Finding Mary Simmons & Her Ancestors, Part One

I thought it would be impossible to find the parents of the Mary Simmons who married Leaming Hawkins Bradley in 1830 in Litchfield, Litchfield County, Connecticut. Right after the Revolutionary War, there were several Simmons families in that county. Fortunately, I was wrong. The saga of finding Mary and her ancestors offers several helpful genealogy research lessons.

First discoveries about Mary
When Leaming and Mary’s son Sherman Abernethy Bradley married Hannah M. Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on 6 January 1859, the person taking down Sherman’s parents failed to get Mary’s maiden name. They were recorded as Leman H. Bradley and Mary C. Bradley. So that was my first brickwall concerning Mary: no maiden name.

As an aside, Leaming is a surname turned into a given name, and it is misspelled in many different ways including Leman, Leming, Leyming and more. Leaming Hawkins Bradley apparently insisted that his middle initial H. be included whenever his name was recorded. This gave me a helpful clue that a record was for my third-great-grandfather, even if the spelling of his first name was mangled. He also went by L. H. Bradley.

Then one day, while reading about the importance of doing research on all members of a family, I remembered that Sherman A. Bradley married a second time. I wondered if his mother’s maiden name would be on that second marriage certificate. To my great delight, it was.

When Sherman married Mary Schneider on 11 January 1882 in Plymouth, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, his parents were recorded as L. H. Bradley and Mary Simmons. Now I could learn more about my third-great-grandmother and confirm that Sherman A. Bradley was from Litchfield County, Connecticut.

Her own marriage record
Once I had Mary’s maiden name, I recalled a curious entry in the Barbour Collection of the Vital Records for the Town of Litchfield, Litchfield County. It read: Seyming Bradley and Miss Mary Simons, both of Litchfield, married there on 18 September 1830. Knowing how often the old script letters L and S are confused for each other, I was pretty sure that this really was Leyming Bradley and Mary Simmons. [I now have a certified copy from the town clerk of the original document and can confirm the name is Leyming, a phonetic version of Leaming].

This marriage was the best match I had found for the parents of Sherman A. Bradley whose place of birth on his 1859 marriage certificate was “near New Haven, Connecticut.” But could I found any other source for this being the marriage of Leaming H. Bradley and Mary Simmons?

Leaming’s birth in Barbour Collection
Fortunately, the birth of Leaming Hawkins Bradley was recorded with the Litchfield Town Clerk and was transcribed correctly in the Barbour Collection. He was born 10 October 1808 in Litchfield to Horace Bradley and Hannah who was recorded there as Hannah Hawkins but actually was Hannah Twitchell. Her mother’s maiden name was Hawkins, the source of the middle name for Horace and Hannah’s first son Leaming.

The Cutter genealogy book
While I believed my theory about Sherman A. Bradley’s parents was a sound one, I really wanted another source for confirmation. That came in the form of an item in the Bradley genealogy section in a major book, Genealogical and Family History of Central New York, Vol. III. The editor was William Richard Cutter.

On page 1224, listed first among the children of Horace Bradley and Hannah Twitchell, was “Leaming, married Mary Simonds and had several sons.” Here was Leaming’s first name spelled correctly, his marriage to Mary Simonds, another variation of Simons and Simmons – and the mention of sons.

With these multiple sources, I was convinced I had found the name and the birthplace of my third-great-grandmother on my father’s side of the family. The next challenge would be to try to find her parents and further ancestors. We’ll take that up in Part Two.

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Saluting Ancestors’ Labors

When we go back far enough in our genealogy and family history research, most of us will find ancestors — women and men — who labored as farmers. This Labor Day column explores a number of the diverse occupations followed by my ancestors, some quite surprising when I first learned of them. America is indeed the land of opportunity as seen in the changing careers down the generations.

My ancestor Caleb Church and his wife Hannah Baker lived in New Paltz, Ulster County, New York, where he was a farmer and cooper and she was a wife, mother of 10 and a Quaker preacher. Hannah, who lived from 1775 to 1843, is one of the first women in my family tree with a career that took her outside the home. Caleb also was his own lawyer, according to Descendants of Richard Church of Plymouth, Mass.

Their son Benjamin F. Church, my ancestor, went west to Chicago and then in 1835 to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he was a pioneer carpenter and builder. He was the “boss carpenter” for one of the first hotels in the nascent city and his Greek revival family home has been preserved as the Benjamin Church House or Kilbourntown House, a museum of pioneer life in southeast Wisconsin.

My Bruce ancestors, surname orginally Bruss, came to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1839 from the Baltic port city of Cammin, Kreis Cammin, Pomerania. The traditional male occupation was ship building and ship caulking, with the young men sailors until they married and settled down. Martin Friedrich Bruss and his sons Augustus, Martin and John all followed the family tradition, the first two in Milwaukee, son Martin near Pensacola, Florida, and John in San Francisco.

By the next generation, the sons of Augustus Bruce had careers in publishing (William George Bruce), tanning company executive (Albert J. Bruce), postal delivery (Augustus I. Bruce), and accounting and later Milwaukee Athletic Club secretary (Martin P. Bruce). The daughter of Martin P. Bruce and his wife Grace Booth Bruce was a teacher while their son was an attorney, both in Milwaukee.

An entrepreneurial tradition is found in my Bradley ancestors, starting with Aaron Bradley who enlisted twice during the Revolutionary War, then married Lorain Abernethy and two sons, two daughters and several different businesses. He was a blacksmith first, then added a tavern and grocery store at his location in Bradleyville or Bantam, Town of Litchfield, Litchfield County, Connecticut. I imagine it was a very busy place with farmers bringing oxen and horses for shoeing or tea kettles needing new bails or handles; travellers on the post road stopping for a meal and a drink; and students from Sarah Pierce’s Litchfield Female Academy and from the Litchfield law school coming to Mr. Bradley’s for a bit of entertainment. He also had a nail factory, Aron Bradley & Co., as shown by a 1798 ad, and was a selectman and a representative to the Connecticut Assembly.

Aaron’s great-grandson Sherman Abernethy Bradley came to Milwaukee in the late 1850s, appearing in public records first in the 1857-1858 Milwaukee Directory, listed as a carpenter. He later launched the Badger Pump Company of which he was the proprietor, pumps in those days made of wood. Then for a time he was co-owner of the Brockhaus & Bradley planing mill, and continued in the timber and lumber business throughout his life. One of Sherman’s grandsons was a banker and while his two great-grandsons had fine careers, one as an attorney and the other as an executive of the Wisconsin Telephone Company. Two of his great-great-granddaughters have had careers in public relations.

My Hachez ancestors came to New Holstein, Wisconsin, in 1854 from Bremen, Germany, where men of the Hachez family had been merchants for several generations. Even today the Hachez chocolate factory is an important feature of the City of Bremen. Ferdinand Hermann Hachez at first pursued farming as that was the natural occupation in New Holstein, a rural area between Lake Winnebago and Lake Michigan. He served as president of the German Agricultural Society there in 1867.

However, in 1870, Ferdinand Hachez Sr. and several other New Holstein men founded the Mutual Hail Insurance Company of Wisconsin and he became an insurance salesman. His son Ferdinand Hachez saw an opportunity when the railroad came to New Holstein in 1872. He left farming and for two decades operated the Farmer’s and Mechanics Saloon at the east end of the village of New Holstein, not far from the railroad station. Later, when grandchildren were born, he and wife Elise Boie Hachez returned to farming.

I found it fascinating to realize that some of my ancestors truly were “builders of Milwaukee,” my hometown. Many more stories of ancestors’ occupations await next year’s Labor Day for the telling. Until then:

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Bradley Ancestor’s Baptism in Yorkshire

Today, right before my eyes, thanks to the Internet, on a page headed “Children Baptized,” was my ninth great-grandfather’s baptism in the records of All Saints parish church, Bingley, West Yorkshire, England. The graceful script entry on a page for the year 1642 reads as follows: “Aug: 21 Steuen the sonne of Daniell Broadley de West Morton.” While the location for Daniel is a bit hard to decipher on this his youngest child’s baptism record, the phrase de West Morton is clear on his own burial record for November 27, 1641, also at All Saints parish church.

Viewing that page was a very satisfying part of my five-year quest to trace my Bradley ancestors from Wisconsin to Connecticut and then back to England. The first part of this genealogy journey was the discovery of the parents and place of origin of Sherman Abernethy Bradley who came from Connecticut to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the late 1850. That sleuthing used varied sources including:
> Census records from 1840 through 1905
> Genealogy books that include Leaming and Mary in a Bradley genealogy outline
> The marriage record for Leaming Bradley and Mary Simons in Litchfield, Connecticut
> Two Wisconsin marriage records for Sherman with one having his mother’s maiden name (thank goodness!)
> Milwaukee city directories from the 1850s and 1860s

Using those resources, I was able to conclude that Sherman’s parents were Leaming Hawkins Bradley and Mary Simons of Litchfield, Connecticut. Read that part of solving the Bradley genealogy puzzle.

Once I had made the connection between Wisconsin and Connecticut, I had many sources that outlined the genealogy for this branch of the Bradley family back to Stephen Bradley who immigrated from England. Among these sources are:
> The Descendants of Danyell Broadley de West Morton, a major Bradley genealogy online
> Profile of Stephen Bradley, son of Danyell, who came to America, in the above genealogy
> The Bradley Line including Stephen, in New England families, genealogical and memorial, Vol 4 edited by William Richard Cutter
> Profile of William Bradley of New Haven that mentions his mother and half-siblings including Stephen Bradley
And many others as the Bradley story was retold in the biographical sketches of the immigrants’ descendants.

While I had encountered many times my Bradley family’s origins in and around Bingley, West Yorkshire, England, I at last could see the baptism record that confirmed the story. I could look up All Saints parish church in Bingley to learn its story — the present structure is from the reign of Henry VIII — and see pictures of the church where the baptism occurred. And I could learn more about Bingley, a market town between Bradford and Keighley as seen on this map. And about the nearby rural locations of East Morton and West Morton, the latter the location for Stephen’s father Danyell or Daniel.

At last I had the evidence, in the baptismal record, to say this truly was the home in England of my Bradley ancestors. All the pieces of the puzzle came together.

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Published in: on July 11, 2011 at 2:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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Daughters’ Education In Litchfield

An English major and history minor at Lawrence University back in my college days, I today relish both genealogy and family history as well as writing about discoveries. The Fourth of July this year provided an intriguing new insight on my paternal Bradley family.

July 4th seemed to be an appropriate time to again Google my patriot ancestor Aaron Bradley of Litchfield, Connecticut, who enlisted twice as a teenager during the Revolutionary War. The Web continually gains new content so doing a web search on ancestors’ names and locations can provide new details for your family history. Remarkably, the discoveries I made were about his daughters and their educations.

Aaron Bradley was born 27 August 1762, the son of Leaming Bradley and Anna Parsons. His second great-grandfather was Stephen Bradley who arrived in New Haven, Connecticut, from Yorkshire, England, in the mid-1640s with his mother Elizabeth Bradley and siblings Ellen, Joshua, Daniel and Nathan Bradley. Stephen settled in Guilford and married Hannah Smith; they had seven children and this Bradley family lived in Guilford for several generations. Aaron, however, was born in Middletown on the Connecticut River, where his father had moved by the 1750s. At that time, Middletown was Connecticut’s largest and most prosperous town and a port city comparable to Boston and New York.

Apparently seeking new opportunities, Leaming and Anna moved in the late 1760s to Litchfield, the county seat of Litchfield County and the leading community of northwestern Connecticut. This was a prosperous period for Litchfield, followed abruptly by the Revolutionary War. Here during 1777-1778, Aaron enlisted twice for military service, first serving in the Artificers Shop where weapons were made and repaired. During his second enlistment, he was a guard for the munitions stored in Litchfield as well as for prisoners held there.

After the war, Aaron Bradley opened a blacksmith shop and other businesses, and married Lorrain Abernethy, daughter of Dr. William Abernethy of nearby Harwinton. They had two sons, Horace and Leaming, and two daughters, Mary Ann Bradley and Maria Tallmadge Bradley. Aaron was a local selectman for 9 years, 1803-1812, according to “Sketches & chronicles of the town of Litchfield, CT, historical, biographical & statistical,” published in 1859.  He represented Litchfield in the Connecticut Assemby in the October 1806, May 1808 and May 1810 sessions.

What turned up in the new Google search? Aaron and Lorrain Bradley sent their daughters to Sarah Pierce’s Litchfield Female Academy, one of the first and most important educational institutions for women in the early United States.  The Litchfield Historical Society provided these profiles about the two Bradley students:

>> Mary Ann Bradley, the oldest daughter, is believed to have attended the academy in 1806. She married Henry Wadsworth and they sent two of their children, Mary Ann Wadsworth and Charles Wadsworth, to the academy in the 1825-1828 period.
>> Maria Talmadge Bradley attended the academy in 1819. She later married William Coe.

The Litchfield Female Academy was not simply a finishing school for girls. It combined an academic curriculum including English, history, geography, writing and arithmetic with the ornamental arts such as embroidery.  Among the students were Catharine Beecher, who later founded other educational institutions for women, and her sister Harriet Beecher, after marriage known as Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

My family believed in the importance of education, my parents and sister attended the University of Wisconsin, and I was most fortunate to have an excellent liberal arts education at Lawrence. This discovery that my Bradley ancestors provided their daughters with the best possible education of their era pleases me greatly. A grateful thank you to the  Litchfield Historical Society for creating the online Litchfield Ledger with its wealth of information on the students of both the Litchfield Female Academy and the Litchfield Law School. It allowed me to make a remarkable discovery on the Fourth of July.

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Family Found in 2 of 75

When the  Milwaukee County Historical Society celebrated its 75th Anniversary in 2010, the staff chose 75 items from the collections that they considered “both unique and enlightening” and told a story about Milwaukee County’s past or about the Historical Society. Imagine my surprise recently on discovering that 2 of the 75 items have a direct connection to my own ancestors.

First, you can view the entire collection of 75 items ranging from a red A. O. Smith Flyer to Christopher Bach’s violin to Increase Lapham’s bookcase to Arthur McArthur’s desk to Old Settlers Club albums. These items and collections help illuminate Milwaukee’s history and people. Each is worth exploring to learn more.

Second, as noted, 2 of the 75 items have family connections.

One consists of a pair of  daguerreotypes featuring Byron Kilbourn, one of Milwaukee’s founders, and his wife  Henrietta. The main connection is that these pictures for some years were on display at the Benjamin Church House or Kilbourntown house built by my ancestor Benjamin Church and now a museum. Another connection is that Benjamin was an early Milwaukee settler, arriving in 1835 and living in Kilbourntown on the west side of the Milwaukee River. He was a political associate of Kilbourn’s in early Milwaukee.

The other is the William George Bruce Collection featuring family chronicles from 1916 to 1948. A Milwaukee publisher, historian and civic leader, William George Bruce was the oldest brother of my great-grandfather Martin P. Bruce.

These two members of my extended family are featured in a recent blog post I did on writing and posting biographical sketches on Wikipedia about selected ancestors.

There are other family connections to 75 items in the anniversary collection, but they less specific. Benjamin Church was a member of the Old Settlers Club and may be mentioned in one or more of the Old Settlers Club Albums while several family members have documents in the collection of Naturalization Papers.

When working on your family history, keep a look out for materials from the historical society where they lived. You too may be pleasantly surprised!

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FreeBMD & FreeREG

Are you researching your roots in England and Wales? Then there are two very helpful websites with free databases that you need to be using.

I have used the website FreeBMD for some time with good results. Here you will find transcriptions of the Civil Registration index (GRO Index) of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales. As of May 2011, there were more than 200 million distinct records in the database that you can search for free. This large number of records means you have a good chance of finding what you are seeking.

Civil Registration started in 1837 so there are no earlier records in its database. And the site does not have scans of the original documents themselves, but does provide the details you need to order copies of your ancestors’ original birth, marriage and death records from the General Registration Office (GRO) here. Learn more about FreeBMD by reading its FAQs here.

An important companion to FreeBMD is the website FreeREG where you can find baptism, marriage, and burial records transcribed from parish and non-conformist registers in the U.K. As of June 1, 2011, the database had some 15 million records that you can search for free. FreeREG states that it is a “finding tool” and you should always review the original parish record in person or via microfilm, for example.

I am currently researching my BOOTH ancestors of northern Shropshire, England. My third great-grandfather, Joseph Booth, reported in census and other documents that he was born in Shakeford, a small village or hamlet south of Market Drayton. When he married a second time, on 12 April 1863, his marriage certificate states that his father was George Booth, a farmer.

Who was George Booth? I have found a 1794 marriage record and an 1845 death record for a George Booth in Market Drayton who may be my fourth great-grandfather, although these are unconfirmed. But when using FreeREG recently, I found a record that seems likely to be for the right George Booth. The baptism record dated 5 Aug 1795 at St. Mary’s Church in Market Drayton is for Mary Booth, daughter of George Booth of Shakerford, quite likely Shakeford.

Now I have two records pointing to a Booth family in Shakeford, Shropshire, in the relevant time period. Joseph was born about 1808 according to family and census records. This inspires me to keep searching, and to order the microfilms for St. Mary’s Church, to look at the records myself. I would love to add another generation to my Booth ancestral line.

The third in this volunteer-driven system of databases is the website FreeCEN which has census transcriptions for 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891. Many counties are far from complete, however, but it is another free resource to use in your search for your ancestors. It might have what you are looking for!

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Published in: on June 5, 2011 at 6:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Ancestors on Wikipedia

Do you have an ancestor who has made a significant contribution to his or her community, field of business or profession? Were they an inventor or artist or civic leader of note? Then consider developing a biographical sketch for them — using encyclopedia format — and add it to Wikipedia.

Why is this a worthwhile step in your family history? First, you will need to organize many details about your noted ancestor in a thorough and coherent way to share with others. Second, it will go onto the website well known for being the place to turn for information on all important topics.

Of course, most of our ancestors are not likely subjects for Wikipedia, no matter how good they were as citizens and family members. But if there are distinctive and influential features to their lives and careers, you should consider taking this step. To do this, you should sign up for a Wikipedia account and learn the basic formatting steps for a Wikipedia entry. Or find someone to help you.

Some years ago, I visited the Benjamin Church House that today is a pioneer museum in Estabrook Park, Shorewood, north of Milwaukee. It was built in the early days of Milwaukee, 1843-1844, not far west of the Milwaukee River by my third great-grandfather for his family. He used the distinctive Greek Revival style for the house, one of the reasons it was rescued and turned into a museum. I wrote a Wikipedia article about the Benjamin Church House because it is on the National Register of Historic Places and is open to the public in the summer.

Sometime later, I wrote a Wikipedia entry about Benjamin F. Church himself. He was one of the earliest white settlers in Milwaukee, was a carpenter and builder, filled several public offices in the early city — and of course built the Benjamin Church House that still stands today.

Recently, I had time to write a Wikipedia entry on William George Bruce, a Milwaukee publisher, historian and influential civic leader. I had done considerable research about him as he was the oldest brother of my great-grandfather Martin P. Bruce. I had the details on his career, public service contributions and family, as well as his many recognitions and awards including being called “Public Citizen No. 1” for Milwaukee. I also had many sources, very necessary for the References or Notes section of a Wikipedia entry. Luckily I had found a copy of the book I Was Born in America: Memoirs of William George Bruce that helped me with my family genealogy as well as the Wikipedia entry.

Of course there are other places to post such biographical sketches, including your own family history website. But if you have an ancestor whose contributions are influential and distinctive — and if they don’t yet have a Wikipedia entry — consider doing it. You will add to the store of knowledge we all share through Wikipedia.

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Online Genealogy Courses

Genealogists and family historians enjoy the quest of adding more generations to their family trees. We always face the key questions: But who were their parents? And what was the woman’s maiden name? Where did the family come from, where did they move, and why?

If you’ve been doing genealogy research for some time, you know that solving those genealogy brickwalls takes not only new online databases and books, but also new insights on how to approach our research. Here’s where free online classes and lectures can be a big help. They’re a great supplement to workshops presented by genealogy societies where you can ask the experts face to face.

Today I watched the three video segments of an excellent presentation by Bernie Gracy, founder of AncestralHunt.com. In them, he discusses how understanding place and geography and demographics can help you find key relationships among your ancestors. Locations – whether a small rural village or a city neighborhood – often influence the selection of marriage partners, and thus genealogy and family history. Proximity in an ancestral location in Europe may well determine proximity in America, for example.

These short videos are among the best genealogy lessons I’ve seen and heard. They add depth to the insights I gained from Donna Potter Phillips, a genealogist from Spokane, Washington, who gave a very fine workshop on using place in family history research. [See story.] She gave it recently for the Whitman County Genealogical Society.

You can watch these three helpful video segments from Bernie Gracy free on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/user/ancestralhunt

There are many other sources of online genealogy classes, often free. Some are videos, some are text only. Consider using these to help you advance your own research:
Introduction to Genealogy
85 lessons at Genealogy.com
Genealogy Research Classes Online from FamilySearch

Links to other free classes and tips on improving your genealogy research can be found on the Genealogy Resouces page at my website: http://www.workingdogweb.com/Genealogy-Resources.htm

Or try a Google search for the words “genealogy on youtube” with or without the quotation marks to find more classes and videos for genealogy. Or search for genealogy on the YouTube site itself. Here are examples of what comes up:
Genealogy Gems: http://www.youtube.com/user/GenealogyGems
Genealogy Guy: http://www.youtube.com/user/GenealogyGuy

Some important topics include using Flash drives to back up all your genealogy documents and pictures including how to find your computer’s USB ports; organizing and preserving your genealogy papers materials and resources; and much more.

Here’s to great success in finding your family’s ancestors by learning new research skills and strategies!

Published in: on November 26, 2010 at 8:02 pm  Comments (2)  
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City Directories and Genealogy

Whether your genealogy research emphasizes family trees and dates or expands into the realm of family history, you will find that city directories are an essential tool. While the United States Census records provide family insights in 10-year increments, city directories can fill in many of the years in between. The older ones typically included an address, occupation and often spouses.

You can use city directories to add details and color to your family history, or use them to determine where your ancestors lived in the years between the census.

You also may make discoveries as I did when researching my great-grandfather’s uncle John Bruce who we knew lived in San Francisco and worked in the ship building industry starting before the Civil War. What a surprise to find in the 1856 directory that both John and his brother Martin had arrived, were working as ship caulkers and living at Isthmus House. [See story]. The directories helped me picture John’s life through 1905, the final entry that I can find for him. And added a brief yet exciting chapter to Martin’s life as well.

Where can you find city directories that you can search via the Internet?

There are websites that can guide you to the city directories you need, both free and subscription:
> Cyndi’s List: http://www.cyndislist.com/citydir.htm
> Online Historical Directories: http://sites.google.com/site/onlinedirectorysite/
> US City Directories: http://www.uscitydirectories.com/

I am excited about the many directories online and easy to use, free, at Internet Archive: Digital Library found online here: http://www.archive.org/

That’s where I found dozens of San Francisco directories, helpful to my search for the life of John Bruce. I have found a good number of Atlanta and Chicago directories there as well, helpful for filing out details on other branches of my extended family. And checking now, I find city directories for Boston, Brooklyn, New York City and more.

While no Milwaukee directories are found there, the Internet Archive does have the 1891/1892 Wisconsin Gazetteer and Business Directory that can be helpful. And Caspar’s guide and map of the city of Milwaukee: directory of streets, house numbers and electric car lines for 1904, a treasure for understanding city locations before many street names were changed so they matched east and west of the Milwaukee River. With engravings and listings, this guide also provides a lively look at Milwaukee 106 years ago.

You may find transcribed city and town directories on websites for those locations. Especially helpful to me are the early Milwaukee directories transcribed and posted at Links to the Past: http://linkstothepast.com/milwaukee/ctydir.php

Also invaluable were the transcribed directories for New Holstein and Calumet County, Wisconsin. These include:
> 1893 Patron Directory: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~calumet/14.htm
> 1905 City and Rural Directory: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~calumet/cd1905.htm

Finally, there are many city directories on subscription websites such as Ancestry.com, and I use those as well. You also can find them the old-fashioned way, in microfilm format from your area Family History Center. It was the 1866 Milwaukee Directory read on microfilm that finally confirmed a link in my Bradley family lineage that seemed to be correct. [See story].

No matter how you obtain them, make sure city directories are a key part of your genealogy research strategy. Best wishes for your family history research, and Happy Thanksgiving!

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Gold Rush & Genealogy

As is the case for many American families, we have relatives whose lives were changed by the Gold Rush to California in the mid-1800s. Brothers John and Martin Bruce were not miners, but instead were attracted to the Gold Rush boom town, San Francisco. Here is their story along with the genealogy resources that helped us find them.

Gold Rush: Prelude and Impact

On July 7, 1846, California was claimed for the United States during the Mexican-American War, and the town called Yerba Buena was similarly claimed two days later. On July 11, 1846, the American flag replaced the California Republic flag at Sutter’s Fort, a sign that California was joining the United States. The following year, on January 30, 1847, the town of Yerba Buena, founded in 1835, was renamed San Francisco.

Gold was discovered on January 24, 1848, at the lumber mill on the American River owned by Captain John A. Sutter. The gold discovery was published in the San Francisco newspaper The Californian in March, 1848, but gained little credence. Then, on May 12, 1848, gold fever was set off in San Francisco when merchant Sam Brannan from Sutter’s Fort waved a bottle of gold dust and yelled: “Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River.” > See Source.

Population then surged in San Francisco, climbing from 1,000 in 1848 to 25,000 by December 1949. The Gold Rush boom town was off and running. And the United States moved quickly to bring California into the Union, making it the 31st state on September 9, 1850. > See Source No 1 and Source No 2.

The wealth being created was the major lure for miners and others. The value of gold exported from California in 1854 was $51,429,101, while in 1855, gold exports were valued at $44,640,090. Also in 1854, the United States opened the San Francisco Mint and in its first year turned $4 million in gold bullion into coins. > See Source No 1 and Source No 2.

Many opportunities for work and wealth developed. In 1855, a bill to develop a line of steamships running between San Francisco and Shanghai, China, was under consideration in the state’s House of Representatives. And Gov. John Bigler pushed for legislation to gain for San Francisco the benefits of the whale trade in the Pacific. San Francisco would become, for a time, the largest seaport and international trade center on the West Coast. Building and repairing ships would be essential to the city’s economy. > See Source.

Off to San Francisco

With its glitter of gold and opportunities for work in the ship building industries, San Francisco drew the two Bruce brothers, Martin and John, from their home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

They were born in Cammin, Kreis Cammin, Pomerania, on 27 March 1833 and 10 March 1835, respectively. They were two of the four sons of Martin Friedrich Bruss and Maria Sophia Stiemke Bruss. Oldest son Wilhelm or William was born 25 September 1829 in Cammin, but died as a youth. Next oldest was Augustus F. Bruss, born there 27 December 1830. Martin and Maria Bruss and their three sons left Cammin, just inland from the Baltic Sea in Pomerania, with the Old Lutheran migration and came first to Buffalo, New York, and then on to Milwaukee in the fall of 1839. > See Source with Bruss entry at bottom of page.

The traditional occupations for Bruss men were sailing, ship building and ship caulking, and they pursued this work in sailing on the Great Lakes and working in Milwaukee’s shipbuilding industry, according to books written by descendant William George Bruce.

About 1849, Maria Sophia Bruss died in a cholera epidemic in Milwaukee. Martin Friedrich Bruss remarried and was recorded in the 1850 Census with his new wife and sons Martin and John. He then died about 1854 as only his widow was listed in the 1854-1855 Milwaukee Directory. In 1855, older son Augustus married Apollonia Becker, a young woman of 18 years newly arrived from Zemmer near Treves or Trier in southwest Germany.  He settled down in Milwaukee to establish a career as a ship’s carpenter and to have ten children with Apollonia.

In 1855, brothers Martin and John were thus on their own, young single men who needed to make their way in the world. They chose to go west. About this same time, the three brothers chose to Anglicize their surname to Bruce, and that is how they appear in records after that.

In his memoirs — I Was Born in AmericaWilliam George Bruce wrote this brief synopsis of the three brothers: “While still a young man, Martin F. Bruce went south and located at Pensacola, Florida. This was before the Civil War. John went to California. Augustus F., who later became the father of William George Bruce, remained in Milwaukee.” That Martin also went to California, if only for a short time, was a new discovery in our family history.

Working as Ship Caulkers

Two brief entries in Colville’s 1856 San Francisco Directory reveal the presence of both of the brothers in the growing city. The listings on page 25 are as follows:
> John Bruce, caulker, brds Isthmus House
> Martin Bruce, caulker, brds Isthmus House

They were pursuing one of the traditional occupations of the Bruss men, calking or caulking ships, a process of making them watertight. And they both were living at Isthmus House, a residential hotel on First Street between Market and Mission streets, the address given on page 108 of the directory. Isthmus House, established about 1851 by Nathan Hellings, was about six blocks in from the Embarcadero, the site of the city’s wharves on San Francisco Bay.

These brief scraps of information are all we have to tell us  that the brothers journeyed together to San Francisco in the Gold Rush boom era. But it is enough to evoke a glimpse of their lives as young men in the sprawling landscape of mid-18th century America.

Their Lives Diverged

By 1857, Martin Bruce had moved to northern Florida to work at the Pensacola Navy Yard. He met William Ollinger and they founded Ollinger & Bruce drydock and ship repair business. Martin married William’s sister Margaret Ollinger, they had two sons and three daughters, and lived out their lives in Santa Rosa County, Florida. Martin died February 20, 1894, and is buried in the Bagdad Cemetery, Santa Rosa County.

John Bruce worked as a ship calker in San Francisco for many years. City directories on three occasions listed the firms John worked for, including, in 1873, Middlemas and Boole, Shipwrights, a firm founded in 1869, and then in 1878 and 1885, the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, founded in 1848. John never married. He lived at several different multi-unit dwellings in the same area of downtown San Francisco his whole life.

The last known records for him are the 1904 California registered voter listings, showing him as aged 66, living in San Francisco at 560 Howard, 2nd floor, room 45, and the Crocker-Langley 1905 San Francisco Directory, page 357, listing him as John Bruce, calker, r. 560 Howard. We have not yet found the date of his death or where he is buried. But we now know much more about his life, thanks to the Gleanings entry in the recent Whitman County Genealogical Society newsletter that alerted me to the San Francisco directories on Archives.org. My thanks to the editor!

KEY SOURCE

Dozens of San Francisco directories in the span of years from 1850 to 1982 can be found online free at the Internet Archive at this URL: http://www.archive.org/ Use the search term San Francisco directory and Media Type as Texts to find all of them. The 1856 Directory published by Samuel Colville can be found here. Choose the Read Online format for a digital book allowing you to flip through the pages. Note that the Bruce entries are not in alphabetical order by first name, John appearing after Martin.

Published in: on November 21, 2010 at 5:52 am  Comments (1)  
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