The Washerwoman’s Genes

February 28, 2006

R: Some Questions

Filed under: Clothesline — by WWG @ 2:07 pm

The R first appears in 1856, for the middle name of Cornelius’ and Jeannette’s youngest child William. My dad was a William R., and I’ve been guessing that the R has come down through the generations. The first William R. (b. 1856) was my dad’s great uncle, and he had a son also William R. (b. 1881). I remember my dad telling me when I was small that the R was for Rudolph . . . as in Reindeer.

But I’ve been wondering about the R. Many middle names in this branch of the family seem to evoke the last names of more prominent citizens. Cornelius’ H I believe stands for Huyck, an old Dutch surname from the Kingston area, but one with no relation to our family line. C & J’s children included William Clark and Benjamin Winfield. Winfield, true, is the maiden name of Cornelius’ mother Elizabeth. There is a Clinton that repeats as a first or middle name in the family of another C & J son, Clinton as in Dewitt. Was this a family that needed a dose of respectability, of the mainstream?

And Rogers? There was Robert Rogers, who systematized frontier fighting tactics and used them in the French and Indian Wars. He is a villain in Joseph Bruchac’s The Winter People, about the crushing of the Abenaki tribe in the St. Lawrence region in 1759. He wrote “Rogers’ Ranging Rules,” and has been heralded as the father of the Special Forces. There is a Rogers Street in Kingston, I think.

I believe my dad said his middle name was Rogers, but that made no sense to me. There was Roy Rogers, after all, my favorite cowboy, and there was my dad. So I heard it as Roger. Now I discover that William R., Jr., listed his middle name as Rogers on his draft registration. But there’s no military strain in the family; I haven’t yet found anyone who served until WW II. And why would C & J bestow the name of a famous Indian fighter . . . unless to counter some other implications?


“R” is for Rogers

Filed under: Washboard — by WWG @ 12:52 pm

William R., Jr., the son of my grandmother’s uncle Willie, must have been draft age in 1917, so I have been searching for him in the wanning moments of the free access to the WWI draft registration cards at His birth date is crucial, since his is a common name. Once I satisfied myself that the 1900 census does say his birth was in August, 1881, he popped right out of the draft records: the R stands for “Rogers,” and he was born on the seventh of the month.

His address is hard to read: 9th Ave.? 1st Ave.? It’s written twice, once for him, once for his nearest relative, but I still can’t make it out. He is a caretaker at the Parkview Theatre on Prospect Park southwest (?). Right location, odd job for a relative of my very strictly Methodist grandmother. (My dad loved movies; did Willie, jr., his mother’s cousin, ever let him sneak in?) His next of kin looks like “Nora” but it’s very sketchy.

Physically, he is medium build and height, with brown eyes and black hair (not very like my branch of the family). I would like to trace him forward, but a fast look does not discover him and “Nora” in 1910 or ’20 in Brooklyn.

Great-Uncle Willie, 1856-1917

Filed under: Washboard — by WWG @ 10:48 am

I spotted my dad’s great uncle Willie on the Italian Genealogy Vital Records list of Brooklyn deaths. I was pretty sure it was him, and I sent for the certificate. The piece of paper didn’t tell me too much new, but it’s still a thrill to receive an old document from a past that had been so hidden.

William R. died in 1917, at 60, just a few weeks before turning 61. This was a difficult year: in the fall, my dad’s parents, living in the same house, would lose a young baby (and possibly two, if they were the twins). His wife pregnant, Grandpa would register for the draft, claiming exemption as husband and father of two. He didn’t have to serve, but he must have been worried.

Josie (my dad’s grandmother) was four years older than her brother, but she lived for another fifteen years.

Willie’s death occurred at Methodist Episcopal Hospital: another confirmation of what denomination may hold the family religious records. He was a widower—I knew that from the census. It says he had no occupation; he had lived with Josie for some time, and I had suspected he was ill or infirm. He died of, jeez, a “carbuncle of back of neck,” with “diabetes mellitus” as a contributory factor. He’s buried at Greenwood. His father’s name is correct on the certificate, but the spelling of his mother’s adds yet another to the list of distortions of the poor woman’s identity. Her first name is fine, but her birth surname here is “Quimbo.” Willie’s and his parents’ birthplace is listed as United States, leading me to believe the informant for the certificate was not too deep in the family details. We are all, of course, NYers.

And that informant is: William R., Jr. He would have been my father’s first cousin once removed (his mother’s cousin). In 1880, his father, the older William, appears in the census twice, once in Sleightsburg, Ulster County, as “Willie” (“works in mill”), living with his mother (whose married surname in this record has an “h” in it), and also in his sister’s household on Degraw Street in Brooklyn, as William R., (“works in mill”). There, his surname is spelled with an “e” instead of a “u.” In 1880, William appears to be unmarried and transitioning to Brooklyn.

In 1900, William is living with his two children, William, Jr., age 18, and Catherine, age 12, in his sister Josie’s household. The image shows young Willie’s birth date as August, 1881 (the “1” is ambiguous), and he is indexed as being 18. William Sr.’s wife is absent, although he is listed as married for 20 years. (By 1910, he is listed as “Wd.” so she died in the interval. I don’t know her name, although I wonder if it was Catherine, like her daughter’s.)

My dad’s name was William R. He told me the “R” was for Roger. I wanted confirmation of this, and hoped his great-uncle’s death certificate would reveal the middle name, but no such luck. My curiosity about Willie comes in part from my father being his namesake.

A Life in Laundry

Filed under: Story — by WWG @ 9:46 am

Family wash goes through your hands, piece by piece. I became a mother of two elementary school age children, and their little polo shirts and tees, their short shorts, their grass-stained sports uniforms, their brown-footed socks, all became mine for a moment or two: a few minutes of inspection, a second of sorting.

Some items I came to know more closely. I scrubbed the base-sliding dirt out of Little League whites, grime from the cuffs and the pocket edges, popsicle drips from shirt fronts. I dunked the sooty socks in bleach or rubbed them toe to heel in my hands with a dousing of detergent. I disgorged the heaps of dry from the machine and folded, folded, folded, pants and polos and jerseys, and was careful to forbear to iron the overalls lest they become “too flat.”

Laundry is personal. Each item is chosen on a day, becomes the known self of a person to others for that one day, then is cast off as soiled, to be forgotten until it appears again for choosing. In that time of forgetting, comes the laundress, to restore.

Before machines, every item was handled. Sloshed in a tub, yes, soaked and wrung in a twist, but first given a glance: scrub, yes, or no? True today: inspect, then douse with enzyme, rub with a brush, or not. Oh, you can dump, from hamper to basket to machine, but at the other end, tumble-dried stains are set forever. (That’s what the back of the closet is for, no?) It’s when you deliver your clothes to the process of laundry that they return better than they left.

The laundress surveys your drawers, gives your undies and jamies a look over, holds your sports clothes between two fingers. She has potions: blue and crystal clear, all-temperature, powder and liquid, scented like the air or teddy bears or nothing at all. She has technique, a wrist, a strong back, an eye, and she plays the Maytag like a violin.

The laundress knows dirt. Sauce and jam, mayo, tomato, yolk of egg. World dirt: garden grime, bug smear, mud of street and grease of car. Body dirt: say no more. The most profane and humble knowledge, a mortifying knowledge: the laundress’ domain. Then, and yes, now.

My baby’s togs made a tiny wash, fairy clothes in a small pile, folded with a flick. Then the pants legs grew, longer and longer, year by year, the corduroy thicker, the basket heavier. A life goes by in the laundry room, a childhood ends, her clothes fit her this year and the next, she does her own laundry.

That top? Is it new? It’s not senility that I don’t recognize the shirt on her back one day as we get in the car.

I got it at the mall with Meg the other week.

It’s nice, I say. Very you.

February 27, 2006

Searching for Mr. M & M s

Filed under: Washboard — by WWG @ 10:33 am

I just learned a few days ago that has opened the World War I draft registration records to public searching—but just for the month of February. I also read up on the records; registration was mandatory. During another previous free period, I had found my grandmother’s cousin, but not my grandfather. I redoubled my efforts on the assumption that he was there in the records, but obscured by, most likely, a spelling or transcription error.

I searched his name; then I searched a variation; then I searched a mutation. I have learned that plugging in an aberrant version drives spelling weirdnesses to the front of the results; I have found Burgel and Merriman and McNeninam. This time I looked over the first page of results and realized I had strayed into another paradigm: McNamara and McNulty. I clicked on “Next” anyway, because so many times I have made discoveries on the second or third page of results. I scanned.

There it was: John Mcmman. I knew him by his consonants. I clicked on the image. The first word I noticed as the registration card formed on the screen: Plumber. Sure enough, the signature line on the bottom was clear: my grandpa.

But the card had been folded up on itself when photographed for the microfilming. It’s a miracle they got as much of a name as they did from the first line. (Why didn’t the indexer just look down at the signature? Every letter was clear.) His address at that time is covered up (probably it’s the familiar 17th Street family bastion) Also covered is his date of birth, which I would like to know for sure as I search for his birth records, and place of birth. We presume it is Brooklyn, but much about his birth is mysterious, and I would love to know for sure. It may be tragic that I can’t access this part of the record, if I can’t locate his birth certificate in Brooklyn or NYC.

The first line really visible is line 5, listing an address I have never associated with my grandparents, on 47th Street in Brooklyn. (It turns out that this line is for workplace address.) He is self employed.

The reason grandpa was exempted: wife and two children. That would be my dad and . . . Rachel? According to my research,* grandpa’s card is type A, and he would have been registered in the first cycle, for men born between June 6, 1886 and June 5, 1896. The blank type A registration card I accessed at Ancestry indicates they were completed June 5, 1917. Rachel lived between 1915 and 1919. When was Josie born? 1918, I think. The registration occurred before baby John—and his missing twin–was born (July 23, 1917) and died in Oct. 1917. So grandma must have been about to give birth at the time of the registration.

The card tells me little else of use. I already knew my grandfather had no military experience. And the upper right, which contains a physical description, is obscured. I would have loved to have seen that: his hair color (probably brown), his eye color (definitely blue), and his height and weight, here charmingly queried as “tall, medium or short?” (probably tall), and “slender, medium, or stout?” (probably slender). But it’s possible he was blond, and more medium in form. I only remember him as an older bald man, tall of course, as all men are tall to children.

*The Italian Genealogy site has a relevant newsletter article, “World War I Selective Service System Dreaft Registration Cards 1917-1918,” from the Oct. 1997 Newsletter, updated March 17, 1998. The blank Card A downloaded from Ancestry shows the full roster of questions asked.

February 22, 2006

Half the twins is better than none

Filed under: Washboard — by WWG @ 6:01 pm

I found one of the twins. This would be one of my paternal uncles: an infant who died three months after his birth. I knew my father had twin siblings who died young; he never told me their names, only just referred to them as “the twins.” No one seems to know any more about them.

But I was searching around in the Italian Genealogy Site’s vital records databases, and I realized one of the twins might have been called John. The repeating names in my father’s family have helped me find footholds for stepping back in time, but the name John seems to skip a generation. Or not. So I searched, found nothing, meaning what? One possibility is that the name had been so misspelled or misinterpreted that it didn’t come up even in a sounds-like search. (Four-syllable last names are very susceptible to becoming alphabet soup.) I switched the “m” and “n” around, and up it came: an infant John, with a very weird last name, born and died in 1917 in Kings Co. I sent away for the certificate, and bingo: my grandma and grandpa are listed as his parents. His name is misspelled on the top of the certificate, but his father’s last name is correct!

That’s the second deceased sibling I’ve found; Rachel died at age 4 in 1919. She was easier to pick out: her surname is spelled correctly. I saw the name Rachel and I knew she was mine: my grandmother had a sister named Rachel.

But there should be another twin. I’ve searched some likely first names, pairing them with fractured versions of our surname, but with no results. James? Catherine? Walter? And many others. The census is no use: these children were born and died between the censuses.

February 13, 2006

Yankee from Connecticut?

Filed under: Clothesline — by WWG @ 8:14 pm

The phrase in the note by Rev. William Boyce from 1827 (see “They were ancestors . . .” from Feb. 13, 2006) suggests that the title of Twain’s 1889 story probably derived from a commonplace expression in use at least fifty years prior. I’ve been trying to find out more about it. According the American Heritage Dictionary, “yankee” has been around since 1757, its origins probably from the Dutch “Janke,” a nickname in use since the 17th century and probably derisive. As in Twain’s story, the phrase “Yankee from Connecticut” seems to convey a rogue or shallow, irresponsible fellow. But when was it first used? Of course, poor Rachel Winne’s bad boy was likely from Connecticut–it’s just that the minister chose to twist the knife by calling him a “Yankee from Connecticut.”

They may be ancestors, but they were people, too.

Filed under: Washboard — by WWG @ 7:22 pm

Some human interest details from the microfilm roll, “Church Records of Ulster and Orange Counties”:

At the end of the baptismal lists for “The First Record of the Reformed Church at Shokan,” a minister writes:

Peter J. Winne is sponsor for child which was born in town of Saugerties on Aug. 5, 1827. child’s name is Sally Margaret. It’s mother Rachel Winne daughter of said Peter.

The child was begotten by illicit intercourse between said Rachel and a Yankee from Connecticut. His name was Benj. Reed.

By the anxious solicitude of Peter Winne I was induced to baptized [sic] the child on Dec 10 1827 at Jacobus Wolven’s house in Kingston.

[signed] William Boyce

The “Record of Reformed Dutch Church at Woodstock” contains the following note at the end of the membership lists:

Mrs. Anne Burger wife of Martyn was found on a fair examination guilty of Swaring imprudently and was suspended from privileges of church. In July 1809 she was again admitted by unanimous consent.

This particularly caught my eye . . . though I have no indication that my Burgers ever lived at Woodstock and believe the Martynus Burger line is a quite separate one. . . . What is swearing prudently, anyway?

Reading the Reels: Old Dutch Church

Filed under: Washboard — by WWG @ 1:14 pm

The predominant church in the Hudson Valley in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was the Old Dutch Church, and many records have survived. I’ve just spent six weeks plowing through as many rolls of microfilm pertaining to Esopus and Kingston and environs, and I’m not done yet.

On one roll, labeled just “Miscellaneous Records,” the initial pages were in Dutch. The date itself was mysterious: 17 something, two digits that looked like sideways 8s, with the left loop minimal in size. It seemed a fussy way of writing zero; and it seemed somewhat possible that records might be kept in Dutch as late as 1700 (the Dutch lost the colony about 1661). The records were followed, however, with English records from 1811, with many of the same names. Internally, the Dutch portions had other dates, referencing the 1770s through the ’90s. Eventually I could see that the sideways 8s were really 8s, and the records dated from 1788–an amazingly late point for Dutch to be in use.

I still didn’t know what I was looking at. I’ve become quite accustomed to the layout of baptismal records, with their three columns for parents’ names, child’s name and birth or bap’t. date, and sponsors’ names. I’ve read quite a few marriage records, often organized under the presiding minister, with date, person and residence, and residence of the couple. I’ve decoded church membership lists, usually rough and poorly laid out, with dates and notations about “adm. by confession, “by let.,” and “bap’t.” and sometimes with details of death (or not: ”dead” reads the note appended to Zacharias Burger’s 1799 membership listing in the Esopus church) or dismissal: “dis. by let. to M.E. ch,” for example, means a member in good standing was given a letter to that effect so as to change to the Methodist Episcopal church). In one set of records, MGS was added after current members’ names.

But these Dutch lists of ladies’ names, what were they? Names crossed out, named added, “nue.” I thought perhaps there was a club or group requiring dues, and this was the account book. But when the records switched to English I saw they were bench assignments: “Maritje Beever, now Elesabeth Quembe.” Astonishing, but, then, of course, I guess I knew that; somewhere in my history education I learned that church membership required contributions. Did the less financially able stand around in the back? Were they even allowed in? I haven’t found my own ancestors enrolled in the church, except for Zacharias; it’s possible they were members of another denomination: my grandmother, Zach’s great-granddaughter, was a Methodist. But it’s also possible they didn’t spend the money. Zacharias was a farmer; Cornelius a mason. Not poor, but not pillar-of-the-community landowners either.

Seats for life, Seats forever

Filed under: Story — by WWG @ 12:26 pm

Elesabet Quenbe had a seat in pew #40 in the Reformed Dutch Church at Wiltwyck in 1788; she took it over from Maritje Beever.

It says so right before my eyes in—well, not black and white– in brown on beige: the sepia projections of a microfilm reader. And it says so in Dutch, in a crabbed hand, amid cross-outs and indecipherable notations: Maritje Beever nue Elesabet Quembe.

But I recognize the name, or think I do, as I pursue Quinbys and Quimbys through the records of old Kingston, NY. Is this the Betsie Quimbey who shows up later in the baptismal and marriage records of this church as wife of Phillip Van Keuren (also Van Curen)–married in 1798 (or ’99 in Hoes’ transcription)? More crucially, is Elesabet, an adult by 1788, related to my Jannette, b. 1817? Is she an aunt, perhaps? Or just a side-track?

She caught my eye, and now I ponder her, and this church notebook which someone saved for two hundred-plus years, and which someone microfilmed, back when microfilming was the state of the art in preservation. I was turning the wheel to advance the film and suddenly everything was in Dutch, and I squinted hard and scanned for names, my eyeballs marinating in the sepia-stained light that makes an antique document look, well, antique.

Elesabet Quembe doesn’t appear in the next set of records—in 1800, the records switch to English– in that seat or any seat. Nor can I find Van Keuren in the men’s lists. But reading the yellowing pages put me there: in a church segregated by sex, where sitting was by subscription and records told the tale. The men’s lists revealed something else; besides the year-by-year payment, some seats were purchased “for life.” Others were “seats forever.”

But the church itself is long gone; the denomination is now the Reformed Church of America, one with a small presence on the national religious scene.

What were they thinking? In 1800, did no one have an inkling of how quickly things would change and change again and again? Not much is “for life,” and what is “forever”?

Even preservation is temporary. The books are crumbling. The microfilms will fade; the originals will be scanned and digitized, to last how long?

And Elesabet? Someone in the twenty-first century is thinking about you. That may be as close to “forever” as it gets.

Miscellaneous Records of Dutch Church ( also known as Wiltwyck or Esopus) Kingston NY (1663-1881) on microfilm roll # 0017734.

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