Surname Saturday: Research to Date

Wordle Graphic of SurnamesA popular meme among genealogy bloggers is “Surname Saturday.” Bloggers use this meme as inspiration for posting content about surnames in the family tree. Genealogy blog posts on surnames inform on such things as: surname origins, common geographic areas where people of the surname can be found, common occupations, and more.

As of today, I have traced 272 unique surnames in the maternal line and 88 in the paternal line. The disparity in numbers is because I’ve concentrated my research on the maternal line. Also, some branches of the family are easier to research. That is, some family lines are well documented, while others present brick walls requiring deeper investigation.

Here are the top 25 surnames on each side:

Irvine-Feister Line
Marsh-Garrison Line

In future posts, I will examine individual surnames, working my way back one generation at a time. Stay tuned!

Family Recipe Friday: Grandma Taylor’s Spanish Spaghetti

When I was a kid, I spent many a happy weekend at my Aunt Mary’s house on Lake Ontario, New York. She often would whip up this delicious casserole and serve it with a tossed salad. The recipe came to my aunt from her mother-in-law, Ruth Taylor (1908-1981). On a recent visit to my aunt’s house, I snapped photos of their recipe cards with my iPad. Can’t wait to make this soon!

Grandma Taylor’s Spanish Spaghetti Recipe

Tombstone Tuesday: A Visit to Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, NY

Summer has always been my favorite season for many reasons: no school, outdoor weather, swimming, longer days, flowers and green grass, fresh farm produce, my birthday … and, for many years now, an occasion to head “home” to Western New York to visit family.

Since becoming an amateur genealogist, these trips have also become an opportunity to conduct on-site research. For this year’s trip, I had made a plan to visit Mount Hope Cemetery so that I could look up the gravestones of ancestors resting there with the idea of taking photos and creating memorials on the site, Find-A-Grave.

Decommissioned crematorium chapel and fountain near North Gate entrance.

I made two visits to the Mount Hope Cemetery earlier this month. The first was to take one of the many guided tours offered by the Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery. With my aunt, uncle, cousin and a small group of people, I received an introduction to this amazing historical site by docent, Don Hall. Don was genial, humorous and full of fascinating facts about the cemetery and the people buried there.

The Mount Hope Cemetery was founded in 1838; just four years after the city of Rochester was incorporated. It is one of the first municipal rural cemeteries in the United States and covers nearly 200 acres. There are over 350,000 people resting at Mount Hope and their memorials range from very elegant mausoleums, ornate family plots, huge obelisks and humble markers. The site features interesting geological formations from the glacier which covered the area over 12,000 years ago. Wikipedia has a great article about the cemetery, including a list of notable burials.

Looking down Cedar Avenue (Section M)

Mount Hope is beautiful place! A few days after taking the tour, I returned with Harry & Purl (my dogs) for a long picture-taking walk. I visited the cemetery office with a list of names — ancestors on my paternal side — and a very helpful staff-person provided me with maps and instructions on finding the headstones I was looking for. The first plot I sought out was my paternal great-grandparents, George B. & Jennie L. Garrison. When I arrived at their plot, I was immensely pleased to discover that beside them lies their daughter, my paternal grandmother, Florence Mary Garrison Marsh. I did not know she was buried there!

The inscription reads: “WIFE, FLORENCE G MARSH, 1895-1950″

Florence’s marker is covered over with lichen and is difficult to read. I’ve contacted the cemetery staff about getting it cleaned and will follow up on that, either by paying to have it done or doing it myself on my next visit.

The other plots I visited at Mount Hope Cemetery were Garrison and Harris family ancestors of George B. and Jennie L. Below are links to the Find-A-Grave memorials which I have created, each of which includes a photo of their headstone:

I plan to incorporate visits to Mount Hope every time I am in Rochester, and of course bring Harry & Purl along; it’s really a pleasant place to walk. Harry might want to revisit a stone which he particularly liked …

1946: Family Picnic at Letchworth State Park

Picnic at Letchworth State Park 1946My Aunt Mary shared this photo with me and I really love it. That’s my Grandmother, Delia Jane Feister Irvine, seated front left with the mischievous smile on her face as she holds a chicken leg up to her mouth. Across from her is my Great-Grandmother, Laura Jane Tidd Feister.

Clockwise around the table are (to the best of my knowledge): My Grandma (Delia), her youngest child John, my Grandpa (Jack), my great uncle Elsie, (a child I cannot identify), 2nd cousin Don, Jack & Delia’s 2nd oldest child Mary, and Great-Grandma (Laura).

What I love about this photo is that it captures the lighter side of my grandmother, who could be somewhat stern. I’ve heard that she possessed a wicked sense of humor, but I was too young to appreciate it. Her laugh was magic, though — I definitely remember that! Grandma wasn’t a silly woman who laughed at anything, so when she DID laugh, it was a genuine expression of mirth.

It’s heartwarming to be drawn into a scene like this … I can easily place myself there at the table with loving family enjoying a fine day at the park.

The photo was taken in 1946 at beautiful Letchworth State Park, about half-way between Rochester and Olean, NY. It’s just after the War, when the nation’s mood was riding high on a hard fought Peace. After years of deprivation and loss, Americans were relieved to get on with living a “normal” life.

Some details about the photo that I find quaint: the women are wearing dresses! Great-Grandma Laura is wearing a frilly apron. It appears they are using real plates, not disposable paper ones, and there is a big pot of something in the middle of the table … pork n’ beans maybe? Don is being a typical goofy little boy: using his teeth and lips to hold a cup in his mouth.

I’ll be heading to New York soon for a summer trip. I need to remember to not only take digital photos as I spend precious time with family and friends, but have them printed off. Who knows? Perhaps nearly 70 years later, a distant family member may share the photo?

Tombstone Tueday: Captain Levi Ely (1732-1780)

Headstone of Capt. Levi Ely located at Park Street Cemetery, West Springfield, MA.

In Memory of Capt Levi Ely
who was killed Octr 19th, 1780
In the Service of his Country
on the Mohawk River
In the 48th year of his age
Who dies in youth and vigor,
dies the best; Struck thro’ with wounds, all honest on the breast.

On a rainy day in June, after several weeks away from genealogical research, I fired up my laptop and began to trace a particular line back another generation. Within an hour, I discovered my 6th great grandfather, Levi Ely. He was quite a man, as can be inferred from his glorious headstone and the inscription.

Levi was born on Nov. 26, 1732, to Samuel and Abigail Ely. Samuel and Abigail were blessed with six sons and one daughter, all born in West Springfield, MA.

Samuel Ely house, built 1722, West Springfield, MA

Levi was about ten years old when his father built this house (still standing nearly 300 year later!) in West Springfield. The house was originally surrounded by 10 acres of farmland. In 1760, the house passed to Levi when he bought out his siblings’ shares in the family homestead. Capt. Ely added another 14 acres to the property.

In October of 1758, Levi was married to Abigail Sergeant. Abigail was the daughter of Lieut. John Sergeant and Abigail Jones Sergeant.

Lieut. John Sergeant (my 7th great grandfather) served during the French and Indian Wars with Capt. Josiah Willard’s Company at Fort Dummer, located near Brattleboro, VT. Very sadly, he fell in action. An account of his death is found in A history of the town of Northfield, Massachusetts by Temple & Sheldon:

March 29, Lieut. John Sergeant, his son Daniel, Moses Cooper,
Joshua Wells and another, started from Fort Dummer down the
scout path to Colrain, for the purpose of cutting some ash timber for
oars and paddles. When . a little more than a mile from the fort,
they were fired upon by an ambush of 12 or 15 Indians. Moses
Cooper was mortally wounded at the first fire, but managed with the
help of a comrade to reach the fort. Lieut. Sergeant and the two
others retreated slowly, firing as they went. The woods were thick
and the savages well covered. Wells was soon killed. The Lieut,
encouraged his son with the assurance that help would be sent from
the fort ; dared the skulking enemy to come out and fight like men,
and firing as often as an Indian showed himself. When near the fort,
Lieut. S. was killed and his son taken captive.

Between 1759 and 1780, Levi and Abigail had 11 children; 7 girls and 4 boys:

  • Lucretia
  • Hulduh
  • Jerusha
  • Levi
  • George
  • Daniel
  • Sabra
  • Theodosia
  • Solomon
  • Elihu
  • Abigail

Capt. Ely was commissioned on Sept. 21, 1777, and put in charge of 2nd Company, 3rd Division of the Massachusetts Militia under Col. Moseley for about 5 weeks on an expeditionary force sent northward. He was released and sent home, then called back in the summer of 1780 to serve in Col. Brown’s Regiment. The Company was raised for a 3 month service and sent to the western frontiers of New York to defend against the British and their Indian allies. An account of his death repeated in various sources goes like this:

[Capt. Levi Eli] was killed by the Indians in a battle on the Mohawk River, a little East of Utica, NY, Oct. 19, 1780. He left home in the charge of a company, a short expidition against the Indians, all being his townsmen and neighbors, and they were all killed only a few days before their term expired.

Further research is needed into the Captain, but what I know right now, from a cursory bit of research, is that he was a military man and a wealthy man. At the time of his death, he had a net worth of 1,007 pounds sterling, a pretty good sum for the time.

Captain Levi Ely (framed) by William Jennys, ca. 1775-1780

The Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, VA, has among its holdings this portrait of Capt. Levi Ely, painted by William Jennys (1774-1859). Jennys was a portrait painter who worked throughout New England. Capt. Ely was a wealthy man, so he certainly had the means to commission a portrait.

One has to feel pretty bad for poor Abigail Sergeant Ely. She lost both her father, brother and husband to Indian attacks. It was a pretty brutal world back then.

Centennial Pioneer Committe 1834-1934, Rochester NY

Rochester Centennial Pioneer Committee pin

For the last few months, I’ve devoted many hours digging into the lives of the Harris family of Rochester, NY. At left is depicted a commemorative pin distributed in 1934 to pioneer descendents of the city of Rochester on the occasion of the city’s centennial celebration.

My paternal grandmother, Florence Mary Garrison Marsh, her mother, Virginia Louise “Jennie” Harris Garrison, her sister, Edna May Garrison Elliot, and her uncle, Bertram L Harris, all applied for inclusion in the Centennial Pioneer Committee and received pins such as this one. (I was fortunate to purchase two of these pins on eBay.) Their application papers document their relation to Daniel Harris, a pioneer of Rochester.

Daniel Harris (1771-1853), my 4th great-grandfather, was born in Lebanon, CT, to Revolutionary War veteran, Asa Harris (1737-1817). Asa moved his family to Otsego County, NY, in the early 1800s. Daniel Harris left Otsego County in 1816 when he and his wife, Amanda Miller, along with their nine children, took up residence on the farm given to them by Amanda’s father, Jacob Miller. They lived in a log cabin and stories were passed down of Daniel barricading the cabin door at night to keep out the wolves and bears.

Excerpt from Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery, Winter 1990

Sluman W. Harris (1800-1874) was one of Daniel and Amanda’s five sons. Growing up, he saw the creation of Monroe County in 1821, the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, and the incorporation of the city of Rochester in 1834. When the city was chartered, five men were appointed constables, Sluman among them. Sluman was a carpenter and a boat agent and his son, Wilna C Harris, followed in his footsteps.

1827 Map of Rochester – Sluman Harris resided in the Washington Square area of the city

Sluman married Mary Histed in 1825. In 1826, their son Wilna C. was born in the family’s large brick home on Byron Street. Wilna became a boat builder and participated in rowing races, winning many medals and setting speed records. He married Harriet Farnham in 1846 and they had six children.

Virginia Louise (“Jennie”) was Wilna and Harriet’s youngest daughter. She as born in October 1861, just at the start of the Civil War. Jennie had two sisters and a brother and the children grew up in a comfortable home, never knowing poverty or want thanks to their hard-working father. Jennie married relatively late for a young woman; she was 28 years old when she was wed to George B. Garrison, a building contractor who worked in masonry. George and Jennie had four children: Edna, Howard (called “Budd” – he died as a toddler), Florence and Mildred. The family lived at 163 Reservoir Avenue in Rochester. The property was passed down to Jennie through her father, as Daniel Harris’ name can be found on the 1827 deed.

Sadly, I never knew my grandmother Florence; she died of cancer in October 1950, leaving behind her husband and two high-school age sons, Allan and John. She was only 55 years old.

In digging through the Harris family history, I’ve discovered a new-found pride in my hometown of Rochester, New York. A pride I never had before. For, I never knew my father, so I never heard any of his family history, and my mother’s family roots are in Cattaraugus County and McKean County, PA. So, I had to research my father’s family history on my own and I’m happy I did. I discovered many interesting, civic-minded people with adventurous spirits and creative minds.

Tombstone Tuesday: Susannah “Sukey” Oliver Dix (1782-1811)

Susannah “Sukey” Oliver Dix

This beautiful gravestone stands in the Broad Street Cemetery in Salem, MA. It is placed over the resting place of my maternal 5th great grand aunt, Susannah “Sukey” Oliver Dix.

The stone includes several classic images:

  • The weeping willow at the top of the stone, a symbol of mourning, grief, sorrow, lamentation.
  • The urn, a depiction of the soul, immortality or penitence.
  • The columns, which symbolize that the deceased lived a noble life.

Sukey was born in Stoneham, MA, the daughter of Capt. James Oliver and Abigail Bryant. She married Benjamin Alexander Dix in 1799. Benjamin worked as a “housewright” in Salem along with Sukey’s brother, James Oliver. Housewright is the Colonial term for a builder. They did everything toward the construction of a house, including chopping down the trees, carving the wood into boards, and shaping the boards to fit properly together to frame a house.

The inscription on the stone bears the tender sentiment:

In Memory of Mrs. Sukey Dix, wife of Mr. Benjamin A. Dix,
who died Sept. 12, 1811, Aged 29 years. And her infant child. The rising morning can’t assure, That we shall end the day; For death stands ready at the door. To snatch our lives away.

The Oliver family was struck by much tragedy. Capt. James Oliver is a rather elusive person. I know he was from Boston and born about the year 1750. He married Abigail Bryant of Stoneham, MA, in 1780. Abigail came from two prominent Stoneham families, the Bryants (Maj. Joseph Bryant) and the Osgoods (Abigail Osgood).

Capt. Oliver was a sailor serving aboard privateers during the Revolutionary War. He left Abigail at home with five children while was at sea. Abigail died in 1791, six months after the death of her youngest child, Joseph Bryant Oliver.

It is presumed that following their mother’s death, Abigail’s remaining children, Abigail (age 11), Sukey (age 9), James (age 6) and Sally (age 4) were raised by their grandparents in Stoneham, the Maj. Bryant and his wife, Abigail. The fate of their father, Capt. James Oliver, is unknown. Various researchers have speculated that his ship was taken captive by the British. He may have served in the War of 1812 and died in battle.

The Major named his daughter Abigail’s children in his will, leaving them equal shares of property in Middlesex County upon the death of his wife. Sadly, none of them would come into that inheritance …

  • James died in 1808 at age 24, leaving behind a wife and young boy.
  • Sukey died in 1811 at age 29, probably in childbirth. Sukey and Benjamin had already lost their 1-year-old child, Benjamin, ten years previous. When Sukey died, she was buried next to her son.
  • Sally died in 1812 at age 25, leaving a husband and at least one child.
  • Abigail, the eldest child, married Cornelius Wheeler and bore him 10 children. Cornelius died in the War of 1812. Read more of Abigail in this post.

Interestingly, Sukey’s husband, Benjamin Dix, ended up marrying his sister-in-law, the widow of James. Her name was Mary. They were wed about a year after Sukey’s death. Benjamin Dix died in New Orleans in the year 1822. It’s not certain why he was in New Orleans, but he died intestate, leaving Mary and their child nothing. His estate was declared insolvent.