Case Closed: The “Disappearance” of Elsie Isabel Willis of Chicago

Elsie Isabel Willis was born in Chicago 21 Jun 1891, the only known child of Irish immigrants Thomas J. and Mary (Shevlin) Willis.  As of the 1900 census she lived on 23rd Street with her parents, her grandmother Anne Shevlin, and a boarder.  Thomas worked as a Railroad Conductor.

Willis-Shevlin 1885 Marriage Church

Record of Thomas Willis and Mary Shevlin’s 1885 marriage at Old St. Mary’s Catholic church on Michigan Avenue, torn down in 1971, found on


The Willis family in the 1900 census found on

Mary (Shevlin) Willis died in 1905.  Afterwards Thomas and his daughter moved to the Englewood neighborhood on the Southwest Side of Chicago.  Thomas’ widowed  sister Catherine (Willis) Mulloy and her daughters Catherine and Josephine immigrated in 1906 and were part of Thomas’ household at the 1910 census.  (Catherine’s late husband was Peter Mulloy, a shopkeeper in Ballinrobe, County Mayo.)

Elsie married George Frederick Tockstein 27 Nov 1913 at St. Bernard’s Catholic Church in Englewood.  They had two children, George Willis in 1915 and Leslie Frederick in 1917.  When her husband registered for the World War I draft in June of 1917, he was employed as an inspector for Peoples Gas Light and Coke Company, and was supporting his wife and two children.

But by the 1920 census George lived with a Barbara Thielman, apparently as husband and wife though they did not marry until the following year.  Her brother John Thielman resided there as well, and Elsie and their young sons did not.

So where were Elsie and the children?  I thought she might have died but could find no death record nor obituary.  Nor could I find any notices of divorce proceedings in the newspapers, nor a remarriage for her.  For years I had no record pertaining to Elsie’s life after the birth of her second son in 1917.  However researching the two Tockstein sons recently led me to new records, and I now know that Elsie lived to be 85, dying in Bay County, Michigan in 1977!

Though I have not been able to find him in 1920, I long ago found her firstborn George living with his Tockstein grandparents in Chicago in 1930, so I knew that he at least survived that long.  The other day I found his 1996 obituary which lists his survivors, including his brother Leslie Tockstein and a half brother surnamed Hammond.  If George and Leslie had a half brother with a different last name, it seemed likely that Elsie had a second marriage to a Hammond, and then had at least one more child.

Searching for the Cook County, Illinois marriage of an Elsie Tockstein on does not yield results, which is probably why I never found it before, but searching for a Hammond who married an Elsie brings up the marriage of Archibald W. Hammond to Elsie Tockstien [sic] 17 Apr 1926. This couple remained in Chicago until 1930, but by 1940 had relocated to Bay City, Michigan where they lived out the rest of their lives.


Archie and Elsie in the 1960 Bay City, Michigan Directory, found on

I have now also found Elsie in 1920–she was mistakenly indexed as Elsie Lockstein on and to be fair the T does look like an L.  She was boarding with a Peterson family and had two year old Leslie with her. She worked as a waitress in a department store, maybe the café at Marshall Fields?  Whatever went wrong with her first marriage, I am glad she was able to start over though I am guessing the years on either side of 1920 were difficult.



A 1925 Snapshot and Thurber Family World War II Service

My Dad gave me this fantastic photo of his extended family taken about 1925 in Burlington, Vermont, after his parents were married but before he and his sister were born.  Five of the children pictured would serve in the United States military during World War II, all of them my Dad’s first cousins.  Sadly two of them would die during their service.

Thurber Family 1926

Thurber family circa 1925.  My grandparents are the couple seated on the right of the bench, Bernard James and Myrtle Elizabeth (Peace) Thurber.

Four of the five who served were children of Samuel Barzilla Conant (1888-1937) and my Dad’s aunt Nina Alice Thurber (1891-1961) who had married in 1912.  (Nina is pronounced with a long I.)  Nina is standing in the back row, second from the left, and her husband is the gentleman standing seventh from the left, almost at the center.

Their eldest son Samuel Kenyon Conant was born in 1914 and is the boy standing farthest to the right in the photo.  Kenyon married Elva Kathryn Templeton in 1938, and the 1940 census finds this couple in San Diego, California, where Kenyon was an Aviation Mechanic in the U. S. Navy.


Samuel Kenyon Conant

Kenyon was stationed at the Kaneohe naval base in Hawaii on 9 May 1941 when Elva died at Kapiolani Hospital of pneumonia, 24 days after giving birth to their second son.  Two months later he took the children back to Burlington to be cared for by their grandmother Nina, which must have been a long and difficult trip.


Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina Bomber.

Kenyon died less than one year after his wife, one of 14 Navy men killed in the crash of two amphibious Catalina bombers near Livermore, California 12 Apr 1942.  According to contemporary newspaper reports, the planes were on routine patrol out of the Alameda Naval Station on San Francisco Bay, and may have clipped hilltops in heavy fog.

The Conants’ second son Roger Thurber Conant was born in 1916 and is standing to the left of Kenyon in the photo.  He enlisted in the Navy in October of 1942 and received flight training at the Naval Air Station in Glenview, Illinois.  He then served as an aerial photographer in the Pacific Theater, earning the American Theater ribbon with one battle star, the Asiatic-Pacific Theater ribbon, a good conduct medal and the World War II Victory medal.


Roger Thurber Conant

Twins Rheuby Cynthia and Rhoby Hiram Conant were born in 1917 and are the girl and boy seated on the bench in the photo with my grandmother Myrtle Elizabeth (Peace) Thurber between them.

Conant, Rheuby Cynthia 2

Rheuby Cynthia Conant

Rheuby enlisted in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) on 16 May 1943.  (The WAAC became the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in July 1943.)  After basic training at Fort Devens, Massachusetts and overseas training at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, she headed for her first posting, Casablanca, Morocco, that October.

Rheuby remained in the Mediterranean for almost two years, performing mainly clerical duties for the 12th Air Force.  After Casablanca she was stationed in Algiers, and then at several airfields in Italy.  She returned stateside on a C-54 and was discharged at Fort Dix, New Jersey 24 Sep 1945.  That October she gave a talk about her experiences in Africa at Burlington’s First Methodist Church.  It would be very interesting to know what she said.


Rhoby Hiram Conant

Her brother Rhoby studied accounting after high school and also joined the National Guard.  He was the bookkeeper of the Vermont Soldiers Home in Bennington in early 1941, but enlisted in the Army in February.  By March he was an exemplary soldier at Camp Shelby in Mississippi, where he was a Corporal in the 72nd Infantry.


Article from the Burlington Free Press of 10 Mar 1942 found on

He was a Staff Sergeant, still at Camp Shelby, when his marriage to Cecile Jeannette Berard was announced in the Burlington Free Press in August of 1942, but by September he was stationed at Ford Ord in California.  He was in the South Pacific by March of 1943, when the Free Press reported somewhat vaguely that he was “made secretary to the commanding general on the island where he is stationed.”

When discharged in November 1945 he had achieved the rank of Master Sergeant, and had been awarded a Bronze Star, a good conduct medal, an American Defense Bar and an Asiatic-Pacific Theater ribbon with one star.  His obituary indicates that most of his service was in the Philippines.

The youngest member of this family to serve was Raymond Richard Grasso II, the son of Dr. Raymond Richard Grasso (1899-1931) and my Dad’s aunt Beatrice Elizabeth Thurber (1900-2001) who married in 1922.  The Grassos are the couple seated leftmost on the bench, and Raymond II, born 1923, is the child on Beatrice’s lap.  Only 18 at his enlistment in June 1942, he did his basic training at Fort Dix, and aviation training in Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi.


Raymond Richard Grasso II

Raymond was a Second Lieutenant in the Army Air Forces and was piloting a P-51 Mustang when his plane crashed near Lawton, Oklahoma 15 Jan 1944.  His sisters Carolyn and Constance had received gifts of wristwatches from him in the mail the day before the crash.  I am not sure what the cause of the crash was.  A funeral with military honors was held in Burlington on the 22nd.





Maria Buckley (1892-1908) and the Imperial Underwear Factory Fire

Most people know about the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire of 1911 in New York City, but few know that a similar tragedy occurred in Scranton, Pennsylvania three years earlier, though on a smaller scale.  Twenty girls and women were injured and five died as a result of the Imperial Underwear Company fire of 1908.  One of the dead was 16 year old seamstress Maria Buckley, my husband’s second cousin twice removed.


Edwardian camisole from the collection of the Auckland Museum.

The Imperial Underwear Company made muslin undergarments and employed about 95 seamstresses.  They rented a three story building for their manufacturing, but used only the top two, subletting the ground floor to the Economy Furniture Company.

The fire broke out at about 9:45 in the morning on January 17 in the furniture company’s premises, which unfortunately contained large quantities of flammable furniture finishes, matches, and excelsior, with completed furniture wrapped in burlap and paper and stacked to the ceiling.  Oil lanterns were used for supplementary lighting and a coal stove for heating glue.  It was later determined that the fire began when someone lit a match and accidentally set fire to some burlap.

Flames spread rapidly and the only stairwell was soon blocked by fire, so the workers on the second and third floors rushed for the fire escape, jamming the egress.  Some decided to leap from the building’s windows to get out more quickly.  Maria leapt from the third floor, fracturing her skull.

Buckley, Maria 1908 Death

Maria Buckley’s Death Certificate, found on

A coroner’s jury determined that the building’s exits were insufficient, that the fire escape was too narrow and not in good working order, that inspectors had approved the building in spite of several code violations, and that regular fire drills would have prevented the loss of life.  In July Maria’s father sued the owners of the building for $25,000.  I don’t know whether or not the suit was successful.

Parents for Elizabeth Neill (1819-1881) of County Kerry, Ireland?

For several years I could find no birth surname for Elizabeth, the wife of Robert McCarthy, Harbour Master of Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland.  I was able to find several documents pertaining to the end of her life–a death notice, her death certificate, the church burial record and two records regarding her estate in the Irish Calendar of Wills and Administrations.  Unfortunately none of these provide any information about her parents or birthplace, or even her maiden name.

Neill, Elizabeth 1881 Obit Kerry Evening Post 23 Feb

Elizabeth’s death notice from the Kerry Evening Post of 23 Feb 1881.

Had this family been Catholic I likely could have found baptisms for some or all of their children, and these would have provided Elizabeth’s birth name.  They belonged to the Church of Ireland, however, and I have only been able to find one Protestant baptismal record, for their son Joseph born in 1848 to “Robert and Elizabeth McCarthy.”

Gradually I was able to identify more of their children besides Mary Jane (my Dad’s great-grandmother) and her brothers Joseph and Robert, each of whom served a term as Harbour Master after the death of their father.  I noticed that a Henrietta McCarthy arrived in Quebec on Prussian 20 Sep 1874 along with Mary Jane, her husband George Maybury, and their two small daughters, all intending to settle in Montreal.

When I found Harriet McCarthy, born in Ireland, religion Church of England and residing in Montreal, marrying Alexander Mitchell–the brother of George Maybury’s sister-in-law Marion Mitchell–in Ontario, Canada in 1882 I knew this must be “Henrietta.”  Fortunately Ontario marriage records of this date provide the parties’ parents’ names, and Harriet’s parents were listed as Robert McCarthy and Elizabeth Neil.

Mitchell-McCarthy 1882 Marriage (2)

Harriet’s parents as listed on her marriage record, found at

Just last year I found further confirmation: Another sister, Ellen McCarthy, converted to Catholicism and was baptized as an adult in 1879, and the record lists her parents as Robert McCarthy and Elizabeth Neill.  She was married the same day, and the civil marriage record lists her father as “Robert McCarthy, Dead, Harbour Master.”

Neill / O’Neill is the 10th most common Irish surname and many families of this name lived in Kerry, so I thought I might never determine Elizabeth’s parents and place of origin.  However using DNA I have found that my Dad matches many people who are descended from a Neill family originating in the townland of Killeenafinnane.  This townland lies less than 7 miles south of Tralee in the Church of Ireland parish of Kiltallagh.

Viewpoint_near_Castleisland_Mike Searle

Viewpoint near Castleisland by Mike Searle.

Unfortunately the pertinent church records were destroyed in the 1922 explosion and fire that ripped through the Public Record Office in Dublin.  This probably explains why I have never found a marriage record, since Robert and Elizabeth likely married in her parish about 1840.

The earlier records of the neighboring parish of Kilcolman do survive, however, and a very intriguing marriage took place there 9 Feb 1809:  Joseph Neill of Keelnafinane married Elizabeth Huggard of Kilburn.  Since Robert and Elizabeth named their firstborn daughter Elizabeth and did have a son Joseph, and since my Dad is also matching several people who are descended from Huggards from the parish of Kilcolman, I think these might very well be Elizabeth’s parents.

Elizabeth (Bogert) (Pell) Romeyn 1780-1855

My aunt Laurie gave me the sampler below, which is dated 1793 and was made by our double direct ancestor Elizabeth “Betsey” Bogert.  It was not hard to figure out which of the several Elizabeth Bogerts in our tree had worked the sampler because only one would have been a relatively young girl learning to do needlework in that year:  The daughter of Casparus and Jannetje (Zabriskie) Bogert, born 24 Apr and baptized 15 May 1780 at the Paramus, New Jersey Dutch Reformed Church.

Bogert Sampler 1

Betsey’s father kept journals of sorts, making notes about farm and family events in the margins of various almanacs.  In 1792 he noted that “Betsey began school with Mr. Suttin,” likely referring to the school kept by Reuben Sutton who also resided in Paramus.

I don’t know who taught Betsey her embroidery stitches but samplers were often school assignments.  I also don’t know how much choice a girl would have as to the decoration and choice of verse, but I think she did a lovely job.  The poetry is a portion of Alexander Pope’s “The Universal Prayer,” asking to grow in equanimity and compassion.

Aaron_Burr,_Alexander_Hamilton_and_Philip_Schuyler_strolling_on_Wall_Street,_New_York_1790 (1)

Wall Street as it would have looked at the time of Betsey’s marriage, with Trinity Church in the distance.

Betsey married New York City-based ship captain William Pell 8 Dec 1799 at Trinity Church on Wall Street.  He was 17 years her senior, the son of ship captain John Pell and his wife Sarah Byvanck.  Like his father, William was the master of several ships over his career and had quite a few adventures at sea, often sailing from New York to Madeira and Cadiz, returning with wine, salt, cork, and rush carpets.

Pell-Bogert 1799 Marriage

The very brief marriage record at Trinity Church.

William and Elizabeth had six children beginning with twin boys in 1800, John Bogert and William Watson Pell, both of whom would become ship captains.  We are descended from their daughters Jennette and Elizabeth, their other two children being Caspar Andrew and Sarah Augusta Pell.  (Sarah would marry Abraham Oothout Zabriskie, eventual Chancellor of New Jersey.)

Though William and Elizabeth may have stayed in a Pell family residence on Pearl Street in the city at times, they maintained a country property at Barbadoes Neck in New Jersey at least until William advertised it for sale in 1807.  He described it as containing 14 acres including nine acres of apple orchard, asparagus beds, a house with a 45 foot front and six fireplaces, a stable and carriage house.  They had moved to Paramus by the time William died in 1813, not at sea, but “of the prevailing epidemic,” possibly yellow fever.


Elizabeth remained a widow for 15 years, marrying Dutch Reformed minister James Van Campen Romeyn in 1828, said to be “a man of forbearance, discretion and piety.”  James passed away in 1840, and is buried in the Hackensack Dutch Reformed graveyard with his first wife.

Bogert, Elizabeth

Elizabeth in her later years.

Elizabeth moved in with her son Caspar’s family in Paramus in 1846.  She made her will 6 Oct 1851 and died in 1855 some time before it was proved on 6 Dec 1855.  Oddly I have not been able to find her exact date of death nor where she and her first husband are buried.






Ancestry’s DNA Communities: What Links my Dad to New Zealand?

For the most part the DNA tests my blood relatives and in-laws have taken have been consistent with our paper trail.  The current ethnicity estimates make sense, and everyone seems to match a lot of people they should match if our research is correct.  One line did have to be adjusted from an early New England family to an interesting Scottish family, but I got over it.

Besides the ethnicities, the geographical subgroupings and settler communities my relatives have been linked to also make sense.    All except for one:  I was surprised that my Dad was placed in “British New Zealand Settlers”.   As far as I knew his only connection to New Zealand was that Henry William Mackereth (1866-1933), a second cousin three times removed, sailed for Australia in 1907 and was living in New Zealand by 1914.  How could my Dad possibly have enough genetic similarities to New Zealand settlers for this community to pop up?

I looked at the three “Featured Matches” Ancestry provides for this community–all were fourth cousin matches who are somehow also related to British settlers in New Zealand.  Two live in the United States and one in England, but all three have ancestors from the area around Tralee in County Kerry, Ireland, and I am sure they are related in some way to my Dad’s great grandmother Mary Jane McCarthy, born in Blennerville near Tralee in 1850.

Did a large number of Kerrymen settle in New Zealand, so that people with some of the same DNA segments as my Dad are over there today?  Although it cost four times as much to sail to New Zealand as to America, it turns out that many did, some via assisted emigration programs.

The_Tralee_Chronicle_and_Killarney_Echo_Fri__May_14__1875_ (1)

Advertisement from the Tralee Chronicle and Killarney Echo 14 May 1875, found on

According to Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, large numbers of Irish arrived in New Zealand between 1845 and 1900, with the heaviest influx during the 1870s and 1880s.  Over half a million New Zealanders living today have Irish ancestry.

Among the earlier arrivals were soldiers brought in to fight in the New Zealand Wars (1845-1872), and those who came to mine gold discovered at Otago (1861) and on the West Coast (1864).  Large numbers from Counties Kerry and Cork eventually settled on the West Coast, partly through chain migration, where earlier arrivals later sponsored their relatives’ immigration.  And some of these must be related to my Dad in some way.

More Salem Witchcraft Connections: Ambrose Gale and Charity (Gale) Pitman

When I wrote about my several direct ancestors who were involved in the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692, I neglected to include two of my mother’s ancestors:  Ambrose Gale (c. 1631-1708), a fisherman of Marblehead, Massachusetts, and his daughter Charity (Gale) Pitman (1664-1739).  Charity was a young widow at the time, her seafaring husband John Pitman having died in Barbados the previous year.  Both Ambrose and Charity testified against Wilmot Redd, a fisherman’s wife who, like some of the other victims, was not very well-liked.


Summary of Charity’s testimony of 14 Sep 1692, Salem Witchcraft Papers No. 114.10 available on the Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project website of the University of Virginia.

Charity deposed that five years earlier a Mrs. Syms suspected that Wilmot Redd’s servant girl Martha Laurence had stolen some linen from her.  Charity accompanied Mrs. Syms when she went to Wilmot’s house to demand the return of the linen.  The two argued about the matter, with Mrs. Syms finally threatening to involve the authorities.  Wilmot then cursed her, saying she wished that Mrs. Syms “might never mingere [urinate], nor cacare [defecate]” again.  Shortly after this incident Mrs. Syms did become constipated.  Charity’s father’s testimony merely confirmed that Mrs. Syms was so afflicted after the argument with Wilmot Redd.

InkedEssex Antiquarian Vol. 13 p. 135_LI

Map of Marblehead in 1700 with green dots on Ambrose Gale’s property, from The Essex Antiquarian Vol. 13, p. 135 available on

This is similar to other “cursings” recounted in the Witch Trial testimony, where someone said something like “I hope your cow dies” and then the cow did die, and this was then considered proof or at least strong evidence that the curser had used witchcraft to make their wish come true.  A cow dying would likely be mere coincidence, but this constipation may have been a psychosomatic response to the power of suggestion.

Though sadly Wilmot Redd was executed, Charity and Ambrose’s testimony was only the icing on the cake of her conviction.  The so-called “afflicted girls” had already accused her and displayed the usual fits and theatrics when she was examined in court back in May, so her fate was probably already sealed.  Formal depositions against her survive from Mary Walcott, Mary Warren, Ann Putnam and Elizabeth Hubbard, all describing how Wilmot Redd or her apparition had grievously tormented them.

Ambrose Gale’s house, built about 1663, still stands in Marblehead.  Wilmot Redd was exonerated by the Massachusetts legislature in 2001.


Wilmot Redd Memorial.  Photo by Keitei via Wikimedia Commons.


Bootstrapping in British Genealogy: Finding the Birth Name of Martha (Whitwham) (Smith) Peace

My relative James Peace’s first wife Alice Jackson died in 1869 after 31 years of marriage.  On 15 Mar 1871 he married again, to a woman named Martha Smith, at High Street Chapel in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, a Methodist New Connexion church.  (The New Connexion Methodists split from the Wesleyan Methodists in 1797, believing that Wesleyan ministers had been given too much authority over the laity.)

Normally in this period both the church and civil marriage records would provide the same significant information about the bride and groom, including their marital status and the names and professions of their fathers.  I don’t know what the civil record for this marriage looks like as I would have to order it and pay several pounds for it, but this is what the church record looks like:

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The marriage of James Peace and Martha Smith, found on

I have never seen a more incomplete record of this type, and we learn only that Martha was then living “near Holmfirth.”  Of course the surname Smith is also unfortunately very common.  So how can we find Martha’s family of origin?  Her birth name would be Smith if she had never married before, but we don’t even know whether she was a spinster or a widow in 1871.   However using the many resources on and this kind of problem can sometimes be solved fairly quickly.


Fulstone from Acre Lane.  Photo by Humphrey Bolton.

We do know more about Martha from her appearances in the 1871 and 1881 censuses as the wife of James Peace:  Both records say she was born about 1820 in Fulstone, Yorkshire.  One very helpful thing about the census of England and Wales beginning in 1851 is that it usually provides a fairly specific place of birth.

Googling it we find that Fulstone is very near Holmfirth mentioned above, and is within the parish of Kirkburton.  If Martha had been baptized as an infant the record would likely be in the parish church, Kirkburton All Hallows, or at a nearby Non-Conformist chapel.  Since many girls named Martha were baptized within the parish of Kirkburton between 1819 and 1821, this information will not be helpful yet.

We can guess that Martha’s surname may have been Smith for some time, either since she was born or since a first or later marriage.  Looking for Martha Smiths born about 1820 in Fulstone in the 1851 and 1861 censuses we find only one, the wife of John Smith, a cordwainer or shoemaker.  This couple lives in Fulstone and the eldest child living with them in 1851 is a son George born about 1840, meaning they likely married about 1839.

Looking for John Smiths who married women named Martha in the West Riding of Yorkshire within a couple of years of 1839 we find cordwainer John Smith marrying Martha Whitwham 26 May 1839 at St. John the Baptist, the parish church in Kirkheaton.  (Kirkheaton adjoins Kirkburton on its northern edge, and the record says that both John and Martha were then living in the village of Dalton within the parish of Kirkheaton.)

Never having seen the name Whitwham and wondering if this could be a mistake, I turned to A Dictionary of Yorkshire Surnames to find that this is in fact a real name, and that the earliest known bearer was a Richard Whitwham who lived in North Yorkshire in 1412.

IMG_0946 (1)

This book is well worth the investment if you have Yorkshire ancestors.

Martha was a spinster and a minor at the time of this marriage, and her father was a clothier named George Whitwham.  John Smith’s father was listed as John Firth Smith, and this will turn out to be his son’s full name as well.

Looking for Martha Whitwhams baptized around 1820 in the Kirkburton area we find one born 8 Jun and baptized 18 Jun 1821 at Kirkburton All Hallows, parents George and Amelia, father’s occupation clothier, address “Lane End, Fulston[e]”.  This birth date makes Martha only 17 at her first marriage, so she would have been a minor as the record indicates.  And when we look at the baptism of George Smith, the firstborn of “John Firth and Martha Smith,” we find that his full name is actually George Whitwham Smith, so he was named for Martha’s father.

Looking for the death of a John Firth Smith between the 1861 census and the 1871 marriage of his widow Martha to James Peace, we find him in the National Burial Index available on  He died age 52 (so born about 1818) and was buried 21 Oct 1870 at Christ Church, New Mill.  (New Mill is a village very near Fulstone.)  Martha lived until 1891 and is buried at Cumberworth St. Nicholas with her second husband James Peace.

I feel confident that the Martha Whitwham who was born at Fulstone in 1821 was the same person who married both John Firth Smith and James Peace, but I will look for further corroborating evidence.

Women Falling off the Radar? Look for Subsequent Marriages

Recently I had been trying to find death records for a couple, immigrants from Galway to Rosendale, Ulster County, New York who are ancestors of a genealogy client.  The husband passed away in 1887 but I could find nothing in the New York Death Index nor in any newspaper or other likely resource for his wife no matter how I spelled their last name, which was Reilly / O’Reilly.  She could have died elsewhere but before trying that angle, I decided to look for a subsequent marriage.

At her husband’s death, Catherine (Lynch) Reilly was approximately 47 and had given birth to 12 children over about 28 years of marriage.  Looking for a Catherine Reilly who married after 1887 in Ulster County, New York in the New York State Marriage Index 1881-1967 on I found an 8 Jun 1891 marriage to a Daniel Murphy in the town of Rosendale.  The index provides only the names of the parties, the date and town, not their ages or marital status or whether this is their first or second marriage, so we don’t know if this is the right Catherine Reilly. now has transcriptions of baptisms and marriages for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York which includes Rosendale.  This database contains a 7 Jun 1892 marriage for a Daniel Murphy and Catherine “Rully” which I think must be the same marriage though it is off by one year and also one day.  Unfortunately this record does not provide any new information except the church, St. Peter’s.

Lynch, Catherine 1900 Census

Daniel Murphy and the likely Catherine (Lynch) (Reilly) Murphy in the 1900 census found on

Looking for this couple in the 1900 U.S. census we find them in Rosendale.  Daniel is age 40 and Catherine is age 56, putting her birth within the range she has given in other records and lining up with her age on the 1867 passenger list on which she appears.  They have been married nine years, putting their wedding about 1891.  The 1900 census also asked women how many children they had had, and Catherine’s answer is the expected 12.  She also says she arrived in the U.S. in 1868, only one year off from the passenger list.

I feel fairly confident that Catherine (Lynch) Reilly married Daniel Murphy, and that she is likely the Catherine Murphy who died in Rosendale 21 Jan 1904.  I have not been able to find a church record for Catherine’s first marriage in Ireland in about 1859, but it would not be likely to name her parents.  However the civil record for this late marriage should provide us with that information, as should her 1904 death certificate, though the marriage data would likely have been provided by Catherine herself so is more reliable evidence.

It is a good idea to look for subsequent marriages for women who have “disappeared” even when their husbands are findable and claiming to be widowed–divorced people often list themselves as widowed, I assume because of the stigma of divorce.

For years I searched for the death of my relative Caroline Isabella Fuller, born 1856 in Dorchester, Mass.  She married Barnstable native Julius Bartlett Brown in 1878, but the 1900 census finds Julius “widowed” and living with his brother.  Naturally I assumed Caroline had died before the 1900 census, though I could never find a record.

Eventually I found her 1888 marriage to another Brown from Cape Cod, South Yarmouth native and railroad brakeman Peleg T.  The record does not indicate her marital status but does say this is her second marriage and provides her parents’ names and her birthplace.  Sadly Peleg died from “traumatic amputation of arm” after a workplace accident in 1909.

Brown, Peleg T. 1909 Death Boston Globe 23 Apr

Account of Peleg’s accident and death from the Boston Globe 23 Apr 1909 found on

Still finding no death information for the right Caroline Brown after 1909, I searched for a third marriage.  I found that Caroline married Charles Leander Webster in Provincetown in 1917 and died in 1924–almost a quarter century after her first husband listed himself as a widower–and is buried at Cedar Grove Cemetery in Dorchester with her second husband Peleg T. Brown.  Her gravestone gives her name as C. I. Brown Webster.


Ancestors–They Were (Sort of) Just Like Us!

There is an American tabloid that has a section in every issue entitled “Stars–They’re Just Like Us!” which consists of pictures of celebrities doing ordinary things–buying groceries, walking the dog, etc.  Researching my ancestors has taught me that people living long ago did quite a few things that most people do today, and that they were in many ways just like us.  Sort of.

They bought groceries and other sundries.  Except for the pig I have bought all of the things on the bill below.

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1831 bill from Rockland County, N.Y. for pork, potatoes, shoes, wine and a pig.

They occasionally got a new mattress, or at least the materials needed to make one.


1795 bill from Albert Oblenis to his newlywed brother Bernard for feathers, tape, fabric, bed cord and delivery to the ferry.

They built homes, remodeled and redecorated, though many were far more involved in the actual construction than most people are today.

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Peter Oblenis’ 1798 letter to his brother Bernard re  plans to build a house.

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1872 bill for fabric, fixtures and tassels for window treatments for the home of John Augustus Bogert (1845-1900).

They gardened, though apparently not in ancient shorts and t-shirts like I do.  Some of the apples listed below were probably intended for the manufacture of the local applejack known as Jersey Lightning.

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Dr. J. J. Haring working in his garden in Tenafly, N.J. 1911.

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Undated list of apple trees in a Bergen County, N.J. orchard.  I have heard of Pippins and Lady Apple but several, esp. Paramus Sweet, must have been local heirloom varieties.

They planned funerals, which used to include the gift of a pair of black kid gloves to the minister and each pallbearer.

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Bill for the funeral of the Rev. Dupuytren Vermilye in 1907.

They grieved.  In the letter below William House struggles with the loss of his wife, Wyntje Oblenis, referring to her as his “best and only Company.”  He is grateful for his three children’s health since “it has pleased [God] to take away their tender mother,” and he has not written sooner because of his great distress.


1797 letter from William House to his brother-in-law Bernard Oblenis, one month after the death of his wife

They advertised when they wanted to sell things.

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They joined groups, some of which still exist.

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Bernard Oblenis’ invitation to the Manhattan Farmers’ Society meeting in 1803.

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Bernard Oblenis Bogert’s 1926 election to the National Geographic Society.