Serendipity in Genealogy

I have spent years researching my Pettengill/Pettengell family line beginning with my 9x great grandfather, immigrant Richard Pettengell, who was one of the first settlers of Newbury, Massachusetts in 1635. Some years ago I was lucky enough to win an auction for a First Edition of the book A Sketch of the History of Newbury, Newburyport and West Newbury from 1635 to 1845 by Joshua Coffin printed in 1845. Imagine my surprise when I opened the book and on the inside was inscribed the name of the original owner along with his date of birth: Henry Pettengill Born Dec. 2nd, 1801 – a family member!

Henry Pettingell

With help from A Pettingell Genealogy by Charles Pettingell written in 1906, I was able to determine that Henry Pettingell is my 4th cousin 5x removed. Here is how he was described in the book:

“[Henry Pettingell was] born in the Old Coffin House on Parker Street, at Newbury, Mass. . .As a blacksmith in Georgetown he acquired a competence which he lived to enjoy and transmit to his children; he was an honorable and highly esteemed citizen. His skill in working metals was so great that in addition to the usual work of his trade he made delicate surgical instruments, supplying many of the doctors in the neighborhood. He was a well-read man, scholarly in his tastes. During the latter years of his life his great age, coupled with his unfailing interest in public affairs, made him a conspicuous figure.”

There was also a picture of him.

Henry Pettingell b. 2 Dec 1801

Henry died in Georgetown, Massachusetts on 6 January 1894. Although distantly related, what a thrill it is to hold a book once owned and held by a relative, with his original signature and to be able to see his face!

Honor Roll Project – Oliver Hazard – Leominster, MA

Once again, I am participating in the Honor Roll Project to photograph local monuments honoring our veterans. Here is a link to the website where all of the blogs are posted and sorted by location:


2014-11-08 Civil War Oliver Hazard 22014-11-08 Civil War Oliver Hazard

This is a monument in Carter Park dedicated to Oliver E. Hazard. Oliver E. Hazard was a free African American who lived in Leominster. The original family migrated from England to the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantation in 1778. Oliver was born in 1836 and served in the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts in the Civil War. His younger brother Nahum had been kidnapped by Slave Traders posing as cattle herders when he was 12 years old. Nahum was transported to Lynchburg, VA and sold into slavery. When the people of Leominster discovered the kidnapping, they acted swiftly and a selectman submitted a bill to the Legislature of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for Nahum’s release. An act in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts would pay for your freedom if you were a free citizen of the Commonwealth and had become enslaved. Nahum later joined the 55th Regiment of Massachusetts following in his brother’s footsteps.

Oliver mustered in as a private from Townsend, Massachusetts in 1863, was wounded in action in 1864 and mustered out in 1865. He lived in Leominster and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery when he died in 1896. He was a longtime member of the Charles H. Stevens Post #53 Grand Army of the Republic in Leominster. The bronze statue of Oliver was created by sculptor Paul Cote and dedicated in 1993.

Lt. Joseph Storer – My 8x Great-grandfather and Finding His Gravestone!

Knowing that my 8x great-grandfather had a headstone at Ocean View Cemetery in Wells, Maine, my husband and I set out on a road trip to find him. When we got there, I was a little alarmed at how BIG the cemetery was AND that there was a military funeral going on at the far side of the cemetery. I had an idea of what the stone looked like from a picture that someone had posted on We quietly made our way through the headstones, looking for my Joseph, so as not to interrupt the funeral. After about 30 minutes of hunting I was drawn to a set of old gravestones roughly in the middle of the cemetery. There was my Joseph!

Joseph Storer Gravestone

Visible inscription: Here lyes buried ye body of Mr. Joseph Storer 82 years

I knelt to take pictures, the stone had sunken deeply into the ground – but part of the writing was still visible.

As I stood to leave, a trumpet from the funeral started to play taps. My husband and I stood quietly – I felt they were playing taps for my Lt. Joseph Storer too.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The Good: My 9x great-grandmother, Elizabeth (Norton) Stover was left to maintain a fort at Cape Neddick, Maine after the death of her husband in 1689. She supplied beef and supplies for soldiers during King William’s War for two years.

The Bad: By 1691, she was neglected, her sons and neighbors had moved away. She was forced to leave her home and moved to Scituate, Mass. where she died in 1722. She petitioned the Massachusetts Government (remember that Maine was part of Massachusetts at that time) numerous times for reimbursement. Ultimately she was paid 1 pound 18 shillings for the supplies that she had provided for soldiers.

The Ugly: In her will along with what she left her children, she leaves 10 pounds 8 shillings, their clothing and bedding to her “Negro slave woman” and the same to each of her slave’s two children “My Negro lad” and “My Negro girl.” The “Negro lad” also received her gun.

Did Your Ancestor Borrow Money? Mine Did!

I was lucky to recently win an auction for an original document signed by my 4x great grandfather, Jeremiah Hutchings. On the surface it is fun to own a document that my ancestor actually held in his hand with an original signature. The document is a check.

Jeremiah Hutchings check to William Frost

It reads “Due William Frost, Esq. four shillings from me on Demand York Febry 6 1792” followed by a squiggle that I haven’t quite deciphered (if you have any ideas I’d love to hear them!). It is witnessed by Samuel Lunt and signed by Jeremiah. I decided to go beyond the document and asked myself, “Why would Jeremiah need to borrow money?”

I took a look at Jeremiah’s life. In February of 1792, Jeremiah was 21 years old. He had married at the age of 16, marrying an older woman, Sarah Littlefield – when she was 18. Jeremiah’s wife gave birth to their third child in February of 1792. Perhaps, the overwhelming responsibility of having a wife and three young children at the tender age of 21 drove Jeremiah to seek some help…

[William Frost was a Revolutionary War Veteran – his FindaGrave profile can be found here: ]


Uncle Anton Ostlander

Here’s the back story: I was recently contacted by the wife of a DNA match to my husband (got that?). She is in England but her husband (who sadly recently passed away) had a German mother. She had found a connection to one of my husband’s family names and the DNA showed a 4th-6th cousin match. It prompted me to work on my husband’s German family lines which I have long neglected.

My husband was born in Karlsruhe, Germany. His mother was German and his father was an American soldier (that’s ANOTHER story!).

My mother-in-law was a teenager in Karlsruhe, Germany during World War II and you can imagine the stories that she had to tell. One on my memories is her story about taking shelter across the street in a neighbor’s house during an enemy attack. (I can’t imagine!) Her aunt realized that she had left her purse behind. The aunt’s husband ran back to retrieve the purse. In the process, he was killed in the street by a strafer.

Fast forward to my research 94 years later. I am lucky that there are a lot of records online at Ancestry for Karlsruhe. Unfortunately, they are all in German. I know just enough German to understand that I’m looking at a birth, death or marriage record, the date and whether it’s a man or woman. The other details are lost to me. I found a number of family records for the time period, one of a family member in the military who died in Belgium and I spent some time on Google Translate to understand the details of that record. It was clear that he had died in the service of his country – noting what military unit he was in, etc. Then I found a death record for Anton Ostländer, my mother-in-law’s uncle.

Death of Anton Ostlander certificate

It is easy enough to see that he died on 3 September 1942, lived at 27 Lamey Street but died at 2 Lamey Street at 6:50. He was 50 years old. We can see where and when he was born, the names of his parents (Vater and Mutter) and his wife’s name, Karoline with the maiden name Hauss. Below that is a line that roughly translates that written registration of the death was reported by “des Polizei-präsidenten in Karlsruhe” translating to “of the police president [chief] in Karlsruhe.” My final question on this record was the line “Tordesurfache” or “cause of death.” “Durch Feindeinwurkung”  translates to “by enemy action.” I’m pretty sure that I found the Uncle who died because he went back to get his wife’s purse.

Jock Tobias and the South African Diamond Mines

Family  stories that are passed down can be a little skewed or outright embellished. I remember my father telling the story of his great-uncle Jock Tobias – brother to his paternal grandmother. He told me how Jock moved from Scotland to work in the diamond mines in South Africa and often brought back diamonds for my grandmother. I searched in vain for many years for Jock Tobias (and WHERE ARE THOSE DIAMONDS?).

Fast forward to my research and confirmation from my aunt. Jock Tobias was actually John Turbyne (although Jock may have been a nickname – we’ll probably never know). He and his wife did move to and live in South Africa. Every record that I could find says that John Turbyne was a woodworker or joiner. Perhaps he was employed in the diamond mines of South Africa – did they use woodworkers to shore up the ceilings as they dug? Perhaps.

John and his wife had no children. They visited his sister in New York several times traveling through Ellis Island. After a long career in South Africa, John and his wife Jessie boarded the Warwick Castle in Capetown South Africa headed to Southampton, England and retirement at 53 Princess Street, Dundee, Scotland. Seven days out from Southampton, John died on board the ship of congestive heart failure. His obituary states that he was buried at sea. He never made it home.

Death of John Turbyne aboard ship highlighted with arrow cropped


Howard Benjamin Parshley

How about this little cutie? In excellent condition mounted in a protective folder, it is identified as Howard Benjamin Parshley at 8 months old.

Howard Benjamin Parshley crop

Howard Benjamin Parshley

The photo was taken in New Haven, Connecticut. Howard was born in West Haven, Connecticut on 5 April 1923 to Edward R. Parshley, who was a mechanical inspector for the railroad and his wife Laura (Newson) who was born in Prince Edward Island Canada – she was the youngest of 15 children. Howard died 6 February 2010 in Alabama and is buried in Dogwood Trails Memorial Gardens in Oxford, Alabama.

If you are close family and would like to have the photo sent to you at no charge, please contact me.

Alida Bisco? I think not.

Alida Bisco

I rescued this photo from an antique shop. It is identified on the back as Alida Bisco. I set out to research Alida Bisco to see if I could get the photo returned to a family member. I found Alida, living in Dudley, Massachusetts, born in October of 1850 in Connecticut. Alida appears in every available census from 1860 through 1930 and then appears in the Massachusetts Death Index in 1938. It appears that Alida never married. The problem is that every record lists Alida as a woman. Do you think this is a picture of Alida? I think not. Perhaps it is her brother Alton Bisco, son of Jacob and Emeline Bisco, who was born in 1857. We may never know. I hope someone from the family discovers this post and can clear up this mystery.

Laura Barrett – A Photograph Discovered


This cabinet card, taken about 1891, is identified as Laura Barrett age 19. A little research uncovers that Laura was born in July 1872 in Ashford, Connecticut the daughter of George G. Barrett and Marilla Kidder.

She married Marvin W. Fisk on 5 November 1892 in Warrenville, Connecticut. He was born in Stafford Springs, CT in August 1867, the son of John M. Fisk and Jane Prouty.

The couple had two children neither of which lived to adulthood: Wilbur born July 1896 and Earl born Nov 1898. Sadly, Earl died on 8 December 1901 at age 3 of Diphtheria and paralysis of the heart. Wilbur died 28 February 1902 of Scarlet Fever and heart failure at the age of 5. It appears that the couple had no other children.

Perhaps her old photograph turned up in an antique shop in Townsend, Massachusetts, because she left no descendants. I hope a niece, nephew or cousin would like to have her photograph returned to the family. If so, please contact me!

Laura Barrett front

Laura Barrett back