Event Commemorating Ithaca African American Families Set

On the Fifth of July, there will be a ceremony in the Ithaca City Cemetery to remember and rededicate the grave sites of two African American families. The Tompkins County Civil War Commission and the Sons of Union Veterans collaborated to clean the grave of Daniel Jackson, who was called &#8220Faithful.&#8221

Jackson was slave in Maryland before fleeing to Ithaca, where he joined others he had known from the South. He was a reliable worker in E. S. Esty’s tannery and at the end of the Civil War he returned to his birthplace to bring his elderly mother North to live with him. The two died in 1889 five days apart: he was 75 and she was thought to be 103. A stone has been placed to mark her resting place and the plot has been landscaped.

The second family grave is that of the Brum family where there are five stones, the major monument located this past fall was in three pieces, the larger spire down the hill, its writing mostly obscured. The City of Ithaca Department of Public Works reassembled the monument which when cleaned revealed two sides with writing. One is for Titus Brum,  an African American born in N.Y. He was also a landowner and patriarch of the African American community in Ithaca.

Brum led efforts to gain political recognition for black men in the 1820s, he organized the 1827 Fifth of July celebration, and organized a committee against the Fugitive Slave Act. His home was often the site of social and political meetings. The second side of the plinth commemorates his son Ira T. Brum who fought during the Civil War in a NY white regiment enlisting from Cortlandville in 1864 and who died of disease the day after his company was mustered out of the war. Below that there is also a notice about Fred.k W. Brum, who also fought in the war. Nearby there is a small grave for an infant named Clarence, and one for their sister, Mary Brum Johnson who links the Brum family with the Johnsons who were involved with aiding Freedom Seekers fleeing through Ithaca. The final two modest stones are marked I.T.B. and F.W.B., stones set at the time of those men’s deaths. There is no notation for Eunice Woods Brum who most likely, with her son-in-law George Johnson, erected the large monument upon the death of Titus in 1881.

Why hold this ceremony on the Fifth of July? For the very reasons that Frederick Douglass gave in his 1852 oration &#8220What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?&#8221 In Tompkins County we hope to recognize these mostly forgotten families and the goal of equal access to our political, social and economic life for all, and to think about goals yet unmet. The Mayor of Ithaca Sevante Myrick will speak at the ceremony, as will The Reverend E. Alex Brower of the A.M.E. Zion Church- the co-chair of the Civil War Commission the Hon. Michael Lane, and the County Historian. The ceremony will be held at 6 pm, rain or shine but not in thunder or lightening. All are welcome.

Photo: Volunteers clean and landscape the Brum family plot.

Carol Kammen is Tompkins County Historian, a Senior Lecturer at Cornell University, and the author of several books, including On Doing Local History: Reflections on What Local Historians Do, Why, and What It Means and The Peopling of Tompkins County: A Social History.
      

Documenting the Birthplace of Mathew Brady

What follows is a guest essay by Glenn L. Pearsall who recently confirmed the birthplace of Civil War photographer Mathew Brady in Warren County, NY. The essay originally appeared in the Warren County Historical Society newsletter.

On November 10, 2011 the Town of Johnsburg Historical Society commemorated the birthplace of famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady. They had a cast iron historic marker made and placed at the entrance of the C. Ernest Noxon Community Center in Wevertown, Warren County, NY. Brady was born in Johnsburg Township about 4 miles south of Wevertown in 1822 or 1823. A story of that dedication ceremony was featured in the Glens Falls Post Star and then picked up by the Associated Press. From there the story was distributed nationally and online versions of the story appeared across the country including the Wall Street Journal, New York Daily News and the New York Times.

The research into documenting Brady birthplace in Johnsburg began in 2006 and reads like a detective story or an episode of the PBS show “History Detectives”.

Mathew (only one “t”) Brady was an internationally known figure and much of what we know of the Civil War and famous leaders of the 19th Century comes from his photographs. Mathew Brady’s photographs of the dead at the battle of Antietam, featured in his New York City Gallery on October 1862, brought home to America for the first time the true horror of the Civil War. His corps of photographers documented that war with tens of thousands of photographs. His February 9, 1864 picture of Abraham Lincoln was featured on the U.S. $5 bill since 1928 and when that bill was re-designed in March of 2008 a new picture of Lincoln was used, taken by Brady that same day in 1864. Although most famous for his Civil War work, Brady’s Gallery of Illustrious Americans featured luminaries from Andrew Jackson to Andrew Carnegie. Brady’s work helped record and preserve American history, and yet, until just recently, the birthplace of this famous American remained a mystery.

Mathew Brady’s personal letters indicate that he was born north of Lake George, NY of “poor Irish immigrant parents”. Most Brady biographies are silent as to his exact place of birth. Others list his birthplace as Lake George, or just Warren County, New York. Local folklore here in the southeastern Adirondacks has said for years that he was born in Johnsburg, NY, but there was no documentation to substantiate that claim.

In 2006 I began research for my first book Echoes in These Mountains: Historic Sites and Stories Disappearing in Johnsburg, An Adirondack Community (Pyramid Press, 2008, recipient of a “Letter of Commendation” from the 35 county Upstate History Alliance in 2009). In writing that book I took on the challenge to try to actually document the place of Brady’s birth.

The Federal Census in the early 1800s does not include the names of children. I began, therefore, with Mathew Brady’s father. It is commonly acknowledged that Mathew Brady died in New York City January 15, 1896. With his name and date and place of death it was easy to obtain a certified copy of Mathew Brady’s death certificate from the New York City Dept of Health (New York City Death Certificate #1746). That certificate lists his father as Andrew and mother as Julia. The death certificate notes his place of birth only as “U.S.”.

An inspection of the 1830 Federal Census of towns north of Lake George indicated that the only Andrew Brady listed was in the Census for the Town of Johnsburgh (then spelled with a “h”). That census lists Andrew Brady with 5 children- three boys and two girls. Two of those boys are listed in that 1830 census between the ages 5 to 10. Most sources list Mathew Brady as being born in 1822 or 1823 so he would have been 7 or 8 in 1830. The only reference to an exact date of birth is on www.NNDB.com which lists his date of birth as January 15, 1823, but there is no documentation listed for this and the exact date of January 15th may be confused with his date of death on January 15, 1896, 72 years later).

The next challenge was to determine exactly where he might have been born. In the early 1980s I had visited regularly with Lewis Waddell, then Town of Johnsburg Historian (now long since deceased). Lewis had told me about where the old foundation site was, but we never got around to visiting it together so I was not sure of its exact location. In the Johnsburg Historical Society files, however, I found a sketch that Lewis Waddell had made as to the location of the foundation. It was not to scale, however, so it took some exploring. Bushwhacking around the base of Gage Mountain my wife Carol and son Adam and I located the old road that went from the Glen to Wevertown (the road was later straightened and is now NYS RT 28). Referencing the other foundations along that old road that Waddell had sketched in, we located what I believe to be the foundation of the house where Mathew Brady was born in 1822 or 1823.

The actual site of Brady’s birthplace lies 4.1 miles south of Wevertown off of NYS Rt 28. The house foundation lies about 275 yards off the west side of the road (GPS N 63 degrees 36’00.6”x W 73 degrees 52’44.4”) on private property.

It has been written that Brady left the area at age 16 (in 1838 or 1839). Some sources indicate that his first stop was Saratoga Springs, N.Y. where he met famed portrait painter William Page. Brady became Page’s student and in 1839 the two of them travelled to Albany, N.Y. In 1844 they continued south to New York City where Brady’s instructions were supplemented under the tutelage of Samuel F. B. Morse (portrait painter and inventor of the single wire telegraph system). Morse was enthusiastic about the new art of capturing images through daguerreotype having met Louis Jacques Daguerre in Paris in 1839. Soon Brady was also excited about the new process and established his first photographic studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street. In 1849 he established a studio in Washington D.C. so that he could photograph the famous men of his time there.

In 1896, depressed by the death of his wife Juliet (“Julia” Handy) 9 years earlier and suffering from alcoholism and loneliness, Mathew Brady died in the charity ward of the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. Penniless at the time of his death, his funeral was paid for by veterans of the famous 7th New York Volunteer Infantry. He is buried in Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

Photos: Above, Glenn Pearsall at the re-discovered Mathew Brady foundation in Johnsburg- middle, a hand drawn map by former Town of Johnsburg Historian Lewis Waddell showing the possible location of the Brady homestead (not to scale)- below, the newly installed historic marker in nearby Wevertown, NY. (Photos courtesy Glenn Pearsall).

NY Public Librarys 1940 Census Tool Online

There is a new online tool developed by the New York Public Library to help people find their New York City relatives in the 1940 census, which was released April 2.

NARA released the census online for the first time, but transcribing and indexing the data is a slow process,that could take as long as six to eight months.

The Library’s online tool connects people to 1940 New York City phonebooks, which they digitized for the first time, where you can look anyone up by last name to find their address. Once you have the address, just enter it into a search field and up pops the census enumeration district number. Clicking the number takes you to the National Archives’website, where you can find the correct section of the census.

It’s a great research tool, but it’s also meant to grow into something more. When you find an address, the tool pins it to both a 1940 map and a contemporary map, so you can see how the area has changed (buildings torn down, freeways put up, etc). You’re then invited to leave a note attached to the pin – memories, info about who lived there, what the neighborhood was like, questions – and so forth. As people use the site, we’ll build a cultural map of New York in 1940 that will assist both professional historians and laypeople alike. Users have already found New Yorkers including Mayor John Lindsay, Jackie Kennedy, and Jane Jacobs.

Check out the Library’s new tool right here.

Introduction to Schenectady Genealogy Resources

The Schenectady County Historical Society will offer a workshop entitled &#8220Introduction to Genealogy Resources in the Grems-Doolittle Library&#8221 on Saturday, April 28, 2012, from 2 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Historical Society, 32 Washington Avenue, Schenectady.

Participants will explore the resources available for genealogical research in the Grems-Doolittle Library and learn to develop strategies for best utilizing the library’s collections in researching Schenectady-area ancestors from the 17th through the 20th century. The workshop will also include time to conduct research in the library.

Registration is required- limit of 16 participants per workshop. The cost is $5.00- free for Schenectady County Historical Society members.

For more information, or to register, contact Melissa Tacke, Librarian/Archivist at the Schenectady County Historical Society, by phone at 518-374-0263, option 3, or by email at librarian@schist.org. The Schenectady County Historical Society is wheelchair accessible, with off-street parking behind the building and overflow parking next door at the YWCA.

2012 Ellis Island Family Heritage Awardees Announced

The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation has announced the recipients of its annual Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards, which honor distinguished Americans who trace their ancestry through Ellis Island, and the B.C. Forbes Peopling of America Award recognizing individuals who themselves immigrated to America. The Awards will be presented on April 19th at a ceremony to be held in the historic Great Hall on Ellis Island. The 2012 honorees are:

Angela Lansbury – The B.C. Forbes Peopling of America Award – Entertainment

This London-born actress, who returns to Broadway this year in Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, began her ascendancy up the ranks of American entertainment ladder shortly after her family evacuated to New York City in 1940, just days before the London blitz. Her first of over 50 films, Gaslight, won her an Oscar nomination. Since then, she has been a star of film, stage and television for seven decades, garnering her five Tonys, six Golden Globes, three Oscar nominations, and over 15 Emmy nominations. In 1994, Queen Elizabeth II appointed her Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to the dramatic arts. She is also a recipient of the National Medal of Arts and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2000. Lansbury became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1951.

Richard Meier &#8211 Ellis Island Family Heritage Award – The Arts/Architecture

Born in Newark, New Jersey, Richard Meier is a Pritzker Prize-winning architect who designed the Getty Center in Los Angeles. His distinct minimalist style of has garnered him 10 honorary degrees, numerous design awards as well as the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1997. He has taught at many universities including Princeton, Harvard and UCLA. With current projects underway in Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America and his hometown, he serves on the Board of Directors of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and the American Academy in Rome. His maternal grandfather &#8211 a leather tannery owner &#8211 Joseph Kaltenbacher, emigrated from Germany through Ellis Island in 1896.

Anthony &#8220Tony&#8221 La Russa, Jr. – Ellis Island Family Heritage Award – Sports

Tony La Russa was born in Tampa, Florida, where his paternal grandparents had settled after arriving from Sicily thru Ellis Island in 1906. As an infielder, La Russa began his career with the Kansas City Athletics in 1963. Turning to managing in 1979, he became one of the longest tenured managers in the history of Major League Baseball. He spent 32 years at the helm of the Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics, and St. Louis Cardinals, where he topped the Cards’ managerial win list with 1,408 victories. He ranks third in all-time major league wins by a manager, holding six league championships and three World Series titles, most recently with the Cardinals in 2011. A staunch advocate for animal rescue, La Russa, his wife Elaine and their daughters founded ARF (Animal Rescue Foundation) in 1991, which aids homeless and abandoned animals and uses them to help people in need.

The ceremony will be hosted by journalist Meredith Vieira and will mark the 120th anniversary of the opening of Ellis Island on New Year’s Day 1892. Until it closed in 1954, Ellis would process 17 million immigrants. Forty percent of Americans today can trace their roots to an ancestor who was among them.

Throughout its 10 year history, the Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards have recognized more than 40 individuals, among them Dr. Madeleine Albright, Irving Berlin, Yogi Berra, Lee Iacocca, Jerry Seinfeld, Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski, Mary Higgins Clark, General Colin Powell, Martin Scorsese, and Bruce Springsteen.

More information can be found online.

WWII NY National Guard Records Go Online

When 28,969 New York National Guard Soldiers mobilized in the fall of 1940 as the United States prepared for war, clerks filled out six-by-four inch cards on each man.

Now, thanks to a team of 15 volunteers, those records&#8211listing names, serial number, home, and unit, and later on annotated with hand written notes on whether or not the Soldier was killed or wounded&#8211 are available online from the New York State Military Museum.

&#8220I’ll bet you that we are the only state that has such an item on the web,&#8221 said retired Army Col. John Kennedy, one of the volunteers who turned the index card information into digital data.

Kennedy, a World War II veteran himself, and the other volunteers spent a year keying the information on the cards into Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. The digital information is now available on the museum’s website and can be downloaded and searched.

The museum put this information online so it can be used by people researching their family history or the history of World War II and New York’s role in it, said Jim Gandy, the assistant librarian and archivist at the museum.

&#8220Not only can you research a specific individual but you can also research who enlisted from what town- where men in the New York National Guard were born, or how old the average age of the men was. We indexed most data points on the cards including: date, city, state and country of birth- ID number- hometown, unit- rank- as well as enlistment and separation dates&#8221, Gandy explained.

In September 1940-a few months after France was overrun and defeated by the German Army and the British were fighting for survival in the air-the United States had an Army of 269,000 men. The German Army, meanwhile, had 2.5 million.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt convinced Congress to call up the 300,000 men in the National Guard for a year to double the size of the nation’s Army and prepare for any German threat.

On Oct. 15, 1940 the 28,969 members of the New York National Guard, including the entire 27th Division, reported to their armories to begin processing for a year of active duty. This is the data now available from the museum website.

For the 90-year old Kennedy, who keyed in the data on 6,500 Soldiers, the task brought back memories of his own World War II service. A Cohoes native, he joined the Army Reserve in 1940, transferred to the New York National Guard in 1941 and went to war in Europe in 1944 with the 8th Infantry Division.

He recognized the names of many of the 108 Soldiers on the list who cited Cohoes as their hometown because he had grown up with them, Kennedy said.

Kennedy, who now lives in Florida and served in the Army Reserve and Army National Guard until retiring in 1981, volunteered to help with Gandy’s project because he’s made the history of World War II and the role of New York’s units in it his hobby.

Bruce Scott, an Albany resident and another volunteer who keyed in the data, got involved in the project because he wanted to do something from his home that would be useful to others.

Scott, Kennedy and the other volunteers were critical, Gandy said. Without their work this kind of project would be impossible for the museum to carry out.

Eventually the Soldiers of the 27th Infantry Division who were called for training in the fall of 1940 went on to serve in the Pacific, securing Hawaii from a feared Japanese invasion in February 1942, invading Makin Atoll and the Island of Saipan, and eventually fighting on Okinawa. Other New York National Guard Soldiers called up in 1940 served in rear area security duty and fought in Europe.

The museum’s next web project is to create an index of which battles New York’s Civil War Regiments fought in, Gandy said. The data base will make it easier for historians to determine which regiments fought in which battles and the losses that were sustained in each fight. If anyone would like to volunteer, they may contact the museum at 518-581-5100, Gandy said.

The index card database can be found on the museum website.

Photo: A typical index card of a New York Army National Guardsman. Each card was 6 inches wide and 4 inches high.

Online Genealogy Standards Organization Formed

The Family History Information Standards Organisation (FHISO) is a newly-formed international organization created to develop standards for the digital representation and sharing of family history and genealogical information. The standards are hoped to solve today’s interoperability issues independently of technology platforms, genealogy products or services. They are expected to provide opportunities for innovation and address robust user requirements such as search, capture and research administration.

In the fall of 2010, a group of technologists and users formed the “Build a BetterGEDCOM Project” to improve data exchange standards and to facilitate sharing between researchers. This grassroots effort has grown into an open forum for the exchange of ideas, and a substantial body of work has been produced. In order to realize the project goals, a more structured, organized environment was needed. It is hoped that FHISO will provide this environment.

The FHISO process is expected to identify practices and trends that require standardization and provide a transparent, collaborative environment that promotes innovation and consensus-building for the development of open standards. Following publication, the organization is expected to provide education and other support to encourage standards adoption and use. The FHISO standards will be publicly available at zero or minimal cost on a non-discriminatory basis according to an recently released FHISO statement. Anyone will be able to implement the standards for any purpose without royalty or license fees, the statement said.

FHISO membership is available to all who participate in the global family history and genealogical community. &#8220The success of FHISO depends on the voluntary participation of its members representing all the global stakeholder groups,&#8221 the group said in its statement to the press. &#8220In the standards-setting process, there is no substitute for the active involvement of vendors, developers, technologists, users and family history or genealogy organisations.&#8221

FHISO can be found on the web, on twitter @fhisorg, on Facebook and Google+.

Hendrick Vrooman Family Being Celebrated

The Schenectady County Historical Society (32 Washington Ave., Schenectady), will hold a celebrate the life and legacy of Hendrick Meese Vrooman, a Dutch settler who came to Schenectady in 1664 and was ultimately killed in the 1690 Massacre. Vrooman was the father of Adam and Jan Vrooman, who came with their father from Holland and many of whose descendants still live in the Schenectady and Schoharie County area.

A letter written by Vrooman in 1664, along with many other letters, were seized by the English from Dutch ships during the 17th-century Anglo–Dutch wars. These seized letters were recently discovered in the archives in Kew, England. In Vrooman’s letter, he comments on the changing rule in the colonies from Dutch to English, and describes his life in Schenectady: “It has been a good summer there. Very fine corn has grown there and the cultivation was good and the land still pleases me. At snechtendeel [Schenectady and the surrounding area] the land is more beautiful than I have ever seen in Holland.”

The Dutch national television station KRO will be filming this event for its program “Brieven Boven Water” (roughly translated as “Surfacing Letters”). The program attempts to make contact with living descendants of people who wrote the seized letters.

Descendants of Hendrick Meese Vrooman are especially encouraged to attend this event- the Grems-Doolittle Library staff and volunteers can help trace lineages back to the Vroomans. Please contact the Librarian for assistance.

The event will be held at the Historical Society on Thursday, February 9, at 2:00 p.m. The cost is $5.00 for the general public- Free for Schenectady County Historical Society members. For more information, please contact Melissa Tacke, Librarian, 518-374-0263, option 3, or by email at librarian@schist.org.

Illustration: Map of Schenectady in 1690, courtesy Brown and Wheeler Family History.

Quebec Family History Society Goes Online

The Quebec Family History Society (QFHS) has announced the launch of its new website at www.qfhs.ca. The website features several new sections, such as Gary’s Genealogical Picks, research tips, surname interests, and a bulletin board.

QFHS members researching their ancestors in Quebec will benefit from the new Jacques Gagne Church Compilations in the members’ section. Long-time member Jacques Gagne has compiled historical information and the location of records for more than 1,000 English and French Protestant churches across the province, from 1759 to 1899.

The Quebec Family History Society is the largest English-language genealogical society in Quebec, Canada. Founded in 1977, it is a registered Canadian charity that helps people of all backgrounds research their family history. Its members, in addition to researching their Quebec roots, research historical records in all Canadian provinces and territories, the United States, the British Isles, and Western Europe. At the QFHS Heritage Centre and Library, members have free access to a collection of 6,000 books, manuscripts, and family histories, plus thousands of microfilms, microfiche, historical maps, and periodicals, and access to billions of online genealogical records.

The 1902 Park Avenue Tunnel Collision Online

This Sunday marks the anniversary of a largely forgotten piece of New York history. On January 8, 1902, there was a train collision in the train tunnels of New York City. As a result of this disaster, laws were passed in NY which banned steam engines from entering Manhattan and forced the train companies to look into designing electric rails for their commuter trains. To accommodate electric rails, the old Grand Central Depot was torn down and the new and larger Grand Central Station was built, which changed the landscape of NYC forever.

Researcher Cathy Horn has been building an online memorial to the event which includes lists of those involved (including some short biographies), photos, documents, and newspaper clippings from the event.