Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Memories - What We Did On Our May 2004 Mid-Atlantic U.S. Vacation

I have found more of my memoirs that I wrote after some of our summer vacations, and many of them include genealogy highlights. So I'm going to share these memories in a series of posts.  I will try to find some photos to illustrate the posts.


What We Did On Our 2004 Mid-Atlantic States Vacation 
(May 2004)

My wife Linda and I attended the 50th wedding anniversary of my cousins Jack and JoAnne Wood in Easton PA in May 2004, and we also visited Cooperstown NY, Toronto and Niagara Falls in Ontario, western Pennsylvania and the Washington DC area over 16 days and 2,000 miles. Of course, I was able to do a bit of genealogy research at some of the “in-between” places – Newton NJ, Watertown NY, Mercer PA, and Hyattsville MD. These locations are places where some of my most elusive ancestors lived.

To prepare for the trip, I posted notes on the Rootsweb message boards asking for recommendations for places to do research. I also defined what I hoped to find at each repository. I printed out a map of the area (using www.expedia.com) and a list of the holdings of each repository. Finally, I printed out a genealogy report for each family of interest including my notes, and put them in my notebook. I thought I was well prepared.

In previous presentations to my local society, I recommended visiting local libraries, genealogy and historical societies to find the records that are not available in publications, at the Family History Library, or on the Internet. This was my quest at each location visited – try to find manuscripts, maps, correspondence files, vertical files, etc. that only a local repository might have. I also wanted to visit as many ancestral homesteads as possible.


After the 50th anniversary celebration in Easton PA and the Wood home in Milford, NJ, my first research stop was in Sussex County NJ. Sussex is the most northwestern county of New Jersey.

My Knapp and Auble families resided here in the 1820-1860 time frame. I knew that William and Sarah (Cutter) Knapp were buried in the Newton Cemetery, and the cemetery was on my map of Newton. When we drove up, they said that the older stones were in the Old Newton Cemetery, which has an entrance in back of an auto dealership, and is locked. Oh well – my planning wasn’t good enough, and it was raining!

We drove on to the Sussex County Public Library northwest of Newton, which had a separate genealogy section with books, manuscripts, and microfilm holdings. The library had a book of cemetery inscriptions, and I copied them for my Knapp people. My prize here was an 1860 plat map of Newton with the names and locations of the town residents, including W. Knapp, who lived right on a downtown Newton street corner as a shoemaker.

My challenge with this family is that I don’t know who William Knapp’s parents were – only that he was born in about 1775 in Dutchess County NY (a well known graveyard of genealogical mysteries). However, one of the treasures found at the Newton library was 16 microfilms of the research files of one Francis Crawn (a form of vertical file!), who had an Abigail Knapp (born in Dutchess County NY in 1769) in his files, who married a William Hill, and resided in the Newton area before 1820. Crawn hypothesized that William Knapp may be a sibling or cousin of Abigail Knapp. This is a decent lead for me, but I still don’t have any real data to support the hypothesis.

After several hours here, we drove on and spent the night in Oneonta NY, and then we visited Cooperstown NY and the Baseball Hall of Fame the next day. Linda took pictures of me with a lifesize Tony Gwynn display and a lifesize Ted Williams display - my two favorite San Diego players.


We left Cooperstown NY in the afternoon, drove west on US 20 to Syracuse, then north to Jefferson County NY. Jefferson county is at the east end of Lake Ontario and the largest city is Watertown. The motel had a nice pool area (which Linda enjoyed) and was near downtown Watertown and was just off the freeway.

I was searching for more info on my Ranslow Smith (1805-after 1870) family that was in Henderson township in the 1830-1848 time frame, and the James Bell (1777-1836) family which was there after 1812.

I visited two repositories – the Flower Library in downtown Watertown, and the South Jefferson Historical Society in Adams.

At the Flower Library, there is a small public section for genealogy, plus a closed section with more genealogy materials (which opened at noon). I found some great maps in the public section, and then visited the closed section after lunch. The Jefferson County Genealogical Society volunteers there are available 6 days a week. They brought out 8 folders of Smith data and one folder of Bell data. One half of the folder contents were newspaper obituaries collected over time, and the other half was correspondence to and from the genealogy society from researchers. Unfortunately, I didn’t find anyone else searching for my Ranslow Smith. I did get a copy of an 1860 plat map for Henderson, and some Bible records for a Lyman Smith family that a correspondent of mine will be interested in. They also had the book of "Old Houses of the North Country", and the Ranslow Smith house in Henderson was listed.

At the South Jefferson Historical Society in Adams, there was an alphabetical surname listing of cemetery records, and I obtained Smith and Bell. They also had handwritten family group records gleaned from the county history books and records. The librarian here was very helpful and friendly.

Then it was off to Henderson to find the Ranslow Smith house, which supposedly has “R. Smith 1839” carved in the fireplace mantel. I found the house, and took some pictures (see the one to the right), but nobody was home to show me the mantel. It looks really old, doesn't it?


After leaving Watertown NY, we drove to Toronto for two nights, and visited the CN Tower and downtown Toronto. 

When we planned the trip, I had hoped to stop in Kingston, Ontario to visit a cousin, Cheryl Taber, with whom I share Kemp ancestry. But she was unavailable, so I'll have to see her another time.  I had hoped to visit Delhi, Norfolk County, Ontario also, where the Kemps and Sovereens srttled in the 1800s, but decided to drive on.  

We drove to Niagara Falls and spent three nights there on the Canadian side. Then it was off to western Pennsylvania.


My third genealogy stop was in Mercer County, PA. Three generations of Carringer families plus the Daniel Spangler family and Cornelius Feather family resided here in the 1800-1860 time frame.

I had identified the Shenango Valley Public Library in Sharon PA and the Mercer County Historical Society in Mercer as repositories to visit. The library had a relatively small collection of books, including some 20th century marriage and death records. The most impressive resource was an entire book rack of Sharon newspaper obituaries – a notebook for each year since about 1950. My best find there was an 1864 plat map and an 1878 plat map of each township in Mercer County. Based on the map, I was able to identify the location of the Carringer 1797 homestead.

We drove out to Perry township after dinner, but the houses were fairly modern and since it was almost dark, we didn't stop to look for the graveyard in back of the house.

The next day, I went to the Historical Society in Mercer, and found it to be an excellent repository for a small county. It is located just across the street from the Mercer County Courthouse and the society folks do a lot of research there. I reviewed the collection of manuscript and vertical files, and found some newspaper articles about the first settler Martin Carringer and the probate records for Cornelius Feather.

The next day we drove from Mercer County to southern PA, and then on to the Washington DC area.


My fourth genealogy stop was at the Prince Georges County Public Library in Hyattsville MD, just north of Washington DC. My wife’s McKnew and Pickrell families resided in PG County and in DC. This library had a special room with history and genealogy books and reports, but no manuscripts or vertical files. I reviewed cemetery records, newspaper records and vital record books, with a small success – I found that Benjamin Pickrell resided in Washington DC during the 1820-1830 time frame, along with several other Pickrell families. Funny, I hadn’t really considered DC for this family until now – although it was part of Prince Georges County before 1790.

All in all, the genealogy part of the trip was a success. I was able to review records not available in San Diego or on the Internet. While I made no major research breakthroughs, I gathered quite a bit of material on some families and visited two of the homesteads.

I also learned that I need to prepare more thoroughly for my research trips, make better to-do lists, and spend more time at each repository.


While I used a digital camera for photographs of people and places, in 2004 I wasn't smart enough to take photographs of documents.  Now I cannot find the papers I collected 20 years ago.  


Copyright (c) 2024, Randall J. Seaver

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