Saturday, August 28, 2010

Trip to Haverhill and Kingston (July 2010) Part 2

My great-great grandmother, Rose Ann Towle Pratt

The Haverhill Public Library is directly across the street from the city hall so having about an hour before I had to check out of the hotel and meet with my newly discovered cousin Nancy, I thought I'd take a chance that I might find a microfilmed newspapers there.  As luck would have it, I did.

The main goal of this trip was to find my great-grandmother, Hannah Clayton Towle's grave.  For those that haven't followed my months long saga, my great (x3) grandfather, Elbridge Gerry Towle died onboard a hospital ship near Petersburg, VA. and I'd like to know what was done with him after his death.  The National Archives doesn't seem to have any record of a burial, at sea or otherwise and his name doesn't come up on any burial searches with the Veteran's Department.  I've been  holding out a slim hope that he had been sent home for burial.  I figured if I could find his wife, Hannah Clayton Towle, perhaps I'd find him next to her.  A long shot, yes.  But I'm a sucker for sentimental endings.

I first checked to see if there was any accounts of local deaths related to the Siege at Petersburg.  There wasn't. There was a description of events there beginning on August 6th, 1864 - but it didn't include any of the names of the fallen in days following that particular edition as far as I could tell.  Unfortunately, the collection didn't include every day of August/September 1864, so I checked out what I could but didn't find a thing.    

I then checked to see if I could find obituaries.  I began with my great-great grandfather, Fred Wallace Pratt - I found an account of his death on the front page.  In a nutshell, he was working as a salesman and on one of his calls, he stepped out into the street and was hit by a truck owned by the Towle Silversmith Co.  Unbelievable!  I couldn't find Rose's obituary but I was starting to get pressed for time.  I needed to get to get to Kingston to meet the cousins!  I found my cousin Nancy by tracing my Pratt tree forward and then doing a little detective work, and then searching on Facebook to see if I could find cousins on that branch.  Nancy is married to my cousin, Dan Birdsall.  Dan's grandmother, Elizabeth Clayton Pratt Birdsall, was the ninth child of Fred and Rose - my great-grandfather Walter Pratt, was their second child.

Kingston, NH Town Hall

I got to Kingston, NH without a hitch, having finally figured out enough landmarks around Haverhill to get my bearings to find my way out.  Nancy was kind enough to warn me about the long wait at the Kingston Town Clerk's office.  Words cannot explain that kind of wait.  Ay Carumba!  In the 2 hours Nancy and I sat there, they had gone through a mere 6 requests.   We got a chance to chat and laugh - Nancy is hilarious and we certainly made the best of it.  I mentioned that I was looking for my grandfather who had died in the Civil War and Nancy pointed to a list of local Kingston, NH men that had served.  I found Elbridge immediately.  And was surprised to see that the last name of the man following his was Nickett. Though this Nickett is not my step-grandfather he is probably related.

My great (x3) grandfather, Elbridge G Towle's
name is found on the left
(click to enlarge)
When it was my turn, the clerk found a chair and some desk space and let me search through the original record books.  Normally, this is QUITE a treat but holy hell...what a mess these birth record books were! Apparently, the attending physicians would just randomly stop by the Kingston clerks office and drop off their notes whenever they got around to it.   Generally, there were no names for the children born - just date of birth, sex, race, and names of  one or both parents.  I found my grandmother Rose's birth record and her brother Gerry's, too but only because I know their birth dates.  

I was expecting to find Rose and Gerry's mother, Hannah J Clayton (Towle) Nickett in one of the local cemeteries in Kingston.  I did find her death record, but she's buried in Newburyport, MA of all places.  I don't know what she's doing over there.  That mystery will have to be solved another day.

Nancy had to run a couple of errands and left her address so I could GPS my way to her house (Yes, I can make virtually any word a verb).  I found it easily enough - through a gorgeous, winding, tree lined road that reminded me so much of cousin Howard Towle's neighborhood in California.  Nancy and Dan are building their house and it's amazing.  It sits on a lovely pond with an expansive view and Nancy is extremely talented decorator.  They were kind enough to invite my other Birdsall cousins, including Rose's grandchilden Clayton and Ben, to dinner and we had a terrific time looking at old photos and sharing family tales.  They are all such lovely people.  Cousin Ben told me all about Rose's husband, my great (x2) grandfather Fred Wallace Pratt getting killed from being run-over by a Towle Silversmith truck - they still can't believe the weird coincidence.  And I filled them in on my meeting the California Towle family - they were pleased to hear that Rose's family, beyond my branch of the Pratts, are alive and doing well.  I asked my cousin, Clayton, if he remembered anything about our grandmother, Rose.  She had passed when he was just a little boy.  He said that remembered she was very nice - and she always kept a can of Ovaltine in the kitchen for him. Sweet.

The Pratt Birdsall Cousins


  1. Ovaltine must be a Yankee thing, my great aunts and grandmother always had a tin of that in their cupboard. I can envision you hunched over those birth notices, Laurie - something I would love to do. One day ...

  2. Are you descended of the original Philip Towle who came to Hampton, NH from England?

  3. @ Linda, I must have missed the Ovaltine years but I remember Maypo! :) @ Heather, Yes, I am. I'm actually a double Towle - my grandfather Elbridge's parents were both Towles. His maternal Towle line has been traced back to Philip and I just got his father's line traced back today! Are you a Towle cousin?