and Caroline historian, Barbara Cone, in Tompkins County, New York and her wonderful information on the Heath family.

After Karen had provided me with Frances Heath’s death notice in an Ithaca newspaper, I was off to Wisconsin and her life there.  I met Chauncey Heath’s family and his father, Milo’s descendant, Susan Bingler.  In cooperation with Caroline historian,  Barbara Cone, we created a picture of life in Caroline, New York, Pewaukee and Waukesha, Wisconsin and Heath family history.

A Wedding in Japan

So I Googled® and I called and I emailed.  First, it was Dr. Fisk Holbrook Day of Wisconsin and his wife, Frances Amelia Williams.  Their descendant daughters, Margaret Amelia, Minnie Frances, Sarah Caroline and Florence were active DAR members and, thank goodness, registered their mother’s maiden name and place of birth along with their father’s central New York history.

I tripped over “Minvera Heath” for awhile…got lost in a wrong turn in Minnesota…that is “out of state” as referenced in her mother’s dower application…when Karen Dickson put me back on the right path with Frances Minerva Williams Heath’s death notice in one of Ithaca’s newspapers.  I was off to the beautiful lakeside village of Pewaukee and the intense environment of Washington, DC and the beautiful environs of Japan.

It wasn’t long before the county of Waukesha, Wisconsin brought me to the sisters named Frances and the subsequent discovery of my “cousins”.  There is Dwight Bradley in Alaska, a descendant of Frances Amelia.  He owns apple orchards like his ancestral grandfather in Enfield, New York.  And then there are the grandsons of Trixie Eldridge.  The Tegners.

Trixie married Danish merchant Frederick May Tegner in May of 1895 in Yokohama, Japan.  When Frederick died in 1919, evidently from a ship sinking in the Indian Ocean, Trixie made her way to England with her four sons, William, Henry, Sven and Stuart.

And so I found my connection to the Williams-Tegner family members.  Once again…I GOOGLED® and found myself reading Henry Tegner’s accounting of the life of Stuart Eldridge and the charming story of Henry’s son’s wedding in Japan.  I took a deep breath and reread his blog realizing that my history and the Tegners had found ourselves coalescing in Japan.  My son, Michael, like Henry’s son, was married in Japan.  We were descendants of Dr. Parvis Austin Williams and I knew it.  We began our family journery in Enfield…found our history in Japan and eventually full circle to Philadelphia.  Did the Tegners know of Frank’s family history?  Maybe not.

It was time to find them and make the connection.

The rewards of connecting our lineage have been rich and exhilirating beyond my wildest imagination.  I now have the pleasure of working with Stuart-Eldridge family members, Sue Campbell and Dan Stites of California and Jeff Keith of Philadelphia and my fellow descendants of Dr. Parvis Austin Williams – Bill, Ian and Henry Tegner.

June 2011 in Philadelphia

I will have the pleasure of meeting my fifth cousins, Bill Tegner and his wife, Pam this June in Philadelphia, New York.  Recently I discovered a reference in an old book in the Harvard Library listing his great grandfather’s donation to the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology which were donated by Stuart Eldridge in 1897.  A couple of emails and phone calls and the curators were in touch inviting us to view the artifacts and to share the Eldridge history.

I was on a roll and based on historical and family data knew that Stuart’s family were prominent members of the Old Pine Street Episcopalian Church.  Indeed they are buried there.  Another phone call and I had arranged a tour of the old Church and its historic graveyard by historian Ronald Shaffer and a celebration of the Eldridge Stuart history with the historic church.

Out of curiosity, I did a little digging into the church’s history and discovered that there is a quilt made by the ladies of the Third Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia…fashioned by the ladies of the church in 1843 (Stuart Eldridge’s birth year) and presented to Reverend George S. Boardman and his wife, Sarah.  It was in a public display in 1991 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and I have contacted the museum to confirm it is still in their possession and for assistance in any archival details.  The ladies stitched their names into the quilt so it may be possible that the Stuart-Eldridge ladies had a hand in its making and we have a piece of their personal history (and of the church) in existence in the museum.  The curator at the time was Sandi Fox and her description of the quilt states, “The quilt was a treasured piece in the descendants’ lives, and they had taken very good care of it. It was in extraordinary condition,” Fox said. “It has such an amazing aesthetic quality as well as a wonderful tie to a part of America’s social history. The moment I saw it, I realized that it was up to me to make sure it stays in that condition.”

As of this posting, I received an email from museum official, Kaye Spilker, stating that they indeed were in possession of the “remarkable” Boardman quilt and I await the details of the ladies’ names stitched into the quilt and for permission for “cousin” Sue Campbell to have a special viewing of the quilt, take archival photos and hopefully, gaze upon her ancestral grandmother’s name.

After more thoroughly reading the extracts from Stuart’s journal from 1871, I discovered that he sent a box of items to the Smithsonian and have been in contact with officials there to determine whether his contribution still resides as archival inventory.

Author’s Notes:  I realize that once again I have written a lengthy post, but editing this post was so tortuous that I decided to just let it all stand and beg your forgiveness.  The fact is, there is so much more rich history to these ancestors that I was almost lost among the research for weeks and there is so much more to be told.  For the moment, I am enjoying my new found cousins and our common passion for our grandparents’ history and look forward to gathering in Philadelphia to celebrate our past and to toast our family’s future.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2011.  All Rights Reserved


The Country Doctor and Two Daughters Named Frances

Notes to My Readers: Until I began the serious research of my genealogy,  I had been under the illusion that life is a force that moves forward relentlessly…with just the occasional look back…not so much to ponder and wonder at but to see how much distance we have travelled.   In the process of identifying the individuals that are my American forebears,  I have spent a good deal of time learning about the historical details of WHOWHATWHEREWHEN…and HOW.   Reading old newspapers accounts, transcriptions of personal journals, biographies of  distinguished men and women, handwritten wills with quaint language populated with practical value and sentimental intent.

Somewhere along the DNA trail, I found a story…then another…and another.  I learned to stay awhile and visit in those days of yesteryear that are brimming with human experience.  I was breathing with them…walking down a well worn, dirt path to my neighbor’s Enfield Center home…my long skirts moving the dust around my feet.   Answering a Minuteman’s alarm from my Attleborough home where the local militia had secreted their armory.  Burying my loved ones and Pilgrim brethren in the first harsh winter in the New World.   Battling an enraged bear at the base of Taughannock Falls that left my leg so damaged that I limped for the remainder of my life.  Raising my children in an unpredictable environment fraught with uncertainty.    Another moment and I am turning to see my family…my beloved mother and father and dear siblings… disappear into the distance as I clutch to a lurching wagon while my heart is full of adventure and the sweet pain of realization that I will never see them again.

Pouring over old typeset words I am carried along with the excitement of travelling from the heartland of New York State to the new city of Chicago as I prepare to study at the new Medical College.  And being swept away by the astonishing and harrowing experience of that young man who witnessed the city of Chicago burning and fighting to survive.

This research is a life altering and affirming experience…without a doubt.  It is as if my family members have reached out over time and distance to find me…not the other way around.

Recently I have been tortured with what I can only characterize as writer’s block.  The culprit to my dilemma is clear enough to me.  Each story…each individual holds such sway over me that I am at odds with where to begin.   Whose story to tell.  To add to my predicament I have been contacted by several researchers who share my lineage.  Two descendants of Simeon J. Frear and his wife, Cornelia (Neeljte) Myers have enriched my knowledge of the Frears tenfold and the information keeps coming from their stockpile of years of work.  I recently posted work about my 4th great grandfather, John Learn and the flood gates opened.  I am awash with Learn family members reaching out to me as the descendant of the two year old boy who survived the massacre of his family in 1781 in Tannersville, Pennsylvania.  Another recent post has connected me with a cousin researcher…another granddaughter of Samuel Smith of  Montague, Massachusetts and Cazenovia, New York.   We each have pieces to the other’s puzzles that has us fairly giddy.  And just yesterday…a Weyburn-Ingersoll descendant…found my post on Samuel Ingersoll and his wife, Elizabeth Weyburn.    I am overwhelmed.  In a good way.  I think.

So here I am…standing at a fork in the road.  There is no wrong way to go.  Just choices and they are all good.  With that in mind I am pulling out a coin and doing what any sensible person would do.  Heads or Tails.

The Story That Won the Toss

 A Country Doctor 

In the spring of 2009 I took a trip up to central New York to archive some tombstones…and to go “back home”.  I was born and raised there – where no one asks me, “What kind of accent is that?”  I am a type A, list making individual so I brought all of my burial transcriptions with me…by cemeteries, of course.  I knew there was missing interment information since most of the cemeteries were old and volunteers had walked the cemeteries…some fifty years or more ago.  I was prepared that gravestones might be in poor condition…or not there at all after the long, harsh central New York winters.  I was not prepared, however, to find some gravestones from the early 1800’s…in remarkable condition…perfectly legible……that had not been documented.  And one of those was for Oliver S. Williams and his wife, Mary Van Dorn….my maternal great great grandparents.  A beautiful granite obelisk among more traditional tombstones stood gleaming in the morning sunlight of the pastoral Christian Cemetery in Enfield.

Before my trip I had spent some time going over some materials from an old folder…you know…one of those “brick wall…there is no hope…forget about it” ancestors?  I had written on the tab…Oliver…who are your parents?  I felt a bit guilty about the “forget about it” feelings and more than a little bit miffed that I was so stuck.   Oliver S. Williams-like his wife, Mary-was a native of the Enfield area and the Williams family was part of its early history.

After some traditional genealogical research methods failed to determine Oliver’s parentage, there came the “eureka” moment of finding his mother’s 1863 application for her dower rights (her husband Parvis had died intestate in 1859).  I had my answer.   There was Lura…her formal name was  Lorinda…Williams with sons, Oliver S. Williams and Parvis A. Williams.   Also listed were married daughters, Minerva Heath, Sarah Elizabeth Cowen, Frances Amelia Day and spinster sister, Almira Lorinda Williams.

“WILLIAMS, Lura wd/o Parvis A., of Enfield applied for dower rights 25 June 1863. Heirs at law of Parvis A.,Oliver S., Parvis Austin all named WILLIAMS, Sarah E. COWEN, Almira Lavinda WILLIAMS, Minvera HEATH, Frances Amelia DAY both of out of State of New York. Harry COWEN served with papers (husband of Sarah E.) Property was an inheritance of dec’d.”[i]

So there it was, Oliver’s family…father, mother, sisters and brother.  And his father with the most intriguing name of Parvis Austin Williams.  He was Dr. Parvis Austin Williams…the pioneer physician that served the community of Enfield and surrounds and the husband of Connecticut born, Lorinda King.  By 1818  36 year old Parvis was one of a handful of New York state physicians that were practicing members of  the the Tompkins County Medical Society.  As was generally the case with local physicians of the time, Parvis also served as the coroner, an elected office.  His civic duties expanded in 1835 to serving as a New York State Assemblyman and member of the Committee of Medical Societies and Colleges which established the standards of medical education and practices within New York State.  Established in 1834, Geneva Medical College was one of the earliest medical colleges established in New York State under the stipulations and oversight of men like Dr. P. A. Williams.

Dr. Parvis Austin Williams Tombstone

Both sons of Parvis and Lorinda, Oliver S. and Parvis Austin Williams, stayed in Enfield, married and raised their families there.    Daughter Sarah Elizabeth married Harry Cowen and had a small farm and saw mill in Enfield near her brother, Parvis and his wife, Martha in 1860.  Spinster Almira Lorinda continually lived with her sister, Sarah Elizabeth, even moving with her to Cortland to live with Sarah and her married daughter, Abbey Cowen Hogan, after Sarah was widowed.   And, of course, my great great grandfather, Oliver S., married his neighbor, Mary Van Dorn.  Oliver established himself as a successful produce merchant having no desire to follow in his father’s footsteps.  His brother Parvis -the baby of the family-fought in the Civil War and when he returned home to his wife and farm, he was “never right” according to one neighbor’s diary.  At forty, Parvis committed suicide by cutting his throat with a razor.

And that left me with the intriguing research of…

Two Daughters Named Frances

Frances Minerva and Frances Amelia…where did you go…”out of State of New York”?  And who is Mr. Heath…and Mr. Day?  And why do you both have the first name of Frances?

More months of digging and reading old New York State newspaper articles to track the comings and goings of central New Yorkers then stringing together the visits and announcements of marriages and births and deaths…fathers and sons…mothers and daughters…aunts and uncles and cousins.  Not to forget forages into the deep resources of the Daughters of the American Revolution® and a GOOGLE™ or two and then on to a smattering of  historical sources.  I know there is a logic to my research technique, but I would fully admit it is accompanied by a decent bit of serendipity.   I continue to call is “Sideways” and sometimes it becomes an archaeological dig that requires a rainy afternoon when my clients don’t call and I can spread everything out and begin to put together the information…logical, concrete and serendipitous data with a bit of analytical thinking thrown in…until there is that EUREKA moment I speak of so often.

Frances Amelia Williams

The one bit of information I had as to the whereabouts of the daughters Frances was that they were “out of state” according to their mother’s  application for her dowers rights.  Out of state?  That left…well…a whole lot of territory.

Using my old notes…and finding Frances Amelia’s  husband listed as Fish Day…you may chuckle here…I did…in a census search and there was Fisk H. Day in Wauwatosa, Milwaukee, Wisconsin along with Frances and their children…Margaret Amelia, Sarah Caroline, Minerva F. and Florence W.  I could not help myself…I Googled Fisk H. Day…that named just cried out for an internet presence.  There he was…in Wikipedia…and more.  His biography revealed that in 1858 Fisk Holbrook Day married Frances Amelia Williams.  Dr. Fisk Holbrook Day had studied medicine in New York State at the Geneva Medical College where Dr. Parvis A. Williams had colleagues and where he obviously played an important role.   Dr. Day graduated at Jefferson University in Philadelphia.  No doubt…young Dr. Day met his bride through her father.

Fisk Holbrook Day was not only a prominent local physician, but an avid amateur geologist who developed an impressive collection of Silurian-age fossils which is now housed at Harvard University.  Their beautiful home “Sunnyhill” is fully restored and on the National Register for Historic Places.  Further research through the Daughters of the American Revolution provided confirmation of Frances Amelia’s identity through her daughter’s – Minnie Frances Day Bush- membership.  Minnie’s membership focused on her father’s lineage with just a mention of her mother’s name-Frances Amelia Williams born in New York.

Fisk and Frances had four daughters, Margaret Amelia, Sarah Caroline, Minnie Frances and Florence W.    Researching the daughters, I found that some of them wrote beautifully.  And a living grandson in Alaska…growing apples like my great great grandfather back in Enfield, New York.  And Florence Day Buckbee wife of an Illinois politician named a daughter, Frances.

And Frances Amelia Williams was always referred to as Frances or Fanny.

Frances Minerva Williams

A rainy day…they do have value!  I made a phone call to the Ulysses, New York  historian who is a distant Williams “cousin” and has wonderful local knowledge was definitely in order.  I had scoured Wisconsin Heaths – I thought perhaps the sisters might have located near one another – and took a wrong turn with a Minnie Heath that was born in New York…in the same year as Frances.  Thank you, Karen Dickson, Ulysses historian, for putting me on the correct path.  She had a transcription for Frances’ obituary and I was back on the correct path and on to finding more descendants of Dr. Parvis Austin Williams.   Frances had died in Washington, D.C. where her husband, Chauncey served as a member of Congress for the new state of Wisconsin.

Tompkins Co. newspapers Marriages and obits – “Frances Minerva Heath, wife of C. G. and dau of Dr. Parvis A. Williams, late of Enfield, NY, died in Washington, DC, March 9, 1876.”

Frances Minerva had married an ambitious young man, Chauncey Graham Heath of  the Heath family of nearby Lansing, NY.   By January 1847 the Heaths were living in Pewaukee, Waukesha, Wisconsin and Chauncey’s political career was well underway as a house member of the fifth Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Wisconsin representing Waukesha.

Frances Lorinda Heath Eldridge

Their only daughter,  Frances Lorinda married Dr. James Stuart Eldridge who took her to Japan in 1872 where they raised a family.  James had a remarkable career and still remains an esteemed figure in Japanese medicine.  He was also a man of culture and fell in love with Japanese pottery and became a potter in his own right.  I found his collection up for sale in Southeby’s in the early part of the last century.  Both James and Frances are buried in the Yokohama Foreigner’s Cemetery.  Further research on the family led me to their daughter’s grandson living in England and a most wonderful long distance family friendship.

And Frances Minerva Williams was always referred to as Frances or Fanny.

Both sisters- the two Frances’- born to Dr. Williams and his wife, Lorinda, in the early 1800’s in the little country settlement called Enfield-took me to Wisconsin to Washington, DC to Yokohama, Japan to Alaska to Denmark and to England.  All along the way they made me new friends and researchers…Caroline, NY historian, Barbara Cone and Ulysses, NY historian Karen Dickson,  the Heath families of Lansing, New York and Wisconsin…the Buckbee-Riggs of Illinois…the  Bradleys who grow apples in Alaska…and the Tegners of England and their incredible knowledge of the Eldridges.

Many questions were answered along the way, but I will always wish I could ask Parvis and Lorinda, my 3rd great grandparents, why they named both of their daughters, Frances.

[i] Index to Dower book/ DAR Intestates.  Index to Dower Book 3. Surrogates Office, Ithaca, New York

Intestates Tompkins County, New York DAR © Copyright 1995  Contents by Catherine Machan Martin and presentation by Tompkins County NYGenWeb.  All Rights reserved.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2010.  All Rights Reserved