Let Freedom Ring 2018

Readers of this blog know that I love Norwalk’s “Let Freedom Ring” program. I love its focus on the true origins of Independence Day, on Norwalk’s part in the American Revolution, and on bringing today’s community together. This year was no exception; in fact, we probably had our biggest crowd yet!

The program opened with Madeleine Eckert of the Norwalk Historical Society giving a talk called “Discovering 18th Century Norwalk Black History.” She and her husband Ed have done extensive research into Norwalk’s black population in the 1700s: from simple census counts to identifying names in probate records (either first, last, or both) to newspaper accounts. Mrs. Eckert then went into detail about Norwalk blacks who not only assisted the Patriot cause during the American Revolution, but also those who became loyalists.

NHS President Diane Jellerette introduces Madeleine Eckert. Author’s collection.

Information was coming at me so fast that it was hard to capture it all. Basically, there were some blacks who served as soldiers in integrated troops. Some slaves also helped save homes during the 1779 Burning of Norwalk. I did manage to capture the names of the black patriots:

  • Ned Negro
  • John Roger
  • Solomon Soutice
  • Onesimus Brown (there was a photo of him!)
  • Dover St. John

Those who supported the Loyalist cause probably did so under the promise of gaining freedom (in fact, they were included among those who received land grants in Nova Scotia). Some Norwalkers included:

  • Catherine
  • Moses
  • Pleasant Lockwood
  • David Raymond
  • Dorras Scudder
  • Cato Cannon

What an eye-opening talk it was!

After a short break, the “Let Freedom Ring” ceremony began. Mayor Harry Rilling spoke of his favorite passage in the Declaration of Independence (“we hold these truths to be self-evident…”). Senator Bob Duff emphasized that the Declaration was “not a love letter” but a list of grievances, and that we too should speak up and make our voices heard in government.

Mayor Rilling and Senator Duff. Author’s collection.

Town Clerk Rick McQuaid, in traditional Revolutionary garb, read many excerpts of the Declaration of Independence (I swear, he does it better every year!). The children present were then invited to help ring the bell as Mayor Rilling read off the names of the thirteen original states.

Rick McQuaid reads the Declaration; children help ring the bell. Author’s collection.

Zachary Anderson, Nathan Brenn and Richie Cordero, three graduates from Norwalk High School’s music program, performed a moving rendition of the National Anthem.

The National Anthem is performed. Author’s collection.

We were then introduced to our special guests, the Sable Soldiers. Ludger Balan told us that day they were representing Glover’s Marblehead regiment, of whom 40% were people of color, be it African-American, Native American, etc. He spoke of gratitude for knowing where we’ve been as a people, and how that has contributed to who we are today.

Ludger Balan (left) introduced us to the Sable Soldiers. Author’s collection.

Indeed the people re-enacting the Marblehead regiment had an intimate knowledge of the history of the regiment, from the motives behind the Marbleheaders joining the Revolutionary cause to the logistics of colonial warfare. When the crowd moved outside, stories were shared about the regiment and the battles it took part in (the most notable was the Battle of Trenton). Even the younger children were captivated by the stories!

Battlefield stories captured the crowd so well that the kids were more than willing to be a part of the cannon team demonstration. Author’s collection.

Finally, the soldiers gave us an unloaded demonstration of how some of their weapons worked. I won’t go into all the details here (please – see a demonstration of your local reenactors if you can), but I will share some of our modern expressions that stem from Revolutionary-era weaponry:

  • lock, stock and barrel
  • flash in the pan
  • half cocked
  • kick the bucket

In conclusion, I would say that my eyes have been opened about how all people have taken part in establishing our country. They may not have been in history books, but their names and roles are slowly being rediscovered by people like the Eckerts and the Sable Soldiers.

Encampment scenes. Author’s collection.

Encampment scenes. Author’s collection.

Encampment scenes. Author’s collection.

Encampment scenes. Author’s collection.

Encampment scenes. Author’s collection.

Encampment scenes. Author’s collection.

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Honor Roll Project: Norwalk, CT – World War I (part 4)

In recognition of those who have served our country in the military, Heather Wilkinson Rojo of the Nutfield Genealogy blog started the Honor Roll Project. It’s an opportunity to publicly document the names on military memorials around the world, thus making them easily searchable on the internet for people who are looking for them!

WWI Memorial on the Norwalk Green. Author’s collection.

This is a continuation of the names on the World War I memorial on the green in Norwalk, CT (previous posts are here, here and here).  Below is the fourth panel and its transcription.

World War I Memorial. Norwalk, CT. Author’s collection.

1917 – THE WORLD WAR – 1919

FERGUSON LESTER R. FRIZZELL DUNCAN B. GOLDSTEIN FREDERICK HALLOREN JULIUS T. HICKEY WILLIAM T. JR.
FERGUSTON THEODORE FRIZZELL JOHN REEVES GORHAM WILLIAM N. HAMILTON ALBERT M. HIGHT FLETCHER
FERGUSON TREMONT H. FROST RUSSELL JR. GORHAM JOHN A. HAMILTON EDWARD W. HILL CHARLES L.
FERRINO LOUIS FUDGE HARRY C. GORMLEY LESTER F. HAMMOND BRADLEY B. HINCK NATHAN
FERRIS BENTLEY B. FULE JAMES GOTTLIEB LEO HANKS HAROLD S. HINES HUGH JR.
FERRIS VICTOR W. GOTTLIEB MORRIS HANKS WILLIAM J. HINSON HAROLD E.
FINCH RUSSELL W. GOULD EDGAR F. HANLON JOHN HIPSON CARYL B.
FINNEGAN EDWARD W. G GOULDEN ALLYN S. HANLON WILLIAM F. HIPSON HARRY H.
FIORE JAMES GABRIEL ANDREW GRACE FRANK J. HANNA HAROLD W. HOGOFIAN AVADIS
FISHER JOHN GAGE CLINTON H. GRAY ARTHUR S. HANNON JOHN PATRICK HOLLAND HENRY
FITCH HERBERT GAGER WARREN B. GRAY CHARLES LOUIS HARRIS ALFRED HOPSON CHARLES
FITELSON JACOB GALBO CALOGERO GRAY DONALD A. HARRIS ISRAEL HORAN EDWIN W.
FITZGERALD JOHN JAMES GALL DANIEL GRAY HORACE M. HARRIS LOUIS F. HORAN RICHARD J.
FITZGERALD JOSEPH M. GALLA FRANCESCON GRAY JOSEPH A. JR. HARRIS RICHARD T. HORAN THOMAS P.
FITZGERALD LEONARD GALLAGHER ANTHONY R. GRAY LOUIS S. HART PRESTON M. HORAN WILLIAM F.
FLAHERTY THOMAS F. GALLAGHER JAMES J. GREENBERG ARCHIE L. HARTY CHARLES A. HOTALING RAYMOND
FLOOD HOWARD GALYAS JOHN GREENWALD THEODORE F. HASLIN JOSEPH E. HOWARD GEORGE H.
FLYNN HARRY J. GAMBLE MINER L. GREENWOOD HAROLD A. HATCH FRANK D. HOWLEY THOMAS E.
FLYNN WALTON W. GANUN HARRY H. GREENWOOD LE GRAND HAUGH HARRY M. HOYT ARTHUR C.
FODOR ANDREW J. GARFIELD ARTHUR F. GREGORY M. GLOVER HAUGH JOHN DENNIS HOYT ELTON M.
FORBUSH BELDEN C. GARFIELD EARL B. GREGORY PERCIVAL R. HAVILAND CHARLES B. HUBBELL CLINTON C.
FORCELLINO DOMINIC GARFIELD JAMES F. GRIALTIERI FRANK HAVLICEK CHARLES A. HUBBELL WILLIAM H.
FOREIT JACK GATES HARRY GRIFFIN LOUIS HAWKINS RUSSELL S. HUDSON THOMAS H.
FOREN ALFRED EUGENE GATES IRA E. GRIFFIN VERNON F. HAYES EDWARD HUGHES ALBERT C.
FORIZ JOHN GAVIN JAMES F. GROESCHNER WILLIAM R. HAYES EDWARD T. HUGHES EDWARD C.
FORSYTHE GEORGE W. GAY FRANK GRUMBLY PATRICK A. HAYES JAMES H. HUGHES ELLIS
FOSTER CHARLES GEFFINO FRANK GRUMMAN LEWIS HAZLETT ROBERT HUGHES LESTER W.
FOSTER LEONARD J. GEORGE FRANCIS W. GUARNIERI JOHN J. HEALY JOSEPH HUGHEY ROBERT H.
FOSTER WALTER H. GEORGE ROBERT H. GUIDER JOHN VINCENT HEITZ PAUL HULL WILLIAM HENRY JR.
FOX JESSE S. GIANGUZZO CALOGERO GUILES HAROLD HELLANT JACOB HUNT DAVID
FOX WILLIAM A. GILBERT FRANK W. GUMBART EDWARD HUGO HELLANT LOUIS HUNT JOHN WILLIAM
FRANCARILLA ORAZIO GILBERT JOHN CLIFFORD GUMBART WILLIAM E. HEMMONE WILBUR W. HUNTINGTON ARTHUR F.
FRANCES WILLIAM G. GILBERT LELAND F. GUNTHER JOHN L. HENDRICKS EDWARD E. HUSSEY EDWARD H.
FRATINO JOSEPH GILCHRIST JAMES C. GUTHRIE CHESTER J. HENNESSY FREDERICK T. HYATT ELMER
FRATINO PATRICK GILLETTE WILLIAM B. HENRY MARTIN L. HYATT HARRY TRACEY
FRATTO FRANK GILMORE WALTER T. HENSON FREDERICK T. HYDE JOHN C.
FREDERICKS JAMES GLADSTONE WILLIAM C. H HERMON ALBERT HYLER BENJAMIN W.
FREUDENTHAL WALTER GLASSER DAVID HAASE EDWARD E. HERRING HERBERT W. HYNAN WILLIAM F.
FRIEDLANDER ROBERT GLEASON DANIEL H. HAIN OTTO HERTZ BENJAMIN H.
FRIEND JOHN JOSEPH GLEASON PHILIP R. HALACY DANIEL S. HERTZ JOSEPH
FRIEND MATTHEW F. GOLDSCHMIDT CHARLES HALACY JOHN JOSEPH HEVESSEY MICHAEL I
FRIZZELL CHARLES R. GOLDSCHMIDT SAMUEL HALL RUSSELL HICKEY THOMAS J. IRELAND HENRY J.

“WE HONOR THOSE WHO DO US HONOR”

A Second Look

Last week I began to draft a blog post about the mortgage deeds of Frank L. Colomy and how that shed some light on his life and his family. As with most of my posts, I decided to look over the source documents again more closely.

Boy, did that open a can of worms!

What I was originally going to post has been put aside as I realized that I really need to take a much closer and more detailed look at these deeds. Additionally, what I’ve found seems to indicate that I need to do more research, including some in-person visits to Lynn, Massachusetts, which I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get to do.

So the story will have to wait, but I can promise, it looks like a great one! For now the genealogical adage to go back and look at your documents again continues to hold true!

Rosener, Ann, photographer. Washington, D.C. OWI Office of War Information research workers. District of Columbia United States Washington D.C. Washington D.C, 1943. May. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2017851716/. (Accessed April 15, 2018.)

U-Turn: Great-grandfather John Biliunas

Way back when I wrote about my great-grandfather, I included a snippet from his World War I draft registration that stated his place of birth. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what it said, whether it began with an N or a V.

Portion of John Biliunas’ Draft Registration. Courtesy Ancestry.com.

Well, it turns out that it begins with an S! (If you look really carefully, you can see the very, very light line of the cursive S.) What I did was post that snippet on the Lithuanian Global Genealogy Facebook group, and someone was able to answer me right away. Apparently, the name of the town is Siauliai (I guess it has various spellings, including Siaule), which is in the northern portion of Lithuania and is the fourth largest city in Lithuania.

Cathedral of Siauliai. Courtesy of Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81090)

Now, whether John was actually born in Siuliai or in a nearby village, I don’t know. I have yet to order his naturalization paperwork which may give me more information, but that is on my To Do List this year.

#genchat Treasures: African American Genealogy

One of the cool things about #genchat is being able to discuss the genealogy of different ethnic origins. You may not have that ethnicity yourself, but you may learn of new resources and methodologies that you can apply to your own research. Personally, I like to approach it thinking, “if I were ethnicity, where would I look?”

This past February 2, we discussed African-American genealogy led by Renate Yarborough Sanders. Before I list all the wonderful resources that were shared, I just want to say that this was one of the most moving #genchats we’ve ever had. Not only did we learn of the unique experiences and challenges of African-American ancestors, but we explored the difficult topic of having a slave-owning ancestor. All this was done in a spirit of honesty and empathy on all sides. I’m a little choked up as I write: if only the rest of our divided society could come together like this, there would be so much healing.

Courtesy Library of Congress.

So the following resources mentioned during and after #genchat are listed here, not only to aid African-Americans with their research, but also to educate everyone about the research challenges and what you may be able to do if you have a slave-holding ancestor.

Resources:

Midwestern African American Genealogy Institute

Black Pro Gen

Hidden Cemeteries of Essex County

Radiant Roots, Boricua Branches list of African-American Genealogy blogs

Kentucky Historical Society – US Colored Troop Muster for KY 7th-9th districts

Kentucky Historical Society – letters mentioning slave names

Mississippi Dept of Archives & History – Sovereignty Commission Online

Library of Congress – African American History Month site

Articles/Blogposts/Podcasts:

African Roots Podcast

Ben Franklin’s World (podcast) – episode 118 – The business of slavery in Rhode Island

New York Post – College Compiles Index of Slaves and Their Owners

Roots Revealed – Genealogy Mishap Case

Southern Poverty Law Center – quiz – How Much Do You Know About American Slavery?

Life in the Past Lane – In the Shadow of Charlottesville

The Atlantic – The Freedman’s Story

Into the Light – Restore My Name

Family Tree Magazine – How to Trace African-American History Through Oral History

Slave-Holding Ancestors:

Reclaiming Kin – Suggestions for White Descendants of Slaveholders

Slave Name Roll Project

As always, if I’ve missed any resources that were mentioned or if you have something new to add, please reply in the comments!

Oral History: The Missing Link

Recently I was at a party where I was talking to a friend who was born in a foreign country. We were talking about family, and she was telling me that her father had two birth certificates: one saying he was born in that country, and the other saying he was born in a US territory.

Why did her father have two birth certificates? My friend explained: her father was actually born in the US territory and had that birth certificate. Once he married and started a family in the new country, the family wanted to move into an apartment in a much better neighborhood. However, to get into this new neighborhood, you needed to be “in” with the right people. And the right people only wanted to deal with those born in that country. So the father knew a guy who was able to get him what looked to be a valid birth certificate that stated he was born in that country. He got the birth certificate, which got him the apartment.

Now, imagine that you are a descendant of this man a hundred years from now. You are researching him and find two different birth certificates, but which one is correct? Say you do ascertain that the US territory certificate is correct; the question remains why there is another certificate? Maybe you ask yourself if this is even the same guy.

My point is that this is something that can really only be fleshed out with a family story, whether that be oral history or something written down. Lately, I’ve been learning a lot from my uncle and my mom about my maternal side of the family. They’ve been telling me stories about what their grandmother’s house was like, what certain cousins were like, how they were raised and certain events. These stories will never be in newspapers, DNA or vital records; they only come from the people that lived them.

I think of my favorite brick wall, George W. Colomy. The tiny clues I have of his life (his divorce, his name change) only tell me a sliver of his whole story. If I knew more, I would surely know where he came from and where he ended up before and after his marriage to Lucy Goodwin. But his story died with the people that were in it. (Don’t worry, cousins; I have NOT given up on him!)

What stories are in your family that need to be preserved? What seems to be mundane now that may interest future generations? Think about them, write them down, pass them on. But first: talk to your family and discover those stories!

The House on Herricks Lane

All these years, I believed that my great-grandparents John and Anna Biliunas just lived on some nondescript potato farm in Riverhead, New York. Little did I know that it was so much more!

Recently my maternal uncle and I were exchanging emails and he was giving me various pieces of information that I could follow up on for our family history. He told me that he thought he saw somewhere that the Biliunas house was on the National Register of Historic Places. WHAT??

Off to Google I went, and found this link. So it was true! The house, at 733 Herricks Lane, was listed as the “Hallock-Bilunas Farmstead” and on the National Register as of 2003 (#03000251). Searching on the address, I found that it operated as a bed & breakfast for 14 years in the early part of this century. The best search result was this article about when it went up for sale in 2012, because it showed pictures of the rooms inside! (Oh, that kitchen!)

Hallock-Bilunas Farmstead. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The article also gave some good historical background of the house, but also threw me for a bit of a loop with this sentence: “The Herricks Lane land belonged to Lemuel B. Hallock, and was later sold in 1940 to John Bilunas, a potato farmer.” This directly contradicted my original finding in a 1912 newspaper that Mary Hallock sold the farm to Anton Urnezis (Anna’s first husband, who died within the next couple of years). The U.S. Census always showed the Biliunas’s on Herricks Lane; so what was the story?

Fortunately, there are many Long Island newspapers online through New York Historic Newspapers. I didn’t find anything under John Biliunas’ name regarding a transfer of land at any time. What I did find was Lemuel Hallock’s obituary in The County Review dated March 17, 1938! (So Lemuel was obviously dead before this supposed selling of the farm.)

I did have the correct Lemuel: the obituary talked about him having lived on Herricks Lane. It also provided key information: he did have a wife named Mary and they lived in Mattituck “for the past 26 years” (which coincides with the 1912 sale of the farm). I wondered how Mary would have been the one to sell the farm. The 1912 newspaper stated it was sold by “Hallock, Mary &ano.”; obviously she was not the only person on the sales side. So why wouldn’t the sale have been “Lemuel &ano.”? I think one key fact in the obituary may lend a clue: Lemuel was deaf! Perhaps Mary, being able to hear, carried out the transaction on behalf of both of them.

So where would the 1940 date have come from? The only thing I can think of is perhaps that is when the mortgage on the farm was paid off; the time frame certainly makes sense. In any case, this ancestral home is a historical site (although not open to the public). That is pretty cool.