Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Organizing Your Genealogy --- How I Did It and You Can, Too!

Bins and bins of unorganized materials that needed sorting

In my grandmother's last years, she used to say to me often, "I need to get all this stuff organized for you."  By stuff, she meant the family group sheets, handwritten notes, photocopies of book texts and letters from historical societies that she had collected in her genealogical journeys, not to mention the newspapers clippings she'd faithfully saved and the family photos she'd preserved.  It was a lifetime of work, and figuring out how to pass it down really troubled her.  Truthfully, my grandmother was quite organized.  She utilized a file cabinet and a binder system.  She'd just accumulated a lot of paperwork, didn't have time to revisit all of it, and was fearful that things were misfiled, or that notes were out of date.  I promised her I would take care of it.

I'm about the world's most organized person.  Everything in my life has a system.  I keep things neat, and preferably alphabetized.  However, when my grandmother passed away and I inherited all her family history materials, it was overwhelming.  My parents delivered all the files to me in several huge storage bins, and while I've dug through them repeatedly in the past four years, those big bins have remained, taking up space and driving me nuts.  There was so much paperwork to review; so many photos to scan.  Those bins also reminded me that I need to overhaul my own system so that these new files could be incorporated.  It exhausted me before I started.  But then, I finally got sick of looking at the bins, and the guilt of not having honored that promise to my grandmother began to really bother me. I cleared my calendar and got to work.  Here's how I tackled the mess.  I'm sharing this process in the hopes that it will help others who need to get organized.

The big mess

1. Dump Everything Out On The Floor

This was the hard part for a neat freak like me.  I made a big mess, and it remained a big mess for many days.  Stepping over piles of stuff gave me anxiety, but it also pushed me to get the work done. I pulled everything out of the bins, spread it on the floor, and then started the work of sorting it. Nothing was going back into the bins.  The bins were going to be gone from my life forever!

2. Group Like Items

Photos went in one pile.  If they weren't already labeled (my grandmother was so good about this and most everything was labeled), then I looked carefully at the paperwork the photos had been stored with so I could make identifications before moving the photos.  Clippings and personal letters went in another pile.  Then, I simply made piles of miscellaneous paperwork by surname.  Ayre in one stack; Smith in another.  I didn't start reading anything or scanning pages, I just stacked.  Finally, everything from those bins was assigned to a pile.  Then, I brought in my own paper files, which had been stored in my office.  I added those files to the surname stacks.

3. New Organizing Systems

I needed some new equipment to organize the stuff from the bins.  After a quick trip to Staples, I had a larger filing cabinet, plus hanging files and file folders.  If you already have a working filing system in place, you may not need new gear.  I had inherited a lot of additional material and my old, small filing cabinet was not going to do the trick.  I got out the hanging files and labeled each with a surname. Then, I inserted everything from the stacks into a hanging file.  Voila, done!  There were three surnames with too much paperwork to fit into a hanging file, so I set those aside until the next step in the process.

4. Reduce, Scan, Recycle

This is the part that took the longest and was the most challenging.  I left everything out on the table and floor during this process, so that I wouldn't be tempted to just close the file cabinet drawers and not complete it.  For each family surname folder, I sorted through the paperwork and decided what to keep and what to discard. This was my process:

  • One accurate family group sheet per family.
  • Any original documents (birth certificates, marriage licenses, obituaries clipped from newspapers, etc.)
I scanned all original documents using a free scanning app,  Genius Scan, which is much faster than using my flatbed scanner.  I only pulled out the flatbed scanner for photos or decorative certificates, since you really want the best quality with those. Using Genius Scan, I quickly stored the digital files both in the app and to a Dropbox file where I keep my genealogy backups.

  • Duplicates.
  • Print-outs of things I already have in digital format and attached to my online and desktop trees.  This includes some census records and birth/death/marriage records.
There were a lot of duplicates of things in my grandmother's files, like four photocopies of the same obituary and multiple family group sheets with exact the same information.  I discarded the extras to save space.  I also recycled some photocopies of census records and marriage records that I already had saved in other locations.  

  • Photocopies of texts
I still had more paper than I was going to be able to keep.  After careful evaluation of the materials, I realized I didn't need to keep a hard copy of some papers that could easily be digitized.  I understand that the paper vs. digital issue has passionate advocates on both sides, and everyone works in different ways.  However, for me, I prefer to reference items on my computer rather than pulling out paper files.  So, I scanned and then discarded the paper versions of things like photocopies from manuscripts.  These are items that I would more likely read on my computer, and which took up a lot of space as print-outs.  This might be the hardest step for a lot of people, but I think it's one of the most important.  The more you can digitize and simplify, the easier it will be to review your files, and also to pass your research on to younger relatives when the times comes.

5. Feel Incredibly Victorious

Yes!  It took a long time, but finally I had sorted, reduced and filed all those papers.  Instead of a bunch of stuff tossed in a bin, I now had hanging files organized by surname.  This makes it so much easier to find things.  Now, I have not completely dealt with the photos.  They have gone back into a bin and there is a longer journey ahead for them.  I'm in the process of scanning the photos, ensuring that they are labeled, putting them into sleeves and storing them in archival photo boxes.  I've started this process, but it's going to take a while to complete.

Look, it's all filed!

6. Share

I found some treasures in my Grandma's bins.  There were photos, stories and articles that hadn't seen the light of day in many years.  Why should they now sit in a file cabinet, unappreciated?  I emailed scans to family members. I uploaded them to my family tree on Ancestry.com.  This ensures that these items are safe should my file cabinet be damaged in a disaster, and it also allows other family members to enjoy the information about our ancestors.  In my opinion, your organizing process isn't complete until you send those photos and stories out into the world.

7. Secure

All your information should be backed up in multiple locations, and at least one of those locations should be cloud-based.  My data, and all the scans I've made are on my computer.  They're also stored on two hard drives in my home.  I have backed everything up to Dropbox, so that if there is a disaster and my home devices are destroyed, the files are not lost.  I also love that I can access my Dropbox files from any of my devices at any time.

Organizing is overwhelming.  It's not fun.  It can be done, though!  Clear your schedule, dump everything out on the floor, and commit to putting it away in an organized fashion.  You'll feel a real sense of accomplishment when it's done, and it will make accessing your paperwork much easier. Personally, I'm glad to have taken the first steps to honor that promise to my grandmother.  She cared very much about these materials, and I think she would like seeing them nicely organized in their new home.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Travel Tuesday: A Police Escort Through Sedan, France In Search of Ancestors

Police escort through the city.  It's a genealogy emergency!

Yes, this really happened.

In 2004, I traveled to France with my parents and my maternal grandmother.  There were several motivations for this trip, many of which were family history-related.  My grandmother's father, George Rutherfurd, had been stationed in France during World War I.  He was there when my grandmother was born in California in 1918, half a world away.  My grandmother wanted to drive the roads her father drove and see the sights he described to her during her childhood.  She also wanted to research our Huguenot ancestors in the last place they lived before fleeing France.

The Cresson and Vuilesme families both sheltered in Sedan during the persecution of the Protestants in France during the 1500s.  The information we have about them is extremely minimal.  My grandmother thought she might find some local records in Sedan that would prove helpful.  After spending some time in Paris, we traveled to Sedan, which is eastern France near the border with Belgium. In Sedan, we drove to the local library, but despite the best attempts of the librarian, could not turn up anything about our family.  The librarian indicated that records that old were no longer held at this facility, and had been centralized elsewhere.

As we left the library, we encountered two local police officers.  It was quiet in Sedan, as it was just before the Easter holiday, and the officers took great interest in four Americans wandering around town.  We explained what we were doing in Sedan, and their eyes lit up with excitement.  They insisted on giving us a police escort to the local cemetery in hopes that we might find the graves of our ancestors.  My father tried to demur, but the officers persisted.  They told us they loved Americans and wanted to help.  "Just call me John Wayne," said one officer.  "And I'm Bob Hope!" said the other.  They hopped in their patrol car, turned on the sirens, and escorted us through the city at high speeds, while my father attempted to keep up in our rental car.  They led us first to one cemetery and then another.  It quickly became clear that there were no graves old enough to belong to our ancestors in these cemeteries, but John Wayne and Bob Hope would not give up.  We stood in the city's Jewish cemetery with them for some time, while they offered rapid-fire suggestions and asked us about our lives in America.  Did we ever meet movie stars?  What were the beaches like in California?  My grandmother was thoroughly charmed.

While we did not learn anything new about our Huguenot ancestors in Sedan, we had an unforgettable experience. When you travel to research your family, you never know what you're going to find.  On that day, we laughed a lot, we saw every part of Sedan, and we met two of the most engaging law enforcement officers in France.  We walked the streets our ancestors walked, so many centuries ago, and made memories we will never forget.

The streets of Sedan, France

Friday, October 21, 2016

We're Related.... Or Are We?

Have you checked out the new app from Ancestry called We're Related?

The description in the App Store reads, in part,  "Find fame and friendships in your family.  We're Related is a free app that helps you discover if you are related to famous people and your circle of friends."

This description is enough to get a genealogist's hackles up right away.  Most serious family historians are uncomfortable about the emphasis some genealogy companies have placed on finding connections to famous people.  It may draw curiosity seekers to their websites, but it rarely seems to result in sound research or long-term retention of budding genealogists.  It's always fun to find notables in your family tree, but this is absolutely not the point of genealogy.

That said, I was too curious about this new app to ignore it. I downloaded it, signed in with my Ancestry login, and waited for the results.  Here's who We're Related thinks are my famous cousins:

  • Johnny Depp (9th cousin)
  • Paul McCartney (8th cousin 1x removed)
  • Luke Bryan (6th cousin 6x removed)
  • Winston Churchill (7th cousin 2x removed)
  • John Kerry (8th cousin 2x removed)

What's interesting about this list is that We're Related believes all five of these people are connected to me through my Griffin ancestors.  Readers of this blog know this is a family that has been rather unknown to me until recently, and one that I'm still actively researching.  These famous folks supposedly are all connected to me via the Griffin, Thorne and Carpenter lines that stretch back to seventeenth century England. However, the connections seem to be at least a couple generations beyond what I think can be proven.  I haven't even seen some of these names listed as potential but unproven ancestors in the many databases I've mined for information on these families.  I'm not certain enough of this part of my lineage to immediately rule out the possibility of connection, but it appears that We're Related is almost certainly using suspect, unsourced genealogies to connect users with famous faces.  Can we thank those notoriously inaccurate user trees on Ancestry for this mess?

It's puzzling that the results came only from one family line.  I have several other lines that stretch back through Colonial America to England, and those ancestors produced a tremendous number of descendants.  There are no famous cousins from those families?  That seems incredibly unlikely.

I wish that We're Related would let you click on the supposed ancestors they show connecting you to the famous personalities.  They provide you with names and dates, but the app is not sufficiently interactive.  I had to close the app and go to Ancestry to look up the names.  Another issue with this app is that you can only look up the connections for one person in your tree.  After reviewing my alleged cousins, I wanted to try this for my husband.  Unfortunately, We're Related will not allow you to choose a new person in your tree and view their matches.  Actually, it will allow you to select a different person, but it won't generate new cousins for them.  This seems short sighted.  Basically, this app is a one trick pony.  You can review potential famous cousins for one person in your tree, and that's it.  Then, you must leave the app to investigate those connections further.

My curiosity satisfied, this app was promptly deleted from my phone.

Maybe this is why the connections appear faulty.
The app encourages users to add "guesses" as to who their ancestors might have been.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

My Visit to the New England Historic Genealogical Society

I recently traveled to Boston to attend my college reunion and catch up with some dear friends.  I love Boston.  I only lived there for a few years, but it's very much a place I consider home.  It was wonderful to explore my old haunts and wander through the historic downtown area.  Boston truly is the most fascinating city for history buffs, with sites of major colonial-era importance on literally every corner downtown.

While I was in Boston, I scheduled a full day to do some research at the New England Historic Genealogical Society Library.  Believe it or not, I had never been to a dedicated genealogy library.  I've been to libraries that have genealogy collections, including the Boston Public Library, which has wonderful New England-focused family history resources, but this was my first time visiting a library completely devoted to genealogical materials.

Before arriving at NEHGS, I had visited their website and watched a helpful video they've created called "Preparing for Your Visit to NEHGS."  I also utilized their library catalog and searched for surnames and regions I've been researching.  In Evernote, made a big list of the books I was interested in accessing, categorized by importance, in case I ran short on time and needed to prioritize.  I brought with me my laptop, so I could access my Ancestry.com and RootsMagic trees and take notes in Evernote, my iPhone, loaded with the scanning app GeniusScan, and a small notepad and pen.  As prepared as I felt, I was still a little nervous.  Would I be able to find anything useful in just one day of research?

Wanting to make the most of my time, I arrived on Newbury Street early and had coffee and breakfast at The Thinking Cup, a wonderful cafe just a couple of doors down from NEHGS.  I was ready and waiting (and fully caffeinated) at NEHGS when the doors opened at 9:00am.  It costs $20 for non-members to spend the day in the library.  I paid the fee, was given a map and directions to the various collections, and sent up to the 7th floor to begin my research.

My major areas of focus that day were as follows:
  • Smith - My Smith ancestors were from Massachusetts and New Hampshire. One of our early Smith ancestors is Capt. Samuel Smith of Winchester, New Hampshire.  I have been surprised by how little I've been able to find about him online, given that he was a prominent man in his community and a Revolutionary War veteran.  I was hoping that NEHGS would have some local records that mentioned him.
  • Griffin- As readers of this blog know, I've been researching the biological family of my great-grandfather, George Roscoe (Griffin) Rutherfurd for some time.  I've been trying to locate more conclusive proof of that lineage in Westchester County, New York, and hoped I might find some information in the NEHGS stacks.
  • Campbell- I've hit a dead end with my Scotch-Irish Campbell ancestors from North Carolina.  I was hoping NEHGS might have some resources that would be helpful.
  • Short- I recently learned that the ancestors of my fifth great-grandmother, Elizabeth Short, may have arrived in America on William Penn's ship, "Welcome."  I was looking for one book in particular in the NEHGS collection that might have more information.

The 7th floor at NEHGS

The two floors visiting genealogists will likely use most at NEHGS are the 7th floor and the 5th floor.  The 7th floor is devoted to family genealogies, indexes and periodicals.  The 5th floor contains local histories and records.  I spent my time on the 7th floor researching specific family names, then moved to the 5th floor where I read about geographical areas of interest.  On both floors, there were several librarians present who were happy to answer questions, help find books that I could't locate, or suggest other collections I might want to see.

In one frenzied day of research, I accomplished quite a bit.  I went home with a bunch of scanned documents, which I have yet to fully dissect or upload to my trees, but I hope to get to that soon. I was especially successful in finding information related to my Griffin ancestors.  In particular, the book Early Wills of Westchester County, NY 1664 to 1784 by William S. Pelletreau was enormously helpful.  It included wills from numerous relatives, not only the Griffins but also my Sutton and Cornell ancestors.  Also, History of Westchester County, New York by J. Thomas Scharf had some fantastic details about the area and local family lines.  I found several books that may be helpful with my Campbell ancestors, and which provided good information about early Scotch-Irish immigration to the Carolinas. Sadly, I had no luck researching my Smith ancestors, as all the books I pulled did not contain my specific Smith line.  However, I was able to locate the book concerning my Short ancestors, The Welcome Claimants Proved, Disproved and Doubtful With an Account of Some of Their Descendants, by George McCracken.  The book indicates that my Short ancestors almost certainly did arrive on the Welcome and, despite the lack of a ship's manifest, McCracken carefully pieces together the evidence to identify people who are likely have been on board that particular vessel.  It was fascinating reading, and very exciting to picture my ancestors as a part of this moment in history.

I am so glad to have had the opportunity to spend a day at the New England Historical Genealogical Society Library.  I hope to return and spend more time there.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Children of Dr. William Brown

Dr. William Brown of Mendon and Pembroke, New York, had five children.  He had four daughters with his first wife, Bridget Palmer, and one son with his second wife, Sarah Loomis.  His youngest daughter, Amelia Brown, was my fourth great-grandmother.  I've been researching the lives of William's other children, in hopes that this will shed some light on the family and eventually provide proof of the connection to Joseph Brown and Elizabeth Gary, William Brown's presumed parents.

Elizabeth Brown 

Elizabeth was the eldest child of William Brown and Bridget Palmer.  She was born in 1812 in Mendon, New York, and grew nearly to adulthood there.  She was sixteen when her mother died, in 1828, and her father moved to Pembroke and remarried.  At that time, Elizabeth must have been heavily involved in running the household and caring for her younger sisters.  In 1832, at the age of twenty, Elizabeth married John W. King, a native of Homer, New York and a recent graduate of Fairfield Medical School.  After marrying in Mendon, Elizabeth and John moved together to Grand Blanc, Michigan, where John began a career as a noted physician and surgeon.  The book "History of Northern Michigan" by Perry F. Powers says that, "Dr. John W. King was an abolitionist, and before the Civil War became a terrible reality did all in his power to create a sentiment for the freeing of the Negro. He was prominent in the many-sided life of the community and was the kindly friend and doctor of hundreds of families." Together, John and Elizabeth had six daughters and two sons:
  • Elizabeth L. King (b. 1838 in Grand Blanc, MI; d. 1876 in Tawas City, MI; m. Herbert Schram; children: Leola Schram, Arthur Schram)
  • Laura Susan King (b. 1840 in Grand Blanc, MI; d. 1902 in Los Angeles, CA; m. John Montgomery; children: Jay R. Montgomery)
  • Sophia King (b. 1842 in Grand Blanc, MI; d. 1919 in Manistee, MI; m. Edwin E. Benedict; children: Elbert Benedict, Glen Ellis Benedict)
  • John King (b. abt 1846 in Grand Blanc, MI)
  • Martha King (b. abt 1848 in Grand Blanc, MI)
  • Sarah Amelia King (b. abt 1850 in Grand Blanc, MI; d. 1889 in Manistee, MI; m. Henry S. Hilton; children: Blanche L. Hilton)
  • Alice King (b. 1852 in Grand Blanc, MI)
  • James Asabel King (b. abt 1857; d. 1923 in Manistee, MI; m. Minnie Billington)
Elizabeth died in 1883 in Manistee, Michigan.

Mercy Brown

Mercy was the second daughter of William and Bridget Brown, and the only one of William's children who would spend her adult life in Mendon.  She was born in 1815.  In 1835, at the age of twenty, she married Loton Samuel Hodge.  He was older than her, about 35 at the time of the marriage, and an established farmer in Mendon.  They raised seven children in Mendon and provided a support system for Mercy's father and stepmother as they grew old.
  • Maria Hodge (b. 1837 in Mendon, NY; d. 1917; m. William Dailey)
  • Israel Hodge (b. 1840 in Mendon, NY; d. 1840 in Mendon, NY)
  • Nelson Hodge (b. 1842 in Mendon, NY; d. 1862 in the Civil War, Battle of Bolivar Heights, West Virginia)
  • George Palmer Hodge (b. 1845 in Mendon, NY; d. 1916 in Grand Ledge, MI; m. Adelaide Kinyon; children: Nelson Hodge, Eugene Hodge, Charles Loton Hodge)
  • Amelia Hodge (b. 1847 in Mendon, NY; d. unknown; m. Charles E. Peachey; children: Elmer Peachey)
  • Ella Hodge (b. 1850 in Mendon, NY; d. 1927 in Shortsville, NY; m. Frank Peer; children: Bert Hodge Peer, Estella Peer, Ralph J. Peer)
  • William Hodge (b. 1854 in Mendon, NY; d. 1926; m. Mary Parmelee; children: Addison Parmelee Hodge)
Mercy died in 1879.  She is buried in Mendon Cemetery, in the same plot as her mother, father, husband and several of her children.

The Hodge graves in Mendon Cemetery (photo courtesy of Cheri Branca)

Maria Brown

Maria was born in 1817 in Mendon, New York.  She was the third daughter of William Brown and Bridget Palmer. In about 1840, around the age of twenty-two, Maria married John Walker Davock and settled in Buffalo, New York.  John died in 1853, at the young age of 42, leaving Maria a widow in her thirties.  She did not remarry.  Before his death, John and Maria had four children together:
  • Ella Davock (b. 1842 in Buffalo, NY; d. 1925; she did not marry)
  • William B. Davock (b. 1847 in Buffalo, NY)
  • Harlow Palmer Davock (b. 1848 in Buffalo, NY; d. 1910 in New Hampshire; m. Sarah Whiting; children: Clarence Whiting Davock, Harlow Noble Davock, Henry Davock)
  • Harriet "Hattie" Davock (b. 1852 in Buffalo, NY; d. 1926 in Buffalo, NY; she did not marry)
Maria died in 1901.  She outlived her three sisters by many years.

Maria Brown Davock's grave in Buffalo, New York (courtesy Jay Boone)

Amelia Brown

Amelia was the youngest of William's children with Bridget Palmer.  My fourth great-grandmother was born in 1823 in Mendon, New York.  Her mother died when she was five, so Amelia was primarily raised by her stepmother, Sarah Loomis.  In 1843, at the age of twenty, Amelia married John Gustavus Bellangee, Jr.  He was the son of John Gustavus Bellangee, Sr. and Mary Ann Trout of New Jersey.  They moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where their four children were born.
  • Mary Elizabeth Bellangee (b. 1844 in Milwaukee, WI; d. 1929 in Los Angeles, CA; m. George William Dickson; children: Mary Dickson, Elizabeth Davock Dickson, Anne Amelia Dickson, George William Dickson, Jr., Wilfred Bellangee Dickson)
  • Anne Amelia Bellangee (b. 1846 in Milwaukee, WI; d. 1932 in Milan, Ohio)
  • William Palmer Bellangee (b. 1846 in Milwaukee, WI; d. 1882 in Ohio; he did not marry)
  • John Gustavus Bellangee III (b. 1857 in Milwaukee, WI; d. 1936 in Los Angeles, CA; m. Marie Holmes Klingner; children: John Gustavus Bellangee IV, Catharine Bellangee; Helena Bellangee)

Amelia's husband, John Bellangee is often described in records as a mason, but he was actually an architect and land developer who was responsible for the construction of a number of buildings in downtown Milwaukee during the city's early years.  He was also the defendant in a court case that went to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The court ruled in John Bellangee's favor in the landmark fraudulent conveyance suit, Crocker vs. Bellangee, but the Bellangee family endured years of litigation and appeals before that decision.

The Ballengee children excelled in artistic pursuits.  Two of the children, Anne and William, became music teachers.  My third great-grandmother, Mary Elizabeth, loved poetry and literature, and she later encouraged this interest in her grandson, George Rutherfurd.  Sometime between 1860 and 1870, John and Amelia moved from Milwaukee to Ohio.  Amelia died there in 1876 at the age of 47. Her body was taken to Buffalo, New York, and buried in the family plot at Forest Lawn Cemetery, near her sister Maria.  When John Bellangee died in 1889, he was buried beside Amelia.

Amelia Brown Bellangee's grave in Buffalo, New York (courtesy Jay Boone)

Loomis Palmer Brown

Loomis was born in 1831 in Pembroke, New York.  He was the only child of Dr. William Brown and his second wife, Sarah Loomis.  He seems to have gone mainly by the name Palmer, although records vary.  In about 1857, Loomis married a woman named Mary.  In the 1860 census, he is listed as a farmer in Pembroke, New York.  He and Mary had two children at that time.  Sometime between 1864 and 1870, Loomis and Mary moved to Flint, Michigan, where they had another child.  I lose track of Loomis after this time, and have not been able to find any further records for him and his family.  The children of Loomis and Mary were as follows:
  • Albert Brown (b. 1858 in Pembroke, NY)
  • Alma Brown (b. 1864 in Pembroke, NY)
  • Hattie Brown (b. 1870 in Flint, MI)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Dr. William Brown & Bridget Palmer Brown of Mendon, New York

Fields near Mendon, New York (photo: Andy Arthur)

Last year, I wrote about the breakthrough I'd made on my Brown ancestors.  After many years of searching, I had finally proven the parents of my fourth great-grandmother, Amelia Brown.  Her parents were Dr. William Brown and Bridget Palmer of Mendon, New York.  I'd also determined that William's parents were Joseph Brown, a Revolutionary War veteran, and Elizabeth Gary.

Not long after that post, my local genealogical society hosted a meeting about using the DAR's records.  I did some digging in the DAR database and discovered that they've deemed the records used to connect Joseph Brown with his children are not adequate.  I decided I would compile records that would meet the DAR's standards, but have since plunged into a data black hole.  There is much circumstantial evidence for this lineage, but insubstantial documentation.  As a result, I've been spending a lot of time digging for any little tidbit about the Brown family that would confirm their relationships.  I reached out to a genealogist in Rochester, New York, who has been incredibly helpful in searching local archives for information that might not be digitized.  Thank you, Bob!  I've also been working on the indirect Brown lines, hoping there will be clues in those families.  After all, that's how I found William Brown and Bridget Palmer, by researching the descendants of their other children.  For now, I'd like to share what I've learned about the Brown family in Mendon, and hope that I'll soon be able to provide additional proof linking William to his parents.

William Brown was born March 24, 1780 in Connecticut.  I believe he was born in Killingly, Connecticut, where his parents were living in 1775, when Joseph Brown volunteered to fight for the rebel colonists.  He was the fourth of ten children born to Joseph and Elizabeth, and the first to survive infancy.  According to the book "Migrations to Mendon 1791-1821" by Diane Hamm, William moved from Connecticut to Mendon, New York in 1809.  He was 29 years old.  I haven't found a marriage date and location for William Brown and Bridget Palmer, but my guess is that they were married in Mendon sometime between 1809 and 1811.  Their first child was born in Mendon in 1812.

Bridget Palmer was born about 1793 in Connecticut.  I have not yet been able to determine her parents or exact place of birth.  She was young when she met and married William Brown.  She was just eighteen when their first child was born.  The children of William Brown and Bridget Palmer were as follows:

  • Elizabeth Brown (b. 1812 in Mendon, NY; d. 1883 in Manistee, MI; m. John W. King)
  • Mercy Brown (b. 1815 in Mendon, NY; d. 1879 in Mendon, NY; m. Loton Samuel Hodge)
  • Maria Brown (b. 1817 in Mendon, NY; d. 1901 in Buffalo, NY; m. John Walker Davock)
  • Amelia Brown (b. 1823 in Mendon, NY; d. 1876 in Cincinnati, OH; m. John Gustavus Bellangee)

During the years when his daughters were born, William Brown was the town doctor in Mendon.  He and Bridget lived in East Mendon, in the Eleven Thousand Acre Tract, with their children and seem to have been involved in local affairs.  In 1813, William Brown served as the Commissioner of the First School Fund in Mendon.

Bridget Palmer died in 1828 at the young age of 35.  My fourth great-grandmother, Amelia, was just five years old when she lost her mother. William was 48 years old when his wife died.  At this time, he gave up his career as a doctor and moved to nearby Pembroke, New York with his daughters.  He set himself up as a farmer in Pembroke, and a year later he married Sarah R. Loomis.  She was the daughter of Jacob Loomis and Selina Holmes of Salem, Connecticut.  Sarah appears to have been 42 at the time of their marriage, and bore William a son at the age of 44.

Loomis Palmer Brown was born in Pembroke in 1831.  Loomis was much younger than his half-siblings.  His eldest sister, Elizabeth, was nineteen at the time of his birth.  My fourth great-grandmother, Amelia, was eight.  The fact that Loomis bore the names of both his father's wives is very interesting.  Purely speculating, but this indicates to me that William must have deeply grieved the loss of his first wife, Bridget.  I also wonder if Sarah had known Bridget.  She might have been honoring a friend by giving her son Bridget's name.

William Brown died in Mendon on May 2, 1868, at the home of his daughter, Mercy Brown Hodge.  He was 88 years old.  He is buried in Mendon Cemetery in a plot with his first wife, Bridget Palmer.  It is not known when Sarah died.  She was still living at the time of the 1860 census, but I can find no record of her after that.  I suspect she may have died before William, which is why Mercy was tending to her father in his infirmity.

A death notice for William Brown was published in the Buffalo Courier Journal on May 7, 1868.  It read: "Died at East Mendon, NY at residence of son-in-law Loton Hodges, esq, Dr. William Brown, age 88 yr, 1 month and 7 days, father of Mrs. Maria Davock of this city."

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Patrick Murray and Ellen McCusker: From County Down to Massachusetts

The location of Ballintlieve, on the Western edge of Ballyculter in County Down

Patrick Murray and Ellen McCusker were my third great-grandparents. Their son, John Bernard Murray, was my second great-grandfather.

Patrick Murray was born in Ballintlieve, near Ballyculter in County Down, Ireland.  It is now Northern Ireland.  He was the son of Patrick Murray, Sr. and Rose Smythe.  His birth date may have been July 12, 1787, but this isn't proven.

Ellen McCusker was born between 1800 and 1802 in Banbridge, County Down. She was likely the daughter of Laughlin McCusker. Her full name may have been Eleanor, but she is listed as Ellen on most paperwork.

Patrick and Ellen were married in Banbridge in 1823, when Ellen was about 23 years old and Patrick possibly about 36. They settled in Banbridge and had children there. I reviewed paperwork my grandmother had copied from the Dromore, County Down Register of Baptisms and Marriages 1823-1845 and turned up the names of eight children born to Patrick and Ellen.

Patrick Murray (b. 1823)
Bernard Murray (b. 1825)
John Bernard Murray (b. 1834)
Eleanor Murray (b. 1836)
Michael Murray (b. 1838)
Margaret Anne Murray (b. 1840)
Elizabeth Jane Murray (b. 1844)
Matthew Murray (b. 1846)

There are some confusing things here. Firstly, the 9-year gap between the second and third children is extremely unusual, especially when the other children were born at two-year intervals, for the most part. There are a couple of possible explanations. There may have been other children born during that gap whose baptismal records were lost, or who died prior to baptism. I see some mentions in other family trees of a child named Catherine Murray born in 1832, so it's entirely likely I just haven't found all the records for the Murray children. It's also possible that there was more than one couple with the names Patrick and Ellen/Eleanor Murray in Dromore Parish and we're confusing the records from two families.

Another thing that raises an eyebrow is the multiple births well into Ellen's forties and Patrick's late fifties. If Ellen was truly born in 1800-1802, then her youngest child was born when she was either 44 or 46 and her husband around age 59. While this is not impossible, it's unusual.

Patrick and Ellen immigrated from County Down, Ireland to Boston, Massachusetts.  I am not sure if they came with some or all of their children, or if they came later.  I have not been able to find details of their move.

This family is a perfect example of how writing a genealogy blog helps you dig deeper into your research.  When I started writing this post, I assumed I had a lot more information about Patrick and Ellen than I actually do.  The narrative about them has been passed down in my family, but it turns out there is little documentation to support the stories that have circulated about my third great-grandparents.  When you actually have to write down the story of an ancestor, with facts and sources, the holes in your research suddenly loom large. Here are the things I cannot currently prove about Patrick and Ellen:

  • Dates of birth
  • Date of immigration to the USA
  • Place of arrival in the USA
  • Census records placing them in Boston (or Charlestown)
  • Death records

Those are some pretty big missing pieces of the puzzle.

I found death records for a Patrick Murray in San Francisco in 1884.  It's possible that Patrick followed his son John Bernard Murray west, but this death date makes him 97 years old at the time of his passing.  That's impressive by today's standards, and nearly unheard of at that time.  I'm not convinced this is the correct Patrick.

I've also found death records for an Ellen Murray in Charlestown, Massachusetts in 1875.  I believe this may be the correct person for several reasons. The Ellen who died in 1875 was about seventy-six years old and was married to Patrick Murray.  This is the correct age and spouse for my Ellen.  Also, we know that some of the Murray children settled in Charlestown, so it would make sense that their parents lived there, too.  In a newspaper article detailing Ellen's death, her husband Patrick is said to be seventy-six years of age, and a former tailor who had moved to Charlestown from "the old country" just four years prior to his wife's death.  Our Patrick was a tailor and an immigrant, so that is correct.  The article places Patrick's year of birth around 1799, while I'd heard that Patrick was born in 1787. However, 1799 makes so much more sense for a number of reasons, including his age at the time of his marriage and the births of his children, so I think it's possible we've had his birth date wrong.

So, what do we really know about Patrick Murray and Ellen McCusker?  We know they were from County Down, Ireland, that they married and had children there and then the family moved to America.  I'll have to continue to search for more information about them.