The Washerwoman’s Genes

April 28, 2006

Climbing the family tree (Or—a banana for Brian)

Filed under: Story — by WWG @ 9:14 am

Brian Hennigan, columnist for the Scotsman, an Edinburgh newspaper, recently wrote a snide attack on genealogical research (“Family Trees make monkeys of us all,” April 18, 2006). In it, he suggests that burgeoning on-line genealogy sites allow the weak-minded to slide into fantasy-land and dwell in the realm of the trivial. For retirees, he sneers, genealogy is “a way of checking out their soon-to-be neighbours.” For the rest, it is a “pointless hobby.” Those who think their family history speaks about their present-day identity are deluded, he says. Those who find their ancestors interesting are themselves crushingly not.

Genealogists ought to go “all the way,” he insists, hoping to someday see ”a family tree that ends in a picture of a monkey” and a comment of “now I know why I’ve always like bananas.”

So, Brian, what did a genealogist ever do to you?

Is it that you don’t see the point because you think you are the most interesting thing that ever happened in your family line?

From his burst of outrage, I can tell that genealogy is as popular in the British Isles as it in the U.S. Quite obviously, the urge to investigate one’s origins is universal, and it must be more than self-indulgence or navel-gazing that motivates so many. Whenever I mention my ancestor research, the response is always enthusiastic.

Although one of Hennigan’s criticisms of family research is that inevitably people discover being “descended from something noble or noble-ish,” if he ever bothered to read what researchers say in on-line discussion boards and gen blogs, he’d know that family history is not about pumping up the old self-image. Rather, it’s about work: hours of detail-sifting and note-taking. Then comes the hypothesizing—about people’s inner motives, the pressures on them, the choices they made in a distant time and space. In other words, it’s about constructing history.

Few of us, in fact, have the luxury of researching ancestors with influential, and thus well-documented, lives. We are more like detectives, picking up the few clues left by people whose lives passed without notice by much of anyone other than the town clerk, the parson, and the undertaker. About this poverty of remnants we can only feel grief: so many lives slipped away into nothingness. About finding a scrap of proof, there is amazement, even awe. Family names in church and census records are our equivalent of a shard of colonial redware, an old treaty rolled up in an attic, or a ruined foundation by an overgrown track in a forgotten woods. There is both familiarity and strangeness in the discovery—the universals of life so recognizable, the texture of their daily existence so remote. Names nearly foreign, Jannetje, Jeronimus, mix with common George and Mary, Elizabeth and John. Occupations quaint or out-dated—tailoress, quarryman, street-car driver, washerwoman, laborer—in a time before labor laws, testify to bloody hard work, bodily toil, even daily pain almost unbearable to think about.

In one way, Henninger is right (if you could get past his snotty tone) that family historians are about “piecing together where your famine-struck ancestors had their last baked potato.” Along the path of ancestor discovery lies a blooded connection to the history of the times. When your find out your great-great-grandmother’s last home was a sod burrow in a thicket, what can you feel but pity and rage?

And if you’re descended from washerwomen, how can you not crave to know, regardless of Henninger’s cocky sneer, “where [your] ancestors hung their washing”?


April 22, 2006

Review: My Dream of You by Nuala O’Faolain

Filed under: Reviews — by WWG @ 12:18 pm

In this recent novel, a contemporary Irish expatriate travel writer—a character seemingly based on the author—explores her own personal and romantic impasses as she revisits rural Ireland to research a book. Kathleen de Burca’s subject is the historical, albeit minor, “Talbot Affair,” a scandalous case of adultery and divorce in a nineteenth-century Ireland still reeling from the effects of the Famine. Attempting to discover the truth of the case, the narrator embarks on a re-experiencing of the Ireland she abandoned for England as a young woman. This re-engagement of her native land involves a passionate and inappropriate love affair, one that echoes the tragic passion at the core of the Talbot divorce.

The novel is O’Faolain’s third book, following her two autobiographies and preceding her recent non-fiction book about the Irish expatriate and minor international criminal, “Chicago May.” Both later books intertwine the narrative of a historic subject with the personal travails of a solitary female Irish writer who seeks the truth of the matter.

Kathleen of My Dream of You has been so obsessed with passion that she has failed to form any long-term intimate commitments. Now nearing fifty, she finds her main companions in life to be her work colleagues, one a gay and high-spirited American who dies suddenly during the time of the novel, and the other her deeply private, unmarried boss, who by the end has been shattered by the death of his elderly mother and seeks to retreat to the order of Anglican monks of which he has secretly been a member. Kathleen herself is so self-alienated that she lives in a basement apartment in London, in between gadding about the world on a travel writer’s expense account.

Her choice to research “the Talbot affair” allows the novel to expound on both Irish history, specifically the Famine and its effects on the Irish, as well as the meaning of love and the meaning of life. (It is a long novel.) The research takes her to the county of her upbringing, prompting her to delve down, layer after layer, through the crushing and draining events her own life, from her bleak Irish family and rural narrowness to her peripatetic and unbounded personal life to the present emptiness of her life in middle age.

O’Faolain is a seismographically sensitive recorder of nuances in nature and in human interactions, and she writes eloquently of the profound ironies embodied by her main character: Kathleen is shown to be an educated, worldly woman, who has created a new identity for herself that belies the cultural impoverishment of her upbringing, who can quote Rilke and adores Schubert, and who travels the world as lightly as most of us cross a street. Yet she struggles to the end with the debased self-image, the lovelessness, the isolation, that are shown to be endemic in the provincial Irish mileu as a result of centuries of colonization and of the Famine’s devastation. (“It is our Holocaust,” Kathleen comments as, for the first time in her life, she takes a close look at the effects of British policy on the Ireland of the early 1800s.)

Indeed, the Famine, with its dark origins in English land-grabs and mass evictions, is as much a player as background in the scandal of Marianne Talbot’s purported affair with an Irish stable hand. Marianne is revealed as a woman famished for passion despite her marriage to an English lord; his high-toned British emotional rectitude and arrogant, deliberate cruelty converges in his treatment of his wife and of the Irish, a population deemed less than human by the English overlords.

For its portrayal of the Ireland so many abandoned for America, the book is a black treasure, as it records the remnants of a now-ancient crime scene: the British having driven the Irish off their land, sent them into the streets and into earthen burrows, to drinking the blood of sheep they are too weak and helpless to steal, to lingering tortuous death. The remoteness, the dismissive, depressive aura of provincial Irish family life seems to devolve from that era of such struggle and failure. Hope for the future seeps in as O’Faolain shows the current Irish personality to be more expressive, more open, more trusting, than that in the Ireland of her youth.

The Irish Side

Filed under: Story — by WWG @ 12:15 pm

My Irish antecedents arrived in America just decades after the Famine had peaked, yet also long before Ireland was to free itself of British control. My mother’s father and mother must have been the children of Famine survivors, and my father’s grandfather also; there is much in O’Faolain’s portrayal of Irish despair and stagnation, emotional suppression and self-alienation that was depressingly familiar to me.

O’Faolain’s story takes place in Ballygall, somewhere in the west of Ireland (at one point she references Roscommon Town). The car rental in Shannon airport comments to the narrator, “If you’re going to Ballygall you’ll need a good car. Is it Roscommon or Mayo or Galway, that bit of the bog? I’d say they eat their dead there, anyway (44).”

Now—that’s a contemporary Irish attitude about the western counties. What would they say about a small village in County Roscommon in 1885? About the place my mother’s parents came from?

Just as the novel set in that domain, the narrator hails from there, as does, I believe, the novelist herself.

O’Faolain connects the emotional primitivism afflicting the rural Irish to the Famine: it is the psychological inheritance of an already backward people who suffered a national bulldozing by colonizing landlords. The evicted survived in burrows, their gardens plowed under, stealing and grubbing what they could to feed their families. “ . . . famine children,” she writes, “would have been like the ones that come running towards the camera from napalm bombs and strafing and earthquakes—children with runnels of snot and sores at the corners of their lips, on faces tense with fear and hatred (75).”

Her narrator Kathleen realizes that the indelible sense of victimhood in her mother’s character, the controlling and harsh essence of her father’s, devolve from that time, and she is driven to try to understand it. “ . . . what would it have been like,” Kathleen asks, “to live in those holes, where the sand is silky but bone-cold. Babies and children in there under branches, maybe, laid across the top, and the mother out on the grass trying to boil potatoes in a pot in the rain or wind over a fire of sea-sodden sticks.”

Studying the history and attempting imaginative reconstruction give her a perspective on, and possession of, the catastrophe that scars the Irish psyche. “The trauma must be deep in the genetic material of which I was made,” Kathleen continues. “ I cannot forget it, I thought, yet I have no memory of it. It is not mine, but who else can own it?” (76).

Serving it up as she does, O’Faolain lets her readers take it on their tongues, in a ritual of self-inclusion and meditation and, perhaps improbably, healing.

Isn’t that what this ancestor-quest is about?

April 21, 2006

1891 Title Page

Filed under: Washboard — by WWG @ 11:45 am

Yesterday I figured out how to get better scans of pages in the microfilm rolls. Up to now, the scans have been near useless: faint, overly gray, un-crisp. I learned I have to lower the brightness about 5 clicks below max, and scan at 200 dpi (the default is 300).


This is the title page of the Hoes transcription of one of my important sources.

Washboard: Early Records Relating to Quimby

Filed under: Washboard — by WWG @ 11:18 am

The Roswell Randall Hoes transcription of the Kingston Church records (see previous post) includes the marriage of a Betsie Quinbe to Philip van Keuren in 1799. The more complete version of these records includes the baptism of two children: Catherine, 20 July 1800, and Eida Christina, 16 Jan. 1802. No witnesses are recorded.

I have encountered Betsie—or a similarly named person—before, as Elisabeth Quenbe, in the Dutch seat registers and the membership rolls of the Dutch Reform Church of Esopus in the years 1799-1802, on a different film roll.

She also turns up in the membership records of the Baptist Church of Lattingtown, Marlborough, which indicate Elizabeth Quimby died in 1819 (just a couple of years after Janette was born). These Baptist records are handwritten and quite crabbed. Elizabeth seems to have several family members whose entries surround her own:

Mary Quimby, M.G.S. [(“Member in Good Standing”] 1825, April 19; M.G.S. 1839 [illegible]1808, [illegible] dis. Sept. 16 184[2?] [illegible] with the First Church of Brooklyn

[Illegible] daughter Maria dis[missed] 1822
S. Neaiman

Elizabeth Quimby Dec’d Jan 1819

Rimpey[?] Quimbey This member was dec’d before his name was recorded here (1828 Apr. 19) but not known by the clerk.

Anne Quimby M.G.S. 1828 dis. Oct 15 1831

A few pages on, more Quimbys appear:

Polly Quimby bapt. Aprl 16, 1810. ex. Jan 16 1830
wife of Samuel Quimby

The following page has this entry:

Maria Quimby bapt. Apr. 16, 182[?] dis. by let[illegible] 1822

Maria Neuman, Polly Quimby’s daughter
dis. by let. Feb. 16 1832

Then, a few pages further in the record comes a quite puzzling series of entries:

Elder Joseph[?] Quimbey, by let. June 18/9, dismissed Sept 26, 1880.
[The surname is edited to be Grimley.]

Samuetn[sic?] Quinby by let. June 18/ 9 1849 dis Sept 21, 18 [??]
[The surname is crossed out, with Grimley written over it, and then printed above more clearly: Grimley.

This material is highly confusing. If these records pertain to the same family, it would seem that Betsie/Elizabeth joined the Dutch Reform Church, possibly because of her marriage to Philip, but that other family members were in the Baptist church—although Elizabeth is recorded as a member towards the end of her life and dies as a member. (Of course, it would be possible for her to be in both churches, I suppose, one being her birth family’s church and the other her husband’s.) I need to discover how close Lattingtown is to Esopus, and also take a look at census records to see if I can find these Quim/nbys.

Then there is the matter of the crossouts and name substitution. Did the family change the name for some reason? Or is the Samuel Quinby-changed-to-Grimley fellow a different person, whose name was confused with an earlier Samuel Quinby and then corrected? Quim/nby is a name usually (not occasionally) misspelled in the census transcriptions I have examined, so anything is possible in regard to this early church record.

Finally, whether Betsie/ Elisabeth or any of these church members are related to my Janette is entirely unknown.

Baptism and Marriage Registers of the Reform Dutch Church (formerly called Wiltwyck or Esopus/Sopus, tr. Roswell Randall Hoes. Film # 0129840, item 4. (complete); also Film # 1321446, item 3, seems less complete, i.e., lacks PVK & BQ child baptisms).

Records of the Baptist Church at Lattingtown, Marlborough. Film # 0017987, item 11.

Washboard: Cornelius’ Great-Grandparents Eduwaart and Lea

Filed under: Washboard — by WWG @ 11:13 am

The microfilm rolls from the Family Search library often contain as many as ten items, often quite disparate. This week I reviewed one that contained “The Book of Dow,” the genealogical records of families with that name, originating in MA and ME. There was also a copy of “Pioneer Days in Idaho City,” which looked to be a lovely book with very nice photos of the frontier, and which, of course, is completely unrelated to anything New Yorkish.

The film also had a copy of Roswell Randall Hoes’ transcription of the Baptismal and Marriage Registers of the old Dutch Church of Kingston, 1660-1809, which was published in book form in 1891. It is quite an elegant publication, and has an informative preface about the growth of the various Dutch Reform churches in Ulster. It is in this church that Hieronymus and Helena (Lena), Cornelius’ (purported) grandparents married in 1760.

This same record (in a more complete form) was included on films in my first batch, and coming back to it with several months’ experience was useful. I now have a more extensive sense of the branches of the family. I was able to look for the families connected to Cornelius’ second wife, for example, and more importantly, to identify his grandmother Lena’s family.

Her surname is quite common in Ulster, and has several variant forms, but only one of the couples had a daughter named Lena: Edwaard (also written as Eduwaat, Eduwart, Edewaard, Eduard, and Evert) and Lea, his wife. Lea’s surname is provided, also with several variations. Their daughter Lena was born October 5, 1740, making her 20 at the time of her marriage to Hieronymus June 20, 1760. But there is no record of Hieronymus’s birth; he was possibly an immigrant. Or, I have recently realized, perhaps he was born in New York City or Brooklyn. In any case, these records also show Lena had several siblings: Zacharias (Oct. 17, 1736); Zara (Aug. 29, 1742); Benjamin (June 16, 1745); Wilhelmus (March 6, 1748) and Abraham (Feb. 11, 1750).

Witnesses at the various baptisms included several with Eduart’s surname: Jooris; Willem; and Sara. Other baptisms in this family include Niklaas and wife baptizing Neeltjen–Lea, Lena’s mother, is a witness to this in 1742. Willem, Jr., and wife baptize Sara in 1748, with Willem, Sr. as a witness. Willem, Sr., isthus one generation up, and probably either father or uncle to Eduart.

An interesting convergence is Hieronymus and Lena acting as witnesses to the baptism of Levie, son of Wilhelm and Janye, in 1774. I wonder if this Wilhelm is the son of Lena’s brother Willem, born in 1748. (I copied this record the first time I looked at Hoes’ book.)

The records of the family start in Kingston, and then switch to the Esopus/Wiltwyck Dutch Reform Church. It can be confusing, because Esopus is also called Kingston, or vice versa, but these appear to be two separate churches. Esopus, south of today’s Kingston, is where Hieronymus and Lena had their family, where Zachariah and Elizabeth W. had their children, and where Cornelius and Jannette lived as well.

Baptism and Marriage Registers of the Reform Dutch Church (formerly called Wiltwyck or Esopus/Sopus, tr. Roswell Randall Hoes. Film # 0129840, item 4. (complete); also Film # 1321446, item 3, seems less complete).

April 10, 2006

“Being dead is the same for everyone”

Filed under: Story — by WWG @ 1:10 pm

“Being dead is the same for everyone,” Nuala O’Faolain writes in her book, The Story of Chicago May (299). “But—being alive?” she asks.

Each life is unique, of course, and personal: an inner experience that our family and friends only know about us in miniscule amounts.

“Are life stories even tellable?” O’Faolain wonders (297) . . . . “Any single moment of a life is so magnificently various, so rich in material and at the same time so multiply and delicately insubstantial that it is hardly served by being placed in a simple, chronological narrative. The thinness continues into character . . . “

O’Faolain has, in fact, much more to go on in her biography of May Duigan, Irish expat and prostitute-crook, than I do in my genealogical research. Not only are there many records of May in newspapers, police files,Pinkerton agency records, and other places, but both she (and one of her lovers) wrote a memoir. Despite the picaresque nature of May’s reminiscences, O’Faolain is able to imagine her inner life, to at least propose her inner feelings with some hope of accuracy.

In that regard, O’Faolain has her womanhood, also lived solo, like May, and her native Irishness, her escape of her origins, and her visitor’s outsiderness to America.

I have the skeleton of the censuses and vital records to create a chain of parents and children, and, indeed, marked graves and a few addresses to view. And I have some memories, of the elderly grandparents who were grandchildren to the early nineteenth-century progenitors I an examining. There are also vague notions and intimations passed down in the family.

But, mainly, to fill in what the experience of life was for them, there’s my own make-up, and that of my parents and other family I knew. Mainly, there’s genes: the long bones, the tall back, the blue eyes, the prominent cheekbones and slightly Roman nose, the sandy hair, the long, long fingers. And there’s character, which we all experience as somewhat intransigent, reflective of our upbringing, yet with a deep undertow of ancient tendencies. How we cope: it comes with the brain.

So I look at the washerwomen, the masons, the carpenters, the river pilots, the tailoress, the gardener, the women “keeping house,” and I see: stoicism, quietness, sensitivity to surroundings and to detail; I see an intensity of focus, a zeal in pursuit of knowing how or knowing about, a respect for skill; the stamina for hard work and long hours. I know the paces and timelessness of submersion in a project. I hear the ease with words, the fluency of language, but I also intuit the shyness, the reserve, the profound need to be unobtrusive. There’s a lack of ego, a humbleness, even a complacency or natural despair, that looks like lack of drive, lack of initiative, lack of ambition, that sets the family apart from extroverted, assured, bootstrapping Americans.

May Duignan’s choice as an Irish peasant was between crime—mostly prostitution and petty thievery—and domestic service. To her this was no choice, and she became a full-fledged citizen of the underworld. For my ancestors, many of them women alone, women with no resources who had to survive until marriage or after widowhood or abandonment, there also was no choice. Domestic work it was. O’Faolain reports that the Chicago vice commission concluded that arrests for Irish females were rarely for prostitution—only 1.1 percent—and “the Irish rated lowest of all ethnic and racial groups for crimes against chastity” (44). I doubt that the Dutch and the Scottish even made the database for any type of street crime.

O’Faolain’s research includes visiting places where May spent time. “The getting to them and the being there were certainties, not open to too many interpretations, . . . Her physical path through the world marked out actual ground. I could escape the transaction of reading her words and then turning to my own experience for a response” (129).

I too feel compelled to go to Esopus and Brooklyn, and Richmond Hill, and whatever other places the census shows my bloodline to have settled. They are hardly the swinging towns of May’s life, but they are mine.

April 7, 2006

Buried in Terpenning Ground

Filed under: Story — by WWG @ 8:36 am

Are disused cemeteries abandoned, forgotten, absorbed by nature, or plowed under, even paved over? Some are moved, I have read: cemeteries in the way of the Ashokan reservoirs were relocated.

And some have been restored and come under the protection of preservation groups. But are there others that are as forgotten as the souls within them? Are these left to fill with leaves in autumn, with wind-sheared limbs and branches, spring mud, weeds in a tangle, and vines flaming up, where one steps with peril? Or hopes not to go at all?

I’ve known for quite sometime that certain ancestors—many in fact—were buried in Esopus in a place called “Terpenning Family Ground.” It’s not on any map; there is no published address for it, although the inscriptions on its many gravestones had been transcribed by Poucher in the 1930s. We were making our second quick trip to Ulster County, and it felt like time to search out these graves. I dreaded discovering that the burial ground had itself passed on.

With a general description of the cemetery being “east of Mirror Lake,” we drove the vicinity, but the burial ground, if it still existed, lay secreted in the orchards and woods of land paralleling the Hudson. No roads go there.

A few questions in the hamlet of Port Ewen quickly led us to a man named Terpenning. He knew the plot, had visited it himself. He kindly offered to lead us there. Following his blue Jeep, we rode around and about and then into the woods on a two-rutted track and up a hill to a clearing with a shed and an empty house. As we swung open our doors, two massive white-tailed deer bucked up and flew off into the woods, their stiff tails blazing pure white.

The twenty acres are still Terpenning land, we were told, though our guide said he was not in the line of that Terpenning branch. The brick house was sited askew on a high point for a view of the river, a far blue beyond the woods.

We took the rest of the trail on foot, brush shoulder-high beside us. A quarter mile up, we rounded a bend and ahead lay a square of land walled-in and thick with stones: the resting place of twenty Burgers. I had their roster in my head. . . many I knew were related to me, and others were a mystery.

Our guide said the cemetery had been restored in 1908: the rubble stone wall, only a few rocks high, was built at that time, and the rows straightened. Crammed as it was with tombs, I realized it would be an awkward and lengthy process to search out family with our new friend standing by.

One of us glanced down, though, and shouted. There at our feet, were Burgers: in fact, THE Burgers, Zachariah and Elizabeth, Cornelius’ parents and therefore my great-great-great grandparents. Next to them, to the left, was a smaller stone: Edgar, Son of Cornelius and Jenet, Sept. 3, 1852, 0-6-26. This infant of nearly seven months, this boy, was born in February, as was my great-grandmother, Josephine. This was her twin, baby Edgar, a tenth child of Cornelius and Jannette.

These three stones are deeply incised and eminently readable. They stand upright. Our guide noted that slanted stones are the worst weathered. Your ancestors, he added, had front-row seats — indeed, they are sited at the eastern edge of the burial ground, in view of the deep blue presence far through the trees, if stones had eyes. They were not, he felt, such humble folk as I had thought. I wondered aloud: as masons, would Cornelius and the other family men have had special insight for choosing enduring stone? The graves I’ve seen of those in my direct line have all been readable, upright, intact.

Poucher’s transcriptions indicate that Terpenning ground also contains several of Cornelius’s brothers, their wives and some children: Benjamin W., 1800-1863; John W., 1802-1857; William C, 1806-1874. We scanned of the rest of the gravestones, to find most washed out. Sometimes, our guide said, a grave rubbing can pull up the names. I already knew I would be coming back.

April 5, 2006

Dreams and Wind

Filed under: Story — by WWG @ 9:28 am

I dreamed I was riding Cornelius’s horse. We were in a barn, but a modern one, a spacious high-ceilinged room, blonde wood beams and dirt floor. I tried to turn him too quickly—no reins, just sudden body lean—and he jumped out from under me, saddle and all, and I dropped standing to the floor. The horse, fawn-colored, massive, turned in a circle and looked back at me, across the space. Then I was removing his saddle, leaning over, reaching under his belly. He had pissed all over the buckle and it was soaking, but I kept at it, my hands drenched with his pee.

Cornelius was watching head-on.

Although it is April now, it’s snowing, big flakes, fast billions of them, a squall, with gale force winds roaring, rocking trees.

A Life in Stone

Filed under: Story — by WWG @ 9:19 am

When I think of Cornelius, I picture my father. I have a photo of Dad and me from my babyhood. He’s in his undershirt, his arms and shoulders bare. A tall skinny guy with pop-out muscles, sandy hair in a brushed-back wind-blown mass, he’s squinting in the sun, kind of laughing. He’s got himself in a spidery crouch, holding up the arms of his summer-dressed little girl so she can stand. She’s squinting too, not smiling, seeming stressed by the glare.

My dad worked with his body. He was a contractor, but small–time; he did a lot of the work himself: lifting, hammering, carrying, reaching, bending, moving all the time. He was fit, long-limbed and lanky, strong with physical labor. That picture shows it.

He died young, but that was the other stuff, modernity: cigarettes, auto travel, television, and the fifties diet. Cornelius lived to be eighty-eight, dying just before the twentieth century began.

So picture Cornelius, like his great-grandson, like my Dad: lanky, hard muscled, physical. He hauled stones, built walls, put up houses. How many of the stone houses of Esopus, built after 1830, are his work? Stone after stone passing through his hands, stones grasped, heaved, slid, pushed into place, Mortar mixed and spaded on, smoothed back and forth with the tool. A brutal work, dirty, sweaty, a work of strain and sheer endurance. Physically I think I know Cornelius, his image, his silhouette, his shadow.

But in certain lights, that shadow swells and looms forbiddingly. He who seems larger than life disappeared into time leaving barely a smear. With Jennette Quimby, my great-great grandmother, he made at least ten babies over nineteen-years. By 1860, that marriage had crumbled. He married Hannah Benjamin, a girl of nineteen: she likely was pregnant at the time. He relocated to New Paltz, starting up his masonry business again. More rocks, more kids, four in all.

How could he? What kind of man would do this? And live, live, live all the way to 1899. His story bursts with strength: two women, two marriages, two families, two sequential lives, two ruins.

The records grow unclear after 1880; the missing census cheats us of a profile of Cornelius and Hannah in his old age. He lived apart from Hannah in 1880; he was a farm laborer in Fallsburg, a town in Sullivan County on the Neversink River as it curves south toward Pennsylvania. The same census finds Hannah and their second daughter Emma, using their middle names Jane and Jennie, as domestic servants in a German household in New Paltz. Everything had crumbled again, a second time, and Cornelius was on his own, 67, a farm laborer on Depuy land.

Then, nineteen years go by, and he dies, and someone takes him and buries him in the New Paltz Rural Cemetery, back in Ulster County, south of both Fallsburg and Esopus. The only other Burger preceding him there is Alida A., his daughter by Hannah who died in 1892 after a short marriage to Charles Decker. Her stone is white and flat in the ground, and spells her name “Burgar,” as will all the stones that follow, including Cornelius’s.

Did he reunite with Hannah in New Paltz? Or did she retrieve him from Fallsburg to bury him where his second family lived? By 1900, she is living with her daughter, Mary Burger Schoonmaker, whose family is buried in the neighboring plot. Cornelius’s grave is set apart from the other Burgars, a row up and to the right, grouped with some unrelated stones.

But his stone is a match to Hannah’s, suggesting they were both cut at her death in 1910. They are thick, machine-incised, twentieth-century granite stones, unpolished but substantial. FATHER is cut in thick capital block letters across the top of his stone, and MOTHER across the top of hers.

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