Brambles and Bracelets….Notes from the Field

Notes to My Readers:  I spent the last weekend in my hometown of Auburn, New York.  It was my 45th high school class reunion and my central New York field research had been delayed while I recuperated from the aftermath of shingles.  I was especially excited to be “in the field” again and to share the experience with my son, Mike.  The research coupled with seeing old friends again for the first time in fifteen years was a definite double win.

While I accomplished a great deal of field work at pioneer cemeteries this past weekend and had the pleasure of sharing this work with my son for the first time,  I had some unexpected history of my own.  It is worth sharing this personal moment  to serve as a special reminder that history is just yesterday and we are every bit a part of the human experience that history is.


It was going to be a beautiful early October weekend.  Mike and I began our five hour drive from southeastern Pennsylvania to central New York State after a drenching rain storm that had begun the day before.  As we travelled north on Route 87 nearing Cortland, we drove through the tail end of the big storm.  At one point we caught sight of the flooded valley below us…farms and buildings were inundated with deep muddy water.  We had no idea what we might encounter in Auburn, but by the time we arrived that afternoon, it had just stopped raining.  The sky was already clearing and the weekend promised to be one of crisp air and blue skies.   And we were burning daylight.  We checked into the Holiday Inn, stowed our gear and jumped back into the car.

Mike and I headed to the little village of Cayuga which is seven miles away and to the cemetery that holds the remains of our Tyler, Curtis and Curry ancestors.  We took several moments to visit my father’s grave which is located near the Center Street entrance.  It was Mike’s first visit to his grandfather’s grave.  As Mike laid his hand on my father’s monument, he spoke a soft “hello” and gently moved aside the fading geraniums to read the inscription.  He took out his iPhone and displayed a photo of his family and promised my father that they would visit him some day.  This was the first moment of Mike’s understanding of what drives me to be a family researcher.  I could tell he felt it, too.

Lonson and Betsey Tombstones

Within the next few minutes, we began the trek down to the pioneer section.  Our first stop was at Lonson and Betsey Tyler’s graves.  They are my maternal great great great grandparents.  It continues to astonish me that the stones are in such remarkable condition.  The tombstones are still solidly affixed to their bases and stand tall and perfectly placed.  The only signs of their age are the inscribed dates and the clinging mildew and lichen.

A short walk further down the steep and rutted road and a climb up several levels of soggy earth, we arrived at their daughter, Deborah’s burial site.  She lies alongside her Irish born husband, Francis J. Curry.  Frank, as he was called, was a Civil War Veteran, serving with the 111th New York State Volunteers, Company C and his grave is marked with a simple monument that was provided under the act of Congress of 3 February 1879 (20 Stat. 281) that extended the privilege of government-provided gravestones to soldiers buried in private cemeteries.  Deborah has no marker and it is unclear that there ever was one.

Two or three rows back from the Currys stands the tall, polished pink marble obelisk of my maternal great great grandparents, Henry Eugene and Susannah M. Downing Curtis.  Their son, George married the Curry’s daughter, Kate.

Mike was hooked with the human history that surrounded us and began to walk row upon row reading the names and dates and wondering aloud about the lives of the individuals each stone signified.  We went on through the entire cemetery… up the steep slopes together until the light began to wane and the air became uncomfortably chilly.  I could see the “field fever” in Mike’s eyes as we left the small village behind and headed to the warm hotel and a cocktail and a good meal.


We had a full day ahead and we were ready to go early…anticipating a day in the field…and Mike was excited to see my 76 year old brother…his uncle Gale.  Gale was excited, too.  That morning the car was full of conversation – mostly the monologues of my brother ranging from Cornell…Einstein…Keith Olberman…Bill O’Reilly…Karl, a heavy metal guitarist acquaintance of Gale’s… all intermixed with tales of my father.

I picked up a dozen rose buds to lay at each ancestral grave that we planned to visit that day…three more than I needed.  All through the morning, we stopped and paid our respects…back to Lakeview to my father and the Tylers, the Currys and the Curtises with a rose for each grave and then on to Enfield in Tompkins County and to the two small pioneer cemeteries that held my Van Dorn, Williams and Purdy ancestors.  I had walked both these cemeteries last year with my brother and have written an earlier post about our experience…cows, violets, lost keys and found family.

Mike Plugh Field Researching in Christian Cemetery

This was Mike’s first field trip to Enfield and unlike Lakeview Cemetery, Christian Cemetery was in open country and had unkempt areas with fallen and broken stones…many stacked on the perimeter of the cemetery and overgrown with tall grasses.   I know the perils of tromping through heavily tangled growth and unstable earth in old cemeteries and I also know the thrill of pushing through those obstacles and uncovering old monuments.  Mike’s intrigue about the monuments that peeked above the grasses had him pushing through and reading the old pioneer stones.  Oh yeah.  Field Fever.  After laying a rose on each ancestral grandparent’s grave, I prodded Mike away and cajoled him on to the next cemetery, but I knew how he felt.

The Presbyterian Cemetery was just about a mile away and on the same road and presents an entirely different environment.  It is heavily treed and lushly carpeted with wild flowers.  It is trim and neat and the protected stones and obelisks are mostly level and intact….until you reach the very back of the cemetery…just four feet from the gravesites of my great grandparents, Elbert Purdy and Elizabeth Williams Purdy.  I took a moment and placed two of the last five roses with  Elbert and Elizabeth and pointed out the terrain at the back of the cemetery…just steps away.  Elbert’s parents and grandmother -Samuel D. Purdy and his wife, Semantha Ingersoll and her mother, Elizabeth Weyburn Ingersoll – were recorded as buried in this cemetery.  I had visited the cemetery in May and August of last year and alone ventured into the fallen area in an attempt to find their monuments, but to no avail.  The tantalizing view of the top six inches of  some tall tombstones and an obelisk left me frustrated, but I knew it would be dangerous and foolhardy to attempt to penetrate the area alone.  Several yards of the eastern section of the cemetery had dropped at least 10 to 12 feet from below the level of the rest of the cemetery.  It had been undermined by erosion and the occasional flooding that devastates the Ithaca area and was tangled with growth that was several feet over my head.  But I was not alone this time and Mike was keen on finding Samuel, Semantha and Elizabeth.

Purdy Obelisk in the Bramble of Presybterian Cemetery

Before I could utter the words “Be careful!”, Mike had charged down the steep and slippery incline and began to push and stomp his way through the bramble.  As his mother, I couldn’t help but constantly call out to watch out for the possiblity of unstable earth…snakes…and poison ivy.  “I’m fine, Mom.  I’ve got it.  Don’t worry,” he assured me as I watched him create a discernable path to the obelisk.  His assuring words became a shout.  “PURDY…MOM…PURDY!”  I turned to my brother and told him to stay put and tore down the slope…my heart pounding and shouting, “Samuel! Semantha!  Elizabeth!”  Without one worry about falling into the brush, I plunged ahead to find Mike standing in front of a seven foot tall stone obelisk.  Once again, he said, “Purdy” while pointing to the base.  Mike had crushed the grasses away to reveal the base and the six inch tall letters.

Elizabeth Weyburn Ingersoll Monument

As my gaze travelled up the obelisk,  I was transfixed by the words S. D. Purdy and his wife Semantha.  My brother, Gale, despite his age and some health issues was damned well not going to stand by and not be part of the action.  He made the difficult journey down and joined us while we stood reverently before the obelisk of  Samuel and Semantha.  Mike broke ranks and continued his method of probe and stomp and within four to five feet of the obelisk, there was Elizabeth Weyburn Ingersoll’s tall tombstone.  It was in perfect condition, but had a troubling woody growth wedged against it and threatening to undermine it.  Elizabeth Weyburn Ingersoll.  Wife of Samuel.  Daughter of Ulysses pioneers, Samuel Weyburn and Jane Bratton.  And I had three remaining roses…one for each grandparent.

GPS positioning and photo archiving accomplished,  we left the cemetery with an incredible high spirit and a shared experience that few people have.  After a quick late lunch and a farewell visit at Gale’s home, we headed to the hotel to rid ourselves of the dirt and clinging bits of brush and bramble and ready ourselves for my class reunion.

The Reunion

Clean and groomed and still elated over the discovery of the Purdy obelisk and the lovely Ingersoll tombstone, we drove the short distance to my class reunion that was held at my friend, Jim Hutchison’s beautiful old Victorian home on South Street.  We ran about twenty minutes late and entered the gathering of West High graduates that was in full swing.  It wasn’t long before dozens of hugs and kisses later, we were part of the laughter and happy conversation.  At one point, my friend, Marie Raymond Phillips, pulled me aside explaining she had “something” for me.  Marie is one of my classmates and friends that year after year works with other fellow West High graduates to organize our 1965 class reunions.  This was the first one I had attended since 1995.  I figured it was an old picture of us that we would laugh about-bemoan the current state of our waistlines and then go on to the business of old friends catching up with each other.  She opened her hand and I saw the glint of metal and I immediately recognized it as an “ID bracelet”.  Friends and sweethearts often gave a personalized bracelet as a token of their relationship.  My first thought was she was sharing a treasure of hers and I thought it a very lovely gesture as we hadn’t seen each other all these years.  She put her hand on my shoulder and said, “I wasn’t sure whether to give this to you” and I was even more confused as I stared at the item she held in her open hand.  I looked up to meet her eyes and saw some of my closest “guy” classmates standing close behind her and looking at me with a tender expression I couldn’t understand.

Marie took a deep breath and explained to me that some time ago, one of our male classmates had given this to her with the instruction that it was to be given to me.  And she couldn’t remember who it was.  And no one at the reunion was that male classmate.  I looked down at the bracelet again.  What was this about?  What classmate?  How do I understand the expressions on everyone’s faces?  That moment seemed to hang in the air as the world stood still.  I then became aware Marie was speaking to me again and I snapped back to attention when she said “Chappy”.  Chappy was Charles Reed, my high school sweetheart.

All through high school, I was “Chappy’s girl” and remained so to all of my high school chums.  I had just told Mike that story on our trip up.  Though Chappy and I had both gone on to very different lives and to have families of our own, he and I were frozen in West High School history…together.  In 1990 we saw each other again at our reunion and had caught up on our lives…visited his brother, Bob and his wife, Mabel…sat on their front porch with a cold beer…and reminisced with our close high school pals.  We walked along the lakeside arm and arm with our closest friends and felt a special love that was just ours.  It was sweet and kind and eternal.  We all laughed… a lot.  Remembered…a lot.  And we went back to our lives.

In 1995 we were once again all reunited and celebrating our high school reunion, but with the terrible news that Chappy was very ill with cancer.  But he was fighting it and the reunion was important for him to attend.  So we once again laughed and reminisced though we felt the presence of his illness.  And then he was gone.  From our lives and this world.   Buried in Arlington Cemetery.

A Sweetheart’s Message

And so standing in front of my friends so many years later, I realized what she cradled in her outstretched palm.  The inscription read “CHAPPY”.  It was the ID bracelet that I had given to him for his sixteenth birthday…47 years ago.  I took the bracelet and held it gently. And cried.  When I looked up, there wasn’t a dry eye among the people around me…the sixty-something faces of the men and women that are the friends of my youth… the friends of my old age.

When Marie finished our embrace, she told me that as he was dying,  Chappy had given instructions to one of our friends that he wanted make sure that I be given the bracelet.  I turned it over and read “LOVE DEBBIE”.  I don’t think anyone was breathing at that point.  I know I wasn’t.  Marie said what was in my heart. He had kept it all these years and he thought of me at the very end.  AND I understood his message.  LOVE DEBBIE.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2010.  All Rights Reserved

A Dutchman in Enfield…taverns and turnpikes

Note to my Readers:  Several surnames dominate my knowledge of my mother’s family history.
Tyler is one.  Van Doren another. One of my daughters sports Tyler as a middle name while my other daughter was given the middle name Van Doren.  I can’t exactly say why I chose to do that.  Perhaps I did that because my mother named her children to honor her family members…though I wasn’t consciously duplicating a tradition.  One of my cousins was also given the Peter Van Dorn moniker for a first and middle name.  In fact, he told me at our last family gathering when as a small child, he asked his mother who Peter Van Dorn was, she told him it was the name of her pet rooster.  We have pranksters galore in our family.
Mary Van Dorn Williams’ yellowed obituary is pasted into her daughter’s family bible which is now in my possession and  is one of those archival touchstones that provided me, her great great granddaughter, with the pathway to my Van Dorn heritage.  It has also generated a great passion to learn more about early American history, forge research friendships and locate Van Doorn “cousins”…all of us in search of our prolific and entrepreneurial Dutch forebears.

In fact, I found that our modern day efforts to trace our Van Doorn ancestry had been undertaken by A. Van Doren Honeyman and his genealogical work had been self published more than one hundred years ago in 1908.  He interviewed and  wrote to hundreds upon hundreds of known American descendants of Pieter Van Doorn to account for their data and record it in his genealogical publication resulting in records for almost 10, 000 individuals.

In his preface he writes, ” The labor of the preparation of any historic-genealogical work, especially of a family so large as that treated in this volume, involves the most patient industry, careful study, and a wider correspondence than any other form of literary work.  Except for the interest of blood, the author would have paused in his investigations long ago from sheer weariness.”

Mr. Honeyman’s efforts took more than 15 years of work and in his preface he bemoans the fact that at publication the information was incomplete…”nor would it be for another decade” if he continued the attempt.  So he closed that chapter of his research and writing and published with the hope that some future “supplementary pamphlet” would come to fruition.

So Abraham, I am picking up…as best I can…your mighty task…and connecting with as many American Van Doorn descendants that this age of technology will permit.  I have worked with at least a half a dozen, but two Van Doorn “cousins” stand out.  Eric Waite and Tom Van Doren each have wonderful blogs and are worth a look.  I hope that this post with bring other Van Doorn/Doren/Dorns together to share their recent and more precise efforts. Eric and Tom’s links are listed at the end of this post.

In the meantime, I will tell the tale of my great great great grandfather, Peter Van Dorn…the pioneer…not the rooster.

What’s in a Name?

Jacob Van Dorn Signature

“As early as 1088, or more than eight hundred years ago, the name “van Doorn” was in use in Holland, and, although there were variations in the spelling to a slight extent during the Middle Ages, that form of the name is more general to-day in the Netherlands than any other.
The remote Holland family of the name of van Doorn divided into various branches, but were located chiefly in the province of Brabant and Utrecht. Many members of the family early rose to distinction, were honored as part of the “nobility”, and possessed coats-of-arms. Some of these went into Belgium, when that country was a part of the Netherlands; a very few went to France and to Germany. The great bulk of the stock always remained sturdily Dutch.”
(The Van Doorn Family)

From New Amsterdam to Somerset County New Jersey

Peter’s paternal line came from a long line of Dutch Patroons.  According to Abraham Van Doren Honeyman’s 1909 genealogical publication, “The Van Doorn family (Van Doorn, Van Dorn, Van Doren, etc.) in Holland and America, 1088-1908“, his great great grandfather, Pieter Van Doorn, migrated from Gravesande, Holland before 1659 settling in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam.    Like other family history efforts of the time, Mr. Honeyman’s book is a good place to start, but far from complete or accurate and thus I begin to painstakingly research my known and sourced recent Van Dorn heritage from the lush and rolling hills of Cayuga Lake to early American history in New Jersey and New Amsterdam with Holland as a tantalizing journey ahead.

By 1723 many of the Van Dorens had moved to Somerset County from New Amsterdam and were predominantly farmers.  The county was created on May 14, 1688, from portions of Middlesex County and is one of America’s oldest counties.   Most of the early residents were Dutch.  General George Washington and his troops marched through the county on several occasions and slept in many of the homes located throughout the area including the homes of the Van Dorens.  At one time the large Van Doren family held some of the richest farm lands in New Jersey.  In modern day Somerset County, the Van Dorn/Doren/Doorn name remains a notable historic family name.

The American Van Doorn name went through Anglicization during the 1800’s…from Van Doorn to Van Doren to Van Dorn…and sometimes just plain Dorn. My great great great grandfather, Peter, like many of his generation, chose the spelling Van Dorn after leaving his Peapack, New Jersey home and migrating to Enfield, New York  in 1818.

Peter Van Dorn, Pioneer Tavern Owner and Genteel Man (1793-12 Jan 1866)

Peter Van Dorn of Ithaca

Born on the family farm in Peapack, Somerset County, New Jersey in July of 1793, Peter was one of the eight children of wealthy farmer Jacob William Van Doren and his wife, Margaret Hunt.  According to Van Doren family information,  Jacob had attended Princeton University in its earliest years of existence.  Margaret’s father was Colonel Stephen Hunt, a Revolutionary War hero who served as one of George Washington’s staff.

In 1811 eighteen year old Peter married twenty two year old Mary Irwin in New Jersey.  According to Somerset land records, Peter received $1800 and 104 acres of prime farmland from his grandfather, William.  Two years later in 1820, he  had sold off his farmland and prepared to move his young family…daughters Deborah and Mary and son, John…to Enfield, Tompkins, NY where he had purchased land in order to build his tavern.

Many revolutionary war soldiers were given land grants when it became impossible to pay them with redeemable currency.  In 1782, Revolutionary War veterans were issued land by lottery in the Finger Lakes region of central New York (28 townships in the present counties of Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, Cortland, Oswego, Wayne, Schuyler, and Tompkins) and from 1789 to 1869 The Holland Land Company was a significant player in surveying New York State and purchasing the military tracts.   The Van Dorns like most families of their period typically had large families and the many children could not all inherit enough family owned farmland to prosper.  New York State was developing quickly  in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s so Peter, like many of his contemporaries, bought their land from speculators most likely from the Holland Land Company and moved their families to find their own fortune. An early search of  Peter Van Dorn’s Enfield land purchase had not yielded the documentation of his land purchase, but the search continues through old archives.

In 1820 Peter established the tavern in Enfield on Mecklenburg Road on what came to be known as the Catskill Turnpike and later Route 79.

“He was a farmer in Chester Twp, Morris Co, NJ from 1816 to 1818 owning 142 acres of land, which he purchased of his grandfather, William, in the former year, and sold in 1818 to Isaac Crater, as per Morris Co. records.  He went to NY State after 1820, settling in Enfield, Tompkins County and afterward built a fine hotel in Ithaca standing in what was known as “Van Dorn Corner”.

“One who knew him well says, “He was a handsome man, noticeably genteel.”

Excerpt from “The van Doorn Family (Van Doorn, Van Dorn, Van Doren, Etc.) in Holland and America.  1088 -1908           Published by Heritage Books in 1908.

Sometime in 1821 Mary and the children had arrived and soon more offspring were added to their family…sons William, Charles H., Norman, Jefferson and finally, daughter, Margaret.  The Van Dorns had left behind the cultivated farms and social graces of Somerset County to become part of the charged and dynamic environment of pioneer life in Enfield, New York.  The ensuing years were ones of challenge and change for the Van Dorn family and our young country and Van Dorn Corners Tavern and the Peter Van Dorn family were an important part of American history.

“The original taverns were most likely log cabins, built shortly after the Catskill Turnpike opened in 1804. They averaged about 20′ by 25′. They would have been replaced by frame structures after local saw mills made slab wood more easily available. Van Dorn’s Tavern is also only described in its last years. It was situated on the south side of Mecklenburg Road and had a barn associated with it. The barn had hidden basement rooms where stolen horses were rumored to be kept and before them, escaping slaves. It was torn down in 1916.”  Enfield Town Historian

Van Dorn Tavern with Henry Waite circa 1920

The photograph to the right is courtesy of Van Doren descendant, Eric Waite.  Henry Waite stands by the New York State historical marker that still stands on the corner.  Henry Waite’s wife, Bertha, was the daughter of Lorenzo Van Doren of  nearby Danby, NY and according to Eric she referred to Peter as “cousin”.  We have not been able to establish the connection as of this publication.  This is the only known photograph of the tavern still in existence and after dating the photo with Eric, it is clear that the tavern stood long after the Enfield historian’s notes.  Thanks, Eric!…and Bertha and Henry.

The tavern had become an important center of  social and political activity during the turbulent 1840’s.  A newspaper article in the Ithaca Daily Chronicle dated September 24, 1847 reported the activities of the Loco Foco Party Convention held at “Van Dorn’s in Enfield”.  Another piece published in January of 1848, reports a resolution which sports such lofty language about demagoguery and democracy that it fairly rattles the spirit.  In addition to providing a gathering site for the political passions of the day, Peter personally played a role in Enfield’s civic life by serving as Enfield Supervisor in 1855 and Overseer of the Poor in 1858.

Youngest child, Margaret Van Dorn, who was born in 1830 in Enfield, was to marry the dashing young sheriff of Tompkins County, Samuel A. Holmes.  Samuel was not destined to be a farmer in the countryside and by 1860 Samuel, Margaret and their three daughters, Mary Julia, Harriet and Carrie were living in Ithaca and Samuel owned a livery.  By 1870 Margaret has passed away and Samuel and his daughters and son-in-law, Abial B. Stamp owned and ran the famous Tompkins House.  She is buried next to her sister, Deborah Van Dorn, in the Christian Cemetery in Enfield, NY.      Her daughter and only child, Norma Van Dorn Stamp married John S. Griffiths, a prestigious New York City attorney.  Their wedding was reported in the New York Times social section.  Norma and John lived in New York City.

Juliette Griffith Brooklyn Eagle photo

Daughter, and only child, Juliette Holmes Griffiths married Burr Burton Mosher, a well-known pediatric surgeon in Brooklyn and Long Island, NY.  Dr. Mosher was a graduate of Oakwood Seminary in Union Springs, Cayuga County NY where his family were members of the Quaker community.  Juliette was an accomplished pianist when she met Dr. Mosher in Brooklyn and was many years his junior.  Dr. Mosher was killed in an automobile accident in 1921 and young Juliette was on her own as a widow.  The 1930 census finds her widowed and at age 38 in Houston, Texas.  She is in Hermann Hospital and her occupation is listed as an entertainer employed at a music store.

Mary Van Dorn Williams Obituary

Pictured left is the obituary for Mary Van Dorn Williams which is  pasted into the  Purdy-Williams family bible. You can faintly make out the dates written in pencil at the top.  My great grandmother,  Elizabeth Williams Purdy, Mary’s daughter, wrote the dates on the obituary and pasted it into her marital bible.  The grandchildren:  Elizabeth “Libbie” Mary Johnson Van Dorn was the surviving daughter of Mary Lorinda Williams Johnson who  married a William Van Dorn nearly 25 years her senior and her mother Mary Lorinda’s first cousin.

W.P and B.S. Purdy are Elizabeth’s sons Wilmot and Bert (Burt) S. Purdy (my maternal grandfather) and the three great grandchildren are Burt’s daughters; Elizabeth, Kathryn and Mary Purdy.

Authors Note:

As you probably already know….but it bears retelling….how our ancestors traveled is a fascinating subject.  Since my great great great father, Peter Van Dorn built his tavern in Enfield in 1820 along the Catskill Turnpike, I took a look at what has been written about that early critical road.  Once I “stepped back” and realized what a role the Turnpike systems played before the building of the Erie Canal, I could envision where many of my other ancestors traveled from New England and the Hudson Valley to their settlement in Central New York.  So much of the migration became suddenly clear to me…after all they wouldn’t be slogging through the dense woods with wagons full of personal belongings…dodging trees and fording streams…avoiding bears!….so if they traveled overland….where were the trails?

Reading the history of New York State and the recounting of  the Sullivan Campaign as it cleared out the Iroquois nation, revealed the many early trails and “turnpikes” were actually Indian trails.  Today there are “road trips” for touring the Catskill for history buffs…with stops along the way to explore historical sites.  When I visited Enfield this past year, I stood where Peter Van Dorn’s Tavern existed…and again down the way to the site of the Williams Mercantile at  Applegate Corners. It is still country…but the hard packed dirt road over which wagons and stagecoaches once traveled is now a ribbon of macadam.    For a moment when I was very, very still…I could hear the drum of hooves and the shouts of children as the wagons and stagecoaches arrived.

The Chanticleer of Ithaca New York

Oh…and cousin, Peter…if you read this….I think I may have solved the rooster mystery.  We had drinks at the landmark tavern….the Chanticleer in Ithaca in 2009.    Remember?  Case closed.

Author: Deborah Jane Martin-Plugh, great great great granddaughter of Peter and Mary Irwin Van Dorn.

The Van Doorn family (Van Doorn, Van Dorn, Van Doren, etc.) in Holland and America, 1088-1908 (1909).  Abraham Van Doren Honeyman.  Plainfield, New Jersey.  Collection University of Wisconsin – Madison