Saturday, January 28, 2017

Genealogy Story – Morgan Lewis Cook

Morgan Lewis Cook is my great*3 grandfather. He was born in 1822 somewhere in the vicinity of Kent, CT. Kent is a small town in NE CT alongside the Housatonic River. The Housatonic River just to the south of Kent runs within a few hundred feet of the NY/CT Border. The fact that the river winds around but the border is a straight line is a cause for some of the confusion. Some census records show him as having been born in NY, others as having been born in CT. This confusion is part of the problem of trying to trace his life.

The first record that lists his name is the 1850 census. At that time he was working as a laborer on the Benson farm in Kent and was 27. A few houses away, and on the same page of the census, was the Barton family, with a 15 year-old daughter, Sally. A few years later, in 1852, Morgan married Sally. They had one son in 1853, who evidently passed away quite young, and they had a daughter, Lois, in 1855. (One may only speculate whether they had to marry because Sally was already pregnant, but it would not be typical for a 29 year-old man to marry a 17 year-old “girl next door” and have a child shortly thereafter.)

Sometime in 1861, Morgan passed away, not having reached his 40th birthday. However, he and Sally had another child, Edward Morgan Russell, who was born in June of 1861.

Sally, still a young woman in her 20’s, married again, to Jerome Munroe. Jerome had six children (four still living) by his first wife, Mary Jane, but she had passed away as well in early 1861. With Sally’s two children and Jerome’s four children, they had a large family to care for. Jerome and Sally then had more children together, so by the end of the 1860’s, they had a family of 8 children.

In early 1870, at the age of 15, Lois married Walter J Russell, my great-great-grandfather. He was 18 at the time. Fifteen months later, my great-grandfather, Louis Russell was born.

The above facts can be confirmed by census and other records. However, besides the confusion over which side of the NY/CT border he was born, there is still much uncertainty about Morgan’s parentage.

First, let’s look at what we do know about him.
·         We know that he was born in late 1822, but whether on the CT side of the border in Kent, or on the NY side of the border in Dover, we are not sure
·         We also know that he died in 1861
·         Because of the “1850 wall”, he only appears in two census reports – in 1850 as a 27 year-old farm hand in Kent, and in 1860 as a 37 year-old married man with one child.

So, where else can we look to find information about him? If he was born in CT and his parents were still living, then we should be able to also find them in the 1850 census of Kent. However, the only other person with that name is an 18 year-old girl, Ruth A Cook, living just a few houses away (on the next page of the census report). Are Morgan and Ruth siblings? Have they both been orphaned which is why they are working for others? Morgan is shown as being born in CT and Ruth is shown as being born in NY – is this just part of the same confusion for this family?

There are several family trees in who list the parents of Morgan as being Levi and Sally Cook. However, none of these trees have any source information to back up this claim and it appears that they have just gotten the information from some other family tree.

I also decided to check the census records for 1820, 1830, 1840, and 1850 for both Litchfield County, CT and Dutchess County, NY. While there are other Cook families in CT, none of them can be found in Kent. And while there a number in Dutchess County, only three of them are in Dover, the area right across the border.

One of these is indeed the family of Levi and Sally Cook, and in the 1820-1840 census records they have a large family which includes males in the appropriate age ranges. And, in the 1850 census record, where the names of other than the head of household are listed, we do, in fact, find a Morgan Cook. So perhaps this is the source of the proposed parents of Morgan.

But there is one very significant problem here. The Morgan Cook in this household is age 21 (six years younger than my great*3 grandfather. And, since my great*3 grandfather is already listed in the 1850 census in CT, this can only be a different person. (Note that there are sometimes mistakes made in the census records, and ages can sometimes be off a couple of years, but being off by six years and being listed in two different places can only mean that there were two individuals with that name.)

Thus, I am forced to conclude that Levi and Sally Cook in NY are NOT the parents of my great*3 grandfather, Morgan Lewis Cook. So for the immediate future, until I can find any other records which give the parents of my great*3 grandfather, this will have to be listed as a mystery.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Wolcott History – Town Names and Clocks

 One of the things I really like is exploring the connections between history, geography, and genealogy.

I was recently reading the latest story on the Wolcott History website (1). For those who love Wolcott, Florence Goodman writes a great story each month for this website. Even though the two of us have never met face-to-face, she and I have grown to enjoy each other’s writings on a subject which is loved by both of us.

As I was browsing around this website after reading the monthly posting, I was looking at the “links” on one of the pages. One of those links was to the history of Seth Thomas clocks (2). One of the paragraphs at the beginning of this page was as follows:

“Seth Thomas was born in Wolcott, Connecticut in 1785 [actually it was then called Farmingbury as the name change to Wolcott didn’t happen until 1796], went to work for clockmaker Eli Terry in 1807, bought out Terry’s factory (together with Silas Hoadley) in 1810, and in December 1813 bought out Heman Clark’s clockmaking business in Plymouth Hollow.”

One of the things that came to my mind as I read this sentence/paragraph was the names of the towns around Wolcott and how they were related to my love of history/geography/genealogy. Some towns are named for other historical places, some based on the geography of the town, and some for individuals. Here are examples of each:

History: Connecticut, and the rest of New England as well, was settled by people from England (hence the name New England). So, many of the towns/cities in Connecticut are named after the places in England where some of those early inhabitants came from. In the area around Wolcott, these include: Bristol (which was originally called New Cambridge), Plymouth, New Britain, Avon, Cheshire, Hartford (named after Hertfordshire), etc.

Geography: Towns to the immediate east of Wolcott are down the escarpment which marks the edge of the western Connecticut highlands and are generally level farmlands which are watered by the many streams which flow east from these highlands, so we get such names as Farmington (farming town), Plainville (village on a plain), Southington (split off from Farmington, so south [farm]ing town). Towns in the highlands are named after other geographic features so we have Waterbury, Watertown, and Waterville, Woodbury, and Prospect (so named because it occupied a high point where you could see a long way).

Genealogy: There are not too many towns named after individuals, but from the above paragraph we have the basis for Wolcott (named after Oliver Wolcott (3), but originally called Farmingbury as it straddled the “bound line” between Farmington and Waterbury (4)), Terryville (Terry’s village), and Thomaston (Thomas’ town, originally called Plymouth Hollow as in the above reference).


Since the above paragraph is about the Seth Thomas clock business, I’d like to explore that just a little bit more.

First, a little more about the history of the men mentioned and their business (taken from (5)).

Eli Terry made his first clock in 1792, came to Plymouth in 1793.
In 1807, Terry sold his water power to Heman Clark, who had been his apprentice, Clark erected a building in 1809
In 1814, began manufacture in Plymouth Hollow near Terry’s bridge
In 1824, Terry’s son, Terry 2nd built second shop in Pequabuck
Seth Thomas began with Eli Terry and Silas Hoadley in 1809, in 1810 Terry sold out his interest, 1813 moved to Plymouth Hollow in small building which he purchased from Heman Clark.

Second, I found in Wikipedia (6) a list of US clock companies which had all the above.
Seth Thomas, 1807-present
Eli Terry, 1795-1852 [beginning date off by 3 years]
Heman Clark, 1783-1813 (Plymouth Hollow) [1783 is the date he was born, 1813 is when he sold his building in Plymouth Hollow and moved to Salem Bridge which is located in Naugatuck]
Heman Clark, 1738-1838 (Salem Bridge) [1738 is a mistyped age of when he was born, 1838 is the date he died and went out of business]

Bristol has long been called the “clock capital” as there were many such companies there. It is also the home of the American Clock and Watch Museum (7). But there were watch companies in many of the towns in the surrounding area – not only Terryville, Thomaston, and Naugatuck as mentioned here, but Ansonia, Meriden, New Haven, Waterbury, and Winsted (6).

Now, since I usually like to include my own genealogical references in this history blogs, here is my connection to each of the four men mentioned here. (Note that in all of the cousin references I have left off the “5 times removed” which is technically necessary to make up for the difference in ages from the early 1800’s to myself.)

Seth Thomas (1785-1859) – 3rd cousin (see (8))
Silas Hoadley (1786-1860) – 3rd cousin, Silas is also the great*3 uncle of one of my elementary school classmates, Chuck Hoadley, who has lived in Plymouth but now resides in Wolcott (Chuck is my 7th cousin, once removed)
Eli Terry (1772-1852) – husband of 2nd cousin
Heman Clark (1783-1838), 5th cousin


(5)   History of the Town of Plymouth, Connecticut (Francis Atwater)

Monday, January 16, 2017

War Story - Vernon Russell

Vernon H. Russell, MoMM 3/C
U.S. Navy, APC-101, South Pacific

Submitted by Alan Russell, Son

My father was born and spent his entire pre-war life in Connecticut. He was a late entrant into the service. Initially he was exempt, both as a single son to his mother and because he was working as a draftsman for a company that was providing armament to the war effort. But in mid-1944, with the war effort in full swing in both Europe and the Pacific, he was asked to enlist. During intake processing, at one station they asked the men which branch of the service they wanted to enlist in. Since that station was manned by someone from the Army, no matter what you answered he stamped “Army” on your papers. But just as my father reached the head of the line there was a shift change and the new person was a sailor, so my father’s papers were stamped “Navy”.

He was sworn in on July 21, 1944 and left the next day to boot camp in Sampson, NY. After graduation in October he was transferred to basic engineering school in Gulfport, MS, then to diesel school in San Diego, CA. He shipped out of San Francisco on March 23, 1945, arriving in Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides on April 4. But in the mode of “hurry up and wait” as he later expressed it, he spent the next 2+ months in various forms of shore duty before finally being assigned to a ship on June 18.

The USS APC-101 was a small coastal transport. It was a wooden ship only 103’ long and 21’ wide that carried a complement of 3 officers and 22 enlisted men. It was used for transportation of freight between the various island groups in the South Pacific as with a shallow draft it could service islands which did not have deep water facilities. Few of the cargos were documented, but on one trip they carried cigarettes on the outbound leg to Fiji and brought back bananas. My father described it as an oversized rowboat, noting, “If you could ride on a combination merry-go-round, roller coaster, whip and a few other rides tossed in, you’d know how it feels to ride this ship.” As a transport ship, it was very lightly armed, with only a single deck gun and the captain having a pistol.

For the next nearly four months the ship traveled between three locations: Noumea, New Caledonia (their home port); Fiji; and the New Hebrides. They traveled a total of 13 legs, each one being 2-3 days in length with stops in the port in-between. Even VJ-Day did not change their routine. After stopping in Fiji for the last time on October 11, their home port assignment changed and they traveled farther east to Pago Pago in American Samoa. They had two new routes, one to British Samoa, Wallis Island, Ellice Island, and Nukafetau, the other to the Cook Islands, Bora Bora, and Penryhn. Each leg in these new routes was 3-4 days. To pass the time my father wrote poetry (published posthumously as My Father’s Love: Here, There, Everywhere on Amazon), and corresponded with the girl whom he later married.

Finally, in January 1946, the APC-101 started its trip back to the US, but this was a long trip as they had to stop in Palmyra, then in Hawaii to allow other ships to join their convoy and the convoy could only travel at the speed of the slowest ship (which included the APC-101). They finally arrived back in San Francisco on March 10, 1946. But since my father had entered the service so late, he was not yet eligible to be discharged. He remained with the ship and a skeleton crew as they went to Bremerton, WA where the ship was decommissioned and turned into a fishing vessel. He returned to Connecticut in mid-April, 1946. 

I’ll let my mother pick up the story from here in a memoir she wrote in her later life.

Our YTC [Youth Temperance Council at their church] kept going during the war and we used to write group letters to some of the boys. One night one of the boys wrote to Vernon, who, by then was in the Navy, that I was knitting ‘little things’. I was; they were for friends. When Vernon got the letter, he questioned me about that. To have some fun, I told him, “You should know, you’re the father” We kept up this repartee via letters. I told him I had quadruplets, named Abigail, Buster, Carmen and Dudley. Then I complained that I needed money to take care of them, so he made a $1,000,000 bill and sent it to me. Then I told him we really should get married for the sake of the children, so he sent me a marriage certificate. I would come home from work and the rest of the family was already at the table. My mail would be at my place, and when there was a letter from Vernon, I would read it aloud. Everyone got a kick out of it. He said his buddies used to wonder what he was laughing about when he read mine. In the meantime I had broken up with Art [he was her boyfriend when Vernon enlisted], although Vernon didn’t know it, but he began to get interested in me and I was in him, but I didn’t let him know it. But 10 days after he came home, he proposed and I accepted. That was in April. We were married in Sept.

My parents bought a house and 23 acres of land in Wolcott, CT that summer. Over the next several years they had five children – and perhaps recalling the names they gave their fictitious quadruplets, they gave them alphabetic names (Alan, Beth, Charles, Dawn, and Edward).

My father, like most of his fellow service members, did not talk much about the war. But he had a photo album of pictures that he’d purchased on each of the islands they visited, and several souvenirs that he displayed in his den at home. He was also in frequent touch with some of the other men he’d met during his time in the Navy, even though they lived in other states. Although he did not see the action that others did, the fact that when his country asked him to serve he did so without hesitation made him a hero in my eyes.

My father and mother lived in that house in Wolcott until their eventual passing away in 2006 and 2012 respectively. It was only after his passing when I inherited his photo album and other mementos that had been hidden away all those decades that I began investigating what his role in the war had been.

War Story – August Vogt

August Vogt was born in Payne, Ohio in 1888 to parents who had only recently emigrated from Germany. He had three older siblings who had also been born in Germany and three younger siblings who were also born in Ohio. Just a few years later the family moved from Ohio to Jersey City, New Jersey.

In 1908, August enlisted in the Army for a 3 year tour, specifically in the CAC (Coastal Artillery Corps). However, at the end of each tour he reenlisted again (1911, 1914, 1917, and 1920). His final tour ended on 2/14/1924 when he was 35 years of age. By then he attained the rank of Sgt. He passed away on Dec 19, 1933 and was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Arlington, NJ. A number of his Vogt relatives are also buried there. His headstone was made in a quarry in VT and delivered by the Lehigh Valley RR to Bayonne NJ.

The job of the CAC is to provide coastal defenses, however, unlike the Coast Guard who provides protection using sea-going vessels, the CAC is responsible for placing electrically detonated mines in the harbor as well as to use shore-based guns. They have both large guns that are permanent and may launch 12” shells as well as smaller, mobile guns (usually mounted on railroad cars) that fire 5”, 6” or 8” shells. During the latter years of August’s service he was a mine-layer, but it appears that he was assigned to one of the artillery units earlier in his military career.

When the US finally entered WWI the American Expeditionary Force was under the command of General Pershing. There were several units of the CAC as part of the AEF. Most of these were assigned to assist French units who were equipped with railway-mounted guns. The 42nd Field Artillery unit, which August was a part of, was formed in June 1918 and was organized in August 1918 in France. However, by the end of the war only a few months later in November 1918 (11/11/1918), these units had not seen any real action. Thus August was in France at that time. But as a member of the regular army he was not discharged after the war as those who had been drafted were. As noted above, he continued serving in the CAC until 1924.

On Armistice Day, August wrote a “Merry Christmas” postcard to Miss Blanche Van Billiard in Allentown, PA. It is not known how August originally met Blanche or how well they knew each other. At the time he would have been 30 years old and she would have been 24. But it does not appear to be a part of any serious romantic interest, despite the fact that both of them were single. Blanche finally did marry sometime in late 1920, but she died of a stoke just a year later (she was unmarried and living with her sister and brother-in-law in January of 1920 and died on March 10, 1921 at the age of 27).


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Wolcott History – First Selectmen

I recently came across a file that contained the names of a number of the First Selectmen of Wolcott ( While this is an incomplete list, many of the surnames looked familiar and were part of my extended family tree. So I thought I’d see how many of them, like other people in Wolcott’s history, were related to me. Here are my findings:

Frederik M. Upson – 1888 – 4th cousin, 4 times removed
Benjamin L. Bronson – 1896 – 4th cousin, 4 times removed
Charles S. Tuttle – 1897 – 5th cousin, 3 times removed
Henry B. Carter – 1899 – 4th cousin, 4 times removed
Francis E. Cole – 1904 – 4th cousin, 4 times removed
Charles J. Minor – 1908-1909 – 5th cousin, 3 times removed
John W. Norton – 1910-1911 – see note below
Charles C. Rogers – 1920-1921 – 4th cousin, 4 times removed
Robert A. Wakelee – 1922-1927 and 1947-1957 – 4th cousin, 3 times removed

The reason why nearly all of these men are either 4th cousins, 4 times removed or 5th cousins, 3 times removed is that my connection to them is nearly always through one of my great*7 grandfathers. For the above list, most are connected to me through Stephen Upson (1655-1735). The Bronson, Tuttle, Carter, and Cole families were all married into the Upson family. One very interesting indication of this is that in the 1850 census there were members of the Upson, Bronson, Tuttle, and Carter families living in consecutive houses in Wolcott! So the First Selectmen for the period from 1888 to 1904 might be called an Upson dynasty where they just kept passing the baton from one cousin to another!

Note: John W. Norton is not a relative, as best as I have been able to determine. John W. was the grandfather of Edgar Norton who lived on Beecher Road and it appears that John was the original owner of that farm. There seem to be three different Norton families in Wolcott history and I have not [yet!] been able to connect them.
            Edgar (1906-1976) <- John Franklin (1882-) <- John Winfield (1854-1938)
            Linus (1842-1929) [he was a member of the Mattatuck Drum Band]
            Rufus (1890-1933) (related to me through his wife Ellen Beecher), lived next door to Edgar. I’ve traced his ancestry back five generations in Wolcott to David Norton (1730-1802) who moved to Wolcott from Guilford CT in the late 1700s, then several more back to the early 1600s when Thomas Norton (1609-1648) came to Connecticut from England)

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Finding Living Relatives

I began my serious genealogy work after my mother passed away in 2012 and I [wrongly] thought that I was then the oldest “Russell” in my family. However, this was based on rather incomplete knowledge. I only knew my relatives from my grandparents on down. Since then I have tried to trace down the lines from not only my grandparents’ siblings to find 2nd cousins, but also from back a few generations more to find my 3rd and 4th cousins. In the process, not only have I become acquainted with other “Russell” relatives, but those with other last names. In a few cases, I’ve managed not only to begin a dialog with them, but have been able to meet them face-to-face as well.

Doing research into living relatives is in some ways even harder than going back up the family tree to find ancestors. With ancestor research, you can look at things like census records, death certificates, and family trees that have been built by others. But these tools are not available when looking for living relatives. Census records in the US are not publically available until 72 years after the census, so they aren’t much use. And family trees generally block out any names of living individuals for privacy reasons.

Instead, one must use tools like Google to look for things like obituaries (which often list the survivors), and other even more complicated searches. Nonetheless, I have been fairly successful at finding my relatives. Here are some of the ones I’ve located (all on my father’s side of my family tree). Most of them I’ve connected with through social media and a few via telephone. All face-to-face connections are noted.

Reconnection with relatives I knew growing up
Shirley [Macnaught] Meo – my father’s cousin through my grandfather’s sister Loretta [Russell] Macnaught
Dennis Scott – 2nd cousin through my grandfather’s sister [Martha] Pauline [Russell] Scott
Steven Rezendes – 2nd cousin through my grandmother’s sister Irene [Levy] Hartwell

Other 2nd Cousins
Jane [Russell] Young – my 2nd cousin through my grandfather’s brother William [I had only met her once when I was about 10 years old]
Lauren [Withycombe] Munger – 2nd cousin through my grandfather’s step-sister Eva [Pulver] Peet [I had the privilege of visiting with Lauren and her family outside of Boston last month]

3rd Cousins – descendants of my great-grandfather Louis Russell’s siblings
Donald Moore and Pamela [Moore] Otomo – descendants of Martha Jane [Russell] Bradley
Sande [Hosford] Vanhook – descendant of Charlotte [Russell] Hoyt
George Russell (and several of his relatives) – descendant of George Hall Russell [I had the privilege of meeting George and Sallie when they were in this area a few years ago, his older brother Andy just passed away last year]
Robert Russell, Kim [Russell] Thompson, Patricia [Russell] Luopa, Donna [Russell] Todd, and a number of others – descendants of James Walter Russell [In December 2015 I had the privilege of visiting Robert, Kim, their families and their father Robert Earl Russell (my grandfather’s first cousin!) before he passed away in early 2016.]

4th Cousins – Other Descendants from Silas Russell
Kim [Weed] Iezzi – descendant from Eliza [Russell] Hallock
Judy Viertel Weir, Ellen [Evans] Dunn (and others) – descendants from Rebecca [Russell] Simmons
Raymond Abruzzi – descendant from Theodore Russell

Others (non-Russell Ancestors and very distant relations)
David & Janice Benedict – 3rd cousins through my great-grandmother Carolyn [Northrop] Levy’s younger brother Cyrus

Nancy [Lombardi] Russell and Cheryl [Russell] Soucy – my father’s 8th cousin and my 9th cousin – from the same town in Connecticut where I grew up, my father always joked that they were “kissing cousins”, but it’s turned out that the connection was actually real