Monday, July 24, 2017

Finding the parents of Kate Jarecki Rippe

Kate Jarecki Rippe was my great great grandmother, my mother's father's mother's mother.  See below for a chart showing the relationship. For a while, she was also a dead end for me, as I was unable to track her prior to her marriage to Louis Rippe. But a few months ago, I found a small clue that helped me uncover the rest of my Jarecki family.

[Note:  Throughout the following, I will spell Kate's maiden name, "Jarecki." A variety of alternate spellings appear in documents, most commonly "Jarecky" or "Jareckie." But unless I am quoting a document, I'll stick with just one spelling to avoid confusion.]


Based on family lore and my initial research, here's what I knew about Kate Jarecki.

Kate Jarecki was a first generation American. She was born in New York, probably in the early 1850s. Her parents were Eastern European Jews from somewhere in present-day Germany or Poland.

Kate Jarecki married my great great-grandfather, Louis Rippe in 1873 in New York City. Louis Rippe was an immigrant from Kraków, Austria. (Today Kraków is part of Poland.) He was a widower and had one son by his previous wife.

Obituary for Kate Rippe. The Bee (Danville,
Virginia), March 26, 1923, p. 1.
According to family tradition, Kate's family was well-off. A letter from my great-aunt, Harriet Elters Wilkins says, "Grandma Kate's... family rode through Central Park, NY, in their own shiny, horse-drawn carriage. Their large financial contributions supported Montifiore [sic] and Mt. Sinai Hospitals." Similar stories say that Kate's family disapproved of her marriage to a new immigrant of lesser means.

Kate and Louis had three children, Benjamin, Hulda (my great-grandmother), and Joshua. Louis spent most of his life working as a cigar maker. The family lived at a variety of addresses throughout Manhattan, moving every few years.

Louis Rippe died in 1910. Soon afterwards, Kate moved to Danville, Virginia to live with her eldest son, Ben Rippe, who ran a successful women's clothing store. (That store, Rippe's, is still in business today and is still managed by the Rippe family.) She died there on March 25, 1923.

Looking for Kate Jarecki's Parents

Based on this initial information, the obvious first step in looking for Kate Jarecki's parents was to try to find her in the census prior to her marriage to Louis Rippe.  And here ran into a problem, as I found two different candidates of roughly the same age living in Manhattan in the 1860 and 1870 censuses.

Here are the two candidate households from the 1860 census:
Two household from the 1860 U.S. Federal Census that could be include great-great-grandmother, Kate Jarecki
This suggests that Kate Jarecki's father was either Lewis Jarecki or Morris Jarecki.

The next step was to see if vital records would help in identifying the correct family. But municipal record searches in New York did not provide birth or marriage information. (Although birth records go back to 1847, many home births went unreported.) Kate Rippe's death certificate only lists her father's surname. Likewise an obituary from the Danville Bee did not name her parents.

At this point, the logical thing to do would be to research both families in the hopes of turning up some record that would clarify matters. And as we'll see, that would have eventually uncovered the desired information. This task had been sitting on my "to do" list for a while when an unexpected clue turned up.

A Hint from Grandpa

A few months ago, I re-organizing some (non-genealogical) correspondence and came across an old letter from my maternal grandfather, Murray Elters. He was a grandson of Kate Jarecki.  The letter, postmarked March 2, 1978, appears to be his response to a set of questions I had sent him as part of a school assignment to learn about my family. It's not clear from the context if the assignment was simply about family or the goal was to learn about immigrant ancestors.  

Grandpa's reply includes some brief information about his parents and extended family. Regarding the Jareckis he said, "They were wealthy but when she married an immigrant from Austria she was disowned. When I was in dental school I visited Dr. Jarecki a prominent dentist at that time. He was an old man who only treated the 'carriage trade.'"

This revived my interest in the question of Kate Jarecki's parentage. If I could find Dr. Jarecki, maybe I could trace him back to one of the candidate families.  Grandpa graduated from dental school in 1918. So I searched the 1910 and 1920 censuses for Jarecki's in New York and quickly turned up a dentist named William Jarecki on the upper west side of Manhattan. His age (66 in the 1920 census) was consistent with the William Jarecki who appears in the 1860 household of Morris Jarecki.

Further research on the Morris Jarecki family eventually led me to tbe copy of his will recorded at probate.  The brief document, dated August 28, 1878, includes the following distribution of his money:
From the 1,000 One Thousand dollars coming to my heirs according to the laws of Lebanon Lodge & the laws of the Freesons of Israel I hereby give to my wife Rosa Jarecky five hundred dollars and the rest of the five hundred dollars and the money which should at the time of my death be deposited at the Bleeker Street Savings Bank or any other bank or money coming to me from other societies shall be divided into equal parts among my children as follows, Marx, Sarah Jarecky, Fanny Hart, Kate Rippe, William Jarecky, Emma Jarecky, Charles Jarecky & Nelly Jarecky, to each and every one an equal portion.
The mention of Kate Rippe as one of his daughters confirms that Morris Jarecki was the father of Kate Jarecki Rippe, and thus that he was my 3x great grandfather.

The will also belies my grandfather's account of the Jareckis disowning their daughter. Whatever ill will they may have had about her marrying Louis Rippe, she received an equal share of her father's estate.

A bit more digging turned up the name of Kate's mother on the death certificate of Kate's sister, Sarah Jarecki. It lists her parents (and thus Kate's) as Morris Jareckie and Hannah Brett, both born in Germany.

Following up on these discoveries, I researched the other children of Morris Jarecki and their descendants.  I found lots of interesting people, including a child piano prodigy, a number of other artists, a physician, an olympic biathlete, and a Denver politician. But those stories will have to wait for future posts.
This chart shows the relationships of the people discussed in this post. Kate Jarecki Rippe is marked with a heavy outline.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A slave owner in my family

An excerpt from the will of Samuel Arnold of East Haddam, Connecticut, "Imprimis, I give and bequeath unto my Beloved wife Abigal one third part of my movable Estate (excepting my negro slaves) to her, her heirs and assigns forever..."

If you had asked me a year ago whether any of my ancestors owned slaves, I would have said, "I doubt it."  Before the Civil War, all of my American ancestors lived in New England and New York. I know that slavery existed in those parts of the country as well as in the South. But there were far fewer enslaved people in the North.  So what were the odds that one of my ancestors would own slaves?

Then I found my 7th great-uncle, Samuel Arnold of East Haddam, Connecticut. Or, to be more precise, I discovered his will. In that will (excerpted above), Samuel Arnold named nine different "negro slaves," and specified which of them he was leaving to each of his children. So I certainly have at least one relative who owned slaves, or more if we count his heirs.

Samuel Arnold was my 7th grand uncle
I always find wills and probate records interesting. This one is particularly interesting since it is from a time (1739), when it is rare to find any information about a relative other than the basic vital statistics about their birth, marriage, death, and children.

Obviously, what jumped out at me about Samuel Arnold's will was the slaves. But as often happens, a little bit of information leads to even more questions. The will describes relationships among a few of the slaves, (e.g., "Prince, ye 5th son of my eldest man servant named Prince and of Cate his wife.") Were the other slaves also related to Prince and Cate? Since Prince was their fifth son, they had at least four other sons, and the will names exactly four other male slaves—Sampson, Ceaser [sic], Japhet, and Peter. Were they the older sons of Prince and Cate? The other named slaves are Lois and Rose. Were they then the daughters of Prince and Cate?

I also wonder what happened to these enslaved people after Samuel Arnold's death. His will distributes them among his seven children. But the inventory of his estate does not include the slaves! The will is dated November 3, 1738, Samuel Arnold died on March 30, 1739, and the inventory was taken April 27, 1739. Did Samuel Arnold sell his slaves between those dates? Did he free them? Or did he give the slaves to his children prior to his death? And other than Samuel Arnold's will I have found no information about Prince and Cate and their family. A few later probate records mention slaves with the same names. For example the will of John Stocking of Middletown, Connecticut, dated December 2, 1746, leaves his "negro girl Rose" to his mother. But there is no way to tell if this is the same Rose that Samuel Arnold left to his son Josiah.

I am also curious about the younger slave named Prince.  Most of the bequests in Samuel Arnold's will are quite simple. (E.g., "I give unto my son Enoch Arnold... my negro man servant called Ceaser.") But he leaves much more elaborate instructions about Prince:
"I give to my son Samuel Arnold... my negro man servant named Prince, ye 5th son of my eldest man servant named Prince and of Cate his wife, and also my will is that the aforesaid servant shall at my decease be in the hands of my executors and by them to be put in the hands of my son Samuel if they shall judge it best for him to have the sd. servant; but if my sd. executors shall judge it best to sell the sd. servant and my sd. son to have ye money, then my will is that my executors shall sell my sd. servant in the following manner, viz.: to such suitable master as will give most for my sd. servant, and to pay £10 a year annually until the payment be out; and also my will is that my sd. son shall have the money according to the foregoing proposal of payment, provided my sd. servant shall not be sold to any master living out of this town."
Why was Prince singled out to be "in the hands of" Samuel Arnold's executors at his decease? Why might those executors judge it best to sell Prince rather than leave him to the younger Samuel Arnold? Does this reflect something about Prince or the younger Samuel? The latter was not a juvenile. He graduated from Yale College in 1724 and was likely in his 30s when his father wrote this will.

Samuel Arnold was a distant uncle. I don't know if any of my direct ancestors also owned slaves. Since Samuel Arnold did, it seems possible is close relatives did as well. The likely candidates on my Arnold line would be Joseph Arnold (my 7th great-grandfather and Samuel's father), John Arnold (my 6th great-grandfather and Samuel's brother) or Gideon Arnold (my 5th great grandfather and Samuel's nephew).  They all lived in Haddam, Connecticut, across the Connecticut River from East Haddam, where Samuel settled. Joseph Arnold died intestate in 1691; the inventory of his estate does not include any slaves. I have not (yet?) found any probate records for John or Gideon Arnold. So for the time being, this question remains a mystery.

In the absence of concrete information about my direct ancestors, I decided to read up a little on slavery in early Connecticut. How typical (or not) was Samuel Arnold? Were there many enslaved people in Haddam and East Haddam? Who owned slaves in colonial Connecticut and why? Did slavery contribute to the economy?  I.e., did enslaved people increase production enough to balance out the costs of feeding and supporting them, and if so were they a less expensive source of labor than free laborers?  Or was owning slaves a novelty or status symbol? And how did Connecticut transition from allowing slavery in the mid-18th century to being a free state a century later on the eve of the Civil War?

Samuel Arnold's estate was valued at £441, making him well-off, but not among the wealthy elite of Connecticut. This makes his situation rather unusual. In a survey of estate inventories from eighteenth century Connecticut, only 3% of estates valued at less than £500 included slaves. And those estates typically included only one or two slaves. So Samuel Arnold was among that 3% and was something of a rarity in having nine slaves.

While some farmers, like Samuel Arnold, owned slaves, the use of enslaved labor was more common among craftsmen, merchants, and the wealthy.  Large-scale farmers and artisans might have had economic motives for using enslaved labor, needing a full-time worker to perform a particularly arduous or dangerous job. But it appears that many slaves were used for menial chores or as valets and maids, suggesting that a large portion of enslaved labor did not contribute to the economy.

In the early part of the eighteenth century, there was little moral objection to slavery. It was common for ministers in Connecticut to own slaves, just as it was for doctors, military officers, and other successful professionals. While this attitude was shared throughout the early colonies, it seems slavery was more popular in Connecticut than in its neighbors. As a result, Connecticut was relatively slow in eliminating the practice.

The 1790 census enumerated 2,764 slaves in Connecticut, accounting for 1.16% of the population. While this was more slaves than the combined total for the rest of the New England states, it was also quite small compared to the southern states; South Carolina had 107,094 slaves, representing 43% of its population.

By 1790, Connecticut had already started on the road to abolition. In 1784, the legislature enacted gradual emancipation, freeing all enslaved people when they reached age 25. A 1797 law lowered this age to 21. These laws meant that slavery would slowly decline in Connecticut, but they also condemned those where were enslaved and over 25 to live out their lives in servitude.

Connecticut did not officially outlaw slavery until 1848, making it the last New England state to do so.  But by that time gradual emancipation had greatly reduced the enslaved population. In 1840, there were only 54 slaves in Connecticut.

Notes on Sources

I originally found Samuel Arnold's will in Manwaring's collection of Connecticut Probate records:
Charles William Manwaring (ed.), A Digest of the Early Connecticut Probate Records, Vol III, Hartford District, 1729–1750 (R.S. Peck & Co., Hartford, Conn., 1906), pp. 219–220. 
This three volume set was my first foray into estate records, and contains probate records for many of my ancestors Hartford and Haddam Connecticut. All three volumes are available and searchable at John Stocking's will is on pages 660–661 of the third volume.

I subsequently found the images of the original probate papers when introduced their massive collection of Connecticut Wills and Probate Records. In addition to providing the text from the will pictured at the top of the page, this also provided a copy of Samuel Arnold's estate inventory.
Connecticut, Wills and Probate Records, 1609–1999, online index and images,, Hartford Probate district: Probate Packets, Antrim-Ayrault, M, 1641–1880: images 529–541 of 1517; 
The dates of Samuel Arnold's will and estate inventory are from his probate records. I found the date of his death in the Barbour Collection of Connecticut Town Records.
Connecticut Town Death Records, pre-1870 (Barbour Collection), online index and images,, East Haddam Vital Records 1743–1857: image 14 of 258.
A brief biography of the younger Samuel Arnold appears in a collection of biographical sketches of early graduates of Yale College. It states that he was baptized on October 8, 1704 in East Haddam, making him at least 34 years old when his father's will was written.
Franklin Bowditch Dexter, Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College with Annals of the College History, October, 1701—May, 1745 (Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1885), pp. 292–3. Available via
Statistics about eighteenth century slavery in Connecticut were taken from:
Jackson Turner Main, Society and Economy in Colonial Connecticut (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1985).
This book presents a fascinating picture of many aspects of colonial life in Connecticut. The author collected information from estate inventories from all parts of Connecticut. Using this information, he analyzed many aspects of economic and material life in the colony. The statistics about slavery are just a small part of this work. Given the methodology, it seemed fitting to use this book in researching a question triggered by Samuel Arnold's own will and estate inventory.

Data on the enumeration of slaves in the 1790 census was provided by the Wikipedia article on that census.

The Connecticut History web site provides an excellent overview of gradual emancipation.

Friday, July 7, 2017

A distant connection to the Battle of Gettysburg

On a recent vacation, we visited Gettysburg National Military Park. In the visitor's center, there was a computer kiosk where you could look up relatives who may have served at Gettysburg—a perfect toy for a genealogist and computer nerd! Unfortunately it wasn't of much use to me; none of my direct ancestors served in the Civil War.  A number of distant cousins served, and a couple died in the war. So far as I know, however, none of them were at Gettysburg. But Gettysburg is famous for more than the battle. It was also the site of President Lincoln's famous address at the dedication of the Soldiers' Cemetery at the battle site. And that provides a tenuous family connection to Gettysburg.

Alfred Van Dyke Arnold Obituary.

My 3rd great uncle, Charles Arnold, lived in Springfield, Illinois for many years during the mid- and late 1800s. I never really gave any thought to the fact that Abraham Lincoln also lived in Springfield for part of this time until I found the obituary for one of Charles Arnold's sons, Alfred Van Dyke Arnold. The article states that he "was taught to swim by Abraham Lincoln" and "was one of President Lincoln's pupils and was a playmate of the emancipator's son, Robert Lincoln."

I am a natural skeptic, so I immediately wondered if perhaps everybody who had lived in Springfield in the 1850s had some story about how they had known Lincoln, with most of them being fabrications.  But there is more evidence to support the idea that the Arnold and Lincoln families knew each other.

In researching Charles Arnold, I found him listed in several Springfield town directories. The oldest of these was from 1857–58. It lists "Arnold Charles, gentleman" living at the southeast corner of 8th and Jackson. Returning to that directory, I looked up Abraham Lincoln and found "Lincoln Abraham, lawyer" living at the northeast corner of 8th and Jackson.  In other words, Charles Arnold lived across the street from the future president.

Living across the street it seems more probable that the two families would have known each other, especially since they had boys of similar age.  Lincoln's son Robert was born August 1, 1843. Alfred Arnold was born in May of 1842.

So that's my connection to the Battle of Gettysburg. My first cousin, three times removed was taught to swim by Abraham Lincoln. President Lincoln visited Gettysburg several months after the battle and delivered the Gettysburg Address. It's almost as if I was there!

Charles Arnold was my 3rd great uncle. His son, Alfred Arnold, was my 1st cousin three times removed. The heavy lines in this figure show the relationship between us.


Alfred Arnold's obituary: "Arnold, Once Rural Carrier Here, Dies in California," The Illinois State Journal (Springfield, Illinois), June 13, 1919, p. 6; via

Springfield Directory: "Springfield City Directory, for 1857---'58" (B. Winters & Co., Springfield, Ill.,  1857); via "U.S. City Directories, 1822–1995" (Illinois > Springfield > 1857 > Springfield City Directory, 1857-58), online index and images, Charles Arnold listed on p. 34 (image 41 of 186). Abraham Lincoln listed on p. 64 (image 91 of 186).

Alfred Arnold's birthdate as listed in 1900 United States Federal Census for Springfield, Sangamon County, Illinois.

Robert Lincoln's birthdate from Wikipedia (, citing Jason Emerson, Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln, Southern Illinois University Press (2012).

Monday, June 26, 2017

Abraham Elters and the Statue of Liberty

Fireworks celebrating the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty. Engraving based on a sketch by Charles Graham. Originally published in the Illustrated London News. Republished in The New York Times on the 125th anniversary of the event.

On September 11, 1886, the S.S. Polynesia sailed into New York harbor after a sixteen day voyage from Hamburg, Germany. On board were roughly 200 passengers, including my great-grandfather, Abraham Elters.  Just eighteen years old, he had traveled over four thousand miles by himself from his home town of Krakow in Austria. (Today Krakow is part of Poland.) Although he had traveled by alone, he wasn't completely on his own in New York. He found a home with his step-mother's brother, Louis Rippe, who had arrived in the city twenty years earlier. Abraham Elters soon found a job, and started saving money. By 1890, the rest of his family was able to join him in New York.

Although I've spent a lot of time learning about Abraham Elters' life in New York, I had never
stopped to consider the details of his actual arrival in the city. Like millions of other immigrants, he arrived in New York by ship. The harbor was undoubtedly crowded and busy with lots of ships and smaller boats plying the waters around the city. He probably marveled at the Statue of Liberty and the skyline of the city that would be his new home. New York was, of course, much smaller than it is today, but with a population of roughly 1.5 million it was the largest city in the United States and one of the largest cities in the world.
My great grandfather, Abraham Elters,
age 26. Eight years after his arrival in
the United States

Recently, however, I found myself reading about the history of the Statue of Liberty, and this led me to think more carefully about what exactly Abraham Elters would have seen sailing into New York harbor. In particular, I noticed that the dedication ceremony for the Statue was held on October 28, 1886, almost seven weeks after my great grandfather arrived in New York. So he would have been among the first immigrants to see Lady Liberty on her pedestal atop Liberty Island, or Bedloe's Island as it was known at the time.

This led me to wondering whether the statue was complete at the time Abraham Elters arrived in New York, or if he would have seen it under construction. I haven't been able to find a precise timeline for the building of the statue, but I did find a The New York Times article describing a sailing race in the harbor a few days earlier, on September 7, which mentions "the headless statue of Liberty." (The race in question was the first match of the 1886 America's Cup.)

In searching (unsuccessfully) for pictures of the statue under construction in New York, I also learned that the statue has not always been green. The Statue of Liberty is made of copper, and it took many years for it to slowly acquire the verdigris that provides its iconic color. So what Abraham Elters saw on his arrival in New York was not the famous image that graces millions of contemporary pictures of New York, but rather a headless statue with a metallic brown sheen.

1908 postcard of the Statue of Liberty. Note
the uncorroded copper color. Source:
Nevertheless, it must have been an impressive sight. The statue's shoulders are roughly 250 feet above the ground of Liberty Island. The height of the torch, when it was completed, is 305 feet, about twenty feet higher than the spire on Trinity Church, then the tallest building in New York. Abraham Elters had certainly never seen a statue of such proportions, and probably had never seen a man-made structure so tall. Hamburg, where he sailed from, had several churches that were taller, but it's impossible to know whether he saw them when he passed through Hamburg en route to New York.

This line of investigation leaves me with a pair of unanswered questions.  First, I wonder how famous the Statue of Liberty was in 1886.  Eventually, of course, it became known around the world, and immigrants arriving in New York would look for it and cheer, knowing that it meant they had arrived in America. But I wonder if Abraham Elters boarded the Polynesia knowing there was a colossal statue being built in New York harbor, or if he only discovered it when he saw it on his arrival.

Second, while it is interesting to speculate about what Abraham Elters saw or thought about the Statue of Liberty, I wonder if he actually saw any of it. Did the Polynesia arrive during daylight hours?  Or did it arrive in the middle of the night?  For all I know, Abraham Elters may have been sound asleep on his arrival in New York harbor and seen none of this.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

My centenarian great-grandfather—Sidney Brown Smith (1861–1962)

In honor of Father's Day, here's a post about one of my paternal ancestors. Sidney Brown Smith was my great-grandfather, my father's father's father.  He was born and lived most of his life in the village of Hanover Center in New York. That's in Chautauqua County, the westernmost part of New York, farther west than Buffalo.

Sidney Brown Smith was born on February 22, 1861, in Hanover Center. He was the sixth of seven children born to Daniel and Cordelia Cushman Smith. He attended the local schools until at least 1883, when a local newspaper records him passing the Regents Exams. These were end-of-course exams given to assess mastery of the high school curriculum. New York State administers the Regents, but I assume they have changed a bit since Sydney took them.

As a young man, Sidney Smith worked as a teacher in several nearby villages including Brant, Smith's Mill, Log Village, and Balltown.

On September 1, 1887,  at the age of 26, Sidney Smith married Elizabeth ("Lizzie") Curran, the daughter of Daniel and Catherine Curran. The Currans lived about a half mile down the road from the Smith family's farm. A newspaper account of the wedding reports that, "After the wedding the happy couple started on their wedding trip amid a shower of old shoes." Apparently throwing shoes at the departing newlyweds is an old tradition. This seems especially appropriate since Lizzie's father was a shoemaker.

Sidney Smith, Lizzie Smith, Hazel Smith and Harry Smith
Sidney and Lizzie's first child, my grandfather, Harry Lee Smith, was born on March 31, 1890. Perhaps parenthood prompted Sidney to turn from teaching to a livelihood that would better support his new family. On April 4, 1891, when Harry was a year old, Sidney Smith purchased a 78 acre farm outside the nearby village of Smith's Mill.  Soon after, Sidney's family grew again with the birth of his daughter, Hazel Roena Smith, born September 28, 1892.

In 1903, Sidney bought a new property adjacent to the farm where he had grown up. Sidney farmed this land, sometimes known as Greenridge Farm, for many years. He and Lizzie were active members of the Hanover Center community, participating in the local Farmers' Club, the Hanover Grange, the Hanover Literary Club, and other organizations.

Sidney's son, Harry, grew up and helped to run the farm. Harry married late, in 1927 at age 37. At this point, Sidney was 66 years old, and ready to retire from actively running the farm. So he and Lizzie rented a home in the nearby town of Silver Creek, leaving Harry to run the farm and raise his family there. In 1930 or 1931, the Smiths had bought a new home in Silver Creek, at 9 Jackson Street. This is where one of my favorite family portraits was taken during the summer of 1931.

Through his 70s, Sidney continued to help out at the farm. He would walk roughly four miles round-trip to get there, cutting across fields to take a direct route.

Harry Smith died in February of 1941. The family sold Greenridge Farm, and at age 80, Sidney finally retired from farming.  A few years later, in 1945, Lizzie also passed away (at age 84). Sidney continued living in Silver Creek until the mid-1950s, when he moved to Buffalo for a year or two, likely to be near his daughter, Hazel, who was a teacher in the public schools there. In 1958, at age 97, Sidney returned to Silver Creek and moved into the Silver Creek Nursing Home.

On February 22, 1961, Sidney celebrated his 100th birthday. Still sharp-minded, Sidney entertained his many visitors that day with stories from his long life in and around Silver Creek.

Sidney died on November 4, 1962, a few months shy of his 102nd birthday.

With long-lived relatives, like Sidney Smith, I always find it amazing to consider the changes and events that happened during his life.  Sidney was born during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln and died during Kennedy's presidency. During those years the United States grew from 34 to 50 states. Sidney Smith was born during the Civil War and when he died the US was starting to send troops to Vietnam, He lived through the Spanish-American War, both World Wars, and the Korean conflict. His life saw the invention of antibiotics, cars, airplanes, radio, and television, as well as the electrification of America.

Sadly, I never met Sidney. I have many friends who knew their great-grandparents. But the ancestors on my Smith line had children late in life. Despite living 101 years, Sidney died several years before I was born.

Notes and Sources

Many of the details here are drawn from my father's memories and from a long article from the Lake Shore News and Times on the occasion of Sidney's 100th birthday, and a similar article written for his death.
 "Village's Eldest Resident Observes 100th Birthday," Lake Shore News, Vol. 55, No. 8 (Silver Creek, N. Y., February 23, 1961), p. 1.
"Village's Oldest Resident Dies at Age of 101," Lake Shore News, Vol. 56, No. 45 (Silver Creek, N. Y., November 8, 1962), p. 1. 
The wedding of Sidney Smith and Lizzie Curran including the "shower of old shoes" is also described in a local newspaper article.
"Log City," Silver Creek Local (Silver Creek, N. Y.), October 10, 1887.  
The name of the Sidney Smith farm, Greenridge Farm, is a convenient moniker. But it is not clear how much it was used. My father, who lived on that property for the first ten years of his life, has no recollection of it, and I have only seen it mentioned in one newspaper article. That article describes the golden wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Harvey J. Gidley and lists among the attendees, "Mr. and Mrs. Sidney B. Smith of Greenridge Farm, Hanover Center."
"Golden Wedding Pleasant Affair," Dunkirk Evening Observer (Dunkirk, N. Y.), February 5, 1923, p. 5. 
The deed for the property Sidney purchased in 1891 is available from FamilySearch.
"New York Land Records, 1630–1975," images, FamilySearch ( : 18 June 2017), Chautauqua > Deeds 1889-1892 vol 238-239 > image 413 of 668; county courthouses, New York.
The deed for Greenridge farm is not included in that collection, although there is an entry for the purchase in the Grantee index, which is also available at FamilySearch.
"New York Land Records, 1630-1975," images, FamilySearch ( : 22 May 2014), Chautauqua > Grantees 1902-1910 vol A-Z > image 679 of 811; county courthouses, New York.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Over 250 years of Yalies

1906 watercolor of Yale University and the New Haven Green, by Richard Rummell.
Image provided by Wikimedia Commons.
Two weeks ago my wife and I attended our 30th college reunion at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.  It was the first reunion we attended since our 10th.  We had a good time, and enjoyed seeing old friends and acquaintance. It was also interesting to see how the campus has grown and changed over the years. The event also left me feeling a bit out of place. In my mind's eye, Yale is still the place of my memories, a place where my peers are 18–21 years old and where faculty and staff seem much older. At reunion, however, I found that all my peers had turned into 50-somethings. And some of them actually were faculty and staff at the University.

I don't come from a long line of Yalies. But it turns out that I have a good number of relatives (mostly distant cousins) who attended Yale.  In honor of my reunion, here is a short list of my Eli relatives:
  • Jonathan Arnold (1701 – ????), 1st cousin, 7 times removed. Jonathan studied theology, graduating in 1723. He was ordained pastor of the West Haven Congregational Church. In 1734 he "declared for the Episcopacy" (i.e., converted to the Church of England) and was dismissed from his church. He traveled to England to take orders and received an honorary M.A. from Oxford Univesity while he was there. On returning to the colonies he was an Episcopal missionary in Connecticut, and later lived in Staten Island and New Jersey.
  • Samuel Arnold (1704 – 1771), 1st cousin, 7 times removed. Samuel studied theology and graduated in 1724. He preached for a while after graduation. But he made his career as a farmer and was never ordained.
  • Conrad Gustavus Bacon (1844 – 1936), 6th cousin, twice removed. He graduated from the Yale law school in 1871 and practiced law for many years in Middletown, Connecticut. He served a term in the Connecticut General Assembly, 1912–13.
  • Franke Stuart Havens (1871 – 1942), 4th cousin, twice removed. Franke received his B.S. in 1896 and his Ph.D. in chemistry in 1899. He worked as a research chemist for a paint company and later established his own chemical and paint manufacturing company.
  • Alfred Southmayd Hamlin (1871 – 1954), 7th cousin, once removed. Alfred graduated from Yale's Sheffield Scientific School in 1898
  • Frederic Stanley Bacon (1877 – 1961), 6th cousin, 3 times removed. Frederic graduated from Yale Law School in 1902. After graduation, he entered practice with his father (Conrad Gustavus Bacon, above). Sometime before 1920 he changed careers and became a civil engineer for the highway department of the state of Connecticut. 
  • George Southmayd Macdonald (1880 – 1968), 7th cousin, once removed. George graduated from Yale's Sheffield Scientific School in 1902. He worked for several years as a lawyer in New York City, then moved to Los Angeles to work in the new film industry. He was a director during the silent era, using Sherwood Macdonald as his screen name.
  • Rossleene Merle Arnold (1895 – 1950). My great-aunt Ross received a Ph.D. in chemistry from Yale in 1926. She married a fellow Ph.D. student, Donald McKinley Hetler. They taught briefly at the University of Illinois and then settled in Missoula, Montana, where they both taught at Montana State University.
  • Elizabeth Dalzell Whiting (1904 – 1992), 5th cousin. Elizabeth's engagement announcement in Brooklyn Life said that she, "is now taking a course at Yale School of Music." I have found no further information about whether she was in a degree program or just taking a music class at her local college.
  • Dalzell Whiting (1911 – 1933), 5th cousin. Dalzell was in the class of 1934. He died in the fall of his senior year after a two week illness. He was the younger brother of Elizabeth Dalzell Whitting, above.
  • Keith Arnold Smith (1965 – ). That's me, Class of 1987.
This list makes it look like I am the most recent of a long line of Yalies—the ultimate legacy student. But this is not a line at all. None of them are direct ancestors. They are all among the many hundreds of descendants of my 8th great-grandfather, John Arnold of Hartford, Connecticut. With the exception of my great-aunt, Ross(leene) and myself, everyone on this list lived in central Connecticut. And they all lived at times when it was typical for college students to attend school not far from home.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Family Portrait

My father's side of the family. The adults, from the left, are Emily (Sessions) Arnold, Fannie (Arnold) Smith, Herbert Elmer Arnold, Lizzie (Curran) Smith, Harry Lee Smith, Sidney Brown Smith. In the front is my aunt, Jane Elizabeth Smith.
When I was much younger, probably in my twenties, my father gave me a copy of this old family photograph. In the picture are my Dad's older sister (age two here), Dad's parents, and his four grandparents. Each of his parents stands between their own parents. My Dad isn't in the picture, but he was there in utero; his mother was about six months pregnant at the time of the picture.

I don't remember when I first saw this picture. I was at least a teenager and maybe out of college. I do remember being immediately captivated by it. Other than my Aunt Jane (the child) I never met any of the people in this picture. I hadn't even seen pictures of most of them.  So this single picture was an "Aha" moment for me—discovering what Dad's entire family looked like.  And for some reason the deliberate organization of the entire family in one neat picture made it all the more interesting.

At the time, I didn't know much about most of these people, just a few tid-bits that came up in my Dad's recollections of his youth.  His mother (second from left) studied voice at Oberlin Conservatory. Her father (3rd from left) owned and operated a laundry company in the town of Oberlin. Dad's father (2nd from right) was a farmer, who died when Dad was a boy, and Dad's grandfather Smith (on the right) lived to be over one hundred years old.  Since then, I've managed to learn more about my family, partly by asking Dad about them, but also by digging through old newspapers and other records.

Returning to the picture, from left to right, the adults in the picture (and their relation to me) are:
  • Emily Jane (Sessions) Arnold (1866 – 1941): Great-grandmother
  • Fannie Diem (Arnold) Smith (1893 – 1976): Grandmother
  • Herbert Elmer Arnold (1863 – 1933): Great-grandfather
  • Elizabeth "Lizzie" (Curran) Smith (1860 – 1945): Great-grandmother
  • Harry Lee Smith (1890 – 1941): Grandfather
  • Sidney Brown Smith (1861 – 1962): Great-grandfather
The girl is Jane Elizabeth (Smith) Rumbold (1929 – 2011), my aunt. 

The picture was taken outside Sidney Smith's house at 9 Jackson Street in Silver Creek, New York.  He had been a farmer for much of his life.  When he retired, Harry, his son, took over the farm, and Sidney bought this house "in town" in Silver Creek. The Arnolds lived in Oberlin, Ohio, so they must have been visiting.

My dad had guessed that the picture was taken the summer before he was born. There are a bunch of clues about this. There are leaves on the trees and the people look like they're wearing light-weight clothes. In particular, Herbert Arnold's suit looks like a summer print, and Fannie (Arnold) Smith is wearing a sleeveless dress. From this, Dad inferred that the picture was taken sometime between late Spring and early Fall. Dad's sister, my Aunt Jane, was born on November 6, 1929. In the summer before Dad was born (1931), she would have been a few months shy of her second birthday, and that looks like the age of the girl in the picture. Possibly, the picture could have been taken the following summer, in 1932, after Dad was born, but then where is he in this picture? It seems unlikely that in a portrait that clearly includes all the family he would have been left out.

A couple years ago, after I got started in genealogy, I was doing some research about Dad's family in Silver Creek. I was reading some of the area newspapers, searching for references to Dad's father—a somewhat arduous task since "Harry Smith" is a rather common name.  In the Dunkirk Evening Observer from August 1, 1931, I found the following in the news from Hanover Center:
Mrs Harry Smith has been entertaining her father and mother from Oberlin, Ohio.
Hanover Center was the cross-roads village near Harry Smith's farm, a couple miles outside of Silver Creek.  Dunkirk is the nearest large town. In 1930 it's population was over 17,000 (compared to about 3,000 in Silver Creek).

Putting it all together, that must have been the visit when the picture was taken.

One thing I still wonder about the picture is who took it? The one person who isn't in the picture is my great-aunt Hazel Smith (Harry's younger sister). She was a schoolteacher in Buffalo (about 35 miles from Silver Creek). Since it was summer, school would have been out. According to Dad she liked to take pictures and often had a camera with her. So it seems like a reasonable guess that she was the photographer.

If you're like me, it's probably easier to keep track of who's who with a chart or pedigree showing how everyone connects to each other. So here's a snippet of my pedigree showing the people in this photo.