Calvin Luther Norton (1844-1888): My White Whale

Calvin Luther Norton sits at the end of the stubbiest branch of our family tree and is only my 2nd great grandfather.  He should appear as a child in the 1850 U.S. Census, ideally with his parents, but I have never been able to find him.  His Civil War pension file is one inch thick but not very helpful.  Every so often I find a tantalizing clue (or a red herring), so that I feel I am always circling him but never getting much closer.

Other descendants have recently taken the AncestryDNA test, and I think the problem might soon be solved that way, though I haven’t been able to get very far with it yet.  A genealogist once suggested that I research all Norton families in the area where Calvin was born, and I did so even though there were quite a few, but I could never place him in a family.  I should ask male descendants with the Norton surname if they would take a Y-DNA test to at least narrow down which Norton family, if any, is the right one.

According to the records of the Vermont Soldiers Home in Bennington where he died 21 Feb 1888, Calvin was born 23 Aug 1844 in Keeseville, N.Y.  Keeseville is a hamlet straddling the Ausable River, half in Clinton County and half in Essex, just a few miles from Lake Champlain and within the confines of today’s Adirondack National Park.  Civil War documents consistently describe him as a farmer, 5’8”, with dark hair, fair skin and hazel eyes.

A birth in Clinton County is confirmed by the 1855 New York State census, where Calvin appears as “Luther C. Norton”, 10 years old, living with the widowed Elizabeth (Cornell) Allen in Oswego, Oswego County, N. Y., over 200 miles to the southwest of Keeseville on Lake Ontario.  The space for “Relation to the head of the family” seems to say “Nev.”  I believe Calvin is somehow a nephew or grand-nephew of Elizabeth, who was the daughter of Revolutionary War soldier Caleb Cornell (1756-1803) and his wife Martha Anson (c. 1765-1848).

After Caleb’s death Martha married Aaron Norton (c. 1750-1813), another Revolutionary War veteran, and Calvin may be descended from this man by an earlier wife.  A Cornell A. Norton, whom I suspect is a son or grandson of this Aaron, seems likely to be related to Calvin in some way.

For years I could not find Calvin in the 1860 U.S. census, but I now believe he is the “Luther Parrot” aged 16 living in Schuyler Falls, Clinton County, N.Y. in the household of Delia E. Cornell and her first husband, Horton Parrot.  Delia was the daughter of Silas Anson Cornell, a brother of Elizabeth (Cornell) Allen above, so that she is likely a cousin to Calvin in some way.  Delia was a very popular name in this Cornell family, I believe because it was the nickname of their ancestor Deliverance Gifford (1727-1759).  Besides Caleb and Delia, other unusual names favored by Cornell descendants are Godfrey, Govett, Guilford, Junius, Lafayette, Loyal, Narcissa and Rheuby.  Many American boys were named for the Marquis de Lafayette after the Revolution, so this name may have no family significance other than an association with the Patriot cause.

Delia (Cornell) Parrot left Horton in August of 1862.  Like many deserted husbands, he announced this fact in the newspaper so as not to be liable for any debts she incurred.  Their son Henry Douglas (1862-1940) would have been 2 months old at the time of the marital break-up, and was probably soon given into the care of John H. and Rheuby (Cornell) Fallon, Rheuby being another child of Silas Anson Cornell.  Henry Douglas used the surname Fallon throughout his life, and is mentioned in John Fallon’s will as “my adopted son Henry.”

Cornell, Delia 1862 Deserts Husband

Calvin enlisted in the Vermont Volunteers at Burlington, where he seems to have been living, on 22 Feb 1862.  He was 17 though he claimed to be 18, probably so that no parent or guardian would have to sign.  When asked for the name of his closest relative while in an army hospital in 1864, he answered Nathan Maxfield.  I began researching this man, and discovered both that he enlisted in Burlington on the same day as Calvin, and that he had married Delia (Cornell) Parrott since enlisting.  He was seemingly only a relative in the sense that he was the wife of Calvin’s probable cousin.  This suggests that Calvin had few living relatives by the 1860s.

Norton, Calvin Luther 1862 Enlistment (2)

Calvin had served the bulk of his three year commitment when he was captured at the Battle of Cedar Creek, Va. 19 Oct 1864.  He was transported to Richmond where he remained a prisoner until 15 Feb 1865.  He was held at both Libby and Pemberton Prisons, with scant rations under overcrowded and often extremely cold conditions.  This is likely where he contracted the lung and heart problems that would plague him the rest of his short life.

Calvin married Delia Bell 25 Jun 1865, only two months after being discharged.  Delia was the daughter of farmer and shoemaker Francis Bell and his wife Susan Pray of Ausable, Clinton County, N. Y.  The ceremony was performed by Methodist minister Lucius D. Gay at his home in Clintonville, Clinton County, N.Y.  I am sure that Calvin and Delia knew each other before the war—her brother Francis Bell lived and worked on John and Rheuby (Cornell) Fallon’s farm as of the 1860 census, and the Fallons’ son Silas Henry, Calvin’s contemporary and possible cousin, signed an affidavit in Calvin’s pension file saying that Calvin also worked on the Fallon farm before the war and was then able-bodied.

Norton-Bell 1865 Marriage.jpg

Calvin and Delia’s firstborn arrived 13 Aug 1867 in Peru, Clinton County, N.Y.  All of my family papers give this son’s name as Calvin Cornell Norton, but both his Social Security application and his death certificate give his middle name as “Colonel” and I am not sure what to make of that.  He was a literate person and I assume he would have known what his middle name was and how to spell it, so could it possibly have been Colonel, and if so, why?  Or was Cornell pronounced like the word “colonel” by the family and never written down so that he assumed his middle name was Colonel?  He lived until 1950 and my father’s family would visit his farm in Essex, Chittenden County, Vt. fairly often.

Norton Family

The Norton family circa 1931.  Calvin Colonel Norton is the older gentleman with the dark coat seated left of center.  My grandfather Thurber is the dark haired gentleman standing on the right.

Calvin and Delia’s second child Lafayette A. Norton was born 24 Mar 1870 in probably Clinton County, N. Y.  I have never found a record that gives his middle name, and he may have had an additional first name–his father’s gravestone says “Erected by his sons C. C. and C. L. A. Norton.”  He was killed 13 Jan 1891 in a tragic quarry accident in Essex, Essex County, N.Y., when ice caused the brake to fail on the gravity railroad used to lower stone 900 feet down to Lake Champlain for shipping.  The loaded car raced down the slope, causing the empty car going up to fly into several men, killing Lafayette and three others instantly. He is buried in the Hinesburg Village Cemetery with a gravestone that includes the words “How we miss him.”

Norton, Lafayette A.

Lafayette Norton about 1890.

Their third and last child was my great grandmother Mary Ann Elizabeth “Libbie” Norton, born 1 Feb 1873 at Willsboro, Essex County, N. Y.  She would marry tinsmith James Milford Thurber in Hinesburg in 1890, and would name one of her daughters Rheuby Mae.

Norton, Mary Ann Elizabeth 1

Mary Ann Elizabeth Norton about 1890, possibly on her wedding day.

Calvin was last enumerated in Hinesburg, Chittenden County, Vt. in 1880, where he was a farm laborer.  The spaces where the birthplaces of his parents should be listed are blank, and I think it is likely he was orphaned at a young age and did not know much about his parents. Lafayette and Mary Ann Elizabeth are at home, but Calvin Colonel is attending school and working in the home of a Taggart family eight miles away in Charlotte.  I cannot find any other connection to these Taggarts.

Norton, Calvin Luther 1888 Obit

Calvin’s death notice from the Burlington Weekly Free Press 24 Feb 1888 found on

So this is the simple version of where my research stands–I have also spent a lot of time researching associated families. Besides working the DNA angle, I should also look for the records of the Hinesburg, Vt. Grand Army of the Republic Post to which Calvin belonged, also known as Post 37 or the Cummings Post.  I have been told that many of these groups produced short biographies of all their members, usually including their parents’ names.  I would also like to take a trip to the Keeseville area to visit repositories there.

Norton, Calvin Luther 2

Calvin’s gravestone at the Hinesburg Village Cemetery.

Edward Freeman Tillman (1861-1941) and Tillman’s Lane

My mother-in-law’s paternal grandfather Edward Freeman Tillman was born 7 Oct 1861 in Copiah County, Mississippi, the first child of Leonidas Haden Tillman with his second wife Martha Ann Harris.  After 1870 the Tillmans and other associated families left Mississippi for Texas.  Edward’s family appears twice in the 1880 census, enumerated June 3 in Waco, McLennan County where Edward was at school, and on June 10 in Corsicana, Navarro County where he was a clerk in a grocery store, presumably his father’s.

Edward was said to be living in Dallas when he married Caroline Gay Chandler 19 Oct 1882 in Gatesville, Coryell County, Texas.  Caroline was the next to last of 13 children born to the Rev. Pleasant Barnett Chandler and his wife Mary E. O’Kelley.  This couple had migrated from Georgia to Texas in 1846 as Baptist missionaries.

Tillman-Chandler 1882 Wedding Galveston Daily News 20 Oct (2).jpg

Gatesville happenings in the Galveston Daily News of 20 Oct 1882 found on

Edward and Carrie first settled in Gatesville where he worked as a railway agent for the Cotton Belt System and was also the local telegraph agent.  By the 1900 census Edward and Carrie had had six children, lost an infant son named Edward, and were living in Brownwood, Brown County, Texas.  Though the census lists him as a hardware salesman, he will be appointed Commercial Agent for the Fort Worth and Rio Grande Railway in September of that year.  In 1901 the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway, more commonly called the Frisco, would take over the F. W. and R. G., which it operated as an independent subsidiary.  In spite of the name, the closest the Frisco ever got to San Francisco, California was the Texas panhandle.

Tillman, Edward Freeman 1890 Railway Agent Paradise_Messenger_Sat__Dec_20__1890_

Advertisement from the Paradise (Texas) Messenger of 20 Dec 1890 showing E. F. Tillman as a Railway Agent in Gatesville.

Carrie (Chandler) Tillman died at age 42 on 20 Jun 1902 in Brownwood and was buried in the Greenleaf Cemetery there with sons Edward (1897-1897) and Luther Edward (1901-1901).  This must have been a very difficult time for the family, with five children ranging in age from 19 to 8–Lida Nan, Maybelle, Hayden Chandler, Alvin Young and Sadie.  Edward married secondly Nora Mann on 14 Feb 1904 in Tom Green County, Texas.  Edward and Nora had one son, Felix Leon “Bill” Tillman, born in 1906.

Tillman, Hayden and Alvin Young I 1

Hayden Chandler and Alvin Young Tillman

Soon after acquiring the Fort Worth and Rio Grande, the Frisco financed an extension of the railroad from Brownwood southward to Brady.  In order to facilitate the transport of cattle from the Sonora area up to the end of the rail line in Brady, Edward began purchasing and leasing land on behalf of the Frisco, creating a fenced trail between the two, 250 feet wide and 100 miles long, with watering places and holding pens placed conveniently along the route.  What came to be known as Tillman’s Lane began a little south of Sonora, followed the old Fort McKavett Road to McKavett, then went by Menard and on to Brady.  The railroad was extended from Brady to Menard in 1911, shortening the fenced trail, but it remained in heavy use until a rail line was put through from San Angelo to Sonora in 1929.

Edward was named livestock agent for the Frisco in 1908, a job he would hold until his retirement.  He traveled quite a bit, mainly in Texas and Missouri.  I am sure much of this was for conducting ordinary business, but he also attended livestock conventions, like the 1915 convention in Wichita of which he said the “attendance is splendid.”  In 1932 he addressed the Oran (Missouri) Livestock Shippers Association on marketing strategies.  In 1933 he spoke on behalf of the Missouri Farmers Association at a rally in Carter County, Missouri as part of the organization’s effort to gain recruits in the “fight for a square deal.”


E. F. Tillman’s pocket watch.


“Retired Railway Man” Edward Freeman Tillman died 16 Nov 1941 in Tarrant County, Texas and was buried in Brownwood’s Greenleaf Cemetery with his first wife, Carrie.

Mix and Match Memoirs: Alice (Marsden) Whitworth (1789-1863)

I learned some key things as a novice researching the Marsdens of Sheffield, Yorkshire, England.  The most important is that people often get family information completely mixed up, but that even mixed up information can be useful once you sort it out.  Also that being printed in a book (or carved in stone) doesn’t make something true, and that you should pay attention to witnesses at weddings and find out who they are.

My father’s 3rd great grandmother Alice (Marsden) Whitworth (1789-1863) has the only memorial inscription I have ever seen with the dates in Roman numerals—it says she was born “NOVr XXVIIIth MDCCXC” (28 Nov 1790), though her 1851 and 1861 census returns indicate a birth a year or two earlier.  Both returns say she was born in Sheffield, though she was living in Wakefield when she married local wine merchant Robert Whitworth there 9 May 1815.

Whitworth, Harriet (2)

Alice’s gravestone at the Barnsley (Yorkshire) Metropolitan Cemetery.  Photo by Wayne Bywater posted on

The only Alice Marsden I have ever found baptized in or near Sheffield at around the right time was the daughter of Robert and Hannah Marsden, baptized 28 Dec 1789 at Queen Street Independent Chapel, a Congregational church.  Some online trees then and now show this Alice as the daughter of Robert and Hannah (Smith) Marsden, with Robert born 1749 in Baslow, Derbyshire, which is about 12 miles from Sheffield.

I soon found the source of this information, a book entitled Genealogical Memoirs of the Family of Marsden:  Their Ancestors and Descent traced from Public Records, Wills, and other Documents and from Private Sources hitherto unrecorded.  This was “self-published” in 1914 by three Marsdens, an Anglican clergyman who studied at Oxford, a surgeon, and a chemistry professor, Robert Sydney Marsden (1856-1919).

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From p. 98 of Genealogical Memoirs of the Family of Marsden.

Believing that three well-educated fellows using original records and private sources could not go wrong, I decided that the Alice baptized at Queen Street could not be the same Alice who married Robert Whitworth, because the book said that she had married “Rev. John Raison of Tunbridge Wells.”  The book also said that Alice’s sister Ruth married “Benj. Whitworth, gent., of Wakefield,” which seemed like an odd coincidence, but I left Alice parentless in my tree for a few years.

When I went back to this problem I looked at Alice’s marriage record again, and I noticed that two of the witnesses were “B. Rayson” and “R. Rayson” which is only one letter off from Raison.  I looked for a Rayson who had been minister at Tunbridge Wells.  There was never any John but there was a Protestant Dissenting Minister Benjamin Rayson, who was from Sheffield, and who before coming to Tunbridge Wells had been the minister of Salem Chapel in Wakefield, which eventually came to be known as Rayson’s Chapel.

Rayson, Benjamin

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. “Rev. Benjamin Rayson.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

I believe he is the same Benjamin Rayson who married Mary Marsden at Sheffield Cathedral 15 Mar 1796, and that Mary was Alice’s older sister though not mentioned in Memoirs.  A Mary, “daughter of Robert Marsden, Cutler” was baptized at Sheffield Cathedral 9 Feb 1777.  The Robert Marsden who joined Queen Street Chapel was a cutler and razor maker, but he did not become a member until 1783, so it makes sense that this earlier daughter was baptized in the Church of England.


Sheffield Cathedral.  By Tim Green from Bradford (Sheffield Cathedral) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 It seems likely that Alice lived with her elder sister Mary and brother-in-law Benjamin Rayson in Wakefield, where she met her husband, and that her brother-in-law and niece Ruth Rayson, who would have been 18 years old, served as witnesses at her marriage.

Of the three authors of the Memoirs, Robert Sydney is the only one I believe is my cousin.  I think he was in touch with his relatives and got very good information about many people in his generation and the two prior—only a few facts are slightly off there.  I think people’s memories were naturally hazier when they tried to remember what they had heard about his great grandfather Robert, his wife and his children, resulting in the marriage and name mix-ups.  Then, wanting to tie Robert in to some family or other, he hooked him to a likely Derbyshire family.  I have an alternate theory about Robert’s parents that makes a lot more sense which is another good topic.

The Noones of Killacorraun, County Mayo Part One: Bridget (Noone) Willis (1860-1893)

I started researching the Irish ancestors of my Scranton, Pennsylvania-born father-in-law Bernard John Willis (1922-2008) in 2002.  My husband’s family thought that they were mainly or all from County Mayo.  Scranton’s Sister City is Ballina in Mayo because so many Scrantonians have roots near there, including Vice President Joe Biden.

My mother-in-law told me that Bernie’s paternal grandparents were Richard William Willis and Bridget Noone, and that Bridget’s parents were named Peter Noone and Catherine Mulherin.  She also said that Bridget had died giving birth to her second child who also died, and that both were buried in Scranton’s Cathedral Cemetery.

Noone or Noon is sometimes tricky to search, because either spelling is the same as a common English word.  Fortunately Peter is not the most common given name in Ireland, though searching for “Peter Noone” alone brings up a lot of information about the lead singer of Herman’s Hermits.  The surname is principally found in Galway, Roscommon and Mayo, and is said to come from the Gaelic for “descendant of Nuadhán,” Nuadhán being a personal name derived the name of a Celtic sea deity.

I have never been able to find Bridget in any U.S. census, though today I know she should have appeared in both 1870 and 1880, as well as the lost 1890.

I wrote to Cathedral Cemetery which is sometimes also called the Hyde Park Cemetery or the Hyde Park Catholic Cemetery, and is run by the Diocese of Scranton.  Many of Scranton’s Irish Catholics are buried there, but unfortunately their records are very poor before 1929, and they have no record of Bridget (Noone) Willis’s burial.  In most cases I only know people were interred there from the newspaper articles about their funerals.

I was able to get Bridget’s birth and death dates using Lackawanna County marriage licenses.  Richard and Bridget’s license says that they were married at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Scranton 19 Oct 1887, that Bridget would turn 27 in November of 1887, and that she was born in Ireland to parents who were in fact named Peter and Catherine.  Many Irish immigrants were unsure of their birthdates and often underestimated their age, but this information turned out to be correct.

Willis-Noone 1887 Marriage 1 (2)

Richard and Bridget’s marriage license.  Licenses from 1885 on are available to download at no charge  from the Lackawanna Public Inquiries website.

Richard married secondly Winifred Ruane 24 Nov 1896, giving 19 Jul 1893 as the date of his first wife’s death.  Newspaper notices confirm this, but I should also get a copy of her City of Scranton death record.  Her death notice confirms that Peter Noone was her father, and says that she was “a very estimable woman and beloved by all who knew her.”

Noone, Bridget 1893 Obit

Bridget’s death notice from the Scranton Republican 20 Jul 1893 found on

When the Irish Family History Foundation (IFHF) brought transcripts of Irish Catholic records online, I was able to find “Biddy Noon” baptized Nov 1860 in the parish of Crossmolina, parents “Pete Noon” and “Cate Mulheran.”  I also found her sister Winifred baptized there 11 Aug 1862, parents “Peter Noone” and “Catherine Mulherin.”  Fortunately Irish Catholic baptisms almost always record the mother by her birth name, because I have not been able to find Peter and Catherine’s marriage.

Noone, Bridget 1860 Baptism (2)

Nov 1860 baptism of “Biddy Noon” in the Roman Catholic parish of Crossmolina from the National Library of Ireland website.  I originally found a transcription of this and the following record on the Irish Family History Foundation Website ( which has excellent indexing and a great search facility.

Noone, Winifred 1862 Baptism (2)

11 Aug 1862 baptism of Winifred Noone in the Roman Catholic parish of Crossmolina from the National Library of Ireland website.

It is difficult to read the address recorded in the baptisms, but the IFHF transcribed it as C.curan for Bridget’s baptism and Cuillcran for Winifred’s.  It took me some time to realize that these and Cuilgurrane and Killacorraun and several other spellings all referred to the same place, the same townland, from the Irish “Coill an Chorráin,” meaning “Wood of the Hook.”  The townland is the smallest administrative unit in Ireland, and finding your ancestor’s townland of origin, however many spellings it has,  helps you to locate relevant records.

I guessed that Peter and Catherine married about 1859, had these two children in Ireland and then emigrated.  Though I have found a few Scranton Irish arriving at other ports including Philadelphia, the vast majority came through New York City, which is only about 100 miles from Scranton.  Between 1850 and 1890 passengers were processed at the Castle Garden immigration station, in today’s Battery Park.

Searching for Peter Noones or Noons arriving 1862 or later in the New York Passenger Lists I found Peter age 24, Catherine age 21, Bridget age 2 and the infant Winifred arriving 11 Apr 1863 on the 1,422-ton square-rigged ship Thornton.  Traveling with them were two bonus Noones:  James age 20 and “Patt” age 18, who would turn out to be two of Peter’s brothers.

Noone 1863 Passenger List (2)



Noones arriving in New York 11 Apr 1863 on the Thornton, from New York Passenger Lists on


A Quiet, Nature-Loving Life: The Artist William Pell Zabriskie

Zabriskie, William Pell

Of the several talented artists in my family, “Uncle Pell” was the one I heard the most about while growing up. William Pell Zabriskie was my grandmother’s great uncle and lived with her family for many years. She talked about him quite a bit, and several of his oil paintings hung on our walls. One of his later paintings hangs in my house today.

Born in Paramus, Bergen County, New Jersey 12 Jun 1839 to Jacob J. Zabriskie and his wife Elizabeth Pell, he went to school at Ashland Hall in Bloomfield, Essex County, N.J. He spent the academic year 1858-1859 at the Hartwick Theological and Classical Seminary in Otsego County, New York, and then entered the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) as a sophomore in the fall of 1859. His first semester went very well, with good attendance and high marks in Latin, Greek, Math, the Bible and Theology. There was a drastic change in the spring though, when he was absent so often that he was not allowed to continue with his class. The records of the Board say that these absences were due to the illnesses and deaths of his relatives, but I have not found any of his close relatives dying at this time.

Ashland Hall Boarding School

In 1861 he began studies at the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, presumably intending to become a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church. I don’t know if he felt a genuine calling to the ministry, but he did make it through two academic years there, leaving after the spring of 1863. According to Princeton’s records he was living in Farmer Village (now Interlaken), Seneca County, N.Y. in 1869, but he does not appear there in the 1870 census.

In 1872 he began to study painting with the noted Hudson River School artist William Hart (1823-1894). By 1876 he was able to show his work at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. He also participated in the Louisville (Kentucky) Industrial Exhibition of 1879, and showed work at the National Academy of Design in New York City. Though he lived in Bergen County, New Jersey for most of his life, he maintained a studio in New York City for many years. In 1876 he was listed at 52 E. 23rd Street, and from 1878 to at least 1903 he had space at 788 Broadway.

Zabriskie, William Pell 1872 Lessons

Receipt from the artist William Hart.

Uncle Pell seems to have fit the stereotype of the eccentric artist, and might have been what people today call a “crazy cat person.”  He wrote many undated notes to his niece about the activities of his “kats” as he spelled it. These cats may have been dressed up at least some of the time–in one note he asked her to sew a new outfit for one of them. He said the clothes should be “suitable for the coming cold weather” and that what this cat would really like was a neckerchief embroidered with bugs and crickets.

He never signed any of his work that I have seen, and I wonder if there are unattributed paintings of his hanging on people’s walls. His mature work consists mainly of beautiful landscapes, some extremely meticulous and some painted with a freer hand. He painted in the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire, upstate New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Though I have never seen examples, he is also said to have painted dogs, quail and at least one flying squirrel.

In 1931 Princeton pressed my great-grandmother for information about her uncle, at the time their “oldest living non-graduate” and one of very few artists they could claim. She wrote back with what she knew, ending her letter by saying “He has just lived a quiet nature-loving philosophical life.” He died in Paramus 30 Apr 1933 and is buried with many relatives in the Valleau Cemetery in Ridgewood, N.J.

William Pell Zabriskie Drawing

A pen and ink drawing on tissue.

Zabriskie, William Pell Drawing

Pencil drawing on the back of a business card.


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A later painting with a small study below.


Zabriskie, William Pell 1876 Centennial Exhibition