Honoring a World War II Veteran

Donald Custer Bradley continued a Bradley family tradition of serving his country, a tradition stretching back to his ancestor Aaron Bradley of Litchfield, Connecticut, who served in the Revolution War and to ancestors who served in local militia groups in Guilford, Connecticut, in the 1600s. Here is his story, shared on Veterans Day 2012.

Donald C. Bradley studied military science and was a Cadet Captain in ROTC at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he graduated on May 29, 1943. On July 1, 1943, he received orders to report to Camp McCoy, near LaCrosse, Wisconsin. He was then transferred to Fort Benning, Georgia, for six months of training. He was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant of Infantry at Fort Benning, Georgia, on Dec. 30, 1943.

His first assigments were training troops as follows:
— Feb. 27-June 4, 1944, IRTC, Camp Roberts, Templeton and Atascadero, California.
— June 6-July 18, 1944, Camp Adair, Corvallis and Albany, Oregon, 70th Infantry Division.
— July 22-August 11, 1944, Fort Leonard Wood, Lebanon, Missouri, 70th Infantry Division.

On September 5, 1944, his second wedding anniversary, he was in New York City waiting to be shipped overseas to Europe. This was three months after the D-Day Invasion. He went first to England and then to France for the end of the Allied Campaign in northern France. He was assigned to the 116th Infantry of the 29th Division that, in late September, took up defensive positions along the Teveren-Geilenkirchen line near Aachen inside Germany.

Lt. Bradley was wounded at the Battle of Aachen, which began on October 13, 1944. Located near the border with Belgium, Aachen was the first major German city to face invasion by the Allies. The American 1st and 30th Divisions began the assault, but when the 30th had many losses, parts of the 29th Division entered the battle. Military historians state that winning Aachen was key critical step for American soldiers attempting to breach the fortified Siegfried Line in the fall of 1944.

More specifically for Lt. Bradley, his 116th Infantry was deployed in the Aachen battle as follows: “The main German escape route from Aachen was the road to Alsdorf, which ran northeast from the besieged city. With attached battalions from the 66th Armd. Regt., 120th Inf. Regt., and 99th Inf. Bn., the 116th moved against Wurselen, five miles north of Aachen, Oct. 13, repulsed a counter-attack, cut the Alsdorf Road to seal the Aachen Gap.”  [Source: “29 Let’s Go!” — a small booklet on the history of the 29th Infantry Division, published by the Stars & Stripes in Paris in 1944-1945.]  The Combat Chronicle of the 29th Division in World War II also reports of 1944 battles that “In mid-October the 116th Infantry took part in the fighting at the Aachen Gap.”

After hospitalization and healing, Don rejoined the 29th Division in action pushing east into Germany. He was with Allied Forces when they met the Russian Army at the Elbe River at the end of the war.  Some sources say the Division had reached the Elbe on April 19, 1945, and that first radio contact with the Soviet troops occurred by April 23. The official meetings of American and Russian forces occurred on April 26, 1945, near Torgau.

According to the “29 Let’s Go!” booklet, “Given a regular combat mission again, the 29th dispatched its 115th and 116th to clear all opposition in the division sector west of the Elbe. Resistance was slight; the river was reached April 26.”

A 1945 newspaper article from Wisconsin summarized it this way: “Lt. Bradley, a rifle platoon leader, fought with the 116th Infantry of the 29th Division from Aachen to the Elbe River, where his unit was one of the first to make contact with the Russians. He was wounded in the Battle for Aachen and was awarded the Purple Heart.”The article added that Don was then transferred to the Military Police Platoon, 95th Infantry Division, and returned to the United States with that platoon. There was every expectation that his next assignment would be in the Pacific, but the Japanese surrender in mid-August 1945 made that unnecessary.

Lt. Bradley completed his military duties with assignments as follows:
— August 10-October 13, 1945, stationed at Camp Shelby, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, awaiting redeployment.
— October 15, 1945-March 9, 1946, Camp Butner, Durham, North Carolina

Don, his wife and their young daughter then headed home via a visit to Washington, D.C., and its historic monuments, including a stop of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The U.S. 29th Infantry Division has as its motto, “29. Let’s Go!” Its nickname is Blue and Gray, and its patch is a yin and yang symbol of the two colors, recognizing that it was made up of units that fought for the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Donald C. Bradley was awarded a Purple Heart, recognizing that he had been wounded in action. The original Purple Heart, called the Badge of Military Merit, was created by George Washington in 1782.


=> Find the booklet “29 Let’s Go!” at this Web address: http://www.lonesentry.com/gi_stories_booklets/29thinfantry/
=> Read the story of the 116th Infantry during World War II: http://116thinfantry.org/2.html
=> See the history of the 29th Division at this Web address: http://www.29infantrydivision.org/ and also here: http://www.freewebs.com/29thbattlefieldclan/29thhistory.htm

Finding Mary Simmons & Her Ancestors, Part Three

In Parts One and Two, we found we found the wife of Leaming Hawkins Bradley and mother of Sherman Abernethy Bradley to be Mary Simmons of the Town of Litchfield, Litchfield County, Connecticut. We estimated her birth year as 1811 or 1812 and then found that her father very likely was Job Simmons who lived in the Town of Litchfield.

Who Job’s Wife and Mary’s Mother?

If Job was Mary’s father, who was her mother? Unlike most of the Simmons families who moved west from northwest Connecticut into New York in the early 1800s, Job remained in the Town of Litchfield until his death in 1855. Thus, he was enumerated in the 1850 Census as Job Simmons, age 71, a farmer, with his wife Arsena Simmons, 67, both born in Connecticut. They lived in or near the village of Milton in the Town of Litchfield, west of the village of Litchfield and north of the village of Bantam or Bradleyville. [See map for all three villages.]

In 1834, Job Simmons had purchased a 1/8th share of the Simmons Forge located near Milton. Two previous Simmons individuals owning the iron works there were John and Solomon, mentioned in Part Two. Others who owned part of the Simmons Forge at one time or another were Eri Grannis, Guerdon Grannis and Thomas Grannis as well as Chauncey Dennison.

Arsena Simmons was recorded with other variations for her first name. She and Job are buried at the Headquarters Cemetery just south of Milton. There they are recorded on gravestones as Job Simmons, died 20 June 1855, age 76, and Arseneth, consort of Job Simmons, died Feb. 23, 1869, age 86. A consort is a wife.

They can be found in the book Litchfield and Morris Inscriptions and also on FindaGrave with a memorial for Job Simmons and another memorial for Arseneth Simmons. When Fanny B. Simmons died on 25 June 1818 at age 4 years 4 months, her parents were shown as Job and Arcena Simmons. Fanny too is buried in the Headquarters Cemetery. [Note: some sources say she was 7 years 4 months old at death.]

With is no indication that Job Simmons married more than once, it is likely that Arsena or Arseneth is the mother of Mary Simmons while Fanny B. Simmons is her sister. The book History of the Simmons family: from Moses Simmons, 1st, (Moyses Symonson) ship “Fortune” 1621 to and including the eleventh generation lists just one child, the daughter Fanny B. Simmons, likely because she is buried with her parents and official birth records were missing. Some family trees also list a daughter named Caroline, born in 1804.

Key Piece of Evidence

While I believed my theory about the parents of Mary Simmons was a sound one, I really wanted another source for confirmation. That came in the form of a mortuary notice at the time of her death.

On 14 Sep 1854, the Litchfield Republican newspaper carried this very brief notice: “In Chicago, Ill., July 18th, Mary, wife of Leaming H. Bradley, and daughter of Job Simmons of Milton.” Here, in less than 20 words, was confirmation that the Mary Simmons who married Leaming H. Bradley was indeed the daughter of Job Simmons who lived in Milton, Town of Litchfield, Litchfield County, Connecticut. Arsena or Arsenth Simmons must have been her mother.

With these multiple sources, I had confimed the parents of one of my third-great-grandmothers on my father’s side. The next challenge would be to try to find more about Mary’s Simmons ancestors. We’ll take that up in Part Four.

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Published in: on October 29, 2011 at 11:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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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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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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!


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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Genealogy Mystery: Jane Finally Found

Our family has long known that ancestors Benjamin Booth married Jane Ebrey in 1866 in northern Shropshire, England, and they came to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on their honeymoon.  Benjamin’s older brother George, also a carpenter, was already in Milwaukee, a likely reason they came. Ben and Jane stayed to work and raise their family.
Benjamin’s parents and birth date and place were known. But when was Jane born and where, and who were her parents? The usual online records did not yield an answer. No International Genealogy Index or IGI record for her and nothing in FreeBMD that matched what we knew from later records.

Following considerable genealogy sleuth work, answers have turned up in a number of records –  including Benjamin and Jane’s marriage certificate ordered from the General Register Office or  GRO in England. It proved to be the key that opened the door to solving the mystery of Jane Ebrey’s family and early life.

An important clue was found on a family tree that a cousin wrote out some years ago, based on his research. It was this:
> In the 1861 Census, Jane Ebrey was recorded as keeping house for her uncle Robert Ebrey and his sons Henry and Frederick in Prees, Shropshire. They lived on on Whitchurch Street. The men all worked as butchers.
Benjamin and Jane’s marriage record revealed that:
> Benjamin, a carpenter, age 21, and Jane, age 27, were married in the Prees parish church on 23 April 1866
> Benjamin’s father was Joseph Booth, a builder
> Jane’s father was John Ebrey, a butcher
With Jane’s father’s correct name, I at last was able to find Jane’s family and her presence in key records.

John and Robert Ebrey were among the sons of Thomas Ebrey who in 1828 and 1835 was listed in Shropshire Directories as Thomas Aberey & Sons, Butchers, in Prees. Thomas Aberey [also Eberey and Ebrey] had on 31 Dec 1795 married Isabelle Gilchrist, who sometimes was recorded as Elizabeth [Elizabeth is the English version of the name Isabelle].
John Ebrey was recorded as John Gilchrist Ebrey when he was baptized on 15 Aug 1802 in Prees. He most likely was named for his maternal grandfather John Gilchrist, Isabelle’s father.
On 15 Nov 1827, John Ebrey married Mary Palin, or Paling, in Ightfield, a rural village about 4 miles northeast of Prees and 4 miles southeast of Whitchurch. He and Mary then settled in her home village of Ightfield where John was a butcher while his brother Robert continued the butcher business in Prees. John and Mary had 10 children.
So that’s one reason Jane Ebrey was hard to find. It turns out that she was born in Ightfield, not Prees or Hodnet as the family had assumed. Likely born in October 1836, she was baptized in Ightfield on 20 Nov 1836 as shown in the parish records on microfilm. [In the 1900 Census, Jane’s birth was recorded as October 1855. She never liked giving her real age!]

But why no IGI for Jane’s baptism? It turns out that the IGIs for Ightfield are based on a document the ended with 1830.  And the FreeBMD records start with required registration in 1837. Jane’s birth fell in the gap, but the microfilm of Ightfield parish records , ordered through the local Family History Center,  had records of her birth and those of her siblings.
So why was Jane not with her parents in the 1841 Census? In fact, I believe she was – but the census taker hearing “Jane who is four” wrote down “James, age 4, son.” There is no birth of a James Ebrey to John and Mary in the microfilm records. So the census error is the likely reason Jane seems to be missing in 1841. In that year, the John Ebrey family lived in Prees but by 1851 they were again in Ightfield.
In the 1851 Census, Jane Ebrey, 14, born in Ightfield – surely our Jane – was in service in the household of John Paling in Prees. John, a grazier and butcher, was Jane’s maternal uncle, being her mother Mary Paling’s brother. [It was this record, giving her birthplace in Ightfield, that sent me to the Ightfield microfilm].
In this period, it was typical for young women from families of modest means to work as a servant in another household.  In 1861, Jane, as yet unmarried, was recorded as keeping house for her paternal uncle Robert Ebrey in Prees. Robert was a widower with two sons and so in need of someone to run his household.

Then on 23 April 1866, in the Prees parish church, Jane married Benjamin Booth, who had been baptized and confirmed at the church in Hodnet. The Booth family lived in the nearby village of Marchamley at the entrance to Hawkstone where the Booth men were carpenters and builders. Benjamin and Jane came to Milwaukee where he was listed in the 1866 Milwaukee Directory as a carpenter, living with George Booth, carpenter.
A fun extra. On 15 May 1866, at the Prees parish church, Sarah Booth, Benjamin’s sister, married Henry Ebrey, Jane’s first cousin and the son of Robert Ebrey mentioned earlier. Sarah had been a witness when Benjamin and Jane married.
One last bit gleaned from Shropshire Directories about John and Robert Ebrey. In the 1851 Directory for Shropshre, in the Whitchurch Trades Directory section, both John Ebrey and Robert Ebrey were listed as “country butchers who stand at the market in High Street” in Whitchurch [History, Gazetteer & Directory of Shropshire, 1851, p. 351.] Whitchurch was a market town where on Fridays merchants and tradesmen set up their booths to sell their wares.

Thus a genealogy brickwall – built of various errors and omissions – was finally overcome. Evidence that it can be done!

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