Sunday, October 4, 2015

Patriot Francis Lester

In April of 1818, Francis Lester applied for a pension as a Revolutionary War soldier. At 76, he states that he is "destitute of property and from my reduced circumstances I need assistance of my country for support." He was a resident of Deerfield, MA when he enlisted, and later a resident of Greenfield.

By his statement describing his service, he enlisted first in the Massachusetts Militia in March of 1775 and served in Cambridge for six months. A few months later, he volunteered for an additional six months, which he served at Ticonderoga. Before his time was up, he enlisted in the Continental Army for three years and joined Captain Torrey's company of the Congress Regiment in Lancaster, PA. He served for the balance of the war until June of 1783.  Interestingly, he states that his discharge papers were destroyed "about twenty years since" by his children when he and his wife were not home.

He received $96 annually until his death in 1832.The local newspaper contained the following obituary:

Died, in this town, on Wednesday evening last, Mr. Francis Lester, a revolutionary pensioner, aged 94 years.  He was probably the oldest surviving member of the revolutionary worthies in this section, if not in this state.  On the evening of his death he went to bed in his usual health and in the morning was found dead in his bed.

His march of the field of time was long and arduous, and well, we believe, particularly during the latter years of his life, did he sustain it.

He enjoyed uncommon health, and was remarkably vigorous for his years.  But a day or two before his death, we saw him walking, erect and with almost as firm a step as when, in the days of youth, with the legions of revolutionary fame, he charged home upon the enemy, and made the plains ring with the shout of victory.  But his earthly campaign is finished, and we trust he is gone to share the rewards of the righteous.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Wallace George Ames

The early records of the Town of Erving, MA are full of documentation of property transfers that were registered with the Town Clerk.  Most involve livestock.  One entry caught my eye as I was paging through Volume 6 dated 1846 - 1887 in the Clerk's office in Town Hall recently.

John Ames of Erving submitted a statement in which he gave his son, Wallace, to James Bass, until he should reach 21 years of age.  John states that Wallace was ten years old on 16 January, 1863.  Bass is to "clothe and school" the child and care for him "in sickness and in health."  The documents do not reveal much more of the circumstances, but I followed the trail.

Wallace was born in Northfield in 1853, as his father said.  In 1860, John and his wife Susan lived in Northfield with three children:  Eunice, 11, Henry, 9 and Wallace, 7. All three children are found in the Northfield births, but are unnamed. John was a farmer, but did not have any real estate, according to the census.  They were older parents, John giving his age as 59 and Susan as 43.

In 1865 the Massachusetts census lists young Wallace with James Bass. The household also includes James' wife, 4 year old daughter, and Asa Packard, age 13.  I had hopes that Wallace was going to learn an exciting trade, but Bass is a farmer in Erving.  Henry was also living away from his parents in 1865. He is listed with an elderly Clark couple in Stow, MA. John, Susan and Eunice are also listed in Stow. Eunice married John Manning in Stow before the end of 1865. She was only 16.

In 1870, Wallace is known as George W.Ames, still with the Bass family at 17. By then, James had two young daughters, but his wife was not listed. Eunice and her husband John were listed in Bolton.

In 1875 both Henry and George W. married. George was 22 and past his responsibilities to Mr. Bass.  By 1880 George W.Ames and his wife Jennie had a son and a daughter in Erving, and his mother, Susan was in the household.  They are listed in 1900 in Swanzey NH and in Keene in 1910. Eunice had her children in Bolton and Royalston,and was in Richmond NH in 1880.  Henry married in Fitzwilliam, NH, so the family all seemed to be looking north.

There are many details missing in this story, but it seems to be the story of a family on the edge.  I'm sure it wasn't unique.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Trip to Albany

I learned a lot venturing into the New York State Library and Archives today. It must be 20 years since my last trip. I remember looking through census records that weren't available in many other places. The internet was young. Here are my tips:

  • They are open on  Saturday!  I didn't have quit my job just to visit.
  • Parking is convenient and only $5, and free after 2 pm if you were nearby and just wanted to drop in.
  • The library on the 7th floor caters to genealogists (see photo.)
  • The museum is in the same building, so you might be able to bring the family.
  • The archives on the 11th floor has lockers to store your stuff, because you are only allowed in with pencil and paper (and cell phone camera)
  • The readers for the Vital Records microfiche on the 11th floor come in two varieties:  good and bad.  Don't get stuck with the little machine that doesn't focus!
  • Pop your order form for Vital Rercord orders right into the box there (they have the blank forms too), and reduce the wait time.  (They will loan  you a pen to sign the $22 check to the New York State Dept. of Health)
  • Records that they allowed Ancestry to scan are available by link from their web site, and free to New York residents to search.  And all you have to do to prove you are a New York resident is enter a zip code.
  • Requesting documents from the paper archive requires waiting an hour or so, but then you can browse your box at will.  No gatekeepers to supervise your fingers on every document, unlike some archives.  
It was an enlightening day.  As usual I didn't make a concrete enough plan of my goals, but I got acclimated and did order several death certificates.  Now, I wait.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Remarkable Woman Ancestors: Poor Edith

My mother used to speak of "poor Edith" because, I'm sure, her Aunt Bess spoke of "poor Edith." Mom wasn't sure what disaster had befallen her. Perhaps she had run away with a mysterious stranger?  When I was finally able to uncover her story, I hesitated to share her misfortune publicly.  After meeting one of her direct descendants and sharing the story, I decided it was time to  honor her with this history.

Edith Colman was born in April of 1877 in Middlefield, Otsego County, New York, just south of the village of Cooperstown, oldest child of John Colman and Ida Pierce. The brothers John and Horace Colman were neighbors, worked together in their father's saw mill, and formed a battery for a local baseball team.   John was four years older (b. 1852) and married 10 years sooner (1871).  When Edith was eight years old, her cousin Bessie was born to Horace and his wife Maggie Gilgun, my great-grandparents. Aunt Bess was elderly when I knew her, but the memories I have are that she encouraged me to play her piano and built Lincoln Log cabins with me.

Edith appears in the 1880 Federal Census of Middlefield with her family as a four-year-old. Her great-grandfather was living with her family. He survived four more years to die at 84. The 1892 New York State Census presents another snapshot of the family. In addition to her two younger brothers, Edith would have grown up with an older cousin, Lucy Becker nearby, as well as Bessie, I imagine a happy little girl in an inter-generational extended family. Baseball would have been an important leisure activity, played on the field near their homes.

Jumping to the 1900 Federal Census, she is not listed with her family. For a while I was stumped, until I dug deep into the newspaper archive at  I found several notices of her early activities.  In June of 1889 Edith performed a duet with Lulu Potter at the 'annual exhibition and graduating exercises of the Cooperstown Union School and Academy.' She was awarded the Edward Clark Punctuality Prize three times. She led the Young People's Meeting of the Universalist Church in 1891.  On October 13 of 1893 it was reported:

A very pleasant party was given by Miss Edith Coleman at her home near this village, Thursday evening of last week.  About forty of her friends were present and a highly enjoyable time was passed in dancing and in other amusements.

Finally, newspaper searches for Bessie Colman yielded a notice of Edith's wedding 21 October 1896 to Keller Clark.  Bessie had played the wedding march on the piano, quite an honor for a twelve-year-old! Backing up, I found a notice in the newspaper that "invitations have been issued" on October 9th.  The description of the wedding at her home is quite picturesque.  Reverend Mr. Perry performed the ceremony in "a most impressive manner."  Refreshments were provided for the estimated 80 in attendance.

The parlor in which the ceremony took place was prettily decorated by willing hands of girl friends, evergreens, running pine, bittersweet berries, asparagus and ferns being used. In one corner of the room was an elaborate arch of evergreens and white daisies, beneath which the nuptial knot was tied. The bride wore a gown of white lans down tastefully trimmed with satin ribbon. She carried a bouquet of white roses. The maid of honor wore dotted mul over yellow and carried yellow roses.[Otsego Farmer, 23 October 1896]

Their attendants were Katherine Malloy and Fred G. Hopkins. The newspaper account continues to relate that they went by carriage to Richfield Springs that evening, and from there to Niagra Falls, Toronto, and 'the West.'  On November 6 there is a notice that the couple had returned to her parents' home, where they would reside until 'taking up housekeeping' in the Spring.

The groom, Keller Clark, was a local boy, also from Middlefield, described in the matrimonial notice as "a young man of sterling worth and excellent habits." He was a graduate of the Cooperstown Union High School and Toronto Veterinary Collage. Edith had been working for Dr. Knapp, a dentist, prior to their marriage.

The 1900 Federal Census lists the couple in Middlefield on a farm, owned outright. They had a 14 year-old farm hand in the household. In 1905 Keller listed his occupation as veterinary surgeon on the New York State census.  They had a son, Harris, born 5 April 1903.

Searching the newspapers further with Edith's married name, I discovered the crisis in the family. On July 14 of 1907, approaching their tenth anniversary, Edith left home, leaving a note that she would never be seen again. Did Bessie have any hint of her trouble?  By that time, she was 23 and a teacher. Newspapers as far away as Albany picked up the story and reported that as many as 100 men joined the search. Bloodhounds were set on her scent.  It was feared that she had gone into the lake, leaving  four-year-old Harris home alone.

This description was released, in hopes that she would be seen somewhere in the region:

Height 5 ft. 2 1/2 inches, weight 136 pounds, light complexion, light hair worn parted in the middle and the back hair done in the shape of a figure eight, had on a blue sailor hat with black quill and a wide brim., white shirt waist pinned at the back of the neck with two small gold pins inked together, gray skirt and laced shoes. She was somewhat round-shouldered and when a little excited her cheeks reddened, good musician. 

Weeks went by and no solid leads were found.  It took three years before a man searching for ginseng root in the woods within two miles of their home found her remains.  The newspapers reported the details, focused on a small bottle of laudanum near her side.  The death was ruled a suicide.  She was identified by her jewelry and dental records.  The mystery was solved.  She was laid to rest in Lakeview Cemetery in her parents' plot.

The brief social notes in the local papers mentioned Edith's son, Harris Clark, at various points in his life.  At times he was said to be 'visiting' his father, indicating that he spent most of his time with his Clark grandparents.  Keller Clark remarried three weeks after Edith was found. Harris continued to spend time with his grandparents.  He boarded in Cooperstown while attending Cooperstown Union High School. He was listed with three others in Middlefield as "recent victims of the measles" and improving on 5 May 1916.  In the 1920 census he was listed with his uncle Howard Clark at age 17.

Harris married in 1922. His uncle, not his father, gave him 1/2 acre of land to give them a start in life together.  He and his wife Lillian Bliss had six children.  I was happy to meet their son Robert "Bucko" Clark in 2014 and provide some information on the Colman side of his family.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Podcasts, Historic Houses and Marketing, Oh, My!

I first "met" Marian Pierre Louis on Facebook, and we have been together quite a few times since then at genealogical events.  In one of our early conversations, Marian reminded me of the importance of valuing your professional services. Marian continues to help me evaluate my identity as a genealogist through one of her enterprises,  The Genealogy Professional Podcast. I have enjoyed the range of advice and experiences presented by her guests. Her professional focus as a genealogist has shifted over time from research to education, and we can all benefit from what she brings.

Conference attendees will have a chance to meet Marian at the New England Regional Genealogical Conference in Providence, RI in April  Her talk "Ten Brickwall Tips for Genealogists" will take place on Saturday, April 18.  I asked Marian about her session, and about what is going on in her life these days.

The NERGC presentation will focus on practical ways to resolve research challenges. The tips can apply to anyone, from beginners to more advanced researchers. It is a good one! Everyone should be able to walk away with at least one or two tips that they had never considered before. Beginners should find it a real toolbox for approaching genealogy problems.

Beginning her career in corporate marketing, those abilities permeate many aspects of Marian's life.  Her personal research involved ancestors in New York and Pennsylvania. As a professional, she realized that the distance from her Eastern Massachusetts home to repositories in those states would make it difficult to successfully specialize there. She redirected her research business to the southern New England states and was able to broaden her own family tree.

Marian turned her love of historic homes into a specialty as well. The physical aspect of touching and experiencing a home that someone also loved 200 years ago is intoxicating. She developed a niche, preparing histories of the houses themselves, not the inhabitants. On Facebook she found a community of like-minded historians by establishing a page called Explore Historic Houses. That passion for  the structures continues, and she looks forward finding time again to serve as a docent at a nearby museum-house.

Marian found a way to reach out to a wider audience through podcasting. She describes herself as "someone with no experience with audio production whatsoever" but that didn't stop her from embracing the technology. It was a first for me as well as a subscriber when she began "broadcasting" Fieldstone Common.  The ambitious weekly schedule brought a series of authors of historic books to an appreciative audience. We followed her through changes in platforms and equipment upgrades.  Her ace in the hole is that savior who many rely on for technical help: the teen-aged boy!

Legacy Family Tree Webinars are a popular offering from the Legacy software group.  Marian has been a presenter many times in this format as well. She has now joined Legacy part-time as Social Media Marketing Manager, which she describes as a dream job.

It is easy to set aside our family research as we get wrapped up in projects or life - is there life outside of genealogy?  Marian shared a recent breakthrough in her family research at her blog: Roots & Rambles.  She says, "I have had a re-awakening lately in terms of my own research. I feel like a kid again. I don't want to stop! Now that I don't do client research I have more time for my own family. And with the amount of digitized records that have come online thanks to Ancestry and FamilySearch,  I have been able to research my Pennsylvania and New York ancestors better without having to travel. I'm finding the thing that I love most is transforming names and dates into real people. I love learning about the people in a given generation and how they interacted. I still have quite a few brick walls so I think I'll have enough to keep me busy for the rest of my life!"