Thursday, May 11, 2017

Olga Poyhonnen

Olga Poyhonen is my maternal great grandmother and one of my family's most recent immigrants.  Olga traveled to New York from Nilisa, Finland to live with her older sister after the death of her father.  She traveled alone, in steerage, and came to work as a seamstress with her sister, Minna.  

 I am still learning about Olga and her sister.  I will have a lot more to say about her and how I came to have this picture of her and her young son soon.  

I didn't want this day to end without posting about Olga.  It was on this date, May 11, 1893 that Olga first disembarked in the great city of New York and began her life in America.  She was 14 years old.  

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Elizabeth Cassidy Schuler

One of my lofty genealogy goals for this year is, after years of neglect, to spend time focused on my paternal lines.  It was my mother's family that first piqued my curiosity in genealogy and so for years, they captured most of my attention.  

Elizabeth Cassidy Schuler is my two times great grandmother.  That is reasonably close, I should know something, or at least more than I do about her.  I find her to be mysterious and intriguing and I am determined to learn more.  

The earliest documentation I can find for Elizabeth Cassidy is the 1855 New York State Census.  She is 5 years old, referred to as Betsy Ann, the daughter of George and Mary Cassidy.  She is their second child of eight and the oldest girl. 

From 1855 to 1870, the Cassidy's live in Ward 14 in lower Manhattan, spanning 15 years they move from Election District 1, to 3, to 4 where I have discovered they lived at 130 Prince Street.  An interesting neighborhood now, for sure.  I wonder what it was like in 1870?  And I am reminded of my visit with my dear friend Karen to the Tenement Museum of New York. 

My trail for George and Mary and their other seven children runs cold here in 1870. I know based on census data, George was born in New York and Mary in Ireland. I am on the hunt to get back another generation and locate Mary's maiden name and someday, where she came from in Ireland. 

In 1870, Elizabeth marries Harry Schuler, my great, great grandfather.  They live in Queens (Newtown) and sometime between the 1892 New York Census and the 1900 US Federal Census relocate their family to the Rockland Lake area of Congers, NY.  

The most striking thing, the most personal and saddest thing I know about Elizabeth is from the 1900 U.S. Census. Mother of how many children? 13. Number of these children living? 7.

The last sighting for Elizabeth and Harry together is the 1905 New York State Census. Harry is listed as a widower on the 1910 US Census and I can not locate him on the 1915 NY Census. For a long while this is where my trail ended.  

Recently, I had been reacquainting myself with the wonderful online resources available through the New City Library's Local History Department and rediscovered HRVHN the Hudson River Valley Historical Newspaper Database.  I was able to narrow down the time period and search only Rockland County newspapers and there it was, the obituary for Elizabeth Schuler printed in the April 24, 1909 edition of the Rockland County Times.  

As excited as I was to finally find this link the in chain, I must admit her obituary was underwhelming....  "died at home on Tuesday, funeral on Friday... survived by her husband, 3 daughters and 4 sons."  

I need details! I need names! I need dates!  So I searched online for a 1909 calendar and estimated that her funeral was April 24 and she died on April 20. Now I had a starting point.  I mailed off for her death certificate without having to spend money to search multiple years.

Within a week, I had Elizabeth's death certificate from the very efficient Town of Clarkstown Town Clerk's office in my hands!   (I do have to admit that seeing a death certificate for Elizabeth Schuler was a bit creepy, as that is also my mother's name!)

I was right!  Her date of death was April 20 and burial was April 23. And with the information that she was 59 years, 6 months and 0 days at her death I was able to use an online birth date calculator to learn her exact birth date: October 20, 1849.  Sadly, her death certificate was no help in learning any details about Elizabeth's mother Mary, her maiden name and birthplace are listed as don't know.  

I know a lot more about Elizabeth Cassidy Schuler than I did a month ago.  I still don't know what she looked like, whether she preferred sewing to cooking or what part of Ireland she was from and I may never know, but there is more to discover about her and her parents and siblings. And I still have a great deal to learn about her children and their children.  That's the thing with this kind of research, you solve one mystery and you are presented with two or three or twenty more.  

Friday, December 2, 2016

What's in a name?

Long time, no write!  

As the year draws to a close, I have been thinking a lot about the discoveries I have made during the course of the year and the brick walls I have been able to poke some holes in.  

Work and real life have gotten in the way and I haven't been able to write very much over this year, but I have been making some progress in my research.  

I was spending some of my research time today thinking about where I need and want to go from here.  Is 2017 the year of my do-over?  I have been reading about different ways of recording and organizing my information. I learned a lot reading and rereading Kerry Scott's book How to Use Evernote for Genealogy. It is revolutionizing my organizing!  

I have been reviewing notes and research, sorting through filled notebooks in the hope of creating a  game plan for next year and I was pleased and surprised by the amount of surnames I now consider mine. I counted 45!  

45 names! I want to learn the origin of these last names, I want to know where these people came from and how they got here.  I started out knowing some of these names, and I have learned some over the course of my 12 years of genealogy research.  This year was full of big discoveries for new names on both sides of my family.

Schuler, Rose, Mackey, Clark and Roe were familiar for most of my life.

For a while now, I have believed that my Schulers were not German, but were from Alsace.  Through my Schuler research, I learned I am also connected to Blicks Kock and, Ofshceiner. As well as Clarks and Cassidys.   

My Roses, I always thought were Welsh or British, although they have been here for so long, they are more American than anything else.  But I recent discovery of an ancestor names Roos, has me considering the fact they may be Dutch. Researching Roses, has led me to learn about Morgans, Halls, Cronks.

Mackey is the name that led me to so many other names. Storm, Quick, Palmentier, Tietsoort, and the confounding Gardner/Gardiners.   These names are all from my paternal line and solidify for me that I am at the very least a 12th generation New Yorker.  There are many other names here in the F.A.N. club.  I have barely begun to scratch the surface.  A book that helped me get a grasp on early New York, or should I say New Amsterdam, is Russell Shorto's Island at the Center of the World.  If you have interest in American or New York History or genealogy, this book is a must read.   

Mackeys led me to begin to research the Bells, Cornelisons and Browns.  And I have already decided this branch will become a much bigger focus for me in 2017.    

When I started my family tree back in 2004 my original goal to find out more about my mother's family, specifically, the Jones of Orange County, NY.  I was sure that if I had a Revolutionary War ancestor, it would be in this line.  They are still fascinating and more than a bit illusive, this is a brick wall that I am breaking down bit, by bit, and a little too slowly for me.  
The biggest and best surprise for me is the progress I was able to make on my maternal side.  Roe, I have been told was Finnish, even though it sounds like anything but.  Poyhonnen, the surname with 1,000 spellings (only a mild exaggeration) is in deed Finnish and some of those folks may have even lived in Russia, before migrating to America.  I have learned my Poyhonnens are also connected to Puustinens, Pitkanens and Miettinens.  More names to explore.  

When I started my research I was confident I knew all the surnames I needed to and that my family was concentrated in a pocket of Orange and Rockland Counties.  I am continually amazed that over the course of the last 10 years I have discovered family in at least 20 of the 62 counties of New York State, as far south as Louisiana and as far west as Montana and several states in between. I have barely begun to confirm my connections to home lands like Finland, Russia, France, Germany, England and Ireland. 

 Thinking about it makes me want to check my passport is up to date and go exploring.    Another goal for my 2017 research!  

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Mary Jones Blake

Mary Jones Blake, my maternal great-great grandmother was born on this day-January 12th in 1861.  One hundred and fifty five years ago.  I grew up hearing the occasional anecdote about her, but never really learning the facts of her life. 
Mary Jones 1861-1946
at St. John's in the Wilderness Church, Stony Point NY 1903

Mary's life was an ordinary one, but at the same time extraordinary. She was born four months before the United States Civil War and died after the conclusion of the second World War.  The 1865 New York Census lists her parents as basket makers and they lived in Johnsontown, NY a rural hamlet forty miles and a lifetime North of Manhattan. Mary's parents were born in Johnsontown, and I suspect their parents were as well. So was her daughter and all five of her grandchildren including, in 1906 my grandfather.

In the 1920's and 1930's when Mary was a grandmother, Johnsontown and several surrounding towns were demolished by NY and NJ Pallisades Interstate Park Commission to make room for Lake Welch, a swimming area, park and picnic area for people with newly discovered leisure time. The families residing in these towns were poor, with little or no education. They had no means or wherewithal to fight the government and few put up any kind of resistance. 

Johnsontown School and Oscar Jones, school custodian and my cousin.

Homes and buildings were demolished, creeks were dammed to create swimming areas and people gathered their belongings and moved.  To this day, all that remains are a handful of stone foundations, a marker indicating where the school house once stood and a several crumbling cemeteries.  

Driving through this park land regularly made me want to learn more about Mary and her family and soon after I started to do research, I got really lucky. Seriously, I won genealogy lotto. 

First, my Mom's cousin Bill decided to downsize from a very large house to a small apartment.  This meant he no longer wanted to hold on to the boxes of papers, photos, and other paraphernalia that had been in the attic of one relative or another for years.  Bill would sit with me and put things in context, he could identify many of the people in the grainy black and white photos, he would tell stories of aunts, uncles and grandmas, including Mary. "Take this box of papers or I am throwing it out," he said. That box held yellowed clippings of obituaries, marriage licenses, and Mary's confirmation certificate.

Bill would call me whenever he found a new box and I broke into tears when he unearthed the bible where Mary had scrawled the names, dates of birth, and death of all her siblings.  

The second lucky thing that happened around this time was that I learned about Mary's connection to St. John's in the Wilderness Church.  The one building that remains in the park.  

 St. John's in the Wilderness Episcopal Church was built in 1880 through the patronage of Mrs. Margaret Zimmerman, a wealthy widow who resided part time in the nearby town of Tuxedo Park.  Mrs. Zimmerman built the church in memory of her husband, who died suddenly on their honeymoon.   One of the first things I learned about Mary, was that in the 1880s and 1890's she worked at St. John's.

The church and parish school for orphaned boys were run by Ada Bessie Carey, a British woman who dedicated most of her life to the boys of the school and the families of St. John's.  I was able to learn the history of St. John's and the dedicated work of Mrs. Carey because soon after Bill gave me that bible, I came across a new book in the local history room of the New City Library.  That Much Good Might Be Done, St. John's in the Wilderness: the Legacy of Ada Bessie Care and Margaret Furniss Zimmerman by Odessa Southern Elliott.  

Mrs. Elliott was the wife of the Vicar and the couple served as the caretakers of St. John's for more than thirty years.  I wrote her a letter asking if she had come across any mention of Mary in her research.  Fortunately for me and my research, Mrs. Elliott couldn't have been more helpful. She found passages about Mary in Mrs. Carey's journals and shared them with me, she brought me to St. John's and showed me what would have been Mary's room, we sat with the box of photos Bill found in the attic and actually identified some of the people.  

Thanks to Mrs. Elliott and her research, I learned so much more about Mary than I could ever ascertain from a census record:she was a hard worker, a loving mother and dedicated to the boys of the school.  

This year marks one hundred and fifty five years since Mary was born and fourteen since I started researching my family and the lost towns they called home.  I am a much better researcher now and I am grateful for all the help and support I had when I was just starting out.  I realize how lucky I am to have found Mrs. Elliott and that she was so willing to share with me.  I am grateful too, that Bill recognized the value of what was in the attic and gave it to me to sort.  

Mary is still a bit of a mystery to me, but I am still working on things.   

Friday, November 27, 2015

Thanks & Giving

It's been more than a month since I have updated and I won't let that happen again.  

Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope that anyone reading this has had a wonderful meal with family and friends, with many things and people to be thankful for this season.  

Here are some things that I am grateful for:

My thanks to everyone who has been helpful and support of me in my pursuit of the people, records, photos and more that have built and continue to build my family trees. My sister Stephanie, is an enthusiatic sounding board. My mother and my Aunt Evie continue to offer historical context and help to sort fact from fiction.  I could write a whole post about the support and help I received from my beloved Aunt Nancy and plan to do that separately. I was inspired to start blogging about my genealogy experience after participating in Amy Johnson Crow's 31 Days to Better Genealogy Project on Facebook.  Several members took the time to read and comment and it was a positive and encouraging experience for me.  

I have mentioned before how cut off I often feel from the area where a good deal of my family history has occurred, since I have relocated to Florida. I can no longer walk the cemetery looking for clues and I can no longer run to the library's local history room to pursue a hunch.  I have had to change how I do my research.  This makes me very grateful for the Genealogical Society of Rockland County (GSRC) and their website for several reasons.  

In 2002, the GSRC published two books that I have used time and time again, in the Rockland Room of the New City Library, The Records of the A.W. Dutcher's & Sons Funeral Home, 1878 - 1965 and the Records of the George M. Holt Funeral Home, including Purdy and McKenzie, 1864- 1953.  These two volumes are critical to the North Rockland area, as these are the funeral homes that would have handled the death and burial of most residents.  

These books are chock full of vital statistics I could not verify any other way.  Not only do they list name, death date, funeral/burial date and place, most records also include birth date and place, maiden names, parents names and who received the bill (and their relationship to the deceased) for funeral services. They are especially helpful in narrowing down who is buried where- when every generation seems to have the same names (in my family its Jacob, William and Henry.)

Shortly after moving, I went to the GSRC website to see if I could actually purchase these two volumes, I missed them so much, and low and behold these two gems are searchable through the Society's website!

This is a resource I use every day, to verify a date or to try to discern one Sarah from another, it has become a critical tool and helping me document dates, places and people and I am very grateful to the hardworking and forward thinking volunteers at the GSRC, for not only transcribing and publishing these volumes back in 2002 but for including them on their website in a searchable and exportable format! I can't even count how many deaths and burials I have been able to document and I am grateful.  

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The War of the Roses

Alacrity: brisk and cheerful readiness.

I have never given much thought at all to my family's ancestors in context to the Civil War.  I was always a History buff throughout school, but growing up in New York's Hudson Valley, my focus was squarely on finding my Revolutionary War ancestors.  Most of what I know about the Civil War is straight out of Little Women.  

I was surprised recently to discover at least four ancestors (I can confirm) are in deed veterans of the Civil War.  And looking over my timelines I am pretty confident there are more. 

I finally got around to joining the Orange County Genealogy Society and while perusing their website I discovered the treasure trove of publications they have for sale.  This is very fortunate for me, as I now live in FL and feel so isolated and cut off from the Rockland Room collection at the New City Library.  It is this collection that really got me started in genealogy.  

From the OCGS, I ordered Monroe, Orange County, NY 1865 Census and related Obituaries.  Compiled by Robert Brennan and published by the OCGS in 2002, I hoped this book would give me some leads.  

They sure don't write obituaries like they used to! The details! The language!  I found several that were helpful in leading me to maiden names and other relatives that may have lived in the area and where they may be buried. But I struck gold with the discovery of my great-great grandfather's brother, John Rose. Chock full of good information: parent's names, brothers, sisters, children and where they currently live; pall bearers names; how long ago his wife died.  

With so much good and new helpful information the book had already proven to be a worth while purchase when I read, "In the spring of '61 he was among the first from this town to respond to the call of President Lincoln for volunteers.  He enlisted in Company G. 16th NY Artillery, and was in several battles, one of which was the second battle of Bull Run, in which he was shot through the back of the neck.  After receiving the wound he came home for a few weeks and as soon as the wound healed he returned to his post of duty and served to the close of the war."

This led me to do some more research, and on Ancestry I was able to locate NY Town Clerk's Registers of Men who served in the Civil War, 1861-1865.  Along with John's details, including dates served, parent's names and complete birth day and place. I found an entry for his older brother James Rose, who was in at least ten battles, many more skirmishes and was taken prisoner, held for 8 months and eventually exchanged.  And the entry above James, was Jacob Rose, their father.  

Jacob Rose, my great great great grandfather served in the Civil War at the same time of two of his own sons.  He was 46 years old when he enlisted.  The notes accompanying his dates and the names of his parents (before this document they were pure conjecture for me!) states: "Being somewhat advanced in life for a soldier he was seldom required to take part in battle. Performed every duty required of him with alacrity.  Ever obedient.  Ever true. Ever faithful."  

I am so proud of these men and what they sacrificed for the sake of our country.  I think often about their wives and children who stayed behind and how they may have coped and I am compelled to learn more.  

Lessons Learned- 

 Local societies and their publications have amazing value.  I dragged my heels about joining the OCGS because I am currently living hundreds of miles away and wouldn't be able to participate in their events or projects.  

Keep an open mind and don't assume anything.  If even a few months ago, someone told me I should be looking at Civil War records, I would have told them it would be a waste of my time.  

Vital Statistics are every where! With the NY Town Clerk's Registers Men who Served in the Civil War, 1861-1865.  I was able to confirm three ancestors birth day, place and parents names.  

Sunday, October 4, 2015

October is Family History Month

October is Family History Month.  My first thought upon learning this is, isn't every month?!  

Seriously though, this reminder is the perfect opportunity to reboot my genealogy.  As I said in my very first post here, I have been working on my family tree for ten years. I have notebooks filled with notes scribbles, binders  of yellowed newspaper clippings, and lots of old photos of people and places I don't recognize. It is time to get organized.

Lofty Goals-

I have to admit its a little overwhelming.  There has been more than one day in the last month that I wanted to stay home from work to just work on my genealogy.   I have been working hard to create my tree on the Ancestry site since I sent off my DNA.  I have 80 pages of matches!  I don't know if I will ever be able to get through it all.  There is so much I want to do. There are classes to take, timelines to create, notes to revisit and most importantly I want to review all the information and sources I have on each family member and create a cohesive narrative into something to my family will be able to read.  

More than once this week I have been reminded of the sage lines in the classic Ann Lamott book about writing, "Just take it bird by bird."  And I guess that is all that any of us can do.  

Serendipity and Surprises-

Last month I posted about how I quite accidentally came across a small newspaper entry from 1981.  A woman from Montana was searching for her relative, Olga Poyhonen Roe.  

Olga Roe was my great grandmother.  The Poyhonen's are the group I know the least about and the family I find the most frustrating. I was full of joy and dread at the same time.  What a great lead!  But I was 30 years late in responding, would this person still care? Was she even still alive? What would I say, "Sorry I am late, but I was in 6th grade when you advertised."

I was able to find her via some internet searches and sent off my letter. And waited and waited. I was starting to give up hope.  

Yesterday, the phone rang and it was her!  Alive and well and happy to connect! We talked and discovered that her grandfather was my great grandmother's brother!  Apparently, there were a few brothers who came to America, one who stayed in Finland and one who migrated to Russia.  We will talk again soon and hope to make plans to meet this summer.  

Genealogy is full of surprises. It can bring me to tears of frustration and tears of joy in the very same day.  

This week I am celebrating Family History Month and taking a break from my computer work by attending a workshop led by Cyndi Ingle of Cyndi's List at the Tampa Library.