Monday, July 03, 2017

Was My Ancestor a Deserter?

On a weekend when we're celebrating the birth of our country and honoring ancestors who served in the American Revolution, it seems ironic to be writing about an ancestor who may have deserted. Recently prompted by some DNA matches that appear to connect to my elusive PECK line, however, I have determined that I need to share a records discovery that may pertain to my brick wall ancestor, Nelson H. PECK.

Very, very little is known about my 4th-great-grandfather. To begin with, I have no primary source material, so I am relying on secondary or tertiary source material, at best.  Here's a timeline I have put together for him:
  • About 1819: born in New York, Pennsylvania, or England. His birth date comes from a newspaper extract about his death, filed with the Potter County (Pennsylvania) Historical Society, which states he was about 30 years old on 15 April 1849. His possible birth locations come from his daughter's census record information: 1875 Minnesota State Census (Pennsylvania); 1880 Federal Census (New York); 1884 Michigan State Census (England); 1900 Federal Census (England); 1910 Federal Census (England). The thing is, we have no idea who supplied this information to the enumerators. Was it his daughter Viola, or her husband, Charles Robbins? They were not witnesses to his birth, obviously; so how did they know this information? Did Viola learn it from her mother? Again, Viola's mother would only have had second-hand knowledge, even if she knew her husband's family well.
  • About 1847: married Lura Ann Jackson, probably in Coudersport, Potter County, Pennsylvania. This is based on the date of their daughter's birth; obviously, they could have married earlier...or even later, if Lura was "in the family way" when they got married. I have listed Coudersport as the probable marriage location, since it was typical in those days for a woman to be married at or near her family home. I do know from the Jackson family genealogy, census records, and the county history that her family lived in Coudersport at the time. There is also a possibility they married somewhere else. Regardless, neither Potter County, nor the state of Pennsylvania, nor the bordering counties and state of New York kept vital records at that time.
  • 1848: resident taxpayer and carpenter/joiner in Coudersport. Both the History of the counties of McKean, Elk, Cameron and Potter, Pennsylvania....which was compiled by Michael A. Leeson and published in 1890 by J.H. Beers & Co. of Chicago, and Early History of Coudersport; Pioneer Families of Coudersport, published in July 1949 by the Potter County Historical Society in Coudersport, Pennsylvania mention Nelson briefly on pages 11 and 1057, respectively.
  • 14 April 1848: daughter Viola Gertrude Peck is born in Coudersport.  Her 18 February 1918 Oceana County, Michigan death certificate provides her date and specific place of birth, which aligns with all the state and census information during her lifetime.
  • 15 April 1849: died. This date comes from a newspaper extract about his death, filed with the Potter County (Pennsylvania) Historical Society, the entirety which reads: "Nelson H. Peck of Coudersport, died Apr. 15, 1849, age abt. 30 years. He was a carpenter."  There is no reference to the title, date, or page of the newspaper. Note this date was a day after his daughter's first birthday.

As you can see, only the years 1848 and 1849 provide definitive events in the life of Nelson. Over the years, I've looked closely at the other PECK families in the area, but have been unable to come to a conclusion about whether they are related, especially since they were adults born after Nelson's death and came to Potter County later in their lives.

Recently, provided me with some hints about a Nelson Peck who could possibly be my ancestor.  He served in the War with Mexico, and was listed as a deserter. Below, I have created a timeline of this man:

  • 31 May 1847: enlisted at Galena. From, "U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914"; 1847 Jan - 1849 Jun, Mexican War enlistments: Nelson Peck; age 25 [b.c. 1822]; blue eyes, light hair, fair complexion, 5 feet 5 inches tall; born in Hume, New York [in Allegany County, which borders Potter County, Pennsylvania on the north]; laborer; enlisted 31 May 1847 at Galena by Lt.[?] Hall; 1st Infantry [U.S. Regular Army], Company A; deserted 29 November 1847. No other information is given, including under the "apprehended" column. Galena is not identified further. Was this Galena, Illinois?  Or was it the village of Galena, which is in Chenango County, New York?
  • 14 September 1847: Transfer to Fort Leavenworth from Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. From, "U.S., Returns from Military Posts, 1806-1916"; Missouri Jefferson Barracks, 1840 Jan - 1851 Dec.
  • 22 September 1847: Arrived at Fort Leavenworth, Missouri [as it was known then]. From, "U.S. Returns from Regular Army Infantry Regiments, 1821-1916"; 1st Infantry 1844-1848.
  • 29 November 1847: deserted from Fort Leavenworth, Missouri. From, "U.S. Returns from Regular Army Infantry Regiments, 1821-1916"; 1st Infantry 1844-1848.

Assuming my ancestor Viola was a full-term baby, conception for her 14 April 1848 birth would have had to occur around July 8, 1847.  If Nelson-my-ancestor and Nelson-the-deserter were the same person, how much time would it have taken for him to travel from Coudersport, Pennsylvania to Jefferson, Missouri?  Was it possible for him to leave Coudersport in early July 1847 and arrive at Jefferson Barracks before he then transferred to Fort Leavenworth on September 14? Train travel in 1847 was very limited; between east coast cities, mainly. "Swift" travel in those days meant river travel, and a likely route would have involved the Ohio River to the Mississippi River and then to the Missouri River.

I've tried to find Nelson-the-deserter in records after 1847, such as the 1850 and later Federal censuses.  I haven't been able to come to come to any strong conclusions that he is or is not any of the men I find.  I realize his birth year given at the time of his enlistment doesn't quite match the birth year given for Nelson-my-ancestor; but then again, my ancestor's birth year is also an estimate.

I've also looked for every Nelson Peck in the 1840 Federal Census, and have come up with exactly six. One of them--and the most likely, given the distance to Potter County--was living in the Town of New Berlin, Chenango County, New York, which borders the Town of North Norwich, where the village of Galena is located. There are three people in the household: a man age 20 to 29 [b.c. 1811-1820], a woman age 20 to 29 [b.c. 1811-1820], and a female child under the age of 5 [b.c. 1835-1840]. This man could be Nelson-my-ancestor with a first wife and child, rather than my ancestors Lura Ann Jackson (b. 1826) and Viola Gertrude Peck (b. 1848). It could also be Nelson-the-deserter.  Finally, it could be both Nelson-my-ancestor and Nelson-the-deserter.  There are no adult Nelson Pecks in Chenanco County or adjacent counties in 1850.

It would be easy to dismiss Nelson-the-deserter as not being Nelson-my-ancestor, except for one detail: family lore has a story about a Mexican War serviceman who "took off." In the early 1930s, Nelson's son-in-law, my 3rd-great-grandfather, Charles H. Robbins, was interviewed about his life, and specifically his Civil War years. Charles talked a little about his father, Joseph Josiah Robbins, who also served in the Civil War. One of the things the article stated was that Joseph had also served in the Mexican War:
His father, Joseph Josiah Robbins, was a veteran of the Mexican war in which he had been an artilleryman.  He came home in 1849 after having started to California during the big gold rush but decided to come back to his family.

The thing is, I have never been able to find evidence that Joseph enlisted during the Mexican War. I can't find Mexican War-era service records for him or locate him in lists of Mexican War veterans in New York or Pennsylvania. He did draw a pension for disability from his Civil War service.  His pension application and related records never mention service from an earlier time prior to the Civil War.

The interview of Charles is full of inaccuracies, probably due to the ramblings of an old man with dementia. In every case where the information is inaccurate, there's been evidence that it was touching on an actual event, and a plausible explanation of the inaccuracy can be given.  The part of the Mexican War service has been the only exception. Or has it?

Could Charles have been confused and been talking about his father-in-law, rather than his father? Could the "going off to the Gold Rush" have been a "cover" for Nelson's desertion?  It could not have been an actual cause, as Nelson deserted on 29 November 1847 and the Gold Rush at Sutter's Mill started in early January 1849.

There's a lot more research and analysis that need to go into both Nelson-my-ancestor and Nelson-the-deserter before I can come to a reasonable conclusion about either one of them, much less determine if they were one and the same. But I wanted to publish my theory and get it out to the public so that I can reference it while working on Nelson-my-ancestor and my PECK DNA results.

Are you a PECK descendant? Were your ancestors from Upstate New York or Western Pennsylvania, particularly the Twin Tier Counties? If so, please contact me at

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Sunday, June 04, 2017

New Facebook Group: Historical City Directories

I've just created a new Facebook group, Historical City Directories, for those genealogists and historians who are interested in learning about and sharing resources for historical city (and other types of) directories.  It is a closed group, and I encourage you to join. You must have a Facebook account, of course, and you will be asked a question before being admitted to the group. This will help cut down on spammers.

The reason for the creation of the group is to give more interaction for those following my Online Historical Directories site than its companion blog allows.  It's a great way to learn about and share resources, both off line and online.

I look forward to "meeting" you over there!

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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Anthony Fredenburg: Civil War Veteran?

Anthony Fredenburg, my 4th-great-grandfather
This Memorial Day weekend, I want to focus on a man that I recently learned was likely my ninth Civil War soldier ancestor.  Each one of my direct ancestors who fought in the Civil War is on my dad's side, as my mother's ancestors were either too young or too old to serve in that conflict.

In February 2014, I visited Salt Lake City, Utah for my very first genealogical research trip there.  It was part research trip, part conference, as I was attending RootsTech, an annual event focusing on information technology as it relates to genealogy.

Sylvester Fredenburg, my 3rd-great-grandfather
I had several ancestors whom I had "targeted" to be the focus of my research while in Salt Lake City, and one of them was my paternal 3rd-great-grandfather, Sylvester Fredenburg.  He did several "tours of duty" during the Civil War, enlisting first in 1861 in Company A, 50th New York Engineers; then in both the spring and fall of 1862 in Company I, 33rd New York Infantry; and finally re-enlisting in the 50th New York Engineers in 1864, this time in Company L. In 1998, I ordered his pension file from the National Archives, which gave me the above enlistment information, as well as his death information: 20 March 1879 in Riley Township, St. Clair County, Michigan. A now-obsolete website on the 33rd New York Volunteers provided me with a burial location in Romeo, Macomb County, Michigan.  I contacted the webmaster to determine the source of this information, but never heard back.  I also have had several volunteers try to track down exactly which Romeo cemetery Sylvester is buried in, without success.  Although he has a memorial page listed on Find A Grave, I have yet to see any record or other documentation that actually lists his grave as being in that particular cemetery.

Before leaving on my trip to Salt Lake City, I searched the Family History Library catalog for books and films that might provide answers to where Sylvester was buried. One of them was Indigent Soldiers Burial Records, Volume I and II, Abstracted from the Original Books in the Lapeer County Clerk's Office, Lapeer, Michigan.

As I paged through the book, my eye caught the name "Fredenburg." But it wasn't Sylvester listed on the page.  It was Anthony, his father!

Private, Co. L?, Heavy Artillery Regiment, New York; also enlisted in -----(?) -----(?) New York Volunteers
Died: 15 June 1891 in the 1st district, Lapeer city
Buried: 17 June 1892 in Mt. Hope cemetery
Expenses: casket - $30.00, undertakers attendance - $2.00, hearse & ice - $5.00, sexton's charges - $3.00
Occupation: laborer; No property real or personal; Had been for sometime previous to his death partially supported from the county poor fund
Record dated at Mayfield, 13 June 1891 [sic - probably 23 June 1891, given the death and burial dates]
Signed: Oscar A. WILLIAMS

While I never did find Sylvester's burial information in this book, I did gain a new Civil War soldier ancestor!  When I returned home, I looked through my notes and records of Anthony.  This had been staring me in the face for years, and I never recognized it.  Long before the 1890 Census of Civil War Veterans or Widows was available online, I had copied a page from a book with a printed index that listed:

Fredenburg, Anthony, Mi, Lapeer [County], Lapeer

Of course, at that time, I had no easy way of determining if this was my ancestor. Now that I had more information, I looked him up on Ancestry:

1890 Veterans Census
(click to enlarge)

Detail from above page
(click to enlarge)
Unfortunately, the regimental information given about Anthony does not coincide with that found in the Indigent Soldiers Burial Records.  I believe this may be an error made by the enumerator; if you look at the entry directly below Anthony's, for Robert White, it is nearly identical to Anthony's.  There is no information given for Post-Office Address, Disability Incurred, and Remarks, for any entry after line 34.  This suggests that entries 35 through 37, including Anthony's, may have been written in later, and could explain why his regimental information is basically a duplicate of Robert White's.

I have done multiple searches in Ancestry's military databases with a variety of spellings of Fredenburg(h) and Vredenburgh (the original name), and cannot find Anthony listed anywhere.  I did find an Andrew Fredenburg serving in Company L, 2nd Regiment, New York Heavy Artillery, but other searches lead me to believe this was a young man, born 1844 in Broome, Schoharie County, New York, who originally enlisted in Eldrige in 1863 in the 9th New York Artillery.  I have also looked through lists of pension records, but it seems that Anthony did not apply for a pension.  His wife, Hannah (Fox) Fredenburg, died nine months before he did, so there is no widow's pension application.  This makes sense, given that Anthony was living off the county poor fund in the months before he died (why weren't his eight or nine surviving children supporting him?  Hmmm....).
So, what we have is a bit of a mystery: did Anthony actually serve in the Civil War? I believe he did.  Besides the two documents above, this family photo is telling:

Some of the Fredenburg family, c. 1861
(click to enlarge)
On the left are Anthony and his wife, Hannah.  On the right is my ancestor, Anthony and Hannah's second son, Sylvester, with probably his first wife, Mary Jane [--?--] behind him.  In the middle is Abram, Anthony and Hannah's oldest son, with his wife, Myra (Chidsery) Fredenburg behind him.

This photo is significant, because it appears to show the Civil War soldiers in the family, although Anthony is not in uniform, as Abram and Sylvester are.  If Anthony did enlist, it was likely after 1861, when Abram and Sylvester enlisted in the 50th Engineers.

Meanwhile, I'll keep digging until I can find out for certain when and in what company Anthony enlisted.

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Sunday, January 01, 2017

With Best New Year Wishes

(click to enlarge image)
Postcard to Miss Rena Lerfald in Glendive, Dawson Co., Montana from Sophia [unknown - possibly Lerfald] in unknown location.  No postmark or stamp. Circa 1914-1915.  Westaby-Lerfald Postcard Collection.  Digital image privately held by Miriam Robbins, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Spokane, Washington.  2016.

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