A Tonic For What Ails You

A Note To My Readers: A gray day…thunder and rain. No wonder my muscles hurt. OUCH. Hauling out the aspirin. I think of my 2x great grandmother, Deborah Jane Tyler Curry and her granddaughter (my grandmother) Florence L. Curtis Purdy who had rheumatism. My turn.

A Tonic For What Ails You

Deborah took a ‘remedy’ called “Kenyon’s Blood and Nerve Tonic” that was pretty much cannabis. That was no secret as other ‘druggists’ sold tonics with the same ingredients. Some even added chocolate for flavoring! Evidently Ithacans in the nineteenth century swore by J. C Kenyon’s Tonic. The newspapers were full of testimonials that declared their appetite had returned and they felt much better after one bottle. Uh huh.

Kenyon’s ‘agents’ for the Owego firm….were Judson Bryant Todd and Arthur B. Brooks, druggists in Ithaca. Todd also sold oils and paints which were treatments for corns and skin ailments at his mercantile on 6 E. State St in Ithaca. He was a regular CVS..selling cigars, manicure sets, perfumes.

And ‘Hot Weather Colognes’. A display ad in the “Ithaca Daily News’ reads:

“You can get them at TODD’s PHARMACY. Those odors due to perspiration can be covered with colognes until the bath-tub is conquered. You can find a large variety there, and unless your education in such things has been sadly neglected you should have them, and at TODD’S PHARMACY they are legion.”

Brooks sold his own brands – “Jamaica Ginger” and “Brooks Hot Drops” and “Sun Cholera Mixture” at his pharmacy at 30 East State St. He called himself “The King of Tonics” and his own concoction was dubbed “Brook’s Calisaya and Iron Tonic” and advertised as having the nourishing properties of ‘Beef and Wine” at 50 cents a pint. Calisaya…an herbal liqueur. Booze.

Well, look at this way..my straight-laced Methodist 2x great grandmother lived to be almost 90 and evidently bore her suffering cheerfully. Bless that tonic…






Deborah J. Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

© Copyright March 2017.  All Rights Reserved.

My Grandmother’s Face

A Note to My Readers: Periodically I think about just why I became a genealogy-history researcher.  Every once in awhile the answer comes across the centuries with such a resounding clarity, it shakes me to my core.  It is not an “Aha!” moment…the one we all know very well.  Not the triumph of solving a mystery.  No, it is one of those profound personal moments that answers THE question.  Once and for all.

Yesterday the answer arrived in an email.  My grandmother’s face.

Shape Shifter

I never knew my maternal grandmother.  I never sat on her lap.  I never held her hand.  I never looked into her face or heard her voice. I never ate her specialty, lemon meringue pie, made by her hand.   She died eleven days before I was born.

Despite the fact that my mother had boxes and boxes of photographs of family and friends that span over the decades, there were no pictures of my maternal grandmother, Florence Leora Curtis Purdy…or her mother, Kate Curry Curtis.  Mom is long gone and I never asked her why she had no picture of her mother or her maternal grandmother.  My maternal grandfathers both had formal portrait photographs.

I knew my grandmother solely through the reminiscences of my mother.

“Mama was so beautiful.  She had long, long black hair down to her waist and large, brown eyes. I can still see the gold flecks in her eyes.”  “Mama was just fifteen when she married Papa.  On her wedding day, she had an eighteen inch waist.”  “People would always turn to look at Mama, she was so beautiful.  Her girls would never see the day that they would be as lovely.” “Mama loved beautiful lingerie. She would always show me her latest slip with such pleasure in the lovely silks and laces.”

There were no “moments” or character traits mentioned in the wistful trips down memory lane.  I cobbled together her image many times…choosing eyes from my Aunt Mary, a nose from Aunt Elizabeth, my mother’s hands, my Aunt Esther’s trim figure.  The image was always shifting, but always keeping the long black hair and the brown eyes with gold flecks.  After all, it was all imagination and wishful thinking and the sisters really had a wide range of features.  And it didn’t really animate her…what I really wanted.

 A Son’s Treasure

My mother has been gone for more than a decade and I never asked her why there were no photographs of “Mama”.   The only tangible trace I have of my grandmother is the envelope flap my mother kept tucked in the family bible because “Mama had such lovely penmanship.”   A few years ago my cousin, Christopher, told me that he had a creased and worn photograph of our grandmother that his father had carried in his G.I. wallet during WWII and continued to do so the rest of his life.  Uncle Bill was the only boy and the baby of the family and the two had a very deep and special bond.  Thank you, Uncle Bill.

Chris sent me the photo which I tenderly removed from the old wallet and unfolded it on my lap.  I sat there for the longest time memorizing her face.  She must have been around my age in that small faded, creased and monotone photo.  I see Aunt Mary in her face, but nothing of my mother.  She takes after her Papa…fair with hazel eyes.   Florence looks weary, small and alone.  The rheumatism that crippled her is apparent in her clenched hands.  Her fabled physical beauty is gone.

Little Women with a Dash of Alice in Wonderland

I spent the next three years digging into every detail of her childhood, her child bride marriage and giving birth to seven children.  Her first child, Elizabeth was born when my grandmother was just sixteen and early motherhood and an already tumultuous marriage left the teenager “fragile” and under the care of a doctor.  In 1902 she was pregnant again with daughter, Kathryn Louise.   Shortly after her arrival home with Kathryn, Elizabeth had found her mother’s pills and swallowed enough of them to make all fear for the toddler’s life.  Florence’s disapproving mother-in-law took the recovering Elizabeth home with her…never to return her to her mother.  “I would see my mother wipe a tear from her eyes,” my mother wrote, “somehow I couldn’t forgive her (my great grandmother Elizabeth Purdy Smith).”

The death of her 21 year old daughter, Kathryn Louise in 1924 was preceded by the terrible suffering and struggle of a virulent cancer.  Three years later, little Ruth Norma was killed with her friend Lillian Hull as they sat in front of the corner store.  Ruth and Lillian were crushed by an out of control vehicle driven by a retired Cornell professor.  The one clear story my mother shared with me was this tragedy.  My grandmother ran the two blocks only to find Ruth pinned under the car, crushed and gone.  “My mother’s hair turned white overnight.”

Papa, according to my mother, was “a spoiled young man-spoiled by his mother.”  My grandfather, too, was described by his appearance.  “…in a three piece suit and a gold chain and watch at his waist.”

I stopped writing for a few months when I found the article about my grandfather’s violence toward my grandmother in the first year of their marriage.  I was more rattled about their reality than I realized.  My mother’s vague stories were pretty in many ways and suspiciously romantic in so many others.  It was a bit of “Little Women” with a dash of “Alice in Wonderland”.  No wonder my grandmother remained a storybook tragic heroine to me.

Surviving the Truth

When I communicate with researchers and historians about constructing the family tree, my favorite advice is that one should be prepared to find a scoundrel and wench or two amidst the perpetual parade of human beings.  As a longtime family historian, I have been amused to find a great uncle that was a forger (who just happens to be my grandfather’s brother) and a ninth great grandfather, John Billington, who landed with the Mayflower and was hung for murder by the good Pilgrims of Plymouth, Massachusetts.  A good chuckle at humanity all around.

Earlier research showed my grandfather declared bankruptcy in November of 1918.  My mother spoke of their unexplained poverty during her childhood, but when I found the records most of the bills were medical.  Who was sick?  Not Kathryn at that point.  Did my grandmother continue to be “frail”?

All a complex mix for me because it explained my mother to me…piece by piece…and it explains me in part…so it is history…genealogy…but it is also a keen reminder that it is my family and me.

I am writing again after receiving another picture of my grandmother at the tender age of three.  The beautiful child with the cherub face took my breath away and at the same time washed away the nagging sting of her story and the picture of a tired, faded beauty.   While I hadn’t written previous to receiving the photograph, I had been researching, networking, collecting, learning new resources and entering and organizing the data.  Busy. Busy. Busy.  And so very productive.  But as anyone knows, if you keep your shoulder to the wheel, you can’t fly and it was time to fly.  It was time to celebrate ALL of my family history the painful and the glorious…and the ordinary.  I had tripped and lost the perspective and humor and compassion that I so carefully armed myself with when I began to learn about who my family was.  Is.

My Grandmother’s Face

Florence Leora Curtis Age Three

During the busy work, I had contacted an individual who seemed to be researching my immediate Curtis family line.  A courtesy check.  “Hello, I am…  My line is…  Are you related?”  Standard stuff.  I have been rewarded with second and third cousins and some delightful insights into ancestral lives and family and friends and once FIRST once removed cousins who have become dear to me.    Who says lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place?  My casual “Hello” turned out to be another first cousin who is the steward of our Downing-Curtis family memorabilia.  And my grandmother’s face.

Marj recently began the process of sorting old photos and emailed me a selection of photos she thought I might like to see.  “Are these photos of anyone you know?”  Click.  The JPG opened and my grandmother’s face looked out at me with large dark eyes and though it is sepia…no question brown and her hair was even at three- thick and dark.  She was impish and sweet with a face that I had always categorized as Purdy…but it is a Curtis face and it was my Aunt Mary’s face and my cousin Chris’ face and his father, Bill’s face.    My grandmother became dimensional and animated at that moment to me through her children and grandson who bear a remarkable and almost unalloyed resemblance.  My Aunt Elizabeth had drawers stuffed with lovely “delicates”…to the point they could barely close.  Though I spent such a short amount of time with my Aunt Esther, she was reserved compared to her boisterous and talkative sisters and I wonder if Grandma was, too.  I knew my Aunt Mary’s impish personality and cherub face and her voice still rings in my memory.  “Tweetsdie Dins!” she would cry…arms open wide and in a moment you were enveloped in organdy, perfume and endless kisses.  My cousin, Chris, is a spirited, big hearted man that I have loved forever.  He has made laugh uncontrollably when I thought I couldn’t and always made me feel loved.  His father, my Uncle Bill…his mother’s darling son… was larger than life…quick to laugh and quick to cry…and quick to pick you up when you fell down.

And my mother’s hands…always there to comfort me and clap with joy at my silly girl jokes and antics and to make me her miraculous, homemade lemon meringue pie.

I did know my grandmother after all.

Postscript:  Thank you, Marj for your incredibly kind gesture of sharing this photo with me and all of Florence’s grandchildren and great grandchildren.  We are very grateful.

In case you wonder where the photo of my aged grandmother is, WordPress had a problem…or my grandmother admonished “Don’t meddle, Dolly”…a pet phrase of hers to my curious brothers.  I was fiddling with minor edits and  I could not insert both her young photo and her old photo in the post.  The older Florence overlaid the baby Florence no matter what I did…so I will check with tech support and maybe a psychic and try to fix the problem.  For now the child wins.  And I won’t meddle.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2011.  All Rights Reserved

Sunday, Serendipity and Survivors at Cayuga Lake-Notes from the Field

Notes to My Readers:  Sometimes our history reaches out to us as a reminder of just how precious and serendipitous our existence is.  It is a wise researcher who recognizes the circumstances of our ancestors and takes the time to consider just how we…you and I…come to be…or not.
Sunday, Serendipity and Survivors at Cayuga Lake

It was Sunday.  My son and I had experienced a most wonderful Saturday in the field.  Mike had found the obelisk of his maternal 3rd great grandparents, Samuel D. Purdy and Semantha Ingersoll and the monument of Semantha’s mother, Elizabeth Weyburn Ingersoll in the old Presbyterian Cemetery in Enfield, NY.  I was thrilled for Mike and grateful for his enthusiasm to assist me in my two year struggle to find them among a dense tangle of bramble and treacherous collapsed earth.  Everything that Saturday seemed a path of fateful synchronicity.

Sunday was supposed to be our day without intense purpose.  The sun was shining.  The leaves were beginning to show their glorious autumn colors.  The lake was sapphire blue.  And we were visiting a pioneer cemetery in Lansing for the first time.  The plan was to photograph the Miller Cemetery which is the resting place of my Case, Bowker and Learn forebears.   With the use of iPhone technology we would archive each burial using digital photography and establish GPS coordinates for each individual burial location.  And pay our respects to my paternal 4th great grandparents, John and Elizabeth Freece Learn and their daughter, Sarah Learn Case and her husband, John R. Case…my 3rd great grandparents.

Miller Cemetery

Small rural cemeteries are a source of valuable information for family researchers.  In the last century individuals and organizations such as the D.A.R. had walked the cemeteries and recorded their observations in various methods.  There was no standard, scientific manner and so you will find the burial listings as simple as name, birth date and death date or thanks to a literal soul a more detailed accounting that would include the location and condition of the stone.  On occasion a local would provide personal knowledge regarding the individuals buried in the cemetery such as a maiden name or military service or family relationship.   These databases are a solid way to begin.  To begin.  They are as fallible as the collectors and those that typed in the information.  In the past year or so, I have taken on the task of validating the burial data with field visits.  A curious mix of practical, data mining for my research and an intensely personal, sentimental journey.

The country road was lined with what was left of this year’s corn crop only interrupted on occasion by a modest home or a stand of woods.  It was peaceful.  After pulling off the road next to the old cemetery which was surrounded by tall woods, we approached the rusty farm-style gate.    The only sounds were the gentle wind soughing through the trees and the half-hearted bark of a neighboring dog.  Stepping through the gate, we found ourselves in a well-kept glade.  Among the old pioneer stones, one or two new granite monuments sparkled in the dappled sunlight.  Small American flags fluttered next to the graves of long gone veterans of past conflicts…the Civil War and WWI.   It was clear that these pioneer families had modern-day caretakers who saw to Miller Cemetery and Mike and I wondered if those caretakers just might be descendants of those who rested there.  And we understood they were our family, too.

John Learn (20 Apr 1779-1867)

John was the son of George and Anna Brink Learn and the grandson of Johannes Martinus and Cadarina Learned of Tannersville, Pennsylvania.  Johannes Learned came to America before 1750 and moved his family from Philadelphia to Tannersville, Northampton (now Monroe) County, Pennsylvania  in 1750.  The Learns, as they eventually spelled their name, operated a tavern in Tannersville, a small settlement nestled in the Pocono Mountains and strategically located in the Delaware Water Gap.

As reported in HISTORY OF WILKES-BARRE LUZERNE COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA FROM ITS FIRST BEGINNINGS TO THE PRESENT TIME; INCLUDING CHAPTERS OF NEWLY-DISCOVERED EARLY WYOMING VALLEY HISTORY, Volume II BY OSCAR JEWELL HARVEY,  “Learn’s was at that time the outpost of Northampton County civilization on the road to Wyoming”.  The Learn family was one of a handful of white pioneers in that area of Pennsylvania.

During that time the colonies were not only fighting with the British for the survival of a nation, but the pioneer families also were engaged in periodic violent conflict with Native American tribes.  A pivotal event in Pennsylvania and New York State history was an expedition across the Pocono Mountains known as “Sullivan’s March” in June 1779.  Planned by General George Washington, the purpose of Sullivan’s March was to exterminate and destroy the hostile tribes of the Indians of the Six Nations. It was a mission to which the Congress assigned as a high priority.

Pennsylvania Historical Marker-Sullivan’s March

There is a historical marker on the corner of Route 611 and Old Mill Road in Tannersville. It reads: “Learned’s Tavern marked the end of the second day march from Easton to Forty Wyoming at Wilkes Barre. The army camped here June 19th 1799 after a 16 mile march from Heller’s Tavern.”

The Massacre

Journalist and Author  Charles Miner, in the History of Wyoming writes about the Larned (Learn) family tragedy: “On the 3rd of July 1781, a bloody and most melancholy tragedy was enacted on the road leading from Wyoming to the Delaware at Stroudsburg. Mr. Larned, an aged man and his son George, were shot and scalped near their house. Another son, John, shot an Indian, who was left dead on the spot where he fell. The savages carried off George Larned’s wife [Anna] and an infant [baby daughter, Susanna], four months old.”

The book Genealogy of Western Pennsylvania – Volume II by J. W. Jordan (1915) adds that “At the time of the massacre George Learn’s little son, John (my4th great grandfather), was taken by an aunt, who escaped (family tradition says) out a window with him, to the shelter of some bushes, where they remained concealed. A little dog followed them from the house, and in order not to be betrayed by him, the aunt muffled his head in an apron she wore.”

John Learn Monument – Miller Cemetery

Standing next to John Learn’s monument, I briefly told the tale of his miraculous survival to my son.  “Wow, Mom,” Mike exclaimed after a brief silence.  “Yeah, Wow,” I replied.    By now we had had a number of conversations about the struggles of pioneer life and have a keen respect for just what that means to our own existence.   Wow, indeed.

Taughannock Falls

The sun was strong and the day was young so Mike and I decided to continue our meanderings along Cayuga Lake and in the footsteps of our ancestors.  After a visit to my grandparent’s graves in Cayuga Heights, and wandering among the many monuments and mausoleums of Lakeview Cemetery, we made our way into Ithaca.  Our morning’s trekking had left us ravenous and in need of a break.  Refreshed after a leisurely lunch at Simeon’s Bistro and one of their signature Bloody Marys, we headed to Taughannock Falls.   At the overlook we joined a dozen tourists snapping photographs of the breathtaking view, but our visit was more of a pilgrimage.

In 1790 Samuel Weyburn had left his homestead in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania and with his family built a log cabin at the base of Taughannock Falls.

The Massacre

Our young country was in the throes of war with England and the hostilities were not limited to the battlefield.  A force of eight hundred Tories and Indians under Colonel John Butler swooped down from New York upon the settlement of New Englanders in the Wyoming Valley. Samuel was one of the Connecticut Yankees that had settled in the Wyoming Valley as part of the Susquehanna Purchase. The settlers numbered something more than three thousand souls. Though there was local militia men which included Samuel, they were ill prepared for defense, as most of their young men had joined the fighting in the battlefields with the Continental army. The local militia of some three hundred men, commanded by Colonel Zebulon Butler went into battle on July 3, near the site of Wilkes-Barre.

After an hour of fierce fighting, the Americans broke and fled for their lives, but more than half of them were slain in the battle or in the massacre that followed. The British commander afterward reported the taking of “227 scalps,” and laid all the blame on the Indians. During the night the Indian thirst for blood seemed to increase, and next day they began anew the massacre. The fort in which many had taken refuge surrendered, and the lives of the occupants were spared by the English commander, but the Indians put many of the others to the tomahawk. All who could do so fled to the woods, and a large number perished in crossing a swamp, which has since been called the “Shades of Death.” Others perished of starvation in the mountains.

Samuel is my maternal 4th great grandfather and on July 3, 1778 thirty-two year- old Samuel was one of just over two dozen men who survived the Wyoming Massacre.

Taughannock Falls October 2010

For the second time that day Mike and I had the same exchange.  “Wow, Mom”.  “Yeah.  Wow.”

And there we stood, mother and son, descendants of the two massacre survivors, over two hundred years later, standing in the October sunlight after a day of walking in the footsteps of our pioneer grandfathers.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2010.  All Rights Reserved

Enfield and Keys, Violets and Cows – Notes from the Field

Dear Readers, I wrote this piece while doing site research in central New York State in May of 2009 and with some judicious editing, I think it is definitely worth a blog post.   My apologies to my family and fellow researchers who plowed through last year’s field version.  I have an inexplicable propensity to use three dots…

Monday Evening

Monday was an absolutely gorgeous day.  It was warm and sunny and promised to provide ideal weather for field research in the Finger Lakes.  After the previous day’s six hour drive to Skaneateles from Pennsylvania and a good night’s sleep, I  treated myself to a  leisurely breakfast on the large front porch of my lodgings, the Sherwood Inn.  The two hundred year old inn overlooks the deep blue waters of Skaneateles Lake and has always been a favorite of mine.  Fortified by a the inn’s excellent coffee and fresh pastries, I was off to pick up my oldest brother, Gale,  for field research and family reminiscences.

Our first stop in Enfield Center had a dual purpose.  First,  find the burial sites of our ancestors and then check out Van Dorn Corners for a possible group photo location for our upcoming Purdy Family Gathering.

Enfield was and still is a farming community.  Rural and stubbornly resistant to change.   One local explained to me, “We like it that way.  City people want to come in here and change it, but it isn’t going to happen.  It’s fine just the way it is.”

Enfield Historic Map circa 1866

That resident, Steve, is an import really.  Just second generation.  Early in the day, we had found Steve and his co-worker, Jack, whose pedigree was several generations’ worth of Enfield history.   Gale and I had someone to talk Purdy and Ingersoll history with!   But I am ahead of myself.

Despite my field research preparations which included a Google map with latitude and longitude and a GPS device talking at us all along the way, we found actually driving the rural roads and navigating them in search of the little pioneer cemeteries was still a bit of a challenge.  NOTE TO SELF – stop and ask directions!  It still works and you get to talk with people and is part of the process for me.  So there on the main road which is no more than a two lane country road that rises and falls and curves with the terrain, we found the Enfield Township garage.  And Steve standing out by his big truck preparing to head out to clean up after a recent windstorm.

Steve took a couple of minutes to warm up to two strangers.  After all,  we could be “comin’ into town lookin’ to change it”.  Within a moment or two of explaining our presence there,  Steve was a one-man welcoming committee.  He would introduce us to his co-worker, Jack…an old timer (my age for God’s sake) and a fellow who knew just about everything that ever happened in Enfield.  The problem was Jack was just pulling out of the garage in his big truck to go down the road a bit to look at some cleanup work and so for the moment we just had Steve.  And Steve was ready for some good old fashioned conversation.  Heck,  it was a nice day and we were interesting enough and things move…well… how they move in Enfield and it didn’t look like we were going to change that.  “Stick around a few minutes and Jack will be back and he can tell you anything you want to know.”   In the meantime Steve filled us in on Steve…his folks being from Scotland though he had never been.

In less than twenty minutes and a few Steve stories later,  Jack at last arrived back at the garage and we shook hands. Dirt and all.  Honest Enfield dirt.   Jack warmed up to the talk of the Purdys right away and began his small town, rambling style of tale telling.  The Purdy topic spun into a description of the old Purdy “market” down the road and then there was Mabel Purdy,  the town historian,  who was an Enfield encyclopedia…and dead.  So no interviewing  Mabel, I guess. But the good news is Mabel’s daughter is alive.  The bad news is she is poorly and probably off to the nursing home by now.  But wait.  HER daughters are around.  Sometimes.  Steve had obviously embraced the Enfield story telling technique from his friend, Jack.

After patiently listening to Jack’s  “Enfield past and present meanderings” while he comfortably leaned on his big tractor in the late spring sun, I knew we were burning daylight and tactfully brought us back to the business of getting directions to the two small pioneer cemeteries in the area.  Jack was delighted that he could at least provide us with something useful and informed us that we were just three houses down the road from the Presbyterian Cemetery and a quick “turn around” would take us to the Christian Cemetery around the curve past the old Baptist Church.  “Oh, and watch the curve,” he warned.   Grateful for the directions and charmed by our immersion in Enfield character, I thanked Steve and Jack and we were finally off to find the cemeteries of our ancestors.

Presbyterian Cemetery Entrance

Just moments later we found ourselves at the Presbyterian Cemetery.  Ready and anxious to archive my research, I had my list of burials with me and my video and still digital cameras.

True to the old pioneer cemeteries there is NO driveway or parking.    So spotting a “friendly” driveway across the curved road, I pulled in and silently thanked the neighbors of Enfield for their hospitality.  Gale figured it was okay, too.  They had a Marine Corps flag flying below the American flag.   SEMPER FI!

A quick look…left and right…and a dash across the road had us at the entrance to the old cemetery.  I stood there for a moment impacted by the fact that this cemetery held the history of this area…and our young country.  Graves  dated back to the early 1800’s and earlier.  Some of the tombstones were at least five feet tall.  Many were tilted precariously to the side and some had broken and now resembled stepping stones.  Some were lichen covered.  Some were barely legible and were clustered tightly together while some stood alone.  A curious landscape within the deep green shade.  Violets grew among the gravestones and their merry color gave it a little garden appearance.

I was prepared to find my ancestral grandparents,  Samuel D. Purdy and his wife, Samantha Ingersoll Purdy and her mother, Elizabeth Weyburn Ingersoll.  What I found was great great grandfather,  Elbert Purdy and his two small daughters, Henrietta and Emilie.  There at the back of the cemetery stood the five foot granite obelisk.  Not the humble tombstones of a Methodist that I had expected,  but the serious mark of a man and his family.  To impress.  To remember.  I had hoped that his father and mother and grandmother would be close by, but after half an hour of tombstone-to-tombstone searching,  I had come to the back of the cemetery that had a precipitous drop filled with thigh-high brambles and a cluster of more obelisks and tombstones ensnared in the collapsed terrain and wild growth below.

Dangerous?  You bet!  And tantalizing?  Oh, yes.  But, let’s see.  I am a sensible adventurer.  I am 61 years old and plan to live a long time and, oh.   I hate snakes and that looked like snake habitat to me.  Having left Gale behind to commune with the Williams and have his cigarette…oh, dear the Methodists wouldn’t approve…I traipsed back to pick up my wayward brother and head to my illegally parked car.

The car was just fine and with a salute to the flagpole and a hearty “Semper Fi”, we drove the mile or so down the road to the Christian Cemetery.  This very different cemetery was  open terrain and  smack dab in a cow pasture.  It was a simpler affair with straight rows and a tree or two, but uphill a bit toward the pasture and its cow neighbors.  It was a fine weather day and Gale was enjoying the electric controls of his window so I had abandoned my “big city” proclivity to lock the car up tight.   I figured the cows didn’t want anything I had in the car anyway.

So the window stayed down.

I was energized to at last find the Van Dorns and pay my respects.   I grabbed the cameras.  AND my car keys.  You never knew about cows.  We headed to the left to start scanning the rows for our ancestors.  Left to right.  Front to back.  Name after familiar name.  I knew these folks from my research and said my hellos as we went.  Cows don’t care if you are crazy.

And as my luck would have it, our ancestors are buried at the far back right section.  I did note something I thought curious.   You see the inscriptions were facing the BACK of the cemetery so when you come in the front, the uninscribed back sides of the monuments are facing the entrance.  Subsequent research revealed the earliest settlers had their feet pointing toward the east and the head of the coffin toward the west, ready to rise up and face the “new day” (the sun) when “the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised” or when Christ would appear and they would be reborn.

Gale Martin ponders his great great aunt, Deborah Van Dorn

And there were the Van Dorns…like soldiers in a row.  Some of the tombstones had broken so low to the ground that just the death dates were left.  But Deborah Van Dorn was there…next to her mother, Mary Irwin Van Dorn.  Mary’s death date was still was visible though the top half of her tombstone was long gone.  To Deborah’s right was her sister, Margaret Van Dorn Holmes.

Deborah was Peter Van Dorn’s eldest child and when his wife Mary died, Deborah took over the household duties.  She finally married in her thirties to a widowed farmer named Samuel Burlew who was considerably older and died leaving Deborah alone and childless.  Deborah married again soon after to Obadiah Chase, another elderly widower.  The inscription on her tombstone declares her as Deborah Van Dorn Chase,  wife of Obadiah.  Gale settled in the meadow grass near the tombstones and I was once again off to see what the remainder of the cemetery could reveal.

Spirited and energized by the beautiful day and the realization of almost two years of research,  I headed back to Gale seated at Deborah’s grave and began to photograph the cemetery and surrounds.  With the field work completed, Gale and I headed down the gentle slope to the car only to discover that I had both cameras but NO car keys.  And the car has an automatic, electronic locking system.  You know, in case of cows.

Deborah Van Dorn Burlew Chase Monument

Had I left the keys in the car?   A car window was down thanks to Gale’s fascination with the electronics and my newly found sense of “what the heck”.  I opened the car through the passenger’s window and the alarm began to reverberate across the cemetery and into the peaceful Enfield countryside.  After a quick, frantic look in the car for the keys, I realized that in my enthusiasm to begin the cemetery walk  I had absent- mindedly clutched my cameras with my keys in one hand before beginning the typical methodical walk up and down every row.  My slacks had no pockets.    Everything had been in my hands.

So with the constant clarion of the car alarm ringing in my ears,  I settled my elderly brother in the passenger’s seat while I began to retrace my steps to find the set of keys.  Somehow, though a sinking feeling lurked, I knew…I KNEW…I would find those keys.

Putting logic aside, I visualized the set of keys in the grass and after walking one short row, I lifted my head and made a bee-line for Deborah Van Dorn.  The thought of Deborah had just popped into my head and I went straight to her monument.  There were the keys in the meadow grass, metal winking in the sunlight in front of Deborah’s tombstone.  I swallowed hard and placed my hand upon her tombstone.  And I thanked her…for a lot of things…not just the keys.  It seems Deborah continues to watch over her family.

Within two steps of her grave, I tapped the button to stop the alarm, turned,  apologized to the cows and headed down to the car.

Gale laughed and I did, too, but with considerable relief because we knew that with no keys…in the middle of nowhere…and a bleating alarming system, we might just have to settle in among the good people of Enfield.   Jack.  Steve.  Semper Fi.

NYS Historical Marker Peter Van Dorn

In a few moments we were once again on our way and headed toward Mecklenburg Road (the old Catskill Turnpike) where my 3rd great grandfather,  Peter Van Dorn had built  and run his tavern in 1820.  We were on the next quest for a possible group photo site for our upcoming  Purdy Gathering.   And there, it was…the old New York State historical marker…weathered and askew along a deep roadside gully.  Where the bustling Van Dorn tavern once had stood, now a rusted house trailer sat anchored by an old apple tree that was rotted, split and black as midnight.  Definitely not a scenic or poetic backdrop for our family photo.  I took a picture of the New York State marker anyway…positioning myself to avoid the ugly reality of what was now sitting atop the grounds of the longgone historic tavern.

The food and the adventures of the day tamped down the energy we had been thriving on earlier in the day and we did have an hour long drive back to Auburn.  We headed northward finally arriving in  Auburn just before 4PM.  Seventy five year old Gale was tired.  He had thoroughly enjoyed the day and was sleepy after all of the excitement and with the local diner’s meatloaf, mashed pototoes and gravy settling comfortably in his stomach.  After a good hug and a promise to begin again early tomorrow, I left Gale at his Auburn home and headed back to Skaneateles for a well deserved, ice cold vodka martini and a serious writing session.


In Auburn I was so tantalizingly close to the North Street Cemetery and burial site of  5th great grandfather, Gideon Tyler and his family that I just had to make one more stop.  One more.   At that point I was becoming aware that my luncheon beverage was now beginning to have an effect.  Do archaeologists pee? And where?  I should research that, I thought.  Uncomfortable, but determined, I  found a parking space nearby and walked to the front gate.

Gideon Tyler Tombstone in North Street Cemetery

The Tylers are the very first row next the front gate so that was a no brainer, but I understood that William and Abalena may be in the back and it couldn’t be THAT big a cemetery and I am not THAT uncomfortable and it IS a nice day and it IS early.

I walked back and forth through the rows of tombstones and up the hill and …oh…my…God….it went back and back and fanned out beyond my sight line.  Old tombstone after old tombstone and I had left the cemetery burial information in the car.  At that point I was definitely tired of guessing how much longer my body would allow me to talk myself out of …well you know.  So another day.  Forgive me, William and Abalena.  Another day.

Tuesday Morning

Today we are off to Cazenovia in search of Martin lore and gravesite visits.  It is another beautiful day.  Now dear ones and fellow researchers,  I have to take a quick shower and grab breakfast.  And wear pants with pockets!

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2010.  All Rights Reserved

Grace L. Ferguson Airline and Storm Door Company

The first time blogger dilemma…the initial posting…ah, we do suffer.  For at least two days I have been fairly frozen in front of my laptop.  Surrounded with my copious notes, electronic files and years of research filled with great stories and characters,  I struggled with what would be the first post…the first biography.   You see, I have spent so many years with each of these individuals that I love them all and want each to have your undivided attention.  But who should be first?

The answer was right in front of me.  My mother.  The keeper of family memories and treasures…the story teller who wore Tabu, made pomander balls and sequined candles for Christmas and in her seventies retired from her job at Auburn City Hall with a key to the city.  She shaped my life.   Grace L. Ferguson Airline and Storm Door Company.

And before you think I have gone “off topic” or had a mini stroke, that was the affectionate name my siblings and I gave to my mother.  My family…including her grandchildren …called her “Mom or Gram” on occasion, but most often and in the interest of brevity, Ferg or Grace L.   As is a family tradition of sorts…we all have character nicknames for one another.  I was dubbed Hobster.  My mother’s moniker came from the 1950’s Bob Newhart classic stand up routine and was immediately embraced by us all.

There are so many memories I have of my mother, but my favorite ones usually revolve around the times when she would favor me with the tales of her Ithaca childhood in the early 1900’s.  And so for clarity…and the joy of using those endearments once again, I will refer to her on occasion as Grace L. or Ferg in my blog.  She would like that.  Me, too.

The Actress With Egg And Olive Sandwiches

My mother was born Deborah Jane Purdy in Ithaca, New York – the daughter of Burt Samuel and Florence Leora Curtis Purdy.   Burt and Florence would have six daughters, Elizabeth, Kathryn, Mary, Deborah, Esther, Ruth and in their forties… their only son Curtis.  My grandfather, Burt, lived in a world of women.  His twice widowed mother, Elizabeth A. Williams Purdy Smith, resided just steps away and throughout Burt’s life was a dominating force.  She pretentiously and properly referred to herself  in the third person as Mrs. E. A. Smith.  She superseded Burt’s marriage vows to Florence and was his first consideration in most matters.  My grandmother was a meek woman and accepted her secondary role in Burt’s life.  In fact, first born child, Elizabeth, lived her entire childhood with her grandmother much to her mother’s unending distress.

The Purdy household full of female love and competition existed in the midst of the dynamic Cornell University community and in the excitement of the early film industry.

From 1913 to1920, Ithaca, NY, was known as  “The Hollywood of the East” .  Silent picture filmmakers came to Ithaca to make serial thrillers, slapstick comedies, mysteries and patriotic films.  The Wharton Studios were established in an old trolley amusement park (Renwick, now Stewart Park)  by brothers Theodore and Leopold Wharton.  Wharton directors were particularly fond of sending old trolley cars over the rims of Ithaca’s famous gorges while actors often did their own stunts and were thrown over waterfalls or dunked in the icy waters of the lake.  Pearl White, Lionel Barrymore, Francis X. Bushman, and other early silent stars were familiar sights on the streets.

Wharton Studios

On July 11th 1916, the famous dancer Irene Castle arrived at the Lehigh Valley train station and took up residence in the Cayuga Heights area just off the Cornell campus and just a few blocks from my great grandmother’s home.  Irene had been signed for a twenty-week shoot on the Wharton thriller film, “Patria”.  Her arrival with her entourage of servants, animals including monkeys, horses and dogs, a mountain of trunks and two open-top vehicles had an immediate impact on the little city at the head of Cayuga Lake.  She was young,  beautiful and spirited with a passion for animals and small children.  It was her practice to pack one of her vehicles with her dogs and hampers of sumptuous provisions (no doubt including a “bracer” –Southern Comfort) and drive to the studios every day.

On one of Irene’s drives to the nearby studio she spotted my five-year-old mother as she played with her older sister, Mary, outside of their grandmother’s Cayuga Heights home.   She was struck by my mother’s golden curls and in a blithe moment the pretty actress hopped to the sidewalk and asked Grandma Smith’s permission to take Grace and Mary to the studios.  Seated by the old trolley tracks with her sister Mary, the little girls would lunch upon the hamper of egg and olive sandwiches and fresh oranges while they could observe the filming and activities but wouldn’t spoil the shots.   As long as I could remember, my mother favored egg and olive sandwiches and the only fruit she ever ate were oranges.

At one point in the summer of 1916 Miss Castle asked Grandma Smith’s permission to have an oil portrait of my mother made.   My mother would be picked up at Grandma Smith’s and taken to Miss Castle’s home where she would sit for the artist surrounded with the sounds of the monkeys chattering in an adjoining room.  According to my mother, the oil painting hung in the actress’ home, Greystone.  In my research I found that Irene Castle had indeed commissioned various pieces with her favorite local artist and Cornell professor, William Charles Baker.   Does an oil painting still exist?

And where do I begin to find that treasure?  My researcher mind and daughter’s heart has another intriguing place to investigate.  So fortified with a freshly made egg and olive sandwich accompanied by an orange, I might find providence and come upon the portrait and gaze upon the golden haired child that was my mother.


Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright.  September 6, 2010