Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Haverhill Records (finally) Received

It only took 52 days, 2 phone calls, and an gentle inquiring email, but I finally got the records I ordered from Haverhill, MA.  Honestly, I had forgotten what I ordered.  As much as love hanging out in city clerk offices, I had much better luck ordering from Haverhill online -  from click to mailbox in about 7 business days.  

Here's what I received:

This is the marriage license application for my grandparents, Fred Walter Pratt and Katherine Caron.  There's a couple of interesting things I noticed, beginning with the spelling of my French-Canadian surnames, "Coro" and "Belyea."  "Belyea" is the anglicized form of "Blier."  Blier is pronounced "Belyea" and Belyea is what I find on 99% of the records I come across pertaining to this branch - I almost never see Blier.  "Coro" isn't so much an anglicized form as it is a result of my great-grandfather, Katherine's father, Thomas Coro being illiterate in English.  A government type would show up and ask him what his surname is and apparently, the way he said, "Caron" sounded like "Coro."   In Canada, the same family is called Caron on all documents since the immigrant stepped foot there in the 17th c.   My grandmother and all of her siblings that moved to Lewiston eventually adopted the correct form.  

The second interesting thing is confirmation of my grandfather's first marriage  I had heard that he had been married once before so I had searched the Haverhill directories online and had found evidence that perhaps he had.  I'd also heard that maybe he wasn't quite divorced when he got hitched to my grandmother.  Nope.  He's claiming he's divorced - something he probably wouldn't have done had he not been.   And they were married just a couple of weeks shy of a year before the birth of my dad.  No scandal here other than my very Catholic grandmother got married by a minister.  In New Hampshire.

Here's my grandfather's first marriage license application.  I wonder what happened to ol' Floris.  I've poked around a little but I haven't found much.  I do know that Floris and Fred managed to remain on such good terms that after their divorce that she babysat my father.  For normal folk, that might sound incredible but you can't overestimate the likability of my grandfather.   He made friends everywhere he went.  My step-grandmother Arlene (wife 3), used to say she couldn't send him out to get a loaf of bread because he'd be gone all day chatting with people at the store.  My grandfather passed away 30 years ago and his ex-in-laws, my grandmother's living siblings and their children still go out of their way to tell me how wonderful he was.  

This is the marriage license application of my great-grandparents, Walter Fred Pratt and Alice Kellogg.  Everything is exactly as I expected according to the 1900 census.  The only surprise here is that they were married in February and my cousin Steve Pratt's grandfather, Elbridge Gerry Pratt, was born the following June.  Eh, close enough.  Certainly not the first "miracle baby" I've found on my tree.  This fact may or may not have been a factor in my great-uncle Elbridge's name.  After all, if you deliver a perfectly healthy baby a scant 4 months after your marriage, and you're living in the turn of the century, naming your baby after your your mother-in-law's long dead father is a darn good move. 

This is the record the city clerk screwed up.  As you can see, the bride is my grandmother, Katherine Coro which is nice but she wasn't born until 1912.   Hell, her mother wasn't even born in 1876.   And my grandmother Katherine didn't marry her grandfather-in-law either who by the way, happened to be dead nearly a decade when my grandparents, Fred Walter Pratt and Katherine Coro were married in 1933.  This is the jacked up record of the marriage license application of my great-great grandparents, Fred Wallace Pratt and Rose Ann Towle.  Clearly, the clerk simply got her Freds confused when she was preparing the document.  I was interested to see if there was another "miracle baby" on the branch, because I knew that my great-aunt Eva Pratt  was born in September of 1876, but the math works out just fine.  The only interesting thing is that Rose is claiming her father is "Gary" which is just shorthand for "Elbridge Gerry" her father.  My great-uncle Gerry Towle also claimed his father's name was "Gerry" on his marriage license application so apparently my great (x3) grandfather, Elbridge Gerry Towle was typically called,"Gerry," pronounced "Gary."

This is the death certificate of my great (x2) grandmother, Rose Ann Towle.  The clerk called me to tell me that she had found an error on the original record and wanted to give me a head's up.  Apparently, there was a misunderstanding when my great (x2) aunt Betty Birsdsall filled out the form; aunt Betty didn't identify her mother's surname.   The clerk called the mortuary to double check the record and wanted me to know that the maiden name of Rose was Towle.  For those that remember Gerry Towle's death certificate, his daughter Ida didn't identify the same grandparents correctly either.   Betty got the first names; Ida got the surname.  I guess together, the cousins could have put together the names but they were living on opposite sides of the country.  "Betty meet your cousin Ida....Ida, this is Betty..."

Am I surprised that I received two records with errors and both of them belong to Rose Towle Pratt?

Nope.  Not even slightly surprised.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Gerry Towle - Interstate Man of Mystery

Once in a while, you come across a particular relative on your tree who is more illusive and harder to pin down that the others.  While it's easy to click "add" to all those siblings of your grandparents on Ancestry, sometimes these sibling names seemingly disappear between censuses; sometimes forever. This was the case with my grandmother Rose's brother, George Towle.

This is what my Towle branch looked like circa 1860.  You see the father, my great (x3) grandfather, Elbridge G. Towle, age 31; his wife, Hannah J (Clayton), age 25 and their daughters Mary L (age 5), Rosanna (my grandmother, age 2), and Hannah J (age 5 months).

                                                                  (Click to enlarge)

In the 1870 Census, the family looks quite different.  Noticeable, is the absence of the father, Elbridge G Towle, and the additions of Mable (misspelled "Noble") Nickett, a baby named William Nickett, and a boy named George Towle, who is 8 years old.  I know that despite the changes, this is the same family.  They are living in the same town (Kingston, NH) and all the names and ages of the daughters correspond correctly to the previous census.  

If a male head of household is missing between the 1860 census and the 1870 census, there's a good possibility it's due to not surviving military service in the Civil War.  A quick check proved this was the case with my grandfather, Elbridge Gerry Towle.   He was wounded and did not survive.

Comparing the information in both census extracts and you can get a rough outline of this family's story.  The father doesn't survive the war, the mother remarries and she has son with the surname of her new husband.  The 3 children from the previous husband continue to live with her...but, what about that 8 year old boy, George Towle?  Doing the math, 8 years old, minus the census year 1870 gives the the rough estimate of his birth being around 1862.  1862.  Obviously, this boy wouldn't have known his father.  But did his father even get to see his face?  Did he ever hold him in his arms?  I have a number of other grandparents that lost a parent at a tender age: Thomas Caron, Frank Brewer, Henry Pratt, Thomas Means, Cora Blier...sad, yes.  Unfortunately, that situation isn't altogether unusual for the era.  I knew that Elbridge Gerry Towle's line continued on - I didn't have to look any further than myself.  But what about George?  

I began searching for him.  While there were plenty of George Towles in the 1880 census, not one of them fit.  They were too old or too young or were born in the wrong place.  I checked the 1900 census because maybe the 1880 census taker missed him or something.  1900 was a wash.  Same thing - there were no George Towles that fit.  1910?  Nothing.  Could George be dead?  Quite possibly.  Okay, probably, really.  At this point, I half-heartedly chalked up George Towle having died young.  I say half-heartedly because I didn't have actual documentation that he died.  A slim reed, yes - but I was hanging onto to it.  For whatever reason, I just couldn't bring myself to lose all hope for George.  Every so often I'd poke around to see if I could find him.  I never did find George Towle.  But I did find this guy on the 1880 census.


Gerry Towle?  Gerry?  That's my grandfather Elbridge's middle name.  And he's 17 - close enough for government work.  Plus, he's living cat swinging distance from my grandmother Rose and her mother, Hannah Nickett; they're in Haverhill, MA, this Gerry Towle guy is in Bradford, a couple of miles and a mere bridge away.  Intrigued, I began searching for Gerry Towle.  I found that he married, had children and moved to California.  Using the California database at Ancestry, I found that Gerry Towle had a living grandson named Howard living right up the street in LA.  Address provided and everything!

But a person can't just knock on a stranger's door and ask, "Hi, I was just in the neighborhood and I was your grandfather Gerry Towle the son of Elbridge Towle?"  You don't just namedrop a total stranger's grandparents out of the blue on them.  Doing that would scare the crap outta people.  This is what my husband Tim said, though my genealogical buddy Teresa wavered on the question: "I don't think it's that it?"

Yes, it is.  So I didn't knock on Howard Towle's door.  I just sat on the unanswered question though it bothered me enough that every so often, I'd Google search Gerry Towle.  And I'd look to see if anyone put up a tree with him included in it.  One day, I discovered that someone had.  In it, there was a cool story about Gerry winning a sculling contest in Haverhill back in 1890, written by someone named Mike Towle who I deduced must be Howard Towle's son.  This kid is into his roots!  Fabulous.  He's probably young enough to have a Facebook page, I can ask him if he knows who Gerry Towle's parents are!  It's weird to approach strangers over Facebook but much less weird than knocking on their front door.  He has the option to not answer and quietly, politely block me.  No harm, no foul.

He answered back within a day.  Unfortunately, he didn't know who Gerry Towle's parents were.  His father didn't know either.  Neither did his great-aunt.  None of the California Towles knew anything other than their Gerry Towle was the same Gerry Towle on the 1880 census living in Bradford.  Now I had to figure this out - I've got poor long dead Gerry Towle living in Calfornia without parents, an unanswered question about the fate of little 8 year old George Towle, and now this nice Mike Towle guy, surely a cousin of mine of some degree, totally unattached to any Towle tree.  I couldn't let everyone just dangle loose in the wind with their unattached branches.  For good measure, I put Teresa on the case, too.  

Using what scant clues we had, we scoured the internet for any possible information on Gerry.  We got no where in the way of answering the burning question but if you'd like a course on the history of sculling in Haverhill, Masschusetts, Teresa could teach it.  Meanwhile, I drove to LA to order Gerry Towle's death certificate from the LA County Department of Vital Records office.  Gerry Towle died in 1925; by then it was customary to list the decedents parents on the death certificate. Finally, we would have the answer!   I also ordered Hannah Clayton Towle Nickett's Civil War pension application.  She'd have to prove the births of all her children.  If she mentions Gerry, we're golden.  It would arrive in about a month.  Ugh.  I also quizzed Mike Towle...any idea where Gerry is buried?   Mike said his great aunt was certain that he was buried in Inglewood.  His dad wasn't so sure.  I was putting my money on the elderly aunt.  I had a hunch she was going to be right.  Elderly aunts and uncles have always had the inside scoop for me.  I emailed a couple of cemeteries.  The auntie was right.  Gerry was buried in Inglewood.  Unfortunately, there wasn't any information about his parents in their paperwork.  I'd have to wait for the answer by snail mail.

I don't know why, but as soon as I saw the envelope from the LA County Department of Vital Records sitting in my mailbox, I just knew I wouldn't have my answer.  Maybe because by this time, with all this time and effort invested and still no definitive answer I had grown accustom to disappointment...I don't know.  But I knew.  I knew I wasn't going to know.  When I tore open the envelope and saw the little box for the names of Gerry's parents and read, "Mr Towle" and "Mrs. Towle," I laughed out loud.  Death certificates are a secondary source.  After all, the person you're talking about isn't the one answering the questions.  I immediately called Teresa.  "You're never going to believe this..."

To hedge my bets, I decided to order Gerry Towle's marriage license application from the city of Haverhill - just in case.  By this time, Teresa and I began referring to Gerry Towle as our "genealogical bad boy" - like all "bad boys," he seemed to continuously lure me in with intriguing, implied possibilities but was unwilling to make a solid commitment.  I'd see Teresa and she would immediately ask, "Any word from Gerry?"  I'd answer, "Nope.  Nothing.  He's still toying with me."  

I spent a solid day going over all the information I had on Gerry/George.  It was a helluva circumstantial case for Gerry to be George for a multitude of reasons, but there lingered the possibility that my hunch was wrong.  If my hunch was wrong, it meant that George Towle had died.  There just wouldn't be any other reasonable explanation for his disappearance.  I tried hard not to think about that.  I was putting my chips on my hunch.

The Civil War Pension Application finally arrived.  In it, Elbridge and Hannah's children Mary, Rose, and Hannah were listed but no there was no George and no Gerry.  Huh?  Where's George?  Was George illegitimate or something?  "It's probably due to some dopey government rule," Tim said.  "Most likely they weren't going to give out pensions to children born while the father was enlisted."  I admit it, the dates didn't quite line up and that did bother me.  Elbridge Gerry Towle enlisted in September 1861 and Gerry Towle was born in September 11, 1862.  The Civil War Pension Application made me think that maybe, even if Gerry was George, that Elbridge Towle wasn't the father of either one of them.  If so, I don't know what the heck I could do to ever solve that mystery.  I ruminated on that possibility all night.  I woke up early the next day and wrote Mike Towle an email telling him that although I had received the paperwork from the National Archives, I didn't have an answer.  Again.  Still.    

While online, I ordered Elbridge Gerry Towle's war record from The National Archives.  I'm not sure why.  I didn't think it could tell me anything in the way of the George/Gerry question, but I was ready to order whatever paperwork pertaining to my Towle family I could find.  I shuffled off to work and on the way to my car, I picked up the mail.  There was a letter from the city of Haverhill - it had to be Gerry's marriage license application.  I took a deep breath and tore open the envelope. Okay, let's see who Gerry says his parents are:

Success!  Finally.  After asking his great-grandchild, his grandchildren, the city of Los Angeles, the cemetery where he's buried, the US government, and every genealogical resource available on the Internet, the answer eventually came from...Gerry, himself.  George was, in fact Gerry.  He didn't die a little boy after all and for certain.  Apparently my great (x3) grandfather Elbridge Gerry Towle was called simply, "Gerry" by his family. When his Civil War record finally made it to my house, I saw that although he had enlisted in September of 1861, he wasn't on the muster rolls until January 1862 - within perfect time to father his son, Gerry. I later found my grandmother Rose's marriage application - she too listed her father as "Gary Towle" - which is how the Calfornia Towles pronounce "Gerry" when they're talking about his son.  Their grandfather, my great-uncle.  The one with the grandson named Howard who lives up the street.

Today, I got another envelope in my mailbox.  This one was from Howard and his wife Dotti.  I had gone to their house to attend Mike's going-away party and to finally meet them in person.  What's a mere 115 years or so between family?  After I had left the party, they had found a photograph of their grandfather, Gerry Towle.  My grandmother Rose's brother; my genealogical bad boy uncle.  

Gerry Elbridge Towle circa 1880's

Of course, they found it about an hour or so after I had left. 

Today is September 11th.  Happy 148th birthday, Uncle Gerry.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Connecting My Cousins

For those cousins joining me in the discovery of our branches already in progress, welcome!  I thought I should probably do some explanation on how you all fit on our tree.  Here's the story I've discovered in a nutshell:

We all have in common one ancestor, Hannah Jane Clayton.  Hannah was born in Vermont on June 20th, 1835 to William Clayton and Roseanna Ayer.  Her father William is our immigrant ancestor on this line having been born in Yorkshire, England in 1799.  Her mother, Roseanna Ayer comes from a larger Ayer clan who was quite prominent in Haverhill, MA from the 1600's.  There is still a small village in Haverhill called "Ayer's Village" named after this branch of our family.

Hannah J Clayton married Elbridge Gerry Towle on 26 November, 1853 in Plaistow, New Hampshire.  Elbridge Gerry Towle is a direct descendant of the Philip Towle line of New Hampshire and also a distant cousin of the Towle Silversmiths.  Together, Elbridge and Hannah  had 4 children: Mary Louise Towle, Rose Ann Towle, Hannah Jane Towle, and Gerry Elbridge Towle. 

Mary Louise Towle (b. 1854) married Arthur Muzzy and had no children.  She was widowed young.  Her line ended with her.  The Towle-Muzzy family lived in Haverhill, MA

Rose Ann Towle (b. 1857) is my great-great grandmother.  She married Fred Pratt and had 9 children.  My great-grandfather is her 2nd born child, Walter Fred Pratt - hence my maiden name.  My cousin, Daniel Birdsall,  is the grandson of her 9th child, Elizabeth Clayton Pratt.  My cousin,  Steve Pratt is the great-grandchild of Walter Pratt and Alice Kellogg, as I am.  Our grandfathers Elbridge Gerry Pratt and Fred Walter Pratt were brothers.  Among my first cousins on this line are Joline Boulay, Melissa Merritt, and Bryan Baker. The Towle-Pratt family also lived in Haverhill, MA

Hannah Jane Towle (b 1859) married Elias P Dole and had 4 children; 2 boys and 2 girls.  William O'Connell is the grandson of  Hannah Jane Towle's daughter, Mary Louise Dole.  I suspect Mary Lousie Dole got her name from her aunt Mary Louise Towle.  The Towle-Dole family lived in Sailsbury, MA

Gerry Elbridge Towle (b. 1862) married Susan Gertrude Pickering  and had 5 children, one of which was Howard Pickering Towle.  Howard's son, Howard Towle is the grandson of Gerry Towle.  His children, Mike Towle and Tamralyn (Towle) Fontanez are the great-grandchildren of Gerry Towle.  The Pickering-Towle family also lived in Haverhill, MA but later moved to California in the 1890's.
Cousins Steve Pratt, Daniel Birdsall, and Laurie Pratt Sisk's
great (x2) grandmother, Rose Ann Towle Pratt

Elbridge Gerry Towle served in the Civil War with the 4th New Hampshire Infantry Co. H.  He died at age 34 onboard a hospital ship from wounds he received at The Battle of the Crater during the siege at Petersburg, VA in August 1864.  Hannah Clayton Towle was left a widow with 4 small children to raise.  She also lost a brother in the Civil War and another one was wounded.

On 5 July 1868, Hannah Clayton (Towle) married a second time to Mable Nickett in Kingston, NH.  Mabel was French-Canadian, born in Canada, and also served in the Civil War with the 25th Massachusetts Infantry, Co E.  He was wounded during the Civil War, sustaining an injury to his face.  Together they had 2 children - William Nickett and Ida Mable Nickett

William Nickett (b. 1869) died at age 11 in 1880 while the family was living in Haverhill, MA.  

Ida Mable Nickett (b. 1874) married Daniel W Blye in 1889 in Kingston, NH.  Together, they had 4 children, one of which is Cora M Blye, the great-grandmother of Mike Evans.   The Nickett-Blye family lived in NY for a time but ended up in Lynn, MA.  Daniel Blye died relatively young and Ida Nickett Blye never remarried.  

Hannah Clayton (Towle) Nickett and Mabel Nickett eventually separated though never divorced.  She continued to live in Kingston, NH while he moved around New England living in the general Exeter/Portsmouth area of NH.  Hannah died on 13 Jan 1908 in Kingston and is buried in Sailsbury, MA.  Mabel Nickett married again to someone named "Mary" and died at the VA hospital in Togus, Maine on 24 Mar 1917.  He is buried in the veteran's cemetery there. 

I think it's pretty cool that some of our family names live on in the present day.   My father's name is Fred Pratt - a name all of our common grandparents, including our grandmother, Hannah Clayton Towle Nickett would instantly recognize.  We also have a cousin named Clayton and Gerry is middle name of our cousin Steve Pratt.  Gerry Towle, named a son Walter - the same name as his nephew/my great-grandfather, Walter Pratt, and he had a daughter named Ida May Towle - reminiscent of his sister, Ida Mabel Nickett, the great (x2) grandmother of Mike Evans.  My great-grandfather Walter Pratt, named his son Elbridge Gerry Pratt.  Considering how intertwined our family was, it's amazing how lost everyone got in such a short amount of time.

I'm fairly sure I got the generations correct with respect to "grandchild," "great" and "great-great" but to tell you the truth, figuring out degrees of cousin is not something I'm good at doing - ask Howard Towle who patiently had to correct me umpteen times that he is the grandson of Gerry Towle and not the great grandson as I tended to think.  It's just odd thinking that while I'm 13 years older than Mike Towle, technically I'm in his baby son's generation.  Weird.

Now if anyone has info to add the our tree or any pictures of your grandparents, great, great-great, or otherwise, I'd love to see them!

How to Find Your Lost Cousins

I've had a lot of luck lately making connections with distant cousins via facebook.  Not only is it great to reconnect branches, it helps round out your tree and can be additional source of information.  Besides, who better to share your latest genealogical finds than a related cousin?  It's quite simple to do - once you get over weirdness factor about approaching total strangers with information about their family.   

If you already have an account at, make sure you add your ancestor's siblings onto your tree. Sometimes you can find a tree at Ancestry from the offspring of one of your ancestor's siblings that will bring you to *nearly* present day.  But even if there isn't a tree to find, if you can trace an ancestor's sibling's name (and/or) their offspring forward to the 1930 US Census, you can generally find their present day family on,, or   Double check to make sure that the general location of the present day person matches the information you already have on the sibling's offspring.   Often times, especially with the more common names, you need to sort out which person with that name is the correct one.

These websites often include the names and locations of people that are surely dead by now.  There aren't that many people over the age of 100 running around but I've used the names of my great-aunts and uncles over the age of 100 to find my cousins.  For example, my grandfather Fred Pratt is still being listed on these websites - today is his 107th birthday.  This is the same methodology I use when I'm volunteering my time to reconnect  unclaimed people at various coroner's offices with their next of kin over at  (We don't personally contact the next of kin, the coroner's office does that).  You can also find your long lost friends/neighbors this way as well.

Once you have a present day/living person's name from your branch, try looking for them on facebook.  I've found facebook friends/cousins Mike Towle, Steve Pratt, Nancy Birdsall, Bryan Baker and Melinda Callahan-Evans this way.

Good luck!