Monday, August 8, 2011

Where's Whitman?

Researching families in the 19th century is a
bit different than the research techniques we use for 20th century ancestors. Many records do not point directly at father-son or mother-daughter relationships, we have to glean these from combining many sources. To put it in mathmatical terms, if a+b = c, and c+d = e then a = e. Now, I know that looks a little funny, but it works when threading together the relationships between different family members without the types of documents (like birth, marriage, or death certificates, not available in New York until after 1881) that clearly show a parent-child relationship. In our continuing study we are looking today at time and location. When it comes to our ancestors, often we can find parents living near their children at important times in their lives, such as at birth (if you know when and where that happened) or at their marriage.
Where's Whitman?
Who are James Wescott Whitman's parents? Let's look at where he was living at the time of his marriage. James and his bride, Elizabeth "Betsey" Kennicott, were married by Judge Riggs on 19 Oct 1819 in Avon, Ontario County. Avon is now is Livingston County, shown at the top middle of the map here. In 1819, Ontario County's border began at the river and took up the right half of present-day Livingston. Genesee County was on the left-hand side of the river, and included the town of York at the river's edge. In 1820 there was a federal census of these counties. In 1821, the counties were split, and Livingston was created out of half of Ontario and half of Genesee.
Where's Whitman?
1810: Betsey's family is living Pittstown, Renssalear County, New York.
1810: James' residence is unknown.
1819: James and Betsey marry in Avon, Ontario County.
1820: James and Betsey are living in York, Genesee County.
1820: Betsey's father, John "Kinnicutt," is living in Avon, Ontario County.
1821: County lines change, Livingston is formed.
1824: James and Betsey bury a daughter near Avon, (now) Livingston County.
1830: James and Betsey are living in Avon, Livingston County.

Who are the other Whitmans/Wittmans/Whitemans/Wightmans/Widmans living near Avon or York between 1819 and 1820?
Despite looking at many spellings of Whitman, the standard "Whitman" or "Whiteman" seems to be the only ones used in this area. There are a few men surnamed Whitman, but only some of the right age (assuming that if James was born in 1794, his father would be about 21 or older, then the father would be born before 1773, and age 47 or older. Ages in 1810, '20, and '30 were approximate in the censuses).
1820: Israel Whitman, age 45+. Bethany, Genesee County. About 16 miles west of York.
1820: Benjamin Whitman, age 45+. Lyons, Ontario County. About 67 miles east of York.
1820: Daniel Whitman, age 45+. Perinton, Ontario County. About 35 miles NE of York.
1820: William Whitman, age 45+. Geneseo, Ontario County. About 9 miles SE of York.
Of these, the first to investigate are Israel and William. William's family is documented in online family trees on, and his burial monument is online at, but there are discrepancies between the different family trees. He had a son, apparently named James (who married Sabrina). Unfortunately for us, there are two documented James Whitmans of the same approximate age in or around York at this time. The other James lived closer to William. The question is, "Why would our Whitman be living so near William without some kind of relationship?" Perhaps they are cousins or other relation.
Israel Whitman is not well documented.
Both of these men need to be more carefully looked into, starting with deeds, probate, and tax records. Let the hunt begin!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ancestors Did Not Live In Bubbles

Ancestors, despite what we may think or suspect, did not live in a bubble. They did not live alone all their lives, they did not appear magically out of the air, were not hermits living at the tops of far-off mountain ranges, and only a few of them were actually dropped to the earth by aliens. They lived in families, near friends, and in communities. Those relationships are often the key to finding our elusive kin. The trouble comes when we still have a hard time pinning down even the relationships Granny X enjoyed.
So, I have a case for you. See if you can add to the solution (or the confusion) of who married whom. For every answer, there must first be a question, so we pose a project goal: Who are the sisters, one who married a Whitman and one who married a McAlpine and then a Dorris, both before 1794 in New York?

Family Legend: The mother of my ancestor, James Wescott Whitman (abt.1794 - 1878)is said to have had a sister who married 1)Mr. McAlpine, and 2)Mr. Dorris (or Dorus). We'll call the sisters Sister W (Whitman) and Sister MD (McAlpine-Dorris). Sister MD had three children, John McAlpine (1794 - ?, born NY), Samuel McAlpine (dates unknown, and Mary McAlpine (dates unknown). She was left a widow and then married Mr. Dorris. The oldest child of this marriage was Samuel Dorris (1802 - 1886, born Canada?) plus several other children. Sister MD was then left a widow. In the next generation, one of John McAlpine's (1794 - ?, born NY) children married a daughter of James Wescott Whitman and a child of Samuel Dorris(1802 - 1886, born Canada?) married a daughter of James Wescott Whitman. What we see here is the possibility of a close-knit family for multiple generations.

One of the first things I have to force myself to do is create a time-and-place-proof-line. This is different from a standard timeline of when events happened. I want to know who they happened to, where and when they happened, and how I know I can trust this information (ie: who says it's true and how do they know?)

Do you have DORRIS, MCALPINE, or WHITMAN families skipping merrily through your family tree? Let me know. For now, we will create a time-and-place-proof-line for the next installment.