Researching Marianna Drajem

I’ve been writing a lot about my Hodgkinson research lately, but today I’m going to shift gears and write about some new discoveries on my husband’s Drajem line.

Recently, I was contacted by Debbie, a fellow family historian who’s researching her granddaughter’s ancestry. That granddaughter is my husband’s fourth cousin once removed, and their most recent common ancestors were Józef and Marianna (Kaszyńska) Drajem. Prior to Debbie’s phone call, I knew nothing of earlier generations of the Drajem family; Józef and Marianna were the end of the line, and I knew only the outlines of their lives. However, after talking with her, I was inspired to dig a little deeper, and learn more about Marianna (Kaszyńska) Drajem’s story.

Marya Drajem

I was first introduced to Marianna back in November 2001, thanks to information contained in a life insurance application filed by her son, Wojciech Drajem. This was not an heirloom document, handed down in my husband’s family. Rather, this piece of genealogical gold was mined from the database, “Polish Roman Catholic Union of America (PRCUA} Insurance Claim File Index,” where I discovered that a death claim packet was available for Wojciech Drajem. This database is maintained by the Polish Genealogical Society of America, which will provide copies of death claim packets for a very nominal fee. When my packet arrived, I was thrilled to discover that it contained Wojciech’s original life insurance application, medical examiner’s certificate, beneficiary certificate, death certificate, insurance claim, and letter of payment. Wojciech’s application, dated 6 February 1915, provided information about his parents and family of origin (Figure 1).1

Figure 1: Application for life insurance from the PRCUA for Wojciech Drajem, 6 February 1915.

This document identifies Wojciech’s mother as Marya (__) Drajem, and tells us that she died at the age of 83 of senility. Her husband was Józef Drajem, who died at the age of 50 of unknown causes. Wojciech stated that he had no brothers who were deceased, but one 44-year-old brother who was alive at that time and in good health. He had two living sisters, aged 51–60 years, and one sister who died in childbirth (the certificate states, “in labor”) at the age of 28.

Maryanna Drajem of Buffalo, New York

Back in 2001, as a baby genealogist, I assumed that Marya Drajem died in Poland. It wasn’t until I started researching the family of her daughter, Apolonia (Drajem) Samulski, that I discovered that Marya also immigrated to Buffalo, New York (Figure 2).2

Figure 2: Detail from 1900 census showing Maryanna Drajem in the household of Ignatz Samulski. Click to view larger image.

In 1900, Maryanna Drajem was living at 33 Loepere Street with her son-in-law, Ignatz Samulski, daughter Apolonia, and their two children, Pelagia (“Pearl”) and Stanislaus (“Stanley”). She was recorded as a 78-year-old widow, born in February 1822 in “Poland Ger.,” which implies the Prussian partition of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. (For a brief summary of Poland’s changing borders, see here.) Her immigration year was not recorded, but her son-in-law arrived in the U.S. in 1880, so it’s likely that she traveled with him and her daughter, or perhaps arrived a few years after they had settled in the U.S. A passenger record has not been found for her to date. Interestingly, this record states that Marianna was the mother of eleven children, seven of whom were still living at the time of the census, which is a bit different from the total of five children reported by Wojciech Drajem in his life insurance application.

Marie (Kaszyńska) Draheim of Buffalo, New York, and Mielno, Posen, Prussia

The first glimpse of Marianna in records from Poland came in this entry from the Poznań Project, which is a database of marriages that took place between 1800–1899 in the Prussian province of Posen and surrounding districts (Figure 3). (A complete list of covered parishes and civil registry offices is found here.)

Figure 3: Search result from the Poznań Project showing the marriage of August Draheim and Agnes Jamrozik in Kucharki in 1890.

If you’re new to the variations in surname spelling that are part and parcel of genealogical research, you may be alarmed by the degree to which “Drajem” differs from “Draheim.” Usually, the variants bear some phonetic resemblance to each other, so one way to check whether or not you’re on the right track is to hear the surnames pronounced in Polish using Google Translate. If you click on the “sound” icon in the Polish “input” box on the left, you’ll hear the surname pronounced by a Polish speaker. Similarly, it’s important not to be thrown off by the variety of given names we might find in the records pertaining to the same ancestor. In this case, Mary, Marya, Maria, Marie, Maryanna, and Marianna are all equivalent.

August Drajem was my husband’s great-great-grandfather, and was the brother of Wojciech, whose insurance application was discussed previously. This index entry from the Poznań Project is helpful because it confirms their parents’ names as Józef and Marianna, and further identifies Marianna Drajem’s maiden name as Kaszyńska, in addition to the other information it provides. It also tells us that the original record came from the civil registry office in Kucharki, Wielkopolski, Poland, and fortunately, those records can be found online at Szukajwarchiwach, the online catalog for the Polish state archives. August and Agnes’s marriage record (which was also shared in a previous post) is shown below. (Figures 4a and b).3

Figure 4a: First page of the civil marriage record from Kucharki for Augustyn Draheim and Agnieszka Jamrozik, 1 February 1890.
Figure 4b: Second page of the civil marriage record from Kucharki for August Draheim and Agnieszka Jamrozik, 1 February 1890.

The record is in German, and Johann Kargl provided the following translation in the now-defunct Facebook group “Genealogy Translations,” whose successor is the Genealogical Translations group.4

“Kucharki 1st February 1890
1. Before the undersigned registrar appeared the farm servant August Draheim, personally known, Catholic, born on 25 July 1866 in Mielno, county Mogilno, living in Kucharki, son of the deceased master tailor Josef Draheim and his wife Marianne, nee Kaszynska, living in America
2. the unmarried maiden Agnes Jamrozik, personally known, Catholic, born on 9 January 1865 in Kucharki, county Kleschen, living in Kucharki, daughter of the innkeeper Johann Jamrozik and his wife Rosalie, nee Juszczak, living in Kucharki.
As witnesses appeared:
3. The innkeeper Jakob Tomalak, personally known, 60 yers old, living in Kucharki
4. the innkeeper Adalbert (Wojciech) Szlachetka, personally known, 48 years old, living in Kucharki

read, approved and signed
August Draheim Agnieszka Draheim, nee Jamrozik
Jakob Tomalak
Wojciech Szlachetka
The registrar
signed Grzegorzewski

Kucharki, 8 February 1890
(signature)”

This document goes well beyond the information in the index entry from the Poznań Project, providing August Drajem’s exact date and place of birth as 25 July 1866 in Mielno, county Mogilno. The marriage record also tells us that Marianna Drajem was already a widow by the time of August’s marriage in 1890 and living in “Amerika.” Although the Meyers Gazetteer indicates a number of places called “Amerika” that were located within the German Empire, we already have evidence from the census that Marianna had children living in Buffalo as early as 1880. Therefore, it’s quite plausible that the obvious “Amerika”—the United States of America—is really the one that was intended here.

In contrast, the obvious choice was not the correct one when it came to identifying the Mielno where the Drajem family was living when August was born. Although Mapa Szukacz identifies 17 places within the borders of Poland today that are called Mielno, the marriage record specifies that August was born in Mielno in Mogilno County. The Słownik Geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego has a number of entries for places called Mielno, but the only one described as being in Mogilno County (“pow. mogilnicki”) was the one belonging to the Roman Catholic parish in Pakość. Kartenmeister similarly offers 23 search results for places called Mielno, but only three entries mention Mogilno County. The three entries correspond to variant place names (Mielno, Moelno, Mölno) for the same village, belonging to the Roman Catholic parish in Pakość. However, August’s birth record was not found in church records from Pakość in July 1866, nor was it recorded in this parish anywhere within the period from 1864–1867. This suggests that the Mielno located just north of Pakość is not the right place, after all, although other interpretations (i.e. August was born outside the range of years checked, or baptized as a Protestant who subsequently converted to Catholicism) are also possible.

Marianna (Kaszyńska) Radłoska Draheim of Buffalo, New York and Mielno, Posen, Prussia

Despite this setback, the Poznań Project came through again with the marriage record for Józef Drajem/Draheim and Marianna Kaszyńska, which offered further insight (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Search result from the Poznań Project showing the marriage of Joseph Drahem and Marianna Radłoska nee Kaszyńska in Niestronno in 1850.

This index entry was the only result in the database for a groom with the given name of Joseph/Józef/Josef and a surname phonetically similar to Draheim, and a bride named Marianna Kaszyńska, and her age is exactly what we would expect, given our previous evidence that points to a birth year circa 1822. The index entry informs us that Marianna and Józef married in Niestronno, that Marianna had been married previously to a man with the surname Radłoski, that her father was deceased, and that her mother’s name was Rosalia Kaszyńska.

Records from the Roman Catholic parish in Niestronno are also online, this time at FamilySearch, which permits at-home access to these images (as opposed to viewing only at a Family History Center or Affiliate Library) after logging into a free FamilySearch account. Józef and Marianna’s marriage record is shown in Figure 6.5

Figure 6: Marriage record from the Roman Catholic parish in Niestronno for Józef Drahim and Marianna Radłoska, 7 July 1850. Click to view larger image.

Due to the faded ink, the bleed-through from the reverse pages, the cramped handwriting, and my rudimentary ability to read Latin, this one took some time to decipher, and I ran into a bit of trouble in some spots. So, I ran it past my friend, Marcel Elias, for corrections and insights, and with thanks to Marcel, the transcription is as follows:

“[Numerus] 8

[Annus Dies et Mensis Copulationis] 1850. 7 Julii

[Nomen sacerdotis benedicicensis matrimonium] Bartholem. Cieśliński, Commen’us (“commendarius”) ac Decanus

[Nomen et cognomen Copulatorum, denominatio, domicili, status artis vel Conditionis vitae, et atrum in Ecclesia art privato loco consecrati sunt] Joseph Drahim, ferrifeber, Marianna Radłoska /: Liebener :/, Colonisca. Uterque ex Mielno. Copulati in Ecclesia.

[Num copulati vel una pars eorum vinculo matrimonii obstricti vel obstricta fuit. Num sub potestate parentum vel faterum existunt] Juvenis sub potestale parentium. Vidua

[Aetas sponsi]28 [sponsae] 28

[Religio sponsi] Cath. [sponsae] Cath.

[Nomen et cognomen parentum: Sponsi] Adalbert, Anna Drahim [Sponsae] Pater mortuus, mater Rosalie Kaszyńska

[Num cum Consensu parentum vel luterum Judicii… atetaris matrimonium contractum sit] Sponsus cum consenca parentum Sponsa Judi ???? 14 Juni 1850 II 4633

[Dies promulgati onum] 16, 23 et 30 Juni

[Nomen et cognomen, Ors et Conditio vitae adstantium testiam] Adalb. Kaszyński agran (?), Joan Berunt agran., Adalb. Kraczo (?) agran (?)

[Annotatio] Mielno.”

Translated, this states,

[Number] 8

[Year, Day, and Month of Marriage] 7 July 1850

[Name of the priest who blessed the marriage] Bartłomiej Cieśliński, pastor and dean

[Given and surname of those married, denomination, domicile, state or condition of life, and whether the marriage took place in church or in a private location] Joseph Drahim, blacksmith, Marianna Radłoska /: Liebener :/, Colonist, both of Mielno. Married in church.

[Whether one of them was bound by matrimony. Whether they are under parental control, or in control of their own fates] Young man under parental control. Widow.

[Age of the groom] 28 [of the bride] 28

[Religion of the groom] Cath. [of the bride] Cath. (Catholic)       

[Given name and surname of the parents: Groom] Adalbert, Anna Drahim [Bride] father deceased, mother Rosalie Kaszyńska

[Whether the marriage was contracted with parental consent, or with judicial (?) permission] The groom with parental consent, the bride, with permission from 14 June 1850, II 4633 (?)

[Dates on which the banns were published] 16, 23 and 30 June

[Given name and surname, origin and condition of life of present witnesses] Adalbert Kaszyński, farmer, Jan Berunt, farmer, Adalbert Kraczo?

[Remarks] Mielno.”

This record is packed with both information and mysteries. Consistent with the index entry from the Poznań Project, the record states that 28-year-old Joseph Drahim, a blacksmith, married 28-year-old widow, Marianna Radłoska on 7 July 1850 in the Roman Catholic church in Niestronno. (I would argue that Joseph’s surname is spelled Drahim, rather than Drahem, in the two places in which it was recorded in this document, but that’s a minor point.) Marianna has a curious notation after her name, “/: Liebener :/,” and the way that it’s written seems to suggest that Liebener was her maiden name, rather than Kaszyńska. Her parents’ names don’t shed much light on the situation, since her father’s name was not provided, and her mother’s name was recorded as Rosalie Kaszyńska, which could be interpreted as a maiden name. However, the other entries on this page do not provide mother’s maiden names; mothers were referred to by their married names, as was the case with Joseph’s parents, Adalbert and Anna Drahim. Moreover, the priest had a pattern of not recording names of deceased parents of the brides and grooms, from which we might infer that any parents whose names were recorded were still alive at the time of the wedding. So, the evidence does seem to favor Kaszyńska as Marianna’s maiden name, and it suggests that her mother, Rozalia (__) Kaszyńska, was still alive in 1850. For now, the “Liebener” notation remains a mystery, and its significance will depend on further research.

The record indicates that Marianna needed some sort of judicial permission in order to remarry, but it’s not entirely clear whether this was from a religious or civil authority. Marcel noted that the phrasing, “Num cum Consensu parentum vel luterum Judicii…” could suggest that in some cases, the parish was the legal guardian of a person, if the father or both parents of a minor groom/bride were deceased, since luterum is a medieval Latin term for a baptismal font. It may be that the document referenced as granting permission for the remarriage, “14 Juni 1850 II 4633,” can be found in the parish archive.

In addition to providing an introduction to three “new” ancestors for my husband and children—Adalbert and Anna Draheim and Rozalia (__) Kaszyska—this marriage record states that both the bride and groom were from Mielno, which helps us to identify the specific Mielno where August Drajem was born. The village of Mielno that belongs to the parish in Niestronno is, in fact, located in present-day Mogilno County, gmina Mogilno, and I’m still baffled as to why it was not showing up in either of the two gazetteers I checked. These locations are shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7: Map showing locations of Mielno, where Marianna Drajem was living when her son August was born; Niestronno, where she married Józef Drajem, and Kucharki, where her son August was married, courtesy of Google Maps. Click to view larger map.

Marianna (Kaszyńska) Radłowska of Popielewo, Mielno, and Buffalo

Although the record of Marianna Kaszyńska’s marriage to Józef Draheim made no mention of her father’s name, it seemed possible that this information was included in the record of her first marriage to (__) Radłoski. I searched the Poznań Project again for brides named Marianna Kaszyńska and grooms with the surnames that were at least 60% phonetically similar to Radłoski. There were no good matches. However, when I repeated the search, leaving off the groom’s surname entirely, a probable match was obtained (Figure 8).

Figure 8: Search result from the Poznań Project showing the marriage of Stephanus Racławski and Marianna Kaszyńska in Trzemeszno in 1838.

The bride’s age suggests a birth in 1820, which would be a couple years off from prior evidence that she was born in 1822; however, this is still within a reasonable ballpark. Records for the Roman Catholic parish in Trzemeszno are online at FamilySearch, so the original image was retrieved and is shown in Figure 9.6

Figure 9: Marriage record from the Roman Catholic parish in Trzemeszno for Stephan Radłowski and Maria Kaszyńska, 11 November 1838. Click to view larger image.

Although this record, too, was a bit disappointing in that it omitted the names of the couple’s parents, it is almost certainly the correct marriage record for our Marianna Kaszyńska. If you look closely, it’s clear that the groom’s name was actually Stephan Radłowski, and was mistranscribed as Racławski. A death record for Stephan dated prior to 1850 would provide further evidence that this interpretation is correct. The record identifies Popielewo as the village where the marriage took place, and since it was traditional to hold the wedding in the bride’s parish, this suggests that Marianna (Kaszyńska) Drajem was living in Popielewo in 1838 (Figure 10).

Figure 10: Map showing locations of Popielewo, where Marianna Kaszyńska was living when she married Stephan Radłowski; Trzemeszno, where that marriage was recorded; Niestronno, where she married Józef Drajem, and Mielno, where Marianna Drajem was living at the time of her second marriage. Google Maps. Click to view larger map.

The existence of a previous marriage for Marianna, and the likelihood that she had children with her first husband in those years prior to her marriage to Józef Drajem, may also help to reconcile the discrepancy between Wojciech’s statement that he had one brother and three sisters, with Marianna’s statement in the 1900 census that she was the mother of 11 children. Perhaps Wojciech was considering only his full siblings, neglecting to mention his six half-siblings from his mother’s previous marriage? Further research is required to find the answer.

While this research is far from finished, we have at least opened the door to further discovery in records from Poland. At the outset, we knew little more than Mary Drajem’s name. Now we have evidence that Marianna Kaszyńska was born circa 1820–1822 to a mother named Rozalia (__) and an unknown Kaszyński father, who was deceased by 1850. Marianna was married in Popielewo, Posen, Prussia (Trzemeszno parish) to Stephen Radłowski on 11 November 1838. There is some evidence to suggest that she might have had six children with Stephen Radłowski, and a focus of further research will be the identification of all of her children.

At some point, she moved from Popielewo to Mielno, where she was living when she married Józef Drajem in 1850, following the death of her first husband. She had four children with Józef who have been identified thus far, in research not discussed here: Antonina (b. 1851), Apolonia (b. May 1859), Augustyn (b. 25 July 1866), and Wojciech (b. 12 April 1867). We can infer that Józef died circa 1872, since his marriage record suggests a date of birth circa 1822, and Wojciech’s life insurance application stated that his father died at the age of 50. At some point between 1880 and 1890, Marianna Drajem migrated to Buffalo, New York, where she was living with her daughter, Apolonia Samulska, in 1900. Since Wojciech Drajem reported that his mother died at the age of 83, we can infer that she died circa 1905, and seek death and burial records for confirmation.

In my next post, I hope to discuss some further discoveries I’ve made for the Drajem family. Stay tuned.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2022

Selected Sources:

1 Polish Roman Catholic Union of America, Applicant’s Certificate (Zeznania Kandydata) for Wojciech Drajem, 6 February 1915, claim no. 22169, certificate no. 112904.

2 1900 United States Federal Census, Erie County, New York, population schedule, Buffalo Ward 14, Enumeration District 110, sheet 29B, house no. 33, family no. 533, lines 59-63, Ignatz Samulski household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : 23 January 2022), citing National Archives and Records Administration, microfilm publication T623, 1854 rolls, no roll specified.

3 “Urzad Stanu Cywilnego Kucharki, 1874 – 1935,” Akta malzenstw 1874-1909, 1890, no. 13, marriage record for August Draheim and Agnes Jamrozik; digital images, Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe, Szukajwarchiwach (http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/ : 23 January 2022), Sygnatura 11/711/0/2/50, scans 29-30 of 75.

4 Johann Kargl, reply to post by Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz, Genealogy Translations (Facebook group), 27 March 2016.

5 Roman Catholic Church (Niestronno, Mogilno, Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Poland), “Księgi metrykalne, 1722-1952,” Akta małżeństw 1815-1865, 1850, no. 8, Joseph Drahim and Marianna Radłoska, 7 July 1850; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/: 23 January 2022), Family History Library film no. 2151453, Item 3/DGS no. 8120936, image 593 of 1037.

6 Roman Catholic Church, Trzemeszno parish (Trzemeszno, Gniezno, Wielkopolskie, Poland), “Kopie księg metrykalnych, 1808-1874,” Copulatorum, 1837 – 1842, 1838, no. 22, Stephen Radłowski and Maria Kaszyńska, 11 November 1838; digital images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 23 January 2022), Family History Library film no. 2004406, item 20/DGS no.8020665, image 847 of 873.

The Last Will and Testament of John Hodgkinson, Sr.

I am positively giddy with excitement over here, after a huge breakthrough with my Hodgkinson research! Over the past several months, I’ve been researching and blogging about the family of my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, John Hodgkinson (c. 1750–1832), a United Empire Loyalist who served with Butler’s Rangers and settled in Grantham Township, Upper Canada (present-day Ontario). I summarized known data on his family here, and discovered a baptismal record for Ellender Hodgkinson, a daughter whom I’ve not seen mentioned in any online Hodgkinson trees to date. I discussed some theories about the family’s origins here, and warmed up to the hypothesis that John, William, and Mary Hodgkinson might all be children of John and Sarah (Godley) Hodgkinson of Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, England, although further evidence is needed in order to be confident in that assertion. I began searching for records relating to Ellender’s godmother, Mary Hodgkinson, and discovered evidence that she was married in New York in 1772 to Ralph Miller/Meller, a Loyalist who served in Jessup’s Rangers, and settled with him in Dunham, Quebec. I suspected that Mary was a sister to John and William Hodgkinson, but had no evidence to prove that.

Until now.

I’ve been doing further searches in indexed databases on Ancestry to turn up additional records for Mary (Hodgkinson) Miller/Meller. The other day, a search result came up that left me speechless (which is hard to do). It’s shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Ancestry search result for Mary Miller in the database, “Vermont, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1749–1999.” Click image to view larger.

Mary Miller—Mary Hodgkinson Miller—was named as the daughter of John Hodgkinson in a probate file from Vermont, with John and William Hodgkinson both named as sons, and Samuel Hodgkinson named as a grandson?! No. Freaking. Way. You could’ve knocked me over with a feather!

I, and many other Hodgkinson researchers, have been looking for traces of this family in historical records for decades. How could this document have remained hidden until now? Clicking over to the “Source” tab indicates that this database was copyrighted by Ancestry relatively recently, in 2015. Nonetheless, for more than six years, despite all my countless searches for John Hodgkinson and William Hodgkinson, employing every search technique in the book, this document failed to turn up. Prior to 2015, one would have had to search those probate records the old-fashioned way, browsing through microfilm from the Family History Library, and I can certainly excuse previous generations of researchers for not guessing that the Hodgkinsons were originally from Vermont! Who knew, or who would have suspected, especially in light of the red-herring evidence that caused many to believe they were from Burlington, New Jersey? Maybe we’re all victims of tunnel vision. As I’ve said before, what we see depends on where we look.

At the end of the day, it was only by searching for Mary Miller that the curtain parted and the document was exposed. Mary Miller—a name which you’d think would be so much more common, that it would produce all kinds of irrelevant search hits and very few relevant ones. I’m still scratching my head to know how the search algorithms could’ve missed this one. “Hodgkinson” isn’t even misspelled here! How did this record not turn up before now?

In any case, here it is, so let’s dig in!

Clicking the document shown in the Ancestry search result takes you to a page in the middle of the will (where Mary Miller was mentioned), so I had to scroll back a few pages in order to begin at the beginning. The whole thing consists of four images, chock-full of rich genealogical detail. These pages must have been recopied at some point, because the dates in the various records appear out of sequence relative to the original page numbers. That’s a shame, because having original signatures would have been the icing on the cake, but I’ll take what I can get, and I’ll discuss the pages in chronological order.

The will itself starts on pages 191–192, shown in Figure 2a, and continues on pages 193–194 (Figure 2b).1

Figure 2a: First two pages of the will of John Hodgkinson, Sr. Click to view larger.
Figure 2b: Continuation of the will of John Hodgkinson, Sr. Click image to view larger.

The transcription is as follows, retaining original capitalization, spelling, and punctuation, but converting all the instances of the old “long s’” into standard modern forms.

“In the Name of God Amen. I, John Hogkinson of Pownall and State of Vermont, Yeoman, being very weak in body, but of perfect mind and memory, Thanks be given to God, calling to mind the Mortality of my Body, and knowing that is appointed to all Men once to Die: Do make and ordain this, my last Will and Testament; That is to say,

Principally and first of all, I give and recommend my Soul into the hand of Almighty God that gave it, and my Body I recommend to the Earth to be buried in a decent, Christian Burial, at the discretion of my Executors herein after mentioned, nothing doubting but at the general Resurrection I shall receive the same again by the mighty Power of God. And as touching such worldly Estate wherewith it hath Pleased God to Bless me with in this world. I give, demise, and dispose of the same in the following manner and form.

First, I give and Bequeath unto Mary, my dearly and well beloved Wife the Houseroom in my dwelling House with a Sufficient Garden Spot to raise necessary Garden Fruit for her:

Also,

p. 192

Also, seven pounds, ten shillings Lawful Money to be raised out of my Estate and paid to her Yearly in Grain or such other necessaries as she may stand in need of for her natural subsistence. Also the keeping of a Cow, Winter and Summer (if she has one to keep): Also her firewood to be drawn to her door, all which shall be done out of my Estate during the time she remains my Widow: Also I give to my well beloved Wife, one certain Grey Mare that is called here Mare, and all the Household Goods she brought with her when she came to me to dispose of at her own Will and Pleasure, all which I give to my said Wife in lieu of her Right of Dower.

Also I give to my well beloved Son, John Hodgkison Junior, that part of my Homestead Farm lying in Pownall aforesaid that lies west of the Brook that Runs thro. The Farm (if he can be at Liberty to come and Freely enjoy the same) and if the circumstances of my s. [said?] son John Hodgkisson should be such that he can never enjoy the same by any means whatsoever, then I give it to my well beloved GrandSon Samuel Hodgkisson.

Also I give unto my Well beloved Son William Hodgkisson all that part of my said Homestead lying Eastwardly of the S. Brook (if he can come and freely enjoy the same himself). But if neither of my two Sons abovesaid can come and enjoy The Lands or Estate above given or bequeathed to them, or either of them, and the other Son above dis???? [?] cannot come to enjoy his part: then I give the whole of my Homestead Farm to that Son that can enjoy the same: My true intent and meaning is, that ^if either of my two sons cannot enjoy The Farm as aforesaid or otherwise they Choose not to Live upon it, that it be sold, and each one of them or either of them so ??? [choosing?] not to live upon it to have his equal part of what it shall sell for: And that part of the Farm lying westward of the Brook be made equal as to the improvement with the East Side of The Farm.

                                                                                                         And

p. 193

               And if either of my two Sons or both of them can never enjoy my said Homestead Farm as hath been before described by any circumstances whatever, by Death or otherwise; then I give the same to my well beloved Grand-Son Samuel Hodgkisson to be delivered to him when he arrives to the full age of Twenty One Years, and the Profits arising from the Rents and Profits of my said Homestead Farm to be equally divided between all my Grand-Children both Male and Female.

               Also I give to my well beloved Daughter, Dorothy Deal, three pounds fifteen shillings Lawful Money, to be raised out of my personal Estate, and paid to her by my said Executors herein after Mentioned.

               Also I give to my well beloved Daughter, Ann McKenna, seven pounds, ten shillings L[awful] Money to be raised out of my Personal Estate, and to be paid to her by my said Executors.

               Also I give to my well beloved Grand Son Thomas Miller three pounds, ten shillings Lawful Money to be raised out of my Personal Estate and paid to him, or his Lawful Guardian, by my said Executors.

               Also I give to my aforesaid GrandSon, Samuel Hodkgisson, that certain Lot or Farm of Land Lying in Bennington containing Fifty Acres of Land that I purchased of Col. Samuel Robinson to be delivered to him by my said Executors or their Successors in Administratorship, when he arrives to the age of Twenty one Years; and the Profits arising from T. Farm, until that time is expired, after paying the Legacy to my said Wife and other Necessary Charges, to be equally divided between my said Grand Children.

                                                                                                         Also

p. 194

Also I give unto my beloved Wife, one certain two year old Heifer, and to her Daughter Ann, GrandDaughter Gardner, a certain Yearling Heifer and keeping for it, on my said Farm until it becomes a Cow (if it Lives).

Also I give to my aforesaid Sons, John and William Hodgkinson, the use of all my moveable effects that hath not herein before been disposed of, after my just Debts and Funeral Charges be paid, until my aforesaid GrandSon Samuel Hodgkisson comes to the age of Twenty one Years with their paying unto my well beloved Daughters, Mary Miller and Martha Pember, five shillings each, and when the term aforesaid is expired, to pay the value of these moveables to be divided equally amongst all my Grand Children.

Likewise, I make, Ordain and Constitute David Goff and Basteyon [sic] Deal, both of Pownall aforesaid the Sole Executors jointly and severally of this my last Will and Testament, and I do hereby utterly disavow, revoke, and disannul all every other former Testament, Legacies, Bequests, and Executors by me in any wise named Willed and bequeathed. Ratifying and confirming this and no other to be my last Will and Testament.

               In Witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and Seal this nineteenth day of August in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty Two. [signed] John Hodgkinson

Signed, Sealed, Published, Pronounced, and declared by the said John Hodgkinson as his Last Will and Testament In presence of us, who in his presence, and in the presence of each other, have hereunto Subscribed our names

[signed] Paul Gardner

              Abraham Bowdish

              Joseph Briggs”

John Hodgkinson of Pownall, Vermont

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Hodgkinson family described in this will is the same family as the Loyalist Hodgkinsons. This will offers evidence that the father, John Hodgkinson Sr., also immigrated, and this fact alone is significant, because I’ve never seen it asserted or referenced in any other Hodgkinson resource. Moreover, the fact that the father’s name was John is consistent with the hypothesis that the Loyalist Hodgkinsons were children of John and Sarah (Godley) Hodgkinson of Mansfield. We have no idea how long John Sr. lived in Vermont, and this document alone offers no indication that John was born in Colonial America. So, this piece of evidence does not necessarily contradict the existing hypothesis that the Loyalist Hodgkinsons were born in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, England.

According to this document, we have John Hodgkinson, Sr., making his last will and testament in Pownal, in the State of Vermont, on 19 August 1782, during the final year of the American Revolutionary War, which would end with the Treaty of Paris on 3 September 1783. Pownal is a small town situated about 27 miles southeast of Schaghticoke, where Samuel and Ellender Hodgkinson were baptized in 1776 and 1778, respectively (Figure 3). The “State of Vermont” mentioned in the will is not a U.S. state, but rather a reference to the Vermont Republic, which was an independent state that existed from 1777–1791.2 Prior to that, between 1764 and 1777, “Vermont” did not exist: the land west of the Connecticut River was declared by King George III to belong to New York, while New Hampshire lay to the east of that river.3 So, if John settled in Pownal prior to 1777, and his children were living in the vicinity of Albany, then they all would have been residents of the Province of New York.

While I know nothing about John (Sr.)’s personal politics, all of his children discovered to date were Loyalists, so John Sr. may have been one as well. Were they all living in Schaghticoke originally, and then John Sr. moved to the independent State of Vermont after the British lost at Saratoga, while his sons continued to serve with Butler’s Rangers until they disbanded in 1784? Certainly it would not have been possible for him to continue living in New York State as a known Loyalist after the New York Act of Attainder, or Confiscation Act, was passed on 22 October 1779.4 This Act identified 59 prominent Loyalists by name, confiscated their land and personal property, banished them from the state, and gave them death sentences, without benefit of clergy, should they ever be found within the State of New York. It made further provisions for indicting additional Loyalists—such as the Hodgkinsons—besides those 59 named individually. John Sr.’s death in 1784 came seven years before Vermont was admitted to the union as the fourteenth of the United States, yet perhaps it was uncertainty over Vermont’s future that led John to word his bequest of his land to his sons so carefully, declaring that each son would inherit his portion of the farm, “if he can be at Liberty to come and Freely enjoy the same.

Figure 3: Map showing locations of Schaghticoke, New York, where John Hodgkinson (Jr.)’s oldest children were baptized, and Pownal, Vermont, where John Hodgkinson (Sr.) wrote his last will. Image courtesy of Google Maps; click to view larger.

His Dearly Beloved Wife, Mary

John’s wife was named as Mary in this document, not Sarah, but she appears to have been a second wife. This hypothesis is supported by the statement, “I give unto my beloved Wife, one certain two year old Heifer, and to her [emphasis mine] Daughter Ann Gardner, a certain Yearling Heifer…” This suggests that Ann Gardner was Mary’s daughter by a previous spouse. It’s unclear whether Gardner was Ann’s maiden name, or her married surname. If the former, then it would also have been Mary’s surname from her first husband. I’ll have to look for a death record for Sarah (Godley) Hodgkinson in records from Vermont or Mansfield (England), as well as a marriage record for John and Mary in Vermont. One of the witnesses to the will, Paul Gardner, is likely to be another relative, and research into this family is also on my to-do list.

The current value of the money that John bequeathed to Mary—seven pounds, ten shillings, paid annually—is estimated at £645.78 using the currency calculator here, but the estimate ranges from £898.60 to £87,520.00 using the more nuanced currency value calculators at MeasuringWorth. This was not all that he left her, however, since there was also the matter of the houseroom, the garden, the “keeping of a Cow, Winter and Summer (if she has one to keep),” the firewood brought to her door, and the gray mare “that is called here Mare.” (My ancestors were perhaps not the most creative folk in naming their livestock, but I find this phrasing charming nonetheless!) Later in the will, he also bequeathed to her a two-year-old heifer—so she clearly does have a cow—and all the household goods that she brought with her into their marriage.

His Sons, John Jr. and William, and Grandson Samuel

John Hodgkinson bequeathed his farm to his sons, John Jr. and William, with John getting the western half of the farm and William receiving the eastern half, based on the location of a brook that divided the farm. The phrasing in the will suggests that John Sr. truly hoped that one or the other of his sons might be able to use and enjoy the farm, which was undoubtedly the fruit of much of John Sr.’s labor. On reading this, my first thought was that I need to find land records to locate this farm in Pownal and view the title history, to see who eventually owned it. Both John Jr. and William ended up in Grantham Township on the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario, as did John Jr.’s son, Samuel, so it may be that all the heirs to the farm elected to sell it. Samuel Hodgkinson would have been six years old at the time his grandfather wrote his will in 1782, and when he turned twenty-one, he was to receive an additional 50 acres of land in Bennington.

His Daughters, Mary, Martha, Dorothy, and Ann

Although the bequests and descriptions of John’s assets are fascinating, what’s really jaw-dropping about this document is the list of previously-unknown daughters. The will names his daughters as Dorothy Deal, Ann McKenna, Mary Miller, and Martha Pember, and identifies Thomas Miller as another grandson. This information provides further confirmation that the Hodgkinson family described in this document is the same as the Loyalist Hodgkinsons of Grantham. The records of St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake show that, on 14 May 1815, a number of children of William and Mary (Jones) Hodgkinson were baptized, including “William, Thomas, Dorothy, John Pember, Rockaway, Martha, Eleazer Alexr [sic], and George.”5 It seems obvious now that William’s daughters, Dorothy and Martha, were named after his sisters, Dorothy (Hodgkinson) Deal and Martha (Hodgkinson) Pember, and that his son John Pember’s middle name was inspired by Martha’s married surname. All of this is fertile ground for growing the Hodgkinson family tree. The executors, David Goff and Basteyon Deal, are also worthy research subjects, as are Abraham Bowdish and Joseph Briggs, who were the other witnesses to the will in addition to Paul Gardner. In particular, “Basteyon” (Sebastian?) Deal is most probably a relative by marriage of Dorothy (Hodgkinson) Deal.

The Plot Thickens

Immediately following the last page of the will (page 194), there is a pair of entries on page 195 in the court records, shown in Figure 3.6

Figure 3: Decisions and Orders of Judge Jonas Fay, Bennington Probate Court, 7 April 1783 (top), and 24 March 1785 (bottom). Click to view larger.

These decisions and orders by Judge Jonas Fay, Judge of Probate Court, are transcribed as follows:

“195

At the Probate Court holden in in Bennington in the Probate District of Bennington on the 7th day of April AD. 1783 by Virtue of a Legal Citatation [sic], Personally appeared the within named Mary Hodgkinson, and alledged [sic] that the within Will does not make such Provision for her, as the Law in such Cases Allows, and therefore pray, the Court to disapprove the same, the several persons named in the Citation being present and having nothing to offer (in the opinion of the Court) sufficient to approve the Will, the Court does therefore disapprove thereof, that Administration to be taken out, and that the same be Recorded.  [Signed] Jonas Fay Judge Probt.

At a Probate Court holden at Bennington in the Probate District of Bennington on the 24th day of March AD. 1785 Mary Hodgkinson Widow of the within Testator being personally present, and relinquishing her former objection to Probating the within Will, and John Hodgkinson one of the Legatees named in said Will being Likewise present in behalf of himself, and Peter McKenna, Adam Deal, Ralph Miller, William Hodgkinson and Philip Pember as appears by writing under their ^names and Seals, and Registered in this office, and praying in their several capacities that the within Will may be Probated, the same is hereby approved and allowed. By Jonas Fay, Judg. Probt.”

So, John wrote his will on 17 August 1782, and on 7 April 1783, while her husband was still alive, Mary Hodgkinson petitioned the court to disapprove of the will. But then, after John was deceased, she turned around and relinquished her objection to probating the will on 24 March 1785. I’m still trying to figure out what to make of that situation, and determine the implications. I might be able to gain some insight through deeper investigation of these probate records, as there are other entries in this same probate book that are relevant (i.e. page 190). However, I won’t make a long blog post even longer by discussing them today.

What’s exciting about these two decisions and orders by Judge Fay, though, is that John Hodgkinson’s sons-in-law are identified by name. Now we know that Dorothy (Hodgkinson) Deal was married to Adam Deal, Ann (Hodgkinson) McKenna was married to Peter McKenna, and Martha (Hodgkinson) Pember was married to Phillip Pember—information which will facilitate research into these families.

Coming full circle now, back to Mary (Hodgkinson) Miller, one final question occurred to me. If she was married to Ralph Miller in 1772, and this same Mary was godmother to Ellender Hodgkinson in 1778, then she should have been recorded in the baptismal record as Mary Miller, not Mary Hodgkinson. So might the godmother have been the other Mary Hodgkinson, John Sr.’s second wife. and Ellender’s stepgrandmother? Maybe so. Nonetheless, a precedent exists for referring to Mary Miller by her maiden name after her marriage, in that she was recorded as “Mary Hotchkisson, widow of the late Ralph Miller of Dunham” in her death record.7 So, it’s still possible that the intended Mary Hodgkinson was Ellender’s aunt, and the truth of the matter may be lost in the mists of time. However, when it comes to knowing the truth about the origins of the Loyalist Hodgkinson family, the mists of time were just blown away by the discovery of John Hodgkinson’s will.

I’m blown away, too.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2022

Selected Sources:

1 “Vermont, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1749-1999,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 14 January 2022), John Hodgkinson, Last Will and Testament, 19 Aug 1782, probated 15 June 1784, Bennington, Vermont; citing Vermont Probate Court (Bennington District), Probate Records, Vol 1-5, 1778-1812, Vol. 1, pp 191-194. The featured image for this blog post is a detail from p 191.

2 “Vermont Republic,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vermont_v._New_Hampshire : 14 January 2022).

3 “Vermont v. New Hampshire,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vermont_v._New_Hampshire : 14 January 2022).

4 “The New York Act of Attainder, or Confiscation Act,” Provincial Archives of New Brunswick (https://archives.gnb.ca/exhibits/forthavoc/html/NY-Attainder.aspx?culture=en-CA : 14 January 2022).

5 Ontario Genealogical Society Niagara Peninsula Branch, Paul Hutchinson, editor, St. Marks’ Anglican Church Baptisms, Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1792–1856 (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada: Ontario Genealogical Society, 1998), p 22, “14 May 1815, All (the following) were baptized at the 12-mile creek on the same day…William HODGKINSON, Thomas/Dorothy/John Pember/Rockaway/Martha/Eleazer Alexr/George }of William and Mary”.

6 Vermont Probate Court (Bennington District), Vol. 1, 1778–1792, p 195, Decision and Order of Judge Jonas Fay, 7 April 1783; Decision and Order of Judge Jonas Fay, 24 March 1785, imaged in “Vermont, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1749-1999,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 14 January 2022), path: Bennington > Probate Records, Vol 1-5, 1778-1812 > image 107 of 909.

7 “Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968,” database and images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 14 January 2022), burial record for Mary Hotchkisson, died 15 June 1832; citing records of the Anglican Church, Holy Trinity, in Frelighsburg from Institut Généalogique Drouin; Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Drouin Collection; Author: Gabriel Drouin, comp.

Whatever Happened to Mary Hodgkinson?

Recently, I wrote about some new discoveries into the history of my Hodgkinson ancestors—Loyalists who settled in Grantham Township, Upper Canada, after the American Revolutionary War. Both John Hodgkinson and his brother, William, were privates in Butler’s Rangers, and there is ample evidence for both of them in historical records from Upper Canada (what is now Ontario). However, the Hodgkinson brothers are commonly reported to have a sister, Mary, based on baptismal records from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, England, who is absent from the narrative in Upper Canada. Some believe that Mary never emigrated, pointing to a marriage record for Mary Hodgkinson to Samuel Holehouse in Mansfield in 1774.1 However, this marriage record does not include parents’ names, so further evidence is needed before concluding that this is the same Mary Hodgkinson who was the sister of the Loyalist Hodgkinsons.

Even if Mary never emigrated, that mystery godmother remains, Mary “Huskinson,” godmother to Ellender “Huskinson,” daughter of John “Huskinson” and Mary “More.”2 If you believe, as I do, that the family described here is likely to be the family of John Hodgkinson of Grantham, then we have evidence of some female relative named Mary who was named as godmother in 1778. Does her role as godmother necessitate her physical presence at the baptism in Schaghticoke, New York? That’s unclear. While it’s possible in some faiths and circumstances to have proxy godparents, who stand in when the godparents are unable to be present at the baptism, I have no idea what rules might apply to an 18th-century Dutch Reformed baptism of the child of an Anglican father and a mother whose religious faith is unknown. But if we admit the possibility that Mary Hodgkinson was present at the baptism of Ellender Hodgkinson, and if we agree that she was almost certainly a relative and quite probably a sister, then it begs the question: what happened to Mary Hodgkinson, and why did she not end up in Grantham with her brothers?

The Search for Mary Begins

If Mary Hodgkinson was personally present at the baptism of Ellender in 1778, then there should be some evidence of her existence in historical documents from New York. A quick search of indexed records at Ancestry produced a marriage record from the “New York, Marriage Index, 1600–1784,” for Mary “Hodkisson” and Ralph Mellor on 29 January 1772 (Figure 1).3

Figure 1: Index entry for marriage record of Mary Hodkisson and Ralph Mellor from Ancestry.

Clicking over from the “Detail” to the “Source” page provides additional information about the original records from the New York State Archives from which the index information was taken, and includes a caveat that they “are limited in availability and additional informational value” due to the New York State Capitol fire of 1911 (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Source information from Ancestry regarding original records used in the creation of their “New York, U.S., Marriage Index, 1600–1784” database.

Hope dies last, so I emailed the New York State Archives anyway, just to see if there was any chance for more information. Their reply stated,

“Thank you for contacting the New York State Archives with your inquiry. I’ve checked A1893, marriage bonds executed by persons obtaining marriage licenses, and the corresponding book regarding these documents, New York Marriage Bonds (947.7 S427n) but neither the name Mary Hodkisson or Ralph Mellor were found. Both this series and the book are about those documents that did survive the 1911 Albany fire, but it appears this marriage record did not. I would suggest you check the local newspaper at the time or a local church for an announcement of this marriage. This may be the only record you will find now.” 4

Finding a newspaper announcement of the marriage is a long shot, given the extremely limited number of newspapers that were in publication in New York in January 1772. A church record might be found in time; although this record does not state precisely where in New York the couple was married, we can perhaps assume that it was in the vicinity of Schaghticoke, since that’s where Ellender Hodgkinson was baptized in 1778. (A marriage record for Ralph and Mary is not found in that same collection of Dutch Reformed Church records which contained Ellender’s baptismal record, because that would be too easy.) Even in the absence of any detailed information, this marriage record is still an important discovery, because it offers further evidence for the existence of a Mary Hodkisson/Hodgkinson/Huskinson living in Colonial New York, and it provides her married name.

A further search at Ancestry turned up a death record for Mary “Hotchkisson” Miller from the Drouin Collection (Figure 3).5

Figure 3: Death record for Mary Hotchkisson Miller (blocked in red) from Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Frelighsburg, Quebec.

The record states,

“Mary Hotchkisson, widow of the late Ralph Miller of Dunham, deceased in the eighty fourth year of her age, died on the fifteenth day of June one thousand eight hundred and thirty two, and was buried on the seventeenth day of the same, in the presence of the subscribing witnesses by, James Reid, Min’r [Minister], [Witnesses] Robert Aitken, John Pickering.”

Mary’s age at the time of her death—84 years—suggests a birth year of 1748. For reference, Mary Hodgkinson, daughter of John and Sarah (Godley) Hodgkinson of Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, was baptized on 6 April 1755. Now, it could be that her age at the time of death was reported inaccurately, and it’s also possible that the Hodgkinsons were a bit lax in baptizing their children promptly. In fact, this discrepancy between Mary’s suggested year of birth and her documented date of baptism fits the pattern I noted previously with John and William Hodgkinson, since existing data for John indicate that he was born in 1750 but baptized in 1753, and that William was born in 1751, but baptized in 1759. If you think it’s also possible that I’m way off base, and these aren’t necessarily the same family at all, I don’t blame you, because I’m not convinced yet, either.

But wait, there’s more.

A search at Find A Grave produced memorials for both Ralph Miller/Mellor/Meller and Mary (Hotchkisson/Hodkisson/Hodgkinson) Meller. They were laid to rest in Bishop Stewart Memorial Church Cemetery in Frelighsburg, Quebec. Ralph’s memorial indicates that he died 8 March 1822 at the age of 81 years, suggesting a birth circa 1741.6 Mary’s memorial states that she died 12 June 1832 at the age of 83 years, which is sufficiently consistent with the death record from Holy Trinity Anglican Church as to leave no doubt that these records pertain to the same person.7 What’s interesting is that, in that same cemetery, one John Pickering was also laid to rest.8 You may recall that name because John Pickering was a witness to the death of Mary Hodgkinson Miller—he was a member of the Hodgkinsons’ FAN club (Friends, Associates and Neighbors). The memorial states that John was born 29 March 1797 and that he died on 6 May 1844, which makes this John Pickering of an appropriate age to be the same John Pickering mentioned in that burial record. Moreover, the memorial includes a photo of his grave marker, which states specifically that John Pickering was born in Collingham, Nottinghamshire, England, and that he died in Dunham—the same village in Quebec mentioned in the death record as the home of the Miller family. The village of Collingham is only 25 miles from the town of Mansfield, where the Hodgkinsons were said to originate, lending credence to the hypothesis that Mary Hodgkinson Miller was also from Nottinghamshire.

Ralph Miller, Loyalist

So who was Mary Hodgkinson’s husband, Ralph Miller? A little digging into historical records suggests that he, too, was a Loyalist, which tracks well with the the Hodgkinson family tradition. A search in the database, “Land Petitions of Lower Canada, 1764–1841,” turned up land petition no. 346, “Alex. Taylor and many other Loyalists, praying for land,” which was filed about 1783 (Figure 4).9

Figure 4: Detail from Lower Canada Land Papers showing petition 346, filed by Alex. Taylor “and many other Loyalists.”

The petition includes a list of claimants’ names, their present place of abode, the Loyalist corps in which they served, and their time of residence (i.e. date of arrival) in Canada. Ralph Miller is included in this list (Figure 5).10

Figure 5: Ralph Miller in Lower Canada Land Petitions, no. 346, filed jointly by Alex. Taylor “and many other Loyalists.”

Circa 1783, when the petition was filed, Ralph Miller was noted to be living in “Caldwells M.,” which is a reference to Caldwell Manor, an early Loyalist settlement located in present-day Noyan, Quebec.11 The notation regarding his immigration to Canada states that he arrived in 1780, and was “now in Canada.” The document also states that he served “in Jessop’s Corps S. R.” It’s unclear to me what the “S.R.” stands for, but Edward Jessup’s Rangers were a Loyalist militia unit that functioned from 12 November 1781 until 24 December 1783.12 The corps was created from the remnants of smaller military formations, including the King’s Loyal Americans—a militia group led by Edward and his brother, Ebenezer, which took part in the battles of Saratoga in 1777.

Next Steps

I think at this point, we have some idea of what became of Mary Hodgkinson, godmother to Ellender Hodgkinson in 1778. She was married to Ralph Miller/Meller in New York, probably in the vicinity of Schaghticoke, in 1772, and was likely still living in that area at the start of the Revolutionary War. Her husband may have joined Edward Jessup as early as 1777, and been one of the participants in the Battles of Saratoga, but by 1780, the Mellers were living in Quebec. Ralph and Mary lived in Dunham, where he died in 1822, and she passed ten years later, in 1832. Both are buried in Bishop Stewart Memorial Church Cemetery in Frelighsburg, Quebec.

Additional research can still be done to discover more about their family. A quick search for other Meller graves in the same cemetery reveals a grave for a probable son, also named Ralph Meller, who died in 1871 at the age of 84 years, as well as a grave for his wife, Sarah (VanAntwerp) Meller.13 Broadening the search to Meller graves in the Monteregie Region of Quebec, where Frelighsburg is located, produces additional graves of probable relatives, and census records, vital records, and other genealogical documents can be used to help sort out the relationships. However, further evidence is still needed before we can be comfortable with the assertion that Mary Hodgkinson Meller was the sister of John Hodgkinson, U.E., and William Hodgkinson, U.E.

That said, I think I’m onto something, here. Stay tuned!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2022

Sources:

1 “England and Wales Marriages, 1538–1988,” database, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : 07 January 2022), Mary Hodgkinson and Samuel Holehouse, 14 February 1774, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, England.

2 “U.S., Dutch Reformed Church Records in Selected States, 1639-1989,” database with images, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : 07 January 2022), Ellender Huskinson, baptized 23 November 1778; citing Holland Society of New York; New York, New York; Deer Park, Vol II, Book 11. This document is the source of the featured image for this blog post.

3 “New York, U.S., Marriage Index, 1600-1784,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 07 January 2022), Mary Hodkisson and Ralph Mellor, 29 Jan 1772, citing New York State Archives, Names of Persons for whom Marriage Licenses were Issued by the Secretary of the Province of New York, Previous to 1784. State of New York, 1860, Record Number: M. B., Volume: XVIII, OSPage: 23.

4 New York State Archives Researcher Services, Albany, New York, to Julie Szczepankiewicz, e-mail dated 28 October 2021, “RE: Marriage record for Mary Hodkisson and Ralph Mellor.”

5“Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968,” database and images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 07 January 2022), burial record for Mary Hotchkisson, died 15 June 1832; citing records of the Anglican Church, Holy Trinity, in Frelighsburg from Institut Généalogique Drouin; Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Drouin Collection; Author: Gabriel Drouin, comp.

6 Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/169258423/ralph-meller : accessed 07 January 2022), memorial page for Ralph Meller (unknown-8 Mar 1822), Find a Grave Memorial ID 169258423, citing Bishop Stewart Memorial Church Cemetery, Frelighsburg, Monteregie Region, Quebec, Canada ; Maintained by Graceti (contributor 47177702).

7 Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/169258431/mary-meller : accessed 07 January 2022), memorial page for Mary Meller (unknown-12 Jun 1832), Find a Grave Memorial ID 169258431, citing Bishop Stewart Memorial Church Cemetery, Frelighsburg, Monteregie Region, Quebec, Canada ; Maintained by Graceti (contributor 47177702).

8 Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/119277256/john-pickering : accessed 07 January 2022), memorial page for John Pickering (29 Mar 1797–6 May 1844), Find a Grave Memorial ID 119277256, citing Bishop Stewart Memorial Church Cemetery, Frelighsburg, Monteregie Region, Quebec, Canada ; Maintained by Stephen Payne (contributor 47327291) .

9 “Land Petitions of Lower Canada, 1764-1841,” no. 346, Alex. Taylor & many other Loyalists praying for Land, p. 91105; digital image, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng : 07 January 2022), item no. 61500, image 10 of 36, citing Lower Canada Land Papers, RG 1 L3L, Vol. 190, pp 90996-91013, Taylor, Alex – Taylor, James.

10 Ibid., p. 91106, line 8, Ralph Miller, image 11 of 36.

11 “Caldwell Manor Plaque,” United Empire Loyalists Association of Canada (https://uelac.ca/monuments/caldwell-manor-plaque// : 07 January 2022).

12 R. Arthur Bowler, “JESSUP, EDWARD,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, (http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/jessup_edward_5E.html : 07 January 2022).

13 Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/169258440/ralph-meller : 07 January 2022), memorial page for Ralph Meller (unknown–16 Aug 1871), Find a Grave Memorial ID 169258440, citing Bishop Stewart Memorial Church Cemetery, Frelighsburg, Monteregie Region, Quebec, Canada ; Maintained by Graceti (contributor 47177702); and

Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/169258452/sarah-meller : 07 January 2022), memorial page for Sarah VanAntwerp Meller (unknown–7 Nov 1882), Find a Grave Memorial ID 169258452, citing Bishop Stewart Memorial Church Cemetery, Frelighsburg, Monteregie Region, Quebec, Canada ; Maintained by Graceti (contributor 47177702) .

14 1825 census of Canada, Bedford County, Lower Canada, population return, Dunham Sub-District, Vol. 2, page no. 843, Ralph Millar household; digital image, Library and Archives Canada (https://bac-lac.gc.ca/ : 07 January 2022), Item no. 11282, image no. 004569586_00477, citing Reference MG 31 C1, Lower Canada/Canada East census returns, Microfilm C-717.

Should Auld Ancestors Be Forgot: The Year in Review

2021 is on its way out, and we’re about to get a fresh start with 2022. It’s traditional to reflect on the past year and consider our accomplishments, as well as our goals and resolutions for the new year, and this practice seems to be no less relevant to genealogical research. With that in mind, I’ve been taking stock of my genealogical triumphs and tribulations from 2021, and creating some research resolutions for the new year.

Connecting the Dodds

In 2021, I furthered my understanding of the history of my Dodds family. As of 2020, I had traced the family of Robert and Catherine (Grant) Dodds to 1871, when they were living in Yarmouth township in East Elgin, Ontario. I knew the fates of the parents, Robert and Catherine, after 1871, as well as the fates of their oldest three daughters, Hannah, Isabella, and Margaret. I also knew what became of their youngest two children, Martha Agnes (my great-great-grandmother), and Warner Howard. However, three of their sons—Alexander, John H., and Gilbert M.—disappeared from Canadian records after 1871. Thanks to clues gained from DNA matches, I was able to discover a second marriage which produced two children for Alexander Dodds, prior to his death in Buffalo in 1899. I was also able to discover the record for Gilbert’s death in Buffalo in 1898. Furthermore, DNA was instrumental once again in determining that John H. Dodds migrated to Pennsylvania, where he and Gilbert were working as day laborers in 1880. Although Gilbert eventually moved on to Buffalo, where other family members were also living, John remained in Pennsylvania, married Lena Frazier in 1892, and settled in Pike Township (Potter County) to raise a family.

Archival Acquisitions and Album Assembly

In the spring and early summer, researching my roots gave way to other demands on my time as I dealt with the task of cleaning out my parents’ home in preparation for sale. I’ve been slowly working my way through that pile of boxes in my basement, finding new homes for all their books and furnishings with sentimental value. However, I have yet to start scanning all the family photos and documents which I acquired. Similarly, I’m still chipping away at the process of filling my daughter’s baby album—never mind that she graduated from high school in June. I took a break when I realized that, having waited this long, it makes more sense to do the job right by organizing all the materials first, rather than grabbing the first box of photos from the time of her birth and hoping that additional photos from that era don’t turn up in other boxes. I think if I can get all the family photos and documents scanned and organized, with physical copies stored in archival boxes or albums, and digital images edited to include meta data, I will be satisfied. It may take the rest of my life to accomplish that, but it would mean that my kids could inherit a manageable, accessible family history collection.

DNA Discoveries

Autosomal DNA testing has been a consistent theme in my genealogy research in 2021. DNA Painter has allowed me to coordinate my research across test companies through ongoing development of my ancestral chromosome map. Over the summer, I was able to connect for the first time to living descendants of my great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, Wojciech Słoński and Marianna Duras. I was thrilled to be able to add them as a new ancestral couple to my chromosome map, bringing the total to 16 ancestral couples from whom I can now verify my genetic descent. Of course, there are still some ancestral lines where DNA has not yet shed any light, due to a small number of “close” (3rd-5th cousin level) DNA matches. This is often because the families were small, with few living descendants, or because those descendants live in countries such as Poland, where DNA testing is relatively uncommon. Lack of available data on living individuals in Poland—for example, from newspaper obituaries, or public records databases such as we have in the U.S.—makes it difficult to identify living individuals for target testing, but perhaps this can be a focus of my research in 2022.

Honing in on the Hodgkinsons

In October, I spent some time researching my Hodgkinson ancestors, a well-researched family of Canadian Loyalists. I was especially excited to discover a baptismal record for Ellender “Huskinson,” whom I believe to be a previously-unknown daughter of John Hodgkinson and his first wife, Mary Moore. I examined a number of hypotheses regarding the origins of the Hodgkinson family, based on assertions made by family trees online, and discovered that these hypotheses ranged from “possibly true,” to “patently false.” I also started some research into the history of Mary Hodgkinson, who was named as godmother to Ellender Hodgkinson, and who was (I believe) a sister to John. I hope to write about this in another blog post early in 2022.

Caus(in) for Celebration

Of course, the biggest discovery of the year for me was the identification of the parents of my great-great-great-grandmother, Mary Magdalene (Causin) Roberts, and their place of origin in Pfetterhouse, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France. This discovery was made through identification of the family’s FANs—specifically, a godmother named Anna Maria Hensy, who was mentioned in the baptismal record for Maria Magdalena Gosÿ—combined with evidence from family trees of DNA matches who descend from that same godmother, Mary Ann/Anna Maria (Hanses/Hanzi/Heinze) Schneider. Even though my process was not perfect, this breakthrough has had a profound impact on my research. Although I haven’t blogged about all the individuals I’ve been able to add to my tree as a result, I can now state definitively that Mary Magdalene (Causin/Cossin) Roberts was born in Buffalo, New York on 14 August 1832 to Joseph Antoine Cossin (“Gosÿ”) and Marie Agathe Hentzÿ, who were married in the village of Pfetterhouse, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, on 8 September 1829. Marie Agathe was the daughter of Dionisÿ Hensÿ and Agnes Antony, while Joseph Antoine was the son of Jakob Cossin and Barbara Maker from the nearby village of Seppois-le-Bas (or Niedersept, in German). Figure 1 summarizes the ancestors in my direct line that I’ve been able to add to my tree as a result of this breakthrough.

Figure 1: Pedigree chart for Mary Magdalene (Causin) Roberts suggested by data gathered to date from the records of Pfetterhouse and Seppois-le-Bas. Click the chart to view a larger image. Research is ongoing and some of these conclusions remain tentative, pending discovery of additional evidence.

Everything Else

Rounding out the year, I was able to locate some ancestral signatures in Detroit probate records for my Roberts ancestors, Michael Roberts and Frank M. Roberts. I wrote about the Martin-Opitz-Bibliothek as a source for vital records, particularly for those with ancestors from the Warmia historical region. Finally, I analyzed Ancestry’s newest ethnicity estimates for a family group (mine!) consisting of four children, their parents, and both sets of grandparents. All in all, 2021 presented ample opportunities for me to do what I love to do: research my family tree using all the tools, technologies, and resources I can muster, discover the stories of my ancestors as told in historical documents, and share my findings.

A Look Ahead

As I think about what I’d like to accomplish in the new year, a few research projects stand out, listed below, in no particular order:

  1. I’d like to continue my research into the Hodgkinson family, both in North America and in England, to see if I can convince myself that the Loyalist Hodgkinsons of Grantham, Upper Canada were really born in Mansfield, England.
  2. I’d love to be able to leverage DNA and FAN research to identify the parents of Catherine (Grant) Dodds and their place of origin, in the same way that I was able to answer those questions in the case of Mary Magdalene Causin.
  3. I hope to further my research into the Causin/Cossin and Hentzy/Hensy families in records from Haut-Rhin, Alsace.
  4. On my mom’s side, I’d like to resume the search for the elusive Antonina (Naciążek) Zarzycka, my great-great-grandmother, in the hope of being able to find a birth, marriage or death record for her that would reveal her parents’ names. Failing that, I would like to explore alternative historical sources for evidence of her origins, such as Księgi Ludności Stałej (permanent population registers).
  5. I’d love to utilize that same magic combination of FAN plus DNA research to discover the origins of my Murre/Muri ancestors, who immigrated to Buffalo, New York in 1869 from somewhere in Bavaria.
  6. I’d like to invest more time in learning to decipher German handwriting, and gain proficiency in translating German records, so that I can independently research my German and Alsatian ancestors, as well as my husband’s ancestors who were Poles from the Prussian partition.

This is just a modest sample of my research aspirations. If I ever did manage to succeed in accomplishing each of these goals, I could try to discover the origins in Ireland for my Walsh ancestors, identify the maiden name of Christina Hodgkinson, and plan another trip to Poland for onsite research in the ancestral parish of my Zieliński ancestors. The supply of research questions is endless, as is the fascination that accompanies the search for answers, and the satisfaction when victory is attained. Nonetheless, these six items seem like a good place to start, and I’m itching to get started. So, how about you? What are your genealogical goals, hopes, and dreams for the new year? Whatever they may be, I wish you success, prosperity, and joy in the journey.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2021

Would’ve, Should’ve, Could’ve: Lessons Learned from the Search for Magdalena Causin

In my last post, I wrote about my recent confirmation of the parents of Mary Magdalene (Causin/Cossin) Roberts and the discovery of their place of origin in Pfetterhouse, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France. Although this was a thrilling breakthrough for me, in hindsight, I’m frankly amazed that it took me this long to find them. Let’s unpack the process and see what can be learned from it.

1. Thorough Documentary Research is Always Key

Although this was definitely a stubborn research problem, it’s probably overstating the case to call it a “brick wall” because the documentary research was far from complete. The Genealogical Proof Standard requires “reasonably exhaustive” documentary research, and it’s up to the researcher to identify all collections that are potentially relevant to the research problem and add them to the research plan. Although I’ve been chipping away at research in onsite collections in Detroit as time and money (and the pandemic….) permit, I had not yet examined all of the relevant birth, marriage and death records from the Roberts’ parish in Detroit, Old St. Mary’s, either in person or by proxy. Similarly, my local Family History Center has not been open for quite a while due to the pandemic, making it difficult to research digitized collections with restricted access, such as the church records from St. Louis in Buffalo, where I might have found death records that offered a transcription of “Cossin” that would have been more recognizable. So, it’s entirely possible that this problem could have been solved solely through documentary research, given enough time and focused effort.

2. Don’t Overlook Online Family Trees

Even if I had accepted immediately that the Maria Magdalena Gosÿ who was baptized at St. Louis church in Buffalo, was my Maria Magdalena Causin, I would have had to rely on FAN research for the identification of their ancestral village, since the baptismal record did not mention the parents’ place of origin. So, finding those family trees that mentioned Anna Maria/Maria Anna Hentzi was a critical clue. One of the things I find most surprising is that searches for “Anna Maria Hensy” did not turn up results for Anna Maria/Maria Anna Hentzy Schneider, given the number of family trees in which she appears. Even now, when I repeat those searches to see if I can tease her out of the database, using only the search parameters I knew previously (before the trees from the DNA matches gave me her married surname), she is not readily found. I like to think I’m not a rookie when it comes to database searches, and I certainly tried a variety of search parameters, based on what I knew for a fact, and as well as what I could speculate.

Assuming that the godmother was actually present at the baptism of Maria Magdalena “Gosÿ,” I knew that “Maria Anna Hensy” was living in Buffalo in 1832, was most likely born in France, and was probably between the ages of 16 and 60 when she served as godmother, suggesting a birth between 1772 and 1816, although I suspected that a narrower range from 1800–1816 was more likely. I guessed that she was also probably living in Detroit by 1857 when Maria Magdalena was married, so I set up parallel searches with either Buffalo or Detroit specified as her place of residence. I tired varying the specificity of the search, leaving out some information, such as approximate year of birth, and I also tried making the search more restrictive by specifying “exact search” for some parameters, such as her place of birth in France. I used wild card characters to try to circumvent problems with variant spellings in the surname, and I performed all these same searches at FamilySearch, since they offer a different assortment of indexed databases. Despite all that, no promising candidates emerged for further research until DNA matches permitted me to focus on particular family trees.

Why might this be? Good question. One thing I did not do was try drilling down to the Public Member Trees database, specifically. It’s standard research practice among experienced researchers to drill down to a particular database where the research target is expected to be found, e.g. “1870 United States Federal Census,” or “New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957,” especially when the desired results don’t turn up readily in broader searches of all the databases, or within a sub-category of databases, like “Immigration & Emigration” or “Census & Voter Lists.” So, although I searched for “Maria Anna Hensy,” in specific historical records databases (e.g. 1840 census, 1850 census, etc.), my research log indicates that I never drilled down to the Public Member Trees to look for clues. I suspect this reflects some unconscious bias on my part—mea culpa! I’m so accustomed to frustration over all the inaccuracies that I find in so many online trees, that I failed to give these trees the consideration they deserved in generating good leads. When I repeat those searches for Maria Anna Hensy in the Public Member Trees database, the correct Maria Anna/Anna Maria Hentzy Schneider shows up in the first page of search results.

3. Analyze the Surname Hints from DNAGedcom

Had I also dug deeper into Aunt Betty’s DNA matches using some of analytical tools out there, I might have found my Cossins sooner. Several weeks ago, I ran a Collins-Leeds analysis at DNAGedcom on all of Aunt Betty’s matches at Ancestry that were within the 20–300 centiMorgan (cM) range, and the results included an enormous cluster with 36 members, whom I realize now are all related through the Hensy line (Figure 1). I’ve written a little previously about DNAGedcom, and more information can be found on their website. However, the purpose of autocluster analysis tools like this is to sort your autosomal DNA match list into clusters of people who are related to each other through a common line of descent.

Figure 1: Detail from Collins-Leeds analysis of Aunt Betty’s Ancestry DNA matches ranging from 20–300 cM showing Cluster 7. The pink/green shaded squares to the right are part of a supercluster between this group and the adjacent Cluster 8 (colored in green, not shown in this image), indicating matches in common between these two clusters, which implies related lines of descent.

The really cool thing about DNAGedcom for these analyses is the amount of information that is provided—assuming you take the time to dig into it, which I had not done previously. For that cluster shown in Figure 1, you’ll notice that some of the pink squares are marked with a green leaf. Those leaves mark the intersections of two DNA testers who have family trees linked to their DNA tests, and hovering the cursor over those squares will reveal the names of individuals found in both trees. You can even go one better and tap on any colored square (marked with a leaf or not) to see the option to “View Cluster,” or “View Chromo[some] Browser,” as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: The “View Cluster” and “View Chromo Browser” options that appear for viewing more information about a particular cluster identified via autocluster analysis at DNAGedcom.

The data used for this autocluster analysis came from Ancestry, and much to the dismay of pretty much everyone interested in genetic genealogy, Ancestry does not offer a chromosome browser or any sort of segment data. So, the “View Chromo Browser” option will not work here, although it would work if these data were gathered from another source like 23&Me. However, clicking on “View Cluster” brings up the chart shown in Figure 3. Names of testers have been redacted for privacy.

Figure 3: Details about Cluster 7, obtained by selecting “View Cluster” option in autocluster matrix generated at DNAGedcom.

Clicking on the name of anyone in that list will take you to the DNA match page for that person at Ancestry. Tree icons on the left indicate those matches with linked family trees. Nice information, but if you keep scrolling down, it gets even better. After identifying the individuals with whom DNA is shared in each cluster, DNAGedcom goes one step further, identifying individual ancestors who appear in the family trees linked to those matches (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Ancestors mentioned in family trees linked to autosomal DNA tests for individuals from Cluster 7, as identified by DNAGedcom.

The names of the DNA matches who own each family tree are listed in the column on the far right, and have been redacted for privacy, but the chart indicates that Nicolaus, Johann Anton, and Servatius Thelen all appear in 4 different family trees of individual members of Cluster 7, as do Anna Maria and Andrew Schneider and Peter Simon. As it happens, the most recent common ancestral couple between Aunt Betty and these matches—Dionisy Hentzy and Agnes Antony— is not mentioned in this top part of the list. However, if we were to scroll down a bit, we would find them (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Dennis (Dionisy) Hanzi in ancestor list generated by DNAGedcom for ancestors identified in family trees of DNA matches in Cluster 7.

Admittedly, this is still a “Some Assembly Required” type of tool. The ancestor list for a given cluster identified by DNAGedcom does not immediately identify the most recent common ancestral couple. However, in conjunction with a list of ancestral FANs, and with guidance from the public member trees, which explain the relationships between individuals mentioned in the list, this is a powerful tool, indeed.

4. Use All the Information in Each Historical Record

The mistake that galls me the most in all of this is that I failed to fully examine the death record for Mary M. Roberts until I sat down to write that first blog post about this discovery. (Actually, had I blogged about my “brick wall” with Maria Magdalena earlier, I might have found my answers faster, since writing about something always forces me to review, organize, and reanalyze my information.) When I looked at my evidence for her date of death, I noticed that I had her probate packet and cemetery records, but I was still citing the index entry for her Michigan death certificate, which I had obtained years ago, and not the original record, which is now readily available online. Duh! One of the cardinal rules of genealogy is to always go to the original source, rather than trusting the information in an index, because so often there is additional information in the original, or there are transcription errors that are caught after viewing the original. Such was the case here, as well. The index entry, shown in Figure 6, only states that Mary M. Roberts was born “abt. 1833.”1

Figure 6: Index entry from Ancestry’s database, “Michigan, U.S., Deaths and Burials Index, 1867-1995” for Mary M. Roberts.

However, the entry from the death register contains more information than was indexed regarding her precise age at the time of death.2 The death register states that she was 61 years, 6 months, and 10 days old when she died, as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 2: Detail of death record for Mary M. Roberts, showing age at time of death as 61 years, 6 months, 10 days (boxed in green).

When I ran this through a date calculator (such as this one), it points to a birth date of 17 August 1832. This is almost an exact match to the birth date of 14 August 1832 that was noted on the baptismal record for Maria Magdalena “Gosÿ” from St. Louis Church in Buffalo.

Facepalm.

Had I made this connection sooner, I would have been much more confident in accepting that baptismal record as the correct one for Mary Magdalene Causin/Casin/Curzon/Couzens. I guess this is why we have Genealogy Do-Overs. All of us start our research by making rookie errors, so at the very least, it’s important to periodically step back and re-evaluate the search to see what is really known, and to make sure that nothing has been overlooked. Better still, consider a full-blown, Thomas MacEntee-style Do Over, which I have never yet had the courage to do.

Not all breakthroughs are the result of elegant or sophisticated methodology. Sometimes, you just keep hacking away at a problem, and you get to the answer in the end, and that’s what happened here. While the origins of the Causin family could possibly have been discovered, in time, using thorough documentary research in church records from Detroit and Buffalo, the process was expedited when the focus switched from the Causin surname to the Hentzy surname of one of their FANs. With the addition of insight gained from examination of DNA matches, the process was expedited still further. The combination of cluster research, autosomal DNA matching, and standard documentary research, is so powerful that it can even overcome a flawed research process. So, while this may not have been a pretty victory, it was a victory nonetheless. I’ll take it.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2021

Sources:

1 “Michigan, U.S., Deaths and Burials Index, 1869-1995,” database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 17 November 2021), Mary M. Roberts, died 27 February 1894, citing Family History Library film no. 1377697.

2 “Michigan Deaths and Burials, 1800-1995,” database and image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FHH5-3XW : 17 November 2021), Mary M. Roberts, 27 February 1894, citing Wayne, Michigan, Deaths, v. 13-17 1893-1897, no. 3598.

From Curzon to Gosÿ: Finding Maria Magdalena Roberts

Recently, a long-standing “brick wall” came tumbling down, and I’m still reveling in the victory. I was finally able to definitively identify the parents of my great-great-great-grandmother, Maria Magdalena (Causin) Roberts, and establish their place of origin. This has been a research problem for nearly a decade, so it’s an especially sweet victory. Here’s how it unfolded.

Introducing Mary Magdalene Roberts

Mary Magdalene (or Maria Magdalena) Roberts has been quite the mystery for me, but it’s not as if she left no traces whatsoever in the historical record. On the contrary, her life is well-documented from the time of her marriage until the time of her death. I knew that Mary was born in New York about 1833–1834 and that she died on 27 February 1894 in Dearborn, Michigan.1 She married Michael Roberts (formerly Michael Ruppert), a German immigrant from the village of Heßloch in Rhineland-Palatinate, and together they became the parents of eight children, four of whom outlived her. However, her family’s origins prior to her marriage were considerably less clear. The record of Mary’s marriage to Michael Ruppert from St. Joseph’s (Roman Catholic) Church in Detroit is shown in Figure 1.2

Figure 1: Marriage record for Magdalena Causin and Michael Rupert from St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic church (Detroit, Michigan) 12 May 1857.

The record is in Latin, and states that Michael Rupert married Magdalena Causin on 12 May 1857, and names Michael’s brother, Arnold Rupert, as a witness, along with Maria Brant (?). Unfortunately, the record does not provide the names of the parents of the bride and groom, and neither were Maria Magdalena’s parents identified on her death record.3 However, the death record stated that her parents were born in Switzerland, and the 1880 census reported that both her parents were born in France.4

Mary’s place of birth was identified as Buffalo, New York, on baptismal records for her children from Old St. Mary’s, and these records provided additional evidence for her maiden name. Figures 3a and b show the baptismal record for Franc. Henricus (Franz Heinrich, or Francis Henry) Ruppert in 1866.5

Figure 3a: Left page of baptismal register from Old St. Mary’s Church showing baptismal record for Franc. Henricus Rupert boxed in red.

In this image, the mother’s name in the column at the far right, slightly cut off in the photo, appears to be “Magdalena Causin.”

Figure 3b.

Figure 3b: Right page of baptismal register from Old St. Mary’s Church, showing baptismal record of Franc. Henricus Rupert boxed in red.

The first column on the left in Figure 3b is the mother’s place of birth, which was identified as Buffalo, New York. The godparents, recorded in the next column, were Franciscus (Frank) Rupert and Catherine Rupert, the baby’s paternal grandparents.

Similarly, Buffalo was identified as the Mary Magdalene’s place of birth in the baptismal record for her son, Franz Georg, in 1871 (Figure 4b), but the mother’s name looks more like Casin or Cosin than Causin (Figure 4a).6

Figure 4a: Left page of baptismal register from Old St. Mary’s Church in Detroit, showing baptism of Franz Georg Rupert, boxed in red. The mother’s name, Magdalena Casin, appears in the column on the far right.
Figure 4b: Right page of baptismal register from Old St. Mary’s Church in Detroit, showing baptism of Franz Georg Rupert, boxed in red.

The godparents noted here were Franz Rupert, again, and “Charl.” (presumably Charlotte) Braun, and again, Magdalena was reported to have been born in Buffalo.

To further complicate the issue of Mary Magdalene’s maiden name, it was recorded as Couzens on the death record for her daughter, Katherine “Kitty” Hecker (Figure 5).7

Figure 5: Death certificate for Katherine “Kitty” Hecker, reporting mother’s name as Mary Couzens.

Moreover, Mary’s maiden name was reported as Curzon in the brief biographical entry about her son, Frank M. Roberts, which appeared in the Buffalo Artists’ Register published in 1926 (Figure 6).8

Figure 6: Detail from entry for Frank M. Roberts in the Buffalo Artists’ Register.

The Search for Causins in Buffalo

With no hard evidence for her parents’ names, but pretty good evidence for a birth in Buffalo, New York, circa 1833, my Aunt Carol and I hoped to find a baptismal record for Mary Causin/Casin/Couzens/Curzon in the church records from St. Louis parish in Buffalo. St. Louis was the only Roman Catholic church in Buffalo at that time, having been established by immigrants from Germany, France and Ireland in 1829, and records are available from the Family History Library, originally on microfilm (currently digitized).9 Aunt Carol had a chance to review them first, and was disappointed to discover no good matches for a baptismal record for Maria Magdalena Causin. Her best guess was an 1832 baptismal record for Maria Magdalena Krauter, daughter of Matthias Krauter and Anna Eva Knab, but she conceded that this was a shot in the dark. I took a look at the film myself, and similarly struck out. Broad searches in indexed databases at Ancestry and FamilySearch for “C*s*n” living in Buffalo in 1832 produced plenty of results for Casin, Cassin, Cushion, Cousin, etc. but many of the individuals identified were Irish or English, arrived in Buffalo too late, or were ruled out for other reasons. A History of Germans in Buffalo and Erie County, New York, published in 1898, contains a list of the German heads of household of St. Louis parish in 1832, but there were no surnames similar to Causin.10 We had no knowledge of any siblings that Maria Magdalena might have had, and no evidence for the family’s whereabouts from the time between her birth in Buffalo circa 1833, and her marriage in Detroit in 1857. Whoever Mary Magdalene’s parents were, they seemed to have left no trace of their time in Buffalo.

Hoping to get some new perspective on the problem, I posted in the Facebook group for the Western New York Genealogical Society back in 2013, wondering if there might be some other places besides St. Louis church that Mary might have been baptized.11 Admin Nancy Archdekin came through with an interesting suggestion: a birth record from St. Louis parish that Aunt Carol and I had overlooked, for Maria Magdalena Gosÿ, daughter of Joseph Antonius Gosÿ and Maria Agatha Hensy (Figure 7).12

Figure 7: Baptismal record from St. Louis church in Buffalo, New York, for Maria Magdalena Gosÿ, 14 August 1832.

According to this record, Maria Magdalena Gosÿ was born on 14 August 1832 and baptized (“renata vero”) the same day, with godparents Joseph Lang and Maria Anna Hensy. I was intrigued. I could see how “Gosÿ” might be a phonetic approximation of “Causin,” if the latter were pronounced with a nasal French ending. Could Gosÿ be the “correct,” original version of the surname, and all the subsequent records got it wrong? Searches for Gosÿ in Buffalo in 1832 were negative, suggesting that the name was a misspelled version of something. Could it be Causin?

I put that record on the back shelf, thinking that we had not yet exhausted documentary research which may still produce some leads or insights. I searched the 1840 census in both Detroit and Buffalo, the Buffalo, New York, Death Index, and Buffalo city directories, chasing down every Cousin, Cossin, Causin, Cassin, Curson, Cozzens, and any other surnames that seemed remotely similar phonetically. I checked probate records from Wayne County, Michigan, for any references to Mary as an heir, and although Mary was not mentioned specifically, I came up with one promising reference to “Pierre Casson (Coussin),” that was at least close to the right name. However, subsequent searches suggest that he may have been French Canadian rather than Alsatian. Still, it was a lead that I could have pursued further. I checked probate records in Buffalo, as well, but found nothing. Church records from St. Joseph’s might still be revealing. Perhaps they have records of premarital investigations, which sometimes provided more information about the bride and groom than is found in the actual marriage record? Furthermore, church records (deaths, in particular) from both St. Louis in Buffalo and St. Mary’s in Detroit had not yet been examined. There was—and still is—work to be done.

I also had some nagging doubts. What if Mary was never baptized? There was some evidence that the Alsatian community in Buffalo in the 1820s was “not unduly devout;” might her parents have omitted that rite?13 This hypothesis might have been more likely had Mary been born in Buffalo prior to 1829, but if a Catholic church was already in existence by about 1833 when she was born, it seemed probable that she would have been baptized there. But then another concern presented itself. In my research experience, many immigrants approximated their place of origin to the closest big city. What if Mary was not born in Buffalo, but near it? I’d found evidence in my research for Alsatian families farming in rural communities throughout the Western New York area, from Buffalo to Rochester. Maybe she was born in one of those communities?

Clues from the Causins’ Cluster

Since cluster research (also known as FAN research, research into an ancestor’s Friends/family, Associates, and Neighbors) has been so fruitful for me in the past, I decided to take a closer look at Maria Brant (or Brandt) and Charlotte Braun, two of the Roberts family’s FANS who were noted on church records, and were not known family members. Again, nothing jumped out at me; surveys of indexed records did not produce any good candidates who were born in France, Alsace, or Switzerland and who might have been connected to Mary. I kept coming back to that baptismal record for Maria Magdalena Gosÿ: the mother and the godmother had the same surname, Hensy, and I suspected that they were at least cousins, if not sisters. Searches for “Hensy” in Buffalo and Detroit suggested that this surname, too, may have been misspelled, and I quickly discovered a plethora of German surname possibilities from indexed records, including Hintse, Hantz, Hense, Hentzi, Hentz, Hentzy, Hans, and even Hohensee. There were no obvious matches for Maria Anna Hensy, however. Something more was needed to shed light on this research problem, and I hoped that something would be DNA.

DNA to the Rescue

Although I could have used my own DNA match lists, I have in my arsenal DNA match lists for both my Dad and his paternal aunt. Aunt Betty is two generations closer to Mary Magdalene Roberts than I am, and she should have inherited roughly 12.5% of her DNA from this particular ancestor. With so much “Causin” DNA, I expected that it would not be too difficult to identify matches in Aunt Betty’s match list that are related to us through Mary Magdalene Causin. Nonetheless, it took some time to get to the point where I had identified enough matches that were probably related through the ancestors of Mary Magdalene Causin—and not one of our other German or Alsatian ancestors—that I could try to compare family trees and look for common surnames and places.

And that’s when it happened.

I was looking through Aunt Betty’s DNA matches one evening for something completely unrelated to Causin research. I was examining the public tree associated with one of her matches, when a name jumped out at me: Anna Maria Hanzi, who was married on 8 October 1838 to Moritz Schneider at Old St. Mary’s church in Detroit. It suddenly dawned on me that this must be the Anna Maria “Hensy” of the baptismal record! Shared matches for this person included people I’d previously identified as having probable Causin ancestry, and several of them had public trees. All of them had Mary Ann (Anna Maria) Hanses/Hanzi/Heinze in them, and Ancestry reported that this same Mary Ann (Anna Maria) Hanses/Hanzi/Heinze appeared in 326 trees, quite a number of which cited a birth in 1814 in “Vaterhunn,” Alsace, France—information which was supposed to have come from the church record of Anna Maria’s marriage at Old St. Mary’s. Furthermore, Anna Maria’s parents were identified as Dionysius/Dennis Hanzi and Agatha (__), both of whom also immigrated to Michigan. The fact that this Mary Ann/Anna Maria had the same name as Mary Magdalene’s godmother, was also married in Detroit, and was showing up in the family trees of multiple DNA matches to Aunt Betty, could not possibly be a mere coincidence. This was the key to the whole problem!

A quick internet search revealed that “Vaterhunn” does not exist. It may have been a phonetic misrendering of whatever village name was provided orally to the priest, or it may have been a mistranscription by whomever tried to decipher the handwriting in the church record, or a combination of these. My first thought was that I needed to write to the church to request a copy of the marriage record. Although these records have been microfilmed and are available for research as part of the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library, the Collection is temporarily unavailable (as of this writing) due to major renovations at the library. Obtaining the record from the church so I could see the handwriting myself seemed like the fastest way to discover what the real village name ought to be.

In the meantime, I decided to take a shot at guessing what the town name should have been. Lacking a good gazetteer for Alsace, I approximated one by searching the FamilySearch catalog for “France, Haut-Rhin,” and then drilling down to “Places within Haut-Rhin” for a list of about 400 locations for which FamilySearch has microfilmed/digitized records. I have no idea how complete this coverage is, but it seemed like a good start. Since many vital records for Haut-Rhin are online, I started searching for a civil birth registration for Maria Anna/Anna Maria Hentze in 1814, to confirm the location. I thought perhaps that the “-hunn” in “Vaterhunn” might be “-heim,” instead, so I checked records from Waltenheim, Wettolsheim, Battenheim and Bartenheim for a few years around 1814, but did not find Anna Maria’s birth, nor even evidence for the existence of the Hentze surname in these locations.

Not feeling especially patient at this point, I switched gears and searched the Alsace & Lorraine Genealogy Facebook group for “Vaterhunn.” If there are 326 family trees out there that mention Anna Maria Hanzi in them, and a large percentage of them repeat this information about “Vaterhunn,” then I figured it was quite possible that someone before me had sought help in trying to identify this village. Lo, and behold, I discovered an old post from 2014 in which a group member (whom I’ll call “OP”) had asked about this very same question, for the very same reason.14 The comment thread was incomplete; it looked as though some comments had been deleted, but it appeared that a baptismal record had been located by a member of the group. A second search of the group’s history for OP’s name produced a second thread in which she requested a translation of a birth record which had been found by a group member previously—a birth record for Anna Maria Hentze.15 The record came from a collection of civil birth registrations for the village of Pfetterhouse—the elusive “Vaterhunn” mentioned in the oft-cited marriage record for Anna Maria Hentze. I quickly looked up the original birth record, which confirmed that Maria Anna Hensÿ was born 29 April 1814 to Dionisÿ Hensÿ, a 34-year-old laborer, and his wife, Agnes.16 Having nailed down the location, I started searching marriages records for Pfetterhouse for the marriage of Joseph Antoine “Gosÿ” and Maria Agatha Hensÿ, and voilà! I discovered their civil marriage record on 8 September 1829 (Figures 8a and 8b).17

Figure 8a: First page of the marriage record for Joseph Antoine Cossin and Marie Agathe Hentzÿ from the civil registry office in Pfetterhouse, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France, 8 September 1829.
Figure 8b: Second page of marriage record for Joseph Antoine Cossin and Marie Agatha Hentzy, showing signatures of groom and witnesses.

My transcription is as follows, with thanks to Margaret Fortier, CG, of the Genealogical Translations Facebook group who volunteered a bit of editing.18

“No. 6, Cassin, Joseph Antoine Avec Marie Agathe Hentzÿ, Le 8 Septembre 1829

L’an mil huit cent vingt neuf le huit septembre à quatre heures après midi pardevant nous Jacques [Hemis?], maire et officier de l’etat civil de la commune de Pfetterhausen, canton d‘hirsingen, arrondissement d’altKirch département du haut-rhin, sont comparus le sieur Joseph Antoine Cossin, cordonnier né le douze thermidor l’an neuf de la republique constaté par l’extrait de naissance de la commune de Seppois le bas domicilié à Pfetterhausen fils majeur légitime de feu Jacques Cossin cultivateur et de feu Barbara Maker en leur vivant domicilié à Seppois le bas, le père décedé le dix avril mil huit cent quatorze constaté par l’extrait mortuaire du dit lieu, et la mère décedé la quatorze germinal an onze de la republique constaté par l’extrait de décé de Seppois le bas, et quant aux aieuls, le dit Cossin s’est présenté avec quatre habitans de la commune de Seppois le bas, les nommés François Joseph Wendlinger cultivateur âgé de soixante sept ans, Joseph Waller cultivateur âgé de cinquante sept ans, Moritz Cossin cultivateur âgé de cinquante six ans, et Antoine Martin marschal ferrant âgé de cinquante trois ans tous les quatre nous ont déclaré qu’ils n’ont point de connaissance et ne savent pas ôu les aïeul du dit Joseph Antoine Cossin sont décedés et d‘aprés la lettre de M. le maire Colin de Seppois le bas qui est àjointe, il parait et justifie qu’ils ne sont pas no plus inscrits dans les archives de la commune, et la demoiselle Marie Agatha Hentzy journalliere née le vingt sept mars mil huit cent onze constaté par l’extrait de naissance de Pfetterhausen fille mineure de Thienisy Hentzy cabaretier et d’Agnoise Antony ses père et mère tous les trois domiciliés au dit lieu à présent et consentant les quels nous ont requis de procéder à celebration du mariage projété entre eux, dont les publications ont été faites devant la porte principale de notre Maison commune, savoir, la première le dimanche vingt trois aôut et la seconde le dimanche trente même mois de la présente année, chaquefois à l’heure de midi, et aucune opposition au dit mariage ne nous ayant été signiffiée [?], faisant droit à leur requition et après leur avoir donné lecture de toutes les pièces ci dessus mentionnées du chapitre six du titre cinq du code civil intitule du mariage, nous avons demandé aux future Epoux et Epouse, s’ils quelent se prendre pour mari et pour femme chaqu’un d’eux ayant repondu séparement et affirmatisement Déclarons au nom de la loi que le sieur Joseph Antoine Cossin et la demoiselle Marie Agatha Hentzy sont unis par le mariage, de tout quoi nous avons dressé acte en presence des sus dits quatre habitans de Seppois le bas témoins, dont aucun n’est pas parentes ni alliés de l’un ni de l’autre des deux Epoux, les quels aprés lecture et interprétation en allemand faites, ont signé avec nous et les parties contractantes, dont aite, la mère Agnoise Antonÿ a déclaré ne savoir écrire. [Signed] Joseph Antonÿ Cossin, Frantz J. Wendlinger, Joseph Waller, Moritz Cossin, Antonÿ Martus, J. Hemis [?], maire.”

I’ve translated the record below:

“The year one thousand eight hundred and twenty nine on the eighth of September at four o’clock in the afternoon. Before Us, Jacques [Hemis?], mayor and civil registrar of the commune of Pfetterhausen, Canton of Hirsingue, District of Altkirch, Department of Haut-Rhin, appeared Mr. Joseph Antoine Cossin, shoemaker, born on the twelfth [day of the French Republic month of] Thermidor of the year nine of the Republic, according to the birth record of the commune of Seppois-le-Bas; residing in Pfetterhausen, son of legal age of the late Jacques Cossin, farmer, and of the late Barbara Maker in their lifetime residing in Seppois-le-Bas, the father deceased on the tenth of April eighteen hundred and fourteen according to the mortuary extract of the said place, and the mother died on the fourteenth [day of the French Republic month of] Germinal [in the] year eleven of the Republic, according to the extracted death record of Seppois-le-Bas, and as for the grandparents, the said Cossin presented us with four inhabitants of the commune of Seppois-le-Bas, by name, François Joseph Wendlinger, farmer, age sixty-seven years; Joseph Waller, farmer, aged fifty-seven; Moritz Cossin, farmer, aged fifty-six years, and Antoine Martin, blacksmith, aged fifty-three years; all four declared to us that they have no knowledge and do not know where the grandparents of the said Joseph Antoine Cossin are deceased and according to the attached letter of Mr. Colin, the mayor of Seppois-le-Bas, it appears and can be judged that they are no longer registered in the archives of the of the commune; and the Miss Marie Agatha Hentzy, [female] day laborer, born on March twenty-seventh, eighteen hundred and eleven, as verified by the extract of birth of Pfetterhausen, minor daughter of Thienisy Hentzy, cabaret owner, and of Agnoise Antony; her father and mother all three domiciled in the said place at present and consenting, who have required us to proceed to the celebration of the marriage planned between them, of which the publications were made in front of the main door of our common House; namely, the first one on Sunday, August twenty-third, and the second one on Sunday, the thirtieth [day of the] same month of the present year, each time at the hour of noon; and after no opposition to the said marriage [was found], and after having read them all of the documents from Chapter Six of Title Five of the Civil Code pertaining to marriage, we have asked the future spouses, if they want to take each other as husband and wife [and] each of them having answered separately and affirmatively, We declare in the name of the law that Mr. Joseph Antoine Cossin and Marie Agatha Hentzy are united in marriage, of which we have drawn up an Act in the presence of the above-mentioned four witnesses of Seppois-le-Bas, none of whom is related to either of the two Spouses, who after reading and interpreting in German, have signed with us and the contracting parties; the mother Agnoise Antonÿ declared [that she does] not know how to write. [Signed] Joseph Antonÿ Coſsin, Frantz J. Wendlinger, Joseph Waller, Moritz Coſsin, Antonÿ Martus, J. Hemis [?], Mayor.”

The groom’s name was recorded as Joseph Antoine Cossin, with a “long s,” (Figure 9), and the names of the bride and groom are an exact match to the names of the parents of Maria Magdalena in the baptismal record from St. Louis church in Buffalo, eliminating any further doubt that the “Gosÿ” of the baptismal record was intended to be something closer to the “Causin” more commonly found on records pertaining to Mary Magdalene Roberts.

Figure 9: Detail from marriage record for Joseph Antoine Cossin and Marie Agatha Hentzy showing Joseph’s name written with a long s.

Joseph’s parents were identified as Jacques Cossin and Barbara (née Maker) Cossin, both deceased—a brand-new ancestral couple for me to research! I even got a bonus ancestral signature on the second page, where Joseph himself signed the record. The record is packed with genealogical gold, including the dates of birth of both the bride and groom and the dates of death of both of the groom’s parents. Some of the dates are given according to the old calendar of the French Republic, created after the French Revolution. Steve Morse offers a handy tool for converting old French Republic dates into their modern Gregorian calendar equivalents, and after conversion, we see that Joseph Antoine Cosson was born 28 July 1804, and his mother, Barbara, died 1 April 1806, when Joseph was just two years old.

The Cossin family was from the nearby village of Seppois-le-Bas, shown on the map in Figure 10, and the two villages are just a stone’s throw away from the Swiss border.

Figure 10: Locations of Pfetterhouse and Seppois-le-Bas within France. Google Maps.

The marriage record tells the story of Joseph Cossin’s process of fulfilling the legal requirements of the Napoleonic Code for marriage by rounding up four witnesses to accompany him to the mayor’s office. The Code specified that, in cases where the parents of a bride or groom of legal age for marriage were deceased, the permission of the grandparents was nonetheless required, until the age of 30 for grooms and 25 for brides. Article 155 further states,

“In case of the absence of the ancestor to whom the respectful act ought to have been made, the celebration of the marriage may be proceeded in, on producing a judgment given declaring absence, or in default of such judgment that which shall have directed an inquiry, or if such latter judgment shall not yet have been pronounced, an act of notoriety delivered by the justice of the peace of the place where the ancestor had his last known domicil. This act shall contain the deposition or four witnesses officially summoned by the justice of the peace.”19

So, in order to avoid possible fines and imprisonment, Messieurs les maires of the communes of Seppois-le-Bas and Pfetterhouse had to carefully document that Joseph’s grandparents were deceased and that he had no family members whose consent was required for the marriage. Although the record states that none of the witnesses were related to either the bride or the groom, the fact that one of the witnesses, Moritz Cossin, shares a surname with the groom and was from the same small village, suggests that he may, in fact, have been a distant relative, although they were apparently unaware of any relationship.

On the bride’s side, the record states that she was the daughter of “Thienisy” Hentzy, cabaret owner, and of Agnoise Antony, which are reasonable phonetic matches to the Dionisy and Agnes Hentzy who were reported to be the parents of Maria Anna Hentzy Schneider, according to numerous family trees on Ancestry. This confirms that Mary Magdalene’s godmother, Anna Maria Hensy, was in fact, her aunt.

While many genealogical research questions remain, this is such a satisfying breakthrough for me, and I look forward to growing my family tree in this fertile ground of records from both the U.S. and France. From Causin to Curzon to Gosÿ and back to Cossin; from Pfetterhouse to Buffalo to Detroit to “Vaterhunn,” this has been quite a journey of discovery. And yet, in hindsight, I’m frankly amazed that it took me this long to find them. In my next post, I’ll share all the missteps I made, the things I wish I had done differently, and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2021

Selected Sources:

Featured image: The author at the grave of Mary Magdalene Roberts, Mt. Elliott Cemetery, Detroit, Michigan. Photo credit, Valerie Koselka.

11860 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, Detroit Ward 6, page 142, dwelling no. 1066, household no. 1148, Mary Roberts in household of Michael Roberts; digital image, Ancestry (http://ancestry.com : 6 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 566 of 1,438 rolls; and

1870 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, Detroit Ward 6, page 476B, dwelling no. 998, household no. 1114, Magdalena Robert in household of Michael Robert; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 6 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 713 of 1,761 rolls; and

Wayne County Probate Court (Detroit, Wayne, Michigan), Probate packet no. 19856, Mary M. Roberts, died 27 February 1894; digital images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 28 June 2021), “Probate estate packets, 1797-1901,” FHL Film no.967194, path: Wayne > Probate packets 1894 no 19805-19856 > images 975-984.

2 Roman Catholic Church, St. Joseph’s parish (Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, USA), “Marriages, 1835-1866”, 1857, no. 15 (?), marriage record for Michael Ruppert and Magdalena Causin, Burton Historical Collection microfilm no. 1286, reel 32A, Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave, Detroit, Michigan, USA. Photo credit Valerie Koselka.

3 “Michigan Deaths and Burials, 1800-1995,” database and image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FHH5-3XW : 31 October 2021), Mary M. Roberts, 27 February 1894, citing Wayne, Michigan, Deaths, v. 13-17 1893-1897, no. 3598.

4 1880 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, city of Detroit, Enumeration District 298, page 123A, dwelling no. 92, household no. 92, Mary Roberts in household of Michael Roberts; database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 1 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 613 of 1,454 rolls.

5 Roman Catholic Church, St. Mary’s parish (Greektown, Detroit, Michigan, USA), “Baptisms, 1866-1919,” 1866, no. 194, Franc. Henricus Rupert, born 29 August 1866, Burton Historical Collection microfilm no. 1286, reel 32, Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave, Detroit, Michigan. Photo credit Valerie Koselka.

6 Roman Catholic Church, St. Mary’s parish (Greektown, Detroit, Michigan, USA), “Baptisms, 1866-1919,” 1871, line 188, Franz Georg Rupert, baptized 8 October; Burton Historical Collection microfilm no. 1286, reel 32, Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave, Detroit, Michigan. Photo credit Valerie Koselka.

7 “Michigan, U.S., Death Records 1867-1952,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 30 October 2021), Katherine Hecker, died 13 June 1942, file no. 293521, citing Michigan Department of Community Health, Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics; Lansing, Michigan.

8 Lee F. Heacock, The Buffalo artists’ register : a general review of the activities of representative organizations of Buffalo, N.Y. … related to … the creative and interpretive arts (Buffalo, New York: Heacock Publishing Company, 1926), pp 381-382, Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, 1 Lafayette Square, Buffalo, New York.

9 “St. Louis Roman Catholic Church,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Louis_Roman_Catholic_Church : 1 November 2021).

10History of Germans in Buffalo and Erie County, New York (Buffalo, New York: Verlag und Druck von Reinecke & Zesch, 1898), p. 38; e-book, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 1 November 2021).

11 “Western New York Genealogical Society (WNYGS) Discussion Group,” discussion thread from post by Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz, 23 November 2013, Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/WNYGS/posts/10152032075711041 : 1 November 2021).

12 Roman Catholic Church, St. Louis parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York), Church records, 1829-1910, Baptisms 1829-1881, 1832, unnumbered entries in chronological order, Maria Magdalena Gosÿ, 14 August 1832.

13Andrew P. Yox, “The Parochial Context of Trusteeism: Buffalo’s St. Louis Church, 1828-1855,” The Catholic Historical Review, vol. 76, no. 4, Catholic University of America Press, 1990, pp. 712–33; JSTOR (http://www.jstor.org/stable/25023400 : 1 November 2021).

14 “Alsace & Lorraine Genealogy,” Facebook Group, Facebook, discussion thread from post on 26 October 2014, poster’s name omitted for privacy, Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/alsace.genealogy/posts/10152755337639754 : 4 November 2021).

15 Ibid., discussion thread from post on 28 October 2014, poster’s name omitted for privacy, Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/alsace.genealogy/posts/10152760909764754/ : 4 November 2021).

16 Officier de l’état civil (Pfetterhouse, Altkirch, Haut-Rhin, France), “Naissances, 1793-1862,” 1814, no. 6, birth record for Maria Anna Hensÿ, 29 April 1814, accessed as browsable images, Archives départementales du Haut-Rhin, (https://archives.haut-rhin.fr/ark:/naan/a011455803237L7WIvz/e408e21f4f : 4 November 2021), image 194 out of 391.

17 Officier de l’état civil, Pfetterhouse, Altkirch, Haut-Rhin, France, “Mariages, 1793-1862,” 1829, no. 6, Joseph Antoine Cossin and Marie Agatha Hentzÿ, 8 September 1829; browsable images, Archives départementales du Haut-Rhin (https://archives.haut-rhin.fr/ark:/naan/a0114558031560HCYzb/5e563166a7 : 4 November 2021), image 192 of 338.

18 Genealogical Translations Group, Facebook, discussion thread from post by Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz, 29 October 2021 (https://www.facebook.com/groups/GenealogicalTranslations/posts/908406220105478/ : 3 November 2021).

19 “French Civil Code, Book 1: Of Persons, Title 5: Of Marriage,” The Napoleon Series (https://www.napoleon-series.org/research/government/code/book1/c_title05.html : 4 November 2021).

The Signatures of Michael Roberts and Frank M. Roberts

We genealogists love finding our ancestors’ signatures, right? Of course we do.

Well, recently I found what I believe are the authentic signatures of both my great-great-great-grandfather, Michael Roberts, and his son, my great-great-grandfather, Michael Frank (a.k.a Frank Michael) Roberts. Let me set the stage with a brief introduction to these gentlemen.

Michael Roberts (1834–1895)

It was the winter of 1894 when Michael Roberts lost his wife. It had been almost 37 years since Michael wed the former Maria Magdalena Causin in the beautiful Roman Catholic church of St. Joseph in Detroit, Michigan on 12 May 1857.1 The details of how they met, and whether it was a happy marriage or not, have been lost to time, but it is known that Michael was a German immigrant, born in the village of Heßloch in the Rhenish Hesse region of the Grand Duchy of Hesse (commonly known as Hesse-Darmstadt) to Franz Ruppert and Catherine, née Schulmerich.2 In 1853, he immigrated to Detroit, Michigan with his parents, his 17-year-old brother, Arnold, and his 15-year-old sister, Catherine.3 Although there is no notation on the manifest to reflect this, the family believed that Catherine died at sea, as explained in the following letter (Figure 1), written by Michael’s sister, Mary Roberts Standfield, to his grandson, John Frank Roberts.4

Figure 1: Undated letter from Mary Roberts Standfield (1862–1946) to her nephew, John Frank (aka Frank) Roberts, stating in the final sentence that “The daughter Katherine died on the ocean coming over.”

The letter also confirms that the family’s original surname, Ruppert, was changed to Roberts upon settling in Detroit, and that Michael’s oldest brother, Johann Georg, or George, as he was known in the U.S., arrived in Detroit before the rest of his family, settling there in 1851.4

Following his marriage, Michael worked as a carpenter to support his family.5 Michael and Mary had eight children, of whom the oldest four have living descendants. The family data are summarized below (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Family group sheet for Michael and Mary Magdalene (née Causin) Ruppert/Roberts.

Michael Frank (aka Frank Michael) Roberts (1858–1930)

Although I have no photographs of Michael Roberts, his oldest son, Michael Frank (known in later life as Frank Michael), is the stalwart Victorian gentleman shown here (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Michael Frank (aka Frank Michael) Roberts, 1858–1930.

In that winter of 1894, when his mother died, Frank was a 35-year-old architect living in Buffalo, New York;7 married, with four children. Frank had married Mary Elizabeth Wagner back in their hometown of Detroit, but they relocated their family to Buffalo about nine years earlier, in 1885.8 Mary Elizabeth was home, raising their four sons: 15-year-old Harry, 10-year-old John, 7-year-old George, and 3-year-old Bert.9

And so it was that on 27 February 1894, Mary Magdalene Roberts died intestate (without having written a will) in Nankin Township, Michigan. Her husband, Michael, petitioned the court for administration of her estate (Figure 4).10

Figure 4: Michael Roberts’ petition for appointment as administrator of the estate of his late wife, Mary (née Causin) Roberts.

According to this petition, Mary Roberts was in possession of an estate valued at approximately $800, which would be the equivalent of about $25,396 in today’s dollars.11 Since she died without naming an executor to handle her financial affairs following her death, her husband had to formally request this authority from the court. The document identifies Mary’s heirs at law, who were her children and husband, as

  • Michael F. Roberts, son, 36 years old, resides in Buffalo, N.Y.
  • Catherine Hecker, daughter, 34 years old, resides in Nankin, Wayne Co., Mich.
  • Mary P. Stanfield [sic], “, 32 ” ” ” ” Detroit, Wayne Co., “
  • Anna Carlston [sic], “30 ” ” ” ” Nankin, Wayne Co., “
  • and your petitioner, husband of deceased, who resides in Nankin, Wayne County, Michigan.

These children were named in birth order, and their ages and places of residence are reasonably consistent with prior evidence. It’s worth noting that Mary’s and Anna’s married surnames were misspelled as “Stanfield,” rather than “Standfield,” and “Carlston,” rather than “Carlson,” which underscores the variability in surname spellings that exists in historical records.

The handwriting throughout the document is fairly uniform, and the formation of the M’s and the R’s where they appear in “Michael” and “Roberts” is consistent, suggesting that the document was written by a single person; namely, the notary public. However, the handwriting in the signature is distinctly different, which suggests that it was written by Michael Roberts himself (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Signature of my great-great-great-grandfather, Michael Roberts, underlined in red.

Included within that same probate packet is a second petition for administration of an estate, this time written by Frank M. Roberts (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Frank M. Roberts’ petition for appointment of his sister, Mary P. Stanfield [sic] as administrator de bonis non of their mother’s estate.

This petition similarly identifies the children of Michael and Mary Roberts, but goes on to state, “…that Michael Roberts, husband of said deceased and her survivor and administrator of said estate, has departed this life,” and therefore Frank M. Roberts requested that administration de bonis non of the estate be granted to his sister, Mary P. Standfield. Presumably it was a matter of convenience for Mary (or any of his sisters) to handle the estate rather than Frank, since they were still living in the Detroit area, but this is somewhat speculative. In any case, Frank’s distinctive signature included at the bottom of the document (Figure 7), in addition to his father’s signature, made this probate packet an exciting find for me.

Figure 7: Signature of my great-great-grandfather, Michael Frank (or Frank Michael) Roberts.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2021

Sources

1 Roman Catholic Church, St. Joseph’s parish (Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, USA), “Marriages, 1835-1866”, 1857, no. 15 (?), marriage record for Michael Ruppert and Magdalena Causin, Burton Historical Collection microfilm no. 1286, reel 32A, Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave, Detroit, Michigan, USA.

2 Roman Catholic Church (Heßloch, Kr. Worms, Hesse, Germany), “Kirchenbuch, 1715-1876,” 1834, unnumbered entries in chronological order, baptismal record for Michael Ruppert, 1 February 1834, FHL microfilm no. 948719.

3 Manifest, SS Wm Tell, arriving 4 March 1853, p 9, lines 49-51, and p 10, lines 1-2, Franz Rupard family; imaged as “New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 26 August 2021), citing National Archives microfilm publication M237, 1820-1897; List No. 146.

4 Mary Roberts Standfield (1862–1946), undated letter to her nephew, John Frank Roberts, Roberts family documents; privately held by Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts.

4 Manifest, SS Vancluse, arriving 30 May 1851, p 5, line 23, Geo. Rupert; imaged as “New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 24 August 2021), citing National Archives microfilm publication M237, 1820-1897; List no. 599.

6 1860 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, Detroit Ward 6, page 142, dwelling no. 1066, household no. 1148, Michael Roberts household; digital image, Ancestry (http://ancestry.com : 6 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 566 of 1,438 rolls; and

1870 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, Detroit Ward 6, page 476B, dwelling no. 998, household no. 1114, Michael Robert household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 6 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 713 of 1,761 rolls; and

1880 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, city of Detroit, Enumeration District 298, page 123A, dwelling no. 92, household no. 92, Michael Roberts family; database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 6 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 613 of 1,454 rolls.

7 The Sun and the Erie County Independent (Hamburg, New York), 22 Jul 1892, Page 7, Col. 7, “Frank M. Roberts, Architect and Superintendent,” advertisement; digital image, Newspapers (https://www.newspapers.com/ : 24 August 2021).

8 George Whitcomb, compiler, Buffalo City Directory (Buffalo: The Courier Company, 1885), p 751, Roberts, Frank; browsable images, New York Heritage Digital Collections (https://nyheritage.org/ : 24 August 2021), image 763 of 1076.

9 1900 United States Federal Census, Erie County, New York, population schedule, Buffalo Ward 23, Enumeration District 190, Sheet no. 5B, house no. 439, family no. 127, Frank M. Roberts household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 24 August 2021), citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm publication T623, 1854 rolls, no specific roll cited.

10 Wayne County Probate Court (Detroit, Wayne, Michigan), Probate packet no. 19856, Mary M. Roberts, died 27 February 1894; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 24 August 2021), “Probate estate packets, 1797-1901,” FHL Film no.967194, path: Wayne > Probate packets 1894 no 19805-19856 > images 975-984.

11 “Value of $800 from 1894 to 2021,” Inflation Calculator (https://www.in2013dollars.com/ : 24 August 2021).

A Trio of Death Certificates

For a genealogist, any day that brings three new death certificates in the mail is a good day.

Back at the end of April, I wrote about my discovery of my great-great-granduncle, Alexander Dodds, who disappeared from documentary evidence in Canadian records after the 1881 census. Thanks to clues provided by DNA matches, I was able to determine that Alexander migrated to Buffalo, New York where he married Hazel Jean (or Jennie Hazel) McCarroll and had two children, Della and Spencer, prior to his death in 1899. While searching for his death record in the Buffalo, New York Death Index, I serendipitously came across the entry for the death certificate of his brother, Gilbert M. Dodds, who died in 1898. Then, since I was already writing to the Buffalo City Clerk to request those records, I decided to add in a request for the death certificate of their older sister, Isabella (née Dodds) Smith. I’d known previously that Isabella died in Buffalo, but I’d never gotten around to requesting a copy of the record, so this seemed to be a good time to do it. After a long wait, those death certificates finally arrived, so let’s analyze them here, in the context of my existing research into my Dodds family.

Isabella Smith

My burning questions regarding my Dodds family concern the origins of my great-great-great-grandparents, Robert and Catherine Dodds, whom I’ve written about previously. Evidence points pretty consistently to a birth circa 1817 in England for Robert, and possibly a specific date of 28 January 1817 as was reported (probably by Robert himself) in the 1901 census.1 Less is known about Catherine’s place of birth, however, and there’s even some doubt about her maiden name, since it has been reported as both Irving2 and Grant.3 In that regard, the death certificate for Isabella (née Dodds) Smith was most informative, since it was the only one of the three death certificates to mention a maiden name for Catherine. (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Death certificate for Isabell [sic] H. Smith.4

Unpacking the other details from the certificate first, we can see that Isabell [sic] H. Smith of 381 Rhode Island Street in Buffalo, died on 22 September 1917 due to a cerebral hemorrhage which she suffered about 6 weeks previously. A contributing cause of death was chronic myocarditis. Isabella was noted to be a widow, born 4 November 1844 in Canada, and she lived in the U.S. for 24 years prior to her death, spending all of that time in Buffalo. That suggests an arrival in 1893, which is a few years off from the arrival in 1897 which she reported in the 1910 census, but still in the same ballpark.5 No immigration record can be sought to confirm her arrival date since the U.S. did not begin documenting Canadian-born immigrants until 1 October 1906.6 Isabella was laid to rest in the Buffalo Cemetery on 25 September 1917, and the informant on the death certificate was her oldest daughter, Margaret (née Smith) Moorhouse, who lived with her. Margaret reported that Isabella’s parents were Robert Dodds and Catherine Grant, which lends further support to the hypothesis that Catherine’s maiden name was Grant and not Irving. However, Margaret identified both Robert and Catherine as having been born in Canada, and this is almost certainly incorrect in Robert’s case, in light of the substantial body of evidence supporting the assertion that he was born in England.

Alexander Dodds

Next up, we have the death certificate for Alexander Dodds (Figure 2). The image I received is of rather low quality due to faded ink and darkened paper, but it’s nevertheless possible to read that Alexander Dodds died on 13 April 1899 due to pulmonary phthisis, which is more commonly known as tuberculosis. He was buried at Lakeside Cemetery on a date in April that’s difficult to make out, possibly the 23rd. Alexander was reported to be age 49 years, 1 month, and 25 days at the time of his death. Running that information through a date calculator points to a birth date of 19 February 1850, consistent with the expectation that he was born circa 1849-1850 based on his age reported in census records. He was a married laborer, born in Canada, who had been a resident in the U.S. for 15 years, and living in Buffalo for that entire time period. This suggests that he arrived in the U.S. circa 1884. Alexander’s parents’ names were reported to be Robert and Catherine, but no maiden name was given for his mother. Moreover, both parents were reported to have been born in England—a statement which is unlikely to be true in Catherine’s case. Alexander’s last place of residence was decipherable as Auburn Avenue, although the house number (212, perhaps?) is harder to read.

Figure 2: Death certificate for Alexander Dodds.7

The fact that Alexander was buried at Lakeside Cemetery is new information for me. Lakeside is an old, historic cemetery located in Hamburg, New York, about 10 miles south of Buffalo. Lakeside is managed by the Forest Lawn group of cemeteries, and they happen to have a fantastic website where one can search burials and even download cemetery records, such as this burial card for my great-great-grandmother, Martha Dodds Walsh, another sibling of Alexander, Isabella and Gilbert. Unfortunately, the information for Alexander which is offered on the website is much more limited. The service card (Figure 3) barely confirms the information on the death certificate, inasmuch as there is a burial record for an Alexander Dodds, but it offers no details about date of death, or parents’ names.

Figure 3: Service card for Alexander Dodds from Lakeside Cemetery, Hamburg, New York.8

Alexander’s age at the time of death, 40, is also in conflict with the information on the death certificate, which stated that he was 49 years old at the time of death. However, it may have been a transcription error, and in any case, the funeral director, “Geo. J. Altman,” is a match to the George J. Altman who was reported on Alexander’s death certificate as the undertaker.

Gilbert M. Dodds

Last, but not least, we have the death certificate for Gilbert M. Dodds (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Death certificate for Gilbert M. Dodds.9

The image quality here is only slightly better than that for Alexander’s death certificate, but the record states that Gilbert died on 4 January 1898 of pernicious anemia, a form of anemia caused by a deficiency in vitamin B12, with which he had been diagnosed five years previously. He was buried that same month in St. Catharines, Ontario, but the name of the cemetery was not provided, nor is the exact date of burial legible. Gilbert was reported to be age 42 years, 3 months and 25 days at the time of his death, suggesting a birth date of 11 September 1855. Estimates for his year of birth as suggested by census records and other documents ranged between 1855–1860, but the earliest records (e.g. the 1861 census)10 pointed to a birth year of 1855, so this certificate is in excellent agreement. He was married at the time of his death, and employed as a driver. As expected, Gilbert was born in Canada, but had been living in Buffalo for five years prior to his death, which implies an arrival in the U.S. circa 1893, so his arrival coincided with that of his sister, Isabella Smith. His last residence was at 408 Massachusetts Avenue, in close proximity to the final residences reported by his siblings (Figure 5). Finally, the certificate identifies Gilbert’s parents as Robert Dodds, born in England, and Catherine Dodds, born in Canada.

Figure 5: Map showing last residences of Dodds siblings Alexander, Gilbert, and Isabella Smith on Buffalo’s West Side. Google Maps.

Conclusions

Experienced genealogists know how valuable death records can be, especially when they identify the parents of the deceased. They’re also relatively easy to obtain, with just a letter and a check in the mail, so I’m always amazed by the fact that so many family historians only mention them in their trees when the scans are available online. The most significant drawback is that the information on a death certificate was not provided by the individual himself or herself, but rather by a family member or some other individual who was more or less acquainted with the deceased. Thanks to these death certificates, I was able to discover exact dates of birth for Dodds siblings Alexander, Gilbert, and Isabella Smith, as well as an exact date of death for Alexander. I identified Alexander’s final resting place as Lakeview Cemetery, which opens up the possibility of further research in cemetery records, in case they might have anything that’s not online. I obtained corroborating evidence for a number of previously-known facts in my family tree. And, although these certificates did nothing to dispel the confusion over Catherine Dodds’ place of birth, the certificate for Isabella Smith added to the growing body of evidence in support of the hypothesis that Catherine was a Grant by birth. All in all, that was a pretty good day, indeed.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2021

Sources:

11901 Census of Canada, Ontario population schedule, Lincoln and Niagara district no. 85, St. Catharines sub-district K, division no. 6, household no. 117, James Carty household; database with images, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/ : 17 August 2021), item no. 2026840, image no. z000079820, citing microfilm T-6480, RG31.

2 New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, 1935, vol. 820, no. 4549, Martha Dodds Walsh, 11 August 1935; Buffalo, New York, City Clerk, 1302 City Hall, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo, New York.

3 “Ontario Deaths, 1869-1937 and Overseas Deaths, 1939-1947,” database, FamilySearch, (https://familysearch.org/ : 8 May 2021), Hannah Carty, 3 June 1914; Deaths > 1914 > no 19125-22410 > image 370 of 1638; citing Registrar General. Archives of Ontario, Toronto.

4 New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, 1917, vol. 273, no. 6001, Isabell H. Smith, 22 September 1917, Buffalo, New York, City Clerk, 1302 City Hall, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo, New York.

5 1910 United States Federal Census, Erie County, New York, population schedule, Buffalo Ward 21, Enumeration District 206, Sheet 7A, house no. 18 1/2, family no. 27, William Smith household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 18 August 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 947 of 1,178 rolls, FHL microfilm 1374960.

6 Marian L. Smith, “By Way of Canada,” Prologue Magazine, Vol. 32, No. 3 (Fall 2000), National Archives (https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2000/fall/us-canada-immigration-records-1.html : 18 August 2021).

7 New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, 1899, Vol. 34, no. 258, Alexander Dodds, 13 April 1899; Buffalo, New York, City Clerk, 1302 City Hall, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo NY 14202.

8 Forest Lawn Cemetery Group, burial records database, Forest Lawn (https://forest-lawn.com/ : 18 August 2021), service card for Alexander Dodds, buried Lakeside Cemetery, block one, grave 142.

9 New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, 1898, vol. 21, no. 71, Gilbert M. Dodds, 4 January 1898; Buffalo, New York, City Clerk, 1302 City Hall, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo NY 14202.

10 1861 Census of Canada, population schedule, Canada West, Lincoln, Grantham, Enumeration District 4, p 80, lines 1-9, Robert Dodds household; digital images, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/Pages/home.aspx : 19 April 2021 ), Item no. 1884852, citing Microfilm C-1048-1049.

You Can’t Take It With You

Yesterday was a bittersweet day for me. We closed the sale of my parents’ home, the home they custom-built in 2004 with an in-law apartment for my Grandma, Helen Zielinski, so she could live with them after Grandpa died. There were a lot of memories in that home, although (mercifully) not so many as there would have been had they lived there all their married lives. Nonetheless, cleaning it out prior to the sale was an enormous task, and one that fell entirely to my husband and me, since my mother passed away last October, my Dad was unable to participate due to his own health concerns, and my only sibling was unable to travel due to the pandemic. Since Mom and Dad’s home was located in Western New York, it was a solid 440 miles away from where I live in Massachusetts, necessitating a dedicated trip and a week of vacation days to go back and deal with the clean-out. Fortunately, my husband still has family in that area as well, so my sisters-in-love, Kristi and Kerri, generously made time to help with the sorting, shredding, donating, unpacking, and repacking that go with the job.

If you’ve ever cleaned out a house before, you know how overwhelming the task can seem. Mom and Dad had a very large basement that was packed with furniture, antiques, holiday decorations, unused home furnishings, and family treasures, all carefully organized in plastic storage bins and cardboard boxes. Mom had all of the boxes neatly labelled regarding their contents, but she and Dad saved everything. Pretty much every greeting card ever received, every report card, college notebook, every drawing made by a grandchildit was all down in that basement, in rows of boxes stacked along the walls around the perimeter of the basement. It reminded me of that final scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. And it wasn’t just Mom and Dad’s stuff. There were things in that basement from my grandparents and great-grandparents on both sides of the family, as well as my Mom’s maternal uncle, Joseph “J” Zazycki, whom she cared for in his final years. Grandma and Grandpa Zielinski’s entire bedroom set was there, with bed, mattress and both dressers, along with Grandma’s sewing machine, which I have vivid memories of watching her use when I was a child. There were the paintings that used to hang in their living room, the glider that once stood in front of their garage, the photo album that Grandma made with all the photos from her honeymoon, and the lamps that I remembered from the spare bedroom where my sister and I shared a bed during sleepovers at Grammy and Grandpa’s house. There was the old greeting card box that Grandma repurposed for storing crayons so my sister and I could color pictures when we came to visit. Grandma was from the generation that wasted nothing, so the box included some of the free crayons given out by restaurants so small diners could color their paper menuscrayons that were not discarded after the meal, but carefully and lovingly preserved by Grandma. The smell from that box of crayons immediately took me back to Grandma’s kitchen table circa 1973. Love, care, and memories were packed into every box and every corner.

It wasn’t just the basement that needed going through. Although I’d moved some of their furniture and belongings out of the house when I moved Mom and Dad into an assisted living apartment near me, there were living areas that remained untouched, including Dad’s office. My mother was a first-rate bibliophile, and she had at least a thousand books, many of which were beautifully bound, gilt-edged, hardcover editions of literary classics that were precious to her, still filling the shelves on either side of the fireplace. I wish I could have kept all of it, but where? My own attic and basement are already full from the accumulation of treasures that accompanies years of raising children, and we don’t have as much storage space as my parents did. What does one do with all this stuff? As the old saying goes, “You can’t take it with you.” I had to get in touch with my inner Marie Kondo and make some hard choices.

Some things ended up being easier to let go of than others, like the school desks. My mother had gone to elementary school at Our Lady of Częstochowa in North Tonawanda, New York, and at some point in the 1970s when the school was modernizing, they sold off the old-fashioned student desks. My parents decided to purchase two pairs of the desks, and Dad painstakingly refinished the wood, painted the metal legs, and mounted them on wood runners, after which my parents displayed them in the family room of our home in Cincinnati when I was growing up. My sister and I used to sit at them and play “school” when we were little, but I can’t see where they’d fit into my home today. Similarly, my Great-Grandpa John Boehringer’s fishing tackle box didn’t even make the “donate” pile, as it was all full of rusted fishing hooks and lures that seemed like a bad case of tetanus waiting to happen.

As a family historian, I hoped to balance the need for getting the job done quickly and efficiently, with the need for careful preservation of the family history. I’m not sure I was entirely successful in that regard, and I may live to regret some of the things that were donated, discarded, or sold at the estate sale. I prioritized saving photographs and any documents with historical value, although I decided to let go some of the newspapers they saved over the years, such as the last issue of Buffalo’s newspaper, the Courier-Express that was printed in 1982. (Probably half the population of Buffalo has a copy in their basement.) I saved the oak porch swing that Dad made that used to hang in front of the rose trellis at their house on Patton Place, but I said goodbye to the old Cardinal phonograph that my parents bought when we lived in Cincinnati.

Mom and Dad’s Cardinal phonograph, circa 1920.

Our old Fisher-Price toys had to go, as did the cedar chest, but I saved the afghans made by my Mom and by Nana Boehringer, my mother’s journals, and my Dad’s flight log books from when he obtained his commercial pilot’s license in 1971. Many of the documents from my Dad’s youth, such as his old report cards, were charred by the house fire that largely destroyed my paternal grandparents’ home in 1978 while they were vacationing in Florida, and I discovered all the documentationinsurance records, building receiptsrelated to rebuilding that house after the fire, which had been carefully saved by my grandfather.

As I sifted through the ephemera of half a dozen lifetimes, I was struck not only by what people chose to save, but also by how these things were saved. The heart-shaped wreath of roses that adorned her father’s casket was preserved by my mother with such care that not a petal was lost. All of her school report cards were organized into neat little packets. Uncle J’s wallet, address book, check registers, and vital records were all boxed together with his collection of family photos. My Dad, on the other hand, had a whole pile of letters and postcards from family, stashed in the bottom of his duffel bag from Vietnam, buried underneath his boots and flight suit. His Air Force dress uniform, on the other hand, was hung neatly in a wardrobe box, with all of his medals and ribbons still attached to the coat. My paternal grandfather’s wallet was intact, with all his credit cards, driver’s license, and precisely $37 in cash, exactly as he left it when he passed away in 1996. The money is worth less now than it was then, thanks to inflation, and one wonders why it was never removed. The wallet was tucked safely within a steel lockbox that previously belonged to his father-in-law (Grandpa John Boehringer), which also contained stock certificates from the 1930s from companies which no longer exist, and property tax receipts dating back to the 1950s for my grandparents’ home on Grand Island.

Stock certificate from 1935 for 250 shares of stock in Lakeland Gold Limited, owned by my great-grandmother, Anna (née Meier) Boehringer.

Such careful preservation serves as a silent testimony to each person’s values and circumstances. We come to know and understand our loved ones better through the cherished things they left behind.

Here are a few additional photos of some of my favorite finds:

Small change purse containing pocket watches and rings belonging to my great-grandfather, John Boehringer. I checked with my Aunt Carol, who’s pretty sure that the rings are costume jewelry, since Nana Boehringer’s real engagement and wedding bands were stolen in a burglary in the 1950s.
Undated photograph of my great-grandmother, Veronica (née Grzesiak) Zazycki and her daughter, Antonette (née Zazycki) Topolski.
I’m pretty sure this is a photo of my grandmother’s brother, Roman Zazycki (1902-1926). Uncle Roman was the twin brother of Uncle Bolesław (“Ben”) Zazycki, but he died young, after injuring his leg in a factory accident and subsequently developing tuberculosis in the bone of that same leg. I’d never seen a photo of him before, but from this photo, I’d say that he and Uncle Ben were identical twins, rather than fraternal!
Undated photo (circa 1950s) of my mother, her cousin Fred Zazycki, and Uncle J (the “horse”).
Oldest known photo of my great-great-grandmother, Mary Elizabeth (née Wagner) Roberts, circa 1880s. This photo wasn’t in my parents’ things, but was given to me by my Aunt Carol while we were in town. This version was downloaded from MyHeritage after being uploaded there for enhancement and cleanup.

It’s going to take me quite a while to sort through all the boxes of photos, papers and sentimental artifacts which I brought home from New York. Nothing is promised, but I hope to live long enough to organize the photos and documents in such a way that my kids will have a cohesive family history collection to preserve and pass on, or to dispose of as they see fit. Although family history is my passion, I don’t know if any of my kids will eventually take up the torch, and I know first-hand how material goods can quickly become burdensome if they were precious only to someone else. In the end, our greatest legacy is the love we show to our families, and the memories we make with them. The “stuff” is secondary; yet within those collections, there are stories waiting to be told.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz, 2021

New Discoveries for John Dodds

Discoveries on my Dodds line are coming thick and fast these days, thanks to hints found in my paternal aunt’s DNA match list. This past week, I discovered the fate of one John H. Dodds, the fifth child of my great-great-great-grandparents, Robert and Catherine (Grant or Irving?) Dodds. I’ve written about my Dodds family recently, and the question of Catherine’s parentage is one of the brick walls in my research, which was summarized here.

Introducing John Dodds

Like his brother, Alexander, who was the subject of my last blog post, John Dodds was first found to be living with his family in St. Catharines, Ontario, in 1861 (Figure 1). John was seven years old, suggesting a birth year circa 1854. His father, Robert Dodds, was a laborer, born circa 1822 in England, and a W[esleyan] Methodist. His mother, Katherine [sic] Dodds, was born in Upper Canada circa 1830, according to this document, but that year is suspect since their oldest child, Hannah, was recorded as being 19 years of age, which would imply that Catherine gave birth to her at the age of 12.

Figure 1: Detail of 1861 Census of Canada showing John Dodds.1

By 1871, the family had moved to Yarmouth Township in Elgin County (Figure 2). John H. Dodds was reported to be 18 years of age, which suggests a birth year circa 1853. He was born in Ontario, was employed as a laborer, and was reported to be of English origin through his father, but of the Presbyterian faith, along with his Scottish mother. Despite the family’s varying religious practices, the names and ages of the family members confirm that this is the same Dodds family found in 1861. This census also suggests a more reasonable birth year of 1820 for John’s mother, Catherine Dodds, since she and her husband were both noted to be 51 years of age.

Figure 2: Detail of 1871 Census of Canada showing John H. Dodds.2

After this census, however, John H. Dodds seemed to disappear. There were no good matches for him living anywhere near other members of his family, and his name was sufficiently common that chasing down each John Dodds living in North America after 1871 seemed like a thankless task. As was the case with Alexander, the trail grew cold in absence of better clues.

DNA Shows the Way, Again

However, buoyed by my recent success with tracking down Alexander Dodds, I went back to Ancestry DNA to see if I could use my paternal grand-aunt’s match list to find any additional clues to illuminate my Dodds research. Although I most often use the “shared matches” feature for this, this time around I did a search of the match list for any matches which mentioned the surname Dodds in their family tree. A match came up to a woman whom I’ll call B.Y. (again, not her real initials) whose public, linked tree featured a great-great-grandfather named John Dodds. Although the parents of this John Dodds were not known, there was some promising evidence in the tree that suggested that this might be “my” John Dodds, son of Robert and Catherine. For starters, the 1900 census showed that John Dodds was born in February 1860 in English Canada, i.e. Ontario (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Detail of 1900 U.S. census showing John Dodds household.

A birth year of 1860 would make him a few years younger than “my” John Dodds ought to be, given previous evidence that suggested a birth year circa 1853-1854. However, this census also notes that his wife, Lena Dodds, was born in January 1874, so it may have been that John was fudging a bit to minimize the 20-year age difference between him and his wife. The Dodds family was living in Pike township, Potter County, Pennsylvania—a rural area about 125 miles due south of Rochester, New York. Without this clue from DNA evidence, it’s safe to say I never would have thought to look for “my” John Dodds there, nor would I necessarily have recognized him as the same John Dodds, even if he did turn up in a search of this census. According to this census, John Dodds’ father was born in Canada and his mother was born in England, while the reverse is true for “my” John Dodds. Between that, and the discrepancy in his age, it would have been easy to dismiss any connection, based solely on this one document. But just wait.

By 1900, John had been married to his wife, Lena, for eight years, suggesting that they married circa 1892. John was employed as a farmer who owned his own farm. He was further reported to be an alien who had been living in the U.S. for 19 years, following his arrival in 1881. The year of arrival would explain his absence from the 1881 census of Canada. Lena Dodds was born in Pennsylvania, as were both of her parents. She was noted to be the mother of two children, both of whom were living at that time and appear in this census. Those children were Flossie H. Dodds, born February 1895, and Robert L. Dodds, born August 1897.

The death certificate for John and Lena’s son, Robert L. Dodds, confirmed the information in B.Y.’s linked tree, that Lena Dodds’ maiden name was Frazier (Figure 4).4

Figure 4: Detail of Robert L. Dodds death certificate showing parents’ names.4

We can be certain that the Robert L. Dodds described in this death certificate is the same Robert L. Dodds as the son who appeared in the 1900 census because the date and place of birth, 20 August 1897 in [West] Pike, Pennsylvania, are a match.

John Dodds’ own death certificate confirmed that his father’s name was Robert Dodds (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Death certificate for John Dodds, 24 June 1941.5

According to this document, John Dodds died on 24 June 1941 in Ulysses, Pennsylvania—a borough in Potter County, the same county in which John was living in 1900. He was married, and his wife’s name was given only as Lena M. Dodds, no maiden name indicated. He was reported to have been born on 24 February 1860 in Canada, a data consistent with the date of February 1860 reported on the 1900 census. The day and month of birth may well be correct, even if the year is off. His father was identified as Robert Dodds, born in England, and his mother’s place of birth was identified as Canada, although her name was not known by the informant, Mrs. William Straitz of Coudersport, Pennsylvania.

So far, so good. Based on the preliminary evidence from these three documents, we can hypothesize that John Dodds of Potter County, Pennsylvania, who was the husband of Lena Frazier Dodds and was born in Canada circa 1860 to Robert Dodds and an unknown mother, is the same as the John H. Dodds in my family tree. If this hypothesis is correct, then B.Y. would be a second cousin twice removed (2C2R) to my Dad’s aunt. The amount of DNA shared between them, 51 centimorgans (cM), is consistent with this relationship, although other relationships are also possible, including 1/2 2C2R, which is statistically more probable than 2C2R. (That’s another question for another day.) At this point, I figured we could really use a marriage record for John Dodds and Lena Frazier, indicating parents’ names, to tie all this together.

Midnight Madness

You know those late-night research sessions where you’re on a roll, and things are moving fast, and in the heady excitement of the moment, you’re not making notes about the process as carefully as you should? If you’re reading this, of course you do. Well, that happened to me when I made the breakthrough discovery on my John Dodds research, and for the life of me, I can no longer recall exactly what it was that inspired me to look for the record of his marriage to Lena Frazier in New York, rather than in Pennsylvania. But for some reason, I did just that: I checked the Allegany County, New York pages of the New York GenWeb project. If you’re unfamiliar with the USA GenWeb Project, you should definitely check it out, drilling down to your particular counties of interest, because it’s a fantastic resource that has been a favorite of mine since its inception in the late 1990s. In this case, the Allegany County page offers vital records transcriptions, including a page of marriage transcriptions from the town of Willing, New York, covering 1849-1920 (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Detail of “Willing, Allegany Co., New York, Marriages, 1849-1920,” showing record of marriage of John Dodd and Lina Frazier.6

And there it is! Smoking-gun evidence that John Dodd [sic], the 34-year-old farmer residing in Potter County, Pennsylvania, who married Lina [sic] Frazier, was the son of Robert Dodd [sic] and Catherine Grant. John’s age suggests a birth year of 1857, a bit closer to the probable reality of 1853-1854, and he was born in Canada, as expected. One wonders if this was perhaps a second marriage for him, since a “1” was recorded in the “No. of marriage” column for Lena (indicating this was her first marriage) but there is no notation in the corresponding column for the groom. Of course, it may be that this information was merely omitted from the transcription. In a column on the far right, which does not appear in this image, it states that the marriage took place on 20 April 1891, which is an approximate match to the information from the 1900 census that they were married in 1892. In fact, when I wrote to the Willing town clerk to request a copy of the actual marriage record, she informed me that the marriage date according to their records was 20 April 1892, not 1891, so mistakes do happen. It may be that the original record is exceptionally faded or illegible, which impacted the indexer’s ability to read both the marriage date, and any information that may have been recorded in the “no. of marriage” column for the groom.

Tag-Team Genealogy

Of course, there’s quite a bit more research that can, and should, be done to tell this family’s story. Nonetheless, by this point I was so excited that I emailed my Aunt Carol to tell her I’d found our John Dodds, after which a busy week ensued with little time for additional research. However, Aunt Carol took up the cause and was able to fill out the family tree quite nicely with loads of additional documents. Among her discoveries were two documents that I found to be especially noteworthy. The first was an entry in the 1880 census from Foster Township in McKean County, Pennsylvania, for the household of Gilford [sic] and Jno. [sic] Dodd [sic], two laborers who were lodgers at a boarding house run by David and Caroline White (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Detail of 1880 census showing Gilford [sic] and Jno. Dodd [sic].7

The township of Foster is located just south of the New York-Pennsylvania border, and about 50 miles west of Willing, New York, where John Dodds would eventually marry Lena Frazier. “Jno” is an old-fashioned abbreviation for “John” commonly found in genealogical documents. John was reported to be single, and age 24, which suggests a birth year circa 1856. We’re inching ever closer to the years 1853-1854 reported in the earliest documents, which are likely to be the most accurate. He was born in Canada, to Canadian-born parents. A residence within the U.S. in 1880 would be fairly consistent with the immigration year of 1881 which John Dodds reported in the 1900 census.

John and “Gilford” Dodd were enumerated as their own household, separate from the household of the boarding-house owner and the other tenants, which might be construed as evidence for a family relationship, rather than John and “Gilford” being two random boarders who happened to share a surname. In fact, “Gilford” is likely to be Gilbert M. Dodds, John’s brother, who was age 15 in the 1871 census, suggesting a birth year circa 1856. Gilbert does not appear in the 1881 census of Canada, and this record does a nice job of explaining why that might be. According to this census, “Gilford” was single and age 22, which points to a birth year circa 1858. He, too, was said to have been born in Canada of Canadian-born parents. Gilbert would eventually marry Annie Mann on 11 November 1885 in Port Stanley, Elgin County, Ontario8 and I’m pretty sure he died in Buffalo, New York,9 but that’s another story for another day. (I’m still waiting for his death certificate to arrive in the mail!)

The second neat bit of evidence that Aunt Carol found was the World War I draft registration card for John’s son, Robert Lawrence Dodds—the same Robert L. Dodds whose death certificate is shown in Figure 4. The subject of the draft card (Figure 8) resided at 504 Sullivan Street in Elmira, New York. He was born on 20 August 1897 in West Pike, Pennsylvania—information which matches that found on the death certificate for Robert L. Dodds exactly. His nearest relative was noted to be Lena Dodds, living in Ulysses, Pennsylvania, and a further identification of “mother” was written to the right of her name. Although his father’s name was not mentioned on this document, the form included a space for the father’s birthplace, and here it was noted that Robert Lawrence Dodds’ father was born in Port Stanley, Canada.

Figure 9: Front side of World War I draft registration card for Robert Lawrence Dodds.10

Port Stanley, Ontario, no longer exists as an independent municipality today. It’s a small place that was amalgamated with the village of Belmont and with Yarmouth Township—where the Dodds family was known to be living in 1871—to form the municipality of Central Elgin in 1998.11 Since the earliest document found to date for John Dodds was that 1861 census in which the family was living in St. Catharines, Ontario, the information from this draft card, if accurate, suggests a different timeline for the family of Robert and Catherine Dodds than the one I’ve been envisioning for them. If the family were living in Port Stanley circa 1853 when their son John was born, then perhaps Robert and Catherine started their marriage in Elgin County and then moved to St. Catherines, rather than the reverse. Of course, this is all speculative, and there are still many questions which have yet to be answered about the early life of the Dodds family, their migrations, and about the identities of Robert’s and Catherine’s parents. But little discoveries like the ones I’ve made this week give me hope that maybe, if I keep chipping away at it, those brick walls will eventually crumble.

Sources:

1 Census of Canada, 1861, population schedule, Canada West, Lincoln, Grantham, E.D. 4, p 80, lines 1–9, Robert Dodds household, accessed as digital images, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/Pages/home.aspx : 28 April 2021 ), Item no. 1884852, citing Microfilm C-1048-1049.

Census of Canada, 1871, population schedule, Ontario, East Elgin, Yarmouth, David Parish, division no. 2, p 73, lines 2–8, Robert Dodds household, accessed as digital images, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/Pages/home.aspx : 28 April 2021 ), item no. 454129, citing Microfilm: C-9898, Reference: RG31.

3 1900 United States Federal Census, Potter, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Pike Township, enumeration district (ED) 107, sheet no. 2B, dwelling 35, family 38, John H. Dodds household; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : 8 May 2021); citing NARA microfilmT623, 1854 rolls, no roll specified.

4 “Pennsylvania, U.S., Death Certificates, 1906-1967,” database, Robert L. Dodds, 13 April 1968, certificate no. 040689-68; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 8 May 2021), certificate no. range 039901-042750, image 804 of 2909; citing Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906-1968. Series 11.90 (1,905 cartons). Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

5 “Pennsylvania, U.S., Death Certificates, 1906-1967,” database, John Dodds, 24 June 1941, certificate no. 7817, digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 8 May 2021), certificate no. range 005251-008250, image 3142 of 3654; citing Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906-1968. Series 11.90 (1,905 cartons). Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

6 Charlie Barrett, “Historic Records – Willing, Allegany Co., New York, Marriages, 1849-1920,” database, John Dodd and Lina Frazier, 20 April 1891, “Allegany County, New York,” NYGenWeb (http://allegany.nygenweb.net/index.html : 8 May 2021).

7 1880 United States Federal Census, McKean County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Foster Township, Enumeration District (E.D.) 77, Sheet 51A, household no. 787, Gilford and Jno. Dodd, digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : 8 May 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1153 of 1,454 rolls.

8 “Ontario Marriages, 1869-1927,” database, 1885, no. 2663, marriage record for Gilbert M. Dodds and Annie Mann; digital image, Family Search (https://familysearch.org : 8 May 2021); citing Registrar General of Ontario, Archives of Ontario; Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

9 Buffalo, Erie, New York, Death Index, 1897-1902, p. 206, Gilbert M. Dodds, Vol. 21, no. 71, 1898, and Alexander Dodds, Vol. 34, no. 258, 1899, digital images, Internet Archive (https://archive.org/ : 17 April 2021), image 225 of 1140, citing Index to Deaths, in Buffalo, New York, 1852-1944, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo, New York.

10 “United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” database with images, FamilySearch, (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 8 May 2021), Robert Lawrence Dodds; Pennsylvania > Potter County; A-R > image 1017 of 3424; citing NARA microfilm publication M1509 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

11 “Place: Yarmouth, Elgin, Ontario, Canada,” WeRelate (https://www.werelate.org/ : 8 May 2021).

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2021