Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Tombstone Tuesday/Jane Watkins of Manchester, NY

Jane Watkins

     I almost didn't write this blog, the subject is not a pleasant one.  A short time ago I wrote about Edwin Watkins, a former slave who along with his family lived in the small town of Manchester in upstate NY.  Edwin seemed to fit right in to Manchester, he was even elected to the position of school trustee in 1865.  His son Edwin Jr. married a woman named Jane whose fate was to die in childbirth, like so many of her 19th century sisters.  Edwin Jr. eventually moved to Auburn, NY and remarried. When he died in 1921, his widow wished to receive his Civil War pension--but first she had to prove the first wife's demise.  

     The story of how some prominent men of Manchester replaced Jane's broken tombstone and sent a photo of the new stone to the pension office is told here.  Thinking that stone might be of interest in a "Tombstone Tuesday" blog I decided to seek it out.  Oddly enough the stone wasn't listed in the online cemetery inventory, but the burial records showed Jane Watkins and infant in row 32, close to my 2nd great-grandfather Paul Worden. I also had a description of it's location from the news article (see above link).

    This should be easy enough to find I thought.  After pausing to say hi to Grandpa Paul I looked and looked...nothing.  Then I spotted a stone in the extreme south west corner almost completely hidden by tree branches.  Walking over I could see no inscription at all which struck me as odd, the stone wasn't all that old?  But it was blank, not a mark to be seen.  I started back to my car then stopped.  No. They didn't.  They wouldn't.  

     I retraced my steps back to the stone, and climbing in among the branches I looked at the back.  They did.  There on the back of the stone was the name Jane; to say I was horrified would be an understatement.  All the other stones in this cemetery faced the traditional east, Jane's faced west.  I couldn't get a good shot of the inscription since there was no light in the foliage.  I guess the residents of my hometown regressed a bit between 1860 and 1921.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Finding Vincent Graves/In Which I Ruin Yet Another Manicure

Section of French Cemetery

     Thursday, October 6th dawned clear and sunny.  By mid-day when my chauffeur husband and I began the 40 mile trek to Victory, New York where French Cemetery lay, the mercury had risen into the high seventies.  Perfect weather for grave hunting.  Victory is located in Cayuga County and is a very rural place with farms and fields interspersed between wooded areas.

     As we drove deeper into the countryside I couldn't help but wonder what had compelled anyone to move there in the first place?  There was no industry, no canal, no port or railroad to draw them; all I could think is that most likely it was due to Victory being part of New York's "military tract", land the state set aside to reward Revolutionary War soldiers.  After a wrong turn or two we came upon the cemetery on a slight rise along the road.  French Cemetery is a very unassuming burial place and not terribly large, good news since I had never been there before and had no idea where my people rested.  At that point though, something unusual happened.  I stepped out of the car and began walking south, but immediately stopped.  I then turned around and quickly walked north to the far end of the cemetery, and straight to the
grave of my twice widowed 4th great-grandmother Mary Clements Vincent Howland in the back row.  I couldn't even read her stained stone until I was standing right in front of it, but something drew me to that spot.

     Before we left home I had pulled up the online inventory of the cemetery and given my husband a list of names to look for, but of course I had already found Grandma Mary and right there next to her was her two year old granddaughter Mary Jane Wetherel, the child of her daughter Janet Vincent.  To the right of Mary Jane were two partially buried tombstones, one of which was snapped in two.  I looked down at them and experienced a case of deja vu-- it was Uncle Milo's stone all over again.  There was only one thing to do, I got down and started digging.  I had no tools (when will I ever learn?) other than the bottle opener on my key-chain.  (I'm fond of Guinness--it doesn't have a screw top-- don't judge me.)

     I set my husband on lookout duty for wildlife, as the day before our trip there had been an attack by a rabid coyote one town over and I wasn't taking any chances, genealogy and hydrophobia do not mix.  I finally uncovered most of the broken stone, and while I
Matilda Vincent Wife of John Irish
could read only the first few letters of the name, "MA", I could clearly make out the words,"wife of John Irish".  This was Matilda Vincent, another of Mary Clements Vincent Howland's daughters!  The day was getting hotter, and the second stone was buried even deeper than the broken one; I was getting a little discouraged when my husband retrieved a claw hammer from the car, the perfect tool for ripping turf.  Bit by bit the inscription was revealed, it was the grave of Thomas Vincent, son of Mary, brother of Matilda and Uncle of Mary Jane!  

THMs Vincent

     This was what I'd been hoping to find ever since I read their names in the online inventory, which was an alphabetized list giving no indication of who was buried next to whom.  Each of these individuals had a different last name, Howland, Wetherel, Irish, Vincent--but they were family, my family, and they were right there together just as family should be.  A short distance away was the grave of Anna Irish, sister-in-law of Matilda. 

     My husband retreated to the air conditioning of the car leaving me a few moments alone graveside.  It's puzzling how close one can feel to ancestors one has never met; as I stood there looking down on their graves I though of how over one hundred and sixty years ago ancestors of mine had stood in the same spot where I now stood, grieving as they bade farewell to their loved ones. They had done so several times in the summer of 1847 when an epidemic swept through town taking Matilda and Mary Jane.  Two of Matilda's children also died at that time and are probably there with their mother but apparently have no stones.  I raised my eyes and gazed over the rolling countryside, which seemed to be completely unchanged from the days they were here and felt such a connection to them.  Thomas' stone had the following epitaph:

Upon his grave shall blessings rest
Kind good & pious were his ways
They loved him most who knew him
And their affection speaks his praise    

     But it was three simple words carved near the bottom of little Mary Jane's stone that brought tears to my eyes:

All is well

Mary Jane
daughter of
Darius & Janet
died Aug 12, 1847
Aged 2 yrs 3 mo
& 15 ds


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Edwin Watkins Part Two/Edwin & Isabel's Family

     In time Isabel would forgive the shock and embarrassment of asking the Harmon sisters to vacate their own home, but I doubt she ever forgot it.  She and Edward got on with their lives in the log cabin and before long, children began to arrive.  The 1850 census shows Edward and Isabella Watkins, both aged 38 along with Edwin age 6, James age 5 and Celinda age 3.  All were born in New York excepting Isabel who gave her birthplace as Connecticut.

     Looking at another old newspaper column by Mr. Osgood about his younger days, I read, "We climbed the hill and arrived at the log cabin where Edwin (Edward) Watkins lived.  The family came out to greet us.  A couple of candles were on the table in front of the open widow and Eliza stood in the doorway with a string of large red beads around her neck.  Eliza was Bill's sister and their father was Steve Watkins, another giant of a man.  It was said he was never beaten by any man on the Erie Canal from New York to Buffalo. However, one day a gent put a knife into Steve, and the children came to live with their uncle."  

     This meant Edwin Sr., (or Edward as he appears in census records and will in this blog hereafter to distinguish him from his son), must have had a brother named Steve who was apparently employed on the canal.  Returning to the 1850 census I had no trouble finding Stephen and Elizabeth Watkins both age 25 living in Manchester.  With them were Louisa age 3 and William age 1.  Eliza must not have been born yet.  So, Edward did have a relative nearby after all.  I searched and searched, but could find no further mention of the murder of Steve Watkins.  I did find an article from 1859 describing a Willard Bates being charged with assault & battery after breaking a window sash over the head of a man named Steve Watkins in Canandaigua, NY.  It probably was Edward's brother--the 1860 census shows that Stephen and Elizabeth had moved to that place, along with children William, Eliza, Frances, Stephen and Sarah Watkins ages 12 to 2.

     I checked the NYS census of 1865 hoping to find the county of Stephen's birthplace, the 1855 had left that column blank, but I couldn't locate him.  He must have died between 1860 and 1865.  I found his children William and Eliza with their Uncle Edward, but no trace of Elizabeth and the other children.  Also in Edward's household was his son Edwin J. and Edwin's new wife Jane. That census also revealed that the elder Edward was born in Steuben County, NY and  Edwin J. and the other children in Ontario County.  

     Checking the 1820 census for Steuben County I found a total of one hundred eight individuals under the "free colored persons" heading and forty six slaves, mostly concentrated around Painted Post and Bath, NY.  They weren't enumerated by name so I have no way of knowing who they were, but I did find among the free men, Simon and King Watkins.  They were indexed as "Walkins", but it looks like Watkins to me.  Given the family composition of both men, I'm betting Simon was  Stephen and Edward's father.

     It was around the time of the 1865 census that Edward was elected a trustee of the school district.  All indications are that Edward and his family, with the exception of Stephen of course, were doing well in Manchester.  When Isabel Watkins died she left a will leaving land which bordered Edward's land, to her daughter Celinda.  Clearly The Watkins family had been able to purchase real estate.

     The 1870 Manchester census shows young Edwin J. and his wife Jane now in their own household with a 3 year old daughter, little Hattie.  In 1875 they had been joined by twelve year old Sarah Newport, sister of Jane.  Yes!  Now I had a maiden name for Jane and I found her in 1860 living in Sodus, NY with her family. Manchester's 1880 census tells a sad story.  Edwin was now a widower living alone.  Manchester Village Cemetery, next to the Baptist Church on Main Street, records the burial of Jane Watkins and Infant Watkins, no date given.  What happened?  Was the infant buried with Jane little Hattie or was it another baby?  It's hard to be sure, in 19th century records I've seen children much older than three referred to as infants; on the other hand, death in childbirth was not uncommon at that time.  It turned out to be the latter.  Looking for Hattie in 1880 I found her living with her aunt Celinda and Celinda's husband Charles Ross.  That is the last census in which Edwin J. appears in Manchester, by 1892 he is living alone in Auburn, NY and working as a laborer.

     Perhaps the pain of losing Jane and their baby was more than Edwin could stand to be constantly reminded of, perhaps he felt inadequate to raise a small girl like Hattie on his own.  His mother Isabel passed away in 1881 and so was unavailable to help him; sending her to Celinda must have seemed like the best solution for everyone.  But Edwin had one more surprise for me.  In an article about the history of Manchester Cemetery which appeared in an 1952 edition of the local paper was this--"Edwin Watkins, the colored man who lived on North Avenue... served in the Civil War.  His wife died Oct 2, 1875 at 23 years of age.  Edwin moved to Auburn and remarried.  After his death his second wife, [named as Josephine in the 1900 census], applied for a widow's pension, but had no proof of his first wife's death.  However, Alvin Dewey and Eugene Payne went to the cemetery, replaced the old broken headstone with a new one, took the picture and sent it to the proper authorities.  In the south west corner of the cemetery the stone still stands."  

     Neither man had probably ever met Josephine Watkins who lived in Auburn, and one would think the church burial records and a notarized statement would have satisfied the authorities.  Alvin and Eugene must have done all this out of affection for their old childhood friend Edwin J.

     In Ancestry's US Colored Troops Military Service Records, I found Edwin J. Watkins born in Manchester, enlisted at Palmyra, NY on 23 August 1864, his description says he was six feet tall--another family giant.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Edwin Watkins of Manchester, NY Part One


     My last post included a reference to Edwin Watkins, a man supposedly born into slavery who lived in Manchester, NY in the years after the Civil War.  I became curious about Edwin, I knew of no other former slaves living in Manchester.  What had brought him here and was he happy and well treated in Manchester?  Had he really been a slave and what became of him?

     While I haven't been able to answer all those questions, I have learned quite a bit about Edwin and his family.  In a weekly column by Carlos Osgood called "The Homestead" that appeared in the local paper there was more information about Edwin.  Mr. Osgood speaks of roaming the Manchester woods as a young boy and visiting Edwin, by then quite elderly, calling him a great orator, and goes on to state, "Edwin lived with the Deacon [James Harlan] away back in 1825".  Looking at the 1850 census, the first one in which I could find Edwin, he says he was born in 1812.  That means he would have been a child of about 13 in 1825.  The census also says he was born in New York State.  Slavery ended fairly early in New York, but I wasn't sure of the date so I checked the net and found this: 

In 1799, New York passed a Gradual Emancipation act that freed slave children born after July 4, 1799, but indentured them until they were young adults. In 1817 a new law passed that would free slaves born before 1799 but not until 1827. By the 1830 census there were only 75 slaves in New York.

    So Edwin could have been born into slavery and later freed.  Deacon Harlan was a well known abolitionist, so it's not surprising he would take Edwin in.  In fact, Edwin became one of the family, Mr. Osgood went on, "When the Deacon had company Edwin was invited into the parlor to meet the guests, and when they went to church, which was every Sunday, Edwin sat on the front seat of the big family carriage, and sat with the Deacon and his daughters in the family pew."  In other words, the Deacon practiced what he preached.

     The 1850 census revealed Edwin, (recorded as Edward), was married and had a family of his own by that time, and Mr. Osgood was enlightening on that topic as well, noting--  "Edwin began smiling on a girl who lived with the Yeomans family at Walworth.  In fact she had grown up there.  She had been carefully trained in housekeeping and needlework and they thought a great deal of her.  Whether she was born a slave is more than I know."  He then repeats the story of Edwin's courtship as he heard it from Edwin himself, "One evening Edwin and his girl were sitting in the kitchen when Mr. Yeomans passed through saying 'Isabel, what have you got that damned man hanging around here for?'  Then Edwin rose to the occasion saying he could not see why he should be treated in this manner for he owned one of the best farms in Manchester with a big brick house and a good log tenant house.  He said he owned six good horses and a lot of cattle.  Adding that he was a prominent member of the Baptist church and for several years had sung in the choir."  

     The Yeomans eventually relented, even sending Isabel off with a generous dowry.  So she and  Edwin were married that Christmas; moving into the log house since Edwin told his new bride the brick house was currently rented and he couldn't take possession until spring.  This went on quite well, until the day Isabel walked over to the brick house and asked the Deacon's daughters when they were going to move out.  Edwin must have had some explaining to do at that point!

Next blog--Edwin and Isabell's family...


Monday, October 3, 2016

Politics Past

     As the most bizarre presidential campaign ever seen by the staff here at Ellie's Ancestors painfully winds to a close, we are reminded of a time when the political process was more dignified--or perhaps not.

     We refer you to the following, which appeared in the Shortsville NY Enterprise in 1930, written by Carlos P. Osgood, an elderly, long time resident of the area who recorded his early memories in a weekly column called, "The Homestead".  The piece below details an election held in 1868 for the position of school district trustee which just happens to involve my 3rd great-grandfather Paul Worden as one of the candidates:

     The trusteeship was held for a number of years by such people as TJ McLouth, E. Peirce and Anson Lapham, a rather imposing list of names, but we find that on October 16, 1865, Edwin Watkins, colored, born a slave, was elected trustee.  The main object of being trustee was the hiring of the teachers and also handling the financial affairs of the district, which amounted in some years to as much as $60.

     Things must have drifted along smoothly until the October meeting of 1868, when there seemed to be a quite marked division of opinion as to whether Henry B. Nichols or Paul Worden would be elected for trustee.  The night was dark and the rain fell down, but I was allowed to go with my father to the meeting.  He drove the old white horse, hitched to the old-fashioned buggy with a leather top, with a leather apron in front of us.  Over in the field that now belongs to Oscar Randall, across from the schoolhouse, "Teen" Worden [brother of Paul] had built a shelter of cornstalks and also built a fire to furnish light and warmth while he was husking corn and singing something like this:

With my love on the land
And my body in the sea
And the blue waves rolling over me

     The schoolhouse was pretty well filled with people when we arrived.  Thomas J. McClouth was chosen chairman and Burrus Osgood clerk.  Mr. McLouth was a quite tall, spare built gentleman, with a large amount of dignity.  He wore a high, white beaver hat of the Henry Harrison type and a long, tall, cut-away coat.  He had been a member of the State Legislature and was active in the organization of the Republican party.

     My grandfather, Ezra Peirce, was there.  Ezra was an immense man, weighed probably two hundred  and twenty-five pounds, but was simply big and boney; a giant in strength and very vigorous.  He wore a soft, black hat and a sack coat and was decidedly a Democrat.  Grandfather had also been a member of the Legislature, so when moments later a discussion of parliamentary rules arose, a good time was had by all.

      After awhile Mr. Henry B. Nichols arose to address the meeting.  Certain young men present had been over in the field where Worden was husking corn and had shelled a few ears and put the shelled corn in their coat pockets.  It is well to state at this time the room was dimly lighted, in fact, was lighted by one tallow candle and three or four lanterns with perforated tin sides, and the light coming through these openings made the walls of the room look as though they were breaking out.

     Mr. Nichols was just getting warmed up in his oratory when a couple handsful of grape and canister or shrapnel, or maybe it was shelled corn, flew through the air, caught the orator in the face and resounded vigorously from the beaver hat of the chairman.  Then my grandfather Ezra rose and I was sitting beside him.  I had never noticed before how large he was as he waved that immense hand toward the offending youths, as he told them what would happen should any more of that corn be thrown.  Order was restored and Paul Worden was elected trustee.

     I enjoy this article, and not just because Grandpa Paul is involved.  There is so much here conjuring up images of the past, the horse pulled buggy with a leather apron for wet weather, the description of the dimly lit school room before the days of electricity, the type of song that was popular; not to mention the delightful surprise of learning that voters from my home area were open minded enough in 1865 to elect a man born into slavery to office.  

     I would bet many small town newspapers ran such columns, well worth reading.


Monday, September 19, 2016

Pass The Nodoz


     Well, I've done it again.  Upon reading that Find My Past was offering a free look at their new Irish records until midnight yesterday I hastened to the site.  The long, long, long awaited Valuation Office Books were included!  In my rush I failed to notice that the books were to be free forever.  I had missed the email notifying me of this momentous event, having been preoccupied with family events, and only viewed it late last night.  Midnight?  Damn!  So even though exhausted by the aforementioned family matters, I settled in for a long session.  We're talking Valuation Books after all!

     I found some really good information and some disappointments.  I located the entry for great-great-great-grandfather Daniel McGarr by finally just searching his townland of Ballyraggan.  McGarr seems like such a simple name to spell, but it never works out that way.  This time it was indexed as Magan--that's a new one.  This was a house book and had some wonderful information.  I knew from the Irish census taken years after his demise, that there were several out buildings on Daniel's farm, which was occupied at the time of the census by his late daughter Sarah's husband Thomas Hughes; but I had no idea if the buildings were there during Daniel's lifetime.

     As seen above, the question is settled.  Along with the house, there was what appears to be a Cow House, (that one made me giggle), a barn and stable, and another I can't quite make out--it looks like Cas House or Car House, still puzzling that one out.  I wrote to the Valuation Office years ago and they sent me wonderful copies from the cancelled books of Daniel's holding, detailing decade by decade the current occupiers so I almost didn't waste my "limited" time looking for him.  But this information from the house book was not included in the packet sent to me by the VO, so I was glad to have found it.

     I also located another 3rd great grandfather, Connor Ryan, in Goldengarden, Tipperary and got a peek at his life there on the estate of Lord Hawarden.  He had only a house and barn which really didn't surprise me.  While Grandpa Daniel on the Fitzgerald estate had a generous (for the era) lease, Hawarden was very stingy about giving them out.  Grandpa Connor was probably hesitant to make major improvements to his holding with no real assurance he'd be there long.

     The disappointing parts?  Still nothing on my Hore/O'Hore/Hoare family, another seemingly simple name that gets mangled.  Just nothing, not in these records nor the tithe applotments.  I know their address from their children's baptisms, but they are nowhere in sight.  The other disappointment is that I was under the impression the cancelled books were to be included, but they aren't there.  The bright side is, I can again write to the Valuation Office and request copies of Connor Ryan's cancelled book entries now that I know for sure he's there in the records.  It's a great time to be an Irish researcher!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Of Blogs And Cousins And Long Distance Genealogy


     It began with an innocent enough email from a far distant cousin, (in both distance and genetics), inviting me to join in her search for details of our Vincent family from Halfmoon, Saratoga, New York.  We initially connected through this blog, and have shared bits and pieces over time, but that one email has elevated our collaboration to something approaching obsession.  Like so many of these family journeys, this one has twisted and turned and taken us far afield of the original quest.  (Which in truth I'm not sure I even remember, and since I'm the undisputed queen of lost emails, will probably have to ask my cousin to remind me of.)

     Together we have uncovered a staggering amount of information and on the way proved beyond any doubt that the genealogy, published in book form, of the line of Revolutionary War soldier Captain Jeremiah Vincent, his son John and John's son Thomas,(my fourth great-grandfather), is incorrect and incomplete.  How did we do it?  By egging each other on from opposite ends of the continent for one thing, but once again the amazing internet played a huge roll.  From census records and a genealogical society application on Ancestry, to wills and land deeds at Family Search; from a guardianship noted in the previously mentioned book to burials on the Find a Grave site, along with obituaries and other sources, a picture slowly emerged from the shadows of centuries.

     The book claimed Thomas, son of John Vincent and Mary Clements, died and was buried in French Cemetery in Victory, Cayuga Co. NY in 1842, which we found to be true.  It also claimed his wife Matilda Taylor died in 1847 and was buried in Saratoga County, which is not.  In fact, Matilda married a man named Rockwell Rood after Thomas' death and lived until 1890.  I found her with Rockwell and several of her Vincent daughters in the 1850 census and other sources.  There is in fact a Matilda Vincent buried in Saratoga, her stone even reads "wife of Thomas" however-- there is also a Thomas Vincent buried there with her.  The author of the genealogy book apparently overlooked that and so didn't consider this could be a different couple, which it was.  Clearly Thomas can't be buried in both Cayuga AND Saratoga.

     The guardianship was major in the search.  The book and every single tree and site I've viewed claim that John Vincent and Mary Clements had only one child, the above mentioned Thomas.  Yet guardianship papers filed in 1817 named Mary Vincent and John Clements (who turned out to be Mary's brother) guardians of the minor children Matilda, Thomas, Maria and Janet Vincent.  Now our search began in earnest to find these children, (except of course Thomas whom we had already documented).  And we did find them with the exception of Maria.  Pretty good detective work if I do say so, since they were married females using their husband's surnames.

     There's lots more-- for instance, as it happened Mary Clements Vincent also remarried, but to detail all our findings and sources here would take me six or seven pages and I like to keep these posts concise and readable.  Any Vincent's out there who would like to know more can email me, but a few points apply to all researchers:
  1.  Just because a genealogy has been published in book form or any other form doesn't mean it's infallible.  
  2. Those trees on Ancestry whose only source is another unsourced tree?  Great for clues but not much more. No matter how many trees say the same thing, if they just copied it from each other it's the same as one tree.
  3. What seems like a sure bet, like in the burial of, "Matilda wife of Thomas Vincent", is sometimes just a coincidence.
  4. Genealogy is ever so much fun with a co-conspirator.
  5. Lastly--verify, verify, verify. I always spend a little time trying to disprove my current theory.  It may not be fast, but when I'm done I'm reasonably sure the finished genealogy is accurate.