What You Find in the Tall Grass

Photograph taken 1903, Holcomb home, Vermont. Left to right. Dr. Luman Holcomb 1865 – 1950, Elma Holcomb Deuel 1863 – 1946, Cyrus Holcomb 1824 – 1907. Photograph from the Carl Gonya collection

Here is one more example of what I call front porch pictures family photographs taken outside. The people shown in the above photograph are members of the Holcomb family from Isle LaMotte, Vermont.  Sandy, my wife, and I were going through boxes of pictures that we obtained from her parent’s photograph collection. We noticed some had the name, Holcomb. We had no idea who or what these people were in relation to her family.

I started an investigation into the Holcomb family, and one of the first things I did was to speak with Sandy’s cousin Carl Gonya. Carl has spent years researching family history. We were to find out many details of the Holcomb’s, namely how they were related to my wife, Sandy. The people in the above picture are my wife’s 2nd cousins four times removed. I did a little more research and found even more interesting facts.

Cyrus Holcomb is the gentleman sitting on the chair. He is the father to the other people in this photograph. Like many people of his times, Cyrus wore many hats in life. He was for five years the postmaster of Isle LaMotte, Vermont and even served in the Vermont Legislature. But throughout his life he was a carpenter and a fruit farmer, having 700 apple trees in 1882.

The man relaxed on the grass is Dr. Luman Holcomb, a well known local physician. Dr. Luman received his education at the University of Vermont. I read numerous accounts in the newspapers of his time, regarding his many community activities. He was a well-liked and respected doctor who was mourned by many upon his death in 1950. 

The lady in the picture with her father and brother is Elma Holcomb Deuel. She was a remarkable lady not only in her time but even by today’s standards. She married George Deuel, a Methodist Minister. Elma went with her husband to the Garrett Biblical Institute and received the same degree as her husband. While not herself a minister Elma would fill in for her husband on occasion. She was an accomplished musician and president of the Women’s Missionary Society. Elma was also a teacher who worked with children of former slaves teaching basic reading and writing skills.

I also found out something interesting about the Holcomb’s. They are my 7th cousins three times removed. That makes my wife and I cousins. I guess with both our family lines going back to the 1600s in America, they were bound to become acquainted. While this was the first time we were to learn that our family lines crossed, I have since found two more common sets of grandparents.

So my advice is to go through some old photographs and do some research. Not just on your direct ancestors but also your cousins. You never know what you will learn.

On the left is Elma Holcomb Deuel. Date of picture unknown. Photograph from the Carl Gonya Collection
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The Cook

From left to right. Back Row; Pauline Bonnett, Florence Bonnett and Claude Bonnett. Front Row Harry Bonnett, Bessie Barney Bonnett, Verna Bonnett, and Mary Guyette Barney Douglas. Picture taken about 1913.

In the right-hand upper corner of New York State, you will find Lake Champlain. Most people would be surprised at the vast history of this lake. It has been the site of significant battles going back to the French and Indian Wars. Conflict also continued in the American Revolutionary War. However the War of 1812 saw perhaps the most momentous battle fought on and around this lake, this battle is known as the Battle of Plattsburgh. The British invaded from Canada in the North with 10,000 troops and 16 Warships. To meet them on Lake Champlain and its western shore the Americans had 14 warships and 4000 troops which was a mixture of regular soldiers and local militia. The Battle resulted in a major victory for the Americans. This was the last military engagement that was to take place on Lake Champlain. What followed was years of peaceful growth and commerce in which steamships were to play a significant part. This is when and where a part of the life story of Mary Guyette Barney Douglas, my 2nd Great Grandmother was to take place.

In the late 1800s and well into the 1900s great steamboats plowed the waters of Lake Champlain. While many were used to transport commercial goods, many also transported people. This was a popular way to travel from Lake George and the length of Lake Champlain. The steamships had private cabins and of course, dining rooms. Meals were cooked and severed onboard. One of these cooks was Mary Guyette. Steamships were to be a very popular way to travel until the railroads, and good roadways were to bring an end to this era.

Mary Guyette was born in 1864 to Civil War Veteran Peter and her mother, Elizabeth Thorndike Guyette. The first record I have of her working was at age 16 as a servant in the Stearns household in Waterbury, Vermont. She married Solomon M Barney in 1886 who was 47 years older than she and a hotel owner in Jericho, Vermont. They were to divorce in 1892. She married once more in 1895 to Edward Douglas. This marriage was to end after a few short years in 1898 when Edward died on the family’s kitchen table while the doctor was attempting to treat him for a ruptured appendix.

Divorce was big news in 1892. News article from The Burlington Free Press (Burlington, Vermont) Dec. 19, 1892.
The Burlington Free Press (Burlington, Vermont) Jan. 2, 1891

Mary, by this time, was working as a cook both on the steamships and on land. One of the places Mary worked at was The Crystal, which was located on Church Street in Burlington, Vermont. Here they offered what is known as Table Board. That is when a person purchases his or her meals weekly but is separate from lodging. A quick check on my inflation counter shows that the four dollars spent in 1891 would be about 112.00 dollars today. Not too bad for three meals a day for a week cooked to order.

Chateaugay (Side wheeler) Repository Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Ticonderoga (Side wheeler) Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

My 2nd Great Grandmother Mary was to work on two Lake Champlain steamers the Chateaugay and the Ticonderoga. I know that she was working on the Chateaugay in 1892, but I do not have a starting date for the Ticonderoga. I do know that she worked long hours on these steamers. Growing up, I heard stories from my Grandmother Pauline Bonnett and my Great Uncle Harry about how early she would leave and would not get back sometimes until the next morning. They lived with her as did all her grandchildren pictured above since their mother Bessie, Mary’s only child had major issues that she was dealing with. One story I heard several times from my Great Uncle Harry was how she would spank him after she had been gone for a day or so at work. She would tell him this is for what he thought he “got away with.” While this could be just a story, it does point to the fact that she ran a strict household.

All this for .75 cents. Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. “DINNER [held by] STEAMER CHATEAUGAY [at] “ABOARD SS CHATEAUGAY, [LAKE CHAMPLAIN, {NY}];” (SS;)” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed May 1, 2019. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47db-5016-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

One other story I often heard from my grandmother, all my aunts, and uncles and even my mother was what a wonderful cook she was. I was told she could make a mouth-watering meal out of almost nothing. The proof to me is that she was able to prepare meals like the one on the above menu. Also, when I was given a tour of the Ticonderoga a few years ago, I was surprised how small the kitchen was. The stove is smaller than what can be found in many homes today.  The skill was passed down to her grandchildren as I can attest to. My grandmother was one of the best cooks I ever enjoyed a meal from. She was to be a cook at a large nursery and child daycare center in her later years.

Steamer Ship Ticonderoga at rest. Moore Family Picture 2004

The Ticonderoga now sits on dry ground at the Museum, at Shelburne, Vermont. People can walk the decks and perhaps for a moment or two find themselves somewhere in the past when even short journeys could be an adventure. In many ways, this story many years ago is one of the reasons (I also had more than a few on my father’s side) I got into family history. For years in my grandmother’s kitchen was a platter from the Ticonderoga. It was this plate and the stories that came with it but mostly the questions that the adults would and would not answer that set me on a course to know the rest of the story as the saying goes.  

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It Would be Nice to Look at You

Gravesite of my Great Aunt Elzora Dakin Sorber and her son Robert.
Photograph found on Find A Grave. Used with permission of photographer Susan Beyer.

While cleaning out some of the many files on my computer, I ran across the above picture. I had found it on Find A Grave a while back and saved it as it marks the graves of my Great Aunt Elzora and her son Robert. Elzora was my father’s mother’s sister; her name was Elzada. The family story was that Elzada and Elzora were twins. I have no pictures of my Grandmother Elzada, and since she died in 1920 before my father turned twelve and the family was scattered to the winds, chances are no photos exist. Also, she has no gravestone to take a picture of.

It was while looking at the date of death for Elzora it came to me that I now had a way to check and see if they were twins. Death Certificates are now available online for deaths up to the year 1966 in Pennsylvania which is where Elzora lived. In a matter of minutes, I had a copy of her death certificate. A quick check of the dates of birth for Elzora and Elzada showed they were both born in Maine in August 1880. They were twins.

Death certificate for Elzada Dakin Moore. The person who supplied the information was Elzada’s twin sister Elzora.


Death certificate for Elzora Dakin Sorber. Elzora had been a widow for 41 years after her husband William died in 1924. Also note the birthdates on the two death certificates which shows they were twins.

Several years ago I was contacted by a person who said he was a direct descendant of Elzora on a genealogy message board. He was answering an inquiry I had made regarding the Sorber family. They were looking for information on the Dakin side of the family. The person said he had photographs he would share of Elzora and even thought he had some of Elzada. He had no idea if they were twins or not. My excitement was hard to contain. I sent him the answers to his questions and waited while he got the photographs ready to send. To make a long story short the days turned into weeks then months. Finally, he just stopped answering my email.

I have since that time reached out to others who have the Sorber line in their family trees, but I have not heard back from any of them. It would be nice to get a picture of my Grandmother Elzada but a close second would be a picture of my Aunt Elzora. Perhaps by seeing a photograph, I might get a glimpse of where some of the features I have or my father had come from. Since Elzora outlived her sister by 45 years, it stands to reason that somewhere someone has a few photographs they could share.

Rights – Public Domain, from the British Library’s collections, 2013
Title – Mr. Grant Allen’s New Story “Michael’s Crag.” With … marginal illustrations in silhouette, etc

I know so much more about my Grandmother Elzada Dakin Moore than I did years ago when I first started this journey into my family history. When I started, I knew just a little more than her name. Now she is like the silhouette of the woman above. You can tell much about the person that the silhouette represents perhaps even like my grandmother that she loves to read. I am aware that I may have all that I am ever going to be able to learn about Elzada, but it sure would be nice to look at her.



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Slaves in the Backyard

Sometimes a story that needs to be told could be right outside your door. Perhaps you just failed to comprehend, or it just grew too familiar and as a result, gave it no real thought. This post is a small footnote in the telling of this much larger story, and I hope a means for some to help find their family’s story. This story was found in my wife’s backyard in her childhood home

This is a picture of my brother-in-law playing Frisbee with his young nephew (out of picture) in my wife’s family backyard. The two trees with the overgrown bushes between them are the Treadwell family graves. In the upper right hand part of the picture you can see part of Lake Champlain. That is Treadwell Bay. My wife and I use to walk through her grandfather’s pastures to swim and picnic there when we were dating.
Moore family picture, 1979.

The story of those hidden gravestones was brought forward by a newspaper article I read about the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. With much effort by a team of graduate students lead by professors Ned Benton and Judy Lynne Peters over 35,000 records pertaining to slavery in New York were indexed and made available to the public. According to the website, you will find “census records, slave trade transactions, cemetery records, birth records, manumissions, ship inventories, newspaper accounts, private narratives, legal documents, and many other sources.”

New York slave market about 1730.
Source note: From A history of the American people. Wilson, Woodrow ; 1856-1924 ; author. New York : Harper, 1902-1903.
New York Public Library Digital Collections.

When we think about slavery in America, we usually think about the southern states. However, all 13 colonies had slaves at one time or another. New York had a gradual process of abolishing slavery, starting in 1799. In that year slave children born after July 4, 1799, would be free but this was to be done over time and involved an apprenticeship program. Then in 1817, a law was passed that freed slaves born before 1799 but not until 1827. Slavery in the most northern regions of New York was never taught or fleetingly mentioned in history class.

Hon. Thomas Treadwell
From The Plattsburgh Sentinel Vol. 36 No. 6, Plattsburgh, N.Y., Friday, June 27, 1890

This brings me back to the Thomas Tredwell (often spelled Treadwell) grave sites. Tredwell graduated from Princeton College where he studied law and took up the practice. He moved to Plattsburgh, New York where he bought a farm that bordered on Lake Champlain in a spot now named Tredwell (Treadwell) Bay. He was to serve in the Provincial Congress of New York; the state constitutional convention was a member of the New York State Assembly, and the New York State Senate. He was also the Surrogate for Clinton County from 1807 till his death in 1831. Tredwell was one of the pioneers and builders of my home town of Plattsburgh, New York. He also was a slave owner. According to an article in the “The Plattsburgh Sentinel” newspaper dated June 27, 1890, he “brought with him in 1794 some forty slaves who were subsequently emancipated and colonized by Judge Treadwell on the high regions a few miles north-west.” According to the New York Slavery Records Index, I saw that he owned four people in 1800 and three in 1810. In the book “History of Plattsburgh, N.Y., From its First Settlement to Jan. 1, 1876” by Peter Sailly Palmer dated 1877 is the following on page 22; “The town records show that on the 16th day of August, 1794 the “negro man Hick and Jane his wife,” were manumitted by Judge Treadwell. In September following, Hick bought his daughter Cynthia off the Judge for seventeen pounds ($42.50). Judge Treadwell, about this time, also manumitted his man, York…” I know of one other slave also. The website Northern New York Tombstone Transcription Project shows the Tredwell cemetery was transcribed in 1935. The following graves are listed, Thomas Tredwell, His wife Ann, his daughter Elizabeth, his daughter Mary P., Joel Stratton, and finally Phyllis, the slave. A diagram of this small cemetery shows that Phyllis lies at the feet of Judge Tredwell. I found many records of slaveholding by the early settlers of Plattsburgh in the New York Slave Record Index. Names that would be very familiar to the people of Plattsburgh and the area such as Peter Sailly, Henry Delord, Thomas Miller, Benjamin Moores, John Bailey, Patrick Conroy, as these people have streets, towns, and schools named after them. Even Zephaniah Platt for which Plattsburgh is named and his extended family owned slaves.

An account of the number of people in the Province of New York, A.D. 1723
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division
New York Public Library Digital Collections.

To be fair slavery was never wide spread in Plattsburgh or in Clinton County of which Plattsburgh is the county seat. In Clinton County, 1790, census 16 slaves were listed, in 1800, 58 slaves were listed, in 1810, 29 were listed, and in 1820, 2 slaves were listed. The general population during those years rose from 1,615 in 1790 to 12,070 in 1820. In total (I could have missed some) I found only 35 different men who owned slaves in that time period in Clinton County. While slavery was not a big part of the history of the county, it certainly was for those forced into slavery, and perhaps this new website will be of help to tell their story.

I am hopeful that this new website will be an aid to those who are trying to breakdown that brick wall of slavery that so many have found impossible to get through. Also, I hope those of us who have slave owners in our family history may get a better understanding. When I checked the index for my family, I did find that Simon Dakin who is a first cousin six times removed did own nine people at one time. This was surprising as I thought he was a Quaker. I will have to do more research on that.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. “Sale in New York.” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed March 1, 2018. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47db-bc51-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

So if you’re looking for a publicly searchable site in which you will find over 35,000 records pertaining to both the enslaved person and the people who owned them, then click on the New York Slavery Records Index. It may take you some time to learn how to navigate this site, but it is well worth the effort. I have spent hours looking over this site and the time just seemed to fly away. I hope that this site is what is needed for someone to break through their brick wall. At the very least it should be one more arrow to put in our quiver for use in our genealogy pursuit.



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The Year Was 1970

I am a regular reader of a blog called Carpe Diem, which is written by Don Forrester. The blog is not a genealogy- oriented work, but much is written about family and everyday life and one’s comings and goings. Don writes a post every day and usually is posted early in the morning. The massive volume of his work makes me feel inadequate in my small output of work. Click on this link to see a recent offering of Carpe Diem. In a recent post, Don made the following offer, “The year was 1967. Pick up a pen and quickly write down what you remember about 1967. It may surprise you by the number of things that come to mind.” I got out a pencil and paper and soon was transported back to 1967. As I did this, I thought what a great way this would be for us to write part of our own story. So since I did 1967, I decided on 1970 which was a big year also for me.

While I could not sing or play an instrument, I could certainly tune in a radio or play a phonograph. Music has always been part of my life, and 1970 had plenty of good music to enjoy. Ray Stevens was telling anyone who would listen that “Everything is Beautiful.” A music group from Canada named the Guess Who let us know their views in “American Women” and also let us know that there would be “No Sugar Tonight.” The super group Beatles told us about a “Long and Winding Road” ahead of us. However not to worry Simon and Garfunkel built a “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” The song “Spill the Wine” by the musical group War was playing everywhere my college campus in the autumn of that year.

The restored Strand Theater. I remember that is was never a good idea when I was young and attending an afternoon matinee to sit in the rows just in front of the end of the balcony. One never knew if you would be the target of flying missiles of candy. I played it safe and sat underneath the balcony.
All pictures of the Strand Theater courtesy of the The Strand Center for the Arts. Plattsburgh, New York.

When I watch a movie, I like to limit as many distractions as I can. A good movie can show you a world that you may never be able to be a part of, while a great movie places you right smack in the middle of that movie’s world and transcends from being just a movie to shared experience. I saw plenty of movies in 1970 as it was an excellent way for my future wife and me to enjoy each others company. We saw all of our movies at the Strand Theater in downtown Plattsburgh. A perfect date was a movie and a pizza afterward. The movie “Patton” gave me a glimpse of my father’s world in World War 2 since he served in Patton’s Third Army. The movie “Woodstock The Movie” showed me what I had missed by not going. I could not go because I had a full-time job in the summer of Woodstock. Now I think I was the only person of my generation that didn’t go based on the people I have spoken to over the years. “Kelly’s Heroes,” “Mash,” and “Catch 22” where other movies I watched that year. “Love Story” was a popular movie that year, setting all kinds of box office records. I did not enjoy this movie but what do I know? I do remember during it’s sad ending three girls were sitting right behind me bawling their eyes out and making such a scene that I had to laugh. I don’t think they noticed as their wailing never slowed down. One movie that I did not see at the Strand Theater was “A Man Called Horse” starring Richard Harris. I know this because after watching the movie at a drive-in theater near Kingston, New York I managed to stay overnight and slept in my car a 1957 Chevrolet. I did this because the college I went to had no dorms and I was unable to find a place to stay. So I would sleep in my car in a parking lot, or wherever I found a spot. I would shower at the school in the early mornings. I had to do this for a month before I found an apartment I could afford.

Not to be left out I did do a lot of reading. The book “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” by Richard Bach, was a huge hit in 1970. I starting reading it because everyone was talking about it. I am sure I never got anywhere close to reading half of that book. It was not for me. It was a lesson for me not to follow a crowd but to invest time reading books that engaged me. Some of the books that did for me were “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton; “QB Vll” by Leon Uris was one that I particularly enjoyed. Then a powerhouse book titled “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” was a history lesson we all should read. My parents instilled in me the habit of reading by example and making sure I found time to read. The last few years of my father’s life he was disabled at home, and I had to make frequent runs to the public library to get books for him to read. He loved mysteries and westerns. I think he read every one they had before his death.

Was I really that young?

The picture above is my high school diploma with an insert of my senior picture. 1970 was the year I graduated. I was surprised when at the ceremony my name was called to be awarded a small scholarship for college. I had no idea I was to get this award and found out later it was one that the teachers voted on. I was and still am honored by that fact. The celebration that night was simple just some cake and ice cream and not much else. I had a full-time job to report to in the morning to earn money towards college.

While in high school I participated in several sports, wrestling was the most prominent. I also had been on the YMCA swim team, ran some track, and even coached Little League baseball. It was in 1970 in the closing weeks of wrestling season that I injured my back during a match. This injury would follow me through the years and even today makes its’ presence known. But this story could be said for many of us that played a sport.

I am in the orange and black colors of my school.

The best of 1970 was my girlfriend of three years agreed to marry me at some point in the future. A ring was offered and accepted, so all I had to do is try and get her to set a date. That and try to win over her mother (which I never really did) and convince her I was not that bad. We had been dating for about a year when I told her we were going to get married. I can still clearly remember the look on her face and how she laughed. This year will mark 48 years of married life. I knew what I was talking about.

So now you try it. Pick a year in your life and start writing down your memories. I bet you can tell a few stories that your family did not know or perhaps bring back some memories for yourself.



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Tomato Soup Cake

Some New Years Tomato Soup Cake.

I have heard it said that recipes and the wonderful food dishes they create are a real and concrete way to connect past generations of ancestors to the current generation. The one dish that does that for me is Tomato Soup Cake. A quick check of the internet places the origin of this cake in the late 1920s into the early 1930s. Campbell Soup came out with a recipe in the 1940s using, of course, its own can of tomato soup. However, as far as I am concerned, it came out of the kitchen of my Grandmother Pauline Bonnett Deloria. Even today the first taste of Tomato Soup Cake transports me back to my grandmother’s kitchen in the 1960s. That alone would be enough to eat this cake, except it also tastes so good.

After I moved away from my hometown of Plattsburgh, New York my grandmother would bake the cake every time I returned for a visit. One of the best reasons for these visits home would be time spent sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen eating Tomato Soup Cake and talking away the time. How I miss that. The recipe was given to my wife, and she has carried on the tradition  of making Tomato Soup Cake. Our children have all enjoyed the cake. It has been baked for holiday celebrations and even was the cake of preference for some birthdays. I have four grandchildren two which like the cake and two who have thus far refused to try it. I still hold out hope for them. The last few years we have baked the cake for the New Year celebration both as a treat and a way for me to remember my grandmother and the sadly growing list of people who have gone. The best part is the sweet taste of the cake, just like the memories.


Original Recipe from Grandmother Deloria

2                     cups of flour

1 1/3              cups granulated sugar

4tsp               baking powder

11/2tsp            ground allspice

1tsp                 baking soda

1tsp                 ground cinnamon

1/2tsp             ground cloves

1 10 3/4 oz     tomato soup

½ cup              lard

2                      eggs

¼ cup             water

Heat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 13×9 inch baking pan. Add the baking soda to the soup and stir and let bubble. Stir flour, sugar, baking powder, allspice cloves, and cinnamon in a large bowl to mix. Add the soup mixture, eggs, and water and beat with an electric mixer on low to blend. Increase to high speed and beat for four minuets. Pour the batter into the pan. Bake for 40 minutes and check with a toothpick and let cool in pan on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes. Frost with cream cheese frosting.

Revised Recipe from Sandra Lyon Moore

1                         spice cake mix

1 10 ¾ oz           can of tomato soup

½ cup                 milk

3                        eggs

Heat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9×13 inch baking pan.Mix per cake mix directions add soup with the wet ingredients. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes and check if done with a toothpick.

Also, you can add raisins and or chopped nuts to either recipe. However, it has been our preference not to add these ingredients.






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The Little Book

This was the green well used birthday book that was kept by my wife’s mother.


While my wife Sandy, and I were going through boxes of old pictures that her parents had collected during their lifetime, we found a little green book. The cover title was simply Birthdays. Inside was a wealth of information concerning relatives and friends. We found most if not all the birthdays of relatives that were alive during my wife’s parents lifetime. Also listed were many family friends whose birthdays were to be remembered and noted. The genealogy information contained in this book was plentiful. I found birth dates that ranged from the 1800s and was a little startled to see my birthday listed.

Pages of family records and notes can be found in this book. Parts of some names have been edited out for privacy reasons.

The above image shows some of the information shown throughout this book. You will see under April 16 is listed Sandy’s father with the birth year of 1924. This year will be part of a story I will reveal shortly. Other information found is that cousin Thomas was born at 12:04 AM and weighed seven pounds and 14 ounces. Also listed is Sandy’s cousin Denise who was the person that introduced Sandy and me at a school dance. These pages are typical of what is found throughout the book.

This image shows a funny family story hidden and waiting to be told.

In the image above you will see under May 16 Sandy’s mother Doris Monty Lyon listed. Her name is written in ink and can be read easily. Next to the name faintly written with a pencil is the number 21 which is for the year 1921. For many years Doris had taken off a few years by saying she was born in 1924. She did this because she did not want her husband to know that she was older than him. This deception came to a crashing end when Sandy found her mother’s driver license with the correct date of birth. With this information in her hand, little Sandy went running to her father in the living room with her mother trying to stop her. The secret was out so when I saw the date written in the book obviously well after the original entry I could not help but chuckle.

We all should keep an eye out for these types of finds. Address books, newspaper clippings, baby books, yearbooks, recipe files, funeral cards, greeting cards, letters, school reports, and so many other items that could shed light on our family’s history. Perhaps in this digital age, we all should get a book like this and fill it with as much information as we can. Unlike what we have today that becomes outdated and discarded or erased a book can last many even hundreds of years. Most of us should take a little time away from our screens to make permanent entries in this type of book. Better yet give these as gifts at Christmas and encourage our friends and family to use them. By doing this, we may be laying the groundwork for genealogy finds in the future. Keep in mind the internet will never have everything and most of what it has is just cold records with a few stand-alone facts. The personal and true family history is what we will find in those old boxes of photographs and records. They will in many cases be written by the hands of our parents and grandparents and will show us what to them was important and worth keeping.

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A Picture’s Story

Sandra Lyon Moore, Lake Placid, New York 1971. Note the large white purse.


Where’s my purse? Over the years I have heard that question countless times from my wife. I am amazed at how quickly and often she can forget where she has placed her purse. The above picture is a reminder of a misplaced purse. The image is of my wife taken when we had not been married a full 24 hours yet. She is standing outside the Charcoal Pit a restaurant in Lake Placid of which we are about to dine. I would ask you to note the rather hefty white purse she is carrying. The purse was stuffed with gift envelopes of cash we received at our wedding reception which we had just departed a few hours earlier. We had well over a thousand dollars in the purse, which in 1971 was a fair amount of money. To have the same value today, you would need about $6000 to equal the value of that purse in 1971. It was after a delicious meal and after we were back at our hotel room that perhaps I heard the statement, “Where’s my purse?” for the first time in our marriage. A frantic search was made of our room with me running outside to search the car, but we did not locate the missing purse. It was then we realized we must have left it in the restaurant. With thoughts of the possibility that all of our wedding money would be gone, we drove back to the restaurant. However, we were fortunate the purse which my wife had left on the back of her chair had been turned in with all the contents intact.

The above picture which sparked my memory of this adventure was found in a box of photographs that I am trying to organize. Somehow it was the only picture from that time period that was in the box, and I have no idea how it found itself there. It had no names or dates on the back. So you see even with all my preaching I still have much organization ahead of me. The fact is that is if someone was going through all my pictures say 50 years from now they may have no idea who was in the photograph and most likely no idea of the date or the story behind it. As genealogist and family historians we spend countless hours researching our past and too little time making sure our current family stories are not lost. Take some time to organize a few pictures write up a story or two; our descendants will be thankful.


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Telling Their Story

Standing left to right; Edward Monty and his son Oreon Monty. Sitting left to right; Ida Monty, Joyce (Jicey) Monty, Etta Monty Smith. Picture from the collection of Carl Gonya.

Here is another example of what I call a front porch picture. Pictured is the Edward L Monty family of Beekmantown New York. The picture is taken on their farm. A quick look at the picture shows a family dressed in their finest clothes in a proud pose. Edward Lafayette Monty (1818 – 1904) my wife’s 2nd Great Grandfather is shown standing at a table with a saw in his hand. A horse and wagon are in the background. Flowers in the flower boxes can be seen on the front porch. One of the windows is slightly open to let in fresh air. Ida Bell Monty (1861 – 1879) is next. Since Ida died in 1879, I believe the picture was taken on or before 1879. Joyce (Jicey) Murphy Monty (1817 – 1904) is seated next; she is my wife’s 2nd Great Grandmother. Seated on the end is Etta Monty Smith (1857 – 1942). Standing with his hand on his mother’s shoulder is Oreon Monty (1850 – 1930) who is my wife’s great-grandfather.

Edward was a farmer in the Chazy and Beekmantown area. He married Joyce or Jicey Murphy of Cohoes New York in 1846. The family story is that Joyce made her trip to Beekmantown from Cohoes on horseback with her trunk strapped on. This was no easy journey of over 150 miles over a large sparsely unsettled part of the state. Pictured below is the trunk that Joyce packed her belongings in. They were to be married well over fifty years until death took them just months apart in 1904.

My wife Sandy with her 2nd Great Grandmother Joyce Murphy Monty’s trunk.

Great Grandfather Oreon Monty worked in a sawmill and was also a farmer. He was to work his farm until his death in 1930. Oreon did not marry until he was 41 years old. His bride Emma Craft was fifteen years younger. They formed a marriage that was to last 39 years ending with Oreon’s death. Emma was to live for eight more years. Below is their wedding announcement.

From the Plattsburgh Sentinel; November 6, 1891.

While we may not have pictures of all our great-grandparents, we may have family stories or information that we have found because of our research efforts. It is up to us to tell their story because if we don’t, we can be sure that all or most will be lost within one or two generations. We can make it as simple or complex as we like. I hope the above helps some of you to get started on your family history project. The way I see it is you could have a one-page story about an ancestor or a blank page. Which one do you want to pass down to future generations?



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Letters are Windows to the Past

Smithsonian Institution. Repository: National Postal Museum

My Great Grandmother Bessie Barney Bonnett LeClair was trying to make a new start in 1918. She had divorced her first husband Abner Bonnett and had just married William LeClair. The envelope shown below housed a letter from her husband Abner pleading for one more chance as he promised to “change his Ways.” They did get back together long enough to have one more child, their sixth before they finally divorced in 1914.


Envelope for letter from Abner to his wife Bessie. Note the simple address used.

In the partially illustrated letter below written October 6, 1918, Bessie seems happy with her new marriage and baby son. In the letter written to her oldest daughter Florence Bonnett Tromblee, who also had a young baby Bessie says in part,

Sunday, Oct. 6th

Dear Florence, baby 

I have just laid baby down, he has been napping _ _ _ _ aches. He is getting fat he will be seven weeks old Wed. I got your letter and was oh so glad to hear you were all well.

Letter written by my Great Grandmother Bessie Barney Bonnett LeClair.

Bessie also in this letter talks about fixing up their new place with wallpaper and painting the ceilings. She also varnished the icebox and a writing desk. I would guess this letter was written on that newly varnished desk. However, a happy life was to elude Bessie as just fifteen days after writing this letter she was to become a casualty of the Influenza epidemic of 1918 at the young age of 36. This may be the last letter Bessie ever wrote; it is certainly one of the last. This letter was one of a collection of letters I received from Julia Tromblee, the daughter-in-law of the letter’s recipient Florence Tromblee. Julia and I never knew of each other and met when we noticed each others family trees on ancestry.com

Letter concerning Samuel Dakin and his newspaper.

The letter shown above was not written by a relative but was written about a relative. The letter is dated 1825 and concerns Samuel Dakin, a cousin of mine. Samuel and his partner William J Bacon purchased the newspapers the “Utica Sentinel” and the “Columbian Gazette” and combined them into one newspaper. In part the letter says;

“… We feel confident that the paper under their direction will be ably & successfully conducted. The public are deeply interested that the respectability of their public journal should be sustained, and we feel gratified at the prospect, that the varied talents of the editors of the present paper will give to it a character which will entitle it to the most liberal encouragement, and in that belief, we earnestly write to it the patronage support of your friends.”

The letter was signed by many of the leading citizens of Utica, New York at the time. The signatures continue onto another sheet of paper. Many buildings and streets are today named after some of the people who put their names to this letter of endorsement. I was able to get copies of this letter and many others from the Dakin family from the archives at Hamilton College where many from that branch of the family attended.


World War Two letter from Robert Lyon to his mother Alice Slinn Lyon.

The partial letter above is from an extensive collection of letters written mostly by my wife’s father Robert Lyon to his mother during his military service in World War Two. At the time this letter was written he was still stationed stateside. In part the letter says;

“I was going to hi myself to Denver to-night, but as it came out I’m on the litter detail. You see they select a few of the students every night to stay on the post for the next twenty-four hours, to carry wounded soldiers from the train to the hospital. We all hope they don’t appear, but anyway none of the fellows here have ever experienced such a thing yet.”

Robert was to experience such a thing when he found himself in combat in Italy. His letters give great insight as to what he was going through and of his thoughts at the time.

You do not need letters to give you a peep into the past. I have old school report cards, driver licenses, pay stubs, postcards, certificates of achievements, greeting cards, and many other types of written records. Shown below is a birthday card and envelope from my wife’s grandmother to her great-grandmother. Many of these greeting cards have a short message and for many perhaps the only signature they will have of a relative. Besides looking at these old cards is fun.

Birthday card from Ruby Gonya Monty to her mother Lottie.

The next letter illustrated below is part of a four-page letter. This copy of the letter was sent to me by a person that I met due to a DNA match. The letter was written by Page Cole and concerned the family of his wife, Mary Bushey Cole. Mary’s mother Mary Deloria Vincent Bushey Lajoy was my great aunt the sister of my grandfather Willis Deloria. As you can see from Mary’s many different last names she was married many times. Page was writing to a great-granddaughter of Mary who was trying to make sense of the family relationships. In the letter Page is assuring the great-granddaughter that all of Mary’s children were from her first marriage. The letter reads in part;

“Now Mary was the youngest. Mary was born on the 27th of April and was baptized in St. Peters Church in Plattsburgh on the 19th of May 1900. We have the original certificate of baptism, so the three children had to have the same father.” 

Letter written by Page Cole regarding his wife’s Mary’s mother Mary Deloria and family history


From this letter, I learned about Mary Deloria’s first husband, Edward Vincent. I had never heard of him until I read this letter. This was a four-page letter that was full of family history that I knew nothing about. I learned about name changes (not just from marriages) dates of death, and births also ages being lied about and why.

These letters have allowed me to understand better and tell the story of my family. With the exception of the birthday card which came from my wife’s parents papers all the letters shown were from other people and places. Even the collection of war letters from my wife’s father were from other people freely sharing and giving what they had. My wife had no idea that these letters existed until her cousin handed her a large archive box containing these letters. We all must search for and reach out to family and share what we have. By doing this, we will build a better family history.

For Better or for Worse comic strip. Used with permission.


How frail and ephemeral is the material substance of letters, which makes their very survival so hazardous. Print has a permanence of its own, though it may not be much worth preserving, but a letter! Conveyed by uncertain transportation, over which the sender has no control; committed to a single individual who may be careless or inappreciative; left to the mercy of future generations, of families maybe anxious to suppress the past, of the accidents of removals and house-cleanings, or of mere ignorance. How often it has been by the veriest chance that they have survived at all.

Elizabeth Drew





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