The Washerwoman’s Genes

June 27, 2006

A Good Mason Story

Filed under: Story — by WWG @ 9:22 pm

In Old Esopus Lore, Wilson Tinney tells a story I just loved. Here it is, in Tinney’s own words:

Some years back there was a mason that I knew, and he got a job laying up a fireplace and chimney for a man, and the man told him that he couldn’t give him any money until the job was finished and then he’d pay him in full.

Well, the fellow didn’t trust the guy, and I guess he knew from what he’d heard that he was a little bit slow in paying. Anyway, he laid the chimney up and got it all finished and said to the fellow, “Well, there you are, you owe me so much.”

The fellow said, “Well, I’ll pay you in a week or two—whenever I get the money, I’ll give it to you.”

In about a week’s time, the fellow came back to the mason and said, “You know, that chimney don’t draw smoke—there’s something wrong with it.” He said, “I looked up the chimney and everything looks all right, but it won’t draw smoke. The smoke all comes back in the room.”

So the mason said, “You know what’s the matter, don’t you? You didn’t pay me for it. As soon as you pay me for the masonry work on that chimney, it’ll draw smoke—it’ll be all right.”

So the fellow waited a day or two, and then he paid the mason in full. And the mason went back with a ladder, and went on top of the chimney and took a couple of rocks up with him. When he got on top, he dropped two stones down through the chimney and heard glass shatter. What he had done [was], when he got about three-quarters of the way up the chimney, he laid in a piece of window glass across the opening. You couldn’t see it when you looked up from underneath—it looked like the chimney was open. So he said to him, after he dropped the stones down there and cleared the glass out, “Now, light a fire in there and see how it goes.”

The fellow did, and everything was all right. I thought that was a pretty good way to get paid for work. (52)

Just like washerwomen, masons have a heck of a time getting paid.

Tinney, Wilson, et al. Old Esopus Lore, Vol, I. Esopus: Klyne Esopus Historical Society, 1996.


Washboard: Tidbits from the New York State Censuses

Filed under: Washboard — by WWG @ 8:56 pm

1855: Son George H makes an appearance. He is in the federal censuses for 1840 and 1850, but he is the only child missing in 1860, the first year Cornelius is absent from the family. Now I know George was still in residence in 1855. In 1865, there is a married George W. in Esopus District 1, but he is aged 30 and born in Washington DC. Jannette’s George would be about 25-27. I still don’t know what happened to him by 1860.

1865: Genetta has had 11 children, according to this census. Only ten lived to be counted in a census, though: Benjamin, Josiah, George, Elisha, Eliza, Jane, Richard, Rachel, Josephine and William, and for a long time I thought that was all. Who wouldn’t? Isn’t ten enough? The eleventh died in infancy: Josephine’s twin, who lies in a grave in Terpenning Family Ground next to his grandparents Zachariah and Elizabeth. He died after six months. Eleven, imagine. Raised in the country, they thrived and swarmed to Brooklyn.

1865: “Genetta” is head of household, and listed as “md.” In 1875 “Jennet” is listed as “wid.” The explanation: the NYS censuses do not have a means of specifying “div.” I got a hold of the blank forms.

1875: Jennet’s house is listed as “frame,” value $800. Other houses in the area are worth $2000, $1500, $1000, $3000. Most are frame; one or two are brick.

Finally, by comparing the neighbors in the three censuses, I can tell the family lived in the same neighborhood for the thirty years. Apparently Cornelius and Jannette raised their nine kids in a little house on the Turnpike, a frame house. Like a shoemaker whose kids have no shoes, stone mason Cornelius had a wooden house.

Washboard: County of Origin for Jannette

Filed under: Washboard — by WWG @ 6:11 pm

Details in the 1855 New York census entry for Burger, C H (this census uses initials instead of first names), give me pause. Wife “G” (Jannette) is said to be born in Sullivan County and a resident of Ulster for sixteen years. B (Benjamin) is said to have been born in Sullivan but to have resided in Ulster for all of his nineteen years. These two facts are incompatible, unless Jannette remained in Sullivan while infant Ben and father Cornelius lived in Ulster, rather unlikely. Then, son J A, (Josiah A.), is also said to be born in Sullivan, but resident of Ulster for only 14 of his 16 years. The rest of the children, starting with G H, for George H., are all born in Ulster.

I make of this that Jannette and Cornelius resided in Sullivan and had their first two children there. It is either a mistake or misreading that Benjamin has resided in Ulster all his life. If Jannette moved to Ulster sixteen years before the census, that puts them in Sullivan until 1839, possibly late 1838. Undoubtedly they were married there.

But where in Sullivan County? The town of Fallsburgh keeps coming up. Cornelius lives there, apart from his second family, in 1880. Also, Elisha James’s wife Elsie, of the same surname as Jannette, lives there apart from her husband and older son, also in 1880.

At this point it looks to me that Cornelius goes to live with the Darius Depuy family in Fallsburgh because his sister Rachel or his cousin Rachel (daughter of Zachariah’s brother William C) married into the Depuy family. Darius Depuy is that Rachel’s grandson. How long he remained there is unknown. I do know now that he was back in New Paltz at the time of his death.*

In 1880, Elsie Q. B. lives with the James Gardners in Fallsburg and is a sister-in-law of the head of household in 1880. The wife, Celia L., would then be her sister.

Later, in 1920, after her husband E. James has died, Elsie and son E. James go to live in Fallsburg again, on the “Centerville Road.”

Mamakating, Sullivan County, is another possibility. I have found Elsie’s father, John D. Q. in 1850, living there with Elsie, age 1, and Cecilia, age 4, and wife Harriet L. He is a boat builder, age 26, and Harriet is 22.. This is clearly Elsie’s birth family. I cannot find them in 1860, however. By 1870, her father and mother are living in Brooklyn.

I need to take another look at the censuses for Fallsburgh and surrounding area. And, perhaps I need another go at church records from LDS, concentrating on Sullivan county. (Originally, Sullivan was part of Ulster County, until, I believe, 1809.)

*As per his death certificate, issued from New Paltz in 1899.

Washboard: Facts do a wild dance

Filed under: Washboard — by WWG @ 4:14 pm

Jannette’s birth was in Milton, Ulster County, New York, according to Elsie, wife of Jannette’s son Elisha James, who died in 1912. Elsie, a non-blood-relative, would not be a particularly reliable informant—although women do tend to be more attentive to such details than men. (Jannette’s grandson, son of William, put down her last name as Quimbo on his father’s death certificate.) Also, Elsie shared the same last name: I haven’t figured out this mystery but her father may have been a cousin (hopefully not a brother!) of her mother-in-law. Elsie therefore may have been an especially reliable informant—or not, if she just put down Jannette’s birthplace as the same as her husband without knowing if it were so.

Milton, a hamlet in the town of Marlborough, Ulster County, is a place where there were Quimby families in the early 1800s, so it is a plausible birthplace. The death certificate mistakenly sent me by NYC when I requested that of Elsie’s father, John D.,–was for a John L., born in Marlborough also (and therefore possibly a relative, or even perhaps my man, father of Elsie, if my notion of his middle initial is incorrect.)

Here’s the new problem. The New York State censuses I just read all take information on birthplace county in New York. In all three, Jannette’s birthplace is Sullivan County! I have to presume this is correct: it’s her self-report over three decades. How to reconcile it with Elsie’s report? I don’t know. Possibly, Jannette was born in Sullivan County but the family soon moved to Milton. Or, she was adopted by the Milton family from her original one, a situation which, of course, puts her last name and her heritage in question.

Or, Elsie was just wrong.

Eleven Ways to Spell an Old Lady

Filed under: Story — by WWG @ 3:38 pm

The three New York censuses for 1855, 1865, and 1875* revealed yet three more versions of my great-great-grandmother’s name. I am beginning to wonder how this could be. Everyone else’s name is correctly rendered most of the time. Oh, once Cornelius is Cornelus in a federal census, and in another Josephine is Josaphene, but overall first names tend to be spelled correctly. To be sure, Jannette—or whatever it was—was not as common a name as Mary or Elizabeth or Jane in the early nineteenth century. But still, the number of variations is somewhat unbelievable.

Did she have an accent of some sort? She was not foreign, although Jannette is reminiscent of a Dutch name; in early records Jannetje is fairly common in the area. But Jannette’s last name is Scottish or British. Nevertheless, an incomprehensible accent in a New Yorker seems unlikely.

Did she have a speech impediment? Was she toying with the census takers? Did she just change her name from time to time, the way a teenager might decide one year she is not Vicky but Torie and then later Vi and then at some point revert back to Victoria?

Here’s the list:

1850 Jenett (federal census)
1855 G (NYS census, uses only initials for first names)
1860 Jennette (federal census)
1865 Genetta (NYS census)
1870 Jeannette (federal census)
1875 Jennet (NYS)
1876 Jeannette (on daughter Josephine’s marriage certificate)
1880 Janet (federal)
1884 Genet (tombstone)
1884 Jennet (Brooklyn Eagle notice of estate filing
1912 Jennett (son Elisha James’ death cert., as rprtd by Elsie, his wife)
1917 Jeannette (son William’s death certif., as rptd by son William)
1932 Jannette (dau. Josephine’s death certif., rptd by dau. Rachel)

Perhaps the answer is that she was illiterate, and the spelling was left to the census taker; the name was uncommon enough to have no standard spelling. Or perhaps she was illiterate and on the few occasions she had to spell it out, did it differently each time, not having an innate sense of the value of standardized spelling.

The problem of her name only exists if you can read.

[Note: On September 27, 2006, I added two additional name findings, for 1876 and 1884. Both of these are duplications of versions already found, Jeannette and Jennet.]
*Viewed at the Ulster County Genealogical Society, Hurley, New York, June 24, 2006.

Sleighing in Sleightsburg

Filed under: Story — by WWG @ 2:36 pm

Growing up in New York, we went sleighing when the snow fell. It’s a New York thing. In school, our reading books had children going “sledding,” but to me this was an alien locution. Consider: “sleighing” is so light and rising a sound, “sledding” so thumping and dead.

In the Klyne Esopus Museum in Esopus, there is an example of a wooden child’s sleigh made in the area. The sign reads:

Sleighs were made in Sleightsburgh by Crosby, Gilzinger and Company. The factory, established just after the Civil War, was destroyed by fire in 1901. Virtually every child had an “ulster” sleigh and many enterprising boys made bobsleighs using two “ulsters.”

On Colonel Payne’s estate in West Park, children would ride the long hill of Route 9; one riding a horse would haul the bobsled back to the top of the hill after each run.

My third-cousin once removed, who shares my Esopus ancestry by being descended from Elisha James, the brother of my g-g-grandmother Josie, told me a story. Her mother and her uncle used to ride their sleighs down the hill in Sleightsburg and out on to the river. Once Clinton hit a tree or something and was rushed to the hospital. He wound up with a plate in his head!

June 15, 2006

Washboard: Quimbys Married by Esq.

Filed under: Washboard — by WWG @ 11:42 am

The marriage records of Ulster County 1847-1850 are informative about the customs of the time. They consist of the date, the two persons’ names and sometimes their ages, their residence, and the name of the marrying official. In many cases, this latter is a “Rev.” But sometimes, and usually in the case of the few Burgers noted, the official is a man with “Esq.” after his name: presumably a justice of the peace. Such marriages would not be found, in all likelihood, in the church records of the time. Such non-church marriages were quite common, if these records from Ulster are typical:

Town of Marlborough:
Dec. 25 Charles Quimby 28 Milton by ___ Lake, Esq. of Lloyd
Maria Muldoon 33 Milton

This item was interesting especially since John L. Quimby, who is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn and who may or may not be the John “D.” Quimby who is the father-in-law of E. James Burger (son of Cornelius and Jannette and older brother of my g-grandmother Josephine), was born in Milton, NY. I recently acquired his death certificate from Brooklyn. Milton is a hamlet on the Hudson, somewhat north and east of Marlborough town center and jurisdictionally within Marlborough today.

This Charles Quimby would have been born in 1820, which puts him the right age to be a brother of the John Quimby I seek.

(Weirdly, this same couple is reported married in the records of the town of Lloyd on December 24. The groom’s name is there listed as “Quinbly” and Maria is lised as Mary. It is possible that the officiating justice, here noted as “Stephen” Lake, Esq., reported the marriage to the clerk in his town, with some errors in the details, and it was recorded there as well as in Marlborough. Never having encountered this couple before, I am nevertheless pretty sure the guy’s name was Quimby not Quinbly.

There is another Quimby marriage reported in the records of Wawarsing:

John Quimby 23 Napanock by Mr. Newman of Ellenville
M. Frantz 24 Napanock

This John Quimby would have been born in 1825 (mine is born in 1823, most likely, from census records). His wife, again from the censuses, is variously Susan or Louisa or Harriet, not “M.” so I don’t think this is him.

Pathos of Infant Death Records

Filed under: Washboard — by WWG @ 11:32 am

Reading the scant Ulster County death and marriage records from 1847 through 1850 was useful, although I found no references to any definite relatives. The records are available in a typed transcription.

The death records contain the date, name of the deceased, age, occupation, and cause of death. On nearly every page were references to infants who either died unnamed or whose names were not recorded. Likewise, there were several instances of children whose last name, incredibly, was not put in the records. The transcriber either writes “no name, ” “infant” or puts in a dash in place of a name, and other omitted information is likewise indicated with a series of dashes.

August 25 “no name” 1 day — — —
December – “no name” 24 days —— inflammation of lungs
December 23 “no name” 4 days — — — malformation of cardus

June 19 “infant” 1 day —- —–

In Hurley, the records contain this notation:

August 19 Twins — —- stillbirth

And in Marbletown, the clerk seems to have skipped surnames:

July 31 Mary 2 . . . whooping cough
Aug 14 Warren 4 . . . . drowned
November 24 Sally Jane 5 . . . Croup
October – Lorenze 3 . . . .Dysintery [sic]

It seems that it was quite possible for a family to have a child which is unnamed at its death a few days or weeks later, or even for a child of some years to die without its full identity being recorded. It seems likely that many of these poor short-lived babes are truly “non-persons,” having had no name, or none of record, having lived the briefest of lives, and possibly having an unmarked grave for a final resting place. Even in the case of older children, it seems possible that their lives were sometimes only barely recorded.

My Black Sheep

Filed under: Story — by WWG @ 11:24 am

Somewhere along the way, this spring, my joy in reclaiming the ghosts shifted to something else: something less elemental, something more complex. The writing has come more slowly; the pieces less concise, the conclusions less “knocked home,” less upticked, less bright.

Cornelius is to blame. I’ve known for months that Jannette had been divorced, that the absence of husband in her life after 1860 was not from widowhood but from abandonment. I had even seen the 1860 census record of a CB in New Paltz, with a baby wife. I was holding off putting all the pieces together. It seemed somehow impossible that an antecedent of my upright grandma Josie, that her grandfather, in fact, could have been a randy bastard.

Then: the transcription records for the New Paltz Rural Cemetery. The discovery of the name: Mrs. Hannah J., wife of Cornelius. Then, the trip to Ulster County in March, finding the Terpenning Ground, the graves of my great-great-great grandparents and that of my great-grandmother’s twin, and then, lastly, finding the family plot of Cornelius’ second family in the New Paltz Rural Cemetery.

Seeing his grave left me cold. He came close to making it into my century: d. 1899. His tombstone is a modern one, cut most likely at the death of Hannah in 1910: thick, machine-incised, the lettering even, wide, sharp. His tombstone says “FATHER” across the top, father to the daughter of Hannah who buried them, father to Mary, who put a matching “MOTHER” across the top of Hannah’s stone. (Hannah and Cornelius are not in adjoining graves, however. Cornelius is “up a row” and to the right of hers in the plot. Mean something? I’m sure there’s more to the story of the second marriage.)

Seeing this other family, the family that replaced the one I am descended from, left me cold.

There’s a genealogical website for Black Sheep ancestors. Cornelius may be mine. I requested a search for the divorce papers. They are not in the Ulster County records; I have been recommended to search in Kingston. I am starting to read about divorce in nineteeth-century New York, finding out it was so difficult in that state that most people went to the Midwest to dissolve a marriage. One always wonders with these antecedents: did they do things by the book?

In the paper recently (May 2006) there was an article about an Afghani immigrant who was splashed with lye and killed outside his fried chicken restaurant in the Bronx. The assailant, the article said, may have been a family member, irate at the man’s having put aside his first wife with the intention of marrying a new one in Pakistan. It is hard to conceive that a man in Port Ewen might leave a family there and start another one in New Paltz—this is hardly New York and Pakistan. Yet a divorce was so difficult. The new wife, age 19 to Cornelius’s 47, was pregnant in 1860; by 1870 they had a ten-year-old daughter. They must have been officially married. Yet one wonders—wonders, wonders, the daily regimen of historical researchers.

Autobio in Laundry

Filed under: Story — by WWG @ 11:08 am

Reading about the way the wash was done in 1850, the way it was done before mechanization, the way it was done a century ago or less, is reading autobiography—ancestral autobiography.

I knew my washerwoman grandma Jennie, my mother’s mother, though she was long retired when I was born. I have these long fingers and strong hands, a long strong back, too. Oddly, too, I have a love of water: the sea, the chlorinated pool, the scenic river, the frozen pond, the Olympic rink. I lived five years in a cottage on the property of my grandmother, on the land given her by her employers, in the vicinity where she had washed for a living. There was a washtub in the shed, galvanized, in which I was bathed. (Our cottage lacked a bathtub and shower.) The tub looked huge to me then, a toddler, but probably it was regulation size.

My mother didn’t use it for its intended purpose, of course. She took our clothes to the Laundromat. Outside my grandma’s house, next door but quite a distance away, perhaps a full lot’s width, there was a clothesline, the kind on a pulley, and sometimes I’d see clothes hanging, sheets and other big flapping panels of cloth. I wanted to play there, but my mother kept me away. It was forbidden to go near the laundry drying. But I was fascinated by the mechanism, the way the clothes floated away when a big person yanked on the other line.

In our next house, there was a Whirlpool in the kitchen. But our wash always dried outside, on a collapsible laundry rack mounted in the sunny part of the back yard. (I don’t think they sell these anymore: it’s like a beach umbrella, but with plastic clothesline strung on parallel ribs.) Just like generations of washerwomen, my mother washed when the weather promised sun: the last stage of laundry.

Many people like to hang their clothes out even now. My back neighbor has a long clothesline, and she dries shirts and towels. Not everything: I don’t see her undies, for example. She likes the smell, she wants the airing out, she enjoys the merry sight of a rainbow of clothes swaying in the breeze.

Me: I’m a machine gal. This isn’t just personality, though. It’s an action-reaction phenomenon.

For I had my stint as a laundress. As a young girl, after my mother died, I had to do the wash, my own, my sister’s, my dad’s. It wasn’t a massive amount of clothing, but it was a different time. School clothes meant skirts and blouses, slips and stockings; you changed after school to pants and shirts. My dad wore work clothes: flannel shirts, typically, and rough gray work pants. He used handkerchiefs, big white squares of cotton that came home smeared and clogged with gunk. Everything was cotton or wool, with the occasional nylon blouse or undergarment. Everything dried wrinkled, crinkled, crumpled and matted: today’s wash-and-wear, shake-out-, smooth-, hang-up-and-wear, jersey-knit wouldn’t be on the market for decades.

You didn’t realize someday laundry would be simply mindless: toss stuff in a hole, press go, hoist to the dryer, press go. When dressing, open the door, rummage, shake, and wear.

Back then, I did pretty much the same to start: put the laundry in the Whirlpool, poured in the blue Cheer powder, set the dial, and listened for the buzzer. For socks and undershirts, you added liquid bleach. There was blueing in the house; my dad said, throw it away—he had no appreciation for antiques.

My mother had had the washer put in the kitchen, so that she wouldn’t have to haul laundry up and down stairs. And she would do her work in the sun, on the main floor, not in some dank cellar, out of view, and she could see her children in the back yard playing.

But there was no dryer. For one thing, it wouldn’t fit in the kitchen. For another, a dryer was expensive, much more so than a washer, and it used too much power. Air was free.

My mother had her own modern tricks for the timeless ritual of line-drying. The basket was plastic, light as lightweight could be. It was yellow, painfully cheerful, and deep to minimize trips. The collapsible clothes line meant no walking or yanking or hauling the basket along.

The wooden pins waited on the line for the next parade of garments, instead of stowed in a bag. My mother had shown me how to use one pin between each two items: less reaching for pins, faster overall. She taught me to hang the shirts upside down, to put the big stuff on the inner lines and the smaller on the outer so the breeze would flow through.
When she was gone, I learned more:

Cold wet clothing, twisted into a thick rope from the rinse cycle, whatever the era, still weighs like a rock and warps a cheap basket.

You can’t hang a load of laundry quick enough for your arms not to ache, for your neck not to cramp, for your hands not to wrinkle like raisins, for your fingers not to numb.

You can’t be a girl thirteen hanging laundry in your own backyard without a faceful of red shame.

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