The Bones of David Robinson

The Bones of David Robinson

Somewhere in the lush countryside above Cayuga Lake lie the bones of a Revolutionary New_York_In_The_Revolution_2nd_ed_1898 David Robinson_Page_1Way soldier, David Robinson (1740-1823) my paternal 5x great grandfather and his wife, Polly Raynor (1751-1824). They came to Lansing, Tompkins County from Suffolk County (Long Island) around 1790. With them they brought their children including my 4x great grandmother, Jerusha.

Within a few months, Jerusha had met young widower John Bowker who had migrated from Ulster County with his brothers Noah and Joseph and settled in Lansing.   John and Jerusha married and had twelve children – all who survived to adulthood and provided them with many children and grandchildren. At the time of their deaths they had 140 children, grandchildren and great grandchildren which included their son Jonathan, my 3x great grandfather.

Like Jerusha’s parents, there are no records of her burial nor John’s, but the lots of the Robinson and Bowker land ownership are well documented and as tradition has it, they are most likely buried on their own property.   Subsequent generations are buried in Miller Cemetery on Breed Road and others in Groton Rural Cemetery in Groton

When I was asked *where* my Revolutionary War ancestor David Robinson and his wife Polly may be buried, I could only reply that I had found no recorded burials. That said, their daughters Juliana and Elizabeth are recorded as being buried in the ‘inactive’ Lane or Ostrander Farm Cemetery in North Lansing with their husbands, Henry Carter and Daniel Lane.  The supposed site is located on property previously owned by Orry Ostrander that most likely bordered the West Groton/Locke Roads and Breed Road in North Lansing.

Here are interesting notes that historians made that may explain why no Robinson burials have been recorded.

“From the notes of Dorothy Ostrander, past Town of Groton Historian, the first two headstones in this record “…are the only two stones found in what used to be a large cemetery on the present Orry Ostrander farm. They say the cemetery once covered 7 acres. Many stones were removed and used as the foundation in part of the barn. Also, when Orry Ostrander decided to move his sidewalk one day, he found the stones to be gravestones too. All that remains of the cemetery itself is a brushy area with a couple trees approximately 12′ by 25′ and the two stones above although there may be more stones buried under the rubble that has been dumped there (stones off the plowed field) over the years. Headstones have been recorded as read to include misspelling.”
The next 8 headstone inscriptions in this record are from the stones that were used as the sidewalk at the Orry Ostrander farm.

Four of those eight stones belong to the Robinson’s two daughters, Elizabeth and Juliana and their husbands, Henry Carter and Daniel Lane.

From the notes of Isabelle Parish, past Town of Lansing Historian, “People removed all the stones from this cemetery and they were standing beside a garage by one of the houses on the road. The cemetery itself is in one of the fields; unsure which one.
Written August 18, 1953 by S. Haring and I. Parish: Back of the house now owned by Orrie Ostrander on Locke Road, just east of where the new road to Locke turns north-east. We were told there were no stones left where the cemetery was. Mr. Ostrander found many in the barn wall when he moved there some twenty years ago. There were perhaps 25 gravestones.”
Taken from the local history book, North Lansing’s Remembrance of Things Past, “The Lane Cemetery: Two acres surrounded by a large iron fence about one half mile back from Breed Road constitutes the Lane Cemetery. Many of the headstones from the cemetery were used in the foundation of the barn which is still standing on the Orry Ostrander farm. Most of the rest of them were used in a sidewalk which leads from the front porch to the edge of the driveway, then from the other side on the lawn to an old well. In 1960, there were only two head stones still standing. They are in a field at the top of the hill standing under a large old hickory nut tree. It is said that Mr. Lane was the first person who owned the land. Then John Buckley bought the farm from Lane. The government then bought the land from Mr. Buckley. Mr. Orry Ostrander who still owns the farm, bought it from the government in 1938.”

Chances are that David and Polly Raynor Robinson’s headstones are part of the foundation of a barn or were part of the pile of rubble mentioned in 1953 by Haring and Parish.

Time for a field trip with the assist of the Lansing historian and perhaps an archaeological dig.

Deborah J. Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

© Copyright 2018. All Rights Reserved.

East Hill Where Heritage Lives. 100 Acres.

East Hill Where Heritage Lives. 100 Acres.

Purdy Family Bible

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Deborah J. Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

© Copyright October 2017. All Rights Reserved.


The Transcriber and The Descendant, The Fight With The Technician and The Romantic

A Note to My Readers:   Transcribing takes patience and focus and a dispassionate mood.   On occasion I put my scientific mind in charge and take on the task.   And then sometimes the technician and the romantic collide and it is a thing of great joy and revelation.   Today I tackled an old monograph and sorted through some old images.

One of my favorite stories comes from “The Falls of Taughannock: Containing A Complete Description of this the HIGHEST FALL in the State of New York” compiled by Lewis Halsey and printed in 1844.  Among lovely passages of prose and poetry dedicated to Taughannock Falls, it provides a rare glimpse into pioneer life as told by George Weyburn, the brother of  my maternal 3rd great grandmother, Elizabeth Weyburn Ingersoll.


The following simple yet graphic account of a fight with a bear in the ravine of Taughannock was contributed by Mr. George Weyburn  to the “New York State Historical Collections,” published by John M. Barber and Henry Howe in 1844.
It is amusing to note what importance this old veteran gives to the least incident of the great “conflict,” which he describes with as much zeal and earnestness as if he were discoursing concerning a Waterloo, upon the issue of which the destinies of the world were depending.
His enumeration of the numbers, positions, and the arms of the combatants is worthy of a careful chro-


nicler, and he is unable to conceal his joy when, after recommencing “the conflict,” his friends are at length left “masters of the field.”
“One Sunday evening in October, about forty-seven years ago, as my father, Mr. Samuel Weyburn , was returning from feeding his horse on the north side of the creek, near where the distillery now stands, his dog started up a bear and her two cubs.  They followed their course up the hill on the south side of the creek until near the summit, a few rods above the mill-site fall, where the cubs took to a tree.  My father ran to the house, and, having obtained his gun, pursued.  Being directed by the barking of the dog, he passed about twenty rods beyond the tree in which the cubs were, and there he found the bear with her back against a tree, standing on the brink of a gulf, defending herself from the attacks of the dog.
“He fired, and, as it was afterward found, broke one of her fore-legs.  The animal retreated into the gulf, and was seen no more that night.
“In the mean time my mother , brother , and myself, who had followed in the pursuit, came to the three in which the cubs had retreated, who, being frightened at the report of the gun and the sound of


our voices, began to cry ‘mam! mam!’ in the most affecting tones, strongly resembling the human voice.
“My mother having called my father, he shot the cubs and returned home.  The next morning, my father thinking that he had either killed or severely wounded the animal, for the want of a better weapon, (having expended his only charge of powder the evening previous,) took a pitchfork, and proceeded in quest of the enemy, accompanied by myself and brother.
“I was armed with a small ax; but my brother, not being equipped for war, was allowed to accompany us bare-handed.
“Thus accoutered and followed by our dog, we proceeded to within about forty rods of the great fall, when my father, apprised of the nearness of the enemy by the barking of the dog, ran and left us in the rear.
“We soon came in sight of the bear and dog, who were passing from the left wall of the precipice across the basin to the right, and ascended almost to the perpendicular rock, a distance of eighty or one hundred feet.
“My father, climbing up lower down, was en-


abled to intercept her passage in consequence of her broken limb.
“Here the action again commenced by his giving her three thrusts with the fork.  The first and second were near the heart, the third struck her should-blade, when she turned upon him, and he met her with a thrust in her face, putting out one of her eyes with one prong and tearing her tongue with the other.  She then rushed toward him, his feet gave way, and as he fell she caught him by the clothes near his breast.
“At this juncture he seized her and threw her below him.  This he repeated two or three times in their descent toward the bottom of the ravine, during which she bit him in both his legs and in his arms.  At the bottom, in the creek, lay a stone whose front was not unlink the front of a common cooking-stove, the water reaching to the top.  Near this, four or five feet distant, stood a rock on the bank.  Into this snug notch it was his good luck to throw his antagonist, with her feet and claws toward the rock in the stream.  In this situation he succeeded in holding her, with his back to hers and braced between the rocks.  With his left hand he


held her by the back, and with his right held her by the neck, until I came up.
I struck her with all my might on the back with the ax.  At this my father sprang from her and seized his fork.  The bear turned toward us with a shake and a snort.  I gave her a severe blow.  She fell, but, recovering herself, endeavored to retreat.  We recommenced the conflict, and ere long the life-less corpse of the animal proclaimed us masters of the field.
The victory was dearly bought.  The blood was running in streams from my father’s hands, and from his limbs into his shoes.
On examination, he found that she had bitten him in each limb, inflicting four ugly wounds at each bite, besides a slit in his wrist, supposed to have been done by one of her claws.


Taughannock Falls, View from Halsey's Hotel at Sunrise

Taughannock Falls, View from Halsey’s Hotel at Sunrise.  Albumen Print.  Repository: New York Public Library

Of note is the fact that one of biggest advertisers in the monograph was the Taughannock House which was located just opposite the falls.  Its proprietor was one J. S. Halsey.   No doubt the Halseys were not only promoting history, but this was a clever advertising piece to encourage patrons.  The ad describes the accommodations with particular romance.

This favorite Hotel, having been this season enlarged, refitted, and refurnished, is now open for the accommodation of visitors.
All than can make a hotel attractive and interesting to tourists or pleasure-parties may here be found.

The Taughannock House is situated just opposite the Falls, two and one half miles from the village of Trumansburgh, and ten miles from Ithaca.

Cayuga Lake boats, touching four times per day at the landing near the Falls, connect with the New-York Central and the New-York and Erie Railroads.  A carriage will be in readiness at the landing to convey visitors to the hotel.

The far-famed Cayuga offers ample accommodation to the sportsman for fishing and boating.

Park at Taughannock Hotel.  Albumen Print.  Repository: New York Public Library

Park at Taughannock Hotel. Albumen Print. Repository: New York Public Library

Being off from the line of direct communications with Atlantic cities, near the banks of the beautiful Cayuga, surrounded by a pure, clear, and bracing atmosphere, it presents peculiar inducements to travelers in search of healthful summer residence.

Particular attention will be give to orders for rooms during the summer.

J. S. HALSEY, Trumansburgh, New-York.

I visit Taughannock every summer…drawn to it with some kind of primitive urge I suppose.  In my younger days I marveled at it as a geophysical wonder…my ‘pre-genealogy’ days if you will.   After discovering the little publication a few years ago, I hike the 3/4 mile trail to the cataract pondering the tale of the fight with the bear all the while trying to calculate the location of the battle between my 4th great grandfather and the great bear.  And so it goes with transcribing the passage, the technician is in a fierce struggle with the romantic…carefully and perfectly typing the words while my imagination plucks at my sleeve urging me to join the tale.

The Author at Taughannock Falls Overlook

The Author at Taughannock Falls Overlook

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2014.  All Rights Reserved


Written in Ink. Not Stone.

Confirmation with a bit of mystery…isn’t that always the way?

Analyzing evidence is an art as much as it is a science.  Not every thing is a slam dunk because we are always dealing with information provided by human beings.  Information with bias or best guess affected by faulty memory.  And then there is the challenge of reading unfamiliar handwriting.  Graphologists nod here!

I just received two death certificates from New York State in today’s mail….for my paternal 3rd great grandparents, Jonathan Bowker (1798-1891) and his wife Emeline Powers Bowker (1806-1888) of Lansing, Tompkins County, NY.  Through past research I pretty much proved my Bowker and Powers lineage, but since the Bowkers died after New York State began to require death certificates, I thought it worth spending the $22 each to secure an official document.    Names.  Check.  Dates.  Check.  Places…almost check.    And parents…Check with a mystery.

Jonathan’s father, John Bowker (1771-1855),  was purported to be born in Ulster County, New York, but his son’s death certificate states his father’s birthplace was “Mass”.   Both make sense as John’s father and mother (Silas Bowker and Esther Hobbs) were from Massachusetts and migrated to Ulster County where Silas was a scout in the Revolutionary War.   So…this is one of those toss of the coin at this point.

As for Emeline’s death certificate…everything checks out with my research evidence.  Except I cannot read the handwriting that states her mother’s first name.  My research shows that her mother was Ruth Roberts, second wife of Jacob Powers.  And everything points to it.  Jacob’s first wife, Rhoba Tabor, bore him ten children, but she died in 1804 and is buried in Sharon, Connecticut.  He then married Ruth and fathered at least five children with her…including Emeline. Emeline Powers Bowker DC Crop

But! (isn’t there ALWAYS a ‘but’) Emeline’s death certificate isn’t clear and it even looks like it says “Phebe” which I know isn’t right…could it say Rhoba?  Ruth?…it just doesn’t look like it.  Not even close and I am pretty good at this.  I take into account that my 2nd great grandmother, Sarah D. Bowker Case Johnson, cared for them in their elder years in her home and so I assume she would know these family details.  But then…could Phebe be Ruth’s real name and she chose Ruth as her ‘familiar’ name?  After all, the Powers were Palatine immigrants to the Hudson Valley who were originally Pauer.  Her grandfather was Joest Power with no “s” and he was often called Justus in Dutchess County records.  Or could the good doctor have interviewed Sarah and in the midst of the bureaucratic necessity of paperwork forgotten and guessed a name to get the chore done and over?

As line number 10 reminds us…

I hereby report this Death, and certify that the foregoing statements are true according to the best of my knowledge.  (signed by George Beckwith, M.D.)

Oh my…a genealogist’s challenge….but then we love a challenge, don’t we???

To keep my sense of humor and stay on track, I bow to Mark Twain.

The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2014.  All Rights Reserved


Legacies and Heirlooms – Past and Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved

The Lovely Daughters of Ithaca

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

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

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

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

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


Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved




Family Secrets. What the Directories Told.

A Note to My Readers:  A number of fellow researchers have asked lately…any family secrets?  “Oh, well, how many days have you got?”, I replied.    My mother’s mother was an enigma to me.  She died eleven days before I was born.  And my mother loved her so terribly much that even as a child, I knew how deeply she felt by the emotion in her voice as she spoke of her mother.  What was behind the tender pity and the purposeful incompleteness of my grandmother’s history.  And what did I learn years later as I used records to piece together her life…and death?

Florence Leora Curtis Purdy

Daughter of George Downing Curtis,  a entertainment mogul…a flashy, flamboyant rogue and his petite and savvy wife, Kate C. Curry Curtis.

Florence was born in 1883 in Port Byron, New York…in the days when her father began his career. George owned a billiard parlor and “eating establishment” in 1881.  At the time it was a hot spot for travelers along the Erie Canal system and it wasn’t long before George made enough money to take his family to Canandaigua where he expanded his business dealings owning a market and ice house.   He had a failure or two along the way…went bankrupt and Kate took control of the family’s finances.  She gave George an allowance and kept tight control on his activities.  He was a drinker, a gambler and a ladies’ man, but he had the gift of making money as much as losing it.   When the Curtis’ landed in Ithaca, George once again had a billiard parlor and eating establishment.  A men’s clothing store, Slocum & Co. came up for sale and George purchased it with cash.  He was booking entertainment in the theater he rented…recruiting in the trade papers in New York City.  George rode the trains, pockets full of cash doled out by Kate and went from town to town booking theaters…along with some gambling and drinking and dallying.   Eventually he opened one of the first moving picture theaters in Ithaca in the old Cornell Public Library building.    Life with George guaranteed excitement…but of the kind that a young girl turning 15 found unpleasant enough to elope with the handsome 23 year old, flawed young man who worked in her father’s men’s clothing shop.

My mother spoke of my grandmother as a raven-haired beauty with an eighteen inch waist when she married my grandfather.  I sensed my mother’s story-telling left out a painful reality of her family life as she almost exclusively spoke of her parents in terms of their physical beauty.  I knew “Mama” as a tragic heroine…by tone mostly, but by the fact that she lost two children and that “her hair turned white overnight” when her nine year old, Ruth was crushed to death by an out-of-control automobile.   And she made the best lemon meringue pies.  “Papa” was a “tailor’s dummy”-my mother’s term- who wore only the best hand tailored clothes and derby hats despite the family’s ongoing money struggles.  Neither Florence nor Burt’s parents’ wealth spared the couple from a life of severe financial ups and downs.  In 1908 Burt was given the Curtis theater interest in Ithaca…which he promptly sold for a tidy sum…and ten years later went bankrupt.  He sold men’s clothing and  during World War I, worked at Thomas-Morse aircraft making and painting airplane frames. After the war, he managed another clothing store in Ithaca and spent the latter part of his life as a house painter.    The Purdys never owned a home.  In fact when others in their generation with much less resources were upwardly mobile, they were curiously immobilized.  So many of their family members went to Cornell…my grandmother’s brother graduated as an engineer and the ladies played piano and held teas.  Grandma Smith’s niece, Libbie Van Dorn was a genteel and educated young lady…gracing her aunt’s parlor with teas and young gentleman callers and piano recitals.

The more I learned, the more questions I had.  It was as much a personal, psychological and spiritual journey of discovery as it was a genealogical one.

I had been piecing together the tapestry of my mother’s family cobbled with my mother’s brief bits of sentiment, the family bible that belonged to Grandma Smith, census records up to 1930 and newspaper articles.  I had only known that my grandfather had gone into a nursing home on Geneva Street and my grandmother lived on her own and had a gentleman friend in her later years.  Burt had developed thrombosis…from climbing up and down ladders painting the big houses in Ithaca according to my uncle.  Though he outlived my grandmother and died when I was three, I only remember standing in front of the nursing home waving to a darkened window…that was grandfather to me….a darkened window with the reflection of sunlit leaves from the Dutch elms that lined the street.

What the Directories Told

And then the Ithaca city directories became available for research online via the Tompkins County library.  Up to that point I had no idea that Burt and Florence had parted ways as man and wife long before his residence as a nursing home patient.    By 1932 Burt lived with his eighty-four year old mother, Elizabeth A. Williams Purdy Smith on 307 Eddy Street.  Grandma Smith had dominated Burt’s life…and Florence’s…never approving of their marriage…and taking their first born, Elizabeth to raise as her own.  I guess that made three children lost to Florence.  My mother did leave a note on a legal yellow pad that was tucked in her bedside table at the time of her death.

“Papa was a spoiled young man.  Spoiled by his mother.”

Florence was on her own living at 401 North Aurora Street working as a “domestic”.   After 33 years of marriage and six children, 49 year old Florence took her 13 year old son, Bill and walked away.  Or perhaps Burt simply went home to his mother and Florence refused to go.

Meanwhile her sisters and her brother had lovely homes in Rochester and Philadelphia…traveled and enjoyed an active social Rochester NY Daily Record Thu 14 Nov 1940 Florence L Purdy lawsuit against siblingslife and a very close relationship with one another.   The Curtis estate was worth a tidy sum.  Florence cleaned other people’s houses.  In 1940 she rose up and sued her siblings when they entered into a lease agreement with a large entertainment group.   The dispute seems to imply her siblings made a deal to lease the theater which included their interest…and hers…for less than it was worth and then receiving stock in the leasing company of  H. G. Carroll.  Florence had been shut out.  But then I don’t see any more reference to it in Rochester newspapers.  Perhaps Florence was given a settlement.    Which may explain why on earth our mother never told us of her aunts and uncles.  Had Florence and her siblings struggled with one another about family money in the past?  They were certainly given the responsibility of managing the estate interests over the years. Florence was managing her life with Burt and her children in the meantime.  The fact that George and Kate had provided Burt with the gift of the initial theater interest in Ithaca…and employment as well in the early years and it went nowhere, may explain much about the later family dynamic. Did that create a gap…or widen one already present?

Burt was listed as living with his mother in the 1934 Ithaca City Directory and Florence was living on South Aurora.  So I was pretty sure that was that.   During that time, my grandmother had learned to drive.  She bought a Ford coupe and would visit my mother often.  My brothers said she had a boyfriend whose name was Ducky Drake. It occurred to me that I should search the directories to see if she and Ducky shared an address.   What the heck, I wasn’t going to be shocked now. The obvious problem is that no self respecting man was going to be listed in the directory as “Ducky Drake.”

I found “Ducky”…Deforest Gaylord Drake and started tracking him and eventually found my grandmother living with him…listed as his wife, Florence L. Drake, in the Ithaca Directory in 1940 on 202 Dey Street.  But nothing in the 1940 census for her…until I decided to dig in and find Deforest Gaylord Drake.  There they were…still on Dey Street and she was listed as his wife, Louise…which explains why my mother thought her mother’s middle name was Louise and why Florence L. Purdy did not show up in the search.   I had been searching for my maternal grandmother’s listing as Florence Purdy in the 1940 census for months.  I never considered my timid grandmother would ‘live with a man’ and call herself “Mrs.” to boot.  And “Ducky”…well….

Another phone directory in 1942 has her still working as a housekeeper and living as Mrs. Florence Drake on  310 Farm Street.  Ducky was not listed in the directory at all in 1942…could have been in service during WWII.   In 1944 I found them again living on South Meadow Street.  She was not listed as his wife, but as Florence L. Purdy.  So I could keep the term boyfriend intact.  My grandmother did not divorce my grandfather or remarry.  She simply…ah…what’s the modern day term…oh yeah…cohabitated.

What is very interesting is that Ducky was the same age as  her eldest daughter, Elizabeth…born around 1901.  My grandmother was a ‘cougar’!  She was almost 15 years old than Ducky.   As my cousin, Chris said, when I revealed my findings….”Go Grandma”.

Bert Florence Katherine Ruth tombstoneAnd that brings us to the Purdy burial plots…there they lie…side by side…Burt Purdy and his wife Florence with their two young daughters, Kathryn and Ruth in a beautiful, serene family plot anchored with a huge granite stone and overlooking Cayuga Lake.  I suppose that was the last thing that bound the two together.  For eternity.

The directories and a bit of interviewing my brothers who knew my grandmother provided the last bit of information about my grandmother.   I certainly know she suffered struggles with her family and she was a bit of a loner after her children were grown…driving the little coupe around Ithaca…sitting by the streams in the shade while Ducky fished…indulging in French lingerie which she proudly showed off to my mother.  She let her grandsons climb in the front seat of the coupe warning “Don’t meddle, dolly,” when they reached out to tweak the dashboard knobs.   Florence was crippled with arthritis and rarely left the coupe.   My mother would bring them each an iced tea and sit in the cab of the car that was parked under a tree in the driveway and visit for long afternoons.  But she had Ducky and she had enough chutzpah to face down her siblings for her share of her parent’s estate…which appears she did not get by the way.  The deal was business savvy and complete.  But in an uncharacteristic flash of ego, she fought anyway.  What was that?  And there was the French lace fetish.  And her beloved, shiny black Coupe that sat in my parents’ garage for years after her death.

I think I would have liked my grandmother very much.  And the rest of her secrets will remain hers.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quaker Settlement Cemetery

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

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

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

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

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2012.  All Rights Reserved

213 Questions Without Answers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It begins…

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

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

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2012.  All Rights Reserved

A Dose of Kenyon’s Tonic

A Note To My Readers:  Over the years I have toiled over lengthy posts to share my stories of genealogical research…maybe a family musing or two…but detailed and like I said…lengthy. 

This year I set up a FaceBook post random thoughts as I plow through research and develop stories.  I thought it a wiser move to begin to post on my blog instead as it posts automatically to my FaceBook page anyway and I can share these bits of flotsam with my blog readers.

Ithaca New York and Finding Deborah

In the March 8th 1897 Ithaca Daily News my 68 year old great great grandmother, Deborah Jane Tyler Curry recommended Kenyon’s Tonic for rheumatism.  I would have missed this little item if I had narrowed my research to  newspaper social sections for family events or by looking for obituary mentions or for legal notices.

Advertising items like these recommendations that are in old newspapers can give you a timeline for residence, too.

Ithaca Daily News

Deborah had been widowed in 1884 and lived in Montezuma, New York until her early sixties when she moved to Ithaca to live near her married daughters, Kate Curtis and Jennie Sinsabaugh.  In the New York State census of 1892, she was still in her home in Montezuma.  So when did she leave her longtime home?

Piece by piece I built the timeline by reading old newspapers from Auburn and Ithaca.  This was the earliest piece of evidence I found of her residing in Ithaca.  I did find a second item a bit later that showed her moving to Ithaca in November of 1893, but this odd bit of trivia still intrigues me…especially since my career was in marketing and newspapers….and I am her namesake, Deborah Jane.    And by the way…totally without knowing my great great grandmother’s children names, I named my daughters…Jennie and Cate.
Deborah lived to the ripe old age of 89 years old.  Could ‘the tonic’ have been her secret?  And what was in it?  Chances are alcohol was an ingredient…one that a lovely Methodist widow of a Civil War hero could put in her tea and sip delicately with a clear Christian conscience.

And you know,  my aches and pains might just need some of Mr. Todd and Mr. Brooks’ Kenyon’s Tonic now that I think of it…

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2012.  All Rights Reserved

Jersey Boy

A Note to My Readers:  On May 1st of this year, I sent a request in to the New York State Vital Records in Albany for the death certificate of John R. Case, my 3rd great grandfather.  It is now September 1st and I have put patience aside and a phone call to the department on Tuesday is on my “to do” list.  This isn’t the first time the seven weeks wait advisory on the form turned into months…seven months to be exact…and two of the four documents were not my requested information.  At that point, I made my way through the frustrating automated phone message maze and happily found a real live person who was incredibly helpful.   I had the correct documents within a week.  I kept her direct phone number in my contact database.  I learned to ask for that kind of information in my career.  Networking with helpful and knowledgeable people is a must have tool for anything we do and genealogists can certainly benefit from developing a contact database…an address book for you non-marketing people.  And make sure you say PLEASE and THANK YOU. 

I do think I know why my second and third requests are bogged down though.  The first time I ordered from the NYS Vital Records Department, it was for ONE death certificate.  It arrived within a month. The second time it was for four.  That took seven months.  And this time…two.  I have a feeling that ordering multiples puts a wrench in the research process for some reason only the folks there know.  So the next time, I will send separate requests in…in separate envelopes with separate checks.  I will let you know if my theory bears fruit.

Working Around the Edges

In the meantime I have been working around the edges of  my 3rd great grandfather John R. Case with what I do know.  John was born in New Jersey in 1809.  At some point he arrived in the area of Summerhill, Cayuga County, New York where he met and married Sarah Learn, daughter of  John Learn and his wife, Elizabeth Freece.  The Cases had three sons, William J. (my 2nd great grandfather), James Henry and Adam A. and a daughter whose name is unknown to me at this time.

Summerhill New York 1859

John and Sarah Case ran a farm in Locke, New York on what is now Route 90 just past the Summerhill line.  Sarah died in 1851 and must have been ill for some time because her 11 year old son James was living with her parents in 1850.   Sarah was just 41 years old when she died and most likely was the victim of consumption…a disease that plagued families in the area for decades.  She is buried in Miller Cemetery on Breeds Road in Locke and  just a row away from where her parents were laid to rest.

After Sarah’s death in 1851, John married again to the spinster Huldah A. Loomis from nearby Groton.  Huldah was 22 years his junior.  In 1860 James Henry Case was living with his father, John and his second wife, Huldah on the farm where she had stepped in to mother the young man who was just 8 years younger than she was.

During the 1850’s William and Adam continued to live with their father John and helped run the 45 acre farm.  They plowed the rich fields above Cayuga Lake with a pair of oxen to sow the crops of barley, corn, winter rye, peas, beans and potatoes.  In spring they tapped the maple trees and made maple syrup for market.   The small apple orchard of about 75 trees produced about 20 bushels a season and the five milk cows on the Case farm produced about 400 pounds of butter every year.  Holsteins were the favored breed of milk cow and it is easy to imagine the big black and white “bossies” dotting the rolling hills above the lake.  It is still one of my favorite sights when I drive through the central New York country side.  Seven chickens produced eggs for market that brought in a neat $500 in the year 1865.  There were two horses and pigs for meat and sheep for wool. In fact, the Cases produced flannel for market as well.  Large stands of woods were part of John’s farm…large enough for deer to inhabit.  In fact the farm that is there today still is thick with trees.

John’s Boys

Before 1860 William and Adam had married and were off their father’s farm.  Twenty-six year old William was farming in Lansing with his maternal grandfather, John Learn and living with his first wife, Mary and their daughter, Sarah and infant son John J. Case.   Adam was a new bridegroom at twenty-three, working as a farm laborer in Genoa and living with his nineteen year wife, Lucy Boyce.

William J. Case had lost his wife, Mary in 1861 leaving him to raise their daughter, Sarah and newborn son, John J.   In 1862 William married Sarah D. Bowker, my paternal 2nd great grandmother.  Sarah was barely 14 years old when she became 28 year old William’s wife.  The young teen bride barely out of her girlhood took over the duties of his household and became a mother to his 7 year old daughter and 3 year old son.  Sarah’s parents, Jonathan and Emeline Bowker, owned one of the largest farms in the Groton, New York area and were descendants of Revolutionary War soldier Silas Bowker who had settled the area after the war for independence.  Before she turned 15 years old,  Sarah bore a son, William J. Case, Jr. followed by a daughter, Emma Lillian, my great grandmother  in the winter of 1865.  Sarah was a capable girl.  She was the youngest child and  had after all seen to her aging parents household on their large farm.

And in the fall of 1869 Sarah became a widow when she was nineteen years old.  Like so many in the area, 36 year old William had succumbed to consumption.

1860 Federal Census Death Enumeration

Though Sarah was a strong girl and had an extended family of Bowkers and Powers, she could not care for her stepson, John, her own children and manage the large farm in Summerhill.  It fell to his grandfather, John R. Case to take in the 10 year John and see to his upbringing.  Huldah was now mothering her stepson, James and her step grandson, John.  And the farm needed the extra hands.  John R. was aging and son Adam had just lost his wife, Lucy in 1865 and was newly remarried and they were raising his young ones, Alice, Katy and Samuel.  Martha died in the 1870’s leaving Adam once again without a mother for his children.

Will’s widow, Sarah remarried to a local farmer, Sylvester Johnson, and together they raised Will’s children, Will, Jr. and little Emma.  Sarah and Sylvester moved on to the Bowker farm where she could help her parents and where Sylvester could care for the Bowker farm business.

The Road to Jersey…is through Albany?

With his son, Will, gone and his son, Adam with troubles of his own,  John and Huldah increasingly turned to James and little John for help on the farm.  When John R. Case died in 1890 at the age of 81, he had owned and run his farm for over 50 years.  Every morning of those 50 some years John rose to milk the cows and turn them out to pasture.  He had hitched up the oxen and turned over the fields and sowed the crops for endless seasons.  And in the spring he walked among the tall maples, his breath sending wisps of clouds into the air, crunching through the snow and finally driving the taps into the trunks to catch the amber sap.  In the autumn with the geese honking overhead and the shortening days, he harvested the crisp apples from the orchard.   The Jersey boy had fought the hard winters, managed through the difficult years of the Civil War, buried his wife and son and his daughters-in-law and raised his grandson, John.  He was a good neighbor, father, husband and grandfather and part of the Cayuga lake pioneer community that rings with the names Learn and Bowker, Boyce and Powers, Miller, Robinson and Freece.   He lies among them in Miller Cemetery next to his wife, Sarah Learn.  In the middle of the glade stands the obelisk, encrusted with tufts of mold and a skim of lichen, but tall and straight among his extended family members.

John R Case and Sarah Learn Monument

And yet unlike the others I have not found him among his own.  I believe Mariah Case who married Jefferson Learn to be his sister…and perhaps Isaac Case of nearby Genoa…and another Jersey boy… to be his brother.  But I am guessing…a good guess with reason to believe I am right…but with no documentation or direction…except to Albany…where for six months someone is “processing” my request for his death certificate.    Enough time to sow and harvest a crop or two.  Pick some apples.  Churn some butter.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2012.  All Rights Reserved

Going Home

A Note To My Readers:  I suppose my upcoming research trip to the Finger Lakes  area of  New York State…specifically Cayuga Lake has been on my mind…more than I realized.  It was where I was born and raised and where my roots run deep.

It has been a raggedy week and I have been definitely “off”.  Sleeping badly.  Eating junk.  Picking up the same thing and putting it down again without conscious purpose.  Fussing about money and semi-retirement.  Feeling blue and in a funk.  Missing one of  our family dogs that left us this week to walk the earth without his good nature and sweet company.   I was most definitely in need to find a place of comfort and childlike pleasure.  At some point everyone’s body takes over and you sleep.  Like the dead.  Last night I had barely laid down my head before sleep washed over me.

Senses Wide Open

The week’s angst was left behind and I became aware of walking down the streets of the Village of Cayuga with a couple of old friends that I hadn’t seen in forty years.  The dream walk carried me along to a disjointed visit of some of the grand old ladies that sit above Cayuga Lake.  The Hutchinson Homestead…the McIntosh home…Mrs. Lalliette’s…and the first home I ever owned…Tumble Inn on Center Street.

Tumble Inn on Center Street in the Village of Cayuga

It was one of those dreams where all senses were fully engaged.  I smelled the lake!  And the sweet scent of the lilacs that snuggle against the old estate of Charles and Mary Frances Victoria Lalliette.   I heard the buzz of the cicadas and the sassing call of blue jays that roost in the towering pine trees.  I felt the ever present breezes that sweep off the lake to catch a loose lock of hair, to rustle the leaves, to disturb the flight of mosquitoes.

I tasted the drooling, sticky, creamy sweetness of my favorite summer treat…a Creamsicle®.

Country Roads and Ali Baba

On Sundays we would jump in our family car and Dad would drive us through the Aurelius countryside…down Bluefield Road over Dougall Road…past the big silos of the Pinckney Farm where my 12 year old father had tended cows… south and westward toward the Cayuga Lake from Auburn.  Past weathered and leaning corn cribs, lone abandoned farmhouses and gap toothed barns surrounded by fields of corn and wheat.  Past the occasional fat woodchuck munching on the juicy grasses that grow along country roads.

At the end of the ride to Cayuga Lake just between the villages of Union Springs and Cayuga sat…no squatted…an inelegant roadside store that hadn’t seen paint in decades.  The building was a hoarder’s riot of porcelain advertising signs, hub caps and license plates.   Planted on the gravel and tucked in the shadow of the stingy overhang sat a gleaming white freezer.    As always, Dad had removed his Sunday suit jacket and rolled up his starched and snow white shirt sleeves.  One hop out of the cavernous car’s interior and a crunching step or two across the gravel to my father’s side and my sister and I would be standing in front of the humming, alien looking chest.

 It was the theater of it all.  It was my father that was Ali Baba…opening the great white treasure cave.  Our greedy little hands were fiddling at our sides waiting for the moment when the lid would be opened and the chill would escape and fog my father’s spectacles.    Ritually he would remove them…one ear at a time.  Hold them up, reach for his linen handkerchief, wipe away the moisture…lift them for a final inspection and secure them back…one ear at a time. With one fingertip push to the nose piece…he would settle them back neatly in place.  “Just so,” as he would say.  By then the anticipation had us dancing in our Mary Janes.

Finally the orangey, creamy delight was unwrapped and the paper tucked under the treat in a futile attempt to dam up the meltdown that was inevitable.   “Eat.  Quickly.  Don’t drip.  Watch your dress…the car seat…your hair!”  In the central New York Finger Lakes summer air of the 1950’s…where air conditioning was only in the movie theater….no child (or adult I suspect) could eat a Creamsicle©, Fudgesicle©, Popsicle© or ice cream cone fast enough to avoid becoming one with their treat.

One very vivid memory I have is the slow motion horror image of my Creamsicle© tumbling off the stick and into my father’s Sunday suit pocket.  I liked to stand in the back seat of the car behind my father…one arm around his neck.  “Hold me tight, Debbie, so I don’t fall out of the window!” my father teased.  Mom would “tsk tsk” us both…and fuss to make sure my father didn’t speed over a hump in the road and cause us all to pop in the air.  “Precious cargo, Al!”  Mom didn’t drive and speed was anything over 15 MPH.

Normally we would have found a shady spot to eat our ice cream, but the heat had crept into even the deepest shade.  My parents decided to drive along some of the more out of the way old roads that meandered through the wooded glades…and to catch a breeze through the windows of our moving car.

My left arm was wrapped around my father’s neck and my right hand was full of dripping Creamsicle©.  One lick…and my father’s devilish scoot over a hump in the road…and the rest is history.

Eventually…after we had licked our fingers clean, our mother would fish her embroidered hankie…it usually had lavender flowers…out of her ‘church purse’ and put it to her lips, gently spit and tidied up our sticky faces.  Today’s mothers whip out the antibacterial wipes and take care of business.   Sissies.

So my dream took me home for a stroll along the little Village of Cayuga and my Friday morning cup of coffee carried me through a memory of the summer Sundays of my childhood.    I am refreshed and re-energized to haunt Cornell’s Archival Library and Campus and the Tompkins County History Center and to walk up the trail to the base of Taughannock Falls.  I am anticipating the long days of archiving a pioneer cemetery or two followed by a glass of wine from one of the Cayuga wineries at sunset on the deck of rental my cottage on Cayuga Lake.  And shopping at the Ithaca Farmer’s Market to stock up the little cottage’s kitchen.  Ah…and a feasting brunch at Simeon’s in Ithaca…with one of their signature Bloody Mary’s.  Talking with the folks who sound like me.  Researching, Writing and Reminiscing.  Home.

I feel better…and I didn’t need William Shatner’s Priceline©…or some little garden gnome from Travelocity©.    But I do think I need to run out today and buy a Creamsicle©.

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

Good Pioneer Stock

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

Enfield Days

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

Map of Applegate Corners in Enfield New York 1853

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

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

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

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

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

If you Blink, You will Miss It.

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

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

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

Case In Point

Estate of Peter Van Dorn

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

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

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

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

Ithaca Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2012.  All Rights Reserved

Chains and Links and Stumps

A note to my readers:  The crocus…or is that croci?… are peeking out of the ground and there are tiny buds appearing on the maple trees.  February will soon be a memory and that can only mean one thing.  FIELD TRIP!   My field pack is open and the contents lie on the floor in front of me.  Digital cameras.  Check.  Digital Voice Recorder.  Check.  Batteries.  Check.  Notebook…the old fashioned kind…low tech…but better safe than sorry in the field. Check.  And the padded space that awaits my laptop.  I have added a new device this year…a Christmas gift…a wand scanner.

And there is my “cemetery kit”…much smaller than in previous years as I have learned what I really need.  My digital cameras are high resolution and the detail that I achieve is astonishing most of the time.  There are those old stones that tantalize with the faint and almost indistinct impressions…is that an “A” or an “R”?  Does that say 1863 or 1836?  There are tips and tricks to reveal what the naked eye cannot do unassisted, but CAUTION! is the word.  A good number of well meaning folks spray the old monuments with shaving cream…or rub mud into the inscription…a few throw on talcum powder.  I might be a fussy preservationist, but those practices don’t sit well with me so I carry distilled water in a spray bottle and a generous sheet of Mylar to fight the good fight without compromising a weathered and fragile tombstone.   Distilled water darkens a stone and the Mylar sheet reflects sunlight at the best angle to bring up the contrast.  If it needs a more delicate touch, I spray a water color brush and apply it to the impressions.  I have been known to gently adopt a Braille touch…fingering the inscription…but, oh so gently.   AND only if I cannot accomplish a discerning image with my digital cameras.

Lichen and mildew are a natural occurrence and though they, too, act on the stone, scrubbing it away is a bad idea.  I have a soft brush to tease it away and if it doesn’t yield….it stays.  Believe me, it goes against my inquisitive nature and my Virgo need to be pristine and scrub the world clean.  That is outweighed by my respect for it being someone’s monument…not a stone…and to preserve it at all costs.

Of course, the monuments are not the only considerations.  Even well kept cemeteries represent challenges.  I have only visited one cemetery in all of the years that I have been “in the field” that was even close to level or on firm ground.  But I trek the pioneer cemeteries of central New York where the Ice Age glaciers dug out the deep rivers and lakes and deposited soil forming the drumlins and rolling hills.   Mother Nature rolled out the welcome mat for all manner of beasties.  Mosquitoes.  Ticks.  Gophers and Woodchucks.  AND snakes.  Hence, my walking stick…my Wellies…my long pants, and sleeves and cap and two fresh pair of socks.  My poncho is neatly rolled up and tucked in the kit…I have been known to spend hours in a cemetery…pouring rain or not.

This year…a NEW walking stick fashioned by Native Americans…I love it on a number of levels!…and the order is in for the new Wellies.  A few years ago, I would spend ridiculous amounts of money on high fashion shoes and designer label clothes tiptoeing on the balls of my feet and giving Paris Hilton a run for her…well…money.  Now I am so terribly content with my sensible mud boots and a walking stick to scout out uneven, unstable ground, critter holes….and the hapless snake that wants to get away from me as much as I want to run from it.  Dolce Gabbana who?


While I find a sentimental dedication to locating ancestral burials, archiving them with hand written notes or by voice recording, digital still and video images and using my iPhone for GPS coordinates, I have begun the task of learning about land records…where they lived.  After all, life is what we are seeking.  Some of us are fortunate to find ancestral dwellings still standing…or places of business…where we can stand in the moment…still…slow breathing…and letting the dust motes drift in and out of instant syncopation…and sense the bending of temporal existence.  Our ancestors voices and footsteps…the smell of a hearth or sawdust underfoot…or the gentle nicker of a horse.  Senses wide open to a rift in time.

And so I go home twice a year.  Something I did not do in my youth…I was so busy with  the frantic nature of everyday life…and the pleasure of a great wardrobe.  I worked like a marathon runner…raised my children…cared for my mother and my dear Tim in the last two years of his life.  Life was full and challenging and I was everywhere at once.  On demand…a cable TV term now…

This year I go once again to the little rural community of Enfield with a fresh spirit.  I know where you are buried GGG Grandparents, Peter Van Dorn and Mary Irwin.  I spent time at your resting place with my brother…and then my son.  And I found you GGG Grandparents Samuel David Purdy and Semantha Ingersoll after my son pushed his way through thickets to access your obelisk.  Elizabeth Weyburn Ingersoll…you surprised us a few feet away and I was in one of those “time stops” moments that you never forget.  But this year…this year…I know where you lived.

Lura’s Message

Lura King Williams Probate Record

I am Lorinda “Lura” Smith Williams great great great granddaughter.  And she left me everything in her probate records.  Everything.  Her signed probate records spoke to me…”I am your grandmother.”  It is the one confirming document that I have that tells me my analysis was 100% accurate.  It also is pages and pages of legalese and surveyor language that tells me where the boundaries are for their home and the surrounding property.  Property which includes a saw mill and the creek that runs through Enfield.  The very creek that flooded in 1935 and that probably compromised the eastern end of the Presbyterian Cemetery in Enfield where Samuel Purdy and his family were buried.

Reading the description of the property…chains and links and rods…with the occasional reference to a stump or a blacksmith shop, the dam and the creek, left me agog.  Now I am not THAT anal that I have to dot those i’s and cross those t’s, but getting a sense of where they trod and toiled, laughed and ate, gave birth and died was important to me.   Their lives are important to me and the land that provided them with footfall is the bridge.

I was fortunate enough to find a map on Bill Hecht’s wonderful site...all FREE!

Enfield New York Applegate Corners 1853

And there is Enfield, New York in 1853 with its inhabitants and their homesteads written in the neat script of the day. surveyors needed…I know Applegate Corners and Enfield Center and Van Dorn Corners and I can go back home and slow down time…let the dust motes drift…breathe and listen for my Grandmother Lura.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2012.  All Rights Reserved