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Linda Roorda

We Americans love our 4th of July celebrations!  We especially enjoy big parades with lots of floats and marching bands.  We look forward to fireworks with their beautiful colors and designs exploding in the night sky.  We decorate our homes with flags and bunting.  And, we salute, or respectfully place our hand over our heart, as our nation’s flag is carried past us by military veterans in parades. 

 

“…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”  What precious meaning these words have held as we take time to gaze backward to their origins, something I never tire learning about.

 

As I contemplated our nation’s celebrations, I thought about the effort and sacrifice it took from many to give us the freedoms we so often take for granted.  I am so thankful for all we have in America which many around the world do not enjoy.  But, I also wondered if perhaps we have forgotten all that took place a long time ago, and if this day has simply become a traditional fun holiday.  Though no nation or government has been perfect as far back as the beginning of time, the early days of a young nation’s beginnings provide perspective for today’s America, this bastion of freedom.  So, it’s fitting that we ponder what part our ancestors played in the making of our great America some 240 years ago.  And, I might add, one of the best parts of researching my ancestors was the great lasting friendships I’ve made with other descendants.

 

Several of my ancestors served in the Revolutionary War in various capacities, some of whom I researched more extensively than others.  Originally, I did not plan to bring them into this article.  But, then it occurred to me that would be fitting.  Knowledge of personal service and sacrifice often provides us with a greater understanding of the historical era and what our collective ancestors experienced. 

 

Numerous events, political acts, and taxes over many years led to the First Continental Congress meeting from September 5 through October 2, 1774 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  It was held to counteract the British Parliament’s Coercive Acts (commonly called the Intolerable Acts by the colonists) which were intended to punish the colonists for their Tea Party held in Boston’s harbor.  (see timeline at end of article)

 

But, among the early precipitators of the American Revolution was the import ban in 1774 against firearms and gunpowder enacted by the British government.  Next came the order to confiscate all guns and gunpowder.  The aptly named “Powder Alarm” took place on September 1, 1774 when Redcoats sailed up the Mystic River to capture hundreds of powder barrels stored in Charlestown.  Taking the event seriously, 20,000 militiamen turned out and marched to Boston.  Battle was avoided at that time, but ultimately took place the following spring at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775.  Within these events lie the foundation of our Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as written by Thomas Jefferson in 1791: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

 

The Second Continental Congress began meeting in Philadelphia on May 10, 1775.  That very same day, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys seized New York’s Fort Ticonderoga from the British after traveling west from Vermont.

 

On June 14, 1775, delegates from the Second Continental Congress created the Continental Army from colonial militia near Boston.  The next day, they appointed an esteemed and experienced military and civic leader as commanding general of their new army, a humble man by the name of George Washington, congressman of Virginia.  Nearly a month later, Washington arrived in Boston to take command on July 3rd.  The Continental Congress then approved a Declaration of Causes on July 6th.  This proclamation outlined why the thirteen colonies should stand united against Great Britain’s political clout and military force.

 

Through these early years, and with pressing urgency, the great minds of the day began formulating a bold statement of the burdens the colonists bore from an overbearing government an ocean away.  Initially, the colonists were not looking to start a war; they simply wanted their concerns heard and addressed.  But, revolt would be a relevant term regarding that which was festering.  They felt the heavy hand of tyranny over them like a smothering umbrella with their king and his government’s over-reaching philosophy of “taxation without representation.”   

 

It did not take much for congressional delegates to think back and recall the Boston Massacre of March 5, 1770.  Several colonials had taunted the ever-present British soldiers.  Reinforcement soldiers shot into the crowd killing five civilians, injuring six others.  Three years later, the Tea Act in May 1773 was followed by the Boston Tea Party on December 16th.  The year 1775 began with several new tax acts put in place; labeled collectively as the Intolerable Acts, they were Britain’s answer to their colonists’ unrest.  And then an auspicious delegation met in Virginia on March 23, 1775.  Those present were never to forget Patrick Henry’s speech and resounding words, “Give me liberty or give me death!”

 

Paul Revere,with his midnight ride the night of April 18/19, 1775, warned of British ships arriving at Boston’s shores.  [From the interstate, I have seen Boston’s diminutive North Church tucked beneath the shadows of modern “skyscrapers,” and walked the upper and lower decks of the U.S.S. Constitution from the subsequent War of 1812 – with a sailor in period dress uniform talking on a telephone!]  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride” (“Listen my children and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere…”) has been said to contain many inaccuracies; in reality, it was written 80 years after Revere rode out with several others on horseback, quietly alerting other Patriots, but it may also be that Longfellow simply wrote a flowing ode to Revere with embellishments as any poet is wont to do. 

 

The British government was again intent on confiscating all weapons held by the colonists.  Bands of British troops were sent to confiscate ammunition stores in Salem, Massachusetts and part of New Hampshire.  Both times, Paul Revere, a silversmith, was among members of the Sons of Liberty who alerted townsfolk in advance of enemy troops, giving them sufficient time to hide weapons and frustrate the British military.

 

Desiring to alert citizens, Revere garnered assistance from Robert Newman, sexton at Boston’s North Church.  To warn that the Redcoats were coming from the shorter water route across Boston’s inner harbor, Newman hung two lanterns from the steeple window.  These lanterns were clearly seen by those in Charlestown, including the British, unfortunately.  Newman must have felt tremendous fear as the Brits attempted to break into the church while he was still there.  Reportedly, he managed to escape capture by quietly sneaking out a window near the altar moments before enemy soldiers entered the church to begin their search.  And the very next day, April 19, 1775, the Minutemen and British redcoats clashed at Lexington and Concord with “the shot heard ‘round the world.’” 

 

Two months later, June 17, 1775 saw the Battle of Bunker Hill (actually Breed’s Hill) on the Charlestown Peninsula overlooking Boston.  Per military records, my ancestor John Caldwell McNeill was present as part of the Hampshire Line.  As British columns advanced toward American redoubts, the colonists were reportedly told by their commander, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!”  The British were shot virtually pointblank and hastily retreated – twice.  It was not until the third advance by the British that the inexperienced colonists lost to a superior military force.  As the colonists’ limited ammunition ran out, hand-to-hand combat took place on that third advance.  The redcoats took control with greater troop numbers despite their loss of over 1000 men, while the colonists counted over 200 killed and more than 800 wounded.  Yet, the inexperienced Americans realized their dedication and determination could overcome the superior British military which, in turn, realized this little uprising was going to bring a long and costly war to the Crown.  

 

With pressure mounting, the congressional delegation met the next year in the City of Brotherly Love.  Here, they commenced to hammering out wording for what would henceforth be termed a declaration of independence. 

 

“Monday, July 1, 1776, [was] a hot and steamy [day] in Philadelphia.”  In a letter to the new president of Georgia, Archibald Bulloch, John Adams wrote, “This morning is assigned the greatest debate of all.  A declaration, that these colonies are free and independent states… and this day or tomorrow is to determine its fate.  May heaven prosper the newborn republic.” (John Adams, David McCullough, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, New York, NY, 2001, p.125.)  The delegates felt the tension amongst themselves in the debates and wording of their declaration, and the voting at the end of the day was not unanimous.  Their tension was heightened that evening as news reached the city that one hundred British ships had been sighted off New York, with eventually more than 300 joining the initial fleet.  The seriousness of what they were undertaking was felt by every man in the delegation for they knew their very lives were on the line.

 

July 2nd saw an overcast day with cloudbursts letting loose as the delegates met.  The New York delegates abstained from voting while others joined the majority to make a unanimous decision.  Thus, on July 2, 1776, twelve colonies voted to declare independence from Britain.  More than anyone else, John Adams made it happen.  His elation showed in writing home about the proceedings to his wife, Abigail.  “The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America.  I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.  It ought to be commemorated as the Day of Deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.  It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”  (McCullough, pp. 129-130)

 

News spread like wildfire throughout Philadelphia.  A young artist, Charles Willson Peale, journaled that “This day the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States.”  (McCullough, p.130)   But, Congress still had to review what the delegation had written before an official statement could be made.

 

July 3rd blessed the city with a drop of 10 degrees following cloudbursts the day before.  Tensions had even begun to ease among the men, but still there was much work to be done.  More discussion and deliberation ensued as they reviewed the language of their declaration.  (McCullough, pp. 130-135)  Much had to be cut and reworded to make it a more concise document which then boldly declared, “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.  When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” 

 

Benjamin Franklin offered encouraging and comforting words to the now-silent Thomas Jefferson whose many words were debated and cut.  When their work was finished, it was still Thomas Jefferson’s words, however, which have held a firm and tender spot in the hearts of Americans ever since.  To Jefferson goes the credit for writing “…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”  (McCullough, p.130-136)

 

Thursday, July 4, 1776, dawned cool and comfortable.  The tension was gone from the weather just as it was now from among the men of the delegation.  Discussions were again held through late morning when a final vote was taken.  New York still abstained, but the other twelve colonies voted unanimously to support the hard work they had wrought in this Declaration of Independence.  Ultimately, the delegates from all thirteen colonies, including New York, signed the document in solidarity. (McCullough, p. 136)

 

Celebrations began on the 8th when the published Declaration was read to the public.  Thirteen cannon blasts reverberated throughout Philadelphia, bells rang day and night, bonfires were lit everywhere, and candles shone bright in windows.  The news reached Washington and his troops in New York City the next day where the Declaration was read.  More celebrations sprang up as the crowds pulled down the equestrian statue of King George III.  (McCullough, p.136-137)  But, their elation was not long in lasting.

 

In reality, it would be several more years before celebrations of this magnitude would again be held.  In reality, though the hard work of writing such a declaration was finally completed, even harder efforts and sacrifices of thousands of men and boys on battlefields were about to begin.  In reality, the conflict about to begin would affect every man, woman and child living within the thirteen colonies in ways they could never have imagined.  And, ultimately, their great sacrifices gave rise to the freedoms which we enjoy and tend to take for granted today.

 

The lives of the men who signed this declaration were also forever affected.  If the new America lost its war for independence, every signer of said document faced charges of treason and death by hanging for actions against their king.  In signing, they gave “support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, [as] we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” 

 

There were 56 representatives from all thirteen colonies who signed, ranging in age from 26 to 70 (the oldest being the esteemed Benjamin Franklin).  Over half were lawyers, but the men included planters, merchants and shippers.  Most of them were wealthy men who had much to lose should Britain win.  Though none of them died at the hand of the enemy, four men were taken captive during the war by the British, with one-third of the signers being military officers during the war.  And, nearly all of them were poorer when the war ended than when it began. 

 

There was much at stake in the days and years ahead after the Declaration of Independence was signed and the war began in earnest.  Some men abandoned the battle lines, their friends, and what once seemed like worthy ideals, and simply walked home.  Many suffered untold pain and suffering as prisoners of war.  Many suffered deprivations of food and clothing along with disease and death within their own military camps.  Many fought family and friends in the same community as Patriot was pitted against Tory, i.e. Loyalist.  Schoharie County, New York, considered by historians to be “The Breadbasket of the Revolution,” provided an abundance of food for Washington’s northern troops.  To frustrate the colonists’ efforts, the British and their Loyalist supporters, including many Native Americans, destroyed and burned crops and buildings as they captured, killed and scalped settlers throughout the Mohawk and Schoharie Valley and along the western frontier during the war. 

 

In reality, however, we likely would not have won our independence if it were not for Washington’s spies.  Barely two months after the Declaration was signed, a 21-year-old Yale graduate by the name of Nathan Hale from Massachusetts eagerly volunteered to spy for Washington.  He intended to go behind enemy lines on Long Island and in New York City to infiltrate the British strongholds.  Instead, not being sufficiently familiar with the area and its people, and likely having a New England accent, he was caught and found to have sketches of fortifications and memos about troop placements on him.  Without benefit of legal trial, he was sentenced to death.  His requests for a clergyman and a Bible were refused.  Just before being hung on September 22, 1776 in the area of 66th Street and Third Avenue in Manhattan, Hale was heard to say with dignity, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”  (George Washington’s Secret Six, Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger, Penguin Group, New York, NY, 2013, p.1.)

 

George Washington knew that he desperately needed spies, but he needed them to work in such a way that they would not be discovered.  His tender heart for his fellow countrymen deplored that even one should die for the cause of freedom.  Yet, he also knew that such loss was inevitable.  And, thus was born Washington’s spies so aptly named, “The Secret Six.”

 

INDEPENDENCE DAY, PART II:

 

Out of the realization that Gen. George Washington desperately needed spies, and hating to lose even one more life after the hanging of Nathan Hale, a ring of trustworthy spies was gradually pulled together.  Washington’s “Secret Six” included five men and one woman embedded within and around New York City and Long Island, each familiar with the land and its people.  They reported to Washington on British movements and military plans in a timely fashion. 

 

Because they knew the area, and were known by the people, they were readily accepted as they maneuvered amongst the enemy.  That is not to say, however, that they didn’t come close to being found out.  They lived in constant fear of such, not to mention the fear of losing their own lives and destroying their families in the process.  At times they were emotionally frail, depressed and despondent.  But, because of their passion for the freedom movement afoot, they came together for the greater benefit of all.

 

At one point, Washington’s army was entirely surrounded by the British in New York City.  With tips from his spies, and being a man given to much time and prayer with God, his troops managed to quietly evacuate the city under the cover of night at an area not under guard.  With dawn, however, came the realization that a large contingent still remained behind and would be very visible to the enemy.  An answer to prayer was soon forthcoming to allow the balance of his men and equipment to leave the city – an unexpected and extremely dense morning fog enveloped the area, allowing them to continue crossing safely over into Jersey with the British unable to do anything about the Continental Army’s escape from their clutches. 

 

Because of the work of Washington’s spies and the “important memos” he managed to have planted with false information behind enemy lines, the Americans were able to surprise the enemy at Trenton, New Jersey on Christmas Day night 1776 after the British had relaxed their guard and celebrated the day in style.  Needless to say, the Americans enjoyed a vital and rousing victory.

 

Because of the spies and their efforts, accomplished with great fear for their own lives and that of their families, warning was given to Washington of 400 ships arriving from England.  The spies’ insider knowledge that the British were planning to attack and scuttle the French ships and troops coming to Washington’s aid allowed him to turn the tide in a timely manner.  He was able to fool the British into thinking he was readying an imminent attack on New York City, causing them to leave Long Island Sound, thus allowing the French time to land and move inland to safety in Connecticut without battling the British at sea before they even disembarked.

 

Because of the spy who owned a print shop which seemingly supported King George, important plans were heard and passed on to Washington.  Other spies were privy to the upper level of command amongst the British military at parties in a particular merchandise shop and a certain coffeehouse.  A circuitous route was set up for their messenger across Long Island to Setauket where packets with concealed or innocuous-looking papers written in invisible ink and code were rowed to the Connecticut shore in a whale boat (while being pursued by the British) where another member took the seemingly innocent packet of merchandise and rode his horse overland to Washington’s camp in New Jersey.  At times, someone simply traveled out of New York City to visit relatives in northern New Jersey and met up with another dependable link to pass the information along to Washington’s headquarters.

 

Because of their courage and resolve, the spies assisted in uncovering the Crown’s Major John Andre` (who, himself, ran a British spy ring) as he worked with Brigadier General Benedict Arnold, American commander at West Point.  Despite a prior stellar military record, but due to personal bitterness, Arnold was in the process of handing West Point over to Andre` and the British.  Through a series of blundering mistakes, because of the spies’ knowledge given to Washington at just the right moment, and because of the quick thinking of a couple of patriotic guards on a bridge leading back into New York City, Andre` was captured and later executed.  Arnold’s hand-over was thus thwarted, although Arnold managed to escape behind enemy lines and ultimately fled to England.

 

Because of the supposed loyal British support by the owner of said print shop, a little book was obtained through his work as an undercover spy.  This inconspicuous little book contained key information on British troop movements at Yorktown, Virginia.  With important knowledge gained of the enemy’s military plans, Washington was able to redirect appropriate troops and ships to Yorktown.  General Cornwallis surrendered for the British on October 19, 1781 in an American victory where total defeat for the Americans would have otherwise taken place. 

 

Because they swore themselves to secrecy, no one knew the full involvement of all six spies, nor all of their names.  Only gradually over the last few hundred years has their identities become known, the fifth not confirmed until recently.  All five men are now known, but the woman’s identity is not; she is simply known as Agent 355.  It is believed she was captured and became a prisoner; but, there is no hard evidence by research even to prove that conjecture. 

 

The efforts of the six spies as they secretly obtained information and passed it along (devising their own specialty codes, using a unique invisible ink, and more) enabled them to maintain total secrecy.  Nor did they ever seek accolades for their work after the war was over.  The secrets to their successful accomplishments have been among the methods still taught and used successfully by our CIA today.

 

In the interest of sharing the spies’ courage which undoubtedly helped us win the Revolutionary War, their story (as briefly described above) has been extensively researched and written by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger in George Washington’s Secret Six, The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution.  It was one of my Christmas gifts from my husband a few years ago, and I highly recommend it to other history buffs.  It’s a read you’ll find hard to set down!

 

While researching my ancestry over ten years ago, I purchased Revolutionary War pension application files of several ancestors who had served.  For those whose government files I did not purchase, their data was obtained from Schoharie County Historical Society, various Revolutionary War books, CDs, and documents proving their service.  Hoping that my family research might provide us a closer glimpse of the war through their experiences, I share their legacy.

 

1) Frantz/Francis Becraft/Beacraft, bp. 06/12/1761, Claverack, Columbia Co., NY - Private, 3rd Comp., 3rd Regiment, 1st Rensselaerswyck Battalion, Albany County New York Militia, on muster roll from Berne in 1782, 1790 census at Berne.  In an 1839 affidavit, Francis Becraft of Berne stated that he “served as a Private in a company commanded by Capt. Adam Dietz in the County of Albany...” Frantz/Francis married Catherine Dietz (sister of said Capt. Adam Dietz), my g-g-g-g-grandparents.

 

In researching my ancestors, I discovered an apparent familial tie to the notorious Tory Becraft/Beacraft.  This man felt no remorse in aligning himself with Joseph Brant’s Indians to capture, kill and scalp Patriots throughout Schoharie County, known to have brutally killed and scalped a young boy in the Vrooman family who managed to escape the house after his family had been murdered.  After the war ended, Becraft/Beacraft had the audacity to return from Canada to Schoharie County where he was immediately captured by ten men.  In meting out a punishment of 50 lashes by whip, the men supposedly reminded him of his infamous acts against the community, his former neighbors.  Roscoe notes that death did not linger for him after the final lash, and his ashes were buried on the spot.  Of the ten men who swore themselves to secrecy, apparently only five are known.  (History of Schoharie County, William E. Roscoe, pub. D. Mason & Comp., 1882, pp.250-251.)  

 

However, in "Families (to 1825) of Herkimer, Montgomery, & Schoharie, N.Y.," a genealogical source on many early families by William V. H. Barker, it is noted that the Tory Becraft/Beacraft was Benjamin, born about 1759, brother of my ancestor noted above, Frantz/Francis Becraft.  If this is accurate and they are indeed brothers, they were both sons of Willem/William and Mareitje (Bond) Becraft.  Another source, “The Life of Joseph Brant – Thayendanegea…” notes Becraft survived his whipping and left the area (pg. 64), just as other undocumented sources indicate he survived and returned to Canada to live with his family.  So, I am uncertain as to whether Tory [Benjamin] Becraft actually died from his whippings or survived and left the area.

 

2) Johannes/John Berlet/Berlett/Barlet, b. 05/08/1748, Schoharie, Schoharie Co., NY – Private, Tryon County Militia, 3rd Reg’t, Mohawk District.  He married Maria Gardinier, b. about 1751; their daughter Eva/Eveline Barlett married Martin Tillapaugh, b. 1778, my g-g-g-grandparents.

 

3) Johann Hendrich/John Henry Dietz, bp 05/10/1722, Nordhofen, Vielbach, Germany – served in Lt. John Veeder’s Company, Rensselaerswyck, later under Capt. Sternberger’s Company at Schoharie.  He married Maria Elisabetha Ecker, bp. 1725; their daughter Catherine Dietz, b. 1761, married Frantz/Francis Beacraft above, my g-g-g-g-grandparents.

 

As per my upcoming article on Chemung County’s Newtown Battle, the Indian/Loyalist raids and massacres also touched my ancestral families in New York.  In Beaverdam (now Berne), New York near the Switzkill River on September 1, 1781, the Johannes Dietz family was attacked.  Johannes’ son, Capt. William Dietz was captured and forced to watch his elderly parents, wife, four young children and a Scottish maid be killed and scalped.  (see “Old Hellebergh,” Arthur B. Gregg, The Altamont Enterprise Publishers, Altamont, N.Y., 1936, p. 24; signed by Gregg, in Roorda’s collection from her father.)  Capt. William Dietz’s father, Johannes, was an older brother of my ancestor noted above, Johann Hendrich/John Henry Dietz. 

 

4) Johan Dietrich Dallenbach/John Richard Dillenbach, b. 1733 per cemetery records, Stone Arabia, NY; father Jorg Martin Dallenbach born Lauperswil, Bern, Switzerland, emigrated with 1710 German Palatines.  John Richard Dillenbach married Maria Mynard; their son Martinus took name of Martin Tillapaugh (my lineage), married Eva/Eveline Barlett as above.  Dillenbach reported for duty March 20, 1757 when Sir William Johnson called local militia out to protect Fort William Henry on Lake George for the British.  The Seven Years’ War, or the French and Indian War, began in 1754 and ended with the European peace treaties of 1763 during which year Dillenbach again reported to defend Herkimer with the Palatine District Regiment.

 

James Fennimore Cooper wrote The Last of the Mohicans about the siege of Fort William Henry.  Roughly 2300 colonial troops were protecting the British fort when the French arrived with about 8000 troops in August 1763 and heavily bombarded the fort.  With additional supporting troops not found to be on their way, the garrison was forced to surrender.  The men were to be protected as they retreated by generous treaty terms.  However, as the Indians entered the fort, they plundered, looted, scalped and killed about 200 colonials, many of them too sick to leave.  In desecrating graves of those who had died before the siege, the Indians exposed themselves to smallpox, taking the germs back to their homes.  The French destroyed the fort before returning to Canada.  Fort William Henry was reconstructed in the 1950s.  Visiting this fort in 1972 with the Lounsberry Methodist Church youth group, I was unaware at the time that my Dallenbach/Tillapaugh ancestor had walked that ground, having been involved in the siege and survived. 

 

5) Timothy Hutton, b.11/24/1746, New York City.  He married 2nd) Elizabeth Deline b.1760.  Their son George b.1787 married Sarah Wyckoff b.1793, my g-g-g-grandparents.  Timothy served as Ensign in Philip Schuyler’s Regiment of Albany County Militia, at defeat of Gen. Burgoyne in Saratoga October 17, 1777; appointed Lieutenant in New York Levies under Col. Marinus Willett; defended Schoharie County from burnings and killings by British, Loyalists and Indians.  This Timothy is not to be confused with a nephew of same name and rank, b. 1764, which many have done, including an erroneous grave marker in Carlisle, New York.  Sorting their military service out was part of my extensive thesis and documentation in researching and publishing two lengthy articles on the origins and descendants of this Hutton family in the New York Genealogical & Biographical Record in 2004-2005. 

 

My Timothy’s nephew William Hutton served extensively in the Revolutionary War throughout New York City, Long Island, and the Hudson Valley.  My Timothy’s nephew Christopher of Troy, NY served as Ensign, promoted to Lieutenant, member of the elite Society of the Cincinnati.  My Timothy’s nephew, Timothy Hutton b.1764, served as Lieutenant in New York Levies under Col. Willett, enlisting 1780 at age 16 in the Albany militia.  My Timothy’s nephews, Isaac and George (brothers of Christopher and the younger Timothy, all sons of George Hutton, my ancestor Timothy’s older brother), were well-known influential silversmiths over several decades of the Federal period in the late 18th/early 19th centuries in Albany.  Hutton silver is on display at museums in Albany, New York.

 

6) Johannes Leenderse (John Leonardson), b.06/18/63, Fonda, Montgomery Co., NY - enlisted as private in 1779 at age 16, Tryon County Militia, 3rd Reg’t; Corporal in 1781; served on many expeditions in the Mohawk Valley and at forts; joined Col. Willett’s company on march to Johnstown October 1781 in successful battle against enemy who had burned and killed throughout Mohawk Valley; re-enlisted 1782.  Married Sarah Putman b.1773.  Their son Aaron Leondardson b.1796 married 3rd) Lana Gross, parents of Mary Eliza b. about 1732 who married William Henry Ottman, my g-g-grandparents.

 

7) John Caldwell McNeill, b. 1755, Londonderry, Rockingham Co., NH - at Bunker Hill (actually Breed’s Hill) on Charlestown June 17, 1775.  As Sergeant under Col. Timothy Bedel of the New Hampshire Line, John bought beef to pasture and butcher as needed for the troops.  Bedel’s regiment joined “Corp.1, Co. 1, New York Reg’t” on mission to Canada against British; taken captive with his cousins and friends at The Cedars near Montreal, an island in the St. Lawrence; soldiers were stripped of clothing, belongings and food, and released in cartel negotiated by Gen. Benedict Arnold before he became a traitor.  John served at and discharged at Saratoga, NY.  He married Hannah Caldwell b.1762; removed to Carlisle, Schoharie County, New York ca. 1794; their son Jesse m. Elizabeth Ostrom, my g-g-g-grandparents.

 

8) George Richtmyer, bp 04/23/1738, Albany Co., NY – Captain from 1775 through end of war in 15th Reg’t of Albany Militia, defending Cobleskill and Middleburg, Schoharie Co., NY.  Married Anna Hommel; their son Henrich/Henry married Maria Beacraft (see above), my g-g-g-grandparents.

 

9) Hendrick/Henry Vonck/Vunck, b. 03/06/1757, Freehold, Monmouth Co., NJ - served as private and Corporal in New Jersey and New York City; carried papers for American Gen. Charles Lee; joined units marching to same area of Canada as John C. McNeill; on return became ill with smallpox with others at Lake George when news of the Declaration of Independence was made; honorably discharged; called to serve again at Sandy Hook, NJ; captured by the British at Sandy Hook, taken to a prison ship, then to the [Livingston] stone sugar house in Manhattan, then another prison ship, the Good___  (writing illegible on the early 1800s pension document, possibly Good Hope).  After “one year and one month” as prisoner, he was exchanged and released.  “Having suffered while a prisoner great privations and disease and in poor clothing and severely unwholesome provisions many prisoners died in consequence of their treatment.” (Per 1832 affidavit of military service for pension.)  Conditions suffered as a prisoner left Henry in poor health the rest of his life; removing later to Montgomery County, NY.  Married Chestinah Hagaman; their daughter Jane Vunck married James Dingman, my g-g-g-grandparents.

 

From 1776 to 1783 the British made use of decommissioned ships (those incapable of going to sea) as floating prisons.  At least 16 rotting hulks were moored in Wallabout Bay, the inner harbor along the northwest shore of Brooklyn, now part of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  Among the ships were the Good Hope, Whitby, The Prince of Wales, Falmouth, Scorpion, Stromboli, Hunter, and the most infamous HMS Jersey, nicknamed Hell by the men. (see websites below.)  Over 10,000 men, perhaps at least 11,500, died on these ships due to the deliberate deplorable conditions.  Men were crammed below decks with no windows for lighting or fresh air.  There was a lack of food and clothing, with vermin and insects running rampant, and a lack of other humane efforts to aid the ill, all leading to the death of thousands.

 

Prisoners died virtually every day, reportedly as many as fifteen a day.  Some were not found right away, their bodies not disposed of until days later.  Often, those who died were sewn into their blankets (if they had one) to await pick up by cart the next morning.  Many were buried in shallow graves along the shore (unearthed during major storms) or were simply tossed overboard, later washing ashore.  With development of Walloon Bay area over the last two centuries has come the discovery of their bones and parts of ships.  To commemorate these soldiers’ lives and what they gave in the fight for independence, the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument was built.  Located in Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn, it was dedicated on April 6, 1808 with improvements made to it several times since.  (see websites below)

 

At least another 5-6000 men died in the sugar houses, bringing the total who died as prisoners to more than 17,500 in the sugar houses and ships, more than double the battlefield losses.  Sugar houses were buildings meant to store sugar and molasses.  Affidavits by my ancestor, Henry Vunck, and friends note he was held for a few months in the “stone sugar house.”  This could only mean the Livingston Sugar House, a six-story stone building built in 1754 by the Livingston family on Crown (now Liberty) Street in Manhattan.  Demolished in 1846, buildings No. 34 and 36 are now on the site.  (see website below)

 

A second sugar house, the Rhinelander, a five-story brick warehouse, was built in 1763 at Rose (now William) Street and Duane Street.  This building was eventually replaced and is now the headquarters of the New York City Police Department.  A third, Van Cortlandt’s sugar house, was built about 1755 by the early Dutch family of this name at the northwest corner of the Trinity Church in Manhattan.  It was demolished in 1852.  (see website below)

 

10) Hans Georg Jacob Dubendorffer (George Jacob Diefendorf), b. 01/23/1729, Basserstorff, Switzerland – a Loyalist during Rev War, he left Mohawk Valley for Philadelphia and New York City, returned to a daughter’s home in Canajoharie, NY after the war rather than remove to Canada.  A patriotic son disowned his father, taking his middle name (his mother’s maiden name) as his new surname, removing to Virginia.  George Jacob married Catharine Hendree; their son Jacob Diefendorf married Susanna Hess, my g-g-g-g-grandparents.

 

On February 3, 1783, the British government acknowledged the independence of the American colonies.  The next day, they formally agreed to halt all military operations.  A preliminary peace treaty was ratified in April, and Canada offered free land that summer to Loyalists who sought a new life.  Still, the British military maintained a presence in Manhattan.  When Britain signed the Treaty of Paris September 3, 1783 to end the war, the hated Redcoats finally and slowly began to abandon their New York City stronghold. 

 

Next would begin the task of establishing the government and president of this new nation, the United States of America.  George Washington rode into Manhattan on November 25, 1783 with his officers and troops, eight horses abreast.  At the same time Washington’s parade began, British soldiers and ships were setting sail for their homeland. 

 

Flags were joyfully waved, church bells rang in celebration, and cannons were fired in honor of those who had fought and for those who had given their lives, all for the independence of this fledgling nation.  The war had definitely taken its toll; but, on this day, great joy was felt in every heart for what had been accomplished.  And that is why we continue to celebrate our 4th of July heritage in style – as we remember and commemorate those who gave so much that we might enjoy so much.  And, I trust we will never forget what their efforts wrought for us.

 

SOURCES FOR PART I:
Revolutionary War Time Line

Paul Revere

Robert Newman, sexton
Old North Church, April 18, 1775

Battle of Bunker Hill

United States Independence Day

Declaration of Independence Document
Declaration of Independence - About the Signers

 

SOURCES FOR PART II:

  1. George Washington’s Secret Six, The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger, Penguin Group, New York, NY, 2013.

  2. History of Schoharie County, New York, 1713-1882, William E. Roscoe, pub. D. Mason & Co., Syracuse, N.Y., 1882; Paperback Reprint by Heritage Books, Bowie, MD, 1994, Two-Volume Set.

  3. Life of Joseph Brant – Thayendanegea; Including the Border Wars Two-Volumes, by William L. Stone, pub. Alexander V. Blake, New York, NY, 1838.

    Complete timeline of Revolutionary War

    History of the Fourth

    Sugar House Prisons

    HMS Jersey prison ship

    Monument to British prison ship martyrs 

Linda Roorda

Chances are, if your surname is Cooper, Currier, Miller, Slater, Smith, Tanner, Tailor/Taylor, or Wright, etc., the earliest known source for your name can be traced to those ancestors employed with such skills at a time when an occupation typically became the family’s surname.  Over time, others may have adopted occupational surnames even though they, themselves, held no skilled connection to such a name. 

 

Some names are more obvious than others.  A few years ago while writing this article on surname occupations, and discussing it with my husband, Ed began his own litany of surnames – Baker, Barber, Butcher, Carpenter, Plumber, Electrician…  Laughing, I said, “No one’s last name is Electrician!” to which he replied, “Oh that’s right; they shortened it to Sparks!”  You’re so helpful, dear!

 

Centuries ago, typical Scandinavian patronymic (paternal) surnames used the father’s first name with sons adding “sson/sen/zen/zon” and daughters adding “dotter/dottr”, i.e. Nielsson/Nielsen, Nielsdottr”.  Thus, each generation was tracked by the father’s birth name as a prefix in a generational changing surname.  Legislation began in 1771 to establish permanent surnames, with subsequent amendments enacted frequently since.  Surnames also denoted town of residence, name of residence, or occupation, for example:  Moller = Miller, Schmidt = Smith, and Fisker = Fisher. 


Norwegian surnames might also reference their farmland, such as:  Bakke/Bakken (hill or rise), Berg/Berge (mountain or hill), Dahl/Dal (valley), Haugen/Haugan (hill or mound), Lie (side of a valley), Moen (meadow), or Rud (clearing).  Similarly, Swedish surnames include Lind/Lindberg (linden/lime + mountain), Berg/Bergkvist (mountain/mountain + twig), Alström/Ahlström (alder + stream), or Dahl/Dahlin (valley).  Read more HERE

 

As a genealogist, I enjoy the study of surnames and what they mean, and to what nationality they’re linked.  In genealogy research, I’ve been bemused by some of the names chosen centuries ago when families were forced to take a designated surname.  I am more familiar with our Dutch family names, many families forced to adopt permanent surnames by Napoleon if they didn’t already have one.  After occupying the Netherlands, on August 18, 1811, Napoleon required the hardy Dutch to register permanent surnames.  The stubborn Dutchmen that they were/are, you can find many interesting surnames among today’s Dutch if you delve into the meaning, including serious, humorous, place names, and occupational names. 

 

Apparently, the top 10 Dutch surnames  include:  DeJong/DeYonge (the Young), Jansen (Jan’s son, like the American Johnson), De Vries (the Frisian, or of Vriesland), Van De Berg/Van Den Berg/Van Der Berg (from the mountain), Van Dijk/Van Dyk/Dyke (residing near a dijk/dyk/dike), Bakker (a baker), Visser (means fisherman with variations including Vissers, Visscher and Visschers.  After emigration to America, this surname was often changed to Fisher, which my paternal grandfather’s uncle did); Smid/Smit/De Smit/Smidt/Smits (a blacksmith), Meijer/Meyer/Hofmeijer (a farmer who managed a farm/estate for the owner/landlord like the ancient feudal system.)

 

My paternal grandmother’s Vos of Zuid/South Holland province means fox.  My paternal grandfather’s Visscher (fisherman) family is from Groningen province, close to Germanic influence, and my husband’s Roorda (similar to the English Edward meaning famous guardian) is Frisian.  The first documented Roorda in Friesland province rode with Charlemagne, though I don’t know how my husband’s ancestors connect to him.  My mother-in-law’s family names include Van Der Heide (from the moor/heath), Van Den Berg (from the hill/mountain), and ten Kate (the cat).

 

Other common Dutch surnames include Boer (farmer), Buskirk (bush church, i.e. kirk/church in the woods), de Groot (the large or great), de Wit (the blond), Mulder (miller), Noteboom (nut/walnut tree), ten Boom (at/the tree or pole), Van Der Zee (from the sea), van Dorp (from the village) van Staalduinen (from the steel dune) – you get the idea!

 

As my long-time readers will recall, I’ve been enamored with all things Dutch having been born into a paternal full Dutch family.  Though my mother’s family had had little knowledge of their full ancestry until my in-depth research, it is interesting to note my mother’s paternal Swiss Dallenbach/Tillapaugh/German Kniskern and maternal Scots-Irish McNeill/German Ottman are overwhelmingly Dutch and German Palatine with Scots-Irish, English and French scattered amongst them.  That my mother’s parents each descend from one of the only two sons of a German Palatine widow is also among my treasured ancestral findings.
 

I extracted a number of Dutch surnames from Wikipediaparticularly since early New York was settled predominantly by the Dutch in New Netherlands.  Think about the names below, sound them out using your best phonics, and you’ll hear names and terms in use today, many of which are familiar to me from my grandparents and their friends. 

Baas – The Boss

Bakker – Baker

Beek, van – From the brook

Bos – Forest

Berg, van der/den – From the cliff, mountain

Berkenbosch- birch wood, a grove of birch trees

Boer, de – the Farmer

Boogaard – from the orchard, Americanized as Bogart

Boor, van der – possibly of the same French root as Boer – farmer or simple person, aka boorish

Bouwman – mason, construction worker

Brouwer – Brewer

Bruin, de (Bruijn, de) – brown

Buskirk, van – literally bush church, or church in the woods

Cornelissen – son of Cornelis/Cornelius

Dekker – from the verb dekken or to cover as in covering roof tops (compare English "Thatcher")

Dijk, Deijck, van – From the dike

Dijkstra  – From the dike

Graaf, de – The count/earl

Heide, van der – from the heath

Hendriks, Hendriksen, Hendrix – Henry's son

Heuvel, van den – From the hill, mound

Kuiper, Cuyper, Kuyper, de – the Cooper

Leeuwen, van – From Leeuwen/Leuven; Levi

Jaager, de – the Hunter

Jansen, Janssen – Jan's son (compare Johnson)

Jong, de – the Junior

Koning, Koningh, de – the King

Lange, de – the long/the tall

Linden, van der – from the Linden (type of tree)

Meijer, Meyer – Bailiff or steward

Meer, van der – From the lake

Molen, van der – from the Mill

Mulder, Molenaar – Miller

Maarschalkerweerd – Keeper of the horses (compare English marshal)

Peters or Pieters – Peter's son

Prins – Prince

Ruis, Ruys, Ruisch, Ruysch – the sound of wind or water (surname common with millers).

Rynsburger – inhabitant of Rijnsburg

Smit, Smits – Smith

Teuling – Toll taker

Timmerman – Carpenter (timber man)

Tuinstra – From the Garden

Visser – Fisher [my ancestral Visscher – Fisherman (from Groningen, near Germanic influence)]

Vliet, van – From the vliet (type of water)

Vries, de – from Friesland/Frisian

Vos – Fox

Westhuizen, van der – from the houses located in the west

Willems, Willemsen – William's son

Wit, de – White (= the blond)

 

But, back to our preoccupation with occupational surnames, particularly old English surnames.   Brewster was a woman brewer of alcoholic beverages, like beer.  Chapman, old English for ceapmann, was a merchant or salesman.  A cooper made wooden barrels or tubs with innumerable uses.  A miller owned or worked in a mill, especially noted early on for grinding grain into flour.  A smith was a blacksmith, hammering out iron objects heated in the fire.  A tanner cured hides, while a currier (remember the artwork of Currier and Ives?) removed the hair from the hide, readying it to be made into leather goods.  An experienced tailor could sew the finest outfits just by taking your measurements.  A wright was a skilled woodworker, the word replaced by carpenter in the 11th century.  A prefix designated other skills a wright might be proficient in – i.e. a shipwright built ships, a wheelwright made and repaired wooden wheels, a millwright set up machinery, and a wainwright was a wagon maker.

 

The name Cooper is Anglo-Saxon, stemming from the original Latin word cupa, Middle Dutch kuiper, German kuper, and anglicized in England during the 8th century.  Surnames were also necessary when governments implemented a personal tax, or the Poll Tax as it was known in England.  Over the centuries, many surnames have changed spellings, some dramatically so, often due to one’s ability to spell, or lack thereof.  This fact alone is key when researching your ancestors.

 

A cooper was a skilled craftsman who worked with a variety of carpentry tools.  He made and shaped wooden staves with broadaxes, planes and drawknives to form the rounded vessel, which in turn was held together by wooden or metal hoops/rings around the exterior.  He then fashioned wooden lids or barrelheads to fit tightly.  A cooper played a vital role within a community.  His barrels, buckets, butter churns, casks, firkins, hogsheads, kegs and tubs, etc. were needed to hold milk, water and a whole range of staples/food supplies, dry food goods, gunpowder, and other liquids like beer and wine.  The products of a cooper’s trade were generally known as cooperage, or individually a piece of cooperage. 

 

A dry or slack cooper made wooden containers for dry goods including grains, nails, tobacco, fruits and vegetables.  A dry-tight cooper’s casks kept moisture out, enabling gunpowder and flour to be preserved.  A white cooper made the pails, buckets, dippers, butter churns and tubs to hold liquids, but these were not used for shipping.  These containers used straight staves, or wood that was not bent.  The wet or tight cooper made barrels and casks in which liquids, including beer and wine, could be stored and preserved, and later transported.  Certain woods have long been used in wine barrels to give a distinctive flavor enhancement to wine and liquors.

 

When we think of a miller, one who owned or worked in a mill, we usually envision a gristmill in an idyllic setting by a flowing stream and peaceful pond.  The water flowed over the wooden “paddle wheel” which turned the shaft/gears which turned the millstone.  A miller is among the oldest professions, a vital link within the community since everyone needed his product.  Millers took grain and ground it finely between two flat millstones to make flour, the staple of breads, biscuits, pastries and pasta.  Almost every community had its own mill for the convenience of local farmers transporting their grain.  The miller’s income often stemmed from a “miller’s toll,” a certain percentage of the grain he had milled rather than a monetary fee. 

 

Wikipedia describes the milling process well:  “The millstones themselves turn at around 120 rpm.  They are laid one on top of the other.  The bottom stone, called the bed, is fixed to the floor, while the top stone, the runner, is mounted on a separate spindle, driven by the main shaft.  A wheel, or stone nut, connects the runner's spindle to the main shaft, and this can be moved out of the way to disconnect the stone and stop it from turning, leaving the main shaft turning to drive other machinery.  This might include driving a mechanical sieve to refine the flour or turning a wooden drum to wind up a chain used to hoist sacks of grain to the top of the mill.  The distance between the stones can be varied to produce the grade of flour required; moving the stones closer together produces finer flour.”

 

Smith, another common old English surname of the Anglo-Saxon era, or the German smithaz or Schmidt, originates from workers who were skilled in working with metal, such as a blacksmith or metalsmith.  They made wrought iron or steel items by forging - the process of heating the metal in a fire until it is soft enough to be hammered, bent or cut to make gates, railings, agricultural implements, tools, household items, and weapons, etc.  Typically, a blacksmith made horseshoes while a farrier shod the horse, though often their skills were interchangeable.  A whitesmith/tinsmith or tinker worked with tin, typically making useful household items.  Working with a lighter metal, he did not need the higher temperatures of a blacksmith’s fire.  The skills of both a silversmith and goldsmith are self-explanatory. 

 

Tanner is also an ancient Anglo-Saxon surname taken by those employed in the process of tanning animal hides/skins.  It is thought to be of Celtic origin, a word for the oak tree and its bark which was used for tanning.  A tanner held an important skill during the medieval era when leather was used for many common but necessary items including buckets, clothing, shoes, harness and saddles, and even armor for battle.  Tannin (from the German word “tanna” for oak or fir, i.e. Tannenbaum) is the chemical residue from oak tree bark used to treat the animal hides, also producing the coloring during the process.

 

The Wikipedia article in my research includes a photo entitled “Peeling bark for the tannery in Prattsville, New York during the 1840s, when it was the largest in the world.”  Here, men are shown removing strips of bark from the base of trees in the forest.  Oak and hemlock were the trees of choice.  After peeling the bark off, the trees were sawn into firewood or lumber.  The bark was set out to dry, then ground down and put into vats of water, and left to leach out the tannic acid necessary for tanning hides.  Many of those early virgin forests were thus logged bare for the tanning products.

 

Some of the tools used in the process of tanning include:

Fleshing knife – for removing the flesh from an animal skin/hide

Unhairing knife – for removing the animal hair on the skin/hide

Sleeker – for smoothing the skin/hide

Buffer – for shining the animal's skin/hide

Stone mill - driven by horses, used for grinding oak-tree bark which is used during tanning.

 

In the old days, tanning was an odiferous trade, typically performed by the poor on the outer edges of town.  Even today, if the old-fashioned methods are used, tanneries emit foul odors and shops are set up well away from populated areas of town.  The process is a lost art, one I found fascinating to read about, even if yucky.  Again, Wikipedia gives an apt description of the processes.  There may be some within our communities who trap and tan the animal hides to make their own leather.  If so, they likely use a modern chemical process which I saw described online.  But, for the purpose of the history of this interesting old skill, we’ll describe the ancient process.

 

When the skins/hides arrived at the tanner’s shack, they were dry, stiff and filthy.  The first step was to soak them in salt water for curing to help prevent bacterial decay.  The soaking steps also helped to clean and soften the hides.  The hides were next treated with a layer of lime, and then pounded and scoured to remove any remaining flesh and fat.  The hair needed to be removed, either by soaking in urine, coating it with a lime mixture, or letting the skin putrify for a few months before dipping it into another salt solution.  With the hair loosened, the tanner could more easily scrape the hair fibers off with the unhairing knife. 

 

After the hair had been removed, either animal brains, manure/dung or urine was pounded or rubbed into the skin.  The ancient tanner often used his bare feet to knead the skins in dung water for a few hours.  Centuries ago, tanners hired children to collect dung and urine from chamber pots set out on street corners for such a purpose.  Plant juices or bone marrow, urine and rotted brains were used by many African tribes to make soft leather.  The ancient Hebrews used oak bark, Egyptians used Babul pods, and the Arabs used barks and roots.  Japanese preferred rapeseed (a flowering plant) and safflower oils.  Eskimos used fish oil, while Native Americans would smoke the hides to tan them.  Mud and alum were used by the ancient Chinese, as did the Assyrians, Babylonians, Phoenicians, Indians, and Greeks.

 

Softening the hide can be done by further pounding or rubbing it with sticks or heavy ropes, or by pulling it from the edges with another person to stretch it out.  After putting the hide through all these processes, it would be pliable and to ready to use in making various items.   I remember going with my father as an early teen to a leather shop in Newark, NJ where he picked out leather of various shades, thickness and flexibility, including alligator hide.  Using a variety of tools to create designs, he made beautiful purses for my mother and others in the family.  I still have a small one he made when I was about 5. 

 

The ancients took leftover leather scraps from their projects and put them into a vat with water to rot.  After several months, this mixture was boiled down to make hide glue.  Nothing was wasted!

 

A cooper, blacksmith, tailor or wheelwright can often be found in living history museums like those I have visited:  Bement-Billings Museum in Newark Valley, NY; the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, NY; Genesee Country Village Museum in Mumford, NY; and Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, just to name a few as there are so many other museums to visit.

 

Linda Roorda

A Scottish castle on the Hudson?  Drawn to the hazy beauty of this photo, I was mesmerized by the castle’s classic lines… so reminiscent of centuries-old castles scattered around the British and Scottish moors and highlands, intrigued to know it sat upon American soil.  After researching and naming my Mom’s maternal Scots-Irish, I am proud to say that they, too, hold a special place in my heart amongst all my Dutch ancestors.

 

 

Screen Shot 2018-04-21 at 9.52.49 AM.png

 

Photo by Will Van Dorp, Tugster

 

Think back with me to an earlier day when the adventurous Europeans followed Henry Hudson’s momentous sail north on a river now bearing his name.  It was an era of exploration, a prosperous time for the Dutch and their friends as they established a considerable presence in the settling of Nieuw Nederlands… and traveled freely up and down the North River with its invitingly peaceful, and beautiful, sylvan surroundings.

 

Now envision a fairy-tale castle of Scottish design built upon a solid rock foundation, entirely surrounded by a pristine and placid river as its moat.  At times though, depending on the season and storm, the waters become riled and treacherous, perhaps evoking images of an ancient castle set upon the lonely and stormy seacoast of bonnie Scotland.  Such a sighting embodies the ambiance of castle life in the Middle Ages…  a time of chivalry when knights in shining armor went out to battle, bravely protecting their sovereign and his empire, returning home with honor to win the heart of a certain fair young maiden…

 

Roughly 50 miles north of New York City lies an island comprising about 5-1/2 or 6-1/2 acres (depending on source) along the eastern shore of the Hudson River as you head north.  Pollepel Island is a lush growth of trees, bushes, flowers and gardens, clamoring vines, weeds, bugs, ticks, snakes, and rocky ground.  Not surprisingly, the hardy Dutch left their influence on our language and place names all throughout the new world in both New Amsterdam proper and environs of the greater New Netherlands.  Naturally this little island, Pollepel (i.e. Dutch for ladle), was named by these hardy early settlers, situated in an area designated as the “Northern Gate” of the Hudson River’s Highlands.  Just like in the Old Country, the island’s natural harbor provides the perfect setting for a castle… Bannerman’s Island Arsenal, to be exact.  Arsenal, you ask?  Yes, a place where knights could well have donned shining armor for their king and perched behind the battlements with all manner of arms.

 

Screen Shot 2018-04-21 at 9.53.13 AM.png

 

Photo by Will Van Dorp, Tugster,

 

Long before there was a castle of dreamy old-world architecture, it was said that Native Americans refused to take up residence on this mound of rock.  Believing the island to be haunted, the Indians rarely dared set foot upon it in daylight, if at all, while their enemies flaunted that fact by seeking refuge on the rocky shore…

 

The hardy mariners who once sailed Hudson’s North River left a legacy of legends and tales of this little island.  Washington Irving of Tarrytown, told with skillful imagination the story of “The Storm Ship”,  also known as the “Flying Dutchman”.  Fear of goblins who dwelt on Pollepel Island was as real as that of their leader, the Heer of Dunderburgh.  It was well known that Dunderburgh controlled the winds, those furies which provoked the waters, making safe passage of the Highlands a thing to be envied.  With the sinking of the famed “Flying Dutchman” during an especially severe storm, the captain and crew found themselves forever doomed.  And, if you should ever find yourself traveling the river near Pollepel in such a storm, listen closely… for in the howling of the winds which whip the sails, you just might hear the captain and his sailors calling for help.

 

Another legend which early Dutch sailors spoke about was that of Polly Pell, a beautiful young lady rescued from the river’s treacherous ice.  Romantically saved from drowning by the quick wit and arms of her beau, she married her rescuer.  Such are the dreams of the romantically inclined…

 

From a more practical perspective, Gen. George Washington used the strategically placed Pollepel Island during the American Revolution in an effort to prevent British ships from sailing north.  “Chevaux de frise” were made of large logs with protruding iron spikes which, when sunk upright in the river, were intended to damage ships’ hulls and stop the British from passing through.  However, these particular obstructions, set up between the island and Plum Point on the opposite shore, did not deter the resourceful British.  They simply sailed with ease past the sunken deterrents in flat-bottomed boats.  Washington also planned to establish a military garrison for prisoners-of-war on Pollepel Island, but there is no proof extant that his idea was ever implemented.

 

According to Jane Bannerman (granddaughter-in-law of the castle’s builder) in “Pollepel - An Island Steeped in History”, the island had just five owners since the American Revolution era:  “William Van Wyck of Fishkill, Mary G. Taft of Cornwall, Francis Bannerman VI of Brooklyn, and The Jackson Hole Preserve (Rockefeller Foundation) which donated the island to the people of the State of New York (Hudson Highlands State Park, Taconic Region, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation).”

 

Francis (Frank) Bannerman VI, the island’s third owner, was born March 24, 1851 in Dundee, Scotland.  His ancestor was the first to bear the honored name of Bannerman seven centuries ago.  At Bannockburn in 1314, Stirling Castle was held by the English King, Edward II.  Besieged by the Scottish army, however, Edward II’s well-trained troops were ultimately defeated in a brutal battle.  Less than half the size of England’s army, the successful brave Scotsmen were commanded by the formidable Robert the Bruce, King of Scots.  During that battle, Francis VI’s ancestor rescued their Clan Macdonald’s pennant from destruction.  In reward, Robert the Bruce is said to have torn a streamer from the Royal ensign and bestowed upon Francis’s ancestor the honor of “bannerman,” the auspicious beginning of the family name.

 

Fast forward a few centuries and, interestingly, we learn that two years after the February 8, 1690 Schenectady (New York) massacre by the French and Indians, there was a similar massacre in Scotland.  Barely escaping the Feb 13, 1692 massacre of the Clan Macdonald at Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands by the Campbells, Francis Bannerman I and others sailed to Ireland.  With the family settling in Antrim for the next 150 years or so, it was not until 1845 that Francis Bannerman V returned his branch of the family’s presence to Dundee, Scotland.  There, Francis VI was born into this distinguished family.  When but a lad of 3 years, his father brought the family across the pond to America’s shores in 1854.  Settling in Brooklyn by 1856, the Bannerman family has remained with a well-respected presence.

 

Francis V earned a living by reselling items in the Brooklyn Navy Yard which he’d obtained cheaply at auctions.  A few years later, on joining the Union efforts in the Civil War, his 10-year-old son, Francis VI, left school to help support the family.  Searching for scrap items after his hours in a lawyer’s office, young Frank VI also sold newspapers to mariners on ships docked nearby.  In the evenings, he trolled or dragged local rivers and searched the streets and alleys, ever on the lookout for profitable scrap items, chains, and other odds and ends, even sections of rope, all eagerly bought by local junkmen. 

 

Returning from war an injured man, Francis V saw how successful his son had become with his scrap business.  By realizing that items he sold held more value than ordinary junk, young Frank had made good money.  To handle the growing accumulations of items his son had collected, and the military surplus in 1865 purchased at the close of the Civil War, Bannerman’s storehouse was set up on Little Street.  Next, a ship-chandlery shop was established on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.  Returning to school with his father at home, young Francis received a scholarship to Cornell University.  However, owing to his father’s disability, family loyalty won out and he declined to pursue the halls of higher education in order to help run the family business.

 

In 1872, 21-year-old Francis VI took a business trip to Europe.  Visiting his grandmother in Ulster, Ireland, he met Helen Boyce whom he married June 8, 1872 in Ballymena.  Two of their sons, Francis VII and David Boyce, eventually joined their father in the family business.  A third son, Walter Bruce, took a different path by earning his medical degree.  Sadly, their only daughter died as an infant.  Charles, grandson of Francis VI, married Jane Campbell, a descendant of the ancient Campbells who had attempted to destroy the Macdonald clan (from which massacre Francis I had escaped).  Their marriage showed love was the impetus to rise above the ancient rivalry between the families, reminiscent of the Appalachian’s storied Hatfields and McCoys. 

 

Considered the “Father of the Army-Navy Store”, Frank Bannerman VI opened a huge block-long store on Broadway by 1897.  Here, his large building of several floors housed untold numbers of military supplies, munitions and uniforms from all around the world.  Francis/Frank was the go-to man in equipping soldiers for the Spanish-American War.  At that war’s end, the company bought arms from the Spanish government and most of the weapons which the American military had captured from the Spanish.  Printing a 300-400 page mail order catalog from the late 19th century through the mid-1960s, collectors found a large array of military surplus and antiquities.  As city laws limited Bannerman’s ability to retain his massive holdings within the city proper, a larger facility was sought to store their collection of munitions.  

 

As he relaxed by canoeing the Hudson River around this time, David Bannerman observed an inconspicuous little island.  Finding Pollepel Island perfectly suited to their needs, his father, Frank VI, approached the Taft family and purchased the island in 1900.  Designing a Scottish-style castle to honor the family’s legacy, they built an arsenal to store their vast munitions supplies, with a smaller castle providing a family residence.  On the side of the castle facing the Hudson River, “Bannerman’s Island Arsenal” is embedded in the castle façade, clearly informing all passersby of its purpose to this day.

 

As the largest collector of munitions in the world, buying and selling to many nations, including Japan during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905,and to private citizens like you and me, even Buffalo Bill Cody, military memorabilia collectors, theatrical establishments, and artists needing props, Mr. Francis Bannerman VI held an in-depth knowledge of the military supplies and ordnance in his possession.  But, not being a man of greed, he refused to arm revolutionaries and returned their money on learning their intention.  At the opening of World War I, he reportedly shipped 8,000 saddles to the French Army and delivered thousands of rifles and ammunition to the British at no cost. 

 

Though extremely successful selling munitions, Francis/Frank Bannerman VI considered himself a kind and generous man, “a man of peace”.  It was his intention that such a vast collection of arms as his would eventually be considered “The Museum of the Lost Arts.”  Energetic and devoted to his church and public service, he also taught a boys’ Sunday School class.  He enjoyed bringing friends to the island to experience his family’s hospitality.  His wife, Helen, who loved to garden, had paths and terraces constructed throughout the property.  Even today, tour guides point out the many flowers and shrubs she planted which have survived the decades, the beauty of which enhance the antiquity of the castle ruins.

 

With the death of Francis Bannerman VI on November 26, 1918 at age 64, building on the island stopped and many setbacks seemed to befall his estate.  Two years later, an explosion of 200 tons of stored shells and powder destroyed part of the castleWith State and federal laws controlling the sale of munitions to civilians, sales began to plunge for Bannerman’s Arsenal.  Family continued to reside in the smaller castle on the island into the 1930s; but, for the sake of their customers, sold their goods more conveniently from a warehouse in Blue Point, Long Island into the 1970s.  In 1950, a pall fell over the island and its castle when the ferry “Pollepel” (named for the island it served) sank in a storm.  Then, when the island’s caretaker retired in 1957, Bannerman’s island remained abandoned and untended for years. 

 

Frank VI’s grandson, Charles Bannerman, wisely predicted in 1962 that “No one can tell what associations and incidents will involve the island in the future.  Time, the elements, and maybe even the goblins of the island will take their toll of some of the turrets and towers, and perhaps eventually the castle itself, but the little island will always have its place in history and in legend and will be forever a jewel in its Hudson Highland setting.”

 

Ultimately, New York State bought the island and its buildings in 1967 after all military supplies had been removed, and tours of the island and castle commenced in 1968.  Unfortunately, a devasting fire on August 8, 1969 destroyed the Arsenal along with its walls, floors and roofs making the island unsafe, and it was closed to the public.  Though the castle now sits in ruins, much of the exterior walls are still standing, accented with climbing ivy, and held up in the weakest sections by supports.  Since virtually all interior floors and walls were destroyed by fire, “vandalism, trespass, neglect and decay” have continued taking their toll over the decades. 

 

In more recent years, the island once again made headlines with a tragic storyOn April 19, 2015, Angelika Graswald and her fiancée, Vincent Viafore, kayaked to Bannerman’s Castle Island.  Attempting to return from their outing in rough waters, Viafore’s kayak took on water and overturned, resulting in his drowning.  Graswald, charged with Viafore’s murder, admitted to removing the drain plug.  Arraigned in Goshen, Orange County, NY, a plea deal was later reached before the case went to trial.  Pleading guilty to a lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide, she was released from prison not long after, having duly served the time of her reduced sentence.

 

Few people know and remember “Bannerman’s Island” during its glorious past like Jane Bannerman (wife of Charles, Francis VI’s grandson).  Assisting The Bannerman’s Castle Trust and the Taconic Park Commission to repair the buildings, Jane has noted, “…it all comes down to money, and if they don’t hurry up, it’ll all fall down.  Every winter brings more destruction.”  Unsafe conditions on and around the island are due to both underwater and land hazards, not to mention unstable castle walls.  Due to these conditions, it is advised you do not attempt to visit the island on your own.

 

The Bannerman’s Castle Trust has initiated “hard hat” tours along with other entertainment venues.  By making island visits possible, it is the Trust’s hope they will be able to restore the castle, smaller castle home, and gardens for the public to enjoy more fully.  In the interest of preserving the rich history of this Scottish Castle on a small island in the Hudson River, we hope The Bannermans’ Castle Trust is successful in its restoration endeavors.

 

Hudson River Cruises advertise a tour from Newburgh Landing: “Ruins of a 19th century castle on Bannerman’s Island can be seen on special guided history and walking tours departing from Newburgh Landing and Beacon.”  For information on 2-1/2 hour guided tours held May through October call:  845-220-2120 or 845-782-0685.

 

With my own maternal Scots-Irish McNeill and Caldwell heritage, I was intrigued by the photos of such an old-world castle built on a small, seemingly insignificant island.  The fairy-tale ambiance of this Scottish castle stands out, visible by boat and train, amidst the New Netherlands’ Dutch influence up and down the Hudson River.  I hope someday to take a guided tour on Pollepel Island and see Bannerman’s Castle; but, for now, the photos and articles will have to do. 

 

Many thanks to friend Will Van Dorp who initially piqued my interest by posting his photos and synopsis of the island, castle, and its environs on his blog, Tugster:

Hudson Downbound 18b, April 12, 2018 - Scroll down to photo of Bannerman’s Castle which prompted my story.

Landmarks, Bannerman’s Castle Arsenal, 2013

More Ghosts, photography of Bannerman Castle, 2007 

 

There is so much more in-depth reading and photography from many websites, but I referred to the following in my research:

Bannerman’s Island Arsenal

Bannerman Castle Trust

FRANCIS BANNERMAN, the noted merchant and authority on war weapons

Bannerman’s Castle: The Ultimate Army-Navy Store

Bannerman Island: A Mystery Island on the Hudson

Pollepel – An Island Steeped in History by Jane Bannerman

Pollepel Island: Private Fortress on the Hudson

Bannerman’s Island Arsenal, Historic Images – Old Photos/Postcards

Linda Roorda

As we conclude our discussion on how and where to begin your ancestry research with suggestions based on my experience, I thought it would be helpful to collect the online resources in one place.  The following is a list of some of the many online sources which I found most helpful. 

 

I also continue to stress that not all submitted family records on any given site are totally accurate.  Unintentional errors and misspellings in data creep in.  It is up to you to seek out and prove the accuracy of whatever data you find online about your ancestors.  Unless you know a book is truly accurate and can prove the author had sound documentation, do not take a published book as fact “just because it says so.”  That’s how I proved errors in a book that had been accepted as fact for decades as I noted previously.  The extra footwork involved can be extensive, but it’s worth every effort put forth to have solid documentation for your family’s ancestral heritage.

 

Ancestry.com – free 1880 census record; but, for an annual subscription fee, you get in-depth census records from 1790-1930, military records, city and national records, land records, international records, family trees, baptisms, marriages, death index records, etc.

 

Family Search - free website with 1880 census records, baptism, marriage records, death records, and submitted family data.  Books and documents on microfilm can be ordered and viewed at a Family History Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, locally as in Owego or Elmira.  They also have a free down-loadable Personal Ancestral File, PAF, which I have used, though I prefer the Family Tree Maker.

 

My Heritage – discover your roots in a free trial to a subscription-based genealogy compilation.  I have not used this site.

 

Olive Tree Genealogy - free old church/cemetery records, 1600s ships’ lists, records for New Netherland, Palatines, Mennonites, Loyalists, Native American, Military, and Canadian data, etc.  I found this website to be very helpful in my early research nearly 20 years ago.

 

RootsWeb – free source of records, county genweb sites, surname lists, e-mail lists, posted documentation for cemeteries, church records, family websites and more. Currently undergoing a full-site rebuilding, but worth checking out for sections as they come back up for use.

           

CyndisList - free listing of American and International records and resources – a great resource.

 

Vital Records – U.S. birth certificates, death records, and marriage licenses for a fee.

 

U.S. GenWeb – free County GenWeb sites with a lot of data to aid your research.

 

Three Rivers – free source for middle-eastern New York families in the Hudson, Mohawk, Schoharie river regions, family genealogies, books, etc. 

 

Sampubco - Wills from several states, but not all wills.  Fee charged for copies.  I purchased several wills from this website and was very pleased with the service.

 

National Archives and Records Administration –  Click on Veterans’ Service Records section to begin searching.  You will find military service records, pension records of veterans’ claims, draft registration records, and bounty land warrant application files and records available. Order forms are free, but you pay a fee to order copies of records. Well worth the cost.

 

NARA contact/forms – see various forms listed for National Archives Records Administration, government war records.  Obtain free forms from which to order military records including pre-Civil War full service records or pension application files (on NATF Form 85 and/or 86; forms are free).  Some list family members, others do not.  You will find a good amount of information in files re: a soldier’s service, enlistment, capture, discharge, death, etc.,; these records provide valuable documentation.

 

Soldiers and Sailors Database - Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database for military records.

 

Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Foundation - search passenger and ship manifest records free, or order quality record copies for a fee.  Ship manifest records are also found at Ancestry.com, a subscription resource.

 

New York Biographical and Genealogical Society – very trustworthy site with many online articles/records; they are working to put more records online; however, most are limited to membership in the Society.  The Steele Library in Elmira has the full set of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record and the New England Genealogical Journal.  I can attest to the high quality of published research and records in both journals.  I used these journals in my research, with my documented research articles published in the NYGBR.  In order to publish, you must prove all of your statements with solid documentation.

 

Making of America, Cornell University – old books, magazines, newspapers online in searchable/readable format – worth wading through this free resource.

 

Higginson Book Company, Salem, Mass. - old maps, family surname genealogies, county/state historical books, published cemetery and church records, etc. Contact for free catalog; copies books/records obtained for a fee but worth it, from which I purchased a few books.

 

Olin Uris Library, Cornell University - Cornell University’s guide to research of their extensive holdings.  They note that, unfortunately, not all their genealogical books are kept in one section. 

 

Find-A-Grave - free resource of many gravestones around the United States.  Be careful of family notes – I found errors in a family of my close relatives; when I contacted the contributor who added notes tying my family to theirs by error, there was no response, no correction.

 

Tips on fraudulent lineages at:

Family Search Fraudulent Genealogies

Genealogy Today

Gustav Anjou, Fraudulent Genealogist

 

Genealogy.com - locating published genealogies

 
Genealogy Bank, Researching your Pilgrim Ancestry from the Mayflower

 

Again, locally, the Steele Library in Elmira   has an excellent genealogy section on the second floor to aid your research.  I spent many a Saturday morning searching through their collection for documentation on my ancestry data and can highly recommend it.  Cornell University also has a major genealogy library though I was afraid to go up on campus for a personal visit. 

 

And, last but not least, your local library can order books through the interlibrary loan system.  This was a tremendously helpful resource to me for out-of-county and out-of-state historical/genealogical books.  I could not have done it without these resources. 

 

I must also give credit to the many friends I made along my genealogical journey, some of whom proved to be distant cousins and have remained close friends.  We shared data, books, and a love for our ancestral families.

 

And now, I wish you every success as you search for your ancestors.  Enjoy the journey!

~ The End ~

Linda Roorda

There are many free genealogy websites which are a great resource for records and helpful family data, including RootsWeb.  This free site, part of the ancestry.com family, includes a “Getting Started” section with their “guide to tracing family trees.”  The latter has great tips on how to begin, a list of sources and where to find various records, and a list of various countries/ethnic groups.  Clicking on any of these hi-lited items will provide information on beginning your research. 

 

Unfortunately, in checking the RootsWeb site to update this article, I learned they’re in the process of making website repairs.  Feel free to check them out for their explanatory letter as some functions, like the Message Boards, are up and running while other functions will gradually return for usage.  However, most of what I reference here from their site is currently unavailable while they make repairs.

 

They have a section entitled “Searches.”  This includes surname listings you can peruse to see what might be out there.  My favorite section was the “U.S. Town/County Database.”  Here, I have found a wealth of information for vital records from churches and cemeteries, biographies, family lineages, and more.  Researching my early New York families often brought me to the Albany, Schenectady and Schoharie county genweb sites. 

 

The next section is labeled “Family Trees (World Connect).”  You can search family trees generously submitted by other researchers.  I did find errors in submitted family trees when I began my research, prompting my own research to document, write and publish my family articles.  For that reason, I tend to stay away from this section in seeking information on my ancestors.  I prefer to do as much footwork as I can on my own, albeit with guidance from friends who taught me as I learned along the way.  Submitted trees certainly can be entirely accurate; however, if used as a starting point with other online records, you can then seek sources to provide solid documentation and corroborative proof, i.e. church and cemetery records in reputable books or journals, census records, wills, etc.

 

The next section is “Mailing Lists.”  These lists are also invaluable.  I was formerly on an email list which provided discussions on various topics relating to the early settlers and records of the 1600s and 1700s in New Netherlands/New York.  It was a rewarding experience to reply to someone’s query by contributing data I have in a book of ancient Albany’s city and county records that was helpful to others. 

 

From RootsWeb , I had subscribed years ago to the Schoharie County email list.  That resource was where I saw the notice by a professor from Long Island who found an old photo in a Washington, D.C. antique shop.  The pencil writing on the back of the matting read, “First Tillapaugh Reunion July 1910…”  I replied that my mother’s two oldest brothers inherited that farm, and their sons continue to farm it today.  A reproduction of the photo is in the Dallenbach book of descendants which I own, so I was well aware of what the professor had found.  In fact, the house in the photo, built in the 1830s, is still very much in use today.  I was offered the opportunity to purchase the photo which, of course, I did, thus beginning my genealogy research in earnest in the late 1990s.

 

RootsWeb also includes a section for “Message Boards.”  Here, you can search your surname of interest, read other posts, and post your own query for information which I have also done.  Folks on these message boards have been very helpful.  This has also been a resource to meet extended relatives in various lines, which I have also done.  We have then shared our own researched and documented data with each other.  Several friendships were made this way, and they continue to be counted among my close friends today.

 

Other sections have even more options available including various surname websites, other tools and resources such as blank forms and charts, and hosted volunteer projects.  The latter includes books owned by folks who are willing to research them for information you might need from a particular book.  You may also find volunteers who are able to do local lookups at either cemeteries or historical societies for you.  When volunteers have helped by doing research footwork for me, I felt it appropriate to pay their expenses, a much-appreciated gift. 

 

You can also submit your FamilyTreeMaker data to RootsWeb.  Instead, of doing that, I submitted a McNeill descendancy outline with names and dates of birth to the Schoharie County Genweb site.  It is also common courtesy not to submit names of any living relatives, or those born within the past 75-100 years out of respect for privacy.

 

Another free online source of cross-referenced data is the comprehensive CyndisList The Categories section provides a list of resources, including American state and government as well as international resources.  There is an Adoption section to help find orphans and living people, message boards, and volunteers to assist your search.  A section entitled Free Stuff includes charts and forms, translation tools, online databases to search, volunteer lookups, surname family associations and newsletters, etc. 

 

Sections you might not have thought about include 1) Migration Routes, Roads and Trails, 2) Canals, Rivers and Waterways, and 3) Immigration and Naturalization.  There are sections entitled Heraldry, Hit a Brick Wall?, and Ships & Passenger Lists.  The Mailing Lists are great for asking questions when you’re stumped, and for connecting with researchers working on the same lines.  There are also sites to purchase items, and free trials to search various genealogy websites before paying their site subscription fee.

 

Ancestry.com has some free data, like the 1880 Federal Census records, but the best records are obtained using subscription-based entrance.  Here, you will find tabs for Home, Trees, Search, DNA, Help, and Extras.  It is an invaluable resource.

 

Perhaps your ancestors came through Ellis Island.  Search The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation   to find your ancestors and the ship on which they sailed.  A ship’s manifest lists the passengers, their age, name of the ship, port, date of departure, occupation, nearest relative in their country of origin, and their sponsor in the U.S.  I found information for my husband’s paternal grandfather’s family when they emigrated from Holland in the early 1920s.  Some went first to North Dakota before settling in northern New Jersey as dairy farmers while others settled right away in northern New Jersey and Massachusetts to work in the textile mills.   

 

I also found records at the Ellis Island website for my father’s families which emigrated from the Netherlands.  Like many families, both of my father’s grandfathers came through Ellis Island, each with their oldest son – my dad’s paternal grandfather in November 1922, and his maternal grandfather in September 1923.  They settled in and around Kalamazoo, Michigan among other Dutch.  When they earned enough money, they sent for the rest of their family.  My paternal grandfather emigrated from Uithuizermeeden, Groningen at age 15 in July 1923 with his mother and siblings through Ellis Island. 

 

However, my dad’s maternal grandfather was determined his wife and children would not go through the rigors of steerage and Ellis Island.  Instead, he sent money back home to them in Rotterdam for second-class tickets.  Decades ago, my grandmother told me only a little about their sailing on the S. S. Rotterdam to Hoboken, New Jersey.  Research showed the ship came into a New York City port in January 1926, with the ship’s manifest listing my grandmother’s family.  Unfortunately, I didn’t ask more questions.  She told me that a Dutchman, who made a living helping immigrants, met my great-grandmother and her children (my grandmother was age 15), and took them to his home in Hoboken, New Jersey.  He fed them, put them up overnight, and the next morning put them on the right train to Michigan with lunches in hand.  There, my great-grandmother was reunited with her husband, and my grandmother and her siblings with their father and oldest brother.  How exciting that must have been!

 

My grandparents married in 1931 and lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  With the Great Depression, my grandfather and his father lost everything as building contractors.  They removed to another Dutch enclave in Clifton, New Jersey where my grandfather became a door-to-door salesman before again becoming a successful general contractor, with many a beautiful house or remodeling project to his credit.

 

You can purchase quality photo documentation of the ships your ancestors sailed on.  However, I simply printed the free online photo of the ships on which my ancestors sailed, along with each respective ship’s manifest for documentation.  I used both Ancestry.com and the Ellis Island websites to obtain records.

 

For steerage immigrants, the Ellis Island experience included passing a medical and legal inspection.  If your papers were in order, and you were in reasonably good health, the inspection process typically lasted 3-5 hours.  The ship’s manifest log was used by inspectors to cross-examine each immigrant during the primary inspection.  Though Ellis Island has been called the “Island of Tears,” the vast majority of immigrants were treated respectfully and allowed to enter America to begin their new life.  However, about two percent of immigrants were denied entry.  Typically, if you were suspected of having a contagious illness, or if the inspector thought you might become a public burden, entrance to the U.S. was denied.  I can only imagine the pain it must have caused when one or more family members were told they had to go back to their native country. 

 

I am very appreciative of the efforts my many ancestors made to emigrate from their home country, to which none ever returned, of becoming American citizens, and of their hard work to provide a better way of life for their family.  By sharing bits of my ancestral heritage, of who they were and whence they came, I hope it has encouraged you to search for your ancestors, to find their place in the building of our great America, and thus to know the gift of your family heritage.

 

NEXT:  Genealogy Website Resource List

"Homespun Ancestors is written by Linda Roorda. To see more, visit her site HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Linda Roorda

We previously briefly touched on the importance of your ancestor’s Last Will and Testament, an excellent source of family documentation.  Wills are filed at surrogate court or county clerk’s office along with estate records for those who died intestate (without a will), inventories of estates, letters of administration, and guardianships, etc. 

 

Some older wills may be found online at Sampubco Genealogy as posted by W. David Samuelson from whom you may purchase documents.  This site includes wills, guardianships, surrogate’s records/probate files, naturalizations, letters of administration, and cemetery listings.  Records are available for several states via alphabetical name search by county.  From my experience, mostly older wills are available, but not all of them.  I can, however, recommend this site as I purchased several ancestral wills more reasonably than from surrogate’s court or county clerk’s office.  However, it is still advisable to go to the appropriate office to search for and copy complete records, which I also did.

 

One drawback can be old style writing and language.  Having begun my secretarial career in an Owego law firm, researching and copying old deeds and wills in shorthand, I was familiar with most of the standard language.  After transcribing eighteenth and nineteenth century ancestral wills I’d purchased, I submitted several online to respective county genweb sites.  They provide an opportunity for future researchers to use this gift, a way to pay back the gifts others have freely placed online to aid in research.  It’s all about helping each other on the journey.

 

As for the old language of bequeathing one’s estate, I share excerpts in original format from the wills of a few of my ancestors – original spelling or misspelling retained. 

 

Henrich/Henry Kniskern, signed 1780, probated 1784:  “In the Name of  God Amen. I, Henrich Knieskern at Shoharry [Schoharie] in the County of Albany [before Albany became several counties] farmer being at present weak in Body but of Sound Mind and Memory… considering that it is appointed for us all once to Die do this Eight Day of May in the Year of Our Lord Christ One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty make and Publish this my Last will and Testament in manner and form following that is to Say I recommend my Soul unto God that gave & my body unto the Earth from whence it came to be decently Interred… I give and bequeath unto my eldest Son… five Pounds Lawful money of New York (I Mean and Understand good hard Silver Money) for his birth Right… it is my will and Ordre that my Wife… shall have her supporting and Maintainment yearly and Every Year for her Life Time of my Estate in Knieskerns Dorph… [Kniskernsdorf is a now-extinct hamlet established on the Schoharie Creek by my ancestor, Johann Peter Kniskern, the Listmaster of one of the original 1710 Palatine settlements on the Hudson River.]  …I Give unto my Two Sons… together Equally my farming utenciels and Tools as both or Two Waggons & Two Sleeds Ploughs and Harrows with all the Tackling and furniture thereof… axes hoes & other Implements of husbandry… I Give to my Two Daughters, as bed Goods, Pewter Goods, Iron pots, Cooper goods & other goods… I give to my Two Sons… Equally my Loom and all & Every articles that belongs to Weavers…”

 

Adam Dingman, a prosperous freeholder of Kinderhook and Albany, wrote “...know all men that in the year seventeen hundred and twenty and twenty-one, the twenty-first day of January, in the seventh year of the reign of our sovereign lord, King George, I, Adam Dingeman, born at Haerlem, Holland, sick and weak of body, but having the perfect use of my senses…”  Unfortunately, he did not name his children from whom I have proven descendancy.

 

George Hutton, son of Lt. Timothy Hutton, listed all children, with daughters by their married names, a very helpful will.  An interesting inventory with values was attached to his wife Elizabeth’s will from 1845.  Numerous items were listed, including “1 feather bed $7.25, 1 blue and white spread $4.00, 1 straw bed tick $.25, 1 brown calico dress $.37, 1 black cashmere shall $.75, 1 pr morocco shoes $.50, 1 rocking chair $1.00.”

 

Other wills bequeath hereditaments (one of my favorite words), i.e. land, crops, tools, animals.  A McNeill family will “allows” an unmarried sister to use half of the house for life.  And an inventory made in 1758 for the estate of John McNeill, an apparently wealthy mariner (father of John C. McNeill), includes “1 Jacket of Cut Vellvet & 1 pair of Black Vallvet Britches, 1 paire of Lether Buckskin Britches, 1 Great Coat of Davinshire Carsey, 1 fine linnin Sheet x3 coarse ones, 1 45 weight of fetther, 1 paire of carved Shew buckells & knee buckells of silver, 1 paire Sleve buttons of gold, 2 Small Bibells w/one Silver clasped, 1 book called fishers Arithmitick, 1 seet of Harrow teeth, 1 Seet of plow Irons.” 

 

Old documents do make fascinating reads! 

 

COMING NEXT:  Genealogy Websites

Original blog post at: Homespun Ancestors - Your Family Tree #10

Linda Roorda

Anything but a boring read, military records are another invaluable source of documentation.  The first step is to determine when and where your ancestor served.  Often clues to an ancestor’s military service are found in family stories, old photos, death records and obituaries, grave markers and/or cemetery records, local town histories, and other family records or correspondence.

 

Many military records are available at Ancestry.com.  You will find draft registration cards for WW I and WW II, enlistment and service records, soldier and prisoner lists, casualty lists, pension records, etc.  In searching Ancestry’s records for this article, I found the Revolutionary War pension application file for my ancestor, John C. McNeill.  I had purchased the complete file several years ago through the national archives at NARA.gov.  So much more data has been placed online at repositories like Ancestry.com than was available when I began researching in the late 1990s. 

 

Search for records at the website for National Archives.  Click on the Veterans’ Service Records section to begin.  You will find military service records, pension records of veterans’ claims, draft registration records, and bounty land warrant application files and records available.  I found the WWII enlistment records at both Ancestry and NARA websites for two of my paternal grandfather’s brothers.  They had served in Europe and the South Pacific.  NARA’s website allows you to download free forms in order to purchase the full military records which may not be available elsewhere.

 

Military records can provide a good deal of genealogical and historical data about an ancestor.  The various records may include date of birth, birthplace, age, date of enlistment, occupation, names of immediate family members, and service records listing battles fought, capture, discharge, death, etc. 

 

However, bear in mind that military records may not include all data you seek.  My John C. McNeill did not note a date of birth or age in his Rev War pension application affidavit, and stated only that he had “nine children…5 sons and 4 daughters”, without listing any of their names.  Talk about frustration!  However, Jesse McNeill, my ancestor, verified in his signed affidavit that he was a son of John and that was key evidence.  Thankfully, John’s wife, Hannah, noted their marriage date, town, name of the Justice of the Peace who married them, and her sister’s name in her affidavit when applying for her widow’s pension.

 

With military records, you can take a little data and round it out with further research.  My John C. McNeill answered the call of fellow patriots to serve with the New Hampshire Line at Bunker Hill (or Breed’s Hill) in June 1775.  He was a Sergeant under Captain Daniel Wilkins in Colonel Timothy Bedel’s regiment of rangers, in charge of pasturing cattle to feed the men.  In 1776, Bedel’s regiment was ordered to join the Northern Continental Army in New York to reinforce the military presence in Canada.

 

McNeill’s pension file affidavits note capture at The Cedars, a fort west of Montreal on the St. Lawrence River, where they were plundered of all possessions.  They were taken to an island and left naked, without shelter and scant rations for eight days.  At The Cedars, “Bedel left the fort, either [to]… seek reinforcements or convey intelligence.  The command devolved on Major Isaac Butterfield… who on the 19th of May [1776] disgracefully surrendered his force of about four hundred men to the British and Indians [who were] about five hundred in number.”  (History of Goffstown [N.H.] by George Plumer Hadley, page 124.)

 

Morris Commager’s “The Spirit of Seventy-Six” (pgs. 212-220) provides further corroboration of this capture with many injured, killed, taken prisoner, or dying of disease.  McNeill was among survivors exchanged and returned in a cartel between the British Captain George Foster and American Brigadier General Benedict Arnold.  McNeill then served out his military enlistment at Saratoga, NY.  McNeill’s cousin and friends sign an affidavit in his pension application file stating they survived the ordeal with him, celebrating their release annually thereafter.

 

Another excellent source, a great read which confirmed the information I had on Bedel’s New York Regiment, is found in “Benedict Arnold’s Navy:  The Ragtag Fleet that lost the Battle of Lake Champlain but Won the American Revolution” by James Nelson, 2006, The McGraw-Hill Companies. 

 

I further assumed that, having served in New York for a time, McNeill later sought fertile land in what historians call the “Breadbasket of the American Revolution” – Schoharie County, New York.  After settling in my mother’s home town of Carlisle, Schoharie County, New York in the mid-1790s, one of his neighbors, and likely good friend, was Thomas Machin, whose farmland I have seen on a side road just into Montgomery County and very near Schoharie County.

 

Machin “supervised the making and laying of The Great Chain across the Hudson River near West Point.”  “W. Thomas Machin, Engineer, Washington’s Staff, Founding Father of Masonry in Schoharie County…Member Boston Tea Party; 1744-1816.”  (Personal view of two New York State plaques commemorating Machin at Carlisle Rural Cemetery, Carlisle, Schoharie County, NY, just a short distance up the road from where my mother grew up.)  However, Machin was not likely to have been part of the Boston Tea Party per my additional research.  Living in close proximity to each other, I am sure there must have been a good friendship between the two military men and their families – Machin’s grandson, James Daniel Machin, married John C. McNeill’s granddaughter, Lucy Jane/Jeanette McNeill, in 1852.

 

There is so much to be gleaned from in-depth research of ancestors, learning about their lives, extended family, and the historical era in which they lived!

 

COMING NEXT:  Last Will and Testament.

Original blog post at: Homespun Ancestors

Linda Roorda

As we noted previously, studying census records plays another key role in searching for ancestors.  Census records track families as they grow, move to new frontiers, into the cities, or perhaps just stay put on the family farm with family members scattered within walking distance nearby.

 

Study the old handwriting, compare unknown names or words to letters and words which you clearly know.  But, know that the old fancy cursive is different from what we’re familiar with in today’s handwriting.  I became familiar with it when researching and copying old deeds as a young secretary years ago, learning the old language of legal documents in the process.

 

I use two methods for keeping census records – one is to write all data on 4x6 lined index cards, and the other is using blank 8x10 census forms.  I eventually acquired several hundred index cards filed alphabetically in a handy shoebox.  I find them easier to refer to than the large census forms which, admittedly, are the more accurate.  The large blank forms are also used as a guide to what data to include on index cards from each census. 

 

Before searching census records, you should also know they, too, may contain errors.  At times, the enumerator may have been given wrong information, or misspelled first and last names depending on his own abilities.  When copying data, be sure to include the way names were misspelled, along with the known correction.

 

For example, I tracked a McNeill descendant whose father had removed his family from Carlisle to Decatur, New York and later to the state of Maine.  I knew his daughter, Appolonia Livingston McNeill, by baptism record.  She married William Smyth(e) and lived in Bangor, Maine.  By census records, her unmarried sister, Sarah McNeil(l), lived with them.  I followed the Smyth(e) family in Bangor by census, and the family’s billiard hall by city business directory.  I could not locate Appolonia in the important 1900 census, assuming she died after 1880.  Searching for her sons, I was surprised to find Appolonia as a widow, listed on the 1900 census by her middle name as Livingston A. Smyth.  She then resides with her twin sons in Portland, Oregon where she dies and is buried per death record I purchased.  Wondering what brought them to the far side of the continent, I can only speculate that perhaps they later enjoyed Portland’s 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition.  I have not had time nor funds to pursue further research on the family among Maine or Oregon records, though I did obtain a few free cemetery records online. 

 

Every ten years since 1790, our federal government has gathered a national census.  Very few records remain of the 1890 census as most were destroyed by fire and water damage in 1921.  In 1934, rather than make attempts to restore the balance of records, they were destroyed by the U. S. Department of Commerce despite a public outcry.   The 1890 census was different from previous with in-depth questions about each family member and Civil War service, and would have been invaluable to researchers!

 

State censuses are equally as important.  Taken randomly, they are a little-known or seldom-used resource.  Typically collected by states every ten years, in years ending in “5,” New York did so in 1790, 1825 through 1875, 1892, 1905, 1915, and 1925. 

 

For privacy reasons, census records are not available to the public until 70 or so years later, the 1940 census being released in April 2012.  Records available to the public from 1790 through 1940 are found at a county clerk’s office, online by subscription at Ancestry.com, on microfilm through the Family History Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with some census records transcribed and placed online at county genweb sites.  As a way to pay back other generous contributors, I transcribed the 1810 census for Carlisle, Schoharie County, New York.  I’ve wanted to do more, but have not had time to go back and transcribe additional census records for online usage. And that was back when I had the slow dial-up internet, not my fast click’n-go high speed!

 

Initial census records provide limited data.  The 1790 census includes city, county, state, page, date, name of head of household, males under and over age 16, free white females, all other free persons, and slaves.  

 

The 1800 census begins to break down age groups by years, with 1820 including occupations in agriculture, commerce, manufacturing.  The 1830 census includes the deaf and blind, but no occupations.  The 1840 again includes age groups for males, females, free colored persons and slaves, but also occupations of mining, agriculture, commerce, navigation of ocean, canals, lakes and rivers, learned professional engineers; pensioners for Revolutionary or military services; the deaf, dumb, blind and insane; data regarding one’s education, and those who cannot read or write.

 

The 1850 census is also a key census as it’s the first to list the name and age of every household member along with numbering the dwellings/houses and families of a town.  From 1850 through 1940, data may include the name of each household member, age, sex (which helps when a given name is not gender specific or is illegible), number of children born to a mother, marital status, years of marriage, state or country of birth, birth places, year of immigration, street address, occupations, value of the home, etc.

 

The 1880 census is free at both Ancestry.com and the LDS Family Search website.  The census for 1900 gives month and year of birth along with other family and professional data.  The 1910 through 1940 censuses are more in depth than previous.  Regardless, all census records contain a wealth of vital information on your ancestors!

 

COMING NEXT – Military Records

Original blog post at: Homespun Ancestors - Your Family Tree #8

 

Linda Roorda

Cemetery records are another invaluable resource for your ancestry research.  Historical societies also retain cemetery records, or transcriptions, of virtually all old gravestones for every cemetery, large or small, within any given county.  Unfortunately, I have typically found this work to have been done several decades ago (often from early to mid 20thcentury), and desperately in need of updating.  However, with our modern technology, a great resource not available when I first began my research journey in the late 1990s is the Find-A-Grave website.

Cemetery associations maintain each cemetery, retaining records for all burials.  They can often provide more information from their records on the deceased than that which is on a headstone, including full dates of birth and death, and family relationships with parents’ names and/or name of the spouse.  On the other hand, I’ve also seen where my trip to a specific cemetery gave me more data on a gravestone than was written in the historical society’s record.

It is also well worth making a trip to the actual cemetery whenever possible.  On one trip, I walked up and down virtually every row of a very old, but still used, cemetery north of Cobleskill.  Frustrated at not finding specific ancestors, I decided to give it one more try and got out of the car, facing a short steep slope.  Climbing to the top of the little knoll, I walked directly into an unusual circular plot.  Peering closely at the stones, I had that “aha” moment – I’d found exactly what I was looking for!  For there were my mother’s grandparents and great-grandparents!  As a teen, my Mom would drive her mother to this spot to place flowers on family graves, but she was unable to recall exactly where to find the plot.

While researching, it is helpful to know that a.e. (i.e. anno aetatis suae) on a gravestone is Latin for in the__  year of life versus age meaning year of age.  For example, you may see a stone with a date of death and age as follows:  Jan 10, 1834, a.e. 16y.  This indicates the deceased was in the 16thyear of life; but, in reality, was 15 years old on the previous birthday before death.  You may also see the deceased’s date of death with age as follows:  d. June 15, 1827, 10y 3m 5d.  From this date, you can count backwards to the date of birth, i.e. b. March 10, 1817.  Take photos of gravestones for documentation, along with proof of the location of the stone(s) and exact cemetery of burial.

In the case of very old stones from the 1700s and 1800s, I have done rubbings – either with washable chalk to make the eroding chiseled letters stand out, or by pencil rubbing on paper lain atop the sunken lettering when nothing else was available.  The latter gave me data on my ancestor, John Caldwell McNeill, that was not in the cemetery records.  I knew he was a sergeant in the New Hampshire Line, serving at Bunker Hill as per his pension file; but, a separate gravestone revealed these barely discernable words etched in stone by doing a pencil rubbing on paper:  “Corp.1, Co.1, N.Y. Regt. Rev War.”  Questioning what he was doing in a New York regiment, I spent the money to purchase his full  Revolutionary War pension application file.

I then read historical books about the Revolutionary War for their collateral documentation of the era.  Reading “The Spirit of Seventy-Six,” author Morris Commager confirmed that the New Hampshire unit was asked to join the above-noted New York regiment on a mission to Canada.  Records researched by Commager detailed how the men were captured, stripped of all clothes and possessions, and imprisoned on an island in the St. Lawrence with many soldiers dying.  The remaining soldiers were bought back in a cartel by Benedict Arnold and released to serve out their enlistment, confirmed by other reputable sources, including “Benedict Arnold’s Navy” by James L. Nelson – a really great read!  This all substantiated affidavits in John C.’s pension file and the story in a New Hampshire county historical book about the capture and release as celebrated annually by John C.’s friends and relatives who remained in Londonderry, NH after the Revolutionary War when he removed to Carlisle, Schoharie County, NY.

Although rare, cemetery records and gravestones do occasionally contain conflicting dates or errors.  A death certificate, if available, would be the more accurate record, along with collateral records.

I have personally seen few errors in gravestone data, but one stands out as part of my documented and published research thesis.  My ancestor, Lt. Timothy Hutton (b. 1746) had a nephew Lt. Timothy Hutton (b. 1764), both serving in military units in New York.  A monument to my Lt. Timothy Hutton at Carlisle Rural Cemetery in Carlisle, Schoharie Co., NY credits his service under Capt. Gross of Willett’s Regiment in the Revolutionary War.

On checking roster records, two Lt. Timothy Huttons are listed in Col. Marinus Willett’s Regiment at the same time – one in Capt. Gross’s company, the other in Capt. Livingston’s.  Purchasing military records of my ancestor, with my editor supplying a copy of affidavits for the younger Hutton, provides our proof.  This documentation notes both Lt. Timothy Huttons served in Willett’s NY Regiment.  But, Lt. Hutton b. 1764 stated in affidavits he served under Capt. Gross, with other documentation noting he died in New Jersey, while his uncle, my ancestor, Lt. Hutton b. 1746, though not stating which captain he served under, is thus presumed to have served under Capt. Livingston as per the unit’s roster records.  My Timothy Hutton (b. 1764) was documented serving in Schoharie County, NY, settling and dying in Carlisle, my mother’s home town.  And so I proved my Lt. Timothy Hutton did not serve under Capt. Gross as per his cemetery monument, but rather his nephew of the same name did.  With both men sharing the same name, it’s no wonder the kind folks who put up his monument were confused!

There has also been a concerted effort over the last several years to put cemetery records online, a great aid in research, but you should still document and prove data accuracy.  As the years pass, more and more data is making its way online than was available before 2000 when I began my research.  Again, check out the Find-A-Grave website.  Through the kindness of many people, photos are taken of gravestones, and, along with data written on the monuments, are placed online.

Obviously, not every grave is to be found online, nor is all information and family data accurate as I recently discovered from someone’s erroneous tie to my paternal family which I personally knew to be absolutely false.  I emailed the contact person and did not receive a reply back; I don’t know if it was ever corrected online as I’ve not gone back.  But, admittedly, it is very rewarding to find a photo of just the grave you’ve been searching for!

COMING NEXT:  Census Records

 

"Homespun Ancestors is written by Linda Roorda. To see more, visit her site HERE

Linda Roorda

In researching your ancestors, you will hit brick walls – guaranteed!  When you do, think about who the most recent known ancestor was.  Remember that we discussed previously how the Dutch used a specific naming pattern.  Each child was named after the grandparents, alternating back and forth to include each of the child’s grandparents, great-grandparents, then aunts, uncles and parents.  Other ethnic groups, including the Germans, often used a similar pattern, but did not follow it as consistently.  By searching census records of the community where a particular family was known to live, I found the probable paternal grandfather of a friend’s ancestor.  It appeared her ancestor’s middle name was that of the probable grandfather, thus creating a crack in her brick wall.

Often, names changed spelling over time depending on the speller’s knowledge, or were changed to reflect the pronunciation.  Your surname today may not be how it began a few centuries ago.  My maternal family name of Tillapaugh began as the Swiss Dällenbach, being changed in the early 1800s among several lines, including the oft-used Dillenbeck/Dillenbach, etc.  Another example is the German Jung, pronounced and often Americanized as Young.  From the 1600s New Amsterdam, my Dutch VanKouwenhoven morphed into Conover.  My French DeGarmeaux from the Albany area became DeGarmo, while my German Richtmyer became Rightmyer in other lines.

Another example of surname change is found in my Revolutionary War families.  The original Swiss Dübendorffer became Diefendorf after arrival here in the 1730s.  My ancestor Georg Jacob Diefendorf remained loyal to the crown during the Revolutionary War.  However, his son, a staunch patriot, took his mother’s surname (his own middle name) as his new surname, becoming John Diefendorf Hendree, to disassociate himself from his father.

Paying close attention to details helped me find the marriage date for my ancestors Christina Dingman and Jacob Kniskern.  Sorting book by book in one row of the genealogy section of the Steele Library in Elmira, I saw a tiny church book for Montgomery County, New York.  This is a typed transcription of original handwritten church records.  Having seen these church records online, I knew exactly what I was holding.  Searching page by page, I saw the name of “Conescarn.”  Suddenly, I realized that I was looking at the phonetic spelling for the old pronunciation of Kniskern; now the “K” is silent.  I’d discovered what no one else had recognized before – my great-great-grandparents’ marriage date of October 17, 1840!

The Kniskern name began as Genesgern in churchbooks from the 1500s in Germany.  It is one of the oldest documented pedigrees of any New York 1709/10 Palatine emigrant according to the author Henry Z. Jones, Jr. in his personal email to me.  See his two-volume set “The Palatine Families of New York 1710”.  Mr. Jones and his assistants went to Germany and systematically searched records in every town and old church to document as many Palatine-region emigrant families as possible to provide solid documentation for today’s researchers.

When researching old families, it is also helpful to know that Sr. or Jr. and Elder or Younger do not necessarily indicate father and son as it does today.  Often, this title was used to differentiate between extended relatives or unrelated men within the same community who happened to have the same name.  With the old naming pattern, it was not uncommon to find “umpteen” men and boys by the same name in town and church records.  Without the title or other differentiation, it can be difficult to place them correctly in their family of origin, though key is noting the birth parents and baptismal sponsors.

Census takers frequently wrote a surname based on their own spelling ability, which, I discovered, was often quite atrocious!  Be flexible.  As you search records, try various spellings as names were often written as they sounded.  That fact alone can make all the difference in finding your ancestor.  Even my McNeill name, consistently signed by the oldest family members with two “l”s, was spelled variously on census records as McNial, McNeal, McNiel or simply McNeil (without the second “l”).  Several years ago, I transcribed the online 1810 census for Carlisle, Schoharie County, New York and submitted it for posting on the county genweb page.  Some names were very misspelled; but, being familiar with many of Carlisle’s families from research, I understood the intended names and put them in parentheses.

However, in hitting your brick wall, do not jump hastily into accepting published genealogies.  If there is evidentiary proof with solid documentation (like I provided for my published genealogies in footnotes) from reputable journals or well-documented books, then you should be able to accept them.  But, again, beware as I found false leads, fake ties, and erroneous data which I proved wrong with personal old-fashioned research, part of my published thesis.  It pays to put in the extra effort to prove your data.

I also want to stress that I do not readily accept anyone’s claim of family ties to famous historical folks, Mayflower ancestors, or royalty – nor should you.  Maybe you truly are connected, but I want to see sound documentation, preferably baptismal, marriage and death records, or cemetery records for every generation backward.  Also know that most well-documented earliest generations in America begin in the 17th or 18thcenturies.  Viable records previous to those centuries are not always available.

Since Ancestry.com has records from Britain, Ireland, Wales and several European countries, it is a valuable subscription resource.  You can also hire one of their professionals should you feel the need for their assistance.  A general search online for records from a particular nation may also be helpful as I found a reputable website with documented birth and marriage records from the Netherlands for my grandmother’s lineage.  I purchased the book on my paternal ancestry documented by a distant relative who just happens to work in the genealogy division of The Hague.  Though her work can definitively trace my paternal ancestry only to the early 18th century, I’m satisfied.  And I was amazed to see the photo of a Dutch constable, a brother of my great-grandfather, who looked uncannily like my Dad!

Some of your best resources can be found in books containing transcripts of original documents and/or in legitimate family records (Bibles, baptism, marriage and death records) placed at historical or genealogical societies.  Unless you know that what you hold in your hands is truly legit, do like I did to prove my lineage beyond a doubt – tackle the hard work yourself to prove every ancestor.  Yes, it’s time consuming and takes years, but the end result is truly worth the effort!

Again, many genealogies were written in the past with ties to royalty and early American Mayflower ancestors which have since been proven false.  Several resources regarding what to look out for are available at the following websites:

LDS Family Search “Fraudulent Genealogies.”

Genealogy.com’s “Fraudulent Lineages” by Nicole Wingate.

Genealogy’s Star blog:  “Genealogy as a Fraud.”

 

Tips on accuracy of research in “Bogus Genealogies” by George C. Morgan.

COMING NEXT:  County Historical and Genealogical Society holdings.

 

"Homespun Ancestors is written by Linda Roorda. To see more, visit her site HERE

Linda Roorda

County historical and genealogical societies are another great repository of data to aid in your research.  Among their resources are town and county historical books which often include brief lineages of early settlers, donated private family records, old family Bibles or transcripts of family data, transcribed census records, church and cemetery records, microfilm of various records including old newspapers, donated copies of wills or abstracts of wills, maps, rare books, donated specialty items, published family genealogies, and unpublished family manuscripts which can often be as accurate as any published composition, and so much more.

But, please keep in mind that any family genealogy is only as good as the family’s recollections and the ability to provide solid documentation, so personal footwork is still necessary to clarify or prove data if source documentation cannot be provided.

If you know where an ancestor lived, contact the corresponding county historical society.  You might be amazed at what may have already been researched, or what the folks can help you with, and how well they can point you in the right direction.  There is a research and copy fee at a historical society, though it is always less expensive to do your own research on the premises.  When I researched in the early 2000s, an average fee of $25/hour was charged by most societies to have their staff do your research (may cost more now).  I personally traveled to several historical societies; but, since that was not always feasible, I also paid for some to do my research.

Visit the online website for the town and county historical societies where you wish to obtain data.  If you want them to research, write a brief letter of request, include their base fee as listed online, and a self-addressed stamped envelope along with a brief description of information you seek.  As they respond in the order requests are received, it may be a few weeks before you receive a reply noting your request for research has been placed.

By clarifying data on a family record form filed at both Tioga and Schoharie, NY county historical societies, I proved someone wrongly placed a daughter in my McNeill family.  I wrote the submitter for information, but never received a reply.  There were two McNeil(l) families in Schoharie County.  Ruth McNeil married Matthew Lamont, removing to Owego, Tioga County, New York by 1825.  Matthew and his son, Marcus Lamont(e), purchased Hiawatha Island east of Owego on June 23, 1830 and operated a ferry across the Susquehanna River.  Marcus Lamont(e)’s son, Cyrenus McNeil Lamont, purchased the island in 1872 and ran the famous Hiawatha Hotel until 1887.

I proved Ruth (McNeil) Lamont did not belong to my McNeill family as had been listed on the above family history form.  Instead, I believe she was more likely the daughter of John and Ruth (Reynolds) McNeil, and thus named for her mother.  John and Ruth McNeil were originally of Vermont as per that McNeil family history writeup which I purchased from Montgomery County Dept. of History & Archives.  Per her sons’ census records, Ruth was born about 1782 in New York, the same year as was my John C. McNeill’s proven daughter, Betsey, his oldest child. Betsey was actually adopted by her mother’s childless sister per New Hampshire records.

Historical societies often have microfilm of local newspapers for birth, marriage, obituary and death notices.  Newspapers are a great source of collateral family data found in ads, public notices, or community event columns, i.e. the old-fashioned “gossip” columns which note the hosts and attendees of fashionable events.

Other important historical society holdings include old church records which provide vital information for births, baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials.  Old baptism records often include not only the name of the infant and parents, but the sponsors/witnesses who were usually relatives or close friends.  Churches do not provide this data, but many older church records have been donated to historical societies.  Often, you will find that someone with an interest in preserving this information took the time and effort to transcribe original handwritten records into a neatly typed report.  The transcriber certifies his/her work to be true and accurate, retaining all original errors.  These records may be in manuscript form or in a published book.

Town and county clerks’ offices are also invaluable resources.  Check the respective website for who to contact and what records they retain.  Marriage, birth and death records are typically kept by the respective town clerk where the event took place.  County clerk websites provide information on who to contact for genealogical research purposes.  The county clerk’s office maintains original state and federal census records, public land records (deeds, mortgages, liens, and maps), tax records, and wills, etc.  Family documentation can be found in wills (sometimes found at surrogate’s court), estate records for those who died intestate (without a will), inventories of estates, letters of administration, guardianships, etc.

Always note the source to document your facts, i.e. book, author, publisher, date, page, for example:

William E. Roscoe, History of Schoharie County, New York, 1713-1882. (Syracuse, NY: D. Mason & Co., 1882), p. 54.

John C. McNeill, Revolutionary War Pension File 20246.

Mortgage Book B, pgs. 69-70, Schoharie County Clerk’s Office, Schoharie, Schoharie Co., NY.

U.S. 1790 Census, Weare, Hillsborough Co., NH, p. 5, handwritten p. 332, line #9, NARA roll M637_5 (ancestry.com census record).

When appropriate, you may certainly state data was found on personal visit to a specific named cemetery (be sure to include the address), a personal conversation with someone specific, or in a box of letters found in Grandma’s attic.  But don’t forget to note date of visits and conversations, and full names, including maiden and married surnames.

By keeping solid research documentation, it will always be available to validate your findings as needed.  You will never regret the extra effort.

COMING NEXT:  Cemetery Records

 

"Homespun Ancestors is written by Linda Roorda. To see more, visit her site HERE

Linda Roorda

As you begin your research, document everything, every step of the way.  Keep some paper files readily accessible, but enter data in a genealogy computer program; I have an older Family Tree Maker version.  I also have “tons” of file folders filled with family research data gleaned from online resources and reputable books, emails with fellow researchers, data from visits to or purchased from historical societies, cemetery data from personal trips, etc.  And then there’s the shoebox filled with several hundred census records on 4×6 index cards.  I also found it helpful to paperclip together each family’s successive census records.

As we’ve been discussing, the key is to seek documentation from reputable sources.  Try to clarify data accuracy yourself as even the best author makes a mistake.  I was very frustrated when the new editor for the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, who oversaw my McNeill article, rewrote part of my work and erred in what I had originally said – instead of asking me to rewrite.  Not being as familiar with the family as I was, she also tied some footnote documentation to the wrong facts, which I somehow overlooked in my final editing, necessitating a correction in a subsequent journal issue, making me look input.  I was not pleased, but kept my thoughts to myself.

As we said previously, it’s helpful to use a family history form, like these at Genealogy Search.   This website has numerous forms to record your data, including blank census forms.  When I first began dabbling in genealogy research, I didn’t have this resource available, or at least didn’t know where or how to find it.  I initially did everything the old-fashioned way by writing it all out on paper.  It wasn’t until I’d typed most family histories for my tome that I was introduced to Family Tree Maker, something which I highly recommend obtaining at the start.  It stores your data, connects extended family ties, tracks individuals and families, makes multiple descendancy charts from any progenitor, includes photos, and helps you make a nice family booklet.

To publish research as I did, you must prove new data (i.e. previously unpublished) or correct previously published data which you’ve proven is in error – both of which I did.  Every fact and every statement you make must be backed by solid documentation, with the source noted for each fact in a respective footnote.  If you make a habit of doing this right from the beginning of your research, you’ll at least prove your own lineage definitively without scrambling around for misplaced evidence.

Edit, edit and re-edit your story.  I cannot stress that enough.  Every so often I’d print out my research, using color-coded paperclips to track each family branch of one progenitor in said draft copy.  Focus on one ancestral line until it’s as complete as possible before moving on to the next line.  Believe me, it keeps you sane and less confused!  Back then, I had so many individual names and family ties in my head that I was a walking ancestral encyclopedia for a time… sharing a lot of early New Netherlands/New York history at the drop of a hat, and perhaps a bore to some listeners.

After gathering as much data as you can about known ancestors, a good place to start researching further is at Ancestry.com.  They have free 1880 census records available, but paying their annual subscription fee will provide access to a greater wealth of records.  As a member, at your fingertips will be census records from 1790-1940 (excluding the lost 1890 records), certain military records, city and national records, land records, international records, submitted family trees, baptisms, marriages, social security death index, phone book data, some books, etc.  These resources were vital to my research, thanks to the generosity of a distant cousin and dear friend, Mimi, who shared her Ancestry site with me.  You will also find family lineages posted at this website; but, be aware that submitted family data can definitely be incomplete and inaccurate as I also discovered.

Another good resource is Family Search, a free website by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Search this website for the free down-loadable Personal Ancestral File (PAF).  Their data includes 1880 census records, baptism and marriage records, death/cemetery records and submitted family data, etc.  Again, be cautious as not all data submitted by individuals is accurate.

Books and documents on microfilm can be ordered and viewed at a local LDS family history center.  Their resources can be invaluable as they include public records not readily available otherwise.  I used the Owego LDS church’s family history center, ordering several manuscripts/books on microfilm.  The editor for my McNeill article routinely flew to the main family history center in Salt Lake City, Utah to aid her editorial work, finding documentation from New Hampshire I had missed on prior researches.

Your local public library is also a great resource of interlibrary loans.  I cannot say enough about the helpful ladies at my local Spencer Library.  They ordered many genealogical and historical books for me.  These books included invaluable town and county backgrounds from New York and other states from their earliest beginnings, including generational documentation on early families.

Elmira’s Steele Library is among those in New York State which maintains a viable genealogical section, and I availed myself of their records for hours many Saturday mornings.  Their great collection includes the “New York Genealogical and Biographical Record”, the journal which published my articles, the “New England Genealogical Record”, early New York county history books, transcribed manuscripts of early New York City records, many family surname genealogy books, books on how and where to search, histories of family names and how they changed over the centuries, D.A.R. lists, and so much more.

Another resource is Cornell University’s library system.  My fear of getting on campus and finding my way around prohibited any attempt at investigating their tremendous genealogical and historical collection.  Most of their material is held in the Olin/Kroch building.  Use Cornell University’s Olin Library website as a guide for searching.   Bear in mind that, just as I was able to do, many of Cornell’s genealogical holdings may be ordered through your town library.

COMING NEXT – Brick walls…

 

"Homespun Ancestors is written by Linda Roorda. To see more, visit her site HERE

Linda Roorda

Okay, let’s start researching.  As you ponder a few names in your ancestral tree, the burning question may be, “How do I start looking for ancestors I don’t even know about?”  Actually, the best way is to begin working backward from what you do know.  Start with your birth certificate to prove your parents.  Obtain copies of birth, baptism and marriage records, newspaper death notices or obituaries, and cemetery records of your near relatives.

Research can be an expensive endeavor and I will admit I’ve not done all I’d like to simply for that reason.  I’m able to join the DAR with about ten ancestors who served in the Revolutionary War; and, though I have a good deal of documentation, I’ve not been able to afford all that which is necessary for the DAR forms.  I know that I have DAR status with the evidence in my hand, and don’t need to prove that fact to an association.  Yet, even on a limited budget, you can accomplish a great deal like I did with the resources available – particularly as my initial online research of records for several years was done using the painfully slow dial-up internet service!

Make a list of your known and extended relatives.  Talk to the older folks and write down their memories and stories.  They are a wealth of information, and will be honored to have you ask.  But, again, research helps validate the truth from “stories” which might have snippets of reality amongst exaggerated stories passed down as family history.  Check out Cyndi’s List for a great listing of various types of charts and forms which can be printed off to help you keep records.

I also wish I had had an interest in knowing my family history when I was younger and my grandparents were still alive.  With my mom born as child 11 of 12 in a large farming family, her parents were long gone by the time I finally developed an interest.  And, since both her parents were only children, there’s a paucity of extended “rellies” for me to speak with. Yet, I’ve met other extended cousins and have enjoyed getting to know them while we compare our family lineage notes.

With her own family history interest, my mom recalled bits and pieces, but that’s why the original family tree mentioned in my first article was vital.  Working through the known three generations to prove their accuracy, my empty-nest project evolved into a 600-plus page manuscript.  I documented historical family backgrounds and descendants from church and cemetery records, historical records, census records, and books, etc. for every known surname branch.  Don’t research just the male lineage as some folks prefer; the women are equally as important to your heritage!  I even included research on the extended families as a record of their historical times and how families became intertwined.

If you are fortunate enough to have access to them, search old diaries and letters which may reference family members.  Old family Bibles often list family births, marriages and deaths, but not all do.  For example, an old Bible found in the brick McNeill house in Carlisle, NY by the current owners (with whom I became friends) held no data other than three McNeill obituaries, two of whom were known to be related.  Yet, the obits became key evidence in my search as one obit was for a Martha McNeill Tillapaugh Seber of Decatur, New York.  That little piece of paper gave credence to my theory that she is related!  She is the presumed daughter of Samuel McNeill as she fits the age of a female born 1814 on his census records, the only McNeill family in Decatur at that time.  This gave a descendant, who I was assisting, substantial probability for Martha’s birth family since his family papers noted Martha McNeill was born about 1814 in Decatur, thus lending credence to our being distant cousins.

The following also shares how one clue leads to another in research.  Based on a gut feeling, I purchased Robert McNeill’s War of 1812 pension application file after finding him on the 1820 Carlisle, New York census.  He lived very near my ancestor, John C. McNeill (typical of the old generations), and was listed on the War of 1812 muster rolls.

In pension application affidavits, Robert noted service at Watertown and Sackett’s Harbor, New York and as a guard of prisoners on a march to Albany.  He made no mention of service on any ship.  Sadly, I had to break the news to a descendant friend and cousin that Robert’s claim to be in a famous battle on Lake Erie during the War of 1812 was not backed up by documentation in any of his records.

Also, unfortunately, he served only 53 days of the required 60, making him ineligible for a pension.  However, additional key data found in his affidavits note Robert served in place of his brother, Samuel McNeill, of Decatur, Otsego County, New York, and that he, Robert, lived first at Carlisle, Schoharie County, New York.  Thus, he was born about 1794, after his parents removed from New Hampshire to New York.  Bingo!!  I now had two more presumed brothers of my known Jesse McNeill!  When Robert enlisted in September 1813, it appears he was about 18, unmarried, willing and able to serve for his brother, Samuel, who had a young family per the 1810 Decatur census and who presumably had farm crops to harvest.

By census records, we track Robert and family on the 1820 census in Carlisle, Schoharie County, New York, the 1830 census in Conesus, Livingston County, New York near his wife’s relatives, and the 1840 census in Dundee, Monroe County, Michigan.  After his first wife died, he lived near his sister’s family in Wayne County, New York where he remarried, moving his family back to Michigan per 1860 census.  I like to think of them as “frequent flyers” on the bustling Erie Canal, sailing Lake Erie from western New York to the frontier in southeast Monroe County, Michigan.  Curiously, his second wife is later found without Robert on census and cemetery records with their children in Wayne County, New York.  As Robert is listed on census records in the homes of his first wife’s children, dies and is buried in Michigan, his descendant and I have concluded that he and his second wife separated, but never divorced, as she died and is buried in Wayne County, New York.

There is so much to be gleaned by searching for and finding actual records.

Coming next:  Document everything, every step of the way!

Linda Roorda

Growing up knowing that my dad was a first-generation American born to 1920s Dutch immigrants, I’ve always been partial to all things Dutch. Then, researching my mom’s ancestors, and discovering the several nationalities in her lineage along with New Netherlands’ Dutch and their part in building America, has been even more of a treasure.

So, why is genealogy so important to us? Put another way, why is history important? To quote David McCullough in the Reader’s Digest, December 2002, author of John Adams and 1776: “The best way to know where the country is going is to know where we’ve been…But why bother about history anyway? …that’s done with, junk for the trash heap. Why history? Because it shows us how to behave. [It] teaches and reinforces what we believe in, what we stand for. History is about life – human nature, the human condition and all its trials and failings and noblest achievements… Everything we have, all our good institutions, our laws, our music, art and poetry, our freedoms, everything is because somebody went before us and did the hard work… faced the storms, made the sacrifices, kept the faith… If we deny our children that enjoyment [of historical story telling]… then we’re cheating them out of a full life.” 

We cannot walk in our ancestors’ shoes; we can only imagine the way their life was from recorded history. And, though their life seems from a simpler time, it was much more difficult in so many ways. We can also look back with knowledge gained from their experiences, both good and bad. With stoic determination, our ancestors left families and homes behind to sail across an ocean with hopes of building a better life in a new country, tame the wilderness, and push back the western frontier. Typically, they never again saw the “old country” or family left behind. How easy it is for us just to hop in the car for a visit to relatives, or take a flight to faraway places! We have no idea what hardships our ancestors truly faced.

As you research, consider the reasons your ancestors left behind all they knew. This will give you a better appreciation for the people and their times. We know the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth in 1620 seeking religious freedom. In 1609, sailing for the Netherlands, Henry Hudson explored the Atlantic coastline and river which bears his name, looking for the Northwest Passage. Soon after, the Dutch built their vast empire, establishing a presence in New Amsterdam and New Netherlands that helped create New York what it is today, especially the city and eastern half of the state. But, few realize it was the Dutch influence on our early legal and governmental systems, the city’s early design, free trade, individual rights, religious liberty, and language that made New Amsterdam/New York City a world hub well before the 1664 British takeover. 

A must read is the excellent book by Russell Shorto, “The Island at the Center of the World“, to understand the influence and legacy of that little Dutch colony. The idea of a district attorney or public prosecutor began as the Dutch Schout (Scout). A home’s front stoep/stoop or step often held hearings to settle neighborhood disputes. Baas/boss is Dutch, koekjes/cookies are Dutch, and even our Santa Claus evolved from the Dutch Sint Nicklaas. New York City’s Bowery district was part of Pieter Stuyvesant’s bouwerij, the farm cared for by my ancestor, Pieter Claesz/Claesen Wijkoff (Wyckoff). Pieter sailed October 8, 1636 from Texel, Netherlands as a teen to work on the Rensselaerswyck plantation. Owned by Dutch financier, Kiliaen van Rensselaer, it was located where the city stands today. Pieter’s house, now the Wyckoff House Museum at Clarendon Road, Brooklyn, built c.1652, displays a collection of early Dutch artifacts reflecting New Amsterdam’s history.

Guns at New Amsterdam Fort formed the battery on Manhattan, today’s Battery Park. Wall Street was de wal, a row of palisades erected to protect the burgeoning town against Indian raids. Brooklyn was Breuckelen or broken land; Harlem was Nieuw Haarlem named for the city in the province of Friesland; Flushing was Vlissingen. Albany, founded by early Dutch, is the oldest continuous settlement in the original 13 colonies. The Hudson valley region up through the Mohawk River and Schenectady was settled by early Dutch before other nationalities arrived to claim their place in history.

Searching for your ancestors will help show when, where and how your family fits into this country. We are a nation built by immigrants of various ethnic backgrounds seeking a better way of life. Essentially, there were four major waves of immigrants to our American shores over the last several centuries. Colonial immigration, begun in the early 17th century, peaked just before the Revolutionary War broke out in 1775. The second wave began in the 1820s, lasting until the depression of the 1870s. The greatest influx of immigrants came in the third wave from the 1880s through the early 1920s (with my and my husband’s Dutch immigrants arriving in the early to mid 1920s), while the fourth, and continuing, wave is said to have begun about 1965.

Our ancestors immigrated for religious, economic and political reasons. They sought to enjoy our government-protected freedoms, to escape wars and famines and diseases, to own land, and to seek employment opportunities to provide a better way of life for their families. Ultimately, we were melded together to form a blend of cultures and ethnicities which have become uniquely American.

Our next segment will begin to look at specifics on how and where to search for your elusive ancestors. And with this article, I hope to begin a schedule of posting on or about the 15th of every month.

 

"Homespun Ancestors is written by Linda Roorda. To see more, visit her site HERE

 
Linda Roorda

Welcome to the world of genealogy research where your ancestors come alive! It’s exciting to put names, faces, and personalities to your family’s past. Here, we’ll delve into clues to find those whose genes flow through your veins, and who contributed their part to who you’ve become today. But, I need to warn you – it’s addicting!

I used this poem, Dear Ancestor, in the 600+ page manuscript I wrote of my mother’s ancestral history:

Your tombstone stands among the rest,
Neglected and alone.
The name and date are chiseled out
On polished, marbled stone.
It reaches out to all who care
It is too late to mourn.

You did not know that I exist
You died and I was born.
Yet each of us are cells of you
In flesh, in blood, in bone.
Our blood contracts and beats a pulse
Entirely not our own.

Dear Ancestor, the place you filled
One hundred years ago
Spreads out among the ones you left
Who would have loved you so.
I wonder if you lived and loved,
I wonder if you knew
That someday I would find this spot,
And come to visit you.

By: Walter Butler Palmer (1868-1932), written in 1906

 

Several years ago I gave a two-part seminar for the Spencer (New York) Historical Society on researching ancestors. In this column, I’d like to revisit that arena because you may be beginning your research journey, may have hit a brick wall or two or more, or maybe just want to find a little more information on your elusive ancestors. The key to starting a study of your family’s history is through personal research of family records, census records, church records, cemetery records, and war records, etc.

This series was originally published biweekly in the former local newspaper, “Broader View Weekly.” My intention is to expand the articles and provide interesting historical backgrounds. Many of you know I also wrote other personal interest/interview articles for that paper, and began a blog, “Life on the Homestead”. When the “Broader View” paper closed, my “Homestead” blog was previously included on the Elmira Telegram website, and was written by researching various aspects pertinent to our early 19th century American history and way of life. I may even decide to intersperse a few of those articles in my new blog here.

To introduce my genealogy work and credentials, I researched and documented both of my mother’s parents back to the early 1600s Dutch of New Amsterdam and the greater New Netherlands, including founders of New York City and the Albany and Schenectady area. Along the way, a few French, Belgian and English folk became part of my family with their own fascinating histories. My lines also include numerous 1710 German/Swiss Palatine immigrants documented from church records in Germany and Switzerland as researched and published by Henry Z. Jones, Jr., and the ca. 1718-1720 Scots-Irish immigrants to Massachusetts Colony, founders of the Londonderry, New Hampshire region.

Among various genealogy reference books, there are two books in my personal library which were invaluable to my early research: “The Palatine Families of New York, 1710, Vols. I and II” by Henry Z. Jones, Jr., and the incomparable background history of the Palatines and their travails in “Early Eighteenth Century Palatine Emigration” by Walter Allen Knittle, Ph.D.

I am not a professional genealogist, but a hobby researcher who loves history. I had no prior training, but learned along the way with the help of kind strangers met on my journey. Several even turned out to be distant cousins with whom I continue to maintain a close friendship.

My quest began with my mother’s family tree in hand. Though I never saw the actual tree (which now belongs to one of my cousins), it hung on the wall in my maternal Tillapaugh family farmhouse in Carlisle, Schoharie County, New York. In 1969, my Mom carefully copied down all the names from the tree for my first Bible. Then, in 1998, I purchased a book on my paternal Dutch Visscher genealogy from a distant relative who works at The Hague’s genealogy center.

I also have “The Dallenbachs in America” which documents my maternal Swiss Dallenbach/Tillapaugh ancestry. It includes a photo showing my mom’s parents at the 1910 Tillapaugh Reunion on the Hutton Homestead, settled in the early 19th century. My mother’s two oldest brothers inherited this dairy farm, and my cousins continue to run it.

But, it was another item which actually launched my deeper research. In 1999, a photo was offered on the Schoharie County Genweb email site noting these words penciled on the back: “First Tillapaugh Reunion July 1910, Hutton Homestead.” As noted above, my uncles inherited this farm from our Hutton ancestors, and my cousins still farm it today. Informing the seller (a professor and antique enthusiast) of my immediate family ties to the photo (showing my grandparents and paternal great-grandparents), he offered it for my purchase, and I was determined to learn more about my ancestors. And part of that photo is featured above as my header image.

Out of my several years of extensive research and documentation came three articles published in the “New York Genealogical and Biographical Record” (NYGBR), which are in Elmira’s Steele Library Genealogy Section. You can also find the NYGBR in Cornell University’s genealogy library, or other libraries with such holdings. If there is no viable genealogy library near you, you local library can obtain various books and journals for you through the inter-library loan system.

My first article was titled, “Which Elizabeth Van Dyck Married John Hutton?” (NYGBR REC.135:31 – REC indicates the volume, followed by the page on which the article appears). It documented use of the Dutch naming pattern to clarify which of three Elizabeth Van Dycks married the shipwright John Hutton, not the goldsmith, of the same name. They were all of New York City and documented in records of the late 1600s and early 1700s.

Though this naming pattern is endemic to the Dutch, other ethnic groups used a similar pattern, but not as consistently or as extensively over the centuries as the Dutch. They faithfully followed a pattern of naming the first two sons after the children’s grandfathers, and the first two daughters after the grandmothers. Thereafter, children were named after the respective great-grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, or even the baptism sponsors. I absolutely enjoy mapping families using this naming pattern in the online baptismal records of the early Dutch Reformed Churches of New York City, Albany and Schenectady.

My second article, “The Family of John Hutton and Elizabeth Van Dyck,” (REC.136:45; 136:135; and 136:193) again used the Dutch naming pattern to determine that Elizabeth Deline Hutton’s parents most probably were William and Ariantje Deline. I could not accept that a prior researcher had published as fact (and believed by multiple genealogists with whom I was in contact) that she was the daughter of 63-year-old Margrietje Clute Deline, a woman who was more likely Elizabeth Deline’s grandmother. Margrietje would’ve held a world record for sure if that were true!

This article delineated John Hutton’s descendants (some not previously documented in this family), including my ancestors who settled on the above-noted Hutton Homestead in Carlisle, New York in the early 19thcentury. My research article also corrected other mistakes in lineage, and corrected wrong Revolutionary War data chiseled onto my ancestor’s tall obelisk monument. There were two Lt. Timothy Huttons, my ancestor and his younger nephew. I proved the military data on the monument is actually that of the younger Lt. Tim Hutton. Oh, but it pays off to do your own thorough research!

My third article, “The McNeill Family of Carlisle, Schoharie County,” (REC.139:123; 139:217; 139:313) documented the descendants of John McNeill, mariner, of Boston [Massachusetts] and New Boston [New Hampshire]. John’s wife, Hannah Caldwell McNeill, died (presumably) soon after childbirth, while John likely died at sea as per estate records purchased (no cemetery record available). This left their only son, John Caldwell McNeill, an orphan, raised by his mother’s parents in and around Londonderry, New Hampshire. About 1795, John C. removed his family to Carlisle, NY.

The McNeills had never been documented as a family, and I knew of only one son, my ancestor, Jesse. But, piece by piece, a family was built from John C.’s Revolutionary War pension file (which only had an affidavit by son Jesse, no other children’s names), census records, cemetery stones, other family war pension files, obituaries, historical society data, out-of-state historical books the local Spencer Library graciously ordered for me, and from other descendants who replied to data I posted online. Unfortunately, I know nothing about one daughter, and only the nickname of one other daughter.

Again, there is no substitute for the hard work of personal research and documentation; but, making friends with researchers of the same lines, and sharing data, goes a long way to helping you find your ancestors!

It is my hope to inspire you by providing valuable tips on researching your ancestors in future articles. But, again, fair warning – it’s extremely addicting!

 

"Homespun Ancestors is written by Linda Roorda. To see more, visit her site HERE

Linda Roorda

If there’s anything that exemplifies the Christmas season, it’s the music. The familiar faith-based carols and popular melodies embody the meaning of a beloved holiday as well as add to our joyous spirits. But Christmas music back in the early days of America wasn’t what we think of today. Obviously, there were no radios for listening to popular tunes, and there were no records, cassettes, CDs or MP3s to buy.

And, if anyone was dreaming of a white Christmas, it certainly wasn’t with a popular tune! It was simply the beauty of a night made more silent by the pristine-white ground cover, and the time it took to harness the horse and ready the sleigh for a trip thru the woods and over the river to Grandma’s welcoming arms.

It’s hard to believe now, but centuries ago the singing of Christmas carols was officially banned from the medieval church! Undeterred, hearty souls who loved to sing songs of their faith went door to door, singing to their friends. That is, until Oliver Cromwell put a ban on this activity in 17th century England. Even the early American Puritans did not celebrate Christmas, and William Bradford ordered those slackers back to work who dared to celebrate – after all, Christmas was not a holiday… yet, anyway! It wasn’t until 1870 that we Americans officially recognized Christmas as a “Federal” holiday. Prior to that, festivities began to be popular about 1840; previously, celebrations were considered “unchristian.”

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In all fairness to the Puritans, they believed every day was to be lived for God.  Their common adage held that “they for whom all days are holy can have no holiday.”  This belief was based on not finding Scriptural support for any holy day other than the Sabbath, though they definitely found other reasons to enjoy hearty celebrations.

Biblically, early Christians were encouraged to “speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord…” (Ephesians 5:19 NIV) So, it’s really no wonder songs of joy have been in the hearts of those who celebrated Christmas over the centuries, including our ancestors.

In the Roman Catholic Church, perhaps the oldest Christmas song was written by St. Hilary of Poitiers in the early 4th century. The Latin “Jesus refulsit omnium” or “Jesus illuminates all” is believed to have been written by St. Hilary in 336 AD for the first Christmas celebration. Aurelius Prudentius, a Christian poet also of the Roman Catholic Church, wrote “Corde natus ex Parentis” (i.e. Of the Father’s Love Begotten”), a 4th century hymn, not a Christmas carol per se`.

A few years later in 354 AD, the Roman Catholic Church drew up a list of bishops, with a note for 336 AD: “25 Dec.: natus Christus in Betleem Judeae.” (i.e. December 25, Christ born in Bethlehem, Judea.) Thus, December 25, 336 is believed to be the “first recorded celebration of Christmas” (i.e. Christ’s mass) even though no one knows the actual date of Jesus’ birth.

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In the early 13th century, Italy’s St. Francis of Assisi used live “Nativity Plays” with singing of carols to revive a Christmas spirit among his parishioners. As Christianity spread, the Roman Catholic Church began singing “Angel’s Hymns” at the Christmas mass, and other churches followed the example across Europe. Over time, new carols were written with Scripture-based themes, and traveling minstrels shared the music on their travels.

Though once banned, the old carols regained popularity as common folk sang privately or in special bands for Christmas Eve services. Eventually, Christmas carols were welcomed in the church worship service, and continue to thrive today not only in our many church hymn books, but have also been made popular via modern media. Most carols we sing today are only a few centuries old, written in the 18th and 19th centuries, while many newer carols and popular songs were written in the latter 19th through the 20th centuries, with even newer and more contemporary Christmas music written in the mid-20th century through this current 21st century.

With carols being songs expressing our joy, and knowing their origins, they are especially meaningful to us as we sing our favorites during the Advent and joyous Christmas season. Only one verse is shared of each song except the last two; you will easily find the balance in your hymnbook or in an online search.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel – a long-time favorite, it’s a song of the medieval era, perhaps written in the 9th century by a monk or nun. John Mason Neale, an Anglican priest of the early 19th century in the Madeira Islands near Africa, translated this Latin poem from an ancient book of poetry and hymns he had discovered. Neale is believed to have used musical accompaniment from a 15th century funeral hymn of French Franciscan nuns, as per a manuscript at the National Library of Paris. The tune we still sing today is based on the ancient “plainsong” rhythmic style. There are eight or nine original verses, but the typical church hymnal uses five.

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – though the composer of both this carol and the tune are unknown, it has been sung in churches as far back as the 16th century. First published in 1827 or 1833 (source difference), it was traditionally sung in the streets of London by watchmen and among revelers in taverns. In fact, Charles Dickens referenced it in “A Christmas Carol.” When Ebenezer Scrooge heard this song being joyfully sung in the street, something he could not abide, he threatened to hit the singer with a ruler! It has been popularized by numerous 20th century recordings. Originally, there were eight verses.

God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day;
To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.
Refrain:
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy;
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Joy to the World – this favorite carol by Isaac Watts was published in 1719 in his book, “The Psalms of David.” Based on his paraphrase of Psalm 98, it does not reference the traditional Christmas story found in Luke 2. Though not being written for Christmas per se`, it celebrates Christ’s coming again as all earth rejoices – completing the reason for His humble birth in Bethlehem. There are four verses to this very joyful and beloved carol.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing – one of over 6000 hymns written by Britain’s prolific hymnist, Charles Wesley, this carol was penned in 1739 as a poem of ten verses. An original line, “Glory to the newborn King” was later changed by Wesley’s student, George Whitfield, to “Glory to the King of kings.” That change led to a rift between the two men with Whitfield eliminating some of the verses, yet this carol is considered one of the richest theological assets to the church hymnal. Its melody was written by Felix Mendelssohn, a familiar name as musician and composer.

Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise, Join the triumph of the skies;
With the angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King.”

Angels We Have Heard on High – this popular nativity carol originated in 18th century France among the people who truly love to sing their “Chants de Noel” or Christmas carols. The title is taken directly from Scripture, Luke 2:14, using Latin for the chorus: “Gloria in excelsis Deo” (i.e. Glory to God in the highest). The carol entirely references Luke 2:6-20, and was first published in North America for the Diocese of Quebec in the “Nouveau recueil de cantiques” (i.e. New Hymnal) of 1819. It was first published in the Methodist hymnal in 1935. There were four original verses.

Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plains,
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains.
Refrain: Gloria in excelsis Deo! Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht! or Silent Night, Holy Night! – the simple yet elegant words to this beloved carol were written as a poem in 1816 by Joseph Mohr, Catholic priest at Mariapfarr. Two years later, Mohr had become priest for St. Nicholas’ Church at Oberndorf in the beautiful Austrian Alps. When the organ broke just before Christmas, Mohr took his poem to the organist, Franz Gruber, asking him to write an easy tune for singing with guitar. Gruber then composed the organ accompaniment several years later. But, if it were not for the organ repairman taking a copy of the song with him and sharing it with others, one of our favorite carols might have remained a seldom heard Austrian folksong. In 1859 or 1863, Mohr’s original poem of six verses was translated from German into the familiar English version by an Episcopal priest, John Freeman Young – verses 1, 6, 2 being what we sing today. Read more history at Stille Nacht Gesellschaft. 

This carol was sung during a WW I truce between American and German troops. Men climbed out of battlefield trenches to celebrate their beloved holiday together, while the war carried on as usual the next day. The Austrian von Trapp family (of The Sound of Music fame) included this carol in their singing tours, helping to popularize it in the U.S. after they had escaped the Nazi regime during WW II.

Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

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Cantique de Noel, or O Holy Night – my absolute favorite, this poem was written in 1847 by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure, priest in a small French town, for mass that Christmas Eve. His friend, Adolphe Charles Adams, was asked by Cappeau to write the musical score. Unfortunately, learning that Cappeau was a socialist and Adams was a Jew, the church leaders banned the song, proclaiming it was not appropriate for worship services. Fortunately for us, the parishioners loved the song so much they sang it anyway! John Sullivan Dwight, an abolitionist, was deeply moved by the phrase, “chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His Name all oppression shall cease,” and published the song in his American magazine during the Civil War.

Across the sea, O Holy Night was sung by a French soldier on Christmas Eve in 1871 during war between France and Germany. Climbing out of the trenches and walking onto the battlefield alone, the brave young man began singing, “Minuit, Chretiens, c’est l’heure solennelle ou L’Homme Dieu descendit jusqu’a nous,” the first line in French. Then, a German soldier climbed out of his foxhole to sing another carol, “Vom Himmel noch, da komm’ ich her. Ich bring’ euch gute neue Mar, Der guten Mar bring’ ich so viel, Davon ich sing’n und sagen will.” “From heaven to earth I come” is a carol written in 1534 by the reformationist, Martin Luther. Feeling the bon homme of Christmas, fighting ceased for 24 hours, with the French church subsequently welcoming this beautiful and popular carol in their worship services.

O holy night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
Refrain:
Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night divine

What Child is This? – this poem was written by William C. Dix in 1865 (1837-1898), an Anglican layman born in England, who lived and worked in Glasgow, Scotland. It is believed the hymn was written to fit the tune of Greensleeves, a traditional English melody which dates to the 16th century. Shakespeare actually referred to this particular tune in his play, “Merry Wives of Windsor.” Though Dix references the traditional Nativity scene of Luke 2:8-16, the original poem entitled, “The Manger Throne,” also refers to Christ’s later suffering on the cross.

What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
(The following section of this first verse is used as chorus for each subsequent stanza):
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day – In 1861, tragedy struck America’s beloved poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, author of “Paul Revere’s Ride” and “The Song of Hiawatha.” In July, the flame from a candle ignited his wife’s dress. She ran to her husband’s study where he tried to put out the flames with a small rug and then by wrapping his arms around her. She died the next morning, but his face was so injured he could not attend her funeral. After their eldest son went off to war, Lt. Charles Longfellow was nearly paralyzed by a bullet passing between his shoulder blades in November 1863. Traveling to Charley’s side, a still grieving widowed father sat down Christmas Day 1863 and wrote this poem from personal anguish, yet with a heart of hope as the church bells rang out… for God is not dead! Peace on earth, good will to men.

Longfellow’s original poem:


I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet, The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along, The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound, The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn, The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong, And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

 – traditionally thought to have been written by Martin Luther in the 16th century, it first appeared in a Lutheran Church hymn book in 1885. It is now believed the song was not written by Luther, but was a song published anonymously in the Lutheran children’s songbook and given the title of Luther’s Cradle Song. The third verse was written by Dr. John T. McFarland, a Sunday School superintendent.

Long considered a child’s hymn, and perhaps the best well known, it captures our hearts with its simplicity. Christmas is not about the gold, glitter and gifts. It’s the story about God humbly coming to earth as a newborn baby for our redemption. His earthly parents found no room of comfort in the inn for the birth of their first child. Instead, baby Jesus was born in a stable, surrounded by cattle, donkeys, and likely cats, mice and other animals, and was laid to rest upon a humble bed of hay in a manger, a feed trough. (Luke 2:1-7)

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head.
The stars in the sky looked down where He lay,
The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes;
I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray;
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
And fit us for Heaven to live with Thee there.

May each of you and your families be blessed with a most wonderful Merry Christmas!

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