A poem by Helen A. Harris Deming (aka Mrs. L. L. Deming). This was published in The Ohio Farmer, July 13, 1867.
I love discovering ancestors who demonstrate a lifelong passion for something. For people like Wilna C. Harris, my paternal great-great grandfather, it was perhaps a matter of being born in the right place at the right time which developed his passion.
The theme for Week 15 of the 52 Ancestors challenge is “how do you spell that?,” and I chose Wilna as my subject because his uncommon first name was often recorded incorrectly.
Wilna was born in his parent’s large brick house on Byron Street in Rochester, NY. The house faced the Erie Canal. That waterway, and others, would shape Wilna’s life. Unlike his sister, Helen Amanda Harris Deming, it wasn’t an innate talent which distinguished Wilna. Rather, his achievements were the result of dedication and hard work.
In the year Wilna was born, 1826, Rochester had not yet incorporated as a city. The population was close to 8,000, yet none of the adults in the city at the time had been born in Rochester. Most of the residents had immigrated from eastern New York and New England. Wilna’s father, Sluman W. Harris, was born in Otsego County and had come to Rochester with his father, Daniel Harris, about 10 years before Wilna was born (1816). The opening of the Erie Canal the year before Wilna was born brought rapid growth to the area as Wilna was growing up.
Sluman Harris was a boat contractor and agent. He also served as a city constable. He had a fairly comfortable income, most notable by the fact that when Wilna, his only son, was about 12 years old, Sluman commissioned a life-size oil portrait of the boy. Lamentably, at some point, the painting was cut down to about 30″ in height and placed in an oval frame. As late as 1975, the painting was still in possession of the family and presumably still is.
A written family history reports that when Wilna was old enough to attend school, his father often had him taken in a horse and carriage. As a boy, Wilna would travel through the woods to visit his grandfather, Daniel Harris. To his grandchildren, Wilna told of being afraid of the bears, wolves and bobcats which roamed the woods in those days. He also related to them his fondness for visiting his grand-aunt, Lucretia Lee, where he was treated to pumpkin pie with fresh whipped cream for breakfast. (Sounds great to me!)
Another piece of family lore is this story:
Wilna had a dislike for school which may have been inspired by the fact that he had to travel through the forest to attend classes. His dislike finally overcame reason and he decided to run away. A family negro maid servant was in sympathy with his plan, so one night she tossed a tied bundle of clothes to him from an upstairs window. The young boy ran away to sea, it has been said, but there is no record of how long he remained away, or when he returned. This period must have been in the six or eight years after the portrait had been completed.
(Harris Genealogy: A line of direct descendants from James Harris of Boston, Massachusetts, to the present generation in 1975, by Robert Garrison Elliott)
Presumably, R. G. Elliott did not consult the 1840 U. S. Census record, which shows that WIlna, then 14 years old, was still living in his parents’ home. This helps narrow the time frame of his “escape.” The census record also shows that there was indeed a young black woman (under age 23) living in the Harris home at the time. I suspect that rather than “running away to sea,” Wilna simply hopped aboard a canal boat and traveled to west to Buffalo, where he would later live for a number of years.
Within a few years, Wilna was back home in Rochester where, on May 25, 1846, he married the young Harriet Farnham. Wilna was just a few months shy of his 20th birthday and Harriet was only 14 years old when they married. The couple remained in Rochester, as the 1847 city directory contains a listing for “Wilna C. Harris, Boat-builder” boarding at 9 South Street.
He is not listed in the 1849 Rochester city directory, so presumably the couple had already moved to Buffalo, where they are found on the 1850 U. S. Census. The enumerator got a few things wrong here, which is why finding people on Census records can be a challenge. For one, Wilna is listed as “William” and born in Canada; it was Harriet who was born in Canada. Also, their 1 year old child was a boy named Harry Clay, not a girl named Harriet. Sarah Winters was Harriet’s mother; Harriet’s father, Bela Farnham had died and Sarah remmaired. Josephine Farnham was Harriet’s younger sister.
By 1857 or so, Wilna had returned to Rochester where he continued his work in boat construction. He also made a name for himself as an amazing oarsman. This article from the Lockport Journal and Courier, dated Dec. 6, 1859, recounts Wilna’s record-setting rowing journey from Buffalo to Rochester.
At the time of the 1860 U.S. Census, Wilna and Harriet, living in Rochester, had four children: Harry, Mary, Sluman and Frank, and a young live-in maid, Sarah. in 1865, their youngest child, Wilna Jr. was born. Sadly, though, he did not survive infancy.
Mid-century, the country became engulfed in the tragedy of the Civil War, and Wilna was drafted. But as he had a family to support, the law of the time allowed him to pay $300 to another man to serve in his place.
By 1866, Wilna was so closely tied to the marine community in Rochester that he was appointed a Canal inspector.
At the time of the 1870 U.S. Census, Wilna’s children are all still living at home. His oldest son, Harry, was working with his father at the boat yard. His 2nd eldest son, Sluman, was working as a clerk in a shoe store. Two more children have been added to the family: Jennie and Bertram. Interestingly, while Bert’s older brother was working as a shoe store clerk when Bert was still in school, Sluman would never rise above the occupation of salesman, but Bert went on to become vice-president of the Rochester Shoe Manufacturing Company. Note that here, again, the census enumerator is stumped by Wilna’s name and records it as “Vilney.” The Monroe County Library System Local History department makes available online the Rochester Newspaper Index. I found in the index reference to an article about Wilna dated Jan. 18, 1878, the matter of which is that Wilna was “In Brunswick, Georgia: describes condition and territory there.” The next time I am in Rochester, I’ll view the article on microfilm. I’m curious to know what he was doing down in Georgia.
Wilna continued to compete in regattas and other boating events across New York state. At times he was was crewman, and other times it was a boat of his construction which competed. I love this little newspaper item in which he won a skiff race and was not at all shy of accepting the prize of “filthy lucre,” much to the chagrin, no doubt, of his competitor.
Wilna’s craftsmanship as a boat builder was much sought after and the commissioning of his work was often noted in the local papers.
At the time of the 1880 U. S. Census, Wilna and Harriet were living at number 70 Mount Hope Ave. His eldest son, Harry, had moved out by that time (he later ended up in Chicago) and his eldest daughter, Mary, was married and living in Rochester with her husband, Frank Foster, and their 3-year-old daughter, Alice. Wilna’s other adult children seemed loathe to leave the nest. Sluman had left off with being a shoe store clerk and was learning his father’s trade. Frank was employed as a printer. This census record again shows how enumerators get things wrong: Sluman’s name is misspelled and Bertram is listed as Wilna’s daughter!
About 1884, Wilna and Harriet moved from #70 to #103 Mount Hope Ave. and remained there through about 1888. Behind the home was the boat house on the banks of a feeder to the Genesee River in which Wilna built row boats and canoes. In 1888, Wilna and Harriet moved to #18 Alexander St. and remained there for the rest of their lives.
Robert G. Elliot’s Harris Genealogy includes a few photos of the elderly Wilna and Harriet. The photos are dated about 1912.
Wilna passed away on March 18, 1914. The obituary for him printed in the local paper recalls his career as an oarsman and a boat builder. Harriet survived her husband by about 2 years, until she passed in October of the following year. They are both interred in the Harris family plot at Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, NY, though, oddly, there is no headstone to mark their graves.
“Live Long” is the suggested theme for Week 16 in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge. Because I’ve already blogged about the only centenarian in my family that I know of so far, Dorcas Amidon Rice (she lived to 104 years of age), I’ll take this opportunity to boast about one of the many Revolutionary War Patriots I’ve traced in my lineage: William Bond. While William did not live to be 100, he did have a very long life, having reached the age of 91.
I’ve written about William’s immigrant ancestor, William Bond (abt 1625-1695). Most of what I know about THIS William Bond, my 5th great-grandfather, comes from his pension files and compiled genealogies. Because the pension files are his own account of his war service and the circumstances of his life in his old age, I prefer them as a source of information.
William was born in the year 1760 in Weston, MA. He was the only child of William and Mary Bond. Both men served in the Revolutionary War, the older William was a private in Capt. George Minot’s company, Col. Samuel Bullard’s regiment, from August 1777 to November 1777. He was 38 years old at the time of his service.
The younger William first enlisted in December 1775, at the age of just 15 years old, as a private in Capt. Nathan Fuller’s company, Lt. Col. Bond’s 25th regiment. The company marched from Cambridge, MA, to New York and then on to Canada. When his term of service ended, he re-enlisted in February 1778 in Capt, Nathaniel Belcher’s company, Col. Edward Symmes’ regiment. That term of service lasted 3 months, after which he enlisted a 3rd time in July 1778 in Capt. Joshua Whitney’s company, Col. Josiah Whitney’s regiment. his final term of service lasted about 6 weeks, during which time his company was engaged at the Battle of Rhode Island and were there for the evacuation.
After the war, William married Sarah Parks and the couple settled in Charlestown, Sullivan County, NH.
Together they raised a large family of eight children: William, b. 1784; Sally, b. 1786; Nathan, b. 1792; Luthera, b. 1794; Laura, b. 1797; Silas, b. 1799; Lewis, b. 1801; Charles, b. 1806.
Working a farm to support his family, by the time William was nearing 60 he found himself unable to continue the hard work and applied for a pension. Below are the original 1820 application files in which he described his service and an inventory of his estate is provided (click to enlarge).
In 1832, William had been dropped from the pension roll and had to reapply (click to enlarge). At 72 years of age, and, as it would turn out, another near 20 years of life ahead of him, it meant a lot to have his pension restored.
Sarah preceded William in death; she passed away Sep. 8, 1845. William followed six years later, passing away on Oct. 22, 1851. They both rest at the Forest Hill Cemetery in Charlestown, NH. Their headstones are both adorned with a center obelisk flanked by weeping willows. The obelisk symbolizes a connection between heaven and earth. The willow image evokes “both mourning for the loss of earthly life and the joy of celestial life.” (Stranger Stop and Cast an Eye) Notably, William’s headstone claims he was age 94, but this is an error.
This week’s suggested theme for 52 Ancestors is an easy one: “favorite photo.” Of course, who can possibly choose a favorite among so many cherished images of family members now gone from us? After looking through several, I decided to post one which amuses me because it captures an honest family moment so beautifully.
At the far right in the photo is my grandmother, Delia Jane Feister Irvine (1918-1982). She was about 12 years old here and it appears she had been off getting into mischief before being dragged before the camera. Her legs are scraped, her dress is dirty and hanging off her shoulder, and a playful smile lights her face. Knowing some of the ups and downs which would mark her life in the years to come, seeing her here — just a carefree kid — makes me smile inside and out.
Standing beside my grandmother is her sister, Valeta Feister Mosman, looking rather bored with things. Older sister, Harriet (“Hattie”) Feister Mosman, stands behind reaching to take her daughter, Vivian, from my great-grandmother, Laura Tidd Feister. Hattie’s son, William (Bill) Mosman, is next to Valeta.
I guess the photo to have been taken in 1930, judging by the apparent ages of the children in the photo. The location was probably behind the Feister home in Olean, NY.
Unintentionally, I seem to keep coming across ancestors with a musical bent. My mother possesses a fine soprano voice with perfect pitch. As a young woman, she sang in musical theater. I have fond memories of listening to her play pieces by Chopin, Debussey and others on the piano. So, I love finding musical connections to previous generations.
In tracing my maternal grandfather’s lines, I’ve found that my 4th great-grandfather, Kimber Augustus Barton, also carried the musical gene. And, like many men of his time, engaged in several different occupations during his life.
Before telling you about Kimber, allow me to lay out the pedigree from my grandfather to Kimber:
Perhaps the first thing to know about Kimber A. Barton is that he was named for his paternal grandmother, Mary Kimber Barton. The Kimber name is English in origin and both of Kimber Barton’s grandparents were British immigrants to America. Kimber was born about 1770 to John Barton and Mary Matthews Barton. He was their oldest child, followed by: Thomas Gage, John Jr., Mary and Sabra.
The book, History of Mount Union, Shirleysburg and Shirley Township (1909) by Charles H. Welch, includes a section on “The Barton Kindred” which states that the Bartons lived in Bucks County and moved to Shirleysburg in 1785. But the author makes it clear his facts are only “so far as we can learn.” Actually, the Bartons arrived in Shirleysburg later, for the family can be found living in Bucks County on the first U. S. Census in 1790 (last entry).
Bucks County is adjacent to Philadelphia County, and it appears that Kimber Barton may have received an education in Philadelphia and resided in that city for a time. I was thrilled to find this 1791 newspaper item about Kimber in the database, Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers:
In the 1790s, John Barton and Kimber Barton moved to Buffalo Valley in Union County, PA. The book, Annals of Buffalo Valley, Pennsylvania, 1755-1855, lists John Barton as a tax payer and farmer in West Buffalo in the year 1794; Kimber is listed as a school teacher in the year 1796. By 1799, Kimber was living in nearby West Buffalo/Mifflinburg where he was a tavern keeper. At that time, Kimber also was appointed a federal tax assessor. There was a tax on window glass, so Kimber had to go to each house and count the number of window panes. Residents seeking to avoid the tax would remove the panes before he arrived and cover their windows with paper. You think Kimber was fooled by his neighbors?
The 1800 U. S. Census lists Kimber and his family living in West Buffalo Township (he is listed last on this snippet).
Kimber and Mary had five children: Eliza, Charles, Samuel, Evaline, and Ann. Soon after the 1800 Census, the family moved west to the town of Shirleysburg (Fort Shirley) in Huntingdon County. Kimber remained there the rest of his life. In 1805, Kimber was appointed the 1st postmaster in Shirleysburg. I found this fact recorded in a couple of places, including a relatively recent newspaper item:
In Shirleysburg, Kimber continued his previous trade of inn keeper. He was the proprietor of a local tavern and mercantile, operating from “the Mansion House” on the west side of Main Street. Kimber is described as a “dispenser of codfish, molasses, tape and calico. His was a combination establishment; that is, he kept ‘entertainment for man and beast,’ as well as delicacies for families.” (History of Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania) It was said that Kimber was “as popular as a landlord as any in the valley of the Aughwick.” What a tribute! Kimber must have been a very likeable fellow.
In 1881, Kimber Barton assisted an orphaned young lady in obtaining her inheritance by appearing before the court in Philadelphia on her behalf, as is outlined in the case:
In 1813 and 1814, Kimber obtained two land warrants of 200 acres each in Huntingdon County (one of which is depicted below). Presumably, he invested his tavern keeper savings in land to see him into his old age and retirement.
Among the last public records of Kimber is the 1821 Pennsylvania, Septennial Census, in which he is listed as an innkeeper.
Kimber Barton died on Oct. 19, 1822. His wife, Mary, survived him another 21 years.
It’s Week 12 of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks genealogy bloggers’ challenge and for the past several days I’ve reflected on the life of my 3rd great grand aunt, Mary Jane “Jennie” Beach. Jennie had a long, interesting life, filled with all the ups and downs, twists and turns, joys and sorrows which marks the journey for most of us.
Jennie was the only daughter of Tyler Moses Beach (1798-1880) by his 2nd wife, Sarah Holmes Clark (1799-1865). Tyler, with his father, Revolutionary War veteran, Moses Tyler Beach, hailed from New Ashford, Berskshire County, MA. When the Erie Canal opened in the 1820s, the Beach clan migrated west to Cattaraugus County, NY, where they numbered among the founding settlers of the rural town, Otto.
Jennie was born Jan. 12, 1833, the first child of her mother, Sarah. Curiously, the database, Marriage Bonds of Ontario 1803-1834, includes a record for Tyler and Sarah being married about a month later, on Feb. 14, 1833. (Hmm … ) Jennie’s half-brother, WIlliam A. Beach, was 11 years old when she was born. Her brother Robert was 6 years younger. Another child of Tyler and Sarah, James, died as a toddler.
Tyler was a fairly successful farmer in Otto. He had about 160 acres and produced substantial quantities of both field crops, dairy products and maple sugar. The family also ran both a grist mill and a saw mill. It can be imagined that, when not attending school, Jennie was kept plenty busy with chores and looking after her little brother while Tyler and William worked the farm and mills, and Sarah looked after the household.
Jennie grew to be a lovely young lady and talented pianist. She received an education at the Griffith Academy in Springville, just 12 miles north of her home. It was there that she met her future husband, Ambrose Spencer Yaw. While Jennie was a pianist, Ambrose was gifted with “a voice of remarkable range and power.” (National Cylcopaedia of American Biography, Vol. XIII, 1906).
Jennie and Ambrose were married in the fall of 1854; she was 21and he was 23. The young couple settled in the town of Boston in Erie County, NY, about 22 miles north of her childhood home in Otto.
Ambrose took up the trade of his father, Hiram Yaw, which was the manufacture of bells. The 1855 Census shows Jennie (Mary J.) and Ambrose living in a frame house next to his parents, Hiram and Mary. A young German couple, Henry and Lisa, are boarding with Ambrose and Jennie. Presumably, Henry worked at the Yaw family’s bell factory.
The Yaw bell factory was located along the north branch of 18-Mile Creek and utilized water power in it’s manufacturing process. Ambrose didn’t have a long walk to work, and the town was fairly small, with the Yaw families living right in the center.
Jennie and Ambrose had five children together at their home in Boston:
- Page Gerald Yaw, born Dec, 27, 1855
- Charles Bell Yaw, born Oct. 12, 1858
- Richard B. Yaw, born 1861
- Anna Bentley Yaw, born Apr. 14, 1866
- Ellen Beach Yaw, born Sep. 14, 1869
By the time of the 1865 NY Census, Ambrose was providing a comfortable living for his family. The bell manufacturing business was doing very well, despite the devastation of the war years, and the couple appears to have had two immigrant servants sharing their home.
But these good times were soon to end. Jennie gave birth to her youngest child, Ellen, in September. Just 7 weeks later, Ambrose died. He was only 38 years old. Though I’ve scoured the internet for a cause of his death, it remains a mystery.
Jennie had to carry on without him. At first, it appears she was able to hold things together with whatever funds and property Ambrose left her, for in the 1870 Census taken the summer after Ambrose’s death, Jennie was still able to employ a domestic to assist her with running the home. At the far left, we see the value of her home is $4500.
But over the next few years, things became pretty rough. Just 5 years later, the 1875 NY Census paints a different picture for Jennie and her children. They remained in Boston with Ambrose’s family, but Jennie was compelled to move into a home of far humbler means. The 1875 NY Census records the value of her home is just $800 (2nd column on left).
Gone was her domestic help, and gone were her Yaw family relations. It’s curious to me why she did not move back to Otto, but her mother had died in 1865 and her father was an elderly man living with her younger brother, Robert and his family. Her older half-brother, William, had moved to Buffalo with his wife, where he lived in an apartment and made a living driving a street car. Jennie did receive some financial assistance from her father over the years. Being a trained musician, I wouldn’t be surprised if she also taught music lessons to support herself and the kids.
While it may seem life was desolate for Jennie, I doubt that was the case. She had her children, and they must have been a source of comfort to her. Especially her youngest daughter, Ellen. I suspect Jennie came to see Ellen as a consolation from Heaven for the loss of her beloved Ambrose. For Ellen, like her father, was born with an extraordinary singing talent. Being an educated musician, Jennie recognized her daughter’s gift, as it is said that Ellen was “often heard outside mimicking the birds as she picked raspberries.” (Boston, New York by Sherrie L. Pluta) Jennie instructed both her daughters in music and both girls developed into talented singers.
By the time Jennie’s children were young adults, the family started to split up. In 1880, her oldest, Page G. Yaw, had moved to Minneapolis, MN. While I haven’t found Page on the 1880 Census, he appears in the 1880 Minneapolis City Directory working as a driver for the H. F. Lillibridge bakery. The 1880 US Census shows Jennie’s son Richard employed in the cheese making business with his Beach family relations down in Otto while living with an elderly man and woman in his hometown, Boston. The 1880 US Census shows Jennie’s daughters, Anna (15) and Ellen (11), still living in Boston, but residing in the home of a blacksmith named Daniel Chase and his family. The girls were mistakenly identified by the census enumerator as his step-daughters.
At first, because the wife of D. D. Chase on this census record is named Mary J. and born about the same time as Jennie, I thought perhaps Jennie had remarried. But there is no evidence of this, and Daniel Chase appears on earlier census records, during the years Ambrose was still alive and married to Jennie, with this same Mary J. as his wife.
Where were Jennie and her middle son, Charles is 1880? While I haven’t done a page-by-page search of the 1880 Census records for either Boston or Otto, it is likely she didn’t live far from her children.
Jennie’s father, Tyler Moses Beach, passed away in the summer of 1880. His will was probated in the fall by her brother, Robert C. Beach. From Tyler’s will we learn that he bequeathed to her the sum of $500.
In the years following, as her sons moved off to find their fortunes, Jennie became a huge advocate of her daughter, Ellen. With help of her friends and neighbors in the little town of Boston, Ellen was sent off first to Buffalo, and later Boston (MA) and New York City to receive voice instruction. Ellen gave her first public concert in Brooklyn, NY, in 1888. Her career took off from there and her beloved mother, Jennie, was often by her side.
In 1890, Ellen’s singing career had her relocating to Los Angeles with her mother and sister Anna. Ellen became the famous singing sensation known as “Lark Ellen.” She traveled far and wide giving concerts, from Carnegie Hall to Paris and Rome. On many occasions, her mother and sister accompanied her on her travels, How proud Jennie must have been! And how different her life became with her daughter’s fame!
Jennie lived in the Los Angeles area the rest of her life. For some periods, she would stay with Page G. Yaw and his family in Minneapolis. Page’s wife was named Flora and they had 4 children. Page worked at various occupations, from merchant to contractor with the railroad. He eventually moved to Seattle where, in 1914, Page died of cancer at the age of 58.
Charles B. Yaw ended up moving to California with his mother and sisters. He married a woman named Nettie Jay. They had no children and Charles died of diabetes in 1909.
Richard B. Yaw remained in Otto through at least 1915, where he lived the rural life of a farmer. He had married a woman named Lottie and together they had 2 children. He and Lottie divorced and Richard then married Lucy McCracken. He became a salesman and they moved to Pennsylvania and then Florida, where Richard died in 1931.
Anna married Benjamin F. Thorpe in 1900 and it is with them that Jennie lived. Benjamin owned a ranch where he planted orange groves. Anna gave singing lessons. They had no children but were very active in the community and appear often in newspaper society pages.
A 1916 photo sent to her cousin Charles back in East Otto, NY, shows Jennie bearing a sweet smile that extends from her mouth to her eyes. She is elegantly dressed and bejeweled. What a fine woman!
The beautiful and talented Ellen married first Vere Goldthwaite and later Franklin Cannon. She lived in Paris for a period of time, but settled in California near her sister and mother. She never had children, but her clear love for children expressed itself in the Lark Ellen School for Boys, which she established in the 1890s. Her sister, Anna, directed the school. There is a plethora of information about “Lark Ellen” on the internet; a Google search of Ellen Beach Yaw yields nearly 100,000 results. This Los Angeles Times article in particular is interesting for including her mother’s role in developing Ellen’s career.
Mary Jane “Jennie” Beach Yaw passed away Feb. 7, 1924, at the age of 91. She had such a long and interesting life. She began life the only daughter of a farmer in Western New York State. She married a handsome young man, a fellow classmate, who shared her passion for music. She gave birth to 5 children and with Ambrose’s thriving business, they possessed a charmed life with close family ties. But it all came to a crashing end when Ambrose died shortly after the birth of their youngest child. Jennie struggled to raise those children on her own, and in her youngest, Ellen, she found purpose, for Ellen seemed the depository of all the creative talent of her deceased father, a talent which would bring her world-wide fame.
I love to reflect on the arc of Jennie’s life. I love to imagine her traveling the world with Ellen and then aging gently in the home of her loving daughter, Anna. She endured the passing of her husband and two sons before her. Surely, she shared not only in the successes of her daughters’ lives, but also the sorrow of their childlessness.
When Jennie died, she was transported home to Boston, NY, to be buried beside the husband she survived by 55 years. The obituary for Mary Jane Beach Yaw gives testament to the sweet woman she was. She is indeed, now 91 years since her passing (at age 91, ironically!), “Gone but not forgotten.” RIP, sweet Aunt Jennie!
A poem by Helen A. Harris Deming (aka Mrs. L. L. Deming). This was published in The Daily Cleveland Herald, September 9, 1857.