Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Harriet Ford Ballou (1858 – 1902): One death certificate, two death dates

We genealogists typically think of a death certificate as a pretty definitive source for the date of a person's death. But as with everything else in life, errors can happen.  Here's an example that I recently rediscovered while reviewing some old records.
Death Certificate for Harriet L. F. Ballou. The red boxes highlight the two different death dates. Near the top it says, May 10, 1902. Further down the date of death is given as May 9, 1902.
Harriet L. Ford was my second cousin, three times removed. (See the relationship chart, below.) Our closest common ancestor was Jacob Arnold. She was born and raised in Great Barrington, Massachusetts and married Arthur D. Ballou on November 16, 1892. At the time of their marriage he was a button maker, but he later became a physician. By 1900, they were living in Richland, Michigan.

Harriet died from consumption in May of 1902.  Her husband, being a physician, filled out the certificate of death as both the attending physician, providing information about Harriet's illness and death, and as the informant, providing personal information about Harriet and her family.  The resulting death certificate lists two different dates for Harriet's death.  At the top of the death certificate, it gives the date of death as May 10, 1902.  Later, under "Cause of Death" Arthur Ballou states, "I hereby certify that I attended deceased from May 1900 to May 1902, that I last saw her alive on 5–9 1902, that she died on May 9, 1902 about 4 o'clock a.m."

Perhaps the fact that she passed in the wee hours of the morning confused her husband about the exact date of her death. Or perhaps he was too distraught and exhausted to think through the details. But whatever the reason, we are left with an ambiguous death certificate.

Fortunately, the discrepancy is only one day.  Knowing exactly which date is correct doesn't really matter that much, except that it would satisfy my inner perfectionist.
Harriet Ford was my second cousin, three times removed. The dark lines show the show the relationship between us.

Notes on sources

I found Harriet L. F. Ballou's death certificate on the Seeking Michigan website, a free site with almost a million Michigan death records from the years 1897–1920.

Information about the marriage of Harriet Ford and Arthur Ballou is from the Register of Marriages in Great Barrington, takien from the Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620–1988 collection at, image 856 of 1282 from Great Barrington : Births, Marriages and Death.

Arthur and Harriet Ballou were listed in the 1900 United States Federal Census in Richland, Montcalm County, Michigan. The census lists Cyrus M. Guild boarding with them. In 1904, he married Harriet's older sister, Mary Ford.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Disambiguating John Arnold of Hartford (1683 – 1741)

John Arnold's gravestone. "Here lies the Body of Serg'nt
John Arnold who Died November the 30th A.D. 1741
Aged 58 years." Photograph by Jim Bancroft, originally
posted to John Arnold's Find A Grave page.
John Arnold died on November 30, 1741 and was buried at Center Cemetery in East Hartford, Connecticut.  His gravestone, shown here, says he was 58 years old at his death.  Simple arithmetic tells us therefore that he was born in 1683 or 1684.  Nevertheless, there are countless online trees that say he was born more than twenty years earlier, in 1662, 1663, or 1664. Similarly, his birthdate in FamilySearch's family tree has been edited multiple times, switching between 1683 and these other dates.

So what's going on here?  The short version is that there was a second John Arnold who was born in about 1663, and researchers have conflated these two people.

In this post, I will explain this in more detail, first by laying out the facts I know about John Arnold, then describing how I think this error originated, and providing enough information about the two John Arnolds to make it clear that they can't be the same person.

Obviously this is good fodder for a blog post. If I can also save other researchers some confusion, all the better!

John Arnold of Hartford

Working backwards from his gravestone, I pieced together some basic information about John Arnold. His will, dated November 14, 1741, provided a starting point. It gave me the name of his wife, Hannah; two sons, John and Henry; three married daughters, Hannah, Mary, and Sarah; and his deceased brother, Henry Arnold. Early Hartford records provided the birth dates for all five of these children along with a third son, Samuel, who died in 1739. The children were born between 1710 and 1722. Earlier than that, the marriage of John Arnold and Hannah Meakins was recorded on January 12, 1709/10.

The fact that John Arnold had a brother, Henry, who predeceased him turned out to be a particularly useful piece of information, and helped me find his parents. Hartford probate records include the will of a Henry Arnold who had two sons, Henry and John. They also have records for the probate of Henry Arnold Jr.  Both estates were probated on the same date, and in both cases administration was granted to John Arnold. Since these facts agree with the information from John Arnold's will, it seems likely that this his family.

The following graphic shows the family of John Arnold based on the information from these records.
The family of John Arnold of Hartford. John Arnold is shown with a heavy outline, along with his parents,
siblings, wife, and children.

Confusion about John Arnold's Birth

I have found no records of John Arnold's life prior to his marriage. So his gravestone is my only evidence of when he was born.  But many other researchers think he was born in the 1660s. Where are they getting their dates from? The confusion seems to come from another John Arnold, who lived in Haddam, about 25 miles south of Hartford on the Connecticut River. 

List of the children of Joseph Arnold with their ages.
From the probate records for Joseph Arnold. Elsewhere on
the page it is labeled, "Jos Arnolds Inventory July 1692."
One of the few records that mentions John Arnold of Haddam is the probate of his father's estate. His father, Joseph Arnold, died intestate on October 22, 1691. On the back of his estate inventory is a list of his children and their ages.  First on the list is "John Arnold 29 years old."  The inventory is dated "July 1692."  So assuming that Joseph's son Arnold was 29 years old in 1692, that would put his birth in 1662 or 1663, matching the mysterious birthdate sometimes associated with John Arnold of Hartford.

Could these two John Arnolds, in fact, be the same person? Perhaps the age on the East Hartford gravestone is wrong. But this seems impossible since the two John Arnolds have different fathers. The father of John Arnold of Hartford was Henry Arnold, and the father of John Arnold of Haddam was Joseph Arnold. Nevertheless, the confusion is understandable, especially if you don't have all of this information.

As an added twist, some of the trees that say John Arnold of Hartford was born in 1662 cite a family bible as a source.  I was curious to see what information was in bible and tracked it down at the Connecticut State Library, paying a few dollars to have it scanned and emailed to me.

The bible itself is an American Bible Society edition printed in 1849. On the family record pages are the births, deaths, and marriages of dozens of people. These names are mostly Arnolds, and the dates are primarily from the 1800s, including some as late as 1890. John Arnold of Hartford is among the earliest names listed in it, The dates for his death and birth match those from his gravestone. Included with the bible are about twenty pages of genealogical writing about the same names that are listed in the bible. This document describes the John Arnold's gravestone in East Hartford. Its author also speculates that the father of John Arnold was Joseph Arnold. ("I think this John to have been the son of that Joseph who...")

Based on this information, I conclude two things about the bible record and the associated notes. First, it was written in the mid-1800s, a century after the lifetime of John Arnold of Hartford. So the information about John Arnold is not first hand knowledge. Second, the owner of this bible didn't have access to any source I haven't already found, and likely had less information. In particular, it seems reasonable to conclude he or she hadn't found the wills and probate records I've described, as those would have refuted the theory that Joseph Arnold of Haddam was the father of John Arnold of Hartford.


There are no surprising conclusions here. But I hope that by spelling out what I have discovered about John Arnold of Hartford (and his namesake in Haddam), I can dispel some of the misinformation about his birth. If nothing else, this will give me something to refer to the next time I have to correct John Arnold's birthdate on FamilySearch.

Notes and Sources

I have not seen the original Hartford records that provide information about the marriage and children of John Arnold of Hartford, but they have been copied and indexed in many places. The marriage of John Arnold and Hannah Meakins appears in:
"Hartford Records," transcribed by Lucius M. Boltwood, New England Historical and Genealogical Register (NEHGR), vol. 13, p. 141, April 1859.
The births of their children are in the Barbour Collection of Connecticut Town Vital Records:, "Connecticut Town Birth Records, pre-1870 (Barbour Collection)," Hartford Vital Records 1635–1855, image 9 of 467.
Since the Barbour Collection included a record for the birth of Samuel Arnold in 1720, but Samuel wasn't mentioned in John Arnold's will, I inferred that he had died before the will was written. This was confirmed by finding his gravestone on Find A Grave, showing that he died on November 19, 1739. The genealogical notes in the John Arnold family bible (see below) states that this stone is nearby that of John Arnold.

The wills and probate records related to the two John Arnolds can be found in Charles Manwaring's Digest of Early Connecticut Probate Records.

John Arnold of Hartford:
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), p. 381.
Henry Arnold (father of John Arnold of Hartford):
Charles William Manwaring (ed.), A Digest of the Early Connecticut Probate Records, Vol II, Hartford District, 1700–1729 (R.S. Peck & Co., Hartford, Conn., 1904), pp. 459–460.
Henry Arnold Jr. (brother of John Arnold of Hartford):
Charles William Manwaring (ed.), A Digest of the Early Connecticut Probate Records, Vol II, Hartford District, 1700–1729 (R.S. Peck & Co., Hartford, Conn., 1904), pp. 460–461.
Joseph Arnold (father of John Arnold of Haddam):
Charles William Manwaring (ed.), A Digest of the Early Connecticut Probate Records, Vol I, Hartford District, 1635–1700 (R.S. Peck & Co., Hartford, Conn., 1904), p. 401.
The Manwaring transcription of Joseph Arnold's probate includes the list of Joseph Arnold's children and their ages. But it is not clear about the date of the document it is attached to.  Images of the original probate records are available from Ancestry's Connecticut Wills and Probate Records collection. The last page of this record includes the list of ages, excerpted above. Elsewhere on this page is written, "Jos Arnolds Inventory July 1692."
Connecticut, Wills and Probate Records, 1609–1999, online index and images,, Hartford Probate district > Probate Packets > Antrim–Ayrault > M, 1641–1880 > images 417–423 of 1517.
Finally there is the John Arnold bible record:
"John Arnold of Hartford," Bible & Family Records, Vol 25, pp. 35–56, Connecticut State Library, Hartford, Connecticut. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Finding a family photo via ArchiveGrid

I recently learned about ArchiveGrid from Lisa Louise Cook's Genealogy Gems. ArchiveGrid is an index of over 5 million archive records, including historical documents such as personal papers, manuscripts, correspondence, etc. The records span over 1,000 different institutions. So you can think of ArchiveGrid as the equivalent of WorldCat but for archives instead of for libraries.  That's particularly apt since ArchiveGrid is a service offered by WorldCat.

In the past I've had some success finding interesting records through archives. So ArchiveGrid sounded like a great tool. Naturally, I clicked through to check it out.  Since I had recently written several posts about my Jarecki relatives, I entered "Jarecki" in the search box. It's unusual enough that I figured I wouldn't be overwhelmed with hits.

This was a good choice.  I got 43 hits, a reasonable number to skim through.  Most of the results were for Jareckis I had never heard of.  But the 7th item on the first page was somebody familiar:

Seymour T. Jarecki search result at ArchiveGrid
Image of Seymour Jarecki found
via ArchiveGrid.

That's the same Seymour Jarecki I wrote about a couple days ago. Clicking on the link, it took me to the Denver Public Library's digital collections, where I found, as promised, a high school picture of Seymour Jarecki.  The page also provided data about the provenance of the picture. It is a studio portrait from an 1889–90 Denver High School album.  Unlike our modern, printed yearbooks, this was a photo album full of mounted pictures of various students.

This picture wasn't an entirely new find. The same image is on Seymour Jarecki's Find A Grave page. But on Find A Grave there is no information about where the picture came from.

So in about five minutes I found some useful information about a relative. I'm sure ArchiveGrid won't always provide such good results, but it's definitely a tool I will keep using!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Death of Seymour Jarecki—Suicide or Murder?

Headline from The Denver Post, June 30, 1904, p. 1
At 1 a.m. on the morning of June 30, 1904, Dr. Seymour Jarecki left an informal card party at the home of some friends. His wife and young daughters stayed overnight, but he decided to return home for the remainder of the night, in case he was called on to attend a patient.

Shortly before 4am, neighbors of the Jarecki house heard two gunshots. Investigating the disturbance, they found a side door unlocked. This led to a porch, from which they entered the kitchen, and found Seymour Jarecki on the floor, dead from a single gunshot wound to the chest.

On the floor near Jarecki was his revolver, with two discharged cartridges. A search found a bullet hole through the screen around the porch.  The screen was bent outward around the hole indicating that the shot had been fired from within the house.  The bullet that passed through the screen was found lodged in a nearby tree.

Jarecki was dressed in his night clothes, but his bed had not been slept in. The rest of the house similarly undisturbed, and no valuables had been taken.
Artists rendering of the crime scene. The Denver
Post, June 30, 1904, p. 5.

There were powder burns on Jarecki's chest, indicating that the fatal shot had been fired from point-blank range. There were also powder burns Jarecki's left hand and on the index finger of his right hand, suggesting that he had been gripping the gun when it discharged.

These facts led to two different theories to explain Jarecki's death—murder or suicide.

The murder theory went like this; Jarecki heard a noise in the middle of the night. Grabbing his gun, he went to investigate.  Finding an intruder, he fired wildly and missed, the bullet passing harmlessly through the porch screen.  The intruder shot back, killing Jarecki, then fled without robbing the house. This idea was buttressed by the fact that Jarecki had been assaulted and nearly killed six months earlier. That assailant was never found, leading people to speculate that the same criminal was responsible for Jarecki's death.

Supporters of the suicide theory argued that all of the facts could be explained without introducing mysterious assailants. There were powder burns on both of Jarecki's hands because he held the gun against his chest to fire it. As a doctor, he knew exactly where his heart was, so it was no surprise that the single bullet passed through that organ. There were no signs of struggle or robbery because there had been none.  Why the second bullet fired from the porch?  A police officer suggested that when Jarecki first tried to kill himself, the cartridge didn't fire. So he pointed the gun out toward the street to see if it was working.  This time it fired correctly and the bullet passed through the porch screen and into the tree. Then Jarecki held the gun against his chest a second time, pulled the trigger, and fell dead.


Seymour Tilford Jarecki was born on October 15, 1871 in New York City.  His parents were Max and Amelia Jarecki. He was a grandson of Morris Jarecki and a nephew of Kate Jarecki, both of whom I've discussed recently.  That makes him my first cousin, three times removed.

When Seymour was a young boy, his family moved to Denver, Colorado, where his father worked as a cigar maker and held a variety of minor positions in the city government. As a young man, Jarecki returned to New York to study at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, graduating in 1894.

Seymour Tilford Jarecki, c. 1902.
Representative Men of Colorado, Rowell
Art Publishing Company, Denver, 1902, p. 100.
The new Dr. Jarecki moved back to Denver and went into practice.  He held positions as a police surgeon in Denver and as an assistant county physician.

In 1898, Seymour Jarecki married Theresa Wisebart. They had two daughters, Clara (b. 1900) and Ruth (b. 1904). 

Prior to his death, there were two other mysterious events in Seymour Jarecki's life.  In June 1895, two months after being appointed police surgeon, he went missing. There was speculation that he had left town after an altercation with his father, or that he had run off with a young lady. Two days later, he reappeared in Denver but offered no details (to newspapers) about where he had gone.

Dr. Jarecki appears in the Denver papers again in late December, 1903.  On the 29th of that month, he was found unconscious in his office with a fractured skull.  He had been struck in the head with a large rock. Initial reports said he was in grave condition, but the next day he regained consciousness. He claimed he had been writing at his desk when somebody snuck up behind him. He heard the person at the last moment and started to turn to see who it was, only to be struck and lose consciousness. The police, however, told newspapers that they felt Dr. Jarecki was holding out on them and may have known whoever assaulted him.

The police never found Dr. Jarecki's assailant, and when Dr. Jarecki died in mysterious circumstances six months later, some people speculated that it was the same attacker—somebody who must have had a long-standing grudge against the doctor. One newspaper article speculated that Dr. Jarecki had performed a "peculiar operation" on a young lady and that his attacker and possible murder was her disgruntled husband.

Resolving the case

Despite the newspaper debates about whether Dr. Seymour Jarecki's death was murder or suicide, the police quickly decided it was suicide. A day after the death, a coroner's jury agreed and returned a verdict of suicide. 

Additional circumstantial facts may have swayed the police and jurors.  After the initial police investigation of Jarecki's death, both the family and the coroner were summoned.  When the coroner arrived, both he and the family locked themselves in the house and nobody was admitted for two hours. When investigators were again allowed into the house, they found that the kitchen floor where Jarecki's body lay had been cleaned of both blood and any other evidence. The bed, which initial reports said had not been slept in, had been mussed.  Later in the day, police discovered that the bullet which had lodged in the tree was also removed.  All of this suggested an attempt to cover up details of Jarecki's death and make it look more like murder.

It also turned out that Jarecki had renewed a pair of life insurance policies the day before his death and appeared to be in financial trouble. He had recently asked to borrow $1,000 from his father, and despite appearances of prosperity, he had a large number of debts. When his estate was probated, there was not enough money to cover these obligations and the administrator was forced to sell the house to cover his debts.

Jarecki's family argued forcefully against suicide both before and after the police concluded the case. They claimed that he always left a fired cartridge in his gun since the gun didn't have a safety catch. This way, he didn't have to worry about somebody accidentally pulling the trigger and firing the gun.  Conveniently, this would also mean that Jarecki's gun could only have fired one of the bullets found at the scene of his death.

A boy was also found who said he passed the Jarecki house "on his wheel" shortly before Jarecki's death. He claimed that he had seen two disreputable men loitering outside and shortly later heard the gunshots.  Based on the boy's itinerary, however, the police were able to show that he could not have been at the Jarecki's house until at least 30 minutes after the shots were fired.


In addition to covering all of the different theories about Seymour Jarecki's death, the Denver Post carefully covered the question of Jarecki's life insurance.  He had policies with four different providers for a total $16,600. The terms of one policy didn't cover death by suicide. A second policy only paid one third of its value in the event of suicide. 

Despite the suicide verdict returned by the coroner's jury, one of these policies decided that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that Jarecki had killed himself and paid in full. The second policy initially refused to pay, but Jarecki's widow sued and a jury decided in her favor. They were forced to pay in full on the policy and also cover her court costs.

So what did happen?  Did Seymour Jarecki really kill himself?  The evidence, of course, is all second hand, filtered through the writers and editors of the Denver Post. Their accounts of the various arguments and counter-arguements weren't always clear about the validity of these claims.  Despite these vagaries, I think the evidence was strongly in favor of suicide. I reach this conclusion by applying Occam's razor. All of the evidence from the scene of Jarecki's death could be accounted for by suicide. So there is no need to introduce in intruder or assassin to explain the facts. The lack of any concrete evidence of such an intruder further undermines the murder theory.

Despite my conclusion on this one point, there are still plenty of unanswered questions about Dr. Seymour Jarecki's life and death.  What happened when he was assaulted in his office?  Was that in any way connected to his death?  And if his death was suicide, why did he kill himself? Was it for financial reasons, as the newspaper accounts implied? Was it depression?  Or was it something else?  As is so often the case, no matter how much you learn about a relative, the know facts always lead to more questions.
Seymour Jarecki was my 1st cousin, 3 times removed. The heavy lines in this figure trace our relationship.

Notes and Sources

Nearly all of the information in this post was taken from the archives of The Denver Post at Here are the specific references for the key information:

Dr. Jarecki goes missing:
"Jarecki is Missing," The Evening Post, June 14, 1895, p. 2.
"Jarecki Returns," The Evening Post, June 17, 1895, p. 4. 
Marriage of Seymour Jarecki and Therese Wisebart:
"Some Notable Events in Social Circles," The Denver Evening Post, June 18, 1898, p. 5.
The assault on Dr. Jarecki in his office:
"Doctor Jarecki, County Physician, Whose Skull was Crushed in by an Unknown Assailant, Suddenly Recovers Consciousness," The Denver Post, December 29, 1903, pp. 1, 5. 
"Police are at Work on a Secret Theory," The Denver Post, December 30, 1903, pp. 1, 5.
"No Light on Mystery," The Denver Post, December 31, 1903, p. 14. 
Dr. Jarecki's death, and the investigation:
"Shrouded in Deep Mystery is the Killing of Dr. S. T. Jarecki. Was it Suicide? Or Murder?," The Denver Post, June 30, 1904, pp. 1, 5.
"All Family Attended Party Last Night," The Denver Post, June 30, 1904, pp. 1, 5. 
 "Almost Killed Last December," The Denver Post, June 30, 1904, p. 1.
"Wife is sure he was Slain by a Burglar," The Denver Post, June 30, 1904, p. 5.
"Theories as to the Killing," The Denver Post, June 30, 1904, p. 5. 
"Grief of Parents," The Denver Post, June 30, 1904, p. 5.
"Working out the Theory of Suicide," The Denver Post, June 30, 1904, p. 5. 
"Who Killed Dr. Jarecki? What was the Motive? Police Anxiously Inquire," The Denver Post, July 1, 1904, pp. 1, 10.
"Certain Jarecki was Assassinated," The Denver Post, July 1, 1904, p. 1. 
"Evidence Points to Murder Theory," The Denver Post, July 1, 1904, p. 2. 
"Murder, Insist Relatives--Suicide, say the Police," The Denver Post, July 2, 1904, pp. 1, 5. 
"Dr. Jarecki was Murdered in his Kitchen, so a New Clew Indicates," The Denver Post, July 3, 1904, pp. 1, 7. 
 "Seek Solution in Office Assault," The Denver Post, July 3, 1904, p. 7.
"Jarecki could have had Money from Friends if he had Asked,"  The Denver Post, July 3, 1904, p. 7.
Jarecki's estate:
"Jarecki Estate Assets are Less than Debts," The Denver Post, April 10, 1906, p. 6.
Tracking Seymour Jarecki's life insurance:
"Jarecki's Insurance," The Denver Post, July 1, 1904, p. 2.
"Will Refuse to Pay Policy," The Denver Post, August 15, 1904, p. 2; Conservative Life Insurance Company decides not to pay its $5,000 policy on Dr. Seymour Jarecki. 
"Widow of Dr. Jarecki Receives Insurance Money," The Denver Post, August 20, 1904, p. 3; Woodmen of the World decides to pay its $3,000 policy on Seymour Jarecki.
"Jarecki's Death in Federal Court," The Denver Post, January 28, 1905. p. 14; case against Conservative Life Insurance Company. 
"Holds Jarecki was Murdered," The Denver Post, June 15, 1905; jury decides against Conservative Life Insurance Company, forcing them to pay it's $5,000 policy plus court costs.

Friday, July 28, 2017

How wealthy was Morris Jarecki (d. 1881)?

Horse carriages on the Grand Drive in Central Park, c. 1869. Did Morris Jarecki's family have their own carriage
and ride through the park in this manner?  Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections
In my previous post, I described how I uncovered the parents of my great great grandmother, Kate Jarecki. I also mentioned family lore saying the Jareckis were well-off and upset that Kate married an immigrant. Now that we know who Kate's family were, does this shine any light on whether the truth of these family stories? In particular, what was the financial situation of Morris Jarecki and his family.

To recap, two letters from Kate Jarecki's grandchildren say that her family was somewhat wealthy. In a letter from my grandfather, postmarked March 2, 1978, he said, "[The Jareckis] were wealthy but when she married an immigrant from Austria she was disowned." This leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Maybe the Jareckis had a lot of money. Or maybe they simply were better off than the first generation Austrian immigrant she married.

My great aunt Harriet (Elters) Wilkins provided more detail in a letter to her grandchildren, dated September 3, 1996. In it she said, "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." The image of riding through Central Park in the family carriage certainly suggests a level of wealth beyond the typical working class family.

Mt. Sinai Hospital, c. 1870. Lexington Ave between 66th
and 67th streets. This was the hospital's second location.
Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections
Both Montefiore and Mt. Sinai hospitals were founded based on contributions from the New York Jewish community. So it is possible that the Jareckis supported them. Of course, that support might have been large, as my Aunt Harriet suggested, or small. In the latter case, maybe it was spoken of proudly leading children and grandchildren to think the contribution was larger than it actually was.

Mt. Sinai Hospital was founded in 1852, and Montefiore in 1884. Kate Jarecki married in 1873, and her father, Morris, died in 1881. So any contribution to Montefiore might reflect the family's later fortunes, rather than their situation during Kate's youth.

But this is just speculation.  Based on the limited sources available, here is what I know about Morris Jarecki's finances:
  • In the 1860 census he was employed as a clothing "cutter" and reported having no real property and $500 of personal property. His neighbors were mostly German immigrants (like himself) and worked in a variety of trades including: leather cutter, seamstress, teacher, shoe maker, peddler, and cigar maker.
  • In the 1870 census, he was still employed as a "clothing cutter." As in the prior census his neighbors were predominantly German immigrants in labor-oriented trades.  The census taker did not collect information about his real and personal property (nor for anyone else).
  • In the 1880 census, one year before his death, he was employed as a tailor. Based on the jobs of his neighbors, he may have been living in a better neighborhood.  Their professions include: hatter, book sewer, lithographer, turner of wood, bookkeeper, printer, actor, grocer, dry good clerk, and banker.
  • The only assets mentioned in his will is a $1,000 insurance policy and a bank account with unknown balance.
  • New York city directories from 1870 through 1892 list Morris's profession variously as cutter, tailor, or musician.
Taken together, these facts don't suggest unusual wealth. But they don't entirely rule it out, either. One of the many things on my "to do" list is to track down the complete probate records for Morris Jarecki to see if it includes an estate inventory. That would provide a more definitive picture of his assets.

But if Morris Jarecki wasn't wealthy, why did my grandfather and great aunt think the family had money? One possibility is that some one else in the Jarecki family was wealthy and provided the source of these stories. Morris Jarecki's oldest son, fits the bill here. As mentioned in my last post William Jarecki was a dentist. He may have made a good living in this profession. But he also married well. His wife, Olga (Frank) Jarecki was the daughter of a successful gold trader and advertising executive. He left her a trust fund that, in 1916, was worth $140,000. Adjusting for inflation, that would be over $3 million today.

William and Olga Jarecki married in 1888. That was fifteen years after his sister, Kate, married. So regardless of how William's new wealth affected the Jarecki family, it didn't provide carriages for Kate to ride in during her youth.

Sources and Notes on William and Olga Jarecki

By 1916, William and Olga's marriage was on the rocks and she sued him for separation. He opposed the suit. A New York Sun article implied this was because he didn't want to lose access to the trust money. The same article says that the trust was worth $140,000. 
"Alimony Request a Blind, he Says," The New York Sun, March 27, 1916, p. 5.
In the 1920 and 1930 censuses, William and Olga were living at separate addresses.

When Olga died in 1933, her will made it clear that she still didn't want any association with her husband:
The Will of Mrs. Olga Jareckie, filed for probate yesterday [March 30, 1933], directed that her husband, Dr. William Jareckie, be prohibited from entering her home. Mrs. Jareckie also wrote: "I hereby direct that my executors will personally supervise all funeral arrangements at the time of my decease without permitting my husband in any way to interfere." Mrs. Jareckie left an estate of about $1,000 to be divided between two sons.
"Husband is Barred," Asbury Park Press (Asbury Park, NJ), March 31, 1933, p. 16, via 
Apparently, despite the separation and animosity they never divorced. Olga's will refers to William Jareckie as her husband. In the 1920 and 1930 censuses, they both gave their marital status as "married."

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 still 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.