Great Grandmother Nature Abhors a Vacuum

A Note to My Readers:  I may not be the “Lone Ranger” here, but I am fortunate to be the custodian of a great many family treasures including my maternal great grandparents’ family bible circa 1867, a myriad of cabinet cards, Victorian trading cards, a key to the city of Auburn, NY presented to my mother, my parents’ marriage ceremony booklet,  a panoramic photo of a 1929 Tyler Kindred of America family reunion and an 1896 fraternal order ribbon badge to name a few.  Most all photos are from my mother’s side of the family which includes a few reproductions of the originals that are in the possession of cousins.  My mother was hugely sentimental and the ‘keeper of memories’ and she passed the torch on to me. 

My father died when I was ten and there was some Martin family time with his kith and kin, but it did not have the bonded blood-to-blood tribal love that imbued every Purdy gathering.  Accompanied with singing and gossiping, cigarettes, cocktails, bosoms sporting expensive perfumes and glorious shades of lipsticks that marked cigarette butts and children’s cheeks,  nothing was done in small doses in my mother’s family.  Especially reminiscing.  Along with the affectionate and dramatic Purdy panache,  I was provided with enough memorabilia, photos and lore to know my mother’s side and to begin to build a worthy maternal family tree.  Not so with my father.  I barely had time to know my father and having no knowledge of my paternal history was something that challenged me from the very beginning.  It also gave me one of my first and ongoing brick wall mysteries.

Lillian W. Jennings Martin (1858 – 1905)

My great grandmother, Lillian Jennings Martin, disappeared off the planet shortly after her daughter Lillian was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1898. I have researched every entity, nook and cranny in and out of the genealogist’s toolbox within the boroughs of NYC and including a Long Island Sanitarium.  In fact, I even searched in nearby New Jersey as she had given birth to a still born child at a hospital there in 1888.  Though I could cull much about her husband Henry from Brooklyn newspapers, there was nothing about Lillian.  According to Evergreens cemetery in Brooklyn, NY where her husband (and my great grandfather, Henry A. Martin) is buried, she had no burial record there.  On March 30, 2015, I found that to be wrong.*

Failing to find her information in the Brooklyn area, I went back to her hometown of Auburn, New York.  Burial records for North Street Cemetery in Auburn, NY are full of gaps of information. The maintenance of the grounds and records have a terrible history, but I do have records of most of the burials in the Jennings family plot as recorded in an old sexton’s log book.  In addition, I have the obituaries of her father, Daniel and sister, Harriet Jennings White that state their burials took place in North Street Cemetery ‘in the Jennings plot’.   Lillian is not listed among them in the book and no stones remain to mark any Jennings Henry marries Lillian Jennings 1884 news and Democratburials due to scores of years of vandalism and lack of care.  Painstakingly searching through Auburn, New York newspaper articles for any Jennings or Martin mention, I had no trouble finding information on her Jennings family members including death notices and obituaries. Why not Lillian?  Her husband’s Martin family lived in Auburn and they never failed to show up in the local newspapers.   Only Lillian’s 1884 marriage to my great grandfather surfaced in an Auburn, NY newspaper article.

Lacking any more avenues to find Lillian, I decided to open up the research to her siblings.  Perhaps there was a clue awaiting me among the Jennings kin.  I began with  Lillian’s sister Emily Russell Jennings Trowbridge and brother William H. Jennings.

Trowbridge & Jennings Art Store in Auburn, New York.

Trowbridge & Jennings Art Store in Auburn, New York.

Lillian’s oldest sister, Emily Russell Jennings Trowbridge, lived in Auburn for decades with her husband and three children.  John Jasper Trowbridge in partnership with his brother-in-law William H. Jennings owned and operated an art and supplies store in Auburn, New York.  Both men were prominent citizens and socially and politically active.  Information on the two siblings was an embarrassment of riches.   When  John moved on to open another store in Binghamton, NY,  Will Jennings continued to run the Auburn, New York store with his sons.  His new venture was social and business news in both Auburn and Binghamton newspapers.   After the turn of the century, the Trowbridges relocated to Orange, New Jersey for a short time as John found a new opportunity to pursue.  Eventually the family came back to Binghamton where John had been offered a lucrative position.  He and Emily spent their remaining years in Binghamton as did their spinster daughters, Grace and Emma.  Son Charles Jasper Trowbridge had fallen in love with socialite Paula Mencken Flugal and the pair were married in West Orange, New Jersey in 1909.  Their wedding was reported in the New York Times.  A salesman like his father, Charles found opportunity in several places…Philadelphia, New York City, Buffalo, New York, Newton, Massachusetts eventually living in Long Beach, California with his wife and near his married daughters, Ruth Jennings Trowbridge (wife of Graham Hurd Stewart) and Louise White Trowbridge (wife of Philip L. Bruce).   I followed Lillian’s nieces and nephew in the hopes that sister Emily’s family would shed some light on her fate.

As I considered it, Emily and her family were living in East Orange about the time Lillian and Henry were living in Brooklyn.  And about the time she disappears from any records of any kind.  Emily would have known about Lillian’s life and death.  Possibly they spent time together as the distance was not great.  Perhaps West Orange might hold some kind of clue.  A long shot to be sure, but as any genealogical researcher can attest, long shots are very often the very weapon that solves a mystery.   New Jersey held no revelation so it was back to Auburn.

The Trowbridges of Binghamton…Emily, and her husband, John Jasper Trowbridge and their spinster daughters, Grace and Emma were all brought back to Auburn, New York to be buried in their family plot in Fort Hill Cemetery.  North Street Cemetery had long been disregarded as suitable and Fort Hill held the ‘new’ pioneer burials with all of the grand monuments.   Would Lillian have been brought ‘home’ to rest with her Jennings family members in North Street Cemetery?  Could she have died in Auburn and not in the Brooklyn area?  Was she buried in Brooklyn or her hometown of Auburn?  Nothing. No death records. No burial records. No obituaries or death notices.  Anywhere.  Just unanswered questions lurking everywhere.    Lillian’s fate remains a mystery despite my best efforts.  I keep at it…blurry eyed, out of ideas, yet still believing that I will find her.    Perhaps that energy and faith lives in the ether.

Emily Comes Home

Dad, his Uncle George and Uncle George's Aunt Harriett Jennings White. Two of my brothers play at their feet.  Four generations!

Dad, his Uncle George and Uncle George’s Aunt Harriett Jennings White. Two of my brothers play at their feet. Four generations!

One of two Jennings photos I have is one of Lillian’s sister, Harriet Jennings White. She lived in Auburn all of her life and died in 1940. My father visited her quite often and I am fortunate to own the original photo of Harriet taken around 1936 with my father, his Uncle George Martin (my grandfather Albert’s brother) and two of my older brothers. The other photo I have is gift from an individual who found it among her great aunt’s belongings. It is of Grace Trowbridge.  Her cabinet card was tucked among her schoolmate’s memorabilia for over a century only to be found by her schoolmate’s granddaughter.  She discovered my blog and reading about Emily and her daughter, Grace, sent Grace’s photo to me to once again be part of family.  Grace’s cabinet card is framed and hung in my gallery among her extended family members.  She is home.

Emily Russell Jennings Trowbridge

Emily Russell Jennings Trowbridge

Recently I was offered another family treasure…a gift…by another historian who found the cabinet card of Emily Russell Jennings…Mrs. John J. Trowbridge in an antique shop near her home.  Vicky is an historian herself and makes a point of rescuing the random orphan image and sets about to find family of the subject.  A thoughtful (and kindred) spirit, she dug in to the Trowbridge research and came upon my blog and sent me an inquiry.  On the back of the cabinet card is gold stamped “Mrs. J. J. Trowbridge.  Binghamton, NY”.  Was I family?   It was the most stunning moment because I had been looking into my Jennings material at that very moment with the hope that a new source had become available and perhaps I might find Lillian.

This was one of those shiver moments.  Scoff if you will, but to have the image of Lillian’s sister Emily cross the grand void and find me at that very moment took my breath away.   I think I am pretty stubborn…tenacious sounds better…and I hate an unsolved mystery and abandoning an ancestor.   What do they say?  “Nature abhors a vacuum.”  So do I.   An incident such as this reinforces my instinct to press on.

Emily’s image is now hung in the gallery in my sitting room where I research and where she has joined her daughter, Grace and her sister, Harriett in the Jennings collection.  Perhaps some day, Lillian will find her way home.  Meanwhile, I adore the image…the very light blue eyes that I sport.  I see family so clearly in her face.

For the few days it took for Emily’s image to arrive in the mail,  I haunted my mailbox.

This is when my neighbors question my sanity as I dance to the mailbox in anticipation.  Call me a silly and sentimental, but make sure you add genealogist.

Then my bit of Terpsichore to check the post will explain everything.

*March 30, 2015 UPDATE:  I found a death record today for Lillian and Henry’s 14 year old son, Howard.  He died in 1907 and was buried in Evergreens Cemetery.  I called them today and they confirmed he was in the family plot.  As was an “L” Martin.  That was Lillian!  She was buried there on July 2, 1905.  No details on where or how she died and it deepens the mystery since Henry declared himself a widower in the 1900 Federal Census and the 1905 New York State Census.  It does make me think that the Lillian W. Martin in Kings Park Psychiatric Hospital is my great grandmother.  It was abandoned and the records moved and I have begun the daunting process of trying to find out just where they ended up.  The good news is I know where she is buried and that is a sense of closure.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2015.  All Rights Reserved.

Coming Home…a Stranger’s Gift

A Note To My Readers:  What a week! I have been pretty seriously ill with a virus that oddly enough attacked my eyes…scary and painful…and made it really difficult to do any reading or computer work. I toughed it out…with the help of good medication and am on the mend.


That said…I did ‘force’ myself to do some genealogical work (I know you all can admit to the same thing…never too sick for genealogy!). Wonder of wonders…I received an email from a complete stranger who told me she had found a cabinet card with a name and date on the back…Grace Trowbridge 1890. She was going through her grandmother’s things in some old boxes and there it was!  Her grandmother and Grace were school girls together. She mentioned it to a friend who happened to know me and who follows my genealogical postings…including some regarding my Jennings and Trowbridge family members.

Would I like to have it? Well, I didn’t hesitate a bit. Of course! Yes! Please! And thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!

It arrived on Wednesday.

Grace Trowbridge

Grace Trowbridge. 1890. Auburn, NY.

GRACE TROWBRIDGE (1876 – 1948)

Grace is the daughter of Emily Russell Jennings and John Trowbridge. Emily is the sister of my great grandmother, Lillian W. Jennings Martin. Emily’s husband John and her brother William H. Jennings were business partners in Auburn, NY.  I have, but one picture from my Jennings line…Lillian and Emily’s sister, Harriett Jennings White.  Harriet is in her eighties in the photo standing with my father and his Uncle George (Lillian’s son) and my two older brothers playing at their feet.  Aging has changed her enough to make it a struggle to see distinct family resemblances.   With the picture of 14 year old Grace I can stare into Harriett’s face and I see family characteristics.
I have nothing of  great grandmother Lillian and the mystery is still there about her fate. I have checked with every authority to find a death certificate…cemeteries too numerous to count and all the pertinent newspapers for her obituary. But now I have her two sisters’ images and it makes the melancholy of not ‘finding’ Lillian sting a bit less.  Grace never married…nor did her sister, Emma and I suppose that any Jennings memorabilia that the spinster sisters might have from their mother Emily went the way of most things left behind by maiden ladies…either poof…or to their only brother’s children…their nieces Louise White Trowbridge or Ruth Jennings Trowbridge who hopefully have kept them for family sentiment and passed them down.  And awaiting another discovery in an old box.
Dad, his Uncle George and Uncle George's Aunt Harriett Jennings White. Two of my brothers play at their feet.  Four generations!

Dad, his Uncle George and Uncle George’s Aunt Harriett Jennings White. Two of my brothers play at their feet. Four generations!

Happily…Grace is now tucked among her family members’ images now and I will rearrange the framed pieces to place her next to Harriett.
A big thank you to a generous stranger who understands the power of family and pay it forward.
Deborah Martin-Plugh
Author, Historian & Genealogical Researcher
(c) Copyright 2014.  All Rights Reserved

A Family Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Note To My Readers:  Yesterday I spent hours in Brooklyn, NY…via my laptop that is.  I have been haunted by the fact that I cannot determine the fate of my paternal grandfather’s mother.   I know I am not alone in the family secret category.  Dad’s family seemed to be one with all manner of voids.  Almost like a scatter of chain links.  There they are in front of me clearly related…isn’t the material of the same making?  And the fabrication distinctly of the same hand?  One by one I pick up the pieces and rebuild the chain, noting the beginnings and the endings…watching for the telltale scars and scratches to match the partners.  On occasion several links have stayed fast.   And inevitably I come to the link that fails to close.  Lillian W. Jennings, my paternal great grandmother is that link.

Henry A. Martin and Lillian W. Jennings

My paternal great grandparents, 26 year old Henry A. Martin and 25 year old Lillian W. Jennings,  left Henry marries Lillian Jennings 1884 news and DemocratAuburn, New York in 1884 within days of their July 16th marriage by the Trinity Methodist Church pastor and settled in what is now known as Clinton Hill.  They set up household in one of the old brownstones on Waverly Street and Henry went to work as a stenographer.  The Brooklyn Bridge had been completed in 1883 connecting the boroughs and Henry rode the trolley into Manhattan.

Sag Harbor NY Corrector 1910 Ernest Martin diesHenry’s brother, Ernest had married another Auburnian, Emma Grace Kilmer,  the year before and they, too, had made their home in Brooklyn where Ernest worked as a stenographer and then began selling typewriters in the New York Metro area.   Ernest became very successful and with Emma and their two daughters lived in a lovely building in Prospect Park.   A long life for Ernest was not to be.  He died suddenly on Long Island beside the train tracks after collapsing from a massive stroke.  Emma and her daughters, Edna Mae and Grace Harriett,  did not stay in Brooklyn, but rather packed up their household and moved to Hempstead, Long Island where the girls grew up and married.

And Henry?   And Lillian?

The research began with the Federal and NYS censuses supported by Brooklyn directories and newspapers.   Addresses were pinpointed in directories in 1887, 1888, 1890 and 1897 and the NYS 1892 census shows the family, Henry A., Lillian W., Al H. and George E. living on Halsey Street in Brooklyn.    By 1900 Henry was living in Brooklyn as a ‘widower’ with their four children, Albert, George, Howard and baby Lillian on Jefferson Avenue according to the enumeration in the Federal Census.

Just yesterday I found that Lillian had borne another child – a girl – in Union, Hudson, New Jersey (now West New York, New Jersey) on August 12, 1888.  My grandfather would have been just a year and half old.  But why New Jersey?  All the other children were born in New York.  Since the child was not in any subsequent census, I can only assume she did not survive.

By the 1905 NYS Census, Henry and his children, Albert “Bertie” (my grandfather), George, Howard and Lillian,  lived in another brownstone this time on 236 Reid Street.  Henry was enumerated as “head” and living with the family was the children’s caregiver “servant”, Henrietta Fischer, a 35 year German immigrant.  No marital status category was provided in that census.  Henrietta was as close to a mother figure as little Lillian would have.  The two travelled together periodically.

In 1907 young Howard died in Brooklyn at the age of 14.  I never sent away for his death certificate.  Perhaps the knowledge of why he died might provide a clue.  Or add to the mystery.

By 1910 Henry had finally set up a permanent residence at 691 Halsey Street and that year married widow, Mary Giddings.    The Martins attended the Janes Methodist Episcopalian Church on Monroe Street. Over the years Henry threw himself into church and civic organizations.  At the Janes Methodist Church Henry ran the men’s bible study and served in several capacities with The Valley Forge Council, Jr. O.U.A.M.  76 and the Janes Social Union.

George continued to live with his father and stepmother on 691 Halsey until he went off to fight in the 49th Infantry inBrooklyn NY Standard Union Wed 14 Aug 1918 George E Martin Over There WWI in 1917 at the age of 26.  Uncle George was in the parlance of the time “a perennial bachelor”.  I vividly remember his auburn hair…curly and topped with a jaunty beret…sipping tea with my mother and my father’s sister in the big farm kitchen in the 1950’s.   He visited…motored was the term at the time…from his Murray Hill home quite often.  Always quiet and shy, he was almost delicate.  And I thought exotic (he was from NYC!)  and kind.  After my father’s death, he sent me a set of oils and brushes because he knew that I like to paint.   He is pictured in the blog banner with my father and his mother’s sister,  Harriet Jennings White.  George is buried next to my grandfather, Albert, and sharing a headstone in Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, New York.  His footstone is the only tender sign of affection I have found.

Beloved Brother.  Rest In Peace.

And baby Lillian?   She married Leo Franklin Leonard in 1922 and had three children – all before her father’s death in 1932.  She lived within walking distance of her father and stepmother and yet when Henry died in 1932, the only survivor listed in the Brooklyn Eagle obituary was his second wife.  No George.  No Lillian.  No grandchildren.   He was referred to as her beloved husband.  Odd and sadly detached.  And there is no stone marking his grave.

Not much mention about Henry’s central New York roots in his Brooklyn life.  No notices of visiting his family.  Except for a Brooklyn Eagle news article at the death of his first cousin, Will Cruttenden, in 1928 who Henry A Martin in will of W H Cruttenden 1928 cropleft him and his central New York cousins to share in a hoarded stash, he seemed removed.  Henry’s spinster sister, Harriett Cornelia Martin, kept the family ties together attending weddings and funerals as ambassador of sorts and she traveled to New York to visit her brother.    Henry’s daughter, Lillian,  was named in Harriett’s obituary.  Apparently Henry kept to Brooklyn.  And my grandfather, Albert,  didn’t.   In 1905, Albert Henry was sent back to Auburn to his Martin family and met and married my then 15 year old grandmother, Sarah Leona Penird.  In six years, the young father of three was dead by his own hand at the age of 24.  A troubled mind.

What happened to my paternal great grandmother, Lillian W. Jennings Martin?

Genealogists are accustomed to gaps in information the further we go back in our research, but there are occasions when a more recent generation has ‘mystery’ written all over it.  And family secrets.

Henry did not remarry until 1910, but relied upon two German sisters who lived in their building to care for the children while he went to work in Manhattan. Why was he single for so long a time? Is THAT a clue?  Was Lillian really dead? Did she run away? Was she ill in an institution? I found a Lillian W. Martin in a state mental hospital in the 1900 Federal Census and her statistics were fairly close.  The age was off by a very few years and this Lillian’s mother was born in Massachusetts and father in NY and my Lillian’s information was the reverse – mother was born in NY and father in Massachusetts.  Genealogists understand that a slight variance doesn’t constitute a wrong conclusion.  It just puts up a flag.  “Caution.  Proceed with Care.”    But proceed I must.  With Care.   I cannot ignore the fact that I know that Lillian’s maternal grandmother, Orinda Bennett James,  died in an insane asylum in Whitestown, Oneida County, NY in 1852 and my grandfather was so troubled that he took his own life by swallowing carbolic acid in 1911.  Pathology…hard as it is…might be this genealogist’s evidence.    HIPAA laws might get in the way of acquiring information and researching the Lillian W. Martin in what was Long Island State Hospital at King’s Park .  Still….

Earlier this year I sent a request out to the Vital Records Department that covers the NY metro area…and no death certificate is there for her…not before 1900.    I have poured over Brooklyn newspapers and Auburn NY papers for some kind of death notice for years now. Nothing. She is not listed in the Evergreens Cemetery in Brooklyn where Henry is buried. Alone. The North Street Cemetery in Auburn, NY has suffered from neglect and record loss…a shameful history story there…so I don’t know if her body was buried in the Jennings family plot.  But there were other Lillian Martins who died in the New York metro area and I dismissed them because the death date didn’t neatly fit into Henry’s statement of widowhood in 1900.

With this possible clue…this painful clue…the next step is to ascertain if there are burial records for the patients of Long Island State Hospital at King’s Park.

I will keep looking in every nook and cranny. It would be like abandoning her if I didn’t.

My education on Brooklyn is just beginning…I have two history books on the area since family members on both sides left central New York in the 1880’s to live and work in Brooklyn.   Just to get a feel for the Brooklyn of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.    But the personal history is as black and white as the old photos and so very full of shadows.     I knew my Grand Uncle George…my grandfather’s brother…and I own one of his lovely landscape oil paintings and my brother has one of his pastels…”The Three Cherubs”…that Uncle George created to celebrate my three brothers.   But so very little of his mother, Lillian W. “Lillie” Jennings Martin.

Bits and pieces.  Art and void.  And perhaps madness.


Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2014.  All Rights Reserved




In Search of Honey

A Note to My Readers:  Brick Wall.  Head Scratcher.  Haunting Mystery.  

There are degrees of frustration that affect family historians as we search for answers about our ancestors.  Why did they move west?  When and why did they in particular change the spelling of their surname?  Why is this child living with a relative and not their parents?  What happened in the winter of 1878 when three children died?  Was THIS man or woman my ancestor or was it the individual with the same name and approximate age…living in the same town?  Why does one enumeration say they were from Massachusetts and another Connecticut.  Some questions are answered with official documentation while some conclusions can be made through analyzing available evidence.  And some clues come from interviewing family membersOr combination of the three.

One of the questions that is hard to deal with is “What happened to my grandparent or great grandparent?”.  We accept that before centralized record keeping or a diligent family historian’s accounting that some individual’s fate will remain a void in our information.  The closer we are in relationship and generation to a forebear, the more we are puzzled and driven to know.   Chances are…the disappearance…the lack of information regarding his or her death…is some kind of family secret.

I am working on one of those mysteries…my paternal great grandmother, Lillian W. Jennings Martin.  I have dug in with a significant number of resources…obvious and obscure…and spent a good amount of time parsing and analyzing.  To no avail.  Yet.   How much do I invest in finding out what happened to this young woman who died shortly after her daughter was born in 1898?  Or did she?  I kept a research worksheet for her and the scratch notes clearly show my hope rise at a possible lead…and the burn when it turns out to be fruitless.  No death certificate on record in the New York City area.  Every borough heard from.  No death notice or obituary…in the New York metro area….even in her hometown of Auburn, New York where her large Jennings family lived.  No record of burial in the myriad of the likely cemeteries.   The last documentation I have of her is the 1892 New York State census living with her husband, Henry and her two sons, Albert H. (my grandfather) and George E. in the 18th Ward of Brooklyn, New York.

1892 NYS Census  Brooklyn, Kings, New York

1892 NYS Census Brooklyn, Kings, New York

If I find the facts about her somewhere in my determined efforts and they are unpleasant, I can imagine there will some kind of closure for me.  Regardless.

I am reminded as I pursue Lillian in the void, the words of  French essayist, Joseph Joubert.

When go you in search of honey, you must expect to be stung by bees.

My parents’ generation had euphemisms or slick diversions in conversation about one individual or another.  “Never speak ill of the dead”.  “If you can’t say anything nice, say nothing at all.”  “Don’t air your dirty laundry.”   I am sure we have all heard one or more of those homilies as we have tried to elicit information from an elderly relative about the family history.  SOMEONE is always some kind of ghostly presence…acknowledged as a relative, but glossed over in a purposeful fashion.  Rarely casual.  Family secrets were hinted at, but in the interest of propriety and family pride nothing was said about a “black sheep” or mental illness.  Let alone the “D” word – divorce.  No feet of clay.  No unpleasantness.  Perhaps the words “tragic” or “unfortunate” might be expressed.  As children, we GOT it.  It wasn’t our business and the subject was closed never to be spoken of again.  On to the nice memories.

If anyone is like me, that leaves some serious gaps.  I never did get the courage to ask my mother about the “tragic or unfortunate” ones…or the ones that simply were glossed over.  My bad.  But then again, she had her own hardships and lived on a plane of pink clouds and only good thoughts with which to cope.  To pry at that in search of the truth would have been utterly cruel on my part.   My mother’s siblings…my aunts and uncle…were tender and adoring and the warmth and affection I received from them curbed my curious nature to probe their childhood.   I accepted the vague references and used them to work through the facts and found answers to their immediate family dynamic outside of sentimentally crafted memories of their childhood.  Some of what I found on my own was very revealing.  And a bittersweet reminder that we come from a family of human beings.  I still have some wonderful stories to embrace and I celebrate that sweetness.

Albert H Martin Ithaca Daily News Death 1911My father died when I was ten and we were not terribly close to his family.   We had picnics and summer visits along Cayuga Lake.  It was noisy with plenty of older cousins, but I forged no deep and personal familial bonding with them after my father’s death.   My uncle was a jokester with only the occasional approachable moment.  Unlike my mother’s family, my father’s sister was not a ‘warm fuzzy’ presence for me.  The secrets were almost palpable in my father’s family history and when I began my research,  absurdly public and easy to find.  His father’s brother, John C. Martin,  was publicly labeled as the Black Sheep in the devoutly Methodist family…stealing from his brother and father and making headlines in the local newspaper.    My father’s father killed himself at the age of twenty-four.  In front of my horrified grandmother and father who was five at the time.  It was a story my mother told me after Dad’s death, but with little detail and a rush to close to the subject.  We moved on with the business of daily life never to discuss it again.  Once again research revealed the real story was more horrifying and painful than I had ever imagined.   What happened to undo my grandfather so profoundly?  Drink…like his uncle John Martin.  Was there something more?

In my case a bridge generation is long gone so getting a clue as to why a young woman simply disappeared…’off the grid’ so to speak…is a reality.  Or why her son took his life…despondent.   In fact, I am now that bridge generation.  The one who can fill in blanks.  Some of them anyway.  But Lillian?   I still am haunted by what I don’t know.  Could she have been a victim of Tuberculosis…in an institution…or gone mad and been ‘sent away’?  Could her son have witnessed some terrible moment and visited his unresolved turmoil on himself and his young family?   My great grandfather was a serious bible-toting Baptist.  Divorce is highly unlikely.  OR.  If he had young children with an incapacitated mother, would he have been given permission by his church to move on?   He listed himself as widowed in the 1900 Federal Census and the 1905 New York State Census and remarried in 1910.

Even as I write this, the questions and facts swirl in my head…certain that IF I just think about what I know…and what I don’t…and where I might look, a clue might just emerge as to where to look next.

Or maybe…not.

It’s just good to remember the bees.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2014.  All Rights Reserved

Timetables and The Parlor of Samuel Jenney

A Note to my Readers:  It is such a small world and nothing illustrates that more than my research of my James and Jennings and Jenney family members.  They all migrated from the city of New Bedford in the early 1800’s.  The City that Lit the World…the whaling capital of the world…was losing it influence when whale oil stopped being the driving commodity for gathering wealth or at the very least financial security.   The family alliances…both through marriage and business…are like a spider web pattern and if I am not industrious, I will get lost in the intricacies. Particularly because of the repetition of first names…Samuel, Abigail, Harriet, Deborah and James.   Sometimes, one individual clarifies it all and becomes such a comfortable character in the process that I like to take time to visit awhile.  Even though he is not a direct ancestor, he is a sweet nexus in his farmhouse along Cayuga Lake and beloved by his neighbors, friends and family.   The year of 1885 was one of noteworthy moments in the widower’s life and so I take the H. G. Wells time machine out…drag it into the garden and set it to 1885.  See you there.

The Parlor

The year of 1885 along Cayuga Lake and around the nation was full of joy, sorrow, surprises, schemes, secrecy and mosquitoes…

On February 5th, Adelia M. Jenney, daughter of Samuel Jenney, Jr. and his wife, Sally Sharpsteen, married Franklin Eugene James in the parlor of her widowed father’s Union Springs home. Samuel’s father…who was also Samuel…was first married to Abigail James…Adelia’s grandmother and my 2nd great grandmother’s sister (Harriet James Jennings).   Her groom was my 2nd great grandmother’s nephew…which makes the newlyweds cousins.   The James’ and the Jenneys and the Jennings all came from New Bedford, Massachusetts to the shores of Cayuga Lake in the early 1800’s where Samuel’s generation was born.

At the residence of the bride’s father in Springport, Thursday, Feb. 6th, by Rev. S. A. Beman, Miss Adelia M. Jenney to Franklin E. James of Newfield. After the ceremony Mr. Jenny in a few appropriate worlds welcomed his children both to his heart and home. Mr. James, then through the officiating clergyman, presented his father-in-law with an elegant easy chair expressing the hope that he might live many years to enjoy it. Another elegant chair was also presented to the his bride. The occasion was an impressive and enjoyable one. The happy couple took the evening train on a trip to Buffalo and Niagara.

Just one month later, forty friends and family members of Samuel Jenney gathered in the Jenney home to celebrate his 65th birthday. The parlor was once again filled with celebration.

Monday evening last was the occasion of a pleasant surprise to Mr. Samuel Jenney when about forty of his friends and neighbors very unexpectedly came in to celebrate his sixty-fifth birthday. His cordial manner at once assured them they were welcome. A bountiful repast was served, and good music added much to the enjoyment of the occasion. The wish of all as the good nights were spoken was that their host might live to enjoy many happy birthdays.

The Jenney neighbors…the Gaylord family of Union Springs lost their yellow and white Scotch Terrier and offered a ten dollar reward for his return. In today’s currency that’s almost $250!   Some dog!

Samuel’s brother-in-law, William Sharpsteen, came for a visit that July from Defiance, Ohio and on a warm summer’s evening passed away in the Jenney’s home. William was laid out in the parlor and a somber funeral was held there in the very spot that his sister’s body was viewed a the time of her death five years earlier.  William’s mortal remains were transported to Chestnut Hill Cemetery were he was laid to rest near his sister.

And the World Turns

But…beyond the parlor and its activities in 1885 the world continued to spin and nature had its way with the residents.

It was a bitter winter and even into March Cayuga Lake was frozen solid.  Seneca County historian, Naomi Brewer,  reports that her great grandmother, Carrie Coleman wrote an account of the March weather in her diary .

…on Feb. 17 the lake was frozen over and many people skated on the lake, with one getting the mail this way. On March 4, the ice thawed in places but refroze the next day. On March 6 the ice roared and groaned as it froze harder. Iceboats were in use frequently. On March 27 she reported teams crossing on the ice but there was some thawing and water on the ice. Thawing continued so that there were open streaks on April 4.

That March temperatures held at freezing and below with a relentless grip.  An immense cake of ice reported to be 150 feet Glenwood Hotel 2long, 30 feet wide and 10 inches thick was cut from Cayuga Lake and towed to the hotel ice house to stock the Glenwood resort.

Reverend Ezra Dean, a retired Baptist minister of Auburn died from the effects of asphyxiation by coal gas. He and his wife were found unconscious when their daughter called upon them for a visit. It was too late for the minister, but his wife survived.

Roller skating…which had become a phenomenon in Auburn…faded into oblivion that winter and both rinks closed like a light winking out.  I imagine the ice being plentiful afforded the hardy winter sporting enthusiasts with more than enough surfaces to indulge themselves and for those that shied from the frigid cold, a good book and a warm fire kept them at hearth and home.

The going rate for a one way fare to San Francisco was a modest or princely sum depending on your circumstance…. of $50.00. (about $1219.00 in today’s currency).

My 2nd great grandmother’s brother, David Sands Titus…known as the Major…was a supervisor from Cayuga county and traveled from his home in the village of Cayuga to Auburn inspecting the old jail. The county was about to build a new jail and the Major and his fellow supervisors were inspecting the various proposed plans after visiting several cities and reviewing their facilities.

By July travelers of the NY Central between Union Springs and Auburn were relieved to find out that the old time-table had been restored. The new schedule had proved so inconvenient that officials heeded the complaints.

That summer the President of Yale College, Noah Porter, was reported to be revising Webster’s dictionary…in secret.  Gossip was rampant as to the nature of the revisions.  As with other editions…before and after, it was quite the hot topic with debates on the ‘war of words’.

And Detroit was beset with mosquitoes that summer…something the folks in the Finger Lakes knew too well. So was published a home remedy for the pesky critters…mix four ounces of cloves, two ounces of oil of peppermint, eight ounces of Persian powder (an organic blend of crushed Chrysanthemums and Tanacetum or Tansies), four ounces of gum camphor. The concoction was guaranteed to drive them from the room.

But as is the experienced and practical nature of advice from the folks along the lake,  there was a bit of extra wisdom to be shared.

“If it fails, hit him with a wet towel.”

Reluctantly I left the research visit with the Jenneys and Cayuga Lake and the year of 1885 with the full understanding that I would be back to visit in their autumn…when the leaves are golden and the flocks of Canada geese settle on the lake for a brief respite during their migration.

I am a Time Traveler.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved


The Earth Shook and Two Old Men Went Home

A Note to My Readers:  Like many historians and genealogists, I spend a good deal of time pouring over old publications in search of mention of an ancestor…a marriage…a birth…a death…a family gathering.  Every bit is a tender thread to weave a story of the times in which they lived.  Context.  History.  Flavor.  Going beyond the discovery of a specific published morsel…is the indulgence in a full blown meal.  Reading the whole page…in fact, the whole publication…it changes the perspective.  Getting beyond the ‘ah ha moment’ and the impulse of stashing the nugget into your research is critical to becoming a complete historian and to developing a meaningful biography of your ancestor.  Everyone knows that there is more satisfaction when you eat slowly…enjoying a lively and interesting conversation with fellow diners.  The same holds true when researching.  Reading the complete document…savoring the complexities…sipping a lovely wine before nibbling on the next delicious tidbit…makes it a memorable occasion.  Before you snip and run, make the time to read the surrounding material.  By opening up your research strategy, you will know your family on an intimate basis in ways you couldn’t contemplate.  Enjoy the feast, historians!

Newspaper Auburn NY Semi-Weekly Journal  15 May 1906 banner

In mid-May of 1906 the weather was mild and the farmers of Cayuga County were well into their spring chores. In fact one old fellow had fields to till and was in need of beasts with which to pull his plow. As reported in the Skaneateles Free Press, James B. Robinson made quite a stir as he turned Genesee Street into the scene of his small cattle drive.

Newspaper Auburn NY Semi-Weekly Journal  15 May 1906 Long Overland Journey

“One day last week James B. Robinson who occupies the late James J. Gross farm in the southwestern part of the town, went to Fox Ridge, where he bought a pair of steers, driving them to Auburn, a distance of fourteen miles in one day, and the next day driving them home, where he is now using them in plowing and doing other farm work. His journey through Auburn attracted much attention, a yoke of cattle being a rare sight these days in city streets, or farm roads, either. Mr. Robinson is nearly 84 years old, but is a vigorous and active man.”

Newspaper Auburn NY Semi-Weekly Journal  15 May 1906 Scenes From San FranAuburnians F. D. Burleigh and his wife Clara L. Stockwell Burleigh wrote a letter home to her father recounting their ordeal in San Francisco having survived the great earthquake. Her letter was transcribed in complete. 

“We escaped San Francisco yesterday with what little baggage we could carry by hand. Last night we were taken in temporarily by acquaintances here and are trying to find a way to reach Los Angeles. Dean and Mr. Pyre represent a company with $35, 000, 000 in capital but cannot get in communication with them and we are almost penniless. Oakland banks are all closed, fearing a run, and no one here seems to be able to give us any help financially. If we can reach Los Angeles, money and telegraphic communications will be easier to obtain we hope. And, too, smallpox has broken out in San Francisco, it will soon be quarantined and in that case this place will be infected, too. The fire is out and our flat was saved.”

Mrs. Burleigh tells that the fire did not damage their household goods but she lost a valuable watch at a jeweler’s. Continuing she says:

“The weather has turned cold and the suffering and sickness will no doubt be doubled. we have cause to be grateful that our lives were spared and our household goods saved. But no one who was not there can ever get even the faintest idea of the horror of the hours since 5:15 last Wednesday morning. I have to stop and study before I can name a day that anything happened, for every hour seemed a day and every day was nameless.”

Her letter told of fear and death and desolation during those first dreadful hours.

“The house rocked back and forth and rose and sank all at once, together with an awful roaring and rambling and the noise of falling bricks and breaking crockery. I got to the door just as soon as the floor was quiet enough to let me walk and by even that time the first column of smoke was rising in the south. Little did we think that it was signal of a horror worse than the earthquake.”

“Thousands camped as thick as grass blades with no shelter except some kind devised from their small store of baggage; women fainting in the road and carried by the loads to the United States hospital.”

Amidst the colorful and witty charm of cattle being driven down Genesee Street and the harrowing and moving recount of Mrs. Burleigh’s earthquake experience in the May 15th Auburn Semi-Weekly Journal, sits the brief and practical death notice of my 87 year old, great great grandfather, Daniel J. Jennings.


“JENNINGS – At the residence of his daughter Mrs. John J. Trowbridge, East Orange, N.J., Thursday, May 10, 1906. Daniel Jennings (formerly of Auburn) in the 87th year of his age.
Remains will arrive in Auburn via N.Y.C & H. R. R. Sunday morning, May 14 at 6:46 o’clock. Funeral services at the residence of his son, W. H. Jennings, No 9 Easterly avenue, in the afternoon at 3:00 o’clock. Burial at North Street Cemetery.”

The Friday, May 11th edition of the Auburn, New York Citizen Advertiser offers only the additional Daniel J Jennings Auburn Newspaper Obit May 11 1906words “a well known and respected citizen of this city” to his obituary.

“The funeral of Daniel J. Jennings who died at East Orange, N. J. was held there (Auburn) this afternoon at the home of his son, W. H. Jennings, No. 9 Easterly ave.”  reports the Syracuse Daily Standard.”

I spent a great deal of time creating Daniel’s biography.  Beginning with his birth in the whaling city of New Bedford, Massachusetts to Samuel and Ruth Jennings and through his 1839 carriage maker apprenticeship as a young boy with Silas N. Richards.   Discovering his 1843 New Bedford marriage record to Harriet Jane James and their migration to central New York with their young family.  Exploring Daniel’s politics as a member of the Whig Party in Ithaca with his brother, Nathan supporting Zachary Taylor and Millard Filmore in their bid for the White House in 1848.  The Jennings family membership in the Trinity Methodist Church.  Daniel’s carriagemaking career first working at the shop of Bench Brothers Cayuga Wagon Works crafting wagons, carriages and sleighs and eventually opening his own business “Jennings & Lewis” on Dill Street.

Decade by decade assembling the life of the man who is my paternal great great grandfather, I came to know him and his children in Auburn, New York in the 19th century.  The days when the streets were filled with mud and sidewalks were fashioned of wood planks.  When horses pulled wagons and sleighs and trolleys.   During the Civil War when his 16 year son, Charles, went off to fight with the 111th NYS Volunteers and later his service as Auburn’s Chief of Police.  Exploring the successful business story of Trowbridge and Jennings that son William established with his sister Emily’s husband.  The pride of son Daniel carrying on his father’s craftsmanship with carpentry.  Giving away his teenaged daughter, Lillian, to a young man named Henry Martin, my great grandparents,  at Trinity Methodist Church.   Waving the pair good-bye as they left Auburn in 1884 for their newlywed adventure and the promise of the business boom of the New York City area fostered by the building of the Brooklyn Bridge.  Celebrating the marriage of 49 year old daughter Harriet who after years of being the family’s dutiful spinster daughter,  wed widower Roderick White in 1901.  Mourning his dear wife, Harriet and their daughter, Lillian and her son, Harold.

Coming Home

Amid the wealth of words in three newspapers, I could only find the briefest and final arrangements of Daniel’s death and his journey home.  No elegy to his character and his rich life.  That is left to me to construct over one hundred years later.

As part of that biography is the imagery of his daughter Emily’s long train ride accompanying her father’s body to Auburn and their arrival at the depot, steam billowing from the engine and the somber carriage ride to Easterly Avenue on a fine spring day where the siblings, Emily, Charles, Daniel and Harriet and grandchildren gathered to say farewell to their patriarch.

The intimate family rite transpired as the world still went on…lilacs coming into bloom;  the Burleighs recovering from the San Francisco earthquake and James Robinson leading his steers through the fields of his farm.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved


An Attack of the Jim Jams

A note to my readers:  A good number of researchers scour old newspapers for obituaries, birth, death and marriage notices.  After all, they are usually rich with names of relatives and biographies and satisfy so much of the personal data we are looking for.   Occasionally there is a relative that tells you more.  Charles Wallace Jennings is my great great grandmother’s brother and he served as a Union Soldier in the Civil War…enlisting when he was barely sixteen.  He was also the Chief of Police for a few years in my hometown of Auburn, New York.   The Chief’s newspaper reports went from the ho-hum administrative stuff of counting the unlit street lamps and inspecting the awnings of Auburn’s commercial establishments to the 1880’s version of “COPS”.    He had a desk…and a PHONE!…that he promptly had moved to a meeting room.  I assume even in those days the danged contraption became a nuisance to a busy man of law. 

Auburn, New York Chief of Police Charles Wallace Jennings was a hands-on guy.   Good thing, too!

In the early 1880’s Auburn was a hotbed of scalawags and flim flam men, horse thieves, drunks,  ladies in distress and non-functioning street lamps.   And then there was the constant corralling of those that sank into the clutches of the demon rum.

One frigid night in December of 1880 was particularly full of colorful events.  The police report couldn’t be more poetic.  It goes….

Timothy Arundel was arrested for assaulting a Russian with an unpronounceable name; he paid $1.

Constable Mulvey found Moses Howe lying in a snow bank on North street this morning.  He conveyed him to the station house to thaw out.  Howe was stiff as a dead mackerel when Mulvey found him and the officer brought him in on a bob sleigh.

At about 3:30 o’ clock this morning, officer Callanan saw a man running through State street hatless and coatless.  He halted him and from the man’s incoherent talk, the officer thought him crazy, and being unable to find out where he belonged he locked him up in the cooler for safe keeping.”  Chief Jennings is of the opinion the man is suffering with an attack of the “jim jams”.

In fact, the Chief seemed to come across all manner of folks with a taste for gin.

“Chief Jennings was serenaded last evening while on his way through Franklin street.  On looking about to see when the music proceeded, he found the singer lying on his back, happy and full, gushing with vocalistic melody and primed to the full with gin and lager.  The combined solo and chorus in one were invited in (to the calaboose) when it was discovered that the concert was from Skaneateles and “loaded for a bar.”  A small fine released the mellow melodist and he skinned out for Skaneateles today.”

Of course, it wasn’t all tales of Mayberry’s Otis Campbell…there were some serious moments when it was a matter of life and death.

April was a very busy month for Auburn’s finest and it seemed that intoxicated individuals gave the Chief and his force an attack of the “jim jams”.  John Hughes from Waterloo, a father of seven, after coming out of a saloon on North street was observed reeling by Officer Crosbie, “who thought he was about ripe enough to harvest”.  Hughes spotted Crosbie attempting to evade him by entering another saloon.  Crosbie staggered and threw out both hands to balance himself when he fell against a plate glass window fracturing it.   The Officer escorted the bleeding man to headquarters “their passage to the building being marked by a crimson trail”.  By pressing his thumb on the severed artery, Chief Jennings checked the flow of blood “which was running in a stream almost equal to a garden engine”.  When the doctor arrived, he found that one of the main arteries and tendons and muscle had been completely severed.  “But for the timely assistance of Chief Jennings, the injured man would have bled to death before I could have got there to render him any aid, “ the doctor said.  After his wounds had been tended to, Mr. Hughes was locked in a cell.

Newspaper Auburn NY Evening Auburnian 2 FEb 1881 Jennings saves dogThe Chief was no stranger to rescue.  In February he had found a small black and white dog nearly frozen to death near his home and carried the pup into the house and “by application of friction to its body it was thawed out.  The animal passed the night under the folds of a warm blanket and this morning was very lively and frisky.”

Auburn wasn’t the only community that called upon the Chief and his force.  No sirree!    A postcard (YES A POSTCARD!) was sent to Chief with a description of a horse and sleigh stolen from Marcellus.   The fine folks of that village had had enough of horse thieves making off with their carriages, sleighs and horses and formed the Anti-Horse Thief Association to nab the scoundrels.  On a bitter March night, George Baker had discovered his horse and cutter (sleigh) had disappeared from the Presbyterian sheds.  At first it was thought some young boys had made off “intent on a ride” so the vigilante group set a watch to catch the “sportive chaps”.    Men were dispersed throughout the area to lay in wait, but to no avail.  Cold, tired and disgusted they set out to search the area – one fellow all the way to Cortland and another to Moravia upon reports of the stolen rig being seen in those areas.  A telegram from Weedsport stated that the stolen animal had passed through going westward.

Citizens of Union Springs also made their way to Auburn to seek help from the Chief.  Peter Yawger had hired a young man who gave his name as Charles Smith to work on his Springport farm.  Mr. Yawger locked up his house and went to the village to meet his wife on the five o’clock train from Cayuga after she had visited Auburn.  When the couple returned home, they found that the new hired man had disappeared leaving his old duds and taking with him Mr. Yawger’s full dress suit, a pair of pants, boots, hat, shirt and a gold ring.  The next day the hapless Yawger made his way to Auburn and the Chief’s office at police headquarters.  Meantime, Mr. Smith…who was really Mr. Kinney…had “tramped” to Auburn and disposed of the “plunder, getting gloriously drunk on the proceeds” when he had been arrested by Chief Jennings.  According to the chief, Mr. Smith “stands a fair chance of going to Copper John.”

I am sure the Chief was more than relieved when his concerns for the moment ran to unlit street lamps, a tattered awning and warming up a pup.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved


The City That Lit the World

I am the granddaughter of the sea faring folk of New Bedford, Massachusetts…a direct descendant of the Bennetts, the Jennings, the Tobeys, the Spooners, the Grays and the James families.  It was a fascinating and uniquely new experience to me as I began the research in Bristol County, Massachusetts. And the voyage had just begun.  Most of my genealogical research has been based upon the farmers, merchants and tradespeople that populate my ancestral lines.  Folks whose lives centered around the income they could tease from the land or by providing products and services. Those that trod solid earth every day of their existence. Farmers. Masons.  Blacksmiths.  Innkeepers. Stage Coach drivers.  Tailors.

I understand those ancestors.  I am an earthbound spirit.  I dig in the earth and tend my growing things and count my travels by miles instead of leagues.  But somewhere in my DNA there is a primal gene that activates a shivering pleasure when I smell water…fresh or salt.    I grew up in the Finger Lakes area of central New York where everyone I knew had a boat, fished or swam in “the lake” and where my New Bedford, Massachusetts ancestors settled in the early 1800’s.

When I first discovered my Jennings roots going back to Rhode Island and Massachusetts in the early days of the New World and into the mid 1800’s of a young America, I began to research their whaling communities and their seafaring merchants.   My copy of Nathaniel Philbrick’s “In the Heart of the Sea” became dog eared from re-reading passages as I began the process of understanding life in the whaling communities of New England and the precariousness of a life at sea.  A stack of books began to accumulate for further reading.  And then…like every other genealogist I know, another ancestor discovery had me off to another place and time and the Jennings waited.

I received my great great grandmother’s death certificate a few weeks ago and was pulled back to New Bedford in short order.  I learned that Harriet J. James Jennings’ parents were Webster James, Jr. and Orinda Bennett.  Webster and Orinda were from Rhode Island and Massachusetts – an area where the boundary lines are dotted lines through deep water as opposed to land….where you were apt to traverse the waterways and bays to conduct your business, ply your trade, visit your kith and kin.   Where young men traveled to court New England’s lovely daughters.

After days of gathering information on Webster James and his family, I took up the challenge of Orinda Bennett of New Bedford.  Her son, John Tobey James, gave me the first insight into the possibility that “Tobey” was the surname of one her grandparents.   In “Tobey (Tobie, Toby) Genealogy, Thomas of Sandwich and James, of Kittery and Their Descendants” on page 74, I found Salvina Tobey married to Daniel Bennett.  Salvina…the daughter of John Tobey.   At place to begin.

The New Bedford and Fairhaven records at this point are not as revealing about all relationships, but the Bennett’s daughters Harriet and Ardelia and Sophia are recounted in New Bedford birth records, but no Orinda or her sister, Almira.  Orinda named her daughter, my great great grandmother, Harriet…and Harriet’s older sister was Almira.  All roads…or shipping lanes…point to the Captain and Salvina as Orinda’s parents.  And to New Bedford for more detailed, local research.  For the moment, I work with the assumption in search of proof.

Cobblestones and Sails

A number of seaports in New England supported the whaling industry, but one town – New Bedford, Massachusetts – became known as the world’s center of whaling and for a time was one of the richest cities in the world.  More than 700 whaling ships sailed on the world’s oceans in the 1840s and of those 700…more than 400 called New Bedford their home port. Wealthy whaling captains built large houses in the best neighborhoods, and New Bedford was known as “The City that Lit the World.”

The cobblestones of New Bedford knew the footsteps of Herman Melville and Frederick Douglass.  Between 1840 and 1860 three hundred to seven hundred escaped slaves were living in New Bedford.  Frederick Douglass was one of those escaped slaves.  In 1838 Mr. Douglass arrived in New Bedford from Baltimore carrying another sailor’s protection papers.  In the 1860’s Herman Melville was a frequent visitor to his sister, Katherine and her husband, engineer and poet, John Hoadley.  The restored Italian Empire house in New Bedford now serves as a bed and breakfast.

And what of the women of New Bedford…what of my grandmothers?  While the men were away at sea…for months and sometimes years at a time, the women of New Bedford were critical members of the commercial life…not as retiring women of a household..NO INDEED.  They ran the business of real estate and finance and trade with a sharp eye and keen minds.  After all, there was a great deal of wealth involved and managing it and safeguarding it was a way of life in New Bedford.  Salvina Tobey Bennett, my 4th great grandmother, was one of those New Bedford women.  She was the daughter of John Tobey and his wife, Mary Bennett.  The alliances of the Tobey and the Bennett families formed some of the most prosperous mariner enterprises and merchant and real estate entities in the history of the area.

New Bedford Mercury 2 October 1807 Notice

When Captain Daniel Bennett died in 1807 in the old port city of Newry, Ireland, during one of his many trading voyages, Salvina took up the family business and over several years headed the business of settling Daniel’s estate.  She was forty-nine years old and  had given birth to four daughters, Almira, Sophia, Harriet, Orinda (my 3rd great grandmother) and Ardelia.   What Captain Daniel’s financial circumstances were, I do not know at this point.  Risk on the high seas was a reality…of life and limb…and fortune.  One disastrous voyage could be ruinous.

The NOTICE in the New Bedford Mercury on October 2, 1807 has Salvina acting as administratrix to Daniel’s estate “represented insolvent”.  Essentially that indicated the inability to pay debts as they fall due in the usual course of business.  Three years later, Salvina is still managing Daniel’s estate declaring to Creditors that “a third Divend (sic) of said Estate is made and they are hereby requested to call upon the subscriber and recieve (sic) their dues.”

It seems reasonable to conclude that the settlement of the personal estate was protected by this process and a business or interest was sheltered that generated money so that Salvina could pay creditors as the revenue came in.  Perhaps this was standard practice that the voyagers had in place to protect their family’s security.

More Research?  Lobster…Perhaps?  Certainly!

While I research online, read through countless hard copy books, haunt archival material, I hear my grandfathers…Captain Jeremiah Bennett and his son, Captain Daniel Bennett…calling me to New Bedford.  Salvina’s history awaits me.  Somewhere in archival records..a will perhaps…I hope to find the names Salvina and Orinda…mother and daughter.

How exciting to read the old log books housed there…written by the hand of a mariner that is my ancestor.  Perhaps turn the tender pages of old broadsides, search through the Bennett Family Papers and spend time among the cobblestones wandering through the port and down to the docks where Daniel’s ships, the “Keziah” and the “Dolphin” once were moored.

The more I write the words “seems” and “perhaps” when recounting a piece of history, the greater my need becomes to learn more.  Generations of my ancestors lived and worked in and out of New Bedford.  Of interest…the  New Bedford Whaling Museum houses the Bennett Family Papers which contain business records and personal papers of Thomas, Robert and James Bennett of Fairhaven and New Bedford.

Will I learn about Jeremiah or Daniel from these papers…what of the log books of the “Keziah” and the “Dolphin”….and why did Daniel die in Ireland at the age of 47?   Perhaps my questions will not be answered or  perhaps I will learn something that never occurred to me. It seems likely that it will be a bit of both.

What is certain is that I will travel to New Bedford and the good historians of the “City That Lit the World” will once again provide illumination…to one of their daughters of New Bedford.  Accompanied by steamed lobster and a side of butter, of course!

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2012.  All Rights Reserved

What Kept Ya?

A Note to My Readers: Brick walls can drive any genealogist…well…UP the wall!   And we all know that brick walls are a big part of our reality.  So most of us are at one point or another…digging around it or climbing up it or trying to tear it down.  Sometimes brick by brick and sometimes with a big old stick of dynamite.  And sometimes…you just have to walk around it and be prepared to visit the neighborhood because there is no “aha” moment waiting on the other side.  And no ancestor waiting there patiently who asks,  “What kept ya”?

My latest brick wall has a big old sign on it…


Actually it’s not so much a brick wall as it is a gated community.  The family name is on the gate and I can see the quaint buildings of the old whaling seaport with the bobbing masts in the harbor through the fence.   BENNETT, TOBEY, JENNEY, JENNINGS, ESTES, CHACE, JAMES, WING are all familiar names in my ancestral stomping grounds of Dartmouth/New Bedford/Fairhaven, Massachusetts and Tiverton, Rhode Island.   They are all “in there” and my family free pass is still good…aren’t I the fifth great granddaughter of  New Bedford pioneers Isaac Jennings and Ruth Estes?  That practically makes me Yankee Royalty.

Several years ago I tackled my Jennings ancestry beginning with my great great grandfather, Daniel J. Jennings.  Daniel and his wife, Harriet J. James Jennings had settled in Auburn, New York in 1851.  I grew up in Auburn and never knew that my father’s family history took me back so far in Auburn’s history.  Daniel was born in New Bedford in 1820 to Samuel B. Jennings and his wife, Betsey Albert.  The Jennings were typical of the other folks in New Bedford…tradesmen, merchants, seamen, tailors, bankers, doctors and the occasional farmer.  And ultimately very transparent to research.  Births, marriages and deaths and the family relationships all as neatly situated as the row of buildings along Water Street in New Bedford.

“Good Day, Grandfather Jennings and many thanks for the comfort of your hearth and home.”   My Jennings brethren fairly flung open the doors to their home on 84 Linden Street and shared a meal with their granddaughter as if they knew the distance was not mere leagues of sea and miles of land, but across the expanse of time itself.  Whatever wall appeared, it seemed that a Jennings was there to dismiss it and take me onto the next generation.

I began to know not just the Jennings, but the expanding tree of family as the marriage records revealed my New Bedford roots.  Daniel’s brother, Adoniram, walked the streets of New Bedford with me…past his blacksmith shop and down to the harbor where their seafaring brother, Master Mariner Edmund Estes Jennings,  greeted us from his ship the “E. Nickerson”.  Their footloose brother, David H. Jennings, a mason by trade…and an accomplished inventor and tinkerer…made his home alternately in his New Bedford home and  in Union Springs, New York with the fifth Jennings brother, Nathan S. Jennings, and for a time with his sister Clarinda and her husband, Nathan Adams in Altoona, Pennsylvania.   Many thanks, Uncle David, for your wandering nature.  It cinched together your family as neatly as one of your clever inventions.

As fortune would have it, the family history of Daniel’s wife, Harriet J. James,  seemed to be as spare as a Yankee’s purse.  The Jennings came and went in each other’s lives with utter regularity in central New York and indeed in New Bedford.  Try as I might, using all of my best skills and resources, Harriet was just Harriet J. James, wife of carriage maker, Daniel Jennings.  She was born in New York state, but interestingly, she was married in New Bedford on May 21, 1843.

New Bedford Register 24 May 1843

That left me with two places to search for the James family.  It was a start.  A very meager one…as meager as the notice of her death.  Not even a mention of her children, never mind siblings.

New York state is a big place to research, but the best place to start.  The Federal Censuses were very nice and all, but not revealing so I was on to the New York State Censuses of 1865 and 1875.  1865 was more of the same information…affirming, but no new insight.  In 1875, the first brick fell.  There was Daniel with Harriet.  Harriet born in CAYUGA COUNTY!  and the Jennings children…and one “Elmira James”…SISTER!  And so fell the second and third bricks. Elmira, the tailoress…spinster…born in Massachusetts….living with her SISTER!

Another wanderer, my Aunt Almira James!  And like my Uncle David Jennings…a critical thread to complete the family tapestry.  Following Almira through the previous censuses, I found her in 1870 living in Ithaca, New York with Cornelius and Eliza Personius.  No relationship is given and the birth state is said to be New York, but Almira is a tailoress.  And not to be dismissed, Eliza is just a couple of years older and children in the household with the last name of Russell.  Russell is the middle name of one of her sister Harriet’s daughters.  Working backward to the 1860 census, I found 45 year old Almira living with her brother, Edwin W. James in Ithaca, New York who is a painter.   She is a tailoress, born in New York state and a “pauper”.  Edwin is also cited as born in New York state.

One more federal census to go before women in a household are not specifically named and become a hash mark in a male headed household!  On to 1850.  And Newfield, Tompkins County, New York and the household of John T. James and his family.  John is a painter.  A PAINTER! and next door to him is HIS younger brother, William who is also a PAINTER…and William’s father-in-law, Samuel Martin…ANOTHER PAINTER!  John’s birth location is Connecticut, and William is New York.   And Almira James  is there.  Hello, Aunt Almira.  It’s so nice to see you again.  A timeline of the birth dates and places is in order because clearly the James’ parents had been migrating from Massachusetts through Connecticut and on to New York state.

Brother, O Brother, Where Art Thou?

But first.  Could there be some other James men in Tompkins County or Cayuga County? After all, some of the  known James men were born in New York, not to mention Harriet who was reported to be born in Cayuga County in the 1865 New York State census.  And there in 1850 living in Tompkins county…bordering Cayuga County….were Almira and John and William and Edwin James!  A quick trip to my Nespresso machine and I was ready to tackle the search for James male siblings in 1850.  I barely stung my lips with the steaming coffee when I found an Arnold James in Caroline, Tompkins County…just a short distance from Newfield…a distance hardly worth the term “distance”.  Arnold was enumerated as a farmer…but doggone-it…he was born in Massachusetts and was of the right age to be a sibling of John, Almira, William, Edwin and Harriet. (And someday if I can prove it…Eliza Personius of Ithaca!).

The Timeline Analysis

While there is information “out there” that there are other siblings…sisters…,  I don’t have anything concrete on those individuals so I took what I had and created a timeline of birth dates and places to confirm this family group and to analyze the migration of this James family.

  • Arnold James was born in Bristol County, Massachusetts in 1808.
  • John T. (Tobey) James was born in Connecticut in 1811.
  • Almira James was born in New York (0r Massachusetts depending on what she reported in the census) in 1815.
  • Harriet J. James was born in Slaterville, Tompkins County, New York on 20 August 1820 according to her death certificate.
  • William Henry James was born in Cortland, New York according to the 1855 New York State census.  His birth date according to his death records is February 5, 1826.
  • Edwin W. James was born in New York state circa 1829.

Almira (also spelled Elmira) is the unifying James sibling.  Unmarried, she lived with all of her James family siblings and is a tailoress all of her adult life.  Her age remains consistent to her birth year in each census though she states both Massachusetts and New York as her place of birth.  She is called “sister” in Harriet’s Auburn, NY household in 1875.  That will do.

Three of the brothers, John, William and Edwin were all painters.  An important clue.  I followed the James brothers and discovered that the word “painter” was a bit too generic.  They weren’t slapping paint from Home Depot on barns or frame homes situated in the drumlins of central New York.  They were artists – graining…guilding…painting frescoes and applying decorative plasters in churches, public buildings and in the homes of newly rich.  And just to add one more delicious stroke of the James brush….21 year old Edwin James lived with Nathan S. Jennings…his sister Harriet’s brother-in-law…in Union Springs in 1850.  And Nathan was a noted painter in his area…specializing in graining, guilding, frescoes and decorative plastering.

But what of the farmer, Arnold James, from Newfield?  Is age or place of birth…or proximity of residence….proof enough of the relationship?  Further research…back to the 1865 New York state census which gives his occupation as PAINTER.  And his burial notes from YATES Cemetery in Caroline states that Arnold was Justice of the Peace in 1868 in SLATERVILLE…the birthplace of his sister, Harriet.  Check.

The next generation of James family members in central New York provided more proof.  Visits with siblings, cousins and aunts and uncles are recorded in Ithaca and Auburn, New York area newspapers and further demonstrate their parents’ relationships.   Short of the availability of a descriptive obituary which recounts family members and/or a brief history,  details from a family bible…or birth or death certificates or a will,  the collected data provided a strong path to conclude that Arnold, John, William, Edwin, Almira and Harriet were siblings.

The James family obviously had a journey…at least from Massachusetts and their birth dates and places clearly show that they were very young when the trek began or were born in central New York where their parents finally settled.  And who are the parents?  And where are they?  Their children were a challenge to document and that makes their parents the next brick wall.

While all of this cobbling was going on, I had sent the wheels in motion in Albany, New York.  I sent away for the 1890 death certificate of Harriet J. James Jennings.  For some reason, the normal one month turnaround ended up being seven.  Blame it on government cutbacks…   Whatever the reason, I had done the work on Harriet’s family and when the certificate arrived, it provided the names of her parents…Webster James, Jr. and his wife, Orinda.

All Roads Lead to New Bedford

The envelope was barely open and the certificate read and I was on,,,, and GOOGLE to search for anything on Webster and his wife.  One record.  Just one, but it was enough.  Webster James, Jr. married Orinda BENNETT in New Bedford, Massachusetts on March 7, 1807.  That’s it.  No “son of” or “dau of”.  But enough.  This was Bedford after all.  And I cut my teeth on Jennings research in New Bedford.  Yeah, right.

I did find a Webster, Sr. in a 1779 broadsheet ad in Providence, Rhode Island…as a bookbinder…and where Webster, Jr. was reportedly born.  That’s good.

U S Chronicle 7 Jul 1803 Norwich Connecticut
Webster James Paper Hanging Manufacturing

Perusing more old New England newspapers and hoping to find more on Webster James,  I found a notice in the July 14, 1803 U. S. Chronicle out of Norwich, Connecticut that Webster James….sailing from Providence to Norwich, Connecticut “lately arrived and moored in good harbor”…”The subscriber’s intention is to try once more to establish the Paper Hanging Manufactory, praying the public would encourage our home manufactures”.    Further research, of course, must be done…this could be Webster, Sr. or Jr., but it most definitely provides a connection to the birth of John T. James and his stated birthplace of Connecticut.  AND the very likely family trade of artisan painters that John, William, Edwin and at one time, Arnold embraced.

Orinda Bennett James lived until at least 1850.  She is in the 1850 federal census in Whitestown in the Whitestown Asylum in Oneida County, New York…an insane pauper.  While I have no concrete information, lore is that she died there alone in 1852.  And what of Webster?   A trip to the Ithaca area is in order and hopefully a random archive will surprise me with the fate of Webster James and his wife, Orinda Bennett.  Once and for all.

Which leads me to New Bedford.  And BENNETT. And the New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library and the BENNETT family papers (1765-1908).  And finding my BENNETT ancestors waiting and asking…

“What kept ya?”

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2012.  All Rights Reserved