Old No. 63 Trolley

A Note to My Readers:  Trolleys are one of my all-time favorite things. I lived in the San Francisco bay area for a couple of years and loved hopping onto those beauties. I am also a train geek…passed that on to my grandson. As a kid growing up in Auburn, New York, I only vaguely became aware of trolleys when winter thaw would lift the weakened macadam from the underlying cobblestone on Genesee Street and the iron rails would be exposed. My mother, who grew up in Ithaca, would often tell me about riding the trolleys as a child and what a thrill that was for her. It wasn’t a typical thing for the Purdys to do, but an event where everyone wore their best attire, including hats and gloves.

My grandmother would tuck peppermints in her purse and once they were seated, she would dole them out to keep the children still. There is something tender about that bit of nostalgia and I suppose that is why the romance of riding a trolley has stuck with me. When my father died in 1958, mom sold the car and our transportation modes were city bus and good old ‘bus number two’. Those were the days when not everyone had a car and those that did had just one. The family car. Fathers drove it to work and to church and took the family on those wonderful Sunday drives in the countryside.

I didn’t drive until I was 24 years old and a young mother. My mother said I was a pioneer. Really!

She always carried peppermints in her purse and I suspect if Auburn still had trolleys when I was growing up, she would have definitely preferred to hop on and let the buses go on without her.


Hiram Mial Titus (1861-1943) is my first cousin 3X removed. We are both descendants of Gilbert Titus and Jane Hoag who along with their son David Sands Titus and his family and their daughter Lydia H. Titus Downing and her family arrived in the village of Cayuga in 1829. Hiram is descended from David and I am descended from Lydia. Lydia is my mother’s great great grandmother. I have put together a scholastic publication for this branch of the family tree and it will be published later this year.

While it has been a great journey studying my Quaker family history, it has also been fascinating to learn about the generations beyond David and Lydia.

Hiram and Susan Cook Titus 1912 with Indian motorbike

Hiram Titus and his wife Susan Cook with his Indian motorbike in 1912.

David’s son Hiram inherited a substantial part of the Titus land in Cayuga and by 1879 had an impressive operation with prize -winning cattle and horses. Though he indulged in a team of “handsome” matching black horses for his sleigh and drove the team into Auburn, New York often to show off his magnificent animals, he also loved the ‘new-fangled’. He was an old man of eighty-four in 1912 when he was photographed with his wife, Ada B. Shoemaker Titus and his prized Indian motorized bicycle.

Despite all of Hiram’s successes at farming and his social and political prominence in Aurelius, his sons did not share his passion for the bucolic life along the shores of Cayuga Lake. In 1895 thirty-four year-old Hiram, Jr. sold his meat market and left the small village of Cayuga to go to the bustling and expanding city of Auburn, New York to ride the rails.

As one of the first men to be employed by the Auburn & Syracuse Electric Railway(then the Auburn Inter-Urban Electric Railroad), he helped survey the line on which he later became a conductor. During that time, Hiram served as superintendent of the old Lakeside Park at the foot of Owasco Lake for over fifteen years when the park was operated by the railway. A park that was part of my summer every day of my young life in the 1950’s and 60’s and where my 50th class reunion will be held this year.

No. 63 was full to capacity that day and many took the ride as a last goodbye to the old trolley that they had ridden for decades. One elderly woman who had traveled from Skaneateles needed to be helped aboard the car and told a reporter that she had made the journey to take the last ride before the buses of Cayuga Omnibus Corporation began that very day. Timothy Hayes of Throopsville in Cayuga County, who had made his first trip in 1903, was a passenger on that last grand journey. Charles H. Abbott of Auburn who traveled the line as a passenger on the very first day of the road’s history journeyed with Mr. Hayes. Many of the passengers kept their tickets as a souvenir.

Conductor Hiram M. Titus of Auburn, New York

Conductor Hiram M. Titus of Auburn, New York

There was no grand ceremony to see them off from Syracuse. No bands. No flags or banners. No grandstand. No speeches. Only two minor officials were present to travel on old Number 63 as it made its way to the Auburn barn before it would be claimed by a wrecking company. The crowds were there. The many faithful passengers and citizens who wanted to be part of a passage in time.

The car left Syracuse several minutes after its scheduled departure of 11AM and Hiram remarked to his passengers

“Well, if they don’t like it, they can fire us.”

Motorman Gordan Winters gave the whistle ‘vigorous pulls’ as they pulled out of Syracuse in a raucous goodbye to an era and to the crowds who had gathered to watch the trolley depart one last time.

As No. 63 slowly traversed the streets of Auburn, men and women had waved and shouted, but it was during the journey from Syracuse to Auburn that this event made its greatest impact. The farmer stopped his plow to watch its journey out of sight. The housewife stood on her porch

‘with wistful eyes as though looking for the last time at an old friend’.

Boys and girls ran along the route waved and swung their caps and bonnets in a hearty farewell. Frequently along the route line, the car was forced to stop by sentimental central New Yorkers in order to permit more snapshots of the moment.

Old No. 63 on its last journey.

Old No. 63 on its last journey.

It was at Skaneateles that an appreciative crowd had gathered and Hiram and Gordan stood to pose before a battery of cameras. The arrival and departure was signaled by waving of hats and blowing of horns.

It was Hiram’s 65th birthday that day. Cameras clicked as Hiram and Gordan took the car from the Dill Street station where they discharged fifty-nine passengers and took the car to Genesee and Exchange Streets where it was boarded by city and railroad officials who made the final leg of the trip to the Franklin Street Barn. Observers stood silently as they realized that they were seeing something that marked the changes of life. Changes that the automobile made on their everyday existence.

“Passing through the streets of Auburn during the noon hour, the car was the center of all interest until it had deposited its last passenger and had departed with its load of officials for the car barns.”

Not to let history go without a memento, the car was scavenged by onlookers. Still someone had a greater thirst for a piece of history.

“Some souvenir hunter possessed himself of the car sign and it was reported that the draw-head was sought by another before he was stopped.”

A draw-head is part of the coupling mechanism and this souvenir hunter was one ambitious gent!

When the No. 63 trolley entered the car barn switch for its final stop, “torpedos” (fireworks) placed along the rails gave out a passing salute.

As the A & S Electric Railroad Company passed into history and No. 63 sat at its destination in the Franklin Street barn, the final transaction to transfer the property of the road took place. Aboard No. 63, President of Enna Jetticks, Fred L. Emerson, delivered to Mayor Marvin of Syracuse a check in the amount of $225,000. In that single gesture, the interurban traffic over the A & S road ceased after twenty-seven years of continuous service. A single official photographer memorialized the transfer of the check.

On that day, Hiram Titus and Gordan Winters were presented a check for $50 and a commemorative gift by Treasurer Zinsmeister on behalf of Fred L. Emerson. After the two trolley men stepped down from the car, they shook hands and each man made his way home that April afternoon. Without further fanfare, Mayors Marvin and Charles D. Osborne, City Manager John F. Donovan, City Attorneys William S. Elder, A. H. Cowle, William H. Seward and William B. Haeffner, Superintendent William Lee and Treasurer W. K. Zinsmeister adjourned to awaiting automobiles that drove them to the Osborne home for lunch.

Within the hour of No. 63’s arrival…indeed as the check was being transferred, the Cayuga Omnibus Corporation’s first bus left Skaneateles eastbound at 11 A.M.

The Auburn & Syracuse was part of what was called the “Beebe Syndicate” or “Empire United” lines that also included the RS&E, Auburn Northern, Rochester, Lockport & Buffalo. Developed by Clifford D. Beebe, the network of suburban and interurban lines ran through Baldwinsville to Phoenix, Fulton and Oswego. A native of Michigan, young Mr. Beebe and his syndicate bought up the financially troubled Syracuse & Auburn railroad in 1904. At that time the line had only been completed as far as Skaneateles and had been initiated as the Auburn Inter-Urban Electric Railroad. Opened on January 1, 1901 it had struggled until Mr. Beebe’s group came along with the money to invest in its future. Under this syndicate, it was extended to Auburn within the year. The company also ran the South Bay line and the Newark & Marion Railroad. All of the lines were interconnected. While there were few grades on the Auburn & Syracuse line, it was still referred to as a ‘roller-coaster operation’. Trolleys ran every half hour with extra trips during peak periods.

In its heyday, the region was in the throes of ‘trolley fever’. A fever that had begun in the area when surveyors filed proposed railways in the 1870’s when Hiram Titus, Senior was a young farmer building his new barn and driving a well into the deep bedrock. When the cars first traveled the Auburn & Syracuse line, the roads running along Route 20 were narrow and dirt-covered and the tracks followed the shoulder of the road. From Syracuse the line passed out Burnet Avenue to Split Rock, Howlett Hill and Marcellus paralleling Howlett Hill and Lee-Mulroy Roads along Route 20 to Skaneateles and to Franklin Street Road from there to Auburn. The stop at Split rock was the first major stop along the line and from there it passed through a scenic gorge with rocky cliffs on either side. In the late 1920’s the roads were beginning to be paved. Trucks and cars were easily making their way between Syracuse and Auburn and with that, the fate of the electric interurban lines was sealed.

Marcellus NY Weekly Observer 1995 Trolley building restored near Skaneateles imageFor another year after the Auburn & Syracuse line ceased to run, travelers could still get from Syracuse to Auburn on the trolley via the Rochester, Syracuse & Eastern through Jordan and Weedsport to Port Byron, then to Auburn on the Auburn & Northern. Once the railways became a modern day dinosaur, relics of trolley fever still remained well into the 20th century. Along Route 20 just east of Skaneateles a brick building which housed machinery to convert alternating current to direct current for the Auburn & Syracuse Electric railroad stood abandoned for some time. It was a garage and then a restaurant known as “The Willows” during the 1960’s before it was abandoned again. A design firm owned it for a short while and restored it including adding some railroad tracks and ties in tribute to its past. The white paint was removed and the old bricks re-pointed and replaced. The design firmed moved on and sold it to an insurance agency. It is believed to be the only original building still standing on the A & S Interurban line.

I wonder as I come home and drive that stretch of Route 20 if there is a bit of rail line underneath the shoulder of the road.

As always, my genealogy research serves as a time machine and my first cousin, Hiram Mial Titus, is the conductor on this trip. Motorman Winters….pull that whistle!

All aboard.

Deborah Martin-Plugh
Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher
©Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Postcript.  In advance, I beg your indulgence if I have spelling and grammatical errors at this time.  I damaged my eyes and am awaiting eye surgery so my usual editorial fastidiousness is absent.

Notes From the Field: Not Enough Sense to Come In Out of the Rain

Notes from the Field:  Recently I traveled to central New York…my childhood home and the sites where my ancestors lived and died.  I am 65 years old and have lived away for more years than I lived there, but it is and always will be the place I call ‘home’.   I concentrated on Cayuga County instead of including explorations in Tompkins, Seneca, Wayne and Madison Counties as I had in the past.  Partly because I wanted to be more disciplined and focused…partly because I am not the kid I used to be and my energy only goes so far these days.  And partly because I could take time to visit with my high school friends…and embrace my very own history.

I had a game plan as usual, but it was more relaxed and open to hanging out and experiencing the moment versus intense information gathering.  Good thing, too, because it rained every day I was there.  And I am a field historian by nature and don’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain.


Though it had been just past lunch time when I arrived in Auburn, I had skipped lunch and headed straight to my first research site.  Here is where my kids yell…MO-O-O-MMM!

I drove the few miles west of Auburn, NY to the little Village of Cayuga and to the Lakeview cemetery where my maternal ancestors and my dad are buried. I always look forward to that visit. As the name implies, the cemetery sits just above Cayuga Lake. I can imagine that when it was cleared to become a burial ground, there was indeed a generous view of the lake that sat just a few feet away. Over the century and more, large pines and elms grew up and shaded the monuments..some crowding the tombstones and engulfing others within the trunks and roots. Once I turn onto Center Street, I am home (owning in 1971 the historic Federal period home called Tumble Inn built by Dr. Jonathan Whitney in the early 1800’s) and just a block away from the cemetery entrance and my father’s grave. He is always my first and last stop.  “Hey, Dad.”

I drove down toward the lakeside entrance as is my practice so I can work my way up the hill visiting my ancestors and noting burials of newly discovered family. Turning down the old path I came upon an orange cone sitting smack in between the tire worn grooves.  I thought…must be a funeral below…or maintenance going on.   It was then I saw the large truck and tractor and the two men below.   And the enormous damage.  On Thursday, May 30th a violent storm swept off the lake with microbursts that tore 40 foot elms right out of the ground and twisted others so violently that their huge trunks snapped like mere twigs. I walked down the crude road and met one William (he told me to call him Bill) Patterson and his workmate who were cutting up the debris and clearing the monster trees out of the cemetery.

May 30, 2013 Storm Damage at Lakeview Cemetery

May 30, 2013 Storm Damage at Lakeview Cemetery

At first glance I saw one tree down, but as I approached, it was clear that several of the old sentinel trees had fallen and the men had a Herculean task ahead. I asked Bill…he was the chatty one…his younger workmate was no nonsense and ‘gettin’ on with it’… to pause for a few moments to share his storm experience. I introduced myself and shook Bill’s rough hand firmly and asked if he would stand next to the massive and broken tree trunk for a photo so I could show scale. He hitched up his well worn jeans and adjusted his suspenders and struck a pose. It was clear old Bill was enjoying his momentary celebrity.

Then it was back to loading the truck with the cut up limbs some as thick as Bill’s waist with a quick and nonchalant toss into the truck bed.  Bill..a self-described “old farmer who mows the cemetery and sees to burials”…took a shine to the talk of my ancestors buried there asking me for the litany of  family names. “Yep, know that name.  Buried a family with that name just recently,”  he said. I asked him about whose monuments were under the biggest fallen elm and he said, “We’ll find out when we get the rest of the tree cleared,” when his associate chimed in, “Damn mess and we got clearing all over the place to do..not just here.” He shook his head and climbed into the truck and hauled away the load. Bill stayed behind…muttered “damn mess” as an echoing sentiment and continued his chores while I headed into the debris to see if the monuments of my “people” had escaped damage. And they did in a remarkable twist of fate.  The fallen trees had found other directions and my family burials were just outside of the large canopy of the ruined elm.  I stopped to say “Hey” to my maternal great great grandparents, Deborah Jane Tyler and her husband, Francis J. Curry and up the slope a few steps to their daughter’s in-laws and my other set of maternal great great grandparents, Susannah M. Downing and Henry Eugene Curtis.  Someone newly discovered by me just before the trip, I found Deborah’s oldest sister, Abbie Tyler and her husband James Jenney just strides away.  Just across the road, my maternal great great great grandparents, Lonson Tyler and his wife, Betsey Tyler.  Cousins of some kind…the Tylers had a habit of that…and the parents of Deborah Jane Tyler.  Just to the north of the huge tree, my Titus family members and their monuments remained free and clear.  “Hey, everyone.”

“Hurts me awful when I see a fallen stone,” called out Bill. “Can’t do anything about either.” He made his way up to where I was taking photographs and listed all the burial grounds along the lake that he tends and his chagrin at his limitations. “Money,” he says, “and time.” Finishing up my video and photo session, I continued to make my way up to my car and Bill stopped me one more time to express his apology for his language…he had said “damn” a couple of times. “Just an old farmer”, he sheepishly reiterated and climbed aboard the tractor and made his way up the old dirt road that meanders up the cemetery.

They had a lot of work to do…those two men with just a chain saw…a truck and a tractor. And I had chewed up a bit of their time talking about the terrible storm and the lakeside damage. They advised me to take a drive down Lake Road to see the roof blown off one historic home and the big old elm that was lifted out of the ground with the exposed root ball….which I did.

I noted for my research cousins that the beautiful old Hutchinson mansion was untouched…a few small branches still sat on the portico, but the lakeside properties to my right and directly on the lake took a beating and looked like a giant had played pick up sticks with the huge trees. Yep, Bill…a damned mess.

After treating myself to an icy martini and a steak and a salad, I fell asleep sometime around 9PM.  I was wicked tired from my drive up from Philadelphia and the field work at the cemetery so I gladly gave up the idea of making notes or even pondering the plans for the next days work.  Waking at 5:30 in the morning rested, but content to snuggle into the super comfy pillows…in the dark, I stayed in bed until 6AM when I saw dawn peeking through the crack of the darkening hotel drapes. A decent cup of in-room brewed coffee and I was returning emails from the day before and organizing my research materials for the day. It was rainy and gray in central New York after the incredibly crystal blue skies that graced my northward drive up route 81 the day before.


My first appointment was at the  Cayuga County Museum to view the Civil War material archived there and to discuss a proposed exhibit with images of the family collection from my great great grandfather David Penird who served the entire war with the 75th Regiment formed from the ‘boys’ of Cayuga County.  The sky had opened up and gutters and downspouts struggled to keep up with the pouring rain.  Teeming, pouring rain, as my mother would say.   Tucking my head under the umbrella, I made a dash to the back entrance of the museum with one of the staff and her most handsome dog.   As I walked to the work room that obviously doubled as the staff lunch room, I felt instantly at home.  Two huge boxes and a large number of books were placed at the table in front of me and I dug into the as yet uncatalogued material.  Folder by folder the years fell away and the letters home to loved ones played out with the old cabinet cards and post war G.A.R. programs and songbooks capturing my every heartbeat. 

It was with the tender experience of holding the field arm band of a Cayuga County doctor who served in the 9th IMG_0547Corps…and the buttons and badges from the uniform of another young man who served in the old 75th regiment that I found myself having to remember to breathe and I sat back from the box and knew this was something special.   After awhile, I took a break and found my way down the hall to the office of Lauren Chyl, the museum’s curator.  We chatted for a few moments and she rose to walk with me back to my work area and to refill her mug.   While I was going through the boxes of Civil War memorabilia and old newspaper articles and she sipped at her coffee, I reminisced about my childhood days at the museum.  I took art lessons with Dr. Walter Long in the Case Research Lab and spent several summers there learning to draw and paint and listen to the wandering and amazing stories that only Dr. Long could tell.   He loved history and would often tell his students to visit the museum before we dashed home.   Even though we had seen the exhibits many times, we would dutifully walk across the parking area and scoot into the back door…the very one I had just entered and made our way through the museum.  The favorite stop for Dr. Long and ours as well was the velvet draped exhibit with the phosphorescent rocks that glowed in the gloom.  “Did you stop to see the rocks that glow?” he would ask.   Of course we had and pleased that we did, he bade us goodbye until our next lesson.   And the predictable gentle command to visit the exhibits before we went home.   I chuckled when I told Lauren about how many times his wife would come to the classroom with a brown paper bag neatly packed with his lunch…that he had characteristically forgotten on his way out the door.   Of course, sharing the well-known story of how he had returned home from a conference absentmindedly leaving Mrs. Long behind left Lauren and I smiling and nodding.  She had never met Dr. Long since he passed away many years before Lauren took up her position, but it was as if he was still there wandering about his beloved museum and its collections…forgetting that he had left this realm perhaps and looking for the rocks that glow.

Rain and More Rain

It was just after noon when I left the museum and the rain seemed to have circled around to have another go at me.  I grabbed my poncho from the trunk and ducked into my car.  Peering through the rivulets streaming down the windows I could just make out the interior of the Case Lab.  It seemed like yesterday that I had spent so many hours drawing horses and sweeping watercolors onto endless reams of paper.  But enough reverie.  There was an entire afternoon to work with and along with my own list…a request from a research cousin had landed in my email.   She was on the hunt for more Parcells information and ‘if I had time”, could I check on some burials at Soule Cemetery.   No time for lunch…maybe an early dinner…a hot shower and early to bed.  But later.   I was off to Soule Cemetery in Sennett where my great great grandparents, Albert S. Martin and Harriet M. Frear, are buried.  My father’s great grandparents and always another stop I make when I am home.

When I pulled into the entrance off Pine Ridge Road, the work truck sat outside of the office like a huge and hapless creature.  The bed was filling with rain water and the dirt that had been there was becoming a muddy mess and spilling over the edge in a sepia cascade.  I pulled around the truck and windshield wipers on full and hazard blinkers on made my way to the Martin plot.  Slipping on the rain poncho and my Wellies, I carefully made my way up to the slope to the monuments.  “Hey, Grandfather and Grandmother.”  The rain let up for a few moments as I paid my respects when the Parcells name caught my attention and I moved further up the hill.   I had found what Marj was looking for and pulled out my iPhone and began taking photos of the family plot and the stones and their inscriptions when the rain returned in earnest.  Slip sliding down to the road, I made it inside the dry interior of my car and though it was June, turned on the heat to chase away the chill.    As I drove to the entrance and near the truck, I spotted a cemetery worker standing in the open door of the office and staring out at the deluge and the hulk of the truck.  Not one to miss the opportunity to visit a cemetery office, I pulled up behind the truck avoiding the Niagara end, flipped up the hood of my poncho and hauled it to the door.  He must have been startled at the sight of me…or the thought of someone running in the storm.  “Hi!”, I said, out of breath.  Sticking out my hand, I introduced myself and asked his name.  “Michael,” he stammered.  “Well, Michael, I sure hope you can help me.   Can I look at the burial cards?  I am an historian researching here and standing in a dry office sure beats bashing around the cemetery in this weather,” I said.  Michael must have been thrilled at the thought of a dry few minutes and he swung open the door and waved his hand at the big set of drawers housing the cards.  In just a few moments I had pulled the Parcells cards and had photographed them…I am an old hand at such things.  I thanked Michael and headed out the way I came.   “Are you sure you have everything?” the young man asked.  I had the feeling that I had worked too fast and he wasn’t anxious to deal with the mess outside.

When I checked the time, I realized that I had just one hour before meeting two of my friends for “Zumba” whatever that was.   Was it a restaurant?  I texted them and got directions.  Okay…I thought I was pretty current on things, but this wasn’t going to be a cocktail with Brazilian liquor.  This was THE Zumba!   Luckily I had my sneakers on and my friend Marie coaxed me onto the floor.  I Zumbaed left.  I Zumbaed right.  I shook my butt and shimmied my shoulders for three-quarters of the class and took a break.  Leaning against the wall I posted the Zumba class on FaceBook and my daughter, Cate,  simply posted “!!!!”   With an “LOL”, I sat out the rest of the class and Marie and I scooted over to the neighboring restaurant for a bowl of soup and gal talk.   It wasn’t long before our friend, Sheila popped in the booth and after a round of hugs and laughs, we got down to a serious visit.  I was tired from the day’s work and the unexpected Zumba lesson, but the time flew by and the years left us all and we were girls again for those few hours.


Naturalization Testimonial Francis Curry 1856A good breakfast with some welcome cups of coffee and I was off to the County Records Department and then on to the new office of the Cayuga County Historian on Court Street.  The records clerks were barely in their offices when I was at the counter waiting to acquire copies of the 1856 naturalization papers of my great great grandfather, Francis J. Curry.  I had to put on the charm that morning.  Poor souls had probably not had an early bird come into the office right on their heels and disrupt a perfectly good routine.  But I was prepared with the index information and it was an easy find for the clerk.  He made copies for me…of copies, that is…and I asked where the originals were kept.  Oh, how I would love to see them!  He cocked an eye at me as if I had asked where Moses had ditched the tablet shards and told me that originals were destroyed after copies were made.  No room for all of that paper ‘stuff’.  While my exterior was calm, inside…from my toes on up…my historian spirit shrieked like a banshee.  “What if a descendant PAID for the originals?”.  County makes money and space is saved and descendant genealogist is giddy with archival love. Win. Win.  I was making sense to me anyway.  It was then that the truth of public records and the bureaucratic heart (or lack of one) brings down a harsh reality.  “Can’t sell public records,” came the reply.  I sighed and packed up the photocopies that had cost me 65 cents apiece and tried to be grateful for that.

The historian’s office is in the same building and just around the corner, but it still requires a walk around the exterior..and back in the rain.  My poncho was getting a workout.    The librarian was puttering about and hurried up to the counter to sign me in and instruct me as to the rules.   I had to leave my purse at her desk which was weird because it was just big enough for my car keys and some lipstick with my driver’s license nudging the seams.  But who knows the cleverness of a history thief, right?   No cameras, either.  Okay.  And of course the menu of costs for photocopies.  Got it.  Now it was my turn to ask questions.   Is there a catalog of what is here?  I think I asked an impossible question because she patiently told me that she couldn’t possibly tell me  what they had.  I just had to tell her what I was looking for.  HUH?  How do I know what I am looking for if I don’t know what is here?   If nothing I am a practical soul and just went for the obvious..how about surnames?  Jackpot.  She had just begun the task of indexing the files of surname loose material and now we had traction.  I spent two hours there and we began to talk genealogy…a lot about her family which was interesting, but I hadn’t traveled all the way to Auburn to talk shop.  While the librarian was photocopying (GAD I hate the word now), I wandered about the public room and found a binder full of material that was a gold mine for me.  Cayuga Historian Ruth Probst’s transcriptions of the Village of Cayuga Records.  Ruth was the quintessential historian.  A virtual encyclopedia herself…”was” being the operative word.  Ruth has joined her ancestors and I regret not having met her before I started my work, but she left behind a remarkably savvy and worthy effort.  But, oh what she took with her….

It was closing upon lunch time – which as you know by now I forget to indulge in – and the office closes down.  So I retrieved my purse and my poncho and in a naughty or was it saintly moment, I told the librarian that my iPhone was not only a still camera…but a video camera…AND a scanner and it had been visibly on the desk next to me the whole time I was working with the files.    “Just food for thought,” I told her and reassured her that I was as Mary Tyler Moore as you can get and had observed the rules, but that was me….    Out into the rain again and to the parking garage with my photocopy treasures, I decided to head to Fort Hill Cemetery.

I was a bit hungry and fished out an energy bar and washed it down with bottled water while I made my way to the old Gothic administrative building of Fort Hill.  Greeted by the secretary, Kristen,  who warmly welcomed me in to her office, I stood among the old burial records and books and found myself admiring the beautiful map of the cemetery…almost as tall as I am…that hangs on the wall behind her desk.  She graciously stopped her work for my impromptu visit and explained the records to me…pulled some cards for me from the files secreted away in the walk-in safe and showed me the beautifully bound records books.  I sat at the big table snugged against the stone wall and pulled out my iPhone and took pictures…with permission, of course.  After the visit at the Cayuga historian’s office, I felt a bit wicked even so.   The topics of conversation wove in and out of Auburn’s history and that of my family and I shared my findings about Fort Hill’s predecessor,  North Street Cemetery.  Secret burials and cholera.   Remarkably I knew so very little about Fort Hill and she began to share her knowledge with me.   I could see she had work to do and I had taken up her time when she suggested that I purchase “Auburn’s Fort Hill Cemetery” compiled by Lydia J. Russell.  She retrieved a fresh copy for me and for $16.50 I had a lovely little publication to take back with me for background research.   It was time to leave…back in to wet weather that had gone from steady rain to clinging mist.

For the first time, I went beyond the usual visits to my grandparents’, Sarah Leona Penird and Albert H. Martin, graves in Fort Hill.  “Hey, Grandparents.”

I drove and walked the 22 acres marveling at the stately monuments of Auburn’s notable families.  Some were IMG_0663soaring edifices, columns and obelisks of amazing craftsmanship and intended to impress.  It was misty and comfortably cool.  A perfect atmosphere for the experience.   I recognized a good number of the names…some of them my Tyler family members.   One Tyler monument that I came upon was more marvelous than all the towering stone tributes.   Fort Hill is not one hill, but a collection of them.  Steep hills.  I was mindful as I walked about the cemetery…careful of each footfall because the grass was wet and the ground so soggy as to defy even the most careful mountain goat…which I am not.  I gave up walking at one point and drove slowly along the winding, curving road and happened upon the tombstone of Almyra Doty Pierce.  She was the daughter of Jason Martin Doty and Anna Tyler.  Anna Tyler was the sister of my maternal 3rd greatgrandfather, Lonson Tyler.   Along side Almyra is the monument of her daughter, Helen and son-in-law, John Llewellyn Tyler.  Oh, the Tylers were still marrying cousins even then.  The monuments are lovely and modestly impressive, but that wasn’t the boggling aspect.  Wedged at the very edge of a high rise of earth, one would expect them to come popping out of the hill at any given moment.   I still ponder how they were put in the ground…and managed to be kept there.    At those uneasy thoughts, I turned off my hazards and made my way out of the cemetery…back to the hotel…a martini and a salad…a hot shower and a good night’s sleep.


Breakfast with friends!   I keep track of my high school chums on FaceBook and know that they gather once a month for breakfast so I had planned my research trip around that time to join them.  Though the skies continued to be gray and promising to rain, I left my poncho in the back seat of my car and joined my friends for a couple of hours of coffee and reminiscing and catching up with news of grandbabies and retirement challenges and joys..keeping the ‘who died’ to a minimum.    We sang Happy Birthday to one of our friends with great gusto and took a group photo before we all dashed off to our lives.   It went so quickly, I wanted to snatch their car keys and hold them hostage for another hour or two.

I had an unscheduled afternoon ahead of me that I had saved for spontaneity.   I drove the entire way around Owasco Lake.  That was a first for me.  I am a Cayuga Lake kid.   Before I was born my paternal grandmother had a summer cottage on Owasco Lake and rented ‘camps’ along Cayuga Lake for summer visitors.  A picture of her with my father and my two older brothers sitting outside her cottage hangs on my wall.  It is black and white and curiously formal and devoid of cheer like the somber weather that followed me around the lake and colored everything in shades of gray.

I stopped at Green Shutters on White Bridge Road and chatted and dallied with locals…ate a hot dog, fries and a root beer along the lake while listening to the 1961 hit “Blue Moon” sung by the Marcels play on the jukebox.  It was still early and going back to the hotel was not an option.  I was fourteen again and immune to the cholesterol and salt and sugar in my lunch.  It was Saturday and there were no afternoon hours at Seymour Library for researching historians.  After considering my options and observing the lift in the clouds, I drove back to Lakeview Cemetery to see how Bill was doing with the clean up.  Maybe I might be able to see what monuments were effected and record them before whatever fate was to befall them in the process.

May 30, 2013 Storm Damage LakeView Cemetery south

May 30, 2013 Storm Damage LakeView Cemetery south

This time I drove from the opposite direction and it provided an entirely different perspective .  In for a penny…I found my way via the side entrance and began thoroughly walking the pioneer section to inspect the damage and the progress of removing the debris. Clearly it was going to take more than one old farmer and a middle-aged man with a chainsaw to get the job done. I peered into the largest fallen tree and could only make out a single obelisk still standing and tightly wedged in among the huge limbs. The canopy was so dense that there was simply no way to tell if anything else survived the crush or if the obelisk is standing on its base.

I will go back to findagrave and see what is posted…and my notes from visits over the years to make sure no information I have is lost…that may be the only thing left in that area of the cemetery after the old giant is removed…my notes and some photos.

Union Springs is just a short drive south of Cayuga and I had one more cemetery to visit.   The sun was peeking through and shafts of light were finding their way to brighten the lake.  The waters looked blue again instead of leaden gray.  I had just found Chestnut Hill Cemetery for the first time and began to drive in when my cell phone rang and it was the Newfield historian from Tompkins County.  Did I have time to come down for a quick visit?    I pulled over and chatted with him for 20 minutes and though I really wanted to make the trip down and spend time, I had used up my energy and was ready to get back to the hotel and get some rest before the four and a half hour drive home the next morning.

At one time or another I could run rings about those many years my junior, but these days I respect the limits put upon me by the passing of time.   That doesn’t stop my historian spirit from chafing at those limitations, but it does provide me with an excuse for another field trip.   Back to Cayuga Lake and home.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved

Politics and Passion…History in the Making

It’s election day…I voted….and like most of us, I eagerly await the results. The past few days I began to assemble some of the political references that appeared in my ancestors’ obituaries, biographies, newspaper items, etc. Found it interesting that many obituaries…after the usual history…end up stating something to the effect that he (it was always a male relative when it came to political reference) was a lifelong Republican or whatever. After a period of time in the last century that quaint custom fell out of favor unless someone held office.

The Life and Death of Nicholas Bogart

Several of my ancestors were tavern owners and all manner of meetings…political and otherwise…were held at their taverns. Loco Foco rabble rousers met at the tavern built and run by my great great great grandfather, Peter Van Dorn, in Enfield, New York and the newspaper accounts of resolutions and speeches were full of exciting rhetoric including the colorful term “barnburners…disgraceful and unprincipled” . One meeting in the little village of Cayuga along the lake of the same name…at the inn run by Major David Sands Titus…my great great great grandmother’s brother…fairly brought the house down with its intense nature.  Yet the attendees were of ‘gentlemenly character”.

William Seward was a lifelong friend of the Major and the politics of the nation at that time were full of the passion of abolition. The Major had traveled with his family from Dutchess County to Cayuga County in 1829 with their hired man, Nicholas Bogart,  who was a former slave and a valued member of the Titus household. He eventually became Seward’s hired man and traveled by his side wherever Seward went for his entire life. I learned so much about the politics and sentiments of these men just by studying their relationship. I wish everyone had the opportunity to understand the living history of our nation and why passionate men and women must step up for change and equality….we might be better citizens of today.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2012.  All Rights Reserved

Obadiah’s Grandsons

A Note to My Readers: Genealogists call it a brick wall…that ancestor who seems to have disappeared into the ages.   We all have a number of them tucked away for a fresh start at detective work -waiting for new sources to come available or playing on a new found research skill. There is no rhyme nor reason about why I choose which brick wall gets my attention.  Sometimes it is could be a simple as re-reading an old document that I had worked with a year or more ago.  A detail that has always been there failed to register as a clue and with a fresh and wiser mind, the detail becomes the clue that solves they mystery.  And the brick wall falls.

Obadiah J. Downing, the Quaker Gentleman of Dutchess and Cayuga Counties

On a 2011 research trip to Cayuga County New York I found the probate records for the estate of my great great great grandfather, Obadiah J. Downing, at the Cayuga County Records Department.  I had the framework details for his life from various historical resources including the Quaker records at Swarthmore Friends Historical Library in Pennsylvania.  The probate records of the estate of Obadiah J. Downing filled in those framework details with a richness beyond my wildest expectations.

Obadiah was born in northern Dutchess County, New York, the son of Quaker parents, Coe Searing Downing and Susannah Wright.  The Downings had migrated from Long Island and settled in Dutchess County where they were members of the Bulls Head – Oswego Meeting.   On November 14, 1827 Obadiah was joined in marriage to Lydia H. Titus, daughter of Gilbert Titus and Ann Hoag at the Bulls Head Meeting House.  Their marriage was recorded in the Bulls Head – Oswego Meeting Minutes.

Bulls Head Meeting House Photo circa 1960

Obadiah purchased land in Aurelius, Cayuga County in the mid 1820’s. On September 17, 1828, 18 year old  Lydia Downing was granted a certificate to transfer her membership from Bulls Head to the Scipio Meeting located along the eastern shores of Cayuga Lake.  In 1829 Obadiah and  a very pregnant Lydia packed up their worldly goods traveled the newly built Erie Canal system to the village of Cayuga where they set up household at the foot of the lake.  They were accompanied by his brother-in-law, David Sands Titus, David’s wife, Julia Ann Coapman,  and two year old son, Hiram and their “slave”.    Though the man who accompanied David was called a slave in a local historian’s account, subsequent information revealed that he was a free man named, Nicholas Bogart. Mr. Bogart eventually became the coachman for Auburnian and Secretary of State William H. Seward and lived to be 91 years old. His obituary recounted his relationship with David Sands Titus and his migration with the family in the 1820’s.   David was an abolitionist and a lifelong friend of William H. Seward.

Shortly thereafter, the Downings were joined by Lydia’s parents, Gilbert and Ann and her older brother, Daniel D. Titus and sisters, Sarah and Phebe Howes Titus. Sarah would marry Francis Twining who operated one of the hotels and stores in the bustling community.  Phebe married Alexander Crissey in 1839 and after his death, widower Norman Durkee.  Phebe would outlive all of her siblings, dying at the age of 85 in Buffalo, New York.

Brotherhood, Politics and Entrepreneurship

Obadiah and David Sands Titus were fast friends and supported one another’s enterprises.  Indeed, the two young men were like brothers.  The village of Cayuga was alive and bustling with travelers and traders along the Erie Canal system during the early 1800’s.  Merchants, tradesmen, entrepreneurs and inventors flourished.  Politics, too, were a vibrant element in the community and David Sands Titus (now called the Major) owned one of the most prestigious and strategic hostelries along the lake.  David and Obadiah held political meetings at the Titus House and in October of 1831 organized a committee to support the election of Andrew Jackson.  When I read the list of committee members, the name of Alanson Tyler fairly jumped off the page.  Like Obadiah, he, too, is my great great great grandfather.  Obadiah’s grandson, George Downing Curtis, would marry Alanson Tyler’s granddaughter, Deborah Jane Tyler.

While her husband and brother were in the thick of business and politics, Lydia was occupied with her growing family, raising them in the Quaker tradition.  She tended the sheep, carded and spun the wool to use in her household and to sell in the marketplace.  The Downings were prosperous and held in high esteem by their fellow citizens.

The Great Montezuma Marsh

If life was full of opportunities in the late 1830’s, it was also full of challenges.  In springtime, roads were packed dirt that ran to deep mud that would suck the boots off of a grown man’s feet and hold fast the hooves of horses and wagon wheels.  Winters brought fierce winds that blew across the frozen lake and drove the snow into high drifts confounding horses and man alike and isolating all but the heartiest souls.  Summer was relentlessly humid and hot at that end of the lake.  The Great Montezuma Swamp, one of the largest wetland systems in the Northeast, sits at the foot of Cayuga Lake. Historians, travelers and adventurers alike wrote in their journals that the area was one of the most dangerous parts of the canal because of the mosquito-infested marsh.  Native American folklore tell of mosquitoes the size of eagles.   Close to 1000 Erie Canal workers died of malaria.  Typhoid was an ongoing scourge as well.

A native American legend is recounted in Florence Pharis McIntosh’s 1927 publication, “History of Cayuga”.

Another Indian Legend concerns a huge mosquito which infested the Cayuga- Montezuma Marshes, and prevented the hunting of game. So one day Ha-wen-ne-yu, the famous warrior, came upon the beast, pursued it, and chased it all around the Great Lakes and surrounding country, until he at last slew it in the neighborhood of Seneca River. “The blood flowing from his lifeless body gave birth to innumerable swarms of small mosquitoes which still linger about the place of his death.”

While the location of the village was a strategic point of travel and commerce,  it was a haven for mosquitoes and I believe that to be the cause for the premature death of 37 year old Obadiah J. Downing on October 24, 1839.

Probate Records Spanning Thirty Five Years

Obadiah was a man in his prime when he died and no doubt thought a will was for old men.  Whatever took him must have been quick and unexpected as he and David were men of business, responsibility and influence and Obadiah would not have left his wife and children without the benefit of a well constructed document.  Obadiah’s father, Coe, left a practical, handwritten will in 1830, filed in Poughkeepsie, New York.  Surely, his son, who was a husband and father would have seen the value in that.  But he was young and he had many years ahead to worry about that.  Or so he thought.

It fell upon the shoulders of his brother-in-law, David Sands Titus, the responsibility of administering Obadiah’s estate and the guardianship duties for the three daughters and infant son of his newly widowed sister.  After reading the practical and short wills of various ancestors over the years, the job of studying the 85 pages of probate papers that spanned the years of 1839 to 1874, the year of Lydia’s death, was to say the least, overwhelming.  It was full of the most incredible information.  The inventory list of household goods, the sheep, the wool, the bedding…solid silver spoons and plates…told me that the Downings were prosperous.  Lydia was “given” a specific lot of goods as Obadiah’s wife.  In early America, there were laws that prohibited married women from owning property.  If a husband did not leave a will, probate court would more often than not, put the value of the estate in trust for the children as happened with the estate of Obadiah Downing.  Lydia kept her bible and her household goods and her garments including a coat and a number of sheep, her inventory of wool and a loom.

Silver Spoon belonging to O J Downing

My fellow researcher and third cousin, Marj Deline,  who is also a direct descendant of Obadiah and Lydia, has the monogrammed silver spoons that served the Downing household.  It means so much that the spoons listed as Lydia’s are still in the family and are treasured.

The Downing Children

Though she referred to herself as Susan M. Downing Curtis, my great great grandmother was Susannah in the probate records of her father’s estate.  It seems likely that Obadiah and Lydia’s first born was named for Obadiah’s mother, Susannah Wright Downing.   Like many children, she sought her own identity and so it was Susan throughout her life…even to the inscription on the pink granite monument that sits above Cayuga Lake.  However, she was 10 year old Susannah in the probate papers of 1839.  Susannah to her mother.  And so she remains Susannah to me.

Susannah married Henry Eugene Curtis sometime around 1847.  The Curtises settled down next to her mother Lydia in the village of Cayuga.  Henry and his brother, Levi, owned stores and “saloons” and inns in Cayuga and Watkins Glenn.  Four children were born to the Curtises; Hellen “Nellie”, Henry Eugene, George Downing and Jennie L. Curtis.  Like her mother, Susannah was widowed in her thirties.

Mary Jane Downing Rogers was born in 1832 in the Village of Cayuga and though I found her name indexed online in “guardianship records” in Cayuga County, I had not yet gone to the Cayuga County Records department and found the 85 pages of her father’s estate papers.  She had not been in her mother’s home in the 1850 Federal census.   Mary Jane Downing was a brick wall until the spring of 2011.  More on Mary Jane later….

Daughter Phebe A. Downing Buckhout was born circa 1846.  She had married Edward Allen Buckhout and bore him two sons, Edward E. Buckhout and Herbert Obadiah Buckhout.  In the New York State Census of 1855 Phebe and Edward are living in Aurelius with their young sons.  In the 1860 Federal Census, I found Phebe and her sons living without Edward.  In the 1865 New York Census, Edward is found living with his father, William and his sons, Edward and Herbert.  I found no record of Phebe after 1860.  Edward remarried, but his sons were separately sent west to live with Buckhout family members. Both grandsons are mentioned in Lydia’s probate papers.  I have followed Herbert “Obie” Buckhout’s line to Minnesota and California.  Edward was in Nunica, Michigan when his grandmother, Lydia died in 1874.  I have not found him after that.   And what happened to the daughter of Obadiah J. Downing?  If she followed her mother’s Quaker faith, she might have been buried with Obadiah in the Old Friends Cemetery in Union Springs.  I suspect her mother, Lydia was as well.  Many of the tombstones that remain have worn inscriptions that are nearly impossible to read.  For a good number of the Quaker burials there were either markers of wood and long gone…or in the tradition of modesty…none at all.

George Henry Downing was born in October of 1939 within days of his father’s untimely death.  The fact that he was named George Henry strikes me as tribute to his father’s family as both names are first names of Obadiah’s brothers and a good number of forefathers as well.  As George was the only Downing son, he took on the role of man of the family…under the watchful care of his uncle David.  The Downing children were well provided for as the land holdings of Obadiah were of substantial value and their Uncle David was a man of means himself.   At the end of his mother’s life, George Henry oversaw the goods and wealth of his father’s estate.  The probate records of his mother’s estate and the guardianship records all clearly indicate that he was fulfilling his duty as Obadiah’s only son.  George was briefly married in his twenties though her name is not mentioned.  He married his second wife, Anna Mills circa 1870 and the couple had two daughters – Mary and Georgia Anna.  George ran his farm in Venice and died in 1929.  He and Anna and daughter Georgia Anna Hodge and her husband, Perry are buried in the East Venice Cemetery.  Georgia and Perry had one son, Leon Curtis Hodge who ran the family farm until he collapsed and died at the age of 47, leaving behind a two year old, daughter Elaine Ann.  Elaine Ann’s mother had died just months before and there is no record of Elaine after her father’s sudden death.

Which brings me back to Mary Jane Downing…..

In her mother’s probated estate papers, the reference to her was “Mary Jane (Rogers) from Rochester NY”.  That’s it. Easy, huh? Nope. I found one Mary J. Rogers in the 1880 federal census in Rochester…wife of George G, a veterinary surgeon. Well,  that should make it easy…that’s an impressive occupation in those days. Oh sure…lots of George material…directories, et al. The search into 1870, 1860 and 1850 in ancestry.com was an entire frustration…they were a no show despite all my Soundex search methodology. The search brought up every Rogers from everywhere BUT Rochester. On to www.fultonhistory.com…let’s read some Rochester newspapers. First result!…George’s obituary stated he came to Rochester from CAYUGA COUNTY in 1862. His burial was “at Cayuga”. OOO…a clue!

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle Tue 4 Mar 1890 George G Rogers Obit

On to www.usgenweb.org to the Cayuga County site and to the burial records for the little lakeside cemetery in the village where Mary Jane’s sister (my gg grandmother, Susannah) is buried. Hello, George!…and there is Mary. Next to www.familysearch.org to check out the New York State censuses. The 1875 New York State census has a search option and there I found them in Rochester with both George and Mary J.’s birth county stated as CAYUGA. On to 1865 which requires you to know exactly what location in which to search…well Rochester, ok. YIKE…all those WARDS! In for a penny, page by page by page…ward by ward and hundreds of images later…there they were with their children! But he was Geo. G. Rogers which must have given the ancestry search option some kind of headache. At the end of all this that took me minutes to write…it took me hours of eyestrain and self sorting and reading to get this far. I forgot to eat…just one more search and I will get something……wait…one more… this time I really mean it….OMG when did it get dark outside?

With the discovery of the life of Mary Jane Downing Rogers, I began to learn about my great grandfather’s cousin, Edgar O. Rogers.  Edgar was in show business…like his cousin and my great grandfather, George Downing Curtis.  Failure didn’t seem to faze Edgar…he lost his “canvas show” in the mid 1880’s, but picked himself up, dusted himself off and opened another traveling show, booked himself as a lecturer and actor. He was a showman, an actor, a son and a husband…and a father. Edgar and his wife, Lillian toured New York State and Pennsylvania performing “Uncle’s Tom’s Cabin” and other classics of the time.  Edgar purchased a large farm in Friendship, New York and populated it with exotic animals.  He and Lillian summered there, performing the popular productions of the day.

I found adoption records in Rochester, New York for a little child, Sarah Richardson, age one, whom they renamed Edna Lillian. Edna would know the world of show business and have a prestigious education at Williamson School in Wayne County, New York. Her showy and flamboyant father will be in the headlines in 1898…not for his performance as an actor…but in the protection of his little daughter. “Cry Murder” caught my attention as Edgar had soundly beat a man who had attempted to “interfere” with little Edna and the frantic scene alarmed the neighborhood. The trial was swift. Edgar was exonerated as an “INDIGNANT FATHER.” When his dear wife, Lillie, died in 1903 after collapsing on stage during a performance at their summer theater in Friendship, NY, Edgar went on to raise Edna with the help of Lillie’s mother, Emma Hess. I found Edgar performing and lecturing in his elder years and promoting himself in the New York Mirror as ready and able to play old men with an ‘ample wardrobe’. Finally, Edgar faded away from the limelight and I found no more of him. I did find Edna had married post office clerk Charles M. Conroy and living in Manhattan with their daughter, Jean.

My great grandfather, George, also was a showman…owned restaurants and billiard parlors, ran vaudeville theaters and an early moving picture theater in Rochester, NY. He made and lost fortunes and found himself in the midst of an infamous, highly publicized trial in 1901.

Did the flamboyant grandsons of Obadiah and Lydia Downing from the little village of Cayuga know each other?  I wonder.

A word from the Author:  When I was first married, my husband and I with our infant son, Michael, moved to a historic home in the village of Cayuga that bore the name of “Tumble Inn” in 1971.  I had no idea at the time that I had moved into the little village that had been settled by my ancestors and that another of Obadiah’s grandsons would take his first steps 145 years later in the little village on the lake. 

I do remember the mosquitos…though modern efforts to diminish the biting beasties made a great difference in their population.  And I do recall the size of the spiders that would build webs in the shutters of our home…and the audible “dunk” of their bodies clinging on the webs spun across against the window panes.  Well fed by the throngs of mosquitos, no doubt.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2012.  All Rights Reserved

Deep in the Research-Notes from the Field

Notes to my Readers: My readers have missed me, I know.  Emails asking what I am doing…when will you post something new?  What will it be?  So I am taking pity on my faithful readers and am taking a break from what I can only call a FLOOD of research that fairly overwhelmed the past two months to let you know that YES…I am here…and YES I am researching.  As for writing, I have to keep that on the docket, but if I don’t deal with the research…the researchers…and the amazing influx of data and opportunities, I will definitely need a jacket with lots of belts and buckles.

Two recent very big breaks plunged me into following up on my Curtis-Downing-Titus family research…after being contacted by a “cousin”…another ancestral granddaughter of Lydia Titus and her first husband, Obadiah J. Downing.  Marj found my blog post about  “James Atchison Patrick, The Missing Grocer of Cayuga Lake”,  who was her great grandfather.  My intrigue with the plucky abandoned wife, Nellie Curtis Patrick, and her children led to writing their story and ultimately to connecting with my cousin, Marj.

Silver Spoon once owned by my GG Grandmother, Susannah M. Downing Curtis

Comparing notes with Marj before my research trip to central New York had me rearranging my focus…finding what I could on our ancestors and adding to our knowledge of their lives and relationships.  I was beyond thrilled to know she owned silver spoons that were once owned by my great great grandmother Susannah Downing Curtis and her father, Obadiah.  The hallmark on the spoons states “Chedell Auburn”.  John Chedell was a silversmith in Auburn using this hallmark from 1827-1850.

So adjusting my research plans, I jumped in and added to the already dizzying goals for my field work.

 Day One Monday, May 23rd

I spent several days last week researching along the shoreline of Cayuga Lake.  “Bit off more than I could chew” as my mother would say.  The first day of my trip, I picked up my brother, Gale,  (after driving four hours from my PA home to his home in Auburn, NY) and made the one hour trek to Newark, Wayne County to visit the homestead of my Huguenot ancestor, Simeon J. Frear…only to be thwarted  with a DELUGE of rain and lightning that is typical off the Great Lakes and that kept me from his grave.  Tail between my legs…I went back to Auburn  and took my brother out and fed him his favorite…anything with mashed potatoes……and finally after a hot shower  and a glass of wine…I prepared for DAY TWO.

 Day Two Tuesday, May 24rd

Day Two was a trip to my father’s grave in the small lakeside cemetery in the Village of Cayuga with my oldest brother.  Gale is approaching 80 and is the eldest child in our immediate family.  I am more than 15 years his junior with the enthusiasm and available “youngster” energy that is still mine.  Though Gale has a generation knowledge of memories beyond mine…it is apart from my early life experience.  My mother made me promise NOT to bury her in that modest cemetery in the village of Cayuga and it is more of her forebears’ resting place than it is my Dad’s.   In fact he has NO family there other than his brother…though I wonder if my mother knew that.  GENERATIONS of my mother’s Tyler grandparents are there and she was so proud of that heritage.  I suspect it has more to do with her undying love for her parents and the sisters who died so young.   I took a good number of photos and sent data to my Tyler, Curtis, Titus, Parcells, Olds “cousins” for their research.

When my mother died in 1997, my siblings and I surreptitiously dug a hole in Lakeview Cemetery in Cayuga Heights (on the east

Lakeview Cemetery in Cayuga Heights

side of Ithaca)  between her parents and her young sisters, Kate and Ruth,  and placed her ashes there.  The Lakeview Cemetery located in Cayuga Heights didn’t allow that without a huge fee and all kinds of oddball requirements.  So what the hell…my mother wanted that and we had her ashes and we were her devoted children. No time for processing…so I dug an impromptu hole…using the only available tool, an ice scraper from the trunk of  my brother Dave’s car.  Ashes properly placed…sod replaced…church bells spontaneously rang through the Cayuga Lake hills. We all held our breath and knew Mom had expressed her gratitude.   I think my mother was pleased that we had granted her wish despite the bureaucratic restrictions and let us know with the bells.   SHHHH!

A short trip to Soule Cemetery in Sennett, NY (outside of Auburn) to do some Parcells work and as they had done on a previous visit,  the maintenance guys stopped to help me find a burial plot that had eluded me.  They are reverent and respectful despite the fact that we are strangers and I was looking for Christopher and Nellie Parcells who left this earth long before their parents were born.  They are more than guys who mow the grass…and I thank them!

After a long DAY TWO…Gale and I were ready for a good meal and ended up at my favorite haunt when I was a teenager,  Green Shutters.  Car Hops. Incredible French Fries.  Hot Dogs.   And the wonderful scent of Owasco Lake wafting into the open windows.

Day THREE, Wednesday, May 25th

Cayuga County Courthouse

Day Three…MORNING…I spent one whole morning at the Records Department for Cayuga County… in a windowless, concrete block room in the old jail that squats at the rear of the magnificent Cayuga County Courthouse in Auburn, NY.  It certainly could have been a cell…without the toilet and sink and cot… though a toilet was next door with all of the visitor’s noises clearly audible.  Ignoring the ah…neighboring audio of each visitor to the loo, I did end up finding the fate of my ancestral grandmother, Lydia Titus, a Quaker who had traveled the Erie Canal when it opened in 1829 with her husband, Obadiah J. Downing, from Dutchess County, NY.  My “cousin” Charlie Baker and I have been communicating for years playing the game “Where in the World is Lydia?”  I solved it…in that 6” x 8” cell-like space in Auburn.  But as you can imagine, I solved one question and at least a dozen more popped up. Did I mention that I fed the damned ONE HOUR parking meter on Court Street three times?  So I had to time my research with my iPhone alarm…jump up…grab my quarters and feed the meter at my parking space and run back to continue the research.   It was kind of a jail break…and back to serve my time though it was research that was my offense.  Chuckle.  Have to say…the folks there were incredibly supportive and patient…and own a treasure trove of research information for Cayuga County.  We owe them at least of cup of coffee….a hug and a big “THANK YOU”.

Day Three…AFTERNOON…did I say I had over scheduled my time?  I drove to Ithaca and the library…found public parking…and dashed across the street and began the research.  The research librarians were helpful and sweet…though for a university and college town…a bit archaic for my electronic research appetite…and satisfied with microfiche technology ( I suspect this is more about a reality check with funds available for “history”  and the willingness to cope).  So…an intense afternoon on my part-handwriting pages of research  in my notebook while disciplining my scrawl to something I could read later without frustration.  I realized that this is going to mean a multiple visit investment with scheduled and generous appointments with Cornell’s library and the Ithaca History Center.  I gratefully accepted what I gleaned, packed up my backpack and traveled back to Auburn.

On my trip home I picked up Ithaca Beer…a Cascadilla Red and their Ginger Beer- DELICIOUS!

Ithaca Beer Sign

and then through Enfield  and on to  Van Dorn Road.  Enfield Township  has taken the wooded and meandering road down to the dirt base. Lurching and bouncing with my high tech suspension, I thought of the wagons and stagecoaches that had (TRULY) lurched and  bounced in the early 1800’s and their inevitable stop at my GGG grandfather’s (Peter Van Dorn) tavern for their respite. I turned west on to Bostwick Road. At the rise, I parked and looked down on Ithaca and the deep blue waters of Cayuga Lake. I was home. So were they.

 A Tribute to our Local Historians and Libraries

I am an enthusiastic internet researcher…but I wouldn’t miss these personal moments…treading in my ancestor’s footsteps.  I appreciate those dedicated folks who struggle with tightening budgets and support us by their stewardship of our human history…THANK YOU for you dedication.  You are our heroes!

It changes EVERYTHING about the way we work with the raw data.

And for my readers who are paying attention…WHAT was the second break?  I wouldn’t be much of a writer if I didn’t leave you wanting more.  Next post.  See you here!

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2011.  All Rights Reserved

James Atchison Patrick -The Missing Grocer of Cayuga

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

Cayuga Lake Map

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

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

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

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

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

1863 Draft Registration Dix NY H E Curtis

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

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

The Corning Journal Thu 4 Oct 1866

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

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

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

A Safe Place to Fall

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

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

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

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

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

Nellie M. Parcells

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

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

James Atchison Patrick

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

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

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

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

States He Saw Missing Man In Ithaca Monday

The Disappearance

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

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

Man Missing Five Years Returns: Memory Blank

The Prodigal Son Returns

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

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

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

Nellie Moves On

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

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

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

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

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

Did he disappear?  Again?

A Canadian Moment

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

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

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

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

James A Patrick Monument

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

Questions Questions Questions….

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

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

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2010.  All Rights Reserved


Finding David Dewees Ferree – Notes from the Field

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

November 8, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St John’s Cemetery Location

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

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

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

St Johns Episcopal Cemetery-Old Section

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

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

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

David Dewees Ferree Monument

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

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

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

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


Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2015.  All Rights Reserved