Friday, December 30, 2011

Google Earth As a Genealogy Tool

For many years I have been using Google Earth and other map sites to see images of my ancestral home towns in Italy.  I have been to New England many times and saw first hand the places my mother's ancestors lived as well as their burial sights.  Many of the buildings and landmarks my New England ancestors saw are now gone, although in some areas, much has been preserved. Google Earth has proven very useful in my research into my Italian family.  Unlike New England, many of the buildings and structures like Churches and monasteries have been preserved.  New buildings and homes have been erected as well, but much of the town of Montalto Uffugo looks as my grandfather and his grandparents saw it. 
Google Earth allows you to travel down the streets and view the landscapes and buildings.  You can point and click in any direction and view the streets almost as if you were there.  I have traveled the streets virtually via Google Earth so many times, I feel as if ,when I do finally go there, I will know exactly where I am going.
A long time ago before I knew the name of the town my grandfather, Giuseppe Napolitano was born in, I found the name of a street in Montalto Uffugo that was quite interesting to me. The name of the street was Via Luigi Napolitano.  At that time Google Earth did not have street views of Calabria.
As I was virtually traveling the streets of Montalto Uffugo recently on Google Earth, I found that street again. Not only can I travel the street and see it, but now I can see the streets that intersect it.   I often have wondered who  that street was named after. The names of some of the intersecting streets may hold clues.  Names I know like Via Enrico Chimenti and Via Francesco LoFeudo.  There were 8 men named Luigi Napolitano in the town between the 1700's and 1910.  All of them were related to me and one of them I descend directly from.  I am sure I will find a way to discover which Luigi the street is named after.  For now I will have fun guessing by searching the records for names of neighbors of all the Luigi Napolitano men and my files and records on the Chimenti and LoFeudo families. 
If you know location names, or addresses you can view the ancestral homes of your family and see the views they saw from the comfort of your own home.  You can see for yourself where they lived, which churches were the closest to their homes, how far they had to travel to town, work or other locations they may have gone. The local foliage and fauna can even offer clues into what they grew and ate.  The vast fields of olive trees, chestnuts and fig trees explained to me how many of our family customs were rooted in the mountains of this Calabrese town. As a child, every big meal included olives, figs and roasted chestnuts!
For now I am enjoying the images of the town my grandfather and his ancestors lived in for at least  6 generations. 
All the pictures on this page are of Via Luigi Napolitano in Montalto Uffugo, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Memories of Christmas Past

As I prepare for the upcoming Christmas holiday, I cannot help but think of (and miss) memories of Christmas past.  The Calabrese heritage of my family was never so obvious as it was at Christmas.  I don't think I fully appreciated it until it was gone.
Every Christmas brings a flood of memories.  By December 22 the house will filled with dozens of presents for family.  Mom always hid presents for my brother and I and there was never enough space under the Christmas tree for all the presents but somehow mom managed to stack and arrange all the presents there for cousins, aunts and uncles. The full finished bar in our basement was lined with bottles of various alcoholic beverages to bring to each place visited during the holiday season. The day before Christmas Eve always involved a trip to Fannie Mae so Dad could purchase boxes of chocolates for his cousins.  We never went anywhere without a box of Fannie Maes and a bottle of the hosts favorite alcoholic beverage in hand. 
Christmas Eve dinner was fish and while I realize others of Italian ancestry celebrated with a feast of 7 fishes, we did not.  Dad hated cod so Bakala was never on the menu.  What always was on the menu was an assortment of scallops, shrimp, clams and our family favorite pasta acciughe.  As a family project we all participated in making pignolatta, a tasty treat make with boiling hot honey (pictured on the right).
Christmas day always came in 2 parts.  The first part of Christmas was the gathering of our immediate family with my dad's brothers, sisters and their spouses and children.  When I was very young, we would alternate who hosted the event.  When the last family arrived my cousins and I grew impatient to receive our presents and when we finally received approval to open them the wrapping paper would fly! So many presents!  After the opening of the presents we would sit down for Christmas dinner.  Our typical Christmas dinner included Turkey and stuffing, a baked pasta, sausages, meatballs, a beef roast, a ham, at least 5 different vegetables, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, ricotta pie (made with ricotta cheese, sausage, mozzarella and egg), various jello molds, and lots of different kinds of bread.  My dad would lecture everyone about the evils of eating bread before the meal. After the meal was finished the women would clear the table and the men would take a break by having after dinner cigars.  Then came time for coffee.  Coffee meant dessert.  The table would be filled with baskets of fruits and nuts and always included figs and roasted chestnuts.  Trays of Italian cookies and pastries would fill the table along with various cakes and pies.  Italian pastries and chocolate eclairs would fill the table to such excess that another table had to be set up.  Somewhere in the mix was coffee, anisette, brandy and other beverages.  After all this food, the men would sit down for a rousing game of pinochle and the woman would sit down for poker.  The pinochle game was more fun to watch.  The men were so passionate and animated playing the game and shouts and screams could be heard throughout with an occasional wife calling her husbands name in reprimand to remind them the children were present. Then everyone would leave (but not without a bag of leftovers) and we would all go to Zitzy's (Calabrese dialect for Aunt) house. Zitzy was the sister of my grandmother and the matriarch of the family.  Once at Zitzy's, more eating and sweets and card games would go on.  It still amazes me how many people fit in her house.  I would see people I did not remember and ask my dad who they were.  He would tell me their names and I would ask if they were family.  Many times my dad would say no, they are paesani. I have learned since then, most of them were, in fact family.  Zitzy's son in law, Uncle Frank would make dancing ladies out of white cloth napkins and make them dance to a song he would sing. At the end of the dance their "skirts" would fly up.  The children would all laugh.  I always saw such joy in his sweet face when he did this. The evening was filled with great food, heavy cigar smoke, thick Italian accents (with a few Greek and Scottish thrown in) great food, laughter, love, music, and did I mention, great food. .  It was always loud. Every time I smell cigars or think of Christmas, I remember the Christmases past filled with so much love and joy, it makes me cry. 
Merry Christmas, Buon Natale, Feliz Navidad.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Achsah Clapp Dewey

I have read every book I could find on the Clapp and Dewey families during my research into the family of my mother.  They were both huge early New England families so there were many written. Of all the many people written about in these family genealogies, I have only noticed one person with no date of death - my 4th great grandmother, Achsah Clap(p) Dewey.  I always found this so sad, as if she had been forgotten and lost. As if no one cared enough to look. It always bothered me, probably more than it should have. I tried to find something on her death every way I could think of and always came up with nothing. The wills and probates of Lewis County, New York never mentioned her.
What is known about Achsah is she was born on 31 January 1758 to Aaron Clap(p) and his wife Jemima (Bartlett) Clap(p) in Southampton, Massachusetts. Their grave is pictured left - I visited and photographed it 5 months ago. John Dewey was born and raised in Westfield, Massachusetts. He left Westfield to serve in the war of the revolution and his service took him though New York among other places and he kept a diary during his service.  He fought major battles of the revolution which included crossing the Delaware with General Washington's troops to fight in the Battle of Trenton.
On 16 September 1780 Achsah Clapp married John Dewey.  They had 8 children together, all born in Westfield between 1781 and 1798.  In the spring of 1802 John brought 2 of his sons, John and Chester to Lewis County, New York to begin clearing land to build a new home for the family.  They returned for the rest of the family and left Westfield permanently later that year. 
John Dewey died on 31 December 1821. 
Fast forward 190 years to 2009.  While looking for Achsah's date of death I came across a website that listed residents of cemeteries in New York State. It listed my John Dewey's grave in the same cemetery as a few of his children. The cemetery list seemed complete. Achsah's name was not there. This deepened the mystery for me - where was Achsah buried?  Did she remarry? Perhaps she returned to Westfield or Southampton for a visit and died there? Why was she not buried with her husband? What happened to Achsah? I looked for each of her siblings and children to see where they were buried in an attempt to find her final resting  place.  Each time I came up with nothing for her.
During my many visits to Find A Grave about a year later, I found a new entry for the son of John and Achsah Dewey, Chester Dewey who was my 3rd great grandfather.  Also there was his wife Phebe (Wetmore) Dewey.  I contacted the man who created the memorial which included pictures of their headstones and asked him to link Chester to his father.  He had many Dewey graves he wanted to add to Find A Grave so we began corresponding and I helped him identify the parents and children so he could link them correctly. Last week he went to Leyden Hill Cemetery and found and photographed the headstone of John Dewey and his daughter Sally.  I was thrilled.  I explained to him the wife of John was a mystery and no one knew her date of death or burial place. I mentioned I knew his daughter Sally Dewey Lord was buried there with her husband Gurdon. After further correspondance he realized that grave, located next to John, was not Sally, it was Achsah!  The grave was in very poor condition and had fallen down flat. It was covered with moss and aged.  He went back to the cemetery, cleaned up the stone a bit which revealed Achsah's date of death. I am so happy to announce Ashsah Capp Dewey died on July 28, 1833 at the age of 75.  She had outlived her husband by 12 years as well as 2 of her children.  Her grave is located next to her husband (on the ground) in Leyden Hill Cemetery located in Port Leyden, Lewis County, New York. She is no longer lost and forgotten.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tombstone Tuesday - Mount Carmel Cemetery

Mount Carmel Cemetery is located in the near west suburbs of Chicago and is probably most famous for being the burial spot of the notorious gangster Al Capone among many other notorious gangsters. To me, it is simply "the family cemetery". As a child my parents brought me to the cemetery frequently to visit my father's parents, aunts, uncles and cousins. My father taught me how to care for the graves and in doing so, those who were no longer physically with us were always with us. As more of the family died and moved out of state this became more important to him and my father told me that one day it would be up to me alone to visit the family and care for their graves. He always told me stories about the family we went to visit. The poor little orphan boy, his father, the story of the 3 sisters (one of which was his grandmother) who came here long before I was born.  As I grew older, I remembered these stories of my little Italian family and their hardships and struggles and their perilous, sad journey to this country. Leaving behind all they loved and treasured for the mysterious unknown. On occasion my father would host a "cemetery party".  He would gather the family together and go grave by grave with all of us - my cousins and aunts and uncles and tell stories about each person.  In doing so, his wish was for their stories and their lives to never be forgotten. He wanted their sacrifices to be understood, acknowledged and appreciated. Most of all he did not want them forgotten. We visited every Sunday after church.
After my trips to New England, I have a new perspective on my family cemetery.  Although many of the graves of New England from the 1600's and 1700's were very impressive and beautiful, they cannot compare to the more modern graves of Mount Carmel Cemetery.  Although quite modern in comparison, they are are ornate and beautiful.  They are also aging now.
Mount Carmel is a predominately Italian cemetery.   The Italians brought their burial customs with them to this country and can be seen here. Photographs on headstones are common here.  Many of the artisans who made the various statues and headstones were of Italian ancestry also. Many of the graves here stand from 5 to 10 feet tall and 5 to 10 feet wide as well.  One of the graves must be the most unique grave ever produced as I cannot imagine it has been done elsewhere.  The unique grave of the DiSalvo family is an ornately carved image of the family that actually turns 360 degrees from it's base.  Pictured left, this family monument stands about 6 and a half feet tall. The detail in each flower and feature is incredible.  The back of the monument is just as detailed as the front which includes a small round table with a fashionable hat on top.  Under the photographs of the husband and wife, is where the base turns.  You can see the detail pictured above, right.

There are over 400 small family mausoleums here, many of which contain pictures as well as a small alter with stained glass windows behind the small alters.  On the left you will see a typical example of these family mausoleums, which happens to be the resting place of my best friend, Mary Covelli and her father, brother, uncles and grandparents.  The large brass doors lock. Sadly, many of these mausoleums have been boarded up. 
As I visit other cemeteries, I have a new appreciation for my "family cemetery".  Filled with trees and flowers, winding roads, angels and saints it is the most beautiful cemetery I have visited this far in my life.  But then, maybe I am biased.

This headstone is located near my great grandmother. The woman figure is larger than me.  The monument is about 7 1/2 feet tall and wide. 
The grave was probably made for the baby, Dominic Giunta. 
The statue at the right rests on top of a headstone taller than I - probably 6 and a half feet tall and the statue is about 5 feet high. There are also statues on either side of the headstone.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Cosenza Province Archives Records

The descendants of Cosenza Province, the northern most province in Calabria have been truly blessed. The Archives in Cosenza have been working for a few years now to digitize and make available of the Stato Civile (State Civil) records of birth, marriage, death and the military Lista di Leva records available online. As if that was not enough, they most recently have put the Catasti records for the majority of the entire province online. These records will allow the descendants of the province to trace their lineage back though the 1700's if they are lucky, from the confort of their home. The catasto records available from the mid 1700's can provide a little information that is useful. I have myself found the names of the parents and siblings of some of my ancestors as well as details regarding the property they lived on. Since the civil records begin in 1809, the Catasto records may be the only resource for people with roots in Cosenza to go back any further in their ancestry. With no church records available through the LDS microfilm collections for Cosenza Province these records are the oldest available with the exception of the church records I have put online for Montalto Uffugo.
Using Arcangelo Napolitano as an example, I will demonstrate what you may be able to find. Before the archives put the Catasto online, I was given all the images for the Catasto of Montalto and it's frasione of Vaccarizzo. In the Montalto Catasto, I found Arcangelo and his wife, Rosa Scarlato in the "Forastieri abitanti" section. Forastieri means stranger - someone not born in the town and abitanti indicates that they are living there. Viewing this record, I learned he was born in Belsito and was 30 years old which allowed me to verify his birth year. Living with Arcangelo in his household was his wife Rosa Scarlato, aged 22, his 2 year old son Bruno, his 1 year old daughter Teresa and his sister Marianna, aged 18. Other information listed in his record stated he had olive trees on his property and the property was called "Li Crocchi". Since the catasto is a record done for tax purposes, I also learned what he was taxed on and how much. The catasto for Montalto was documented from October 1748 through March of 1749. When the archive put the catasti up for the province I saw the Catasto from Arcangelo's place of birth, Belsito, was done in 1742. I looked at each page until I found him. This record provided me with his mother's name, Teresa Ortale, and her age as well as her father's name (Arcangelo's grandfather), Giovanni Ortale since they were living on his property. It also provided the names of 2 more sisters. Although I knew the name of his father already from other records, the absence of his father shows his father was already deceased in 1742. Searching for the father of his mother, Giovanni Ortale I also learned the names of a few of his other children and their ages and gave me a birth year of 1642 for Giovanni. Because of these records, I was able to obtain names and approximate birth years for 3 generations as well as a place of birth for Arcangelo. Unless church records still exist prior to this date this is as far back as descendants will be able to go, however, thanks to the vision of the Archives of Cosenza, these precious records are now forever preserved for future generations. It is a shame that more churches have not yet taken steps to do the same.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Tombstone Tuesday - Headstone Artisans of the 18th century

This tombstone Tuesday, I find it appropriate (since I just returned from a genealogy trip to New England) to talk about the craftsmen of many of the tombstones of my ancestors from the 1700's.
Pictured here is a tombstone from Suffield, Connecticut. This is a stone carved by the Stebbins workshops in nearby Longmeadow, Massachusetts. Since many of these headstones still exist, it is clear the craftmanship was amazing as was the artwork on the stones. Stebbins is one of my surnames which is how I came across this information during my research of that line. Ezra Stebbins was the first of the Stebbins master crafters. He would go to the Longmeadow sandstone quaries and choose sandstone large enough to carve his ornate headstones. The business was passed down to his son Ezra, Jr., presumably Ezra taught his son the trade. No one knows for sure if others were employed as artisians, however, there are several known styles so one can presume The Stebbins family employed apprentices to help keep up with their orders. The Stebbins were most known for their winged faces and elaborate ornamentation using nature - often vines on the headstones. The majority of eyes on the faces on the headstones were larger (and more realistic) than most. As I traversed the graveyards through the mud in the rain, it certainly made photographing my ancestors graves more interesting as I tried to guess which headstones could be Stebbins' creations. I still am not sure how Ezra was related, but his beautiful masterpieces are a sight to behold.
Besides the Stebbins worshop, Elijah Sikes, and 3 generations of Johnson's in Middletown, Connecticut were master craftsmen of 18th century headstones in The Connecticut Valley (which includes Southwest Massachusetts). Joseph Williston of Springfield and Nataniel Phelps of Northampton were also master crafters of beautiful headstones.
Nathaniel Phelps of Northampton still has many headstones that survive in Northampton, Deerfield and many other towns. I had photographed several of his headstones without realizing it at the time. Pictured here is the headstone of a relative of mine Mehetable Clap. Nathaniel's style is clearly more simple than the elaborate Stebbins graves but beautiful, nonetheless.
Thomas, Joseph and John Johnson of Middletown were 3 generations of headstone artisans. Thomas was of the first generation whose creations from the 1720 through about 1739 also still exist throughout Connecticut. His son Joseph extended the business into Massachusetts and his career spanned from late 1720's well into the 1750's. Joseph's son John crafted headstones from the mid 1770's until the end of the 1700's. Each of the 3 generations got more detailed and more elaborate. Pictured here is John Johnson's work from Middletown which is deteriorating, however you can still see the fine craftmanship on this stone. So next time you look at a headstone you may want to do some research into who made that stone. You never know, it could be a family member!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

New England Genealogy Trip - Part 2 Cemeteries of New England

I am a Catholic living in Chicago. Catholic Cemeteries here are very organized and most of the Catholic cemeteries have an office you can go to with a free computerized kiosk where you can enter a full name or a surname and find the exact location of the person you are looking for. If you print out your entry you even get a map with the exact location of the grave. Simple! Not so in the old cemeteries in New England. During my 10 days there, there was only 1 day it did not rain. All the rain must have caused the bug and mosquito population to grow because several of my cemetery visits were hampered by swarms of flying insects and I have returned home covered in mosquito bites, battle scars of the fruits of my labor. Although I did not complete anywhere near what I had expected, I have come home with thousands of pictures.
Pictured to the left is the twin headstones of 13 year old Jonathan Hunt and his sister Thankful age 7 of Northampton, Massachusetts. According to the headstone they were killed by lightening. I have found many headstones that listed a cause of death like this one although most do not. Northampton is a charming community nestled in the hills an mountains of the area and the road to Northampton is stunning in it's beauty. The only cemetery I visited there was The Bridge Street Cemetery. This cemetery is well taken care of and appears to still be accepting burials. The older graves are in surprisingly good condition, however, time is taking it's toll. I doubt 100 years from now most will be readable. Many are difficult at best to read now. I found my ancestors there neatly along 2 rows of older graves, one row directly behind the other. By the time I found them I had searched the cemetery for 2 hours. I was pleased their headstones were readable and still existed, though I could not read some completely. Some of the headstones were beautiful works of art. The cemetery at Northampton was much larger than the others I visited.
I had been to The Mechanic Street Cemetery (Old Burying Grounds) in Westfield before. This time I knew exactly who I was going for. The cemetery is locked so I got the key and went there with my list. It is a beautiful old cemetery that has graves as far back as 1683 (Elizabeth Noble's stone). There is much open space in this cemetery and many missing headstones. The town has done a great job documenting who is there, whose is missing headstones, etc. As you walk in the gate, there is a Revolutionary War monument that bears the name of my John Dewey and all other veterans of that war born in Westfield. Well manicured lawns make it easy to move through the cemetery to find the graves. It is easy to spot the older graves because of their color. The older stones are brownish or black. White stones seemed popular in the 1800's.
In Connecticut, I began with the ancestral home of the Kent's in the town of Suffield. Suffield is the most beautiful of all the towns I visited. The main street was lined with huge sprawling well manicured lawns dotted with beautiful flowering trees that were all in full bloom when I visited. The First Congregational Church was there with a burial ground in the back. The church has been added onto several times and I learned later all my Kent's graves are now under the church foundation. The graveyard is stretched out over rolling hills some of which are quite steep which made getting to the lowest spot a real challenge in the mud. Suffield has always been a wealthy town and it's graves show that. Many of it's monuments are huge and elaborate. Many of the older headstones from the 1700's are works of art. Although obviously well cared for this cemetery also has many monuments and headstones lying in ruins on the ground. This is true in most of the cemeteries I visited. These treasures of history, both family and national are deteriorating and crumbling and being lost forever. Some have been ruined beyond repair but I found so many with a little loving care that could be saved now and preserved for a hundred years or more longer. It broke my heart to see so many in such peril. It seems to me since most of these towns have historical societies this would be a perfect project for them. The broken headstones could be repaired and the headstones that have fallen over could be returned to their rightful place. Many covered in moss and lichens could be easily cleaned so the writing on the stones can be seen as well as protected from the damage the plant life would incur.
In Plymouth I found they took preservation of the Old Burying Ground there a step further. Not only is the beautiful old cemetery well taken care of, but they have preserved the old headstones in a dramatic manner that I have never seen before.
As can be seen on the image to the left, this grave of John Bartlett has been encased in concrete to preserve it. Although it changes the look of the headstone, it will preserve it for future generations to view. I am still not sure of what I think of this method but it is effective for preservation. It is clear Plymouth takes these treasures seriously as I am sure tourism is a huge portion of their income in this quaint town made famous by the pilgrims that landed on Plymouth rock. I saw no moss growing on the stones here, no broken stones as they are all well taken care of. The cemetery is high on a hilltop and offers a sweeping breathtaking view.
In Middlefield, Connecticut a small hilltop cemetery called Old North Burying Grounds was remote and difficult to find. What I saw as I opened the gate shocked me. The grass was high - past my knees and it was clear no one has taken care of this cemetery. Most of the graves were hidden by overgrown weeds and thick with moss. The cemetery looked fairly bare as far as headstones went until I realized so many were laying on the ground. Chunks of headstones were strewn about everywhere. This cemetery made me the saddest of all. Established in 1735 I knew this cemetery at one time bore the headstones of many of the children who were founders of Middletown as well as Hartford. It seemed a shame that no one seemed to care. I did find a few of my ancestors buried there, however, several were either missing or the headstones were unreadable. If I had the time and money, I would return to New England to preserve these unique treasures for future generations.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

New England Genealogy Trip Part 1

I had decided last winter to make a trip last summer to New England to try to complete the ancestry of my mother's family - the Dewey family tree. My mother's family had deep roots in Massachusetts and Connecticut and I decided the easiest and quickest way to complete her family story was to make this journey and walk in the footsteps of my ancestors. The goal at the time was to each each line back to England and learn their stories as well as their names. The last months of my mother's life I would tell her different stories of her various ancestors as I used to read to my daughter before bedtime. She loved the stories I told her. I admit I embellished a few of them to fill in the unknown and make the story flow better. The childlike joy and anticipation in my mother's face encouraged that. Unfortunately, life threw a few mishaps my way and the trip had to be postponed twice.

Eight months after my mother's death, the trip has finally begun. Yesterday as the pilot announced we would be arriving in Hartford in 20 minutes, I looked out the window. Although I had come here before, the view took my breath away. I was viewing this beautiful virgin landscape with fresh new eyes. It was not simply beautiful countryside,His journey it was the land my ancestors cleared and settled. After obtaining a rental car once we landed, I programmed my GPS for the location of my hotel. As I followed the instructions to follow the exit right, I saw a sign. The sign read, "Windsor, Established 1633". Among others, the first Dewey here helped to establish Windsor. What a wonderful start to my trip! The sign made me think of how easy my trip was. I listen to what the GPS tells me and I arrive at my destination miles away, minutes later. And my journey there is effortless and comfortable. Thomas Dewey's journey would have been quite different, filled with danger and exposure to the elements. So I begin my quest to learn all I can, solve the mysteries and enjoy myself in the process. Although the weather has lots of rain and unfavorable temperatures forecasted, I will not let that stop me. More to come....


Friday, March 18, 2011

Italian Vs. Early American Genealogy

After years of working on my Dad's Italian family, I have been focusing more on Mom's family over the past year. Researching the 2 different branches of my family are so different! The only chance at learning more about my Italian family was very labor intensive and time consuming. I had to drive an hour to my local family history center, order microfilms, wait for them to come in and sift through the hundreds of Napolitano's in the Montalto Uffugo records to figure out which were mine. To do this, I had to find the only other name I knew in the records, Domenico Garrafa. I knew if I found his first wife, Emilia Napolitano, I could trace my own family. I had to learn enough Italian to be able to read those records. Once I learned enough Italian, all I could hope to find was names, dates and places. But I wanted to know their stories. What made our family dynamic what it was. What their lives in Italy were like. Through my websites, and all that work, I was finally able to obtain many stories, although I had to piece them together from emails I received from other families connected to my own. As I got further back, I was able to extract more stories by reading every document I could find. Very brief stories with little detail. As I searched the records of Tropea, I found much less. Missing documents, family documents that had mold and water damage so bad, it made them virtually unreadable. I was extremely happy to find a website called Tropea Magazine which gave me stories about my Tropean family. Because of their accomplishments in art, music and politics I was able to find information on this website about my great grandmother's first cousins and even information about the marriage of her parents. I thought I would never get this lucky again. I was wrong.
When I finally got to my mom's family, I was astounded! So much information! Then I discovered The Newberry Library in Chicago. So many books on each of my family lines it astounded me. Details on each ancestor and so many stories, I simply could not believe it. I am still sifting through books and stories about her ancestors. Detailed stories that include plots of land they owned, places they had been, posts they held in the town and details of military service and most importantly details about their lives. It seems the number of stories on how they lived and died was endless. Much of this information is from the 1600 and 1700's! To know such detailed information on the lives of my ancestors who lived almost 400 years ago amazed me. I could never hope for this much information on my Italians. In Italy, the records of death (atti di morte) give you the dates and place of death, age of the deceased and the names of his or her parents and last spouse. But my early New England families often offered me a detailed cause or description of their deaths. Several of my ancestors died in attacks by the Indians in the French Indian wars. Detailed accounts of their deaths could be found in many different books. I have found photographs of my great great grandparents, artwork of many of my direct line ancestors homes, photographs of their graves and homes and so much more.

But the flow of information on my mom's family did slow up in the 1800's and finding information on her more recent family generations became more difficult. Her father's family, the Dewey's moved to a remote part of New York state. Their are no microfilms of records for the towns they lived in. Mom grew up with her grandmother Etta Kent Dewey and the Kent's came from a remote area of Pennsylvania in Susquehanna County where there are no records available to me online or though the microfilms held by the LDS Family History Libraries. It is here it the mid 1800's that my Italian research and my American research become similar as I search for any bits of information to piece together to find the stories and the ancestry of my families. And so my search continues for both my Italian and American families. As I move forward in time, I cannot help but wonder what future generations will find on us.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Surname Saturday - Kent

The family of my mother's grandmother, the Kent's have had me stumped for years. I have ignored them for years hoping records would be made available to assist me. There are no records available for the area the Kent's lived outside of Pennsylvania, however there are several books regarding the history of the area. My mother's grandmother was Etta Kent Dewey. A number of years after the death of her husband, Charles Marion Dewey, Etta came to live with her son, Dix Dewey and his young family. Mom often talked about her 2 "Victorian" grandmother's that she grew up with living in her home. Etta Kent Dewey, according to my mom, was proud and very proper. Her ancestry went back to the early days of this country and she was well aware of this and very proud of it. She established herself in the household as the dominate female. It was always clear Etta's final years must have been difficult and she was destitute after the death of her husband and had to live with her son and his family in her final 30 years of life. The things I have uncovered this week are heartbreaking and explain much about Etta Kent Dewey and the woman she was. I only wish my mother were here to hear her grandmother's heartbreaking early years. To uncover the full story of this family and their ancestry, I will have to travel to Pennsylvania to obtain records. But for now, this is what I know.
I will begin the story of Etta Kent with her father, Abel Kent.
Abel Kent (pictured here) was born on October 16, 1816 to Carlton Kent and Sally (Griggs) Kent in Bradford Township, Susquehanna, Pennsylvania (formerly part of Luzerne County). How long the Kent family spent in Bradford is unclear. What is clear is, it could not have been too long. Carlton Kent was born in Massachusetts according to the censuses he appears in for 1850 and 1860. Unfortunately, it does not say where in Massachusetts.
Abel Kent married Maryetta Snedeker in the late 1840's. Maryetta was the daughter of James Snedeker and Elizabeth White. Maryetta Snedeker's Dutch and German roots go back to the early days of the new colony called "New Amsterdam", presently called New York City. Together Abel Kent and Maryetta had 7 children. Able was a farmer in Herrick, located in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. On September 16, 1868 Abel Kent died leaving his children fatherless and his wife a 41 year old widow. One year later, on October 8, 1869 Abel's wife Maryetta Snedeker Kent died leaving their 7 children orphans. The youngest child Adella was only 3 years old. My great grandmother Etta was only 4 years older. What happened to their home is unknown. The next record of the family is the 1870 census which has all the children living together with an "Abram Kent" in Great Bend, Pennsylvania. Who Abram Kent was, I do not know, however, he did take all the 7 Kent children into his home. I cannot find other records for an Abram Kent and at the time, he was not married.
By 1880 all the Kent children were scattered throughout Pennsylvania and nearby Broome County, New York. The 1880 census shows the 19 year old Etta Kent with the Leet family in Binghamton, New York working as their maid. Her older sister Helen was also in Binghamton at the time, listed as a servant of the Harris family. Both sisters married men from Binghamton. Later in 1880 Helen Kent married Andrew Crandall. On New Year's Day, 1884 Etta married Charles Marion Dewey in Binghamton, New York. Charles' father, Milton Dewey was a resident of Binghamton. In October 1884, Etta gave birth to her first child, a son they named Dee Darius Dewey. However, on Christmas Eve the following year her young son died. This must have broken her heart. Several months later in April 1886 Etta gave birth to her second child, also a son she named Don Durand Dewey. On June 1 1887 her last child, Dix Darius Dewey was born. Don and Dix were born in Jersey City, New Jersey. Over the next few years the couple moved to Ames, Iowa and St Louis, Missouri. I can only assume the many moves the family made were the result of Charles' searches for employment. This could have been a result of the depression Charles suffered from. On May 25, 1904 Etta sent her 2 teen sons out to look for their missing father. Each day for a week the boys went looking for him. On May 31st, my grandfather found his father dead in a pasture. He had died by his own hand having taken a fatal dose of carbolic acid. At the age of 43 my great grandmother was a widow in a strange city far from family or friends with no income and 2 teenage sons to feed. What happened to Etta and her 2 sons after this, I am not sure. I do know Don Dewey was in Seattle, Washington by 1910 where he lived out the remainder of his life. In 1910 Etta Dewey shows up in the census living with her late husband's sister Francis and her husband James Guernsey in Binghamton, New York. By 1918 she was living with her son, my grandfather, Dix Dewey and his wife Myrtle. From that point forward my grandfather supported his mother. There is a happy ending to this story though. Etta Kent Dewey lived the last 30 years of her life with her son and grandchildren as an integral member of the family. She died in Elgin, Illinois at the age of 86. Although the first half of her life was filled with uncertainty, insecurity and tragedy, the last 30 years were filled with home, family and security.
Dix D. Dewey, Dix Dewey Jr., Dorothy Dewey, Myrtle (Schmitt) Dewey
and Etta (Kent) Dewey in 1919.