Talk about snail mail…

In September of last year I sent a letter to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, Vermont regarding a marriage between a Samuel Johnson and Elizabeth Fox. The reason for the request was I wanted to find out if this Samuel was a brother of Almyra Johnson Brooks.

Well, nine months later I finally got a response. Samuel Johnson was the son of John Johnson and Margaret Fing. So, no he is not Almyra’s brother. Now he has been relegated to a possible cousin.

Great, this means I have to add another line of research to my Johnson quest, hopefully it won’t lead to another brick wall.

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Crazy Esther…

Bedlam

Esther Newell was dealt a double whammy in the world of history and genealogy. She was a women and she was crazy. Both of these issues made her doubly sure of not being relevant when it came to her descendants.

One can tell how irrelevant she was by the dismissive mentions made of her in biographies about her husband, Asa Lyon.

Esther was from Charlotte, Chittendon County, Vermont. She is said to have been born about 1762, although I have found no records that confirm this yet. She was the daughter of Rev. Abel Newell (a 1751 Yale graduate) and Abigail Smith (daughter of John Smith).1 She married Asa Lyon in 1796. They probably met in South Hero, Vermont, as he was employed there by 1794.

Asa was a 1790 Dartmouth graduate. He spent many years as a pastor of the Congregational Church in South Hero. Among his other accomplishments he was a member of Congress from 1815-1817 and served 13 years in the Vermont Legislature. He was also a Judge of Grand Isle County. Apparently he was regarded by many of his peers as one of the most talented men in the State.2

I have found many mentions of him in various books published about the history of Vermont and South Hero.  A great many accolades are heaped on him, but the only thing ever mentioned about his wife Esther, who birthed his children, is she was crazy.

In researching the history of the insane in the later 1700s to early 1800s, I found out that there were only two institutions built around that time period in America, one in Virginia the other in New England. But from what I have been able to glean from various published biographies, Asa kept his wife at home in his own care. There weren’t really any other options at the time. And even if he could put her in an insane asylum, she wouldn’t have been any better off. The treatment of the insane was pretty barbaric at the time. The reason for the institutions in the first place, was merely a place to put the crazy people who were dangerous, so they wouldn’t interfere with the ‘sane’ people out in the world. Those deemed insane, but harmless, were left to their own devices. They ended up beggars, the homeless of their time.

So poor Esther is treated with distain. It wasn’t like she had any choice in the matter when it came to being crazy, and we have no idea what kind of crazy she was. But she has been pretty much ignored even by those researching the Lyon family. Meanwhile her husband has had accolades piled on him by his peers, I am sure they were reasonable. Although one does get tired of the poor suffering husband routine. After all I do believe the vows were, ‘until death do us part’. He was merely doing his duty.

I have to say that for me it is refreshing to have an ancestress who is a bit more interesting than the run of the mill housewife, which is 100% of the lot. I greatly wish more of them had broken out of the mould, even a little bit.  Although I guess when I think about it, maybe they didn’t write a great novel or march for suffrage, but they did travel great distances across this country through the wilderness and help to carve out lives for their family. They crossed oceans in small ships leaving all they knew behind, in some cases not even speaking the language of the country they moved to, and suffered hardships beyond my comprehension or experience.

I guess more of them must have been just a little bit crazy.

1 New England Families, Genealogical and Memorial: A Record of the Achievements of Her People in the Making
of Commonwealths and the Founding of a Nation, Volume 1: p300

2 Bibliography of Vermont, p157

A little corner shop

Brooks’ former store, King Street is the one going off to the left in the picture, Pine Street is the one going off to the right.

Sometime around 1855 Almira and John Brooks headed on over to Burlington, Vermont to live. At this time I am not sure exactly when the Brooks started their store in Burlington, but I do know that by 1868 they were living and working at this address which was called ‘corner of King and Pine’ it didn’t have an exact address until sometime between 1872-1882. In this picture it is currently clad in hideous vinyl. It would be nice to see it in its original dress. According to records in 1890 Almira is the owner of the building, and John is still alive. He didn’t pass until 1898. So now the question is why is she the owner of the building and not both of them. Hmmm. Inheritance? She also owed the building next door at 176/178 Pine Street. Which I believe they lived in or used as a home at one time  or another.

The Historic Burlington: University of Vermont website describes the house as:

“This 2 1/2 story, wood frame building, which is clad in vinyl siding and has a pyramidal, slate-clad roof and a 2-story octagonal oriel on its northwest corner, was probably built between 1877 and 1886, although it may be of an earlier date.”

The family actually lived at 79/81 King Street for a year or two, according to city directories. Which is part of the building, see the door off towards the left with the small awning. According to the Historic Burlington: University of Vermont website a birdseye view of Burlington in 1877, apparently, clearly shows no buildings at that location, and the ‘massing’ of the 79/81 King Street building make it doubtful that is was built in the 1860s. I am not sure what we can say about that other than land records would likely clear the matter up along with tax rolls. The address would be considered 174 Pine Street if one numbered it from that side of the streets.

The building was used as a commercial business for a large portion of its life, the lower part being used as a shop of some kind or other, the top being used as apartment rentals. It wasn’t until sometime after the 1970s that the bottom was boarded up.

You can still see the building using google street view. Not very pretty, but it is one of the few remaining older buildings in the town.

I even have an update.

In looking over the website mentioned above, I found two plat maps that have the home listed on them. Which is curious because according to the University’s research the building isn’t there in the 1877 birdseye view map. That may be so, but it shows up on these two:

This plat is from 1853. The family is probably not living here at the time, but as you can see the building is there on the corner of King and Pine.

This map is from 1869. The family is definitely there now, as can be plainly seen by the J. Brooks entry on the map.

The building as it looked in 1933 just barely in the picture on the left edge of image.

Who doesn’t like a famous tavern

While we can revel in the actions of William Shepard during the Revolutionary War, he is not the only ancestor of ours who played a major part in our freedom from British rule. There are quite a few of these ancestors on our Shaw side of the family. Today I am going to talk about Captain Stephen Fay my 7x great grandfather.

The Fay family was originally from Hardwick, Massachusetts. In 1766 they removed to Bennington, Vermont where Stephen, and his wife Ruth (Child), purchased a hostelry/tavern, Green Mountain House, in a town that was currently at the heart of political action in Vermont.

Green Mountain House, more famously known as the Catamount Tavern. (Image found on Wikipedia.)

The tavern also became known as the ‘Catamount Tavern’ because of the stuffed ‘catamount’ (a type of wild cat), that was mounted on the signpost. The teeth of which were bared in the direction of the state of New York. This teeth baring symbol expressed his sentiments regarding New York’s attempts to take over land in Vermont. One of their neighbors was Ethan Allen. Ethan and his Green Mountain Boys used the tavern as the meeting place to plan their opposition to the ‘Yorkers’ who were coming to the area and setting up homesteads. Stephen Fay and his son Jonas were appointed the official agents of the New Hampshire claimants who opposed New York’s highhanded actions. They headed to New York to meet with the Governor and try to settle matters.

The ‘Council of Safety’ which was responsible for the citizens well being during the Revolutionary War met many a night here. This was where they planned and carried out the successful battle of Bennington on the 16th of August 1777. A victory which resulted in British General Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga.

Stephen and Ruth had 10 children some went on to become famous others not so much. It must have been quite a time to see.

Stephen passed way in 1781, Ruth died in 1833.

Is there a Doctor in the house…

In the past month or so, I posted a few pictures I found on Ancestry’s site that were uploaded by users. They were of Franklin Robinson and his wife Susan Landon, both of Grand Isle, Vermont. Well I have never done any research on Franklin, and I don’t have any excuse or reason for that, it just never happened.

So over the holidays, and my lovely two weeks off, I decided to focus on researching Franklin’s side of the family. In my records the information I had on Franklin was from over 10 years ago and mostly gleaned from our cousin who put together the Shaw family book. Not much was said about Franklin, just his parents being listed as Abijah Hall and Beulah H. Billings.
My first thought was why on earth is his father listed as HALL when he is a ROBINSON. I have to admit that is was probably just an error in data entry on someone’s part and as I was just entering the data mindlessly, I didn’t really analyze it at the time.
I do know that Beulah married Abijah in 1796 when Franklin was about 4-5 years of age and he wasn’t adopted by Abijah because he went by ROBINSON his whole life. Local histories indicate he was a descendant of the Robinson’s of Bennington County, Vermont, but there are, as of yet, no records that tell just which ROBINSON that was. So, for now, his father is still a mystery.
His mother on the other hand was the daughter of a BILLINGS and a FAY, and there was much information on her and her family to be found online and in books. And it is through the FAY line that we run into Richard PALGRAVE (apparently an official descendant of Charlemagne, but that’s not important now).
Richard was born about 1593. He arrived in Charletown by 1629, which we know because his signature on a document signed by all the inhabitants of the town at that time is quite clear, it shows up third in the list:

Signature of Richard Palgrave

He is the first doctor I have come across in my research on our ancestors and will probably be the only one. The author George A. Moriarty wrote that “[h]e was a quiet man who minded his own business, got into no trouble, and buried himself in his profession.” According to his inventory of property after his death in 1651 he was worth £313, which made him well to do. The quality of his signature also indicates a good education.

His daughter Mary married Roger WELLINGTON. Their granddaughter married into the FAY family.
Richard’s other claim to fame is also being the ancestor of the Bushes. Our second link as cousins – shudder.

Say Cheese…

Ancestry.com lets folks who are members upload their family pictures. Which is wonderful for those distant cousins who don’t have those images in their family’s collections. Strangely, many, not all, of those same people have a bizarre notion of ownership of these same images – well the ones that are very old anyway.

I am not one of those people. I have uploaded every image of our ancestors that our family has in our possession to flickr for anyone to view and download for themselves, all high quality and large. These images are not for hoarding in our closet. After all genealogy is about sharing.

The two images you see below I found at Ancestry. They are said to be of our ancestors Franklin Robinson and Susan Landon Robinson, their daughter Olive Robinson married Oscar Ebenezer Hatch.

Susan Landon married Franklin Robinson September 16, 1817  in South Hero, Grand Isle County, Vermont. This image was probably taken not long before her death in 1862. Franklin died in 1885.

Directories are the new census…

There are some names in genealogical research that are hair-pulling nightmares. Johnson is one of them. As is Smith, John, Brooks all of which we are blessed with. In this case I am researching Almyra Johnson, who married John Brooks, and her parents Samuel and Catherine in Albany, New York.

I have had no luck whatsoever in finding any of Almyra’s family in Albany County. I have tried many databases in some cases many times over, and had zero luck over the years. So I decided to try a new tact. Directories.

My first thought in my new line of research was why did the Brooks family move to Vermont in the 1850s. What was the draw? Did Almyra have family there? So I proceeded to check the Albany directories first just in case Samuel and Catherine show up. Needless to say it was a fruitless endeavor, as I can’t tell if any Samuel or Catherine listed is actually related to Almyra because none of the addresses appeared to clear the matter up. So I moved my efforts to Burlington, Vermont directories.

As I have already done the research on the Brooks in the directories in Vermont, I was comparing any Johnsons found to the same address or close. I hit pay dirt. I found a Samuel Johnson living at the same address as Almyra and John. A check of the census records about the same time period told me that this was most likely a brother of Almyras, due to his age in the census record. Samuel, jr worked with the railroad in town and there are a couple of other Johnsons working at the same railroad company living in Burlington, but at different addresses. Most likely all related. I have not found her parents yet, but the research is still young and I don’t have access to some of the records I need to continue with the leads. Just another item to put on the SLC research list.

I continued to research Samuel and his family in the hopes of finding something else of interest or a more tangible link, but so far nothing has turned up. It appears that he moved his family to Springfield, Massachusetts. Just a few miles down the road from our Shepard ancestors. They pretty much stayed there until they died.

It was a nice feeling to finally find some family for Almyra, hopefully future research will complete the picture for her.