A Tragic (Love) Life: Lyndon Vassar Grover I (1873-1930)

I was shocked to learn of my great-grandfather’s third marriage and the subsequent divorce trial, though I have had a copy of the letter he wrote on his deathbed for years and it did seem to point to some personal disaster.  He wrote:  “But my great mistake is marrying that low, coarse woman—I do not want her at my funeral, or to have her buried with me.  There seems to be no legal way that she cannot claim one-third of what little I have left.”  If the 17 day trial with the courtroom full of gossiping spectators weren’t embarrassing enough, tabloid-style newspaper stories about the whole affair also appeared all over the country.

Lyndon Vassar Grover was born 19 Jan 1873 to Lynn, Massachusetts shoe manufacturer James J. Grover and his wife Ann Mary Brown.  I believe his middle name was a tribute to Baptist missionary John Ellison Vassar (1813-1878).

Grover, Lyndon Vassar I 3

In 1896 he married Louie Garvin Perkins, the daughter of a shoe factory foreman.  Sadly she died just over a year later of phthisis, meaning tuberculosis or a similar lung disease.

In 1898 he married Grace Mabel Fuller (1878-1945).  She was the daughter of New London, Connecticut newspaper dealer Charles Putnam Fuller and his (by then) estranged wife Agnes Delia Saunders who lived in Lynn, Massachusetts and worked in a shoe factory.  It is likely that Agnes worked at the J. J. Grover’s Sons Shoe Company, and that that is how her daughter met Lyndon.

Grover, Grace Mabel Fuller (3)

Grace Mabel Fuller.

This couple had four children: Dorothy Enid (b. 1899), Marjorie Putnam (b. 1900), Elizabeth West (b. 1903) and Lyndon Vassar II (b. 1906).  (Dorothy would become a noted packaging designer and artist under her married name, Enid Edson.  Among other accomplishments she designed the original packaging for Old Spice toiletries.)

Lyndon and Grace’s marriage ended in divorce sometime between 1915, when they were listed together in Lynn, Massachusetts directories, and 1919, when he married “that low, coarse woman,” divorcée Eleanor Cleveland.  By 1920 Grace had moved to Los Angeles alone, where she lived the remainder of her life.

Eleanor Cleveland was born Minetta Eleanor Rietz in Wisconsin in 1873.  She had two daughters—Dorothy (b. 1902) and Phyllis (b. 1904)—with her ex-husband, Alfred Edward Cleveland (1871-1933). The 1920 census lists the blended family and two servants living at 36 Kings Beach Road in Lynn.

4301090-00748 (1)

1920 US Census of Lynn, Massachusetts found on Ancestry.com.

Trouble entered their home in 1923 in the form of an extreme ladies’ man who styled himself Count or Viscount Paul Anatole Leon Montefiore, or Count Monte for short.  He claimed to be a wealthy French nobleman who had invented a way for airplanes to take off vertically, which had put him in line for the Nobel Prize.  He told “stretchers” to the point that people would have to be fairly gullible to believe half of what he said.

In reality he was Nicholas Wiseman, a married man who had quit supporting his wife and child as a clerk in a Boston shoe store in order to gad about with women and con people.  After the Grover drama, Nicholas “Count Monte” Wiseman was jailed for non-support.

It is hard to sort out exactly what happened from the various reports, and it is somewhat of a “he said, she said” case.  It appears that Monte first ingratiated himself to the family by seeming to court Eleanor’s daughter Dorothy Cleveland, but that Eleanor also became infatuated with him and may have had a relationship with him.  At some point Lyndon suspected this and hired detectives who confirmed his suspicions.  It also seems likely that Monte had accomplices who more than once stole money and valuables from the Grover home.

Lyndon’s divorce suit was unsuccessful and Eleanor was awarded separate support in 1926.  He was ordered to pay her the equivalent of about $55,000 a year in today’s money and quickly sold the house at 36 Kings Beach Road.  (It’s likely he was also still paying alimony to Grace.)  He died in 1930 after writing his letter, which also said “I do not regret an early death.”

Grover, Lyndon Vassar 1926 Estate Sold Boston Herald 14 Mar

Article from the 14 Mar 1926 Boston Herald found on GenealogyBank.com.

Irish Gaelic Speakers in Mayo, Ireland and Scranton, Pennsylvania

At first it did not occur to me that my father-in-law’s immigrant ancestors would have spoken any language besides English-with-an-Irish-accent.  Looking at his relatives’ 1901 and 1911 Census of Ireland returns, I realized they were probably all bilingual.

Both census forms contained a column asking whether the people enumerated spoke Irish or else spoke both Irish and English.  The space was to be left blank for people who could not speak Irish.  The completed forms for my father-in-law’s relatives who had remained in Ireland indicated that all excepting some in the youngest generation spoke both Irish and English.

In the 1920s the Irish Free State defined the Gaeltacht—the districts in which Irish Gaelic was the predominant language spoken in the home.  In 1926 these areas were still quite large and included a good portion of County Mayo as shown on the map below.


The Gaeltacht in 1926.  By D.de.loinsigh at English Wikipedia.

The British government had strongly discouraged the use of Irish in the National Schools and elsewhere during the 19th century, but people’s interest and pride in Gaelic language and culture grew along with nationalism at the same time.  The Irish in America felt the same interest and pride, and were probably also afraid of losing touch with their heritage.  Around 1900 many Gaelic Clubs formed in American cities with large Irish communities, primarily for the study of the Irish language.

Although a club meeting weekly in West Scranton had already been organized, another similar club with just under 200 members formed in Scranton in 1904.  From newspaper accounts it seems to have appealed to many young people.  The first meeting was held November 2 and consisted of scholarly lectures and speeches.  My husband’s third great uncle, Dr. William Henry McGreevy, was one of the speakers.  The group planned to meet every Monday and Thursday night, which seems very ambitious.


Article from the Scranton Truth 2 Nov 1904 found on Newspapers.com.

In December of 1905 the Scranton Truth reported that members “will continue the study of the language with unabated zeal.”  They were learning to translate Irish texts into English, and also to use the language in conversation.  In 1906 the club was extremely pleased to get Dr. Douglas Hyde (1860-1949) to lecture.  Hyde was a leading scholar of Irish language and literature, and was president of the Gaelic League, an organization promoting Irish language and culture.


Dr. Douglas Hyde.

The Willis Family of Ardnacally, Big Park, Parish of Robeen, County Mayo, Ireland

Willis is a patronymic English surname from the personal name Will and is fairly common in England and the United States.  Knowing that my father-in-law Bernard John Willis’s ancestors were all from Ireland and probably all from County Mayo, I was glad to learn that the name is rare in Ireland except in the north where there was heavier English settlement.

Willis in Mayo 2

Map with the blue spots showing the areas where Willises occupied land in Mayo in 1856, and with the townland of Arnacally marked.  I was able to make this map on the website of the Mayo County Library.

It was fairly easy to figure out where the Willises were from.  The Pennsylvania death certificate for my husband’s immigrant ancestor Richard Willis (1861-1911) gave his parents as William Willis and Mary Naughton.  Though Richard was born several years before Irish Civil Registration began in 1864, I was able to find the births of five younger siblings on familysearch.org:  twins Michael and Patrick (1864), Susan (1869), Mary (1870) and Margaret (1875).  All of these children were born within the Hollymount Registrar’s District in southern County Mayo.  I would eventually learn that besides Richard this couple had four other children born before 1864:  John (1854), Rose (1856), William (1859), and Thomas (1862).

Connemara Pony

A Connemara pony we saw on our 2013 trip to Mayo.

I then wrote a letter to a gentleman surnamed Willis who was listed on the web as a breeder of Connemara ponies in the Hollymount area.  Unfortunately he had passed away, but his eldest daughter answered my letter.  It turned out that she was my husband’s 4th cousin and had been researching the family for years.  We started to work together, trading information and figuring things out.  We have been doing this for several years now and have made great progress.  Besides her original research, she has a wealth of local knowledge and passed-down stories.

Willis, Robeen Graveyard List

Willises buried in the Robeen graveyard, which we were able to visit in 2013.

The Hollymount area falls within the Roman Catholic parish of Kilcommon and Robeen.  Unfortunately the records for this parish do not begin until 1857, so no marriage record survives for William Willis (c. 1830-1877) and Mary Naughton (c. 1830-1890) who probably married about 1853.  Their firstborn John married Bridget Conroy in 1880, and this family left for Youngstown, Ohio in 1892.  Conroy relatives were already established there, working in the steel mills.  John was still working in a steel mill as of the 1910 census, but by 1920 was a watchman for the Erie Railroad.

Conroy, Thomas Youngstown Steel Mill

Youngstown, Ohio Irish steel mill workers (including a Conroy) from the website of the Center for Working Class Studies at Youngstown State University.

My husband’s ancestor Richard and his older brother William went to Scranton, Pennsylvania where coal mining jobs were plentiful, though Richard had established himself as a grocer before he married in 1887.  The rest of William and Mary’s children remained in Mayo.

When asked to name their residence, this family did not usually give their townland (Ardnacally) but instead said they lived at “Big Park” which was a property encompassing the adjacent townlands of Ardnacally and Cashel.  William’s first cousin Richard lived on the Cashel side of Big Park, farming and running a pub which still exists today though it has passed from Willis ownership.  My Willis research collaborator is descended from these publicans.


Ballinrobe today.  (Fetler at English Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons)

We can trace this Willis family back two more generations to a William (c. 1763-1838) and Margaret (_____) Willis (c. 1765-1845).  Some of their descendants did very well as landholders and as shopkeepers in the towns of Hollymount and Ballinrobe.  Besides Youngstown and Scranton, some of their descendants left for Boston, Chicago and other places, including one for New Zealand, with Chicago and Youngstown being the most popular destinations for this family.

Willis-Tillman Wedding 2 (2)

My father-in-law and mother-in-law after their wedding in 1950.

The origin of this family in Ireland is a mystery, but it is likely that a Willis man or family came to Ireland from England in the 17th century, possibly under Cromwell, though any association with Cromwell would not have pleased my late father-in-law.  I don’t know how many of the sprinklings of Willises found here and there in Ireland in the 19th century were related to my husband’s family, but his Y-DNA has matched one other Willis gentleman on 66 of 67 markers.  This means there is a 99% probability they share a common paternal ancestor within 8 generations.  This other man descends from a Christopher Willis who left Ireland for Hardin County, Ohio about 1850.  One record indicates that Christopher was from Dublin, though his wife was from County Kerry.

Willis, Thomas 1890

Memorial in the Robeen graveyard for Thomas Willis (1847-1890) who died and is buried in Chicago.


Robert McCarthy (1812-1870): Harbour Master of Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland

Researching Robert McCarthy of Tralee has been  difficult because of the loss of so many Irish records and because County Kerry has so many McCarthy families, though thankfully few McCarthy men were named Robert.  I know he was born about 1812, probably in the Tralee area.  He must have married Elizabeth Neil about 1840, though I have found no record.  This couple had six children that I know of.


Blennerville windmill, Tralee.  By Jerzy Strzelecki (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Elizabeth was born about 1841, and was described as Robert’s “eldest daughter” in the newspaper announcement of her 1864 marriage to John Chard of the Irish Coast Guard.  They were married in a Church of Ireland ceremony at St. Anna’s in Blennerville, and  the McCarthys seem to have been Protestant.

Like most men of the Coast Guard, John was already an experienced sailor before he joined.  He had served several years in the British Navy, including a long stint on HMS Encounter during the Second Opium War (1856-1860).   I was surprised to find him in the 1861 Census of England and Wales, enumerated as a seaman aboard Encounter anchored at Yokohama, Japan.  His Coast Guard career was cut short by his death at age 36 in 1873.  Elizabeth then married John Watson of the Royal Irish Constabulary.


A second daughter, Anna, was born about 1846.  She was named administratrix of her mother’s estate in 1881, and died unmarried in 1886.

Their third child Joseph was born in 1848 and is the only one for whom I can find a baptism.  This record gives Blennerville as the family’s address and Robert’s job as Lock-Keeper of the Tralee Canal.

McCarthy, Joseph 1848 Baptism (2)

The canal was built to enable larger ships to sail directly to the town of Tralee.  It was completed in 1846, so Robert could not have had the job for more than two years when Joseph was born, and I am not sure what he did before this.  The family lived in the three-room home that was built for the lock-keeper, the ruins of which are standing today.

Tralee Canal Lock Keeper's Lodge 5

Robert and Elizabeth’s fourth child Mary Jane was born about 1850 and was my father’s great-grandmother.  She married Killarney forester and land steward George Maybury at St. Anna’s in Blennerville in 1871.  Like many other natives of County Kerry, this couple emigrated to Quebec, arriving in Montreal in 1874.

Their fifth child Harriet was born about 1854 and also went to Montreal in 1874.  She married a Scotsman named Alexander Mitchell in Ontario, Canada in 1882.  Harriet’s marriage record is the only document I have found that provides Robert’s wife’s maiden name, so I continue to search for more evidence as to her identity.

Their last child, Robert, was born about 1858 and served as Harbour Master after his older brother Joseph, who took the post between their “universally respected” father’s death in 1870 and his own early death in 1880.  Robert II was still serving in the post as of the 1911 census.

McCarthy, Joseph 1870 Harbour Master Tralee Chronicle 15 Nov

Announcement of Joseph McCarthy’s appointment as Harbour Master, from the 15 Nov 1870 Tralee Chronicle, found on Findmypast.com.

Records of Ireland’s Valuation Office show that Robert I was still living in the lock-keeper’s house in 1849 and 1852.  By 1853 he began to be listed as Harbour Master on complaints heard in the Petty Sessions Court, searchable at Findmypast.  Mainly he reported “riotous and disorderly” people who disturbed the peace in the harbor area, but sometimes he issued complaints against people who created unsafe conditions in the harbor with bad seamanship or disobedience to his orders.

I hope to uncover more about Robert’s earlier life and to determine something about his parents.  My Dad’s autosomal DNA does match people with McCarthy and Neil ancestors from Tralee.

Quelle Surprise: French Canadians in the Family Tree

No one in my Dad’s family knew that they were partly descended from French Canadians.  Though her last name seemed unusual, I did not guess that his Vermont-born second great-grandmother Lucinda Degoosh (1810-1894) had Québécois ancestry.  Then another researcher told me that all New England Degooshes were descendants of Ephraim Degoosh and Lydia Hall, and that Ephraim Degoosh was baptized as Yves Degauche 24 Nov 1770 in  La Pocatière, Quebec.  I now believe that Lucinda Degoosh was the daughter of Yves / Ephraim and Lydia, and that her brothers Moses (named for Lydia’s father), Joseph and Alexander were the progenitors of the New England Degooshes.

Degoosh, Ephraim 1810 Census Barnet

“Eve De Gush” in the 1810 U.S. census, in Barnet, Vermont near his in-laws the Halls.  Found on Ancestry.com.

When first in Vermont Yves used his French given name, which Americans heard and spelled as “Eve.”  At some point he must have decided to use Ephraim, a somewhat similar man’s name that was fairly common in Vermont.

When I began to research Yves’s ancestors, it seemed that the work had already been done.  The extremely detailed church records extant in Quebec and the strong efforts already made by several organizations to document all French Canadians to or into the 19th century meant that he and all of his ancestors were “known quantities,” even as to the places of origin (and parents) of the immigrant generation in France.


The Rance River at Pleudihen-sur-Rance in Brittany, home of Yves Degauche I.  Photo by Thérèse Gaigé (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons.

I learned very quickly that Yves’s father was another Yves Degauche, from the parish of Pleudihen on the Rance river in Brittany, who had only arrived in Quebec about 1757, while his mother Marie-Angelique Boulet’s immigrant ancestors had all come in the 17th century.  They were from Normandy, Brittany, La Rochelle and Paris, and some of them had “walked with Champlain.”  Among her more notable ancestors are:

Louis Hébert (c. 1575-1627) and his wife Marie Rolet (c. 1580-1649).  Hébert was a Parisian apothecary who moved his family to Quebec in 1617, having previously gone to Acadia with Samuel de Champlain in 1606.  This family is considered the first European family to have settled permanently in Quebec.

Louise Faure dite Planchet (c. 1640-1715) Louise was one of the approximately 800 “Filles du Roi” who immigrated to Nouvelle France between 1663 and 1673 under a government program that provided young women with passage and dowries.  The aim was to fix the gender imbalance in the colony and to encourage family formation.  Louise did her part, marrying Pierre Gagné in 1668 and having eight children.

Hélène Desportes (1620-1675) The first child of French parents to be born in Quebec and survive.  A very interesting biography entitled Hélène’s World: Hélène Desportes of Seventeenth-Century Quebec by Susan McNelley came out in 2013.


The old provinces of France.

Having gotten names and dates for this branch of our family so easily, I have never really “worked” them very hard.  I need to verify their life events for myself, to capture images of all the relevant documents, and to find out more about their lives.

I have listened to the great French-Canadian genealogy podcast Maple Stars and Stripes since it began and I recommend it to all researchers.  Recent episodes have inspired me to try to find marriage and land contracts to help flesh out these people, and to look online for records in French archives.  Just yesterday I found an image of Yves DeGauche I’s 1734 baptism in the parish of Pleudihen on the Côtes-d’Armor archives website.  I am very happy I studied French in college!

Witnesses, Jurors and Defendants: Salem Witch Trial Connections

I learned about the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 as a child and wondered if I had any ancestors who were affected, but I assumed there was no way to know.  When I began my family history research in 2002 I found that both of my parents had deep roots in the area, so that their ancestors inevitably participated in the crisis.  Looking only at direct ancestors the following people were involved:

John Putnam (1627-1710)  and Rebecca Prince (c. 1630-1704) who married in Salem in 1652 are two of my mother’s 8th great grandparents.  They both signed a petition in defense of accused witch Rebecca (Towne) Nurse, affirming with 37 neighbors that “we have known her for many years and according to our observation her life and conversation was according to her profession [as a Christian] and we never had any cause or grounds to suspect her of any such thing as she is now accused of.” In spite of all the people who defended her—at some risk to their own safety—Rebecca Nurse was executed 19 Jul 1692.


The home of Francis and Rebecca Nurse.

John and Rebecca also deposed that their former minister George Burroughs behaved very badly during the nine months in 1680 when he and his wife were guests in their home.  This must have been an uncomfortable period because according to their testimony “he was a very sharp man to his wife” even though she was good to him.  They said that at one point Burroughs wanted his wife to sign a written statement that she would never reveal his secrets, which makes you wonder what were those secrets?  George Burroughs was executed 19 Aug 1692.

John’s brother Nathaniel Putnam (1619-1700) is another of my mother’s 8th great grandparents, and wrote his own letter in defense of Rebecca Nurse, saying she “hath brought up a great family of children and educated [them] well, so that there is in some of them apparent s[avor] of godliness.”  He was also a participant in a very strange inquest, in which he and 11 other men determined that Daniel Wilkins died of “some cruel hand of witchcraft or diabolical art” after noting that he had many puncture wounds, bruises and contusions.

Nathaniel Putnam for Rebecca Nurse

Nathaniel Putnam Sr.’s statement on behalf of Rebecca Nurse.  From the Salem Witchcraft Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society online at the University of Virginia’s website.

Andrew Elliott (1627-1704) and Henry Herrick (1640-1703) were jurors.  Each is a 9th great grandfather to my mother, and both signed the Declaration of Error after the trials.  In this moving document the jurors expressed their deep remorse, saying “we fear we have been instrumental, with others, though ignorantly and unwittingly, to bring upon ourselves and this people of the Lord the guilt of innocent blood.”


Indicted witches Anne (_____) Foster (c. 1617-1692), her daughter Mary (Foster) Lacey(1652-1707),  and her daughter in turn Mary Lacey Jr. (1674-?) lived in Andover.  Though the crisis originated in Salem Village (now Danvers), it quickly spread to neighboring areas.  They are my father’s ninth, eighth and seventh grandmothers respectively.

Anne was the 75 year old widow of Andrew Foster.   She was arrested in July 1692 on “spectral evidence”:  Two of the so-called “afflicted girls” claimed they had seen Widow Foster’s specter tormenting Elizabeth Ballard of Andover.  As had become typical, charges then dogpiled, and the accused was presumed guilty and harshly examined in the hope they would confess and also implicate other “witches.”

Under duress Anne did provide a very colorful (and inconsistent) confession, saying among other things that she had bewitched a neighbor’s hog to death, that she rode to a large witches’ meeting on a stick, and that she used poppets (small effigies) to injure people.  She spent 21 weeks in Salem’s jail, dying there 3 Dec 1692.  Her son Abraham had to pay £2 10s in expenses in order to retrieve her body.  In 1710 he petitioned the court to clear her name.

Anne’s daughter Mary (Foster) Lacey and granddaughter Mary Lacey, Jr. also confessed, providing many dramatic details concerning local Satanic activities.  Mary Lacey, Sr. was convicted at her trial 17 Sep 1692 but reprieved when the crisis abated.  Mary Lacey Jr. was released on a bond dated 6 Oct 1692 with everything winding down before she could be tried.  Like many others, she eventually left the area, marrying Zerubbabel Kemp in 1704 and settling with him in Groton, Massachusetts, where she was able to join the church in 1707.


By Tim1965 (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (Creative Commons)], via Wikimedia Commons



The McGreevys of Cloondaff, Addergoole, County Mayo

Finding the Irish townland of origin of my husband’s McGreevy ancestors was much easier than I expected it to be.  To confirm it I used a technique that has paid off twice with my Irish research:  Writing to total strangers in Ireland because they have the same surname and live in the same townland that my husband’s ancestor left 140 or so years ago.  There is often some related person still living on the land, and both times I have tried this I have received a quick response from incredibly nice people in Ireland who are my husband’s cousins.  There is nothing like an Irish-accented voice assuring you “Oh yes, you have the right family.”  In my experience the descendants of the people who stayed in Ireland often know far more about their American cousins than their American cousins know about each other.

My husband’s paternal grandmother Claire (McGreevy) Willis died in 1922 in Chinchilla, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania at age 25 from complications of childbirth.  My mother-in-law told me that her parents were Bernard John McGreevy and Mary Ann Ludden.  I researched Bernard in the censuses and other available records, then obtained his 1915 death certificate from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.  (These are now online at Ancestry.com.)    The certificate said his parents were “Bernard McGreevy” and “Katherine Walsh.”

I also ordered his 1888 Lackawanna County marriage license which said his parents were “Bryan McGreevy” and “Catharine McGreevy.”  (These are now free online at the Lackawanna Public Inquiries website.)  At first the Bryan / Bernard discrepancy bothered me but I soon learned that these names are interchangeable in Ireland.

McGreevy, Claire E. 2

Claire (McGreevy) Willis (1896-1922)

Very few Irish records were online in the early 2000s, but at some point the free website familysearch.org or its predecessor put up Irish Civil Registrations of births for the first several years after their inception in 1864.  Bernard was born about 1855 so he did not appear, but his younger siblings Bridget and William did, parents “Bryan McGreevy” and “Catherine Walsh,” registered in the Newport Registration District in Mayo.

There were only two Bryan McGreevys in Griffith’s Valuation, the closest thing to a surviving census of Ireland before 1901, which captured occupiers of property in the mid 19th century.  One lived in County Down, and one lived in the townland of Cloondaff in Mayo.  Cloondaff fell within the Newport Registration District at the time these children were born, so I was pretty sure Bernard was from Cloondaff.

McGreevy, Bryan 1855 Valuation Office Books House Book (2)

Bryan McGreevy in the Valuation Office Books 1855 found on familysearch.org.

At the time there was a website that listed people who had lived in Cloondaff at the time of Griffith’s Valuation (1857 in this area), people who lived there as of the 1901 census, and people who live there today.  I wrote my letter and a week later got an e-mail from the daughter of the gentleman I wrote saying he would call me.  He  soon did, we had a very nice conversation and he told me that Bernard was definitely the son of Bryan and Catherine from Cloondaff.

Annagh Cemetery (2)

Annagh Cemetery.

In 2013 we were finally able to go to Ireland and meet the McGreevys, and not just the ones who still lived in Mayo, but also others who were visiting from England.  They took us to Annagh Cemetery where “a lot of characters are buried,” we had a great time at Matt Molloy’s pub in Westport, and they gave us a stone from the original McGreevy house.  It was the best part of a trip that was pretty magical from beginning to end.

McGreevy Home Exterior

The original McGreevy home.

At one point we were sitting around and I was asking questions, taking notes and getting some good stories about Bryan and Catherine and their children, and I said “They must have gone through some hard times” which made everyone laugh because it was probably the understatement of the year.  They gave me information that helped me figure out all of Bernard’s siblings, most of whom went to the U.S.

Amazingly both Bryan and Catherine lived extremely long lives, and Bernard and his sister Bridget were able to visit them in Ireland in 1908, three years before Bryan’s death in 1911.  Bryan’s death certificate is my favorite of all that I have collected, giving his age as 100 and the cause of death as “old age probably.”

McGreevy, Bryan 1911 Death

Lost at Sea: Henry Oblenis 1797-1818

The song “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie” popped into my head the other day.  Looking for its history I found that the cowboy song evolved from a sailors’ song that began “Oh bury me not in the deep, deep sea.”  And this made me think of my 5th great uncle Henry Oblenis.

Henry was the son of Bernard / Barent Oblenis and his wife Gertrude Sanders.  Bernard was born 1771 in what is now Rockland County, New York, but lived in New York City from young adulthood to middle age.  He was Clerk of the New York City Police from 1797 to 1819.  One of his many duties was to publish newspaper notices regarding police orders, for example that people were not to play fifes and drums late at night, nor to shoot guns off within the city limits.

Oblenis, Bernard 1812 Police Order The_Evening_Post_Mon__Jul_20__1812_

Notice regarding loud music late at night from the New York Evening Post 20 Jul 1812, found on Newspapers.com.

Henry was born in 1797 and baptized at the Dutch Reformed Church in New York City.  He was sent to school in Danbury, Connecticut by September 1808, when the schoolmaster Colonel Elias Starr wrote to Bernard saying that he had already resorted to using the rod to correct Henry, but that Bernard should let him know if he did not approve of corporal punishment.

Today Henry would probably be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.  It’s impossible not to feel sorry for the 11 year old when reading Starr’s letter:  “I believe he has made as rapid progress as any Boy of his age and habits would have made.  To withdraw the attention of youth from the objects which usually attract them is very difficult, and particularly one of Henry’s vivacity and fondness for novelties.  I have subjected him to a rigid course of discipline, not on account of a mischievous disposition or obstinacy, but for his inattention…”

A life at sea must have appealed to this active and curious young man, and in April of 1814 16 year old Henry wrote to his parents from off Sandy Hook, New Jersey:  “I have just time to inform you that we are driving out with a good N.W. wind…fear nothing untill I return…give my love to all the family.”

1814 Apr Henry Oblenis to his parents 1

Oblenis Family Papers , Mss 1090, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, New England Historic Genealogical Society.

In April 1815 Bernard sent a letter to his son via the ship Elizabeth, bound for the Dutch East Indies.  Addressed to Henry, “Seaman on Board the Ship Rufus King, Capt. [Samuel] Chew, Batavia [now Jakarta],” this letter is naturally full of fatherly advice:  “…be careful of your morals and of your health and above all endeavor to cultivate peace with all your companions….”  It chides Henry for his earlier lack of attention to his studies, reminds him of “the principles of religion,” and is signed “I remain your affectionate father B:Oblenis.”


Map of Batavia and surrounding countryside, 1800-1850. By Nationaal Archief [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

In August of 1815 Henry was back at Sandy Hook, and wrote to his father that he expected to sail the next day for Guadeloupe with “a noble crew and as fine a Captain as ever stept on a vessel.”  He asked his father to assure his mother that “she need not be the least uneasy” about him.

In March of 1816 Henry again sailed for Batavia on the Rufus King with Captain Chew.  The 18 year old must have had a sweetheart or at least a crush by this time, since he wrote his father before departing, asking him to remember him to all the girls he knew “and particularly to ——–.”

Sadly he was lost overboard 26 Jun 1816 in a severe storm off the Cape of Good Hope.  As was the custom, most of his possessions were auctioned off on board the ship.  Besides clothing and bedding, he had a chest, a candle, two books, two jack knives and some chocolate.  The captain returned the proceeds, his final pay, and two personal items, a quadrant and razor case, to Bernard and Gertrude, who must have been devastated.

1817 Sep Samuel Chew to Henry sic Oblenis (2)

Oblenis Family Papers , Mss 1090, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, New England Historic Genealogical Society.

Henry’s obituary mentions his perseverance, courage and “the agreeableness of his manners,” saying also that “he was one of those nautical gentlemen who labor to adorn and decorate the stern and masculine character of the sailor with the milder graces and softer embellishments.”

David Hamlin (1774-1833): From Brick Wall to Mayflower Descendant

My ancestor Catherine Livingston Hamlin (1807-1852) married physician John Kipp Vermilyea 20 Nov 1832 at St. John’s Reformed Church in Red Hook, Dutchess County, New York.  None of our family papers gave the names of her parents.  At first I thought she must be related to the prominent Livingston family, but Frank J. Doherty, author of Settlers of the Beekman Patent, told me that many unrelated Dutchess County girls were named after major area landowner Catherine Livingston.

Fortunately John Kipp Vermilyea was a graduate of Yale Medical School, and the Obituary Record of Graduates of Yale University says that his wife Catherine was the daughter of “David Hamlin, who was captain of a line of packet sloops plying between Red Hook Landing (now Tivoli) and New York City.”  I soon found David and his wife Louise listed in Old Gravestones of Dutchess County, New York, among those buried in the town of Red Hook at the Dutch Church at Madalin, which is also known as the Old Red Church.

Dutch Church at Madalin

The Dutch Church at Madalin, which was undergoing restoration when I visited.

I obtained David’s will dated 16 Oct 1833, which mentions “my daughter Catherine L. the wife of John Vermilyea.”  It also mentions his daughter Frances Harriet (Hamlin) Flagler, to whom he left “the likeness of myself and her mother.”  Googling “portrait of David Hamlin” in 2009 brought up a pair of paintings that had recently come up for auction “thought to be David Hamlin and Lois Davis Hamlin” and attributed to the noted itinerant portrait painter Ammi Phillips.

At first I wondered if Lois Davis was a different person from the Louise in the graveyard,  but records for her and her children seem to use either of these names, and I have since found other women in my family who went by both of these names, so I don’t think that is a problem.

In 2011 I found a daguerreotype of the painting of David at my mother’s house.  I recognized it instantly but if I had not already seen the original I would never have known who it was.

Hamlin, David

Daguerreotype I found at my Mom’s house, taken of a portrait of David Hamlin which has been attributed to Ammi Phillips.  This image is in reverse.

David lived in the town of Rhinebeck by 1800, when he appears in the census with a female 16-25 (presumably Lois / Louise) and two boys under 10.  (The part of Rhinebeck in which he lived was set off as the town of Red Hook in 1812.) He is described as an inn holder in the 1801 deed to property at Red Hook Landing that he purchased from Peter Cantine. David’s packet sloops transported “country produce” including salted meat, apples, potatoes, grain and butter to the city, and also ferried passengers up and down the Hudson.


Sloop on the Hudson

But where was David before he showed up in Red Hook, and who were his parents?  I gradually eliminated other contemporary David Hamlins except one who was the closest fit in age, born 7 Aug 1774 in Salisbury, Litchfield County, Connecticut to a David and Silence Hamlin.  This date was only one month off from the age given on his gravestone according to Old Gravestones:  59 years 3 months.  When we were able to visit the Old Red Church I was really happy to see that the marker actually says 59 years and 4 months, which aligns perfectly with the Salisbury birth.

Hamlin, David 1833

Another interesting thing at the cemetery is a stone in the middle of all the Hamlin family markers carved only with the letters D. and S.  David and Silence Hamlin moved to Great Barrington, Mass. about 1806, and are buried at the Mahaiwe Cemetery there, but perhaps David Junior erected this simple monument to his parents.   David Hamlin Sr. is a proven descendant of Mayflower passenger John Howland.

Hamlin, D. S.

When I determined that Lois / Louise Davis was the daughter of Jacobus Davis and Eunice Bunce of Salisbury, Conn. I became fairly certain that David of Red Hook was the son of David and Silence of Salisbury.  Jacobus was originally from Ulster County, New York and the Bunces are an old Connecticut family.  Lois was baptized 1777 at the Old Dutch Church in Kingston, Ulster County, N.Y., the daughter of “Jacobus Davids” and “Junus Bons” with sponsors “Hansje Ostronder and his wife Maria” as well as her aunt “Lois Bons.”

Jacobus and Eunice had moved to Litchfield County, Conn. by 1787 and are buried at Salisbury Center Cemetery.  I have not been able to find David and Lois’s marriage record, but I believe they must have known each other in Salisbury and probably married there about 1795, then moved about 31 miles to the west to take advantage of the opportunities on the Hudson River.

The clincher is that “David Hamlin of Red Hook” / “David Hamlin Jr.” was a co-administrator of the estate of Barnabus Hamlin of Greene County, N.Y. in 1813–if David was the son of David and Silence, Barnabus would be his younger brother born in Salisbury in 1780.

On top of all this circumstantial evidence, my mother and my aunt are showing up as 4th to 6th and 5th to 8th cousin AncestryDNA matches with other descendants of Eleazer Hamlin and Sarah Sears, the parents of David Hamlin, Sr.  My main genealogical goals this year were to start this blog and to complete my Mayflower Society application and I think I am ready to finish it.  If my application is accepted, I will be the first person to join based on David and Silence Hamlin.

Sheffield Steel: Robert Marsden (1755-1834)

Once I realized that the Alice Marsden baptized in 1789 at Queen Street Independent Chapel in Sheffield, Yorkshire was the same Alice Marsden who married Wakefield wine merchant Robert Whitworth in 1815, I had to wonder who were her parents, Robert and Hannah Marsden?  As a secondary resource I had the book Genealogical Memoirs of the Family of Marsden, which is reliable on later 19th century branches of the family but which has proven to have mixed up Robert and Hannah’s children, and admits uncertainty about Hannah’s surname with a question mark.  It may be right about Robert and his parents but it may very well not be.

This book says that Robert was “bapt. at Baslow 8 Oct 1749 (3rd. son of Robt. and Elizth. of Oxclose) went to Sheffield and learned the business of a cutler and merchant…Although brought up a churchman he became a Congregationalist, and in 1794 was elected one of the first four deacons of Queen St. Chapel, Sheffield.  He married Hannah (or Johannah) Smith (?), by whom he had issue, 2 sons and 3 daughters.  He died on the 12 Aug 1834, aged 84 years, and she died 10 Jul 1827, aged 76.  Both he and his wife were buried in the graveyard attached to Queen St. Chapel Sheffield.”

I was hoping to find informative gravestones for Robert and Hannah, but a representative of the Sheffield Local Studies Library told me that all of the gravestones from Queen Street Chapel were removed in 1970 and used for rubble, which was a little upsetting.  At least the ones that were legible at that time were transcribed, but none of the legible stones were for anyone with the surname Marsden.  The formerly very polluted air in Sheffield may have caused gravestones to deteriorate rapidly.

Robert’s death notice in the Sheffield Independent 16 Aug 1834 confirms the death date given in the Memoirs and his position as deacon though not his age:  “At Pitsmoor, on Tuesday last, in the 80th year of his age [age 79], Mr. Rt. Marsden, razor smith.  Mr. Marsden was the last survivor of the first deacons chosen by the independent church assembling in Queen-street chapel.”  If his death notice is correct, Robert was born about 1755, not 1749.  There was a Robert Marsden baptized 8 Oct 1749 at Baslow in Derbyshire to parents Robert and Elizabeth, but he may have been born 6 years too early.

Both Robert and Hannah’s deaths are confirmed in the records of Queen Street Chapel, which I viewed on microfilm at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, though Hannah’s record lists her as “Joanna” and says only “July 1827”.  Another membership record lists her as Hannah and she seems to have used both names.


Marsden, Robert and Joanna 1562804 Deaths 2

Robert and Hannah/Joanna Marsden on the list of members of Queen Street Chapel with their death dates, from microfilm 1562804 at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

Unless he learned his trade at home Robert must have been apprenticed to a master cutler and/or razor smith, probably in greater Sheffield, an area otherwise known as Hallamshire.  The most typical age for a boy to be apprenticed would be about 14.  Seven or so years later he would be finished, age 21, and able to earn a living.


Greater Sheffield in 1832.  By Robert Dawson – Originally from “Plans of the Cities and Boroughs of England and Wales”, published for the Boundaries Act of 1832. Scanned by uploader JeremyA.

There are only two apprentices named Robert Marsden listed in the History of the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire who would have been about the right age, born between say 1745 and 1760.  One was apprenticed in 1861 and could be the boy baptized in Baslow, who would have been about 12.  This boy’s father was a deceased husbandman also named Robert, and an adult Robert Marsden was buried at Baslow 1 Jan 1758.  No address is given for this apprentice which means he was probably then living in Sheffield proper, not in Baslow, but he could have moved.

The other Robert was apprenticed 1769, his father being William Marsden, a tilter (meaning a tilt hammer operator, probably forging scythe blades) living at Owlerton.  He is almost certainly the Robert Marsden baptized 16 Mar 1755 at Bradfield St. Nicholas, son of William Marsden who resides at “Upper-tilt,” in which case his master Sleigh Rowland would have been his older sister’s husband.  This Robert’s age is a match with the obituary above, and he would have finished his apprenticeship in 1776, just in time to marry and have a daughter Mary in 1777 who would grow up to marry the Protestant Dissenting Minister Benjamin Rayson, who would be a witness at my ancestor Alice Marsden’s wedding.


18th century tilt hammer at Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet in Sheffield.  The original uploader was Wikityke at English Wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 I don’t have enough evidence to prove that cutler and razor maker Robert Marsden was the son of tilter William Marsden, but I’m currently leaning toward this theory.