Saturday, August 27, 2016

Genealogy Story – Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe

In an earlier story ( I talked about the history of Brooklyn Heights and the role that one of my ancestors, Hezekiah Pierrepont, had in establishing that community. In one of the reference articles ( it noted that prior to the Civil War, Brooklyn Heights was a locus of the abolitionist movement, primarily due to the speeches and activities of Henry Ward Beecher.

My great*3 grandfather, Austin Pierpont, married a woman named Sally Beecher. Hezekiah’s son Henry (a contemporary of Austin) would have been Austin’s 3rd cousin. But on the other side of the family, Henry Ward Beecher and his older sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, were both 5th cousins of Sally. So that means that Hezekiah, Henry, and Harriet are also cousins of mine (with a few extra “removed”s added in).

Both Henry (1813-1887) and Harriet (1811-1896) were born in Litchfield, CT, where their father, Lyman Beecher (1775-1863) had moved in 1810. Lyman was then a Calvinist preacher, having received his education at Yale under the tutelage of Timothy Dwight, then the president of Yale. And with yet another family connection, Timothy was the grandson of Jonathan Edwards and Sarah Pierpont, the daughter of the founder of Yale, James Pierpont (my great*7 grandfather).

That means that two of the most well-known leaders in the abolitionist/anti-slavery movement are not only my cousins, but the religious basis for that was passed to them from the Pierpont family – starting with the Rev. James, to his son-in-law, Jonathan Edwards, then to Jonathan’s grandson Timothy Dwight, then to Lyman Beecher, then to Lyman’s children Henry and Harriet – everyone in this chain being my ancestors/relatives!

In his later life Lyman was known as “America’s most famous preacher”. Harriet of course is well-known for her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin which was written in 1852. But I want to focus a little more on the activities of Henry.

Henry Ward Beecher was the first pastor of the Plymouth Church which was founded in 1847 in Brooklyn (then a separate city from New York). He preached at that church for over 40 years until his passing in 1887. Plymouth Church was known as the “Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad” for the number of slaves it was said had passed through on their way to freedom in Canada. Henry once brought a female slave to the church and held an auction, with the highest bidder purchasing not the slave, but her freedom.

In 1859, the church offered Abraham Lincoln $200 for coming to Brooklyn and giving a lecture to the congregation, Lincoln accepted and participated in the church service on Sunday February 26, 1860 – remember that he was not elected President until that fall. His actual address the next day was moved to Cooper Union because of the high demand. This tie to Lincoln continued over the following years.

In 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln sent Beecher on a speaking tour of Europe to build support for the Union cause. Beecher's speeches helped turn European popular sentiment against the rebel Confederate States of America and prevent its recognition by foreign powers. At the close of the war in April 1865, Beecher was invited to speak at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, where the first shots of the war had been fired; Lincoln had again personally selected him, stating, "We had better send Beecher down to deliver the address on the occasion of raising the flag because if it had not been for Beecher there would have been no flag to raise."

I am happy to have such individuals in my family tree – Hezekiah and Henry Pierrepont who were instrumental in the founding of Brooklyn; James Pierpont, Jonathan Edwards and Timothy Dwight who helped make Yale one of the premier institutions in the US; and Lyman, Henry Ward and Harriet Beecher who had such key roles in the Civil War.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Genealogy Story – Finding Juanita

I had written in a few stories last year ( and about my great-grandfather Louis Russell and his second wife Helen [Madigan] [Pulver] [Waldron] Russell. In the first story I had mentioned Helen’s granddaughter, Juanita Woodcock who lived with them while she was growing up. This is her story.

Juanita was the youngest daughter of Helen’s daughter Lola [Pulver] and her husband George Woodcock. Lola and George married in 1906 and had four daughters, Lola (1907), Ethel (1908), Ruby (1910), and Juanita (1914). In the 1910 census just the two older girls are with them, but also living in the same household are George’s mother Sarah, Lola’s sister Eva (18 at the time), and a “lodger” named Luther Peet (also 18). Eva and Luther eventually married.

Sometime around 1917 the family split up and the four daughters were “farmed out” to others. Lola was adopted by another family. I have not yet found what happened to Ethel and Ruby, but Juanita went to live with her grandmother and step-grandfather in Waterbury, CT. She lived with them until she came of age (she can be found there in the 1920 and 1930 census when she was 6 and 16 respectively). (I suspect that she left around the time that my father and aunt left Danbury and moved in with Louis and Helen around 1936/1937. My father remained there until he went off to WWII in 1944 and by the time he returned in 1946 both Louis and Helen had passed on.)

In the course of my genealogy research I was able to complete much of the family tree of Juanita’s aunt Eva and made contact with the great-granddaughter of Eva who lives in Massachusetts. Recently we had a phone conversation and I learned that she had in her possession several journals/diaries of Eva. She is going through them herself and has promised to share them with me so I can examine them as well.

A few days ago she said that she found an entry in the 1965 journal that said that Juanita had a new address – in New Milford NJ and she gave me the address. This was the key to solving the problem of what happened to Juanita. While I still don’t know that happened to her between the mid-1930’s and 1965, I know where she spent the last few decades of her life.

Doing a search for records in New Milford, NJ, and looking for anyone named Juanita, I found Juanita Kohlhase at the same address in New Milford that was in the diary. I then looked for further information on other Kohlhase family members at that same address and found two – Harry and David. In checking, I found that David was born in the 1950’s, but Harry was his father and was about Juanita’s age. I then located a family tree that had both Harry and David in it – and found Juanita (without a last name).

Harry’s first wife had passed away in 1963. Juanita moved to that house in June of 1965 and Harry and Juanita married in December of that year (according to the family tree I found). They lived together until 1986 when Juanita passed away (confirmed by her social security death record which has the correct date of birth for her). Her SS# was registered in NY when it was issued – which would have been sometime shortly after the SS system became live in around 1937 or 1938.

So it appears that Juanita moved to NY when she left the home of her grandparents in 1936 or so. Then in 1965 she moved to NJ where she lived out her life. Evidently she did remain in touch with the rest of the family during that time. I’m looking forward to finding further references to her in her aunt’s journals so I can fill in the missing pieces.

It’s amazing to me how just the finding of one tiny piece of information can help break through the brick wall of missing information. In this case it was a journal entry which had an exact address. When I recently tried to track down some of my high school friends for our upcoming 50th high school reunion, it was things like remembering the exact date of someone’s birth (for a girl who was one day younger than I), or knowing what town someone moved to (for a friend who I rode the bus to/from school with). Genealogy is an amazing discovery process – and one that I will never be “done” with.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Genealogy Story – The Reno Nevada Connection

My maternal grandmother, Sara [Blackman] Pierpont, was the middle child of three. She had an older brother, Stanley, and a younger sister, Edna. This story is mostly about Stanley, but Sara and Edna both figure into it.

The Blackman family, Clarence and Alice [Talmadge], lived in Prospect, CT. Stanley was born in 1893, Sara in 1898, and Edna in 1906. Stanley was a salesman. He married a girl, Bessie Riggs, from Newburgh, NY in 1913 when he was 20. They had two sons. The first, Elmer, was born in 1914 in Waterbury, CT. But following WWI, they were evidently not doing well financially, and by 1920 they had moved in with Bessie’s parents and her sister back in Newburgh. It was there that their second son, Stephen, was born in 1923.

Meanwhile, in 1919 Sara had married a young man who lived nearby in Prospect, Harold Pierpont. They began what would eventually be a family of five children – Clarence (1920 – named after his maternal grandfather, but always called “Zeke”), Alice (1922 – named after her maternal grandmother, but always called “Allie”), Sylvia (1924), Richard (1926 – but always called “Dick”), and Violet (1929).

In June of 1929, Clarence Blackman passed away, followed only three months later by the passing of his wife Alice. The three Blackman children decided that the house in Prospect should be given to Edna as Stanley already had a family and a job and Sara was raising her family in Waterbury – just a few miles away. So at the age of 23, Edna, now a single lady with no parents, became the owner of the family home in Prospect.

However, it appears that things were not going well in Stanley’s life. Just a few months later (in the 1930 census), Stanley can be found living with his younger sister Edna in the family home in Prospect (where she is listed as the head of house). Bessie and her two sons were still living in NY with her parents. Stanley and Bessie had separated.

By late that same year, even more changes were in store. Stanley had evidently begun courting a lady in Hartford, Eda [Beaupre] Lapointe. But Eda was already married to her husband Victor and had two daughters, Joyce and Hope (then ages 11 and 7). Since Eda was still living with her Victor in 1930, it can only be speculated why she was agreeable to being courted by Stanley. Perhaps it was because Victor was Canadian and made frequent trips back to Quebec to visit his family and Eda wanted to become more “American”. Whatever the reason, Stanley and Eda wanted to get married, but since they were both currently married to others, they needed a “quickie” divorce first and the only place to do so was in Nevada.

So in the middle of a cold winter day sometime in mid-December of 1930, Stanley and Eda set off on a cross country drive from Prospect, CT, to Nevada. Eda’s two daughters, Joyce and Hope, went along for the ride, and so did Edna.

I heard stories about this when I was growing up, but like many stories I believe that things got changed a little in the telling. My uncle Zeke thought that this happened in the late 1920’s, but he was off a year or so. And my mother (Sylvia) thought that Aunt Edna went along as a chaperon, but I suspect it was more as someone to watch the two girls.

But for whatever reason, Stanley and Eda arrived in Nevada (filed for divorce in Reno on December 16th) and waited the requisite 6 weeks to establish “residency.” On February 2nd, 1931, Stanley divorced Bessie, Eda divorce Vincent, and then Stanley and Eda got married. I’m not sure if Stanley officially adopted Joyce and Hope at the same time, but they did take on the Blackman last name.

Divorce isn’t a big deal these days, but back in the early 1930’s this was pretty scandalous! And although Nevada had allowed such “quickie” divorces beginning in 1911, it wasn’t until the late 1930’s that it earned the title of “Divorce Capital” due to several Hollywood couples going there for that reason.

After driving back across the country to CT, Stanley, Eda, Joyce and Hope settled into a new life in Hartford. Edna remained in Prospect for a while, then she sold the family home and moved into an apartment in Hartford where she worked for the State government until she retired (she lived in that same apartment for about 60 years). Joyce and Hope grew up, married, and raised their families in the same area.

When I was trying to flesh out my family tree a few years ago, I thought that I should try to track down Joyce and Hope and see what happened to them. I was able to make contact with Joyce’s oldest son, Herb Andrus, who still lives in the Hartford area (he’s only two years older than I). I talked to him on the phone and was able to send him some of the information I had on his step-grandfather’s family. I also learned a few very interesting things.

Our family had always had a close connection to my great-aunt Edna, visiting her in her apartment in Hartford, having her stay at our home on occasion, and having her as part of the greater Pierpont family for Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. My mother and my uncle Dick were the executors of her estate when she passed away in 1997. But we had had little to no contact with great-uncle Stanley and his family as he was kind of a “black sheep” due to this divorce/re-marriage in Las Vegas. But my great-aunt Edna evidently kept in touch – not only with her older brother Stanley, but with his children – both from his first wife and his second wife. While we had been visiting “Aunt Edna” in the assisted living home where she spent her last few years, Herb and his brother had as well – but Aunt Edna had never told us (at least to my knowledge). And Herb’s brother, Scott, even had the middle name Talmadge which had been the maiden name of his step-great-grandmother.

So, while I never knew much about this branch of the family tree when I was growing up, I’m happy to have been able to make the connection with my step-second-cousins.