December 1, 2013

Newspaper Death Notice 1901 for James McDole

The 1901 death of James McDole in Ulster County, New York was reported in the Ellenville newspaper. Only a few details of his life were included and some were rather vague, like he was married for about 50 years, served in Union Army for about 3 years. No mention of his birth in Ireland, but his age and Baptist minister were listed.

Survivors were noted as his wife Abigail and eight children, but only 7 of them were named: George, James, John, Mary, Ellsworth, Lydia and Thomas.  Poor Anna, the second youngest and wife of Morris Hornbeck, was omitted. 

At times a death notice can be a great help in identifying all the children and especially can identify or verify daughters who changed their names through marriage.  If I had not already had the information on Anna and Morris, this news item would not have helped me.

By the way, I was lucky that in his case that the NY TownClerk’s register of Men Who Served in the Civil War listed his birth date and place (Londonderry) and both of his parents. It’s the compilation of data gleaned from all sources that can give us the full picture of our ancestors.

November 15, 2013

Gravestones Dates – should you trust them?

I am generally quite excited when I find birth / death dates while visiting a cemetery or see photo posted on Findagrave. My first thought would be “these dates are correct”, however, I have come to realize that’s not necessarily so.

I found findagrave entries with photographs for 2 of the children of John K Comfort and his wife R.A. Stephens in Mississippi. This son and daughter were listed with their parents in numerous census records where their ages and even their recorded names varied some over the decades.

Trofmoc, the son (in case you couldn’t tell) has a birth date of April 21, 1863 on his gravestone. His sister Exermenia’s gravestone shows her birth date as Sept 27 of the same year. I DON”T THINK SO !   How does that happen?

Obviously there can be problems with keeping track of a person’s birth date especially if they live a long life and a younger family member becomes the one to provide the dates to be inscribed on the stone.  If a birth or christening record can be found, that’s likely quite accurate. I did not find either in this case.

Going back through the various census records, the brother is always recorded as older, even if not by much. The fact that he died at age 30 when his mother was still alive and living in the same locale, I tend to trust that he WAS born in 1863.  By the time his sister died 50 years later, it is understandable that there might have been confusion over her exact birth year.

So, the bottom line is that I still don’t know, but strongly question Exermenia’s birth year and will just remain much more vigilant in seeking documented confirmation of birth and death years rather than considering a gravestone to be accurate.

November 6, 2013

Mansfield – McConnell – Lake: NY Civil War Soldiers

These families were neighbors in Ulster County, NY and variously connected by marriage. Jointly they made an immense contribution to the union’s efforts in the Civil War.

Simon McConnell and Charles Mansfield were the oldest volunteers of this group. They both joined Company D, NY 156th Infantry along with Charles’ sons Josiah and Isaac. Sadly, both the fathers died from the effects of uncontrollable dysentery in 1863 leaving wives and young children at home. They were buried in Louisiana where they died.

Simon’s sons Edgar and Carmile McConnell both joined the NY 56th infantry and son Alexander joined the 1st Cavalry. Both the McConnell family and the Mansfield family married into the Lake family. Alex McConnell married Sarah Jane Lake, sister of Reuben who married Charles Mansfield’s daughter Sarah Ann. Many veteran brothers-in-law!

The young men fought in various units and some lived long lives, others not so long.

LAKE                           Unit                                Died
Francis            Co D, NY 4th Cavalry              1867 at 21
Reuben           Co F, NY 127th Inf                   1897 at 52

Carmile           Co F, NY 56th Inf                     1895 at 50
Alexander      Co D, NY 1st Cavalry              1898 at 55
Edgar              Co F, NY 56th Inf                     1925 at 85

Isaac               Co D, NY 156th Inf                  1910 at 65
Josiah              Co D, NY 156th Inf                 1935 at 89

October 23, 2013

What Killed Them? Yellow Fever 1854

In 1854 Dr John W Comfort, age 32, died of Yellow Fever in New Orleans leaving his wife with 3 young children. Further investigation identified a horrific epidemic in numerous southern port cities in the mid 1850s with New Orleans losing 10% of its population to this infection in 1853 with thousands more succumbing in 1854-5. The cause was not known and no cure existed.  It made me wonder why Yellow Fever had been such a scourge and why we don’t hear much about it today.

Accounts from individuals present in New Orleans depict a very grim picture of a disease-ridden city filled with the stench of dying and dead bodies in the heat of the summer. The city’s business leaders tried to keep the news quiet as they feared the entire city would be quarantined in an effort to prevent the spread of the disease upriver. Mobile, Charleston, even Philadelphia and Baltimore were infected – port cities !

It is believed that the disease originated in Africa and was introduced to Europe and the Americas by the slave trade. The first definitive report was from Barbados in 1647 and soon thereafter from the Yucatan Peninsula where the disease was called “ blood vomit”.  Patients have fever, convulsive black vomit and develop jaundice as the liver fails (hence, Yellow Fever). Decades passed before the cause was identified and a vaccine developed. 

In 1881, a Cuban physician, Carlos Finlay, proposed that Yellow Fever might be transmitted via mosquitoes, but received a cool reception from the medical community at the time.  A team led by the now famous Walter Reed, (prompted by heavy losses from the disease in the Spanish-American war) finally confirmed Finlay’s hypothesis in 1901 subsequently leading to the eradication of yellow fever first in Havana and then later during the construction of the Panama Canal.

Yellow fever is a viral disease that is endemic (present at a fairly constant rate) in Africa and South America and transmitted to humans by the bite of female mosquitoes of the Aedes species in Africa and Haemagogus species in South America. The bite of an infected female mosquito introduces virus particles under the skin where replication occurs before spreading via the lymphatic system and bloodstream to the major organs.  Symptoms of Yellow Fever start after an incubation period of 3 to 6 days and most non-vaccinated people in endemic areas will suffer a mild infection with fever, chills, backache, headache, nausea and vomiting lasting 3 to 4 days; no jaundice is seen. This acute phase is followed by a period of remission of about two days where symptoms abate and recovery is seen.  However, in about 15% of individuals in whom recovery seems apparent, a second ‘toxic’ phase occurs with recurring fever, nausea, liver injury and jaundice, kidney injury and characteristic black vomit due to stomach bleeding.  Death, due to multi-organ failure, generally follows in 7 to 10 days killing 20-30% of native Africans who enter this toxic phase, and 50-60% of native South Americans.  Surviving the infection confers life-long immunity and typically no permanent organ damage occurs.

The Yellow Fever virus was first isolated in 1927 from a diseased patient in Ghana.  This led to the development of a vaccine in 1936 by Max Theiler, a South African microbiologist working at the Rockefeller Institute in NYC, who received the Nobel Prize in 1951 for this achievement.  Immunity against all forms of the virus occurs in nearly 100% of vaccinated individuals, lasting for at least 10 years.  Since World War II, mainly because of effective vaccination programs, yellow fever is only rarely seen in travelers returning to Europe and North America.  Yellow fever has never appeared in Asia.  Today, there still is no cure or specific antiviral therapy.

Many thanks to microbiology expert, Dr CJ, for scientific content

October 10, 2013

Death Records Can Identify Unknown Spouses

Elizabeth Roosa was single and listed with her parents in the 1880 census. Little did I know that by 1900 she would be a widow.  Had I not happened upon her death record (which resulted from a search under her mother’s maiden name of Margaret Bogardus), I would not have found her. 

Interestingly her 1943 Michigan death record named her parents fully (middle names too) but HER HUSBAND WAS NOT NAMED ! She was listed as Elizabeth Frances Wastell, daughter of William and Margaret.

Further searching did identify her 1885 marriage to Englishman Joseph Wastell who died in 1894. Their marriage period falls into that “no 1890 census” gap. 

So look at death records, they can provide lots of good “Living” information.

October 3, 2013

Found a Servant? Check out the Employer

In researching the widow Elsie Bogardus Linthicum, I found her in the 1910 census in Baltimore at age 54.  She was listed as a servant in the household of the much younger Herbert S Hastings, 35.  At first I wondered if he might be a nephew. It didn’t immediately occur to me to check his occupation or to look for additional information about him – but was glad I later did.

Herbert was a native New Yorker (as was Elsie, though not from the same area) and an Episcopal priest who ran the Donaldson School for Boys in  Maryland for many years. Elsie and a number of others were servants in his household. After the death of his brother in 1933, he took in his widowed sister-in-law and her children. These little details provide some view into the environment in which Elsie was living.  I’m determined now to ALWAYS CHECK out the EMPLOYER !

September 29, 2013

What Killed Them? VUL SCLOPET

Cause of death for confederate soldier Russell Comfort:


At first I was not sure if it was all one word or an abbreviation.  Luckily the military website Fold3 published this explanation:

Vulnus sclopetarium is a wound inflicted by a gunshot. Other similar spellings found included: vulnus sclopeticum (defined as multiple flesh wounds), vuluus sclopet, vul sclopeticum, viel sclopet, and vulius sclopet.

September 7, 2013

Good Information but Wrong Person -- SHARE IT !

I spent some time in the NYC Municipal Archives this week focusing on the Moran family. I wanted to find the marriage certificate for Thomas and wife Agnes and then a birth certificate for their son.

I was quite sure they married in 1928 and found an apparent match. But, it was NOT the right Thomas. The one who married Agnes Cosgrove in 1928 was born in NYC, was a stableman and lived in Manhattan. The one I was searching for was a tugboat captain, born in Ulster County and lived in Brooklyn.

I searched again and again, but did not find them. However, I will post my findings on message boards for Moran and Cosgrove to help those who might want this information but are not able to get to NYC. Perhaps one day someone else will find my Thomas and will help me out by posting the information.

August 21, 2013

Milwaukee Legal Families: Miller and Peckham

While meandering around the Miller-Peckham family of Milwaukee I became intrigued by the lawyers and judges.  Pennsylvania born Andrew Galbraith Miller (1801-1874) brought the family (including son Benjamin then 8) to Milwaukee upon his assignment there as a Territorial Judge in 1838.  Benjamin too became a lawyer and married Isabella Peckham, daughter of Albany NY lawyer George Williams Peckham 1796-1873 who moved the family to Wisconsin in the mid-1850s. Isabella was surrounded by lawyers: her father, 2 brothers, her father-in-law, her husband and 2 of her 3 sons.

There were some notable lawyers in the extended family such as her paternal uncle Rufus Wheeler Peckham 1809-1873 lawyer, Congressman and NY Supreme Court judge and his son Rufus 1838-1909 who served on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Isabella’s fascinating brother George Williams Peckham 1845-1914 not only trained as a lawyer, but as a doctor, then pursued teaching science in Milwaukee and became a spider expert. He certainly broke the pattern. His sons did not pursue a legal career.

August 20, 2013

Should You order a Civil War Pension File?

I would certainly say YES -- IF the soldier or his widow and children are important for your research. They are expensive ($80) and can vary in size enormously depending on the soldier's situation and whether they were injured or killed. 

I ordered the file for one of my ancestors earlier this month and received the DVD with scanned images through the mail in 10 days !! WOW.  The NARA website advises that requests will be fulfilled in 42+ days.

This particular file was much smaller than 2 others I ordered previously since this soldier died only months after his enlistment.  However, it provided good evidence for his wife's maiden name and confirmed the birth dates of 3 minor children, and documented the death of his widow. Those items were worth quite a bit to me.

I should mention that the file for soldiers who survived, but were injured and claimed disability can be much larger and very rich with information:  affadavits from friends and associates before and after the war detailing the work they did, their physical capabilites (and diminishments), where they lived, marriage date & place, birth dates of family members, detailed medical exam records with blood pressure, weight, changes in health status. The file may or may not also include information about where and how the soldier served. For one of my soldiers, I learned that he was illiterate through statements from his letter writer/reader.

It's up to you -- but for selected individuals in my family history quest they are essential.  

August 12, 2013

Searching Census Records – Compare Sources

It can be very frustrating when tracking a family group in the federal census and they suddenly disappear.  Perhaps they moved or died … or maybe they were incorrectly indexed or the census taker’s spelling or handwriting was awful.

I have found it most helpful to check and compare census holdings on Ancestry, Family Search and Heritage Quest.  Most public libraries will provide free access to Heritage Quest (I can check in online from home).  Each of these websites used different transcribers, so their interpretation of the written page may produce different results.

I have been working on the Kelder family in Ulster County NY and thus far have found them as Kelder, Elder, Keller, Calder, Cowder and Kelde.  If one member of the family has an unusual first name,that might be the most direct way to find the various versions of the surname.  But when you have many named John with a wife or daughter named Sarah, checking all three online options has proven best for me.

By the way, when looking for Gertrude who was born in Holland, I found her listed as something like Cornelia  born in New York.  Her husband was Cornelius and I believe she was widowed in that particular census … so maybe it was meant to be Mrs Cornelius. Be certain you evaluate your potential matches, even the odd ones … they might be just what you are looking for.

August 1, 2013

Confusion over Lake Children in Kerhonksen NY

The 1870 census for the Wawarsing district shows various Lake family members in the same household in Kerhonksen, but the 5 children aged 4 to 12 are not recognized as belonging to either couple seen there.

The record states that they were all born in New York State:

            John                Age 12 (1858)

            Schuyler          Age 10 (1860) as Schnyder

            Caroline          Age 8 (1862)

            Patty               Age 6 (1864)

            Nancy             Age 4 (1866)

The adults in the grouping are George and his wife Nancy (sometimes called Helen) and his brother Reuben with wife Sarah Ann. The parents of George and Reuben were Schuyler and Caroline which is what convinced me that the 2 children named above are from the family and that the boy’s name was incorrectly recorded.

Reuben and Sarah were recently married and did not yet have children.George and wife had several young children who are NOT listed here, nor have they been found with other family members (as had their son Byron). Missing are:

            Alice                Age 13 (1857)

            Orrin               Age 12 (1858)

            Ida Jane          Age  5 (1865)

            Frank              Age  2 (1868)

Since the mysterious 5 children have Lake as a surname, their father must be a Lake. Wondering if he could be the missing brother Harry born 1833. There was some suggestion that he might have moved to Michigan … but I can’t find him there either. Are they playing tricks on me and temporarily changing their names and years of birth? Not likely.

Sometimes I find it so frustrating to work with common names (Lake) -- but even when you get an unusual name to go with it (Schuyler) the problem may not be resolved.

July 24, 2013

1930 James Lowery of Utica WIDOWED … or not ?

In researching the Watson family of Utica, NY I was tracing Alice Watson, the only child of  William L. Watson and Alice G. Parkinson, born in 1890. Alice married Utica native James Lincoln Lowery in 1911.

In the 1920 census Alice and James were living at 392 Genesee Street in Utica with 2 young children.  In the 1930 census I found James and the children living at 270 Genesee Street in the household of Lucy C. Watson (sister of Alice’s father William) and James is listed as WIDOWED.  So I searched for Alice’s death or burial record without success – Utica Newspapers, findagrave, familysearch, other trees – not found.

July 21, 2013

Analyze the Survivors on a Death Notice

While researching Ferris Wetmore of Greene County, NY, I found his 1925 death notice listing survivors as:  Widow plus a daughter, Mrs E.J. Parks “of this place” and a sister, Mrs A.E. Pine of Catskill.  I had not known that he had a daughter or a sister.

Ferris married in 1872, but I have been unable to find his 1880 census record.  By 1900 he and his wife had no children in their household but reported 2 were born and 1 survived.

I did not find a Parks family in the town where Ferris died, but did find a news clipping for Edward J Parks and son Ferris from another part of the county. This must be the right family with a son named Ferris!  And it was … Addie Wetmore was born in 1875 and married Edward in 1897. So, daughter found.

Checking for a Mrs. A.E. Pine in Catskill was a bit confusing. No likely male with initials of A.E. found in the 1920 census, but there was a widowed Annie E Pine. The interesting finding was that Anna E Wetmore was listed in the 1880 census as sister-in-law with John N. Pine and his wife Lucy.  Yes, Lucy was Anna’s older sister and after her death in 1890, Anna married her brother-in-law John.  After his death in 1902 it seems she used the name Mrs A.E. Pine.

So, mystery solved and 2 sisters of Ferris identified. A little snippet in the newspaper can lead you to lots of info.

July 13, 2013

A Small Marriage Announcement Can Hold Lots of Clues

While researching the Cole family of Catskill, NY, I found this small 1916 news item:
                              COLE – WEIDENFELD

            On Saturday, Sept 30, at the residence of the bride’s aunt, Mrs Howard McIntyre, in Hudson, NY by the Rev Thomas L. Cole, Helen Rosine, daughter of Mrs and the late Edward Weidenfeld, to Mr Thomas Cole, 2d.
Hudson is across the river from Catskill and many families transited the river.The clipping provided some good information and but also created a bit of confusion.
From I learned that:

-       Helen Rosine Weidenfeld married Thomas Cole
-       Her father Edward was deceased, but her mother was living
-       One of her aunts married Howard McIntyre and lived in Hudson NY
-       Rev Thomas L Cole married them

One of the confusing items was the designation of the groom as Thomas Cole, 2nd.

June 30, 2013

PHOTOQUEST: The Tonery Sisters of Ellenville NY

I recently received a copy of this photo with the central two women identified as the Coughlin sisters of Lackawack, Anna and Eunice. It is thought the photo was taken about 1910. The others are identified as Agnes Tonery and Mary. I am wondering if they could be the Tonery sisters of Ellenville NY ... and if so, which is which?

The relative who has the photo thought that "Mary" was also a Coughlin, but Anna and Eunice had no sisters, no sister-in-laws named Mary, and no known cousins.

Agnes Tonery was born in 1886 and her sister Mary in 1878.  It appears that they always lived in Ulster County (Ellenville and Napanoch). Mary married Lewis Westbrook in the mid-1930s and Agnes, unmarried, was living with them in the 1940 census.

If you can identify either or both the women standing with Anna, please let me know. Thanks!

June 25, 2013

Searching for Harry Conklin of Lackawack NY

He was the oldest son of John and Etta in this Ulster County town, listed with them in the 1900 and 1910 censuses, born 1893.  It seems he married Georgiana Lavanture about 1913 in Bridgeport, CT (where his two older sisters lived in 1910). Their only son was born there in 1914 and by 1918, Harry was back in Ulster County where he referenced his mother, not his wife, on his WW I registration card.

I have searched and searched for him in the 1920 and 1930 records without success.  He and Georgiana evidently went their separate ways shortly after their son’s birth and were divorced before 1922 when she married Albert Dawsey.  Their son Bernie was found in Bridgeport with his mother (listed as a WIDOW) and maternal grandmother in 1920 and with his mother and step-father in the 1930 census. But where was Harry? And what happened to Bernie?

June 10, 2013

Children of Samuel Comfort and Anna Maria Youngblood

Married in 1784 in Montgomery, Orange County, NY, they had 9 known children as follows:

All of their children except son James (who moved to Kentucky) remained in New York State throughout their lives. Elsje, Hiram and Joel lived in Catskill. Moses moved to NYC, the others stayed in Montgomery.

1786-1862 Elsje + Egbert Bogardus, 7 children, Catskill

1786-1839 Moses + Anna Pache, 10 children

1788-1846 Samuel + Fanny Low, 10 children

1791-1839 Hiram + Julia Ludington, 5 children

1792-1881 Mary + Isaac Douglass/Philip Mould, 3 children

1795-1844 James + Jane Smith, 8 children

1797-1874 Martha + Moses Rogers, 4 children

1800–1871Joel D. + Emeline Ludington, 5 children

1802–1892 Catherine + Peter Clearwater, 1 child

June 8, 2013

Children of Benjamin Comfort and Elizabeth Youngblood

They married in 1780 in Montgomery, Orange County, NY and had 9 known children as shown below. Elizabeth died in 1805 when their youngest son was only 3.  Benjamin outlived her by only 9 years.

Three of their sons moved to Mississippi: Daniel, William and Joseph. Catherine remained in Orange County. Benjamin, Samuel and Absalom lived in Catskill, Greene County. David and Jacob have not been found as adults; unsure if they survived and if so, did they leave NY state?
1784-1855  Daniel +Martha Cruser, 9 children

1786–1867  Benjamin + Eliza Kierstad, 10 children

1788-1832  Catherine + John D Fulton, 7 children

1790 - ??    David   
1792–1836  William + Eleanor Whitsett, 6 children

1794 - ??    Jacob  

1797–1870 Samuel G. + Mary S Chollet, 6 children

1799–1858 Abasalom + Sarah Oliver, 8 children

1802–1870 Joseph W + Nancy Williams, 7 children

June 5, 2013

Family Snippets: Comfort - Youngblood 1780s New York

In Montgomery, Orange County, NY brothers Benjamin and Samuel Comfort married sisters Elizabeth and Anna Maria Youngblood.  The four remained in Montgomery where they raised their families, died and were buried in the local church cemetery.

The grooms were sons of New York natives John Comfort (1725-1795) and his wife Annatje Maul (1726-1805). Their brides were daughters of Revolutionary Soldier Johannes Wilhelm Youngblood and his wife Caterina Buchstaber (1744-1807) who were also born in New York. All four had parents born in Germany.

Benjamin (1757-1814) and Elizabeth (1763-1805) married in 1780 and had 9 known children (8 sons and 1 daughter) and at least 53 grandchildren. Two of their sons (David b 1790 and Jacob b 1794) have not been found as adults. Only their daughter remained within the same county after marrying. Three sons moved to Catskill in Greene County and 3 sons moved south to Mississippi.  Benjamin outlived his wife by 9 years. 

Samuel (1760-1802) and Anna Maria (1762-1847) married in 1784 and also had 9 known children and 53 grandchildren!  All but one of them stayed in New York State – 1 in NYC, 3 in Catskill and the others in Montgomery. Their son James ventured south to Kentucky. Anna Maria outlived her husband by 45 years.

May 30, 2013

1887 Marriage Record: If Only All the Blanks were Filled In !!!

In researching the Bogardus family in Chicago, I came across this marriage record on

William S Fowler married Ida May Bogardus (seemingly the ex-Mrs Frederick Branford) in 1887.  It certainly would have saved me lots of time and hassle if the items Marital Status and Previous Husband’s Name had been filled in.  Oh well, I found them anyway.

Look at all the great potential information that could have been listed … but wasn’t. 

May 15, 2013

California Death Record + Maiden Name

In tracing the Comfort family members who moved from Catskill, NY to California, I found Hiram and his wife Catherine with a young daughter listed in the 1880 census of Yolo.  I was quite sure Hiram was the son of Absalom Comfort, born in 1842 and last found in the Civil War registration records of 1863. I have still not found him in the 1870 census, though his daughter Alice was born in NY in 1873.

I checked the 1900 census but could not find him nor his wife. I did find a likely match on Alice, now 27, as a boarder in the household of New York born Samuel Wentworth. Also included in the household’s group of 9 was Jennie B. Comfort, 60, listed as “mother-in-law”. So, they were obviously related. Yes, Jennie was the widow of Joseph, brother of Hiram.

In checking additional records for Alice, I discovered her 1950 California death record (she had never married which made the match easier). It listed her birth in New York on 12 May 1873, her middle name as Maude, and her mother’s maiden name of FRY.  Realizing that these death records are a prime source of maiden names, I looked for Samuel Wentworth’s wife, born Katherine Comfort (the daughter of Jennie), born in 1870.  She died in 1842 and her mother’s maiden was ALSO FRY-- BINGO !!

So, looks like brothers Joseph and Hiram Comfort married sisters Jennie and Catherine Fry.  Now, to dig deeper for their marriage records (not found in the usual sources) and records of young Jennie and Catherine with their parents.