Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ludovicus Found

Generally, I don't spend an inordinate amount of time sussing out one branch fully.  And by fully, I mean all the siblings of my ancestor, their offspring, and their offspring's offspring.  I have done so with my Towle branch mostly because I found this particular family so oddly compelling for a number of reasons.  One of them being that no one seemed to know how my Towle branch fit with the the greater descendants of Philip Towle of New Hampshire branches.  The other was stumbling into a distant cousin online.  I didn't have proof at the time but I just knew that his great-grandfather was my grandmother Rose's sibling.   I'm no genealogical genius here.  If you find a man with your great (x3) grandfather's name inverted, living a stone's throw from your great (x2) grandmother, and he's of the same approximate age, common sense naturally leads a person to believe that he's quite likely your grandmother's sibling.   I just had to back up my hunch with documented proof - which took a while but I eventually did by way of a marriage license.  That's one branch mended onto the tree.  But what about the Towle tree?

This is what my amputated (and abbreviated) Towle branch looked like in a nutshell:

Laurie Pratt (b 1964)
--Fred Pratt (b.1934)
---Fred Pratt (b. 1903)
----Walter Pratt (b. 1878)
------Rose Ann Towle (b. 1857)
--------Elbridge Gerry Towle (b. 1829)
----------Ludovicus Towle (b. 1795)

No one had much on Ludovicus Towle.  There's a Ludovicus Towle of New Hampshire that fought in the war of 1812.  He had signed up in Exeter and has got to be my Ludovicus if only by virtue of the bizarre name.  I found him misspelled on the 1840 census living in Kingston with his second wife, Judith and my grandfather, Elbridge.  I found a land deed from Ludovicus Towle's probate granting Elbridge his homestead land in Kingston. And thanks to some Towle family experts willing to share information, I knew that Ludovicus Towle married a cousin of some degree, Mary Towle.  Ludovicus and Mary Towle were the parents of my great (x3) grandfather, Elbridge.

But who is Ludovicus Towles' father?  No one seemed to know.  With a crazy name like Ludovicus, you'd think someone, somewhere, would have remembered him in a family history book.  Nope.  404 - Not Found.  Given the fact he's spending time in Exeter, living in Danville (Hawke) and Kingston, it's a pretty sure bet that he's of the Philip Towle, Towles of New Hampshire.  But I, and no one else had any source material to back it up.

Until last night. 

On a whim, I decided to take spin on the new pilot program on records over on Family Search.  I had used Family Search when it first came out but I found the records listed generally pedestrian and sorely lacking in documentation beyond the 1880 US Census.  Who cares if someone made a tree and included my grandparent in it?  That's not documentation a person can hang a hat on.  Wheres the hard proof?  Where's the record?  Where's the source?

With the new search engine tied to actual vital records, I was bowled over.  In roughly 15 minuets the mystery of Ludovicus was solved.  Something I haven't been able to do in a half-dozen years.

Ludovicus Towle is the son of Rueben Towle and Abigail (Brown).  Here is my (and my Pratt-Birdsall-Towle cousins) line to Caleb Towle through Ludovicus:

...and Caleb was the son of Caleb, who was the son of Philip Towle and Isabella Austin.

Volia!  Done!

My grandfather Elbridge's parents were first cousins which seems a little creepy looking at it through 21st century eyes.  Though on the bright side, it saved Ludovicus and Mary the the dreaded, "Whose side of the family do we spend Christmas with this year?" decisions, I suppose. 

If you haven't checked out the new pilot record search program on Family Search, it is definitely worth a look these days. 

As a footnote to my Towle cousins in the know, it also confirmed my hunch that Rose and Gerry's sister Hannah J Towle maried Eilas P Dole.

I found a Towle/Dole cousin whose wife has a tree on Ancestry listing "Hannah J Tower" as the wife of Elias P Dole.  I sent her a message months ago but she hasn't responded.  Her husband, my actual cousin, has a Facebook page.  Hmmmm..maybe I should try to contact him directly.  Everyone should have a chance to know their family history, don'tcha think?

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

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Trip to Haverhill and Kingston (July 2010) Part 1

Haverhill, MA 
Because I can travel for free whenever I like, I'm fortunate that I get to go to New England at least once or twice a year, though  I've never had the opportunity to do so exclusively for the purpose of working on my genealogy.  All my previous trips were tied to some other worthy purpose (funerals, visiting relatives, getting married...)   Generally, when I'm there I just do whatever I can whenever a kindly driver and a spare hour or two presents itself.   I always try to be mindful of the time I'm spending, though I confess my father has fallen asleep in the Freeport Maine town clerk's parking lot while waiting for me to pull records and make copies.  And I have dragged my brother Steve along for some cemetery traipsing a couple times.  I was only slightly annoyed when he found our great-great grandmother's grave before I did.

My husband and I were planning to attend my stepchildren's play in Hingham, MA and to pick them up to take them to California on Saturday, July 31th.   My days off are Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday...hmmmmm.  It took about a nanosecond for me to realize I could tag a brief genealollapalooza onto the trip.  The thought of a trip, no matter how short, strictly for the the purpose of digging around the family tree sounded like sheer bliss - even if it was for a mere 48 hours.  I would plan a guerrilla-style, genealogical assault - Bing! Bang! boom!    I wouldn't be a bother to anyone in asking them to cart me around and listen to me blather on about dead relatives they couldn't possibly triangulate in their heads.  It'd be a win-win for everyone.  So off I went.

Despite having the nifty GPS app on my iphone, I wisely chose to get a real GPS with the rental car.  An excellent move on my part since I'm utterly void of any sense of direction and would probably be in Canada now without it.   Did you know if you fail to follow the GPS lady's chipper little instructions she suddenly takes on a decidedly bitchy tone with you?  Oh, she's all sunshine and flowers when cheerfully instructing you to, "Please fasten your seatbelt!" but the exasperation is palatable in her tone when you've blown (yet another) instruction and she's "Recalculating."   Trust me,  she recalculated my happy ass all over New Hampshire and Massachusetts.  I was on back roads, going around lakes and ponds, taking twisty two-lane roads though the woods; I even drove past The American Stonehenge - whatever (wherever) that is.  I never saw a single highway from Manchester to Haverhill.  I did see a number of roundabouts ("Oh hell, no!" ( exit stage right), "Recalculating") and 3-way stops ("What the...?").   I began to suspect that GPS lady was trying to kill me what with all those left turns into heavy traffic she was suggesting,  but I made it to Haverhill in once piece; even if it did take an hour to drive a scant 30-odd miles.  

I spent most of the first day tooling around Haverhill taking photographs.  I had a list of my grandparents former residences though almost all of the actual houses are now gone.  The property where their houses once stood are now parking lots, other people's backyards, or driveways which was a little depressing.  Not really planning on a map the most efficient way to go, I was driving hither and yon and back around again ("Recalculating").  At one point, I stopped at a McDonald's for a salad and later discovered that the parking lot was on the former property of my grandparent's home.   I can now say that I "ate lunch at over at Fred and Rose's place" - albeit inadvertently.   I found my other Civil War grandfather, Luther Kellogg's house.  It looked like the neighborhood was quite tony back in the day though it's readily apparent the years have not been kind.  There were people standing in front of the house that took note of my car immediately.  They didn't look like they wanted their picture taken so I moved along.  I'll have drive-by another day; hopefully not while someone else's drive-by is already in progress.

Headstone of Fred W Pratt and Rose (Towle) Pratt
Haverhill, MA
I found the cemetery where my great (x2) grandparents, Fred and Rose (Towle) Pratt are buried and paid my respects.  It's a lovely old cemetery, very well maintained and worthy a traipse even if you don't know anyone buried there.  The caretaker told me that the section my grandparents are in is rather old and laid out with horses and carriages rather than cars in mind - interesting.  It was nice to see day-lilies growing around my grandparent's headstone.  The caretaker said that they were planted decades ago and still come up strong every spring - lovely.  I wrapped up my driving around to meet up with one of my Internet friends, Kim, and her daughter, Abby.  We had dinner together downtown which was terrific.  Great food, great company, great atmosphere.

The Merrimack River in Haverhill
The following day, I woke up early and headed out to walk Haverhill's Historic District.  It looks like they're trying to restore the downtown area to it's former glory and for the most part, it looks to be a success.  I enjoyed seeing little bits of the past peeking out from the newly refurbished store fronts and former mills.  Original brickwork is plentiful and in some cases, crumbling, and being replaced.  Walking down the street, I debated whether or not to help myself to what appeared to be original loose cobblestone, though in the end I decided not to perform an "I Love Lucy" maneuver so far from anyone that would post bail.  I walked across the Merrimack and thought of my great uncle Gerry and the sculling trophy he won in Haverhill back in 1890 that sits on my cousin Mike's fireplace mantle.  And I thought of my friend Jo who was amazed we could cross the Merrimack about 99 times while driving south from Manchester to New York last fall.

Haverhill City Hall
My next stop, the Haverhill City Hall is an impressive, beautiful building,  Pratt family legend has it that when my father was born, my great-grandfather, Walter Pratt offered to take my father's birth certificate application over to the Haverhill City Hall and drop it off with the clerk.  Unbeknownst to anyone, he drew a line through the original name my father was given by his parents, "Paul Arthur Pratt," and renamed him Fred Paul Pratt - after his own father, Fred Wallace Pratt; a brief piece of editing that wouldn't be uncovered for several years.   Walking down the hallways I thought of Walter and wondered how he could keep a fabulous secret like that to himself.   Did he chuckle to himself when he heard everyone calling my father, "Paul" when that isn't his first name?
Inside Haverhill City Hall

The clerk that pulls records was out that day so I had to fill out request forms and leave them.  Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my little notebook so I had to improvise...what records did I want again?  I feverishly just scribbled out whatever I could think of on the spot.  Sitting here, some three weeks later awaiting the arrival of the records (ahem), I can't remember exactly what I asked for.  I guess when they finally do arrive I'll get to be surprised - sort of like getting Christmas in August.  Or maybe September.

(t0 be continued)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Beginning

My interest in genealogy began when I was a little kid.  My grandmother, Laura Lancaster, was a freelance feature article writer for The Lewiston Sun Journal in Lewiston, Maine.  Being a freelance feature article writer is a much better job than being a regular journalist in my opinion.  Rather than reporting the news, you get to write about things you're actually interested in; things such as your own genealogy, or "beekeeping," or the history of some random lighthouse in Maine.   And if you are my grandmother, you're a naturally curious person and enjoy visiting cemeteries, beekeepers, and lighthouses and from time to time, you drag your equally curious granddaughter along on your little adventures; that would be me.

Visiting cemeteries at such an early age with a grandparent who could tell a good story about who you were visiting meant that cemeteries weren't creepy places that should be avoided.  To me, they've always been places of personal historical significance where a person can stop by and remember their kin and maybe them bring flowers ("Watch where you're walking, Laurie.  Don't step on my mother, dear.").   Proper cemetery etiquette is burned into my brain like the alphabet.

When I got a little older  I'd go to the library and pick up genealogy books, though not exactly sure what I was looking for.  I'd read old newspapers on the microfilm machine, or I'd study old maps - I love maps.  But with my grandmother gone to meet up with all the people she'd told me stories about, I didn't know where to begin.  Back when we lived in Maine, my grandmother would drive to Augusta to pull family records but being transplanted 3,000 miles away from New England  it seemed an impossible task for me.  How could I mail away for records if I don't know who I'm looking for?  And if I knew who I was looking for, how do I know where they lived?  And when?  And who do I mail the requests to?  How would a birth certificate or an application for marriage license help me?  Where do I find the addresses for that?

Then Al Gore singlehandedly invented the Interwebs.  Alone.  In his garage during his spare time or something.  Suddenly, all sorts of genealogical websites started popping up.  RootsWeb, CyndisList, FamilySearch, Findagrave,!  But that didn't solve the problem...where to begin?  This is the most popular question I'm asked by friends that have read my genealogical posts on Facebook: "Where do I begin?"

I began where all genealogists begin.  I began with myself.  Voila!  One entire generation complete!

My Grandmother, Laura Lancaster
Next, I moved to my parents, and then my grandparents.  As soon as I discovered online I signed up for a subscription.*  Who cares if we have to eat boxed macaroni for the next six months and put off servicing the car?  It's worth it!  I had a rough idea where to find my grandparents on the 1930 US Census so that's where I started looking.  I found some of my grandparents there; others I didn't find.  I have an entire branch of French-Canadian ancestors whose surnames I couldn't pronounce correctly, much less spell with any certainty.  I have a great-grandfather who was adopted by his step-father and used a different surname for a while.  Later, I'd discover that a great-great grandfather married the sister of the woman his father married (Huh?).  No, she wasn't his biological aunt though she was technically his aunt nonetheless.  I discovered I belong to three entirely different Pratt trees, I'm a double Towle, and that my parents are (gasp!) related - about 10 generations back.  I'm also distant cousins with a lot of famous people and a few people I see at work everyday.

Over the years, I've learned how to cast wider nets on Ancestry and other genealogical websites to find the more illusive relations.  I've learned how to trace branches forward and find long-lost cousins.  I've learned how to "Google" up the living and the dead.  I've found places where all sorts of interesting public information is kept online - and I keep finding new ones.  I've met some amazing people, some of which I share a branch or two.  Or three.  Or four.

If I can do this, you can do it, too.

Today, my tree includes a couple of thousand well-documented grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  The longer I do this the more I'm convinced that everyone on the planet is just part of one enormous family.  Everyone is everyone else's cousin.  And I'll be done when I've made note of all my cousins.

Backed up with proper documentation, of course.

*You do not need a subscription to to check out census records.  Google up your local Genealogical and Historical Society- for about $20 a year you can become a member have access to the best the Internet has to offer in the way of premium paid genealogical websites at the library.  And you'll have a friendly docent sitting at the desk to help guide you.  Granted, you can't "save" people to an online tree but you can print out the information.  It's best to print out the information anyway.  In case your computer crashes.  Three times.  Over the course of 5 years.  Just sayin'.