From Whence Cometh Your Name?

Chances are, if your surname is Cooper, Currier, Miller, Slater, Smith, Tanner, Tailor/Taylor, or Wright, etc., the earliest known source for your name can be traced to those ancestors employed with such skills at a time when an occupation typically became the family’s surname. Over time, others may have adopted occupational surnames even though they, themselves, held no skilled connection to such a name.

Some names are more obvious than others. A few years ago while writing this article on surname occupations, and discussing it with my husband, Ed began his own litany of surnames – Baker, Barber, Butcher, Carpenter, Plumber, Electrician… Laughing, I said, “No one’s last name is Electrician!” to which he replied, “Oh that’s right; they shortened it to Sparks!” You’re so helpful, dear!

Centuries ago, typical Scandinavian patronymic (paternal) surnames used the father’s first name with sons adding “sson/sen/zen/zon” and daughters adding “dotter/dottr”, i.e. Nielsson/Nielsen, Nielsdottr”. Thus, each generation was tracked by the father’s birth name as a prefix in a generational changing surname. Legislation began in 1771 to establish permanent surnames, with subsequent amendments enacted frequently since. Surnames also denoted town of residence, name of residence, or occupation, for example: Moller = Miller, Schmidt = Smith, and Fisker = Fisher.

Norwegian surnames might also reference their farmland, such as: Bakke/Bakken (hill or rise), Berg/Berge (mountain or hill), Dahl/Dal (valley), Haugen/Haugan (hill or mound), Lie (side of a valley), Moen (meadow), or Rud (clearing). Similarly, Swedish surnames include Lind/Lindberg (linden/lime + mountain), Berg/Bergkvist (mountain/mountain + twig), Alström/Ahlström (alder + stream), or Dahl/Dahlin (valley). Read more HERE.

As a genealogist, I enjoy the study of surnames and what they mean, and to what nationality they’re linked. In genealogy research, I’ve been bemused by some of the names chosen centuries ago when families were forced to take a designated surname. I am more familiar with our Dutch family names, many families forced to adopt permanent surnames by Napoleon if they didn’t already have one. After occupying the Netherlands, on August 18, 1811, Napoleon required the hardy Dutch to register permanent surnames. The stubborn Dutchmen that they were/are, you can find many interesting surnames among today’s Dutch if you delve into the meaning, including serious, humorous, place names, and occupational names.

Apparently, the top 10 Dutch surnames include: DeJong/DeYonge (the Young), Jansen (Jan’s son, like the American Johnson), De Vries (the Frisian, or of Vriesland), Van De Berg/Van Den Berg/Van Der Berg (from the mountain), Van Dijk/Van Dyk/Dyke (residing near a dijk/dyk/dike), Bakker (a baker), Visser (means fisherman with variations including Vissers, Visscher and Visschers. After emigration to America, this surname was often changed to Fisher, which my paternal grandfather’s uncle did); Smid/Smit/De Smit/Smidt/Smits (a blacksmith), Meijer/Meyer/Hofmeijer (a farmer who managed a farm/estate for the owner/landlord like the ancient feudal system.)

My paternal grandmother’s Vos of Zuid/South Holland province means fox. My paternal grandfather’s Visscher (fisherman) family is from Groningen province, close to Germanic influence, and my husband’s Roorda (similar to the English Edward meaning famous guardian) is Frisian. The first documented Roorda in Friesland province rode with Charlemagne, though I don’t know how my husband’s ancestors connect to him. My mother-in-law’s family names include Van Der Heide (from the moor/heath), Van Den Berg (from the hill/mountain), and ten Kate (the cat).

Other common Dutch surnames include Boer (farmer), Buskirk (bush church, i.e. kirk/church in the woods), de Groot (the large or great), de Wit (the blond), Mulder (miller), Noteboom (nut/walnut tree), ten Boom (at/the tree or pole), Van Der Zee (from the sea), van Dorp (from the village) van Staalduinen (from the steel dune) – you get the idea!

As my long-time readers will recall, I’ve been enamored with all things Dutch having been born into a paternal full Dutch family. Though my mother’s family had had little knowledge of their full ancestry until my in-depth research, it is interesting to note my mother’s paternal Swiss Dallenbach/Tillapaugh/German Kniskern and maternal Scots-Irish McNeill/German Ottman are overwhelmingly Dutch and German Palatine with Scots-Irish, English and French scattered amongst them. That my mother’s parents each descend from one of the only two sons of a German Palatine widow is also among my treasured ancestral findings.

I extracted a number of Dutch surnames from Wikipedia, particularly since early New York was settled predominantly by the Dutch in New Netherlands. Think about the names below, sound them out using your best phonics, and you’ll hear names and terms in use today, many of which are familiar to me from my grandparents and their friends. (Read balance of article after list of names.)

Baas – The Boss
Bakker – Baker
Bos – Forest
Berg, van der/den – From the cliff, mountain
Berkenbosch- birch wood, a grove of birch trees
Boer, de – the Farmer
Boogaard – from the orchard, Americanized as Bogart
Bouwman – mason, construction worker
Brouwer – Brewer
Bruin, de (Bruijn, de) – brown
Buskirk, van – literally bush church, or church in the woods
Cornelissen – son of Cornelis/Cornelius
Dekker – from the verb dekken or to cover as in covering roof tops (compare English “Thatcher”)
Dijk, Deijck, van – From the dike
Dijkstra – From the dike
Graaf, de – The count/earl
Heide, van der – from the heath
Hendriks, Hendriksen, Hendrix – Henry’s son
Heuvel, van den – From the hill, mound
Kuiper, Cuyper, Kuyper, de – the Cooper
Leeuwen, van – From Leeuwen/Leuven; Levi
Jaager, de – the Hunter
Jansen, Janssen – Jan’s son (compare Johnson)
Jong, de – the Junior
Koning, Koningh, de – the King
Lange, de – the long/the tall
Linden, van der – from the Linden (type of tree)
Meijer, Meyer – Bailiff or steward
Molen, van der – from the Mill
Mulder, Molenaar – Miller
Maarschalkerweerd – Keeper of the horses (compare English marshal)
Peters or Pieters – Peter’s son
Prins – Prince
Ruis, Ruys, Ruisch, Ruysch – the sound of wind or water (surname common with millers).
Rynsburger – inhabitant of Rijnsburg
Smit, Smits – Smith
Timmerman – Carpenter (timber man)
Tuinstra – From the Garden
Visser – Fisher [my ancestral Visscher = Fisherman (from Groningen, near Germanic influence)]
Vliet, van – From the vliet (type of water)
Vries, de – from Friesland/Frisian
Vos – Fox
Westhuizen, van der – from the houses located in the west
Willems, Willemsen – William’s son
Wit, de – White (= the blond)

But, back to our preoccupation with occupational surnames, particularly old English surnames.  Brewster was a woman brewer of alcoholic beverages, like beer. Chapman, old English for ceapmann, was a merchant or salesman. A cooper made wooden barrels or tubs with innumerable uses. A miller owned or worked in a mill, especially noted early on for grinding grain into flour. A smith was a blacksmith, hammering out iron objects heated in the fire. A tanner cured hides, while a currier (remember the artwork of Currier and Ives?) removed the hair from the hide, readying it to be made into leather goods. An experienced tailor could sew the finest outfits just by taking your measurements. A wright was a skilled woodworker, the word replaced by carpenter in the 11th century. A prefix designated other skills a wright might be proficient in – i.e. a shipwright built ships, a wheelwright made and repaired wooden wheels, a millwright set up machinery, and a wainwright was a wagon maker.

The name Cooper is Anglo-Saxon, stemming from the original Latin word cupa, Middle Dutch kuiper, German kuper, and anglicized in England during the 8th century. Surnames were also necessary when governments implemented a personal tax, or the Poll Tax as it was known in England. Over the centuries, many surnames have changed spellings, some dramatically so, often due to one’s ability to spell, or lack thereof. This fact alone is key when researching your ancestors.

A cooper was a skilled craftsman who worked with a variety of carpentry tools. He made and shaped wooden staves with broadaxes, planes and drawknives to form the rounded vessel, which in turn was held together by wooden or metal hoops/rings around the exterior. He then fashioned wooden lids or barrelheads to fit tightly. A cooper played a vital role within a community. His barrels, buckets, butter churns, casks, firkins, hogsheads, kegs and tubs, etc. were needed to hold milk, water and a whole range of staples/food supplies, dry food goods, gunpowder, and other liquids like beer and wine. The products of a cooper’s trade were generally known as cooperage, or individually a piece of cooperage.

A dry or slack cooper made wooden containers for dry goods including grains, nails, tobacco, fruits and vegetables. A dry-tight cooper’s casks kept moisture out, enabling gunpowder and flour to be preserved. A white cooper made the pails, buckets, dippers, butter churns and tubs to hold liquids, but these were not used for shipping. These containers used straight staves, or wood that was not bent. The wet or tight cooper made barrels and casks in which liquids, including beer and wine, could be stored and preserved, and later transported. Certain woods have long been used in wine barrels to give a distinctive flavor enhancement to wine and liquors.

When we think of a miller, one who owned or worked in a mill, we usually envision a gristmill in an idyllic setting by a flowing stream and peaceful pond. The water flowed over the wooden “paddle wheel” which turned the shaft/gears which turned the millstone. A miller is among the oldest professions, a vital link within the community since everyone needed his product. Millers took grain and ground it finely between two flat millstones to make flour, the staple of breads, biscuits, pastries and pasta. Almost every community had its own mill for the convenience of local farmers transporting their grain. The miller’s income often stemmed from a “miller’s toll,” a certain percentage of the grain he had milled rather than a monetary fee.

Wikipedia describes the milling process well: “The millstones themselves turn at around 120 rpm. They are laid one on top of the other. The bottom stone, called the bed, is fixed to the floor, while the top stone, the runner, is mounted on a separate spindle, driven by the main shaft. A wheel, or stone nut, connects the runner’s spindle to the main shaft, and this can be moved out of the way to disconnect the stone and stop it from turning, leaving the main shaft turning to drive other machinery. This might include driving a mechanical sieve to refine the flour or turning a wooden drum to wind up a chain used to hoist sacks of grain to the top of the mill. The distance between the stones can be varied to produce the grade of flour required; moving the stones closer together produces finer flour.”

Smith, another common old English surname of the Anglo-Saxon era, or the German smithaz or Schmidt, originates from workers who were skilled in working with metal, such as a blacksmith or metalsmith. They made wrought iron or steel items by forging – the process of heating the metal in a fire until it is soft enough to be hammered, bent or cut to make gates, railings, agricultural implements, tools, household items, and weapons, etc. Typically, a blacksmith made horseshoes while a farrier shod the horse, though often their skills were interchangeable. A whitesmith/tinsmith or tinker worked with tin, typically making useful household items. Working with a lighter metal, he did not need the higher temperatures of a blacksmith’s fire. The skills of both a silversmith and goldsmith are self-explanatory.

Tanner is also an ancient Anglo-Saxon surname taken by those employed in the process of tanning animal hides/skins. It is thought to be of Celtic origin, a word for the oak tree and its bark which was used for tanning. A tanner held an important skill during the medieval era when leather was used for many common but necessary items including buckets, clothing, shoes, harness and saddles, and even armor for battle. Tannin (from the German word “tanna” for oak or fir, i.e. Tannenbaum) is the chemical residue from oak tree bark used to treat the animal hides, also producing the coloring during the process.

The Wikipedia article in my research includes a photo well worth the viewing entitled “Peeling bark for the tannery in Prattsville, New York during the 1840s, when it was the largest in the world.” Here, men are shown removing strips of bark from the base of trees in the forest. Oak and hemlock were the trees of choice. After peeling the bark off, the trees were sawn into firewood or lumber. The bark was set out to dry, then ground down and put into vats of water, and left to leach out the tannic acid necessary for tanning hides. Many of those early virgin forests were thus logged bare for the tanning products.

Some of the tools used in the process of tanning include:
Fleshing knife – for removing the flesh from an animal skin/hide
Unhairing knife – for removing the animal hair on the skin/hide
Sleeker – for smoothing the skin/hide
Buffer – for shining the animal’s skin/hide
Stone mill – driven by horses, used for grinding oak-tree bark which is used during tanning.

In the old days, tanning was an odiferous trade, typically performed by the poor on the outer edges of town. Even today, if the old-fashioned methods are used, tanneries emit foul odors and shops are set up well away from populated areas of town. The process is a lost art, one I found fascinating to read about, even if yucky. Again, Wikipedia gives an apt description of the processes. There may be some within our communities who trap and tan the animal hides to make their own leather. If so, they likely use a modern chemical process which I saw described online. But, for the purpose of the history of this interesting old skill, we’ll describe the ancient process.

When the skins/hides arrived at the tanner’s shack, they were dry, stiff and filthy. The first step was to soak them in salt water for curing to help prevent bacterial decay. The soaking steps also helped to clean and soften the hides. The hides were next treated with a layer of lime, and then pounded and scoured to remove any remaining flesh and fat. The hair needed to be removed, either by soaking in urine, coating it with a lime mixture, or letting the skin putrify for a few months before dipping it into another salt solution. With the hair loosened, the tanner could more easily scrape the hair fibers off with the unhairing knife.

After the hair had been removed, either animal brains, manure/dung or urine was pounded or rubbed into the skin. The ancient tanner often used his bare feet to knead the skins in dung water for a few hours. Centuries ago, tanners hired children to collect dung and urine from chamber pots set out on street corners for such a purpose. Plant juices or bone marrow, urine and rotted brains were used by many African tribes to make soft leather. The ancient Hebrews used oak bark, Egyptians used Babul pods, and the Arabs used barks and roots. Japanese preferred rapeseed (a flowering plant) and safflower oils. Eskimos used fish oil, while Native Americans would smoke the hides to tan them. Mud and alum were used by the ancient Chinese, as did the Assyrians, Babylonians, Phoenicians, Indians, and Greeks.

Softening the hide can be done by further pounding or rubbing it with sticks or heavy ropes, or by pulling it from the edges with another person to stretch it out. After putting the hide through all these processes, it would be pliable and to ready to use in making various items. I remember going with my father as an early teen to a leather shop in Newark, NJ where he picked out leather of various shades, thickness and flexibility, including alligator hide. Using a variety of tools to create designs, he made beautiful purses for my mother and others in the family. I still have a small one he made when I was about 5.

The ancients took leftover leather scraps from their projects and put them into a vat with water to rot. After several months, this mixture was boiled down to make hide glue. Nothing was wasted!

A cooper, blacksmith, tailor or wheelwright can often be found in living history museums like those I have visited: Bement-Billings Museum in Newark Valley, NY; the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, NY; Genesee Country Village Museum in Mumford, NY; and Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, just to name a few as there are so many other museums to visit.

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Bannerman’s Castle on the Hudson

A Scottish castle on the Hudson?  Drawn to the hazy beauty of this photo, I was mesmerized by the castle’s classic lines… so reminiscent of centuries-old castles scattered around the British and Scottish moors and highlands, intrigued to know it sat upon American soil.  After researching and naming my Mom’s maternal Scots-Irish, I am proud to say that they, too, hold a special place in my heart amongst all my Dutch ancestors.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto by Will Van Dorp, Tugster

Think back with me to an earlier day when the adventurous Europeans followed Henry Hudson’s momentous sail north on a river now bearing his name.  It was an era of exploration, a prosperous time for the Dutch and their friends as they established a considerable presence in the settling of Nieuw Nederlands… and traveled freely up and down the North River with its invitingly peaceful, and beautiful, sylvan surroundings.

Now envision a fairy-tale castle of Scottish design built upon a solid rock foundation, entirely surrounded by a pristine and placid river as its moat.  At times though, depending on the season and storm, the waters become riled and treacherous, perhaps evoking images of an ancient castle set upon the lonely and stormy seacoast of bonnie Scotland.  Such a sighting embodies the ambiance of castle life in the Middle Ages…  a time of chivalry when knights in shining armor went out to battle, bravely protecting their sovereign and his empire, returning home with honor to win the heart of a certain fair young maiden…

Roughly 50 miles north of New York City lies an island comprising about 5-1/2 or 6-1/2 acres (depending on source) along the eastern shore of the Hudson River as you head north.  Pollepel Island is a lush growth of trees, bushes, flowers and gardens, clamoring vines, weeds, bugs, ticks, snakes, and rocky ground.  Not surprisingly, the hardy Dutch left their influence on our language and place names all throughout the new world in both New Amsterdam proper and environs of the greater New Netherlands.  Naturally this little island, Pollepel (i.e. Dutch for ladle), was named by these hardy early settlers, situated in an area designated as the “Northern Gate” of the Hudson River’s Highlands.  Just like in the Old Country, the island’s natural harbor provides the perfect setting for a castle… Bannerman’s Island Arsenal, to be exact.  Arsenal, you ask?  Yes, a place where knights could well have donned shining armor for their king and perched behind the battlements with all manner of arms.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto by Will Van Dorp, Tugster

Long before there was a castle of dreamy old-world architecture, it was said that Native Americans refused to take up residence on this mound of rock.  Believing the island to be haunted, the Indians rarely dared set foot upon it in daylight, if at all, while their enemies flaunted that fact by seeking refuge on the rocky shore…

The hardy mariners who once sailed Hudson’s North River left a legacy of legends and tales of this little island.  Washington Irving of Tarrytown, told with skillful imagination the story of “The Storm Ship“, also known as the “Flying Dutchman”.  Fear of goblins who dwelt on Pollepel Island was as real as that of their leader, the Heer of Dunderburgh.  It was well known that Dunderburgh controlled the winds, those furies which provoked the waters, making safe passage of the Highlands a thing to be envied.  With the sinking of the famed “Flying Dutchman” during an especially severe storm, the captain and crew found themselves forever doomed.  And, if you should ever find yourself traveling the river near Pollepel in such a storm, listen closely… for in the howling of the winds which whip the sails, you just might hear the captain and his sailors calling for help.

Another legend which early Dutch sailors spoke about was that of Polly Pell, a beautiful young lady rescued from the river’s treacherous ice.  Romantically saved from drowning by the quick wit and arms of her beau, she married her rescuer.  Such are the dreams of the romantically inclined…

From a more practical perspective, Gen. George Washington used the strategically placed Pollepel Island during the American Revolution in an effort to prevent British ships from sailing north.  “Chevaux de frise” were made of large logs with protruding iron spikes which, when sunk upright in the river, were intended to damage ships’ hulls and stop the British from passing through.  However, these particular obstructions, set up between the island and Plum Point on the opposite shore, did not deter the resourceful British.  They simply sailed with ease past the sunken deterrents in flat-bottomed boats. Washington also planned to establish a military garrison for prisoners-of-war on Pollepel Island, but there is no proof extant that his idea was ever implemented.

According to Jane Bannerman (granddaughter-in-law of the castle’s builder) in “Pollepel – An Island Steeped in History”,  the island had just five owners since the American Revolution era:  “William Van Wyck of Fishkill, Mary G. Taft of Cornwall, Francis Bannerman VI of Brooklyn, and The Jackson Hole Preserve (Rockefeller Foundation) which donated the island to the people of the State of New York (Hudson Highlands State Park, Taconic Region, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation).”

Francis (Frank) Bannerman VI,  the island’s third owner, was born March 24, 1851 in Dundee, Scotland.  His ancestor was the first to bear the honored name of Bannerman seven centuries ago.  At Bannockburn in 1314, Stirling Castle was held by the English King, Edward II.  Besieged by the Scottish army, however, Edward II’s well-trained troops were ultimately defeated in a brutal battle.  Less than half the size of England’s army, the successful brave Scotsmen were commanded by the formidable Robert the Bruce, King of Scots.  During that battle, Francis VI’s ancestor rescued their Clan Macdonald’s pennant from destruction.  In reward, Robert the Bruce is said to have torn a streamer from the Royal ensign and bestowed upon Francis’s ancestor the honor of “bannerman,” an auspicious beginning of the family name.

Fast forward a few centuries and, interestingly, we learn that two years after the February 8, 1690 Schenectady (New York) massacre by the French and Indians, there was a similar massacre in Scotland.  Barely escaping the Feb 13, 1692 massacre of the Clan Macdonald at Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands by the Campbells, Francis Bannerman I and others sailed to Ireland.  With the family settling in Antrim for the next 150 years or so, it was not until 1845 that Francis Bannerman V returned his branch of the family’s presence to Dundee, Scotland.  There, Francis VI was born into this distinguished family.  When but a lad of 3 years, his father brought the family across the pond to America’s shores in 1854.  Settling in Brooklyn by 1856, the Bannerman family has remained with a well-respected presence.

Francis V earned a living by reselling items in the Brooklyn Navy Yard which he’d obtained cheaply at auctions.  A few years later, on joining the Union efforts in the Civil War, his 10-year-old son, Francis VI, left school to help support the family.  Searching for scrap items after his hours in a lawyer’s office, young Frank VI also sold newspapers to mariners on ships docked nearby.  In the evenings, he trolled or dragged local rivers and searched the streets and alleys, ever on the lookout for profitable scrap items, chains, and other odds and ends, even sections of rope, all eagerly bought by local junkmen.

Returning from war an injured man, Francis V saw how successful his son had become with his scrap business.  By realizing that items he sold held more value than ordinary junk, young Frank had made good money.  To handle the growing accumulations of items his son had collected, and the military surplus in 1865 purchased at the close of the Civil War, Bannerman’s storehouse was set up on Little Street.  Next, a ship-chandlery shop was established on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.  Returning to school with his father at home, young Francis received a scholarship to Cornell University.  However, owing to his father’s disability, family loyalty won out and he declined to pursue the halls of higher education in order to help run the family business.

In 1872, 21-year-old Francis VI took a business trip to Europe.   Visiting his grandmother in Ulster, Ireland, he met Helen Boyce whom he married June 8, 1872 in Ballymena.  Two of their sons, Francis VII and David Boyce, eventually joined their father in the family business.  A third son, Walter Bruce, took a different path by earning his medical degree.  Sadly, their only daughter died as an infant.  Charles, grandson of Francis VI, married Jane Campbell, a descendant of the ancient Campbells who had attempted to destroy the Macdonald clan (from which massacre Francis I had escaped).  Their marriage showed love was the impetus to rise above the ancient rivalry between the families, reminiscent of the Appalachian’s storied Hatfields and McCoys.

Considered the “Father of the Army-Navy Store”, Frank Bannerman VI opened a huge block-long store on Broadway by 1897.  Here, his large building of several floors housed untold numbers of military supplies, munitions and uniforms from all around the world.  Francis/Frank was the go-to man in equipping soldiers for the Spanish-American War.  At that war’s end, the company bought arms from the Spanish government and most of the weapons which the American military had captured from the Spanish.  Printing a 300-400 page mail order catalog from the late 19th century through the mid-1960s,  collectors found a large array of military surplus and antiquities.  As city laws limited Bannerman’s ability to retain his massive holdings within the city proper, a larger facility was sought to store their collection of munitions.

Relaxing by canoeing the Hudson River around this time, David Bannerman observed an inconspicuous little island.  Finding Pollepel Island perfectly suited to their needs, his father, Frank VI, approached the Taft family and purchased the island in 1900.  Designing a Scottish-style castle to honor the family’s legacy, they built an arsenal to store their vast munitions supplies, with a smaller castle providing a family residence.  On the side of the castle facing the Hudson River, “Bannerman’s Island Arsenal” is embedded in the castle façade, clearly informing all passersby of its purpose to this day.

As the largest collector of munitions in the world, buying and selling to many nations, including Japan during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, and to private citizens like you nd me, even Buffalo Bill Cody, military memorabilia collectors, theatrical establishments, and artists needing props, Mr. Francis Bannerman VI held an in-depth knowledge of the military supplies and ordnance in his possession.  But, not being a man of greed, he refused to arm revolutionaries and returned their money on learning their intention.  At the opening of World War I, he reportedly shipped 8,000 saddles to the French Army and delivered thousands of rifles and ammunition to the British at no cost.

Though extremely successful selling munitions, Francis/Frank Bannerman VI considered himself a kind and generous man, “a man of peace”.  It was his intention that such a vast collection of arms as his would eventually be considered “The Museum of the Lost Arts.”  Energetic and devoted to his church and public service, he also taught a boys’ Sunday School class.  He enjoyed bringing friends to the island to experience his family’s hospitality.  His wife, Helen, who loved to garden, had paths and terraces constructed throughout the property.  Even today, tour guides point out the many flowers and shrubs she planted which have survived the decades, the beauty of which enhance the antiquity of the castle ruins.

With the death of Francis Bannerman VI on November 26, 1918 at age 64, building on the island stopped and many setbacks seemed to befall his estate.  Two years later, an explosion of 200 tons of stored shells and powder destroyed part of the castle.   With State and federal laws controlling the sale of munitions to civilians, sales began to plunge for Bannerman’s Arsenal.  Family continued to reside in the smaller castle on the island into the 1930s; but, for the sake of their customers, sold their goods more conveniently from a warehouse in Blue Point, Long Island into the 1970s.  In 1950, a pall fell over the island and its castle when the ferry “Pollepel” (named for the island it served) sank in a storm.  Then, when the island’s caretaker retired in 1957, Bannerman’s island remained abandoned and untended for years.

Frank VI’s grandson, Charles Bannerman, wisely predicted in 1962   that “No one can tell what associations and incidents will involve the island in the future.  Time, the elements, and maybe even the goblins of the island will take their toll of some of the turrets and towers, and perhaps eventually the castle itself, but the little island will always have its place in history and in legend and will be forever a jewel in its Hudson Highland setting.”

Ultimately, New York State bought the island and its buildings in 1967 after all military supplies had been removed, and tours of the island and castle commenced in 1968.  Unfortunately, a devasting fire on August 8, 1969 destroyed the Arsenal along with its walls, floors and roofs making the island unsafe, and it was closed to the public.  Though the castle now sits in ruins, much of the exterior walls are still standing, accented with climbing ivy, and held up in the weakest sections by supports.  Since virtually all interior floors and walls were destroyed by fire, “vandalism, trespass, neglect and decay”  have continued taking their toll over the decades.

In more recent years, the island once again made headlines with a tragic story.  On April 19, 2015, Angelika Graswald and her fiancée, Vincent Viafore, kayaked to Bannerman’s Castle Island.  Attempting to return from their outing in rough waters, Viafore’s kayak took on water and overturned, resulting in his drowning.  Graswald, charged with Viafore’s murder, admitted to removing the drain plug.  Arraigned in Goshen, Orange County, NY, a plea deal was later reached before the case went to trial.  Pleading guilty to a lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide, she was released from prison not long after, having duly served the time of her reduced sentence.

 

Few people know and remember “Bannerman’s Island”  during its glorious past like Jane Bannerman (wife of Charles, Francis VI’s grandson).  Assisting The Bannerman’s Castle Trust and the Taconic Park Commission to repair the buildings, Jane has noted, “…it all comes down to money, and if they don’t hurry up, it’ll all fall down.  Every winter brings more destruction.”  Unsafe conditions on and around the island are due to both underwater and land hazards, not to mention unstable castle walls.  Due to these conditions, it is advised you do not attempt to visit the island on your own.

The Bannerman’s Castle Trust has initiated “hard hat” tours along with other entertainment venues.  By making island visits possible, it is the Trust’s hope they will be able to restore the castle, smaller castle home, and gardens for the public to enjoy more fully.  In the interest of preserving the rich history of this Scottish Castle on a small island in the Hudson River, we hope The Bannermans’ Castle Trust is successful in its restoration endeavors.

Hudson River Cruises advertise a tour from Newburgh Landing: “Ruins of a 19th century castle on Bannerman’s Island can be seen on special guided history and walking tours departing from Newburgh Landing and Beacon.”  For information on 2-1/2 hour guided tours held May through October call:  845-220-2120 or 845-782-0685.

With my own maternal Scots-Irish McNeill and Caldwell heritage, I was intrigued by the photos of such an old-world castle built on a small, seemingly insignificant island.  The fairy-tale ambiance of this Scottish castle stands out, visible by boat and train, amidst the New Netherlands’ Dutch influence up and down the Hudson River.  I hope someday to take a guided tour on Pollepel Island and see Bannerman’s Castle; but, for now, the photos and articles will have to do.

Many thanks to friend, Will Van Dorp, who initially piqued my interest by posting his photos and synopsis of the island, castle, and its environs on his blog, Tugster:

Hudson Downbound 18b, April 12, 2018, Tugster – Scroll down to photo of Bannerman’s Castle which prompted my story.

Landmarks, Bannerman’s Castle Arsenal, 2013, Tugster.

More Ghosts, photography of Bannerman Castle, 2007, Tugster.

There is so much more in-depth reading and photography from many websites, including these which I referred to in my research:

Bannerman’s Island Arsenal

Bannerman Castle Trust

FRANCIS BANNERMAN, the noted merchant and authority on war weapons

Bannerman’s Castle: The Ultimate Army-Navy Store

Bannerman Island: A Mystery Island on the Hudson

Pollepel – An Island Steeped in History by Jane Bannerman

Pollepel Island: Private Fortress on the Hudson

Bannerman’s Island Arsenal, Historic Images – Old Photos/Postcards

Bannerman’s Castle: The Ultimate Army-Navy Store (history and photos of military supplies) 

1913 Military Goods Catalogue Francis Bannerman, 501 Broadway, New York

All Things Medieval

Ghosts of Old Bannerman’s Island

Washington Irving, The Storm Ship

Wikipedia: Pollepel Island

 

Your Family Tree #12 – Genealogy Website Resource List

As we conclude our discussion on how and where to begin your ancestry research with suggestions based on my experience, I thought it would be helpful to collect the online resources in one place.  The following is a list of some of the many online sources which I found most helpful.

I also continue to stress that not all submitted family records on any given site are totally accurate.  Unintentional errors and misspellings in data creep in.  It is up to you to seek out and prove the accuracy of whatever data you find online about your ancestors.  Unless you know a book is truly accurate and can prove the author had sound documentation, do not take a published book as fact “just because it says so.”  That’s how I proved errors in a book that had been accepted as fact for decades as I noted previously.  The extra footwork involved can be extensive, but it’s worth every effort put forth to have solid documentation for your family’s ancestral heritage.

Ancestry.com – free 1880 census record; but, for an annual subscription fee, you get in-depth census records from 1790-1930, military records, city and national records, land records, international records, family trees, baptisms, marriages, death indexes, etc.

Family Search  – free website with 1880 census records, baptism, marriage records, death records, and submitted family data.  Books and documents on microfilm can be ordered and viewed at a Family History Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, locally as in Owego or Elmira.  They also have a free down-loadable Personal Ancestral File, PAF, which I have used, though I prefer the Family Tree Maker.

My Heritage – discover your roots in a free trial to a subscription-based genealogy compilation.  I have not used this site.

Olive Tree Genealogy – free old church/cemetery records, 1600s ships’ lists, records for New Netherland, Palatines, Mennonites, Loyalists, Native American, Military, and Canadian data, etc.  I found this website to be very helpful in my early research nearly 20 years ago.

RootsWeb  – free source of records, county genweb sites, surname lists, e-mail lists, posted documentation for cemeteries, church records, family websites and more. Currently undergoing a full-site rebuilding, but worth checking out for sections as they come back up for use.

CyndisList – free listing of American and International records and resources – a great resource.

Vital Records – U.S. birth certificates, death records, and marriage licenses for a fee.

U.S. GenWeb – free County GenWeb sites with a lot of data to aid your research.

Three Rivers – free source for middle-eastern New York families in the Hudson, Mohawk, Schoharie river regions, family genealogies, books, etc.

Sampubco – Wills from several states, but not all wills.  Fee charged for copies.  I purchased several wills from this website and was very pleased with the service.

National Archives and Records Administration  –  Click on Veterans’ Service Records section to begin searching.  You will find military service records, pension records of veterans’ claims, draft registration records, and bounty land warrant application files and records available. Order forms are free, but you pay a fee to order copies of records. Well worth the cost.

NARA contact/forms – see various forms listed for National Archives Records Administration, government war records.  Obtain free forms from which to order military records including pre-Civil War full service records or pension application files (on NATF Form 85 and/or 86; forms are free).  Some list family members, others do not.  You will find a good amount of information in files re: a soldier’s service, enlistment, capture, discharge, death, etc.,; these records provide valuable documentation.

Soldiers and Sailors Database – Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database for military records.

Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Foundation – search passenger and ship manifest records free, or order quality record copies for a fee.  Ship manifest records are also found at Ancestry.com, a subscription resource.

New York Biographical and Genealogical Society – very trustworthy site with many online articles/records.  They are working to put more records online; however, most are limited to membership in the Society.  The Steele Library in Elmira has the full set of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record and the New England Genealogical Journal.  I can attest to the high quality of published research and records in both journals.  I used these journals in my research, with my documented research articles published in the NYGBR.  In order to publish, you must prove all of your statements with solid documentation.

Making of America, Cornell University – old books, magazines, newspapers online in searchable/readable format – worth wading through this free resource.

Higginson Book Company, Salem, Mass. – old maps, family surname genealogies, county/state historical books, published cemetery and church records, etc.  Contact for free catalog; copies books/records obtained for a fee but worth it, from which I purchased a few books.

Olin Uris Library, Cornell University – Cornell University’s guide to research of their extensive holdings.  They note that, unfortunately, not all their genealogical books are kept in one section.

Find-A-Grave – free resource of many gravestones around the United States.  Be careful of family notes – I found errors in a family of my close relatives; when I contacted the contributor who added notes tying my family to theirs by error, there was no response, no correction.

Tips on fraudulent lineages at:

Family Search Fraudulent Genealogies

Genealogy Today 

Gustav Anjou, Fraudulent Genealogist

Genealogy.com, locating published genealogies

Genealogy Bank, Researching your Pilgrim Ancestry from the Mayflower

Again, locally, the Steele Library in Elmira has an excellent genealogy section on the second floor to aid your research.  I spent many a Saturday morning searching through their collection for documentation on my ancestry data and can highly recommend it.  Cornell University also has a major genealogy library though I was afraid to go up on campus for a personal visit.

Last but not least, your local library can order books through the interlibrary loan system.  This was a tremendously helpful resource to me for out-of-county and out-of-state historical/genealogical books.  I could not have done it without these resources.

I must also give credit to the many friends I made along my genealogical journey, some of whom proved to be distant cousins and have remained close friends.  We shared data, books, and a love for our ancestral families.

And now, I wish you every success as you search for your ancestors.  Enjoy the journey!

~ The End ~

 

Your Family Tree #11 – Using Genealogy Websites

There are many free genealogy websites which are a great resource for records and helpful family data, including RootsWeb. This free site, part of the ancestry.com family, includes a “Getting Started” section with their “guide to tracing family trees.” The latter has great tips on how to begin, a list of sources and where to find various records, and a list of various countries/ethnic groups. Clicking on any of these hi-lited items will provide information on beginning your research.

Unfortunately, in checking the RootsWeb site to update this article, I learned they’re in the process of making website repairs. Feel free to check them out for their explanatory letter as some functions may be up and running while other functions will gradually return for usage as they make repairs.  I do, however, review other free websites below that will be very helpful to your family search.

RootsWeb has a section entitled “Searches.” This includes surname listings you can peruse to see what might be out there. My favorite section was the “U.S. Town/County Database.” Here, I have found a wealth of information for vital records from churches and cemeteries, biographies, family lineages, and more. Researching my early New York families often brought me to the Albany, Schenectady and Schoharie county genweb sites.

The next section is labeled “Family Trees (World Connect).” You can search family trees generously submitted by other researchers. I did find errors in submitted family trees when I began my research, prompting my own research to document, write and publish my family articles. For that reason, I tend to stay away from this section in seeking information on my ancestors. I prefer to do as much footwork as I can on my own, albeit with guidance from friends who taught me as I learned along the way. Submitted trees certainly can be entirely accurate; however, if used as a starting point with other online records, you can then seek sources to provide solid documentation and corroborative proof, i.e. church and cemetery records in reputable books or journals, census records, wills, etc.

The next section is “Mailing Lists.” These lists are also invaluable. I was formerly on an email list which provided discussions on various topics relating to the early settlers and records of the 1600s and 1700s in New Netherlands/New York. It was a rewarding experience to reply to someone’s query by contributing data I have in a book of ancient Albany’s city and county records that was helpful to others.

From RootsWeb, I had subscribed years ago to the Schoharie County email list. That resource was where I saw the notice by a professor from Long Island who found an old photo in a Washington, D.C. antique shop. The pencil writing on the back of the matting read, “First Tillapaugh Reunion July 1910…” I replied that my mother’s two oldest brothers inherited that farm, and their sons continue to farm it today. A reproduction of the photo is in the Dallenbach book of descendants which I own, so I was well aware of what the professor had found. In fact, the house in the photo, built in the 1830s, is still very much in use today. I was offered the opportunity to purchase the photo which, of course, I did, thus beginning my genealogy research in earnest in the late 1990s.

RootsWeb also includes a section for “Message Boards.” Here, you can search your surname of interest, read other posts, and post your own query for information which I have also done. Folks on these message boards have been very helpful. This has also been a resource to meet extended relatives in various lines, which I have also done. We have then shared our own researched and documented data with each other. Several friendships were made this way, and they continue to be counted among my close friends today.

Other sections have even more options available including various surname websites, other tools and resources such as blank forms and charts, and hosted volunteer projects. The latter includes books owned by folks who are willing to research them for information you might need from a particular book. You may also find volunteers who are able to do local lookups at either cemeteries or historical societies for you. When volunteers have helped by doing research footwork for me, I felt it appropriate to pay their expenses, a much-appreciated gift.

You can also submit your FamilyTreeMaker data to RootsWeb. Instead, of doing that, I submitted a McNeill descendancy outline with names and dates of birth to the Schoharie County Genweb site. It is also common courtesy not to submit names of any living relatives, or those born within the past 75-100 years out of respect for privacy.

Another free online source of cross-referenced data is the comprehensive CyndisList.  The Categories section provides a list of resources, including American state and government as well as international resources. There is an Adoption section to help find orphans and living people, message boards, and volunteers to assist your search. A section entitled Free Stuff includes charts and forms, translation tools, online databases to search, volunteer lookups, surname family associations and newsletters, etc.

Sections you might not have thought about include 1) Migration Routes, Roads and Trails, 2) Canals, Rivers and Waterways, and 3) Immigration and Naturalization. There are sections entitled Heraldry, Hit a Brick Wall?, and Ships & Passenger Lists. The Mailing Lists are great for asking questions when you’re stumped, and for connecting with researchers working on the same lines. There are also sites to purchase items, and free trials to search various genealogy websites before paying their site subscription fee.

Ancestry.com has some free data, like the 1880 Federal Census records, but the best records are obtained using subscription-based entrance. Here, you will find tabs for Home, Trees, Search, DNA, Help, and Extras. It is absolutely an invaluable resource.

Perhaps your ancestors came through Ellis Island. Search The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation to find your ancestors and the ship on which they sailed. A ship’s manifest lists the passengers, their age, name of the ship, port, date of departure, occupation, nearest relative in their country of origin, and their sponsor in the U.S.  I found information for my husband’s paternal grandfather’s family when they emigrated from Holland in the early 1920s. Some went first to North Dakota before settling in northern New Jersey as dairy farmers while others settled right away in northern New Jersey and Massachusetts to work in the textile mills.

I also found records at the Ellis Island website for my father’s families which emigrated from the Netherlands. Like many families, both of my father’s grandfathers came through Ellis Island, each with their oldest son – my dad’s paternal grandfather in November 1922, and his maternal grandfather in September 1923. They settled in and around Kalamazoo, Michigan among other Dutch. When they earned enough money, they sent for the rest of their family. My paternal grandfather emigrated from Uithuizermeeden, Groningen at age 15 in July 1923 with his mother and siblings through Ellis Island.

However, my dad’s maternal grandfather was determined his wife and children would not go through the rigors of steerage and Ellis Island. Instead, he sent money back home to them in Rotterdam for second-class tickets. Decades ago, my grandmother told me only a little about their sailing on the S. S. Rotterdam to Hoboken, New Jersey. Research showed the ship came into a New York City port in January 1926, with the ship’s manifest listing my grandmother’s family. Unfortunately, I didn’t ask more questions. She told me that a Dutchman, who made a living helping immigrants, met my great-grandmother and her children (my grandmother was age 15), and took them to his home in Hoboken, New Jersey. He fed them, put them up overnight, and the next morning put them on the right train to Michigan with lunches in hand. There, my great-grandmother was reunited with her husband, and my grandmother and her siblings with their father and oldest brother. How exciting that must have been!

My grandparents married in 1931 and lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan. With the Great Depression, my grandfather and his father lost everything as building contractors. They removed to another Dutch enclave in Clifton, New Jersey where my grandfather became a door-to-door salesman before again becoming a successful general contractor, with many a beautiful house or remodeling project to his credit.

You can purchase quality photo documentation of the ships your ancestors sailed on. However, I simply printed the free online photo of the ships on which my ancestors sailed, along with each respective ship’s manifest for documentation. I used both Ancestry.com and the Ellis Island websites to obtain records.

For steerage immigrants, the Ellis Island experience included passing a medical and legal inspection. If your papers were in order, and you were in reasonably good health, the inspection process typically lasted 3-5 hours. The ship’s manifest log was used by inspectors to cross-examine each immigrant during the primary inspection. Though Ellis Island has been called the “Island of Tears,” the vast majority of immigrants were treated respectfully and allowed to enter America to begin their new life. However, about two percent of immigrants were denied entry. Typically, if you were suspected of having a contagious illness, or if the inspector thought you might become a public burden, entrance to the U.S. was denied. I can only imagine the pain it must have caused when one or more family members were told they had to go back to their native country.

I am very appreciative of the efforts my many ancestors made to emigrate from their home country, to which none ever returned, of becoming American citizens, and of their hard work to provide a better way of life for their family. By sharing bits of my ancestral heritage, of who they were and whence they came, I hope it has encouraged you to search for your ancestors, to find their place in the building of our great America, and thus to know the gift of your family heritage.

COMING NEXT: Genealogy Website Resource List.

Your Family Tree #10 – Last Will and Testament

 

We previously briefly touched on the importance of your ancestor’s Last Will and Testament, an excellent source of family documentation.  Wills are filed at surrogate court or county clerk’s office along with estate records for those who died intestate (without a will), inventories of estates, letters of administration, and guardianships, etc.

Some older wills may be found online at Sampubco Genealogy as posted by W. David Samuelson from whom you may purchase documents.  This site includes wills, guardianships, surrogate’s records/probate files, naturalizations, letters of administration, and cemetery listings.  Records are available for several states via alphabetical name search by county.  From my experience, mostly older wills are available, but not all of them.  I can, however, recommend this site as I purchased several ancestral wills more reasonably than from surrogate’s court or county clerk’s office.  However, it is still advisable to go to the appropriate office to search for and copy complete records, which I also did.

One drawback can be old style writing and language.  Having begun my secretarial career in an Owego law firm, researching and copying old deeds and wills in shorthand, I was familiar with most of the standard language.  After transcribing eighteenth and nineteenth century ancestral wills I’d purchased, I submitted several online to respective county genweb sites.  They provide an opportunity for future researchers to use this gift, a way to pay back the gifts others have freely placed online to aid in research.  It’s all about helping each other on the journey.

As for the old language of bequeathing one’s estate, I share excerpts in original format from the wills of a few of my ancestors – original spelling or misspelling retained.

Henrich/Henry Kniskern, signed 1780, probated 1784:  “In the Name of  God Amen. I, Henrich Knieskern at Shoharry [Schoharie] in the County of Albany [before Albany became several counties] farmer being at present weak in Body but of Sound Mind and Memory… considering that it is appointed for us all once to Die do this Eight Day of May in the Year of Our Lord Christ One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty make and Publish this my Last will and Testament in manner and form following that is to Say I recommend my Soul unto God that gave & my body unto the Earth from whence it came to be decently Interred… I give and bequeath unto my eldest Son… five Pounds Lawful money of New York (I Mean and Understand good hard Silver Money) for his birth Right… it is my will and Ordre that my Wife… shall have her supporting and Maintainment yearly and Every Year for her Life Time of my Estate in Knieskerns Dorph… [Kniskernsdorf is a now-extinct hamlet established on the Schoharie Creek by my ancestor, Johann Peter Kniskern, the Listmaster of one of the original 1710 Palatine settlements on the Hudson River.]  …I Give unto my Two Sons… together Equally my farming utenciels and Tools as both or Two Waggons & Two Sleeds Ploughs and Harrows with all the Tackling and furniture thereof… axes hoes & other Implements of husbandry… I Give to my Two Daughters, as bed Goods, Pewter Goods, Iron pots, Cooper goods & other goods… I give to my Two Sons… Equally my Loom and all & Every articles that belongs to Weavers…”

Adam Dingman, a prosperous freeholder of Kinderhook and Albany, wrote “…know all men that in the year seventeen hundred and twenty and twenty-one, the twenty-first day of January, in the seventh year of the reign of our sovereign lord, King George, I, Adam Dingeman, born at Haerlem, Holland, sick and weak of body, but having the perfect use of my senses…”  Unfortunately, he did not name his children from whom I have proven descendancy.

George Hutton, son of Lt. Timothy Hutton, listed all children, with daughters by their married names, a very helpful will.  An interesting inventory with values was attached to his wife Elizabeth’s will from 1845.  Numerous items were listed, including “1 feather bed $7.25, 1 blue and white spread $4.00, 1 straw bed tick $.25, 1 brown calico dress $.37, 1 black cashmere shall $.75, 1 pr morocco shoes $.50, 1 rocking chair $1.00.”

Other wills bequeath hereditaments (one of my favorite words), i.e. land, crops, tools, animals.  A McNeill family will “allows” an unmarried sister to use half of the house for life.  And an inventory made in 1758 for the estate of John McNeill, an apparently wealthy mariner (father of John C. McNeill), includes “1 Jacket of Cut Vellvet & 1 pair of Black Vallvet Britches, 1 paire of Lether Buckskin Britches, 1 Great Coat of Davinshire Carsey, 1 fine linnin Sheet x3 coarse ones, 1 45 weight of fetther, 1 paire of carved Shew buckells & knee buckells of silver, 1 paire Sleve buttons of gold, 2 Small Bibells w/one Silver clasped, 1 book called fishers Arithmitick, 1 seet of Harrow teeth, 1 Seet of plow Irons.”

Old documents do make fascinating reads!

COMING NEXT:  Genealogy Websites

Your Family Tree #9 – Military Records

Anything but a boring read, military records are another invaluable source of documentation.  The first step is to determine when and where your ancestor served.  Often clues to an ancestor’s military service are found in family stories, old photos, death records and obituaries, grave markers and/or cemetery records, local town histories, and other family records or correspondence.

Many military records are available at Ancestry.com .  You will find draft registration cards for WW I and WW II, enlistment and service records, soldier and prisoner lists, casualty lists, pension records, etc.  In searching Ancestry’s records for this article, I found the Revolutionary War pension application file for my ancestor, John C. McNeill.  I had purchased the complete file several years ago through the national archives at NARA.gov.  So much more data has been placed online at repositories like Ancestry.com than was available when I began researching in the late 1990s.

Search for records at the website for National Archives.   Click on the Veterans’ Service Records section to begin.  You will find military service records, pension records of veterans’ claims, draft registration records, and bounty land warrant application files and records available.  I found the WWII enlistment records at both Ancestry and NARA websites for two of my paternal grandfather’s brothers.  They had served in Europe and the South Pacific.  NARA’s website allows you to download free forms in order to purchase the full military records which may not be available elsewhere.

Military records can provide a good deal of genealogical and historical data about an ancestor.  The various records may include date of birth, birthplace, age, date of enlistment, occupation, names of immediate family members, and service records listing battles fought, capture, discharge, death, etc.

However, bear in mind that military records may not include all data you seek.  My John C. McNeill did not note a date of birth or age in his Rev War pension application affidavit, and stated only that he had “nine children…5 sons and 4 daughters”, without listing any of their names.  Talk about frustration!  However, Jesse McNeill, my ancestor, verified in his signed affidavit that he was a son of John and that was key evidence.  Thankfully, John’s wife, Hannah, noted their marriage date, town, name of the Justice of the Peace who married them, and her sister’s name in her affidavit when applying for her widow’s pension.

With military records, you can take a little data and round it out with further research.  My John C. McNeill answered the call of fellow patriots to serve with the New Hampshire Line at Bunker Hill (or Breed’s Hill) in June 1775.  He was a Sergeant under Captain Daniel Wilkins in Colonel Timothy Bedel’s regiment of rangers, in charge of pasturing cattle to feed the men.  In 1776, Bedel’s regiment was ordered to join the Northern Continental Army in New York to reinforce the military presence in Canada.

McNeill’s pension file affidavits note capture at The Cedars, a fort west of Montreal on the St. Lawrence River, where they were plundered of all possessions.  They were taken to an island and left naked, without shelter and scant rations for eight days.  At The Cedars, “Bedel left the fort, either [to]… seek reinforcements or convey intelligence.  The command devolved on Major Isaac Butterfield… who on the 19th of May [1776] disgracefully surrendered his force of about four hundred men to the British and Indians [who were] about five hundred in number.”  (History of Goffstown [N.H.] by George Plumer Hadley, page 124.)

Morris Commager’s “The Spirit of Seventy-Six” (pgs. 212-220) provides further corroboration of this capture with many injured, killed, taken prisoner, or dying of disease.  McNeill was among survivors exchanged and returned in a cartel between the British Captain George Foster and American Brigadier General Benedict Arnold.  McNeill then served out his military enlistment at Saratoga, NY.  McNeill’s cousin and friends sign an affidavit in his pension application file stating they survived the ordeal with him, celebrating their release annually thereafter.

Another excellent source, a great read which confirmed the information I had on Bedel’s New York Regiment, is found in “Benedict Arnold’s Navy:  The Ragtag Fleet that lost the Battle of Lake Champlain but Won the American Revolution” by James Nelson, 2006, The McGraw-Hill Companies.

I further assumed that, having served in New York for a time, McNeill later sought fertile land in what historians call the “Breadbasket of the American Revolution” – Schoharie County, New York.  After settling in my mother’s home town of Carlisle, Schoharie County, New York in the mid-1790s, one of his neighbors, and likely good friend, was Thomas Machin, whose farmland I have seen on a side road just into Montgomery County and very near Schoharie County.

Machin “supervised the making and laying of The Great Chain across the Hudson River near West Point.”  “W. Thomas Machin, Engineer, Washington’s Staff, Founding Father of Masonry in Schoharie County…Member Boston Tea Party; 1744-1816.”  (Personal view of two New York State plaques commemorating Machin at Carlisle Rural Cemetery, Carlisle, Schoharie County, NY, just a short distance up the road from where my mother grew up.)  However, Machin was not likely to have been part of the Boston Tea Party per my additional research.  Living in close proximity to each other, I am sure there must have been a good friendship between the two military men and their families – Machin’s grandson, James Daniel Machin, married John C. McNeill’s granddaughter, Lucy Jane/Jeanette McNeill, in 1852.

There is so much to be gleaned from in-depth research of ancestors, learning about their lives, extended family, and the historical era in which they lived!

COMING NEXT:  Last Will and Testament.

Your Family Tree #8 – Census Records

As we noted previously, studying census records plays another key role in searching for ancestors.  Census records track families as they grow, move to new frontiers, into the cities, or perhaps just stay put on the family farm with family members scattered within walking distance nearby.

Study the old handwriting, compare unknown names or words to letters and words which you clearly know.  But, know that the old fancy cursive is different from what we’re familiar with in today’s handwriting.  I became familiar with it when researching and copying old deeds as a young secretary years ago, learning the old language of legal documents in the process.

I use two methods for keeping census records – one is to write all data on 4×6 lined index cards, and the other is using blank 8×10 census forms.  I eventually acquired several hundred index cards filed alphabetically in a handy shoebox.  I find them easier to refer to than the large census forms which, admittedly, are the more accurate.  The large blank forms are also used as a guide to what data to include on index cards from each census.

Before searching census records, you should also know they, too, may contain errors.  At times, the enumerator may have been given wrong information, or misspelled first and last names depending on his own abilities.  When copying data, be sure to include the way names were misspelled, along with the known correction.

For example, I tracked a McNeill descendant whose father had removed his family from Carlisle to Decatur, New York and later to the state of Maine.  I knew his daughter, Appolonia Livingston McNeill, by baptism record.  She married William Smyth(e) and lived in Bangor, Maine.  By census records, her unmarried sister, Sarah McNeil(l), lived with them.  I followed the Smyth(e) family in Bangor by census, and the family’s billiard hall by city business directory.  I could not locate Appolonia in the important 1900 census, assuming she died after 1880.  Searching for her sons, I was surprised to find Appolonia as a widow, listed on the 1900 census by her middle name as Livingston A. Smyth.  She then resides with her twin sons in Portland, Oregon where she dies and is buried per death record I purchased.  Wondering what brought them to the far side of the continent, I can only speculate that perhaps they later enjoyed Portland’s 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition.  I have not had time nor funds to pursue further research on the family among Maine or Oregon records, though I did obtain a few free cemetery records online.

Every ten years since 1790, our federal government has gathered a national census.  Very few records remain of the 1890 census as most were destroyed by fire and water damage in 1921.  In 1934, rather than make attempts to restore the balance of records, they were destroyed by the U. S. Department of Commerce despite a public outcry.   The 1890 census was different from previous with in-depth questions about each family member and Civil War service, and would have been invaluable to researchers!

State censuses are equally as important.  Taken randomly, they are a little-known or seldom-used resource.  Typically collected by states every ten years, in years ending in “5,” New York did so in 1790, 1825 through 1875, 1892, 1905, 1915, and 1925.

For privacy reasons, census records are not available to the public until 70 or so years later, the 1940 census being released in April 2012.  Records available to the public from 1790 through 1940 are found at a county clerk’s office, online by subscription at Ancestry.com on microfilm through the Family History Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with some census records transcribed and placed online at county genweb sites.  As a way to pay back other generous contributors, I transcribed the 1810 census for Carlisle, Schoharie County, New York.  I’ve wanted to do more, but have not had time to go back and transcribe additional census records for online usage. And that was back when I had the slow dial-up internet, not my fast click’n-go high speed!

Initial census records provide limited data.  The 1790 census includes city, county, state, page, date, name of head of household, males under and over age 16, free white females, all other free persons, and slaves.

The 1800 census begins to break down age groups by years, with 1820 including occupations in agriculture, commerce, manufacturing.  The 1830 census includes the deaf and blind, but no occupations.  The 1840 again includes age groups for males, females, free colored persons and slaves, but also occupations of mining, agriculture, commerce, navigation of ocean, canals, lakes and rivers, learned professional engineers; pensioners for Revolutionary or military services; the deaf, dumb, blind and insane; data regarding one’s education, and those who cannot read or write.

The 1850 census is also a key census as it’s the first to list the name and age of every household member along with numbering the dwellings/houses and families of a town.  From 1850 through 1940, data may include the name of each household member, age, sex (which helps when a given name is not gender specific or is illegible), number of children born to a mother, marital status, years of marriage, state or country of birth, birth places, year of immigration, street address, occupations, value of the home, etc.

The 1880 census is free at both Ancestry.com and the LDS Family Search website.   The census for 1900 gives month and year of birth along with other family and professional data with the 1910 through 1940 being more in depth than previous years.  Regardless, all census records contain a wealth of vital information on your ancestors, and are well worth checking out!

COMING NEXT – Military Records