June 2013

A Fascinating Discovery – A Son of Giles

I was stunned. I just sat there and stared at my computer screen. There was no shout of victory, no dancing around, no celebrating as has happened when I have found other information after a years-long search. I could hardly believe my eyes. There it was: “Pillar Point, NY”. James Nelson Douglass, born Pillar Point, New York.

I, myself, was born on Pillar Point, a small scrap of land reaching out into Guffins Bay in Jefferson County, NY. But I have rarely, if ever, seen Pillar Point noted as a birthplace. Usually the records will say Jefferson County, NY or more likely, Town of Brownville.

As has happened before, my very best genealogy discoveries have occurred when I was looking for something else. I research the families of nine Douglass siblings, sons and daughters of my fourth great grandfather. I am descended from the second oldest of the nine, James Douglass, who homesteaded on Pillar Point. He had three brothers who also lived there. But Giles was the only one I have been unable to trace.

I was searching records on the internet for Cook County, Illinois for James E. Douglass when I came across a death record for “James Nelson Douglass, father Giles T. Douglass, mother Folsome”. That brought me up short. I had never seen Giles Douglass with a middle initial T. but, more important, was the Folsome, because on a small scrap of paper in the old Douglass file handed down to me by my late uncle, was written in pencil: “Giles Douglass married a Folsom?”. No dates, just a few names. My search for James E. Douglass was immediately suspended. I had a new clue for Giles.

I knew that in 1847 Giles sold his land on Pillar Point to his brother, James, and moved to Wisconsin. There the trail ended. I have searched the records many times; I have been to Wisconsin myself. I have tracked down every clue that I have seen and found no record that Giles Douglass was living after 1850. In 1850 Giles and his son, Robert, were living in Racine county, west of Milwaukee, with the Moody family, who were also transplants from New York state. I have not found Giles or Robert in any census after that.

Now, suddenly I had stumbled on a possible son of Giles Douglass. It had to be! Pillar Point is not that big a place. The record had no first name listed for his mother but I was pretty sure I knew her first name. When Giles sold his farm to James, the land record clearly shows the signature of Pamelia Douglass. So all I had to do was find a Pamelia Folsom, right? Well, now we are getting back to around 1800. Women did not often appear in records; their husbands, or fathers or brothers, owned everything. In fact, I had been surprised to find Pamelia’s name on the land sale record. That’s why the Folsom was like a red flag. Look! Douglass and Folsom.

Ancestry.com had indexed the Illinois death records. James Nelson Douglass died in Rockton, Illinois. It made sense when I looked at the map and realized Rockton, Illinois, is only a few miles south of the border with Wisconsin and only about 20 miles from Janesville, Wisconsin, where I had chased down a newspaper clue back in 2009.

Checking the census records for James Nelson Douglass, the first I found for him was in Rockton, Illinois, in 1860. At that time he was 25, a laborer, owned a little real estate ($200 worth), was married to Charlotte who came from England, and they had no children. In the next census, ten years later in 1870, at age 36, James owned real estate of $1025, was “working in furnace” (possibly that translates to a foundry) and they had one daughter, Clara, age 3.

In 1880 the census reported James N. Douglass was a sexton, with wife Charlotte and daughter, Clara, 13. The 1900 census, twenty years later, showed James N. Douglass was still a sexton; the couple had been married 45 years and Charlotte reported she had born three children and only one was still living.

In the 1910 census, James N. Douglass, 76, widowed, was living with his son-in-law and daughter, Frank and Clara Graves, in Rockton, Illinois. Any hope of finding a descendant of Frank and Clara ended when it appeared the couple had no children.

The middle name Nelson was interesting. I was unaware of any Nelson Douglass in our extended family. Then I found an obituary for Ezra Folsom (1842-1931) in the Watertown Daily Times. It said he was born on Pillar Point and was the son of Nelson and Polly Folsom. Pamelia Folsom would have been born much earlier, around 1801-1805 probably, so Ezra is not likely her brother, but the Nelson name came from the Folsom side of the family. And now, finally, I can be fairly sure that Pamelia’s last name was Folsom, and that pencilled note in the Douglass file was right on.

The only other names on that scrap of paper were possible children: Rhoda, John and Robert. Robert was in Wisconsin in 1850 and he received a land grant, but evidently sold it. He may have moved further west. I have never found Rhoda or John, at least not yet.

About ten years ago I was contacted by Bruce, a man whose great grandmother was Mary Emily Douglass. She married a Seaton in Wisconsin and Bruce believed that Mary Emily was a daughter of Giles Douglass because in the 1850 census, the last one Giles was ever found in, there were several Douglass children scattered in the area, each living with a family of a different surname. The theory was that Giles’ wife had died and the children had been “farmed out”, lent to farm families to help with chores in exchange for their keep. I could not endorse that theory at the time because I had no knowledge that Giles had more than the three children whose names were on that scrap of paper and who appeared as unnamed children in Giles’ household on the 1830 census. But when I accessed the 1840 census on Ancestry, which had been unavailable in Jefferson County archives, it suggested there might have been more children. And Mary Emily’s birthday would fall into the 1830-1840 range. So it is quite possible that I not only have found a son of Giles’ but there is a daughter, Mary Emily, as well. Time will tell if this holds up under further scrutiny.


Earl’s daughter, Eunice

 While I have many names (over 5000) on my Douglass family tree, I have not had a Eunice either born into or married into the family… until now.

I have written before about Earl Douglass of Chaumont, NY. His small claim to fame was that he was sought out by the U.S. Fisheries Commissioner for information about fishing along the shores of Jefferson County, NY; he was recognized by the locals as an expert on the subject. After 30 years of fishing in Lake Ontario, Earl had left Chaumont and was fishing near Sault Ste. Marie which is where the Commissioner went to interview him. This interview appears in the 1900 report of the Bureau of Fisheries at Washington.

There are three Earl Douglasses on our tree. Do not confuse this Earl with the one who discovered the Dinosaur remains in Utah, nor the one who was Alexander’s son and who died before he was 30. This Earl was Alexander’s grandson, Earl Standish Douglass, who grew up fishing with his father, Leander, another well-known fisherman of 19th century Jefferson County.

One of the benefits of having my website is that people looking for information on their ancestors might send me an email. Leland had contacted me years ago about his Fredenburg family tree. This time he had news that specifically connected his family and ours. That connection involved Earl Standish Douglass.

Earl married at age 43, rather late in life even for those times, to a widowed lady, Mrs. Mary Fredenburg. I had done some early research in Chaumont and learned Mary had three children, Harry, Sarah, and Eunice. I assumed these were all Fredenburg children. Earl and Mary married in 1897, the same year that Earl moved his base of fishing from Chaumont to Sault Ste. Marie. I had been puzzled for years why, when I found Earl in Upper Michigan in the census, Mary was not with him. Nor did I find her anywhere else. I did find a grave for Mary Douglass in Chaumont. She died in 1917.

Leland wrote to tell me Mary’s third child, Eunice, was a daughter of Mary and Earl. She was born in March 1898, six months after they married. We could build all kinds of hypotheses as to what happened, especially since Earl left for Sault Ste. Marie very soon after they married and never returned to Chaumont until after Mary died. There are letters from Eunice in her old age to her Fredenburg relatives indicating that she knew a few of her Douglass relatives and that she at one time visited them in Chaumont. She did not mention ever meeting her father, Earl.

Eunice married at 17 and had twelve children. Three of her sons served in World War II, one in the Army and two in the Marines. She was widowed in 1971 and she died in 1979. The year before she died, she wrote that she had nine living children and a granddaughter who was a senior in college.

We are happy to have you in our family, Eunice Douglass Johnson.

Lineage: Eunice-6, Earl Douglass-5, Leander Douglass-4, Alexander Douglass-3, John Douglass-2, Alexander Douglass-1.

(When you see “lineage”, it shows the generations back to Alexander Douglass-1, the Douglass patriarch who brought his family to Boston, Mass. from Inverness, Scotland in 1773. The highlighted name in the 3rd generation shows which, of the nine siblings that I research, this person is descended from.)


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