Thursday, January 31, 2013

Treasure Chest Thursday: A Glimpse of the Past

Have you ever gotten sidetracked while exploring the past? I have, on a number of occasions. I’ll start looking online and go down many rabbit trails. I’ll look at some records in my files searching for an answer to a question and get absorbed re-reading some forgotten details. I had been thinking recently of my old photograph collection. In fact, the other day I pulled out one of my very oldest photographs from where I have it kept in a fireproof safe to share with a young friend who has shown an interest in old things (Us memory-keepers always have to be on the lookout for ways to cultivate the next generation in order to keep those memories from fading). I was dismayed to find that despite my efforts to keep them safe, these old photos are showing evidence of time (that old enemy) and temperature fluctuations that may eventually damage them beyond repair.

                I originally sat down tonight to work on a blog post to document details of one of my ambrotypes that is slowly fading away. I got sidetracked when I was looking through photos I already had digitally scanned and some that still needed scanning. I scanned a few quickly of one of my direct ancestors and put together a post sketching the details of his life. This led me to start scanning and transcribing some family bible records related to this ancestor. I started having technical difficulties and lost my work twice before deciding to give up and call it a night. But then I remembered my original intent and decided that maybe the reason I was having difficulty was because the subjects of the ambrotype were insisting that their story be told instead.

                And so, despite the lateness, I felt that I should continue. As Joan Severa writes regarding photographic portraits: “A certain vivid face looking out at you with its voice just a breath from speaking can sometimes stop your heart.” I feel the need to tell the story of this silenced voice and share with you what Joan Severa has called the “truest glimpse possible of a moment in the past.”

                This photograph (labeled D-2) is only one of many that I have been blessed with as a family collection. Although I have a great deal more to write regarding the details of my collection, I will refrain for now so as not to get distracted again. Instead this will serve as just an introduction for what I hope to add in future posts to come. 

This cased image was among several given to me by my father’s cousin Norman Vaughan in 1994 from his mother, Ruby Hardy Vaughan’s collection. Ruby had many photographs from her grandmother Martha Sizemore Hardy and her aunt Bettie Hardy Gross.

                The back of this case is identical to another ambrotype cased image I have labeled D-1 and may have been originally together (both were given to me by Norman). This case is called “The Romanesque Urn” in Rinhart, 1969, (p. 126). This source indicates that it dates from ca. 1857 (casemaker unknown). One half of these two images has hooks on the side to close the case and the other half has eyes for the hooks. The inside mat for this one is in a style called nonpareil (Rinhart, 1969, p. 22) with a four double-petaled flower and vine border. The outside mat has a four-petaled flower in each corner.

                The subject is a girl and boy. The girl appears older, maybe 12-13 years old and a bit taller than the boy. The details are not very distinguishable in the case but when I took it out of its case one day over ten years ago and held it up in just the right lighting, many details appeared which I documented:

They look to be sitting on a wide bench with a backing at their shoulders (as noted by the wide dark horizontal line). The girl’s dress is a small checked or hound’s-tooth pattern with long leg o’mutton puffed sleeves hemmed just over her shoulder. The dress appears to be belted around her waist with a round buckle in the front. She wears a lace collar with a gilded brooch pinned in the middle.  Her hands are not distinguishable but appear to be on her lap. She is wearing some kind of choker made up of two rows of dark beads showing just above the lace collar. She also wears gilded hoop earrings with her cheeks and lips rouged. She has an oval-shaped face with thin lips and dark eyes. Her hair is dark, parted in the middle and smoothed above her ears towards the back, perhaps pulled back in a bun. As her ears are showing, this may date the photo to about 1863-1865 (Frost, p. 57). The boy appears to be about 10-12 years old. He has light eyes with his hair halfway down his ears and smooth on top. His cheeks are rouged as well. His face appears square, somewhat angular, what I’d called chiseled features.  He is dressed in a suit with a similar bow tie and collar as one of the fellows in D-1. He is holding his hands together on his lap. His shirt is white with the sleeves showing slightly past the jacket sleeves. The jacket has a thin lapel with one button buttoned. The shirt has a thin pointed collar. His pants are made of a lighter material than his jacket.  

                Frost, Lenore. Dating Family Photographs 1850-1920. Berwick, Australia: Valient Press, 1991.
                Rinhart, Floyd, Marion Rinhart. American Miniature Case Art. New York: A.S. Barnes and Company, 1969.
                Severa, Joan L. My Likeness Taken: Daguerreian Portraits in America. Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 2005.

“Society is an open-ended partnership between generations. 
The dead and the unborn are as much members of society as the living. 
To dishonor the dead is to reject the relation on which society is built – 
a relation of obligation between generations.” –Edmund Burke

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Getting to Know Great-Grandpa

Kornelis Bolhuis of
Winsum, Groningen, Netherlands

When I first started gathering information on my great-grandmother Bolhuis’ family, I knew little of her father, but I do know that everyone has a past and every grandparent was once a little boy or little girl. My first mental image of Kornelis Bolhuis was that of grandfather. I have a photograph of this bearded man. 
I knew that he died shortly before his 90th birthday in the town of Stedum, also in the Groningen province. I knew that in his capacity as father, he encouraged his children to seek a new life in America. But I knew nothing of his childhood and the only one I knew who might have known anything was his daughter, my great-grandmother, who passed away when I was very young. I never heard any stories, his story was never told.
But over the past several years, I have been able to gather some vital statistics that when pieced together, help me create his story. And here it is:

Kornelis was born on August 17, 1859 in the town of Winsum, Groningen, a northern province of the Netherlands. He was the third child and only son of Johannes Kornelis Bolhuis and his wife Aaltje Egberts DeVries. In July 1866, just about a month before young Kornelis’ seventh birthday, members of his family took sick and in the span of less than ten days, he lost his entire family.

His father was the first to succumb and died on the 15th of July. His oldest sister died the next day and the second sister died the day after that. Perhaps it was first thought that the mother Aaltje would rally around, or she began to get sick later, but on the 23rd of that month, she also died. Both sets of Kornelis’ grandparents had already died before Kornelis was even born.

He had a couple of aunts on his father’s side and an aunt and uncle on his mother’s side. He was probably raised by one or the other. He may have even been staying with one of these relatives when his family first took sick. When doing an internet search about sickness or plagues in the year 1866, I discovered that there were several epidemics of cholera worldwide and 1866 was one of those years. In order for Kornelis not to have taken ill, he probably did not drink from the same well that his family did.

Steven Johnson wrote The Ghost Map which discusses the cholera epidemic in London in 1855. In the book, the author tells the story of how one man started to figure things out which eventually led to the discovery of the bacteria itself. Before then, people thought it was something in the air. This man, Dr. John Snow, asked questions in the neighborhood as to who drank from which well and noted that often the children were sent to fetch water from the wells and mapped out which wells were making people sick. Perhaps fetching water from the well was normally a job for young Kornelis, but on that day in July he was staying with cousins and so avoided getting sick. One hundred plus years later, those who know exactly just how fate intervened are now long gone. Kornelis left many descendants including myself, curious enough to look at some vital statistics and do a little research to tease out more of a story in order to learn more about an ancestor from long ago. 

Photo courtesy Crystal Sponeybarger

The lights of our ancestors have not so much been dowsed, as gathered into the sun. -Rumi

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Family Tragedy

According to his death certificate on file with the Concord town clerk, Herman J. Westfall was born 1 October 1877 in Waverly, New York.[1] He was raised in the town of Otto, once known as Waverly, in Cattaraugus County.[2] Herman’s father died just after his tenth birthday and his mother died before he turned eighteen. Herman was living in Perrysburg in September of 1895.[3] He may have been working there. 
the young Herman Westfall, ca. 1894, Cattaraugus, NY

In 1896 he was living with his married sister, Louise Heitman of Dunkirk, Chautauqua County, New York when it was reported in the Evening Observer newspaper that Herman, described as “lovelorn,” attempted suicide on 30 May 1896 by drinking carbolic acid but was expected to recover.[4] The name of the object of his affections that rejected him was not revealed in the newspaper article. The article explained that Herman “formerly met and loved a young, pretty, dark-haired German girl and when he left her at Cattaraugus, they were engaged to be married.” Soon after he went to stay with his sister, she also went and boarded with his sister until she found employment as a housemaid, but she then “decided that he was neither old enough nor earning enough money to support them and respectfully declined.”  

Herman eventually did marry and have a family. He was wed to Margaret Pfeffer about 1898. No record has been found on file with the Concord town clerk nor in the marriage records of St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church where her parents had some of their children baptized. Perhaps they were married in Chautauqua County. Ms. Pfeffer may have even been the dark-haired German girl that initially rejected him. Born in Augsburg, Germany on 18 June 1881, she was the daughter of Lawrence and Marie (Kelzer or Kilger) Pfeffer.[5] Maggie (as she was called), her brother Frank and her sister Teresa all had red or auburn hair.[6] Herman and Maggie lived next door to her parents in 1900. Her brother Frank and her two sisters Teresa and Mary were still at home.[7] By 1910, Herman was renting a farm on Horse Road in Concord.[8] In 1920, he rented another farm on the Genesee Road.[9]
The Herman Westfall family, ca. 1920
l-r: Fritz, Herman (holding Allen), Maggie, Theresa Pfeffer, Bertha Hauth (with son Bob),
Lawrence, Bob Hauth (holding daughter Jane), Fats

Around 1927, he purchased the Stanbro farm on the Genesee Road in East Concord. But not long after, tragedy struck. On Friday, 27 May 1927, Herman and two of his sons, Frederick and Allen, were killed when the truck they were riding in was struck by a Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburgh passenger train at the depot crossing in East Concord. The details were grim. Herman had recently purchased a new Chevrolet truck (his son Lawrence had sold it to him) and they were driving east on the Genesee road. The five o’clock flyer approached, though they apparently didn’t see it (it was also told that the train was late). The engine struck the car about in the middle and carried parts of it and the older son, Frederick, on the cow catcher for about seven hundred yards before the train was bought to a stop near the county asphalt plant. Frederick lived for a short time, but died after starting for the hospital in an ambulance. He was just twenty-two and newly married. He and his wife lived on the Benjamin Shippey farm on Vaughan Street. Herman and the younger son, nine-year-old Allen, were thrown clear of the track. Herman was killed instantly. Allen was taken on the train for the Lackawanna hospital, but died before reaching Orchard Park. His body was brought back on the seven o’clock train.[10]

The triple funeral was held from the family home on Tuesday afternoon at two o’clock with burial in the Maplewood Cemetery in Springville (Erie County), New York. The Reverend Northy of Boston officiated. Seventy cars made up the funeral procession to the cemetery, where they were laid to rest in a single grave.[11]

Maggie was widowed at the age of forty-six and outlived all but her oldest child. Before her death, she had several strokes and was in a nursing home in Springville. Her faculties were limited near the end and before she died about all she could say was the word “shit” which served her well on various occasions.[12] She died at the age of eighty-seven on 11 September 1968 in Springville, Erie County New York and was buried near her husband and children in the Maplewood Cemetery in Springville.[13]

Herman J. Westfall and Margaret Pfeffer had the following children:[14]

Lawrence, Bertha & Fritz
i.                     Bertha Elizabeth Westfall, born 30 October 1899 Springville, Erie County, New York;[15] married Clayton Hauth 18 February 1916 in St. Aloysius R.C. Church in Springville, Erie County, New York;[16] died 5 April 1990 of cardiac arrest, buried in Maplewood Cemetery, Springville.[17] Bertha and her husband lived on Shock(?) Street in the town of Concord in 1920.[18]
ii.                   Lawrence Louis Westfall, born 16 August 1901 Springville, Erie County, New York on Central Avenue;[19] married (1) Wilhelmina Filtenborg 10 September 1924 Chicago, Cook County, Illinois,[20] (2) Mabel Louise Smith 4 March 1926 Boston, Erie County, New York;[21] died 27 April 1958 Springville, Erie County, New York, buried in Maplewood Cemetery.[22]
Fritz & Fats
iii.                  Frederick Martin Westfall “Fritz”, born 10 August 1904;[23] married Mabel Faust; died 27 May 1927, buried in Maplewood Cemetery.[24]
iv.                 Albert Westfall, born 25 August 1906 in East Otto, Cattaraugus County, New York; married Genevieve Yates; died 15 May 1968 in Erie County, New York.[25]
v.                   Francis Raymond Westfall “Fats”, born 23 September 1911; married Freada L. Hintz; died 22 January 1962, buried in Maplewood Cemetery.[26]
Allen & his dog
vi.                 Charles Allen Westfall, born 15 May 1918 in East Concord, Erie County, New York; died 27 May 1927 in East Concord, buried in Maplewood Cemetery.[27]


[1]Death certificate of Herman J. Westfall, register no. 14, town of Concord, county of Cattaraugus, state of New York.
[2]Barbara Fuller Andera related to writer that Otto was once known as Waverly. The map accompanying the 1874 Child’s Gazetteer/Director of Cattaraugus County showed Waverly, Otto Post Office.
[3]Probate records for Sophia Westfall, box #254, Schedual “C,” p. 6, turned in by administrator Daniel E. Powell for services rendered indicated that on September 21, 1895 he paid $.80 “to car fare to Perysburg and return to serve notice of appraisal on Herman Westfall.” Surrogate Court records, Little Valley, New York.
[4]From “Genealogical Information reported in the [Dunkirk] Evening Observer” compiled by Lois Barris, 1997. Copies of Westfall, Heitman and Cobo entries sent to writer by compiler November 2001.
[5]Information from Mabel Smith Westfall. In a telephone conversation with Marie Westfall Rebbeor on 14 May 2001, she related that she had always heard that of her Westfall grandparents, one was born near the Austrian border and one was born near the Polish border. Augsberg is near Austria, so perhaps where the Westfalls came from in Germany was near the Polish border.
[6]Ibid. Maggie’s son Lawrence had the same color with curls when he was young. Lawrence’s daughter Marie told writer in 2001 that Lawrence still had curly hair when he went to Chicago and told a barber there to cut it all off. Marie never knew her father with curly hair. Lawrence’s grandson Charles A. Westfall always grew an auburn beard, although has blonde hair.
[7]Lawrence Pfeffer household, dwelling no. 312, family no. 321 & Herman Westfall household, dwelling no. 311, family no. 320, 1900 U.S. Census, Concord Township, village of Springville, Supv. Dist. 17, sheet no. 13, Enum. Dist. 235, dated 12 June 1900.
 [8]Herman Westfall household, dwelling no. 144, family no. 155, 1910 U.S. Census, Concord Township, E.D. 264, sheet 8A, online image 15 of 16 from (via subscription).
[9]Herman Westfall household, dwelling no. 59, family no. 59, 1920 U.S. Census, Concord Township, E.D. 284, sheet 3A, online image 5 of 11 from (via subscription).
[10]”Three Members of Westfall Family Die in Railway Crossing…” Newspaper article on the front page of the Springville Journal issue dated June 2, 1927 (no. 21). Copy from microfilm sent by newspaper office upon request for obituaries of those family members (copies of obituaries were also sent). Another brief newspaper article which included a photograph of each of the three had been saved in a photo album of Mabel Smith Westfall’s.
[11]Ibid. From what was understood in a conversation between Herman’s daughter-in-law, Mabel Smith Westfall and writer, the truck was newly purchased, Herman’s son Lawrence worked at the dealership and sold it to his father. Mabel also stated that the crossing where the accident happened had limited sighting and the train was late that day. Herman’s granddaughter Marie Westfall Rebbeor related that the family was quick to settle with the family. She later seemed to recall the three caskets in a room with flowered wallpaper but she was only a year old at the time.
[12]Ibid. (newspaper article). Maplewood Cemetery sexton’s records notebook compiled by Carrie M.Dudley (at the Cattaraugus County museum) confirm that he died of a fractured skull. All three were buried on 31 May 1927 in section 29, lot 909.
 [13]As related to writer by Barbara Fuller Andera in 2001, whose mother-in-law Caroline Ploetz Andera visited Maggie often while she was in the nursing home.
[14]Death certificate of Margaret Westfall from Concord town clerk. Visit to Maplewood Cemetery in Springville, New York with Francis Andera, 20 August 1993.
[15]According to the transcript of Lawrence’s birth certificate from the Concord town clerk, his mother had two previous children before him and both of those were living at the time; but only Bertha was listed in the 1900 census.
[16]Verified transcript from the register of births for Bertha Elizabeth Westfall, 30 October 1899, registered 10 November 1899, #609, transcribed 4 December 2001 by Valerie Piscitelli, Deputy Registrar, Concord Town Hall, Town Clerk’s Office, 86 Franklin St, Springville, NY 14141. F.H. Stanbro was the attestant. Spaces were blank for number of mother’s previous children and how many living.
[17]Marriage register for St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church, p. 67. Clayton was not Catholic.
[18] Maplewood Cemetery sexton’s records notebook compiled by Carrie M.Dudley. Clatin G. Hauth household (online index listed as Elatin(?) G. Hauth), dwelling no. 30, family no. 33, 1920 U.S. Census, Concord Township, ED#283, sheet 4A, online image 7 of 9 from (via subscription).
[19]Verified transcript from the register of births for Lawrence Louis Westphal, 16 August 1901, Register no. 405, transcribed 7 March 1994. F.H. Stanbro was the attestant. Mabel Smith Westfall stated that Lawrence was born on Central Avenue in Springville. The transcript stated he was born in the town of Concord.
[20]Information from Mrs. Lulu Gold.
[21]Information from Mabel Smith Westfall.
[22]Obituary notice of Lawrence L. Westfall
[23] Transcript of microfilmed records 1853-1911 from St. Aloysius R.C. Church in Springville, New York. Computerized index by Carrie M. Dudley, Concord Historical Society. The baptisms of the first five of Herman and Margaret’s children were recorded here. 
[23]Maplewood Cemetery sexton’s records notebook compiled by Carrie M.Dudley (at the Cattaraugus County museum). Died of a fractured skull.
[24]Ibid. Birth information from entry form submitted to LDS church by Edward A. Stirling. Albert’s daughter Gladys married a Stirling.
[25]Ibid. Obituary stated that he lived at 100 Spring Street in Springville. HE died at the Bertrand Chaffee Hospital in Springville. He had been a restaurant operator since 1952. Weismantal Funeral Home took care of the arrangements with services from Salem Lutheran Church.
[26]Maplewood Cemetery sexton’s records notebook compiled by Carrie M.Dudley (at the Cattaraugus County museum). Died of a fractured cerebral vertebrae. These records give name as Charles A., tombstone engraved “C. Allen.”

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Enemy of Time

Photograph courtesy Kristen Hall

We’ve all heard genealogists talk about their biggest brick wall, that genealogical puzzle that has been the hardest to solve.

Time itself can be a form of a brick wall, when the things to be done in the present get in the way of researching the past. I have taken a hiatus from my blog for the last couple of months due to some other pressing projects that I put on my plate. There are only so many hours in a day. My focus has been on some of my vocational goals. I sat for a licensure exam and got another initial to put behind my name. (Go me!) I am also finishing up a few online courses for another certificate. With those things falling into place, I feel like I can gear up and do a little pursuing in my avocation of family history. As a single parent, a lot rests on me and I don’t see myself quitting my day job anytime in the near future. Nonetheless, it has been over twenty years and the past still calls to me.

My biggest brick wall in the form of a genealogical puzzle has been with me for nearly twenty years as well. When I first started researching my family’s history, my grandfather was able to provide me with his parents’ names, John Willis Watts and Ollie Spencer, but mentioned that his mother was an orphan. I groaned when I heard that, thinking I was going to have a hard time finding anything about her parents. As it turned out, it was fairly easy. Ollie died in Hopkinsville, Christian County, Kentucky in 1925 and I was able to send for her death certificate from the state vital statistics office. This had her parents listed just as nice as you please. No problem there. Unfortunately, the problem turned out to be in the generations before that.

Ollie’s father was Thomas Hutchinson Spencer. I even have a photograph of him here, but finding the names of his parents proved elusive for some time. I had so much luck with all of my other family lines but on this line I had the fewest generations back. One day I decided to focus exclusively on this family and break through the brick wall once and for all. Hutch, as he was called, was a poor farmer who never owned any land. I was able to locate two marriage records for him, but no parents were listed. I was able to pinpoint when he died, but the records didn’t provide the names of his parents. He didn’t do much else, besides pay some taxes. Even those records were not very helpful.

Thomas Hutchinson Spencer is listed as age 16 in the 1850 U. S. Census placing his birth date at 1834; his age is stated as 40 in 1871 in the record of his second marriage which places his birth date at 1831.  To complicate things further, his death record indicates he was 38 years old at the time of his death in October of 1875, placing his birth date as 1837.  The census record states he was born in Kentucky, the marriage record states Trigg County which agrees with his birthplace listed on the birth record of his daughter Ida in 1874.  He apparently had a hearing impediment, for on several records he is listed as deaf and dumb.  Every attempt thus far to locate Thomas during the 1860 U. S. Census has proved futile.  There is a gap of 15 years from when Thomas is listed in the 1850 U. S. Census until the time of his first marriage in 1865 which took place in Christian County, Kentucky. Thomas was listed in the 1868 tax list of Christian County, Kentucky, but then cannot be located during the 1870 U. S. Census either.  We next find him listed in the tax lists of Trigg County, Kentucky as H. Spencer in 1871 and as Thomas H. Spencer in the years 1872-1874. His death is recorded in Trigg County's Vital Statistics records 1861 + 1874-1910 (compilation by Barbara Smith).  The entry reads as follows:  Hutch Spencer, white, age 38, male, married, farmer, d. 25 October 1875 of pneumonia, birthplace not listed.  Parents and their birthplace not listed. There are no Spencers listed in the Trigg County will books, inventories and appraisements.

At the time of the 1850 census, Thomas was living with his mother, Lucy, his sisters and Martha Malone who turned out to be his maternal grandmother. Court records in Trigg County helped me determine the relationship between Martha Malone and Lucy Spencer as mother and daughter, but who was his father?
Turning my focus to his sisters, I was able to locate a death certificate for Polly Ann (Spencer) Hargrove who died in Trigg County, Kentucky in 1920. Lo and behold, it listed her parents as Will Spencer and Lucy Malone. Lucy’s birthplace was given as Kentucky (though other records seem to point to Tennessee as her birth place). Will’s birth place was “unknown.”

Finally, I was getting somewhere, right? No. If I thought Hutch didn’t do much to leave records, his father left even fewer. And with his father is where I have had to leave the search. This line is still the one where I have the fewest names in the family tree.

William Spencer is listed as over age 21 in the tax list of Trigg County, Kentucky for the year 1828.  He is not listed in that county's tax lists from 1829-1833, but shows up again in the years 1834-1837. On 24 April 1835 William entered into a deed with Benjamin Wallis, buying 83 acres on Bird's Creek of Little River for $250.  On 5 April 1837, Will mortgaged his land (133 acres), tools, livestock, household furniture, crop, etc. for $800 to William Wallis, Sr. and James B. Wallis, Sr.  His brother-in-law Miles Malone was a witness to this transaction.  No release of this mortgage is recorded. Will must have moved to Mississippi shortly thereafter, since his daughter Polly Ann was born there in 1840.  In 1847, Will's wife, Lucy Ann Spencer, shows up in the tax list of Trigg County, Kentucky.  This record shows her living on Little River with two children between the ages of 5-16.  So apparently Will died by 1847. 

Many hours have been spent trying to track William Spencer further and explore his ties with other families in the area in an effort to connect him with a family line to no avail. Every so often, I will do an internet search on some of my dangling lines. With the common surname of Spencer, I don’t try this one as much. A couple of years ago, I ran the name in the vicinity and found something that looked promising. Sellers’ Western Kentucky Database shows William as a son of Seymore Spencer with ties to North Carolina and Mississippi but I am not happy with the evidence presented to provide solid evidence of a link. I need more than what’s listed to place this link on my family tree. Until then, it remains my biggest brick wall.