Monthly Archives: October 2013

Classic Photo: Mystery Girl, c1890

mystery girl b

One of the happiest moments in doing genealogical research is finding a photograph of a never-before-seen ancestor, while one of the unhappiest comes in possessing an old family photograph that can’t be identified. This pretty young girl in a fancy hat was discovered among a cache of family photos. Sadly, all we know now is that the photograph was taken in Manhattan, most likely between 1885 and 1900. She appears to be about 12. But who is she? The first rule of preserving family photos for future generations: write the names of the people in the photo on the back.

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Posted by on October 29, 2013 in Classic Photos


Classic Photo: Watching “The Jetsons”, 1963

(L-R) James Riis, Lisa Riis, Richard Riis, Massapequa Park, NY, February 1963.

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Posted by on October 29, 2013 in Classic Photos


The Abraham Manee House

The Abraham Manee House, also known as the Manee-Seguine Homestead, is a three-part colonial dwelling on Purdy Avenue in Prince’s Bay on the south shore of Staten Island. As one of the oldest surviving Dutch structures on Staten Island, it was designated a New York City landmark in 1984.

The oldest section of the house is a one-room structure built by Paulus Regrenier, a French Huguenot settler, in 1670. An addition was made of rubble-stone and tabby by the home’s later owner, my 7th great-grandfather, Abraham Manee (1723-1777). The Seguine family purchased the homestead in the 1780s and built a wooden addition in the early part of the 19th century. The house was converted into a tavern and inn named Purdy’s Hotel in the late 19th century.

The Manee-Seguine Homestead, which is privately-owned, has fallen into serious disrepair. In recent years  the house’s owners received the approval of the Landmarks Preservation Commission to build four townhouses on the site, thereby generating sufficient funds to restore the landmark to suitable standards. The LPC granted the applicants a Certificate of Appropriateness, approving the proposal. The house remains on the Endangered Buildings list of the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

The Manee House, c1900

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Posted by on October 27, 2013 in Places


Connections: Two Governors Griswold of Connecticut

Matthew Griswold is buried in the Duck River Cemetery in Old Lyme, CT

Matthew Griswold is buried in the Duck River Cemetery in Old Lyme, CT

Matthew Griswold (1714-1799) served as Governor of Connecticut from 1784 to 1786. In 1788, as delegate from Lyme, he was elected president of Connecticut’s convention to ratify the United States Constitution.

Griswold’s mother, Hannah Lee (1765-1773), was the sister of Stephen Lee (1698-1783), 8th great-grandfather to Richard, James, Gary, Lisa, Carl, Jane, Bruce, Cathy, Ron, Stacey, Matt and Sandy, making Governor Griswold the first cousin to our 7th great-grandmother, Hannah Lee Lay (1720-1784). Their mutual grandparents: Thomas Lee (1641-1704) and Mary DeWolf (1656-1724).

Matthew Griswold’s son Roger (1762-1812) was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and  Governor of Connecticut from 1811 to 1812.

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Posted by on October 27, 2013 in Connections


Classic Photo: Bride, 1963

Judith Henken Mediatore, April 20, 1963.

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Posted by on October 27, 2013 in Classic Photos


Arthur Helmer Lefgren (1908-2004)

“Uncle Arthur” Lefgren was uncle to Robert, Warren, Betty, Clifford and Audrey; and great uncle to Richard, James, Gary, Lisa, Carl, Jane, Bruce, James, Anne, Bonnie, Wendy, Pamela, Gail and Paul.

Helyn Riis Lefgren and Arthur Lefgren, 1954

Helyn Riis Lefgren and Arthur Lefgren, 1954

Arthur Helmer Lefgren was born January 17, 1908, in Brooklyn, New York, to Swedish immigrants Johan Martin Helmer and Teolinda Nelson Lefgren. He received a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from New York University in 1937, and subsequently a Master of Arts in Education, also from NYU.

As an engineer, Arthur worked for Bell Telephone Laboratories, New Jersey, Otis Elevator Company, and as chief radio inspector of Emerson Radio. At Bell Telephone he was a member of the team that developed the moving electronic “news ribbon” in Times Square.

Arthur married Helyn E. (nee Helene) Riis (1914-1990) on February 14, 1936, in Roosevelt, New York, eventually settling in nearby Baldwin. Arthur and Helyn had two children, Karen Helene (1941) and Helen Marie (1946).

A deeply religious man, Arthur served as Sunday school superintendent of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Baldwin, and later of the First Methodist Church in Roosevelt. He sang regularly in the church choir.

Arthur began teaching in the vocational division of the New York City public schools in 1940. During his more than 32 years at George Westinghouse Vocational and Technical High School in Brooklyn, he taught communications for the war effort in evening trades, developed the first closed-circuit TV studio for training and served as part of the development of the New York State BOCES system. Arthur also worked part time for the New York City Board of Examiners, testing new teachers for employment in the district. During summers he taught summer school, was principal of summer school and studied toward ordination at Biblical Seminary in Brooklyn.

Arthur and Helyn retired to East Meredith, New York, in 1972, where Arthur served as pastor of the Meridale (now Community) Church, until 1996. During that time he was ordained by the Evangelical Church Alliance and became the executive director of the Delaware County Council of Churches where he was instrumental in establishing a county position of chaplaincy to both the Countryside Care Center and the Delaware County Jail. In 1992, he was awarded the Crawford B. DuMond Annual Award for dedicated service to the Delaware County Council of Churches.

In his elder years, Arthur continued his ministry as a resident of the Oneonta Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, where he died on October 4, 2004, at the age of 96. His funeral was officiated by his grandson, Pastor Terence Jansma, of the Suedberg Church of God in Suedberg, Pennsylvania.

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Posted by on October 27, 2013 in Biographies


John Lay (1737-1813) of Knowlton’s Rangers

John Lay is the 8th great-grandfather of Richard, James, Gary, Lisa, Carl, Jane, Bruce, Cathy, Ron, Stacey, Matt and Sandy; and the 9th great-grandfather of Asher, Owen, Caitlyn, Becky, Emily, Jack, Jill, Jordan, Mike and Brian.

The "1776" on the United States Army Intelligence Service seal refers to the formation of Knowlton's Rangers.

The “1776” on the seal of the United States Army Intelligence Service refers to the formation of Knowlton’s Rangers.

American military intelligence has its origins in the formation of the first American Army unit solely organized for the purpose of collecting intelligence, Knowlton’s Rangers. The Rangers were created by General George Washington himself in 1776 and named for its commander, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Knowlton. Knowlton’s Rangers was comprised of 120 hand-picked men from Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts regiments for “special, delicate, and hazardous duty”. In this regard, they were America’s first elite troops, analogous to a modern special forces unit. The Rangers’ mission was to act as a scouting unit for the Washington’s Continental Army, probing British positions and gathering intelligence to be reported back directly to Washington on the enemy’s movements and intentions.

One of these hand-picked men was John Lay of Lyme, Connecticut.

John Lay was born in Lyme, Connecticut, on December 29, 1737, the son of John Lay (1714-1792) and Hannah Lee (1720-1784). The elder John was a representative to the General Assembly and Lyme’s Town Clerk; during the French and Indian War he served as a lieutenant. The younger John married Anna Sill (1742-1826/1830) on February 28, 1760, at the First Congregational Church in Lyme.. Their first child, Daniel, was born in 1761, and was followed by Filkin (1762), John (1764), Hannah (1767), David (1769), Mary (1772), Abner (our ancestor; 1774), and Lucinda (1777).

John enlisted from Lyme in May 1775 as a private in the First Company of Colonel Parson’s Sixth Connecticut Regiment, First Continental Line, being discharged as a corporal in Roxbury, Massachusetts, in December 1775. John subsequently enlisted in 1776 with Lt. Colonel John Durkee’s 20th Continental Regiment.

It was at the Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775 where Captain Thomas Knowlton’s distinguished service came to the attention of George Washington. During  the subsequent siege of Boston in 1776, now-Major Knowlton and 200 men from Durkee’s Regiment were sent by Washington to burn  the remaining buildings at the base of Bunker Hill, and to capture the  British guard. Knowlton accomplished this mission without firing a shot  or losing a man. On August 12, 1776, Knowlton was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and commanded to form an elite independent intelligence and special operations unit. John Lay was among those selected to serve in Knowlton’s Rangers.

On September 16, 1776, the Rangers were scouting in advance of Washington’s Army at Harlem Heights, New York. They stumbled upon the Black Watch, an elite Highlander British unit with an attachment of Hessians. They managed a successful retreat but re-engaged the enemy with the support of a unit from Virginia. General Washington ordered the units to fall on the enemy’s rear, while a feint in front engaged the British troops’ attention. An American premature shot into the right flank of the British ruined Washington’s plan and placed Knowlton’s Rangers and the Virginians at risk. Knowlton rallied his troops to carry on the attack, but he was killed in the ensuing fight and Washington’s army was forced to retreat.

After defeating the Continental Army at the Battle of White Plains, the British Army forces under the command of Lt. General William Howe planned to capture Fort Washington, situated in what is now Bennett Park in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, just north of the George Washington Bridge. Washington had issued a discretionary order to General Nathanael Greene to abandon the fort and remove its men to New Jersey. Colonel Robert Magaw, commanding the fort, declined the order, believing the fort could be defended.

Battle of Fort Washington

Battle of Fort Washington

On November 16, 1776, Howe led an assault on Fort Washington from three sides: the north, east and south. Tides in the Harlem River prevented some troops from landing and delayed attack. When the British moved against the defenses, the southern and western American defenses fell quickly. American forces on the north side offered stiff resistance to the attack, but they too were eventually overwhelmed. With the fort surrounded by land and sea, Colonel Magaw chose to surrender. A total of 59 Americans were killed and 2,837 were taken prisoner. Most of Knowlton’s Rangers, who had arrived at the fort shortly before Howe’s attack, were captured, including John Lay. The prisoners were sent to the infamously squalid and brutal British prison ships that lay anchored in New York Harbor.

British prison ship H.M.S. Jersey

British prison ship H.M.S. Jersey

Robert Sheffield of Stonington, Connecticut, survivor of one of the prison ships, told his story in the Connecticut Gazette, published July 10, 1778. Sheffield, who had been one of 350 prisoners held in a compartment below the decks, recounted: “The heat was so intense that (the hot sun shining all day on deck) they were all naked, which also served well to get rid of vermin, but the sick were eaten up alive. Their sickly countenances, and ghastly looks were truly horrible; some swearing and blaspheming; others crying, praying, and wringing their hands; and stalking about like ghosts; others delirious, raving and storming, all panting for breath; some dead, and corrupting. The air was so foul that at times a lamp could not be kept burning, by reason of which the bodies were not missed until they had been dead ten days.”

Many of the prisoners died of malnutrition or disease, but John Lay survived to be released in January 1778 in a prisoner exchange.

After some time to recover with his family in Lyme, John enlisted again on July 1, 1780, and served until his discharge on January 1, 1784. Altogether, John saw active duty during the American Revolution for more than six years.

John Lay died on January 8, 1813, at the age of 75 in Lyme, Connecticut, and was buried in the Old Meeting House Hill Cemetery there.

John’s teenaged son John also served during the Revolutionary War as a private in Capt. Enoch Reed’s Company, Col. Zebulon Butler’s Connecticut Regiment, from January 1781 to October 1783.

From the military service records on file at the National Archives

From the military service records on file at the National Archives

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Posted by on October 26, 2013 in Biographies


Classic Photo: Doll Collection, c1939

My mother, Marilyn Matthews, and her dolls, Queens, NY, c1939. What I like best about this photo is not as obvious as a laughing girl and her doll collection. Look closely and you’ll see there’s one doll perched on the back of my mother’s neck. That’s what Mom thinks is so funny. That’s definitely my grandfather’s sense of humor.

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Posted by on October 25, 2013 in Classic Photos


Thomas L. Riis (1930- ), Musicologist

Thomas is the great-grandson of Hans Christian Riis’ brother Jens Hansen Riis, and the 3rd cousin of Richard, James, Gary, Lisa, Carl, Jane, Bruce, James, Anne, Bonnie, Wendy, Pamela, Gail and Paul.

Riis,%20TomDr. Thomas Laurence Riis, the Joseph Negler Professor of Musicology and the Director of the American Music Research Center at the University of Colorado – Boulder’s College of Music, was born in New Hampshire on October 6, 1950, the son of Laurence and Ruth Riis. He earned degrees from Oberlin College (1973) and the University of Michigan (1976, 1981).

Thomas is a specialist in Musical Theater and writes and lectures frequently on many topics in 19th and 20th-century American music. His book Just Before Jazz, devoted to African American Broadway and minstrel shows, received an ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award in 1995. In 2002, Tom served as a period musical consultant for the Martin Scorsese film, Gangs of New York. He taught as a Fulbright Senior Scholar in Lüneburg, Germany, in 2005-2006. Tom’s most recent book, Frank Loesser, the fifth volume in the Yale Broadway Masters series, was published in 2008. That same year he gave the Rey Longyear Memorial Lecture at the University of Kentucky’s American Music Center and was elected to the presidency of the Society for American Music for 2009-2010.

Tom’s other interests include medieval song and historical performance practice. He is active as a choral singer, viol player, and cellist.


Posted by on October 24, 2013 in Biographies, Connections


Poul Hansen Anker (1628-1697), Liberator

Poul Anker is the 10th great-grandfather of Richard, James, Gary, Lisa, Carl, Jane, Bruce, James, Anne, Bonnie, Wendy, Pamela, Gail and Paul; and the 11th great-grandfather of Asher, Owen, Caitlyn, Becky, Andrew, Joshua, Connor, Derek, Dylan, Priscilla, Lukas, Abigail, Trevor, Ross, Elliot, Britt and Erik.

Poul Hansen Anker or Ancher was the parish priest in the Hasle and Rutsker parishes of Bornholm from 1654 to 1697, and a  principal organizer in the campaign for the liberation of Bornholm from the Swedish.

Poul’s birthplace is uncertain, although it is likely he was born in Hovby, Denmark, in the Skåne region now a part of Sweden, where Hans Povlsen, also named Anker, sat as parish priest and died in 1655. Poul graduated in 1650 from Our Lady’s School in København and registered June 1, 1650, as a theological student with the university. When an outbreak of the bubonic plague killed six of Bornholm’s 15 parish priests in 1654, Poul was appointed priest of the church at Hasle.

Poul Anker's church at Hasle

Poul Anker’s church at Hasle

Poul’s predecessor in that parish had been Jens Hansen Sode (1603-1654), who had been rector of the Rønne Latin School before he was made parish priest in Hasle and Rutsker in 1642. On June 5, 1655, Poul married Jens Hansen Sode’s daughter, Karen Jensdatter Sode, Their first child, Margrethe, was born in 1658, followed by Hans (our ancestor; 1662), Jens (1664), Else (1666), Key (1669) and Jørgen (1669). After Else’s death in 1684, Poul married Lene Nielsdatter and had three additional children: Gurris, Karen and Maren.

Following a bloody war between Denmark and Sweden (1655-1658), Bornholm and three other Danish counties, including Skåne, were ceded to Sweden, who established a vigorously oppressive rule on the island. Shortly after Swedish general Johan Printzensköld was sent to Bornholm to assume authority over the island, the inhabitants began to hatch a plot against the occupying Swedes. Bornholmers rallied around three leaders: Poul, who mobilized the citizenry; Hasle mayor Peder Olson, who handled communications with the Danish government in København; and Poul’s brother-in-law’s cousin, Jens Pedersen Kofoed, who organized and led an armed attack. In November 1658, General Printzensköld was ambushed and shot to death and an assault was made upon the Swedish garrison at the Hammershus fortress. The Swedish fled the island as a result of the ensuing chaos and panic among their own soldiers. A messenger was dispatched to inform King Frederick III that Bornholm had liberated itself and wished to return to Danish rule. This was confirmed in the 1660 peace settlement between Denmark and Sweden. Poul, Jens Kofoed and Peder Olsen are revered by Bornholmers to this day as liberators and folk heroes.

The assassination of Johan Printzensköld, 1658, as depicted in the Bornholm Museum

The assassination of Johan Printzensköld, 1658, as depicted in the Bornholm Museum

In 1685 Poul Anker was appointed Provost for the whole of Bornholm to succeed his late brother-in-law Hans Jensen Sode.

Poul died Oct 28, 1697, in Hasle, and was buried in the church there.

One of the large ferries that plié the Baltic between Bornholm and Sweden is named for our 10th great grandfather.

One of the large ferries that ply the Baltic Sea to and from Bornholm is named for our 10th great grandfather.


Posted by on October 24, 2013 in Biographies

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