Category Archives: Biographies

Pieter Winne (1609-c1690), Flemish Fur Trader

Pieter Winne is the 9th great-grandfather of Richard, James, Gary, Lisa, Carl, Jane, Bruce, Cathy, Ron, Stacey, Matt and Sandy; and 10th great-grandfather of Asher, Owen, Caitlyn, Becky, Emily, Jack, Jill, Jordan, Mike and Brian.

Pieter Winne was born the son of Franciscus Winne (1585-c1672) and Jannetjie (surname unknown) in Ghent, Flanders (now in Belgium), and baptized there in St. Bavo’s Cathedral on April 14, 1609.

Pieter moved to Amsterdam, married Aechie Jans Van Schaick, date unknown, and together they emigrated to the Dutch colony of Curaçao in the West Indies, where their son, Pieter, was born in 1643.

Aechie died in Curaçao in 1647. Pieter Sr. subsequently left the West Indies, arriving at Fort Orange, New Netherlands, in 1652, and becoming a tenant farmer and operator of a sawmill at Rensselaerwyck, near present-day Bethlehem, New York.

Mid-17th century Beverwijk

Mid-17th century Beverwijk

By 1655 Pieter had built a house in Beverwijck (renamed Albany by the British in 1664), become a fur trader, and married Tannetje Adams, a settler from Friesland. Pieter and Tannetje would have 12 children: Adam (our ancestor; 1658), Livinius, Frans, Allette, Killiaen, Tomas (another ancestor, c1664), Lyntje, Martin, Jacobus, Eva, Daniel, and Rachel (by virtue of her marriage to Jellis Fonda the 5th great-grandmother of legendary actor Henry Fonda).

In addition to prospering in the fur trade, Pieter purchased a sawmill in Bethlehem 1673 and another in 1677. In July 1675, he bought one half of Constapel’s Island in the Hudson River below Albany for the price of 69 beaver skins.

From 1672 to 1684 Pieter served as a magistrate for Bethlehem. He was also active in the Albany Dutch church, serving in a number of capacities.

On September 28, 1676, Pieter served on an “extraordinary court” convened by the governor and council of New York to resolve a dispute between the Reverend Nicolaas Van Rensselaer and Dominie Gideon Schaets concerning some allegedly heretical declarations made by Van Rensselaer in a sermon he preached on August 13, 1676. The decision of Pieter and the court was “that Parties, shall both forgive and forget as it become Preachers of the Reformed Religion to do; also that all previous variances, church differences and provocations shall be consumed in the fire of Love; a perpetual silence and forbearance being imposed on each respectively; to live together as Brothers for an example to the worthy Congregation, for edification  to the Reformed Religion, and further for the removal and banishment of all scandals.”

Pieter Winne died in his early 80s, sometime between May 1690 and May 1693. On May 7, 1693, Pieter’s widow Tannetje married Martin Cornelisse Van Buren, great-great grandfather of President Martin Van Buren. Tannetje died before 1697.

Pieter Winne has the distinction of being our double ancestor: Pieter’s granddaughter, Lidia Winne, daughter of his son Adam, married Jacobus Moll (Mull) c1703, while his great-granddaughter, Rebecca Barheit, descendant of Adam’s brother, Thomas, married Jacobus Moll’s son, Johannes,  Rebecca’s second cousin, c1745.

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Posted by on November 8, 2013 in Biographies, Immigrant Stories


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


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


Family Legends: The Abbreviated Life of Adolf Andersen

We grew up marveling at the ancient wooden chest in my grandfather’s den with the late owner’s name in faded script on the front. Adolf Andersen had been the brother of my grandfather’s mother, Helene Andersen Riis. She had come into the possession of the chest after Adolf’s death. Today that chest has an honored place in the home of Helene’s great-granddaughter Lisa in Minnesota. Strangely enough, Minnesota figures prominently in the investigation of this family legend.

Legend: According to the story we heard growing up, Adolf was a seaman of about 17 and the antique chest his sea chest. Adolf had won some money gambling, and some Swedes, who had either lost the money to Adolf or had seen him flashing the money about, murdered him and stole the money.

Verdict: False. Couldn’t be further from the truth.

Frederik Adolf Andersen (1876-1896)

Frederik Adolf Andersen (1876-1896)

Frederick Adolf Andersen was the youngest of nine Andersen children, born in Idestrup, Denmark, on January 8, 1876. Whether Adolf ever went to sea or not cannot be verified, but it seems highly unlikely, for on March 16, 1892, 16-year-old Adolf filed emigration papers from his hometown, Idestrup, with Minneapolis, Minnesota, his declared destination.

Adolf traveled to Bremen, Germany, where he boarded the S. S. Saale of the North German Lloyd Line, a steamship conveying cargo and a small number of passengers. Adolf traveled steerage class, sharing some kind of space or compartment (the accommodations are unclear) with four others from the Idestrup area : Lars Pedersen Riel, 16, of Bjorup; Niels Pedersen Riel, also 16, of Bjorup; Rasmus Hansen, 23, of Lidstrup; and Jens Jensen, 24, a Dane now living in Minnesota. All gave either Minneapolis or St. Paul as their destination. The Saale made a stop at Southampton, England, before crossing the Atlantic to arrive at Hoboken, New Jersey, on April 6, 1892. Adolf was processed at Ellis Island the same day, entered as Adolph [sic] Andersen and again with the declared destination of Minnesota. His occupation is entered as laborer. He traveled with one piece of luggage, undoubtedly the wooden chest.

At that time a number of employers in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa and the Dakotas sent agents to Denmark to recruit immigrants for work as laborers or to take up railroad land grants. Under the so-called “redemptioner” system, some immigrants would receive free passage in exchange for four to seven years’ employment to repay the cost of the voyage. It’s a fair guess that Jens Jensen, the 24-year-old Danish ex patriot, was either a recruiter or an agency chaperone.

One wonders if Adolf’s older brother, Hans Jørgen Andersen (1867-1941), influenced Adolf’s decision to come to Minnesota. Hans, a farm laborer and soon-to-be brick maker, had emigrated one year earlier, in 1891, with a declared destination of St. Paul, Minnesota. At least Adolf knew he’d have family not far away.

In Minnesota, Adolf met and married (date undetermined) Katherine Josephine “Kate” McCauley, who had been born in Scotland and had emigrated to Minnesota in 1890 by way of Northern Ireland and Canada. Their marriage was a brief one, for Adolf died of consumption (tuberculosis) at the tender age of 20 on May 31, 1896, in Hasty, Minnesota. He was buried in  Acacia Cemetery in Clearwater, Minnesota.

The story takes an interesting turn here: Adolf’s widow, Kate, then married Adolf’s brother, Hans Andersen, on August 23, 1897, in Buffalo, Minnesota. Kate and Hans remained married until her death in 1929. They had three children: Anna Marie Violet (1898), Laura Carolyn (1903), and Waldemar Peter (1904).

So, Adolf died of natural causes, not murder, on the plains of Minnesota. Where does the story of the murderous Swedes come from? Did Helene make it up, and , if so, why? That she had a virulent disdain for Swedes is well known. Denmark and Sweden had been at war on and off since end of the Viking era and often held each other with some disregard. Did Helene invent the story out of general anti-Swedish animosity to pass on her feelings to her children (which didn’t work, by the way, as two of them married Swedes)? And how did she keep those children from hearing the truth from their Uncle Hans or their “Muster” (mother’s sister) Marie? Were Hans and Marie in on the deception as well? If so, what did they have to gain from a lie? And wouldn’t Kate, Hans’ wife and Adolf’s widow, then have to be in on it as well?

Could Hans have told the murder story to Helene? Again, what purpose might that have served? Marrying a brother’s widow was not that uncommon in that place and time, but could Hans have believed others in the family might not approve? Did Helene know Hans’ wife was Adolf’s widow? Surely Helene communicated with her brothers at the time Adolf emigrated or got married. Was there some guilt on Hans’ part in encouraging Adolf to come to Minnesota where he would fall ill and die so young? Hans must have been the one to send Adolf’s wooden chest to Helene; perhaps it came with a tale of how it came into his possession.

My intention is not to cast aspersions on anyone. I only do the research and uncover the facts. The rest is anyone’s guess.

Alas, lots of questions and few prospects for answers.


William Wells (1605-1671), Long Island’s First Sheriff

William Wells is the 9th great-grandfather of Richard, James, Gary, Lisa, Carl, Jane, Bruce, Cathy, Ron, Stacey, Matt, and Sandy; and the 10th great-grandfather of Asher, Owen, Caitlyn, Becky, Emily, Jack, Jill, Jordan, Mike, and Brian. 

William Wells (born Welles), baptized February 5, 1605, in Norwich, Norfolk, England, was the son of William and Elizabeth Welles. His father, the minister of St. Peter of Mancroft’s Church in Norwich and Chaplain to Queen Anne, died when William was 15.

William was educated in the law and became a lawyer. He emigrated to New England in 1635, settling first in Lynn, Massachusetts, moving to New Haven, Connecticut, c1639, and to Southampton, Long Island by 1643. By 1649 William had settled in Southold, Long Island.

William married Bridget, a widow of Henry Tuthill and mother of two children, John and Elizabeth, in 1653. Bridget died only months afterward, and William then married Mary or Marie Youngs in 1654. A daughter, Bethia, was born in 1655, followed by Abigail (1657-1658), Patience (1658-1659), William (1660), Mary (1661), Joshua (1664), and Mehitable (our ancestor; 1666).

William shows up in a legal capacity in a number of local records, including his appointment from 1657 to 1661 as Deputy to the General Court of New Haven (the eastern part of Long Island being a part of the Connecticut Colony until 1664), Constable of Southold from 1657 to 1659, and Town Clerk and First Deputy in 1660.


In February of 1665 William represented Southold in a convention of deputies assembled in Hempstead, Long Island, by New York’s first colonial governor, Richard Nicolls. On the adjournment of the convention Nicolls appointed William “High Sheriff of New York Shire on Long Island”, a post which he held until 1669.

William Wells died in Southold on November 13, 1671. He was buried in the old Burial Ground adjacent to the Presbyterian Church, beneath a substantial monument made of brick and cement. The inscription on the monument reads:

“Here lies ye Body of William WELLS of Southold Gen’t Justice of ye Peace & First Sheriffe of New Yorke Shire upon Long Island who Departed this Life 13 Nov 1671 Age 63 ~ yea here hee lies who speaketh yet though dead ~ on wings of faith his soule to Heaven is fled ~ His pious deedes and charity was such ~ that of his praise no pen can write too much ~ As was his life so was his blest decease ~ Hee lived in love and sweetly dyd in peace.”

William Wells (1605-1671), Old Burial Ground, First Presbyterian Church, Southold, NY

William Wells (1605-1671), Old Burial Ground, First Presbyterian Church, Southold, NY

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Posted by on October 21, 2013 in Biographies, Immigrant Stories


Johann Wilhelm Gmelin (1541-1612), Priest

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

Johann Wilhelm Gmelin (1541-1612)

Johann Wilhelm Gmelin (1541-1612)

1541, November 6 – Johann Wilhelm Gmelin, known as Wilhelm Gmelin, is born in Weilheim an der Teck, Württemberg, now in southwestern Germany. His parents are Michael Gmelin (c1510-1576), Weilheim’s schoolmaster and instructor in medicine, chemistry, and apothecary science, and Margaretha Nägelin (1514-1568).

Kloster Maulbronn

Kloster Maulbronn

1557 – Wilhelm enters the Lutheran monastery school at the Kloster Maulbronn.

1559 – Wilhelm is awarded a scholarship to study theology at the university in Tübingen,

1560 – Wilhelm receives a Baccalaureate degree.

1563 – Wilhelm graduates with a Master’s degree.

Evangelical Stadtkirche, Bad Cannstatt, built in 1506

Evangelical Stadtkirche, Bad Cannstatt

1564 – Wilhelm becomes a Deacon in the Evangelical Stadtkirche in Bad Cannstatt [now a part of Stuttgart], Württemberg, where he meets Magdalena Rieger (1540-1580), the daughter of the city’s Bürgermeister, Simon Rieger (c1505-1568), and his wife Magdalena Mayer (c1512-c1570).

St. Veit Kirche rises above Gärtringen

St. Veit Kirche rises above Gärtringen

1565 – Wilhelm is appointed the Priest of St. Veit (St. Vitus) Kirche in Gärtringen, Württemberg, near Stuttgart, and master of the city’s school.

—-, February 13 – Wilhelm and Magdalena Rieger (1540-1580) are married in Gärtringen.

Wilhelm and Magdalena will have 10 children: twin sons, names unknown (1565), Margaretha (1567), Simon (1569), Magdalena (1570), an unnamed daughter who dies at birth (1572), Johann Wilhelm (our ancestor; 1573), Johann Michael (1575), Johann Georg (1577), two unnamed children who die at birth (1578, 1579), and Barbara (1580).

1580, December 11 – Magdalena, 40, dies 21 days after giving birth to her last child, Barbara.

1581, November 30 – Wilhelm marries Agnes Waiblinger (c1537-1617) in Gärtringen. Wilhelm and Agnes will have one child, Maria, born in 1583.

Wilhelm Schickard

Wilhelm Schickard

1606 – Wilhelm enrolls his sister Margarethe’s son, Wilhelm Schickard (1592-1635), in the school at the monastery in Bebenhausen. In 1623 Schickard will invent the calculating clock, the first mechanical calculating device, considered the direct ancestor of the modern computer.

1612, January 9 – Wilhelm Gmelin dies at the age of 71 in Gärtringen, and is buried in St. Veit Kirche.

Epitaph for Wilhelm Gmelin in St. Veit Kitche

Epitaph for Wilhelm Gmelin, considered the patriarch of Gärtringen, in St. Veit Kirche

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Posted by on October 19, 2013 in Biographies


The Adamses of Brooklyn

John Adams and Mary Van Pelt are the 3rd great-grandparents of Richard, James, Gary, Lisa, Carl, Jane, Bruce, Cathy, Ron, Stacey, Matt, and Sandy, and the 4th great-grandparents of Asher, Owen, Emily, Jack, Jill, Jordan, Mike and Brian. 

Hiram Minard Adams and Mary Kiffler Lay are the great-great-grandparents of Richard, James, Gary, Lisa, Carl, Jane, Bruce, Cathy, Ron, Stacey, Matt, and Sandy, and the 4th great-grandparents of Asher, Owen, Emily, Jack, Jill, Jordan, Mike and Brian. 

Abner Chauncey Adams and Charlotte Lay are the great-grandparents of Richard, James, Gary, Lisa, Carl, Jane, Bruce, Cathy, Ron, Stacey, Matt, and Sandy, and the 3rd great-grandparents of Asher, Owen, Emily, Jack, Jill, Jordan, Mike and Brian. 

John Adams continues to be one of the most elusive individuals in my genealogical research. Is it possible to live in America’s third largest city and leave almost no trace? Apparently so.

c1822-1825 – John (possibly John Hiram) Adams is born in the state of New York. Nothing has yet been discovered about his family origins.

1827 – The Village of Williamsburgh is incorporated within the Town of Bushwick. Within two years the village has a population of 1,000 and a thriving waterfront.

1835 – The population of Williamsburgh reaches 3,000. Of the village’s 72 streets, four are paved.

c1835 – Mary Van Pelt is born in Queens, New York. There are a handful of Van Pelt families living in Newtown (present-day Elmhurst); is one of them Mary’s?

Brooklyn, Williamsburgh and Manhattan(upper left), 1845

Brooklyn, Williamsburgh and Manhattan(upper left), 1845

1845 – The population of Williamsburgh reaches 11,000.

Manhattan as seen from Williamsburgh (foreground), 1848. Brooklyn is at left.

Manhattan as seen from Williamsburgh (foreground), 1848. Brooklyn is at left.

1850, September – John Adams is a ship’s carpenter living in a boarding house in Williamsburgh. Williamsburgh’s population has swelled to 40,000.

1852, January 1 – Williamsburgh is incorporated as a city.

1853, December 26 – A feud between two rival gangs, the Cashes and the Gillians, erupts into a deadly riot in Williamsburgh.

c1854 – John Adams and Mary Van Pelt are married.

—-, November 7-8 – Williamsburgh suffers two days of bloody rioting as Irish immigrants clash with anti-Catholic Know Nothings.

1855, January 1 – The city of Williamsburgh, along with the adjoining town of Bushwick, is annexed into the city of Brooklyn, now the third largest city in the United States. Williamsburgh loses its final “h” at the time of the merger.

c1856 – John and Mary’s first child, Jane, is born.

1857-58 – A second child, name unknown, is born. He or she will die before 1860.

Hiram Minard Adams (1859-1918)

Hiram Minard Adams (1859-1918)

1859, December 25 – A third child, Hiram Minard, is born.

1860, July 11 – John, Mary, four-year-old Jane and seven-month-old Hiram are recorded in the census as living in the 16th Ward, Williamsburg. John’s occupation is commercial seaman.

c1861 – A fourth child, Mary, is born.

1863, July 13-16 – The Draft Riots in New York begin as an anti-conscription protest before turning into the most violent race riot in American history. 1,200 people are killed in New York and Brooklyn and Federal troops are called in to suppress the rioting. Thousands of African-Americans flee Manhattan for Williamsburg, where they are sheltered and protected by the German immigrant community.

—-, September – A fifth child, Henrietta, is born.

1863-64 – Sometime between December 1862 and May 31, 1864, John Adams dies at about the age of 40, cause and location unknown. That John did not die in military service has been confirmed. He has not yet been found in any New York City-area death record or cemetery. All we know so far is that as of June 1, 1865, Mary reports in the New York State census that she has been widowed for more than one year.

1865 – During the summer, Mary Van Pelt Adams and her children move from an apartment at 95 Scholes Street to another in the rear of 81 Marshall Street, along the waterfront adjacent to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Mary earns a living sewing furs.

Harper’s New Monthly Magazine published this colorful description of Marshall Street and the surrounding neighborhood in December 1870:

“The Brooklyn Navy-yard is approached through one of the least attractive parts of the City of Churches, and the contrast between the yard itself and the locality immediately outside its walls can not but strike an observant visitor. There is to be seen a certain naval aspect in the adjacent streets; but nothing of the cleanliness and the order of the yard is visible in the neighborhood immediately beyond its high walls. Inside, ‘Poor Jack’s’ fondness for the appurtenances of his calling is gratified by collections of old figure-heads which have gone dozens of times round the world, and which grace or disfigure various lawns within the yard. Outside, this love of the sailor for his vessel and its representations is traded upon by ‘the land-sharks’ who prey upon his generous nature. Weather-beaten signs over dilapidated taverns, or dusty prints in small shop windows, disclose the portraiture of red-faced naval dignitaries, resplendent in gold lace. In front of tobacco shops the conventional figure of the Indian graciously presenting, not the aboriginal pipe, but the modern rolled cigar, is superseded by that of a sailor, with unlimited breadth of hat-brim and trousers. Instead of popular packages of chewing tobacco, “navy-plug” is displayed. There are shops whose glass fronts boast of attractions in the shape of models of ships, with masts and rigging complete. The ordinary Dutch corner grocery announces that it keeps “naval stores;“ and a liquor saloon steals the great name of one who detested its traffic, and styles itself the ‘Farragut House.'”

Death certificate: Henrietta Adams, 1865

Death certificate: Henrietta Adams, 1865

—-, September 29 – Henrietta, age 2, dies of convulsions due to whooping cough. She is buried on September 30 in a grave shared with two unrelated children in Brooklyn’s Cemetery of the Evergreens.

Throughout the remainder of the 1860s and into the 1870s Mary and her family will rarely live at one address for more than a year. Mary will continue to take in sewing and also borders.

1865-66 – Sometime between June 1, 1865 and December 1866, William “Will” Adams is born to Mary. Will’s father cannot be John Adams but is otherwise indeterminate. Nothing is known of Will after 1875, but a 36-year-old woman named Rose Welch Adams buried alongside Mary in 1899 is almost certainly Will’s wife.

1870, June 25 – Mary and her children are living at 106 North 2nd Street in the 14th Ward.

c1874-1877 – Mary and her children live in an apartment in the rear of 35 Scholes Street in the 16th Ward.

1875 – Hiram Adams, now 15, is working as a “bone turner” in a shop that makes ivory and bone handles for cutlery and toiletries. Jane, who would be about 19, no longer lives with the family; perhaps she has married. She remains untraceable, as does her younger sister, Mary.

1875-79 – Sometime before 1879 Hiram learns the printing trade and becomes a newspaper compositor. In his career Hiram will work for the Brooklyn Times-Union, New York Press and New York Evening Sun.

1879, March 13 – Hiram, 19, marries Mary Kiffler Lay, 17-year-old daughter of Williamsburg bricklayer Abner Chauncey Lay and Mary Ann Dunn Lay.

—-, June 11 – Mary Van Pelt Adams dies in Kings County Hospital of cancer of the uterus. On June 14 she is laid to rest in an unmarked grave in the Cemetery of the Evergreens.

Birth certificate of Abner Chauncey Adams, 1888. Note errors in his and his father's names.

Birth certificate of Abner Chauncey Adams, 1880. Note errors in his and his father’s names.

1880, April 4 – Hiram and Mary’s first child, Abner Chauncey “Chauncey” Adams (1880-1966; our ancestor), is born at the home of his grandparents, Abner and Mary Ann Lay.

1882, January 17 – Henrietta R. Adams (1882-1943), perhaps named for Hiram’s late sister, is born.

The Brooklyn Bridge as seen from Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Bridge as seen from Brooklyn, 1883

1883, May 24 – The Brooklyn Bridge, 13 years in construction, is opened, joining the cities of Brooklyn and New York.

1886, March 15 – Ida Mary Adams (1886-1948) is born at the Adams’ second-floor apartment over a Chinese laundry at 329 South 4th Street, Williamsburg.

The Great Blizzard of 1888

The Great Blizzard of 1888

1888, March 12-13 – Temperatures plummet from the mid-40s to a low of six degrees with winds up to 80 miles per hour as “The Great Blizzard of 1888” cripples Brooklyn and New York, killing more than 200. One snowdrift in Gravesend, Brooklyn, measures 52 feet in height.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 18, 1888

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 16, 1888

—-, May 15  – Mary Lay Adams, washing a window in the Adams’ apartment, falls backward from the window ledge and fractures her skull on the concrete sidewalk.  She is taken by horse-drawn ambulance to St. Catherine’s Hospital where she dies the following morning at the age of 27. Mary is buried alongside Hiram’s mother in the Cemetery of the Evergreens.

The Brooklyn Industrial School Association and Home for Destitute Children

The Brooklyn Industrial School Association and Home for Destitute Children

Sometime after Mary’s death Hiram will place Chauncey and Henrietta in the Brooklyn Industrial School Association and Home for Destitute Children at 217 Sterling Place, Brooklyn, an orphanage and boarding school for children whose parents cannot care for them, operated by a consortium of Protestant churches in the city. For a boarding fee  of $3.00 a month, children at the school are taught carpentry and other trades (boys) or sewing and domestic services (girls). Chauncey and Henrietta will remain boarded at the school until they reach the age of 12; from the ages of 12 to 18 they will be sent, as are all the school’s children, to work as farm laborers or domestic servants. Because Ida is below the age of three and ineligible for boarding at the school, she is sent to live with the family of her maternal uncle and aunt, James and Ida Lay, in Williamsburg. The Lays, with only one small child at the time of Mary’s death, will keep and raise Ida with their own growing (ten children) family.

—-, June 11-16 – Hiram is a delegate to the convention of the International Typographical Union in Kansas City.

1889, May – At the age of 29, Hiram, currently employed as a printer with the New York Press, is elected president of the Brooklyn Typographical Union.

1890, June 8 – Hiram, now 30, marries 18-year-old Elizabeth M. “Lizzie” Powell. In applying for a marriage license, Hiram erroneously gives his mother’s maiden name as “Mary Wycoff” [sic]. Wyckoff is a long-established surname in Brooklyn; could this be Mary’s middle name? A clue to her ancestry or extended family?

1890-1895 – Hiram and Lizzie have a child, name and gender unknown, who dies before 1900.

c1892 – Chauncey Adams is sent to work as a farm laborer in rural eastern Suffolk County.

1894 – The residents of Brooklyn vote by a narrow margin (64,744 to 64,467) to consolidate with the city of New York, effective January 1, 1898.

1895, February 4 – Hiram Minard Adams, Jr., is born. He will live to be 100 years old, dying on July 15, 1995.

c1896 – Henrietta Adams is sent to work as a domestic servant for a farming family in eastern Suffolk County.

1896, December – Edward Adams (1896-1913) is born.

c1898 – Chauncey Adams, 18, is discharged from the Brooklyn Industrial School but remains in eastern Suffolk County.

1899, April 30 – Lillian Adams (1899-1992) is born.

1900 – Chauncey Adams is working as a laborer on a farm in Southampton.

—- – Henrietta R. Adams, 18, is discharged from the Brooklyn Industrial School.

1901, February 18 – Grace Adams (1901-1901) is born.

—-, April 11 – Henrietta R. Adams marries Harvey Lester Downs of Mattituck, Long Island, in Southampton.

—-, August 21 – Grace dies at the age of six months.

1902 – Hiram’s first grandchild, Harvey Lester Downs, Jr. (1902-?), is born.

—-, October 13 – Elizabeth Grace Adams (1902-1903) is born.

—-, November 27 – Abner Chauncey Adams marries Charlotte “Lottie” Mull in Suffolk County. Lottie, 22, the daughter of commercial ship captain Benjamin Mull and Harriet Tuthill Mull. Lottie and Chauncey had met at the Brooklyn Industrial School, where Lottie had also been sent sometime after her mother’s death in 1881.

1903, June 21 – Elizabeth Grace dies of acute pneumonia at the age of eight months.

1904, April 28 – Hiram’s second grandchild, Ida May Adams (1904-1999), is born to Chauncey and Lottie Adams in Quogue, Long Island.

1904, May 7 – Clara M. Adams (1904-1995) is born.

1907, April 20 – Irene Elizabeth Adams (1907-1995) is born.

1908, October 8 – Gertrude Adams (1908-1997) is born.

1910, April 10 – Hiram and Lizzie’s tenth child, Albert James Adams (1910-1910), is born at the Adams’ residence at 449 Bleecker Street in Ridgewood, just over the border in Queens County.

Tintype: Abner Chauncey Adams (1880-1966)

Tintype of Abner Chauncey Adams (1880-1966)

—-, April – Chauncey is living on Oakwood Avenue in Sag Harbor, Long Island, and working as a baggage master for the Long Island Rail Road. His sister, Henrietta Adams Downs, is living on Union Avenue in Center Moriches.

Main Street, Sag Harbor, c1900

Main Street, Sag Harbor, c1900

—-, July 14 – Hiram’s third grandchild, Helen Louise Adams (1910-1984), is born to Chauncey and Lottie Adams in Sag Harbor.

—-, September 23 – Maetta Adams (1911-2001) is born in Ridgewood.

—-, October 11 – Albert dies of pneumonia at the age of 6 months in Ridgewood.

1914, July 29 – Hiram and Lizzie’s 12th and last child, Dorothy Adams (1914-1917), is born.

1915, February 20 – Ida Mary Adams marries Fred Koerner Walther in Queens.

1916, September – Hiram’s fourth grandchild, Josephine K. Walther (1916-?), is born on Long Island.

1917, June – Hiram’s son, Hiram, Jr., is working as a compositor for the New York Evening Sun.

—- – Dorothy dies of diptheria at the age of three.

1918, January – The first case of what will come to be known as the Spanish influenza (known today as the swine flu) is observed in Kentucky. The first wave of the pandemic will reach New York City in March.

—-, August 14 – A second, more virulent wave of the Spanish influenza reaches New York. As reported by the New York City Department of Health, influenza deaths mount weekly, peaking between October 5 and 19. The flu will kill 4,514 people in Brooklyn in 1918.

—-, October 18 – Hiram Minard Adams, age 58, ill since October 2, dies of heart failure due to influenza at his home at 132 Eldert Street. He is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Maspeth, Queens. His widow, Elizabeth Powell Adams, will be buried alongside Hiram upon her death on May 5, 1956.

1919, August – Hiram’s fifth grandchild, Henriette Adams Walther (1919-?), is born in Huntington Station, Long Island. Additional grandchildren, the offspring of Hiram and Lizzie’s children, will be born in the ensuing years.

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Posted by on October 18, 2013 in Biographies


Pierre Monnet (1523-1572), Killed for His Faith

"A Huguenot, on St. Bartholomew's Day, Refusing to Shield Himself from Danger by Wearing the Roman Catholic Badge", an 1852 painting by John Everett Millais.

“A Huguenot, on St. Bartholomew’s Day, Refusing to Shield Himself from Danger by Wearing the Roman Catholic Badge”, an 1852 painting by John Everett Millais.

Pierre Monnet is the 19th great-grandfather of Richard, James, Gary, Lisa, Carl, Jane, Bruce, Cathy, Ron, Stacey, Matt, Sandy, and the 20th great-grandfather of Asher, Owen, Caitlyn, Becky, Emily, Jack, Jill, Jordan, Mike, Brian.

Born: c1523, Poitou, France
Died: August 24, 1572, Paris, France
Father: Abraham Monnet (?)
Mother: Susanne Chastain (?)
Spouse: Marie Guillamart (?-August 24, 1572; married 1545)
Children: 9, including Pierre

The Marquis Pierre Monnet was born into the noble House of de Monet de la Marcque in Poitou, France, in 1523. There is some evidence that his parents may have been Abraham Monnet and Susanne Chastain. The Monnets and Chastains were Huguenot (Calvinist Lutheran) families.

Pierre married Marie Guillamart in 1545. They had at least nine children. In 1570 Pierre was given a grant of Coat of Arms.

France in the 16th century was in a period of political and religious upheaval. The premature death, following a jousting accident, of King Henri II in 1559 created a protracted political crisis. His sons who succeeded him in turn – Francis II (1559-60), Charles IX (1560-74), and Henri III (1574-89) – were young and weak, subject to their ambitious mother Catherine de Médicis, and vulnerable to manipulation by powerful noble factions.

The explosive growth of Protestantism in France only exacerbated this dangerous political situation. The new Protestant faith was becoming a well-defined force in the kingdom and had attracted to its support the best citizenship of France. By 1562, there were perhaps two million Protestants and nearly 1,250 Reformed churches in France, flourishing despite repeated royal censures and harsh persecution.

In August 1572, Charles IX’s sister Margaret was married to the Protestant Henry III of Navarre (the future Henry IV of France). This marriage was an occasion for which many of the most wealthy and prominent Huguenots, including Pierre Monnet and his family, had gathered in largely Catholic Paris.

St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, August 24, 1572

St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, August 24, 1572

Four days after the wedding, on August 23, 1572 (the eve of the feast of Bartholomew the Apostle), and two days after an attempted assassination of Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, the military and political leader of the Huguenots, the king (or, as contemporary rumor had it, his savagely anti-Protestant mother) ordered the killing of a group of Huguenot leaders, including Coligny, which led to a popular uprising against French Protestants. The slaughter, beginning at dawn on August 24, spread throughout Paris and expanded outward over the following weeks across France. Modern estimates for the number of dead vary widely, from 5,000 to 30,000.

Pierre, Marie and nine of their children were among those massacred in Paris on St. Bartholomew’s Day. Fortunately for us, Pierre’s eldest son Pierre, also slaughtered on that day, had a young son, Abraham (our ancestor), who survived.

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Posted by on October 14, 2013 in Biographies

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