Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sarah Cummings found!

I had some time to think about my last post and I also did a little nosing around on Ancestry, and found my answer to Sarah's parentage. Actually the answer, like most answers usually are, was right under my nose the whole time. It was Aunt Joanna's mention of Brewster that helped put things in place. The image below is for the 1850 Federal Census for Rumney, New Hampshire and is remarkably different from the 1860 census in my last post.

So, you may ask what is so different from the 1860 census? It has to do with the order of the individuals in the household. The census years 1850 to 1870 listed each individual living in a particular household, however no relationship to the head of household is given. You should always approach these records with a little caution, especially in households headed by individuals of means. Notice Adams Holden's real estate is valued at $5000 in 1850. Adjusted for inflation, that would be the equivalent of almost $125,000 today! It is even more apparent in the 1860 census. Between personal and real estate, he is valued at $15,000 which is almost $350,000 in today's money.

Usually the head of household would be followed by a spouse, if alive, and then their children in order from oldest to youngest. After this, other family members would be listed, like parents, aunts, uncles, etc. Finally, other non-related individuals would be listed, like servants, boarders, hired help, etc. Of course there are numerous examples where this pattern was not followed, however it is a great framework to create a working assumption of a family unit. The 1860 census appears to follow this perfectly. Husband, then wife, followed by children oldest to youngest. 1850 however, does not. Notice how Sarah, who has a middle initial of A instead of L is listed after the other Holden children. Whenever you see a change like this from one census year to another, you should always approach the family unit with caution. has a large collection of family histories among many other things and the answer to my census puzzle is there. Sarah can be found the Holden Genealogy, Ancestry and descendants of Richard and Justinian Holden and of Randall Holden. The image on the right is the listing for Adams Holden. Sarah is listed as an adopted daughter. That would explain why she was not listed with the Holden children in 1850. By 1860, she was a Holden.

I checked the information for Sarah Arrington and our Sarah Lucy is there. What was even more fascinating, the author lists the informant as Sarah Cummings! So I can now place her into a family, let's see what we can find out about them...

Josiah and Joanna Rhodes

Today we will meet Uncle Josiah's wife. Evidently Sarah Cummings has written her a few letters which she has not responded to. It has become quite apparent to me that if you received a letter, you were expected to respond in kind. Joanna is quite apologetic regarding her lack of courtesy.

Joanna Holden's letter is dated 03 March 1873 and was written from Grand Rapids, Michigan. She starts by saying,I often think of the many pleasant hours we spent at your smiling little home on the hillside, the romantic view from which looms up in my mind while I am writing...
The image at the top of todays post is a stereo view from the Library of Congress digital collection showing Easton, PA in 1896. I wonder if this image was taken from the same hill as Sarah's house is on? Easton was a hub of activity in the late 1800s. It is located at the Eastern end of the Lehigh Valley and had a lot to do with the coal and steel industries.

Joanna proceeds to tell Sarah about her only daughter in Manistee, Michigan. She mentions her daughter lives 'in a colder place than this' about a 100 miles north of Grand Rapids. She also mentions the terrible fire that burned Manistee in 1871. Her daughter's husband, Mr. Fowler, lost everything. The image on the right is from the Fort Wayne, IN newspaper dated 13 Oct 1871 and describes the terrible fire.

After mentioning the difficulty of travelling to Manistee as the rail road stops 40 miles south of the city requiring the last leg of the journey to be by boat, she gives us a vital clue to identifying Sarah's parents. She says,
I feel rather sorry for your mother tho' she's not so much to be pittied as some others. I hope Brewster will think best to reform & be a comfort to his mother in the decline of life. It's sad to think of a young man living, or rather staying in the world with no object or aim in life above what he appears to have. Mrs. Little appears like a nice woman and we had a good visit with her, indeed, we had many good visits to which I look back with much satisfaction...
Did Joanna just give us a vital clue to Sarah's parents? I think so. The context of Joanna's letter gives the impression Sarah has a brother Brewster and her mother is the kind, Mrs. Little. The image below is from the 1860 Federal Census for Rumney, New Hampshire. It shows the household of A. W. Holden.

We'll explore this further in my next post...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Uncle Josiah Rhodes Holden

This post will introduce Sarah’s Uncle, Josiah Rhodes Holden. His letters must have meant a lot to Sarah as they were bundled together and tied with a string. The image above is the first letter she received from Uncle Josiah. It is addressed to Sarah in Easton, Pennsylvania and dated 03 May 1872. He starts his letter with, “You may know me as Uncle Rhodes.” From that point he mentions he is in Washington, D.C. visiting his son, and would like to stop by and visit Sarah, whom he says “I have never seen you, but remember your mother as a child.” The reason I know this is the first letter she received is because Sarah records it so. On an old envelope which holds the bundle of letters she has written in her very neat, tiny handwriting, “the first letter Uncle J. R. Holden sent.”

Sarah and her Uncle Josiah carried on a correspondence that stretched from 1872 up to his death in 1887 at the age of 90. I can’t but help think that it was her Uncle’s letter of introduction that may have sparked Sarah’s interest in her past. Josiah’s letters are filled with small little mentions of family. He often mentions Sarah’s mother but he never talks about Sarah’s father or at least directly so. The assumption I have made is that Sarah’s father must have been long dead and her mother was still living. I have been unable to discover Sarah’s parents names.  Uncle Josiah does mention he sent to his brother Milton for Sarah's address, though he never mentions him as her father. OK, this is where I will make my confession – I haven’t really looked! Let’s leave it as a surprise. 

Josiah Holden appears to have been an early settler in Michigan. I also have Michigan roots and this has made my little project even more interesting. Josiah lives in the city of Grand Rapids and what is even stranger, he lives there at the same time my family does. I wonder if my ancestors knew Josiah? How weird is that? The only frustration I have with this project is that I don’t have Sarah’s letters to her Uncle. He mentions the letters, but only in a circumspect way. So as we go through this subset of Sarah’s letters we will have to extrapolate what Sarah had written to her Uncle. It makes it a little more fun, sort of like detective work.

The next letter is dated 20 Oct 1872 and is written on a piece of paper with the letterhead of the Kent County Republican Committe.  Kent County is the county in which Grand Rapids is located.  He starts this letter by mentioning his six week visit to his only daughter and her husband.  They live in Manistee, Michigan which is about 100 miles north of Grand Rapids.  He then goes on to describe his journey thtrough New Hampshire and Massachusetts, always calling on friends and family though few are mentioned by name.

He ends this second letter with a warm thanks for the 'Many acts of kindness and attention' that he and his wife recieved when they visited William and Sarah in Pennsylvania.  He asks for a photograph of William and Sarah along with little Freddie.  Evidently little Freddie had endeared himself to his great uncle Josiah!

Let's see what the next couple of letters brings...

Friday, January 22, 2010

Widow Sarah Cummings

The short description of William and Sarah Cummings mentioned in my previous post was jam packed with genealogical information. What I find even more interesting, when searching the various genealogical websites (which I will mention in another post), the only information that is returned has Winfred as a daughter. Some of the posts have even gone as far as to call ‘her’ Winifred. See, there goes that ‘Doubting Thomas’ smile again!

It has always seemed incredible to me that incorrect family information has a life of its own. It’s almost like a virus. The correct information is contained in the census record and the short biographical snippet, again shown on the right. All of the genealogical compilations however have the incorrect information. Always, always, always verify your information. Ask yourself this question, "Does it make sense?" In the case of the History of Plymouth, New Hampshire, my guess is the authors probably were intimately familiar with William and Sarah Cummings. The compiler of the Cummings genealogy on the other hand was most likely a distant cousin who probably never had met our couple. If you think about it, he probably conducted his research just like Sarah did. William probably received a letter asking him to list his children and ancestry. If he didn’t specify the sex of his children, you could see why someone might assume Winfred was a female.

The 1910 Federal Census, shown above, finds Sarah listed as a widow. This means William H. Cummings must have died between 1906 (when the History of Plymouth, New Hampshire was written) and the date of the 1910 Federal Census. Remember, William is listed in the History as alive. A rather curious entry has Sarah listed as the mother of three children of which three are living. I guess time will tell if this is accurate or not. She has a farm in the outskirts of Manchester and three boarders living with her. Her place of birth is also listed as New Hampshire instead of Massachusetts. The more I look at this census record, I am thinking that Sarah may not have been the individual giving the information to the census taker. Perhaps one of her boarders answered the door and gave what they thought was accurate data.

1920 Federal Census, shown above, finds our Sarah living with her son, Winfred Cummings and his family. She is 78 years old and listed as being born in Massachusetts. Sarah is living in Plymouth, New Hampshire still. I can't locate Sarah in the 1930 Federal Census and will assume she died before it was taken.

The collection of letters I purchased came from New Hampshire and I wonder if they descended in the family of Winfred Cummings. I'll bet those letters were safely tucked away in Sarah's belongings in 1920. There is very little correspondence dated after 1903. She evidently lost interest in her family tree project, but must have thought it important enough to keep all of those letters safe and sound.

I'll close this entry with a photograph of Main Street, Plymouth, New Hampshire. I found this image at the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection. I'll bet it is a view that Sarah Cummings would recognize instantly.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sarah's Maiden Name

One of the most daunting tasks in family tree research is finding a women's maiden name. This was particularly true before the Internet. Once upon a time you would have had to travel to libraries, archives (if you could find one), and county seats to troll through the records.

Imagine our Sarah. She had to rely on letters to distant cousins, some of which took months to reply. Any trips to county seats would truly have been a rarity, especially so for a female. Sarah lived in an age that firmly believed a woman's place was in the home. When a woman married, she took her husband's surname and, for all intents and purposes, her maiden name disappeared.

Marriage records certainly help locate maiden names, but many localities did not actively record these until late in the nineteenth or early twentieth centuries. Sometimes we can find church records, or family Bibles which give us the answer. Maybe their are probate records that identify a maiden name too. Needless to say, maiden name research can be the most challenging aspect of family tree research.

The Internet, along with the enormous amount of family tree research posted 'out there' has made finding information easier. Notice I didn't say finding the answers easier. Just because something is posted online, it doesn't mean it is correct! I guess I could have named this Blog 'Doubting Thomas'. One of the things I usually do is try to find the source of whatever statement I am reading. This can sometimes be more difficult than uncovering an individuals maiden name. Having said that, I certainly use the Internet as a research tool.

The vast majority of Sarah's research was for a surname of Holden. My working theory is that Sarah is a Holden. A quick search of Google Books, one of my very favorite sites, provided a pretty good indication of this. The History of Plymouth, New Hampshire, Vol. 2 by Ezra Scolley Stears and Moses Thurston Runnels published in 1906 provides a short biographical sketch of our family on page 173. The image on the right contains the family information.

I had mentioned in one of my earlier posts that the Pennsylvanian census taker had been incorrect in listing the oldest child as a son. I was the one who was incorrect! William and Sarah had two boys. This goes to show, always check and recheck your data. I had come across a Cummings genealogy which listed the oldest child as a female.

Not only have we found Sarah listed as a Holden, we have also discovered her husband was a Civil War veteran. This means we should also check to see if William H. received a pension for his service in the War.

We will use the excerpt above to help us locate the family beyond 1910...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Finding Sarah

It was a pretty easy thing finding Sarah L. Cummings in the 1900 and 1880 census. Many of the letters she had kept still had their addressed envelopes, even though a stamp collector at some time in the past had surgically removed the stamps. The image below is a tiny section of the 1900 Federal Census for Rumney, Grafton, New Hampshire.

I know it's a little hard to read, but it lists William H. Cummings, born February 1841 in New Hampshire; and, his wife Sarah L. Cummings, born July 1841 in Massachusetts. The census taker was also instructed to ask the informant how many children the wife had given birth to, and of those, how many are still living. In this case the answer was Sarah had had two children and both were still living in 1900.

Unfortunately for us, the 1890 Federal Census was lost to fire in 1921. So the next available census is 1880. Again, the envelopes of the correspondence Sarah received help identify her location. The bulk of the correspondence was addressed to Easton, Pennsylvania and it is exactly where we find her. The image below is a fragment of the 1880 Federal Census for Easton, Northampton, Pennsylvania.

This image is a little easier to read. William, who is listed as a rail road conductor, is living with his wife and their two children. Whenever you are using the census records for your research, always keep in the back of your mind that the census takers are human. They can make mistakes just like you and I. This is a great example. The oldest child, Winfred H., who is nine years old is listed as a son. He is actually a she. Both of their children are listed as being born in Pennsylvania so William and Sarah must have moved to Pennsylvania some time before 1871.

The 1870 Federal Census for South Easton, Northampton, Pennsylvania does list the couple. They have no children and William is listed as a Conductor. I would have attached an image for this record, but the image quality is so poor you would never have been able to see it.

Another question the 1900 census taker asked was how many years a couple had been married. In William and Sarah's case the answer was 39 years. This places their marriage in 1861. This would mean Sarah married when she was twenty years old and in all likelihood this was her first marriage.

So now I need to figure out what her maiden name is...

Sarah L. Cummings

My first project is pictured at right. I purchased this collection of documents from e-Bay and this is how they arrived. I'll admit it was a little overwhelming looking at all of this stuff. Obviously, these letters must have meant something to someone as they survived to the 21st century!

You would be amazed at how much of this stuff is destroyed every single day. Grandma dies, or Uncle Joe, or whomever, and during the inevitable cleaning (or should I say purging) most of this stuff goes out in the trash as 'junk'. I can just hear the family now, "Why did she keep so much junk?"

Some of the more enterprising families will have an estate sale and just maybe a collection of old letters will make it into the hands of an ephemera dealer. I always thought ephemera was a rather strange sounding word. The first thing that comes to my mind is the word effeminate which is associated with feminine behavior. Ephemera is used to describe items that were really never meant to be saved. In other words, they were created with the idea they would eventually be discarded.

The appeal of ephemera, to me at least, is the idea of looking into the past using documents and items created by the individuals you are studying. These letters are like tiny little droplets of paint in the mural of history. Doesn't that sound grand? This is how this collection came to be in my possession. An ephemera dealer purchased it and, thankfully, listed it on e-Bay as an entire lot rather than breaking it down into several chunks, like some dealers do.

So the first thing is to see just what is in the box. It became apparent the individual who saved these letters was Sarah L. Cummings, wife of William H. Cummings. She was interested in her family history and corresponded with numerous individuals all over the country. Most of the correspondence dates from the 1880s to the early 1900s, an era sometimes referred to as the 'golden age of genealogy'. The earliest letter dated from 1830 and so far I have not been able to determine the most recent document. The image on the left shows the collection out of the box and as I stand back and look, I begin to realize putting this family back together is going to be a huge project.
Now let's see what we can find out about Sarah L. Cummings...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Hello World!

Well here it is. I guess you might call this a New Years Resolution project. Over the years I have saved several groups of family ephemera, another way of saying family junk to some. One of the things that has always struck me as rather odd is the idea of a family discarding this stuff. I suppose once all of the individuals who produced these letters, cards, and notes have died; those left behind may feel little attachment or regard for the documents left behind.

Perhaps if people realized that these documents have meaning even long after the individuals creating them are no longer with us, might be a little less likely to throw this tuff away. The documents our ancestors created say not only a lot about the individuals themselves, but also the times they lived in. These items speak to me and hopefully will speak to you too!