Thursday, January 29, 2015

52in52: Mary "Polly" Ferguson Graves, b. 1798-1799 Vermont, m. Daniel Graves, d. ???

I was chatting on Facebook with a distant cousin the other day, and I realized I had never fully shared the story of Mary "Polly" Ferguson on this blog or anywhere else. Week 3's theme for 52 ancestors in 52 weeks was "Tough Woman" and I think Polly is the epitome of "tough".

Years and years of family lore and documents from the children of Daniel Graves have listed Mary Ferguson of Vermont as being the wife of Daniel Graves. When I was at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I found the below in their early newspapers collection, from the Bennington, Vermont Bennington News Letter on 6 July 1813. Polly is a common nickname for Mary, so it fit like a glove.

Problem solved, right? WRONG! ;-) This newspaper publishing is the only mention of this marriage. There is no record of it in the town clerk's records, nor in the town's church records, nor in the state of Vermont's vital records.

So I did the logical thing - I hired the local researcher from the museum at Bennington to help me figure out what the heck is going on. Unfortunately, this only added to the mystery:

"Then there an official record of the marriage of Polly Graves and Sebastian Wager on Nov. 18, 1834, signed by the town clerk of Bennington. So, what do you suppose happened to Daniel Graves? There is no death record for him in the Vermont vitals and no burial record in any Bennington cemetery."

I started looking into Polly Graves and Sebastian Wager/Wagar, and realized that this Polly Graves referred to is someone else, Polly Thomas Graves:

(Vermont, Vital Records, 1760-1954," index and images, FamilySearch ( ), Polly Wagar, 27 Apr 1866, Death; State Capitol Building, Montpelier; FHL microfilm 27,716.)

So Polly Thomas married a Graves (researchers are currently unsure of who, as of 2012), and then married Sebastian Wagar. So that's a dead end as well.

About this time, I found an 1850 census entry in Gouverneur, St. Lawrence, New York that fit the family well:

(Year: 1850; Census Place: Gouverneur, Saint Lawrence, New York; Roll: M432_589; Page: 192B; Image: 392)
Which clearly show  Polly as alive and well, age 52, born in Vermont with her children John, Justus, Sheldon "Hawley", Hazelton, Lewis, and Betsey (where Enoch, Hezekiah, Rebecca, and Pittman are...well, that's another story).

It was about this same time that I was able to reach Michelle Knoll of Ontario, who has done quite extensive research on the Ferguson family in Vermont. Her research is where I believe we are going to find more information on just who Mary "Polly" Ferguson really is.

As you can see here, Michelle believes that Mary "Polly" Ferguson fits in as the first daughter of Thomas Ferguson and Lydia (possibly Lydia Fraser).

As you can see by the text style, this was some years ago when I contacted Michelle, and I had completely forgotten about her work with this family until I started piecing together Daniel Graves and Mary Ferguson for a week 1 "52 ancestors in 52 weeks" blog. Daniel's going to have to wait, but I think Mary "Polly" Ferguson's story deserves to be told. She's a "tough" woman in that she lived in early Vermont and traveled through Vermont to multiple residences in New York, Ontario, and back again, but also in that what information we have has been pieced together extremely slowly and with a lot of off-line genealogy. This is not an ancestor where you can click twice and have a full ancestral profile!

Mary "Polly" Ferguson's life is not yet complete - we know she was in Bennington, Bennington, Vermont around 1798 through her marriage in 1813, Aurelius, Cayuga, New York in 1820, Auburn, Cayuga, New York in 1830, Lyme, Jefferson, New York in 1840, and Gouverneur, St. Lawrence, New York in 1850. Where she lies today is still a mystery. As I chip away at the years of missing time between when the Graves children leave New York and come to Michigan, I hope to find more about her. For a relative back far in my past with little documentary evidence, she has captured my imagination and I've continued to work on her slowly but surely since I started in genealogy nearly 24 years ago and will continue to work on her as I progress through new records coming online every week.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Buona Epifana e Befana! with regular and gluten free options

La Befana, courtesy of JD Adams

After my last couple columns talking about Christmas, I had an offline conversation with another Italian gal about a curious custom in Italy to celebrate the Epiphany on January 6, 12 days after Christmas. As she explained, first La Befana was a witch, just giving children sweet coal if they were naughty and toys and treats if they were good. But then it was taken over by the Christians, and so La Befana, the good witch, became a part of Christ's Epiphany story. 

Epiphany: 5 traditional Italian sweets recipes for la befana coal
(Sweet coal from Flagranta delicia, a unique Epihany treat for the naughty. Gluten free naturally, here's her recipe.)

As such things go, there became a whole event around the introduction of La Befana to the story. She was supposed to be part of the 3 wise men group. She was too busy doing her housework to go, so she told them she would catch them later with the new infant Christ and steered them in the direction to go. Only they went back another way, and they missed her. D'oh! So she spreads her gifts and sweets around to good children (and sweet coal to the bad), hoping to find the Christ child she missed seeing the first time. What I love about this story is that it embodies what the world thought the Italian woman was like. Hardworking. Bossy in a way only a Nonna could be. Generous to a fault. And spreading around tons and tons of sweets! 

Invariably at this point when I start talking about this people at the table go off about one of three things:
1. "You hate Christians, don't you?" No, I just happen to be honest about my family's religious choice. In fact, I rather think the early church leaders were models of efficiency - why not take advantage of already planned festivities and use them to further the goals of the religion?
2. "Why the heck do we need another holiday?" and 3. "Isn't Christmas enough? I don't understand".Well, actually, there's really a smart reasoning to the pair of holidays...

What the problem is that with recycling holidays and adding local legends into them is that invariably, some parts of the tale get mish moshed around. Where most nativity sets include the three wise men, the actuality was that the three wise men didn't arrive until the twelfth night, where Christ was proclaimed him as the son of God. So you can see where people get confused - there really is two separate holidays, one the birth of Christ and the second his proclamation, called the Epiphany. Whether you choose to celebrate them or not, I think they are actually quite effective as a pair, and here's why: 

(a very close relative to Pinza Veneta, from Wikipedia)

In Italy, as I've mentioned, there's the feast of the seven fishes on Christmas, with lots of Christmas sweets. Nougat. Candied fruits. Pandoro. Panettone. Etc. Etc. Etc. It can quite frankly be overwhelming and there can be oodles of food leftover. In the spirit of La Befana, the efficient cleaning housewitch, Epiphany is the time to reuse those leftovers and make them into something new. Pinza Veneta is a good example of that. Old bread lying around? Extra candied fruit? Ground too much corn meal for polenta? Throw that puppy together and make it a sweet new dessert so the kiddos don't get tired of eating it. You can make it with regular bread and flour and even throw some grappa in there for good measure (here's the recipe, scroll down for the English version) but you can also just as easily make this a gluten free delicacy. Alessia Piva's gluten free version is in Italian but if you can't read in the Italian, it translates very well with Google Translate (surprisingly!). So you see - you can overindulge in baking at Christmas, and have a neat holiday with which one can clean up the larder. And the cool part about Epiphany? People go from house to house, helping you clean up your leftovers! It's like an impromptu progressive dinner, without all the organizational pains.

Now, my family lived hundreds of miles away from my Italian grandfather, so I don't know for sure if they ever celebrated this or not (I really need to talk to my aunts and father about that!). But I like to think that my grandfather would totally approve of this holiday, because he was a "waste not, want not" kind of guy. Extra pie filling? Make fruit pancakes the next day. Random mechanical gadget? Weld it to a base and we have a rotating Christmas tree stand. My grandparents' garage was a garden of interesting mechanical and wooden things that my brother and I would sneak into during the summer to find interesting things to play with (and some things that we probably shouldn't have, like Jarts, but we survived, all limbs intact). My sort-of-Irish grandmother loved Christmas and kept it up until mid-January, so they just as easily could have had a nice dinner with the nativity sets and Christmas lights. 

Isn't that a great picture? That's my grandparents from 26 December 1984, in the Lake Orion Review. You can read the full article on page 24 of the edition in iDigOrion, which is like, the best thing ever for Lake Orion researchers! In fact, their Christmas display got even larger after that, with dozens of people visiting and my grandfather starting to put up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving.