Classic Photo: First Child, 1952

Audrey Riis Gustafsson and daughter Bonnie, Floral Park, New York, 1952.

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Posted by on February 6, 2014 in Classic Photos


Classic Photo: New Winter Outfit, c1914

Ida M. Adams, Sag Harbor, New York, c1914.

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Posted by on December 24, 2013 in Classic Photos


Lt. Bill Gmelin (1932-1955), USAF

bill gmelin

2nd Lt. Bill Gmelin (2nd from right) and flight instructor George Jones (center) pose with members of the 3077th Pilot Training Group alongside aircraft 7636, the plane they were flying on the night of June 16, 1955.

William J. Gmelin was the grandson of Ludwig Gmelin, eldest brother of Adolph Gmelin, and thereby second cousin to Marilyn Matthews Riis and Robert T. Gmelin.

Note: The eyewitness testimony quoted here is taken from United States Air Force Accident Report 55-6-16-5, obtained by me through the Freedom of Information Act.

William Jay (Bill) Gmelin was born in New Rochelle, New York, in 1932, the only child of bank accountant William Julius Gmelin (1899-1995) and his wife, Mildred J. Thomas (1898-?).

Bill married fellow New Rochelle native Mary Jane Butler, an elementary school art teacher, in his senior year at Dartmouth University. After graduation in the spring of 1954 Bill entered the Air Force.

T-28A aircraft at Marana Air Base in 1955

T-28A aircraft at Marana Air Base in 1955

In June of 1955 Second Lieutenant William Gmelin was a student pilot in the 3307th Pilot Training Group at Marana Air Base near Tucson, Arizona, with 97.25 hours of flight time. Mary Jane was 8 months pregnant with their first child.

“Lt. Gmelin appeared perfectly normal in all respects on the days preceding and including 16 June 1955.” – Richard H. Bruns, 2nd Lt., USAF

“Lt. William J. Gmelin was in my car pool and I was the one who drove on 16 June 1955. Lt. Gmelin was in his usual good spirits that day. As I recall he had gone swimming that day around noon time and that was not unusual fatigue for him as he went swimming whenever a P.T. period permitted. He made no unusual comments to me that day and from all that I witnessed it was just an ordinary flying day.” – James W. Sorensen, 2nd Lt., USAF

“The first flight of the day, June 16, 1955, didn’t commence until approximately 1445 hours, as the first two planes assigned to us had to be written up. Lt. William J. Gmelin flew on this first flight with [civilian flight instructor George] Jones and they didn’t return until approximately 1630 hours at which time I went up for a fifty minute dual ride.” – James W. Sorensen, 2nd Lt., USAF

“I was on tower duty on the night of June 16, 1955, with Mr. Bushman. Mr. Jones flew the first flight of the evening in aircraft #313 on a dual navigation mission. Take off time was 1942. When he returned he was instructed to park #313 on the regular row.” – H. H. Samuels, Flight Commander

“To the best of my knowledge and memory, Lt. Gmelin was in his normal good spirits and physical condition on 16 June 1955. He possessed his normal confident manner and appeared to look at this flight as just another flight. When Mr. Jones and I met him at the aircraft he was ready to climb in. Lt. Gmelin said he had performed the pre-flight check except for the lights. I checked the lights while Mr. Jones pre-flighted the aircraft. Lt. Gmelin got in the aircraft and performed his cockpit checks. Lt. Gmelin started the aircarft, signaled chocks out and rolled out to the runup area in a normal manner.” – Ralph D. Brown, 2nd Lt., USAF

T-28A, the type of aircraft flown by Bill Gmelin on June 16, 1955, at Marana AFB

T-28A, the type of aircraft flown by Bill Gmelin on June 16, 1955, at Marana AFB

“[Mr. Jones] was assigned aircraft number 636 for dual local with Lt. Gmelin, this takeoff time was 2243. They remained in the pattern and completed four touch and go landings then departed for the area orientation in the area. His last pitchout call was made at 2313.” – M. J. Bushman, Senior Instructor (Tower Operator)

“Tower records and all other evidence indicated that the aircraft… was at or above 5000 feet when trouble of an undetermined origin occurred. No radio call was made by the aircraft.” – Jack l. Selling, Operations Officer

“I had taken off from Davis-Monthan AFB at 2310 MST and was climbing to altitude over the field. On one of the circles when approximately three miles south of D-MFAB, I noticed a brilliant flash north of Tucson. I noted the time to be 1135 MST.” – Lyle A. Geer, Captain, USAF

“While on the way to work at Arizona Public Service Company, Saguaro Plant, 4 miles south of Red Rock, on the night of June 16, 1955, about 2 miles south of the plant I was watching the large amount of planes in the air, and someone remarked about it. Suddenly I noticed a large flash of light which was almost blinding. The approximate time was 11:30 PM. After the flash this light burned very bright….” – Lawrence J. Davies

“I was driving a truck for Time Freight Lines, Inc., on Thursday night, June 16, 1955, on my way between Phoenix and Lordsburg, New Mexico. Between Picacho and Red Rock, Arizona, I saw a plane flying at a low altitude, approximately 150 or 200 feet and it had its wing and tail lights on. About 60 seconds or so later it crashed and exploded and began to burn.” – Lee T. Hendricks

“I was riding to work on the night of June 16, 1955, seated in the rear seat, and I was looking across the desert into the darkness when right before my eyes I saw a terrific ball of fire rise up from the ground. … I saw nothing before I saw the countryside light up by the ball of fire. On reaching work I checked with the Phoenix dispatcher and then called the flight commander at Marana, who informed me it may have been one of their planes.” – Gerald W. Parks

“Flying dual in aircraft #641 with Lt. Adkins, we were dispatched to investigate the crash. At the scene of the crash there was considerable fire. The desert brush was burning an area about 500 feet or more long and 150 feet wide. The aircraft was burning in about four or five different parts in an area of about 50 feet circle.” – Roy Elder, Instructor Pilot

“I saw a flaming mass and then almost instantaneously an explosion. My instructor, Mr. Elder, reported the crash to the control tower, and they dispatched us to the scene of the crash. We were told to stay there and inform the tower on anything we could see. … We directed the crash crew to the scene by talking to the tower and they relayed our directions to the crash crew. We also used our landing lights to give them the general direction of the crash.” – William K. Adkins, 2nd Lt., USAF

“On the night of the 16 we were coming to work at the Saguaro Power Plant. … When the plane hit it made a very bright flash and the fire leaped a great distance into the air. The flash didn’t last very long, but when we got to the plant I went to the top of #2 boiler and there was still a good size fire. About 1:00 AM I noticed some headlights going out to the fire. At daybreak we could still see smoke out there.” – Charlie Goitia

An investigation and hearing into the crash were conducted in the weeks that followed. The investigation’s conclusion:

“The cause of this crash is undetermined. The imprint of this aircraft on the ground at the point of impact and dispersal of the debris indicates that the aircraft struck the ground in a near vertical dive and exploded upon impact. There was no radio call from the crew and no evidence of fire in flight either from nearby eyewitnesses to the explosion or from examination of the empenage. The attitude and speed of the aircraft is believed to be the only key to the accident cause. Either fouled primary controls or misuse of controls through disorientation or other such factors are the only apparent conjecture possible. The extent of distortion of the aircraft and engine left little chance of establishing whether or not there had been a mechanical malfunction. There was no foreign object likely to have fouled controls found in the wreckage.”

Bill’s dog tags were recovered from the debris field; there were no identifiable remains.

Seattle Daily Times, June 17, 1955

Seattle Daily Times, June 17, 1955

Peter Gmelin was born on July 13, 1955.

A few years later, Mary Jane married William Gill, who adopted Peter. Mary Jane Gill retired from teaching at age 60, returned to school, became an art therapist, and lives today in Prescott, Arizona. Peter Gmelin, now Peter Gill, is presently living in Nashua, New Hampshire.

Mary Jane Butler Gmelin Gill poses in 2001 with a portrait of herself at age 7, painted by her neighbor, Norman Rockwell.

Mary Jane Butler Gmelin Gill poses in 2001 with a portrait of herself at age 7, painted by her neighbor, Norman Rockwell.


Posted by on December 21, 2013 in Biographies


Classic Photo: Break Time, 1907

Hans Christian Riis’ brother, Andrew (nee Andreas) Jensen Riis (1869-1936), owned a home construction company at 117th Street and Railroad Avenue (now Babbage Street) in Richmond Hill, New York. Here, some of Andrew’s employees take a break to pose for a photograph in 1907.

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Posted by on December 18, 2013 in Classic Photos


Johann Karg (1525-1588), Abbot

Johann is the 10th great-grandfather of Richard, James, Gary, Mark and Mike.

Johann Karg AKA Johannes Parsimonius

Johann Karg AKA Johannes Parsimonius

Johann Karg was born January 7, 1525, to shoemaker Michael and Felicitas (maiden name unknown) Karg in Augsburg, Bavaria.

An accomplished student at school, Johann was awarded a scholarship by Augsburg’s mayor Wolfgang Rehlinger to the University of Tübingen, where he earned the degree of Master of Arts in February 1542.

On December 21, 1542, Johann entered the school of theology at the University of Wittenberg, where he attended the lectures of Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, Caspar Cruciger the Elder and Johannes Bugenhagen. Johann participated in the funeral of Martin Luther in the Wittenberg Castle Church in February 1546.

Johann was appointed Deacon of the Cathedral of Our Lady in Augsburg in July 1546, the Deacon at St. George’s Collegiate Church in Tübingen in 1552, and Superintendent of the Abbey at Blaubeuren in 1556.

The Monastery at Blaubeuren

The Monastery at Blaubeuren

In November 1557, Johann married Sarah Buck (c1534-1613) in Blaubeuren.

The following year, Johann was appointed Superintendent of the Abbey at Cannstatt, then, in 1559, commissioned by the Duke of Württemberg as Court Chaplain in Stuttgart with a seat on the Württemberg Council.

The Monastery at Hirsau

The Monastery at Hirsau

Johann assumed the prelature of the monastery at Hirsau in 1569. In addition to the management of the monstery and its school as Abbot, Johannes authored a number of textbooks and other theological writings and a hymnal under the Latin translation of his name, Johannes Parsimonius.

Johann’s and Sarah’s only known child, Judith (our ancestor), was born at Hirsau on January 5, 1576. Judith married Johann Wilhelm Gmelin in Calw,  Württemberg, on January 09, 1600.

Johann Karg died at Hirsau on December 24, 1588.

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Posted by on December 17, 2013 in Biographies


Henning Jørgensen Gagge (c1520-1562), Royal Bailiff

Henning Jørgensen Gagge is the 13th great-grandfather of Richard, James, Gary, Lisa, Carl, Jane, Bruce, James, Anne, Bonnie, Wendy, Pamela, Gail and Paul; and the 14th great-grandfather of Asher, Owen, Caitlyn, Becky, Andrew, Joshua, Connor, Derek, Dylan, Priscilla, Lukas, Abigail, Trevor, Ross, Elliot, Britt and Erik.

Arms of Henning Gagge, his father Jørgen and grandfather Erik

Arms of Henning Gagge, his father Jørgen and grandfather Erik

Henning Jørgensen Gagge was born about 1520 at Lehnsgård in Østerlars, on the Danish island of Bornholm. His father was Jørgen Eriksen Gagge (?-1551), Royal Bailiff for Bornholm and proprietor of the Lehnsgård estate; his mother’s name is unknown. Royal Bailiff was a title held by a nobleman selected by the king as his personal representative  and chief administrative official for a locality.

Henning was a Courtier to King Christian III in København when, on July 21 1551, he was appointed to succeed his late father as Royal Bailiff for Bornholm.

Henning took up residence at Spillegård, Åker, where he brought his wife, Elsebeth Elline Clausdatter Cames, after their marriage in Rønne in 1552. Elsebeth was the daughter of a Councilman in Rønne, Claus Cames, who had come to Bornholm from his native Scotland. By 1555 Henning and Elsebeth were living on Claus’ estate, Store Almegård, in Knudsker.

Wax seal of Henning Gagge

Wax seal of Henning Gagge

Henning and Elsebeth had six known children: sons Jørgen and Albrecht, and daughters Elsebeth, Eignis, Benedikte, and another (our ancestor), name unknown, who married a prosperous shipping merchant and Councilman, Herman Bohn.

Henning died at Store Almegård on June 29, 1562, at the age of about 42. Elsebeth died there, also, on October 23, 1578.

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Posted by on December 16, 2013 in Biographies


Abraham Pieterse Vosburgh (1620-1659) and Geertruy Pieterse Coeymans (c1632-1689)

Abraham Pieterse Vosburgh and Geertruy Pieterse Coeymans are the 9th great-grandparents of Richard, James, Gary, Lisa, Carl, Jane, Bruce, Cathy, Ron, Stacey, Matt and Sandy; and 10th great-grandparents of Asher, Owen, Caitlyn, Becky, Emily, Jack, Jill, Jordan, Mike and Brian.

Abraham Pieterse Vosburgh was born in Brabant, Holland, in 1620, the son of Pieter Jacobse Vosburgh. His mother’s name is unknown.

Abraham was trained as a carpenter and emigrated to New Netherland in 1649 and settled in Rensselaerswyck. Initially, he was engaged to perform renovations on the Patroon’s house. In April 1651 he leased a house and lot north of the Patroon’s house for 16 florins a year.

That same year Abraham married Geertruy Pieterse Kuijemans (AKA Coeymans), born c1632 in Utrecht and a 1639 emigrant to New Netherland with her parents, Pieter and Jannetje Kuijemans and six siblings (one of whom, Barent, went on to become the first settler of present-day Coeymans, New York, a suburb of Albany). Abraham and Geertruy had five known children: Maretje (our ancestor; born 1656), Peter, Jacob, Isaac and Abraham.

In the “Oath to the Patroon taken by all the householders and free men of the Colonie, November 23, 1651,” is found the name Abraham Pietersz Vosburg. On April 15, 1652, Abraham and another man, Derrick Janssen, were appointed surveyors of buildings: they were sworn in two days later.

On March 17, 1654, a warrant was issued to the treasurer, “in favor of Abraham Pietersen Vosburgh, carpenter,” for the amount of 200 florins for building two bridges. On May 19, 1654, he was fined for not finishing the bridge over the Second Kil. That he experienced difficulty in completing his contract is shown in the Court Minutes, for on May 30, 1654, he stated that work on the bridge over the Third Kil would be begun in eight days. Further difficulties in the completion of the work took place in June, and he was compelled to employ Andries De Vos as his attorney to protect his interests. On September 2, 1654, a warrant was issued to the treasurer, “in favor of Abraham Pietersen Vosburgh for his work on the two bridges in Beverwyck.”  But this evidently did not settle the matter, because as late as May 1, 1655, the Court granted him a delay in paying his fines for not completing the work on time.

On September 30, 1656, Hans Jansz and Abraham Pietersz Vosburch obtained a lease of the water power on the creek south of the farm of Jan Barentsz Wemp.  The lease commenced January 1, 1657, and ran for six successive years; rent was set at 100 guilders or 100 good merchantable boards and two pair of fowl each year. A condition of the lease was that the lessees were not to sell liquor to the Indians. A sawmill was erected on the creek, which was in later years known as Wynant’s Kil. Hans Jansz was more or less of a silent partner in this enterprise; at least his name never appears again in the records in connection with it.

After hostilities by the local Esopus Indians, the Dutch colonial Director-General Pieter Stuyvesant visited Rensselaerswyck in June 1658. The following is from Stuyvesant’s journal: “Four carpenters came also on the 18th engaged by Mrs. de Hulter to remove her house, barns and sheds (within the stockade) and on the 19th three more, whom I had asked and engaged at Fort Orange to make a bridge over the Kil. They were also to help the others remove their buildings, for which they had asked me before my departure for Fort Orange.” Abraham Pieterse Vosburgh was one of the carpenters engaged by Stuyvesant.

The outlying settlers withdrew within the stockade for better protection, and no further encounters with the Indians took place until a fateful day in September 1659.

A 17th century Dutch settler dealing with Esopus Indians

A 17th century Dutch settler dealing with Esopus Indians

A man named Thomas Chambers engaged eight Esopus Indians to break off corn-ears for him while he was gathering his crops for the winter. On a Saturday evening, after the day’s work, Chambers gave the Indians a quantity of brandy. After drinking the brandy the Indians became noisy and quarrelsome; when the brandy was exhausted, they tried to obtain more from Chambers, who refused. After a time soldiers were sent out from the fort to ascertain the cause of the disturbance. The nervous soldiers fired upon the drunk and disorderly Indians, killing one.

The following morning, Sunday, The next day the Indians returned with hundreds of reinforcements, and destroyed crops, killed livestock, and burned buildings. A dispatch was sent up the river by boat to Albany to summon assistance. As the dispatch party returned, they were captured by the Indians.

Among the thirteen men captured was “a carpenter, Abraham by name.”  In a letter from Vice-Director La Montagne to Director-General Stuyvesant, dated September 26, 1659, he states that the capture took place “at the Esopus last Sunday the 21st inst. about two o’clock the afternoon,” and in the list of those captured the name Abraham Vosburgh appears.

The next day, one captive was exchanged for an Indian prisoner, while another escaped during the night, leaving ten in captivity. A letter to Director Stuyvesant from Ensign Smidt of the Dutch garrison at Esopus, dated November 1, 1659, states that as a result of the good efforts of two “Mahikander” Indians, two prisoners were returned to the Fort “on the first of this month.” In a subsequent letter from Ensign Smidt to Vice-Director La Montagne, dated November 13, 1659, he writes:  “it is true we have got back two prisoners, but they keep [one] yet and have killed all the others.” The surviving captive, Evert Pels, was still in captivity as late as February 24, 1660. According to contemporary accounts, Pels’ life was saved by an Indian maiden whom he afterwards married.

With the death of Abraham, Geertruy Pieterse carried on raising her children, all of whom were under ten, alone. Her story can be pieced together from the Fort Orange Court records. Her name appears before the Court many times, both as plaintiff and defendant. Geertruy was zealous in preserving her rights; she was clearly a fighter and possessed of sharp wits.

Geertruy did not remarry within a year or two as was usually the custom with the early settlers, but remained a widow for nearly ten years and fought her battles unaided. Her second marriage, with Albert Andriessen Bratt in 1669, was short-lived (perhaps 18 months) and ended in divorce. After her divorce, Geertruy continued to use the name Vosburgh; in fact, from the evidence in the records, it is probable that she never used the name Bratt at any time.

Geertruj sold the mill in 1674. The final years of Geertruy Vosburgh’s life were spent in Kinderhook, New York, surrounded by the families of her sons, all of whom became prominent citizens in that community. Geertruy died in February 1689.

The sole daughter of Abraham and Geertruy, our ancestor Maretje, married Isaac Janse Van Alstyne in the Dutch Reformed Church in Albany on October 20, 1689.

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Posted by on December 15, 2013 in Biographies, Immigrant Stories

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