Tuesday, November 10, 2015

James Fitzgerald, the Fortuitous?

Family Reunion at the old family farm in Andover, NH, July 13, 2013
Who knew we were canoeing on top of our families' great investment of 1866? Not me, at least not until last week. Also last week,my perception of my great-great-grandfather, James Fitzgerald, was radically changed by just a little bit of new informaton.

In 2002, 2003, and 2007, I visited the offices where the property records for Merrimack County are housed in Concord, New Hampshire. During these visits, I went through all the Grantee Books and Grantor Books, looking for property records pertaining to my great-grandfather, James E. Fitzgerald, and to his father, James Fitzgerald. I had copies made of the forty three property records which I thought were relevant to their stories. These included mostly deeds and mortgages. As you can imagine, this was a fairly large stack of paper with lots of legalize.

In 2007, I spent painstaking hours extracting pertinent information from all this paperwork. At the time, I discovered that I was missing the image of one of the records. In February 1866, James Fitzgerald, a tailor from Wilmot, had bought land in Andover for the first time. This was about 100 acres, more or less, for which James paid $1800. I knew that the missing deed was dated November 20, 1866. I knew that James Fitzgerald was the grantor and that a John Proctor was the grantee. 

For these past 8 years, I have mistakenly assumed the worst about James. In my mind, James, an Irish immigrant who had been living in America for about 16 years, had finally accumulated enough money to buy his own land. Good for James! But, James was only able to hold onto the land for 9 months. What had happened? Being a pessimist and thinking the worst, I assumed that James, who was a tailor by profession and couldn't read or write, had lost the property for failure to pay a mortgage. In my imagination, James was an Irishman who had gotten-in over his head, drank too much, and lost it all.

How wrong I was!

Two weeks ago, I decided to make another effort to get a copy of the missing deed. I checked to see if the property records for Merrimack County were now available online. I was delighted to find a website for the Merrimack County Registry of Deeds. Since I knew the date of the missing deed, I was able to easily find and download an image of it. The information in the missing deed, led me back to a book , History of the Town of Andover, New Hampshire. Putting together the information from the newly read property record and the information from the history of Andover, this is what I have discovered:

James bought the 100 acres in 1866. This is the same year in which a John Proctor bought the land where the water flows out of Bradley Pond and where a mill or mills had been previously built and operated for a number of years. This same year, John Proctor bought some other land in the area which was adjacent to a waterway and hosted one or more mills. John Proctor bought these properties in 1866, the same year in which our James Fitzgerald bought and lost his land.

To increase the power generated at the outflow of Bradley Pond, John Proctor wanted to build a dam, about 12 feet high. Building the dam would increase the potential for powering a mill or mills Unfortunately, it would also flood some of the lower lying lands at the northern end of the pond, including the homestead which James Fitzgerald had just bought. This meant that John Proctor couldn't build his dam without James' consent. He gained James' consent by buying James' newly bought farm for an undisclosed amount of monies. Why was the amount of money kept secret?  I presume that James made a very tidy profit. 

Did James buy the property because he knew about John Proctor's plans? Did James anticipate that John Proctor would have to seek his approval in order to flood the acreage which James bought?  Or was James just lucky?

I had imagined that James was a failure because he had owned the land for only 9 months. Instead, this fact actually was an indicator of his success, whether by his acumen or good luck.

A company making harness hames was the most successful business in Andover for many years, powered by the newly harnessed outflow from Bradley Pond.  It wasn't until 1874 that my James Fitzgerald again bought land in Merrimack County. For $1400, he bought another farm, not far from his original farm. In 1884, James transferred ownership to his son, James E. Fitzgerald, planning to live on this farm the remainder of his life. Nonetheless, by 1890, James moved into a tenement in Manchester, New Hampshire.

His son, James E. Fitzgerald, sold the farm and moved to Penacook and became the manager of a boarding house. A few years later, James E. Fitzgerald exchanged properties with his sister-in-law, and again became the owner of a farm in Andover. Two years ago, we had a family reunion on the farm that James E. and Jennie Fitzgerald bought from his sister-in-law in 1893. This is the farm where my grandmother grew-up and where my Dad and his brother and sisters visited in their youth. This farm is adjacent to the farm which James E. Fitzgerald's father had given him, lying along the shores of Bradley Lake at a spot overlooking what had been his father’s fortuitous purchase of land now largely covered by water. 

The next time I return to New Hampshire to visit my great-grandfather's farm, I will look towards the lake and remember the old farm now covered by it's waters, and thank the powers that be for the luck of the Irish.


The below map shows the relative locations of farms that my family bought in Andover.

And for those that like a bit more detail, below is a synopsis of the associated real estate transactions.

A  James Fitzgerald's Investment Property
In 1866,  James Fitzgerald bought about 100 acres for $1800 in February and sold it in November to John Proctor for an undisclosed amount, enabling the pond to be dammed. With the building of the dam, the property was covered by water.
B  James and Lizzie Fitzgerald's Farm
In 1874, for $1400, James & Betsy bought a farm and orchard from a widow, Flora G. Sargent.
In 1884, James & Betsy Fitzgerald give their son, James E., the farm and orchard provided that he takes care of them, shares the proceeds, and lets them live there.
In 1887, for $400, James & Betsy sells the farm & orchard to their son, James E..
In 1887, for $425, James E. & Jennie mortgage the farm to Henry Weymouth. The mortgage is paid in full in 1896.
In 1888, for $50,  James E. Fitzgerald and Henry A. Weymouth sell the orchard to Ann J. Matthews.
In 1890, for $815, James E. Fitzgerald sells the farm to James Simpson.

C  James and Jennie Fitzgerald's First Farm

In October 1885, for $250, Jim Fitzgerald bought about 60 acres on Bradley Pond. He and Jennie sold the land for $405 in 1887 to William A. Simpson. James E. Fitzgerald held a mortgage for the property which was discharged in May 1890.
D  James and Jennie Fitzgerald's Second Farm

In 1870, for $1300, Michael Lorden, the father of James E. Fitzgerald's best friend, William, buys about 100 acrsa in Andover from Nicholas & Catherine Wallace.
In 1873, for $100, Michael Lorden, buys about 6 acres from John & Elizabeth Proctor. (Were these 6 acreas part of the farm that James & Betsy bought in 1866, a part that remained unflooded after the dam was built?)
In 1889, for $900, Ellen McCormick (Jennie's sister) buys the 100 + 6 acres from Michael Lorden.
In 1889, for $450, Ellen McCormick mortages the farm to Michael Lorden.
In 1893, for $1200, James E. Fitzgerald buys the 100 + 6 acres from Ellen. Ellen, for $1200, buys an acre in Concord, NH from James E..
In 1921, for life time support, Jennie gives the farm to her son, Maurice. A year later, Maurice returns the farm to Jennie.
In 1925, for life time support, Jennie gives the farm to her son, Francis. In 1928, Francis returns the farm to Jennie.
In 1928, for $1 and other valuable consideration, Jennie sells the farm to James Boyd Watson.

E  William and Lizzie Lorden's Farm
In November 1883, about 80 acres were quitclaimed to Michael Lorden and James E. Fitzgerald for $250. They sold this land for $150 to William Lorden, Michael's son and Jim's best friend, in March 1887.
© 2015, Cathy H Pari

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Gil's Baby Book

We never knew our grandmother, Mary (Fitzgerald) Merrill. She was one of the victims in Portsmouth, New Hampshire of the Spanish Influenza of 1918, dying while her own children were still young. She left behind no surviving letters, at least none that I have discovered. My Dad's baby book provides the only record I have of her written words and handwriting.

At the request of my cousin, Donna, I am posting Gil's Baby Book today.

© 2015, Cathy H Paris

Friday, April 24, 2015

Frederic Merrill's Letter to Ma, 1937

Pup on the steps of 2047 East 54th St., Brooklyn
Have you found any letters written by your parents or grandparents or even by your more distant ancestors? My forebears either were not letter-writers or their letters have been lost or destroyed. Amongst my family artifacts, I have only one letter, a letter written by my grandfather to his mother in 1937.

I had forgotten that I had this letter. It was sent to me by a cousin several years ago, at a time when I was busy caring for my mother or otherwise focused on enjoying our newly arrived grandchildren. The note from my cousin, with the letter, got put into a stack to deal with later. And later finally came.

The past few days, I have been going through piles of miscellaneous photos and other papers, scanning them and filing them in the applicable photo album or family history binder.

Today, I rediscovered the letter For his several hundred descendants, here it is:

© 2015, Cathy H Paris

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Erasmus Hall High School's Class of June 1931

Erasmus Hall High School's Class of June 1931, Brooklyn, NY
As I approach 70, I feel compelled to accelerate the process of digitizing family photos and home movies. To this end, yesterday, I dropped at Costco several reels of 8mm film, quite a few video cassettes, and almost 200 slides for digitization. This afternoon, I opened a box with rolls of oversized photographs. I checked the pricing online, and discovered it would cost me $15-$60 per photograph to have them scanned by a service. Then I remembered my Flip Pal Scanner. Using the Flip Pal, I scanned roughly a dozen 3"x 5" inch overlapping sections of the largest photograph. The original photograph is about 7.5" x 40". I stitched the dozen scans together using the software provided with the scanner. The result is shown above.

I only wish that the Flip Pal scanned at a higher resolution than 600 dpi. However, I decided to proceed with scanning the rest of my photos at 600 dpi. The ease of us and economic advantages of the Flip Pal make it more likely that I will finish my digitization projects than if I use a scanner that produces images of a higher resolution.

The back of the photograph was signed by a number of the graduates. I also created scanned images of the back and stitched them together too. See below. Visit Steve Morse's website for more information about Erasmus Hall's Class of 1931.

© 2015, Cathy H Paris

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Opening Our Grandmother's Trunk by Pat Aronica

Donna (front, center); Cathy, Leila, Pat Aronica, Mary Heilig,
family friend, Richie (middle row); Gil (back, center). c. 1948
at Uncle Fred and Aunt Betty's place in Bergen Beach, NY.
I can’t remember the year, or exactly how old I was. 

Mary (Hanna) Heilig and I had convinced Aunt Dot to let us look inside the trunk which contained our grandmother’s belongings.

Trunk shown in the Spring edition of Sear's 1906 catalog.
[Our grandmother, Mary Elizabeth [Fitzgerald] Merrill  had died of the Spanish Influenza when our parents were still young children. Her husband survived another forty-seven years, forty-seven years in which he never ceased to mourn his loss.]

I can tell you that we were sworn to secrecy. We were never ever to tell “Pup” that Aunt Dot let us look inside the trunk.  The look of shear terror on Aunt Dot’s face was enough to let us know not to breathe a word to anyone.

Dorothy aka Aunt Dot (top), Mary
[aka Lib & Pat's mother-to-be],
Gil, and Pup c. 1915 on the stoop
in Portsmouth, NH
[Pup was the name given to our grandfather when he was still a young husband and father. The name "Pup" was bestowed on him by his youngest daughter who had sat on the front porch, day after day, heralding his arrival for dinner. “Pop is home for supper.” Many times later, the call became: “Pop is home for sup…” And then: “Pop … sup.” Finally, my mother’s announcement of her father’s arrival to dinner was shortening to its final form, the name that we all came to call him: “Pup.”]

Actually there were two trunks, but we were interested in the one that contained Mary Elizabeth’s clothing.  There were high buttoned shoes, one pair obviously newer then the other.  They were still buttoned up to about where she could slip in and out easily.  A special hook or tool was with the shoes.  There were big hats, fans and gloves.  Every thing was folded and placed very carefully as if it was just packed. 

There was a blouse the color of a pale peach.  It had pin tucks all along the bodice.  These were ironed and still in place.  The sleeves were long and the neck high.  There were tiny buttons down the front.  The fabric seemed to be cotton, but almost sheer.  I do remember my mother telling us that she made most of her clothes, and she had a very strict schedule for days she did laundry, ironing and sewing.  I can just imagine the time it would take to get those pin tucks ironed just so.

I seem to recall a skirt or two, either dark blue or black.  There was some underwear, scarves, hankies … I don’t recall any beads or jewelry. 

There were aprons and housedresses. But it was that that peach blouse which made the most lasting impression. 

The shoes were fun. I tried using the hook to unbutton one of the buttons. My attempt failed. 

My  mother did say that our grandmother used flat irons that were heated on the stove and were rotated as they cooled.  It was especially hard in the summer months.  My mother also said it was their mother that taught Aunt Dot how to sew.  

I asked Mary Heilig to recall her impressions of what we found.  Of course, everything we touched had to be placed right back to where it was.  There was no time to open the other trunk.  I understand it contained books, papers, maybe pictures but my sister Mary said she got to look inside it one day, but doesn’t remember much.

Apparently, after helping Aunt Dot and Uncle Chuck to move, my brother Fred convinced them to get rid of the trunks as they were buggy and falling apart.  It’s too bad as they probably held some important papers, pictures, etc.

 © 2014, Patricia Aronica

Friday, September 12, 2014

Why Didn't We Visit?

When I first became hooked on genealogy, I quickly focused on my mother’s side of the family.  Mom's grandparents must have been an integral part of the first couple of years of my life.

My brother and I about 1947 on East 35th St.
near Flatbush Ave.
I remember walking from our apartment on Flatbush Avenue to their home on Albany Avenue in Brooklyn, N.Y. It was a perfect summer day, and I was feeling very happy. I was walking with my mother and brother. I remember I was wearing one of my prettier dresses and my perfect, white, Buster Brown shoes. We were passing a neighborhood park with a wrought iron fence. I forgot to watch my steps, and I smelled my mistake. I had stepped in dog poop, and my little white shoes were no longer perfect. I looked up at Mom, and I could tell she was very annoyed. I began to cry. This was not my first misadventure with dog poop. I had been repeatedly cautioned to watch my steps, but continued to get lost in the world around me or in my personal imaginings. And so I had erred again.  

And whether or not it was this day or another, I can’t quite recollect, we reached a familiar house, climbed a few steps, and Mom knocked on the door. It was opened by a woman who filled the entrance way, and she embraced each of us, smothering us with hugs and kisses. She was my Great Aunt Marie. I remember my brother trying to squeeze between Aunt Marie and the door jam, trying in vain to escape untouched past Aunt Marie’s welcoming and overpowering embraces.

Once inside, all was somber. And it was made clear that we were not to make any noise. I remember being ushered into a room with a huge bed, standing so close to it, and my eyes just reaching the top of the mattress. A very old person was propped up on pillows.  It seemed like I stood there for a long time. Eventually, we were ushered from the room, and …

That is all I can remember.

Maria Augusta (Schulze) Bals
The very old person must have been my great grandmother, Auguste (Schulze) Bals, who died not many days after my second birthday.

After that day in 1947, I don’t remember ever entering that house again, although I may have and just don’t remember. My great grandfather lived six years thereafter, and I don’t remember ever visiting him. I have wondered why I have no more memories of visiting my great-grandfather, Conrad Bals, after I was two years old. He was alive until I was 7 1/2 years old. 

I asked my mother: "Why didn't we visit your grandfather?" She always side-stepped giving an answer. Now, I will never know why. 

As the years passed, I heard mention of Aunt Marie, Uncle George and Aunt Gert, Aunt Lil, Aunt Anna, Aunt Gus and Uncle Charlie, Uncle Joe and Aunt Grace, and Uncle Pete and Aunt May. These were my Mom's aunts and uncles on the Bal's side of the family. But they were just ephemeral names in conversations around me, and never entered my life, that is, until I got the genealogy bug. And then I was driven to learn more about the BALS branch of my family. 

More to follow ... in future postings.

 © 2014, Cathy H Paris

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Jim and Fran with their first child, Jimmy (1951).
Jimmy was my parents's first grandchild. 
My brother, Jim, and his wife, Fran, got married and had their first child, Jimmy, when I was ten or eleven years old. I was delighted to have a child in the family who I could watch. Eighteen months later, Karen was born. Fran had to be hospitalized after only three days. The children were left with my mother until Fran was better and able to care for them. I can remember running home from school so I would get there in time to feed the baby. She was the color of peaches and cream. Just beautiful. Anna and Billy’s daughter was born a few weeks before Karen, but I didn’t get to see her very often. Anna’s mother watched her while Anna was at work.  Billy was still in the service and stationed in Germany.

Dotsy and Lou weren’t married quite a year when they had their first baby, Johnny. On their first anniversary, Dotsy and Lou went away for the weekend. They left Johnny with me (and of course, with Mom too.) I remember taking Johnny to Sunday Mass and holding him in my arms as if he belonged to me.

As time went by, there were many babies. For some reason, I thought that they should all belong to me. Could that be why I had ten of my own?


© 2013, Patricia Aronica