Sunday, July 22, 2018

Indians, Moravians and Ancestors

[Preface – you will note that many of the names given here may have several spellings/pronunciations. The translation of Native American names into English is not an exact one since these languages are generally not written and so one writes down what they heard. Also, while I use the term “Indian” here, I recognize that we now call these people groups Native Americans, but the places I am using for reference were written long ago and the term “Indian” was still in use at the time.]

A long-time friend of mine, John Moser, and his wife will be celebrating their 30th anniversary shortly. In preparation, he recently posted on Facebook that their plans were to be traveling to NY for research on his wife’s book about the Moravian settlement wiped out in Shekomeko and then five days running around the Berkshires. This made me start wondering where Shekomeko was and the history that she would be researching.

A quick search using Google Maps indicated that Shekomeko was located in the town of Northeast in Dutchess County, NY – just to the east of the NE corner of CT. My Russell ancestors lived in Dutchess County from around 1730 when Robert Russell came to America from Scotland until the family moved just across the border to Kent, CT some time right after the Civil War. I am quite familiar with the history of that part of NY/CT because of the research that I have done on my ancestors over the past several years.

Algonquian/Algonquin Indians [Native Americans]

Another series of searches led me to some of the history of the Mahican Indians (also called the Mohicans (*1), the name I had known growing up) in Shekomeko and the involvement of the Moravians (*2). The Moravians had settled in Bethlehem, PA, in the late 1730s. They were then looking for a group of native peoples to preach to and convert and so sent Christian Henry Rauch to New York City in 1740 to locate a native people group. He met there with a delegation of Mahican Indians. They were a part of the Algonquian tribe who lived in eastern Dutchess County and western Connecticut. Rauch discovered that he could converse with them in Dutch as they were acquainted with the language from their contact with Dutch settlements along the Hudson (note that these Dutch settlements included my wife’s Van De Car ancestors who were living at the time about 20 miles NW of Shekomeko in the area of Kinderhook, NY.)

But the fact that these were Algonquian Indians triggered other connections to me. The first was that another small group of this same nation inhabited the town where I grew up, Wolcott, CT, and I have previously written about them (*3). Wolcott was in the early stages of being settled beginning in the 1730s, so this would have been contemporaneous with the Moravian work in the 1740s. (As a side note, for our senior high class night, I was the MC and my stage name was “Algonquin Godperson”.)

This reminded me that the author of the history of Wolcott, which I have relied on for many previous blogs, was Samuel Orcutt (*4). While the history of Wolcott was his first published work, he went on to write several other history books, one of which was “The Indians of the Housatonic and Naugatuck Valleys” in 1882 (*5). The northwest corner of CT is part of the Housatonic Valley and I recommended that John’s wife consider that as good background material for her research.


While the Wikipedia article (*2) has a good summary, I thought I should read Samuel Orcutt’s book as well to see what else it might say. While it is available through Google books, I also purchased a Kindle version of it. Surprisingly, there were a several of chapters on the Moravians, so I had much more reading to do than I thought.

I won’t give away the whole story here, but as a brief overview, the Moravians only worked among the Mahican for about 6 years (1740-1746). At the end of that period, the remaining Indians at Shekomeko (only 44 of them) left and dispersed to Pennsylvania and east to the mission at Pachgatgoch. There were far more details on this in Orcutt’s book (*5). It was initially quite hard to get further details in public sources since the name Pachgatgoch has very few references, but I was able to determine that this is an alternate spelling (one of 12!) of the word Schaghticoke (*6) which is derived from the Algonquian word Pishgachtigok. (For one of the few times in my career, I made an update to Wikipedia so that future individuals will have a link to follow!)

One of the things that surprised me was that Count Zinzendorf (*7), who had a significant influence on the Moravian church and was responsible for its revival in the 1720s, was also heavily involved in the Moravian work at Shekomeko, as he made personal visits there. He also stopped in New Milford, CT, on his way back in late 1742 (as recorded in (*5)).


Because this tribe of Native Americans occupied a sizable area (especially given that there were relatively few of them), it was not only the Moravians who interacted with them. Those who lived at Shekomeko were not appreciated by the local settlers. As noted in (*2), the local colonists offered rum to the Mahicans if they would kill the missionaries. The missionaries themselves were detained, interrogated, fined and released. In 1744 the governor of NY ordered the missionaries to “desist from further teaching and depart the province.” Fortunately, Orcutt has a recorded a lot of detail about where the remainder of the tribe dispersed to (*5). But in Connecticut, where the tribe was not viewed with quite so much hostility, there were others besides the Moravians who interacted with them. Thus, in addition to the tribe’s interaction with my wife’s ancestors along the Hudson River, some of my own ancestors played a part in this story.

Orcutt’s book mentions several individuals from the town of New Milford who took part in these interactions. These include Anthony Stoddard and Lt. Colonel Preston who in May 1741 on the petition of a local Indian were appointed to take care “that the said Indian be instructed according to his desire, and that his children be schooled and taught the principles of the Christian religion, and victualled, and that twenty pounds of the money raised by contribution be improved in said service.” The text of the petition may be found in (*8).

Then in 1742 the Rev. Daniel Boardman and Samuel Canfield were appointed to like service to the Indians of New Milford. Boardman is remembered to this day by Boardman Road in New Milford which is carried over the Housatonic River by Boardman’s Bridge (*9). Samuel Canfield is my great*7 grandfather. (My father’s maternal grandmother was Caroline Northrup, her grandmother was Catherine Canfield, the great-great-granddaughter of Samuel Canfield (1702-1754).)

The Aftermath

Despite the efforts of both the Moravians as well as the above individuals from New Milford, the English colonists in the area were mostly successful in driving away both the Moravians as well as nearly all the members of the Mohican tribe. Many of them migrated first to the area around Bethlehem, PA to be with their Moravian friends. But even here there were difficulties and they had to keep moving westward to escape persecution. Some of the Mahicans were among a larger group of Native Americans who had travelled west to Ohio where a group of individuals massacred 96 of them in the Gnadenhutten massacre in 1781 (*10). Others migrated to Canada where they were able to live peacefully. Only a handful remained behind in the New Milford area where there is still a small reservation in Kent, CT (*6). Orcutt listed the remaining handful of these in his book in 1882 (*5).

This is not a happy story. But we should learn from both the Moravian brethren as well as the few men from New Milford, my ancestors among them, who acted with kindness toward the Native Americans in their midst.


*5 – The Indians of the Housatonic and Naugatuck Valleys, by Samuel Orcutt, 1882
*8 – History of Ancient Woodbury, Connecticut: From the First Indian Deed in 1659 … Including the Present Towns of Washington, Southbury, Bethlehem, Roxbury, and a part of Oxford and Middlebury, by William Cothren, pp. 103-104

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Harold G Pierpont

Trail Blazer with a Bucket of Paint

Harold G. Pierpont, 3172 East Main St., gets 20 miles to a gallon of blue paint when he hits the trail.
Pierpont, retired from his job at M. J. Daly and Sons, where he worked for 15 years after spending most of his working life in the milk producing and distributing business. He is not completely retired from his avocation of layout out Blue Trails and keeping them open. From a total of 125 miles of Blue and Appalachian Trails, his area of responsibility has dwindled to about five miles, at his request.
“Due to a sickness three years ago from which I never fully recovered, I found it difficult to negotiate the real rough places and steep hills. And as I am now in my 70’s I decided for the good of the trails I would turn the job over to a younger person. I personally picked my successor (David H. Thompson, 349 Lee Ave., Cheshire) who has an energetic son just through college, so the trails are sure of good care for many years.
“Not wanting to give up completely, I requested to have two short pieces left to be my responsibility as long as I am able.”
Pierpont began his work on the trails in 1938. For about 30 years it was a labor of love. Work on existing trails consisted of keeping down brush and new growth and repainting every five years, oftener if necessary. Occasionally, the necessity arises of laying out alternate routes to compensate for loss of land.
Of the 75 miles of Blue Trails for which Pierpont accepted responsibility 30 years ago, more than 25 miles have been lost. The principal causes are housing developments, new quarries and new highways.
The Quinnipiac Trail used to start at the Sleeping Giant in Hamden and run to Wolcott where it made the “grand junction” with the Tunxis and Mattatuck Trails. The first parts of all these trails have been discontinued, Pierpont said. The Quinnipiac suffered the greatest losses.
Construction of I-84 lopped four miles off the Quinnipiac Trail. Another four were lost when a landowner decided that he didn’t want the trail on his property. The landowner told Pierpont that he was going to fence and asked Pierpont to move the trail. The trail had run across that particular land for 40 years, Pierpont said.
Nine miles have been lopped off the original 22 of the Quinnipiac trail, leaving only 13, slightly more than half the original total.
Pierpont’s avocation as a trail blazer began in the summer of 1938 when he and his 12-year old son took a walk. They went on a three-day hike starting on the Metacomet Trail in Meriden.
“We had continuous trouble most of the way as the trail was badly overgrown,” Pierpont recalled. “Near the end we lost it completely.”
Harold is one of those rare people who is willing to work for his fun. As a fellow who liked to hike, he could use well-kept woodland trails. If the trails weren’t well kept, he wanted to do something about it.
“I wrote the Connecticut Forest and Park Association which is the sponsor for all the Blue Trails in Connecticut and reported the condition I found the trails in.” The association is a private organization that maintains the trails.
“I also said that I like to hike as did my children and that I would be glad to give a hand in maintaining a portion of them,” Pierpont said.
The association accepted Harold’s offer. He was given a five-mile section of the Quinnipiac Trail to its termination in Wolcott and when he demonstrated that he would do a job his responsibility was increased to include all of the trail north of Bethany Mountain Road.
Eventually all the Blue Trails in the area around Waterbury came under his jurisdiction. He was handed the authority to lay out new trails wherever he wished, provided, of course, he secured permission from the land owners.
In laying out a trail Harold tries to give a hiker something more than a walk. One of the extra rewards he tries to provide is a view. Toward that end he brings the trails up on ridges to provide heights from which hikers can see for miles.
Pierpont considers that the complete trail-clearing kit for one man is a “lively lad,” machete and pruning saw.
The “lively lad” is a tool with which the average individual probably is not acquainted. A double-edged steel cutting bar is attached to the open end of a V-shaped wooden frame. Pierpont got his about 25 years ago. He said that the Appalachian Mountain Club paid for it.
The tool is employed like a grass whip. As a matter of fact, Pierpont said, it was invented by a “lazy man cutting grass with a scythe.” The firm that made the implement was taken over by a bigger outfit. The big firm altered the construction, and Pierpont doesn’t like the substitute product nearly as well.
Pierpont said the implement used to sell for $1.25 or $1.50. The one he uses has a Swedish steel blade which he keeps sharp by touching up a file every once in a while.
Pierpont bought the saw and machete on his own. He got the latter tool, he recalled, at the old Templeton Hardware Co. He sharpens the machete himself with a file, but he has the saw sharpened.
He figures that the “lively lad” will cut growth up to one quarter inch in diameter, the machete up to half an inch, and the saw will handle anything thicker. The saw is useful mainly for blowdowns, he said.
The recommended width for clearing trails is five feet, but “I stick to three feet” he said. He cuts growth on the trail itself and overhanding branches from trees on either side.
Once a trail has been cut, keeping it open is comparatively easy. Pierpont has spent 60 hours opening six miles of trail, but he can clear an entire trail in the same amount of time.
The first step in making a new trail is to lay it out. The route is first marked with strips of cloth.
When a firm decision is made on the route of the full trail, cutting begins. Only after everything else is all done is the trail blazed with blue paint.
Pierpont’s love for walking goes back to his boyhood. He was raised in the country where “we did a lot of walking.” He grew up liking that activity.
But when he goes walking it is for something more than just to hike. The longest day’s hike he ever made since he began working on trails was 14 miles.
“I never go out for distance. I go out to see things. I prefer clearing a trail to just hiking.”
Pierpont said that he seems much more along a trail than the average person. He is an amateur botanist, self-taught, who can recognize various species of trees and plants. Entering a trail off Summit Road, Cheshire, he identified sever different species of trees within the first few feet: Black birch, red maple, flowering maple, witch hazel, whitewood, red cedar.
Pierpont may work on the trails in any season of the year. He thinks that fall is the best season for cutting trails. Not only are temperatures more conducive to work, but growth which is cut stays down longer. A trail cut in fall will stay clear for six months, he said. The new growth cut in spring will sprout again.
Although the automobile has made walking unpopular with many individuals, the Blue Trails are surprisingly well used. This is indicated by the condition of the trails, Pierpont said. A well-trod trail stays clear.
Because of the changing land pattern caused by the growth of suburbia, The Connecticut Park and Forest Association is concentrating on trails on public land, Pierpont said. Such trails are reasonably safe from new housing developments.
As an example Pierpont cited the Mattatuck Trail from Reynolds Bridge to a point beyond Litchfield. The trail cuts through land held by only three owners, the state, the City of Waterbury (Wigwam watershed) and the White Memorial Foundation.
For anyone who wants information on the trails, the Connecticut Park and Forest Association, 15 Lewis St., Hartford, publishes a “Walk Book” now in its seventh edition. For anyone who has not walked the trails but would like to try, getting the “Walk Book” is a logical first step.
Hiking is one of the few sports which does not require a preliminary investment in special equipment. The “Walk Book,” however, advocates the wearing of “heavy hiking shoes not over six inches in height, with broad toes.” The shoes should be big enough to “allow plenty of room for one or two pairs of wool socks which make good padding.” The remainder of the clothing should be appropriate to the season. In winter or during a wet spring, a person who doesn’t like wet feet, should wear either rubber pacs or leather footwear that is really waterproof.
The neophyte hiker might also do well to learn to recognize poison ivy. Pierpont has encountered it in ample quantities along the trails, but he is one of those fortunate individuals who have an immunity.
“Poison ivy and I are the best of friends,” he said. “I can lie down and roll in it.”
Fully released from his regular job and with only a fraction of the trail-clearing duties he once had, Pierpont has a new activity to keep him occupied. Mrs. Pierpont joins him in the endeavor. They visit patients in hospitals and residents of convalescent homes. Pierpont said there are eight convalescent homes which he visits where he shows colored nature slides.

Story and Photos by Thomas R. Egan
Published in THE SUNDAY REPUBLICAN MAGAZINE, Waterbury, Conn., August 25, 1968


HAROLD PIERPONT, 3172 East Main St., carries his full trail-making equipment. The implement in his right hand is a “lively lad”. He wears a machete at his belt and carries a pruning saw.

A “LIVELY LAD” is used like a grass whip.

THE BLAZE marks the end of a Blue Trail in Cheshire near I-84

Sunday, July 15, 2018

J. Pierpont Morgan

At the recommendation of a friend, I recently purchased a book, “Morgan: American Financier” by Jean Strouse. This rather thick tome (nearly 800 pages) is a biography of J. Pierpont Morgan, one of the more famous relatives in the New England Pierpont family of which I am currently one of the co-historians.

As the introduction notes, most biographies of him in the past have tended to be either one-sidedly laudatory or one-sidedly derogatory. Even his authorized biographer, his son-in-law Herbert Satterlee, “left out large pieces of his public and private life and got important facts wrong. Intent on answering Morgan’s critics by emphasizing his patriotic spirit and jolly Christmas parties, Satterlee drained all vitality from the tale.”

Strouse learned that the Pierpont Morgan Library had vaults of uncatalogued biographical documents, including his childhood diaries, adult letters, volumes of business correspondence and hundreds of photographs. Besides studying this material, Strouse found additional documents in private hands on both sides of the Atlantic. Thus, this biography took over a decade to write as Strouse had to discover the man behind the stories and legends (some of which were patently false).

I’m not going to try and summarize all 800 pages here but want to concentrate on the connections to the Pierpont family. Most of this is contained in chapter 2, entitled “Pierponts and Morgans,” but there are bits and pieces of it scattered throughout the rest of the book as well.

Pierpont Genealogy

Strouse notes that there were vast differences between the “intellectual, ecclesiastical Pierponts and the enterprising, managerial Morgans.” He summarizes the Pierpont genealogy over the course of a few pages, beginning with “[d]escended from French Pierreponts who crossed the English Channel with the Norman Conquest,” continuing with James “a graduate and pastor of the Congregationalist First Church in New Haven,” then going through Jonathan Edwards and a few more generations “before the birth, in 1785, of Pierpont Morgan’s grandfather, John, in Litchfield County, Connecticut.”

He goes into considerable background about John and his family, including his marriage to Mary Sheldon Lord (John’s fourth cousin), and his children, William, Mary, Juliet, John Jr., James, and Caroline. James Lord Pierpont is of course the one of “Jingle Bells” fame. Little is known about the early life of Juliet, except that she married a young man from Hartford, Junius Spencer Morgan.

On April 17, 1837, Junius and Juliet had a son and named him John Pierpont Morgan. When he was baptized three months later by his grandfather, his cumbersome name gave rise to several alternatives. “Family letters and diaries refer to ‘Junius Child,’ ‘Junius Boy,” “young Mr. Morgan,’ and ‘Master J.P.’ His parents nicknamed him ‘Bub.’ Schoolmates later called him ‘Pip.’ As soon as he was old enough to write, he signed himself ‘J. Pierpont Morgan,’ and was known as Pierpont Morgan for the rest of his life.”

Growing Up

My favorite paragraph in this part of the book is found on page 26.

“The contrast between Morgans and Pierponts sharpened during the childhood of the boy with both names. The competent, close-knit, energetic Hartford relatives [the Morgans] were exacting and somewhat stern. The Bostonians [the Pierponts] – feckless, impecunious, at odds with one another, plagued by physical and psychological troubles – were a mess; they were also, for a child, more fun.”

Junius and Juliet lived either with, or in close proximity to, Junius’ parents in Hartford. Junius’ father, Joseph, was quite active and moneyed and Junius followed in his footsteps. This included both business and politics, but in religion Junius went a different way. He and his wife joined the Episcopal Church, but this church was so affiliated with wealth and social prestige the its own clergymen worried about presiding over a “church … only for the rich.” With Junius often gone on lengthy business trips, Pierpont’s paternal grandparents were like a second set of parents to him.

Nonetheless, once he was old enough to travel on his own, Pierpont managed to make several long trips to see his maternal grandparents who by this time were in Troy, NY. Between the ages of seven and twenty, Pierpont changed schools nine times (generally at the direction of his father who saw schooling as a training ground for the serious business of adult life). Many of these were boarding schools such as Episcopal Academy in Cheshire [now called the Cheshire Academy]. In 1848, while boarding at the Pavilion Family School in Hartford, Pierpont recited in class a poem, “Warren’s Address to the American Soldiers.” This poem had been written for the laying of the cornerstone of the Bunker Hill Monument in 1825 – by his grandfather, John Pierpont. Looking forward to another visit to Troy that spring, he wrote, “I am almost ready to think that April will never come I think so much of going to Troy.” Unfortunately, he was summoned home early from that visit because his father had signed him up for an entrance exam to yet another school, the Hartford Public High School [which coincidently had been founded by Pierpont’s ancestor on his mother’s side, Thomas Hooker].

Even the books that were provided to Pierpont by family members reflected on the differences between the two families. From his father he received “Marco Paul’s Adventures and Travels in the Pursuit of Knowledge: On the Erie Canal” – containing lessons on commerce, credit and profit. From his mother he received a biography of George Washington with lessons on hard work, self-discipline, and common sense. From his father’s sister he received “Young Men Admonished” on the dangers of drinking, gambling, etc. But from his grandfather in Troy he received “The Youth’s Historical Gift … containing familiar descriptions of civil, military and naval events by the Old English chroniclers, Froissart, Monstrellet, and others, and also the history of John of Arc and her times,” featuring a charging mounted knight in gold on the cover.

Later Life Contacts

Because of the dictates on his life by his father and his father’s family, Pierpont eventually grew estranged from his relatives on his mother’s side. The growing eccentricities among the Pierponts just accentuated this – from his uncle James serving with the Confederate Army during the Civil War to his grandfather’s bitter memories from being forced out of the Hollis Street Church.

While he had enjoyed his visits with his grandfather in Troy for many years, contact between he and his grandparents diminished over the years. The death of his grandmother did not help, especially when his grandfather remarried – to a woman only 5 years older than Juliet. Nonetheless, when Juliet decided, near the end of her life, to honor her father with a stained-glass window at the Hollis Street Church, Pierpont assisted by completing his mother’s commission, dictating the inscription: “To the glory of God: and in memory of the Revd John Pierpont. Born Litchfield, Conn., April 6, 1785. Died Medford, Mass. (…). Minister of this church from (…) to (…). Erected by his daughter, Juliet Pierpont Morgan.” Someone else filled in the dates.

Now in his mid-40s, with his grandparents and his mother now having passed on, it does not appear that Pierpont had any further contact with any family members of the family after which he took his name. His life for the next 30 years would be consumed in continuing the banking career that he had been trained for by his father and grandfather Morgan.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

America – Continent or Country?

A posting recently showed up on my Facebook feed which exclaimed that “America is a continent, not a country!” This posting then claimed that the continent of America was further subdivided into North (Canada, US, Mexico), Central, and South America, and that one could also define Latin America as “where romance languages are spoken”.

Before I get to the main question, let me address a few problems with this particular posting. First, all the pictures excluded Greenland and all the islands in the Caribbean, but left in all the islands in northern Canada. Second, there are portions of “Latin America” where languages other than romance languages are spoken, such as Suriname where Dutch is spoken. The author was being a bit sloppy in his presentation.

The Continent Question

The answer to what would seem to be a simple question of “how many continents are there?” is actually quite complicated. There is an excellent summary of this in Wikipedia (*1). I’m not going to try and replicate all that article here but recommend that you read it if you are interested.

In summary, the answer depends on (1) where you live and what you have been taught, and (2) whether you have a geological view of the world or a geopolitical one. Thus, four, five, six, or seven are all valid answers depending on your context. Most English-speaking countries as well as China, India, and several other countries teach a 7-continent model with North American and South America being separate as well as Europe and Asia being separate. Most other western Europeans and Latin Americans have a 6-continent model with North America and South America being combined. Those in eastern Europe, Russia and Japan have a different 6-continent model with Europe and Asia combined but North America and South America separated.

The Olympic flag has five rings because the Olympics started in non-English-speaking western Europe (a 6-continent model) but then they dropped Antarctica since it was not populated.

For most in the USA (I’ll get to the country issue below), when we use the term “The Americas” we are referring to both North America and South America (note that the term “Americas” is plural!). And since the USA was settled primarily by individuals from English-speaking countries of Europe who hold to the 7-continent model, most in the USA still generally think of North America and South America as two separate continents and they do not use the word “America” to refer to a continent.

The Country Question

There are several components to the question, “What is the name of a country?” We need to consider what the people in that country call their county (which is in the native language of that country), and then what the English translation of that name is. As an example, the official name of what we generally know as “Egypt” is “Junhuriyah Misr al-Arabiyah” (this is the rough transliteration of the words in Arabic). In English, this translates to “Arab Republic of Egypt”. But by convention we drop off the portion before the “of” and simply call the country, “Egypt”. There are a surprising number of countries whose full official name follows a similar convention. Here are some which I looked up (if you want to look up others, see (*2):

Commonwealth of Australia
Federative Republic of Brazil
People’s Republic of China
The People’s Republic of Bangla-Desh
Kingdom of Belgium
Republic of Cyprus
Kingdom of Denmark
French Republic
Federal Republic of Germany
Hellenic Republic [Greece]
Republic of India
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
United Mexican States
Russian Federation
Republic of Suriname
Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Note that in most cases we simply drop everything before the “of”, but for some where that word does not appear, the shortened version of the name appears earlier in the full official name (such as Russian Federation = Russia, and United Mexican States = Mexico). Words such as “Republic”, Federation”, “Kingdom”, or “Federal” are generally descriptive of the nature of the country’s political system and, as you can see from the above examples, can be found in multiple country names.

So, if we follow this same sort of naming convention what should we call the USA? First, we need to determine the official name, i.e. what does the country call itself. Here the simple answer is “United States of America”. This term occurs in the preamble of the Constitution and is what we have used ever since. Like all the other examples above, the terms before the “of” are descriptive of the name of the country’s political system and we should drop them to get the shortened version, i.e. “America”.

Areas of Possible Confusion

The root cause of any confusion is primarily with those individuals who hold to a view of the continents that “America” is the name of a single continent, i.e. those individuals from non-English-speaking western Europe, Latin America, or those who may have their heritage from countries in those areas.

While the individual who made the original Facebook posting (and there have been many others like it that I have seen over the years) is showing particular concern about the use of the word “America” for a country, there are actually two continents (of the 4/5/6/7) where there could be confusion. The other one is “Australia”. Is this the name of a continent or a country (short for “Commonwealth of Australia”? And if someone says, “I’m Australian,” can that be misinterpreted?

The continent of Australia can be interpreted in a number of ways. If you are referring to only the landmass, i.e. following the coastline just like the person who uses the term “America” to refer to a continent, then you are leaving out the island of Tasmania, which is one of the states in the Commonwealth of Australia. But if you then state that you need to include the islands that are on the same tectonic plate, then you need to include New Guinea as well. So no matter which definition you use for the continent of Australia, you have an inconsistency with the country of [the Commonwealth of] Australia. And yet I’ve never seen anyone who gets upset about the use of the word “Australia” or “Australian” to apply to the country or citizens of that country.

And yet in the totally parallel case of using the word “America” to refer to the “United States of America”, some people get quite upset. I even ran across one video (*3) where the individual proposed that we need to change the name of the USA to “Midnorthamerica”, which is a totally geographic name. But interestingly the individual did not propose that Canada should be “Northnorthamerica”.

My Personal View

I’ve recognized for a long time that there are different views of how many continents there are and that there are many individuals, especially from other countries, who view “America” as the name of a continent and thus can be confused when encountering individuals who use the word “America” as the name of a country. When I am in the company of individuals who have these alternate (and totally valid) views, I am careful to choose my words so as not to cause confusion.

As an example, I volunteered for many years for AFS (American Field Service) and had considerable contact with exchange students from other countries who were here in the United States. When in their company I was careful to not use the word “Americans” as a term to refer to individuals from the [United States of] America, but to substitute “US Americans” so as not to cause confusion.

I am also careful in these same types of circumstances to not use complicated words (which an individual who has English as a second/third language may not know how to translate), figures of speech (which may not translate very well, such as “the red zone” which is a term from US football), or jokes which make use of homonyms in many puns (which when translated to another language are no longer homophones, such as “you can tune a piano but you can’t tuna fish”). When speaking to individuals from other language backgrounds, I also deliberately speak in simple sentences and speak slower than when speaking to totally US audiences. I need to consider the listener(s).

I do not see this as something to get upset about or to denigrate others who may hold alternate views. We should also be aware that things that we take for granted may cause confusion for others and to take into account the background that others may have.


Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Names the Same - Losing and Finding Relatives

One thing that can often be difficult when trying to trace your family tree is where there are two individuals with the same name who are born around the same time. Sometimes these two individuals can get confused with one another and you will often find that a “composite” person has been put in someone’s family tree. I’d like to relate two such instances that I’ve had to deal with.

William Coughtry

I was recently connected with a distant relative by a DNA match in She had a partial family tree that indicated that her connection to me was likely through her grandmother being descended from one of my distant Russell ancestors for whom I did not have much information. The Russell family at that time lived in Dutchess County NY and her grandparents lived just a county away in Albany NY. After getting in touch with her and finding out what she knew about her grandparents, I tried to follow her family tree back a few more generations as well as see if I could add onto my family tree in order to connect our two trees and verify just how our DNA match came to be.

Her grandfather was named William F Coughtry and her grandmother was Mary [Hutchins] [Coughtry] Cellery (she was married twice). Beside finding William in a number of census and other records, some before his marriage to Mary and some afterwards, I found a couple of family trees built by others. But something was confusing, including the existence of two entries in the 1920 Federal Census. What was going on? Was William a bigamist? Or might there be two different individuals?

It appeared to me that there were two different individuals, both named William Coughtry, both with the same middle initial, both living in Albany, both born around the same time, both of whom married a woman named Mary whom they later divorced (although the two Marys were slightly different in age), both of whom worked for the same industry, and both of whom had similar occupations! Talk about being confusing! Now, how to figure out which records were for which of the two men, and, more importantly, which were for the grandfather of my distant cousin.

Basically, I had to ignore William and look at what else in each record I had – such as address, who else was living in that household, etc. I couldn’t even use the age of William since it is well known that census records are often off by one or two years and that was the age difference of the two men. It was confusing enough that I had to build a spreadsheet to keep track of all the various records where William had been mentioned and what other facts I could ascertain about the circumstances of each.

In the end I had a total of 13 records – from the federal census of 1900, 1910, 1920 (two of them), 1930; NY census of 1892 (2 of them), 1915, 1925; a street directory (2 of them), and draft records from WWI and WWII. Of these, 10 were from the William I was not concerned about and could be tied together by street address (although he moved twice), the names of his siblings (both in his early years and later when he moved back home following the death of his first wife), and the name of his daughter Marion who was born about the time that his wife passed on. Only three records were for my cousin’s grandfather – tied together by one of the census records from 1920 where her mother and aunts/uncles were in the family, one of the two street directories on the same street as the 1920 census, and the duplicate 1892 census where that William’s siblings did not have the same names as the other William.

It was a pretty complicated process and I ended up actually knowing very little about my cousin’s grandfather since he appeared in so few records (essentially only the three instances where there were two Williams). What a complicated mess this was.

I still have not been able to verify the connection between Mary [Hutchins] and the individual I believe to be her mother, Mary [Russell] Hutchins, in my family tree. Because my cousin’s grandmother was born after 1880 and the 1890 census records were lost in a fire, she only appears for the first time after she is old enough to be on her own and is a servant in Albany before she married William Coughtry. But I haven’t stopped looking.

Robert Russell

I have written earlier (*1) how there was some confusion in many people’s family trees about my great*5 grandfather, Robert Russell. Many individuals had him born in MA, then migrating to NY. But the existence of two separate wills showed that there were two individuals and the Robert Russell who was my ancestor had immigrated to NY around 1730 from Scotland. He was an illiterate farmer and the one in MA was a literate man whose ancestors had come to the Massachusetts Bay Colony around 1630 from England.

When I made that discovery, which also helped to confirm my DNA results, I was a little disheartened because the English branch of the Russells could be traced back to the origin of the family name in Normandy and from there to their Scandinavian roots (*2). While the Scottish Russell Clan also claims ancestry back to Normandy, there are no records of exactly how that lineage can be established (*3).

But besides my tracing my Russell ancestors on my father’s side, the name Russell appears in the family tree on my mother’s side as well. My great*6 grandfather, Joseph Pierpont, son of Rev. James Pierpont the founder of Yale, married Hannah Russell, the daughter of Nodiah Russell, a fellow minister in Connecticut. I decided to trace that Russell line.

The New Haven Russells were not part of those who settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but came to New Haven directly from England when Nodiah’s father, William Russell, made that trip in 1639 when he was about 27. William was descended from the Russells in England who were part of the upper class Russell family, including several Dukes and Earls. This line is also traceable back to Baron Rozel from Normandy.

So, while I thought that I had lost my documented connection through my father back to Normandy and all I had left was some claims from the Clan Russell in Scotland, it turns out that I still have such a connection – but through my great*6 grandmother, Hannah [Russell] Pierpont!