Sunday, February 5, 2017

Sentimental Sunday: Brown Neighbors not Brown Kin

RPPC verso, Postmarked Great Valley, Oct. 14, 1907 to Miss Anna Brown, 151 St. James Pl, Buffalo NY.

On October 9, 1907, a woman from Great Valley, New York penned a few lines to Miss Anna Brown, who was then residing at 151 St. James Place in Buffalo, New York. The woman wrote that she received Anna's card and that "it was very nice." Obviously referring the photograph of the house on the front of the card, she wrote: "This is like the card you see in my book, part of our house and Nellie's." She signed off "I remain your friend, Grace."

Close to one hundred and ten years later, the real photo post card (RPPC) passed by my desk, lent to me for study by local friends who know my keen interest in history. Just a few weeks earlier, another friend had asked if anyone was aware of there being a house on her family's property before the second world war. She had already asked some of the locals, but no one could recall. When her family purchased the property, there was no house. In dismantling a small structure they had put up a few years ago, signs of a house foundation, a silo foundation and an intact bottle were unearthed.

I have always been intrigued by the large house across the road from this property, but knew little of the area which is part of what is called Willoughby, on the Humphrey Road. I tucked these questions in the back of my mind.

Working with the Great Valley Town Historian, I helped put on a genealogy fair for the town of Great Valley on Saturday, January 7, 2017. Before and after my presentation, I tried to speak with as many attendants as I could to talk about their Great Valley connections but I did not take any notes and eventually names and places blurred together. I thought I had specifically asked one gentleman about the large house on Humphrey Road and was given the name "Oyer." Later, one of my co-workers who was at the fair reminded me that the home her parents lived in was owned by an Oyer family, only this house is on another road. I remain unsure if I heard the name Oyer in connection with that large house then or not, but I need to back track in the research story first.

A few days ago, I sat down to study this RPPC. I knew that Anna Brown was probably of the William Brown family who resided in Great Valley during that time period. This RPPC was in an envelope along with a cropped RPPC showing three women, two identified as Dorothy Wilson and Ada Marble. Another small photograph in the envelope shows a family group with identified members of the Brown family taken about 1920. From other research done, I know that Dorothy Wilson was the daughter of Horace Aumock and his wife, Rose M. Brown. Rose Brown was a daughter of William Brown. (I also know Rose's mother Augusta was the sister to Ada Marble's mother, Hannah Herpst Nagel, but that is too many twists in the family tree to sort out right now.)

William J. Brown, born in July 1847, immigrated with his father John from Wurttemburg Germany in 1852 and settled in Ellicottville, Cattaraugus County, New York as early as 1855. William was in New Albion, Cattaraugus County, New York during the 1870 federal census, living with and near others also from Wurttemburg, doing farm work. He settled in Great Valley as early as 1875 and was enumerated there that year during the state census with his wife Augusta and young daughter Juliet, 5 months old. Augusta eventually was the mother of twelve children altogether, with ten surviving to adulthood. In addition to the Rose Brown mentioned earlier, they also had a daughter Anna C. Brown, born June 1884 who eventually married Harlan Meacham.

This Anna Brown was the recipient of the RPPC Who was the sender, Grace, I wondered. Typing in "Grace" in Great Valley, NY between 1905-1910 in the search engine at familysearch.org yielded a few prospects. Most intriguing was that of Grace Oyer who lived on Humphrey Road in 1910 with her parents Smith and Ruth Oyer, a brother Wallace and Smith's widowed mother-in-law, Juliette Brown. The Oyer family was living on the Humphrey Road during the 1905 state census as well. Grace was 19. Next door to them was 28-year-old Charlie Lougee and his 24-year-old wife Nellie.  Do we have our Grace and Nellie? Is there a family connection with the maternal grandmother Juliette Brown? The answer is yes and no.

My brain was now mulling over this RPPC. Then it finally dawned on me that the house pictured is the large house I have been curious about! In re-examining the photo, I see that I am looking at Humphrey Road and that the house on the other side, Nellie's, is proof that there was a house during that time on my friend's current property! At this time, I have not tracked down land ownership records, but another friend tells me that Jack Ehman owned the large house. He remembered being taken up in an airplane by Jack Ehman fifty-seven years ago. He was not sure but thought a Clarence and Eva owned the house before Jack, maybe they were Jack's parents. This may not be quite accurate, but will be left for a further historical excursion.

RPPC, Postmarked Great Valley, Oct. 14, 1907 showing the home of Smith David Oyer on the Humphrey Road.

I wanted to know more of the connection between Grace and Anna. Were they Brown kin? Grace's father was Smith David or David Smith Oyer. His obituary is listed in the June 19, 1929 edition of the Ellicottville Post newspaper. He died in Salamanca, leaving his widow Mrs. Ruth Oyer, one daughter Mrs. Chas. Lougee and two sons, Clarence and Wallace, all of Salamanca. Clarence Oyer purchased the old Smith Oyer farm in December of 1929 according to the December 25th edition of the Ellicottville Post. In first looking at the obituary, I thought our Grace was married to Charles Lougee, but it turned out it was her sister Nellie who married him instead. Tragically, Grace succumbed to influenza and died in Great Valley in October of 1918 according to a death notice in the Ellicottville Post on October 23, 1918 and so was not a survivor listed in her father's obituary.

Although Grace was buried under the surname Oyer as seen by a findagrave.com listing, there is a marriage record listed on familysearch.org of Grace Oyer to John Mack that took place in Limestone, New York on January 8, 1917. The record indicates Grace, born about 1887 in Great Valley, was the daughter of Smith Oyer and Ruth Ellen Brown.

Grace's father was the son of the late Peter A. Oyer and his wife Rachel Vedder of Ellicottville according to his obituary. Ironically, Peter and Rachel Oyer lived next door to William J. Brown's father John Brown and family during the 1855 state census in Ellicottville. If we go trying to prove that Ruth Ellen Brown was related to these German Browns, though, we would be barking up the wrong family tree.

Instead, we find another Juliette Brown in Great Valley during the 1875 state census. Remember, 5-month-old Juliet, daughter of William and Augusta Brown? Living just four households away from them is an older Juliette Brown, wife of Sheldon P. Brown. Also in the household are Sheldon and Juliette's children Mary, Ruth E. and James D. along with James' wife and two young sons. Ruth E. Brown was later to become the wife of Smith Oyer. The father of Sheldon P. Brown is identified as David M. Brown, a native of Londonderry, New Hampshire in the Historical Gazetteer and Biographical Memorial of Cattaraugus Co. NY, ed by William Adams and published in 1893. According to this biography, in 1842 David Brown, "while on a visit to brothers on the coast of Maine," "secured the carcass of a whale 48 ft in length, which he had prepared and transported on wagons and canal boats, exhibiting it throughout the country. He finally sold it for $8000, and it is still exhibited as a curiosity."Although not proven, it can be speculated that from the money secured from his curiosity, David may have had the fine home built on the Humphrey Road. We do know that Smith Oyer had experience in building houses as evidenced by a notice in the Ellicottville Post (found on fultonhistory.com) in July of 1891 that he and J. Deininger both of Great Valley were engaged by A. Ward to build his residence. We will leave further speculation for another time.

To conclude, we see that there were separate Brown families living as neighbors in the area of Willoughby in Great Valley, New York in the early 1900s. Though not kin, Anna Brown and Grace Oyer were close in age and close in vicinity to each other. Having this real photo post card surface, solved this mystery as well as answering the question about a house in the vicinity during that time period. I would just like to know what happened to Grace's book she refers to in the post card. Might that surface one of these days, too?


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