General James Clinton & I

I have said it before that my genealogical journey has always been quite serendipitous in nature.  Good things and wonderful people have just seemed to cross my path time and again.  With it, though, comes a great amount of weird coincidences that I could never have expected or anticipated.  Here is one of those “strange incidences” that happened as of late…

I am a member of the DAR and my patriot is John Wickham.  I’ve written about him before but just to recap for new readers, John was in the French & Indian War and was recruited as a drill sergeant during the American Revolution to teach others how to fight/shoot.  John was from Rhode Island originally, moved to New York when he was 8 (and where he served during the Revolution), and then moved to Ohio after the war, where he applied for a pension right before he died at 101 years old.

I grew up in Ohio, nearly two hours from where John is buried in Noble County but I never knew about John until I moved to New York and my family tree exploded.  Here’s part of where it gets kinda neat – I didn’t just move to New York.  I moved right smack into the thick of where my grandfather served.  My husband is stationed at the United States Military Academy at West Point which is 7 minutes and one left hand turn from Fort Montgomery where my grandfather served before it was taken by the British.  I was able to go to Fort Montgomery and walk the very ground that John did and stand on the same cliff overlooking the Hudson River that he did.  It was surreal, to be sure!

In John’s pension file, he names those captains and generals he served under.  He served under Arnold at Bemis Heights, which is super cool since I have a Woodhull family connection and if you watch the show TURN, you’ll know I’m so excited by that!  Then, I somehow magically forgot who John served under.  It was one of those details that just slipped my mind.  (Probably because I read General Arnold and THAT’S what sticks out.)  I got into the DAR some two years ago and then all those little details just faded into the back of my mind…. until today.

And here’s where it gets kinda funky monkey… a few months ago, my friend Colleen and I cleaned the headstones and monuments of the Clinton plot at Woodlawn Cemetery in New Windsor, NY for the town.  We needed practice for our headstone cleaning business and they needed a nice, clean showpiece for the cemetery since they’d just taken it over in recent months and this would prime the monuments for its grand re-opening this next spring.

You may be wondering by now why this is so awesomely weird for me?  It’s because of whose plot we cleaned – General James Clinton and his family. My grandfather John served under General Clinton at Fort Montgomery before it was taken by the British and it was actually General Clinton that gave him his discharge papers. (Before you history buffs point out there were, in fact, TWO Clinton generals on the American side at Forts Montgomery and Clinton -and there were- John specifically said James Clinton, not George, in his pension papers.)  My grandfather served him and now I have served him in my own way, too.  How round robin is that?  The coincidence is just astounding to me and made those two days polishing and scrubbing those stones even more special and meaningful.

Anyways, I thought perhaps you all might enjoy seeing the pictures of the stones being cleaned.  They were in wretched shape and covered with lichen.  They are flat table-top stones and they are weathering terribly to where some of them are just practically illegible, James’ probably being the worst and then Mary Little Gray, one of his wives.   The stone of James’ sister, Catherine Clinton McClaughry , was so thick with lichen, we didn’t know there was a poem underneath the edges of the stone until it had been cleaned completely off.  It was amazing to see the before and after on these stones and I feel completely honored to have been a part of extending James Clinton’s legacy by caring for his monument properly.  I like to think my grandfather John would have been proud.


The Long Sought After Picture of Colonel Jesse Woodhull

Colonel Jesse Woodhull. Image courtesy of the Chester Historical Society.

About two months ago, I stopped out at the Cemetery of the Highlands to visit the grave of Colonel Jesse Woodhull, my 1st cousin 9x removed, and was really just there to check on the headstones of his family following our winter weather.   But while I was standing there, I had a “conversation” with Jesse that included telling him that he was going to help me tell the story of his life, and that of his brother, Ebenezer Woodhull.  If you’re not a long time reader of my blog, I have been the sole caretaker of Ebenezer’s grave yard in Blooming Grove for many years now as it was all but abandoned since 1881.  (You can read more about that here if you’d like.

West Point’s Old Cadet Chapel Then and Now

A view of the Old Cadet Chapel in 1877 at Custer’s funeral (left) and a recent picture I took of what the chapel now looks like.

While it’s not necessarily genealogically related per say (but kinda because I will send this to my cousin Joel as his mom is a Custer), I wanted to show you probably one of the best parts of my day job as a Memorial Support Coordinator at USMA West Point.   Being at USMA, you’re surrounded by all the old buildings, monuments, Revolutionary War redoubts and even Fort Putnam.  History is all around West Point.  It’s hard not to walk the grounds and think about who else has walked here – Edgar Allan Poe, Ed White from the Apollo missions, General Norman Schwarzkopf, and many, many more.

Being a history major, I’m always scouring for tid bits about West Point and I found the coolest engraving of General Custer’s funeral  that was held in 1877 in the Old Cadet Chapel.  The chapel has a very cool history in itself; it was built in 1836 and used to be on the Plain over by the cadet barracks but when they needed to build a new, bigger chapel, they were going to dismantle this one.  However, the cadets practically revolted and demanded that because of it’s history, it needed to be kept.  So they rebuilt it in the cemetery, where it now stands, brick by brick, and it was reopened in 1910 when the new Cadet Chapel was opened.  We use the Old Cadet Chapel now for memorials and ceremonies like the DAR’s Molly Corbin Day.

Finding Grandpa Lemaster

Curtis Austin Lemaster, age 12, in 1930.

I had the great fortune of finally meeting up with Gail Skaggs, her brother Timothy and her mom.  I’d contacted Gail almost two years ago through Find a Grave to discuss my great-grandpa William Arby Lemaster because she seemed to have quite a bit of information on my Lemaster side.  Turns out, she and I are third cousins and we have a lot of matches on our DNA.   So we’ve spent the last two years emailing back and forth about our family and helping each other with pieces we’re missing from our trees.

When I met up with Gail and her family, she pulled out a box of photos that came from Dewey Lemaster, her grandpa and brother to my grandfather, Curtis Lemaster.  She pulled out the photographs thinking that I might be able to help identify certain unknowns, but the most amazing thing happened.  One of the very first photos she pulled out was a small school picture from 1930.  On the back was written “Curtis Lemaster.”  I about fell off my chair.  It was my grandpa Curtis at age 12!  Until that moment, I had never seen a picture of grandpa young – not even in his teens or twenties.  All my photos of grandpa are of him from my childhood and he’s already in his late 50’s/early 60’s.  But there was that sweet, little familiar face, slightly smiling, wearing bib overalls and showing his remarkably long arms that my mom commented he always had.  To my delight and surprise, Gail gave me this photographic treasure after making a copy for herself.  I think my heart nearly burst in my chest with excitement.

I immediately sent a snap to my two uncles, neither of whom had seen that picture before, and they were thrilled.  My cousin Shawn also had never seen it.  We were all so tickled!  I tried to show my dad, who is still suffering terribly after his second stroke and he didn’t really seem to grasp who it was.  When we told him it was his own father, he shrugged and said “Whoever that is!”  I wish he could remember more.

It goes to show you that for however many bad, rude and jerky people you may find on Ancestry (or any of the other genealogical sites, for that matter) there really ARE those people out there who are helpful, caring and willing to share their information.  Luckily for me, Gail is part of my actual family and while I found a new relative in her, I’d like to think she and I would have been friends regardless even if we wouldn’t have been related.  So please, don’t give up when someone won’t reply or someone won’t share information you’re looking for.  Keep going, keep reaching out and perhaps you’ll get lucky too.  I’m always amazed how Providence has placed some of the most amazing people in my life when I needed them most during my genealogical research.

My New Heirloom

Clara Lou Peters and Archie Stewart on their wedding day.

My mom sent me a picture of my grandma Clara Lou Peters Stewart on her wedding day recently.  It reminded me that she showed me her wedding dress once when I was little.  I’m not sure why she had it out specifically but it was in a big yellowing box and when she pulled it out, I remember thinking how lovely it still was and how much I’d love to wear it some day.  I never did get to wear it; my first impromptu wedding dress was a bright pink dress I’d worn to homecoming and at my second wedding, I wore a black lace number.

I had been thinking for a very long time about doing something with my wedding dress.  Not only was a black Gothic wedding dress totally unique at the time fifteen years ago but I also had hand sewn my own black veil trimmed in the sweetest black crochet trim.  It took me weeks to finish.  My dress, being delicate lace, had ripped during one of our military moves and so it hung in my closet for years now staring me in the face, unable to be worn any longer but being too sentimental to toss out either.